Esitelmä Mikko Louhivuori Memorial Symposiumisssa Turussa Åbo Academissa 16.9.2017
Mikko Louhivuori told me once that God has given him a special gift, and the gift is that he understands whatever scientific text he reads. After following Mikko’s life for decades I have no difficulties to accept that. Mikko was interested in everything, and he never stopped familiarizing himself with new areas of science. Let me tell you one example. We had collaborated in writing a book entitled The Land of the Bible (Raamatun maa), which was published in 1993. The book got a lot of publicity, and we were interviewed even on TV. When I asked Mikko which topic he would like to lecture on at the University during his visit to Finland, he told me that he would speak about fractal geometry. I had never even heard the term, and I had no idea what fractal geometry meant. Mikko went ahead and gave the lecture!
Mikko’s influence on my life has been so profound and varied. It has left its mark on my career particularly in two areas. First of all, I would never have become a biblical archaeologist without Mikko’s influence, and I would never have completed my doctoral dissertation without his help and encouragement. Secondly, Mikko’s influence on my life was immense as I got involved in the discussion concerning the relationship of the Bible and science with regard to creation. I miss his input and ideas in discussions on this theme more than I can say.
In this talk I am trying to outline a sketch of Mikko’s view on how it is possible to trust the biblical story of creation and the scientific world view simultaneously. In my opinion, this way of thinking merits much more attention than it has been given to date in Finland – and internationally.
The starting point in Mikko’s thinking was his absolute confidence in the Bible as God’s word. But this confidence never gave in to rigid, fundamentalistic thought patterns. Another basic characteristic of his was a knowledgeable and passionate interest in scientific achievements. However, there was no sign of scientism; instead, he was openly interested and critical. His focus was always on an uncompromising search for truth.
For Mikko, the biblical creation story was a revelation from God. Alongside that narrative, he studied the other creation myths of the Middle East. For instance, he wrote a blog about the ancient Sumerians. Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis illustrate the creation of the world in two different ways. The story in Chapter 1 is a chronological narrative, and the one in Chapter 2 tells the story from the viewpoint of man. In Mikko’s opinion, the second story has a strong connection with Sumer and its world.
Mikko was firmly opposed to the biblical interpretation according to which the world is six thousand years old and the creation took seven days. He arrived at this conclusion both through Bible study and his knowledge of the scientific world view. Although he was very polite in his blogs towards those who thought differently, he could sometimes thunder something like Martin Luther against those who were spreading another kind of view and warn them about heresy.
Introduction to the various views
Those who write about this topic can be roughly divided into two camps. Those who support the view that the world is six thousand years old are called creationists (more accurately ‘young earth creationists’), and those according to whom the world is much older and who trust in God and the Bible are called theistic evolutionists. There are those close to the former group who accept that the world is old but reject evolution; they are called ‘old earth creationists’. Very close to this view are the supporters of the view that is called Intelligent Design or ID. They differ from ‘old earth creationists’ only in that they consider their view to be scientific and refuse to speak about God as Creator. In reality, however, they think that the intelligent designer is God, nobody else, and therefore leaving God outside the equation is resorting to trickery more than anything else.
As far as the international debate is concerned, the creationists and the supporters of ID have produced much more literature and been more active and vociferous in different kinds of social media than the supporters of theistic evolution, although the latter view is probably much more popular in Western Christianity. Francis S. Collins, the American Christian physician-geneticist and former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, suggested a reason to this. According to him, many Christian natural scientists tend to think that they are not competent enough to write about theology, and many theologians tend to think that they are not competent to write about science. Because of this, relatively little has been written about this topic. Collins’s estimate may well be true, and, looking at the issue from a Finnish point of view, I tend to agree with him. Therefore it is very valuable that we have had specialists such as Mikko Louhivuori who was equally at home in both spheres. It is truly sad that Mikko’s voice cannot be heard any more in this discussion. His contribution will be sorely missed.
As we know, the Muslim world is inclined to support creationism. There are two reasons for this. First, scientific research and debate in these countries are still in their infancy, and secondly, Muslims shrink back from anything Western. As far as Christians in the developing countries are concerned, they are, understandably, still in the process of finding their way with regard to this question. The Age of Enlightenment has not touched their world and, consequently, scientific research has not had a chance to develop.
We are, then, dealing with a debate that is taking place in the Western world. The waves of this debate might never have surged very high, had it not been for the rise of creationism in the USA about a hundred years ago and had not that school of thought become the mainstream view among fundamentalistically inclined evangelical Christians. A lot of printed material representing this school of thought has been imported to Finland, and it is quite popular especially among Pentecostals and in the so-called Fifth Revival Movement.
