I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene, and a professor of theology for nearly 30 years now–and I assume that God our Creator has labored in and through the processes we call “evolution” to bring about the universe as a whole and the world that we inhabit. These processes, I assume, also provide a general description of how God has brought about our existence as human beings.
It is important to add that I am not at all alone in holding these assumptions as a Christian, a minister and a theologian.
I do not pretend to speak on everyone’s behalf, but if one were to take a survey of Nazarene professors of Bible, theology and philosophy in all our schools around the world today, I can safely estimate that at least 80 to 85 percent of them would assume evolution to be a generally accurate description of the mode of God’s creative, sustaining and life-giving activity in Creation. The percentage may be even higher.
Of course, counting a large number of people who believe something does not really provide adequate evidence for the belief in question. Truth is not a matter of majority opinion. And, we should grant, most of those professors received their graduate training in academic settings–including many, if not most seminaries–where evolutionary assumptions are largely taken for granted.
But that is part of the point. The more education a person receives in academically-sanctioned settings, the more likely they will learn a basic respect for, and trust in, the data that other academic disciplines discover or propose as truthful descriptions of the world we inhabit.
This is particularly the case at a place like Point Loma. Here, we in the theological disciplines work and teach with our friends and colleagues in the natural sciences like biology and chemistry right across Caf Lane from each other. Many of us meet every Monday during lunchtime to discuss matters of the relationship(s) between our Christian faith and the discoveries and theories of the natural sciences. We learn from one another, and we happily assume that the world we are attempting to understand and describe on behalf of, and alongside of our students is God’s good creation. We also assume that Creation offers hard scientific evidence about its own history that we cannot and should not ignore. We want to think all these things together.
I certainly do not want to imply that it is only the realms of theology and the natural sciences that operate in these ways, or with these assumptions. Even our Monday lunchtime discussions include faculty from other departments–thankfully! I think it is largely safe to assume that most of my colleagues and friends across the PLNU campus would think similarly.
The Church of the Nazarene’s official statement of belief regarding the Scriptures gives us room to “think and let think”–a phrase of John Wesley’s–on these matters. As we read in the Nazarene Manual, the Scriptures are “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation,” which implies that we need not expect the Scriptures to teach us inerrantly about everything else, including the way(s) in which God has created, and is creating, our world.
Michael Lodahl, Ph.D. is a professor of theology and world religions at PLNU.
Most people in academia are at least acquainted with the Big Bang theory, a description of how the universe expanded from its initial state. While the laws of physics applied to the highest density regime theoretically forms a singularity associated with the Big Bang, even the best physicists aren’t sure whether or not that means the universe began from said singularity.
While the Big Bang theory isn’t overly compelling and lacks sufficient evidence to graduate to scientific law, plenty of phenomena following the initial formation of the universe can be described and quantified by science.
It would be erroneous to claim that we should place our trust in the Bible before or in place of scientific theories due to the “unchanging” nature of Scripture. While one of the world’s oldest surviving texts wields significant authority, for all its merits the Bible has far more interpretations than there are wings of legitimate scientific thought.
A relatively short time ago, it was not unusual for the vast majority of Christians to believe in the literal seven days of Creation described in the opening chapters of Genesis. Today, a significant portion of believers understand that those seven days more than likely aren’t literal. The planet is older than humanity by an approximate factor of 3,999,700,000 years according to radiometric dating of the Earth and the recent single-origin hypothesis. If God created the universe as we know it, He sure took His time introducing humanity to the picture.
And that, more than anything, should tell us something: Perhaps we aren’t as significant as we tend to assume. It’s in our nature to take for granted that we are the most important things in the entire universe, but it’s crucial to understand that that urge is fueled primarily by survival instinct.
This is further proven by the fact that in the last 45 years, suicide rates have risen by 60% worldwide according to the World Health Organization. As our lives become increasingly comfortable in the developed world, we chip away at our own instinct to struggle and survive, we deteriorate our assumption that we are the most important organisms in the universe, and we fall into existential crises and deep-seeded depression.
I hypothesize that this is evolution taking place before our very eyes. There is an erroneous tendency to assess only the most glaring cases of evolution. Charles Darwin studied the obvious microevolution occurring among the biologically diverse finches on the Galapagos Islands and formed his theory of macroevolution–that is, the idea that all organisms come from one “last universal common ancestor.”
But evolution doesn’t happen overnight. Our struggle to adapt to the comfortable world we have created is proof that we are changing somehow. Let’s just hope that the film Idiocracy is wrong when it proposes we are all evolving to become less intelligent since there is a growing tendency for the intelligent to avoid reproducing. According to a study conducted by London School of Economics researcher Satoshi Kanazawa, a woman’s urge to have children decreases by 25% for every 15 IQ points.
As we evolve, our understanding of science shifts and our understanding of Scripture shifts. The two are by no means mutually exclusive, but one thing is for certain: Humanity is changing, and the homo sapiens God created isn’t the same homo sapiens we are today.
Riordan Zentler is a senior majoring in journalism.