God knows, evangelicals are more science-friendly than you think

Print More
Sociologist Elaine Howard Eckland's research finds myth-busting levels of accord between scientists and evangelicals. Photo by Jeff Fitlow courtesy of Rice University.

Sociologist Elaine Howard Eckland's research finds myth-busting levels of accord between scientists and evangelicals. Photo by Jeff Fitlow courtesy of Rice University.

Sociologist Elaine Howard Eckland's research finds myth-busting levels of accord between scientists and evangelicals. Photo by Jeff Fitlow courtesy of Rice University.

Sociologist Elaine Howard Eckland’s research finds myth-busting levels of accord between scientists and evangelicals. Photo by Jeff Fitlow courtesy of Rice University.

That headline might sound familiar to readers at Faith & Reason. And it should. The sociologist I wrote about last winter when her research showed the majority of scientists identify with a religious tradition, not God-denying atheists, myth-busting again.

Now, the myth that bites the data dust, is one that proclaims evangelicals are a monolithic group of young-earth creationists opposed to theories of human evolution.

Actually, 70 percent of self-identified evangelicals “do not view religion and science as being in conflict,” said Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist and director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program.

She was addressing 200 scientists, pastors and other who work in both fields at the addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s conference on “Perceptions: Science and Religious Communities” sponsored by the AAAS’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion on Friday.

Last year, at an AAAS event with DoSER, Ecklund presented the first wave of data – looking particularly at self-identified scientists – drawn from a survey of 10,000 U.S. adults that claims to be the largest study of American views on these issues.

The headline then – right after the “Ham on Nye” duel between atheist Science Guy Bill Nye and creationist advocate Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis was a national sensation – was that 76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition.

Friday, the news that startled was the high degree of science acceptance among the subset of Christians who take their Scripture most seriously. Among this group:

  • 48 percent view science and religion as complementary. Astrophysicist Deborah Haarsma, president of BioLogos, which recognizes “God as Creator of all life over billions of years,”  said Friday that what she sees in the cosmos is “a scientific description of the universe God created.”
  • 21 percent view the two world-views as entirely independent of one another.
  • About 30 percent see these world-views in opposition.

Overall, 85 percent of Americans and 84 percent of evangelicals say modern science is going good in the world. The greatest areas of accord were on contemporary technologies (I see zip in my Bible about smart phones) and on medical discoveries that can alleviate suffering. Here, said Ecklund, most Americans see science and faith collaborating to the common benefit.

However, Ecklund also noted a finding that may make the evidence-based science world uneasy: 60% of evangelicals said scientists “should be open to considering miracles in their theories.”

Still, rather than drawing hard lines between spiritual and scientific understandings of reality, more than one speaker at the Friday event repeated Augustine’s view that, “All truth is God’s truth.” Former U.S. Rep. Rush Holt Jr., the recently named CEO of AAAS, added to this that all people who profess to have open minds to truth have “an obligation to listen to each other.”

There were mainline, Catholic and non-Christian participants at the program and the Perceptions Project has held workshops in their communities, as well as those with evangelical churches and seminaries.

Yet the primary focus is the 18 percent white evangelical and 7 percent black Protestant communities lumped into a 25 percent number of the overall population. Galen Carey,  vice president for government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), is advising AAAS on the Perceptions Project. 

I should note here that I was a participant at the Friday event, speaking on a panel of journalists who discussed media coverage of the relationship between science and religion.

What I pointed out in our session is that media, myself included, sometimes incorrectly conflate the conservative evangelical view with all Christians’ views under the general “religion” terminology.

I said this may allow a small subset to dictate the terms of the national science-and-religion conversation although they are not representative in numbers -– or point of view. This could lead to a great deal of energy devoted to winning the approval of the shrinking group and aging group that believes the Bible trumps science on critical issues.


— One in three adults under age 30 say they have no religious identity.

— The new Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey found that white evangelicals are having trouble holding on to the next generation. While 18 percent of the population describes themselves as white evangelicals, only 10% of those under age 30 say the same.

— Young adults may be the least Bible-literate generation ever. A 2010 study by the Christian Research agency LifeWay found that 67% of Millennials said they don’t read the Bible or sacred texts. 

