The Spiritual Danger of Dissing Evolution

I've been reading Daniel Harrell's Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith. It is part of a new series edited by Tony Jones for Abingdon entitled Introduction to Living Theology. This is a book written by an evangelical pastor to other evangelicals who are either confused about evolution or have dismissed it as something that is ungodly and damaging to faith. Harrell suggests that the danger to the soul might just come from the denial of evolution.
Harrell is a pastor and not a scientist, so his science is pretty basic -- sort of like my own. But he's done enough reading to be convinced that the scientific evidence supporting evolution is too strong to ignore or deny. In the epilogue to the book he makes his point clear.

Acknowledging that the earth is older than the Bible appears to say or that people emerge3d out of missions of years of evolution rather than in a moment are costly concessions to make. Add to that evolution's implication that God is a God for whom death is part of the plan, and quickly the theological price tag becomes too expensive to pay. It's simply easier to deny evolution. You can say that God instilled creation with apparent age and that science is just deluded and a wast of time. You can say that -- but you don't need to say that.

In saying this he notes the challenges that evolution and Darwin pose to faith. And yet:

If evolution is a correct description of how life emerged and developed on earth, denying it doesn't make it false, any more than denying God renders him nonexistent. Moreover, if the evidence for evolution is accurate, as science attests, and nature bears witness to the handiwork of God, then rejecting evolution becomes in effect, a rejection of God. This is my worry. More than worrying that evolution jeopardizes Christian faith, I worry that rejecting evolution truncates Christian faith. Again, for faith to matter, it needs to correspond to the way things actually are, rather than how I want things to be. (Daniel Harrell, Nature's Witness, Abingdon, 2008, p. 132).

Harrell's book isn't perfect. At points it's a bit simplistic, but his point is well taken. As that bold lettered clause makes clear, to reject evolution can seriously dilute and diminish faith. It suggests that to be a Christian we must fear science. I know that some will try to deny the scientific evidence or suggest that evolutionary biology isn't science, but to do so misunderstands the scientific process. Science is more than simply observing experiments in the lab. Evolutionary biology is a bit like forensic science, it follows the clues where they lead. DNA analysis points to the relationship of the species. Indeed, as I've pointed out at other times, if we reject evolution then we must reject modern medicine. They whole premise of testing therapies and drugs on animals presumes that we share the same ancestors.

All it takes, as Harrell points out is time, and geology suggests that there has been plenty of time! So, if all truth is God's truth, and evolution is true, then evolution must be God's truth -- don't you think?


Gary said…
I find it puzzling that those evolutionists, who claim to be Christians, simply cannot bring themselves to face the truth. When you have two claims of truth that contradict each other, then both of them cannot be true. And that is exactly what you have here.

I guess it's sort of like the husband who keeps finding his wife in bed with other men, but who insists on believing she is faithful to him.
John said…
Genesis was not intended as a work of science, but of theology. The important truths there are theological, not scientific. The theological truths of Genesis transcend cultural and scientific limitations of the time and place when they were disclosed by God.

If evolution is ultimately true, does that affect your salvation? does it affect the teaching of Jesus? Does it detract from his death and resurrection? What are you afraid of? Is this something believers can disagree on without risking condemnation, from each other? from God?

That being said, I am persuaded that the mechanism of evolution was used by God to spread life over the face of the earth and ultimately to bring about the human race. In accepting this I attribute to God unfathomable powers able to conceive of and implement such an incredibly sophisticated mechanism to bring about human history.

And incredible patience to wait for time, space and matter to sort themselves out into our circumstances. What will happen that we cannot know? What else and who else has God created in God's magnificence.

The Created universe is a revelation of the nature of God, it is the first revelation, just as Scripture was a revelation, and just as Jesus of Nazareth was a revelation. If one denies the complexity of nature as revealed through our senses and through science, clinging to beliefs in simple magic, does one also risk denying the truth of the revelation of Creation? From this denial it is an easy step to defining (as opposed to receiving) the truths of Scripture, or defining (as opposed to receiving) the life and mission of Jesus. We become the inventors of truth rather than the recipients of it. It is dangerous to force truth through an ideological filter - you risk loosing the very message God intends for you to receive, and what comes out at the other end can be very misleading.

We become like the husband who chooses to believe the easy lie rather than see the difficult truth. The belief doesn't make it true.

