Evolution is for real, especially if you’re Christian

Humans are not that different from anything else. It’s a biochemical fact. The molecular blocks on which life is built are the same for every organism. Amoebas, sea cucumbers, lobsters, capybaras – they are all made of nucleic acids, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates. We all use the same molecular machinery to store genetic information and the same molecular machinery to release it. The basic biological processes that sustain your intestines are identical to those in the E.Coli that contaminated your salad. 

Molecular biology provides evidence that evolutionary processes have shaped our planet, and Christians don’t have to abandon their faith to embrace it.

Genomics reveals how evolution has shaped human development. Over 80% of our genes – the parts of our genome that actually make proteins – are identical to that of cows, and over 60% of our genes are the same as bugs. We share 70% of our protein-coding genome with zebrafish and more than 98% of our DNA with bonobos. Allele frequencies, the rates of specific variations of particular genes, may vary across species or populations, but the basic proteins that drive breath, movement, organ function and reproduction stay the same. Put another way, your cells are breathing in the same way as the cells of cockroaches and jellyfish. 

From an evolutionary perspective, this all makes perfect sense. Genes that work well tend to keep working. They are conserved from generation to generation and from millenia to millenia because they allow organisms to do essential functions like harness energy and grow. Genetic material that doesn’t need to be used in a particular place and time may eventually disappear in harmless deletions or other aberrations. Or it might stick around, giving whales hip bones and humans tailbones. Evolution is like gravity: It simply is, and it leaves its trail inside the genetic material of every living thing.

Can one be faithful and be a biologist? As a Christian biochemist, I certainly think so

Can one be faithful and be a biologist? As a Christian biochemist, I certainly think so. Biomolecular science asks fundamentally different questions than theology. It is a mechanistic discipline. It does not try to answer questions about the relationship between works and righteousness or what’s happening during baptism. Instead, biochemists ask the question how. How did God move molecules to make the world? How did the first nucleic acids bind to form DNA? How do proteins fold to form our muscles or release neurotransmitters in our brain? Biological science is concerned with the structure and function of the natural world. It isn’t making a theological statement about death or salvation.

On a similar note, the Bible isn’t a science textbook. It does not explain the intricacies of oxidative phosphorylation or the pathways that regulate gene expression and cell differentiation. The creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 don’t dictate a mechanism for how God created the world.

The creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 don’t dictate a mechanism for how God created the world

When read like a textbook, the creation account in Genesis raises a few issues. The creation order doesn’t make sense. We all know that plants need the sun. More specifically, plants grow by capturing the energy of specific wavelengths of sunlight. Plants can’t do anything if these wavelengths of sunshine aren’t available. Yet in Genesis 1, God creates and fills the world with plants (1:11) before creating the sun (1:14-16). How did the world become inhabited with plants without the precise wavelengths of light that allow plants to capture energy from light? It’s just not plausible.

The creation account in Genesis 2 leads to even more confusion. It’s in a totally different order than Genesis 1. God makes man first, then plants, and then animals. But how did Adam survive without plants? Plants are the bottom of the food chain; if there were no plants, there’s no way Adam could have eaten anything. 

Scripture has incalculable value for teaching us about God, the world and our relationship with it. It tells us that people, just like everything else on earth, are made of dust. It tells us that our lives are intricately intertwined with those of our fellow living creatures. It tells us that God loves us, protects us and makes promises with us. But it does not tell us how to develop COVID-19 vaccines or melanoma immunotherapies, nor does it tell us why vertebrates all develop their spinal tubes at the same period in embryonic development.

Evolution, like the electrical pacemaker cells in your heart and the blood pressure regulating cells in your kidneys, is a scientific reality that exemplifies how God guides and protects life on earth. It’s always happening and allows the biosphere to thrive on an ever-changing planet. And that is something we should be thankful for.