You Gotta Have Faith

Time magazine recently hosted a debate on God and science. The participants were scientist and committed atheist and philosophical materialist Dr. Richard Dawkins, author of the recently released book The God Delusion, and Dr. Francis Collins, committed Christian and Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

It’s worth reading all of this if you have the time since it’s very uncommon to see two such articulate spokespersons on opposite sides of a contentious debate actually talk to each other rather than past each other. I think you’ll agree that this article represents a rare sighting of civility in the American public square.

If you’re pressed for time, here are some money quotes. First Dawkins:

I accept that there may be things far grander and more incomprehensible than we can possibly imagine. What I can’t understand is why you invoke improbability and yet you will not admit that you’re shooting yourself in the foot by postulating something just as improbable, magicking into existence the word God.

And now Collins:

There are sincere believers who interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in a very literal way that is inconsistent, frankly, with our knowledge of the universe’s age or of how living organisms are related to each other. St. Augustine wrote that basically it is not possible to understand what was being described in Genesis. It was not intended as a science textbook. It was intended as a description of who God was, who we are and what our relationship is supposed to be with God. Augustine explicitly warns against a very narrow perspective that will put our faith at risk of looking ridiculous. If you step back from that one narrow interpretation, what the Bible describes is very consistent with the Big Bang.

Reading over this, I was reminded of how my professors at Harding University did an excellent job of preparing me to live as both a Christian and a scientist. At that school, we were taught early on not to hold too tightly to a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of Genesis. This allowed room for the belief that God might have created via evolution over eons of time rather than “zapping” everything into existence in seven 24-hour days. Expressing this belief has landed me in a little hot water over the years and still does–and probably will again.

I’m also reminded me that you gotta have faith–no one walks this earth without it. The answers to the “ultimate questions” will always tease and taunt us, lying as they do just over the horizon from our natural eyes and the reach of science.

Richard Dawkins has his faith, and so does Francis Collins. So do you, whether you believe in the Judeo-Christian god or not. If you want to walk away from God, you can come up with many compelling reasons to do so; if you want to believe, there are equally compelling reasons to stay.

The questions then become: which faith do you want? Indeed, which faith will you choose?

  1. Hal

    “There are sincere believers who interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in a very literal way that is inconsistent, frankly, with our knowledge of the universe’s age or of how living organisms are related to each other.”

    I am one of those sincere believers he refers to here. I realize that Genesis 1 and 2 appears improbable based upon our limited and flawed scientific knowledge. I haven’t seen any really good scientific evidence to prove or even substantiate the Big Bang theory or evolution. Nor have I seen any good scientific evidence to disprove the creation account in the Bible.

    I have faith that God and His Bible are true. I can’t imagine that there will ever be any scientific evidence to prove how the universe began (how’s that for narrow minded). I think that it will always be a philosophical and religious debate.

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    Boy, it didn’t take any time at all to land in some hot water! 🙂

    All well and good. But do you consider me to be a Christian?

    There’s the rub; there are many who believe as you do who would not.

    Our internecine wars over this are proof to unbelievers that Christianity is bankrupt. Dawkins refers to literalists as “clowns.” I think you’ll find Collins’ response to be much more generous than his. And much more generous than the many fundamentalists who would call me an infidel.

  3. GREG

    I’ve heard this view by others in the past, and it does not bother me at all. I believe I read a book by Jimmy Carter a number of years ago in which he expressed that he believed God may have created via evolution (or at least allowed for that possibility.)

    I believe that God created all that is. How he did so, or in how much time, does not greatly concern me. I know what Genesis 1 & 2 say, but there’s a lot that’s not explained in detail. I’m fine with that. Whatever that detail may be won’t change what I believe about the origin of the world (“God created…”). And if I say I believe “a” and someone else believes “b” when it comes to things like this, I’m not going to call them a heretic. I’m more likely to say “you may be right” and consider their viewpiont further, because I will likely never be certain that I am the one who is correct.

