Evolution and Creation?
By Grace Toh
EVOLUTION AND CREATION. This was the title of a talk held at Anglo-Chinese School (International) on May 8, and the speaker, the Rev Dr Professor David Wilkinson, reminded the audience that it was very different from “Evolution OR Creation”, which casts the relationship between them in a different light.
The first of a series of three public talks held May 8, 11 and 12 at the school, the session dealt with how the theories of Evolution and Creation are viewed in popular opinion, the complex history behind this way of thinking and the speaker’s own response to the issue as both a scientific researcher of astronomy and a theologian.
The Rev Dr Wilkinson is the Principal of St John’s College and Lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religion in Durham University. He did his PhD in the study of star formation, the chemical evolution of galaxies and terrestrial mass extinctions. His second PhD is in Systematic Theology and he is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.
He was here on a week-long visit at the invitation of Holland Village Preaching Point and ACS (International) to share his insights with Methodist ministers, Trinity Theological College faculty, ACS students and the public.
He set the tone for his session, leaning casually against the lectern as he noted how “Christians are generally nervous when talking about Evolution and Creation”, as they and many members of the press, academia and general public usually assume the acceptance of one necessarily negates the other. This leads some Christians to become defensive or even attack the theory of Evolution.
However, as the Rev Dr Wilkinson pointed out, when Charles Darwin developed the theory of Evolution, he was not questioning Christianity, but rather Greek philosophy which assumed the fixity of creation.
Worthy of note is that the scientific rather than theological objections to Darwin’s theory came first, as he did not initially have sufficient evidence to prove his theory. Now, however, there is a lot of good evidence for the theory of Evolution, and Christians need to take the science seriously, and weigh the evidence for and against.
What they would realise is that Evolution gives us a new view of the natural world, where God is a dynamic Creator who is intimately involved in His Creation over the ages, rather than a limiting view of Him as a “divine Watchmaker” who subsequently is not involved in His Creation.
This should also give us a new view of the “design argument”, which says that if something looks designed, there must be a designer – and this argument became very popular for proving God, even though it has been pointed out to be a problematic usage.
Chief among the problems is the fact that the Christian faith is not built on arguments for the existence of God, but rather on our encounter with God, who walked through the pages of history in the form of Jesus and is real to us even now.
The theory of Evolution also gives us a new view – or rather a revisited view – of Genesis. According to the Rev Dr Wilkinson, “very few Christians back then took the first few chapters of Genesis as science”, and the tendency to do so only arose at the end of the 19th Century.
He detailed several ways that Christians have attempted to reconcile the first few chapters of Genesis and the theory of Evolution, and shared his personal stand that readers of Genesis must ask: “What sort of literature is this?” He opined that the crucial question for Genesis 1 is not “How long ago did it happen?” but “Who is God?”
The final point made by the Rev Dr Wilkinson was that this brings us to a new view of the relationship between science and religion.
Historically, the “conflict metaphor” that pits science against religion was created in 1864 by Thomas Huxley and his contemporaries who had formed a secret club called the “X-Club” with the aim of separating science from the leadership of the church. They wrote books in which the relationship between science and religion was recast into a narrative of “warfare”, and also recast the experiences of Galileo and Darwin to support their claim – the truth of which was more complicated.
However, the Rev Dr Wilkinson pointed out that something as simple as a kiss can have both a scientific explanation and an explanation of meaning, value and purpose, both of which are just as important and neither of which is in conflict with the other.
He therefore proposed that Christians “see science as a gift from God and hold the two [science and religion] together”, as they are complementary.
Time was given for questions from the audience, which came fast and furious, indicating the intense interest in this topic. Questions were asked about the research on dating techniques, the existence of evil and suffering, the workings and evidence for miracles (including those in the Bible), and even one querying whether God was a human creation.
To the last question, the Rev Dr David Wilkinson acknowledged that there were times in Christian history when Christians had “projected our image onto God”, and done things that were wrong “in the name of God”.
However, he noted that there were hard facts in history about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, “extremely surprising things” that would be “very odd if it was made up” as they did not fit human assumptions of what God should be like.
He concluded with the statement: “Jesus is the plumb-line by whom I test everything about God.”
Grace Toh is the Assistant Editor of Methodist Message.