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A collection of articles promoting a positive relationship between Evangelical Christianity and evolutionary science
Author: Steve Martin
Document Version: 1.0 Last Updated: April 11, 2009
This document is a compilation of weblog posts; the individual articles remain the property of the author. You are free to share, copy, or distribute this document in full within the limitations of the Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License and the Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License. To view copies of these licenses, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ and http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ca/.
Table of Contents
A) INTRODUCTION...........................................................................................................................................3 B) THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN EVANGELICALISM AND EVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE ..................4 I. Welcome to the Dialogue ....................................................................................................................................4 II. Evangelicalism and Evolution: Why the Discussion Matters .............................................................................5 III. Dialogue, Debate, Silence, or Confrontation: How should we approach the topic of evolution? ......................7 C) EVOLUTION AND EVANGELICALISM: DEFINITIONS AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT .............9 I. What Does Evolution Mean? A Framework for Evangelical Christians.............................................................9 II. Evangelicalism: Not simply "Toned down Fundamentalism" ..........................................................................11 III. What is an Evangelical? Am I one? Why do I choose to wear the Label? .......................................................13 IV. Two Myths about the Relationship between Evangelical Christianity and Science.........................................14 D) RECONCILING SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY AND EVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE .........................17 I. Scripture or Science: Do we have to Choose?...................................................................................................17 II. Literal or Liberal: Our only choices for interpreting the Bible? .......................................................................19 III. Genesis 1 –11: Background, Context, and Theology .......................................................................................21 IV. An Incarnational Approach to Scripture...........................................................................................................23 E) EVOLUTION: THEOLOGICAL AND MORAL IMPLICATIONS .......................................................26 I. Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation: Five common Faithstoppers .............................................26 II. Made in God’s Image or Evolved from Apes? .................................................................................................28 III. Reconciling the Fall and Evolution ..................................................................................................................29 IV. Evolution: Necessary for the Continuation of Life...........................................................................................31 V. Does Evolution lead to Moral Relativism? Making the Bogeyman even Scarier.............................................32 VI. Et Tu Tony? A Critique of Campolo’s attack on "Darwinism"........................................................................34 F) EVOLUTION: PERSONAL CHOICES AND IMPLICATIONS FOR EVANGELICALS ..................37 I. Factors involved in the shift to Evolutionary Creationism: My Story and Yours .............................................37 II. When the Acceptance of Biological Evolution has Personal or Professional Repercussions ...........................38 III. Would your Church allow you to Publicly Support Evolution? .......................................................................39 G) THE STATE OF THE DIALOGUE AND A CALL TO ACTION ..........................................................42 I. Ten Books and what they mean for Evolutionary Creationism.........................................................................42 II. Reclaiming and Proclaiming Creation ..............................................................................................................43 III. Promoting a Positive Relationship Between Faith and Science in Evangelical Churches................................44
This Ebook is a collection of articles from An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution, the weblog I launched in May 2007. Growing up in a relatively secluded Evangelical culture, I had always assumed that evolution was an atheist fairy tale incompatible with (and possibly lethal to) the Christian faith. However, over several years I gradually came to accept the scientific validity of evolution, and more importantly, its compatibility with an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith. This journey was both spiritually and intellectually difficult, a journey made more arduous because of a dearth of resources and lack of support within the Evangelical community. The blog was launched to 1) provide a forum to share my thoughts and conclusions with other Evangelicals, and 2) to invite comments, criticism, and corrections from, as well as conversation with, other Evangelicals examining the science / faith interface. Why this Ebook? By gathering the articles together, I’m hoping that this Ebook can be helpful in several ways: 1. As a “conversation starter” for my fellow Evangelical Evolutionary Creationists who wish to discuss their viewpoints with other Evangelicals. 2. As a resource for Evangelicals wondering how they can integrate the findings of modern science with their faith 3. For those convinced that evolution is antithetical to faith, the Ebook will provide details on why I believe this conclusion is completely mistaken. I have two primary audiences in mind: a. Evangelicals struggling with (or considering abandoning) their faith because of the perceived conflict between that faith and the findings of modern science. b. Those considering making a commitment to the Christ, but who mistakenly believe they must ignore well supported scientific evidence to do so. 4. As a summary resource for readers who enjoyed the blog, but discovered it well after it was launched, and don’t have the time to wade through all of the old material. About the Articles included in the Ebook The 23 articles included in the E-book are arranged thematically rather than chronologically; this provides, I believe, a more-or-less cohesive account of my viewpoint as documented on the blog – “more-or-less” since, as astute readers will note, some of my own ideas have evolved over the last couple of years. Note also that I use the adjective “cohesive”, and not “complete”, when describing my viewpoint; I too am still learning and there are several areas of this conversation that puzzle me as well. Since each article was written to stand on its own, it is not necessary (nor even advisable in many cases) to read this Ebook in sequential order or in a single sitting. As with most collections, there are probably as many right ways to digest the material as there are readers. It is important to note that I made two assumptions in writing almost all of these articles. My first assumption was that the scientific evidence for biological evolution is overwhelming; rarely do I discuss the evidence. If the scientific evidence for biological evolution is of primary concern, you might want to start with one of these ten books by other Evangelicals who accept the evidence for biological evolution. Second, I assume that the claims of orthodox Christianity are credible, and that my readers agree with this claim. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many who did not share this assumption found the blog of interest, but Christian apologetics was not really in scope. So if Christian apologetics (or debunking the claims of Christianity) is of primary concern, again, you may want to start somewhere else. A Note of Thanks I want to thank the many thoughtful readers who provided comments and feedback to these and other articles on the blog. This feedback helped me enormously. Secondly, I want to thank a host of other science-faith bloggers (too many to name) with whom I interacted over the last couple of years. Some of the best conversations occurred on their sites and this was very valuable for me as I worked through the issues for myself.
B) The Dialogue between Evangelicalism and Evolutionary Science
I strongly believe that a positive dialogue between evangelicalism and evolutionary science is not only possible, but is also of vital importance to our faith and our mission. Evangelicalism’s misguided war on evolution has often damaged the faith of thoughtful Christians, and has created a stumbling block for those who might otherwise consider the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. The discussion is difficult; how this dialogue is conducted is just as important as the content. To be successful we need wisdom, patience, and guidance from the Holy Spirit. The following three articles provide my perspective on this dialogue. The first introduces the dialogue and identifies why it is of some importance to me personally. The second post provides four reasons why this discussion is important to Evangelicalism while the third post offers some thoughts on how the dialogue should be conducted.
I. Welcome to the Dialogue
Published: May 7, 2007 Dialogue rarely describes the relationship between evangelicals and evolutionary science. Perhaps debate, condemnation, or mocking, but rarely dialogue. And the lack of dialogue and propensity to condemn and mock goes both ways. Evangelicals condemn evolutionary science as atheistic; evolutionists mock evangelicals as being little better than medieval religious nutcases. Prominent evangelicals will debate evolution, but as in most debates, there is little real listening. It’s all about scoring points and winning the argument. Evolution and Faith: Is Dialogue Possible? So it can be a bewildering experience for thoughtful evangelicals trying to determine the credibility of the theory of evolution. On the one hand, the scientific community, almost unanimously, considers it to be an undeniable fact. The evidence is deemed as compelling as other obvious scientific facts like gravity and heliocentricism. On the other hand, Young Earth Creationist (YEC) organizations (largely Evangelical in outlook) boldly claim that there is absolutely no evidence to support evolution, or that the evidence is either fabricated or grossly misinterpreted. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the shrillest voices on both sides of the debate agree that evolution has huge religious implications. “Evolution is true, and its clear implication is that there is no God”, says one atheistic evolutionist. “The acceptance of evolution means denying the Word of God” counters YEC. A Personal Quest Since the choice is framed as either "Evolution or God", its no wonder that most Evangelicals shy away
from talking or thinking about evolution. Theistic Evolutionism (TE) seems more like an oxymoron rather than a legitimate position on origins. This was my own perspective growing up in a conservative Evangelical culture. And although I became less dogmatic about my opposition to evolution as I entered adulthood, it was not something I thought much about. That is, until a few years ago when it became obvious that my 9-year old son was starting to have questions about science and faith, questions I myself had faced when I was younger but was maybe too afraid to discuss, or to investigate too deeply. Thus started a quest to investigate "the truth" of evolution and its implication for my faith. Sometimes courage to face our fears comes not because we are courageous, but because the alternative is deemed even worse. Now, several years into this quest, one thing is eminently clear: I was immensely naïve to think that I could answer all my questions one way or another regarding the interaction of evolution and the Christian Faith – at least in this lifetime. Indeed, as soon as one question is answered, two more seem to pop out of the woodwork. As well, this type of investigation requires specialization in biology, geology, genetics, biochemistry, paleontology, anthropology, theology, history, history of science, philosophy, philosophy of science, and biblical studies to name but a few of the disciplines. Even brilliant academics with doctorates in 2 or 3 of the disciplines need to “trust the experts” in fields in which they are unfamiliar. I am, at the very best, a rank amateur in only of few of these disciplines; in most I am virtually illiterate. It’s clear that I will never be able to completely close the book on this quest. However, I have come to some broad conclusions. The first is that biological evolution, including
common descent of humans from pre-existing animals, is the framework that best matches current scientific evidence for describing how life developed on earth. Second, and more importantly, I believe that the idea of God creating through evolution is compatible with the Christian faith, an Evangelical expression of this faith, a faith that does not compromise the divine inspiration and authority of the scriptures, and is in fact theologically more satisfying than creation without evolution. The Beginning of Dialogue For many Evangelicals these are heady, if not heretical, conclusions. I disagree. Neither do I believe my Evangelical card should be confiscated because of them. (Although frankly, at times, I feel like voluntarily turning it in. That’s a different story). I am certainly not alone. There is a growing chorus of evangelicals who accept the science of evolution, and feel that this in no way compromises their biblical faith, nor is it the first step on the slippery slope to liberalism. Although YEC and Intelligent Design (ID) proponents tend to drown these voices out, it is likely that this discussion will become more prominent in the near future; and more heated. It’s still unclear whether mainstream evangelicalism will ever accept the possibility that TE proponents can even legitimately use the label Evangelical. Dialogue: The Reason for this Blog And that brings us to the reason for this blog – a dialogue. The current relationship between evolution and evangelicalism can best be characterized as warfare. I believe that ending this warfare will be good for science, and much more importantly, good for the gospel. Our Christian commission is to tell the good news of Christ’s resurrection, his present and coming kingdom, his new creation. The evangel in evangelicalism should remind us of this everyday. And I strongly believe that our misguided war on science in general and evolution in particular is hurting the gospel; it is preventing many from hearing and responding to the good news. And it is causing some who have heard and believed to now doubt whether it is good news at all. Dialogue is the first step towards a ceasefire. As many of you know, I have been writing an essay on evolution and its implications for my faith. This is now on hold. I believe that this blog is a more appropriate communication vehicle than an essay. There are two reasons for this. 1) Since I am still in mid-journey, a blog allows me to share thoughts, ideas, and conclusions even if those ideas and conclusions are not fully formed. There is also no
requirement to connect all the ideas into a coherent story. 2) A blog invites comments, criticism, corrections, and conversation. Not only will this enhance my own understanding, but also it will make the spiritual and intellectual journey much more satisfying. I welcome you to join the conversation. PS: Note on comments. You are free to provide comments and/or questions on the posts online (see comments link at bottom of each post), but be aware that right now this is open to the public (ie. anyone can read and comment on any posts). To limit this I think I'd need all readers of the blog to signup for a gmail account - I'd prefer not to do this. However, I realize that some of you may be involved in Christian organizations that would not appreciate one of its leaders or members being involved in this type of discussion. If this is the case, you can email your comments to me privately and I promise to respect your confidentiality. Alternatively, you can post giving only your first name or even a pseudonym.
II. Evangelicalism and Evolution: Why the Discussion Matters
Published June 13, 2007 Is it important for Evangelicals to soften their antiscience stance and discuss the topic of evolution? Does it really matter? In one way, it’s not really that important at all. Understanding and agreeing to biological evolution is no more important than understanding and agreeing to other scientific theories that are supported by significant evidence. One can get along quite nicely without understanding gravity, stellar evolution, or quantum mechanics. (Everyone prior to Newton did). One can be a humble follower of Christ, participate in his kingdom work, and attract others to the Way without agreeing with any of the these scientific theories. So why do I even think that discussing biological evolution is important let alone relevant? Why not just ignore this controversial topic, and concentrate on primary concerns like spreading the gospel, making disciples, serving the poor, and creation care? The Awful Consequences of the Evangelical War on Evolution From my perspective, it is not actually the theory of biological evolution that is significant, but Evangelicalism’s misguided response to it. Not understanding how God created life is one thing;
insisting that God could not have achieved his purpose through biological evolution is quite another. Adding anti-evolution beliefs and an anti-science attitude to the gospel is no addition at all, but a corruption at least on par with the early Jerusalem church’s insistence on continuing the observance of Jewish law. I believe there are four specific dangers to this antagonism to evolution: First, it discourages Evangelicals from participating in science and celebrating the wonders of God’s creation. Second, it is instrumental in causing many to abandon faith in Christ. Third, it promotes and “end-justifies-themeans” attitude to science and encourages Christians to compromise their integrity. Fourth, it prevents many from coming to faith in Christ. Problem #1: Anti-evolutionism discourages Evangelicals from studying science As I mentioned in my welcome note, I avoided certain academic disciplines when I was in school (particularly biology) because I dreaded what they would do to my faith. That evolution leads to a loss of faith is an adage repeated constantly YEC organizations, and this repetition enhances the intimidation factor of the evolution bogeyman. From anecdotical evidence, it appears that the fear generated by this claim is a key reason why many other Evangelicals avoid academic disciplines that deal with human origins. (For example, see this article lamenting the fact that there are so few Christian anthropologists). This propagates a vicious cycle. A dearth of Christians in these scientific disciplines make it all the more likely that nonChristian philosophical interpretations of the evidence will abound. Problem #2: Anti-evolutionism causes many to abandon faith in Christ YEC organizations often claim that the theory of evolution is causing youth to abandon faith in Christ. I believe that this is an incorrect assessment and that the responsibility lies not with the scientific theory, but with YEC organizations like Answers in Genesis, The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Creation Ministries International (CMI) which shackle the gospel with an outdated theory of science. Far from “defending the bible from the very first verse” as AIG claims, the YEC version of the gospel causes many to reject the biblical message because it is poisoned with YEC nonsense. The insistence that abandoning a YEC interpretation of Genesis is equivalent to abandoning the authority of the bible, and ultimately the authority of God, is a
horrible travesty. Unfortunately, many Christians have swallowed this YEC version of the gospel, and their faith is shaken when they encounter the evidence for real science. The testimony of Glenn Morton is instructive. He became a follower of Christ during his college years through the witness of a Christian campus ministry and was told his new faith mandated that he believe in YEC science. To Morton Christ’s life transforming power was authentic, and if YEC beliefs were part of the package, it too must be authentic. As a geophysicist, he became active in ICR and published many articles that attempted to reconcile the scientific evidence with a YEC interpretation of the bible. Over the years however, he found it increasing difficult to ignore the evidence for a very old earth. Eventually, he was forced to abandon the YEC scientific view. Because his faith was so tightly coupled with the YEC scientific view, he nearly abandoned his faith as well. Problem #3: “Creation Science” compromises our integrity as Christians The scientific evidence points overwhelmingly towards an old earth. Even YEC scientist Kurt Wise admits this. He states that: "I am a young-age creationist because the Bible indicates the universe is young. Given what we currently think we understand about the world, the majority of the scientific evidence favors an old earth and universe, not a young one. I would therefore say that anyone who claims that the earth is young from scientific evidence alone is scientifically ignorant”. Unfortunately, from my reading, most creationist scientists do not have this kind of integrity and honesty when dealing with the scientific evidence. In an effort to bolster the faith of their followers, they will insist that the scientific data actually points to a young earth. When someone identifies the flaw in a specific scientific interpretation, they tend to move on to new claims and new evidence. Rarely, it seems to me, will YEC promoters admit to their followers that their former claims were invalid, even when the claims have been irrefutably contradicted. (For a growing list of answers to creationist claims, see: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/) For Creation Scientists, science is not about examining the evidence to reach a conclusion. Rather, their science is about choosing data that can be interpreted to meet a pre-existing conclusion. This
is Morton’s view as well. As he grappled with the geological evidence, and tried to discuss this evidence with his fellow creationists at ICR, he found out that: “… my fellow young earth creationists were not willing to listen to the problems. In general they were not interested in discussing the difficulties and they did not want to read any material that contradicted their cherished position” God is the creator of all things, the creator of nature, the creator of science. God is not afraid of the data and we should not be either. A dishonest portrayal of the evidence neither honours nor defends God. Problem #4: Anti-evolutionism prevents many from even examining the claims of Christ Not only does marrying Creation Science with the gospel cause some to abandon their faith, it can also prevent spiritual seekers from even considering the claims of Christ. For those who are scientifically literate in particular, the patently ridiculous claims of “creation science” are a definite obstacle to acceptance of the gospel. Preston Jones, a history professor at a Christian university, had an interesting email discussion with Greg Graffin, an atheist and member of the punk rock band “Bad Religion”. In a Christianity Today article, he comments: In those months of dialogue I also saw the devastation wrought by the passion for pseudoscientific theories on natural history among some Christians. Many of my students believe that six-day creationism is an essential Christian belief—that if the first chapters of Genesis can't be taken literally, then the whole Bible is a fraud. What tragic nonsense! Before Greg and I corresponded, I didn't care. "You wanna believe the earth was created six thousand years ago? Whatever." But Greg helped me see that this kind of gaping ignorance promotes the perception that theologically conservative Christians are the enemies of learning. It is this (often true) assumption that evangelicals are “enemies of learning” that can conceal the truth of the gospel. I like 11th century theologian Anselm’s motto “faith seeking understanding”, meaning an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God. We seek to understand because we have faith, not in order to have faith. When we abandon an
attempt to understand, we diminish faith, not enhance it. And unfortunately, our “faith seeking understanding” turns to “faith without understanding”. This can be easily distorted into “faith because there is no understanding” by those opposed to the Christian gospel and finally to “faith because of ignorance” by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins.
