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Q&A: Is Christianity a Science Showstopper?

A few years ago, I took part in an email exchange with a prominent origin-of-life researcher after he read my book Origins of Life (coauthored with Hugh Ross). He expressed the concern that “the creationist perspective stops the questioning process.”

I would be interested in how you think the “creation model approach…will lead to scientific advance.” Your book clearly showed that science does not have all the answers to how life may have begun, and of course I agree with that conclusion. What this means to me is that we have some beautiful open questions to work on to try to find the answers. But in your book, at the end of each chapter, you typically ended with the creationist answer to open questions: God did it. This is what I meant by stopping the questioning process. If the answer is that God did it, where do we go from there?

I have found that this sentiment is widely held among scientists—and, frankly, it is a legitimate objection on some level. If the questioning process grinds to a halt, then science becomes impossible. Responding to this concern was one motivation for me and Hugh to develop and present a creation model for the origin of life. As scientists ourselves, we have no desire to stultify the question and research process. Rather, we believe that integrating biblical teachings on the origin of life with scientific data to form a legitimate model (replete with predictions) actually encourages the questioning process. Perhaps the creation model approach may even lead the scientific community to new and productive paths in the pursuit of life’s origin.

Even though our predictions are broad brush in nature, they still, in my view, stimulate research questions and compel further investigations. Our plan is to add detail to our creation model in the years to come. This will require interplay between advances in science and biblical studies. I see the creation model approach as a dynamic enterprise that will lead to scientific advance.

But let’s say, hypothetically, that everyone became convinced that a Creator is responsible for generating life. There would still be plenty of questions to ask—they would just be different sorts of questions than perhaps people are accustomed to thinking about.

For example, how, specifically, did God create life? The author of Genesis 1 and 2 used several different Hebrew verbs to describe God’s creative work.

  • Bārā’ describes the act of originating something that previously didn’t exist. This word is used in reference to the creation of the universe and the human spirit.
  • Near synonyms ‘āśâbānâ, and yāṣar, describe the fabrication of something new from pre-existing material. For example,‘āśâ is used to recount the creation of animals on creation day five.
  • Hāyâ and dāshā’ imply creation through either directed or undirected natural processes (such as the creation of plants on day three).

The biblical text provides a range of options as to how God created. This means that if we conclude that “God did it,” we still have the joy of trying to discover how He did it. (My sense is that when God originated life it was through an‘āśâ -type mechanism.)

Related to this idea is the study of nature in the attempt to “think God’s thoughts after Him.” Engineers and technologists should find this line of questioning highly appealing because designs in nature often inspire their own work. In fact, borrowing designs from the natural world is happening perforce in nanoscience and nanotechnology and could well play a role in the emerging field of synthetic biology. (Check out “Get Smart about Synthetic Spider Silks” and “Holy Fish Armor, Batman!” for cool examples of biomimicry attempts.)

Perhaps the most interesting questions from a creation perspective are the ones that ask why. Why did God create the way that He did? Why did He create life so early? Why were the first life-forms single-celled microbes? These questions are truly open-ended and I doubt they’ll ever be fully answered. But the quest for answers will yield tremendous insights into Earth and life history (not to mention the theological possibilities) and provide practical help for human efforts to manage the planet’s resources in a way that honors the command in Genesis 1:28–29.