Christian Faith Requires Accepting Evolution? Not So Fast Huffington Post…

by Max Andrews

Recently, an article was published in the Religion section of the popular online news agency The Huffington Post.  I don’t know much about the author, Jonathan Dudley, but according to him he has graduated from seminary and is currently studying to be a medical scientist.  That’s excellent!  However, I’m not too convinced that his article is all too accurate.  In fact, it’s wrong.

I don’t want to push off the article all together because there are certainly many good points made.  For instance,

In theory, if not always in practice, past Christian theologians valued science out of the belief that God created the world scientists study. Augustine castigated those who made the Bible teach bad science, John Calvin argued that Genesis reflects a commoner’s view of the physical world, and the Belgic confession likened scripture and nature to two books written by the same author.

These beliefs encouraged past Christians to accept the best science of their day, and these beliefs persisted even into the evangelical tradition. As Princeton Seminary’s Charles Hodge, widely considered the father of modern evangelical theology, put it in 1859: “Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science.”

My quarrel with Dudley’s article is that his logic seems to be a bit off.  If by “requiring” acceptance of evolution for the Christian he means that it necessarily entails the acceptance of evolution then he has missed the gospel message.  There’s a difference between having sound Christian theology and philosophy and what it means to have Christian faith.  Here’s the logic.

Necessarily, Christian faith entails the acceptance of evolution.

This doesn’t make sense at all.  He also equates this as orthodoxy!  Here are a few examples of what having Christian faith necessarily entails.

Necessarily, Christian faith entails the belief in the existence of God.

Necessarily, Christian faith entails the belief that Jesus was fully human and fully God and died as a propitiation for your sin.

These are examples of the gospel message, what it means to be a Christian.  Consider one’s theology as a web.  In the center of the web is the gospel message.  The next ring is orthodoxy, the acceptance of the inerrancy of Scripture, the second coming of Christ, the existence of a hell, etc.  Then there are peripheral manners and doctrines such as how sign gifts function today, how ordinances and sacraments are to be observed, etc.  One’s science, in this case, how one views evolution, is peripheral to being a Christian.  I agree with Dudley, a Christian should have sound theology and philosophy, which will shape how one applies theory in approaching the scientific data.  However, the scientific aspect of theology and philosophy is not the gospel message and it is not a manner of orthodoxy.  Dudley then proceeds to list several examples of creationism inability to account for specific scientific data, which I am not going to comment on (my credentials are in philosophy and theology).  However, I’d encourage him to be aware of one hand clapping.

I myself am not a creationist.  I believe [this] universe is about 13.7 billion years old.  I do advocate intelligent design, which is completely compatible with common descent evolution.  My only objection is with Darwinian evolution.  I appreciate what Dudley has attempted to do.  He has attempted to present Christianity in the light of responsible intellectual existence.  I hope he continues in doing so; however, he must do so by properly making the distinction between what requires Christian faith and applying sound theology and philosophy to science.


15 Responses to “Christian Faith Requires Accepting Evolution? Not So Fast Huffington Post…”

  1. Excellent evaluation, and I appreciate the respectful approach. A breath of fresh air, really. Too many times bloggers succumb to the temptation of ‘vicious blogging,’ and throw all manners to the wayside. Be Well!

  2. It’s very late as I’m responding here, so I admittedly may not be able to fully appreciate the article written; that said — I think Dudley’s article is representative of a particular sect of Christrianity. I think it’s fair to say that “Christian” has become too broad a term to fairly apply to all those who would make a claim to it: it equally covers the Young Earth evangelical as it does the progressive-minded, moderate Methodist; to many, it even encompasses those of Catholicism.

    Like Dudley, I see the acceptance of evolutionary theory to be a necessary part of Christian faith — or, at least, my particular brand of Christian faith. I call myself a creationist: I DO believe that Genesis attempts to chronical God’s creation of the universe, but I believe it does not do so literally (particularly since the original texts of Genesis have been lost through generations of changing perceptions and translations). This difference in viewing the Bible creates a significant difference between the various denominations. Taking into consideration the beliefs of the writer, and what they consider to be a “Christian”, is necessary; he may not be wrong at all, but using a too-broad terminology.

    • Thanks for the feedback Sarah :-) Here’s my contention with you a Dudley’s position/logic. You’re placing a modal operator of necessity with a material implication between Christianity and evolution (translated as Necessarily, a Christian implies being an evolutionist). Perhaps the two of you would like to change the conditional semantic to “should” and change the consequent to “responsible intellectual existence” (translated as A Christian should be an evolutionist for the sake of responsible intellectual existence). That is fine with me and that’s where intellectual debate comes in as to whether or not that statement is true. But to predicate evolution to Christianity as being a necessary condition is simply not true. Thoughts?

