I am going to address a theme today that I haven’t spoken about very much in the entire history of my blog. It is not an easy subject to write about as I am aware that there are very strong emotions on display on both sides. The debate between atheistic evolution and any kind of belief in a creator God seems to have long since become almost too emotive to discuss. Among Christians, there is much argument about what our position should be. I have decided for now that I will not pin down for you clearly where I personally stand on this. Today I want to do only two things. The first is to recommend a couple of resources which come from very different perspectives but will both help you explore where you want to land on this yourself.
The first of these resources is firmly from a theistic evolutionary perspective. The Test Of Faith documentary aims to show that there is no real conflict between science and faith. Christians who are also scientists explain why they believe in both evolutionary theory and the God of the Bible. This was produced by the Cambridge-based Faraday Institute. It is well put together, and I did enjoy watching it and found it thought-provoking. Its one weakness is it almost succeeds in its goal too well. One could wonder by the end if any Christians out there still doubt evolution! But I do think that it was worth watching.
The second of these resources argues from a much more conservative approach. Edited by Norman Nevin (a leading geneticist) and with a forward by Wayne Grudem, Should Christians Embrace Evolution covers the reasons to doubt evolution from a theological and scientific perspective. Many Christians who have been around the faith for decades will have read similar books written in previous years. Such books inevitably age and require updating, especially scientifically. This modern book aims to be both scientifically up-to-date and theologically accurate. Its core argument theologically is that theistic evolution is not consistent with the supremacy of Scripture. You may or may not agree.
The second aim of this post is to outline a full spectrum of opinion on this emotive issue, and ask you to consider two questions. Where do you sit on this spectrum? How much variation in perspective would you be happy to tolerate in the people you worship with? Or your leaders? One thing is for sure—most churches today will have a wide variety of opinions on this matter in their congregations. So here is (with obvious acknowledgments to others) my so-called “evolutionary spectrum.” Let me know if you think I have left out any major viewpoints commonly held by Christians:
1. Atheistic Evolution. There is no God. There was no prime cause. The universe came into being through the big bang. Random events unfold and have no design or purpose—everything we see came into being by itself. There is no real reason for our existence. Our consciousness is an illusion, and we reach out in vain for a Being to worship.
2. Passive Theistic Evolution: Old Universe, Old Earth, Old Creation. There is a God. He designed certain key parameters in the universe and sits behind the laws of physics. Without him the numbers just wouldn’t add up for the universe to hold together, let alone life to exist. But once God set these laws and triggered the big bang, he just sat back and watched as the universe unfolded entirely as he predicted according to observable laws of science. In practical terms, it is impossible to detect this God, but there are some hints of his existence because of the way the universe works. He does not intervene day to day in the running of the universe he made. According to this viewpoint, Adam and Eve and most of Genesis 1-3 are likely to be mythical.3. Intelligent Design or Active Theistic Evolution: Old Universe, Old Earth, Old Creation. The universe unfolded much as the evolutionists believe. But much of what we see in the creation of animals, plants, etc., requires the intervention of an active Creator. God doesn’t just allow evolution to take its course, but intervenes as an active designer shaping it, possibly in bursts of creative activity. Some at this level would accept that Adam and Eve were real people created directly by God, and the ancestors of all humans today. Those who hold all subsequent views would tend to acknowledge the existence of Adam and Eve in almost all cases.
4. “Gap” Theory: Old Universe, Old Earth, Young Creation. The universe is as old as scientists believe it to be. The world is also as old as they think. The fossils do represent a true evolutionary process. But the old creation was destroyed, representing a “gap” in the Genesis account. God started over with a new creation, and this new creation of animals and plants, etc. was made in seven days and thus the fossils are not relevant to our ancestry. Usually in this view, some form of “micro” evolution is accepted. Thus, species created by God cannot change into a new species, but they can adapt and change like Darwin’s finches, which, in fact, never stopped being finches.
5. Old Universe, Young Earth. The universe is indeed old, but God made the world with an appearance of age. Like a tree created in a day would look old because its trunk is growing, the world (and possibly even all the fossils) were created in seven days with the appearance of age that is not real. Sometimes in this view and the later ones, even “micro” evolution is rejected.
6. Apparently Old Universe. The universe looks much older than it is. God made the world and the whole universe in a seven day period. When the stars were made, they were put in place together at the same time as the light emanating from them. Thus, the light we see was made directly by God and never came from the star we think it did. Everything was made exactly as a literal reading of Genesis tells us it is.
7. The Universe Doesn’t Even Appear Old. All the ideas of the scientists about the universe appearing old are simply wrong. We live in a young universe which was made in seven days and in the past creationists argued that such things as the amount of dust on the moon prove this.