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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Can I Believe in God and Science? (Genesis 1:1-8,31)


In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Two children grew up next to each other, a boy and a girl. They were the best of friends. They did everything together. They played games, they played pretend, they imagined a bright future full of hope and promise. Both were bright and intelligent, and curious as all get out. They asked a lot of questions, because they wanted to understand things better. They asked good questions, hard questions, sometimes, probing questions. But, there was so much to discover, so much wonder, so much mystery, and many times their questions didn’t produce answers, but only brought more questions. But that was okay.

Oh, I haven’t told you their names. His name was Faith, and her name was Science.

Faith and Science loved hanging out together, asking questions, trying to gain an understanding of how the world worked. One day, Faith looked at Science, and he said, “You know, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve realized something. I want to know the truth!”

Science was listening intently, and she nodded in agreement. “I was thinking the same exact thing, and that’s precisely what I want to know!” That day, Faith and Science made a pact that they would seek out the truth, and they both did.

Some time later, Faith and Science were again chatting. Faith put down his cup of coffee, and said, “I have come to a very interesting conclusion, lately.” “Really,” said Science? “What is it?” “Well,” said Faith, “You may think I’m sorta weird for saying this, but I think there’s something out there.”

“What, like a pervert looking in the window?”

“No no, I think that out there, somewhere beyond all that we have ever known and can see, there’s something. It’s kinda hard to explain – but there’s a presence, a force, an energy, a personality – that moves in the background behind everything we do. Something that both stands outside our universe, our time, our understanding, but at the same is intimately connected with everything we do.

“This being is living and true, everlasting, of infinite power, wisdom, goodness, and love; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And, get this: the being wants to know us, and love us, and be in relationship with us, and desires our knowledge and love in return.”

Science was fascinated at what she had just heard from her good friend, Faith. What an interesting discovery to make! How exciting to realize that we are not alone, and that there is something greater and grander and infinitely different from ourselves. Science leaned in, and she asked a question. “What do you call it? Surely you have come up with a name for this being.”

“Well,” Faith said, “it’s funny you should ask, because I asked the same question, and I got a very funny response. It didn’t feel right for me to give it a name! After all, if it created everything and all, who am I to randomly assign a name to it? The being simply said, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ So, I don’t really know what to call it. And, I guess I should stop referring to it as “it.” I mean, we’re talking about some sort of supernatural yet personal being, so it feels like I should use language that recognizes that is has a personality.”

Science thought for a moment. “Well, is it male or female? That’s a good start.”

Faith said, “That’s part of the difficulty. It’s both, and at the same time, it’s neither. Not in any weird way; I just think our categories are too small to adequately name it. It’s more mystery than is revealed. It’s hard to use our finite language to describe an infinite being. We’re never going to do it justice.”

Science knodded knowingly and said, “I see, so it’s sort of like an iceberg.”

Faith looked confused. “What’s an iceberg?”

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you. It’s a piece of ice floating in water. You see only a very small part of it above the water, but there’s a whole lot more under the water that you can’t see. Sounds like this being you’re talking about is very similar – only some things about this being have been revealed, but there’s a great treasure trove of mystery that is just waiting to be discovered.”

“Yes, it’s sorta like that,” Faith agreed. “I know a little about this being, but I feel like there’s still a whole lot more to know. In fact, as long as I keep learning, I feel like there’s always going to be more that I don’t know.”

Science pressed on. “Still, you have to call it something if you’re going to have a relationship with it.” Science continued to think for a moment, and then said, “Why don’t you call it God?”

Faith said, “I like the sound of that. Does it stand for anything?”

“Sure does. It means ‘Generator of Divinity.’ You should probably get that trademarked and copyrighted before someone else uses it,” Science advised. “There’s a lot of nutjobs out there, and the last thing you need is people running around calling anything and everything God. How awful would it be to have a world full of false gods – imagine the confusion! People claiming that they are God, that things they’ve made themselves are God, maybe even making the claim that there is no God! No no, you certainly don’t want that!”

“So let me get this straight, just for the record. You don’t think I’m crazy or one of those nutjobs because I believe in this thing we’ll call God?”

Science replied, “Not at all. In fact, it really makes me feel much better about some crazy things I’ve recently come to discover. It seems pretty clear to me that the whole universe is old. Really old, in fact. A lot older than people realized, at first. I’ve come up with some theories about how the universe came into existence. I’ve done tests, I’ve run a lot of different models, and I’m not entirely sure how it all happened. Again, I have some theories, but we honestly don’t know the details of how it all came together. We can make some educated guesses about the order things happened in, about some changes that have taken place in the climate, how species have adapted to those changes. There are these wonderful natural laws about how the universe operates, and it’s like watching the inner mechanism of a very finely-built machine – I just can’t imagine the timing and the balance and the beautiful complex harmony of how the whole creation works together. I mean, it might just be random or an accident, but it’s too well-designed.”

Faith’s curiosity was definitely up at this point, and he said, “So tell me the conclusion you came to.”

“Well, there’s a few things. First, someone or something had to pull the whole thing together. That someone could easily be this one you’re calling God. One of the discoveries we’ve made is that the universe has what’s called a redshift. What that means is that the wavelength of light at the edge of the universe is continually lengthening, which means it is moving toward the red end of the spectrum. Since it’s shifting red, the edge of the universe is always getting further away from us. In other words, the universe is expanding.”

Faith said, “Tell me more.”

