Most science and faith geeks, like myself, love Psalm 19. The heavens declare, they tell of, they proclaim the glory of God. Scripture shows us that God is revealed by both nature (vv. 1-6) and the Law of the Lord (vv. 7-14). This gives warrant for the two books understanding of revelation—it is both the Bible and nature that are declaring, telling of, and proclaiming the glory of God.
This motivation is powerful for scientists and science-lovers like me. It justifies the investigation of nature as a source of revelation and invites us to wonder what we can learn about God through our understanding of creation. It is the very reason that, as I digest the latest science—be it science journalism, documentaries, popular science books, or presentations from scientists themselves—I often find myself asking, What kind of God would create a world like the one described by this or that particular aspect of nature?
I pose this question not because I am committed to natural theology or a brand of religious naturalism, but because I love science and the wonder I find in nature. I also have a mind that wants to know how in Christ, all things hold together (Col. 1:17).
Evolution as One Example
I don’t remember the first time I asked, What kind of God? or even became aware I was asking it. It certainly wasn’t as a physics major where I was drowning in complicated mathematics. I’m still not sure I ever understood Schroedinger’s Equation despite a B average in two quarters of quantum mechanics.
I think the first time I asked that question was probably as I began to learn about evolution. I do distinctly remember reading Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. Untrained in biology, and relatively new to philosophy and theology, the idea of living things as mere survival machines starkly challenged my understanding of a good, all powerful, all loving God.
Even after seminary, where Wentzel van Huyssteen and others gave me the historical, philosophical, and theological tools to understand faith and science in richer ways and to unpack both the rhetoric and the scientism that infused Dawkins’s work, I was still troubled by the evolutionary process.
It was several years later, mentored by anthropologist Paul Wason at the John Templeton Foundation, that I started to learn more about biology—ideas such as convergent evolution, cooperation, cultural evolution, epigenetics and the extended evolutionary synthesis.
Each of those ideas deserves its own newsletter edition—more than I will do here today—but collectively, they nuanced the picture of selfish genes and survival machines that so troubled me. It was much easier to contemplate the question, What kind of God would create using evolution? when, to give but one example, unbridled competition was partially offset by cooperation. I now see, at least dimly, glimpses of how I might reconcile belief in a good God with evolution.
I started with this short, woefully inadequate foray into evolution to give examples of science topics—convergence, cooperation, extended evolutionary synthesis—where we might ask the question, What kind of God? I could have just as easily used quantum entanglement, or dark matter, or mirror neurons. Or perhaps the immune system, human tribalism, or the place of ritual. The examples are many. Some like neuroplasticity might readily align with the God revealed in Scripture. Others, like parasites, may be a bit more challenging.
- Dawkins describes survival machines and immortal genes nearly 40 years after the publication of The Selfish Gene.
- BioLogos helps us understand convergence and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.
- Two prominent Harvard biologists are pushing our understanding cooperation.
- This Old Testament professor unpacks the two books understanding of revelation in Psalm 19.
- I have considered the theme of cooperation and also neuroplasticity in past editions of this newsletter.
- A Catholic theologian unpacks the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.
To the Glory of God
I want to return to Psalm 19. This psalm is not just a license to study the book of nature, but it is also a psalm of praise. My New Oxford Annotated Bible describes it succinctly as a “Hymn to God as creator of nature and giver of the Law.” This is part of why I like this psalm—it invites not only the intellectual work behind the What kind of God? question, but does so in the context of praise and worship.
In the coming weeks and months, the question What kind of God would …? will guide the occasional newsletter, framing how we approach specific topics or findings in science. I hope to include scientists in the series, who are best positioned to help us understand God’s many glories revealed in nature. This framing will invite us to think theologically about science, but I also hope it will invite us to wonder and ultimately to worship the Creator of nature who is also the Giver of the Law.
To glorify and enjoy God forever—the God revealed in both Scripture and Creation—this is the chief end of Homo sapiens according to the Westminster Catechism. We can and should use our minds to try to make sense of nature, but our God is not just an intellectual puzzle to be understood, but the Creator and Redeemer who is deserving of our praise.
That is to say, as we pursue this series, we hope to help the church do theology—seeking understanding for our faith commitments—while also inspiring the church in its worship to better enjoy the glories of God.