The standard fundamentalist view of Origins is that the universe was created by god in 6-24 hour days some 6000 to 10000 years ago exactly as depicted in the Biblical creation story. The standard explanation is that life is so complicated and shows so much design that it practically proves the existence of god. In addition, evolution is so chock full of holes that creationism is a much better explanation of our origins. Creationism and more recently, the Intelligent Design movement, tells this story to their devoted followers and, to the non-scientifically trained person, it all sounds reasonable especially if a few “scientific facts” can be thrown in for good measure.
The actual fact of the matter is the Universe is some 14 billion years old (Universe 101) and earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old (The Age of the Earth). While we may never know exactly how life started on this planet, there are several theories and we are surprisingly close to creating primitive reproducing life under conditions similar to the early earth. (The Protocell Project, Researchers Build Model Protocell Capable of Copying DNA, Abiogenesis, Abiogenesis FAQ) Once a replicating life form came into existence, the Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection explains the rest. In all actuality, the Theory of Evolution is the best attested fact of all biology. It is confirmed by multiple lines of evidence including: geology, fossil evidence, DNA analysis, anatomy and developmental biology, paleography, plate tectonics, and even direct experimentation. To deny the Theory of Evolution is to close your eyes to an almost overwhelming amount of evidence.
“A denial of evolution – however motivated – is a denial of evidence, a retreat from reason into ignorance” Dr Tim D White (Paleontologist, University of California at Berkeley)
This is not to stay there aren’t controversies within the field and it isn’t to say that their aren’t disagreements as to the processes and methods – that, my friends, is science. Science isn’t theology. It is subjected to evidence and will change when new evidence forces a change. Even so, it is doubtful the the Theory of Evolution will be overturned although, almost certainly, the details of the process will undergo scientific change.
I don’t have the time or space to detail the evidence for the Theory of Evolution but I suggest you break out of the Christian mentality of reading “approved” books and read some real science on the subject. I can highly recommend:
- Only a Theory by Kenneth Miller (a Christian Scientist)
- Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne
- Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
- Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald R. Prothero
- Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer
Even a conservative, Republican appointed judge was able to see through the smoke-screen of the Intelligent Design movement in his Dover Trial ruling that you can read here: http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf (It is highly readable for a court document and it should be read by anyone interested in the subject.)
Does the Theory of Evolution make impossible the belief in god or destroy the Christian faith? The answer, for many, is no. The Catholic church, probably learning a bit from it’s previous run-ins with science, sees no conflict between evolution and faith. Dr. Ken Miller (a witness for the plaintiffs at the Dover Trial) and Dr. Francis Collins (appointee to head up NIH and previous head of the Human Genome Project) are both good examples of ardent defenders of evolution yet sincere Christians. Francis Collins is even an outspoken defender and apologist for Christianity. So one can easily claim to be a believer in both Christianity and Evolutionary Biology, but is such a joining rational from a theological or scientific view? I think not. I believe that those who would like to see a compatibility between evolution and Christianity fail to actually grasp the theological issues at stake. The big issues as I see are:
If there was no real Adam and Eve and no real Fall, then how did sin enter the world? This sin is supposedly grievous enough that it required a Savior/Redeemer.
If there was no event which caused a Fall, what is the point of a Savior/Redeemer? What was he to Redeem us from?
These are not trivial issues as they form the basis for conservative, evangelical theology and even Catholic theology. Mess with either and I think you have destroyed the foundation of the Christian faith, if by Christian faith you mean an Evangelical understanding of sin and salvation.
Let me explain.
The classical Christian understanding of sin is that Adam and Eve were created and put into the Garden of Eden, a paradise on earth, as a test of their obedience and love for god. They were told that they can eat of any fruit of any tree except the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Both Adam and Eve failed this test (Eve was tempted by the serpent and Adam was tempted by Eve). As a result, god cursed them and the world and threw them out of the Garden of Eden. With this curse sin entered the world. Adam was our “Federal” head in that he represented all mankind (how nice). In Adam, somehow, we have all sinned. Hence the concept of original sin was developed by theologians in all of it’s various flavors. Somehow, to appease god, sin required a sacrifice – a blood sacrifice. (As if a deity is so petty that he requires death to satisfy his wrath or sense of justice.) The details of this sacrificial system are are found in the pages of the Old Testament. The problem was, that the blood of sheep and goats, can’t really take away the sins of man as Hebrews 10:4 clearly states. What was needed was the ultimate sacrifice – a god man. This was Jesus Christ’s role. To be a blood sacrifice for our sins and thus purchase our redemption from sin. Now that man is covered by the blood of Christ, god can be approached and our sins forgiven. However, that “forgiveness” is not automatic. You must believe in Christ in order to be saved and avail yourself of god’s forgiveness and the eternal life in paradise that Christ’s redemption purchased.
Obviously with some 38-39,000 Christian denominations running around, the details differ. Some don’t believe in original sin, thinking that man is born neutral and makes a conscience decision to sin after which he falls under it’s curse. Some don’t believe in the “Federal” headship of Adam. Some believe that Christ died for ALL and so ALL will be saved. But, in general, there is some agreement among Evangelicals about sin, corruption and the need for the blood sacrifice of the god-man Jesus Christ.
So, if man evolved (and he did) and if there was no real Adam and Eve (there wasn’t) and no real Fall from a state of innocence and grace, what was the purpose of the brutal sacrifice of Jesus Christ? The theological problems are immense:
- How did sin entered the world? Or did it?
- When was man – a man? In other words, when did he get his soul? Was it an individual pair? A tribe? A community? Was it as a certain point in our evolution or our genetic code?
- What was the purpose of Christ? If there was no Fall, what was he to redeem us from? Why a blood sacrifice? Was he just an example of selflessness?
What of the Biblical verses that speak of atonement, redemption, Christ’s sacrifice? Do we just ignore them? For example:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12)
The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification (Rom 5:16)
For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5: 19)
For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (I Cor 15:21-22)
…you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.(1 Pt 1:18-19)
Throw out this understanding of sin and salvation, even with it’s many permutations, and you have to re-interpret the Christian message or at least change is drastically from the standard Evangelical understanding. If you do this, are you then just making a Christ in your own image? You might call yourself Christian, but what does that then mean? Do you just become someone who is enamored with the person of Christ and some of the things he stood for? I know this is done by many people and the more theologically liberal denominations but I’ve never understood the attraction of this watered down Christ figure.
I maintain that without a literal Adam and Eve and a literal Fall, much of the mission and purpose of Christ as detailed in the New Testament, no longer makes sense. Of course, it can all be re-interpreted and modified and refined, but then that brings up other questions about the reliability of god, how he communicates with man and whether we really can believe anything that is written about him. If much of it is parable and allegory, then why the Christian message? Why this version of Christianity and not, for example Buddhism?
In this sense, I believe that a belief in evolution kills an evangelical understanding of Christianity. For me, the entire story of salvation no longer makes sense and throws doubt as to the existence or knowability of the god depicted in the Bible.