What is the Fine-Tuning of the Universe?

Apparently the universe knew we were coming.


Freeman Dyson, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, said this about the physical laws of the universe:

The more I examine the universe, and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the Universe in some sense must have known we were coming (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 195).

The physical laws of the universe appear to be designed precisely to support life. In addition, the beginning of it all – the Big Bang – appears to have transpired precisely in a way that would result in life.

Nobody debates this fact – the universe is finely tuned to support the appearance and the development of life.

What is the “fine tuning” of the universe?

There are a myriad of constants in our universe. These constants are numerical values that always hold true – for example, the speed of light.    speed limit of light

There are also forces in nature: the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and the most familiar of all, gravitational force.

If any one these myriad factors – the constants or the forces – differed even slightly from their actual values, life in the universe would be impossible.

Fine Tuning – Three Examples

carbon  The most important building block of life is the element carbon. Carbon, present in all living things and absolutely essential to life, is a highly improbably element.

But before we talk about carbon – the building block of life – we need to first talk about stars.

Most of the heavy elements in the universe were formed in stars through a process called fusion. Fusion happens when two or more atomic nuclei collide at a very high speed to create a new, heavier element. When fusion occurs, energy is released. Fusion is what fuels the stars and makes them shine:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 
I know exactly what you are 

 Opaque ball of hot dense gas 
Million times our planet’s mass 
Looking small because you’re far 
I know exactly what you are 

Fusing atoms in your core 
Hydrogen, helium, carbon and more 
With such power you shine far 
Twinkle twinkle little star 

Stars are primarily composed of the lightest element, hydrogen.

In intensely hot stars, two hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium. Two helium atoms fuse to form lithium, two lithium atoms fuse to form beryllium, and so on as we march across the periodic table.

  periodic table  .

Some fusions are much more improbable – carbon is one example. In order for carbon to form, three helium atoms have to collide and fuse. And if that wasn’t hard enough, energy levels in the colliding atoms must match up in order to form carbon. If three helium atoms happened to collide under normal circumstances, the energy levels would not match up. The helium atoms wouldn’t stick together and the atoms would fly apart before they could actually form an atom of carbon. In the production of carbon, the strong nuclear forces and the electromagnetic forces collaborate in a delicate-just-so dance, working together in a collaborative way that allows an improbable window of opportunity for the helium atoms to stick together and form an atom of carbon.

The slightest change to either the strong or electromagnetic forces alters the relevant energy levels, resulting in greatly reduced production of carbon. And carbon, of course is essential to life, so reducing its production dramatically reduces the probability that the universe will turn out to be habitable (p. 182).

Fred Hoyle, one of the twentieth century’s most renowned scientists, called this phenomenon the carbon resonance.

A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and there are no blind forces worth speaking of in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question. (Language of Science and Faith, p.182).

hoyle    (Here’s an interesting side note to the Hoyle quote – Hoyle was an agnostic and in no way wanted to invoke God as an explanation.)

Gravity is the force that attracts you to the surface of the earth (and vice-versa). Gravity is the force that keeps the moon in its path and keeps planets in orbit. Gravity is the force that attracts everything in the universe to each other.

Immediately after the big bang, all matter was randomly distributed – no stars or planets – just individual atoms swirling about in the darkness of space.

Enter gravity.

As matter expanded, gravity began to tug on matter, clumping it into bits, then bigger bits, and bigger. Eventually, matter clumped together as stars and galaxies.

If the force of gravity had been just infinitesimally greater, gravity would have pulled everything back together again, crashing in on itself.   If the force of gravity had been just infinitesimally smaller, matter would have been scattered throughout the universe so loosely that stars would have never formed. Without stable stars like our sun, there can be no habitable planets capable of supporting life.

Paperclip-300x200  Just how exact must the force of gravity be in order to have the universe we have? A paper clip weighs one gram. If gravity was changed so that you weighed one-billionth of a gram less or one-billionth of a gram more than you do now, our universe would have no stars, galaxies, or planets.


No planets, no life.

Goldilocks and the Big Bang. Just after the bang of the big bang, things proceeded in a way that would pave the way for life. For example, if the rate of expansion had been greater, matter would have been so diffuse (spread out) that gravity would not have been strong enough to gather matter together into stars and galaxies. If the rate of expansion had been any slower, gravity would have pulled everything back into a black hole. The expansion rate was “just right” – just like Goldilock’s porridge – not too fast, not too slow.

goldilocksCan We Explain Fine-Tuning Without God?

Because humans exist, the laws of nature are obviously conducive to life. Otherwise, no one would be around to notice.


This is typically the rationale given by those in the “no God” camp. But is it a satisfying explanation?

Here’s an analogy given by philosopher John Leslie (Language of Science and Faith, p. 187): Suppose you are to be executed by firing squad. There you stand, blindfolded, and all of the guns fire. Every shooter misses, and you survive.

What do you think about your situation?

Do you think: Well of course all of the shots missed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here to notice that I am still alive.

Or do you suspect that something’s up? Something went on behind the scenes? A plot to save you, maybe? Why might such an unlikely event occur?

Our universe appears to have something that went on “behind the scenes”. Intellectual curiosity should lead us to at least consider explanations as to why so many unlikely events converged at the instant of the big bang.

Inflation is another God-free explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, but this theory simply pushes the fine tuning back a step, it doesn’t eliminate it.

Finally, there is the multiverse explanation. This explanation says that there are an infinite number of universes with infinite combinations of conditions and this is the one we happen to live in. There is not wide-spread support for this idea. Interestingly, Stephen Hawking has said that the multiverse idea is really the only way around the apparent fine tuning of the universe.

Proof of God?

Obviously we can’t prove God, but the fine-tuning of the universe definitely points to a Designer/Creator.  Giberson and Collins (p.190) enthusiastically endorse the idea that the universe is intelligently designed (not to be confused with the “Intelligent Design theory” that opposes evolution). The numerous forces, conditions, and constants that must be “just so” provide a compelling argument that a Creator brought matter into existence, governed by finely-tuned natural laws, resulting in a universe where life could develop and thrive.

Modern scientific understanding of physical laws and constants were not what the psalmist had in mind when he wrote:

Creation is maintained by your rulings, since all things are your servants (119:89-91 JB),

nor was Paul speaking as a physicist when he described the Creator-Christ as the one who holds all creation together (Colossians 1:17).

Science can define, observe, describe and articulate natural laws; this does not diminish God as the author and sustainer of those laws.

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and my observations.

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Why is Darwin’s Theory So Controversial?

Why is Darwin’s Theory So Controversial?

Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love recently published a new novel – The Signature of All Things. The book is fictional, but the historical setting is not. The book follows a nineteelizabeth-gilbert_72140_600x450enth century female botanist, Alma Whittaker.  Through her own observation, collection, and study, Alma, like many natural scientists of her day, came to understand that life on earth had changed drastically – evolved – over time.

