I was so sad after talking with someone in our ministry who had recently put their faith in Jesus and gotten baptized. I asked this person how their Bible study was going and they told me it wasn’t…because they didn’t believe anymore. I asked them why they didn’t believe and they told me it was because they believed in evolution and they realized they couldn’t believe in both the Bible/Jesus and evolution. So they gave up their faith.
In response to this, I asked Anna Groves to write a guest post about this subject, with the aim of speaking to people in a similar boat as this person. It breaks my heart to think people are missing out on Jesus’ shed blood for their sins because they think it is incompatible with evolution. Anna is a 4th year PhD student at Michigan State University in the Plant Biology department and the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior program. She blogs about the co-mingling of faith and science at her blog. What follows is a guest post from Anna Groves, who was gracious enough to write this for AtACrossroads.net; feel free to comment within the blog comments and Anna and/or myself will interact with you, and you can also interact directly with Anna via her blog. For those curious, these are Anna’s views, not mine. I don’t agree with 100% of what Anna says, but I do think it is 100% helpful to so many people out there, one of whom might be you:
Can someone believe in evolution and still have saving faith in Jesus?
Heck yes they can! And they should!
Today I’m a Christian, and a scientist. But this was a question I avoided for the majority of my life. The whole “Jesus thing” sounded great and all, and I wanted to believe in it, but come on people! Science! Evolution! The Bible reads like a fairy tale starting from page one. Scientists know the earth wasn’t made in seven days 10,000 years ago. They know that species on earth were not zapped into existence in their current state, but rather evolved over millions of years. Unfortunately, a lot of people will stop there and throw out their Bible. The others—the Christians— will either say “evolution must be some sort of hoax or error” or, surprisingly commonly, “yeah, well, that discrepancy just doesn’t bother me.”
Growing up, the evolution-versus-creation conflict was hardly, if ever, mentioned at my school, church, or home. The people at my church were well educated. Most of my peers at school were Christians. I sensed a general consensus that Creationists (that is, evolution-deniers) were some sort of irrational religious sub-sect of Christianity that “we” didn’t agree with, yet no one wanted to talk about Genesis. I was too shy to ask the obvious question: if the beginning of the Bible isn’t true, why should we believe the ending?
I’ve since learned that the reason this was never brought up was that most Christians (in my circles, at least) really are content to ignore the fact that certain parts of the Bible contradict with certain scientific teachings. Self-imposed ignorance may be bliss, but I would argue that this is harmful. Because too many people can’t ignore it. Those people will believe, as I once did, that a person has to choose between science/reason and having a relationship with God. Christians now feel comfortable choosing whether they “believe in” all sorts of science regardless of the evidence (not just evolution), which is as ridiculous as believing gorillas don’t exist or that Sweden invaded Texas. The worst part is, this makes it increasingly difficult for a rational, science-understanding individual to come to know Jesus. The result is an increasing number of atheists who are just trying to be logical, Christians who denounce science to preserve their faith, and people like me that I would just call “confused.”
Think of it this way. If a Christian shares the Gospel with a stranger, and then mentions that they also don’t believe in dinosaurs, can we expect that person to decide to follow Jesus? Absolutely not—at least not without some serious divine intervention!
Luckily, there are also plenty of Christians who do believe in dinosaurs, evolution, and scientific reasoning. So let’s run with that mindset and go back to my original question: if the beginning of the Bible isn’t true, why should we believe the ending? Which is the same as asking, if I believe in evolution, why should I believe in Jesus?
The first assumption we need to get rid of here is that the Bible has to be literally all true or else it must be a fantasy book written by con men or lunatics. Taking a book seriously does not mean that every word has to be literally true. In fact, taking a book seriously should mean not assuming that every word is literally true, unless we know that it was meant that way! Obviously we read a newspaper differently than we read Harry Potter, but that’s easy to do because we know what kind of story we’re about to read. Unfortunately, when we don’t know or don’t think about the context of a story, it’s hard to interpret it correctly.
In 1938, Orson Welles’ radio show “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” broadcast an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 19th-century science fiction novel War of the Worlds. Anyone that tuned in a few minutes late—and many Americans did—heard what sounded like a legitimate news broadcast about a Martian invasion of planet Earth. People alerted their friends, family and neighbors to tune in to listen to the shocking breaking news. Even though it was always intended to be a hoax, the radio listeners who didn’t hear the introduction didn’t have the right context, so they were unable to properly interpret what they heard as fiction, not fact. Without the proper context, nationwide panic ensued.
