“Do you believe in evolution?” So the challenge was posed recently. It’s only been a couple of years since the topic was resolved for Texas text books; no longer must evolution be tempered with alternate theories or qualifiers. Some considered the move a victory. That may be an overstatement, of course. According to a 2010 survey quoted in Texas Monthly, 51% of Texas do not believe in evolution. An estimated 13% of Texas biology teachers are creationists. And in 2015, apparently it was a question presidential candidates needed to answer. Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican pediatric neurosurgeon, famously does not believe in evolution, though it was probably the least of his problems, what with the pyramids and all.
A reply to the challenge is more complicated than one might think. While the Texas book battle has been in the news for decades, with proponents of alternate theories ridiculed in some circles, the way the question of personal belief is worded suggests one thing: Is it possible to believe in evolution and also believe in God?
Apparently, creationists don’t think so. The newer Intelligent Design, on the other hand, does not even refer to a deity. Courts do not make the distinction, however, classifying both as non-scientific, religious explanations that cannot be taught.
Into this arena came Francis Collins, currently head of the National Institutes of Health and former head of the Human Genome Project. He is, coincidentally, a practicing, believing Christian. His 2006 book The Language of God explores the various attempts to reject Darwinian evolution, dismissing each with clear examples and logic. The title of his book summarizes his thesis: There is order in the universe which can be seen in our genes as well as in the Big Bang. He often uses the word “elegant” to make his points.
Why is it, then, that some people are so eager to find a way to dismiss God? Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion also dates from 2006. It dismisses Intelligent Design as well, albeit it more stridently than Collins. He traded Christianity for Darwinism as a teenager and apparently has not looked back.
Perhaps more to the point, why are there people who believe that eliminating God is possible for science? When the first Soviet astronaut returned from space, Premier Khrushchev trumpeted that he had not seen God; however, Yuri Gagarin was himself a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Even Dawkins, for all his vitriol, can only say “almost surely” God does not exist. Surely people of faith need not be troubled by these rather pallid words.
The very essence of faith is not knowledge. Indeed, faith is stronger than knowledge. Science is more about learning than it is about knowledge. A favorite phrase of mine, “Scientists now believe…,” does not diminish science. Knowledge, scientifically speaking, is transient. That does not mean evolutionary theory is any less real. It does suggest that clarity of method, of results, of implications cannot overcome faith because science and faith have different forums, different purposes. The origin of the word “believe” may hold the key: an old Germanic form and an Old English root mean “to hold dear, to love.” It is possible to love knowledge, but the source of that knowledge is not as important as its truth.
While some might reject evolution as a threat, with Francis Collins’ encouraging words, I find it easier to say yes, I believe in it. Nothing exists that can disprove the existence of God. That is the point, after all. We’re here to walk by faith. Collins seems to think evolution sheds a little light on that path. That sounds like an exclamation mark to me.