Reformed Matters: An Unhealthy Dichotomy

We are called to love one another and bring healing to this broken creation.

Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of reflections by people on how they live out their Reformed faith in their daily work.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps.19:1). Creation itself reveals God’s handiwork as Creator. Scientific formulas and mathematical patterns give evidence to God’s eloquent design as we study his creation more and more deeply. As Christians, we all can agree that God is the Creator, and we are witness to his beautiful design. But when it comes to the how of creation, there are conflicting opinions.

As a doctor, I have a strong background and training in the sciences. Raised as a Christian, I was taught that God is the Creator. In my science education, I learned the theories of an old earth, natural selection, and more. At my church I was taught that God created the whole universe as we see it in seven days. Simultaneously, my parents, professors, and teachers often reminded me that we can better understand God and his creation through the gift of science. But whenever the issues of the origins of creation are raised, there seems to be an underlying fear that God is being taken out of the picture.

The more I engaged with these issues, the more confusing they appeared. One could either be a “creationist” who does not believe in evolution or an “evolutionist” who does not believe in a Creator. These two choices left me unsettled. It’s a struggle faced by many young Christians: Either believe in God the Creator, or accept evolution without God. Accepting both old earth/evolutionary theory along with the Creator never seemed like an option. These mixed messages made it difficult to reconcile faith and science.

For one friend, it was impossible. Growing up, he dreamed of becoming a paleontologist, but he never pursued this as a career. He assumed that accepting scientific theory meant rejecting his faith. This unhealthy dichotomy, where God is removed from scientific knowledge, can prevent young Christians from pursuing their vocational calling into the sciences.

In my work, looking at scientific evidence without God doesn’t make sense. Statistically it is improbable that the world came into being as it is by pure chance. Through the years, I have been able to reconcile the apparent conflict between faith and science through careful study, debate, and prayer. Regardless of what conclusions we draw regarding the how of creation, we cannot argue the fact that God had a hand in it, no matter how he chose to do it.

As Christians, we all are creationists—we believe God created. Some believe God chose to create the world in seven days; others believe God created it over billions of years, using evolution as a tool. It doesn’t really matter where we fall on this spectrum.

What does matter is how we choose to act based on our decision. No matter what our career may be, we are called to love one another and bring healing to this broken creation. Even though our worldviews may differ based on education, upbringing, or vocation, one thing is clear: God created. So there is no conflict between faith and science. Instead the two forms of revelation—God’s Word and God’s world—complement each other.

At the core, Christians believe that God is the Creator. That’s the message we share with those who have not yet met the Great Architect.

Web Questions

  1. Phillips claims that “Creation itself reveals God’s handiwork as Creator.” What kinds of things does the creation reveal about God?
  2. What are some of the conflicting positions Christians take on the matter of how God created the universe and us as human beings? How do we decide which positions are right—or at least plausible?
  3. What are some of the conflicts medical students might experience in their training if they were taught to believe in a literal six-day creation that took place some 5,000 years ago? How would you help them deal with those conflicts?
  4. Do you agree with Phillips that the problem of origins is not an “either-or proposition?” Can the evidence of Scriptural revelation and creation revelation be reconciled? How?
  5. Why does Phillips conclude that “In my work, looking at scientific evidence without God doesn’t make sense”? Do you agree with his conclusion? Why or why not?
  6. Do you believe it’s OK for Christian Reformed believers to have widely different views of how God created the world as long as we agree that God purposefully did that creating? If you believe it’s not OK, then how should we proceed together? If you believe it is OK, then how can and should we meaningfully interact with each other on this topic?

About the Author

Joel Phillips is a neurology resident at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich., and a member of Dearborn Christian Fellowship.

See comments (15)

Comments

The Reformed faith always claimed the Bible is not a scientific text book. Of course Origins is not an either-or proposition. All 'conclusions' made on past history have probabilities associated with them. Popular science loves to jump to all kinds of conclusions.  These can be dispenced with very easily if there is some new 'proof'.  

These types of serious errors come into play when discussing the first humans. What actually has been discovered by science and the conclusions reached based on more assumptions are phenominal.

I appreciate Phillips contribution very much. 

