Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution?
Firstly, I'd better be clear on what I mean by 'evolution'.
I don't mean the kind of evolution that says humans came from apes. I don't know anyone who claims to be a Christian and believes that. I mean natural selection kind of evolution, survival of the fittest, and so on. There are a growing number of Christians from the evangelical Anglican circles I used to mix in in Perth that don't believe in a literal six (24 hour) day creation. There is no dispute that God created or could create in six 24 hour days, but they believe the word 'day' in Genesis means 'a period of time'. They believe the earth is millions of years old, and not thousands which is the claim of Genesis. I also get a sense of 'we are educated, scientifically-minded people who have moved past that idea that the earth was created in a literal week' attitude as if they think those who believe otherwise might as well believe in fairytales. They think that believing in an old earth is no barrier to being a Christian. These opinions have been voiced by a few people, but in no way reflect everyone.
Recently I read two books on this subject:
On the whole, I found The Essence of Darwinism by Kirsten Birkett to be a much more helpful read (I have read it before, but that was nine years ago). Not only is it short (142 pages), but it makes scientific theories much more accessible to someone like me. Basically it can be summarised in a few points:
- What is known as 'Darwinism' today isn't actually Charles Darwin's theory at all. His theory has evolved over the years and there is considerable disagreement between scientists. Evolutionary theory is not a proven fact the way many schools teach it to be.
- The evolutionary debate is always religious. Why can't it ever be neutral without religion being an issue? Because it involves us...people...our origins. If we have evolved by chance, then there isn't really any meaning of life, and humans are no different from the rest of the animals. Without God, humans are not special. There is no morality. We don't make sense without God. Debates about evolutionary theory are never just about the theory - they are always within a framework. Some of those who believe strongly in evolution are also staunch atheists.
- Genesis is not so much about the 'how' (the mechanics of creation), but the 'why'. Genesis explains why God created us, who God is and how we should relate to Him.
While the book is mostly very helpful, I think it falls down in a few places and I found those places quite alarming. While it is true that what matters most is the 'why' and not the 'how' and that Genesis does not say EXACTLY how God created, the 'how' still matters somewhat. On page 127, Birkett says, We cannot say a priori that God made His creation work in this way or that way. It may seem bizarre, even uncomfortable, to us that God developed humans from apes. What of it? Other people find it uncomfortable that God might have created humans instantaneously with no intermediate steps. What we find uncomfortable or not is hardly the issue. We do not and cannot dictate how God has worked. But how can any Christian say that God MIGHT have created humans from apes when it is clear from Genesis that He didn't:
the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7).
There were also a number of her arguments in the Epilogue: What About Genesis? that I didn't agree with (get a copy and read for yourself).
I've never been a big fan of 'creation ministries'. I think it is one of those topics that people like to get on their soapbox about (like baptism, the Lord's Supper or end times), but can distract Christians from the clear command and importance of spreading the gospel. For this reason, I don't want to subscribe to Creation Magazine, nor do I appreciate people telling me I need to read it as if I'm a lesser caste of Christian if I don't.
But in recent times I've come to see that such ministries have a place and I certainly don't wish to discourage them. I can see that the creation account may be a stumbling block to some people coming to faith and apologetics in this area can play a vital role. But I think some Christians need to be careful in that they don't become TOO focused on this area and start arguments all the time.
Why are many people so quick to trust carbon dating, yet doubt Genesis? One 'sciency' friend of ours has said that if people believe science is true, then they are completely missing the point of science. Science is a theory, not a fact, and that theory continues to evolve. Science needs to be reinterpreted by Scripture, not the other way round.
I don't think Genesis is meant to be read in the same way as an apocalyptic book such as Daniel or Revelation which have different meanings for the word 'day' (i.e. the 1335 days in Daniel). Genesis is a narrative and, despite the opening chapter being very poetic, there is no reason to doubt that the word 'day' does not mean a literal 24 hour day. After all, it says there was evening, and there was morning, the 'x' day. Sarfati argues that the Hebrew word yom is what is used for the word day in Genesis. This means an ordinary day (sunrise to sunset). The Fourth Commandment for Sabbath rest makes no sense unless the days of the working week were the same as those of creation week.
I've also come to see that if you fiddle with Genesis, the rest of the Bible starts to cascade. If Genesis needs to be reinterpreted to fit with science, then which other parts of the Bible need to be as well? I'm wondering if the need to doubt the literal six day creation is coming from a desire to 'fit in' with non Christian friends rather any scientific 'proof'. We don't want to to look like weirdos for believing something that seems so ludicrous to the rest of the world. We want our friends to come to know Jesus so badly that we often compromise what the Bible says and water it down to make it more palatable to them. The trouble is, if people doubt that all of Genesis is true, what does that say about their claim that the Bible is inerrant?
Any other books you recommend on this topic?