On Evolution and Christian Faith
My correspondence with a graduate student friend who is struggling with Evolution. Wondering if her study of evolution could undermine her faith in God.
My first letter
Thank you for writing me. Rita and I prayed for you after I read your letter to her. We have all struggled with doubt, but on various levels and on different issues. I will do my best to respond to your feelings and questions.
My first concern is what is happening to you spiritually. The one thing we all need to be doing is reading through the scriptures. This is especially necessary for those of us in the scholarly world. Somehow engaging closely with the text has helped me to find grounding when I am struggling and find it nowhere else. I so much appreciate your sharing your thoughts because my experience is that the usual things that we hear in church don’t suffice. You and I need to be seeking answers from the word ourselves. I wonder if I have sent you a copy of “Walking Blind,” a book of essays about things I have gotten from scripture that I don’t see other people talking about. Nothing in that book deals specifically with questions/issues of your interest but the essays reveal, even though I don’t say so, how many issues of interest to me are not much addressed in Christian books or sermons. I would love for you to see it if I haven’t sent you a copy.
Anyway, my first response is that you need to be examining the scriptures daily for what they have to say to you. Do you have a habit of exploratory reading? Set aside 10 minutes beyond whatever you do in your Quiet Time just to read parts of the Bible you have never read before. If you are thinking, you will often find things there that you didn’t know were there, and that no one talks about. Paul (Rom 15:4), after quoting from a relatively obscure verse in the OT, says that “these things were written down for out instruction, that through patience [steadfastness] and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” The Bible was written that we might have hope. And this point he demonstrates by quoting from an obscure passage from the OT. Anyway, my prayer for you is that you will find anchorage in the texts of scripture.
Now, to respond to the issues that trouble you. You are impressed with the number of scientists whom you respect who don’t believe in God. And you feel that now the great questions are “now answerable through science”. And you wonder if the “why” could be answered through science.
You are right to be terrified if it should turn out that there is “no reason” for what is going on in nature. If we take the view that the universe is expanding endlessly into space then we can be sure that our world will grow cold, the stars will disappear, that human beings will die out along with all life on earth, and there will be nothing to follow. That seems where the kind of “science” you are looking at takes us.
I keep wondering what else your author believes that makes him certain that belief in God is a myth: How does he know? Does his scholarly ventures into the mechanisms of the world order entitle him to take such a leap of faith and declare it to others with confidence? I keep wondering if behind such claims there is a deep resentment against God: “I don’t believe in God because I’m pissed off at him.”
God certainly doesn’t do what we want him to do. Every one of us, not only scientists but we ourselves, have questions about what God is doing in our lives. Rita and I have a retarded and behaviorally difficult child. He is now 57 years old. I grieve over what he has missed, and how much he has suffered unnecessarily. I used to think I would someday ask Jesus why he allowed such tragic circumstances to take place. I now think, however, I will be so awed by Him that I will respond as Job did: with shame and wonder.
I have found a verse that got me thinking about myself in a different way [again, no one ever talks about this]: [Eph 3:10] “God’s intent was that now, through the church [i.e, through me and you and all the rest] the manifold wisdom of God should be made known [not to you and me, but] to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” What is God showing the angels on the basis of what’s going on in my life? What does he see? What he is saying about me? Obviously I have no idea.
I have digressed into one of the perpetual problems for all of us: suffering. If all the “scientific” assertions your author has made are true, then how do we deal with the problem of suffering? Paul said that if the only realities are worldly then he and the other apostles were of all people most deserving of pity because they were wasting their lives.
But to deal more directly with your author. I have already challenged his credentials to decide what is fiction and what is myth. He has some ideas – a just-so story – about how the human creature developed a moral sensibility. How would his proposal be disproved? And if it turns out to hold up under close scrutiny over time how does that bear on the Biblical concept that the God of creation willed it, or used material means to create creatures like ourselves? Wherever we go with mechanistic-materialistic solutions they still leave us in a material world that operates mechanistically. On what grounds can I make declarations about God or the workings of heaven of the sort that the apostle Paul refers to in Eph 3? Note that the author of Chronicles recognized the difference between earthly explanations godly explanations. In Ch 36 he describes how Jerusalem and all of Judah were destroyed: a mechanistic/materialistic explanation. And then he provides the moral/supernatural explanation that he has been promoting throughout his book: That Yahweh had tried through many means to bring them to repentance and they refused “until there was no remedy.” Both explanations can be true.
Your author is living by faith just as you and I do. He does not believe the claims of the gospel. Kierkegaard challenged those who said that if they could have been present when Jesus did his miracles they would believe. He said there were people present in most of those miracles who did not believe; they were not induced to impute moral significance in the event even though they saw it take place with their own eyes. Faith, he said, was something else; it arises out of something within the observer that induces him/her to impute to the event something larger, to see in the event a significance that escapes the mundane elements of the instant. [Cf. the parable of the sower.] We believe what we are prepared to believe just as your author believes with great certainty what he believes; for him his interpretation of his material is obvious.
I can only say, he may not know it but he lives in a very pointless world, a dark world in which there is no hope for justice, for purity, for truth, because he lives in a world in which the lies and deceits of worldly human behavior will persist as we all scramble to make the best of our miserable, pointless struggles for what we want before we die to leave nothing of significance behind.
That, as you know, is not the world of the Bible. There will be a reckoning for the ugliness in the world, and then will come into existence the kind of world we within ourselves deeply long for:
“Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” [Rev 21:3-4].
My Second Letter
One brief addendum to my earlier note.
Science is by definition an attempt to understand the universe in its own terms. In no way can God be a factor in the universe as “science” examines it. We as scientists recoil at those who want to make something of God’s intention in the mechanisms of the universe. We won’t find God in the universe through the tools of science.
Science is a way of seeing. The tools of the scientist, such as they are, are by definition worldly and “earthly” in the sense that our knowledge develops by analogy from the workings of nature as we find it on earth. As scientists we have no way of finding God or of discerning God’s hand in earlthy affairs. If we see God in the universe we “see” it through other lenses.
And there are elements of the world that, despite many claims, are left out of scientific knowledge. As science became self-conscious and formalized other traditions of thought — ways of seeing — developed alongside it. Literature arose as a vehicle through which human beings could express their moral and emotional sensibilities. Also, the “essay” developed as a vehicle through which to examine the human condition dispassionately. These other ways of seeing developed alongside of science as it became more clearly defined as a discipline — evidence that thoughtful human beings felt a need to draw attention to other features of the human condition, overlooked or poorly examined by the techniques of science. The essay became a vehicle for examining and critiquing moral practice in human affairs, for at this time the new world was enabling philosophers to reflect on other ways of organizing social life. The notion of divine right gave way to the Rousseauan concept of a populace whose consent a government should have in order to govern. The moral imagination is a topic worthy of rational inquiry, both as it is expressed in private thoughts and as it is deployed in social affairs [often to masque unseemly agendas]. There are rational ways of examining human beings as moral creatures but the tools of science, valuable as they are, can lead away from what is actually interesting about human beings.
Anyway, please forgive this deluge of ideas. They are meant to help you deal with the issues that now seem to challenge your relationship with God.