Can Evolution be Christian? An Introduction…

As many of you know, I am of the conviction that evolution and a high view of Scripture are compatible.  There are actually many credible voices in the evangelical community that agree with this.  Tim Keller, CS Lewis, Billy Graham, John Stott, NT Wright, Greg Boyd, Allister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, Scot Mcknight, and many more.

Today, I want to point you toward a wonderful intoduction to this topic, written by Tim Keller.  It is called: CREATION, EVOLUTION, AND CHRISTIAN LAYPEOPLE.  If you take 20 minutes to read this, I think you will appreciate the value of holding God’s Word and God’s World together.  Below are the four broad topics that the article will attempt to process.

In my estimation what current science tells us about evolution presents four main difficulties for orthodox Protestants. The first is in the area of Biblical authority. To account for evolution we must see at least Genesis 1 as non-literal. The questions come along these lines: what does that mean for the idea that the Bible has final authority? If we refuse to take one part of the Bible literally, why take any parts of it literally? Aren’t we really allowing science to sit in judgment on our understanding of the Bible rather than vica versa?
The second difficulty is the confusion of biology and philosophy. Many of the strongest proponents for evolution as a biological process (such as Dawkins) also see it as a ‘Grand Theory of Everything.’ They look to natural selection to explain not only all human behavior but even to give the only answers to the great philosophical questions, such as why we exist, what life is about, and why human nature is what it is. Doesn’t belief in the one idea—that life is the product of evolution—entail the adoption of this whole ‘world-view’?

The third difficulty is the historicity of Adam and Eve. One way to reconcile what current science says about evolution is to propose that the account of Adam and Eve is symbolic, not literal, but what does this do to the New Testament teaching of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 that our sinfulness comes from our relationship with Adam? If we don’t believe in an historical fall, how did we become what the Bible says we are—sinful and condemned?
The fourth difficulty is the problem of violence and evil. One of the greatest barriers to belief in God is the problem of suffering and evil in the world. Why, people ask, did God create a world in which violence, pain, and death are endemic? The answer of traditional theology is—he didn’t. He created a good world but also gave human beings free will, and through their disobedience and ‘Fall’, death and suffering came into the world. The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops. If God brings about life through evolution, how do we reconcile that with the idea of a good God? The problem of evil seems to be worse for the believer in theistic evolution.
I have been a pastor for almost 35 years, and during that time I’ve spoken to many laypeople who struggle with the relationship of modern science to orthodox belief. In the minds of most laypeople, it is the first three difficulties that loom largest. The fourth difficulty—the problem of suffering and death—has not been posed to me as often by parishioners. Yet in some ways the problem of suffering goes along with the third question regarding the historicity of the Fall. Without the traditional view of the historicity of the Fall, the question of evil would seem to become more acute….

As a “PS” so to speak, here are some other quotes that have been mentioned on this blog before, that have had a profound impact on my theistic evolution/evolutionary creation/BioLogos journey.

Here is one from Billy Graham…

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things that they weren’t meant to say, and I think we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course, I accept the Creation story. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man… whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.” — Billy Graham in “Doubt and Certainties” (1964)

Another from John Stott…

“Not many Christians today find it necessary to defend the concept of a literal six-day creation, for the text does not demand it, and scientific discovery appears to contradict it. The biblical text presents itself not as a scientific treatise but as a highly stylized literary statement (deliberately framed in three pairs, the fourth “day” corresponding to the first, the fifth to the second, and the sixth to the third)…
“It is most unfortunate that some who debate this issue (evolution) begin by assuming that the words “creation” and “evolution” are mutually exclusive. If everything has come into existence through evolution, they say, then biblical creation has been disproved, whereas if God has created all things, then evolution must be false. It is, rather, this naïve alternative which is false. It presupposes a very narrow definition of the two terms, both of which in fact have a wide range of meanings, and both of which are being freshly discussed today…
“But my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them homo erectus. I think you may even call some of them homo sapiens, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first homo divinus, if I may coin a phrase, the first man to whom may be given the Biblical designation ‘made in the image of God’. Precisely what the divine likeness was, which was stamped upon him, we do not know, for Scripture nowhere tells us. But Scripture seems to suggest that it includes rational, moral, social, and spiritual faculties which make man unlike all other creatures and like God the creator, and on account of which he was given ‘dominion’ over the lower creation.” (John Stott, Understanding the Bible: Expanded Edition; 54-56)

