In what way can evolution add meaning to religion? - and vice versa

I am new to this forum, but would like to say that I am an evolutionary creationist and am interested in viewing religion in an evolutionary backdrop. As humans we are outside of external natural selection pressures since we create and maintain our own economic and social environment, that religion is a fundamental component to our species and necessary for us to interact in society. Religion in its broadest sense is a way of life, providing pressure for how to raise children and marry and forming the backdrop for which behaviors to select. I guess I want to say, religion is not simply a doctrine of statements that we believe but a way of life to select and reward behaviors, rewarding behaviors ultimately by repeating and replicating them. So given that we evolved and share common origin with all life, that not only changes what we believe about the world, but it should change something in our behaviors too, mainly I would think, as seeing religion as a fundamental unavoidable component to our existence, that is vital to our species development and continues to be life informing. Is there a way evolution can make religion more important.


James, welcome to the forum! I still feel like a relative newcomer, but am getting to know folks here a bit better, and can see personalities begin to emerge from the posts. It is sometimes difficult to get to know, feel comfortable , and ultimately trust with only the written words, which can be misunderstood, but you will get there. I could go on about how perhaps that is one reason the Incarnation is important, but should get to your topic.
I’m really not sure how to interpret your question as stated, but if restated as “In what way can evolution add meaning to religion?” then I have a bit better time. I think the process of biologivc evolution is a good foundation in understanding how non-biologic systems develop. That helps us understand how our personal spiritual development progresses through the changes of life and understanding. There are dead ends, and new beginnings. Environmental stress leads to growth in unexpected ways. Through it all, God has his hand in the process, in ways we do not yet understand.

Thanks Phil!

That does seem a better question, I am mainly reacting to what seems to be a ‘coexist’ strategy, where we accept evolution and common origin and of course the christian belief statements, like the nicene creed, and the authority of scripture on our daily lives. I was thinking and hoping there would be a way where carrying through of implications that evolution and common origin has ultimately validates religion as a necessary and vital part of identity. My background is in physics and computer science, but I do greatly enjoy enriching my faith by new ideas and contemplations which may be somewhat uninformed but nonetheless are fun to explore.

The basic idea is from common origin and evolution we know all life is dependent and so our species would not have evolved the way that we are irrespective of all other life on the planet, also individuals could not have existed initially as unique distinct organisms, but are in a sense are mere instances of a species. So what does that mean for how we live our lives?! …

Possibly the answer is no farther than Religion! And Christ in his divinity and the God Head would have inspired and lead religion in a sense to not be wholly incohesive to these discovered truths. So what if religion and primarily I mean Christianity is in fact a more than able vehicle carry out the truths to their full implications, seeding these facts in a framework that the individual mind can interface with in the optimal productive way for life as a whole.

My take on your question is that religion is a product of human evolution as much as our walking upright and developing a larger brain. Therefore religion is not an optional part of human life.

We all know people who live without being religious, but we feel that they are missing out on an important part of life. Many nonreligious people replace religion in their lives with work, seeking money, and the search for pleasure. These activities can certainly keep the mind occupied, but they offer no help when life’s crises come. I like the idea that religion can be considered an essential evolutionary adaptation of humans, not an optional add-on

Thank you for expanding on your question, and it is fertile ground for thought. While we think of ourselves as a “special” creation, the Bible is filled with expressions of God taking delight in all of creation, and we are just a part of that, perhaps not as separate as we tend to place ourselves, self centered as we are. Gotta get back to work, but will ponder more later.

