Upon blogging my name, I was surprised to find my name on a list of “looneys” because I happen to believe that the story of Creation and evolution are not contradictory. Upon reading your blog site, you seemed interested in hearing why a person of faith might hold such a position. So … for what it’s worth, if you’re interested, I’ve included a sermon I preached on this issue.
Pastor Tim Rauk
Over the years of teaching Confirmation and talking to students at the high school, I have asked different groups of young people if they believe there is conflict between what science teaches and what the Bible teaches. And almost always, without even having to stop to think about it, they will say “Yes! Religion teaches things that science believes to not be true, and science teaches things that religion believe to not be true.” And the debate usually revolves around the issue of creation and questions about the origins of life, often pitting the story of creation in Genesis 1 against the theory of evolution that Charles Darwin posited in his book “Origin of the Species”.
A couple years ago, after having one of these conversations with some high school students, I received an email asking if I would add my name to a petition that suggested this way of looking at science and faith – something that I have long held to be true. Here’s a summary of what the petition said.
The purpose of the Bible is to convey to us, timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in a form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. The purpose of religious truth is different from scientific truth. The Bibles seeks not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts. … We the undersigned, … believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science comfortably coexist. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but fully complementary, views of truth.
I know most of you agree, but yet, our young people are too often only hearing the abrasive voices of anti-science preachers and anti-God scientists who insist that science and religion are in conflict. This is a complicated question – not one I can thoroughly address in a 12 minute sermon, but let me see if I can add some light to all the heat.
One of life’s most marvelous delights is the remarkable gift of creation – this world we live in. It is infinite in its complexity and its variety. From the beginning of time, people have wondered at what they see around them. And what is it that you find most amazing and most remarkable about the world you live in. The lesson read this morning –Psalm 104 – is a beautiful poem, written 3500 years ago, that looks in wonder at the gift of creation in all its variety and amazing diversity as the psalmist observed how all the many parts of creation interact and compliment one another. But clearly the psalmist’s focus is: “The eyes of all look to you [God] to give them their food in due season. When you open your hand, they are filled with good things.”
How many different ways are there to look at this world? People of faith can look at the world in as many ways as there are social and scientific disciplines. The only difference may be, that people of faith join the Psalmist, and the writer of Genesis 1 and many other passages of scripture that look at the wonder of this world and simply add, “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.”
And so, an evolutionary biologist will delight in discovering how living beings interact with their environment and how their characteristics change subtly because of this interaction, – and if they believe in God they will add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.” An environmentalist will see how the world is home for plants, animals, birds, insects, and fish all living together in a complicated ecosystem, all affecting one another in a delicately defined balance – and if they believe in God they add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.” A botanist looks at trees and plants exploring what makes them thrive or fail as they compete with and compliment one another, – and if they believe in God they add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.” An ornithologist will look at that many kinds of habitat that are used by birds for nesting, food, protection – and if they believe in God they add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.” An entomologist will see the world as a place where over 1 million different known insects find their homes, a number that could reach 10 million, – and if they believe in God they will add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.” Chemists wonder at the chemical makeup and interactions that take place when you study all the resources of this world and how these resources can be used to improve our lives, – and if they believe in God they will add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.” Anthropologists and sociologists wonder and agonize over how human beings interact with one another, sometimes in positive ways, and sometimes in negative ways … and if they believe in God they agonize with God over our failures and when they see love and forgiveness and grace present will add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.” Economists study how the resources of this world can affect the standard of living for the world’s inhabitants – and if they believe in God, when we share and manage the resources wisely, they will add “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.”
People look at the world from a myriad of differing perspectives, and will see things very differently, but in all cases, our faith simply invites us to be responsible, respectful and loving towards one another, and to add, “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.”
Many people have trouble reading the Bible, in part, because they don’t have any idea what they are asking the Bible to help them understand. If you don’t know what you are asking the Bible to help you understand, that’s what you will find: NOTHING. Why can different people read the same thing, and come away with very different impressions of what they read? In large part because they are asking very different questions of the text.
So, what do you see, when you read Genesis 1, the story of Creation you are all familiar with? Well, a more important way of asking that question is: What are you looking for when you read Genesis 1? If you’re looking for a scientific description of HOW the mechanisms of geology and biology and physics and anthropology all work together to make the world what we see today, and if you think the author of Genesis was trying to answer questions of geology and biology and physics and anthropology, then you will find what you are looking for. But the problem is that the writer of Genesis never even thought of those questions, and even if he had, was not interested in try to answer those kinds of questions. The writer of Genesis didn’t know, nor did she or he care about atoms, and molecules, and cell division, and genetics, and tectonic plates floating on the earth’s crust and quantum physics and relativity, and a whole host of things that we know now about the earth and the universe that ancient people did not know.
But what the writer of Genesis did understand is more important than any of those things, and is as true today as it was 3000 years or so ago, when it was written. The writer of Genesis and the writer of Psalm 104 understood that however this all got here, whatever the mechanism was that caused mountains and lakes and rivers and literally millions of examples of life to be here on this earth, it is one of those delightful mysteries that we can explore and enjoy, and it came to us from the hand of a benevolent God with purpose and meaning.
The scientist that thinks science can disprove the existence of God is doing bad science, because he is asking science to address something that science is not equipped to address. And the person who is afraid of science because it changes the way we thought the world came into existence, is selling God short. I saved an editorial I found a couple years ago that said, “Many scientists believe that the evolution of the world is the work of an all-powerful deity. But they also understand that theories about how God interacts with the world are beyond the scope of their discipline.”
And on the other side of this debate. The theologian that suggests the Bible can be used to calculate that the world is only 6,000 years old (as some suggest), and that the Bible can be used to discredit all the science that suggests earth has been in a continual state of development and change for billions of years – this person too, is doing bad theology.
What Genesis does tell us is that God created everything with a purpose for good, with order and delight. That it all works together because God made it that way. How sad, when we read the Bible, and specifically Genesis, and look for some kind of a creation timetable rather than simply join in amazement at what God has created and say, “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.”
My friends, to understand Genesis 1, we should read it the same way we read Psalm 104, as poetry, using images and metaphors to describe the truth of the work of a loving purposeful God. And what the writer of Genesis and the Psalmist said are as true today as it was 3,000 years ago and remains unchanged by any of the scientific disciplines that bring added delight, wonderment and knowledge to our understanding of this amazing gift of creation. God made everything you see with purpose meaning. God created you with a purpose in mind. And what God creates is good and purposeful. And God wants you to set aside time, every week, to reflect on your relationship with God. That’s why creation is framed in the time of a week. Just as God made it all, and set aside a day of rest – the Sabbath, so we too should set aside time, every week, to keep our relationship with God alive and well.
My friends, as people of faith, we don’t have to be afraid of science. Evolution is NOT a threat to our understanding of God. And to be sure, there are people who think science can be used to justify their denial of God, but their foolishness should not cause people of faith to throw out the wonder of honest scientific exploration because some misguided scientists think they can make theological pronouncements about God from their exaggerated belief in the power of science. God made it. How he made it, we know only in part, but you know something, the more I learn from science, the more amazed I am with this gift from God.
And what God says is even more important, is the gift of relationships: our relationship with him and our relationship with one another. That’s primarily what the Bible focuses on: the joy of life experienced through relationships. And if the writer of the book of Genesis were here today, he/she would still put the focus on the religious questions about purpose and meaning of life, about faithfulness, about living in relationship to one another and to the God who created us, and I believe would be fascinated with new scientific discoveries that would cause him to again exclaim, “Alleluia! Thanks be to God.”