III. Dialogue, Debate, Silence, or Confrontation: How should we approach the topic of evolution?
Published September 10, 2007 I started my blog a few months ago with the following statement: Dialogue rarely describes the relationship between evangelicals and evolutionary science. Perhaps debate, condemnation, or mocking, but rarely dialogue. From my perspective, I believe the dialogue on biological evolution within Evangelicalism is both possible and desirable. First, it is possible because there is no inherent conflict between the science of evolutionary biology and an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith. Second it is desirable, because the other options (debate, mocking, and condemnation) are injuring our Christian witness and causing division within the Christian community. Dialogue is the Ideal Roman Miller, the Editor of Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith (PSCF) captures my view on the desirability of dialogue over debate in his March 2007 editorial called “Do we Debate or Dialogue Issues of Science and Faith?”. Miller proposes that Christians with different viewpoints abandon the debate mode and dialogue instead. He muses: I wonder about the value of debate as a tool to create understanding. In my experience, debates have created more heat than light and have served to further entrench combatants in defending their position while attacking their opponent’s position. More and more, I am convinced that within the circles of the Christian community, we should avoid the “debate mode.” Rather, we should deliberately advocate a “dialogue mode.”
Miller states that dialogue works to enhance mutual understanding while debaters focus on winning the argument. Ironically it is dialogue, not debate, that is much more likely to “change minds”. And an attitude of humility, a topic Miller addresses in his September 2007 Editorial (not yet online), is a prerequisite for a successful dialogue. As a preview to this editorial, he states in the earlier column that: Especially in these issues in which we “dimly peer through our varied perspective glasses,” it behooves us to admit that we do not know or understand with entirety and to hold our positions with humility and grace. Dialogue is not always Possible Participating in respectful dialogue, with an attitude of humility and grace, is the ideal for which we should all strive. This is especially true for a topic as contentious and complicated as the origin of life, biological diversity, and humanity, a topic that no one can claim they grasp completely. Unfortunately in the real world the ideal is not always possible. What if one group of Christians considers another group’s origins view not only wrong, but also diametrically opposed to the gospel? What if our origins view is condemned as heretical, and our accusers refuse to acknowledge that we belong to the body of Christ? How can there be any mutual understanding in this situation? Dialogue is not always Preferable Maybe more importantly, I think dialogue is not always preferable even when it is possible. As I’ve indicated before here, and as Vance McAlister has written in “Creationism vs. Evolutionism: The Danger of Misplaced Dogmatism”, a dogmatic interpretation of scripture can damage the gospel. When Christian youth are abandoning their faith because they cannot reconcile modern science with the brittle scriptural interpretation mandated by their church community, and when seekers choose not to follow Christ because the gospel presented to them includes a version of science that is unsupported by the evidence, then I think we need to respond with urgency and vigor. We need to communicate that “The Gospel of a Young Earth” is no gospel at all, and is as erroneous as stating that "Only
Evolutionists can be Saved". Silence: Sometimes it is the Best Option There are other times when silence is the best option. In situations where origins science or the biblical interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts are clearly peripheral to the discussion, starting a dialogue on science / faith would be distracting at best, and probably even destructive. I would hazard to say that even in many situations where these issues are primary, starting a dialogue on evolution could still be damaging. As Gordon’s anecdote regarding missionary Anna Leonowens shows, even the truth can sometimes be a stumbling block. I agree that dialogue, conducted in humility and grace, should be the primary mode of engagement in our discussions on the integration of faith and evolutionary science. However, I do not think dialogue is the best option in all cases. To promote Christian unity, there are times when we must simply remain silent. And there are other times, when the gospel is being damaged for instance, that we must choose confrontation, confrontation with humility and as much grace as possible, but still confrontation. Choosing an Approach The question of course is this: When should we dialogue, when should we remain silent, and when should we confront? Each individual situation will require its own wisdom, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But are there principles that can help us make these choices, principles that will minimize the times we confront when we should be dialoguing, or dialogue when we should remain silent? How do we balance church unity against the need to correct potentially damaging ideas about science & biblical interpretation? How do we seek self-correction (for none of us have all the answers), when the correction being offered is an abandonment of the integrity of science or the scriptures or even of the gospel itself? How do we achieve dialogue when others are not interested in pursuing dialogue? I’m still struggling with these questions.
C) Evolution and Evangelicalism: Definitions and Historical Context
Definitions are important. If there is no agreement on the definitions, there is unlikely to be agreement on the ideas based on those definitions. So, for contentious issues like faith and science, it is important that we first come to a mutual understanding of the definitions. For the purposes of the current dialogue, the most salient definitions are evolution and evangelicalism. Historical context is also important. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it and the history of the faith / science dialogue is littered with casualties.. The following four articles provide definitions for evolution and evangelicalism that lay a foundation for the dialogue. These articles also provide a brief historical overview of the interaction between Evangelicalism and science.
I. What Does Evolution Mean? A Framework for Evangelical Christians
Published October 27, 2007 Much of the confusion in the evolution debate lies in the meaning of the word “evolution”. Since it can have several different meanings, and even the scientific definition of evolution can include several distinct components, it is not surprising that many confusing and confused arguments are articulated. Certainly the conversation is very difficult when conversation partners discussing evolution do not share the same definition, conflate several of the definitions, or elevate one component of evolution to be descriptive of the whole. Dr. Allan Harvey has provided a simple overview of the various meanings of evolution. Harvey, a fellow ASA member, recently taught a 6-part course on “Science and Nature in Christian perspective” at his conservative Presbyterian church in Boulder Colorado, and the 5th essay in the series is on evolution. (Note: The entire course looks outstanding. It is presented in clear non-technical terms, and Harvey includes wise counsel on how Christians who accept the integrity of scripture should approach science. For anyone beginning this journey, I highly recommend reading through the entire series) Evolution: Six Different Meanings Harvey provides a framework that includes 6 meanings for the word evolution, and remarks on both the scientific certainty and compatibility with
the Christian faith for each definition. These six meanings are: E1. Change over time E2. Common ancestry E3. Evolutionary mechanisms (genetic variation, natural selection). E4. The ability for these Evolutionary mechanisms to account (physically) for common descent. E5. Origin of life (chemical evolution) E6. Evolutionism I have grouped these meanings into three categories: those meanings for which the scientific evidence is overwhelming and thus enjoy an extremely high degree of certainty (E1, E2, and E3), those definitions that are less certain based on the scientific evidence (E4 and E5), and those definitions whose conclusions are based on metaphysical assumptions rather than the scientific evidence(E6).
Evolution Meanings Group#1: Extremely high degree of scientific certainty
Harvey’s first three meanings for evolution (E1 – E3) are all extremely well supported by the scientific evidence. There is also, in Harvey’s view, no incompatibility between these meanings and the Christian Faith. E-1) Change over time. This is the most basic meaning of the English word “evolution,” simply meaning that something changes with the passage of time. For example, we might talk about the evolution of popular music, or the evolution of stars. With regard to living things, this simply says that things are different than they were in the past (there used to be
dinosaurs; now there aren’t). Almost nobody denies this meaning. The only opposition to E1 is in the time available for changes to occur. Young Earth Creationists (YEC) would disagree with the scientific consensus of cosmological evolution (formation of the cosmos eg. stars) because of the billions of years required for this process. E-2) Common ancestry. This is central to what scientists usually mean by “evolution.” Common ancestry (or common descent) means that life has branched out, so dogs and wolves are distant cousins, dogs and cats are more distant cousins, and if you go back far enough dogs and fish, or dogs and trees, had a common ancestor. You can put humans in the family tree as well – related to chimpanzees, more distant from other mammals, and so forth. As I’ve commented earlier here, a shared ancestry with non-human life does not contradict the biblical claim of humanity’s creation in the image of God. As well, as Harvey points out in his 3rd essay, and as I’ve commented here, common descent does not compromise the integrity of scripture. In fact, many of the leaders in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement (eg. Michael Behe, author of The Edge of Evolution) also support common descent, even though ID is often described as anti-evolution. E-3) Evolutionary mechanisms (genetic variation, natural selection). This refers to specific natural mechanisms (first proposed by Darwin, although in a primitive way because genetics was not yet understood) that cause species to change. Genetic variation is the fact that (due to mixing of parental genes and to mutations) children have different genes and different traits. Natural selection refers to the fact that the traits will make some children more likely to survive and pass their genes on to future generations. Note that in recent years even YEC organizations have started backing away from their opposition to the mechanism of natural selection (see here and here). They have also admitted that natural selection can lead to new species, and that “in fact, rapid speciation is an important part of the creation model”.
Evolution Meanings Group#2: Less Scientific Certainty
Harvey’s 4th and 5th meanings of evolution enjoy less scientific certainty (in fact, there is very little current evidence for E5). These definitions have historically experienced aggressive opposition from Christians (certainly more than E1-E3), but Harvey does not believe this needs to be the case. E-4) Mechanisms (E-3) account (physically) for common descent. This is typically what scientists mean by “the theory of evolution.” We know these mechanisms produce changes in species, but do they account for all the evolution (in the E-2 sense) that has happened through the history of life on Earth? Most biologists, including most Christians working in these areas, would say “yes,” but it is certainly not as 100% established as the previous meanings. I believe E4 is the meaning that sharply divides Christians who identify themselves as Theistic Evolutionists (TE) or Evolutionary Creationists (EC) from those who are anti-evolutionists, particularly those that are supporters of ID. Harvey’s 4th essay called “Natural Theology or a Theology of Nature” explains briefly why E4 should not really cause any conflict for Christians. E-5) Origin of life (chemical evolution). The theory of evolution is only an explanation for the development of life from other life. How life began in the first place is a different question, but people have proposed somewhat similar theories (the technical term is ambiogenesis) of how that happened. That is an area where there is much room for doubt; some people see it as an insurmountable problem, while others think science is coming closer to good explanations. E5 is the meaning that really sparks derision among anti-evolutionists. And the lack of evidence for E5 is often used to discount the validity of E2 through E4. It is still an open question whether a “natural” origin of life theory that is supported by the scientific evidence is 3 years away, 30 years away, 300 years away, or is practically impossible. The important point is that Christians need not oppose E5 for the same reasons that E4 need not be opposed.
Evolution Meanings Group#3: Definitions based on metaphysical assumptions
Harvey’s final meaning for evolution (E6) is unrelated to science. E-6) Evolutionism. I use that term to refer to a meaning that is not science at all, but rather an ideology that sometimes masquerades as science. This starts with the philosophical position that natural explanations exclude God (the “God of the Gaps” error discussed in Chapter 4). Since science has produced these natural explanations for life, those with this ideology claim to have pushed God out of the picture. Of course these metaphysical conclusions are not science in any way – those who advocate this meaning are simply pushing atheistic philosophy, and it is wrong to try to claim it is a result of science. This meaning for evolution is obviously not something that can ever be accepted by a Christian. But this is the meaning that both Christian antievolutionists and “evangelistic anti-theist” atheists push to the forefront. They conflate evolution meanings E2 through E5 with E6, and thus state that TEs and ECs are supporting atheism, materialism, or moral relativism (anti-evolutionist claims) or are deluded and cowardly for not following the scientific evidence to its logical conclusion (anti-theist claim).
A Mistaken view of Evangelical History Those with just enough understanding of Evangelical history to be dangerous would describe it this way: Fundamentalism is a reactionary Protestant movement born in the early 20th century in the southern US. Its two defining characteristics were anti-evolutionism (with the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925 being the critical event) and anticommunism. After WWII, the Fundamentalists redefined themselves as Evangelicals, toned down their rhetoric, and shifted their message to “being born-again”. However, this “kinder, gentler” Fundamentalism is still right wing and antiscience (and anti-evolution) at heart.
This characterization is wrong at so many levels that it’s difficult to know where to start. I certainly can’t untangle all these knots in a few blog entries. What I would like to address are the incorrect assumptions that 1) Evangelicalism is simply an outgrowth of Fundamentalism, 2) anti-evolutionism is inherent in Evangelicalism because of its characteristics, and 3) from the beginning Evangelicals were uniformly hostile to evolution. This post will deal with the first assumption. The Beginnings of Evangelicalism The roots of Anglo-American Evangelicalism lie in the 18th century “Great Awakening”. Starting around 1730 great revivals swept through British and American churches led by evangelists like John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. The emphasis of these revivals was personal repentance, Christ’s forgiveness, and conversion to a new life. What Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards preached against was “dead religion”, an outward appearance of religion without true inner repentance. Although new denominations were formed because of the Great Awakening (eg. Methodists), the revival also affected most protestant churches. People were encouraged to repent and commit their lives to Christ, but were not necessarily encouraged to abandon their denominational allegiance. Thus, unlike many other revolutions in the church and in Christian theology, the key result was not the formation of a new breakaway group of Christians that forged a new path on their own. Rather, these new ideas permeated virtually all protestant denominations. Even today, more than 250 years after the Great Awakening, most protestant denominations have an Evangelical component.
I really like how Harvey categorizes the various definitions of evolution. They are helpful both for Christians trying to understand evolution, and for those of us that are frequently engaged in the evolution / faith dialogue. I am planning to use these definitions in my own conversations. Hopefully this will allow all of us to hone in on the salient issues more quickly, and avoid talking past each other. Ok, maybe that's overly optimist, but it can't hurt to try.
II. Evangelicalism: Not simply "Toned down Fundamentalism"
Published: May 21, 2007 Being an Evangelical can be embarrassing. After all, the popular impression, fueled somewhat by the media, is that Evangelicals are simply those Christians that are a) political right-wingers and b) anti-intellectual and anti-science. And the media can uncover and recount enough stories and sound bites to reinforce this impression.
The Beginnings of Fundamentalism Fundamentalism on the other hand, was born in the early 20th century in the US. Between 1910 and 1915, a prominent group of Evangelicals published “The Fundamentals”, a series of books that outlined foundational doctrines for Christianity. This was meant to be a defense of the Christian faith, and especially of the scriptures, against modern theology and biblical criticism. Although the books themselves were measured in tone, they served as a rallying cry after WWI when conservative Evangelicals voiced militant opposition to modern theology, the cultural changes that modernism endorsed, and modern scientific ideas, particularly evolution. This resulted in schisms in several denominations between poles that were now termed “Liberal” and “Fundamentalist”. The defining moment of Fundamentalism’s birth was the “Scopes Monkey Trial”. In 1924, a public school teacher named John Scopes was charged in Tennessee with teaching evolution, something that was forbidden by state law. Although the Fundamentalists won the legal war, they were widely ridiculed in the press and wider society, and thus lost the public relations war. This event was influential in the Fundamentalists sharp withdrawal from society. Whereas Evangelicals had always participated in wider culture and had been part of the American establishment, Fundamentalists now separated themselves from what they saw as “an ungodly society”. The Reemergence of Evangelicalism Around 1950 the moderate evangelical voice reemerged under the leadership of the likes of Billy Graham. Rather than separating themselves from the wider culture, with a focus only on a defense of the bible, these Evangelicals again emphasized telling the good news of Christ’s kingdom. No longer were they content to sit on the sidelines. If they needed to work with “Liberal churches” to promote the gospel, so be it. Conclusions The above is obviously an extremely short summary of Evangelical and Fundamentalist history; many important themes have not even been touched, and some of my statements should probably be more nuanced. However, the key points are these. The birth of Evangelicalism preceded the birth of Fundamentalism by almost 200 years. Thus it is not correct to call it the progeny of Fundamentalism.
Whereas Evangelicalism was primarily a positive movement (promoting the gospel), Fundamentalism was primarily a negative movement (against modern biblical interpretation and scientific theories that contradicted the bible). While Evangelicalism wanted to engage the wider culture, Fundamentalism wanted to withdraw from the wider culture. The Evangelical reemergence in the mid-20th century was not simply a maturing or modification of Fundamentalism. Rather, it was a rediscovery of its character prior to the onset of Fundamentalism.
