Lesson 4: Evolution

EvolutionI don’t seem to hear preachers or politicians talk about a seven-day creation of the universe in recent years. Instead, fundamentalists have turned to evolution. They insist the Genesis picture demands God creates fully-developed species, clearly separated from one another. Of course, they use much more emotionally laden language, such as, “I refuse to believe my forefather was an ape.”

Perhaps the popular acceptance of court decisions and the hard evidence of fossils make creationism a losing position. On the other hand, even sophisticated Christian groups find the theory of evolution challenging, but not necessarily from possible readings of Genesis.

Evolution presents a process seemingly without meaning or purpose, just like the scientific analysis of the vast mindless universe. However it adds another challenge when it describes survival dependent on fitness and chance. Life for some means death and extinction for others. Violence plays an essential role. Christians have to find a way to reconcile this brutality with their proclamation that God loves the world into being and participates in its history as a benevolent father who cares for even birds and flowers. How can we believe that, if we think the hawk taking out the sparrow is a natural part of God’s creation?

Evolution raises questions for at least two of our basic teachings. The first is our concept of justice. Old Testament law defines justice not only as fairness but also caring for the weak. In the New Testament, Jesus feeds the hungry, heals the sick and injured, calms violent storms, and claims we shall be judged on whether we do the same.

The theory challenges much more than biblical concepts, however. Our whole secular justice system is based on protecting the weak and medicine is based on healing the disabled. We use technology in some sense to thwart natural human limitations.

If the survival of the fittest becomes the norm for understanding all life, this kind of justice deteriorates the well-being of the world and society. The theory could, and has been, used to justify medical experiments on the handicapped in the name of genetic engineering as well as the genocide of large groups to achieve racial purity. Survival of the fittest, also, offers no argument against the killing of innocent children, if that strengthens future generations or the outsourcing of manufacturing to an Auschwitz, if it eliminates noncompetitive industry.

The second challenge is to our belief that God has intervened in history to redeem his creation. Christian hope is based on God’s promise of a nonviolent future. Isaiah proclaims the Peaceable Kingdom when all are safe. The lion and the lamb, the infant child and the poisonous snake will play together. Jesus’ healing acts are interpreted as foretastes of the Beloved Community when all shall be fed, clothed, and live in love.

Christians believe Jesus’ death and resurrection is the basis of this promise. In these historical acts of love, God overcomes our alienation from him, other people, and the creation. Paul claims that in these acts, God has begun to reconcile the world to himself (I Corinthians 5:19). In other words, the passage about God noticing the fall of a sparrow can be read not that he prevents the fall, but he is going to do something about that kind of thing in the future.

None of this is not to say the theory of evolution is wrong, only to observe that it is a scientific analysis that does not offer the final word or the one and only interpretation. Christians see love and hope when they look with the eyes of faith.

David Jonathon Hart, a Greek Orthodox theologian, puts it this way: “To see the world as it should be seen, and so to see the true glory of God reflected in it, requires the cultivation of charity, of an eye rendered limpid by love. Maximus the Confessor taught that it is only when one has learned to look upon the world with selfless charity that one sees the true inner essence – the logos – of any created thing, and sees how that thing shines with the light of the one divine Logos that gives it being…The Christian should see two realities at once, one world (as it were) within another: one the world as we all know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish; and the other the world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply “nature” but “creation:’ an endless sea of glory, radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty,, but as glimpsed through the veil of death. (The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?, pp. 59-60)

Of course, this is not the last word either. Both science and theology are ongoing efforts to understand. We have a lot more to learn in our conversation with science.

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