Come on. Make a choice. This is a simple black and white question. It’s one or the other. Either it’s farther to Vancouver or it’s farther by Bus. Quit asking qualifying questions like: “Are we starting this journey in Toronto or Victoria?” or “What is the distance via rail vs. the distance via the highway”. And don’t tell me the question itself is ridiculous. That would only demonstrate you do not trust Bus travel. Stop pulling out your map of Canada. Do you actually trust that map designed by the anti-bus association? Do you even believe in the authoritative King James bus route map? Maybe you aren’t a real bus rider after all?
In the Evangelical community the choice is almost always framed as evolution or creation – one or the other. Either God created life in all its diversity, or life came into being via the mindless, purposeless mechanisms of evolution. It’s a choice between the authority of the bible (God created) and the authority of the scientific community (life evolved). Unfortunately, this is the way the choice is also framed by the popular media. Hardly a week goes by without the appearance of a “Creation versus Evolution” article in a major newspaper or magazine.
This, in my view, is an entirely false dichotomy. Creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive concepts. On the question of origins, creation answers the “who” and the “why” of the formation of life, and of humanity in particular. It was God who created the universe, earth, life, and a spiritual species called humanity, a unique species to love him, worship him, and care for his creation. Evolution on the other hand (along with cosmology and geology) is a scientific framework based on the evidence that describes the “when” and the “how” of God’s creation. Apparently God is content to take a very, very long time to complete his work, and to utilize a method that, by modern engineering standards, seems wasteful and inefficient.
Evolution does raise many legitimate questions for orthodox Christians who take seriously the authority of scripture. How can the billions of years required by evolution be reconciled with the chronology in Genesis? If evolution explains the mechanisms so well, is there room for God in the process? Did he just start things off and disappear? If God slowly molded us in his image, using pre-existing creatures, at what point in history does this image occur? How does the central story of the fall fit into the story of evolution? If countless creatures lived and died, and if a multitude of species went extinct long before the arrival of humans, how can we seriously connect human sin as the root cause of pain and death? How does evolution fit in with our eschatological hope of resurrection? These are tough questions and ones we must wrestle with.
However, just because evolutionary theory provides details of the “how” and “when” of human origins, this does not mean we need to abandon our answers to “who” and “why”. We may need to reevaluate some of our ideas connecting the “who” and the “how”, but assenting to creation does not automatically imply a “no” to evolution. Agreeing with evolutionary theory does not automatically imply a “no” to creation. The answer to one is independent from the other. To insist that the mechanism of evolution is equivalent to the absence of God is illogical, as silly as forcing a choice between a destination and a mode of transportation.
Over the coming months in this blog, I’ll be examining some related choices that have been articulated by some Evangelicals, choices I believe are also false dichotomies. These include the following:
- Scripture or Science: we must trust the infallible word of God or a fallible scientific interpretation of nature
- Literal or Liberal: Scripture must be interpreted literally or we must accept a “Liberal” view of scripture that eliminates the divine as its source.
- Design or Evolution: Either God in his sovereignty designed the universe, the earth, and life in all its diversity, or it came into being via mindless and purposeless evolution through blind chance.
- Anti-evolution or Pro-atheism: We must either vigorously oppose all types of evolutionary origin explanations, or support godless naturalistic explanations for origins, and thus reject God as the source of creation.
- God’s Image or Primate progeny: Either God made us in his image, or we evolved from apes.
- Intervention or Absence: Either God’s actions must be described as an intervention in his creation, or he is absent from creation.
I believe all of these choices are flawed. None of us need face these theological catch-22s. I firmly believe that Evangelicals can support the scientific model of evolution, and remain faithful to the message of creation in scripture.
This is not simply mushy relativism, avoiding the hard choices, having our cake and eating it too. For Evangelical Christians, there are real choices. Do we acknowledge that scripture is God’s divine revelation to humanity? Do we trust it? Do we acknowledge the God of Love who is also the creator and sustainer of the universe? Maybe most importantly, do we believe, despite what modern science states is possible, that the resurrection is real, that it is the reason for our hope both for the present and the future? For me, overwhelming evidence that Christ did not rise from the dead would dramatically affect my faith; overwhelming evidence that creation is ancient and that humanity is the product of evolution has not detracted from my faith at all. In many ways it has enhanced it.
And if I ever go to Vancouver by bus, I’ll let you know how far it is.