Faith and Science - it’s a topic that generates discussion, disagreement and sometimes anger not only between Christians and non-Christians but also between Christians and Christians. So I, being one to never let a peaceful setting rest, will tackle this topic.  I’m going to cover two of the more controversial subjects: evolution and the age of the Earth.

 

Before we dive into those topics, though, we have to be clear on what we are attempting to accomplish and be clear on what it is that is being debated.

 

Too often the discussion turns into a debate about what classifies as science and what is faith and what has a proper place in a classroom.  Those questions have some importance but we aren’t going to concern ourselves with what classifications these topics fall under but instead we will be concerned with what is true and factual.

 

John Polkinghorne is a theoretical physicist and professor at Oxford University.  He played a key role in the discovery of quarks, one of the fundamental particles that make up matter.  Quarks are the particles that make up protons and neutrons which make up atoms.  Polkinghorne is also an Anglican priest.  This puts him in a very unique position on the topic of faith and science and this is what he has to say about it:

 

 “…science and theology are both concerned with the search for truth.  In consequence they complement each other rather than contrast one another.  Of course, the two disciplines focus on different dimensions of the truth, but they share a common conviction that there is truth to be sought.  Although, in both kinds of enquiry this truth will never be grasped totally and exhaustively, it can be approximated to in an intellectually satisfying manner…”[1]

 

With that introduction, let’s talk about evolution, or as some of my more fundamentalist Christians friends call it, evil-lution.  When we speak of evolution we need to be clear about what we are talking about.  There are basically 3 aspects of the theory that people could be referring to when they say evolution: 

 

1.  Small change over time, also known as micro-evolution;

2.  Common descent; or

3.  The process of random mutations and natural selection, also known as Darwinism.

 

Micro-evolution is rarely disputed.  We see evidence of it all the time.  The annual flu vaccine is an example.  The vaccine must be changed each year because the virus evolves enabling it to become immune to the previous year’s vaccine.  This is micro-evolution in action.

 

Common descent is the idea that all forms of life on Earth are descended from one common ancestor.  This idea has led to some misconceptions that some anti-evolutionists have tried to use as an argument against evolution.  They often assert that the theory of evolution says that humans descended from chimpanzees but that’s a false assertion.  What the theory says is that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor, not that we are descended from them. 

 

Common descent is often illustrated using the tree of life. The tree charts the origins of all life forms on Earth.  The fossil record is typically cited as evidence for common descent.  Similarity is shown in fossils from one time frame to those in a later time frame and it is inferred that one descended from the other.  There is some dispute as to whether or not the fossil record actually shows common descent or that even the assertion that simply because two things are anatomically similar they must be genetically related, but I’m not going to spend any time on that in this article.  Instead I’m going to focus on the third idea, random mutation and natural selection.

 

This idea, also known as Darwinism, is the mechanism of evolutionary theory.  This was Charles Darwin’s contribution.  It is the mechanism through which organisms evolve from one species to a new one.  Prior to Darwin’s contribution, evolution was a common idea but it was lacking a mechanism.  When you hear about the argument between evolution and intelligent design, this is what they are arguing about.  In fact, some of the leading proponents of intelligent design like, Michael Behe, accept the first two ideas of micro-evolution and common descent but they reject Darwinism as the mechanism.  What Darwinism proposes is that over time, unguided, random mutations take place in the various life forms.  Some of these mutations are detrimental to survival and as a result the specimens containing the mutations will die off.  This is called natural selection.  The mutations that are beneficial will survive and be passed on through reproduction and then through trillions of iterations of unguided, random mutations, eventually new species will be generated.

 

So, what is the evidence given for Darwinism?  Two popular observations are typically given.  One is the finches of the Galapagos Islands.  Darwin observed finches in different environments of these Islands having differing beak sizes.  He took his observation as evidence that the finches evolved different beak forms to adapt to their environment.  The other popular observation given as evidence is known as the peppered moths of England.  In this example it was observed that during the Industrial Revolution the ratio of dark bodied moths increased while the light bodied moths decreased.  Due to coal burning factories in London during the Industrial Revolution many of the trees became darker and the light moths became easy food for birds.   Because of this, dark body moths had higher survival rates than light bodied moths.  In recent years, with cleaner air, the light bodied moths are again more prevalent than the dark bodied moths. 

 

In both of these examples we see evidence of evolution, but it is micro-evolution.  We see small change over time, but we don’t see evidence of one species becoming something new.  In fact, in both of these examples nothing new was created.  All that happened was that ratios of types of beaks and coloring of moths were changed.  When the environment returned to what it was previously the ratios returned to what they were before.  The idea that unguided, random mutations and natural selection can account for the origin of the species turns out to be a huge extrapolation from micro-evolution.  Darwin believed that given enough time, billions of years, micro-evolutionary events would generate new genetic information and complex body parts but the evidence is lacking. 

 

Non-Christian scientists John Barrow and Frank Tipler, in their book “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” examined 10 requirements for the evolution of intelligent life on Earth.  They found that each of these requirements was so unlikely to be met that it was more likely the Sun would run through its life cycle and cease being the type of star necessary for life to be possible on Earth before intelligent life could evolve by means of unguided, random mutations and natural selection.

 

All this doesn’t mean Darwinism is false.  It just means it’s lacking the evidence needed to call it a fact.

