Day’s Verse:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

I have never stated clearly and categorically on this blog my position regarding the creationist/evolution situation. This is partly because although I express strong opinions here, this particular topic tends to really raise hackles among Christians who feel threatened or angry at other Christians who believe “the wrong thing.” The other part has to do with my knowledge that whatever I write somebody will remain unconvinced; in this debate, faith often takes greater presidence than logic as Christians become defensive about the power of God. Let me put my position this way: since God is omnipotent He can use any force in heaven or in the universe; evolution cannot challenge His power.

At this point creationists often counter with a suggestion that since God is all-powerful, could He not have created the world in seven days just as the Bible says? I concede this point, that since God can do anything, He could have made the world in seven literal days as Genesis 1 describes.

However, considering the vast and continually increasing body of evidence that evolution does happen (which I will not even begin to discuss here as it would turn this already lengthy blog into an unreadably long treatise), I believe that biological evolution has happened in the past and is occurring today. I believe the radioactive and other evidence that suggest the world is approximately 4.5 billion years old, not the few thousand creationists claim. Evolution is not only possible but it is a solid scientific theory that, when we put our strong religious beliefs aside, is a strong mechanism that has resulted in life as we know it and continues to operate in the world. (Please note that here I use a specific definition of theory in the scientific sense.)

Notice I said we put our strong religious beliefs aside. To evaluate the validity of a scientific claim, we must be impartial. More than that, the evaluator needs to be able to understand that natural science and religion address two different issues and that they cannot speak to the same topics. To explain this better I offer the following quotes from Science Held Hostage: What’s Wrong with Creation Science AND Evolutionism. All quotes will come from that publication and will be accompanied by a page number, which refers to the 1988 publishing.

As an intellectual discipline, natural science is not isolated from or unrelated to human concerns…but nevertheless it self-consciously restricts itself to the physical universe as the object of study. Natural science is the investigation of what can be known from within the physical world itself, without reference to anything that is nonphysical.

Questions concerning transcendent relationships lie outside of the domain of natural science. Science is unable, for example, to say anything about the relationship of the world to a divine Creator. Questions concerning the relationship of the universe to God must be directed elsewhere. (19)

The gist being that science and religion address two different issues, and to apply one to the other is completely inappropriate.

Questions of origin and governance — important questions both — must be directed toward whatever serves as the source of answers to one’s religious questions. …On such matters the natural sciences have nothing to contribute. (25)

The origin of the universe cannot be scientifically determined, however much scientists seek. The limit of science is the physical universe and its origin and maintenance are outside of that limit.

The troublesome tendency wit which we are dealing here is the temptation to employ natural science for the purpose of supporting preconceptions drawn from one’s philosophical commitments or system of religious beliefs. …The goal of natural science is to gain knowledge, not reinforce preconceptions. (41)

Part of the issue at stake here is the desire on the part of both parties, Christians (and others of religious convictions) and those who believe only in science, to support their religious beliefs with scientific facts. It takes a strongly committed scientist, and a willingly open mind, to really accept that “natural science is to gain knowledge, not reinforce preconceptions.”

When the epistemic goal of gaining knowledge is replaced by the dogmatic goal of providing warrant for one’s personal belief system or for some sectarian creed, the superficial activity that remains may no longer be called natural science. (41)

Often enough religious beliefs spill into the scientific domain, or science is made to speak incorrectly to the metaphysical. That is no longer science.

[A]ll persons, whether committed to the Christian faith or not, must exercise great care and caution in making statements about biblical data and its relevance to contemporary scientific theorizing. (43)

There is this tendency to either use the Bible to support scientific data or use scientific data to refute the Bible. That is not an appropriate use of the Bible! It cannot be applied to science because the Bible is not a science textbook. It is the inspired Word of God, and while God knows the inner workings of the universe even to details and extremities we cannot imagine, He did not provide the Bible’s writers with that detailed knowledge to lay down for us. Yet,

the domain of natural science is not being respected by…Christians, however well-meaning, who assert that the concepts of divine creation and providence are derivable from the discoveries of science. …The proponents of philosophical naturalism also fail to respect the domain of natural science when they assert that it is from the results of natural science that they reach their conclusions that there is no God, or that the universe is self-existent, self-contained and self-governing. (128)

