Evolution is not Incompatible with Creation

Some readers who visit my blog regularly will not be surprised with my statement that evolution is not incompatible with creation, but others might be confused because I consistently maintain that rejecting evolution in favor of the Genesis creation accounts is one of the six most damaging baggage issues among believers today.

Perhaps in my former posts I have neglected to distinguish clearly between the misguided and harmful young-earth creationism and the belief of those who accept evolution along with God as the creator.

God holding the earth

Evolutionary Creationism

Another blogger recently noted a tendency, among both believers and unbelievers, to claim that God and science are in opposition to one another.

I agree with the blogger. And it made me consider the possibility that I might have contributed to this impression. While there are atheists who are aggressive in rejecting the existence of God, and there are creationists who are aggressive in rejecting the science of evolution, it seems to me that for very many, perhaps most, of us there is no conflict between God and science.

From the very beginning of the idea of evolution there were believers who accepted that evolution was the method God used to create the various species—and mankind as well. They experienced no conflict between science and God; they were called theistic evolutionists.

Today, these believers are still represented by many strong voices, but those voices are often drowned out by boisterous voices from both the atheistic evolutionist and young-earth creationist extremes. Perhaps no one has more stature among evolutionary creationists than Dr. Francis Collins, who was Director of the Human Genome Project.

In 2006, Collins wrote a book demonstrating that there is no conflict between science and biblical faith. Subsequently, Collins and others established the BioLogos Foundation website focused on science and faith. Though they believe in evolution, the BioLogos ‘About’ page shows that the group is actually somewhat theologically conservative:

    • We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible.
    • We affirm evolutionary creation, recognizing God as Creator of all life over billions of years.
    • We seek truth, ever learning as we study the natural world and the Bible.
    • We strive for humility and gracious dialogue with those who hold other views.
    • We aim for excellence in all areas, from science to education to business practices.

Evolution and Young-earth Creationism are not Compatible

While for many of us there is no conflict between science and God, there IS conflict between doctrinaire advocates on both sides. On the ‘God’ side, the problem is not those who believe that God created the Universe but those young-earth creationists who teach that he did so according to a literal understanding of the Genesis creation stories.

On the ‘science’ side, the problem is not those who believe in a scientific explanation for the Universe, but those who think that a scientific explanation eliminates God.

As a mind in the middle, I accept neither the premise that Genesis disproves evolution nor that science disproves that God is involved in the process. However, to what extent God is involved in creation and evolution is of little interest to me; I am happy to accept the innate ambiguity of the issue and have no desire to speculate on the details.

The Difficulty of Young-earth Explanations of Scientific Discoveries

Of the combative groups on either side, the doctrinaire atheists don’t bother me much; I find them unconvincing in their claim that they have eliminated the need for God; but they are militant atheists—what does one expect them to say? They don’t threatened me any more than many others with whom I disagree.

The group I have the most difficulty with is young-earth creationists who lead believers astray and who create additional harm by making Christians a mockery by denying compelling evidence of evolution and claiming that humanity did not emerge from lower life forms. This creates real damage among believers.

Part of the damage is caused by insistence that the ‘God-inspired’ Genesis stories describe details of creation, so that when followers realize that science conflicts with their understanding of the Genesis stories—the entire Bible is called into question. This often creates a faith crisis where no such crisis is necessary.

To defend against scientific discoveries that conflict with their understanding of the Genesis stories, young-earth creationists offer alternative explanations of the discoveries that are no more than speculations and that really don’t account for the facts.

We will talk more about these inadequate speculative attempts next time.

Photo Credit: Suus Wansink via Compfight cc
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23 Responses to Evolution is not Incompatible with Creation

  1. fiddlrts says:

    You eloquently explain my own thoughts on the matter. I think you are right that a great number of people – probably most – don’t see a necessary conflict between God and science. It is sad, however, that the loudest voices seem opposed to that harmony. I completely agree with you that YEC has unnecessarily cost too many their faith.

    For my own journey, I have felt increasing pressure from those in my Evangelical and Fundamentalist past to make a choice between my faith, on the one hand, and my intellect – and even my conscience – on the other. My knowledge and experience of God has led me to believe that, contrary to the Fundamentalist teaching, God will not call me to violate my conscience or disregard the intelligence he has given me. I believe those gifts were and are good, and for my good as well.

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    • I know what you mean Fiddlrts, for most fundamentalists it is either faith (conformity) or apostasy (embracing the reasonable). Fortunately, their judgments have no impact on my relationship with the Father.

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  2. sheila0405 says:

    I remember the first time a fellow believer expressed her opinion that God used evolution to create the universe. She was the odd one out at youth group. Today, I am thankful she spoke out so eloquently. She was one of several who opened my eyes to the fallacy of a literal, six day creation as described in Genesis. I’m looking forward to the next post in this series.

