Sunday, 28 September 2008

View From the Pulpit

From the Guardian;
Creationists? They just don't have enough faith

I believe God created me - a statement requiring total faith on my part. That doesn't mean I can't believe in evolution, too

The resignation of Michael Reiss has left the Royal Society looking cowardly, and the atheist lobby looking more militant than ever. Even some fellow atheists, like Adam Rutherford, are embarrassed by the air of bullying.

The atheist contention, restated on Cif by AC Grayling is that anyone who believes in divine creation is, at root, a creationist, even if he offers liberal rhetoric about the compatibility of science and faith. Is this true? I think not, but believers need to be clearer about the difference between creation-faith and creationism.

In an article in the Telegraph George Pitcher, who is an Anglican priest, calls himself a creationist on the grounds that he believes in the "meta-narrative" of divine purpose.

This is unhelpful, I think: a creationist is not someone who subscribes to the idea of divine creation; it is a believer who refuses to admit the difficulty entailed in Christian faith, who wants it to be as easy as science.

Is Christian faith compatible with an acceptance of evolution? There is a simple answer to this, and more complex one. The simple answer is yes. Christians are not necessarily creationists, who take the Genesis account literally - the vast majority are not, at least in this country. Most of us believe that God's biological creativity works through evolution.

The more complex response is to admit that this is a profoundly tricky question. Even for a liberal Christian like myself, it is hard to accept that God is our creator, and that Darwin was basically right. This is not because evolution is difficult to accept; it is because the idea of a creator God is difficult to accept. Of course it is absolutely basic to Christianity (and the other monotheisms), but how are we to understand it?

I hope I will not be misunderstood when I say that it is a childlike idea; it must be accepted in a spirit of naivety. This doctrine is most at home in children's versions of Genesis, with lovely cartoonish illustrations. To believe that God created the world is not really a quasi-scientific theory; it is an act of innocence, of total affirmation, of total gratitude. In a sense it is prelapsarian, only fully possible in a pure, unfallen state. For adult humans, it is a bit of an effort.

So when I say that I believe that God created me, and the whole world, I am making a difficult statement of faith. It is the most difficult statement of faith that can be made: it is saying that I trust God will right all wrongs, cure all pain. For Christians do not just believe that God created the world, but that he created it good, and that this fundamental goodness will ultimately triumph.

To affirm all this is so difficult that one can understand the angry reactionary position known as creationism. It is an attempt to make the struggle of faith a bit easier. It is similar to the claim that God's existence can be philosophically proven. It confuses the realms of faith and science in an attempt to ease the burden of belief. The mature believer says, "The seeming truth of evolution makes Christianity hard to believe in - to square the circle one needs faith." The immature believer says, "The conflict is intolerable, so evolution must be denied."

The way forward is for Christians to try to communicate the complexity of faith, to get it across to people like Grayling that we affirm Christianity as "the true myth", which need not clash with science.

This article generated a large comments thread which is also worth a browse.

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