What follows is a lengthy paper addressing the relationship between science and Christianity, specifically focusing on evolution and creationism. For an abridged version, see here.
April 6, 2015
A recent research project revealed that a major reason young people leave the church is the tension between science and faith. According to this report, 29% of 18- to 29-year-olds who currently or formerly attended church believe “churches are out of step with the scientific world we living” and 25% feel that “Christianity is anti-science”. Different people have tried to explain this tension, hoping to either ease or increase it. Stephen Jay Gould coined the term “non-overlapping magesteria” stating that science and religion addressed two completely different spheres: facts and values, respectively. Richard Dawkins pushed back, claiming that the truth is, the magesteria are nearly completely overlapping. That is, there are some things that only one or the other addresses, but essentially, science and religion are answering the same questions from two different perspectives, and one is wrong. Denis Alexander holds a more moderate view dubbed “non-overlapping levels of explanation”, that is, science and religion look at “the same reality from different perspectives”.
Which perspective is true? Are religion and science involved in a winner-take-all death match? Or is it possible that science and religion, and Christianity in particular, are two compatible ways of looking at the world? This paper seeks to clarify the answer to this question through three main approaches. First, we will clarify what is meant by both “Christianity” and “science”. When definitions are unclear, the lines of conflict are also blurred. Second, we will attempt to engage the evidence regarding the diversity of life by examining the fossil record. Finally, we will engage with a viewpoint called evolutionary creationism, attempting to unveil whether this view is merely a compromise or if it is truly the best way to explain the evidence, and just so happens to unify biblical Christianity and evolution.
Christianity and Science Defined
Christianity is a historical religion that developed as a branch of Judaism when Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again, establishing himself as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. Since not all Jews believe that Jesus is their Messiah, Judaism remains as a distinct religion, with the followers of Jesus assuming the title of “Christians” after the Greek term for “messiah”, Christ.
The heart of the debate between Christianity and science lies surrounds fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. Evangelicalism has its roots in the Reformation period, where the term “evangelical” referred to people breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. A key belief of Evangelicalism that is particularly relevant to our discussion is the “submission to Scripture as the final arbiter in all doctrinal formulation and theological dispute”.
Fundamentalism, starting after the publication of The Fundamentals (12 volumes, 1910-1915), rose to prominence in the 1920s and ‘30s as the fight against liberal Christianity grew more heated. While liberal and modernist thought sought “to marginalize Christian thought to the level of a barely tolerated private superstition,”  fundamentalist theology argued that “the Bible, Christian doctrine, and Christian experience did not need to be redefined in light of the scientific, philosophical, and literary assumptions of modern culture.”
The Evangelical and fundamentalist movements are noted for their dedication to the Bible, specifically their belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy is the belief that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” It is important to note that inerrancy does not exclude everyday speech patterns (e.g., the Bible can speak of the sun rising and setting without compromising its inerrancy). It is this last point that is often contested or ignored, and this is one of the main reasons why Christianity and science are seen as incompatible. After all, how can we trust Christianity, if it is based on a book that is making claims that have been proven to be scientifically incorrect?
What is science? The question may seem rather elementary given the discussion, but please indulge me. Science is a much more complex and broad category than we initially might think. First there is the division between observational science (scientific method and experiments) and theoretical science (hypotheses that cannot currently be observed directly, whether because it deals with the past or with things outside the range of current technology). Observational science is largely trustworthy, because it deals with controlled, repeatable experiments with definite outcomes. However, science in general, and theoretical science in particular, cannot “give statements of absolute eternal truth – it only provides theories.” These theories are currently the best offered explanations of the world, but will probably be adapted or discarded in the future. When talking about science, it is important to distinguish between the more verifiably trustworthy observational science and theoretical science.
Another distinction made is whether or not science is influenced by worldview. When many people talk about the division between religion and science, they mistake unbiased science for “worldview-neutral science,” which “is not aligned with or does not support a particular ideology, religion, or worldview over another.” The assumption is that by operating out of a worldview, a person is incapable of remaining unbiased in their scientific endeavors, and that this presence of bias completely invalidates those endeavors. This simply is not absolutely true. Although scientists can (and do) operate out of their worldview biases, seeking to twist science into their favor, it is entirely possible to withhold bias while conducting experiments and making conclusions based on the data. In fact, every good scientist does this, because everyone has a worldview.
