Why do some Christians care so much about talking about evolution? Is it compatible with biblical Christianity?
Why do some Christians care so much about talking about evolution?
Recently I made a statement that it’s no surprise that a rejection of a Biblical sexual ethic and concept of gender identity only comes after the mass acceptance of evolutionary theory. By evolutionary theory, I mean macro evolution — the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. Now, there are Christians who affirm evolutionary theory. One, in the conversation I was having, said the following, “The danger comes in asserting that evolution is inherently opposed to religious claims. This hurts both faith and science. Faith look unattractive to those who embrace evolution, and science looks unattractive to those who reject evolution. When both sides embrace evolution, the conversation becomes deeper and more beneficial to both sides.”
Now, there are many things that we could talk about here, but I have a handful that I’d like to discuss right now.
The philosophical/definitional issue with God using evolution
The first is that there is a large philosophical and definitional issue if you’re a Christian and want to affirm that God created and yet he used evolution. The issue here is that science is going to tell that evolution is a natural unguided process. It is not guided. There is no purpose to it, it’s random in that way. What does it mean to say that someone used an unguided process? How could you take credit for creating by chance? “Creation by chance” is a contradiction in terms. To create something is to take definite action towards an end. To not do that is to let some unguided process take place (Or not to have done anything at all).
It doesn’t make sense to say that God created by chance, and yet this is the position that Christians, who want to adopt an evolutionary-creation model or a theistic-evolution model, find themselves in.
Now, often in conversations you might hear that evolution isn’t opposed to Christianity because Christians believe in evolution. But, that doesn’t mean that Christianity isn’t opposed to evolution. That means some people haven’t realized there’s an incompatibility, or they’re willing to accept that incompatibility for other reasons that are more important to them. We can’t just appeal to consensus to say, “See, it’s okay to be a Christian and believe in evolution, because other Christians do it.” We don’t appeal to popularity when we try to determine truthfulness of objective truth claims.
That’s the first issue. We have a definitional issue. It doesn’t even make sense. Either God create it or he didn’t. If evolution is true, there’s no room for God in that naturalistic, unguided process. There’s a foundational incompatibility between the two of them. They cannot be married. Because if evolution is true, God did no work, but God claims to do work. This leads us to our second issue. The first one is a definitional or philosophical issue. The second one is a Biblical issue.
The biblical issues
God says that in the beginning, he created the heavens and the earth. That would refer to the universe. This doesn’t necessarily refer to life, but he does go on in Genesis 1 and 2, through a variety of literary means, to make it very clear that he claims responsibility for life and for man, and for making man in his own image. You can’t make something in your own image by random chance. That doesn’t work. That doesn’t even make sense. This is what the Christian is left with when they want to affirm that evolution is true. Right off the bat, in the first chapter of the Bible, we have a Biblical issue. Jesus even says in Matthew 19 that God made us male and female – made us. You don’t make things by chance.
There are litany of other issues. A few that I want to point out here from a Biblical and worldview standpoint. One, it is the fact that we are the pinnacle of the creation week. You could say, “the jewel in creation.” Of everything God has made, we are made different to have authority over everything, to subdue it, and manage it well.
We are created int he image of God (Gen 1:26-27). This entails us having a soul — that we are sentient creatures, that we are not just physical. Evolution cannot account for anything being created that is non-physical. You don’t just suddenly evolve physically enough and now gain something in material, like a mind, or a soul, or a spirit. Evolution cannot account for the immortal soul that is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, to have a soul that will exist forever in fellowship with God or in some other place, but it will exist for eternity. It can’t account for that.
Some people have proposed that, at some arbitrary point in time when humans had evolved to a specific point, God endowed them with a soul. Well, where is that in the Bible? This really seems like trying to mend and bend the Bible to fit your scientific or philosophical bent, not saying “How can I form my worldview and view on this issue from what scripture says?”
Now, I’m not sticking my head in the sand. I do understand that microevolution exists, that viruses mutate, that different dog breed have existed, and certain animals with certain traits survive better in certain environments. That should not be a contested fact among Christians. The question is, can evolutionary theory, as it exists today, account for the arrival, survival, and flourishing of life? Can it account for a life form going to another kind of life form? Can life become more complicated over time? This is the issue where there is little to no evidence.
The scientific issues
Life from non-life
There are 3 problems with evolutionary theory itself. The first is that life can come from non-life. This would be called abiogenesis. Darwinian evolution, works through natural selection on DNA, but where did DNA come from? Well we don’t know, and this is part of the issue: the current theory cannot explain how we got DNA in the first place. This is a big problem. We don’t even understand how we got to the point where this theory might actually be true.
