While doing research for On Our Origins, I often found myself straddling a gulf of understanding between great Christian thinkers (many of whom lived hundreds or thousands of years ago) and some of the sharpest scientific minds of our day. They had very different approaches, different tools at their disposal and yet were trying to answer the same basic question—where did we come from?
These great thinkers often don’t have much in common and some of their beliefs are opposed to each other, but I have learned much from all of them. One thought that guided my own reflection on the question of origins, and the difficulty of trying to make sense of two very different methods of reflection on human origins, was penned by Luther in his Genesis commentary:
“We Christians must, therefore, be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of these things. And if some are beyond our comprehension (like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens), we must believe them and admit our lack of knowledge rather than either wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding” (Luther’s Works vol. 1, Genesis 1:6).
We have, as a race, learned an incredible amount about our beginnings via recent scientific discoveries, but not enough to say we have it all figured out. Even the greatest scientific pioneers of our time admit that there is still much to learn about the physical realm. Physicists are searching for a Grand Unified Theory to describe all physical interactions in one equation. Even if we discover such a great theorem, instead of using it to dismiss God, Christians can celebrate it as a great human achievement.
Christians can join in this and other scientific pursuits because faith equips explorers with a Spirit that is unafraid of where such searches may lead. Even if we discover the “god particle” or decipher some Grand Unified Theory, we will then become aware of even more to discover. What equips Christian scientists for this pursuit is knowledge of the One who transcends all limits, the Creator who made everything just the way it is so that we can praise His wisdom at work in the world. The psalmist declared, “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4, ESV).
Sure, some will use any and every scientific achievement to suggest humanity now knows enough to reject God. But this pride in scientific accomplishment is contrary to reason. True reason knows its limit, as Luther stated. Knowing our limit doesn’t harm scientific inquiry. It drives us to learn more, do better and grow in our understanding of origins and all things.