I am a theistic evolutionist. I believe humans came about through natural processes, and that we share common ancestors with other primates. Life has existed on this planet for billions of years, and the diversity of species arose from natural selection and random genetic mutation.
However, I also am a dedicated Christian. I believe we live in a universe created by God, who definitively revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
Many Christians share my view, and others believe something different. Differences of view is to be expected, but the issue I’d like to address is that many Christians find theistic evolution dangerously problematic. There are numerous theological and philosophical objections to my position, but I believe those can be satisfyingly answered. However, I think another emotional objection to theistic evolution may not be addressed often enough, which I hope to answer in this post, and can be summarized as follows:
If humans evolved through neo-Darwinian mechanisms (i.e. common descent, natural selection, and random genetic mutation), then doesn’t that mean humans aren’t special?
As Christians, we are often taught to think that we exist because God loves us and wanted to create us. The Bible even says that we bear the image of God. And the Psalms teach that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” so wouldn’t this imply that God made humans via special creation, rather than evolutionary factors? If we are mere over-evolved animals, how could it be said that we have something special about us? Doesn’t this take away any type of ‘magic’ view human life?
First, I think it’s important to have an accurate perception of what it means to be in the image of God. In our day, we often interpret this idea using a post-Cartesian framework. We believe that being in the image of God means that humans have souls and animals do not. To be an animal, is to be something akin to a mindless machine. However, I don’t think this is what the original authors of Genesis meant (and contemporary science has quite well done away with seeing animals and empty-minded robots). It seems to me that the opening passages in Genesis are making claims about human function, not ontology. Humans are the unique creatures on earth with the ability to take care of (or potentially destroy) the planet. In Genesis 1, God is portrayed as the Lord or King over a creation that obeys his commands. Humans are then made to be ‘proxy-kings’ or ‘little kings.’ N.T. Wright described humanity as a type of mirror for God to reflect his love into his creation. Being in the image of God means we are caretakers, gardeners, and stewards of God’s creation — a beautiful and wonderful task to be sure. But as to whether or not humans have souls is a different theological/philosophical question.
Secondly, Christians over-emphasize the idea of being made by God. Nearly everything about our personality or bodies is explained by saying “God made me this way.” While it is true that God created this particular universe with the knowledge that it would give rise to creatures with unique personality traits, talents, etc. like ourselves, and that God knew of us before we were born, it is also true that we have many accidental and arbitrary properties.
For example, humans are born with all sorts of deformities, disabilities, and pre-existing conditions — as well as useless bodily functions, such as getting goosebumps. I think it’s silly to maintain that God deliberately made us with such things. These are accidental properties that we would expect under an evolutionary model of nature. However, God can appropriate these maladies and, as Saint Paul said, “work all things together for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28), so we are far from hopeless in this regard.
But it’s still a basic fact that humans are evolved animals.
I think the crux of the emotional unsettlement that comes with this truth might be that it could damage our sense of self-worth and identity. If I am an animal full of accidental properties, pointless deformities, and junk DNA, then aren’t I just kind of a screw up?
Sure, we are animals, but we are animals in God’s beautiful and mysterious creation! I have self-worth because I am part of a creation that God loves and died for. Rather than finding my identity in possessions or bodily appearance, my identity is found in the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and the Holy Spirit who empowers me to also lay my life down for others.
Humans may not have that ‘magical’ elite standing above the rest of the animal kingdom, but humans ARE sacred. God’s creation as a whole is sacred.
When gibbons apes sing duets with their lover, God is in that moment. When a squirrel adopts a non-related baby squirrel because it had been abandon, God is in that moment. When trees blossom their spring flowers, God is there. When a polar bear joyfully plays in the snow, God is in that moment as well.
And even in tragic moments, such as when a poacher kills an elephant for its tusks, God is still in the moment because I believe His spirit comforts and co-suffers along side of every creature experiencing death. Jesus taught that not a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing it. Thus, our conception of God must always be that of a Being who cares about every fallen sparrow and every unjustly killed part of creation.
The moments when mothers hold their newborns, the times we kiss, the times we sing — God is in those moments because the world, though filled with much tragedy, is nonetheless sacred. Our identity is not found is something about ourselves, but must be rooted entirely in God himself.