Christianity and Evolution

Author Rachel Held Evans describes how science almost derailed her faith—and how she realized God's truth is bigger than her doubt.

The only time I’ve ever defaced a piece of property was when I was about 10 years old and my mom brought home a used science book from a garage sale. She thought I might like all the pictures of lions and zebras and polar bears crawling across the pages, but instead I flipped right to the section on evolutionary biology and proceeded to go ape on page 25 with a green crayon.

Where it casually mentioned an Earth age of billions of years, I scribbled “NOT!” over the words. Where it depicted dinosaurs roaming the Earth before people, I drew stick figures on their backs. Where it praised the work of Charles Darwin, I wrote “BOOOOO!” and “LOSER” across the page. I felt empowered knowing that my crayon and I were doing the Lord's work, one “edit” at a time.

My response reveals just how much suspicion and fear I’d learned to associate with Darwin’s theory of evolution, even at such an early age. Growing up, I learned that only atheists and agnostics believed such foolishness and that they’d constructed the whole theory with the sole purpose of undermining Scripture and destroying Christianity. We were locked in a battle with these “enemies of the faith,” I learned. Only one side could win, and if it wasn’t ours, the Christian faith would be lost.

This idea was perpetuated at my Christian college, where one of the science professors liked to tell the story of how, as a sophomore in high school, he had dreams of becoming a scientist but could not reconcile the theory of evolution with the creation account found in Genesis. So one night, he took a pair of scissors and a newly purchased Bible and began cutting out every verse he believed would have to be removed to believe in evolution. By the time he was finished, he said he couldn’t even lift the Bible without it falling apart. That was when he decided, “Either Scripture was true and evolution was wrong, or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible.”

The message to me and my classmates was clear: We had to choose—Christianity or evolution, faith or science, Darwin or the Bible. We could not embrace both.

I went on accepting this dichotomy without question until my late 20s, when my desire to have a more examined faith led me to look into the scientific evidence for myself.

It was overwhelming.

From the fossil record and DNA sequences, to ice rings and biodiversity, I found the evidence supporting evolutionary theory to be remarkably compelling and reasonable. This was not a far-fetched proposition concocted by God-haters to undermine the Bible. It was a cohesive, multifaceted scientific theory that consistently made testable predictions, many of which had led to breakthroughs in medicine and technology. I couldn’t just dismiss it as bogus; my intellectual integrity would not allow it.

Now, let me stop right here to clarify that the point of this article is not to advocate a certain view of origins. I have great respect and love for my brothers and sisters in Christ who interpret the data differently, or who feel compelled by their particular interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 to hold a young earth perspective.

Rather than explaining why I believe in evolution, I want to explain why I’m still a Christian.

I have to admit that when I first encountered this evidence, I felt lost and frightened. All my life I’d been taught that Christianity and evolution were irreconcilable, and yet my newfound interest in science had not dampened my love for Jesus and my desire to follow Him. I didn’t want to have to choose between my faith and my intellectual integrity, though many of my friends and professors demanded that I do so.

By the grace of God, I bumped into an interesting quote from St. Augustine that changed everything. Centuries before anyone had heard of common descent, he warned of creating false fundamentals in regard to our interpretation of Genesis.

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision,” Augustine wrote, “we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”

My mistake all those years was not in holding to a young earth perspective, but in wrapping Christianity so tightly around it that changing my mind about evolution threatened to take down my entire faith.

As it turns out, God is not threatened by science or honest inquiry. If all truth is God’s truth, then we shouldn’t be afraid of what this world has to teach us. God is big enough and deep enough and eternal enough to handle our toughest questions and our most baffling discoveries. 

With this in mind, I decided to study evolution without fear. I read books and journals and even attended a conference that was completely over my head. But rather than destroying my faith, this pursuit made it stronger. I learned to think critically, to entertain new ideas, to have patience with my questions and to embrace the diversity of opinion that exists within the Christian community. Best of all, I learned my faith was strong enough to survive examination, challenge and change. It was strong enough to survive my worst fears.

There is still much to learn about reconciling Christianity with science and vice versa. (Some books I recommend include The Language of God by Francis Collins, The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton and Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson.) But I am confident we can study and learn—and even disagree—without losing faith if we just put down our crayons long enough to listen.

Rachel Held Evans lives in Dayton, Tenn., home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Her memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town, released with Zondervan in July. She blogs at http://rachelheldevans.com.

3 Comments

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Brian Forbes commented…

You have claimed that there is no conflict - that it's a false dichotomy, and you used a solitary quote from Augustine to prove it, but even from within your article there is evidence that the two are not reconcilable, from your professor to your early training. The fact is, you looked into the evidence FOR evolution, but it seems you missed the arguments against it. There are so many reasons that the two are irreconcilable (from Jesus pointing to the Flood of Noah as a parallel to rapture, to God writing with his own finger in the 10 commandments in Exodus, that He made the earth in 6 days and rested, therefore keep the Sabbath). You may not have taken scissors to your bible, but you failed to tell us how we can accept your perspective without doing that ourselves. Take note, plants were created on day 3, the sun on day 4. You can't read Genesis as written unless you toss Evolution. Death was not the result of sin if evolution is true. What do you do with Hebrews 11? Too many problems!

My advice to you is that you take the time to look at the Creationist arguments. Not the ones you learned while you were still using crayons, but the ones promoted by the PhD's of science (e.g. the RATE project of ICR, and the 10 Best Evidences of AiG, and FromNoahtoHercules.com - Pagan gods were once mortal men). Evolution really is impossible, if your eyes are opened to see it.

Side note:
Someone once quoted Augustine to me in this way, and I took the time to read the book that contained his quote. He actually said the complete opposite of the implications of the quote. I recommend you find your quote in context before you malign the man.

Melissa Colter

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Melissa Colter replied to 's comment

It may be more important to recognize that the writer has kept faith, despite the conflicts pressed by the external world. It should be our job to BUILD a fellow believer up, not to be wrapped in the snares of debate. For some, seeing 7-Day Creationism as it sits is impossible. For others, evolution just seems utterly secular. Truth is no man knows God's timing nor intent, but rather should recognize that there were divine, purposeful origins to the universe (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/evolutionary-theory-and-theism). What matters is that Christ is preached. Let this article fill your heart with joy that the writer has kept faith.

Brian Forbes

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Brian Forbes replied to Melissa Colter's comment

Thanks for the reply. The article you linked to had no evidence at all for evolution. It just assumed that if evolution is true, a couple of the problems that Christians would have with it are not fatal to their world view.

It is true that some people can reconcile Christianity and the ToE. I rejoice that they are able to compartmentalize in that way and live their lives in submission to Christ. However, there's no need for any Christian to believe that lie, any more than there is a need for a Christian to believe that white lies are harmless (a less important issue) or that we can become gods after we die (a worse lie). All error should be avoided, and this error is especially potent. So look at the evidences I talked about in my earlier post. You might also try Luke 3. How could Jesus be descended from a fiction? It's not impossible for others to believe in Creation, because it's not a matter of effort. It's a matter of education and stubbornness.

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