So what can we conclude about the relationship between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism and why does it matter? The popular impression that Fundamentalism is either equivalent to, or the root of, Evangelicalism is wrong. However, it is clear that the early 20th century Fundamentalist phase still influences Evangelicalism. In “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”, historian Mark Noll refers to this phase as “The Intellectual Disaster of Fundamentalism”. I would agree that the influence has been primarily negative. At best, Fundamentalism was an extreme phase from which Evangelicals eventually emerged. At worst, fundamentalism is a cancer from which we are still trying to recover. The recent interest in “Creation Science” by Evangelicals leads me to believe that we have not completely rid ourselves of this disorder. Recommended Further Reading: “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain”, D.W. Bebbington. An excellent overview of Evangelicalism from its birth in the early 18th century to the end of the 20th century. Although focusing on Britain, it does touch briefly on American Evangelicalism as well. “A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada”, Mark Noll. Covers all of Christianity and not just Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, but provides a complete overview of these movements in North America. “Fundamentalism and American Culture”, George Marsden. Simply the best book on the rise of fundamentalism in the early 20th century.
III. What is an Evangelical? Am I one? Why do I choose to wear the Label?
Published November 11, 2007 My objective for this site is to promote and foster a specifically evangelical dialogue on the subject of evolution. Others are certainly invited to participate, but the invitation is primarily directed to evangelicals. What are the implications of biological evolution for our specifically evangelical theology? What are the implications for our faith? Are there areas of evolutionary science that have been tainted with philosophical assumptions that contradict core evangelical beliefs? How do we distinguish between the physical evidence of God’s creation and the metaphysical assumptions so often tied to the explanations of the evidence? These are some of the questions I believe evangelicals should be discussing. Several weeks ago I provided a brief overview of the meaning of evolution. Thus I have provided a partial definition of how I believe this dialogue should be framed. However, to understand what a specifically evangelical dialogue would look like, I should also define what evangelical means. Defining Evangelicalism What is the definition of an evangelical? What is the difference between an evangelical Christian and Christians who are not evangelicals? Where and how do we draw the line? Maybe more pertinent to the discussion in this particular dialogue, what reason do I have for considering myself within the evangelical fold? And why do I even want to hold onto the label? As I’ve confessed previously, being an evangelical can be downright embarrassing given the perception of the movement in western society, perceptions often completely supported by the attitudes and actions of very broad swaths of evangelicalism that are still tainted by fundamentalism. I’ll deal with my own personal reasons for self-identifying as an evangelical later. For the definition, I’ll turn to another of my favourite authors, John Stackhouse. Stackhouse is an evangelical historian, philosopher, and theologian. His is also the senior advisor for the Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism (CRCE), an initiative of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). In this capacity he has provided an updated definition of evangelicalism. Given how notoriously difficult it is to define evangelicalism, I applaud Stackhouse for his succinct, and I believe
successful, definition. His definition shares some similarities to my own overview of evangelical distinctives where I proposed that acceptance of biological evolution does not contradict an evangelical expression of the Christian faith. This similarity is not surprising since we both utilize David Bebbington’s framework proposed in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. However, I believe Stackhouse provides a more practical and comprehensive definition. He also includes some astute observations on how the definition should be used. Six Criteria in the Definition Stackhouse’s definition of evangelical includes the following six criteria: 1. Orthodox and Orthoprax: Evangelicals subscribe to the main tenets—doctrinal, ethical, and liturgical—of the churches to which they belong. 2. Crucicentric: Evangelicals are Christocentric in their piety and preaching, and emphasize particularly the necessity of Christ’s salvific work on the Cross. 3. Biblicist: Evangelicals affirm the Bible as God’s Word written, true in what it says and functioning as their supreme written guide for life. 4. Conversionist: Evangelicals believe that everyone must trust Jesus as Saviour and follow him as Lord; and everyone must co-operate with God in a life of growing spiritual maturity. 5. Missional: Evangelicals actively co-operate with God in his mission of redeeming the world, and particularly in the proclamation of the gospel. 6. Transdenominational: Evangelicals gladly partner with other Christians who hold these concerns, regardless of denominational stripe, in work to advance the Kingdom of God. The middle four criteria are slightly modified versions of Bebbington’s. The 6th criterion is adopted from George Marsden (Fundamentalism and American Culture and Evangelicalism and Modern America), while the 1st is added by Stackhouse himself, a criterion almost certainly assumed by both Bebbington and Marsden. Broad Criteria … There are a couple of significant points to notice in this definition. First, each of the criteria is relatively broad. Doctrinal hair-splitting, so often the bane of evangelical unity, is completely absent. So, for example, in #3 there is no mention of inerrancy or even infallibility. Many evangelicals do indeed
affirm the inerrancy of scripture, and most affirm its infallibility. However, since there is significant disagreement on what those terms mean, I agree that it is helpful to avoid these adjectives in the definition itself. (Interestingly the EFC’s own Statement of Faith does include infallibility, although not inerrancy. The American equivalent to the EFC, the NAE, does the same in its statement of faith). … but all Criteria are Mandatory Second, Stackhouse insists that none of these criteria are unique to evangelicals, but that evangelicals uniquely affirm all six criteria as a cohesive set. “[This] set of criteria functions properly only as a set. There is nothing peculiarly evangelical about any of them singly, of course. It is only this set that helps scholars, pollsters, leaders and interested others “pick out” evangelicals from Christians in general or observant Christians in general or observant Protestants in general, and so on. Thus it must be employed as a set, without compromise, as in the common polling practice of counting as evangelicals those who score “highly” on some scale derived from such criteria. No, evangelicals do not compromise on any of these values: They don’t think it’s okay to fudge on the atonement or the Bible, or to neglect churchgoing, or avoid evangelism." Why I Self-Identify as an Evangelical So these six broad in scope but mandatory criteria define evangelicalism. But why do I personally identify with the movement? Why, if I do not agree with many of the political, intellectual, and cultural beliefs associated with evangelicalism, do I wish to label myself an evangelical? I strongly identify with evangelicals, and affirm that I am an evangelical, precisely because the six criteria defined above closely match my own view. I agree with the doctrinal consensus affirmed by the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers, and the leaders of the Great Awakenings that birthed modern evangelicalism. The cross of the incarnate, suffering God is central to redemption. God has revealed himself through scripture, and we must take seriously its claim for authority. Being a follower of Christ includes more than intellectual assent; it includes radical trust in God’s guidance. We are all called to proclaim and participate in the Kingdom of God. And we must not let denominational differences hinder this proclamation or participation. I believe all six criteria are important.
No I am not a hard-line political right-winger, antiscience, anti-intellectual, against all forms of biblical criticism, or a participant in the culture wars. But I fail to see how any of these latter characteristics, so often descriptive of evangelicals, conform to the six criteria in Stackhouse’s definition of evangelical. In many ways, I believe these characteristics conflict with our self-identifying criteria of being orthodox, crucicentric, biblical, conversionist, missional, and transdenomination Christians. In short, I want to be called evangelical because, despite the disrepute brought on the movement by many evangelicals, its core characteristics are true and right. I do not wish to be referred to as postevangelical because of this disrepute, just as I do not wish to be called post-Christian because Christians acting in a un-Christ like manner have sullied Christ’s name. Just as we should not let antievolutionary creationists prevent us from proclaiming creation, neither should we let fundamentalist evangelicals prevent us from proclaiming the evangel. So maybe the next time I introduce myself, I’ll say, “Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m an evangelical creationist”. Then again, maybe not.
IV. Two Myths about the Relationship between Evangelical Christianity and Science
Published: June 5, 2007. When I started this blog about a month ago, I stated that the current relationship between evolution and evangelicalism can best be characterized as warfare. While this particular statement is true, I would like to address two popular myths that are extrapolations on the statement above. The first is that the relationship between modern science and religion can be described as one of continuous conflict. The second is that Evangelicals have, from the beginning, unanimously opposed both the scientific views of an old earth and of biological evolution. The Inherent War between Christianity and Science: Mostly an Militant Atheist Myth Militant atheists claim that the warfare between Evangelicals and evolution is just one new battle
theater in the ongoing war between religion and science that started during the Enlightenment. This is a myth in the sense that it is a story, created in the late 19th century, to support an agenda, in this instance an anti-religious (primarily anti-Christian) agenda. It is also a myth in the sense that the historical evidence does not support the claim. Modern science was born, grew, and flourished in a thoroughly Christian Western Europe. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that the Christian worldview was a pre-requisite to the discovery and success of modern science, or that the relationship has always been harmonious, the worldviews have much more in common than the myth above would have us believe. It is true that modern western Christians often regard claims of new scientific discoveries with skepticism. However, this is also true of the broader scientific community. That is the way science functions. “Show me the evidence” is that mantra that must be followed, particularly when the discovery radically shifts our understanding of how the world works. Wacky theories are constantly being postulated, theories that rarely jive with common sense, and are often simply nonsense. Occasionally, significant supporting evidence for these “wacky theories” is found and we start referring to them as “brilliant theories” instead. Being skeptical of the wacky, and supportive of the brilliant, (even when they describe the same theory) is simply good science. It is also true that modern Christians have been troubled, not only by the fact that many scientific discoveries contradict “common sense”, but also how some seem, at least initially, to contradict the bible. Common sense confirmed that the earth was immovable, and the bible supported it (1Chr 16:30, Psalm 93:1). It was not only immovable, but also flat (Psalm 104). The Sun moved around this stable earth, and not visa-versa (19:4-6 and Eccl 1:5). The sky was a solid dome (Gen 1:6-8) and the physical location of heaven was just beyond the sky for that is where Jesus ascended. In each case, it was discovered through science that these ideas were incorrect. However, Christians generally assimilated the new scientific theories relatively quickly without abandoning a trust in scripture. Although the old “biblical” concepts of nature still have some recent adherents (check out notes on flat earth believers and geocentricists), the vast majority of Christians (including those who are strict literalists) now reject these ideas.
The Myth of Historical Evangelicalism’s Unanimous Rejection of Evolution Christians that support a YEC stance will sometimes promote a second myth, that Evangelicals have historically been unanimous in their condemnation of both evolution and an old earth. The objective is to portray Evangelicals that support either scientific theory as abandoning core Evangelical beliefs. The historical facts also contradict this claim. 19th Century Evangelicals Accepted an Old Earth As the science of geology developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, estimates for the age of the earth increased rapidly from about 75,000 years old to many millions of years old. Although Evangelicals at first grappled with the implications of a very old earth, they rapidly came to accept the fact that the earth was more than 6000 years old, the age of the earth calculated from a “literal” reading of Genesis. Even Charles Hodge and Benjamin Warfield, the two conservative Princeton Theologians who were primarily responsible for formulating the modern doctrine of biblical inerrancy, accepted the fact of an old earth. The two most popular methods that Evangelicals used to reconcile Genesis 1 with an old earth were the day-age theory (each day was not a literal 24 hour day but rather a very long period of time) and the gap theory (the insertion of a very long gap between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2). As the dawn of the Fundamentalist revolution approached in the early 20th century, very few Evangelical leaders still clung to the idea of a young earth. Some Early Evangelicals Accepted Evolution Evangelical acceptance of the theory of evolution was much less prevalent. Charles Darwin published “The Origin of the Species” in 1859 and both positive and negative reactions were almost instantaneous. Those wishing to damage the Christian faith saw it as an opportunity to prove that the bible was composed of myths and fables; conservative Christians saw it as a threat to God’s role in creation. As such, even from the beginning, there were those on both sides of the debate that positioned evolution as inherently atheistic. By the early 20th century most Evangelicals may have accepted the fact of an old earth, but the majority of them were dead set against the theory of biological evolution. What is interesting to note however, is that this opposition within the Evangelical community was not nearly unanimous. Some Evangelical leaders were able to reconcile the theory of evolution with a
high view of scripture. The noted botanist Asa Gray, an Evangelical from Harvard University, was the most influential initial supporter of Darwin’s theory in America. Benjamin Warfield mentioned above, as well as other Evangelical theologians and clergy, also supported the theory of evolution. Even several of the authors of the Fundamentals, the series of books from which the name “Fundamentalist” derives, either supported a form of evolution or were willing to accept it “if it could be proved on scientific grounds”. Before fundamentalism, the acceptance of evolution certainly did not mean banishment from the Evangelical club. The Two Myths Today The obvious question is this: Why today, with the availability of significantly more scientific evidence to support an old earth, have many Evangelicals rejected this claim? Why are they abandoning the theological positions of past Evangelicals that came to accept the evidence for an old earth, just as earlier Christians had accepted the evidence for a round earth and a heliocentric view of the solar system? The rise of “Creation Science” and “Scientific Creationism” is a story in itself, so it will have to wait for a future post. However, I do find it ironic that in the 1960’s while America was pouring resources into science so they could launch a rocket to the moon, Evangelicals began poring resources into creation science so they could launch a counterattack on the theories of an old-earth and evolution. These two myths, the myth of constant conflict between science and religion, and the myth of unanimous Evangelical rejection of an old earth and evolution, are being used today to promote opposing agendas. Militant atheists see it as a tool to help them meet their objective of eradicating religion. Militant creationists use it to prop up their credibility as
defenders of the faith. Neither have any interest is seeing these myths exposed. And the objectives these myths prop up can be dangerous, dangerous to our faith, and dangerous to our mission. That will be discussed in my next post. Recommended Further Reading: “Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders”, byDavid Livingstone: Livingstone provides an overview of the Evangelical response to biological evolution, from the publishing of “On the Origin of the Species” up until the fundamentalist controversy in the early 20th century. As noted in my post, the response was occasionally positive, and the negative response was often understated. “The Creationists”, by Ronald Numbers: If you are captivated by in-depth, heavily footnoted historical research (136 of 624 pages are footnotes), and fascinated by creationism, then this is the book for you. Ronald Numbers has written the definitive study on the movement. Although rejecting the conclusions of Creationism (it was the claims of Creation Science that caused him to abandon his faith), he writes an honest and thorough account that is at the same time respectful to the Creationist cause. “When Science and Christianity Meet”, by David Lindberg & Ronald Numbers. A series of essays on the interaction between science and Christianity. The central theme of the book is that the relationship is complex, and that the characterization of the relationship as one of “constant conflict” is not accurate. An academic book, but an excellent volume. I particularly found the essay on Galileo interesting, as it showed the conflict was primarily political rather than religious.
D) Reconciling Scriptural Authority and Evolutionary Science
Evangelicals take a very high view of scripture. The perception that evolution is incompatible with God’s revelation in scripture is at the heart of Evangelicalism’s antagonism towards the scientific theory. Here are four posts that outline why I believe the scientific theory for evolution & a high view of scripture are compatible. The first argues that the choice between science and scripture is a false dichotomy; indeed mainstream scientific conclusions need not contradict the divinely inspired word of God if both scripture and the scientific evidence are interpreted with integrity. The second post demonstrates that Evangelicals need not choose between literal and liberal interpretations; in fact, both dogmatically literal and liberal lenses obscure the truth of scripture. The third post provides a background on the theology and context of the early chapters of Genesis while the fourth post provides a brief overview of the incarnational approach to scripture, an approach I believe is very helpful for Evangelical Christians struggling with issues of science and faith.
