Evolution, Science and the Constant Warfare in Evangelical Churches

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism, Science

For well over a hundred and forty years the church has waged an all-out battle against the idea of evolution. Some of this battle has been important in terms of protecting the centrality of God as the creator. A lot of it has been harmful to the cause of Christ and to the pursuit of truth. Witness the way many non-Christians actually think about Christians and science. No matter what you think about evolution itself you easily get my point. We look silly and foolish to millions of people. The question is simple: “Is this offense that we often give really necessary to our communication of the good news?”

One of the saddest things I have seen, for over forty years of public ministry, is the way anyone who believes in the idea of evolution is completely repudiated by large segments of the evangelical church. This simply should not be the case. A better grasp of the science, and the theology, of this whole debate would go a long way.

It has always interested me that the Catholic Church does not have this problem. They reject atheism and naturalism as rivals to real faith but they do not debate about the mechanism of evolution like evangelicals.

Reformed scholar Mark Noll wrote a wonderful and challenging classic book titled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1995). Noll said, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Noll’s book is particularly apropos when it comes to the debates that still plague our conservative and evangelical churches and institutions regarding evolution.

I was reminded of this not too long ago when the famous scientist Francis S. Collins published his most excellent book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Collins, a pioneer in the field of genetics, headed up the human genome project. He became a full-fledged orthodox convert to faith in Christ. But he is still treated as a enemy, a kind of “trojan horse” by lots of conservative evangelical people. Why? He openly accepts evolution while at the same time he posits that the God who is the creator used this means to bring about the physical world we know and see. This 9780743293570position is so untenable to many that it will get you:

  • Kicked out of some local churches and even some denominations
  • Removed from teaching Sunday School in some local churches
  • Removed from the faculty of Christian colleges or never hired in the first place
  • Hated and written about on the Internet
  • Cited and opposed in creation science and young earth literature

I have personally dealt with all of these reactions on one form or another. I have seen the damage of the anti-evolution movement within evangelical Christianity that links the good news to a view of origins so tightly than one cannot breathe unless they accept a particular reading of the Genesis account as normative, orthodox Christianity. I urge every Christian I know to rethink this response, regardless of how your read Genesis. At a minimum admit that you might be wrong about your reading of the Bible. You certainly do not hold a view that was universally held by the church fathers or a view that is clearly stated in any of the great creeds of the church. You have adopted a position that probably seems like a “slam dunk” for you but what if you are simply wrong? Worse yet, what if you have used your wrong interpretation of the Bible to destroy your brother or sister in the process?

A very good friend, Dr. Douglas Hayworth, has written a most excellent article on this subject. It is part of a series of articles that I have found so helpful. You can find the introduction to this ongoing series here and you can read Doug’s marvelous essay here. But before you read these article let me tell you that Doug is the son of a mission’s pastor from one of America’s finest evangelical mega-churches, is personally deeply evangelical in every meaningful way and thus has a clear and strong view of biblical authority. Even if you disagree with me, or Doug for that matter, you could stand to back up and rethink this matter with a little less heat and a lot more light and love.