Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Conversation About God

In my review of the July 10 Adventist Review, I included the following words from Kenneth R. Miller’s, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. New York: Cliff Street Books.

In the course of a recent conversation with Sarah Andrews, a friend who is a geologist and mystery writer*, I shared Miller’s perspective. I was delighted with Sarah’s response. Both writers are brilliant scientists and philosophers. Each has challenged the way I perceive the world and made me a less narcissistic and more thoughtful Christian.

KENNETH MILLER: Believing in Darwin’s God
Evolution is neither more nor less than the result of respecting the reality and consistency of the physical world over time. To fashion material beings with an independent physical existence, any Creator would have had to produce an independent material universe in which our evolution over time was a contingent possibility. A believer in the divine accepts that God's love and gift of freedom are genuine - so genuine that they include the power to choose evil and, if we wish, to freely send ourselves to Hell. Not all believers will accept the stark conditions of that bargain, but our freedom to act has to have a physical and biological basis. Evolution and its sister sciences of genetics and molecular biology provide that basis. In biological terms, evolution is the only way a Creator could have made us the creatures we are - free beings in a world of authentic and meaningful moral and spiritual choices.

Those who ask from science a final argument, an ultimate proof, an unassailable position from which the issue of God may be decided will always be disappointed. As a scientist I claim no new proofs, no revolutionary data, no stunning insight into nature that can tip the balance in one direction or another. But I do claim that to a believer. Even in the most traditional sense, evolutionary biology is not at all the obstacle we often believe it to be. In many respects, evolution is the key to understanding our relationship with God.

When I have the privilege of giving a series of lectures on evolutionary biology to my freshman students, I usually conclude those lectures with a few remarks about the impact of evolutionary theory on other fields, from economics to politics to religion. I find a way to make clear that I do not regard evolution, properly understood, as either antireligious or antispiritual. Most students seem to appreciate those sentiments. They probably figure that Professor Miller, trying to be a nice guy and doubtlessly an agnostic, is trying to find a way to be unequivocal about evolution without offending the University chaplain.

There are always a few who find me after class and want to pin me down. They ask me point-blank: "Do you believe in God?"

And I tell each of them, "Yes."
Puzzled, they ask: "What kind of God?"

Over the years I have struggled to come up with a simple but precise answer to that question. And, eventually I found it. I believe in Darwin's God.

SARAH ANDREWS: Experiencing God
It amazes me to think that any biologist worth his or her salt spends a minute of any millennium worrying about such matters. As a geologist training with a master, I was taught to leave thoughts of genesis out of my thinking as much as possible until I had my observations and facts together. Coming from that direction, one observes what is, rather than what one thinks it should be. By leaving out myself-centered and, in some obscure or obvious way, self-serving recipes for the universe, I can better hope to see it clearly and admire its divinity without judging it by my puny standards.

I don't believe in God; I experience God.

*Sarah’s eleven mystery novels entertain and explain what geologists do. I recommend them all. The setting of her latest novel, “In Cold Persuit”, is Antarctica’s McMurdo Station where Sarah spent two months on a research grant.

Comics from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged images)

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