Faith vs. Reason
By Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma
January 13, 2012
Mention "evolution," "creation" or "intelligent design" in a group, and you are bound to get impassioned and varied responses. Arriving at a conclusion in the discussion of origins poses many theological and scientific questions. Many have thought the answers would lie in drawing lines: Nature vs. Scripture. Atheists vs. Christians. Creation vs. Evolution. But these divisions seem to have only made the debate muddier. Do faith and reason have to be mutually exclusive? Is it possible truth may lie in the space between?
We turned to Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma, professors in physics and astronomy and the authors of Origins, to answer some of Christians' biggest questions about science and theology:
Since the Bible tells us how God made the world, why do we need to listen to science?
God both created nature and inspired Scripture. Both are revelations from God that have something to teach us. Many Bible passages, such as Psalm 19, point to God’s revelation in the natural world. Because they are both revelations from God, nature and Scripture cannot conflict with each other. Conflict comes at the level of human interpretation of one or both revelations. If someone says, “The Bible trumps science,” they are really saying that their human interpretation of the Bible trumps a scientific interpretation of nature.
Also, the Galileo incident shows us that the Holy Spirit can sometimes use discoveries of science to prompt us to reexamine our interpretation of Scripture, leading us ultimately to a better understanding of Scripture. We should not neglect this means by which God can teach us new things.
Shouldn’t there be some sort of proof in nature that God created it?
It’s understandable that Christians would want to see proof of God in nature. This, in part, motivates some Christians to try to find scientific proof that the earth is young or that the theory of evolution is false.
In Romans 1:20 we read, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” One way to interpret this passage is to say that nature must provide proofs of God’s existence in the form of something that science cannot explain. Some proponents of Intelligent Design theory point to the genetic complexity of living organisms as one such proof. Other Christians say that it would be strange for God to bury such a proof of His existence in ways that only modern genetic science could detect.
Does Romans 1:20 actually teach that nature provides these sorts of proofs of God? Consider the context of verses 21-23:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles.
These verses show that Paul was thinking about the pagan idolatry of his time. People steeped in this idolatry took one created thing (like the sun or the moon or the sea) and called it a god, or they took one aspect of creation (like fertility or death) and worshiped it. Instead of worshiping the Creator, ancient pagans took one part of the creation and looked to it for hope and meaning.Ancient pagans and modern atheists alike have rejected the true God revealed in the regular functioning of natural laws and have turned a created thing into an idol. The answer to the ancient pagans was not to claim that the sun or the sea or fertility didn’t exist but to put these things in their proper place as aspects of God’s creation. Considering today’s context, Romans 1:20 teaches that the answer to modern atheists is not to deny the regularity of natural laws or to look for miraculous breaks in them but to put natural laws in their proper place as God’s creations. Of course, God certainly does use miracles at times to reveal Himself. But Romans 1:20 does not seem to teach that nature must contain miraculous proofs of God.
Would humans be less significant if God had created us through common ancestry with animals rather than through special miracles?
The idea of human evolution raises concerns about human significance. If we evolved from animals, are we nothing more than animals? Even if humans share a common ancestry with apes and other animals, our line of descent diverged from that of other animals at some point. Something different happened in our line of descent that did not happen to apes or other animals, something that makes us unique among life-forms on earth.
Our significance, however, lies not primarily in our biological uniqueness but in how God chooses to relate to us. In Genesis 1-2 God did more than create our bodies. He chose to reveal Himself to human beings, establishing a relationship with us beyond the relationship He has with animals. God blessed humanity and declared it very good. He gave humanity a commission He did not give to other animals: to name the creatures and to exercise stewardly dominion over God’s creation.
While God continues to care and provide for animals, throughout the Old Testament we see God doing dramatically more than that for human beings. God revealed Himself personally to His people through word and action, establishing covenants with them and answering their prayers. although humanity is small compared to the size of the universe, the vastness of the created world is not meant to belittle us but to proclaim the vastness of God’s promises (Genesis 15:5) and of His love (Psalm 104:11-12). Our significance is based on our standing in God’s eyes, not on our physical size or uniqueness.
Beyond all this God chose to become incarnate as a human being, to take on our very form. Jesus Christ humbled Himself and took on a human body. That act alone raises the significance of humanity. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
With all this disagreement in the Church, what should I believe?
Regardless of what you decide about origins, keep these things in mind as you discuss these issues with others:
Fight against the worldviews of evolutionism and naturalism. Challenge claims that a scientific understanding of the Big Bang or evolution somehow disproves God. Whether or not the Big Bang and evolution happened, God is the sovereign Creator. Science can’t prove or disprove that.
Remember that all truth is God’s truth. Even when an idea is promoted by an atheist or by someone you dislike, it is not automatically false. Be willing to consider true arguments from any source, and know that God owns all truth.
Avoid adding to the Gospel. Keep the Gospel centered on the work of Christ and our need for grace, independent of views on origins. When non-Christians hear Christians make blanket scientific statements on origins, they get the impression that they’d have to change their scientific views in order to become a Christian.
How do I deal with disagreements about origins with my family and church members?
Disagreements among Christians are not always a bad thing. If an issue is complex, it’s unlikely that any one person has all the right answers. We can learn from each other. But in order to do that, we need to practice the virtues of humility and patience—as well as the habit of curiosity. Model those in ourselves and encourage them in others. We can be humble. Pride can make anyone too stubborn to listen to new ideas or too quick to discard an old belief. Keep listening seriously to all sides, admit when you don’t understand fully and change your mind if you feel the arguments warrant it. Having the “right” view on every issue is less important than that the Church lives and works and worships in unity.
Reprinted with permission from Origins (c) Faith Alive Christian Resources, January 2012. To order a copy of this resource please call 1-800-333-8300 or visit our website www.faithaliveresources.org.