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Science and Faith at the Movies: “Creation,” Part 2

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March 31, 2011 Tags: Problem of Evil

Today's entry was written by Brian Godawa. 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.

Science and Faith at the Movies: “Creation,” Part 2

This is part two in the latest installment of filmmaker Brian Godawa's series "Science and Faith at the Movies." The full paper on Creation can be found here. Godawa, together with filmmaker, Michael Corwin produced the BioLogos video, "Are Science and Faith in Conflict?"

Creation and the Problem of Evil

Creation depicts the intrinsic opposition between God and evolution that 19th century scientists reflexively assumed, as well as the warfare metaphor that supported it. Huxley claims in the movie that if everything evolved over millions of years, then God didn’t create it all in 6 days, as if the literal interpretation of that text was the only option. Even Darwin himself is shown laboring under the presupposition that evolution cannot be guided or providentially ordained, that a system of life based upon massive amounts of death cannot be a part of God’s created “good” order. Perhaps it would be too much for the film to raise these questions in that original context. And perhaps that is where the weakness lies in an otherwise gripping and personal drama about the origins of The Origin.

The issues raised by this movie are of critical concern for evangelical Christians and their understanding of Darwinian evolution. It is far too simplistic for Christians to write off Darwin as an infidel bent on destroying the faith. The historical evidence seems to indicate that this movie’s suggestion is true: Darwin’s descent into agnosticism was fueled by a legitimate personal experience with the theological problem of evil both in the broader reality and more specifically in the suffering and death of his daughter. Whatever may be said of Darwin’s theological failings, his struggle with reconciling suffering with a good God is a journey for every person who has any shred of humanity or compassion in their soul. It is not just that there is death and suffering in the world that troubles him, but that death and suffering is a necessary part of the biological system to make it run.

Within his internal struggle, Darwin acknowledged the possibility of a theistic presence behind the laws of evolution. William E. Phipps points out in his book, Darwin’s Religious Odyssey, Darwin’s own words in a letter:

“With respect to the theological view of the question: this is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world.... On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force… I can see no reason why a man, or other animals, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws, and that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event and consequence.1"

This notion of a God behind the laws of evolution seems to be the last refuge for Darwin’s agnosticism. The God who created the universe and sustains it (Col 1:15-17) could easily have put into place exactly those laws that he could foresee would result in the evolutionary fruit of human beings created in His image. Another possibility is that God himself is directly behind the regularity of physical law, including the process of evolution. Whether through indirect allowance or direct mediation, whether through foreknowledge or foreordination, Darwin certainly acknowledged that God is using evolutionary change to accomplish His purposes. That would have to mean that death and suffering must be part of God’s loving plan. And Scripture seems to declare this all over the place.

The litany of God’s actions proclaimed to Job include both natural law and animal predation. God not only claims to be the active agent behind natural forces like snow (37:6), rain and lightning (37:11-12), and astronomical planetary forces (38:31), but God also claims to actively take a hand in the predation of wild animals (38:39-41), as well as predation of evil human nations upon others (Isa 10), and to raise up and destroy nations (Job 12:23). “He causes it to happen” (37:13). Even taking into consideration the primitive non-scientific Mesopotamian cosmology of the Bible, Scriptural theology still has no problem accepting God’s causal activity behind the destructive forces of nature (Psa 104) and of human evil. God does not merely “allow” evil to exist in the Hebrew worldview, He somehow actively ordains it.

I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.
Is. 45:7

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come?
Lam. 3:37-38

Let us not forget that God’s speaking forth is the common expression of his active creation as in Genesis One. God’s hand, a metaphor for his active causal participation, is even described in the New Testament as being involved in the the murder of God’s own Son.

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. Acts 4:27-28

But this is not to make God evil or the Bible contradictory. For the Christian, this is first and foremost an exegetical issue. Regardless of what philosophical problems Christians may have with the notion of God’s sovereignty and evil, our first commitment is to discover what the Bible says about the issue, not to presuppose what can and cannot be proposed philosophically. Clearly, the Bible claims that God somehow ordains natural disasters and both good and evil in such a way that man’s responsibility is not diminished, nor is God himself engaged in evil. Just how this is so is not explained to us. But this is why Joseph can accept the evil actions of his brothers as having two causal agents behind them: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20 – one action, two actors – human freedom and God’s sovereignty). It is not that humans have no freedom and that God is a puppeteer, but rather that there is a mysterious consilience between the two, best expressed in the proposition that God foreordains the free acts of men.

