Evolution’s Place? 1 (RJS)

What place can evolution have in a world created by a personal God?

The Darwinian paradigm of random mutation and natural selection seems to suggest that the development of life in the universe and sentient beings on our planet is a process dependent upon highly contingent improbable events.  We are a product of blind cosmic chance – luck as it were.

But is this really true – is this the way the world works? Certainly it is a view that has been discussed in the scientific literature and popularized by writers and thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould.  One of the most famous images is that given by Gould of a tape of time. Run the tape over and something entirely different will emerge.  From his 1994 article in Scientific American (v. 271, pp. 84-91) The Evolution of Life:

History includes too much chaos, or extremely sensitive dependence on minute and unmeasurable differences in initial conditions, leading to massively divergent outcomes based on tiny and unknowable disparities in starting points. And history includes too much contingency, or shaping of present results by long chains of unpredictable antecedent states, rather than immediate determination by timeless laws of nature.

Homo sapiens did not appear on the earth, just a geologic second ago, because evolutionary theory predicts such an outcome based on themes of progress and increasing neural complexity. Humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness.

The idea that we are products of random chance and historic contingency seems at odds with any reasonable theology.

Do you think that evolution poses a problem for a created universe? For the Christian faith? Why or why not?

It is not at all clear that Gould was correct – individual events have an element of chance, but the overall landscape for evolution may be, not rough and exquisitely sensitive to initial conditions, but constrained and relatively smooth with the flexibility to find solutions independent of the fortunes of chance.

This is an idea that is gaining traction in scientific circles. It has nothing to do with design or designer, it is simply an attempt to read the evidence and determine the forces that shape the world we see. Nonetheless the idea has a certain appeal from a position of faith – while theoretically at least God could use and control any means in creation, there is a reasonableness in the idea that evolution is a process that leads to a defined result. The term Evolutionary Creation begins to make sense as a label and as a process.

Simon Conway Morris, a Professor of Paleobiology at Cambridge University, has written a book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe based on the evidence that evolution is convergent – that there are islands of stability and that evolution will identify these islands.  The contingencies of chance may speed or slow the process, but they will not derail it or change the important features of the outcome. Most significantly Conway Morris argues that the development of sentient creative beings was inevitable.  Conway Morris is a Christian and he looks at theological ramifications of his work at times – but the overall ideas he introduces are scientific, to be judged on grounds of science alone.

With the post today I begin a series that will look at Conway Morris’s book and the framework of his argument. Conway Morris is an entertaining speaker and a good writer – I’ve been listening to several of his lectures on my commute this week, available at the Faraday Institute, (search on Conway Morris and tick the bubble for speaker).

From the Preface:

Evolution is true, it happens, it is the way the world is, and we too are one of its products. This does not mean that evolution does not have metaphysical implications; I remain convinced that this is the case. To deny, however, the reality of evolution and more seriously to distort deliberately the scientific evidence in support of fundamentalist tenets is inadmissible. Contrary to popular belief, the science of evolution does not belittle us. As I argue, something like ourselves is an evolutionary inevitability, and our existence also reaffirms our one-ness with the rest of Creation. Nevertheless, the free will we are given allows us to make a choice. Of course, it might all be a glorious accident; but alternatively perhaps now is the time to take some of the implications of evolution and the world in which we find ourselves a little more seriously. If you haven’t put Life’s Solution back on the shelf, please read on.

I invite you to get the book if interested and join in as we discuss evolution, convergence, and the theological implications.

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com Derek Leman

    You ask if evolutionary theory of origins is troubling or inconsistent with our faith.
    I am, as I have said before here and to you via email, struggling to assimilate all this. I can say that the story I believed (direct creation, probably young earth) was a more inspiring story. I struggle to see the beauty in the story I am considering putting my faith in now: human life arising from a chain of death and in common descent with the animals instead of as a special creation separate from all other species.
    I wonder if people who have believed in the evolutionary theory for a long time, and perhaps have never held to the creation story the way many other of us have, can appreciate the sense of loss.

  • cx

    As one who grew up with the story of specialness and creation solely through God, I don’t have a sense of loss.
    I know that I have told my daughter similar stories about life, as well as how cars and TV work, among other tales.
    I love and enjoy the knowledge that we have become what and who we are through the ocean of life that surrounds us. We are human because of the struggles to love and live of all before us, most of whom weren’t human, and couldn’t imagine our shape and size, our abilities, or even know of our presence in their lives.

  • RJS

    Doesn’t assimilation of new ideas often take time? It has taken time for me to come to peace with ideas in science and more importantly history – particularly the facts of church history.
    I find the ideas in Conway Morris’s book interesting because they are based on observation and because they shed light on evolution as a secondary cause in creation.
    Few, if any, of us would deny the scientific understanding or our development in utero or find it in conflict with the David in Psalm 139. We don’t insist that the hand of God is only seen in “miraculous manipulations” that form us. Few, if any, of us would deny the hand in the formation of those with birth defects or genetic diseases. I tend to look at evolution in much the same way as I look at human conception – so called “secondary cause” does not negate God as in all and through all.

    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

    My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

  • Scot McKnight

    Derek, there is “loss” of a wonderful story, but it is many times more fiction than it is history, etc.. But there’s something to be gained on the other end of this discovery, at least something for me: the incredible glory of discovering “how things work” (like light or volcanoes or reproduction or the intricacies of cells) opens a world of seeing what God has wrought.
    Someone like Einstein, who was no believer and only maybe believed in God, found himself in awe of this world, teetering as I believe he was on the edge of coming into contact with the God who prompted that awe.

  • Chas

    I believe that it does pose a problem. Scientists, for a very long time, have for the most part espoused some version of evolution to explain origins and I am uncomfortable simply dismissing their findings as untrue. On the other hand, the Scriptures paint a very different picture of our origins. Even if you don’t view the Genesis account as a detailed explanation of how creation happened, simply that it did and by the hand of God, there is still detail in the account put there by God and that detail cannot be ignored. In summary, the two accounts seem very far apart to me. I really don’t know how to reconcile them.

