Evolution and the Gospel: From Enemy to Harmony

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Nothing is more precious than the Gospel of Jesus Christ! My life has been transformed by the Gospel, and my passion for Christ is exactly what caused me to reconsider my beliefs about evolution after 35 years as an anti-evolution creationist.

I came to understand the Gospel at age 16. I grew up in a mainline Protestant church where my grandfather was the minister, but I never once heard the Gospel. In fact, before being saved, I was beginning to drift away from faith entirely, thinking science had displaced the Bible. Then I encountered Christ through reading the Bible for myself, and also learning of salvation from some evangelistic tracts. I repented of my sins and trusted in Christ for salvation.

I spent the next 35 years growing in my faith at a prominent evangelical megachurch, where I met my wife Lisa. We’ve had five children together, and homeschooled all of them. As good Evangelicals, we taught all of them that evolution was anti-Christian.

My opposition to evolution flourished in the midst of pursuing a PhD in biology with an emphasis on molecular genetics. My dream job at that time was working for young-earth creationist leader Duane Gish. Eventually, I migrated to old-earth creationism as I accepted the evidence for an ancient earth. However, I remained skeptical of so-called “macro-evolution,” or the rise of new species by means of evolution. Not being a paleontologist, I couldn’t see the fossil evidence first-hand. The evidence that I could seee.g., closer similarities in protein amino acid sequences between closely related species—didn’t convince me either. I thought this evidence could be explained easily enough by God reusing certain features in each act of creation, rather than species evolving from a common ancestor. Having programmed computers, the efficient reuse of related code for related organisms by God made perfect sense to me.

My perspective on Genesis 1-4 was the typical evangelical one: scientific concordism. That is, I thought the creation accounts corresponded point-by-point with science. But through this all, I had a secret struggle with Genesis. Whenever I read the text, a voice in my head screamed, “Does Not Compute!!” Among numerous other issues, the young earth implied by a straight-forward reading of Genesis didn’t square modern science, and the order of creation events in Genesis 2 didn’t agree with Genesis 1. Yet holding any other perspective on Genesis and evolution was unthinkable to me. To do so would be tantamount to an abandonment of my evangelical faith, or so I thought.

I temporarily solved my cognitive dissonance by neither reading nor thinking about Genesis. Instead, I focused on anti-evolution arguments supplied by Intelligent Design (ID) theory, specifically the extreme improbability of complex proteins forming by chance. I inserted God into those knowledge gaps. Doing so filled me with virtual certainty about my faith. I assumed that’s what faith was about. My faith was practically sight, or so I thought.

It wasn’t until 2009 that I first questioned ID theory. I was teaching a unit on evolution and ID theory in my son's homeschool co-op class at the high school level, and we were watching the course’s video on typical examples of irreducible complexity. But, as I considered each example, I unnervingly began to imagine one or more ways that each could have evolved through gradual adaptive steps.

“Okay, what about the Venus flytrap—that one bothered Darwin,” I reassured myself. A quick internet search turned up a logical sequence for the gradual evolution of the Venus flytrap, backed by new molecular genetic evidence (here and here). Now I really was unnerved.

This also created a moral dilemma in my mind between intellectual integrity and faithfulness to God’s word. How could I honestly teach these kids about irreducible complexity when I was seeing holes in the prime examples?

I thought all I needed was fresh ammo from a new creationist book. There’s always a new one out there. I was unnerved, but not undone. I had even better ID theory arguments up my sleeve. A favorite pastime was discussing those with other PhD-level scientist friends after church and using our arguments to laughingly mock the very idea of evolution.

That Christmas I sent one of our pastors a science-faith article and suggested a class. He recommended that I be involved in the class, alongside some of the other scientists at our church, so that we could help our youth deal with secular thought in universities. I couldn’t have been more stoked about my faith and this new role. This was a golden opportunity and a dream come true.

