“Do you believe in evolution?” It’s an incredibly common question in the church today, and at first glance, it may seem perfectly straightforward and innocent enough.
But it isn’t. Because, unfortunately, it is informed by a presupposition that is completely and utterly false. You see, the underlying assumption here is that accepting evolution is merely a matter of personal preference, along the lines of “Do you like Taylor Swift?” or “Are you a fan of ‘The Walking Dead’?” It implies that there is no objective truth in the matter to speak of, which reduces it to a toss-up, a question of “belief” and personal choice: “Do you choose to believe in this story, or do you choose to believe in this other story?”
We don’t do this to other scientific questions. We don’t ask people if they “believe in” gravity, or ultraviolet light, or atoms and molecules, or exoplanets, or germs. But, for some reason, we think evolution is a different animal.
Well, it’s not. There is enough evidence for evolution by common descent to fill libraries and museums all over the planet (and, in fact, it does). The evidence for the ancient age of the earth and universe is even stronger; indeed it is — quite literally — written in the stars.
Now, this evidence does not “prove” anything. Evidence is just a record of the past, and like any record, it has to be interpreted. But the one thing that we Christians — we who claim to know and represent the God who not only created the world but was also the very door through whom truth entered it — cannot do is ignore the evidence.
The evidence of endogenous retroviruses, identical proteins and pseudogenes, atavisms, comparative phylogenies, nested heirarchies, vestigial structures and organs, fixed-action patterns, continental distribution, island biogeography, ring species, the fossil record, the many observed examples of natural selection at work and so on, must all be explained by any Christian worldview that would seek to supplant evolution as a viable explanation of why life looks the way it does. And, it must not only “explain” this evidence, but it must do so in a way that is more plausible and intellectually satisfying than evolution.
I’m not trying to stack the deck in favor of Darwin’s theory here. It is only reasonable that the truth would answer the call of the evidence in a more intellectually satisfying way than something that is not the truth.
This is why — even though I understand their concerns — I sometimes get frustrated talking with young-earthers who begin and end their case against Darwin with the theological or biblical claims they have against his theory, as though it were up to me (or anyone else) how God chose to create the universe, and as though “evolution” is something I just dreamed up so I’d have something to discuss on the Internet.
Questions like “Why would God use evolution?” or “Why would he take 14 billion years?” certainly are interesting and important ones for contemporary believers to wrestle with. But starting with such questions is the wrong way to approach this topic, and the pursuit of knowledge in general. As I’ve said before, such a hermeneutic — applied to scripture consistently — would have us still believing the sky is solid and the earth is flat. Quite simply, we Christians do not have the privilege of structuring reality according to what might best suit our theology or our reading of the Bible.
If the diversity of life on this planet today is the result of billions of years of evolution — as all of the evidence in numerous independent fields of inquiry indicates — then that’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t matter if it makes us uncomfortable or wrecks our neat theological models. We can’t choose to simply “not believe in” a well-evidenced scientific theory because we’re not satisfied with the way our theological hang-ups to said theory have been addressed.
We have to live in the same world everyone else does, and we have to address the facts that concern that world. We can’t simply pretend the facts aren’t there, nor can we just wave them away with appeals to God’s miraculous power and expect everyone else to applaud our brilliant non-explanations.