Can Darwin be Saved? 3 (RJS)

In this last post on Karl Giberson’s excellent book Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution I would like to concentrate on two questions. This is probably one too many, but we will give it a go anyway.

1. What does it mean to worship God as Creator of a world where chance is intrinsic to both the creative process and the world we see?

2. Is there a way out of the culture war in which we are enmeshed – short of the death of science or the abolition of religion?


The universe in which we live is a glorious and marvelous place. The very nature of creation invokes a sense of awe – an awe that only grows as we learn more and more of the details.  Giberson is a physicist and begins his journey here:

Natural History is richly layered in surprising ways.  At the deepest level of reality the world is so simple it boggles the mind. There are only four kinds of interactions that occur in nature: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Every event, from a thought in your head, to the chirp of a bird, to the explosion of a distant star, results from these four interactions.

There are only two kinds of physical objects in the world: quarks and leptons. The familiar protons and neutrons are composed of quarks; the electron is the best known example of a lepton. Every physical object, from a guitar string, to the Mona Lisa, to Pluto (whatever it is these days), is made from quarks and leptons.

All natural phenomena, no matter how rich or mundane, results from two kinds of particles interacting via four kinds of interactions. Who could possibly conceptualize the extraordinary creativity of a world built like this? p. 217

The short history of creation Giberson sketches from this beginning is marvelous indeed. This section of his book is well worth reading.


Unweaving the rainbow – studying nature – need not lead us from wonder or from God. Many other scientist have come to similar conclusions. Several have written books. Stephen M. Barr in his excellent (but highly technical) book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith expounds on the marvelous simplicity and complexity of the nature of the Universe.  Francis Collins marvels at the complexity and beauty of the genetic code – four “letters” A, C, T, G, and only four, encode the information required to assemble a human brain or a sea anemone. The history of our development and connectedness is recorded in our DNA.

John Polkinghorne in Quarks, Chaos & Christianity suggests that the God we worship as creator is neither puppet master nor indifferent spectator.

An evolutionary world is to be understood theologically as a world allowed by the Creator to make itself to large degree. Yet this self-making takes place in a setting of finely tuned potentiality, and I believe that God providentially interacts with its history … In other words, creation is not the starting off of something that is produced ready made; rather it is a continuous process. As I said earlier God is as much the Creator today as God was fourteen billion years ago.

Because continuous creation allows room for creaturely freedom within this process, the consequence will be lots of things that have come about “by chance” in the course of history.  I do not believe that it was laid down from the foundation of the world that humankind should have five fingers – it has just worked out that way – but I by no means believe that it is pure accident that beings capable of self-consciousness and of worship have emerged in the course of cosmic history. In other words, there is a general overall purpose being fulfilled in what is going on, but the details of what actually happens are left to the contingencies of history (this happening rather than that). The picture is of a world endowed with fruitfulness, guided by its Creator, but allowed an ability to realize this fruitfulness in its own particular ways.  Chance is a sign of freedom, not blind purposelessness. pp. 56-57

Owen Gingerich in God’s Universe reflects in a similar fashion on design and purpose and chance in God’s creation.

But what is the role of randomness and chance in creation? Many Christians struggle with the idea that randomness and chance are important factors in the world we see.  On the microscopic atomic and subatomic scale there is no clockwork deterministic mechanism.  There are probabilities and possibilities and intrinsic uncertainties. Macroscopic determinism is a consequence of the statistics of large samples.  Yet the creative power of our universe lies in the intrinsic uncertainty of individual events. How does this reflect on the nature of God?

Photo-0033 - snow.jpg

As I write this I sit in a room with my son drinking cinnamon spice tea – a habit we both enjoy on cold winter evenings – while working on parallel computers (well I’m writing – he goes more for computer games, Battle for Middle Earth II these days).  How much of this was planned by God from the beginning – that I would neglect the kettle and it would spew water in a particular predetermined pattern on the stove?  That we would each drink two cups and I would spill a few drops as I poured?  Is there room for free-will, forgetfulness, choice, and chance in a world with purpose and design?

Or on another, more fundamental, level – the energy efficient compact fluorescent lights we have installed through most of the house use electricity to excite mercury vapor and the excited atoms fluoresce at 253 nm (primarily). This UV light excites a phosphor that produces the visible white light we want.  Each mercury atom, however, emits one photon at one time dictated by a probabilistic function – a fundamental quantum uncertainty.  Each photon is emitted in a purely random manner – there is no way to predict ahead of time exactly when it will appear, or what direction it will travel. Each element of the phosphor absorbs one UV photon and emits one visible photon at a specific time and of a specific color – again the process is inherently random, probabilistic.  The result we see (or see by) arises from a collection of intrinsically random probabilistic events.  With methods of single molecule spectroscopy  using photon counting detectors it is possible today to watch the random statistical processes that lead to the luminescent properties of ordinary macroscopic systems. Did God ordain the time and wavelength for each and every one of these random emission events?  Or is there room in nature for chance?  And why, you may ask, does it matter?

The world in which we live is awesome – and we stand in awe of the Creator.  But our understanding of the world tells us on many levels and in many ways that randomness and chance and symmetry breaking are critical elements of the creative power in the world – intrinsic to physics and chemistry and biology. Evolution by random mutation and natural selection is a powerful creative tool – a tool driven by the kind of fundamentally random processes inherent in the emission of a fluorescent light – a tool it appears God used.

What impact does this have on our understanding of God?

"Thanks Michael,It was N. T. Wright's 'The Day the Revolution Began' reconsidering the meaning of ..."

Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption”
"The genealogy of Jesus recorded in Luke 3 contains many historical men, going all the ..."

