Monday, October 28, 2013

Evolution and the Christian Faith

The evolution debate has recently become one of those conversations I really don't care to have. Having grown out the the fundamentalism of my youth, I no longer believe that evolution is the greatest threat to the Christian faith. There are bigger theological fish to fry, so to speak. This being said, I am NOT an evolutionist. I find several aspects of the theory wanting. On the other hand, I do not believe in a young Earth. The data simply does not seem to add up. So, I suppose you could call me an "old Earth creationist," but I am not tied to any certain "-ism" in regards to the Creation. The reason I am hesitant to say that I am an adherent of a certain group is because I am no scientist. My training is in theology and the Bible, not geology, astronomy, or biology. And that is the perspective from which I write.

One of my many jobs is substitute teaching at a Christian school in my city. I love this school and I love the people. They do an excellent job preparing young men and women for college and have a huge emphasis on serving Christ by serving others. I have been truly blessed by many of the folks there and would not trade this opportunity for one at another school. However, today I found myself frustrated.

I had been called in to sub for a biology class. The assignment revolved around DNA and genes. Since much of the debate around evolution centers on DNA and the genetic code, I was not surprised when I saw a paragraph about irreducible complexity in the textbook. This school, which is in the Southern Baptist tradition, uses a textbook made by A Beka Books. These books are published by Pensacola Christian College, which is unashamedly fundamentalist. There are other university publishers, such as Bob Jones University Press, that hail from the same tradition, but that is a post for another day. A Beka takes what many would call the traditional view (although in a future post I would like to show that this view is not truly the traditional view), which hints rather emphatically that evolution is on par with secular humanism and atheism. According to these texts, evolutionary theory is a baseless, hopeless attack on Christianity. To them, a clear reading of the biblical text and biology (and geology) leads one to see the folly of evolution. I take issue with this type of polemical language, but first let me mention what really caused me the most concern.

The last class I had was a 6th grade reading class. When the students arrived I handed out the worksheet and they began to skim the chapters for the answers. Only after several students asked for help did I open the book and begin to glance over it, and then I saw it. In one of the chapters, the story's protagonist was assigned a project in class in which he had to defend evolution. The scandal was that this character had just become a Christian, so he could never defend such an erroneous position. This was literally a crisis of faith for this young man. And that's my point, we make the creation-evolution debate an all-or-nothing for students, which is simply unnecessary and, moreover, dangerous.

In my view, material creation is not in view in Genesis. In other words, Genesis tells us that God created, not necessarily how He created. I'm not saying that much cannot be gathered from the text; I am merely asserting that material creation was not in view in the Genesis account. The ancient Jew was more concerned with the fact that his God created the heavens and the Earth, something that would have been scandalous to other ancient near easterners who held that the there was a god in/for everything. Let me elaborate...

Google the phrase "ancient creation myths" and see how many results you find. You will see that every civilization and culture has had origin stories and many of them are eerily similar to the biblical account, such as the Enuma Elish. Many people posit that there was a creation event who's story has been passed down from generation to generation and that has been co-opted and adapted by many cultures along the way. It has probably seen revision and addition as it has evolved and what we have in the Bible is an edition of that story. Its apparent that every civilization has an account about how we got here and it usually involves their god(s). Most of them use the language of myth to illustrate this event. Before we go on it is important to realize that it is unlikely that these other groups stole the Jewish creation story, for they were around long before the Jewish people and we have evidence of early creation stories in their writings. The belief in a creation event is trans-cultural. People of all kinds have long held that the Creation was a divine act., and Jews and Christians agree. So, now back to my previous train of thought.

