Today's entry was written by Mike Arnold. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what BioLogos believes here.
“It is ludicrous to mistake the Bible and the Koran for primers of natural science. They treat of matters even more important: the meaning of man and his relations to God.” (Theodosius Dobzhansky)
A member of a church that I was attending once told me that I was “giving bullets to the enemy” because I claimed to be a Christian and an Evolutionary Biologist. I responded (shamefully, with equally as little Christ-likeness) by saying that it was also possible to lead people astray by telling them that, to be a Christian, they had to dismiss scientific evidence in favor of something akin to fortune telling using sheep entrails—i.e. “Creation Science.” Understandably, this touched a nerve. Please don’t misunderstand me; I was not trying to be dismissive of his viewpoint, I was trying to be understanding, compassionate and loving. I confess to failing miserably at the attempt.
But you should not think that evolutionary biologist colleagues can be any less judgmental, or that I can be any more forgiving of their attitudes. That’s why when the evolutionary biologist accused me of having “no integrity” for saying that I could be both a Christian and an Evolutionary Biologist I responded that I was not the One he would have to answer to regarding his unbelief. I guess it isn’t surprising that that seemed to touch a nerve as well. For your information, I pray the same prayer for both my non-Christian, scientist colleague and my church acquaintance; that they both would come to the realization that we all need desperately God’s grace and forgiveness.
On the other hand, I must admit that in my least charitable moments I just pray that they would get a grip, start enjoying some hobby, or maybe a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend, and in the process forget to accuse me, and others like me, of giving aid and comfort to those evil folks who stand on the other side of the philosophical fence. My prayer for myself is that my frustration over such interactions would leak quickly out the bottom of my left foot, never to return.
I really would like to be much kinder and gentler than the oft-times nasty, vindictive, hyperbolic tirades pulsating between the extreme elements of the so-named (by the other ‘side’) ‘spiteful, hell-bound evolutionists’ and the ‘brain-dead Christians.’ But it really is tempting to challenge the attitudes of the opposing evolutionist and creationist guerilla fighters mentioned above, and I suppose such an exposé could be both entertaining and enlightening. In fact, it might even cause my friends, who stand firmly in one camp or the other, to smile and maybe even take pity on us poor souls sitting on the razor wire fence between the warring factions.
That gives me an idea. Maybe my position is sort of like being a U.N. Peacekeeper in Lebanon. I mean you can’t get between the two opponents without getting shot at, you’re not supposed to shoot back, and you look somewhat silly in those powder blue helmets. In other words, no one takes you seriously, and your only useful role is as a negative example for parents to use: “Eat your broccoli and drink your milk, or you might grow up to be a U.N. Peacekeeper...or even a Christian Evolutionary Biologist.” The analogy of being a member of a mainly powerless peacekeeping force also illustrates how silly the “bullets to the enemy” accusation is. I mean why in the world would I prance (I am confident in my level of masculinity) into the camps of the vehemently-positive-of-their-correctness combatants, hand them ammunition and then prance (see above) back into no-man’s land all the while being shot at from both sides?
Hmmm. Maybe that is exactly what I am doing. I mean, look-it, very religious people who (at least according to my evolutionist friends) occupy the territory of mindless oafs see me as Satan’s Toady. To these religious adherents, I am Scut Farkus’ (a la A Christmas Story) right-hand man, Grover Dill: I have green teeth, dress in a James Dean-esque leather jacket, terrorize unsuspecting kids into submission (in my case, into believing the heresy of Evolutionary Biology), and am only brave when my enormous minder—made up of degrees, books, etc.—is starkly visible. As appealing as this image is to me, I really don’t fit the stereotype; my teeth are actually a shade of yellowy-brown due to my long-lasting love affair with espresso.
What about the opposing viewpoint of my hyper-enlightened, hyper-rational, hyper-intelligent, hyper-etc. evolutionist colleagues? Unfortunately, to them I am 1) suffering from a delusion – self-induced, or pathological, 2) a spy for those anti-evolution wackos, or 3) someone who just wants to be able to make loads of money from writing books and articles on how a person can be both a Christian and an Evolutionist. (O.K., so that last one is my idea.)
Some might conclude from the above that I, and others of my ilk, feel like a person from an ethnic minority at a skinhead convention—a bit vulnerable and a bit undervalued. Well then are Christian Evolutionary Biologists simultaneously heretical and ignorant? Realistically, if I am giving ammunition to each of two opposing factions, how then can I hope to be a card-carrying member of either? I guess my answer is that putting a bunch more cards into my wallet just increases the size of the lump I have to sit on. In other words, I either have to be content with a throbbing pain in my derriere, or I have to jettison trying to simultaneously please two groups of fairly discontented people. Christ talked about trying to serve God and the pursuit of money. I think that when I get depressed about not feeling a part of either of the groups that I truly like and understand—i.e., “Mindless Christians” and “Godless Evolutionary Biologists”—I am suffering from putting people ahead of God.
I intend this essay as a challenge to both myself, and anyone else interested enough to take the time to think about the various issues. The position of Christian Evolutionary Biologist continues to challenge me because I don’t see how all the pieces can possibly fit into a coherent picture. As someone who demands neat answers I find this frustrating and confusing. I do, however, believe that what I am outlining gives some sort of a platform for discussion, at least if we take Theodosius Dobzhansky’s words – quoted at the first of this essay – to heart. For this to happen, Christians need to refrain from using the Bible as a Biology/Geology/Chemistry/Physics textbook in order to prove to non-Christian Evolutionists that they (the Christians) are not unintelligent.
As an aside, Christians also need to quit trying to prove God’s existence through probability formulae. There is no danger of this outcome of course, but if we were able to prove God’s existence in this manner, then we would be God, and that would be a pretty disappointing turn of events. I really want to be careful here to not be ungracious, yet I have to say that misusing the Bible and attempting to prove God’s existence through cleverness tends to prove the non-Christian Evolutionists’ point...that some Christians—in their zeal to see themselves as triumphing over non-Christians—really can look pretty unintelligent.
In the same way, Evolutionists need to quit trying to convince people that understanding evolutionary processes is anywhere near as important as investigating the possibility of having a parent/child-type relationship with an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God Who is able to judge people and send them to Heaven or Hell depending on whether or not they are members of His family. It flat won’t make a bit of difference if I work out the natural selection coefficients that were necessary to produce every species that ever existed if I end up denying God’s existence to my eternal regret.
The Apostle Paul wrote that Christians were people that should be pitied most if the basis of their religion (the resurrection of Christ) was found to be a hoax. In my weak humanity, I would have to disagree somewhat with this Pauline hyperbole. I would say that it is a whole lot better to have had a difficult time here on earth because you tried to live a “Christian life” and then die to realize that there is nothing on the other side (or actually not realize it because you aren’t there...well...you know what I mean) than it is to put your hope in your intellectual exercises and then die, come face-to-face with God, and thus discover that you weren’t nearly as clever as you supposed. I would suggest that the latter state would be infinitely and eternally worse than being a person from an ethnic minority at a skinhead convention.
Mike Arnold, PhD, is Distinguished Research Professor of Genetics at the University of Georgia. He holds a B.Sc. in Botany and a M.Sc. in Zoology from Texas Tech University, and a Ph.D. in Population Biology from the Australian National University. Mike has concentrated his research work in the area of evolutionary genetics, particularly the study of natural hybridization. His study of Louisiana Irises has become a classic example of the role of hybridization in adaptive evolution and speciation. Mike is author of three books and more than 120 academic articles, the specifics of which may be found here.