Maybe it’s time for the evolution-creationism discussion to evolve

This chimp would like to move on to the discussion of more pressing issues. (illustration by Flickr user Latvian, via a Creative Commons license)

When it comes to evolution and creationism, the Church is in a rut. The camps are well established, as are the talking points. In personal discussions, I haven’t seen a lot of willingness on the anti-evolution side to budge the slightest inch. It’s not about the evidence for them. And though I’m still somewhat of a newcomer to the larger debate taking place in various forums across the Web, I can’t say there’s much progression there, either.

And so, I’d like to present a new tactic for the evolutionary creationism/theistic evolution side: Why don’t we just ignore them?

“That’s not Christian!” you say, and you may be right, but just hear me out. It does seem unloving. It does seem like it would mean breaking off a piece of the Church and leaving it behind.

But, if it’s true that the “Here’s why evolution happened” approach isn’t winning any converts, then the fact is that continuing to engage with militant anti-evolutionists on the issue also isn’t doing much to heal the divisions within the body of Christ.

So I submit that maybe, just maybe, ignoring them is a better idea. “Don’t feed the trolls,” the old online adage says, because by doing so, one not only gives the trolls what they want, but lends legitimacy to their position.

It’s an old journalism ethics question. Do you quote a Holocaust denier for a piece on German history? Do you interview Fred Phelps to get his perspective on same-sex marriage? I think the best answer is you can — anyone has the right to say whatever they want, after all — but it’s best to use reason and common sense when evaluating how much weight to give them.

For example, if you’re writing about abortion, and you have a large group that believes the practice should be legal just until the second trimester, another large group that argues it should be legal into the third and one physician in the Netherlands who says it should be legal until the 60th (i.e. a first-year high school student) — most would agree it’s OK to ignore the doc.

I think the same rule applies here. It may not change any young-earthers’ minds, but talking with them doesn’t seem very effective, either. If nothing else, to cease lending air time to the YEC stance could help prevent new believers from being indoctrinated and might even strengthen the Church’s witness with the rest of the world.

And for evolutionary creationists, there is another very important reason to move on. It would give us additional time and energy to devote to the more pressing matter before us: Not “Did evolution occur?” but rather, how do we interpret the Bible in light of evolution?

In other words, how does accepting billions of years of evolution affect our theological understanding of the truths revealed in scripture? That includes inquiries such as who were Adam and Eve, really? What were they? What is sin, and how did it enter the world? Did we inherit a sinful nature as a result of the Fall of Man? Oh, and what was the Fall of Man? What is Satan, and what role did he play in the Fall? What was and is the role of Christ in creation? And how does an Adam who was not made out of dust a few millenniums ago fit into Romans 5?

I’m not implying that any of these questions, and many others, have not been asked. There have been numerous attempts in books, blogs, print articles and the hallowed halls of social media to answer them. Indeed, it was with great excitement that I read, just a couple months ago, about a $300,000 BioLogos Foundation grant to The Colossian Forum “to pursue a communal research project on evolution, the Fall, and original sin.” And of course, BioLogos itself, through its contributors, has been speaking to these matters for years.

But this is not enough. There’s certainly no consensus; theistic evolutionists can vary greatly on their answers. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, and yet, as the old guard of young-earthers passes on and more and more Christian adopt a rational position on modern science (I can be optimistic, right?), the more clarity we all have to offer, the better.

And at any rate, these are not topics that only a handful of theologians, authors and scientists should be engaging on. It needs to be our primary discussion in this realm, and it’s not. By far, the louder and more enthusiastic debate within the Church is about whether or not we should accept a scientific fact that’s been established by more than 150 years of study and inquiry. And as long as that’s the case, I fear we will all be hindered in our ability to progress into a new and deeper understanding of and relationship with the one true God.

Tyler Francke

  • Mahatma Randy

    It’s a tough sell. As Christians our first urge is to witness and convert. We see them in error an want to explain things more fully to them. They see us in error and want to explain things fully to us.

    On the one hand, there are conceivably people in the literalist camp who COULD be converted (Such as I was) but on the other hand, the literalists tend to include groups like Quiverfull who breed like rabbits so that they can eventually outnumber all opposition and assimilate the world. (Honestly not a bad plan, historically speaking, assuming you’ve got 1000 years or so to kill) It’s unlikely the ones converted would make a dent in the growth of the literalists.

    It’s a quandary. I don’t know the answer, though “cut your losses” seems like a rational choice, I find myself hoping for some more amiable rational choice, you know?