Why I am a Darwinist – Mary Catherine Watson

| July 12, 2012

Why I am a Darwinist – by Mary Catherine Watson

Believe it or not I used to be a die-hard six-day creationist. I had read all the books, collected articles, bookmarked all the websites proving that all this “evolution” stuff was a hoax, promoted by the media and government to eliminate our need for God. I was a skilled and practiced debater on the subject, and had a seemingly solid case for my views. Believe me, changing my views to what they are now was not a decision I made lightly.

What are my purposes? Good question. I am not writing this in order to convince you to believe everything I do. I do not expect, or even ask, that you decide to believe evolution is the answer to how life as we know it came about after reading this series. I merely wish that you give the subject some thought, and, more importantly, I humbly ask that you see how it is possible for a Christian to believe in evolution (yes, even macroevolution).

I grew up with a mentality that in order to be a Christian one must believe in six-day creation, and consequently always equated evolution with atheism. Unfortunately this view caused me to go through a massive amount of pain and torment when I took AP Biology and found myself convinced that evolution made more sense in explaining the world around me than did the Bible. Well-meaning friends and mentors lent me even more materials, and showed me more websites that attempt to “prove” creationism over evolution. Not only did I find these things sadly unconvincing, but it seemed to deepen my idea that unless you can believe in a six-day creation, you can’t be a Christian.

I wish to spare anyone else the sort of trauma (and yes, for me it was traumatic) I went through by sharing some of the things that helped me on my road to reconciliation between my faith in God and my belief in evolution.

This note is an explanation of some of the chief reasons I changed my views to what they are now. This is not an extensively researched argument for Darwinism, but rather my own personal reasons for embracing the views I now hold. Most of these spring from things I learned from my AP biology class, a book called “The Language of God”  and my own thoughts, ponderings, and musings.

The Nature of a Theory/ the Authority of Science

Many people will automatically bash the theory of evolution simply on the basis of its name, saying, “oh it’s just a theory, it can’t be proven.” What is often overlooked is the definition of a scientific theory. A standard definition is “an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena”. So in the scientific world, the theory of evolution is placed with the same credentials, support, and acceptance as the theory of gravitation, the theory of relativity, and the germ theory. Or take music theory, nobody doubts the existence of music, but the term only deals with the principles of the subject and how it works.

Neither is the theory of evolution a conspiracy cooked up by scientists to drive people away from God. The scientific field is highly competitive, and it is often a hope and aspiration of a scientist to come upon a discovery that will shake up a field of research and disrupt the framework of the day. That’s the sort of thing Nobel Prizes are given for. Therefore, “any assumption that a conspiracy could exist among scientists to keep a widely current theory alive when it actually contains serious flaws is completely antithetical to the restless mind-set of the profession.” (The Language of God, p 58)

And no, it is highly unlikely that every scientist is simultaneously deluded by this theory. Science is one of the most intellectually intense fields of profession around, and its workers have some of the highest IQs, they are not that naïve.

Geology

Even before Darwin came around with an evolutionary theory, which required billions of years to work, many geologists had serious questions about the age of the earth. In other words, scientists did not just change their estimate of the age of the earth to fit Darwin’s theory.

The idea of Pangea also played a role in my decision to change my views. There seems to be so much evidence for it, yet it would be impossible for it to break up and spread out to where it is now in a mere thousands of years. I won’t go into too much detail with this, but believe me, there is plenty of information out there if you want to do some research.

Problems with a Literal Interpretation

When first faced with all these questions about evolution, my first instinct was to go to the book I had trusted for so long to give me the correct and convincing answers I craved. However, upon closer examination of the Bible and another glance at my textbook, it seemed that I wouldn’t be finding those convincing answers there after all.

Firstly, a close examination of the first 2 chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 1 it is clear that God made the plants 3 days before man, but chapter 2:4-7 seems to suggest man was created before any shrub or plant existed. If a literal interpretation of these chapters was intended then there is some serious problem with the chronology and logic found here.

