While it is legitimate for Christians to probe questions regarding the definition of evolution and the related understanding of micro and macro evolution, these are, strictly speaking, scientific questions and not theological ones. The point here is that the church is equipped to authoritatively answer theological questions and we seek to do so on the basis of biblical revelation. We are not authorized on the basis of biblical revelation to answer strictly scientific questions. One such question would concern the mechanisms that were involved in the development of creation.
The topic of the relationship between Christian theology and contemporary scientific views of evolution is complex and raises many questions. As a result, Christians have differing views of how, scientifically speaking, God designed creation to function. Those differences should not be viewed as a threat to our fellowship under the Word of God.
Faithful and responsible interpretation of relevant biblical texts and their theological synthesis do not require the affirmation of only one particular scientific description. It is not the central purpose of the biblical texts and their theological meaning to provide scientific descriptions of the mechanisms involved in the origin and development of creation. Rather the purpose of this revelation is theological, that is, to tell us about the most fundamental and personal aspects of God’s relationship to creation and creation’s relationship to God.
Such a theological description rules out certain philosophical claims about God, creation and their relationship. The implications of a biblical theology of creation are first of all spiritual and moral. Atheism, polytheism, dualism, deism, mysticism, magic or superstition are, for instance, all ruled out. Philosophical claims of these sorts, even if made by scientists (as in the case of the philosophical construct of naturalism), are incompatible with the biblical revelation. On that Christians should agree. However, the meaning and message of biblical revelation does not require adherence to any one particular strictly scientific understanding of the mechanisms involved in the development of creation since no passage of Scripture is designed to establish such an understanding. Indeed it would be anachronistic to think that a biblical writer could have had a modern scientific question like that in mind.
This being the case, individual Christians who want to come to some conclusion regarding the best scientific description of the mechanisms of creation must do so on the basis of the evidence and arguments given by the best science available. The church, as the church, relying on biblical revelation, has nothing binding to say on the topic since scientific description is not its central concern. It will, however, have much to say in regard to philosophical or religious/spiritual claims that are contradictory to biblical revelation, even when made by scientists, and especially when made by philosophers of science.
There is no inherent conflict between the Bible and true scientific investigation because they each make claims in different categories. Biblical revelation lays a much deeper foundation for forming a view of creation than scientific description could ever provide. That theological foundation includes the acknowledgement that God could use many methods or means to providentially create, maintain, oversee and interact with his creation for his own purposes. And given the central purpose of biblical revelation and the corresponding absence of information designed to specify the exact mechanisms that God has used and continues to use, the church should not make normative and detailed claims regarding such mechanisms. This is so not because the church fears losing a debate with the scientific community, but because the church’s foundation in biblical revelation does not establish a normative conclusion about such strictly scientific questions.
Because we are aware of the various competing scientific claims/theories and indeed are aware of the limits of science itself, we acknowledge that consideration of the scientific evidence and the various theories that attempt to account for that evidence also leaves open the question of the exact nature of the mechanisms involved in creation. So although, as a matter of descriptive fact, there is wide consensus in the scientific community as to the adequacy of evolutionary mechanisms to account for the diversity of biological life, this consensus by no means explains exactly how it all works and many question remain unanswered within the theory of evolution. And so scientific inquiry goes on. As C.S. Lewis warned, this is one of the reasons that we should never depend upon scientific theory in order to validate our faith.
As an aside, outside the sphere of authoritative church responsibility, and as non-experts, we venture to offer an observation on the current state of the science. As far as we are aware, the classical neo-Darwinian explanation of natural selection as the final explanation has been all but totally discarded by the contemporary scientific community. This is so because much more complex mechanisms working at the microbiological level seem to offer far superior explanations. It seems that the larger evolutionary theory is now being upheld by a different set of mechanisms. But we can expect there to be continuing “evolution” of understanding concerning how these and other as yet unrecognized mechanisms work.
This continuing development in understanding will, no doubt, lead to significant wrestling within the scientific community—a dynamic that provides another reason that those who share genuine Christian faith may still differ on their convictions concerning the various competing scientific theories related to how creation works. Indeed some Christians may not form a firm conviction one way or the other on such scientific matters. The current state of science and its inherent limitations are reason enough for the exercise of charity among Christians concerning this issue.
Christians are free to enter into the scientific discussions and to come to a conclusion as to what current theory they regard as best or whether no current explanation is adequate. But the person of faith should not expect biblical revelation to give them a particular advantage in the scientific debates or expect it to provide a key that settles all scientific questions.
While some Christians may regard one scientific description as being more logically consistent with established theological assumptions than another, the long chain of logic required to argue to that point (undercutting any necessary conclusion) plus the lack of direct biblical teaching and interest in the issue, means that such conclusions should not serve as a test for fellowship or as a measure of faithfulness in the church. Consequently, Christians should not look to any church body for definitive guidance on matters that are strictly ones of scientific description of mechanism. Instead, they should look to biblical revelation and church leadership for guidance on the more foundational and personal matters of faith in the providence of the Triune God and practice of faithful Christian living in right relationship with God and neighbor, including scientists and fellow Christians with whom we differ on this particular issue.
Originally published May 28, 2016