From Africa comes a story of an interesting convergence of science, faith and politics. The national museum in Kenya is planning to display what is known as Turkana Boy–the skeletal remains of a young male who lived during the Pleistocene age–roughly 1.6 million years ago. It is hailed by scientists as one of the world’s most famous and important fossil discoveries. Turkana Boy represents the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found.
Of course, we must use the word “human” advisedly. Turkana Boy is regarded by paleontologists as just one step in the evolution of human beings. Turkana Boy is classified as “homo erectus,” because he walked erect, but not “homo sapiens,” or modern human. There are noticeable differences in skull shape and size, as well as other differences. He is clearly not an ape, but he is not human in the way we are either.
That’s the science part, now for the faith.
Bishop Boniface Adoyo is the head of Kenya’s 35 evangelical denominations. He claims to represent 10 million members. Like many evangelicals, Bishop Adoyo is committed to a literal reading of the Bible. And if you read the Bible literally, it does not leave room for human evolution. Humans were created by God on the sixth day of creation, all at once and fully grown.
“I did not evolve from Turkana Boy,” Bishop Adoyo has said.
Unfortunately, a literal reading of the Bible leaves a good many questions unanswered. For instance, the two children of Adam and Eve are Cain and Abel. The Bible relates that after Cain has murdered his brother, he goes off to the East of Eden and finds a wife. If Cain and Abel are the first two children of the first humans, who did Cain marry?
This is but a slice of the perennial battle between faith and science. And when it is just a battle of ideas, it can be interesting, and even enlightening. There are many theologians who seek to incorporate the findings of science into their theology. And there are some pretty good scientists, like evolutionary biologist Ken Miller for instance, who bring theology to their science.
Where all this breaks down, sadly, is with the influx of politics. And by politics I mean the use of power.
Bishop Adoyo has not called for a nationwide debate on the merits of evolutionary theories. Instead he is flexing political muscle. He is calling on evangelicals to boycott the museum and has demanded that Turkana Boy be moved to a back room with a big warning sign that says, “Evolution is not a fact.”
Which is pretty much what happens in this country as well. In science versus faith battles across the land, the faith community lifts up the Bible, declares they are right and the scientists are wrong, and then you end up with a sticker on a text book that says, “Evolution is just a theory.”
For over 500 years people of faith have been at war with people of science. In nearly everyone of these contests–from whether the sun revolves around the earth or to whether illness is caused by demons–the faith position has proven to be incorrect.
Science helps us understand how God did something; it does not remove God from the process. Science may challenge narrow, literalistic readings of the Bible, but it does not necessarily diminish God in any way. That is unless our view of God is too small.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.