The Bible & Evolution

Charles Darwin

Since Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, it has attracted the flack of Bible fundamentalists. Their concern was that since God created mankind in his own image, then mankind could not have been the result of a process of natural evolution resulting from mutations and natural selection as proposed by Darwin. So, either the Bible must be false, and thus all of Judeo-Christianity, or Darwin's theory must be wrong. And since the Bible is the basis of their most central paradigm, they felt the need to attack the theory with every resource at their disposal. Perhaps the most famous (and most embarrassing to the fundamentalists) event in this struggle was the Scopes monkey trial of 1925, in which an aging and senile William Jennings Bryan served as a witness to defend fundamental creationism.

This is something like the people who thought that Copernican theory was in conflict with the Bible. That theory stated that the earth was in orbit around the sun instead of the earth being the center of the universe as had been commonly thought at the time. Based on this conflict Galileo was put under house arrest for the remainder of his life because his 1632 book, Dialogue, stated that the Copernican theory was consistent with the Bible. Of Course, both Galileo and Copernicus were right, and so is the Bible, but that didn't stop people from becoming embroiled in a conflict. (See Galileo's Dialogue.)  Nonetheless, the long term outcome of the heliocentric versus geocentric struggle was a long term loss of credibility for Christianity and the Christian church.

It is clear that life on this earth has evolved over time in the sense that the earliest life forms were simpler and the more complex life forms appeared later.  The veracity of evolution is unquestionable. The question that is still open from a scientific perspective, however, is if Darwin's theory of evolution of species by natural selection is correct.  In other words, what makes evolution work? How can we know if Darwin's theory is the correct mechanism behind evolution? In the mean time, it is inappropriate to make assumptions in either direction.  True science searches for truth without preconceived answers.  Furthermore, I have never personally known anyone who is scientifically qualified to form an answer to this question.  In the mean time, anyone who reads the Bible can see that Darwin's theory does not contradict the Bible, so this heated argument is a nonsensical waste of time.  The people who are doing the most damage to understanding are the Christians who insist on arguing against Darwinism.

The living things have certainly appeared over time in an increasingly complex family tree of life by some evolutionary process. By comparison musical instruments have also evolved over time, with a family tree of species somewhat like the family tree of life, although much simpler. Yet, we know that the evolution of musical instruments was the result of intelligent design. The Bible does make reference to creation through a progressive process. It lists the appearance of living things on the earth over time, and it does so in the correct order unlike any other book of comparable antiquity. (See The Genesis Question by Hugh Ross, Navpress, 1998) It divides the creation into a series of six "days" or "eras". The Hebrew word for "day" could also mean "era" as it does today. For example, the Bible contains the expressions "the day of His wrath" (Job 20:28) and "the day of the Lord" (Is. 2:12; 13:6,9; Amos 5:18-20). Also, the Bible seems to imply that God created the process of adaptive and expansive evolution as part of the process of creating life.  He created individual entities in each general category and then set them free to evolve and fill the world. (Gen 1:22,28)  In other words, the Bible describes creation as a process that continues on its own once initiated by God.

The Bible describes a sort of a stepwise evolution as indicated by the fossil record. The Bible states that the first form of life to appear on earth was plant life. This was followed by animal life in the oceans, then birds, then mammals, and then humans. (Gen. 1:11-24) The Bible does omit some major phases in the development of life (insects, dinosaurs and other reptiles, and amphibians and so forth) because its purpose is not to provide a geophysical and biological history of the earth, but rather a simple statement of the origin of mankind. When you consider the steps of geophysical development that the Bible accurately describes in front of the steps of life development, it is truly amazing that the sequence, which was written thousands of years before any scientific knowledge of these events, is so precise.

Humans and chimps share 99 % of DNA.

When I was a child it troubled me that the Bible states that man was created in the image of God, while it was clear that people are actually a species of animal. Just look at the similarities between people and other mammals. From a physiological perspective our commonalties are far more significant than our differences. When you compare chimpanzees to humans the similarity is astounding. Furthermore, modern DNA information proves that structurally we are about 99% identical to chimpanzees. There is no question that chimpanzees and humans are very close relatives on the family tree of life. But this is consistent with the Bible's creation account, which states that humans were created in the same way as animals and as a culmination of the development of life. In the original Hebrew, the Bible states that man became a living nephesh, which means "creature". (Gen. 2:7) This is exactly the same term that the Bible uses to describe the creation of birds and mammals. (Gen. 1:20 & 24) The writer of Ecclesiastes also recognized the commonality between humans and animals: "I also thought, 'As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.'" (Eccl 3:18-19)

The statement that "God created man in his own image" (Gen. 1:27) indicates that man was given special attributes that makes him unique in comparison to his fellow animals. "Image" does not imply that man is a clone of God any more than an image of a man, such as a photo or statue, is the clone of a man. Indeed, according to the Bible, man could not have been created in the physical image of God because, unlike man, God is not a physical animal.  Jesus said, "God is spirit." (John 4:24) But man being in the image of God does mean that man was uniquely gifted with some of the characteristics of God, with the potential of developing even more. So, there is no incompatibility between evolution and the Bible.

Commonality of components between different forms of life is a characteristic that one would expect as a product of intelligent design, just as in a well-managed product development engineering organization, common design modules are re-used across multiple systems.  However, physicist Stephen Barr wrote, "Everyone, whether materialist or religious believer, can see that there is an enormous gulf between the capacities of human beings and animals.  Animals do not spend time wondering about their place in nature or their fate.  They do not write works of philosophy.  They do not study chemistry or do research in astrophysics, compose violin concertos or paint with watercolors.  They do not build ships or airplanes, tell time with calendars or clocks, cultivate gardens or erect magnificent buildings, adorn their bodies with jewelry and clothing or their dwellings with works of art.  ...The lives of animals are simple and unvarying, while the list of distinctively human activities is virtually endless." (Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen M. Barr, University of Notre Dame Press, 2003, page 167)

Even if life evolved by some natural process made possible by random errors in the DNA followed iteratively by selection of the fittest mutations in a competitive environment, it wouldn't prove that either Christianity or the Bible was in error. The Bible states that life exists because of the intention of God, but it doesn't state the method by which He created life. The very existence of DNA as the programming code of all life is a brilliant design in itself. Add to that the error correction algorithm built into the process of sexual reproduction and you have the ingredients for the greatest patent ever filed. Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, makes the case in his book Darwin's Black Box (Simon & Schuster, 1996) that the basic building block of life is too complex in itself to have come into existence spontaneously.

Today, many scientists who are Creationists are in a debate with scientists who are Darwinists on this subject of the origin of life and of the species. This debate rages in the school boards and in published articles and books. The prize is not the veracity of Christianity since the theory of natural evolution doesn't contradict the Bible.

In the mean time while both sides participate in an intellectual slugfest of gargantuan proportions, distorted information spills out to the general public. Hopefully, most of the distortion is unintentional and caused by the unqualified conveyers of the information. Because the scientific analysis is not yet conclusive on this subject, anyone who inflexibly adopts the view of one side or the other at this point without being a well-educated expert in the natural sciences would have to be doing so in order to fill an emotional need rather than objectively seeking truth on the matter.

While the biologists work on the debate over the need for a Creator, the physicists have already proved a concrete conclusion. As I indicated in the chapter, Galileo's Dialogue, the science of physics has actually increased in convergence with the Bible during the 20th Century. Before the 20th Century most scientists believed that the universe and matter and energy have always existed, instead of coming into existence out of nothing in the finite past, as the Bible indicates and as physics now proves.

2013 William C. Hamer