Religious Responses to Evolution

      This page summarizes the widely-ranging responses to evolution found in various religious communities.  Where possible, I have used official web pages, and have looked for official statements from the various religious groups.  In some cases, I have referenced commentaries by individuals, which may or may not represent the official (or even predominate) position of their religion.  I have made an effort to include the world's major faiths, as well as the largest religious organizations in the United States, as listed by Adherents.com.   

    Based on what I read from the internet sources, I have listed some general classifications:  

  • Religious groups more or less open to evolution (13)

  • Religious groups neutral or ambivalent to evolution (6)

  • Religious groups critical of evolution (6)

  • Religious groups which do not state a clear position (18)

This is a rough classification, and it should not be assumed that the groups listed in the same category have precisely the same views, or that all members of a given group have the same point of view.  In some cases, the classification was a judgment call.  The nuances of some statements may be important.  Many groups make a distinction between biological evolution per se, and "naturalistic" evolution which ignores or excludes a creator.  You are encouraged to read the source material and draw your own conclusions.  Also, please keep in mind that the content of some web pages may have changed since I read them.


Religious groups more or less open to evolution:

    I have included in this category groups whose web pages include positive responses to evolution, even if some members or clergy have differing viewpoints.  Groups in this category do not generally "believe in" evolution as a matter of faith, but they (or many of their members) do express some openness to evolution as a possible mechanism of creation. 

The Anglican Communion

       In an interview, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams stated his opposition to teaching of creationism in school and stated that in his view, science is compatible with religion.  The Archbishop is the leader of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion.  The Anglican Communion consists of more than 40 Episcopal and Anglican denominations worldwide, including the Episcopal Church, USA.  In the interview, the Archbishop said,

 

         "I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories. "Whatever the biblical account of creation is, it's not a theory alongside theories. It's not as if the writer of Genesis or whatever sat down and said, 'Well, how am I going to explain all this?'. . . For most of the history of Christianity, there's been an awareness that a belief that everything depends on the creative act of God is quite compatible with a degree of uncertainty or latitude about how precisely that unfolds in creative time"

 

The Baha'i Faith 

       Baha'i teachings on the unity of religion and science indicate that Baha'is would be open to scientific explanations.  A web page on the "Destiny of Mankind" appears to take human evolution as a given.  The writings of 'Abdu'l Baha include extensive commentary on science and religion.

 

Buddhism

        A web page entitled, "Buddhism, evolution, and 'Intelligent design'" states, "There is no conflict between the Buddha's teachings and the scientific view of how the world has evolved. On the other hand, there is a blatant conflict between the doctrine of ``creationism'' that is espoused by some Christian sects that fear to be exposed to scientific truth, on the one hand, and the teachings of the Buddha, on the other."

        Another web pates states, "Buddhist philosophy is evolutionary and thus agrees with the scientists rather than the [creationist] theologians. Buddha taught that all things are impermanent, constantly arising, becoming, changing and fading."

 

Church of England  

         According to this article in the New York Times, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams,  Archbishop of Canterbury, is opposed to teaching creationism in schools.   The Archbishop stated,

 

         "I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories. "Whatever the biblical account of creation is, it's not a theory alongside theories. It's not as if the writer of Genesis or whatever sat down and said, 'Well, how am I going to explain all this?'. . . For most of the history of Christianity, there's been an awareness that a belief that everything depends on the creative act of God is quite compatible with a degree of uncertainty or latitude about how precisely that unfolds in creative time"

 

Conservative Judaism

        A search of the web page of the Jewish Theological Seminary revealed an article by Chancellor Ismar Schorsch which states that, "The Torah's story of creation is not intended as a scientific treatise, worthy of equal time with Darwin's theory of evolution in the curriculum of our public schools."  

 

The Episcopal Church, USA

        The Episcopal Catechism of Creation has extensive commentary on science and evolution and how they fit with Christian theology.  The following are excerpts from the catechism: 

        “Theories are not mere guesses or hypotheses, as people often suppose.  When enough evidence supports a hypothesis that has been created to explain some facts of nature, it becomes a theory. A theory is a well-established concept that is confirmed by further scientific discoveries and is able to predict new discoveries. . . Biological evolution is a web of theories strongly supported by observations and experiments.  It fits in with what we know about the physical evolution of the universe, and has been confirmed by evidence gathered from the remains of extinct species and from the forms and environments of living species.”

