A month or so ago, Annie and I went with our friends Matt and Steph to see the documentary on Intelligent Design called Expelled. I am still planning on sharing a few thoughts from that experience, but it did give me a good Monday Muse question. So here goes…

Can a Christian honestly believe in evolution? Is Christianity and evolution compatible?

I have heard of several Christian scientists (among others) who believe in evolution in some form. The most prominent person I am familiar with who believes in evolution is Alister McGrath (if I am not mistaken on that point). So it seems that people find some compatibility between the two. Can that be possible? Now it’s your turn…

13 Replies to “The Monday Muse: Evolution

  1. Currently, evolution provides the best science in understanding the world around us. It provides a scientific explanation as to what organisms we observe. It does not exclude God, but it does not include God either. There are different levels to evolution – micro- and macro- (speciation). The first is observable. The sub-species level changes as an organism adapts are observable. Macroevolution is a little harder to measure. Speciation, creation of new species from an existing one, is very difficult to observe. This is sometimes why evolution is describe as fact and theory, because one type is measurable and the other is not so much.

    So, I think it is quite easy to be a Christian and accept evolution as a scientific theory. Keep in mind, there is no belief involved with evolution, as it is science. There is either acceptance or refutation.

    Intelligent design is not a Christian theory. If you read the the definition of the theory, Christ and God have been removed to the point that any religion can apply the theory to their beliefs. While evolution also fits as not being a Christian theory, evolution does not alter the doctrine of Christianity as intelligent design does. Intelligent design creates a god-of-gaps. Basically, instead of God being the overarching power, it puts God into the gaps filling in spaces and observations in between and intervening only as “experiments” fail.

    Intelligent design is not science. It is not testable, not falsifiable, not dynamic, and not alterable. It does not conform to the definition of a scientific theory.

  2. Christianity and evolution deal with two different realms. I believe they are completely compatible. I have never felt as honest and fulfilled intellectually and spiritually as when I “came out of the closet” as a Christian who accepted the validity of evolutionary theory.

  3. You can’t just write off Christianity and the theory of evolution as two separate realms – religion and science respectively – and then accept without consideration that they can mutually coexist in full. They cannot.

    Christianity encompasses more than mere spirituality. It addresses medicine, law, politics, culture, AND science. It takes stands on each these issues, and the stance of Christianity towards the theory of evolution – specifically macro-evolution – is not in the least compatible.

    Specifically, Christianity is at odds regarding evolution’s stance towards the Origin Of Life and Speciation. Old Testament scripture very directly indicates that life was orchestrated purposefully by a Creator, and that multiple species of all types of plant and animal life were created simultaneously. On the other hand evolutionary theory is very convoluted when it comes to the origin of life, and the typical stance is that unique species of plant / animal life ultimately all evolved from an original single molecule.

    Christianity, with the Bible as it’s guiding foundation, must either be accepted in full, or completely rejected. The Bible claims to be infallible, and as such must be accepted in full. Christians trust the Bible with their lives, so if certain scriptural teachings are said to be good and wise, but others on history and science are considered suspicious, how can we trust any of it?

    Whether “intelligent design” is a proper scientific theory or not, I don’t know. But I do know that it is an attempts to put in scientific terms the basic rational tenants of many faith communities who find that macro-evolutionary theory is far out of bounds when it comes to suppositions of how our living world came into being.

    And that’s the long and short of it – the question is whether or not a Christian can honestly support the theory of macro-evolution. One cannot – not in the least sense. The beliefs of Christianity place God at the core of the origin of life and species, while the theory of evolution (whether intentionally or unintentionally) all but remove God from the equation of life… and that is not compatible with Christianity.

  4. “the stance of Christianity towards the theory of evolution – specifically macro-evolution – is not in the least compatible.”

    I disagree. There is one point of contention I can see, however, and that is that evolutionary theory contradicts a LITERAL reading of the Genesis creation account.

    “Old Testament scripture very directly indicates that life was orchestrated purposefully by a Creator, and that multiple species of all types of plant and animal life were created simultaneously. ”

    Actually if you read the creation account literally plants and animals are not created simultaneously. Plants are created on day 3 and animals on days 5 and 6.

    “On the other hand evolutionary theory is very convoluted when it comes to the origin of life, and the typical stance is that unique species of plant / animal life ultimately all evolved from an original single molecule.”