Joel, it seems no matter how educated one is, it is still possible to make incorrect assumptions which lead to wrong conclusions.  There have been a number of discussions on this issue on the Banner page, and on crcnetwork.  Could I ask you why you still insist on a conflict between faith and science, instead of the real conflict between special creation and evolution? 

I think there are some possibilities of Christians holding to some minor diverse opinions on this.  But there is no real conflict between faith and science;  the main issue is whether science is subject to God, or is God subject to and limited by the scientific laws and principles that He created?  The second issue is whether we are looking at the scientific evidence correctly with the correct assumptions.  Nothing except peer pressure stops someone from being a christian non-evolutionary paleontologist or geologist.In addition to the scientists and engineers and mathematicians I have listened to who deny evolution, Dr. Jerry Bergman has produced a list of 3000 scientists who deny evolution and are creationists. 

When Christians do have different opinions on this issue, they should be aware of the example of Solomon.  Solomon wanted to serve God;  he wanted to be wise, and God gave him a gift of wisdom and riches.   But in his wisdom, he wanted to serve his kingdom and himself as much as he wanted to serve God.  As a result, he built high places for the gods of his wives, and worshipped other gods, and in the end, the entire nation of Israel suffered as a result.  That was the result of his "diverse" opinion.  His assumption was that he could do both, serve God and offer sacrifices to false gods. 

Scientifically, evolution seems to be more of an assumption than a conclusion.   When the evidence is seriously examined, then evolution as a theory loses credibility in almost every case. 

Your question about conflicts medical students might face is an important one.  This question applies not only to medical students by also to plant and animal breeders, microbiologists, etc.  While you don't identify the specific conflict, I would assume it has to do with the transferability of genes and genetics.  Other issues of structure and homology and behavious do not require evolutionary discusssions or assumptions, but evolution is often inserted into genetically related issues as an apparent necessity. 

The truth is, that because genetics is associated with heredity, that the fallacy is concluded that therefore anything to do with genetics must of necessity be related to heredity.   This is a simple fallacy.  It is made as an assumption, but for it to be a valid conclusion, there must be actual proof, not merely an assumption.  In fact, genetics itself proves that not everything about genetics is heritable or caused by heredity.  Mutations are evidence for this, since a mutation is a "new" event, a distortion of heredity, and thus obviously not caused by heredity, even though they are often carried through future generations through heredity.  Therefore, this example establishes the principle that simple heredity is not a sufficient principle for all aspects of genetics. 

For that reason, similar genetic particles or compounds (or bases) cannot be proof of evolution. 

Hereditary principles are still valid without evolutionary theory.   These hereditary principles provide many useful concepts in medicine, microbiology, and plant and animal breeding.   However, the transferability of various genes does not need to be seen from an evolutionary perspective.  This could be seen from a "similar structure" perspective just as well.   Just as various animal kidneys are similar in constitution, so various genetic codes will naturally be similar in construction.   Just as two automobiles made in different countries could be made from similar materials which originated in different places, so two genes or chromosomes or base-pair combinations which look similar, do not need to have originated in the same place, nor even in the same way.

In the case of disease resistance or anti-microbial resistance, it is often assumed that evolutionary principles are at work.  But this is just an assumption.  The evidence is that this process is merely selection of resistance which already exists in the population.  If this resistance does not already exist in the population, then it will be impossible to select for it.   Furthermore, resistance to something is a far distance from  the formation of a new structure or organism.   And resistance to something is usually accompanied by a deleterious effect which prevents an organism from competing within the normal environment. 

Therefore, although disease resistance is often associated with adaptation of a population to a change in environment, it is not evidence for evolution.  Nor is it necessary to assume evolution (mud to man) in order to understand it. 

My advice is to use the KISS methodology when reading Genesis 1. 6 days is 6 days. Stretch that to 6 periods of billions of years each and all sorts of problems rise out of the primoral soup. I think it was John Zylstra who suggested I get a copy of In The Beginning by Walt Brown Ph.D. I did. It is a wonderful book and provides ample evidence of a young earth and 6 day creation plus convincing evidence of a universal Flood. Most importantly no readily apparent conflict exists between Mr. Brown's theories and Scripture. Thank you John.