I. Scripture or Science: Do we have to Choose?
Published May 16, 2007 What an awful choice. Do we actually have to choose between believing scientific claims and trusting in the bible? Can we trust the evidence readily apparent from our collective five senses? Or should we instead believe the knowledge provided by God through the divinely inspired authors of the scriptures? Is it really God’s word or the credibility of Science? Scripture or Science: The Perceived Conflict For many Evangelicals, “Scripture or Science” is not only a legitimate question, it is THE critical question with respect to science, and not actually a tough call to make. “No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record,” affirms the statement of faith of the most prominent YEC organization “Answers in Genesis (AIG)”. They state unequivocally that our confidence must be placed in the knowledge provided by scripture, not that given by science. History, it is claimed, has spanned less than 10,000 years from the time of Adam to the present, and if atheistic scientists have different answers, they are severely mistaken or probably lying. The dating mechanisms used by scientists are fallible; the bible is not. Evolution is a wild theory built on extrapolations from only a few fossilized bones, and is synonymous with the term “missing link” because of its inability to demonstrate even a single change from one species to another over time. Science indeed may have some answers, but the typical
Evangelical attitude is to treat it with suspicion. However, we live in a world where the results of science are obvious and widespread. In the past few centuries western civilization has been revolutionized by breakthroughs in physics, chemistry, medicine, industrial engineering, and electronics to the point that day-to-day life would be virtually unrecognizable by even our great-grandparents. Although the benefits of the technology based on these scientific breakthroughs are sometimes debatable, there is no question that science “gets a lot of things right”. This causes tension for Evangelicals who have been told to “trust the bible over science”. If science “gets it right” so often (eg. we can put a man on the moon, perform heart transplants, clone sheep, and build nuclear power plants), why do entire fields of academia like anthropology and biology get it so wrong? What if they aren’t wrong? What if it is bible that is wrong? Scripture or Science: A Personal Conflict This tension was very real for me growing up in a conservative Evangelical culture. I certainly felt apprehension as I approached high school courses in history and biology that taught ancient hominid development and evolutionary theory. What I learned was that science and early human history were something to be feared, something dangerous to faith, and something to be avoided. After those initial courses, I registered for no more classes in history or biology. My intellectual and spiritual journey out of this fear has been circuitous and complicated. Maybe all journeys are. Now, more than 25 years after my first introduction to evolution, I no longer fear either
history or science. In fact, I relish opportunities to immerse myself in both. And I do not believe I’ve had to abandon scripture to accept the scientific consensus. Scripture or Science: A Choice that God Hates What I have concluded is that the choice between science and scripture is not only a false choice, it is a heretical choice, a choice that God hates. Far from defending the integrity of creation, I believe this “science or scripture” choice diminishes and demeans creation. God has revealed himself to us in both the book of his works (creation) and the book of his word (scripture). He wants us to understand both. We do not defend God by placing one book in opposition to the other. By doing this we are challenging his trustworthiness. Evangelicals that compare fallible human scientific conclusions with the infallible word of God miss a significant point. Not only do fallible humans interpret scientific facts, they also interpret the bible. Just as fallible humans can misinterpret the evidence of creation, so too fallible humans can misinterpret the scriptures. God is the ultimate author of both creation and scripture and so the two books will be consistent and will not provide contradictory guidance. However, since humans interpret both of God’s books, using the tools of science and philosophy to interpret creation, and using the tools of theology and hermeneutics to understand scripture, there is the potential for conflict between a human understanding of the two books. It is the filters we use to perceive the truth that results in discord, and not an inherent disharmony between the two truths. Putting the Bible in a Box Part of our problem, I believe, is the Evangelical tendency to insist that everything must be simple, clear, and understandable. Unfortunately the bible is sometimes complex, ambiguous, and very difficult to understand. It was set in a culture that as foreign to us as ours would be to the ancient Hebrews. Thus, we have to deal with many seemingly contradictory concepts even when dealing only with the book of scripture. In the past, Christians have been able to resist the urge to ignore or abandon difficult scriptures that seem to contradict others. We may not completely understand God’s revelation in scripture, but that does not diminish its stature as God’s word. For example, in the 2nd century, Marcion insisted that the Christian canon should not include the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament). He could not reconcile the God of love, compassion, and
sacrifice revealed in Jesus Christ with the Hebrew God who, for example, ordered the genocide of the Canaanites in the days of Joshua. Later, during the reformation, Luther considered excluding the book of James from his New Testament since he felt it contradicted the theology of justification by grace alone. Christians resisted both of these urges and today our canon includes an eclectic group of writings, writings that sometimes seem to contradict each other, but all of which we maintain is God’s word. Why then do we insist that the evidence of God’s creation must be immediately discounted whenever it seems to contradict a possibly fallible interpretation of Genesis? Interpreting God’s Two Books: Scripture & Creation For Evangelicals, it is not a question about which of the two books we should read, but how we read them and in which order. Even though God’s revelation through his creation was initiated prior to his revelation through the scriptures, it is the bible that precedes creation from a theological point of view: that is, it provides a more direct revelation of God, his character and his plan. Nature should be read as a sequel to scripture. What we discover there should be put in the context of the theological framework we build from a careful reading of the scriptures. Sometimes we may need to wrestle with our interpretation of specific scriptures based on our findings in God’s creation. However, a theology built on nature must be dependent on a theology built from scripture, and not the other way around. For example, we hear interpreters of science claim that creation has no purpose, that humanity’s existence is but an accident, and that nature demonstrates that the creator is cruel. If we only read the book of nature, this could be a reasonable conclusion. However, by first reading the scriptures, we understand that God is good, his creation is good, he has a purpose for creation, and humanity was created to be a steward of creation. We can thus conclude that although the data behind the scientific claims may be correct, the philosophical interpretations and extrapolations are not. There are times however, when evidence from God’s creation can help highlight poor biblical interpretation. For example, the scientific evidence for an extremely old universe and earth is overwhelming. What then should we do with interpretations of scripture that claim the universe and earth were created less than 10,000 years ago? Some creationists have argued that the universe only
appears to be old. Thus its “apparent age” is much older than its real age. The problem with this strategy is that it is difficult to determine where “apparentness” begins and ends. What is real, and what is only apparent? Is it only astronomical findings (age of the universe) and geological findings (age of the earth) that are “apparent”? What about human history? Can we trust anything that history tells us of past human cultures? Did God somehow mess with time at some point in the past? How do we know anything that science tells us is true? For example, maybe the Earth only appears to be round but is actually flat. The logical inference of “apparent age” completely contradicts what we know of God and his creation. Creation is real, not some “Matrix-like” illusion. He is a loving God that has made a good, orderly, and understandable creation; he is not a deceiver that has created some type of prank on humanity. His revelation, whether by creation or his word, is not something that is secret, available to only the chosen few who understand what is real, “Gnostics” with a monopoly on true knowledge. His revelation is for all, whether that be the message of redemption in scripture, or the message of creation. Thus, in this instance, the book of God’s works should guide us to look more closely at his word in Genesis. Just as creation provides the possibility for unbelievers to acquire some knowledge of God (Rom 1:20), we need in humility to accept that God, through his creation, can also guide Christians to rethink erroneous assumptions about scripture. Science and Scripture: The Right Choice So this choice, science or scripture, is completely unnecessary. In fact, we need to honour both scripture and science since they both come from God. If we study science with discernment & integrity, and study the scriptures with the same level of discernment and integrity, I believe we can find harmony. Unfortunately, the interpretation of both is often done without the required level of discernment or integrity, and perceived contradictions result. Sometimes agreement is found only because the interpretation of both is abused. But that is a post for another day.
II. Literal or Liberal: Our only choices for interpreting the Bible?
Published: June 27, 2007 Beware. That first step on the slippery slope to Liberalism can be very dangerous. So goes the warning to Evangelicals trying to broaden their intellectual horizons. And compromising on a literal view of scripture is seen as the most dangerous step of all. So how can Evangelicals accept modern scientific theories of origins that seem to directly contradict the literal scriptural account of creation in Genesis? If we compromise on the literal interpretation of scripture, isn’t this a sell-out? Aren’t we left with relativistic hermeneutic rules that allow us to make the bible say anything we want? If it’s not a literal interpretation, isn’t it a liberal one? I believe this choice between a liberal and literal interpretation of scripture, like the choice between creation and evolution, is a false dichotomy. In the latter case we can accept both; in the former case we need choose neither. Evangelicalism, Liberalism, and Scripture: Brief Historical Context Evangelicals have been at odds with liberal Protestantism since the 19th century when the Liberals, claim Evangelicals, “sold out” to biblical criticism. Liberals for the most part accepted modern biblical scholarship, including radical new understandings of the bible’s source, formation, and interpretation. Evangelicals strongly rejected both the conclusions and the evidence of this modern scholarship. In the 19th century this defense included the definition of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. More recently the focus has been on the “literal” interpretation of scripture. Even though I disagree with the Evangelical tendency to reject the evidence of biblical criticism and modern biblical scholarship, and the movement's outright hostility to liberalism, I am unquestionably in the Evangelical camp on the place of the scriptures. I take a very high view of the bible and wholeheartedly acknowledge its divine inspiration. My concern is that in reacting to a Liberal interpretation of scripture Evangelicals have chosen a method (ie. Literal interpretation only) that may be just as theologically damaging (heretical?) as the Liberal method.
Not so Literally Literal Though many Evangelicals claim that they hold a “literal” view of scripture, very few are uncompromising literalists. Very few still believe that the earth is a flat, immovable disk floating on the ocean, even though this is what the ancient Hebrews biblical writers believed and implied in scripture (See Psalm 93:1, Psalm 104, and 1Chr 16:30). Neither do we believe that the sky is a solid dome like structure, which is the logical conclusion based on a literal interpretation of the Old Testament. Almost everyone agrees that the earth revolves around the Sun, even though the ancient Hebrews thought the Sun moved across the sky and then raced back to east to start another day. (See Psalm 19:6 and Eccl 1:5). Very few Christians maintain that a literal interpretation of these passages is required. Young Earth Creationists do claim to interpret the bible literally, but they do so in a very liberal way. (One commentator described flat-earthers, geocentrists, and young-earthers as the conservative, moderate, and liberal factions within the biblical literalist camp). Focus on Science and History When someone declares that they interpret the Bible literally, they are generally referring to the science and the history in the bible. I think this betrays a modern bias, where historical and scientific facts are the highest form of truth. Modern western culture has elevated historical and scientific knowledge to the point where other forms of knowledge are deemed less important, and less reliable. But this is not the perspective of the bible. To the wise man or woman, it is the knowledge of God that is important. The bible does contain history. It provides narrative accounts of real historical events that were part of God’s ongoing work with his people. In fact, recent biblical scholarship demonstrates that the bible faithfully represents ancient history as defined by the people of that time, and is not, as claimed by some biblical scholars, a much more recent historical fabrication. But we should be careful not to judge an ancient view of history by modern historiographical standards. The bible also contains a type of science since scripture describes how God’s creation worked. However, these scientific ideas are ancient, not modern. We may call these ideas outdated, or even wrong, but that does not compromise the authority of the scripture to speak in matters of faith or practice. The historic view of the church fathers (eg. Clement and Augustine) and reformers (eg. Calvin, Luther) was that God accommodates his message to humanity
through the scriptures. That is, the bible is the revelation of an unlimited God accommodating himself to limited humanity using humanity’s limited language and ideas. The bible uses some of these scientific ideas to communicate God’s message, but it never tries to teach science. Science and history may be contained in the scripture, but these are not the point of scripture. The purpose of the written Word is to reveal God’s message to humanity, and not to provide a complete history of the world. Its purpose is to reveal how God works in the lives of his people, and not how God’s creation works. I believe that by insisting that all scriptural narratives be interpreted “literally” we not only depart from the traditional view of the church fathers and protestant reformers, but we make the bible say things it was never intended to say. By focusing on the literal interpretation of scripture, we may be missing the meaning of God’s message, even as the Pharisees focus on the letter of the Law, missed its spirit by a very wide margin.
What’s really important? The important difference between an Evangelical and Liberal understanding of scripture is not a literal versus non-literal interpretation, but rather in the area of revelation. While Evangelicals view scripture as God’s self-disclosure to man, Liberals view scripture as man’s search for God. Therefore, in a Liberal view, the bible is certainly a holy book. However, its source is not divine revelation, but man’s yearning for the divine. The focus then is on human experience throughout history, and the meaning achieved from human interaction with the divine or divine ideals. For an Evangelical, the focus of the bible is on God’s plan of redemption. Jesus death is the culmination of this plan, and his resurrection is the final victory over death. These historical events are the source of meaning for man; it is not man’s experience that gives meaning to the events. The Liberal focus on the human aspect of the bible to the exclusion of the divine, not only misses the point, but by removing the source of life, sucks the life out of the Living Word. Scripture: Both Human and Divine On the other hand, the Evangelical focus on the divine source of scripture can lead us to minimize or ignore the fact that the bible is also a very human book. It is God-breathed, not God dictated. Evangelicals have spent an enormous amount of
energy trying to understand what divine authorship, inspiration, and guidance really mean, and the implications of this divine source. The simple fact remains that many different human authors wrote the bible, authors with human limitations and human ideas, all living within cultural contexts and using literary conventions very different than our own. God accommodated his message to specific ancient cultures; he met them where they were and revealed himself in a manner that was understandable to them. Just because God accommodated his message to specific human cultures at specific times in history, using scientific and cultural ideas specific to that time, does not reduce the power of this message or the truth of his revelation. Thus the bible needs to be recognized as having both a divine and human source, not as liberals would claim, a human-only source with a divine message, or as Evangelicals often imply, a divine-only source to a human audience. The early church grappled with the divinity and humanity of Christ, and concluded that neither a divine-only description nor human-only description was adequate. We agree that the “Word made flesh” is both fully human, and fully God, even though this seems to defy logical understanding. Why then does an acknowledgement of the humanity of the textual Word threaten or lessen the divine origin of the scriptures? God condescended to take on human form, experienced all the limitations of a human mind and body, spoke in ways standard for a specific local culture, and used the science of his day to communicate his message of love, forgiveness, and redemption. In the same manner, God also accommodated his message in the written word. Conclusion I believe that remaining faithful to the scriptures does not require us to interpret it literally in all cases. A non-literal interpretation does not minimize the truth and authority of the word. In some cases, it is surely the more faithful method of remaining true to the biblical message. This is definitely not always the case and we need to be careful in jumping to figurative conclusions, especially when they fit more nicely with what we want the bible to say. What the bible shows very clearly is that God will not limit his revelation to a single culture. Every culture has had its assumptions challenged as God gently, and sometimes not so gently, leads his people to the truth. We need to ensure that our theology does not lead us to interpretations of the text, but that the text leads us to the formation of our theology. Our theology should not limit us to literal (or figurative, or
symbolic, or mythic!) interpretations of any text, including our interpretations of the creation accounts. Some recommended Reading: “Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach” by Donald McKim and Jack Rogers: This book was very influential in my own re-evaluation on how scripture should be interpreted. It showed that the “conservative” view of scripture held by most Evangelicals was not really “conserving” the authority of scripture at all. Instead, this conservative view was a damaging, modern innovation. “Biblical Literalism: Constricting the Cosmic Dance” by Conrad Hyers: A more forceful and impassioned criticism of literalism. A romp of a read. “Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda” by Nancey Murphy: A personal top-10 of mine. Excellent historical overview of the formation of liberal and fundamentalist theology, what separates the two camps, and in what ways they are very similar. “The Heresies of American Evangelicalism, Part V: Holy Scripture” at The Fire and Rose Blog. So you think Liberals are Heretics? Wait until you look closely at an Evangelical view of scripture.
III. Genesis 1 –11: Background, Context, and Theology
Published October 4, 2007 Let’s face it. Scripture is often very difficult to understand & interpret. Anyone who states otherwise probably hasn’t read it very thoroughly or is glossing over the difficult passages. As Christians we may agree that the bible is divinely inspired, and agree that it is God’s revelation, but we will often disagree on what the inspired author actually meant, and what specifically God’s revelation reveals. So it is no surprise that Christians can on the one hand share a commitment to the integrity and divine inspiration of the Genesis creation stories, but on the other hand arrive at radically different conclusions on how these stories should be interpreted.
Interpreting Genesis 1 to 11: Introduction To faithfully and fruitfully interpret scripture, particularly puzzling sections of the bible, it is helpful to understand the background of the biblical author, the culture of day, and the context in which the message of scripture would have been received. This is particularly true of the early chapters of Genesis since the worldview of these authors, and the cultures they describe, are so vastly different from our own. As Gordon Glover’s post indicates, modern ANE scholarship has shed new light on the worldview of the biblical authors and their audience. Although most Evangelicals (including many Evolutionary Creationists) have traditionally interpreted Genesis 1-11 as an historical narrative, most would also agree that the divine message goes beyond, and is much more important than, simply teaching history and science. So leaving aside the question of historicity, what message is being conveyed by the early chapters of Genesis? What important and eternal truths should we take from these narratives? Does the context of ANE culture help clarify the message the inspired authors intended to convey? A Radical Prologue The first eleven chapters of Genesis are a natural subunit of the book. It can be viewed as a prologue to the rest of the Genesis, and indeed the Pentateuch; it is an introduction to the accounts of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, and the giving of the Law. The stories recorded in these early chapters show strong similarities to ancient Mesopotamian myths, accounts that were almost certainly recorded prior to the writing of Genesis. Although the narratives and scientific worldviews portrayed in Genesis are similar to these Mesopotamian myths, the theology it contains is radically different. In fact, Genesis is a complete repudiation of Mesopotamian pagan assumptions about God, humanity, and the world. The Mesopotamian view of Creation The ancient Mesopotamian accounts include stories about the creation of the gods, gods that included the sun, the moon, the stars, and sea monsters. Creation was not an account of the forming of matter, but of the ordering of eternal matter. According to the Mesopotamians, matter pre-dated the formation of the gods. The myths recount events in the lives of the gods, including their internal bickering, wars, and
even the murder of the primary god by his progeny. These events showed that the Mesopotamian gods were far from perfect or even good; they displayed characteristics of selfishness, vengefulness, and capriciousness. Man was created as somewhat of an afterthought, and his primary purpose seems to have been to feed the gods. A global flood account was also part of the Mesopotamian mythology. The gods had become tired of the noisiness of humanity, were concerned about human overpopulation, and thus brought about a flood to destroy their own creation. However, once the flood started, it soon raged beyond the control of the gods and they became terrified for their own safety. When the flood finally subsided, a lone human survivor was found, saved not because of his righteousness, but because he was the favourite of one of the lesser gods. The primary god was in fact quite surprised to find him alive. The theme of the story of man following the flood was one of progress. Even though he started out quite humbly, he advanced beyond these modest beginnings. There was great optimism for humanity improving itself even further. The Hebrew view of Creation The theology of the early chapters of Genesis stands in stark contrast to that implied by other Near Eastern primeval history. Rather than many gods, there was but one God. The Hebrew God was not one of the pantheon, but Lord of the universe. This was no local deity concerned with the internal politics and religious rites of a single nation. Rather than being part of nature, this God was the primary cause of nature. Rather than ordering pre-existing matter, he created it. Everything, including objects the Babylonians viewed as gods (eg. sun, moon, stars, sea monsters), was created by him and was subservient to him. There were no stories about God. The Genesis record contains no theo-biography; God simply was. God was both omniscient and omnipotent; there was no need for him to be afraid of his creation, or even surprised by anything. He was in complete control. Finally, God was good, and loved his creation. Rather than treating it as a useful object, he genuinely cared for it. Rather than being capricious and unpredictable, God was an orderly divinity that could be trusted. The Genesis view of humanity was also quite different from the view held by the Hebrews’ neighbours. Rather than an afterthought, man was the
apex of creation. Rather than a functional slave, he was created in God’s image, held a place of honour, and was given the responsibility of caring for the rest of creation. God went out of his way to provide for man (food, a wife, clothing) rather the other way around. Unfortunately, man was disobedient to God. Man’s problems are and were a result of this disobedience. Rather than being optimistic like the Mesopotamians about man’s progress, Genesis was very pessimistic about his ability to progress on his own. The story of the Tower of Babel is a scathing satire on Babylonian claims that their ziggurats were reaching upwards to the gods. In fact, God needed to descend to reach their towers. Rather than demonstrating a powerful and growing civilization, these towers symbolized confusion. On his own, man could not reach God or solve any of his problems. It was only through God’s faithfulness that man had any hope at all. A God of Love, not Violence Finally, one needs to appreciate that for the ancient Hebrews, the violence evident all around them was not an inherent feature of Creation. As Lesslie Newbigin states in “A Walk Through the Bible” (Hat Tip to Fire and Rose): The first chapter of Genesis was almost certainly written during the time when Israel was in exile in Babylon. And we must picture these writers as slaves under the shadow of this mighty empire with its palaces, fortresses and temples. Babylon had its own account of creation, as we know from the work of modern scholarship. It was a story of conflict, battle and bloodshed. Violence was the theme underlying the whole creation story as the Babylonians understood it. The writers of Genesis had a quite different picture of God. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. They knew God as the redeemer God, the God who had saved his people from bondage. And they had a totally different picture of God’s creation—not as the result of violence but as the action of a God of love and wisdom who, out of sheer love, desired to create a world to reflect his glory and a human family to enjoy his world and give back his love.
