When faced with ‘Creation or evolution?’, too many of us feel we are facing off against two piles of evidence, with learned specialists on each side quoting streams of academic articles which are beyond us as lay folks to process. But I want to suggest there is a third way- that of faith, faith which is not based upon evidence. Those [apparently] learned, erudite advocates of either side are all labouring under the paradigm of evidence-based acceptance of one position or another. And there is another, better way.
I may not be Einstein, but like you, I am also no simpleton. What’s my qualification to talk to you about these issues? My first degree was in Geology and Geography, but that is no qualification. My real qualification to talk to you is two-fold:
1) With my own hands, with my own mouth and pen, I was used by the Lord to teach and baptize into Christ a few thousand atheists in my 27 years missionary work in the former USSR. I saw multiple cases of unbelievers becoming believers, despite having been raised in a regime of scientific atheism. And yet I never once appealed to apologetics, never spoke much about Bible prophecies being fulfilled, never got into the creation / evolution debate, never gave lists of reasons to prove the existence of God or the truth of the Bible.
2) I saw a significant number of my own peer group from the West lose their faith because the evidence they built it upon was apparently swept from under their feet by scientific discoveries which appeared to support evolution and discredit the Biblical record of creation.
So I have wide personal experience of the journey from unbelief to belief, and vice versa.
The Nature of Science
Don’t be blinded by ‘science’. T.S. Kuhn developed the helpful theory of paradigms and revolutions in scientific thought. His observation was that science goes through stages, and whilst we live in a stage of thought and understanding, we can’t easily see beyond it. It appeared once that the earth was flat. Observable evidence appeared to support that paradigm. Galileo and Columbus had the vision to break through that paradigm. And Columbus set sail across the Atlantic, with most scientists assuming he was going to come to the end of the earth and fall off the edge to fiery destruction. Instead, he came to the tropical beaches of the Americas and found naked women dancing on the beaches, festooning him with gold and diamonds. And so there arose a revolution in scientific thought; from then on it was obvious that the earth was not flat, and nobody much thought outside that new paradigm.
We must see ourselves in historical perspective. We stand where we stand in terms of science, but if the Lord remains away, our scientific positions shall appear laughable and primitive to the scientists of a few centuries in the future. Where we stand now in terms of science and understanding- this too shall pass.
For centuries, people believed in God and creation almost blindly. But then there arose the age of reason, rationalism, the examination of every assumption, the demand for faith to be held up in the light of reason and scientific exploration. This was no bad thing, in some ways. The age of reason and re-examination of belief led to some helpful realizations in terms of theology. Isaac Newton and many other thinkers came to realize that church doctrines such as the Trinity, hell as a place of fire, Satan as a literal dragon, the immortal soul etc. were indeed unexamined assumptions, and the Bible text and basic reason simply didn’t support them. This gave rise to the growth of a whole range of Protestant sects, each with their particular take on some of those doctrines, holding on to some traditional doctrines whilst taking a more Biblical approach to others. This continued throughout the 19th century. Those various groups, from my own Christadelphian movement to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists and the like, were rightly described by my razor-sharp friend John Stibbs as “Voltaire’s bastards”. I was shocked, just slightly, when he first came out with that term, as we drank coffee on his veranda in a Brisbane suburb many years ago now. He meant that they are the illegitimate, partial descendants of the age of reason and rationality. This explains why within all such groups there is endless argument about evidence and ‘fact’, a quasi-scientific desire to get everything right, to close every hole in an argument, to come to watertight truth on every matter of faith and interpretation.
The beauty of the Bible’s message and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is lost by such a de jure, rigorous academic approach- even though the way I am wired, such endless debate and striving for legalistic, logical ‘truth’ is of itself attractive to me. We are human. No less than human, but also no more than human. We are not completely rational. Have you ever really, really loved… a woman, a man? Ever spent your time and money doing something totally irrational, and afterwards feel satisfied that ‘That was really me’? Sure you have. You do not only do rational things, judging purely in an evidence-based, pragmatic, objective way. You would be scarcely human if you did. That subjective, irrational side to us is part of being human. There’s no shame to it. We are human, no less, but no more. Sure, we stop at a red light, dutifully drive on the green light… but that is only part of us. We who are made in God’s image reflect the way that He too is not a God of stone, operating according to strict principles. He has them, of course; “the law of Christ”, the principle that we should live as His Son, cuts deeply into every part of Christian thinking, speaking and action. But the God who truly pronounces that “the wages of sin is death” likewise finds means by which sinners may be saved from death. He reveals His subjective, irrational patience, forgiveness and grace throughout His recorded relationship with Israel, the people of His love, the forerunners of the “Israel of God” today, all His true people.
