I have the privilege of studying ecology, a discipline in which competition, symbiosis, natural selection, and adaptation are central. So is the concept of limits. God made a world in which materials and energy are limited, but He himself is not. The natural laws of the living world drive species to differentiate and to fit their changing environments. There are many disputes amongst people about evolution. Aside from broadly saying that God used a lot of evolution in the creation of species, I won’t remark on any details. Some I don’t even have an opinion on. However, it is helpful to me to look at evolution the way I might see laws of physics, such as those driving evaporation, plate tectonics, or the force of gravity. I see it as similar to water poured on the ground of a hillside. As it rolls downhill, it forms rivulets. You might not predict exactly the placement of any one tiny steam as it passes a clod of soil, but you know the water will subdivide and you know that it will run downhill. I believe evolution is unpredictable in the way that the actual placement of gas bubbles in a boiling pot may be unpredictable, but the temperature at which it will boil is clear. There are laws that govern living things, and the laws of survival in a changing environment are one such set.
Unfortunately, I have found as an adult that, while my internal sense of wholeness comes from feeling like the science I understand fits with my faith I dearly hold, my world is often divided. In churches I hear one thing, in the secular world another. Dear friends dismiss what I know about with a wave of the hand; scientists on list serves mouth off about people of faith.
I am especially pained by the rancor exhibited in polarized public debates on almost any topic. In order to live in this polarized world and to have a complex, nuanced view, I’ve taken some approaches that I think imperative. The first is that I agree with people when I agree with them and disagree with them on issues where I don’t. That is, I won’t disagree with someone about one issue simply because I disagree with them about something else. I realize that people are complex, much more so than our way of envisioning positions allows.
I also made a decision to love everyone regardless of how much we agree. I believe strongly that this is biblical and comes from I Cor 13. In that lyrical description of love, we are told that
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Notice the gifts we are told about: speaking, prophecy, knowledge, faith, and generosity. These are vital qualities. However, while all matter, none of these matters outside of love. Even being right is not the end goal. Knowledge and being able to fathom mysteries has no meaning apart from love. Our goal is not simply to be correct, but to discover truth and express it in love.
This isn’t always easy. For example, as a teacher, I meet some students and their parents who think, at least initially, that a central concept of my whole discipline is founded on an error. While part of my job is to teach correct science, I must also strive to relate to them as fellow Christians, praying with and encouraging them. I encounter similar situations at church or in volunteer work. I often fail in my ideal of loving first, but I am committed to that as the goal.
While evolution is an important concept in Biology, it is not what I spend the bulk of my time on. In my current work, I try to educate people about care of the creation, and the terrible impacts of environmental degradation on the poor and on God’s other creatures, over which we watch. This is also a difficult discussion. Many times the public conversation is testy and people do not give or receive the benefit of the doubt. In this context, it is helpful to remember the importance of truly listening, and of seeing the people you communicate with as recipients of God’s love first, as people you want to persuade second.
Years after I began my fumbling journey, trying to understand the book of the natural world and the book called the Bible, I’ve reached a point of dynamic peace. That is, my understanding of how they can do so changes, but I believe that science and faith can fit together. All Truth is God’s truth. As my crying student discovered, people we love and respect can be wrong. As we all need to discover, the reverse is also true—people we believe are wrong can be loved and respected. So let’s work together on the project we have been given—to better understand the natural world and better understand the scriptures, both ways of honoring God.