Two weeks later I found myself reading The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, authored by Francis Collins, a world-renowned scientist and evangelical Christian who directed the Human Genome Project.

After Collins shared his amazing testimony of converting from atheism to evangelical Christianity, to my surprise he said matter-of-factly that evolution was...true. His presentation of the molecular genetic evidence for common descent was overwhelming and convincing, especially coming from such a respected scientific voice. Yet he was presenting this evidence from the perspective of his Christian faith. To put it bluntly, I didn’t have categories for that.

Collins also challenged his readers to consider the impact to the credibility of our witness for the Gospel if young-earth creationists were wrong about evolution or the age of the earth, etc. That credibility issue concerned me greatly. I was used to educated people being closed to the Gospel because all credibility had been lost after hearing dogmatic Christians claim the earth is only 6,000 years old. Indeed, with these scientific falsehoods in the backdrop, how can anyone listen to a single word we have to say?

I read Collins’ book cover to cover in one weekend, dog-earing almost every page. I could now see with my own eyes the genetic evidence that was faithfully archived over eons of time in the book of God’s works with greater accuracy than any scribe could ever hope to match. It was definitive evidence I could not deny. In one unforgettable moment that weekend, despite having potentially everything to lose, I admitted that I had been dead wrong about evolution.

Despite the initial shock, the agony of defeat, and the torrent of conflicting pain, thoughts, fears, joys, wonder, and questions, I was still utterly convinced that nothing in life makes sense except in the light of the Gospel. I was confident that both the Gospel and evolution must, therefore, be true. I was on the threshold of far better perspectives.

Unfortunately, my friends at church didn’t share my enthusiasm. He showed pastoral concern, but I think the dean of our church-run pastor’s college must have almost had an aneurism when I told him I now accepted evolution. I was sternly warned that I was on the edge of theological compromise. Another pastor (not from our church) told my wife that I would probably end up an atheist and leave her. Even though my wife and children have been supportive throughout this journey, these comments and conversations have been hurtful and unhelpful—to say the least.

One other struggle remained: how to make sense of Genesis if evolution was true. The solution came when I realized that “scientific concordism” was not necessary to uphold the truth of Genesis. A number of helpful voices convinced me that looking for scientific facts in Genesis was bad hermeneutics. I found many resources at BioLogos and the American Scientific Affiliation. In particular, a presentation by John Walton titled “Reading Genesis One Through Ancient Eyes” and another by Denis Lamoureaux titled, “Adam, Original Sin and Human Evolution” helped me put the pieces together.

Coming to terms with evolution was a paradigm shift of great value. Seeing my faith in Christ square with reality, with the Gospel intact, and having my interpretation of God’s word harmonize with the book of God’s works—that’s priceless!

Notes

Citations

MLA

Furman, Keith. "Evolution and the Gospel: From Enemy to Harmony"
https://biologos.org/. N.p., 22 Jun. 2016. Web. 16 December 2017.

APA

Furman, K. (2016, June 22). Evolution and the Gospel: From Enemy to Harmony
Retrieved December 16, 2017, from /blogs/archive/evolution-and-the-gospel-from-enemy-to-harmony

References & Credits

I strongly recommend Lamoureux’s online Science and Religion college course. It has been incredibly helpful and formational for me.

Views and opinions expressed by Keith Furman are his own in his personal capacity and do not reflect the official position of the USPTO and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the agency. Keith’s blog and Twitter sites are www.TheGospelAndEvolution.com and @EvoCreatn, respectively.

Image of Venus Flytrap: By I, KaiMartin, CC BY-SA 3.0




About the Author

Keith is educated to the PhD level in a biological science from the University of Maryland with a coursework emphasis in molecular genetics and biochemistry, especially in the plant sciences.  He was a Patent Examiner for six years at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) where he worked in the area of Complex Biotech (recombinant and genetically-engineered protein and DNA inventions). Keith’s blog and Twitter sites are www.TheGospelAndEvolution.com and @EvoCreatn, respectively.

 

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