Why the creation, evolution debate is important to Christians

Georgene Rice interviews Dr. Keith Swenson & Professor Michael Gurney from Multnomah University to discuss why the creation/evolution debate is important to our approach to the Christian faith. 

Georgene: In his blog, Dr. Albert Mohler writes, “The BioLogos Foundation argues it is essential for the Evangelical church to embrace the theory of evolution in order to retain its credibility and relevance in the 21st century.” Please first, tell us about this organization and address this controversy.

Dr. Swenson: Biologos was formed by Dr. Francis Collins who was the head of the human genome project and has been appointed by President Obama to serve as the Director of the National Institute of Health. He has a strong belief in evolution plus he is a Christian so he feels the necessity to combine these two. He felt the church was losing credibility with a large part of the population by denying evolution. His solution was to form the organization, BioLogos, which puts God either in control of evolution or behind the scenes operating evolution—evolution being Gods way of creating.

Georgene: Some would consider embracing evolution and historic Biblical Christianity as being incompatible.

Professor Gurney: Often in these discussions there is a tendency not to define what we mean by the word evolution. Everyone believes in evolution in that it is the process of change. The question isn’t whether there is evolution. The question is to what extent evolution explains the origin and diversity of life and how that is reconciled with Christianity.

Georgene: The scriptures warn that there are some debates that are divisive and not helpful to Christians. Is this an issue that is important that we have agreement or is this one of those issues we are warned can undermine the elements of faith?

Dr. Swenson: I would say that it is an important debate. I would view BioLogos as a danger. In biology, we know that new species arise. What we are arguing against is the type of evolution where we have the spontaneous evolution of life from nonlife, where we have large scale evolution of all organisms arising from one common ancestor and where on a tree of life we are all related.

Evolution in its pure sense holds to the philosophy of naturalism, nature is all there is, nature creates itself. Carl Sagan said the cosmos is, was, and all there ever will be. So often they are taking a philosophy based on naturalism and trying to add God and scripture to that. It is like mixing oil and water. Damage is done to both evolutionary thinking and Scriptural thinking.

Georgene: Dr. Mohler says there is absolutely no reason a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumption of evolution.

Professor Gurney: I would say he is wrong. That is at odds with those who have studied the history of science and the relationship between science and Christianity. We need to distinguish between naturalism and evolution. I have a problem with theistic evolution, but we need to be very careful. We need to avoid making simplistic claims. This is a very complex issue.

Georgene: One of the concerns about embracing evolution is the denial or retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and creation.

Dr. Swenson: I find it interesting, that historically the church had much less confusion about Genesis and related chapters. What seems to have driven the views that we are now discussing is the necessity to incorporate the millions of year of evolutionary process into scripture. First there was the Gap Theory saying there was a large period between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. The Day Age Theory said the word for day in Hebrew accounts for a day being long ages of time. Both to accommodate evolutionary thinking. We are adding an unproven, naturalistic philosophy to the scripture and changing our way of thinking. Instead, Scripture should be the judge over our science, rather than science telling us to modify our thinking of scripture.

Professor Gurney: Part of this is not just the way that we interpret the empirical evidence in science. It is also, in the way that we interpret the scriptures. When you look at the history of the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, there has not been a concensus. This issue for the church has always been “did God create”, not the means and methods.

What we are involved with here is interpreting the empirical evidence of science and interpreting the Biblical text. We need to ask ourselves whether we are reading the text carefully and are we striving to understand the text as it was intended.

Georgene: I think what you are suggesting is that you can’t simply, plainly read the scriptures and understand them. That raises some very serious questions about whether or not the average Christian can understand what God is saying if the plain language of Genesis 1 & 2 cannot be understood as it plainly reads. Does it matter that Adam and Eve are who they are and the accounts and Biblical timeline are as it is described and understood by most people?

Dr. Swenson: It matters a great deal. The authority of scripture may be the bottom line issue. Genesis seems to describe the account in a very straightforward manner. The account of salvation is set in real time with real people. If we take away the historical perspective of those accounts we are really knocking the foundation out from under the Gospel message. I would say Genesis 1 through 11 are directly or indirectly the roots to all Christian doctrines, so we need to be very careful on how we deal with this portion of the scriptures.

Science has a history of being wrong. If we shape scripture to follow the science of the day, what are we going to do when it is proven wrong?

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