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My Take: Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you
The most compelling evidence for evolution comes from the study of genes.
April 10th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you

Editor's Note: Karl W. Giberson, Ph.D., is vice president of The BioLogos Foundation and is the author or coauthor of seven books, including The Language of Science and Faith.

By Karl W. Giberson, Special to CNN

Jesus once famously said, “I am the Truth.”

Christianity at its best embodies this provocative idea and has long been committed to preserving, expanding and sharing truth. Most of the great universities of the world were founded by Christians committed to the truth—in all its forms—and to training new generations to carry it forward.

When science began in the 17th century, Christians eagerly applied the new knowledge to alleviate suffering and improve living conditions.

But when it comes to the truth of evolution, many Christians feel compelled to look the other way. They hold on to a particular interpretation of an ancient story in Genesis that they have fashioned into a modern account of origins - a story that began as an oral tradition for a wandering tribe of Jews thousands of years ago.

This is the view on display in a $27 million dollar Creation Museum in Kentucky. It inspired the Institute for Creation Research, which purports to offer scientific support for creationism.

And it’s hardly a fringe view. A 2010 Gallup poll indicated that 4 in 10 Americans think that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” (http://www.gallup.com/poll/145286/four-americans-believe-strict-creationism.aspx)

While Genesis contains wonderful insights into the relationship between God and the creation, it simply does not contain scientific ideas about the origin of the universe, the age of the earth or the development of life.

For more than two centuries, careful scientific research, much of it done by Christians, has demonstrated clearly that the earth is billions years old, not mere thousands, as many creationists argue. We now know that the human race began millions of years ago in Africa - not thousands of years ago in the Middle East, as the story in Genesis suggests.

And all life forms are related to each other though evolution. These are important truths that science has discovered through careful research. They are not “opinions” that can be set aside if you don’t like them.

Anyone who values truth must take these ideas seriously, for they have been established as true beyond any reasonable doubt.

There is much evidence for evolution. The most compelling comes from the study of genes, especially now that the Human Genome Project has been completed and the genomes of many other species being constantly mapped.

In particular, humans share an unfortunate “broken gene” with many other primates, including chimpanzees, orangutans, and macaques. This gene, which works fine in most mammals, enables the production of Vitamin C. Species with broken versions of the gene can’t make Vitamin C and must get it from foods like oranges and lemons.

Thousands of hapless sailors died painful deaths scurvy during the age of exploration because their “Vitamin C” gene was broken.

How can different species have identical broken genes? The only reasonable explanation is that they inherited it from a common ancestor.

Not surprisingly, evolution since the time of Darwin has claimed that humans, orangutans, chimpanzees, and macaques evolved recently from a common ancestor. The new evidence from genetics corroborates this.

Such evidence proves common ancestry with a level of certainty comparable to the evidence that the earth goes around the sun.

This is but one of many, many evidences that support the truth of evolution - that make it a “sacred fact” that Christians must embrace in the name of truth. And they should embrace this truth with enthusiasm, for this is the world that God created.

Christians must come to welcome - rather than fear - the ideas of evolution. Truths about Nature are sacred, for they speak of our Creator. Such truths constitute “God’s second book” for Christians to read alongside the Bible.

In the 17th century, Galileo used the metaphor of the “two books” to help Christians of his generation understand the sacred truth that the earth moves about the sun. “The Bible,” he liked to say, “tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens ago.”

To understand how the heavens go we must read the book of Nature, not the Bible.

The Book of nature reveals the truth that God created the world through gradual processes over billions of years, rather than over the course of six days, as many creationists believe.

Evolution does not contradict the Bible unless you force an unreasonable interpretation on that ancient book.

To suppose, as the so-called young earth creationists do, that God dictated modern scientific ideas to ancient and uncomprehending scribes is to distort the biblical message beyond recognition. Modern science was not in the worldview of the biblical authors and it is not in the Bible.

Science is not a sinister enterprise aimed at destroying faith. It’s an honest exploration of the wonderful world that God created.

We are often asked to think about what Jesus would do, if he lived among us today. Who would Jesus vote for? What car would he drive?

