The Evolutionary Elephant

Mark Batterson

Man I love these! We are having fun, enjoying this series. We continue the Elephant in the Church series. Maybe you are visiting or just joining us, this series plays off that old aphorism, the elephant in the room, an obvious truth that everybody ignores. We are talking about some tough topics and I’m concerned that sometimes, if we’re really honest, the church isn’t really good at answering questions that no one is asking, and we want to deal with some of these things that we sometimes dance around because they are tough to talk about. But we want to take some of these issues on. We’ve talked about the Supernatural Elephant and the Suffering Elephant, so hey, why not the Evolutionary Elephant. Everybody say Evolutionary Elephant. Now say it three times fast! Ha ha!

A few challenges with a message like this. First of all, I’m going to tell you up front that I’m going to get to the end of this message and I’m going to think to myself, ‘there are 17 other things I should have said.’ I also feel like this is one of the those messages where you kinda feel like you get to the edge of your expertise, I’ve read lots of books by lots of different authors with lots of different world views and I tell you what, this is not an easy topic. I want to say up front that I want to approach it with a spirit of humility, and I also want to say that 30 minutes, well that should be plenty of time for us to resolve the entire debate between evolution and creation, right? No problem! We can probably do it in 29 minutes.  Ha! There is no way! This is a complex subject. And I realize, ya know, 8 services at four locations, people that come from all across the scientific and spiritual spectrum, wow, Lord help us, I don’t know where we are going to end up. But here’s the deal, this is a series that what we are saying is, these are things that we need to be thinking about and talking about. I kinda feel like I’m going to open up a can of worms, but these are the things that we need to be thinking about and talking about, and so, let’s dive in.

Genesis 1:1. First book, first verse of the Bible, can you find it? Genesis 1:1, I love these verses that peel back the layers of time and give us a glimpse of deep time, like the initial moment of creation. Genesis 1:1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

Is it alright if I share a little bit of my spiritual journey and intellectual journey? I grew up going to church. My mom used to read Bible stories to me, and some of those stories were stories of creation, and I went to Sunday School classes where really creative teachers did these amazing flannel graphs depicting the creation of the universe, and so, I’m going to be honest, I always believed in a Creator, and on one level it just seems intuitive to me, but I also recognize that I grew up in an environment where that was an assumption, just like many other people grow up in an environment where that is not the assumption. But as a kid, it was a childlike faith, a very simple faith. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that there are two kinds of simplicity, there is simplicity on the near side of complexity and simplicity on the far side of complexity. For what it’s worth, Holmes said he wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on the near side of complexity. I think many Christians live on the near side of complexity. We settle for this simple faith without having really wrestled with doubt or with some of the deeper concerns or issues and I think that God has called us to a far side faith. So it is important for us to wrestle with these kinds of issues. And I think there are ways we try to do that here at NCC. I think our Alpha course is a very honest approach to the some of the deepest episcopalogical spiritual questions that we can deal with, and it is about asking those questions. I also want to say that we create an atmosphere of church culture where we believe the most important decisions ought to be the most informed decisions, and that really comes out of Luke’s gospel where Luke, who was a doctor, said, “I have thoroughly investigated everything from the beginning.” We want to thoroughly investigate these things.

So I grew up going to church, but I had a near side faith, if you will. When I went to college, I think I knew what I believed, but I didn’t really know why I believed what I believed. And the school I went to, the University of Chicago, was a highly intellectual and highly unspiritual environment, and I remember one class in particular, one of my core courses as a Freshman, it was a science class, and I had a professor who evidently did not believe in God, and the topic at some point in the course was evolution. I remember sitting in the class, and it was the first time I had ever been in that kind of environment, and I remember feeling this tremendous cognitive dissonance between what I believed and what I was being taught. Just curious, anybody else ever been in that kind of place? Where you feel a little bit of tension between what you believe and what are being presented as facts? My professor was basically teaching us that a single point of infinitely dense and infinitely hot matter, smaller than a grain of sand, exploded billions of years ago resulting in billions of galaxies. He was teaching us that the geological and astrophysical record indicates that the universe is billions of years old. He was teaching us that through billions of years of macroevolution, that homo sapiens evolved from apes. So, I’m in the class hearing this and I’m not sure how to reconcile my faith with science. I’m not sure how to juxtapose my science textbook with my Bible. I’m not sure how to marry these two things. And I felt this cognitive dissonance. By the way, I decided to do my term paper on intelligent design. I was sure I was going to fail, but the funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder on a project. I lived in the library for one semester of college. Oh, you want to know what I got? I got an “A” baby! Yeah! In fact, my professor read the paper, dropped to his knees and put his faith in Christ. No, I wish. It wasn’t that good.