As for Noah and his ark (for the flood provided support for one of my chief arguments against old world thought), even if the ark was one and a half football fields long, how did it fit 2 (and sometimes 7) of each of the millions of land dwelling species? I’ve recently done some more research on this, and read some pretty far out explanations (people and thus forearms were bigger so a cubit was longer then, a “kind” is actually a genus not species, bugs don’t breath air with nostrils so they didn’t go, he took baby animals, God did it), as well as some logical ones. I think this one is still debatable.

There’s also a problem with the geological location of the animals as they are now. Endemic species pose a problem. Take the marsupials for example. Australia is the only place marsupials are found (aside form the very similar opossum in North America) and obviously Australia is an island. Taking the Bible literally we have 3 options (as far I can see). First, God did another creative act put the marsupials there separately. Second, Noah made an extra stop before landing on top of Mt. Ararat (or wherever you believe his ark to have landed) letting the marsupials off in Australia. Third, they all decided to swim. One could say Pangea broke apart while they happened to be on that part, but that takes millions of years. To me, the evolutionary explanation makes much more sense.

So, at face value, evolution seemed to me more logical than literal Biblical interpretation. But what about all the arguments I had built up against evolution?

Evidences for Evolution

Yes, there are evidences of evolution. I will not, however, go into an exhaustive discussion of them. There is just one main thing I would like to put in this section, and that is a quote from “The Case for a Creator: Student Edition” (I have read both the original and student editions). Lee Strobel (who I must point out is a journalist, not a scientist) quoted an archeologist on the subject of reconstructing the course of evolution. The archeologist said that it was like trying to reconstruct the plot of War and Peace using only 13 random pages. Lee Strobel was trying to make evolution sound absurd since they had so little evidence; however, I think his attempt backfires. You see, if someone handed you 13 random pages that made no sense, your first thought probably wouldn’t be “oh, there’s only 13 pages here, this book must not really exist.” Rather, I would assume you would say something to the extent of “oh, part of it must be missing.” Likewise, there is evidence for evolution, just not enough to put together the whole detailed story. We do, however, have enough to make a rough outline. In fact, one of our greatest supports for evolution is not the fossil evidence and carbon dating, but something stronger and more phenomenal than even Darwin could have imagined, and that is in our DNA. I will refrain, though, from going into a detailed discussion of it here.

The God that I know is one of truth, and light. I don’t believe it is consistent with His character to plant such “evidences” if they did not point to truth. I cannot think of any reason a god would plant false evidences except to test or deceive. I do not think God would test our faith in such a way that he requires us to entirely close our eyes and shut down our minds to the world around us. He gave us our minds as a gift to be used for His glory, and I therefore think it is only proper to use them to find truth no matter where that may lead, for indeed, all truth is God’s truth. As far as deception, I find that incompatible with the character of God revealed in scripture, for it is a cruel and unjust thing indeed.

Dispelling my Old Arguments

The most prominent reasons I left my six-day creation stance were not so much the new evidences I learned for evolution (though there were plenty), but rather a disintegrating of my arguments against evolution. I know evolution does not answer every question about how life came about, but in light of all the information I’ve come across from both sides, it seems to me to be the more logical option.

One of my most solid arguments against an old age of earth and evolution was based on the world-wide flood as described in the story of Noah. I had once heard a radio program specific to this subject, which I found very intriguing. I had learned of so much evidence for this flood, plus it amazingly explains so many other things that seem to suggest evolution. However, the realization of the above comment on Noah’s ark, plus the fact that such a flood would require steady, worldwide rainfall at the rate of about 6 inches per minute, 8640 inches per day–for 40 days and nights–so as to cover the entire earth with an endless ocean 5 miles deep, thus burying 29,000 ft. Mt. Everest (the tallest mountain) under 22 ft. (15 cubits) of water, made me think again. That is a lot of water, where did it come from, and where did it go? I had once heard someone’s explanation about groundwater and its role in the flood, but it just didn’t seem to hold much water now (pardon the pun).

