Eight Reasons to Give Evolution a Second Chance

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

If you have already embraced evolution as a credible explanation for why life on earth is the way it is, I hope you will find the resources below useful in helping to harmonize this view with your faith. If you still aren’t sure what to make of evolution or if you have always been suspicious of it, I hope these ideas will inspire you to at least give the theory second chance.  They certainly inspired me. 

1. I recently discovered The Biologos Foundation and have been really impressed with its Web site and blog. Established by renowned geneticist and Christian Dr. Francis Collins, the foundation seeks to advance the claim that “faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation.” The site includes reliable resources and reflections on contemporary issues surrounding the creation/evolution debate. Plus it boasts a really clean, pleasant design.  One of my favorite features is the “questions” section, which addresses everything from belief in miracles, to the nature of The Fall, to the age of the earth, to the fossil record.  

2. Non-literal interpretations of Genesis 1-2 did not originate in response to evolutionary theory, but have been around for a long time. Many historical Christian scholars acknowledged the possibility of interpreting the creation account non-literally, including Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis.  Believe it or not, 1500 years before Darwin conducted his research, Augustine wrote in The Literal Meaning of Genesis that “in matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it." (This article by Alister McGrath examines Augustine’s position more closely.)

3. Ancient Israelites accepted a completely different cosmological paradigm than we do today, and the Old Testament was written within that context.   John Walton’s new book, The Lost Word of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate explores the creation account in light of ancient cosmology, concluding that "its message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture" (page 21). The Bible includes references to many of these ancient assumptions. God does not take it upon himself to “correct” such assumptions or to reveal to his people science that is beyond their culture. (Scot McKnight posted aseries of reviews about Walton’s book on his Jesus Creed blog this summer. See also this Denis O. Lamoureux’s article about ancient cosmology.) 

4. Evolution is not just a theory. It’s not merely a guess or a hunch. In science, the word theory refers to a well-supported, well-established framework for understanding a set of observations (e.g., the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, germ theory, etc). A good theory enables scientists to make predictions. Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, predicted that stars in the Hyades cluster should appear in a different place during an eclipse. Sure enough, in 1919 scientists observed such movement during an eclipse.

A theory is accepted as true when its predictions are tested over and over again and repeatedly confirmed. By all legitimate accounts, Darwin’s theory of evolution has consistently made testable predictions.  For example, scientists predicted that if whales evolved from land mammals, they should find intermediate fossils that show whales with feet. Sure enough, whales with just such limbs were discovered in the 1990s in the exact geological strata that the scientists predicted. This is just one example among thousands. 

Time and time again, scientists have confirmed the prediction that we should find evidence for evolutionary change in the fossil record with the deepest, oldest layers containing fossils of more primitive species and the youngest layers containing fossils of species similar to those of present day. Time and time again, they have confirmed the prediction that we should find cases of speciation in the fossil record.  Scientists have also confirmed the prediction that species should show genetic variation for traits, that we should observe imperfect adaptation in nature, and that we should see examples of natural selection occurring in the present.  The evidence in support of evolution is overwhelming, which is why about 99 percent of scientists accept it as fact. 

(Biologos addresses the fossil record here. The best presentation I’ve encountered regarding evolutionary theory’s success at making predictions was in Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. For a response to so-called “gaps” in the fossil record, check out this excerpt from Richard Dawkin’s new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.)

5. The easiest way to disprove evolution would be to find a fossil in the wrong geological stratum. This has never happened

6.  Advances in the field of genetics provide powerful support for Darwin’s theory of descent from a common ancestor with natural selection operating on randomly occurring variations. In fact, a computer can construct a tree of life based solely upon the similarities of the DNA sequences of multiple organisms. Its similarities to conclusions drawn from studies of comparative anatomy/ the fossil record are staggering.  I’ve always been impressed with this evidence. 

7.  Francis Collins. Enough said. (If you haven’t read The Language of God, consider adding it to your Christmas wish list!) 

8.  These days, you can find more and more books about harmonizing evolution with faith. If you’ve already read The Language of God, consider checking out A Fine-Tuned Universe by Alister McGrath, Coming to Peace With Science by Darrel Falk, Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson, or I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution by Denis Lamoureux.

Can you think of more? What is your position on evolution? How did you arrive at that position?

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