Evolution 1 – What’s the Question Again ?
I have been writing about various trends of Christian thought concerning what is wrong with the world, the nature of evil. I’m going to give that rest for a while, and move on to something that is profoundly right with the universe, something I believe is incredibly beautiful, but which causes all sorts of argument, namely the vexed subject of evolution.
The idea that evolution could be true, that it might be good, and that it might even be “of God”, is for many people close to heresy or even disguised atheism. The problem with that position is a fairly basic one – evolution itself, at one level at least, is manifestly true, depending on what you mean by it. So, if being a follower of Jesus Christ means turning your face on reality then it is no longer a coherent faith. Luckily I don’t believe Jesus asks us to do this, but we must first of all decide which question we are actually asking.
In his book “Evolution: A View from the 21st Century”, microbiologist James Shapiro makes an important distinction about evolution, arguing that three different questions exist which have been unfortunately blended into one. These are :-
(i) the origin of life, how it all started in the first place.
(ii) the evidence for an evolutionary process in the development of life, how we arrive at what we have today.
(iii) and the nature of that evolutionary change, how it works precisely.
Darwin is mistakenly supposed to have provided with a scientific explanation for all three, which is not true. They are all fiendishly complex and incompletely understood, and only the second one is actually (for most people) beyond doubt, or as I rather provocatively put it , “manifestly true”. We can see that species adapt and change over time, some of them very quickly, and some slowly.
Two points to make :
(i) we have no scientific answers for origins at all, and hence no science-faith argument.
(ii) the great mistake is to see any of these questions (and the answers!) as substituting God.
Life adapts and changes as does the dynamic universe in which we live. Our science discovers what God has done, and the inbuilt creativity in creation itself – creation reveals the nature of God, always giving, always creating. There is even a cosmic pattern revealed in Christ – birth-life-death-resurrection – that displays the character of creator God.
The subject of evolution is actually “God-neutral”, as more and more people are coming to realise. Our debate cannot be based on simple denial, but as believers we also have the right assert what we known about God because these scientific case is not comprehensive enough to shut him out.