I look back on that, and I’m a few years older, I hope a few years wiser, and honestly, if I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would have been as threatened by what I was hearing because I have made some scientific and theological discoveries over the years that have helped me reconcile some of that tension, and I think what I want to do this weekend is share a few of those. We are just going to see where we end up at the end of the day. These are simply going to scratch the surface, but I want to think of this as a starting point. Again, my goal is, let’s have the conversation, let’s think about it, let’s talk about it, and if our spiritual maturity is dependent upon what we say up here for 30 minutes each week, then we’re all in big trouble. So what this is about is talking about it and then let’s all run on our own rabbit trails and really discover why we believe what we believe.

I was always made to feel somewhat foolish believing in a self-existent infinite God and I remember being asked this question, do you believe God created the universe but where did God come from? Have you ever gotten that question? Sometimes people would ask me that question like their trump card. It’s the first cause question and it is a tough one isn’t it? I mean, if there is a day where you have nothing to do and you just pondered this and thought deeply about it, that before all of creation, this self-existent God, it is beyond the ability of the human mind to really fathom that, but those who believe in creation by random chance have to come up with a causelogical answer as well. So at least what I was being taught is that there was some kind of primordial soup or single celled amoeba, so my question is where did the soup and the single-cell amoeba come from? Where did that come from? So it just seems to be on the causelogical issue, it is a mystery no matter how you look at it. I think often times, those who believe in God are put on the defensive and those who don’t believe in God feel like they don’t have to defend their position with the same level of intellectual integrity. And that’s just me being honest. A few years ago I heard a story about a student at the University of Ohio who was in a class like the class I was in, and the professor was challenging the existence of God and during a class on logic, the professor said that he could prove that God does not exist. So he said, “Has anyone in the class ever heard God?” No one said a word. Then He said, “Has anyone in the class ever touched God?” Again, nobody spoke. “Has anybody seen God?” Absolute silent. The professor pontificated, “Then there is no God.” And a quick-witted student asked if he could have permission to speak, the professor granted him permission to speak, and he asked his classmates, “Has anyone in this class ever heard our professor’s brain?” No one said a word. “Has anyone ever touched our professor’s brain?” No one answered. “Has anybody ever seen our professor’s brain?” Silence in the classroom. He said, “Then according to our professor’s logic, he has no brain.”

You can’t prove or disprove the existence of God. It’s faith, but I think it is important to play it both ways. In his book, Can a Smart Person Believe in God? Michael Guillen says there are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe in God and those who believe in something else. He makes what I think is a valid point. Everybody believes in something, we just have different objects of faith. I think either you believe in some kind of God of intelligent design, a Creator who formed the heavens and the earth, or you believe in some kind of god of randomness, and that’s the terminology that Guillen uses. Sure, it takes faith to believe that the heavens and the earth were the magnum opus of an intelligent Designer but it also takes faith to believe that everything is a result of random chance; in fact, I think it takes more faith. Maybe that’s just me. I love the way it was framed by astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle speaking to the British Academy of Science. He said, “Let’s be scientifically honest, the probability of life arising to greater and greater complexity by chance through evolution is the same probability as having a tornado tear through a junkyard and form a Boeing 747 jet. Hoyle calculated the chances of life being the result of random chance as 1 in 10 to the 40,000th power.