Here’s the catch – the fictional Alma (and her non-fictional counterparts upon whom she was modeled) – lived and worked before Darwin.

Evolution Before Darwin

Prior to Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, the idea of the development and evolution of living things over time was widely discussed – and accepted – by scientists and natural philosophers. What Darwin did was to articulate the process (natural section) by which these changes occurred.

The vast amounts of time needed for evolution was not initially a sticking point for Christians. The idea of a very old earth was widely accepted before Darwin, even among conservative Christians. Advances in geologic science and a rapidly growing roster of fossils pointed to an ancient earth – and nobody was really upset about it. For most Christians, an old earth did not contradict the Genesis creation story.

An old earth was usually reconciled with a literal reading of Genesis in one of two ways: the day-age theory or the gap theory. Day-age theory said that the “days” of Genesis were not 24-hour days, but instead were epochs of geological time. Gap theory said that there was a great gap of time between God’s creation of the heavens and the earth and the creation week found in Genesis. In light of scientific data, many nineteenth-century Christians adjusted their reading of Genesis without widespread upset.

Reaction to Darwin – Then and Now

Initially, Christian opposition to evolution was focused in two areas.

The non-directed (random) nature of the evolutionary process was seen as purposeless and without meaning. Actually, the thought of animals and plants evolving was far less offensive to most Christians than the thought of a “meaningless” process.

The second point of opposition lay in the biblical scholarship battles of the day. Because religious modernists (the “liberals”) tended to be captivated by new science discoveries, they also tended to accept evolution. The very fact that liberals tended to accept evolution was reason enough for many Christians to deny it. Even so, by the end of the nineteenth century the evolution of species (except humans) was accepted by many Christians, including several conservative theologians.

Practically no one was arguing for a very young earth except the Seventh-Day Adventists, whose founder claimed a vision revealed to her that Noah’s flood was responsible for fossils.

Darwin, Evolution, and Twentieth Century Christians

George MacCready Price, a self-taught geologist and a Seventh-Day Adventist, expanded the flood explanation in a series of genesis flood coverbooks in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1961, the flood/fossil idea was updated and was published in what would become the centerpiece book of the young-earth-creation-science movement: The Genesis Flood. Because of Sputnik (1959) and the subsequent push for improved science education in American schools, evolution as a topic began to appear in earnest in science text books.

headline sputnik

In response, The Genesis Flood school of thought caught fire and took off.

It soon became a matter of Christian orthodoxy to deny evolution and an old earth.

Groups like Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research have advocated “teaching the alternative” or  “teaching the controversy” (young earth/special creation/fossils from the flood VS evolution) in schools.


What Are the Challenges to Evolution?

Some questions about evolution were problems at one point, but have now been fully resolved. Not long after Darwin, physicists argued that the earth was only about 100 million years old, not nearly enough time for evolution to have produced the current variation in living things. It was assumed at that time that the earth began in a molten state and had been cooling ever since. Analysis of the rate of cooling from the heat remaining in the ground (volcanoes, geysers) revealed that the earth could not possibly be billions of years old (Language of Science and Faith, p. 162). Not long afterwards, radiation was discovered. Radiation has been releasing heat into the earth since the earth began, countering the cooling process. Radioactive elements are also a very reliable natural clock – because we know the amount of time needed for one element to decay into another, we can determine the age of rocks.

Long-resolved challenges to evolution like this are now only problems for those who are not current with scientific literature or who do not respect the literature.

Some questions about evolution are not really problems at all, but are premised on misunderstandings of science. A common argument against evolution is that evolutionary theory breaks the second law of thermodynamics. The second law states that everything becomes disordered over time. We see examples in everyday life – cars don’t get newer, they rust and corrode. Fruit doesn’t get fresher, it decays. Evolution seems to say just the opposite – simple, primitive cells evolved into the brilliant complexities of modern organisms.

Here’s the important part – the part that is misunderstood: the second law says that disorder increases in an isolated system. Almost every system in nature has input from the outside. Input from outside a system can produce order.

Here’s a familiar example: green plants and the process of photosynthesis. With energy input from the sun, green plants turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars. As long as the green plant has energy input from the sun, sugars will be constructed – order is increased.

Go to any elementary school science fair and I promise that right next to the kid who investigated “playing rock music vs. classical music to potted plants” you’ll find a junior scientist “investigating” what happens when you grow plants under a box in the dark. Take away the outside input, and the plant starts to decay – it becomes “disordered”. science-fair-projects-for-kids-growing-plants

Interesting to note that as the sun produces the energy that is used by plants to become more ordered, the sun itself is becoming more disordered.

As evolution unfolds on earth the sun becomes increasingly disordered and the total order of the solar system and the universe is still decreasing (Language of Science and Faith, p. 167).

Biological systems (living things) are not isolated systems, so the second law does not apply to them.

Some questions about evolution are unanswered…so far. Probably the most concerning unanswered question is about the origin of life itself. Evolution theory explains the development of life on earth. Evolution theory says nothing about the origin of life – that is a separate question. Scientists have a pretty good idea about when life appeared on earth (about four billion years ago) but no agreement on the how.

But – just because we don’t have a science explanation for how life emerged today does not mean that we won’t have one tomorrow. It is tempting to put God in our gap of knowledge: since we don’t know how life began on earth, it must have been a special miraculous intervention by God. Then what happens if tomorrow’s headlines announce that scientists have discovered how life began? Is all lost for believers in God?


If (or when) the origins of life are found, we will not have disproved God; we will have discovered the mechanism by which God brought life about on earth.

…God’s original and elegant plan for the universe may well have included the potential for life to arise without necessarily requiring later “supernatural” engineering to jumpstart the process. In this view, God’s sustaining creative presence undergirds all of life’s history from the beginning to the present (Language of Science and Faith, p.175).

Side note: Last week, Dr. Giberson, one of the co-authors of The Language of Science and Faith, debated a young earth creationist in an event sponsored by the Center for Creation Studies.

It’s lengthy, but very interesting. Here’s the linkgiberson debate

Dr. Giberson is a very patient man!

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and my observations.

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Science and the Existence of God

Do you believe in God?

Have you ever been put in the spotlight and asked just that question?


You are on the spot now – What say you?

With biting humor, Bill Maher looked at modern belief in God in his 2008 documentary, Religulous. It is cleverly made, but quite often uncomfortable to watch. Why would any educated, intelligent person in the twenty-first century believe in God any more than they would believe in Santa Claus, Zeus, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Can a Reasonable, Rational, Science-believing Person Believe in God?