And another from CS Lewis…

“For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. he gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past…. We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods…. They wanted some corner in this universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, the the question is of no consequence.” (C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain, 68-71)

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  • An excellent blog post… I haven’t read Keller’s article but I’ve been reading McKnight’s digests of the discussion. My perspective? Ultimately, the Biblical account is not intended to describe the HOW God did things but more to answer to other important questions: WHO did it… and WHY. The rest of Scripture falls easily behind Genesis account of WHO and WHY without needing to bring into the the account the HOW.

  • I misread the first sentence, and was confused for the entire post trying to figure out why you thought evolution and a high view of Scripture were incompatable, and then provided quotes to academics who clearly stated their case against you! Oh…NOT incompatable….I get it now!

    I was bouncing this topic around my head a few days ago, spurred by a friend’s comment about how mosquitos must have eaten plant juices at one point, because there was no death before the fall.

    The comment ultimately manifested itself in two questions:

    1)Is evolution a product of the Fall? We know Creation was radically altered by the Fall, but it seems that if even our science is altered as it is from the pre-Fall condition, then we have no hope of even the faintest knowledge of anything.

    2)Did the Fall of man cause death, or did it merely destroy our acceptance of death as merely a natural part of life, not to be mourned in pain, but celebrated with joy?

    A bit deep for Wednesday, I guess, but that’s what strikes me lately.


  • I really appreciate Tim Keller’s article more then the rest because Keller seems particularly acute to the dilimma which those face who reject evolution (such as myself). My (current) rejection of it is far more complex then some knee-jerk anti-intellectual reaction to a non-literal reading of Genesis. (I follow Henri Blocher’s interpretative approach of a “literary” rather then a “literal” approach and believe the earth to have been created closer to perhaps 30 thousand years ago.)

    In either case, I found Lewis and Stott’s quotes above to be more speculative and not offer many answers to Keller’s acute questions (particularly #3) and so I say, as I’ve said countless times before, why won’t someone who hold’s to an evolutionary view offer an answer (hopefully a reasonable one) to that question. I have not received one from McKnight, McGrath, Lewis or Stott.

    I’m open, which is why I enjoyed Kellers article and am disappointed that he did not answer them. Until someone does, I’ll continue to resist peer pressure. That “everyone’s believing it and your stupid if you don’t” is simply not an intelligable reason for me. (Note: not saying you have done this, but many of my facebook buddies through similar comments like these around all the time).


    • Hi Derek…

      Have you read, “the Lost World of Genesis One” or Enns’ “Inspiration and Incarnation”? Those may be helpful. Not sure. On the science front I recommend “The Language of God” by Collins as well. If you don’t have that kind of time, listen to a talk Collins gave that shares a wonderful perspective on his journey. I think I may have to email you on that one, not finding the link on line anymore.

      • Hi Kurt, I have read Peter Enns book and I’ve also read Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. I was emphatically disappointed that Giberson’s book never answered the question of it’s subtitle. I do own a copy of The Lost World of Genesis One (I picked up in Wheaton back at the Wright conference in May) but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Do you know if it offers some type of theological reconciliation to the problem of #3 above? When I get a chance I’ll take a look.

        I’ve perused Collin’s book (and sold like a million copies – I work in Christian retail), but haven’t sat down to read it. I’m not overly concerned with the science front because, as I like to remind people, science (or our understanding of it) is forever evolving. 🙂 I don’t see scripture and science as opposed, but I have not been convinced by the popular interpretation of it either.

        My big hurtle is theological. If you know of any titles that deal specifically with this question, that’s what I really need.

        As you are glad to be open in your beliefs to Open Theism, so I am glad to be open in my beliefs regarding evolution. If someone would only answer my questions? 😛

        • Here is a start.

          What I am discern from you is that if you cannot have a historical Adam that you will not have evolution either. Is that correct?

