Scripture vs. the Facts? Working through a Crisis of Understanding
I’m a conservative evangelical. When I became a Christian fourteen years ago, I not only embraced profound new spiritual perspectives, but inherited a host of new scientific views: the earth was young, macro-evolution was false, and to affirm the contrary was to discredit the Bible and even the Gospel. Though I adopted these views, maintaining them within my world of experience often brought about conflict. All it took was watching a science-themed PBS documentary or attending a planetarium show to remind me that I was at great odds with mainstream scientific thought.
As my faith matured, I hungered to better understand God’s ways, especially those pertaining to Creation. This meant looking more deeply into science and exploring the faith-science conflict. Although the young-earth, anti-evolution position I held at that time seemed consistent with Scripture, I was unsettled by the fact that it so fundamentally conflicted with the global scientific consensus.
My convictions then, as now, were fourfold: 1) God is truthful and not deceptive in character; 2) He has revealed profound truths to us in His Word, the Bible; 3) Within the Bible, He actually invites us to explore Creation to learn about Him (Psalm 19:1-4); and 4) science is the very means of that exploration. From these convictions, I concluded that Scripture and science must together form a cohesive portrait of Creator and Creation. Thus my journey to reconcile the apparent discrepancies began.
I decided that to get to the truth, I had to be willing to have my presuppositions challenged (Proverbs 18:17). I would 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 refute the other. I would then contact the authors for any needed clarification. Of course, I would always keep the Bible close at hand. Finally, I would thoughtfully and prayerfully seek a conclusion.
As I studied the evolutionary perspective in depth, I was surprised to discern a remarkably logical, eminently credible line of reasoning that made what I would call elegant sense of the scientific data. Further, as I looked into the perspectives of both theologians and scientists on how the findings of modern science actually harmonized with Scripture, my long-held belief that evolution was at its core an atheistic concept was firmly dispelled, and as a result the theory gained great credibility with me.
From there I moved on to the young-earth materials. While I was impressed by their high regard for Scripture, I found myself deeply disappointed by many scientific assertions that seemed patently unrealistic. The young-earth science just didn’t appear to add up. When I contacted a high-level representative at a prominent young earth creationist ministry, he candidly shared with me that he had long before learned to deal with apparent Scripture/science conflicts by not paying too much attention to the science; instead, he let his interpretation of Genesis—which he said was not open to reconsideration—determine everything else. (In the many discussions I would later have with pastors, elders, and friends, I found this line of thinking to be common.) Such a stance would not have disturbed me if young-earth science could be shown to be truly viable and successful in application. But it became increasingly clear that in practice, the young-earth claims were typically not only unworkable, but scientifically impossible. Meanwhile, mainstream science was spectacularly fruitful, with an ongoing record of astonishing advancements in everything from genetics to space exploration.
This brought me to a crisis: If the evolutionary/old-earth views are truly fallacious, as conservative evangelicals are so frequently taught, why do they lead to such powerful breakthroughs while “accurate” young-earth science remains strikingly barren? Either God is deceiving mankind by intentionally prospering a “heretical” view of Creation (as one of my pastors called the old-earth view), or, if in fact He does not want modern scientific views to appear accurate, He was simply failing to prevent it. Obviously, neither conclusion was tenable.
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 chance seemed irreconcilable. But through continued theological and scientific studies, I came to clearly see that “random” occurrences at the micro level are in fact the constituents of order at the macro level, and through my theistic prism came to see that God actually uses events that we observers experience as “chance” to bring about His purposeful end. In fact, it seemed that all Christians should be able to relate to this: Despite experiencing circumstances in life that appear completely random, we believers steadfastly affirm God’s sovereignty and absolute control over all. Thus, another point of resistance to modern science dissipated.
Poised to accept evolution on scientific terms but still uncomfortable with the apparent contradiction with Scripture, I then returned to the Genesis Creation accounts. Whereas I had been taught that a literal interpretation was absolutely necessary lest the Bible be discredited, I was now surprised to find its figurative imagery jumping out at me. It became apparent 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 account of God making man from the dust of the earth, a picture consistent with evolution. Despite having previously read Genesis numerous times, its early chapters now made more sense to me than ever before, and greatly enhanced my already profound appreciation for God’s Word.
Finally, I came to peace with science. The war ended. Since then, 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)—have been greatly magnified. Further, 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 our Creator’s wondrous methods and techniques to mankind.
Having made this challenging but consummately rewarding journey, my concern today is for the evangelical church. I am deeply troubled by the church’s skepticism – often outright hostility – towards science, and see a devastating crisis looming for our children and grandchildren unless we begin to engage the faith-science issue with honesty, humility, and constructive self-criticism. I’ll share more on this in my next post…