Monday, June 14, 2010

On Evolution

To begin with, sorry so long since my last post. In the last two weeks I've become a father (Cosette Marie was born on 6/2) and also started an intensive class (Philosophy of Religion) at Nazarene Theological Seminary that lasts through the end of this week. Needless to say, my life has been a little busy recently.

I want to post a little bit about evolution. Now, I realize that this is a very touchy subject in some Christian circles, so I proceed with some degree of caution. However, I believe that sweeping issues under the rug because there's tension related to them is very harmful to Christianity.

The Church of the Nazarene, according to The Manual, denies any theory of creation that leaves out God. I point this out because the denomination does not make any specific claims concerning how creation occurred, but simply the theological claim that God did it. Officially, it neither endorses nor rejects evolution (except for a godless theory of evolution).

Second, the Church of the Nazarene (of which I am a part, for those who have not gathered as much) understands Scripture to be primarily a theological work. In other words, it is inerrant in everything necessary for our salvation. It is neither a scientific work or a historical document. Although there may be both scientific and historical truths within Scripture, the Bible should not be read as a science or history text book. It's a theological work. It reveals God to us.

I do not share these two premises in hopes of convincing any one to believe in evolution. Instead, I do want to point out that the purpose of the creation account in Genesis 1 is to show that God created the world, man in His image, and has given humans the responsibility for caring for creation. It's primarily concerned with the who and not the how.

Any Christian who claims the Bible as their theological authority (which I do) should be a student of the Word. Being a student of Scripture means personal devotions and study time, but also entails paying attention to contemporary biblical scholarship (such as commentaries or biblical journals). Making claims about the Bible, especially claims that impact science, history, or any real-life situation without proper understanding can create difficulties and confusion about who God is.

Many people believe that science and religion are constantly at odds with on another. Despite this popular belief, science and religion don't have to be adversaries. In fact, they should compliment each other. From a philosophical standpoint, theology and science have two totally different fields of influence. Theology impacts what we believe about God and how we should live. Science is the study of empirical evidence, and does not have directly impact on how people should live. Science does not dictate how one's relationship with God should be practiced. Nor does theology explain the origins of different scientific rules or natural laws. However, there are times when these two spheres overlap.
On the same note, it is important to realize that God created the world. This means that He created all the natural laws and factual things about nature that science discovers. Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity, but God created it. My wife just had a baby, and it's remarkable how her body changed throughout the pregnancy in such intricate ways and now, after the baby is born, is changing back to its "old self." Science explains this, but God created it.

The more I study theology, the more I find that theologians I love believe and accept a God-designed evolution (in various forms). I realize that at this point, some of my readers may be having a melt-down. Well, before you pick up the phone to call a Pastor, District Superintendent, or College President to complain about the liberal teachers at our Nazarene Schools, please at LEAST finish this blog.

I was raised creationist (one who believes Genesis 1 to be the historical account of HOW God created the world). When I went to College, I became more fluid of a creationist, but denied a literal 6-day creation. However, I was not ready to accept evolution. Now, here is where I stand (and if this shoots me in the foot for the rest of my pastoral life, well, at least I spoke the truth):

The scientific evidence in favor of evolution or natural selection is incredibly convincing. I cannot truly be a logical creature and deny the evidence provided from both secular AND Christian scientists. I am quite convinced of natural selection, at least to some extent, has truly impacted the development of animals and plants (and perhaps, humans). I cannot ever accept any theory of evolution that denies God as the designer and sustainer of this process. Evolution can be compatible with "God created the heavens and the earth" worldview.

To accept as fact the evolution of humanity creates a plethora of theological difficulties in addition to the creation account of Genesis 1. The image of God, the story of the Fall and how we understand sin, the naming of Adam and Eve in both New and Old Testaments, the development/creation of the soul, and many other problems arise out of accepting evolution as God's method of creation for humans. This is not to say that I am completely rejecting the possibility, but it is to say that I am not yet ready to accept it. For today, I am simply content with knowing that God created humanity in His Image. How is not especially important.

I have 1 more point to give, and then I would like to provide you with some resources.

As I mentioned above, the Bible tells us everything we need to know to be in a healthy and growing relationship with God. The Bible tells us the who of creation -- God created. Because the how was not an important point in Scripture, I don't think that it has to be an important point for us. Don't get too caught up in the how. Even though above I say that evolution is quite convincing, I am not a concrete evolutionist. If tomorrow a scientist discoveries a whole new system of creation that disproves evolution, I will by no means be heart broken. However, to simply refute scientific proof because of out-dated biblical scholarship is both ignorant and arrogant. It's harmful to the Kingdom of God. Again, I'm not proposing you believe in evolution necessarily. I am proposing that you take an objective look at it.

