Many Christians assume that God could have used the processes of evolution to create everything in the universe. Evolution is the only view of origins many people hear in school or college, so Christians often presume that evolution could be compatible with the Bible somehow. Indeed, I made this same mistake for some time, until I studied the issues more and reconsidered what Scripture says about origins. I eventually discovered that I had believed evolution simply due to not thinking the issue through. The Apostle Paul wrote in II Corinthians 10:5 that "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." This means it is important that we think Biblically about origins. How we think about creation and evolution will determine how we think about other issues. How mankind originated has a lot to do with what determines right and wrong, and about what it means to be human beings.
Many ask "Why couldn't God use evolution?" This question is about
the idea of what's often called Theistic Evolution. But this is really
the wrong question. Of course, God can do anything, but He has a holy character
that means there are some things He will not do. The real question is "Would
God use evolution?" It is important that as Christians we learn to discern
when an idea is incompatible with the Bible. In the Bible God has told
us something about how the world came to be. It can be seen even by some
leading atheist humanists (who say there is no God) that evolution denies
important Christian doctrines. It does so in one of several ways. If a
person says the Genesis account about Adam and Eve is completely false,
including the Fall in the Garden of Eden, then why would we really need
a savior? Evolutionists often imply that some human behavior considered
immoral or socially unacceptable is actually due to inherited animal instinct.
The argument says something like "We do it because our animal ancestors
did it." If this is how human behavior came about and Genesis is not historical
truth, then "sin" as defined in the Bible would not really exist. We would
still be evolving into something better. Unfortunately, some atheists understand
Christianity better in certain ways than some Christians do! The following
is a quote of Mr. G. Richard Bozarth from the magazine The
American Atheist, Feb. 1978:
"Evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus' earthly
life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve
and the original sin and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains
of the Son of God."
However, Christians are not atheists, and so a Christian who believes evolution (a theistic evolutionist) does not deny Scripture in the above manner. An atheist such as Bozarth would simply say that Adam and Eve are myths and were not real people and the events described in Genesis did not happen. Though most people in the public are not atheists, atheists have had a great deal of influence on our society. Atheistic leading humanists, such as Bozarth, know that attacking Biblical Creation by emphasizing evolution is a good way to undermine Christianity. Some Christians accept the concepts of the Big Bang and biological macroevolution, but treat human origins as separate, and not a part of evolution. Atheists would often see this as an inconsistent position. Treating human origins as separate would say that God supernaturally intervened somehow in the origin of the first human beings. But combining God and macroevolution contradicts sound interpretation of the Bible. Man is described in the Bible as being made in God's image. How can human beings be made in God's image if we evolved from creatures not made in God's image? How would the transitional forms known as hominids (ape-man intermediates) become human?
Death, the Fall, and Evolution
If we came about only through natural processes of evolution as proposed by evolutionary scientists, then this would create a theological problem related to physical death, atonement, and man's Fall into sin as explained in Genesis 3. According to evolution, we could not have evolved without the deaths of many transitional forms that led up to the first Homo Sapiens. This undermines the basis for Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. Evolution depends on physical death. In fact it cannot proceed without it since in macroevolution the strong survive and the weak die out over generations. It is important to understand the distinction between macroevolution and microevolution. Microevolution involves small scale changes in living things; this would include color changes, changes that allow some animals to adapt to an arctic climate, etc. But macroevolution represents large scale change in living things, such as the change from single-celled life to multicelled life, or reptiles to birds for instance. Evolution would imply that death occurs regardless of sin. If death has nothing to do with sin (contrary to Genesis 3), then how could sacrificial death ever atone for sin? Moreover, much suffering we experience as human beings in death would be a result of the way animals lived and died, not because of God's judgement.