  • Taylor George

    I have never understood why so many people think it does pose a problem. At some point earth had it’s start and whether or not it evolved along the way…

  • angusj

    Derek #1 said: “I wonder if people who have believed in the evolutionary theory for a long time, and perhaps have never held to the creation story the way many other of us have, can appreciate the sense of loss.”
    Derek, I’m afraid I can’t appreciate your sense of loss, though I’m sure it’s real. I’ve grown up with evolution and creation and don’t see any tension. When I look to the heavens and see pictures of the cosmos from powerful telescopes, or contemplate time before the big bang, or grapple with time eternal, or consider that I even exist, and then realize that God entered our tiny planet through Jesus and died for us – from chaos to order and love – wow! I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I just feel that God is creating in slow motion :).

  • Rick

    “Even if you don’t view the Genesis account as a detailed explanation of how creation happened, simply that it did and by the hand of God, there is still detail in the account put there by God and that detail cannot be ignored. In summary, the two accounts seem very far apart to me. I really don’t know how to reconcile them.”
    I really recommend the Genesis One series of posts that Scot and RJS are currently doing. The author of the book they are looking at, John Walton, is an evangelical with a high view of Scripture. It may help how you look at this issue.
    Here is their most recent post in the series (next one might come out in the next couple of days).

  • Bruce Russell

    Derek, Scot: Could it be that you are losing far more than the Biblical account of origins when you try to interpret God’s revelation by the observed laws of the physical universe?
    What is harder to believe: that God created the world in a literal six days in which the original light of creation was independent of the sun, moon and stars until the 4th day? Or that in the glorious regeneration of the universe, the sun will no longer be needed because God Himself will be the light? (Rev 22:3-5)
    Isn’t the bodily resurrection and transformation of the world into the new heavens and the new earth just as hard to believe?
    When Paul says that creation groans in anticipation of the revelation of the sons of God, what scientific observation of “how things work” explains this?
    Could God have made the universe in such a way so that today it could readily be observed to be 10,000 years old? Sure, but wouldn’t it be plastic like? What if we were limited to stars that were 10,000 light years away? Or mountains that formed in 10,000 years according to observed physical laws?
    Abraham obeyed God because he believed in His supernatural power to raise the dead. God created Isaac out of the deadness of Sarah’s womb, so therefore Abraham was willing to obey God even to the sacrifice of Isaac. He believed God was able to raise the dead!
    Christians need to believe that observed physical laws are useful in understanding this present life but ultimately transitory. Observed physical laws were not in force at the very beginning and will be permanently suspended at the general resurrection. The Christian hope that all of creation will be transformed and take on the quality of glorious bodies is essential to a faith that endures to the end.

  • Dan

    The sense of loss is not over the mode of creation. The sense of loss is in the explanatory power of a good creation spoiled by sin. It is the loss of meaning in Jesus weeping over the tomb of Lazarus – seeing that death as an abnormal result of sin and having to reinterpret that as something else – the physical death of Lazarus as part of God’s “method of creation”.
    It is the loss of confidence in the New Testament as Paul’s clear linking of Adam to sin and death paralleled in Christ linked to obedience and victory over death, now being seen as “Paul was mistaken, but it is somehow OK because he was just reflecting his culture. To me this is a hole in the dyke of biblical hermeneutics which will inevitably lead to severing the “meaning” of much more of the New Testament from the text and relocating the meaning in the “cultural context” – to such an extent that pretty much anything is possible. I point to the Episcopal church as exhibit A, the United Methodist church as exhibit B, etc.
    When I read “O death, where is thy victory, O grave, where is thy sting?” through the lens of naturalistic evolution, it means something far different than it does if I read the text as written, where the grave is the unwanted intruder on God’s creation.
    For the record, it is not the age of the earth that matters to me, it is the link between sin and death.

  • Michael Thomson

    There is an exciting new book coming out in 2010 on this subject, written by Connor Cunningham:
    Evolution: Darwin’s Pious Idea
    It’s in Eerdmans nascent Interventions Series. Connor also produced a critically acclaimed show on the BBC on Evolution that examines Darwin’s theory and argues that it is, in fact, possible to both accept evolution and believe in God.
    Book Table of Contents:
    Prolegomenon: Darwin’s Pious Idea
    1. Introducing Darwinism — The Received View: Disenchantment
    2. The Units of Resurrection
    3. Unnatural Selection
    4. Evolution: Making Progress?
    5. Matter over Mind: “We Have Never Been Modern”
    6. Naturalizing Naturalism: Materialism’s Ghosts
    7. Another Life: “We Have Never Been Medieval”
    Here are some You-Tube links for the Connor Cunningham special:

  • dopderbeck

    Derek (#1) — I totally resonate with what you’re saying, and I don’t think it can be dismissed easily. I’ve come to this trained in history, theology (a little), and law, not as a scientist. I think scientists are better able to assimilate this because of their training — sometimes it seems to be a more “clinical” thing for them.
    From my perspective, it’s not just an ephemeral sense of loss — it’s a tension with the Christian tradition stretching back to the Apostolic Fathers. Christians have always read the story of creation, sin and redemption to mean that the creation before sin was somehow different, that sin was a significant rupture in God’s design. I think we should be honest and acknowledge that the facts of natural history cause a real tension with our Tradition.
    But, at the same time, tension is not necessarily a bad thing. The Tradition isn’t static. Theology has always involved tensions that have impelled development and change. For example, think of the tensions Martin Luther had to endure.
    I think the question for us in this scientific age of discovery is, how do we extend the Christian tradition in a way that is faithful to all the knowledge God gives us? It seems clear that “paradise lost” is not a “literal” story in a universal sense. Yet, it also seems clear that the “Fall,” the loss of an innocence, a state of shalom, is an important scriptural thread amplified throughout the Tradition.
    So, do we start to think of this as more of a potentiality — what could have been, if human beings had cultivated the Earth in perfect fellowship with each other and with God? Was this state of potentiality disclosed to that first pair of humans to whom God revealed Himself at some time in the distant past? Was God’s revelation to that first pair something like the primordial “dreaming time” of many aboriginal creation myths? Is the “flaming sword” that gaurds the entrance to Eden a symbol of this lost potential. Is this a “literary” symbol, a “proleptic eschatology” that wasn’t realized and that is only now being realized because of Christ? Or is it even a representation of an ontological dimension of existence that can no longer be accessed? Are we, in some freaky, unexplainable sense, in a sort of “parallel universe,” a different world than “Eden,” that extends in every direction through time?
    There are all sorts of things we might speculate about. The point is, I think, our task — which is unnerving but which also can be exciting — is to try to use all the knowledge God gives us to extend the Christian Tradition in ways that are as faithful and true as we can manage.