Gary said…

1. Do you believe Adam was a real man?

2. Could you give an example of a "theological truth" from Genesis?

3. Did you know that Jesus believed and taught that Genesis was historically accurate? If Jesus was wrong about that, why do you believe he was right about anything else he said?
Gene said…
Gary, do you want to go back to a 2,000 year-old understanding of the natural world?

And I know you weren't addressing me but I'll respond anyway:

1. Heck no

2. Plenty of people believe that God created the world and are unapologetic about not believing that they have to cling to some notion that the world is 6,000 years old and that Jesus rode dinosaurs through Galilee.

3. I'm sure that most people have a better understanding of the natural world than Jesus did almost 2,000 years ago. Jesus was of his time. If he understood every single event in all of history, did he also know English? Did he know algebra? Did he teach nuclear physics on the side?
Gary said…

Are you one of those people who believes that God created the world? If you do believe that, why do you? Is it because the Bible says so? Is it because you came to that conclusion through logic? What's the reason?

Did you know the Bible says that Jesus made the universe? (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16-17) Do you expect me to believe that Jesus created the universe, but did not know how he did it?
John said…

1. I do not believe that Adam and Eve were actual people, but then that was not the point of their story.

2. The theological truths of Genesis, and of the story of Adam and Eve in particular, cannot be reduced to a single point, but in fact disclose new truths to each willing listener. But here are some examples not dependent on the historical factual occurrence of the story: In this lesson to the writer of Genesis God disclosed that God created humanity, not as a random act of generation, and God created them male and female; and in the story of Adam and Eve we learn that God created humanity intentionally, even to their most intimate parts, and this story teaches that in doing so God created men and women as integrally tied to one another, woman from man and, in the next generation, man from woman. Neither can do without the other and neither is enough without the other and neither is more significant than the other especially in the ultimate act of re-creation.

3. Jesus of Nazareth was fully human as well as fully God - and thus he was a member of the culture and the era into which he was born. His teachings were theological, not scientific or historical. Furthermore, even if he perceived all the truths of science and history, he would not have confused his listeners by infusing what would have sounded as nonsense into his messages - he would have taught in a tongue and in an idiom which his listeners could have understood (for example, when you teach fishermen you tell stories about fishing, shepherds - you tell stories about tending the flock, mothers - you teach with stories about bread and leaven). The genuine truths in all of Jesus' teachings, and in all of Scripture as well, are theological, not historical or scientific.

Anonymous said…
Part of the issue with this discussion is we use a human box (science) to define God. To be a Christian, is to be believe a man was dead for THREE days and rose again. To deny that, means Christianity fails, it also fails any science test. Throw in the miracles, Jonah and the whale, the pillar of smoke, angles talking to people.. and you have a host of scientific issues. At some point, you do have to leave the dock of certainty and enter the waters of faith.

All that said.. I am not suggesting a 7 day creation story is the only way. Clearly Psalms says a day to the Lord is like a 1,000 days.. which does at least crack the door on a 24 hour creation story.

My personal view.. God created it, bottom line. Evolution is only a THEORY, not a proven fact, even in the scientific world. We should be highly cautious to treat is as truth, even if its taught as such! As science looks deeper and deeper, nature reflects more of God, not less. To give you an example, in my Bible study is a cancer doctor and he said flatly "we won't cure cancer, its too complex". The cell, which was regarded as very simple, we can now see has an incredibly complex protein system that would almost be laughable to say it just "happened". He mentioned.. think of a cell in your eye.. it has to be clustered with other cells that see light, has to be placed on your head (not on a foot or arm), and facing out... now, what are the odds that cell is just placed there? It speaks at least to an intelligent design vs random chance.

Gary said…

You're theory that Genesis, and the rest of the Bible, is a reliable source of "theological truth", but an unreliable source of historical truth is just nonsense. When reason and logic are poured over your theory, it melts like pouring hot water over a snowball.

Jesus told Nicodemus, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" If God can't or won't tell the truth about history, then I find no credible reason to believe what He said, or supposedly said, about theology.
Anonymous said…
Here's a link to a book by two PhD's (a biochemist and an astonomer) both of whom are believers, and who do not shrink from looking at evolution presented "as a scientific model for the creation of first life on Earth -- a model based on the Bible." -- from the jacket.

Amazon link to Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off.