To sum up, Mikko Louhivuori rejected both creationism and ID, because he felt that their way of interpreting the Bible was untenable, and because the proponents of these views closed their eyes to the massive scientific evidence that was continually being brought to light. I was surprised to find out that Mikko also rejected being called a theistic evolutionist. In my opinion he was one. One of the things I am looking at in this talk is why Mikko was keen to distance himself from theistic evolution, although an outsider might well classify him as a supporter of that view.
One of the names which Mikko gave his view was theology of science. Sometimes he said that geology is theology and emphasized that the spectacles of faith need not distort reality and turn it into some sort of imaginary world that has been invented in order to preserve faith in God. Here’s what he wrote,
“I find out time and time again, to my regret, that the noble defenders of our faith, who have been inspired by natural science and particularly the theory of evolution, are really shaky in their knowledge of the Holy Bible and that they have little or no interest in theology. You see, philosophy is not theology; it is philosophia, ‘love of wisdom’. I have tried to represent ‘theology of science’ that is totally different from ‘philosophy of science’, or creationism, or ID. In other words, I want to state unequivocally that I am not a supporter of theistic evolution. I am an advocate of ‘theology of science’, and I am also trying to understand what ‘philosophy of science’ is all about.”
For Mikko, theology of science was about humility before the wonders of creation. Once he wrote about certain glow-worms whose larvae arrange themselves on the ceiling of a cave and glow so that the ceiling looks almost like the open sky with stars. The glow attracts insects that get caught in the sticky strands of silk secreted by the larvae. Strict evolutionists explain this phenomenon in a certain way, and supporters of ID present their arguments against that view. The alternative which Mikko offered was, “How about not rushing to explain the night sky created by glow-worms with our thoughts that are limited by man’s intellect? How about just being quiet, letting our thoughts run freely and being willing to say, ‘I don’t know, but it would be nice to know.’ And more than anything, as we look at the wonders of nature, how about remembering to thank our Creator and praising His great deeds – for example by using the words of Psalm 148.”
When Mikko wrote about the Devonian Period, the “Age of Fish”, which occurred about 400 million years ago, he wondered,
“Why the Age of Fish, hundreds of millions of years of nothing but fish. No life at all on dry ground, and no sign of humans? Why is the planet Mars revolving in space empty? Who needs it? From the standpoint of man these are truly irritating questions. From the standpoint of God they are what they are, a reality: ve-e-e-ery slow creation where galaxies take their time rotating in space. A believer who is humble before God falls in line with his fellow men just to ask questions, wonder, learn and seek knowledge. Looking at public forums, this kind of attitude seems to be quite rare.”
Why, then, did Mikko reject theistic evolution? Evidently because he felt that no theories were adequate as far as explaining God’s creation was concerned. He was critical of the theory of evolution as well, although he sometimes defended it passionately to those who rejected it altogether. He asked questions about the mechanism of the theory of evolution, although he accepted the broad outline of it. He wrote respectfully about Darwin and wrote lengthy articles about the details of the various eras of world history. One of the most impressive blogs of his was about “a fishing tour” that we made with him into the Devonian era in 2013. That tour was a combination of tremendous literary imagination and exact scientific information about the Age of Fish. As a lover of music he first quotes a song which is a praise of God’s creation and then takes his readers to the period when God said, “Let the waters teem with living creatures.” He goes through findings from that era, phase by phase, and discusses with the accuracy of a scientist what the findings tell us. The overriding emphasis is, however, on praising God about his great deeds.
According to Mikko, the problem with the theory of theistic evolution is about the same as with ID: both try to bring God to the playing field of science. In my opinion, Mikko was only partly right in this estimate. It is possible that I didn’t understand fully what Mikko was aiming at. I think that a supporter of the theory of theistic evolution does not necessarily explain natural phenomena by including the actual interference of God in the affairs of the world; instead, he believes that God is behind everything and that science is totally free to do research, without any religious a priori assumptions. Thus, it makes no difference how exactly the mechanisms of the theory of evolution are functioning or not functioning; it is up to the scientists to study that. In the big picture evolution seems an obvious fact, and for some reason God has wanted to use a lot of time to shape this world of his.
In any case Mikko wanted to distance himself from the theory of theistic evolution. He wrote,
“Theistic evolutionism is like the Intelligent Design movement in that it seems to search in nature phenomena in which the finger of God is revealed. Generally speaking, this is because they reject the thought that random changes and natural selection are sufficient to explain the origin of species. If this mechanism is rejected in the name of creation, what can they refer to in its place except some theory of God working in nature? I distance myself fully from such a way of introducing God into science, but at the same time I realize that the old theories of evolution are inadequate as we seek to explain the rapidly growing body of knowledge regarding the development of life forms.”
