Friday is for (Third Way) Friends

Most of the time I hand off anything about science to “RJS” but the next two chps in Adam Hamilton’s  Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics are about Galileo and evolution and the Bible … and I thought I’d see if I can ride this bike with no hands! (My image for doing this on my own.)

The Tribunal of the Supreme Inquisition — what a title! — made this finding: “We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare, that thou, the said Galileo … has rendered thyself vehemently suspected of heresy by this Holy Office…” (73). What was Galileo guilty of? He believed the sun was the center of the universe and the official interpreters of the Bible thought the Bible clearly taught the earth was at the center. He was deemed a heretic.

The implication is clear: though one cannot appeal to Galileo for any and everything Christian scientists might claim, we need to realize that sometimes science shows that what we think the Bible says is not what the Bible says. That’s where we need to settle in if we are going to be truly Biblical, truly Christian, and truly scientific. If we conclude that science says something clearly and demonstrably, we ought to be willing to reconsider what we thought the Bible was saying. This doesn’t make science authoritative; it makes our interpretations in need of the Protestant principle: reformed and always reforming so that we grow in understanding what the Bible really does say.

Essentially, Galileo warns us that the Bible teaches us how to go to heaven and not how the heavens go. That science and faith complement one another. That there is no final conflict.

If you could say one thing to Bible-believing Christians about human origins, what would it be?

When it comes to evolution, Hamilton sketches why it is that Christians have trouble with an “unsupervised, impersonal” form of origins — contradicts a literal reading of Genesis 1, diminishes the role of God in history, and it suggests that humans are nothing but animals — not Eikons (images) of God.

But Hamilton argues that “unsupervised, impersonal” is not science and science should go no further than science can go. He then sketches — fairly in my read — creation science, intelligent design, and theistic evolution. (He mentions the little-known fact that BB Warfield, the architect of inerrancy doctrine, believed in theistic evolution, something JG Machen was not happy about.)

Hamilton opts for theistic evolution.

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  • Dianne P

    Greatly enjoyed this chapter by Hamilton, but didn’t feel that he did the best job differentiating ID from theistic evolution. Still struggling with where Hamilton draws that line.
    Agree with Hamilton that the claims from science (though I struggle with the idea that a group of HS biology teachers are “scientists”) try to make any argument that evolution is “unsupervised” or “impersonal” and relieved that said group retracted that statement. As we’ve noted, so much of religion/ philosophy/ life is a reaction to something else. That said, such illogical claims that evolution is unsupervised or impersonal quite naturally will lead to the rejection of evolution by fundamentalists in order to refute that claim.
    I guess that goes to Hamilton’s examination of black, white, black, white – where the truth may lie somewhere in the middle – or as I prefer (especially in my more libertine moments), that the truth encompasses some parts of all.

  • Kyle

    Of course we should read anything that Mark Noll writes, but one book relevant to this issue is “B.B. Warfield, Evolution, Scripture, and Science: Selected Writings.”

  • Your Name

    I’m really enjoying this series. I would like to point out though, that the geocentric theory the Catholic Church had adopted was formed by a synthasis of the Earth-centered focus of the Bible and the ideas of Greek philosophers. I think it is quite obvious to anyone who has actually read the Bible that, while it focuses primarily on the Earth, it never claims that the Earth is the “center” of the universe. The mistake the Catholic Church made was to buy into the ideas of Ptolemy and others “experts” of antiquity and then to claim that the Bible taught those same ideas. Had the Catholic Church started from scripture and then moved into their own study and observation of the universe, then they would have welcomed men like Galileo rather than forcing them to recant their findings.
    This is a frequently quoted historical example of the dangers of trusting what the Bible says about reality. I think, however, that you could just as easily make the argument that this should be a warning to the Church not to simply try and fit something into the Bible because an “expert” has said that it is true.

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    I have to agree with #3 Galileo is actually a bad example for Bible-Science discussions.
    The system that opposed Galileo was the Greek Philosophical method of Science versus Empirical Science. Read any good book about Galileo and it will point that out.
    So, if anything, Galileo is more an example of a paradigm shift as you would read from Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (
    That said, I tell my students that “Faith manages.” (To steal a line from the Science Fiction series Babylon 5). I decided in my journey that there is some kind of answer — just have to find it or make it.
    I know that’s probably not reassuring to someone who wants a definitive answer, but it works for me so far.
    The real question is … is there a believer out there in say Cosmology or Mathematical Physics who has been touched by God to help provide an answer? Our present heroes in the field of Physics are generally atheists and agnostics. There may be some that I don’t know of, but the big names (Steven Hawking for instance) are atheists. Newton was a Christian as was Galileo. Where are Francis Collins of Physics? RJS you know any?

