The text is from
Genesis 1, the first five verses:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Today's sermon, believe it or not, was
written up yesterday in the Oregonian, complete with a picture of yours
truly. And just my luck, the Oregonian is no longer available in
Being the modest guy that I am, I
called them up to order a couple of copies -- for every member of the
. . . . . .
Some may remember a number of years
ago, Arci Royston who discovered a wonderful gift in art, and honored me
by painting my portrait. And then embarrassed me by making copies
available to be sold to members of the church as a fundraiser. I
think we raised $10 J.
And that was from Greg Ybarra who said he needed something to scare the
spiders out of his garage J.
So we still have copies available for anyone who needs to get rid of
spiders, rodents, or other varmits.
At any rate, that article appeared in
the "How to Live" section yesterday (so I've been told, as I haven't
seen it). It was about 'Evolution Sunday', and there's a
project of Michael Zimmerman, a Disciples of Christ professor at
Butler University (which is a Disciples school in Indianapolis), and I
was one of those that signed up and said "yes", that's a topic I would
Zimmerman has succeeded in collecting
over 12,000 signatures from clergy affirming that the timeless truths of
the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably
co-exist. The letter goes on to assert that 'evolution is a
foundational scientific truth and urges school boards, therefore, to
preserve the integrity of science curricula by teaching the theory of
evolution as a core component of human knowledge, not merely as one
theory among others'. It concludes: "We ask that science
remain science, that religion remain religion, two very different but
complementary forms of truth".
Of those 12,000 clergy who signed, over
1,000 said that they would preach on it this weekend, of course being
the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin this past Thursday.
There were 13 congregations in Oregon who signed up for it, two in
Eugene, the other being the Synagogue Temple Beth Israel, with whom we
are co-sponsoring the showing of the film on the life of Darwin and
particularly on the religious beliefs of Darwin.
I also preached on this topic on the
same weekend last year, and got one response just recently from that
sermon (someone saw it on our web site), didn't particularly care for
what I had to say. By the way, that's
still on the web site just in case
someone missed that Sunday, or doesn't remember (God forbid you'd
forget what I said a year ago J),
and it has a lot of nice pictures that I'm not showing today.
Today, I wanted to take a different
approach than the one I took last year. Back to that Oregonian
article that appeared yesterday, Nancy Haught (the reporter) called me
over a week ago, seeing we were one of those churches that was going to
focus on that theme. Of course, wanted to quote me from my sermon.
Over a week ago. . . . . . I said "Yeah, right, I haven't even written
the sermon for this coming Sunday and you want to quote me from a
sermon from next week?" If that were to happen, it would make the
miracles of Jesus look like a cheap parlor trick
But, you know, she needed something, and I don't want to make Nancy a
liar, so here's what I said that I would say (not often I get to quote
"We should not fear
the truth of science nor doubt the revelation of scripture.
There is no conflict between evolution and faith, no contradiction
between Darwin's Origin of Species and the Bible's origin of
creation. One provides answers to how and when, the other
gives us purpose and meaning. Both point to the wonder of the
world, the beauty of life, and the immense complexity and yet
incredible harmony of the universe".
So there you go [applause from the
congregation]. Thank you. I have no clue as to whether or
not that's what they printed! For all I know, they may have messed
it all up, you know how that can be sometimes.
Did I mention, by the way, that you
can't find the Oregonian in Eugene? There are at least 37 places
where you can buy newspapers and none of them carry the Oregonian on
Saturday. Not that I would count
Being a smart guy, I quit counting after 36. . . . .
But whatever they printed yesterday, I
did receive 2 responses already, via E-mail. Both graduates of
Northwest Christian College. One said:
"I join fellow
Disciples in congratulating you on pursuing the fact that religion
and science are not sworn enemies"
The second came from a graduate from
1969, who wrote:
"How can you, a man
of the word, Biblically state that evolution is a scientific truth?
[Of course, I never did state -
Biblically -- that].
You are denying the infallible truth of His word. You either
believe that the Bible is the infallible truth of God, or you
I suspect he didn't agree with whatever
it was they quoted me on, but I'm glad wrote because his message
illustrates precisely why this is an important topic for us, and why
Evolution Sunday should perhaps even be a regular event on the Church's
calendar. For the sad reality is that there are many people inside
and outside the church who have a terrible misconception about science
and faith in general, and about evolution and scripture in particular.
