Often people assume that the only obstacle, when combining evolution and Christianity, is the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. But much more is at stake. Many areas of Christian belief are challenged by evolution. This is my attempt to identify them.
For each area of Christian belief, there are two separate considerations. On the one hand, there is the task of systematics (doctrine, theology, dogmatics). What, exactly, are the Christian claims about X? On the other hand, there is the task of apologetics. Are the Christian claims about X consistent with evolution?
- Systematics. In what ways does Scripture speak truthfully? Is Scripture only really concerned with ‘spiritual’ matters? Is God’s revelation ‘accommodated’ to the false beliefs of the original hearers? Is Scripture ever wrong?
- Apologetics. Does Scripture speak truthfully about origins (assuming the evolutionary account is true)? What about creation in six days? What about the created ‘kinds’ and evolution? What about the origins of humanity? What about Eden? What about the flood? What about Babel?
- The goodness of creation
- Systematics. What are the Christian claims about the original goodness of creation? Was the creation ever ‘very good’? What does that mean? Is ‘very good’ different to ‘perfect’? Was the Garden of Eden in some sense better (more ‘good’ or more ‘perfect’) than the (unruly, wild, dangerous) world outside the garden? Do we live in the best possible world?
- Apologetics. Are the Christian claims about the goodness of creation true (assuming the evolutionary account is true)? Is God still good? What about the evidence of predation and disease in the fossil record? Are those things good?
- The fall of humanity
- Systematics. What is the Christian claim about the entrance of sin into the human race? Was there a single fall in space and time? If so, how did that fall affect the rest of us? Are we all biologically descended from the people through whom sin entered the world?
- Apologetics. Did the fall happen, in the way it is claimed? Can we put a plausible date and location on the fall? What about the fossil and archaeological evidence?
- The fallenness of the non-human creation
- Systematics. Why is creation ‘groaning’ (Romans 8)? Is it because of human sin? Is it because of an angelic rebellion? Or did God deliberately create a world that is ‘groaning’? Is creation cursed by God (in some sense), or is all the bad stuff a direct consequence of human behaviour? Do we live in a fallen world?
- Apologetics. Is the evidence consistent with these claims? Is there fossil and archaeological evidence for the effects of the fall on creation? Would we expect to find any evidence?
- Systematics. Why did Jesus need to die physically to deal with the problem of sin? How do we understand what happened at the cross? What about the parallels between Jesus and Adam? Is there a link between sin and the death of animals (in the sacrificial system)?
- Apologetics. N/A?
- Future hope
- Systematics. To what extent is our future hope a reversal of the fall? When Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, was it a reversal of the fall, or an anticipation of something new? What does it mean for death to be described as the ‘last enemy’ if death was part of the creation? Will the new creation be a renewal of the present creation, or will it be something completely different, physically and biologically? What would have happened if people had never sinned? What do we learn about the new creation from the resurrection of Jesus’ body? Will the lion lie down with the lamb (Isaiah 11)?
- Apologetics. Is this all plausible, given what we know about biology? Are death and disease part of the ‘package deal’ of carbon-based life? What about the long-term future of the solar system, and of the cosmos?
That’s clearly quite a long list of questions (let me know if I have missed anything). What’s my point?
I’m not trying to say that it is necessarily impossible to reconcile evolution with Christianity. Many people have tackled the questions above, and believe they have found satisfactory answers.
But I am suggesting that it is a significant challenge. It’s not simply a matter of saying that you don’t think Genesis 1 needs to be understood literally.
I’m hoping to focus on points 2 and 4 in my independent learning project this year (basically a long essay). More on that in due course!