Thursday, April 26, 2012

Science and Creation

Charles Darwin
It's no secret that there are cultural conflicts in much of the world between religious and secular views. Although the conflict goes back at least a couple of centuries among intellectual minorities, in the last few decades it has become mainstream. Even most people of  general religious persuasion are affected by the secular world-view that is becoming dominant.

I think the doctrine of creation is central to this debate. If there is a God, and he made the universe and each of us, then the religious perspective is important. However, if there is no God, or God is defined as something less than the sovereign creator, then any religious perspectives are at best of secondary importance.

Belief in the doctrine of creation began to decline in the mid 19th century, with the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species being the watershed event. However, although Darwin's work is central to this decline, it is only one of many scientific theories and discoveries that changed our view of what the world is, and how it came to be the way it is.

Because this new way of looking at the universe came by means of scientific study rather than divine revelation, theology, or philosophy, it was easy for people to come to the conclusion that there must be some kind of conflict between science and religion or science and philosophy. The extreme view that is on the rise today is that science has either disproved the existence of God, or at least eliminated the need for God, the assumption being that God was something that humans made up in order to explain things they could not understand.

Although some religions have very specific teachings about the age of the Earth or the process of creation which are at odds with current scientific views, I don't see a conflict with the findings of science and the claims of Catholic Christianity. I have read and have spoken with priests and members of religious orders who are also scientists and science teachers who not only think that there is no conflict, but the believe that the findings of science harmonize so beautifully with the Catholic faith that the study of science is beneficial to the faith.

My plan is to write several posts as I think and read about this question. I certainly don't have all of the answers, so ideally there will be some discussion. I hope this exercise will be a learning experience for myself as well as an opportunity to share what I have learned with others.


Creation Science. Oxymoron? « Daniel Lovett said...

[...] Science and Creation ( [...]

Greg Graham said...

Daniel, I respect your desire to hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis in order to be faithful to the Bible as the Word of God. You will find as I develop my ideas on creation on this blog, however, that I see Genesis as a religious story intended to communicate important religious truths, but not scientific explanations. You will also see that I see science as about mechanics that operate at a surface level, but the Gospel is about deep eternal truth regarding the Eternal God, and his gift of Eternal Life to man.

It doesn't bother me that Genesis does not spell out all of the details that agree with our current conception of scientific mechanics. The ancient people who wrote (under God's inspiration) and received Genesis did not see the world in the same way that we do. I also think that future generations will also not see the world the same way we do. God had to pick a particular "scientific" understanding as a context for the creation story, and he chose an ancient one because compared to the mind of God, our current "scientific" understanding is not that much different than that of Moses. In other words, as much as we think we understand about the universe, we haven't even begun to know anything. If God were to *really* explain how the world began, no one would understand it.

David Lewis said...

Within the context of the Pentateuch as a whole, which I read as a covenant of fealty between Israel and God, Creations serves as the back-story. Hence the poetry of a "formless and void" Earth being formed in days 1,2, and 3, then populated in days 4, 5, and 6 speaks order and method long predating Galileo.But the primary authorial intent is to introduce the parties to the covenant.
Current science, when done "correctly," is a series of probability statements with an underlying short-odds strategy. But I'm still certain the House will win.

Greg Graham said...

David, thanks for reminding me about this structure of Genesis 1. That is a good thing to remember when people object that the "order is wrong" in when the various things are created in comparison to the chronology currently understood in Evolution. Chronology was probably not the primary concern for the writer of Genesis 1.

annafirtree said...

I read a book some time ago that pointed out that thinkers throughout the ages often struggled with the question that arose from the Genesis account, of how God could create light before He created the sun, since obviously light comes from the sun. The author pointed out the irony of modern science (which so many take as being opposed to the Genesis account) actually supporting Genesis in this matter by predicating the existence of photons after the Big Bang prior to the formation of stars.

Ever since I read that, I've been playing with the idea of Genesis being a bit more scientifically applicable than modern Catholic (pro-science) thinking generally asserts. So we got the non-existence "before" the Big Bang (the 'void' of verse 2); then the Big Bang (v3), with photons forming soon after, and the separation of matter into atoms and space between (v8?), and the combination of particles into atoms and molecules, including water (v9?), and so on.

The most interesting conclusion that this line of thinking would generate is that the first life (v 12) existed even before the formation of stars. Modern science generally assumes that life was first created in the complexity of a cooling molten planet, but it has also been bandied about that life could travel between stars on meteors and such. Thinking that life could have started in the complexity of the pre-stars milieu does not seem to me to be much more of a stretch than starting on the barren earth. (And it gives hope that there may be aliens!)

Greg Graham said...

That's an interesting take. My understanding of the current models of the development of the universe is that the heavier elements that occur on Earth and are essential for life as we know it were formed in stars that later exploded. So, according to current thinking, the stars would have to exist long before life in the form we know about. Of course, as we learn more we may come up with other ways it could have happened.

Anna said...

Mm. That's a good point.