Again. Science can address “the physical universe, no more, no less.” (11) Its domain is constrained to answering questions about the universe’s “physical properties”, its “physical behavior”, and its “formative history” (18); such investigations have no business addressing religious concerns. Religious beliefs and metaphysical conjecture address issues of the universe’s origin and its governance (21), and such beliefs or conjectures cannot find support in science. Finally,

“[B]iological evolution is not antithetical to the idea of God.” (129)

“‘There can be no scientific study of God.’” (135)

The idea of evolution frightens and angers Christians who feel that it excludes God by offering some Godless mechanism for the creation and meaning of humankind. This is simply not the case: what is needed is the realization that God is entirely outside of science’s bailiwick. Although He is intimately involved in the workings of the world, no amount of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, or any other study of the created order can shed light that fact. I do not want to give the impression that I think God has no control in nature; I believe quite the opposite. My whole goal is to clarify my belief that being a Christian and believing that biological evolution occurs are not incompatable.

As a Christian studying science I am more than ever convinced of the lordship of our Creator over all things and it pains me to hear fellow Christians misunderstanding the “theory” of evolution. Like any scientific “laws” – gravity, thermodynamics, Murphy’s – evolution is just one more way of describing the world. A natural law does not, as our human laws do, govern the cosmos. It nothing more or
less than a way human scientists have found of explaining the workings of that cosmos.

See also: CCCS, where the book was written by a physicist and two geologists.

2/27/05: ADDENDUM 1, addressing particularly this question from Ryan: do you accept the entire theory of evolution, right down to humans evolving from apes, or do you simply see support for the mechanisms, or somewhere in between? I quote again from Science Held Hostage:

…the functioning assumption is that if there is a scientific description (or theory) of the process involved in the formation of species, then there is no room for a theistic concept of the divine governance of those processes. [People] are led, sometimes openly, sometimes surreptitiously, to adopt an either-or stance: The phenomena that comprise cosmic formation happen either as ‘natural’ processes (scientifically describable) or as consequences of divine action. (178)

But there is no need to slice between natural processes and divine action; although the feeling is that if we evolved we cannot have unique value as humans, that is a patently false suggestion most often heard from those who follow in what the book calls scientific naturalism. It is eminently likely that we evolved from cyanobacteria that appeared about 4 billion years ago, and that reduces our value as humans and children of God not one whit. We cannot measure God’s control in the universe, and over evolution, any more than a light microscope can reveal the love between a husband and a wife. Just as no device can reveal emotion or idea, science cannot reveal God’s intervention. Ultimately I fail to understand the importance of delineating an exact line that elevates humans out of the evolutionary progression. We are God’s creatures that more than likely evolved from the amino acids that began combining billions of years ago.

2/28/05: ADDENDUM 2, please see Lisa’s blog for a well-thought-out creationist response to the position I present. Also interesting is the Pope’s take on this subject.

– KF –

6 days to home.

31 thoughts on “On Evolution

  1. No, no, Deborah! You didn’t. I was more afraid of sounding contentious myself! And I didn’t want to turn Katie’s blog into some kind of battlefield, since she seems like a nice person who doesn’t deserve that.

  2. I appreciate your balanced approach to the subject. I guess my beef is not so much with the theory of evolution but with those scientists who use the theory to “prove” their views of a Godless cosmos–and with the culture that uses it thusly. I won’t use the Bible as a scientific textbook if scientists and teachers, etc. won’t use their beliefs and theories to “disprove” the Bible and evidence of God’s existence.

  3. That’s exactly right. The issues is that scientists aren’t fair in not using science to prove their religious – or atheistic, which could be said to be a type of religion – beliefs. What’s needed is to have both camps back off of using science in ways that it’s not appropriate to use it.

  4. I totally agree. I really hate that there are a lot of Christians who says evolution isn’t possible when the evidence for it is quite clear. Evolution and God are not mutually exclusive by any means.

