Faith & Science

In 1987, the United States Supreme Court heard the Edwards v. Aguillard case. The case concerned a Louisiana state law requiring creationism to be taught alongside evolution in public schools. The law was deemed unconstitutional, as it defended the promotion of a particular religion under the auspices of the U. S. government.

Many Christians were outraged (and continue to be), exclaiming that evolution is also a religion, and the real issue is that secular religious beliefs are being privileged over Christian ones. Some go one step further, claiming that America is/was a Christian nation, and that our First Amendment rights specifically defend the Christian faith in and out of the public sphere.

Such claims are so wide-ranging it's difficult to counter them. Was the United States ever explicitly a Christian nation? Were the rights and beliefs of Muslims, Jews, atheists, and Buddhists self-consciously excluded from the Constitution, and if so, what are the implications for the way we live now? Is atheism really a religion, or just a way to avoid having one?

These questions deserve answers. But there's another more basic question needs to be answered first: is evolutionary theory really synonymous with science, and is creationism really an anti-rational, anti-scientific belief without any factual basis? To answer this, we need to know what is meant by science, evolution, and creation.

First, science. In the history of thought, science is more commonly called "natural philosophy," indicating why it was pursued and what its practitioners thought it useful for. The goal of science initially wasn't to construct a unified theory of everything, but to provide one of the building blocks toward developing such a theory.

The early Greek philosophers, for instance, sought to understand the nature of the elements, what they saw as the building blocks of all that truly exists. They based their ideas on observable data, and while some of them reached some pretty absurd conclusions, they were at least starting from a point of fact.

Which is where all good science begins and ends. Science is about fact, and while hypotheses and theories help us reach true fact they are not in and of themselves factual. What is factual are the observable data of the physical universe, and analyzing these is the work of a scientist. So in the case of origins, fossils are observable data, but their history is a matter of conjecture.

Second, evolution. Evolution refers to change, development—in the case of Darwinism it refers to the gradual development of living organisms from primitive forms to more advanced ones. This is a theory, the idea being that the reason we see so many variations in the fossil record and living species is because they are in a constant state of flux, always becoming something else.

It's a theory that tries to make sense of the observable data. Why do species change, or seem to change? How can we account for biological differences? Why have whole species gone missing? Scientists wrestling with these questions have found Darwinian evolution in its broadest form to be a valid way to answer them.

Third, creation. This is simple: creation, or rather creationism, is the idea that God created all things seen and unseen. But there are as many variations to this broad perspective as there are to the evolutionary perspective. Did God create all at once in seven 24-hour days? Did he utilize evolution to produce multiple species? Did he take a long time to make the world?

Some people believe the physical evidence points to an old earth, and therefore see the seven days in Genesis as long periods of time, perhaps even eons. Others say that the earth is only six or seven thousand years old, and that men and dinosaurs lived together, and in some obscure regions of Africa may perhaps even continue to do so.

Both evolutionists and creationists cite science in their arguments, but they do so in very different ways. Evolutionists look only at the physical record, and attempt to reconstruct biological origins simply by analyzing the evidence. Creationists, however, at least the Christian variety, begin with the Bible and move to interpreting the physical evidence in light of Scripture.

The result is often very messy, and frequently embarrassing. And unfortunately for Christians who believe God to be the sole author of all life, the embarrassment is usually a result of the arguments (or lack thereof) of the creationists. Even worse are the depths to which they'll sink in order to discredit evolutionary theory and promote their own.

For instance, there's a group among 6-day creationists who assert that the Medieval British epic poemBeowulfprovides proof that dinosaurs and humans lived together. Oddly, they don't even point to the dragon in the third section—they invoke Grendel and his mother as evidence. Apparently, Grendel was a dinosaur....

And thus are all those who believe that God created the world made to be fools. But we have no need of producing such dubious "evidence" for our beliefs. Attempts like this to validate creation science are neither scientific nor rooted in the authority of God's Word which every Christian affirms.

That's not to say that there is no scientific evidence for creation. There is, but it isn't found in fictional poems, nor in sightings of dinosaurs in Africa, nor in accounts of pterodactyls who burrow underground and eat island dwellers. Nor is it in the Bible, though that's a statement that requires a lot of qualification.

First of all, as Christians we believe the Bible to be authoritative on all matters of faith and life. The Bible clearly tells us that all that exists was made by God, that God created the world and the stars and humans and chipmunks and trees, that from God alone proceed all things. This is undeniably the teaching of Scripture, and as such we accept it.

But the Bible doesn't tell ushow God created all things. Some things are certain: Adam, as created uniquely in God's image and the agent by whom sin entered the world, did not have animal ancestors; God spoke and all things came to be from the power of his will; even if evolution is at work it is under God's direct guidance, not as a random natural force.

Other than that (and maybe a few other concerns), we are left to interpret the physical record in our attempt to understand the world around us. We do not accept ideas that are in direct conflict with Scripture (such as atheistic views of evolution), but we do not determine which interpretation of the physical evidence we accept based on our theology.

At least, not entirely. As Christians, we think about everythingas Christians. The Bible doesn't pronounce directly on science, but it does pronounce on things related to science, such as God's sovereignty, the rational source of all created matter as opposed to its random generation, etc. So we don't go to science trying to match it directly to the text of Scripture, but we do go to science as we go to all other endeavors looking through eyes transformed by the Gospel.

If you're getting the sense that the interplay between science and faith is more complex than reductionists on either side of the debate acknowledge, you're getting the right idea. For the sake of full disclosure, I would fall into the old-earth creationist camp, but I'm not a scientist, and can't claim to understand or even be aware of much of the evidence. (Note: The owners of Exodus hold a young-earth stance, though the same caveat applies.)

What I can claim to understand is the command in Scripture to take every thought captive to Jesus Christ. There are certain claims of certain evolutionists that I must reject out of hand as a Christian, but these are statements that address areas of faith, metaphysics, or worldview, things of which science knows nothing.

The problem arises when these sorts of statements are dressed up in the clothing of objective science. Things get even stickier when these wolf-in-sheep's-clothing statements are codified into law, as in the landmarkEdwards v. Aguillard case. The real issue there, of course, is that God isn't allowed into public discourse, and any theory that relies on his existence and power is therefore declared unscientific and therefore summarily untrue.

At this point Christians must take exception to the common view. We worship and serve the all-powerful God of the universe, a God who himself declares to us in the Bible that he in fact created everything. But we do not worship a God who intends we should dogmatically insist on that which we have no concrete evidence to support. That God created, we believe; how he did so, we must find out.

To put it another way, it is not humility to deny or prevaricate concerning that which God has declared. However, it is the height of arrogance to insist on theories and ideas that are not explicitly explained or defined in the Bible. As Christians, our duty is to proclaim Christ and him crucified, not to dogmatically defend a concept open to interpretation within the guidelines that God's Worddoes set.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

 

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