As a prelude to my remarks, the reason for the following words is the result of witnessing one too many malevolent attacks on macroevolutionists as being essentially of the devil. Such a belief is completely unfounded and quite frankly is absurd.
Why is evolution so resisted?
This segment will attempt to explain to the evolutionist why many Christians (in my estimation) are so fearful of macroevolutionary thought. The fear lies in what seems to be the outcropping of what it would mean to believe that man is not especially set-apart from the rest of the physical world. If mankind is not a special being, then what gives man any higher purpose than the animals (when mankind so clearly seems to have a higher purpose)? Inextricably tied to this thought is the fear that a belief in scientific macroevolution will lead to it being societally implemented as Social Darwinism (a system for which it is difficult to imagine a greater catastrophe). Such fears are in fact valid, because they were realized with the first movement of Social Darwinism. Thus, there is good reason for many Christians to be weary of evolution--the ideas in many Christian minds of what it would mean to casually believe in macroevolution are hugely dystopian ones.
Many Christians fear evolution because it seems to demean mankind. For worry that many theistic evolutionists will immediately object, know that I fully acknowledge that there are ways to conceive of macroevolution that do not cause man to be equal in God's sight to the animals. It is possible to believe in macroevolution while maintaining the view that man is a very different and much more valuable creature. That being said, evolution does in its very nature argue that man has resulted from "time + change in environment + (some) chance" to some degree. Starting with the African apes, moving to Ardipithecus to Homo Habilis to Homo Erectus and finally to Homo Sapiens--this is (to my limited understanding) how man developed over time according to the majority of modern macroevolutionary theory. It would seem intuitively true, then, that man is not really different from an animal. A common problem (or better phrased: stumbling block) to many Christians is the question of the origination of the soul under macroevolution. If macroevolution is true, at what point did God command man to have a soul? (With so many words from which to choose, I employ "soul" here to mean "the breath of life" [Gen. 2:7] or that which makes man truly alive.) At what point was man "en-souled" so to speak? This conundrum does present a difficult problem for the evolutionary theist and I do not pretend to know how to resolve it. I merely mention it as another source of Christian anxiety on accepting the notion of macroevolution.
Lastly, and in some ways most importantly, many Christians fear evolution because of the hate-filled rhetoric of a very few, well known atheists. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens are prime examples. Because of the extreme contempt displayed by these (supposed) figureheads of macroevolution, many Christians fear evolution is inherently anti-religion. The Christians fear that evolution must be not a scientific Theory, but a tool invented solely for the purpose of tearing down Christianity or at least religion generally. Indeed, Sam Harris wrote in his Letter to a Christian Nation that if he had the choice to eradicate either rape or belief in God, he would choose to eradicate belief in God (Zacharias, 2008). Such asinine statements have (duly) worried Christians about the true intent of macroevolutionary scientists. As I will discuss momentarily, these few atheists bear no resemblance to the majority of scientists concerning the question of the divine, but it is instructive to know that many Christians fear macroevolution because of those who seem to represent it.
To proper justice to the debate, it is essential to point out that Young Earth Creationism is not completely devoid of an evidential foundation. There are several compelling reasons to accept Young Earth Creationism, not the least of which being a serious deficiency in the fossil record of "transitional forms" (organisms that elucidate the macroevolutionary change from one organism type to another; e.g., mammals to whales). There are several fossils that show a similarity between apes and modern humans, but the link seems to be somewhat tenuous seeing that it is always possible that the variations could be due to either an abnormally small human or an abnormally large ape (or variations along that line of reasoning). In addition, the evidential basis for the macroevolution of other organisms seems to be lacking in convincing amounts. For example, the macroevolution of dinosaurs to birds seems to hinge on the existence of about fifteen to twenty different "transitional forms" (Archaeopteryx, Sinosauropteryx, and Sinornithosaurus to name a few) which due to the lack of other fossils of the same type gives rise to skepticism as to whether such fossils truly amount to enough evidence to point to a transition from dinosaurs to birds.
