Evolution and the Bible:
Can a Person Believe in Both?

There are people who believe in both evolution and the Bible, and they are not crazy. How do I know?

I am one!

Evolution and the Bible Literally?

Can a person who believes in evolution take the whole Bible literally?

No, of course not. A person who believes in evolution cannot believe that the world went from "without form and void" to man in six literal 24-hour days. On the other hand, no one takes the whole Bible literally.

Parts of the Bible No One Takes Literally

I have already devoted a whole page to the firmament. The fact is, everyone believes science when science says that the sky is not solid. All Christians believe this, even though Job 37:18 says the sky is as hard as a metal mirror. They believe this even though Genesis 1 indicates that the sky is a dome holding up water. They believe this even though the word "firmament" specifically implies a solid dome.

Further, no one believes that the world is held up on pillars, even though 1 Sam. 2:8 says that it is.

I have also compiled a longer list of verses.

The Process of Creation

There are parts of the Bible that a person who believes in evolution and the Bible can take more literally than a person who doesn't. For example, Proverbs 8:22-31 talks about God creating the world like a craftsman. He "prepared" the heavens, and he "set a compass" upon the face of the deep. He "established" the clouds, and he "strengthened" the fountains of the deep.

The terminology of Proverbs 8 sounds like a process, not a one-time command like Genesis 1, so it fits well with those believe in evolution and the Bible both.

Evolution and the Bible As It Is Meant To Be Understood

The Bible has never been a science book. It was never meant to get details exactly right.

For example, in Nehemiah 7:37 the children of Lod, Hadid, and Ono total 721. In Ezra 2:33, the Bible has 725.

No one cares.

Yes, that could be a copyist error. Yes, it's possible that the original manuscripts of Ezra and Nehemiah might both have had 721, 725, or some other number. The point is, God didn't see fit to preserve that number accurate to our day, so why would we assume that he cared whether Ezra or Nehemiah wrote it accurately in their day?

If a prophet were to come to your house tomorrow and tell you that you shouldn't fly on a plane because it was going to crash in Illinois on its way to Minneapolis, and then it crashed just before it got to Illinois, would you reject him as a prophet? Or would you more likely rejoice that he saved your life?

I believe that the Bible is inspired. I believe that Genesis 1 is inspired. In fact, I believe there was a literal garden of Eden, but there is nothing in the story of the garden of Eden that requires us to believe it is literal.

The Garden of Eden

St. Augustine on
Evolution and the Bible

St. Augustine, too, thought it was foolish to pit, not the Bible, but personal interpretations of the Bible, against science:

"His solution is humility both in the interpretation of nature and the interpretation of Scripture. How can such humility be engendered? By recognizing that the Bible is more about 'the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven' than it is about 'the motion and orbit of the stars, their size and relative positions, and the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon.' He warns against self- imposed authorities in biblical interpretation: 'Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.'" (ref)

He was able to say such things because he, like all early Christians, knew that nature, created by God, was a second Bible, with a voice that testifies of the Creator (Ps. 19:1-4).

June 23, 2014 note: Having read more of Augustine's writings, I have found some amazing discussions of evolution-related topics ... some 1600 years ago!

Think about the story of Adam and Eve. Adam's name means "man." Eve's name means "life." So Man and Life lived in a garden where snakes talk and where sin is eating of a tree that is called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Next to it is a tree that is called "the tree of life," and if you eat its fruit you'll live forever.

Does that sound like the story was meant to be literal to you?

Long before evolution and the Bible co-existed, a greatly respected Christian teacher wrote:

And who is so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if he were a farmer, planted trees in a garden, in Eden towards the east, with a tree of life in it—a visible, palpable tree of wood—so that anyone who ate of it with bodily teeth would obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, would come to the knowledge of good and evil? (Origen, De Principiis, IV:1:16, c. A.D. 230)

The fact is, we modern Christians are that ignorant because we've forgotten some principles of Bible interpretation that were foundational to early Christians. Origen certainly didn't say this because he believed in both evolution and the Bible. Evolution had not been proposed yet!

Roman Legal Mindsets

I have read several books by scholars who say that it's a Roman legal mindset that makes us think the stories in the Bible have to have literally happened. They say that the Hebrews would never even have asked whether those stories happened. They were true even if they were fictitious.

Evolution and the Bible:
Inspiration

Paul says that all Scripture is "breathed by God," or inspired (2 Tim. 3:16). What does that mean?

Obviously, it doesn't mean scientific accuracy, or we'd have found the earth set on pillars (1 Sam. 2:8) and covered with a dome as hard as metal called the sky.

So if Genesis 1 isn't literally accurate scientifically, then what use is it?


God's Covenant with Israel

If evolution and the Bible are both true, and if Genesis isn't literal, then what is the point of Genesis?

It's important to understand that Genesis is part of the Law of Moses. The Torah, the five books of Moses, is God's contract with the Israelites.

It's written in a form that's known as a "suzerain covenant," very common in the Middle East in Moses' time. Their format goes like this:

  • What the king (or suzerain) did for his people
  • What the king requires of his people
  • The blessings and cursings for obeying or disobeying the king

Because Israel's King was God, the history of what he did for his people goes all the way back to the beginning. Unfortunately, Moses wasn't there at the beginning. Even if he was, there's no way he could have understood evolution or put it in the Bible.

