The Bible, Science, and Adding to the Gospel

My primary motivation for my last post is to dispel the idea that the Bible and true science are in disagreement on the issue of God’s creation process or timeline.  And my greatest concern about how we approach the issue of the theory of evolution is to make sure that we are not adding anything to the pure message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What do I mean by “not adding anything to the gospel”?

The gospel message of Jesus Christ is best summarized in the middle chapters of the gospel of John.  In a long discourse, Jesus says about ten times that he who believes in Jesus has eternal life, having passed from death to life by faith in Christ.  “Everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, has eternal life” (Jn 6:40 e.g.).  The gospel message really is that simple.  He who believes in Jesus has eternal life.  But in our human desire for a system, we are often tempted to add to the gospel.

He who keeps some New Testament form of the law and believes in Jesus has eternal life.  He who keeps the traditions of the church and believes in Jesus has eternal life.  He who believes in a young earth and six literal 24-hour days of creation and believes in Jesus has eternal life.  Do you see where I am going?  All of these ideas add to the gospel.

When we add our beliefs about a creation process and timeline as a requirement for what it means to be a Christian, we are adding to the gospel.  And this requirement puts especially our young people in an unnecessary and dangerous predicament.  We are forcing a choice on them that I do not believe the Bible requires.  We are asking them to choose between the scientific evidence for a long progressive creation and Christianity itself.  We are tying our (and their) faith in Christ to a belief in young earth creationism.

Creationists in their defense will say, “We are not adding to the gospel with our young earth creation ideas.  We are preaching faith in Christ alone for salvation.”  But good communication is entirely based on what was heard and understood by the listener, by the audience.  It is not based only on what was said.  We can say all we want that our gospel is based on Christ alone, but the communication our students and parishioners are hearing in our debates, sermons, and scolding of old earth believers is that embracing the gospel requires embracing a young earth creationist view.  The message we are hearing is, “Young Earth + Jesus = Salvation.  This approach is “adding to the gospel”.

And this box we put our students in is unnecessary.  It springs from the divorced parents idea of science and the Bible where a choice between the two has to be made.  As I have said many times in the last few posts, a better picture of science and the Bible is a strong marriage where the differences get worked out.

Now there is a clear distinction that we need to make with our students, whether they are headed to a secular university or a private school; whether they are headed to a career in science or any other education.  There is a huge difference between the science of evolution and the naturalistic philosophy of evolution.  I believe the science of evolution is supported by observational facts.  The philosophy of evolution?  Not so much.  In my opinion, a random naturalistic form of evolution does not fit the facts and has no place in the world of true science.

Please hear this clearly.  A theory of evolution that cuts God out of the picture is to be rejected by believers everywhere.  The God of the Bible is the Creator God, no matter what timeline He chose to work in.  The random naturalistic version of evolution is not Christian in any way, shape, or form.  This is the distinction we need to be teaching our students.

Finally, as I have said before, do not limit God’s creative activity on the basis of any presuppositions about the “one” way that God could have done it.  God is so off-the-charts in His ways, His methods, His attributes, His beauty, His mystery, His holiness, and He will have the last word on how He did it.  My goal is to pay attention to the science wherever it leads and my experience to this point and my confidence in any future discovery is that we will see “the genius of the God who did it that way.”

The Theory of Evolution – A Disconnect in our Science and the Bible Marriage?

One of the areas where there appears to be a disagreement in the otherwise strong marriage of science and the Bible is the theory of evolution.  To summarize the conflict, the theory of a long, progressive creation process to describe life forms past and present has been seen as a direct attack on the biblical account of creation.  But in the last few years, I think the conflict is shrinking.  And I think the war between the Bible and a long progressive creation should be brought to an end.  Let me explain by telling you part of my story.

Many years ago, as a geology major at a secular university, I was an ardent young earth creationist.  I believed that essentially all that we see around us was created in six literal 24-hour days and the earth was around 10,000 years old.  When my professors taught about evolution, I learned the material, but personally wrote them off as atheists.  I did my historical geology book report on the creationist book, The Genesis Flood, and I graduated with a geology degree totally unconvinced that the theory of evolution had anything to do with a true understanding of earth’s history.