But scientists who want to write off evangelical views as inconsequential may not want to celebrate those trends. The trend to emphasize personal experience and individualized spirituality over the authority of Scripture or religious denominational theology is part of a larger cultural trend toward rejecting authority.

The next group to fall victim to that trend could well be the voices of science.

  • Karla

    Conscience/con-science which means with knowledge so God gave us our
    conscience to know what is right and what is wrong plus we have the Bible.
    That’s why people have no excuse on judgment day plus we have creation
    of proof of God because the earth didn’t just create itself. Romans 1:18-32.

  • Pingback: Newly Released Data Highlights Common Views Between Scientists and Bible-Centered Christian Evangelicals | BCNN1 WP()

  • Pingback: BCNN2 » Blog Archive » Newly Released Data Highlights Common Views Between Scientists and Bible-Centered Christian Evangelicals()

  • Pingback: Newly Released Data Highlights Common Views Between Scientists and Bible-Centered Christian Evangelicals - Urban Christian News()

  • Doc Anthony


  • Joe Bauer

    Ahhhh, no. One can not have an inerrant view of the Bible and believe in evolution.

  • James Carr

    The idea that Religion and Science are at odds with each other is really an outmoded concept that primarily atheists perpetuate.
    The initial “shocks” of Newton, Galileo, Darwin, etc. have been accepted as true and not in contradiction to God’s creative reality.
    Scientific advances that cross the line of human respect for life are rejected as a misuse of human knowledge and advancement. Why accept abortion, euthanasia, cloning, or manipulation of genetic development?

    The religious are the only guardians of morality that serves the greater good. Remember lobotomies? Eugenics? Thalidomide?

    It is never wise or enlightened to applaud every idea that mere science “discovers”. Rational research which includes the perspectives of
    society’s different factions would be wise.

    Atheists need to pigeonhole the Religious as anti-intellectuals, for that implies they are geniuses. Well, that idea is passe’, and you would think that the “enlightened” would have figured that out.

  • Jane

    “The initial “shocks” of Newton, Galileo, Darwin, etc. have been accepted as true and not in contradiction to God’s creative reality”

    Umm no. Not so much “accepted as true” as your plasticine religion changing its storyline yet again as its errors get found out. What a friggin joke!

  • Stephen Lewis


  • Stephen Lewis

    Oh, this blog accepts my name instead of blocking it like is being done on other RNS topics. As a religious visionary I can say science is my best friend and is the hope of changing traditional religious mindsets that keep our world at war. In 1979 one of my religious conversion revelations was that dinosaurs never became extinct, that in fact they were here with in the billions- – as birds. It took formal paleontology up to the mid 1990’s to confirm dinosaurs as birds, feathers and all. In 1979 I predicted a Unified Field Theory can and will be developed out of the physics of Black Hole annihilation of star matter and its reemergence through the Big Bang transformation compressed into hydrogen atoms which is why there is so much energy within atomic bonding. In 1975 I formulated Climax Social Evolution Theory which is still a brand new biologically based theory of human social change. In 1979 I predicted Homo Climaxus is evolving within our homo sapiens population but no one sees it as it is within the fine structures of the brain. I am the one who wrote the Gospel of Humanity and found the lost Celestial Torah astro-theological code running through the Bible stories. All this is comes through Gnosis, Knowledge of God, and is the twin of Science, which is knowledge of the physical universe. Faith in ancient Book based religions must fear science as they are vulnerable to historical discovery overturning root religious propaganda but knowledge based religious faith has no such fear. Gnosis is universal and is freely available to all with freedom to find it.

  • Larry

    Hey James, it isn’t the atheists who are looking to attack public education to introduce dishonest voodoo nonsense into curriculum. Its a small subset of Protestant Christians.

    If religion and science are in conflict, it means you don’t understand either of them. Your argument is garbage.

    At no point does religion, especially Christianity show a respect for human life. In another thread Christians were touting how proud they were to show their indifference if not outright malice to homeless teenagers. They certainly have no respect for the lives of born women in their anti-choice stances and many frequently support the death penalty.

    In fact respect for human life is extremely conditional and relative in Christian notions of morality. Religious morality is no morality at all. Any and all acts are considered OK if you claim God approves it. This included eugenics, genocide, and of course discrimination and bigotry.

