Christianity and Evolution

Danny E. Olinger

P&R Publishing is to be commended for bringing to print in North America a stellar collection of essays by British evangelicals. Edited by Norman C. Nevin, the book is entitled Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Biblical and Scientific Responses. The thesis of the volume is that Christians cannot accept modern evolutionary theory without compromising the teachings of the Bible. Modern evolutionary theory—specifically, neo-Darwinian mechanisms of mutation and natural selection, and the common ancestry of all living things—allows one to explain life and human origins without reference to God. However, the Bible from its opening words proclaims that life can only be explained with reference to God.

The essays, by both theologians and scientists, cover a wide range of issues, but there are two basic questions: (1) Is evolution compatible with Christianity? (2) Must Christians abandon their belief in the historical priority of Adam and Eve in the human race, in the light of modern genetic research? According to the authors, positive answers to these questions have gained traction among Christians in recent years through the publication of such books as Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?

Although he affirms the authority of Scripture, Alexander insists that modern science has established evolutionary theory beyond dispute. The proof is in DNA testing. The record of humankind’s evolutionary past is indelibly inscribed on its DNA, which makes people the equivalents of walking genetic fossil museums. In regard to the first question above, Alexander believes that evolution is more than compatible with Christianity. It is demanded. Concerning the second question, Alexander believes that DNA research has also shown undeniably that the earth was populated with human beings prior to the appearance of Adam and Eve, and that humans and chimpanzees have descended from common hominid ancestors.

The writers of this set of essays disagree with Alexander and collectively answer both questions in the negative. They believe that the Bible teaches, and that Christianity demands, that God created all things out of nothing by the word of his power, not through an evolutionary process. They also argue that Adam was not one man among many, but the first man from whom the entire human race has sprung.

Is Evolutionary Theory Compatible with Christianity?

Regarding the compatibility of evolutionary theory and biblical teaching, David Anderson argues in his chapter, “Creation, Redemption and Eschatology,” that evolutionary theory and the teaching of the Bible are package deals—and separate packages. Each tells a story about the critical space-time events in the history of humanity. That these stories deeply conflict can be seen in their respective understandings of Adam’s fall into sin. In standing with the evolutionary position, Denis Alexander maintains that the Fall did not affect the physical world. He argues that pain, suffering, and death not only preceded the arrival of Adam and Eve, but also were an essential part of the struggle for limited resources that gave rise to our species, including Adam and Eve. Anderson counters that the Bible teaches the exact opposite position. The Fall affected the physical world. Pain, suffering, and death came into the world through sin. Anderson concludes that the two positions cannot be reconciled. Modern evolutionary theory sees death as part of the created order that God deemed good; biblical Christianity views death as an enemy of creation that is destroyed through the coming and work of Jesus Christ.

R. T. Kendall’s “Faith and Creation” is even more to the point on why evolutionary theory and the Bible cannot be mixed and matched. Evolution takes as axiomatic that what is now seen has evolved to its present state from what was here earlier. But the writer of Hebrews declares that what is seen at the level of nature was not made out of what is visible or now exists: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3). Kendall writes, “This is the essence of creation ‘out of nothing.’ Through faith we understand that time, space, and all matter were brought into being by the word—command—of God, so that things which are there were put there from nothing by the voice of God” (p. 114). He adds, “If the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews had seen civilization 1,900 years in advance and wished to make a statement that would categorically refute any view of evolution, he could not have worded it better” (p. 115).

Was Adam the First Man?

Michael Reeves argues in “Adam and Eve” that severe theological consequences follow if we deny the biblical teaching that Adam was a historical person who fathered the entire human race. Most modern geneticists, as a result of their research, believe that there was no single head at the start of humanity. In light of these scientific conclusions, Alexander proposes that Adam was not the first man created, but rather the first to recognize the need to worship God alone. He also says that Eve did not come from Adam’s rib, but from her parents. Reeves rightly counters that if this is the case, then sin and death did not come from one man’s disobedience in history, and the words of Paul in Romans 5 make no sense. Paul would be comparing that which is historical (Christ and his redeeming work) with that which is mythical (Adam and the Fall). Reeves writes, “His logic would fall apart if he was comparing a historical man (Christ) to a mythical or symbolic one (Adam). If Adam and his sin were mere symbols, then there would be no need for a historical atonement; a mythical atonement would be necessary to undo a mythical fall” (p. 45).

Do Christians Oppose Science?

The later chapters in the book refute the accusation that Christians who do not embrace evolution are opposed to science. The book’s editor, Norman Nevin, emeritus professor of medical genetics at Queen’s University in Belfast, writes that the truth is the opposite of the perception. Christians have a high view of science, and several authors writing in this volume are scientists. They do not duck the tough questions raised by modern science. The essays include “Homology,” “The Nature of the Fossil Record,” “Chromosomal Fusion and Common Ancestry,” “Information and Thermodynamics,” and “Does the Genome Provide Evidence for Common Ancestry?”

The question is whether scientific data must be interpreted in only one way, namely, according to modern evolutionary theory. In this volume, scientists argue that the supposed evidence for evolution, including that of genetics, can be reasonably interpreted in a nonevolutionary manner.

Further, who determines the standards for evaluation? The interpretation placed on the creation account by certain theistic evolutionists, such as Alexander, is determined by the felt need to fit Scripture in with the belief that science discovers absolutely objective facts. The reliability of the biblical account in Genesis may be questioned, they think, but not the latest findings of science. It is the unquestioned authority in the modern world. However, science is an evolving social activity in which the participants are fallible people. Hence, there are no absolutely objective facts with science. The assumption that nature is an infallible guide is also problematic when the reality is that nature is cursed.

To this reviewer, the writers have proven their point. Taken as a whole, modern evolutionary theory, with its Darwinian commitment to mutations and natural selection and its belief in common ancestry, inverts the Creator-creature distinction and gives attributes to nature that belong to God alone, including the power to create. This is no harmless transfer. The teachings of Scripture are connected. How one understands the world’s beginning, the origin and historicity of the first man, affects doctrines other than that of creation. The biblical doctrines of sin, of redemption, and of the Redeemer also come into view. This is the testimony of the apostle Paul: “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).

The author is the general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education and the editor of New Horizons magazine.