Creation, Evolution, and Race 

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow

I recently signed on to something called “The Clergy Letter Project,” which is an unassuming name for a group of clergy and other religious and spiritual leaders who believe that religion and science do not need to be in conflict. As it says on their website, the Project “is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.” And the Clergy Letter itself says, in part, that we “believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth …. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.” These are beliefs I myself have cherished since my grandfather, an Episcopal priest, took me to see the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and we discussed whether the Monolith might be a symbol of God. In other words, I’ve been on this wavelength for a long time.   

This weekend the clergy of the Project have been invited to consider what the theory of evolution says to us about human unity, and what that might imply for our religious call to build up the Beloved Community in racial reconciliation. I am posting this short essay as a reflection on that topic.  

The Book of Genesis contains several elaborate passages describing how multiple tribes and peoples developed from single ancestors. Chapter 4, for instance, tells how the descendants of Cain diverged into clans of nomadic herders and settled metalworkers; and Chapter 5 relates the descendants of Seth and the multiplication of clan names in their generations. After the flood, Chapter 10 describes how entire nations and ethnic groups and races developed from the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Chapter 25 gives lengthy lists of the children of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah (did you know that Abraham had a second wife after Sarah died?), and how they became leaders of tribes, as well as the descendants of Ishmael and their tribal development. While historians advance different theories of how these descendants’ names relate to archaeological evidence of ethnic groups in the Middle East, and scientists point out that real tribal development requires more genetic diversity than these few families could account for, the theological point of these stories is pretty clear: that beneath and behind all our present differences we have common roots: that embracing all our actual and practical diversity there is a fundamental human unity 

The evolutionary account of human origins, though it covers a vastly greater time scale and uses very different names for its groups, tells fundamentally the same story: that all currently existing human groups have come from a common ancestor, and that the developmental story and genetic information we share far outweigh the racial and ethnic characteristics in which we differ. Our differences are valuable, of course, and show forth the variety and exuberance of God’s creating grace in many and beautiful ways — and that is why we celebrate our diversity. But our differences all come to be within a larger and deeper field of unity, born of our shared story of coming forth from a common beginning. The novelty of racial difference cannot exist apart from the continuity of our shared humanness.  

This Lent, when we at Trinity join with people from Emmanuel and Allen Chapel to share our stories of experiences of race, we will encounter both difference and commonality. Our stories will be different, reflecting the different ways our ancestors evolved and our families developed and our own experiences have unfolded. We will do our best to embrace and love and celebrate these differences, even when some of the difference may feel painful. But we will also recognize in these stories a deep commonality, a profound sharing of fundamental human emotions and motivations and beauty and dignity. We will each have the opportunity to realize that sometimes it is our very differences that point us the more powerfully to our fundamental unity.  

And it is my hope that this experience over Lent will help to foster in us a commitment to racial reconciliation that will extend far beyond just this one season. It is vitally important that we learn to recognize habitually the truth that both science and religion teach us: that we are one human family, and what binds us together is more powerful than what would separate us. When the science that tells us where we come from can inform the spirituality that envisions where we’re going, then perhaps we can take a step closer to a genuine Beloved Community.  



  1. Tatyana Andrus says:

    ” I think… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”
    -Leo Tolstoy~♡

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