Science and Faith Part 1: Creation vs. Evolution

Science and Faith Part 1

If you follow the blog on Facebook, you’re likely to have seen at least a post or two regarding this series. It’s a topic dear to my heart, and these are ideas I’ve been pondering all year, yet the formation of the series has taken some time to get right. Thanks for reading my thoughts, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me a message.

I was raised under the impression that 7-day, at-the-snap-of-the-good-Lord’s-fingers, literalist Creationism was the only origins theory I could hold to if I truly believed in God. In more recent conversations with my parents, I realize that as a child, this is the simplest way to understand the idea that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” I’ve always been a very black-and-white person, so I held the firm view that evolution is evil, because it isn’t Creation, for a very long time (well, long as in over half of my almost 19 years). Even through high school sciences I never encountered anything that really seemed significant enough for me to reconsider my opinion (thank you private christian school). Oddly enough, it was my grade 11 Christian Perspectives teacher who first challenged me to rethink where I stood, explaining that the Genesis Creation account was written in a typical ancient Eastern style of poetic narrative. A story not meant to answer the questions of how, but rather who and why.

The discovery that genuine, Christ-seeking, mature Christians didn’t believe in literal Creation was ground-shaking. Through a unit exploring different theories and the evidence for and against them, I was stripped of my opinions, and left with many questions.

There are a few problems I have with evolution, as well as the Creation-evolution debate.

1. The widespread acceptance of evolution as a concrete explanation, neglecting the fact that it is a scientific hypothesis. Though there is evidence supporting the theory, it remains a proposed (unproven) mechanism.

2. The assumption that evolution removes the necessity of a higher power to explain our existence. When we do this, we also kill the idea we have a purpose outside of preserving our genetics through reproduction.

3. Creation vs. Evolution debates themselves drive me up the wall. You cannot argue against the evidence of a scientific discipline with theology, OR vice versa. You are speaking different languages. Its the same as trying to solve a math equation with poetry. You may in fact believe or accept some of the same things, yet these are lost in translation and feelings are hurt.

4. In some Christian situations, believing scientists are discredited as Christians because they may not take Genesis literally, or they are trying too hard to explain God.

5. In academic situations, believing scientists can be the subject of ridicule, believed to be close-minded and incapable of objective reasoning when it comes to evolutionary theory (or anything else…)

When I decided in high school not to take a firm view on how I think our world came about, it may have done in avoidance of the issue. However, I feel the basis of my reasoning is sound. Whether our physical origins are found in Genesis or a text book, this is what I know to be truth:

My God has the power to create the world in an instant, over seven carefully planned 24-hour days, or even to orchestrate it over billions of years. He is the Beginning and the End.

My God has the creativity to make everything the way he wanted instantly, or to work through creative stages. He is the Artist.

My God has the intelligence to make the world work. He caused all the physical, chemical and biological laws function in a way that allow for life and beauty to thrive. He is the Author of Science.

My God is outside of time, knowing always the beginning and the end. In that, He knows me. He created the world knowing that one day I would be here, and I would choose to love Him, and He would be able to use me to build His Kingdom. He is the Architect and the Visionary.

How do I believe we came to be?

By God’s design. Let’s not put Him in a box.

Part 2 is now up here.

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6 thoughts on “Science and Faith Part 1: Creation vs. Evolution

  1. Lizzie,

    Having gone through my own perspective-opening process in Christian college, and watching many friends do so, I resonate a lot with this post. One of the most important skills anyone can learn is to do justice by people who see the world differently.

    I was reading a paper recently (http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/nicholas.epley/WaytzSchroederEpley.pdf) which you might enjoy. It’s a pair of psychologists talking about what they call the “lesser minds” problem:

    “Even though it may be quite easy to think about others’ thought, feelings, or other mental states, the mind attributed to others may be systematically lacking in complexity, depth, and intensity.”

    I make this observation the foundation of my personal spiritual practice. To be aware of how I am unjustly viewing others as lesser — that is love. It always takes dialogue, though, because you can’t understand someone in a vacuum.

    So let me bring up two things that bothered me about your post.

    Your point #1 suggests that it’s incorrect for people to think of evolution as something that is true — it’s just a speculative hypothesis. First, thank you for not using the tired phrase “just a theory.”

