Survey sparks debate on God’s role in evolution

When descriptions include God being involved in the evolutionary process, more Christians are likely to accept the scientific basis for the theory of evolution.

The percentage of Americans who “reject evolution and express a creationist view” decreases from 31 to 18 percent when they have the option to choose. “God played a role in human evolution,” according to a study released by Pew Research in February.

After 13 years of surveying beliefs on evolution, the Pew Research Center decided to include an option involving God in order to “allow respondents to share their thoughts about both the scientific theory of evolution and God’s role in the creation and development of life on Earth – and to do so in a way that does not force respondents to choose between science and religion.”

Timothy Wakefield, professor of biology, believes this change stems from a “changing of the guard” as younger Christians become increasingly involved in the sciences.

“There’s been sort of an old guard of hardline fundamental young-earth creationists, who have promoted the idea that young earth creationism is the only acceptable way to understand the diversity of life on earth, but a lot of them are finally growing old and losing their influence as newer, younger Christian scientists who have actually grown up in the science and basically have already seen that no, that’s not necessarily the case,” Wakefield said. “You can be a Bible-believing Christian and also believe that God used evolution to create all the diversity of life and that’s perfectly ok. As those younger Christians have sort of come into their own and become more influential, they’ve had a stronger influence on young people.”

Wakefield said there is no conflict between faith and science because God is over both. “God has revealed himself through Scripture and through his creation and because he is the author of both of those things, there is absolutely no way that they could be in conflict with each other,” Wakefield said. “If we see conflict, that just means that we’ve messed something up in our understanding which makes sense because our thoughts are imperfect.”

Nathan Jacobs, senior biology major, described the three main strands of belief when it comes to the theory of evolution. “Young earth creation is basically the idea that evolution is pretty much wrong, that God created the earth in six days, he created everything else in those six days, and rested on the seventh day. Those are days as we understand days, like earth days with 24 hours. Theistic evolution is kind of the polar opposite. It’s basically saying that God used evolution to create the earth and obviously it wasn’t six days as we understand them. It was a longer period of time, several billions of years,” Jacobs said.

“Old earth creationism is the kind of in-between view. They say that the earth is older, but evolution by natural selection … they don’t really agree with that,” Jacobs said. “They say that God created in stages … It’s like different layers of creation over a longer period of time but without evolution. They stick a little bit more to the six days, often times, it depends on how people interpret it, but often times they’ll say the six days mean ages.”

Looking at the day-age debate helped Jacobs to find support for theistic evolution. “We’re looking at ‘day’ from the wrong perspective. The six days of creation being defined as humans understand them doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense because first of all the sun wasn’t actually created until day four and that’s the basis for how we understand days,” Jacobs said. “God created the entire universe and to go to Jupiter, a day is an entirely different thing. I would argue that the days that are referred to in Genesis are God’s days not our days.”

However, Tim Gilmour, associate professor of engineering, who prefers the term biblical creationist over young-earth creationist, said that Christianity and evolution are not compatible.  “When we look around and see disease, suffering and death, a biblical creationist understands that these things are a result of the Fall,” Gilmour said. “But a Christian evolutionist must assume that when God said everything was “very good” in Genesis 1:31, it includes cannibalism, violence, arthritis, cancer … The idea that the Bible is accurate when referring to spiritual things, but not scientific or historical things is a deadly contradiction that has eroded many people’s faith.”

In the ecology and evolution course co-taught by Timothy Wakefield and Joel Funk, sophomore Isabelle Martinez had an eye-opening experience. “I learned a lot about actually evolving and a lot about if it does go hand in hand with the Bible, if they are against each other, and how our science probably isn’t wrong,” Martinez said. “Scripture definitely isn’t wrong and so there has to be reconciliation somewhere in the middle of that, figuring out how they can work together hand in hand because they’re both true.”

“We’ve always been told … there’s no flaw in Scripture, there’s probably no flaw in the science so where is that flaw happening? It’s usually user error … Science is a really wonderful tool that God has given us to learn more about him and his creation and almost how he thinks,” Martinez said. “I don’t think he would create something that we could understand that directly opposes what he has done. He created it all to his glory. The evolution did happen and based on the evidence that we have, it did, then somehow God is glorified through that.”

For Gilmour, the ultimate authority is Scripture. “Some people say that God gave two ‘books’ – Scripture and nature. However, this is incorrect because nature is not a book.  Nature has no language.  There are only measurements and observations which are interpreted by scientists through various models,” Gilmour said. “By contrast, Scripture is a book, written in human languages and thus containing objective meaning … Nature can show people God’s power and glory, but there are many specific details which are more clearly revealed through Scripture.”