Why do I believe? Part 4 – Cosmology and Creation

Carina-NebulaThe heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.  (Ps. 19:1-4)

Part of the reason I believe there must be a Creator is because I look around me.  I was raised in the home of an astronomer, so I’ve been enjoying the beauty and grandeur of the cosmos since childhood.  There is a sense that comes in observing in the beauty of the universe, that it got that way because somebody cared to make it that way.  From awe-inspiring views of nebulae and galaxies, the grand solitude of the mountains, the raw power of the ocean, to the incredible intricacies of life small to large, humanity has been inspired for millenia to conclude that all this was made for a reason.

This is not an argument for “Intelligent Design” and the people at “Answers in Genesis,” whose pseudo-science disgusts me to such a degree I refuse to link to it (Google it if you must).  There is, in my view, far too much solid evidence for the age and size of the universe, and for evolutionary processes in the development of life, to go down the various “Creationism” rabbit holes (for those who want to explore a thoughtful Christian approach to evolution, check out Biologos.org).   And since I don’t subscribe to a so-called “literalist” interpretation of the whole Bible, I have no particular reason to fear that science might challenge the basis of my faith.

But neither does my grounding in at least the basics of both cosmic and biological evolution challenge my conviction that there’s some sort of creator behind it all.  I think the so-called “Big Bang” theory does a pretty good job of describing much of what we observe on a cosmic scale–heck, I often joke that part of why guys like me enjoy explosions, fireworks, etc. is because we’re created in the image of a God who started it all off with the ultimate in fireworks.  Frankly, the idea that a singularity would cut loose with the necessary energy and matter to form the entire observable universe, almost demands someone or something to pre-exist that singularity and fire it off … and the notion that it would just appear out of nothing seems to me a much greater stretch than considering a creator.

Similarly with biological evolution.  That organisms change and adapt over time is obvious even on timeframes we can see, and nothing is stronger evidence for this than the frightening rate at which pathogens are developing resistance to most of the antibiotics we use to treat them.  I’ve only read excerpts, but Dr. Francis Collins book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief is a good place to look at how our DNA provides solid evidence for evolution.  Nevertheless, I believe the incremental nature of evolution–minute changes generation by generation, reinforced or eliminated by natural selection–is insufficient to explain at least two major thresholds in the development of life:

  • The first, of course, is life itself.  We can demonstrate that amino acids in a soup can organize into random patterns that might encode for proteins, but we’ve never observed any such soup make the leap from chemical organization to living organism, let alone living, reproducing organism.  That leap is not evolutionary, it’s revolutionary.  Igniting the fires of life required far more than lucky chance, a lucky mixture, and a lot of time.  I suggest those fires were deliberately set.
  • Second, assuming single-celled organisms that reproduce, their reproduction is by mitosis, or cell division.  It’s not a stretch to conceive that over time a colony of such reproducing organisms might begin to differentiate such that tissues with distinct functions begin to work together better as a multicellular organism instead of a blob all doing the same thing.  But it’s a leap of epic proportions to have organisms, whether single- or multi-celled, begin the process of sexual reproduction–a process that requires a variety of structures and systems all work together to facilitate the exchange of nuclear material between them, and the incorporation of that material into a third organism not entirely like either of the two parents.  So many systems need to be in place–systems that are completely useless until the reproductive process works as a complete unit–that again the development of this mechanism is revolutionary, not evolutionary.

So I see evolution as an obvious part of how life develops, but I still see a creator as the most probable explanation for the origin of that life, and the impeller of those revolutionary steps that life could not take on its own.  Still further down the developmental path, I rather suspect that sentience, self-awareness, and finally the desire to seek the divine (what C.S. Lewis referred to as “Homo divinus“) are all additional points of revolutionary change.  This perspective even harks back to Genesis (understood in a mythic form), when the writer tells us that God “breathed into [man’s] nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7).  The Septuagint provides an interesting understanding of those words, in that the “breath of life” is πνοὴν ζωῆς (pnoen zoes)–“pnoe” being the word also translated “spirit” (including Holy Spirit) or “wind,” and “zoes” referring to biological life; and then man became a “living soul” (KJV) which in the Septuagint is  ψυχὴν ζῶσαν (psuchen zosan) where the “soul” or “creature” is the word from which we get “psyche” or “psychology.”  In other words, God specifically gave the man life (God’s breath), but also gave him his psyche, which we might understand as cognition and self-awareness.

(It’s unfortunate that certain streams of Christianity have felt it necessary to set up their interpretation of Genesis in contradiction to observed biology, geology, and astronomy.  It was not ever thus, in fact Christian opposition to evolution comes much later than Darwin himself, and in fact one of Darwin’s most ardent contemporary supporters, Asa Gray, was a confessional Christian.)

