Ten years ago, I met a man in the psychiatric ICU of the hospital where I was serving as a chaplain. The man was in a real crisis as he struggled with his childhood views on how God created the world.
His views were something that a May 2012 Gallop Poll found few Americans will regularly challenge. In fact, the poll found that most people have not revised their views on evolution for 30 years.
Forty six percent believe that God instantly created man in the same form man has had for 10,000 years — a negligible uptick of only 2 percentage points since 1982. On the other side, 15 percent said that man evolved through several beta versions over millions of years and that God played no part in the primordial recipe.
Finally, the remaining 32 percent of us rely on the scriptural wisdom that says “With God, one day is as good as a thousand years …” and that God guided the evolution process over millions of years in what is commonly called “theistic evolution.”
While I confess that my position has evolved little since Dr. Patterson’s seminary theology course 30 years ago, it’s never really given me much of a crisis. At least not in the same way it did for this man in our hospital.
He’d been raised in a fundamentalist Christian home and began his search for answers late in life. Now at 38 years old, his crisis had brought him through scores of libraries in study of philosophy, genetics, and Eastern religions.
But one day, his studies brought him into a conflict between what he learned in Sunday school and what Jacques Cousteau was finding seven miles beneath the sea.
“What should I believe?” he asked me. “My mother can’t understand why I’m suddenly questioning every idea I was raised with.”
The world of science didn’t measure up to his faith. He was caught up in that debate on who created the universe — Big Bang or God. He quite literally couldn’t decide who would be his god — science or the unscientific God of his upbringing.
He was in a real dilemma. On the one hand, he’d discovered that science only left him with more questions. That’s because the more truth we discover, the more we uncover what we don’t know.
On the other hand, he felt a choice for faith was a choice to abandon all he knew for certain.
So, feeling his faith had lied to him, he sought to end it all with a hose on the end of his car’s tailpipe. If his daughter had not found him, we’d have never had the discussion that followed.
“It seems to me,” I told him, “that science can answer the ‘how’ questions. Questions like ‘How do land masses form?’ and ‘How big is the universe?’
“But faith can answer my ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions like ‘Why is man here?’ And ‘Who put us here?’
When a scientist tries to prove or disprove God, he or she ventures out of his or her expertise. And when theologians try to explain how man came into existence, they, too, cross the boundaries of their expertise.
Noticing the man’s countenance begin to shift, I finally suggested that if he continued to limit his faith to the science he knew today, then his god would become a different god tomorrow. And that kind of god quickly becomes irrelevant and extinct.
“Maybe,” I ventured, “Science lets us partially glimpse the miracle of God’s creation while faith allows us to trust God and not need to know the rest.” And perhaps that’s why the scriptures suggest, “God is the same yesterday, today and forever.”