First of all, let me say that I do not have a strong opinion about the veracity of biological evolution. I am not a biologist and I have no way to know whether what scientists claim is true or not. However, I do believe in objective truth and if the vast majority of scientists think that evolution is incontrovertible, then I feel that it is important to at least consider it.
What I want to do here is talk about the concept of evolution. When we talk about evolution, we mean a gradual change over time, specifically from simpler forms developing into more complex forms. Not only is this process not contrary to God’s way of doing things, it is way he almost always does things. In the next sections, unless I state otherwise, this gradual change from simple to complex is what I am referring to by evolution, not specifically the biological evolution of species.
Evolution in the Bible
The first example of evolution in the Bible is right at the beginning, in Genesis 1. God creates everything in seven days, starting with light, the most elementary aspect of nature. From there, each day progresses to more and more complex things, from water and air, to dry land, then plants, then fish and birds, then other animals and people. I think it is likely that each “day” represents a much longer period of time, but even if you believe that this was all accomplished in seven 24-hour periods, you still have to ask yourself why it took seven days at all. Why would God need to take a week to create the world when he could theoretically create it, fully formed, in a single moment? There is no explanation except that that is how he chose to do it, creating the world progressively in stages from simple to more complex.
The next example of evolution in the Bible is the entire Bible itself. The Bible is a complex book and has a lot of parts, but it is first and foremost a history of how people become separated from God and how God reestablishes the relationship. To summarize the Bible in a few sentences:
- God creates humans
- Humans sin against God and become separate from him
- God establishes the Israelites and gives them the Law to teach them the nature of sin, the concept of holiness or separateness (something being either one thing or another), and how to atone when they do sin
- God sends Jesus to earth to be the perfect fulfillment of the law, the last sacrifice that could finally do what all the animal sacrifices prescribed in the law couldn’t
- God sends the Holy Spirit to continue the work that Jesus started, establishing the church on Earth.
You could write a library of books (and people have) about those five points but the point is that there was a process that took a long time, thousands of years between the Garden of Eden and Jesus coming. The question someone could ask is why? Why take all that time and let the world languish in pain and ignorance for so long? Why didn’t Jesus appear in the Garden the day after Adam and Eve sinned for the first time and get things back on track right away.
Again, that is apparently not how God does things. God always works through a process over time and—to use a term from education—scaffolds things, building on a foundation of simple understanding to lead to more complex concepts. Concepts like sin, sacrifice, and grace have little meaning without the context of history behind them.
These are only a few examples of this evolutionary process, but at this point, let’s get back to the sticking point, which is that the idea of biological evolution contradicts the creation story in Genesis, specifically the part with humans. After all, Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (NIV). This clashes with the idea of humans developing slowly over millions of years. It is a seemingly irreconcilable problem and this is why many Christians cannot accept the idea of evolution, all other issues aside.
An Attempt at Reconciliation
The Bible is filled with poetic language and metaphors. In fact, metaphors are the only way to convey concepts outside the human experience into human language. Some of the language in Genesis could easily be a poetical telling of the creation story. For instance, you can read the Genesis 2:7 verse as God taking on a physical form, making a human shape out of dirt and then literally breathing into the figures nose and granting it life. Or this could be a poetical way of saying that God created humans.
Another verse that seems like it is probably poetical is where God creates Eve from Adam’s rib. After all, in Genesis 1: 27, it says “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV). It seems like males and females were created at the same time, which would make sense since that was assumedly the same with all other species on earth.
One explanation is that God used evolution to create the world, then chose Adam and Eve to introduce himself to. In this scenario, there are many primitive peoples living on earth and God takes Adam and Eve and gives them the Garden of Eden and talks to them and makes first contact with the human race.
This explanation does not reconcile everything, but does help with a few issues in the Bible. For instance, in Genesis 4:14, after Cain has killed Abel, he says, “…I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (NIV). He could be thinking ahead to the future, but if there are really only 3 people on Earth at this point, it would seem like he doesn’t have any immediate worries. Then it mentions his wife three verses later. While we could assume this is his sister, it doesn’t mention Adam and Eve having any other children. The real moment that gives me pause in the next sentence, in the second half of Genesis 4:17. “Cain was then building a city and he named it after his son Enoch.” Why would you build a city if there are less than 10 people in the entire world?” There could be lots of explanations for these things, but it would also fit well if there were already thousands of other people in the world at this time.
Some Final Thoughts
With all this being said, I am still neutral on the idea of evolution. I don’t see it being irreconcilable with my beliefs but it doesn’t affect my daily life one way or the other, so I feel like I can remain open-minded. However, there are two things that might help those Christians who find the idea of evolution to be unsettling and against what they have always believed.
The first is a tautology that I have always found comforting, which is “Whatever happened, happened.” In other words, history and reality are fixed and won’t change because of what we believe or because science makes some new discovery. I find this comforting because ultimately, I think Christians should be interested in truth since we believe God is interested in truth. If evolution is true, then it is from God and is something we should accept, and if not, then it will fall by the wayside as all misconceptions eventually do.
As well, as Christians we need to be quite sure in our own minds what our faith is based on. As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus Christ, my righteousness.” Jesus is the foundation of Christianity and should be the only basis for our faith. What is very dangerous is to let our faith rest on a rigid conglomeration of beliefs about the world mixed with the cultural norms we grew up with. The danger is that once one thing cracks or one belief is found to be untrue, the person’s entire belief structure can crumble. This unanalyzed, unreinforced rigidity of belief is probably why so many Christian teens backslide once they go to university and aspects of their belief system are challenged.
I once saw a video on YouTube by a teenager who tied his Christian faith to the earth being flat. I grieved for that boy since he was encumbering the saving power of Jesus’ love and sacrifice with something that was not only extraneous but also untrue.
I do not know if evolution is true or not, but what I do know is that I do not want to tie my faith in Christ to that fact. While it is an important question, it is not the most important question.