 Common Arguments for the Existence of God

  • First cause argument: why is there something rather than nothing? Everything in existence was “caused” by something or someone. God is the “first cause” of everything and he started the chain of all other causes. This argument actually predates Christianity – it was proposed by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.
  • Design argument: the universe displays intricate and complex design. Just as a complex machine or a fantastic example of architecture points to the existence of its designer, the universe also points to a designer (God).
  • If you can imagine it, then it is so: if it is possible for God to exist, then he exists. (I know- doesn’t make a lot of sense. This isn’t a very popular argument).
  • Love is real: and so is morality, beauty, and loyalty. The non-physical aspects of life cannot be completely explained in a purely materialistic way. There is a reality (God) that is not material or physical.
  • Logic argument: some things are always true and this truth does not depend on human minds. This argument says that things like logic, science, and ethics do not make sense in the absence of God.

The sometimes uncomfortable truth is this: we cannot absolutely prove God’s existence. None of these arguments settles the case once and for all. Some of the arguments are flawed.

All the same, reasons for belief in God can be meaningfully discussed and taken as evidence that he exists.

The Problem of Evil

How can a good, loving, and all-powerful God allow evil and suffering in the world?

 Of all the challenges to faith, few are greater and have caused more believers to abandon their faith than the problem of evil (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 127).

Actually, the problem of evil is a conundrum for both believers and nonbelievers.

For nonbelievers, the problem is truth. If truth is not absolute, then there is no absolute morality. “Right and wrong” are simply artifacts of culture and human social development. In the absence of an absolute morality, no one can complain about the unfairness of any kind of suffering or injustice….it just is what it is.

For believers, the problem is inconsistency. Believers must reconcile the apparent conflict between a loving, all powerful God in charge of a world filled with Holocausts, human trafficking, terrorists, disease, and natural disasters.

The Problem of Human Evil

Humans are free-willed beings. From a Christian perspective, free will is a gift from God that gives meaning to life. We were not created as programmed robots that act in a predetermined way. We can choose to accept the love of God – or not. Free will also means that humans are a primary source of evil in the world. Humans are free to choose murder, theft, torture, trafficking, and lies.

Only an actual choice – real freedom – can give us a genuine relationship with God. But with real freedom, evil is always an option.

The Problem of Evil in Nature

Yersinia pestis

Disasters  in the natural world cause untold suffering. Polio cripples and malaria kills. People die in tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods.

And on a daily basis, vipers have poison, bees sting, mosquitoes bite, and cats torture their prey before they kill it. Predator and prey in the animal kingdom, where death and suffering are ironically the way of life.

Some Christians do back-bends with their theology in order to reconcile the violence of nature with a good Creator God and the perfection of Eden. A popular explanation is that no animals were carnivores prior to the sins of Adam and Eve in the garden.

We have to suppose that every animal on the planet had its way of life dramatically transformed by the curse. Sharp teeth and poison glands – and the genetic code to produce them – had to pop into existence, since animals were now going to start killing each other for the first time (Language of Science and Faith, p. 131).

vegitarian lion

Quite simply, there is just no evidence in the fossil record of carnivore-style teeth suddenly appearing – and teeth fossilize very well. Additionally, natural laws such as gravity, force, and tectonic plate movement must be suspended in order to support the supposition of a perfect, nonviolent world: no animal deaths from falls, no squishing an insect with a carelessly placed hoof, no earthquakes or volcanoes.

Overwhelmingly, it is clear that death, suffering, and natural disasters were commonplace billions of years before humans appeared.

 The Problem of Evil and Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design (ID) is an explanation of origins that is touted as an alternative to evolution. The Intelligent Design argument says that the exquisite and complex features of creation point to a Designer (understood to be God) who individually designed each component of the natural world. Intelligent Design highlights helpful components of nature such as the human eye, the human blood clotting mechanism, and interesting things like the “cute” little motorboat-like flagellum of bacteria (p. 132).

Intelligent Design proponents, however, do not talk about the more sinister “designs” in nature: the incredibly well-designed and successful AIDS virus or the really efficient bacteria that killed millions with plague. And then there is the especially charming species of wasp that lays its eggs in a caterpillar. When they hatch, the baby wasps nourish themselves by eating the internal organs of their hosts in the order that ensures their hosts live as long as possible (Language of Science and Faith, p.130).

Some have suggested that Satan is responsible for the creation of the distasteful things in nature, but this is elevating Satan to the level of creator (p. 133).

I can’t go there.

How Might Evolution Help Faith?

By faith we believe that all creative power comes from God, but this power can be wielded by nature to form, build, shape, and create. Tides, rivers, wind, even gravity are constantly forming and reforming the earth.

In the most minute sphere of the physical world – the subatomic level – things really get interesting. Identical electrons will “choose” to behave in different ways. This behavior is random and is not predictable.

…many processes in nature exhibit a genuine unpredictability that looks, for all the world, like freedom (p. 134).

Analogous to the freedom given by God to humans is the freedom given by God to all creation. God does not micromanage human behavior, and the result is that we humans abuse our freedom and bad things happen. Bad choices are the result of autonomy. Likewise, God does not micromanage nature. In its autonomy, nature will produce some bad designs (from a human perspective).

Humans and nature have been granted freedom by their Creator – neither are programmed robotic creations.

So why doesn’t God intervene? No one can explain why God doesn’t stop great evils like the Holocaust. No one can resolve the problem of when and why God chooses to intervene in human history or in nature.

It does help, however, to realize that genuine freedom – the very real freedom that allows us to love God – has to allow evil.

If God constantly intervened and blocked the consequences of the moral choices of humans every time they lead to evil, moral responsibility would disappear (p.140). We would be free to lash out, harm, and even murder those who anger us, confident that God would swoop in and undo the results of our wrath.

If God constantly intervened and blocked the consequences of natural laws, our world would be unpredictable and science wouldn’t work.

Moral Laws and God

Just as some use evil to argue against the existence of God, the unfairness of evil can be interpreted as support for God’s existence. Whenever we complain about the unfairness of a situation like cheating, bigotry, or third world debt, we are appealing to some sort of higher standard – the way things “should be”. If we are nothing more than an assemblage of chemicals, why should it matter?  One molecule owes nothing to other molecules. Our moral sense of right and wrong transcends our material selves.

It has been suggested that our moral selves evolved as our big brains evolved. It is true that caring and helpfulness and other positive traits are beneficial and could have evolved to aid human survival. It is entirely possible that God could have used natural processes to produce moral standards in humans, but there is currently no compelling theory for this (Language of Science and Faith, p. 143).

The prevalence and universality of moral standards is completely consistent with the existence of God. 

If we accept the reality of such moral laws, then we must ask about their origins. God is a reasonable conclusion to such exploration (Language of Science and Faith, p. 144).

Evolution Helps Faith – Really

The subject of evolution makes a lot of Christians really nervous. Many smart, thoughtful believers consciously avoid even investigating evolution for fear that science is corrosive to faith.

In addressing the age-old question of “how can a good God exist when there is so much evil in the world”, science is a positive. Evil, both human and natural, are the results of the freedom in creation. God is not the cause of evil.

