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Further Thoughts on the Creation/Evolution Debate

June 16, 2013

I’ve probably said some of these things in earlier posts (see Christianity and Science Parts I and II), but I would like to set them out in full, for the benefit on those on both sides.

The term “creation vs. evolution” is misleading. There are actually two different conflicts here. The first is the inter-Christian debate over how God created the world and what mechanisms he used. One might call this the “creation vs. creation” debate. While many Christians hold varying views on the issue, they all agree that God did create the world.  The second debate is the debate between Christian theism and evolutionary naturalism. Regardless of their position on origins, all orthodox Christians would be opposed to evolutionary naturalism, which at its root would be nothing more than atheism. This antithesis between Christianity and atheism is not simply a case of “religion versus science,” because, as I have said before, atheism is not primarily about science, but about rejecting God. If atheism were really about science, wouldn’t the existence of Christians who believe in evolution result in a large number of atheists converting? Though sceptics may cite science as a barrier to the faith, there are always reasons behind the reasons.

Seeing the debate from this angle changes the ways it should be conducted. First, Christians can realize that the argument over origins is primarily an “in-house” argument. Because it is such, it should be treated like other theological disagreements (baptism, eschatology, doctrines of grace). I believe that a theological error, like Arminianism, will hurt someone’s ability to live out and “think out” the gospel. But if I am going to critique them, I should do it in the spirit of love and brotherhood. Too often Christians do not approach the origins issue. “Evolutionists” sit on the gilded high-horse of academia, pouring down scorn upon the “fundamentalist” rubes who have the audacity to believe God could create a world in six days. “Creationists” rage against the “liberals” who have sold their spiritual birthright for a mess of scientific pottage. Brothers and sisters, this is not the way that we Christians should behave towards each other. Even if another Christian is wrong in their views, we should not let our own knowledge and wisdom become a stumbling block.

Second, Christians can feel free to engage evolutionary naturalism or atheism as a belief and not as “science.” Young Christians are often given lots of reading material on how to defeat evolutionists in arguments, whether from a creationist or Intelligent Design perspective. The problem with this is that it often results in a lot of cocky young Christians who have a pocket full of arguments that they’re ready to slice ‘n’ dice the village atheist with. When arguing about evolution, winning is often worse than losing. The Christian may win the argument, but they’ve lost the person. Losing the argument isn’t good either. Much of the literature given to young Christians to “defeat evolution” is filled with information that is trumped-up, misleading, and bogus. If a person puts their trust in pop science, then when an intelligent atheist comes along and demolishes their arguments, they may think the jig is up for Christianity, when in fact the only thing that has been defeated are the bad arguments for Christianity. Finally, this apologetic strategy puts too much trust in science. Science is not a set of infallible truths written on stone tablets that Albert Einstein carried down from the mountain. The scientific world is its own culture, susceptible to the same failures, blind spots and hierarchies as other cultures. (James K.A. Smith has a good article about this somewhere) Relying on science, which is man-made and always in flux, when you should be relying on the unchangeable God is bad practice for young Christians.

Instead of beginning with “creation versus evolution,” Christians, especially young Christians, should realize that atheism is a condition of the heart, and approach it as such. Although arguments and evidence may be effective in some circumstances, the goal of the apologist is to reach the heart of the unconverted, to change the mental posture of the other person. It would be better to begin with the Gospel and engage with the atheist and his or her concerns, rather than to jump right into scientific issues. Most scientific issues are too complex to be seriously discussed over coffee by non-experts. And it would be better for someone to become a Christian and believe in evolution than to not become a Christian at all.

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