Providential Nature and a Gracious Science

Dr. Carl Fictorie, Chemistry Dept.– Guest Writer

In the Feb. 15 issue of the Diamond, Amelia Rens wrote an article in which she discussed wrestling with the apparent paradox of faith and evolution. In the next issue, Dordt professor Sasha Walicord wrote a response which presented one interpretation of the books of Scripture and nature. Amelia’s struggle, however, was based in the tension between two (or more) views of how to interpret the books of Scripture and nature. Therefore, I feel compelled to offer a second, different point of view. It is a view based on decades of wrestling with the same issues that Amelia has, and one which I am convinced is a faithful and—to the extent that a saved sinner can be—correct understanding of Scripture, nature and their relationships to each other and to God.

Walicord expresses his concern by saying that the “real battle here is… between the faith of evolution and the faith of the clear teaching of Scripture (Genesis).” As he correctly points out, the meanings of words matter. One word stands out: evolution. Walicord states that evolution is “by no means a scientific concept,” apparently because “evolution is a story about the unobserved past.” This claim deserves a closer look.

Walicord does not distinguish between “evolution” as a scientific concept and “evolutionism” as a philosophical stance. This distinction is important because the fundamental battle is between evolutionism, which is a type of naturalism that denies the existence of anything outside of the universe, and creationism, a Christian belief that accepts and believes the teaching of Scripture that God is the creator of the universe. The concept of evolution as a scientific theory is a description of how the world developed from the moment of creation to the present time. It is most certainly a scientific theory in that it seeks to obtain evidence from creation itself in an effort to build a framework for how the world developed. The point is that evolution as a theoretical structure is not the threat, evolutionism as a God-denying philosophy is.

Walicord asserts that the “clear teaching of Scripture” is easier to understand than the nonverbal communication found in nature. He states that because of “God’s 100% truthful eyewitness testimony about the past” in Scripture, a “five-year old” is capable of understanding “all the events recorded in Scripture.” The methods of interpreting scripture that I have learned say that it is not this simple. Scripture is clear about the need for and the path to salvation—confess that you have sinned and fall short and seek salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. At the same time, Scripture is not nearly as clear about all the nuanced details of what that means (e.g. Acts. 8:29-31).

Two millennia of church history has produced dozens of interpretations (and denominations to go with them). It is vitally important to work at understanding Scripture correctly and to articulate those doctrines that Scripture teaches. It is equally important to do so with a spirit of humility and grace.

The existence of multiple interpretations of Scripture is a direct result of humanity’s sinful state. Scripture is infallible and inerrant, but human interpretation is not. It is our sinful inability to create either a sin-free theology or a sin-free science that causes battles. With both, it is only through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds that we achieve any understanding.

Walicord quotes Belgic Confession Article 2 to support his point that Scripture has more clarity than nature. However, he did not quote the entire sentence: “God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.” Article 2 speaks to the idea that Scripture teaches us what we need to know to be saved and to direct our lives. It does not speak directly to every detail of our existence nor the details of creational structure.

All truth is God’s truth. Christians who work in the sciences wrestle daily with the work of investigating nature through the lens of faith. One of the most fundamental truths in this lens is that of the sovereignty of God, a truth clearly taught in Scripture, particularly in Genesis 1. God made creation—all of it, including the very people which occupy and try to understand it. God sustains it all, from the moment he spoke “let there be light” to the present. We call this providence (Belgic Confession Art. 13). This is true regardless of whether the person doing the investigating is a Christian or not.

Therefore, any scientist who takes nature seriously will inevitably run into the effects of God’s providence. Careful, open-minded investigation of nature and a willingness to change one’s mind when nature does not yield to a hypothesis is a defining characteristic of science, even for the most ardent atheist. While the atheist ignores the evidence of providence (to their eternal folly), nature, because of God’s providence, does not yield to a bad hypothesis. Therefore, to the extent that the scientist identifies the patterns of God’s providence and is able to articulate theories about them in a fruitful and meaningful way, the scientist has spoken truth whether or not the scientist believes in God. In that case, Christian scientists can, with due diligence and discernment, accept and incorporate these theories into their own work.

The conflict at the heart of Amelia’s paradox is between worldviews, a naturalism that denies that God exists and a theism that believes in a God who exists and who creates and sustains all things. For Christians, that God created is without a doubt. Christians would do well to stand together and challenge naturalism rather than argue amongst ourselves and look like fools to the world.

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