  • RJS

    Christians are clearly in the minority – but there are Christians active in all areas of science including physics. In most cases it is not necessary to make it known (not relevant to the job), and it is stressful to make it known, so it never comes up.
    Look back at the Flip-Flop post and discussion following, or even the grief Warren or Cizik are getting or have gotten. I heard (or read) Collins once in an interview (may have been the debate with Dawkins) make a rueful comment about the vituperative (my word) response his book was getting from fellow believers. He stepped into it, and one of the consequences is becoming a 3-d target.
    Given the fact that science is a difficult and competitive arena, there is great motivation to remain “low profile.” There is no doubt that there is a cost for outspoken faith in portions of the academy and the scientific establishment.
    For an academic (science or otherwise) in our church there is no incentive to step forward and many reasons to maintain a low profile. Frankly it is rather annoying to spend 20 years more or less as a thinker and scholar immersed in a field and then have someone (oh a Pastor for instance) whose last science class was in high school dismiss the expertise as the misguided delusions of one corrupted by the secular academy. (Before I go further let me make clear that I have a good relationship with the pastors of the church I attend and both know where I stand – in fact both sometimes read this blog and know what I am writing here.)
    In some ways Galileo is a poor example, but in other ways he is an excellent example and case study.

  • I think Galileo’s problems with church orthodoxy is a great example of how the church in any given period views scripture through the cultural lenses of a reigning ‘paradigm’ and calls it orthodoxy. I just started reading Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and had to lay it temporarily aside during the semester. Another term that might be helpful is Berger and Newbigin’s term, ‘plausibility structures.’ Just as the orthodoxy police in Galileo’s day borrowed from Greek philosophy and imposed their paradigm on scripture, so today the same happens in all kinds of ways within the various streams of Evangelicalism. The process we are in of ‘deconstructing’ our modern and Evangelical assumptions in order to revisit the scriptures with new eyes, with tradition, with our experiences, and even with good science is extremely healthy in my view, and may… just may allow us to retain or regain some minimal influence with the next generation who are voting with their feet.

  • Diane

    A wonderful book called Galileo’s Daughter deals with these issues. The trial of Galileo, the scientific superstar of his time, was high-profile political theater, a way for the Pope to try to show he was zealous in the faith in the face of Catholic failure in the 30 Years War. God was supposed to be on the RC side, but, remarkably, the Protestants were winning. Public relations debacle. So the church went after Galileo. Nobody back then was really stupid enough that they couldn’t conceive the idea that the Bible could be written using metaphor. Galileo had supplied ways to reconcile his theories with Scripture, ways the RC Church eventually adopted.
    However, the more salient point is that Galileo and others of his time saw two ways to “read” the “text” of God’s work manifest in the world: one was through nature (science) and the other through the Bible (scripture). When the two seemed to differ, they had to be reconciled. They were not in conflict. God was the author of both. Intelligent people took both seriously. We’d do well to go back to that more cooperative stance. And I do hold scientists at least half responsible — follow newspaper letters on an evolution debate and most of what you will read from scientists is not a logical refutation of the opposition, point by point, but emotionally based arrogance: how dare the unwashed question us! Sputter. So ID people need to drop some of the silliness, but scientists too need to be ready with fact-based explanations and the “it’s just too difficult to explain to the unwashed” doesn’t cut it.

  • For those citing Kuhn — you need to realize that Kuhn was basically an anti-realist. You really can’t cite Kuhn in support of the notion that creation science or intelligent design theory will replace evolution as the next “paradigm.” Kuhn leads to the idea that neither evolution, nor creation science, nor ID, nor anything actually describes the physical world. It is, at the end of the day, a radical deconstructionist position that is inconsistent with Christian faith. As properly chastened as our epistemology should be, nevertheless we Christians affirm that we can in fact have real knowledge of God and of the world He made.

  • Machen was a theistic evolutionist? Hmm… interesting.
    Any other proponants of that position that might suprise someone?