Adam and the Blue Parakeet (RJS)
"Chris--Sorry to say that there is no cheaper way right now. If you are associated ..."

Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption”
"Brian--Thank you. Or should I say thank you for your thank you. (But don't thank ..."

Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption”

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Phil Niemi

    I still have this difficult hurdle, that is a literal Adam & literal garden. I have a little science background (B.A. in environmental biology), but have mostly worked in practical theology (church) for the decade. I am Old Earth (on the fence with gap flood), however I find it very difficult for God to create and pronounce goodness on chance and death for the development of species. Mostly however, the difficulty lies in the New Testament use of Adam, both by Christ and the epistles.
    What I’ve gathered from Collins (just quotes and one lecture, I haven’t read a book yet) is that ultimately our resurrection will perfect our DNA, thus ending sickness, disease & death, but that doesn’t explain the fall adequately for me.
    So I guess I reject the premise that evolution can fit within a biblical framework without more evidence.
    Grace and Peace,
    Phil Niemi

  • Scot McKnight

    The randomness of creation or nature always draws out of me a sense of awe. Unless I’m mistaken, the Anthropic Principle draws the same response. I can handle the numbers of chance, but it is the vastness of it all and the cosmological/cause argument that leads me back to a God who is vast, immense, and beyond our capacity to grasp as well as to the freedom God unleashed in creating this world and setting us loose to participate in it.

  • Dan

    I’ve not read Giberson’s book, but browsing the customer reviews on Amazon I see a common criticism that his viewpoint reconciles a general theism with Evolution, but does little to reconcile Christianity with evolution. I get how one can find mystery in the marvels of nature and associate that with the divine. I do not see how one reconciles the statements of both Old Testament and New Testament – that through one man death came into the world and as a parallel, Christ tasted death as the second Adam to destroy the power of death – with a view that essentially says death by tooth and claw and endless struggle for survival is God’s chosen method of creation.
    Nor do I understand how a Christian worldview, which says that God intervenes directly in nature in events like the virgin birth and the resurrection, can be reconciled with a worldview that says all natural processess proceed in a uniformitarian fashion and any appeal to the supernatural is by definition “unscientific”. This may be “saving Darwin” but it seems to posit a very different faith than the Christianity of the New Testament.

  • RJS

    That is a valid criticism of Giberson’s book. Gingerich is a bit better on the connection with theology, as is Polkinghorne. Although Polkinghorne leans toward an open theism I think.
    Next week and for a stretch I will start to look at theology and interpretation of scripture – in history and by current scholars.

  • Scott W

    Met. John Zizoulias,Orthodox bishop and one of the preeminent theologians today,gets to the heart of the god we see reflected in creation,per this thread:Love, which issues forth in freedom–for “Subject” and “object”:
    On a somewhat simpler level, we can recognize the persona only in liberty, because if the persona does not wish to divulge its identity, we cannot recognize it. Revelation is always a prerequisite for cognizance of a persona. The meaning of revelation lies here. What is a revelation of God as a basic element? It means that God is recognized in liberty; He wants to and does, give Himself. Just like a persona. You can regard me as much as you like as an object, with all the properties that you can observe thanks to my physical presence. But no-one can actually know anyone, unless there is a willful revelation by the recognized. You cannot forcefully recognize someone. You can get to know him properly, only in a state of liberty. Therefore the element of personal cognizance always contains the element of revelation, and revelation contains the element of liberty in knowledge. This is basic. We must always remember, that God identifies with our knowledge, only if He wants to. Because He reveals Himself freely.
    I would now also proceed to another, somewhat provocative conclusion : that God does not want to be recognized by us, unless it is done in a state of liberty. A cognizance that is imposed on us, that is not in a state of liberty on our part, or is in defiance of our liberty, or despite our liberty, is not the cognizance that God wants; that is, if someone were to prove God’s existence logically, thus convincing us logically that God exists. If you could ever imagine that we can become convinced logically, as I am logically convinced that this table exists at this very moment (I can also do this visually), for instance, I can be logically convinced of the existence of a constellation that I have never seen, but, a scientist can prove that this constellation could exist, with a series of reasonings, it cannot be otherwise: I would be convinced logically. This is another compulsory knowledge – I am not regarding it in a state of independence. God cannot be regarded, nor does He want to be regarded, under compulsion. Which means that man has the option to deny the existence of God; he can say “I don’t know You”. Which essentially means “I don’t want to know You – You may exist, but You don’t exist for me”. God wants us to know that He exists for us, for me. In essence, He wants that personal relationship. He wants recognition that springs from within a personal relationship, not just a general knowledge that a God exists. This kind of knowledge does not interest God. When He reveals Himself, He reveals Himself as my Father, your Father, his Father, and not just God in a general and vague sense. Such a knowledge, in a state of liberty, is what gives me the right to say liberally : “Yes, You exist” in agreement, or to say “No, I ignore You, to me You don’t exist”. In the cognizance therefore of God, we have the element of liberty, both on the part of God and man. And this what a personal relationship entails: cognizance as we outlined it, and not according to nature; what I would now call “own will”. You can also acquaint yourself with God, because you want to know Him, just as He knows you, because He wants to become acquainted with you. This is why knowledge of God is revealed only to mankind; to Adam who is a person. He does not reveal Himself to nature. He of course also reveals Himself to nature, but in another, compulsory way. Animals also know that God exists, and demons know that God exists “and demons believe and are terrified…….”. Who would want this kind of knowledge ? This is not the recognition that God wants: an objective recognition. He wants that special recognition. That is why Adam, by saying “no” to God, is displaying the liberty to ignore God in practice. This is a wonderful expression, not only in Greek, but in other languages also: “I ignore You”. It literally signifies “I don’t know You”, but that is not the true clout of the word. When we say “I ignore You” it actually signifies that I don’t want to know You. “I do not know thee” is the awesome statement that Christ said He would make to certain people…. “I do not know thee”. But is it possible, that God doesn’t know these people ? Christ surely knows them on Judgment Day, and yet He will say “I do not know thee”. He will say: “I don’t know you”, implying that “I have no personal relationship with you”. Therefore it is not knowledge of any kind, but knowledge of a personal nature. And that is why it contains the element of liberty.