Our universe appears to have a beginning. It appears to be fine-tuned for life. Our universe appears to have a place for love and purpose. To deny the existence of God is to say that the universe is not really as it appears – it’s all an illusion.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and my observations.

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Can Scientific and Scriptural Truth be Reconciled?

Can Scientific and Scriptural Truth be Reconciled?

Fury broke out in East Kilbride, Scotland last week when it was discovered that a local evangelical church (a Church of Christ congregation) had given elementary school children religious books as part of a chaplaincy program. Pilfering a Facebook photo of one of the church’s young ministers painted up as the pirate Jack Sparrow, a local tabloid newspaper published (screamed really) the story of an outraged community calling the church an extremist U.S. cult bent on brainwashing local children. Scottish_paper

The offending books? Exposing the Myth of Evolution and How Do You Know God is Real?

The story about the church was quite exploitative (as UK tabloids tend to be) and painted the group as a scary American cult that dresses up like Johnny Depp and leads little kids astray with nefarious intentions. Church members in Scotland and in the U.S. have responded with righteous indignation and understandable defensiveness.

Peel back the extremism, however, and there are several important observations about this whole brouhaha. Together, the two books given out by the church have a not-so-subtle message: “God is real” and “evolution is not”.

In other words, if you believe in God, you don’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you don’t believe in God.

In his defense of the books, the minister of the East Kilbride church said, “We believe the teachings of the Bible, which tell us evolution is a myth.” Again, a definitive statement about truth: either the Bible is right and scientists are wrong, or scientists are right and the Bible is wrong.

Is There Such Thing as Truth?

Postmodernist thought says that truth is an illusion – there are no permanent or ubiquitous truths. A postmodernist might say that what we think are eternal truths are really just assumptions people make about their own local situations and time.

Virtually all scientists reject the claim that there is no such thing as truth (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 105).  Scientists believe certain fundamental truths about the physical universe are always true, even for distant galaxies (E=mc2, for example). This has a very important ramification: if humans can definitively discern truth in the physical world, then truth exists; and if truth exists, it is reasonable to pursue truth in other areas such as theology and ethics.

Does Science Conflict with Scripture?

For a believer, any answer to this question that tosses out the Bible is not acceptable. What to do, then, when given the either/or truth dichotomy of science or the Bible? It is important to remember that the Bible is not a scientific text and was never meant to be one. Every one of the Bible writers lived long before science existed. The writers of the Bible were authentic members of their own time and were not modern scientific thinkers. When the Bible is read using the context of the writers’ understanding of the natural world we don’t learn about modern science, but we do learn about God. The kinds of answers we find in the Bible are usually non-scientific because the Bible is not trying to teach science. The Bible gives us the answers to the Who and why of creation; science answers the how and when.

How Can We Trust Science? Isn’t Science Always Changing?

Defenders of young earth creationism and others who deny evolution and/or an old earth often cite the changing nature of science as their rationale for rejection. After all, if scientists can’t get their story straight, why should we trust the story? That’s why it’s called the theory of evolution, right? It’s “just a theory” and not fact.

Actually, once significant and central scientific ideas are established, these ideas are often tweaked and refined, but they are not changed. When Copernicus originally demonstrated that the sun was the center of the solar system, he thought the orbits of the planets were perfect circles. Years later the shape of orbits was determined to elliptical – a tweak in the idea, but hardly a death-blow. In the same way, geologists who age the earth have refined their dates, but the evidence continually points toward a very ancient date – around 4.5 billion years.

…science, while always advancing, is actually not so much changing as it is improving (Language of Science and Faith, p.113).

Science ideas that are firmly established and are refined but not changed are called theories. This does not mean they are guesses likely to be discarded. Gravity is a theory, as is germ theory and atomic theory. And yes, evolution is a theory.

God and Evolution

It is common to say that God sends the rain, the seasons, day and night – and we thank God for those gifts. A Christian can believe in the water cycle, the orbit of the earth around the sun, and the rotation of the earth on its axis without compromising his/her faith. God does not step outside of natural laws to give us rain, seasons, day, or night. Parents thank God for the “gift” of a child with the complete understanding that this gift is a nine-month embryonic development process.

Nature is not sustained by miracles (actions outside natural laws), but by observable and predictable natural processes.

Theistic evolution (called BioLogos by Francis Collins) is the belief that with the exception of the establishment of natural laws, God’s creative work went forward through the laws of nature.

…once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity, and humans are a part of that process. Moreover, once evolution got underway, no special supernatural intervention was required (p.115).

The BioLogos position is consistent with what God has revealed to us in the natural world and what has been discovered by science.

God and the Grand Explanation

About 25% of the Americans who claim no religion say they believe in a “higher power”, but not in a personal God. This is very much like deism – a belief that God created the universe and then abandoned it.

BioLogos is not deism. BioLogos affirms “a God who is at all times involved, yet still allows a degree of freedom to the creation” (Language of Science and Faith, p. 117).

Note: If you’re a Big Bang Theory fan, you can take Sheldon’s seat on the sofa because you’re about to feel very physics-smart.


Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), called the greatest scientist of his era, disproved a previous notion that angels pushed the planets around in their orbits when he gave the world his laws of motion. Newton’s laws proved to be constant, reliable, and inflexible. On one hand, such laws might point to a rational and consistent Creator. But on the other hand, constant and unchangeable natural laws might support the idea of a world that has no need of any kind of ongoing care or intervention by its Creator.

Enter quantum physics.

At the level of the very very small – inside the atom at the electron level – things aren’t quite so cut-and-dried. Electrons, to a surprising degree, “do their own thing”, not following prescribed paths or predetermined behaviors. While bigger things (like planets) predictably follow laws of motion and gravity, things at the subatomic level (like electrons, quarks, neutrinos, and the recently famous Higgs boson) do not. Physicists call this “quantum uncertainty”.


This uncertainty does not mean that the universe might just suddenly fly off the handle – the moon isn’t going to reverse its course and objects aren’t going to start falling up. The big laws of nature are standardized, predictable, and reliable.

But within the crannies of this orderly world, tiny bits of freedom lurk (Language of Science and Faith, p. 119).

Put simply – the quantum level of physics allows for flexibility. Because the actions of particles at the quantum level are random, it is possible that God could influence his creation in subtle ways, undetected by scientific observation. It is therefore completely consistent with science for our Creator to intervene and influence his creation without breaking any natural laws.

Nature is reliable enough to reflect God’s faithfulness, yet flexible enough to permit God’s involvement, just as it is open to our involvement and the involvement of all creatures (Language of Science and Faith, p. 120)

In his book Coming to Peace With Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology, Darrel Falk describes his early struggles as a young man who wanted to be a scientist, yet was conflicted because of his Christian faith. Initially, Dr. Falk purposely avoided biology so he would not have to face the conflict of his fundamentalist faith upbringing with evolutionary science. In Coming to Peace, Falk maintains that God’s command to bring all creation into existence doesn’t mean God created everything separately and uniquely. Here’s Falk:

God’s Spirit guides the progression of life. His presence is never far from creation, just as it is never far from the events of my life. Nonetheless God respects my freedom and (I suspect) values freedom in the rest of creation as well (pp. 102 – 103).


