Have you ever noticed that when a controversial topic comes up, all the attention goes to those with the most extreme views? That's certainly true when it comes to political issues. It probably shouldn't be surprising. After all, the most extreme and shocking views are the ones that seem to garner attention.
At the same time, everyone's busy. We don't usually have lots of time to think deeply about certain issues. Because of this, we all have a tendency to try to make things as simple and neat as possible, especially complicated things. Nothing at all surprising about that. The result is the following:
- Complex topics are described in simple, black and white terms
- All of the attention goes to those with the most extreme views at opposite ends of the spectrum
- Any nuance, and any views in the middle of the spectrum, tend to get lost.
This certainly applies to politics … in fact I think you can say this applies to every imaginable political issue – from abortion rights … to climate change … to gun control … to tax reform; and it also applies to religion … especially when it comes to talking about how religion relates to science.
Something else that isn't very surprising: most people don't spend their days thinking about any of these issues. Not that they don't care, it's just that they have more pressing matters to deal with, like doing a good job at work or school, putting food on the table for dinner, and making rent or mortgage payments; so it really shouldn't be any surprise that the average person doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about how the world was created. But some people do, and they're usually the people who hold the most extreme views. Let's take a look at the two extremes concerning how the world was created.
On one extreme are people who believe there is no God and that the world has no purpose. The famous British scientist Richard Dawkins is representative of this group. Dawkins believes that the world was created along the lines described by Charles Darwin and that the account of creation contained in the Bible is nonsensical.
On the other extreme are Christians who believe not only that the world was created by God, but that it happened pretty much literally as described in the book of Genesis. In fact, they believe that God created the world in seven 24 days and that the world is only about 6,000 years old. These people are often referred to as young earth creationists. There's also a group of people called old earth creationists. They acknowledge that the universe is a lot older than 6,000 years, but they still tend to reject the theory of evolution, and also believe the Genesis account is essentially correct, so they're pretty close to the young earth creationists.
The funny thing is that while these two groups (i.e., atheists and creationists) are pretty much polar opposites, they actually share some ideas in common. One is that science and religion do not, and cannot mix. Each group would like you to believe that if you believe in science or you believe in religion, you can't believe in the other, at least in terms of how the world came to be: Dawkins would like you to believe that if you believe in science, you can't believe in God, and you certainly can't believe in the Bible. At the same time, young earth creationists would like you to conclude that if you believe in Darwin's concept of evolution, you're more or less consorting with the Devil. Both extremes tend to think that any attempt to combine science and religion is pretty much a fool's errand – after all, it's a black and white world!
In terms of creation, much of the world seems to have bought into this view of a black and white world. As an example, consider the dictionary definition for creationism. It says, "a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis." Thus, in the popular mind, there become just two possibilities:
- Possibility A: Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is correct; or
- Possibility B: creationism, meaning that the world was literally created as described in the first chapters of Genesis.
Needless to say, there's a pretty wide gap between possibility A and possibility B. So the two opposing groups wish the average person to make a choice: either believe the scientific evidence and, therefore, rejection the Bible; or, believe the Bible and reject modern science.
But you know what? It really ISN'T a black a white world! Why not? Well, first of all, just as I've said in my book, The Unexpected Perspective, the Bible isn't a science textbook, and never was intended to be one. In fact, when you read the Bible, you should be careful not to try to draw scientific conclusions about what it's saying. What that means is that the Bible can be completely true without ever saying anything about science. That has important implications for the two extreme groups:
- People like Richard Dawkins should stop trying to say the Bible is rubbish because the science it describes is wrong. Well, the Bible isn't trying to say anything about science, so it's unreasonable to reject the Bible because the so-called science in the text isn't correct;
- And precisely because the Bible isn't a science text book, young earth creationists should stop trying to draw scientific conclusions about the age of the earth or about how the earth was created.
The other conclusion to draw is that one can simultaneously embrace both modern science and the message of the Bible – a position that is somewhere in between the two extremes I described. That's the position I take in my book – what is referred to by some as evolutionary creationism:
- It's evolutionary because it embraces all of the same science that people like Richard Dawkins embrace;
- And it's creationism because it also embraces the idea that God was behind the creation of the world, just as described in the Bible.
Now the two extreme groups I described earlier both believe you can't hold this type of view. I strongly disagree. Let's take a quick look why.
People like Dawkins would like you to believe that because you can't prove the existence of God by some scientific means, then God cannot exist. I, and lots of others, reject this line of reasoning. The existence or non-existence of God is a matter of faith and isn't subject to empirical testing. As a Christian, I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge this. I'm just asking atheists to acknowledge the same. Just as I can't prove that God exists, an atheist can't prove the non-existence of God. If one accepts that idea, it's not at all hard to believe that the process of evolution can be both real … AND simultaneously under the ultimate control of God – the concept called evolutionary creationism.
Now let's look at the question from the other side – can you be a faithful Christian who accepts that the Bible is correct and still believe in Darwin's theory of evolution? If you're willing to accept the idea that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, it really shouldn't be difficult at all. In fact, I believe one can simultaneously embrace the Bible on one hand and Darwin and the Big Bang Theory on the other hand.
So what do people in fact believe? Pew Research last looked at this in 2013. When questioning adult Americans, they found the following responses:
"Humans have existed in present
form since creation" 33%
"Humans have evolved over time" 60%
No opinion 7%
That suggests that fully a third of the population believes either in young earth or old earth creationism, but three in five believe in evolution. Sounds exactly like the black and white world I was describing above. But they also found that 24% accepted the following: "a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today." That would mean that nearly half (i.e., 24%/60%) of those believing in evolution also believe that it was somehow guided by a supreme being, the balance believing it was guided by natural processes only. They also found significant percentages of people who described themselves as religious also saying they believed that humans evolved over time by natural processes, exactly the category in which Richard Dawkins falls. Not quite such a black and white world after all!
As I said at the outset, we have a tendency to try to reduce complicated issues to simple black and white choices. Furthermore, for pretty much every issue, the people at the extremes want the issue to be simplified that way, and force people to take one side or the other. But for issue and after issue, the black and white choice is a false one. It isn't black and white at all. In the case of science and the Bible, it definitely isn't black and white. One can both believe in Darwin and believe in the Bible – evolutionary creationism is a realistic alternative.
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