When discussing the compatibility of faith and science, it behooves us to remember that religious folks who argue for compatibility are often of the very liberal stripe, and that there are many believers—and theologians—who disagree. This puts religious accommodationists in the uncomfortable position of having to claim that many Christian theologians are simply wrong.
I’ve just done a ten-minute video discussion with BioLogos’s Karl Giberson that will be online soon (stay tuned). Our topic was “Are science and faith compatible?” I took the “no” side, Giberson the “yes”. I won’t jump the gun here, but I did want to link to a post I mentioned in our discussion. Over at BioLogos, Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has a rather long post (the transcript of a talk) on “Why does the universe look so old?”
He lays out all the possibilities (the universe is really old, though scripture seems to say it’s not; scripture is metaphorical: a “day” could be millions of years; the universe is young and God made it look old, etc.). And while chewing over the answers, he admits something that religious accommodationist try at all costs to hide: if you believe that the Bible really is the word of God, then you have a problem harmonizing it with science. Here’s what Mohler says (my emphasis):
In conclusion, there is a head-on collision here. There are those that claim there is no head-on collision [between science and faith]. Francisco Ayala, who just won the Templeton Award, says that science and religion cannot be in conflict because they’re answering two different questions. Science is answering the how, and religion is answering the who and the why. That is intellectual facile. The scripture is claiming far more than who and why and any honest reading of the modern scientific consensus knows that it too is speaking to the who and very clearly speaking to the why. Stephen J. Gould, the late paleontologist of Harvard University, spoke of what he called non-overlapping magisteria. He said science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria. Each has its own magisterial authority and its own sphere of knowledge and they never overlap. Well the problem is they overlap all the time. They overlap in Stephen J. Gould’s own writings. We cannot separate the who and the why and the what, as if those are intellectually separable questions. In his new book Why Evolution is True Jerry Coyne cites Michael Shermer at the very beginning who says this, “Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age. An epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.”
Now it sounds to me like he’s talking about the why, not just the when and the what. I want to suggest to you that when it comes to the confrontation between evolutionary theory and the Christian gospel we have a head-on collision. In the confrontation between secular science and the scripture we have a head-on collision. I want to suggest to you that it is our responsibility to give an answer when we are asked the question “Why does the universe look so old?” In the limitations of time, it is impossible that we walk through every alternative and answer every sub-question. But I want to suggest to you that the most natural understanding from the scripture of how to answer that question comes to this: The universe looks old because the creator made it whole. When he made Adam, Adam was not a fetus; Adam was a man; he had the appearance of a man. By our understanding that would’ve required time for Adam to get old but not by the sovereign creative power of God. He put Adam in the garden. The garden was not merely seeds; it was a fertile, fecund, mature garden. The Genesis account clearly claims that God creates and makes things whole.
Well, I’m not sure I meant “why” in the sense that Mohler did. I don’t think there’s a divine reason, much less an “ultimate reason” for anything—that is, any reason beyond the working out of the laws of physics and chemistry. We came from evolution, which was the result of primordial chemistry, and we’re going where evolution, and our own nongenetic social evolution, take us. But regardless, Mohler states clearly the problem confronted by those who think that the Bible is not just a big story, but God’s word.
The whole point of Mohler’s talk (read it at your peril) is to show that accepting Genesis as merely a metaphor yields far more theological difficulties than seeing the book as literal truth and then trying to understand what God actually did. Would that BioLogos, and other religious accommodationists, at least admit that there are theological difficulties here. Their solution is always to claim that Mohler’s form of theology is wrong, obsolete.
But what’s Mohler’s solution about the age of the universe? He punts, and in amusing way.
Secondly—and very quickly—if I’m asked why does the universe look so old, I have to say it looks old because it bears testimony to the affects of sin. And testimony of the judgment of God. It bears the effects of the catastrophe of the flood and catastrophes innumerable thereafter. I would suggest to you that the world looks old because as Paul says in Romans chapter 8 it is groaning. [Earth to God: OY VEY!] And in its groaning it does look old. It gives us empirical evidence of the reality of sin. And even as this cosmos is the theater of God’s glory, it is the theater of God’s glory for the drama of redemption that takes place here on this planet in telling the story of the redemptive love of God. Is this compatible with the claim that the universe is 4.5 billion years old in terms of earth, 13.5 billion years old in terms of the larger universe? Even though that may not be the first and central question it is an inescapable question and I would suggest to you that in our effort to be most faithful to the scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the gospel an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and what it means and why it matters.
At the end of the day, if I’m asked the question “why does the universe look so old?” I’m simply left with the reality that the universe is telling the story of the glory of God. Why does it look so old? Well that, in terms of any more elaborate answer, is known only to the Ancient of Days. And that is where we are left.
How did Giberson deal with this frank avowal of incompatibility from a prominent Baptist minister? You’ll have to listen to our discussion.