Let me first say that my hope for this post is to encourage gracious discussion among believers, not to stir up grievous dispute. God, grant us all (myself especially) unity in Your Spirit and humility in Your Son. May we be eager to listen, patient to speak, and reserved in anger.
As promised in our last post, this week I will address the false-dichotomy between scripture and science—played out particularly in the debate between creation and evolution. I hope that those terms alone do not create an obstacle or a stumbling block . I don’t intend to tackle the arguments of either side of the debate, per se – only to share my personal experiences and reflections.
While I’m still in the introduction, let me direct you to a few other TheoCult posts which help to form, directly or indirectly, a conceptual backdrop to this one:
- Dichotomies and the Certainty of Humans, by Jay McCumber. Concepts from both Jay’s post and our last post will be evident in this one.
- The God of Good & Evil: A Midrash. This is a short story I wrote a little over a year ago to help me process questions on the origin of evil (to which the subject of this post is fairly closely tied).
- Apologetics and Why You Should Throw It in the Circular File, by Travis Wagner. Explores the contentious response of the Church to this and other, similar subjects.
I would also like to acknowledge that much of my thinking on this subject has been shaped or supported by the BioLogos Foundation and the writings of N. T. Wright.
I: A House, Divided
For much of my life, I’ve wrestled with certain theological questions, not the least of which is an equally scientific one: the question of where we came from.
Perhaps you’ve wrestled with this question yourself and reached some conclusion, whatever it may be. Or perhaps, like me, you’ve spent your life straddling the divide, feeling that if one side or the other contains the absolute and exclusive truth, then whichever side you eventually fall on will -completely negate and obliterate the other.
This mindset creates a seemingly inevitable, self-dividing schism. Which, for me, looked something like this:
- Spiritual Jake
On the one side was the ‘me’ who knew, loved, and worshipped God. The ‘me’ who sought God’s will and His kingdom, who desired to mature in Christ and be perfect in love. This ‘me’ believed that the Bible was the divinely inspired Word of God, and that it was therefore authoritative, literally true, and without error. (My Lutheran heritage and upbringing instilled in me a deep reverence for solo Scriptura.) ‘Spiritual Jake’ was who I believed God really meant for me (read: designed me) to be.
- Intellectual Jake
On the other side of the divide was the academic, rational, and skeptical (sometimes to the point of cynical) ‘me’. This was the ‘me’ who desired to know, learn, and understand how the world works. This ‘me’ (while by no means a scientist or anthropologist) was fascinated by concepts in physics and biology, sociology and history. This ‘me’ felt disillusioned with “the Bible’s answers” to philosophical and scientific questions and compelled by the evidence of biological evolution, including common descent. ‘Intellectual Jake’ was who I believed I really was.
The dichotomy between (what I perceived to be) the scriptural worldview and the scientific worldview had caused a painful split within me. Both sides felt like the real me, but how could I engage one half without betraying the other? At what point do I draw a line? I was faced with an impossible choice: either believe in God and totally forsake my intellectual curiosity and critical thinking, or embrace evolution and completely abandon my faith and identity.
This caused me to perpetuate a self which was split along two parallel-but-divided tracks: being informed, on the one hand, by the Bible and my spiritual experiences, and on the other hand, by science and my rational observations. I dreaded the day when I would be forced to kill a part of myself so I could either love God or know the truth.
Somewhere deep within me, I desired that God would impress me. I believed that He could flat-out astound me by revealing a way to reunite these disparate parts. After all, how could the God who made me demand that I reject the intellectual curiosity He gave me? Surely the type of bride Christ desires—the kind of son the Father is pleased by—is not a mindless drone!
I feared (and believed) that these could (and would) never be reconciled. And my fear caused me to suppress my questions, digging a deep well of shame. I was convinced that if I shared my thoughts with any Christian brothers or sisters, I’d be rebuked and branded a heretic or an apostate. So I kept my thoughts hidden and buried, wrestling with them in private until they could be temporarily subdued.
This self-dividing experience is a reality for many people living under the false dichotomy of scripture and science.
II: All or Nothing
I, like many others, have been told that to accept the theory of evolution – which means accepting (among other things) that at least some aspects of the Genesis account of creation are not literal – is to disbelieve in the whole of scripture. The Bible can only be ALL TRUE or ALL FALSE. It’s either 100% literally, historically, scientifically accurate, or it’s a book full of lies. You can choose one or the other, but you can’t have both.
This kind of either-or, all-or-nothing thinking is part of what has made evolution such an incendiary subject in the American Church. Everyone just accepts the premise that science and scripture are at odds and leaves no room for nuance or spectrum, for curiosity or questioning.
