Monday, 23 June 2014

No, Faith is not the Crux of the Evolution Debate

Source: Photopin

In the wake of the evangelical films God’s Not Dead and God vs Evolution comes another film about Christians vs “secular academia”A Matter of Faith. The film’s premise is essentially about a Christian girl who goes off to university and starts to drift away from her faith after she is taught evolution in her Biology class. As a result, her father decides to challenge her Biology professor to a public debate to prove Creationism (and therefore the Bible) over the theory of evolution. Now I don’t want to focus too much on this film, partly because I haven’t seen it. Instead I want to focus on a quote by the film’s director Rich Christiano. In an interview with Christian News Network the following was stated:

The crux of the evolution/creation debate, Christiano said, ultimately comes down to a simple question: “Who are you putting your faith in? Darwin? Or God?”

I disagree with this sentiment quite strongly for three reasons.

There is virtually no scientific debate over the theory of evolution

The debate over evolution is sometimes portrayed as being a highly controversial issue where scientists are divided on either side as to whether it is true or not.[1] In reality, the scientific community is pretty united in their acceptance of evolution. A study conducted in 2009 by the Pew Research Center found that “nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time.”

It ignores the fact that many Christians see no conflict between believing both evolution and God

The creation debate evolution is often portrayed as a debate between Christians and atheists (this was the dichotomy I grew up with). But this caricature ignores the fact that there is a growing number of Christians who see no conflict between holding a biblical faith and accepting the science of evolution. And these aren’t obscure Christians or extremely liberal theologians either; many respected Christian leaders including Billy Graham, John Stott, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, J.I. Packer, Karl Barth, and Alister McGrath hold this view.

The problem with forcing a dichotomy between evolution and God is that it both drives people away from faith and stops them from coming to faith by saying that they need to choose between science and God, a distinction the Church hasn’t historically held. During the Nye/Ham debate earlier this year Ken Ham’s catchphrase when posed a scientific question was "There's a book about that, and it already has the answers.”[2] But this ignores a long tradition in theology that has held that God gave us not one book of revelation, but two books of revelation – The book of scripture and the book of nature. Both have the same author but they tell us different things. The book of scripture teaches us about the author and His plan for the future redemption of creation (including humans), and the book of nature tells us the history of His creation. Or as Cardinal Caesar Barionius succinctly put it during the Galileo affair, "The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

It misunderstands the nature of faith

Faith is a commonly misunderstood concept these days. It is often meant to mean an intellectual assent to a certain idea. But the nature of faith is different. Faith does require an intellectual assent, but it goes further in demanding a response in the way one lives their life. Jesus himself said This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.[3]And this is where the idea that it’s a case of putting your faith in God or Darwin breaks down. I accept evolution in the sense that I believe that it’s how God sustains life, but I don’t have faith in it any more than I have faith in the heliocentric model or the hydrologic cycle. These are simply scientific ideas that I accept; they don’t make any particular demands on how I live my life. I don’t particularly live my life in any way that consciously reflects evolutionary principles. However, a faith in God does call for a response in how I live my life (how well I answer that call at times is debateable).[4] Faith does call for us to live a life that reflects the Gospel we have received (Philippians 1:27-30).      

So is evolution a matter of faith? I don’t think so. Rather it’s a matter of not confusing periphery issues with the essentials of the Gospel.

[1] I partially suspect that this is due to confusion caused by the title “theory of evolution”. In everyday speak theory refers to a hunch or supposition, giving the impression that evolution is “just a hunch”. However, in scientific parlance a theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” (National Academy of Sciences definition)   
[2] Yes I was one of those people who not only watched the whole debate but watched it on a live stream too.
[3] John 15:8
[4] Kierkegaard calls the moment you encounter Jesus “the crisis” where you have the choice to submit or fight back.


  1. "Faith does require an intellectual assent, but it goes further in demanding a response in the way one lives their life."

    Loved your definition here. And I agree, I think it is easy to let my Faith in God and my knowledge of science coexist.

  2. There is an insidious definition of faith going around these days that subscribes too heavily to the 'with us/against us'mentality. In my book that harms the appreciation of what both sides have to offer.

    1. I think what you're talking about is more to do with social maturity. It's a concept could in-group-out-group bias where we naturally favour those with similar views to us, and marginalise those with different views. It affects people all over the political and faith spectrum. Of course out-group bias doesn't always go with in-group bias, but again I think it's a matter of maturity being able to see more than one side of an argument.

  3. I appreciate your comments about faith demanding a response. i've heard some say that Christianity is a crutch. Actually it is much harder to follow Christ than it is to just go with the flow.

  4. Your musing that faith requires a certain lifestyle while evolution doesn't is limited in a very important way. Many atheists (and Christians and other theists, for that matter) consider the fact that humans evolved just like other animals a reason to not hold to such Puritanical standards and absolutist, strict beliefs of fundamentalism and other radicalism. Evolution gives them a particular frame of reference for morality and interacting with other people ("very intelligent primates" deserving of dignity just like any other intelligent but still instinctual animal) that they may consider kinder and/or more effective in the aggregate than the aforementioned belief systems. To imply that evolution has nothing to do with life choices, sense of right and wrong, etc., is not completely grasping the bigger picture.

    I agree with everything else.

    It's not all black and white, there is always perspective needed, and you very obviously understand that. I'm just pointing out where a bit more gray might be beneficial in your wording.