I’m an evangelical Christian, and I accept the theory of biological evolution. I’ve come to understand that it is possible to have faith in a supernatural God and also accept the scientific evidence for descent of living species from a common ancestor.
I was born into a traditional family in the early 1950s in the suburbs of Long Island, NY. My parents were both Christians, and we were active in a local Congregational UCC church. My father was a nuclear physicist by profession, specializing in reactor safety. From his example, we grew up in a family where the Christian faith was never in conflict with science. As many who grew up in the 1960s will attest, this was a time when the study of science was highly promoted through the space program, modern medicine, and industrial development. It was also a time of intense social upheaval including racial riots, the Vietnam war, political assassinations, and later, Watergate. My brothers and I spent a lot of our time in our basement building model rockets and experimenting with chemistry sets. I went through my high school days immersed in studies and developed a strong interest in the life sciences. I started college at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore with expectations of pursuing a career in the life sciences.
At the end of my first year in college, somewhat out of the blue, I had my first exposure to evangelical Christianity. I was invited by some family members to attend a Christian revival meeting in a store parking lot. I reluctantly agreed to go with them. At that meeting, I heard someone speak about how his life had been changed by a relationship with Jesus Christ. At the end of his presentation, he invited others to consider turning their lives over to Christ. It was a key moment. I realized that faith in Christ was the entrance to something more. I went forward and made a profession of faith in Christ. I didn’t know exactly how this would change my life, but I knew that my life had taken a different turn. I didn’t have any major issues with the nature of my previous years as a Christian or how this related to my beliefs in science. I spent my remaining undergraduate college years growing more in the knowledge of science than in faith, but knowing that faith was important. At the time, I saw no immediate conflict between faith and science.
Wanting to break away from the Northeast, I headed to the University of Tennessee for graduate school in the life sciences. There, I experienced seven years of southern hospitality, education in the life science, and significant growth in my faith. I found that God’s word in the Bible had a particular relevance to my own circumstance and came to understand what it meant to accept Jesus as both Savior and Lord. However, as you might expect, there were ways in which the life in science would not mesh with the life of faith. While attending a small Bible church in Knoxville, TN, I was warned by the pastor that if I saw any conflict between faith and science, I should choose faith. I was also told when inquiring about church membership that everyone there believed in a six-day recent creation based on a literal interpretation of Scripture. I was fairly convinced that the earth was old, so I didn’t pursue membership, but continued to attend the church. Also, I learned that most of the Christian faculty in the life sciences at the university accepted the theory of evolution. So, I became aware early on that there were a number of viable interpretations for Christians in regards to evolution. However, I remained skeptical of the theory of evolution for most of my graduate student days, leaving for later years the task of reconciling how the evolutionary process of common descent might be consistent with biblical truth. I chose rather to be satisfied that I could understand the biochemistry of living processes without having to understand the origins of different life forms.
Having experienced the South and earned my degree in biochemistry, I headed back to the Northeast for a career in basic research. Along the way into the early 1990s, I met evangelical Christians who also accepted the theory of evolution, and I began to see how this could work. Had I been more inflexible in my faith, it would never have worked, but God had taught me to be humble and open-minded about my interpretation of his Word.
In 2001 scientists working with the Human Genome Project published a draft version of the complete human genome sequence. I was very interested. The genome said a lot about evolution. Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome project, made a point of this in his book, The Language of God, published in 2006. Collins reasoned that the patterns of sequences seen in the human genome when compared to genomes of other forms such as the great apes and other mammals argued for evolutionary descent from common ancestors. He also argued that the existence of the Moral Law could only be explained through the existence of a holy and righteous God, one who was omnipotent and omniscient. Collins’ reasoning made a lot of sense to me, and I began to see the harmony that existed between an omnipotent creator God, an inspired word of God, and a world that could be understood by the scientific method.
My understanding of the physical world and God’s word in the Bible are far from complete. However, I’ve come to a clearer understanding of the relationship between God’s revelation in Genesis and the process of evolution. I’ve been able to appreciate that the lens through which the writer of Genesis viewed the world is far different from mine, a 21st century scientist. The writer was not relating a moment-by-moment description that we might expect in a modern scientific account. However, the writer was clear that God was preexistent and that he created all things (Gen. 1:1-2), and that’s the most important message of the Genesis account.
Many questions remain as to why the biblical writers related events in the way that they did. It is here that I believe we have work to do as Evangelicals who accept evolution. We have to build confidence among scientists and non-scientists that the Bible is the reliable and inspired word of God, even though in some places it may be written in representative or culturally-accommodated language. We need to be able to defend how biblical teaching speaks authoritatively to people of all cultures and time periods, even if the Bible is not a scientific textbook. Conversely, we also need to take seriously the supernatural claims of the Bible and not explain away examples of God’s miraculous hand. This is the real challenge that we have in understanding the Christian faith—that we have a personal God who hears us when we pray, who does miraculous acts, and yet has founded the universe on understandable and predictable principles.