He had no idea even what a star really was, nor that there were many billions of stars clustered in galaxies.

God was not interested in explaining it to him. Moses knew a creation story, and he told it as it was told to him by his forefathers. It's a much more reasonable creation story than what is told by any other world religion. There's no rabbits laying eggs, gods warring, continents on a turtle's back, or animals accidentally producing the earth. Instead, God speaks and it comes to pass.

For the Israelites, then, Moses' words expressed the truth that God—their King or Suzerain—created all things.

The Torah then goes on to explain that man fell and needed the redemption of God, both in the Garden and in Noah's time. It explains that God wiped out mankind and started over with Noah. Even now, he was starting over with one special people reserved for himself.

That story told, he told the story of their deliverance from Egypt and the gift God was giving them of a promised land of their own, where all their enemies would be driven out.

This is what God did for them.

The rest of Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers give the laws of God, Israel's Suzerain. These are followed by the book of Deutoronomy, which explains the blessings and curses of that come from obeying or breaking the Law.

This was the covenant that Moses passed on to Israel. It does not require in any way that the creation story be literally accurate.

But the story doesn't end there … 


What is Inspiration?

When Moses was done, as God would later do with all prophets, he breathed into the words. He made them to carry meaning that would speak to similarly inspired readers throughout the ages of the earth.

The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. Nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)

The job of the creation story is to speak spiritual truths to those who would later follow God. An explanation of how God created the earth could wait till our day, when man could understand a bit more of the incredibly complicated creation of God, found in both evolution and the Bible.

Examples of Inspiration in Genesis

Moses did not refer to the creation of the sun and the moon. He referred to the creation of "a greater light" and "a lesser light" because the details of the universe's creation don't matter. It's always been Christ that matters.

The greater light that rules the day is Christ. The lesser light that rules the night is the Church. The Church, like the moon, does not have its own light. Instead, it reflects the light of the greater light that rules the day.

There are waters above, and waters below. If the waters above don't provide for the waters below, then the waters below dry up. Obviously, the figurative application is that the waters above are the refreshing blessings of God, and the waters below are the spiritual gifts we have to refresh the world—as long as we ourselves are first refilled from above by the Lord God.

These are the things God is concerned about, not the issue of evolution and the Bible.

Evolution and Israel

Do literalists believe that God wanted Moses to explain evolution and the Bible to the ancient Israelites??

Was he supposed to tell the people that once, long ago, a certain form of clay was of such a nature that it collected only twenty of the many forms of amino acids, all left-handed ones at that? Or that those twenty amino acids would be the building blocks of the first life, the first DNA, the first cells, and would eventually, over billions of years, develop into every organism on earth, all made from the same twenty left-handed amino acids?

I think that would have baffled the Israelites, and it would not have told them the truth that mattered: Their Divine Suzerain, Yahweh, had created the heavens, the earth, and all life. The process, including DNA, transcription errors, and natural selection, were nothing Moses or the Israelites needed to know.

So God didn't tell them about evolution and the Bible.

Instead, he breathed into Moses' words life that we can obtain today … 

Evolution and the Bible:
Literal and Figurative Interpretations of the Bible

I have an advantage over a lot of people studying evolution and the Bible. I am familiar with the churches the apostles started. I know how the early churches read the Bible, I know how figuratively they took it, and I know how powerfully it affected their lives.

Thus, it's no surprise to me when authors tell me that the Hebrews didn't care about facts and details. They wanted a story that was true, in the sense that they could take the story, apply it to their lives, and have it bear good fruit.

We American Christians have forgotten to care about results (in all spiritual areas, not just evolution and the Bible), even though the Lord Jesus Christ told us himself that results are the one way to tell true teachers from false ones (Matt. 7:15-20).

Scientists, on the other hand, know that results matter. If what they teach doesn't work, they abandon it. It's the scientific method.

As a result of their adherence to a principle expounded by Jesus, scientists are successful. They are learning to manipulate the world, and they are changing it (whether for good or bad, we'll see as time progresses).

The scientists are applying this method of testing to evolution, helping us understand the a second Bible that our first Bible tells us we should read and heed: the Bible of God's creation.

What About the Fall?

One question that is always asked is how evolution affects our understanding of the fall and the atonement. If the Garden of Eden story is a parable, then how did humans fall? Why did Jesus die?

This is a legitimate question. It is addressed here.

The heavens declare the glory of God
The sky displays what his hands have made
One day tells a story to the next
One night shares knowledge with the next
Without talking, without words
Without their voices being heard
Yet, their sound has gone out into the entire world
Their message to the ends of the earth
– Psalm 19:1-4,
God's Word Version

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All Bible verses are taken from the King James Version and updated for language and grammar.

Copyright © 2009-2016 Paul F. Pavao. All rights reserved.

A look at Genesis 1:11 shows that God did not create the plants directly.

Genesis 1:11 "And God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation. ...'"

The Bible states very clearly that God used a secondary cause to produce the vegetation. God used the land. I firmly believe that this implies God used evolution to create the plants.

– Glenn Morton, Christian geologist