Can a Christian Believe in Evolution?
The troublesome thing about this question is the word evolution. It means different things to different people. "Change over time" is one basic definition. Used this way, no one objects to evolution. Another meaning includes the idea that living things have descended, with modifications, from common ancestors. Some evolutionists think all living things evolved from a single source. This is more controversial. Natural selection is yet another aspect of evolution. When an organism's genetic code changes (mutates), it produces offspring whose bodies differ from those of other members of the species. Nature then "selects" which modifications are best at helping the organism survive and reproduce. This competition is called "survival of the fittest." Over time, this results in the diversity of life in Earth. This process is typically said to be unguided.
When combined, all of the above aspects entail a specific brand of evolutionary theory called Darwinism or neo-Darwinism. Darwinism says that the evolution of living organisms is accidental, not designed. Oxford evolutionist Richard Dawkins takes this to imply that living systems were made by a blind watchmaker (unguided nature) rather than an all-knowing, purposeful watchmaker (God).
How does Darwinian evolution square with Christianity? The Bible teaches that God created the world. He not only created the stuff of the universe (dirt, for example), He also formed that stuff into individual things (like Adam). Since this change took place over time, there is an "evolution" here, of sorts. All humans have descended – with some modification as the gene pool changed over time – from Adam to Eve, though each is still human. Is Darwinian evolution therefore consistent with Christianity? I do not think so. After all, Darwinism, as most commonly defined, says nature is the designer, not God. Darwinian "design" is driven by random, purposeless genetic mutations which are then "selected" as organisms compete for survival. This means nature has no God-given purpose or outcome.
It does little good to say God used evolution unless you are precise about what you mean. For example, natural selection – which we can observe working in nature in limited ways – could theoretically be used by God to direct the descent and modification of living things. By making modifications that increase the fitness of the organism, God could guarantee that a species would adapt and be selected for survival. But this isn't Darwinism. It's a form of intelligent design.
The real question about evolution is what (or Who) directs the change. Virtually every authority in the field of evolutionary biology believes that Darwinian evolution is mechanical, unguided and purposeless. "Whatever we think of God," wrote Stephen Jay Gould, "His existence is not manifest in the products of nature" (Philip Johnson, Reason in the Balance).
In Christianity, God is not a fantasy; He is a reality. He is the Creator and purposeful designer of all species. Nehemiah praised God for this, saying "You alone are Yahweh. You created the heavens, the highest heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them, and the heavenly host worships You" (Neh 9:6). Exactly how He designed them is a matter of debate; that He designed them is not. Therefore, Darwinian evolution, according to its standard scientific definition, is un-Christian. Keep in mind, though, that it is still possible to be Christian even if you mistakenly believe some things that are inconsistent with Christianity.
This article can be found in "Apologetics Study Bible for Students", page 493.
Please also see our comprehensive study for the book of Nehemiah that includes commentary from www.enduringword.com.