To these questions we should add “What would Jesus believe about origins?”

And the answer? Jesus would believe evolution, of course. He cares for the Truth.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Karl W. Giberson.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Culture & Science • Culture wars • Opinion • Science

soundoff (3,562 Responses)
  1. The Shocker

    Of course Jesus believes in evolution. He invented it.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  2. bobby

    The evolutionist says, "Life evolved over millions of years, changing in form in little increments to adapt to its ever changing environment. We can see this in the tens of thousands of fossilized bones we have unearthed so far."

    The creationist says, "The universe was created in six days, including all life. All living creatures are what they are at the moment of their creation, unchanging. The fossils you have unearthed were placed there by the creator to test your faith in him."

    April 10, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  3. Scienceman

    While the evidence for evolution is strong and compelling our interpretation of it still has a long way to go. It is not settled "truth" as this author puts. There are still many questions and many possibilities not yet excluded. The evidence so far is mostly correlation which is not sufficient to be considered truth. Scientists still do not called it "the law of evolution". As for Genesis, most who believe in it acknowledge that it is not scientific, but rather a version of the creation story suited to a time when man had no understanding whatsoever about the inner workings of nature. The real mystery, and the one that is almost always avoided in articles like this, is where life came from. Evolution has nothing to say about this and we scientists still have absolutely no idea.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  4. saty

    Would evolution believe in Jesus?

    April 10, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  5. Kevin

    Evolution is provable from many perspectives, and unavoidable. But there is one problem with saying the Bible allows for evolution. That is that without the original sin of the first man, Adam, the ENTIRE Bible story makes no sense. Jesus came to remedy the first sin, of the first man. If there was no first man, there is no need for Jesus to save us from his sin.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  6. Docj

    To answer a commonly asked question, there is lots of evidence of half evolved humans as some put it. Most famously is lucy, found in Egypt in the 70's I believe. It is difficult to find bones of any species a million years or older unless the conditions were absolutely perfect for preservation. And your church won't share these, will just ignore them. And finally, just because you refuse to believe in evolution doesn't mean it isn't true. If I refuse to believe in gravity, what happens if I jump off of my roof. I still fall. Scariest thing about the US is that almost half believe in creationism. Christianity has repeatedly set back the human race, science and technology thousands of years. It took 1700 years to discover things that the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and other advanced cultures already knew but Christians refused to believe, and even tortured and killed those who proved it so.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Anna2

      OK, I agree it is hard to find well-preserved bones, BUT HOW COME WE CAN FIND DINOSAUR BONES?

      April 10, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Daniel

      @ Anna2: Because dinosaurs covered every continent and every terrain on the earth and therefore left a large number of corpses. On to your next question...

      April 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  7. Dan

    Really, which Christians don't believe in evolution? I was baptized in the Apostolic Armenian Church and they don't take issue with evolution and neither do Orthodox churches. I went to Catholic high school in Long Island were I was taught evolution. I even attended a Lutheran Church in Queens and they all believe in evolution. I am not religious now but I fail to see how there is this association with being ignorant and being a Christian. Maybe I just need to spend some time south of the Mason-Dixon...

    April 10, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. JC

    The Bible is nothing but a fairytale. An ancient Alice in Wonderland.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  9. Philip

    The author is spreading the gospel of evolution. He believes that evolution is a proven fact. It is nothing of the kind. It is a belief system, just as creationism is. There is much evidence that can be interpreted in favor of evolution. The same evidence can be interpreted in favor of creationism. It depends on one's point of view. The fact that there difficulties in either point of view does not negate either point of view, but merely spurs one on to continue learning and investigating. This is what a good scientist does. He does not castigate the opponent as unscientific or ignorant. He can believe as he wishes if he is honest, but his characterization of creationists is flat out wrong. BTW, only in the next world will we learn the full truth.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  10. TheRationale

    Honestly, you should be ashamed of yourself if you still "don't believe in evolution." The only thing it says about you is that you are not only grossly uneducated, but that you take pride in being so. You might as well not believe in the Holocaust. It's rather disgraceful, to say the least.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Anna2

      Wow, you sound like the inquisitors.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • John

      Which theory should I believe in? The one that says I evolved from a worm? The one that says I evolved from a chimp? The one that says I evolved from a fish? The one that says we evolved rapidly over the last few million years? The one that says we all evolved slowly over the hundreds of billions of years? A theory is called a theory because in its present state, it is not believable, and it is up to science to test it and prove it believability. my question to you is, if it is so believable, then why is it still classified as a theory? Do you believe in any theory? What makes you believe this theory?