  • dopderbeck

    Sorry for the double post. I just wanted to mention one thing I think gets lost in these discussions: imagination. Biblically, “death” is the result of sin. Scientifically, “death” is the result of ordinary and inevitable natural processes. We need a more imaginative understanding of what “death” encompasses and how it would have differed for human beings absent sin. What would it have been like, for human beings in perfect fellowship with each other and perfect fellowship with God, to come to the end of the earthly form of bodily existence? Would it have been more like exchanging an aging used car for a brand new one? Would it have been like the resurrection Christians anticipate, without any period of separation and loss?

  • RJS

    And, interestingly enough, the idea that human “death” would have been more like the resurrection Christians anticipate without dissolution, decay, separation and loss is found in John Calvin’s interpretation of Genesis 3. It is not simply an accommodation and rationalization arising from the influence of modern science. This is worth pondering.

  • Steve Martin

    Derek (#1):
    On the sense of loss, as someone who made the transition to Evolutionary Creationism, overall I would say no. The early Hebrew Christians may have had a “sense of loss” because their “Warrior Messiah” story was shattered, but the real Messiah story was so much greater. I don’t think any of them felt any real sense of loss overall & would never have wanted to go back to the “old story”.
    Dan #10: The question about death in a good creation is very good. However, I think the link between death & evolution is an unnecessary stumbling block. I like what two Evangelicals (paleontologist Stephen Godfrey and Baptist minister Christopher Smith) say in their book Paradigms on Pilgrimage on this. In my post Evolution: Necessary for the Continuation of Life I discuss their ideas briefly. Basically the problem is one of limited resources (a tough theological problem for Creationists of all stripes – EC, OEC, YEC). Given this problem however, evolution is actually a very creative solution. From Godfrey’s and Smith’s book (pages 167 and 168):
    Far from being dependent on death, the evolutionary process as seen in the fossil record is actually the antidote to death. If new species were not formed by the process of genetic variation, there would be no survivors when environmental conditions did change and existing species proved so poorly adapted to the new conditions that they became extinct. So death is not necessary for evolution, but evolution has been necessary for the continuation of life.
    I do recommend Smith and Godfrey’s book for those struggling with this issue – and the discussion around pages 167 & 168 is excellent (some of which you can get from the blog post I mentioned above). The point being, evolution is very creative tool used by our Creator in bringing about his good creation.

  • http://twitter.com/Craigcottongim craig cottongim

    Del Ratzch’s “The Battle of beginnings” is still the best book on why neither side of the evolution/creation debate is “winning”.

  • Monte Swan

    Sense of loss!!? These stories/narratives whether they are read in the Bible or in the Rocks carry larger cargos of truth than details such as the age of the earth or the mechanics of the process. The only imortant point that would equate to a ‘loss’ for a Christian is that God is the Creator, personal, almighty, good and beautiful. The scientific details, Biblical models, and interpretations are just details. So don’t miss what is the heart of Creation by fretting over the possibility that the Creation Story may be exponetially more complex than a bedtime story. (from 40 years of experience as a research geologist and early life scientist and Christian)

  • BeckyR

    Schaeffer used to say that philosophically evolution is time plus chance and nobody can live that way. Evolution doesn’t work philosophically.

  • http://www.precipicemagazine.com Darren King

    Regarding the “sense of loss” question: I wonder if that’s not so much about the loss of that particular narrative, but just about having to jettison an original narrative at all. It can be a strange experience to build up cognitive dissonance over time, to the point when one’s worldview is thrust into embracing (or not so much!) change. But I think we can confuse a sense of loss for the the beauty of the original idea, for what is plain old difficulty in having to embrace the concept that we were wrong, that ideas shift, that even our metanarratives are not immune. Ultimately, Perhaps this about being left feeling finite and incomplete in a vast, and sometimes strange cosmos.
    All I would say to that is that, as children, we could enjoy great adventure in embracing mystery. And as adults, we need not abandon the wonder of that journey for the love of “safe, known places”.
    Personally, I feel like my faith has shifted over the last several years – in the sense that there are many more questions mixed into my worldview. But, unlike at previous points in life, I no longer see this as negative. I really do feel a sense of awe in the majestic mystery of and in it all. Working out and understanding the mechanics matters, but not nearly so much as enjoying what just “is” right in front of me, and just beyond my conscious self.

  • RJS

    Much of Schaeffer’s theology doesn’t quite mesh with my understanding, but in a sense he is right here – blind random chance and exquisite dependence on “luck” is a problem.
    Part of the point of much of the current work is that the dependence of evolution on “contingency” and “chance” is minimal – time yes, luck no.

  • http://www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2009/08/serpent-was-right.html Nathan

    Dan #10:
    A favorite blogger of mine, O.T. Professor Mariottini recently blogged on the Garden story from a purely textual view of the Old Testament, and he points out that man, and also likely the animals (I would assume) already had mortality in the original creation:

    “Another interpretation is that if Adam disobeyed God’s command, he would become mortal. However, this interpretation contradicts Genesis because the book seems to imply that humans were already mortal. The book of Genesis says that man would only live forever after eating from the tree of life: “Then the LORD God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’” (Genesis 3:22).”

    Life and death are part of our material nature, it seems to be some external act (“the tree of life”) found in the Garden which promised us immortality that was lost to us because of the curse. So, it might stand to reason that prior to being put into the Garden (Gen 2:8), during whatever process (evolution or creation from dust, take your theological pick) death was just as much part of our nature as it is today.

  • Jason

    To answer the original question: at some point we got used to the idea that we are the product of one sperm among millions competing to reproduce in a contest that surely included a great deal of chance, and yet we know that God created us. Probably ditto for Evolution.

