Coming Clean About Evolution

I, along with most Ghanaians, do not consider evolution to be a major issue. It’s quite fascinating to see how important it is for many American Christians. Over here, when you pursue a scientific education at the secondary school level, you are taught evolution and churches do not make a single fuss about the curriculum. Truth be told, most people see it as one of those quirky scientific theories. The idea of being descended from a “monkey” or any other animal, is just amusing. Coupled with the fact that accepting or not accepting it does not affect daily life, most people do not even bother learning about it, even those educated at the university level. In Ghana, there is really no clash between science and religion. Our ‘culture wars’ are very different.

What did bring evolution on my radar is listening to western Christian apologetics. Initially I was a bit sceptical of it, as well as the big bang theory, as a sufficient account of material and biological origins. This was because there is a lot more to the universe than matter, energy and its various forms and configurations. Also they both fail to tell us the ultimate origin of the process they are describing or why it exists at all. Such metaphysical questions cannot be answered by the sciences. At the end of the day these theories do not exclude the activity of God as the creator of everything so they did not bother me that much. You still need a transcendent first cause for everything to exist.

I was more open to the big bang theory than the theory of evolution. Part of the reason I guess was that the former is more impersonal, it says far less about what sort of being you are and is in the distant past. Most importantly for me a big bang obviously needs something, or better still someone, to do the banging. There is no better candidate than God to get things started. Since it fits a creation ex nihilo model, something found in the Bible, it seemed to me even more reasonable, different lines of evidence confirming the same thing.

As I learned more and more about the history and philosophy of science and its relationship with Christian theology, evolution began to nag at me a little. It was not a faith threatening crises but a concern nonetheless. The one question that bothered me was, if death entered the world after Adam and Eve, how do you account for the fossil record since it seems to indicate death before humans ever existed, let alone the fall? It was not really a question about evolution but evolutionary theory provided a more coherent explanation than how I understood Genesis. Coupled with what Paul had to say in Romans about death entering the world through Adam, this was a real conundrum. I had learnt enough by then to know that in such situations you should neither dismiss the Bible nor the science. Plus, I knew Genesis 1-3 was not completely literal. Just hold your judgment and investigate more. Even if your own searching does not give you an answer, wait it out because an answer might come. If case there is no answer no problem because my faith is based on the solid event of the resurrection. All it says is that there are things I clearly do not understand so there is no need to be dogmatic on either front, scientific theory or biblical theology.

To cut a long story short as I encountered the work of John Lennox and eventually John Walton and BioLogos, I have become very comfortable with the theory of macro biological evolution and scripture. I realised they did not provide conflicting accounts on that particular issue and related matters but there was still a lot to be learnt in both areas. One thing I am grateful to evolutionary theory for is challenging me to read the scriptures again and not presume what it means. Something that can provoke genuine deeper thought about the Bible is a good thing. Through the journey of searching out this question I learnt to thoroughly acknowledge the Bible and science for their own sake. We should not force them to comment on what they are not concerned about but have a healthy respect for the conclusions of each. I also learned that there are more questions worth pursuing. In both areas there are no smooth perfectly worked out schemes for understanding the world. The obvious advantage of scripture is that it deals with ultimate questions but that certainly does not mean it deals with every question.

Having said these things about evolution and Genesis I find the question, “do you believe in evolution?” just problematic. The other option is usually given as, “or do you believe in creation?” There are several reasons I take issue with such questions that seem to pit science and scripture unnecessarily against each other. On a philosophical and even semantic level evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive. Evolution is about how organism change and creation, used in the classical biblical sense, is about how and why life and the world came into being. At a Christian theological level, faith is simply not used in the way. It is about full commitment to something real and unchanging based off certain convictions. You believe in God, the lordship of Jesus, eternal life, truth, things like that. No one goes about asking if you believe in the laws of thermodynamics or quantum theory. It is because they are not matters of faith but the results of the scientific inquiry, views that change and evolve over time based on the application of certain metaphysical assumptions. If this is the case “do you believe in evolution?” is really not a valid question because it and every other scientific theory are not taken by faith. They are either accepted or rejected based on certain reasons and criteria. Science does not give us absolute truth but tries to go as close to it as possible. Evolution is simply not a valid alternative to creation and vice versa.

Evolutionary theory is very interesting but as fascinating as I think it is, accepting it or rejecting it does not make it of consequence to daily life. When you think about it, it’s nowhere near a major concern of historic Christian faith. Then why should the “average” Christian bother at all with it? I think it is a matter of honesty. If the same methods that are used to get certain results are accepted for one particular area of science then we should accept them for another. There is an overwhelming amount of data supporting biological evolution with evidence converging from different studies and disciplines. This is not to say evolutionary theory has everything sorted out but it has been a trust worthy paradigm for the last 150 years. I even doubt every mystery of evolution will be resolved. However, if you are going to deny it, your criteria should be uniform. You should be willing to give up certain scientific knowledge in other areas as valid. For example the fact the fossil record is not complete is used to say there is no evidence for evolution. However the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. If we were to go by that criteria in archaeology or history then practically no society in antiquity ever existed. We can’t cherry pick what aspects of science we like and ignore the rest. Similarly, we can’t be selective with the Bible if we believe it to be the inspired word of God. My big problem with Christians who deny evolution is that they are doing so with very selective science. It’s actually bad science and bad philosophy too. It says a lot about us if we are a people who claim to love the truth yet we only accept things if they conform to our agenda. I respect the Intelligent Design (ID) movement in the sense that they are trying to provide an alternative account instead of decrying everything and solving nothing. Whether ID itself is viable or not is a question of ongoing debate and I am looking forward to see how things will turn out.

If the question of biological evolutionary theory and its relationship to biblical theology does interest or alarm us, one thing we need to be is honest and respect the evidence and reasoning behind it. Truth is not what makes us comfortable but what actually is. What we can affirm with confidence we must but we should not be presumptuous and make pronouncements where we have no certain knowledge. It is our duty as believers to speak the truth, whatever it might be.

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