On Origins, Christians are More in Agreement Than They Think

Christians in Agreement

When Christians discuss creation, evolution, and design, it is easy to focus immediately on areas of controversy and disagreement. We think it is important to start by pointing out certain areas on which nearly all Christians agree. Christians generally agree about the fundamentals of God, God’s Word, and God’s world in the five areas.God created, sustains, and governs this universe.

This truth is confirmed in the first line of the Apostles’ Creed, one of the ecumenical creeds of the church which many Christians recite every week: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” Christians believe that God created all things from nothing, bringing them into being through his Word, his Son (John 1:1-3). God continually sustains the whole universe, governing all creatures according to his providential care.

The God who created this world also reveals himself to humanity.

God has revealed himself at various times and in multiple ways throughout history, including the written Scriptures and the Incarnation. As it says in the first verses of the book of Hebrews,

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV)

The God who created this world is also our Redeemer.

We belong to God because he created us, but when humanity turned from God he bought us back. He redeemed us through the incarnation, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Bible is authoritative and sufficient for salvation.

God inspired its human authors and ensured that the Bible truthfully teaches what he intends. The Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that the Bible’s message is from God, not merely human writing. Christians accept the sufficiency of the Bible for establishing our core beliefs and practices; all that we need to know for salvation is taught there. God certainly can use various means— including the natural world—to teach us new things. But these new things should be compatible with, not contradictory to, what God teaches in Scripture.

God is sovereign over all realms of human endeavor and has given human beings special abilities and responsibilities. Theologian Cornelius Plantinga puts it this way:

God’s creation extends beyond the biophysical sphere to include the vast array of cultural possibilities that God folded into human nature. . . . God’s good creation includes not only earth and its creatures, but also an array of cultural gifts, such as marriage, family, art, language, commerce, and (even in an ideal world) government. The fall into sin has corrupted these gifts but hasn’t unlicensed them. The same goes for the cultural initiatives we discover in Genesis 4, that is, urban development, tent-making, musicianship, and metal-working. All of these unfold the built-in potential of God’s creation. All reflect the ingenuity of God’s human creatures—itself a superb example of likeness to God. – Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God’s World, 2002.

Applying this idea to the natural sciences, we conclude that God has graciously given humans the ability and responsibility to study the natural world systematically. As with all human endeavors, we do it imperfectly. We must seek to do it as God’s image-bearers, in gratitude for God’s gifts.

Debate the Weather?

To illustrate why the debate about origins isn’t simply a matter of science versus religion, imagine living in a culture where there is a similar debate about the weather. The Bible clearly teaches that God governs the weather. Many Bible passages proclaim that God causes rain and drought (see Deut. 11:14-17; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Job 5:10; 37:6; Jer. 14:22). Writers of Deuteronomy, the Psalms, and Jeremiah refer specifically to storehouses of rain and snow (see Deut. 28:12, 24; Ps. 135:7; Jer. 10:13).What causes the rain? Most of us were taught that water evaporates from the ground level, rises to where the air is cooler, and condenses into water droplets that form clouds. We learned how cold fronts and warm fronts and low pressure systems bring rain. When we watch meteorologists on television, we hear that scientists now use sophisticated computer models to help them understand and predict the weather a few days in advance. Their ability to understand meteorology is especially important for farmers, airline pilots, military personnel, and coastal residents. Every year scientists develop increasingly accurate computer models of the weather.

Now imagine that debates arise about what should be taught in schools about the weather. Imagine that prominent scientists write popular books about meteorology that state, “From our scientific understanding of the causes of wind and rain, it is clear that no divine being controls the weather.” Imagine that a professional organization of science teachers writes a set of guidelines that state, “Students must learn that all weather phenomena follow from natural causes; weather is unguided and no divine action is involved.” Meanwhile, other people insist that these scientific explanations of rain and wind must be wrong because the Bible clearly teaches that God governs the weather. These people write books and give public speeches saying, “Atheists have invented their godless theories about evaporation and condensation. But we can prove that their so-called scientific theories are false and that the Bible is true.” They go to churches and teach, “If you believe what these scientists are saying about the causes of wind and rain, then you’ve abandoned belief in the Bible.” They petition school boards and courts to require that science classrooms also teach their “storehouses” theory of the weather as an alternate explanation to evaporation and condensation.

If you lived in a world with that sort of debate going on, would you be content to see it simply as a conflict between science and religion? Would you be willing to agree wholly with one side or the other?

Fortunately, we don’t have such debates about what causes the weather. The majority of Christians say that when it comes to the weather, both science and the Bible are correct. God governs the weather, usually through the scientifically understandable processes of evaporation and condensation. And the majority of atheists today would also agree that having a scientific explanation for the weather, by itself, neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. So there are no court battles about what science classrooms should teach about the weather. Debates about creation, evolution, and design have some similarities to the above example, but in many ways they are more difficult. The questions about how to interpret Scripture are more challenging, and these debates raise more theological issues. Still, a good place to start in making sense of these debates is to remember that more than two options exist; it is not simply a choice of science or faith.

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About the Authors

  • Deborah Haarsma

    Deborah Haarsma

    Deborah Haarsma is President of BioLogos. She is a frequent speaker on modern science and Christian faith at research universities, churches, and public venues like the National Press Club. Her work appears in several recent books, including Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Design and Christ and the Created Order.  She wrote the book Origins with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma, presenting the agreements and disagreements among Christians regarding the history of life and the universe.  She edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee. Previously, Haarsma served as professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin University.  She is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. She has studied large galaxies, galaxy clusters, the curvature of space, and the expansion of the universe using telescopes around the world and in orbit.  Haarsma completed her doctoral work in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her undergraduate work in physics and music at Bethel University. She and Loren enjoy science fiction and classical music, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • Loren Haarsma

    Loren Haarsma

    Loren Haarsma earned a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University and did five years of postdoctoral research in neuroscience in Boston and in Philadelphia. He began teaching physics at Calvin College in 1999. His current scientific research is studying the activity of ion channels in nerve cells and other cell types, and computer modeling of self-organized complexity in biology and in economics. He studies and writes on topics at the intersection of science and faith, and co-authored Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design with his wife, Deborah.