Creation is a doctrine shared by all Christians. As part of the good news, we need to proclaim the message of creation to a fallen world. Our creation story in Genesis communicates truths about God and humanity, truths revealed by God through the writer of Genesis to all of humanity, in all cultures, in all places, and throughout all of history. Although the message is contained in literature that is accommodated for an Ancient Near East mindset, it is not truth relevant for this culture only. Genesis speaks to a world consumed by violence, selfishness, and greed. It speaks to a world that is convinced there is no purpose. It speaks to a world that thinks human reason can overcome any problem, and that humanity can “rise above our evolutionary impulses”. In short, it speaks to our world too. Though the truth in Genesis is contained in a vessel that is foreign to a modern, science-oriented culture, it is a truth that modern man desperately needs to hear. Let’s make sure the world hears this message, and not the one that is garbled, tainted, and damaged by a dogmatic insistence and focus on specific scientific claims.
IV. An Incarnational Approach to Scripture
Published March 16, 2008 For many Christians the approach adopted in the science / faith relationship often hinges on their approach to the interpretation of scripture. This is certainly true for many modern Evangelicals; the conflict they see between science and faith is a direct result of their literal “face-value” approach to scriptural interpretation. But this method of interpretation has not fared well in the light of modern scholarship, and doctrines of scripture have tended to be expressed negatively rather than positively. Unfortunately, the negative qualifiers used to describe the bible often raise even more troublesome questions. Where oh where did we go wrong? Why must we always be so defensive? Is it even possible to have a high view of the scriptures, one that acknowledges their divine source, without closing our eyes to the evidence from modern science, history, and biblical criticism? Is there a model that works?
I believe Peter Enns provides an excellent answer to this question. And, unlike many modern biblical scholars, he proposes a model that maintains Christian orthodoxy. In fact, it seems to me, Enns’ model for interpreting scripture is more orthodox, more in tune with the doctrines formulated by the early church, and more coherent with scripture itself. As Enns takes pains to point out, his ideas are not really that new. The Incarnational Analogy In his book Inspiration and Incarnation Enns lays out what he calls “The Incarnational Analogy”. The starting point for our discussion is the following: as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible. In other words, we are to think of the Bible in the same way that Christians think about Jesus. Christians confess that Jesus is both God and human at the same time. He is not half-God and half-human. He is not sometimes one and other times the other. He is not essentially one and only apparently the other. (Page 17) Just as Jesus, the Word made flesh, is 100% human and 100% God, so too the written Word. The Bible is not simply a dictation of divine thoughts, nor is it simply human ideas about the divine. The source of scripture is 100% divine, from God, revealing God’s message to humanity. At the same time it is 100% human, displaying the idiosyncrasies, cultural assumptions and even biases of its human authors. It declares God’s timeless message, albeit from a very specific human cultural and temporal perspective. Although the incarnational analogy Enns proposes has its limitations, I believe that a) it is helpful for Evangelicals grappling with faith & science / historical / biblical criticism issues and b) it offers to correct an Evangelical understanding of scripture that may have strayed somewhere beyond the bounds of orthodoxy. Helpfulness of the Incarnational Analogy I believe the incarnational analogy is very helpful. First, it is a positive statement about what scripture is (both divine and human) rather than a negative statement (eg. inerrant) about what it is not. It affirms that scripture is God’s special revelation and thus can be trusted. The analogy also affirms that scripture is very human. God has a keen interest in ensuring that his message of love and redemption is communicated clearly. To accomplish this, he accommodated his message in a way that was understandable to the
specific culture to which it was written. Second, the incarnational analogy helps us to see the Bible for what it is, rather than what we expect it to be. What is so helpful about the incarnational analogy is that it reorients us to see that the Bible’s “situatedness” is not a lamentable or embarrassing situation, but a positive one. That the bible, at every turn, shows how “connected” it is to its own world is a necessary consequence of God incarnating himself. (page20) An incarnational approach to scripture allows us to be surprised, to have our expectations jolted without necessarily jolting our faith. A Return to an Orthodox view of Scripture The early church grappled with articulating a doctrine of Christ. Although there were those who minimized Christ’s divinity (eg. Arianism) and those that minimized Christ’s humanity (eg. Docestism), the Church firmly and unequiviocally declared that Jesus was “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed) and “Perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man”. (Chalcedonian_Creed). In the 19th century “Battle for the Bible”, many liberal Christians abandoned orthodoxy and declared the bible to be simply a human book. Evangelicals rightly reacted to this, defending its divine source. However, I believe we may have become so zealous in our declaration of the scriptures’ divine source, that we may have minimized its humanness. In short, this “Docetic” view of scripture may be heretical. Enns has this to say: It is somewhat ironic, it seems to me, that both liberals and conservatives make the same error: they both assume that something worthy of the title “Word of God” would look different from what we actually have. The one accents the human marks and makes them absolute. The other wishes the human marks were not as pronounced as they were. They share a similar opinion that nothing worthy of being called God’s word would look so common, so human, so recognizable. But when God speaks, he speaks in ways we would understand. (page 21) As I indicated in an earlier post on scriptural interpretation, we need not box ourselves into a
literal hermeneutic (with an over emphasis on the divine source) or a liberal hermeneutic (with an over emphasis on the human source). We can choose an incarnational approach, one that celebrates both the divine and human sources of scripture. Responding to the Incarnational Analogy Enns views have not been received favourably by all Evangelicals. (For example, see this discussion between Paul Helm and Enns: Helm's review of I&I, Enns' Response to the review, and Helm’s response to Enns). Another writer has called I&I “The Most Controversial Book of the Year”. However, for
myself, his thesis is both simple and fruitful since it helps makes sense of some difficult theological problems. More importantly, it lays out a positive view of scripture, one that is more appropriate for sharing the gospel. So when someone asks incredulously “Do you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that following him will make any difference?” and “Do you really trust a book that utilizes a cosmology refuted almost 2500 years ago?”, we can answer both questions in the same way. “Yes I do believe that. Want a coffee? This explanation might take a few minutes.”
E) Evolution: Theological and Moral Implications
Most Evangelicals reject biological evolution, not because they have examined the scientific evidence, but because they believe the implications of evolution are incompatible with orthodox Christian theology and Christian morality. The six following posts address these concerns. The first post provides a brief review of five common theological objections to evolution, and reasons why these objections are not valid. The next two posts provide a more detailed look at two common theological objections: 1) How can humanity be created in the image of God if we evolved from pre-existing animals, and 2) How can the Fall be reconciled with evolution. The fourth post explains that there are positive theological aspects to evolution, while the last two posts deal with objections to evolution based on moral grounds.
I. Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation: Five common Faithstoppers
Published December 9, 2007 Evangelicals generally reject biological evolution because the theological implications are perceived to be incompatible with the Christian faith. And it is not simply one or two tough theological nuts to crack – at times the list of irreconcilable differences seems endless. So it is understandable when Evangelicals struggle to reconcile the scientific evidence with their theology. In this post, I will briefly survey five of the most common theological challenges to evolution. Anti-evolutionists repeat all five of these challenges frequently; all five are considered “Faithstoppers” ie. Christians can (and have) used these to categorically state that “Choose this day whom you will serve” applies to the evolution / Christian faith dialogue. However, I believe that none of these five challenges demonstrate an incompatibility between evolution and Christian theology. 1) The theory of biological evolution contradicts the Genesis creation accounts. Therefore anyone who takes seriously the integrity of scripture must reject evolution. Although this challenge is the one most frequently raised, it is also the one that is most easily reconciled. The theory of biological evolution does contradict one specific (fallible human) interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts (ie. that the days of Genesis are 7 literal 24 hour days). But this interpretation is becoming increasingly discredited. For a background on why I believe biological evolution can be completely compatible with the Genesis creation accounts, see my posts Literal or
Liberal: Our only Choices for Interpreting the Bible, and Genesis 1-11: Background, Context, and Theology, as well as Gordon Glover’s post Interpreting the Genesis creation accounts in the light of ANE history. 2) The theory of evolution implies that a) there was no historical Adam and Eve, b) there is no single pair of recent ancestors from which all humanity is exclusively descended, c) therefore there was no historic instantaneous Fall or specific moment in time that corresponds to the origin of sin, d) therefore sin does not exist, and e) therefore Christ’s death is meaningless. This is incompatible with the Christian faith. First, statement a) is clearly false and many (perhaps most) evolutionary creationists believe in a historical Adam and Eve. (See Is Genesis 1-11 Historical? Many Evolutionary Creationists say Yes.) I agree that statements b) and c) are very difficult to reconcile with traditional Christian theology. Statement c) is in fact the most difficult implication of biological evolution for me personally. However, I do not agree with the logical connection between statement c) and statements d) or e). The existence of sin has been called the “most empirically supported doctrine”. That you and I are sinners is without question. That Christ died to redeem us, and through his resurrection conquered death, is the foundation of our faith. But Christ died because I sinned. His death was retroactively necessary because almost two millennia later I would turn away from God. This is true whether or not there ever was a historical Adam, or for that matter a historic fall. The good news is that “God will forgive you”, not that “God forgave Adam and Eve for eating the apple”. I am not making light of the problem of identifying a historic instantaneous
Fall, nor of the New Testament references to Adam’s sin. I personally find this very challenging and will discuss this in future posts. I am merely saying that the good news of redemption does not necessarily hinge on positively identifying a historical instantaneous fall. That our entire faith rests on the notion of a historic instantaneous Fall is, for me anyways, categorically false. 3) The theory of evolution implies that a human is no more special than a chimp, a lizard, an ant, or bacteria. Therefore it is incompatible with humanity being created in the image of God. I disagree with this implication. How we were created is irrelevant to the final product. That evolution implies a close connection to our animal forebears does not minimize our role in God’s eyes. We are his representatives on earth because he declared it to be the case, not because of who we are. Biological evolution does not challenge Christian views of human identity, our relationship to God, or our mandate within God’s creation. Evolution may have implications on how and when God bestowed his image on humanity so, for example, "How did humanity’s special relationship with God come about?", "How was this relationship damaged?", and "How do the spiritual & physical aspects of humanity interact, particularly in the light of modern neuroscience?" are all excellent (and difficult) questions. But our perplexity with respect to the historical narrative of the “ensoulment” of humanity should not in anyway minimize how we view ourselves in the eyes of God. For more background on this topic, see my post: Created in God’s Image or Evolved from Apes? 4) Evolution is a process that includes an unfathomable amount of pain, death, and extinction. It is incompatible with a Loving Creator. Theodicy is a very difficult problem for Christians. How can an all powerful, all loving God allow so much evil to exist? Why did he even allow the possibility of evil in his creation? Couldn’t an omniscient designer have done a better job? These are excellent questions but ones that, I believe, are unrelated to the process of evolution. Whether one explains the fossil record by many progressive creative acts, or the gradual creative process of evolution, the fact remains that much pain and death have occurred. Theodicy is a challenge for Christianity and theism in general, not just for evolutionary creationists.
(Note: I can very much understand the allure of YEC for Christians that struggle with the issue of theodicy. It seems to provide such a simple answer. Leaving aside the scientific evidence against YEC, and the poor scriptural interpretations used to support it, I think a closer examination of YEC’s version of theodicy provides no better solution. That too is a post for another day.) 5) Accepting the scientific evidence for evolution leads to moral relativism. It is thus a belief that is incompatible with a Christian worldview based on scriptural principles. It is absolutely unnecessary to connect evolutionary explanations for the development of life on earth with human moral choices. Biological evolution through the process of natural selection is an explanation of how things have changed over time but provides no guidance on how humanity should act in the future. It is descriptive, not prescriptive. We can certainly gain an understanding of how God created through scientific discovery. However, for guidance on how we should relate to both our neighbour and to our God, we look to God’s revelation in the written Word and in the Word made flesh. For more details on this, see Does Evolution lead to Moral relativism?
In summary, none of these 5 implications of biological evolution significantly add to the challenge of defending Evangelical theology. Each does seem somewhat problematic at first glance, but on closer examination provides no real reason to reject evolution.
Ok, In some ways I cheated. This post dealt not with “The 5 most common challenges” but with “The 5 most common challenges that are easily addressed”. There are other implications of evolution that are not so easily addressed. These include the following: 1. Divine Action: Describing how God acts in the world in the light of an evolutionary process that provides a full physical explanation for the development of life on earth. 2. The relationship between Sin and Death. 3. The incompatibility of evolution with the New Testament references to a historical Adam, and specifically his actions related to the Fall.
4. The origin of the “Image of God” or the “ensoulment” of humanity, particularly in the light of modern neuroscience. 5. The origin of Sin These "5 common challenges not easily addressed" are listed in ascending order of difficulty for me personally. Number 1 is simply a difficulty in articulation; with #5 I have trouble even imagining a solution.
recorded in Gen 1:26 & 28. Third, it could mean man’s ability to relate to God. For myself, any of these interpretations (or maybe all of them) could be correct. The Real Implications of the Image of God If the exact meaning of the word image in Gen 1:27 is unclear, what “the image” describes is not. The image describes what we as humans are; it does not describe how we were created. It says absolutely nothing about the process of God bestowing man with unique qualities and a unique position on earth. The entire process is described in a single word: created. Thus the writer of Genesis is clear on “who” brought the process about, and for what purpose, but is unconcerned with the materials (if any) that were used to create. The second account of the creation of man (Gen 2:7) does provide some additional details to this creation. Man is shaped from dust. Just as God knits or shapes us in our mother’s wombs (Ps 139), so God shaped the first man. Man is not created out of thin air, in a puff of magic, but is lovingly moulded from common, useless dirt. So since the bible describes our original material as being dust, why should a creation process that includes intermediary animal states be theologically dangerous? Original material is not a problem with God whether for a physical creation or for a spiritual one. Opposition to Evolution: Human Pride? I believe that evangelical opposition to evolution from pre-existing animals has just as much to do with pride as with a desire to defend traditional interpretations of scripture. We focus more on our spiritual characteristics than our creaturely characteristics. In other words, we view ourselves as closer to God (because we share a spiritual dimension) than to animals (with whom we share the characteristic of being creatures of God). This is the same type of pride that Moses warned the Israelites about: “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you--for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Deut. 7:7-8).