“Faith” in the Bible
Roy Boyd was one of the wisest Christians with whom it has been my privilege to work in teaching folks to truly believe. He made the point in one exchange I observed that the Biblical words for ‘belief’, in both Hebrew and Greek, really mean ‘to trust’. Yes, trust. This is why unless we become like little trusting children, we shall never enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus said so. It’s not that we as hobby level, amateur scientists are to wade through the evidence pro and con a belief in God or creation versus evolution. We are to trust. The evidence-based believer starts to shift uncomfortably in the chair now. And the scientific atheist starts to grin, debating victory now in sight. Apparently.
Unashamedly, I want to put to you what the Bible says about faith. The Gospel was preached to Abraham, and his response makes him “the father of the faithful”. He is presented as a secular man living in Haran, a city rising out of the desert in Iraq. He was asked to have a relationship with the one true God, to quit the life of the world, and embark on a journey to a promised land. And he believed. There is no record of him being presented with evidence, and Abraham wisely analyzing it and coming down on the side of belief. "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (James 2:23). He had no history to go on. No prophecies had been fulfilled. No evidence for Divine creation as opposed to the surrounding myths of origins was presented. No evidence is recorded as being provided. And he is set up as our example. “Abraham believed and hoped, even when there was no reason for hoping” (Rom. 4:18 GNB). Abraham was impotent and his wife nearly 100 years old- and he was told they were to have a son. There was no evidence to go on, nor was any provided. Indeed, the scientific evidence was all apparently against believing in the word of promise. Gyn doctors, fertility specialists and the rest would have all soberly talked their science about how there was no way this could be true. The evidence was stacked against. Abraham’s exemplary faith was not at all evidence based. Dt. 13:1 goes so far as to say that if a false prophet does signs, provides evidence, that appears conclusive- God’s people were still not believe them.
The classic Biblical explanation of faith is in Hebrews 11:1-3: “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, the evidence about invisible things… By faith we understand that the ages have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which appear”. Putting meaning into words, this at first blush is circular reasoning. Faith is the evidence. But on what evidence are we to believe? Faith is the evidence. The Hebrew writer was no simplistic fool. He [or she] was surely aware that this is apparently circular reasoning. Faith is the evidence. So, faith is not evidence-based. You believe on the basis of faith. The same kind of apparently circular reasoning is found often in the Bible. Once you are on the look out for it. Take 1 Jn. 5:13: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may… believe on the name of the Son of God”.
I’ll return later to this kind of [apparently] circular reasoning. But for now, I want to go through the examples of faith which are given in Hebrews 11 and discuss on what basis they believed.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. The context of Hebrews 11 is in Hebrews 10:1, where the things not seen are those in the Most Holy Place; indeed “the things not seen” was a technical term in Judaism for the contents of the Most Holy Place. The veil that hid them from the sight of lay people was torn down when the Lord Jesus died on the cross- meaning that the way to see the unseen is through Christ. It was because that veil was torn down that we have the full “assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:20-22). Faith in God is a result of faith in Christ, not sifting through scientific evidence and making a rational decision. And I shall return to that point later. The unseen things were finally those of Christ (Mt. 13:17). The examples of faith in Hebrews 11 were not simply cases of belief in God, but belief in His longer term plan of salvation which was to be effected through His Son. “These all died in faith, not having received [the Greek can mean ‘to have experience of, to prove’] the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them” (Heb. 11:13). They believed without experience or evidence. They saw that which was not visible.
Noah was warned of a flood, a “thing not seen as yet” (Heb. 11:7), and which scientific analysis of his world would have ruled impossible, seeing the earth was then watered by a mist, and rain was unheard of. Moses left Egypt by faith, as seeing the God who is invisible (Heb. 11:27). This all provides the context for the appeal of Heb. 12:2,3, to look / see Jesus at the right hand of God, seeing the invisible. The faithful ‘saw’ the fulfilment of God’s promises, not having received / had experience of / proved them (Heb. 11:13). They were “persuaded” of their truth by the promise itself, and not by material evidence. This ‘persuasion’ refers to an internal psychological process within the minds of those believers, triggered by the message itself. Unbelievers fight against that process, unwilling on a deep subconscious level to submit to the life of practical obedience to that faith. Likewise Abraham accounted / reasoned / reckoned that God would resurrect Isaac (Heb. 11:19)- when there was no evidence for that. The Greek word translated “persuaded” in Heb. 11:13 is to be found elsewhere translated ‘believed’ (Acts 17:4; 27:11; 28:24). There is a word play in Acts 28:23,24: Paul persuaded people, and they believed. Again, this is an apparently circular argument. The mindset of faith produces more faith.
