|This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.|
In 1928, Arkansas state passed a law by referendum making it illegal to teach "the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals." In 1999, the Board of Education of Kansas State in the United States voted in favour of removing any reference to evolution from its science curriculum.
It seems that there has been a raging debate in parts of America in the last century about the theory of evolution.
I wasn't aware of the energy and money that goes into this debate in the United States. Where I come from on the other side of the world, there isn't the same level of dispute about evolution versus creation science. In mainstream Christian circles in Australia, it is an uncommon topic of discussion. Now and again it pops up in a conversation, but never for long. But look on the internet, and you'll see web site after web site dedicated to discrediting either creation science or evolution - an us versus them approach. People are referred to as evolutionists or creationists - as if this defines their faith?!
After reading multitudes of web pages, the question that still occurs to me is - why do people worry so much about this issue?
Natural selection and evolution
It was 1831 and the young scientist, Charles Darwin stepped off the HMS Beagle onto the shore of the uninhabited Galapagos Islands. Animals thrived on the islands, with huge lizards, giant tortoises, and bulky sea lions just a few of the spectacles. But what caught Darwin's attention most was the humble finch. Finches could be found on many of the islands - but no two islands had exactly the same species of finches - in fact, he counted 13 different species. This puzzled him, because he knew of only 1 species of finch in South America, where all these finches had presumably originated from. Darwin recorded in his diary, "One might fancy, that one species has been modified for different ends."
In 1859, Darwin released his life's work - The origin of species. This was a scientific work on the theory of natural selection. It was not a religious work, nor was it an attack on God.
The theory of evolution through natural selection can be simply explained. Living things that are suited to their environment are more likely to reproduce than living things that are not suited to their environment. Small changes and adaptations over large amounts of time can results in large changes and by this means, one species can become two.
A good example of natural selection in action was discovered in the peppered moths living near industrial English cities in the nineteenth century. These moths have scattered dark markings on their wings and bodies. In 1849, a dark black variant was found near Manchester. Within 50 years over 90% of the moths were of this dark black variant. How could this happen? This moth rests on trees during the day, and would provide food for birds. In the late 19th century, with greater industrialization, smog from nearby factories had begun to darken the bark of trees, and because of this, black moths were harder for birds to see, and therefore more likely to live long enough to reproduce, and so over time the black variant became dominant. Interestingly, with the reduced smog in British cities today, the tree bark is no longer so dark, and the dark moths are becoming less common.
Today, there is a general consensus among scientists that the universe was formed in a single moment (the big bang), billions of years ago, and that it has been changing ever since. It is believed that life on earth began a few billion years ago with primitive bacteria, and from these plants and animals evolved into the way they are today.
How do Christians view the theory of evolution?
I believe there tend to be 2 general Christian beliefs regarding evolution
There are those who see God's hand behind creation through natural selection - the book of Genesis is about who created the world.
There are those who see God's hand behind creation through the literal Genesis account - the book of Genesis is about how the world was created.
The account in Genesis
In the beginning of the Bible, at the beginning of Genesis, the creation of the world is described. Some of Genesis 1 it is written below.
Christians who dispute evolutionary theory tend to look at Genesis 1 as a literal account of the creation of the universe. They usually form a set of beliefs about the origin of the universe that is described as creation science. Many Christians who hold these beliefs are conservative Protestant Christians in North America with a strong belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Typically, they will believe that:
- God created the universe as described in Genesis. The theory of evolution by natural selection is false. Adam and Eve and their descendents were real people
People with Christian science views tend to believe that when God created the world, it was largely the same as it is today. In particular, they refer to each created living thing being created "according to its kind" (Genesis 1:11). If everything is already created according to its kind and it produces fruit or seed according to its kind, then evolution by natural selection is not true, so the argument flows.
Some people believe each day described in Genesis 1 refers to a long period of time. However, others feel that 1 day really is 24 hours, and unfortunately get dragged into debates and explanations proving that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Attempts are made to explain how specific scientific dating methods such as carbon dating are incorrect. Some people endeavour to rationalize the existence of dinosaur fossils with more pseudoscience. Although often done with the best of motives, these people can become entangled in a quagmire of halve-truths and tend to place far too much emphasis on creation science and not enough importance on the Gospel.
