“How I Changed My Mind About Evolution”

Is there a topic more threatening to evangelicals than evolution?

Many evangelicals are convinced that evolution theory threatens to undermine – even dismantle – core beliefs about the Bible and Christian theology. Evangelical churches tend to fall somewhere on a continuum between an unspoken but default anti-evolution stance on one end and a Ken Ham-style all-out war on the other.

A Gallup Poll (2014) found that 69% of Americans who attend church weekly believe that humans were created in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Weekly church attenders are mostly evangelicals.

book review how i changed my mind evolution

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution is a collection of twenty-five short faith memoirs – first-hand accounts from practicing evangelicals. All but one in the group are theologians (academics and/or pastors) or scientists (academics, researchers, editors). Their backgrounds are varied – cradle Christians to atheists/agnostics. All but one came to faith in an evangelical tradition. Most initially embraced the literal Genesis interpretation of their faith mentors or faith tradition.

Several writers described a personal “road to Damascus” experience on their way to acceptance of evolution theory – their study of origins began as a search for ammunition in a culture war against evolution (a war which is, as N. T. Wright points out, primarily fought in America).

The group includes a history-making, world-renown research scientist (Francis Collins), a best-selling author (Scot McKnight), and many other names you might recognize.

Incremental Journeys

The journey to accepting evolution theory was often incremental and usually included a time of closeted acceptance of evolution. A first step for several writers was exposure to books and conversations outside their own faith “tribes”. The exposure was sometimes initially threatening, but eventually embraced:

I began to sense that science was bigger than what I had been taught . . . (p. 24)

How could I have never heard about these things? (p. 182)

Interestingly, tools of the trade used by several of the writers in their vocations were repurposed in their journey to acceptance of evolution theory. For example, in his fundamentalist seminary education, Scot McKnight was trained to read the Bible for himself, to sort out the evidence, and to base his beliefs on the evidence alone. McKnight calls this the “hermeneutical equivalent of the scientific method” (p. 31), and he eventually applied this “hermeneutic” to the scientific evidence of origins.

Likewise, an analytic philosopher applied a tool of philosophy – there are things that are true independent of what we think about the matter – and concluded that all truth is God’s truth.

The backgrounds and stories vary, but common themes wind their way through the memoirs.

So what changed their minds?

“What else did the church lie to me about?”

Raised in a church and Christian school where a young earth was truth and evolution was a lie, she was devastated after she encountered a thoughtful and reasoned explanation of evolution in a university science course. Her parents (members of one writer’s church) were thankful that she was willing to have a conversation, given that the church’s perceived rejection of science is a primary reason eighteen to thirty-year-olds abandon their faith.

The most pervasive theme in this collection of faith memoirs was a realization of personal intellectual dishonesty. The historical and scientific gymnastics required in order to make empirical evidence “fit” a young earth, a literal Genesis, or the claims of the intelligent design movement eventually became harder than accepting the scientific evidence.

dinosaur-human-2

As an undergraduate, pastor and developmental psychologist Daniel M. Harrell felt the tension. He chose astronomy as his one required science course, hoping to avoid the “indictments of fossils and DNA”. But stars don’t lie about their age, and Harrell soon went scrambling for a “trick” to combat the cognitive dissonance he felt. His campus minister provided the solution: all evidences of evolution and an old earth are simply “appearances” – the earth only “appears” to be old, for instance. This solution worked through college, seminary, and a Ph.D. program, but eventually the tricks collapsed and the cognitive dissonance returned with force.

Harrell concluded that not only did the “appearances trick” collapse under the evidence, but it also failed theologically.

… it seemed to portray God as an intentional deceiver. This would never do. (p. 126)

Several writers recalled belief (encouraged by their faith communities) in a vast, world-wide scientific conspiracy. Scientists and atheists (aren’t they really the same?) were in cahoots to deceive the world:

  • A transitional fossil has never been found.
  • Rock dating techniques aren’t accurate or reliable.
  • There is evidence supporting creationism, but scientists suppress it.

One writer recalled a poster mocking human evolution hanging in her Christian school’s science classroom. She recalled how she and her twelve-year-old classmates were smug in the knowledge that they knew something that all the scientists in the world didn’t.

