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Most Christians take the theory of evolution for granted. 100 years ago the majority of Christians thought that the Bible did not agree with this theory, today we usually take the opposite view. This article aims to show that the matter isn't as simple as it might seem.

Darwin's ideas

When Darwin first published his Ideas, they were vigorously opposed, not only by Christian thinkers, but by leading scientists, some of whom were not Christians (and thus had no Biblical-Christian presuppositions to bring to bear in the issue). Although the theory did become widely accepted, it has always had its opponents. For instance, the first President of one of the British societies opposed to evolution was Sir Ambrose Fleming, FRS, who in 1905 invented the valve which made the development of radio and TV possible. More recently, in 1957, the Everyman library produced a special edition of Darwin's famous book The Origin of Species. They asked a famous scientist, Professor W.R. Thompson, to write an introduction to it and he produced 20 pages of devastating criticism of the argument of the book. And he was not a Christian.

In fact, despite the impression that is often given in schools and colleges, many scientists are not happy with the theory of evolution. One such scientist, G.A Kerkut, who teaches biology at a university (and actually believes in evolution), describes how he sets his new students an essay asking them to outline the case against the theory. Most of them say there simply isn't a case at all - he says that they have been brainwashed.

Two theories

Here it is important to distinguish between two separate theories which often go under the name `evolution'. According to one, `evolution'takes place on a small scale, and can be observed at close quarters in the laboratory. This theory is better called `variation'- and nobody disputes its truth. But the so-called `general theory' of evolution goes away from this strictly limited evidence to suggest that all the different forms of life evolved from one simple form which in turn evolved from organic matter, all by natural processes. For this general theory there can be no empirical evidence. Obviously no-one saw it happen; and because of the great periods of time involved, the theory can't be tested in the lab. So instead, `indirect' evidence is examined - rocks, fossils, and so on. What is clear, however, is that each piece of such evidence is open to different interpretations. That means that scientific data can be interpreted in different ways, which is especially significant for those who believe in God. So to be true to the facts, we should start by looking at the Bible and the beliefs which we hold about its authority, to see what they are in themselves, rather than trying to force on them an interpretation which fits in with a particular scientific theory.

Harmonising evolution and the Bible

Can the Bible really be fitted in with evolution? Many have tried to harmonise them in various ways, but it has proved immensely difficult to find a satisfactory balance. This lack of consensus is the main reason why in the last 20 years of so there has been a strong rethink of the usual evangelical attitude to evolution, particularly in the USA, but also in Britain. More and more evangelical Christians are looking at the issues afresh and reaching fresh conclusions. Here we outline some of the reasons for their rethinking the whole matter.

Special interpretation

To harmonise Genesis and evolution, it is necessary to interpret Genesis in a special way. When we look at any other passage of Scripture, we do our best not to interpret it according to some prejudice of our own. We rather seek to hear what God has to say to us, even if sometimes we do not like what we hear. So, when we read of Jesus rising from the dead, we turn a deaf ear to those who say that such a thing could not happen. We listen instead to the Bible. Or in the case of the book of Jonah, where some opt for a `literal' interpretation and others say that the book is a parable, we look for the answer in the text itself. We seek to discover what the Bible really says.

Now, in the case of Genesis, we read the later chapters of the book about figures such as Abraham, as historical information. We turn back a few pages, and read about the confusion of languages at Babel, or the Flood in the time of Noah - these passages too read like historical information, even though we only have glimpses of what happened. We then find Genesis chapters 2 and 3 joined to the beginning of this account; and this also reads like a straightforward narrative account of what happened (for instance, the verses about the geographical position of Eden, in Genesis chapter 2 verses 8 and 10 to 14). In Genesis chapter 1, we have a majestic account of the unique event of creation; but even here we read of evenings and mornings, of days which make the first week seem like the week we know (nowhere does the OT use the word yom - Hebrew for `day' - to mean `a long period of time', as some have suggested).

The point is this: there seems little reason to treat these first chapters of Genesis as if they were different from the rest of the Bible - and if we are to make them fit into the evolutionary scheme, we have to do just that.

A suffering world

If we accept evolution, it means God made a world full of suffering. When we compare Genesis chapters 1 to 3 with other passages in the Bible, like Romans chapter 8, it is clear that God made a perfect (`very good') creation; the reason why there is so much wrong with the created world is that people have ruined it. Yet according to the theory of evolution, there was evil present in nature millions of years before man appeared on the scene - animals preyed upon each other and suffered and died, for instance. Clearly, the two accounts differ - the evolutionary theory must drive us to conclude that God's creation, full of suffering, was far from perfect.

Even if the Genesis creation-account is a myth, it still teaches that Gods creation was perfect and that it was spoiled by man. And we cannot reconcile that with the evolutionary notion that the world was made as we know it with suffering and evil in nature right from the very start.

Why do people die?

Biblical teaching is that there is a very clear relation between sin and death. Death, indeed, is the result of sin. In Genesis chapter 2, Adam is told that death will be his punishment if he sins. Ezekiel later writes that `The soul that sins shall die', and Paul tells us that `The wages of sin is death'. Human death would not exist if Adam had not sinned.

However, according to the evolutionary theory, the first men simply inherited their physical make-up, subject to disease and death, from their animal ancestors. It is possible to harmonise the two?

Some people have tried to do so by suggesting that when the Bible speaks of death it means `spiritual death' - because of his sin, man is cut off from God. But there is no doubt that it is physical death that is spoken of, in addition to spiritual death. This is clear, first of all, from Scripture (see, for example, Romans chapter 5 verses 12 to 21). But more important, Christians believe that the death of Jesus is the means of our being saved from the penalty of our sins. It was by his physical death on the Cross that Jesus met our account before the justice of God. That means that Jesus suffered physical death for our sins, because physical death is the penalty for sin. If this were not true, the cross is without meaning.

So we must have strong doubts about the idea that man was made with a mortal body, in a world of disease and disaster.

What about the New Testament?

Christians look to the NT to decide matters of controversy among them. There can be little doubt that the writers of the NT regarded the opening chapters of Genesis as reliable in their plain, straightforward meaning. Paul, for example, used the details of the Genesis chapters 2 and 3 account in a way which leaves us in no doubt that he read it as simply a narrative of what happened, as we see in Romans chapter 5, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, and 1 Timothy chapter 2.


Evangelical Christians are thinking again about evolution. This is an outline of some of their reasons for doing so - and of course, we have only just begun to discuss them. We invite you to think through these matters in the light of Scripture.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron (1992) 

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