  • What does it mean to worship God as Creator of a world where chance is intrinsic to both the creative process and the world we see?
    Well, some would question the truth of that statement — even given evolutionary processes. I’m not going to, though.
    My wife collects handmade pottery. One of the things I’ve learned over the years (pre-children I used to take her to craft fairs, factories, and all manner of kid-unfriendly places) is that the coloring process is random. And it isn’t.
    No piece of handmade pottery (or glass) will have exactly the same coloration as another. The artist adds the pigment and watches what happens.
    But the skilled artist can make things turn out much differently than the unskilled. In some ways the colors come out the way the colors want to, and in some ways they come out the way the artist wants them to.
    If God allows some things to work using random, or semi-random, processes, that doesn’t preclude his making sure things turn out exactly as He wants them.
    Is there a way out of the culture war in which we are enmeshed – short of the death of science or the abolition of religion?
    The problem originates when people use scientific data or theories to draw metaphysical conclusions. Of course, we’ve been doing that for more than 2000 years, but we have to more careful.
    Specifically, the other side has to decide to stop egging people on. It’s fine to be an unbeliever, but trying to make science say more than it’s capable of saying (Mr. Dawkins) is only stoking the fires of the culture wars.

  • Your Name

    The question of “randomness” doesn’t really bother me. In the sense of what science is capable of explaining, “random” simply means “stochastic” — a process the outcome of which cannot be predicted with any degree of statistical determination. “Random” in this sense doesn’t mean “having no cause at all” and it doesn’t mean “anything at all can happen.”
    The stock market, for example, is a stochastic system. You can’t deterministically predict what the market will do in the future. However, you can be sure of at least some parameters — the stock market will not become a ham sandwich, for example (or at least its exceedingly unlikely to do so). So, the system isn’t deterministic, but it is subject to significant boundary conditions, as well as to the input of intelligent agents acting within the system.
    The “randomness” of nature rules out Newtonian determinism, but it doesn’t rule out more classical Christian notions of causation, or the classical notion of God’s omniscience.

  • Rick

    RJS #4-
    “Next week and for a stretch I will start to look at theology and interpretation of scripture – in history and by current scholars.”
    In regards to the particular issue(s) Dan #3 mentioned, or just in general? I am assuming, and hoping, it will be focused on that

  • Argh, #7 was me. BTW, to those who are hung up on death of any kind before the fall — I really understand how difficult this question is. Yet, it has to be dealt with. Reality is what it is, and we haven’t understood God or the Bible or our faith rightly if our understanding obviously conflicts with Reality. The reality is that there were millions of years of death in nature before humans of any sort came on the scene — regardless of whether Darwinian evolution is entirely true or not. There is no way around this.
    I do agree, however, that Giberson completely drops the ball when it comes to “the fall.” Basically he just says, “well, we need to do away with that idea.” No and a thousand times No!!!
    We need to work on synthesizing what scripture reveals about the “fallen” state of creation and humanity owing to primal, corporate, and ongoing individual human sin with what the record of nature reveals about natural history, including human history. We need to work really hard on this. We need, IMHO, a sustained exertion of theological energy from evangelical scholars on this because THIS, more than almost anything, I think, is a critical hinge on the credible and faithful presentation of the gospel to a scientifically educated age.

  • Rick

    Dopderbeck #9-
    “We need to work on synthesizing what scripture reveals about the “fallen” state of creation and humanity owing to primal, corporate, and ongoing individual human sin with what the record of nature reveals about natural history, including human history. We need to work really hard on this. We need, IMHO, a sustained exertion of theological energy from evangelical scholars on this because THIS, more than almost anything, I think, is a critical hinge on the credible and faithful presentation of the gospel to a scientifically educated age.”
    I mainly agree (although I don’t know if it is “critical” in the sense of other core issues, such as the Resurrection).
    That being said, and considering its importance, I do wonder why there has not been more “theological energy” directed at this.

  • dopderbeck, #9&7
    “the stock market will not become a ham sandwich”
    I diverge from the post a little but I couldn’t help but giggle at the mental image you prompted. Lord usher in the day when the City traders are confronted by this sandwich!

  • ChrisB

    My thoughts on death before the Fall for those who are interested.

  • Good thoughts, ChrisB. Here’s another thought, in addition to the one you make about killing plants when you eat them: about 30% or more of the volume of a typical human bowel movement is dead bacteria. We’re talking millions and millions of dead bacteria in every turd. These are bacteria that colonize our stomachs and intenstines and help us digest. Every person’s body is a universe for billions of short-lived bacteria. If there was no death of any kind before the fall, Adam and Eve couldn’t have digested the fruit of the garden and pooped the next morning.
    Even young earth creationists recognize facts like the above, so many of them restrict death to the “nephesh” or “soulish” creatures such as cows and people. But, of course, this is an act of interpretation required by modern science — the very sort of thing they claim one can’t do!