“So, if you take stock of where the so-called edges of the universe are today, you can run a model in the lab that reverses the expansion and has the universe collapse on itself, which would be helpful in figuring out how long the universe has been expanding, and therefore, how old it is. What we’ve discovered is that if you go back far enough, the entire universe started out as a single dot smaller than the tip of a pen. But, something had to happen to it to make it start expanding. And so far, we can’t find anything within the universe that began that process or had the ability to make that happen.

“That’s why I’m so excited to hear about this God-character. If there is a being that is both removed from the universe but also intimately connected to it, that might give us an explanation as to where the energy came from that started the whole thing. And here’s another related point. If the universe was as small as the tip of a pen once upon a time, it still contained the same amount of matter it contains now. It would have been a lot denser, of course, but new matter has never been created.”

Faith said, “I think I know where this is headed, but let’s see if you go where I think you are.”

“Well, all the matter in the universe – all the raw materials to create everything that has ever been and will ever be, was already in existence. But one thing I’ve never been able to figure out is who or what put it there in the first place, until you just told me about the discovery you’ve made about God. God is the unmoved mover behind all that has taken place!”

Faith and Science were very excited about the discoveries they had both made, but what made them even more excited was the fact that their discoveries were complementary rather than cancelling each other out. Faith and Science realized that what they each learned weren’t mutually exclusive claims, but helped them both look at the world in exciting new ways. Faith seemed to ask one set of questions that answered one side of things, and Science seemed to ask another set of questions that answered another side of things.

The kettle in the other room begin to whistle, indicating it was time to make their tea. As she went to get the kettle off the stove, Science said, “Take, for example, this kettle boiling on the stove for our tea. Faith, you and I could both look at this kettle and say, ‘I wonder what causes the kettle to boil? As Science, I know that heat has been introduced to this kettle from the stove, and the heat has caused the metal to rise in temperature, which has also caused the water molecules inside the kettle to rise in temperature. As they get hotter, they move faster and faster and crash into each other like rednecks at a demolition derby. They keep getting hotter and moving faster and crashing off each other until some of the water molecules crash so hard off each other that they go flying off altogether and escape as what we know as steam. And that, is why the kettle is boiling.”

Faith loved this discussion, and with a grin he said, “True enough, that is a good explanation as to why the kettle is boiling. But, couldn’t you also hold that the kettle is boiling because I would like a cup of tea? In fact, both of those statements are true. The truth of one statement does not cancel out the truth of the other.”

“Precisely my point,” Science said. “I look at something, and I tend to ask ‘How?’”

“Whereas I look at the same thing,” said Faith, “and I tend to ask ‘Why?’”

Faith and Science realized they sometimes came up with such different answers about the same thing because they were asking different questions in the first place. They both produced answers that were true, and the truth of Faith’s answer didn’t cancel out the truth of Science, and neither did the truth of Science cancel out the truth of Faith. They were simply asking different questions about the same sorts of things. Science always asked, “How?” Faith always asked, “Why?”

Faith got together with several of his friends and had great conversations, told great stories through the centuries, and eventually had many of his friends write down their findings. A few of those writings were compiled into one sort of master volume, called a “Bible,” and it looked like this (hold up a Bible).

The Bible turned out to be a great resource for people of faith. It told them about God and God’s continual efforts to have a relationship with people. It told about human nature and our inherent resistance to God, our rebellious selfishness that always insists on its own way instead of following God’s way, but the many ways that God continues to offer relationship to people in spite of that. The Bible told of the people’s struggle to stay in relationship with God and in good relationship with each other. It gave guidance in how we should treat each other, and how we should always orient our hearts toward God. But overall, it was the story of a love affair between God and people.

Science also got together with several of her friends and had great conversations, told great stories through the centuries, and eventually had many of her friends write down their findings. A few of those writings were compiled into great resources called “textbooks,” and they looked like this (hold up Organic Chemistry textbook).

The Bible is not the same thing as a textbook, and friends of Faith got themselves into trouble when they treated the Bible like it was a textbook. For instance, the first book in the Bible was the book called Genesis, and the very beginning of that book was a beautiful poem written about the creation of the world. Here is the very first part of that poem:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Unfortunately, some missed the point of the poem. They thought it was an account of how the world came into being, describing the exact process and timetable by which God created, but that wasn’t the point at all. The creation story is not there to tell the friends of Faith how God created the world, but simply that it was created by God. In the beginning, whenever that was, however that happened, God was there. It just says, “In the beginning, God . . .” It assumes the presence of God from the beginning, and whatever process was used to create it all, God was there all along and involved. That’s the point. The Bible starts with God, who is the answer to the greatest “Why?” question of them all.

The Bible is not a textbook, and a textbook is not the Bible, because the aims of purposes of both are so different. Friends of Faith and friends of Science get themselves in trouble when we cannot see the difference between these two, when we think that the only truth there is the world is that which is factual, and when we ask Faith and Science to answer questions they simply were never designed to answer.

Faith and Science are friends. They have been from the very beginning, they are now, and so they shall continue to be. They are friends because they realize that they ask different sorts of questions about the same things. Their answers are not mutually exclusive, but are actually complementary.

Friends, God is not threatened by any scientific idea or discovery, neither should our faith. If creation is the handiwork of God, then science helps us to see the exquisite and marvelous workings of our creation, which leads us to glorify the Creator. As people of faith, how can that do anything for us other than magnify God?

Jesus said that we are to worship God with all that we are, including our minds. Isn’t it exciting to realize that science can actually be a catalyst for worshiping God with all our minds by helping us to see how powerful and creative and awesome our Creator truly is?

The psalmist says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). When you consider the gifts of discovery science has given us, what choice do we have but to find ourselves truly lost in wonder, love, and praise?

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