There is often some misunderstanding of the origin and significance of death by Christians and by some creationists. In Genesis 2:17 God is speaking to Adam telling him not to eat from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil." It says that "when you eat of it you will surely die (NIV)." This is surely a reference to spiritual death, even though Adam did die physically much later, as mentioned in Genesis 5:5. Romans 5:12 states in the NIV, "as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." It is easy to conclude from these verses as have some creationists that physical death is always a consequence of sin, directly or indirectly. But this is an oversimplification. Romans 5:12 probably refers to spiritual death, not physical death. When Adam and Eve sinned in the beginning God pronounced a curse upon the ground itself that would affect life for all human beings from that point forward. I Corinthians 15:20-22 seems to imply that physical death of human beings was a consequence of Adam and Eve's sin. This passage also tells us that believers will be physically raised from the dead in the future. The redemption God gives in Christ to believers encompasses both the spiritual and the physical, the spiritual conversion or "resurrection" comes first (at the point of faith) and the physical resurrection comes much later. So, the best way to understand Genesis 2:17 is probably that when Adam and Eve sinned, they died spiritually at that moment, but also a process was begun which led to their death physically later. Creationists often assume that because of the above points on how physical death is related to sin, for humans, that physical death in the animal world is also caused by the Fall into sin. While this may be the case Biblically, it may not be the only possibility. Many creationists emphasize "no death before sin" meaning no death of animals or humans before sin. But it is no death of humans before sin that is essential in relation to redemption. Genesis does say God provided plants for food in the beginning (Gen. 1:29-30). This seems to rule out animals eating other animals at creation but does it rule out bacteria and chemical decay disposing of bodies? Scripture does not really make clear whether animals could have died prior to mankind's Fall. Animals could have simply died as we say "of natural causes." Death does not have to be due to disease or injury, nor is it always painful. If animals died from the beginning, this would make it easier to explain many aspects of biology and ecology in the time before Noah's Flood. If animals did die prior to the Fall, their bodies could still decay away even without carnivory or scavenging. Animals may not have been intended to live forever. (Though they may have lived much longer, been larger or stronger, etc.)
Perhaps unlike animals, human beings were originally meant to live forever. It is quite possible that immortality was a trait unique to human beings since they were made in God's image. Then this immortality was lost when Adam and Eve sinned. When God blocked Adam and Eve from where the Tree of Life was (Gen. 3:22-24), He was apparently preventing them from regaining their immortality by eating of the Tree of Life. God banished them from the tree of life so that they would not eat from it and live forever in a fallen sinful state. Presumably, as long as they would have eaten from it they would have experienced no aging or disease. In Revelation 22:2, where it describes God reinstituting the Tree of Life, it is described as producing a crop of fruit every month, with the leaves of the tree "for the healing of the nations." It had apparently been God's intention that Adam and Eve enjoy the tree of life, until they sinned (Genesis 3:23-24). After sin, Adam and Eve were kept from the Tree of Life as part of God's judgement. This gave Adam and Eve and all their offspring a need for redemption, something which in time God would provide through Jesus Christ.
Many types of events are the means of death and are related to sin directly or indirectly. Acts of violence can cause death and are certainly related to sin. But, diseases and natural disasters are also at least indirectly related to the sin of Adam and Eve in the beginning. These unfortunate things are consequences of living in a fallen sinful world, and they are often the means of death. Natural disasters are due to the changes in the Earth brought about by God's judgement in the Noahic Flood. In the Earth as God first created it, there were no diseases, animals did not kill each other for food, there were no natural disasters, and it was a perfect environment to live in, for men and animals. Genesis 1:29-30 makes very clear that in the beginning both humans and animals ate plants, fruits, and vegetables, not meat. So sin made the Earth environment less than perfect for life, and sin caused mankind to experience physical death. The essential principle about the preflood world is that there was no suffering, with the possible exception of childbirth. When animals began killing each other for food is not clear, but at the end of the Flood (Genesis 9:3), Noah was told he could eat meat.
Atonement or payment for sin is related to death. Hebrews 9:22 says without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness or remission of sins. The New Testament teaches Christ's death, as a death of a sinless man, could pay for our sins if we believe. Christ's death could not atone for sin if death was never necessary as a payment of sin. This is a problem with some attempts to harmonize evolutionary science with Christianity. If we came about by the evolution of lower animals, death is just a physical process and has nothing to do with sin. Death is essential to evolution since the strong survive and the weak die or do not reproduce. The death that is a part of evolution includes starvation, the violence of animals killing and eating each other, fighting to the death, etc. Competition (over food, territory, mates) in the animal world is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but evolution depends on this competition weeding out the unfit often in a very harsh way. The Bible implies that the Earth was a less violent and more peaceful place before sin entered the world. In the beginning, according to Genesis 1:30, animals must not have been killing each other for food. It states in this verse that God gave "green plants" for food, for both humans and animals. So at least some violence in the animal world, probably even all predation, entered the world after man sinned. This also implies that animals were not a threat to people in the beginning.