It causes them to believe that one must choose between the two.
What a terrible thing, that we force people to make that kind of choice.
Folks, when that is the popular
understanding of Christianity, we will lose the battle between faith and
science. It is important, then, for us to first of all understand
why they do not conflict, and secondly to make it known that one does
not have to reject the revelation of scripture in order to accept the
revelation of science (or the other way around).
The Reverend Henry Green, Pastor of the
Southern Baptist church in Annapolis, also preaching on evolution this
morning (one of the 1,000 who signed up for it) told National Public
Radio in a story that aired on Wednesday:
want to take people away from real science and put on some sort of
bogus discussion about intelligent design or creationism.
Well, guess what: I believe God created. But I just
happen to believe that the scientists have it right in understanding
I wonder how many E-mails he got,
especially being a Southern Baptist (not what you'd normally expect to
In the same story, Tim Bagwell, Pastor
of the Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia, says that
whenever he preaches on a topic like this, he always hears from a few
members of the congregation who say things like "Why haven't you told us
this before? I've had all these questions for all of these years
and no one has ever talked to me, or given me permission to ask the
questions that have been deep down inside my soul".
How sad it is when people do not have
permission to ask those kinds of questions in church.
So let's be clear: you should
never be afraid to ask those kinds of questions. Even when, or
especially when, you think they may in some way be contrary to
Here's the principle that I would like
to put forward for this discussion, and it comes from Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, the great Christian theologian of course martyred at the end
of World War II in Germany. It was while reading a book in prison
on modern physics that he wrote:
"It has again
brought home to me quite clearly how wrong it is to use God as a
stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. We are to
find God in what we know, not in what we don't know ".
So keep that principle in mind -- we
are to find God in what we know as we consider what we have learned
about our world through the eyes of Darwin and his theory of natural
Darwin of course was no scientist when
he set foot on the HMS Beagle when it left Great Britain in 1832 to
survey the coast of South America. He was only 22 years old.
Had just completed his education in preparation to become a pastor in a
parish church in Britain. The captain of the Beagle wanted someone
who would be an intelligent dinner partner on this long voyage -- 5
years. Don't know what that says of his opinion of his shipmates,
but at any rate, he invited the bright young Darwin to join him on this
Darin, to make himself useful, became
the naturalist of the voyage, and began collecting specimens at every
port, making detailed drawings, writing down his observations of what he
observed. And it was not until years later when they returned to
Britain and he shared his discoveries with botanists and zoologists and
the like in Britain that he learned the significance of much of what he
had observed. And he then devoted his life to studying that, spent
22 more years in contemplation and research before he published
his findings in the Origin of Species that was released in 1859.
His arguments were so convincing that
American historian George Marsden says that within 20 years, by the
early 1870s, virtually every American protestant zoologist and botanist
accepted some form of evolution. The great French theologian, also
a scientist, Teilhard de Chardin,
summed up the importance of evolution when he said: "Evolution is
a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of
thought must follow".
Building on de Chardin, the highly
respected geneticist who is responsible for the whole field of
evolutionary genetics, a Russian Orthodox Christian,
immigrated to this country in the 1930s,
Theodosius Dobzhansky, published an essay in 1973 entitled "Nothing in
biology makes sense except in the light of evolution".
To deny the validity of evolution, or
to require that it be taught as one theory among other theories, would
be like teaching that gravity is just one theory to explain why it is
that things that go up must come down. And it's in light of that
centrality to modern science that when Christians are seen as the only
ones objecting to the teaching of evolution in public schools, is it any
wonder that so many outside of the church regard Christian faith and
scripture as being opposed to modern science?
And sadly, what rarely gets in the news
is that leading thinkers in both science and religion have said
repeatedly that evolution and faith are not incompatible at all.
Darwin himself said one could be an ardent theist and evolutionist.
Pope Pius the 12th, in 1950, said evolution was a valid scientific
approach to the development of humans. John Paul II, in 1996,
called it more than a hypothesis.