    Philip Yancey said in one of his earlier books that faith and doubt must coexist. If you have one, you have the other. That seems to make sense to me. In all matters of faith, there’s some doubt, at least for me. In some areas there is more than in others, but it’s there in all.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy


    Very well put. You and are on basically the same page when it comes to these things. Some of my very best friends are literalists who roll their eyes and laugh when I start talking about evolution. But we still break bread together at the end of the day.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    BTW Hal, I figured out what was hanging up your comments in moderation and fixed it.

    How’s that for trust? 🙂

    As for Scott, I think I’ll just leave things alone for now…

  6. GKB

    “At that school, we were taught early on not to hold too tightly to a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of Genesis.”

    If only they had taught that in the Bible department!

  7. JRB

    A semantic problem keeps us from getting deep into this sometimes, I fear: the difference between “literal” and “true.” In this case, if we take Genesis literally, we think of an actual 7 day, 168 hour creation, about 6000 years ago.

    If we believe that Genesis is true, we may understand the truth of God’s sovereign creation expressed in language and literature fit for its author and audience 3500 years ago. (3500 years ago, 6000 years ago might as well have been 600,000….)

    My Bible professors at Harding did a good job of this, too. My OT professor, T.E., made such an observation as your science guys. “You’d be foolish to use Genesis to debate evolution, because Genesis was not written for that purpose. The author and audience of Genesis weren’t interested in that debate because they didn’t know about. The author of Genesis was not trying to disprove Genesis evolution (ed: JRB I think you meant this, correct?) but was interested in conveying the truth of God’s creation.”

    Genesis is true, along with the rest of the Bible. Genesis may not be literal. We err when we think that those ancient, eastern people evaluated history like we empirical Westerners.

  8. JRB

    GKB, did you not have TE? You and I overlapped by a year or two. He left shortly thereafter for the ATL. He was good at this.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    JRB, I remember TE, in fact, as I recall I took a course in apologetics from him my senior year. Good call on the difference between “literal” and “true.” That careful attention to Near East idiom should be applied to the rest of the OT as well.

    GKB–As JRB pointed out, TE and others who challenged some of the fundamentalist views were there, you just had to find them. Those guys in the science department have always gotten away with a little more than most. 🙂

    I can remember when for a brief time in the early 80s, Louisiana had a law on the books requiring schools to teach creationism (a literal Genesis view) in public schools. The law was struck down a short time later, and I can remember Dr. Jack Wood Sears, biology chair at the time, getting up in chapel and explaining why the law’s demise was a good thing for Christianity.

    So, you see, academic freedom does exist at good ol’ HU; you just have to look a little to find it.

  10. JRB

    Thanks, ed. The coffee is just now settling in.

  11. Jon

    Do you think it touts God’s ability to prove scientifically everything that happened?

    Does proving things scientifically strengthen or weaken you belief that God is all powerful?

  12. Hal

    Eyeguy, of course I consider you a Christian. I know what you mean, though. I know several people that would not, and that’s too bad for them.

    I like JRB’s comment about the terms “literal” and “true.” I believe the entire Bible to be true. Literal is another story, but I would have to give God the benefit of the doubt and say that it might possibly be literally true as well. God is certainly capable of what Genesis states literally. My little, mortal mind is too small to wrap around that concept and fully understand it until my day of glory when I’ve quit “running from the Reaper.”

    I noticed that when I posted my last comment that it posted right away and did not get hung up in moderation. Was it getting hung up because I’m a Tennessee Volunteer fan?

  13. Mike the Eyeguy


    I’m not sure if I entirely get the gist of your questions, but I’ll give it a go.

    I believe, by faith, that God is the originator and designer of the universe and the author of all life. Since I do not believe that a literal interpretation of Genesis is necessary to lay claim to faith, it does not matter to me one wit whether he did it via a “slow roast” or a “quick fry.”

    I think that the Near East idiom of Genesis, the possible multiple meanings of the Hebrew word for day (“yom”) and the sequence of creation (which corresponds well with the fossil record) all happen to fit quite nicely into the “old earth” model which has been verified in a variety of ways by the scientific method.

    I believe, by faith, that all truth is God’s truth, and that ultimately there is nothing to fear from evolution per se or any other scientific discovery. Maybe a new finding will hold up under scrutiny, maybe it won’t. I do not wait around anxiously for the latest scientific discovery to “confirm” my faith, nor do I feel that my faith must be confirmed by science (science changes rapidly, here today, gone tomorrow).