And herein lies the fundamental flaw in assuming that death and suffering is contradictory to a loving God’s providential care of creation: it begs the question. Who says God cannot have a morally sufficient reason for why he uses death and suffering to accomplish his purposes?


Brian Godawa is the screenwriter of To End All Wars and other feature films. He has written and directed documentaries on church-state relations, stem cell research and higher education politics. He is the author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) and Chronicles of the Nephilim, a series of fantasy novels about Biblical heroes within their ancient Near Eastern mythological context. He speaks around the country to churches, high schools and colleges on movies, worldviews and faith. His movie blog can be found at godawa.com/movieblog/.

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conrad - #56195

March 31st 2011

“Creation depicts the intrinsic opposition between God and evolution that 19th century scientists reflexively assumed, as well as the warfare metaphor that supported it. Huxley claims in the movie that if everything evolved over millions of years, then God didn’t create it all in 6 days, as if the literal interpretation of that text was the only option.”

Well this is where relative time instead of absolute time becomed the critical point of distinction that young Christians must learn to appreciate.
 The Bible saya “with gGd one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day. AND SCIENTISTS LIKE CARL SAGAN HAVE ILLUSTRATED THE POINT IN MOVIES LIKE ‘CONTACT’ AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS?
 
WE DISCUSS THE MOVIE ‘CONTACT’BUT COMPLETELY MISS THE POINT ABOUT TIMEAND GO OFF ON A DISCUSSION ABOUT THE GIRL’S PHILOSOPHICAL ATTITUDE.
Both Darwin and Huxley were ignorant of rrelative time brcause they lived prior to Einstein.
 We do not have that excuse.


conrad - #56200

March 31st 2011


 
 Just think if Einstein hadn lived earlier and both  Darwin ansd Huxley had understood that in God’s universe time discrepancies are of no importance  whatsoever, the whole science vs. Bible argument  thing could have been avoided.
 Then what would we talk about?


Matthew - #56221

March 31st 2011

I am definitely enjoying these movie articles.  Keep up the thought-provoking work!


liberale - #56243

March 31st 2011

The comment “as if the literal interpretation of that text was the only option” implies the necessity of non-literal reinterpretation of the Bible in this age of science.  The problem of pre-scientific religions is that they are not based on science, but based on pre-scientific myths.  Believers of these ancient religions have to take great pains to non-literally reinterpret the myths in their sacred texts in order to show that how these myths are not in conflict with modern science.  I take another approach with my faith—-I abandon it.

Towards the end of the article, Godawa says, “Faith. Yes, that is the very thing that would anger a mind bent upon demanding all truth be reducible to categories of current human understanding – a limited mind under the delusion of its own limitless grandeur, unconvinced of the nuance of mystery all around him.” I am a Chinese. Nuwa is a Chinese creator goddess. When science comes, I have to abandon my faith.  I have to be honest and admit that Nuwa is a myth.  I don’t have faith in Nuwa anymore.  It is precisely because I recognize the limitedness of the human mind and am fully convinced of the mystery all around me that I respect mystery as itself—Mystery—and refrain from having faith on anything (such as Nuwa) beyond that.  I respect Mystery.  I know nothing of that Mystery, and I must be honest on that.


nedbrek - #56306

March 31st 2011

Hello liberale,  what do you believe happens after we die?


liberale - #56314

March 31st 2011

Thank you for asking.  That is part of Mystery, I think.


conrad - #56342

April 1st 2011

Lib, I think getting comfortsble  The with mysteries science can never explain is unavoidable. because we have them! Stephen Hawking was asked what mysteries he would like to have answered and he said  he would like to know,“Why is there something rather than nothing?”
To me the answer seems obvious.
 It is Because God exists and atheists are wrong.
I think “mysteries lead the open minded sweeker to God so I say, ‘Hooray for mysteries BRING ‘EM ON!


Brian G - #56358

April 1st 2011

liberale,

Thanks for your comments.

I do not think one has to abandon one’s faith IF that faith provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of his science.

While I am not familiar with Nuwa, and would be glad to hear your description of Nuwa, my God, the God of the Bible is not just a myth. In fact, his Triune nature of One and Three is the necessary foundation for the philosophical problem of the One and the Many in the philosophy of science. This is why Monist religions collapse into self-referential contradiction because they cannot account for the existence of the Many, and it is why Atomist beliefs cannot account for the unity of things. 

ALso, it was the Christian God who is the foundation of order that the very origin of modern science was founded upon. A rational infinite personal being who created a rational finite universe. 

So, depending on the God one worships, I don’t think it’s necessary to jettison religion as myth in the face of science, especially if your religion provides the foundation FOR that science to even operate. I believe the Triune Christian God is that rational foundation. 


liberale - #56412

April 1st 2011

Thank you for sharing how you found your Triune Christian God to be the foundation of science.  But can’t a Biune (Godhead and Spirit, no Jesus) Hebrew God serve exactly the same purpose?  That is, we don’t need a Triune Christian God, we just need a rational infinite personal Biune Hebrew God to be the rational foundation of science.

Furthermore, I would like to draw our attention back to your good remarks of “limited mind” and “the nuance of mystery all around.”  I agree that the human mind is limited.  I agree that there is an ultimate reality which our limited mind know nothing about.  I call it Mystery.  Mystery, by definition, is unknown.  By saying this and that of that Mystery, such as “Triune,” “rational,” “infinite,” “personal,” you defeat yourself, as if you know something about that Mystery, as if what you said “mystery” is in fact not mystery, as if what you said “limited mind” is in fact not limited in that your mind understands Mystery to be “Triune” and “rational” and “personal.”  Mystery may well transcend our little human notions of “Triune,” reason, finiteness, and personhood.  Then, these terms become meaningless before Mystery.  In front of Mystery, our only appropriate response is to remain silent.  Because we do not know.

God transcends human mind.  Then the human mind cannot say that God is Triune rational infinite personal.  The human mind is unable to say anything about God. 

Some say that God reveals to the human mind.  That saying itself comes from a human mind.  And a limited human mind cannot say anything meaningfully about God, because God transcends human mind.  When a human mind says “God’s revelation,” it is meaningless.

May I suggest Googling Nuwa.  Also Pangu, also a Creator we Chinese believe.  The interesting Google entries even have their portraits!


liberale - #56415

April 1st 2011

Sorry, I mean Wikipedia entries:
Nuwa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nüwa
Pangu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangu


Brian G - #56425

April 1st 2011

Liberale,

A Triune God, or Trinity, accounts for the unity and diversity of reality that we explore with the scientific method. The reason a biunity fails is that is can only account for dualism, but not nothing beyond that dualism. 

I would say that the polytheism that Nuwa is a part of also fails because it cannot account for the unity of the physical dimension. So it has no real explanatory power.

When I speak of God as infinite personal and triune, I am not saying that I figured him all out rationally. Those traits were “revealed” to us from that Deity. I will get to your comments about revelation later, but suffice it to say that the Christian claim is not one of Enlightenment certainty that denies mystery. God’s nature is revealed to us in sufficient though not exhaustive terms, thus a universe of mystery beyond our comprehension. But it is not defeating to say that an infinite God reveals truth about himself while maintaining mystery as well. 

Your comments are defeating though when you suggest that mystery means we cannot speak of it. For you have just said a whole lot about mystery in the words you typed out. If you really believe mystery leads to silence and deity or the infinite is mystery in the absolute sense in which you appear to use it, then you would have to stop replying on this blog.

The same argument goes for transcendence as does mystery. 

Your last statements seem prejudicial to me. 

Follow me for the sake of argument here. 

Even if i did not believe in a God, i would admit this much:

If there was an infinite God then it would be the height of arrogance and foolishness for finite man, who knows next to nothing compared to the universe of knowledge outside his grasp, to say that God COULD NOT communicate or reveal anything to him. That Supreme Being could do whatever he wanted in that sense. 

And if he chose to use a human language and culture like ANE Hebrew, that does not discredit all truth or knowledge as human construct, but it does suggest that the Creator God who made the universe and language capacity in humanity considered language a sufficient means for communicating a sufficient knowledge of HImself to humankind. That does not negate mystery at all. 

PS: You can’t say “A limited human mind cannot say anything meaningful about God” without contradicting yourself and reducing your statement to nonsense. You just did say something meaningful about God though arguably arrogant.

That said, BioLogos affirms that the Genesis creation story is not a scientific statement, so those of us here have no problems with theological or mythopoetic creation stories per se. We may quibble over the systems of thought out of which they came. But poetry is just fine for describing ONE aspect of creation.


liberale - #56501

April 2nd 2011

Thank you for your response.

A little clarification first.  My “whole lot” said is all to illustrate the point that Mystery/God cannot be spoken of meaningfully.  Nothing beyond that.  Nothing to describe Mystery/God itself.  I am afraid that I am not self-defeating here.

Concerning numerology, if bi-unity can only account for dualism and not beyond, tri-une also can only account for 3 poles, but not beyond 3.  Why 2 can only account for 2, 3 can suddenly account for everything beyond 3?

Let us concentrate on what I feel fundamental.  What is the “unity” and “diversity” of reality?  Are these concepts necessary?  Why we need a conceptual “Many-one (eg, ‘Tri-une’) Origin (eg ‘God’)” to account for them?  How can that conceptual “Many-one Origin” account for the “unity” and “diversity” of reality?  There is a universe, that might be “unity.”  But we cannot exclude the existence of parallel universes either.  How can “unity” be established?  There are many elements, galaxies, planets, molecules, living organisms.  But they can be explained by the physical properties of this universe.  Such as different numbers of protons making up different elements.  That is an account for “diversity” too.  Why need a “Many-one Origin”?  To me, Physics is the best way to find out what we have not yet known about our universe.  “Unity” and “diversity” are unnecessary concepts.  That is just me.

Regarding “revelation,” how Origin “reveals” to us?  Through the Trinity of Physics and Chemistry and Biology?  Through the Large Hadron Collider?  Through Chinese (why Hebrew?) culture?  Through Pangu and Nuwa?  Through Buddha?  Through Koran?  Through dreams?  Through Richard Dawkins?  Why not them?  Granted that Origin could “reveal” as you have argued, we still have no idea whether revelation has actually occurred, in what form and through what route.

Not to mean opposition, just to have a friendly and interesting discussion together.  I am really interested in the “revelation” part.


Brian G - #56554

April 3rd 2011

liberale,

To say that mystery/God cannot be spoken of meaningfully is to speak meaningfully of mystery/God. If you were consistent with this view you would remain silent. Because you are not being silent is evidence of the fact that you know this is not true. 

The question of the one and the many is another way of saying the question of universals and particulars. 

As we engage in science, we observe the particulars through a lens of interpreting universals. If one believes in the atomistic worldview of polytheism (your example of Nuwa) then reality is at base unknowable particulars without order. This is the essence of polytheism. Science is an illegitimate enterprise in this worldview because The physical properties of the universe or its particulars can only be studied in light of their rootedness in a whole or a unity.

It’s opposite worldview of monism, cannot account for particulars because everything at base is the same thing so all distinction is illusion, thus science also cannot proceed upon this view either.

Faith in the Christian God provides the necessary preconditions of a rational universe that can be understood sufficiently though not exhaustively because humankind is in the image of God, but is not God, and God’s nature is reflected in that creation while being distinct and transcendent of it. 

I agree that physics is a great way to find out about the universe, but I do not think physics exists or makes sense on its own as if it is an autonomous form of knowledge. Certain things must be true about the universe for us to engage in the scientific method and some of those things are the uniformity or regularity of nature, universals AND particulars, our empirical senses correspond to an objective reality of some kind. None of these things comport with an atheistic or polytheist worldview, but they do comport with Christianity.

Many universes is a blind faith commitment without evidence. It’s fine if someone wants to posit it philosophically, but it is not science. 

REgarding revelation, It appears you are onto something in that you are asking the question of authority. Who do we trust? To that list you could add all the elements of Physics, Chemistry and Biology:  How do we know the future will be like the past? Can we trust our senses? Our memories? Our measurements? The point here is that all knowledge claims appeal to some self-authorizing authority that authorizes everything else. The Trinity authorizes himself and he is a philosophical foundation for making sense of science. But science cannot authorize itself because it is based upon philosophical faith commitments to other things such as the uniformity of nature, which cannot be proven scientifically. Atheism does not comport with this because at base reality is not uniform but chaos in atheism. 

 


liberale - #56693

April 4th 2011

Brian,

China is an officially atheistic nation.  China educates and does science.  Science does not need to be based on a belief in God.  We teach science based on sense experiences (ie observations and experiments), the ball bearing falls like that, the cart runs down the slope with that acceleration, the colours of litmus paper change in those solutions, the plants grow that way, then we learn the regularities of their behaviours.  If there were no regulairty, we learn that there is no regularity.  We just observe the phenomenon, and work out whether there is regularity or not; we don’t assume regularity first.  Some claim that there is a certain kind of regularity in the stock market, some don’t.  Economists are still working on it.  We just try to figure out, that is science, regularity might not be there.  Phenomena as simple as flipping a coin is random.  Statistics fully recognizes randomness, and developed some techniques to deal with that randomness.  We observe, we describe, we try to summerize, we communicate.  If there is chaos, we say chaos.

That is my little personal view.  I understand and respect your religious faith.  Thank you very much for your efforts of explaining to me your thoughts despite your busy schedule (I just learned that you are a very famous screenwriter).  I enjoy your articles.  Thank you!

Brian G - #56696

April 4th 2011

liberale,

Thank you for your respect. While I am a screenwriter, I would not say i was famous. Be that as it may, thank you for your respectful disagreement. Civil debate is often lacking in this arena.

I hope I have not miscommunicated to you. I do acknowledge that atheists engage in scientific method. I would not deny that. What I am arguing is that atheism contradicts the science they are doing. The chaos that seems to be at the foundation of reality in the atheist worldview does not comport with the belief in the regularity of physical processes.  

Here is how I see it: The Christian God provides the foundation for the pursuit of science because it believes that a personal infinite Creator made all things and sustains their regularity and rationality. This is why we are justified in seeking to understand the universe rationally. This was the foundation of science, it is how science progressed.

I do not think that atheism provides such a foundation because If everything is at base material chaos, as atheism seems to require, then all regularity is illusion, and causality is only a habit of our minds, not reality. This is a science stopper. The law-like nature of the physical world that is required to conclude any kind of scientific law is a fundamental contradiction of the chaos that atheism believes is at the foundation of reality. Chaos cannot produce regularity. 

When an atheist engages in the scientific method, he is actually moving forward upon the presuppositions or assumptions of the Christian faith, while denying them. This makes the atheist a walking contradiction as I see it. He says one thing but does another. 


Gregory - #56516

April 2nd 2011

Hola,

i don’t mean to derail the conversation (& still owe Brian a response to his above Part I - times are tough these days for me to write here & one message to Brian written, got erased), just something interesting to note that liberale (welcome 欢迎!) wrote:

“Why 2 can only account for 2, 3 can suddenly account for everything beyond 3?”

currently i am working with mathematicians & computing specialists. one section of a paper we are writing is on 2s & 3s & their meanings.

here is my answer: 2 is not a ‘society,’ a ‘community’ or a ‘family.’ 3 is (or can be).

2 is a couple or pair. 2 can even be a ‘household’ on a (local, regional or national) census. but it takes 3 to be ‘something more’ than just 2 or 1.

where 3 are together…

that is why 3 can be ‘everything beyond’, which was liberale’s question


Brian G - #56517

April 2nd 2011

Excellent, Gregory,

I was going to explain that very thing. Now I don’t have to.

Thanks.

I don’t moderate, so I don’t know what was deleted of yours.


Gregory - #56524

April 2nd 2011

Thanks, Brian. Glad to help. Re: erased, i just meant my computer over-heated at an inopportune moment. & no time for a re-write. i save posts usually before sending, but had written a nice one to you (including a comment on your “To End All Wars”). hope to catch-in again soon. just re-watched ‘Contact’ yesterday & also presented on ‘Creation’ in an ‘evolution-related’ event. BioLogos are of course not the only people busy engaging people on such things. - Gregory


liberale - #56550

April 2nd 2011

Interesting.  Thank you!  (and thanks for the friendly Chinese characters for “welcome”)


John G - #56839

April 5th 2011

Conrad,

Regarding your statement “The existence of evolution does NOT support atheism or contradict the Bible.”

Are you certain about this statement? Think about the scriptures. It is my understanding that Jesus came to save us from our sin. (see Rom 6:23)It is also my understanding that sin entered the world through one man (see Rom 5:12 KJV). And from this it is apparent that according to the bible death is a result of sin, and Jesus came to save us from our sin. If this is true, and if you believe it, then it can not also be true at the same time that there were “millions of years of death” before the process of evolution finally mutated the first human, because again, according to the Bible, before man there was no sin, and before sin, there was no death, and therefore there could have been no progressive beneficial mutations, hence no evolution.

So it would seem that evolution does contradict the Bible, and eliminate the need for a savior, therefore supporting atheism, if you think it through (from Genesis to Revelations).
God Bless,

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