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The question of whether humans evolved from apes does not lend itself to civility. Arrogant atheistic scientists who think evolution disproves the Bible square off against narrow-minded creationists who cry “Pagan!” at anyone who doesn’t believe God created the universe in six literal days. Reasonable Christians are often left searching for a middle ground the fanatics have overlooked.
The idea that evolution disproves the Bible rests upon the assumption that a literal, surface-meaning interpretation of the creation account in Genesis is the only way to read the text. Since evolution seems to show all birds, for example, were not created in a day, that would make the Bible false and certainly not divinely inspired.
Creationists who insist that to accept evolution is to deny the authority of Scripture take a similarly hard-line stance. They assert the entire Bible, including Genesis, was meant to be taken literally, and to deny the literal truth of the creation account is the same as denying the literal truth of the Gospels.
Galileo Galilei, the famed 17th-century astronomer, ran into a similar problem when he discovered through use of a telescope that the Earth revolves around the sun. Several biblical passages, if read literally, suggest the opposite, and the Catholic Church heavily persecuted him for supposedly contradicting the Bible.
Galileo, a devout Catholic, did not see a conflict between what the Bible said and what his telescope saw. It would be wise to learn from his views on science and Scripture.
First of all, he rejected the idea that all of the Bible must be read literally. When the Bible says God “stretched forth his hand” against Egypt, He didn’t literally stick his arm out; it is a metaphor for God’s wrath. In the same way, a “day” in Genesis could refer to an epoch of time, and “created” need not mean instantaneous generation out of nothing.
Galileo also believed that since the purpose of the Bible is to communicate the truth of God’s salvation, when it needed to speak about nature, it did so in the manner that would least confuse its readers or hearers. It is much easier to convey to an uneducated Israelite peasant the truth of God’s creation via a six-day metaphor than a lecture on geological formations and evolutionary lineage.
Furthermore, Galileo held that since God is revealed in nature as well as His Word, the two will never contradict each other. If nature tells us God did not create the world in six days, then the creation account in Genesis was not meant to be read literally. By using the intelligence God has given us to discover the truth about nature, we gain a fuller understanding of how to interpret Scriptures like Genesis.
St. Augustine, writing over 1,000 years before Darwin, believed people should be cautious about what they think they understand about certain biblical passages.
He wrote, “If anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation, not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there.”
In other words, if the Bible seems to contradict science, it is neither science nor Scripture that is mistaken, but ourselves. A little of that humility would go a long way these days.