The theory of evolution, which says that all life, both living and extinct, is related and gradually changes over time, is held by experts across the board. Although there are no signs that this consensus will change, there are others, particularly within the general public who are committed to some view of biblical scripture or another, who reject the theory of evolution. But why? This rejection, one might argue, is first and foremost theological, and in response to the increasing scientific knowledge taking place within the 20th century and still continuing strong today.
When one observes many Christians who reject evolution it is often discovered that their reasoning is not scientific but primarily theological, and largely derived from a certain view/interpretation of Genesis. According to biologist Ken Miller,
“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).
Genesis is the most frequently cited symbol by Christians who reject evolutionary theory because it is where the Bible speaks of God creating the universe, Earth, and life itself. Many Christians take what one might deem a “literal” view of Genesis. Such a view discards a number of ancient literary categories inclusive of myth, symbolism, legend, and fable, as well as the liberties ancient used (hagiographical etc.) when communicating historical narrative. Rather, for the literalist, the Genesis creation is taken to be rigid historical and scientific “fact,” in the same way modern scientists view factuality (akin to a law, such as thermodynamics or gravity). Fact is a significant word here because the biblical literalist holds that Genesis is incapable of presenting any error. All content communicated in the Genesis creation account, including the origins of life and human beings, must be literally (i.e. factually) true. There is no room for any other interpretation. This typically results in the literalist view that Genesis teaches a young Earth (it is just 6000 or 10 000 years old), that Adam and Eve were the progenitors of human beings, that there was a universal flood which wiped out all of humanity minus those few God decided to spare on the ark, and so on.
It should be remembered, however, that this is but one of several views of Genesis creation. Theologians and biblical scholars of other convictions have proposed several ways of reading the biblical account, of which the literalist view is but one opposing theory. Although we not are concerned here with the merits and content of each view, it remains apparent that interpretations fall between two extremes: the literalist (as noted above) on the one side there is and the modernist other. The modernist occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, and argues that because modern science conflicts with the Genesis creation story one should reject it and thus view it as little more than an ancient myth and superstition. The modernist still tends to hold the Bible with high regard in some sense, but rejects what typically involves supernatural events and miracles (which is a lot of the Bible). As such, it is not uncommon for the theological modernist to revere and worship Christ, claim to be a Christian, but yet reject that Christ was ever raised from the dead or performed any supernatural feats (such as miracles of healing, raising people from the dead etc.). On the other extreme, the literalists reject evolutionary theory because it is incompatible with their interpretation of Genesis. Their reasoning is that if evolution is the correct theory of biological development then there could never have been just two human progenitors who gave rise to the entire human race. Rather, all biological life descended through process of natural selection and random mutation over billions of years. The time span usually needed for evolution to take place cannot be reconciled with the biblical literalist’s view either. The result is to reject this scientific knowledge, and purport the truth a young Earth, and the falsity of evolutionary theory.
Miller says that this literalist view has only come about “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). Proponents of the literalist view claim that theirs is the only true view, but this should not be dissociated from its formation forged within 20th century antagonisms. Throughout the century numerous movements and schools within Christianity came into existence and found themselves having to wrestle with advancements in history and in the sciences. By all accounts, the 20th century was tough for western Christianity as believers were increasingly attempting to reconcile their faith with accepted material fact. The biblical literalists resorted to rejecting swathes of science in favour of their theological views, while other camps (the evangelists, neo-evangelicals, and the neo-orthodox) sought compromises between material fact and faith. This resulted in the formations of new theories such as progressive creation theory, day-age theory, and gap theory, all of which attempted to reconcile Genesis with science. The biblical literalists have too attempted to meet this challenge. This led to the genesis of “creation science,” which has its origins in the Creation Science Movement of the early 1960s, and consisted of Christians opposing evolution and attempting to advocate teaching creationist views in public schools and in school textbooks. Creation science was (and still is) the attempt to take the prestige of science and claim it for one’s own interpretation of the Bible. Thus, an array of hypotheses are posited in its name, much of which is underpinned by purported scientific evidences that the Earth is young, that all human beings descended from Adam and Eve, that there was a universal flood, and so on.
Of course religious skeptics on the sidelines have watched on with amusement. The secular west has witnessed an increase in citizens not identifying with religion, which cascades into an increase of skepticism concerning religious and Christian truth claims. Some of these skeptics contend that evolutionary theory is a godless doctrine that conclusively shows God to be uninvolved in creation, and in particular in the creation of his own creatures. Many Christians take this view of evolution promoted by skeptics to heart, thus informing their opposition to the theory of evolution. Not all Christians have had a negative or hostile reception. Christian groups and thinkers (of which Miller is a part) have welcomed evolutionary science and used it inform their theology, or to view it as compatible with Christian belief. However, creationism and creation science are at an all time low. Their numbers continue to dwindle in traditional western strongholds such as the United States where only 38% of the population hold to strict-creationism (God created humans in their present form at some time within the last 10 000 years). Numbers too dwindle in Canada (22%) and Britain (17%).