Though evolutionary theory, which says that all life, both living and extinct, is related and gradually changes over time, is held by experts across the board, there are still a number of people, especially within the general public, who reject it. Much of the motivation for rejecting the theory stems from personal religious and theological beliefs of which we will examine very briefly here. This essay is not at all intended to give by any means an exhaustive response to some of the claims.
Ken Miller, a Christian biologist and theistic evolutionist, says that those who reject evolutionary theory often claim that “their objections are scientific. But when you answer those scientific objections, one after another, they just search for other objections. They approach it with such passion and look so desperately for examples to counter evolution that it’s obvious there is something that bugs them besides science alone” (1). Miller makes a good point because when one examines the Christians who rejects evolution he often, though not always, discovers that he or she are often the segment of believers who take Genesis as absolutely literal. By literal, one means that such a Christian views Genesis as presenting historical and scientific fact. This Christian believes that the Genesis creation account supports the view that the Earth is just 6000 years old, and that the descendants of those who survived the Great Flood are still alive today. However, as some have argued, this is a non-traditional way of reading the book of Genesis given that historical Christian theologians have held to numerous ways of reading the biblical account. The Genesis account is rich in interpretation with many of which do not assume that the Genesis creation account has to be an extremely literalistic scientifically accurate depiction of creation (2).
Thus, one of the reasons that many Christians reject evolutionary theory is because they see it as being incompatible with how they think God created mankind and the Earth as presented within Genesis 1. However, speaking from my engagement with Old Testament Studies and Biblical Studies, it is not at all disputed among biblical scholars, both Christian and non-Christian alike, that Genesis is an ancient text well grounded in the ancient Near Eastern setting in which it was produced. Genesis precedes the advent of modern science, let alone evolutionary theory as proposed by Charles Darwin in the mid 19th century, by thousands of years, and to expect it to be scientifically accurate as per a contemporary 21st century perspective is an anachronistic way of reading the Bible. Such a method of exegesis violates every method of biblical interpretation I have been taught in my biblical modules over the last three years. This way of reading Genesis, explains Miller came about only “in the last hundred years, mostly in the United States, that you have people coming up with a radically different view, which is that Genesis has to be true of science and history” (3). Now, this point both deserves and demands far more engagement than we can currently give it now, and we shall return to it in future essays.
Many Christians and theists feel threatened by the evolutionary account because they buy into the idea that evolutionary theory must somehow mean that God was uninvolved in the creation of his own creatures, or that God is entirely removed from the picture. Such views have also been widely argued and circulated by atheist-naturalists who do not believe that God exists and, unfortunately, many Christians have fallen for their argument. But as an argument it is open to being questioned on several grounds.
As many theistic evolutionists have contended, the naturalist’s argument presents a false dichotomy of putting evolutionary theory against God (4). Perhaps an analogy to the water cycle might help us to better understand the false dichotomy. Rain is caused by the water cycle in which water evaporates from the Earth, condenses in the air, and comes falling back down when it reaches a certain level of saturation. In other words, we understand the mechanism that causes rain. In the same way one might see evolutionary theory as God being the one responsible for creating the mechanism in the first place. The mechanism runs by itself, much like the rain cycle runs by itself. The 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas contended that if something occurs in the natural world and that event has a natural cause, that in no way removes God or makes him irrelevant because God is the author of all things natural (5). God is the author of the whole show, so to speak.
Furthermore, many religious people reject evolutionary theory because they believe that it invalidates their morals beliefs (I’ve examined this in some more detail elsewhere where I’ve defended moral realism). Usually, they think that if evolution is true then we’re simply nothing more than animals (a philosophical, not a scientific belief, might I add) and because we’re just animals morality doesn’t exist. However, the theist can question this on a number of grounds.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is that the question of morality, objective morality, moral realism etc. are by their very nature philosophical. However, evolutionary theory isn’t a philosophy nor is it a theological doctrine. It is simply a scientific theory. Now, this doesn’t rule out atheist-naturalists using it in such a way as for it to support their philosophical naturalism. In hindsight to that question I’ve highlighted the important differences between the philosophy of evolutionism and evolution as a scientific theory elsewhere. The point is that evolution itself is quite incapable of making statements about God, morality, the supernatural, naturalism, and so on. But as soon as one begins using it to make commentary and conclusions pertaining to such matters he is ostensibly dabbling in philosophy, not science. That’s not to say that those theological and philosophical deductions aren’t true, but rather that they are not scientific claims nor should be masqueraded as such as creation-scientists and naturalists so often tend to do.
Now, the theist could further contend that there are good ways one can view morality and evolutionary theory from a theistic context. One of the views embraced by evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists is that evolution has in ways shaped our behaviour and moral senses. A naturalist might argue that this fact somehow undermines our morality being grounded in God, and that we don’t need God to explain morality because evolution explains it quite well by itself. However, not only does this argument leave the moral argument for God’s existence based on objective moral values and duties unaffected, but it also makes sense on a theistic worldview. For example, if God, as Aquinas saw, is the author of nature, then it is hardly surprising that he’d used the evolutionary process to instill within his human creatures their sense of morality. As Miller contends, this has all happened within God’s providential plan, “And if you can understand that God used the process of evolution to shape our bodies, which is surely how our bodies came to be, then why would the same God not use the evolutionary process to shape our minds and our morality?” (6). God therefore used evolution to shape our morality in such a way that we can actually identify the fact that an act is objectively morally evil (rape, torture, genocide) as opposed to morally good (helping the sick, poor, and vulnerable), and vice versa. This in no way undermines the fact that certain acts are objectively evil or good.
I hope that this essay has given readers an urging to further engage the literature on these topics due to the fact that we’ve only managed to entertain them very briefly here. I also hope that it can open up a space for much needed dialogue pertaining on these interesting and engaging subjects. We will no doubt be returning to them shortly.
1. God of Evolution. 2013. Ken Miller: YEC not just a rejection of evolution, but ‘everything we know about science.’ Available.
2. Collins, F. 2006. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Chapter 6; Biologos. How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin? Available.
3. God of Evolution. 2013. Ibid.
4. CNN. 2007. Collins: Why this scientist believes in God. Available.
5. New Advent. Summa Theologiae: Question 74. All the seven days in common. Available.
6. God of Evolution. 2013. Ibid.