  • Eric

    Dopderbeck #9 is right on. We need to get past the debate about whether God used evolution to create us and whether death happened before the Fall (the evidence is overwhelming) and start discussing what it means. These facts have big implications for (1) traditional understanding of what the Fall means, and (2) as a result, what Christ’s victory over death means. I.e., its at the core of the Christian Story and theology.
    Rick #10 — You pose a good question — why aren’t many evangelical theologians addressing this? I suspect it is because many evangelicals have cut off the debate because it has been labeled heretical in those circles to accept evolution. We could use some help from Catholics and others who haven’t had the same sort of censorship.
    Chris B, thanks for the link to your creative thoughts on the issues.
    I’m looking forward to RJS’s series on the issue.

  • Rebeccat

    As I written here before, the “conflict” between Christianity and evolution is one I do not struggle with and that I tend to be very impatient about. However, as I have thought about it, it occurs to me that as people are getting to here, changing thinking about this matter may be more threatening to many people’s understandings of the Christian faith than I have given credit for. However, I would argue this threat may be even bigger than the changes that many people assume. For starters, if there is this gap between how things really happened and what is recorded in scriptures, then that may call into question the nature of truth as we understand it and how God deals with us when He reveals it. It may call into question the very purpose of Christianity in this world.
    I think we can all agree that there is Truth. IE what is really true, what really happened, how things really work. Most of us can appreciate that there is a gap between our perception of truth and reality. However, there seems to be a pretty pervasive assumption that Christianity is a pretty full revelation of what Truth there is to know; that is if we could come to a perfect understanding of the Christian faith, we would have a pretty complete picture of how things work. But what does it say about our faith if we come to realize that there is also a gap between the truth which God has chosen to reveal to us and Truth as it actually is? If this is so, is God a deceiver? Is our faith still true or is it true in a way which is different than we have thought of it up until now.
    What if we were forced to accept that human knowledge, including the revelations of Christianity, provides us with a rather incomplete portion of information about the workings of all of creation, God, spirit, meaning and purpose of life, etc. We would still be able to posit that Christianity is the fullest and truest revelation on these things which we have access to. Instead of being a deceive, perhaps the reason for the gap between what has been revealed to us and fuller reality could be that God has provided us with what truth we were able to deal with in ways which we were able to process. It may also be that there are some things which are not ours to know – perhaps because knowing them would interfere with a prime purpose of life (for example, definitive proof of the existence of God could destroy the need for faith). In this scenario a new understanding of reality which is in conflict with what was previously known or understood through the Christian faith may not be seen as revealing the untruth of the faith. Perhaps it should be seen as a place where our previous understanding was incomplete (and probably simplistic) and now demands us to think through the consequences of this new understanding in order to better understand reality (I’m thinking here of the meaning of the death issue). The writings of scripture can be viewed as having a progressive revelation written into them where the old understanding becomes more mature and complex as our ability to know and understand reality grows.
    It seems to me that if we were to move towards faith that had room for the sort of thinking outlined above, this would seem very foreign and threatening to a lot of people. Which may also account for how threatening many people find the issue of evolution. But what if we are being called to deal with our faith in way which sees an ongoing revelation of truth as central to it rather than a core of untouchable Truths that we are supposed to conform to? (and just to be clear, I’m not talking about the habit that some have of throwing out scriptures and old truths because “God is doing a new thing” or whatever. I’m thinking more about seeking new ways of seeing old things in light of what we now know.)

  • Dan

    Folks can believe whatever they want about God and nature. My point is that what is being suggested here radically alters Christianity and that needs to be admitted. But to respond to ChrisB…
    Regarding the “death” of plants before the fall – according to the text, we are explicitly told, before the fall, that plants can be eaten. (Gen 2:9) This is not, apparently, the “death” that is a punishment for sin. So that is not a problem even for YEC folks. The general suggestion of YEC advocates is that animal and human death were not normative but plant “death” was, based on this verse and on 3:20, where animal skins suggest the animal death as a “covering” for sin and foreshadow animal sacrifice and the eventual death of Christ.
    Why did Adam and Eve not die immediately upon sinning? Perhaps because of this “covering”, this “substitutionary atonement”.
    (Francis Schaeffer uses C.S. Lewis fictional “Perelandra” as a cue to the suggestion of one possibility that animal death could have occurred before the fall as a peaceful end of life, opposed to death by “tooth and claw”. At least in this view, the horror of being covered with the skins of dead animals retains some force!)
    Yet according to the text, unless we completely rule out any historicity and leave the text in the realm of mythological “story” only, there is a change in the universe after the fall. There is a curse upon the ground and pain in childbirth. There is the ominous “to dust you shall return” as the final line in the curse. So the fall affected not just Adam’s spiritual life, but affected the whole of creation, if the Biblical text has any sense to be derived from the page.
    I am concerned that the text is being bent beyond recognition here. ChrisB wrote on his blog: “If physical death is the punishment for sin, how did Christ, who was without sin, die?” The fairly plain answer: Christ “became sin on our behalf” and suffered death as a punishment for our sin. Chris’ objection seems to ignore the most basic fact of the atonement! He did not die for his own sins, he died for ours. And his death for sin was, in fact, physical. Remission of sins comes with the shedding of blood. Once again, the New Testament parallel is clear. Reinterpret Genesis too much and we are faced with no alternative but to reinterpret the cross and soon Christianity has changed to a very different faith.
    Here’s the bottom line for me. Naturalism rules the day at the moment. Naturalism insists that the natural order proceeds in a uniform fashion from the beginning of time to the present, with no interruptions, no activities or manipulation by anything that is “beyond nature”. ID and all forms of Creationism are routinely dismissed as “not science” largely for allowing the possibility that some natural phenomena are not explainable by natural causes alone, for opening the door to something more than “nature”.
    If naturalism is, in fact, true as a starting assumption, then on the one hand, there may be no good reason to doubt the extrapolations of modern scientists who look at present processes and data and work back to make confident and sometimes arrogant pronouncements about events that happened billions of years ago.
    If, however something or someone exists outside of nature, then the assumption of naturalism is false and there is no reason to limit the activities of God to “natural” processes like natural selection. There is no reason to preclude special creation, miracles, etc. If God can create a universe, he can certainly act within it and is not bound by its laws or timetables. I don’t have all the answers to the mass of data naturalistic science throws into the public square, but I do know that I cannot honestly be a Christian and hold to naturalistic assumptions, consciously or unconsciously, philosophically or methodologically. Naturalism and Christianity are not compatable.
    So I wonder – how many who accept the naturalistic view of origins deal with the miracles of the New Testament. Is there consistency?

