New Poll of Protestant Clergy on Evolution

The CNN website has this story: U.S. Protestant pastors reject evolution, split on Earth’s age. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

America’s Protestant pastors overwhelmingly reject the theory of evolution and are evenly split on whether the earth is 6,000 years old, according to a survey released Monday by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Interesting, but not surprising if it comes from the Southern Baptist Convention. The poll may or may not conflict with the National Center for Science Education’s list of Statements from Religious Organizations supporting evolution, and it’s difficult to compare this with the results of The Clergy Letter Project, a strong, pro-evolution statement signed by over 12,000 Christian clergymen. It all depends on the denominations involved. Here’s more:

When asked if “God used evolution to create people,” 73% of pastors disagreed – 64% said they strongly disagreed – compared to 12% who said they agree.

Asked whether the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, 46% agreed, compared to 43% who disagreed.

Well, whatcha gonna do? Let’s read on:

The Southern Baptist Convention survey, which queried 1,000 American Protestant pastors, also found that 74% believe the biblical Adam and Eve were literal people.

Who conducted this poll? Ah, they say:

“Recently discussions have pointed to doubts about a literal Adam and Eve, the age of the earth and other origin issues,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a report on LifeWay’s site. “But Protestant pastors are overwhelmingly Creationists and believe in a literal Adam and Eve.”

The CNN article doesn’t break the results down by denomination. But apparently the respondents weren’t all Southern Baptists. We’re told this:

The phone survey was conducted in May 2011, sampling ministers from randomly selected Protestant churches. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent, LifeWay said.

So we went to the LifeWay website and found this: Poll: Pastors oppose evolution, split on earth’s age. It’s dated today. They say:

When asked to respond to the statement, “I believe God used evolution to create people,” 73 percent of pastors disagree, with 64 percent strongly disagreeing and 8 percent somewhat disagreeing. Twelve percent each somewhat agree and strongly agree. Four percent are not sure.

In response to the statement, “I believe Adam and Eve were literal people,” 74 percent strongly agree and 8 percent somewhat agree. Six percent somewhat disagree, 11 percent strongly disagree and 1 percent are not sure.

Here are some quotes we plucked from various places in the LifeWay article:

[A]bout one in five pastors agree that most of their congregation believes in evolution.


Pastors in the Northeast are more likely than their counterparts in any other region to strongly agree that God used evolution to create people. While 25 percent of Northeastern pastors strongly agree, only 13 percent in the West, 12 percent in the Midwest and 8 percent in the South feel similarly.


Pastors who consider themselves Mainline are more likely than Evangelicals to believe in evolution. Among those identifying themselves as Mainline, 25 percent strongly agree that God used evolution to create humans. Only 8 percent of Evangelicals strongly agree.


Pastors who indicate they are Evangelical are more likely than their Mainline colleagues to strongly agree that Adam and Eve were literal people (82 percent vs. 50 percent).


In response to the statement, “I believe the earth is approximately 6,000 years old,” 34 percent of pastors strongly disagree. However, 30 percent strongly agree. Nine percent somewhat disagree, and 16 percent somewhat agree.

We still don’t see any statistical breakdown among denominations, so it’s impossible to reach any reliable conclusions about Protestants generally. There’s one footnote about methodology, which says:

The phone survey, conducted in May 2011, sampled randomly selected Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called and responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The completed sample of 1,000 phone interviews provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed ±3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

You can click over there to read the rest. As we said, it’s interesting, but not surprising. And it’s not as informative as it could have been.

See also: Ken Ham Is Furious Over Clergy Poll.

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25 responses to “New Poll of Protestant Clergy on Evolution

  1. Right, so pastors are undereducated and ignorant of science. What else is new?

    That’s why they’re pastors; they can’t do anything else but blab to their flocks and fleece the sheep. Good work if you can live with the hypocrisy.

  2. Depending how “Protestant” is defined, this is not that surprising.

    Recent Gallup polling…

    Averaging 2011 and 2010 …

    43.5% of Americans self describe as “Protestant” and 9% “Christian (non-specific)”. 15% of those who say they are “Protestant” are Baptists and about 10% are “Other, Non-denom, or No opin”. My WAG is that most of that 10% and of the 9% “non-specific” are Evangelicals of some kind. Added together we have about 30% Baptist or Evangelical. Plus, some non-Baptist mainstream Protestants reject evolution.

    Putting this in political perspective, see…

    It shows 52% of of Republicans, 34% of Democrats, and 34% Independents “believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago”.

  3. Ceteris Paribus

    In response to the statement, “I believe the earth is approximately 6,000 years old,” 34 percent of pastors strongly disagree. However, 30 percent strongly agree. Nine percent somewhat disagree, and 16 percent somewhat agree.

    That statement reveals a very serious and dangerous failure in the theocrats we expect to return our fallen nation to its righteous destiny. (Hallelujah!)

    If the poll had asked “Do you believe that today is Wednesday?”, you wouldn’t expect a spectrum of responses that cover “strongly agree”, “somewhat disagree”, and “somewhat agree”. Look, the Creator went to all the trouble of putting a big light and a smaller light in the firmament circling the earth just so we can objectively tell one day from another without error. Sun goes up, sun goes down. Never misses a beat. It is either Wednesday, or one of those other days. (Can you say “Amen”?)

