[This post is part of a series: How Jesus Got Hold of Me: Why I Believe and Why I Follow]
Our bumper stickers and car emblems say a lot about us. For example, some people like to use them to say in essence, "My politics are better than yours," or, "My kids and I are smarter than most people." The last time I had a bumper sticker, it said both of those things plus many others with two simple words, "Native Texan."
Of course our religion (or non-religion) also gets included in the kinds of messages we stick on our cars, and unfortunately these stickers and emblems typically aren't conducive to communicating anything very reliable about Christianity. For example, at some point you've probably seen a sticker that says, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." While I understand the message that phrase is trying to send, we could follow its reasoning through and make a sequel sticker that says something like this:
Or maybe you've seen the one that says, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Again, while there may be an admirable intention in the heart of the person who sticks that message on their car, the implication that they believe and do everything God says (presumably, that which is in the Bible) is highly unlikely to be true. For example, how many Christians do you know who have "believed it and settled it" according to these words of Jesus?:
And then, of course, there is the never-ending battle which has been taking place for years–on vehicles everywhere–between the Christian "fish" and Charles Darwin. Apparently, this battle has been so intense that Jesus has now morphed into a predatory shark who has become so angry that, rather than being as loving toward Darwin as he was to everyone else, he wants to eat him:
I think the fish vs. Darwin battles on cars are as responsible as anything for reflecting and promoting a widespread misconception among Christians and non-religious people alike: the idea that adherence to scientific evidence and belief in Christianity's God are mutually exclusive. For part of my life, I too assumed that was so, that believers in God and evolutionary scientists were out to defeat one another, or at least that there was no common ground between them.
The more I dug into it, though, the more I became convinced that there need not be a conflict for my fellow Christians and me to simultaneously trust God and be informed by the sciences. Christians can be free of the need many of them feel to open a Bible, stick fingers in each of their ears and shout "Lalalalala–I can't hear you!" to anything that science might have to say. Instead, I am convinced we can begin to find even greater meaning in our faith because of scientific research.(1)
[Fair warning: What I am about to say will be more controversial than is usual for me. Some of you reading it won't like it, while I suspect that it may be a relief to others. Regardless of your reaction, please understand the context of the series from which these comments come: I'm explaining "how Jesus got hold of me." A big part of my story is that I came to believe that the claims of Christianity could be held intelligently, aided by the best inquiry that science and any other field can give. So, I'm telling my story of accepting these things, and doing so as someone who sincerely wants to know the truth about them, not claiming to be covering these topics as a scholar.]
Back to the topic of the fish vs. Darwin decals, Michael Green notes,
The theory of evolution...sets out to explain how varied forms of life have developed from more simple forms over millions of years. Belief in a Creator sets out to explain that there is a great mind behind all matter. There is no necessary contradiction between the two. Stephen Jay Gould...was one of the world's greatest experts on evolutionary theory. He is forthright on the subject:
"To say it for the umpteenth million [time,] ... science simply cannot adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it. We simply can't comment on it as scientists ... Either half of my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs–and equally compatible with atheism."(2)
So, as briefly as possible, I'll attempt to address a few of the areas where science and faith are often perceived to be in conflict:(3)
If evolution is true, doesn't it mean the Bible isn't?
That depends on how you read the Bible. Yes, biological evolution and a view of the Bible which insists that God must have created the universe in six twenty-four hour periods and that our world is somewhere around 4-6,000 years old are in direct conflict with one another. However, Christians need to be careful to let the various parts of the Bible be the kinds of documents that they actually are (biographies, poetry, wisdom, personal letters, etc.) rather than what we want them to be (like a scientific history).
For me, this point reinforces the importance of the approach we have taken in this series by starting our conversation with Jesus. If Genesis 1-2 are indeed anything other than a straightforward chronology of events, it is foolish to conclude that would also rule out the historicity of everything else in the Bible, and–most importantly–it would have virtually nothing to say about whether or not Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead. As I have reiterated, in any consideration of Christianity, it is important to start with a focus on Jesus, and then to consider the wide-angle questions.
Doesn't science show us that miracles–especially the resurrection of Jesus–are impossible?
If God does not exist and sometimes intervene, then yes: miracles, including Jesus' resurrection, would be impossible. Water doesn't turn into wine, five loaves of bread cannot feed thousands of people, and dead people stay dead. However, if God exists, then things unobservable by the sciences exist, and therefore things unpredictable and inexplicable by the sciences can happen. So, that points us to the next question:
Does science point us away from believing that God exists?
As Gould's quote above indicates, God–whether he exists or not–simply isn't the kind of thing that science investigates. But, in another sense–if we push science far enough, I think it has something to say on the matter. The lines between science and philosophy become blurred for me here, but if the lines of reasoning are followed through, I am convinced that science eventually points beyond a completely materialistic worldview.
Several years ago, I read The God Delusion by one of our day's leading atheist voices, biologist Richard Dawkins. Though I found some of the things he said to be unfounded, I was pleased to find myself agreeing with much of the scientific parts of his argument (though they don't make up as large of a percentage of the book as a one might hope). In the section titled "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God" he delved into scientific evidence and evolutionary theory, all the way back to the big bang. But I was very surprised that he never attempted to answer the question of where the "stuff" for the big bang came from.
It is possible Dawkins may have addressed this in some other place, but the ultimate question is inevitable: Why is there something, rather than nothing? And since every process we know of confirms that something never comes from nothing, how could it be logical that scientifically observable matter is all that exists? Doesn't the existence of...well, anything and everything...point to something/someone that is not a material being?
To this point, I have tried to deal with some difficult questions in as brief a way as possible that could still be helpful. My hope is to have explained how, when I began to wrestle with these things, the pieces began to fall into place for me and I could whole-heartedly, whole-mindedly, "whole-everythingly" believe the claims about Jesus and follow through on his claims on my life. The rest of this series will shift gears, changing focus from why I believe to why I follow, from what I think to how I live, and from the arguments that have persuaded me to the stories and experiences that have shaped me.
But to summarize before moving on:
- If there is good reason to believe that Jesus of Nazareth lived, and that he died under the Roman authority of Pontius PIlate, as both non-Christian historians and the Christian scriptures claim, and
- if it is reasonable (based primarily on the course that history has taken in which Christianity moved from being a tiny group of hiding disciples of an apparently failed messiah to being the most influential movement in world history) to claim that the best explanation is the simplest: that Jesus was alive again after he had been dead, and
- if we can then look at the wider-angle questions in the light of his life, death, and resurrection, particularly understanding that science, reason, and logic can legitimately point toward the existence of God and therefore, the possibility of Jesus' resurrection, then
- it becomes possible–even necessary–to view everything about our lives and our world differently, looking redemptively at our pasts, with hope toward our futures, and with intentionality at the today right in front of us.
So, beginning next week, I'll begin to tell more of my own story–what happened to me–in three areas that have also made you the kind of person you are today as you read this: my relationships, my mind, and my habits.
Scripture Readings for the Week*:
- Hosea 1:2-10
- Psalm 85
- Colossians 2:6-19
- Luke 11:1-13
A Prayer for the Week*:
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
*Scripture readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary. Weekly prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer. (1) For more on why Christians can be comfortable with the findings of science, see especially the writings of Francis S. Collins. His book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief was an important part of my personal exploration of these issues. (2) See Michael Green, Avoiding Jesus: Answers for Skeptics, Cynics, and the Curious, pp. 44-45, where he quotes from Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. (3) For much better-qualified authors that address these and other such questions, visit www.biologos.org and/or see The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins.
[This post is part of How Jesus Got Hold of Me: Why I Believe and Why I Follow]