Support for the Compatibility of Evolution and Theism

The BioLogos Foundation arguably has the best web site explaining the compatibility of evolution and theism.

Evolutionary explanations for species’ origins that incorporate Darwinian mechanisms of random variation and natural selection are deemed incompatible with creation teachings by some religious believers who oppose evolution, and also by some atheists who oppose religion.  However, survey and case study data suggest that most scientists and science teachers view evolution as compatible with religious faith, as do many of the major religions' governing bodies in the United States

Evolution Weekend 2012 will mark the seventh consecutive year in which Darwin's birthday has been observed by congregations to recognize that religion and science, two fields of critical importance to humans, should be seen as complementary rather than confrontational. Evolution Weekend is sponsored by the The Clergy Letter Project.  In 2004 an  Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science was drafted by Christian clergy in Wisconsin working with Dr. Michael Zimmerman, then Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.   Jewish rabbis recently drafted a similar letter.  The Clergy Letter Project sponsored the first Evolution Sunday in 2006; Evolution Sunday was expanded to Evolution Weekend in 2008 to accommodate events on multiple days

68% of Americans surveyed in 1999 considered evolution compatible with belief in a divine creator, and 66% did not want creationism taught as science (Evolution and Creationism in Public Education: An In-depth Reading of Public Opinion). Similar views are even more prevalent among scientists.  84% of Ohio college science professors surveyed in 2002 considered the theory of evolution consistent with belief in God (Ohio Scientists' Intelligent Design Poll). 

Roman Catholic theologian John F. Haught writes: "Any judgment that evolution is an inherently materialistic or atheistic notion is not itself a strictly scientific claim, but instead a belief." (Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution, Paulist Press, 2001, p. 108). 

C. S. Lewis was sympathetic to some anti-evolution arguments because he recognized that extra-scientific atheistic philosophy was (and still is) promoted as if it were a necessary part of evolutionary science.  However, Lewis refused invitations to reject evolution outright.  The following quotation comes from  C. S. Lewis on Creation and Evolution: The Acworth Letters, 1944-1960 by Gary B. Ferngren and Ronald L. Numbers (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 48, Number 1, March 1996, 28-33):

"I believe that Christianity can still be believed, even if Evolution is true. This is where you and I differ. Thinking as I do, I can't help regarding your advice (that I henceforth include arguments against Evolution in all my Christian apologetics) as a temptation to fight the battle on what is really a false issue . . ."

Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett provides a lighthearted but insightful argument for viewing evolution as part of God's creation.

Anglican priest John Polkinghorne is one of many scientist-theologians believing in both a Creator and modern evolutionary science,  while rejecting both atheistic materialism and religiously-motivated attempts to find scientific "alternatives" to evolution.  Please click here for two quotations from Polkinghorne's recent publications.  

Even many conservative Christian theologians teach that the creation stories in the Bible should not be read as historical or scientific accounts; for example, see Making Sense of Genesis 1 by R. E. Watts. 

Evolutionary biologists seek natural explanations for how species form, just as developmental biologists (embryologists) seek natural explanations for how organisms form. We cannot - and maybe never will - fully explain embryonic development scientifically, but we expect it to proceed in a manner that – at least in theory – could be explained scientifically as an unbroken continuum, a thoroughly natural process. We wisely fear and resist some abusive applications of our embryological knowledge, but we should never be dismayed that human embryonic development is as natural as that of any other organism. And no matter how much we eventually discover about the embryonic development of humans and other creatures, we will always be able to praise and thank God for creating each life. Of course, whether scientific understanding enhances or detracts from such faith depends upon one’s religious understanding. For example, when one discovers that only about 30% of human conceptions lead to live birth, 10-20% result in clinical spontaneous miscarriage and another 50-60% die before pregnancy is even recognized, the randomness and error-prone nature of human early embryogenesis (particularly meiosis, fertilization, and implantation) might seem incompatible with divine providence. Likewise the unpredictability, inefficiency, suffering and death inherent in the evolutionary origins of biological species, including our own, also might seem incompatible with providential creation. But we know in so many areas of daily life that God works in mysterious ways. We know that scientific evidence is insufficient, by itself, to support faith in God. Faith in a loving God who possesses both the will and the power to “work all things together” for our good must withstand abundant evidence that each individual’s life is subject to - scientifically speaking - the indifferent, impersonal contingencies (chances) and necessities (laws) of nature. Charles Darwin’s personal faith in God did not survive his growing scientific awareness of how nature works. But other people, then and now, continue to praise God for creating species through evolution. Such faith survives, not because natural explanations are scientifically incomplete, though they are - indeed, scientists always have more to discover - but because scientific explanations, however complete, will never answer all of our questions. There are other ways of knowing in addition to science. Some branches of philosophy are based on rigorous reason but not scientific data. Still other ways of knowing - and relating to - our fellow creatures and God are based on such things as love, trust, and beauty, all of which can be studied but never fully encompassed by science. For more information on how a thoroughly theistic (not deistic) understanding of divine providence can be compatible with biological evolution, see Craig Rusbult’s essay Divine Action in Natural Process.

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who has directed the Human Genome Project in the United States and established the BioLogos Foundation, gave an address entitled “Faith and the Human Genome” to the American Scientific Affiliation on August 4, 2002, which was published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 55, Number 3, September 2003 (available at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF9-03Collins.pdf).   Dr. Collins noted:

We seem to be engaged in contentious, destructive, and wholly unnecessary debate about evolution and creation. From my perspective as a scientist working on the genome, the evidence in favor of evolution is overwhelming . . . Outside of a time machine, Darwin could hardly have imagined a more powerful data set than comparative genomics to confirm his theory.”  
Dr. Collins eloquently concluded his lecture with the following words:
I think scientist-believers are the most fortunate. We have the opportunity to explore the natural world at a time in history where mysteries are being revealed almost on a daily basis. We have the opportunity to perceive the unraveling of those mysteries in a special perspective that is an uncovering of God’s grandeur. This is a particularly wonderful form of worship.
Those of us who view theism and evolution as compatible realize that some people (both atheists and theists) will not agree with us. Some vocal atheists defend their belief as if it were a necessary correlate of evolutionary science.  Some anti-evolutionists similarly echo the claim that evolution necessarily leads to atheism.  All we ask is that different views be articulated as clearly as possible, without "spin" and without antagonism or hostility.  For example, we can respect the approach taken by Dr. Todd Wood of Bryan College, who acknowledges that evolution is good science and that it's his personal faith choice to reject it.  Dr. Wood shows that misrepresenting or denying scientific evidence is not the only approach available to those who cannot accept evolution for religious reasons.

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