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Reverend Claude Ross (Former chaplain of the University of Cape Town).
"I thoroughly enjoyed your exposition" ... a "magnificent tome"... "a highly convincing text."
Evolutionary biologist R.J. (Sam) Berry, DSc, FRSE. (Professor Emeritus of Genetics at University College; former President of the British Ecological Society, the Linnean Society and of Christians in Science. Author of God and Evolution, God and the Biologist, God's Book of Works).
Is Jesus an Evolutionist?
Mike L Anderson
Published by Smashwords
Copyright 2011 Mike L Anderson
Discover other titles by Mike L Anderson at Smashwords.com
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Unless otherwise stated, quotations from the Bible are taken from Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright © 1978 by the International Bible Society, New York.
Cover design: by Rachel C Anderson
To conserve trees, please try to avoid printing this document.
This book is dedicated to all my prayer and financial supporters.
Part 1: Was Jesus an evolutionist?
1. Jesus and evolution
2. The cross and evolution
3. The Bible and evolution
4. The wisdom of Jesus and evolution
Part 2: Is Jesus an evolutionist?
5. Jesus and scientific reasoning
6. Creation and evolution
7. What if humans created life?
8. Jesus and the fossil record
9. Jesus and living things
10. Jesus, the compassionate persuader
About the author
Other books by the author
This book recounts how I, as a convinced Christian and student of the philosophy of evolutionary biology, struggled over and came to deal with evolution. It also recounts how I later engaged with others who have struggled with the subject. Michael Ruse, a convinced Darwinian and philosopher of evolutionary biology, wrote, Can a Darwinian be a Christian? My book could have been entitled Can a Christian be an evolutionist? or Evolution for Christians. However, it is more important what Jesus thinks than what Christians think. Hence the title I eventually settled upon. The focus is pastoral and educational rather than academic. I want to pass on that which I found particularly helpful in fostering devotion to Christ and openness towards the scientific evidence.
Chapter one addresses who Jesus is that so much focus should be placed on him. Chapter two argues that the greatest potential threat to God is not evolution, but the crucifixion. If God can survive the cross, he can more than survive evolution and through the cross help us to keep evolution in perspective. Chapter three argues from the Bible and in particular, Genesis, that God is not interested in telling us everything he knows - if this were possible - but is calling us into a relationship with him. In chapter four we will see how in Jesus we have a model for how to deal wisely with difficult issues such evolution. Chapter five examines how to determine the position of Jesus on any scientific matter including evolution. The response to the title of the book depends, of course, on whether evolution and Creation are compatible. Chapter six examines whether they are. It also depends on whether evolution has been scientifically confirmed and this is investigated in chapters six to nine. Chapter six discusses the mechanisms of evolution and chapters eight and nine the historical question - whether evolution has happened. Chapter seven examines the possibility of humans creating life. Chapter 10 shows how the example of Jesus is instructive for effectively conveying truth in general and discusses how the principles can be implemented using simulation and other software.
I am spiritually and intellectually indebted to many people, but want to especially mention Dr George Murphy for stressing the importance of the crucifixion of Christ, Gary McGeehon, Peter Cherry and Dr John Kent for emphasising the centrality of Jesus, Profs Hugh Paterson and Robin Crewe for mentoring me in evolutionary biology, Prof Mark Leon for mentoring me in the philosophy of science and the late Prof Donald Mackay for relating science and theology in such helpful ways. I especially want to thank my wife, Janice, who has been such a great support and sounding board and so deeply inspiring through her life and devotion to Jesus. A big thank-you is due to our children, Rachel, Nathan and Sharon for teaching me through their fresh and open curiosity about God and the world. My special friends Elroy and Ruth Paulus, Dr Andy Potts, Chris Nursey, Sarah Peacock, Revd Vic and Beryl Smith and Pastor Geoff and Dr Sharon Chapman are greatly appreciated for all their personal support in so many ways. I am greatly indebted to all my financial and prayer supporters. Thank-you so very much for making this work possible.
