When you see the Grand Canyon, a Hawaiian sunset, or Crater Lake for the first time, I doubt that science questions will pop into your mind. You’ll probably say something like, "wow, isn’t that beautiful!" And then, after taking in the sights for a bit and likely taking a few pictures, you may finally stop to think about how these things of beauty came to be. The first reaction is aesthetic and even spiritual; the second is scientific. Science deals with the how and faith deals with the wow!
Those two different reactions suggest that there’s more than one way to look at things. Neither one is right nor wrong, they’re just different. The scientific angle is extremely important, and it should be honored. But it doesn’t always tell the whole story. That’s where faith comes in. They’re not competitors, they’re complements.
For centuries now people have been arguing about the relationship of religion and science. Some people believe they’re opposed to each other, which means you can’t believe in science and be a good Christian at the same time, or you can’t believe in God and be a respectable scientist. There are also people who want to merge the two, by letting religion determine what is scientific. And then there’s the belief that science and religion are two different ways of looking at things. Both are valid, but they’re very different.
I’m not a scientist, but I’m interested in science. I also believe in God, so I’m interested in matters of faith. I’ve become very concerned about a growing skepticism about science that’s developed in our country and find it disheartening that much of this skepticism is rooted in religion. I’m concerned that this skepticism can hinder important research that would benefit our world. There are important medical issues at stake and environmental ones as well. Solutions to these problems will come from the scientific community. Because I believe in the importance of knowledge and the intellectual credibility of my faith, I’ve also become very concerned about a growing anti-intellectualism that’s developed among many Christians.
These concerns about scientific research and intellectual credibility are why I’m preaching about Evolution Sunday once again.
The Anthropic Principle
If you read Genesis 1 closely, you’ll discover that when God created the heavens and the earth, God said that it was good. Genesis doesn’t tell us how, it just tells us that the end product is good. There’s a scientific theory called the "anthropic principle." This principle says that our planet is perfectly suited for human life. If things had been just a bit different, life wouldn’t be possible. And so the question is: Is this a happy accident of some kind or is it an act of divine providence? Without going into detail about this principle, let me say that my belief in God the Creator, makes me comfortable saying that this was no accident. That is of course a statement of faith, not a statement of science. Still, as physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne says, this suggests the possibility of "an inbuilt potentiality to creation." (Faith Science and Understanding, p. 68). It is of course suggestive only and not definitive. It doesn’t preclude further study of the mechanisms of creation, but in my mind it does cause me to stop and give thanks for God’s good work.
Creation by Persuasion
I believe in a Creator, but as I try to understand the mechanism of creation, I don’t turn to the Bible, but to science. I have great respect for the work of the scientist, and that’s why I’m comfortable with the theory of evolution. There is near unanimous agreement among biologists that we are a product of evolution through the process of natural selection. That’s the scientific explanation and there’s a lot of evidence to back it up.
But like I said, there’s more than one way to look at things. Theology doesn’t replace science, but it does offer a different perspective. Traditionally Christian theology has taught that God spoke everything into existence, although Genesis 2 offers a slightly different take on things. We’re used to thinking in a top-down way about creation. God is something like a CEO who orders things to get done and they’re done, Fed Ex style! Evolutionary theory suggests that things are a bit more complicated than that. And so I’ve begun to think about God not as commander-in-chief, but as persuader-in-chief.
Proverbs 8 says that the first act of creation was the creation of Lady Wisdom. Wisdom then served as God’s assistant "like a master worker," whose work brings great delight to the Creator (Prov. 8:30). Proverbs 8 seems to suggest that creation is a process that takes time to develop.
In a somewhat related way, theologian Jurgen Moltmann talks about "the energies and potentialities of the Spirit" through which the Creator is present in the creation (God in Creation, pp. 9-10). Instead of Creation being a top-down, outside-in kind of job, it’s an inside-out job. Instead of God standing on the outside giving orders, God acts from within creation through the agency of Wisdom or the Spirit, seeking to persuade the very atoms and molecules to work together for the common good. Now sometimes the atoms and the molecules decide to do their own thing, but whenever they work together good things happen. And in the end the universe comes into existence. In fact, it’s still coming into existence, because, God’s not finished creating quite yet. Now that’s a bit simplistic, but it suggests a way of thinking about creation that might be a bit different.
Therefore, Let’s Celebrate
Whatever theological description we give to creation, I think that at the end of the day, what our faith does is call us to celebrate God’s good gift of creation. Theology, which is rooted in Scripture, doesn’t explain everything, but when we take science and theology to be complementary descriptions of reality, we can celebrate the beauty of this world but also understand it’s complexity. There are things that I find difficult to reconcile, things like earthquakes and such. I think that Moltmann might be right that creation requires redemption and reconciliation. But that’s for another day.
The writer of this proverb has it right: God does delight in Wisdom’s handiwork. When we look at the big picture, we find balance and purpose to this world of ours. Science tells the story in its own way and faith in its own way. I’m amazed at what I read in the science book, but I’m also left wanting more. I want to have a conversation with the one who brought this universe into existence. And with Isaiah I want to join trees of the field in declaring God’s glory. When I see a beautiful sunset, a magnificent mountain peak, or the grandest of canyons, I do want to know how this came to be, but first I want to stand in awe and give thanks to the one who is revealed in its glory. But the point of Evolution Sunday is this: Science and faith aren’t enemies, they’re two ways of telling the story of the universe. Because Scripture talks about meaning and purpose, it serves to remind us that this world belongs to God and not to us. We are called to be good stewards, not careless users.
Rev. Dr. Bob Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
6th Sunday after Epiphany/Evolution Sunday
February 11, 2007