Note: This two-part series is adapted from a sermon originally delivered at Jacksonville Chapel on January 18, 2015. The sermon series of which these posts are derived was, in turn, adapted from a similar series by pastor John Ortberg.
Here’s the final belief we’re going to look at today: the belief that evolution has disproved Genesis. This is the big one. If you asked a scientifically-minded atheist why he would never think of coming to a church, this would likely be the first thing he’d say. He would say, “because Christians deny evolution, therefore, they are ignorant; they’re not interested in the facts; they choose myths over science. And if they’re that misguided, why would I listen to anything they say about any other part of life?” So for a lot of people, this is the show-stopper. This is the deal-breaker.
So if you’re a person who takes the Bible seriously, as I am, what do you do with this?Well, when you read the book of Genesis or any other book of the Bible, the first thing you need to do is learn as much as you can about the context. It’s really important to learn about the culture in which was written and the questions they were asking. You also do your best to understand what type of literature it is—because the Bible uses many different types of literature. Scholars call it the genre. So any time you’re reading the Bible, you have to ask, “Is this part of the Bible straightforward history? Is it a personal letter? Is it prophecy? Is it poetry?” Because that matters in how you interpret it.
Remember why the church was so upset with Galileo? Because he said the earth revolves around the sun, and the church said, “No: the Bible teaches that the earth is stationary, and it’s the sun that moves.” Here’s the question: Was Galileo really contradicting Scripture? Not at all! He was contradicting the church’s interpretation of Scripture, which didn’t consider the literary genre very well.
Because look, Psalm 93:1 says, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” Most Bible scholars would say that was never meant to a scientific, astronomical statement; it was more of a poetic statement about the enduring quality of the world. Ecclesiastes 1:5 says, “The sun rises and sets and returns to its place.” Again, this is never intended to be a statement that taught an earth-centric universe. It was just describing the way things look to normal people. If I said to you, “I saw the sunrise this morning.” And you said, “No you didn’t—because the sun doesn’t rise; the earth actually rotates,” I would tell you to shut up. Nicely. Because talking about the sunrise and sunset is just the way people talk. And because the early church failed to recognize that, they thought they were defending the Bible, but they were actually defending a wrong interpretation of the Bible.
Now, when it comes to Genesis, it’s not that simple. Some Christians read Genesis 1, and they say, “Look, it’s clearly talking about literal days, because on each day it says what God created, and it then says, ‘There was evening,and there was morning, the first day...the second day...etc.’” It looks like straightforward history; there’s a lot of other stuff in Genesis that’s clearly historical; so the best interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is that God created the world in six literal days. And taking that same approach, the earth is 6-10,000 years old.
And they say, “If scientific theories or evolutionary theories seem to contradict that, then we need to side with the Bible.” Christians who take this view believe that evolutionary theory has a lot of holes in it. They don’t think the fossil record supports the theory of evolution. When they see how similar human DNA is to the DNA of other animals, they believe that just shows they were created by the same God. So this is the view that most people in conservative churches grew up with.
On the other hand, there are other Christians who say, “When I look at Genesis, I’m not convinced it was ever meant to be straight-up history. Because we measure time by the earth’s rotation around the sun, but it says the sun wasn’t even created until the fourth day.” And they point to some other things in the context that make it seem like this is more poetic. Still teaching truth, but not in a scientific way.
And then, they urge us to look at the context! If you consider the original readers of Genesis—around 1,400 BC—they weren’t asking scientific questions. Modern science didn’t exist yet! But here’s what they were asking: Who created all this? Was it multiple gods, who battle in the heavens,like the cultures around us believe? And Genesis says, “Absolutely not. There is one God, and he’s responsible for everything you see.” People were asking questions of meaning—“Is there a purpose for my life?” And Genesis says, “Yes, you are put here to take care of God’s creation, and do meaningful work, and walk with and obey God, etc.”
So, for Christians who take a more poetic view of Genesis 1-2, they’re not as troubled by evolutionary theory, because they believe Genesis is all about who created the world, and why he created it; it was never meant to scientifically describe how he created it. So if geologists say the earth is billions of years old, they’re fine with that. And if evolutionary theory can help us understand how God created, they welcome that!
Now, let me say something very personal. I’m not going to tell you where I stand on this issue, because honestly, I’m still in process. I’m still learning. And I’m okay with that. But I feel like I need to give us this warning: I have seen too many people grow up in churches where they were taught that if you’re a real Christian, there’s only one way you can look at this. And people who grew up in those churches heard modern science and evolutionary theory critiqued in ways that were pretty sloppy and half-baked. The people who taught them were very well-meaning, and they felt they were defending the Bible, but they were actually defending one interpretation, among several legitimate interpretations.
And then I’ve watched some of those very intelligent young people go off to college, and start reading, and realize their church hadn’t presented the science very fairly. And all of a sudden, they’re faced with a crisis: They think they have to choose between the Bible and the truth. What a tragedy! Listen, we don’t have to choose between faith and science. They’re both so important; they’re both a pursuit of truth; and I think as churches, we can do a better job teaching that. And I think that’s what God is calling the church to do.
Let me close with my own version of an illustration I heard from John Lennox. Just before Christmas, I walked into my office, and there was a white box on my desk. White boxes are almost always good. And inside that box was a cake, as well as a card from my friends Lars and Danielle (it turns out that Lars made it). It was an amazing cake.
So imagine if I opened that cake, and I had this question: Why did Lars make this cake? What’s the purpose for it? To answer that question, suppose I decided to scientifically probe the cake—take it to the lab and run some tests on it. I could find out a lot about the cake that way, couldn’t I? I could list out the component ingredients. I could give a nutritional breakdown of calories, carbs, protein, and fat. I could determine that it was intelligently designed and fine-tuned for human consumption. All true information!
But you know what I could never do in the lab? No matter how much scientific analysis I did, I could never find out why Lars made the cake. The only way I could find that out is...what? Lars would have to reveal it to me.
I’m sure you get the point. Science is an incredibly useful tool to analyze our world and learn the mechanics of our world, and we can use that knowledge to make the world a better place. But if we want to know about the purpose of our world and our lives, we’re not going to find it in the ingredients of the world. Right? Because only the designer can reveal that to us.
Here is the unique thing about the Christian faith: It teaches that the Creator wanted so much to communicate with his creation that he entered into it personally. The beginning of John’s gospel sounds very similar to the beginning of Genesis. Listen to this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” So Jesus is referred to as “the Word.” And it says everything was created through him. And then look at verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In other words, the one who created us came to be with us.
Through his life, and through his teaching, and mostly through his sacrificial death, I believe Jesus has shown us the meaning and the purpose of life. And the more I learn about science, it doesn’t threaten my faith at all! It just makes me more amazed with the God who created it, and more thankful that he came for us.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/i-have-a-friend-who-believes-science-disproves-faith-part-2