The walls of Jericho fell by faith (Heb. 11:30), some refused deliverance from torture because of their faith in a future resurrection (Heb. 11:35). But no evidence was provided. They had seen no resurrections, no other walls falling. Faith is an understanding, a worldview, a perception, an outlook on life. Through such faith we understand / perceive that God created the world or “ages” from nothing; matter, like time, was not made of that which appears visible (Heb. 11:3). Clearly Hebrews 11 speaks of two kinds of ‘sight’ or understanding- that of faith, and that which sees only what is before our noses. Abraham responded to God’s challenge in faith, not knowing / understanding where he was going (Heb 11:8). His faith, which is our example, was not therefore based upon rational understanding.
Faith Without Evidence
So Hebrews 11 claims that faith is the evidence for things not seen. Paul makes a powerful point in Rom. 8:24,25. “What a man sees, he does not hope for… we hope [as believers] for what we do not see”. The Greek elpis is translated both “hope” and “faith”. We believe / hope for what we do not see. There is no tangible, visible evidence for it, no Euclidean proof waiting to be found by us on some obscure corner of the internet. For otherwise faith would not be faith. It’s not that you wade through the piles of evidence on the internet for creation, then wade through the ‘evolution’ pile, and come down on the side of creation / faith. In any case, we live today in an age without precedent in terms of the mass availability of all this material. Most believers throughout history had no access to it all, and it would be true to say that we are unable to process all the arguments anyway. We suffer from not only information overload, but an inability to process it all. Yet faith and hope is in what we do not see. This is why John’s Gospel uses ‘seeing’ as a metaphor for ‘believing’.
It is common for my middle aged Western peer group to look back upon how they raised their kids with comments like: “Well, I raised my kids to sensibly look at the evidence for things, weigh it all up, and come down on the right side. And that’s why they are believers now”. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. Faith, Biblical faith, is not based on rationality, nor middle class ‘sense and sensibility’. Remove a plank of the supposed evidence- and then, where is their faith? It may very well be that your rational, sensible, well groomed offspring encounter apparent evidence for common descent, or realize that actually the Bible doesn’t predict a Russian invasion of Israel, and rosh in Ezekiel 38 actually has no reference to modern Russia, or figure that remains of chariot wheels on the Red Sea shores or discoveries of an old boat on the top of Ararat were just hype, and the supposed academics who once touted these ‘discoveries’ are now saying ‘Just kiddin’!’. For those whose faith is in God and in Jesus without evidence- such realizations are non-issues. I just shrug at all those things. And you can too. Your children, and you, are humans; no more, but no less. Life is not perfectly rational. You would be less, or more, than human if it was. And again I say it- we are humans; no more, but no less. Again- those whose faith rests upon evidence are prone to collapse of faith if the evidence they rested upon is exposed as false. They likewise have a tendency to cantankerous argument with others about evidence, ever needing to prove themselves right. When they are proven wrong about their evidence- their entire belief system collapses. And this has been witnessed time and again.
In Your Face
The Bible consistently presents the reality of God, creation and His future purpose with the earth without evidence. We are summoned to believe it, and live in the “obedience of faith” to those realities, seen by the eye of faith. It is no coincidence that the noun “the faith” is the same word as the verb ‘to faith’, to believe. We have faith in “the faith”; the Gospel itself is “the faith”. We believe the belief, we have faith in faith. This is the same kind of circular argument presented in Heb. 11:1. Faith is a command- for we read of ‘obedience to the faith’ (Acts 6:7). To believe is presented to us as a challenge which as it were comes from God and His Son, out of nowhere. The language of ‘obedience to the faith’ doesn’t suppose that a rational, intelligent person weighed up evidence and came down on the side of faith. To believe in God and His Son calls for an obedient life and mind in practice, not simply ticking a box in our heads which defines us on our profile as a believer rather than an unbeliever.
