In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
I have never stated clearly and categorically on this blog my position regarding the creationist/evolution situation. This is partly because although I express strong opinions here, this particular topic tends to really raise hackles among Christians who feel threatened or angry at other Christians who believe “the wrong thing.” The other part has to do with my knowledge that whatever I write somebody will remain unconvinced; in this debate, faith often takes greater presidence than logic as Christians become defensive about the power of God. Let me put my position this way: since God is omnipotent He can use any force in heaven or in the universe; evolution cannot challenge His power.
At this point creationists often counter with a suggestion that since God is all-powerful, could He not have created the world in seven days just as the Bible says? I concede this point, that since God can do anything, He could have made the world in seven literal days as Genesis 1 describes.
However, considering the vast and continually increasing body of evidence that evolution does happen (which I will not even begin to discuss here as it would turn this already lengthy blog into an unreadably long treatise), I believe that biological evolution has happened in the past and is occurring today. I believe the radioactive and other evidence that suggest the world is approximately 4.5 billion years old, not the few thousand creationists claim. Evolution is not only possible but it is a solid scientific theory that, when we put our strong religious beliefs aside, is a strong mechanism that has resulted in life as we know it and continues to operate in the world. (Please note that here I use a specific definition of theory in the scientific sense.)
Notice I said we put our strong religious beliefs aside. To evaluate the validity of a scientific claim, we must be impartial. More than that, the evaluator needs to be able to understand that natural science and religion address two different issues and that they cannot speak to the same topics. To explain this better I offer the following quotes from Science Held Hostage: What’s Wrong with Creation Science AND Evolutionism. All quotes will come from that publication and will be accompanied by a page number, which refers to the 1988 publishing.
As an intellectual discipline, natural science is not isolated from or unrelated to human concerns…but nevertheless it self-consciously restricts itself to the physical universe as the object of study. Natural science is the investigation of what can be known from within the physical world itself, without reference to anything that is nonphysical.
Questions concerning transcendent relationships lie outside of the domain of natural science. Science is unable, for example, to say anything about the relationship of the world to a divine Creator. Questions concerning the relationship of the universe to God must be directed elsewhere. (19)
The gist being that science and religion address two different issues, and to apply one to the other is completely inappropriate.
Questions of origin and governance — important questions both — must be directed toward whatever serves as the source of answers to one’s religious questions. …On such matters the natural sciences have nothing to contribute. (25)
The origin of the universe cannot be scientifically determined, however much scientists seek. The limit of science is the physical universe and its origin and maintenance are outside of that limit.
The troublesome tendency wit which we are dealing here is the temptation to employ natural science for the purpose of supporting preconceptions drawn from one’s philosophical commitments or system of religious beliefs. …The goal of natural science is to gain knowledge, not reinforce preconceptions. (41)
Part of the issue at stake here is the desire on the part of both parties, Christians (and others of religious convictions) and those who believe only in science, to support their religious beliefs with scientific facts. It takes a strongly committed scientist, and a willingly open mind, to really accept that “natural science is to gain knowledge, not reinforce preconceptions.”
When the epistemic goal of gaining knowledge is replaced by the dogmatic goal of providing warrant for one’s personal belief system or for some sectarian creed, the superficial activity that remains may no longer be called natural science. (41)
Often enough religious beliefs spill into the scientific domain, or science is made to speak incorrectly to the metaphysical. That is no longer science.
[A]ll persons, whether committed to the Christian faith or not, must exercise great care and caution in making statements about biblical data and its relevance to contemporary scientific theorizing. (43)
There is this tendency to either use the Bible to support scientific data or use scientific data to refute the Bible. That is not an appropriate use of the Bible! It cannot be applied to science because the Bible is not a science textbook. It is the inspired Word of God, and while God knows the inner workings of the universe even to details and extremities we cannot imagine, He did not provide the Bible’s writers with that detailed knowledge to lay down for us. Yet,
the domain of natural science is not being respected by…Christians, however well-meaning, who assert that the concepts of divine creation and providence are derivable from the discoveries of science. …The proponents of philosophical naturalism also fail to respect the domain of natural science when they assert that it is from the results of natural science that they reach their conclusions that there is no God, or that the universe is self-existent, self-contained and self-governing. (128)
Again. Science can address “the physical universe, no more, no less.” (11) Its domain is constrained to answering questions about the universe’s “physical properties”, its “physical behavior”, and its “formative history” (18); such investigations have no business addressing religious concerns. Religious beliefs and metaphysical conjecture address issues of the universe’s origin and its governance (21), and such beliefs or conjectures cannot find support in science. Finally,
“[B]iological evolution is not antithetical to the idea of God.” (129)
“‘There can be no scientific study of God.’” (135)
The idea of evolution frightens and angers Christians who feel that it excludes God by offering some Godless mechanism for the creation and meaning of humankind. This is simply not the case: what is needed is the realization that God is entirely outside of science’s bailiwick. Although He is intimately involved in the workings of the world, no amount of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, or any other study of the created order can shed light that fact. I do not want to give the impression that I think God has no control in nature; I believe quite the opposite. My whole goal is to clarify my belief that being a Christian and believing that biological evolution occurs are not incompatable.
As a Christian studying science I am more than ever convinced of the lordship of our Creator over all things and it pains me to hear fellow Christians misunderstanding the “theory” of evolution. Like any scientific “laws” – gravity, thermodynamics, Murphy’s – evolution is just one more way of describing the world. A natural law does not, as our human laws do, govern the cosmos. It nothing more or
less than a way human scientists have found of explaining the workings of that cosmos.
See also: CCCS, where the book was written by a physicist and two geologists.
2/27/05: ADDENDUM 1, addressing particularly this question from Ryan: do you accept the entire theory of evolution, right down to humans evolving from apes, or do you simply see support for the mechanisms, or somewhere in between? I quote again from Science Held Hostage:
…the functioning assumption is that if there is a scientific description (or theory) of the process involved in the formation of species, then there is no room for a theistic concept of the divine governance of those processes. [People] are led, sometimes openly, sometimes surreptitiously, to adopt an either-or stance: The phenomena that comprise cosmic formation happen either as ‘natural’ processes (scientifically describable) or as consequences of divine action. (178)
But there is no need to slice between natural processes and divine action; although the feeling is that if we evolved we cannot have unique value as humans, that is a patently false suggestion most often heard from those who follow in what the book calls scientific naturalism. It is eminently likely that we evolved from cyanobacteria that appeared about 4 billion years ago, and that reduces our value as humans and children of God not one whit. We cannot measure God’s control in the universe, and over evolution, any more than a light microscope can reveal the love between a husband and a wife. Just as no device can reveal emotion or idea, science cannot reveal God’s intervention. Ultimately I fail to understand the importance of delineating an exact line that elevates humans out of the evolutionary progression. We are God’s creatures that more than likely evolved from the amino acids that began combining billions of years ago.
– KF –
6 days to home.