When I was a kid I loved dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were the best. They were huge reptiles that used to walk this very earth; fascinating creatures. I devoured everything “dinosaur” I could get my little mitts on. I absolutely loved the 1999 BBC series “Walking with Dinosaurs”, the first of its kind high-quality nature documentary about dinosaurs. It was the best. The animation, for its time, was top-notch and the real life location settings made it look so convincing to my 8-year-old eyes. I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I read countless illustrated books about them. My mum would find national geographic articles for me to read about new dinosaur discoveries like Giganotosaurus and Argentinasaurus. Wide-eyed, I took it all in.
But then something happened, I realised that the dinosaur books I was reading and my family’s creationist views were in disagreement. The books said that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago and my parents’ subscription to creation magazine said that the world was between six and ten thousand years old. These facts & figures did not connect. They could not. This brought huge tension into my young mind. My parents became wary of the scientific content I was consuming and wanted to make sure I was also viewing scientific content from a Christian perspective. They also wanted it to be the majority. This was fine. I didn’t realise until much later that the Christian perspective on this topic was incredibly diverse and that creationism was largely a western evangelical perspective on biblical interpretation.
I don’t really want to make this post about what I personally believe. I want to make it more about the perspective shift around the nature of the conversation that took place for me, regarding this topic.
For the record, however, it’s important to state that I was quite a fundamentalist for creationism. I saw it as the only way to view the world from a “proper biblical perspective”, (a phrase I have a problem with now). There was actually a point in the not-too-distant past where I was considering it my vocation to spread the creationist message to the wider world. (Thank God I didn’t go through with that but I digress.)
In ‘The Need for Roots’ on the subject of the relationship between science and Christianity, Simone Weil helpfully writes:
“The missionary who persuades a Polynesian to give up his ancestral traditions, which are so poetic and so beautiful, concerning the creation of the world, in favour of those contained in Genesis, imbued with a very similar poetic feeling- that missionary derives his persuasive force from the consciousness he has of his superiority as a white man, a consciousness which is based on science. He is, nevertheless, as much a stranger to science as is the Polynesian; for whoever isn’t a specialist remains absolutely a stranger to it.”
In this quote, Weil outlines the danger of aligning oneself with a belief system so much that you leave little room for another’s lived experience to expand your worldview.
I will quote Weil again on the same topic: “The true definition of science is this: The study of the beauty of the world.”
If this is science’s true definition, the truly religious person should never feel threatened by science.
Now, there are Christian scientists on both sides of the creation versus evolution debate and they both have valid points on the subject. But after observing this debate for some time I have developed a certain distaste for this whole conversation. What is it’s purpose? What does it accomplish? Really?
The Church has always had an attritional relationship with the modern scientific community. However, a lot of the place the church regularly finds itself in with its relationship to science, in my opinion, comes from a deep-set insecurity. It’s almost as if they feel, at any moment, a new scientific discovery will alter world views away from theism and therefore, Christianity. However, the church does well to remember that it is meaningless to hold on to power and influence in this way. The true authority of the church comes from the sacrificial love it exercises for those that Jesus names “the least of these”. The church doesn’t need to prove it’s right. It simply needs to embody unconditional love.
Personally, I realised that participating excessively in this debate is tiresome and largely unproductive for everyone involved. I realised it would likely throw up more walls than it would dismantle. As a Christian, I decided it would be better not to spend a lot of energy on any topic that had this result.
I am growing increasingly aware that true Christianity is less about herding new sheep into the same ideological fold as oneself and more about opening the gate to allow those who come in to experience the knowledge that they are the beloved of God. Science and scientific pursuits help us as long as they point us toward contemplation. True science, as a source of the contemplation of reality, is a key part of the soul’s search for the divine. That’s why, for the most part, I’m putting this argument to bed.