After hearing about the “dangers of evolution” for so much of my life, I later learned that I could embrace it, or at least ignore it. I think the church’s battle against scientific progress is misled, just as any person of science should not be using their work to campaign against Christians. It’s OK with me if we disagree on these things, but I want to tell you how I arrived at this conclusion.
In church, I had always been told that the earth must only be a few thousand years old because The Bible Says So, and anyone who says otherwise is just trying to rebel against God. I wasn’t so sure about that last part until I met several people who only promoted evolution as an anti-church message. (I realize, now, that most people who care about science are not fighting the church, but if you’re a Christian you’ll run into people who want to insult your faith with Darwin’s theories. Immature.)
Suddenly, I was caught in a fray. With creationists on one side of me and evolutionists on the other, I had to choose a side. Or, so I thought.
This changed when I attended a lecture by a leading Darwinian scholar. I expected him to trash Christianity, but he didn’t. He pointed out that Charles Darwin never thought his ideas were at odds with Christian theology (which he knew better than I realized), despite what I had always been told. I found out that the speaker was leading an effort to end the animosity between churches and scientists, and this gave me great respect for him. Most importantly, I learned that Darwin did not oppose the church – that was fascinating. Also, this was the first time anyone ever explained how Darwin came to his conclusions, and they seemed sensible to me.
I had work to do. Hadn’t I been told that the Bible was opposed to evolution? But reading the Scriptures didn’t give me any obvious answers. The book of Genesis simply tells us that God made man “out of dirt.” That’s not very specific. Studying traditional theology didn’t help, either. In the fourth century, Augustine said, in his Confessions, that God could have created the world by making a seed and letting that seed grow into the planet we know, over time. The word “evolution” did not exist in those days, but Augustine seemed to have understood it.
But evolution takes millions of years, and the earth isn’t that old, right? Again, I looked for proof of this in the Bible and found none. The Bible says God made the universe in six days, but it’s not that simple. In those passages, the word used for “day” is the Hebrew word “yom,” which can mean anything from a 24-hour period to an indefinite amount of time. (For example, one passage in the Bible uses that word when discussing what will happen in “the day of the Lord,” which is certainly not a 24-hour day.) I had no idea how long God spent making the earth.
Of course, I’m no Hebrew scholar – I needed help. So I found as many Hebrew readers as I could. All of
them were fluent in Hebrew and came from conservative Christian churches, and all of them told me the same thing: the book of Genesis does not tell us the age of the earth. In fact, they confirmed that the creation story was written like a song and not a textbook. I was told that I could hold to any view I wanted to about the age of the earth and no one would be able to definitively prove me wrong, since the ancient Hebrew didn’t include those details. (Scientific tedium apparently just wasn’t important to the author of Genesis.)
Then I attended a lecture about the origin of life given by a biologist who is currently working to fight cancer. He explained that the leading theory was that some sort of tiny organism(s) originated in a primordial ooze on our planet that slowly evolved into something we recognize as a life form. He admitted that this was very speculative, and that little was actually known about the origin of life – but the facts pointed him in this direction. I had no argument. He didn’t claim to understand it – he gladly admited that it was a mystery – he was just following the data he had gathered from looking into countless microscopes.
I was reminded, again, of God using dirt to make the first person. The biology teacher was saying that life started from dirt on the ground, and that’s exactly what my Bible said. Did He do it by using primordial ooze? Do our scientific instruments point us to the ground as the source of life because that’s where we came from when God made us? From this point of view, evolutionary science was only confirming what the Bible said – life began miraculously from the ground.
Of course, I have no idea how the events of Genesis took place, exactly. We’re only told the important parts – that the world was made by God so He could have fellowship with us – which leaves a lot for us to fill in with scientific discovery. God made gravity to organize the heavens and keep our planet in orbit around the sun, and maybe He made evolution as a way of ordering nature.
We’re left with plenty of questions, as my fellow blogger told us a while back, but there is no view of Christianity that does not leave us with unsolved questions. Young earth creationists are still trying to sell me on the idea that dinosaurs lived with the ancient Romans; as a historian I can tell you that is certainly untrue.
If evolution is someday dismissed by science, then so be it. I have no stake in it. But as long as it’s the reigning theory I will have no problem with it. I’ve left behind the idea that evolution is a threat to the church, and I look forward to a day when the supposed conflict between faith and science is put away.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)