  • T

    I think the thing I would say to conservative Christians concerning origins issues is what steps are we taking–whether in our systematics, our view of scripture, etc.–so as to not repeat the Galileo condemnation–whether regarding origins or something else? How specifically are we working to prevent this from happening again?
    And dopderbeck, I don’t think Kuhn’s work regarding paradigms is inevitably a “radical deconstructionist position that is inconsistent with Christian faith.” Kuhn offered a useful tool to see how smaller scale studies and discoveries work within big-picture understandings, and even how those bigger-picture views change as knowledge is accumulated. Newtonian physics, as a paradigm, told us some things that were true about the world, but it didn’t tell us everything. Einstein’s theory of relativity told us more, quantum physics showed us more. Even if Kuhn believed nothing can really be known, his work on paradigms doesn’t require that conclusion at all. On the contrary, it generally describes how improvements in and additions to knowledge, small and large, are generally made.

  • Mason #9
    Warfield was the theistic evolutionist; Machen didn’t like that. I know that William Jennings Bryan did not believe in a young earth.

  • Your Name

    If you could say one thing to Bible-believing Christians about human origins, what would it be?
    Stop fighting amongst yourselves.
    Far more important than any one interpretation of Genesis 1 is the truth that God created the universe and humanity by Himself and for His purposes. That notion is under attack.
    The enemy is not young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, or theistic evolution. The enemy is philosophical naturalism.
    Work together or you may well lose the fight.

  • (sigh) #12 was me

  • ChrisB,
    If philosophical naturalism is the enemy (and I think you are correct), how do we love that enemy? Or to put it differently, how do we fight the principality of naturalism while loving the enemy naturalists?

  • EHG

    Something that I don’t understand is why the focus is on evolution when we talk about conservative interpretations of Genesis. There is no real scientific debate that the earth and universe are far older than suggested by the six literal days interpretation. Whatever you think of the origin of species, the fact (based on cosmology) of a billions-of-years-old universe seems almost as well accepted as that the earth is not the center of the universe. And, in light of relativity, what does “six literal twenty four hour days” even mean when the universe was more dense than it is now? Why do both sides focus on evolution, when the literalists appear to have no answer to cosmology? I’m honestly just curious about why evolution is the focus in light of this. Does anyone have any ideas?
    In fact, the whole Big Bang thing suggests (although it doesn’t prove) that there is a creator. Einstein’s initial fear of this implication from relativity is what caused him to fudge his equations with the cosmological constant (later describing it as his biggest mistake). Many conservatives have missed out on the interesting discussions going on about origins because they don’t want to consider cosmology as valid.

  • T (#10) — what you’re describing is Lakatos, not Kuhn. I think the critique that Kuhn is anti-realist is a pretty common one in philosophy of science.
    Here’s my stab at Scot’s original question re: human origins. IMHO this is the most difficult question posed by the natural sciences to orthodox Christian faith today.
    Let me offer an apology for the long post first: this is something I’ve been thinking alot about for more than a year. I’d very much appreciate feedback from all on it.
    The evidence from natural history is clear: the human species, homo sapiens sapiens, is not derived from a single pair of ancestors any time in the recent past. Models based on human genetic diversity strongly imply that the human genome grew out of a breeding population of at least hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands (depending on the model) going back at least 4 million years. Physical anthropology confirms that the human species is related to a long and diverse line of hominids, some of which probably looked very much like modern humans, and many of which used tools and displayed other evidence of culture, going back millions of years. Studies of “mitochondrial Eve,” BTW, are entirely consistent with this picture. It is likely that all humans living today share mitochondrial DNA from a single woman who lived in Africa about 100,000 years ago — but there is no chance that she was the only human female alive at that time.
    It would be nice if this evidence related to something a little more theologically marginal, such as the precise meaning of the “days” of creation. But as Scot’s work on the atonement makes clear, the Bible’s picture of human origins is crucial to the story of redemption: the notion that human beings are uniquely made in God’s image; that our “first parents,” Adam and Eve, “fell” from a state of grace into sin, that this “fall” tainted all of humanity to come, and that in Paul’s theology in particular Christ is the “second Adam” who came to reverse the effects of the fall. For these reasons, the historicity of Adam and the fall, I think, is one of the hottest flashpoints between “evangelical,” “neo-orthodox,” and “liberal” understandings of scripture.
    I think we need to develop a synthesis that is faithful to orthodox theological anthropology and open to the truths about human origins that have been revealed by the study of natural history. IMHO, this means understanding the Eden narrative as a theologically shaped literary portrayal of real events in history. It seems likely that we will never be able to get at the “history” underlying the form of the narrative as given to us in scripture, and it is probably pointless to try. But we can affirm that the narrative is “historically true” on its own terms, even though it doesn’t answer questions we might want to ask of it (what about the Neanderthals? what about the other “people” who must have been alive in the time of Adam?) — though it might help with some other old chestnuts (where did Cain get his wife?).
    My biggest hesitation with the above is it still requires us to modify a theological idea that has been important in the orthodox tradition: that of “monogenism.” At least from Augustine onwards, the Western notion of “original sin” has been linked to biological generation from Adam (the Westeminster Confession speaks of “ordinary generation”). This notion of how original sin is transmitted, it seems, must be wrong. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing — Augustine tied this idea to his very wrong notion that sex is inherently not a good thing after the fall. But it is a tinkering with the Tradition that I don’t like.

