Why Would Christianity Today Try Twisting the Bible to Fit Evolution?
Christianity Today is asking how we can fit evolution with the Bible. I’m trying to figure out why. It’s about as sensible as the homeowner whose picnic table got crushed under a fallen tree in a storm. It’s his favorite picnic table. He can’t part with it — even with three broken legs. So he takes limbs off that fallen tree, lashes them together with string and duct tape, and straps them on the table so it stands up — but then his ten-year-old comes by, kicks it, and it’s gone.
He’s scratching his head trying to think of a way to do it better. But this beloved table of his is entirely made of cheap plastic.
He’s trying to figure out how to fix it, when instead he should be asking where he can go buy a new one instead. Because sometimes the best answer to a bad question is to ask a better one instead.
CT is Stuck on the Wrong Question
That’s exactly what Christianity Today should have done with their recent article, “Evangelicals Have Four Proposals for Harmonizing Genesis and Evolution.”
Their question was, “How harmonize human evolution with the Bible’s teaching on Adam and Eve, and with original sin?” The right answer would have been, “Evolutionary theory is broken beyond repair, so why would anyone try to make it fit with anything?”
The article, written by Jay Johnson, is a review of Calvin University professor Loren Haarsma’s book When Did Sin Begin? Human Evolution and the Doctrine of Original Sin. I haven’t read the book, so my comments here are strictly about the review. The title says evangelicals have four proposals for harmonizing Genesis and evolution. No, we have five, and the fifth is to toss out evolution for broken, just like we’d toss out that smashed picnic table.
I agree solidly with Johnson on this much: “Younger people have been leaving the faith in increasing numbers for decades, and one of the main reasons is the perceived anti-science mindset of the church.” He’s absolutely right on that point. It’s a problem Christians haven’t dealt with the way we should have or could have. But we can’t do it by jury-rigging theology to fit a jury-rigged theory of human origins.
Biblical Problems with Naturalistic Evolution
I should note that I’m talking about naturalistic evolution here, the theory that says every living thing came to be with no guidance or direction from God. Although he doesn’t say, I take it that Johnson has the same version of evolution in mind. It’s either that or theistic evolution (evolution with God at the wheel), another option I’ll address shortly.
Christians certainly have a problem with evolution. The Bible says God created Adam and Eve as special creations, out of the dust of the earth, and with nothing remotely like a mother or father to either of them. Evolution, in contrast, says that every living thing since the very, very first primordial cell had a parent (for single-celled organisms, for example) or parents (for more complex organisms). Therefore, Adam and Eve each had a mother and a father.
That’s a problem already, and it gets even worse. Historic, orthodox Christian doctrine includes a firm belief in humans’ original innocence, in full, unrestricted fellowship with God. Our first parents messed that up through disobedience to God, and since then, every human being is born with a sin nature. We don’t acquire it by some corrupted set of genes, and we don’t acquire it by learning. The one true and sufficient reason we have a sin nature is because we’re humans, descended from Adam and Eve.
Johnson doesn’t even mention that original innocence, but it’s hard to square with evolutionary theory. So is original sin. Both doctrines fit well with the account the way Genesis tells it, but neither fits well at all with evolutionary human origins.
Haarsma has four proposals to solve that. Two of them say that Adam and Eve weren’t real people, views which Christians should reject even if they believe in evolution. Two of them make a sort of biblical sense if evolution is true — just like “fixing” that picnic table with splinters and scraps of wood from the falling tree makes sense.
The problem isn’t harmonizing evolution with theology. The problem is harmonizing evolution with anything in the real world at all. Let’s take a really quick look at what the theory says, and one way (out of many) it fails to fit reality.
Evolution Is No Master Builder
Evolutionary theory says random variation plus natural selection (NS) plus time are all it took to create every organism that’s ever lived. Scientists have proposed variations on that theme, but they all agree that evolution is a master builder. Just look at all it has done!