  • Rebeccat

    But what if God chose to work through naturalistic means? As for miracles, they are miracles precisely because they step outside of natural ways that things work. The Genesis account (which as RJS has pointed out many times would not fit into the ancient Hebrew genre of history any ways) doesn’t really present God’s acts a miraculous. They are presented as an explanation of the natural. Two completely, utterly different isuues. And what if our current understanding of Christianity IS wrong (or more likely incompletely, reductionist and very simplistic) and we are being forced to realize how inadequate our understanding is by these realities of nature? Is that really a bad thing that we should resist no matter how indefensible our position becomes? Or is it a possibility we should earnestly look at in hopes of closing the gap between what God knows and what we know at least a little bit?

  • BeckyR

    We have to look at what we say and see if it can be lived out, and look for the natural conclusion. And no one can live a life of chance. The example I heard was of picking wild mushrooms – if going with accepting life is chance we would pick any kind of mushroom. But we don’t because we know some can be deadly so we pick mushrooms with knowledge, with order imposed. Could it be that scientifically it has been seen that some things happen by chance. But that needn’t mean the world is one of chance. This is logical too as there is a lot of things of order in our universe as well. In the example you provided about the flourescent light – the thing happens by chance but there’s an order in it in that if watched we know the thing will occur. That’s my 2 cents. What trips me up in believing theories involving chance is that we can’t live chance-wise.

  • Ben Wiele

    This is in response to the whole discussion of the book we have been talking about and also touches on themes that are discussed in this post.
    Perhaps I am missing the point and I am ready for any objection but are we not even reading Genesis? Genesis 1 is what we always use to talk about creation but what about Genesis 2? I am not sure where i stand on all this so fire away and poke holes in my arguments. All quotations are TNIV
    For example:
    Genesis 1: 11 –> Then God said, “let the land produce vegetation; seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it…”
    Genesis 2:5–> Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up…
    Huh? In Genesis 1 we have Elohim (The “fiat” depiction of God) creating the earth and all that is in it in a very broad way. This broad God is always at a distance as evidence by his creation of man(kind?) in 1:26
    “Then God said, “let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea…”
    The use of the word “us” shows just how impersonal this depiction of God is. He is distant, not involved directly in his creation. The author (Moses?) uses “us” like the Vatican or some other lofty body uses “us”. As if to include its subjects in the decision making process when in fact the subjects have no decision making power what-so-ever
    Compare Elohim with YHWH (rendered in our bible as LORD God) who is mentioned to have created the Earth only in passing to get to the part where the LORD God stepped down to his creation and scooped up cold soil from a now vegetated earth and breathed his life giving breath into the nostrils of this DIRT MAN WE KNOW AS ADAM!!!! Sorry for the caps, that part makes me fall in LOVE WITH THE CREATIVENESS OF OUR MAGNIFICENT CREATIVE CREATOR!!!!
    Anyway, the point is, there are CLEARLY two creation stories at work in the first two pages of our Bible. So many points to go along with this fact, but I’ll just throw this one out there. Okay maybe two or three.
    I wish I could claim the following for my own but alas, I cannot. Professor Brent Walters, San Jose State University is the curator of a rather large anti-Nicene library of church documents and he walked me through this in the most interesting class I have ever had in college.
    What if Genesis is “fitting” macro or micro evolution as Darwin came to see it right there between Genesis 1 and 2. What if Genesis 1 is “old earth”; millions, billions, gazillions of years old. It is impersonal and vast, full of teradactyls and ultra cool valosa raptors and platypus’ and other crazy weird funny looking creatures. And what if the human bones we find that are vaguely human (neanderthals) but look nothing like us homosapiens, are the original “human” beings to walk the earth.
    Now what if God was pleased with that but realized those animals or small brained “humans” cannot love him, they have no spirit or conscience or other properties that make us unique.
    SO (!!!!!!), he decided to implant within his creation a life creating and saving place where the shade is abundant and where he can come to earth and walk freely with his creation (am I talking about the Garden, or Jesus?). This second creation is the creation of humans as we know them. Not cavemen, or ape-men, but bareskinned, naked and (un)ashamed humans like us.
    I know it’s outlandish and out there and possibly heretical (if by heretical we mean that we have it all figured out and we are so smart that we can’t be wrong and we have all the right answers so why even bring up something new) but it fits the requirement of an omnipotent, omnipresent God, who created the world with our interests in mind.
    This also helps with the problem of Cain in 2: 15-17 “15…anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over. 16 Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.”.
    Cain then made love to his wife, beget Enoch and then BUILT A CITY.
    WHO exactly would kill Cain. There are only four recorded people in history. Abel is dead. Adam and Eve are busy be-goting other children and it would be worthy of writing down that Adam or Eve killed their first born.
    WHO exactly is his wife. Now I know that brothers lay with sisters in antiquity, and it’s possible that Eve had daughters we know nothing about, but this seems a little far fetched. I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination but in a gene pool of exactly two patriarchs (Adam and Eve) you cannot get enough variance to have son and daughter create a child that would not be plagued with some problem created by this close of kin.
    Those two may be weak arguments, but who then is Cain building a city for??? You build a village for your family. You build a city for many people. Where are these people coming from?
    All this to say I believe we need to be careful of taking this creation story in Genesis literally (New Earth position). We have other creation stories in antiquity that closely resemble what is written down in Genesis (some that are older than Genesis, mind you) that we discredit because they are part of an eastern religion that we take umbrage with.
    The important part is that in the story of Christianity, we have something incredibly unique, written accounts, Biblical and extra-Biblical, of a Jewish man that died at the hands of the Romans, only to rise after the third day, thereby conquering what we know as Death and Sin and all matters of ugly human behaviors so that we can experience life more fully than we realized before.
    Sorry for my diatribe and rabbit trails and stream of thought writing, but I wanted to throw in my two cents