II. Made in God’s Image or Evolved from Apes?
Published July 17, 2007 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1: 26, 27 For many Evangelicals, human evolution simply cannot be reconciled with our creation in the image of God. Evolution seems theologically dangerous because it implies a close biological connection between humans and animals. An acceptance of evolution, it is feared, leads inevitably to the acceptance of a shared spiritual nature between humans and animals. Thus it logically follows that we must grant a spiritual nature to animals, or we must conclude that humans do not have a spiritual dimension. Neither of these positions is compatible with orthodox Christianity. However, I do not believe that this dichotomy is warranted by the biblical account of man’s creation in the image of God. The Image of God: What does it Mean? In facing this potential dilemma, it would be helpful if we had a clear understanding of what exactly “The Image” means in Genesis 1:27. Unfortunately, its meaning is somewhat ambiguous. That it is a unique quality given by God to man is clear; what that quality entails is unclear as biblical interpreters do not agree on its meaning. There are three interpretations that are most common. First, it could mean the mental and spiritual faculties that humans share with God, for example, reason, free will, and self-consciousness. Second, it could mean God’s divine representative on earth. This interpretation is supported by the mandate to care for God’s creation
The Israelites were “The Chosen” because God chose them, not for any inherent quality they possessed. And this bundle of molecules, genes, cells, and organs we call ourselves is the image of God because he bestowed it upon us, not because it is a particularly noteworthy bunch of molecules, genes, cells, or organs. As Jesus indicated, God could easily have called on other parts of creation to serve and worship him. (Luke 3:8, Luke 19:40). Difficulties Need to be Acknowledged Although biological evolution does not, in my opinion, challenge traditional interpretations of who we are as humans, our relationship to God, and our mandate within God’s creation, it certainly does challenge traditional notions of how this relationship with God came about, how the relationship was damaged, and possibly, how the spiritual & physical interact. If modern Homo sapiens gradually developed from earlier hominids over hundreds of thousands of years, at what point was God’s Image bestowed on humanity? And does this imply that the “first human” had non-human parents who did not share the image of God? At what point does “sin” enter the world? At what point does violence change from basic animal survival instincts to breaking God’s moral law? With new evidence from the world of neuroscience, should we even speak of the human “soul” or is this concept simply a vestige of ancient Greek philosophy that so clearly influenced western traditions including the early Church fathers? Are there better ways of describing and explaining our unique spiritual nature?
mandate. We are, as Graeme Finlay asserts, Homo divinus, the Ape that bears God’s image. Recommended Reading: Genesis 1 – 15 (Word Commentary), by Gordon Wenham: An excellent commentary on the initial chapters of Genesis from an well respected Evangelical scholar including a particularly useful overview of the interpretation of “The Image” in Genesis 1
III. Reconciling the Fall and Evolution
Published February 25, 2008 The origin of sin in a universe created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and all loving God is a perplexing theological challenge. Traditionally, the disobedience of Adam and Eve is seen as the event that inaugurated the Fall. The rest of humanity is thought to have inherited Original Sin either biologically (if the couple is seen as the ancestor to all of humanity) or through some mysterious process of representation (the federal view). However, this story of sin’s origin is becoming increasingly difficult to defend. Genetic evidence indicates that humanity cannot trace its ancestry to a single pair of recent humans, so our shared biological parentage to a couple of Neolithic farmers is impossible to reconcile with the scientific record. On the other hand, the federal view runs into difficult theological issues (eg. were humans that pre-existed or coexisted with Adam and Eve only sinful after the curious incident with the forbidden fruit?) As I indicated earlier in my post on the Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation, the origin of sin, and the related issue of reconciling the scientific record with the theology of the Fall, particularly as articulated by the apostle Paul (eg. Romans 5), are two of the most difficult theological issues for me personally. Although I can’t say I’ve come to any definitive conclusions, I’d like to point to two helpful resources for others that are thinking through these same issues. The first is a lecture given by Denis Alexander at the joint CIS / ASA / CSCA annual meeting last year. The second is a series of posts by Stephen Douglas on his blog Undeception. Darwinian Evolution: The Really Hard Questions Denis Alexander is not as well known as other Evangelical scientists that support an evolutionary
These are still somewhat uncomfortable & perplexing questions for me. Although I now have a greater appreciation for how some Evangelical Christians come to terms with these questions, my own answers are still very much early in the conceptual stage. The answers fit into what I believe is a self-consistent theological framework that is supported by the biblical record. However, there are enough gaps in this framework right now that I’m not able to clearly articulate it even to my own satisfaction. But these questions on the origins of humanity, sin, and the image of God do not change the fact of who we are right now. Nor do they change how we should relate to God or how we should carry out our
creation (eg. McGrath, Polkinghorne, Collins), but he has made some significant contributions to the science-faith dialogue. (My selected bibliography has 4 entries for Alexander). I suspect his lecture entitled “Darwinian Evolution: The Really Hard Questions” was one of the conference’s more thought provoking presentations (You can download the audio, his powerpoint, and his accompanying handout from the ASA website). Reconciling the Fall is one of the “Really Hard Questions” that Alexander discusses in his presentation. Before dealing with this question, he makes some pertinent introductory remarks: Some Christians have a habit of making up the science to fit their apologetics. That’s not good enough. Integrity demands an equally robust stance towards both the science and the theology. Second, in practice that means that we have to get used to not knowing the final answers to some issues, which is clearly the case here, and yet at the same time doing the best we can in building sensible models that integrate both the science and the theology. And we need to discuss those models tentatively, because there simply aren’t enough data to be too sure. He provides a quick scientific, biblical, and theological background to the problem, and then asks the key question: So how, then, do we understand the Fall and the Adam & Eve narratives in conversation with our current understanding of human evolution? Of course some would say that the conversation shouldn’t even be attempted – it’s like comparing anthropological apples with theological oranges. But the fact remains that at some stage over the past few hundred thousand years anatomically modern humans gradually emerged, and it’s also a fact that personal knowledge of God must have started sometime when it wasn’t there before. Alexander then provides three models for defining the relationship between the biblical and the scientific accounts. (Actually, there were 5 models – but I’m going to ignore the 2 models that discount the scientific evidence for biological evolution). 1. Model A is the “Ahistorical View”. The Fall in this model is a theological narrative that is not related to historical events.
2. Model B is the “Gradualist Protohistorical View”. This view defines the Fall as a process happening over a long period of time. 3. Model C sees the Fall as a specific event at a specific time in history whereby a covenant couple (or perhaps a covenant community) is called by God, but then through disobedience brings spiritual death on humanity. Each model has unique strengths, but also unique flaws. Alexander indicates that he personally leans toward Model C, but admits to some vacillation between all 3 and quips that he holds to “Model A on Mondays, Model B on Tuesdays and Model C the rest of the week”. It is a good discussion that I recommend to others grappling with this issue. Interacting with Paul’s Theology of The Fall Stephen Douglas has just finished an excellent 8-part series on biblical inspiration, inerrancy, and hermeneutics. Some of the themes he develops will be familiar to those who have followed my own blog, but he goes into much more depth. You aren’t going to be able work through his whole series in a brief 20-minute browse (I suggest he consider writing a book :-) ) but it is definitely worth the time invested. Of particular interest for me were the final two posts: Case Study: The Fall and The Fallout. In these two posts he applies the principles of biblical interpretation discussed earlier in the series to the issue of The Fall. What is noteworthy is that he focuses particularly on the New Testament (NT) discussion of the Fall, rather than concentrating on the creation narratives in Genesis. This focus on the NT discussion is noteworthy for two reasons: First, Evangelical Old Testament (OT) scholars with a high view of the scriptures (eg. Enns, Walton, Wenham) have already laid the groundwork for the science / theology discussion with respect to the Genesis creation accounts, including the Fall narrative (eg. highlighting their place in ANE literature even while acknowledging their divine source). From a NT perspective, I don’t believe the groundwork for this discussion has been as prevalent. Secondly, it is unclear whether the ancient Hebrews believed the early part of Genesis was historical (it most likely was not an important question for them), but it is clear that the Apostle Paul, like his 1st century Jewish contemporaries, believed that Adam was a historical figure, and that the Fall corresponded to a single event in the Garden of Eden. Thus it is the
relavent NT passages, and not the Genesis creation accounts, that provide the most significant challenge to the reconciliation of the Fall and modern science. Douglas addresses this issue head on. He shows how Paul, following the traditions of his time, used typology and parallelisms as part of his interpretive framework. On the pertinent discussion in Romans 5 Douglas states: Here (as well as in 1 Corinthians 15) Paul draws the parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus, because he saw symmetry between the two. Notice, though, that the validity of Christ’s work for all is not stated to be dependent on sin coming through one man, as is often construed. Paul’s intention was to relate this brand new theological doctrine to something that was familiar to them: if they could see sin coming into the world through one man, they should be able to accept that one man could bring life to all. The symmetry he saw between the two was no less valid for one of the characters being non-historical. Later Douglas sums it up with this: In short, it doesn’t matter whether Paul believed an historical figure named Adam literally fell and passed death down to all his descendants in some genetic or federal fashion through resultant “original sin”. Christ’s work was not dependent on the sin of one man alone: every man’s sin necessitates Christ’s work. I can’t possibly do justice to Douglas’s arguments in this post. If you want a more detailed account, I encourage you to visit his blog. I can’t say I’m completely convinced by his argument, but it has given me much food for thought. Concluding Thoughts Understanding the Fall is difficult, and it is likely that there will be much disagreement within the Evangelical community on how the theology can be reconciled with modern science. What we can agree on is the following: A) The Fall, whatever it is, and whenever it happened, occurred in the distant past. No amount of theological teeth gnashing will change what has happened. B) the "sting of death" that resulted from the Fall has been vanquished by Christ's death on the cross. So
theological teeth gnashing seems somewhat inappropriate. (Why worry about losing the shutout, we won the game!). C) Our hope that sin and death will not only be vanquished, but will also be destroyed, is assured. The Fall happened but we need no longer worry about "falling". We can say with Jude: To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!
IV. Evolution: Necessary for the Continuation of Life
Published July 27, 2008 One of the common objections to evolution put forward by Christians is that: A) The evolutionary process is dependent on death and B) God would never use a process dependent on evil to accomplish his purposes Now B) is a theological statement that can be disputed on many levels (eg. equating death with evil, or implying that God can not utilize bad situations for his purposes – one of the major themes of the bible clearly contradicts this implication eg. enslavement of Joseph, death of Christ). However, it is statement A) that I’d like to address here. The Problem is Limited Resources Paradigms on Pilgrimage is a book written by paleontologist Stephen Godfrey and Baptist minister Christopher Smith. Both are former YEC advocates who now advocate an evolutionary creationist position. In his chapter on dealing with the theological implications of evolution, Smith directly addresses claim A) above. It is not primarily evolutionary mechanisms like genetic mutations, or even natural selection, which is the problem. It is in fact, the limited amount of resources available to God’s creatures. It is true that new characteristics take root in a population, under circumstances where they confer some survival advantage, as organisms
with those characteristics displace those without them. But the effective cause of the demise of the organisms without the new characteristics is not the emergence of these characteristics themselves, through genetic variation, but rather the availability of only limited resources for the population as a whole. When resources are abundant, a greater range of organisms will survive, even those with less of a survival advantage. And finite resources pose just as great a theological problem for the [old or young earth] creationist. (page 167) Evolutionary Mechanisms: A Creative Tool With respect to the Fall and death in God’s good creation, I am not going to deal with the many (theological & scientific) arguments against young earth creationism (A very interesting paper somewhat related is Randy Isaac’s The Chronology of the Fall). What should be noted is that an OEC position has the exact same theological challenges as an EC position with regards to physical death before the fall, and the fact that pain, death, and extinction have been going on for a very, very long time. In many ways an EC position is much easier to defend; the evolutionary mechanism of genetic variation is an excellent strategy for the continuation of life in a changing environment. Far from being dependent on death, the evolutionary process as seen in the fossil record is actually the antidote to death. If new species were not formed by the process of genetic variation, there would be no survivors when environmental conditions did change and existing species proved so poorly adapted to the new conditions that they became extinct. So death is not necessary for evolution, but evolution has been necessary for the continuation of life. (pages 167 and 168 – emphasis mine) Evolution is not dependent on death and extinction; rather, given the world we have, it is the antidote to death and extinction. In the world God has created, evolutionary mechanisms enable the continuation of life. They are one of the tools God uses to accomplish his purposes.
V. Does Evolution lead to Moral Relativism? Making the Bogeyman even Scarier.
Published October 17, 2007 Most bogeymen are dispatched well before childhood ends. However, for many evangelicals, the Evolution Bogeyman lasts much longer. Much like children nervously peaking under the bed each morning, many evangelical students (and their parents!) scan nervously through the course outline prior to stepping tentatively into that first high school or university biology classroom. Many, like I did myself, use various avoidance strategies. However, these strategies only help to solidify and strengthen the perceived threat. When I stumbled across David Hill’s article “Who’s afraid of Biology 101?” I was optimistic that he would directly address the evangelical tendency to be intimidated by evolution. However, my optimism evaporated when I read the opening paragraph: Students from Christian homes are often warned about the dangers of secular lifestyles in college, especially those relativistic worldviews rooted in humanism and evolutionary theory. Many parents sending their kids off to school are not only concerned with the temptations of the social atmosphere, but they also fear the potentially more damaging outcome from an intellectual culture hostile to Biblically-based perspectives. Alarm bells start ringing any time I see “relativistic worldview” and “evolutionary theory” lumped together. On very rare occasions an author can astutely work through the various meanings of each of these phrases, show how they are related (or not related), and provide some wise guidance on how these systems or ideas should be approached by a Christian. Most of the time however, an author simply conflates the terms, pontificates on their evilness, and moves on to strategies for combating them. Although Hill’s tone is respectful and pontification is minimal, his approach is much closer to the latter.
A) Do not Avoid Science
First the positive. Hill does not say Christians should avoid learning about evolution. He acknowledges that Christians should examine modern scientific
explanations, including biological evolution. Taking biology 101 will allow Christian students to “… walk away four months later appreciating modern scientific theories about the universe and have their faith strengthened because they understand this conflict more deeply”. Although I strongly disagree with the implication that evolution and faith are inherently in conflict, or that the majority of those teaching it are attacking a biblical worldview, I commend his advice to Christians that they seek to understand modern ideas and theories, even ideas and theories that are in conflict with a biblical worldview or are taught by those biased against a biblical worldview. As both Jesus and the apostle Paul demonstrated, we need to directly engage our culture, not run from it. And to properly engage, we need to first listen & understand.
1. Populations, not Individuals Natural selection is a mechanism that operates on populations, not on individual organisms. (See here). Individual orchids, sheep, and hominids do not evolve – populations of orchids, sheep and hominids evolve over time (generally very long periods of time). Natural selection is unrelated to individuals or their choices. In fact, maybe a better term for natural selection is environmental sorting of heredity as indicated here. 2. Descriptive, not Prescriptive Natural selection is an explanation for how things have changed over time. It is thus descriptive and is not meant to be prescriptive. The theory explains the paleontological, genetic, and morphological data, but does not in any way provide guidance on how humanity should act in the future. As Kyle Maxwell states: The theory of evolution is merely an account of the mechanisms God has used to create us. It can no more be a guide to our moral choices than Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, or Boyle's law. Bear in mind, by the way, that scientific laws (of which evolution is one) are descriptive, not prescriptive or normative. That means that scientific laws describe what DOES happen in the universe; they do not tell you what moral choices to make. Many persons make a mistake here by confusing the different meanings of the word law. For example, they'll think that the law of gravity "punishes" a person for stepping off a cliff. That is not so. The law of gravity describes how an object moves in a gravitational field. The choice of how and where you place yourself in such a field is up to you. (Quoted from here - scroll to the 3rd post at the bottom).
B) Natural Selection and its Relationship to Moral Relativism
However, Hill’s second conclusion that we need to be wary of an evolutionary paradigm because “it results in a morally relativistic worldview” is completely unsupported in the essay (and I believe unsupportable). He states: An evolutionary paradigm describing the result of competition and environmental stress within nature can be stated very simply: the fit survive, mutations arise and new species arrive. According to this mode of thought, humans are no exception to this rule, being an ordinary product of the machinery of natural selection, as much as daffodils, flounders, or pigeons. This indifference and utter accidentalness in the origination of living things is unnerving. It proposes that everything is relative, that nothing under the sun — least of all the human race — is special in any way. I have commented before that humanity’s connectedness to all other life on planet earth does not contradict the fact that we are created in the image of God. What needs to be addressed is the contention that the mechanism of natural selection somehow leads to moral relativism. Briefly, the acceptance of natural selection should not lead us to accept moral relativism since first, it acts on populations not individuals, and second, it is descriptive not prescriptive.
