By Sean Ewart
|You can't have your cake and eat it too.|
Among white evangelicals in the United States of America in 2013 a full 64% believed that humans were created by God in their current form. That puts Collins firmly in the minority of his cohort. If you compare the data of those groups that attend church most often (white and black Protestants) to belief in evolution you’ll find that the more you go to church the more likely you are to take the Biblical account of creation literally. More church = less scientific literacy.
What, exactly, is the Biblical account of creation? Here is Answers in Genesis with a summary:
“…the triune God of the Bible created the earth, the universe, and all life around 6,000 years ago (some allow for a range of 6,000–10,000 years old); 2) humanity rebelled against God, and God removed some of His sustaining power, which led to death and suffering (the Curse); 3) a year-long global catastrophe (the worldwide Flood) 4,000–5,000 years ago destroyed all land life not aboard Noah’s Ark and much of the sea life (evidenced by the fossil record)…”
That’s what you get if you read the Bible literally, taking at face value what it says. Read it yourself, add up the genealogies, and you’ll get the same thing (I know this because I did it). This is, of course, incompatible with evolution – and not just because of the timeline.
But let’s start with the timeline before we get to the more serious problem. The theory of evolution, that life has changed gradually through a series of adaptations and mutations, necessitates a long period of time to work. 6,000 years (or even, if you’re being generous, 10,000) just isn’t enough time for a single-celled organism to turn into a human. The timeline problem is actually more severe than that: even Spanish cave paintings pre-date the Biblical creation account. How did people paint bulls in a cave in Spain prior to the creation of man?
So Answers in Genesis – and the 64% of white evangelicals who agree with them – are just wrong. They believe the Bible’s account of creation is literal but it cannot be. Young earth creationism is a crack-pot theory that cannot be taken seriously because adherents are not making serious claims. It’s not science; it’s faith masquerading as science.
That’s usually where arguments about the split between Christianity and evolution end. People like Collins come into the argument and say, “that’s fine, we're okay with a creation account that isn’t literal. We still believe that Jesus died for our sins and we are content to believe that God merely guided the process of evolution. Faith and the scientific data pointing to evolution can coexist.” Problem solved. That’s certainly the approach taken by American Catholics and mainline Protestants where large majorities believe that humans evolved over time. The Catholic Church is also officially on the side of God-guided evolution.
However, even the liberal view that God used evolution as part of his creative process is incompatible with evolution. You can have your faith in the Bible or you can have your scientifically informed belief in evolution – but you cannot logically have both. Here's why:
If the Biblical story is to be believed God created the universe and everything in it and “saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” As Chris Sinkinson wrote, “Evil is a corruption or distortion of the good that God has made.” N.T. Wright said of the entrance of evil into the perfect creation of God that “God's project for creation must now proceed by a long and tortuous route, through thorns and thistles and dust and death.”
Make no mistake that death, in Christian theology, is a corruption of the ideal order that God originally created in the Garden of Eden. N.T. Write says, “Death – the corruption and decay of the good creation and of humans who bear God's image – is the ultimate blasphemy, the great intruder, the final satanic weapon, and it will itself be defeated.” Throughout the Old and New Testaments death is used as punishment time and time again; death is at best a necessary evil and at worse an enemy of the faithful.
In fact, it is death that Jesus defeated when he died and rose from the grave. It's the defeat over death – a defeat that began on a cross 2,000 years ago and that will be complete when Jesus returns – that Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday. As the Apostle Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but you can safely summarize the entire Christian religion as a cosmic battle between good and evil where death is the antithesis of God. Paul says, “... if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” The Bible gives no other reason for Jesus' death than that it, somehow, was the only way for God to begin the process of defeating death. Without the entry of death into creation through the sins of Adam, as Paul said, the sacrifice of Jesus is meaningless.
Which brings us, finally, to the real conflict and the reason why Christianity and evolution are incompatible ideas that can only be believed by the same person at the same time through a tightrope walk of cognitive dissonance. Evolution, a process that functions by the laws of “natural selection,” is not a moral agent. Creatures that survive do so upon a mountain of death, and only continue to pass along their genes by keeping up with the tread-mill of genetic competition for as long as possible. Those organisms most suited to their environment will pass along their genes, those least suited will die, and it's through the constant purge of life that new, more resilient life evolves.
In “On The Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin wrote: “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”
Death is, for evolution, a core element of how it works. Death is the engine that drives natural selection. If we admit that God used evolution in his creative process we allow that God not only has at times given death free-reign over this world, but that God created death, saw its usefulness, and brought it to bear upon the universe prior to the sins of Adam. Paul said, “... just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross makes no sense – none – if we allow that death is a crucial component of God's creativity.
If Paul is correct, if Chris Sinkinson and N.T. Wright are correct, if God created the world to be a perfect place and if death is a corruption, an intruder, an enemy in that creation, then evolution cannot be the means by which God brought his creation to fruition. But if the accumulation of scientific data – the geologic record, radioactive dating, genetic research, and cosmology – is to be believed then Christianity is wrong. You cannot have at once a God that uses death to create his perfect world and a God that gives his life to defeat it. You cannot have a world populated by life that is the result of millions of years of natural selection and a savior who died to gain victory over death which only entered the world after the sins of Adam who, regardless of whether you believe in a literal six-day creation or not, was human and thus who existed not more than 200,000 years ago and long after the processes of natural selection began.
Yes you can believe in evolution and Christianity at the same time, as well-meaning liberal believers insist, but you cannot do so while also remaining logically coherent or theologically sound. It's one or the other.