    How is it convoluted?

    “Christianity, with the Bible as it’s guiding foundation, must either be accepted in full, or completely rejected. The Bible claims to be infallible, and as such must be accepted in full. Christians trust the Bible with their lives, so if certain scriptural teachings are said to be good and wise, but others on history and science are considered suspicious, how can we trust any of it?”

    Something can be figurative, symbolic, non-literal, metaphorical, whatever you wish to call it, and still be true.

    “Whether “intelligent design” is a proper scientific theory or not, I don’t know.”

    Considering that the proponents of ID do not partake in scientific inquiry, I (and most others) do not consider it scientific.

  5. In response to Jordan, The Doctor, The scientist….

    You are actually incorrect on Micro-evolution. The adaptation that you mention, the observable kind is not an example of evolution at all but of natural selection.

    Evolution involves taking something and making it walk up a ladder from simple to complex. It is an increase in information, ie. single celled animal eventually becomes an ape… even on a “micro” level, the implication is an improvement that leads to the formation of new species and such.

    However the adaptations that have been observed many times are brought about by mutation which is a change in the DNA which gives instructions how to build the life form. Mutations cannot be the vehicle by which any evolution occurs. In short mutations have never been observed to create NEW information. They always lead to a LOSS of information. This loss of information may lead to man reclassifying something as a new species.

    (A side note is that nearly every “proof” of evolution in the past has been either proven as false, proven as fake, or reinterpreted as speciation)

    The key point is that there are no scientific examples that have been unilaterally accepted as transitional forms between species or animal types.

    So what is called “micro-evolution” is simply Natural Selection. Natural Selection is testable, provable and does not require any new information to occur. In fact, natural selection as observed leads to a loss of information on the whole which is quite literally the opposite of what evolution claims.

    The last thing I want to comment on for today is also what Jordan said.

    “So, I think it is quite easy to be a Christian and accept evolution as a scientific theory. Keep in mind, there is no belief involved with evolution, as it is science. There is either acceptance or refutation.”

    The truth is that Evolution IS a religion. Evolution is a belief system about the past, just like Christianity. All of the evidence that we see in the world around us is one set of evidence. There is no evidence that is for evolutionists or for Christians. We all look at the same set of facts. The difference is how we interpret those facts. Like it or not all scientists are biased by their belief about what happened in the past. Most have been taught evolution, so when they look at a set of facts, they interpret it throught the evolutionary model. So they see proof in their own interpretations. A creationist looks at the same set of facts and interprets it through his belief system about the past, that God was the source.

    Evolution simply replaces the Supreme authority of God with the supreme authority of man. We are the fittest, we are the most intellegent, therefore we are the pinnacle. Evolution is the excuse for Humanism. Man can decide his own fate, make his own rules and behave however he sees fit because there is no moral authority in Evolution, only the survival of the fittest. Humanism began with Adam in the garden of eden and is the essence of Sin itself. Putting man in place of God.

    You see, the way that the scientist observes his facts is biased. No matter what. Either it is biased because of his belief of evolution, (a theory that is accepted not on proof but faith) or because of his bias because of his belief in the creator. The battle is not between science and faith. It is between faith and faith.

    When we see this as the true battle we understand why, no matter what, when science is involved, changing a persons mind with evidence can only happen with changing a persons heart at the same time.

  6. @airtightnoodle: You agree that the Bible is at odds with the conjectures of evolution IF Genesis is to be read literally. Then I have to ask, what about the writings in Genesis appear to invite us to interpret them symbolically or otherwise? And then that begs the question… what exactly is it symbolizing??

  7. airtightnoodle – I agree totally with you regarding the literal interpretation of Genesis. The theory of evolution does only exclude that from Genesis.

    BV – You are partially correct. Natural selection is one measurable aspect of evolutionary biology. However it is not separate from evolution. It is one engine that powers the evolution car within the theory.