Everyone in the field also agrees (with recent minor adjustments) that it does this craftsmanship on the smallest possible scale: DNA, or organisms’ genetic makeup. That’s how evolution has built all this magnificent biological diversity.
Except it hasn’t. New research, just in the past two to three decades, has knocked that leg out from under evolution’s table and sent it spinning back into the woods.
The truth is, evolution and I have a lot in common. I had a summer job once, where the first part of the summer we were tearing down greenhouses at a nursery, and then we were going to build new ones. We weren’t far into the second phase before my boss sent me away, telling me, “Tom, you’re no good at this.” I was great at demolition, bad at construction. So is evolution. And the research proving it is surprisingly solid.
It starts with the one point of evolution everyone agrees on: Organisms can change in minor ways, to adapt to changes in their environment. The most famous example is bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics.
Evolution Doesn’t Build Things, It Breaks Them
On the surface that looks a lot like our master builder, evolution, has been growing new capabilities into bacteria. That’s what everyone used to think. Then a couple of decades or so ago, along came some serious advances in genetic biochemistry. And what it showed is that it’s actually the other way around. Evolution doesn’t build new genes. It breaks old ones.
Surprised? So were the scientists. But it’s not only true, it’s consistently true. Biochemist Michael Behe explains these findings in a series of podcasts you can find here, or you can read it at length in his book Darwin Devolves.
You’re probably wondering how breaking things could make them work better. Behe shares this analogy. Suppose you’re driving across the desert, it’s hot, you’re thirsty, and you absolutely have to get to the next water or you’ll die. Your gas tank is so empty, though you know there’s only one way you can make it. You have to lighten your load — a lot.
So you toss out the spare tire. You’re pretty sure that’s not good enough, though. So you yank off the dashboard, rip out the stereo, and even pull out the back seat. You leave it all on the side of the road, and now you can reach the gas station. Your car is broken, but you’ve survived.
That’s a good analogy for how some bacteria have evolved survive penicillin: They break the genes where penicillin can harm them. And as I said already, it’s consistent: Wherever evolution has actually been observed to work, that’s how it works.
And this is supposedly the way nature created everything. It’s like saying that we’ve built jet engines by tinkering with cars, but the only “tinkering” we’ve done has been to yank wires and belts out of engines.
This is just one of many ways evolution fails. It can’t even get started without creating its own first cell. But science keeps finding, over and over again, natural processes can’t do that. The highly distinguished synthetic chemist James Tour shows that in a series of videos.
I could go on. Instead I’ll refer you to a book I just finished reading, Taking Leave of Darwin: A Longtime Agnostic Discovers the Case for Design by Neil Thomas. Or if it’s audio you like, try Marcos Eberlin’s “Foresight” podcasts.
Why Try Jury-Rigging the Bible to Fit a Failed Theory?
Evolution doesn’t fit the facts of nature, so why should it fit the account in Genesis? Why even try to make it fit?
We can’t solve that problem by adding God into the evolution equation. Most theistic evolutionists today are pretty stingy about what they’ll let God do there anyway (as if it were up to them). They want Him in the background, so nature can run without Him. That’s just the same evolution, though, with “God” sprinkled on top of it. It’s an insult to both God and evolution.
Others say God gets involved from time to time. In that case, Genesis is just fine as is. There’s no need to doubt that God that made Adam and Eve by special creation, just as it says in the Bible. (If you want more on this, here’s more — 1,000 pages more!)
Can We Harmonize Christianity Today With Evangelical Christianity?
So where does this leave us? Christianity Today is supposed to be the voice of evangelical Christianity. Here, though, it has totally capitulated to a naturalized view of human origins. It’s giving in to a view that many evangelicals reject for good scientific reasons.
I’d say that leaves us with one more “harmonization” problem to solve. Christianity Today has always been supposed to be the voice of evangelical Christianity. It’s supposed to be biblical. How does that fit with reality today? Answer: It doesn’t.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.