For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom ~ 1 Corinthians 1:25
I’ve heard this phrase from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians quoted many a time by many a devout Christian. It is not surprising to find it often used by Creationists to justify their belief in a 6-day creation based on a literal reading of Genesis 1. To them, the theory of evolution by natural selection is the epitome of human folly, poised over and against what they perceive to be the wisdom of God revealed in the Scriptures.
I agree with what St. Paul says. Our human wisdom, this ‘soaring intelligence’ (to quote Carl Sagan) that seeks to understand the workings of the entire cosmos, pales in comparison to the Wisdom whose breath gave birth to the cosmos. But I disagree with the interpretation that our scientific understanding of the world should be equated to ‘mere human wisdom’, while a literal reading of Genesis 1 should be equated to the ‘wisdom of God’.
In fact, I’d like to turn the tables on such an argument. Isn’t our interpretation of Scripture, be it a literal reading or some other method of exegesis, based on ‘human wisdom’ too? Who are we, in all our foolishness, to insist that God must have created the world in 6 days based on an arguably flawed reading of Genesis 1, and in spite of all the lines of scientific evidence against it?
If Scripture is the word of God, and nature is the work of God, then they should never contradict each other. If any contradictions arise, it is either due to our misinterpretation of either God’s word, or God’s work. Theology is our human attempt to understand God’s word, while science, is our human attempt to understand God’s works. Both are subject to error and misinterpretation.
In the case of the motion of the Earth around the Sun, it was the theology of the day that was found wanting, and the new science that was vindicated (OK, I admit this is an oversimplification of matters). I believe the same holds true in the current debates between Creationists and evolutionists as well. The scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and the time is nigh for the Creationists to reconsider their literal interpretation of Genesis. The big difference this time, is that other interpretations of Genesis 1 have long been proposed and accepted by many theologians, even as far back as St. Augustine.
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbits 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 holds 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. ~ Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis
The words of Saint Augustine remain as relevant today as it was in his time:
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 utter 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. ~ Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis
Yes, the foolishness of God is indeed wiser than human wisdom – let us therefore interpret his word in Scripture and his work in nature both in humility and in awe.
We thus begin with the biblical view of the faithful, sovereign God, which enables science to proceed on the basis of observational experience. What we don’t do is to speculate what God must have done from a set of a priori beliefs (“My reading of Genesis says evolution can’t be so…”) Rather, you go and look for yourself. This is not bad faith: it is expressing humble faith, trust in the faithful God who is Truth and would not hoodwink us. ~ Melvin Tinker, Reclaiming Genesis