Creation, The Bible and theory of evolution

Writer: 
Erkki Koskenniemi
Translator: 
Emilia Mansikka

1. Creation – a central Christian doctrine

The Bible begins with creation and ends in creation. According to the Christian faith, the world has its moments of beginning and ending. Between these two points of time, the world is in the hands of Him, who has created out of nothing all things visible and invisible. He is the one and only God whose existence has no end or beginning.

Belief in creation is a central Christian doctrine. It is an important part of the wholeness, where man finds his place before the Holy. It teaches everyone how to relate right to this world and everything it has to offer. At the same time, it guides to understand the whole of the Bible and its central message: in the Bible speaks God, who has created man and who calls for every man He has created. Christian belief in creation offers us many perspectives, and here I will point out some of them.

The Christian Church, which believes in creation, trusts God who is almighty in the world, a sovereign with no competitors. Neither evil rulers, great men of this world nor the human sin can ever even dent the power which holds the whole world in the palm of His hands.
God, who created the world with His word, will also make its history come to an end with His word. The whole of this timespan is under His control. During the time of the Old Testament, believers, who trusted in this, have gone on dangerous journeys and relied on the great Creator (Ps. 121:1-2). Since the times of the Revelation, persecuted Christians have trusted in this and asked for the Lord to return and give justice to His people (Rev. 6:9-10). In the midst of turmoil, it might be difficult to rely on God’s omnipotence. Nonetheless, it is a great asset and a source of hope even today.

One part of the belief in creation is trusting in the fact that God takes care of every human being. A believer in the Old Testament bows to Him, who knew the psalm singer already in his unformed substance and knows each day before it comes (Ps. 139:13-17). Every human being is “fearfully and wonderfully made”. It is exactly because of this that every human is precious, whether a man or a woman, an unborn child or an old person, black or white, healthy or disabled, a Christian or a Muslim. Human dignity is unitary and it belongs to everyone. Any amount a sin does not diminish it. Everyone is dear to God and everyone is called by God. Jesus’ words about how God takes care of people are well-known and touching:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
(Matt 6:25-34, ESV)

According to the first chapter of the Bible, God gave man a mission:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
(Gen. 1:28, ESV)

A corresponding mission appears in Psalm 8. God has given man a unique position in His creation. It means great honor, but also great responsibility. Man is in a way a caretaker in God’s farm. We have the right to utilize the Creation, but also the accountability to do it responsibly. We shall not destroy or damage the world, because it is not ours. As it is, every man is created by God and, thus, is His servant. Everyone will once face the last judgement and give account of his life. According to our Christian faith, no one can endure the judgement without relying on Christ, who brought grace and the forgiveness of sins to everyone who trusts in Him.

2. The Bible and natural sciences

After the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, there has been discussion among Christendom which will probably never come to an end. During the last one and a half centuries, natural sciences have developed and also the responses of Christian churches to its findings have varied. The main problem is easily formulated: The first chapters of the Bible tell us how God created the world in six days. Natural sciences, on the other hand, have a completely different view on the origin of the universe, the early stages of our planet and the development of human being. Modern astronomy and biology tell a different story than the Bible and according to the majority of scientists, evolutionary theory is clearly the best explanation for the origin of man.

"God hasn’t created man, but man has created God."
- This formulation, from a 19th century German philosopher, spread out when the communists took the sentence as their own and started developing the original idea: Religion is not only fiction, but it is dangerous because it decelerates the revolution. Religion is “opium to the masses”, meaning that it is an analgesic when a deep cut surgery is needed.

Evolutionary theory has willingly been used as a substitute for religion and to guide people in abandoning God. Many have repeated the motto: “I don’t believe in God, I believe in evolution.” According to our faith, everyone who has left the world with this belief has to face his Creator and give an account of his life to Him.

In godless use the evolutionary theory indeed is godless. However, not everyone who endorses the evolutionary theory uses it as a weapon against faith. Some Christians think they can combine evolutionary theory with their faith, while others don’t.

3. How the evolutionary theory has been evaluated?

Conservative Christian circles have responded the atheist attack by striking at the evolutionary theory and its gaps. According to its critics, a solid evolutionary chain is very difficult or even impossible to present, and missing links have from time to time been replaced with somewhat flimsy explanations. In addition, what the whole theory openly relies on, is that the probability for life and its development to the diversity and richness we now know is extremely small.

At the same time, there is a reason to be concerned by the quality of Christian criticism. Evolution and the origin of the world are studied at universities all over the world. At times this criticism creates the impression that these scientists are either a bunch of fools or talking without knowing any better. But is it really a worldwide conspiracy of godless fools and is there really an intention to make it a silently accepted dogma?

We should understand that there is an area of faith and an area of science. Both aspects are important. Faith doesn’t rely on reason but on God’s announcement. Science, on the other hand, examines the reality that unfolds to human reasoning. Not all natural scientists are godless and not even those who believe in the evolutionary theory. In public discussion, it is usually the extremities that are on display. On one hand, the ones talking are those who use natural sciences to refute Christianity and, on the other hand, those who oppose them without minding the quality of their arguments. What remains with lesser attention is serious research which doesn’t aim at either of these goals, as well as serious Christian researchers. One of them summarized his stance simply like this: “God created the world. Now we’re trying to figure out how it happened.”

Once I met a boy and a girl. They were engaged to be married in a few weeks. Both of them were acknowledging Christians but also soon-to-be doctors, so they had a very firm education of natural sciences. Thus, they knew what is being discussed about.
What did the fiancé see when he looked at his bride? A pile of elements and a stack of physical and chemical processes. It is difficult to prove that perspective wrong. Fortunately, that wasn’t the only perspective he had: He also saw his beloved bride with whom he wanted to share the rest of his life.
There are always multiple perspectives to look at things. The world and its origin can also be observed from two perspectives. Science seeks to find out how far it can get. A Christian bows down to the great Creator and looks for his own place. Both of these perspectives mean a mission for us.

Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory and it should be faced in the field of science and with the tools of science. In the world of science, a better theory always replaces the worse one, even if it happens slowly. Looking back, the Christian faith has for centuries reacted in science and research in very different ways: In time, science and research have been rejected completely as unnecessary human wisdom. At times science and research of the time have been accepted without any criticism. However, for the most part there has been some kind of relation between Christian faith and science. Defining this relation is a mission for every generation and plenty of wisdom is needed in that mission.

4. How does faith come into being?

One treasure of Lutheran faith is the, per se, humiliating fact that a man cannot make himself a believer nor remain in faith one single moment by himself. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken faith in Christ in the human heart.

The Christian criticism against the evolutionary theory sometimes has an odd feature: It is trusted that a person who comprehends the evolutionary theory as false becomes a believer. However, replacing one scientific theory with another doesn’t make anyone a Christian. The human reason has its own mission, but it cannot make a person believe in the gospel of the cross. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and He gives birth to it through the Word and sacraments wherever and whenever He will.

5. Bowing wisdom

Western science is proud of its independence and autonomy. A self-respecting scientist doesn’t bow down before anyone or anything. Science of the 1900s was surrounded by the atmosphere of optimism: Man is able to solve the problems of this world with the help of science and technology. During the last decades this faith has undergone some hard times. Science and technology haven’t brought just peace and happiness, but fragmentation, loneliness and an environment heading towards destruction.

In the beginning of the New Testament, it is told how wise men from the East came to the manger of baby Jesus. They did not become less wise by bowing in front of the Holy. In various masterpieces of art their faces reflect bliss and the joy of discovery.

Beside fragmented, shattering and narrow science we need wisdom which can bow down before the great Creator.