This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and observations.


I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

How Do We Relate Science and Religion?

How Do We Relate Science and Religion?

Much of the conflict between science and faith is a trumped-up contention, fed by a media (and to be fair, consumers of media) that is in love with conflict. The players have defined and consistent roles: science is smart, progressive and informed; religion is defensive, backwards and wary.

One response is to “keep the peace” by declaring science and faith to be independent, separate, and non- overlapping. Stephen Jay Gould, a famous evolutionary biologist, best articulated this view and labeled it non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). Although the term “magisteria” sounds fancy and very royal, it does not imply majesty.

Queen-Elizabeth-II-queen-elizabeth-ii-33449729-405-304 Instead, it is derived from a Latin word that means “teacher”.  A magisteria is a domain of teaching authority. Applying the concept of NOMA, science and faith can’t possibly be in conflict because they deal with completely different topics: science has authority in its domain; faith has authority in its domain. Science is only concerned with facts and theory, the “how and when” of the natural world. Faith is only concerned with moral meaning and values, the “who and why” of the story. NOMA therefore is sort of a “live and let live” approach – put the gloves away, no need to fight, science and faith are apples and oranges.

Warfare metaphors have been a part of the science/faith discussion from the nineteenth century till now (Language of Science and Faith, p. 84). The NOMA approach has certainly moderated the dramatics that are common in perceived science and faith conflicts.

NOMA, however, has its limitations. You might think NOMA would be a happy compromise for atheists, but that is not so. Richard Dawkins has called NOMA “rubbish” primarily because he believes that religion has nothing authoritative to say in any situation. To a Dawkins-style atheist, faith is not respectable and is therefore not worthy of recognition as a domain of teaching authority.

Even to a God-believer, NOMA has its limitations. NOMA draws over-simplified lines between factual knowledge and values. Giberson and Collins (Language of Science and Faith, p. 85) illustrate this limitation: If “child abuse is wrong” is said as a statement of fact, then it cannot be a religious statement. According to NOMA, religion doesn’t have authority in fact; religion only has authority in values. However, “rightness” or “wrongness” is not the authority of science. The NOMA model cannot address this type of statement.

Another area in which NOMA is limited is how religion responds to advances in science. At one point in history, the best a Christian could do for the sick was to pray and provide comfort as best he or she could. Medical advances and drugs now offer an opportunity to treat and even cure diseases, and many Christians support and participate in medical missions in order to extend these advantages to the poor.

Things get complicated for Christians, however, in other areas of medical advances. For example, reproduction control that can stem the rate of maternal death, inhibit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and limit the problems of overpopulation is not universally acceptable to Christians. Scientific advances raise many other moral and ethical questions that must be addressed by people of faith.

I certainly believe that the idea of NOMA has value. It is a great way to frame a conversation, either with a God-believer or with a non-believer. “Science tells us the how and when of the universe; faith tells us the Who and why” is my go-to jumping off point in this kind of conversation. Understand, though, that a model of absolutely separate faith and science breaks down (1) if someone believes that religion has no value or (2) in some areas of ethical and moral decision-making.

Can Science Inform Religion in Helpful Ways?

science_vs_religion_scoreboard_bumper_sticker-r38e570329f704ce68e8e2cce9b841f6f_v9wht_8byvr_512Before the Scopes trial, Galileo’s trial before the Church Inquisition was the most famous science vs. religion courtroom showdown. Unlike the players in the Scopes trial, Galileo did not see this as a forum for science to “win” and the Church to “lose”. Galileo was not interested in defeating religion – he remained a faithful Catholic till the end of his life. Galileo represented a group of Catholic astronomers who wanted to reform their church.

Galileo did not suggest that his discoveries contradicted the Bible, but that science had offered a refinement to a proper understanding (Language of Science and Faith, p. 89).

Learning that the sun – without a doubt – was the center of the solar system and that the earth did indeed move resulted in a revised understanding of the scriptures that say that the earth does not move. The earth-not-moving psalms (Psalms 93:1, Psalms 96:10, Psalms 104:5) still speak truth, but we now understand this truth is told in a poetic, symbolic way.

Genesis is the grappling-ground for contemporary believers:

We suggest that Darwin’s theory of evolution, now that it has been confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt by science, offers the same sort of help in understanding the Genesis creation story as Galileo’s work helped his generation to better understand the psalmist’s references to the mobility of the earth (p. 89).

N.T. Wright observed that every generation must “chew through” the Bible afresh. As successive generations gain new knowledge, as cultures change, as societal pressure points change, as language changes – believers must continually work through scripture and revise understanding as needed.

New Understanding of Scripture


Is it really just that simple?

Several years ago, Mike Cope wrote a blog series about how to read the Bible. Mike outlined several simple yet deep “rules” to use when reading scripture. My two favorites are “the Bible wasn’t written to me” and “the Bible has to be interpreted”.

The Bible didn’t roll off the press in one grand printing – it was written by many authors in different languages, cultures, and time periods. We need to know what we’re reading if we want understanding. Ernest Lucas, a biochemist and theologian, summarized five questions to ask when approaching the Bible (Language of Science and Faith, pp. 91- 100). These five questions have been used since the time of the early church fathers:

What kind of language is being used? Is the passage written in a figurative, symbolic, historical, scientific or straightforward manner?

What kind of literature is it? Is the passage a historical narrative? An epic? Poetry? Law? Each of these genres has interpretive principles to help understanding.

Who is the audience? What is the cultural context of the original hearers? What were their traditions? What was important to the original hearers?

What is the purpose of the text? Was it written to teach a lesson? Was it written to correct misconceptions? Genesis, for example, appears to scholars to be a polemic – written to challenge a commonly held view or belief. In contrast to the dominant polytheistic cultures of the ancient near east that worshiped the sun, moon, and other aspects of creation as gods, Genesis presents the case for one God, outside of creation and creator of all.

What relevant extratexual knowledge exists? This is particularly useful when translating from ancient languages into modern.

Using what we know from science (or any other discipline for that matter) to readjust our understanding of scripture is not disrespectful of scripture. We are privileged to have insights others did not have, and future believers may again need to readjust.

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with commentary and my observations.


I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Can We Really Know the Earth is Billions of Years Old?

Can We Really Know the Earth is Billions of Years Old?

Kids love dinosaurs. They are big and scary and growl-y and dangerous. Proud parents beam as their precocious little paleontologists recite their wealth of dinosaur facts. The trouble starts when the little paleontologists learn that dinosaurs roamed the earth between 65 – 230 million years ago, a timeline that is hard to squeeze into an earth that is only 6,000 years old.