Eventually, the overwhelming evidence for evolution and an old earth overcame the science-denying mental gymnastics:

Conspiracy theories about scientists piecing together ordinary bits of bone to make dinosaurs or relying on faulty radio-carbon dating techniques to argue that the earth was hundreds of millions of years old became increasingly absurd once I got to know science and scientists firsthand. (p. 140)

tugwar

One writer, raised by her atheist father to approach the cosmos with unbridled awe and wonder, came to science before she came to faith:

the young-earth argument didn’t seem to align with the ever-expansiveness I had experienced with God . . . As I read the arguments that the earth must be only several thousand years old . . . I felt less in awe of our Creator, not a greater sense of glorious mystery . . . (p. 156)

Rethinking Theology

A prevalent theme in the memoirs is a “rethinking” of traditional evangelical theology. Primarily, what do we do with with Adam? Does Christian theology require a literal, historical, and unique Adam?

And what about the image of God? How does common descent of all living beings impact the theology of being “made in the image of God”?

How is God “originator” and “creator” in a naturalistic process?

Some writers elaborated their thoughts on these questions; others confessed to an ongoing wrestling match with theology despite their acceptance of evolution theory. One writer eloquently encouraged patience in the “hard work of learning” (p. 88).

Here’s how another writer put it:

. . . if all truth is God’s truth, then in principle our understanding of Scripture and truth are compatible, even if the precise manner in which they are compatible may not always be clear to us . . .  (p. 81)

Probably the greatest resource used by the writers in rethinking traditional interpretations of Genesis was the historical and archeological evidence from ancient near-eastern cultures – the cultural ancestors and cultural neighbors of ancient Israel.

Creation stories and flood stories that far predate the Genesis stories demanded attention. Setting ancient Israel within its cultural, historical, and literary contexts removed obstacles to acceptance of evolution theory for many writers.

enumaelish_2570103975

Broken Relationships

Sadly, an all-too-common event in the memoirs was a broken relationship of some sort.

Many memoirs described an intellectual no-man’s land. Their faith was suspect by their Christian friends; their intelligence was suspect by their science colleagues.

A wealthy donor threatened to pull support from a seminary if a professor who was critical of the intelligent design movement was given tenure.

A successful, tenured professor was forced out because he refused to publicly support a new anti-evolution university faith statement.

Even Francis Collins was not immune. He definitely felt the love in the room when he spoke to a national group of Christian physicians.

Here’s a world-class science rock star! And – he’s a very public and committed Christian! Yay!

But then:

. . . I mentioned how overwhelming the scientific evidence for evolution is, and suggested that in my view evolution might be God’s elegant plan for creating humankind. The warmth left the room. So did some of the attendees, literally walking out, shaking their heads in dismay. (p. 71)

Changing Your Mind

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution hits the best of both worlds – it is readable and user-friendly, but doesn’t skimp on the science or theology. It’s a book I read with lots of “me, toos!”.

I, too, felt a conflict between what I was learning in public school and in college and what was held as the de facto origins position of my faith “tribe”.

Author and speaker John Clayton, an atheist convert to Christianity, was the first to give me “permission” to think outside my evolution box. As a geologist, Clayton rejected the idea of a young earth. I do not accept Clayton’s intelligent design explanations, but I am thankful he pushed my thinking.

On to the big guns: after Kenneth Miller (Finding Darwin’s God, Only a Theory), Francis Collins (The Language of God), and Darrel Falk (Coming to Peace with Science), there was no turning back.

For an in-depth look at the origin and flood stories of the ancient near east, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns (The Evolution of Adam, Inspiration and Incarnation) is my go-to.

For a very user-friendly introduction to the science and theology of origins, read Reconciling the Bible and Science: A Primer on the Two Books of God (Mitchell and Blackard).

ccat reading

*****

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

*****

who invited the herbivore

What Darwin Got Wrong and Why Creationism Isn’t Science

It has been a year since the showdown between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham “the Six-Thousand Year-Old Earth Guy”. Bill Nye caught a lot of flak from scientists for debating Ham because a “debate” implies two equally credible options. Even the BioLogos Foundation (dedicated to an evolutionary understanding of creation) discouraged the Ham/Nye debate because debates imply that you must choose between evolution and faith. ham-vs-nye-debate
Public debates are favorites of creationists – the limited time format and simplified concepts needed for a non-scientific audience usually favor the creationist debater. Debaters often employ the “Gish Gallop” (named for a famous creationist), a debating strategy in which an opponent is deluged with small arguments that can’t possibly be answered in the allotted time. If all arguments are not refuted, the creationist debater declares victory.

