Last spring, we took questions of faith from the congregation for a fall sermon series that begins with “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” For centuries, science and faith have been in tension and pit against one another. Join us as we consider if our faith might actually be compatible with science. Can Christians believe in God AND evolution? All are welcome to explore this and other questions of faith together these next several weeks.
Genesis 1:1-4, 31a
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. …God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Here at Calvary, we encourage questioning your faith. Accepting everything that the Bible or the church supposedly tells you, unequivocally, is taking the easy way out. And unfortunately, faith was never meant to be easy.
We want you to engage and wonder, question and explore, and as a result grow and deepen your faith. Faith is a process. It’s something to be grappled with and worked on. It’s a constant stretch and pull in and out of your comfort zone.
Sometimes faith does come easily and serves as a sheer comfort and bastion in life. But more often than not, seeking, striving, and growing your faith involves pain, some discomfort, and, yes, even some conflict. I would even daresay that conflict is necessary for growth.
The process can be hard, but without it, there is no catalyst for change and transformation. And that’s what we’re about here, isn’t it?
So, this fall, for the next several weeks, we are taking the questions of faith that many of you submitted to us last spring and summer, and attempting to address them, the best we can, in the context of worship.
We are normalizing our questions and normalizing our doubts. Because we all have them.
And rather than being afraid of them or pretending they don’t exist, we want church to be a place where we can face hard issues. Where we address and take on those questions and doubts, rather than running or hiding from them. And I will tell you this now, no one has all the answers. But we are committed to wrestling with the questions with you. We are committed to walking with you on this journey of faith. And we know that it won’t be easy, but it will be well worth it.
So we dive right in this morning with the relationship between science and faith.
There were several questions from the congregation about how science and faith and our understanding of the universe and creation fit with our understanding of God and God as Creator.
For centuries, the church and science have been known to be at odds. The church’s persecution of Galileo and rejection of the idea that the earth revolves around the sun is an early example. The evolution versus creation debates are a more recent example.
There are many in our family of faith, who struggle with the pull between science and faith. Sometimes, people of faith view science as “the enemy” because it challenges us, it makes us think and re-examine what we hold to be true.
It contradicts what we read in parts of scripture. And if we’re uncomfortable with that contradiction, we either reject science or we reject faith. Perhaps that is our natural human inclination. We feel discomfort, some incongruity within ourselves, so rather than exploring why we feel that way, we just choose one way and run with it.
We need to think of things as either/or because entertaining the notion that it could be both/and forces us to confront impending conflict.
In the case of science and faith, however, perhaps they’re not quite as adversarial as we’d think them to be. Did you know that many early scientists were also people of faith simply seeking answers? In fact, Roger Bacon who many credit as the father of the modern scientific method was also a Franciscan friar. Some scientists, even today, are people of faith.
Derek Pursey who is a member here at Calvary and a physicist could probably answer your specific questions on science and faith much better than I could. Derek taught a four-week class here last spring on God, Science, Technology, and Us. He is a scientist himself, and faithfully embodies and lives into this supposed juxtaposition of science and religion. I bet there are many of you like that in this congregation, interested and engaged in both matters of science and faith and in particular their intersection.
Calvary already has a “faith and work” group that meets monthly, and I think a “faith and science” group would be a wonderful way to have deep and meaningful discussions beyond what a Sunday morning sermon could address. So if you’re interested in keeping the conversation going, please let me know and we can connect folks with each other to get something started.
Now, all of that is not to say that what we find in the Bible and what we find in science don’t contradict each other. In many instances, they most certainly do.
But it is to question whether that means we must choose one over the other. It’s probably best, at this point, to take a step back and consider the purpose of the Bible and our understanding of scripture. There are some in the Christian family who believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. As such, the Bible can contain no errors whatsoever, and is incapable of being wrong.
It is a literal, and in my opinion an overly-simplistic, understanding of the Bible. Those who hold that the Bible is inerrant and infallible believe that if Genesis says the earth was created in six days, then that’s exactly how it happened; there’s no room for argument because to do so would be to question the very nature of God. These are some of the loudest voices in the Christian tradition.
