No. 1: Isn’t evolution only a theory?
While in everyday language “theory” means something uncertain and unproven, that is not what “theory” means in science.
In science it means, “a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
The scientific evidence for evolution is now very strong, especially from the newer areas of molecular biology and genetics. Evidence of this is set out strongly in recent books by J.A. Coyne and D.J. Fairbanks.
No. 2: Doesn’t evolution contradict Genesis 1-3?
It is crucial that we interpret Genesis 1-3 correctly. John Calvin, in 1554, recognized that these chapters should not be read for scientific information, “Nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.”
In verses 6-8, the King James Version says that God created a “firmament” and called it “heaven.”
The translators recognized that the Hebrew word raqîa used here means something solid, indeed it implies something made of beaten-out metal.
This is how the Hebrews thought of the sky, as is shown by Job 37:18, where it is said to be made of “cast bronze.”
God gave the Hebrews a creation story based on the way they saw the world, not to convey “scientific” information but to give them a true theological understanding of God’s purpose in creating the world, the nature of that world and of human beings.
There is a very long Christian and Jewish tradition of understanding these chapters in that way. Sometimes the story deliberately counters other creation stories.
No. 3: Does evolution undermine human uniqueness?
Biblically, human uniqueness rests in our creation in the “image” of God (Genesis 1:27).
Evolution is about a purely material process that God may have used to bring into being the species scientists call Homo sapiens. The definition of Homo sapiens is based on observable physical characteristics.
“God is spirit” (John 4:24) and so, presumably, is the “image” of God in humans. It is not observable in terms of physical characteristics.
We do not understand how the non-material aspects of our being (such as “mind”) are related to the material (such as “brain”), though it is clear that there is an important link (brain injury can affect people’s mental and spiritual life).
So, we are in no position to say when and how Homo sapiens became what John Stott called Homo divinus: creatures bearing God’s image, which is what the Bible means by “human beings.”
Evolution has nothing to say for or against such a development.
No. 4: What about the fall and Adam and Eve?
Uncertainty about the relationship between Homo sapiens and Homo divinus leaves open a number of possible ways of relating the story in Genesis 2 and 3 to the process of evolution.
My own speculation is that first self-consciousness, and then God-consciousness, appeared as what some scientists call “emergent properties” as the central nervous system became increasingly complex.
Once God-consciousness was possible, God took the initiative to establish a relationship with humans, and humans were faced with the choice of how they were going to live in relationship with their creator.
This may have involved an initial pair of humans. Calvin’s concept of Adam and Eve as “federal heads” of the human race may be helpful.
Just as our solidarity in Christ, our new “federal head,” and his salvation is something spiritual imparted by God, so human solidarity in Adam and his sin might be something spiritual imparted by God after Adam and Eve’s disobedience.
No. 5: What about death before the fall?
In 1839, William Buckland concluded a careful study of all relevant biblical passages by saying, “Though most clearly inflicted on man [death] is by no inspired writer spoken of as a penal dispensation to any other living creature excepting Adam and his posterity.”
So, animal death before the fall is no problem biblically. Despite the threat in Genesis 2:17, Adam did not die the moment he sinned.
This indicates that biblically the most important thing about death after the fall is alienation from God, not the end of physical existence.
Rev. Dr. Ernest Lucas is vice principal and tutor in biblical studies at Bristol Baptist College, former biochemical researcher, with doctorates in both chemistry and Old Testament studies. This column first appeared in BMS’ Catalyst publication, which can be read in full at http://www.bmsworldmission.org/catalyst.