“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The message is of itself the reason to believe it. That needs to be repeated, because it is fundamental to what I believe the Bible has to say about faith: The message is of itself the reason to believe it. This is the reason for the otherwise ‘circular argument’ found in Bible teaching about faith- that faith is the evidence for faith. And here I can play the cards of the qualifications I began by mentioning. Over the course of personal involvement in several thousand conversions of atheists to belief in God and His Son, I never gave any apologetic reason for belief in God or His word or His Son. Never appealed to archaeology, creationism, fulfilled prophecies or any such apologies for the Bible or God or the Lord Jesus. The wonderful message needs no apology for it. The message itself was presented, baldly and simply, and people believed in it. And so I observe a paradox- those raised in atheism, often with poor family background, grasping faith with both hands, eagerly. And those schooled in all the rational evidence for God turning away from it, bit by bit, to lukewarm faith or open atheism. But for those who are apparently turning away- they perhaps never really believed, in a Biblical sense. Now is their great opportunity to reconsider the Gospel and believe, in the Biblical sense. Again, the message is of itself the reason to believe it. The Bible is clear about this. People “hear the word of the Gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7); the word sown in the heart of men leads them to faith (Lk. 8:12). “John [the Baptist] did no miracle”, he simply confronted people with their sins and told them they therefore ought to believe on Jesus (Acts 19:4). The disciples expressed their faith in Jesus at one point, simply because of the authority of what He said in His claim to be God’s own Son: “I did come from the Father, and I came into the world; and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father. Then his disciples said to him, "Now you are speaking plainly, without using figures of speech. We know now that you know everything; you do not need to have someone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God" (Jn. 16:28-30).
The Reasons for Unbelief
Why people do not believe sheds some light on what is the basis of faith. Nowhere does the Bible say that people fail to believe because they didn’t see the evidence. Evidence itself doesn’t produce faith; otherwise, Israel in the wilderness would all have believed God. Israel in the wilderness are held up as the parade example of those who did not believe- even though they were provided with daily miracles and fulfilled prophecies galore. Evidence didn’t produce faith in them. The message itself elicits faith in the message; but people choose not to believe because “the obedience of faith” is perceived by them, often subconsciously, as being too great a demand upon them. And so they choose to halt that internal psychological movement towards faith which is initiated by encounter with the message itself. Thus Heb. 10:38,39 contrasts ‘belief’ with ‘turning back’; the message itself provokes a path towards belief, but we can turn back from that path. It is access to a preacher, the message, which is required for faith (Rom. 10:14). The reasons given in the Bible for not believing never once include lack of access to the evidence. The Lord observed that the Jewish leadership of His day did not believe because they sought glory from each other- they were worried about their image (Jn. 5:44; 12:42). Likewise they did not believe the Gospel as John the Baptist taught it because they feared their image (Mt. 21:25), and did not want to be seen to be associated with prostitutes and other notorious sinners who had believed it (Mt. 21:32). Job admitted that his bitterness with life and obsession with his own sufferings meant that he could not allow himself to believe (Job 9:16). It was fear which potentially stopped the ruler of the synagogue from believing- his fear that others must be right and the word of Jesus therefore wrong (Mk. 5:36).
Jesus Christ as the Source of Faith
The Lord Jesus claimed that He was the only way to God; belief in Him was related to belief in God (Jn. 14:1). This leads me to a major point: that faith in God comes not from rational analysis of evidence, but from faith in Christ. God gave assurance to all about His existence and purpose in that He raised Christ from the dead (Acts 17:31). I mentioned earlier that it was the removal of the veil over the Most Holy Place that the things unseen became visible- for believers in Christ (Heb. 10:20-22). Peter puts it perhaps the most extremely when he says that it is by [Greek dia] Christ and His resurrection that we believe in God (1 Pet. 1:21). Note that this was written at a time when atheism was uncommon. But Peter speaks about Christian converts as ‘believing in God’ as it were for the first time. In other words, true faith in God is only possible through belief in Jesus Christ. Any other semblance of theism is not belief in God in Biblical terms.
