Let no man or woman, out of conceit or laziness,
think or believe that anyone can search too far or be
too well informed in the Book of God’s Words or the Book
of God’s Works: religion or science. Instead, let everyone
endlessly improve their understanding of both.
-Sir Francis Bacon (1605)
This post begins our new series on religion and science. Since things are so hectic for me right now, and many of the posts in this series are likely to require some thought and research, the posts may come slowly and sporadically. There is a lot of potential ground we can cover, but I think that our central focus will be on trying to understand the relationship between science and Genesis. This is an issue that I have personally spent a lot of time thinking about. In this first post, I hope to accomplish two things: 1) tell the story of my personal journey with this issue, and 2) provide a survey of the various Christian views on the subject. The latter happens fairly naturally with the first since at one point or another I have subscribed to all of the various views that I would consider to be validly Christian.
For me the journey began in the 7th grade, the one year that I attended Shiloh Christian school. My life science class was taught by “Mr. Mac,” who was a young earth creationist. While most of the course covered typical biology curricula we had a special unit on creation/evolution. At the end of this unit we all had to write a short paper supporting one view or the other. Thus began my stint as a young earth creationist. I became pretty fired up about the topic and convinced my parents to order a bunch of videos from the Institute for Creation Research. The young earth creationist view hinges on a specific interpretation of the Old Testament where the creation story in Genesis is seen as taking place over 7 days and the genealogy of the Old Testament is used to calculate the total age of creation. Typically our current landscape is seen as having formed during the flood described in Genesis.
The next significant point in my journey was when I attended Probe Ministries’ Mind Games conference. This was an excellent, intense, week-long stint of apologetics presentations and discussion. Probe (perhaps for political reasons) kept an agnostic view about the young/old earth debate. They presented both views and discussed a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of each. During this conference I more or less adopted their open “agnostic” view, though at heart I was still a young-earther.
College marked the next important stage. While in college I took the time to read up on some of the old earth creationist material, specifically astronomer Hugh Ross (books of his worth reading include Creator and the Cosmos and The Genesis Question). Also, I learned quite a bit about cosmology and our current picture of the history of the Universe. Two things became obvious to me: 1) there were respectable Christians who believed in an old earth, and 2) the young earth view really was not an equally valid scientific view. I found myself faced with the following conundrum. Everything within science pointed toward an old Universe and an old earth. In fact, as we look out into space we are looking back in time (because it takes a while for light to travel from distant stars) we can see events occurring billions of years ago. The Christian who believes that the Universe is only ~10,000 years old is really forced into believing that all of these apparent events, and all of the evidence for age, are merely an elaborate make-believe story that God has implanted within reality. To me this is theologically unsatisfactory. It makes God into a deceiver. Thus it was the theological implications of the scientific evidence that led me to abandon young earth creationism.
At that point in time, the view I found most attractive was that of the
old earth creationists. Essentially, this camp hangs on to a literal interpretation of Genesis while trying to understand how it matches what science tells us about our origins. Typically this is done by saying that each day in Genesis is an long period of time in the real Universe. In fact the ancient Hebrew word for day is the same as the word for a long period of time. The old earth creationist claims scientific accuracy for Genesis. In fact, Hugh Ross’s own journey is interesting. As an agnostic astronomer, he set out to read all of the world’s religious texts in order to justifiably be able to reject them. He saved the Bible for last. Upon reading the Genesis account he was amazed by how well it matched the current scientific picture. This in fact ultimately led to his conversion. Perhaps the best exposé on the old earth view is the above-mentioned The Genesis Question. Members of this camp were many of the initiators of the Intelligent Design movement.
The final defensible Christian view on origins is that of evolutionary creationism (also called theistic evolution). The advocates of this view are many, particularly within the community of Christian scientists and intellectuals. This is the camp that I currently most closely identify with. There is an excellent (if dry) lecture on the creation evolution debate by a proponent of this view (Denis Lamoureux) available here. He also has a nice summary handout that includes a useful chart that explains the views of various camps. Watching this lecture will take a good chunk of time (1 hour 20 min), but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the issue as it is a great overview and helps to put the whole debate within its historical and theological context. The central difference between evolutionary creationism and the other Christian views is in its approach toward interpreting Genesis. This view claims that Genesis was never intended to be read as a scientific account, but rather as a theological treatise on God’s relation to man and the rest of creation, and man’s relation to man and the rest of creation. In any case, it seems difficult to argue that this isn’t the the most important purpose of Genesis. The view also accepts an evolutionary origin for man (which has a great deal of scientific evidence). This view is attractive to me for several reasons. First, I don’t see any convincing theological or spiritual reasons why we need to treat Genesis as a scientific treatise. This view is epistemologically quite a bit more solid, as it does not rely on shifting, falsifiable scientific theories in order to prop up one’s faith. Secondly, the view allows us to accept the current scientific picture without removing any the important theological pillars of our faith.
In general, since science is always changing, I think it is dangerous to connect too much of your faith with a particular scientific view of the world. Some change in scientific theory should not result in a crisis of faith. Examples of problems with this abound in the church’s history. Remember that Galileo was excommunicated for saying the the earth wasn’t the center of the solar system. I personally have felt the effects of this within my own journey. My faith bears the scars inflicted as the result of misplaced confidence in particular scientific views on our origin. Instead of tying our faith to a particular scientific theory, and incorporating an adversarial view toward advances in science, we should think of science as another way to learn about God’s creation. In order to do this we must understand what parts of the Bible are intended to be taken scientifically and historically and what parts are not.
I don’t consider this post to be a sufficient argument for any one view, but rather it gives you an idea of the lay of the land, and provides you with a disclosure about my views on the subject. Over the course of this series James and I will delve into the nitty-gritty. We’ll delve into the scripture interpretation. We’ll delve into the science. We’ll delve into the theology. I hope that the result will be to help the reader grow in both faith and knowledge about God’s creation.
-Matt, the elder brother