Instead of writing something up myself, allow me to quote a section of C. S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity (p115-118) in which he explores evolution as an analogy for understanding the Christian faith:

"Perhaps a modern man can understand the Christian idea best if he takes it in connection with Evolution. Everyone now knows about Evolution (though, of course, some educated people disbelieve it): everyone has been told that man has evolved from lower types of life. Consequently, people often wonder “What is the next step? When is the thing beyond man going to appear?” Imaginative writers try sometimes to picture this next step — the “Superman” as they call him; but they usually only succeed in picturing someone a good deal nastier than man as we know him and then try to make up for that by sticking on extra legs or arms. But supposing the next step was to be something even more different from the earlier steps than they ever dreamed of? And is it not very likely it would be? Thousands of centuries ago huge, very heavily armoured creatures were evolved. If anyone had at that time been watching the course of Evolution he would probably have expected that it was going to go on to heavier and heavier armour. But he would have been wrong. The future had a card up its sleeve which nothing at that time would have led him to expect. It was going to spring on him little, naked, unarmoured animals which had better brains: and with those brains they were going to master the whole planet. They were not merely going to have more power than the prehistoric monsters, they were going to have a new kind of power. The next step was not only going to be different, but different with a new kind of difference. The stream of Evolution was not going to flow on in the direction in which he saw it flowing: it was in fact going to take a sharp bend. Now it seems to me that most of the popular guesses at the Next Step are making just the same sort of mistake. People see (or at any rate they think they see) men developing greater brains and getting greater mastery over nature. And because they think the stream is flowing in that direction, they imagine it will go on flowing in that direction. But I cannot help thinking that the Next Step will be really new; it will go off in a direction you could never have dreamed of. It would hardly be worth calling a New Step unless it did. I should expect not merely difference but a new kind of difference. I should expect not merely change but a new method of producing the change. Or, to make an Irish bull, I should expect the next stage in Evolution not to be a stage in Evolution at all: should expect the Evolution itself as a method of producing change, will be superseded. And finally, I should not be surprised if, when the thing happened, very few people noticed that it was happening.

Now, if you care to talk in these terms, the Christian view is precisely that the Next Step has already appeared. And it is really new. It is not a change from brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction — a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. The first instance appeared in Palestine two thousand years ago. In a sense, the change is not “Evolution” at all, because it is not something arising out of the natural process of events but something coming into nature from outside. But that is what I should expect. We arrived at our idea of “Evolution” from studying the past. If there are real novelties in store then of course our idea, based on the past, will not really cover them. And in fact this New Step differs from all previous ones not only in coming from outside nature but in several other ways as well.

  1. It is not carried on by sexual reproduction. Need we be surprised at that? There was a time before sex had appeared; development used to go on by different methods. Consequently, we might have expected that there would come a time when sex disappeared, or else (which is what is actually happening) a time when sex, though it continued to exist, ceased to be the main channel of development.
  1. At the earlier stages living organisms have had either no choice or very little choice about taking the new step. Progress was, in the main, something that happened to them, not something that they did. But the new step, the step from being creatures to being sons, is voluntary. At least, voluntary in one sense. It is not voluntary in the sense that we, of ourselves, could have chosen to take it or could even have imagined it; but it is voluntary in the sense that when it is offered to us we can refuse it. We can, if we please, shrink back: we can dig in our heels and let the new Humanity go on without us.
  1. I have called Christ the “first instance” of the new man. But of course He is something much more than that. He is not merely a new man, one specimen of the species, but the new man. He is the origin and centre and life of all the new men. He came into the created universe, of His own will, bringing with Him the Zoe, the new life. (I mean new to us, of course: in its own place Zoe has existed for ever and ever.) And He transmits it not by heredity but by what I have called “good infection.” Everyone who gets it gets it by personal contact with Him. Other men become “new” by being “in Him.”
  1. This step is taken at a different speed from the previous ones. Compared with the development of man on this planet, the diffusion of Christianity over the human race seems to go like a flash of lightning — for two thousand years is almost nothing in the history of the universe. (Never forget that we are all still “the early Christians.” The present wicked and wasteful divisions between us are, let us hope, a disease of infancy: we are still teething. The outer world, no doubt, thinks just the opposite. It thinks we are dying of old age. But it has drought that so often before! Again and again it has thought Christianity was dying, dying by persecutions from without or corruptions from within, by the rise of Mohammedanism, the rise of the physical sciences, the rise of great anti-Christian revolutionary movements. But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion. The Man came to life again. In a sense — and I quite realise how frightfully unfair it must seem to them — that has been happening ever since. They keep on killing the thing that He started: and each time, just as they are patting down the earth on its grave, they suddenly hear that it is still alive and has even broken out in some new place. No wonder they hate us.)
  1. The stakes are higher. By falling back at the earlier steps a creature lost, at the worst, its few years of life on this earth: very often it did not lose even that. By falling back at this step we lose a prize which is (in the strictest sense of the word) infinite. For now the critical moment has arrived. Century by century God has guided nature up to the point of producing creatures which can (if they will) be taken right out of nature, turned into “gods.” Will they allow themselves to be taken? In a way, it is like the crisis of birth. Until we rise and follow Christ we are still parts of Nature, still in the womb of our great mother. Her pregnancy has been long and painful and anxious, but it has reached its climax. The great moment has come. Everything is ready. The Doctor has arrived. Will the birth “go off all right”? But of course it differs from an ordinary birth in one important respect. In an ordinary birth the baby has not much choice: here it has. I wonder what an ordinary baby would do if it had the choice. It might prefer to stay in the dark and warmth and safety of the womb. For of course it would think the womb meant safety. That would be just where it was wrong; for if it stays there it will die. On this view the thing has happened: the new step has been taken and is being taken. Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognisable: but others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of “religious people” which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be needed: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun."

