Monday, April 20, 2009

What do questions of origin have to do with who we are in the world?

If God created humanity as responsible adults to care for an adult earth, filled with adult plants and animals, who are self-perpetuating through sexual or asexual reproduction, what should be our approach to the data being interpreted by science*?

In last Monday's post, I dipped my toe a bit deeper in the evolution-creation pond that I had planned. With this post, I dip a bit further, this time leaning toward the theological end.


I do not dispute the data; rather, I believe both scientific and theological knowledge must be applied to the data. Our knowledge of the universe since the Scientific Revolution has increased dramatically, as mentioned by Andrew B in his comment: "our knowledge of the universe has been exploding through application of the scientific method, logic, reasoning and mathematics." God has placed us in this world and has given us minds that are naturally curious and that seek to reason things out. These great gifts must not be cast aside, but must be leveraged.

Science has told and will continue to tell us much about our world and ourselves, but scientific knowledge cannot tell us the entire story, for the origin of humanity, the earth, and all living things is beyond our experimental reach. We can also study what is happening now. We can study the circumstantial evidence left by what has happened in the past. These provide a wealth of information, but an eyewitness report is lacking in the scientific data.

If the Bible is inspired by God, then believe Genesis 1-2 provides such an eyewitness account. If it is an eyewitness account, then theological knowledge must be applied to questions of origin. This is not to say that scientific knowledge is discounted; rather, theology must have a place at the table, for these questions have distinct theological/philosophical components.

As it stands, at least from my tiny corner of the world, it seems the scientists and the theologians are having a difficult time at the round table. To quote Francis S. Collins,
The shrill voices at the extremes of this debate have had the microphone for too long. Although they will no doubt continue to rail against each other, the rest of us should find ways to bring together scientists who are open to spiritual truths, theologians who are ready to embrace scientific findings about the universe, and pastors who know the real concerns and needs of their flocks. Together, in a loving and worshipful attitude, we could formulate a new and wondrous natural theology ("A New Theology of Celebration," Search Magazine).
There is much heat in this discussion--too much heat (a small part of which I have cast about). But to quote Collins again, "If we make a serious and prayerful attempt to do this together, perhaps in a few years this new “celebration theology” could eliminate the conflict between science and faith."

Where do we go from here?

As God's viceroys on earth, an interpretation of the available data must conform to our care for and rule over creation. As God's creation, our interpretation of the data must keep in mind his divinity and power; it must serve to increase our understanding not only of the universe, but of its Creator.


I issue a call is to scientists who are Christian: have the courage to take off the canopy when it is academically feasible, even if it is only feasible in your own mind. Look at the available data and ask questions such as these,
  • Since God is, how should I interpret these data?
  • If God created by declaration, how would I interpret these data?
Interpretation is a greater issue than the data. If God created by declaration, then God could have created an adult universe that was sculpted with the characteristics of a universe that had developed over time. If God created by declaration, then he could have created human, animal, and plant kinds that the form the bases of all the species in existence today.

I issue a call is to theologians and pastors: have the courage to move from a discussion of the data to a discussion of its meaning, asking questions such as,
  • If the earth appears millions of years old and yet was created by God a much shorter time ago, then what is the theological significance of his creating an adult universe?
  • What is the theological significance of the built-in process of adaption and change that we see in the natural world?
Rather than wasting time refuting data, invest time interpreting the data and discussing theological significance.

We are followers of Jesus, but this designation is not to be relegated to Sunday morning rituals or private moments of prayer and Bible reading. We are his followers in this place and at this time. Let us be wholly engaged with God, each other, and his creation.

*NOTE: I am specifically refuting science that does not reference God, meaning science that interprets the available data according to materialistic assumptions.

Next week: Refining My Understanding: Origin of Variation, Origin of Life, and Origin of Matter

Further Reading
Reliability, Inerrancy, and the Like
Inspiration of the Bible (wikipedia)
Genesis 1-2

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