I Believe in Genesis (RJS)

As most who read this blog know by now I am a Professor of Chemistry and thus (take a deep breath) a scientist... We all know, or have heard repeated over and over … Science has Disproved Christianity… the elite and intelligent know it … it is only a matter of time before average Americans come to their senses and realize it. This is the proposition discussed in Chapter 6 of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. There are several aspects to the conflict – or apparent conflict – between science and faith that often serve as barriers to consideration of the Christian story in our educated and skeptical society.

One of the goals of the BioLogos foundation, begun by Francis Collins and continued through the efforts of many Christian scientists and other leaders, is to overcome the idea that science and faith are incompatible and that science has disproven Christianity. So many, both in the church and outside it, feel that this is an either or proposition. It isn’t. Tim Keller has been involved in some of the gatherings organized by the BioLogos foundation, and has contributed a whitepaper on Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople.

Before digging into the question of science and Christian faith I would like to start with a video that may help to start us on the right foot and relieve some of the tension.

I had the privilege of hearing the inaugural public performance of this piece – as a duet by Francis Collins and Tom Wright. Perhaps some day this version too will be available, but for now we can enjoy the version I’ve linked. It isn’t either Genesis or Science, either reason or faith. We can take Genesis seriously, reason seriously, science seriously (and accurately) and still retain faith.

Keller addresses a number of questions in Chapter 6 of The Reason for God.

1. Science has proven that miracles are impossible. We’ve heard this statement in many forms and many places. It is, of course, not true. Science cannot disprove miracles, as science can only address the question of normal or natural cause. None of us actually think that miracles represent the normal process in the world today or were the standard mode of operation in the past.

If there is a Creator God, there is nothing illogical at all about the possibility of miracles. After all, if he created everything out of nothing, it would hardly be a problem for him to rearrange parts of it as and when he wishes. To be sure that miracles cannot occur you would have to be sure beyond a doubt that God didn’€™t exist, and that is an article of faith. The existence of God can be neither demonstrably proven or disproven. (p. 86)

There is another important point here as well – miracles are not and never were intended as magic tricks, or as on call interventions for our individual good. When we consider miracles the most important point is why — why are miracles performed in the first place?

In the ministry of Jesus and in the early Church miracles had purpose. They fulfill prophecy and enact the coming of the kingdom of God. Disease, hunger, death, pain, suffering; these are not the intent of God in his creation. As Keller puts it: Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming. (p.96) A corollary to this must be the realization – any miracles today must also have purpose.

2. Intelligent people don’t believe in God. People like Richard Dawkins and his ilk like to point out that only 7% of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) believe in a God who actively communicates with humanity, at least through prayer. From this a causal link is assumed – intelligent scientific thinking leads to the nearly inevitable conclusion that there is no God. This is a very common opinion. It runs rampant in the circle of my peers, but holds a much broader sway as well. In the first post in this series I mentioned a conversation with a Christian 20-something who was contemplating how to discuss the Christian faith with a friend who was sure that modern science had removed all rational basis for faith and was amazed that there are still scientists and other scholars who believe.

But, there are several problems with the conclusion that intelligent people don’t believe in God.

First – most scientists base disbelief on other than scientific grounds; the factors are nearly always a complex mix of intellectual, social, and personal issues.

Second – while all scientists base their science on methodological naturalism, it is not true that all or even most profess belief in ontological naturalism or “physicalist naturalism” – that the ultimate explanation and reason for everything lies in the as yet unknown theory of everything. There is more to life than elementary particle physics and string theory. Most scientists today, for example, believe that our conviction that genocide is morally wrong is not an “accident” of evolution – but an absolute value.

Finally – I (RJS) think that the well documented drop in percentage of believers as one moves into elite circles – faculty at top universities, scientists elected to the NAS, Nobel Prize winners – comes in part from the highly competitive nature of science and the fact that it is hard to balance a Christian lifestyle with the level of effort and commitment required to excel in science today. This is not a criticism of those successful Christians, but a realistic assessment of the forces at play. Values influence choices. Choices influence achievement.