Debating Canada

When the Institute for Creation Research scheduled their November 2014 anti-evolution “Origin Summit” on the campus of Michigan State University, their first move was to organize a debate. Unfortunately for the group, the science faculty banded together and refused to participate in a debate with the creationist group.

Not only did the science faculty refuse to debate, they refused to comment publicly or on the record until after the event was over. The faculty of MSU steadfastly refused to elevate the status of creationism to science.
A few Michigan State students did, however, set up an outreach booth as a good-will gesture to the summit attendees. Even so, the student volunteers chose not to engage in debate.

The outreach booth organizer explained:

We don’t debate evolution because it’s not debatable. It’s like debating the existence of Canada.

Darwin Editorial_cartoon_depicting_Charles_Darwin_as_an_ape_(1871)

Certainly no scientist has been more maligned or been the subject of more unflattering caricatures than the author of evolution theory, Charles Darwin. But Charles Darwin wasn’t the only or even the first of his day to suggest that living things evolved from a common ancestor. Other scientists had suggested it, including Darwin’s own grandfather.

Darwin developed the theory of evolution in the late 1830’s, but he never published a paper– he planned to present it in one all-inclusive book. Meanwhile, another naturalist (as biologists were called at the time), Alfred Russel Wallace, had arrived at a very similar theory of evolution. Both Darwin and Wallace presented papers in 1858, but the papers were ignored. It was Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species published the following year that caused a scientific and cultural earthquake.

Darwin’s big idea eventually revolutionized science and became the foundation for all of modern biology. Darwin said that evolution occurred because of natural selection: living organisms vary, and some of these variations will better suit individuals to the environment. Individuals that are better suited for the environment will live longer and produce more offspring, thus passing down the traits to future generations. Beneficial traits are retained, useless or harmful traits disappear. Over time, a new species will emerge.

Darwin Was Wrong

Darwin himself realized that there was a gaping hole in his theory: offspring obviously had a mix of their parents’ traits, but how were traits passed from parents to offspring?

Little cell seeds – that was Darwin’s answer. According to Darwin, each cell in the body sheds little cell seeds (Darwin called them “gemmules”). Little cell seeds from both parents blend together to form the offspring. Some gemmules are stronger, so they dominate over the others.

Big problem: if traits are blended in offspring, it would not be very long before beneficial traits are diluted out of future generations.

Darwin’s explanation of how traits are passed from parent to offspring was, in a word, wrong.
Lacking an answer to the problem of heredity, enthusiasm for Darwin’s theory waned.

Super Monk to the Rescue!

While Darwin was busy in the 1850s developing his theory and writing his book, an Augustinian monk was painstakingly carrying out detailed botanical experiments in Brno Abbey (now part of the Czech Republic). Gregor_Mendel_ovalThe Abbey had a long history of scientific inquiry – specifically in the areas of agriculture and plant science. Gregor Mendel studied the inheritance of traits in pea plants – wrinkled or round seeds, yellow or green pods, and other easily identifiable traits.

(Raise your hand if you remember working out Punnett squares in school – you may thank Brother Mendel for that.)

600px-Punnett_Square.svgAfter eight years, thousands of crosses, and meticulous statistical study, Mendel determined that traits are not blended in offspring but are inherited whole.
Mendel published his work in 1866, but no one paid attention.
Almost twenty years after his death, Mendel’s work was rediscovered, breathing new life into Darwin’s theory. Before long we discovered that DNA is the chemical that holds the information for traits in all living things… then off we went, full-steam ahead into the 20th and 21st centuries and the age of genetics.

We now understand that traits, inherited from parents, are combined in unique ways at conception. Unless you are an identical twin, you differ genetically from your siblings. In addition, mutations (copying mistakes in DNA) occur frequently, and these can change a trait. When humans or any living organisms are born with traits that better suit them to their environment, their chances for surviving and having lots of offspring increase.