Also compelling is the Intelligent Design argument of "irreducible complexity"--that is to say that there are certain structures that work as a whole, but would not work and consequently would not add to the reproductive power of an organism if taken apart and having to evolve piece-by-piece. Since macroevolution assumes slow, gradual change over millions of years, it seems impossible that certain structures would develop correctly in the way in which they are found now. The common example is the bacterial flagellum--a complex cellular motor with over three-hundred moving parts. If macroevolution is true, how did the bacteria survive with a 25% then 50% then 75% completed motor over millions of years? A half-built motor would not add to the reproductive power of an organism--indeed it would be a hindrance since it consumes energy to stay alive (seeing that the whole cell is made of living material), but provides no services to the survival of the bacteria as a whole. The common rebuttal is that just as one could disassemble a mousetrap and use the wooden base as a paperweight, so too could a complex machine such as the bacterial flagellum be disassembled and each part serve a different function. I find this argument to be unpersuasive inasmuch that while it is true that the individual parts of a simple machine such as mousetrap could serve other purposes of themselves, the complexity of a machine such as a motor--with three-hundred moving parts--seems to override the possibility for the constituent parts to have other uses. Say the cellular "bolt" developed prior to the cellular "screw" since it is simpler and therefore faster to evolve--how would one attach and maintain a "bolt" for several million years without a "screw" holding it in place (hopefully my meaning is clear)? This seems to me to be a compelling argument to be skeptical of the macroevolutionary process as a theory though not to imply that the theory is one-hundred precent fallacious.
The preceding paragraphs were meant to serve as an exposition for the purpose of the evolutionist understanding the objections many Christians have to the theory of macroevolution. I want the evolutionist (whether theistic or not) to take what has been penned not as an attack or an endorsement of the critiques presented, but rather as an explanation. Thus, when interacting with them, it is advisable to start from the aforementioned topics when attempting to calm their anxiety--in addition to respecting everyone's right to choose to believe what they want--so that the crux of a particular Christian's issue with macroevolution may be appropriately heard and then discussed. Many Young Earth Creationist Christians simply wish to be heard and discuss why they do or do not believe in certain tenets of macroevolutionary thought rather than be shunned as intellectual or unscientific. If the macroevolutionist believes the Young Earth Creationist to be unscientific in his or her beliefs, he must state why and let the dialogue start from there so that some sort of understanding can be reached. Passive or active dismissiveness by either of side of the debate is unacceptable and conveys both the macroevolutionist and the Creationist to be unfaithful to their beliefs.
Why are Christians depicted as unscientific?
This segment is meant to motivate the Christian to understand macroevolutionary theory, why it is believed by many scientists, and most importantly why it is not inherently anti-theistic. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that many Christians are utterly unintellectual in their approach to science to say nothing of their approach to macroevolution. I will be hard-lined in this section as I am a Christian and therefore have the right and the responsibility to critique my community on its failings with respect to its dealings with other belief systems.
As stated, the most important notion that the Christian must understand is that to believe in evolution is not a denial of Christianity nor is evolution demonic or evil by its nature. Sin is the absence of good--not an existential reality of itself. Thus, no thing is inherently evil or bad, but is only evil if it is being misused or simply devoid of good. Thus, macroevolution may have been used to justify many evils since its conception (such as Social Darwinism), but it does not follow from that observation that macroevolution is an evil theory or that it was formulated by evil people. Remember that Christianity too has its shameful marks (the Crusades and the Inquisition to name two); but those shameful marks do not make it necessarily true that Christianity is evil. Also remember that macroevolution is a description of how life developed (a common definition of evolution is "change over time")--the theory is not concerned with the beginning of the universe or whether or not it has a Creator. Thus, macroevolution is not inherently anti-God or even anti-creation. What worries many Christians, I believe, is that macroevolution seems to contradict Genesis, chapters one through three. This is the crux of most dissension with macroevolution by many Christians: it is an issue of Biblical hermeneutics. "Should Genesis be interpreted literally or allegorically?" is the true fear of many Christians with regards to macroevolution. This post is not concerned with going through the various arguments for and against a literal interpretation of Genesis. What is didactic on this point is to remind the Christian that macroevolution does not argue that there is no Creator. Indeed, as already stated: macroevolution is a theory of development, not one of origin.
The recent anti-scientific strain of attitudes in Christianity is troubling. Many Christians, I think, have forgotten (ironically so) that God is the author of Creation. Christians should be scientific people because to practice science for the Christian is to study God's handiwork and learn about His creativity and thereby His nature. At the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome, there is an inscription on an exhibit of Galileo Galilei that reads: "The great Galileo Galilei said that God wrote the book of nature in the form of mathematical language. He was convinced that God gave us the gift of two books: that of the Sacred Scriptures and that of nature." (Ippolito, n.d.) God is a God of consistency (Hebrews 13:8) and consequently what God created in the world should line up with what is found in Scripture since He is the author of both. The point of the matter is this: if evidence was found that for all intents and purposes proved that Genesis cannot to be interpreted literally, then the Christian is obliged not to attack the science behind the discovery (assuming for the sake of the example it is sound) but rather to realize that God did not mean for Genesis to be interpreted literally. Before I am misquoted, let it be expressly clear that I do not mean to purport that such a kind of evidence exists at present--rather I am merely attempting to argue the Christian must not hold on his or her belief in Biblical literalism so tightly as to cause argument about what is plainly proven to be true. Complete, one-hundred precent Biblical literalism is untenable. It would cause one to believe that the earth is flat (since the Devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in Matthew 4:8, for example). Macroevolution has not been established completely (even the evolutionists themselves will tell you this), but it does not follow from that uncertainty that it must automatically be wrong (this fallacy is sometimes referred to as "God-of-the-gaps"). Nor does it follow from that uncertainty that evolutionists are evil individuals who wish to deceive people with lies. Scientists are simply people who focus on observation and the collection of data. It may in fact be the case that, at present, all of the amassed biological data in the world points towards the theory of macroevolution. This is no cause for fear--it is simply the work of Science. And if macroevolution is indeed false, then scientific observation and scrutiny will prove it to be so. Science progresses at a moderate pace and cannot be rushed if one desires accurate results.
