Science and faith discussion evolving to a place of harmony

Can faith, scientific progress coexist? They can

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

Ideas about evolution

For some, faith and science don't conflict until it comes to evolution, which may explain the large number of theories that range from complete rejection to absolute acceptance.

One theory among Christians and Jews is that Genesis should be read literally, meaning the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and man was created by God, not evolved from a common ancestor.

This position is usually referred to as young-earth creationism and often represents a misunderstanding of scripture, says the Rev. Dr. Rodney Holder, course director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge, U.K.

"The early chapters of Genesis are telling us theological truths about the relationship of God to the world, not giving us a scientific account rivaling the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution," he told the Deseret News.

"This was realized by the theologians of the early church ... who knew that you couldn't literally have three 24-hour days before there was a sun."

Holder added that if the creation account was taken literally, young-earth creationists — about 40 percent of Americans, according to a Gallup poll from December — would believe there was a metal dome over the Earth, because of how the word "firmament" is translated in Hebrew.

Instead, the account conveys that there is one God, God's creations are good and the sun and moon are intended to give light, not to be worshipped as pagan deities.

"Once one realizes all this," Holder says, "then it seems to me that it ceases to be a problem to recognize evolution as God's means of creating the living creatures and ultimately ourselves who are uniquely 'made in God's image.' "

Others agree with an allegorical creation story and accept geological and astronomical conclusions that the Earth is more than 4.5 billion years old; however, they discard evolutionary theory and common descent and assert that God created life progressively, a position called old-earth or progressive creationism, explained Jonathan Baker, a graduate of Weber State University who is working on a Ph.D. in Geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

A lesser-known but heavily supported position among scientists is one of theistic evolution — that God exists and he created the universe and all life in that universe using evolution as a tool.

Christian scientists can take theistic evolution one step further to evolutionary creationism, which holds that God is a personal god with a grand purpose to his work, not just an uninterested observer in the evolutionary process, said Baker, a Presbyterian who writes a blog on the science/faith dialogue.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are atheists such as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who assert that science has proved God is not necessary and that those who believe in God are delusional, respectively.

Rejecting ideas like Dawkins', proponents of Intelligent Design believe that some things in nature, those that are "irreducibly complex," cannot be explained by natural evolution processes and thus require an intelligent designer (God) to fill in the gaps.

Theistic evolutionists differ from Intelligent Design supporters in that they believe God used evolution and natural selection to create things, and that God continues to work among his creations by the laws of science which he put in place, Holder said.

Intelligent Design has its own movement, fueled by individuals who want it taught in classrooms instead of evolution, even promoting a "Teach the Controversy" campaign, to point out perceived flaws in evolutionary theory.

However, a majority of scientists reject Intelligent Design as a non-scientific theory.

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