Christianity and evolution: Are they mutually exclusive?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

It was a low point in the 2008 Republican primary. Debate participants were asked to raise their hands if they did not believe in evolution. Sen. John McCain, to his credit, added some much-needed nuance, saying: “I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.”

McCain didn’t receive a lot of praise for his comments, but today, his outlook is becoming more popular with many notable Evangelical leaders (some of whom met in New York on March 20-22).

At issue is a debate over whether or not God directly created Adam and Eve, or, as some argue, breathed spiritual life into them after having set the laws of evolution in motion (a non-literal interpretation of Genesis). This, of course, isn’t merely a theological debate, as important as that might be. It also has major political ramifications — perhaps ultimately leading to the question: Are science and a belief in Christianity mutually exclusive?

Tim Keller, who pastors New York City’s Redeemer Church, recently sat down with “Bonhoeffer” author Eric Metaxas for a conversation on this very topic. Keller, who calls himself an “old world progressive creationist who believes in a literal Adam and Eve,” agreed this debate is not unimportant, but also implied that the issue is not a deal-breaker in terms of salvation. “[It’s] not in the Apostle’s Creed,” he explained, “and therefore there’s wiggle room.”

While Keller does not believe Christians should be obsessed with the issue, he did note that, “[t]he Bible does not teach that the earth is young.” For those who believe the Bible insists the earth is only a few thousand years old, Keller explains that “the genealogies are not complete” (by this, he means that Bible verses stating “so and so begat so and so” do not imply fatherhood, but rather ancestry.)

(For more information, read Tim Keller’s “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople“.)

To be sure, this is not an entirely new way of seeing things.

In his 1908 classic book, “Orthodoxy,” G.K. Chesterton observed, “If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time.”

This issue seems to have become more politically relevant of late, and it is not likely to go away — especially as some on the left attempt to portray conservatives as engaging in a “war on science.” In 2012, evolution resurfaced when Jon Huntsman Tweeted, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” At the same time, some Christians argue that “theistic evolution” is essentially a heresy.

My guess is this will be a big debate within Christian and conservative circles for years to come.

Matt K. Lewis