And because the issue is so black-and-white, it’s impossible for Christians to explore the evidence for evolution without being ostracized, or even to bring it up without fear and animosity ruling the conversation. It even becomes a ‘salvation issue’ for some, where questioning the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 is tantamount to denying the reality of the resurrection!
The ‘scandalous’ blog post written by musician Michael Gungor is a good example of how the Body of Christ tends to react to one of its members entertaining the prospect of evolution. His post also served, for me, as a kind of catalyst in terms of beginning to ask these ‘shameful’ questions more openly. I entered into a phase of fearless questioning, open to nothing but the truth.
However, while I desired truth, dichotomized thinking had planted two veiled but tenacious presuppositions within me:
- That the truth described in scripture and that put forth by science are necessarily and diametrically opposed, and
- That the only means of determining truth is through reason and imperialistic observation.
In other words, I needed to suspend my belief in God in order to reach a rational and objective conclusion, and then I could resume believing in God – or not, as the case may be. My attempt to be open-minded had actually narrowed the scope of allowable truth: I was willing to consider any potential explanation, insofar as it was objective, logical, and material.
This is what N. T. Wright would refer to as Enlightenment-era Epicureanism1. Watch the video below (produced by BioLogos) for a brief explanation.
Being human means being biased. We can’t help it. It’s impossible to avoid. So, as you think on this post or have a conversation on this topic with a friend (or enemy?), remember: on whichever side of this (or any) fence you find yourself, you are subject to your own assumptions, to the assumptions of your culture, your religious tradition, even your place in on earth and in time (e.g. 21st-century America, as opposed to 12th-century Greenland). Just because we’re alive here and now doesn’t mean we’re scraping the bottom of the truth barrel.
III: All Things Reconciled in Christ
Having revealed my bias (read: folly) through the joint effort of the Holy Spirit and my wife, God has begun walking me through a beautiful process of truth-discovery. Among other things, I learned that there is a spectrum of belief among Christians regarding the book of Genesis and the role that evolution plays within God’s work of creation.
The above link was what led me to discover BioLogos – an organization which seeks harmony between biblical Christian faith and the science of evolution. The creation model which they propose is called evolutionary creationism, which describes evolution as both a natural and God-ordained process, in which God is actively involved. Watch this video, if you’re curious about their mission/philosophy:
There are a few things I really appreciate about BioLogos. The first, which frankly surprised me, is that they hold all the key tenets of orthodox Christianity: the authority and inspiration of scripture, humanity’s sin and need for salvation, the resurrection of Jesus, supernatural miracles, the whole nine yards.
Secondly, they don’t all agree on everything. While there are core theological and scientific beliefs they hold in common, the BioLogos team hold a broad and differing array of beliefs in scriptural-scientific synthesis. They propose that a spectrum of interpretations and multiple, competing theories produce the most valuable and robust answers to these deep, complex, and nuanced questions.
Last, in light of that, I appreciate their dedication to graciousness and humility in their interaction and discussion with believers and atheists alike, on the whole spectrum of beliefs on this topic. (For a cool example of this, read this dialogue between BioLogos and Reasons to Believe.)
What’s been so incredible for me in this journey is not only seeing that science and scripture can, after all, be reconciled, but that reconciliation allows for tension, nuance, uncertainty, even questioning. If all truth is God’s truth, then we need not fear it when we find it. But what’s more: truth is a journey. Yes, Jesus is the Truth, but He is also the Way and the Life – both of which require ongoing pursuit, not mere acceptance. Our unknowable God has made Himself known through Jesus Christ, through whom He also reconciled all things to Himself.
IV: Two Books
A concept emerged sometime in the Middle Ages which viewed nature as a book to be read for knowledge and understanding. Theologians considered the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture to be dual sources of God’s revelation – two divine texts, written in the same hand – each revealing the glory, goodness, and beauty of God from different vantage points.
If what we believe and know and experience of God is in fact true, then science cannot possibly contradict scripture – only our limited, human understanding of it. Let us start, not in a place of human certainty, but in the place of awe — marveling at the glory of God, and the splendor of what He has made.
The heavens are Yours, and the earth is Yours;
everything in the world is Yours — You created it all. (Psalm 89:11, NLT)
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea. (Habukkuk 2:14, ESV)
V: Additional Resources
1 For a fuller development on Wright’s thoughts on Enlightenment-era Epicureanism, read Surprised by Scripture
In addition to any links listed above, please check out the following resources:
- The Common Questions section of the BioLogos website
- A conversation-starter documentary on evolution and creation: From the Dust: Conversations in Creation
- Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator, by Richard Colling, PhD.
- The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis S. Collins