Maker of Heaven and Earth, Part 4

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October 25, 2011 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's sermon features David Swaim. 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.

Today, in part four, Dave Swaim (of Highrock Church) addresses one of the reasons that some Christians battle so vehemently against evolution.

"Maker of Heaven and Earth" (transcript, part 4)

So why do some Christians fight so vigorously against the very idea of evolution? I suspect that one reason is confusion between evolution and atheism. The real battle is not between God as creator and evolution as process. Whether God created in the way that the Young Earth Creationists describe, the Old Earth Creationists, or the Theistic Evolutionists propose, none is incompatible with the Bible’s insistence on God as our creator. The real debate is between theism, the belief that there is a God, and atheism, the conviction that there is not. And beyond, well, there’s nothing. Beyond what we can see, detect, or measure with the tools of science. Those two convictions—that the God described in the Bible, revealed in Jesus and experienced by the Holy Spirit exists or does not—cannot be reconciled. You have to choose. But the fact that many atheists affirm evolution does not mean, therefore, that evolution is inherently atheistic. Many atheists also probably think that we should help the poor, and may enjoy getting pizza when they get together. That doesn’t mean that helping the poor and eating pizza is inherently atheistic. We should resist atheism, not evolution.

Even worse, some Christians have overreacted by becoming suspicious of all science. But if we believe that God created everything then all truth leads to him. He is the way and the truth and the life. So faith doesn’t begin when science fails, the so-called “God of the gaps” approach. Some Christians are afraid that evolutionary theory might one day get so good that it will eliminate the need for these periodic interventions by God to keep the process going. But is that really all God does? Intervene every few hundreds of thousands of years to correct the creation that he made when it falls short? No! Maybe God made it right in the beginning so he doesn’t ever have to intervene to repair it: he intervenes to relate with us. So it’s really not intervention. It’s involvement in creation.

The Bible teaches us many essential things, some of which we may miss if we’re looking for answers about the age of the earth or the process of creation, which I don’t think are there. Opposing elements of evolution can be done on scientific grounds, but the scriptures themselves don’t demand it. So while we must reject an atheistic world view, there’s no reason to reject science. Of course, one reason that so many Christians have been lured into this faulty position is in reaction to some scientists who overreach and overpromise. They ignorantly suggest that science offers an alternative to God. Science can describe what is, but not why or where it all came from. So, while science is an incredible tool for uncovering all the marvels god created, scientists need to have appropriate humility about what they know. Some scientific theories, of course, are incontrovertible, like the speed of light or the Theory of Relativity. Well, actually that was incontrovertible until this week, literally, when researchers at CERN, the European organization for nuclear research, revealed that to their surprise neutrinos pumped from CERN to Geneva travelled faster than light. “That’s impossible,” you say, “They must have botched the experiment.” That’s exactly what they thought, which is why they kept this finding secret for three months so they could repeat the experiment, work out the kinks, figure it out and get it right. And they repeated that experiment 16,000 times and got the exact same result. Finally, they released those results this week. Maybe we’re all wrong about the speed of light. And that’s fundamental to this discussion because the speed of light is an essential way that we estimate the size and age of the universe.

Maybe you think that’s an unusual anomaly. But this coming week there is already a conference scheduled at CERN about why there’s so much less antimatter in the universe than the Big Bang Theory demands. A couple years ago, a researcher at Los Alamos National Labs explained why our models for plate tectonics are all wrong.1 And another presented a paper questioning the veracity of radiocarbon dating.1 Both of these tools have been foundations for the current theories of the age of the earth. No scientists can explain quantum entanglement, why, when you separate two photons by a distance of thousands of miles and then alter the movement of one, does the other one immediately react? Every scientist can clarify why that makes no sense, but they all agree that it happens. And while all scientists agree that genetic mutation happens just like the theory of evolution describes, no scientist can explain abiogenesis, which is an undirected process producing the first living organism from nonliving chemicals. That’s scientifically impossible, but atheists must believe it’s true in order to exclude the possibility of God. Now that is blind faith. And scientists all admit that our theories about what holds materials together requires the postulation of dark matter, so called because we can’t see it, detect it or measure it in any way. It’s not there, but something must be there in order for astrophysical formulas to work. In fact, those formulas insist that 95% of the universe is composed of something we can’t see, describe or detect, but must be there. All the science we’ve done so far is just on the other five percent. So, how any of those scientists could have the hubris to deny the possibility of God being there is just silly.

Given how little we know, you’d think that scientists would be appropriately humble about how much we claim to know. But if the data don’t demand we deny God, why do some scientists do it? It’s not a scientific issue. It is a spiritual issue that goes all the way back to Genesis. The ability to create implies the authority to command. And just like Adam and Eve, there’s an impulse in all of us to deny that there may be someone more powerful and authoritative than we are. We don’t want to worship God, we want to be gods. The stories in Genesis about pride and sin are as true today as they have ever been.

1. Editor's Note: These are fringe reports that are far outside of the realm of mainstream science.

David Swaim is Senior Pastor of Highrock Covenant Church in Arlington, Massachusetts. After attending graduate school, he served in numerous churches until he settled at Highrock.

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mjblyth - #65731

October 25th 2011

Abiogenesis is scientifically impossible? And you say this in the midst of trying to get us to accept science, or is it to convince atheists? Is this not possibly another God of the gaps argument? I agree that no one has explained abiogenesis and no one seems about to (then, I’m not a specialist), but how can you claim it’s scientifically impossible?

