Posted by: Timothy McNinch | October 22, 2009

Who gives a rip?

I’ve gotten a handful of comments about my initial post (offline… c’mon now, put those comments online–you can be anonymous if you want!), and one of the things I’ve heard is: Why are you doing this? Is evolution really that important of a theme?

I think it is. There are real consequences, I believe, for failing to address the issue of evolution honestly. I’ve worked for years with Christian college students who are beginning to study science. They all have to deal with evolution. There are basically three typical responses to college-level education in evolution, and none of them are good:

1, the student is convinced that evolution is a fact, and his faith in a Creator-God has been a fairy tale. He drops out of the faith. Obviously tragic, from a faith-standpoint.

2, the student stands firm in her faith in the Creator, and decides that she can’t continue a career path that is based in atheism. She drops out of science. This, too, is tragic. Why should science be the exclusive proprietorship of atheists? Why should Christians abandon the God-given mandate to “govern the earth” (Genesis 1:28), which is basically what the natural sciences are all about?

3, the student decides that faith and science are talking about different things. So he continues in the sciences, never thinking about God when studying and applying evolution, and his faith remains a meaningful, personal experience. In essence, he lives a double life; he’s a dualist.

The last one, the dualism, is especially prevalent in my experience, and I find it a great tragedy. A dualist may think they’ve found the happy middle ground, but really they’ve shortchanged both ends. Science is reduced to pragmatic, godless work. And faith is reduced to merely a personal preference, with nothing to say about how the world actually is. Both faith and science become hobbies, and the dualistic scientist/believer floats through life without a unifying and compelling worldview.

What can the dualist say to her scientific colleagues about her faith? Certainly not that it’s true! Only that she has a part of her life that gives her a personal sense of meaning. It may impact her moral behavior, or her experience of inner peace, but it has no place or impact on her vocation, the world she shares with them. How compelling is that? I remember hearing Stephen Jay Gould (a leading popular spokesperson for evolution) say something to the effect of “I know that many of my colleagues are Christians, and that’s fine. It’s a personal part of their private lives. But their Christianity has nothing meaningful to say about the science of evolution.” Which, to him, translates: their Christianity has nothing meaningful to say to me.

Another devastating implication of our failure to honestly address the theological questions raised by evolution, is that we leave a massive hurdle in the path of potential Jesus-followers. Now, I know that many people throw out philosophical challenges to the faith as smoke screens to avoid dealing with their actual reservations about Christianity. “How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” is not a reason anyone won’t follow Jesus. But in our generation, two philosophical problems really do stand out as roadblocks to Christianity for the average secular inquirer: the problem of evil and suffering, and the compatibility of science and faith.

Remember, for almost 150 years, the process of evolution has been the foundational narrative of origins for the mainstream secular world. If we ask them to abandon that story, and all the ‘facts’ and research that has rooted it, for a new story about a God who created the world basically as-is with a command and a “poof”… that’s a mighty big pill to swallow. And if, somehow, evolutionary science and the Christian faith ARE compatible, we’re erecting a major barrier that keeps out a lot of people unnecessarily. We should think twice (or three times! or four!) before we move on and say this issue doesn’t matter.

Like I said in my previous post, the point of this blog is to acknowledge that evolution DOES matter, and that we should take it seriously. I have heard a number of pastors and thoughtful Christians concluding that evolution and Christianity are perfectly compatible, but I haven’t heard much conversation about the implications of this compatibility for our traditional doctrines about origins, physicality vs. spirituality, sin and death, and the nature of the biblical Scriptures that teach about these things. Do we need to adapt, refresh, or reformulate these doctrines in light of the findings of evolutionary science? I know that’s a dangerous question to ask, but if the alternative is intellectual dishonesty, I think we need to go there with an open mind.



  1. I like to use the analogy of a man building his dream house. He visualizes the house and decides it is to be. Then he starts gathering the materials, laying the foundation, building brick my brick, laying out plumbing, electrical, and putting on roofing. Finally on day the house is completed. Creationists view the house, and none of the work and clear steps that were needed to build the house. Evolutionists just see the individual bricks that were stacked to make the house, as if they were stacked at random. I feel that both creationists and evolutionists see parts of the truth of the house, but they refuse to see the whole picture, that the house was created with a design is mind, and there were building blocks used to get there, to a beautiful product which is marveled at.

  2. Evolutionists don’t just “see the individual bricks”, they see the bricks and the similarities/differences between them, and try to understand them in terms of a theory of how the building process occurred.

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