Pitting deep-rooted theological beliefs against modern-day scientific theory

The Theory of Evolution is an oft-debated topic pitting the deep-rooted beliefs of theologians against the theories of modern-day scientists. Scientists suggest (and often, violating their own scientific process, wholeheartedly accept as truth) that man evolved over time – that certain human characteristics change with successive generations.

Proposed by Charles Darwin in his 1869 book, The Origin of Species, “natural selection” or “chance law” proposes that humans arose through random mutations designed to ensure the species survived and prospered.  Theologians on the other hand, promote the Intelligent Design theory (creationism) that postulates humans originated due to the intentional arrangement of their matter, including their DNA-based genetic code, by an intelligent agent.

Battle lines drawn in the sand, each side firmly plants their feet insisting that the development of mankind occurred either in response to their environment or guided by an intelligent hand. The Darwinism debate is yet another example of a fruitless and senseless disagreement between science and religion.

Theory of Evolution evidence strengthened when new human variants are discovered

As scientists discover new human variants, more credence is added to the Theory of Evolution. With new human ancestors being discovered by scientists on a near routine basis (see additional reference below), some Christians cringe at the thought of the Theory of Evolution bearing merit. They shouldn’t.

Discoveries supporting the Theory of Evolution should not be taken as “anti-God”, despite many scientists presenting them as such. In fact, it is worthy to note that the Bible clearly points out several notable human “evolutions” beginning with Adam and Eve who were dramatically changed after partaking of the Tree of Knowledge and continuing through the language confusion invoked in Genesis 11 through the destruction and rebirth of life through the Great Flood (Genesis 7).  It is typically not the scientific theories that are anti-religious, but rather, the scientists who propose them.

Clarifying the Biblical scriptures

Creationists often mistakenly claim Darwin’s theories are completely incompatible with a religious vision of reality, a proclamation that, in the face of evolution theory, pointedly guides intelligent Christians to question how their faith could be mistaken. This often comes from a misunderstanding of the biblical scriptures or more likely, from forming an understanding of the Bible through another person’s opinion rather than self-guided intelligent interpretation of the scriptures (which is what I try to provide here on Bible Blender).

Understanding Genesis’ account of creation

It should be obvious to any reader that the first few chapters of Genesis have quite different character from the rest of the Bible. While most Biblical passages describe historic events in great detail, the creation account in Genesis reads like a brief synopsis of the birth of man. In fact, the words written likely predate Moses and the Prophets (later books, most notably Numbers, seem to mention an earlier reference work called The Wars of the Lord or The Wars of Jehovah, which appear to have been lost to history).  This does not imply that the first few chapters of Genesis are false. We simply take them for what they most likely are – partly historical and partly prophetic.

A literal translation of the scriptures?

It is possible to accept “evolution” as a viable explanation for the creation of man and not contradict what is written in Genesis. For instance, some note that the Bible specifically says, “Let the land produce living creatures” which could easily be interpreted as a reference to the evolution of marine animals and birds into land-based creatures.  Our faith as Christians allows us to view the early chapters of Genesis with an open mind and an acceptance that we may not necessarily understand the specifics of the story but rather, accept the overall message – that God created man.

And vice versa – Biblical accounts mistakenly taken as scientific explanation

It would be a mistake to believe that the Bible’s account of creation is scientific “theory” or a by-the-numbers explanation of how we came to be – and we should not allow atheists or militant-scientists to pigeon-hole our religion into such inapplicable confines. The Bible is not scientific theory and should not be mistaken as such. Any attempt to do so misdirects and weakens the true message.

Debatable Item #1: Evolution by intelligent design

Evolutionists believe that humans’ sole purpose is to pass on their DNA. Richard Dawkins famously said, “It is every living object’s sole reason for living.” Christians on the other hand, believe we have purpose. Science is about mechanism, while religion is about our significance in the scheme of the universe and answers questions such as “who” and “why”. Thus, it is not evolution itself that offends Christians but rather, the implication that that there was no intelligent guidance in the development of mankind.

Did God paint man with a random brush?

The answer is probably not as one-sided as you may imagine.  Many scientists today believe that our DNA structure did not randomly form.  DNA is much too complicated, with too many structural possibilities to have been formed by random mutations, no matter how much time was allowed for these mutations to occur. In other words, they believe that it is mathematically impossible for humans to have randomly formed on their own – some sort of intelligent design was required.

Paul Garner, a Fellow of the Geological Society, explained,

“I think when you look at, for example, DNA, it is a highly ordered code and we can recognize the hallmarks of intelligence. There’s information encoded in DNA. And information, from all of our scientific observations, is always a product of mind and intelligence.”

This introduces an interesting possibility to Christian’s understanding of creation. If God chose to create life using a “programmed record” of every detail of our physical being, why would he not choose to reprogram the record at various times in our history? Better yet, why would he not choose to create an entity that could reprogram itself along the way to adjust to the ever-changing planet it lived on?  In this light, evolution seems perfectly logical.