       “Clergy and scientists from both the Catholic and Evangelical traditions in Anglicanism have accepted evolution from Darwin’s time to the present.”

       “Many Christians have been taught to believe that evolution is opposed to creation, and that a believer cannot accept evolution and also believe in God.  Neither of these assertions is true.”

        A statement by Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold is open to the idea of evolution.  The statement concludes, "The divine creativity can be equally proclaimed in both the creation stories and the theory of evolution."

        Another page on the Episcopal website includes differing points of view by a member of the clergy, and an official at an Episcopal seminary. Their comments are followed by commentary by readers.  The Rev. Franklin Vilas (a member of the national church's Working Group on Science, Technology and Faith), says, "Is it possible to believe in God as creator and also to accept the scientific findings about the life process expressed in the theory of evolution?" To this question I would answer with a resounding "yes!"  David Mills, director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, is less enthusiastic.  Mills responds to the question, "Are evolution and creationism equally valid beliefs?" by stating that "the answer to the question is: maybe".  

        A 1982 resolution of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church states: "that the 67th General Convention affirm the glorious ability of God to create in any manner, whether men understand it or not, and in this affirmation reject the limited insight and rigid dogmatism of the "Creationist" movement...and ... that the Presiding Bishop appoint a Committee to organize Episcopalians and to cooperate with all Episcopalians to encourage actively their state legislators not to be persuaded by arguments and pressures of the "Creationists" into legislating any form of "balanced treatment" laws or any law requiring the teaching of "Creation-science.""

         The Archbishop of Canterbury, worldwide leader of the Anglican Communion has stated his opposition to teaching creationism in schools.

 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

        The ELCA web page FAQ indicates that the church has no official position, but that, "God created the universe and all that is therein, only not necessarily in six 24-hour days, and that he may actually have used evolution in the process of creation."  An article from the Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church takes a generally neutral position.  The Encyclopedia is a publication of the Lutheran World Federation.

 

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

        In response to recent discussions regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has placed on their web page a 1969 Theological Statement on the issue, indicating that, "Neither Scripture, our Confession of Faith, nor our Catechisms, teach the Creation of man by the direct and immediate acts of God so as to exclude the possibility of evolution as a scientific theory...Some form of evolutionary theory is accepted by the majority of modern scientists...We conclude that the true relation between the evolutionary theory and the Bible is that of non-contradiction"  

        The 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), meeting in June 2002 approved a statement that "Reaffirms that God is Creator, in accordance with the witness of Scripture," and that "a natural explanation of the history of nature is fully compatible with the affirmation of God as Creator."

        The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. [now part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)] issued statements in 1982 and 1983 opposing the teaching of creationism in public schools.

        A survey of Presbyterians indicated that a majority of church members, especially clergy, are "open to the possibility of evolution, at least in a general way."  A more detailed explanation of the same survey discusses a number of scientific issues.

 

Reform Judaism

    The web page of the Union for Reform Judaism includes an article by Rabbi Richard Jacobs who states the following:

    "I [believe] the Genesis account of creation to be true, [and] I also [believe] the scientific theory of evolution to be true...Science is one of humanity's great truth traditions, and religion is another. The two have threatened each other since well before the theories of Charles Darwin were formulated. But they needn't be engaged in such a heated rivalry because their goals are so different.

    "Science can help us understand how the world was created, but it can't tell us why it was created. And religion has no business telling us how the world was created, but we desperately need it to help us understand why we're here."

    Resolutions passed by the Central Conference of American Rabbis  and the American Jewish Congress oppose the teaching of creationism in public schools 

 

Roman Catholic Church

        In a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II stated the following:

        "Before offering you several reflections that more specifically concern the subject of the origin of life and its evolution, I would like to remind you that the magisterium of the Church has already made pronouncements on these matters within the framework of her own competence...In his Encyclical Humani generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points...

        "Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory."

        The Pope's statement is discussed in an article by Mark Brumley and in an article by Stephen Jay Gould.  
 

         A 2006 article in the Vatican newspaper states that “Intelligent design is not science and should not be taught as a scientific theory in schools alongside Darwinian evolution.”  The Catholic Answers website has an article that states:

    "Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.
    "Concerning human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that man’s
body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul.

