Now, before I get into the specifics, I want to lay my cards on the table up front … my purpose for writing this is not to convince anyone of one viewpoint above another. In fact, that is exactly what I will be trying to suggest is the very thing we, as Christians, should avoid in many, if not most, cases.
The issues I want to address are not creation versus evolution or even how to read Genesis, but rather;
- Humility – Are we willing to accept that we don’t have all the answers – on many subjects – that we all are shaped by our opinions, environments, worldview, etc… and could learn from others with alternative perspectives?
- Either/Or – Creating an “either/or” choice or an “us versus them” approach will always have negative effects. It does not leave room for perspectives that lie between extremes and cuts off acceptance – in this case to the tribe we call “Christian” or to what we call a “biblical worldview” – at the edge of our “approved beliefs” (that’s a lot of quotation marks).
Now on to the discussion at hand …
Yesterday (Feb. 4), a debate was held between Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and Ken Ham (founder of Answers in Genesis) to discuss whether or not Young Earth Creationism – as presented by Answers in Genesis – is a viable scientific theory of our origins.
While I have no real issues with holding such a debate, I share the concerns of many people who see this as setting up an “either/or” way of looking at our earth’s origins.
Either we accept a “biblical view” of creation as described in Genesis – a literal 7-day creation that took place approximately 6,000 years ago and more commonly referred to as Young Earth Creationism – or we accept the predominate scientific view of origins as explained through evolutionary theory – survival of the fittest, 4.5 billion years and all that.
The following quote, which I read two weeks ago, really captured some of my thinking (where you read “creationism”, please remember this is intended to refer to Young Earth Creationism as described above):
“Creationism isn’t just one belief; it’s a system of beliefs and theories that all support each other. We believed that unless we could maintain confidence in special creation, a young planet, a global flood, and the Tower of Babel, we’d be left without any basis for maintaining our faith.
This false dichotomy makes creationism strong. As long as people think the foundation of their religious faith depends on denial of science, it takes incredible energy to make them question the simple explanations given by the creationist movement. Ken Ham claims creation science keeps people from abandoning Christianity, but it usually works in the opposite direction.”
After presenting this quote, I asked a number of questions that (to summarize) asked if this is, in fact, a choice we have to make – do we have to deny science to have faith? – and if presenting this “either/or” choice was negatively impacting our ability to proclaim the gospel.
In 2011, Barna Group – considered to be the leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture – released the results of a five-year project that explored, among other things, the reasons why so many young people disconnect from church after the age of 15. (1)
One of the dominant reasons that emerged from this research is that over 30% of those young people who decide to leave faith behind (either permanently or temporarily) do so because they feel a tension between Christianity and science.
Christians think they have all the answers.
Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in.
Christianity is anti-science.
It’s hard to stay faithful to my beliefs when my profession requires a scientific worldview.
These are all perspectives the research showed play a significant role in one-third of our departing young people.
And it’s all so unnecessary!
Without derailing this post with “facts”, data and other things that would serve no real purpose but to polarize people (which is the opposite of what I intend to do), the fact of the matter is that there are many different ways Christians look at the available data – both biblical and scientific – and form a relationship between faith to science.
Some choose to look at Genesis “literally” (as we define this today) and are comfortable with a 7-day creation that took place 6,000 or so years ago. They are comfortable with a worldwide flood having happened as described and don’t concern themselves with any of the questions that linger around the edges of the story (which I won’t mention here because my aim is not to polarize and to stay on track).
… And this is a Christian viewpoint.
Others see Genesis as a book written centuries after the events it describes. A book filled with poetry and metaphor. A book that is primarily concerned, not with the nuts and bolts of how God created, but rather with answering the questions; “Which God created all this?”, “What was his purpose in creating?” and “How does God view his creation?” They point to the fact the book was written before the invention of science or the scientific method or historical recording that had to be scientifically verifiable. They suggest we are asking questions of Genesis it never intended to answer because the questions were not relevant in the Ancient Near East.
… And this is a Christian viewpoint.
Some see God as creating everything as we see it, without any need for natural evolutionary processes.
Others see God as being behind and guiding whatever natural laws science describes.
… And both are Christian viewpoints.
Each group is reading and interpreting the data.
Some see the biblical data and interprets it to be “literal”. This causes them to find alternative theories for the data science presents (by alternative I mean something that goes against the mainstream, generally accepted scientific view).
Others see the biblical data and interpret it to be poetry or ancient cosmology … an attempt to describe what God has done in the language and worldview of the people who first received Genesis and suggest an alternative reading (to the one described above). This allows them to accept theories generally accepted by the scientific community.
And there are many viewpoints that lie somewhere between these apparent extremes.
Both can see the same data – biblical and scientific – and come to different conclusions.
… And all these conclusions are within the scope of “Christian” belief.
We do not have to approach science – or many other similar issues – with an “us-versus-them” attitude. In fact, doing so can be very damaging as seen above.
Faith is not a house of cards held together by an acceptance of Genesis as a scientific account of origins. We can have faith and believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old, just like we can have faith and believe the earth is 6,000 years old.
I would argue that humbly approaching such topics is of more importance than which side is true. We cannot know, with absolute certainty, when the earth was created – so perhaps we should be humble and admit we could be wrong. Doing so also allows us to drop the us-versus-them attitude which is so prevalent in these discussions. Humbly admitting we do not have the answers creates space for people with varying viewpoints and admits they are accepted under the label “Christian”.
I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from St. Augustine (354 – 430 AD) in order to illustrate this is not a new issue within the church:
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for [this non-Christian] to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn … If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”
“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”
There is such diversity within Christianity and I believe it is time we accept that not everyone has to accept our biblical interpretations or worldview in order to be a part of the club. Naturally, there will always be key points on which Christianity is based, which I believe Augustine captured very well in his quote, but much (if not all) of what we argue over is not worth the effort we put into it …
… but I could be wrong!
1. See this article for more – https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/
2. For more information about the many views on God’s act of creation, feel free to message me and I can provide a number of resources from a variety of viewpoints … but, by far the best I have read to explain exactly what Genesis is trying to say is The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John Walton