In 1859 Charles Darwin published a book called On the Origin of Species. This book was based on his studies of creatures he had encountered on his travels to many overseas locations, including the Galapagos Islands. He put forward the theory that all living creatures that exist today, including human beings, have evolved from primitive life forms over a period of millions of years.

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Darwin’s theory states that evolution happens by natural selection.

Darwin was a natural science graduate of Cambridge University and a geologist. He was also a Christian. Darwin did not intend to challenge religious beliefs with his book, but many religious believers responded to it with fury. Their reasons included:

  • The theory of evolution seemed to go against religious teachings that God made the Earth and created all living things.
  • Christians believed that God had created humans in his own image, that humans were superior to all other creatures and had a soul that is immortal.
  • The theory of evolution challenged the idea that God is the designer of the universe and that the beauty, order and complexity of the universe is evidence of this (the design argument).
  • The idea that living things adapt to their environment was opposed to their belief that God had created the perfect environment for them.
  • The Bible says humans were created on the sixth day of creation, not over a period of millions of years.

Is the theory of evolution compatible with Christianity?

The Genesis creation story is at least 2,500 years old. It was written when people lived completely different lives in an undeveloped environment. Answers to very difficult questions, such as how human life began, usually involved God because He was seen as the source and explanation for everything. The study of science was then largely unknown.

The Genesis stories should not be compared too closely to scientific theories. These scientific theories are much more recent.

Some Christians believe that the seven days of creation outlined in the Bible refers to seven long periods of time. They argue that the order in which living things were created according to the Bible may have similarities to the order scientists accept evolution took place - plants, sea creatures, flying creatures, land animals and finally humans. This makes the Bible’s account more credible.

Why might it be compatible?

  • The Genesis creation story does not seek to offer a scientific answer to questions about the origins of the universe. It is more concerned with making it clear that God is in complete control and that the universe exists because God wants it to.
  • Theistic evolution is the belief that God controls evolution and that He designed the universe and the Earth to be this way for a purpose.
  • If Darwin’s theory of natural selection is to be accepted, it is because God oversees this natural process - God created nature along with everything else.
  • Christians have put forward the theory of intelligent design, that everything is planned and designed by God, and that each and every change that takes place is the direct working of God in creation.