I think we all could all agree that evolution is rooted in speculation, assumption, probabilities, and the falliblity of man. Scientfic evidence is on the side of Scrpiture. We know that trees produce trees, fish produce fish, and humans produce humans. We know the truth that as it has been in the past, so too the future. "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease. (Genesis 8:22)

"Your word, O Lord is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.  Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures." (Psalm 119:89,90)

The "how" of creation does matter. Because it will determine whether this denomination will be compromised, or will stand on the authority of God's Word.- Frankly, through the perpetual bring this subject up, as an issue, as if it's undecided. This denomination has already chosen a compromised postion.

 

Thank you, Joel, for your article. The Banner has published several articles in recent years on this topic, which is certainly no accident. This is a significant issue for many church denominations, but I think it is one that can be addressed fruitfully in the CRC, to the benefit of Christians of all traditions. The CRC has a diversity in its membership that creates regular tensions on thorny subjects (e.g. women in office, faith and science). We have the opportunity to direct that tension to productive ends if we rely on our theological foundations as Calvinists. I have already commented extensively regarding science and faith elsewhere on this website so I will not add anything more to this discussion other than to recommend a couple websites. Those who really want to dig deep into faith and science issues should spend time at http://www.colossianforum.org/ and http://biologos.org/. Both websites feature a rich conversation featuring many viewpoints and have a wealth of resources to share with churches and other faith groups.

Funny how it's always, at the very least, implied that science resides only on the side of the old-earth, evolutionary belief.  Talk about false dichotomies...

Jesus taught that a seed must fall to the ground and die before it was able to sprout. That may have been the best "science" 2000 years ago. Would you also have that taught in biology and agriculture classes? Surely 2000 year old science must be more accurate (truthful) than 6000 year old science. 

Once again, we have the falsehoods being promoted in this case by Phillips and Roels that there is a struggle between faith and science.  In plain language, this is a lie.   The struggle is between two different faiths and two different ways of doing science.  When that fact is recognized, then we can have a fruitful discussion.  Otherwise not.  God created science, and He gave us faith in Christ , in His Word, so it is impossible for there to  be a struggle between faith and science. 

Bill Wald, I like your little example, even though it does not illustrate what you are saying.  First, a seed does indeed lose its shape and structure and becomes unrecognizable as a seed, so yes it would die as a seed, before it begins to live as a plant.  It's "seedness" disappears. 

John 12:24
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds

Jesus did not say it must die to sprout.   He said it must die to produce more seeds. 

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 

If you only want to preserve the seed, you will never get any more. 

One thing I did not say, that I should have, was that I appreciate Phillips saying that looking at scientific evidence without God, doesn't make sense.   I totally agree, and I am in unity with Phillips on this.  It should be acknowledged however that the vast majority of evolutionists, especially the rabid evolutionists, do look at evolution without God, and that for many of them, it either demonstrates that God does not exist, or it makes God irrelevant.  This becomes a problem for the christian who works in science, because he is often speaking another language when it comes to some of the foundational principles of evolutionary theory, compared to the scientist who assumes that evolution demonstrates that God is irrelevant or non-existant. 

Since it becomes difficult to separate the raw evolutionary theory (mud to man) from some of the principles used in discussing it, such as heredity, mutations, natural selection,  extinctions, which all creationists accept, then  it causes a difficulty in discussing the limitations of evolutionary theory, nevermind the improbability of it. 

Often Creation is referred to as a myth.   Here is a youtube video showing how it is actually evolution that is more of a myth. 

youtube.com/watch?v=UB0cjZMVjOo&list=UU23yiJV4Bkagj5dkH-UyHFA&index=1&feature=plcp

Yet another Banner article by someone who tries to muddy the waters.  I'm tired of the spin evolutionists try to put on the various issues concerning origins.  Please stop trying to lure people into believing this has anything to do with science vs. faith.  Both creationists and evolutionists rely on faith, beliefs about the past which require presuppositions.  Of course we can test what we observe today to see if it is consistent with our beliefs, but we cannot go back to verify our findings.   This seems obvious enough, but how often aren't we told that evolution is a proven scientific fact?   Someone who says this is either uniformed or untruthful. 

