Why We Fight About This
The Bible and evolution are a volatile mixture. Everyone seems to have an opinion and few of these are neutral. The conversation stirs up emotions.
I leave it to sociologists and psychologists to work out why people react they way they do. But let me tell you what I think is going on—based on my experience and recent events at BioLogos.
Passions run high because evolution is threatening. Some Christians feel threatened because evolution challenges something meaningful and non-negotiable—their understanding of God, of ultimate reality, of how the parts of their existence fit together and make sense.
The Christian faith provides stability and assurance that our lives have meaning, that the world is in God’s hands, that our existence is not a cosmic joke. Our lives and the universe around us have a purpose.
Our faith provides us with a sense of coherence.
When people feel that their sense of coherence is threatened, conflict is not far behind. We do not move to dialogue but protectionism. We stop asking whether something is true and rather react out of fear. The more credible the threat, the more we circle the wagons and maintain at all costs our sense of coherence.
A claim that alien visitors have refuted Christianity would not be a threat. We would greet such a claim with ridicule or ignore it. But evolution is different. It cannot be easily dismissed. Evolution persuasively accounts for the natural world. Scientists recognize its claims as having tremendous explanatory power.
Evolution also threatens Christians who feel they must take the Bible literally. In the face of such a threat, the motivation to protect is strong.
Based on recent events, the first question to be asked, as I see it, is not how Christianity and evolution can be at peace. The first question is: “How can we even begin to talk about this?” As long as protecting coherence is the first order of business, that conversation cannot begin.
The shame is that many people desperately want the conversation to happen. Stifling the discussion to maintain coherence will not do. Closing off discussion is done in the name of protecting the masses from losing their faith. The irony is that the Church’s failure to encourage open dialogue has led many to relinquish their faith altogether. Such is the case when protecting religious coherence takes priority over preparing the church for the future.
My focus here is not on recent events at BioLogos. The struggle to maintain religious coherence in the face of new ideas is as old as recorded history. Recent events involving evolution are just one example of this larger phenomenon.
There is no more perfect storm than when traditions that provide coherence about ultimate reality are threatened. For some Christians, evolution provides such a threat, and a lot of heat is generated as a result. But many other Christians are seeking venues that support open dialogue. Such open dialogue, in my opinion, cannot be avoided much longer.
Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.