 

         Pope Benedict XVI has been asked to clarify the church’s position on evolution after comments critical of evolution by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna.  Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory has recently stated that “Evolution is not only compatible with Catholicism but also "reveals a God who made a universe that has within it a certain dynamism and thus participates in the very creativity of God”  Dr. Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University, a Catholic professor of biology also responds to Cardinal Schönborn’s remarks.        

 

         An article by George Sim Johnston discusses evolution from a Catholic perspective.  Numerous other pertinent websites can be found by through a general search of the internet.

 

Unitarian Universalist Association

        Resolutions passed in 1977 and 1982 oppose the teaching of creationism in public schools.

 

United Church of Christ

        A UCC Minister is quoted as approving of the actions of a school board that rejected a plan to introduce creationism into the curriculum. 

 

United Methodist Church

        In his response to the Draft Report of the Task Force on Science and Theology to the 2004 General Conference,  W. Richard Turner states, "Evolution is a scientific fact, not someone's opinion or belief. Why cannot evolution be a part of an intelligent design? Wouldn't evolution be an extremely elegant and subtle way for God to accomplish God's purposes?"

        Rev. Phil Wogaman asks, "Did life evolve from one-celled organisms, as most scientists believe? Probably...Do the school children of Kansas and other states need to be spared exposure to the well-founded scientific theory of evolution? That theory is not inconsistent with the religious doctrine of creation. It is not about whether God created the world, but about how."  (It is stated that Rev. Wogaman's commentary does not necessarily represent the official view of the United Methodist Church.)  

        In 1984, the Iowa Annual Conference passed a resolution opposing "efforts to introduce 'Scientific' creationism into the science curriculum of the public schools."

        Methodist internet resources on evolution can be found at this web page, and a search of the Church web site will give a a variety of materials.

 

Other Clergy and Groups

More than 10,000 Christian clergy have signed An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science, supporting evolution as a “foundational scientific truth.”  The text of the letter follows:

 

“Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

 

More than 75 articles and sermons from clergy supporting evolution can be found at this website.

 


Religious groups neutral 

or ambivalent to evolution:

 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

        The Church web page does not address the issue in the section on basic beliefs.  However, both official and unofficial statements can be found elsewhere.  The official statements are generally neutral.  However the full range of views are represented in unofficial statements from Church leaders and members.  Some Church leaders have been highly critical of evolution.  However, articles more or less open to evolution have appeared in official church magazines in 1933, 1965 and 1987.  The winter 2000 issue of the Brigham Young University alumni magazine includes an article favorable to evolution from a Mormon perspective, and a publication of BYU-Idaho also has several articles along the same lines.  The Encyclopedia of Mormonism  takes a "hands-off" approach.  

        Church president David O. McKay wrote in a 1957 letter that, "on the subject of organic evolution, the Church has officially taken no position."  The Brigham Young University Board of Trustees in a 1992 statement said that Church leaders had expressed "various views" over the past decades, but that "there has never been a formal declaration from the First Presidency addressing the general matter of organic evolution as a process for development of biological species."  Individual Latter-day Saints maintain web pages both open to evolution, and critical of evolution.

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

         The Rt. Rev. Maximos Aghiorgoussis, Th.D., Bishop of Pittsburgh writes, "Among the visible things that God created is the crown of His creation, man. In Genesis we read the story of God's creation. We cannot interpret this story to the letter; however, its message is loud and clear: God is the creator of everything that exists; there is order in God's creation, and a development (even "evolution") from lower forms to higher forms of life; God created everything good; man, created in God's image and likeness, has a very special place in God's creation, called to be God's proxy toward His creation."

       An article by Rev. George Mastrantonis seems to be no longer available on the website.  In the article, Rev. Mastrantonis stated, "The theory of evolution does not contradict the existence of a Supreme Intelligent Being. It does not dismiss the existence of God with a Design and Purpose for the Creation. The Judaic-Christian concept of God accepts any truth from any aspect of life without fear of losing its faith in God as a Supreme Intelligent Being"  Rev. Mastrantonis does express some concern regarding any concept of evolution which excludes a creator.   

Hinduism

        The author of this web page sees parallels between biological evolution and the Hindu concept of spiritual and mental evolution.  