    The “answers” to “ultimate” questions will always be accessible only through philosophy and religion. Even Dawkins admits that there may be “something out there” but he believes, by faith, that science is the key to discovering the yet unseen. I think many of Dawkins’ objections emanate from what he perceives to be Christianity’s anti-intellectualism and meanspiritedness. And to some degree, he has a point. Dawkins is not exactly humble, but neither are many Christians. A good dose of humility is needed all around.

    I’m in good company. The retired chair of the biology department at Lipscomb is a good friend of mine who lives here in Huntsville. He believes that Genesis, when exegeted properly and with an open mind, does not contradict science, including macro-evolution. He, too, got into a little hot water over the course of his career.

    Having said all that, Darwinism does not merit a free pass just because it is the theory du jour. If it can’t stand the scrutiny, then it must be discarded along with other decrepit theories. Too often, committed philosophical materialists have taken up the cudgel of Darwinism and used it to beat persons of religious faith without recognizing their own unprovable presuppositions and faith statements. I think if you read the entire transcript, you’ll see that Dawkins is a person of faith, whether he realizes it or not.

  14. Mike the Eyeguy


    I was pretty confident that you did, I was just trying to make the point that many Christians see this as a zero-sum, litmus test of faith. More of your humble spirit is needed on both sides. I say, live and let live and let’s get on to more important things.

    It was a certain word in your email address, not your Volunteer proclivities. So post away!

  15. Jon

    Just wondering your take on it. Little past half way through with “Case for Christ” and the ‘experts’ he interviews all respond that the scientific and factual proof for Christ’s existence has strengthened their belief all the more. “…blessed are those who believe and have not seen.”

  16. Bill Gnade

    Dear MTEG and everyone else,

    Please permit me to come and throw around a few heresies.

    First, I think it is important to note that I may take the Bible literally and not believe it true. For example, I take it literally that Noah built an Ark and Jonah was swallowed by a whale. No matter what one’s presuppositions, one can never say that Noah built a tree-fort and Jonah was swallowed by a camel. It is LITERALLY true that Noah built an ark, but it need not be historically or ontologically true.

    Now, I am not saying that Noah did not build a REAL ark. I am merely trying to separate literalism from truth. One can be literal and deny the truth of the Bible; one can be metaphorical and yet affirm the Bible’s truth. Splitting hairs, I know, but what else can a bald man do?

    I think the big issue for most believers is the battle of Evolution with a capital E and lower-case evolution. Nearly everybody accepts little-e evolution: egads, we see it in our dogs and cats and all the farm animals we’ve cross-bred for centuries! More importantly, Genesis itself is thoroughly clear about evolution: It teaches it! One need not be a literalist, or a sceptic, to see it. How so? Why, in this simple fact: All things were created to be vegetarians:

    Gen 1:29ff Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

    Only AFTER the flood, when Noah is offering God a sacrifice and the rainbow breaks free, do we hear God declare that predation and estrangement will now be the norm.

    Gen: 9:1: Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

    Anyone who believes that Genesis DOES NOT TEACH EVOLUTION IS NOT READING CAREFULLY. Things went absolutely CRAZY after the flood. And I take this literally: it’s just that I do not know the mechanics of the ontological truth to which these passages point.

    Lastly, one theological note. If we believe that death entered creation at the Fall, and that because of Adam’s sin all creation fell under bondage, then God could not have been slaying creatures for eons prior to the fall if, indeed, Adam introduced death to the cosmos. Theistic evolution of the type often discussed among evangelicals includes the idea that death in the cosmos preceded Adam’s sin and Eden’s curse. Creation then, is not under bondage because of Adam’s sin: it was already teeming with life — and death and horrors — far before Adam’s teeth broke the skin of a particular fruit. I say this simply to provoke. I am not arguing anything in this paragraph.

    Hopefully, this clarifies my personal position as a heretic within every circle but my own (which is very small).

