Why should Christians consider evolutionary creation?
In a Nutshell
Because evolution is a challenging subject, many Christians are tempted to simply ignore or reject it. Yet considering evolutionary creation has important benefits for Christians both in our relationship with the Creator, and with our relationships with other people—believers and non-Christians alike. First, Christians should study evolution because (like all the natural sciences) it is the study of God’s creation. Creation itself is a complementary revelation to what is communicated in the Scriptures, and through it God shows how and when he brought about life, to his honor and glory. Studying the creation is also an invitation into a deeper understanding of the attributes and character of Father, Son and Spirit. Second, considering evolutionary creation aids the Church in its gospel mission, supporting young Christians in their faith, helping answer critics, and equipping us to engage effectively in the wider culture. An anti-evolution attitude can harm Christian young people by presenting them with a false choice between pursuing science OR holding to faith. Similarly, a hostile attitude towards evolution can hinder evangelism when seekers hear that they must reject science to follow Christ. On the other hand, studying evolution as a God-ordained process helps Christians refute arguments that science encourages an atheistic worldview. Furthermore, as the church engages front-page issues raised by the rapid growth in science, medicine, and technology, a Christ-centered voice in such areas as bioethics will be stronger if based on a thorough understanding of the natural sciences, including evolution.
(Updated on September 9, 2012)
Why should Christians consider Evolutionary Creation?
Some Christians cringe when they hear the word “evolution,” and not without reason: considering evolution as God’s means of creating the life we see around us suggests that we need to revisit some familiar biblical passages and brings up some tough theological questions. Meanwhile, militant atheists repeatedly invoke evolution in the media, trying to discredit Scripture and the Christian faith. So why focus on such a controversial topic? We at BioLogos understand that these issues can be difficult, but we believe the church is called to consider evolutionary creation. For us, this conversation is not just about abstract ideas and academic debates, but about God’s ongoing creation, the faith of individual believers, and the mission of the church.1 Here are several points to consider about evolution in light of Christian faith.
Considering evolution helps us understand God's creation
As Christians, we believe that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and that the Bible teaches that God reveals himself to us in the natural world he created (“The heavens declare the glory of God”, Psalm 19:1). In the study of God’s creation, scientists have discovered tremendous wonders that reach far beyond what the Bible describes—things like quarks, neurons, and galaxies. Scientists have also discovered abundant evidence of the long history of the universe and of life (including people), which you can read elsewhere on this site. It is crucial that Christians consider this evidence because it comes from God’s own handiwork in the natural world. Since we believe that nature declares God’s glory, we cannot stop listening to the created order when it declares something that seems new to us.
At BioLogos, we view evolutionary creation as a description of how and when God brought about all the creatures on earth. We do not see God as distant from this process, for God did not just set up the universe at the beginning and let it go. Instead, he upholds the universe moment by moment, sustaining all things by the power of his word. The regular patterns in nature that we call natural laws have their foundation in the regular, faithful governance of God (see Jeremiah 33:19-26). Thus we believe that God created every species and did it in such a way that we can describe the creation process scientifically. The scientific model of evolution does not replace God as creator any more than the law of gravity replaces God as ruler of the planets.
Considering evolution helps us understand the Creator God
The created order—nature—also teaches us about the Creator. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1) and show his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). The Bible is our primary source of knowledge about God, and God’s character cannot be derived by looking at nature alone. But for those who know and trust God as their savior, the created order has the stamp of the Creator all over it.2 The starry heavens show God’s glory (Psalm 19), the thunderstorm displays God’s power (Psalm 29), and ecosystems show God’s care for plants and animals (Psalm 104:10-18). Today we know much more about God’s creation than the Biblical authors knew; telescopes and microscopes have expanded our horizons to the very large and the very small. Through science, we’ve learned how things work and fit together, too. Joining study and worship, we can think God’s thoughts after him, tracing his hand through the physical laws he used to create our world, marveling at the way he provides for creation as much as at the endless forms most beautiful he has created.3
Here are three examples of biblical attributes of God emphasized by studying evolutionary science:
- God is extravagant. God did not create just one type of flower, but uses the system of evolution to create a huge variety of flowers, of every size, shape, color, and scent. As opposed to being “wasteful,” a biblical view of evolution helps us appreciate it as a pointer to the extravagance of God’s loving gift of life to the whole earth. God’s creation does not reflect a cold efficiency, but the transformation of such “waste” into worship, just as Jesus honored the woman who poured expensive perfume on his feet4 (Mark 14:3-9, John 12:3-8).
