If you live inside the North American evangeli-bubble, you might assume that every legit Jesus follower on the planet thinks the world is six to ten thousand years old, depending on how you track those old testament genealogies.
You would be wrong.
It turns out that many Christians have come to peace with the contentious piece of theology we refer to as the origins debate.
I am one of those people.
Since the day I was blindsided by a fellow musician in my worship band – a geologist with inside knowledge that didn’t sync with my creationist timeline -I’ve been down more than a few rabbit holes. I am now scraping out a new identity as a recovering creationist. I have a budding fondness for Darwin’s idea, and an expanding sense of wonder in a God who is content (even pleased) to let a universe unfold over billions of years.
What I have learned during my journey is that while many believers are asking questions with their inside voices, they are worried that speaking up is seen is a sign of doubt or rebellion against established orthodoxy. I have also discovered that many people outside the church are surprisingly intrigued by the implications of this conversation and are more than willing to engage.
So today, I am pleased to discuss several unfortunate myths about Christianity and evolution. Hopefully these conversation starters will keep your next Bible study lively.
Myth #1: Science And Faith Are At War
Most of us have difficulty choosing sides when it comes to the simple things in life like our favourite ice cream or shampoo. It gets even more complicated when we get into deeper subjects like origins. In our zeal to separate the light from the darkness, we adopt this tribe-like trait of drawing lines in the sand so we can tell the difference between us and them. Us are awesome at this. Just ask Galileo, or Newton (Isaac, not Wayne).
Galileo really stepped in it when he suggested the earth was not the center of our solar system. His radical idea was rejected, not because competing scientists had conflicting evidence, but because common-sense (at the time) Biblical interpretation wouldn’t allow it. Scripture was quoted, threats were made and reserved church parking lot spaces were confiscated. Galileo spent his last eight years under house arrest. Though he pleaded with his accusers to gaze through his hand-crafted telescopes and do the math, his appeals to logic were ignored.
Isaac Newton, whose claim to fame includes the three laws of motion, faced similar barbs from church leadership when he suggested that gravity might have a part to play in keeping our feet on the ground. He was accused of promoting occult activity. Gravity, as we would eventually learn, is a pretty good idea and anything but demonic.
See where I’m going with this? We love slicing and sorting scary, new concepts into either/or camps. On one side we have faith, on the other side science. We orchestrate cage matches between ‘belief and reason’ or whatever turf we routinely plant our flags in. It’s just too easy to frame these debates in terms of either/or. And the creation/evolution controversy is only the latest prize fight – a clash of two competing world views where apparently, only one side can win out.
However, there is a simple, fatal flaw in the either/or paradigm. Faith and science are not opposites. The opposite of faith is… wait for it. Fear. I’ll say it again. The opposite of faith is fear. (No need to get sidetracked talking about why doubt isn’t the opposite of faith either. That’s a perfectly wonderful kerfuffle for another day.)
While the scientific community isn’t restricted by our lines In the theological sand, it is incorrect to conclude that they are out to destroy the sandbox. Science is about how. Faith is about why. And this is true regardless of how loud the zealots on either side keep yelling.
Myth #2: Science Has An Anti-Faith Agenda
Myth #2 is an extension of myth #1 but must be considered on it’s own for different reasons. For too many evangelicals science itself is the problem. We have convinced ourselves that the geeky elites are out to corrupt our children and destroy our faith. I hate to break it to you but science could care less about your faith.
The real reason scientists put on their lab coats every morning is this: They want to solve problems AND GET PAID! Geologists, for example, are too busy trying to predict the exact location of the next big natural gas deposit to lose sleep over the fact that their calculations don’t line up with somebody’s interpretation of Genesis.
“Well the reason they don’t care about Biblical interpretation” says the creationist, “is because there are so few Christians involved in the sciences.” This is true. But for decades now we evangelicals have been encouraging our kids to become doctors, nurses, school teachers, stock traders, lawyers (okay not lawyers) bingo callers and professional hotdog eaters, anything but scientists.