  • Brandon

    Like many here, evolution is a bit of a new world to me and I struggle to integrate it into my theological paradigm for two reasons:
    1. God of the Gaps: If evolution and the basic (even “sanctified”) epistemology that accepts it are believed it seems that any rational for God’s handiwork becomes a sort of “god of the gaps” explanation. For example, take morality, well evolutionary sociologist have identified a sense of morality in mice and pets. After accepting the scientific framework (and presuppositions), its seems that nearly anything we find in the Scriptures (even the evolution of religion itself) can be “naturally” explained. And to posit a “god” becomes special pleading.
    2. Theology: If evolution is true (as has been mentioned) traditional doctrines on Adam/Eve (who Paul seems to think is “real”), the Fall, death, etc. are radically changed.
    Im not saying evolution must be wrong. Only its tough for some of us.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com Derek Leman

    Monte Swan (#17):
    First, you were a tad demeaning using the term “bedtime stories.” Second, you missed the point entirely. You kind of made yourself a stereotype of a scientist: condescending, concerned only with empirical data, and oblivious to literary/philosophical ideas.
    Everyone else:
    Thank you for your thoughts. My main point, of course, was not that death had never happened before Adam and Eve or that Adam and Eve were inherently immortal, but that common descent seems to deny our being set apart and progress by survival of the fittest seems to place our origin in the realm of death. Many of you gave me things to think about and chew on.

  • RJS

    Your first point is one I hope to return to in future posts – these are great questions worth thinking about. But I don’t think that the connection between evolutions and rationalization is as clean as it might seem. People have managed to rationalize a reason for everything in any multitude of ways without including the God revealed in scripture. In fact, isn’t the only way we narrow down to a faith in God through his self-revelation – because he desires relationship with us?
    The second point – the theology involved in doctrines of Adam, Fall and death requires a great deal of thought. But it is not clear how much of what we consider “traditional” is universal. The first important idea to consider is the concept of death as discussed in several comments above.

  • Brad

    Derek #1:
    As one who was a Young Earth Creationist 20 years ago and who grew up believing in direct creation and a young earth, I can say that a sense of loss in not necessary. Or that if a sense of loss is felt it can be replaced by an even more satisfying sense of awe at the power of God.
    My views changed slowly over time, prompted mostly by questions resulting from things I learned of science. This caused me to search the scriptures and try to understand how an old earth and evolution could be in light of what the scriptures said. But I found that I was running scriptures through the “filter” of a set of assumptions (including direct creation and a young earth) many of which were given to me by others who had received them the same way.
    But our filter can change. Consider the established views of the universe in the 16th century. Consider this quote from Martin Luther:
    “There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must . . . invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”
    Practically everyone believed that the sun revolved around the earth, that the heavenly bodies were embedded in crystalline spheres. And more importantly, they believed that scripture supported this. The idea was theologically so well-established that one could be executed for disputing it.
    Today, anyone who believes what used to be so well-established would be considered a crackpot. And we don’t consider any of the scriptures that were used in support of those previous views to be relevant at all. And yet we believers, knowing that our sun is but one of a myriad of stars in the celestial “backwaters” of our seemingly “ordinary” galaxy, can still gaze up into the sky and catch our breath in wonder at God’s amazing power. In fact it is all the more amazing that in this whole huge universe that God has created, He still cares for me. I am overwhelmed.
    It is the same for evolution. The fact that God crafted me not in a literal day, but over billions of years, and that of all of the billions upon billions of organisms that have ever lived I am unique and cared for by Him is simply astonishing. Just to think of it can bring tears to my eyes and drive me to my knees in awe of His majesty.

  • Rick

    “…but that common descent seems to deny our being set apart and progress by survival of the fittest seems to place our origin in the realm of death.”
    However, one feels about this topic, I don’t think common descent negates the sovereignty of God, nor the fact that we are make in His “image.” The method He uses may be up for discussion, and some previous views may need to be adjusted, but the fact and importance of “imago dei” has not changed.
    “The second point – the theology involved in doctrines of Adam, Fall and death requires a great deal of thought. But it is not clear how much of what we consider “traditional” is universal.”
    Glad you stated that. Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, may have much to teach us about how we view these topics.

  • http://allthingsnew21.blogspot.com/2009/08/conversation-about-creation.html David

    This topic seems to be coming up a lot in my life lately. I recently wrote about it on my blog. (www,allthingsnew21.blogspot.com).

  • http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com Steve Martin

    Derek (#24) – re: common descent:
    Maybe to expand on Rick’s (#27) point.
    Sometimes I think our opposition to evolution from pre-existing animals may have more to do with pride (speaking to myself here as well) as with our desire to defend traditional theology. We focus more on our spiritual characteristics than our creaturely characteristics. In other words, we view ourselves as closer to God (because we share a spiritual dimension) than to animals (with whom we share the characteristic of being creatures of God). This is the same type of pride that Moses warned the Israelites about:

    “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you–for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Deut. 7:7-8).

    The Israelites were “The Chosen” because God chose them, not for any inherent quality they possessed. And this bundle of molecules, genes, cells, and organs we call ourselves is the image of God because he bestowed it upon us, not because it is a particularly noteworthy bunch of molecules, genes, cells, or organs. As Jesus indicated, God could easily have called on other parts of creation to serve and worship him. (Luke 3:8, Luke 19:40).
    We are special. Maybe as others have indicated, our species should be called homo divinus – the ape that bears God’s image.

  • James

    Man do these posts about evolution grow!
    To the original question, I know that there are many Christians-in-truth who hold to the theistic evolutionary model. There is no crisis for them. As others have pointed out, the idea that we were created by blind luck and natural determinism would be antithetical to Christianity, but if evolution was either actively guided or set in motion intentionally by a loving and careful creator, then no such conflict exists.
    I think the important thing to wrap the mind around, is that assuming an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who can act supernaturally (which I believe is a minimum requirement to believe in the basic tenets of Christianity), then really our question is not *if*, but *how* we were created.
    So that I would give to Derek. Our God is creative, and wonderful, and sometimes unpredictable. He’s also the God of truth, and has revealed Himself through His creation. That there is some question whether apes turned into humans some time ago, or how old the earth is, is our confusion as very very very limited beings. That doesn’t change that you were wonderfully and fearfully made, by a God who considers you His workmanship, and that He has a plan for you, a plan to prosper you and not to harm you. Focus on the cross.

