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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why "Creation" vs. "Evolution" is the Wrong Starting Point

"Zing!"  "Take that!"  "That oughta shut them up!"

So went the volley of commentary on this week's much publicized debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on "Creationism" and "Evolution."  Mr. Ham advocates a position of "Young Earth" and a literal 6-day creation model as outlined in the first chapters of the book of Genesis; Mr. Nye advocates a more Darwinian Evolutionary model of creation that played out over billions of years.

So sets the stage for each side to fire zingers back and forth at each other, each making their case for their position, each side feeling their spokesperson had, at one point or another, fired the silver bullet that completely obliterated the case of the other.

*Yawn.*

I know, some people get really excited about it - "Faith vs. Science - the showdown to end all showdowns, who will emerge victorious and settle it once and for all?" - but I find that this "vs." language sets up a false adversarial relationship between the two.  So long as we continue to view Faith and Science as locked in some sort of eternal showdown where one will emerge as a winner and the other a loser, I fear we all lose, regardless of what "side" of the debate we stand on.

It's the very concept of a "debate" - us vs. them, either/or - that I find troubling.  What if, rather than opponents in a debate, we saw Faith and Science as partners in a conversation?

Part of the reason Faith and Science come up with such different answers is because they are asking fundamentally different questions.  At the risk of over-simplification, Science tends to ask "How" questions, while Faith asks "Why" questions.  One conclusion doesn't have to be wrong in order for the other to be right - take for example, a kettle boiling on the stove.  One explanation may be that the kettle is boiling because heat has been introduced to the kettle from the stove, and the heat has caused the metal of the kettle to rise in temperature.  The heat is then transferred to the water molecules inside the kettle.  As those molecules get hotter and hotter, they move against each other faster and faster, crashing and careening off each other like some sort of molecular demolition derby.  They keep getting hotter and crashing into each other more and more violently until finally 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.  That process explains the boiling kettle.

But could it not also be true that the kettle is boiling because I would like a cup of tea?

Both explanations are true.  The validity of one claim does not cancel out the other.

I think the same is true of Faith and Science.  Sometimes, they reach such vastly different conclusions because they are asking fundamentally different questions in the first place.  But the claims of one need not be a threat to the claims of the other - unless we choose to make them adversaries.  We are the ones who turn what should be a conversation into a debate.

As a person of faith, what I often see are my brothers and sisters who contort the Bible and other sources of our faith by interrogating them with questions they were never designed to answer.  It's like using the wrong tool for the job - sure you might be able to muscle it and get the results you desire, but usually you end up mangling the tool and botching the job at the same time.

I think that's what happened among people of faith who treat the Bible like a science textbook. We end up asking the Bible to explain and "prove" things it was never designed to answer.  Take the Bible's first book, Genesis.  The word "genesis" means "beginnings," and so Genesis is a story of origins - particularly the origins of the human family in the context of our unique relationship with God.

The beginning of Genesis is beautiful poetry, with a steady, thunderous, rhythmic cadence that even comes through in the English translation.  Like all poetry, it is rich with symbolism and metaphor, dividing creation into six proverbial "days," with the climactic refrain of, "And there was morning, and there was evening, the first (second, third, etc.) day," concluding each stanza of the poem.

Beautiful!  The poem is not a blow-by-blow factual account of how the created world came to be, but rather a rich treasure trove that witnesses to a God who is powerful, creative, artistic, and relational.  It doesn't seek to prove God's existence, but presumes it  (In the beginning, God . . . ), and then tells us of our special place in all of God's creation, how we are imbued with the same creativity and capacity for love as God because we are created in God's image, how we are given a specific responsibility to care for creation and one another, and to be in relationship with God.  The rest of the Bible is the story of how we fail, time and time again, to do just that, but all the extraordinary lengths to which God continues to go to help us do what we were designed to do in the first place.

But reading the first part of Genesis as a "how-to" manual for creation is holding it up to a standard it was never intended to defend, interrogating it with questions it is not designed to answer.  It's like using the wrong tool for the job, both the tool and the job end up mangled.  Treating the Bible like a science textbook robs the Bible of its true beauty and inspired power.

Science and Faith are only adversaries if we make them so in our own minds.  I think they are actually better friends than we realize.  Allowing them to be partners in conversation rather than opponents in a debate makes them both infinitely more interesting.  I am perfectly comfortable allowing Science and Faith to reach vastly different conclusions because I recognize that they are starting with fundamentally different questions.  Nothing in the conversation is a threat to me or what I believe.

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