“You can study anything you want” we tell our wide-eyed offspring as they head off to college with an open mind and thirty years of looming debt, “as long as the letters on your diploma don’t come at the end of a word that begins with geo, paleo, anthro, archeo, cosmo or, heaven forbid, bio.”
Yes, we would have a higher percentage of Christ following biologists if we weren’t so afraid that science in general, and evolution specifically, might dismantle their faith in God and scripture.
As a result (and I have witnessed this firsthand) curious kids, raised in a faith community inexplicably terrified of the lab, have been given a tragic ultimatum: choose between serving God or serving science. And those kids, not content to list their bunsen burners on Craigslist and join YWAM, have opted for the latter. We did this to ourselves.
If less than 15% percent of university science professors are Jesus followers it is not because science leads people away from God. If we truly believe scientific exploration gets in the way of faith, then what do we do with Romans 1:12 where Paul says,
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Remember, Paul penned these words long before the canon of scripture had been assembled. His claim is that sincere investigation into the natural order will inevitably lead right back to the creator. And yet, when scientific research is unveiled, our first reflex is to downplay it or denounce it as liberal ‘humanistic’ rhetoric.
(Statistics show that the same evangelicals that roll their eyes at evolution, also discount global warming and are the worst recycles on the block. Too many Christians mistakenly believe that doing science leads to anti-God conclusions and anti kingdom of God behavior. Did we forgot that the first commandment in the Bible was to “take care of the garden”? Of course, for fans of evacuation theology who believe our planet is on it’s last legs, it’s no surprise that stewardship of the environment gets ‘left behind’.)
Does science have an agenda? Yes? The short term goal is to learn about stuff. The end game involves bringing all that knowledge into a cohesive whole that can help us make more sense of our place in the cosmos. Snapchat and Spanx are simply fortuitous aha’s along the path to discovering ultimate purpose.
Myth #3: Evolution Denies God
I’ve been asked on several occasions if I am into theistic evolution. My response is a resounding NO! Not anymore than I am into theistic dermatology.
Colossians 1:17 sums it up: He is before all things and in him all things hold together.
Because it is God that makes the whole thing go, we can dig under any rock without fear of backsliding into a vortex of SCI logic that will unseat him as creator. We need not worry about about leaving God sitting on the sidelines, dejected and wishing for the good old days, before humans had figured out the secrets of DNA and yam fries.
Evolution is not qualified to confirm OR deny the existence of God. The rules of science don’t allow it. These rules are contained within a framework known as the scientific method. The scientific method helps us tell the difference between things that are true and things that are not. Asking questions and collecting data to prove or disprove a ‘hypothesis’ is a logical self-correcting way of navigating new ideas. When a hypothesis stands firm in cross examination it gets promoted to the lofty rank of ‘theory’ (see myth #4).
But here’s the best part – the scientific method can only account for objects that ‘exist’ in the physical sense. If you can taste it, touch it, see it, smell it, throw it, catch it, or hide it under your bed until it turns blue, you can do science on it. Science is fully qualified to examine everything from asteroids to asthma. God, on the other hand, is spirit. Therefore, science is NOT qualified, on it’s own terms to make any authoritative pronouncement on his existence or lack thereof.
Myth #4: Evolution Is “Only A Theory”
It is a sad fact that ‘untruths’ that bring comfort often run circles around actual ‘truths’ that cause discomfort. Evolution has been targeted by well meaning people, who don’t really know what they are talking about (see Myth #1). Yes, evolution and natural selection are theories. And so is gravity, and flight. Einstein’s famous equation is the poster child for the theory of general relativity. The big bang is also a theory. And every single one of these theories is also true.