Lots of food for thought there!


The same problem that besets the search for a solution to abiogenesis also plagues the [Darwinian] theory of evolution:
There is no purely materialistic [read random mutations and natural selection] explanation for how the mind boggling amount of complex information present in biological systems came to be. How does the purely physical give rise to the abstract?

In order to have common descent one needs to build up a vast store of information to bring about such a species as the human race. Where and how did that information come about?

Furthermore, there is not enough time for the evolutionary process to generate the required beneficial mutations necessary to construct all the new building blocks and incorporate their functionality into the existing system. The reason for that is simply that real, actual current research observations show that the genome is deteriorating so fast that we should be all but extinct in the next 10 000 years. There could therefore never have been enough time for the darwinian evolution to have happened.

Then to get to the actual religion, God does not state in any way in His word that He used a process of Darwinian evolution to create life on earth. Genesis 1 clearly states that God spoke and it was so. There was evening and there was morning, the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day, the fifth day and the sixth day.
If Jesus, the creator of all things, could speak and healing took place instantly, what on earth is there to prevent him from creating the fully formed basis of all life[ the “kinds”] in the first six days? No Darwinian evolution required.

The real religion involved in a belief evolution is the establishment of one that is other than what God himself has ordained in His word. A belief in evolution clearly posits that it was not God who created all living life forms - or even life itself - but rather that it was random chance, i.e. some other “god”. Furthermore, there is absolutely no explanation for how God was supposedly involved in setting up the evolutionary process, other than sheer speculation.
And it basically brings up the same question that Satan used in the garden of Eden when he asked Eve ---- Did God really say? In this case “Did God really say he did everything is just six days?”

So yes to answer the question in the heading, a belief in evolution will definitely foster and mature into a fully accepted religion - just not the one that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ordained.

Where might we find these real, actual current research observations?


Thanks Casper!

Always good to read C. S. Lewis. I think he was proposing that evolution produces unexpected new species and that Christians are in a sense a new species within Man. And that unlike natural selection causing some variations of DNA to be passed on with greater chance through the successive generations, the new mode of evolution be passed by: [quote=“Casper_Hesp, post:6, topic:22949”]
And He transmits it not by heredity but by what I have called “good infection.” Everyone who gets it gets it by personal contact with Him. Other men become “new” by being “in Him.”

