Two Stories of Creation

Most evangelical Christians reject evolution because they believe in the Bible, and they don’t see how the story of evolution is compatible with the story the Bible tells. It’s not just six days versus six billion years. The stories are simply very, very different. One is the tale of how an orchestra built of random instruments finds itself playing Beethoven, without a conductor, without a score. The other story not only has a conductor, he’s the designer of the instruments, the composer of the music, and the maker of the players. In every way it’s his orchestra and his music.

In both stories, human worth lies in the privilege of playing great music. It’s nothing we did or deserve. We simply find ourselves in this amazing place. Whether we do it at the behest of the conductor, or whether we do it by the accident of random processes, it’s all grace. In that sense, the two stories do have something in common. They’re both “miraculous.” There’s a wonder to them—how could such a wonderful universe have come to exist? And how astonishing that we are aware of its wonder! But otherwise, the two stories are very different.

The question is whether two such different stories can both be true at the same time. I’m going to make the case that they can.

We see it in the most elementary forces. As a Christian I believe, as Colossians 1:17 says, that “in Christ all things hold together.” But, the scientist asks, don’t you know about gravity? Don’t you know about the electromagnetic force? Yes, I believe in those too. I believe they are the instruments through which God makes the universe cohere. I believe he has his hand on the gravitational instrument, so to speak. The two stories—one of impersonal forces, one of a personal and all-powerful God, are both true simultaneously.

What about the making of human beings? Is it true, as Psalm 139:13 puts it, that God “knit me together in my mother’s womb?” Yes, I believe that. But don’t you know about sperm and egg coming together? Are you not aware that your genetics encode most of what happens in that womb, and that genetic scientists are increasingly able to describe the process in detail—and even to interfere? Yes, I know that, and it does not trouble me in the least. I believe God, the maker of all, uses genetic processes, and even genetic medicine, to “knit together” me and every other human being.

What about disease? Is it true that God “heals all your diseases,” as Psalm 103:3 says? What about the body’s defense mechanisms—the white blood cells, for example, that rush to fight an infection? What about medical treatments that have made amazing progress with some kinds of cancer? Here too I believe God uses physical processes, and human skills, to do his work. He heals “all my diseases” through various processes that touch the body.

And now the great obstacle. Do you believe that God made the heavens and the earth, and all the creatures in the earth, as Genesis 1 announces? Yes, I believe that. But don’t you know about the evolutionary process by which creatures have evolved and new species have come into being? Yes, though it lies far outside of my competence, just like genetics and gravitation and medicine, I accept it. I believe God used an evolutionary process to make all the creatures, mainly because scientists who study these matters tell me it happened that way.

I don’t pretend to understand the details. I don’t know how an utterly free God can use apparently random and impersonal processes to create free people endowed with consciousness and creative power. There’s a great deal in evolution that remains mysterious, and it wouldn’t surprise me if were to remain forever mysterious. That doesn’t deter me from thinking that the two stories can both be true, since they’re apparently true in all those other examples.

I admit that I find it difficult to imagine God mixed up in physical processes. When I think of creation, my mind naturally goes to what one friend of mine calls “virgin birth creationism”—creation operating independent of natural processes. I think of God designing the universe in his mind, and then instantly making it so, out of nothing.

Of course, this has some problems. A tree created in God’s mind and “exploded” into being has tree rings, which tell the story of its life, and the weather that nurtured its life. Falsified history? And a human being has genetic codings that apparently tell the story of human populations, their migrations, their development. An imaginary tale, like the “back story” to a character in a novel?

I can’t and won’t deny the possibility of God creating instantaneously out of nothing. But it seems to me more in keeping with all I know about God that he works over time through natural processes. (In the spiritual realm, he certainly does.) If he created the whole universe and found it “very good,” then why shouldn’t part of that “goodness” be its natural fruitfulness, its tendency to continue the creation process?

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8 Responses to “Two Stories of Creation”

  1. T. Boyd Moore Says:

    “But don’t you know about the evolutionary process by which creatures have evolved and new species have come into being? Yes, …”

    No, Tim. As a scientist, I haven’t seen real evidence for this, except for microevolution (variations within species). Macroevolution, in which one species evolves to another species has not been demonstrated nor has evidence been found for it.

    The excellent book, Evolution… by Michael Denton, http://bit.ly/eUncm , is a microbiologist’s view of the impossibility of macroevolution. It opened my eyes (my background is in the physical sciences) to how flimsy the theory of evolution is on scientific terms. If a theory were proposed in physics or chemistry that had such shaky evidence, it would be vigorously put down.