Darrel Falk - #65732

October 25th 2011

Dear mjblyth,

I only understood Pastor Dave to say that it is impossible at the present time to scientifically explain the origin of life.  Similarly the nature of dark matter and quantum entanglements are still scientific mysteries.  

He was simply calling for humility—pointing out how little we know.  Rather than invoking a God-of-the-Gaps argument, he was saying that, given how much we don’t know, is it not naive for atheists to consider the matter of the non-existence of God to be a closed matter?

beaglelady - #65735

October 25th 2011

But even an exhaustive knowledge about the natural world (not that it will happen) can rule out the existence of God, since God is outside of nature.   So in a way Swaim is making a God-of-the-Gaps argument, by pointing to scientific ignorance as some kind of hiding place for God.  Pointing to gaps in scientific knowledge isn’t such a good theological idea, since, historically, the gaps tend to be filled.  God should never be viewed as shrinking in the wake of science advances!

Also some of this segment decays into creationist-speak:
“Look, radiocarbon dating is wrong!”
“Look, plate tectonics is wrong!”

The footnote explains that this info is not from mainstream science.  Did the pastor get this stuff from a creationist site?

Darrel Falk - #65736

October 25th 2011

Dear Beaglelady,

Jerry Coyne asked me one time, “Can you think of any bit of scientific knowledge that could conceivably arise in the future that would be inconsistent with your view about the existence of God?”  My answer was “no.”   Science, as I see it, is simply studying God’s activity.  The natural laws are a manifestation of the ongoing regular activity of the Spirit of God which pervades the universe.

Similarly I don’t think Dave was telling atheists that God is in those gaps more than any place else.  He, like me, was just expressing surprise, given the naive state of our knowledge, that atheists think they can—on scientific grounds—rule out the existence of God.

beaglelady - #65747

October 26th 2011

The only reason we even know about dark matter is because of scientists.

Merv - #65764

October 26th 2011

Actually, “dark matter” may be an interesting example of gappish thinking within science.  They *don’t* know anything about dark matter, and the only reason we have to believe that such a thing even exists  is because of a gap that needs filling with something (to make gravitational equations work out).  So science (and math) can be credited with having the problem.


BTW; speaking of gaps can anybody shed some light on this for me?  The universe is expanding too fast (accelerating even), and so we invent “dark energy” to account for us all being flung apart so rapidly.  On the other hand the universe needs to be heavier than what we can see because what we can see wouldn’t make enough gravity.  So we invent “dark matter”.  Can anybody tell me how this reconciles?  To my simplistic mind it sounds like I decide something is too big, so I squeeze it into a smaller space.  Then I note it is too little, so I add some padding to it to make it bigger.

beaglelady - #65775

October 26th 2011

 Scientists see dark matter as an exciting research opportunity to find some answers.  The October 2011 issue of Scientific American has an article on dark matter by Leo Blitz.  Although I haven’t read it yet, it seems that dark matter, as well as being a puzzle, is also a solution.   It could explain why the Milky Way galaxy has a pronounced warp at its outer rim.

beaglelady - #65776

October 26th 2011

Here’s an interesting clip (about 13 minutes long) from Nova Science Now (from 2008) on Dark Matter:

And,  the next four shows on Nova will be about space! I’m sure dark matter will be mentioned. Check it out!

Merv - #65777

October 26th 2011

Thanks, beaglelady; I hope to check out that article, and the video clip tomorrow perhaps when I have higher speed access available.  I would like to learn more details.


mjblyth - #65740

October 26th 2011

What Pastor Dave said was, “no scientist can explain abiogenesis, which is an undirected process producing the first living organism from nonliving chemicals. That’s scientifically impossible, but atheists must believe it’s true in order to exclude the possibility of God” (my emphasis). Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate wording. I totally agree that it’s not possible even in principle to use science to prove the non-existence of God (though this would be true whether or not there is much we don’t know).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65734

October 25th 2011

“Maybe God made it right in the beginning so he doesn’t ever have to intervene to repair it: he intervenes to relate with us.  So it’s really not intervention.  It’s involvement in creation.”

Right on, Pastor Dave.

The real challenge for humanity is to discover and live the purpose for living.  This is a task we all can share, instead of denial as most non-believers do. 

CF - #65752

October 26th 2011

Thanks,  Pastor Swaim. I appreciate your approach in this sermon.

beaglelady - #65774

October 26th 2011

Given how little we know, you’d think that scientists would be appropriately humble about how much we claim to know.

Even atheist scientists can be extremely humble about what they don’t know:

Listen to this two minute clip from Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

sfmatheson - #65842

October 28th 2011

I applaud BioLogos for welcoming voices from throughout evangelical Christendom. I liked the Aaron Daly video, for example, and I’m strongly in favor of honoring those who reject scientific conclusions in favor of particular biblical interpretations. My only concern is that these discussions involve a commitment to integrity, in which both science and scripture are considered accurately and honestly.

That’s why I think the next-to-last paragraph of this post is a disaster. In it, the preacher credulously repeats nonsense while addressing a caricature of a scientifically-inclined atheist. Even if it were true that atheists must accept the comprehensibility of abiogenesis “in order to exclude the possibility of God,” the claim that abiogenesis is “scientifically impossible” would be irresponsible. Referring to the assumption that abiogenesis can be explained as “blind faith” is exactly the kind of polarizing rhetoric that BioLogos should eschew.

A frank discussion of evangelical attitudes toward science is going to have rough spots, and we should expect tension and disagreement. I don’t think the preacher meant to bash scientists or atheists, and I don’t think he meant to seriously entertain doubts about the age of the earth. But I do think we have to do better, and I think we can ask preachers to do a lot better than what I see above.

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