3. Evolution disproves the Bible. This, of course, depends on our interpretation of Genesis and other passages of scripture. Scientific knowledge may inform the interpretation of some texts – and it may be inconsistent with certain interpretations. But this does not mean that evolution disproves the Bible. Frankly, God’s method in creation is not fundamental to Christianity. This topic has been discussed in great length on this blog since my original posts on The Language of God and The Reason for God some five years ago. I refer any interested reader to the Science and Faith Archive. In chapter 6 Keller notes:

I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened. There will always be debates about how to interpret some passages — including Genesis 1. But it is false logic to argue that if one part of Scripture can’t be taken literally then none of it can be. That isn’t true of any human communication. (p. 94)

For the record I think that God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory. (94)

Keller’s most important point is that this is a “nonessential” with sincere Christian believers taking different positions. Keller notes:

…those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not allow themselves to be distracted by this intramural debate. The skeptical inquirer does not need to accept any one of these positions in order to embrace the Christian faith. Rather he or she should concentrate on and weigh the central claims of Christianity. (p. 94)

I agree with Keller here. But it is easier said than done. The voices of those who insist that Christians must reject much of what we have learned from science are loud and often uncompromising. It takes a great deal of patience and desire to ignore this and focus on the central claims of Christianity.

The Science and Faith Archive provides links to a large number of posts, where all of these issues and more are considered in far greater detail than possible in this post, or in the one chapter of  The Reason for God.

What are the essential issues in the science and faith discussion?

What role should this discussion have in outreach and mission?

Is it an important issue for a church attempting to reach an unchurched population?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

Added: Here is a video of Collins singing a different song – but a good view of the double helix in mother-of-pearl referred to by Wright.

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  • http://markcaudill.me Mark

    I think the Church in general could do a much better job in clearly defining the essential issues when it comes to creation and science. Unfortunately, this burden would mainly fall on the hard-line YECs since they’re more often the ones using the creation account as a litmus test for salvation. Convincing someone that an issue the view as essential, really isn’t that essential is tough.

  • http://www.samochstein.blogspot.com Sam Ochstein

    Who knew N.T. Wright could play the guitar and write songs? Brilliant!

  • Doug

    Thanks RJS — one quibble: those voices “who insist that Christians must reject much of what we have learned from science”… might actually include voices who insist that we must reject some of what some folks *claim* we have learned from science.

    And it is the duty of actual scientists (like you and me) to make careful distinctions between what we have *actually* learned from science and what agenda-driven ideologues *claim* that we have learned from science.

    Incidentally, Mike Gene (another scientist) has also suggested something similar concerning elite scientists:

    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/a-better-explantion-for-the-nas-atheism-connection/
    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/a-neglected-survey/

  • AHH

    When Tim Keller came out with this endorsement of theistic evolution several years ago, I hoped that it might be a watershed, that going forward the Gospel Coalition and similar groups would be more willing to accept that orthodoxy could allow God to use evolution as a means of creation.
    But as far as I can tell, Keller is still more or less alone in his openness to that view among the conservative Reformed crowd (although at least most leaders in that camp, with the notable exception of Mohler, do not seem to make being anti-science a big part of their ministry).

  • T

    Where does Wright get the time to practice guitar?! The man is full of surprises.

    I’m glad Keller falls where he does here, especially given his inclusion in Gospel Coalition and general respect among many conservative and even Reformed believers. For folks who hold a belief that believing evolution is mutually exclusive with trusting Jesus, he is a powerful counter-example.

  • Triston

    A great book which makes the Genesis 1 “old earth\young earth” debate a non-issue altogether is “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John W. Walton. Highly recommended reading.

  • http://postmodernprodigal.wordpress.com/ AJG

    Keller states that he accepts natural selection, but does he accept common descent with modification? I think most people accept that natural selection is a fact. For example, I think everyone would see the example of the Peppered Moth as evidence of natural selection in action. I think most evangelicals would just state that the black and white versions of the moth are just differences of the same “kind” and that that would not lead to a new species at some point. I think Keller still believes in a literal Adam and Eve in a literal Garden of Eden even though that view does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. I don’t think he’s a good example of an evangelical who is trying to incorporate the fact of evolutionary theory into a evangelical framework the way Peter Enns is doing.

  • RJS

    T,

    The duet by Francis Collins and Wright was great. There was an official video made and I assume it will be made available at some point (probably not until Collins is no longer NIH director).

