The Language of God 3

This series is from RJS and she is an expert in this topic and way beyond what I could do. I, Scot, think this is a very significant post in this series; read it carefully.
This is the third in a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Part Two of this book describes the scientific evidence – the reasons why many (most) scientists who are Christians have a hard time with a so-called literal interpretation of Genesis. This is truly Dr. Collins’ area of expertise – especially the discussion in Ch. 5 on lessons from the human genome.

But first an observation and a question or two.
It sometimes seems as though Christians, evangelical Christians in particular (and I am an insider here), have a house of cards approach to understanding both science and the faith.
Scientific theories are envisioned as elaborate and flimsy descriptions based on hypothesis and speculation – a house of cards built on a foundation of Jello. But – in most cases – nothing could be further from the truth.
Even more significantly – the faith is viewed as a house of cards built on the foundation of (a favored interpretation of) the special revelation in scripture. But is this really true? Isn’t the faith founded on the triune God and on His relationship with us, His creatures? The Bible tells God’s story of His interaction with His people – in the appropriate ways and at the appropriate times.
Looking at the science may reshape how we read the Bible, but the science alone does not challenge God and does not change God’s story.
So what are the generally accepted facts? As you read what follows remember this key point: NO serious scientist doubts this basic outline – except a few with a prior conviction that evidence from scripture trumps all else.
1. The universe has a distinct beginning and shows every sign of being approximately 14-15 billion years old give or take a few billion. The evidence comes from a multitude of sources and measurements.
2. The earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old with life (in very simple form) appearing a scant 0.7 billion years later. The mechanism for the origin of life is not at all clear. Again the evidence comes from a multitude of sources, measurements and observations.
3. The paleontological record shows a patchy progression from simple to complex. The record is not complete – and given the conditions required for fossilization a complete record of the progression is not to be expected. Approximately 550 million years ago diverse invertebrate life forms appear in the fossil record, 400 million years ago plants appeared on land, 370 million years ago animals moved onto land and 230 million years ago dinosaurs roamed the earth. The extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago led to an explosion of mammalian life. Homo Sapiens (“modern” man) dates from about 195,000 years ago.
4. The theory of evolution explains the evidence for the progression of life in profound and predictive fashion. As measurement of the bending of light near the sun validated the theory of relativity; and the observation of the diffraction of electrons validated quantum theory; so also the genetic record – the genome – validates the theory of evolution. The genetic record provides distinct evidence for the inter-relatedness of species and the evolution of one species from others. In fact, the genetic record provides just the sort of evidence one would expect from the theory of evolution, which was, after all, formulated well before any concrete knowledge of the structure and composition of the genetic material.
5. The evidence available from the human genome project, and the comparison of the human genome with others is consistent with the evolution of mankind from the lower species.
Dr. Collins is an expert on #’s 4 and 5. I encourage all who are interested to read Chs. 4 and 5 in his book – or to listen to his lectures on the subject. Two of these, delivered at the 2002 and 2006 annual meetings of the American Scientific Affiliation, are available for download: 2006 audio, 2006 video, and 2002 audio. Warning the video file is very large (ca. 400 MB).
Finally, consider this quote from Augustine “If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (Ch. 19, par. 39, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis)
How should Christians react to the evidence from science?

  • Rick

    RJS you wrote:
    “How should Christians react to the evidence from science?”
    We should take the information as a tool to possibly help better understand aspects of Scripture. As you stated, “The Bible tells God’s story of His interaction with His people – in the appropriate ways and at the appropriate times.” This does not diminish the authority of Scripture. If historical/archeological studies help shine light on a passage of Scripture, say with new cultural information, then our understanding of the passage may be enhanced.
    The early portions of Genesis are particularly tricky because the science appears to go against some of what is stated. However, it also seems to be written in a different literary style, and many theories have been put forth (including that by Augustine).
    It is very important for scientists in the faith, like yourself, Dr. Collins, Alister McGrath, etc…, to help those of us outside the field of science to possibly better understand this scientific information. We look to Christians in other fields (history, archeology, languages, etc…) to hopefully assist in a better understanding of the faith, and this area should be no different. Of course discernment is important as well.
    We should encourage more and more Christians to enter into these fields of study.

  • Rick

    Let me be sure to also say that we should take evidence from science to help us be in awe of our glorious Creator.

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    RJS,
    Thanks for elaborating on this. Of course, there are evangelicals who feel a bit queasy and uncomfortable about “evidence” or “facts” that the earth is 4.6 billion years old.
    Part of the uneasiness comes from the evangelical hermeneutic of the historical-grammar method taught in many evangelical seminaries( especially in the last century). Because of this hermeneutic, it feels uneasy to start Genesis one and two with a heavy dependence on what may perhaps be called a non-literal interpretation.
    I don’t think one can begin to absorb (not simply accept) the “evidence” you put forth here, without also sifting through and processing the polarizing supernatural-natural debate–especially in the twentieth century–where if one began to embrace the possibility of an old earth, one is not too far away on the slippery slope of questioning the miracles of Jesus–and then the incarnation.
    I think there are many factors coming into play here but one of them has to be the fact that evangelical seminaries stress this grammatical-historical hermenuetic as a way of knowng God and “truth” without any serious engagement with science. It’s quite possible that the typical seminary student has had only a couple undergraduate science courses before they enter seminary.
    Okay, I see I am getting past my limit here. :-)
    To give you a short answer to your last question: we must have a thicker hermeneutic.

  • Michael

    It’s posts like this that make me want to throw out all my Scot McKnight books.

  • http://twoshirts.org/blog Jason Coker

    If the truth of science clearly renders my interpretation of the Bible wrong, then clearly I need to reexamine my hermeneutic.
    However, let me add this:
    As a non-scientist, I’m really in no position to pass any kind of informed judgement concerning the reliability of what you’ve outlined above. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. The only evidence I have that science is reliably accurate is anecdotal, and based mostly on the nifty products I purchase and consume, which fail and break as often as they don’t.
    Or the doctors I visit, and frankly they’re mostly guessing and often wrong.
    Or the history books I read, which are filled with the downright silly and archaic ideas of scientists from the past who thought their ideas were “profound and predictive.”
    So while my hermeneutic (today) fully allows for the peaceful integration of Genesis and evolutionary theory, I also know that more often than not the hermeneutic of science (if there is such a thing) is being constantly revised.
    Which is nothing for me to hang my hat on – as a person, much less as a Christian.

  • Rick

    Michael #4-
    Would you like to elaborate?