That’s when dinosaurs really become dangerous.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that a “young earth” (between 6,000 and 10,000 years old) became a widespread belief among evangelicals. A young earth created many problems: how do you reconcile apparently ancient events with a fairly short earth history? To make the math work in the case of the dinosaurs, dinosaurs and humans had to coexist. Maybe not exactly in the way they did in the town of Bedrock, but close.

fred and dinosaur

Apologetics Press (AP) is a prolific source of Young Earth Creationist (YEC) literature. An AP published science book for children, Dinosaurs Unleashed: The True story About Dinosaurs and Humans, includes illustrations of men fighting a vicious T-Rex, baby dinosaurs climbing a ramp to Noah’s Ark, and an idyllic scene of a young girl and her dinosaur pet. Not exactly Fred and Dino, but not too far from it.

               pet dino           dinos on ark           trex

When the age of the earth is a tenet of faith, conflict arises when scientific evidence doesn’t fit the faith-required parameters. The most common response is to somehow make the evidence fit the belief.

All scientific evidence points to an earth and a universe of immense age:

There are no scientific arguments of any consequence that point to the earth being just a few thousand years old. Not one isolated piece of nontrivial data, in any form, points in this direction (p. 54).

How Old is the Universe? How Do We Know?

The age of the universe is around twelve to fourteen billion years. Scientists arrived at this number because several unrelated lines of evidence converge on that number. Let’s look at two lines of evidence:

speed limit of light The speed of light: Light travels 186,000 miles per second. Our sun is 93 million miles away. When light leaves the sun, the light has to travel 93 million miles before we can see it. If you do the calculations, you will find that it takes eight minutes for light from the sun to reach the earth. When you see the sun, you are actually looking back in time. If the sun went dark, we would not know for eight minutes.

Our sun is relatively close to us, but other stars are unimaginably further away. They are so far away that it takes millions, even billions of years for the light from these distant stars to reach us. One way to estimate the age of the universe is to calculate how long it would take for the light we see from distant stars to reach us. The fact that we are seeing light from stars so far away tells us the universe  is billions of years old.

The Big Bang: Edwin Hubble (for whom the telescope was named) discovered in 1928 that virtually all of the galaxies in the universe are moving away from us. If the universe is expanding, it must have been smaller in the past. And since the universe is not infinitely large, there must have been a point in time when the expansion started from a single point – The Big Bang. (This is where you start to sing the opening lines of the sitcom Big Bang Theory to yourself: “…the whole universe was in a hot dense state then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait!”).

We know how fast the galaxies are traveling. The speed of the galaxies is measured in the same way a police officer measures the speed of your car – using radar to measure the Doppler effect. Knowing the rate of expansion and the average distances between galaxies, we can calculate how long the universe has been expanding from the starting point until now.

What if (as Young Earth Creationists suggest) God created light “in transit”?

Then what we see is not what actually is.

What about supernova – exploding stars – that are millions of light-years away? Those stars never actually existed according to YEC reasoning. Of course God could have created a universe with the appearance of age. God could have created everything ten minutes ago and placed a lifetime of memories in our brains.

Or, stars, galaxies, and supernova appear to be billions of years old because…they are.

How Old is the Earth? How D0 We Know?

As with the universe, the age of the earth has been determined using multiple, disparate lines of data that all converge at the same number. Here are some of the ways the age of the earth is determined:

Tree rings: We can determine the age of a tree by counting the rings on their trunks. The oldest living things on earth are six-thousand-year-old bristlecone pines in the Sierra Nevada. Dead trees lying nearby are almost twice as old.

Lake beds: Lake beds accumulate sediments according to the season: minerals in spring and pollens and plant materials in fall. Lake beds as old as 35,000 years have been found.

Ice rings: Similarly, glacial ice has layers that indicate changes in seasons. Ice cores have been drilled in ice as old as 740,000 years.

Using the simple skills of visual observation and counting, tree rings, lakebeds, and ice cores place the earth well past the 6,000 to 10,000 year age proposed by Young Earth Creationists. Using patterns in the orbit of the earth and patterns of magnetic field reversals, we find dates for the earth going back 30 million to 170 million years (Language of Science and Faith, pp. 62-63).

Dating methods for the way way back – radioactive clocks: In the nucleus of an atom are particles called protons and neutrons. Usually an atom will have equal numbers of protons and neutrons, and all is happy and stable in the atomic world. Sometimes, however, there are extra neutrons in the nucleus of an atom, making the atom unstable. Atoms will “throw off” the extras protons to form a more stable atom.

For example, atoms of uranium-235 are unstable. Uranium-235 will throw off neutrons until it has changed into a more stable element, lead-207.

We know how long it takes for unstable uranium to decay into stable lead. When we want to date a rock containing uranium-235 and lead-207, we can measure the ratio of uranium-235 to lead-207 and determine the age of the rock. Using the uranium-lead clock, the age of the earth is about 4.566 billion years old.


The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge

(Psalms 19:1-2)

Everything in the cosmos pours forth speech and reveals knowledge.  Do you believe the speech is true? Do you believe the knowledge is Truth? Do you believe that the cosmos actually is what it reveals itself to be?

Three Kinds of Creationists

Young Earth Creationists: Young Earth Creationists (YEC) believe that Genesis is a scientific and historical account of origins. Adding up genealogies (the begats) and assuming seven literal 24-hours days of creation, YEC conclude that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  These assumptions are based almost entirely upon English translations of the Old Testament. Many scholars in Hebrew, Old Testament, and ancient cultures insist that the YEC position is not even close to what the text of Genesis is saying.

Old Earth Creationists:Old Earth Creationists (OEC) also believe that Genesis is a scientific and historical account of origins, but they accept scientific evidence for the age of the earth. Although OEC allow for an earth that is billions of years old, OEC believe that living things were created by direct and separate events – no natural processes were involved and they reject evolution.

BioLogos: The view of the authors of The Language of Science and Faith and many Christians who want to be biblically based and scientifically accurate is BioLogos: God’s creative activity is executed within the natural order (Language of Science and Faith, p. 72), using and respecting established natural laws.

Reading Genesis

A literal reading has not been widely accepted as the only way to interpret Genesis for most of the history of the church. Important Christian writers like Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas, although all lived in a pre-scientific time, did not support a literal reading. Even William Jennings Bryan, famous for arguing against evolution in the Scopes trial, did not believe in a young earth.

The Genesis Flood, published in 1961, was wildly popular in evangelical circles and was responsible to a great extent for defining the terms that still exist: serious, Bible-based Christians believe in a young earth and special creation. Deny any aspect of a literal interpretation, and your faith is suspect.


In an auspicious courtroom in 1633, one of the major players in the scientific revolution faced an inquisition by Church authorities. Galileo Galilei was on trial for heresy. Galileo wrote and taught that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system – an obviously false idea because it is directly contradicted by the clear teaching of scripture: The Earth Does Not Move.

