Quick reads: christian belief.
The Bible and modern science appear to give christians two different versions of the world’s origins – did God create the world in 6 days, or has it taken almost 14 billion years for the universe to get to where it is today, and about 4 billion years for life to evolve on earth?
Or can we find a way to accept both accounts?
Is Genesis history and science?
If we were to read the first chapters of Genesis in another context, there is little doubt we’d think it was a folk tale. It just reads that way. And the scholars tell us that it is very similar, and possibly developed from, other Middle Eastern creation myths, which no-one doubts are myths. So it is fair to say that it doesn’t look like it is science or history.
The evidence for evolution
The age of the earth
Sedimentation layers in lakes, growth layers in coral reefs, layers in polar ice and radiometric dating of volcanic rock all point to the earth being a lot older than a few thousand years.
The continents of Africa/Europe and America are moving apart, with molten rock rising up to fill the gap at a location known as the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The solidified rock have been radiometrically dated at almost 200 million years old. Working backwards shows that the continents fit together, physically and geologically, indicating those land masses were joined more than 200 million years ago.
Fossils are distributed through the rock strata in a quite orderly manner, with older and simpler forms at the bottom through to newer and more complex forms at the top. A consistent geological column can be constructed, showing the gradual evolution from simple to complex.
Fossils also show evidence of some of the transitions between the major types of creatures, for example, the transition from fish to land animals, from reptiles to mammals, from land animals to whales (a surprising direction for evolution to take!) and from dinosaurs to birds.
DNA may be the best evidence for evolution and common descent. In humans, ancestry and paternity can be determined by comparing DNA and noting where the variations occur – if key sequences are common, the two people being compared are related, with the closeness of the relationship determined by the amount of DNA in common.
The same principles can be used to examine the evolutionary process. Use of DNA in this way gives consistent results in terms of relationships and timespans, and thus reinforces the conclusions from the fossil evidence that humans and other animals today have gradually evolved from earlier organisms and creatures.
Comparing the anatomy of living creatures today shows that there are many similarities in bone structure, suggesting common descent.
The distribution of animals across the globe, especially comparing locations which are isolated from each other, shows consistency with the evolutionary tree.
Creationist objections to evolution
Creationists have claimed that some facts – gaps in the fossil record, the Cambrian explosion, the lack of evidence of transition processes and the lack of evidence for how life first began – throw doubt on evolution. The origin of life is a genuine difficulty for evolution, but the other objections seem to be based on misunderstandings, and the apparent anomalies can be well explained.
Problems for christian belief
If evolution is accepted as true science, it raises difficulties for some commonly accepted christian beliefs:
- There is no clear definition of human and non-human. Human-like species have been around for maybe 2 million years, and humans for maybe 200,000 years.
- Some aspects of Genesis 1-3 must be accepted as mythological rather than historic or scientific. But myth can still express God’s truth, though in a different way to facts.
- Were Adam and Eve real people, and are “the Fall” and “original sin” real? Some christians who accept evolution continue to believe in these doctrines, but others do not.
- Suffering was in the world before there were any humans, so suffering cannot be easily explained by human sin.
I find that changing my beliefs in these areas has required some hard thinking, but it has led to new understandings.
Always look on the brighter side of life!
Accepting evolution as true can lead to some positives:
- It is good to know the truth, from the “book of God’s words” (the Bible) and the “book of God’s works” (nature).
- Many young christians lose their faith because they have been taught that they have to choose between evolution and the Bible. Accepting both can remove this problem.
- There are more important things than evolution to be spending our time on – caring for the poor, sharing the good news, etc.
So, can a christian believe in evolution?
I think it makes most sense to accept God created life on earth via evolution, recognising that:
- The science of evolution is well evidenced, but will always be developing, changing, growing.
- Genesis 1-3 can reasonably be taken as a myth expressing truths God wanted to reveal at that time.
- Holding both these truths creates some tensions, but resolves a lot of problems.
For a more detailed discussion of everything on this page, and for a quick summary of the scientific understanding of the evolutionary process, see Evolution and christians, including the following sections:
- The evidence for evolution.
- Evaluating arguments against evolution.
- Difficulties for christian belief if evolution is true.
- Why christians should accept evolution.
- Who were the first humans?.
For one who was inculcated since childhood with the doctrine of creation by divine fiat, it was definately not easy to make the transition from creationist to evolutionist, but eventually the penny dropped. I hasten to add, though, that I don’t accept evolution as a blind, unintelligent process, but that it is God’s chosen method of creation, guided by Him in every respect. This is the only creative method that makes sense to my mind, and I am very much at ease with the whole process. As you have mentioned in the above brief, many difficulties are clarified in the process.