C) A Christian Paradigm
Hill might include more than just the scientific evidence for natural selection in his “simple” definition of “an evolutionary paradigm” ; it is not clear from his essay. But based on his definition, the conclusion he reaches is not warranted. It is true that some paradigms might lead to moral relativism, even paradigms near and dear to the hearts of many evangelicals. One could try to make the argument that the economic theory of capitalism leads to moral relativism (“survival of the fittest” is certainly more applicable here than in biological evolution) or that the political theory of democracy leads to moral
relativism, but both of those statements are obviously simplistic and can be debated. However, the contention that capitalism and/or democracy leads to moral relativism is easier to defend than the claim that natural selection leads to moral relativism. Both capitalism and democracy are at least partly prescriptive; natural selection (and the science of biological evolution) is purely descriptive. In one sense Hill is right. Making an Evolutionary Paradigm (however it is defined) foundational for defining truth, making choices, and finding purpose is unacceptable for Christians. Our primary paradigm must be Christ-centered and biblically guided. If this approach is trumped by any other paradigm, whether a Democratic Paradigm, a Capitalist Paradigm, or an Evolutionary Paradigm, we have committed idolatry. Christians can of course hold democratic political ideas, capitalistic economic ideas, and evolutionary scientific ideas, but these ideas need to be secondary to, informed by, and measured against our primary paradigm, which is faith in Jesus Christ.
the quackery of Pat Robertson or the wacky “prophecies” of Oral Roberts. And like the Hebrew prophets, Campolo’s voice is often unwelcome in large parts of the religious community in which he participates. I don’t always agree with what Campolo says (for example his “red-letter Christians” initiative - see a good critique here on John Stackhouse’s blog) but he is inspiring and a man of integrity. So it is sad to see Campolo miss the mark so badly in his recent op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In an article entitled The Real Danger in Darwin is not Evolution, but Racism (HT: Ed Darrell) he lashes out at … well, possibly the science of biological evolution, possibly an ill-defined metaphysic of “Darwinism”, or maybe even Charles Darwin himself – the focus of his attack is unclear. I suspect that Campolo wanted to highlight that all of humanity enjoys a special place in God’s creation, and that ideas that deny this can be dangerous. It is commendable that Campolo strongly defends this important truth about human dignity. However, in my opinion, his argument is presented so badly that it probably does more damage than good.
D) Still Promoting Fear of the Bogeyman
Although the title of Hill’s article seems to suggest that evangelicals should not fear evolution, I believe his argument will only make things worse. The impression one is given is that accepting the evidence for biological evolution inevitability leads to an evolutionary paradigm that is itself equivalent to moral relativism. Since moral relativism is incompatible with the Christian faith, the message is really “learn about the scientific ‘theory’ of evolution but hold your breath so that you don’t inhale its toxic ramifications”. This is equivalent to giving your fearful 6-year old a loaded gun when going to bed. Someone might get hurt, but it sure won’t be the bogeyman.
A) Positive Aspects of the Argument
First the positive: In the past (for example here) (HT: Stephen Matheson), Campolo has parroted standard anti-evolutionist claims that “Evolution is just a theory”. However, in the current op-ed he does not question the scientific evidence for biological evolution, and even states that “in terms of science, Darwin’s account may be solid indeed”. Secondly, he states, in opposition to YEC claims, that “the development of biological organisms over eons of time really does not pose the great threat to the dignity of our humanity”. Thus he is not insisting on a rigorously literal interpretation of scripture, an interpretation that itself can be damaging to the Christian faith. Finally, he concludes that there is an “infinite qualitative difference” between humans and that rest of creation. These are all great points, and could have been constructed into a useful argument against some of the unwarranted philosophical extrapolations to evolutionary theory being passed off as science (for example, the insistence that the biological connectness of humanity to other forms of life implies that we are nothing more than “gene machines”).
VI. Et Tu Tony? A Critique of Campolo’s attack on "Darwinism"
Published February 10, 2008 Tony Campolo is a prophetic voice in the Evangelical community, prophetic in the sense of the ancient Hebrew prophets who challenged the Israelites to care for the poor and to "act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God" – not prophetic in the modern sense like, for example,
B) An Argument Gone Astray
Campolo, however, does not build a useful argument. Instead he repeats some of the most ill-informed and inaccurate anti-evolutionist claims. These include: 1. Darwin was a racist: Campolo claims that Darwin’s ideas are dangerous because they promote and support racism. This is simply not true. Campolo shows he grossly misunderstands Darwin by claiming that they do. At a minimum, Darwin was no more racist than most Christian Victorians, and as several commentators have shown, (see here, here, here, and here) he personally opposed racism and slavery. 2. Let only the strong survive: Campolo claims that Darwin wanted to abandon society’s weak. He states: Darwin even argued that advanced societies should not waste time and money on caring for the mentally ill, or those with birth defects. To him, these unfit members of our species ought not to survive. This is also false. These are the ideas of Herbert Spencer, not Darwin. Spencer took Darwin’s descriptive biological theory and created a prescriptive theory for human societies called Social Darwinism. (For a good overview from a Christian perspective on Social Darwinism and other extrapolations of Darwin’s ideas, see Evolution: From Creation to New Creation pages 51-64) 3. Darwin’s theories were complicit in the rise of Nazism: As Ted Davis has noted (HT: David), the relationship between Darwinism and Nazism is complex, and there is indeed some connection. However, the responsibility for this connection should not be laid on Darwin, nor should biological evolution be rejected because of Hitler’s madness. To paint Darwin and biological evolution with this brush is ludicrous. In fact, it may be just as accurate to say that Christian ideas were complicit in the rise of slavery and racism in the American south. Depending on your definition of Christian, and what facts you cherry-pick from history, this could well be true. However, slavery and racism should never be blamed on Christ or the Christian gospel. This too is ludicrous.
by Darwinism – a word that can convey such a broad range of ideas that it has become almost useless except as a pejorative. Does Campolo mean Darwin’s writings? Does he mean the main scientific theories Darwin proposed (descent with modification through natural selection), or possibly the modern evolutionary synthesis that includes Mendelian genetics as well as other modifications to Darwin’s theories? Does he mean the extrapolations, and sometimes dramatic distortions, of Darwin’s theories outside of the field of biology (eg. Social Darwinism, Eugenics, and Evolutionary Psychology)? Or is he focusing his criticism on the (often atheistic) ideologies that claim all knowledge should be viewed through an evolutionary paradigm? If by Darwinism Campolo means the latter of these options, then I would agree with his assertion that Darwinism can be dangerous. However, I’m sure that many (probably most) of his readers will interpret his use of Darwinism to be the scientific theory of biological evolution. And for this definition, Campolo’s claim is wrong. As I’ve discussed previously, there are no ethical implications to the scientific theory of biological evolution. It is a very good model for explaining the development of life on earth, but it provides no moral guidance (good or bad) for future human decisions. It is important for Christians, as Ted Davis notes, to “Do one's best to separate science as science from science as grand metaphysical program”. (Allan Harvey’s proposal, that includes six different definitions for evolution and which I discussed here, makes the same point). We do not need to fear science. We should however, be leery when scientific theories are woven into grand meta-narratives that claim to explain the really big questions. These are questions that science is just not able to answer.
I have the utmost respect for Tony Campolo. His challenge to Evangelicals to take seriously our responsibility to the poor is sorely needed. We should all emulate his passion for defending the dignity of humanity, whether from racism or a denial of human spiritual uniqueness. But I believe his attack on Darwinism will be counterproductive. The easily refutable pieces of his argument may allow many to feel justified in also rejecting his implied conclusion: That humanity is created in the Image of God. More importantly, choosing between the “how” of human creation (biological evolution) and the “why” of human creation (to be the Image of God) is a false dichotomy. We are the Image because God
C) A Failure to Define this “Darwinism” that is so dangerous
I believe the central flaw in Campolo’s article is that he attempts to define “the real dangers of Darwinism” without in fact defining what he means
declared it to be so, not because of how we were created. That is why each and every human being is important.
Another addendum. I guess I have a defective blogging gene. I had seen Campolo’s original piece a couple days after it came out but didn’t find the time
to put my thoughts together. Actually, that probably turned out for the better. Stephen Matheson provided his own reaction, and a very interesting discussion ensued between him and David Opderbeck. Reading this (unfortunately after the discussion was over) helped clarify my own thinking. So thanks guys for the provocative (and spirited) discussion.
F) Evolution: Personal Choices and Implications for Evangelicals
Given the antagonism towards evolution within the Evangelical community, the personal choices regarding the acceptance of evolution can be difficult and the personal implications significant. The following three posts discuss these choices. The first examines reasons why many Evangelicals have come to accept biological evolution as not only scientific truth, but a truth compatible with orthodox Christianity. The second post recounts the challenges biologist Richard Colling faced at his Evangelical institution, and comments on the implications for other scientists in similar situations. The third post discusses the implications of publicly supporting evolution in an Evangelical church setting.
I. Factors involved in the shift to Evolutionary Creationism: My Story and Yours
Published May 4, 2008 A small but growing number of Evangelicals have embraced an Evolutionary Creationist (EC) view of origins. This is a significant paradigm shift for an Evangelical and can be a difficult and extended process. Since support for EC within the Evangelical community is rare, and direct opposition to EC is prevalent, why do Evangelicals launch into this journey in the first place? And why do they end up holding onto their faith? Important Factors in the Paradigm Shift I think there are 6 factors involved in the paradigm shift. The factors in this list do not necessarily occur sequentially, not all are relevant for all Evangelicals making this journey, and the importance of each will vary from one person to the next. However, I believe each is an important part of the process in a majority of cases. These factors include: 1. A realization that some of the “simple” traditional claims aren’t so simple 2. A loss of trust in Evangelical leadership that dogmatically defend untenable ideas. 3. An evaluation of the scientific evidence for evolution 4. A broad examination of biblical hermeneutics and Christian theology 5. The testimony of thoughtful Evangelical Christians who accept the theory of evolution. 6. An explanation of #3 and/or #4 from an EC viewpoint (someone in #5). For those of us that grew up in an Evangelical
community, #1 and #2 are certainly important. Most evangelicals (outside of the fundamentalist fringe) grapple with #1 at some time, usually during or prior to young adulthood. Many also rethink earlier assumptions because of #2. For example, hearing YEC leadership claims that the earth is only 6000 years old in the face of massive & elementary evidence to the contrary. If these leaders are so wrong about the age of the earth (and emphatically dogmatic in their wrongness), could they be just as wrong about evolution? #3 is the most obvious factor, and certainly important for those in pursuing science in higher education. But I doubt it is the most significant factor in many other cases. #4 is an important factor for those pursuing degrees in theology or biblical studies, and while rethinking some of the rigid traditional hermeneutic methods is necessary for an EC viewpoint, it is hardly sufficient. Anyone who states that the bible provides positive support for evolutionary science is almost certainly twisting scripture. Key Factors: The Testimony and of other Evolutionary Creationists I suspect, however, that #5 and #6 are the most significant factors for the majority of Evangelicals that end up in the EC camp. #1 and #2 may be important first steps, but these do not necessarily lead to an EC position on origins. A comprehensive study of #3 and #4 may be sufficient but I suspect very few Evangelicals have the time, energy, and focus to 1) thoroughly investigate the evidence from biology, geology, genetics, paleontology, anthropology and related scientific disciplines and 2) navigate the maze of ANE cultural history, ancient Hebrew linguistics, Christian Theology, Biblical Studies, and OT exegesis. For most of us raised in a black-and-white evolution-is-evil environment, it is only after healthy doses of #5 and #6 that we make that final step into the EC camp with our Evangelical faith unscathed.
My Own Story How did these factors play out for me personally? #1 and #2 brought me to a certain point, and a smattering of #4 during my university years brought me further along this path. However, I was still stuck in an ignore-the-issue anti-evolutionist position for many years. Interestingly, I did get a healthy dose of #5 working at a Christian camp as a teenager, but I wrote the friend off as both nuts and immature-inthe-faith. Only recently (as I explained in my introductory post), did I revisit the issue of the interaction of evolutionary science and faith. And when I did revisit it, #6 was the critical factor, particularly Darrel Falk’s book Coming to Peace with Science. It was Falk’s personal story of faith, a story he provided prior to his summary of the evidence for biological evolution, which clinched it for me. I started the book conflicted about evolutionary claims; I finished the book comfortable with an acceptance of evolution. Even though #3 and #4 were still only beginning (and are, even now, works in progress), my paradigm had already shifted – not away from creationism, but towards a much different creationism. Your Stories I’m interested in hearing the stories of others who have travelled this journey. In particular, I am interested to know which factors were most important for you. Which ones were key to the shift in your own paradigm? Was it a relatively simple progression, or more disjointed like my own? Were there other factors involved that are not covered in the list above?
may be the easy part. Much more difficult is dealing with the aftermath when these personal understandings become public. Richard Colling, a long time biology professor at Olivet Nazarene University (ONU), discovered this the hard way. Richard Colling’s Story A couple of years ago Colling was one of several Evangelical biologists that published books supportive of the integration of evolutionary science and the Christian faith. His book Random Designer addressed the common misconception that the chance and randomness inherent in evolution are somehow competitors to God. The Book: “… explains that the randomness and chaos which play such central roles in our physical existence are actually creative. The Creator simply taps these random physical processes to accomplish His higher goal – the creation of human beings capable of consciously perceiving Him” Almost from the launch of his book, Colling faced hostility from those within the Church of the Nazarene community with a YEC perspective. Last year, it appears that several members of the university board attempted to orchestrate his firing. Although unsuccessful, they were able to convince the university President that some action was needed. So this fall, as reported in the Sept 17 issue of Newsweek, Colling was told he could no longer teach the introductory biology course at ONU. As well, his book was removed from the reading lists of all ONU courses. What does this mean for ONU? From the outside, it is easy to conclude that ONU, in the face of an angry “fundamentalist” contingent within the Church of the Nazarene, is abandoning Colling. Some close to the situation do not see it this way, and view it as a short term compromise to “make peace” between the various factions. (For example, see ONU faculty member Charles Carrigan’s comments here and here). I think we should be careful not to judge the ONU president given that he had to make a very, very difficult decision. As well, (as indicated by Carrigan's comments above) there are probably other factors and complexities to the situation that are not being revealed publicly. Whatever the case, Colling is deeply disappointed and hurt by what has happened. He has commented publically in several blogs, for example here and here. He is also wary of additional repercussions (see his comments at the end of this
II. When the Acceptance of Biological Evolution has Personal or Professional Repercussions
Published September 21, 2007 Grappling with the implications of biological evolution can be a difficult theological challenge. However, for most of us, it doesn’t directly affect our personal or professional lives. For others though, the impact is much more direct. For pastors in Evangelical churches, or for faculty in Christian academic institutions, coming to a personal understanding of the coherence of evolution and faith
very LONG thread). What I find most fascinating about this incident is that neither the Church of the Nazarene, nor ONU, takes an official stand against evolution. Colling is not being disciplined for teaching something contrary to institution policy or church doctrine. In essence, he is being moved “out of the public eye” to placate some very powerful constituents within ONU and the Church of the Nazarene. The course curriculum at ONU has not changed and still includes content on biological evolution. Other ONU faculty that teach and strongly support evolution are not affected (at least for now). So this looks like a strategic retreat for ONU, and not a hard right turn to antievolutionism. Implications for other Scientists in Evangelical Institutions The pertinent question for me is this: If Richard Colling faces these challenges in a Christian environment where his colleagues and administration largely agree with his views and are predisposed to support him, should scientists in other Evangelical institutions less friendly to biological evolution be nervous of the increasingly militant antievolutionist lobby within Evangelicalism? If ONU faces this difficulty, isn’t the risk even higher for individuals and institutions that belong to denominations that take explicit stands against evolution? What about theologians and biblical studies faculty that discuss the interaction between modern evolutionary theory and theology or biblical interpretation? What if they do not believe this interaction is in inherent conflict? Will they also face repercussions? In non-academic environments, the problem may be even more difficult for Evangelicals that have come to peace with evolution. I suspect that many pastors and other local church leaders who are comfortable with the integration of biological evolution and the Christian faith have chosen to remain silent on the topic. I’m sure this silence can be justified as a way of promoting church unity since, for the vast majority of Christians, an understanding of biological or human origins is not necessarily relevant to their daily participation in the kingdom of Christ. However, how long should they remain silent? As I posted previously, antievolutionism can be dangerous, and there are times when silence is not the best option. What should these leaders do in this situation when they know that saying anything can have huge personal implications? Tough Decisions. Choices that are Vital for the Future of Evangelicalism
These are tough, gut wrenching personal decisions. But these are not only personal decisions. I strongly believe these are decisions that are important for the collective Evangelical church. As Colling comments in this post: I believe that it is a matter of when, not if, the evolutionary paradigm WILL be integrated into the evangelical Christian theology. If not, the Christian faith will be relegated to cultural obsolescence. With the genetic data derived from the human genome project and other sources, the evolutionary connectedness of life on earth can no longer be denied. Therefore to build the foundation of the Christian faith on opposition to evolution is not only silly, it is suicide for the long-term viability and credibility of the faith. Well said Richard, well said. I too believe that, in time, this integration will happen. It is unfortunate that in the meantime Colling, and others that promote the integrity of science along with the integrity of scripture, need to suffer personal and/or professional damage because of their commitment to that integrity.