After all, Psalm 104:5 says:

He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.

Although Galileo eventually recanted (with fingers crossed behind his back) rather than face the full penalty of the Inquisition, it wasn’t long before his clearly observable astronomical discoveries were widely accepted by Christians.

New science discoveries, new evidence, new data – Christians were compelled to reexamine a biblical text – and faith survived.

Twenty-first century Christians are faced with the evidence that much of life lived and went extinct before humans came along, with Darwin’s discoveries, with evidence of the Big Bang, and with the genetic evidence that all species are related.

These are our Galileo moments.

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with commentary and my observations.


I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Do I Have to Believe in Evolution?

Do I Have to Believe in Evolution?

The 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, spawned theatrics inside the courtroom and out.  Ministers preached on street corners, vendors sold souvenirs, girls carried monkey dolls, and a chimpanzee named Joe Mendi sipped a Coca-Cola in the drugstore wearing a plaid suit, a brown fedora and white spats.

The trial inspired several popular songs, including this catchy hit (be sure to play the audio – you’ll be humming it all day!)

monkey music cover

Thus was set the adversarial context that defines the debate to this day: do you believe a bunch of unproven so-called scientists, or do you believe the truth in the Bible? Few theological discussions among Christians incur the level of heart-racing blood-pressure-spiking defensiveness as a discussion of evolution.

Opinions usually cluster around one of two poles:

  • An energetic denial of all evidence of evolution accompanied by a literal interpretation of Genesis OR
  • A passive stance – “It doesn’t really matter to me how God did it, I just believe he did it. I don’t want to think about it.”

Regardless of which pole you most nearly orbit, when there is near universal agreement by scientists that evolution is true, it is worth seriously considering.

What does the theory of evolution say?

Evolution is often dismissed because it is “just” a theory. It is important to understand what scientists mean when they use the term theory.  A science theory does not have the same meaning as the word “theory” used in casual, non-technical language. For example:

I have a theory that the Rangers will be in the world series again. (casual and hopeful)

Because of the theory of gravity, jumpers use a parachute when they jump out of a plane. (science)

When scientists use the word “theory”, they are not talking about a best guess, or even an educated guess. When scientists use the word “theory”, they are not implying speculation.

A science theory is a statement of the facts, laws, and principals of something known or observed.

Surgeons scrub before surgery because of germ theory. Jumpers use parachutes because of gravitational theory.

Would anyone suggest surgeons do not need to scrub because germ theory is “just” a theory?

Concisely, evolution theory states that all life on earth evolved from one primitive species that branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species. The mechanism that drives most of evolution is natural selection (Why Evolution is True, J. Coyne, p. 3).

It is also important to note what the theory of evolution does NOT say:

  • Evolution theory says nothing about the origin of life.
  • Evolution theory says nothing about the purpose of life.

This is the theory of evolution in a nutshell – the BioLogos worldview – and the grand story of the creative world God brought into existence (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 37).

Why do we often hear that there is not a consensus regarding evolution?

It is important to understand that tweaking a theory or refining details of a theory is not the same as rejecting the theory. Scientists may have differing ideas about details within a theory, but that is not the same as repudiating an entire theory. This is the process of science – constant tweaking, refining, adding to the body of knowledge.

While there are scientists that reject evolution, these are not premier scientists. Looking at the actual names of individuals, we rarely find a contemporary biologist currently working and researching in the field. The names are primarily academics outside of the field of biology and emeritus (retired) faculty, no longer active in research (pp.30-34).

The scientific community is not abandoning evolution – not even close. Theodosis Dobzhansky’s 1973 observation still stands strong:

Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.

Genetics 101

The basic units of heredity are called genes and are passed from parents to offspring. Genes are made of a substance called DNA.

Molecules in DNA have flexibility to change and move around on a long chain. These “changes and movings” are called mutations. When genes change, a change occurs in the plant or animal. Sometimes the plant or animal is changed in an important way, but most of the time, these changes are minuscule and irrelevant.

If a certain animal group undergoes a substantial number of changes, then the group can eventually turn into a new type of animal – a new species.

But here is a key point: species change very slowly.

We can’t watch a species change.

The term for the unimaginable past is deep time. The inability to imagine this change process and the vastness of the time required often makes people doubt its validity. However, our limitations are not nature’s limitations:

We have to distinguish between challenges to our imaginations, which have trouble conceptualizing slow process that take millions of years, and challenges to nature, which have no such limitations (p. 46).

Sometimes these changes are useful or beneficial. The change might result in an animal being more attractive to a mate. peacock

The change might result in an animal laying eggs that are better camouflaged or that are less fragile than before. In the cases of an attractive mate or hardier eggs, the changes are likely to result in more offspring for the new species. More offspring means more animals with the new trait. If the change happens to be harmful (weaker eggs, for example), then less offspring will result.

Interestingly, changes can be beneficial in one circumstance and harmful in another. The mutation that causes sickle-cell anemia also protects against malaria.

What is the best proof that evolution has occurred?

Even before Darwin, many scientists believed that life had changed over time. Others had previously proposed the idea of evolution. Darwin is considered the originator of evolution because his copious discoveries contributed concrete evidence that change had indeed occurred.

The Human Genome Project (headed by Dr. Collins) finished mapping the human genome in 2003. We now know the DNA code of humans and many other vertebrates. Genetic data from these studies conclusively fit the model that all life evolved from a common ancestor.

Take your vitamins. Most mammals do not need to have vitamin C in their diets because they have a gene that allows them to produce their own vitamin C. However, primates (including humans) need vitamin C in their diets because they cannot produce their own vitamin C. Without vitamin C, primates (including humans) will develop scurvy.

Genetic mapping revealed that primates (including humans) actually have the vitamin C-making gene, but it is “broken” – it has degenerated.

Did God create humans independently and insert a broken gene into our genomes? Giberson and Collins do not find this scenario plausible (Language of Science and Faith, p.43) – and I have to agree.

Over and over again, we find that the genomes of different organisms have the same genes. Some have suggested that God might have “reused” the same DNA pattern for similar creatures. But consider:

The genomes of organisms do not merely share common genes that successfully perform their intended functions. Genomes also share genes that are broken (Language of Science and Faith, p.49).

Did God specially and individually create animals and plants that show evidence of being related… but really aren’t related at all? Is this explanation consistent with your concept of God?

“You may have come from a monkey but I didn’t.”

Did we come from monkeys?

Short answer: NO.

All life on our planet evolved from an original common ancestor, but we did not “come from” a monkey or any other species currently alive on earth.  Humans share a common ancestor with primates, but the human part of the family split off an unimaginably long time ago.


This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins with my observations and commentary.


I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

The Language of Science and Faith – Introduction

The Language of Science and Faith – Introduction

It was an evolution of sorts in adhesive chrome-plated automobile accoutrement.

