Either/Or

Yesterday I stirred up a bit of a firestorm of comments on my Facebook page because I posted my son’s blog, Evolution vs. Creation (IT DOESN’T MATTER)I posted it not to stir up a flurry of posts defending one or another theory (although it did–what was I thinking?). Nor do I think the discussion doesn’t matter. Actually, I think it does. Rather, I posted it because I think his post reflects what many of those on both Nye and Ham’s side don’t get–that the way this discussion has been occurring has become tiresome and off-putting. Many scientists would just like to get on with their science. And many Christians feel like we are shooting ourselves in the foot in having these arguments. Even if we “win” the argument, we lose people who conclude we are narrow-minded and anti-scientific. And as Ben pointed out, the center of our faith is the cross of Christ and his call for us to follow him in demonstrating and sharing his sacrificial love in a lost and needy world.

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What I think matters crucially in this discussion that I find needed on both sides is a willingness to think about how physical causes that are scientifically observable and the activity of God in creating and sustaining the world go together. I feel both sides of the “debate” are locked into an “either/or” paradigm. Either the universe came about purely through a series of random events and a chain of physical causes, or God created the universe, whether in a shorter or longer time.

The issue is larger than the question of beginnings though. Christians are not deists who simply believe God started the world but that it now runs on its own. Hebrews 1:3 claims this of the Christ who redeems the world:  “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” That states that God in Christ is continually active in the world. It has been said that “the laws of science are adjectives for the activity of God in the world.” It was this in fact that motivated many of the early scientists in their research, to more clearly understand how through physical causation God was at work in the world.

If in fact we believe that we can both study physical causation in the present and understand something of the mind and working of God, why can this not also be so when we speak of beginnings?  Why can we not think in both/and terms? I think part of why both “sides” in debates like the one between Ham and Nye are so entrenched is that the debate is framed almost exclusively in either/or terms. It becomes a zero sum game where if science wins, the Bible loses, or if the Bible wins, science loses.

For scientists like Bill Nye, I think the question is, are you willing to admit the possibility of a universe in which God exists, and in which he actively is involved in the beginnings and continuance of its existence including your very own?  Are you willing to admit that such a God is capable of revealing himself and that this, along with the fruits of reasoned observation should shape our view of the world? Good science doesn’t exclude this possibility, only “scientism”.

For Christians, are we willing to live in the tension of believing that Genesis 1-3 is a true account of God’s activity in creation while not forcing a reconciliation between the findings of geology, physics, and biology and our narrative of beginnings that compromises either faith or science? This means living with unanswered questions. The truth is, we live with many unanswered questions in this life and I would rather do that than summarily say that the science around origins is wrong or that Adam never existed.

For those who did not see the debate, Al Mohler, Jr. gives what seems a good account that underscores the real issue of the debate–the worldview clash between what I’ve called “scientism” and the Christian worldview that is open to learning both through reasoned inquiry and revelation. If we can get to a discussion of this, then I think we can have a discussion that “matters”.

4 thoughts on “Either/Or

  1. I agree that a lot of my frustration with the topic has to do with the way it has been discussed. But I also feel like it’s not a topic that particularly helps me grow in my faith or my knowledge of the will of God. And it’s not a topic that has a lot of effect on how I live as a Christian in the world. My interests in the nature of our universe are more esoteric and just as equally irrelevant to real life (i.e. multiverse theory), or things like Hawking’s recent assertion that black holes are very different than how we used to understand them. Biology is squishy 🙂

    I do want to say that I am at most speaking for myself. There are probably a number of “millennials” a group I don’t really feel a part of anyway, who think very differently. Maybe some people think the same way I do, and I appreciate being mentioned as an example, but I am my own idiosyncratic self and if you want to listen to me, you have been warned 😉

    • Actually, a number of the people I work with think similarly to how you think, as was evident in some of their comments and “likes”. Now some of my bio-science friends might differ with you on your “Biology is squishy” comment!

  2. Well-written article, although when you ask the question of Bill Nye about whether he would be willing to admit the possibility of God’s existence, he already answered it, during the debate. During the Q&A, an audience member asked both debators what it would take to change their mind. Nye said that he would change his mind in an instant IF there was credible scientific evidence of God’s existence. On the other hand, Ham said that nothing would change his mind about evolution. I think that’s rather telling. I consider myself a Christian, but I am a believer in evolution NOT the creation myth as described in Genesis. I have a hard time believing in God because there IS no scientific evidence for His existence. People get angry when I say that belief in God is irrational, but I’m not trying to be insulting. Faith is, by definition, irrational. Belief in a supernatural entity that rules the universe IS irrational. I’m not saying faith or belief in God is BAD or STUPID. I am simply stating that it is an irrational mindset.

    • Scott, I appreciate your thoughtful response. My question is your equation of science with rationality. A good deal of my faith for example is based on my belief in the historic fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. That is not something scientifically provable but rather something that I think is the best explanation of the historical evidences. My belief in the resurrection, which I believe is at the heart of the Christian faith is not an irrational belief but something that I think is the most reasonable, albeit incomplete, conclusion to considering the historical evidences for and against the resurrection. Faith is acting on what we believe to be true based on reasonable but incomplete evidence. Considering science for a minute, I do think the incredible order of the universe and its fine-tuned nature is consistent with belief in a creator (not arguing here for Ken Ham’s view). Is that a lead-pipe cinch proof of God? Hardly. But it suggests to me that it is not irrational to believe that there was some rational mind behind all this order. If we were so committed to scientific proof of everything, everyone of us would get genetic tests and require these of our parents to “prove” we were their children. Why do very few of us do so? The truth is we live by faith in much of life and do so for what are rational, if not scientific reasons.

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