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How Christians Can Believe Evolution

Updated on June 30, 2016
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne is a mother of 5. She writes about parenting, crafts and games for children, family fun and Christian ministry ideas.

Are You a Christian Confused About Creationism?

Growing up in California, I was taught Creationism in church and Evolution in school. Creationism was a new movement in the 1970s, so it wasn't too sophisticated, but mostly I remember being taught that the flood accounted for most of the things scientists said was evolution.

In the 1980s, I read Philip Johnson's book, Darwin on Trial, which taught that we should be skeptical of scientists who were biased and against Christianity. Yet what I had learned about evolution and just the fact that no one seemed to deny that dinosaurs did actually exist at one time made me wonder if that was the right interpretation of the facts. What is the truth? After marrying a scientist in the 1990s, I decided it was time to investigate.

How Christ and Nature Fit Together

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fossil Hunting. Our family loves to find fossils from long ago that are right under our feet here in Central Texas.Family Hiking. I have to admit that it is a freeing feeling to be able to enjoy thinking about God's creation as marvelous and amazingly long in time.Flowers. The simple beauty of these flowers speaks of a God who loves detail, wonder and surprise.Feet in Mud. We are but dust, made from dust takes on a profount new meaning.Sunset on Lake. I wonder at a God who made space, time and matter.  Who lives outside of all I can imagine.  In eternity.  How marvelous are your works, Oh Lord!
Fossil Hunting. Our family loves to find fossils from long ago that are right under our feet here in Central Texas.
Fossil Hunting. Our family loves to find fossils from long ago that are right under our feet here in Central Texas. | Source
Family Hiking. I have to admit that it is a freeing feeling to be able to enjoy thinking about God's creation as marvelous and amazingly long in time.
Family Hiking. I have to admit that it is a freeing feeling to be able to enjoy thinking about God's creation as marvelous and amazingly long in time. | Source
Flowers. The simple beauty of these flowers speaks of a God who loves detail, wonder and surprise.
Flowers. The simple beauty of these flowers speaks of a God who loves detail, wonder and surprise. | Source
Feet in Mud. We are but dust, made from dust takes on a profount new meaning.
Feet in Mud. We are but dust, made from dust takes on a profount new meaning. | Source
Sunset on Lake. I wonder at a God who made space, time and matter.  Who lives outside of all I can imagine.  In eternity.  How marvelous are your works, Oh Lord!
Sunset on Lake. I wonder at a God who made space, time and matter. Who lives outside of all I can imagine. In eternity. How marvelous are your works, Oh Lord! | Source

4 Christian Views on Evolutionism

First of all, I soon learned that there were not just two sides in this debate. It helped me to understand that Christians had several different views on the issue and that Young Earth Creationism (the idea that the earth is only about 6000 years old) is only one of them.

Many of these positions have had careful theological and scientific thinking which I can't reproduce in full here, but I will give some of the outlines of a few of the major positions (there are many variations within these positions).

  1. Young creationists or Old Earth Creationists, who believe the earth and the universe were created 6000 years ago in 24 hour days. They interpret the first 11 chapters of Genesis literally.
  2. Old creationists believe the earth is old and that the early chapters of Genesis refer to spans of time rather than specific 24 hour days.
  3. Intelligent Design theorists believe that evolution did happen as scientists describe it, but that at certain times God intervened, and that we can identify these moments by looking for "irreducibly complex" parts of creation (things which can't have come about only by evolutionary processes).
  4. Theistic evolutionists believe that God used the mechanism of evolution to create without any particular intervention. They believe that the first 11 chapters of Genesis should not be read as a scientific document. Instead, they see that the main point of this text is to indicate that the God of Israel and Christians is the Creator of the Universe and unlike any other gods. Theistic evolutionists also vary in the amount of agency they believe God had in evolution. Some think he had none at all, and others think he moved within evolution. This is particularly true in the case of the creation of man and the fall of Adam and Eve, which some theistic evolutionists see as something outside the process of ordinary evolutionary time (I believe C.S. Lewis was in this category).

Did God Use Evolution?

Evolution as a Mechanism? If you'd asked me what I thought about this at 33 (1993), I would have told you (and actually did tell my scientist husband during our first year of marriage) that I thought God probably used the mechanism of evolution to do some part of creation. However, I also believed that God was big enough to have made the heavens and earth in six literal days if he wanted.

As a molecular scientist, my husband had a hard time figuring out how everything alive had marks of the evolutionary process in their DNA if there was no evolution. However, like me, he had spent a lot of time in Creationist churches and didn't want to think that the facts of science contradicted the Bible. For a long time, he just kept his faith and science in separate compartments, like a lot of people. Together we decided to try to find ways we could put the two together.

Searching for an Answer

Our Search through the Literature of Science and Religion: During our first year of marriage, I actually did read the Philip Johnson book, Darwin on Trial, out loud to my husband as we discussed this issue. He was critical of Johnson's deep skepticism about the scientific community. He told me, "Scientists have to prove what they say, and they are always looking to disprove other scientist's work. That is the nature of scientific inquiry."

