by Melissa Stoakley
There is a current state of war among the philosophical community that seeks peace between the concepts of science and theology. Lutheran theologian Ted Peters asserts that faith and science can be bridged through a teaching called theistic evolution. This revolution adds complexity and nuance to the age-old disbelief that God cannot be connected with a scientific discussion about the natural world. In what follows you will see some key strategies, what they call seven principles of illumination, from the theistic evolution camp to form a healthy alliance between evolutionary science and the Christian vision of creation and redemption.
1. The Darwinian Model of Evolution should be conditionally accepted. We accept and work with the Darwinian model as we would any other scientific theory—that is, if it’s fertile for the growth of new knowledge, then it is worth embracing for the time being. No scientific theory is eternal. Eventually, all theories get replaced with better ones. It would be like building a house on sand to baptize evolution and incorporate it into Christian dogma. No sooner might we do such a thing, and evolution would go out the window while a better theory comes through the door. In the meantime, we must grant that the Darwinian model is today’s best science.
2. God is the primary cause while nature operates according to secondary causes. As the primary cause, God is the creator of all things. God brought the world from nonbeing into being; and God continues to sustain the world in its existence. Within the created order, the world operates according to laws and principles. Events are contingent and sometimes free—that is, what happens in nature and in human life is unpredictable. Yet, all that happens is the result of secondary causes, the result of one natural creature relating to another natural creature. This is the order of creation as God has established it. Science studies the realm of secondary causation, not primary causation. Science can discern the laws that govern natural processes; but it cannot perceive the source of those laws and processes.
3. God has a purpose for nature that scientists cannot see within nature. We do not expect a research scientist looking through the lenses of random variation and natural selection to perceive a grand design in nature or an inherent purpose toward which all things are moving. As both ID supporters and evolutionary biologists acknowledge, some systems in nature exhibit characteristics of design. The eye, for example, is designed for seeing. Yet, local design in complex systems does not in itself give evidence of a single grand design for the totality of the created universe. As Christians, we believe the entire created universe has a purpose, a divinely appointed purpose. To discern that purpose we will need to rely upon a special revelation from God.
4. God’s promised new creation provides the purpose for the present creation. We rely on three important passages from Scripture. First, Genesis 1:31, “God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Second, Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Third, between these two, we live with St. Paul who writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “now we see in a mirror dimly.” We are cautious, because we can only see dimly in a mirror that reflects back what we project into it. We will not be able to behold the pure light of all truth until we reside fully in the new creation where God’s light is the only light and our eyes are fully opened. In the meantime, we will stumble through our shadowed reality relying on the occasional candlelight that natural science can provide for partially viewing natural mysteries. Because science cannot shine light on the new creation promised by the Bible, we can apprehend it only in faith and trust.
5. God creates from the future, not from the past. We believe that God creates the world by giving it a future. This is what God did at the beginning, in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. For God to say that this world is “very good,” God must already have had in mind the anticipated new creation prophesied in Revelation 21 and 22. This will be the redeemed creation. It will be the creation where all illnesses will be healed, where there will be no crying nor pain, and where death shall be no more. Further, it will be the creation where the lion will lie down with the lamb, and we the human race will live in harmony with all of nature. Only when the created world has attained this redeemed state will it finally be created and dubbed “very good.” In the meantime, we believe God is not done with creation. Creation continues, and the best we can do is watch the history of secondary causation through a mirror dimly.
6. The book of Genesis does not describe a finished event in the past; rather it describes the full sweep of God’s creative activities that includes us today. The account of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a we believe, applies to the entire history of the cosmos, beginning perhaps with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and extending into the future far enough to take into account the advent of the new creation the Bible promises. Right now, God is at work. God is working as primary cause with all of nature’s secondary causes—natural causes as understood by physicists, chemists, biologists, geneticists, and neuroscientists--to bring into existence an ever more complex realm of interaction between ourselves, our world, and our God. We today find ourselves somewhere between day one and day six. Day seven, the Sabbath, is scheduled for the day after the arrival of the prophesied New Jerusalem of the closing chapters of the Bible. Then God can declare that all of creation is “very good” and take that well deserved divine rest.
7. Redemption coincides with creation. One of the mistakes of both the creationists and the ID supporters is to limit the theological questions posed to science to the domain of creation. We believe creation cannot be understood from the perspective of faith unless it is viewed in light of redemption. So, even if creationism or ID should be successful at unseating the Darwinian model, it would not follow that the distinctively Christian viewpoint will have prevailed. What is distinctively Christian is not an explanation for a biological world replete with extinctions, predator-pray violence, suffering from disease, and falling by the wayside while only the reproductively fit survive; rather, what is distinctively Christian is reliance upon Isaiah’s prophecy that in God’s kingdom the lion will lie down with the lamb and all of the creation will live in harmony. Without this transformative vision, we cannot deal adequately with God’s relation to the creation; and we cannot understand clearly where science can be of help or not be of help in articulating our faith in God.