      April 10, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Bill L

      ^John

      You are an idiot....we have not "rapidly" evolved over the past million years. Take a biochemistry class and you will see how much evolution has occurred over the past billion years...

      April 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  11. She

    I was raised through high school in religious schools, and taught about evolution. For me, and for those who taught me, there is no conflict between Christianity and the belief in evolution. I realize I'm a minority among Christians, but I feel blessed to have had the progressive education that I received.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Godisamyth

      Even though you did receive teaching on evolution, I would not call a religious school "progressive" in the slightest.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Anna2

      Looks like you are a people pleaser. You believe in everything "just in case."

      April 10, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  12. Duke13

    Karl Giberson's drivel that Jesus would believe in evolution would be denied by Jesus without a second thought.

    Believe what you want to believe, but I'll take the Bible any day over a bunch of "scientists" theory of evolution.

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
    Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)

    April 10, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • PeterVN

      Wny, Duke13, would you take the word of such an obviously error-filled and horridly evil, frozen-in-time book as the buybull, over a scientific framework that is subjected to intense scrutiny and revised as new understanding is gained?

      April 10, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • John

      Duke, funny thing is, if you take the theory of evolution out of science completely over the last hundred years, we wouldn't see a loss in any of the advancements of medicine or technology. The theory has not proved beneficial to us any way whatsoever. In fact, I believe by teaching this nonsense it has actually prevented us from understanding the universe and intricacies of life. If anyone has any proof that the different theories of evolution has helped us develop any medicine or other technological advancement, please prove me wrong.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • markopolo

      John –

      An example of how evolution inspired new technologies? Many plastics and biofuels are made by microorgnaisms (namely, bacteria) that produce these compounds as bi-products of their metabolism. However, they normally don't make enough of the desired product to warrant their use of producing the product on a large scale. Evolution comes in by researchers selecting for organisms that produce the most of the desired product and allowing them to reproduce. The ones that don't make enough are discarded or die, and do not get to pass on their genes. The survivors pass on their genes, and eventually you get a culture full of organisms that can produce your desired product efficiently and in great concentration. So, in my opinion, that is an example of how the theory of evolution has helped advance technology. We are not/will not be as heavily relying on old methods of producing plastics and other products with strategies like this.

      April 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  13. John

    Dr. Giberson starts the discussion with a core assumption that is scientifically false: The "truth of evolution." In science, Evolution is a theory as is Creation or Intelligent Design. Why? Although evidence may support a hypothesis, it has not been proven in all cases and observations, which is why it is not called the law of evolution. Therefore, the starting argument of the truth of evolution is false and destroys the rest of his logic. Major issues with evolution? There are many: The existence of matter from nothingness, the evolution of life from nonlife, the violation of the law of entropy (Newton's 2nd law).

    Would Jesus believe in evolution? Jesus KNEW the heavens and earth were created through Him. (John 1) The attempt to throw randomness into His power over all would have been scoffed at by Christ.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • John

      John, It's rather funny how we work as human beings. If the IRS audited me, and found that I possessed a few dozen Ferraris with no proof of purchase that I obviously couldn't afford, they would begin an investigation into how I obtained them. I would tell them that they just appeared out of no where and started off as small bits of metal and gradually over the last few weeks "evolved" into microchips and carburetors. Not a single person would even entertain the idea that I was telling the truth, and all would assume I made everything to gain something for myself or make myself look good when in fact, i had stolen the Ferraris. Yet, when it comes to the origin of life, this is exactly what proponents of evolution would have us believe, that out of nothingness came a complex universe and complex human body.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • CatS

      Ummm. So God STOLE mankind? Or maybe He was the honest sort and BOUGHT them from the local CREATIONS R US

      April 10, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • CatS

      John, by your analogy, you told the IRS agent you made the Ferraris yourself from some mud you dug up in the backyard – and of course we all believed the story as Truth.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • markopolo

      unfortunately, in science, nothing can be proven as unequivocally true. it is incorrect to believe something will happen because it has always happened a certain way, like the sun rising in the east. it has happened this way since before mankind as far as we know, but who's to say it will happen again tomorrow? you can gather as much evidence for support as you like, but scientists will not be able to prove anything because they will be basing their future judgement on the past.

