Today I was watching a TV program I had recorded a while ago. It was Richard Dawkins’ The Genius of Charles Darwin. In the program, Dawkins visited a school and spoke with some children about the subject of evolution. The program offered some of the familiar evidence for evolution including Darwin’s wonderful specimen collection, put together during his voyage on the Beagle, his pigeon breeding experiments and a look at a whole variety of fossils.
He actually took some schoolchildren to a beach to search for fossils; and they discussed the sequence of creation as recorded in the fossil record. Surprisingly, at least to me, quite a number of the children he spoke with had rejected the idea of evolution and were convinced that their own religious views offered better explanations of how life came to be. However, although descriptions of creation within certain religious texts may appear to be diametrically opposed to natural selection, evolution actually is God’s creative process.
Of course, I am aware that such a statement raises other important questions, such as the question of the existence of the Spider Wasp we discussed recently, and indeed, as Dawkins and others have pointed out, the whole subject of animal suffering and its relationship to the idea of a creator God. In this article however, we will concentrate on the question of why evolution does not contradict the Bible and how it is possible for two apparently contradictory views to be simultaneously true.
Perhaps the best place to begin this deliberation is with a little analogy, so let’s talk about the subject of light. According to scholars, sometimes light behaves like a wave and other times it behaves like a particle stream. It is neither a waveform nor a particle stream, but both at the same time even though this idea appears to be invalid, counterintuitive and plain wrong. As best as we can understand the matter, the fact is that light has a dual nature.
Exactly the same is true about the Bible’s description of God’s creation process. Yes, it is true that the Bible employs different language to describe the creation process, but none of this description is at odds with what scientists have found from fossils. What it is necessary to understand is that different perspectives on the same subject are often valuable in allowing us to form more complete and richer overall pictures. This is an important principle.
Quantum mechanics tells us that it is impossible to know the position and momentum of an electron at the same time. So what? Well, science has actually proved that, firstly, we simply cannot know the answer to some questions, and secondly, whilst we focus on either one of these characteristics of an electron, the other must remain uncertain. This is not because of any kind of deficiency in our ability to measure; it is a statement about the nature of reality.
Similarly, when different perspectives provide separate but equally valid descriptions of reality, just as with the uncertainty principle, whilst we focus on one particular perspective, the other necessarily becomes increasingly uncertain. That is what happens when broadcasters such as Richard Dawkins insist that the Bible suggests a recent creation date for the Earth, within thousands of years which, of course, it does not. It is the exactly same issue, though from the opposite perspective, when some Christians say that God created the fossils to ‘test our faith’ or that they are the imprint of the animals that didn’t make it after the flood; comments which have no real place in an educated society.
When we accept that evolution is God’s creative process, we liberate ourselves from trying to reconcile two different perspectives on the same truth. Moreover, we can begin to focus on the purpose of the Bible, which was never meant to be read as a scientific document to be compared and contrasted with modern scientific explanations of the creative process.