Christianity and Evolution: Time to Reconcile?

Christian biology professor
FRANCISCO AYALA
Image: Courtesy the University of California, Irvine

I came across this story on the Scientific American website about a geneticist who was also ordained as a priest. He wants to reconcile the theory of evolution with Christianity because, as a biology teacher, he sees too many Christian kids losing their faith over this issue.  The story notes:

“Often students in Ayala’s introductory biology class tell him that they will answer test questions as he wishes, but in truth they reject evolution because of their Christian beliefs. Then, a couple of years later, when they have learned more science, they decide to abandon their religion. The two, students seem to think, are incompatible.”

I think it’s time we reconciled the two belief systems.  It’s possible if we understand all the gaps in evolution and see them as God’s guiding hand.  It’s possible if we can get past the religious fervor of ardent evolutionists who push their agenda in order to prove their atheism.  Evolution neither proves nor disproves God.  But our existence on this planet could not have happened without many “coincidences.” I see those coincidences as miracles that led to our creation through evolutionary tools. If Andy Griffith were around, he’d make science and religion shake hands and be friends.

I’ll talk more about this in future posts.  For now, enjoy the Scientific American article.

15 comments

  1. Me thinks you misunderstood the mein kamf question.

    And there are those of us who try our level best not to deceive ourselves, to face reality head-on, and while not obsessing about the negative we do acknowledge it. For instance here is a funny example:

  2. “Fair enough.”

    Thanks for saying that, it doesn’t happen a lot in these discussions.

    “To Christians who do know God and can recognize His hand in this world, His hand in creation through evolution is obvious. I’m mainly writing to a Christian audience, and to us, miracles are obviously acts of God.”

    This is known as the god of the gaps. How is what you are doing, pointing to the things that we don’t understand any different than what the greeks did with their gods and the weather and the sun and moon and everything else? What if one day we will fill in these gaps and people will learn about “christian mythology” the way we learn about the now extinct greek myths?

    “So I’m saying that the miraculous leaps that evolution has taken (the leap from chemical components to life,”

    The reason the early evolution of life is mysterious is simply that early organisms were not hard enough to leave fossils so we just don’t have a record of step by step modification to understand. It’s lost to history but we don’t therefore assume something magical took place. You remind me of this cartoon:

    “the leap from plant life to animal life,”

    Plant life did not turn into animal life, plant and animal life are both eukaryotes and have a common ancestor that pre-dates the first multi-cellular organisms. Plants and animals in other words are cousins, one did not evolve from the other.

    “the leap from chimpanzee to human) are more obvious acts of God than the subtle changes and adaptations that have taken place over billions of years.”

    Similarly evolutionary science has never supposed humans descended from chimpanzees. We are cousins, and the “leap” from our ancestor to both modern species occurred over something like five million years. We turned a wolf into a poodle by simple selective breeding in about a thousandth of that time – is that miraculous?

    • “How is what you are doing, pointing to the things that we don’t understand any different than what the greeks did with their gods and the weather and the sun and moon and everything else? What if one day we will fill in these gaps and people will learn about “christian mythology” the way we learn about the now extinct greek myths?”

      I’m perfectly okay with this. I need to have a clean conscience about what I believe while I’m alive. Why does my theory have to be different than what the Greeks did with their mythology? Don’t you think that in another 1,000 years people will call what you consider sound science hokum? I’m pretty sure they will. But just as you have to take the science we understand today for what it is, I have to take the religion I understand today for what it is. I’m not trying to prove anything to you. I’m trying to reconcile my conscience with my intellect.

      • “I’m perfectly okay with this. I need to have a clean conscience about what I believe while I’m alive. Why does my theory have to be different than what the Greeks did with their mythology?”

        What is the ethic you’re grappling with? To me it’s that you can’t be moral without pursuing truth. If for instance christianity is false and people are denying gay people equal rights based on a lie then by believing a lie I’m hurting people, either by going along with it or by not acting out. And there are countless examples like that – I can’t think of a persecuted minority whose oppressors were not using the bible as justification (usually with a sound scriptural basis). I mean what if I were calling mein kamf holy and saying everyone should believe it, would you have a moral problem with that? Because I promise you I can find much more evil things in the bible than you can find in mein kamf.

        “Don’t you think that in another 1,000 years people will call what you consider sound science hokum?”

        Yes and no. I think a thousand years from now people will know a lot more than we do, but anything that can be demonstrated, even imperfectly, must be in some way scientifically sound. I don’t think, in other words, that we will ever discover the earth is really flat. I do think we know and can understand many things. I also don’t think you can compare the science of the age of men walking on the moon to the alchemy of the middle ages. If science were “hokum” we wouldn’t be able to cure diseases with it, would we?

        “I’m pretty sure they will. But just as you have to take the science we understand today for what it is, I have to take the religion I understand today for what it is. I’m not trying to prove anything to you. I’m trying to reconcile my conscience with my intellect.”

        People right now are rejecting the religious understanding of today. I don’t see how you can gladly believe something that may be false. Truth matters to me. And I think the world would be a better place if it mattered more to others.

      • “I mean what if I were calling mein kamf holy and saying everyone should believe it, would you have a moral problem with that? Because I promise you I can find much more evil things in the bible than you can find in mein kamf.”

        Aw heck, Christians can’t even agree amongst ourselves about our own doctrine. You can imagine how we feel about other religions, especially brand new cults. (How long does it take to go from religion to cult? 200 years?)

      • “People right now are rejecting the religious understanding of today. I don’t see how you can gladly believe something that may be false. Truth matters to me. And I think the world would be a better place if it mattered more to others.”

        Just to be clear, I’m not calling science “hokum.” I’m doing my level best to understand it with my tiny brain. I think part of why people are rejecting religion today en masse is because religion (in general) pits itself against science. I don’t think this is wise. I don’t think this is what God ever intended. I love medicine. I love astronomy. I love geology. I’m trying to understand evolution.

        I think scientists and those with scientific minds tend to misunderstand human behavior. I think you may not recognize that people gladly believe things that may be false all day long. I believe that people on the street don’t want to attack and kill me. I’m betting you do, too. I believe my spouse will love me forever. I’m sure atheists believe this, too (despite the divorce rate). I believe a new dress will make be beautiful (against all visual evidence to the contrary.) I believe Christians and scientists can find common ground and attempt to understand each other better.

    • Oh, and I love the cartoon. The thing that might help you understand Christians is this: we’re okay with there being a step that says, ‘and then a miracle occurs.’ In fact, most of us love when a miracle occurs. We’re hoping for more miracles all the time. They’re awesome. We don’t feel that we have to intellectually understand absolutely everything about God. We know this isn’t possible. But I, and many of my Christian friends, want to understand as much as is possible. And we’re not willing to call science “bunk” in order to get our heads around creation.

  3. Fair enough. To Christians who do know God and can recognize His hand in this world, His hand in creation through evolution is obvious. I’m mainly writing to a Christian audience, and to us, miracles are obviously acts of God. So I’m saying that the miraculous leaps that evolution has taken (the leap from chemical components to life, the leap from plant life to animal life, the leap from chimpanzee to human) are more obvious acts of God than the subtle changes and adaptations that have taken place over billions of years.

  4. I agree that many fundamentalists are bashing science in order to protect a literal reading of Genesis, which is why I want to defend science and promote a harmony between science and religion.

    • I just watched a video of neil degrasse tyson (atheist astrophysicist) talking about this subject and he said something “like there is no history at all of scientists knocking on the door of sunday schools and saying ‘that might not be accurate’ or picketing outside of churches” and the audience laughed because it would be absurd to even see that.

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