Debatable Item #2: The Biblical timeline vs. scientific timeline

Scientists attempt to match scientific theories to biblical timeline

Many scientists attempt to relate the timeline of the Bible to the evolution’s theoretical timeline.  The reason is simple – time is necessary for evolution theory to work. In fact, it’s an absolutely essential ingredient in the Darwinian scheme since vast amounts of time are needed for countless evolutionary changes to take place.

Theologians attempt to match biblical timeline to scientific theory

In response, theologians often try to “match” estimates of the biblical timeline to scientific theories regarding the age of the earth. In a misguided attempt to match the Biblical timeline to scientific theory, several variants of creationism exist that attempt to explain the supposed time difference including young earth creationism (the earth is younger than scientists say), old earth creationism (the earth is as old as scientists estimate), gap creationism (there were two creations – one before Adam and another when Eve was introduced), day-age creationism (each biblical day was not really a day), progressive creationism (the scientific timetable of creation reflects the timetable that God used to create live on Earth).

It is important to point out that the very first Hebrew word in the Bible is “bereshith” which is typically translated as “in the beginning”. There are two possible translations for this phrase: (1) a specific, absolute beginning of all time or (2) a more nonspecific, general beginning of time. As such, the timing in the Bible is, from the onset, impossible to determine since we have no way of knowing which translation was intended by the author.

Thus, to endeavor to match an estimated, theoretical scientific timeline, which continues to evolve to this day, to an estimated calculation based on a vague biblical record of events (none of which mention a specific date) is a futile endeavor – in fact, it’s impossible. Both timelines are estimated values, based on various assumptions and calculated by men, the result of which is a linear measurement that may seem slow and inefficient to us but is irrelevant to a God that is not limited by space or time.

Man’s potential to comprehend the unimaginable

We do not know if Genesis should be interpreted literally or philosophically. How can we know if God took six days or six billion years to create mankind and his environment? We cannot. Maybe our world was literally created in six days or possibly our timeless God was simply enjoying himself and worked for billions of years on a project that he loved. Maybe God created very “basic” creatures and introduced the ability to evolve over time to fit a changing environment. Maybe God took some time off to do other things. We cannot know for certainty either way because there is not enough information. What we do know however, is that is seems near certain that the rite of Genesis was not trying to convey a scientific account of the creation process. In fact, given the limited level of scientific understanding at the time, a scientific message would have been impossible for man to comprehend. It is likely that the best the author could do was to explain creation in a manner that people of the day would understand. Even more likely, given that scientists are still theorizing the evolution process to this day, the creation mechanism God used is beyond our modern-day comprehension.

Science tries to keep up with religion

It is also important to understand that the interpretation of the biblical timeline did not come under question as a result of, or reaction to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution – don’t let anyone attempt to convince you otherwise. By the time The Origin of Species was published, the idea of evolution was already widely popular (it was termed “development”) and it was widely accepted that the world was much older than previously thought (in recent times however, scientists have swung the other way and are now leaning toward a younger earth). As an example, in AD 391, Augustine wrote a commentary on Genesis in which he wrote that the days of creation were not necessarily to be taken in a literal sense. This is an age-old debate that started far earlier than Darwin’s theory.

It’s pointless to try and make biblical message a scientific treaty – and vice versa

If there is a perceived discrepancy between the biblical message and scientific theory, it is because either (1) scientific theory is faulty, (2) the biblical estimate or interpretation is wrong, or more likely (3) our perception that there is a discrepancy is misguided.

The Bible is not theory. It was never intended to be theory or a scientific explanation of the physical space-time world of matter and energy. Similarly, science does not attempt to explain the “why” or “who” of our existence nor does it attempt to dictate our moral behavior. Given the scientific theories currently on the table, to do so would be catastrophic. For instance, Darwin’s The Origin of Species was subtitled The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. If mankind allowed their behavior to be dictated by Darwin’s theory, it can be argued it would form the basis for Marxism, fascism, racism, and unbridled capitalism – all of which would be detrimental to mankind.

Still, scientists and theologians continue to try and fit their message into the other’s container.  From either perspective, this is understandable.  After all, part of who we are is defined by our beliefs and it is only natural to want to strengthen our beliefs with factual truth.  To that end, if you insist on reducing religion to theory, at least recognize that the laws of physics are God’s laws and that the Bible is a record of events, written in a way to help us understand its message.

Pressure to accept evolution at the expense of religion turns Christians into unbelievers

The Theory of Evolution has turned many Christians into unbelievers. Michael Shermer was a Christian studying at Pepperdine University when his graduate study of evolution convinced him to give up his faith (he is now the editor of Skeptic Magazine, a publication devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims). Even Darwin himself relinquished his Christian faith (although it is generally accepted that he became agnostic eight years before the publication of The Origin of Species when anger towards God manifested after his 10-year-old daughter unexpectedly died).