The Babylonians and Egyptians both inhabited the lands surrounding the Jews in the time of Moses and the authorship of the Pentateuch. They all had such origin stories and every Jew would have been at least nominally acquainted with the other stories. And that's the key. The most powerful apologetic would be one that answered all of these other creation accounts with one that was the ultimate one-up. While these other cultures were priding in their sun gods and moon gods, the Jews were boldly proclaiming that their God had created not only what these other so-called gods had created, but that their God had created these other gods. The God of Israel was superior to the gods of the surrounding nations because Heaven was His throne and He ruled the entire created order. He was not limited to any realm or nation and He alone was the Author of life. What these other cultures worshiped as divine were to the Jews merely wondrous works of their God. 

The biblical creation story is simply not concerned with material provenance. I'm not saying that a bit of information cannot be gathered here or there, but not to the degree that fundamentalists and militant young-earth creationists hold. Much of the information gathered is little more than eisegetical cherry-picking. Instead of interpreting the Bible literally, they interpret it literalistically. A literal interpreter of Genesis 1 understands that various literary techniques and rhetorical  devices involved in writing a creation apologetic. Someone who interprets the Bible literalistically sees every metaphor as matter of fact. Sadly, these folks are seldom consistent in their methodology and hermeneutics and I fear this is because of their bias. They want to believe in a material creation account and accuse those that disagree of allegorizing the text or capitulating to the evil, God-hating secular agenda. However, these same scholars usually understand that massive chunks of Scripture, such as prophecy, are not intended to be interpreted the same way one would interpret the historical books. I assert that the opening chapters of Genesis should not be interpreted in such a way either.

Sadly, many want to make this a gospel issue. Young Earth apologists like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind seem to make (see also here) young Earth creationism the essence of the gospel, creating crises of faith for young people that encounter evolution and find it compelling. They are told that they must choose Jesus or evolution, and they often choose the latter. The Church has lost too many aspiring scientists because it has been unable to help them successfully navigate the crossroads where science meets faith. By equating evolutionists with militant atheists and other vocal unbelievers, fundamentalist young Earth creationists have given inquisitive young minds no room to ask questions and grow. Truly, they've been given no room to do science. Many evolutionists have no desire to attack Christianity; they simply believe they are doing good science. And by vilifying Christians that do not hold to young Earth creationism they do a disservice to the Gospel. Attacking a belief is one thing, but attacking a fellow believer is another.

Again, I do not hold to evolution, but I know many devout Christians that range from theistic evolution to young earth creationism, with all of the stops in between. I do not hate the young Earth group, for I know many intellectually honest ones that disagree with evolution, yet hold that it has much explanatory power and scope. I simply hate their cultish methods that polemicize issues that simply should not be polemicized. Evolution is not the antithesis of the Christian faith. We must teach our youth to be critical thinkers, open and honest in debate. We dare not teach them to be reactionary and divisive. Instead, let us lovingly critique one another's arguments in order that we each may be sharpened and mutually edified through this process. Let us be examples to aspiring theologians, biblical scholars, and, yes, scientists, helping them to understand how to properly debate these contentious issues.

Do not hear me say that we should not guard our children from heresy and the attacks of the Enemy. We should and must. However, protecting them and nurturing them in the Spirit is different than allowing them to ask honest questions. Teaching them right doctrine is key, but young Earth creationism has never been put forth by any ecumenical council or decree, nor is it apparent from Scripture. Parents in each group will inevitably teach their children that certain secondary issues are true, which is perfectly acceptable. The problem arises when we mistake what is primary for what is secondary. We each need to be confident in what we believe. Confidence is not the sin. Presumption and smugness are. 

The discussion must go on, but I must stop. In future posts I'd like to cover other topics such as death, the historical Adam, and the flood, as well as the unique language found in Genesis 1-2. I also hope to write about protology throughout church history. Please feel free to comment, but I do ask that you do so respectfully. Thank you for your time.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these thoughts... I feel they are particularly relevant to me right now because although I am an eleventh grader at a Classical Christian school, I also take a biology course at the local state community college, which, naturally, does not present the subjects in the light of Christianity. It is sometimes an effort to resist loudly arguing my own beliefs but I know I must save that for a more appropriate time.