Evolution and Faith
The following is reprinted from Evolution and Faith, ACU Press, Abilene, TX, 1988. This book contained chapters on views about evolution written by 11 members of the ACU faculty at that time. I was allowed to have an article about how the study of evolution had a role in my conversion to Christianity printed as an appendix in the book. The book is now out of print, but we felt that some of our readers might be interested in reading the article.
A little boy was asked by a minister why he believed in God. He replied, "I guess it's been in our family for a long time." Unfortunately, that answer is the reason many of us hold to the religious convictions that we have. We really do not know why we believe what we believe; we have simply accepted the traditions of our childhood and are following that acceptance through life. I, too, accepted the traditions of my childhood; but, unlike many people, my belief system was one of atheism. My memory of religious statements by my parents and many of their associates involve things like:
"Do you really believe there's an 'Old Man' up in the sky zapping things into existence here upon the earth?"
"Do you really believe that the church makes any difference in what people do?"
"How can anyone believe all that 'mumbo jumbo' that preachers preach?"
By the time I was 8 years old, I had accepted the notion that only foolish, ignorant, uneducated people believe in God. As I moved into adolescence, I became increasingly active in atheism. As my science education accelerated, I became more and more committed to the idea that science and technology held the keys to solving man's problems. By the time I was 16 years old, I was a hard-core, aggressive atheist, attacking anything that smacked of religion in any way.
Late in my high school career, I had the fortune to take a physics class under a teacher named Mr. Gross, whom I had grown to respect from my contact with him in the 8th grade. Unlike the 8th grade class, however, the physics class had laboratory periods when a student could talk to the teacher and get to know him. My caustic remarks about God and the Bible were always met with a warm smile by Mr. Gross, but never a response. One day after an especially biting remark from me about "the stupidity of religion and the Bible," he asked me if I had ever studied the scientific accuracy of the Bible. I had never even read the Bible, much less studied it, so I had to answer negatively. He said, "You know, John, I had a terrible time trying to decide whether to become a teacher or a preacher. I finally decided that God speaks as well in His creation as He does in the Bible and the two agree exactly. I suggest that you study both. Start with Genesis...."
I was shocked to learn that this man whom I respected as a scientist would be a believer in God, much less that he had considered becoming a minister. I was even more appalled that he would suggest that Genesis 1 and science would agree. All my life, I had heard that the biblical account was a lot of foolishness and myth that no logical person could accept. If Genesis were myth, it could not be scientifically accurate. In addition to this stimulus from Mr. Gross, I had a young lady friend who was encouraging me to read the Bible. She was a Christian who attended the services of the church regularly. We had been dating two years or so, and I suspected that I was in love with her. She was a moral giant, uncompromising in her beliefs, and confident about her faith. When arguments came up, she always reverted to the Bible as the basis of her decisions. I decided that, if I could prove the Bible wrong, I could win a lot of arguments with her as well as prove to myself that Mr. Gross was wrong. So, I decided to study the first chapter of Genesis in detail. I was sure that with the knowledge of geology and evolution that I had gained by that time, I could easily destroy any credibility the Bible might have. My parents had told me that the Genesis record gave many teachings which modern science had proven to be false. I was so sure about the ease with which I could destroy anyone's belief in the integrity of the Genesis record that I decided to take exhaustive notes and write a book which I could title All the Stupidity of the Bible. Now I could add the making of money to the motivations I had to prove the Bible wrong.
Armed with this truck load of prejudice, dictionaries, and a dozen or so books on geology and evolution, I began my personal annihilation of the Genesis account of creation. Having never attended a Bible class and not having heard a sermon would turn out to be an advantage for me, for I had no preconceived ideas about what the Genesis record taught.
My first surprise came in the very first verse of Genesis . When I read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," I realized that this first verse dealt with a subject to which evolution could not address itself--creation. As an atheist, it had never occurred to me that evolution assumed everything. Genesis 1:1 states that matter exists and it exists in a way that could produce and sustain life. Evolution does not deal with creation. It only deals with how things may have changed once they were already created.
I dislike the term "creation science" when that term is applied to rebuttals of theories of evolution. The creation of the cosmos "out of nothing" is creation. Hypothetical models of how living things may have changed from one form to another is not creation!
