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Christian faith, reason and science

Creation or evolution – do we have to choose?

In a nutshell...                                                                      For a longer article click here

Many Christians are worried about evolution.  If you accept the findings of science, does that mean the Bible is wrong?  Or if you believe the Bible is God's word, how do you deal with biology at school or college?

 Evidence from fossils  points to animals and plants having developed gradually from common ancestors, and now that we can read the genetic code in living cells, there's even more compelling evidence for evolution.  Your DNA is about 98% similar to a chimpanzee's (quite a humbling thought...) and by comparing the DNA of different species today, scientists can build up a 'family tree'.

 Here's an example.  Sometimes, there's a mistake when an organism's DNA is copied, leaving a bit of 'junk' in the genetic code of that organism's descendants.  For example, you have to eat plenty of fresh fruit to get your vitamin C and so do apes, but mice don't - they can make their own.  The reason? The gene telling cells to make vitamin C was broken - mutated - in one of our distant ancestors, but by that time the ancestors of mice had diverged off the family tree and weren't affected. 

So, could God's 'grand design' for the world have been achieved by a gradual, evolutionary process? Many Christians in Charles Darwin's time thought so.  So why the controversy today?

 The problem is that many people now don't read the Bible carefully enough.  For starters, you need to remember what it's there for.  The Bible isn't trying to teach science or chronology: it's teaching us about how to serve God, and it uses a mix of styles to do that - literal, figurative, poetic and so on.  The early chapters of Genesis are 'picture language': if you read them as though they were a sober chronological account, you soon run into problems - reconciling chapter 2 with chapter 1 for example.  They should not  be taken to mean life was made in a week: the 'six days' are probably a literary structure, depicting six aspects of creation or six visions experienced by the writer.  Contrary to popular belief Genesis doesn't say the planet is 6000 years old ' which is just as well because towns like Jericho were up and running long before that  - and it certainly doesn't claim that rocks and fossils were laid down by the Flood.  Those views may be popular with some fundamentalists, but they're in danger of making Christianity look ridiculous.  Worse still, fundamentalists often level charges at evolution that are just plain wrong (for instance, suggesting there aren't any fossils of intermediate species).

 One thing we can be sure about is that God doesn't plant misleading evidence, in the fossils or in the genetic code, as if to 'test our faith'  On the contrary, the natural world points people TO God (look at Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-20).  Studying it is a good thing (Psalm 111:2), which is why Job was told to look at the world around him for evidence of God's greatness and power.  So if the earth looks 4.5 billion years old, it probably is; and if the genetic code indicates that living things have developed from a common ancestor, they probably have. 

Does that detract from the awesomeness of God?  Absolutely not.  In fact, a God who can set up the universe 'just right' for life to develop, then know 'the end from the beginning' (Isaiah 46:10) over a span of billions of years is far more awesome than one who zaps the world into being in six days.   

Fundamentalists and atheists would both like to force you to choose science OR faith - one or the other -with the tragic result that many are turned away from faith in God altogether. 

 The truth is very different: science AND faith, evolution AND a God who?s behind it all, are quite compatible.  Christianity, as ever, makes sense.

 David Brown                                         davidbrown.solihull@gmail.com   

 For more information:

click here for a useful US National Academies site or take a look at:

  • Francis Collins, "The Language of God", Pocket Books, 2007
  • Denis Alexander, "Creation or Evolution: do we have to choose?", Monarch Books, 2008
  • Darrel R Falk, "Coming to Peace with Science", IVP, 2004
  • John C. Lennox, "God's Undertaker: has science buried God?", Lion, 2009
  • Karl W Giberson and Francis S Collins, "The Language of Science and Faith", SPCK, 2011

Some interesting blogs are from Douglas Hayworth, Steve Martin and John Armstrong

In January 2010 the principal magazine of my own denomination, 'The Christadelphian' rejected a letter from a number of scientifically qualified people on the subject of evolution as a mechanism of creation.  Click here to read it.

Here's a letter I tried to get published in early 2009:

 Dear .................

The Darwin anniversary is another opportunity to promote a sound, rational and intellectually robust understanding of the Bible, and to challenge the media misrepresentation of the situation as one of atheistic science against religious dogma. 

We should distance ourselves from the 'young earth' creationism beloved of American fundamentalists, but which is neither required by Scripture - as John Thomas realised well before "The Origin of Species"appeared - nor scientifically tenable, unless we are to suppose that God planted misleading evidence in the rocks and in the genetic code.  Otherwise, we will expose our faith to ridicule and place entirely unnecessary obstacles in the way of others coming to share that faith.

Once we have done that, we can recognise a variety of views as compatible with belief.  Some will take the view that God may have used evolutionary mechanisms to bring about the diversity of life on Earth (as Dr Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, sets out in "The Language of God"); others will see a more limited role for evolution within closely-related groups of living things.  What we can all agree on is that scientific investigation of the natural world is not a threat to faith, but is to be positively encouraged:  'Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.' (Psalm 111:1, ESV)

Your brother,

David Brown

Solihull

 

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