Famous Christians Who Believed Evolution is Compatible with Christian Faith

| By on The Evolving Evangelical

Image courtesy of billygraham.org

Many people today—both Christians and non-Christians—assume that "creation" and "evolution" are contradictory beliefs: That a person either believes in a creator God, or they believe in a natural process like evolution. I understand this perspective because I once held it myself. I still believe that God is the creator of all things, but my perspective on evolution has shifted. I now see evolution as simply a way of understanding God's creation, through the lens of science.

How did I change my mind about evolution? The first step was encountering faithful, trustworthy Christians who didn't fit into the boxes of "creationist" or "evolutionist." These Christians showed me a deeper and better way to reconcile my faith with the discoveries of science. They helped me to understand the scientific evidence behind evolution, and to more faithfully interpret the biblical account of creation. The list of these Christians includes Francis Collins, Tim Keller, John Walton, and N.T. Wright, among many others.

Over the years since I changed my perspective, I have made another startling discovery: Many of the most famous and influential Christian scholars and leaders of the last 150 years also believed evolution was compatible with Christian faith. Below is a collection of quotes from these scholars and leaders. (The list does not include contemporary voices such as N.T. Wright, Philip Yancey, and John Ortberg, whose endorsements are elsewhere on our site.)

Please note that several people on this list had complex ideas about evolution, which cannot be reduced into a single quote. Some were skeptical about the strength of the science, or had questions about how evolution could fit with Christian doctrine. I’m not claiming that their views are exactly the same as those of BioLogos. But they all affirm that God's creative power could be expressed through an evolutionary process. None of them see an intrinsic conflict between evolutionary science and Christian faith. Together, their voices are a striking departure from the assumptions of many people today. 

If you are someone who thinks evolution and Christian faith are in conflict, this list is not meant to single-handedly convince you otherwise. Rather, I hope it simply gives you permission to take a fresh look at how God's Word and God's world can be understood together. Under the quotes are some resources to get you started on that journey.

B.B. Warfield (1851-1921)

Theologian, key defender of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy

 I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution. [...] There is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. [1]

Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Theologian, prominent member of “Confessing Church” that opposed Hitler and Nazism 

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with that which has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely either from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.[2]

Billy Graham (1918-2018)

Evangelist, pastor, and author

I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren’t meant to say. I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. […] whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.[3]

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Author, scholar, and apologist

We must sharply distinguish between Evolution as a biological theorem and popular Evolutionism or Developmentalism which is certainly a Myth. [...] To the biologist Evolution […] covers more of the facts than any other hypothesis at present on the market and is therefore to be accepted unless, or until, some new supposal can be shown to cover still more facts with even fewer assumptions.[4]

 

For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past.[5]

John Stott (1921-2011)

Evangelical leader, spokesperson, author, and apologist 

It is most unfortunate that some who debate this issue (evolution) begin by assuming that the words “creation” and “evolution” are mutually exclusive. If everything has come into existence through evolution, they say, then biblical creation has been disproved, whereas if God has created all things, then evolution must be false. It is, rather, this naïve alternative which is false.[6]

Pope Benedict XVI (1927-)

Pope Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Church

We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God [...] does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the 'project' of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary—rather than mutually exclusive—realities.[7]

Pope Francis (1936-)

Current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church

[God] created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one, so that they were able to develop and to arrive at their fullness of being. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality. And so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became what we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things. [...] The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.[8]

More on BioLogos and Evolutionary Creation: 

How is BioLogos different from Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism? 

What is Evolution?

How long are the days of Genesis 1?

How could humans have evolved and still be in the "Image of God"?

Notes

Citations

MLA

Kramer, Brad. "Famous Christians Who Believed Evolution is Compatible with Christian Faith"
https://biologos.org/. N.p., 8 Aug. 2018. Web. 11 December 2018.

APA

Kramer, B. (2018, August 8). Famous Christians Who Believed Evolution is Compatible with Christian Faith
Retrieved December 11, 2018, from /blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/famous-christians-who-believed-evolution-is-compatible-with-christian-faith

References & Credits

A word on demographics: I am aware that every individual on this list is a white male. It is an unfortunate reality that, in modern Western Church history, the titles of “leader” and “scholar” have almost exclusively been reserved for men of European descent. This list is not an endorsement of that reality, but only a reflection of it. It is my sincere hope that, if such a list were to be updated in 50 years, it would include a much better representation of all of God’s people.

[1]Taken from Warfield’s 1888 “Lectures on Anthropology”, which are now held at Speer Library, Princeton Theological Seminary.

[2] Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #181 (p. 184)

[3]  Frost, David. Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man. Chariot Victor Pub., 1997. p. 72

[4] Lewis, C.S. “The Funeral of a Great Myth.” Christian Reflections. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967. p. 85

[5] Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain. New York: Harper Collins, 1996. pg. 77

[6] John Stott, Understanding the Bible: Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. p. 54

[7] Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, p. 50.

[8]  "Francis inaugurates bust of Benedict, emphasizes unity of faith, science". Catholic News Agency. 27 October 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2014.

About the Author

Brad Kramer

Brad Kramer completed his M.Div. at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and earned a BA in politics, philosophy, and economics from The King’s College in New York City. His articles have appeared in The Daily BeastPatrol, and OnFaith.

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