|Creation, Science, and Faith |
by Lee Emmerich Jamison
The headline on a recent Reuters article on the Internet posed the question "Is U.S. becoming hostile to science?" Follow the article and the sad answer is yes, we are. The immediate focus of this hostility is a debate over the theory of evolution and efforts in the faith community to toss up alternatives, the most recent incarnation of which is called "intelligent design". The tone of the debate, however, casts a shadow on the whole enterprise of science in America, as though there were something sinister about the practice of science. Can one be a good scientist and a person of faith? The way this debate is conducted in the United States one might think not. Believers, though, should think twice.
In my favorite translation of the Bible one only has to read to the middle of the second page before one arrives at the following- "God created man in the image of himself, / in the image of God he created him, / male and female he created them. " That is a powerful, and very poetic, picture of a creator at work. We are like a picture of God. As an artist this statement has deep meaning to me. I have seen both the depth and the flatness of images in art. We should be duly humbled by this image, but we can also look to see how, as images of the creator we might present images of the creator at work. So let's take a look at that. When humans do intelligent design how do they do it?
Look at the development of the automobile. One would think, from the believer's discussion of creation in the debate over evolution that truly intelligent design implies a springing up of an idea as a whole, without allowing for, or relying on, earlier forms. Such a demand upon intelligence would put even Karl Benz's claim to originality at risk. Did he not use wheels and coach components from a builder of horse-drawn carriages to create the first automobile? In fact he did. Henry Ford essentially invented the modern automobile industry by applying assembly line processes to the building of cars. Even so the idea was not new. Firearms had been built on assembly lines since the Civil War. Ford simply applied intelligence to the process of adapting a way of doing something else to the building of autos. In both of these cases there was intelligent design applied to an evolutionary process.
When the creature made in the image of God designs things intelligently new ideas accrete onto the old forms little by little. Old forms persist as long as they can resist change and then they disappear. New forms are born to repeat the process. Science merely witnesses a universe being created in a manner like that by which humans create.
Why are believers are so uncomfortable with the notion that the creator would work in a similar fashion? My best guess is that as with any other intelligent being his entire body of thought might not fit in the Bible. Some of it might be written in the human genome, or in the much longer genome of corn, or any of millions of other forms of information encoded into the processes of the universe. We might have to be concerned that we are not hearing all he has to say. We might not be the center of God's world.
If that were true, if we needed to look for God's fingerprints in the creation to find a fuller understanding of his will, to what would we turn to find out his real intent? Is there a way of looking at creation that gives us honest answers, colored as little as possible by our preconceived notions of how the world should bear witness to the hand of God? The fact of the matter is that honest approach to looking for the hand of God in the world is the scientific method. We even use it in analyzing ancient biblical texts so that we are brought as close as possible to the original meanings of those sacred writings.
Can a scientist be a good believer? Science IS an act of faith. The scientist, whether believer or atheist, lives in the assurance that the universe makes sense, and that if our questions are asked in the right way and the world carefully measured for the answers we can discover that sense for ourselves. A rigid, closed-minded dogma, on the other hand, is an assertion of faithlessness, the petulance of a people whose God refuses to obey them. In the Bible Jesus has a lot to say about such people. Of course there are wrongheaded atheist scientists- just as there are wrongheaded dogmatic believers. Rejecting science, though, just because it does not speak to faith as the religious would have faith spoken is not just bad for science. It is bad for religion.
Lee Jamison can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org