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Thinking About Evolution and Creation

March 14, 2010

Growing up in a conservative Christian church and environment, I of course, grew up with the belief that the theory of evolution and Biblical Christianity were incompatible.  Evolution, I thought, was an atheistic doctrine, and so I found the typical Christian responses of “Young-earth” Creationism and during college would go to battle with evolutionists in online discussion boards.   Looking back, I think these debates were kind of funny, because I’m not even close to a scientist, and didn’t understand half the stuff I was talking about anyway.  The only thing I did “know” was that Evolution did not fit well with a literal reading of Genesis.

Starting in my junior year of college, I began to go through a process of evaluating many of my beliefs.  I didn’t necessarily question the essentials of Christianity—I never felt like that jump was necessary (although I try to be open to conflicting beliefs as far as possible).  But, there was a lot I realized I didn’t know and that I hadn’t sought to find answers to.  I also began to see other views (again, within Christianity) that while not predominant in conservative circles, made more sense to me than what I had previously known or experienced.  That is really beside the point, but what is important is that through this process, I have become comfortable questioning and re-evaluating certain beliefs.

Another impact on this process, was that I began to find and read some really smart Christians.  Guys with PhD’s from Princeton and Oxford type guys.   These Christians had “gone through the fire” so to speak, because at prestigious universities such as those mentioned, one is forced to dialogue and evaluate beliefs that are far different than one’s own.  This is not to say that a PhD is required to be an intelligent Christian (that’s intellectual Elitism), but when you find thinkers who have studied outside the conservative tradition, and maintained a strong faith in essential Christian beliefs, I do think it’s wise to give them a good listen.  Remaining in an intellectual vacuum is no longer possible for the Christian who wants to seriously engage this post-Enlightenment culture.

So what is all this rambling about?  My experience with certain elements of conservative Christianity is this:  in order to “defend” our faith, we have often been unwilling to engage and interact with intellectual communities and beliefs that we think conflict with or undermine our faith.  So, instead, we draw sharp lines of distinction between what is acceptable to believe and what is not—and I think we’ve drawn the line too sharply when it comes to the issue of evolution.

It’s not my desire to defend the theory of evolution or defend a literal interpretation of Genesis.  I only desire in this post, to blur the lines (so that the discussion can go forward!) as to the modern debate that has been so heated as of late.  The information that follows is derived from a lecture in a class I’m taking with Dr. Brian Edgar.

My biggest issue with the current debate between Intelligent Design proponents and Evolutionists, is that a false dichotomy has been drawn unnecessarily.  Basically, those on both sides would have us believe that we must choose between

1. “Direct creation by God which necessarily excludes any form of evolution”

(or)

2. “Evolution which necessarily excludes any form of divine involvement.”

But why must we choose one to the exclusion of the other?  Could God not have used an evolutionary type process to create the universe?  Or as Dr. Edgar writes, “Is it not the case that we can describe an event as being caused by God and at the same time describe that same event as being caused by physical means?”  Now again, I’m no scientist, so I cannot say with certainty that the theory of evolution is correct.  Even more, I think those within the scientific community should state their theories and claims with humility, acknowledging that the world has seen a number of scientific revolutions where the “certain” knowledge that science claimed was overturned in light of new information.  Contemporary physics has caused such an overturning.

On the other hand, I’m not going to dismiss the theory of evolution outright—especially when the vast majority of the scientific community proposes that it’s the best way to understand the universe—simply because I think it does not fit with a preconceived understanding of the first two chapters of Genesis.  This, in my opinion, is misguided, and here’s why.

This modern view of creationism, held mostly by those within Fundamentalist and conservative circles was not even a view held by those that began the Fundamentalist movement!  This movement began in 1909 with a series of booklets called “The Fundamentals” led by conservative Presbyterians in the Princeton school.   Some of the contributors were James Orr and B.B. WarfieldJ.G. Machen while not among them, was one of the leading proponents of conservative Christianity.  Interestingly enough, all three of these scholars, while affirming that there were certain “fundamental” beliefs (such as the Virgin Birth, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the reality of Christ’s miracles, and the resurrection of Christ), had no objections to theistic evolution.

According to Dr. Edgar, James Orr “allowed that some form of evolutionary theory was ‘extremely probable’” and spoke positively of the relation of science and faith.  B.B. Warfield  argued that “the question of the antiquity of man has of itself no theological significance.”  As a strict Calvinist he argued that “Calvin’s view of creation allowed ‘not only for evolutionism but pure evolutionism’”.  J.G. Machen believed “that evolution was a conceivable way for God to have created the earth.”

My point is this: holding the view that evolution is antithetical to orthodox Christianity is just not necessary.  The writers of “The Fundamentals”—that spurred Fundamentalism—did not see this as a major obstacle to Christian belief and neither should we.  In fact, it’s when we understand this that we are free to look at the merits (or lack thereof) of evolution on its own terms.   We can be confident that whatever conclusions we come to, evolution has not proved incompatible to the idea of God creating the world—in fact evolution becomes a lot more believable when a Divine origin is factored in.

So let’s blur the lines.  I’m not saying that we should all just unquestioningly accept whatever the popular theory of the day happens to be at the moment.  But, when we draw the lines too sharply, then stick our heads in the sand, and ignore communities and worldviews that don’t happen to line up with ours, we run the risk of alienating ourselves from those who are seeking Christ, but are kept away by the fear of Christianity being intellectually untenable.

For a series of blogs that discusses faith and science, see my friend Sam’s posts starting here (then just keep going, there’s quite a few!).

Blessings.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2010 8:28

    Hi Jonathan,
    we run the risk of alienating ourselves from those who are seeking Christ, but are kept away by the fear of Christianity being intellectually untenable

    Excellent point! Anything that is a stumbling block to Christ is a very bad thing.

    What is interesting is that not only was “old evangelicalism” (ie. late 19th century, early 20th century) not universally anti-evolution as you pointed out, but increasingly current evangelical leaders are backing away from this as well. e.g. Check out the list of evangelicals on the Biologos statement after their 2009 workshop – includes people like Tim Keller, NT Wright, Philip Yancey, Dallas Willard etc.

    And Billy Graham said very similar things.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      March 15, 2010 8:42

      Steve,

      Thanks for the comment and the information!! That is quite a list of names! And many of those are theologians/pastors that I respect highly. Again, thanks!!

  2. March 19, 2010 5:51

    I bookmarked this page. I did not know that about the origin of fundamentalism. That was an awesome point.

    And the cartoon definitely made me laugh.

    That really, really sums it up. That picture is definitely worth a thousand words.

    It reminds me of Jesus statement: “By their fruits you shall know them.”

    Yep.

  3. March 25, 2010 10:38

    Excellent post bro. The position of the original fundamentalists on this is very interesting. It is also very interesting to compare the views of evangelicals on “progressive” issues then, and now.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      March 26, 2010 10:01

      I was surprised as well! But I even remember reading somewhere in Wesley’s writings that he speaks of a progressive process in mankind developing. It wasn’t explicitly evolution, but the implication was certainly there. I wish I could remember where I read it from. In any case, my main point was to argue that the dichotomy presented by fundamentalists (on both sides!) is completely unnecessary.

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