      April 10, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  14. The religion of Science!

    If I take a handful of rocks, mud and sand today, 4/10/2011, and smash them together. Then I give it to you and ask you to tell me how old it is what date will you come up with using the scientific methods of today? Will it be 1 day old or will it be the age of the materials I used to create it?

    If I am to tell you how old my new creation is I will tell you when I made it, 4/10/2011, not when the materials when originally created.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • umbuna

      um, i would date your materials to when they were made then i think based on ithere current configuration i would tell you how they got that way then, um based on the dna you left i would tell you who made it then i would say.... next question please

      April 10, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • rooster

      You are on the right track. There is no conflict between science and religion. The question in the article is about 30 years behind the current thought, especially from theologians in GB. Many many Christians accept evolution as the mechanism for the creation of human kind. We also accept the undeniable place of the human spirit in the universe. The resolution of this made up conflict will be resolved when both sides talk instead of call each other names, and figure out that they were both right all along.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  15. John

    Religion is the source of all imaginable follies and disorders; it is the mother of fanaticism and civil disdcord; it is the enemy of mankind. . . . . . . . . .VOLTAIRE

    April 10, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • John

      The problem with your statement is that we all hold to some "religious" belief system, no matter who you are. We all have faith in our understanding in the meaning of life, origin of life, and life after death (even if one believes there is no life after death). If takes faith to beleive there is nothing holding the universe together, and no life after death, because no one has experienced this "nothingness" and come back to tell us.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  16. JC

    The next thing he's going to tell us is that the earth isn't flat.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  17. rustyw

    This article contains a few unscientific claims:
    1) "All life forms are related to each other though evolution. These are important truths that science has discovered through careful research. They are not “opinions” that can be set aside if you don’t like them. "
    The problem is this claim is not reproducible! For example, if someone claims they changed salt into gold, we would properly be skeptical. However, if he could reproduce this change in front of us in a manner that eliminated a scam, then it would likely be a scientifically accurate claim.
    Scientists have tried to change a species in the laboratory. Forty years of efforts with the fruit fly proved fruitless at changing the species. Scientists induced a mutation rate of 1000 times the natural rate, and they did this for over 2000 generations of fruit flies! No beetle, no bee, not even a common house fly resulted. It was still a fruit fly. So, the claim so far has not been reproducible! This is not "an opinion," it is the result of 40 years of experimentation.
    2) "Anyone who values truth must take these ideas seriously, for they have been established as true beyond any reasonable doubt," and "Such evidence proves common ancestry with a level of certainty comparable to the evidence that the earth goes around the sun."
    This is a propaganda tactic, and it is usually done from a weak position. There are abilities that argue against common ancestry, especially organic systems that appear to be irreducibly complex. Photosynthesis, for example.
    However, look at an easier example – the GPS of the Monarch butterfly. Each year from various areas of the USA, these butterflies migrate down to Mexico to a very limited area. They have never been there before! Scientists have determined that these butterflies have inherited a GPS that directs their migration, triggered by a timing mechanism.
    For evolution to be true, a series of accidents, or mutations, in the DNA of these insects had to develop a program that then controlled the construction of this GPS! That stretches credulity. How could it develop when it would be useless until the entire system was in place?
    Discoveries such as this led Antony Flew, a British philosopher and atheist, to become a believer, which he announced in 2004. The more we humans learn, the more awesome the complexities of life are seen to be. This suggests purposeful design, which naturally suggests a designer. While God might have used evolutionary processes, the evidence to date does not support such a conclusion.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • John

      Rusty, I couldn't agree more. While I do believe there is a battle for the proper interpretation of the evidence, it basically boils down to what each individuals world view is. If a person starts out saying in his heart "there is no God," then they are going to interpret the evidence much differently then those who say "there is a God" or even those who admit "there might be a God."

