evolution of adamLast Friday I gave the Religion and Civil Society lecture at the annual meeting of the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture at Michigan State University on “Reconciling Human Origins and Religious Faith: Thoughts from a Christian Evolutionist.” (Go Wolverines . . . uh, I mean Spartans.)

Many thanks to Malcolm D. Magee (director of ISCC) for the invitation to speak and to his assistant Kristin Whitwam for making everything run smoothly despite my best efforts to be difficult.

Thanks, too, for all the wonderful people who came out to dialogue about evolution and Christian faith.  You remind me why I do this and why this is anything but a dead topic!

I spoke for an hour from a manuscript, which I almost never do (the manuscript part . .. going on for an hour is easy peasy for a wordy guy like me), and complete with all sorts of impressive PowerPoint slides.

Below is the concluding portion, and I thought I’d share it with you.

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If I may end on a more personal note, my own journey has taken some turns over the last ten years or so, that have collectively influenced how I look at questions like the Bible and evolution and many, many others. This journey involves both personal and professional experiences.

I have come to believe that the life of Christian faith is not fundamentally “rational,” by which I mean faith in God is necessarily trans-rational (not anti-rational) but not “captureable” by our minds. It’s mysterious. It’s mystical. After all, this is a faith that calls upon its adherents to “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

It proclaims God as the creator of all there is, and the more we learn about that creation, the more we are—or should be—at a loss for words. A universe that is about 14 billion years old and 100 billion light years across, containing billions of galaxies—the closest one to ours is 2.5 million light years away—with each galaxy containing billions of stars—the closest one being 4.2 light years (= about 25 trillion miles) away. At the other end of the spectrum are subatomic particles—the very phrase defies comprehension—and now we hear of string theory and the multiverse (or meta-universe).

If God exists, what can any of us possibly add to the conversation? The God who did this is the one we are aiming to understand. So, “mystery” seems to be an operative category for thinking about theology.

Two pillars of the Christian faith express this mystery: incarnation and resurrection. I see these two elements as making Christianity what it is, and both dodge thought and speech. I don’t mind saying I find it strangely comforting that walking the path of Christian faith means being confronted moment by moment with what is counterintuitive and ultimately beyond my comprehension to understand or even articulate.

Maybe we really do walk by faith and not by sight; maybe childlike trust, rather than a frenzied ironing out of all the details, is the way to walk this journey.

Rather than seeking finality and certainty, which cripples the Bible/evolution debate, I have come to believe that periods of not-knowing—even doubt—are such common experiences of faith, including within the Bible, that there is something even necessary to be learned from such periods.

I feel it is part of the mystery of faith that things normally do not line up, and so when they don’t, it is not a signal to end the journey but evidence that you are on one.

It may appear that we are now far a field of our topic, the Bible and evolution, but not for me—and I suspect many of you. These (and other) notions I just highlighted describe my own spiritual journey, and if I may be direct, being on a journey like this relieves me of much handwringing over the Bible, while also opening up for me an intellectually and spiritually rich life of faith—though rarely a comfortable one.

The irony of all this can perhaps be summed up as follows, and I conclude with this: Searching for a meaningful theological appropriation of the Bible in view of evolution can bring us to examine more closely our theological assumptions and assertions rather than resting in them. And it seems to me this journey can bring us closer to God rather than further away.

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