I often get asked if I am into “theistic evolution” to which I reply with a resounding “No! Not anymore than I am into theistic dermatology.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in proper skin care AND Yahweh but I am not convinced he needs to personally intercede when I exfoliate. That’s what crushed walnut shells are for. My worldview allows for a God who delegates to nuts. (Insert political joke here).
And so I broke into an unbridled smirk the other day as I read the John Fallon article in Forbes magazine where he offered his take on this whole ‘theistic evolution’ war of the words. Fallon’s argument, summed up in the title “It’s Time To Retire Theistic Evolution” is that duct taping the term “theistic” to “evolution” isn’t actually helping. Fallon writes, “there are a whole pack of creationists who don’t like other Christians embracing evolution. They have a name for them. ‘Theistic Evolutionists’. And it’s not meant as a compliment. It’s more like being told you’re the equivalent of Judas Iscariot.”
Fallon agrees with me or the other way around if you view him as the more credible one. He writes for an internationally renowned magazine. I write for my dad plus nineteen.
My Christian worldview is this: God is. This is a theological position. Science is not qualified to comment on his existence as science is limited to measuring the material. Their rules not mine.
God, on the other hand, is spirit. He creates, upholds, sustains every thing that has ever existed or ever will exist. This is a theological position, arrived at without consent from and not beholden to any expert opinion from within the ranks of the scientific establishment.
So to preface every science discussion with a term that emphasizes divine authority is needless. Am I concerned that bringing God into the conversation might be offensive to people who don’t yet believe he exists? Not really. The reason I don’t prefix evolution with a reference to God is because the evolution debate, in its simplest form, is about process. How did body type X arrive at this point in history? What is the evidence? On the other hand, discussions about God and why we are here are purely theological in nature. And theology is about purpose.
Purpose and Process. The late Stephen Jay Gould, the brilliant evolutionary biologist and science historian referred to these two ways of thinking as “non-overlapping magisteria”.
I believe many of our conversations around origins often morph into maddening exercises in talking past each other. Failure to engage the topic of conversation on it’s own terms is, in my opinion, the source of the frustration.
Suppose we dragged a wooden stool into the middle of the room. If you asked me how the stool was manufactured I could respond in several ways.
I might point to the laminated seat, and explain the gluing procedure and what type of wood clamps were used. We could discuss the shaping and sanding that was required to achieve such posterior pleasing results. Or I could hold the stool aloft and point to the faint circular outlines on the surface of the legs that suggests that dowel construction was employed to connect the supporting members. We could even discuss the relative tensile and compressive strength of wood and ponder why the stool was made out of maple or teak and not balsa.
At this point we are talking carpentry. Wood grain, sawdust, chisels, and trips to the ER. The simple science of wood joinery and day surgery. We could even strike up a conversation on ergonomics and discuss what a stool would look like if our knees bent the other way.
But what if you asked a technical question about the stool and I replied with “Mike made the stool.”
“What about those wooden dowels? Were they hand carved or machine drilled?” You ask.
“Well Mike has the answer to that question. Is it really that important to you?” I reply.
“Well”, you might respond, “I am fascinated with stool construction techniques and I am curious what makes this one different.”
“Relax”, says I. “Mike is a fabulous wood worker. He never makes mistakes. Would you like to meet him?”
Uh.. I don’t know… I have a drill press and a jig at home and I’ve been watching Youtube video about dowels. Can you offer me any insight?”
“Well, I’m not much of a dowel man myself… but Mike assures me that its a well built piece of furniture” says I.
And on it goes.
It wouldn’t be long before you were done with my constant references to Mike and you walked away in search of someone else who was actually interested in carpentry.
And based on our rocky interaction, you might be less interested in meeting this Mike fellow than you were before we started talking.
We face a similar problem as soon as we attempt to wrangle God into a scientific discussion. If you don’t want to discuss genetic mutation, natural selection, species migration, bio diversity, radiometric dating methods and geological strata, that’s okay. It might even be a sign you’re normal.
If you would rather talk about God, the reason for human existence and why our tiny lives matter that is also very, very okay.
Just don’t get ruffled when someone walks away because you confused two entirely valid, but completely different conversations.
But what about faith? What about engaging people with the good news?
What I have discovered is that successfully connecting on the science – “the process” – with people who don’t yet believe, opens up plenty of doors for those purpose driven conversations. Especially when they discover that my faith is quite comfortable rubbing shoulders with my science.