Out of the Box

Last post, we left our college student and fledgling biologist at a crossroads of tension between the faith of his childhood and the science of his current study.  We have basically placed our student in a box of our own making.  A box that, in my opinion, is entirely unnecessary.  The box we create for young people, or inquirers of any age, is the “either or” approach to faith and science that we have constructed.  Will our college friend follow the scientific evidence wherever it leads or will he conclude that to keep the faith he must turn his back on the science?  Many students faced with this needless dilemma will jettison the faith.

One of the ways we help our young people navigate their way out of the box with their faith intact is to practice our theology with humility.  To recognize the limits of what we know for sure.  To set aside the “us vs. them” mentality and look at the bigger picture.  Let’s start with the topic of evolution.

When I graduated with my first degree in geology, creationism was something of a growth industry in this country.  Well intentioned Christian scientists took on the establishment regarding the theory of evolution and gained a substantial following in the Christian community.  Fast forward 35 years and the controversy remains just as deep.  However the evidence for evolution, rather than disintegrating as these prophets predicted, has been steadily and quietly growing.

One of the spokesmen for laying down our arms and reconciling our Christian faith with the theory of evolution is Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health.  Dr. Collins wrote The Language of God to put forth “a comfortable synthesis of what science teaches us about the natural world and what faith teaches us about God.” In short, a scientific and spiritual approach that are compatible.

In a careful reading of Dr. Collins argument, one finds that he actually sees evolution, in its own way, providing scientific support for his faith.  If the theory of evolution describes how life developed on this planet, and Dr. Collins believes that it does, then how did it all get started?  How did it progress to our current state of life so diverse, so complex, so orderly, and so useful?  For years, we have used the mathematical implausibility of evolution to produce anything useful to argue against the theory.  Dr. Collins turns that argument on its head.

He contends that a progressive creation that defies statistical probability actually supports a creator.  That is, given the mathematical implausibility of evolution by natural selection, and given the fifteen physical constants that support life on earth and have no scientific reason for being set as they are, only God could have set the universe up this way and infused the creative process.  Dr. Collins believes that all science, evolution included, points to a creator God.  Science cannot answer what kind of God and for that we turn to the Scriptures.  Science, as with all general revelation, only takes us so far down the path.  But it is not a divergent path from our faith journey.

Given my background in the evangelical church, this is kind of a mind-bender for me.  And I am still processing all the ramifications.  But one outcome that I am very comfortable with is this:  we need to give our students the freedom to pursue science, including evidence for a progressive creation, without putting them in an “us vs. them” box.  If we truly believe that God created it all and has given us a mind to observe and understand His creation , then let’s give our students the freedom and encouragement to explore science wherever it leads with their faith intact.