Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Chuck! A Sermon for Evolution Weekend

Colossians 1:15-20

I want to begin this morning by giving a big Happy 200th Birthday cheer to Charles Darwin. In case you missed it, on Thursday Darwin joined Abraham Lincoln in celebrating his 200th birthday. Now neither of them was around on Thursday to share in the festivities, but we can recognize and celebrate their legacy anyway.

Now, one of my more famous predecessors as pastor here was a big fan of Abraham Lincoln. As I understand it, Edgar DeWitt Jones hosted an annual Lincoln Lecture, because the study of Lincoln was one of his passions. So in the spirit of my predecessor, I invite you to share in one of my passions by observing Evolution Weekend on the Sunday following Charles Darwin’s birthday. This year the number of churches, synagogues, and mosques participating has grown to about 1000.

This event was born four years ago as an outreach of the Clergy Letter Project. That project produced a letter, which you will find in your bulletins this morning. The letter, which was written by Dr. Michael Zimmerman and then signed by over 11,000 clergy and theologians, including me, is entitled “An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science.” By signing this letter we declared our belief that Christians can believe in God and also affirm the scientific truthfulness of evolution.

I realize that many Christians would disagree with that statement, and I’m sure they would find it not only odd but sacrilegious for a church to observe the birthday of Charles Darwin. After all, in the minds of many he was the spawn of Satan, and an enemy of the church. Obviously, I don’t share that sentiment. It’s true that Darwin’s theories have posed a challenge to our faith, and they have forced us to reconsider some of our traditional readings of the Bible, but even though Darwin was an agnostic at his death, he was never an enemy of Christianity or of the church. In fact, he remained a member of his family’s church and contributed to it until his death – in honor of his wife’s deep faith.

The reason why I introduced this observance to the Lompoc church, and now here, is that I believe that something very important is at stake in this debate over the relationship of faith and science. Indeed, I believe that the intellectual integrity of our faith and our witness to the world is at stake.

1. Jesus, Darwin, and the Spiritual Mind

Although the gospels record Jesus saying that we should love God with our heart, soul, and mind (Mt. 22:37), there is much anti-intellectualism within the Christian community. Many Christians seem to be afraid of what they’ll discover if they start asking too many questions about the meaning of the bible or their own faith tradition. Better not to ask questions, and if people start asking questions, it’s best to change the subject.

The reason why I’m so passionate about this issue is that I believe very strongly in the principle that “all truth is God’s truth.” If this is true then I believe we must, as Christians, be willing to pursue that truth no matter where it takes us, even if it takes us down paths that we find uncomfortable or challenging. The good news is that we don’t have to take the journey alone. We can go on this journey together in the company of God’s Spirit.

By taking this pathway, we will be true to our heritage as Disciples of Christ. The Disciples have been, from the beginning of our movement , committed to the life of the mind. Sometimes we can be overly rational, but the point is, as important as the mystical and the experiential may be to our spiritual welfare, our minds are important as well. Indeed, when we come to church we shouldn’t have to leave our brains at home!

The problem we face today as Christians is that there are too many partisans on both sides of the issue telling us that we have to choose: It’s either God or Evolution. You can’t have both. As for me, I reject that demand. Like many Christians, who unfortunately have been quiet of late, I want to declare my firm belief in God the Creator and at the very same time affirm the teachings of modern science concerning the manner in which this world emerged.

2. Interlude: Jesus Loves Darwin

There’s this bumper sticker, which features two fish kissing. Maybe you’ve seen it. On one fish the name of Jesus appears, and on the other one, the one with legs, you’ll find the word Darwin. If you go to our church Facebook page and then check out the invitation I sent out for today’s service, you’ll be able to see it. I used that symbol because I think it’s very appropriate for what we’re trying to do today.

That bumper sticker has a very ancient lineage. You see, the fish has been a Christian symbol since the first century CE. The fish reminds us that some of the earliest church leaders were once fishermen, and Jesus himself invited them to join him in fishing for humans. Of course, there’s another reason they used the fish – it makes for a very nice acrostic that carries with it an important theological message: You see, the Greek word for fish is ichthus, and if you take each letter of that Greek word you can get this statement of faith: Jesus Christ, God, Son, Savior.

