OPINION: Evolution and Christianity

Photo credit: Hal Gatewood

It’s almost common knowledge that many Christians don’t agree with evolution. My sophomore year of high school is my first defining memory of this. It was my second class of the day, biology. We were all chattering as normal as we settled into our seats. My teacher got up and announced that we would be starting a new unit, but he had a disclaimer before we did.

“Now, science is always changing,” he started explaining while shaking his head, his eyes focused on where the wall met the ceiling behind us. “So, there are some things that are a part of the curriculum that I have to teach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct.”

This got our attention. None of us had ever had a teacher teach us something they didn’t think was true.

My teacher continued, “We’re going to start our evolution unit today, but just know that you need to understand the material and do well on the test to prove you understand the theory of evolution, not because it is actually true.”

I knew why my teacher had said this. The large majority of the city I lived in was Christian, and I had already guessed that my teacher was as well.

Growing up Christian, I had heard people making negative comments here and there about evolution and how incorrect it was. I never really thought much about it. I wasn’t a huge science girl, so at that time in my life, evolution wasn’t something I was going to dive deep into conversation with someone about.

My sophomore year at BYU-Idaho changed that. I had an entirely different experience in every other science class than that of my sophomore year in high school.

We learned about evolution, the Big Bang and other theories that tend to make Christians tense and sometimes defensive. Everything we talked about had a gospel perspective to go with it. I loved it. I felt the amount of trust I had in God increase as I allowed myself to believe in more possibilities of His Creation than I previously imagined.

While visiting home one weekend, I was doing homework for my science class. I was excited about the things I was learning and started sharing it with people from some company my parents had staying at our house. As I shared, I quickly saw that they were not nearly as enthusiastic as I was about what I was learning. In fact, I think their feelings were the opposite of mine.

“They’re teaching you that at BYU-Idaho?” They asked, eyebrows pinched together in fear and amazement.

I’m pretty stubborn, so I didn’t give up trying to convince them that it wasn’t anti-Christianity. But the battle didn’t end with them; I shared my new point of view with so many people who thought I was going apostate believing in the possibility of evolution.

I finally had enough after a surprising comment from a religion teacher.

“The Church doesn’t have an official position on evolution because it doesn’t matter,” the professor said. “You don’t have to believe everything the world thinks it knows.”

Oh boy. I had heard too many people talk about the “evil” in the theory of evolution on the same campus where learning about it had deepened my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

Stephen Collins was my professor in the course From Atoms to Humans, the class that had me so excited about my new learnings with evolution.

I had the opportunity to talk with him almost a year after I took his class and hear more of his perspective on evolution and the gospel.

“If we have an avenue of truth — if science, for example, can bring us truth — to ignore what science teaches us simply because it doesn’t fit our ideation of how God must have done things is not discipleship,” Collins said.

He’s right; my observation has been that many Christians brush off evolution because they fear it is not giving credit to God for creating man.​​ It’s a common misconception to believe that evolution occurred in the absence of God’s Creation. But who’s to say that God could not be the mastermind behind evolution?

We have never been expected to understand what He does. He invites us to learn all we can (Doctrine and Covenants 109:7, 14) while being humble enough to know that we do not comprehend all that He comprehends (Mosiah 4:9). God is a god of laws (Mormon 9:9, D&C 88:38). He is the ultimate scientist. He controls all the atoms and molecules and things that I barely have a grasp on understanding (Helaman 12:8, Matthew 8:27). But why would we limit God by saying He could not do something just because we can’t make sense of it in our own minds?

The account of the Creation of man in the book of Genesis is not packed with detail. We learn that God created man in his image on the sixth day (Genesis 1:27, 31). Man is created from the dust of the ground, and God breathed into him the breath of life, then he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).

There are many ways these scriptures can be interpreted, but the important thing is that it was God who created man.

I share my thoughts, knowing that I have no authority to interpret scripture on behalf of anyone else. However, my own pondering has brought me to a few different conclusions of how the scientific theories I’ve learned could coincide with the scriptural account.

Keeping in mind that a soul is a body with a spirit (D&C 88:15), it’s entirely possible that God allowed evolution to create men’s body, and when the Creation was perfected, He gave it a spirit, “and man became a living soul.”

It’s also important to remember that a day to God is a lot more time to us (2 Peter 3:8, Abraham 3:4). What the “sixth day” is to God is plenty of time to let the laws he has set forth take effect to create in whatever way He has instructed them to.

“God has lots of time,” Collins said. “He’s not limited by time the way we are, and so he could afford to wait a few billion years for the Creation of life to play out. As children of God, we have a responsibility to learn truth; that is one of the primary purposes of this life, and so as a disciple, that is something we should always be seeking. And not just to seek truth directly from God, but to seek it from all sources. We’re told in the Doctrine and Covenants, for example, to seek out of the best books words of learning and wisdom and knowledge, so I don’t see how we can ignore an avenue of truth, of obtaining truth, and still be fulfilling that purpose”

I’m still not really a science girl who could tell you everything about DNA or our relation to apes, but I do know that learning about the possibility of man’s creation in a complex way gave me more trust in God and amazement in His abilities. God is God, I am not. Anything I venture to believe can and will be reconsidered if it contradicts revealed truth or truth that will be revealed. For now, I will allow myself to learn with all the tools God has given us.