Joel sets a scene of apparent conflict as he was growing up.  On one hand is his Christian upbringing, both family and church, and on the other hand his science education which taught an old earth, natural selection and more. And so now Joel sets the stage suggesting that Biblical creationists are responsible for constructing a barrier between faith and science that cannot be crossed without relinquishing one or the other.  Why however is it only those who demand that evolution be true that see a difficulty between "science" and the Bible read the way it was written.  Is it because they recognize that the concept of molecules to man evolution over millions of years is irreconcilable with the Bible, and so they resolve to make the Bible somehow accommodate their ideas? Furthermore the suggestion that those who hold to a Biblical creation model cannot enter the field of science as told us in the story of Joel's friend is an insult to the thousand of scientists who happily practice science in their respective fields and hold fast to a Biblical creation model.

Surely as a resident in the field of neurology, Joel would recognize that evolution plays no valid role in understanding or practicing his or any other field of medical science.

And just to be clear, creationists do not argue with evolutionists when it comes to natural selection, except with the idea that natural selection leads to molecules to man evolution.  Natural selection either by speciation or adaptation always occurs through built-in abilities created within a specific kind to adapt to changes due to environment.  This is hardly evolution, but rather a testament to our Creator who gave such variability to His creation. What we don't see is one kind changing into another.  Evolution would require an increase in information, but what is observed is a decrease.  Even thought an animal might be better suited for its environment,  the adaptation has resulted in a loss of information.  Look at the incredible amount of variable combinations in mankind!  Billions of combinations, all from one set of parents, and no end of possibilities.  Yet the result is a loss of information, never an increase. And we started with humans and we still have humans.

Your hang-up Joel is the same one that Steve had when he wrote his piece in the Banner a while back.  It's time to rethink what has been fed to you and challenge the assumptions.  Too bad that when you had these questions earlier in your life,  there wasn't someone who could point you to someone who could provide answers to your perceived conflicts.  Instead many churches and leaders suggest that we homogenate all the ideas which isn't an answer at all and only creates more questions than answers.  That said, there really is no excuse to not be informed.  The information is out there but too often there is a problem of arrogance that blocks the way.

Lastly, jus to be clear no one implying that evolutionists cannot be true Christians.  The Bible does not make this statement. But does that mean that it doesn't matter if we believe that God created as He said He did in His Word or that He used the process of evolution during billions of years?  Of course it does.  This probably one of the most important issues we need to address in the church today.  It's a question of authority.  Who are you going to believe?  What other parts of the Bible are we going to question, the virgin birth, the cross, the resurrection, substitutionary atonement, the ascension?  Sadly these and more are under attack.  Evolution coupled with millions of years of death, struggle, and disease wipes out the truth that God created a perfect world into which He place the first two human beings.  It removes the fact that it was humanity that brought sin into the world and caused the creation to fall under the curse.  It makes the history of Noah's flood and the reason it happened not plausible.  It removes the reason for which Christ came to pay the penalty for our sins and makes suspect pretty much everything else God says in His Word.  Hmmm. It's no wonder that we are told by non Christians that the Bible is an irrelevant book written thousands of years ago.

"Barny's" comment of Dec 5 is right on....evolution is not a proven scientific fact. In fact the science is very weak. Too often too much credit is given to those who have studied evolution and who then pontificate on their 'findings'. Leaky is a classic example. A story by Malcolm Muggeridge helps to put "research" into perspective. Muggeridge talks about Piltdown man in his book Jesus Rediscovered(?). He states no less than 500 doctrinal degrees were earned by those who studied Piltdown man. Then a local dentist confessed that he had buried a bunch of assorted bones. Everyone recognizes and applauds good solid scientific research, as do I. However, as evidenced above, men make mistakes. God does not. He has given us a book, The Bible, that sets out how He created the universe and how He created life. My advice is to accept His account at face value.

Another excellent book is "Refuting Evolution" , written by Jonathan Sarfati, PhD.  He also wrote, "Refuting Compromise", and then one I really enjoyed, "The greatest Hoax on Earth", a refutation of Dawkins' book.

Bill Wald's example of the seed dying to produce a plant has rather intrigued me.  It is interesting that the the seed transfers life to the wheat plant, and so the seed dies in the process, while the wheat plant lives.  But the process does not stop there, since when new seeds are produced, the wheat plant transfers life to the seeds and dies in the process.   A wheat plant that only insists on preserving its own life will be reluctant to produce seeds, since those new seeds are the sure sign of the end of the life of the plant.  I wonder what analogies we could draw here?  

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