    Keller’s stand here is important. It does get some push back, but my feeling is that he is willing to call it as he sees it and not worry too much. His white papers (linked in the post) are worth reading, and this is true when I agree with him, and when I have some differences.

  • RJS

    Here is a different youtube video with a good picture of Collin’s guitar complete with double helix in mother of pearl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvbvcL7h8E8

  • RJS

    AJG,

    The whitepaper linked in the post (2nd paragraph) gives some discussion of Adam and Eve. It is true that Keller takes a more conservative view than Enns – but he also holds his views on this loosely, noting that he does not question C.S. Lewis’s faith because Lewis took a less literal view of Adam and Eve. This is a discussion we really need to have on theological and biblical grounds, not scientific grounds.

  • http://www.ntgreekresources.com Danny Zacharias

    RJS, how would you respond to an atheist who says, “these scientists who believe in God and science just choose not to apply empiricism to that aspect of their lives. It is like how Newton believed in fairies.”

    Thanks

  • AHH

    AJG @7,

    I think it is pretty clear from the book, where he is very complimentary of Francis Collins, that Keller does accept common descent with modification (i.e, the basic meaning of “evolution”).
    As you mention, he does hold a more traditional view of Adam & Eve, but that’s a different (albeit not unrelated) issue. There are ways to affirm the scientific evidence that humans share in the tree of common ancestry while still holding to Adam & Eve as historic individuals — I might consider those approaches (which science can’t really prove or disprove) a little strained and unnecessary but I would not go out of my way to argue against them.

    Even if I might lean more toward Peter Enns’ approach, Keller on these issues is way more constructive, and way more conducive to our witness among the scientifically literate, than most conservative Evangelical leaders. So I’d gladly hold him up as a “good example” for conservative evangelicals in this area.

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    I’m a child and nephew of scientists. Despite aspirations early in life, teenage parenthood led me down different paths, though I’m not a bad programmer and network engineer.

    My youngest has always had a faith as natural to her as breathing. And she combines it with the keenest of intellects. But I don’t really know how she does it. She loves God and simply sheds anything that smells of hatred and ignorance. It gains no traction with her.

    My younger son has passed me in math (and physics) this year. Currently he’s taking partial differential equations and a couple of other similar courses. Aside from a B in a German 2 course he didn’t care about, he’s made nothing but A’s as a math and physics major at Baylor. I did a poor job despite even participating as a teacher in his youth group. It wasn’t until he took one of the obligatory courses at Baylor that he realized there were two distinct creation narratives. We talked about it at the time. And when he studied Anselm, he told me (with no prompting on my part) that much of what we said about God in Catholicism and Protestantism went off the rails from that point onward. I simply agreed. But he doesn’t find much now in Christianity that engages him. I wouldn’t say he’s anti-Christian. Apathetic and not particularly interested seems more accurate.

    My older children have little use or interest in Christianity.

    I came to Christianity late in most senses of the phrase. And it’s not been easy for me to separate the chaff from the wheat. But I do understand the tension between science and faith. I live it every day in my familial life. Obviously I don’t seem to communicate well why I choose faith in that tension — and Christian faith in particular. It’s a struggle.

  • MatthewS

    Scott Morizot, I don’t want to offer cliches but I really feel for you with your kids. Sounds like you’ve raised a bright family. May their journeys yet encounter God in deep and meaningful ways.

  • http://www.honeyfromtherock.net brkev

    I remember reading an author a few years ago who said something to this effect, when confronted with Naturalistic Evolution that Christians tend to try to refute Evolution, when the problem isn’t Evolution it’s Naturalism. Whatever one may think of biological evolution, it’s Naturalism that is at odds with Christianity.

    I was listening to an interview with a scientist who happens to also be a Naturalist a few weeks ago. He was explaining his theory (or perhaps hypothesis is a better word) as to why the universe was able to exist without a god to create it. In his interview he made an interesting admission, that if his theory/hypothesis is true that human beings are unimportant and insignificant. That’s not the result of a belief in evolution, but of a belief in naturalism.

  • RJS

    Hi Scott,

    It isn’t easy to separate the chaff from the wheat – and as Wright says twoard the start of the video, many of us are fed up with it, at least on the science and Christian faith end. Our churches are most of the problem, not any “real” conflict. It is clear though that some positions Christians hold are affected more than others.