  • AHH

    Derek #24,
    To add to others on your “common descent seems to deny our being set apart
    OT scholars (I liked Middleton’s readable book The Liberating Image) tend to view the “image of God” as not a matter of our being physically different, but rather as our being given a responsibility or role or function (ties into the thread on Walton’s book). In that view, being “set apart” is God assigning humans a special status as his vice-regents, not because of anything physically unique. Maybe not much difference from the way Israel, not physically different from surrounding nations, was “set apart” for God’s purposes.
    I agree with others that the issues of sin and death and the traditional (at least in the West) view of a fall from perfection are more challenging. As RJS says, tradition in these areas may not be necessary doctrine, but I’ll admit (even while affirming that the evidence in nature strongly indicates God made use of evolution) that there are at least minor tensions. Maybe I am more comfortable with some unresolved tension than others might be — people are wired differently in that regard.

  • Brian in NZ

    #13 Dopderdeck – In a church I attended many years ago, it was common for people to refer to death as “graduation day”

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann

    “…evolution is convergent – that there are islands of stability and that evolution will identify these islands.”
    I haven’t read all the comments, so please forgive me if I’m being redundant! I was struck, RJS, by this statement above. A cousin of mine who’s a professor at a northeastern university and I had a conversation about “communities” and cooperation in biology and biological systems or processes, and the analogies those pose for human communities and cooperation in different realms: local governance, economics, community life, family life, etc.
    I hope Conway Morris digs deeper into this!
    Also re this statement: “It is not at all clear that Gould was correct – individual events have an element of chance, but the overall landscape for evolution may be, not rough and exquisitely sensitive to initial conditions, but constrained and relatively smooth with the flexibility to find solutions independent of the fortunes of chance.”
    It made me think of the theological dogma that there is only one way to read scripture, only one path that is “right” through life, and of how awfully damaging such an idea is to many who know they’ve messed up along their journey. But the biblical concepts of repentance, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and Love all point to more flexibility in Godself than we may grant to ourselves or one another.
    Thanks for the interesting thoughts!

  • Mark Z.

    Dan #10: To me this is a hole in the dyke of biblical hermeneutics which will inevitably lead to severing the “meaning” of much more of the New Testament from the text and relocating the meaning in the “cultural context” – to such an extent that pretty much anything is possible. I point to the Episcopal church as exhibit A, the United Methodist church as exhibit B, etc.
    If it’s so impossible to reconcile Paul with observable facts–if his theology really can’t stand apart from a view of natural history that’s discredited by physical evidence–then why don’t we call a church council and remove Paul from the canon already?
    Because it’s really only Paul who has this problem. Jesus in Mark 2:26 seems to have slipped up on his Biblical history (naming Abiathar as the high priest rather than Ahimelech) but it doesn’t undermine his point. (And nobody feels compelled to “save” him by declaring that Abiathar and Ahimelech were the same guy.) But no, all of Paul’s teaching about sin and grace and the age-old conflict between Man and God falls apart if there wasn’t a specific prehistoric person named “Man”.
    It’s interesting that you reach for the metaphor of biblical hermeneutics as a dike–an artificial and ultimately unstable structure built to keep the stuff on one side from coming in and destroying everything we’ve built on the other side. I must observe that Jesus did not teach that the Kingdom of God is like a city built below sea level.

  • BenB

    Derek #24,
    “…but that common descent seems to deny our being set apart and progress by survival of the fittest seems to place our origin in the realm of death.”
    It seems to me that this stems from a myth we’ve told ourselves about humanity. (I do not intend to be condescending to you with that, just not sure how else to say it, maybe you could help me phrase it better once I explain).
    That is, we talk about being set apart as almost being completely different from the rest of creation – and that leads to the way we interpret what it means to be human. Instead, I tend to think of our “set apart” as being the culmination – and highest example – of what God wants to do with all of creation: Love it.
    In evolution, the creation of humanity grows out of God’s loving relationship to his creation – and a the creation of a creature capable of far deeper conscious experience and far deeper give-and-take love relationships with the Creator GOD.
    For me, this becomes more beautiful. Not only are we set apart to be “vice-agents” as a previous poster said – assisting God in loving all of creation – but we grow out of God’s love for all of creation, and become special out of the process.
    To Everyone (the original question):
    Evolution and science are really what have led me to researching process theology and panentheism more and more. Process theology has offered me an answer to the assimilation of my faith ideas – sin, fall, benevolent creator God – and a process of death and decay in the creation of God’s (so far) highest evolved version of creation which is capable of such deep give-and-take relationship with the divine.
    It also seems to make sense of the “randomness” which is spoken of here. As I’ve said in a previous post – it seems to offer a picture of the God/Creation relationship which looks more like a ball rolling down a hill which follows “direction” but can still end up in numerous places/paths.
    I know this doesn’t help offer answers to many evangelicals – just attempting to answer the question from my own faith journey!
    God Bless everyone.

