Yesterday, I received a letter from a Christian brother written in response to his understanding of the BioLogos view of creation. He, not a supporter, typifies many in the Christian community when he writes:
First, I wholeheartedly believe that God planned and created the world. I am persuaded that the Creator has left clear “fingerprints” of His creativity for all to see as shown especially in Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Behe’s The Edge of Evolution.…To me Meyer’s points seem pretty convincing therefore I am having a hard time with this.
Second, as I see it, many people believe in evolution because they are led to believe that “science assures them it is so,” but they tend to rest in that belief, even when counter-evidence is presented, because they feel they’ve been liberated from moral accountability to God, and don’t want to give up that liberty.
The two points seem wise in their simplicity. The first, in essence, is that the science of evolutionary biology is flawed. When done correctly, as it is by leaders of the Intelligent Design Movement, he believes science unambiguously demonstrates the existence of an external intelligence. The second, in essence, is that apostates seek an excuse to do as they please with no accountability. Belief in evolution provides that justification and so it is protected by those who want to live life on their terms and not God’s.
On the surface this makes perfect sense. Clearly the letter writer is a wise person who is very good at getting to the heart of an argument. But is he right, and if he is not, are there consequences?
It is true that Stephen Meyer’s points in Signature in the Cell are written in a manner that make them “seem pretty convincing.” However, we have devoted much space here to demonstrate that his science is fundamentally flawed. We, like Steve and Michael Behe, are followers of Jesus, so we must not take criticizing our brothers lightly, especially when it is carried out in the public sphere. However, the scientists who are doing the work they describe consider their depiction of the research scientifically naïve and we, with full respect for each of them as persons, are convinced of this too. Christians are mistaken if they build their faith around the science of a tiny group of scientific rebels who specialize in telling them what they long to hear. Christians need not try to overturn the scientific applecart. Many believers find much fulfillment in examining its contents and rejoicing in the beauty it reveals. A Christian world-view is what makes the apples sparkle, and it certainly does not require that we turn the cart upside down.
With regard to the second point our letter-writer makes, as I see it he is correct in one respect, but wrong in another. It is true that “belief in evolution” is used by some to prop up their desire to live life their way and not God’s. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, they are looking for an excuse to become—as the serpent put it to Eve—“like God,” and to be masters of their own fate. The perception that evolution is incompatible with Christianity does provide many with what seems to be the perfect excuse. They do indeed use that excuse to prop up their non-Christian lifestyle. However, the crutch they use to support their rejection of the Christian life is not belief in evolution itself, but rather that Christianity and evolution are incompatible. That is the crutch. Our letter-writer chooses to focus on disproving evolutionary theory and he thinks by doing so he is removing the crutch. We in the BioLogos community choose to remove the crutch itself. Evangelical Christianity and evolution are compatible and by demonstrating this, the crutch is removed.
Still the letter-writer and I agree on one important matter. The perception that evolution is inconsistent with Christian theology is a crutch used by many to justify their rebellion against God. Where does this crutch come from, however? Who manufactures this crutch? If the crutch is simply the proposition that evolution and real Christianity are incompatible, where did that idea come from? Did it not come from us? Many Christians have been telling non-believers that belief in evolution is inconsistent with real Christianity. So if non-believers are looking for an excuse to justify their apostate lifestyle—and they are—Christians have played right into their hand, by passing them the crutch they are seeking. If evolution is true, they hear many Christians say, theology falls apart. If evolution is true, they hear many Christians say, the Bible is untrustworthy. Many evangelical Christians have poured their financial resources into the construction of organizations dedicated to building crutches for non-believers. I think that selling the principle that if evolution is true Christianity fails, is profoundly harmful. Heaven forbid that we Christians should be creating the very crutch that non-believers long to have, but I think that is precisely what we are doing. All of science makes it abundantly clear that evolution has taken place. People everywhere are looking for crutches that will allow them to follow in Eve’s footsteps. And what do we Christians do? We pass them a crutch. Unwittingly, it is almost as though we give them license to conclude: “If evolution is true, God’s Word is a lie, and I am free to do anything I want.” God help us!
So providing the crutch for non-believers to lean on is a well-intentioned strategic error that has no benefit and likely does much harm. However, I am even more concerned about something else related to our construction of these crutches. We teach our Christian young people about the importance of the crutch. We spend years giving them all the details of why a meaningful Christian life stands or falls on this crutch. Real Christianity, we tell our young people, hinges on the perception that evolution is incompatible with Christianity. Young people learn every intimate detail of why this crutch is so essential to their walk with God. The next thing we know is that Christian young people are leaning on the crutch too—just like the apostates. Meaningful Christianity stands or falls—we tell them—on the falseness of evolution.
Then we send them off to university.
There they watch as their professors show them that all that they have been told about evolution is a caricature of what is really known. Step by step, they are shown why almost all biology scholars have concluded that evolution has occurred. With that, the very crutch that had been used to prop up their Christian faith as teenagers (the perception that real Christianity and evolution are incompatible), becomes the exact tool that Satan needs as he comes along with his words first posed in the story of the Garden: “You don’t need God.” “You can live life your way. “ “Do whatever feels good.” “Did God really say…?” “ Is there really a God who holds you accountable anyway?”
With that, the crutch they learned to lean on as young people now becomes a prop for a different life. It holds up their new unbelief as they embark upon the life of the prodigal son or prodigal daughter. All we can do is hope and pray that they come back into the loving arms of the waiting Father having thrown away the prop that we, heaven forbid, constructed according to our own well-reasoned, good-intentioned, but-oh-so-unfortunate and oh-so-misguided ways.
I pray for the day when all Christians will throw away this crutch. I don’t mean that I’m praying they will come to accept that God created through evolution. Most people are not scientists and they are too busy doing other important things to explore the science. What I do pray for, though, is that we will stop portraying that belief in evolution is not consistent with biblical Christianity. This proposition is exactly what gives atheists the excuse they are looking for, and this far-too-human proposition ought not be propping up young people’s walk with God.
We don’t need props based on one view of how to interpret Genesis 1-3. What we need is Jesus. In Christ alone, our hope is found. He is our light, our strength, our song. He alone is our Cornerstone and the Solid Rock on which we stand. He holds us firm through fiercest doubt sand ferocious storms. Let’s throw away the crutches and let’s stop making new ones.
My Christian brother ended his letter with these words, “I think it will be hard to sustain that evolution and creation are compatible.” This is a personal statement and I appreciate the careful attention he has given to this matter. Still, I hope and pray that his view on this subject will be less prevalent, so that non-believers will no longer use it as their excuse for living life their way and not God’s. And I hope and pray that children and young people won’t be made to feel that the choice is between his view and a life of apostasy.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In Christ alone, we put our hope. The question of whether creation and evolution are compatible is another matter altogether. Regardless of how we each personally feel about that matter, let’s pray that it not be used as a crutch to support apostasy, or that which is deemed necessary to the vitality of a young person’s walk with Jesus.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user dmitri66.
Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.