        • What are your thoughts on Enns? Also, may I recommend another approach that may be helpful or may not be called: “I love Jesus and I accept Evolution.” Not a conventional interpretation, but interesting…

        • Derek, I would echo your sentiments and also find the articles by Lewis, Stott and Graham highly speculative. To me they sound apologetic like we have to add to the biblical account to justify our faith. I think you also said that science is evolving. We take science as fact (why not) but if fact is our understanding of the universe then its reliability rests on what we don’t know. I have heard a conjurer say that only another conjurer (not a scientist) could validate what he did because a scientist would ask the wrong questions.

          I used to believe in a literal 6 day creation and have read some convining arguments in support of it but I believe I have a better understanding of the language of the Bible now. Any explanation of Adam being anything other than an actual person raises more questions than it answers and, while I’m happy to evaluate the Bible in the light of empirical evidence rather than burying my head in the sand, I have complete trust in God’s word. If you take the days of creation it makes little substantial difference to the redemption story whether they are literal or they represent millions of years but Adam is critical so if any evidence suggests an Adam other than the one described by Jesus it is my belief in the evidence that is suspended, not what Jesus said (given that I have understood him correctly). Even C.S. Lewis says that after he proved Christianity was true he still had to take a leap of faith.

          I don’t quite understand the problem with the fall. Its quite clear that God cursed creation and subjected it to frustration. I don’t have an answer to how death could have been introduced as its result when it is part of the circle of life, but its no harder than why God would allow Satan to kill Job’s childern or how he could inflict the sadistic Assyrian’s on his own people. To be blunt, I find no compelling reasons to believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution and every reason to reject it but then neither do I blindly accept traditional Christian thought on what the Bible teaches. I constantly battle with the apparent contradiction between a God of love and God of wrath but evolution doesn’t rob me of a minute’s sleep.

  • Wingnut, only female mosquitoes drink blood. Males do exactly as you said. Just a thought. I also like your #2 idea. I’ve been wrestling with death a lot. In some cultures, death is more acceptable. Francis of Assisi I believe even called her sister death (one would infer he was speaking of those going to heaven). I’m a doula-in-training, and I’ve been dealing also with how to relate and be effective for women who ‘miscarry.’ Miscarriage is sad, but often biologically normative. But for a believer? Well, it’s all Satan’s fault. I like to think that gives the enemy way more clout than he really does.

    There’s a haunting poem called, “What the Women at Sand Creek Knew.” It’s about the women running with children during the massacre at Sand Creek. These tribal women are running with children as the soldier approach and circle them, and the women cover up the babies, and stop running (it was futile at that point), and try to calm them instead, so that they die unafraid. It was the last gift they could give.

    So, yeah.

    I like what C.S. Lewis wrote a lot. I also think that the earth isn’t quite as old as they say…but nowhere near as young as creationists try to push.

    As for number 3, if we take Adam and Eve narratively, figuratively, then does Paul follow by saying that he who doesn’t have the law is not condemned, but yet God’s existence is as obvious as creation. Remember when he talks about the law causing us to sin, not that it really does, but that it defines it. It is what makes us human…where we become man, rather than C.S. Lewis’s idea of “apes in trousers.”

    Just my thoughts. I see evolution as a wedge issue, which I hate. But it’s not something that really bothers me.

  • John Felps

    I do not buy into “young earth” creation theory. Why would the rest of the universe be created “old” but not earth (since we can see light for some 15 billion lt years away…)? Why was Adam not created as a baby?

    I do believe the bible is literal truth (high view), and that the 6 days in Genesis was truly 6 24 hour days. Having said that, I don’t really buy into “old earth creation” theory either, since nearly all attempts to align scientific discovery and literal scripture start by trying to account for creation as it happened in Genesis 1:1, missing the fact that we do not live on that earth (Gen 3:17 “cursed is the ground” – Rom 8:22 “all creation groans” where creation is the Greek cosmos, where we get the word cosmos or universe). That’s where our fallen world (and the universe in which we live) “started”. And yes, I believe it was created exactly how God wanted it to be.

    I really like the last line in the Graham quote!


