Forget about Super Bowl L. The anniversary of greater importance in early February is the CCVII of Charles Darwin.
207 years ago, Darwin was born. February 12, 1809 was – in the words of Dr. Kenneth Miller of Brown University – “An above-average day for the world,” because it was also the birth date of Abraham Lincoln.
Every year on the occasion of Darwin’s birth, opponents rise up with the same, old objections – and America winds up looking like an oaf among modern nations. The United States ranks dead last among the industrialized nations in surveys asking people if they believe in evolution.
At most only 50-60% of Americans subscribe to evolution. Why the sizable holdout?
Many believe in evolution – but only for others. They say evolution is understandable when talking about creatures like dogs descending from wolves or birds descending from reptiles. It’s okay for others – but not for us. Not for Homo sapiens.
For human beings, evolution breaks upon the granite belief that we are specially made – made in the image of God. This biblical portrayal of human origin remains the biggest hurdle for people who can’t accept evolution: How could we be descended from apes but still be made in the image of God?
There is the additional objection to evolution that, going by the Bible, humans were created instantly – by voice command from God – rather than appearing only gradually over a million years of evolution by hominids.
These are the two main obstacles to belief in evolution: Being made in the image of God is inconsistent with descending from apes; and being created, as the Bible says, in an instant by command of God is inconsistent with Homo sapiens arriving only after a half-million years of hominid evolution.
Both obstacles are raised not only by the literal, word-for-word reading of the Scriptures. As well, there is the peculiar way that the Scriptures portray life. Life in the Bible is pictured as happening instantly. Creation occurs in distinct, immediate moments: Let there be light – there’s light. Let there be land – there’s land. Let there be fish and fowl – they appear.
It’s the same thing with human behavior. Three men rebel against Moses in the desert. Immediately, the earth shakes, the ground opens up and the three tents that are home to the dissidents (and their wives and children) are swallowed up. In Acts, a church members goes up to Peter and tells a lie (about how much money he’s donating to the church). Immediately, the church member drops dead. He is carried off. A moment later, the man’s wife shows up, and tells Peter the same lie. Immediately, she drops dead.
None of this is reality. None of these stories are realistic. Fossils show that creatures don’t show up instantly but descend from a long line of ancestors. But in the Bible, there is no concern for such reality. The story isn’t about how things came to be. The story is about the direct connection between God as creator and the things and creatures that God creates. In other words, the immediacy of the way things happen in the Bible — God speaks, things appear — is a way to emphasize a truth: God is calling the shots. There is no doubt as to where things come from. God speaks – boom – things appear. It’s immediate, it’s instant, it can’t be any clearer.
Same thing with sin & punishment. Somebody lies – drops dead. His wife lies – drops dead. The story is telling us: There is a direct connection between behavior and consequences. But in real life, the consequences don’t normally follow wrong conduct immediately. Whenever you read a news story about a court case being decided, it’s about something that occurred 2-3 years previously. That’s a long time between conduct and consequences. The Bible doesn’t get into the process. Rather, the Scriptures emphasize the immediacy of something – wrong conduct is followed instantly by punishment. In this way, the connection is all the clearer.
All it takes is to understand that this is the style of writing in the Scriptures to get over the hurdle about evolution of creatures. The style of the Scriptures is to get across a truth. It needn’t be factual. Creation by voice command isn’t about how things appeared; it’s about a world view: monotheism. God is creator; God is not nature. God is not the Sun. God is the creator of the Sun. The clearer the point is made – Let there be light – there’s light – the clearer the truth.
The same way of processing comparisons with the Bible and real life can help a person get over the obstacle of how people can be made in the image of God and yet be descended from apes.
First of all, to be clear, we are not descended from apes, as though apes became humans. This is a common misunderstanding because of the typical drawing of the descent of hominids – Australopithecus afarensis to Australopithecus africanus to Australopithecus robustus to Homo habilis to Homo erectus to Homo Neanderthal and finally to Homo sapiens. It seems as if one species evolves into another. The predecessor disappears, and the new species exists. Then the new species evolves into a more modern version. The old species disappears – the newcomer holds serve.
