I have just recorded a series of talks that will be broadcast on Tuesdays in March at 9.50am on RTHK Radio 4 for the Minutes that Matter slot. I enjoy doing this slot. The idea is that you give a short talk or meditation linked to a piece of music. For these talks, I have given some thoughts on creation and linked it to pieces from Haydn's, The Creation. As most of you will know, February 12, 2009 was the anniversary of Darwin's birth, and it was this and the amount of articles there have been in the press that prompted me to put together a few thoughts.
This is the first talk in the series:
Creation Talk One: How and Why?
On February 12, 2009 it was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and, by a happy coincidence, this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book, On the Origin of the Species. It is no wonder then that there have been many articles and books to mark the occasion. Many of them have focused on the relationship between science and religion asking what the implications are for faith of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In western society prior to this, the assumption was that the world had been created by God, along the lines suggested in the book of Genesis. Creation in six days was taken literally and dates were even suggested for when world came into being. Darwin’s theory of evolution was thought by many, religious and non-religious, alike to prove that the Bible isn’t true and that there can’t be a God. It did, of course no such thing. It may have challenged one way of understanding the Bible, but all that the theory could do was to describe how God created the world. It could not by definition answer the question of whether he created it. Sadly, still today people do not focus on what the theory is actually about and try instead to draw conclusions about issues that it does not and cannot address.
What the theory of evolution did do, however, was to provide people, who for other reasons did not want to believe in God, with, at last, an intellectually respectable alternative account of how human life came into being. An account that people could believe in while leaving God out of the picture. It provided an explanation of human origins that was seized on by those who for other reasons did not believe in God.
Unfortunately, both believers and unbelievers to this day fail to distinguish between two separate questions: the question of how the universe came into being and the question of why it came into being. The ‘how’ question is the business of science. It combines observation, hypothesis, and experimentation and while it often gets it right, advancing our knowledge and understanding of the universe and the more immediate world around us, it is worth remembering that it also gets it wrong. It is also worth remembering that science does not take place in a vacuum. In the same way that those wanting to throw off the shackles of religion seized on Darwinism so too other theories and discoveries have been in the past, and are still in the present, appropriated for ulterior goals.
In our own day, we have scientific research being sponsored by companies in the hope of financial gain in a way that can prejudice its objectivity and outcome. Fantastic discoveries such as coming to an understanding of how to split the atom can lead to the massacre of thousands with a single bomb. Our pride in our scientific progress needs to be balanced with humility and even repentance.
What science cannot do, however, is answer the why questions. Scientists are welcome to contribute an answer, but they do so on equal footing with everyone else. Knowing how does not make you an expert in why. For an answer to the question of why it is to other places and people that we must turn.
It is the why type of question that the Bible seeks to address and its answer although profound is very simple. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and earth …’ Yes, believers should embrace science and were wrong at times in the past to be slow in doing so. Yes, the how questions are fascinating and important, but the why questions even more so.
Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Where am I going? It is only as we begin to discover answers to these sort of questions that we can begin to make sense of our own place in the scheme of things. St Paul described God as ‘he in whom we live and move and have our being’. If this is true, then it follows that we can only make sense of the world around us when we know not only the theories of science, but also the Creator behind them.