Monday, October 10, 2005

Evolution - is this a battle we should be fighting?

A newly PhD'd friend who can look at a rock and see millions of years within its contours is getting asked, "If evolution is a theory, why do you choose to believe it over God's word?"

Behind this question is a forest of presuppositions and prejudices which have been having a destructive effect on the church and society for several centuries. Fighting for and against evolution has become a holy war, with the biology classroom a contemporary Jerusalem for both the zealots and the infidels.

This is bad for Christians, who should be at the forefront of studying God's creation (which, after all, is an expression of his glory). It's also disastrous for scientists such as Richard Dawkins, who perceive faith to be about the propagation of angry dogma, because this is the form they most frequently encounter. This encourages their students to believe they have to make a choice between God and science.

This is as downright stupid as a film studies student feeling they could either believe in the historical existence of Walt Disney or his films, but not both.

Now, I don't have the scientific background to plump for evolution as the means by which we were created. But I strongly believe that regardless of whether it is true or not it is in no way a threat to faith. I may be completely wrong about this - it's little more than a gut feeling - but let me elaboarate for a few paragraphs, and then tell me what you think.

If evolution is a theory that is true it is yet more evidence of the incredible complexity and creativity of God's creation.

It is just as "unbelievable" that a collision of cells can result in the creation of a human being, but this has happened more than six billion times in living memory. There is no magic supernatural event - no "quickening" - but the entire process could not be happening if a universe powered by divine inspiration had not been created in the first place.

So just as God lets us "create ourselves" instead of sending angels to nick ribs etc, I wouldn't find it in the least surprising if the universe develops in the same way as a human being: starting with a few atoms and acids it unfolds into something of outstanding beauty and awesome power. The "big bang" which takes place when an embryo is formed could be a microcosm of the larger work of creation which is ongoing.

Far being a negation of the presence of a creator, it is a reflection of his genius and glory.

So why are Christians spending millions of dollars and euros fighting the study of evolution, and why does this matter? This is important because the fierce objections to evolution may represent a hangover of a pagan way of looking at the world. This involves God being simply the most powerful creature on the stage - someone who goes about making planets and doing some smiting and rewarding. The God revealed in the Bible is radically different to the deities of creation myths.

Christianity is not focussed on explaining who it was that made the first artichoke (although it does deal with such fascinating matters). It is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and his mission to unite his creation with himself. Evolution can seem a threat if Genesis is read as a science textbook rather than the first dispatch in this saga of redemption.

The story begins in the first pages of Genesis and continues with the choosing of Abraham and a people who will witness to God's character. Then God steps into this narrative in the person of Christ, and he proceeds to bring those who believe in Him into a divine union through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This new chapter, in which the Holy Spirit enters and transforms the lumps of matter we call humans, is even more fundamentally amazing than the first painting of the stripes on the zebra. In the Old Testament the clusters of atoms have miraculously gained an awareness of its creator, and now they have somehow become something other than matter - an eternal creation.

Another friend whose mastery and love of science is equalled only by his talent for biblical exposition wrote in a recent correspondence:

I reconcile my belief in God and my belief in the validity of the scientific method in the following way:
1) God is truth (biblical assumption)
2) God created all things (biblical assumption)
3) God's creation should contain elements of his character
4) God's truth should therefore pervade creation itself
5) God's truth is communicated through the Bible (biblical assumption)
6) Science is an exercise in finding the truth in the universe (working out the rules,science is right when it is true etc)

Therefore: If science is a way of finding out truth from the universe (about the way it works) and the Bible is also a representation of God's truth, then the two cannot be in disagreement. When the Bible disagrees with science on what is true then the interpretation of one of them must be wrong...

I'm willing to admit (quite happily in fact) that we get our interpretation of the Bible wrong as much as we get our science wrong. I'm also willing to admit that non-Christian (even atheist) scientists can have discovered truth through their science. So, when people argue science from the Bible I have to check it against non-biblical science. You can't win the argument simply by saying "the Bible says" - because what you are actually saying is "I believe the Bible says" or "my interpretation of the Bible is". And where you use those words in relation to deriving science from the Bible you are treading on very thin ice.

God gave us logical minds and he expects us to use them. My application of logic finds more problems in the theories which support a six day literal creation than it does in accounting for the problems with evolution and an old earth.

He concludes:

To do science you have to make certain assumptions:
1) The universe is homogeneous. The rules are the same throughout.
2) The universe is constant. The rules don't change with time.
3) The universe is consistent. It is not allowed to break it's own rules.

These three are fundamental characteristics of God, hardly suprising then that they have to form the bedrock on which we build our science.

Opposition to evolution is fast becoming a doctrine of faith. This must be fought, because far from protecting biblical Christianity from the challenges of living in the modern world, it is an indication that in our reading of the bible and thinking about God we are taking neither seriously enough.


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