In the third chapter of The Spirit in Creation and New Creation: Science and Theology in Western and Orthodox Realms Jeff Schloss, Professor of Biology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara CA, reflects on the role that Spirit played in creation (past) and plays in creation (present).
Hovering Over Waters: Spirit and the Ordering of Creation.
Any discussion of spirit or Spirit in creation needs to start with a definition of spirit. This is not quite as easy as it seems. According to Jeff Schloss “it is not entirely clear what we mean by “spirit.” Theologians differ, and most scientists not only ignore, but actively shun the notion.” (p. 26)
The Latin word spiritus, from which we get the word spirit, the Greek word pneuma, and the Hebrew word rauch all refer to breath. As a consequence Jeff starts with “spirit” as the distinguishing principle of life. Spirit in scripture, however, is more than simply the distinguishing principle of life. The Spirit, capital S as one part of the Trinity, gives life, sustains life, and renews life and this shapes much of Jeff’s chapter.
What do we gain from a spirit-breathed perspective on creation?
Discussion of science and faith, science and the creative spirit of God tends to get bogged down in topics like creation of species, Intelligent Design, the insufficiency of evolutionary mechanisms, the need to demonstrate God. There are, however, more fruitful directions we can take. A spirit-breathed perspective should not attack the natural conclusions of scientific findings, but rather the “purposeless” and “directionless” mantra that is oft repeated in much of the scientific community. In what follows I will summarize what I see as some of Jeff’s most significant points.
Theology provides a starting point. While Jeff sees no reason to eliminate the possibility of “gaps” requiring divine action in the ordering of creation, moving in this direction has scientific and theological risks. It is not a particularly profitable pursuit. Any gap has the potential to be filled by some “natural” explanation. The Spirit is not active only in those places where other explanations fail, but in every aspect of creation. The action of the Spirit in creation is seen not in gaps, but through the life of faith. Theological commitments are the fundamental starting point. He points to the oft cited statement from John Newman, but not original to him “I believe in design because I believe in God; not in God because I see design.”
Far from urging us to inductively posit the presence of the divine from the abridgment of natural regularities, the spirit of Yahweh claims “I will put breath in you and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 37:4). It is the experience of being revived that generates the conviction of God’s presence in the world. The direct experience of being enlivened by God’s breath changes perspective on reality. But of course the task still remains to make sense of the world in light of this perspective. (p. 32)
He refers as well in a footnote to T.S. Eliot’s introduction to Pascal’s Pensees …”the task of the Christian intellectual is not to develop arguments for the virgin birth by calculating the odds of conception by spontaneous parthenogenesis, rather it is to develop a coherent understanding of our beliefs and their relation to the world.” (p. 32)
We have a spirit-breathed perspective on creation that interacts with science in complementary ways. Faith influences plausibility criteria active in science and science also informs belief by affirming and challenging it. Jeff uses the gospel accounts of fishing in Luke 5:4-10 and John 21:4-9, “throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” as examples and a running theme throughout the chapter (hence the picture at the top of the post).