What Does the Bible Really Say About Evolution?
Reported by Morgan Postlewait (guest artist)
Are we allowed to interpret the Bible? Absolutely. I think we can interpret the Bible far more than we realize, because it’s actually impossible to understand without our interpreting it. So, why is it that interpreting the first few chapters of Genesis, or at least looking for a non-literal understanding of them, can come across as taboo?
I think this is because of the way some Christians have begun to view their faith. They see it as under attack from the outside world, and they need to staunchly defend it against anything that could weaken it. However, this leaves Christians vulnerable. This is why we have a reputation of being close-minded and argumentative: we are too afraid to ask ourselves the hard questions. I think no controversial topic demonstrates this more than that of evolution.
Let’s flip this narrative then, and ask a tough question, and struggle to answer it. So, does evolution have a role to play in creation, as it is understood by Christians? Yes, it does. Moreover, Genesis actually supports the theory of evolution as the mechanism for God’s creation of life.
Before I start, let me define a few terms, just to make sure we’re all on the same page. Evolution is the process of organisms slowly becoming more and more differentiated from one another (by the process of natural selection), until they are considered separate species. When I say slowly, I mean slowly. Millennia.
The concept of natural selection is key to this theory’s functionality. Natural selection is dependent on the understanding that organisms within a species that are “stronger” are more likely to reproduce, therefore passing on their “stronger” genes. Stronger, as I use it here, does not necessarily refer to physical strength, but just a better ability to survive in one’s environment. This could refer to better camouflage, the ability to run faster, or being able to figure out how to crack open a certain kind of nut. This process makes logical sense and is observable in the natural world.
Genesis starts by outlining the order of creation, as pertaining to specific days: light and dark, earth and sky, land and water, plants, stars, fish and birds, mammals, and humans. The order of creation here mirrors that proposed by evolution scientists.
The general theme with evolution is that you start with the simplest form of life, and then develop more and more complex organisms. The Bible nails this. Plants are considered simpler than animal species, fish have been determined to precede land animals, etc. No, the Bible doesn’t mention bacteria, or a whole bunch of other groups of animals, but it doesn’t need to. It follows the trend and isn’t immediately at odds with evolution.
Since Genesis is divinely-inspired, it is entirely possible (and, in my opinion, very likely) that the details about the order of creation of the different species were included solely to help us understand evolution. So now that we can see that Genesis isn’t necessarily immediately at odds with evolution as the mechanism for God’s creation, let’s address some of the most common arguments against evolution.
Most arguments against evolution, from a Christian perspective, note that evolution eliminates the need or the existence for a Creator. They also usually cite a six-day creation. The theory of evolution does not even attempt to explain how the first life came to be. It just believes that there was one source that was divided again and again to produce all the diversity that we see on the earth now.
I have no problem with believing that this first life form was produced by God, and then he controlled the entire process of natural selection producing more and more species. The only details we get from the Bible are that God speaks things into existence and then they are. This doesn’t preclude him from ordering the existing life to diversify into different species. As for needing a six-day creation, I just personally don’t think that an all-powerful, omniscient being exists within the constraints of time. What could be a “day” to God, could be a millennia to us.
More likely, in my opinion, God doesn’t think in time. Why would that be necessary, for someone who exists eternally? No, I think the language of days in Genesis was used so that we could better understand the different stages of creation (and therefore have biblical evidence for evolution as the mechanism of creation). All things considered, I think that insisting on a six-day creation or that evolution eliminates the need for a creator is just Christians refusing to engage in some spiritual wrestling. Furthermore, Darwin himself did not believe that evolution caused any conflict with his Christian faith.
Another common problem that Christians cite is that evolution means we evolved from monkeys, and that means we weren’t made in God’s image. Firstly, humans did not evolve from monkeys. Rather, monkeys and humans had a common ancestor, and evolved separately, along a similar timeline. Furthermore, most theologians argue that there is more to the image of God than our physical appearance, and I agree with them. We are set apart by our souls, intelligence, and morality just as much as our different physical forms.
This image of God would be the “breath of life” that God breathed into the clay, as described in Genesis. This story reflects a point in the evolution of the physical species that God decided to give a spirit or soul to his creation. It was this soul that is his image, and is what sets us apart from other species.
There’s also the question of original sin, and how that fits into the picture of human evolution. This is pretty tricky, and I’m not sure I have an answer for it yet. Maybe, as we developed the ability to reason and determine right from wrong, our moral code didn’t develop at the same rate. Maybe God designed us in this way because the end result will bring about more good, and more glory to him. Or maybe, God produced “perfect” humanity through evolution and then they in some way rebelled against him, essentially “falling.” I don’t know, but I am comfortable with that.
Here are biggest takeaways: 1) evolution is not inherently at odds with Christian faith, and neither is science in general, for that matter, 2) no matter what you believe it will be necessary to struggle with deeper questions and interpret the Word, and 3) it is okay to not have an answer to every question people may throw at you.
Essentially, I find no reason to distrust evolution simply because it doesn’t immediately match the Sunday school version of Genesis we all know. There’s plenty that we already interpret from the Bible and there’s plenty of things that would be useful to know that are missing. We are meant to wrestle with what we can observe in the natural world and how that fits into the bigger picture of God’s creation.
By refusing to engage with difficult subjects and questions, we are doing ourselves a disservice as Christians, and missing out on chances to learn and grow spiritually. So please, don’t immediately discount evolution as a scientific theory. Instead, learn about it. Read the Bible and the creation stories. Pray about it. Struggle to understand God’s creation, and you will walk away a stronger Christian.