If humans evolved from lower animals, then death and its painful aspects are due to what animals (which we evolved from) experienced, not because of sin. The Biblical order is first man was created, then man sinned, then there was the physical death of humans (Gen. 1-3). Evolution contradicts this by making death prior to man since it was part of the process leading to man's evolution. Macroevolution implies that many characteristics we have as human beings we acquired from the lower animals we evolved from. Thus, we eliminate waste because animals do that, we are sexual creatures because we evolved from sexual creatures, etc. But Scripture presents human origins as supernatural and totally separate from the origin of all other living things. Biblically, we physically die because of the moral failure of the man and woman in the beginning, not because we descended from lower animals.
It is because of this conflict between evolution and the Bible that
some Christians have suggested humans did not evolve, though all other
life did. Thus some Christians depart from accepted evolutionary theory
when it comes to the origin of the first homo sapiens, though they accept
macroevolution in general. Though this approach avoids some theological
problems, it is not very true to Scripture since the Bible describes all
life as created during the same week, and the only "process" involved in
their creation was God's commands. (See Psalm 33:6-9.) It has also been
proposed that God supernaturally stepped in to help evolution progress,
at certain crucial points in biological evolution. This is the view generally
called "Progressive Creation." (Note that Progressive Creationists are
often evangelical Christians.) Evolution as a theory was always proposed
by atheists and agnostics, with the goal of explaining our origins without
God being involved. Christian theologians and the church historically did
not provide adequate answers to the challenges from evolutionary science
in the 1800's. Thus evolutionary thinking on origins has been largely accepted
in the Christian church at large. For a person to accept the Bible regarding
the origin of sin and Christ's atonement does not relate well to biological
evolution. If one is going to accept God miraculously intervening to aid
evolution, why not just believe that God created Adam and Eve exactly as
Genesis 2 describes? (Note that the origin of the first woman, Eve, from
Genesis, is totally contrary to evolution.) Thus, if one is going to suggest
that God intervened in some way to aid the evolution of man, there is no
logical choice but to disagree with mainstream evolutionists and many science
textbooks regarding the origin of man. This puts Christians who believe
evolution in a somewhat awkward position as they relate to those in the
scientific community. Christians who accept macroevolution, almost without
exception, do so because they feel the whole scientific community cannot
be wrong and they must conform to the views held by the scientific establishment.
But issues of origins are very different from experimental or empirical
science. Since origins issues do touch on theological matters, it is very
possible that the entire scientific establishment could be wrong.
Evolution and God's Ideal Plan
Macroevolution is inconsistent with God's character. It is impersonal since it distances God from the individual and devalues the individual. Evolution says the weak should and will die, or at least not reproduce, but the Bible tells how God saves the weak and unfit and unworthy through simple faith. Scripture makes clear that God does care for animals; even for a single sparrow (Matthew 10:29)! Job 39:1-2 describes God paying close attention to when mountain goats and a doe gives birth to their young. God said to Job, "Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear?" This is in contrast to macroevolution's harsh and violent realities in the living world from thousands of transitional forms of creatures that were not successful in surviving. The God of the Bible is not the kind of a god that would use a process like macroevolution. Attempting to harmonize God and macroevolution artificially limits the supernatural action of God and makes His "creation" work indirect when Scripture describes it as quick and direct by His word. Psalm 33:9 says "For he spoke and it came to be." Evolution is not "very good" like God said His creation was (Gen. 1:31) because of its violence and waste. It has been described as "a pitiless struggle of tooth and claw." The competition for survival in the living world involving animals killing and eating each other, killing to protect territory, and even killing young are all things that would not have taken place at creation. Many of the harsh aspects of the living world are abnormal things that have entered into the world due to mankind's sin against God. God promises to eventually do away with these things and to someday make even animals that are predator and prey live in peace with each other (Isaiah 65:25). This is not to say that there was no competition at all between animals in the beginning.
