Science and faith. Throughout Western culture, particularly in America, the two fields are often considered to be antithetical. There are often social pressures and expectations that push people into one camp or the other. On the one hand, within academia and arenas of intellectual inquiry, there is a stereotype that Christians, particularly of the evangelical sort, don’t do serious science and intellectual inquiry. As I will put forward, this is a stereotype that has some basis in truth, yet it overlooks the various devout believers who identify as evangelical and are engaging in serious scientific inquiry. Yet, on the other hand, there is a litany of conservative Christian teachers and leaders who prop up “intellectual” arguments about creation, science, and the Bible that ultimately lacks any critical reasoning, but is immersed into skepticism about science, with disastrous consequences down the line.
Now, if you were to ask many of these Christians today who were skeptical of science, many of them would say they are for science, but they think the prevailing science is somehow in deep errors or corrupted. Consider, for instance, young-earth “scientists” like that of Ken Ham. Ken Ham’s organization Answers in Genesis has a webpage dedicated to the idea of science and explicitly states, “Answers in Genesis (like other creationist groups) affirms and supports the teaching and use of scientific methodology, and we believe this supports the biblical account of origins.”1 Yet, Ken Ham and other creationists have expressed strong skepticism against the theory of evolution based upon a “literal” reading of Genesis.
AiG makes a distinction between two different “sciences,” 1) operational science which “uses observable, repeatable experiments to try to discover truth” and 2) origin science that “relies on relics from the past and historical records to try to discover truth.” By treating “origin science” as fundamentally different from “operational science,” they provide an apparently rational basis for treating the theory of evolution with skepticism. Yet, such a characterization of the theory of evolution as having a distinctly different methodology from other domains of science is such a gross oversimplification and mischaracterizes how the theory of evolution has many of the features of what they would label “operational science.” What they are ultimately rejected in scientific hermeneutics in how they interpret the relics of the past, but those evolutionary hermeneutics are ultimately derived from “operational science” as well as “operational science” being influenced by the relics of the past. However, by making such a distinction between operational and origin science, Ken Ham and AiG are able to give a “logical” reason for their skepticism of the theory of evolution that ultimately justifies accepting their “literal” interpretation of Genesis as the truth. Yet, it is a “logical” reason that is ultimately distorting.
Now, if you know the place that critical inquiry has in science to push the boundaries of knowledge and test various hypotheses, you might look at what AiG and other young-earth creationists are doing and think it is consistent with science. Yet, they are really fundamentally different. There is a difference between cautiously critical thinking in science that encourages being careful and not being too fast to draw conclusions without evidence and skeptically critical thinking that from the outset rejects specific conclusions based upon prior commitments to what the truth must necessarily be or not be.2 While they both may look similar in questioning hypotheses and theories from the outset, their differences are in the ways these questions occur. Scientific inquiry is not systematically prejudicial against specific hypotheses (although they may be prejudicial against beliefs that seem to lack evidence). While individual scientists may be more predisposed to certain hypotheses over others, ultimately the whole social enterprise is fairly critical of any hypothesis or theory that lacks empirical testing. On the other hand, skepticism is systematically prejudiced against hypotheses and theories that are not consistent with another specific theory or hypothesis simply in virtue of the conflict of ideas. When Ken Ham thinks the theory of evolution is antithetical to what the Bible says, he is being skeptical due to dissonance with his favored “theory.”
The net effect of skepticism is that it predisposes the skeptic to assume there is no reason to trust what others are saying when it conflicts with their notion of truth. Such distrust of others is resonant within some of the more conservative Christian views on sin, where the whole world in the present day is inherently and universally full of untrustworthy sinners who are actively disobedient to God and reject the truth. So, beyond the apparent “truth” of the “literal” reading of Genesis, young-earth creationists and other Christian skeptics of the prevailing science have an audience that will naturally buy into their mistrust and skepticism. In this mindset, the skepticism of science is often rationalized as trusting God over other humans.
