Monday, September 23, 2013

Theistic Evolution

Evolution is a rats nest of arguments and emotions in the Christian world. I've heard sermons and teachings on how terrible and undermining it can be to the Christian message. In more recent years, I've viewed these kinds of teachings with no small amount of eye-rolling and irritation.

It started years ago. I got to a place in my walk with Christ when I realized: I don't care if God created the world in six days or six trillion. It's the same God to me, and however he did it is fine by me. I harbored a mistrust of science and scientists in general, believing they were too sure of their interpretations of data, which seemed to change drastically every decade or so. I still carry such suspicions, but I've come to accept that the current science on any given topic is, for the most part, our best understanding so far, and this includes evolution. I have no trouble incorporating that notion into the mystery of creation, the majesty of design, and the supremacy of God's plan. Viewing it all with the very hand of God in mind, it's amazing.

Over a year ago, a man gave a sermon in which he mentioned evolution, claiming it was destructive and offensive to God. "If we came from monkeys," he said, "then there's nothing special about us." In my mind, the plan of God in the Bible does indicate that there is something special about humanity, but this man was claiming that our connection to apes made us somehow less special, less than human, less than--if you will--children of God. When he said that, I thought, "No. If we came from monkeys, that just means there's something really special about monkeys." This opened the door to me for all kinds of thoughts--amazing thoughts--about our connection to the world, the blessedness of all of creation, from stars and planets and black holes to algae and fungus and lizards and apes... and us. Does it bother you that we're "just monkeys." Because it amazes me that maybe even monkeys aren't "just monkeys."

But I couldn't stop there. Amazement is a good place to start, but then the theology was begging to be explored. I went to Utah's Natural History Museum and explored the geological scientific reconstructed history of earth. I encountered dinosaur bones and ancient human tools with fresh eyes and wondered about what it all meant. And this disturbed me for a while, and still does. Because what does it all mean? It's one thing to marvel at God's creation, the progression of new life after new life, but what do hundreds of millions of years of evolution really mean? Can we believe that they were all really just a long convoluted path to get to us? Humans?

And then more thoughts disturbed me. What about the ages and ages of animals, of predator and prey, of life and death, of eating and being eaten, an endless cycle of creation and destruction, of ice, fire and flood? What did it all mean? And what does it do to the actual message of Genesis. Forget the seven days and the sabbath (important in its own right) and think about what the creation story of Genesis really means. It means God created humans to be like himself--special. It means that God gave form and order to a chaotic mass of atoms. He made the heavens and the earth. And it means that he found it all to be good. But what do we think of that message in the light of evolution? I found myself at a loss. I don't know what that means. I don't know what God was doing with those hundreds of millions of years. And what of the garden of Eden story. If we know now that plants and animals were dying, were devouring each other, were caught in cycles of violence, went extinct and were lost to memory, what does that do to our understanding of sin. We say that death comes from sin, and that sin came to the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Sure, it might just be a story, and maybe Eve wasn't really made from Adam's rib, and they didn't actually walk in a real garden completely content, but the story still has a meaning without all of that being exactly true. The real question is, what is that meaning really? And what is the meaning of evolution? Are they in conflict? I have not seen anyone tackling these questions. Theistic Evolutionists seem content to rejoice in their newfound amazement at God's marvelous plan with evolution, while the rest of the Christian world rails about the literal interpretation of what they consider a completely perfect book. Neither side seems ready to even think about all the implications that embracing evolution might have, and whether those implications are worthwhile or not.


Julie Gaerber said...

God is not limited to time since He is eternal. 2 Peter tells us that a day to God is like a thousand years. Paul wrote that he was in the end times and that was over 2,000 years ago! If we read the story of creation, it really does follow the evolution story with the creatures of the sea being created first, etc. He also talks about the "great beasts of the earth" that I consider to be the dinosaurs, mammoths,etc. That was all"good". Then he creates man, but he didn't speak him into existence like everything else, He forms him and breathes life into him. To me, man is certainly different from all of the animals made in God's image NOT evolved from apes!! (Although I DO love apes!!)

Mark and Lisa Habluetzel said...

Great post with great questions, my friend. I also continue to wrestle with these things. Have you ever read John Walton's "The Lost World of Genesis One"? I found it profoundly helpful, though not dissolving all the mysteries and questions.

Jake said...

Julie, I would not have thought to embrace evolutionary theory but separate the creation of humans from it. It's an interesting idea. Though I believe the Bible contains essential truths and principles and communicates a lot about God and the nature of life and our world, I do not consider every word significant. The Genesis story is a story designed to form the nation of Israel into a nation that was specially called to live in covenant with God. I'm not sure that speaking into existence vs. forming from dust had a any significance beyond highlighting God's special interest in humanity, over and above the rest of creation. I accept and embrace that, without equating the story itself with historical fact.

The real conflict between evolution and Christianity, to me, lies in our differing worldviews regarding sin, death, and suffering. The story of the garden of eden I find much more at odds with evolution than the story of creation.

Jake said...

Mark, no I've not read that or heard of it. I haven't read any books on the topic, but I've paid attention to conversations and debates online, most of which center around interpretation or reinterpretation of Genesis in regards to historicity. But the theological implications have only been touched on. Since this post, I've found about two articles asking similar questions online, without providing ideas.

I find it very interesting, and I think theologians really need to wrestle with this topic (assuming they don't just disregard evolution altogether). If we don't learn to tell the evolution story as God's story, we'll just continue with a possibly destructive cognitive dissonance.