Will studying biology or accepting its rightful conclusions ruin my faith?

Part 2

In part one, we considered how accepting the reasonable and widely accepted findings of modern biology may challenge the way we view creation and the Creator. If our views in these areas are challenged, and we are willing to consider that some adjustments to our views will not do serious damage to our faith, we can proceed to one way that I find helpful in meeting the challenge.

Absolute control or freedom?

In short, this entire discussion boils down to our fundamental view of God. Do we envision a God who by application of his almighty power controls everything, or a God who by application of his perfect love grants libertarian freedom – the real ability to say no, to rebel?

These views are fundamental, and fundamentally different. Only with the second view do we have a hope of being able to make the necessary smooth transition from the truth of God’s works to the truth of God’s Word.

We must clearly decide, up front, which view of God we will take, because the path our thinking takes, the trace of our logic, depends on our starting point. Assuming they are reasonable and logical, two people cannot each take one of these starting points and end up in the same place somewhere down the road.

Reading scripture and science

Committed readers of Scripture have come up with what they consider good evidence for both the free-will and the deterministic views alluded to above. I'm not trying to argue for one or the other view - there are many books that do that much better than I can. It is true, however, that a free-will position will fit the view described here, while a deterministic view will not.

Christians cannot expect scientists to help them rationalize their faith foundations with how the world is now known to be. Some scientists even prey upon our fears and our belief in inerrancy of Scripture to question any belief recognizable as Christian. This should not bother us as much as it often does.

A Christian reading of Scripture and the theology that comes from such reading will always be challenged by new knowledge. In fact, scientific understanding itself is regularly challenged by new results, and good science is completely dependent on such challenges for any future advance.

Theology used to be called the Queen of the Sciences, so why should new knowledge that challenges theology and Scripture interpretation be seen as a threat? This threat arises when we elevate our particular interpretation of Scripture and our particular theology to the level of Scripture itself.

Where we place our faith is all important. It is possible to have undue faith in our faith, and even faith in our theology. Christians should never lose sight of the fact that our faith is in our risen Lord, the first born from among the dead; or that this kind of faith is a gift.

Reading the Bible backwards

It is very useful, even essential, that we begin answering all difficult questions with the revelation of Christ in the New Testament. Or, as it is often put, that we read the Bible backwards.

In addition to regularly emphasizing the centrality of Christ, and indeed the Trinity, the great Scottish Presbyterian theologian and pastor T.F. Torrance famously said "We should always think of God as Father before we think of him as Creator." That’s good advice.

The main question for concerned Christians is not “is science correct about evolution?” For the purposes of practical Christianity the answer is simply, yes! No scientist can rightfully claim that our faith is rendered obsolete by science because of what literalists say the Bible says. Think about it.

A polemicist like Richard Dawkins has a vested interest in our taking the Genesis literally, as if it were a scientific treatise or a modern historical account. He does not believe that the Spirit of the Lord speaks to us through the text. We do, and we should listen carefully.

The Spirit is not teaching us biology, geology, history or cosmology through Genesis, or through Scripture in general. He is revealing himself, the living God.

Some practical suggestions in closing

If you are a mature, Bible believing Christian and your faith is upset by someone like Professor Dawkins, we need to find the space to move forward. If you are a young believer, don’t fall for pseudo theology. Better yet, don’t put your faith in particular interpretations or in specific theologies, but in Christ the Lord.

Ask God to strengthen your faith. Read and talk to people who can show you how to approach the Scriptures by asking questions Scripture has been inspired by God to answer. Read some of the many authors who will help you in this area.

Now, particularly for students, if you are interested in biology, great. I love biology too. But know that the subject is vast. The hurdles in terminology and mountainous detail just in year one are daunting.

Research biologists don’t usually hit their stride until well into their 30s, if not later. In many ways it’s like theology. In fact, I’ve started thinking of the “Life” sciences as having two parts – biology and theology. This is not to deify the secular, but to suggest that a study of biology and theology would not be a bad career choice at all.

People with an integrated understanding of both areas will make very valuable contributions as we move forward into this new century. And, more than ever before, the study of life on earth, including its grand history, can be expected to reveal much about the one who makes it all possible.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Dr. Bev Mitchell is a retired experimental biologist, university teacher and administrator. He is an informal student of theology and is especially interested in participating in discussions that might help Christians who want to find more harmony between their faith and the complex world of biology. He is a regular commenter and occasional contributor on several Christian blogs.

About the author