The first conversation showed that one does not have to choose between a life of science OR a life of faith, and that science (i.e. understanding the workings of the natural world) can provide an avenue to better understand and worship God.
The second conversation showed this was the prevailing mindset during the years in which our community was formed, and our early scholars were quite comfortable discussing – and often accepting – the scientific consensus of their day, even when those discoveries pointed to a very old earth and pre-Adamic creations. Their writings show that the theme of the third conversation – correctly understanding and portraying scientific matters – wouldn’t have challenged their faith in the slightest, and they would have been careful to take an appropriate and scholarly approach to their research. Of course, it is readily acknowledged that they did not endorse evolutionary science as we know it today, however the reason for alluding to their writings is to make the point that our community’s early heritage was one that embraced serious and earnest scholarship.
Now, 100 to 150 years later much more evidence has come to light, and the last few decades especially have seen some of the most astounding discoveries. The fourth conversation (i.e. Section Two of this book) will consider some of this evidence and how it demonstrates God’s evolutionary approach to creation. When viewed through the lens of faith, this evidence offers uplifting insights into God’s character and his overall plan. These are humbling, and wonderfully faith-affirming.
For example: Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created the heavens and the earth, and that initially the earth was formless. The simplicity of the language used afterwards in Genesis 1 belies the immense detail and planning that went into preparing the planet for life. Genesis tells us nothing about how God created the air that we breathe, and yet understanding how God prepared the atmosphere can teach us much about God’s meticulous planning and patience.
Although there are many gases in our atmosphere, the most important to our existence is oxygen. Our bodies depend on it for two purposes. Firstly, it’s critical to the production of energy, and secondly, it combines with metabolic waste products so that they can be eliminated from our bodies. So where did the oxygen – so important to our existence – come from?
At Shark Bay in Western Australia, there are ‘rocks’ which every now and again ‘leak’ oxygen. These rocks are actually living organisms called stromatolites, which are layered structures formed in shallow water by binding and cementing sediments along with a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria. To understand how stromatolites are formed, think of dental plaque; it accumulates on teeth and consists of many species of fungal and bacterial cells. After time it becomes hard, and the teeth have to be descaled. So just as plaque grows on teeth, and algae grows on rocks in a still pond – the cyanobacteria grow and accumulate in enough layers to form the stromatolites. The formations are interesting because there are living examples of them that exist today (like those at Shark Bay), as well as numerous fossilised examples that have been found throughout the world.
Cyanobacteria obtain their energy though photosynthesis, using the energy of light to split water molecules into oxygen, protons, and electrons. Thus, the sun enables these earliest of life forms to perform their vitally important task: as a by-product of photosynthesis, cyanobacteria are thought to have (over time) created the oxygen infused atmosphere that enables life as we know it today. (FYI: the air we breathe is only about 21% oxygen.)
So just how long ago are we talking? Stromatolites are quite common fossils, and have been dated as far back as 3.5 billion years ago, and there is undisputed evidence of cyanobacteria occurring in stromatolites from 2.1 billion years ago.1
So the point is this: After creating a formless earth, God would have then begun the process of preparing it for habitation so that in time it would reveal his glory. The stromatolites containing oxygen-producing cyanobacteria teach us that God did this carefully and patiently. It’s one of those examples from the natural world that gives us glimpses of God’s eternal power and divine nature and it’s quite humbling, leaving one completely in awe of God’s carefulness and patience.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to comprehend is the timeframe that this topic covers. Yet do we risk degrading God’s creative power by asserting this process took millions upon millions of years? Of course not! After all, this is the evidence that God left for us in his natural world, and a God that is eternal can take all the time he chooses. But despite this timeframe, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that because Genesis tells us that man is created in God’s image, perhaps this is proof that we have reached the pinnacle of this epoch and are close to the final establishment of the kingdom – the purpose and fulfilment of all creation.
Concluding thoughts for Section One
The next section will delve deeper into the fourth conversation and consider the evidence for an evolutionary creation. Hopefully, this section has illustrated that faith and science need not be enemies; and that viewing the learnings of science through the lens of a humble and respectful faith can teach us many insights about God’s creative methods. As J. Welch said in 1891, “Old mother earth will reveal no secrets that will hurt the Bible, for the same God is the author of both, and He is no liar…”2
1 Nick Lane, First breath: Earth’s billion-year struggle for oxygen (New Scientist, 6 Feb 2010) pp. 36–9.
2 L. Welch, Geology (The Christadelphian, 1891) 28:344