But there are Christians who believe otherwise. We’re not usually as loud or vocal about our beliefs, but maybe we need to be, to provide an alternative, so that people know that there is more than one way of being a faithful Christian in this world. Presbyterians, at least the denomination that this church belongs to, hold a very high view of scripture; we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but we do not hold a literalistic understanding of scripture.
In 1967, Presbyterians adopted a confession, a statement of faith, that said this:
The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated ….
A high view of scripture. But then it goes on to say this:
The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless words of human beings, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. [end quote] (Confession of 1967).
We have an obligation to engage scripture, to study and take into account the time and culture in which it was written, and then to consider in light of that, what God is saying to us through them today.
For us, the Bible is not a history or a science textbook. It is a collection of stories, letters, and poems of people trying to make sense of their world and bear witness to a God who loves them.
And to take the creation stories found in scripture and to use them to either refute or support evolution is not even comparing apples to oranges. It’s like comparing apples to dinosaurs. It just doesn’t work.
Because science as we understand it today, did not exist when the stories found in Genesis were told again and again around campfires and homes and later written down. You cannot apply modern science to a pre-science world; it’s anachronistic and ineffectual.
So perhaps science and religion are not in opposition at all. Perhaps they are simply asking two completely different questions.
Science is asking “how?” While faith is asking “why?”
Both are good and valid questions, and they are not necessarily conflictual. In fact, they might be quite complementary.
Kathryn Johnston a Presbyterian minister in Pennsylvania says,
Science and theology answer two different questions.
They are not separate truths, but instead are different ways of describing the same truth. The oral history that eventually was written down and became Genesis was not concerned with carbon dating, cell theory or nuclear fusion.
As the late Shirley Guthrie wrote in Christian Doctrine, ‘the purpose of the biblical writers was to bear witness to the God who is the ultimate source and ruler of everything that is… They were not so concerned with the details of how we got here as with why we are here and how we can realize our destiny in the world.’”
Science and faith – two different ways of describing the same truth.
Debie Thomas takes it even further and says, “To call the creation story true is not to quibble with science; it is to probe deeper than any scientific endeavor can take us. It is to acknowledge who we truly are and where we really come from. It is to affirm, by faith, the reality of a good God, a good world, and a beloved humanity.”
That’s what the first two chapters of Genesis is about – they’re about our humanity, about our relationship with God, and about our relationship with one another.
These verses are a reminder that before there was any “original sin” there was “original blessing” and a proclamation from God that we and all of creation is “good.”
Faith is not about answers per se, the way science is. It’s about affirmations, about purpose and statements of faith, about saying, “this we believe.”
What if we allowed science to inform our understanding of God?
What if we accepted that we can’t know everything? That both science and religion have their limitations.
What if we allowed the mystery of God to be sufficient, and we were more comfortable with uncertainty?
And what if we relished in our curiosity, allowing our questions to feed our faith, rather than stifle it?
In light of that, I invite you to hear this “Contemporary Retelling of the Creation Story” written by Robin Denney.
In it, you’ll hear the ancient words of scripture with modern science weaved throughout. Perhaps this dance of one kind of truth with a different kind of truth will inspire us to live accordingly, to live in the tension of both/and rather than either/or.
So I invite you to sit back, close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so, and hear these words, “A Contemporary Retelling of the Creation Story”:
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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. Then [out of the formless void] God said, “Let there be light.”
And spreading outward in every direction, the universe came into being, light and matter racing outward. And today, at the outer expanding edge of the Universe, God’s voice echoes on, as it has done for the last 14 billion years, ever onward, “Let there be light.” And there was light, and God saw that it was good.
Four and a half billion years ago the earth was born in light, in fire.
Formed from the collisions of countless asteroids.
And on the surface of the Earth there was nothing but burning molten rock, the same temperature as the sun.
