Faith Seeking Understanding
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
This past weekend, tens of thousands of people held a public march in support of science. The focus was on Washington, D.C., where our lawmakers have increasingly ignored evidence-based, peer-reviewed science when they find it expedient (or profitable) to do so. In addition to the march in Washington, there were satellite marches held around the country and around the world; there was even a march in Rapid City.
I’m a supporter of the March for Science. It’s an idea whose time has come, and a message that lawmakers need to hear. As Americans become more and more frustrated by the partisanship in Washington, it seems like agreeing to base policy on a set of shared facts and hard evidence, rather than opinions and talk radio, would be a good place to start.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten to a point in our country where people need to march in support of the de-politicization of science. But I also have to acknowledge that a significant part of the anti-science sentiment that’s been growing in this country comes from Christians.
A lot of Christians reject the theory of evolution because it contradicts a literal reading of the first chapter of Genesis. I can appreciate wanting to take the Bible seriously. I certainly do. But it turns out that a literal reading of the second chapter of Genesis also contradicts a literal reading of the first chapter Genesis. Even a cursory reading of Genesis 1 & 2 will reveal that in chapter 1, plants are created before animals, and animals are created before human beings; but in chapter 2, man (Adam) is created first, then come plants, then come animals, then comes woman (Eve).
The problem is not with the perceived contradiction between science and religion. The problem is with a literal reading of a passage that was never intended to be read literally; the problem is with treating metaphor and mythology as history.
I believe that God created the world. I believe that the world God created is good; indeed, it is very good. And I believe that the same God who created the world also redeems the world, and that one day all things which came from God will return to God. I think that’s what Genesis, and the Bible, tell me about the universe.
I also believe that the world is roughly 4.5 billion years old, and that life on this planet arose through natural processes and evolved into its current forms, and that process continues today. That’s what scientific observation and inquiry tell us about the universe.
And I don’t see any contradiction between the two. Science gives us the how, but religion gives us the why.
This is not some radical, new idea. It’s the literal reading of scripture that is the recent development. The ancient church, for over a thousand years, understood that sometimes scripture was meant to be read metaphorically rather than literally.
Saint Anselm, in his Proslogion, wrote about “faith seeking understanding.” By “faith seeking understanding,” Anselm means that if we love God, we will feel compelled to have a better understanding of God. One could also say that if we love God, then we will feel compelled to better understand God’s creation.
Consequently, some of the greatest scientists and philosophers in history have been Christians seeking understanding (and Muslims, and Jews, and so on). Investigation and discovery, evidence and evaluation – these are ancient Christian values. Basing our beliefs on reason and experience in addition to Scripture is an ancient Christian value. These things are consistent with faith in God because they make use of the minds which God gave us.
Or, as Galileo Galilei, the unofficial patron saint of science, once said:
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”