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    • Sheila, I was not convinced to abandon young-earth creationism in a single discussion; it was due to a long series of questions and struggles. But eventually I had to step away from that which I finally knew to be a misguided belief.

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  3. Chuck Gatlin says:

    Good post, Tim. There is, however, the possibility of conflict between the scientific evidence and (non-Young Earth) creationism. Creationists sometimes say that God directed evolution and that the wonderfully functioning organisms we see today are evidence of this. Cf. Psalm XIX.

    The problem is that the scientific evidence shows no sign that these marvelous results were achieved by design. Rather, the indication is that changes occurred randomly, and those were useful survived while those that were disadvantageous did not. A classic example would be the bones in the ear enabling hearing, that in earlier organisms formed part of the jaw or skull. Chance, contingency, opportunity rather than intent, purpose, design. Caprice vs engineering.

    This is the point that led Darwin to formulate the theory of change with modification through natural selection, which we refer to in shorthand fashion as”evolution.” He believed that the evidence of how the species alive now arrived in the current state showed the process occurred randomly, and could not believe in a God so capricious.

    We who believe in God as the creator need to understand that the glory the world declares of the greatness of God is not the glory of a grand engineer or craftsman, but the glory of a God who created a world where even the random processes work to create wonderful results. The concept of “Providence” is sometimes used as a synonym for “God’s design” or “God’s plan,” but I believe it’s more nuanced than that. I’d like to see your thoughts on that, Tim.

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    • Chas says:

      Chuck, In regard to your statement that ‘the scientific evidence shows no sign that these marvelous results were achieved by design’ omits to say that all of these results depend on the almost infinite possibilities contained in the wondrous molecule of DNA. All that is then needed is the occurrence of mutations (caused by e.g. background radiation or the damaging effects of energetic heavy particles originating from elsewhere in the universe) combined with the benefit of these mutations in regard to the survival and reproduction of that species in that particular environment.

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      • Chas, thanks for adding the important element of selection by reproduction. While mutation is random, selection is not.

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        • Chas says:

          Tim, I also suspect that it is in the survival of the first mutations that God would choose to assist, enabling certain species to survive and reproduce, whereas He might leave others to fail, if they were not needed to maintain the right balance between species. Given that God wishes to minimize suffering on earth, He would wish to avoid long drawn out deaths that caused much suffering, e.g. by starvation. To achieve a balance requires the actions of predators to limit numbers of herbivores, or they would overgraze their foodsource and starve. The predators self-balance, because if there are too many, they will kill too many of their prey and the weaker ones will then starve. Something noticeable in the pattern of evolution, which is that there is a general, although not universal, tendency towards more intelligence. I believe that the ultimate aim of God, through His creation by evolution, has been to shape humans to be a particularly intelligent and flexible species, so that He can take something from them to be with Him in eternity, where there will be no suffering.

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    • Chuck, I agree that there are weak arguments even from those creationists who are not young-earth creationists, and you mention a good example. I see Psalm 19 as the response of a poet to the wonders of nature. I also respond to the wonders of nature, as I am sure most of us do.

      However, I do not react to poets by thinking they have some God-revealed information; otherwise I would have to believe that verse four proves that: “In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.”

      I cannot say that God has no hand in guiding evolution, but I have no evidence for it either. The argument from design is mere speculation. So I agree with you that there is some measure of conflict. I really don’t consider the question because there is no way of knowing.

      Still, the more serious case of young-earth creationism is extremely harmful to believers.

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    • Marc says:

      Although I believe that Tim is correct in pointing out how harmful young earth creationism is, I have issues regarding the scientific preference for common descent rather than common design. Darwin’s concerns about a capricious God are laughable in the light of what we now know. The epochs of earth’s history are replete with mass extinctions and the rapid appearances of new species over the last two billion years. Over 90% percent of all the creatures who have lived on the earth are now extinct, because they were designed to live at a particular time in the earth’s development. This development culminated in preparing a suitable environment for human beings. Although science can never acknowledge anything outside of nature, the evidence is overwhelming that God’s creative influence has been manifested in hypernatural and supernatural guidance of the development of ever more complex life forms over the last two billion years. Yes I believe in the God of the gaps, because science creates more gaps than it closes.

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      • Marc, I am not opposed to the idea of guided evolution. It might very well be the case. But I still think common descent is indicated by the evidence. Are you suggesting separate creation of ‘kinds’ instead of common descent?

        Common design might account for similarities in features among the species, but we now have the human genome and the genomes of many other species as well. The changes in individual components of DNA describe common roots and even locate the branches of specie relationships.

