Darwin isn’t the Devil you know

A Reflection on Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and modern science and the trouble of making it all fit by Janet Kellogg Ray.

Charles Darwin was among a reoccurring cast of characters often featured in my church’s attempts to entertain and educate young people on Wednesday nights. I remember that Darwin was often portrayed alongside Hitler and Satan himself as an unholy trinity of historical and biblical deceivers who were vying for the allegiance of my soul. Darwin was always depicted as an atheistic fool suffering from headaches as he struggled to concoct his Origin of the Species, worlds apart from the Genesis account of creation. The morality plays depicting Darwin often ended with him in a tortuous Hell screaming that he was wrong about everything. The skits were intended as a warning to us young people not to buy into the evils of evolution, no matter what we were taught at school. We were scared to death (quite literally) to even consider the claims of Darwin, as they would lead us inevitably to atheism and Hell.

So it wasn’t that long ago, relatively speaking, I was convinced that the universe, along with the planet that I occupied, was a mere six thousand years old. This was my conviction, steeped not in an understanding of science, but in my literal understanding of the Bible. Of course, my qualifications to make this bold assertion was in the context of a religious life nurtured in the community of an obscure and narrow Pentecostal sect in Northeast Arkansas; in fact, my faith trumped everything as “the evidence of things unseen.” The problem occurred when my faith was then confronted with clear evidence contrary to this notion; I had been conditioned to persist in my dogmatic certainties to the point of severely truncating my education and maturity. Although I remain convinced that faith does provide evidence for things unseen, for everything else in the world, I now believe science provides ample evidence, and my faith and science aren’t at odds with one another. 

The acceptance of science doesn’t necessitate the abandoning of faith. This is the premise of Janet Kellogg Ray’s book Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and modern science and the trouble of making it all fit. As both a science educator and Christian, Ray is well qualified to navigate the often-turbulent waters of binary thinking. Ray provides safe passage for those trapped at the extreme ends of these debates, arriving at a safe harbor of inclusive engagement of both faith and science. She does so by taking the claims of science, specifically the evidence for evolutionary biology, seriously. Ray does not patronize the objections of those in the faith community, but rather represents the arguments of both sides well. She effectively builds a bridge that is supported by reasoned thinking and sound arguments. 

Janet Kellogg Ray’s work is helpful as it provides a framework for addressing what are often misleading or misguided questions about evolution—questions that are asked intending to discredit science rather than seeking genuine instruction by its findings. For example, Ray skillfully answers the common objection from creationist demanding a “missing link” or “the one and only, definitive half-monkey, half-human creature bridging ape to man” (161). Ray responds to this assertion: “to demand a single ‘missing link’ is to misunderstand how evolution works. In human evolution (as well as in the evolution of all organisms), change does not occur in a straight-line, one-turning-into-the-other kind of process. Instead, evolution is a slow spreading and branching process, eventually resulting in greater and greater diversity” (161).

Author Janet Kellogg Ray

Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? further addresses, as its name suggests, the moments when some Christian faith communities attempt to make the square pegs of literal Bible interpretations fit the round holes of science. An example is found in attempting to make dinosaurs and humans contemporaries by suggesting that references to a “leviathan” or “dragons” in the scriptures are actually allusions to dinosaurs—an argument I frequently employed in defense of my young earth perspectives. In my estimation, this is perhaps the most helpful aspect of Ray’s work in this book in that it takes the ubiquitous critiques of creationists seeking to debunk the findings of evolution and points out the flaws of following these critiques to their logical ends. 

For example, creationists often claim the Earth merely appears to be older than six thousand years of age. They do so up against the undeniable fossil records and astronomical measurements that demonstrate the validity of a far more ancient Earth. But their conclusion that God is disguising the age of the Earth leads not to a bolstering of faith, but rather to a crisis of faith. As Ray observes, “if God’s creation ‘reveals knowledge,’ is the revealed knowledge trustworthy? Is it consistent with God’s nature to fill creation with red herrings? Is it consistent with God’s nature to create a deceptive world, a world not as it appears? Is it consistent with God’s nature to mislead us?” (183) Ray then posits a powerful question: either “the heavens declare the glory of God” or they are lying.  She responds to this inquiry by saying “when I first began to seriously study what it means to reconcile science and faith, I learned this Scripture: ‘God is not human, that he should lie.’ The heavens reveal knowledge, and God does not lie” (183). 

I enthusiastically invite others to absorb this easily readable harmony of science and scripture. Perhaps by so doing, you will discover as I did, that our faith in God isn’t fragile, nor is it incompatible with scientific evidence, but rather it is strengthened by it. Indeed, it is a beautifully creative Deity who ordains the means as well as the ends. Evolution explains the means by which God perfectly orders the ends, and Darwin isn’t the Devil after all. 

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