Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution
A new book from a pair of Calvin professors strives to bring more light and less heat to Christian discussions about the history of the universe. The Haarsmas hope their new book will help Christians who want to better understand the controversial issues connected with life’s origins and development.
“The issues around creation, design and evolution are complex—and interesting,” said Loren Haarsma. “These words mean different things to different people, and they tend to provoke arguments.”
The Haarsmas say that’s because origins issues run close to some of life’s deepest questions: does God exist, how does God relate to this universe, how did we get here and who are we? But, they say, the culture wars often frame the argument as a false choice: Believe in God or believe in science.
“If we only have two sides to choose from, then believing in God means rejecting science, and believing what science says means rejecting God,” said Deborah Haarsma. “So which do you choose: God or science? As scientists and Christians, we don’t accept this simplistic choice. In the book, we argue that God and science are not at war—rather, science is the study of God’s creation.”
The Haarsmas noted that Christians today hold a range of views about creation and evolution and that they encounter that range in their own students each year.
“As Calvin professors,” they write, “our goal is not to tell students which Christians are right and which are wrong. We want to expose them to the data and arguments and teach them to carefully examine the strengths and weaknesses of each position. In the same way, with this book we want Christians to better understand not only their own position, but the positions of their neighbors in the pew.”
“It’s intended for people who aren’t scientists and aren’t trained theologians,” Deborah said. “It’s for people who are interested in issues of creation, design and evolution and want to learn more about them. These issues are often in the news, but news stories are too short or too biased to explain the real issues. This book will aid parents and educators who want a Christian resource that does more than push one point of view.”
Although the Haarsmas describe an array of opinions on origins, they emphasize a foundation of common Christian beliefs. They are resolute in their faith in a God who created and governs the universe, a God who reveals Himself to humanity, a God who is a Redeemer, and a God who inspired the Bible—making it authoritative and sufficient for teaching us what we need to be saved.
Yet as scientists they also believe that God reveals Himself in ways besides the Bible. They quote the Christian Reformed Church’s 1972 statement on the nature and extent of biblical authority, “God reveals himself with full divine authority in the world of his making as well as in Scripture.”
“We conclude,” they write, “that God has graciously given humans the ability and the responsibility to study the natural world systematically. As with all human endeavors, we do it imperfectly. We must seek to do it as God’s image-bearers, in gratitude for God’s gifts.”
As scientists and Christians, the Haarsmas are willing to ask difficult questions. “Is it ever appropriate for Christians to allow what they learn from the study of creation to affect how they interpret scripture? Is it ever appropriate for Christians to allow what they learn from the study of scripture to affect how they interpret creation?”
They believe that the answer to both questions is a qualified yes, but that these things can be done in good ways and bad ways.
The Haarsmas say that one bad way for science and theology to interact is to use one to simply reject the other. Another perilous interaction is when Christians seek to “prove God” by pointing to gaps in our scientific knowledge.
“If God is only a ‘god of the gaps,’ then God would shrink as scientific knowledge grows,” said Loren Haarsma. “In fact, many atheists and agnostics believe that the explosion of scientific knowledge over the centuries is evidence that the idea of God is irrelevant. Christians play into their hands when they argue that, ‘Scientists can’t explain it all, so there must be a God.’”
A better approach, he and Deborah maintain, is to proclaim God’s design and creative hand in both the things science cannot explain and the things it can.
“God governs the regular functioning of the natural world, whether or not science understands it yet,” said Deborah Haarsma. “This approach bears truer witness to who God really is and will not become irrelevant as science advances.”
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