In recent years lots of fish decals have sprung up. When you see one you expect that the person driving the car is a Christian. So, because Jesus and Darwin are supposed to be at war, it’s not surprising that the “other side” came up with their own similar decal. Their fish, however, has legs, reminding us that the first land animals descended from fish, and instead of Jesus’s name, you’ll find Darwin’s name on it. By bringing these two fish together, we declare our belief that religion and science aren’t enemies.

I realize I can’t speak for everyone here today, but I would like to affirm this three-part premise: As followers of Jesus, who believe firmly that God is our creator, we can also affirm three important scientific premises: 1) Our universe is very old; 2) Humans share a common ancestor with all living things; and 3) natural selection is the currently accepted scientific explanation for how all of this has taken place. I realize that there’s a lot more that can be said here, but I think that’s a good start for now.

3. Jesus, Creation, and Redemption

You might wondering – what about that scripture text that we read today – where does it come in? That passage, the one from Colossians 1, speaks clearly and powerfully of Jesus’ role in creation. It is, in fact, a hymn, a song of praise to Jesus, declaring to all that he is God’s partner in the work of creation and redemption.

As to the first point, this hymn boldly declares that Jesus is the first born of creation, and that in him, and through him, and for him, all things, whether in heaven or on earth, have been created. Not only that, but he is before all things and in him all things hold together. Indeed, he is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. And then the hymn moves on to the second point. In Jesus, God chose to dwell and in him and through him God has reconciled all things. That is, in and through the cross of Jesus, God has brought peace to earth and to heaven.

The language of this hymn not only soars, but it’s cosmic in nature. Everything, not just our existence, is taken up into Jesus, so that everything that exists might find its purpose in God.

This passage, whether written by Paul or not, reflects in hymnic language the biblical confession that God is creator and that what God creates is good and has purpose. At the same time, it reflects the biblical confession that brokenness has crept into this creation. Indeed, as Paul himself writes in Romans 8, the whole of creation is groaning in labor pains, anticipating the freedom and the wholeness that it will gain together with the children of God at the appointed time (Romans 8:22ff). Now that’s not a scientific statement. It’s poetic and theological, but nothing in that statement is at odds with science.

It’s my belief that both science and theology have something important to say to us. Each bears witness to important truths, but they do so from very different perspectives. We get into trouble when we try to turn the Bible into a science book. And, while science has much to say to us as Christians, there are truths that are beyond even it’s insights. It doesn’t make either of them deficient – just different. We can learn from both and celebrate both. And that, I believe is the point of Evolution Weekend! So, since Jesus loves Charles Darwin, we can wish him a very happy birthday!

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Evolution Sunday
February 15, 2009


Gary said...

"For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the seventh day and hallowed it." Exodus 20:11

Evolutionists believe evolution, but they don't believe the Bible. Your acceptance of evolution forces you to pretend the Bible doesn't really mean what it says in order to try to make it compatible with what you really believe.

It's amazing that you don't understand the absurdity of what you are doing. Or, maybe you do understand, but just can't bring yourselves to admit that evolution cannot be reconciled with the Bible. What's the reason? Scared to lose your job as a goatherd? Afraid of having to explain to friends and relatives that you just can't pretend anymore that Christianity is true when "science" has proven otherwise? Try being a man for once. Try being honest.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


I'm doing the same thing as Augustine did 1600 years ago. Take a look:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]"

Remember that Christians rejected the ideas of Galileo and Copernicus because they seemed to conflict with the Bible. But to reject science because it conflicts with our readings of the bible will leave us in a precarious position.

Gary said...

The Catholic Church rejected the ideas of Copernicus and Galileo, but that does not mean all Christians did. As far as I know, the Bible does not say that the earth is the center of the universe. My spiritual ancestors were never a part of the Catholic Church, which has made many errors over the years.

Evolution is not taught in the Bible. Instead, the Bible says that God made the universe in six ordinary days (see Exodus 20:11). Unless you can find a way to fit evolution into six days, either the Bible, or evolution must be wrong. I choose to believe the Bible, while evolutionists, such as yourself, choose to believe evolution and then you pretend the Bible says something other than what it does.