Embarrassing Progress

Darwin’s “gemmules” idea was utterly wrong, but his theory of evolution by natural selection has stood the tests of time and countless scientific inquiries. Matt Simon, writing in Wired magazine said this:

Being wildly wrong is perfectly healthy in science, because when someone comes along to prove that you’re wrong, that’s progress. Somewhat embarrassing progress for the person being corrected, sure, but progress nonetheless.

What Makes Something “Science”?

Science theories explain. A science theory isn’t speculation or even an “educated” guess. A science theory is an explanation that fits the evidence. For an idea to gain the status of “theory” in science, it must be confirmed consistently by observation and experimentation. As new evidence is discovered, a theory may be adjusted or tweaked, but the underlying principles remain unchanged.

Gravity is a theory. The earth orbiting the sun is a theory. There’s also germ theory and molecular theory. And, of course, evolution theory. As precise as these are, they are still incomplete. We are still tweaking as evidence unfolds.

Darwin theorized that all living things evolved from simpler forms  because of natural selection. What Darwin did not know was all the ways natural selection occurs. We are learning more and more about the “how” of natural selection and how species separate from each other, but the theory – the fact – of evolution remains true.

Science theories have predictive power. A good theory allows scientists to make predictions that will turn out to be roughly correct. When Darwin died, the fossil record was not nearly what it is today. And there certainly was no genetic evidence, much less mapping of genomes.

Yet – fossils of both plants and animals were found just where we expect they’d be found – just where Darwin’s theory predicts they will be found. For example, fish are found in older rock than are amphibians, and Tiktaalik (the famous fish to amphibian transitional fossil) was found in between. meetTik1

The explosion of genetic data over the last two decades doesn’t just show apparent relationships between living things, it shows actual relationships. DNA evidence is the smoking gun – concrete evidence of the interrelatedness of all living organisms.

Is Creationism Science?

In courtrooms across the United States, as well as in state boards of education and textbook hearings, advocates have fought for creationism (and its science-y sibling, intelligent design) as an “alternative” theory to evolution in science classrooms.

Both young earth creationism and intelligent design claim that all life was designed and created specially, uniquely, and separately. If this is true, then all predictive power is lost. If every organism is self-contained, there are no patterns to discover. There are no relationships to discover. Any direction we look for new information is just a shot in the dark.

Kenneth Miller is a biologist, author of a best-selling biology textbook, and a Christian. As an expert witness in the landmark Dover court case, Miller argued that creationism and intelligent design have no place in the science classroom. If non-natural causes are considered legitimate science explanations, Miller reasons, then all science ground rules change.

Why bother to conduct an exhaustive molecular search through primate virus genomes to find the source of HIV if it was sent from God as a divine warning? Why study the physics of light if the rainbow is a phenomenon given to us by a “whimsical” designer (according to William Dembski, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement)?

sciencefun.wordpress.com

sciencefun.wordpress.com

 

Science is predictable and explainable because it deals with natural causes.
Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design can’t predict. They can’t explain. They aren’t science.

What Does the Theory of Evolution Say About God?

Nothing.

The theory of evolution says nothing about God. The theory of evolution says nothing about how life began, or how matter came into being. The theory of evolution explains how life developed once it got going.

Darwin could not have imagined the vast and diverse evidence we have now that supports his theory.

Francis Collins said it succinctly:

Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics.

ccat reading

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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.
*************

string theory

Indiana Jones and A Tale of Two Books (Reading Genesis, part 2)

George Lucas and Indiana Jones couldn’t have made a better story. In a library that had not checked out a book in several millennia, archeologists discovered stacks of clay tablets in an ancient language.

In the early 1850s, archeologists excavated the library of a Babylonian king (Ashurbanipal) in the ancient city of Nineveh. The trove of clay tablets was treasure. There were records of laws and administration. There was literature. And in the religious texts, there was a story of creation.

In the story, order is created out of chaos.

In the story, light exists before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars.

In the story, the sequence of creation is division of waters, dry land, creation of lights, creation of humanity – all followed by a time of rest.

This Babylonian creation story is called Enuma Elish (from the opening phrase “When on high”). Enuma Elish is dated at 2000 BC, but it appears to have originated in even older Sumerian stories (3000 BC).