  • Your Name

    dopderbeck #16 wrote:
    My biggest hesitation with the above is it still requires us to modify a theological idea that has been important in the orthodox tradition: that of “monogenism.” At least from Augustine onwards, the Western notion of “original sin” has been linked to biological generation from Adam (the Westeminster Confession speaks of “ordinary generation”). This notion of how original sin is transmitted, it seems, must be wrong. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing — Augustine tied this idea to his very wrong notion that sex is inherently not a good thing after the fall. But it is a tinkering with the Tradition that I don’t like.
    In the annals of patristic theology, Blessed Augustine’s views were novel, a turn from what is Orthodox. The Christian West has been saddled with this unfortunate theology,which has had negative implications theologically and pastorally.

  • ChrisB

    We oppose them the same way we oppose anyone else — with charity, with a godly tone, and with sound reasoning.
    It is difficult because this topic tends to bring out ad hominem attacks, straw men, and refusal to listen on both sides.

  • I have to confess that I was a little bit surprised to read this bit today. Not because I have any problems with the ideas contained here (and the debate on the relevance of Galileo is fascinating for this non-scientist to read), but rather because it takes me back to some debates I was a part of in college.
    I should mention that I went to a VERY small (total enrollment roughly 400) Christian liberal arts college that was probably embarrassed by the word “liberal” in “liberal arts.” There were quite a few students (and teachers) who were very much opposed to the very idea of evolution. What always surprised me at the time was that they seemed to think that the idea of “theistic evolution” was somehow even worse!
    I’m still not entirely clear as to why. One reason perhaps was linked to the conviction that to believe in evolution was to believe in “random selection” and required a philosophy of everything happening according to chance. Positing God’s hand in this was seen as contradictory. Perhaps it was just that believing in “theistic evolution” was to compromise with the philosophy of the outside world, and anything that resembled compromise was, of course, evil and to be avoided at all costs.
    Anyway, I hadn’t heard or thought about these debates in quite some time, and perhaps had thought that it wasn’t such a “big deal” issue anymore. This entry gives me a chance to rethink that.

  • RJS

    Look, no hands…
    Guess I’m not needed anymore.
    Or I need to start on theology, the gospels and the NT…(I’m learning).

  • RJS

    It is a big deal … and it hasn’t gone away in our local churches…said after talking to one friend who wants her daughter to attend a specific Christian college because it takes all of the Bible seriously, including Genesis 1-3 and insists on a YEC commitment from faculty and another friend who hopes her son will attend the same school to learn science and engineering for the same reason (both conversations within the last three weeks).

  • d

    BTW, for a fascinating look at the physical anthropology of human origins, with some really cool reconstructions of older hominid species, check out “The Last Human”:

  • Sue Van Stelle

    The sign of a great teacher is being no longer “needed.” 😉

  • Jason

    Anyway, I hadn’t heard or thought about these debates in quite some time, and perhaps had thought that it wasn’t such a “big deal” issue anymore.
    Not a big issue??? My in-laws are coming for Christmas and I have this weekend to hide the numerous books I have laying around dealing with evolution, clear out the history on my internet and change a link from my homepage so it doesn’t arrive at BeyondtheFirmament. I would just as well have a quiet Christmas break instead of dealing with those little sticky moments like trying to keep my marriage when my in-laws attempt to retroactively void my last nine years of marriage.
    There were quite a few students (and teachers) who were very much opposed to the very idea of evolution. What always surprised me at the time was that they seemed to think that the idea of “theistic evolution” was somehow even worse!
    You say it yourself the next paragraph, they really get angry at what they see as compromise. Two, they feel you are wolf in sheep’s clothing, there to erode their faith from the inside. Three, they like the dichotomy they invented that it is either Jesus or evolution. But four, and I think this one is a bit valid, they have trouble with the idea that God would create over billions of years of competition and death (or that death was originally in the picture). When you attach the word “theistic” to it, you are making clear that this method is the way that God works. (post script: why they focus on the “death” part, we all die now yet are happy to be alive. God created over 4 billion years of competition and life.)

