Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Scared of evolution?

I've been working on the appendix of my book, where I'll try to pose an answer to, "Help! I'm a biology teacher, and I really don't understand evolution myself!". I've spent the last couple of days searching out resources that show the actual evidence for evolution, and I've found a lot of great websites. (I'm excited about that so that I can point teachers to free, on-line resources.) A question keeps plaguing me in the back of my mind, though, as I've been working. What are we afraid of?

I keep seeing all of this evidence, and the amount of evidence just keeps piling up across the decades. I guess paleontology is like that, huh? The more they work, the more bones they have. I'm realizing how much I've been afraid of evolution and how I've looked away from the evidence. Now, in the strength of the gospel, I realize that I don't have to be afraid of what's buried in the ground and where the bones lead us. I'm also seeing how radiometric dating is good science, and when it says that Lucy was 3.2 million years ago, that's as trustworthy as pretty much any other scientific explanation. But, of course, pre-humans from 3.2 million years ago doesn't fit well with most sermons on Genesis 1!

So, as I do all this research, I'm wondering what we're scared of. ("We" means those of us who are religious and either intimidated by, skeptical of, or even antagonistic to evolution.) Of course, I know that there's this big war going on out there between the scientific materialists and the creationists, but I'm not really focusing on that. That war is much more political than it is about the facts. I'm talking about the deeper question of why we're scared that science says something that seems to contradict Scripture. So what? Why does that bother us so much? Why don't we simply say, "Oh, that's evolution. OK," and move on without getting in a tizzy. That's the kind of stance I'm taking in this research, but I guess I'm too close to the issue to know why it's so intimidating for other people. Maybe some of you can help me out in understanding what we're so afraid of.


GREG said...


a good question, to be sure, i think it has to do with the idea that if we're linked genetically and historically to other species, then we are in danger of losing our "uniqueness", that being created in the image of do we argue that we have an immortal soul but no other species do? when along the evolutionary path were we imbued with this soul? it makes the story a bit more muddy, difficult to conceive maybe?



plm said...

Good point about the muddiness of the story. You're right. It's not the clean, "formed... from the dust of the ground" way that conservative Christians think of the creation of Adam.

Hmmm.... Now I'm playing with metaphor. You said, "muddy," Genesis says that we were made from the "ground," and evolution says that our origins eventually reach back to non-living particles. I need to ponder all of that.

Anonymous said...

I think many people are scared of Science (non-medical) in general. They see Evolution as the main thrust of Science. If they then disagree with the "central unifying theme" as unbiblical, ungodly, or just plain nonsense it makes sense that they are afraid of something that would challenge their value system. It is always eaiser to stay away from a challange then to embrace it and understand it.

Let me try to answer your question of "Why don't we simply say, "Oh, that's evolution. OK," and move on without getting in a tizzy" from my point of view. If you remove the foundation of a Creator then everything else is shaky. Another way to look at it would be this. All education is moral because we are telling you what you "should know" we are making value judgements so if you bring in something that people view as immoral then they have a problem.

By the way I am excited to read the book!


Jeff said...

Hi Lee (and all),

I agree with greg that the fear you describe seems to hinge on how ordinary the evolution story seems to make humans - we are, after all, just another animal in a long line of animals. You don't find conservative Christians getting all worked up about the teaching of plate tectonics or Pangaea or stars being 50 million light years away or the beginnings of the earth-moon system, not because these don't contradict a literal Genesis readings, but because it doesn't really jeopardize our special place with the Creator.

But it seems like such a human thing to do to read Genesis 1 & 2 and make them all about us - "look how special God made us - to rule over things" rather than as a story about the majesty and power of God. For me, the evolution narrative doesn't threaten those characteristics.

It does threaten the idea of a "good" Creation, however, because natural selection seems such a brutal and wasteful process. But I'm still working on that one.

Take care,

josh said...