It was a bombshell at the time. Enuma Elish was far older than the Genesis creation story. Until the discovery of Enuma Elish, the Genesis creation account was unique. Not only was Genesis not unique, it wasn’t even original.

And to top it off, just a few years later (1858), Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

Stop the ride, we’re getting dizzy. roller_coaster_scream

Genesis After Darwin

Just as mid-nineteenth scholars/theologians were grappling with Enuma Elish, here comes Darwin. Popular lore presumes that all scientists immediately discounted everything about Genesis, while fundamentalist Christians (who were not bright enough to understand the science) held to it.

Reality was a bit more complex. There were churchmen and scientists who rejected Darwin’s claims for a variety of reasons which were not always religious. At the same time, a group of 717 “gentlemen” – many of whom were leading scientists of the day – signed a document affirming “science as a gift from God” and that “the author of both (science and scripture) would not allow them to ultimately contradict” (David Wilkinson, in Reading Genesis After Darwin).

As far back as the time of Isaac Newton, British scientists questioned a 6,000 years-old earth. Even in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, geologists had demonstrated that the earth was far older than the 4004 BC start date popularized by Bishop Ussher. Scientists and theologians in the nineteenth century debated the specifics of geologic history, but Christian writers who believed in a young earth were the exception, not the rule.

Even Darwin did not set off an immediate religious firestorm – Darwin was not the first to suggest the idea of evolution. Darwin was ground-breaking because he described the mechanism of evolutionary change (natural selection).

Most nineteenth century Christian leaders and scholars were not all that upset about the evolution of plants and animals. They weren’t all that upset about a very ancient earth. They were not even upset about a non-literal reading of Genesis. The upsetting part was the idea that human beings were in the story, too. To many Christians, the idea of humans sharing a common history with all life diminished the dignity of humans. How could man be a moral being if he shared history with the common animals?

 

Even so, B.B. Warfield, founder of the Princeton School of Theology (which birthed the American fundamentalist movement), said this:

I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need to be opposed to evolution.

Other scientists, including the noted botanist Asa Gray, saw God in the elegant process of evolution.

In the Christian world contemporary with Darwin, evolution was not collectively panned. There was a sense that because God was revealed ultimately in Jesus, the Christian faith was not dependent on the design argument (D. Wilkinson, Reading Genesis After Darwin)

A Tale of Two Books

The publication of Darwin’s Origen of Species on the heels of the discovery of Eluma Elish forced a conversation on Biblical interpretation like never before.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and again the concurrent publication of two books is driving a conversation among Christians.

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and go-to guy for contemporary atheism, published his best-seller The God Delusion in 2006. Dawkins makes no bones about it – “scientific creationism”, “intelligent design”, and of course, a literal Genesis, are complete nonsense and unworthy of attention, except for ridicule.

That same year, another best-seller – The Language of God – was published by an American who will go down as one of the premier scientists of our generation – Francis Collins. Dr. Collins led the Human Genome Project, now heads the National Institutes of Health, and is a frequent public voice for all that is cutting-edge in science. Dr. Collins is also a committed and vocal Christian.

Like Dawkins, Francis Collins has no interest in making Genesis a science textbook.

Unlike Dawkins, Francis Collins believes that the Bible enriches our understanding of science and science helps us better interpret and understand scripture (Reading Genesis After Darwin).

Dawkins argues that modern science is completely incompatible with belief in God. Ironically, many Christians agree with him.

Collins (and many scientists like him) are authentic examples of why that isn’t so.

 The Options

In a twenty-first century conversation, Christians have three options for reading Genesis:

Option One – Reading Genesis Literally and Historically. Option one reads the opening chapters of Genesis and interprets exactly as written. The entire cosmos was created in six 24-hour days. All life was created separately and specially. The earth is about 6,000 years old, based on genealogies in Genesis. No additional considerations are needed because the text is taken at face-value. There is a sense of security in believing “what God says and not what man says”.

But for those who read Genesis literally and historically, there are things that cannot be ignored. A literal belief means a stand against the vast, vast majority of modern science and scientists. It means a stand against the science that is trusted for medical care, disease research, agriculture, aviation, engineering, and energy. The science concepts that explain the origin of the cosmos and development of life on earth are the same concepts that support our modern lives. If young-earth creationism is true, modern science collapses. Literalists have to own the contradiction.

