Of God, Darwin and creation

I am both a seminary-trained priest and a graduate school-trained evolutionary biologist.

With Charles Darwin’s birthday around the corner (Tuesday), I have been pondering the relationship between science and religion.

It has been a problematic issue for many people, including Mr. Darwin himself. How can someone believe in both religious teachings and science?

Rather than defend one or the other, I’m using this space to describe how the two coexist in my own mind.

If you’d like to explore the topic in more depth I recommend “Finding Darwin’s God” by Dr. Kenneth Miller.

When asked how I can believe in both God and natural selection, my answer is that there is a difference between “believing” something and “believing IN” something.

I believe the theory of natural selection the same way I believe the world is round or that something will fall if it is dropped.

Having studied evolution and observed its effects for many years, for me it is not something to believe IN.

It is a simple fact of existence, an object, predictable and understandable.

Having seen the evidence, I believe natural selection and evolution exist, but I do not believe IN them.

Believing IN something means placing trust and faith in it. I believe evolution, but I believe IN my family, the basic goodness of humanity, and an all loving God.

Unlike evolution, or gravity, or a flower, God is more than an object or process to be seen measured, and understood. God is an active person, a subject, The Subject, with desires, and passions, and will and knowledge entirely beyond our ability to experience fully.

I will never completely understand my wife, or sons, or even myself.

How could I hope to test, measure, and understand God? At some level, I believe God as an object, premise, or principle — the uncaused cause, prime mover, or essence of being. God as a concept may be believable, but to me isn’t really worth believing.

Even the demons and unclean spirits believe. God as a person, though, a person who lives and acts, who laughs when joyful and cries when hurt, and most especially a person who loves is well worth believing IN.

But enough pert answers and beating around the bush. Let’s cut to the chase.

The Bible says one thing and the theory of natural selection says something else. How can I or anyone believe both?

To be blunt, I can’t. I don’t believe the biblical account of creation.

I can’t believe, not because of my science background, but because the Bible doesn’t say one thing.

It says two. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 offer two contradictory creation stories. Since the two different stories cannot both be believed, I rely on my God-given gifts of perception and reason for the facts.

I don’t believe the biblical accounts of creation, but I do believe IN them. A story that is not factual, can still show us truth.

The stories of creation teach us that all things find their source in God, that we are made in God’s image, and that creation is very good. We needn’t believe the facts of the stories to believe IN the truth they carry. Facts are to be seen, measured and tested.

The truth, like the Creator, is a person, not a thing to be grasped, but someone with whom to form a relationship — Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Mr. Darwin’s religious views changed throughout his life, and were seldom clear.

He was, by and large, a theist and believed the existence of God, but I suspect Darwin’s notion of God, as was common for his day, was of the uncaused cause or the prime mover. I hope, though, that he learned to believe IN God.

His legacy, after all, gave me both something to believe, natural selection, and something to believe IN.

He gave me the image of the Creator as an artist.

I don’t, though, see God as a sculptor, who formed us by hand from the clay, though his hand is certainly upon us, nor as a poet who spoke the world into being, although his Word is never silent.

I see God instead expanding time and space, flowing water, breathing life, speaking fire, and even digging the earth of the grave to shape a cosmos that could reflect God’s image and bear the presence of God’s only son.

The Rev. Birch Rambo is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at catherinehicks@wwub.com.


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