I was reading about the Jens Olson’s clock. Anybody ever heard of it? It is the most complicated clock in the world. It took more than 40 years to build at a cost of more than one million dollars, it has 10 faces and 15,000 parts. The clock computes the time of day, days of the week, the months, the years and movements of the planets for 2,500 years and it is accurate to two-fifths of a second every 300 years. What’s amazing to me is that some of those 15,000 parts will not even move for another 25 centuries. Now let me ask you a question, you are taking a tour of the City Hall in Copenhagen where the clock is and ask the tour guide who made the clock and the tour guide tells you that no one made the clock. About 40 years ago, there was an explosion, a big bang in Copenhagen and all of a sudden 15,000 parts began to work together in perfect synchronization. Would any logical person believe that tour guide? Of course not. Why not? Because as human beings, we have the ability to recognize something that is a result of intelligent design. I think sometimes we lose a little bit of our common sense when it comes to this issue. I hope I can say that. But I think the more I discover, the more amazing it is. Our sun is 93 million miles away and astronomers estimate that if the earth was just one percent closer or further away, that we would either burn or freeze because of the change in distance from the sun. In a sense, there is no margin for error. The atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen with traces of carbon dioxide, argon, hydrogen, helium, some other gases. Well, there is an incredible atmospheric balance maintained as human inhale oxygen and produce carbon dioxide and of course plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and here’s the deal – if our atmosphere was just 25% oxygen, the entire planet would be highly flammable. According to meteorologists, the probably of a forest fire being ignited by lightening increases about 70% for every 1% increase in the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere. I think what I’m trying to say is that this is a very delicate atmospheric balance. Just stop and think about this for a minute. We are on a planet that is spinning around an axis at about 1,000 miles per hour so that every 24 hours, we make one full rotation. If it was any slower or faster, if it was slower, one side would be a barren desert and the other side would be a frozen tundra, but if it was faster, Jupiter for example spins so fast, the winds are about 1,000 miles per hour, it would be a bad hair day everyday! But at this perfect spinning balance, and beyond that, we are on a planet that is traveling 67,000 miles per hour through space, like you didn’t have any plans today but you’ll travel 1.5 million miles in your annual trek around the sun. How amazing is that! And we are in a galaxy, the Milky Way, which is spinning at 490,000 miles per hour, it’ll take about 200 million years for one full rotation. That’s just astounding to me. Here’s the bottom line, it just seems to me like our planet is perfectly synchronized to sustain human life. My question is – is that the result of random chance or is that the result of intelligent design?

All I’m saying is this – let’s not make the mistake of thinking that religion requires faith and science doesn’t. Everybody has faith in someone or something. I happen to believe in an almighty God, an omnipotent Creator who formed the heavens and the earth, and I think that there is tremendous biological, astrophysical, genetic, geological evidence that points to that, but at the end of the day, I want to humbly say that it still comes down to Hebrews 11:6: By faith, we understand the universe was formed at God’s command so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible. You can’t prove it or disprove it, but I think it is ok for us to have a degree of substantiation to our faith. Now let me flip the coin because that is me talking about some of the scientific processing that I’ve gone through over the years and obviously just scratching the surface, one small issue; but let me touch on this because I think I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the theological issues.

One in particular that I think is a stumbling block for a lot of Christians. The Bible does not explicitly put a timeline on human history or the age of the earth. You read Genesis 1 and it doesn’t give a year count, but I think the unspoken assumption by a lot of people is this idea that the earth is young and I think that causes some cognitive dissonance again for some Christians. You know, when you’re watching that documentary film or you go to the museum and it says, ‘and this is billions of years old,’ I think internally, depending upon what environment you grew up in, sometimes it is hard to know how to reconcile or hold on to those two things. I think a lot of the tension is found in the translation of one word in Genesis 1 and it is the word ‘day.’ Genesis 1 records six days of creation. God created light on the first day, He created sky and water on the second day, land and the seas on the third day, on the fourth day, He created the sun and moon and stars, He created fish and birds on day five and animals on day six and topped it off with humankind created in the image of God on day six. Well, what I think you have to remember is that this was written thousands of years ago by an author inspired by God, by an author who I don’t think was trying to write a scientific treatise for your biology class, ok? Now I’m not saying that there are scientific mistakes, all I’m saying is that we have to appreciate the original context in which this was written. It was written in an ancient Hebrew language in an ancient Hebrew context. Having said that, let me say this – the Hebrew word for ‘day’ in Genesis 1 can be translated in a variety of ways. It can mean a literal day, 24 hours. It can mean from sun up to sun down, and it can refer to a longer period of time, an age or an eon. It is used in a variety of ways throughout the Old Testament. I’m going to resist the temptation to try to make a case here but again, I think I’m going to take the risk to bring us to this place to have this conversation. I know that there are some literalists who would suggest that anything other than a 24-hour day in Genesis 1 is a slippery slope, but let’s talk about Hermeneutics for a minute. Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the Bible and it is really a fancy word, they probably give it a really fancy word so you feel like all the money you paid for your college education was worth it, but it is about interpreting the Bible and it is not just something that Bible scholars can do, there are very simple interpretation principles that can guide you and I in the way that we read the Bible. And on a very simple level, and this may be really elementary, but it is important to remember that there are different literary genres in the Bible. You’ve got everything from history to poetry to prophecy, and I think on one level, you have to translate the Psalms artistically. They are songs, they are lyrics, they are poetic. I think you have to translate history literally. Listen, I think there are a lot of people that want to do hermeneutical gymnastics around historical parts of the Bible and basically explain away every story that is in there. Do I believe that God created Adam and Eve? Yes I do, because it states that explicitly. I don’t believe that we evolved from apes, I believe that God created us from the dust of the earth and that those elements He formed breathed His life and we became a living being, a spiritual being with a soul that is uniquely created and connected to God. When you translate prophesy, you better not do that literally, because you are going to get in trouble. It is going to be weird if you go through the Book of Revelation and you try to translate everything literally. It wasn’t written that way, it was written figuratively. And it is not always easy to know which passages should be translated which way, but the literal translation isn’t always the right translation. Jesus was using hyperbole when He said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Man, if we all interpreted that literally, no one here would be able to see me and I wouldn’t be able to see you. I’m pretty sure this weekend at all four of our locations, we are allowing women to come in without head coverings, but Paul said he couldn’t do it. Why? Because in that culture, a head covering was the norm. If you walked in without a head cover, it would be a total distraction; it would be something that would have disrupted the cultural norm. But we live in a different culture. That specific prohibition doesn’t apply but the principle does, avoid distractions, don’t draw attention to yourself. So you need to understand the text but you also need to understand the context.