    Also, you are partially correct on the mutations. Many do result in deleterious effects due to the miss-copying of genetic information. However, we cannot assume that the loss of a specific sequence chain is deleterious. The idea behind natural selection and evolution is that only those individuals with the most adventagous genetic material will create viable offspring that are stronger/faster/more cunning/camouflaged/better in some way that those specific genes are transmitted to future generations purely through survival. While this may lead to a new species, it may not. The scientific definition of a species is that of a group that can interbreed and produce sexually viable offspring (i.e. a horse and a donkey are not the same species even though they can interbreed, however they produce a sterile, non-viable offspring [mule or hinny]). Evolutionary theory applies here when the organisms that have ancestors in common can no longer produce viable offspring. Just about everything conforms to a human contrived definition.

    “Man can decide his own fate, make his own rules and behave however he sees fit because there is no moral authority in Evolution, only the survival of the fittest.” There is a contradiction in your sentence here. If evolution were Man deciding his own fate, why develop a theory that involves random aspects? Those characteristics that do make an organism the fittest and surviving are not obvious, are not always predictable. Those random selection pressures, recombination of DNA, mutations, all add areas that are outside of human understanding in terms of why they occur.

    I think that, as the philosophy of science would teach, is that science is not a belief system. That is why theories are testable, refutable, dynamic, and can change. If it was part of a belief system, how could it change? Take a look at competing theories of evolution: Lamarckian and Darwinian (FYI Wallace proposed a similar theory as Darwin at the same time observing different organisms). At the time that Lamarck hypothesized his interpretations of evolution, it was viewed as a valid addition to the scientific understanding. Basically, Lamarck theorized that an organism can pass on acquired/learned traits to their offspring just through reproducing. As science expanded, understanding of how inherited traits are actually passed on to offspring, Lamarck’s theory was not supported. Through testing his theories, they were eventually refuted, especially with the publication of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ and Wallaces ‘On the Law Which has Regulated the Introduction of Species’. This, over a 30-40 year period, was a significant and drastic change to the evolutionary theory. If evolution was a religion or belief system, this would not have been viewed as a valid change in the theory and those accepting Darwinian evolution would have been viewed as heretics and shunned from science. While neither Darwin nor Wallace understood the mechanism for their theories (it took Mendel to begin to describe genetics), they still tried to explain their observed changes and relationships between organisms. Any time such a drastic change to the doctrine of Christianity were proposed, hinging on a key component, they are not accepted. This is because the belief system of Christianity is not changeable, not dynamic, due to the fact that faith rests in the truth of the Bible, not in a theory. As a theory, there is no belief in evolution. As science changes, more information is gained, and details are defined regarding evolution, the theory evolves (no pun intended). Since evolution is not a religion, not a belief system, there is no replacement of God. As such, I know no scientist that is a Christian that has replaced their belief in the supremacy of God with the supremacy of Darwin. In fact, I have met many Christians at state and church-affiliated universities who have spoken to me on the importance of strengthening our faith in God through, among other things, the understanding and support of scientific theory, including evolution. As science changes and the theory surrounding evolution changes, my heart does not change. The intellectual aspects of science do not alter my faith in God, belief in the Bible, and my salvation through Christ.

    I do love you Brian, but I think you are incorrect in the argument that it is a faith and faith debate instead of a science and faith debate.

  8. I don’t believe Evolution had the power of faith behind it when Darwin and Lamark were hatching out the pillars of evolution. What I’m saying is that Evolution is the vehicle by which Humanism can rear it’s ugly head and put a stake into the very hands of the Creator.

    Adam sinned in the garden by supposing he could be like God. Evolution claims that everything we see has come about by chance and not through the Lord God.

    I know you are thinking that maybe God uses evolution, but the truth is that the Bible does not allow millions or billions of years in the timeframe of the earth. Evolution requires the earth to be old… OLD… REALLY OLD. Whereas the Bible shows us that the earth is more like 6000 years old, give or take a century or two.

    That is based on a literal understanding of Genesis. The six days were exactly that. SIX LITERAL 24 HOUR DAYS ON EARTH. If you don’t read it that way then your faith in God is foolish because it ultimately puts what we read in the fossil layer as death, distruction, desease, catastrophe and extinction BEFORE the moment when Adam sinned and was therefore cursed.

    ALL death is as a result of Adams sin, and all redemption is based through Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the tree, he was the second Adam.

    What evolutionists do is look at evidence and interpret it based on their presuppositions that the earth is old. I don’t disagree that there are creation scientists out there, but I fear that for the most part, Christian scientists tend to do exactly what I feel you are doing, and allowing science to interpret the Bible. You are taking outside influences and changing what the Word says, instead of taking what the Word of God says, written by God, the only one who was there, and interpreting the evidence as such.