A worldview is a philosophical stance about the way the world works. When someone says “Science and religion are incompatible,” they are making a statement about worldview. In this statement, “science” is actually a reference to “scientific naturalism.” Naturalism asserts that there is no supernatural realm, only the natural world. Therefore, the soul, ghosts, God, an afterlife, etc. cannot exist.
Christianity and Science: Friends or Foes?
The conflict between Christianity and science, it turns out, is a conflict between worldviews, between theism (the belief in a personal God who is involved in the workings of the world) and scientific naturalism. When these are the sides, these two views are completely incompatible, for one is based on the existence of something that the other explicitly denies.
However, to insist that this incompatibility between Christianity and scientific naturalism also means that Christianity is incompatible with science is relying upon a false dichotomy. If science is about coming up with the best explanation for the way the world is, given the evidence, a Christian can participate in science just as well as a non-Christian can. Since everyone has a worldview, the key to doing science well is remaining unbiased while interpreting the data.
Creationism versus Evolution
One of the key areas of debate is the evidence surrounding the diversity of life. The battle lines of this debate are broadly drawn between deists and theists, who believe that God created all life and evolutionists who believe that all biological life has descended from a common ancestor. After defining the sides, we will attempt to engage several forms of evidence to arrive at a conclusion.
Recognizing that Christians cannot simultaneously be supernaturalists and naturalists, many Christians who engage in the scientific sphere fall into the Creationism camp. There are several categories of Creationism. The first and most narrow category is the “Young-Earth Creationist”. These people believe that the Biblical account is a literal expression of how the earth was created. Therefore, God created the earth in 6, literal, 24-hour days, and the earth is around 6,000 years old according to genealogical evidence.
The next category is the “Old-Earth Creationist,” who believes that the earth is old (in line with modern scientific conclusions). There are two major old Earth theories: Gap theory, which states that there was an undisclosed period of time between the first two verses in Genesis, and Day-Age theories, which include Progressive Creationism and Theistic Evolution. Progressive Creationist believe in the literal creation of everything in the framework and sequence laid out in Genesis 1, like Young-Earth Creationists, but interpret each “day” as representing millions of years instead of a literal, 24-hour day. We will address Theistic Evolution in the next section.
The broadest category of creationism is intelligent design. Intelligent design is based on the idea that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection” or genetic mutation. One of the key tenets of intelligent design is irreducible complexity, which refers to “a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” The implication is that this “includes any function the impaired system or one of its components may perform in other contexts.” It is important to note that irreducible complexity remains a theory because it is impossible to definitively know that a variation of an irreducibly complex system could not have served any variant function.
Before we discuss evolution, we must answer a question. Why should a Bible-believing Christian who is convinced that God created the world make the effort to study evolution? First, when 87% of scientists credit evolution as the reason for the diversity of life, it would be foolish to simply deny them without examining their claim. As Christians grapple with the evidence for evolution and its implications, they are able to show that Christians can maintain professional integrity while engaging in something that is viewed as challenging to their beliefs. In addition, as Christians become conversant in the discussion of evolution, they can become contributors to the discussion, agreeing with what is right and challenging what needs to be reexamined.
Contrary to the common representation, evolution is not a theory explaining the origin of life. Rather, it is a scientific theory that attempts to explain “the emergence of new varieties of living things in the past and in the present.” According to evolutionary theory, these varieties reveal themselves in both microevolution (i.e., changes occurring within a species) and macroevolution (i.e., changes from one species into another).
Although evolutionary thought had existed before him, Darwin brought evolution from the realm of speculation into that of observational science through his observation of finches and the adaptive process he called natural selection. Seventy years later, scientists began observing that seemly random mutations were actually being carried on to subsequent generations through their genetic codes, lending further credence and clarification to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
Evidence: The Fossil Record
For the purpose of this paper, the evidence will be presented as examined by the two most distinct groups of thought: Young-Earth Creationism and Evolution. The line of evidence that we will consider is the fossil record. A fossil is “the naturally preserved remains or traces of animals or plants that lived in the geologic past.” Fossils are often formed through rapid burial (often in sediment) in a way that prevents natural decay, predators, or scavengers from interfering. The tissue in this buried organism may then be replaced by minerals or it may simply leave behind the impression of its shape in the rock. These fossils are later discovered, and serve as tangible examples of what the world was like in the past.
