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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why I Will Not Be Watching the Evolution/Creation Debate Tonight

 photo credit: Mike Shaheen via photopin cc

So while I'm scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning I come across a couple of different posts reminding me that tonight is the night that Bill Nye "The Science Guy" will be debating Ken Ham of the Creation Museum.  Mostly they are from Christians who seem to be hoping that this will finally be the time that the creation narrative gets it's proper due and evolution gets put in its place.  I have been seeing posts from some of the more progressive Christian bloggers I follow commenting on this.  They are more likely to be hoping that the likeable Nye will present his case in a way that will at least challenge Creationists to consider the options.

OPTIONS!?! Where am I going with this?  Wait.  Back up.  Progressive Christians?  Where are they progressing to, you ask?  Hang on.  This is all too much for one blog post that I can type up between changing diapers and ferrying kids to school.  I should probably stick to focusing on doing those things while I'm actually doing them, but instead I'm thinking about how I can make this important point about the Evangelical church in America and how we view science and how changing that could have such a positive impact on our ability to follow Christ.  Focus.

The point I want to make is that I believe that we are wasting our energy setting up this "science vs. Christianity" divide and using evolution as a test to determine which one comes out on top.  Neither science nor the Bible demand this.

Science first.   Ken Ham says, in this interview with CNN, "Our public schools arbitrarily define science as explaining the world by natural processes alone."  I'm not sure why he says this is arbitrary, but if he means that science is the study of what can be observed (and manipulated) in the natural world then I agree.  But somehow he then jumps to the following conclusion:  "In essence, a religion of naturalism is being imposed on millions of students."  Wait.  Is science being defined as the only way to understand the world?  Are students being taught that any question can be answered by observing the natural world?  If so then he's right that "They need to be taught the real nature of science, including its limitations."

But lets not lay this at the door of the study of evolution.  The belief that science can answer all our questions and that nothing that can't be observed in the natural world actually exists is philosophical and can't be proven, shown to be false or even properly commented on using observation or manipulation of the natural world.  It has as little to do with science as the belief that God exists.  But it is not necessary to hold this view if science in order to study evolution.  Evolution uses fossil records, DNA and direct observation to examine how species have changed over time.  It stands (or falls) on the strength of these observations.  Allowing for evolution does not necessitate discounting the supernatural world.

Which leads pretty much directly to the question, "Doesn't believing the Bible require us to abandon evolution?"  I believe that it does not.  Our pastor spent a couple of months teaching about the Genesis creation account.  Obviously I'm not going to be able to flesh out the whole argument here, but the essence, as I see it, is this:  The Bible should be understood first through the eyes of the audience for which it was originally intended.  Ancient people were not trying to answer the question "Where did all this stuff come from?"  They wanted to know "What is the purpose and function?"  Essentially, "Why is all this stuff here?  How does it relate to God?"

This does not mean that the account couldn't also address the question of how the stuff got here, but it means that it probably isn't intended to.  Ancient people would have most likely assumed that God made the stuff (if they had ever considered the question) but the Genesis account was not meant to tell us how.  The Bible is not a science text book.  It uses language that is figurative.  We no longer believe that it's necessary yo hold that the sun actually moves through the sky in order to take a proper view of passages that talk about the sun rising or setting.  We can take scripture seriously without demanding belief in a seven day, nothing to everything creation sequence.

This is not an argument for (or against) "guided evolution."  The point is not whether or not God was involved at any point in bringing matter into existence or in shaping it into the forms we now observe.  The point is that spending our time arguing about whether God is right or science is right is futile.  They can both be right.  They are not enemies.

So how does this help us to be better followers of Christ?  On reflection I realize that this probably deserves a blog post of it's own.  In short, Jesus did not, while he was on earth, allow himself to be swept up in arguments that were not central to his goals.  What is the greatest command?  They wanted to trip him up, but he was focused.  Love the Lord your God.  And love your neighbor as yourself.

I believe that this debate distracts from the real goal of Christians to model Christ's love.  Not because the truth is not important but because the friction - the conflict - isn't real.  We don't have to deny the existence of God to take science seriously and we don't have to deny the validity of the study of evolution to take God - or the Bible - seriously.           

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