The topics of evolution and the Big Bang came up in a recent conversation with one of my Christian family members, and I very briefly stated why I felt that the so-called “young earth” interpretation of Genesis’ early chapters was unwarranted, or at the very least, not the only “biblical” way to understand the relevant verses. Similarly, I told my family member that I accepted the Big Bang “theory” as fact and saw no reason to reject it. In reply, I received a mildly dismissive assessment of my perspectives, and was told that regardless of our human misunderstandings, we could rest assured with the fact that, however creation was carried out, God did it. Out of respect for the family member making the comment, I choose not to offer a rebuttal, and had merely to stew in my own annoyance until I could put some thoughts together on my blog later on.
However, before my annoyance at what I initially considered to be a poor excuse for independent thought spilled over into an acerbic blog-post, thankfully I did some reflecting of my own and realized that there was nothing inherently shoddy about the position that the respective family member took on the issue. While I am convinced it IS silly and unreasonable for humans to throw their hands up in the air and use the phrase “God did it” just to excuse themselves from thinking, doing research and testing out explanatory hypotheses about natural phenomena and the processes that govern them, it simply does not follow that if science can explain something, it proves God had nothing to do with it. Naturalistic explanations for naturalistic phenomena may demonstrate that the events in question did not lean directly on miracles (or a suspension of natural laws), but in no way does this disprove God’s hand in any part of the equation.
A perfect example of this can be found in Matthew 17:24-27, when Jesus asks his disciple to go catch a fish and use the coin in its mouth to pay the Temple Tax. There is no suspension of any laws of physics for this to occur. Fish swallow weird stuff all the time and there are empirical instances of things being lodged in their throats and mouths. The “miracle” here is not the bending of physics, but rather of Jesus’ uncanny awareness of what was going on in the universe at that particular moment (as well as the related series of cause and effect events that were unfolding).
Like my fellow Christians, I affirm that God is the author of creation and hence, the ultimate source of all its “natural laws.” Similarly, it is somewhat obvious to me that not every event requires direct, divine intervention to occur. That being said, the Bible teaches not only that the earth (and its creatures) were created by God in the past, but also that creation continuously “holds together” by his will in the present (Sirach 43:25-26*, Acts 17:28 & Colossians 1:16-17). While what we call “natural phenomena” may not require miracles for their immediate cause-effect relationships, it strains credibility to say that this series of causes and effects extends infinitely into the past. As per the medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, and his Cosmological argument, Christians have long held that if we could go back far enough in time, we would discover a first, uncaused-cause and that this is God. Of course this is ultimately an article of faith, but so is its materialistic alternative (that there is an infinite regression of causes and effects with no uncaused cause). Similarly, for an atheist to assert that God cannot work through natural laws and/ or that he did not create those laws in the first place is also a profession of faith, and it goes as equally wrong (although in the opposite direction) as the person who would use “God did it” to “explain” everything and thus squelch scientific inquiry.
The fact remains that God can “do” something (lots of things, actually) without suspending the laws of physics. This goes well beyond coins in fish mouths and can include things like medical procedures suddenly gaining traction against what doctors previously said was hopeless, etc. In that sense, my family member was quite correct to say “God did it” in reference to humanity’s existence and the time scale (whatever it might have been) used to bring us into the “image of God.” She and I undoubtedly disagree on “how” God did it, but there is no need for me criticize the idea THAT God did it. After all, I also affirm that he did… and does.
Thanks for reading me,
* I am aware that the Apocryphal book, Sirach, is not officially recognized as “Scripture” by all Christians everywhere, but I nevertheless included it because many do, and it is consistent with the trajectory of Christian belief, especially on this issue. Apologies for peeling verses out of context, but I tend to be long-winded, and this makes it much less cumbersome. That being said, I am open to further explorations of these verses should anyone want to go there. -CL