Evolution. Although they agree with the basics regarding the creation of fossils, Young-Earth Creationism and Evolution disagree on the circumstances surrounding fossil creation as well as on the implications that the fossil record has. Evolutionists assert that the fossil record was formed over the past 4.5 billion years. The earliest period, the Precambrian period, lasted for 4 billion years and only hold fossils of algae and bacteria. The next stratus is the Cambrian Period, which contains “massive quantities of small, complex, multicelled creatures… Nearly all are water creatures.” We also find most major animal groups suddenly represented at the Phylum level of classification. As we continue up through the various strata we find more and more complex life forms (i.e., marine invertebrates, fish, land plants, reptile and amphibian footprints, land vertebrates, etc.), which evolutionists claim as evidence that life forms evolved over the course of millions of years.
The sudden appearance of multiple, fully formed animal phyla in the Cambrian period, dubbed the Cambrian Explosion, poses a problem for evolutionists because there is no fossil evidence that these different phyla came from a common ancestor. Fossils have been found in the Precambrian period that appear to suggest that evolutionary changes were well underway before the Cambrian Explosion. Some evolutionists dismiss this problem, emphasizing that animals appeared in their major phyla, which is the third largest taxonomy category. Therefore, even if most phyla were represented, most modern groups of animals (e.g., mammals, reptiles, amphibians, much less, cats, dogs, etc.) still did not exist.
Creationism. Creationists, on the other hand, attribute the rapid burial to the global flood recorded in Genesis 6-9. This cataclysmic storm and the ensuing floodwaters would have churned about the earth, stirring up and eroding sediment, rocks, plants, and animals, laying them down to harden into sedimentary rock layers, fossilizing the organisms caught within them. Surprisingly, some fossils have been found in the midst of “life poses” – such as eating or giving birth – rather than the poses expected from a dead organism that has been buried. This seems to corroborate the proposition that fossils were formed through the flood.
As mentioned before, the fossil record presents a specific order that seems to indicate an evolutionary process that grows more and more complex with the passage of time. However, “if you compare the order that these creatures first appear in the actual fossil record, as opposed to their theoretical first appearance in the predictions, then over 95% of the fossil record’s “order” can best be described as random.” If the fossil layers came about as the result of a worldwide flood, one could expect to see major groups appearing in the fossil record according to ecological zones that are reached as the floodwaters rise, and this is exactly what we see in the progression from seafloor invertebrates to fish to plants to smaller animals to larger animals. In addition, if rock strata are the results of millions of years, it becomes difficult to explain fossilized tracks that belong to creatures that are found fossilized in higher rock layers. However, if a creature is scurrying frantically as mud and sediment flow down, it will leave tracks as it climbs up through the mud until, exhausted, it cannot continue and is buried and preserved.
Evidential Problems: Evolution. One of the chief objections to evolution based on the fossil records is so-called “missing link” fossils. These fossils would show the transitional life forms between two distinct, but related species. Darwin himself considered this the most serious objection to evolution. Evolutionists who focus on these transitions dismiss this problem for several reasons. First, the fossilization process is unreliable. Not every organism that existed has a representative fossil. Second, different features likely developed at different times in an organism’s lineage. And most importantly, evolution does not follow a path of direct ancestry from modern organisms to ancient ones. Rather, the fossils paleontologists study are close relatives of an organism’s ancestors and not the ancestors themselves. Therefore, there is no reason to expect these “missing link” fossils. In addition, with the discovery of fossils such as the Archaeopteryx, a creature with both avian and reptilian features, it appears that these transitional fossils do exist, even if they are few in quantity.
Evidential Problems: Creationism. What serves to bolster the evolutionary claim also serves to hinder the creationism cause. However, to continue using the Archaeopteryx as an example, recent discoveries have complicated what was once a cut and dry case. Another fossil the Xiaotingia zhengi, was found in 2011, and its analysis has revealed many similarities between it and the Archaeopteryx. However, unlike the Archaeopteryx, the Xiaotingia has much more in common with the dinosaur group Deinonychosauria (Velociraptors), and the discovery of the Xiaotingia “will have significant implications for our understanding of avialan origins and related issues such as the origin of flight” (i.e., the Archaeopteryx is no longer considered a transitional form since it fits in a category with other similar creatures).
