Does it matter if evolution is compatible with Christianity or not?

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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?

Yep.

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.

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  • EZ

    The title does not make sense to me. Is there an “is” missing? : ) Do you hold to a “young earth” view? And if so, does it matter if the old earth view is compatible with Christianity or not?

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Yep, there’s an “is” missing – fixed! Although I’m not sure the terms young earth/old earth are terribly helpful, I would hold to the former.

      Does it matter? Yep. Again, it’s not an issue of salvation, but it does affect the way one reads the BIble. While there are good, godly folks on the old earth side of the debate, I’m not certain the Scriptures allow for it.

  • http://twitter.com/herenowkingdom Andy Catsimanes

    I’ve wrestled with this quite a bit. The conclusion I draw is that evolution gives the most robust account of the phenomena properly under its domain and the Bible gives the most robust account of the phenomena properly under its domain. And that Jesus Christ is Lord of All, in whose person all truth is ultimately reconciled.

  • http://twitter.com/DiscerningReadr Mark Tubbs

    Thanks for this, Aaron. I’ve found John Sailhamer and James B. Jordan to offer interesting views on the creation narrative. Both work outside the polarities at play on either side of the discussion. John Oswalt also touches on some ANE studies in his excellent “The Bible Among the Myths.” I haven’t read John Walton’s or C. John Collins’ latest books, however. Do you recall James Anderson’s Discerning Reader review of Mark Lamoureux’s “I Love Jesus & I Acccept Evolution”? Unfortunately it’s not accessible anymore via DR, nor via James’ own website. Shame.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1239717899 John Douglas Wilson

    “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?”

    You’re conflating the creation event with the fall of man here. Unhelpful to a reasoned discussion of the issue.

    “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.”

    You’ve made a declarative statement here and provided absolutely zero support for it. How are things like parenting, reproductive rights, abortion, marriage, or work connected to the creation account?

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Not sure it’s unhelpful. The central issue that people really want to try to get around is the fall (because none of us really want to admit that we are indeed sinful as is declared throughout Scripture). So if Genesis 1 is ahistorical, then you have to jettison Genesis 3.

      As for the support for the other statements, marriage is zeroed in on in Genesis 2 (which takes place between Gen 1:27 and 1:28). Abortion are reproductive rights are connected to our being made in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27)—God places a particular value on humans that he doesn’t on any other part of his creation, which is a key consideration in these issues.

      As for parenting, it’s tied (albeit loosely) to the same—if humans, including our children, are made in God’s image, then that necessarily must be reflected in how we parent.

      Finally, Genesis 1 provides us with the foundation for a theology of work in that we see it as something morally good in the eyes of God because He did it first, then gave us work to do (having dominion over creation, working and keeping the garden).

  • Mark

    You cannot believe in evolution and in the Bible at the same time what so ever. The two are diametrically opposed. The entire evolutionary theory stands opposed to the creation account. The Lord created plants before the sun, you cannot fix that with evolution. It also puts death before sin and makes Jesus into a LIAR.

    You cannot be a Christian and call Jesus a liar. it just doesn’t work.Jesus said

    Joh 5:46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
    Joh 5:47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

    Moses said God created everything in 6 literal days.

    Exo 20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
    Exo 20:10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
    Exo 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

    Most believe Moses transcribed Genesis also, so just that alone stands in defiance of evolution. A Christian cannot believe in evolution at all, the 2 do not even come close in their belief systems. And evolution is a belief, a religion it is not science. So it is very simple,

    Jos_24:15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      You’ll notice that I made the same point that evolution requires death, which the Bible says is a direct result of the Fall.

      The reason I say that it’s not an issue of salvation is because the Bible doesn’t say “in order to be saved you must believe that Jesus died for your sins AND the world was created in six days.”

      However, I do also believe the Lord is patient with us in our areas of bad theology. Inevitably a believer who is reading the Bible honestly and humbly will be convicted by the Holy Spirit on these matters.

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