  • Phil M

    Derek (#1),
    Like you, I have been trying for a long time now to reconcile evolution within an evangelical framework (forgive this assumption if you do not consider yourself evangelical, but it usually goes with the territory if YEC was your starting point).
    I too have been tugged towards accepting evolution and struggling with how to reconcile it with my faith. However, following along on the many useful and informative posts here at Jesus Creed has actually pushed me back to YEC. I have certainly had many of the (unknown to me) fundamentalist mindsets I held wiped out (to which I am grateful) and my mind has been stretched as it hasn’t been before.
    The more I have read about how to reconcile evolution with Genesis, the more these following points have become apparent to me (when I refer to “Evolutionists” below, I mean both secular and Christian):
    Evolutionists have taken the high-ground; evolution is proven and any other interpretation of the facts is dismissed out of hand and labelled as “making God a liar”. I no longer respect “Creation Scientists”, but the “making God a liar” argument is just too simplistic and polemic.
    Many (not all) evolutionists seem just as quick as any YECist to cherry pick, use straw man arguments and false dichotomies, and misrepresent the opposing view.
    Evolutionists start with the assumption that it is true in their observations. It seems to me (just my impression) that every specialist in their field (biology, geology, astronomy etc) assumes that all the other specialist fields that they are not in, have provided the proof that allows this assumption. Taken together they all agree (if we ignore the YEC scientists in each field) that evolution is fact, but none of them on their own seem to provide the nail in the coffin of YEC
    The nail in the coffin of YEC will never, it seems to me, be found because of arguments such as Bruce (#9) provides
    Probably most importantly (and here is where I answer the original question), I think (regardless of the attempts to prove otherwise on Jesus Creed) that evolution does indeed pose a problem for the Christian faith (although perhaps this is limited to the Evangelical faith) because I believe it inevitably leads to positions such as Paul (#34) where we have to throw away our high view of scripture (I know that John Walton does not)
    So, Derek, I have come to the point where my Evangelical faith has provided the answer I need to the theory of evolution. My high view of scripture gives me the excuse to dismiss (as I freely admit I now do) the evolutionary conclusions of every scientist. This was not an easy point to come to because there are so many of them, and they are so much more intelligent than I am. And I do not take this point because I wish Genesis 1 to be literal – I take it a lot less literally than I used to – but because of the conflicts with the big-picture story of scripture which seems to fall apart when looked at in detail starting with evolution.
    I have watched this blog closely and hardly ever commented because I wanted to understand how the other side thought. I think I have gained that understanding now, and while I no longer think poorly of evolutionist Christians, I have realised that there are just so many problems with the evolution applied to the Evangelical faith. And accepting evolution seems to move people out of Evangelicalism, without realising that YEC itself provides the answer: God did indeed create the universe with the appearance of age – and he told us he did right from the start (Adam created a man, trees with fruit on them, stars immediately visible etc).
    I know how out of place this kind of view is here at Jesus Creed – I have read long and hard, and played Devil’s Advocate with many of my YEC friends – but ultimately it just seems too hard to me to reconcile the story of redemption with evolution. Ironically it has been the honest attempts to do that reconciliation here at Jesus Creed that has led me to that conclusion.
    I think I could write a lot more about this, but this comment is already too long!
    Phil M.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Notice the premise which introduces the post:
    “The Darwinian paradigm of random mutation and natural selection **seems to suggest** that the development of life in the universe and sentient beings on our planet is a process dependent upon highly contingent improbable events.”
    Then there is a conclusion:
    “We are a product of blind cosmic chance – luck as it were.”
    Certainly “seems to suggest” does not lead to “We are.” That is a rhetorical over reach.
    Moreover, “seems to suggest” is highly questionable when followed by “a process dependent upon.” The process will be dependent on what your worldview describe as ultimate, and as such random mutation and natural selection do not “seem to suggest” anything, for Random Mutation and natural selection must be inturpreted by the worldview of those looking at natural selection and random mutation.
    For example, let’s assume a worldview which incldes a creator God, and let’s say this God knows all future events.
    In this case, God would have selected a universe (like ours) intentionally, knowing where it would proceed because of his foreknowledge. It may be the case that if you wound back the clock in this universe he made that it would spit something else out (as Gould suggests), but God did not create that rewound universe. He created this one, with its foreseen outcomes.
    Thus the idea of randomness is not part of the equation–given a creator God with foreknowledge of future events–because God would have picked out our world intentionally because of its course.
    As such, there is at least one inturpretation of evolution that does not spit out random chance and flux, but intention and perhaps even design. And it seems to me this would not “pose a problem for a created universe.”

  • RJS

    I think that there is more than one interpretation that does not pose a problem – and you’ve given one. So I am not tied to the idea that Conway Morris is right as the only way to reconcile evolution with a created universe and more importantly with created humans.
    But I think that the ideas put forth by Conway Morris and others make more sense – that evolutionary creation is not a mechansim exquisitely sensitive to historical “accidents”.

  • BenB

    Jeff @ 37,
    But doesn’t your description sound more deistic than theistic? It just seems you’re suggesting a God who knows that if he creates universe x – the natural laws will cause life to look like y. For me, that doesn’t look like theistic evolution where God is at work guiding creation towards humanity. I could have read you wrong; if so, please let me know!

  • James

    I’m an OEC (I feel like I should throw up gang signs at this point… anyone else? 😉 ), and I share a lot of your observations about evolutionists in general. I don’t think that they really apply across the board, though. There are some legitimate scientists, in the field, and who post on this blog, who humbly acknowledge the weaknesses in the argument, and still conclude that the best evidence is macro-evolution. So I’d caution you about being overly broad in painting those who hold evolution to be true.
    I’m curious what you would say, or where you could point me to address the objection to YEC, that the earth appears old, and further, that it’s out of God’s character to be deceptive?

  • BenB

    I’m also not convinced by Mark @ 34 when he says that Paul’s theology breaks down. If Adam is representative of early humanity – and early humanity is guilty of choosing to follow our own whims and wills instead of God’s, and it brought about human evil and human suffering in the world (spiritual death)…
    then how does Paul’s theology break down? Paul may have thought Adam was a literal single individual… but none of what Paul says breaks down if we replace Adam with “humanity” which is what the word “adam” means in the first place.
    Likewise – PhilM – What is a “high” view of Scripture? To say Scripture is our ultimate authority on issues of Christian living and Christian faith about God – that’s a very high view, and yet it says nothing about evolution, origins, or the like. I fail to see where this is a “lower” view of Scripture.

  • Tomo

    Honestly the only time I ever hear “evolution” and “random chance” used in the same sentence is by people who do not understand what evolution is.
    There is nothing random about evolution – its based around the mathematics of nested hierarchies. Saying thing like, “what is the probability that this universe was created by random chance” betrays an ignorance of mathematics and science. The probability that the universe exists the way that it is 1:1. That’s just like asking what is the chance that an all powerful, all knowing super being would create the universe the way he did….the point is nonsensical.
    Evolution, like any theory of science, simply describes the process by which things happen. What does the process have to do with religion? If you can already make the leap that god exists, why can’t you take one step further and agree that evolution is the process he used? Is it because it falsifies the Adam and Eve story for literal interpretators?
    It seems to me that the hardest part would be in finding reasons to believe an all powerful being exists – not in rationalizing how that all powerful and mysterious being would choose to operate.