    You have, in effect however, argued that it is “just a hypothesis,” i.e. that the evidence is weak enough that it should be treated as a mere possibility. Scientists do not believe that evolution is just a hypothesis — they believe the evidence is very, very strong for it, to the point that it is nearly as certain as the theory of gravity.

    It’s fine if you want to state that you personally have not been convicted strongly by the evidence you are familiar with. But don’t expect evolutionists who do fine the varied evidence richly compelling to accept your charge that they should call evolution an “unproven hypothesis.” They (including both Christians and non-believers) believe it is a well-proven theory, and that confidence deserves to be recognized.

    Second, your point #2 argues that naturalistic evolution (evolution without God) removes the meaning from life, or that the only purpose is allows is maximal reproduction.

    This is a misunderstanding — something non-believers are used to hearing more as an accusation.

    For someone who does not believe in a personal God, purpose is found in human flourishing. Aristotle, the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Mohists, Confucians, many Buddhists, Kant, Utilitarians, and Christian natural law ethics a la Aquinas all appeal to human flourishing as the basis of ethics and the guide of purpose.

    Evolution has a very weak affect on that world view. Knowing our evolutionary origins tells us very little about human nature. Sure, evolution gave us a sex drive. But it also gave us the ability to appreciate music and dance, to build strong and long-lasting communities, to engage in deep friendships, to dream of a future where the weak are empowered and the poor do not suffer, etc. Some of these things are optimized for our survival — the urge to cooperate with others and build trusting relationships, for instance — some of them are likely to be mere side effects (“spandrals” in the language of Gould and Vrba). But that doesn’t make one more valuable than the other. All sources of human flourishing are valuable — where they came from can’t change that.

    This is how agnostics, atheists and humanists who accept evolution almost universally view the matter. Christians consistently push the stereotype on us that we don’t believe in meaning or purpose.

    We try and counter with projects like A Better Life (http://www.theatheistbook.com/), but the public is satisfied with its straw man, and isn’t very interested in how non-believers actually view the world.

    Finally, a quite note on #5: It’s safe to say that, when scientists are marginalized for their beliefs, it’s only in cases of hot-button controversial topics like evolution or climate change. I am a scientist, and many of my colleagues are passionate Christians. Their beliefs are well known, and they are well-respected by their atheist colleagues, because they are judged professionally as scientists qua scientists.

    Having passionate religious convictions is not enough to draw contempt and suspicion in science. If you align yourself with an activist cause widely known for supporting media campaigns that twist science using flawed rhetorical arguments — then you will be regarded with suspicion. But this is true of the anti-vaccine movement, climate denialism, perpetual motion machines, crank mathematics, etc, none of which typically involve religion.

    Strong religious beliefs are not what creates the problem. The perception of unjust and disrespectful rhetoric is what creates the problem. This is why William Dembski, for instance, will never be respected in academia.

    Unfortunately, when there are many bad apples in a movement, it taints the reputation of the whole. Excellent and respectable creationists like Todd Wood (http://toddcwood.blogspot.com/) are not at all like Dembski, despite holding to even more radical religious claims — yet they end up being judged by association.

    Back to work with me. I wish you well on your journey.

    Siggy

    PS: I arrived here by following your link on Cross-Shaped Stuff.

    1. Siggy, thank you so much for taking the time to read through my post, and to share your thoughts. To start off, you were incorrect in thinking my name was Lizzie, but that’s alright, being mistaken for her could be considered a compliment. I’m Kayla, nice to “meet” you!

      May I address your points in a similar fashion? What a great preface to your arguments by the way. Lots to consider in my attitude (intentional or unintentional) in writing about such topics.

      Point #1:
      You bring forward excellent points, and I agree most certainly. What came across in my writing was my frustration with people who don’t have an understanding of the scientific method, or the way with which theories are put together, and evidence is gathered. Whether this comes in the form of giving too much credibility to less significant evidence, or becoming complacent in opinions and not continuing research into the new evidence being presented (obviously I’m not referring to the evolutionary scientists themselves, but the “laymen”). We are constantly learning more about our world, but people become satisfied with information they have already become comfortable with. On another note, I specifically addressed my frustration with those who take evolutionary theory as law, however this can be extended the other way as well. Far too many people are quick to state that evolution is undeniably false. My desire is to see both sides of the spectrum discover that asking questions and seeking further answers, and evidence with an open mind, is key.
      I also continue to hold to my personal opinion. I do not deny that evolution is plausible, perhaps even scientifically plausible, but my faith and purpose do not depend on whether or not we come to a conclusion, Creation vs. Evolution.