Much of the debate about creation or evolution, theism or atheism, is centered around belief in God. The Bible carefully omits any attempt to prove God’s existence. It claims on every page to be God’s word, and that is that. The appeals for faith are not appeals for acceptance of God’s existence; they are appeals to believers to trust God in various circumstances, to let faith triumph over the immediate life situations we are faced with. The Gospel message is fundamentally about Jesus. It was this which attracted so many of those atheists who I have mentioned as having come to faith. They came with their sadness, loneliness, disappointment in themselves, need for cleansing, for hope… and they encountered the message and person of Jesus. And they believed it. The same may be observed in the amazing growth of Christianity in the first century. There were huge barriers to it. Why should illiterate pagans in the Roman empire risk so much for the sake of belief in an invisible Jew now in Heaven? What real evidence was there? There was very little, in visible terms. Historians and commentators have failed to find a human factor which satisfactorily explains the spread of the Gospel in the first and second centuries of the Christian era. This phenomena demands a verdict. I suggest that it was the power of the message itself which persuaded them; my sense is that miracles played little part in the conversion and abiding faith of the majority of converts.
As the Lord Jesus Himself made clear, if we believe in Him, we shall believe in His Father. For He is the way to the Father. So debate about God and His existence and style of creation is misplaced. For those who have stopped believing in God because of ‘science’, my question is: ‘But what about Jesus? He loved you, died for you, rose again for you. How can you throw away that relationship, just because you read some science that lead you to doubt creation?’. The honest answer seems to be: ‘Well I never had a relationship with Jesus. My faith was in God…’. It is this approach which overshadows the perhaps obvious question: ‘But what do you do with the Genesis account?’. In the bigger picture, the interpretation of that account is neither here nor there in my personal experience of Jesus. In any case, read as Genesis was intended to be read, I see no undue problem with it even in terms of science- see my thoughts at http://www.realdevil.info/dig3.htm . Genesis was written for Israel on their wilderness journeys; it is literature, not a blow by blow scientific account of creation. To read it that way seems an almost wilful disregard of its obvious intention.
I know Jesus. He knows me. He died for me, and I feel His love all the time. I don’t frankly care what you may postulate about science and creation, in terms of my own faith in Jesus. It’s like sitting with your lover on a park bench, watching an airliner up in the sky. Playful debate between the two of you about how jet engines function or originated is neither here nor there in terms of your relationship with each other; unless you actually don’t have much of a relationship with each other and are subconsciously seeking an excuse for a parting of the ways between you. Whatever you claim about evolution, Genesis, proof, evidence etc. cannot remove from my sight the reality of the risen Lord Jesus, standing ever before me. Likewise, I love my wife and am ever with her in spirit, wherever I am. Whatever you may tell me about where she came from generations ago is irrelevant to her existence right now, and my very real relationship with her. I cannot throw away a real, actual relationship with Jesus, or with anyone, because of some academic argument about science. It’s not relevant at all. If it does become relevant, all I can say is that we have not really experienced a living relationship with Jesus. And many of those ‘believers’ who now disbelieve admit that the idea of a living, two way relationship with the invisible Jesus was to them always phoney, and not what they were into. The lack of Christ-centeredness in their theology, mindset and upbringing was surely a factor in their current disbelief in God. So, sadly, it is no surprise that they now do not believe in His Father. For He is the way to the Father- not rational consideration of scientific evidence for creation.
A Personal Appeal
Rationalism is not next to Godliness. See yourself in historical perspective, realize that scientific rationalism is an outcome of the enlightenment period of European history, and this too shall pass. Peter dogmatically stated that he was a personal witness of the fact Jesus Christ had died, risen again, ascended to Heaven, was now enthroned at the right hand of God, and mediates forgiveness to men on earth. But he hadn’t been up to Heaven to check. He provided no rational evidence for his assertion. He and his experience was the evidence. The grounds for faith are simply faith. Consider again the message of the cross of Christ, of God’s love and that great salvation planned for us in God’s Kingdom. The wonder of it all has been enough to persuade millions over the centuries- with no need for any scientific, evidence-based crutch for faith. The Father and Son love you, and want you to come to them without reserve, with total hearts for them, in child-like trust believing them without reservation, not leaning on the crutch of archaeology or science or clever creationist arguments (that so often have holes in). This total abandon of faith is what ‘coming to Jesus’ is really all about. This is ‘seeing’ as our creator intended. I urge you to join the ranks of we who live in that vision. Be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus; you may even consider being re-baptized into Him, if your former ‘baptism’ was simply a ticking of a box required by a denomination or social club, a mere assent to a set of theology, or a way to tell your mum and dad that you pretty much agreed with them. Come to Him crucified and risen again and set to return, in all His compelling reality and naked beauty of personality, with all that you are and all that you have.