  • Diane

    If we accept the pre-modern notion of nature and Scripture as dual revealers of God’s nature, then science helps us to better understand Scripture, and Scripture helps us better understand science.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    RJS,
    1) A question. “NO serious scientist doubts this basic outline…”
    This is all outside my expertise; I am at the mercy of whichever experts I choose to trust. But creation science groups (here, for example http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-scientists.html)will claim that there are serious scientists who don’t believe the given outline. That particular site names Macbeth, Hitching, Taylor, Fix, Cohen, Lovtrup, and Pitman as examples. Is it the case that all of these guys have an ax or to grind or are speaking out of their field? (honest question – I really don’t know, I am just trying to clarify)
    2) Almost everyone cares about science to some degree. The reason young earth creationists enjoy seminars that attempt to show scientific support for creation is that they enjoy the thought of being validated by science. If they didn’t care about the science, the seminary would not matter to them. One further example just for the sake of argument: most YECs would reject a purely theological / scriptural argument that, say, the earth is flat. If it is possible to go into orbit around the earth and visually confirm that the earth is round, then any reading of the Bible that suggests the earth is flat would be somehow reinterpreted by almost all believers that I know, YEC or otherwise.
    3) A political observation. The very fact that you feel a need not to publicly identify yourself here suggests the presence of politics at work, even within the scientific community. This is in no way a swipe at you – I see it as a sad reality of the world we live in. If your peers were truly open-minded, it seems to me that they would encourage your free thinking instead of marginalizing it.
    4) It seems to me that the church does modify its reading of Scripture vis-a-vis science. Perhaps you could measure the velocity of this change in units of Major Idea Changes Per Generation, or MICPiGs for short :-) The Copernican model would be an example of this sort of change and velocity.

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    Jason,
    I hear ya. I think this is part of our challenge, especially if our hermeneutic in Bible/evangelical churches has centered on “correct” interpretation, i.e. getting our word studies right, making sure our exegesis lines up with the grammar and immediate context, etc.
    In my own journey, the polarizing posture that RJS describes between science and faith is accompanied immediately with the rhetoric (and appeal to evidence) about science being wrong. I’ve done it myself.
    I think too, for evangelicals, there is this deep uneasiness about working through the nearness of God, don’t you think? One psychological reaction to coming to grips with this evidence is that it makes God seem so remote and distant–compared with a God who has had immediate direct “intervention” of the entire cosmos say, ten thousand years ago. I think the evidence challenges some fears we have.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    “If they didn’t care about the science, the seminary would not matter to them.” I meant seminar, not seminary. My right index finger got trigger happy!
    Thank you, BTW, RJS, for your time and effort here. I always enjoy reading your comments. An entire series – extra blessing!

  • Adam S

    Finally, consider this quote from Augustine “If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (Ch. 19, par. 39, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis)
    This is what really intreges me about this post. I am not a scientist. I could really care less about whether the earth is 6000 or 6 billion years old. But I know some things about economics and politics and demographics. And I frequently hear pastors and other Christians misuse data from those fields. One issue we have to grapple with is that our pastors that are regularly speaking to us are speaking as non-experts in virtually every illustration that they use that is not personal. So how do we deal with the fact that many times the pastor is just wrong on the specifics of what he or she is talking about. I say all this as someone that really is a generalist. I am a consultant with some training in theology, social work, computers and music. But the work that I do uses all of those fields and more but I am not an expert in any of them.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Have any of you had the chance to read The Design Matrix, by Mike Gene? It’s really a remarkable addition to what Collins is talking about in his book, and, in my opinion, a fantastic “third way” in the ID/evolution debate. Gene suggests a theory of “front loaded evolution” which reminds me a lot of some of John Polkinghorne’s stuff in physics.
    In my opinion, front-loaded evolution is the theory that most fits the biological evidence we see in the world. And theologically, it is also, in my view, the most glorifying to God – showing a method of creation that is neither deistic nor “just zap it all together”.

  • RJS

    MatthewS (#8),
    I have some meetings this morning and will interact more with these comments later. But I want to comment on your pt #3. I comment with initials for two major reasons and I can elaborate later. But I am not interested in total anonymity and will again post my email address: rjs4mail at aol dot com.

  • KJ

    One way of looking at it: Start from the proposition that what the scientific community tells us about the origin of life is true.
    If so, what would have been the most effective way for God to have inspired the author of Genesis to communicate his sovereignty over the creation of the universe and human life to the audience the book was originally written 3,000-4,000 years ago? A scientific manual that lays out the hard facts? Or an allegory that communicated essential truths (God’s sovereignty, sin nature, the relationship between God and man) in a way the audience could process them?

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    KJ,
    One minor caveat – the scientific community really is rather clueless on the question of the origin of life. It is the origin of species that they feel pretty confident they understand. These are two very different questions.

  • http://twoshirts.org/blog Jason Coker

    Dan (#9),
    Yeah, I think there are those fears in us, not only as evangelicals, but as humans.
    Having said that, I don’t think RJS’s points make God more distant at all. I assume they’re mostly right – I have no good reason not to. But I do think science needs more honest humility, as do Christians. The rhetoric all seems to be about who is going to claim, or re-claim, the position as priests of the dominant culture; scientists have that spot for now, and some in the church want it back.
    I just think it would be helpful if we both admitted that we’re wrong more often than we’re right.
    I’ll say it again, shifting interpretations of either science or the bible are nothing for me to hang my hat on. I’ll stick with Love.

  • KJ

    Point conceded, Wonders.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/02/25/teaching-creation-science-or-id-a-formula-for-putting-your-childs-christian-faith-at-risk/ rebeccat

    I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago because as a homeschooler, I do see too many people teaching creation science to their kids while also teaching them that scientists are wrong and evil. Not as many homeschoolers as people think do this, but it does happen. My real concern, aside from intellectual honesty, is that this teaching puts their children’s future spiritual well being at risk. If they teach their kids that Christians believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, then when as adults these kids are faced with scientific reality, they will often not only reject creationism, but the Christian faith which they have been taught is inexorably linked with creationism. You can see the post I wrote by clicking on my name – I just put the link there.
    Matthew S: the creationist website you site with its list of scientists is almost certainly being dishonest (I’m saying this as someone who has examined creationist science materials). They either sight creation scientists who aren’t engaged in actual science – just creating theories about how actual scientists are wrong. Or they misrepresent the words and ideas of mainstream scientists. They may do this by taking a minor point of contention which in no way threatens the consensus understanding of evolution and paint it as a serious threat to the underpinnings of mainstream science which is being deliberately hidden. Or they will even leave out pertinent sections of the scientist’s words, misquote them or take their words completely out of context. (Kind of like movie advertisements which take the word “fantastic” from a movie review which says, “It is fantastic to think anyone would pay money to see this tripe.”) This sort of dishonesty is very common, very easy to uncover and ought to give people pause when it comes to how much credence we give these folks.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Isn’t the faith founded on the triune God and on His relationship with us, His creatures?
    And how do we know about this God or that He wants to have a relationship with us? The Bible. Almost everything we can know about God comes from His special revelation. So people are naturally cautious about anything that calls it into question.
    I do believe Gen 1 can be interpreted such that it is consistent with, or at least leaves space for, modern theory, but I have great sympathy for those who aren’t convinced and worry about knocking over the first domino.
    The genetic record provides distinct evidence for the inter-relatedness of species and the evolution of one species from others.
    Correlation is not causation. It seems like every couple of weeks more evidence appears that makes naturalistic evolution (and lets be clear, that’s what the argument is all about) seem more and more unlikely.
    How should Christians react to the evidence from science?
    I think it was Mamonides who said, if science appears to contradict scripture, it is due to a deficient understanding of either science or scripture.
    I’m fine trying to reconcile the two, but I think we have to be cautious jumping on the latest science bandwagon. I know it’s not the same, but think about all the medical studies that are overturned after five years. Or the “junk” DNA that suddenly isn’t so junky. Or the fact that it was only 100 years ago that science admitted that the universe had a beginning — before that all serious scientists were sure it was eternal.