Yet both of us had grown up in the California Creationist culture and held a sort of dichotomy of belief in our minds. I'm convinced now that many people grow up that way and that it is all right to not resolve this issue quickly, or maybe even at all. However, I think that sometimes this issue can shipwreck a person's faith, or perhaps prevent a seeker from being able to put their faith in Christ.

For a while after our marriage, we tabled this issue, but it kept on coming back in talks with students and questions with people who found out my husband was a scientist. Especially when they found out that some of his research focused on the evolution of viruses. So with the help of some funding from the University, he studied the issue more in depth. He attended a conference which was aimed at letting Christian scientists talk through this issue and study it together. He learned a lot, and I did too since I read most of the books he purchased for the conference an afterwards.

Is Intelligent Design a Good Option?

We read books by some of the scientists who have asserted the theory of Intelligent Design. Some of them worked at our University and we had lively and interesting discussions with them. In fact, we had one important ID scientist visit our home church group for a while, and at another point, my husband was involved in panel discussions with ID scientists. Although we were attracted to the ID ideas, we ultimately concluded that their arguments tended to put God in a box.

While I think it is possible that God did intervene in a miraculous way in the evolution of life, just as he today intervenes in miraculous ways in our life, I don't think that is his usual way of operating in the world. Nor do I think it is really useful to try to "prove" God's existence through describing "irreducible complexity" because I think the basis of our life with God is faith, not irreducible scientific proof. In essence, I think it may not be a useful thing to try to prove God in creation.

The Scripture very clearly points out that we should be awed by the majesty of the night sky, the seasons and the details of nature. As we stand looking at the mountains, the ocean or the night sky away from the city, we all feel a sense of the majesty of God and the smallness of our own selves. That is a proof of God imprinted in our souls and visible to us every day. I'm not sure searching for a proof beyond that is useful. Moreover, as my husband has pointed out, some of these things which seem impossibly complex have been found, after further scientific investigation, to have a good explanation.

Is Theistic Evolution Possible?

Studying Creation and Evolution Helps Ground our Faith Further

My husband and I read books by theologians, scientists, and scientist-theologians (like John Polkinghorn). In the beginning, I was curious, but afraid, wondering if this would rock my faith. However, as I read, I found the opposite. The theological books made me understand the Bible more deeply, and the scientific/theological books made me wonder more deeply at the nature of God and the incredible vastness of creation. I had hoped to come to some conclusions, and I did. What I did not expect was that this process would lead me to a much deeper worship of God Creator.

What I've Come to Believe about Theistic Evolution

Gradually, through reading, praying, thinking, talking and studying Scripture prayerfully, I've been led to believe that evolution is true, the earth is old and that people are truly created "from the dust of the earth" through evolutionary processes. Yet, in spite of the fact that we are but dust, we have been given the gift of the breath of life of God, which makes us special. Seeing our creation this way has given me an even greater appreciation for the amazing miracle that we, as insignificant humans, are loved and cared for intimately by the Creator God of the Universe. I deeply marvel in the great miracle that Christ, as the God of the Universe, came down to love us humans and offer us his life as a sacrifice for our sins, bringing us back into fellowship with God.

Interview with Francis Collins

Best Books to Read

My husband and I have read through most of the available literature on this topic and if you are really seeking to think about this for yourself, I encourage you to spend some time reading too. As a start, I've reviewed three of the most helpful books that we have read.

Review: The Language of God

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis Collins

This book is an autobiography of Francis Collins, who is a doctor and one of the top scientists in genetics in the U.S. Collins came to faith as an adult, even though he was raised as an atheist. He explains the reasons he believes persuasively in the book and also in the YouTube video I include on the Hub. Collins also gives a very easy to understand explanation of theistic evolution.

Collins is not only a smart man, he is a good writer and easy to understand. So I think his book is a good place to start when investigating the idea of how science and faith can be brought together. The Language of God is also an excellent book to give to people who are wavering in faith because of concerns about science. Collins is reasonable, but not angry or too dogmatic. He presents the evidence and his understanding of the science in a calm and reasonable way. He lets the reader see his point of view without pushing his agenda too far.

Since Collins uses his autobiography to tell the story, that makes it an easier read. Collins was raised as an atheist, but when he was a doctor, he was challenged by the faith of one of his patients. Through his own experiences and reading, he comes to faith in God. This book is his attempt to explain clearly, in everyday language how Christians can reconcile evolution with the Bible. Collins very clearly explains why Theistic evolution is a viable theological position and also does an excellent job of explaining the problems of Intellectual Design.

Review: Perspectives on an Evolving Creation

Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, ed. by Keith Miller

I think this was one of the best books to help me think through the issue because it explained the science so clearly. This book helped me to understand how DNA (not just the fossils) shows that our bodies are evolving.

Unlike the other books, this is a collection of essays from both theologians and scientists. What I liked about this book is that they offer a variety of perspectives which helps the reader to think through their own position on the issue. The book also includes devotional pieces to help the reader move from thinking to worship. The difficulty of the essays varies, but the book is worth the time to work through.

