Science in Christian Perspective
The Student Corner
Evolution: Before and After
DAVID J. EVANS
Stanford, California 94305
From: JASA 26
(September 1974): 123-125.
It all began with the fierce battle between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Monkey Trial Case: the Bible beaters against the godless heretical scientists. The issue remains unsolved today as we continue wrestling with the issue of teaching creation theory" in the public schools.
The origin of the human species has caused a great deal of controversy for a long time. This "debate" on human origins has been carried on in my own mind for some years and has recently taken a strong turn, undoubtedly not its last. Being both a devout Christian and an interested science major, I felt the need to reconcile these two descriptions to a rational composite view. Obviously the radical extremes of any argument are wrong. Exactly what position on this controversy reflects reality I may never know, yet I have at least set my mind at ease for the present. I will attempt to put forth here both the inputs from science and religion on this topic and relate the conclusions drawn from these inputs which determined my former and present attitudes.
My original position held Darwinian evolution in some contempt and was based primarily on my own "Biblical interpretation." As I looked at Darwin, certain negative points stood out. Darwin's theory of natural selection depends upon the selection of those gene pools which reproduce more efficiently over those gene pools which have fewer progeny and subsequently die out. Beneficial changes in the genetic makeup of a given organism come about by gene recombination or mutation, according to Darwin. This theory, it seemed to me, could never account for man being anything more than the best animal on the earth. If man were just an animal, then we might possibly be controlled by nothing more than instinct and surroundings. This possibility gives support to the theories of behavioralists such as B. F. Skinner. These behavioralists assume that men are completely controlled by their environment' and can therefore in no way be influenced by a supernatural God. They hold that God is dead and that man is a social, but not a spiritual, being. My Christian faith could obviously never tolerate these assumptions; therefore, I began to dismiss the theory of evolution. It was also apparent to me that natural selection was not actually creative, merely selective, and I felt it was necessary for God to create a spirit in men, so that we might know God personally as no other animal could. The animalistic picture of man, the control of man by his environment, and the lack of creativity in natural selection all pointed me away from confidence in Darwin's theories.
My former position was mainly formulated from my interpretations of Scripture and personal feelings on the nature of man. The Bible clearly speaks (Genesis 1:26,27) of God creating a very special creature in his own likeness, a creature who can know God personally, a spiritual being. To my thinking, this spiritual quality of man could never have come about by natural selection, but only by a special act of God. Also, as a Christian with feelings, concerns, and an active faith, I did not like to think of myself as merely the "end of the line" of primate development. I considered myself to be the special creature molded by God's own hand described in Genesis, and allowed this prejudice to affect my judgment of evolution.
My original stance held that Darwin was probably wrong. I felt he may have been partially correct, but was certainly wrong about man himself. The mere initiation of evolution by the formation of one protein from free component particles was extremely improbable,2 and I considered this additional grounds to reject Darwin partially. Darwin apparently left man as merely an intelligent animal, at the mercy of Skinner and his associates in behavioral psychology. I could never tolerate Skinner's approaches, which completely ruled out God's existence, not to mention his sovereignty over men's lives. Scripture seemed to me to point to a special creation of the only truly spiritual creatures on earth. This attitude along with my feeling of being personally special to God and not wanting to fit into any Darwinian pigeon holes, directed me away from the popular scientific explanation of man's origin and toward a more literal conservative position on Genesis. Exactly how much of Genesis was plain fact and how much was Biblical symbolism I had no idea, but I had adequate confidence in my own understanding to contend with certain conclusions drawn from evolutionary theory.
I had asserted that God could have used evolution to a point, but that evolution could not explain spirituality in terms of natural selection and genetic alterations.