Option Two – Forcing Modern Science into Genesis. Option two wants to find modern science in the Genesis creation story. In order to account for an old earth, some have suggested that there is a huge gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Others have proposed a “day-age” solution where the days of creation are actually millions of years. “Intelligent Design” is a well-organized, well-funded movement that recognizes a very old earth, but holds to special creation of living things in the sequence found in Genesis.

This option attempts to take science seriously, but still treats the Genesis creation story as a scientific account. This option has both theological problems and scientific problems. For example:

  • most agree that the meaning of “day” in Genesis is a real, 24-hour day
  • the order of appearance in Genesis of different kinds of living things conflicts with genetics and the fossil record

Option Three – Making Peace with Genesis and Modern Science. In Reconciling the Bible and Science: A Primer on the Two Books of God, Lynn Mitchell and Kirk Blackard explain that nature and the Bible are God’s two books – his two revelations. Both books reveal truth about God. Here’s Mitchell and Blackard:

No conflict exists between biological evolution and the belief that God is the source of all there is, with a creative plan that includes natural consequences and divine governance over a continuing and ever changing process…the theory of biological evolution, based on empirical evidence, makes no claim as to why life originated or who was or is the moving force.

Next up in this series on reading Genesis:

How do the ancient Babylonian creation stories differ from the creation story in Genesis? Why is it important?

How was Genesis intended to be read and understood? How would the original hearers have heard the creation story?

 

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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.

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2010-08-30-2010-8-30-Science-Cat

Evolution and Human Beings

We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.

galileoGalileo Galilei, the great astronomer, mathematician, physicist, and telescope whiz was convicted by the Church Inquisition in 1633, threatened with torture, given penance, and sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life.

The Galileo story is a useful analogy in contemporary science-versus-faith discussions: in the face of unequivocal scientific evidence, Christians eventually changed long-held interpretations of scripture.

Actually, seventeenth century Christians were not really all that upset about the science that put the sun (instead of the earth) in the center of the solar system.

Of course there were the literalists who were genuinely upset about the Bible verses that said the earth was fixed and unmovable, but that wasn’t the biggest deal. geocentric model

Galileo didn’t hurt the Church’s science feelings as much as he hurt their theological feelings.

  • If the earth is not the center of everything, then man is no longer the central focus of creation.
  • If the earth is just one of innumerable planets in the universe, the earth is not special to God, and therefore man holds no special place in creation.
  •  Adam has no meaning! Noah has no meaning! All of the Christian story is lost!

(Karl Giberson discusses the theological implications of Galileo’s evidence on 17th century belief here).

The Great Sticking Point – the Evolution of Humans

Many Christians, faced with the scientific evidence and unwilling to believe in a vast conspiracy of deceitful scientists, are often willing to accept a very ancient earth and even the evolution of plants and animals.

But humans. That’s a problem.

The arguments against humans as part of the great evolutionary story of life on earth sound very much like the theological arguments of the seventeenth century:

  • If humans are just another branch in the evolutionary tree, we aren’t special to God.
  • What about Adam?
  • If we don’t have a real Adam, there can be no “fall of man”… and without the fall, there’s no need for Jesus.
  • All is lost!

How Can We Reconcile Human Significance and Evolution?

Because evolution is driven to a large degree by random mutations, are human beings just a blind, meaningless accident? In the biological history of the earth, there have been creatures that were vaguely similar to us, some were very similar to us, and some were not even remotely like us (p. 198).

consequences-of-evolution-388

Consider these three ways of looking at human significance in the context of evolution…

A God outside of time: to a Being unbounded by time and existing outside of time, is anything truly random? We have no idea how God and his purposes relate to time. An event that seems absolutely random (such as carbon production inside a distant star billions of years ago) becomes essential to building life on earth.

A God acting in time: if God sustains life through natural laws and processes, could not God create life using natural laws and processes? Genetic mutations are by their very nature unpredictable because they are initiated at the quantum level of the atom. At the quantum level, things are unpredictable, actually unknowable. It is conceivable that God could work undetected within natural laws, within the natural unpredictability of the quantum level and influence the evolution of life.

A God who allows freedom: all of creation, both animate and inanimate, has free will. A third way of understanding is that God has integrated freedom into the evolutionary process. God may have chosen not to specifically direct the winding pathways of evolution (Language of Science and Faith, p. 200), but to let the process unfold.