    So the earth is either 6,000 years old, or it is not 6,000 years old. Making subjective of distinctions of “somewhat” is not a choice; it is blasphemy and/or heresy. It is the slippery slope leading to Darwinism, and speciesism.

    If allowed to continue on this dark path, our blessed clergy will abandon all moral strictures of the scriptures, and feel free to behave like animals. Just as they did when they were junior counselors at their summer bible camps. (Holy Hosanna! or maybe her name was Rosanna?)

  4. I bet the results would be far different if the pastors could have taken the survey anonymously.

    I would also bet that if that were the case, the Southern Baptist Convention would not have released the results.

    Regardless of what pastors think, the earth is round, it orbits the sun, and evolution is fact. The “theory” part of Darwin’s Theory is whether natural selection is the driving force of evolution. The fossil record makes it crystal clear that evolution happens.

    Related to Doc Bill’s post above, a breakdown of the education of the responding pastors would be informative. There are a lot of self-ordained ministers out there with little or no education.

  5. I’m suspicious. That seems high, even assuming Gallup was right and creationist pastors are more common than creationist church-goers. I wonder if they used some funky definition of Protestant, i.e. excluding some mainline sects they disagree with. I also wonder about this comment by them: “responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches.” So, its not a 1-pastor-1-vote survey????

  6. So, its not a 1-pastor-1-vote survey????

    You have to weight your sample to reflect your population or the survey is meaningless. Suppose you are polling people on President Jefferson’s popularity and you poll 1000 people, 700 of whom identify as Democrat-Republicans, and 84% of your sample approves of President Jefferson. But suppose the country as a whole is 55% Federalist and 45% Democrat-Republican. Your estimate of Jefferson’s approval rating among the general population is now totally wrong. This is how you get headlines like “Dewey beats Truman”.

  7. Ah, gotcha. Thanks.

  8. These pastors need to take a course on epistemology. Oh, that’s right! They went to seminary and not to real school.


  9. I reject Protestant pastors at a 95% confidence level. According to creationist statistics, this means 95% of Pps simply do not exist.

    Whether the other 5% exists is questionable.

  10. From a certain standpoint, the whole of opinion polling is hogwash. What does it really mean when 45% of those responding say they believe X? What people say and what people do it not always the same thing, and trying to tease that out of data is difficult.

    It looks to me that this report is cherry picking from a larger set of questions, which makes it harder to say if these results are meaningful, or if they just got lucky.

    A lot of these polls are set up to “push” people towards particular responses. Maybe I’ll see if I can track down their survey instrument and methods.

  11. Tomato Addict says: “Maybe I’ll see if I can track down their survey instrument and methods.”

    If it’s a self-serving propaganda poll, that information won’t be available.

  12. Nils Jennings

    I was going to leave a response until I read the comment “rules.” It’s a shame you censor open discussion and thought. I believe the correct term for your site would be “promotional.” Definitely not an arena for ideas and opinions – unless their yours of course.

  13. Nils Jennings writes, “Definitely not an arena for ideas and opinions – unless their yours of course.”

    As a veteran reader of SC’s blog, I’m going to take the liberty to respond to your complaint. This is a blog concerning science. Science is not a matter of opinion.

    Rather, science is the means by which man attempts to understand the nature of reality. From your comment, it would seem that you think that religion, or more specifically, the Holy Bible, is all we need to understand the nature of reality. If that works for you, well, that’s fine. But please don’t attempt to insert your idea of reality into the public schools’ curricula.

    (If you want people to take what you have to say seriously, it helps if you use the correct words in your writing. In your sentence above, you probably meant to say “…– unless they’re yours, of course.”)

  14. Well,it looks like SC removed the comment from Nils Jennings.

  15. Or not. It magically reappeared!

  16. RetiredSciGuy, I restored that comment because you responded to it, but I don’t think he’ll be back.

  17. An email with a polite request for information has been sent. I’ll report back if there is any reply.

    This organization (Lifeway) appears to do a lot of surveys. At a guess, they have a contract with some service that conducts these polls for them, because I doubt they have their own telephone bank and staff statisticians.

  18. RetiredSciGuy.

    Excellent response. I doubt the whiner will be back.
    I’ve known SC for a lot of years, and he’s one of the fairest and straight forward people I know.

  19. SC said:

    I don’t think he’ll be back.

    Oh, I’ll bet he will, if for no other reason to see what we’re saying about him.
    And to get a grammar lesson from RetiredSciGuy.

  20. at the 99.999% confidence level I reject Protestant Ministers’ science. At the 90% confidence level I reject their theology. that’s the results of my survey… it may be flawed since my n is 1.

  21. richard williams

    the results of the survey should be titled:
    it is highly self selected, first, those who were called by a very conservative organization and second, those who replied to the survey.

  22. @Richard W.:

    You are probably right, it is certainly a silly survey. But getting estimates for margin of error from stratified survey data is not a trivial spreadsheet calculation (well, CORRECT estimates). It’s is very possible they contracted with a reputable polling company to conduct their silly survey, and this company was quite happy to take their money.

    Or they might have saved their money and lied. You know what they say – “67% of all statistics are made up on the spot.” 😉

  23. Tomato Addict

    No response to my emails, and my request for information post on Ed Stetzer’s blog has been deleted. I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you.

  24. You’re not surprised, Tomato Addict, are you?

  25. Not surprised – shocked. 🙂