Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Don't Believe In Evolution...


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.

 Good news! There will be a second Common English Bible Blog Tour beginning Ash Wednesday, February 22. I'll be giving away more free paperback copies of the CEB. Stay tuned!


  1. Good evening, Brant!

    It seems to me the whole evolution thing is based on this line of thinking; "You believe the gods make the sun rise every morning? We now know that in fact, the earth rotates as it revolves around the sun, and THAT is why the sun seems to rise every morning. So... AHA! THERE IS NO GOD!"

    But just because science can explain HOW something works, it really can't say WHY.

    Because you can explain how a light bulb works says nothing about whether there is a God or not!

    Evolution may or may not explain how the amazing diversity of life came to be on this planet, but it can't explain WHY it is that it all works that way, why there was stuff and energy and the laws of physics there in the first place to make it all possible.

    I read Dawkin's book "The Blind Watchmaker," and in it he describes how he wrote a program that drew various shapes by randomly introducing mutations. It came up with all kinds of odd looking creations - things that looked like bugs and robots and who knows what. He seemed very pleased with himself, how all these amazing little creatures were created by pure blind chance.

    He seemed to ignore the, "I programed the computer..." part that made it all possible!

  2. Good afternoon, StoryGuy!

    As always, I appreciate your cogent remarks.

    Granting intellectual assent to the truth of evolution neither necessitates nor obviates belief in God, as you so clearly know.

    What it does is put the lie to a literal reading of the Bible's creation stories. I don't think that the first chapters of Genesis were ever intended to be read as literal, historical accounts. Rather they are theological texts. They tell us about the Creator, not the mechanics of creation. They tell us about the nature of the world and our role in it.

  3. Ooops! I meant to hit "Publish" and fumble-fingeredly pushed the "Delete" link. So, I had to cut-n-paste the following comment from StoryGuy from the email notification I received:

    Very true! But then I am wondering, where do those who believe the Bible MUST be taken literally get THAT idea from? I don't recall any verse making that claim! Well, it seems to me to be a stumbling block more than anything. Wouldn't it be better to claim the Bible is TRUE - and then seek to find out HOW?

    Genesis is telling us true things about God and us. To make the arbitrary claim that it must be taken literally would seem to put a stumbling block on the path of coming to know that truth.

    I also neglected to say that I appreciated your insight in the difference between believing something and believing IN something. To believe IN God is more than just believing He exists. If I say to you, "I believe in you!" what I am saying is not that I believe that you exist, but that I believe you are who you say you are, and I put my complete trust in that, that you will stand by your promises, and that you can and will do what you say you will do.

    I guess it is fairly similar to saying, "I have faith in you!" I am saying I believe and trust that you can and will do what you say you are going to do!

    ...well, like saying a New Bible was coming my way! lol!

    But THAT is what we mean when we say we believe in God, and have faith in God... or at least that is what we OUGHT to mean! Not just that we believe that God exists!

    We are really saying we believe that God is all that He says that He is - and that He can and will keep ALL His promises! We can be completely at peace, resting assured that our trust is in the Almighty God.

    ...well, it's POSSIBLE anyway!

  4. Excellent post, yet again. You always have an amazing ability to articulate complexity.

  5. Interesting read and even tho i am an atheist it is a good article and the points are well made.