Not long ago I was talking with someone who informed me that he heard that I “believe” in evolution.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that.
My knee jerk reaction to a statement like that is one of denial, but probably not for the reason you might suspect. Usually when I discuss my beliefs with someone it is with regards to some area of theology or philosophy. It doesn’t occur to me to say that I “believe” in this scientific theory or that. I’m not a scientist, but I appreciate the work they do (and benefit from it every day!) and sometimes read books that they write. And I don’t think that they are involved in some massive conspiracy to debunk my faith. Scientists, like good theologians and biblical scholars, are concerned with the discovery of truth. My belief about a scientific theory doesn’t matter. What matters is whether it is true, and I do not posses the knowledge or skills to attempt to dispute the overwhelming evidence and consensus among specialists in relevant fields regarding the theory of evolution. (I’ll open another can of worms: I could say the same thing about climate change!)
I come from a fairly conservative evangelical background where in some circles (not all!) a reputation for affirming the theory of evolution is seen as indicative of compromise or weak Christian faith. I had a few courses in Bible college on the topic of science and the Bible. Multiple views were presented with regards to creation: Young earth creationism (YEC), which seemed to be the default position of many of my classmates; the Gap Theory (meaning there was an indefinite period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2); Old Earth Creationism (the position of some of my teachers); and even (with a great deal of reservation) the Literary Framework view (which seeks to unpack the poetry and theology of Genesis without getting hung up on questions about the literalism of the “days”).
One thing was always clear… Any form of evolution (including theistic evolution) was not a Christian option.
If you don’t hang out with evangelicals much, you may find that type of conversation about biblical interpretation being placed above scientific inquiry a bit confusing and maybe bewildering. It certainly can be. And partly for that reason I am sometimes a bit guarded about discussing this question with people. Even Old Earth Creationism (OEC) sounds a bit too much like evolution for some people I know. (As if the authority of the Bible might be in the balance when someone suggests that the earth might be older than 10,000 years)
Now, my thinking on this topic had certainly “evolved” over the years. I would have argued vehemently for YEC during my Jr High and High School years, and would have tentatively held to OEC during college. The benefit of the OEC position is that it doesn’t call into question any of the data we have from archeology or the fossil record (it merely interprets the data differently); it’s flaw is that it still tends to read the Bible like a scientific textbook (or at least as a text that can be safely and fully integrated with science without doing violence to either).
Today, however… I would argue that neither of these views reflects biblical teaching nor gives us a constructive framework for engaging our culture. So if someone asks me whether I believe in evolution, I’ll probably say that I accept it provisionally based on the evidence that we have. And the best readings of Genesis that I have encountered have nothing to do with the origins debate that rages in our culture war: it was written to different people in a different time addressing concerns different from our own. If we go to the text asking how it concords or conflicts with modern science we are approaching God’s Word anachronistically; we are not listening for the voice of the Spirit in the text. As Jurgen Moltmann likes to ask, “Do we really read the Bible? And do we understand what we are reading?” (Echoing Phillip’s question to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8)
On that point, I can’t recommend John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One highly enough. It is very helpful and accessible from a biblical interpretation standpoint. Here is a video of his talk on Reading Genesis With Ancient Eyes:
I heard a similar talk that he gave last year at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary on this topic also; it’s a good introduction especially if you don’t see yourself reading the book.
I could say much more. I don’t want to pass on to my children a brand of Christianity that can be handily debunked in a first year college biology course. The foundation and center of Christian faith is Christ not a particular interpretation of a particular passage of scripture. But getting deeper into those things right now would make this into a longer blog post than I want to write. 🙂