Are you still with me? Thank you. Now, let’s go back to the evolution creation debate. There is a tension we feel between faith and science and I don’t know that this is how you are going to want me to resolve this message. I’m not sure what you want me to say. Some of you are like, ‘Can you please get into the nuances or micro and macro evolution and punctuated equilibrium?’ No! Here’s what happens for many of us, I think what happens is we feel the cognitive dissonance and we simply take one side or the other. We side with science and discard our faith, or we side with faith and discard science. I want to propose a middle way. Let me say up front that I believe that all truth is God’s truth. I believe that the Bible is a unique revelation from God, a special revelation from God, but I also believe that creation reveals who God is. I think that this distinction that we make between sacred and secular is a false dichotomy. God created everything. Romans 1:20 says: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. Now if that is true, then every “ology” is a branch of theology. We ought to send our kids into the scientists with the same degree of encouragement as we send our kids to the mission field. I think that science is a noble endeavor. We honor the Creator when we study his creation. We ought to be the ones discovering a cure for cancer. We ought to be discovering new species and new planets; we ought to be unlocking the genetic code. By the way, I walked into church last weekend and someone was wearing a shirt that said, ‘I still believe in Pluto.’ Man, that’s how you know if you’re old, if Pluto was still planet when you were in school.

I think what I want to suggest is that science is not something we need to be afraid of, science is something is something that is a spiritual endeavor. I find it interesting, I love 1 Kings 4:29, it says: God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men in the east and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He spoke 3,000 Proverbs and his songs numbered 1,005. He described plant-life from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. (What a renaissance man! Long before the renaissance!) Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. Why are we afraid of science? I think the more discoveries we make, the more we appreciate our Creator. We learn about His eternal power and divine nature.

Bottom line is this. I think, I’m going to let someone say it who said it better than I did. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide.”

Now, I’m not saying that it is always easy to reconcile those two things. Here’s what I want to suggest. This is a bizarre place for us to end. I think we are so afraid of the “e” word that we’ve made a mistake. I better say this up front so I’m not branded a heretic. When I say that I believe in evolution, I am not referring to macroevolution, genetic or change within a species. I’m not saying that I believe we come from apes. But do I believe in microevolution? Of course! And it’s something we should celebrate because God created us with an evolutionary capacity, the ability to adapt to environments and to evolve in unbelievable ways. So I hope everybody is interpreting this the right way. Here is the great irony. This is going to sound somewhat counter-intuitive but evolution is a testament to God’s creativity. I think microevolution may be one of the greatest evidences for creation. Evolution screams intelligent design. But you know what? It is like sex. Did I just say that? “Oh Lord, I pray that I’ve done more help than damage this weekend.” Let’s give credit where credit is due. Sex was God’s idea. Sex is a gift from God. Are there parameters? Absolutely! It is a gift from God to be enjoyed by a husband and a wife in the context of marriage, and in that context it is a gift, a beautiful thing, a good thing and we ought to celebrate it. God never gets any credit for that. Why? Because the enemy has corrupted it, and it is because the misuses and abuses in our culture are ruining people’s lives. But the truth is, it is a good thing, it is a God thing. I think the exact same thing has happened with this whole concept of evolution. This is marvelous the way God has designed us. Some bird on some island somewhere can chance colors to adapt and avoid predators. I have no idea where that example just came from, from the deep recesses of my mind from one class in high school or something, but what I’m trying to say is let’s not be afraid of this, let’s celebrate it as something that God designed. Let’s stick to our guns and believe what we believe, but I kinda like what Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, and conversely religion without science is blind.” I think that’s good. We need to not be afraid and we need to pursue both.