  • Tom Hein

    If you would be so willing, interact with me more on point 4: “the genome – validates the theory of evolution. The genetic record provides distinct evidence for the inter-relatedness of species and the evolution of one species from others.”
    I am in agreement on old earth. But,how do similar genetic structures “validate” the theory of evolution? In my mind similar genetic structures are just that, similar genetic structures. I see no inherent meaning or cause/effect in that statement. How does that prove evolution?

  • http://kcog.net Mark Eb.

    In some youth groups discussions that I’ve led, we have talked about some of these things (but with far less technical information). My approach is an answer to the final question of the post. The kids usually have a variety of backgrounds or at least are familiar with a variety of viewpoints including a literal 24 hour day of creation. I ask them to assume that perhaps creation evolved over billions of years. I also ask them to assume that God exists and is at least involved in the process in some fashion. What might this tell us about the nature of God? My personal response is that God would have to be much more immensely patient than me. While an instananeous or near instantaneous creation might point towards an omnipotent God, I would much rather encounter an all-powerful God that is extremely patient.
    Usually other questions spring from this… What if evidenced of life on other planets was presented? Couldn’t an Almighty God also orchestrate multiple forms of life (even intelligent life)?
    When does life begin? When does it end?
    If science provided irrefutable evidence that the body of Jesus was found, how would you respond?
    I know some of these are off the topic of creation but I find them to be interconnected.
    On another note, (along with Rick in #6) Michael (#4), I was also wondering by what you meant with your comment. It could be taken so many different ways.
    Thanks for these posts, RJS. A quick question on the house of cards of faith. My filters translate this into the modern age “Foundationalism” approach. Is this what you had in mind with your comment.
    In Christ,
    Mark Eb.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    This is FASTINATING. I grew up and was groomed in the basic evangelical hermeneutics, i.e., historical, grammatical, lexical, etc. I was introduced to creation-science (YEC) in the late 80′s on the heels of “The Battle for the Bible.” And I have a friend who fell victim to what “rebeccat” (#18) describes in the last part of her comment—*Christian* creation-scientists manipulating data to fit their own agenda.
    Just like ante-bellum Southern theologians and pastors entered the eventual “Civil War” not to protect slavery, but to defend the Bible (which *taught” the divine institution of slavery), so some Christian scientists, it seems, enter into the issues of this blog topic not because they give a rip about science (or are even teachable), but in order to protect the Bible.
    I think “Wonders” comment #15 to KJ is one of the most provocative and helpful on this stream. Thanks, “Wonders.”

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    Jason,
    I agree, her points do not entail God is distant.
    As to your point about honest humility, I think, much like the Christian community, the milage varies on the issues involved. Once you get past the Dawkins paradigm, there are many scientists who admit to infallible interpretations–and even Dawkins admits to that–it’s built into their testing and hypothesizing. I think this is an area where Christians and scientists talk past each other–and where Christians like RJS can bridge the gap.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi Tom (#20),
    I’ve heard Collins speak before, and I think he would point to genetic artifacts such as gene duplication. Basically, you can compare two organisms DNA and see that one of them has what looks like a gene that was duplicated and altered, while the original gene was left to decay and is now unused. This is evidence of common descent and some form of evolution – if the creatures were each specially created from scratch, you wouldn’t expect there to be non-functional genes that are made to look like the decaying artifacts of a gene in another species.
    My own view – following Mike Gene – is that there is more than natural selection going on here. Just because creatures are evolving need not imply that they are doing so by pure random mutation. Rather, they are following a front-loaded plan encoded into life itself that exploits the very blindness of natural selection to develop the theme of life. Just as you and I grew from a single cell, so the original cells on earth had blueprints and templates for the development of the highly complex organisms we see today. This is perfectly consistent with Collins’ view, but it also speaks to the handiwork of God and might be considered a form of intelligent design or special creation. It is only inconsistent with chemical evolution and abiogenesis.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Just like ante-bellum Southern theologians and pastors entered the eventual “Civil War” not to protect slavery, but to defend the Bible (which *taught” the divine institution of slavery), so some Christian scientists, it seems, enter into the issues of this blog topic not because they give a rip about science (or are even teachable), but in order to protect the Bible.
    I think this is pushing things a bit too far. I think YEC’s are doing more harm than good, but I wouldn’t compare them to those theologians. The biblical arguments against slavery are FAR stronger than biblical arguments for evolution. The YEC’s are not trying to defend the status quo – they are trying to fight for what they believe to be the survival of the faith. I don’t believe for a minute that the southern theologians you speak of really believed Christianity needed slavery for its very survival.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Wonders (#24),
    Do you know that Dr Collins does not endorse the front loaded plan that you describe? I am 99% amateur in this stuff.
    John

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Wonders (#26),
    Wow! “…they are trying to fight for what they believe to be the survival of the faith.” Really? The YEC people think that is what they are fighting for? Should they be shown to be in error, their whole faith is doomed?
    I agree with your push back (#25)…slavery is not needed for the survival of the faith. But are you saying belief in Young Earth Science is needed in the minds of many?

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    John (#26),
    I am not much more than an amateur myself (a Computer Scientist who thinks biology is really stinkin’ cool). I have not heard Dr. Collins speak on front-loading specifically (nor does Google show an easy answer). My guess (pure speculation) is that he’d be wary of supporting it openly, but might think the idea interesting privately.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    I agree with your push back (#25)…slavery is not needed for the survival of the faith. But are you saying belief in Young Earth Science is needed in the minds of many?
    Yes, absolutely. YEC is seen by many to be the simple interpretation of the literal truth of the Bible. If YEC falls through, many would have a genuine crisis of faith. I think this dangerous – on the order of teaching kids that the literal inerrancy of scripture is non-negotiable, so that they lose their faith when they encounter Bart Ehrman in college.

