Should Christians subscribe to the theory of evolution?
MUCH depends on what one means by evolution. In his Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin hypothesised that all organisms are related to a “common ancestry” and arose through a process of mutation and “natural selection”. The latter refers to the process by which organisms arose and persist by the random processes of nature.
The organism that is best able to survive and reproduce tended to produce more offspring, while those that could not survive simply became extinct. The simplest organism evolved into more complex ones. Because of its emphasis on “natural selection”, Darwinian evolution does not allow for direct intervention by God.
That changes and mutations do occur within a particular species is no longer in dispute. Scientists have described this form of mutation that takes place on a small scale and usually within a single population as microevolution.
There are a number of indisputable examples of microevolution. Studies have shown, for instance, that house sparrows in North America are larger-bodied in the north than in the south because of colder temperatures in the north. The mosquito species Wyeomyia smithii has evolved because of global warming so that slightly shorter days are required as cue for going dormant. And the enterococci bacteria have evolved a resistance to several kinds of antibiotics.
The question is: Is there sufficient evidence to show that similar changes have taken place and are still doing so on a grand scale? Put differently, does the fact of microevolution imply macroevolution? I am of the view that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that it does. Evolutionists of course disagree. As evolutionist Carl Zimmer has so bluntly put it, “If you accept microevolution, you get macroevolution for free.” But such a claim remains unproven scientifically.
Small-scale evolution is a fact, but there is no scientific basis to conclude that it is unbounded. Zimmer suggests that macroevolution can be extrapolated from microevolution. But the evolution of bacteria to fish to amphibia to reptiles to mammals requires a tremendous amount of change. Evolutionary science has not demonstrated the feasibility of such significant changes. This has led some evolutionists like Ernst Mayr to admit that large-scale life-patterns reveal “a richness to evolution unexplained by microevolution”.
Perhaps the most radical proposal of Darwin has to do with the origins of human beings, which was delineated in a book entitled, The Descent of Man, published in 1871. Without going into the details, evolutionary paleoanthropologists (paleoanthropology is an intersection of the disciplines of paleontology and anthropology), following Darwin, postulate the ancestry of human beings (homo sapiens sapiens) can be traced back from Ramapithecus, a common ancestor of apes and man. Although fossil records remain inconclusive, the split, according to this theory, took place 5 to 30 million years ago. But the rub is that human beings share a common ancestry with apes.
Although most Christians generally reject Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, some (even conservative Christians) are sympathetic to the idea of evolution. God, they argue, could have directed the process of evolution at the beginning and worked within it.
This view, which is sometimes described as theistic evolution, stresses the uniqueness of human beings by arguing that God intervened in the evolutionary process and modified some living creature by giving it a soul. But apart from this special instance, God generally worked within the natural processes of evolution that He has put in place. Proponents of this view argue that theistic evolution is able to embrace the biblical teaching that God is the Creator without having to reject the scientific theory of evolution.
But theistic evolution, attractive though it obviously is, has difficulties with the biblical account of creation. The biblical account maintains that God brought forth each animal and plant after it own “kind” (Gen 1:24). Although this statement is generally understood to refer to “biological species”, the Hebrew min actually refers to a broader category. Hence, although min could mean “species”, there is not enough specificity to conclude that this is what it in fact means.
It is better translated as “kind” or “type”. This suggests that God could have over a long period of time created different “kinds” or “types” of creatures. From the first member of each type, others may have through time developed.
Unlike theistic evolutionism, which is compelled to accept that all life begins from simple organisms, progressive creationism is able to do the biblical account of creation that God created different kinds of creatures more justice. But more significantly, progressive creationism is able to uphold the biblical teaching of the uniqueness of man without having to speculate on the ensoulment of hominoids when the evolutionary jump is supposedly made from Ramapithecus to Australopithecus.
The biblical account clearly distinguishes human beings from the other creatures. The creation of human beings is preceded by a solemn introduction (“let us make man in our image, after our likeness”), thereby distinguishing the creation of humans from God’s preceding works. Man’s original solitude also shows that he is not a creature on the same footing with the other animals. And by “naming” the other animals, man sees what he “is not”, and asserts himself as a unique creature made in the image of God, which possesses subjectivity, consciousness and rationality.
‘Although most Christians generally reject Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, some (even conservative Christians) are sympathetic to the idea of evolution. God, they argue, could have directed the process of evolution at the beginning and worked within it.’
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.