When I entered the work world, I soon learned that the age of the rocks or even how they got there was less important than the content of their pore spaces.  “Was it filled with oil or natural gas or water?” became the only question that mattered.  So the theory of evolution became a non-issue in my work.  I also concluded that in a workplace populated with geologists and geophysicists who generally accepted the theory of evolution it was more important to be Jay Christ-follower than Jay Creationist.  I wasn’t embarrassed by my creationist views and still believed in a literal six-day creation.  I just felt that the creation/evolution distinction was less important than the gospel message of new life in Christ Jesus.

Fast forward about 25 years.  As I casually observed geologic bits and pieces that increasingly supported an old earth/evolutionary view, I didn’t pay much attention because I really didn’t see a biblical alternative to a literal six-day creation in Genesis chapter one.  Then a friend of mine and top notch Bible scholar (who had also been a young earth creationist in his college days) told me he was working on a manuscript demonstrating the compatibility of interpreting Genesis chapter one in an old earth framework.  The manuscript became the book, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood by Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden.  I took notice and decided to revisit the topic.

What I found in my new study of the subject was that the latest discoveries in the fossil record, radiometric dating, DNA sequencing, and many other areas were indeed falling in line with an old earth, progressive creation view.  All the details are too much to add here.  Suffice it to say, that I now consider the old earth progressive creation view as most consistent with our geologic observations.  And I believe Genesis chapter one can be interpreted in this framework.  Again, to try and explain everything that went into my change of thinking is beyond the space of this blog post, and quite frankly could be easily misunderstood.  If this shakes your world, please give me a call.  I would love to hear your thoughts and dialog about this topic.

Would I call myself an evolutionist?  No.  The connotations of that word imply a belief in a random, natural selection process of creation without God in the picture.  I believe a proper understanding of the progressive creation of living things is just the opposite.  I think the evidence supports the idea that the results of progressive creation that we see around us today could never have happened without God in the picture.

If evolution is how it happened, it is definitely not random, and certainly not natural.  It is supernatural in its design and implementation.  Evolution is so complex, so purposeful, so orderly that we could only have arrived at this point in earth’s history with God in charge.  I see a God-directed progressive creation over a long time just as much of a miracle as a six-day creation.  Recognizing evolution as a creative mechanism does not have to lead one into naturalism and atheism.  In my opinion, evolution itself is a God-size miracle of epic proportions.  Again, please give me a call or email if this topic is of interest to you.

Now I would be remiss to stop the discussion here, focused only on the science and leaving out the biblical account of creation.  I want to make clear my absolute confidence in Scripture and my confidence in Genesis chapter one and God’s account of what He wants us to know about His incredible creative process.  So what is God saying in Genesis chapter one?

In the context of God revealing the creation story to Moses who in turn wrote it down in his five-book history (the first five books of the Old Testament) of the children of Israel, I believe God is making two main points.  First, God created it all out of nothing.  As God is setting the foundation for Israel’s pattern of worship, He is identifying Himself as the One True Creator of everything.  It is as if God is refuting the message that may have informed the children of Israel in their 400 years of captivity in Egypt by saying, “You know all those things the Egyptians worship as gods?  They are not gods.  They were all created by Me.  Specifically, the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals – all these things the Egyptians worshiped – I made them.  I am the One True Creator God.”  This monotheistic Creator God was a unique idea for its time in history and critical to Israel’s understanding of the One True God.

The second main point of God’s creation story is that man is a unique creation; created in the image of God Himself.  Man is a special creation who somehow carries the image of God, the Imago Dei, inside him.  You were created, separate from the animal kingdom, to bear the very image of God.  This is the second important message of Genesis chapter one.

With these two critical messages in mind, I still do not have a good answer for the length of “days” of Genesis 1 or how the order of the “days” fits a progressive creation.  But not being able to fully understand or resolve an exact timeline does not take away from these two clearly articulated facts of God’s revelation about His creation.  1) God created it all out of nothing, and 2) God created man, special and separate, in His own image.

The absolutely fascinating part to me is that when I look at the science, I see these same two facts confirmed.  I have already written here about how I see the Big Bang theory fitting perfectly into the idea that God created the world from nothing.  And moving on from there, evolution as a creative process would have been impossible without the supervising hand of God.  In my opinion, the science of geology, biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy all point to the handiwork of the Creator God and the “genius of the God who did it that way.”

At the risk of digressing, think about the eye for a moment.  We used to use the complex design of the eye as evidence against evolution, and as evidence against a random natural selection form of evolution we were exactly right to do so.  Where I would take the argument today is not that the evolution of the eye is impossible, but that if evolution of the eye is how it happened, God was at work in the intricate design and creation of the eye no matter the time frame for its creation.