Thank-you very much to all those who commented on this book: Joe Booysen, Prof Sam Berry, Prof George Branch, Dr Bob Carling, Caroline Crump, Prof Georges Delpierre, Dr John Donaldson, Prof Willem Ferguson, John Foord, Prof Jenny Jarvis, Marais Koegelenberg, Barry Lessing, Dr Corrie Loubser, John Mathew, Dr Bernard Musembi, Dr Frank Opie, Revd Dr Neil Oosthuizen, Prof Lincoln Raitt, Prof Doug Rawlings, Graham Ramsay, Revd Claude Ross, Dr Bob Styer, Fred van der Linde, Richard Vowles and Dr Paul Williams. They do not necessarily share my views. For these I take full responsibility.
A special thanks to the late Len Coppin for the photographs and to the South African Museum for the fossil preparations.
Part 1: Was Jesus an evolutionist?
Chapter 1: Jesus and evolution
Is Jesus an evolutionist? This might seem a wildly anachronistic question - rather like asking whether Confucius was a hippy or whether Socrates was into rock music. Jesus was a carpenter who lived 2000 years ago. What possible connection could he have with evolutionary theory? There are really two questions that could be asked of him and they need to be separated because their answers are quite distinct. One question is, 'Was Jesus an evolutionist?' The other is, 'Is Jesus an evolutionist?' For reasons that will become evident I think the first question is much more significant. It is addressed in part 1. It is written for Christians who are perturbed by evolution, but who do not necessarily want to be greatly informed about biology. It argues that there are more than sufficient resources within the Christian faith to cope with evolution. The question 'Is Jesus an evolutionist?' is addressed in part 2. It is written to inform Christians of the evidence relevant to evolution.
First, we need to begin with whom this Jesus is that these questions could even be asked of him. It makes no sense at all to ask these of someone such as Alexander the Great. Is Jesus greater? Who is he? There is another very important reason to begin with Jesus. The subject of creation and evolution lead many, first of all, to become engrossed in the problem of resolving theology and science. There is certainly place for this, and I do discuss it in later chapters, but there are also great dangers. It is all too easy to substitute knowing about God and his works for knowing God himself. Starting with Jesus fosters a spiritually healthy focus on the person of God. Allow me to begin with how Jesus came to be important to me.
My first love was not Jesus Christ, but biology. I inherited my fascination with living things from my parents. During a soccer match my Dad once just stood there while an opponent dribbled past him and scored a goal. When his teammates demanded an explanation, he replied that he had been watching some ants! Whenever I brought something from the garden to show my Mom she would say, "That's nice." As I result, I never learnt that one was supposed to be scared of spiders.
Our children have inherited this condition from me. Our eldest daughter, Rachel, fearlessly picks up the large rain spiders that keep wandering into our home to return them to the garden. My wife, Janice, is the nicest person I know, but she has this quirk of not liking creepy-crawlies in our home. Our son, Nathan, was molly about dinosaurs. He could read the word 'Triceratops' before he could read the word 'they'! Our youngest daughter, Sharon, is as inquisitive as the rest. When she was four years old, she asked Janice, "Mommy, did God build this house?" Even at this young age, she was trying to figure out how God fits into this world. Notice her natural curiosity for understanding the world and God’s relationship to it. For some, however, this curiosity can turn to dread. This happened to me. With the help of God I got over evolution. Perhaps my story will be an encouragement to you.
Before I became a Christian, I thought that science was everything. I even thought it could answer the big questions - such as the meaning and purpose of life. It was with high expectations that I began to study the life sciences at university. I had half expected the big answers to come in a lecture theatre. Instead, they came when two students knocked on my door at the men's residence. They explained that the purpose of life is to have a personal relationship with God and he had made this possible through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. For the first time I appreciated the extraordinary lengths God went to in reconciling humanity to himself. My heart melted and I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I am very glad about the decision I made for him.