    At no point does anyone in science have to answer to religion for any reason.
    Atheists don’t need to pigeon hole religious as anti-intellectuals. They do that all that by themselves. Being religious evidently means never having to present yourself in a rational or honest fashion.

  • The Great God Pan

    “Actually, 70 percent of self-identified evangelicals ‘do not view religion and science as being in conflict,'”

    Of course they don’t view religion and science as being in conflict. That’s because they think their religious views are actually scientific. They think stuff like Intelligent Design and Global Warming Denialism is “real science.” Ever seen that viral video of the evangelical mom “auditing” the Field Museum in Chicago? She would no doubt claim that religion and science aren’t in conflict.

    Asking people whether they believe science and religion are in conflict is like asking people if they’re racist. What do you think they’re going to say? A more telling survey would ask evangelicals where they stand on specific scientific issues.

  • Greg

    No conflict between Religion and Science that I can see. The only conflict is Atheist Scientists who refuse to believe in God. Nature is good, well ordered, and hard to understand without God in the picture.

  • RickK

    Interesting – So nature is not built on a model of living creatures thriving only by snuffing out the lives of other living creatures? Nature is not random and deadly? The overwhelming majority of the universe is not instantly lethal to life as we know it? If your vision of “nature” is the green grass and bunnies from The Teletubbies, I suggest you book a flight to Vanuatu. It is less terrifying to think we are the result of unguided (often random) natural processes than to think that this natural system of “kill-to-survive” within a hostile universe is the conscious plan of an all-powerful deity.

  • James Carr

    Oh, Larry, your comment is almost unreadable. All knowledge should be included in public education..let the student decipher its value or novelty.
    Fanaticism on both sides is a small percentage, and what fuels it is ignorance.

  • Mark Moore

    Anyone who thinks their religion and science do not conflict either doesn’t understand science or their religion or both.

  • Be Brave

    Why is your hate speech so fun to write down? Take your rotted soul and crawl into some Dawkins book and eat part of the Spaghetti Monster you worship.

    Take solace that your life will end some decades from now and feed a more worthy life form: The Worms . . . that have more worth to this planet than your collection of cells ever will.

  • Be Brave

    Thus saith the lord god larry.

  • Doc Anthony

    Actually, it doesn’t hurt to ask EVERYBODY where they stand (and also WHY) on specific scientific and religious issues. Things might get a little uncomfortale on all sides (including Pan’s), if we do it that way.

  • Larry

    To quote the immortal words of Winston Zedmore, “when someone asks if you are a god, say yes” 🙂

  • Doc Anthony

    “At no point does anyone in science have to answer to religion for any reason.”

    I’m sure Dr. Josef Mengele would agree.

  • Please remember the comment rules for my blog:
    –All views, respectfully presented, are welcome.
    –Stay on topic — the blog post — not each other.
    –One or two comments max per person. Once you’ve had your say, step aside for others.
    Thanks, Cathy

  • Stephen Lewis

    RNS is so tolerant of atheist hatred of religion yet if I diss Abrahamic religions as a non-Abrahamic Celestial Torah Christian believer my posts are deleted. Why do you RNS editors engage in religious warfare when you should be reporting religious news with some reasonable level of objectivity? Why are you banning a Gnostic Christian type and his posts yet allowing atheists freedom to post their anti-religious views?

  • Stan

    Larry, There are many very respected scientists who believe in miracles. Francis Collins, head of NIH, is one of many examples. For miracles to violate regular science they would have to be replicable. The only miracles I know of that are replicable are paranormal phenomena.(done largely by atheists). But their methodologies are somewhat sloppy.

  • Larry

    What a load of crap. NO scientists accept miracles as part of their work and studies. You are either misciting someone or making that up. All scientific research and theories must by the nature of the methods employed exclude miracles.

    No miracles have been shown to exist.

    If a miracle has a plausible rational cause which could be accepted in science, it is not a miracle. If another non supernatural explanation exists, it is probably the correct answer. This includes “the speaker is making stuff up.”

    By claiming miracles should be incorporated into science you are showing not only ignorance of scientific methods and why they are credible, but also a disdain for them as well.

    Claims such as yours are far from credible and not science friendly at all.

