But doesn’t evolution contradict the claims of the Bible? Let us look carefully at what the book of Genesis actually says. We read in Genesis 2:7 that “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Right away we notice something significant: the Bible says that the universe was created out of nothing but it does not say man was created out of nothing. Rather, it says that man was made or shaped from the existing substance of nature. “Dust thou art and to dust thou shall return:’ So the Bible is quite consistent with the idea that man is made up of atoms and molecules and shares the same DNA found in earthworms, whales, and monkeys.
It is true, however, that the creation account in Genesis does not prepare us for the discovery that man has about 98 percent of his DNA in common with apes. In his Descent of Man, Darwin writes that “man … still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” Our resistance to this is not religious; it is because we sense a significant chasm between ourselves and chimpanzees.
Of course Darwin is not saying that man is descended from chimpanzees, only that apes and man are descended from a common ancestor. Whatever the merits of this theory, there is no reason to reject it purely on biblical grounds. Christians since medieval times have agreed with Aristotle that man is an animal—a “rational animal,” but still an animal.
What makes man different, according to the Bible, is that God breathed an immaterial soul into him. Thus there is no theological problem in viewing the bodily frame of man as derived from other creatures. The Bible stresses God’s resolution, “Let us make man in our image.” Christians have always understood God as a spiritual rather than a material being. Consequently if man is created in the “likeness” of God, the resemblance is clearly not physical. When Jared Diamond in his book The Third Chimpanzee refers to humans as “little more than glorified chimpanzees.” he is unwittingly making a Christian point.’3
We may have common ancestors with the animals, but we are glorified animals.
But didn’t the main opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution come from religious people, specifically Christians? Actually, no. Hindus, Jews, and Muslims have never really had a problem with evolution because they have always understood their creation stories as parables. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb writes that when Darwin published his Origin of Species, one group rejected the theory of evolution because of the perception that it undermines Christianity, and another group embraced it for the same reason.
Darwin’sleading defender, the intellectual “bulldog” Thomas Henry Huxley, belonged to the second group. A lifelong hater of the Catholic church, he acknowledged that he found the new theory appealing because he saw it undermining ecclesiastical doctrine. “One of its greatest merits in my eyes is the fact that it occupies a position of complete and irrec- oncilable antagonism to … the Catholic church.”
But these “irreconcilables,” as Himmelfarb calls them, were outnumbered by other groups: scientists who raised non-religious objections to Darwin’s theory and religious people who saw no conflict between evolution and Christianity. There were in fact intelligent objections to natural selection raised by British naturalist Richard Owen and Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz.