Science and Faith at the Movies: “Creation,” Part 2
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 BioLogos believes here.
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.
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?
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 various 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 Word Pictures: Knowing God through Story and Imagination (InterVarsity Press). He speaks around the country to churches, high schools and colleges on movies, worldviews and faith. His movie blog can be found at www.hollywoodworldviews.com.