  • I don’t see a conflict with the intent of the Scriptures and some conclusions scientific data and observations necessarily lead to. Some difficult riddles remain though. Scot McKnight had a discussion on his blog a week ago about the relationship between evolution and natural theology. It’s not easy to understand predatorism and the rather violent process of the survival of the fittest as the very means of bringing about expansion and differentiation of life – long before human sin and its effects were ever part of the picture. It’s hard for us to see that as part of God’s good creation when violence and death are usually perceived as contrasts and enemies of God’s good intent.

    • Josh, I think you’re right. We percieve death and animal predators as evil, or the result of our sin. I am not quite convinced about that, given the long scientific timetables presented to us before man walked the earth, and before God breathed life into us.

      The more I ponder it, the more I think that what happened at the Fall affected our view of death. Obviously we are told that all of Creation groans for redemption, and so we do witness suffering that was not existent before the Fall. As far as predators go, scientifically we have no evidence that lions were vegetarians before humans came about, or that tigers ate bark and leaves instead of animal flesh. Simply inferring that they did at one point because there was no death before the Fall doesn’t sit quite right with me. There’s a lot of science we would have to throw out if that were in fact the case.

      My wife and I went to Busch Gardens a few years ago, and we took the “safari” trip where you can ride around in a truck and feed the different animals. One of the tour guides made an off-handed remark about some cow-like creature (the name escapes me), saying that these animals aren’t very bright, and they don’t move terribly fast. They were basically on the savannah to feed the predators.

      The comment stuck with me, because this was a person whose love for animals was obvious in the way she interacted with them in the exhibit, and in the way she talked about them to us.

      To hear an obvious animal lover discuss an animal in that manner was unexpected, but I wonder if her attitude wasn’t a bit more correct, simply accepting that predation and death in nature is, well, natural.


      • John Felps

        Case in point 🙂

  • Ray S

    I have read, and heard a lot of agrument on this topic. and must lean on the side of Derek, and Chris. I do know the lord works all things for good. even the bad, such as Jacob’s, and his mothers act toward his brother. job’s suffering, king David’s sin. this is the lineage, of our lord Jesus Christ. for me as a follower of Jesus, how can i say evolution is truth. that’s like saying, “Adam is not the father of humanity” there for the gospel of luke is wrong. or the bible for that matter. I know that the bible has never lied to me. and not all things can be answered this side of heaven. call me a sucker for falling for it but, i will tell you on the athority of his word, evolution is a great lie. that how the devil convinces the world he does not exist. I believe that to a true believer of Christ, you must believe were he’s said his blood line stems from, that is an actual fact. I can not believe that we were apes, now walking up right. unlike animals we have the knowlage of good and evil. i know it’s hard to believe that Eve talked to a snake, and a snake said to her eat this and you will have that knowlage. I will not even try to understand that but i believe it to be truth. A quote from Chuck Missler founder of Kiononia house ministries.
    Every day, for over a hundred years, we have continually conducted billions of experiments analogous to the one above and we never find any “new” life forms. Our entire food industry depends upon the fact that, unless an impurity is introduced, no “new life” is ever found.[9]
    Missler expounded on this argument in the film A Question of Origins. In it he opened a jar of peanut butter, and argued against evolution on the basis that no one doing so had ever found that the non-living peanut butter had given rise to something living. i agree.

    • Ray, who have you read that disagrees with your perspective? I would encourage you to read a book called “Coming to Peace with Science” by Darrel Falk.

      • Ray S

        I’m about half done on that book, very good so far i think it’s more science, and not evolution. also some of those interpretations of the bible in the book, are better in there original language for literal purposes.

  • Helen Leckie.

    Wow – I’m really enjoying this interesting and thought-provoking discussion

  • SteveB

    The underlying reason for the doubt about whether the creation account in the Bible should be taken literally is the belief, whether conscious or unconscious, that the process of evolution, and the ancient age of the earth, has been proven to be true. This doubt is removed when one becomes aware that the theory of evolution is a complete lie – on the macro scale (amoebas to man), at least, there is no truth whatsoever to this blaspheomous theory. In the documentary “Expelled” Ben Stein interviewed evolution’s current bulldog, Richard Dawkins. When pressed about the issue of the origin of life, Dawkins suggested that the first life probably came from outer space. If you think about this (seriously, try it) it’s totally absurd. Furthermore, it begs the critical question: How did this life that came hurtling through space originate in the first place? Another issue that points up the utter vacuousness of the theory of evolution is the fossil record. A worldwide flood is a vastly superior explantion for this record than any offered by the TOE. And if the former is true, then the TOE collapses like a house of cards. Wake up all of you Theistic Evolutionists! You are trusting in a LIE!