I think that as soon as he describes evolution continuing outside of heredity he at that point is no longer talking about biological evolution anymore. I would oppose thinking of Christianity or religion as defining a further state of evolution, or viewing Christians as a subspecies of man. This conflates biological evolution with social and religious changes in a way that misrepresents both. Although I think it is a good first attempt at reconciling the our origins through the process of evolution and our religious identity as Christians.

Just doing a bit of googling it seems like we have been evolving for the last 10k years and our biologically different than what we would have been 10k years ago.

I really would like to think of Religion and Christianity in this sense as well. Like it communicates truths about our reality that we otherwise would not be able to know.

I do think that Christianity and Religion are not evolutionary adaptations in a strict biological sense, and I don’t think that biological evolution offers any explanation as to the origins of the development of Religion or Christianity.

The main question I think is:

Given that the Christian canon is given by divine revelation the early Church fathers would have been cognizant of the implications our evolutionary origins would have had.

Given the implications of evolution, mainly: common origin, interdependence of life, species evolve and individuals are mere instances of a species.

How do we interpret the latter and what if the only way to fully carry out the implications of the latter in a way that affects our behaviors significantly and benefits the entire continuum of life is through accepting and fully committing to the divinely revealed truths encountered in the former. And then that makes Religion ever the more important, instead of superseding it with an atheistic materialistic worldview.

And if you don’t believe or accept evolution, it is not a concern to reconcile the two, but if you did have to reconcile them I think this is a good life informing way to go about it.

@Prode is referring to John Sanford’s work on “Genetic Entropy”.

Here is the total blurb:

“Dr. John Sanford, a retired Cornell Professor, shows in Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome that the “Primary Axiom” is false. The Primary Axiom is the foundational evolutionary premise - that life is merely the result of mutations and natural selection. In addition to showing compelling theoretical evidence that whole genomes can not evolve upward, Dr. Sanford presents strong evidence that higher genomes must in fact degenerate over time. This book strongly refutes the Darwinian concept that man is just the result of a random and pointless natural process.”


There is no “upward” in Evolution. There is only success or lack of success.

Is a Whale a degenerated mammal?.. or a mammalian population that randomly stumbled on a way to exploit the open oceans?

Is a frog a failed fish? Or a tetrapod that stumbled on a way to exploit the terrestrial ecology?

@Prode Most of your post was totally off-topic. Future posts with this tone, that basically ignore the premises and question of OP, will be deleted along with the responses to them.

Other people: Please don’t humor these kind of tangents. If you really can’t resist engaging and want to pursue a conversation on unrelated things, use the private message feature or click on the time stamp and use the reply as new topic feature. Thanks.

1 Like


I will try to answer the question, Is there a way that evolution can make religion more important?

The answer is Yes, because the Christian faith is historical and evolution brings history into science. In his book, The Universe in a Nutshell, Hawking remarked that science is contradicted by time or history. Science seeks universal laws, while history/time/evolution deals with certain conditions are dependent on history which changes with time, and are thus not universal. Philosophy also seeks the universal.

Thought seems to focus along the axis of the One and the Many. Hawking as a theorist, who rejects the God of the gaps. He thinks that science does not need God to tell it how nature works and he is right. The only problem is that there is a big gap that science cannot fill and that is the Beginning.

If there was a Beginning, there must be a Middle and an Ending. Hawking and science agree with Christianity that this is the case. Also with the beginning, middle, and an ending, we have past, present, and future. We have history and evolutionary change.

Philosophy and traditional religion emphasis continuity and the lack of change, the One. Dawkins rejects philosophy and the One, while emphasizing the Many. He says that life is random and without meaning. This is based on his view of Darwinian evolution as random as Many, which brings change, but not meaning.

This of course is not time or history, which is based on One and the Many. Evolution is history so it too must be based on the One and the Many. Christianity which is unique in this is based on the One and the Many, although sadly we have lost sight of this.

I don’t really understand what you wrote. My thoughts do not focus on the axis of the One and the Many, I guess. Nor do I see philosophy or religion as divorced from the time, people, and historical context where it is played out.

