Between God and Darwin Faith and Natural Selection Aren't Mutually Contradictory

By R. J. Berry | The Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Between God and Darwin Faith and Natural Selection Aren't Mutually Contradictory


R. J. Berry, The Christian Science Monitor


The recent decision of the Kansas Board of Education to remove references to evolution from the state school curriculum has reignited the debate between the two extremes of the creationist and the death-of-God views of our existence. It's an unfortunate detour down an avenue no one has any real need to travel. Faith and natural selection aren't mutually contradictory. There is no reason a person cannot worship God and also believe Darwin was right about how the beak of the finch evolved.

Consider that the modern American fundamentalist religious movement began in the year 1909, with the initial publication of what became a highly popular series of religious pamphlets called "The Fundamentals." Intended as definitive statements of traditional Christianity, "The Fundamentals" were thick with viewpoints any fundamentalist of today would endorse. Yet these works also accepted the theory of evolution. The authors were entirely happy with the idea that God had used evolution as his method of creation.

Consider that the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial" in Dayton, Tenn., did not pit creationism against evolution, as it has since become standard to say. William Jennings Bryan, who has gone down in history as the anti-evolutionist of that trial, was not a creationist as the term is used today. Bryan, for example, accepted the evidence from geology that the Earth must be immensely old. Bryan also didn't contest evolutionary theory as such; he admitted what appears inarguable, that species adapt to changes in Earth's environment. His issue was with the nature of humans as divine creations. He felt that life and consciousness could not have begun through purely random, spontaneous process; a divine hand must have been involved.

Despite the common misperception, this view does not conflict with Darwinism, since evolutionary theory does not pretend to know how life began. Natural-selection biology only seeks to explain how life that already exists evolves into new forms. Though Darwin mused about whether a prehistoric "warm pond" of chemicals struck by lightning started the chain of biology, this was strictly a musing. Natural selection theory makes no claim of explaining the creation of life.

Thus it is perfectly possible to believe in evolution as a principle of biology and simultaneously believe in a creator God. True, some people who accept evolutionary theory use it to argue against faith. But the theory itself doesn't intrude on divine questions; the theory itself says nothing about how life was first formed. Many evolutionary biologists regard the creation of life as a kind of ultimate mystery - much the way many religious believers do.

In some ways it is understandable that some religious believers are suspicious of evolutionary theory. One reason is that misconceptions abound. For example, historically, almost everyone who's been upset about Darwinian theory seems to believe that it teaches people are descended from apes. Evolution does not teach that; it contends that somewhere in the far past, the ape family and the human family shared a common ancestor. …

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