On May 14, noted philanthropist and neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson is scheduled to give the commencement address at Emory University and receive an honorary degree. But there is a problem. In recent weeks, some Emory faculty and students have expressed concerns that the University invited Dr. Carson because he is a critic of evolutionary theory and advocate of creationism. Faculty and staff have written that Dr. Carson’s “great achievements in medicine allow him to be viewed as someone who ‘understands science.’” This background, they say, poses a direct threat to science that “rests squarely on the shoulders of evolution.”
The anti-Carson letter describes how there is “overwhelming” evidence of “ape-human transitional fossils” and how this evolution process has advanced an ability to develop animal models for disease and that even “the work of Dr. Carson himself is based on scientific advances fostered by an understanding of evolution.” The letter then argues that “the theory of evolution is as strongly supported as the theory of gravity and the theory that infectious diseases are caused by micro-organisms.”
In 2010, Gallup released a poll that found that 40% of Americans believe in strict creationism, the idea that humans were created by God in their present form within the past 10,000 years. Thirty-eight percent believe that God guided the process of human evolution from lower life forms over millions of years , and only 16% believe that humans evolved without divine intervention. Sixty percent of those who attend church weekly believe that we were created less than 10,000 years ago. Gallup notes that the numbers have remained generally stable for the past 28 years.
That the number of adherents of creationism remains so strong, even though Charles Darwin’s book, “On the Origin of Species” has been around since 1859 and has been taught in most public schools since the 1960s, is a testament to the persistent strength of American religious belief and faith over contradictory concepts.
Earlier this week, Forbes magazine staff writer Alex Knapp wrote an essay entitled, “Why Some Christians Reject Evolution,” arguing that many Christians reject evolutionary theory because it conflicts with the Protestant view of the doctrines of original sin and salvation.
Original sin is the idea that God created an absolutely perfect “good” world and a single sin against God committed by one person marred the purity of creation and implicated all of humanity in the act. The Christian gospel teaches that the pre-existing penalty for act of separation from God was eternal death. Being that humanity could not save itself from this penalty, Jesus Christ, a member of the Holy Trinity, personally came to earth, lived a pure life, died, and was resurrected, reconciling fallen humanity to God, thus closing the sin-caused gap between humans and God. Human beings who accept this death as substitution for their own prospective penalty will be given eternal life in a new earth.
Perhaps the only way to explain how evolved human beings would end up with a soul is expressed in the hybrid evolution-creation concept advanced by Pope Pius XII in the encyclical Humani generis (1950). Pius XII writes, “For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.”
In Catholic thought, this has been interpreted to provide room for the concept that the bodies of humans were created over millions of years through evolution, and that God ultimately provided separately-created souls which were infused into humans. These souls reconnect to God through practicing the sacraments.
In contrast, American evangelicals tend to view Adam and Eve as actual living people, who were literally created by God as clay forms into which God breathed the breath of life. There was no death before the fall of humanity. The time frames are important because they rely on the Biblical chronologies Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-28 to prove that Jesus was in the prophetically-designated ancestral line of David, and draw the genealogical line all the way back to Adam, the first created human being.
Many evangelicals reject the hybrid view of creation and evolution because it would necessarily require them to regard creation, as discussed in the books of Genesis and of a new earth in Revelation, as allegory and submit the pervasive teachings of the Bible referencing Creation and other supernatural activity to the realm of mythology or cultural contextualism. Acceptance of “scientific” views of evolution would then, by necessity, require a major reconfiguration of matters of faith – and that is something that most adherents to strict creationism are unwilling to do.
Knapp, whose own religious beliefs are not indicated, notes that while some churches have found ways to incorporate the idea of change over time into their belief systems, “for many Christians, evolution isn’t a minor fact of science that can be resolved into the mythos of their faith. It is, rather, a fundamental attack on their faith and many things that they believe.”
There have been a number of heated arguments on the campuses of a diverse array of religious universities regarding how issues of origins should be taught. Some have tried to walk the middle line of teaching “intelligent design” as an alternative to creationism and evolution. Critics of those teaching intelligent design point out that trying to split the issue down the middle does no favors to either side and in the end is nothing but a weakened form of creationism, and an explanation that is of no value to secular science.
Within the larger context of American Protestant Christianity the debate continues without resolution. Among Christians, creationists are often asked to consider various forms of evidence of a long-history of the earth, but those advocating for a long-earth have largely ignored discussion of the genealogies of the New Testament and the concepts of original sin and salvation. Christian evolutionists have failed to provide a verse-by-verse rebuttal to the Biblical Creation narrative or to acknowledge the extent to which acceptance of creation would impact theology.
Instead theistic evolutionists operate on the supposition that Creationists will eventually bifurcate their religious beliefs from scientific understanding, because incompatibilities must be resolved in favor of science. This places faith directly in conflict with science and any resultant battle on these issues will take centuries if true academic freedom is to be granted, but can resolve faster if the voices of religious dissent are silenced and those who have openly criticized evolution are denied a seat at the academic table.
The attempt to “purify” academia by silencing the voices of critics such as Dr. Carson would be the first step toward a secular Dark Ages. So far, it appears that despite the controversy, Emory University’s commencement ceremony will go forward as planned.
In response to the controversy at Emory, as of this writing nearly 2,000 people have signed a Petition to reaffirm “Dr. Ben Carson’s Welcome and Defend His Right to Express His Views.” Click here to view the Petition.