One of the big questions that I have been faced with, have pondered on, debated with people of differing persuasions and looked into ever since my youth is “are we a product of creation or that of evolution?“ While I have an answer that I am comfortable with, which I will come to, it is not a complete one and does not come down unequivocally on the side of one or the other, although I have always maintained there is a benevolent creator God behind it all.
It seems to me there are two extremes to the debate that seeks to argue for either creation or evolution. At one extreme are those who would argue a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, which may lead us to conclude the earth is less than 10000 years old, with creation taking place over a six, twenty-four hour day, period, by a creator God, added to which there was an idyllic garden, two stand out trees, a talking snake and the ancestors of us all: Adam and Eve. At the other extreme are those who would date the earth, and the universe in which it is placed, in the region of 13-14 billion years old, a product of unsupervised, random activity and a big bang, with all life emanating from a single cell and random chance, with all higher forms being the product of evolution. As for Genesis, it is argued that it is pure myth, with no factual basis and if God did exist, for all practical purposes his existence is irrelevant. The question then faces us is where should we stand in that spectrum of belief?
There are lots of questions that we have to face during the course of our lives that are important and we cannot possibly give full justice to them all. Life is too short and there is a lot of here and now stuff we have to deal with and, even if we have the inclination, we often don’t have the time, energy, resources or brains to fully get to the bottom of these things. Greater minds than me, who have spent considerably more time studying the evidence and the arguments for/against creation/evolution, coming to different conclusions. I recently watched Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series. While giving little place to intelligent design in the scheme of things, Sagan did open up the awesome wonder of the Cosmos, as revealed by scientific endeavour but regarding which we still know so little.
In the past week, I have come across people at opposite ends of the argument, when it comes to having a view on the matter, and who have raised concerns as to how this subject is and ought to be taught in schools. This is not an issue we can comfortably ignore. One Christian friend lamented that some / many schools these days teach evolution, as a matter of fact, and ignore even the possibility of intelligent design. Yet, some critics have recently condemned certain faith schools for indoctrinating their pupils by teaching only intelligent design, along the lines one might derive from a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, and based on that premise have derided and dismissed any notion of evolution, despite the compelling evidence available that might seem to support it.
In earlier posts, I have pondered on the point of education. While I am unapologetic about the value I place on faith schools, providing certain principles are observed, I recognize that this is not an option for the majority. Schools should be about getting children to think, to imagine and to be able to relate to and engage with the world in which they live. Within reasonable limits, they should be exposed to conflicting ideas and, while common sense is needed to sift out things that are extreme, wacky and harmful etc., it seems to me that the notion that we are a product of evolution and blind chance is no more credible than we are a product of divine creation, besides which creation is the view that has long profoundly influenced the society in which we live and, to a significant extent, and still does.
I ought to state where I am along the spectrum described earlier, and the journey I took (and am still taking) to get there. My type of Christianity, especially in the earlier years, was influenced by those who have sometimes been referred to as fundamentalists, a group often maligned by the liberal elite, and sometimes rightly so because of mindless bigotry, whose beliefs include a literal interpretation of the Bible, including its more controversial sections, such as the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Sadly, some Christians in trying to distance themselves from the more wacky beliefs and sanctimonious bigotry of certain fundamentalists and trying to be more switched onto and accommodating of what is happening in the prevailing culture have thrown out the baby with the bathwater and made out lies to be the truth, and with serious consequences, for by ignoring God’s revealed truth unhelpful compromises may be made. As a personal reflection, not only do I believe many foundational truths are to be found in Genesis (creation, sin, the Fall, marriage, gender etc.) but it is often my first port of call when preaching them.
One helpful website which explores the relationship between science and belief begins: “Over the main entrance of the Cavendish Laboratory, the home of the Department of Physics in the University of Cambridge, is an inscription: ‘The works of the Lord are great; sought out of all them that have pleasure therein’ ” (Psalm 111:2), and this serves as a reminder that some of our greatest scientists have been inspired, because of their faith, to do just that, and this has benefited us all. It often occurs to me, for young people starting off in their career path, science may, for some, be an excellent choice and, while it is true that not all scientists believe in a divine being (and even among those who do there is a lot of variance in their beliefs regarding creation), for those that do believe there is the incentive (and a divine spark) for doing what the Psalmist says, knowing we live in an ordered universe, with many wonderful and exciting discoveries still to be made.
I believe in applying the scientific method whenever we can, and that it is an activity that our creator approves of and delights in. It will come as a relief to some, but a shock to others, who might think I may have joined the liberals in their denial of important and needful truths, that as much as I believe in the truth (often literal) and relevance of those chapters (among the most important in the whole Bible, as it deals with origins: creation, man, sin, Israel etc.), that this was not intended as a scientific account of how things came into being. Rather, I take the view that science complements belief and we need not fear what science may appear to unravel even if it challenges our preconceptions, since it is truth we should seek.
I don’t subscribe to a fully literal interpretation insofar that we have to conclude that the earth was created in six literal days less than ten thousand years ago. We are on slippery ground though if we deny what is meant to be taken on face value, as sadly many have. I believe the creation account was as described and Adam and Eve were real people who lived in a real garden (after all that is what Jesus and the apostles believed) but there is much concerning the details that have been left unsaid as that was not the purpose of the account, and one day all these things will be made clear, in God’s timing. Similarly, other events described in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, such as the Great Flood, did also take place although many of the details we might look for as scientists are not included.
The science I understand best is physical (I don’t even have an O-Level when it comes to biology). When my Christian, physicist, professor friend argues, on the basis of his work in quantum mechanics and relativity, for an older universe, I am inclined to agree because, while God is well able to do anything he wants, I don’t believe “religious truth” should trump “scientific truth” but God acts consistently with the laws of science he initiated. When my Christian, biologist professor friend argues a case for evolution based on his work in genetics, I have an open mind to where evolution fits in, if at all, because the evidence is not yet compelling enough, given the elusive “missing link” has not been found.
What I do believe is that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and did so for a purpose, using whatever means and mechanisms he wanted, and we are still in our infancy when it comes to finding out how. As for embarking on the activity of further exploring the mysteries of the universe, I would put this on par with a creating a successful business, in terms of importance – both I would say might be a worthwhile career for someone starting out on life’s journey, and with a view to better serving humankind.
As far as schools are concerned, what is taught should not be about indoctrination or brainwashing but rather an honest quest for truth, knowledge and wisdom, and that reason both scientific and religious perspectives concerning our origins ought to be taught.It is sad that too often schools have become ideological battle grounds. Besides the issue of what should be taught in schools and how, there are many other implications arising from what we believe about creation and evolution, not least relating to the fundamental matters concerning “life, the universe and everything”. Besides creating an excuse for dodging the issue of accountability to a divine creator, the ugly consequences of ethnic cleansing, racism and Nazism are partly due to some people accepting ideas around evolution. And for those who do see it otherwise, it can give rise to spiritual pride.
Seeking after truth is one of the noblest occupations open to man and truth can be discovered in all sorts of ways and this includes both religion and science and the two need not be incompatible. I would argue, our creator ordained matters for the two to be complementary. And neither should our eagerness for truth make us ungracious toward those who see things differently. In one of my favorite books, the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, a computer was built to find the ultimate answer to “life, the universe and everything”, perhaps the one question utmost in many minds (it certainly is in mine). The answer is not 42, as suggested in the book, but the activity in trying to find the answer is one that has occupied humankind from the beginning of its existence. However hard one might try to look, using science or whatever as our aids, I doubt the answer can ever be found without reference to a divine creator.