I do not fully understand why creation via an evolutionary process should be such a bone of contention. Personally I prefer not to make an issue of it. Our eternal survival and eventual destiny most definately do not hinge on whether we accept one or the other – the First Source and Center using the process of evolution, or creation by fiat 🙂
Thank you for this concise “blurb.”
I think evolution is a bone of contention because people assume that the Bible must be scientifically accurate in all that it says, and so Genesis must be literally, scientifically true. But if we make no such assumption, and accept the possibility that Genesis may be pre-scientific and mythic (in some ways at least), then the problem disappears. It is possible to believe in evolution rather than 6-day creation, and still believe in Adam & Eve, though that isn’t my view.
Good day Eric.
I happened to come across your blog sometime ago. I saved the page and paid a visit again today. It is wonderful believing in Jesus Christ. I can read from your blog your journey into searching for truth.
It’s worthy if note to examine what we believe. The truth will stand in the unbiased consideration of what we have around, in light of God’s Word.
I have read a number of things on your blog which resonate clearly with scripture. However, I have also read a number of this that make me concerned as well. Concerned, since it seems to me that they have a poor foundation and if we look without bias, we should see the truth in the light of Christ.
The most concerning one to me (for now though) is your belief in evolution (I will make an attempt to lay down definitions of evolution as we go on, since the word ‘evolution’ now has a broad meaning word and does not only refer to basic mutuational changes).
I have a degree in Microbiology and I was taught evolution right from the onset of the equivalent of grade school here in my country, through to acquiring my BSc. in Microbiology. The concept was one I looked into quite seriously, with the notion of understanding what it is about. But as you acknowledged, it fails on some grounds, one of which is describing origin of life.
I noticed in one of your writeups, how you stated that atheists and Christians should leave God out of the scientific process or inquiry. Dear friend, just as much as I think that you are trying to be fair to producing unbiased science, I will say that there is a subtle bias beneath you may not have noticed.
When it comes to basic scientific processes, Christians and otherwise use the same methods. The problem comes in the interpretation of the findings. Please note that most (if not all, please pardon me) atheist scientists want to have a naturalistic worldview by every means. It’s not like that they really make fair claims. The christian, non evolution believing scientist stands on the authority of the scriptures. I can provide evidence for this in summary if you are interested.
Please note that by proper guidance of the scriptures themselves, a man will not be able to come up with the concept of evolution (molecules to man evolution to start with). At this time, I will now seek to lay some meanings that the word”‘evolution’ has captured over the years. Please note that ‘evolution’ is a very evolving word and when someone tells me they they believe in evolution, I want to know what they mean by ‘evolution’.
Here are some of the ways the word ‘evolution’ is used:
Cosmic evolution: the origin of time, space, and matter from nothing in the “big bang”
Chemical evolution: all elements “evolved” from hydrogen
Stellar evolution: stars and planets formed from gas clouds
Organic evolution: life begins from inanimate matter
Macro-evolution: animals and plants change from one type into another
Micro-evolution: variations form within the “kind”
The precise definitions above were gotten from http://www.creationtoday.org (mine would have been really lengthy).
Notice how heterogenous the word ‘evolution’ has become.in meaning? From your writings, I already see that you have an issue with “organic evolution”, so I will not touch that.
Micro-evolution on the other hand is worth examining. We can observe changes (mutations and other variations) in the laboratory, in nature. Although the term evolution is applied in this area, it is used to beguile the gullible to believe that that is majorly what evolution is all about.
Consider the vast experiments with the fruit fly and bacteria, highly reproductive and mutational organisms. There are no doubts to the changes that occur within the species, however, producing a change in species, no way. A few degenerated fruitflies with practical disabilities and bacteria which remained the same sort as the initial, except with one ability turned on or off (heard of gene switching?) or losing a previous ability (selection) completely have been noticed.
Do you have a clear example of an experiment that produced a distinctly new species of organisms using laboratory methods or whatever means? The reptiles to birds example are a funny leap and I will like us to examine the examples you can find.
Can we have this as a start basis? This could continue if you are willing and we could examine as much of the different applications of the word ‘evolution’.
The grammar in the second part of this sentence is a little odd: “Fossils are distributed through the rock strata in a quite orderly manner, with older and simpler forms at the bottom to newer and more complex forms at the top are consistent with each other.” Perhaps you meant “(…) top being consistent (…)” or “(…) top, and are consistent (…)”?
Feel free to delete this comment.
Thanks. I think it may have been a case of highlighting the last part of the sentence and intending to remove it, but the highlighting shifted to an earlier part of the sentence (which seems to happen occasionally, I don’t know why) and took out a few words there instead. It makes sense now.