In order to believe in both evolution and Jesus, the Bible has to be a mix of both literal facts and what some have called “literary fact.” This is not the same as dismissing parts of the Bible as “fiction”—instead, “literary fact” means the message of the story is critical (and true), but the details are not necessarily literal accounts of events. In order to mesh with evolution, it makes sense that Genesis 1 would be literary fact (but keep reading—science alone isn’t enough reason to claim something in the Bible as non-literal). The gospels need to be literal fact—since they have to be literally true in order for us to be Christians. Sure, Jesus resurrecting may not sound very “scientifically” feasible, but we have to remember that God is allowed to defy His own laws of nature, plus we have no scientific evidence that Jesus didn’t rise again. But what about the rest of the Bible? If only God had given us thousands of footnotes that said “this part is a literary tool to get a point across” and “this line is a metaphor” and “this part is actual historical record!” We’ll have to figure it out ourselves.
How do we do this? I definitely do NOT recommend automatically throwing anything that doesn’t mesh with science into the literary/metaphorical bin—even Genesis 1—and believing everything else is literally true. Because even if science had no qualms with a certain book of the Bible, we still shouldn’t read it as literal fact unless we know that is how it was intended! Instead, we can—and should— use what we know about the Bible to decide. We have to look at the context. We have to figure out whether the news broadcast was meant to be a dramatization or a news report before we shout from our rooftops about aliens invading.
Briefly, here are a few things I’ve learned about Genesis that suggest it should be read non-literally (and therefore does not contradict with evolutionary biology). For a more thorough explanation of these details (and more debunked conflicts between science and religion), please check out my blog (http://www.annagroves.com/blog/believing-in-creation-believing-in-evolution) or these previous blog posts from Noah (here and here).
- God, via Moses and his scribes, wrote Genesis in 1450 B.C. for the Israelites, who had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. It covers the history of the entire world up to that point (a lot of material!), focusing on who God is (the creator of the Earth), who the Israelites are (God’s chosen people), and what their ancestors were up to (including how they ended up in Egypt).
- It doesn’t make sense to assume that God would have or should have explained the details of how He created the Earth to the people in 1450 B.C. The Israelites would not have had any use (or perhaps even the capacity) for learning about the big bang, evolution, dinosaurs, and the other physical origins of the universe. Knowing God was, and still is, the most important thing for a human—and the Israelites were starting from scratch.
- The order of events in Genesis 1, and the recap of the order of events in Genesis 2, are different—we can’t read them both literally because they contradict. Key pieces are also missing, for example we are never told who or how the water, the surface, or the deep were created in Genesis 1:2, they are all mentioned prior to creation itself. Does this mean God didn’t create those? No. They just weren’t important to the message he was communicating and prove it wasn’t meant to be a literal scientific step-by-step account.
- Adam and Eve, the first two people on Earth, had two sons, Cain and Abel. They didn’t get along (understatement—Cain murdered Abel) so Cain was banished from Eden to the Land of Nod, where he got married. Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel were clearly not the only humans on the planet if there’s a whole other “land” east of Eden with people living in it, people that Cain declares in Genesis 4:14-16 he is afraid will kill him.
When we look at context clues like these, we can start to imagine that maybe Genesis 1—the part that says God created the Earth in 6 days and then rested for a day—isn’t a literally true story. If we think about why it was written, for whom, and what the point of the stories are, it makes sense that it might be more literary. God really did create the Earth, but maybe the details were geared for the audience at the time in order to make that point most clear.
Whether Adam and Eve literally or only literarily existed (and both versions can mesh with an understanding of the evolution of the human body), the important message is that people were made by God to have a relationship with Him, but original sin occurred. So it’s okay if God used evolution to make human bodies just like He made animal bodies—but at some point, God made humans different (by giving us souls, or however you want to think about it), and we sinned. This is fundamentally important to Christianity (without original sin, we don’t need Jesus), therefore no Christian can ever dismiss Genesis as “fiction,” even in light of evolution. Original sin happened, whether it occurred literally via an apple in a garden called Eden or not. This is the best example of how something can be literary and still be fundamentally true, even if it’s not a literally true story.
The main lesson I’ve learned as I’ve been studying these issues is that we all need to ask more questions. In Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, he explains,
“Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them.”
The world needs more soul-searching and more fact-checking. I once doubted Jesus because of my confusion over Genesis and evolution, when the solution was as simple as using better context clues to interpret the Bible. We as Christians should address this conflict more often if we want to bring the Gospel to more people.
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