Some creationists believe there was no death of animals or humans at all prior to man's sin. Other creationists would allow for the death of animals prior to the Fall, but not allow for the death of humans. Some would say animals could have died but there would not have been predation (animals killing to eat). Other creationists would allow for predation before the Fall. I would personally lean toward the view that animals did die after the Fall, but that animals did not kill each other to eat at first. Scavenging and predation then would have begun after after the Fall, or possibly even after Noah's Flood. Some of the many questions about these issues are not fully answered by Scripture. Science can shed some light on these questions and these are matters creationists continue to research. Animals that are well adapted as predators could have been scavengers in the beginning if animals lived out a natural lifespan and then died. It is also possible God's judgement in the curse at the time of Adam and Eve's sin entailed some type of change of the design of living things to help them adapt to a fallen world, though we don't really know. The current violence and harshness in the living world is something God has allowed but it does not seem to have been his ideal plan from the beginning. Sometimes the way animals currently survive is not the only way they could have survived. There are known cases of predatory animals of today surviving for significant periods of time without eating meat, for example. Also, some predators may have had diets that were different in the past (crocodiles are an example). At any rate, Biblically, predation starts after animals are already present, whereas in macroevolution predation is part of the process for how animals came to exist. Dealing honestly and carefully with all that Scripture teaches about origins makes macroevolution very difficult to reconcile with Scripture. Christians should not allow prevailing ideas of evolutionary science to determine how they interpret Scripture.
Many questions about what Genesis 1 means on creation should be settled by Exodus 20:11, which says "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them." How can this verse from Exodus possibly be reconciled with the time scale of evolution? In the context of Exodus chapter 20, this chapter clearly must mean literal 24 hour days since this chapter is the section on the Ten Commandments and the verses immediately before Ex. 20:11 are discussing the Sabbath commandment for the Israelites. If Exodus 20:11 did not mean literal days then the Sabbath commandment would not make sense in Exodus 20. Scripture must be consistent with itself and so Exodus 20:11 clarifies for us how Genesis 1 should be interpreted and sends us to the Creation account itself for more detail. Attempts to harmonize Christian theology with macroevolution always come at the expense of sound interpretation of Scripture.
An objection often raised against the literal six day view of Genesis 1 is that "science and religion are two different realms or categories, one cannot connect to the other." This is a philosophical error regarding the nature of truth. Biblically, there is one all-powerful God who created all of reality in a very rational purposeful manner. If this is the case, then reality must be a unity, otherwise God would be irrational or inconsistent. In other words, there are not separate compartments to truth, in spite of the fact that we compartmentalize different subjects in the way our educational system approaches truth. There is real universal Truth that applies to all people, according to the Bible, and this Truth is a unity. When it comes to origins, religious concepts and scientific origins theories must be related in a way that is consistent and coherent. If human beings evolved and that really happened in the history of the Earth, then it has to have implications about what it means to be human. The Bible claims to be the truth about all of life and all of history, though there are issues it does not address and it is not a science textbook. If the story of macroevolution is the truth about Earth's history, then at least certain things in the Bible must be false. All the details of evolution and all the details in Scripture cannot both be true.
With so many different viewpoints on these issues, how are we to
come to satisfying answers? We should not give up on finding answers. Rather
there needs to be honest dialog between people of different view points
and there needs to be careful study of both the Biblical data and the scientific
data. "God's Word" will not agree with "God's world" until and unless we
interpret both the Scripture and the scientific data correctly. Scripture
must be interpreted in its proper context. We must understand it the way
the original readers did, as much as possible. Both creationists and evolutionists
have made mistakes in interpreting either the science or the Bible. But,
it seems quite clear on careful honest study that there is disagreement
between the Bible and evolution. Attempting to mix evolution and Biblical
Christianity leads to an illogical incoherent jumble of ideas that do not
hang together in a satisfying way. The Christian faith is intended to be
a very intelligent faith that is objectively true, a faith we can have
great confidence in. Christians should have confidence in the inerrancy
of Scripture, and then apply that to rethinking origins issues in the sciences.
Scripture does not answer many scientific questions regarding origins,
but it gives us a sure foundation to build our thinking on.
Interpreting Genesis 1
There are issues with theistic evolution having to do with how Genesis should be interpreted. Various views of Genesis 1 have been proposed to try to make it compatible with evolution. This is of course the reverse of how we should treat Scripture. We must never force the Bible to agree with human knowledge. We must "force" human knowledge to agree with the Bible on matters where we have to choose between them. We should not be surprised if we have to reinterpret or reject what we have learned from our education because of what the Word of God teaches. In the Bible we have the reliable words of the One who was there in the beginning and who has the right, as our Creator, to tell us what is truth and how to live. The Bible speaks with more authority than science, even today, so long as one is careful to interpret the Bible and scientific facts correctly. The goal in understanding Scripture should always be to interpret the text the way the original readers/hearers did.