The second issue is that if evolution were true, we would expect to see million upon millions, perhaps billions upon billions of transitional forms. These are the forms between existing and surviving animals. Think animals where the mutation that occurred was actually not helpful – tt was detrimental, and so the animal did not survive, or it had some odd characteristic. These would be much more numerous than the successful or helpful mutations. There are many more ways to break something than there are to make survive. Yet the fossil record doesn’t bear this out at all. We don’t see in the fossil record all of the evidence we would expect of the failed mutations.
Now, Darwin, when he was writing in his Origin of Species book, actually said a few interesting things. He said “the number of intermediate and transitional links between all living and extinct species must have been inconceivably great.” This was before we had nearly as much archaeological evidence as we do today, and yet we have found that they are not inconceivably great. They do not exist. We don’t see all the failures we would expect from this random process which would most likely create more failures than success.
The other and third problem is that of irreducible complexity. There are structures that exist in living organisms that could not have been formed by small, successive changes over time, which is how evolution is said to work. This is another scientific issue. Here’s what Darwin said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely breakdown.” Now, there is the next sentence which Christians don’t often read, but which I will. He said, “But I can find no such case.”
This was because they didn’t have nearly the level of technology we have today to be able to see the very discreet biological structures, which are often times more complicated than many of the things we build with our hands today. We’ve actually been able to see that they are irreducibly complex. What does that mean? That means that if you take one part out, it doesn’t work at all. It could not have been formed by successive changes, because many changes would have needed to be made all at once in order for the thing to function.
Those are 3 scientific issues just for starters (there are more). We have the issue of life coming from non-life, the issue of transitional forms that do not exist, we have the issue of irreducible complexity. That’s on the scientific side.
As Christians, our main authority for how we view the world and what truth is, is not science. Science can help inform us, but we must construct our worldview based on the authority of God-inspired scripture. Now, this brings me to another criticism I have of this individual’s statement that we started with. He said that “rejecting evolution hurts science and faith. It makes faith look unattractive, yet when both sides embrace evolution, the conversation becomes deeper and more beneficial to both sides.”
We can’t make the gospel attractive
There are a few things I want us to think through here. The first is that our job as Christians is not to make faith attractive. Our job is not to make Christianity attractive. Our job as Christians is to be prepared to give an answer for the hope in Christ that we possess, and do so will gentleness and respect. It’s not to make the gospel attractive. The gospel has been a stumbling block. It has been offensive to people since the beginning of time. Paul says, “It was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” When properly understood today, apart from the work of the spirit, it’s still offensive and still sounds wacky. We should not round off the truthful sharp edges of scripture or what it teaches in order to accommodate to culture to make it seem like Christians can be just as intellectual (though we can be).
We should not be giving away ground where the Bible clearly defines the territory. My goal is not to make Christianity or faith attractive. It’s also not to have a deeper conversation, if that leads to me rejecting important parts of my worldview, if it leads to giving away that fact that the Bible says man is created by God, or that man is created in the image of God, or that man has an immortal soul.
If evolution is also true, especially to the non-Christian, then there’s no such thing as morality. You don’t have moral obligations between animals. On an evolutionary view, especially one that doesn’t attempt to be Christian or Biblical, that’s all mankind is, is a slightly more evolved animal. Well, there are no moral laws in that worldview. There is no moral law giver in that worldview, because we are not created in the image of God.
You can say, if you want, that God created us in his image through a random process, but that doesn’t make sense. That’s like saying “there’s a square circle over here.” “Designed by chance, creation by randomness“ is not a thing, unless you’re into abstract art. Even then, the painter is the one flinging their hands in a certain way, and having chosen to use certain paint with certain brushes, and standing a certain distance from the canvas. It’s not actually random art, even if it looks abstract. That is not what evolution is, as it’s defined to be in academia and by scientists today. It is a naturalistic —totally devoid of any supernatural existence — unguided, process, that is opposed to the supernatural being of God, guiding and creating for his glory.
This is ultimately why this matters. In the end, the arc of scripture (what it’s all about) that we were created by God, in the image of God, and here’s the clincher, for the glory of God. When we take away the fact that we were created in the image of God by God, and say that it was done by some random process, we diminish the glory of God that is due to him, alone. God calls himself creator, not “random process starter.” Even if he were a random process starter, if it’s actually evolution, he has no hand in how it goes, because it’s a naturalistic unguided process.
As we’ve seen with our very brief survey of the scientific issues, there are good non-Christian, non-Biblical reasons to reject modern evolutionary theory. It can’t explain how life can come from non-life. It can’t explain why there are irreducibly complex biological structures, and it can’t show us all of the transitional forms that we would expect if the theory were true.
Let’s focus on forming our worldview from scripture. Let’s focus on doing apologetics and defending our faith to the glory of God, not in accommodation to what might be considered the intellectual establishment or culture today. Our views have always been weird. They will continue to be weird as Christians, and we shouldn’t shy away from holding to what God has revealed, even if it’s unpopular.
I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.