  • Larry

    Mengele’s work was to science, what religion is to your notions of moral conduct. A socially acceptable excuse for bad behavior having little to do with the concepts being cited.

  • Alix

    No. Collins has said he is OPEN to the idea of miracles but has set his standards HIGH. He is in a ridiculous minority of credible scientist that even consider the idea of the Biblical god as real. And a handful of scientists – does not a consensus make.

  • The Great God Pan

    He is probably right aboit Collins. Collins became Christian when he saw a waterfall frozen into three streams and reached the scientific conclusion that God was sending him a message about the Trinity.

    Human Genome Project or no Human Genome Project, Francis Collins is a bit of a kook.

  • Ben in oakland

    Your third or fourth “test” posting. I assume this means that you, too have been having problems?

    I’ve alerted RNS several times about this.

  • Larry

    Open to belief in miracles does not mean, “will try to incorporate miracles into my work and expect it to be accepted as science”

    Collins may be a religious nut, but he knows the difference between his work and his beliefs. You don’t see him attacking established scientific evidence to shoehorn the bible in there. Ken Ham he is not.

  • James Carr

    What ?

  • Norm Martin

    Cathy Lynn Grossman,
    Thank you for your insightful article on this subject.
    I especially like your report on the AAAS conference.
    As a retired clinical chaplain, I now belong to a CBF church. We are evangelical, just not mad at anybody. I doubt anyone in our church would be for a 6000 year old universe.

    It took some time for me to embrace evolution. When I did I seemed to have gone all the way. No, I don’t think science will ever find the absolute “God” particle. Whatever they find will only point to something else “beyond.” A previous commenter wrote of Dr. Francis Collins (NIH director and a mapper of the human genome) believing in miracles. I read Collins book twice and don’t actually remember references to miracles unless it is the miracle of changed lives. I was more struck of how he, himself, came to faith. Yes, there is something “out there” as the author of the Evolution of God stated on a Stephan Colbert show. I choose to call that something God.

    In watching an interview of Neil DeGrasse Tyson
    with Bill Moyers. I was struck at how Tyson sounded so in awe, and yes, spiritual as he talked about what is yet to be discovered.

    I have read Darwin’s autobiography a couple of times and was struck by his family relationships, his caring and love for others. His working with the pastor of their church to help the social needs of others. His scientific research was really intriguing.

    It is really disheartening that science is not taught well in our schools and, seemingly, not enough students are drawn to science. Maybe if I had studied science more I could have gotten beyond page 30 something in The History of Time.

    The comment entitled: Christianity is Cowardly, is almost as laughable as it is ridicules. In our present day world there are churches being bulldozed, Christians murdered for their beliefs.

  • Science H Logic

    No, they simply cannot be.

    A. Religion is and always will be based on some ‘just believe me’ type framework… aka it’s ‘impeccable’ foundation is flawed from archaic myths to meant keep people out of trouble, but allows no room for a true modernization.

    B. Religious people are not comfortable with accepting the results from rigorous scientific testing. They don’t believe climate change is real, and refuse to fully understand how it’s tested and the results.

    C. Science is about opening our eyes and minds to the universe. Religion is about preventing new ideas from changing the course, because then it won’t have the same control over it’s flock.

  • Long-term skeptic

    It is no accident that no religious figure will define “miracle”. Even more significant, it is no accident that churches and religions generally discourage investigation of “miracles”. The folks in charge in these religions know very well that a “miracle”, in common parlance, is highly unlikely.

    My definition is, “an event, generally believed to have a low probability of occurrence, and/or of which a believer approves, and which benefits someone of whom the believer approves.”

  • RickK

    “Oh, Larry, your comment is almost unreadable. All knowledge should be included in public education..let the student decipher its value or novelty.”

    Sure, so long as every major religion is represented equally, and science and religion are taught in very different venues.

    “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of evidence so that belief can be preserved.” — Tim Minchin

    They are two completely different modes of epistemology, and are absolutely in conflict whenever they address the same topic. Our current understanding of cosmology, astronomy, biology, evolution, the workings of the human body and of neuroscience are completely and totally different than any faith-based understanding of these topics. Similarly, our increased awareness and concern for human rights, our reduction of per-capita violence over the centuries, the increase in gender equality and the other ways in which we are MORE moral today than at any point in human history have much to do with secular advancements and very little to do with religion. In fact, the most devoutly religious places on Earth are exactly those places lagging behind in the above measures.