  • Adding to what Jason said, I’ve heard people oppose theistic evolution (and all it implies) as being bloody, violent, and not the way God would create the world.

  • Your Name

    “how do we fight the principality of naturalism while loving the enemy naturalists?”
    I don’t view it as fighting, but would start by conceding that it is possible to find a naturalistic explanation of any natural event, and that this is the job of science, and that it is a perfectly respectable job and its results are valuable and should be honored.
    Then focus on the parts of human life that naturalistic explanation does not help with very effectively — the emotional, aesthetic, relationship-based, and ethical, the numinous and the desire for meaning and mystery. This is how I pursue it in my philosophy of science seminar, and though I do not suggest religion as the best way to meet these needs, most of my students do. They feel that scientists don’t have to choose between rigorously pursuing science and having a faith that satisfies the other parts of their nature.

  • RJS

    I think the evidence supports the idea that all modern humans descend from a small population (ca. 1000-2000 individuals) in East Africa some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. There is some evidence for mitochonrial Eve, and some genetic evidence for a unique male ancestor as well – but they were not contemporary and were embedded in larger breeding populations. Other hominoids (now extinct) were predecessors and contemporaries of modern humans. Genetic evidence for common descent is substantive. Fossils could be ignored – but the evidence in our DNA is harder to dismiss.
    So in terms of sin and fall we can look back to a small initial community perhaps – but not an initial pair. We are all intricately related and one people.
    But – you are right, we need to think carefully about many theological issues here: Fall, original sin, death, incarnation, image of God, Virgin Birth, and more.
    I guess the question for Scot is the importance of Fall – from communion with God to brokenness in four dimensions (God, Self, Others World).
    That is –
    (1) is original rebellion and consequent guilt an important part of our story and an important part of the atonement?
    (2) is it enough to have brokenness (from what ever cause) and our inability to follow the way of righteousness redeemed and put right in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
    I think that the Fall as act of rebellion is historical – but fall of an original pair in the Garden is story (myth) designed to teach rebellion and reverence – it is not history. On past posts some commenters have bemoaned my conservatism for being unwilling to jettison the Fall, while others have left in a huff annoyed that Scot let me state such heresy as to deny the existence of Adam and Eve.

  • dopderbeck

    #26 — who are you and where do you teach? Just curious.
    I like your approach, but it doesn’t really seem adequate, does it? After all, sociobiologists argue that there are “naturalistic” explanations for the emotional, aesthetic, relational, ethical and numinous parts of life.
    It seems to me there are four broad theistic approaches to this problem, neither of which is directly a POS issue: argue for substance dualism (a non-material “soul”); argue that God ordained sociobiological evolution at the level of primary causation to bring about “human nature”; adopt some form of open theism in which God wasn’t totally sure what would happen when he allowed humans to develop; posit some form of process theology.

  • Pat

    ‘Your name’ at 2:31 was me.
    Do bloggers get any credit for the number of comments? Because this captcha system is surely increasing that number by about 30%.

  • RJS, “On past posts some commenters have bemoaned my conservatism for being unwilling to jettison the Fall, while others have left in a huff annoyed that Scot let me state such heresy as to deny the existence of Adam and Eve.”
    Then you’re probably in about the right place.

  • Pat

    dopderbeck – I teach at Alverno, a catholic women’s college.
    Of course you’re right that there are naturalistic explanations for all the phenomena I mentioned. I don’t suggest that there are not; rather, we discuss them as human needs and desires which, for many people, are not fulfilled by naturalistic explanations. That is, there may be a naturalistic explanation for people’s need to believe, but that doesn’t affect the existence of the need; and how is it to be met? We begin that section of the course with ‘Dover Beach’ and parts of ‘In Memoriam,’ trying to put the conflict between science and religion in a historical context.
    The issue of religion usually comes up again in the second half of the class, in which we discuss different ethical frameworks and try to apply them to issues the students are likely to face in professional life.

  • ChrisB

    Pat said: start by conceding that it is possible to find a naturalistic explanation of any natural event
    I guess guess it depends on what you mean by “natural,” but I’m not comfortable with that statement.
    The creation drama comes from the fact that naturalists posit a naturalistic explanation of the beginning of the universe and of life. If there is a natural explanation, a supernatural one is not needed. If there is no need for a supernatural answer to any question, why do we even think there is a god?
    Science can be viewed two different ways:
    1) We can only answer scientific questions using naturalistic means.
    2) There exists a naturalistic answer to every scientific question.
    I agree with the first. It says “science” is about methods, and those methods can only tell us certain things.
    The second tells us that all question are answerable using scientific methods. That is obviously false.

