This past week marked the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. All across the country there were celebrations and denunciations ”not by the same people, of course.
Celebrating Darwin’s life were scientists, biologists, medical researchers and others who deal in the life sciences. These are the folk who know that there is much we would not understand about life had it not been for the groundbreaking work of Darwin.
Denouncing Darwin were those who read the Bible literally and/or make their living stirring controversy about alleged conflicts between faith and science. Notable among these are Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Mohler has become the go-to person anytime a so-called religious expert is needed to stoke the fire of religious division in our country. He has been outspoken on the need of women to stay home and stay pregnant, and for men to be the head of the house and the church.
Mohler is also a champion of the view that the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God. This is where he gets crossed up with Darwin.
During his radio show on Darwin’s birthday, Mohler made it his business to set us all straight on the matter of evolution. It turns out, according to Mohler, that Christianity and evolution are completely incompatible.
Of course, it’s hard not to notice that life does in fact evolve and change. And Mohler acknowledged as much. “No conservative Christian should deny there is a process of change that is evident within the animal kingdom. And there is even a process of natural selection that appears at least to be natural.”
Mohler noted that we only need to look at a herd of cattle to know that these sorts of changes take place. But that such hereditary developments somehow reflect an evolutionary process, well, that’s absurd and unchristian.
Actually there are many Christians who fully embrace their faith while also fully embracing Darwinian evolution as the process by which life developed on our planet.
How can they do this? Well, the conflict is not between evolution and faith; the conflict is between science and reading the Bible literally. It’s hard to do Darwin’s math if creation only took six days.
Of course then the question becomes what constitutes authentic faith. Is a person a Christian because of what they believe about Genesis, or how they experience Jesus?
Mohler would likely argue that it’s impossible to believe in Jesus without first believing in the Bible. The problem here is the simple fact that for the first 1,000 years of the history of the church, the Bible was hardly available to believers. Jesus was experienced in preaching, in fellowship and in the ordinances of the church. It’s only been since the invention of moveable type that the printed word became the primary source of revelation.
But wait: Isn’t evolution just a theory? Sure is, same as physics, nuclear fission and chemistry ”all theories. A theory is not something unproven. In science a theory is a working model for testing reality. As long as the model works, you keep using it.
There is a real danger in encouraging people of faith to reject the findings of science. If something is true, then God is in it.
And we can take the Bible seriously without always taking it literally. After all, when Jesus said, “I am the door,” do we look for hinges?
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.