    Faith is an illusion of knowledge, it provides the feeling of certainty and understanding without the hard work of actually learning. That’s part of the explanation why atheists and agnostics score better on tests about religion than do the faithful. And it’s why religion and science are not compatible. Throughout history religious people have performed science, it is true, but they have been successful only when they kept God out of their calculations.

    And it’s why, in explaining the origins and workings of nature and the origins and workings of our bodies and brains – God may be a motivation, God may be an inspiration, God may be a placeholder for areas of ignorance, but God is never the answer.

  • Stephen Lewis

    It is truly amazing how tolerant of atheist hate speech RNS is while how intolerant they are of anti-Zionist Gnostic Christianity. I mean, does RNS ever ban atheists here or is that ploy just for us anti-Zionist Gnostic Christians?

    The Bible is unable to defend itself against truth of its political origins as a compendium of Jewish religion stealing along with their attempts to take other people’s lands. All the Abrahamics worship an insane man and his Moloch god yet they never question the Abrahamic foundation that rests on pure religious madness as well as religious fraud. I question these things as a Gnostic Christian without need of Bible belief or Bible fraud god of Israel but Abrahamics never do and their supporters, like RNS, serving their institutions and keeping them going against critics, just keep our Abrahamic religious warfare world in place instead of getting rid of all the Abrahamic religious crap that causes wars and untold misery and countless deaths.

    As long as I can post refutation of Abrahamic religious madness, I will do so and urge all of you besides atheists to research why God has ended Abrahamic Bible authority for all who value truth above religious propaganda.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Norm,
    I have William Paley’s “Natural Theology”, on my shelf beside Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”. Darwin’s Autobiography (the edition edited by his granddaughter, Nora Barlow 1958), has long superseded the Bible in my esteem. Darwin says little, but his words are carefully considered. “…can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted, when it draws such grand conclusions?” (Pg93)”…The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must remain an Agnostic.”(Pg 94).
    But his most powerful ethical statement is on Page 87: “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include mt Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.
    And this is a damnable doctrine.”
    Now such a statement from from an ordinary man might nor carry so much weight, but Darwin, and his family, were beyond exemplary in moral behavior. Even the local Rector defended Darwin’s personal probity to the point that he was dubbed “Darwin’s priest”.

  • cken

    As a Christian finding the positive in the Bible despite being aware of some inconsistencies and vagaries shouldn’t I give science the same standard of latitude.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi James,
    ‘All knowledge should be included in public education..let the student decipher its value or novelty.”
    This silly rhetorical argument is generally offered to support the teaching of “Creationism” in public schools. The whole point of a public school is to devise and promulgate a systematic program for all children, containing only the most basic knowledge. Your proposal amounts to teaching children how to read, and then showing them where the library is located. I am fine with that for the University, but not for children. By definition, they are ignorant and unequipped to make useful choices. Any parent knows this.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Joe,
    Absolutely correct!
    Seriously, inerrancy of the Bible appeals to the lazy and ignorant. It is a simple argument for those simple minds for whom thinking is confusing, and therefore stressful. I am sympathetic with such person’s pain, but no so much that I would advocate not thinking to everyone as a cure for anxiety.
    P.S. Nobody should “believe” in evolution. Scientific theories are in not about belief.

  • Anton

    A bit late to this but there are confounding factors at work here. One is the fact that, based on Ecklund’s own data, 60% of self-identified Evangelicals have a misinformed perception of what science is. Since this is a study about Evangelical’s perceptions of science, why isn’t that the headline?

    A better study would address the relationship between those Evangelicals who do not have an informed perception of science and the 48%, 21% and 30% who, respectively, “view science and religion as complementary”, “view the two worldviews as entirely independent” or “see these worldviews in opposition”.

    Ecklund seems to have the data necessary to address this question. However, it would be difficult for her to argue that the 60% of Evangelicals in question *do* have a correct perception of what science is, and that would highlight the dubious nature of the conclusions presented here.

