Paul Prather: Hard to believe, but I agree with Pat Robertson about evolution

Contributing columnist,Paul PratherFebruary 15, 2014 

Kentucky made international news recently.

A Feb. 4 debate in Petersburg pitted Bill Nye The Science Guy of television fame against Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum.

Their subject: evolution vs. creationism.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, 3 million people tuned in.

I missed the debate itself, but I read about it both before and after.

Mainly, the preliminary publicity and the post-debate analysis were predictable. You knew what people were going to say before they said it, depending on their scientific, religious and political affiliations. Secularists and moderate-to-liberal Christians largely embraced evolution; conservative evangelicals tended to deny it.

However, I was blindsided by Christian TV personality Pat Robertson.

He's about the most conservative evangelical guy on this planet. Possibly for several planets around. Yet it turns out he's not a strict creationist like Ham, who holds that the Earth was created, as-is, by God in six 24-hour days, a few thousand years ago.

Instead, Robertson believes the world's life forms evolved over tens of billions of years, as Nye does. He said the science behind evolution is indisputable.

"To say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense," Robertson declared on The 700 Club.

"Let's be real," he added. "Let's not make a joke of ourselves."

He does assume God was behind the Big Bang: "I believe that God started it all, and he's in charge of all of it."

When I read his statements — and again when I watched the actual 700 Club clip later for myself — I nearly spewed coffee all over my laptop.

I did some further online research to see what Americans generally, and American Christians particularly, think about the Earth's origins.

Here's an oddity: apparently both the most likely and least likely demographic groups to embrace evolution are — Christians.

A Pew Research Center poll, reported in December, found that 60 percent of American adults accept evolution, 33 percent don't and the rest apparently are undecided.

Among adults with no religious affiliation, 76 percent are evolutionists.

But a whopping 78 percent of white mainline Protestants believe life on Earth evolved, the highest rate of any group mentioned in the Pew Center's report.

By contrast, only 27 percent of white evangelicals accept evolution, the lowest of any group; 64 percent remain creationists.

There also are significant political variations.

Forty-three percent of Republicans told Pew researchers that humans and other living things evolved, down from 54 percent as recently as 2009. Yes, in the 21st century, Republicans' belief in evolution is declining — precipitously.

By comparison, 67 percent of Democrats believe in evolution, up slightly from 64 percent four years earlier.

Frankly, the evolution vs. creationism argument flummoxes me.

To my ears, creationists seem to be ones more determined to keep the battle going. They hold that the opening chapters of Genesis must be read literally.

Their reasoning: Genesis says creation happened in six days. A day is 24 hours. If they admit it didn't happen within that narrow time-span, that maybe it took billions of years, then Genesis is wrong. To them, if Genesis is wrong about anything, then everything else in the scriptures is suspect; their whole theological system collapses.

This zero-sum thinking eludes me on so many levels, I hardly know where to start. For instance:

■ First, while I take a high view of scripture, I don't worship scripture. I worship God. I have a relationship with him. If a section of the Bible turns out to be scientifically mistaken, that doesn't make the whole Bible wrong, obviously, and it certainly doesn't make my whole faith worthless, because my faith isn't dependent solely on words printed in a book, but also on words written in my heart by the spirit.

■ Second, a great deal of the Bible employs parables, metaphors, symbols and other literary devices. Even the most literalistic Christians agree on that. Why is it OK to accept some stories in the Bible as metaphors, but not the creation account?

■ Third, as major scientists who are Christians have pointed out, the hard evidence in favor of evolution is just overwhelming. We're supposed to worship a God of truth. To me, when the facts disprove your theology, it's time to adopt a better theology.

And so on.

There's another faithful, and more reasonable, Christian alternative to creationism. The Pew study found that, among the huge portion of white mainline Protestants who accept evolution, half believe — as Robertson said — that God started and directed the process.

That's what I think, too, even though I'm a wacky Pentecostal.

I realize secularists take issue with those of us who claim that, because we can't prove God did it. Nobody set up a video camera to see who lit the Big Bang's fuse.

But the secularists can't prove God didn't do it, either. Science provides us the what, but can't address the who or the why. Those are areas where I lean on faith.

And that's OK. I happen to be a person comfortable with faith and its inherent mysteries. You're entitled to your theory of evolution; I've got mine.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at pratpd@yahoo.com.

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