Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Faith Looms Larger

What I about to say may upset people in two different camps (my church and my scientifically minded friends). So allow me to be long winded as I share these thoughts carefully:

I am not committed to a literal seven day creation of the world.

I know that many in my church who are reading this may be shocked by my starting place. I do not want to alarm you. Please take a moment and let me explain. I believe that Genesis 1 is absolutely God breathed and true. I believe it teaches truth about the origins of the earth. However, I do not believe that the intention of this chapter is to be scientific. Let me explain:

  1. Genesis 1 is a poem. Poems are not the typical way to portray scientific truth. The poem reveals truth, but often uses pictures to portray a meaning. We don't read Song of Songs and assume that this woman really had a neck that looked like a cedar tree, it was an image to portray a truth. Genesis 1 shows that God's hand was all over the creation event--he did it, he made it, he ordered it and structured it and it pleased him.
  2. Even with this, I find the detail of counting days as an odd thing to find in a poem, and so I think there must be some reason that we have the specific reference to seven days. Therefore, my mind goes back toward the seven day creation.
  3. The question in my mind though, is what kind of seven day creation? The sun, the tool we use to measure days and nights and time, was not created until day 4 according to the poem. If this is so, then whatever time was being used to calculate days by God in this story is clearly not the time markers that we use today.
  4. I do believe that this poem appears accurate in terms of order of creation. Science affirms the same basic order of appearance of most objects. Light came before mass, trees came before animals, etc. Genesis and science are on the same page here (though for very different reasons).
This is an oversimplification of my mindset, but suffice it to say that I believe that God used seven distinct segments of time to create all that exists. What we cannot know, however, is how long each of these "days" were.

Now I want to offend my scientific friends.

A really thoughtful Christian I have recently encountered online, Mason, posted an article on why he believes in evolution/old earth science as a Christian .
Mason is a thoughtful guy, and I encourage you to read his stuff. However, as I pondered his thoughts, it led me back to a problem that I see within the modern post-Enlightenment understanding of science. I will say it like this:

We teach and believe that science is the absolute truth of the universe.

Is this not evident in our times? We feel obligated to prove everything through the lens of science. If it is not scientific it cannot be true. I strongly disagree with this mindset.

Let me give you six reasons that I believe science cannot be viewed as the absolute truth of the universe, and why I believe it is too small a lens to govern how we read passages like Genesis 1 (or for that matter the Resurrection of Jesus).

  1. Modern science is, at its core, is the study of patterns. Patterns are things that we see as typically true. If it happens often enough, it must be true. However, because something happens most of the time, or even every witnessed time, does not mean that it is always true. Example: For years we believed gravity to be the most basic and concrete concept in the universe until we recently discovered that solar systems are accelerating in their separation from one another--we know witness that what we thought always happened (gravity pulls things together) is not true. Often times this leads us to ignore particular instances to focus on general patterns.
  2. We also must realize that scientific study is unable to concretely give answers because it cannot take into account the variables. Variables for any study are endless, no matter how precise we intend to be. Two people with the same heart blockages can live for different amounts of time, have different size heart attacks, etc. Why? There are thousands of variables in each ones life that we cannot account for. Atomic study cannot take into account the minute differences present in different atoms, each star is unique, etc. There is not a way to create a perfect pattern because of the uniqueness of our universe.
  3. We also must realize that though science can find patterns within our world, we cannot concretely answer questions about outside of our world. Does life require our pattern to work in other solar systems and situations? We have no way to know! Does light travel at the same speed everywhere? We cannot measure these things absolutely, because we can only study within a very limited area surrounding our planet. This is why most astrophysical study will always be considered theoretical.
  4. In the same manner, science cannot prove whether things have always reacted the way they react now (has science changed over time?) This is an extremely daunting thing to question. With the literally billions of variables within the universe, can any of them change the way science on this planet has worked from one point in time to another? Is there any way to know whether the evidence we see from archeology and geology is accurate, or our best guess based upon how the world works now?
  5. Science also cannot consider the out of the ordinary. Take the example of the Flood of Noah (assume with me for a minute that this event is true, whether you believe so or not). If there was a flood of the entire world, could it destroy our ability to study things from before it? Think about it, layers of dirt would be moved, washed away, placed elsewhere in massive proportions all over the world. Events like this would corrupt all the data we can accumulate because the only way of studying the world prior to such an event is either to assume it is true or untrue.
  6. Finally, and most importantly, science is a study of patterns within the natural universe. This means that it cannot account for anything from outside of the natural scope interfering with it. As Christians, we believe in a God outside of the natural world (God is not in nature, not just a binding agent of nature, but a sovereign outside of it), therefore whatever he does within nature cannot be measured scientifically. If God created the world in seven literal days, we would have no way of scientifically studying it, because he is other, unpatternable. He is not part of the pattern he creates. That is why resurrection is so amazing and mind boggling. The pattern tells us dead things stay dead. But a God outside of nature brought life again, and there is no scientific way to prove it!
I could probably make subpoints, but I think it fits the scope of this topic to stop and rest after six points.

