A few days back the Friends of Justice website had a blog post regarding Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, and his inclusion of young earthism (about 6,000 years) in his theology. That blog brought to mind this sermon, which I preached at Kent Baptist Church in Southern Indiana in Spring, 1965. I was surprised to find a full manuscript of that sermon. I would be less cerebral and less dogmatic about some of this than when I was a young Elihu challenging Job and his friends. I would also seek to be more specific regarding Greek thought, rather than painting all Greek thought with a Platonic brush. This sermon, while dated in details, is still timely. My mind has changed very little on this topic in the intervening 48 years.
To all who studied with him, the influence of Eric Rust will be apparent in this sermon.
The God of the Gaps
There was a disturbing article in the Louisville Times this past week. It was entitled “Evolution Revolution” and concerned a group of Warren County, Ky. Citizens who are protesting the use of text books teaching the evolutionary theory. The spokesman for the group, a Warren County farmer, put it this way, “You take a child and teach him one doctrine at home to believe in the Bible and that God created man. You send him to school and he’s taught the evolutionary theory.” The farmer concluded, “Man was either created by God or else it all happened through a series of strange happenings. . . .”
There was a disturbing editorial in the Texas Baptist paper, The Baptist Standard, a few weeks ago. In this editorial the editor criticizes E. C. Rust, the capable scientist, biblical scholar, theologian and Philosophy professor of Southern Seminary. Dr. Rust is criticized by the Texas editor because he told a group of college students that science is on the brink of making a living cell, and that Christians should not be disturbed if this fact does happen.
I find it disturbing that there are movements led by Christians underway in Texas and New Mexico to keep textbooks containing certain scientific theories out of the public schools.
I find these facts disturbing because they seem to point to the fact that a group of sincere, dedicated, though misinformed, Christians are seeking to put Christianity over against modern science.
But modern science is a child of Hebrew-Christian thought. There could be no modern science, no scientific method, without a world view which takes the world serious Greek thought emphasized ideas, and paid little or no attention to matter, as matter was thought of as an illusion. Thus truth could not, according to the Greek view, be discovered by looking at the objective world, but rather by looking within. But Hebrew thought took the world seriously. But they believed that the world was created by God, and that it was good. They were keen observers of the world and of life. The scientific method could not have arisen out of Greek idealism. It had to wait for an underlying philosophy which took seriously the world of matter. This environment was provided by Hebrew-Christian thought.
Modern medical and social science likewise would not be possible apart from a Christian environment, or at least an environment influenced by Christian thought. For in Greek thought the body is regarded as evil, thus human suffering is of no concern. One’s present station in life is predetermined by the kind of life one lived in a previous existence. Thus if a Hindu is a member of the outcaste, the untouchables, it is because of his behavior in some previous existence. Thus there is no concern for social betterment.
The Hebrew-Christian tradition, then, has provided no only an environment which takes the world of matter seriously, and thus has made science possible, it has also provided the motive for much of modern science—a compassion instilled by Jesus himself, a concern for human suffering, a concern for social betterment.
While modern science is in a very real sense a child of Christianity, depending upon the Hebrew-Christian for its very existence, yet it often appears to be the enemy of Christianity. Why is this? The answer is that science has often been made the enemy of Christianity by Christianity itself. Just a brief glance of the history of the conflict of science with Christianity will suffice to show that this is true.
No less a Christian than Augustine held that it was impossible for men to live on the opposite side of the earth, because men living there could not see Christ at his second coming descending through the air. Further, he argues, St. Paul had said of preachers of the gospel, that “their voice has gone out to all the world, and their words to the ends of the earth.” And obviously no preacher had been to the opposite side of the world, therefore men could not live there.
No less a Christian than John Calvin, and he was followed by a host of others, attacked the theory of Copernicus, a theory proved fact by Galileo with his telescope, that the earth revolves about the sun, rather than the sun about the earth.