John said…

First of all, Let me respond to your question to Gene: I do believe that God created the universe, and especially you and me. I believe this because my faith and the Holy Spirit guided my
understanding of Scripture to embrace the theological truth of God's foundational role in creation. I am unaware of any scientific proof to support this belief, if such proof existed then my faith would not be faith or belief, my acceptance of God's role in creation would be my acknowledgment of what was the experiential world around - requiring no leap of faith at all.

In response to your query directed to me, I ask you: when Jesus conveys theological truths through the parable of the God Samaritan, the fact the story is "just a story" strips of any legitimacy as a vehicle of truth?

Judeo-Christian Scripture is in a narrative format for the most part, collections of stories, not bullet pointed truths - so why is it so threatening to you that I should embrace the most important truths of these stories while I set aside non-essential elements of the stories as 'non-essential"?

Are the truths of the Scriptural story of Adam and Eve diminished if Adam and Eve are literary constructs rather than historical persons?

I for one take Scripture very seriously, and so I would not discount a truth regardless if were conveyed through the lives of historical persons or through a parable - its is still a truth that God was so concerned to convey to me that he preserved it in Scripture and led me to the Scripture and inspired me to discern this truth.

Another response to your point is this: Scripture is an unreliable source for plumbing, electrical, and mathematical instruction. Does this detract from its value as a source of truths about God and God's relationship to humanity? Of course not - its not a construction manual, nor a math textbook; and it is not a history book or a science book and its human authors were neither mathematicians, historians nor scientists.

It is a book about God, and that is something that its authors knew something about. And such truths as these transcend time and culture.

As for the exchange with Nicodemus, it appears from your position that you believe the only correct response to Jesus words were indeed those of Nicodemus, "Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"

Of course, one could also see that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he spoke of being "born again" and not literally - but you would call that heresy would you not?

Gary said…

I will agree that God does sometimes reveal truth in Scripture in ways other than through historical narrative.

What Biblical evidence is there that Genesis is not an historical account? There is theological truth in Genesis, but it is dependent upon the historical accuracy of the text. I don't have time to go into it here, but if Adam was not a real man, there are enormous theological and doctrinal problems involved.
Additionally, much of Bible truth and doctrine depends upon a six day creation being real history. Which confirms my previous comments that if Genesis is fiction, then so must be Christianity.
Now, this looks like a book I want to read, Bob! Of course, Darwin had many Christian defenders--even among evangelicals--until the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s and the Scopes Trial of 1925. The churches have been reaping the terrible rewards of anti-intellectualism ever since.

I grew up in an evangelical household that accepted biological evolution as a matter of course. I didn't know until much later that there were Christians who didn't believe in evolution and tried to take the 2 Genesis accounts as 1 literal description. Most of the creation theologies that have nurtured me have been by folk like Langdon Gilkey, Eric Rust, John Cobb, Nancey Murphy,--all evolutionary thinkers.

As the current president (Rich Mouw) of your seminary alma mater (and briefly my boss) says about creation literalists, "Don't they know that God likes to do things slowly?"
John said…

I will agree that for some Christians there will be significant theological disruption if they have to abandon the historicity of Adam and Eve and the six-day story of creation. I have compassion for them, but truth will out; it cannot be concealed or suppressed.

As for those for whom the disruption would be too great, perhaps it is best to leave them where they are, God loves them as they are and cherishes their strong faith. It is their faith in God that has saved them, not their certainty over non-essential details.

John said…

You ask: "What biblical evidence...?"

I could point to all sorts of things - such as all the history that was left out; such as the similarity of the Noah story to the much earlier story of Gilgamesh; such as the lack of witnesses, etc.

Who recorded the story of Adam and Eve? I won't listen to the suggestion that this was dictated to the writer (Moses?) by God because there is nothing in the Bible which suggest that Genesis was relayed by God to the writer, ala Mohammad or Joseph Smith. You asked for biblical evidence, so then I ask you who the witnesses were, and who recorded the events?

I could ask how long a day was in the absence of time and space and in the absence of the sun and the moon. With whom did Cain procreate - or Seth? Why are there two stories of creation? And why do you think, in the face of the overwhelming evidence of the incredible complexity of creation and life in particular, why do you think that God is nothing more than a magician, working only in instant uncomplicated miracles?

Why do you need to limit God to 6,000 years of history? Is God not older than that, does not God transcend the constraints of time?