My second surprise in reading Genesis 1:1 was that it was not dated. I had always been told that the biblical record taught that the earth was created in the year 4004 B.C. To maintain such a position, every verse in the Genesis record had to be dated. This first verse was not dated. It also was not stated as a summary verse, but as a historical event. The verse does not say that the next 28 verses are explaining what the first verse says. "In the beginning God created..." is an event. Something took place. It is not an introduction to duplicate statements in later verses. As I continued reading through the early part of Genesis 1, I read about other conditions on the earth which I knew were essential to the development of life. The atmosphere, water, land, and all the other conditions needed for life were described. I became uneasy as I saw this careful and accurate description, but I was still confident that the evolution of life would ultimately expose the fallacious nature of the Bible's history.
At verses 10 and 11, I came in contact with the first description of life on the earth. In my studies in science, I had learned that the first living thing on the earth was a plant. It was logical that an organism which could turn sunlight into food was necessary for the origination of life. In addition to this logic, I had seen plant fossils and had studied the sequence that plants follow in populating a barren area whether it be on land or in the sea. I knew that simple plants like algae or lichen are followed by gymnosperms (ferns and conifers), which are followed by angiosperms (seed plants like dogwood or apple trees). Imagine my surprise when I found Genesis giving exactly the same sequence!
"God said, Let the earth bring forth grass...." The Hebrew word deshe is used here, indicating moss or algae or lichen. The word catshir is not used, which is the kind of grass on which one uses a lawnmower. The second kind of plant was "the herb" from the Hebrew word eseb. This word is used when referring to the kind of plants science calls "gymnosperms." The most recent kind of plant, according to Genesis, was the flowering "tree yielding fruit." What better description could be given of the succession I knew to be a modern concept of science. How could the ancient writers of Genesis have accurately described the logical sequence in which plants were created?
In verse 20, I was to receive more surprises. The biblical record identifies the first animal to appear upon the earth. The statement was clear and, for the first time, I thought I had something in the Bible I could prove to be wrong. "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life...." Clearly the indication was that the first animals upon the earth were water creatures. That point could not be argued. The trilobite and other marine fossils have strongly testified that animal life began in the sea. The Genesis account indicated that many forms of sea life came into existence at the same time. In my biology classes, I had been taught that life began as simple animals and gradually evolved to more complex animals. I had drawn models of how the sponges might have evolved into corals and how the various mollusks might have led to higher forms of life. I had also been told that backboned (vertebrate) animals were very recent additions to the earth's life forms compared to the trilobite and its friends.
I was elated at this obvious conflict between the biblical record and the facts, and I rushed to the geology library to get pictures to document the facts. As I studied the listings of fossils and their ages and classifications, I found Cambrian fossils (the geologic period at the beginning of life on earth) which were extremely advanced. The graptolite was a fossil which was very abundant in the fossil record of the Cambrian period; but the graptolite was classified as a vertebrate. The acorn worm and lancelot were other Cambrian fossils which were vertebrates. In no way did the fossil record verify the transitions that I had always had presented to me. I returned to Genesis 1:20 and received another blow to my confidence in evolutionary theory.
One of the models used in evolution is the model of the evolution of the bird. The theory has usually been that the first birds were walking birds like an ostrich. The idea is that the breast bone, wing muscles, feathers, and hollow bones would have to develop gradually over long periods of time. The idea then was that flight evolved. Good flyers would be the more recent birds, and the first birds would have been non-flyers or poor flyers. In Genesis 1:20-21, we are told that the "winged fowl" became abundant "in the open firmament of heaven." Once again, I was confident that this biblical assertion that the first birds were flying birds could be proven to be wrong. And, once again, a visit to the geological library proved the Bible to be right. Today the earliest known bird is called "protoavis." It is a bird that could fly beautifully. All of the equipment needed for flight is there, in advanced form. The archaeopteryx, a fossil of more recent age, is also capable of flight and possesses feathers and bone structures designed for use in the air.
As I continued to read Genesis, I found the mammals were the next living things to come into existence on the earth. The most recent thing to appear on the earth, according to Genesis, was man. Once again I could offer no criticism. The fossil record supports this sequence of life beautifully. I could not find a single statement in the Genesis account that I could prove to be in error. There were many things that the Bible did not explain, but everything it did say was correct. Amoebas, viruses, platypuses, echidnas, walking and swimming birds, and a myriad of other life forms were not included in the account, but what was described was correct. Many questions about "time" remained unanswered because they were not germane to the Bible's message that God created all things.