III. Would your Church allow you to Publicly Support Evolution?
Published March 2, 2008 Last September I commented on biologist Richard Colling’s plight at ONU instigated by his public support for biological evolution. I suspect this type of story will become more prevalent in the next several years since although Evangelical biologists largely support evolution, it is still very rare for Evangelical church or ministry leaders to publicly pronounce their acceptance of the scientific theory. These scientists represent the vanguard in attempting to persuade the broader Evangelical church that peace with evolution is possible and preferable, but, as in most theaters of war, being a peacemaker can be a very dangerous assignment. Visiting a Baptist Monk I really enjoy Michael Spencer’s Internet Monk blog. His “dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness” are always direct, engaging, thought provoking, and spiritually challenging. I have said in
the past that I prefer to keep the moniker Evangelical rather than abandon it for “Post-Evangelical” as Spencer does. However, after reading his blog for a while, I believe his vision and hope for the PostEvangelical church appears similar to my own for the Evangelical church, so maybe our disagreement is simply semantic. Spencer certainly does not fit the stereotypical image of a Southern Baptist Bible teacher. I highly doubt his views on inerrancy are supported by many SBC members, and it seems to get him into trouble occasionally. And although even moderate SBC churches like Saddleback officially support Young Earth Creationism, Spencer emphatically states that he does not. He defends a high view of scripture, but also understands what the Bible is, and what it is not. He comments that: Ever since I read Conrad Hyers’ The Meaning of Creation and realized that the Bible wasn’t a science book and its inspiration wasn’t involved in the views of science in ancient cultures, I’ve not lost much sleep over the relationship of religion and science. An SBC Minister on Evolution: No Comment? Although Spencer is comfortable with an old earth, it appears he does not take a strong public position on evolution (either for or against). Undoubtedly, one reason for this is that the science / faith dialogue is not a priority for him. However, it is unlikely that he will ever publicly support evolution – at least if he wants to continue with his current employment. In a post about Tim Keller’s support of Theistic Evolution (TE), Spencer comments on how significant Keller’s support of TE would be within the Evangelical community. (Note: the post was eventually pulled because of ambiguity over whether Keller actually supports TE). Spencer then asks some great questions (primarily to Christian leaders like himself): For those of you who are theistic evolutionists (or might possibly be if you knew what you believed), could you openly announce your belief in theistic evolution in your setting? Especially in your church? your sermon? your college or seminary class (as student or teacher)? your ordination council? your session or church board? your ministry employment? He then provides, with typical directness, what would happen if one day he announced his belief in TE:
I’d be fired from my job as Bible teacher, chapel preacher and campus minister. Immediately. Not really good incentive to investigate evolution further – particularly since it is clearly not a central issue to his ministry. Frankly, I don’t blame him for not pursuing this matter any further. A PCA Minister on Evolution: Risky Comments The Keller situation that Spencer mentions above is also interesting in this context. In his new book “The Reason for God” Keller does provide qualified support for a Theistic Evolution position (at least asserting that it is within the bounds of orthodoxy). (See: Tim Challies book review here, this article in First Things, and this interview in Newsweek for details). Keller is a very influential pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), a conservative Presbyterian denomination whose Creation statement (HT: BTF) includes this paragraph on the initial chapters of Genesis: “In these chapters we find the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth* ex nihilo*; of the special creation of Adam and Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all humanity (hence they are not the products of evolution from lower forms of life).” Now, as Rich Blinne notes, the above report was submitted by a non-binding advisory group within the PCA, and so it cannot necessarily be used to censure Tim Keller. Still it is clear that Keller, with his qualified support of evolution, is offside with the majority within his own denomination and is likely taking some personal risk by doing so. It is heartening to see Evangelical church leaders like Keller reject the Evangelical / Evolution conflict thesis. We need more leaders with his integrity and stature speaking out. It requires courage and wisdom, courage for reasons obvious to anyone familiar with Evangelical culture, wisdom since speaking out can potentially cause more damage than good. Not every church leader is in a situation where this type of public announcement is possible or advisable. Evangelical Grass-roots and Evolution The situation is similar for many grass-roots Evangelicals. Personally, I’m fortunate that our family is involved with an Evangelical Anglican Church (with a heavy emphasis on the Evangelical) in which God’s method of creation is a non-issue –
you won’t see us participating in Evolution Sunday but neither will you hear a sermon condemning modern scientific theories of the development of life. So for me there is little personal risk in discussing my views in the church. However, most Evangelicals grappling with the implications of an evolving creation are not so fortunate. I suspect many would lose whatever position they held in their church, maybe even their membership, if they publicly stated their acceptance of evolution. Charges of heresy and abandonment of the gospel would inevitably strain friendships and family relationships. For many, the price would be very high. What Personal Ramifications? I’m interested in hearing other personal perspectives on this problem. What would the ramifications be in
your church if you stated your support for evolution? Are these ramifications clearly spelled out in your church charter or membership requirements? Or is opposition to evolution an unwritten rule unanimously accepted by all? How would support for evolution impact your relationship with your family or other Christian friends? How would it affect your participation in parachurch Christian ministries or services? Could you continue working in these organizations? An even more significant question: For those of you that have revealed your acceptance of evolution, was it really worth it? Would you do it again, or would you choose to remain silent if given the choice to start over?
G) The State of the Dialogue and a Call to Action
The state of the dialogue on evolution within Evangelicalism has changed radically in the last decade. As the first post in the section below notes, there are now a plethora of resources that promote the compatibility of evolution and an evangelical expression of the Christian faith. Those of us that accept this compatibility should be promoting these resources within our communities. More importantly however, as stated in the second post, we need to reclaim the concept of “creation” (a term sullied by certain creationists), and proclaim the relevance of our Creator God to our modern and post-modern world. The third post suggests that we need to promote a positive relationship between science and faith in our Evangelical communities, and introduces the topic of “An Evangelical Statement on Evolution”, a manifesto I believe could be very positive step to healing the wounds in our community.
I. Ten Books and what they mean for Evolutionary Creationism
Published July 8th, 2008 Quick Quiz. How many books do you think possess all of the following characteristics? Promotes the compatibility between biological evolution and an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith Is a non-academic work targeted at a popular reading level Was published in North America prior to 2003 To the best of my knowledge, the right answer is none. A big fat zero. Zilch. As of 5 years ago, you could not find a single popular-level work by an North American Evangelical Christian which dissented from the evolution / Christian faith conflict thesis. (Note: There were some published in Europe). Fast-forward 5 years. As of June 2008, North American Evangelicals have at least 10 books that meet the above characteristics. They are as follows: The Ten Books 1. Richard Colling, Random Designer (2004) 2. Darrel Falk, Coming to Peace with Science (2004) 3. David Wilcox, God and Evolution (2004) 4. Stephen Godfrey and Christopher Smith, Paradigms on Pilgrimage (2005) 5. Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe (2006) 6. Francis Collins, The Language of God (2007) 7. Gordon Glover, Beyond the Firmament (2007) 8. Deborah and Loren Haarsma, Origins (2007) 9. Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin (2008) 10. Denis Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation (2008)
Why did Evangelicals have to wait so long to receive this type of book? Why did this mini-explosion of books occur now? Why is the author profile for all these books nearly identical (they are almost all scientists)? Allow me to provide my own speculations. What this Tells Me 1. Evolutionary Creationism (EC) is no longer a radical fringe position within the Evangelical community. We have a dozen well-educated Evangelicals who defend both Christian and scientific orthodoxy, and who have invested the time and energy to communicate science/faith compatibility to the typical Evangelical in the pew. The scholarly dialogue phase regarding the scientific merits of biological evolution within the mainstream evangelical scientific community may be practically complete; we are now in a phase where this community is communicating their (majority?) consensus to their Christian brothers and sisters who are less comfortable with scientific discussions. 2. This communication to the masses is however, very, very recent. Even 10 years ago, North American Evangelicals would have had a tough time finding any popular level discussion that was even sympathetic to an EC view, let alone one that actively promoted it. Now Evangelicals can pick and choose among several options. So, to those EC’s that are frustrated with the pace of the acceptance of EC ideas I say: “Please be patient, we have only started to get this message out.” 3. Notwithstanding this consensus among Evangelical scientists, there is a huge gap within the Evangelical academic community. (See also the historical perspective & future directions post by Ted Davis). Whereas the discussion among evangelical
scientists is relatively mature, the discussion among biblical scholars is just beginning. As to Evangelical theologians, do they even realize that there is a discussion? What we need to do 1. The time is past for lamenting the lack of sound scientific resources on the topic of biological evolution from a distinctly Evangelical perspective. We probably have all that we really need. What we should be doing is promoting the resources that are already available. 2. Given that this reconciliation within the Evangelical community is so recent, and that the past conflict was so harsh, those of us that are comfortable with an EC perspective need to exhibit a spirit of understanding, patience and love when discussing these issues with other Evangelicals (see also particularly Richard Colling’s recent post on this topic). 3. Finally, we need to do something to wake up the Evangelical theological community. As I have said in the past, it is not sufficient for theologians to explain historic theological approaches that may have been appropriate for Christians in ages past. For the good of our faith we also need approaches that make sense of our modern and post-modern world. And the relationship between science and faith (and evolution & faith in particular) is one of the most salient issues causing angst among modern & post-modern Evangelicals.
I’m sure that many of these Egyptian Christians tried desperately to convince their Muslim neighbors that the title “Christian” should not be associated with the viscous, un-Christian acts of the crusaders. And I’m sure they had just as much trouble defending Christ because of Christians as we have in defending creation because of creationists. Reclaiming Creation Reclaiming creation will be difficult. But it is an essential part of the gospel. Even as Christians should never abandon Christ when other Christians bring the name of Christ into disrepute, neither should we be ashamed of creation simply because certain forms of creationism make untenable claims based on flawed interpretations of scripture. As I posted earlier, combating this type of creationism is important because it is dangerous. A more urgent task, however, is communicating God’s positive message of creation to a world that desperately needs to hear it. For there is purpose in creation, there is ultimate meaning. Creation is the Central Idea … For many of us, biological evolution is fascinating, but it is not the most important aspect of the origins discussion. Creation is the central truth. Genesis is very clear about who was responsible for bringing forth life on earth – it was God. Out of nothingness, a good creation was brought into being. The pinnacle of this good work was humanity, which was created in the image of God. And humanity was entrusted with the stewardship and care of creation. Genesis also states that a central problem is human sin. Because of this sin, a gulf developed in humanity’s relationship with God. God could no longer enjoy communion with those he created in his own image, since the image was severely marred. The story of the destructiveness of this sin and the pain caused by this sin is developed throughout the rest of scripture. Genesis also states that the solution for this problem is God’s faithfulness, and this story too is developed throughout scripture. Out of loss and separation, through redemption, a new good creation is brought into being, redemption possible only because God entered into his creation, suffered with and for his creation. … Evolution is Peripheral The story of evolution may be interesting, even wondrous. I believe it provides even more reason to be awed by God’s handiwork. However, it is should not take center stage. Because evolution answers the “how” of the origin of life, it is therefore a dependent
II. Reclaiming and Proclaiming Creation
Published August 2, 2007 All Christians believe in creation – including those like myself who accept biological evolution as a mechanism employed by the creator. Thus you could argue that all Christians are creationists. Unfortunately, “creationist” has taken on connotations that make it an embarrassing label. In modern parlance it means not only “belief in a caring creator” as the historic creeds confirm, but also assent to specific methods and timings on how God realized his purposes, methods and timings that are little more than nonsense when viewed in the light of modern scientific evidence. I think I can appreciate the turmoil Egyptian Christians must have endured during the crusades when European “Christians” raped and pillaged their way through the Holy Land.
concept, dependent for purpose on creation which answers the “who”, “what” and “why”; it is peripheral to the questions of ultimate meaning in life. God could have brought life forth in many different ways, but it appears that biological evolution was the mechanism he chose. Through this process we obtain a better appreciation for the power and scope of his creativeness, for his patience, and for his insistence on cooperation rather than coercion. However, an understanding of this process is not essential to what we already know from the scriptures about his love, selfless sacrifice, forgiveness, and final redemptive plan. Conclusion Since creation is an essential part of the good news, maybe I shouldn’t be so hesitant to wear the label creationist. Maybe, like Denis Lamoureux, I should call myself an Evolutionary Creationist. It certainly is a more appropriate term than Theistic Evolutionist since it highlights the centrality of creation. But I’m hesitant to wear the creationist label since it would require constant qualification. I’d rather stick with the positive and simply answer “Creation? Yes!” Note added April 3, 2009: Since this post was originally published (as can be seen by other posts included in this Ebook), I have become very comfortable with the Evolutionary Creationist (EC) label.
between the scientific theory and the Christian faith. The coordinated messages on evolution will be delivered on Feb. 10, 2008 to coincide with the 3rd annual Evolution Sunday event (renamed to Evolution Weekend for 2008). It is a event spearheaded by The Clergy letter project, a group of more than 11,000 clergy that have signed a formal letter calling for an end to the conflict between religion and science. At first blush this project may be encouraging for those of us who wish to promote a peaceful coexistence between science and the Christian faith. After all, removing the evolution “stumbling block” should allow many seekers to reconsider the gospel, and stop many Christians from doubting or abandoning their faith. However, I suspect this initiative will be unhelpful in promoting peace between science and a specifically Evangelical expression of the Christian faith since there is very little Evangelical representation in the group and the character of statement itself is not one that will attract many Evangelicals. a) Very Little Evangelical Presence From my quick perusal of the thousands of clergy that have signed the letter, I suspect that very, very few of them are Evangelicals. In fact, denominations lying outside of orthodox Christianity (eg. Unitarian Universalists) are grossly overrepresented in the group while thoroughly Evangelical denominations seem entirely absent. Now denominations with historic roots that include at least a minority of Evangelicals (eg. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, and Baptist) are well represented, but I doubt that many of the congregations or pastors on the list come from the Evangelical end of the spectrum in their respective denominations. This may be a broad coalition of Christian clergy that promotes a positive view of evolution, but it clearly does not represent broader Evangelicalism. b) Not an Evangelical Statement Parts of the statement are indeed quite good. Saying that “the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist” is a great place to start. And I would moreor-less agree with the assertion that “To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God”. I realize that shared statements like these must be broad in order to enable broad participation, but a statement
III. Promoting a Positive Relationship Between Faith and Science in Evangelical Churches
Published January 20th, 2008 It is not often you hear a positive message on the relationship between science and faith in an Evangelical church , or at least a positive message on evolutionary science and faith. If evolution is mentioned at all, it is usually cast in a very negative light. Is there hope that this could change in the near future?
The Clergy Letter Project Three weeks from now hundreds of Christian pastors will be preaching about evolution during their Sunday morning sermon. But rather than delivering a warning against the evils of evolution, these ministers will be promoting peaceful coexistence
that does not include a single mention of Christ is clearly not written with the input of Evangelicals or with an Evangelical audience in mind. A careful reading of the statement shows more of an influence from NOMA originator Stephen Jay Gould than from prominent Evangelical Faith / Science commentators like Allister McGrath or Francis Collins. (For a more positive Evangelical assessment of The Clergy Letter Project, see Vance’s post at The Submerging Influence). Building an Evangelical Statement Personally I would welcome a specifically Evangelical statement regarding a positive relationship between evolutionary science and faith. A statement like this could have the same positive effect in the Evangelical community that The Evangelical Climate Initiative has had in the climate change discussion. The ASA’s statement on Creation includes a section entitled “The Theistic Evolution (Continuous Creation, Evolutionary Creation) View”, and this probably comes closest to fitting the bill right now. However, I don't believe this statement will have a dramatic effect since the positive view of evolution is included in a document that also includes anti-evolutionary statements (there is a YEC view as well), there is very little awareness of this document within the Evangelical community, and it seems unlikely that the statement will be widely promoted. Darrel Falk in his lecture Bridging the Worlds of Faith and Biology (a very interesting lecture that I recommend) hints that he and other Evangelicals may be working on an initiative like this in the near future, but I'm not aware of any details. I will definitely be watching this closely. I am interested in hearing what others think about creating an Evangelical statement on evolution and faith. Do you think there is enough momentum in the Evangelical community for this type of proposal to garner a significant level of support? Or would it be
dismissed as an initiative from the radical Evangelical fringe? What do you think is the best approach for this type of initiative? Is it something that should originate in Evangelical academia? In Evangelical denominational structures? Should Evangelical umbrella organizations like the NAE and the EFC be consulted and/or involved? Or would this work better if it originated outside of these types of organizations? After all, one positive aspect of the Evangelical movement is that grass roots initiatives can be very, very successful. Maybe the most important question of all is whether this type of initiative is constructive? Ie. will the benefits outweigh the obvious risks? A Positive Evangelical Sermon on the Faith / Science relationship For those that believe that a proposal like this is doomed to fail or fizzle, and for those whose experience in the Evangelical church is very painful when it comes to the topic of evolution, I invite you to listen to this sermon entitled “How can I reconcile Science and Faith” by Tom VanAntwerp of Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA (HT: David Opderbeck). It is an incredibly good sermon that provides an honest overview of the historical context, the modern conflict, and a way for Evangelicals to approach issues of science and faith. For those of us that have studied the science / faith dialogue closely, there is probably nothing new in the sermon. However, I doubt that many of us have heard anything this astute, wise, and pastorally helpful on the topic of science coming from the pulpit of an Evangelical church, nor could many of us do any better. I sure couldn’t. If this sermon is any indication, there is hope that we Evangelicals can and will overcome our selfdefeating battle against evolution. At least I am hopeful.
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