- God is patient, and most often works gradually rather than instantaneously. In the natural world, we see God creating life over billions of years, not instantly, and grand geological processes playing out slowly over time, as well. Similarly, in the Bible we read of the centuries that passed between God’s covenant with Abraham and his covenant with David and the centuries more before Jesus appeared “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In individual lives, God often works by planting his Word deep in us and letting it grow slowly over time. God seems pleased with the slow but extraordinary unfolding of his universe, just as he is patiently unfolding his plan of redemption.5
- God is the provider. He provides for his creatures in each moment, giving them what they need to survive, adapt and thrive in communities of life. The Bible speaks of God feeding and caring for animals (Jonah 4:11, Psalm 104), and modern evolutionary science is shedding light on how God has arranged complex ecosystems that support many different kinds of creatures together. But God provides for his creatures even at the genetic level, giving species a measure of biological “creativity” to help them respond to new challenges. As biologist Richard Colling says, “Evolution is not about the imposition of death and destruction and survival of the fittest. Those things are a part of it, but not the main core of what evolution is. . . [The] evolutionary process of creating duplicate genes that give rise to new possibilities [is] redemption, it’s possibility, and it’s hope.”6
Considering evolution helps the Church confront atheist worldviews
Considering evolution provides an opportunity to challenge atheistic arguments, rather than supporting them. Evolution is not rightly a philosophy or worldview: it is a scientific model that describes the patterns and rules we see in God’s creation of life—much as gravity describes the interaction he has ordained or planets and stars, or as quantum mechanics describes the relationships between elementary particles of matter. By reasserting that evolution is a description of God’s processes and not a worldview in and of itself, Christians can help show atheism to be secular philosophy and not part of science.
Similarly, we should reject claims that evolution has effectively disproved the existence of God, debunked Christianity, and shown that faith is based on nothing more than superstition, clearly and forcefully refuting such claims in public. But to be effective in that task, our response should not be to attack what science shows so compellingly about the created order, but again, to expose these atheist arguments as philosophy, rather than science. Scientific explanations of natural process do not eliminate God or deny his sovereignty over creation, and science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. But exploring creation with the tools of science can profoundly enhance and support belief in and worship of God, a case that Christian philosophers have been convincingly making in the public square.7
Considering evolution helps Christian students to remain strong in their faith
How should Christians respond to atheist philosophy in the guise of science? Just as Lois and Eunice raised Timothy in the faith (2 Tim 1:5, 3:14-15), so do all Christian parents, pastors, and teachers want to prepare young people to keep their faith strong as they enter university and adult careers. But while it’s wise to arm young believers against atheistic worldviews, teaching them to ignore the science can unwittingly set young people up for a crisis of faith.8 When Christian students encounter the powerful scientific evidence for evolution, many realize their parents and pastors may have been wrong about science and begin to question other beliefs they were taught. One recent survey shows that a key factor in the evangelical Church losing its credibility among young people is its hostility towards mainstream science and its assertion of young-earth and anti-evolutionary creation models that contradict virtually all of the evidence God is revealing through science.9
On the other hand, another recent study has shown that biology professors who follow Jesus and accept evolution offer a powerful counter-narrative to those who equate evolution with atheism and can help students find their way forward in faith and prepare them to carry their witness into the wider scientific culture. If parents and church leaders also emphasized the centrality of Jesus and the gospel and taught that Bible-believing Christians hold an array of views with respect to how God created life, young people would be better equipped to reject atheistic worldviews and inspired to explore God’s creation more deeply.
Considering evolution aids evangelism among scientists
Understanding evolution can aid evangelism to those who work in science and technology fields, whereas anti-evolution and anti-science attitudes in the church can hinder evangelism to scientists. While atheism among scientists is actually less common than the popular stereotype,10 a recent study indicated that over 80% of top scientists do not attend worship services regularly and likely do not know Jesus as their Savior, while another found that many top research scientists who had left the faith did so because the church wasn’t welcoming to them or their questions.11 Because some Christians claim that evolution must be rejected in order to convert to Christianity or remain a faithful follower of Christ, the Church may become a stumbling block to faith rather that a place to nurture those who are seeking God. Indeed, this argument adds an unbiblical requirement for joining the Body of Christ, much as some in the early church wanted to add the requirement of circumcision for gentiles coming to Christ (Acts 15).