    "The emphasis here is more on the evolution of the subtle bodies rather than on the gross body. Science heavily rests its speculations upon the latter making it the central theme of its attention. But Hinduism goes a step further and tries to explain a more comprehensive and holistic vision of the same process...

    "Hinduism explains the process of evolution from a wider perspective. It views the whole problem on an universal scale, going beyond the visible and the manifest forms of life to understand the mechanism that is involved in the creation of not just the earth or its beings, but of the entire universe in which exist different planes of reality and consciousness...Thus Hinduism interprets the process of evolution both from within and without, both as a mechanism of Nature and a product of self-effort, with a hidden agenda which is the ultimate liberation of the soul."

        Another web page discusses evolution from the perspective of Hinduism.  According to Swami B.V. Tripurari, the idea of biological evolution is consistent with Hindu beliefs, although Hinduism teaches that matter and life is a product of consciousness, and that consciousness does not arise as a product of matter.

 

Islam

        An article on organic evolution from an Islamic perspective accepts some aspects of evolution, but not others.  Prof. Abdul Majid of the Government Postgraduate College in Pakistan discusses various Islamic views of evolution ranging from complete acceptance to complete rejection.  This web page has numerous links to internet sources dealing with evolution and Islam.

Orthodox Church in America

        In answer to a question, Fr. John Matusiak states, "Orthodoxy is not literalist in its understanding of the accounts of creation in Genesis, and I have encountered writings by Orthodox Christians which attempt to balance the creation accounts with a certain ongoing -- evolutionary, if you will -- process which, on the one hand, affirms that while humans may have evolved physically under the direction and guidance and plan of the Creator, their souls could not have evolved any more than the powers of reasoning, speaking, or the ability to act creatively could have simply evolved. In such a scenario the Creator intervened by breathing His Spirit into man and giving him life, as stated in Genesis...Orthodoxy has no problem with evolution as a scientific theory, only with evolution -- as some people may view it -- eliminating the need for God as Creator of All."

Orthodox Judaism

        The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations references an article which states, "Belief in science and belief in the Creator are absolutely consistent...In Genesis, the Torah describes a gradual process of creation from simple to more complex organisms: first a mass of swirling gasses, then water, then the emergence of dry land, followed by plants, fish, birds, animals, and finally, human beings. This, of course, is the same evolutionary process proposed by science."  The article states that the "days" of Genesis represent six epochs or stages of creation, and is very clear that the process of creation was guided by God.  The Orthodox Union supports an "evolution disclaimer" on the grounds that "students should not view their school as necessarily contending with the teachings of their parents or clergymen."   In answer to a question on this topic, Eliezer Abrahamson states that the Jewish response to evolution ranges from complete acceptance to complete rejection.


Religious groups critical of evolution:

Assemblies of God

        A position paper of the Assemblies of God states that, "This Bible record of creation...rules out the evolutionary philosophy which states that all forms of life have come into being by gradual, progressive evolution carried on by resident forces."  The paper also rejects theistic evolution, the idea that the process of evolution was carried on by a Creator.  

         The reasoning behind this position paper is explained in a page on creationism, which states in part, "If mankind has merely evolved from lower forms of life, one cannot possess the special imprint of God’s likeness (Genesis 1:27; 2:7) . . . If God is not Author and Creator of all that is, life offers little meaning or purpose for mankind.  In evolution there is no judgment, and therefore no punishment or reward for the way we live.  Through the view of evolution, lifestyle choices don’t matter.  Instead life and creation simply evolve.  But from the view of creationism, recognizing God’s handiwork and order, life takes on great meaning and renders significant eternal reward."

Jehovah's Witnesses

        The official Jehovah's Witness web page includes several pages arguing that evolution is incompatible with the Bible, and stating that, "evolution teaches that a series of changes gradually fashioned us into a higher form of animal. On the other hand, the Bible says that we started off perfect, in God’s image, but that shortly thereafter, imperfection was introduced and mankind began a long downhill ride."  Issues related to evolution are also discussed from a Jehovah's Witness perspective on another location in the web site.

The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

        An official statement reads, "We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself."  The statement clearly denies an evolutionary process undirected by God, but does not specifically address the question of evolution guided by a divine creator.

        Another article on the Church web page states, "While these [Genesis] texts do not answer (nor were they written to answer) all of the various scientific questions that we as moderns might wish to bring to them, they are very clear about the instantaneous creation out of nothing of man as a creature fully and completely in the image of his Creator. There is not even the slightest hint that an evolutionary process was a[t] work.

