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Wrestling with Evolution

Christians are accustomed to treating evolution as an account of the world’s origins that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and something that a person could only believe in the absence of God or in the absence of faith. But this is not quite fair. There are now many Christians—Christians who treasure the Bible and who affirm the truths of the historic Christian faith—who do believe that the evidence for evolution is too compelling to ignore. It is telling that, as far as I can see, the vast majority of Christian scientists (not to be confused with Christian Scientists) hold to evolution. In the face of modern science, those of us who still cling to a literal six day creation may seem to be increasingly stubborn and outdated. Certainly the world perceives us this way. So, too, today, do many in the church. There is very real pressure to conform.

The stakes are high. As Christians we believe that God is honored when we honor the truth. Hence if God did not create the world from nothing in six literal days, we dishonor God by clinging tightly, even in the face of evidence, to a view that is wrong. Of course the opposite is also true. If God did create the world in six days, we dishonor Him by believing in evolution. Only one view can be right.

In his book The Language of God, Francis Collins, who identifies himself in the book as an evangelical Christian, neatly divides the realm of science and the realm of faith. Faith is given to answer ultimate questions about meaning and purpose where science is God’s way of speaking about the physical world. He sees a complete harmony between them. Collins says there are four options when we consider possible responses to the interaction of the theory of evolution and belief in God.

The first is atheism and agnosticism which he describes as science trumping faith. In this view people place their ultimate trust in science and have little to offer when it comes to ultimate questions about meaning and purpose.

The second is Creationism and he describes this as faith trumping science. He says that if the views of creationists are true, “it would lead to a complete and irreversible collapse of the sciences of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology and biology.” “Ultra-literal” interpretations of Genesis are wrong and must be adapted to fit with what science tells us. Collins makes no distinction between “old earth” and “young earth” Creationists. There are, after all, some Christians (and though I am not among them I do have some sympathy for their beliefs) who would hold to something a little bit different than a six day creation, believing that God has created ex nihilo (i.e. out of nothing) and that He has been doing so progressively over millions or billions of years. He created man ex nihilo 6,000 or 10,000 years ago almost as described by a literal reading of the first few chapters of Genesis. Collins does not distinguish because he feels evolution is simply to clear to ignore and whether we believe in an old earth or a young earth, to ignore evolution is folly. Evolution and divine non-intervention are the keys, not the age of the earth.

The third option is Intelligent Design, which tries to find harmony but which does so only by looking for areas science cannot explain. As science progresses it inevitably finds a way to explain these gaps, thus keeping Intelligent Design advocates always scrambling and always on the defensive. While I enjoy reading of the world of these people, I find Intelligent Design an unsatisfying explanation for reasons I may discuss at another time.

The final option is theistic evolution or what Collins prefers to call “BioLogos.” This is the view he holds to and the view of an increasing number of Christians. This belief rests of the following premises:

  1. The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.
  2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life.
  3. While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time. Collins seems to hold that life arose naturally (or at least that it could have arisen naturally) and not through supernatural intervention.
  4. Once evolution got under way no special supernatural intervention was required.
  5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.
  6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.

I think these six points accurately summarize what most theistic evolutionists believe. I don’t have an exhaustive list of Christians who are theistic evolutionists, though some of the names I’ve heard are a bit surprising to me. But as I said at the outset, the names do include many Bible-believing Christians.

As for me, I am still an old-fashioned, out-dated, six day Creationist. My reasoning is simple: I believe we have to give the position of supremacy to the Bible. While I certainly admit that the Bible is not meant to be a scientific textbook, if we affirm its inerrancy we need to believe that where it does comment on science, it does so truthfully. Thus, until it can be proven to me otherwise, the creation of the world, as outlined in the Bible, is meant to be read literally and accepted as fact. Further, the creation of the world is not merely a scientific question but also a theological one, so it is not something we can consign entirely into the realm of science. Thus we have to arrive at a solution that is consistent with both science and Scripture, all the while knowing that we are imperfect and our eyes are clouded by our limitations. Where science and Scripture clearly disagree, we must hold fast to God’s Word. And to this point that is where my conscience has directed me.

