God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. Paul C. Broun, Republican congressman from Georgia from 2007 to 2015, House Science Committee, in a speech given at Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet on September 27, 2012

 You cannot be both sane and well educated and disbelieve in evolution. The evidence is so strong that any sane, educated person has got to believe in evolution.Richard Dawkins

Most of us would probably be hesitant to endorse either of the views expressed above. But is there some midpoint where the lamb of biblical creation and the lion of evolution can snuggle comfortably?

The subject of the origin and development of life in all its diversity tends to provoke impassioned responses. For example, running this subject past the other contributors to this website generated 58 emails in just two days; the next runner-up generated only 26 over a period of 22 days. In all those emails, we did not arrive at a consensus view other than that God created all things. Somehow.[1]

Though “God created everything” may seem hopelessly vague, it is certainly the most important point. God can create anything he wants, any way he wants. We can speculate, we can opine, but there are limits to what we can reasonably assert. So we must remain open to possibilities that we haven’t considered, or perhaps even some that we’ve already rejected. We should not allow ourselves to be badgered or pigeon-holed by statements such as the quotes that kick off this article.

But doesn’t God’s Word at least limit the number of possibilities we should consider? Can a Christian accept the theory of evolution? On the other hand, can an intelligent, informed person reject evolution? Let’s see if we can approach this subject without prior prejudice, while sacrificing neither reason nor respect for our Creator and his word.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. 3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! 4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day. (NET)

We have quite a bit of wiggle room when it comes to time, if we wish to avail ourselves of it. First, there is the possibility that the statement, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is separate from the creative days, which would allow for the possibility of a 13 billion year old universe[2]. Second there is the possibility that the creative days are not 24 hour days, but periods of indeterminate length. Third, there is the possibility that they overlap, or that there are spaces of time – once again, of indeterminate length – in between them[3]. So, it is possible to read Genesis 1 and come to more than one conclusion about the age of the universe, the Earth and life on Earth. With a minimum of interpretation, we could find no conflict between Genesis 1 and the timetable that represents the scientific consensus. But does the account of the creation of terrestrial life also give us wiggle room to believe in evolution?

Before we answer that, we need to define what we mean by evolution, since the term in this context has several meanings. Let’s focus on two:

  1. Change over time in living things. For example, trilobites in the Cambrian but not in the Jurassic; dinosaurs in the Jurassic but not in the present; rabbits in the present, but not in the Jurassic or Cambrian.
  2. The undirected (by intelligence) process of genetic variation and natural selection by which all living things are thought to have descended from a common ancestor. This process is also called Neo-Darwinian Evolution (NDE). NDE is often broken down into micro-evolution (like finch beak variation or bacterial resistance to drugs) and macro-evolution (like going from a quadruped to a whale)[4].

As you can see, there is little to take issue with in definition #1. Definition #2, on the other hand, is where the hackles of the faithful sometimes rise. Even so, not all Christians have a problem with NDE, and some of those who do will accept common descent. Are you confused yet?

Most of those who wish to reconcile their view of science and their Christian faith fall into one of the following belief categories:

  1. Theistic Evolution (TE)[5]: God front-loaded the necessary and sufficient conditions for the eventual appearance of life into the universe at its creation. TE advocates accept NDE. As Darrell Falk of biologos.org puts it, “Natural processes are a manifestation of God’s ongoing presence in the universe. The Intelligence in which I as a Christian believe, has been built into the system from the beginning, and it is realized through God’s ongoing activity which is manifest through the natural laws.”
  2. Intelligent Design (ID): The universe and life on Earth give evidence of intelligent causation. While not all ID proponents are Christians, those that are generally believe that the origin of life, along with some major events in the history of life, like the Cambrian Explosion, represent increases in information inexplicable without an intelligent cause. ID proponents reject NDE as inadequate to explain the origin of new biological information. According to the Discovery Institute’s official definition, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

There is, of course, considerable variation in individual belief. Some believe that God created the first living organism with sufficient information (a genetic tool kit) to later evolve into all other types of organisms without divine intervention. This, of course, would be a feat of programming rather than NDE. Some ID proponents accept universal common descent, taking issue only with the mechanism of NDE. Space does not allow discussing all possible viewpoints, so I will restrict myself to the general overview above. Readers should feel free to share their own viewpoints in the comments section.

How do those who accept NDE harmonize their view with the Genesis account? How, for example, do they get around the phrase “according to their kinds”?

