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Thinking Christians spurn hammy creationism

  • 18 February 2014

Last week's debate in the US between popular scientist 'the Science Guy' Bill Nye and the Australian-born creationist Ken Ham attracted a live audience of 500,000 on YouTube and much media attention.

Ham argues that every human is descended from Adam and Eve, that God created man and all land animals on the same day 6000 years ago, and that there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark. Nye, an agnostic, acknowledged that there is 'no incompatibility between religion and science', but argued that Ham is the exception. 'There are millions in the world who believe in God and accept science,' he noted.

The relationship between faith and reason — particularly between faith and science — goes to the credibility of being a Christian in the modern world. It is important that a minority view within Christianity is not allowed to frame a false dichotomy between religion and science. The vast majority of Christians belong to churches that do not share Ham's fundamentalist position against evolution.

Catholic theology certainly sees no fundamental conflict between faith and reason. St Anselm wrote a millennium ago 'that faith seeks understanding'. Even earlier, St Augustine wrote: 'I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.' Questioning, philosophical enquiry and searching can all be part of a response in faith and values. Believers are not called to wipe their minds, only to give love primacy, so that at times they will trust in love to carry them when their understanding fails them.

Monasteries were the libraries and schools of Europe for centuries, and many of the world's great universities had their origins in the Church. Roger Bacon, one of the earliest advocates of modern scientific method, was a Franciscan; Copernicus, a cleric; Gregor Mendel, who laid the foundations for modern genetics, a monk. Blaise Pascal, a theologian, has a law in physics and a theorem in mathematics. Fr Georges Lemaître, a friend of Einstein, first proposed the 'big bang theory'. Fr Michael Heller writes on relativistic physics and noncommutative geometry. Thirty-five of the features on the lunar surface are named after Jesuit astronomers.

For me, reading (the Jesuit) Teilhard de Chardin on evolution, or watching a nature documentary, or considering the billions of stars that make up billions of galaxies, or pondering the ocean breaking on rocks on a beach, or reading the first two chapters of the book of Genesis, all point to the wonder of a God