A plea for understanding
Is there a Christian view of Darwin?
One hundred fifty-one years have passed since the publication of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, yet many Christians continue to debate the theory of evolution’s veracity, judging it to be in opposition to Scripture and belief in God. This article, a personal letter explaining how a Christian can truthfully approach what we know about Darwin and his theory, coincides with some of the issues raised by the movie Creation, and questions whether our zeal may be misplaced.—Eds.
Most historical accounts portray Darwin as a mild-mannered, amiable person who realized how controversial his ideas were and who was extremely meticulous in his scientific work.
Darwin was a generalist, wanting to view the world as a whole, interested in geology and other sciences, not just biology. Arriving back in England in 1836 after his five-year voyage on The Beagle, he spent the next 23 years studying his samples and writing down the results of his many experiments.
It’s fair to say that whatever form his faith took, it underwent an evolution of its own during his lifetime. What is not fair, however, is to say he invented the theory of evolution to destroy Christian faith. He was simply a man of science who felt compelled to go where the evidence led him.
Since publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859, Christians – feeling under attack – have tried to refute and oppose evolution from every angle. This has been a false dichotomy from the beginning.
How much healthier the discussion could be if we viewed evolution as “scientists’s best understanding of how God may have created the world.”
We are so miniscule in this universe and our understanding, as advanced as it is, is still so limited that we’re only just beginning to learn about the world. Many dedicated scientists have spent their lives researching and studying this topic – and by a vast majority, they agree with most of Darwin’s ideas. Who are we then, as lay people, to condemn their sincere, intelligent effort to understand our world? While we believe God of creation could have said, “Poof,” and there you have the world, most scientists say the evidence is quite clear that he didn’t do it that way.
Does God have a scientific mind or is he more like a magician? Looking at the natural world and the universe, I feel compelled to believe that God is a master designer, who, rather than being opposed to science, is the creator and master of science.
A billions-year-old universe fits right in with an understanding of a God who is so huge that, in many ways, he is utterly beyond our comprehension. I like the idea that God put so much thought and creativity into making the universe and that it wasn’t just a diversion for him for one week in time.
Purpose of Genesis
That’s not to say I think any less of the Genesis account. I still believe the creation story and don’t see a contradiction between Genesis and evolution. Bible scholars tell us that giving a scientific explanation for the beginning of life was not Moses’ objective, so we cannot make Genesis into a scientific textbook. Moses’ purpose in writing the Genesis account was to demonstrate for the Hebrew people that the one true God of creation was totally different from and superior to any of the false gods of the neighbouring cultures. We need to avoid trying to impose our own modern understanding of science into the Genesis account.
Isn’t the most courageous and honest response then to attempt to integrate what science is telling us about the natural world with the truth of the Bible? Taking this approach does not come without challenges, but if nature and the Bible are both revelations of God, they cannot fundamentally contradict each other, so we are constrained to try to find harmony between them.
The matter of origins is ultimately unknowable to us, so we must always hold our beliefs in a tentative way. Let’s learn all we can, but in the end, be humble enough to admit in this life we’ll never know completely.
And isn’t that what makes living this life so interesting?