When he was asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Many of us struggle to live up to this challenging decree. But a special conflict of the mind exists in many Christian communities—how to accept evolution and still love God. I regularly get e-mails from young people in crisis: Having been raised to believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, they encounter overwhelming evidence to the contrary in a university class, and their world starts to come apart. What a terrible and unnecessary tragedy!
A recent Gallup poll indicates only 39 percent of Americans believe in evolution. Among weekly churchgoers, that number drops to 24 percent. So even if you are personally comfortable with evolution, you are probably surrounded by many others who are not.
The evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming: Most scientists would now say Darwin’s theory is as well-established as gravity. The fossil record is compelling and continues to grow, as evidenced by the recent discovery of a 47-million-year-old primate. The study of DNA, greatly accelerated by the Human Genome Project, is even more convincing: Darwin himself could not have imagined a more persuasive record to prove our descent from a common ancestor through the process of natural selection.
Accepting evolution does not lead to atheism, regardless of arguments you may hear from the new atheists. Many geneticists and biologists like me are completely comfortable with the idea that God used the mechanism of evolution to carry out God’s creative plan. And what an amazing mechanism it is!
“Young earth creationism”—which insists on an ultra-literal reading of Genesis—is not a viable alternative. This view is neither consistent with the vast body of scientific data nor required by scripture; Saint Augustine was quite clear that such a literal reading would be a mistake.