Questions that Challenge Believing in Jesus: Is Evolution compatible with Christianity?
A theistic-evolutionist accepts the whole theory of evolution, but also believes that God orchestrated things at the beginning and set it in motion.
Francis Collins: “Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.” From: "Collins: Why this scientist believes in God", editorial, CNN (April 6, 2007)
The example of Francis Collins raises this question: Is evolution compatible with Christianity? This is one of the issues that challenge many from believing in Jesus or have led many away from Jesus. Others turn away from Jesus because it seems that His followers simply ignore all this evidence for how life arose on Earth.
For those of you who are considering Jesus we want you to see Him clearly on this question about evolution. We are also looking at this question because all of us who are followers of Jesus, no matter how old or how young, are called to engage our culture at every level ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (1Peter 3:15). If you do not know how to give an answer with gentleness and respect, then this church is not doing its job.
What does the term “evolution” mean?
evolution: refers to variation or change over time; this can happen through changes or mutations in DNA, such as bacteria becoming resistant to anti-biotics, or traits passed on from parents and grandparents to offspring. This has been called micro-evolution.
Evolution: refers to the claim that variation or change over time within certain environments explains the existence of all life on Earth, including the DNA molecule, the cell and all the processes that go into cell reproduction from the first proteins to the largest animals. This has been called “macro-evolution.”
Lower case e evolution does not seem to go against what we can clearly observe: The variety within humanity, dogs and many other species. This is what many Creationists would call adaptation and there seems to be no contradiction between what we read in Genesis and what is called small e evolution. Christianity does not deny nor ignore all the evidence that we see in Creation for variety and small changes within the different species.
Big E evolution extends this variation on a small level and makes the further explanation all living creatures came from a common place that began as the smallest molecule and became increasing complex to the first life form and from there increased variation and complexity into the living things today, including mankind. It is Big E evolution that the compatibility question enters.
So, the big E theory of Evolution, says that the laws of nature and the chemistry found in nature are able to explain all of biological life that we see today.
Three boundaries of Scripture
God is the Creator: wherever you land on the time question in Genesis 1, God is the one actively involved in bringing about different life forms from fish to birds to land animals and mankind.
Along with Psalm 19 and Romans 1 this creative activity by God can be seen and heard. God has not hidden the evidence of his creative activity. In other words, the mark of intelligent creative activity should be empirically verifiable in life-forms. It is also a predictive hypothesis: living things would show marks of intelligent design. Fields of study such as forensic science and archeology, and the SETI project are based upon the premise that intelligence can be empirically verifiable.
There are clear divisions among living things: plants, sea creatures, birds, land animals, crawling things, and beasts of the field are all said to be according to their kinds and they are to multiply according to their kinds. (Genesis 1:12,21,24)
This statement is empirically verifiable. We can study and see what the word “kinds” might refer to and if there are limitations into the mixing of animals.
Adam and Eve are the first human couple: As we read throughout Scripture, Adam is referenced in the same way as other historical humans are referenced. Consider Luke’s genealogy in the New Testament (Luke 3:23-38). He makes the genealogical connection between Jesus and Adam. This only makes sense if Adam is an historical person just as Jesus is an historical person.
See Romans 5:12,14,18. Adam’s sin in history led to all of humanity becoming sinful and condemned. Because Adam’s act of unrighteousness led to all being condemned, so Jesus’ historic act of righteousness opens the door for all to be rescued.
Other central teachings of the Bible are put into question if Adam and Eve were not the first humans, such as Original Sin, which provides the whole reason for God sending Jesus to the cross. Please notice that this is a theological boundary, but it has scientific implications.
Christians place theology, knowledge of God and what He has revealed above all other bodies of knowledge, including science. And if God exists, then knowledge of God would be greater than knowledge of the physical world.
So, if there is a way to understand big E evolution within these boundaries, then there is compatibility. But if Evolution cannot fit within these boundaries, then the two are not completely compatible.
We have already pointed out that small e evolution is compatible with Christianity. It is what many Creationists call adaptation and variation within limits.