Here are some resources for you:
Francis Ayala #1
Francis Ayala #2
The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Volume 1

There are so many. You might also be interested in studying the Enuma Elish, from which it seems the writer of Genesis modeled the creation story.


  1. Keith,

    Well said and very respectful. I, too, believe that it's more about WHO and not necessarily about HOW. I hope there aren't too many meltdowns triggered by your post. While I'm probably WAY more skeptical about evolution than others who have studied it closer, I do think it has become to divisive in our churches and institutions.

    You're still one of my favorite (former) students! I'm excited to watch how God uses you, Allison, and Cosette in the years to come!

    Dr. B

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing Keith. I think this topic is really important for believers to talk about and examine. It is a challenge to step out and try to look at the Bible through a different lens, and it's a little scary. Personally I agree that the important thing to take from the Creation account is God's role as the Creator. Logically, I really struggle with evolution though. The scientist of course can not say as a fact that God or some being influenced a species' development and adaptations, because there is no hard proof of such. I am no scientist, but the idea that the millions of species in existence have slowly branched off through the evolutionary process from a single organism seems far fetched as well. For example, I can't see the logical path between a reptile crawling around on the ground via short scaly legs to a bird flying through the sky via long feathered wings, especially without the influence of some outside intelligence. It also would seem that, apart from DNA, physical evidence of such links is scarce, and is merely supposition.
    I guess I say all that to say that while I believe that God created all of this, there is a lot of evidence against it being done in the time frame allotted and the manner dictated by the Biblical account. However, the theory of evolution, is itself ever evolving and must be looked at very skeptically.
    Thanks again for sharing, and for giving your resources I'm looking forward to examining all of this a little closer.
    Oh, and congratulations! We're extremely happy for the both of you, and can't wait to meet Cosette.

  3. Hey Keith! I am now outing myself. I am an occasional lurking reader of this blog. :-) As I was reading through this post I came across this:

    "I was raised creationist (one who believes Genesis 1 to be the historical account of HOW God created the world). When I went to College, I became more fluid of a creationist, but denied a literal 6-day creation. "

    I was just wondering if you could explain a little more about what you mean by this and how you came to this decision.

  4. Sure!

    I learned a couple of new things that began to shape my understanding. These came from well-respected biblical scholars, biblical commentaries, and some science professors.

    Here are a couple of them:
    1) The Enuma Elish is dated before Genesis 1, but seems to be an almost exact parallel to the Genesis 1 story. This seems to show that the writer of Genesis 1 adapted a story of the time and used it to show how God created everything

    2) Scienctific findings in our natural world are, indeed, scientific findings of God's created order. Science and Religion are in natural conflict with eachother (although they can be on certain issues at times). Science is the study of God's creation and thus tells us some of how God has worked.

    3) Scripture itself says that [with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years a day]. This makes one think that each "day" in Genesis 1 isn't meant to be understood as a literal day

    4) The Church of the Nazarene (although I came to agree with this conclusion regardless of the denomination's stance) believes that Scripture is primarily a theological work -- it tells us about faith, how God relates to humanity, and how humanity is to relate to God. It is inerrant on this point. It is NOT, however, supposed to be a science or history textbook. This can be shown by several examples in which Scripture says something about the world, creation, or the Universe which is in direct contrast to what we know to be true now (for example, people didn't think the world was round in Bible times and they wrote accordingly)

    Well...those are a start.

  5. *science and religion are NOT in natural conflict with eachother.

  6. Keith,

    Stumbled across your blog through an odd combination of internet links, but thought this was an interesting post.

    I am no longer a Nazarene, though I appreciate my heritage that comes from being raised as one. I really appreciate the frank, clear thinking you're working through that is evidence in this and other posts on your blog.

    It's too easy (and we as Christians are too easily pigeonholed and dismissed as idiots) when we blindly swallow the word-of-mouth instruction of Young Earth Creationist Fundamentalists. (I'm not saying they're necessarily wrong--though I think they are--just that we ought not follow any traditional teaching without first examining it.)

    You are right on when you write that "science and religion are NOT in natural conflict with each other." The two are not mutually exclusive and our credibility would be better served in the secular community if more Christians were as intellectually open as you are.

    More specifically, there is just SO MUCH evidence supporting evolution within the scientific community, to dismiss it without study or thought is, almost literally, crazy. As you say, there are lots of strong, biologically-and-theologically-supported positions for theistic evolutionists.

    In short, keep up the good thinking and writing!

    Marc Gibbens


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