Evolutionary Creationism: Creationism and Evolution?
In seeking to remain true to their beliefs as Christians while simultaneously reconciling the evidence that seems to point toward evolution, another view developed: Theistic Evolution. Theistic Evolution falls under Old-Earth Creationism, and is generally split into two camps. While both groups would say that they believe God used the process of evolution to create life on earth, they differ in how they see God using evolution. The first view, known as Evolutionary Creationism, believes that God set the parameters which guided the evolutionary process through its stages. The second view believes that God set evolution into motion and left it to do its work. For the purposes of this paper, we will focus on evolutionary creationism.
Evolutionary Creationism: Evidence
As stated before, evolutionary creationism developed out of the conflict between evidence that pointed toward evolution and a faith that affirmed Biblical inerrancy and authority. Therefore, much of the evidence used in support of evolution is embraced by evolutionary creationists. For example, there is no discord with evolutionary creationism and the proposition that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, or that DNA is so similar between the majority of life forms because they all descended from a common ancestor. The fossil record shows evidence of gradually more complicated life forms emerging as we move from the deepest layers toward the surface.
However, they are also able to embrace evidence that seems to support creationism. For example, “the structure, function, and embryological development of the brain offer a breath-taking level of elegant complexity that few deny reflects the work of an Intelligent Designer.” Going back to the fossil record, those gradually more complicated life forms follow the basic outline of Genesis: first fish, then land animals, then humans.
Evolutionary Creationism: Biblical Interpretation
The creationist viewpoint is derived from the book of Genesis, with a special emphasis given to the first two chapters. In addition, Genesis 6-9 are cited as the explanation for the existence of the fossil record. For evolutionary creationism to be viewed as a viable interpretation of Scripture, they must show how evolution can be interpreted from the Bible (exegesis), not read into it (eisegesis).
Evolutionary creationists believe in what the Bible teaches about creation, that God created and sustains the world. However, they also believe that the Bible does not teach that the world was created in six, literal 24-hour days. There are at least two main suggestions for interpreting the creation narratives found in Genesis 1 and 2. The first is the day-age theory, which suggests that each “day” was actually millions of years. This is based on Scriptures that tell us that to God, “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”. In addition, they point out that the Hebrew term for day, yom, though usually used in reference to a 24-hour period, can also be used in reference to the daylight period of a day or an indeterminate amount of time. Walter Kaiser, one of the leading Hebrew exegetes, is inclined to believe in the day-age theory.
The second suggestion is that the creation accounts are actually “a literary device used to convey the central truth that God created all the players in the grand scheme of the universe to function together.” Since these accounts are seen as a literary device, the apparent discrepancies between Genesis 1 and 2 lose their weight. The danger of this view is in dictating what in Scripture should be interpreted literally and what should be interpreted figuratively. If not creation, the Flood? Jesus’ incarnation? His death and resurrection? We must be careful in leaping too quickly to a figurative understanding.
Evolutionary creationists also address the Flood account in Genesis 6-9. The specific term used, kol erets, usually translated “whole Earth” are the same words that would be translated “all (the) land” in reference to a nation or region. Starting with this alternative translation, evolutionary creationists build a case for the Genesis flood account referring to a local flood. There are difficulties with the amount of water needed for a global flood (where did it all come from?), the migration patterns of animals (how did the animals get to their current habitats?), and having all the animals represented on board the ark (how could the boat have been big enough?). Further arguing their case, evolutionary creationists point out that Psalm 104:9, a psalm about creation, prohibits the possibility of a global flood. Finally, evidence reveals that multiple ancient people groups viewed themselves as the center of the world. It would be appropriate to refer to a localized flood which wiped out all the people of a land as “all the land”.
Evolutionary Creationism: Conclusions
Evolutionary creationism appears to be the best of both worlds when it comes to the balance between creationism and evolution. In fact, there are many Christian scientists who fully embrace evolution, and they are supported by organizations like BioLogos. The evolutionary creationism movement is not without its skeptics, however, and the footnotes in the previous section provide information that challenges the evolutionary creationism viewpoint. Ultimately, evolutionary creationism is a valid interpretation of the evidence that the world gives us.
