Here's the rub. Once upon a time--and still today--people who believe in a Christian education used evolution as a kind of shibboleth. Those of us who chose to send our kids to a Christian school could always say, "You know, if our kids went to public schools, they'd be taught that their ancestors were chimpanzees--how does that square with biblical thinking?"
End of conversation. Maybe. Creation was a mainstay, a foundational principle. That God almighty created all things was a given in what most people considered a Christian worldview. Belief in evolution was belief in Godlessness.
And it still is.
The alternatives, for some, are few. Either He did or He didn't. Now if we hang two scenarios on that "either-or" dilemma, only two possibilities exist: either 6000 years ago God almighty snapped his fingers and it all started on time; or, creation is a cute little story for pre-schoolers.
Already in 1925, the theory of evolution was a lightning rod. When William Jennings Bryan, a fiery Christian populist known for his passionate oratory, entered a Tennessee courtroom, not having practiced law for more than thirty years, he was taking on nothing less than atheism itself. On the other side stood an equally powerful heavyweight advocate--and agnostic--Clarence Darrow. For the two of them, the question of creation vs. evolution was perfectly either/or.
That trial set a paradigm in the American mind ever since: evolution is Godless; creation is Godly.
Wouldn't it be sweet if life was that simple?
We've been reading Origins, a wonderful little compendium of the parameters of the conversation, for quite some time now, a fascinating study. One of the authors, Loren Haarsma, grew up just down the road in Orange City and is, in fact, some distant relative of my wife. His accomplice happens to be his wife, who, like Loren, is a pedigreed scientist who's made scientific research her life's work.
It's rare to find a book so generously written. That the Haarsmas have a point of view in all of this goes without question, but their largess for those who don't share their views is immensely gracious, given the passion most of us bring to the arguments.
There are land mines in the war between creation and evolution, plenty of them. The Haarsmas don't try to sidestep them. They go out of their way to find them and open them so the reader doesn't miss either the land mines themselves of the character of their composition. This little study does us all well because their mission impossible is to discuss an issue that has made people point their fingers--and wag them--ungraciously for a long, long time.
There's nothing new about the debate--except science. What has changed since that old steamy Tennessee courtroom is what we know about ourselves and our world. Today, solid scientific evidence exists about genes and chromosomes, knowledge that could barely be theorized just a few decades ago. That knowledge has enriched our sense of origins, of how humankind has developed. After all, the science of genetics tells a story, too, a story we can't simply burn or deliver to the landfill.
Orthodox Christianity has always recognized two sources of revelation--that which we discover in the Bible, the Spirit-breathed Word of God; and that which we see around us, God's own continuing revelation in creation. "The heavens declare the glory of God," David says, because every last painting in the sky teaches us his glory. No one on the face of the earth misses that sermon.
Balancing the weight of the two can be something of a high-wire act. How can ordinary Christian believers go to the bank with a six-day creation and the fossil record or the science of genetics? Answering that question is tough stuff.
What the Haarsmas do in Origins is try to explain the strengths and weaknesses of various deeply held points of view on just exactly how God almighty created this world of ours--and His.
We live in an immensely fractured world. Even in churches, politics are often far, far more highly regarded than theology. Have no doubt, Origins could raise cain and probably does in some strongholds.
But the Haarsmas have gone out of their way to treat just about everyone with dignity and justice. The book--it's not long and very methodical and comprehensive--is a real blessing.