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There's No Conflict

Sheldon Vanauken

Before leaving the topic of evolution and creation, I thought I would share a brief article sent to me by Sheldon Vanauken back in 1996. The article originally appeared in The Lynchburg News & Advance on Saturday, 3 February, 1996. An essay like it also was published in Vanauken's last book, The Little Lost Marion and other Mercies....
Creationists and Evolutionists continue to damn and deny each other's beliefs. The Creationists place their faith in a literal reading of the seven-day creation in Genesis (a day means 24 hours) and sneer at fossils. The Evolutionists stress the fossil record and place their faith--it is no more than faith--in chance mutation and scorn biblical creation. There are genuine weaknesses in both positions; and each side has perhaps not only too narrow a view of the other side but too narrow a view of itself.
The creationists believe there is no way but theirs to believe in divine creation; and the evolutionists believe that the unprovable notion of chance mutation destroys all possibility of God's action. The creationists believe that before modern times--before Darwin--everybody held to their view; and the evolutionists tend to believe the same thing: Darwin and his successors destroyed the "unscientific" biblical account of creation.
Both sides therefore, may be shocked to learn that some 15 centuries before Darwin--long centuries before modern science was so much as a gleam in Copernicus' eye--in the early Christian Church of the Fathers--there were thoughtful and significant views of the Genesis account of creation that are in perfect harmony with modern science. But bear in mind, please, that this Christian view came first.
No one, I hope, needs to be told of the stature of St. Augustine in western Christendom; and in the east was St. Gregory of Nyssa. These thinkers held with the school of Alexandria that the world was created by divine power--but not in the form we know it but in its "potentiality."
In the words of the late distinguished scholar, Bede Griffiths, an Englishman who spent many years in India, St. Gregory "held that God created not the forms of things as they now exist but certain 'powers' or 'energies' which were destined to develop in the course of time into the present forms of nature. The seven days of creation were interpreted simply as the stages in the evolution of these primordial energies... In the same way, St. Augustine spoke of the world being 'created' in its...'principles' that were implanted in nature from the beginning like seeds, which were destined to develop their specific forms according to the laws or tendencies inherent in them." (Griffiths, The Marriage of East and West, 1982)
Here we have evolution--but divine evolution. It does not deny the hundred million fossils in the museums, but it replaces the quite unprovable theory of chance mutations with mutations guided by principles or "seeds" planted in them by God, which, incidentally, explains the extreme mathematical improbability of its happening at all. Acceptance of God-directed evolution of nature leaves open the possibility of a separate creation of man--or, if he too evolved, the possibility that at a particular moment a man-like creature was infused by God with a soul, becoming Man (or Adam).
Those great Christian thinkers, St. Augustine and St. Gregory, lived in the late 300s AD, when the Roman legions still upheld the ancient civilization, more than a thousand years before Darwin. Quite clearly, enlightened thinking is not the exclusive province of the Enlightenment or of modern science. And these offer thoughtful people a balanced position that is free from the weaknesses of both Creationists and Evolutionists.
If you would like to learn more along these lines, both from scientists and theologians, allow me to recommend this web site: BioLogos.
 


 
 

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