 

But if Darwinism was shown to be the factual explanation for the origin of the species would it have any bearing on Christian beliefs?  Some say no.  They assert that, yes, God created all life on the Earth but He used Darwin’s evolution to do it.  I think Christians are sometimes too quick to accept this line of thinking.  We have to understand that a necessary property of Darwinism is that it is unguided…it is without design and purpose.  The Christian belief, though, has always been that God created humans by design for a specific purpose.  All throughout the Bible we read of God’s plan for mankind.  The idea that God would guide an unguided, purposeless process to purposely create humans seems contradictory and incoherent.

 

Some Christians reject the idea of Darwinism because they say it requires billions of years but they say the Bible clearly states that the universe is only about 6,000 years old and God created everything on the Earth within 6 days.  My old King James Version says right in the margin that Genesis 1:1 took place in 4004 B.C.  It must be true, right?  The truth is that the original scriptures didn’t include those dates.  Even the original King James Version didn’t include those dates.  Those dates weren’t formulated until 1650 when an Irish Bishop named James Ussher developed them.  The dates were popularized in the early 1900’s when C.I. Scofield included them in the publication of his popular Scofield Reference Bible.  The problem though, is that Ussher either ignored or didn’t know the fact that Jewish history does not include all generations when listing family lines.  Jewish historians were only concerned with documenting significant people so many generations would not have been included and this distorts Ussher’s calculations. 

 

Even without Ussher’s dating we still have to consider the 6 day creation.  Is that what the Bible really describes?  This whole question revolves around the English word “day” and its Hebrew equivalent “yom”.  Must it be interpreted as 24 hour periods?  That is what some say.  They say that to interpret them in any other way is to treat the Bible as a fallible book with errors but both “day” and the Hebrew “yom” can have different meanings depending on the context.  We see evidence right in Genesis.  In Genesis 1:5 God calls the light Day and the dark Night.  That clearly isn’t a 24 hour day.  We also can’t ignore the fact that God didn’t put light on the Earth until the fourth day, which would leave us wondering what the standard of time was for the first three days.  In Genesis 2:4 we find the Hebrew “yom” again but this time it refers to a period of time in which God created the heavens and the earth.  The usage here is similar to when we refer to something that happened “back in the day”.  In the New Testament, in Hebrews 4, it is said that the seventh day, the Sabbath, continues even into today.

 

Some will try to defend the 24 hour period definition of “day” in the creation story by asserting that if a number is used with the Hebrew “yom” it must mean a 24 hour day.  So, when we read the 1st day or the 2nd day, it must be interpreted as a 24 hour period.  But there is no Hebrew grammatical rule to support this idea.  It seems to be invented simply to support their belief.

 

There is some archaeological evidence for a young, 6,000 year old universe and I could easily accept the fact that God could create the universe in just 6 days.  The predominant scientific evidence doesn’t support that age, though.  The scientific evidence supports a universe that began to exist about 13.7 billion years ago and an Earth that has existed about 4.5 billion years.  This would clearly be in conflict with a 6 day creation, if we insist that each reference of “day” in Genesis is a 24 hour period.  If we consider the references of “day” in Genesis to be undeclared periods of time there is no problem and it wouldn’t have the conflicts that a 24 hour period interpretation runs into in the verses I mentioned a moment ago.

 

But what is important when reading the creation story is not the length of time but the beginning of time.  Genesis 1:1 says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…but what does it mean to say “in the beginning”?  It is the beginning of time.  Time and the universe began to exist at the same moment and this is the same thing science tells us.  According to the leading theory on the beginning of the universe, all space, time and matter began to exist at a finite time in the past and it began from nothing. 

 

This has caused a bit of a dilemma for scientists that believe the only truths that exist are ones explained by science.  The dilemma is that they know that things don’t just pop into existence uncaused from nothing.  There must have been a cause but since space, time and matter did not exist until the universe began, this cause must have been non-spatial, non-temporal and immaterial but something of this sort would be out of the realm of science.  God would certainly be a good candidate to be this cause.  Scientists that recognize this have been hard at work looking for an alternate explanation.  They have developed string theories, multi-universe theories, bouncing universe theories, bubble universe theories, quantum fluctuation theories and many more.  None of these have been able find scientific support or avoid having a beginning, and therefore they still require a cause from outside of the universe.   Some scientists, to avoid the idea of the universe coming from nothing, are now resorting to what appears to be a move of desperation by trying to declare that nothing is really not nothing but really a something we just call nothing.[2]

 

It makes me think of Romans 1 where Paul wrote that “their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools”.[3]

 

The truth, which is what we are looking for, is that the leading science of our day points to the existence of God.  But these ideas about creation or evolution and the age of the Earth are just peripheral topics for Christianity.

 

Far too often evolution and intelligent design have become a dividing line between what some consider Christian and non-Christian.  Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism has also become a dividing line.  But while these ideas sit on the peripheral, the central belief for Christianity is at the cross.  The belief that Jesus is the 2nd Person of the Trinity, come to Earth in human form, crucified and bodily raised on the 3rd day - these are the foundations of the faith and hope of the Christian church.  Any church that denies this truth, regardless of any good works it may do, is not a Christian church.

                                            

1 John 2:20-26

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I have not written to you because you don't know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Messiah? He is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son can have the Father; he who confesses the Son has the Father as well.

24 What you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. If what you have heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life. 26 I have written these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.

 

Deception is rampant in our world.  Don’t allow yourself to be a victim.  Prepare yourself, study, be aware of what is going on around you and let the Holy Spirit guide you to the truth.

 

 

References

 

1. John Polkinghorne, “Quantum Physics and Theology”, pg. 1, Yale University Press

2. “…surely ‘nothing’ is every bit as physical as ‘something’, especially if it is to be defined as the ‘absence of something’.”, Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing”, Free Press, 2012

3. Romans 1:22