Similarly, the atheist movements have pointedly used Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to shun Christians into renouncing their faith by proposing belief in evolution as an intellectual weapon against believers in a divine creator of life. In turn, Christians have turned away from evolution theory after seeing it used to attack religion. The vicious circle continues with Darwin defenders defiantly opposing any form of “intelligent design” (which ironically, is an entirely naturalist assumption which can never be supported by science).

The debate between scientists and theologians should not come as a surprise. After writing about the evidence of God in everything around us, Paul wrote:

“Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling [theories regarding] mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

A misguided debate on two different topics

Still, some prominent scientists insist on attacking religion, particularly the well-known evolutionist and atheist, Richard Dawkins (aka “Darwin’s Rottweiler”) who said,

“It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane.”

It is statements such as this that fan the evolution vs. religion question, turning it into a misguided debate on two entirely different topics.

You can believe in science and God

Just because a person believes in science does not mean they must forego belief in God. There is no “choice” to be made between the two, despite what some scientists attempt to proclaim. Ruling out anything beyond what we already know would be a circular argument anyway, and to do so would in itself, be unscientific. Even the co-discoverer of evolution, Alfred Russell Wallace, recognized this and often pointed out that evolution could not scientifically account for man’s moral and spiritual nature. Religion proposes answers to deeper questions such as what does it mean to be human, how should be behave, what are my responsibilities as a human, and where are we heading?

Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, presented a paper titled The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. In it he wrote:

“My heart goes out to sincere believers who feel threatened by evolution and who feel that they have to maintain their position against it in order to prove their allegiance to God. But if God used this process and gave us the chance to discover it, then it seems anachronistic, to say the least, that we would feel we have to defend him against our own scientific conclusions. God is the author of all truth. You can find him in the laboratory as well as in the cathedral. He’s the God of the Bible; he’s the God of the genome. He did it all.”

Despite scientists’ attempts to throw out the Bible, to our benefit, science shows us that the Bible needs to be read as a set of books, interpreted in the context of the age it was written, with the understanding that we are God’s creation and have a special place in the world.  Once we develop an equitable relationship between science and religion, standing by our faith in God, we should never allow science or anyone else to force meaning into the scriptures that are not there.

Additional information and questions

How the world was created (reference)

Noted astronomer (astrophysicist) Hugh Ross notes that the physicists’ estimate of how the world was created matches the creation account given in Genesis chapter 1.

  1. Creation of the physical universe (space, time, matter, energy, galaxies, stars, planets, light, etc.)
  2. Transformation of the earth’s atmosphere from opaque to translucent.
  3. Formation of a stable water cycle.
  4. Establishment of continent(s) and ocean(s).
  5. Production of plants on the continent(s).
  6. Transformation of the atmosphere from translucent to transparent (Sun, Moon, and stars become visible).
  7. Production of small sea animals.
  8. Creation of sea mammals.
  9. Creation of birds.
  10. Making of land mammals (wild mammals, mammals that can be domesticated, and rodents).
  11. Creation of mankind.

Were Adam and Eve monkeys?

We simply do not know. The Bible only says that God created man in his image. Nothing is specifically said about “how” he did this. We know that animals already existed before Man. Possibly God tweaked the genome of an ape-like creature to create what we (or God) considered to be a “man”. There’s no true way of telling.

Why did God create evil?

This is an often-used argument of atheists and Darwinists – “but why would God create evil?” Evil comes wholly from man and is part of the “package” we accepted to gain free will. Free will grants every man the choice of following God’s moral plan or taking the path of man.

Does this mean the Theory of Evolution is categorically true?

Not at all. It’s a theory, with workable supporting evidence. Still, it’s a theory and should be viewed with an open mind, not unvarnished belief. Faith is a cornerstone of religion, not science.

Key scientific discoveries supporting the Theory of evolution

1829 First Neanderthal bones are discovered in what is now Belgium. Subsequently we learned that Neanderthals lived alongside our species, looked a little like us and even interbred with our species

1891 The first H. erectus fossils are found in Java. We now think the species appeared at least 2 million years ago in Africa and, again, looked distinctly human

1924 The discovery of the first Australopithecus remains in South Africa shifts the focus of study to Africa. Clearly more primitive than humans, australopiths appeared about 4 million years ago and walked on two legs, although they also had large teeth, small brains and long arms like those of apes

1960 Excavations in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania reveal a possible Australopith-human halfway house – a species later named H. habilis, with a small brain but a skeleton slightly more human-like than an australopith. It appeared a little over 2 million years ago

1974 The now famous Lucy skeleton is found in Ethiopia, later dated to around 3.2 million years. It remains arguably the most famous Australopithecus ever found

2008 Astonishingly well preserved 2-million-year-old australopith remains, later named A. sediba, are found in a cave in South Africa. Controversially, some see the species as a better “missing link” to our genus than H. habilis

2015 A jawbone unearthed in Ethiopia could, some suggest, be the oldest fossil of our Homo genus. The find narrows down the transition from Australopithecus to Homo to around 2.8 to 3 million years ago