You have to choose, or so we’re told. The stakes are high. There are eternal consequences riding on our decision. And there is no middle ground. On the one hand, there is the Bible, faith, and God. On the other, there is science, atheism, and rejecting God. But is this really the only way to frame the relationship between spirituality and the sciences? I don’t think so.
It is sad that people of faith have been pressured to reject the awe-inspiring discoveries of the sciences. And it is sad that people of science have been pictured as godless unbelievers who are seeking to lead the world astray. The antagonistic dualism between faith and science is false. There is no need to choose. Rather, these two paths to wisdom and truth are wonderful companions who, together, can enrich and inspire our lives.
As this podcast suggests, we do not have to reject the sciences to find our most sacred lives. Rather, it is when we allow scientists to teach us that we are able to make sense, in a much deeperway, of God, our universe, our world, and our place in it all.
A few years ago, at a rehearsal for an upcoming service in my church, one of the worship team members turned to look at a magnificent flower display that had been created for the service. After a few moments of silent appreciation he said out loud, “Can you believe that some people say this was created by evolution?”
I turned him and, as gently as I could, I said, “I am one of those people.”
He was amazed, I don’t think he expected that kind of response from his minister and so he responded, “But how can you say that? Surely you must believe that God is the Creator?”
I smiled and answered, “I do believe that God created these flowers. I just also believe that evolution was the process God used.” Then I continued, “I’m happy for you to believe whatever you believe. I’m not trying to change your mind. I’m just saying that some of us follow Jesus and believe in evolution too.”
It’s unfortunate that, in our era in history, it is assumed by so many people that science and religion are opposed to one another. One of the most frustrating and heart-breaking battles in our so-called culture wars is the ongoing one between people of faith and people of science—as if there aren’t any people who embrace both. I don’t know how it happened that we are so often forced to choose between the Bible and the findings of science—that’s a ridiculous and unnecessary choice. It doesn’t do any good to set these two ways of engaging with the universe at odds with one another.
A few years ago my one son found himself in a classroom debate at his school about creation and evolution. On one side were the Christians who argued that the Bible’s creation story was the truth and that evolutionary science was nonsense. On the other side were the ‘atheists’ (as their believing peers called them)—those who embraced evolutionary science and rejected any factual truth in the Biblical creation story. And in the middle was my son who explained that for him there was no debate. He believed in a Divine Creator and he believed in evolution as the process by which the universe came to be. His classmates, knowing that he was the child of two Christian ministers, asked him, “Do your parents know that you think this way?” To which he replied, “My parents are the ones who taught me to think this way.” I confess to feeling a wave of parental pride when he told us about this experience.
For so many of us the foundation of spirituality, faith, and belief is that there is a Creator. When we first learn about the idea of a God, it is rooted in the belief that everything must have been created by Someone. That’s the first line in the Christian creeds. And unfortunately, it is the main area of conflict between religion and science—even though it doesn’t really have to be.
You see, we generally take a concept of God and then impose it on the creation event. But what if we allowed the creation event to tell us something about God, and to shape and inform our picture of God? If we are willing not to start with a pre-defined picture of God, if we’re willing to ‘de-name’ our God and release our doctrines and certainties, then we can avoid the temptation to impose a very human-looking God on to the creation of the universe, and we can allow creation to tell us something about God—or the More, the Mystery, the Transcendent, the Ground of Being. We can learn about the nature of God from our universe—and from what science reveals to us about our universe—in the same way as we learn about William Shakespeare from his writings, or about Vincent van Gogh from his paintings, or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from his music. And when we do this, we begin to get glimpses of a very different God than the traditional old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud.
For a moment, let’s explore two ideas about about creation that are usually presented as so obvious as to be impossible to debate.
1. The universe has to have a Creator. It can’t have happened by accident. You’ve probably heard that before.
I can’t think of a single scientist, certainly that I know, who would say that the universe happened by accident. It happened because this is how our universe works. It’s not an accident, it is a natural outworking of the universe in which we live doing what it does. As Carl Sagan once said of human beings: “We are the representatives of the cosmos; we are an example of what hydrogen atoms can do, given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution.”
Just because we don’t view Creation as an act performed by a Supernatural God-Being who existed without a universe and then brought that universe into being does not mean that the only other option is that we believe it was an accident.
2. That old familiar watch analogy. It goes like this: a man walks down a street and finds a watch on the ground. As he picks it up and notices its intricacy and beauty, he automatically knows that for this watch to exist there had to have been a watchmaker. Well, when we look at the universe we automatically know that for the universe to exist, there must have been a Creator.
The problem with this analogy is that the watchmaker is completely removed from the watch. And the watch is simply a machine. But the universe is filled with God—as even the Scriptures proclaim. God is not removed from the universe, but is immersed in it, is part of it, is the life of it. And the universe is not a machine. If we are willing to let go of the watchmaker image, we may begin to recognise that God is the stuff of which the universe is made. Or, to put it in a much simpler way: God IS Life.
The Bible speaks of this in so many different ways, from Genesis—the creation story, to the famous prologue of John’s Gospel which says:
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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
This is what science reveals to us, but in a very different way from the traditional idea of God as a Being. I’ve quoted Richard Rohr many times when he says that “God is not a being. God is Being itself.” And of course, Rohr is riffing on Paul Tillich’s affirmation that God is the “ground of being.”
If we are willing to allow science to influence our view of God, we will inevitably feel that science shows us a God who is not a great cosmic watchmaker, not a Being outside of the universe who created the universe as separate from God’s Self. Rather, what we discover from science is that God, or the More, the Mystery, the Divine is Life itself. God is the process, the energy, the spirit that enlivens the universe and everything in it. And therefore God permeates the universe, is one with it, and is integrally intertwined with its processes of life, death, connection or love, and evolution.
When we pull together all the things we have learned about God in the last few weeks, from one another, from fundamentalists and atheists, from mystics and scientists, we discover a much richer and more exciting awareness of God than the old traditional picture of God as an old man, sitting in heaven—which is outside of the universe—answering prayers and swooping in when God decides it’s appropriate.
Rather we discover a God who is everywhere, in everything, a God who is indefinable and beyond our capacity to understand or control. But we also discover a God who is accessible, close and intimate and who can be experienced in deeply personal and transforming ways.
Now clearly there is so much more that we can say about God, the More, the Mystery. These few weeks have simply opened a door for us to explore the infinite wonder that we refer to as God. I really encourage you to make learning about and experiencing God—or whatever you prefer to call the More—a constant and never-ending part of your life. Because, if we seek a life of sacredness, engaging with the Greatest Sacredness of all is unavoidable.
We will continue to explore the mystery of the divine in the next few weeks. But from next week, we shift into a practice that is an inherent, yet very misunderstood facet of pretty much every spiritual path—and that practice is prayer. I look forward to sharing that conversation with you!
Once again, thank you for your time and attention. Stay connected to the sacred. And I’ll catch you next time.
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