  • Josh W

    Tomo, of course the probability of the universe is 1:1, because we start with the question “If our universe exists, does it exist?”. But given a theory of change, you can create a history by adding up all those changes. Now as anyone who does integration knows, this does not produce one history but a family of histories. Even ignoring the indeterminate-ness of changes in evolution, this will already produce a family of presents, from which states corresponding to our current observations can be separated from those not doing so, and via a few more mathematical things you end up tracing those histories back to the beginning of the universe and assigning them probabilities, assuming (for some reason) equal probability for various states at the beginning of the universe. So that is why people assign the current universe state a probability.
    So what’s the prob? Why not just select from those using an arbitrary superhuman being? Because it’s totally pointless! An arbitrary superhuman being shows no personality, and no distinguishing from an unthinking unpurposing force.
    That is the key to a worldview that includes God, the idea that the patterns of this world are the products of a purposeful mind, and that the way they change are his changes.
    That is what causes the problem, understanding the world differently means you understand the personality of God differently, and when that means your old joys are rendered inaccessible to non-fictional consideration, then that can be gutting.
    Now bringing this up to date, what kind of God produces everything out of two opposing forces? Well what immediately springs to my mind is law and grace. Can mutation be considered grace? Can harsh unexpected circumstance be considered justice? I’m not convinced, but I wonder whether an adjustment of those concepts from their classical evolutionary form may make them match up much closer. I wonder whether considering the choices of an evolving organism would move towards this, and the idea of a niche as a gift.
    What kind of God produces apparent history? Produces the adult that shows echoes of a non-existent child; Adam with a belly button and the earth with fossils? I have intuitive proto-answers to that less clearly, especially in the context of the gradual-ness of sanctification, but perhaps other people have wrestled more successfully with that problem.

  • Phil M

    James (#40)

    I’m curious what you would say, or where you could point me to address the objection to YEC, that the earth appears old, and further, that it’s out of God’s character to be deceptive?

    I’m not sure if I understand your question properly. Are you asking where evolutionists have claimed that if the earth really is young (while appearing to be old) then God is a liar? If so, then that has happened here at Jesus Creed on a number of occasions. I don’t know about it being out of God’s character to be deceptive, but Him being a liar is expressly excluded by scripture.
    BenB (41)

    What is a “high” view of Scripture?

    good question. A “high view of scripture” is one of the defining characteristics of Evangelicalism but there is a lot of room to move within that definition, and perhaps that’s intentional. However, redefining the canon to exclude Paul would be a good example of a “low” view. And some of the discussions that have happened on Jesus Creed to try and reconcile Paul with Genesis via evolution have given the distinct impression that in order to succeed, much of Evangelicalism’s understanding of inerrant scriptural (and I don’t mean fundamentalist) would have to be abandoned.
    I realize that John Walton doesn’t fit into that mold, and that reflects the fact that this is an ongoing discussion – one that I will continue to watch closely.

  • BenB

    Phil M –
    Thank you. Do you think that recognizing Adam as a representative of early humanity is a valid thing to do which still gives weight to Paul’s idea? Especially when Paul gets Genesis “wrong” anyways if we want Adam to be the father of ALL people. After all, Cain and Seth marry women who are not identified as Adam’s descendants and Cain is afraid of being killed by other people when he goes off into the wilderness. This seems to me that there were other people around.
    It just seems that Adam should be seen as representative of early humanity, and even all of humanity in his transgression against God. It makes all of Paul’s thought still work perfectly fine.
    What do you think?

  • BenB

    Phil M –
    I also agree that excluding Paul from the canon is a rather low view of scripture! Thanks for the dialogue.

  • Phil M

    It depends what you mean be “representative”, if you mean he was real but representative just as a sportsman may represent his country, then sure. But if you mean representative, in the sense that he stands for the every-man and there was actually no real Adam then I am not comfortable with that. If Adam was myth, then at some point in the Genesis/Exodus narrative the mythological must become actual (otherwise you have left Evangelicalism) and there is no clear crossover point.
    When you read Genesis, and then read how Jesus and especially Paul make reference to Genesis persons, it all seems to be referring to actual people and events.
    Talking about Adam and other Genesis people and events as mythological mostly works at the conceptual level when thinking about the main themes of the New Testament. But it forces you, IMHO, to think Paul (and perhaps even Jesus) was mistaken about their understanding of the Pentateuch – which goes too far for me since it goes against the Evangelical view of scripture. It opens up the Bible for reinterpretation in many ways, as has already been discussed in this post’s comments and other posts on this blog.
    Phil M

  • BenB

    Phil M –
    I guess I just don’t understand how saying that Paul and Jesus (both human in knowledge)are mistaken in giving Adam historicity goes against an evangelical view of the Bible. The theology of both Paul and Jesus (the “intent”) remains in tact even in the midst of human lack of historical knowledge.
    I don’t think this leaves Evangelical thought at all. I am a part of an Evangelical denomination and a licensed minister in that denomination – so my view of Scripture doesn’t clash with our stated view – and we believe that Scripture speaks truthfully about Christian faith and practice, and infallibly reveals God to us.
    So it doesn’t seem that what I’ve proposed leaves Evangelical views of Scripture.
    Would you disagree?
    p.s. I think it is crucially important that we honor the humanity of Jesus and the limitedness of his knowledge while here on earth – which Jesus admits himself.
    Thus, these two writers can be mistaken – while still being inspired by God to write truth about Him and our sinful past as human beings. As cracked eikons (thank you Scot for the term).

  • BenB

    Phil M –
    I also want to say that all of that was simply proposed as an option which still rests within Evangelical view of the Bible.
    However, I would propose that Paul and Jesus do not speak of Adam as a literal historical figure – bc their words don’t require a literal historical figure to remain true. And likewise, as already stated – if they meant a literal figure, they got their history wrong anyways!
    I suggest we view Paul and Jesus as offering Adam as a figurative representative of early humanity to a Jewish audience.
    Again, thank you for the dialogue!