One common view of Genesis 1 is the Day-Age Theory. This says that the Hebrew word for day ("yom") in Genesis could mean a long indefinite period of time, thus allowing time for evolution. It is true that "yom" sometimes does not mean a literal day, but only when the context gives clues to that effect. Even when yom is not referring to a 24-hour day, it still does not seem to mean what would be required for it to allow for evolution. The word yom may refer to someone's lifetime or some other period of time when a particular event will happen, but this is not the same as referring to a supposed period of millions of years. In Genesis 1, all the clues indicate that it must mean a literal day. First, there is the phrase "evening and morning" used with day, which describes the day-night cycle. Second, there is a number used with day when it says "first day" or "second day," etc. This combination of a numerical adjective with "yom" is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to a literal 24-hour day. The Hebrew usage of the word "yom," for these and other reasons, implies that it must mean a literal solar day in Genesis chapter one. A solar day is essentially the time for the sunlight to make one complete cycle. In addition, the order of events of evolution do not follow the order of events in Genesis 1. Day-Age Theorists therefore suggest that the days of creation in Genesis 1 are overlapping periods of time. But this is a very forced and inadequate approach to understanding Genesis 1.
Then there is the Gap Theory, which says that the days are literal days, but are days of recreation and not of the first creation. This view puts a great gap of time between Gen. 1:1 and Gen. 1:2; a time in which evolution occurred. The end of this period ended with a great judgement which completely destroyed all life. Thus, the Gap Theory was originally an attempt to reconcile the Bible with the evolutionary geological ages. Then God recreated the earth in six days. This judgement, which is never mentioned in the Bible, is supposed to somehow be a judgement on Satan. But there is no indication in Scripture that Satan's going to Earth caused any physical effects on the Earth at all. The Gap Theory is often accepted by pastors and theologians, unfortunately. Also, it is definitely incorrect to suggest that the days of Genesis 1 were days of recreation and not the first creation. The Gap Theory takes inappropriate liberties with the Hebrew. Further, why would God use the violence and waste of evolution to form the Earth's rocks and fossils before the Fall of man into sin? Readers who would like to read more detailed critiques of the Gap Theory should read the article, "Is the Gap Theory a Biblical Option?" by Richard Niessen, or the classic book by Weston Fields, Unformed and Unfilled. Both of these address details of interpretation of the Hebrew in Genesis chapter 1.
Science does not rule out the possibility of the supernatural. God's supernatural acts at creation are bound to produce some effects in nature that cannot be fully explained scientifically. Allowing for the supernatural in no way hinders science today. The God of the Bible is not limited, but is able to create everything in the universe in an instant. However, he tells us in His word that he did it in six days. This gave the Israelites who had left Egypt a basis for having an organized work week of six days. Genesis is written as a historical narrative. It has no indication that the stories in it are myths. Genesis describes how the God of all people chose the descendants of Abraham to be His representative people in the ancient world.
Following is a brief summary list of the so-called "Literal View"
of Genesis 1, with Biblical references. The list below gives some key points
made in the Creation account.
The Literal View
1. Creation by fiat command ex nihilo (Latin for 'out of nothing')
(Psalm 33:6-9, Hebrews 11:3, Romans 4:17)2. Earth formed out of water (II Peter 3:5)
3. Light before Sun or stars (Gen. 1:3, 14-15)
4. Six literal "solar" days (Exodus 20:11, Gen. 1:5)
5. Fixed Biblical kinds of living things (Gen. 1:11,21, 24; I Corinth. 15:39)
6. Vegetarian nature of Man and animals (Gen. 1:29-30 and Gen. 9:3)
7. Adam and Eve real people in history (I Corinth. 15:45, I Timothy 2:13)
8. Ideal environment in the beginning (Gen. 1:6-8, Gen. 2:5-6)
9. Created maturity (Gen. 1:11-12, 24-25, 27-28; Gen. 2:7, 22)
10. Men and women created
in God's image (Gen. 1:26-31, 2:20-24, 9:5-6)
(Revised March 2011)
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