Possibly the idea that disturbs people with creation science views the most, is the concept that human beings evolved from other primates. If we are made in the image of God then how can we have evolved? If we evolved from other primates, then how are we any different from other animals? This is an understandable concern, because the Bible certainly does teach that there is something special about humans - that we have been made in God's likeness. However, this concern presumes that it is our physical form that makes us human. Yet surely what we look like does not define our humanity? It is important to realize that the theory of natural selection does not discuss what makes a human a human.
Some people feel that creation scientists read more meaning in Genesis than it is intended to convey. In the past, the Church has silenced voices that it has felt contradicted Genesis. For example, in the 17th century the Italian scientist Galileo was threatened with torture and placed under house arrest for teaching that the earth and planets revolved around the sun, and his book was placed on the Church Index of forbidden works until 1835. Yet now Christians find it hard to believe that this occurred, and are unable to find passages in Genesis that discuss the nature of space to disprove this model of the solar system. Will we feel the same way about creation science 200 years from now?
Science is the study of natural world - it is the study of stuff, of matter, of energy. With science we try to explain what and how things happen. What makes a stone sink and ice float on water? How can eating raw meat cause illness? Natural selection is a scientific theory - it attempts to answer how the animals and plants around us came to be the way they are.
Science can never prove or disprove God. God is not within the universe - he created it. He is a spiritual being, not a physical thing. And because of this, the theory of evolution by natural selection does not deny God's existence. Despite this, many non-Christians and many Christians with a creation science background choose to believe that the theory of evolution is making a comment on the lack of existence of God. It is not.
Many Christians have studied evolutionary theory and feel that it is based in scientific truth. For these Christians there is no difficulty reconciling their faith in Jesus with an acceptance of this scientific theory. God created the universe, including the laws of physics and nature, and through this, natural selection has occurred - theistic evolution. For these Christians, Genesis is a book that explains who created the universe and how man relates to God, but it does not explain the actual mechanics of how the universe was created.
There is a wide variety of beliefs regarding how the world was created for Christians who do not fall into the creation science group. Some believe that
- God created the universe as described in Genesis, using evolution by natural selection as his tool. Adam and Eve and their descendents were real people
Others believe that
- God created the universe using evolution by natural selection as his tool. Adam and Eve and some of the other people described early in Genesis may not have been real people, but perhaps are stories that explain the human condition
One of the main difficulties with theistic evolution is that Genesis describes the first two people and their original sin. In the account from Genesis 2 and 3, God created the man (Adam) and from him, He created the woman (Eve) to be his helper. God forbade the man to eat fruit from a specific trees saying, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die". However, the woman saw that the fruit of this tree was desirable and she took and ate some, giving some to her husband as well. And so the account continues.
For Christians who believe that Adam and Eve were real people, then how and when were they created?
For Christians who do not believe that Adam was a real person, then what about his descendents? Were Cain and Abel real people? Was Noah a real person and the great flood a real event? Are these just stories that are explaining a point or meaning? If these people never really existed, then how can we say that the Bible is without error?
These are important questions. Perhaps the most important of all questions is how does a conservative Christian with theistic evolution beliefs reconcile these beliefs to the belief that the Bible is God's word? A liberal Christian may not believe that the Bible is free from error, however a conservative Christian will believe this. If the conservative Christian sees a day as a time period then it is easy for him to reconcile evolution to the account of Genesis 1. If he also sees the accounts of Adam, Eve and their descendents as stories to explain a point, in the same way that Jesus told parables, then again he may see no conflict in evolutionary theory and the Bible.
The most misunderstood ideas
Many Christians who accept the theory of natural selection as a scientific truth, tend to think that Christians with creation science viewpoints are unintelligent and have not thought through the issue. This is not true. Those with the creation science opinions have usually read widely around the topic and usually have informed opinions.
Many Christians who have creation science viewpoints believe that Christians who accept natural selection do not believe in that the Bible is God's word. This is not true. A Christian can believe that the Bible is completely the word of God and still feel that the evolutionary theory is a truthful scientific theory.
In the end, does this debate really matter? What makes us Christian is our personal faith in Jesus Christ as our saviour... But perhaps we can ask Christ how he made the world when we meet him face to face.
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