It may surprise you that the answer to the question is “Yes!” There are many Bible-believing, God-loving Christians who think that evolution is an acceptable explanation for how life came about when they consider the available scientific data. However, it may also surprise you that there are a range of theories of evolution, and the popular idea that humans came from monkeys is not the only (or even primary) theory of evolution.
WHAT IS EVOLUTION?
The classic Darwinian evolutionary theory states that all species share a common ancestor, and variations amongst these species happen randomly based on an organism’s ability to adapt to different environments. Through the process of “natural selection,” the traits of the organism that best enables it to survive become more common in its descendants over time. This is the idea of the “survival of the fittest.” However, it does not explain how the first atoms came to be.
WHAT HAVE CHRISTIANS ACCEPTED?
Some Christians accept evolutionary creation or theistic evolution, whereby God is the creator of life and the first atoms, but used the evolutionary process to create all living things. The theory is that God created the first human by infusing a higher form of primate with a human soul.
Other Christians accept progressive creationism, according to which God created the first humans directly (not through evolution), but at several points in history, He also created new species by modifying existing creatures through “micro-evolution.” By this account, God would have directly created the first dog, from which new species of dogs then evolved.
One issue that Christians differ on is how literal the Genesis 1–2 account of creation is. On this basis, there are Christians who reject evolution completely and hold to young earth creationism, because they read Genesis 1 as saying that God created the world and its living things in six 24-hour days (“young earth” refers to how they do not believe that the earth is millions of years old).
DOES SCIENCE OPPOSE FAITH?
When considering views about evolution, there are some important questions for Christians to ask:
• Does this view go against core Christian beliefs (such as the death and resurrection of Jesus, God as the creator of life, and the reliability of Scripture)?
• Does it undermine the authority of Scripture given by God over our lives (2 Tim 3:16–17)?
• Does it deny that humans are made in God’s image, meaning that all human beings have inherent dignity, and the responsibility to look after God’s creation (Gen 1:27)?
Such questions help us to distinguish the ‘how’ questions that science answers (How did life come about? How did human beings become the dominant species on earth?) from the ‘why’ questions that faith answers (Why is God worthy of worship? Why love our neighbour as ourselves?).
DOES THIS VIEW GO AGAINST CORE CHRISTIAN BELIEFS?
When we do not confuse Scripture for a science textbook, we can arrive at a faith-based yet scientifically rigorous position. Scientific study involves careful observation, measurement, and experimentation to collect data that is used to develop, test, and modify hypotheses about how the world operates. A theory (such as evolution) is a hypothesis that has become widely accepted as the best way so far to make sense of the available scientific data (such as the age of fossils). But it is important to note that there are still many unknowns and that good scientists keep an open mind.
The key to approaching any scientific theory as a Christian is to be humble, neither being dogmatic about one’s position nor rejecting those that hold different positions. After all, what explanations one accepts from a theory of evolution does not determine what truths one believes and whether one is a genuine disciple of God. However, we should be wary when a scientific theory is used in a way that oversteps its limits (use the questions above to help you discern this).
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT SCIENCE AND FAITH DO NOT HAVE TO BE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.
The Darwinian view is not compatible with the Christian faith when it is used to reject God as the creator. On the other hand, other views of evolution can complement this belief. The bottom line is that science and faith do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, there are many respected scientists who are also prominent Christians, such as the biologist Francis Collins and the astronomer Jennifer Wiseman. When we acknowledge God as the creator who designed the natural world and its processes, we also admire Him as the ultimate scientist behind all scientific laws.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?
The questions that evolution theories seek to answer are really about the origins of life, what this says about being human, and how human beings are related to the rest of the natural world. No matter which theory you find most plausible, all Christians share certain basic beliefs about human existence.
Firstly, God made us in His image (Gen 1:26–27). This gives us dignity, worth, and purpose. We are not merely accidental products of random molecular processes, but intentional results of God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10).
Secondly, God willed us into existence (Ps 100:3). This means that we look to Him for the true meaning of our lives (Gal 2:20), and that our identity issues cannot be resolved apart from Him (Acts 17:28).
Thirdly, as humans created by the same God who created the natural world, we should not abuse our dominant position as humans to destroy nature through wasteful lifestyles (to “have dominion” in Gen 1:26 implies dutiful stewardship). Lastly, since God is the creator of all humankind, we ought to have compassion and empathy for all races, genders, and communities.
So, can a Christian accept evolution? Yes, but it depends on the definition of evolution, which must be tested against what the Bible says about human existence. While it may seem daunting to dig deeper into this scientific theory and how it relates to your faith, don’t be afraid to ask questions, do research, and bring your queries before God!
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