God is creator: Big E evolution makes the claim that random mutation and natural selection possess the creative power that has caused “the complexity and diversity of life on Earth.” That power seems to be located in the DNA molecule.
The DNA molecule has a 4-letter alphabet: A, T, C, G. A can only be paired with T, and C can only be paired with G. These are called base pairs. In our human DNA there are about 3 billion base pairs that are grouped into 23 chromosomes. A person inherits 23 chromosomes from each parent making 46 chromosomes. In computer memory terms, that is about 1.5 Gb of information. The sequence in DNA is commonly referred to as code or language. It is the recognition that letters when placed in certain combinations carries information.
This means that living organisms carry vast amounts of information that are stored in their DNA. Where did that information in such a great amount come from?
Now I would lose just about all of you if I tried to explain this further. But know that information is a mark of intelligence. So, if there is information, then intelligence is a valid source. The more complex the information, the greater the probability that it is from intelligence.
Clear divisions among living things
Big E evolution says that all the different forms of life, from bacteria to elephants, come from the DNA molecule and changes in the information. However, there is information that would challenge the popular understanding that all the information for any organism is stored in its DNA. In other words, DNA determines the kind of organism.
In one study they took the nucleus, where the DNA is located, from one kind of animal and placed it in the cell of another kind of animal and then helped it multiply. Now if it is true that all the information that determines the organism is in the DNA, then we would expect the cell to submit to the nucleus where the DNA is located. However, it did not. The cells that were multiplied were of the animal of the cell, not the animal of the nucleus.
This shows that DNA does not have all the power. The cells of a particular kind of animal determine the kind of cell that is produced, not the DNA. This would be evidence that there are limitations to what kind of animals may be reproduced either in a lab or in nature through manipulating DNA.
Another example is from a single celled organism called a protozoa, some of which are covered in tiny hairs that move it around in its environment. More than 50 years ago researchers artificially changed the pattern of the hairs. When that protozoa multiplied, it took on the new pattern of the hairs even though the DNA was not changed at all.
Now researchers are finding that the cell membrane and the machinery inside the cell has information. While the information in DNA is one-dimensional, this other kind of information in the cell is 2 and 3 dimensional.
Adam and Eve
It is difficult for me to give a good summary that fairly represents the issues. So, with evidence for Adam and Eve, my brief comments point to evidence for the uniqueness of the human species and some challenges to common ancestry from other primates.
It is the common claim that humans and chimpanzees share about 98-99% of DNA. Because of that similarity it is concluded that we descended from a common ancestor.
Even if that estimation is true, keep in mind that means there are still 30 million of differences between the two (1% of 3 billion). Also, I have let you know that cells contain a lot more information including spatial information for body plans. This information would create a wider gap between the two.
Furthermore, some of this information would need to appear at the same time and could not be gradually added.
There is much more that could be said, and your faith would benefit from such further study. I have tried to give some initial evidence that would show that mankind could not have been slowly developed overtime. Someone had to bring in a lot of information into DNA and cells at once in order to make humans. This parallels to what we read in Genesis that portrays Adam and Eve as historical persons, even if they representatives of humanity.
Having a Conversation
Is evolution compatible with Christianity?
Suggested Response: What do you mean by evolution, because it can mean different things?
If Big E, then: Since Christians hold that the Bible is a source of divine authority, then there are some things that big E evolution proposes that go against some key teachings from the Bible. So, the two are not completely compatible, but little e evolution is compatible. Does that make sense?
Do I have to reject everything about evolution that I have been taught?
No, both historical Christianity and little e evolution are compatible. Big e Evolution would require some study and looking at the different issues. Does that sound reasonable?
 Stephen Meyer, Neo-Darwinism and the Origin of Biological Form and Information in Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique, p 107.  https://bitesizebio.com/8378/how-much-information-is-stored-in-the-human-genome/#:~:text=A%20single%20byte%20(or%208,2%20CDs%20worth%20of%20space! Accessed 7/24/2020.  JP Moreland & Scott B Rae, Body and Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics, pg 211.  Theistic Evolution, p 253.  Theistic Evolution, p 252.  https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/06/bonobos-join-chimps-closest-human-relatives Accessed 7/25/2020.