Monday, January 16, 2006

Science or Faith doesn’t have to be “Either-Or”

I should say at the outset:

• I believe in an “intelligent designer”, that the Genesis accounts of creation are true, and that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

• I also believe, with the majority of scientists, that our earth is 4.5 billion years old and that human life has evolved to its present state.

Perhaps the reason there is an “intelligent design” controversy is that most people think those two statements are incompatible. To accept what science says is to reject Scripture. To believe in Genesis is to reject what modern science tells us about the creation of the world via a “big bang” or that life evolves slowly over billions of years. But this "either-or" need not be, nor should scientists be vilified as amoral atheists and believing Christians as childish simpletons.

The critical piece to the reconciliation of these views is how one understands the Scriptural accounts of creation.

Both the seven day account of creation and the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace tell us profound truths about God, his creation and his plan for humanity—all of which can be best understood in contrast to the prevailing views of ancient cultures at the time of their writing. Contrary to the polytheism typical of primitive religions, Genesis makes clear that one God creates all things, including those things ancients were likely to call “gods”, such as the sun, the moon and the stars. Against the view of ancient cultures that viewed matter as “evil”, Genesis is unequivocal that God’s creation is “good”. Contrary to the belief that humanity was an insignificant, unplanned afterthought of the gods (as is typical in ancient mythology), Genesis insists that humanity was God’s crowning achievement, the culminating event of an orderly, planned creation. God created us to live in peace and happiness (Eden), yet he exalted us so highly, he gave us free will to choose against him, and when we did so, we introduced what God had not intended: sin, shame and suffering.

These are not trite, “lowest common denominator” truths, but absolutely foundational to Christian doctrine and morality. Without a careful, designed plan for all of creation, it makes little sense for us to believe there is a plan or destiny for us as individuals, which leads us logically to nihilism, reducing the purpose of our existence to maximizing pleasure. If all created things were evil, then our bodies are not temples of the Holy Spirit, but rather cages that trap our spirit and limit our freedom, such that self-mutilation and annihilation sensibly follow. If creation were not intrinsically good, then stewardship of God’s creation and respect for living things is foolish. Confronted with the inevitability of tragedy and the “problem of evil” in our lives (how a good and all powerful God could allow suffering and evil), we are reminded from Scripture this was not God’s original purpose.

And so in a serious way, I believe that the book of Genesis is true and divinely inspired. At the same time, understood as such, we are free to allow science to inform us with its insights. Ultimately, the truths of science and the truths of our faith cannot contradict. As a Christian believer, I know that all of creation is God’s handiwork. Just as I can learn more about an artist by studying his paintings or a musician by his music, so too can the pursuit of scientific truth help us appreciate the intricacy, beauty and ultimately the wonder of creation--leading us, I believe, to reverence for the Creator.