6 Reasons Why Evolution is Compatible With the Christian Faith

Sep 18, 2016 by Josh de Keijzer

In this article the position taken in favor of the evolution theory is not that of an atheist, but that of a Christian. This Christian is not against science and the findings that scientists come up with because this Christian believes that all truth is God’s truth. Whenever and wherever scientists find facts about our complex world, such knowledge needs to be welcomed and taken into account even if that would upset some cherished notions Christians have long held. One of these cherished notions concerns the biblical account of creation.

The Christian who accepts the evolution theory does not do so uncritically. After all scientists are people and people are fallible in their knowing and doing. When scientists come up with facts they always interpret them and draw conclusions from them. Sometimes these conclusions are wrong or they are partly right but in need of improvement. Scientists, much like all members of the human race, are discoverers. They discover things about the world that God has made. However, when we discover something, it is also new to us. The novelty needs to be grasped and that is where science can make sometimes small, sometimes big mistakes. Nonetheless scientific knowledge about the world is increasing and that is to be welcomed.

There is one conclusion that this Christian would not accept: the scientific conclusion that God does not exist (cf. Psalm 53:1). So, if evolutionary biologists and other scientists who busy themselves with aspects of the evolution theory conclude that, given facts XYZ, God does not exist, our Christian won’t budge. After all, this world is God’s world and how could the handiwork of our Creator lead to inescapable proof of the Creator’s nonexistence? Moreover, science can only discover stuff about things in the world, but God is not a thing in the world.

The Christian who accepts the evolution theory also reads God’s book of nature (God’s natural revelation) together with God’s special book, the Bible, (God’s special revelation). We need to read both books in order to discover who God is.

Based on this approach, here are 6 good reasons why the evolution theory is compatible with the Christian faith:

1. A Few Thoughts on a Literal Reading of Scripture
The first thing we need to do is make a distinction between the authority and the message of the Bible. Christians who reject the evolution theory do so by invoking the authority of the Bible as God’s Word and by then pointing out that the message of the Bible is clear enough to rule out the evolution theory. This is a little trick, because anyone who would venture to disagree with them can immediately be brandished as someone who doesn’t accept the authority of Scripture. That is a false assumption, however.

There is no disagreement between the Christian who rejects the evolution theory and the one who accepts it when it comes to the authority of Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16). Period. But that unanimity does not entail that Christians agree on the message of the Bible. This does not simply affect the evolution theory. From the earliest times Christians disagreed on the meaning of Christ’s atonement, on predestination and free will, on sanctification, etc, etc. while agreeing on the Bible’s authority. Jesus and the apostle Paul already indicated this (see Luke 9:50 and Philippians 3:16).

There is no way to prove this or that opinion of what exactly the message of the Bible is on any of these points, because there are contradictory statements that human interpretation needs to harmonize. Ducking behind the defense wall of a literal reading of the Scriptures as the only true reading won’t do either. Nobody reads or applies the Scriptures literally. Nobody, for instance, cuts off a limb or cuts out an eye in order to avoid sinning, even though Jesus explicitly commanded his followers to do so (see Matthew 5:29-30). Any self-proclaimed literalist (i.e. a literal reader of the Bible) loses all credibility here.

There is always the filter of interpretation. You move from text to interpretation to meaning. And interpretation is not an exact science. Those who interpret Genesis 1-3 literally may well be completely mistaken when they would find out that the original author would tell them it was meant as a poem. We don’t know for sure, but “literal” may well lead to error when you read a poem. You certainly can't do this with the Psalms.

In other words, when you read Genesis 1-3 as literal history you are doing violence of the author's intention. Those chapters clearly have the character of poetry and aim to tell by means of the myth what is otherwise not available to us (and certainly not available to the writers of that time since they did not have science or historical scholarship): that God has created the world, that God is related to the world, that human beings are related to God in a special way, but also that our relationship with God is broken because of sin.

2. Doctrine Cannot Determine What Science May Discover
This leads to another problem connected with the problem of a literal reading. Many literal readers of Scripture are convinced that they not only know the exact message of Scripture, but that they also have the right doctrine.

Because Scripture is God’s Word and thus perfect, they move smoothly into the assumption that what they as human beings think about Scripture is automatically warranted. We should know how wrong-headed this is. We’ve had the Inquisition and the 30 Year War in the 17th century which was, incidentally, a religious war over differences of doctrinal opinion. So much violence because people were certain of their doctrines. We may know what God has revealed to us, but there's still a lot that is hidden in and with God (see Deuteronomy 29:29).

Because these people are so sure of their doctrines they automatically assume that these doctrines are more important and more true than any scientific discovery. For them, science can only make claims as long and in so far as these claims do not conflict with their doctrines and dogmas. In this, these Christians are mixing two areas of knowledge, that of theology and that of science. There are two major problems with that. (A) The Christian falsely assumes that their doctrine is perfect. (B) The Christian falsely assumes that their doctrine can lord it over another area of knowledge that they know nothing about.