    This is only one of the reasons to be skeptical of her conclusions.

  • Pingback: Faith and science: evangelicals bust myths, dialogue with Presiding Bishop featured | Episcopal Cafe()

  • Apparently, your posts have not been barred since I’ve read several of them.

  • Over the years of my ministry in The United Methodist Church I have been concerned about the problem of biblical literalism, especially the influence it has had on federal funding for scientific research, global warming and climate change, international diplomacy (especially in regards to Israel and the Mideast), racism, social justice, and gender issues, among other things.

    Thankfully, there are a number of good books written on the failures of biblical literalism, including “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” by U.M. bishop John S. Spong and “The Cure for Fundamentalism” by Steve McRoberts.

    One of the more interesting facets of this problem is the difficulty United Methodist pastors are now having to explain to members of their churches how to do biblical interpretation. Often church members think they must decide that either the bible is completely scientifically and historically true or totally false and useless. Not wanting to chose the later, they often chose the former, not realizing there is another alternative.

    Media Christianity has clearly stated that the bible is 100% true in every way, making it very difficult for today’s trained UM clergy to disagree without being chased out of their churches. Hence, many pastors do not even want to broach the subject of proper biblical interpretation with their congregations.

    Over the years, as I have tried to delve into this subject, church members have bristled when I have pointed out that John Wesley interpreted scripture by using church tradition, reason, and his own experience; that our faith must be based upon the quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason (now known as The Wesley Quadrilateral).

    Of course, all Christians, even the most fundamental Christians and persons of other religions, use this same methodology to make decisions regarding what they believe. Nevertheless, the fundamentalists of Christianity and other religions (including radical Islamists) refuse to acknowledge this fact. For instance, moderate Moslems interpret the Koran in much the same way: While some parts of the Koran say infidels should be slaughtered (something that appeals to ISIS), other Moslems point to suras of the Koran that promote a more lenient attitude toward infidels.

    Over the past two thousand years Christians have mostly determined what they believe by accepting the teachings of their churches, rather than depending solely on literal readings of the bible. Of course, that is certainly the case of the United Methodist Church every four years when we go to General Conference and vote on which bible passages we are going to set aside and which ones we are going to hold on to as important to our practice of the faith. For instance, why do we in the UMC allow women to be pastors when the bible says that women should keep silent in the church? And why do we say homosexuals are persons of sacred worth when the bible says they should be stoned? At some point, the church has made the decision to ignore those parts of the bible or to at least interpret those parts in a different way.

    Of course, we believe the bible was actually written and edited by 100’s of different persons over a period of a thousand years who believed in God and considered themselves as God’s people. During that thousand year period, Hebrews and Christians went through numerous seasons when their understanding of God (theology) changed, often being profoundly affected by surrounding cultures (Canaanite, Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman). Hence, as we read the bible, today, we can take note of contradictions that seem to exist within the bible, itself, and wonder how we can make sense of it, especially if we have to take all of it literally.

    For instance, while some books of the bible are written to make it appear that everything that ever happened in history was God’s will, other books strongly suggest that the evil that has occurred in the world was/is not the will of God, at all. This expresses itself like when I hear some fundamentalists saying that the Holocaust was God’s will so that Israel would become a nation in 1948, or that Manifest Destiny was the will of God so that the United States could become the biblically mentioned “shining city sitting on a hill,” even if it meant killing off millions of native Americans. But, how many times have you heard some politician talking about America as “the shining city” and “American Exceptionalism” in efforts to garner the support of evangelical Christians? I consider these to be heresies of biblical proportions!

    The Judeo-Christian faith has always been in the process of evolution. I am convinced God has always revealed the same truths from the beginning of time, but we dim-witted humans have never had a great inkling of what those truths were. As time has passed, God’s people have seen those truths in a variety of ways and tried to put it all together over time, often entangling what they got wrong with what they got right. We’re still in that process, today, and we will always continue to be in that process. And many of us believe that the Holy Spirit is fully involved as we go along.

    I also am convinced that it is important for all Christians (and members of all other religions) to be talking together about what they understand of God’s truths, just as I believe that God has been talking to all of humanity and to all of creation from the very beginning. It is all of us communicating, happily, freely and openly debating these things together that we are able to see some of the light.

