God has no controversy with evolution and evolution poses no threat to faith in God. That is the message (though not a direct quote) of Reconciling the Bible and Science: A Primer on the Two Books of God, by Lynn Mitchell and Kirk Blackard (self-published, 2009, softcover, 266 pages).
The fight is not between creation and science, these authors insist. The fight is either between creation and scientism (which they say claims too much for itself and assumes there is no God), or it is between science and creationism (which they say misuses the Bible by wrongly reading Genesis as if it were literal and scientific).
Lynn Mitchell is Resident Scholar in Religion, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Houston, and minister of the Heights Church of Christ in Houston. Kirk Blackard is an attorney, retired corporate executive, conflicts management practitioner and author of four earlier books.
In their early lives, each of these authors “attended a tiny, very conservative Church of Christ in small rural Texas towns” where they “were immersed, both in water and in what would now be called strong creationist beliefs.” Now, they say up front, “biological evolution is a concept your authors feel compelled to accept.”
I do not feel so compelled, although it might be pointed out that at age 65, I still have never heard one lecture advocating biological evolution and have read only one or two books in its defense. You should also know that both authors are my personal friends. Kirk and I have the same church home, the Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston, Texas, and Lynn was for many years our associate minister.
An expert on the history of the relationship between science and religion, Mitchell has for many years taught a popular university class on the subject. Those class lectures were recorded, a stenographer transcribed them, and Blackard, who is an experienced author, skillfully organized and transformed their substance into this clear, logical and interesting book. The authors set their book within an ongoing conversation among Christians.
Their stated goal is modest: not to change anyone’s belief system but to cause readers to say: “I was partially right before, and now I’m somewhat more partially right.” Unlike Francis S. Collins, director of the U.S. Institutes of Health, former head of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, neither Mitchell nor Blackard is a scientist and they make no scientific arguments in support of evolution.
Since faith and science occupy different ground, they need never clash. For that same reason, when their practitioners do clash, someone is trespassing on another’s property. This distinction has been recognized for at least 1600 years, these authors say, and notable Christian conservatives have accepted parts of Darwin’s theory in various forms.
Long ago, Augustine urged believers not to quote Scripture to refute scientific theories, lest unbelieving scientists conclude that Scripture is unreliable and reject its teaching about salvation also. Similarly, Galileo proclaimed his faith in Scripture, but he warned that its meaning does not always lie on the literal surface. The Holy Ghost’s intention, said the man who upset Copernican astronomy by teaching that the earth moves around the sun, is “to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.”
Asa Gray, an orthodox Calvinist theologian and Harvard botanist, accepted part but not all of Darwin’s theory. George Frederick Wright, B.B. Warfield and James Orr, three of the original “fundamentalists,” accepted some form of evolution.
When Seventh-day Adventist George M. Price led the way in promoting what is now called “creationism,” these authors say, he was not spurred to action by scientific necessity, but because the Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White claimed to have received a revelation from God that Genesis must be literally interpreted.