  5. I would like to clarify a common misconception regarding atheists. There ARE atheists who positively claim that “There is no God”. When people do that, you are right to call it belief, because they are making an assertion they can’t prove.

    However, there is another flavour of atheist (which I consider myself) whose assertion would be something more along the lines of: “There may or may not be a god. I can not know, to my satisfaction, whether god exists or not. Therefore, I do not believe, period, in either existence or non-existence. The question is not relevant to who I am or what I am doing.” An atheistic scientist, if she were being true to the spirit of science, would acknowledge as much.

  6. If one really isn’t convinced either way if God exists, how can it be said that it isn’t a relevant question? If He does exist, it might turn out to be the most vitally relevant issue ever.

  7. On the topic of the creation (as I like to call it) “The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world.” Pslam 19:1-4

  8. I have no more reason to believe the deity will be pissed off with me for not believing, Deborah, than I have to believe in the deity itself. I have no reason NOT to trust that, if a god did create me, he/she/it will understand that I did my best with what I had.

  9. So Rachel, would that be more of an agnostic point of view, then? And I agree – regardless of your beliefs/non-beliefs, a good scientist sets those aside and says, “That’s not relevant to my pursuit of knowledge in the physical realm.”

  10. Thank you for your kind response, Katie. I actually came back quickly because I just wanted to say — I have no wish to argue with anyone; I am really just trying to elucidate my viewpoints.

    Call it “agnostic” if you prefer. That’s possibly more accurate.

  11. So I’m curious, Katie, to what extent to you see evidence for the theory of evolution? As a fellow biology/science student, I have formed my own opinion based on the evidence I’ve run into. I suppose my question is this: do you accept the entire theory of evolution, right down to humans evolving from apes, or do you simply see support for the mechanisms, or somewhere in between?

  12. A theist = without theology = no god, no way, no how.

    A gnostic = without gnosis = maybe a god (more usually a ‘probably’ or a definitely), but nobody can know god.

    What Rachel said, about “best with what I had” is as rough Agnosticism as you can get: that given all routes of understanding, there are still gaps, but that’s okay. We’re not trying to understand how an automobile runs or make a cheese sandwich, but the Nature of the Almighty. Not available in stereo instruction form.

    I’m down with Deborah on the evo subject though: it’s not to be used as a weapon to deny His power, but rather, in the right perspective, seen as something He is very capable of.

  13. I think you do take a really balanced approach to the issue Katie, it’s something I very much appreciate. I remember my frustration when I was arguing with a Baptist back in high school about this, and when I asked him why a “day” in the Bible couldn’t mean millions of years, his response was that in Hebrew, a day can only mean 24 hours. So ridiculous. For some irrational reason, I feel like this post repairs that feeling of frustration I have with the highly religious about creationism/evolutionism, because it’s by far the most common irrational sticking point I’ve seen with them.

  14. Ryan, what do you think is a reasonable length to take this belief to? You must have wrestled with this issue having taken similar science classes to mine; what conclusion do you think is reasonable?

  15. I’m curious, Klondike, why the precise meaning of a word should seem like a ridiculous argument. Accurate translations of Biblical manuscripts over the years are of foundational importance in understanding scripture. Of course, a whole lot of followers of Jesus believe the Bible to be inspired by God so we tend to think the details of a words’ meaning in the original version to be pretty important. I guess you wouldn’t have the same view.

  16. Don’t worry, Rachel, there have been rumbles here before, but nothing gets too brutal.

    Klondike, Deborah: this isn’t even any other book of the Bible: it’s Genesis, crazy built-in numerics (the patterns within the original Hebrew), mysterious author (who took on many identities over the years, from Abraham to just about everybody else in the Bible), and all. Both gnostics and Khabbalists (as fringy as people consider them) think of this book as something like a Cliff Notes on Creation and the history of His Chosen People, like God was saying “Here’s sort of how it happened, but don’t forget I was doing all the really cool stuff, and I’m god and I’m awesome.”, something you’d read your kids and get them excited about the Almighty. It’s not LIES or DECEPTION or UNTRUTH by any means, cause everything in it was true of course, just like everything in a 7th grade history book is true. However, we know sometimes there’s more to the story than Washington’s wooden teeth, and

  17. God isn’t trying to hide that, He just only tells those who are ready to hear, and that’s why there’s no Zohar or Sepher Yetzirah in the average synagogue.

