Religion and evolution are in fundamental conflict with each other, right? Perhaps not, at least not necessarily for many religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. While many very vocal American evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, and others, see evolution as a deeply objectionable – even heretical – position, they do not represent the full diversity of opinions within other religious communities in America. So, what do these traditions think about the evolution of human beings?
While there is a great diversity of philosophical and theological opinion within the Hindu religious traditions, and no official or definitive position on evolution, the vast majority of American Hindus – 80% – agree that evolution by natural selection is the “best explanation for the origins of human life on earth,” according to data recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Although the efforts at dialogue with scientists by the Dali Lama and others have received a great deal of attention, like Hindus, American Buddhists have no single position on the issue. Buddhists are, however, the religious affiliation most likely to agree that evolution is the best explanation of the origin of human life. Buddhists report agreement with evolution at a rate of 81% – higher even than those with no religious affiliation at all, including those who self-report as “atheists,” who support evolution at a rate of only 72%.
While affirming that God created the universe and everything in it, including all life, is a major theological feature in all four branches of American Judaism (Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox) evolution is not usually seen as a problematic competitor. In fact, 77% of American Jews report belief in evolution as an explanation for the origins of human life.
Like Judaism, Islamic monotheism maintains that Allah is the creator of all things as a central tenet of belief. More literally minded scholars generally oppose evolution because the Qur’an does not speak of it and, in fact, offers direct divine action as an explanation for the origin of human life. More liberal and symbolically minded interpreters of the Qur’an however tend not to see a conflict between the teachings of Islam and evolutionary theory. Overall, however only 45% of American Muslims agree with evolutionary explanations of the origins of human life, slightly lower than the national average of 48% and more in keeping with the results for many branches of American Christianity.
A forthcoming ibcsr.org article will look at the diversity of views on evolution within various branches of American Christianity – a diversity also often neglected in public discussions of religion and evolution.
For more information on the Pew Forum statistics on belief in evolution by religious affiliation see here.
For the original article on “Religious group’s views on evolution,” see here.