Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In the Beginning, God Created the Heavens and the Earth: Faith and Science

Nebula--"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..."

On the evening of February 4, 2014, CNN, among other sources, livestreamed a debate between Bill Nye (also known as "Bill Nye the Science Guy") and Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum, located about two hours from my home, in Northern Kentucky. For those unfamiliar with it, the Creation Museum is a 70,000 square foot for-profit organization claiming to promote a Biblical view of science. Using what adherents call "young earth creationism," Ham and those involved with the organization reject modern scientific theories, claiming that the Bible proves the earth is a mere 6,000 years old, and that, among other things, Adam and Eve would have lived in the Garden of Eden with dinosaurs.

The age old debate, pegging religion against science, has existed for decades in the United States, dating back to the 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial." From Ken Ham and the "Creation Museum" to William Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor in the Scopes Trial, a picture has been painted that Christians choose not to critically explore scientific inquiry and that the faithful discredit science in place of Scripture. This is far from reality, as plenty of faithful Christians merge their reverence for Scripture and their awe of science. There is no need to see science and religion in conflict. Further, the promotion of organizations such as the Creation Museum and legislation that promotes the education of such ideas in science classrooms are detrimental to both the scientific future of our nation and to religious organizations.

As a ELCA Lutheran Pastor and Christian, I hold our Scripture in the highest place of reverence. It is the story of God's relationship with God's people, dating back to early human civilization. Scripture demonstrates how God's people, and all of creation, are broken, falling short of God's call to and for us. Yet, in the midst of our brokenness, we have a God who fully immerses Godself into creation, becoming fully human through Jesus Christ. Scripture tells the incredible and holy story of Christ's death and resurrection, reconciling God's people with God. Scripture guides and orders our lives as Christians, telling the story of human brokenness, death, and redemption through Christ, given to us freely as a gift.

Scripture was never written with the intent to be used as a science manual. It is misuse of God's Word to use it as a step by step approach to the exact ways in which God created the universe. Genesis was first shared through oral tradition, and then written, using the language and images familiar to God's people of that time and place to tell all people, among other things, that "God created all that exists." These early people had no understanding of atoms, light years or the laws of physics. The lack of inclusion of these concepts in Scripture does not mean that they don't exist or that the faithful can't use new discoveries to deepen their understanding of creation. They weren't concerned with the question of "HOW was the universe created?" but instead focused on "WHO created all that exists?"

Science uses experimentation to test and replicate results, giving us a deeper understand of creation. This is holy, Godly work. We have been given the gift of intellect, the spark of curiosity. Discoveries in the scientific community lead to modern day miracles, such as vaccines, new cancer treatments, and the general betterment of life for people. Some religious groups promote legislation that insists on the teaching of young earth creationism and other nonscientific ideas in the classroom. Not only does this hurt the credibility of US science education worldwide while damaging advancement in scientific inquiry, the Church suffers as well. We are to use our minds, given to us as a gift from God, not use the Bible as a weapon to discredit new God-given discoveries. We are to build up the kingdom of God while honoring the holy work of God's people, including scientists. Fighting to include nonscientific ideas such as those promoted at the Creation Museum in no way grows our faith and understanding of God's presence and power in creation, nor does it deepen our faith and relationship with Christ. We are not called as Christians to strive to discredit everything which is not mentioned in Scripture. Instead, we strive to live lives that honor our creator God, making disciples, and receiving the Grace given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Science in no way threatens these God-given gifts.

Having completed an earth science minor in college, I have had the holy opportunity to take multiple astronomy classes at my Lutheran liberal arts college. I have gazed at the rings of Saturn, plotted star clusters, and calculated astronomical distances between galaxies. When I began to understand the vastness of the universe, I felt a deeper connection to my creator God who ordered all that exists. I did not feel the slightest disconnect between the discoveries I was making and the words I read in Genesis. I knew the words of Genesis 1&2, telling us how the universe was created in "days," was translated from the Hebrew word which means "epoch" or "time period"--thus, "there was morning, and evening...the first epoch." I recognized that those who first spoke of creation had no concept of a 24 hour day. I was simply in awe of the incredible, vast gift of the universe, thankful for my faith, which told me WHO ordered all that existed, as well as the God-given gift of science, which helped me understand HOW creation was ordered. As I walked back to my dorm after plotting the distance between star clusters, I simply thought "How Great Thou Art..."

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