Growing up, I didn’t give the “fact” of evolution more than a passing thought. It was just a given. Then I became a Christian—and for the first time, really had to start thinking about the origins of humanity.
The Bible is quite clear about how the world was created: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). There was God—then God made everything that is with only a word (Gen. 1:3). According to Genesis, over the course of six days God spoke everything that is into being:
- time, space and matter (day 1)
- the sky when He separated the waters (day 2)
- the dry lands, plants and trees, each according to its kind and already bearing seed (day 3)
- the sun, moon and stars (day 4)
- all the creatures that live in the sea and all the birds of the air, each according to its kind (day 5)
- the rest of the animal kingdom, each according to its kind. He also creates the first man and woman according to His image and likeness (day 6)
And then he rested from his work, to set the pattern of work and rest that we ought to follow today.
In recent times (the last century or so in particular), there’s been a great deal of debate as to whether or not the creation account of Genesis 1 should be taken literally. Maybe it’s merely poetic expression? What does the Bible mean by “day” in this chapter—does it mean 24 hours or an undetermined period of time? Do we need a historic Adam and Eve?
Does it matter if Christianity and evolution are compatible or not?
When people ask this question, here’s what they (usually) really mean: Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution? That’s what people really want to know.
Understandably, Christians want to avoid setting up unnecessary barriers to their friends and family hearing the gospel and potentially coming to faith—and this is a big one.
It’s a pretty audacious claim, isn’t it? (It’s also the only creation account I’ve found so far that doesn’t involve some sort of conflict.) I totally get why people don’t “get” this and don’t see it as a “must have” of the Christian faith.
So does it really matter if Christianity and evolution are compatible?
To be clear: this is not an issue of salvation—one can believe the gospel and be a genuine believer while embracing evolution. However, it does present numerous problems:
1. It affects how you read the Bible. Throughout the Scriptures, the creation account of Genesis is assumed as being true. A few examples that affirm the creation account of Genesis include Exodus 20:8-11 (“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”), Mark 10:6, 1 Cor. 15:45, 1 Tim. 2:13 and Rom. 5:12, among others.
If we embrace a view that says the early chapters of Genesis aren’t factually accurate, we’ve got a number of issues. First, it flies in the face of God’s proclaiming that everything was good (which he does each day). Death, throughout the Scriptures, is uniformly portrayed as an enemy, something to be feared, even hated. But evolution requires it, which suggests that death would then be good, wouldn’t it?
More significantly it creates an issue in understanding our need of the gospel itself. If the events of the garden didn’t happen, then is sin as pervasive an issue as the Scriptures teach? What’s the alternative explanation for humanity’s condition as outlined in the rest of Scripture?
2. It affects how you view humanity. If evolution is true, then it drastically impacts our understanding of the dignity and value of humanity. If we are here through millions upon millions of years of slow, incremental evolutionary changes, changing from one species to another, then we’re all interconnected and truly no more unique than any other creature upon the planet. If so, then humans have no more dignity or value than a dog, cat or potato.
Yet, the Bible uniformly portrays humanity as having inherent dignity—all because we are created in the image and likeness of God. We are given a preeminent position in creation as God’s representatives within the created order to steward, cultivate and care for His creation. Practically speaking, how we view parenting, abortion and reproductive rights, marriage, work… everything is connected to the creation account.
These are no small issues. How we view the creation account doesn’t declare us saved or unsaved, but it does impact how we view practically everything.
And it really, really matters. Have you wrestled with the question?
Part of the Tell Me What to Write series. Thanks to Norm Millar for his exceptionally helpful insights into this difficult question.