At Quintessence of Dust, Stephen Matheson has posted an interesting article about biological evolution (i.e., common descent) and whether it poses a “threat” to Christian faith. I’m not a biologist, which is why I won’t go beyond what is common knowledge to professional scientists when writing about evolution. With that caveat, I’ll make my position clear for anyone who’s interested:
Evolution means change. At talkorigins.org, we find this definition:
In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution … is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions.
–Douglas J. Futuyma in Evolutionary Biology, Sinauer Associates 1986
Biological evolution is a fact. To believe that evolution has not and is not happening is like believing the Earth is flat or doesn’t orbit the Sun. The evidence for evolution is simply overwhelming. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re an idiot if you don’t accept evolution as a fact, although you might be. Likely, it means one of two things. First, you are simply not educated with respect to the mountain of observational and experimental evidence that demonstrates biological evolution. Second, you are aware of it, or some of it, and are either unwilling or unable to process it.
The theory of evolution refers to the specific mechanisms that control genetic change from one generation of organisms to the next. In other words, life is unquestionably evolving (the fact), but there are competing models that explain and predict how it evolves (the theory).
Does any of this pose a threat to Christianity? Scientific models such as evolution are designed to explain and predict natural phenomena. They do not, as a general rule, explain all of reality. God is not present in the theory of evolution not because evolution implies his nonexistence (it doesn’t), but because the theory is simply limited in scope. It doesn’t consider God for the same reason it doesn’t consider the photoelectric effect. Evolution isn’t about God. It’s about populations, genetics, inheritance, etc. Neither Christianity nor even theism is threatened by the development and use of scientific models.
Matheson is not the first to point out the one significant challenge posed by evolutionary biology: a workable anthropology that incorporates the fall of man. But Christianity is not about the fall of man. Christianity is the assertion that God has reached across the gulf of human weakness to redeem us from sin. How and why the gulf developed are somewhat secondary issues. Christianity is about Jesus Christ, not Adam.