    • timstafford Says:

      I have great respect for scientists like Michael Denton and Michael Behe who challenge the dominant scientific paradigm. They obviously haven’t persuaded very many of their peers, though. It’s possible they have planted seeds that will, a generation from now, result in a paradigm shift of thinking about evolution. But if so, it won’t be because they persuaded me or you. It will be because they persuaded colleagues in their field.

      I think we ought to avoid conspiracy-of-scientists thinking. If Denton’s case were as open-and-shut as it seems to you, he would have attracted a significant minority of biologists to his side.

      I’m willing to let the biologists fight it out. The point of my post is, I don’t think my faith in the Bible or in God is at stake.

  2. Thomas Says:

    I don’t know about Denton, but I am pretty sure that Behe is on record for saying he believes in evolution (not just micro). Great article, Mr. Stafford. I just found your blog and am enjoying what I am reading.

  3. Arni Zachariassen Says:

    Good post, Tim. You should check out John Haught’s “Deeper Than Darwin”. In it he speaks of the relationship between science and theology as one of different depths of the same reality. So science speaks of the world on one level, while theology speaks of it on another, deeper level. That way, they are not in competition, but can be held to be completely truthful simultaneously, in their own different, but ultimately complementarily ways. It might prove to be one of those books that says everything you think, but just haven’t quiet articulated completely yet. It has helped me immensely in my own thinking. It’s a good book in any case!
    Good blog, by the way!

  4. T. Boyd Moore Says:

    Thomas, I just skimmed through “Darwin’s Black Box”, and found no statement that he believes in evolution. The part I question in Tim’s essay and his reply is the statistics. As far as I can tell, biologists are not in agreement on any of these theories. It is the media and public-relations types that promote the idea of a monolithic consensus about evolutionary theory. I have so far not seen a rebuttal to Denton, Behe, and others that explains why they are wrong.

    Does anyone really believe you could start with atoms and even knowing the complete map of the genome of the simplest living cell be able to put the strand together and then get it to live? Even if you had 10000 biochemists with unlimited budgets, I don’t think they could do it within their lifetime. And this is starting from a plan that was given to them. Even much less probable of starting with no plan.

    Please explain where I am being illogical, or point to the literature that answers these arguments.

    Boyd

    • James Swenson Says:

      Boyd: I promise — Tim’s “statistics” reflect reality, not a conspiracy.

      I’m not aware of any recent, reliable survey of biologists’ opinions on evolution: we resist that idea, in fact, specifically because we know that truth isn’t determined by voting. I think that’s what creationists would wish. I have to admit, though, that I think Project Steve is a good stunt!

      One could also look at the statements of the various professional societies… but here’s another way to judge the consensus. Our main professional activity, as scientists, is to teach each other by writing papers about what we know. These are indexed at websites like PubMed, at
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/
      PubMed is specific to life sciences and medicine. I’d search “PMC” for “evolution” — because those articles are all (I think) available in full-text, for free. A link:
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pmc&cmd=DetailsSearch&term=evolution
      Those 125392 articles (as of today) are a sample of what biologists know.

      For evidence on macroevolution specifically, you might instead look at:
      http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

      But none of this is the issue, at all: Tim wrote, “The question is whether two such different stories can both be true at the same time. I’m going to make the case that they can.”

      As a whole, the Church no longer feels threatened by heliocentrism. I continue to hope, with Tim, that she can also (micro)evolve to the point where we don’t have to be so terrified of evolution anymore!

  5. Bill Reichert Says:

    I am reading Stephen Meyer’s new book, “Signature in the Cell.” It is truly ground-breaking. It’s 500+ pages, but even then, too short. Fortunately it reads like a well-written mystery. It will be one of those books, like Darwin’s, that will be mandatory reading for those engaged in origin of life issues.

  6. T. Boyd Says:

    Thanks, Tim and James. I have now read most of “The Language of God” by Francis Collins, and have for the first time seen a rebuttal to Denton, et. al., on a logical basis. Before, all I read was dismissal of the non-evolutionists on philosophical and/or emotional grounds.

    I think Collins’ conclusions in part may be wrong, but at least, I find why many (most?) biologists believe that macroevolution has occurred – mainly the DNA/genome evidence. I want to study this further.

    I’m not threatened by any of this – truth is not threatening. My thrust is toward some (on all sides of the debates) who are not totally honest or objective in what they think about it because of pre-conceived conclusions.

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