Quote from Richard Dawkins, outspoken atheist: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence…. Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion.”
In contrast: Henry Morris, a leading creationist: “Evolution’s lie permeates and dominates modern thought in every field. It follows inevitably that evolutionary thought is basically responsible for the lethally ominous political developments, and the chaotic moral and social disintegrations that have been accelerating everywhere . . . When science and the bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.”
Why is there this struggle between scientific thinking and religious faith?
Goes back at least to Galileo and the early astronomers who realized that the earth rotated around the Sun and not the reverse. Such thinking seemed to say that the Bible’s description of the earth and heavens was wrong! Then, the period known as the Enlightenment – 18th century – progressively challenged simple use of God and his direct intervention in the world to explain how things worked. The Enlightenment’s thinkers and experimenters advanced humanity’s knowledge of how things work. Note that it’s HOW (more later). This seemed to explain away the need for a superpower to create and maintain the world as we see it. Traditional thought took the Biblical account as literal description of how things came to be, and so many Christian thinkers fought scientific discoveries as blasphemous. Issues came to a head with Darwin’s writings in the mid to late 19th century, and evolutionary theorists like Huxley created “social Darwinism” – which argued strongly that there was no need to believe in a God to explain things anymore.
So, it appears that battle lines are drawn – proposing the choice between scientific discovery and literal interpretation of the Bible on the other. In particular, kids are often taught the simple Bible stories of creation, and then are introduced to geology, biology, evolutionary thought, etc in college and believe that they have to choose between the two! I believe that this is a false dichotomy. The Bible teaches that God is Truth, and so it must be that a search for truth in explaining the universe and its mechanisms should be consistent with a search for God.
Let me give you some personal history: I was a choir boy for 11 years, knew the Episcopal liturgy by heart, was a regular in the young people’s group in HS. But in college – realized that I didn’t believe because it didn’t drive my thinking or actions. Put off decision while leading a life denying God’s existence (and coincidently responsibility to try to obey him!) In Med school, seeing death and dying made me start to wonder if what we see and can prove scientifically was all there was. Recall that the scientific method is a powerful tool for learning how things work – but science doesn’t address the question of WHY things are the way they are. The existentialist says that they just ARE, and there is no reason – “no exit from the human dilemma”. This may be true but is not very satisfying to the heart. So I said that I was open to exploring the Christian world view, and started going to church to hear the Christian answers. The real breakthrough was recognizing that my approach was “of course God doesn’t exist, and so where are the holes in the Christian description.” When I reluctantly admitted that it was at least remotely possible that He Did exist (1 in 10-26th or so), and then how did the Biblical description hang together, things changed.
As an evolutionary biologist and geologist, I thought the idea of a young earth was preposterous, but reading the Genesis description, I was surprised that the writer had the sequence right. . . . . I then started to view the Bible as a description of a relationship – between creator and created – and couched in terms that were understandable to humans 4-5,000 years ago. How believable or relevant would molecular dynamics be to shepherds on a hillside?
I came to believe that evolution – evidence for which seems overwhelming – was the mechanism that God used to develop life in the diversity that we see today. Some theologians believe that diversity came from events called “special creation” by God, whereas I have no problem with His using nature’s laws to evolve things over millions of years. Some also talk about “Intelligent design”, in which God’s specific intervention in time - circumventing the “laws” of nature, is what brought us to our present state. I believe that this can never be completely be disproven. But I refer you to a book which all college kids should read: Francis Collins’ The Language of God”. Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and a first-rate scientist who headed the Human Genome Project which recently worked out the complete human genetic code! He started as an agnostic, but became increasingly impressed with the need for “Why” answers, not just “how” descriptions. This led him to faith, which he describes very convincingly in the book.
Recall the 8th psalm: When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? One of my agnostic Jewish med school classmates was dazzled by the intricacy of life, and told me that he thought that the modern psalmist would use an electron microscope, aimed the opposite way, to be dazzled by nature – which we believe was created via the mechanism of evolution.
Just one more thought, unrelated to the science/faith issue. This may not be theologically sound, but is how I deal with the contrasting images of God as loving creator vs. vengeful judge: He has created us and has given us a blueprint that makes life work: when we follow it, things will work; but we as a species have chosen not to use the directions, and so catastrophe occurs. When it does, is God punishing us? No, he’s begging us to follow the blueprint: if you jump into the water, you’ll get wet. When it happens is He punishing us with wetness?