How could the evolution narrative not threaten and or cause other people to feel threaten. I think the very idea of speciality(if that's even a word ;) ) or uniqueness is lost or changed then we have lost a foundation. If we have lost the foundation we are adrift in some amoral universe where anything goes. Thoughts?

plm said...

You guys are all helping me close in on this core issue of the fear many Christians feel from evolution displacing them from being specially created by God. We know from all of Scripture that men and women have a unique place in the heart of God. The story of redemption focuses on us, although redemption is also focused on healing the earth. (Some people of been reading even say redemption heals the whole cosmos!)

So, sounds like we're saying that human evolution really is a major point of contention for many Christians. That helps. I thought it was just me.

Anonymous said...


I wasn't saying that the evolution narrative doesn't threaten orthodox Christian belief. It threatens mine and I've drifted far from orthodoxy. But for me, evolution and natural selection still invokes awe of God's creative powers, of His scope and grandeur. And we've only seen some of His creation as the world has been remade and populated multiple times as we understand the fossil record. And I feel no less awe of God's creation now (as someone who thinks that the scientific story is true) than I did when I read Genesis literally.

My faith is threatened by the method of creation at times. If God's redemptive work centers on us, then it was a heck of way to get there. 99% of species now extinct that ever were. Beneficial changes leading to primates and then leading to us arising because only a small isolated population (and then only the best adapted of that population) could survive and reproduce. It seems a long, circuitous, even painful, route to get to us. So I agree that evolution makes it all seem amoral and that is quite threatening.

But if it's true (and I, like Lee, am overwhelmed by the evidence for it), what do we do with it?


plm said...

Jeff: Looks like we could have another long, good conversation. You may be much further down a road I'm just beginning. I'm trying to wrap my head around the implications of the evidence for my orthodox beliefs, but it's pretty confusing. Thanks for your openness and honesty.

JNoah said...

Okay, I'm not a scientist (sometimes I'm not even sure I'm a Christian!), but for me it's not the fact that evolution "muddies the water" of a faith I wish was nice and neat. I mean, honestly, the story of Joseph, Job, Daniel, Christ being crucified, Paul being allowed to preside over the mass ravaging of people, have all helped me realize that God is not a "neat and clean God."

What I think scares people like me is that, at least what we've been taught in school and the way things have been presented, is that evolution is a "God-removed" idea. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I've been taught to see it as such. And yeah, that scares me. And yeah, that's a real big deal.

plm said...

JNoah: I'm with you on so many things you wrote. My favorite part was, "sometimes I'm not even sure I'm a Christian!". I appreciate your humility.

God-removed, huh? That makes sense. "Godless evolution" and all of that line of talk, I would guess. I agree with you that it is all scary. As I've been doing research for the book and looking at the mounds and mounds of evidence (a.k.a. huge pile after pile of fossils), it's making me question things I've long held as rock solid. Jeff, who has posted comments, here, knows that questioning territory really well. I'm struggling right now with the whole idea of death being introduced after the Fall. The scientific evidence is pretty clear that death has been around for millions of years.

I'm gonna ponder on the Godless part. In fact, that's probably the whole point of my books--people with deep faith can and should understand the evidence for evolution clearly without having to give up their faith.

JNoah said...

I'm so interested to read the book, and to see where and/or if you land on some of these questions. I think you're right that this isn't something we necessarily have to give up our faith to believe, although I guess it could end up being, and maybe evolution is just suffering from one of the worst PR jobs in history! If it's not a Godless theory/idea/whatever.

Couple of questions on what you said about death and the Fall. Are you talking about death to only plants and animals or death that included man (in whatever form)? In other words, is it possible that animals and plants died before the Fall, without it affecting man? I realize that question is probably more theological than scientific, but it seems to me that you could make a case that, at the very least, plants died before the Fall even if you take a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were permitted to eat fruit, and the birds and animals were given the plants to eat. In that, there is an element of death. I don't know.