If evolution were true, there is no reason why God couldn't have revealed that to the Biblical writers. It does not require much intelligence to grasp the ideas of evolution, and there were a lot of very intelligent people in the old days.

I maintain that evolutionists have made assumptions that they should not have made. They looked at the similarities between creatures and ASSUMED a common ancestor, when they should instead have assumed a common Creator.

My main point is that the Bible and evolution (not science), cannot be reconciled. Therefore, everyone has to decide which one they are going to believe.

John said...


"My spiritual ancestors were never a part of the Catholic Church, which has made many errors over the years."

That is nonsense - of course you have spiritual ancestors from the Catholic tradition. Who do you think determined the content of the New Testament? Who do you think constructed the Bible to include both the Old and New Testament? The Catholics claim that a number of the apostles were their first bishops - do you deny any inheritance from the apostles such as Peter, John and Paul?

"If evolution were true, there is no reason why God couldn't have revealed that to the Biblical writers."

That is nonsense. The bible is not a collection of works on biology or archeology, it is a collection of works about the relationship between God and those whom God loves, written in a time and in a language and with ideas which would be accepted by those who would first hear it. The important Biblical Truth about God and Creation is that God was at work, intimately so, with every detail.

To try to communicate scientific details to a primitive people would have been a waste of time. Look at you today: when those details are disclosed to modern humans they are rejected - why do you think the ancients would have been more receptive?

"My main point is that the Bible and evolution (not science), cannot be reconciled. Therefore, everyone has to decide which one they are going to believe."

Such a false choice is tragic. God is the creator of all, and in creation we glimpse God, you learn about the artist through meeting the artist's work. In creation we see a subtlety and complexity that is astounding - and the complexities, on a micro and macro level, only increase with our study, they never seem to get resolved, they never seem to get simplified, just deeper.

In studying God's creation we glimpse truths about God and about God's creation. We should never have to choose between those truths and God, for those truths bring us closer to God.

God is not afraid of any truth which humans can discern, and in fact God has taught that the truth shall set us free - but you can't hide from it!

I believe that if you choose God, then you choose truth, and if any truth appears to diminish God, then there is a problem - not with God or with the truth, but with the failure of the perceiver to adequately understand that truth, and the failure to comprehend that all truth is from God.

Be not afraid!


Tres said...

Come on man. Before you state history, learn history. The church was founded by Jesus Christ. He formed his earthly kingdom and added to it daily. The apostles were part of the church. The scriptures refer to it as his kingdom, the church of Christ, the church of God, and it states that there is one true church.

History... recorded documentations of the world evolving and its proceedings... shows that the Romans created the Catholic church in fear of the Christians taking power from them. They used the Catholic church as a power control and a way to gain financial means by offering collections. Even the first leaders were appointed by the Romans and had to answer to the Romans.

THAT is documented history.

The Catholic church claims that the apostles and disciples were the first leaders of their "church" because they want to try to connect to the kingdom that the Lord Jesus Christ created. However, there is zero historical value to display that the apostles and/or disciples ever lead, instructed, or organized anything with the Catholic religion.

As far as evolution... I'm a science teacher. Darwin's ideas are the Darwin "THEORY". The Big Bang is a "THEORY". These things are theories because there is absolutely no evidence that it took place. It's a man's idea.

Not the way God works!

Raja said...

John stated: My main point is that the Bible and evolution (not science), cannot be reconciled. Therefore, everyone has to decide which one they are going to believe.

Tres mentioned:These things are theories because there is absolutely no evidence that it took place. It's a man's idea..

In conclusion, it is dangerous for a Christian to try to reconcile Bible Truth to a man's theoretical ideas.. Of course Jesus loves everyone including Darwin. but that doesn't mean that Jesus endorsed Darwin's theories!

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Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the small "comment debates" it helps me to read about different view point on Science and Faith in God.
But if someone, like and Atheist, questions us saying, "How do you know if someone merely made up the whole Bible" how would we respong? I have tried to use a little bit of science in order to back m faith in Christ e.g. the big Bang is just a "theory" and so is Darwin's "theory"--but the topic of creation is still so hard to prove true to someone who is lacking in faith.