The Christian church has been losing adherents because of its perceived stance against science, and this is unacceptable. Christianity and science are not incompatible, nor are they at odds with one another. However, we have shown that we must be clear in our discussions, revealing underlying assumptions, such as naturalism, behind such accusations of incompatibility.
We spent the bulk of this paper examining two major lines of thought for explaining the broad diversity of life, past and present: Young-Earth Creationism and Evolution. Examining the fossil record as evidence, we showed how each side engages with the material and objections. More than persuading the reader to adopt one view over another, the goal was to show that Christians, represented by Young-Earth Creationism, can be scientists without forsaking their belief in the supernatural, nor selectively ignoring evidence.
Finally, we presented a third option in evolutionary creationism. Sitting firmly atop evidence pointing to both evolution and creationism, evolutionary creationism seems to be a viable alternative interpretation of the evidence.
Christians must remember what is of first importance: that Christ lived, died, was resurrected, and lives again to provide new life and a restored relationship with God. Although it is good to defend our interpretations of Scripture, we must never forget that we (and our interpretations, by extension) are fallible. A Christian who has studied the Scriptures and has studied the world who finds evolutionary creationism to be the best answer is no less a Christian than a Young-Earth Creationist who has done the same. We must always be humble, holding tightly to what is essential and loosely to what is not.
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 The Fossil Museum.
 John Morris, “Do Fossils Show Signs of Rapid Burial?,” Answers in Genesis, December 30, 2013, accessed April 3, 2015, https://answersingenesis.org/fossils/how-are-fossils-formed/do-fossils-show-signs-of-rapid-burial/.
 Kurt P. Wise, “The Fossil Record: The Ultimate Test Case for Young-Earth Creationism,” Opus: A Journal for Interdisciplinary Studies (1991-1992): 17-29. Quoted in Andrew A. Snelling, “Order in the Fossil Record,” Answers in Genesis, November 23, 2009, accessed April 3, 2015, https://answersingenesis.org/fossils/fossil-record/order-in-the-fossil-record/.
 Andrew A. Snelling, “Order in the Fossil Record,” Answers in Genesis, November 23, 2009, accessed April 3, 2015, https://answersingenesis.org/fossils/fossil-record/order-in-the-fossil-record/.
 Kurt P. Wise, “Five: Tracks but No Trilobites,” Answers in Genesis, November 23, 2009, accessed April 3, 2015, https://answersingenesis.org/extinct-animals/five-tracks-but-no-trilobites/.
 Anastasia Thanukos, “Darwin’s “Extreme” Imperfection?” Evolution: Education and Outreach 2, no. 1 (2009-03-01): 85.
 There was, conspicuously, no explanation for why every fossil is of a “close relative of the ancestors” and never the ancestor themselves.
 “Archaeopteryx: An Early Bird,” University of California Museum of Paleontology, last modified January 7, 1996, accessed April 4, 2015, http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/diapsids/birds/archaeopteryx.html.
 Matt Kaplan, “Archaeopteryx No Longer First Bird,” Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science (27 July 2011): 1, accessed April 4, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/news.2011.443.
 Xing Xu et al., “And Archaeopteryx-Like Theropod from China and the Origin of Avialae,” Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science 475 (28 July 2011): 465-70, accessed April 4, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature10288.
 Denis Lamoureux, “Evolutionary Creation,” The BioLogos Foundation, 2010, accessed April 5, 2015, http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Lamoureux_Scholarly_Essay.pdf.
 A third suggestion, that God created a “mature Earth,” will not be addressed in this paper.
 2 Peter 3:8; cf. Psalm 90:4
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 104.
 Carl Drews, “Theistic Evolution,” Christianity and Evolution, last modified October 24, 2014, accessed April 5, 2015, http://www.theistic-evolution.com/theisticevolution.html.
 Each of these topics and more is addressed from the Young-Earth Creationism perspective in The New Answers Book 1, ed. Ken Ham.
 Rich Deem, “Psalm 104:9 – Does It Refer to the Original Creation or the Flood?,” Evidence for God, last modified May 21, 2007, accessed April 6, 2015, http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/psalm104.html.
 BioLogos, “Genesis Flood”.
 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.