a book review by Karen A. Bellenir
When people consider the origin of the universe and the beginning of life on earth, many explore positions that fall along a vast continuum of explanations. Most believe in a Creator, but the ways in which they understand the actions of that Creator vary greatly. Others believe that mechanistic processes of material existence adequately explain all of reality. During the course of the last century, debate between vocal groups representing the extreme ends of this continuum has become loud and aggressive.
Does it have to be this way? According to Gary N. Fugle, a biology professor and evangelical Christian, the answer is No. Furthermore, he believes that the adversarial approach is detrimental to the goals of each side. In his book, Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide (Wipf and Stock, 2015), Fugle describes a way toward achieving a more meaningful conversation.
To those who insist on interpreting the opening passages of Genesis as a step-by-step account of God's literal actions in creating the world, Fugle warns, "Vocal young-earth creationists are a significant reason the church has lost the respect and presence it once had in the scientific world and in many intellectual circles." Fugle suggests that if Christians want to have a productive dialog with nonbelievers about faith in Jesus, they need to stop insisting on the exclusive supremacy of one particular interpretation of the Bible's opening passages.
Fugle also has a message to scientists, especially those who wander outside their field of expertise to make pronouncements about spiritual matters. Among them are scientists who embrace an atheistic worldview. To them, Fugle explains that all metaphysical opinions, whether they argue for or against supernatural entities, represent matters that fall outside the domain of science. He claims that scientists unnecessarily close doors to dialog and education when they treat people of faith as weak and irrational. He writes, "I urge all fellow scientists to value the reasoned faith-based components of people's lives while we simultaneously pursue the mechanistic methods of our discipline."
Science, Fugle explains, is just one of the ways in which humans investigate the world and learn about how it operates. As he describes it, the realm of science is a closed system that, when properly implemented, relies exclusively on the material stuff it studies. Aspects of reality beyond the realm of science (for example, supernatural, nonmaterial, or spiritual aspects) are, by simple definition, not science. This isn't a disparagement or disavowal of those parts of reality. It is merely recognition that when a researcher talks about what science reveals, that researcher is specifically talking about what has been observed, measured, or deduced about the physical, material aspects of the universe in which we live. And, when a scientist looks for causes and effects, the scientist is limited to considering only the properties that fall within the domain of science.
Some people of faith misunderstand this nature of science and its limits. They believe that because God is the ultimate cause of all things, scientists should invoke God's actions as explanations for phenomena that are manifest in the world. Fugle gently reminds his Christian brothers and sisters that the role of science is to investigate and report solely on things that fall within the confines of its domain. The tools of science are not designed to investigate spiritual matters, and it is not reasonable to expect to discover material evidence for God from using them.
Fugle then moves on to address some of the specific findings of contemporary science that seem to create the most discomfort among evangelical Christians. With the calm patience of an experienced educator, he explains concepts that are frequently misunderstood and motivations that are often misinterpreted. He spends several chapters examining the scientific evidence for the age of the earth and biological evolution. He also takes time to discuss the ways in which different groups of Christians reconcile modern scientific findings with their understanding of Scriptural texts regarding creation, life's origins, and Noah's flood.
Fugle wrote Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide in order to help facilitate clearer communication between people of science and people of faith. He explains, "I am enthusiastically interested in a dialogue among individuals who are softened to the possibility of reconciliation in which the powerful message of Christian faith and the fascinating scientific understanding of evolution are integrated together. I have been greatly encouraged by frequent encounters with Christians who are eager for a more balanced perspective to become influential in the Church, as well as by regular interactions with nonbelievers who are excited to hear that evolution does not have to conflict with Christian beliefs. So, if you are interested and willing, I invite you on this journey to see how creation and evolution are in harmony."
You can learn more about Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide (Wipf and Stock, 2015) by Gary N. Fugle, PhD, by visiting the author's website.