How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

August 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

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I realize the title is a bit clickbaity. But, it is the name of an actual book from IVP Academic that I actually read. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science is a collection of essays edited by Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump. The former is the program director at BioLogos and the later is senior editor there. This volume is the first in a new series from IVP in tandem with BioLogos called, not surprisingly, BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity.

As far as the book itself, it is clearly aimed at the lay level. The essays are short and mostly non-technical. Most all were written specifically for this volume, with the exception of the excerpts from larger works by N. T. Wright and Francis Collins, and an adaptation from a sermon by John Ortberg. There is a wide range of contributors, some are scientists, some are pastors, some are theologians, some are biblical scholars. Each lends an authoritative voice to give credibility to a divisive topic. To me, the interesting inclusions are:

  • James K. A. Smith
  • Scot McKnight
  • Tremper Longman III
  • Oliver Crisp
  • Richard Mouw

None of these are particularly surprising, but they were the essays I was immediately interested in reading. The rest are people, generally associated with BioLogos, that I hadn’t heard of, and were mostly scientists, pastors, and some evolution apologists I was already familiar with (e.g. Denis Lamoureux).

In reading through the various perspectives here, I tend to doubt whether someone heavily committed to young earth creationism (to give one alternative position) would be swayed. It does have the virtue though of humanizing people who believe in evolution and had someone kind of change of heart. While perhaps not persuasive, it is at least illuminating when it comes to the reasons why a person might change their mind about evolution, whatever that entails in a given story.

What is less transparent though is what is meant in all cases by “evolution.” I’m not talking about the distinction between micro and macro (which is fuzzier than you might imagine). Rather, if I tell you I changed my mind about evolution, I would need to qualify what all aspects of it I have actually changed my mind about. So, if for instance I think that Genesis 1 doesn’t specify the time the universe was created but only discusses, at best, the formation of our solar system, I can affirm a literal (meaning according to the exalted prose literary sense of the passage) reading of Genesis 1 as well as current Big Bang Cosmology. If I previously didn’t, I have now changed my mind about the evolution of the universe. This would be a legitimate change in regards to an aspect of evolution, but should hardly be controversial.

However, this type of change is not really the focus of many of these essays. For several, it is clear that a mind changed about evolution is now a mind that is comfortable with common descent. In other words, for some, evolution mainly means a belief that we share a common ancestry with less complex life forms and through millions of years, life has evolved into what we have before us now. I should also note in passing that this is a reduction of the definition of evolution given by Jerry Coyne in his popular Why Evolution is True (which is interesting, but undermines itself at points). Anyway, common descent is the idea, not so much that I evolved from an ape, but that for an ape and myself, there is, far enough back in time, a common ancestor that will give rise to both of us. The evidence for this, to me at least, is more problematic than Big Bang cosmology and has the side effects of theological issues (though some authors here would deny that).

As a result, not everyone in this collection of essays is changing their mind about the same aspects of evolutionary thought. Some are more clear about the details than others. But, everyone did have some kind of shift in their thinking on the matter. This gives the book a certain apologetic flavor. I think the main audience will be people on the fence trying to decide what they think is true after they’ve been confronted with unfamiliar scientific paradigms.

I was personally less convinced, although I benefited from understanding the underlying thought processes for many of the authors. In my case though, I think I’m a bit too familiar with the exegetical and cultural background of Genesis 1-11 to think it could be used to substantiate an age of the earth. But, I see no reason to not affirm what Christians throughout history have affirmed, which is that God is the creator of the universe as well as life itself.

Given that, I would hardly want to take the title of theistic evolutionist. Mainly because this is a pejorative term, but also because I would rather be defined by my belief that God created life and the universe, and not by what I think the mechanism of change throughout history has been. Depending on what you mean when you say “evolution” I might have changed my mind about it and I might not have not. I’m a creationist first, and tend to be agnostic about mechanisms, if for no other reason than Alvin Plantinga’s brilliant book that demonstrates evolution, particularly the natural selection part of it, doesn’t withstand logical scrutiny and actually undermines the philosophical position of naturalism it is often built on.

At the end of the day, this book will be particularly interesting for people who are engaged in the larger debate. If you are Christian heavily involved in the sciences, you’ll probably want to read this. But, it certainly is only giving one side of the story, so it is best read alongside other books on the topic. I enjoyed the similar book The Adam Quest, and it provides both sides of the spectrum with longer profiles on each person included. I’d also recommend reading Mapping The Origins Debate since it lays out the actual range of options available.

Nate

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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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