There are several areas where I feel theistic evolutionists allow science to trump Scripture and I’d like to point out just four of them. Francis Collins is certainly no theologian and, unfortunately, does not address these in his book. I really would be glad to receive recommendations for a book written by a conservative Christian explaining how we can reconcile science with Scripture in these points and others.

First, if we decide that the biblical account of creation is simple allegory or a metaphorical description of what actually took place, how are we to determine where allegory ends and reality begins? If the description of the creation of the world is either just a vague metaphor for what actually happened or perhaps some kind of allegory, where do we determine that historical narrative actually begins? Certainly we cannot read much into the fact of God resting on the seventh day. We have to see that God did not create Adam from the dust of the ground and did not form Eve from Adam’s rib (putting to rest the age-old controversy of whether or not they had belly buttons). Was there a literal tree of life and tree of the knowledge of good and evil or were these, too, mere metaphor? Did God really create Eve specifically to be Adam’s helper or did woman arise by the process of evolution? Were gender roles part of God’s creation or did they arise only through natural selection? Was there a serpent who tempted Adam and Eve? Did they really eat fruit God told them not to eat? Was there a real Garden of Eden? Did Adam and Eve really get banished from it? Was there really a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life? Did God really create Adam and Eve clothes (foreshadowing the death of Christ in the death of the animal He used to cover them) to cover their nakedness? And finally, do we not see throughout the Bible that the other authors seem to understand the Biblical account of creation in a very literal way? It seems to me that the metaphorical reading of the first few chapters of Genesis if fraught with peril. This, in itself, is not a sound argument as much as it is a caution. Those who hold to theistic evolution tread upon portions of the Bible that are absolutely foundational to our faith.

While I will admit that this next argument, an extension from the last, may fall into the realm of fallacy, I will state it anyways. Is there not a danger in handing someone a Bible and saying, “It is important to note that the first three chapters you read really aren’t meant to be taken literally!”? Does it seem likely that God would give us His description of the world’s origins in a way that, by most measures, seems to be meant literally, when in reality it is merely figurative? What are the wider implications of reading these early chapters in a way that is less than literal?

Second, the Bible tells us that Adam, as the first man, stands as our federal head. He represented us before God in such a way that when he fell into sin, so did we. The Bible makes it clear that this position was assigned by virtue of Adam’s position as the first man. If we hold to evolution we have no way of knowing if, how or why Adam is our federal head. Was he perhaps the first person who was truly a sentient being? Was he the first person to whom the moral law was given? Did God somehow intervene in his life to give him something that made him human while the rest of the species went on as animals? We are forced to believe that God somehow chose Adam out of the mass of humanity (or near humanity) and conferred on him a special privilege. While this is something God is known to do (think of Abraham as an example) this is certainly not clear from the Bible. In fact, I don’t know that anyone would have thought of this until evolution began to make us rethink Genesis. We would also do well to consider the implications to the federal headship of Christ, the Second Adam.

Third, how did the fall into sin actually happen? I touched on this in the first point, but if we believe in evolution, it is difficult to then believe that the story of man’s fall into sin happened exactly as the Bible describes it. And so I ask, how did sin come into the world? And how can we explain its pervasiveness?

And finally, was there death before Adam? Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world through the sin of Adam. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” Yet evolution is impossible without death (and without death being an agent of good, rather than evil, for death causes the stronger to supplant the weaker, driving the innately beneficial process of natural selection). So did death really enter the world through Adam or was there death already? And is death a curse, as the Bible says, or is death also a good and necessary force that causes the stronger to survive?

I have found these four questions (or series of questions) impossible to reconcile with Darwinian evolution. Thus I have to give supremacy to the Bible. Am I asking you to answer these questions? Not necessarily, though if you have answers or can refer me to a place that they’ve been answered satisfactorily I would be interested in the learning experience. In the meanwhile, I’m content to continue believing that God created the world, from nothing, in six days, and that He did so not too long ago. My understanding of Scripture and my love for it just doesn’t allow me any other option.