  • Tony Hunt

    “How do you talk about this topic with a Gen “literalist?”
    I generally go back to the text in context. I have found if you say “You need to look at the context” even the most staunch conservative will pause just long enough for you to get out the Gilgemesh Epic or something. I try to describe how I bemoan what I believe to be uneeded tensions between science and faith (there are some of course, at least for now), and that I feel, and this is a kicker, that a literalist reading harms our legitimate witness. I also emphasise that I study Greek and not paleoanthropology.
    You should look at Dr. John Polkinghorne. He is a renowned physicist who is now an Anglican priest. He writes extensively on the interconnection of science and theology. On the more theological side, there are of course Pannenberg, Hans Kung, and LeRon Schultz; all of whom have written on their interaction
    For those who say that this is still not a potent topic (EHG) I would ask you to think again. There are plenty who believe the earth to be 6-8,000 years old and that there was a real worldwide flood. And they want public schools to teach it!
    Anyone wondered whether or not the Nephilim were neanderthals?! Dopderbeck? Or find it curious that modern homosapiens were basically genetically able from the start to create art and use language and more advanced tools?

  • dopderbeck

    ChrisB (#32) said: if there is a natural explanation, a supernatural one is not needed.
    I respond: I don’t think this is true. As a theological assertion, we as Christians say that a “supernatural explanation” is needed for everything. All creation is contingent on God as creator. The fact that we can provide a “natural” explanation is simply a description of one level of causation (in scholastic terms, “secondary” causation). This is a fundamental theological / ontological misconception by anti-evolution Christians, I think.
    Tony (#33) – yes, I’ve wondered whether the Nephilim, the Anakites or other Biblical references to “giants” and such intermingling with humans could refer to the “Adamic” line running into other hominids. But this doesn’t really seem sound to me. There are better ways to understand those allusions, and in all of this I think we want to be very careful about the unity of the human race. Throughout history there have been terrible abuses, including African slavery, justified on the pseudo-Biblical grounds that a present-day “race” of people isn’t “Adamic” or is cursed.

  • T

    dopderbeck, you’re right, it is a common critique of Kuhn, but also one that he and some reject. In any event, Kuhn’s description, if I recall it correctly (it’s been a very long while since I read it), of how people have historically ‘chosen’ or clung to theories or paradigms, while the conflicting evidence mounts around them and while others seek to identify a new theory or paradigm that explains all (or more of) the known data, seems very relevant to the subject of this discussion, though admittedly we are talking more about the Christian masses, pastors, and theologians instead of scientists. At a bare minimum–again, if I remember correctly–Kuhn showed that old habits tend to die hard, especially if those habits are paradigms of understanding and viewing the world. When reading The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (many years ago), I remember being struck with Kuhn’s idea that it takes a paradigm to kill a paradigm. The lack of a truly satisfactory new paradigm (both theologically and scientifically) to replace a literal 6-day creation seems to me to be the most significant reason this issue persists in the Church. In many ways, the Church is embodying Kuhn’s description of how paradigms both facilitate and resist new knowledge. The church is in the middle of at least a couple of revolutions of knowledge, with paradigms of origins and scripture, at least, attempting to replace older ones. Not easy to go through, nor am I sure even how I think it should turn out, other than in greater acceptance of the truth, which isn’t easy to see in total right now. But the Church has been through this kind of thing before, even if not to this scale.

  • RJS

    Although I think Kuhn … misreads a bit … I agree with you here (and perhaps him) – it takes a paradigm to displace a paradigm.
    We need to think about theology in light of what we know about God’s creation. The old paradigm will stick until it is replaced.
    So – those who don’t know the science stick with the old paradigm and jettison science and too many who know the science feel the only recourse is to jettison rather than rethink and revise theological understanding.
    LeRon Shults’s book Christology and Science is an attempt to rethink the theology in terms of our understanding of the world without giving up on either Christian orthodoxy or scientific developments. (But any one who decides to read it should be forewarned that it is not exactly an easy read).
    Scot has tackled science – perhaps he’ll let me tackle theology?