Another helpful part of this book is it takes excerpts from many of the most important writers of science and the Bible. If one of the essays is especially interesting to you, you can look for other essays or books by that author. We did that with Conrad Hyers, which is how we found out about the next book.

For me, reading Perspectives was the most helpful thing I did to finally come to peace in my own heart, mind and spirit about this issue.

Review: The Meaning of Creation

The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science by Conrad Hyers

Hyers is a theologian and I like the way he helped me to understand the Genesis 1-11 account within the context of the time it was written. Although I'm not sure I completely accept all of his interpretation, what I did find extremely helpful was the fact that he helped me to think about how these verses would have been read by the people for whom they were originally written.

This book actually convinced me that Creationism as a movement really is doing a dis-service to the Bible by trying to fit the words of the text into a sort of literal, scientific format. The people of the Old Testament didn't think that way, and I think we need to be careful not to read the things they wrote as if they were produced by a modern person. What I found particularly helpful was the way he contrasted the Genesis account of creation to the other creation accounts the Hebrew people would have known about. The startling difference of the Bible made me appreciate God's word more fully.

Pray and Read the Bible

My hope in writing this article and book review is that you will find peace yourself about this issue. Along with thinking and reading, I urge you to pray and ask God for wisdom, which he always promises to give. Don't forget to continue to read and re-read the Bible passages as well. Don't just take the words of others into account but let the Holy Spirit teach you the meaning of his Word. God bless you on your journey of faith!

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 3 weeks ago from United States

      Hi Hannah--my husband is very passionate about helping people to not feel that they have to choose between the Bible and science. We don't have any desire to change anyone's mind who has a firm belief in a young earth creationism, but we don't want someone who wavers in their belief in God because of evolution to think there is only one way to think about it.

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      Hannah Kessler 4 weeks ago

      Hi Professor Kearney!

      I really enjoyed this article. I have struggled for a long time with my belief in science and in the Bible. I, personally, am a theistic evolutionist. I don't believe Genesis should be read as a "scientific" book, especially when you dive into how it was actually passed down and written. It is always very encouraging to see christians who are not afraid that evolution is going to shake the entirety of their belief system.

    • Misfit Chick profile image

      Catherine Mostly 19 months ago from Seattle, WA - USA - The WORLD

      I really wish people would put as much effort into researching and discovering the origins of their religions, as they do in trying to find ways to make logical thinking mesh with religious delusions and dogma.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      A very interesting viewpoint. I enjoyed reading about it.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Hi Nelson--Some people think there is just creationist on one side and evolutionst on the other. There are actually lots of different ways people put those two things together. As I'm talking about it here, I mean that Christians can view God having created things but used evolution as one of the mechanisms of his creation. How much and what sort of evolution he used is something Theistic creationists have different views on.

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      Nelson 5 years ago

      Lynne.

      1. I would love to know your husbands name and the university he works for.

      2. You made a statement that there are several views on evolution. Which views are those. Scientific views or theistic views.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      I haven't read this book, but I did read his first one. I'll have to check that one out.

    • klside profile image

      klside 5 years ago

      Have you read Case for the Creator by Lee Strobel? I read this book going through school and it all made a lot of sense to me in trying to understand this subject.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      You are right Ruby--The wonders of nature declare the glory of God. I marvel so much at the spring flowers that are coming up in my yard right now. So beautiful!

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Very interesting and valuable information. Yes, how we can look at the wonders of nature and not believe in the mysteries of God....very complex. Life and living and science and giving, full circle. Time is evolving.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Absolutely. One thing that I always tell students is that the most important thing is to remember is that God made the world, man has sinned against God and requires redemption, the Bible is the record of God's word to man and God's dealing with man in history, and that Jesus died on the cross for man's sin and we all need to personally accept that sacrifice. I think that it is so important to make sure we do remain focused on the main truths of the Scripture as we discuss these other ideas.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      VirginiaLynne: I understand your thirst to learn. I hope you do not exclude all the various teachings that God's Holy Word the Holy Bible holds. The answers are there solong as you seek the knowledge with an open mind to what God can teach.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for stopping by Dave Mathews. I was very surprised when I looked up "Theistic Evolution" on YouTube to find almost all of the videos were against it. I did find, however, on a search for Francis Collins that the Biologos group is developing some good information which gives a good response from a Christian's point of view about evolution and how it can be seen in a way that is not a conflict with the Bible. One of them had just been uploaded yesterday. I'm glad I can provide some information for people to think through. It has taken me many years of thinking and research to feel I know what I believe. As a college professor at a Christian college, I find many Christian students are confused and conflicted, like I was. My husband has written and thought about this more than I have and I hope he will soon start publishing Hubs to give more information.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      VirginiaLynne: There is no way that Christianity or Theology, would ever try to teach that dinosaurs were mythical and not real.

      God teaches us that one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day to God. This being the case one day of creation in Genesis could actually be one thousand years, which would mean that creation start to finish could have taken about six thousand years. During that period of time earth could have faced several ice ages and several periods of growth.