Why would God plant all of the evidence pointing to billions of years of cosmic history when in fact it is nothing but a sham? And don't suggest that the fabrication of history is the devils doing because the devil has no genuine creative ability.

We measure the speed and movement of bodies in outer space and we count the passage of billions of years - why would God plant specious evidence of significant universal age? Is God trying to mislead us? I think not.

Nevertheless, I come back to a basic premises: these are non-essentials belief in which has little or no bearing on salvation, issues which we are free to disagree on, and still remain brothers in the faith.

Gary said…

Brothers in the faith?? I think you have to share some beliefs for that.

We already disagree on the creation; when it happened, how it happened, and how long it took. We disagree about Adam, Eve, when, how, and why sin came into the world and infected the human race. We disagree about Noah, The Flood, and God's judgment of sin. We disagree about how to understand the Bible, about what is true and what is false, and about how God inspired the Biblical writers.

That's already a pretty long and important list. And I probably left something out. I suspect that if we talked about who we believe God to be and what He is like, we would not agree on that either.

Let's see if we share any beliefs.
What about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, do you believe that was an actual historical event, or a myth? I say historical fact.

What about the crucifixion, history or myth? I say historical fact.

What about the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, history or myth?
I say historical fact.

What about Heaven; an actual place, or metaphor? I say actual place.

What about Hell; actual place or myth? I say actual place.
John said…

For us to be brothers in the faith does not mean that our beliefs are identical. What it does mean is that we are both children of the same God, whom we both worship and adore.

That we disagree on so much is no comment on our shared faith in God. In fact, it is usually those who are most closely related who disagree most heatedly. It is also interesting that while we disagree on so many points, we agree that these points are important.

I will respond to your bullet points of Christian faith. This approach by the way is not favored by Scripture except perhaps where the Jerusalem counsel in Acts 15 concludes that "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well." Isaiah said: "And the [Gentiles] who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain...." And Jesus himself commanded that we "love one anther as he has loved us."

a) Yes to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ as a miraculous historical event.

b) Yes to the Crucifixion as an historical event.

c) Yes to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ as a miraculous historical event.

d and e) I doubt the physical existence of Heaven or Hell as places located in time and space. God has no abode. My understanding of God is that God does not reside in a physical place and is unbounded by time and space. As for the disposition of my soul after my death, I think that then I will either be present with God in whatever plane or mode in which God exists or I will not be with God - presence with God being serene and heavenly and distance from God being lonely, disappointing and hellish. When that day comes I hope that both you and I are pleasantly surprised at what God has in store for us.

You may perhaps see yourself as the cantankerous elder brother in the Prodigal Son story, but we are nevertheless brothers.

Gary said…

I noticed that the Sabbath is mentioned in the scripture you referenced. Did you know that unless there was a six day creation, there could be no Sabbath?

Have you ever considered that the same Bible that tells us that Jesus was born of a virgin, was crucified on a Roman cross, and rose from the dead is the same Bible that says God created the universe in six days?

And are you aware that the Genesis account is confirmed in a number of Biblical passages outside of Genesis, including Matthew 19:4 where Jesus is speaking?

I'm wondering how, if Genesis is myth and not history, as you claim, why are these other Scriptures not myth also, including those passages that say Jesus was born of a virgin, was crucified, and rose from the dead?
John said…

What I believe about the factual or metaphorical nature of various biblical text is the result of my studies of those texts, and of how the Holy Spirit has guided my interpretation.

The New Testament Gospel writers, though not unwilling to invoke literary devices for instructional purposes, were still attempting to explain events which were well know at the time of their writing. If the events they wrote about were entirely mythical, I should think Christian opponents would have had a field day exposing the hoaxes. The fact that Christian opponents could only express doubt, leads me to think they were unable to effectively disprove Christian claims.

Moreover, the fact that Christianity arose and succeeded so quickly tells me on a logical level that something utterly unique and undeniably spectacular happened to the man Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writers tell me of the virgin birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit tells me in my heart that these must be the unique and spectacular events which propelled the growth of the new religion.

These are the signs that the Incarnation was present in the world.

Gary said…

The Holy Ghost has guided me to believe that those parts of the Bible that were written as history, and intended by God to be understood in an historical context, actually are historical and not mythological. And that includes Genesis.
John said…

I am OK with that.