  • Ben (#20) — some of what you’re suggesting is similar to the old “gap” theory of creation, which has to do with the seeming gap between Gen. 1:1 and the rest of Gen. 1 and 2.
    A better explanation for the two creation stories in Gen. 1 and 2 is that there are two related but different traditions collected in the canonical text. Apparently the problems of chronology and such that vex us (e.g., man is created after the animals in Gen. 1, but before the animals in Gen. 2) didn’t bother the redactors of the final canonical text. Maybe that’s a clue about what we should expect in terms of detail and chronlogy when we read this text.
    Dan (#17) — no, I don’t think this is a “radical alteration”. It is trying to do what theology has always done, which is to contextualize and understand scripture in light of the best knowledge of the day. The Church did this with Platonic Science, Aristotelian Science, and Newtonian Science. We need to do it now with Darwin and Einstein. It isn’t about naturalism, it’s about understanding the whole of the reality God created.

  • ChrisB

    There is a difference between being a strict naturalist and believing God may have used natural methods to do His work. God did that a lot in the Bible (e.g., book of Joshua).
    People who believe in theistic evolution do not necessarily have problems with the miraculous. The question is why our interpretation of Genesis 1-2 seems to be so different from our interpretation of the scientific record.
    The Bible only mention’s three of Adam & Eve’s children, but that doesn’t mean they only had three. Assuming every adult of reproductive age had a child every two years, in a few hundred years there could have been thousands of people. (See Ross, The Genesis Question for details.)

  • Randy

    In response to the first question, we need more Christians who are willing to address both the scientific and the theological sides of the discussion. In short we need more people like Cal De Witt, whose PASSION strengthens his argument, not by overcoming our rational minds, but by overpowering our skepticism with the multiple examples of God’s hand in creating his wonderful creatures and the “world” in which they live.
    In response to David Operdeck and Rick # 10, I believe that more theological energy has not been invested in these topics because our evangelical institutions have made these issues largely a “no-go zone.” One can seriously wonder whether a Cal De Witt could survive since 1970 in any of our Christian colleges. I would have hoped he could have survived that span at my alma mater, Calvin College. But I know too much about how the church treated Howard Van Till to simply assume that.

  • RJS

    Rick (#8)
    I intend to look at Paul (esp. Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15), Genesis, and what others have said about these texts. If people have particular books or such they would like to see discussed, let me know (in comment, through Scot – or directly). I won’t guarantee anything sight unseen – but I often follow trails suggested in comments here.

  • RJS

    More theological energy hasn’t been invested because this is a no-go zone (to use your term). Scientists, Old Testament Scholars, and others at evangelical institutions who address the issues or work through all the possibilities are threatened with ostracism and loss of livelihood. Those who have stretched our thinking have done so because their internal dissonance is so high they feel compelled to risk all. Some of these have paid dearly. The issues don’t confront most theologians with such compelling force.
    I have thought some about trying to write something (with full name, not initials) – but I don’t think we need another typical scientist memoir “science and faith” book. We need theological and scholarly thinking with science and theology – where scientists keep the theologians honest, theologians keep the scientists from glossing over the hard questions, and biblical scholars and historians keep both theologians and scientists honest about the text and the history of the church. We need the conversation to occur without threat of job loss and ostracism.
    When I went to grad school my goal was teaching – probably Christian college. But by the time I graduated and finished postdoctoral work I had no intention of teaching at such an institution. Part of the reason is interest in research as much or more than teaching (I am a Professor at Michigan, as many who read and comment regularly know) – but a significant part was what I felt to be an environment best described as an “intellectual straitjacket” given my field, interests and style of thinking.

  • Your Name

    Ok, but let’s be a little more fair here. Randy (#23), I don’t think Loren and Deb Haarsma at Calvin were ostracized for their recent book, which was published by the CRC’s publishing house. RJS (#25), there have been people talking about these things at places like Fuller Seminary and Regent College for a long time, without any apparent issue. J.I. Packer even endorsed Denis Alexander’s book! At my alma mater, Gordon College, it can be discussed, as it can at Messiah and even (though maybe less freely) at Wheaton. It’s a regular topic in Books & Culture.
    So, I would say there is more and more room for discussion, but yes, no doubt, part of the reason for reticence is the “Pete Enns” phenomenon. But, I think it goes a little deeper. I suspect that many evangelical theological folks who could address this more or less freely just don’t really understand what all the hubub is about.
    Scot McKnight, have you run into any problems at your instutition or otherwise in evangelicaldom because you’ve been bold enough to let RJS post on these things? Also, Scot, would you say that people in the intellectual theological circles in which you run are entirely hostile to theistic evolution? Has it hurt you at all in the Willow Creek circle? (I’m not asking you to commit to your personal position, whatever it is, which you do seem careful about).