  9. “If you don’t read it that way then your faith in God is foolish because it ultimately puts what we read in the fossil layer as death, distruction, desease, catastrophe and extinction BEFORE the moment when Adam sinned and was therefore cursed.”

    So what do you make of the fossil record, then? Dating methods that are distinct from each other from different fields of science concur that the earth is certainly older than 6000 years.

  10. This has been a great discussion. I have really enjoyed the debate since I have great interest in this issue. I think it has implications for many things, maybe most notably as it relates to an individual’s worldview. There is so much to discuss here but let me just touch on one thing for now.

    Jordan and airtightnoodle: What reason do you propose for interpreting the creation account of Genesis non-literally? There is no doubt that Scripture is made up of several genres of literature. However, what does it mean to interpret Scripture literally? If we mean literal in the sense that every word means exactly what it says with no interpretation necessary, then we are going to misread much of Scripture. We understand that when someone says, “Joe is built like a house,” the person doesn’t mean that Joe is put together with nails, 2×4’s, drywall, and a coat of paint. That doesn’t even make sense. It’s a figure of speech. It’s simply a figurative way of communicating. But what if we say that we interpret all of Scripture literally as it fits into the literary genres and grammatical categories? Now we have a different ballgame. We are still seeing Scripture for what it is literally but only as it fits into the context of its genre or category.

    So again…what gives us reason to interpret the creation account in a non-literal way? I hold the same concern that Brian mentioned already. Is it possible that a non-literal interpretation of the creation account tries to make sense of the bible from the view of science as opposed to trying to make sense of science from the view of Scripture? Wouldn’t this be backwards…science interpreting the bible instead of the bible interpreting science?

    The major struggle I have with Darwinian evolution (and maybe other forms of evolution as well) is that it builds a framework for how we view the world and life without God. Jordan, you say that evolution neither includes or excludes God which is certainly true. However, if you believe in Darwinian evolution, what need do you have for God? It doesn’t explicitly exclude God, but it leads people to believe that there is no need for God. All the answers seem to make sense without any mention of God. Simply do the science and you’ll have all the information you need to see things as they really are. Though it doesn’t make any explicit religious claims, it leads people down a path to humanism and atheism. I think this has been made plainly clear by people such as Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins among others. Again, it doesn’t necessitate someone becoming an atheist or humanist if they believe in evolution. But I think it certainly doesn’t give anyone a reason to consider Christian faith. For people who were Christians before becoming scientists, I think it creates a difficult dilemma. How do you make two things that create different frameworks for making sense of the world around us compatible? I’m not questioning anyone’s faith. I know that there are several Christian scientists who believe in the sovereignty of God over evolution. But aside from the concern for worldview, the question really begs to be answered as to how evolution fits into the context of Scripture (especially the origin of species).

  11. For the record, there has been study after study done on carbon dating (and other forms of radiometric dating) that show that the preconcieved expected age of the item is used to verify the “correct” dates given on the spectrum of dates that the test gives. The tests show vast inconsistency and the way they pick what dates to use is based on what they expected to begin with. Bias, bias, bias….

    In regards to the fossil record… the fossil record very carefully shows billions of dead things, fossilized in rock layers, layed down by water, all over the earth. Only a global, massive, catastrophic, GOD CAUSED, flood could achieve this on the scale that is seen.

    Simply put… how could you have an interstitial fossil that exists in more than one rock layer, each of which supposedly took millions of years to form? The very erosion that millions of years would take would wear away the fossil. Fossils can only be made if the entire animal, plant or other is completely covered pretty much instantly. (Like in a flood.)

    The fossil record screams with proof of the flood and is silent on everything that Darwin expected. Darwin expected to find countless fossils showing links between species. Insted, all we have are the miscatergorized, the misunderstood, the fakes, the imagined, and the hoped for dotted lines that describe most of evolutionary thought.

    We have allowed our faith to be influenced by the outside. Therefore, how we read the plain, simple text of the Word has been bastardized. We need to look at the world through the Word. Allow God, who was there at the beginning, to tell you how this world was made, and stop trying to tell God how we think things happened. How arrogant of us, to tell the creator how He created. How foolish of us.

What Do You Think?