Please note that scientific evidence supports this very important fact: evolution did not require any outside tinkering or intervention.

Francis Collins sums it up beautifully:

If God chose to create you and me as natural and spiritual beings, and decided to use the mechanism of evolution to accomplish that goal, I think that’s incredibly elegant. And because God is outside of space and time, He knew what the outcome was going to be right at the beginning.

Were Humans an Accident?

The late paleontologist Stephen J. Gould believed that human evolution was completely a happenstance occurrence. For instance, Gould argued that consciousness would have never evolved if a meteor had not wiped out the dinosaurs, allowing for the rise of mammals.

Interestingly, Simon Conway Morris, a Cambridge academic and highly respected evolution scientist (and a Christian) highlighted by Gould in his work, opposes Gould’s “happenstance” view.

Conway Morris supports the idea of convergence in evolutionary history. Convergence means that there are a limited number of ways to solve a biological problem. The best example of convergence is the eye.

Humans and octopuses do not share a close common ancestor, yet the eyes of humans and octopuses are nearly identical. On two very separate evolutionary paths, the process of evolution solved a problem (the need for vision) in the same way. Throughout evolutionary history, the eye has developed independently at least seven times (Language of Science and Faith, p. 203).

octopus wearing glasses

According to Conway Morris, the playing field of natural history is tilted toward big brains, remarkable eyes, consciousness, language, and complex thought. Conway Morris’ research supports that these traits would inevitably emerge from the evolutionary process:

Contrary to popular belief, evolution does not belittle us. As I argue, something like ourselves is an evolutionary inevitability, and our existence also reaffirms our one-ness with the rest of Creation (p. 204).

So what do we do with Genesis?

Genesis is an ancient story, passed down, and finally written down in its current form during the time of post-exile Israel. The purpose of Genesis is not to give a biological description of how humans came to be. The purpose of Genesis is to say Who did the creating – God – and that humans are part of God’s plan and purpose.

How does the story of Adam and Eve fit into a billions-of-years-old earth and humans originating in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago? It might surprise you to know that over the years, there have been many interpretations of the Adam and Eve story among Christians – some literal, some theological.

adam-and-eve

A literalist reading of the creation story says that Adam and Eve were specially created and that all humans are descendants of this first couple. There are many problems with a literalist reading of the creation story. Narrative problems include the two conflicting creation stories in Genesis, Cain’s wife and where she came from, and the origin of the people who were out to kill Cain, and the origin of the people populating the city built by Cain. Scientific evidence makes a literal reading even more problematic: recent DNA studies demonstrate that modern humans came from a population of thousands, not just two. In addition, both DNA and fossil evidence demonstrates the interrelatedness of humans and all other animals.

One non-literal interpretation of Genesis is the “everyman” interpretation. This view holds that the Adam and Eve story is really the story of us all. The “fall” wasn’t just about Adam and Eve, it was about all humans’ eventual rejection of God and succumbing to our flawed and sinful natures. A non-literal interpretation posed by Old Testament scholar Peter Enns suggests that Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity. Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam explores this idea in depth.

Some Christians (including C.S. Lewis) integrate science with a historical view – humans evolved as the science evidence indicates, and at some point God entered in to a special relationship with humans and made them his image-bearers. It is of course all speculative, but this view fits with either an Adam-and-Eve-are-real-people scenario or an Adam-and-Eve-are symbolic-of humanity scenario.

Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him (The Language of God, Francis Collins).

Christianity survived the fall of a geo-centric solar system, and Christianity can survive human evolution.

And now….

This:

This is probably my favorite video clip of all time. How can you beat a musical combo of the preeminent modern New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright, world-renown geneticist Francis Collins, and the Beatles?

Please watch….

It’s a funny, beautiful, and truthful ending to this discussion:

N.T. Wright sings “Genesis”

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.

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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.

What is the Fine-Tuning of the Universe?

Apparently the universe knew we were coming.

sherlock_holmes

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.

None.

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.

Right?

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.

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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.

teach_the_controversy_by_ex_leper-d2xgnki

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?

Hardly.

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.

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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?

640px-Lisa_on_the_witness_stand

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
plague

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.

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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.