On Biology as Scripture

The January/February 2013 issue of Orion contains a bold piece of philosophizing by Erik Reece, titled “The New Creationism.” The essay takes on one of American culture’s great sore spots—the tension between evolutionary theory and Creationism: “The great mistake of Creationism,” Erik writes, “is that it has tried to teach religion as biology when, in fact, we should embark on a much more inspiring mission—to teach biology as religion.” But who would teach this New Creationism, and how might they do it? Fans of the essay—an essay that covers a lot of ground in just three magazine pages—may enjoy these few paragraphs left out of the piece’s final version.

Who would teach this New Creationism? Certainly not science teachers in public schools. To teach biology as religion is still an obvious violation of the separation of church and state. Rather, I think churches should teach it, and I think parents of faith should teach it to their children, who after all will inherit many ancestral sins in the form of a climate crisis and all manner of shrinking resources. To deal with those crises they will need a fundamentally different way of thinking about the natural world.

I was raised in the Baptist church. Yet I never heard a single preacher speak from the pulpit about the natural world or the scriptural obligation to preserve it, to “dress and keep it,” as the God of the Hebrew bible demands. I think what most upsets many religious people about the theory of evolution is the idea of randomness, or chance. So they replace those words with the more comforting idea of a divine purpose for nature, a preordained design. What they really mean by this is that God’s ultimate purpose was to design humans, in His image. But this strikes me as a very narrow and very egocentric view of nature and of God; what’s more, it contradicts God’s message to Job that he is very small when placed before the vast panoply of creation—so small in fact that he doesn’t even deserve an explanation for the ways of God. What the Creationists and their brethren in the Intelligent Design movement have done is profess that they do know the mind of God, and they know that mind created a very teleological, predetermined world. The Job-like hubris behind this assumption is rather astonishing, and if we don’t adopt a new version of Creationism, it may turn tragic.

On the other hand, the New Creationism would read the laws of God, as Spinoza urged, in the laws of nature, the realm of science. After all, Darwin never argued that natural selection occurred by chance, or by accident. DNA replication changes, just as the notes of a jazz improvisation change, but what comes next, in both evolution and in the song, is a reordering of that change, and there is nothing random about it. The musician immediately looks for a new order just as natural selection immediately looks for a new form of adaptation. Why should we not see this for what it is: a brilliant act of creation? Why confine God within the walls of the church? Why not baptize ourselves back into the river where the great blue heron stands watch with his clear, unerring eye?

Erik Reece’s article in the January/February 2013 issue of Orion, “The New Creationism,” is available in print and digital editions. Go ahead, subscribe!

Erik Reece, a contributing editor of Orion, is the author, most recently, of An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God.


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