by Dr. Robert Cornwall
Since the beginning of time human beings have been trying to explain how things came to be. Today we often turn to science for answers. The most respected answers assume some form of evolutionary development occurring over vast periods of time. Those who disagree with this assessment most often do so on the basis of religion. They deem the scientific consensus to be in conflict with their reading of the biblical story, especially that found in the first three chapters of Genesis. For a significant number of Christians Charles Darwin is the enemy. To embrace evolution is to dismiss God. There are others of us who disagree. We believe that one can hold both truths at the same time. God is Creator and science suggests that evolution is the means by which that creation unfolded.
About a decade back I signed a public letter as a member of the clergy affirming my recognition of the scientific consensus. I have tried to have my congregations observe some form of Evolution Sunday/Weekend. In part I’ve done this because I believe that the credibility of the Christian faith requires this. That is, if we dismiss science as some kind of enemy of the faith, then we hold the gospel hostage to an earlier scientific vision.
There’s another reason why I think it is important to try to hold in proper tension my faith in God the Creator and the scientific consensus. That concerns the way in which we live on earth. The scientific consensus tells us that the earth is experiencing significant climate change. 2015 is on target to be the warmest year on record. Each year the earth seems to be getting warmer. Polar ice caps are melting. Deserts are advancing. Weather becomes more unpredictable. It is unfortunate that many of those reject this scientific consensus are Christians. They reject it in large part because they’ve already discounted science. They’ve embraced forms of pseudo-science to explain the origins of the earth. So it’s no surprise that they are attracted to forms of pseudo-science that reject the premise that humans are contributing to climate change. Some Christians have embraced the premise that since God appears to give “Dominion” over the earth to the human creation, then we are given permission to despoil the earth. Indeed, some who embrace an apocalyptic vision of the faith believe that since we’re in the last days there’s no reason not to use up all the resources at hand. Why worry about fossil fuels? Why worry about polluting rivers and streams and the air? Why worry about changing climate or depleting ozone layer?
That is one way of seeing things, but I’m not sure it’s faithful to science or faith. Growing numbers of people, including evangelical Christians have begun rethink our relationship to the creation. They have begun to think in terms of stewardship of resources rather than dominion over them. Science can be an important partner in this effort. It can reveal to us the way in which we misuse or overuse the creation. I’m tempted to use the word resources, but that is probably not the best way of speaking. Instead, let us think of the Creation as a gift of God. As icons/images of God we’ve been given responsibility to tend the garden. To do this we need to listen for God’s voice, which can be revealed in Scripture but also through science.
Charles Darwin found himself at odds with God, or so he thought. He considered himself something of an agnostic and even an atheist. Yet, it is said that he went to church with his wife who was a devout Anglican. So in the spirit of that expression of solidarity, perhaps we too can worship God in the presence of Charles Darwin. We do so by taking both science and faith seriously. We express this solidarity in the way we treat God’s Creation.