    Peace to you all,


  17. Mike the Eyeguy

    Jon, I probably didn’t satisfactorily answer your questions with all my prattling on, but when there is convergence of revelation and what can be discerned from nature, when the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together and we start to catch a glimpse of the “big picture,” yes, my faith is strengthened.

  18. Mike the Eyeguy


    You’re going to have work much harder than that to register on my Heretic-o-Meter, my friend!

    I know you care deeply about words and are a man who does not parse lightly. Your distinctions regarding “literalism” and “truth” are important ones and are greatly appreciated.

    Micro-evolution is indeed ubiquitous and the variety first noted by Darwin among the finches on the Galapagos. Change within a species–observable, repeatable, pretty straight forward. I had not noted that move from vegetarian to carnivore before. An example, perhaps? But by what means? Ah, there’s the mystery!

    Macro-evolution, change from one species to another–considerably more theoretical and tenuous, not directly observable or repeatable, but not to be dismissed out-of-hand by the theist who seeks to integrate the findings of science with her faith in my humble opinion.

    Evolution–the upper story kind all the rage among philosophical materialists –random, meaningless, sine qua non of existence, the guiding and grinding principle of life from which any meaning (if there is to be any at all) must be derived–that type I utterly reject.

    Adam and Eve, The Fall, Death–what great mysteries there! But isn’t it wonderful that we still wonder at all? In that way, we are one with our progenitors (whatever they looked like), sitting by the fire, scratching our heads over the complexity and meaning of our existence and the vastness of the universe.

  19. Bill Gnade

    Mike, my dear friend,

    You said that you “had not noted that move from vegetarian to carnivore before.”

    I have but one answer: you went to the wrong school.

    Go, Fighting Scots!

    Blessings and much cheer,


  20. Mike the Eyeguy


    How in the world can a Fighting Scot, even if he is armed to the teeth with broadswords and battle axes, hope to make it past the mighty Bison? 🙂

  21. Donna

    I debated adding my trivial comment…but I am having to have faith in YOUR KIND tomorrow for my Lasik enhancement….

    Faith is vital to survival….faith is vital to joy.

  22. Jason Bybee

    Thanks for the interesting discussion. I saw the TIME article but never got around to picking up a copy. I guess I’ll read the debate online.

    But I, too, have gotten in a little hot water before by arguing against a literal (pardon the expression, BG) interpretation of Genesis. It’s a story of origins, not a science textbook. I wish our heritage allowed for a deeper appreciation for the complelxities and nuances of the literary types represented in scripture.

    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this kind of stuff.

  23. Mike the Eyeguy

    “Faith is vital to survival….faith is vital to joy.”

    Trivial? Hardly. And along with faith, hope. I choose hope. (I hope your LASIK enhancement goes well)

    Jason, the hot water is just starting for you, pal! 😉

    One man/woman left alone with his/her Bible without some knowledge of the historical and sociological background of the Near East and at least a few principles of biblical interpretation can be a dangerous thing. I’m all for some type of sermon series on “How to Read the Bible.” Any takers?

  24. Bill Gnade

    Alright. That didn’t work. I submitted two links and, well, I DO know how to do the HTML; how then to explain the sudden disappearance of both links?

    The two books are “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth,” and, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book.” Great stuff. Good guys.



  25. Mike the Eyeguy


    Thanks for the reminder, that’s an excellent resource. I was weaned on Fee and Stuart! I think the title was something like How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth. I think it’s gone through several editions since my college days, but I still have my copy from Principles of Biblical Interpretation with Dr. James Walters (now at Boston University) my senior year.

  26. Tarwater

    Who has the authority to establish “principles of biblical interpretation”? Aren’t there as many principles as there are Protestants? Luther, Calvin, Zwingle, Cranmer, Barth, Fee, Harnack, Schliermacher, Tillich, Bultmann? Whose principles? They were substantially different. On what Authority does one establish a principle of Biblical Interpretation? The perspicuity of Sacred Scripture is a myth.

  27. Mike the Eyeguy

    “Aren’t there as many principles as there are Protestants?”

    That’s a nice Roman Catholic soundbite, but I really doubt that.

    Have you read the book that we’re talking about? If not, don’t knock it till you’ve read it. There may be some good and useful things in there even for Magisterium types like yourself.

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