May 31, 2012
Faith, Science, & the Resurrection (Part 1)
What the Resurrection says about the nature of the cosmos, and how it might impact the science vs. faith debate.
Did God create the universe in six 24hr days, or was it a gradual process over eons? Were humans made from the dust of the ground, or did we evolve from earlier species of primates? Was there a literal Adam and Eve? What about the fossil record, dinosaurs, and genetic evidence?
Since I was a kid I've loved discovering how our universe works. Despite my layman's appreciation for science, I have stayed far, far away from the faith versus science controversies that our society and media seem eager to engage.
It isn't that I think these questions are unimportant, or that I don't sympathize with those who struggle to reconcile their faith with science. And I am grateful for those seeking to thoughtfully and graciously bridge the divide between the scientific and faith communities. Some members of my own church have done wonderful work in this area. And lately I've been intrigued by the work of BioLogos. The group was started in 2007 by Francis Collins, the brilliant scientist who led the Human Genome Project. BioLogos' mission is to show the compatibility of science and religion. The group's website includes endorsements by many theologians, scientists, and pastors, and it includes articles on many of the questions I list above.
Like those behind BioLogos, I share the belief that science is an indispensable, legitimate, and God-ordained vehicle for truth. It can tell us how our universe works, and these answer become the basis for solutions to many of humanity's most vexing problems. So why do I remain hesitant to allow externally verifiable logic to always trump faith when controversies arise between science and religion? Here's why: While science can tell us how our universe works, it cannot prove the universe has always worked, or will forever work, the same way.
A lot of science, and the worldview behind it, is predicated on one assumption--that the laws that govern our universe are unchanging. From this premise the materialist worldview believes that if we can discover the way the cosmos works now, then we can peer back in time or project ahead and accurately understand both the origins and destiny of our world. But...
What if E has not always equaled mc2 ?
What if light has not always traveled at 299,792,458 meters per second?
What if the laws of gravity, motion, and thermodynamics which accurately describe the universe now, do not accurately describe the universe that was, or the universe that will be?
What if the scientific principles that govern the cosmos are less like an eternal monarch with unending reign, and more like a term-limited president?
What if natural laws are not immutable?
If one allows this possibility, then it becomes permissible to affirm all that science has proven without dismissing all that faith affirms. Part of Christian faith is the notion that the cosmos we experience today is not the same as the cosmos God created, and it will not be the same cosmos in the future. At some point in the distant past our universe was changed, and at some future time it will change again. To begin to understand this idea (and I say begin because I don't believe we can fully grasp it), we must look to the hinge upon which all of Christianity turns: the Resurrection.
The Apostle Paul tells us that when Jesus rose from the grave his body was transformed, and that this transformation represents the change that awaits all who will be resurrected (1 Cor 15:42-49). This transformed body of Jesus is clearly evident in the Gospel accounts. While Jesus was still recognized as himself (he still ate breakfast and retained the wounds of his crucifixion), he could now appear and disappear, move through walls, and ascend into the air. It was Jesus' body that was raised, but this same body was utterly changed into something different than it was. Notice, however, that Scripture does not say Jesus received a new body, because a new body could not rightly be called a resurrection but rather a reincarnation. Orthodox Christian belief based upon the Gospels affirms that it was his same body, raised and transformed. It was truly resurrection.
Why is this important? It's important because in Christ's resurrection we are offered a glimpse of the re-creation that awaits all things. Paul says that we who belong to Christ will also experience a transforming resurrection like his (1 Cor 15), and that all of creation is anxiously awaiting our resurrection because then "the creation itself also will will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). Scripture teaches that a day will come when the cosmos itself will be utterly transformed in a manner similar to the transformation witnessed in Jesus' resurrection. This liberated cosmos will no longer be corrupted by death or decay. The curse of sin will be no more. An argument can be made that the very physical principles of the universe we now grasp through science will be replaced with a new set of governing laws, just as Jesus' resurrected body seemed governed by laws unfamiliar to our common experience.
This cosmic transformation is what both Peter and John refer to when they speak of a "new heaven and new earth" (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). The Greek word "new" in these text is not neo, which means "new in substance," but rather the word kainon, meaning "new in quality." A misreading of these two texts has led many Christians to the false belief that God will throw away this cosmos and start over with a new one. That is not the case. Our God does not make mistakes, nor does he replace. Our God restores. John and Peter use the word kainon because they are speaking of a transformation of the cosmos so radical that it will seem like a new world--just as Jesus resurrected body behaved so differently it might be mistaken for a replacement body, when in fact it was his same body transformed.
The best analogy I can think of for what Scripture says about the future is carbon. (Keep in mind this is just a metaphor, and like all metaphors it fails when stretched too far.) Carbon is a polymorphic element meaning it exists naturally as two very different substances: graphite and diamond. Both are chemically identical; they are both pure carbon. But diamonds and graphite share nothing in common in appearance or behavior due to their structural differences. In graphite the carbon atoms form sheets of bonds resulting in a substance that is opaque, brittle, and weak. Diamonds, however, are comprised of carbon atoms in a tetrahedral structure creating a crystal that is translucent and harder than any substance on earth.
Like carbon could our universe by polymorphic? In the age to come, might this same universe with the same substance be structurally transformed in a manner that utterly changes its qualities down to its governing laws of physics? If so, then the science of this age will cease and a new science will be required to understand the remade creation that was inaugurated with Jesus' resurrection. The idea intrigues me and seems consistent with what we know from Christ's resurrection. But there is more...
Stay tuned for part 2.