The text for this
morning for our reflection comes from Proverbs 8, and it's one of the
creation stories in scripture, though we're not as familiar with it.
But in this creation story, wisdom speaks in the story. It's the
first of God's creation. So this is Wisdom speaking to us of that
The Lord created me at the
beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long
23Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the
beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I
was brought forth,
when there were no springs
abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been
before the hills, I was
26when he had not yet made earth
or the world’s first bits of
27When he established the
heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the
face of the deep,
28when he made firm the skies
when he established the
fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea
so that the waters might not
transgress his command,
when he marked out the
foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like
a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited
and delighting in the
There's a brewing controversy in this
country involving politics and religion, and you know me, how much I
hate those kinds of controversies
In reality, you know that I've never
met a religious or political controversy that I didn't like. When
you combine the two -- a controversy about both religion and politics --
and I'm kind of like a bug drawn to that light. You know, the
'zapper', and I just can't resist. And it often zaps me
This one involves not only religion and
politics, but science and scripture. And as such, is not only a
critical issue of faith, but also of education -- the advancement of
knowledge, and the whole issue of separation of church and state.
In other words, it's a critically
important issue not just for us but for our whole country, and even our
world. And that issue is the relationship in general between faith
and science. And more specifically, between creation and
evolution. And what should or should not be taught in public
To illustrate the nature of this
controversy and just how absurd it often becomes, I give you
world-renowned expert on all matters related to science: Bill Nye
the Science Guy.
For those of you who do not know, Bill
Nye is a very popular figure, is actually a comedian more than a
scientist. Indeed, I don't think he's a scientist at all, his
degree is in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University. He
discovered he had this flair for explaining science in ways that even
children could understand. As a result, the show that he does on
public television -- "Bill Nye the Science Guy" -- has become very
popular for a whole generation of children. My kids grew up on
him. It has also become very popular for educators and scientists
alike, he's a greatly sought-after speaker.
Turns out before he discovered this
career in public television, he worked for Boeing, and designed one of
the mechanical hydraulic systems used on a 747 on which I will be flying
to Jerusalem two weeks from today. So in a very real sense, my
life depends on this guy. Now there's a scary thought
But at any rate, in this little video
snippet where he's being interviewed on this news show, he talks about
some of that controversy between science and religion, creation and
evolution. So lets listen in:
Click here to view a video Dan played in the sanctuary
[Note: the above video
clip is 8 minutes long, but Dan played just the part that starts at
about 1:35 into the video, and runs to the 4:40 mark]
I like how he downplays the
controversy, I think partly out of respect for those with religious
views that a contrary.
He talks about this process of science,
that is so critical to understanding the whole debate. And the
National Academy for the Sciences defines science as:
So the process of science is what can
be proved through experimentation and testing. And as such,
knowledge achieved through science is inherently and fundamentally
different from the truths obtained through faith and religious
Science teaches how, where, when, and
faith teaches who, and why. Science is about facts and empirical
evidence that can be tested. Faith is about meaning and purpose
that cannot be tested.
There are two different realms of
knowing, which should not be seen as competing with one another for the
ultimate truth. And for us as Christians, to believe the words of
Jesus in the gospel of John, that our emblazoned on the front of the
Knight Library (at the University of Oregon) -- "You shall know the
truth. And the truth shall make you free" -- means that we have
nothing to fear from the pursuit of knowledge through science wherever
it leads us. For it is part of that larger truth which is
Just as there is no controversy among
scientists whether or not global warming is occurring (which Bill
Nye referred to), this is also true of evolution. There simply is
no controversy among biologists and all relation fields of science
regarding evolution. Biological evolution is the central
organizing principle of modern biology. It has a tremendous impact
on a number of fields, from agriculture, development of medicine,
bio-engineering and the like.
The basic principles set forth by
Charles Darwin over 150 years ago -- that the process of natural
selection best explains how the various species of life have developed
over time -- have been well established in science through testing and
experimentation, to the point that the only debate among scientists
today is not whether or not evolution is a factual reality, but rather
how its mechanisms work in various scenarios.
I think Gary Larsen provides a
wonderful explanation and insight into it all in this cartoon from the
Or there's this image:
The controversy that has been created
around the teaching of evolution in schools has nothing to do with
science. It has everything to do with religion and politics.