  • Adam S

    Wow! “…they are trying to fight for what they believe to be the survival of the faith.” Really? The YEC people think that is what they are fighting for? Should they be shown to be in error, their whole faith is doomed?
    That is exactly what is happening. I have a friend that is a OT professor and he is intentionally spending time in class dealing with these issues because there are so many people that are coming to him who’s faith would be completely shaken if a 7 day creation is not true.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    (closing italics)

  • Karl

    I’m curious – what do the leading ID folks say in response to Collins’ criticisms of ID? Do they grant some of his points, i.e. do they think his criticism is fair and accurate? Do they feel like he has properly understood and represented their position, or do they feel like he has side-stepped some of their main arguments? What counter-responses have they offered and is there any merit to them?
    Is it really true that NO serious scientist disagrees with the points laid out above? If so, is that partly due to the fact that the scientific community has made belief in those points a necessary precondition to being considered a “serious scientist?”
    I’m not a young earth creationist. I’m not even a committed ID person, although I’ve been intrigued by some of the ID stuff that I’ve read. I do find compelling some ID writers’ criticism of the philosophic presuppositions that are prevalent in much of the scientific community – the “scientism” that C.S. Lewis also deplored. In short, I’m ok with Collins being correct, if he is. I’m even inclined to defer to his expertise and expect that he is in fact correct. But I’m interested to know how accurately he is representing the position of the ID folks with whom he disagrees.

  • http://www.kinneymabry.blogspot.com Preacherman

    Scot,
    Excellent post brother.
    I want you to know that my dad is a Chemistry professor and my mom is a mathmatics professor. Each one of them are Christians and believe that God created the in the Bible. We need to understand that God doesn’t explain everything to us. And everything we see as an “important issue” really doesn’t matter. It is insignificant. I believe in evolution-creation. Is that creationism a salvation issue? Do we have to believe how it was done? I believe in focusing on creationism vs. evolution we miss the point that God want a personal relationship with us. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. Their relationship was personal, intamate. Adam and Eve had no guilt or shame. They walked and talked with God as he walk in the garden. It wasn’t until they ate the fruit that they felt shame….yet notice what God does. He takes care of them by making them garments with his own hands. God still loves mankind despite our mistakes. I think we need to see the personal God reaching out to us through the word, loving Israel more than we can comprehend. Going beyond that in the New Testament and reaching out to us through the blood of His son Jesus Christ. Are we going to focus on the “non- essentials” and miss the point and the real message of God and who he is: Love. The entire book of 1st John tells us that very thing and the love we should have with one another. I believe that we need to stop focusing on the “non-essentials” such as creationism but seek in every aspect of our lives to surrender our will to his and be missional and emergent.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    I agree with the sentiment that YECs see themselves as defending the faith. For example, God created us in Genesis, we fell, the flood came, etc. God’s redemptive history is played out against this literal history. If this history is not true, then perhaps we are nothing more than animals, perhaps the Fall didn’t happen, etc. Lose Genesis = lose the Bible (meaning the literal 6 day interpretation, as well as a 6,000 – 10,000 yr old earth based upon the chronology and genealogies in the Pentateuch). If Creation, Fall, Flood, etc. are not literal, then at what point does the book shift into literal truth-telling, if ever. Perhaps the idea of God choosing a people for himself is itself allegorical, not literal.
    I think this relates a little bit to RJSs question the other day about rhetoric. This is because for YECs it is not an academic hermeneutical question, nor is it an interesting scientific question, rather, it is a foundational question of the faith. That is part of why the rhetoric can become so heated.
    I will be honest that I myself am nervous about losing at least some form of a literal read of Genesis (I care much more about the C than YE). I don’t intend to have an ignorant hermeneutic but so much of the rest of Scripture seems to refer to Creation and Fall. It isn’t a completely settled question in my mind. This definitely creates the tension about which this post asks, namely, how do you read Scripture if science seems to disagree?

  • Scott M

    I’ve encountered enough who see to have pinned their faith on a YEC theory that I’m not shocked by Wonders for Oyarsa’s statement. I don’t claim to understand it at all, but can acknowledge that it is reality. I’m hesitant to float my own ideas on evolution as because, like Oyarsa, I’m a computer guy not a geneticist. I was raised by one and have worked with him and discussed it much over the years, but that only serves to confirm in my mind how little I really understand.
    I want to go back to a though in comment #9 about God being made to seem remote and distant. From my perspective, in a lot of these conversations, people seem to have this image of a creator God standing somehow ‘outside’ creation. And from that perspective, the YEC God and the God who creates over time and through evolution are simply variations of the same theme. It’s a theme of a God who stands outside this thing called creation and intervenes in one way or another to make it happen. I’m not sure how I see that either is more distant than the other. Neither seems to capture an image of our God who is everywhere present and fills all things. Neither seems to capture the God reveal in Jesus who is the God who comes near. Neither image captures an image of a God in whom all that exists is sustained moment by moment.
    When we speak of that God, I’m not sure we can speak of a conflict between how we understand God and how we understand the world around us. To understand creation is always to understand something of God, even if it is not the fullness revealed in Jesus in Nazareth. Or so it seems to me.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    MatthewS (#34),
    I hear your concern and that of the anxious YECs if they are wrong. But I do not think the discussion here denies key biblical realities. You wrote, “If Creation, Fall, Flood, etc. are not literal, then at what point does the book shift into literal truth-telling, if ever.” Rather than literal, why not say “true”?

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    John #36,
    I think that speaks to the tension that is at the root question of this post, namely, can you (or how do you) read Genesis as true if it is not literal? Would you agree?

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    I come from a YEC background, which I have learned slowly to question, then ultimately reject. I know that so many of my friends are still sold the ‘house of cards’ scenario, that if one card is displaced, the whole house falls over. So much for the ‘solid rock’?
    The process of change is slow (probably aroud 10 years in my case and I still need to sort issues out), and for many a discussion like this would have to take place 50 or 100 times before one feels comfortable.
    I’m greatful that the faith is borader than my YEC root. If I had not discovered how wide the Christian conversation is, and had only read YEC explanations of the faith then I doubt I would still pursue the Christian journey.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi MatthewS,
    I don’t know how much help I can be, but I have a few thoughts on the matter here, including an extended dialog with an intelligent and polite young-earth creationist:
    Mommy What’s a Myth?
    Myths in Our Bible
    Nature Red in Tooth and Claw
    Your Friendly Neighborhood Leviathan

  • http://www.kinneymabry.blogspot.com Preacherman

    Scot,
    I wa you to know that I am getting excited about the emerging church. I am reading and studying about the movement. It is so exciting about what is taking place with conversions. I have read your articles about the emerging church and want to thank you for your wisdom.
    I am currently reading:
    “Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren
    “Advertures In Missing the Point” by Brian McLaren
    “The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations” by Dan Kimball
    “The Church in Emerging Culture:Five Perspectives edited by Leonard Sweet
    “Releasing the Power of the Smaller Church” by Shawn McMullen.
    I was wondering if there is anything, article, or book that you would recommend as I start implementing changes in a way where my congregation gets excited too?
    I appreciate your advice and wisdom brother.
    I pray that God will bless you brother for what you are doing for His Kingdom. Lives that you are changing and making a difference. Thank you for this wonderful blog brother.
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  • KevinO