Further, I have never been convinced that the question of the way in which God created life has any bearing on one's salvation. Writers such as Ken Ham have attacked some theistic evolutionists to the point of accusing them of non-salvation. The assertion that a belief in macroevolution somehow annuls one's faith is a falsehood of the grossest kind. Jesus does not once make mention of Creation, nor does He offer any clues as to how God created life. Seeing that Jesus' whole ministry was to bring about the salvation of mankind, it is readily apparent that how or in what way Creation took place was not of particular importance to His ministry of reconciliation. Consequently, a belief or disbelief in macroevolution has no bearing on reconciliation with God. Salvation is about forgiveness of one's sin and commitment to follow Jesus anywhere to do anything--not about believing certain things about the beginning and process of the physical world.
Especially relevant to this topic is the question of whether or not most scientists are atheists. It would seem from the popularity of such people as Richard Dawkins that most scientists are anti-religious zealots that seek to use science not to discover and thereby create belief in something, but to critique and thereby destroy belief in something (usually religious belief, to their shame). It is chiefly important to mention that fully fifty percent of practicing scientists are religious. Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund, Ph.D, associate professor of sociology at Rice University, conducted the most comprehensive study to date of the level of religious belief in the scientific community. In an article to the Huffington Post, she wrote:
"It turns out that nearly 50 percent of scientists identify with a religious label, and nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month. While many scientists are completely secular, my survey results show that elite scientists are also sitting in the pews of our nation's churches, temples and mosques." (Ecklund, 2010)
The perception that most scientists are atheists is therefore completely erroneous. Expositors such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris do not in any way represent the norms of their fields. Indeed, Richard Dawkins in particular has been lambasted by his own profession. Not only Christians, but many atheists have reacted negatively to Dawkins' book The God Delusion. It seems to me that the appropriate response to pontificators such as Dawkins and Harris--especially when considering both atheists and Christians alike think many of them fools--is to ignore them. They offer no valuable thoughts to the debate of God's existence and especially not to the field of Evolutionary Biology. To respond to their objections is not an efficacious use of either the Christian or the scientist's time. If and when people such as Dawkins or Harris decide to bring reasonable objections or topics to the various discussions concerning God, then shall they and those like them be taken seriously.
Finally, what many Christians lack in their polemic of macroevolution is love. Simply, love. Just as some atheists go entirely too far in their critique of theism (such as Sam Harris's statement about rape), so too are many Christians equally guilty of progressing far beyond the bounds of civility and charity when addressing the truthfulness or falsity of macroevolution. All debates--about any topic--should be undertaken with "gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. " (1 Peter 3:15b-16) When Christians attack those who believe in macroevolution so caustically, they assume that macroevolutionists are, at heart, evil people with evil intentions. As demonstrated earlier, this is not the case. Indeed it is the opposite of the case. Most scientists are concerned about something that most Christians are concerned about: truth. They wish to discover what truly makes the world function and why. That is a lofty and good design and one that should be respected by all.
In sum, I offer the following quote from Dr. Elaine Ecklund:
"Religious people need to remember that not all atheist scientists are hostile to religion. They need to know that even the most secular scientists struggle with the moral and ethical implications of their work. And scientists need to do a better job of communicating the importance of science to religious people -- especially in those areas in which religion might actually motivate them to care about science (like environmentalism, or 'creation care'). Because if people of faith believe they have to become antireligious or completely secular to be a successful scientist -- when this is not a full reflection of the scientific community -- it would be a disaster." (Ecklund, 2010)
Christians need not and should not be unscientific. Evolutionists need to understand the Christian pause that is given to macroevolution and why it exists. When this balance is achieved, the truth can genuinely be discovered about the existence of life and the process by which it was brought into being.
Robert A. Rowlett
Ecklund, Elaine Howard. 2010. “What Scientists Think About Religion.” June 28.
Ippolito, Daniel. n.d. “What Are Scientists Like” Anderson University.
Zacharias, Ravi, and Lee Strobal. 2008. The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists. Zondervan.