Alan Rogers, in his book The Evidence for Evolution tries to make the case for the evolution of the eye by natural selection.  In my opinion, his chapter on the eye reads like a fairy tale.  Despite his book being somewhat helpful in the big picture of how things appear to have evolved, when he dives into the natural selection aspects of things he is way off the mark.  A designer is required for the eye and a million other complex aspects of evolution.  I think the theories of the Big Bang and evolution actually support the belief that God created the world out of nothing.

Now on point two – man is a unique creature made in God’s image – we are again supported by science and the simplest of observations.  Without the Bible, we would not know that our unique image came from God Himself.  But even without knowing the “who”, the fact that man is unique from the rest of the animal kingdom is so obvious that it almost requires no discussion.  Our personality, vocabulary, intelligence, dominion, ingrained morality, and recognition of beauty are just a few of the ways we are unique.  And our ability to operate in ways that are aesthetically and morally beautiful has no basis in the world of random natural selection.  We only operate in those ways because we bear the image of God inside.

I remember a few years ago when the science community was celebrating that a chimp had learned to recognize over 200 words after 25 years of training.  The observation was meant to convince us of our similarity to the ape world.  I looked at my toddler who was learning about 200 words a week and thought, “Not really buying the intelligence similarity”.  I believe the science of human psychology and physiology fully supports that we are made in the image of our Creator.

So where does that leave us?  I think that even in the area of evolution we are back to the strong marriage analogy for the agreement of science and the Bible.  I think it is important when viewing the science objectively to not come at the topic with a preconceived notion of the only way God could have done things.  We actually limit God if we insist on only one way He could have done the job.  True science is a wonderful world of discovery where we learn that, “The more we study and understand the universe, the more we recognize the genius of the God who did it that way.”

“The God Who Did It That Way”

I hope our last few posts have opened your mind to the fact that Christians can approach science with a curiosity and a child-like wonder without giving up their faith.  Science and faith are not divorced parents who leave us in the spot of having to choose between one or the other.  Rather, they are like a strong marriage where disagreements arise, but eventually get worked out.  In a marriage, when two people are focused on the same goal, they usually find ways to work out their differences.  Likewise, my interest in science and my pursuit of faith have the same goal; seeking the truth.  The apparent differences between the two get worked out.

My advice to believers everywhere, and especially to young people, is do not be afraid of scientific discovery.  Do not be afraid to pursue a career in physics, biology, or chemistry.  Do not be afraid of the secular bias of your college professor.

Science, at its core, is about data, facts, and theories that are basically independent of a religious angle.  But scientists who do not believe in God will imply – or even forcefully require – that one interprets all science through a purely natural lens that excludes God.  I hope over these last few posts that I have whet your appetite to the idea that our latest discoveries in science actually make the most sense, have the least “something just happened”, when we include the Creator God in the picture.

Is the universe 13.8 billion years old?  I don’t know.  God has not specifically spoken on this subject.  But I find an order out of chaos, a beauty in the complexity of the Big Bang theory that could only have happened with God at the helm.  Going from the Big Bang to where we are today by only the natural march of time and chance is unfathomable.  It is literally impossible.

My friend Dr. Michael Guillen, former science editor of ABC News, has drawn the same conclusion.  As a young professor at Harvard University, he began to question how the incredible beauty and order and form of the universe from the smallest subatomic particle to the most massive galaxy could stay so consistently perfect without a creator.  Those questions inclined his heart and mind toward God.  Reading the Bible and believing the gospel took him the rest of the way.

So rather than fear scientific discovery, we should see the hand of God in all that we discover.  I like the way Professor John Lennox of the University of Oxford put it when I heard him speak at Park Street Church in Boston.  In the context of not fearing new discovery – whether in the fossil record, the Cosmic Microwave Background, or the human genome – he said, “The more we study and understand the universe, the more we recognize the genius of the God who did it that way.”

May you recognize and be encouraged by “the genius of the God who did it that way.”

Leap of Unfaith

There is an underlying current in some parts of the science world that Bible-believing Christians are not using our brains.  That we have turned off our curiosity.  That we ignore science and follow ancient myths.  We are accused of taking a “leap of faith” into the unknown by believing the Bible is true rather than following where science leads.

