by David Glass and Graham Veale
Christians seem to be obsessed with evolution. After a talk on science and faith to a group of Christians, you can be fairly sure that one of the first questions will be ‘Is it possible to be a Christian and believe in evolution?’ Fortunately, the answer is simple. Francis Collins, Tim Keller and host of other Christians including both scientists and theologians believe in evolution, and so it follows, obviously enough, that it is possible to be a Christian and believe in evolution. But presumably what the questioner means is ‘Should Christians believe in evolution?’ Granted, Christians can and do believe it, but should they?
A disclaimer: we don’t think it’s possible in a short article to do justice to this question, so we’re not going to try to provide a definitive answer. However, we’d like to emphasize that Christians shouldn’t get so hung up on this question. It’s not that those involved in Saints and Sceptics aren’t interested in this topic; some of us are very interested, others less so. Also, there’s probably a range of views on evolution among us – we’re a fairly tolerant bunch, as evangelicals go – so we just don’t think it’s crucial for Christians to hold any one particular view. Let’s explore why.
While Christians might ask “how did God create the universe?”, to our minds the much, much more fundamental question for modern people is “did God create the universe?” As Christians we are very good at focusing on questions that are only of interest to our own subculture and poor at responding to questions asked by outsiders. If we are interested, in communicating the Christian message to those outside the Church it’s time we started thinking about their questions, not just our own.
So we recommend that those who reach the conclusion that Christians shouldn’t accept evolution avoid making their opposition to evolution central to the Christian faith. If we recognize
a) that a lot of people who are not Christians accept evolution
b) many Christians accept evolution and
c) it is possible to believe in evolution and accept the Gospel,
d) there is no need to make this particular issue a stumbling block to those who might be interested in Christianity.
Of course, that’s not to say that Christians opposed to evolution shouldn’t express their views or argue their case; just that they shouldn’t make it part of the Gospel. It is not reasonable to believe that the truth of Christianity stands or falls with the theory of evolution. Would the truth of evolution mean that God doesn’t exist or that Jesus did not rise from the dead? No, of course not! At most, the truth of evolution would make some Christians re-evaluate their interpretation of Genesis; the evidence for God’s existence and the resurrection, for example, would remain intact. For a person to call all of that evidence into question because they believe in evolution strikes us a mistake of enormous proportions.
In fact, it’s this kind of mistake that the New Atheists make – Christians should know better. Instead of forcing people to choose between Christianity and evolution, why not focus on all the reasons in favour of Christianity that have nothing to do with evolution and remind people that even if they can’t work out how everything fits together, it doesn’t mean they should jump to hasty conclusions. Many Christians have lived with tensions between archaeology and specific passages in the Bible that have later been resolved; just as scientists quite happily live with tensions between theories that don’t quite fit in the hope that future developments will shed further light on the matter.
But what is evolution? Even Young Earth Creationists believe that Natural Selection explains why many organisms are well-adapted to their environments. Are they evolutionists? For the purposes of this article, we can think of evolution as the claim that the diversity of life on Earth has come about as a result of typical evolutionary mechanisms such as mutation, natural selection and genetic drift. Here we need to look at the science as honestly as we can without trying to distort it to fit with a particular interpretation of Genesis and similarly to look at the Bible as honestly as we can without trying to distort it to fit with science.
On the scientific side we need to find out what scientists actually claim and what evidence they point to. For example, we shouldn’t ignore the changes that have occurred during the history of life on Earth as captured in the fossil record; we also need to take seriously the genetic evidence which is highly consistent with common ancestry. While none of this is disputed by mainstream scientists, there is disagreement and ongoing research into the extent to which various mechanisms can account for evolutionary change. In a review article on evolution published in 2004, eminent evolutionary biologists Kutschera and Niklas highlight this point…
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