In scientific circles, a theory is very different from an idea. While ideas spring up all the time, only good ideas last. Once an idea (or hypothesis) has been formulated, it must be tested and prodded to see if it can stand up under duress. Ideas that don’t survive this vetting process get tossed into the dustbin of history. Lawn darts come to mind. Scientific ideas that hold up under scrutiny become what are known as theories. A ‘theory’ is a conceptual framework, supported by multiple lines of evidence (see Myth #7) that has widespread explanatory capabilities. Evolutionary theory is a conceptual framework, supported by multiple lines of evidence, that has widespread explanatory capabilities.
Myth #5: Random Chance Can’t Accomplish Anything
Tell me if you’ve heard this in a creationist rant: “Random chance over millions of years can’t bring about the diversity of life we see on our planet”. While a repeat of Colossians 1:17 would be worthwhile, let’s look at this from a different angle.
If we were to follow the path of a snowflake in its descent from cloud cover to the ground we might suspect, at first glance, that the journey was random. But after measuring meteorological data like barometric pressure and wind direction, and completing all the necessary vector equations (remember those) showing which forces were acting and for how long, we could confidently say that the route of said snowflake was not, in reality, random. And we would agree that if those external forces acted again on the same snowflake, the result would be identical. It is, after all, our confidence in God’s laws – which guarantee the consistent outcomes of repeatable activity in the natural world – that makes doing science possible in the first place.
But the appearance of randomness that accompanies the falling snowflake would not fade.
(And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that those wondrous “storehouses laden with snow”, spoken of by the psalmist – don’t actually exist. If it really was God’s intention to impart precise scientific knowledge to the ancient Hebrews, as the literalists would have us believe, this absurd idea masquerading as meteorology would have never made it past the copy editors. “Oh, it’s metaphorical” cries the creationist, in a twisted fit of irony.)
Here’s the point: the appearance of randomness does not rule out divine guidance.
It is true that in origins banter, words like ‘random’ and ‘chance’ get passed around like poop bags at a dog park. Even Richard Dawkins, the world renowned evolutionary biologist and theology hobbyist admits that these terms muddy the waters, making it harder for critics to see the beauty in the machine. Experts maintain that if our planet began its evolutionary journey all over again tomorrow, and the conditions were identical to what they were hundreds of millions of years ago, that we would end up in exactly the same place give or take a nostril.
Myth #6: Evolution Is A Statement Of Faith
“since neither creation – ex nihilo – nor the primeval conditions necessary for the appearance of life on our planet can be re-enacted in the lab, they are both statements of faith.”
While it might appear that both a 7 day biblio-literal creation and evolution are beyond the scope of any lab, that doesn’t mean that one or the other is or isn’t science. What?
Using the principles of evolutionary theory and natural selection, scientists have made testable predictions. Experts in the field of bio-geography, for example, have been able to predict the likely location of fossils and paint a coherent picture of species migration across the globe. Fossils found on the east coast of South America have close ties (and are in some cases identical) to fossil finds located on the west coast of the African continent. This makes perfect sense when you introduce plate tectonics (another theory) to the conversation. This is exactly what you would expect to find if these two continents were joined together in the distant past. Similar patterns of speciation and fossilization have also led scientists to link Australian species with intermediary species in the Antarctic.
In stark contrast to the successful predictions of species migration solved within the framework of evolutionary theory, sits the claims of the creationists. For the creationist theory of a universal flood to be considered a valid framework for understanding natural history, evidence must be found to support the claims.
If the Bible science guys could uncover fossils for even a few animals (they were ALL on Noah’s Ark according to the literalists) and show patterns of species migration that begin near mount Ararat and radiate outwards across the continents in a way that supports the creationist flood accounts, we would have something to talk about. But we don’t find any of that. Now I didn’t say that Noah’s flood didn’t happen. I only suggested that the Bible science ‘universal flood’ model for predicting species migration bears zero resemblance to the patterns we find in the fossil record. That’s a big problem for anyone that maintains that a literal 6 day creation in Genesis, followed by a worldwide deluge is both faith AND science.
