Believing in God and Evolution
The following in an English transcription of an article which recently ran in the Brazilian magazine Galileu.
I was raised to believe that evolution was a conspiracy to undermine faith in God and had no evidence to support it. Scientists were evil non-believers, out to destroy faith, and Darwin was the most evil scientist of all, having been influenced by Satan to propose evolution in the first place. Like many young people today, I thought of Darwin in the same negative way that I thought of Hitler—simply evil.
I am happy to say that I am no longer among the tens of millions of Christians in America who think this way. I have made my peace with Darwin and evolution and have found it to be enriching and encouraging to my belief in God. My book, Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution unfolds my personal story and gives some of the reasons why I think our present conversation on this topic is so unhelpful.
When Christians reject evolution, they alienate themselves from science and, in most cases, from intellectual culture in general. Contrary to the claims of many anti-evolutionists, you cannot reject evolution all by itself; you have to reject most of science as well as attack the integrity of the scientific enterprise. The ideas on which evolution are based are tightly woven with ideas from geology, nuclear physics, astronomy, and more. Rejecting mainstream science is unfair to the millions of scientists around the world who work honestly and in obscurity trying to understand the world. Few scientists have any anti-religious agenda and many of them, in fact, are religious. Unfortunately, the most famous scientist in the world is Richard Dawkins and he is very anti-religious.
However, America’s most famous scientist is the geneticist, Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, and he is an enthusiastic religious believer. So we can clearly see that belief in God does not interfere with doing good science.
Darwin proposed the theory of evolution in 1859 in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Many found the theory intriguing at the time but were uneasy about the possibility that humans were related to primates: "Descended from the apes? Dear me, let us hope it is not true," exclaimed the wife of a19th-century English bishop upon hearing of Darwin's new theory. "But if it is true, let us hope it does not become widely known." Uneasy Christians hoped the advance of science would undermine Darwin's novel theory, which threatened their understanding of traditional biblical stories such as Adam and Eve, and the six days of creation.
The evidence for evolution is now overwhelming; those who confidently announced that the theory was collapsing have been proven wrong time and again. The fossil record has provided evidence of compelling transitional species such as whales with feet. DNA provides an irrefutable digital record of the relatedness of all living things. Mountains of evidence now support Darwin’s original proposal and it is a testimony to his genius that he could outline a theory that would be so effective at gathering subsequent evidence into its paradigm.
I don’t see evolution as sinister any longer; I see it as God's way of creating. And it is not a chaotic and wasteful process, as the critics charge. Evolution works by differential reproduction—organisms with the most offspring extend the reach of their genes more than their competitors. It is possible, of course, that the competitors are cruelly killed as a part of this process, but more likely is the simple fact that some organisms have more children. I have twice as many children as Bill Clinton (no jokes, please!) so my genes will be more influential in the next generation than his. But I didn’t have to rip off his limbs to get ahead in this way.
To be sure, there are aspects of the evolutionary process that are hard to reconcile with the affirmation that God is Love. I wish that “bad design” was not so common, especially when it causes suffering, like the Parkinson’s disease that took my mother’s life. But this is simply the traditional problem of evil, a problem that is actually mitigated by evolution, not exaggerated.
Evolution, we now understand quite well, occurs in an orderly universe, on a foundation of natural laws and faithful processes. The narrative of cosmic history preceding the origin of life is remarkable; the laws enabling life appear finely tuned for that possibility. The ability of organisms to evolve empowers them to adapt to changing environments. My belief that God creates through evolution unites my faith and my science. And it allows me to respect and appreciate science, rather than fear it.
This is good news for Christians who are nervous about science.
Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.