      April 10, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Rod C. Venger

      This author is trying to equate science with infallibility, making the claim that's it's beliefs...it's conclusions...are the "Truth", yet any scientist will tell you that science is always in flux and always subject to reinterpretation upon the presentation of new evidence.

      So the author is a hack...an opportunist pushing an agenda. The conclusions of science at this moment are only based on the data we have at this moment. There are far more scientific theories than certainties. Jesus would believe what His Father said...not what scientists chose to tell him.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • markopolo

      Rustyw –

      To address your first criticism with the fruit fly, it is very difficult to observe speciation, especially in an eukaryotic organism like the fruitfly. The problem with higher organisms like fruit flies (they may not seem to be higher order, but trust me, they are) is that they tend to have very long generation times. It takes a very long time (like you say years and years to obtain only 2,000 generations) for just one generation to pass, in the case of fruit flies, days to weeks I would guess is their generation time. Inducing such an increased mutation rate, in my humble opinion, would serve as a detriment to the flies. Mistakes in DNA replication and DNA damage happen frequently, and to increase the mutation rate you would have to remove the genetic repair mechanisms used to fix these problems. Without them, lethal mutations are likely to occur in genes necessary for survival. I'm actually not that surprised they didn't get a new species, due to the relatively small number of generations and the greatly elevated mutation rate.

      I urge you to take a look at this paper: Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli (http://www.pnas.org/content/105/23/7899.long). It explores a long-term evolutionary experiment involving E. coli bacteria and an interesting event that took place after nearly 20 years of evolution that is very suggestive of speciation within bacteria. The unqiue thing about E. coli, and many bacteria in general, is that they have incredibly short generation times (7-8 generations daily!), which allows for rapid evolution. In the 23 years this long-term experiment has been going, over 50,000 generations have passed, and it keeps on going and going. Pretty cool eh?

      Your second point on irreducible complexity is one put forth by Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University I believe. Take the bacterial flagellum (the propeller-like structure on some bacteria that allow them to “swim”). Behe argues that this structure is irreducibly complex, because without one piece of the structure, the structure breaks down. He argues that each piece of the system is useless outside the structure. But, they are not. Secretion systems of bacteria are very similar to flagella, they contain many of the same pieces but perform an entirely different function. Obviously these proteins have other functions outside the flagellum. The proteins for both systems are present in the cell performing other functions. When they come together, they form these structures. Randomly, they came together to form flagella at some point in history. The bacterium that possessed this structure was able to move and exploit new ecological niches (more food, let's say) and reproduced to pass on this trait. I would guess a similar situation happened with the butterflies, the ones that could make it back to their breeding grounds got to breed and pass on their genes, the one's that didn't didn't get to reproduce. I'd say that's heavy selection for making it back to Mexico. They eat and grow to pass on their genes to the next generation, and if they don't make it to reproduction, it was all for nothing.

      April 10, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  18. Mike

    Would the flying spaghetti monster believe in russel's teapot? I'll ask the next bowl of pasta I see (it's opinions will be at least as valid as the average creationist's).

    April 10, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  19. umbuna

    religion is man made, period, and it will die out with man. it is funny though that religon discounts science when in fact the only real interesting way to view religon is through scientific eyes. what an interesting, and very temporary, event. when you consider time.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • JC

      I disagree. Religion will be the end of mankind.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  20. John

    A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on synpathy, education, and social ties; no religious bias is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. ( Albert Einstein)

    April 10, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • rooster

      Eistein was a physicist not a theologian, and he totally missed the point on this one. His premise is that people of faith are "good " because of fear, which is a common misperception amount non-religious people. Einstein, incidentally did express a belief in God at a few points in his life, and more frequently toward the end of his life. Fear is not why religious people act altruistically, love is. Fear is why religious people act poorly, which they sometimes do.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:35 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.