The book LIFE—HOW DID IT GET HERE? BY EVOLUTION OR BY CREATION?, chap. 8 pp. 107-108 par. 23, states:

Living things reproduce only “according to their kinds.” The reason is that the genetic code stops a plant or an animal from moving too far from the average. There can be great variety (as can be seen, for example, among humans, cats or dogs) but not so much that one living thing could change into another.

It would appear from the use of cats, dogs and humans that the authors understand “kinds” to be equivalent, at least roughly, to “species”. The genetic constraints on variation that the authors mention are real, but can we be absolutely sure that the Genesis “kind” is that restricted? Consider the order of taxonomic classification:

Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.[6]

To which classification, then, does Genesis refer? For that matter, is the phrase “according to their kinds” really meant as a scientific pronouncement delimiting the reproductive possibilities of living organisms? Does it really rule out the possibility that things reproduce according to their kinds while gradually evolving – over millions of years – into new kinds? One forum contributor was emphatic that, if scripture does not give us a clear basis for an unequivocal “no”, we should be extremely hesitant to rule those things out ourselves.

At this point the reader may wonder if we are giving ourselves so generous a dollop of interpretive license that we are rendering the divinely inspired record virtually meaningless. It’s a valid concern. However, we likely have already given ourselves some interpretive freedom when it comes to understanding the length of the creative days, the meaning of the earth’s “socket pedestals” and the appearance of “luminaries” on the fourth creative day. We need to ask ourselves if we are guilty of a double standard if we insist on a hyper-literal interpretation of the word “kinds”.

Having posited, then, that scripture is not quite as restrictive as we may have thought, let’s have a look at some of the beliefs that have thus far been mentioned, but this time in the light of science and logic[7].

Neo-Darwinian Evolution: While this is still the most popular view among scientists (especially those who wish to keep their jobs), it has a problem that is increasingly recognized even by scientists who are not religious: Its variation/selection mechanism is unable to generate new genetic information. In none of the classic examples of NDE in action – variation in beak size or moth coloration, or bacterial resistance to drugs, for a few examples – is anything truly new generated. Scientists who refuse to consider the possibility of intelligent origination find themselves casting around for a new, and thus far elusive, mechanism for evolution while provisionally maintaining belief in undirected evolution on faith that such a mechanism is, indeed, forthcoming[8].

Theistic Evolution: To me, this option represents the worst of both worlds. Since theistic evolutionists believe that God, after creating the universe, took his hands off the wheel, so to speak, they believe that life’s appearance on earth and subsequent evolution were both undirected by God. Therefore, they find themselves in exactly the same predicament as atheists in having to explain the origin and subsequent diversification of life on Earth in terms of chance and natural law alone. And since they accept NDE, they inherit all its deficiencies. Meanwhile, God sits idly by the sidelines.

Intelligent Design: To me, this represents the most logical conclusion: That life on this planet, with its complex, information-driven systems, could only be the product of a designing intelligence, and that the subsequent diversification was due to periodic infusions of information into the biosphere, such as at the Cambrian Explosion. True, this view does not – in fact, cannot – identify the designer, but it provides a strong scientific element in a philosophical argument for the existence of God.

As I mentioned at the outset, when the contributors to this forum originally discussed this subject, we were unable to form a consensus view. I was initially a bit shocked at that, but have come to think that’s as it should be. The scriptures are simply not specific enough to allow us the luxury of dogmatism. Christian theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk stated with regard to his intellectual adversaries in the faith that “many of them share my faith, a faith firmly grounded not just in polite interchange, but outright love”. If we believe that we were created by God and that Christ gave his life as a ransom so that we might have everlasting life as children of God, intellectual differences on how we were created need not divide us. Our faith is, after all, ‘grounded in outright love’. And we all know where that came from.

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[1]    To give credit where credit is due, much of what follows is a distillation of the thoughts exchanged in that thread.
[2]    This article uses the American billion: 1,000,000,000.
[3]    For a detailed consideration of the creative days, I recommend Seven Days That Divide the World, by John Lennox.
[4]    Some evolution proponents take issue with the micro- and macro- prefixes, contending that macro-evolution is simply micro-evolution “writ large”. To understand why they don’t have a point, see here.
[5]   TE as I’ve described it here (the term is sometimes used differently) is well illustrated by Francisco Ayala’s position in this debate (transcript here). Incidentally, ID is well described by William Lane Craig in the same debate.
[6]   Wikipedia helpfully tells us that this ranking system can be remembered by the mnemonic “Do Kings Play Chess On Fine Glass Sets?”
[7]    In the next three paragraphs I speak only for myself.
[8]    For an example, see here.