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Rev. Michael Dowd

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Evolving Gallup's Poll on Evolution

Posted: 06/04/2012 10:38 am

Once again, as it has 11 times since 1982, Gallup has polled Americans on the question of human origins. Once again, the biased wording of the three belief statements on the menu of choices forces respondents into camps that do not reflect the views of many Americans -- myself included. Surely it is time to update the list by offering a fourth choice.

Here is how the question and choices currently are posed, with the 2012 percentages of Americans voicing each position represented in parentheses:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?

1. Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process. (32 percent)

2. Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process. (15 percent)

3. God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so. (46 percent)

All three options confuse mythic (meaningful) religious language with factual (measurable) scientific language. Sadly, for many people in America, such confusion is the norm -- and priests and pastors in the pulpit are offering little help in sorting things out.

Even so, a growing number of thoughtful Americans have moved beyond the entrenched science vs. religion conflict. We go by many names and we find our homes both within and outside of church communities: religious naturalists, new theists, religious humanists, evolutionary humanists, emergentists. For us, we cannot say yes to any of the options Gallup offers.

It is thus time to evolve the Gallup poll on evolution. Simply add a fourth choice:

4. Human beings emerged naturally from a long process of physical and biological creativity that can be spoken of religiously as "God's creation" or scientifically as "evolution."

This proposed choice would enable a respondent to express a view of human origins fully grounded in mainstream science, while bridging to the mythic, interpretive language of religious tradition.

Joseph Campbell, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, Huston Smith, Robert Bellah, Michael Shermer, Robert Wright, Pascal Boyer and other scholars of comparative religion and evolutionary psychology remind us that we cannot understand religions and religious differences if we don't understand how the human mind instinctually and unconsciously relationalizes, or personifies, reality. More, there is no need for Americans today to give up the relational, to forgo meaningful connection and traditional language, even when we move beyond the supernatural belief systems of our ancestors.

Poseidon, "the god of the oceans," was never a supernatural entity separate from the sea who looked down from on high or rose from the deep. Poseidon was a personification of the incomprehensibly powerful and capricious seas.

Sol was not the spirit of the Sun, as if there were a separation between the two. Sol was a mythic personification of that seemingly eternal, life-giving source of heat and light (and occasionally a life-taking source in times of desperate drought). By saying Sol, Helios, or some other mythic name, our ancestors experienced that reality as a "Thou" to be related to.

The vast majority of Americans would have no disagreement with my characterization of the gods of antiquity. A growing number of us understand the God of Abraham in exactly the same way. Gallup: Please let us have a voice!

I predict that when Gallup or any other reputable polling organization incorporates into their evolution surveys a question like I have proposed above, the results will shift markedly. Until then, the Gallup poll on human origins (and the media and bloggers commenting on it) will continue to fan the flames.

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of squid?

1. Squid came into being over millions of years from less advanced forms of marine life, but Poseidan guided the process.

2. Squid came into being over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but Poseidon had no part in the process.

3. Poseidon created squid pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.

4. Squid emerged naturally from a long process of physical and biological creativity that can be spoken of mythically as "Poseidon's creation" or scientifically as "evolution."

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