    “How should Christians react to the evidence from science?”
    In the end, doesn’t this depend on our view of what science is and does? Especially as it relates to issues of faith. In the end science itself is based on a set of presuppositions about the nature of the universe. Presuppositions which by their very nature cannot be subject to a truly scientific scrutiny. This isn’t a bad thing, it just is. Given that, and even given the kinds of arguments that Collins makes, he never seems to acknowledge this. I am inclined to be sympathetic to Collins positionas a whole, but I also have some significant problems. He is clearly operating from a very modernist viewpoint. In the earlier section relating to the moral law (p.24) he states:
    “Let me stop here and point out that the conclusion that the moral law exists is in serious conflict with the current postmodernist philosophy . . .”
    Leaving aside the fact that his view of postmodernism is at best un-nuanced and at worst a caricature, it raises all kinds of interesting questions in my mind. Collins clearly believes that a very rationalistic view of the univserse is in order and should define at the least some of HOW if not the WHAT that we believe.
    While Collins seems to have a suitably humble stance in some places (he argues over and over that our theology should not be based on arguments from silence relative to science – and this is very wise)he also tends to take some very hard lines which don’t seem entirely consistent. For instance at the end of chapter 4 (p. 107) he says “Evolution can and must be true. But that says nothing about the nature of its author. For those who believe in God, there are reasons now to be more in awe, not less.”
    This seems problematic on at least two levels. 1)”Must” is out of place given that much of his argumentation says that science shouldn’t be viewed this way. It strains scientific credulity. (After all, isn’t the history of science one of correcting wrong understandings?) 2)The idea that creation says nothing about the nature of the creator flies in the face of the stances of those he specifically looks to from a Christian theology standpoint (e.g., Augustine) and at least in my mind is very problematic given a Christian understanding of God as person. Why would we think that the means/nature of creation says nothing about the creator?
    But I’m talking too long, and as one who lurks here often would love to hear what some of you think about the intersection of Collins view of science and a “postmodern Christianity” (for lack of a better term).
    Thanks

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    Drats–just read my own comment #23–I meant *fallible* interpretations when I wrote:
    As to your point about honest humility, I think, much like the Christian community, the milage varies on the issues involved. Once you get past the Dawkins paradigm, there are many scientists who admit to infallible interpretations–and even Dawkins admits to that–it’s built into their testing and hypothesizing.

  • http://www.danwilt.com dan Wilt

    Big God.
    Big Genesis.
    Big Questions.

  • Jeremiah

    “How should Christians react to the evidence from science?”
    Take the evidences as they are after all we are seekers and lovers of truth. Aren’t we?
    Thanks for the post.

  • RJS

    KevinO
    You say In the end science itself is based on a set of presuppositions about the nature of the universe.
    Can you flesh out what those presuppositions are?

  • KevinO

    RJS (#45)
    I am thinking of things like:
    The universe operates according to rational laws.
    We can observe/know the real world.
    You’ll have to forgive me but it has been a while since my last philosophy of science class and I don’t have my notes handy to give more. Basically I’m wondering if science (like, say, theology) finds what it does because that’s what it’s looking for. (I’m not sure how if/it applies, but for instance it seems that the very act of observing some sub-atomic particles changes the way in which they behave). And given Kuhn’s arguments that science advances not according to the scientific process but rather via paradigm shifts, what happens when the next shift occurs and doesn’t square with all of the philosophical and theological “shoring up” we have done vis a vis the current paradigm?

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    I am not a complete nincompoop. I was valedictorian of my public high school class and got A’s and B’s in college. I am not of a particularly scientific bent and am moved more by literature and the fine arts. So I know I’m out of my depth in this discussion. Scot doesn’t read much fiction (more’s the pity), but I want to suggest that RJS and others (and perhaps even Scot) read or re-read Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The Comforts Of Home” (from beginning to end, no fair peeking ahead) to gain what might be a new perspective on “evidence.”
    Everything is not always what it seems. Scientists and young earth creationists alike, take note.

  • RJS

    KevinO,
    No doubt about it scientific understanding is based on the presupposition that nature is “logical” and operates according to rational laws.
    History of science is a fascinating topic – more Universities should offer such courses. But science as we know it is a rather recent development – and the paradigm shifts are more “refinements” than anything else.

  • http://microclesia.com John L

    There’s a new movie coming called “Expelled.” The movie correctly points out that professors who hold to a spirituality or faith must be careful about “coming out” among certain of their peers, for fear of academic reprisal. A personal friend was denied access to an elite academic society because he was a bit too public about his faith. The movie lobbies for fair treatment of all professors, regardless of their personal beliefs or spiritual practice. Bravo.
    But it appears that the movie also (tacitly?) promotes a J/X “creationist” agenda. I’ve not seen it, but that’s the clear vibe I get from the trailer, web site, and blog. There are hundreds of comments on a single blog post, most of which are lacking in basic humility. There’s something about this issue which brings out the religious fringe and armchair scientist.
    RJS, you ask, “How should Christians react to the evidence from science?”
    With humility.
    (p.s., not sure if Scot fwd’ed my email to you..)

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    KevinO,
    On the topic of epistemology of science, I recommend this lecture by Physicist and Anglican Priest John Polkinghorne on Critical Realism in Science and Religion that he gave for the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    I think Doestoevsky answered the question of how Christians should respond to scientists:
    “Aloyosha got up, went to him and softly kissed him on the lips.”

  • Monte Swan

    In response to post no. 24:
    Our recent research on the Cambrian Explosion at the Burgess Shale site and on a serpentinization origin of hydrocarbons points to a ‘blueprint written’ in the inorganic chemistry in the form of catalysts (‘factories’). Native nickel, iron (and other transitional metals), reduced carbon and hydrogen in supercritical water (>360 C)is capable of producing virtually any hydrocarbon just as the Germans produced gasoline from coke, nickel and hydrogen in World War II. Around Cambrian serpentinite hydrothermal dolomite vents at the Burgess site you can see life ‘evolving’ in direct response to the changing chemistry of the vent via catalytic reactions. There are two reaction sequences: 1. hydrocarbon and 2. RNA-DNA-life. The hydrocarbon sequence may be the base of the food chain for the biosphere. The bottom line is that the jump from inorganic to organic is apparently ‘programed’ into the universe via catalytic reactions. These catalysts not only speed up reactions but ‘manufacture’ more complex molecules. So if life was extinced on planet earth it would start right up again. This has huge theological implications. The matter/time/chance origin for life never was very satisfactory even for atheistic scientists–they often referred to a ‘Ghost’ in the Creation. Here is a mechanism–an infinitely complex blueprint/factory of which some say we are the product. Which interestingly would imply that the blueprint ‘writer’ must have personality. This question, in my opinion, is larger than the question of the existence of God. It is the primary question scientists like Einstein struggle with.