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        • Marc says:

          Hi Tim. I think that the observations of genomics can be explained by either common descent or common design. The scientific community would never offer the common design explanation because the designer is not observed within nature (time/space). Given the rapid appearance of new species following mass extinctions over the last 2 billion years, an explanation of Divine creative activity is far more plausible to me than the theory of punctuated equalibrium.

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          • Marc, I think I understand what you are saying about the significance of mass extinction followed by rapid appearance of new species. The process might suggest a guided evolution, but are you suggesting the direct creation of new species that do not descend from previous species?

            If you are suggesting that, I don’t have a problem with it, though I think all species descend from the simple organisms of the ancient past. I am just unclear on whether you are talking about direct creation of new species.

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          • Marc says:

            Yes Tim, I believe that direct creation is a more plausible explanation of rapid species appearance after mass extinctions than unguided evolution. That these new species share common design components (DNA etc.) with extinct species, is because they all share the same designer and Creator. I believe that this is also a revelation about human beings being created in the image and likeness of our Creator. We human beings also create in ways that reflect the same process of refinement of previous designs we see in nature.

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          • Thanks for the clarification, Marc. Sometimes I need clarification because I hate to make mistaken assumptions.

            The view you describe is is not my view, of course; but I appreciate your sharing it with us. The big problem I have with creationism is with young-earth creationists who create a lot harm among believers; your view is not YEC.

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          • Marc says:

            Explanations of origin are more numerous than either YEC or Darwinian Evolution. The big problem with YEC is that it denies the veracity of the weight of scientific observation, thus eliminating it’s credibility among many. Like you Tim, I believe that YEC inhibits the sharing of the Gospel. Although the scientific observations make it clear that life on the earth has evolved in a process of increasing complexity over the last 2 billion years, the current scientific explanations of how this process works are unsubstantiated conjecture.

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          • Chas says:

            If God caused mass extinctions, it would require Him to destroy, but I don’t believe that He does so. Certainly the extinctions caused by the actions of destruction in the universe are an opportunity for certain species to flourish. Since God would always have known where, when and how such extinction events were going occur, He would have built into DNA the possibilities for species that could take evolution in the direction that He wanted it to take.

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        • I certainly agree with your difficulties with YEC, Marc!

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  4. Nice post Tim! When you mentioned Francis Collins I gulped in hopes you weren’t going to advocate for that middle ground, and you didn’t thank goodness 🙂 The middle ground is mystery (for now) plain and simple. There is no way to harmonize a conservative Bible reading with evolutionary science.

    Also, I really like your “6 most damaging baggage issues” link.

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    • Eric, you made me chuckle. Sorry to startle you, but as you saw later in the post I do not embrace Collin’s approach, but he is a good example of an educated and high ranking believer who believes in evolution.

      I can appreciate his contribution even though I disagree with some of it, but I cannot appreciate the efforts of young-earth creationists who damage believers and the church.

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  5. Hey
    First time commenting. I LOOOOOVE this blog, it has helped me so much. I had a religious experience which has led me down this crazy wonderful path to Jesus. And although born into a christian family and have been good most of my life, God has always been there…in my thoughts and now is the center of my life. ALWAYS loved Jesus but only recently have I gotten to take him very seriously. Since I got baptised….december 2013….pretty late huh ? Anyway the reason I am replying is cause today I just heard the pastors wife during childrens church say that dinosaurs and human footprints have been found together. I rolled my eyes but was upset that she was telling this to such young children ! The pastor once did a sermon on creationism as we were going through genesis and he said “You can believe what you want but if you believe evolutiom, you have to ask yourself whether or not you take the Bible seriously”…what an awful threat !!!! No church is perfect and love church but sometimes…..ergh drives me nuts. I am the scientist and med student….science only proveds God to me….dont understand these people….claming that they take the bible seriously and others do not. My main issue is I felt….or know God has led me to this calvary chapel church…and if God has out me here….maybe I should believe their doctrines. This was my issue.

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    • Hi Hopeful! I am so glad you like my blog and found it helpful.

      It seems that you have had quite a journey and arrived at a well-balanced faith. I like your story about the human and dinosaur footprints; perhaps you noticed my mention of them a couple weeks ago at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/creation-science-does-not-predict-or-correct-scientific-discoveries/.

      Many Christians think you have to accept a specific understanding of the Bible or you must throw it out completely, as though there are only these two options. Sounds like you feel strongly about your Calvary Chapel, even though you don’t like everything you hear. It is a choice many of us have to make–whether to remain or not. I think the important thing is to continue thinking for yourself if you stay or if you go.

      I am so glad you commented, and I welcome you to comment as much as you wish.

      Have a great day! ~Tim

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