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.
Intelligent design, which the Discovery Institute promotes, claims evolution alone can’t account for certain complex biological structures. But this theory is bad science and bad theology. It’s a “God of the gaps” theory that suggests the need for an almost infinite series of divine fixes to compensate for shortcomings in God’s original plan of creation.
The good news is that an entirely harmonious synthesis of science and faith is available. This perspective views evolution as God’s elegant plan for creating the marvelous diversity of living things, including those very special creatures called humans. Evolution provides the mechanism for generating the complex biological structures necessary to support consciousness and free will, but God remains the creative source of unconditional love, human spirituality, morality, and the longing for beauty. As the author of all physical laws, God is also able to suspend those laws at moments of great significance, as in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing in this synthesis is at odds with what science teaches about nature or what scripture teaches about God.
The battle about evolution has gone on long enough, with way too many casualties. God didn’t start this battle—we did. So let us resolve now to end it by loving the Lord with our minds, confident that the truths discovered by science can never threaten the Author of all creation.
Dr. Francis S. Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project, is founder of The BioLogos Foundation (www.biologos.org), which addresses issues of science and faith.