Anonymous said…
you guys are nuts. Science, theory you both mis- understand the universe and our infinitesimal existence here on a rock orbiting a Sun. When Newton and Leibniz developed calculus, they made use of infinitesimals. The use of infinitesimals was attacked as incorrect by Bishop Berkeley in his work The Analyst. Although mathematicians, scientists, and engineers continued to use infinitesimals to produce correct results, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that the calculus was given a formal mathematical foundation by Karl Weierstrass and others using the notion of a limit. You speculate about time, space, theological truths and scientific limitations. YES the earth was created billions of years ago. Millions of years ago there were dinosaur. Since the first dinosaur fossils were recognized in the early nineteenth century, mounted dinosaur skeletons have become major attractions at museums around the world. Dinosaurs have become a part of world culture as has the evolution of man. You are denying the existence of man before 6000 years ago!? DNA evidence proves that modern humans originated in east Africa about 200,000 years ago. Was it GOD then? What about our closest living relatives the chimpanzee species. Or do you deny that too. There are many GODS Many religions many STORIES written hundreds of years after death. This is how man taught his children, thru stories. If it wasn't for Constantine, a Roman emperor from 306, and the undisputed holder of that office from 324 until his death in 337, best known for being the first Christian Roman emperor. Constantine reversed the persecutions of his predecessor, Diocletian, and issued (with his co-emperor Licinius) the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious toleration throughout the empire. He chose the four canonical texts that are the Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke and Gospel of John, written between 65 and 100 AD. They appear to have been originally untitled; they were quoted anonymously in the first half of the second century (i.e. 100 - 150) but the names by which they are currently known appear suddenly around the year 180.
The first canonical gospel written is thought by most scholars to be Mark (c 65-70), which was according to the majority used as a source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In modern source criticism, Matthew and Luke are generally thought to have used a common source, the Q document, These first three gospels are called the synoptic gospels because they share similar incidents, teachings, and even much language. The last gospel, the gospel of John, presents a very different picture of Jesus and his ministry from the synoptics. Scholars maintain that the gospels and all the books of the New Testament were written in Greek.
The synoptic gospels are the source of many popular stories, parables, and sermons, such as Jesus' humble birth in Bethlehem, the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the Last Supper, and the Great Commission. John provides a theological description of Jesus as the eternal Word, the unique savior of humanity. All four attest to his Sonship, miraculous power, crucifixion, and resurrection. Portions of the gospels are traditionally read aloud during church services as a formal part of the liturgy. So what about the gospels of Judas. The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel purported to document conversations between the apostle Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. The document is not claimed to have been written by Judas himself, but rather by Gnostic followers of Jesus. What about the gopel of Mary? It is an apocryphal book discovered in 1896 in a fifth-century papyrus codex. What about Mary Magdalene? Based on her status as a known disciple of Jesus, the tradition of being the first witness of his resurrection, and her appearance in other early Christian writings. She is mentioned as accompanying Jesus on his journeys (Luke 8:9) and is listed in the Gospel of Matthew as being present at his crucifixion (27:56). In the Gospel of John, she is recorded as the first witness of Jesus' resurrection (John 20:14-16).
Compare her role in other non-canonical texts, noting "in the Gospel of Mary it is Peter who is opposed to Mary’s words, because she is a woman. Peter has the same role in the Gospel of Thomas and in Pistis Sophia. In Pistis Sophia the Mary concerned is identified as Mary Magdalene.

After all Faith is the confident belief in the truth of or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. It is also used for a belief, characteristically without proof. We all need it in one form or another but for you two to debate how the world was created is truly unfounded based your sole belief of one creator. Again we as humans have evolved over time and there is no exact proof of when and there never will be, but that is why you have FAITH.
John said…
You misunderstand my faith. I do believe in a single creator. I don't subscribe to a notion of creation by a committee of gods. While I can't deny the theoretical possibility of no creation (that which is always was and always will be, in some form, perhaps expanding, perhaps contracting - who knows given the rather limited window of observation) I merely accept the revelation that God made it happen somehow and in some fashion which I couldn't begin to comprehend. Furthermore, I wouldn;t and couldn't begin to describe the process of creation because I cannot comprehend it in the least degree. I agree with you that I and we are infinitessimal items in the natural order of things. That in part is what makes the God I believe so winsome, because even so, this God takes an interest in me.


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