On the contrary, the Church’s support of scientists both inside and outside the church advances the Kingdom. One of the most powerful responses to academic atheism occurs when believing scientists pray for and care for their non-Christian colleagues12 (Matthew 5:43-48), and atheistic or agnostic scientists are more likely to listen to the good news from a fellow scientist they know and respect. The small percentage of scientists who are evangelical believers need the prayers and support of their brothers and sister in Christ to effectively share their faith with their co-workers. Furthermore, Churches—especially those near universities and high-tech industries—can strengthen their missions outreach and edify their congregations by actively inviting scientists, technicians, and engineers from their communities to church. Learning about the daily lives of scientists13 in this way not only shows hospitality and the love of Christ to an “unreached people,” it helps congregations cultivate their own sense of wonder and curiosity about the God’s creation.14
Considering evolution helps the church engage culture
Because today’s culture is saturated with science and technology—from the latest communication gadgets to new medical imaging methods to discoveries of fundamental particles and biotechnology—engaging culture means engaging science. Christians should be a compelling and relevant voice on science issues in the public square—especially in discerning appropriate use of new technologies. Many such innovations touch on our understanding of the processes and interrelation of life on earth described by evolutionary science. Especially in the field of bioethics, Christian voices are critical to rightly discerning questions about the development of stem cells, the use of DNA information, and care for the aged and disabled.
But to be compelling and relevant, Christians need to be well-informed. When Christians speak from ignorance about scientific research, we harm the reputation of the whole church and invite mockery. This was an issue even in the days of Saint Augustine (354-386 A.D.), who wrote, “It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an unbeliever to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense . . . in a field [the unbeliever] himself knows well.” Today, evangelical Christians can show that we love God’s work in the created order, take up full participation in cutting-edge research, and advocate science as a tool to protect rather than prey upon the helpless (Proverbs 6:16-17).
Why should Christians consider evolutionary creation? Because we recognize that nature is God’s creation, declaring the glory, extravagance, and loving care of the Creator; because rightly understanding evolution helps us to refute atheist worldviews and support the faith of those called to explore creation through the sciences; and because it strengthens the voice of Church in the public square.
More from BioLogos
- Barna Group. “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church”, September 28, 2011. Reposted in the BioLogos Forum (blog)
- Bishop, Robert. “Recovering the Doctrine of Creation: A Theological View of Science” BioLogos Scholarly Essay (blog series, PDF).
- Boyd, Greg. “Getting Back to Basics” BioLogos Forum, April 7, 2010 (video)
- Collins, Francis. “BioLoguration” BioLogos Forum, April 29, 2009 (blog)
- Crouch, Andy. “What I wish my pastor knew about the life of a scientist”, BioLogos Forum, February 2012 2012 (blog series)
- Falk, Darrel. “Joanna’s Story” BioLogos Forum, December 23, 2010 (blog)
- Falk, Darrel. “Saving Anthony” BioLogos Forum, September 7, 2009 (blog)
- Falk, Darrel. “On Feeling at Home in the Family” BioLogos Forum, November 2, 2009 (blog)
- Garte, Sy. “Stochastic Grace” BioLogos Forum, December 12, 2010 (blog) a biochemist tells his testimony of converting from atheism to Christianity.