  • RJS

    I have been thinking about weighing into this discussion, but not quite sure what to say in readable sized chunks. Several of the comments deal in a sense with the fact that we all take some things on authority – none of us are experts in everything or can know and understand everything.
    I am studying Greek – but languages are not really my forte, the going is slow, and I don’t have a great deal of time to devote to the effort. Thus I trust Scot’s answers to my questions because I trust Scot – for a variety of reasons. If some years down the road when I have made more progress in my study of Greek I discovered that what he was saying was hogwash (demonstrably junk) this would cause great concern. Could I trust anything he said?
    For the topic under discussion here many Christians untrained in science find a hermeneutic of suspicion most appropriate. It is easiest to interpret all of the pronouncements of science (good and bad) through the lens of distrust and dismissal. This is, I think, why education, especially in science, is so devastating to the faith of so many. It isn’t all smoke and mirrors – there is fire. Read Dr. Collins book – or listen to his lectures. What is wrong with what he says?
    Of course now we come to the Bible and the interpretation of scripture and scripture as “authority” … that will be the topic of the next post on this book.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    RJS,
    Not to be pushy – if you had a chance to comment to the creation scientists I would be curious to know if its true that there are none who are respectable, no not one (to repurpose a verse).
    Have you hit Greek participles yet? They are enough to make you take Hebrew instead!

  • RJS

    MatthewS
    I did leave the caveat that there are some (few) serious scientists who do not hold to this outline.
    But … I know of none who dismiss this outline on the basis of the evidence – all dismiss it on the basis of a conviction that scripture demands a different outline.
    But on the issue of authority – the outline in this post is from Ch. 3-5 of Dr. Collins’ book. However, I agree with it and defend it on my own authority. For those who are interested in my background and perspective – I’ve included a link.

  • http://microclesia.com John L

    To Monte #52. You make a critical jump from natural production of thermal hydrocarbons to self-emerging (catalyzed?) RNA. Can you describe how even a simple form of RNA or its related proteins just sort of appears in this sequence? And could you point me to the research you cite in your first sentence? Thanks.

  • http://www.rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    I live in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Most people in this predominantly evangelical town believe in a literal, seven-day creation. (Those of us who have our doubts keep pretty quiet about it.)
    During the trial, William Jennings Bryan tried to debunk evolutionary theory on biblical grounds, but came across as woefully unprepared and ignorant. Since then, the evangelical community has evolved (pardon the pun) to become quite adept to modernism-so adept that I think it has taken things too far in trying to “prove” the scientific accuracy of the Bible.
    I think this passage from Crystal Downing’s book How Postmodernism Serves My Faith puts it nicely:
    “During the first half of the twentieth century, scientific modernists and fundamentalist Christians seemed to stand on opposite sides of the same door. But the door wasn’t Christ; it was logical positivism, which asserted that only scientifically verifiable statements could be considered ‘true.’ Seeming to agree with modernists that only science is worthy of reasoned assent, fundamentalists argued (and many still do) for the scientific accuracy of the Bible. They turned Scripture into a collection of positivistic statements and went to incredible lengths to explain away textual discrepancies…” Downing goes on to say that “fundamentalists unwittingly imply that empiricism has a greater truth claim than Scripture…When Christians argue for the scientific accuracy of the Bible they are conceding that science has ultimate ownership of the truth.”
    She makes an interesting point. If anyone’s interested, I’m discussing her book on my blog, “Evolving in Monkey Town.”

  • KevinO

    Wonders (#50) couldn’t get the link to work. I would be interested to hear it (or get a transcript). I am familiar with Polkinghorne and have found his stuff helpful in the past.
    I totally agree with John L (#49) – humilty is key. This is I guess the heart of my questions above. If there is one thing I appreciate about and have learned from a more postmodern approach is epistemological and hermeneutical humility. It seems that this is demanded of the “soft sciences” such as philosophy, theology sociology (especially as relates to questions of truth morality, etc), but the same demand is rarely made of the “hard sciences”. This seems entirely inconsistent to me.
    I am looking forward to the authority section.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Kevin,
    Just go to the main site and go to the multimedia page. You can just find the talk on the list and download the mp3.

  • Brian

    RJS (#53),
    The mismatch between the Bible and the world we observe extends to more than just the issue of origins. (I mentioned a couple other issues in post #13 back on March 6.) I don’t think the issue of origins can be treated in complete isolation from the larger picture. The amount of attention given to the issue of origins is not unwarranted, but I think it can cause the conversation to become too narrow.
    This issue of a hermeneutic of suspicion is another case in point. That hermeneutic arises from a concept of presuppositionalism that has roots in biblical thought. But does that presuppositionalism really explain how the world operates? Are scientists who do not believe in God suppressing the truth by their unrighteousness in the way that they do science?
    Your experience would seem to be that this is not what is happening on the whole. I am inclined to agree with you. But nonetheless, the hermeneutic creates another tension between the biblical picture and the world as we observe it.

  • RJS

    Brian,
    The issue of origins cannot be considered in isolation from the larger picture. The next post will start to discuss some of these issues.
    This post is simply to put the scientific issues and facts on the table. Tinkering around the edges won’t make reality observed consistent with a literal Biblical paradigm on origins. We would have to throw everything out and start over. I am a pragmatist on the science – it works beautifully and in totally unexpected and unintuitive ways.
    If we try to create a fairy tale rather than to engage with our God given world we lose credibility.
    The culture of distrust and dismissal of the evidence leads to a crisis of faith for many raised in the church.

  • Brian

    RJS,
    Do you think that the causes of the culture of distrust come mainly from young earth convictions? Or do you think it also comes from biblical statements about the nature and effects of sin? I suspect that both are at work, so both need to be addressed.

  • RJS

    Brian,
    I think that the rhetoric of distrust comes, in large part from an attempt to defend orthodox Christianity against the very real attacks of theological liberalism, including discussions about the nature and effects of sin. It also comes from the attacks of secular humanism and ontological naturalism (the proposition that the very being of the world is entirely natural). I am not minimizing this attack.
    On the other hand, the strongest rhetoric of distrust often comes from groups that build elaborate theological positions on literal interpretations of specific, sometimes obscure or peripheral, bits of scripture (some “end times” schemes and seventh day adventism fall within this camp). In this case the position depends on scripture as an almost “magic” divine text and admitting to a less than “literal” interpretation may be devastating.
    I read the Bible as authority – but I don’t read it in this latter fashion. I read the Bible as God’s communication of his story – and that story can be told in various ways, in the appropriate ways, at the appropriate times.

