Should Christians Oppose Evolution?

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

October 18, 2016

One of my passions is to equip the church to engage the culture. There is one cultural issue in particular that keeps many from even considering the thoughts of evangelical Christians. What is this stumbling block? Evolution.

When I first began dipping my toes into the apologetic waters, my primary concern and focus was arguing against evolution. In fact, I argued against evolution so fervently that I rarely had the opportunity to discuss the atoning cross of Christ — I was always stuck in the Garden of Eden! I had made evolution a stumbling block that was so large, many could not see past it to the Cross.

Why was I focused on evolution as opposed to the Cross? Well, I was raised in a culture of beliefs in which evolution and Biblical Christianity were seen as mutually exclusive. That is to say, if Christianity is true, then evolution is false, and if evolution is true, then Christianity is false. Since I believed Christianity was true, it logically followed that I must be firmly committed against the incompatible idea of Darwinian evolution.

I not only opposed evolution, I was against the very foundation that would make evolution possible – a universe that is billions of years old. I believed the earth (and universe) were only a few thousand years old and as an avid young earth creationist (YEC) and youth pastor, this is what I taught because I believed this was what the Bible taught.

In fact, in 2010 I was planning a trip to Kentucky with our youth group to Ken Ham’s “Creation Museum,” which advocates young earth geology. I was taking my students to the EFCA’s national youth conference which was in Columbus, Ohio that summer. Since we were “in the neighborhood” I was hoping to get my high school students across the border into Kentucky and equip them with young earth facts!

The First Domino Falls

Things did not work out to transport several dozen students a couple of hours south across the state line to the young earth museum. I was bummed about that, but on a lighter note, the EFCA national youth conference had three days focused on apologetics. In fact, Sean McDowell, son of the great apologist Josh McDowell, was speaking over three afternoon sessions regarding evidence for the truth of Biblical Christianity. I thought that surely Sean McDowell would offer some young earth truth to my kids.

To my dismay, however, over the course of the week, I started to read between the lines (so-to-speak) and realize that Sean did not seem to hold to Ken Ham’s views. In fact, it appeared to me, although he never explicitly said as much, that Sean believed that God created the universe billions of years ago. This specifically was made clear to me when he said, “I believe in the big bang, I just know who banged it!”

I could not believe my ears. This was heresy! I had to prove Sean McDowell wrong so I began with the greatest research tool ever: Google! It did not take long for me to realize that many Christian theologians, pastors, philosophers, and apologists were all “Old Earth Creationists” too (gasp)! Respected evangelical Christians like Lee Strobel, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, and J.P. Moreland were all old earth/universe creationists. Moreover, guys like Wayne Grudem (who literally wrote the book on Systematic Theology) seemed very open to the idea that the universe was billions of years old.

My worldview was rocked because I had been convinced that true Christians must be young earth advocates. I continued my journey into apologetics and eventually earned a master’s degree in the field from Biola University. This area of study focuses on logic, science, metaphysics, the historical method, and theology. After utilizing these tools it did not take long for me to consider other possibilities.

So, to answer the original question, “should Christians oppose evolution,” I would say, I do not think so — for several reasons. Along my journey these reasons continued falling like dominoes. Many assume that I had been taken captive by the “evil conspiracy of scientists,” however, the next “domino to fall for me was not a scientific one. It was actually a hermeneutical issue.

The Hermeneutical Domino

Hermeneutics is the science of getting to an author’s original intent. Not only do Bible scholars engage in this methodology, but so do those who study things like the United States Constitution. In fact, reading emails or text messages is an example of employing hermeneutics. Emoticons make it a little easier for readers to understand intent over the internet these days.

While engaging in my hermeneutical study, I examined some of the work of the early church. Namely, the work of the highly respected early church father, St. Augustine.

Augustine wrote (~1600 years ago):

 It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian.

It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.[1]

Wow! Let me remind you that this is close to 1500 years before Darwin! Augustine continued:

In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation. With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures.

In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.[2]

In other words: Augustine did not believe Genesis was to be considered as a science text book. Many scholars suggest that Augustine took the view that everything was NOT created in six 24-hour days like a plain and literal account of Genesis would require. Rather, Augustine believed that the six-day structure of creation presented in the book of Genesis represents a logical framework, rather than the passage of time in a physical way.

Augustine is not alone. In fact, J.I. Packer, one of the last living signers (along with Norman Geisler and R.C. Sproul) of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, seems to hold that the genre the creation account was written in is poetic in nature and is trying to communicate some truths through the compositional device of poetry. This leads us to a hermeneutical approach to the creation account in Genesis that I am sympathetic to called…

THE FRAMEWORK VIEW

Accordingly, the proponents of the framework interpretation are not bound to any particular view regarding the universe/earth’s age. This is because they claim that a careful exegesis of the biblical text (correctly interpreted) demonstrates that scripture is silent regarding how much time has elapsed since the beginning of creation.

Augustine and Packer agree!

Therefore, they conclude, that since God’s WORD is silent regarding the age of the universe and earth, then we are free to study God’s WORK (science) to come to the best conclusions. This seems to be validated by God’s Word (Psalm 19:1-2)!