Presbyterian Church in America

       A detailed Report of the Creation Study Committee affirms that Adam and Eve are not the product of an evolutionary process.  The report does not appear to address the issue of evolution of other species.  

 

    "All the Committee members join in these affirmations: The Scriptures, and hence Genesis 1-3, are the inerrant word of God. That Genesis 1-3 is a coherent account from the hand of Moses. That history, not myth, is the proper category for describing these chapters; and furthermore that their history is true. In these chapters we find the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo; of the special creation of Adam and Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all humanity (hence they are not the products of evolution from lower forms of life). We further find the account of an historical fall, that brought all humanity into an estate of sin and misery, and of God’s sure promise of a Redeemer. Because the Bible is the word of the Creator and Governor of all there is, it is right for us to find it speaking authoritatively to matters studied by historical and scientific research. We also believe that acceptance of, say, non-geocentric astronomy is consistent with full submission to Biblical authority. We recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism."

 

Seventh-day Adventist Church

        According to an official statement, "Creation is a foundational pillar in the entire system of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine—it bears direct relationship to many if not all other fundamental beliefs. Any alternative interpretation of the creation story needs to be examined in light of its impact on all other beliefs. Several of the Faith and Science Conferences reviewed alternative interpretations of Genesis 1, including the idea of theistic evolution. These other interpretations lack theological coherence with the whole of Scripture and reveal areas of inconsistency with the rest of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. They are therefore unacceptable substitutes for the biblical doctrine of creation held by the church." 

        An additional statement reaffirms "the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the historicity of Genesis 1-11: that the seven days of the Creation account were literal 24-hour days forming a week identical in time to what we now experience as a week; and that the Flood was global in nature."

 

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

        An official statement reads, "We reject all theories of evolution as an explanation of the origin of the universe and the human race and all attempts to harmonize the scriptural account of creation with such theories."  

    The Church web site also includes question-and answer pages which address this issue.  One page addresses several questions, and states, "An evolutionary development of life from one species to another does not fit with what God has revealed in the Holy Scriptures about the origin of living things".  Another page states, "creation and evolution can only be harmonized by those who are willing to do violence to many portions of Scripture for the sake of seeming to be 'in tune' with scientific thought...Evolution is really nothing more than proud sinful creature's arrogant attempt to erase his responsibility to his Creator".  

    A search of the church web site will reveal several other pages dealing with evolution and creation.


Religious groups which do not state a clear position:

Using internet resources, I was unable to find any evolution statements from these groups.  Please let me know of any sources I might have missed.  Some groups may profess a general belief in a creation, but do not indicate whether or not they are open to an evolutionary understanding of the creation process.

American Baptist Association

        A doctrinal statement states that "We believe in the Genesis account of Creation (Gen. 1; 2)", but the statement does not address possible role of evolution in creation.

American Baptist Churches in the USA

        A lengthy list of church policy statements and resolutions does not include any dealing with creation or evolution.

 

Southern Baptist Convention

        I was unable to find any Church statement addressing the subject of evolution.  The Baptist Faith and Message adopted 14 June 2000, states that "Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image", but does not explicitly state whether that special creation might have involved an evolutionary process, and it does not address the question of evolution among non-human species.  One source indicates that some groups within the Southern Baptist Convention differ in their "acceptance of modern science," but does not mention evolution specifically.  Also, it should be noted that this source includes a disclaimer stating that the differences discussed relate primarily to the SBC as a religious body, and may have little to do with Southern Baptist theology or religious life.

Other Religious Groups  
When last checked, no information on evolution/creation could be found on their web sites

African Methodist Episcopal Church
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church  
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)  
The Church of Christ, Scientist  
Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 
Church of God in Christ  
The Churches of Christ
  
Church of the Nazarene   
Community of Christ 
Friends General Conference of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Friends United Meeting  (Quakers)
National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.
Reformed Church in America
Russian Orthodox Church  
Salvation Army

Some sites addressing evolution and religion:

American Scientific Affiliation  
Evolution and the Bible  
Evolution Sunday
Faith and Reason Ministries
ReligiousTolerance.org Evolution Page   
The Talk.Origins Archive
 
National Center for Science Education 

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