Evolution does not mean that one species replaces another. There is not replacement but branching off. When Homo sapiens appeared around half a million years ago, there also existed for a while Homo neanderthal. Neanderthal man eventually went extinct for various reasons. Homo sapiens has continued to find ways to survive. As recently as 12,000 years ago, another hominid species existed at the same time as Homo sapiens. This other species has been called “The Hobbit” for its short stature. Its fossils have been found in a jungle in Indonesia. Homo florensis lived at the same time as our own species but did not survive to our day. Again, Homo sapiens has a glorious history, finding ways to survive any climate, any terrain.
Clearing up this concept that evolution isn’t about replacement but about branching off is important for our discussion because hopefully what gets cleared up is this notion that we would be only brutish with no chance of possessing the image of God if we were descended from apes.
It’s not a direct descent: as if one appears, and then evolves into another, thus disappearing. The comparison has been made: People exist in Australia who are descended from English and Welsh and Scots and Irish. Well, why, then, are there still English and Welsh and Scots and Irish?
Perhaps the distaste that we are “descended from apes” can be lessened if people understand the process of evolution accurately.
Homo sapiens did indeed descend from primates, but while ancestors have died off, we have our own proud story of finding ways of making a home out of every hill and valley and desert and tundra and island all over the planet.
We can learn much also from the descent of hominids in their physical appearance. The first hominid is said to be Australopithecus afarensis – otherwise known as “Lucy.” She lived 3.7 million years ago. Lucy stood 3 1/2 feet tall and weighed 60 pounds – about the size of a modern-day 9-year-old. As important to know, the size of Lucy’s skull was small (compared to a modern human).
Follow the process.
The size of a hominid like Lucy goes from 3 1/2 feet tall to today’s average of two feet taller.
That growth took 3 million years.
At the same time, hominids grew not only in size but in capacity for thinking
Lucy’s skull was small. Millions of years later, by the time of Homo habilis, the volume of the cranium was around 600 cubic centimeters. By the time of Homo neanderthal, the cranium had a volume of 1,600 cubic centimeters. By our time, the size of the cranium has plateaued and actually declined slightly. The average human skull has a volume of 1240 to 1440 cm3. The point is: We have evolved not only in size, but in the ability to think higher thoughts.
The Bible portrays things as happening instantly. Humans are created instantly – they are created in the image of God instantly. But why can’t we see that this is a scriptural shorthand for getting to a truth quickly: God is our creator (however it happens), and we are made in the image of our creator.
In real life, however, things don’t happen with this kind of immediacy. Rather, there is a long process – whether growth occurs physically like from the 3 1/2 foot Lucy to our height over three million years later – or whether growth occurs mentally. Intellectual growth can be measured by measuring the growing size of the brain. The volume of the skull from Homo habilis has doubled by the time of Homo sapiens.
The size of the brain increases – thoughts fly higher.
Can’t we also see that a concept like being created in the image of God is something that takes time, evolving over generations?
There was a time when people thought they were the children of their god – but only the king and queen. This concept can be found in the ancient kingdoms of Egypt and Babylonia.
Those were days of polytheism. With the Hebrew people, however, arose the concept of monotheism. With monotheism, it was a logical conclusion to say that if there is one God for all, there is also a “universalizing” of the concept of people being the children of their god – not just the king and queen but all people. All are made in the image of God.
The image of God is traditionally explained as conscience or the ability to reason – in short, “awareness.” Awareness of self – that is, of existential ideas like, “Why am I alive?” “What happens when I die ?”
This discovery that we have “awareness” about ourselves that other creatures don’t have needn’t have occurred in an instant. The idea evolved. Like Homo sapiens themselves, ideas grew along with physical size. Only over time did awareness arise. Thus, believing in both evolution and humans possessing the image of God is no problem. It’s a matter of accepting that in real life, most things do not happen instantly. Real life requires time.