Most holding to the framework interpretation today are also usually persuaded the universe is old. However, accordingly, if the scientific evidence should change, this hermeneutical approach allows the freedom to follow the scientific data wherever it leads. I like any view that allows one to truly be a free thinker!

So what exactly does a framework advocate believe? It is the interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 which regards the seven day scheme as a figurative framework. While the six days of creation are presented as normal solar days, according to the framework interpretation the total picture of God’s completing His creative work in a week of days is not to be taken literally. Instead it functions as a literary structure in which the creative works of God have been narrated in a topical order.

The days are like picture frames. Within each day-frame, Moses provides a snapshot (a highlight) of divine creative activity. This is similar to watching Sports Center on ESPN to get the highlights of Kobe Bryant’s basketball career.

I recently viewed a highlight reel first showing Kobe’s aerial acrobatics wearing the number 24, then he passed an alley-oop to Shaq while wearing the number 8. Next, it showed Kobe shooting a three pointer against the Boston Celtics while wearing the number 24, but then it showed a young Kobe wearing a number 33 jersey from Lower Merion High School. The next segment showed him dunking the basketball while wearing his number 24 Laker’s jersey. Moreover, the reporter continually referred to Kobe Bryant as the “Black Mamba!”

The narrator of this highlight reel summarized Kobe’s career and got some things out of order just to communicate a few important truths: Kobe Bryant is one of the best basketball players to have ever laced up some high-tops, he was a multiple MVP winner, and he was a five time NBA champion. It was not the intention of this reporter to make the viewers think that Kobe Bryant is literally a black mamba snake, or that he started his career with the Los Angeles Lakers wearing the number 24, then went to play some high school ball, only to later return to the Lakers.

Similarly, and back to Genesis, although God’s creative decrees, and the fulfillments of, refer to actual historical events, they are narrated in non-sequential order as “highlights” within the literary structural framework of a seven-day week. “Thus, there are two essential elements of the framework interpretation: the nonliteral element and the non sequential element.”[3]

In other words, this hermeneutical approach finds that Moses’ intent in recording the creation of the earth was not supposed to be taken as literal 24-hour days. A good case can be made that he was writing figuratively. Augustine and other fathers of the early Christian church, such as Anselm and Peter Lombard, held similar views. These theologians lived multiple centuries before Darwin so this is no retreat due to the supposed scientific onslaught against Christianity; rather, such views have deep roots in historical Christianity.

So, the first domino to fall was hermeneutical in nature. I realized that I might not be interpreting the Bible correctly. Since a good case can be made that Ken Ham’s hermeneutical approach is wrong and many respected evangelical theologians and early church fathers would stand against his teachings, I decided to reconsider my position.

It occurred to me that *if* God’s WORD was silent on the age of the earth, then I was free to study God’s WORK (Psalm 19:1-2). Those who study the work of God are scientists. Some theologians study the WORD of God, other theologians study the WORK of God. Thus, all scientists are theologians if they realize it or not.

The Scientific Domino

I began to study science, but it was not earth science (like chemistry, biology, geology, or the fossil record). I began studying astrophysics and cosmology. What got my attention was startling! The best scientific evidence we have pointing to the existence of God is also the same scientific evidence that screams the universe is probably old – VERY OLD! Science was the next domino to fall.

Now, it is important to remember that “old” is only from a human’s subjective perspective. In fact, the Bible makes it clear in both the Old and New Testaments that human time is not to be imposed upon God (a day is like a thousand years to God)! In fact, if God created all things, then He is the creator of time itself. Therefore, God is timeless sans creation and now experiences time much differently than we do.

I digress, it occurred to me that if the universe is ~13.8 billion years old, it would make sense that the earth itself is ~4.5 billion years old. This allowed the next domino to fall. After all, if the earth and universe are billions of years old, then the foundation for evolution –change over time – is in place.

Around this time I also started studying some other theological and apologetics-based issues:

God’s Middle Knowledge
Perfect Being Theology (Ontological Argument)
The fine-tuning of the universe
Big Bang cosmology
The Kalam
Substance Dualism and the human soul

After considering new data and dwelling upon the nature of God, I realized that if God is omnipotent and omniscient it would be no problem for God to create via evolution. From our limited and finite human perspective, this might seem to be “random” from our limited epistemic point of view; however, for an omnipotent and omniscient God, this would actually be the Intelligent Design of evolution!

I remember watching a video on YouTube when this “clicked!” It had nothing to do with evolution, but rather, the fact that Richard Dawkins was running scared from many offers to debate Dr. William Lane Craig on the existence of God. Just the first few seconds of Peter Byrom’s video clarified everything for me. I realized that if God were omniscient, then He would know how to design and finely tune the initial conditions of the big bang to guarantee the existence of our privileged planet and human life. Moreover, if God were omnipotent, then He would have the power to bring this finely tuned universe into existence and all that would unfold in it. If God possesses omniscient middle knowledge, then He would know all things that would occur naturally from the initial conditions of the big bang even logically prior to His creative decree. God would also know all indeterminate things that would occur in this universe and He would know the free choices humans would make in this world too.

