Monday, November 28, 2011

Science Projects and Easter Eggs

It was 1987. All the messages about self-esteem and believing in yourself must have impressed themselves onto my 7th-grade mind, because I had decided that my next science project would change the world. I had just finished a project in which I showed that the random numbers generated by my Commodore 128 computer were not truly random. My idea was to continue this iconoclastic mathematical investigation in an unexpected direction: I thought I would calculate how much time would be required for evolution to take place. I knew from reading my Bible and attending weekend seminars at my friend’s church that evolution couldn’t have happened, and so I knew what the result of my calculation would be before I started: it would be impossible. All I had to do was calculate the rate of random mutations in a species … and factor in interactions of genes … and DNA mutation rates …

Soon it became obvious that despite my quite fervent belief in myself, I didn’t actually know anything about the inner workings of a cell, much less an entire organism. Once I realized that the biochemistry of the world could probably not be represented in a Commodore 128 computer program, I moved on. My eight-grade science project studied the chemicals in the muck at the bottom of the Indian River. I shelved the project disproving evolution for another day.

Since seventh grade some of my views have changed and some have not. I’ve learned about both the inner workings of the cell and the Bible since then. Most important, I’ve stayed connected to a community of faith, listening for the inner workings of the Spirit.

Now I’ve changed my mind on the evolution project, and I think I had some of my “essentials” confused back then. I was looking for something like an “Easter egg” on a DVD menu, where an icon is hidden that you can find by clicking around with the arrow keys on your remote in a certain pattern. When you find the Easter egg some secret knowledge is revealed, usually a short bonus clip or a blooper reel.

I thought that evidence against evolution was like an Easter egg to be found by the self-confident faithful remnant of believers using “true” scientific techniques that were not deceived by the gullible results of atheistic scientists. I thought that by doing science in the right pattern I could find the secret proof that evolution simply could not have occurred, and that all it would take was a few well-placed experiments that would be blows of the axe to take the whole edifice down. I thought those experiments would be so easy and self-evident that even a seventh-grader could do them.

I was wrong. There was no simple disproof of evolution. When I learned about the evidence from the scientists themselves, I found it to be extensive and logical, and that it could not have been faked. I even collected some evidence myself by searching gene sequences. I could not develop an alternative explanation that fit the evidence, even with an open mind to God’s intervention. Not even the apparent compromise of Intelligent Design made sense to me: the metaphors were all wrong and the evidence was scanty. So I swallowed hard and gave up looking for the “Easter egg” in creation’s history that would force all the atheists to allow God into their lives.

Now that I look at it, it doesn’t seem to me that God works by planting “Easter eggs” in nature so that those with ears to hear will know that the thousands of scientists somehow have it wrong when it comes to the science. I was expecting God to intervene in a way that he chooses not to. I was expecting God to do what I wanted; instead, I had to listen hard to hear his still small voice. He was not providing a secret map to a secret trove of evidence. He was presenting Himself, on a cross, that this is His evidence and the way He chooses to work.

After years of fruitless emphasis on forcing Genesis 1 into the shape of science, I realized that I was missing the true “Easter egg” hidden by God in history. Hidden isn’t quite the right word because it’s not hidden, it’s proclaimed: the true “Easter egg” is Easter itself. This is the way God makes himself known, through Jesus and the Gospels.

I’ve learned enough about reading evidence now that I can look at the historical evidence around Easter and see a pattern that persuades me that something very strange happened in physical history. This event changed a group of unlearned disciples into the apostles of a new church. It transformed the Law of the chosen people into a new theology, a branching tree that would welcome all nations. It didn’t rely on repeatable experiments run by impartial observers but on witnesses, many witnesses, who were themselves transformed by what they saw. It founded a new temple built of people, with the cornerstone of a risen King, expanding with a diverse momentum and humble power that in my view can only be explained by the actual, unexpected, very strange resurrection of one man in the center of history. (For more on what I’m talking about, read N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

I can understand those, including many scientists, who don’t see Easter this way. Historical evidence is different from scientific evidence. I think God leaves us with a choice each Easter. He doesn’t force anyone to follow Him, because even He cannot force love. Jesus puts Himself at the center of proof:

“Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17) and “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” (John 7:37). What I hear in these is this: don’t spend so much time in Genesis that you never turn to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

So arguing about what “yom” means or whether all of us are great-great-…-great-grandchildren of one biological Adam is a fine intellectual pursuit, but it must at some point take a back seat to seeing the intervention of the Father in the new creation of the historical Risen Christ and seeing the same Spirit that brought his body up from the grave surrounding and flowing through the church, even and especially in her suffering.

Jesus is the focus of the Bible, not Adam. New creation is the power of God as well as original creation. If anything takes precedence over Jesus in our words and thoughts, then we must have something out of order. In this time of advent, I constantly find out-of-order places in my life that must be brought back to Him. Jesus orders all things. He is the truth and the proof we require. He is King of life, of science and history, and of past, present, and future, no matter how deep that past may run.

1 comment:

PNG said...

Something occurred to me a while back about the early church. I can understand a Jew who had been raised to expect a Messiah and then became convinced that the Messiah was in front of him, becoming willing to make great sacrifices, perhaps even of his life. This might be something spiritual, but it might just be cultural loyalty, no different than the suicide bombers of today.

But the fact that gentiles became believers and were likewise willing to die for a Messiah that they had not been raised to expect, a Messiah who was foreign to them by any natural standard, suggests pretty strongly that they had some subjective experience that was transforming for them at a very deep level. It doesn't prove that Jesus was the Messiah for all, but it is very striking that so many who would not be expected to embrace a Jewish Messiah, in fact did so.