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.

280 Comments

84,008

Get Real Yallz commented…

I clearly (obvz) won.

84,008

Anonymous commented…

Where Theology and Science conflict, we should reevaluate our positions in both. A Theology that refuses to allow room for the march of human progress is a dangerous theology. A Science that refuses to allow room for the undiscovered is an absurd science. Science and Theology do not necessarily conflict, only WRONG INTERPRETATIONS or paradigms of 'Science' and 'Theology'.

Granted, from the first three paragraphs of this article, there are serious reforms of mind that need to take place in the 'religious' world, anti-intellectualism is far more destructive than staunch atheism (especially when half the country can be classified under the one and less than ten percent under the other).

84,008

Anonymous commented…

I too had to grapple very deeply with this issue in college and it was not until 4 years ago that I truly felt my deepest questions on this issue were answered--and it wasn't an "either/or" decision--more like an "understand more and get it" issue.

For 30 days I woke before the crack of dawn with more "ding,ding! Now I get it" lightbulbs in my brain that connected beliefs and research. There was a missing link to my theology that (yes, I see the humor) filled the gap and ensured I didn't have to have a lobotomy in order to maintain my faith. It's high time we as Christians truly realized that God is fully able to back Himself up and when we delve deeply into ANY realm of study. Since God is THE Creator, we can't help but run smack dab into Him.

I don't want to sound like I'm only on this forum for a sale (besides, being an author is usually the worst path to quick wealth :) but I have a book called THE FALL (Rapha Chronicles #1) that is a biblical retelling of ancient times through the eyes of an angel who was once best friends with Lucifer. In the novel, I incorporate the extensive study that ensued after the feverish round of revelations/realizations of a few years ago. I was wisely advised to put the information into a novel form to make the shock a bit easier to swallow. It's still a disturbing read, but never gratuitous.

THE FALL is available on Amazon. You can click on this link for an excerpt and to read the reviews. http://alturl.com/e5xdt

The two main takeaways from the novel are:
1. Jesus' blood is absolutely essential to our salvation--the WHY will be clearer than ever
2. God's love is mind-boggling--He truly moved Heaven and Earth to get to us

The reviews average 5 stars--not just MY opinion. I've been a Christian since I was 9 and I come from a family of pastors but the creation of THE FALL blew my mind wide open--and blasted the roots of my faith deeper than ever.

Go ahead and ask those questions. Our faith is demonstrated more by honest questions than by mute acceptance.

In Christ,

Chana Keefer--author of THE FALL (Rapha Chronicles #1)
Amazon link: http://alturl.com/e5xdt

84,008

Sparrow9000 commented…

Are you kidding me??? This article doesn't say anything. All it CAN do is plant doubt into the minds of naive believers. The truth is that MICROevolution does not contradict the Bible one bit. AND it IS the evolution that Darwin talked about. It doesn't talk about a cell turning into a bugger, that into a fish, into a reptile, into a bird and so on. It talks about how a bird can develop a beak which helps it eat what it eats, a frog develop a skin. color which helps it hide. But neither the bird neither the frog turns into a "more complex" being. MACROevolution (which is false) is what contradicts the Bible. It doesn't have ANY proof. It's based on guesses. They find 40% of anAustralopithecusskeleton and they say it's the ancestor of man, they tell you how it looked, behaved, what it ate and even how it died. And there is NO REAL proof for it. Any competent lecturers will admit it. Darwin NEVER spoke of MACROevolution. I studied molecular biology as a major in university. I had a course called "Evolution Theory". It was at a SECULAR university. And the lecturer himself said, that MACROevolution is not proven and that only MICROevolution can be trusted as science. So it goes perfectly with the Bible. I'd suggest deleting this article.

James McDonald

4

James McDonald commented…

great article! i'm a believer and an old earth theorist myself. there is a great book i suggest reading: 'a bibilical case for an old earth' by david snoke. science is pretty awesome, and it most certainly does not render the bible obsolete. on the contrary, they compliment each other.

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