Watch the first few seconds of this video for yourself:

https://youtu.be/J1ldYmg0lpE

Enough dominoes had fallen for me to realize that I do not have to be opposed to evolution as a Christian. Shortly after this final domino had fallen I had a conversation with my wife about my studies late one evening. I will never forget this conversation as she was basically raised in a church that equated evolution with Satanism! When I told my wife that I might be open to considering evolutionary theory . . . she cried!

It broke my heart to see those tears running down her face. I realized that she had not gone through this journey with me and she had not had the privilege of seeing these “falling dominoes.” Since she equated evolution with “EVILution” she thought I was like Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side. She thought I was falling away from Christ. Nothing was farther from the truth; in fact, I was growing in awe of our awesome God!

I know that my wife will not be the only one to have these thoughts after reading this article, and because of that, I need to make something crystal clear! Please hear me: I am not saying that evolution *is* true, but I am not saying that it is false either! I am simply stating that evolution is not necessarily mutually exclusive with the Bible. Here is one possibly true model demonstrating this fact:

 The Biblical Evolutionary Model

 1. God exists and possesses omniscient middle knowledge.

2. Big Bang (God chooses and actualizes this world and all that will happen in it)!

3.The universe unfolds…

4. Our solar system and earth come into existence.

5. Life evolves exactly the way God knew it would via his design in the finely-tuned initial conditions of the Big Bang.

6. Homo sapiens evolve as planned (not by accident).

7. God “breathes his image” (soul) into the Homo sapien making the first human in another act of special creation.

8. God does the same thing with a female Homo sapien and then “breathes his image” into her making the first female human.

9. God separates Adam and Eve from the other “soul-less” Homo sapiens (who are physically identical, but not spiritually), and places them in the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Life (as long as they eat of this tree they will never experience a physical death).

10- After the fall, Adam and Eve are expelled from the paradise of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life (now they will eventually die).

11. After Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, kills their other son, Abel, Cain is expelled from the world’s only “human tribe.” Cain is scared of other soul-less Homo sapiens who may kill him (Genesis 4:13-14).

12. Cain finds a physically identical but soul-less Homo sapien female as a wife (Genesis 4:17). The human soul is always passed on to offspring (avoids “bottle-necking” problems).

13. The human soul is a trait preferred via natural selection (as it allows for rationality).

14. Soon, all Homo sapiens have souls created in the “image of God.” Therefore, now all Homo sapiens are human (All humans are Homo sapiens, but not all Homo sapiens have been human).

15. This is exactly the way God planned and designed life to unfold. It all started with the Big Bang!

Let me be clear: I am not stating that I think this model is true; rather, I am merely offering a model that is possibly true. I am not arguing for or against evolution. I am making a case that *if* evolution is true, then it does absolutely NOTHING to negate the truth of Christianity. Evolution and Biblical Christianity are not necessarily mutually exclusive views and they can both be true simultaneously. Therefore, if one really thinks evolution is true, they can still be a Christian! Moreover, if one is a committed Christ follower, they are still free to examine the arguments for evolution. In fact, a Christian is free to major in biology, get a PhD in biology, and even teach evolutionary biology at the university level.

When it comes to the church engaging the culture this is important in light of evangelism today. When I was “anti-evolution” all of my time spent in evangelical efforts usually devolved into a never-ending debate over evolution. I was never able to remove this stumbling block with academics who were convinced that evolution is true. However, after all of these dominoes fell I realized that Christian theism and Darwinian evolution are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

These days, when a non-Christian tells me that he is an advocate of science and that science opposes the Bible, I am able to rationally challenge their thinking. That is to say, I am able to offer models demonstrating that evolution (and all science) is not mutually exclusive with Biblical Christianity. With that comes the freedom to consider the evidence that demonstrates not only that God exists, but also that God raised Jesus from the dead! After all, Paul was clear that “if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is meaningless.” Paul never said, “if evolution is true, then our faith is meaningless.”

In fact, several arguments can be made using evolution as evidence of the existence of God! William Lane Craig has made this case in debate against atheists, Alvin Plantinga has his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, and I have offered another argument that if evolution is true, then God exists!

When the church stops building walls and instead removes irrelevant stumbling blocks, the non-believing world is able to clearly see Jesus! I have witnessed miraculous conversions in the lives of former atheists while taking this approach. If the church is going to engage the culture, we need to remove stumbling blocks so believers and non-believers alike can more clearly see truth. As the Apostle Paul says, we must “walk in wisdom towards outsiders” (Colossians 4:5-6).

In Christ alone,

Tim Stratton


Notes:

* Please listen to Dr. Craig’s detailed thoughts on the issues of creation and evolution from his Defender’s Class (here). And for those with questions regarding “death before the fall,” please listen to Dr. Craig’s short podcast (here).

Also, Dr. Craig offers a model very similar to the one I crafted above (here).

[1] This quote is taken from St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 2 vols., translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, SJ (Paulist Press, 1982), volume one.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Irons & Kline, The Genesis Debate

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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