One of the ideas encouraging the church to accept evolution is that science has in the past corrected the church’s understanding of life here on earth. One primary example used is the belief that the earth was stationary while all other heavenly bodies orbited around it, a geocentric view of the universe. The belief in a heliocentric universe, where the earth and other bodies orbit around the sun, was presented by Galileo and corrected the geocentric error held by the church.
Along with Galileo, Darwin is also said to have corrected the church. The rejection of Evolution by the church is viewed in the same vein as the church’s initial rejection of a sun-centered solar system. However, there are important differences between what Galileo discovered and what Evolution proposes.
The heliocentric model for the sun and earth does not challenge biblical history. God is still the creator and the creation account in Genesis still holds as factual history. The idea of an orbiting earth does not attempt to provide answers for the fundamental questions of man’s existence. Whether the earth orbits the sun or vice versa, God still created both earth and sun in a six-day creation period and man was created on the sixth day.
Evolution, though, does not merely propose an understanding of how life currently functions on earth, but provides the basis for a whole set of different answers to the reality of man. It reaches far into the past and creates a history then proposes a model for the future.
A biblical timeline explaining man’s place in history is the paradigm of creation, fall, and redemption. Based on biblical texts, this history is considered to be about six- to ten-thousand years out from the moment when God created the universe. Evolution proposes that history began much farther back with humans first appearing about two hundred thousand years ago and all of history going back two billion years.
This view of history reaches outside of the proposed limits of biblical history. Inside the history of an evolving universe that is billions of years old, of an evolving human history that is hundreds of thousands of years old, the biblical history of six thousand years is dwarfed. Evolution proposes that long before “God created the heavens and the earth” history was already underway and human history already in the making.
Not only does this expansive view of history overshadow biblical history, but supplants it, moving it from factual to mythical. Studying the history of biblical texts is no longer an exercise in understanding God’s creation of man, but understanding man’s evolving understanding of God. The account in Genesis is no longer viewed as universally accepted history, but is reduced to a particular mythical history for a particular culture in a particular time in the grand history of evolution, in this case Semitic tribes which base their Jewish identity on the Pentateuch.
Within the grandeur of evolutionary history, the biblical accounts of creation, angels, demons, and miraculous events seem almost childish. This may be why some parts of Christianity are focused less on the adult life of Jesus than on the moment of his entry into this world as an infant. The God of scripture appears weak and child-like next to the God of evolution.
This view of evolution as a greater, grander and near limitless history outside the limits of biblical history is its main appeal. It offers an expanded and sophisticated view of life that makes biblical accounts seem like pieces man-made fiction.
If the church were to fully accept evolution, it would have to accept a history that supplants its own. It would have to redefine itself not as an entity of Christ within biblical history, but as an entity of man within evolutionary history. In fact, the work to do just that is already underway. The prediction of ongoing evolution inevitably leads to the future call of the church to outgrow its dependence on scripture for its identity and reach for a more scientific and humanist identity, a religion of spiritual sciences.
To say that Darwin has corrected the church in the same way that Galileo corrected the church severely understates the massive implications of what evolution proposes. To accept evolution is to step outside the boundaries of Genesis to Revelation for a history that proposes a greater and wider understanding of life for man here on earth.
This is more than a mere correction of biblical interpretation.