    I repeat, most modern Jews think Khabbala is a sham (Madonna isn’t helping matters), but mystics of any religion haven’t been well-received historically (too dangerous or subversive).

    In the end, my point is we shouldn’t mince words like “days” or “months”. He made everything, who cares if it took a billion years or five seconds. He made humanity in His image, who cares if was Adam from the dust, or He devised a single-celled organism that eventually evolved into something worthy of His love (ah, back to the original subject at last). These are aspects of the Divine even in most religions: a creator who set aside mankind for a special purpose. The How and When is what disagreed upon, but isn’t the act more important, whatever He may be?

  18. here is my question to you, at what point did human beings become gods own image? that is to say, are neaderthal precursors also the image of god, or is that delineated by the fall.

  19. Oooooh. Rough one. We could still be working on “being made in His image”, for all we know. Or maybe it was Adam in the Garden, and now we’re trying to get that back, through whatever means.


    Buddhism/Hinduism – we’ve all fought through other lives for the chance to be human, and being human is the only way to break the cycle of suffering, so being in this form is the ultimate privilege.

    Islam – we are obligated to submit to god’s will, because we should be grateful he made us this way, opposed to lesser beings. Again, we are able to achieve that which other life cannot, so it’d be wasteful not to do so.

    It’s the nature of religion to assume we open in the red (be it the burden of Original Sin, mountains of bad karma, or natural impurity that must be overcome), so “His own image” in Judeo-Christian sense is probably more evidence that there was wishful thinking in the birth of man.

  20. I think I’ll use your blog, Katie – plus the snide remarks – to help my biology students begin thinking about what they believe about this topic. Thanks for the relatively concise summary of Science Held Hostage and for your thoughts, too.
    I am quite impressed at the thoughtful & open responses to your post.

  21. So the question then is, what about other creatures? If we’re still working on being in God’s image, couldn’t other organisms also be evolving towards that too?

    Or are we in His image because we’re more intelligent? Are we God’s image because we “know good from evil”? Or is it ‘just because’? What makes us unique?

  22. Depends on who you are and how you ask that. I know you and others’ believe that animals are out of the soul question entirely, but not everybody agrees.

    We’re unique because we are human, and have the opportunity to do all that humans can, versus all other forms of life, including answering such questions in a weblog. That’s the most general consensus; beyond that is a matter of faith and perspective. Whatever it is, it cannot be so very complicated, and I’m sure as long as you keep right mind, you are doing it without even knowing.

  23. I would like to address Ryan’s question of “how far” I take evolution more directly, so I’ve tacked on a little addendum to the end of the blog. Please read it for a fuller response to his question.

  24. Wow! Comment 24!
    I’m going to open my mouth on three subjects I’ve thought about on this issue:

    First of all: Science and religion cannot be mutually exclusive, because science is founded on philosophy. In other words, science is founded on a belief that the observations of our eyes and the process of thinking are more or less accurate and can discern fact. Thus, any true scientist begins with the belief that humans are intelligent creatures that have the ability to discover truth. Not all religions agree with this. So science falls under one type of philosophy and religion.

    Second of all: Genesis says we have been made in God?s image, true, but so does James 3:9?? With it we bless {our} Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.? Even if one does not take the Bible quite literally, the gist is that mankind are different than the animals. To only believe in some things the Bible says puts the reader above the message. Who ar

  25. Sorry! *blush* I’m going to post the whole of my comments on my blog to avoid the flood of 4 consecutive entries:)

  26. I’m still not convinced that evolution actually works. There are still a lot of really big (and really little) holes. When you couple that with the fact that our fundamental understanding of cosmology has changed half a dozen times in the last half century, you have to wonder if we have the whole story. Newtonian physics explained the physical world for a long time, but the reality is that it ain’t much like reality when you really get down to it. I wonder if the same thing will happen to evolution some day: it describes events in a general way, but what REALLY happenes is very different.