  • I would consider myself and evolutionary theist, but I don’t like the idea of giving up the literalism of Genesis 1-11. I believe these passages are literal from a particular point of view. In my mind the way these passages are written speak a lot about how we hear God and perceive the world.

    When God speaks to us, he communicates truths about that which we already know. He does not teach us new science per se. So when God is inspiring early Biblical authors he doesn’t give an account of dinosaurs because they don’t know anything about dinosaurs. God is going to talk to the writers about the things that they know and see. The appearance of the sun and moon on the fourth day has more to do with the fact that that is when creation could ‘see’ the sun and moon than when God actually made them. The same could be applied to death. At some point humans become aware of what death is and means.

    Parents experience this growing awareness with their children. When children are very young we play Peek-a-boo with our kids. We disappear and reappear in another place. The child has fun guessing where you might show up next, but eventually they figure out that you are really hiding behind the blanket or chair and then the game isn’t as fun anymore.

    After thinking about the death and evil conundrum for quite a while I have considered that death is just as sacred as life. It is through death that we have life. But our fear of death keeps us from embracing death in the ways we should. It is perfect love that casts out fear, yet still lays down it’s life. Life at it’s very core tears apart it’s DNA in order that copies might be made, in order that life might perpetuate. The suffering that we experience here creates the opportunities for the fruit of the spirit to grow and love to be shown. Without suffering, there would be no caring or needs to be filled. And it is very arrogant of us to decide who should suffer and who should not. It is very arrogant of us to think that our lives matter more than the mosquito or the parasite. If all life is sacred then ALL of life is sacred.

    I have a number of more thoughts on this subject that I have posted on my blog. I would particularly appreciate feedback on the way I have tried to integrate what we know about evolutionary history with the biblical narrative, while trying to stay true to the original expression and intent of the authors.

  • Ralph W. Davis

    Personally, I think the truly scientific AND biblically faithful view on origins is agnosticism. No, not saying we cannot know about God, or know Him personally, but, that science, as science, is incapable of giving us a reliable history of pre-historic times, and Gen 1 and 2 also give us no detailed or historic (as we understand the word “historic”) account of what happened, before, at least Adam and Eve. Human curiosity and arrogance as it is, we would LIKE to think we KNOW what the world was like before Adam and Eve…or even in the days before the flood….but, we simply don’t–and humble realism should admit that despite the best archeology, paleontology, anthropology, etc. we CAN NOT. The “hard” sciences (like chemistry, or physics, or even basic biology) rely on direct observation/experimentation, and repetition.

    We know water boils at 100c at sea level for example, because every time we heat it up, with thousands of repetitions, when our instruments (a thermometer) reads 100c, it boils.
    However for events in the very distant past (such as history more than just a couple thousand years ago) we cannot jump into our nifty time machine (a la Dr. Who) and test whether a particular mechanism of change (by mutation, in evolution for example) actually happened the way we hypothesize it did.
    So 1-we cannot directly observe past events and 2-we cannot repeat them, two of the keystone elements of hard science. Therefore, although NOT having an neat explanation goes against human nature in its curiosity and arrogance, I think it is being the most honest, and intellectually credible.

    I have no idea HOW God made the earth, or whether it was billions of years ago, or, to irreverent science in its current paradigm it just appears to be that way. I do however believe He did, and that Adam and Eve were real people, and the bible is true. I don’t pretend to understand the mysterious language of Gen 1 and 2….or how human life existed before Noah, but scriptures indicate it did. A giant ship with every kind of animal makes no sense at all with a regional flood–so I accept the historical narrative–it’s genre–of the flood….as written.

    I willing to accept the mystery or origins as mystery, and rest in God’s grace that someday I will understand, and what I understand, and don’t….today, is enough.