Many thanks to Chris E, who (in a comment on a previous post) linked to a superb essay by Tim Keller on Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople (PDF) – one of the best things I have read on the subject of evolution and Christian faith. Indeed, I agree pretty much with every word of it, and if you want a far more eloquent exposition of my position than I could ever manage – read this.
Dr Keller begins by observing that “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and creationists such as Ken Ham “seem to have arrived at a consensus” on one “truism”:
that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all.
However, Dr Keller observes that many question this premise, and argue that we do not have to choose between “an anti-science religion or an anti-religious science”.
The overall result is to leave many laypeople confused and uncertain, especially since those arguing for the incompability of evolution and Christian faith are often the loudest and most strident voices on both sides of the debate. He therefore addresses three questions that laypeople have concerning evolution and Christianity:
- If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?
- If biological evolution is true, does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?
- If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?
Keller gives the following answer to the first of these:
The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.
He argues that Genesis 1 is “exalted prose narrative” rather than either poetry or straightforward prose, and endorses Meredith Kline’s argument that Genesis 2:5 (“because it had not rained”) implies a non-literal reading of Genesis 1. Hence:
Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days. Of course, it doesn’t teach evolution either, because it doesn’t address the actual processes by which God created human life. However, it does not preclude the possibility of the earth being extremely old. We arrive at this conclusion not because we want to make room for any particular scientific view of things, but because we are trying to be true to the text, listening as carefully as we can to the meaning of the inspired author.
I hope to look at Dr Keller’s answers to the other questions in succeeding posts.