How are we going to end? I’m running out of time. I want to talk about those four words, let there be light. I want to celebrate that because it is just an amazing thing. We use our words to communicate but God uses words to heal and to create and He says, “Let there be light,” and the first sound waves begin to travel and begin to create universes. Maybe here is one observation. Prior to the 20th century, some of the leading scientific minds didn’t believe in a beginning. It was called the steady state. It wasn’t until a series of scientific by the likes of Christian Doppler, Richard Tolman and Edwin Hubble that scientists came to the conclusion that the universe is actually expanding. Now we know it as the Doppler effect, at the very fringes of the universe, there are still galaxies that are being created. There was initially some resistance to this idea and I like the way Stephen Hocking captures it. He says, “Most people do not like the idea that time has a beginning probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” I am a pastor so I guess I can say this, I think there is in many people a scientific bias against the existence of a God, not for scientific reasons, but if God exists, then you are accountable to Him. And I think on one level, that is scary to a lot of people and I think there is a tendency towards maybe trying to explain, or that might be one reason why some people just don’t want to come to that conclusion. So according the Doppler effect, the universe is still expanding, and that means that the original “Let there be light” wasn’t a one-time creation. Those words are still echoing at the edges of the universe creating galaxies. God said those four words, what He said at the dawn of creation is still creating galaxies and universes. That’s awesome!

Here’s what I want you to see at the end of the day. There are some people who would say, ‘I’ve never heard the voice of God.’ Maybe not, but you have seen His voice. Everything you look at is an echo of a Creator who said, “Let there be…”  Ok, forget the science, science is gone now. We teach in our classrooms, this assumption that random chance, in a sense, if what we teach is true, then you are a cosmic accident, and we think that that has no ramification. C’mon folks, let’s connect the dots. Our kids are depressed, committing suicide, where is the moral compass, and you want to tell me that the causelogical issue that you saying that there is no God, that you are a cosmic accident has nothing to do with that? Then we as a culture are fooling ourselves, because the moment God is taken out of the equation, meaning is sucked out of our lives and science loses its soul. I want to tell you that you are not an accident. Someone needs to hear that this weekend. You are not an accident, you were created by an omnipotent God who has a perfect plan, He is big enough to know the number of hairs on your head and He has a perfect plan for your life. You were created by God and for God, and someday you will stand before Him.

Here is some good news. Let’s not get caught in all the debate and controversy. Let’s study it, let’s examine it, let’s explore it and wrestle with it. Let’s get to the far side of complexity. Let’s zoom way back out. Isn’t the universe that we live in an amazing place? I was on a flight this week from Springfield, Missouri to Chicago, Illinois speaking at a couple different places and it has been a long time since I’ve had a window seat, and I sat in that window seat and almost for the entire one-hour flight, I stared at the moon. It was like I was transfixed. I looked at the brilliance as it glowed and reflected off the cloud cover that was beneath it. That’s amazing. Listen, you think about everything that God has created, and I want you to hold onto this promise. 1 Corinthians 2:9: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. Ah, creation is a glimpse of eternity, a glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of what God wants us to experience when we cross the space-time continuum.

Man, now I want to talk about the speed of light. At the speed of light, time stops. We’ll get there someday and we will experience things that in our current condition we are not able to process. Let’s praise God! We have something to look forward to. Let’s pray.

Lord I pray right now for that person that maybe walked in this weekend who feels like an accident or feels like their life is filled with circumstances that they didn’t want to happen or didn’t plan to happen. God I pray that somewhere in the mixture of all these things we’ve talked about that they would hear one thing, that You have a plan and purpose for their life, that there is a Creator who has purpose for them and wants to spend eternity with us and has made provisions for that to happen by sending His Son to die on the cross so that we could be forgiven and experience Your grace. I pray that today, those who need to make that decision to follow Christ would do it, would have the courage to do it. I believe that one decision will change eternity. God we pray these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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