  3. I appreciate the tone of your post, but I think you’re getting a little too philosophical/technical on what is a popular release op-ed. He never said in the article it was central to Christian to being a Christian or that one isn’t a Christian if one rejects evolution, just that the preponderance of the Christian tradition should steer ones toward accepting good science rather than rejecting it. He’s basically saying, insofar as creationists don’t accept the best science of the day (which itself is something to debate), they have abandoned the Christian tradition. He’s not saying they’ve abandoned it in general and are not Christians. Or at least, that’s how I read him.

    Anyway, thanks for your respectful post on what was a great article.

  4. And incidentally, I think it’s over-the-top to simply say “he’s wrong.”

    • He needs to be careful with his semantics and using semantics that I suggest unless he is requiring a necessary condition. If that’s the case, he is wrong and that is not the gospel message. That’s not over the top at all. Why do you think it’s right if it’s not the case of what I’ve already clarified? Also, it’s not “simply saying,” I presented an elaborate case for why he’s wrong (the very thing you accused me of getting too philosophical over) and now you equate it with me accusing him of being simply wrong. I’m not sure how that works…

  5. “using semantics that I suggest unless he is requiring a necessary condition”

    Please, stop with the technical jargon, he wasn’t writing an analytic philosophy paper. I think the average reader would interpret him as I have above as saying basically that, on this particular issue, creationists have abandoned the Christian tradition, not that they aren’t Christians in general. And since I’ve actually read his book, I know that this is actually his view, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated in the article.

    • Technical jargon? I’ve already stated that I know what his intent was but he needs to articulate his message in a consistent, intelligentent manner that accurately conveys the information he is trying to share. His intent should be at least logically equivalent to the semantics I suggested. Otherwise, it is wrong. Why convey inaccurate information that is contrary to intent? It doesn’t make sense. What he was arguing for was responsible intellectual existence for the Christian, I’ve said that. But he articulated his intent incorrectly. If I’m arguing for the an aspect of responsible intellectual existence it’s like saying the Christian faith requires acceptance of Catholicism, or infant baptism, or [pick a doctrine]. It’s not essential or required by the Christian faith. It’s an argument for what an [already] Christian should do (without the modal operator and qualifying Christian as being responsibly intellectual). I know it’s not a philosophy paper, it’s a popular level news article, but why sacrifice an accurate articulation of intent? That does not make sense? Now you accused me of being too technical/philosophical, then I was over the top and “simply” saying he was wrong, and now I’m too technical again? Those seem to be inconsistent, but I’ll let that go. I can’t believe you’re arguing with me about how one should accurately articulate a message of intent. I loved his article, I was merely correcting his semantics if his intent is really what you said it was (and as I agree).

      I don’t think this is too far fetched of an issue and I’m not attacking him, I’m merely trying to convey his intent in an accurate way. Why misrepresent the faith in what it necessarily requires and why misrepresent your own idea when it could have been conveyed more accurately? Why are you opposed to this?

  6. If I understand Dudley correctly, Christians must accept “evolution”, because evolutionary theory is the “best science” of the day and orthodox Christians have historically accepted the idea that the “book” of Nature is a reliable witness. So, if certain influential scientists tell us evolution is true because of X and Y, we Christians must believe it. And, since many Christians — young-Earth creationists in particular — reject many tenets of “evolution”, they have therefore “abandoned a central commitment of orthodox Christianity.”

    But, Dudley seems to equate “science” with scientific inquiry that assumes at least a hard methodological naturalism and probably metaphysical naturalism, as well. (I find that an Intelligent Design approach works at least as well to explain the world — often better.) His use of the word “evolution” is another problem. Appearance of change over time? No problem. Microevolutionary changes
    and variation within species? Again, no problem. To reject these would be to reject sound science based on observation. That would be bad. (Perhaps not the equivalent of rejecting a fundamental tenet of Christianity, but definitely disturbing.) But, then, even Young-Earth Creationists accept these phenomenon. The problem is when microevolution is extrapolated as proof of macroevolution, and naturalistic assumptions are used to force-fit everything into an “evolutionary” (i.e., neo-Darwinist) paradigm.

    • Thanks for the comments. I noticed the ambiguity with his semantics as well and assumed he meant Darwinian evolution. He could have been advocating design and common descent but that didn’t seem to be in the picture anywhere and he would need clarification as well. Thanks!

  7. Junk DNA, it turns out, has function essential to life and is NOT evidence for evolution after all. Origin of life experiments likewise refute that any chemical evolution ever occurred. Synthetic biology research is more compatible with design than descent, given the time, talent and intelligence that goes into the simplest “lifeform”. Even evolutionists agree that they can’t explain origins – of any kind. This basic lack of scientific support makes evolution a very tenuous bet indeed! Besides, the Bible flat out states, in several passages, that God created. Want more? see http://www.reasons.org.

    • Thanks for the comment. I would have to agree with you. I could spend a long time going through his reasons for evolution but I really didn’t have the time. I would recommend RTB as well :-)

  8. Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image.”  Genesis 2:21-22, “And the LORD GOD caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept:… the ribe, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

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