I see it as exactly the other way around.  The secular scientists are taking the leaps of faith – or should I say leaps of unfaith, since these leaps ignore the Creator and His infusion of order, design, and purpose into the universe.  Let me give you an example.

We have talked at some length about the super-squished time line of the Big Bang theory.  In the first billionth of a trillionth of a second the universe went from a singularity to a unifying superforce to the separation of the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetic, the strong and weak nuclear forces) and the formation of elementary subatomic particles.  In the middle of this evolving stew, a very interesting battle was taking place.

In the blink of an eye, as matter began to materialize from the super dense state of pure energy, its mortal enemy antimatter arrived on the scene as well.  Based on the physics as we understand it, matter and antimatter were created in equal numbers.  Their mission was to quickly seek out and destroy each other.  Every matter particle that hits an antimatter particle was annihilated.  In short, all matter should have been destroyed.

Here is our atheist friend Dr. Lawrence Krauss, “All the matter would have eventually found the antimatter and they would have destroyed each other producing pure radiation and we would now have a universe – I was going to say we would now be living in a universe of pure radiation.  But we wouldn’t be living in such a universe because we wouldn’t be here.  There would be nothing but radiation.”

But we are living here.  We do exist.  Matter exists.  Matter unexpectedly won the battle over antimatter.  And the physics involved give us no reason why.  For some unknown and unexplained reason, “something happened” just after the Big Bang that tipped the balance in favor of matter in its war with antimatter.  Something that theoretical physicists do not have an answer for.  Because matter exists, the secular scientist has to take a leap of unfaith and just say “something happened”.

I don’t know about you, but I am a curious person and I do not like explanations like “something happened”.  It sounds too much like a child standing next to a broken vase.  Is “something happened” really the best we can do.  I think I know what happened.  God in charge is what happened.  God creating the heavens and the earth is what happened.  When matter won out, God had you and I in mind.  Believing that God is the reason matter won out is not a leap of faith.

Yes, it involves faith.  But I would not call it a leap.  I find it to be a perfectly reasonable and scientifically acceptable response to the evidence all around us.  The naturalists are the ones taking the leap; seeking a natural explanation for what only God could have done.

Be encouraged.  Your faith is reasonable.  True science is not its enemy.  True science puts us on the path of discovering how God did what He did.  And true faith is not a leap in the dark, it is a leap into understanding the world that God has created.

Tell Me Why

We now have a robust theory (the Big Bang) for the origin of the universe.  And we also have a scientific model for how it has progressed since.  But no matter how deep we drill down into our science world, we are missing the answer to one giant question:  Why?  Why is the universe here?  Why are you and I here?  Why did things develop this way?

It is interesting to me that while science may not know the why, scientists do know that something very special is happening here.  Let’s start by looking at one of the forces that was created and active in that first billionth of a second of the universe’s existence; the force of gravity.

Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and popular figure in science news.  You may recognize Dr. Kaku and his flowing white hair from appearances on CBS This Morning, the website Curiosity Stream, or those Turbo Tax commercials.  In a documentary titled, How the Universe Works: Expanded Edition, Dr. Kaku says this about the origin of the universe, “We think that the original universe was a state of perfection; a single unifying force that existed at the instant of the big bang.”

Soon after the “instant of the big bang”, the force of gravity broke off from the unifying force with just the right properties to carry our universe through the ages to life as we know it today.  Again, here is Dr. Kaku, “If gravity were a little bit stronger perhaps we would have had a big bang which would stop and then it would re-collapse immediately into a big crunch.  Life would be impossible.  If gravity were a little weaker, then we would have a big bang that just keeps on going and the universe would freeze to death.”

Do you get the picture?  Gravity sprung forth from the unifying superforce at exactly the right strength to create galaxies, stars, and life itself.  I believe this “fine-tuned for life” points to a Creator.  I believe it points to God.  The universe is not a random accident.  And this uniqueness is recognized and understood by much of the science community.

Dr. Kaku, not a professing Christian to my knowledge, sees the same thing.  He concludes in the show, “So our universe in some sense is fine-tuned.  We are just right to have a universe that expands slowly making it possible to create DNA and life as we know it.”  Yes, just right to create life as we know it.

I believe that “life as we know it” is the “why”.  It is the why the universe is here.  It is the why you and I are here.  It is the why it developed this way.  God is the Creator behind the why.  God is the “perfection” that existed at the instant of the big bang.  And He created the universe, He created the earth, He created you and me to experience life as we know it.