Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Confronting Origins Issues

Two issues lie beneath the radar of the usual ministry thrusts of evangelical churches. Nevertheless, they are important both ecclesiastically and culturally. One is the earth time scale issue. Is Planet Earth billions of years old or only six to ten thousand years old? The other issue is potentially more divisive. Did God create all living things, including man, using the theorized mechanisms of evolution? Or were the actions of creation described in Genesis supernatural interventions producing living things, including man, in novel, original divine acts?

This blog dealt with the creationism time scale issue in several dozen posts during the first half of 2010. After this series concluded, I quoted a friend who stated the time scale issue made no difference to her with respect to her Christian faith, her belief in God, her embrace of Christ as Savior, or her daily experience as a Christian. However, I went on to explain why I am keenly interested in and care deeply about the origins issue. It is a matter of fact, not mere opinion. Likewise, the evolution issue, covered extensively in our posts beginning February, 2011, is a matter of fact and not opinion. In the last fifty years, many more origins questions have moved into the realm of discoverable fact.

What about the evolution issue? Are we comfortable proclaiming that our beliefs about evolution make no difference with respect to our Christian faith? I propose that the issue of evolution has far greater importance with respect to our faith than many Christian churches wish to acknowledge. Cultural pressure, and now even pressure from within our own ranks, aggressively thrust us toward the evolutionary belief framework. We live in a culture acclimated with a prevailing evolutionary haze, especially in the fields of secular science education. We are bombarded profusely with evolutionary jargon, as if to reinforce the truth of the concept by continual repetition of its terms.

Rarely do I recall a wide-ranging, well-researched sermon on the topic of evolution in the churches I have attended. We are blessed with plentiful commentary on virtually every other topic relating to Christian faith and practice. It is as though insulating ourselves from the topic will make it vanish, or perhaps we may, at least, pretend it does not exist. Perhaps this “missing link” in our church educational offerings is commentary on the intimidating nature of science topics among many church members, if not our evangelical clergy. We must recognize that the physical realm and the spiritual realm are mysteriously unified in human existence and that both realms cry out for our discovery.

Our secularized culture has succeeded in casting the natural and the spiritual as separate spheres of human existence. In particular, the science profession has insisted on the dichotomy of the natural and the supernatural. This dichotomy enabled early scientists to remove mystical interpretations from everyday phenomena and to help us focus on the efficacy of natural laws. This was a useful focus, moving science forward in its effort to describe how the natural world functions. Nonetheless, the usefulness of this movement has been overstressed. We have enhanced the reality of the natural at the expense of the supernatural. Consequently, in the field of science, the supernatural may never inform us concerning the unity or intersection of the two realms. Stephen J. Gould’s popular 1997 essay on “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) popularized this concept anew for our modern culture, but the idea had been aggressively promoted by secularists in science, sociology, and education beginning about 1870 in America. Our churches, therefore, do not fight only a modern battle. Rather, the struggle began with the foothold achieved by Darwinism in 1859.

The segregation of the spiritual from the natural in our culture has important implications. For example, in court cases such as Kitzmiller vs the Dover, PA school district in 2005, even the official suggestion that students may wish to examine a view other than evolution was ruled an unlawful constitutional infringement of religion on science.

For the scientist operating in our culture, there is no “interdigitation” between the supernatural and the physical events of creation in Genesis, even though secular paleontologists observe apparently sudden innovations in the fossil record ubiquitously. Moreover, clear examples of transitional speciation linking organisms in an evolutionary flow are not in evidence.

Andy Crouch, a senior editor at Christianity Today kicked off the Austin, TX Vibrant Dance Symposium in October 2010 with the imagery of “interdigitation” to illustrate the complementary relationship of faith and science. Many speakers at that conference expressed their vision that Christians should get on board (interdigitate) with science--evolutionary science. What comes to mind when we consider the pressure brought to bear on evangelical Christians to embrace theistic evolution? I propose the old saw, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Philosopher/theologian Jay Richards, Program Director of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, has written a thought-provoking statement bringing into question the wisdom of marrying theism to Darwinism: “To the degree theistic evolution is theistic, it will not be fully Darwinian. And to the degree that it is Darwinian, it will fail fully to preserve traditional theism.” I call on evangelical pastors and college officials to examine the implications of this issue more deeply.