Case in point is the forced resignation
of Chris Comer, in Texas, this past December. Comer was the
Director of Science Curriculum for the Texas Department of Education, a
27-year career teacher, until she made the mistake of forwarding an
E-mail -- without comment -- informing teachers of a public lecture
giving a scientific critique of the whole notion of intelligent design.
The idea that life is so complex, it had to have been created by an
Now, keep in mind that kind of critique
is part of the scientific process. That's how you test an idea.
And also keep in mind that in 2005 there was a landmark ruling by a
federal judge, appointed by President Bush, in which the Dover
Pennsylvania school district required the teaching of intelligent design
along side evolution. The court found that intelligent design,
quote "is not science and cannot be judged a valid, accepted scientific
theory, and in fact is grounded in theology, not science". And
therefore is not appropriate in science curricula.
It might be appropriate in other
places, in comparative religion classes and other discussions, but not
The court also found "The goal of the
intelligent design movement is not to encourage critical thought, but to
foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with
In other words, Ms. Comer was fired for
promoting the principles of science over religious ideology in science
Folks, when religion determines what is
or is not taught in science classrooms, how are we any different than
the Taliban, which imposes what is taught due to religious ideology?
The problem here is not with the
science of evolution, but the ideology of some religion, and the
perception that what science teaches conflicts with the Bible. But
there is not conflict. And therefore, there should be no
controversy. The problem comes not from a misreading of science,
but from the misreading of scripture.
To give an example that Bill Nye gave,
that is right on target, pointing out that the creation account in
Genesis 1 cannot be a factual account of creation because it refers to
the sun as the "greater light" (when we now know that there are billions
just like it), refers to the moon as a "lesser light" (when we now know
that it's not a light at all but reflects the light), and in doing so,
Nye was simply trying to show what should be obvious: the Bible is
not a science textbook. And that the creation stories are not
meant to be factual descriptions of how the world came into being.
Again, I think Gary Larsen has the best
insight into this in his cartoon entitle "In God's Kitchen":
God is taking out the freshly
baked Earth, and muses that "This thing is only half baked"
And I love the box down there in the left-hand corner -- "EarthQuik",
you know, just add water. And it was 50 cents off!
This knowledge, that the Bible is not a
science textbook, should not offend or frighten us. It should
excite and free us. Excite us because we can know so much more
about our universe than the ancients of faith could have ever possibly
known. And it frees us because our search for knowledge and truth
is not limited to the facts that are found in scripture, but include the
facts of the whole universe.
Kenneth Miller, professor of Biology at
Brown University, author of the book "Finding Darwin's God - A
Scientists Search for Common Ground Between God and Religion".
Hear that again -- a common ground between not science and religion, but
between God and religion, from a scientists perspective.
And he writes in that book:
This is sometimes known as the "God in
the gaps" theory. You look at an evolutionary chart and there are
all those gaps, those missing links, well that's God at work, right?
That's a terrible explanation.
What happens when those gaps are filled? Then where is God?
So Miller says:
And so Michael Zimmerman, who is the
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University (a
school founded by our denomination, supported to this day by our
offerings to our higher education program) has amassed signatures of
over 11,000 clergy -- myself included -- who agreed with this statement:
Again, signed by over 11,000 clergy.
The time, you see, has come for
Christian people to stand up in support of the teaching of science
without interference from religion. To show that science and
religion cannot only peacefully coexist but can even be mutually
A great example of that is the work of
Dr. John Polkinghorne, one of the world's top quantum physicists, whose
work helped lead to the discovery of the quark, one of those basic
elements of matter. And who is now an Anglican priest, employed by
the Church of England. In 1999 he wrote the book "Belief in God in
the Age of Science". And Polkinghorne knows that whereas in
science you can establish what is knowable or true through
experimentation, you can't do that in religion. And so he says:
This from a leading top physicist of
To understand the beauty, the mystery,
and the awe of the entire process of creation that is still unfolding
before us, is to see the truth of what Proverbs names (in the text with
which I began): Wisdom. At the very beginning of time, the
wisdom of creation. Present itself in the creative process.
And I would suggest to you that what
Darwin called natural selection is in fact wisdom's design for creation.
It is not the antithesis to God, it is in fact the hand of God at work.
And in a very real sense, the more that
we come to know and understand about evolution, the natural process of
creation and the complexity -- the incredible complexity -- of living
things, the more we will know about God, the mystery of the universe,
and the awesome beauty of life.