Peace with God, Peace with Science, Part 2
Today's entry was written by Stephen Ashley Blake. 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.
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 their relationship with God? The essays in this series will eventually comprise a book, provisionally titled, “Evolving: Evangelicals Reflect on Evolution.”
This post is continued from yesterday.
As my faith matured, I hungered to better understand God’s ways, and although by then I had studied theology in depth and could substantively discourse on a variety of matters, the one area I had skirted – probably out of the same sense of foreboding that I had originally felt towards the Bible – was the troubling issue of Creation, particularly with respect to the so-called faith-science conflict. Which version of science is accurate, and what does the answer say about the harmony – or discord – between Scripture and science? Would the character of God permit Him to reveal one reality in Scripture and an opposing one in Creation? The issue had become unsettling to me, and I realized there was no way to resolve it but to commit myself to a deeper exploration of Scripture, science, and the differing creation perspectives so that I could reach my own informed conclusions.
Unfortunately, the very intent to hold the young-earth view up to scrutiny caused conflict with church leadership, and my refusal to abandon the quest and to terminate the faith-science discussion events that I had begun organizing would be significant factors in my eventually departing the church.
My pillars of conviction going into the investigation were fourfold: God is truthful and not deceptive in character; Scripture is His profound revelation of truth to us; within Scripture (e.g., Psalm 19:1-4), He invites us to explore Creation to gain “knowledge” of His creative ways for His glory; and science is our very means of exploring Creation. This meant that God’s very nature and character demanded that taken together, Scripture and science must form a cohesive - not conflicting - portrait of Creator and His Creation.
Squirmy though it made me, I accepted that as in any situation, getting to the truth meant being willing to have my presuppositions challenged – even dismantled (Proverbs 18:17). So I resolved to study both the evolutionary/old-earth and anti-evolutionary/young-earth materials (books, formal debates, etc.) with as much objectivity as possible, allowing each side to make its best case and to refute the other side the best they could. All the while, I would of course remain prayerful and cling to the Word of God. Thus my journey began.
In studying the evolutionary/old-earth perspective, I found myself caught off-guard by the eminently logical lines of reasoning (I had been taught that evolution was an irrational, atheistic “theory in crisis”), and pleasantly surprised by the elegant sense it made of the scientific data. Examining the perspectives of both theologians and believing scientists as to how scientific findings reconcile with Scripture not only firmly dispelled the notion (inherited from my church) that mainstream science was fundamentally atheistic but gained it great credibility in my mind.
From there I moved on to the young-earth materials. While as always I was impressed by their high regard for Scripture, I became disillusioned by their many scientific assertions that seemed plainly at odds with natural reality. I had hoped to discover that young-earth science was truly viable and successful in at least some of its applications, but as far as I could tell, in actual practice it was not only utterly unworkable through and through but so densely loaded with obvious scientific absurdities and impossibilities as to be manifestly false. It’s not that it just didn’t add up; it was self-refuting. When I contacted a high-level representative at a very prominent young-earth creationist organization, he candidly shared that he dealt with the “apparent” weaknesses in young-earth creation science by simply not focusing on the science aspect of it, but instead letting his already-formed interpretation of Genesis—which he said was not open to reconsideration—determine his stance. (In the many discussions I would later have with young-earth creationist pastors, elders, and friends, I found this line of thinking to be nearly universal.) As he spoke, alarm bells rang in my head; unwillingness to examine or correct one’s interpretative methods sounded dangerously close to claiming personal infallibility.
This brought me to a crisis: If evolutionary/old-earth science was truly fallacious, as evangelicals are regularly taught, why does it lead to such powerful breakthroughs, while “accurate” young-earth science remains strikingly barren? No one could deny that mainstream science was spectacularly fruitful, with an ever-growing record of astonishing advancements in everything from genetics to space exploration. Either God is deceiving mankind by prospering a “heretical” (the actual term my pastor used) view of Creation while making the “true” view look resoundingly false both theoretically and experimentally, or He’s simply powerless or indifferent to stop this from happening. It goes without saying that neither conclusion was tenable for me.
Even after accepting an ancient universe, one of the issues that bothered me most about evolution was the randomness that it required; the concepts of divine sovereignty and apparently purposeless chance seemed irreconcilable. But through my continued studies, I came to understand that “random” occurrences at the micro level are in fact the constituents of order and stability at the macro, and through my Christ-centered prism came to see that God actually uses events that we observers legitimately perceive as “chance” to bring about His intended ends. In fact, it struck me that all Christians should be able to relate to this apparent dichotomy: Despite experiencing circumstances in each of our lives that appear random and purposeless, we steadfastly affirm God’s sovereignty over all. And thus, another point of resistance to modern science dissipated.
Poised to accept evolution on scientific terms but still uncomfortable with the supposed contradictions with Scripture, I returned to the Genesis creation accounts. Whereas I had been taught that a literal interpretation of these texts was absolutely necessary lest the Bible be discredited, I was now surprised to find its figurative imagery jumping out at me. It became apparent to me that in these texts, God was masterfully using evocative imagery to convey eternal truths. I began to see a beauty and elegance in Genesis that I had never before known; for example, I found particularly instructive the Genesis 2:7 picture of God creating man from the dust of the ground, a picture I find consistent with evolution. In fact, the biblical creation accounts now made more sense to me than ever, and greatly enhanced my already profound appreciation for God’s Word.
Finally, the war ended; not only had I come to peace with science, but in the process of exploration and investigation, my sense of awe and wonder at God’s creative ways—and my worship of Christ, the Agent and Sustainer of all Creation (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16, 17; Hebrews 1:2) were greatly magnified. I now strongly support the endeavor of modern science, as I view its practitioners, whether believers or nonbelievers, as laboring (wittingly or unwittingly) to reveal YHWH’s wondrous creative methods to mankind, to the praise of His glory. At the same time, I’m deeply troubled by many of my fellow evangelicals’ hostility towards science, and believe that this disposition will prove spiritually catastrophic to our children and grandchildren, who are today being taught that assertions of an ancient universe and evolution are unequivocally incompatible with the Cross of Christ, and tomorrow will enroll in universities that powerfully demonstrate the integrity of those scientific claims, thereby setting the stage for devastating crises of faith for countless thousands of young believers.
Today, I’m President of Realm Entertainment, a motion picture production company created to tell powerful universal stories and connect them to both mainstream and evangelical audiences. My wife Sonya (yes, God blessed me with a godly wife!) and I attend a church that is solid in its theology and strongly focused on Kingdom activity. Quite wonderfully, our pastoral staff recognizes the church’s responsibility to engage and wrestle through these crucial Creation issues, and the need for individual believers to do the same. It’s also been our privilege and blessing to work with local churches in hosting many faith-science events in which believers and skeptics alike can sit down and explore what the LORD has done, all to the praise of His glory.