A Fumbling Journey, Part 2

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May 7, 2013 Tags: Lives of Faith

Today's entry was written by Dorothy Boorse. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

A Fumbling Journey, Part 2

Note: How does my walk with God relate to modern scientific discoveries? Can I maintain biblical Christian faith even if I change my mind on an issue like evolution? Many Evangelicals today are pondering these questions. Finding the answers will involve more than a mere synthesis of scientific facts. We need to hear stories from others who have wrestled with evolution and Christian faith. What arguments made them change their views on science? How did they hold fast to the Bible and their relationship with God? The essays in this series will eventually comprise a book, provisionally titled, Evolving: Evangelicals Reflect on Evolution.

Yesterday we heard from ecologist Dorothy Boorse about her exposure to evolution during her childhood through college years. Today she reminds us that love comes before being right—even on evolution.

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.

 


Dorothy Boorse, Ph.D. is Professor of Biology at Gordon College. She studies wetland ecology, invertebrates, vernal pools and salt marshes, and is also passionate about connecting science and faith communities, increasing women and minorities in science, and supporting science literacy. She teaches, does research with students, and has just co-authored an environmental science textbook for undergraduates.

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Seenoevo - #79654

May 7th 2013

Dorothy,

You wrote: “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 …”

Would you disagree with that famous quote by Dobzhansky: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”?


D. Boorse - #79808

May 10th 2013

I was not actually trying to contrast ecology and evolutionary biology. Ecology may be the subdiscipline of the life sciences that most relates to evolutionary biology.  However, your question was about Dobzhansky.  Since environmental pressures and natural selection coupled with a wide array of ways to get genetic variation, all work together to allow descent with modification, the theory of evolution is the overarching explanatory concept of biology, our best model of how the world works. Many Christians in biology would say the same thing and indeed Dobzhansky was a devout Christian. However, the answer to your question depends on scale. It is possbile for many people to do a range of scientific studies without actually thinking about evolution much at all. That is, I know people who work on lipid bilayers, biomechanics, neuroscience, the function of joints, plant physiology, insect pest problems,  and other research subjects, who really do not give this much thought. So it depends if you mean “makes sense” requires thinking about the big picture or if you are talking about the ability to do science is a fairly narrow field.  All I was saying was that while I think about this , it is not what I am spending the bulk of my scholarly effort on.  That is focused on stewardship of the environment, especially concern about the effect human activities have on other creatures as well as fellow humans. 

 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #79730

May 8th 2013

Seenoevo,

I agree with Dorothy.

Ecology is the key to understanding life and nature, not evolution.

Ecology affirms the interconnectedness of life that is the basis of faith, so ecology and faith are not in conflict as evolution as misunderstood by Darwin is.

 


sy - #79826

May 11th 2013

Dorothy

 

Thank you for this eloquent and moving testimony.

All Truth is God’s truth…. 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.

 

I think that could be the motto by which I am trying to live. But I think you’re emphasis on love is equally important. I came to exactly the same place you are, from the other direction, as an atheist scientist who found Christ. And I have recently discovered that while it does seem encumbent on us to explain why and how we can work on this project you mention, it is also important that we do not insist that everyone share all of our scientific views on evolution and creation. I have found myself in conversations with Christians who are still uncomfortable with some aspects of evolutionary thought, and have realized that I dont need to try to persuade them. Rather it seems better to practise the kind of love you speak of, and to show them that it is possible (though not mandatory) to accept evolution and still be a faithful follower of Christ, our lord.


Merv - #79842

May 11th 2013

Dr. Boorse, thank you for sharing of your journey.  Your selection of the passage that speaks of ‘being nothing’ without love even if we comprehend all mysteries and knowledge could not be more fitting.  It puts everything into context.  For those who may want a bit of humor to help drive that point home, listen to Aaron Freeman’s commentary here on why you want a physicist to speak at your funeral.  I don’t know anything about Aaron, and for all I know he may have actually been serious (Poe’s law, Beaglelady?), but it is hard to take it as anything but a hilarious parody (which I suspect is how it must have been intended.)


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