It would be good, therefore, to acknowledge that our doctrines are human ideas and fallible. They are not nonsense for they are based on God’s Word, but they are not necessarily perfect. Both Job and Thomas had to come to a point where they acknowledged that their ideas about God fell short of God's reality and God's truth (see Job 42:1-6; John 20:24-29). The kicker is that this applies to the scientist as well: The scientist, for their part, has a scientific theory. These theories are human and therefore also fallible. They are, at the same time, not nonsense for they are based on discoveries about the natural world.

The Christian who accepts the evolution theory knows these things. Without surrendering the authority of Scripture, this Christian is willing to come to new theological insights, a revision of Christian doctrine, on the basis of scientific discoveries. The evolution theory is such a well-proven and widely agreed upon theory that gives traditional Christian ideas about creation pause and forces (or at least invites) Christians to integrate this theory into their doctrine of creation.

The biblical account of creation in Genesis is thereby not discarded or made irrelevant. Quite on the contrary. For how would we know about human beings created in the image of God? How would we know about God’s involvement in creation? And how would know about the entrance of sin into human community? Genesis 1-3 remains of pivotal importance for that special subject of Christian study, revelation, and that specific area of Christian knowledge, theology.

In the end, the creation account in Genesis 1-2 was never intended to give a literal description of what happened. The writers of Genesis had no access to such information. Rather they chose to make clear that the God of Israel is the God of the whole world and that this God is in relationship with humanity. That is the meaning of Genesis 1-2. 

3. The Problem of Sin
Of course there is the issue of how sin entered the world if the evolution theory is true. How can humanity be sinful if Eve never passed the actual fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil on to Adam (cf. Genesis 3:6)?

Think again! The evolution account is actually very compatible with the notion of sin: As the human species came into existence and self-consciousness arose, and with it moral choice, human beings chose to sin, i.e. they chose to prioritize self over against the other. And with that the choice was made against God.

This entails that being sinful is part of the very definition of what it means to be human: the drive for pride, power, and lust. You cannot be human without also being sinful.

This is a radical understanding of the notion of sin, one that comes pretty close to the Calvinistic idea of total depravity (see Romans 3:9-18). Rather than erasing the need for salvation and Jesus Christ as our savior, the evolution theory, once integrated with Christian thought, underscores the desperate state humanity is in and to what extent we are in need of a savior.

4. Spiritual Death
Those who assert that the evolution theory cannot possibly be true because the evolution theory implies death while death was actually a punishment for death after the fall, are quite mistaken. They take the notion of death literally. They say: “Physical death did not happen before the fall because physical death is the literal punishment for sin.”

While this approach seems honorable, it appears that the biblical text itself doesn’t even take this literal approach. The Bible is less literal than the literalists! Genesis 2:16-17 reads: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

As we all know, Adam and Eve did not die literally in Genesis 3. They left Eden and lived long lives. So spiritual death is implied in this verse. The Bible doesn't take the word to be literal. If spiritual death is implied, there is no longer a need to resist the idea of physical death as part of the evolution theory.

The question remains of course what we should make of Adam and Eve in the Biblical narrative if they are not historical characters. The Bible simply makes use of these fictional characters to teach us the truth that humanity is indeed fallen into sin and that our relationship with God and ano another is not ok.

5. Creationism is Bad Science  
Creationists who have come up with all kinds of scientific-sounding theories to explain the evolution theory away in order to provide a scientific account of the biblical creation narrative, have fallen short of actually doing scientific research. Instead of research they have resorted to speculation and the imposition of doctrine on so-called scientific theories.

Scientific consensus (i.e. agreement among scientists on a certain point of view), though not a guarantee of the truth, is an important indicator of the truth of a scientific theory. It has explanatory power, i.e. as a theory it helps to explain a lot of things that without it remain mysterious. The evolution theory has received overwhelming support from the vast majority of scientists. Sometimes a maverick scientist is necessary to break new ground and open up new possibilities or new insights, but in the case of creationism we are not looking at ground-breaking insight but retrenchment, fear, and a defensive posture. Creationism attempts to suppress scientific knowledge. In biblical terms this is foolishness.

6. Our DNA Proves Evolution  
Our genetic make-up proves that we share DNA with other species, esp. chimpanzees. Analysis of the human genome has shown that there are whole strands of so-called junk DNA that do rather little and seem to be a leftover from a previous stage of development. This is not just the case with humanity. Many species have junk DNA in their system that points to other species.

These are 6 hard-hitting arguments why Christians ought not to be afraid of the evolution theory and why they should be willing to listen to science and see what science has to offer Christian thought. The evolution theory and the Christian are well-suited for each other.

Read our explainer article '6 Reasons Why Evolution Is Incompatible With The Christian Faith' here.

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