  • mariam

    I read the Bible as authority – but I don’t read it in this latter fashion. I read the Bible as God’s communication of his story – and that story can be told in various ways, in the appropriate ways, at the appropriate times.
    I AM a liberal/pomo/Anglican/whatever and I read the BIble exactly this way. But I would also add that the Bible also tells the story of man’s attempt to communicate with God.
    It is an overused cliche but we are like the old blind men and the elephant when it comes to understanding God and divine purpose. We can all glimpse a little bit of God and according to our times, our personality and our small mortal minds what we see is “true” but it is only a piece of a truth, not the whole truth. And perhaps God lets that happen because our needs are different – perhaps God knows that none of us is capable of understanding the whole truth so He gives us the piece of it we need to be in relationship with Him. God is big – I don’t think He can be confined to our limited understanding.
    I am not a scientist but I work with them everyday. Some (but not all) scientists have a bit of a blinkered view of truth. It is, ironically, almost the same blinkered view that literals and fundamentalists have – which is that it is possible to know pretty much everything and reduce it to something that we can explain. They have a need to be in control of what is known and to have everyone agree with them. There are “stack of cards” houses in science as well, where removing one critical bit of data makes the whole thing fall down. I have seen billion dollar international projects come derailed because one scientist said “whoops, I neglected to notice this and this changes everything”. I have seen how, when big money is involved, or commercial interests these sorts of discoveries are suppressed for a time – but the suppression never lasts for long, because there is always another scientist who will bring it up again. So while the project or the theory may come crashing down scientists do not lose their belief in Science or scientific method. These failures of theory merely reinforce it. If you don’t get lost in the trees and are able to see the forest, I think the Bible is this way as well. New things we learn about the ourselves and the universe should reinforce God’s story, not cause it to come tumbling down.
    I have talked to many Muslim scientists from the Middle East who describe their frustration with trying to do science in countries in which the Koran is viewed as the literal truth and any scientific theory or result which appears to arrive at a different truth from what appears in the Koran is summarily dismissed. In those countries, because there is no separation of church and state, it isn’t even physically safe to go down certain paths of scientific exploration It doesn’t agree with a literal reading of the Koran, ergo it can’t be true, no matter how much evidence appears to support it. In many universities in this region Science, as we understand it, simply isn’t done. Many journal articles published in the region are taken up with their equivalent of literal creationism, eg. trying to scientifically “prove” the Koran or alternatively somehow trying to make things which seem to disprove it go away.
    Anyway, I may be getting ahead of things here. I look forward to your next installment.

  • mariam

    http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13443
    Some of you might be interested in this article which looks at this topic from the Muslim scientist’s perspective I described above. The issues are virtually identical. The difference is that in Muslim countries the fundamentalists, if they have not taken over, have significant influence.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Thank you for tacking this very important and very difficult question. It’s absolutely critical, IMHO, that missional Christians get a handle on this. We can’t go on with the half-baked, sometimes disingenuous, apologetic that has characterized our response to evolutionary science.
    That said, your question was “how should Christians react to the evidence from science” is both simple and hard, I think. The simple answer is, we should greet it with excitement as we become more and more able to learn amazing things about the world God created. But the hard answer is, we should (I think) be a bit careful when that evidence touches on our core beliefs.
    The problem here is that this isn’t just a hermeneutical issue, it’s also a theological one. The evidence for evolution suggests that modern human beings necessarily (a) derive from a population, not from a single Adam-Eve pair; (b) always experienced suffering and death; (c) never experienced any observable Edenic state of original righteousness; and (d) never experienced any observable “Fall” into sin.
    It isn’t so easy as describing Gen. 1-11 as “allegory” (which it clearly isn’t, even if it also clearly isn’t “simple” history). And these theological issues reverberate throughout Christian doctrine — it’s very difficult, for example, to read Scot’s work on the atonement with the scientific picture of human development described above in view. If atonement is about God restoring the creation and defeating death, what is being “restored” and what has been “defeated” through the atonement?
    It’s very possible that in trying to work through these things we could end up with a theology that isn’t recognizably Christian anymore. (This is true of the hermeneutical problems too — it’s easy to slide into a completely subjective hermeneutic). Which isn’t to say it shouldn’t be done — it must be done. Yet these theological tensions require some kind of dialogue from both ends.

  • mariam

    If atonement is about God restoring the creation and defeating death, what is being “restored” and what has been “defeated” through the atonement?
    Agreed. There are profound theological implications to Christian orthodoxy as it has evolved over time, if we accept that the wrold and all in it are evolving and that Genesis is not history, but myth.
    What is God’s story is not really about turning back the clock to a time when all was perfect, before puny Mankind was able to completely derailled God’s plan by munching on a forbidden apple, but about looking forward to a time when God completes his Purpose and perfects man in His image. What if the sorrow and evil we perceive around us are not a decay caused by Eve being deceived by the serpent, but by the growing pains of God’s work still in progress? I’m not sure what I believe but it is a question I struggle with.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    What is God’s story is not really about turning back the clock to a time when all was perfect, before puny Mankind was able to completely derailled God’s plan by munching on a forbidden apple, but about looking forward to a time when God completes his Purpose and perfects man in His image. What if the sorrow and evil we perceive around us are not a decay caused by Eve being deceived by the serpent, but by the growing pains of God’s work still in progress? I’m not sure what I believe but it is a question I struggle with.
    I don’t think these utterly irreconcilable – especially considering the textual evidence that what we have in Genesis is two creation stories. The first may indeed describe creation proper, but there is probably also a sense in which God’s “very good” proclamation is only really fulfilled in the vision in Revelation of the completed creation. The second involves an exile from a garden – a haven if you will in the midst of the wildness of creation.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Great post RJS. Thanks for taking the time to do this series. IMO, this Augustine quote should be memorized and repeated to one’s self before making any hard pronouncements on things we know little about.

  • mariam

    #68 Wonders:
    Oh-oh. Am I turning into a Calvinist? Sometimes I frighten myself. I’d better step back from the abyss and into the comforting but befuddled arms of Anglicanism. But before I retreat: are you suggesting that one of the creation stories in Genesis is taking place in the future. Interesting thought, and one that hadn’t occurred to me.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Oh, it’s referring to the creation of the universe and man – I just think it’s also very typological.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    “Wonders for Oyarsa” refers to a view under which the eschaton is more of a “completion” of God’s eternal plan than a “restoration” of a lost perfection. There’s much to recommend this view. For example, God knew before the world was formed that Jesus would become incarnate and atone for human sin — in that sense, the atonement wasn’t God’s “plan B” for the creation. And in the incarnation, God enters into the suffering of creation in order to bring it to its final perfectly completed state (this is a “kenotic” view of creation and the eschaton). There are some inklings of this sort of idea in some Patristic theology, particularly in Ireneaus. But we have to be careful here, because we don’t want to imply that humanity as represented in Adam lacked free will. Moreover, we have to deal properly with Paul’s theology of sin, particularly in Romans, which very much ties the entry of sin into creation to Adam. I think some non-evangelical theologians who have written about evolution and Christian theology, such as Ted Peters, go a little too far with the kenotic approach and sort of make “evolution” the metanarrative framework for theology. (Not a swipe at Peters, who is prolific and erudite, but just my own discomfort at where he ends up.)

