In my last post I focussed on the work of God’s Spirit in creation, exploring the point made by my book, The Nature of Creation, that modern science can get along well with the Bible if the conversation is explicitly theological and openly Trinitarian. Now we turn to the work of Christ. Remarkably, we find that the natural sciences are part of his divine portfolio. To see this, we need to return to the Spirit.
Last time I suggested that modern evolutionary science, with its emphasis on complexity and novelty in nature, shares a common perspective with the Holy Spirit on the making of things. It’s particularly clear in the New Testament (where Christ is in view), that the Spirit works to bring all things into newness. It would be too much though, to associate this newness with a specific scientific model like Darwinism (or at least not a model from our current sciences), for the newness is altogether new. No doubt inspired by the important text in Joel 2 which predicts that God’s Spirit will be poured out in the last days (vv.28-32), the New Testament describes how the Spirit works in the Church (Acts 2:17-21), in individuals (Gal.6:15), and fundamentally in the whole cosmos (Rom.8:23), to bring about a new birth. And if we ask what is this new birth, we find that it is beyond our current biological sciences, and even beyond our current physics and mathematics, because it describes a new cosmos, the seeds of which were born in that tomb in Jerusalem, just a few days after the crucifixion of Jesus. In other words, the work of the Spirit is concerned with this creation, but fundamentally drawing it into a new creation about which we know almost nothing at present, except to say that its essence is resurrection.
Resurrection is also the key to understanding the mysterious statements made about Christ and creation in the New Testament. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written in the early 50s (just a matter of some twenty years after Jesus’ ministry), is especially significant in making this link. Because of his resurrection, Christ is the new Adam – the first human of a new creation – and the sign that “all will be made alive” again one day (1 Cor. 15:20-23). But Jesus is more than just a rerun of the first Adam. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Christ is at the center of this creation as well as the next, and startling claims are made about his divinity, his pre-existence, his role in the making of this creation, and the obligation to worship him in a way that’s reserved for God alone in the Old Testament (e.g. Phil. 2:5-11). This reveals something of deep importance. Quite simply, nature is always “creation” when Christ is in view, because he’s the pattern around which it was made. And so we find the breathtakingly audacious claim made by the early Christians that the humble carpenter from Nazareth was with God “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1). There has been much scholarly ink spilled over how this paradoxical turn of logic must have come about in those crucial early decades of Christianity after the crucifixion of Jesus. By the early 50s Paul could make the astounding statement (again in 1 Corinthians) that “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for him, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we exist through him” (1 Cor. 8:6). At some point in these twenty or so years then, the penny must have dropped that the Redeemer must also be the Creator. Hence, written a little later in the first century, John’s Gospel points out that “all things came into being through him [the Word]” (1:3), while the letter to the Colossians tells us that “in him [the Son] all things in heaven and on earth were created…and in him all things hold together” (1:16-17).
The phenomenal events around the first Easter were clearly decisive in inspiring the early Christians to make this link between Jesus and creation, as was the insight that the venerable Wisdom tradition of the Old Testament allowed for a ready connection between Christ and the personification of Wisdom, present with God “at the beginning” (Prov.8:22). In this way, Jesus could be seen to embody the divine principles of organization and law in Scripture (i.e. Torah). Indeed, Matthew’s Jesus makes this very point: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (Mt.5:17). It’s then a small step from saying that Jesus embodies scriptural law and prophecy to saying that he embodies all divine Wisdom, including that which we discern in the natural world, i.e. the “laws of nature”. Putting this in contemporary terms, Christ is the reason the natural sciences work: he is the source of the laws of nature, and he contains and underpins the natural sciences. As I put it in my first post, Christ is the pattern for all created things, while the Spirit – his presence in the created world – breathes the divine fire into the equations.
Put in these terms, the paradox underlying the idea of “incarnation” – so familiar that many of us in modern-day Christianity rarely give it a second thought – gains a new lease of life. If it’s true to say that Christ saved the world, then by the inexorable logic above it’s also true to say that he embodies and provides the scientific explanation for the world, in his very human flesh and bones. (And we’re not just talking here of a scientific explanation in terms of human biology, but also the fields of geology, chemistry, particle physics, and mathematics too). If all this appears absurd and nonsensical, then congratulations! – for you have just apprehended the “scandal” of the incarnation.
We have come a long way from Genesis 1. But by considering the creative work of Son and Spirit in biblical texts we’ve started to form the basis for a theology of science within the Christian idea of God as Trinity. It’s often been wondered by the philosophically-minded just why it is that the natural sciences are so successful in describing the physical world. Humanly speaking, this success is something of a mystery; the world need not be so amenable to our rationality, unless there is deep reason behind it all, and that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). The Bible’s creation texts throughout both Old and New Testaments therefore supply us with an explanation for the miracle of modern science, namely its unstoppable success in understanding the physical world: it’s because science taps directly into the mind which made it all.