First there was the primitive Christian fish, simple and unadorned. The next permutation was the same little fish, but now sporting legs and feet with the name “Darwin” across its belly. The final model was the Christian fish emblazoned with “Truth” in mid-swallow of the “Darwin” fish. Ha! Top that.

darwin christian fish

The clear implication is that faith and Darwin are completely incompatible, and more than that, Christianity completely trumps, no, obliterates, Darwin.

 According to the Truth Eating Darwin model, here are your choices:

(1) Reject a vast body of science evidence or

(2) Reject God.

A common perception is that to accept scientific explanations of the origins of the universe and life on earth means a rejection of God. Serious Christians don’t believe in evolution, serious scientists don’t believe in God.

 In many Christian circles, particularly evangelical ones, scientific evidences for origins are ignored, or worse, belittled. A radio ad currently running in the DFW market (a secular, “family-friendly” station) warns:

Every time your child picks up a secular textbook they are exposed to agendas, propaganda, and inaccuracies.

 Science isn’t just wrong. Science is an enemy.

For the Christian who wants to love God with heart, soul, and mind, rejection of either science or God is an impossible choice.

In the introduction, the authors of The Language of Science and Faith make this optimistic declaration:

The good news is that we do not have to make this choice (p. 18)

 Three Beliefs About Origins

Theistic evolution is the belief that God created the universe and all life using natural processes (including evolution), within the natural order and within natural laws. On a smaller scale, almost everyone believes this idea: we pray to God to send rain, but we completely understand that rain is a result of the water cycle – a natural process. Francis Collins coined the term BioLogos, combining two key elements of this belief: bios referring to life; logos referring to the Word or rationality of God, as in “in the beginning was the Word (Logos)…”. Dr. Collins founded The BioLogos Foundation, a forum for peer-reviewed scientists to write and speak about science and faith.

 Young Earth Creationism is the belief that Genesis 1-2 are literal, historical accounts of creation. The universe and all that is in it was created in six literal 24 hour days. Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis are leading advocates of this idea. Young Earth Creationists believe that the universe is less than 10,000 years old.

 Old Earth Creationism is the belief that most of Genesis 1-2 is literal, but the time periods (seven 24-hour days) are not. Old Earth Creationists are open to interpreting days as “geological epochs”. The organization Reasons to Believe is the standard bearer for this belief. A subset of sorts of Old Earth Creationism is the Intelligent Design movement. Intelligent Design (ID) doesn’t directly appeal to Genesis, but maintains that creation is the result of an “intelligent agent”. The Discovery Institute is the primary source for information about ID.

 A Bad Rep

Mentioning “evolution” in a vaguely positive context often evokes a trigger response of emotion and defensiveness despite the fact that the actual theory of evolution makes no direct statements about God. “Darwinism” is frequently used as a synonym for “godlessness” and “atheism”. Although Darwin’s research is considered a watershed moment in biology, Darwin was not the first nor has he been the last to contribute to the understanding of the process of evolution.

There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin – not one- which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 21-22).

 The implications of this statement are powerful. It is powerful particularly in the context of Christian belief: to reject evolution is to reject the bulk of accepted biological research and understanding.

God of the Gaps

Isaac Newton is credited with discovering the law of gravity. He accurately identified gravity as the reason why planets orbit the sun. However, Newton could not explain the intricacies of the mechanisms by which orbits are maintained. Because he couldn’t explain the mechanics, Newton deemed them unknowable and concluded that it must be due to the action of God. This is a “god of the gaps” argument – I can’t explain it, so I’ll put God (or the gods) in the “gap”.  A century later when the mechanics of orbits were discovered by Pierre Simon de Laplace, the “God explanation” was replaced by demonstrable physical mechanisms.

Darwin offered biology what Laplace offered physics – a natural explanation for some remarkable phenomena people were explaining by invoking God. Neither of these cases  presents an argument against the existence of God” (p. 23).

Should serious Christians be afraid to go down this track? Is it a slippery slope to eventual disbelief in things like miracles, the resurrection and other basic tenets of faith? Is it wise to do as Peter Enns suggests and meet the fear head-on?

Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, p. 145).

Many Christians as well as some of the new atheists claim that to accept evolution is to embrace atheism. Why do you think such opposite camps agree on this point?

Welcome to the discussion. I’ll present the high points of each chapter with commentary and my observations. Comment, discuss, “like”. Jump in!

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins with my observations and commentary.


I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

New Read-Along! A summer book plus a short memoir to get us started

“What about the dinosaurs? Couldn’t there have been a baby dinosaur on Noah’s Ark?”

“Do you believe we really come from monkeys?”

“I believe the Bible, not scientists.”

I’ve heard all of these and more!

This summer, read along with me a book co-authored by one of my all-time favorite scientists, Francis Collins:

LSFcover The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins).

Francis Collins is a world-renown geneticist who is probably best known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his groundbreaking discoveries of disease genes. He is currently the head of the National Institutes of Health.  Dr. Collins is a committed evangelical Christian who affirms that faith does not require rejecting science.

Get your copy and in a week or so I’ll post the first response.

 Meanwhile, how about an interim book? Last winter I introduced the “read-along” series with a challenge from Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com.

Here’s the nutshell: People who are open to changing their minds are not afraid of or threatened by new things – they revel in them. People who cling to one point of view cannot afford to have their minds changed by someone else’s input.

The goal of these read-alongs is to examine topics new and bold, to read a book in (virtual) community that challenges and probes.

I am delighted to introduce you to the first book published by a dear hometown friend, Sally Gary:

Loves God, Likes Girls: A Memoir  LGLG

 Sally has been my friend since childhood. Her mother was my second grade teacher (and is the Mother Teresa of second grade teachers). We went to the same church, the same high school, the same college. Sally has been a debate and speech coach, practiced law, and taught at Abilene Christian University. Sally founded and now serves as the executive director of CenterPeace, a non-profit dedicated to providing community and opening conversations about faith and homosexuality.

 Upload this book. Read. I think you will (as I did)  find it impossible to put down.

I marathon-read it… it’s that kind of book.

 Here’s one review:

Regardless of your views on homosexuality, only the stony-hearted and sheltered will be unmoved by Sally’s story.

 Here is what this book is not:

  • It is not an in-depth discussion of scriptures.
  • It is not a one-size-fits-all interpretation of scripture.
  • It does not offer a cure, a solution, or any kind of quippy answer.
  • It is not everyone’s story.

 Here is what this book is:

  • It is Sally’s story, and it is hers to tell.
  • It is her truth.

 Loves God, Likes Girls explores the damage that is often done by secrets.

 In his review, Jonathan Storment wrote :

It’s incredibly hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Because most of the time it’s so hard to get out of our own.

For a couple of hours, put yourself in Sally’s shoes. You won’t regret it. After you’ve read Loves God, Likes Girls, please post your comments/thoughts/response.

Welcome back to the Read-Along! Please share with friends who might be interested in reading either or both books along with us.