Last Sunday, I went to the beach at 6:00 a.m. and took a long walk. Then I sat down and looked out at the ocean. There was something in the way the rising sun played with the clouds that caused beams to fan out below, obscuring exactly where the sky met the sea. Elements of Creation. This is how I worshiped on my first post-pastorate Sabbath.
I have been thinking a lot about Creation. The trip to Israel in March was such an earthy, physical experience that since then my thoughts have been less heavenly-minded and more creation-bound. It has led me to read some books on Celtic Spirituality. It has also led me to consider evolution more thoroughly. In a blog that’s ostensibly about birding and theology, it just figures I would have to go there eventually.
For the first 35 years of my life, evolution was not a controversial topic. I never questioned it, never even considered it a “theory.” Then I learned, that many modern, Christian fundamentalists still firmly believe that God created the world in seven days. I’m fairly certain that like me, most of my family and friends accept evolution as fact. Why this disconnect? Is it a matter of denomination? Generation? Education? Not sure, but I can say with certainty that it is not a matter of faith. My faith in God is not threatened by the theory of evolution.
Creationists take the bible literally. I respect their belief and am willing to agree to disagree, but Creationists are often not so quick to allow my “false” beliefs. They say: “If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, then you can’t believe in evolution.”
I recently re-discovered a book I read a few years ago that shed some light on this subject. The book is “Letters from a Skeptic” by Greg Boyd. He writes:
I see no reason why God would have to limit Himself to the genre of literal history in revealing Himself to us. There is no reason why certain sections of scripture could not contain symbolic elements. If utilizing the literary genres of myth or allegory would better express the point God is trying to make, then what would prevent Him from using them? Nothing….taking the Bible seriously does not necessarily mean talking it literally.. Authors in biblical times were not as infatuated with “literal facts” as modern authors tend to be. They frequently wove together history and allegory or history and myth to make a point.
…But immediately the question arises to our literalistic modern minds: how is one to distinguish between what is literal and what is symbolic? It is the fear of just this question which sent the Fundamentalists into a misguided insistence that everything in the bible must be literally true. It is a difficult question, but one upon which little hangs. It’s all God’s Word and must, therefore be taken seriously. (Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, pp.133-134.)
I believe the bible is the authoritative Word of God and that it must be taken seriously and that it must be considered as a whole. It was written by fallible human beings who wrote down as best they could what they understood to be divine revelation. There are inconsistencies – but these do not weaken the integrity of the book as a whole or the portrait of God and our relationship to God as it’s portrayed. More importantly, I believe much of the bible is metaphor (or allegory or myth as Boyd calls it). Just as Jesus used parables as a teaching tool, the bible itself is full of stories that convey truth about God, though they may be historically inaccurate or even logically implausible.
Take, for example, the story of Noah’s Ark. It’s a great story, but if you give it any amount of thought, you quickly realize it’s implausible. The ark couldn’t possibly contain the millions of species we know to exist, let alone all those that are now extinct. The take-away of the Noah’s Ark story isn’t about historical accuracy or logical plausibility. The take-away of the story is that God LOVES the creation. God is an animal lover! And after causing so much death and destruction, God promises never to do it again: “I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” Genesis 9:15
Evolution is an elegant solution to explain of the story of creation; the first chapter of Genesis roughly schemes out the order of evolution as the theory prescribes. But instead of 7 days, it took billions of years to accomplish. What is billions of years to an eternal God? I guess it’s something like seven days. Evolution fits into my understanding of who God is and how God works.
I had reasonably worked through the challenges to evolution….or so I thought. Recently, however, an unexpected challenge came from another quarter: the scientific community. I always held that while scientists might not believe in God, there was still room in their theories for God to exist. The possibility of God was still there. In other words, nothing disproves that evolution could be the agency by which God creates.
But recently, I heard a challenge to the existence of God…as if evolution somehow disproves a Creative Force. Instead of “you can’t be a Christian if you believe in evolution,” the challenge is posited: “If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.” I have always assumed I was at least on the same side as scientists in the debate since I affirm evolution. But I hadn’t considered that they might have as big a problem with God as the fundamentalists have with evolution.
This is new to me, though I’m sure the argument has been around a long time. I am having some difficulty understanding the issue, and because of that, it seems a little daunting. Is there something about evolution that I don’t understand which precludes the existence of God? I haven’t heard a clearly articulated argument of it yet, but I’m ready to give it some thought if I do. Faith in God need not be threatened by challenges, though it may be challenged by threats. That's what makes it faith.