The Language of Science and Faith: Both/And

Oh my God. A recent Gallup poll says 44% of people in the United States believe God created humans fewer than 10,000 years ago. And we wonder why our educational system is ranked 17th? (Note to self: Send big donation to evolutionweekend.org; turns out they’re doing essential work.)

But given this sad reality, I’m glad that Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins wrote The Language of Science and Faith. Because if you get to the point that you can no longer stomach a faith that requires belief in a God who created the universe a few thousand years ago, and tried to trick you into thinking it’s old by creating light beams in transit from distant galaxies, when you can no longer deal with a controlling, “loving” god who perpetually lets you down, then blames you for it by labeling you a sinner, when you’ve given up on that god, only to be horrified by the meaningless existence served up as “pure science,” well then Collins and Giberson will shed light on a path that leads toward what you once thought was the dark side.

They offer “straight answers to genuine questions.” They tackle the central question of Biblical interpretation, recognizing that the Bible did not drop fully formed onto the “streets of America with a message written in English aimed at the local residents” (p. 95). They are clear that Moses, David, Paul and Jesus did not share our worldview, thus disqualifying them from giving scientifically valid instruction to the modern reader. Instead the authors look to their Scripture, and mine, to answer theological questions (though I confess I was never quite sure what those questions were).

The book’s strength was its descriptions of scientific theories. They taught biological evolution, and dealt with the challenges leveled against it. They explained carbon dating, and the “can’t be an accident” preconditions for life in our universe. They touched upon chaos theory and quantum mechanics. But they were most interesting when they described “Biologos,” their word for the creative activity of God which operates “within the natural order” (p. 72).

Perhaps the most elegant explanation offered for God’s way in creation, is an analogy from the Christian doctrine of the two natures of Christ: Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully human – not half God and half human – not someone who did half God like things and have humanlike things. No, it’s all both. By analogy they say God’s creative purposes can be “similarly realized by being incarnate in natural history” (p. 115). Thus natural history does not proceed in part because of God’s activity and in part because of natural processes. It is always both at the same time.

But here the light on the path ends. They have led us right to the gate of a panentheistic description of God, but they refuse to go through it, and so leave us lost in a confused theistic wilderness.

This book is about the language of faith and science. They tell us there is no God who intervenes by breaking the laws of nature, but then insist upon using language about God, the force of which, implies the same: God provides, intends, and grants freedom. God needs to be excused for not intervening to halt genocide. They affirm a god who is not “directly responsible for every single event in cosmic history,” but is nevertheless “at all times involved yet who still allowsa degree of freedom to the creation” (p. 108-109). They even posit a God who “could have created a universe with the appearance of age,” (but didn’t).

They glimpse the God of mystery but won’t let go of a God who does magic, the one who perpetually let’s us down and blames us for His failure – this, instead of a God who is known in the reality of suffering, in the movement from death to new life – this, instead of the God they promise, one whose creative love is seen in “layers of beauty” that emerge within the natural process (p. 16).

I can’t help but feel that the authors are taking a rest on a bench beside the gate. But I’m already over here on the dark side, and I can’t get these words from Jackson Browne out of my head: There comes a point when you’re not sure why you’re still talking. I passed that point long ago. Still, given the 44%, it’s probably a good thing that the authors have not.

Read more about The Language of Science and Faith at the Patheos Book Club here.

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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