Science and faith have been at odds with each other in the United States since before the Scopes Trial. Rather, should I say that people of science and people of faith have been at odds. I don’t believe there should be (or is) any real tension between science and faith.
Issues arise in the way people integrate or separate the two areas of discipline. Issues arise in the assumptions and presumptions people make about science and faith and how people interact (or don’t interact) with them.
The subject of creation among people of faith has also been fraught with much tension in the last 10-20 years (at least). People separate broadly into young earth and old earth camps. People separate into groups informed by creationism, theistic evolution or a third way defined as “intelligent design”.
Many people just don’t know where to fall on the spectrum of possibilities. Not many of us are so well-informed on the science and expert in our biblical exegesis that we can sort it out confidently for ourselves. We might wonder to God, “Is this going to be on the test?”
Of course, there is no test to get into heaven. Jesus took the test and passed it for all of us. The only test to get into heaven is what we do with Jesus. Do we embrace the gift of salvation that God offered us in Christ? Or do we reject it?
Still, the tension over how we should view creation, evolution, science and faith is real. It can cause quite a bit of consternation and doubt.
In a recent presentation that Krista Bontrager gave to the Chicago Chapter of Reasons to Believe with which I am affiliated, she reminded us of the call to unity in faith: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” I think she is exactly right that we should be mindful of these things.
More practical and helpful than that, though, she introduced to us ten (10) foundational points on the subject of creation on which all Christians should be able to agree. By focusing on the points of agreement, we can put our differences into better (more manageable) perspective.
Following are the ten (10) fundamental beliefs that unite Christians on the subject of creation:
1. God is the source of all things.
God is the source of all things, both physical things and nonphysical things.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the stars by the breath of His mouth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
For by [in] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible….
[God] created all things, and by [God’s] will they existed and were created.
2. God created ex-nihilo
God created the universe out of nothing. Nothing means no thing. There was no preexisting matter before God created. All space/time and matter was caused to be by God.
[T]the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
For He spoke, and it came to be….
3. God is distinct from His creation
God caused all that is other than Himself to be. Thus, God transcends creation. God is eminent. God “stands above”, “stands apart”, and “stands outside” His creation. We don’t have good words for this. The creation is not God, and God is not defined by His creation, though His creation was made by, through and in Him.
But will God indeed dwell upon the earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain You….
1 Kings 8:27
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man….
4. God is involved in His creation
God is imminent. The world imminent is from the Latin word meaning to overhang. He is present everywhere, and He is intimate with His creation. He interacts with creation and even entered into His creation as a man (the incarnation).
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
The Lord your God is in your midst….
[t]he Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
John 1:1-3, 15
Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
5. God is eternal
God is timeless. He is, and was and always will be. He “stands outside” (exists) of time.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come….”
6. Time and matter have a beginning
“In the beginning, God created….” (Gen. 1:1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1-2) God existed, and always existed, but space/time, and matter were created and had a beginning. Jesus was also with God in the beginning.
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
7. God created the universe as a theater for His glory
God created space/time and matter for His own purposes.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
[B]ring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
[A]ll things were created through him and for him.
8. Humans should worship the creator, not the creation
People have a tendency to want to worship. Calvin said we are worshiping machines. If we don’t worship God, we will worship other things. We invent our own religions and our own morality.
[Humans] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator….
Romans 1:23, 25
9. Adam & Eve were created in the image of God
Human beings, of all the creatures God made, were created in God’s image. People have intrinsic dignity and value because we bear the stamp of God’s image. It matters not who we are, what we do, or what talents we have (or do not have). We all have eternal value as God’s image-bearers.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Humans, alone, are created in God’s image, and we have a key role to play in God’s creation.
10. Theories that deny God as creator are incompatible with Scripture
We can all agree that any theory, philosophy or worldview that denies God is the creator of the universe is incompatible with Scripture. There is a difference, though, between science and scientism.
Scientism is a worldview that presumes that matter is all there is, and science is the only avenue to knowledge and understanding of reality. Science, however, is simply the study of the natural world (God’s creation). Science doesn’t tell about God, other than what we can see in His creation, and it doesn’t tell us how can have a relationship with God.
We should not conflate science that reveals the truth of God’s created world and scientism, which is a worldview that some scientists have about reality. Not all scientists have such a limited worldview. Many scientists are believers in God and subscribe to the fundamental truths of Scripture.
We may differ on exactly how to read Genesis in relation to modern science, but we can agree (I think) on the fundamental truths about creation that Krista Bontrager laid out for us, and probably other truths about creation as well. We also have agreement on the centrality of Christ in the Scriptures and the importance of his death and resurrection. Nothing is more fundamental than that.