My original position on evolution was not the
strongest of my convictions and I was open to new ideas. My feelings have recently altered primarily due to new evidence, which might be classified as "scientific," though not "scientismic." New inputs came as a result of enrollment in an Undergraduate Seminar on "Issues in Science and Religion." The readings and discussions in this seminar led to a clear change in my attitude. I realized that my former position rested on the necessity of a "God-of-the-gaps." Due to a lack of knowledge concerning the "how" of man's spirituality, I said that, "God did it," just as the Greeks accounted many things to mythological gods simply because of their own lack of understanding. I had asserted that God could have used evolution to a point, but that evolution could not explain spirituality in terms of natural selection and genetic alterations. This kind of thinking sounds much like invoking a god for "gap-filling." Was I not being contradictory by allowing Darwin a certain area in which he was correct, yet cutting him off at an arbitrary point prior to the emergence of man, without a sound reason? As Malcolm Jeeves wrote,
... there is in principle no conflict between Christian faith in general and the discovery of a scientific mechanism for creation. When people (both atheists and theists) say that evolution (as a scientific theory) undermines faith, they are quite wrong. In principle it cannot do so . . . . When we affirm that God created, we do not role out the possibility that he did it via a natural process.4
Indeed, I was not permitting God to act in a process that could be naturally described; this limitation of God's power of expression in his creation is dangerous and should be avoided. God's ways are numerous and mysterious; therefore, we must be forever available to new insights which can point us toward a better reflection of reality. If man's spirituality did not come through evolutionary development, how did it happen? Was each man injected with a special cosmic "juice" at birth or at conception? How did this spiritual "injection" change a person's makeup? If it occurred during the gestation period, would the religious convictions of the mother have an effect on the child? These questions all help to reveal how nebulous is the idea of a special act of God in instilling each man's own spirit. There must be a more rational explanation. Possibly God acted in the way described as evolution to arrive at the physiology of man, and it was this unique physiology which overall gave man his spirituality. Not a single gene or chromosome, but the inter workings of the entire body, the makeup of the whole man, was designed by God in such a way that men could (and do!) know God in a personal, spiritual, eternal relationship. Who am I to limit God and determine that he could not have done this? How wise am I that I know the inner spirit of man to he definitely otherwise? Actually, it seemed more reasonable for an orderly God to work within the framework of orderly processes.
This new idea sent me back to the Bible to search again for a compatible medium between literalism and symbolism. In the first account of creation in Genesis 1, God proceeds by a seemingly rational, orderly procession of creative events: first light and dark, then heaven and earth, then small life and plants, then complex life and animals in the oceans, then land animals, and finally man. This order is one which no scientist would contest. The Genesis 1 account appears to be chronological when Gen. 1:1-2:3 speaks of the "first day," "the second day," etc. These are probably not 24hour days, but they certainly point toward a chronological order. By looking again at God's word in the Bible and at his creation out my window, I could see how God's creation was not haphazard, but was orderly and could be described in terms of certain "natural laws." If man is the pinnacle of God's creation, shouldn't he be the most orderly and rational being in nature? To explain man's spirituality within creation makes much more sense than to force the Lord to be a "God-of-the-gaps," injecting infants with some nebulous "juice."
I now hold that the resounding truths of evolution and Genesis are compatibly true. Most importantly, God created. Whatever the actual method was, the creator was God, and this is the main point of Genesis. Evolution primarily calls for the development of the different organisms found in nature; this certainly does not conflict with what the Bible tells us. Our fault is often that we throw away any scientific evidence that has been used by scientists to come to an atheistic conclusion. We must ourselves take science's observations and correlate them with the Truth of God to come to a rational Christian conclusion. We must never dismiss what science observes, but should always be critical of what science assumes and concludes concerning the nature of man.
My Seminar has been an experience which definitely brought me to a much more comfortable, reasonable and acceptable position in my thinking concerning evolution. I am certainly still open to any suggestions and/or information that can help us to understand God's world better. We should not be terribly troubled by unanswered questions, but let us never stop seeking the whole truth. I Corinthians 13:12,13.
lB. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity.
21. Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion, Prentice-Hall (1966), p. 387. This calculation does not account for the possible favorable conditions present, and thus contributed to the weakness of my original argument.
3 R. H. Bube, Professor, "Issues in Science and Religion," Undergraduate Special Seminar 116, Stanford University, Autumn 1972.
4 M. A. Jeeves, The Scientific Enterprise and Christian Faith, Tyndale (London). 103, (1969)