All this destruction of my prejudices about the Bible led me next to question further what I had been told about the theory of evolution. It was obvious that change was a working agent in creation and that this type of change could in a sense be called "evolution." New breeds of dogs, cattle, roses, cats, etc., are not alien to the Bible. Jacob used this kind of change in manipulating Laban's cattle. The fact that all races of men on the earth are descendants of Eve (whose name means "the mother of all living"), further demonstrates that evolution (minor changes) takes place.
The question, then, is whether evolution can explain the existence of 20th century man in terms of "natural, chance modifications of an original amoeba." My faith in evolution had been shaken by the biblical confrontations; so now I wanted real proof that the evolution of man from an original amoeba was true. By this time I was in college. My training in science was advancing rapidly. During my sophomore year at Indiana University, I enrolled in a geology course taught by a well-known atheist. He began the class by holding up a Bible and stating, "I'm going to show you that this (the Bible) is a bunch of garbage." This was my golden opportunity to get the proof of evolution that I desired, and so I tore into the text and the course with enthusiasm and anticipation. My joy in anticipating this newly-found hope of information was short-lived. As we studied the fossil record, we were given sheets of paper showing evolutionary sequences from one form of life to another. When we studied the evolution of mammals from the reptiles, we were shown a fossil which was obvious to me to be an alligator skeleton. Written on the specimen was the term, "therapsid--mammal-like reptile." For nearly an hour, I studied the fossil, unable to find anything in it that was mammalian in nature. The therapsid is supposed to be "the best of the transition fossils" between major groups of living things. I finally went to the professor and told him that I could find nothing mammalian about the fossil. He pointed to a small bone in the inner ear and another small bone in the lower jaw and said, "These two bones are mammal-like." As I looked at the specimen next to mine, I saw that the bones were somewhat different from those in my specimen. When I asked about this difference, I was told that they were just variations between individuals. It was obvious to me that some choosing was being done here about which variations would be considered and which should be ignored. "Is this really the best transition fossil we can see?" I asked, referring to the therapsid. I was assured that it was.
In the class, we learned other things that I could not fit in with evolution. We learned that evolution is dependent upon the assumption that the earth has always functioned in a consistent way--that there have been no global catastrophes like the flood, which could have stopped evolution and made gradualism impossible. Even at that time, I had seen pictures of quickly frozen elephants and had seen huge meteor craters, both of which indicate that uniformitarianism in geology was a bad assumption. In the 1980s, there have been discoveries of asteroid material in stratified layers marking the mass extinctions of such animals as the dinosaurs. These discoveries have further supported catastrophism as an agent of change in the earth's history. It was becoming obvious to me that my faith in evolution as the explanation of how everything came to be was based on some bad assumptions.
My further study of Genesis and my experiences of life convinced me of one more biblical truth which ultimately led me to become a Christian. That was the realization that man is not just an animal, as evolution would have us to believe, but he was rather a spiritual being--uniquely and specially created in the image of God! When the Bible writer tells us that we are created in God's image, it should be obvious that the Bible is not referring to our physical bodies. God is not a man, but a spirit (John 4:24). If we are all in God's image, we must all be alike, in some real sense. Obviously we are not alike physically, so it must be our spiritual nature that the Bible is referring to. Even as an atheist, when I looked at man's creative ability in art and music, his ability to experience such emotions as guilt and sympathy and compassion, and man's desire and ability to worship, it was obvious that man was not just "a naked ape." When I discussed these characteristics with my anthropologist friends, I found them trying to explain them in terms of intelligence or environment. In my studies in psychology, I had seen that putting intelligent apes in human homes would not make them human. I also had seen severely retarded humans who could do all of these things. To try to explain all of man's unique characteristics in terms of intelligence or environment is to ignore mountains of scientific and educational data that show that man is a special and a spiritual being. Questions of morality and love cannot be answered in the framework of reducing man to a purely physical being. My life as an atheist was a life of alternating pleasure and misery. There had to be more to man's existence than what I had experienced and learned as an atheist.
I became a Christian because of the evidence available to support belief. My journey arrived at faith, which although it reaches beyond a certainty, is not near the "leap of faith" which the atheistic evolutionist has to take. My experience since my conversion to Jesus Christ has brought me to see that we live in a world where many want to believe, but the saturation of our world with bad theology and bad science has made belief difficult for many.
Let us speak to this frustrated world with both clarity and love, to come to God the Creator by studying both His Word and His Creation.
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, JulAug98.