God and Evolution
Copyright © 1994-1998 by
Warren Kurt VonRoeschlaub
The Pope's Message on Evolution
In October of 1996, Pope John Paul II issued a message to the
Pontifical Academy of Science reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church's
long-standing position on evolution: that it does not necessarily
conflict with Christianity.
his is a collection of frequently asked questions and answers about
the compatibility of belief in evolution and God from talk origins.
This text presupposes the reader's belief in the Judeo-Christian God,
but many answers are general enough to include most religions. There is
no attempt to prove or disprove the existence of God, or the validity of
any religion, as that is not the intent. Please contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or suggestions.
- A method of determine how the universe works by use of the
- Scientific method
- The process of proposing a hypothesis, and then
testing its accuracy by collecting data on events the hypothesis
predicts. If the predictions match the new data the hypothesis
is supported. Generally the best supported hypothesis is
- The fact the frequency of the apperance of alleles in a
population of organisms changes over time.
- The pieces of DNA that cause a particular trait, ie. "blue eyes".
- The theory of evolution
- A number of theories that explain, to the
best of current knowledge, by what mechanisms evolution occurs.
- The theory of common descent
- The theory that all living creatures
on earth share a common, remote ancestor. More specifically, given
any two living creatures there was a creature that is ancestor to
- One of several beliefs that incorporate a literal
interpretation of Genesis. There are variations that allow some
- Young Earth Creationism
- An interpretation of Genesis 1 in which days are
taken to be 24 hour events, and that by saying animals reproduce
"after their kind" evolution is precluded.
- Old Earth Creationism
- An interpretation of Genesis 1 in which days are
taken to be figurative lengths of time, and the time scales given by
geologists are generally correct. However, the special creation of
man precludes common descent.
- Theistic Evolution
- An interpretation of Genesis 1 in which the story line
is considered as an explanation for the why and who of creation, but
not the exact method. The purpose of this FAQ is to show that this
position is not contradictory.
2. Evolution and Religion
- Q1. Doesn't evolution contradict religion?
- Not always. Certainly it contradicts a literal interpretation of
the first chapter of Genesis, but evolution is a scientific principle,
like gravity or electricity. To scientifically test a religious belief
one first must find some empirical test that gives different results
depending on whether the belief is true or false. These results must be
predicted before hand, not pointed to after the fact.
Most religious beliefs don't work this way. Religion usually
presupposes a driving intelligence behind it, and an intelligent
being is not always predictable. Since experiments judging religious
beliefs cannot have predictable results, and may give different
results under the same circumstances it is not open to scientific
inquiry. St. Augustine commented on this in _The Literal Meaning of
Some religious beliefs do make predictions. These predictions can be
tested. If a religious belief fails a test, it is the test that
contradicts that religious belief. The theory which makes the correct
prediction should have nothing to say on the matter. This does not mean
that scientists don't sometimes make the mistake of saying a theory
- Q2. Isn't evolution a religion?
- Evolution is based on the scientific method. There are tests
that can determine whether or not the theory is correct as it stands,
and these tests can be made. Thousands of such tests have been made,
and the current theories have passed them all. Also, scientists are
willing to alter the theories as soon as new evidence is discovered.
This allows the theories to become more and more accurate as research
Most religions, on the other hand, are based on revelations, that
usually cannot be objectively verified. They talk about the why, not
the how. Also, religious beliefs are not subject to change as easily
as scientific beliefs. Finally, a religion normally claims an exact
accuracy, something which scientists know they may never achieve.
Some people build up religious beliefs around scientific principles,
but then it is their beliefs which are the religion. This no more makes
scientific knowledge a religion than painting a brick makes it a bar of
So the answer is no, evolution is no more a religion than any other
- Q3. Does evolution contradict creationism?
- There are two parts to creationism. Evolution, specifically
common descent, tells us how life came to where it is, but it does
not say why. If the question is whether evolution disproves the
basic underlying theme of Genesis, that God created the world and the
life in it, the answer is no. Evolution cannot say exactly why
common descent chose the paths that it did.
If the question is whether evolution contradicts a literal
interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis as an exact historical
account, then it does. This is the main, and for the most part only,
point of conflict between those who believe in evolution and
- Q4. If evolution is true, then isn't the whole Bible wrong?