As the earth cooled, and a crust of rock formed on the surface, ice rich asteroids and comets struck the face of the earth, and water vapor rose from its core, and thick clouds obscured the rock planet, and it rained, and it rained, and it rained for millions upon millions of years. And when the clouds began to clear 4 billion years ago, the planet was covered in a massive green ocean, and the skies were made of carbon dioxide, and they were red.
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
As volcanoes erupted under the green ocean, the magma quickly cooled, and granite was born. It floated on the heavy volcanic rock, and the land rose out of the ocean, and continents formed.
Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation.”
And in the shallow seas on the edge of the continents, life came to be, and it took its energy from the sun, and used the carbon dioxide of the sky, and it gave off oxygen. And for two billion years, simple photosynthesizing bacteria bubbled oxygen through the oceans, turning them blue, and filled the sky with oxygen, turning it blue, and the atmosphere was formed.
Then 700 million years ago, the young continents drifted together, and blocked the movement of the oceans over the poles, and the poles froze for the first time, and the ice spread out over the face of the planet. For 50 million years, an ice sheet a mile thick covered the whole face of the planet, and almost all life went extinct.
Then as volcanoes split apart the super-continent, the ice melted, and the continents drifted so that there were shallow seas between them.
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures.” . . . And God saw that it was good. . . . God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas.”
And out of the destruction of extinction, life bloomed in the waters as never before, sea creatures that fed on other creatures, and there were, at that time 500 million years ago, more different kinds of living things than have ever existed on the planet since.
And the atmosphere was finally dense enough to protect life from the destructive rays of the sun, and 300 million years ago life came up out of the water, first plants, and then creatures.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind . . . creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. And God saw that it was good.
The first age of land life was the age of the insects. Massive insects swarmed the tropical jungles of earth. Then the amphibians came into being, and massive amphibians dwelt in the jungles. And then life was tested with another mass extinction.
Two hundred and fifty million years ago, an age of volcanoes began. And volcanoes erupted constantly for a million years, spewing poisonous gas that blocked the sun, and forming a new super-continent of lava.
The barren super-continent broke apart, and the pieces are the continents we know today. And while they were still close together, separated by shallow seas, life flourished again upon the earth.
So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
From the wreckage of extinction, rose the largest and most notorious creatures ever to walk or swim on the planet, the dinosaurs, who in turn gave rise to birds.
Then 65 million years ago, a massive asteroid six miles across struck the Caribbean. Dust and debris from the impact rained down over the whole earth. At the same time, massive volcanic eruptions began, filling the skies with thick poisonous gasses. The clouds of debris and gas blocked out the sun, and the jungles died, and with them, the dinosaur — all of the dinosaurs.
And as the poisonous clouds cleared, life returned again to the earth, and the age of mammals began.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Two million years ago, the ancestors of humans came into being in East Africa. At that time the bridge of land that connects North and South America rose out of the ocean, and Panama blocked the flow of tropical water over the poles, and the poles froze, and the ice ages, in which we are still living, began. Ice extended through the temperate zone, and many living things died. Humans adapted to the ice, and used it to spread out over the face of the earth. And the ice came and went in cycles of thousands of years.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Ten thousand years ago, humans began to cultivate plants and raise animals, and with agriculture was born civilization.
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” . . . And it was so.
The work of creation has not stopped. Everywhere in the universe, from its outer edge to its core, the redemptive work of creation continues, bringing life and beauty from destruction and nothingness. The cycle of death and life, destruction and creation continues.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
We can’t know if that’s exactly how it happened. But that’s one way one person has combined the truth of science and the truth of scripture.
What we do know is that God created it good. An indeed, it is oh so good. So very, very good.
So go and do good; be good. For while we are all broken and fall short of God’s grace, you have been created good, and that goodness is within us all. Cultivate it. Fear not when that goodness is challenged and faced with injustice.
Go and act as though you are created in the image of God.
Go and act as though every single other human being, no matter their race or gender or sexuality is also created in the image of God.
And go and act as though you are the result of 3.8 billion years of evolutionary success.
Go and do good; be good. For God is calling us. Amen.