Science and Faith: From Collision to Collaboration
In this sermon, Pastor Richard Dahlstrom of Bethany Community Church in Seattle Washington disbands the warfare mentality surrounding science and faith as he explains that God’s truth is seen both in his written Word and his creation. Throughout, he provides clarification about proper Biblical interpretation, background on the history of science and scripture, and finally the context in which the Biblical creation story took form.
The beautiful creation story in Genesis one and two captivates the heart and mind, providing revelation of God’s character and his divine relationship to all creation, especially humans. Although it is an ancient writing from a culture with limited knowledge of the world and its place in the cosmos, many Christians have used these passages to scientifically describe the birth of the universe. While the passages do reveal the origin of all created things—God—they do not necessarily reveal the natural mechanisms used by God to accomplish his will. This is where the work of the scientific community has come into play. Studying God’s handiwork always offers a deeper understanding of God himself, but the Church, unfortunately, has not always accepted its findings.
At the beginning, Dahlstrom opens with a challenging quote from the famous church father Saint Augustine. He believed that Christians should not be found ignorant on scientific matters, and so appear darkened in understanding to the outside pagan world. The pastor too affirms that Christians should not use God’s Word to challenge scientific matters and so turn a non-believer away from faith in Jesus Christ since it unnecessarily draws a line between faith and reason, pitting one against the other. Dahlstrom explains that the idea that science and scripture conflict stems from a view of Genesis one and two as a scientific description. Talking about Biblical interpretation, he affirms that plain reading of the text is best in most cases. Still, there are instances where the Bible speaks in metaphors. For example, in the gospel according to John, Jesus identifies himself as the door. Immediately one discerns that Jesus is not describing himself as a literal door made of wood, but rather is describing himself as the only Way to God the Father. When it comes to the creation story, then, is a literal or metaphorical reading the best method of interpretation for the passages? In light of certain details that appear physically contradictory—such as morning and evening existing before the creation of the sun on the fourth “day” although the earth’s rotation around the sun creates day and night— it seems logical that Genesis is portraying something other than the physical processes of creation.
As Dahlstrom continues, he makes a profound point: in Genesis two, God calls humankind to know and study the surrounding world. The scriptures say that Adam took on the God-given task of naming the animals, which is, in fact, science: the exploration of the natural world. It is a wonderful gift to men and women to study the surrounding world and so discover more about the God who is its Creator. Unfortunately, the Church has not always accepted the ideas formulated through scientific discovery. This was clearly seen in the Church’s rejection of a heliocentric or sun-centered solar system as postulated by both Copernicus and Galileo. The following five hundred years, however, softened this tension, and acceptance of a heliocentric system was welcomed. Currently, the issue among Christians revolves around young versus old earth creationism and instantaneous creation versus evolution. Indeed, there are Christians in both camps. Pastor Dahlstrom affirms here that it is possible to view God as the master Creator and sustainer while still accepting evolutionary theory. This perspective acknowledges that science is not man’s truth contradicting God’s truth; there is no distinction, but all truth belongs to our Lord.
The sermon goes on to place the creation narrative in the context of the story of Gods’ people. Dahlstrom explains that Israel is about to enter the Promised Land where they will be surrounded by pagan cultures with their own gods and circulating creation myths. It is in this time that Moses writes down the true account of creation as revealed by the God of Israel. The story of Yahweh creating the heavens and the earth clearly contrasts the other Mesopotamian versions at the time, and demonstrates the uniqueness of Israel’s God. The story in Genesis resonates with the deepest longing of the human heart, proclaiming that humans were made for beauty, stewardship of creation, and relationship rather than slavery, war and suffering. This displays and speaks of the love and goodness of the one true God.
In his concluding thoughts, Dahlstrom brings the discussion back around to three particular points. First, he identifies the idea that “God is other than his creation.” In other words, God brought the world into being, but he is the uncreated One, and therefore, different than all finite things. Next, there is the theme of separation in the creation account. For example, light is separated from darkness, the land from the sea, and animal life from human life. Although they consist of the same materials, there are different forms. This speaks to the profound unity in the midst of diversity established by God. Finally, it presents the nature of humanity. It speaks of our calling to steward the earth, our failure in fulfilling that calling, and the need for our redemption, which comes through Jesus Christ. All these themes ultimately unite us as believers despite the different interpretations of Genesis one and two.