A tampering God

Post-Darwin Christianity exhibits an extraordinary variety of views on how to read the scientific “evidence” for evolution. Some simply accept the “findings” of science, without any concern for how this acceptance might be squared with a faithful reading of scripture. Others believe some “reconciliation” of science and scripture must be attempted where they appear to conflict (the Author of nature is, after all, the Author of scripture); but opinions differ as to whether biblical interpretation should move in the direction of scientific findings, or vice versa. Should biblical interpretation be accommodated to the scientific evidence, or should our reading of the scientific evidence be accommodated to faithful biblical interpretation?

One question that lies near the center of these disputes is whether we are permitted to believe God has tampered with the scientific evidence. Some Christians want to say that since His first act of creating something ex nihilo (be it the world as we know it, or the “stuff” from which all things have evolved) God has confined His relations with the world within the “laws of nature” or “ordinary” providence. On this view, if we study nature and its “laws” (which are universally reliable) and are led to conclude that the earth is billions of years old, any hint to the contrary in scripture must arise from a misreading of scripture. What is off the table is any notion that God might have done something in nature that we couldn’t predict by the laws of nature.

Ken Miller, for example, says we haven’t understood the mythological character of Genesis 1–2. A “literal” reading of Genesis 1–2 must be wrong, because if it were correct, Genesis 1–2 would conflict with the assured findings of science. What Miller firmly refuses to believe is that God might have played fast and loose with the evidence in nature (e.g., creating a world that has the appearance of age). He emphatically rejects any idea of a “deceptive God” doing anything that might mislead or confuse the scientists.

Meredith Kline took a different tack. He insisted we haven’t understood the Bible’s own clues (notably Genesis 2:5) about God’s use of “ordinary” providence throughout most of the creation week. What we may perceive as “extraordinary” acts of God in Genesis 1–2 (e.g., giving light to the earth prior to the creation of the sun) become quite obviously “ordinary” once we grasp the details of his “framework hypothesis” concerning those chapters – which hypothesis importantly allows for a non-chronological reading of the creation days and for a very old earth.

Without debating the merits of Miller’s mythologizing or Kline’s framework hypothesis, it does seem to me they share a profoundly questionable assumption: that when we come to the facts of science, we needn’t be concerned that the facts are muddled by supernatural intrusions (beyond the bounds of the ordinary workings of nature). There is no need to posit a “God in the gaps”; we needn’t explain things with reference to surprises on the part of the Creator-King.

Disciples of Miller and Kline may argue that I have grossly oversimplified, even misrepresented, their views. I hope that is not the case; and I also want to remove any misunderstanding in what I am about to say: it does seem to me that, given the assumption described above, it is difficult to maintain the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (or any other “miracle,” for that matter). Let no one mistake: I am not saying either Miller or Kline denies the reality of miracles. I want to parse out the logical conclusion of accepting their assumption (as I understand it); I am not saying that either man actually takes their assumption to its logical conclusion. What I am asking is this: if we are prepared to say that God has raised the dead, multiplied bread and fish and oil and flour, turned water into wine, walked on water, and healed the sick, then precisely how can we argue that God would never suspend the “laws of nature” to create the world in the order described in Genesis 1, or to destroy the world with a flood? How, in short, can we insist that things in nature may always be explained without recourse to the notion of supernatural intervention?

There may be an answer that I am missing, but . . . well, I am missing it.

Category: Science, Theology, and Priestcraft Comment »

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