Without that fundamental flood to explain away the fossils and rock layers, which suggest evolution, I had little to go on. But never-the-less I turned to my next argument. The human eye-ball. That masterful creation which no evolution could account for according to the book “Darwin’s Black Box”. But wait! The next night’s reading assignment for AP Bio had a diagram showing how it could! And yes, it was actually pretty convincing. You see, the principle of evolution doesn’t involve great leaps from nothing to something like the eye. It involves very small, seemingly unnoticeable changes, over countless generations over millions of years. It is quite possible that something as primitive as a light sensitive pigment spot on the skin gave an advantage to some creature, eventually evolving to a cuplike structure (such as the eyespots on a flatworm), eventually opening narrows, etc. In fact, as impressive as the human eye is, it is not as good as it could be. Because blood vessels run across the surface of the retina instead of beneath it, it’s easy for the vessels to proliferate or leak and impair vision. If God had made humans from scratch I believe he would have done a better job (to read more see PBS Evolution)

Along similar lines, the flight of birds, which I always believed too complex for evolution to explain, can be thus. A bird did not suddenly start having flight ability overnight. It first started with generations of a creature slightly lighter than others, perhaps with more feathery fur, so it could hop, which proved advantageous to it. With such small steps over long periods of time you have a flying bird.

These last two anti-evolution arguments mentioned can be summed up with one of the most common analogies used to make evolution seem ridiculous. The mere complexity of life is enough to prove that it could not have spontaneously come about, except by the direct work of a creator. One can come across a rock and figure it has been there forever. But when a person comes across something as complex as a watch, he must conclude it was put there and comes from some sort of watchmaker. So the basic logic is this:

A watch is complex
A watch has an intelligent designer
Life is complex
Therefore, life has an intelligent designer

But just because two objects share one characteristic (complexity) it does not mean they share all characteristics. For example:

Electric current in my house consists of a flow of electrons
Electric current comes from the power company
Lightning consists of a flow of electrons
Therefore, lightning comes from the power company

So chalking life up to an intelligent designer simply based on its complexity, is not necessarily the most solid logic. (Collins, Language of God, ch. 4)

And finally, what was once one of my favorite explanations of why there must be an intelligent designer (in the popular use of the term). I would argue that if, by that miniscule chance that everything could evolve, it would be near impossible for it to evolve into something so wonderful. Look at a flower, observe its beauty. Hear the magnificent song of a bird. Nothing could randomly become so ordered and lovely. Even the sky, with clouds so puffy, how could such a thing be the result of a giant explosion? I made this argument, however, out of ignorance. Firstly, the beauty of a flower and the song of a bird aren’t just random characteristics, they are things that help them survive. Bright colors and scent attract insects to pollinate, music attracts a mate. But evolution not only affects the characteristics themselves, but a human’s reaction to them. If a creature was genetically predisposed to dislike flowers or birds, or any part of the world around it, it would have little incentive to live, mate, and pass on the genes that make it dislike its environment. Therefore, it is the genes that cause affection and attraction to the world which survive in our gene pool.

But be not discouraged by this scientific explanation. “The elegance behind life’s complexity is indeed reason for awe, and for belief in God- [just] not in the simple, straightforward way that many found so compelling before Darwin came along” –Francis Collins, The Language of God, p 86

One more thought. Though it was never part of my own understanding of evolution, many people seem to still believe that evolution claims humans evolved from chimps or monkeys. This is a horrible misconception. I think if one is going to disagree with a theory it is important to at least understand the theory one is disagreeing with. When evolutionist speak of a missing link, the do not refer to an organism between monkeys and humans, but rather a common ancestor. Evolution does not occur in a line, one thing after another, but more of a tree, with things branching from a common stem.

By far, the hardest part of my journey from (6-day) Creationism to Darwinism was the fact that it seemed to differ from my strong belief in the infallible word of God. However, there were several key things that helped me through this rough predicament, and I would like to share them with you. First, some of the problems, with their solutions.

