It’s December 31th, and Western Christians are within the season of Christmas (my Eastern Christian brothers and sisters will celebrate it on January 7th). Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God into human flesh. More precisely, Christians believe that the person Jesus Christ is both true God and true man.
So this is bonkers. I believe it, but it is really bonkers. There are some who attempt to slot the Christian doctrine of the incarnation into the same category as Zeus or some other deity taking a human form, but if we take Christianity on its own terms, it’s saying something very different.
The doctrine of the incarnation is saying that the Creator of the universe, who is beyond time and space, and in fact created them himself, who is self-existing and is the very ground of being, became human. This is not a question of some really big and powerful being becoming a lesser being or disguising themselves as one, which would be at least comprehensible. This is the claim that the inventor of “being” itself became a small, vulnerable child, grew to adulthood and died, and then rose bodily from the dead. Disagree with it if you like, but recognize that it’s a separate category. The Athenians St. Paul encountered understood this, and we should too.
So what the heck does this have to do with the title of the post? It’s really common in Christian circles (and for non-Christians commenting on Christian beliefs) to take for granted that something like “scientific creationism” must be true if God is really the creator. Otherwise, if evolution is true, it is alleged that everything just sort of happens “by itself” and (as Stephen Hawking suggested in A Brief History of Time) there’s nothing left for God to do at all. And matter itself is just bumbling along for billions of years, occasionally doing something interesting by complete chance and necessity but overall just awaiting the inevitable heat death. Thus, physicist Stephen Weinberg said that “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless”, and paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson claimed “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”
I’ve already spoken before about how it’s a huge category mistake to assume that evolution is a process that can compete with creation by God, as if a process that he was ultimately responsible for could somehow get in his way or would be less “done” by him than (say) creation ex nihilo (which is an important theological doctrine, but that’s a topic for another time). But this second assumption, that the fact that we originated physically by “natural” processes tells us that matter has no telos to speak of, is challenged by the incarnation and decisively refuted by the resurrection.
In the creation story in Genesis 1, God repeats over and over again how good everything is that he has made. By becoming human, by taking on the substance of quarks and leptons (or maybe strings or loops or twistors or whatever may underlie them), by beginning life as a blastocyst and undergoing the normal, messy, and “natural” process of human development, God reaffirms the goodness of matter and being material. And in case it wasn’t clear enough for you, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the attending promise that the entire universe itself will experience a similar transformation (Revelation 21), is God’s final seal of approval.
As a much younger Christian, I used to think that if evolution were true, that it would say something negative about the nature of being physical, being biological, being human—in other words, Weinberg and Simpson would have a point. But for Christians, the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus sweeps that all aside. It really proclaims the whole question of creation or evolution (again, already a category mistake) as mostly irrelevant, at least on this score. For Christians eager to follow the science where it leads, this is a good thing.