Two participants in a comments thread over at Living Lutheran were disagreeing about a point of biblical interpretation when one of them asked the other “Do you believe in evolution?”
A quick Google search shows that this question, in these terms, is not uncommon.
The question was not addressed to me but it arrested my attention, mostly because it was a non sequitur. It made me think, though, that my own answer to this question would have to be “No.”
I do not believe in evolution. I do, however, think that the theory of evolution accurately describes the processes of speciation and the origins of humankind. In other words, I find the evidence for evolution compelling and the arguments against it, well, not so much.
Still, I don’t believe in evolution.
In his recent book Speaking Christian (see chapter 10), Marcus Borg states that until the 17th century, the verb “believe” always had a person as its object, as when parents tell their children, “We believe in you.” Borg also notes that, at its roots, the word believe is closely related to the word belove. Believing, in this sense, connotes a relationship of fidelity and trust. This is the kind of belief that we confess when we recite the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.
It is only since the Enlightenment that the word believe has taken on the meaning of “intellectual assent to a proposition.” The difference here is between believing in someone and believing that something is true. One believes in God. One believes that God exists. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.
The question “Do you believe in evolution?” confuses the issue. It puts belief in evolution on a par with, and usually in opposition to, belief in God. It reduces belief in God to an intellectual assent to the proposition of God’s existence. I won’t go there.
I believe in God. I believe that the theory of evolution is true.
Last weekend was the Clergy Letter Project’s seventh annual Evolution Weekend. Though my signature is attached to the Clergy Letter, we did not observe Evolution Sunday in my Church. We never have. I don’t foresee that we ever will. Here’s why: even though I am convinced that the theory of evolution is the best available explanation for the phenomenon of speciation, and even though I do not think that the theory of evolution contradicts either the reality of God or a good understanding of the biblical texts, I’m not called to proclaim the theory of evolution. I’m called to preach the Gospel.
Or to break that down a little, I believe that evolution is true, but I believe in God.