First of all, there was the obvious fact that Darwin and Genesis said very different things. One explains a several billion year process of genetic mutation and natural selection and the other, six days of individual creative acts by an omnipotent God. This was a very troubling observation. However, through this I learned the importance of understanding the intent of the authors of the Bible. It’s a matter of reading the Bible literarily, not literally. Genesis was not written as a scientific documentation of the history of the earth. Science as we know it was not even a concept to these ancient peoples, and Genesis wouldn’t have been taken as such by its original hearers and readers. It was meant to correct the worldviews of surrounding cultures, and show principles of how God relates with his people. When we read Genesis as it was meant to be, it doesn’t really conflict at all.

“Borrowing an example from the Rev. John Polkinghorne, there is more than one answer to the question of why the water in a tea kettle boils. The scientific answer might be because the burning gas heats the water. Another acceptable, though nonscientific, answer could be that the water is boiling because I want to make a cup of tea. Both of these answers are true, and both accurately describe the boiling water from different perspectives. The kinds of answers found in the scriptures are generally nonscientific but are always true.” ~ Website: Biologos

The Bible was not so much written to answer all of our “how” questions, but rather, the more important “why” questions.

Secondly, was the fact that a Darwinistic view of “creation” seemed to disagree with some very fundamental pieces of the Christian faith. If there was no “real” Adam and Eve, than how do we account for the fallenness of mankind? And if we could, what did we fall from? For evolution to work there would have to have been such a thing as death billions of years before humans. And to say mankind was always fallen has some serious inconsistencies with doctrine also. How can we be reconciled to one we were never with? This whole question was one of the toughest for me to get past. Thankfully, C. S. Lewis fixes this problem with his explanation in the third chapter of “The Problem of Pain” (which is a very good book I highly recommend). It’s hard to improve on Lewis’ own words, so if you are interested, I suggest you look it up for yourself. But in short, at some point in time, God chose to reveal himself to mankind, and had prefect fellowship with them. Some time later man chose self over God and that fellowship was broken. Though there was already physical death, spiritual death was introduced. But as we see through the rest of scripture, God continues to pursue relationship with us and offer us life.

In addition to the answers of these two tough questions, I came across several other comforting facts and ideas that assured me it’s ok to be both Christian and Darwinist.

One is the recentness of the whole creation debate. In fact, all this “creation science” and “intelligent design” argumentation seems to be only a reaction to the things going on the “secular” scientific world. Actually, after learning more about our early Church fathers, I would not be surprised if some of them would have eagerly accepted such a brilliant explanation of creation as Darwinism. St. Augustine, for example was extremely interested in the subject of creation and the first two chapters of Genesis, and wrote no less than 5 extensive analysis of these texts. (Francis Collins, The Language of God, p 151-152). He seemed quite open to the idea that there could be several legitimate interpretations of this texts. To quote Augustine himself, “in interpreting words that have been written obscurely for the purpose of stimulating our thought, I have not brashly taken my stand on one side against a rival interpretation which might possibly be better.” (Literal Meaning of Genesis) These are very wise words I wish I had heard sooner. Had I not so brashly embraced my six-day creationist views, the transition would have been much less painful.

In going through this experience there was one especially beneficial insight I gained. Our reason for belief in God is not simply to fill in the holes which science has not yet explained. To quote Francis Collins again: “faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill in these gaps.” But rather our belief in God should be based on knowledge, not lack thereof. When you think about it, a God of the gaps theology is actually quite unimpressive. But the God that has been revealed in scripture is quite the opposite! We have so much to share with the world just with what we know about Him and what He has done! That should be the primary focus of our ministry, not simply stuffing Him into every nook and cranny that science hasn’t got around to filling yet. As stated earlier, the Bible was not meant to answer all of our “how” questions, but the even more important “why” questions that science can never answer. In light of that, we know that no matter how much we learn through science it will never eliminate our need for God.