  • dopderbeck

    arh, the previous post was me

  • Scot McKnight

    There’s no issue whatsoever at North Park on this one. In 2 (?) years of having RJS comment about such matters, I’ve had one comment by someone at a church. The person was reasonable but believed in a literal six days and we had to part, amicably, in disagreement. I’ve not heard a word about Willow.
    I don’t hear such conversations; frankly, this issue has changed. The new book about to come out from IVP by Walton will also shift the tide even more.
    Theistic evolution is, in my view, the default evangelical view.

  • RJS

    To be fair – I think that at many places (but not all) things have changed. I started college in ’77 (a year after Battle for the Bible was published). I went to grad school in ’81 and graduated in ’86, so I am talking about making career decisions in that context.

  • RJS

    Although – I have had (many) more comments from people at church than Scot, not from the blog, but from discussion classes I have led.
    I don’t think that theistic evolution is the default evangelical view. But I do think that some form of old-earth progressive creationism is the default for most. (Hugh Ross …)
    I also think that theistic evolution is becoming the default for evangelicals with graduate education in the sciences, and this includes younger faculty at Christian colleges.

  • Your Name

    Regarding “Your Name #26”: Yes, some have managed to do some things. Before moving to Ames to lead this ministry at ISU, we attended church with the Haarsmas and I do use their new book in our ministry. I did not mean to suggest that absolutely no one does anything.
    I also think that you are correct that some who could speak to these issues do not understand what the hubub is about. I personally had that experience when we brought Cal De Witt to lecture here in February and September. I realized that Cal has so transcended that division for so long, that it did not matter anymore. I have the same experience only different. I generally don’t find troubling over these issues worthwhile. Being a trained historian, I’ve often said: “Don’t talk with me about begginnings or endings, because I seldom find such discussions to be constructive.”

  • RJS

    I’ve looked at some of what you are doing in Ames – and it is fascinating. I wish there was something similar around here.
    You said:
    I have the same experience only different. I generally don’t find troubling over these issues worthwhile. Being a trained historian, I’ve often said: “Don’t talk with me about begginnings or endings, because I seldom find such discussions to be constructive.”
    But with all due respect – this attitude is a big part of the problem – because it encourages a “consipiracy of silence” and contributes to loss of faith. As you are involved with grad student ministries, I pray you take a much firmer and more aggressive stand on the issue of beginnings. I have known (and know) far too many students, especially science students who have crashed and sunk on this rock.

  • Tom

    RJS makes sense to me.
    ‘More theological energy hasn’t been invested because this is a no-go zone (to use your term). Scientists, Old Testament Scholars, and others at evangelical institutions who address the issues or work through all the possibilities are threatened with ostracism and loss of livelihood. Those who have stretched our thinking have done so because their internal dissonance is so high they feel compelled to risk all.’
    Recently spoke to a friend who was just hired at a west coast evangelical college on the biology faculty. She went into detail about the way senior faculty in that department basically falsify their real thinking and beliefs in public and often on a day to day basis because they fear the loss of their jobs.
    I’d encourage you to come out of the prayer closet, RJS.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot — hadn’t heard about the new Walton book — sounds exciting (Walton is a fantastic thinker, I think — you do mean John Walton right?) — what book is it?

  • Dan

    dopderbeck #20 wrote:
    no, I don’t think this is a “radical alteration”. It is trying to do what theology has always done, which is to contextualize and understand scripture in light of the best knowledge of the day. The Church did this with Platonic Science, Aristotelian Science, and Newtonian Science. We need to do it now with Darwin and Einstein. It isn’t about naturalism, it’s about understanding the whole of the reality God created.
    I have to disagree on that. The cases you mention are cases where 1. Scripture was a bit less clear and 2. doctrines essential to the central meaning of Christianity were not at stake. Whether the Earth was the center of the universe doesn’t affect much doctrinally. It doesn’t tell us much about the human condition.
    So, while I do not insist on a six-day creation, I do mean to say that the historicity of Adam and Eve, the fall and its effect on the created order are so central to the faith, so clearly stated in both Old and New Testaments, that to abandon them for a belief in the common-descent of humans is to embrace a Christianity that has a very different concept of sin and evil, and a very different definition of salvation. It is also, in my mind, embracing an interpretive method which suggests we may not really understand anything at all about the meaning of the text on many other matters.
    The repeated New Testament statements about Adam as a parallel to Christ and the fairly clear references to death as a consequence of sin are far more weighty matters than misunderstanding language about the center of the universe. To “contextualize” scripture at those points is not merely to make a minor adjustment to an “interpretation”. It is to very significantly shift the meaning in a way that in my mind violates the text itself. To read Paul and Jesus, as well as Genesis in this way, is in my mind, to change Christianity to a substantially different faith.
    And I still think the unproven assumption of naturalism has a far greater affect on this issue than many are conceding. Most of the miracles in the Bible are explicit examples of the God who created the Laws of nature acting in a way that suspends natural law. As an almost inviolable rule, modern science will not allow for the suspension of natural laws or the explanation of events as the result of something beyond natural law in any way shape or form. It seems many are trying to contextualize the Bible to a philosophical set of commitments that are antithetical to it.
    So the question remains, if God can turn water to wine instantaneously, heal a man blind from birth and raise the dead, why could not God have engaged in activities related to origins and the Genesis account that cannot be explained by naturalistic science? Why, why, why must we contextualize scripture to this worldview? Why cannot ID and Creationist scientists suggest alternatives that do not violate the text and do not push the supernatural out of the picture?