    I like Keller’s approach because he is willing to listen and explore options – it isn’t a dogmatic delivery of information. This approach helps us all separate chaff from wheat. No doubt it comes in part from his experiences in Manhattan.

    I think brkev has it dead on right – the real conflict is with ontological naturalism, not with science per se. And despite the claim of Wright and a few others, I think naturalism still has a strong foothold in our society.

    Your son’s experience resonates – many (but not all) Christian colleges teach a more sophisiticated understanding, but for a fair number of young people it is by then too late. The dissonance between the church of their youth and their new understanding is too great, and faith still crumbles.

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    I agree that attempting to “refute” evolution is largely a distraction and a waste of time. That’s also not a particular issue for most of Christianity, though you wouldn’t know it from the noise. I ended up in an SBC church, so I’ve certainly heard that noise at more or less full volume, but I simply screen it out. My father and aunt are geneticists, so the science underlying evolution has been part of the air I breathed my whole life. My Dad’s main focus was cancer research, but he would also help with other sorts of things interpreting data and tracking endangered species, checking for speciation, and such things. Over the years I even sometimes helped him with the data sets on the computer side of things. Trying to refute evolution is as silly as trying to refute the geological age of the earth or the age of the universe. Attempts to do so aren’t helpful.

    (I do remember when an older son didn’t realize most Christians didn’t have a problem with evolution until he dated a pretty devout Catholic girl. That was when I realized I had to do more than simply ignore the noise and had to actually teach my children that it was just noise. That much, at least, I think I did fairly well.)

    Belief is complex and I agree with RJS that utilizing methodological naturalism is not the same as a belief in ontological naturalism. I’ve also seen first hand the degree of focus, effort, and commitment science (and research science in particular) demands. And my extended family believes all sorts of things. (One uncle is a professor of religion specializing mostly in Hinduism, I believe. His most recent book focused on Hindu response to evolution, curiously enough.) I also agree that the degree of noise that has to be screened out today seems like it’s a particular problem in that environment.

    No answers. But I know first-hand how much a problem it creates when raising kids.

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    Thanks, RJS. We were surprised when Geoffrey picked Baylor, but it’s been a good fit for him. The fact that it was a Christian college didn’t really have anything to do with his choice, but I thought the two obligatory religion classes he had to take seemed pretty good. We had some good discussions back when he was taking them anyway. But as you say, too little too late. Initially he was considering something in the medical field, but quickly decided that wasn’t a good fit. He’s taken to his majors in physics and math like a fish to water, though. There aren’t a whole lot of actual physics majors, either, so they do tend to get a bit more attention from their professors than is true in some of the other majors.

    I also agree with you that naturalism still has a strong philosophical hold in our society. And I don’t think many evangelicals realize how much ground they’ve conceded when they push God (and our ultimate destination) off into a second-story concept of heaven while we live in the first floor of the “ordinary” or natural world.

  • DuWayne Lee

    RJS. I have been reading your blog for a long time. Will you tell me who you are and where you teach ?

    DuWayne Lee

  • EMC

    This whole creation debate has been difficult for a lot of Christian colleges to navigate. The issue enveloped Cedarville University when they chose not to renew Professor Pahl’s contract after the publication of his book, The Beginning and the End. Calvin College, too, wrestled with the issue when Professor Schneider chose an early retirement after denying the existence of Adam and Eve.

    I really appreciate those Christian institutions that are willing to address the issue head-on, and not in the wake of a scandal. Trinity seminary in Illinois hosted a conference earlier this month with Walton, Averbeck, and Younger. Grand Rapids seminary in Michigan is hosting a similar conference in the middle of March with Walton, Turner, and a few others.

    Anyway, I appreciate the discussion, RJS. Let us pray that this issue doesn’t further fracture evangelicalism and hinder God’s work in the world.

  • RJS

    Danny (#11), I am going to try to answer your question in a post or two in the next couple of weeks. It requires far more than I can do justice to in a comment.

    DuWayne (#19) send me an email – rjs4mail@att.net A few people have had trouble with this address, if you do you could also try rjs4mail@aol.com .


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