Last week, the ever-so-edgy Pope Francis endorsed evolution.
Tweets were sent. Articles were written. Feathers were ruffled.
And then people started remembering that the Vatican okayed evolution, like, 60 years ago. Not to mention the early Christian teachers who speculated about something like it, like, 1600 years ago.
It’s always fun when church-people get hot and bothered about the e-word. It’s also kind of funny to see how non-church people react when they realize that not all Christians are raging creationists.
Anyway, this conversation seems to pop up in the media every so often, and I enjoy taking the opportunity to remember where I’ve come, and why I’ve grown to appreciate the concept of evolution so much.
When I was a freshman in high school, I did poorly on the biology test that we took after studying evolution. I wrote this off as no big deal: the theory of evolution undermined God and the church, and science should always be viewed with great skepticism and irony. In the subsequent years, I’ve come to appreciate (but definitely not fully understand) the natural sciences. I appreciate that there needn’t be any tension between faith and reason, God and science, but that all of these these cohesively enhance one another. And I appreciate when the breadth of modern science backs a particular theory, especially when that theory really doesn’t undermine God.
My cosmology professor in college (a faithful Christian) went on a rant once, against creationism. He said that a lot of people were looking at Christians – a strange group of folks rejecting science and clinging to an archaic belief – and that this was keeping those people from coming to know Christ. I think that’s when I realized that I could still be a good Christian even while openly rejecting creationism. Maybe it was even for the better.
The “evolution-has-been-all-but-empirically-proven” argument aside, I actually began appreciating the creation account a whole lot more after letting go of creationism. Suddenly, those first two chapters in Genesis weren’t just an informational timeline, but an ever-relevant account of who God is, who people are, and what creation is, and how it all relates to each other.
Evolution also reveals to us something about the nature of change, namely, that it takes time (sometimes, a really long time). We’ve become pretty crazy about instant gratification and whatnot, but I suspect that the natural world was never meant to work that way. This has also affected my understanding of what it means to be a “new creation” (as in 2 Corinthians 5:17, a favorite verse/concept amongst evangelicals). When creation is sudden/overnight, the expectation is that this “new creation” process will be pretty quick too. But that’s just not how conversion works. Life-change should never end, and we should be constantly growing (evolving?) ad infinitum. When we understand large-scale creation as taking billions of years, maybe we can become a little more content with a personal “new creation” taking mere decades.
But what’s really been occupying a lot of my head-space lately is thinking through what reading the creation account a-literally does for truth. In case I haven’t been clear: I think the creation account in Genesis is true – it’s probably the truest story that has ever been told. This might not flow too easily with the post-Enlightened understanding of truth as stagnant, distant, objective, and, occasionally, empirically verifiable. But, accepting evolution as truth alongside the seven day creation account means that something doesn’t need to have literally happened to be true. This means that we can value stories, art, music, and humor as genuine and robust vehicles for truth. This also does something for God, who is the Truth itself (I capitalized the ‘T’ in ‘truth,’ so you know I mean business). It means that God/Truth isn’t stagnant, distant, and objective, which is really good because Christians are all about that time that God became a person, and are also into the idea that God is personal and active in individual lives.
Someday we will reach a point when it’s not a big deal for Christians to be okay with evolution. In the meantime, all those creationists out there are really missing out. Evolution tells us a lot about God, ourselves, the nature of change, and the vibrance of truth, and I’m glad that it’s worked its way into my understanding of the Christian narrative.