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Monthly Archives: February 2008

What if Evolution is True?

Nothing in science provokes controversy like evolution, especially in America. Despite more than 80 years of evolution teaching in America’s schools, Americans remain doubtful that all life now on earth developed from less advanced forms of life. Among scientists, however, and especially among biologists, the verdict is nearly unanimous: evolution occurs. Why such a serious disconnect? Is the evidence for evolution not compelling? Is it too abstruse for non-specialists to understand?

Opposition to evolution from evangelical Christians has been particularly strong. Some, such as popular speaker Ron Carlson, still cling to the notion that the world (and presumably the entire universe as well) is less than 10,000 years old. Such people remain untroubled by evidence because they start with accepting the literal truth of the bible. Evidence contrary to the bible is dismissed as unconvincing or dishonest. The whole scientific enterprise is seen as a means for eliminating God from public discourse rather than a means for discovering the truth about the universe we live in.

There can be no doubt that science attracts atheists or encourages atheism. Belief in a personal god is rare among scientists. But I think it is disingenuous to claim that scientists do not care about truth. Many early scientists were men and women of faith. They expected that their investigations would confirm the truth of scripture. Early geologists, for example, sought everywhere for evidence of a massive worldwide flood, and it seemed at first that fossils of sea creatures on mountain tops might bear out the biblical account. But as they examined the evidence, they became more an more convinced that the layers of fossils they were seeing were millions of years old, laid down when the mountain tops were sea beds and then thrust up by the slow motions of the earth’s crust. This process of being convinced by evidence was not driven by the desire to get rid of God. It was driven by the universal human desire to understand.

Many evangelicals have concluded that the truth of evolution is incompatible with the truth of scripture. If evolution is true, they claim, then the bible is not true. I think this is a very dangerous position because it gives excellent grounds to the enemies of Christ for rejecting the gospel. The bible has never been nor was ever intended to be a book of scientific claims. When the psalmist says, “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13), he is not making a factual statement about the process by which human beings are formed. He is claiming that human beings are specially created by God no matter what processes are involved in their making. This is a claim that science cannot verify. It is a claim made by faith. Most of the claims made in scripture—and surely all the most important ones—are similarly claims of faith.

If evolution is true, it has consequences for faith. But the consequences need not be catastrophic. Throughout history Christians have adapted to the intellectual climate of the times. During the middle ages, for example, the orthodox view of sex was that it was solely for procreation. Enjoyment of sex even by people married to each other was considered evil because it encouraged the desires of the flesh. Similarly, food was meant to be eaten for sustenance and not for enjoyment. (We could probably do with more restraint in both areas nowadays, but I digress). Evolution poses difficult problems for understanding ourselves in relation to God. At what point did human beings become spiritual beings? What are we to make of the creation stories in the bible? How are we made in the image of God if we share common ancestry with other creatures? In fact, what does “made in the image of God” mean?

I don’t know whether evolution is true. I do know that I do not want to tie my faith in a changeless God to scientific explanations, which have changed time and again.


Big Ten for Today

Here’s what much of our culture now accepts as gospel: All religions are alike. Truth is personal: what is true for you may not be true for me. Faith is about the sincerity and authenticity of your beliefs. Whatever fulfills you is good for you. Love is mostly sex, and respect is mostly letting people make their own mistakes. Guilt does not describe what you have done but how you feel about it. Peace is the unimpeded flow of commerce. Hope is wishful thinking. Virtue is the strength of will required to do you own thing no matter what anyone else thinks. Be true to yourself. Wear your seatbelt. Reduce your carbon footprint, and for God’s sake use a condom.

Ten Pretty Good Rules for Living Nowadays

  1. Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.
  2. Don’t let other people define who your are.
  3. Respect yourself.
  4. When you get upset, go to your happy place.
  5. Don’t get caught.
  6. Rid your life of people who bring you down.
  7. Use a condom.
  8. Don’t let your parents push their beliefs on you.
  9. Be creative, especially when asked to tell the truth.
  10. Never be satisfied with what you have; there’s always more.

True Fiction

I picked up Baby Jack at a Borders in the Detroit airport. I was needing something to read while waiting for my plane and during the layover in Chicago. It looked about the right length, and I figured I’d finish it before touching down in Minneapolis. What really hooked me, though, were the blurbs on the inside cover that touted the book as “true.”

The book is a novel about a young man, Jack, who joins the Marines against the wishes of his parents. It’s about what motivates young men to serve their country, and how it affects those who love them. It’s also about the self-centeredness of America’s cultural elites. In it God is a tough-as-nails Marine drill instructor who doesn’t care about human suffering but only about good drama. Some Christians might find Schaeffer’s depiction of God offensive. But I couldn’t help smiling at this paragraph about the shock some people get in the afterlife:

Sometimes the dead are so bummed they even argue theology with God. A few days ago, a newly arrived Southern Baptist preacher was so shocked by God’s profanity that he told God that he thought God needed to repent and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal savior. “What are you talking about?” God yelled, “I’m an atheist for Christ’s sake!”

I don’t think Schaeffer intends his theology to be taken seriously. He’s writing about the meaning that sacrifice gives to our lives, and he thinks Marine drill instructors have the straight skinny on it. I think his intention is to honor drill instuctors, not to dishonor God.

One of the characters, Jack’s sister Amanda, wants to know why our news media are so skewed toward whatever is dishonorable and rarely mention what is honorable. She makes a scene in the newsroom, demanding of the reporters there:

“Why is Jack’s name only in this shitty [newsprint] box?” Amanda yells, as she waves the clipping. “Why do you piss yourselves every time Tony Kushner farts but you can’t be generous to one American hero? Why is a Pulitzer a big deal but not a Silver Star? Who makes those rules? Does anyone in this room have a family member in uniform?”

The book also has a study guide at the end for book clubs. Schaeffer is sure that his novel is true, and he wants to make sure his readers get it.