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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.

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