I think humans evolved religion in the general sense as they evolved culture. But to say all religions are products of evolution is to make Christianity a mere human construct, which I don’t accept. As believers we have to say Christianity is not a result of human evolution. It is a result of God’s incarnation into human history and his self-revelation recorded in Scripture and his continued indwelling of humanity by the gift of his Spirit at Pentecost. I don’t really understand how our human constructs and cultural products could make Christianity “more important.” Either its truth claims are valid or they aren’t, but they aren’t dependent on human development or progress.

1 Like

Just ran across this on Joel Anderson’s blog, which is relevant to the question:

“As long as we respond to those trials and tribulations with faith, hope
and love, we can be assured that such “fiery ordeals,” however presently
painful, will turn out to be fires that purify us into eternal
righteousness. Yet we should also remember that if we respond to those
“fiery ordeals” with hatred, contempt and bitterness, those very same
fires that could purify us will end up enveloping us in our own personal
hell. Strange at it may sound, evolution helps us see the trials in our
lives from an eternal perspective.”

Thank you for your response.

Fist of all our faith did not begin with the Incarnation, it began with a covenant between God (YHWH) and Abram (Abraham) as found in Genesis. That covenantal relationship changed or evolved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for 2,000 years until the birth of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Through Jesus Christ, His birth, His Life, His Teaching, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection, His Ascension, and His Return, God (the Trinity) establi9shed a New Covenant with God’s People. All of this is the Jewish roots of our faith, but Jesus also came for the Gentiles as most of us are.

The Jews have a historical, covenantal culture. The Greeks/Gentiles had a philosophical, ahistorical world view. The early Church brought these two points of view together so we have a new Western dualistic world view which encompasses both, although it is weighted more to the philosophical, ahistorical side. Still evolution which brings history into science has emerged out of this mix.

The Truth of Christianity is the Logos, Jesus Christ. Logos is a Greek philosophical concept, and yet the Holy Spirit through John used this concept developed by pagans to describe the Son of God, them Messiah. God reconciled Jewish and Greek thought which were thought to be irreconcilable to give us one Christian world view. Out of this new world view came modern science.

In a real sense what I have been trying to say is that today the world view that developed out of the merger of the Jewish and Greek world views is again at a crisis point. New developments in science have moved beyond Western dualism and there is no ready mode answer to these developments.

Philosophy and theology need to go back to basics to make these adjustments. This is not easy and there is much resistance to this thinking, but if we are indeed Followers of the Logos, this is what we are Called to Do.

What you and others seem to think is that we humans through the Church know fully the Christ and have Jesus completely in our hearts. Anything we do to change this knowledge must be for the worse.

On the other hand we know and understand Jesus Christ only through the prism of our imperfect culture. As Paul said, 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (NIV2011)
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Theology has part of the picture and science and philosophy have other parts. We need to be committed to expand our understanding in all dimensions as much as possible.

No one at no time sees the whole picture until we get to heaven and even then maybe not completely. Still it is good to know as much as possible and to share as much as possible, because all truth is from God, and God is constantly working through humans to create more understanding of God’s universe.

1 Like

How do you support the contention that the theory of evolution emerged from a mixture of Jewish and Greek worldviews? I’m pretty sure it emerged from Lyell’s geology, observations about human populations, and Darwin and Wallace’s observations as naturalists.

I agree.

1 Like


Jewish thought is based on experience with God, or History. Greek though is based on Speculation, thinking about Reality. Modern science is based upon theory, Lyell’s geology and Malthus’ ideas, and facts based on experience and experiments, such as Darwin’s and Wallace’s real life observations. Both are needed for real science and this is what the Christian merger made possible, which is not found in other world views.

My concern as I have said many times is that the ideas of Malthus which are the basis for Natural Selection have not been tested scientifically and do not hold up under scientific scrutiny as far as I can see.