This does not mean that everything went well from then on. My chief difficulty was trying to reconcile my newfound faith, which was so important to me, with my studies. At first, it was easy. I dismissed evolution as just a theory. I was sure that evolution was scientifically weak and would pose no threat to my faith. However, later in my studies, my cocksureness turned to confusion. Doubts arose about key tenets of the Christian faith. I would sing hymns and feel hypocritical because I could not sing them whole-heartedly; I would skip over parts and still feel guilty – because now I was not worshipping God in the way I felt I should. The spiritual inspiration that my faith provided and the intellectual interest that the life sciences provided dwindled. I fell into intellectual and spiritual anguish. My fascination with the life sciences became submerged by a half-articulated dread that somehow the theory of evolution would find my faith wanting.
Jesus as the foundation for faith
Today I can sing hymns (still badly) with gusto and evolutionary biology is a source of intellectual delight. My faith remained intact not because I discovered some theory that finally resolved the evolution issue, but because the Founder of the Christian faith came to be the sufficient Foundation for my faith. Jesus is not just whom I believe, but also the reason for my belief. I came to realise that when Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6), he was saying that he is the uniquely deeply significant truth - not the only truth there is. The centrality of Jesus as the foundation for faith is borne out by the Bible's insistence that Jesus is the fulfilment of God's plan from the beginning (Matthew 26:54, Matthew 27:9, Acts 2:23). His identity is found in Scripture; it does not depend on a resolution of any scientific issue. Jesus is who he is whether the earth is flat or round, young or old and whether evolution is true or false. And the gospel is true whatever the case about evolution.
I developed deep convictions about the Person of Jesus - that he is the Son of God and the Messiah. It was in knowing Jesus that my faith remained intact even though I had no answers to some very troubling and difficult questions. To the extent that my faith was truly in him, I found myself unshaken by contemporary scientific controversies and free to follow and be fascinated by the fossil evidence – wherever it might lead. From the point of view of the Christian faith, Jesus is the centre - not creation and evolution nor anything else. The realisation that Jesus is the proper basis for faith did not come over me suddenly (I am still learning). It emerged gradually. I am deeply grateful to God for the spiritual mentors that he placed in my path. It was not always just what was said; I saw it lived out in a senior student who befriended me. Andy's serenity amidst the raging arguments showed me the centre-point of his faith.
I am also grateful for the writings of theologians and Bible scholars. If I had read them earlier, I might have been saved a lot of grief. For instance, Harrison says "[t]he case for Christianity can be made to rest on his character alone, for he is its supreme miracle."1 Jesus is not only central to faith, but to theology too. Scientist-theologian George Murphy says, "The doctrine of creation is important for Christianity, but it is not what makes theology distinctively Christian. Christian faith is centered on the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as God's definitive self-revelation and saving action. Any way of thinking about God and God's activity in the universe must finally be evaluated in terms of its relationship with this center."2 James Sire says, "Put simply, the best reason for believing that the Christian religion is true is Jesus, and the best reason for believing in Jesus is Jesus Himself".3 I think philosopher of biology Michael Ruse understated it when he said, "Darwinian evolutionary theory is simply irrelevant to much of this [gospel] story."4 As theologian Emil Brunner said, "Whether we obey Him or not is a question not of science but of life, and one in comparison with which all questions of science become insignificant."5
Many have fallen into the trap of relegating Jesus to the periphery of some issue. In the past it was that the earth was immovable. It looks ridiculous to us now, but here is what a certain church leader said at the time of Copernicus, "The opinion of the earth’s motion is of all heresies the most abominable, the most pernicious, the most scandalous; the immovability of the earth is thrice sacred; argument against the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and the incarnation should be tolerated sooner than an argument to prove that the earth moves."6
These days, for some, the issue is creation and evolution. For instance, one has written, “It is high time that people in general, and Bible-believing Christians in particular, recognize the foundational significance of special creation. Creation is not merely a religious doctrine of only peripheral importance, as many people (even many evangelical Christians) seem to assume. Rather, it is the basis of all true science, of true Americanism, and of true Christianity.”7 By making special creation the basis of true Christianity, he has relegated Jesus to a peripheral position. The apostle Paul takes exception to those who would demote Jesus. He says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). The apostle Peter similarly protests that Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone...” (Acts 4:11).
Paul and Peter had Christ-centred rather than issue-centred lives. We can represent the two kinds of lives this way:
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