Dobzhansky said that he was both a
creationist and an evolutionist. And he says: "It is a
blunder to mistake the holy scripture for elementary textbooks in
Astronomy, Geology, Biology, and Anthropology". A blunder because
it results in a deceitful God who creates evidence, evidently for no
other purpose than to deceive us. And those who claim God would do
such, Dobzhansky says, are committing blasphemy.
The better choice, he says, as both a
scientist and a Christian, is to see God's hand at work through
Dennis Alexander, who is researcher and
biochemist, in a new book calls this 'evolutionary creationism', in a
new book entitled "Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?".
He says: "Once evolution is perceived as simply the method God has
chosen to create living things -- no more, no less -- then it ceases to
be a 'boogey man', and it takes its place among all the other wonders of
I know evolution is not the grand
unifying theory that explains everything in the Universe, it has its
gaps. But those gaps get smaller and smaller as the development of
science fill in the holes. For instance, the current issue of
National Geographic has a cover story on 'What Darwin Didn't Know' that
talks about new developments in science that confirm Darwin's
theory of natural selection. For instance, one of the discoveries
is that the gene responsible for the development of the jaws of fish in
Lake Victoria in Africa is the same gene responsible for the development
of the beaks of the Finches on the Galapagos Island that Darwin
observed. And so the author of the article says:
evidence for Darwin's belief in the commonality of all species than
to find the same gene, doing the same job, in birds and fish,
Alexander, in his book, concludes:
"As evolutionary creationists, we can be confident that whatever new
things science may uncover, they can be received gladly and will bring
yet further glory to God the creator of all things".
And by the way, this really is nothing
new. Augustine, 1,500 years ago, said nature is what God does.
And so Dobzhansky concludes "Evolution is God's [or Nature's -- same
thing] method of creation".
The point is simply we don't have to
reject evolution to believe in God as the Creator of the world. In
fact, when you make the rejection of evolution as necessary to believe
the truth of the Bible, the result will be less people who believe in
the Bible, not more.
So what do we do then, with texts like
Genesis 1, the story of 6 days of creation?
Go back farther than Augustine.
Origen, 1,700 years ago, known as "The Golden Tongue" for his gift of
preaching. Made this astute observation about creation stories
(this is the middle of the 3rd century), he says:
"What man of
intelligence, I ask, will consider that the first and second and
third day, in which there is said to be both morning and evening,
existed without sun, and moon, and stars?
[which were created on the 4th day]
And who could be
found so silly as to believe that God, after the manner of a farmer,
planted trees in a paradise East of Eden?
[that's Genesis 2:8 in the second creation story -- there are
two different creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. And so
Origen states what I think most of us would see as obvious:
"I do not think
anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which
indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history"
And St. Augustine held very similar
views. So if patriarchs of the church, so influential in the
development of Christian theology held those kinds of views 1,700 years
ago, how did we get to these popular notions of a 6-day creation?
It turns out that literal
interpretation of Genesis 1 did not emerge until the modern era.
And did not become widespread until the beginning of the 20th century
with the rise of fundamentalism as a response to Darwin.
So then, we come full circle back to
Darwin, and with him I want to close. The very last line of his
book, The Origin of Species, says:
"There is grandeur
in this view of life, with it's several powers having been
originally breathed by the creator into a few forms or into one.
And that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the
fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most
beautiful and most wonderful, have been, and are being, evolved".
How ironic and tragic that Darwin,
believing that his work revealed the glory and the grandeur of the work
of God would instead be rejected by so many as opposing God.
To find God in what we know, as
Bonhoeffer said, is to trust that the more we come to understand how
nature works, how biology works, how chemistry works, how genetics
works, how evolution works, the more we will understand God.
Now will such reveal all that there is
to know of God? Of course not. That's why we have scripture.
Stories of Jesus. The workings of the Holy Spirit. Things
that we will never learn from science can be found here, just as things
we can never learn from scripture can be found in science. To
reveal God to us.
And when read together, not in
competition or in conflict but in harmony, creation and evolution, faith
and science, will teach us much more about God than we will ever learn
So let us then embrace both. And
celebrate on this 200th birthday of Charles Darwin the wonder, the
grandeur, the beauty of God's evolving creation.
Knowing perhaps that God rested on the
7th day not because God was finished but because God had just begun.