In a country where 61 percent of the population says it believes that the creation story in the Bible is literally true and in which a popular Creation Museum near Cincinnati shows dinosaurs co-existing with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, even a respected, conservative evangelical Bible scholar such as Bruce Waltke connot get away with supporting the theory of evolution. Waltke has caused an uproar in the evangelical movement for this "heresy."
"If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult -- some odd group that is not really interacting with the world," says Waltke.
Almost immediately after posting a video that included this statement on the Internet three weeks ago, Waltke was labeled a heretic, and called "anti-Christian."
Ken Hamm, the CEO of the Creation Museum, has vehemently opposed Waltke's proposition. Hamm says, "I believe what he is saying ultimately undermines the authority of God's word."
Waltke has written several theological books over his career, winning the coveted Gold Medallion Book Award in 2002 and the Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association Christian Book Award in 2008, and has contributed to several Bible commentaries.
Even though Waltke had the video that supported evolution pulled down, and repeatedly explained that he believes one can believe in both evolution and biblical inerrancy (the position that the Bible is accurate), the attacks have kept coming.
After deciding he'd had enough, two weeks ago Waltke resigned from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Florida where he'd taught for more than a decade. He blamed the "sheriffs of theology" for hounding him out and causing his resignation.
Peter Enns, who lost his job at an evangelical seminary in Philadelphia under similar circumstances, says a refusal to accept evolution is likely to turn away future generations of Christians.
"They're being expected to have faith in God but being told that in order to have that faith in God, they need to ignore things that they hear in biology classes."
Moderate evangelical Randal Balmer says conservative evangelicals are starting to close ranks in the face of mounting evidence supporting the theory of evolution.
"They're beginning to enforce these sorts of purity codes within their own ranks as a way of locking down the faith against what they perceive to be a real enemy.
Conservative evangelicals insist that undermining God's words, with counterarguments, such as the theory of evolution, leads to society's moral decay.
"If there's not an absolute authority we can trust, then everything else is just opinion," says Hamm.
Waltke has found a new job at another conservative seminary, but the age-old tension between science and faith is only likely to intensify. Both sides agree that the stakes couldn't be higher.