Although all Christians base their beliefs on the teachings of Jesus, St. Paul, etc., they differ
greatly in their fundamental understanding of the Bible. Some commentators
assert that conservative and liberal Christians have diverged so greatly that they follow two very different spiritual paths - often viewed as two different
religions who share the same name and Bible!
Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians: A key belief system
of these faith groups is their belief in the inerrancy of the
Bible. Since Genesis 1 describes how God created the universe, and in a certain
sequence, there is no doubt that he did exactly that. Rev. Jim Harding of
the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention commented: "We were
created by God, we didn't just evolve by accident. It was not a process of
moving from one animal form to another, but rather, as Genesis teaches, that
each was made in its own order. In fact, [humans and animals] were made on
A debate exists with conservative Christianity over the
length of each "day" in Genesis: i.e. whether the word "day" means an interval of 24 hours,
or an era of indeterminate duration. Some theologians believe that the
Hebrew word "yom" has multiple meanings in various
locations in Genesis. A number of competing
theories have been formulated by Christian creation scientists in an attempt to
harmonize Genesis and the fossil record.
Most conservative Christians are particularly
insistent on the literal truth of the creation stories in Genesis. If those passages were
shown to be false, then the Garden of Eden story, the fall of humanity and the alienation
between God and man would all be in doubt. Some feel that this could negate the need for
Jesus' execution and resurrection. Some believe that the entire conservative
Christian message would collapse like a deck of cards, if Genesis is shown to be a fable.
One writer has said: "Overthrow Genesis and you destroy the whole foundation of
Christianity. Evolution is just a modern version of the old Pelagian heresy. If Genesis is
not historically accurate, then there was no Fall of man and no need for a Savior. Man is
then free to exalt himself and even to take Christ's place on earth!!" 1
Calvin stated that those who disagree with the literal truth of Genesis' creation stories
"basely insult the Creator." After death he predicted they will meet
"a judge who will annihilate them." 2
Liberal Protestant Denominations: These churches have accepted and even
promoted the theory of evolution for decades. Although there are many unresolved details
about the evolution of species on earth and of the matter and energy in the rest of the
universe, scientists have reached a consensus on the broad mechanisms of evolution. Most
researchers agree that the universe originated at a "Big Bang" some 20 billion
years ago. Some matter coalesced into stars of which our sun is one. The earth and other
planets coalesced out of stellar material many billions of years ago. A few billion years
in the past, the first elementary forms of life appeared; these evolved into the
multiplicity of species that we see today, including humanity. By accepting evolution,
liberal Christians have either:
assigned symbolic meanings to the stages of creation in the two creation stories of
Genesis 1 and 2, or
treated those passages as creation myths, similar to the hundreds of creation stories
from numerous other religions.
Mainline Protestant Denominations: Many members and their religious
organizations adopt either the positions of Evangelicals or that of liberal denominations.
To some, evolution is not really a religious issue. Others have adopted theistic
evolution (a.k.a. called "process creation", or "multiple creation".) In this belief system,
God originally created the universe. Later, God used evolution as the technique
by which new species develop. One example
of a mainline Christian's view of evolution is seen in the writings of Kitty Ferguson:
"How do we know when biblical writers intended to have their words interpreted
literally and figuratively, when they were speaking in parables and when not?...The
question how far we can accept the Bible as accurate historical evidence continues to be
debated by responsible scholars, as well as by ideologues of both extremes, but very
little gets settled." 3
Roman Catholic Church: Pope Pius XII released an
encyclical in 1950 titled "Humani Generis." It "considered the
doctrine of 'evolutionism' as a serious hypothesis, worthy of a more deeply studied
investigation and reflection on a par with the opposite hypothesis."
4The encyclical states in part:
"For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid
that...research and discussions, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in
as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and
living matter...However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both
opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and
judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are
prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church..." 5
The Second Vatican Council stated that the Bible is inerrant
(free of any error) in those texts that contain religious truth that have been revealed
for personal salvation. However, the implication is that the Bible is not necessarily free from error elsewhere - for
example where it discusses scientific matters.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II spoke at the annual meeting of the Pontifical Academy of
Sciences, which has been called "the Church's 'scientific senate' ".
6,7 He said, in part:
"Today, more than a half century after this ['Humani Generis'] encyclical, new
knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis. ... The
convergence, neither sought nor induced, of results of work done independently one from
the other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory [of
It is unclear exactly what pair or grouping of recent independent scientific studies
converged to a common conclusion in support of evolution.
However, the Roman Catholic church has by no means accepted the concept of Naturalistic Evolution in its entirety:
Naturalistic evolution includes the belief that all aspects of humanity evolved from
earlier species. This conflicts with the church teaching that each individual's "spiritual
soul is directly created by God." Naturalistic evolution concludes that what the
church calls human spirit emerged "from forces of living matter or as a simple
epiphenomenon of this matter." The pope regards this as "incompatible
with the truth about man...[and] incapable of laying the foundation for the dignity of the
The church teaches that God created the world and the rest of the universe from nothing.
"Vatican I solemnly defined that everyone must 'confess the world and all things
which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance,
have been produced by God from nothing' (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon
Although the church accepts evolution as more than a hypothesis, it does not teach that
evolution was driven by purely natural forces. Rather, it teaches that evolution was and
is under God's control and guidance.
In the United States, Roman Catholic parochial schools have taught the theory of
evolution as a probable fact for many decades.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, The Mormons): The
church believes that humans were created by God. The LDS First Presidency
stated in 1909 that "Man is the child of God, formed in the divine
image and endowed with divine attributes." In 1931, they
side-stepped the issue in a statement which said, in part: "Our
mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave
geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do
with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research..."
Bruce R. McConkie, author of "Mormon Doctrine" rejected
evolution. He asked how could a Mormon obtain "comfort in the
theoretical postulates that mortal life began in the scum of the sea, as it
were, and has through eons of time evolved to its present varieties and
state? Do those with spiritual insight really think that the infinite
Creator of worlds without number would operate in this way?" 10
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