    Of course, that attitude would be totally anathema to literal fundamentalists of any religion! Hence the debate about religion and science.

  • Pingback: Lessons from the Perceptions Conference - Science and Religion Today()

  • Alan G Phillips Jr

    The biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann has been the bane of Evangelical theological thinking and scholarship for many decades now. Joining a long list of other “infamous” authors in the Evangelical and Fundamentalist canon, such as Darwin, Marx, Freud, Dewey and Nietzsche, Bultmann is typically castigated and scolded for his “demythologizing” approach to the study of the New Testament and early Christianity.*

    He is vilified by many authors, but why is this the case? ** Could it be because his work effectively hits a bullseye that many religious practitioners refuse to acknowledge?

    Why is his work bemoaned when the actual behavior of many Christians supports one of his central premises–the modern Christian does not (and cannot) inhabit the mythic, biblical worldview. Examples might illustrate this:

    1. As correctly noted by Bultmann,prescientific belief in demonic entities or angelic beings is effectively dead in modern Christian congregations (with the exception of…

  • Alan G Phillips Jr


    … some Charismatic and independent groups). (Bultmann 1966, 15-16).

    When emotional or spiritual problems affect congregation members today, pastors rarely defer to exorcists or deliverance “experts.” Instead, they look for “Christian” psychologists who are trained in contemporary methods of counseling and mental health. The triumph of psychology and psychiatry in many Evangelical churches vindicates this part of Bultmann’s analysis. Many no longer live as if they believe in a spiritual realm that influences mental well-being…in spite of occasional protests to the contrary (See Bultmann 1966, 3-4).

    2. When advising their young adult members, many Evangelical parents and youth ministers are more positive about those in their ranks who choose STEM fields (= science, technology, engineering and math) and business/ professional options for future careers.

    For example, a young person in an Evangelical church that declares a theology or classics major in…

  • Alan G Phillips Jr


    …college might be greeted with a “what’s that…?” Or, a concerned family may send such a misguided young person to a Christian “counselor.” Modernity typically rules when career paths are considered in Evangelical homes.

    3. We claim to “believe” in miracles and the power of prayer, but Evangelical worry and fear is regularly expressed in public forums over health. Whether it’s during frantic debates over “Obamacare” or in desperate cries for better hospitals, the focus andy fixation on the medical industry belies a professed focus on supernatural miracles and prayer. Modern medicine typically gets first choice while the other options are a typically last desperate resort in America’s Evangelical context.

    4. Even the most ardent Evangelicals and Fundamentalists do not subscribed to the prescientific, geocentric, flat-earth view expressed in the thinking of biblical authors (Bultmann 1966, 3). Preachers who deliver their Sunday messages about…

  • Alan G Phillips Jr


    heaven “up there” and hell “down there,” usually supplement these public statements with modern or post-modern conceptions (hell as an interdimensional place, eternal condition, etc.). These quiet, off-stage “supplements” are a tacit admission that Bultmann is correct again (Bultmann 1966, 9): In spite of what they CLAIM to believe, modern Evangelicals and Fundamentaliats probably do not ACTUALLY believe in prescientific cosmology. Besides, if they did, their urgency about everyday evangelism would be ramped up. Really, if you sincerely believed people were pouring into unending torment every day, wouldn’t the focus always be on this? Not politics, all-you-can eat buffets, Christian entertainment or shopping jaunts!

    What is my key point? Basically, those who attacked Bultmann for his demythologizing program are unconsciously demythologizing as they live their lives every day. Bultmann had his weak points, such as his interpretation of the Resurrection and…

  • Alan G Phillips Jr


    an uncritical acceptance mythic themes in Heideggerian existentialim Bultmann 1966, 24-25). But overall, I think his demythologizing critique of our contemporary situation is accurate.

    *For example, see Bultmann, Rudolf. “New Testament and Mythology” in Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, Hans Werner Bartsch, ed. and Reginald H. Fuller, trans. (NY: Harper and Row, 1966), pgs. 1-44. Also see Bultmann, Rudolf. Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting, Reginald H. Fuller, trans. (NY: Meridian Books, 1962).

    **See Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology, “Chapter 41: Radical Theologies” (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), pgs. 575-576.