However, the truth is that even though science is done by humans who make errors, who sin, who have their own agendas, who are not all open to the idea of a Creator, etc., science is ultimately answerable to what the studied part of creation/universe shows. The cautiously critical stance, or shall we say discernment, of science allows the truth of creation to “speak” and have a voice in determining what is true. If God is Creator of all there is, then this “voice” of the creation/universe is an echo God. Psalm 33.5 testifies “the earth is full of his unfailing love.” God’s creation is full of His wisdom and glory, and as such, to scientifically observe and meticulously study the creation is to hear faint echoes of God’s love, even if this love is not perceived and believed by all.
Meanwhile, even though “creation science” claims to trust in God through the Scripture, they ultimately place more trust in their own interpretation of the Bible and how they think to apply the Scriptures than they do the active, living God. As I will attempt to show in a moment, there are good reasons to reject the premise that Genesis 1.1-2.3 is referring to 7 24-hour periods of time and that it describes a chronological sequence of events that occurs on the earth. Even if this were not the case, however, “creation scientists” would still be guilty of trusting more in human reasoning and wisdom than in God’s, as they implicitly think the truth of God is obtained through their interpretive methodologies, most particularly what they designate as their “literal” hermeneutic. Their own Scriptural hermeneutic, which often goes untested, is what they ultimately place their trust in, from which they proceed to show skepticism to all those scientists who unknowingly ‘testify’ to an echo of God’s voice. They place their trust in humans, or more particularly, their own humanity, above the glory of God spread throughout the creation. This is ultimate because “creation scientists” are ultimately deductivists, who think they have unassailable, epistemic foundations for what must be true (a “literal” interpretation of the Bible) that they can use to determine all whether something else can necessarily be true or not. At its heart, deductive rationality as the final criteria for determining truth is trusting in the foundations of human thinking and reasoning above all else.
The more this deductive rationality and skepticism take root in some conservative evangelical circles, the less the people become rooted in love as it foments distrust. Believing the world is going to hell in a handbasket and find the prevailing science to be utterly bereft, they should perhaps reflect on the Apostle Paul’s words, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not trust, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.” (Titus 1.15-16). These words from Paul speak close to the heart of skepticism, endlessly viewing the prevailing science with skepticism, thinking it leads people away from God. How much, in fact, does it reflect the corruption of their own mind, that they can not believe in and trust God unless God fits according to their own understanding? If one thinks that the “theory of evolution” necessarily leads to atheism and godlessness, then that may a reflection of what is true for them and how weak their faith ultimately is, but is certainly not true for the numerous faithful believers who accept the theory of evolution without serious harm to their faith.
For instance, the more I have learned about evolution in the Biology class I am presently in, the more I am finding awe of God’s work in creation and the great complexity of the principles that undergird life. While there may be some legitimate concerns that science can sometimes be practiced with a materialistic metaphysics that attempts excludes God from the world and even existence itself, science itself doesn’t preclude faith in an actively involved Creator. While there have been concerns in the past about how the theory of evolution was ultimately appropriated for the evils of eugenics and social Darwinism, this is more owing to various metaphysical and social systems trying to make scientific theories fit their own twisted and warped fantasies. While I accept the influences of natural selection of the diversity of species that we witness in the earth, I also believe and accept the possibility of divine selection in which the mind of God was actively influenced affairs on the earth in conjunction with natural selection, including in making humanity unique to the extent that we should be understood as qualitatively unique from our evolutionary ancestors (that is, theologically, we are made in the image of God and cognitively, we are capable of complex set of symbolic and social adaptations that are highly unique for how we adapt to our environment). While such a theological premise can not be tested scientifically, it can be held without questioning the validity of natural selection as one of the most prominent, natural determinants in the emergence of species. I choose not to be skeptical of the prevailing science, the scientists, and the various science textbooks, but to be open to learn, while I still hold to the virtue of cautious thinking.