To Calvin it was perfectly obvious that the sun, not the earth, moves, for the 93rd Psalm says, “Yea, the world is established, it shall never be moved.”
For his troubles, Galileo received from the Pope exile from family and friends; the Pope forbade him to speak of his findings; when he died he was denied Christian burial, his friends were not even allowed to place a monument over his grave.
And upon the discovery of fossils which upset Bishop Usssher’s dating of the creation at 4004 B.C., there were those who were willing to state that the fossils were placed in the rocks by God to deceive the infidel, or that they were remains of animals destroyed in the flood.
With this history of antagonism toward science behind us, do we wonder that scientists are often hostile toward religion?
But what has this to do with us today? For I have not prepared this message in order to amuse, or offend; not even simply to disturb, though I hope that you will be disturbed enough to begin to give the subject careful thought.
What position should a Christian today take in regard to modern science? One alternative of course is to become entirely a naturalist, to say that all things are caused by, and only by, natural causation. We may say that the only thing that can be known is what is scientifically knowable. Thus there is no place for faith, no place for God. This is one alternative open to us, and many today are taking it. But if we choose this alternative, we forfeit all claim to the word, “Christian.”
Another alternative, one which unfortunately has been followed by Christians too often in the past, is what may be called a gap theology. This theology allows for the working of God only in those areas which are not understood by human intelligence. On this position, if some phenomenon in the universe can not be explained by natural causation, then it is the work of God; if it can be explained by natural causation, then God has nothing to do with it. This is the position that the Warren County farmer is taking when he says that either God created man, or else he just happened. His inference in opposing evolution is that if man did evolve, then God had nothing to do with it, I am not saying that evolution is true, or that it is not. Many sincere and dedicated Christians believe that it is true; many equally sincere and dedicated Christians believe that it is not. I do insist that Christians can only bring harm to their cause if they limit God by ruling him out of a process which can be understood otherwise.
The editor of the Baptist Standard seems to guilty of the same sort of reasoning. If man creates life, then God has nothing to do with it.
This position, this “God of the gaps” theology, has the unfortunate effect of driving many of our most intelligent young people into the position of pure naturalism. If we tell our young people that it is either, or; that either God creates man, or man just happens through evolution, that either God creates life or man creates it, then what can we expect when they go to college or even high school and are shown what to their minds is overwhelming evidence for evolution, but that they will turn their backs on God? What can we expect, if science does succeed in producing life, but that they would conclude that God has nothing to do with life? And who are we to say that science will not produce a living cell?
There remains one other alternative open for us. It is a “sacramental view of the universe,” the view that the entire universe mediates to us the presence of God. The ancient Hebrew was sure that the sun came up in the morning because God said, “Get up!” He was sure that the rain fell because God caused it to fall. We know today that the sun does not really come up in the morning, but that it appears to do so because of the earth’s rotation on its axis. We know that the rain is condensation of water that has previously evaporated, caused when cold air strikes warm moist air. But does this mean that God has nothing to do with the sunrise or with the falling rain? Not for the Christian. The Christian sees the hand of God far more intricately, far more complexly, but no less really than did the ancient Hebrew.
Likewise the Hebrew was sure that the plagues of Egypt were sent directly from God so that Pharaoh would “let his people go.” They were sure that the hand of God stopped the flow of the Jordan so that they might cross safely into the promised land.
We know today that all the plagues in Egypt, except for the death of the firstborn, can be explained from natural causes. The Nile periodically turns red from an algae growth which kills the fish. Plagues of frogs are not uncommon. And what could be more natural that a plague of flies and gnats following dead fish and frogs? As recently as 1927 an earthquake in the Jordan River area shook loose and overhanging limestone cliff and dammed the river for 24 hours.
But is not our faith great enough to see the hand of God working naturally to preserve a people from whom would come our Redeemer, of whom Paul would write, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, for in Him all things were created. . . . He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Such a God is no “God of the gaps,” but the God of the universe, the maker and redeemer of the universe, who is worthy of our complete trust and obedience.