This is part 2 in a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and Atonement. Click here for Part 1.
Fair warning, this is going to be a long series. In this post, I’d like to specifically address the scientific evidence for evolution. Many of you will already know much of this and probably accept the scientific evidence and the paradigm of evolution for understanding how the world works. Whether you do or don’t, however, bear with me. My view may be slightly different than your own.
My Own Background
Like most of you, I took biology in high school and college. Both times, I was taught the theory of evolution, and both times I rejected the theory as false. Despite mountains of evidence in support of evolution (and virtually no real, scientific evidence to support creationism), I refused to accept evolution as a reality because my own tradition wouldn’t allow it. I was taught that for Christians who accepted the Bible as God’s inerrant, infallible, completely-true-in-everything-it-teaches Word, evolution was unacceptable, because Genesis teaches otherwise.
I’ll get to Genesis, Adam, and evolution in a later post, but is sufficient to say that I had deep crises of faith each time I learned about evolution from a “secular” source, and was never exposed to the idea that one could be a Christian and accept evolution at the same time (on why I don’t say “I believe in evolution,” see this post by Fred Clark). For you Evangelicals out there, you should be aware that some of the biggest Evangelical heroes (C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, among countless others) accepted evolution and still held deep Christian convictions. It can and should be done.
N.T. Wright on evolution:
I’m a big fan of the BioLogos foundation. Their goal is the attempt to reconcile a Christian worldview with the theory of evolution. I’ll be using a lot of their material during this series.
The basic theory of evolution can be thought of like this:
Evolution refers to descent with modification. Small modifications occur at the genetic level (in DNA) with each generation, and these genetic changes can affect how the creature interacts with its environment. Over time, accumulation of these genetic changes can alter the characteristics of the whole population, and a new species appears. Major changes in life forms take place by the same mechanism but over even longer periods of time. (reference here)
It is generally accepted that the first form of life seems to have appeared on Earth around 3.85 billion years ago. From this first basic form of life the species that we can observe today emerged. This occurred via several mechanisms – most notably genetic mutation, migration, genetic drift, and natural selection. Through these processes, and over a very long period of time, different species began to emerge. This is known as “Universal Common Descent,” and is evidenced both by the fossil record and the observation of the genome of many species.
For more and better information about evolution, see the following:
http://www.atheismresource.com/evolution (despite the fact that this is an “atheism” website, the information here should not be discounted
God and Evolution?
Unfortunately, this presents a problem for many people. I can remember being around so many different Christians in my life that literally made fun of people who believed in evolution or just couldn’t accept that God might create the universe in such a way that is different from the Genesis account of creation. For many of my Young Earth Creationist (YEC) friends, accepting evolution also meant denying the uniqueness of humanity, since we share a common ancestor with other primates. Not to mention, from our vantage point, it seemed like everyone that “believed” in evolution was also an atheist (which created the false dichotomy that exists even today between science and faith).
I will allow that a Christianity that accepts evolution cannot accept total randomness in the evolutionary process. It’s not like God started the evolutionary process and then some 3.8 billion years later put on his glasses, looked down at the Earth and said “Holy crap! How did that happen?” Instead, as Christians, if we are to accept evolution as a part of our understanding of how life is formed, we must also believe in God’s intentionality in the process. If this were the only thing we had to worry about, we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Again, unfortunately many people believe that evolution cannot be reconciled with the biblical narrative. While I admit that we may need to re-understand what the biblical text is meant to be and say, the acceptance of evolution does not require that we reject Christianity as false.