This does not mean that I don't trust science at all, or even to an extent on big things such as the stages of universe development. However, it means that I recognize a higher, more absolute truth that allows me to sit comfortably in the realm of unscientific.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is science absolute? Does Genesis have to be seven literal earth days? Please share your thoughts!


  1. is there a way I can subscribe to your blog by email?

  2. Matt,
    Appreciate your response, and you bring up some good points.
    For the record my post was less about believing in evolution and more about how at one point I saw evolution as a sort of secular propaganda and no longer do.
    But that said, I would have to say the flood and resurrection for example are two very different things, as best we can tell (and I've never heard it suggested otherwise by anything but speculation) scientific reactions don't change with time. Light travels at a specific speed if not changed by a black hole, carbon decays at a particular rate, etc. So we should be able to make scientific conclusions about a worldwide flood.
    A resurrection on the other hand could only be scientifically studied if there was evidence, and there's not. Well, there's not physical evidence like a body or video etc. I believe in the resurrection, and for historical and social reasons think there is plenty of evidence, but its not the sort you could run in a lab.
    I only point this one out because I've often heard the argument that if we deny a 7 day creation we can just as easily deny the resurrection, but I think that misses the point of how science works, and how literature works for that matter.

  3. I agree that the resurrection and creation are different. However, my primary point is that we simply cannot study issues of creation accurately. The early universe (and pre-universe for that matter) is something that cannot be repeated in a lab. We can learn how stars are born, because we can see stars born in our universe now--we cannot at this point see a universe be born.

    I am inclined to believe that light does travel at this one speed, but I think we would need to be able to travel much farther than we now can to be able to know for sure. Carbon decay is interesting, because I find the science of it to be one of the most shaky scientific tools we use (I studied biology and in particular botany in detail in college).

    My point is not to say that these things are necessarily false, but that science is not big enough to account for truth, we must have a higher and better paradigm to use, and science should be a part of that paradigm (just not the paradigm itself).

  4. Annie, right below this comment box is an option to Subscribe by email.

  5. Matt,
    Do you believe that at some point in the 14 billion year history of our universe that some invisible "thing" in the sky developed an insatiable urge to turn himself into a man and trot around the Middle East desert for the purpose of allowing his own creation to savagely beat him to death by hanging him on a tree and crucifying him for some kind of blood sacrifice to himself?

    Can you explain how someone can call himself sane while believing such Neanderthal lunacy?

    And are you proud of yourself for spreading this Stone Age barbaric nonsense to children who may not be of age enough to critically evaluate this irrational thinking?

    There are numerous good books by former Christians available who detail their reasons for rejecting the Christian religion. (Kenneth Daniels excellent book "Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary" is available online for free) If you care about whether or not members of your congregation have more than just the "believing" side of your faith, perhaps you'll encourage them to seek out the books by those who were once believers but have now rejected their faith for intellectual reasons.

  6. Mr. Kilo,

    I find it more than possible to believe that a being would do such a thing. If you would be willing to read something rational about Christian teaching, I would recommend the "Resurrection of the Son of God" by NT Wright.

    I understand your your thinking, because frankly, we can not imagine ourselves being willing to do such things. However, we cannot claim that it is unreasonable for something to do this (especially when as Christians we teach that this is something so different that we call it Holy--other). When we assume that if something does not act like a typical human is just as irrational.

    I thank you for your thoughts, and would like you to know that I have read books by those rejecting Christianity. I have read the God Delusion by Dawkins as well. Sadly, all I find when I read these books is militant atheism--no willingness to even explore the possibilities.

    I would urge you to look beyond pure scientific logic as you explore the message of Christ. As I stated above, science is only the study of patterns, and cannot quantify that which is outside of the pattern (such as an all powerful God)


  7. Matt,
    The words "rational" and "Christian teaching" don't really go together. And I have read N.T Wright and others like him, as I was raised a Christian.

    You make no serious attempt to explain how it is remotely logical to believe in the basic doctrine of Christianity-That some savage, sickening, immoral human/blood sacrifice in the Middle East desert was offered up to the invisible man in the sky for some kind of atonement/appeasement. This is pure Stone Age lunacy. When Christians look at the many other cultures in ancient times who also practiced human sacrifice, do you condemn them as ignorant savages, or do you say "well, they had the right idea, just the wrong guy!" You see, Matt, when you're forced to look at other cultures who practiced the same insane garbage that underlines your own religion, can you honestly draw an honest conclusion that yours is somehow morally acceptable, while those others are not?
    Can you articulate the distinction of your religion's barbaric, superstitious nonsense while being critical of others with the very same basic belief?

    And as far as reading books by those who reject God, do yourself a favor and read some by people who were once believers, just as devout as yourself, and came to reject Christianity as irrational and unbelievable and lacking in evidence for it tenets. I mentioned Kenneth Daniels. John Loftus, Dan Barker, Robert Price and Charles Templeton are other former believers with strong critiques of Christian belief.

    And Matt, if the message of Christ is that he offered himself up to the invisible sky-god as some kind of vile, wicked, disgusting, barbaric, revolting, sickening and immoral blood sacrifice on behalf of my sins, I'm gonna say "No Thanks".
    Show me a god whose foundation is love and not some disgusting act of cruelty, and then you've got my attention.