  • RJS

    OK Scot, Your Question:
    If you could say one thing to Bible-believing Christians about human origins, what would it be?
    Don’t panic. Our faith is founded on the meaning and purpose instilled as beings created in the image of God and on the work of God through Christ to redeem us and restore relationship. 21st century science can cause us to wrestle afresh with the meaning and method – but does not change God.

  • Your Name

    I’m all for it! Power to the people!
    “Father, thank you for hiding these things from the theologians with great blogs, and revealing them to the lowly scientists and the lawyers who lack them; yes, it pleased you to do it this way . . .”
    That’s how I remember it anyway . . .

  • Your Name

    As I understand it, many view the Fall as having an effect not only on humans, but also as somehow leading to physical decay for all of creation (e.g., Romans 8).
    Maybe the scientists here can help me out — is that sort of theological view consistent with the idea that decay has been baked into the universe since the very beginning (e.g., the second law of thermodynamics)? I.e., even before the Fall there was inevitable decay and death of creation? I’m not a scientist, but are these two ideas in tension, or am I reading too much into the second law? Or reading too much into the theological point?
    N.T. Wright’s Suprised by Hope seems to hint at this issue, but doesn’t really resolve or explain it.

  • Pat

    ChrisB wrote:
    “The creation drama comes from the fact that naturalists posit a naturalistic explanation of the beginning of the universe and of life. If there is a natural explanation, a supernatural one is not needed. If there is no need for a supernatural answer to any question, why do we even think there is a god?”
    This question seems to be based on assumptions I find problematic. Or I didn’t phrase my initial post clearly enough.
    When I say I concede that you can create a naturalistic explanation for any phenomenon, I do not mean that such an explanation will be true (how could I know, after all?) or completely satisfying. I only mean that the naturalistic project is a reasonable one and that those who seek naturalistic explanations will be able to create them. Their track record of success deserves respect. There is nothing inherently wrong with their positing naturalistic explanations for things like the beginning of life. However, even when naturalistic explanations are well supported, there are many human needs they don’t meet. I think those needs are better grounds on which to base a discussion of religion with scientists.
    In the second part of your question, is it really true that we would have no need to think there is a god if naturalistic explanations existed? That seems strange and sterile to me. Sort of like having no need to think of food, if a naturalistic explanation of metabolism existed. That’s not a good analogy, but I mean to say that if I actually need food, or god, no amount of explanation will replace, or even be relevant to, my interaction with the real thing.
    The fact that so many people apparently don’t need god in that way is a bigger issue, to my mind, than the presence or lack of arguments for his existence.

  • Kyle

    Here is a link to a discussion by Dr. Daryl Doming (paleobiologist and professor of anatomy) and Dr. Joseph Wimmer (priest and professor of sacred scripture) about original sin and evolution that deals with your discussion some. Let me warn you that it’s a 99 page pdf file. I think both John F. Haught and Ted Peters have dealt with this issue. I’m sure plenty others have as well as there seem to be new resources being published on a theology of evolution every month.

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    Thanks. I am going to look those up. I see that Polkinghorne is a bit dated but will keep an open mind.
    I chaplain for my son’s Christian school. My responsibility is the faculty. While this topic does not come up much in faculty devotionals, I do know that other issues that break with the more conservative evangelical churches the faculty members attend do come up.
    I see it as a blessing that my children attend a school such as this while I chaplain there. They are taught a YEC interpretation of Bible text while at school but a more ‘liberal’ view of Scripture at home. This gets me into some interesting discussions with the school administration but we have a healthy relationship which allows us to disagree on these matters yet still work together.
    RJS & Scot, keep this stuff up. It needs to be discussed. My mind is filling with lots of things to think about and you all are already bankrupting me on new books 😉

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    I’m wrong. Polkinghorne is rather recent! A bit more reading reveals that.

  • RJS

    Polkinghorne is pretty good, and a good writer – a very accomplished particle physicist turned priest. I liked Quarks, Chaos and Christianity – but much of his stuff is interesting.

  • Here’s a great example of all this in action. In his weekly roundup Scot links to an interview with Rick Warren. It’s a good interview, but at one point Warren says:
    “The weather doesn’t work correctly – tornados and hurricanes and stuff like that. It’s the result of living on a broken planet. That’s why we’re to pray “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” ‘cause in heaven it’s done perfectly.
    God’s will is not done most of the time on earth. When people go, “oh, that hurricane must have been God’s will” – baloney! That wasn’t God’s will. God’s will is not done most of the time.”