  27. That’s true, and that’s why it’s not called the Law of Evolution. It’s the Theory of Evolution because there’s a whelming amount of evidence and so far it’s explained a lot of inexplicable things (like why HIV changes so fast). It’s not perfect but it’s a really good explanation, the best we’ve come up with so far. When a better one – with more scientific support – comes along, let me know.

    You say that “There are still a lot of really big (and really little) holes” – No denying that, but the creation-science argument has even more holes than evolution does. As a scientific enterprise the support and research behind natural evolution is much stronger than the “science” behind creationism, which too often has to fall back on faith to support its claims.

  28. Hey, in a post-modern culture the idea that a scientific approach is the only way to go may become obsolete. Who knows. My bottom line–I’d rather “fall back on faith” than on science, which is man’s invention.

  29. Tim Bruinius, biology teacher at Bellevue Christian School, emailed me and agreed to let me post his comments on this topic. To interpret, by “X” he means Christ. He says:

    What an interesting discussion, I couldn’t figure out how to enter it (although if you’d like to include this be my guest). I am currently teaching evolution and I love this discussion. Xians have lost their place at the table of intellectual debate largely because they refuse to move on this issue. I think the ‘God in the Gaps’ argument applies well here because xians have often looked to areas unexplained by science and said ‘this can only be explain by God’, then as each successive area is explained by science God gets moved farther and farther into the periphery. Science appears to be replacing God and xians become committed to stopping it. Instead Bonhoeffer suggested that we move Christ to the center through which everything is explained. Xians can then return to the table and X is in his proper place. I believe this is the mistake the ID people make (although they deny it).

    A few thoughts: if we believe in a common origin of all life (a continuity within the creation) then we must reexamine what being made in the image of God means. Many xians think it means that we look like him. That is clearly not true (God isn’t confined to a body and therefore doesn’t look like anything). Perhaps being image bearers means those who are capable of understanding and having a relationship with God in the first place. It’s not clear why God chose Abraham or the Israelites or for that matter you and I (none of us can claim to be less sinful or more deserving) but the fact is that He did choose us. The same is true of humans, why would he have chosen one generation of hominid and not another? Hard to say, but they’d certainly have to understand his call.

    The young earth creationists tend to focus strictly on scripture and their idea that it is ‘inerrant’ which they take to mean literal (scripture doesn’t use either of these words, it doesn’t claim this for itself). They tend to take their understanding of scripture and force the creation into it. They spend all their time disputing the mountains of evidence from every field of science. They tend to be afraid of the dangers of Social Darwinism and Laissez faire capitalism (and here we agree) but attack evolution instead of it’s misapplied applications. By the way, they often bring up Mt Saint Helens as evidence that layers of earth can be built up and eroded quickly. This is instructive because their oft repeated mantras are often thoroughly disputed but repeated amongst people who know so little about science that it sounds good. The rock laid down in an eruption is igneous, has no fossils and is restricted to a limited area. The Grand Canyon or the Burgess Shale is spread over a large area, is sedimentary, and is full of marine fossils. I don’t know how you can compare the two.

    Scientists have found (and look for) many examples of animals that appear to be cobbled together. A sort of best solution given the constraints of the Bauplan. Given poorly engineered animals, we may need to think of the free will that God allows us to be extended to the creation as well. Obviously animals and plants don’t choose to evolve but perhaps God extends a ‘choice’ in a sense that is synonymous to our free will and explains the chanciness the creation appears to have.

  30. What a good discussion, Katie! Any time you’re feeling down about lack of comments, you know what to post about, eh? 😉

    Thanks for posting the above, about the imperfect understanding of science that can lead to false conclusions. “Scientific” evidence against evolution generally derives from a misunderstanding of the facts at hand (and of the laws of thermodynamics). There are plenty of REAL knowledge gaps people can fill with the divine, if they wish.

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