  • Scott M

    Hmmm. I would tend to think the first adam/second adam typology is much more complex and rich than that. However, I do agree that we need to deal properly with Paul’s theology. While the two are intimately intertwined, I find death even more prominent than sin in Romans (and in much else of Paul.)
    I have the sense that a lot of evangelicals today have this picture of the genesis narrative as a story of some absolutely perfect and completed work from which we fell, back to which we must be redeemed/restored, and essentially what the eschaton will be – a restoration to that beginning state. Perhaps this is why other readings of genesis make them so uncomfortable? I’m not saying that’s it. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t understand it much at all. But maybe as a conjecture it works?
    As I’ve read Christian works over the years trying to wrap my head around this faith in which I’ve found myself, I have not found that to be the traditional view within Christianity. Typically, Adam and the Garden are viewed as a primitive state, unmarred as yet by the death which is separation from Christ, our only source of life, but in a state of potential. There is the potential for sin and the potential for faithfulness. And the Garden is this very small space from which, if they remain faithful, they have been instructed to multiply and bring something (order, peace, ?) to the whole world.
    Here’s a question which may be telling. Had the Adam narrative not ended in sin and death, would there still have been a need for the Incarnation?
    Ancient Christian thought tended to say yes. The atonement for sins and the defeat of death were only part of the reason for the Incarnation. The deeper purpose was so that human beings might be one with God even as the Father is one with the Son.
    Perhaps when read within that framework, shifting perceptions or readings of the true genesis story become less threatening?

  • mariam

    I had to look up typology and kenosis, to see what meaning they have in this context. I learn a lot coming here. Thanks for the insights. I haven’t worked out my theology yet and it is interesting than when I start mulling an idea over I will come here and find out, of course, that theologians have written tomes on the idea that just sprang into my head. I wonder is there anything new to say or think after 2000 years?

  • http://benbyerly.wordpress.com/2008/03/15/biblical-studies-stuff-from-this-week-links-quotes/ Anonymous

    Biblical studies Stuff from this week (links & quotes) « Ben Byerly’s Blog

    [...] On Jesus Creed, RJS is guest blogging a series on The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This book describes how Dr. Collins, an outspoken evangelical Christian reconciles his faith with his science. The series begins here. [...]

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Scott M -
    Would the first Adam have been the equivalent of the second, had the first one said “not my will, but thine be done”? The image of the invisible God and all that?
    Anyway I very much agree with Scott and Dopderbeck – the association with the death and futility that creation suffers must somehow be associated with the fall of man – whether that be true in temporal sequence or no. When I talk with atheists about such things, I am quick to point out that, whatever you think about the natural history of the world, “cursed is the ground because of you” is absolutely true in our present experience. One need only compare places like Mont St. Michel with the Chicago Suburbs to see the peace and glory man can bring to nature with the curse he can become. The English countryside in particular I have found a place where the lion all but lies down with the lamb – the rugged wildness has become tame and peaceful without losing its beauty and glory. They are pictures of what might have been and what can be and what is.
    The point is that Genesis absolutely teaches that the fate of creation is bound up with the fate of man. This is something that cannot be lost.

  • http://julieunplugged.blogspot.com/ Julie

    Thanks for this series. I’ve read Dr. Collins’s book and found his treatment of science fascinating and engaging. What I found less so was his facile theological approach. It made me think of what is being discussed here: is he qualified to write about theology using C. S. Lewis as his primary source and then expect that he’s adequately “covered” issues as complex as the problem of evil?
    Just like he wishes non-scientists to defer to the experts in their field, I felt his book was weakened by his attempts to “tie a neat bow” around theology. I would rather he have raised questions than provided answers.
    RJS, thanks for leading this discussion.

  • Scott M

    mariam, I know what you mean. I encountered that a couple of years ago when I discovered in Scot’s book, Praying with the Church, that the private prayer I had found most helpful in learning to pray and the one to which I turned when I had no other words to pray was actually one of the oldest documented prayer traditions of the Church. After that I discovered that what I had thought to be some of my strangest musings and thoughts about the faith, the ones I mostly kept to myself, were essentially Orthodox in nature and not new at all.

  • tim atwater

    thanks RJS and all, for this discussion.
    have been pondering yesterday and today the Augustine quote itself. It’s a fine quote (IMO) but –
    it also illustrates some of the subtler arguments at stake here (i resonate esp today w Mariam, back aways, re the arrogance of some in science, and Julie, above re the lack of theological depth of Dr Collins…)
    my take on Augustine is he was and is awesome — but hardly infallible — (for example he believed unbaptized infants were doomed to hell eternally — something nearly all Protestants and many Catholics reject out of hand).
    Part of Augustine’s overall awesomeness was his humility. He fasted and prayed when he knew he was near death because he did not consider himself sure of his own salvation (even though he was into bound-will theology and predestination, still he acted as if the outcome was uncertain and did so all in humility)….
    From farm movement history (where i’ve done time) i know that Wm J Bryant’s theology wasn’t only primitive fundamentalist (the movie is not necessarily inspired history)…
    The Populist movement was a mixed bag, brought down by race-baiting and schisms, but the impetus for self-help among desperately impoverished share croppers was biblical and sound…
    Bryant was reacting against very real fears that Darwinian theory would be used to justify economic and social survival of the fittest (as it has…more often than many admit…)
    My own conservative-radical pomo experience leads to a hermeneutic of suspicion across all the disciplines (theologians are wrong probably as often as scientists)… and a hermeneutic of trust proved out in long practice…(hence i respect Augustine and Bryant… though neither is obviosly omniscient nor infallible)….
    and obviously this discussion is valuable… if we don’t rush it…
    blessings,

  • RJS

    Thanks Julie,
    In my opinion this book has two real strengths: (1) The power of Dr. Collins’ personal story; and (2) the presentation of the scientific evidence and reasoning.
    Although the subtitle might lead one to believe otherwise – the theology, philosophy, etc. is valuable as a tool to understand Dr. Collins’ thinking. But the book is not an exhaustive apology for Christianity or a thorough discussion of Christian theology. Nor should it be.

  • http://www.whiterose4jon.net Mike Mangold

    Matt (#51): is Aloyosha female? As a scientist, I find the image intriguing. I also find most of this discussion irrelevant.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    Mike
    Aloyosha is one of the two Brothers Karamazov, so male.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Mike (#81)– what is it you find “irrelevant”? How to relate faith and science?

  • http://www.whiterose4jon.net Mike Mangold

    Phil (#82): how ’bout dem Packers!
    Dopder (#83): I suppose irrelevant to how I practice medicine or do research. Or even fear and love God. I should have qualified that in my post.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    mike,
    You’ve lost me on the ‘packers’, I’m guessing a reference to US football, which I don’t follow and know precious little about. Sorry.

  • Mike Mangold

    Phil: that’s a paraphrase from the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”
    As a bonus, Tom Wright is now the resident Christian expert on the Discovery Channel! What next, Scot McKnight on ESPN?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X