    Horse hockey! Tornados and hurricanes are part of the physical world because of the laws of physics, which haven’t changed. “Adam” lived in a world with tornadoes and hurricanes.
    Similarly, Scot in his weekly roundup links to an interview with Tim Keller on the meaning of the gospel. Keller says something like, “we once had the world we all wanted — a world without disease or death.”
    Horse hockey again!! As long as there has been life on earth — 4 million years or so — there have been parasites and death.
    Scot — we need some theological help here!!

  • dopderbeck

    Sorry the paragraph in post 45 above starting with “God’s will isn’t done most of the time on earth” should have been italicized — it’s part of the Warren quote.
    BTW, aside from the young earth silliness inherent in that paragraph, does anyone else think it’s an inherently heretical approach to God’s sovereignty?

  • Eric

    Kyle — thank you for the link to the Doming/Wimmer article — it was very helpful. (I was post #39, but my name didn’t appear after I refreshed). And thanks to Dopderbeck for the examples, which are better than I stated, and right on point.
    In a nutshell, Doming and Wimmer seek to resolve the problem by saying that creation did not enter into any greater decay and death because of the Fall; instead, they say that, although the full degree of death and decay existed before the Fall, the final reconciliation envisioned by Romans 8 will include salvation of space/time from the death and decay that has always existed.
    This doesn’t seem consistent with what some theologians say about Romans 8 and Genesis (including, I think, N.T. Wright, although I’m not sure). But it is at least a way to resolve the apparent conflict.

  • mariam

    Kyle #41
    Thank you for the link to that paper. I have been working much of this out on my own over the past year – that is how to understand some orthodox and historical Christian theology (which I am not particularlyy wedded to) in a broader way. But I have been reinventing the wheel it appears since I don’t have the theological background of these writers. I found myself nodding and saying, “yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to get at” but I hadn’t been able to put it all together. So, what they said!
    I have always thought that the Bible is only one way in which God reveals truth, science is another, logic and reason yet another (and I haven’t forgotten the inspirational role of the Holy Spirit). THe article talks about working backwards in theology with relation to the necessity of having a single pair of ancestors so that our universal tendency to sin could be explained, and with it the need for Christ’s atonement. I have seen that sort of view often expressed, eg. there must have been a fall (sorry RJS), otherwise what did Christ die for? Which is a very good question. I think we have to consider the possibility that God reveals things to us through science so that we will know that our understanding of Scripture’s truth is faulty along with the faulty theology that results. (Although often I imagine see the opposite – not a faulty view of Scripture informing theology, but a faulty theology informing scripture.)

  • Tony Hunt

    You said: “laws of physics, which haven’t changed” Now you’re certainly many times smarter than me, but even I know that a)theories in physics have changed, so at least our interpretive framework is “changing” and b) doesn’t quantum mechanics dictate that there are random and unpredctable things that happen in physics and nature?
    And your view is not neccessarily in conflict with a robust Open Theist understanding of sovereignty.

  • dopderbeck

    Tony (#49) — dunno if I’m smarter than you — probably not! Good pushback on the “laws of physics” — yes, quantum mechanics changes the notion of what “laws of physics means.” BUT — Newtonian physics still properly describe events we can observe, like the physical forces that give rise to hurricanes and tornadoes. Quantum physics doesn’t do away with classical physics, but it does show that no description of nature can be fully reduced to classical physics.
    The point I was trying to make is that the universe would have to be radically different at a fundamental level for the earth’s weather systems not to produce hurricanes and tornadoes. Of course, God could have radically altered classical physics after the Fall, but neither scripture nor the study of nature suggest that this was the case (in fact they both suggest exactly the opposite). In effect, this kind of radical alteration would be a “new” creation — but the Biblical story suggests that God has created only once. Also, such a radical alteration would wreak havoc with the “fine tuning” of the universe. There are numerous physical constants that have to be just right for life on earth to exist. Change them even a little, and there would be no life — at least no carbon-based life as we know it.
    I prefer to think that “natural evil” — tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc. — would not have been devastating for human beings absent the Fall because human society and technology, in proper fellowship with God and with each other, would have allowed us to manage and protect ourselves against the harm these events can cause. Take Hurricane Katrina for example — how many of the worst-hit victims were suffering from racial and economic oppression? How much of the worst damage resulted from unwise and even greedy decisions about zoning, etc.? This isn’t a complete answer, but in my mind it’s more fruitful than trying to rewrite the physical constants of nature.

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    #50 Yes, agreed, I had forgotten about Asimov’s comments on the rainbow until this post. (Isaac Asimov, “Asimov’s Guide to The Bible”, Avenel Books, New York, 1981.)