There is one more point about the universe as we experience it that, to me at least, strongly leans toward the existence of not just a creator, but a benevolent one at that: beauty and our perception of it.  There is much I see around me that is just nonsensically lovely.  Whether it’s the many astronomic objects I’ve seen through my Dad’s telescopes (or the Hubble website, for that matter), the cardinal chowing down on our bird feeder just outside my window, or the gratuitous color display of thousands of sunsets, I find myself often struck by beauty that both in itself, and in my enjoyment of it, is completely unnecessary to our survival, reproduction, or any other evolutionary pressure.  There is evil and ugliness too, and I’ll get to those in a later post.  But they don’t, to me, diminish the reality that we experience beauty that doesn’t have to exist…beauty that is more, I suspect, than the result of happy chance.  I think it’s a gift.

I want to be perfectly clear:  none of what I’ve just described necessitates a Christian worldview.  As I said last month, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” says the Psalmist David (Psalm 19:1), but they don’t actually show us God’s name.  This is one of the points where the Intelligent Design folks get it badly wrong, in that they think once they’ve “proven” creation, their version of fundamentalist Christianity must follow.  In point of fact, people studying the heavens have come up with a pretty diverse set of creation myths and cosmologies down through the ages.  C.S. Lewis (I think…can’t find the quote at the moment) actually suggested that this very fact — that people see the divine in creation — is evidence for the existence of God.  I’m not sure I completely buy his conclusion, but it is nevertheless true that people who have been inspired by creation to envision a creator, have come to starkly different conclusions about that creator’s identity and character.  To find Christ (or not) requires different evidence altogether.  But on the schema of my Belief Matrix, I find the physical world to be strongly suggestive (note I did not say “conclusive”) of a creator, so this evidence, to me, tends heavily toward the Theism side of the curve.

6 thoughts on “Why do I believe? Part 4 – Cosmology and Creation”

  1. Scott

    Fantastic. The evidence for evolution is so readily apparent that the evangelical fight against the general framework of the theory has just become embarrassing. Plus, it presses the church toward missing the point of the Genesis creation narrative. Your final paragraph is something that I have been arguing for years. Creation truly does expose a creator but that does not mean that all theists will automatically be Christians.

  2. Craig Benno

    Hi Dan.

    Interesting blog. I have read a few and like what I have been reading so far. I believe we need to read Genesis through a narrative lens of Moses standing on a hill, telling the Israelites their story – and within the creation story, it explains why God is greater than the Egyptian gods – who were fashioned after the created.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      I agree, Craig, that Genesis creation narrative is clearly driving a stake in the ground, Moses declaring that all those other things people worship are, in fact, created by YHWH.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Mark Carlton

    Here I would disagree with you a bit. Like you, I believe the universe it billions of years old, so I consider myself a an old earth creationist.

    I believe in the summary statement theory. Which mean that I believe the first verse in Genesis a summary statement that makes the unique claim that the universe and earth are finite and that God created them. The second verse gives details of the subsequent creative work of God with regard to this particular planet long after the events referred to in verse 1.

    This theory allows for a harmonization of most of what science is saying now or will say in the future and a more or less literal reading of Genesis.

    HOWEVER, I have not problem with the position you have taken except to say that I think there are more things the evolutionary theory don’t answer than you do, and I don’t believe in giving up theistic ground to secularism without a fight. They need to earn it.

    I am also a convinced believer in intelligent design, which I think all theists are (including you from what you’ve written).

    I also think you are being way to harsh on Answers in Genesis. There is much to disagree with there, but be careful of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I have actually seen debates between these guys and scientists on the other side. Now I don’t have your scientific background, but I do have a debate background (I coached mock trial for 17 years in Nebraska). So I know debate, and from a debaters standpoint, the creationists wiped the deck with the evolutionists. In fact, had they not been allowed to call the other side stupid (ad hominem) the evolutionists would not have had not argument at all. I think Paul Johnson, no small mind when it comes to evaluating evidence has made strong arguments to this effect as well.

    Having said that, I certainly respect the fact that you see things differently and I don’t think being for by a preponderance of the evidence to see things as you do would shake my faith.

    I also agree with a point made in Scott’s post. By focusing so much on answering evolutionists, we have tended to miss the point of the creation narrative.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      I’m quite comfortable disagreeing agreeably on your interpretation of Gen. 1, Mark, particularly since I completely support your final statement about the debate missing the point of the narrative.

      I’m not comfortable being labeled in the I.D. camp, even of in fact that’s partially what I’m saying, because in my view I.D. is usually a disingenuous stalking horse for a creationist agenda in education. And I can’t apologize for my unmitigated hostility toward “Answers” and their ilk because their science ranges from sloppy to terrible. They may be good debaters, but if you have a background in debate, you know better than I that success in debate depends far more on rhetorical skill than evidence or truth.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I have a hunch we could (and hopefully will) enjoy engaging more!

      1. Dan Martin Post Author

        I should probably add one more thing…My most deep-seated objection to Creationism such as the “Answers” group promotes, is that it seems wrapped up in one or both of two very-harmful fallacies: one, that if one can “prove” their Creationist narrative, their comprehensive doctrines of Christianity are unarguably true; and two, that no one can believe the scientific evidence for evolution and still be a faithful follower of Jesus.

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