Christian churches in the United States often take advantage of national holidays to communicate particular theological points. For example, Memorial Day and Veterans Day provide opportunities to celebrate the idea of Jesus sacrificing his life on the Cross for spiritual freedom. Independence Day triggers celebrations of freedom from the tyranny of sin. And Thanksgiving Day prompts gratefulness for all God has done for us and in us.
Gratitude during Thanksgiving worship gatherings tends to focus on themes of spiritual creation, of new birth, of being a “new creation.” But what if we considered gratitude in terms of what God has done for and in us through the physical creation?
Ever since the church realized that the entire universe does not center on the earth, Christianity has had a troubled relationship with science. Some Christians have gone so far as to say that this world is not our home, that we’re “just passing through.” As scientists began to realize the undeniable case for evolution, deep time and quantum physics, evangelicalism in the United States became even more disconnected from reality and “other-worldly” in its focus.
After young earth creationists sowed decades of doubt in evangelical churches about scientific consensus and conspiracies about the agenda of the scientific community, it was only a matter of time before a pandemic would come along that would reveal how out of touch with scientific reality the church had become.
For more than a century, evolution primarily has been approached with fear. Evangelicals are afraid of what evolution might mean for their theology of Adam, and by extension their theology of Jesus. Even Christians who accept evolution often feel quietly bothered by how different the story of evolution is from what they read in Genesis.
But if evolution is how God created everything we see today, then evolution is what God has done for us and in us. And thus, to deny evolution is to be ungrateful for what God has done.
What, then, if we began listening to scientists with postures of gratitude for what God has done rather than with fear over what that might mean?
The wonder of discovery
In an interview with BioLogos, biologist Lynette Strickland told how her natural curiosity led her to study the evolution of beetles. Describing the tortoise beetle, she said: “They incorporate so many different forms of coloration, namely structural coloration. So they have a lot of gold and silver, metallic and iridescence. And they also have these so the edge of their body is enlarged and flattened. And anytime they get sort of scared or anxious, they’ll pull everything underneath and flatten themselves to the leaf.”
For Strickland, “studying variation is one of the most satisfying things. And especially in beetles who are arguably the most diverse and species-rich group of organisms on the planet. And so much of their success has been attributed to this variation to their diversity.” She explains that beetles have diversified so much in their evolutionary story that humans have discovered more than 350,000 species.
The wound of disappointment
For Christians who deny evolution, however beautiful some part of creation may seem, wonder can only dissolve into disappointment.
Stuart Burgess writes for Answers in Genesis: “In the Garden of Eden everything was beautiful. But the Fall of Adam and Eve and the subsequent Curse has changed how beauty is displayed. For example, the predator-prey relationship has meant that most animals need camouflage and so may have lost the original patterns they had before the Fall. Yet the camouflage of both predator and prey displays its own form of beauty that is fitting for a fallen world.”
The deepest beauty, according to Answers in Genesis, is a beauty “that is fitting for a fallen world.” The sound of birds singing amidst the warmth of sunrise, the wriggling propulsion of trout making their way upstream, the soft cry of a newborn child, and even the rich structural coloration in beetles are ultimately experiences of creation that will dissolve into disappointment with the belief that the cosmos is fallen from perfection and cursed with death.
“Asserting the possibility of bright animal colors before a Fall ignores the reality of how the actual animal colors we see evolved.”
Disappointment over what has become then leads to speculation about a reality that never happened. Burgess guesses: “We don’t know what animal colors looked like before the Fall. But it is interesting to note that creatures that live in protective environments, such as jungles, often have bright colors.”
Asserting the possibility of bright animal colors before a Fall ignores the reality of how the actual animal colors we see evolved. Claiming that jungles are “protective environments” that are similar to Eden ignores the dangerous reality of what jungles actually are. And having a professor of engineering design try to correct the scientific consensus of evolutionary biologists by his pure speculation is simply living in a fantasy.
For Christians to open up in gratitude for what God has done, these engineered fantasies of young earth creationists are going to have to be deconstructed.
The world of deconstruction
In order to move from the wound of disappointment that is reflected in the writings of Answers in Genesis to the wonder of discovery that is reflected in the writings of BioLogos or The Center for Christogenesis, Christians are going to have to deconstruct a number of assumptions about both the Bible and science.
First, the assumption that the Bible is inerrant in matters of science is a myth that keeps us from discovering our actual cosmic and evolutionary story and sets up a false dichotomy that leads people away from Christianity once they realize how strong is the case for evolution.
“The assumption that the Bible is inerrant in matters of science is a myth that keeps us from discovering our actual cosmic and evolutionary story.”
Of course, given the state of evangelicalism, the choice to walk away is an understandable one. There are many reasons to consider doing just that. But young earth creationists presenting a false dichotomy of believing in evolution vs. believing in God becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of their fears when the overwhelming evidence for evolution is considered.
By deconstructing this assumption, the Bible can be opened up to discover how its authors considered human identity in light of the stars as they understood them. This also gives us permission to follow their example of examining our identity in light of the heavens as we understand them today.
Second, the assumption that the Bible is a literal accounting of historical events according to modern standards of testifying under oath is a myth that keeps us from discovering the genres and literary devices that ancient people used in order to tell their stories in a way that helped them process their wonders and wounds.
By deconstructing this assumption, the Bible can be opened up to connect us with our neighbors across time and space and help us identify their stories with our own wonders of home and wounds of exile.
“The Bible can be opened up to discover how its authors considered human identity in light of the stars as they understood them.”
Third, the assumption that modern scientists are part of a conspiracy to attack the Bible is a myth that keeps us from fully enjoying museums, documentaries and books. It leads to further conspiracies during pandemics that cause unimaginable death. And it dehumanizes women and men who have given their lives to promote discovery and human flourishing.
By deconstructing this assumption, an entire world of possibilities for discovery and love opens up for us. We no longer have to live in the fantasy land of thinking jungles are Edenic protective environments and that animal colors were magically brighter prior to a Fall. But we can observe what is all around us, breathe deeply and enjoy it as the fruit of what God has done. And when the most scientifically advanced experts come to a consensus regarding how we can care for one another, we can humbly listen to them and walk together toward life and health.
Fourth, to claim that evolution is “worshiping the creation rather than the Creator” is a myth that keeps us from discovering the presence of God in all things and the presence of all things in God.
Throughout the centuries, Christian mystics have seen the presence of grace in all things, the goodness of God as the heart of all things, the incarnation as God’s becoming what God loves rather than God’s attempt to solve everything we ruined, love as the language of the cosmos with the power to unite and transform all things, the entire cosmos as family, and our very presence as sacramental participation with God’s being.
Through the fossil record and the mapping of the genome, we can see the fingerprints of family all over our world. Every being is related in some way to every other being. No matter how difficult the struggle may be, our presence together changes us all and moves us forward.
That is evolution. It is what God has done for us and in us. And as we move into the Advent and Christmas seasonal reflections of God becoming human, we can begin to consider the possibilities of a God who has entered our struggle for becoming with us.
Rick Pidcock is a freelance writer based in South Carolina. He is a former Clemons Fellow with BNG and recently completed a master of arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com