  • Randy

    I am taking a somewhat stronger stand on origins issues, as the Haarsma’s book “Origins” has provided a stable and secure path. I take your words seriously, and will see where I go from here. Fortunately, we have had excellent students who are willing to address some of these issues before their peers, and do much better than I can. One student titled his presentation to faculty and grad students as “Left Behind and Glad to Be Here: Honoring God in Creation and Evolution.”
    I believe there is something similar to our work being done at the U of M. The Christian Reformed Campus Chapel and the associated Center for Faith and Science have had more money and access and so have done much more than us. Rolf Bouma, who has degrees in theology, law and Environmental Science, directs the later
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Eric

    Like you, I think that our faith requires that sometimes there just isn’t a naturalistic explanation. Take the virgin birth and Christ’s resurrection, for example. But with respect to evolution, the evidence is very strong that the tradional views of creationists are unsupportable, and there is, in fact, a naturalistic explanation (i.e., that God didn’t need to intervene in time after he set up the evolutionary process that lead to our creation). See, for example, Francis Collins’ talk on the subject at Veritas:
    In all events, however, the theological questions outlined above are raised whether or not you believe in theistic evolution. Even if you believe in a version of ID that says God intervened in natural evolutionary processes, for example, the fact remains that death and decay existed before man was created, and before the fall.
    I also think you are misunderstanding the point (probably because we are not being very clear) — we are not (or at least I am not) saying that this fact means that you need to *throw out* doctrines of the fall and Christ’s victory over death. What we are suggesting is that there should be an open, honest discussion about what those doctrines mean in light of the facts as we know them today.
    You asked why we need to have that discussion. Because our faith requires us to be honest to the facts. Because we have friends who have left the faith because evangelicals couldn’t even address their questions about evolution openly. Because in 20 years we want to have better answers to the questions our kids, grandkids and the next generations will inevitably ask.

  • Maybe some Christians ought to spend more time listening to Jesus who is the Truth, rather than the wise of this world.
    Matthew 19:3-9: “Have ye not read, that He which made them *at the beginning* made them male and female?”
    So I quote 1 Corinthians 1:18-25: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
    Why do so many Christians vainly try to mix the inherently atheistic philosophy of evolution with the unmistakable creationism of the Bible? The answer lies in the above paragraph, they foolishly think that men (who are vain in their conceits) are wiser than God (who is forever true, and every man a liar). The reason for this is the denial of the power and sovereignty of God in salvation. They think people will only believe the message of the cross, if they can persuade them that it fits with the message of the wisdom of this world – evolutionism.
    Against this Paul forcibly and incontrovertibly argues in the above quote. God is sovereign in salvation, and to those who are called, Christ is the wisdom of God who makes the world’s wisdom foolishness, and that the preaching of Christ and Him crucified is the means by which God saves the people He has called (Rom 8:28-39). Paul even says that using the words of human wisdom, makes the preaching of none effect.
    Here there are two gangrenes eating at the church today and leading them to apostasy. One is a symptom only, the other is the cause. The symptom is evolutionism which says God is foolish, evil or non-existant, and the cause is Arminianism which says that God is powerless to save against the almighty stubbornness of man, and that man is on the throne not God, and that man builds the church not God.
    In fact, what man builds, is the anti-Christian harlot, not the church. God builds the church, and He does so sovereignly without any help from the decisions or foolishness of man, but only by the cross of Jesus Christ, who purchased a people for His glory from every tongue, tribe and nation, and is coming again soon with fiery vengeance to destroy the rest of the wicked, who received not the love of the truth, that they might be damned who believed in lies and had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:8-15).
    Please to treat the symptom see:
    And to treat the cause see:
    God blessings be on you all.
    – Sam W.

  • Jeremiah

    brother Samuel,
    How could you say that evolution is inherently atheistic? To my knowledge evolution is neither atheistic nor theistic as much as law of thermodynamic is neither atheistic nor theistic.

  • Ben Burch

    Brother Sam,
    While I agree that Evolutionism is, at a foundational level, atheistic, it does not have to be. If it is true, it does not matter if it has been supported (or even begun, which can be debated) so as to have an alternative to God. The Bible is not clear on HOW God created them, just that He DID create them. I feel you work from a poor premise, and that is that man cannot give, say, or find any truth on his own. Is the truth of salvation attainable by man’s efforts? No. But the truth of the world around him? Yes. Even a liar doesn’t lie 100% of the time. Be it 90% of the time, that still isn’t 100% of the time, and even if a man were to lie 1% of the time it would be enough to say he lies and that he is a liar.
    So to take God’s word and force “all men are liars” to mean what you have proposed, goes outside of the “sola scriptura” you seem to be fighting for here, and into the world of man’s inferences. Doesn’t this just walk itself in a circle? If man (even you) lies, and the Bible is the answer, then you cannot suppose how it is that God creates, nor that man cannot come to some natural truth on his own, for the Bible does not say these things. You have walked yourself in a circle friend.

  • Ben Burch

    Brother Samuel,
    Also, you have painted a classically Calvinist picture of Arminianism. It is ignorant, ill-informed, silly, and plain-out fictional. I am not saying that YOU are any of these things. I do not know. You may be well-informed, learned on the matter, and know the honest truth about what Arminianism believes. I do not know. What I DO know is that what you have stated sounds nothing like arminianism, and is nothing but a fictional straw man which has no substance to him, but is only there to entertain and distract mindless fowl.
    Please brother, do not blame Arminianism, or a fictional picture of it, for the church’s interest in intellect and the use thereof, which is something given to us by our almighty creator. Now, the end results of a certain person using their intellect might be off-base (evolution), in which case, when the conversation is relevant (such as now), discuss THAT. Do not turn it into something it is not.