      Point #2:
      I’m sorry if I seem to be pushing a stereotype. That is one thing that I desire to fight, however my wording may have been blunt and generalized. I know that those who don’t believe in God or practice Christianity are entirely capable of having a greater sense of purpose than even some Christians may have. This is not what I was addressing. While I do encounter some mature, open individuals within the sciences at my university, there have been more than a few times when I have walked into the conversations of selfish and close-minded individuals who are self-proclaimed atheists. Their perspective was plainly stated, and it is this that I was addressing. Their position seemed to be that, being a product of evolution, we can live as selfishly as we please, and there is no need to evaluate purpose and meaning in life. Some were particularly uncomplimentary in their comments towards the religious. This is the attitude with which I am specifically frustrated with, and is from personal experience.
      On a different note, when I see individuals living with purpose and meaning (Christian or otherwise), I cannot help but see the hand of God. God has called us to love all, and care for the wellbeing of those around us, and to live in peace and justice. When I see people fighting for a cause, I am filled with hope, because I see an intrinsic desire for life as it was intended to be. Everyone is capable of finding meaning and purpose, and I believe this is what sets us apart from the rest of the universe. Whether we evolved into the creatures we are today, or were created in an instant, there was an intention and moment where we were set apart as a species capable of deeper purpose and caring, as well as spirituality. This is what I believe is a broad definition of what it means to be created in God’s image as the Genesis account states.

      Point #5:
      Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say to this point. You are correct. However, this does not discount personal experience where people have implied that I do not belong in the sciences because I am religious. A blog I follow once posted a list of famous Christian scientists, and it made my day.

      Thanks again for opening this conversation! This is what I want in writing-to open discussion, have people actively evaluating the values and attitudes around them. While my target audience are church-going, you are a great example of the attitude I want to see more of. Thank you for not just reading over what I say, but evaluating my words and challenging my attitudes.

      Have a good day!
      Kayla

      1. Kayla,

        Thank you for your gracious response. Very well worded, on all points. You’ve pacified all my complaints :).

        On #1: Beautifully said. Relatedly, you might be interested a short piece I wrote on creation-evolution dialogue (the final section of http://mason.gmu.edu/~escott8/publications/SE_ReviewAndReply_2012.pdf). The gist is that even if a belief I hold is very well justified, that doesn’t mean that it’s simple to explain it to you. Communicating even a solid truth effectively takes many open conversations — much like this one! Triumphant arrogance is seldom warranted.

        On #2: I’m sorry that you’ve met atheists who use evolution to rationalize selfishness. I have yet to meet someone who uses that argument, so I tend to think of them as mythical fairies conjured up by theistic adversaries.

        There are, of course, immoral and cynical people of all stripes. In general, though, I see Humanist and atheist thought as having a great deal in common with liberal Christianity: a strong emphasis on good works in the here and now to reduce suffering and build the “beloved community” via human agency, with a weak emphasis on salvation or metaphysical values (if any). I’m a Unitarian Universalist. In our churches, both the liberal theology and hard-core Humanist traditions dovetail quite nicely to combat cynicism.

        On #5: People are absolutely wrong to treat your interest in science as incompatible with your interest in religion. Many non-believers don’t understand what it means to be a thinking Christian — there’s that “lesser mind’s” problem again. They think believing scientists like Francis Collins somehow “compartmentalize” their critical thinking, applying it to science and then turning it off when they go to church.

        I’ve read enough good theology that I know this isn’t true. Things are complex, and even people who apply critical thinking very well may end up believing differently than I do. I try and gently combat anti-religious stereotypes when I hear them, and have even defended a creationist or two in front of their colleagues. Just because I believe it’s incorrect doesn’t mean I’ll put up with it being caricatured! I hope you feel the same toward my world view :).

        Your blog is lovely, pleased to meet you, and carry on! Anyone who believes in listening, love, and respectful dialogue over complex conflicts is an ally of mine. Keep it up!

        Siggy

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