- Giberson, Karl. “Christian Faith and World-Class Science” BioLogos Forum, August 17, 2009 (blog)
- Giberson, Karl. “Evolution Matters” BioLogos Forum, February 15, 2010 (blog)
- Guinness, Os. “No Fear” BioLogos Forum, June 23, 2010 (video)
- Hastings, Ross. “Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call for Christian Unity” BioLogos Forum, February 2011 (blog series)
- Hayhoe, Katherine. “Evangelical Christian, climate scientist” BioLogos Forum, May 26, 2011 (videos and blog), reposted from PBS “The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers” (website)
- Hunter, Joel. “Why the Origins Debate Matters for the Church” BioLogos Forum, July 21, 2010 (video)
- Hutchinson, Ian. “Engaging Today’s Militant Atheist Arguments, Part 1” BioLogos Forum, March 2, 2011 (video and blog)
- Noll, Mark. “Come and See: A Christological Invitation to Science”, Part 4 BioLogos Forum, August 30, 2011 (blog)
- Oord, Thomas Jay. “Christians Care about Science and Theology” BioLogos Forum October 3, 2011 (blog)
- Vinson, David. “Allaying Parental Fears About Evolution Education in the Public Schools” BioLogos Forum, May 6, 2010 (blog)
- Venema, Dennis. “A Tale of Three Creationists, part 1” BioLogos Forum, January 7, 2011 (blog)
- Wiseman, Jennifer. “Science as an Instrument of Worship: Can Recent Scientific Discovery Inform and Inspire Our Worship and Service?” BioLogos Scholarly Essay (PDF)
Recommended External Resources
- Bancewicz, Ruth, ed. Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists, Paternoster, 2009 (website)
- Berry, R. J. Real Scientists, Real Faith, Monarch Books, 2009
- Ecklund, Elaine Howard. Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, Oxford University Press, 2010
- Ecklund, Elaine Howard. “What Scientists Think About Religion” Huffington Post, June 28, 2010 (web article)
- Nicole, Roger R. “Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us”, The Aquila Report, May 14, 2012 (blog) This conservative evangelical news site disagrees with BioLogos on several non-essential points, but shares a commitment to gracious dialogue
- Reinders, Phil “Caring for our scientists: Some postures and practices of science-friendly churches”, The Banner, January 20, 2012 (html)
- Several ideas in this document appeared earlier in blogs by Thomas Jay Oord (blog) and Karl Giberson (blog)
- For more on natural theology, see Alister McGrath Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology Blackwell Publishing, 2008 (book info)
- Jennifer Wiseman discusses God’s attributed displayed in the universe in “Science as an Instrument of Worship: Can Recent Scientific Discovery Inform and Inspire Our Worship and Service?” (PDF)
- Mark Sprinkle, “One seed” BioLogos Forum, January 30, 2011 (blog)
- Matthew Blackstone, “God’s Use of Time” BioLogos Forum, August 19, 2011 (blog)
- Richard Colling video by Ryan Pettey, featured in “Possibilities and Second Chances” BioLogos Forum, February 22, 2012 (video)
- Two recent examples: Alister McGrath wrote an Op-Ed for a London newspaper: ”Higgs boson: the particle of faith”, The Telegraph, December 15, 2011 (html). Alvin Plantinga’s life and book (Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Oxford University Press, 2011) was featured in a New York Times article by Jennifer Schuessler “Philosopher Sticks Up for God”, December 13, 2011 (html)
- A recent survey showed that the majority of all college students (not just Christians) do not see a conflict between science and religion (Matt Rossano, “The (Lack of) conflict between science and religion in college students”, BioLogos Forum, June 3, 2011 blog). Yet the minority includes many Christian young people with painful stories of their crisis of faith over evolution.
- Barna Group “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church”, September 28, 2011 (html). Reposted in the BioLogos Forum (blog)
- A recent rigorous study by Christian sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund found that about 50% of top scientists hold some religious belief, including about 20% who attend services once a month (“What Scientists Think About Religion”, Huffington Post, June 28, 2010 blog). For more on Ecklund’s survey, see her website.
- Elaine Howard Ecklund, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, Oxford University Press, 2010, p.17,20-24
- BioLogos founder Francis Collins prayed for and visited his former debate opponent in his last illness. Ethan Cole, “Atheist Hitchens Credits Evangelical Francis Collins for Cancer Hope”, The Christian Post, March 28, 2011 (html)
- See Andy Crouch “What I with my pastor knew about the life of a scientist”, BioLogos Forum, February 2012 (blog series)
- See Pastor Phil Reinders “Caring for our scientists: Some postures and practices of science-friendly churches”, The Banner, January 20, 2012 (html)
- For Christian resources on bioethics, see the Christian Medical and Dental Association (website)
- Saint Augustine The Literal Meaning of Genesis. The full quote is available from Ken Smith (html)