And finally, perhaps the most encouraging thing of all was the knowledge of other Christians who shared my worldview. The primary influence was a wonderful man named Francis Collins (whom you have seen me quote several times). I have never met him in person, but he wrote a book called the Language of God that was a tremendous help to me. Its primary purpose was to present evidence for the existence of God (and I must say he did an excellent job), but it also served to explain why Christians do not need to be afraid of science, even evolution, as he shows how the two can be in harmony. His personal testimonies and anecdotes clearly show evidence of the work of God and the Holy Spirit in his life. Yet in addition to this, his scientific credential also prove quite authoritative, as he is head of the Human Genome Project, and was recently named director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In addition to Collins, there were others who showed it is indeed possible for someone to be a Christian and be open to the idea of evolution. C. S. Lewis, as we saw earlier, had little problem reconciling the views, and anyone who doubts his salvation or belief in God must be out of their mind. His writings were indeed a great help to me during this time (I seriously gulped down all of Mere Christianity in one sitting). Pope John Paul II also made reference to evolution as a plausible explanation for how God created life, and the Catholic Church as a whole has been continually becoming open to this idea.

Christianity Today has had several articles over the past few years relating to the issue of evolution and Darwinism. Many of these articles are very open to the idea.

I have also been blessed to have people I personally know acknowledge that a literal interpretation of Genesis is not necessarily a correct one. One of the elders at my church in Burke has read and agreed with Collins’ book. Several other church members whom I greatly look up to are open to the idea, and recognize that it really doesn’t matter which way one believes, for we do not base our whole faith on the scientific validity of the first 2 chapters of Genesis. And upon my arrival at Asbury College (now University), my Old Testament professor did a marvelous job, not of defending the literal interpretation with so called scientific “evidence”, but of getting at the truly important intent of the author and what it means to us. Several other professors share similar views, including a philosophy professor who fully and openly embraces evolution as well as Christianity.

I can now honestly say (though this was not always the case) that I am grateful to God for bringing me through this experience, and all that He taught me through it.

So you may be wondering exactly “what is she?” Let me briefly explain. I am neither an atheistic evolutionist nor a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). In fact it would probably not even fit to call me an Old Earth Creationist (OEC), since that view usually involves individual creative acts of Gods over the course of millennia (though some would classify themselves as both OEC and evolutionist.) The most up to date terms for my views are “theistic evolution” and “biologos” (a term coined by Francis Collins). To quote the Biologos website: “Theism is the belief in a God who cares for and interacts with creation. Theism is different than deism, which is the belief in a distant, uninvolved creator who is often little more than the sum total of the laws of physics. Theistic Evolution, therefore, is the belief that evolution is how God created life. Because the term evolution is sometimes associated with atheism, a better term for the belief in a God who chose to create the world by way of evolution is BioLogos. BioLogos comes from the Greek words bios (life) and logos (word), referring to the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Please feel free to look into the following sites, books, etc. for more:

– The Biologos Foundation  (they also have a facebook page)

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief– Francis Collins

Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution– Kenneth R. Miller (great excerpt found here)

TheisticEvolution.org

AnswersInCreation.org

God’s Universe– Owen Gingerich

ABC News Clip

– http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=7809821

-A slightly different, but very interesting one hour PBS special on evolution and God:

So there you have it. In conclusion, I would like to give a word of caution. I know and know of far more people who have been driven away from Christ due to becoming convinced of evolution than I have seen brought to Christ as a result of creationism/creation science (honestly I don’t know of anyone personally). I am also confident that had it not been for God’s grace and the exposure to the above resources and such, I too would have either abandoned my faith or lot my sanity. It is a dangerous thing indeed to propose that Christianity MUST go hand in hand with a “creationist” mindset in order to be a true Christian. I would humbly ask you to please be careful in your conversation and debate on the subject not to imply literal (or any other) interpretation as the only correct way to view Genesis.

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