In this sense, Creationism ‘theory’ doesn’t have a fossilized femur to stand on. Creationism is not a scientifically valid framework for explaining what we see in the real world. And science that doesn’t do anything in the real world is good for nothing!
Myth #7: There’s No Evidence For Evolution
We evangelicals have consoled ourselves for decades by saying there is no evidence for evolution. If you’re pinning your faith on this argument, this is where it get’s really scary.
Let’s talk about whales. When those evolutionary zealots on Nat Geo Wild, tell us in their seductive baritone voices, that whales are mammals that returned to the ocean after spending a few million years on land – and we laugh – consider the following:
It is a genetic fact that every whale has the instructions for building a pelvis and skeletal structure hidden inside its DNA. In fact, one of every 500 whales is born with a hind leg protruding from its body cavity. I’m not making this up! This is hard evidence of something that never made it to the flannelgraph in your Sunday School classroom.
Let’s talk about vitamin C. Why do we have to buy it in bottles and almost every creature on the planet makes the stuff internally? Four of the five enzymes required to produce vitamin C internally are present in your body. And the fifth enzyme is in there as well, but it is defective.
We have two options to consider. Either humans stopped producing vitamin C sometime in the distant past due to a genetic mutation of sorts (evolutionary theory), or God created our physical bodies ex nihilo with the appearance of defective genetic material already embedded (deceptive God theory – too much fun, but not enough time).
Either we’ve been created by God from scratch with errors, and that’s why we suffer from colds, or these genetic imperfections are actually clues to another story that involves twists and turns beyond the scope of Genesis. Did I mention the only other species on the planet that don’t produce their own vitamin C are also primates – chimpanzees, orangutans and great apes. Oh, and guinea pigs. Which, when you think about it makes being a human guinea pig now even more hazardous to your health, especially if you’re testing cold medication!
There are literally thousands of other examples that have led scientists across the globe to acknowledge evolution as a fact. In scientific lingo it’s still a ‘theory’ but so is gravity and few believers in our century have felt the calling to launch a sustained attack on that carnal idea.
Myth #8: Belief in Evolution Destroys Belief In The Bible
While most of us can agree on how those first few chapters of Genesis read, we are lousy at agreeing on what they mean. This is true of all of scripture. This might explain why, on the protestant side of the fence, we have 37,009 denominations and counting. The Bible was written for us, but it was not written to us.
The redaction of the old testament coincides with Israel’s return from exile in Babylon. An entire generation of Israelites had been raised in a culture where the creation stories of their mesopotamian neighbors involved cosmic battles between gods and demigods fighting for control of the elements. The oceans (the deep), the moon and sun were given major roles in this cosmic soap opera. Because the Hebrews were familiar with these tales, reframing the creation story with Yahweh at the centre was vital to the health and spiritual well-being of the nation.
In The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton, the author argues that in the ancient world, creation stories focused on the ‘why’ not the how. ‘How’ was not on the radar. The sole purpose of the Genesis record was to clarify that Israel’s God, the one true God, created the cosmos of himself, and by himself as a place to dwell with men. And this Yahweh wasn’t about to share the spotlight with a band of half-baked pagan deities! So, to claim from our perch in the 21st century that Genesis was an attempt at science is a misguided effort.
“There is grandeur in this view of life” wrote Charles Darwin in Origin of Species. And while he struggled with a recalibration of scriptural interpretation in light of science, I have become more convinced than ever that an evolutionary story is not the enemy of our faith story. The ’how’ as detailed in evolutionary science, brings with it a heightened awareness of the unfathomable creativity and brilliance of a creator who brings worlds into being with only a word.
“In the beginning God said…” is as true as it ever was.
Calvin Wray is an author, former aspiring rock star, and web designer out of Vancouver, Canada. Read more of his work at CalvinWray.com.