On the other hand, Mikko also wrote,
“If the opposite of theistic evolutionism is atheistic evolutionism, then I find myself in the camp of theists. There are many who use the term ‘naturalistic evolutionism’ (from the Latin word natura). Provided that this view is not identified with the atheistic view, I am ready to pay attention and ready to listen to what science can find out about God’s wonderful works in creation.”
I’d like to quote a part of my correspondence with Mikko. We were trying to identify similarities and dissimilarities between our views. This is what I wrote,
“God has created the laws of nature and everything that takes place subject to those laws, even everything that seems to be in contradiction with them. It is evident that there are innumerable things in nature which we don’t yet understand and which the laws of nature, as we currently understand them, do not explain. All of this has naturally also been created by God. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll find explanations for them – or perhaps not. Everything can be and must be researched using scientific methods. In my opinion, the problem of ID is that it clings onto the most difficult issues and tries to use them to prove God’s existence. By doing this, it limits God and makes him just the creator of the bacterial flagellar motor or the eye, and does not see that God is behind everything all the time. God is reduced to a God of gaps.
“Evolution, then, is a planned process in the sense that God has guided it from the beginning and continues to guide it. This plan can be seen in the wonders of nature, for instance the eye, but at the same time we recognize that there are innumerable things in which we can’t see such a plan. Yet, even there such a plan does exist. Martin Luther said that there is no war which God doesn’t wage. Analogically, we could also say that there is no explanation for the problem of suffering, and yet God is behind it.”
Here’s Mikko’s response,
“You said that evolution is planned in the sense that God has guided it from the beginning and continues to guide it. Definitions of this kind are difficult for me, and I see them as some kind of language games in which man tries to express something that is perhaps not possible to put into words at all. ‘God guides evolution’ is the same kind of expression of faith as ‘God guides the history of nations’ or ‘God guides my life’. What does it actually mean? I know that I am a hair-splitter and nit-picker, but I would rather use very ‘organic’ expressions along the lines of the apostle Paul, who said, ‘in Him we live, are and move’.
What is the secret of life? According to modern science, life begins from one and then finds its way in a great variety of forms to wherever it is possible to exist. It experiences changes, mutations, variations, in time and space; it withers away and dies, it is destroyed in massive ways, and it rises again… Life. I wouldn’t like to describe it by saying that there’s a Wizard of Oz in the background, someone who guides everything, someone who pulls the strings, someone who decides everything… that would be one image of God who could easily be transformed into an idol and whom we would then either deny or defend.”
Well, what can I say? I suppose that deep down, in reality, Mikko and I were in agreement, but sometimes his thinking was a bit too profound for me.
It’s more than likely that his criticism of the theory of theistic evolution was partly based on the fact that he found the current theory of evolution unsatisfactory even if it was currently the best attempt to understand the long history of the world.
For example, he wrote something like this,
“With the increase of knowledge, natural selection has been proven to be an inadequate explanation… The description of the evolutionary process becomes more accurate with new findings: for example, the origin of birds from the wonderful findings in China and Mongolia, and the world of fish from the findings in Australia. However, knowing exactly how the human foetus develops in the womb does not explain why the foetus develops in the womb expressly designed for it. A lot has been written about evolution, and it is tremendous to see it globally… But science has no idea why life forms develop and change; just think of the metamorphosis of insects.”
Mikko wondered whether there was an unknown evolutionary power in living nature, a power that drives and guides the evolution of life forms. He wrote, “Without a doubt science will one day have to face the development and growth of life on a much deeper level than today, the secret of life itself…”
On Mikko’s Finnish blog site we – Mikko and I and our mutual friend Hannu Tiihonen – had long discussions about this topic.
Finally, let me quote Hannu’s estimate of Mikko’s thinking:
“It is obvious that at times people found it difficult to understand what Mikko meant. What did he think about evolution? His strict criticism of ID and all kinds of suggestions about ‘God’s guidance’ as a supplement to science could easily be interpreted as a demand to support the theory of evolution more faithfully. On the other hand, the way he marvelled at God’s works and his criticism of the theory of evolution could result in somebody claiming that he was a supporter of ID. But he had a view, a perspective, that was his very own. Despite his huge interest in science he did not believe in premature solutions. When necessary, you had to be ready to admit honestly, ’We don’t know.’ Even defending the faith did not find favour with him, if he felt that it smacked the least little bit like twisting of reality or was somehow questionable. And he did not want to form a picture of God by means of philosophy. On the one hand, he accepted Bible as the proper foundation of thinking and, on the other hand, concrete scientific observations, ’the Book of Nature’. In other words, not ‘the philosophy of science’ but – to use his own expression – ’the theology of science’. Mikko wanted to see the wonders of creation just as they are, without hiding them behind thoughts measured by human reasoning. Discussions with Mikko were not always easy, because of his uncompromising attitude and, on the other hand, because of his own emphatic, strongly worded opinions – but they were always really interesting!”