This concern is not simply merely intellectual and theological. It is a concern about righteousness, doing well to others. Such scientific skepticism has become a source of great harm and evil that goes beyond simply questioning theories about origins. For instance, witness what has happened with coronavirus this past year. How many of the people who resisted basic cautions about safety, such as masks and not having large gatherings, came from those who label themselves as Christians who were entirely untrusting? How much did conspiracy theories propagate among Christians in all of this? The scientific skepticism of young-earth creationism did not stay within its narrow confines, but it spread its poison. Yet, I don’t blame the people as a whole, but I do point the finger at the teachers who trust more in themselves than God for spreading this poison of unrighteousness.
All because of an interpretation that has flimsy evidence, but ultimately relies upon a hermeneutics that is anthropocentric and geocentric. In the end, the mistake in reading Genesis 1.1-2.3 is to assume it is all about the earth and us. Yes, the earth figures prominently in the creation and humanity comes at the climax at the narrative. That doesn’t mean, however, when the narrative talks about creation, particularly the passage of evening and morning, it is referring to the passage of time on the earth. In fact, the passage of time is about God’s activity, not the time on earth. The cycle of evening and morning is better understood as not describing the cycle of day and night on the earth, but as a symbolic description of God’s refraining from activity, much as humans in the ancient world refrained from work in the evening until the morning the next day. If God rests on the seventh day, then we can also draw the conclusion that God rests from activity in the evening until the morning. Time is assessed by the period of God’s activity, not the 24-hour cycles of the sun, which is not even mentioned until the third day.
Furthermore, the creation narrative is highlighting God’s activity as a builder or architect, not all the on-goings on the earth in a specific chronology. Genesis 1.1 says that God created (בָּרָ֣א). While בָּרָ֣א is used exclusively of God in the Old Testament, in other languages it relates to the act of building. When the psalms speak of God laying the foundations of the earth (Psa. 102.25, 104.5), they are understanding God like a master-builder or architect. The image of a formless and void earth would cast an image of a chaotic, untouched wilderness that God proceeds to bring order to (although this wilderness is of the chaotic waters, which God has power over in a way that human architects do not). God is a builder and what is described in the six “days” is God’s planning for creation.
Yet, just because God was making plans on each ‘day’ doesn’t mean what is described as happening on earth happens only on the ‘days’ it is mentioned under. It is also feasible that each day describes when God’s activity to create and make something began, not both began and ended. We need not assume that the description of events in Genesis 1.1-2.3 is when each part of God’s work was finished. For instance, the making of the animals on day six certainly didn’t end on day six, as we all recognize that animals have reproduced according to their own kinds throughout time through reproduction. The effect of this is that we need not think that Genesis 1 gives us the exact chronological order of what happens on earth, but that we are seeing a narrative that is describing God’s intentions for forming the heavens and earth and its unfolding.
Even if my interpretation is not correct, it is a perfectly feasible interpretation that has good evidence in favor of it that throws out they utter confidence young-earth creationists can have in a 7-24-hour-periods interpretation. It also employs a “literal” hermeneutic in which the natural usage of the term in context determines its meaning, but it simply applies the words describing the passage of time to God, not the earth itself. At this point, I can simultaneously embrace Genesis 1.1-2.3 as inspired by God in some fashion, yet at the same time accept evolution. Because I don’t place my trust in a specific human interpretation that I determine must necessarily be right, I can place my trust in the God who both the Scriptures and creation echo. My trust is ultimately in God, and by implication, I don’t feel like I have to be inherently skeptical and mistrustful of human science, which is formed and guided by the echoes of God in creation. Even as I see reasons for caution in science, I see it with pure eyes and a pure heart.
May those who are so utterly skeptical repent of veiled godlessness and come to know the God to whom the creation repeatedly echoes!
- OF course, in science, sometimes one theory is taken to be a matter of fact, but scientific theories are accepted not because they are necessarily true but because the weight of the evidence favors them. There is a difference between confidence based upon empiricism and confidence based upon perceived necessity.