- First let me repeat that the underlying theme of the first book
of Genesis can't be scientifically proven or disproven. No test has ever
been found that can tell the difference between a universe created by God,
and one that appeared without Him. Only certain interpretations of Genesis
can be disproven.
Second, let us turn the question around. What if I asked you "If
the story of the prodigal son didn't really happen, then is the whole
Bible wrong?" Remember that the Bible is a collection of both
stories and historical accounts. Because one part is a figurative
story does not make the entire Bible so. Even if it did, the
underlying message of the Bible would remain.
3. Evolution and God
- Q5. Does evolution deny the existence of God?
- No. See question 1. There is no reason to believe that God was
not a guiding force behind evolution. While it does contradict some
specific interpretations of God, especially ones requiring a literal
interpretation of Genesis 1, few people have this narrow of a view of
There are many people who believe in the existence of God and in
evolution. Common descent then describes the process used by God.
Until the discovery of a test to separate chance and God this
interpretation is a valid one within evolution.
- Q6. But isn't this Deism, the belief that God set the universe in
motion and walked away?
- While it could be Deism, the Bible speaks more of an active God,
one who is frequently intervening in His creation. If the Bible
represents such a God in historical times there is no reason to assume
that He was not active in the universe before then. A guiding hand in
evolution could exist, even in the time before humans came around.
Just because people were not there to observe does not mean that there
was nothing to observe.
- Q7. So if God directed evolution, why not just say he created
everything at once?
- Mainly because all the evidence suggests otherwise. If God
created the universe suddenly, he created it in a state that is
indistinguishable from true age. If he did create it that way there
must be a reason, otherwise God is a liar. Whatever that reason may
be, a universe that is exactly like one that is old should be treated
as if it were old.
- Q8. By denying creation, aren't you denying God's power to create?
- No. Because God did not create the world in seven days does not
mean that he couldn't. What did, or did not, happen is not an
indication of what could, or could not, have happened. All evidence
suggests that evolution is the way things happened. Regardless of what
could have happened, the evidence would still point to evolution.
4. Evolution and Proof
- Q9. Nobody can really prove anything anyway.
- Except, of course, in mathematics. However, science does not
require absolute proof, otherwise science textbooks would be empty.
Science works by use of the scientific method: explanations are found,
and tests made to tell which ones are correct. Evolution has passed
thousands of tests, many of which separated it from theories
indistinguishable to non-biologists.
Few people are aware, for instance, that Darwin's original hypothesis
predicted the existence of genetic information. As said before, even
if the theory is not correct in every detail, it is very close to the
Chris Colby's FAQ gives a clear picture of this.
- Q10. Theories have been proven wrong in the past, why not evolution?
- When Einstein proposed general relativity, he revolutionized
physics. The theory replaced most of Newton's laws of physics.
General relativity, though, still incorporates Newton's laws. This
is due to the enormous number of observations and tests that Newton's
laws had passed, so any new theory would have to account for them
Similarly, if another theory replaces evolution, the new theory
must somehow explain why the current theory passed all the tests. So
any new theory that replaces evolution would have to explain why it works
so well. Creationism, then, is not a possible replacement.
- Q11. Doesn't evolution promote evil?
- Even if evolution did do this, it would not be a reason to
assume it is wrong. Chemistry is responsible for millions of deaths
every year, but we do not reject its findings because of this. How people
use a theory is not a judgment of its accuracy.
Fortunately we do not face this dilemma. Evolution does not say
what is right and what is wrong, but merely what has happened. A
historical account of the sacking of Rome does not say that the act of
sacking Rome is good or bad, just that it happened. Similarly evolution
does not say that any conclusions people might draw from it are good or
While many people have claimed the theory of evolution supports
their injustice, never forget that many people have done the same
with the Bible. One person's opinion should not be considered the
- Q12. So what would I need to have creationism accepted
Chris Colby's FAQ for some evidence that must be
explained. Also you need to propose a test that would give different
results depending on whether creation or evolution is true. Most
important, however, is the willingness to abide by the results, even
if they disprove creationism.
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