  • Doug Allem

    I disagree with Stephan Jay Gould (although I love his books and defense of evolution) about the “tape of life” and tremendous differences that would emerge. Setting aside the speculation that life might emerge based on silicon or some other non-carbon element (there is no science, just speculation), I think Gould emphasizes chaos resulting in fortuitous and contingent outcome instead of emphasizing what we already know about biology and especially ecology.
    First, almost all scientists expect life to emerge and evolve only on planets with “life zone” qualities such as liquid water. Our Earth’s life zone, the only one we know, is rich in diversity because it seems a rule of biology that organisms develop (to become species) to fill every available ecological niche And creation of new life forms (algae, grass, trees, etc.) creates new niches.
    If it is inevitable that life developes to fill every niche (which is our experince) then I would say that the end results, the successful species that dominate each niche, would over time develop very similar traits- similar anatomies, physiologies, and psychologies of survival. Survival in similar niches on Earth or planet X would require the same survival values. Another way of looking at it is to say, contrary to Gould’s thesis, that the requirements of an ecological niche would result, over time, in species successfully evolved to survive in that niche.
    Ecology and survival shape the nature of species (including intelligent species), not the chaos and accident that Gould postulates. This is not to say that many superficial, but possibly striking “phenotype” differences might not occur from planet system to planet system, but over time, I think, even those differences would converge to the most elegant survival characteristics. I have been thinking out loud in writing this post and am guilty of not having read many of the other posts yet, but this understanding of evolution makes a lot of sense to me and is also consistent with the theistic evolution that I think RJS has introduced in these series of posts.

  • Phil M

    always glad to dialogue!
    You said:

    “Thus, these two writers can be mistaken – while still being inspired by God to write truth about Him”

    That, as I understand it, is a departure from Evangelicalism (Jesus himself was not a “writer”, so I am assuming you were referring to the Gospel accounts). I know that the concept of scriptural inerrancy is held to mean different things but, as far as I understand it, Evangelicalism holds to the Gospels as giving a faithful and trustworthy account of Jesus’ words. So it would go beyond Evangelicalism to say that Jesus could be mistaken, even given that he was fully human. At best, we could say that we have mistaken His intent, or that the translation was mistaken.
    Paul is trickier in some ways and less so in others. Paul received his understanding of the Gospel, not by other people, but by direct revelation (eg Gal 3 and 2 Cor 12), so it would seem to me that he of all people should have his facts straight – although this is certainly not the point on which I would hang my hat.
    The main problem about Paul’s references to Adam appear when you actually read the text and not just talk about the higher level concepts.
    For example, when Paul writes “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21,22) and then in v45 “The first man Adam became a living man, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” – it is pretty clear that he writes as if Adam was a real man and that it is spiritual death and physical death that is being discussed in respect to the resurrection and the fall (I think it is a false dualism to talk about “physical” and “spiritual” as if they can be separated to the extent that you can talk about a spiritual death independent of a physical death).
    I realize that when I say above ” it is pretty clear…”, that really I am appealing to my own impression that it is clear, but it is widely conceded that 1Cor15 and Rom5 are flash points because they do appear to be talking about Adam as a real man and physical death being a consequence of sin. If we start with the assumption that Paul is indeed taking that stance, then to say that he is mistaken is also, as I understand it, a departure from Evangelicalism since Paul’s conclusions about Jesus no longer follow from his premises and are therefore suspect and open to reinterpretation.
    A representative view of the first chapters of Genesis also tends to extend further into the Pentateuch until it is pretty much all symbolic. That is not always the case (but then you are left with the puzzle of working out at which point real history is being recounted) but when it does, it is certainly a departure from Evangelicalism.
    Phil M.

  • BenB

    Phil M –
    Like I said, I guess I’m just confused on how it can be a “departure from evangelicalism” when my Evangelical denomination is ok with it, and it fits our statement of belief on the Holy Scriptures.

  • Phil M

    I’m not sure I understand – are you saying that your Evangelical denomination is happy to consider a “high view of scripture” as one that regards Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc as merely symbolic or representative? If that is so, then even if your denomination is OK with it, you will find that it does not fit with the general understanding of Evangelicalism.
    Phil M.

  • Mark Z.

    Phil M.: I don’t know about it being out of God’s character to be deceptive, but Him being a liar is expressly excluded by scripture.
    Phil, by “expressly excluded”, do you mean:
    (1) scripture tells us that God is not a liar, and therefore we can rule out the possibility that God acts with the intent to deceive?
    Or (2) scripture tells us that God is not a liar, and therefore even if God acts with the intent to deceive, God is still not a liar?

  • Phil M

    Mark Z,
    I mean that scripture expressly tells us that God is not a liar and therefore, since we are specifically talking about the God of the Christian Bible, we can rule out the possibility that God lies.
    The word “deception” is possibly open to interpretation a little more, so I was trying to limit my statement specifically to lying.

  • BenB

    Phil M –
    I mean that my Evangelical Denomination is ok with the Bible being what the Bible is. That is the Highest view of the Bible anyone can have. Because it is God’s Word with which to speak to us. *IF* it extends further into the Pentateuch, then God decided to work with such and speak to us through this and we should be submissive. That’s still a High view of Scripture. Why should being “Evangelical” require that we hold the Bible to a different standard than the Church Fathers did, and then call that “High”? Such suggestions make no sense to me.
    Also, I think that the story of Genesis 1-3 is much different than the story of Abraham. Do I think Abraham is still dressed up in story? Maybe – but it is mythical? No.
    Likewise, I see no reason why when Paul says “death through one man – life through one man” that we need Adam to be a literal person. It is a point being made here, not a direct statement of needed fact. The point is that through the fall of humanity (shown by Adam) death (as certainty, not as reality) entered the world and all men die – and through Jesus all men have life. Adam functions as a literary device to create a 1-to-1 comparison. This 1-to-1 not need be historical in order for Paul’s point to stand. I just don’t understand why people suggest that it does.
    Likewise, I didn’t say the Gospel writers were mistaken in accounting what Jesus said. I’m saying that even if Jesus DID think Adam was a literal human being, and the Gospel writers did record that successfully – it does not go against Evangelical views of Jesus to say that he can be mistaken about history since he’s limited to human knowledge. Afterall, he was wrong about the smallest seed, he attempted to get figs from a tree out of season (although I understand that’s figurative of the temple), he claimed to not know plenty of information. Why must he be correct about Adam? Can’t he be human here too?
    I am still at a loss for how this goes against an Evangelical view of the Bible. It may go against what many Evangelical people think, and what many Evangelical people have claimed – but it certainly doesn’t go against Evangelicalism.
    If it does, then Evangelicalism ceases to be an identity worth anything in Christian tradition – since we are claiming to be able to require something of the Bible and of its writers that even the greatest fathers of our faith never required of it.
    The last thing I want to see is Evangelicalism cease to be an identity worth anything, because it is something that I identify myself as.

  • BenB

    I always thought that a High view of Scripture should first and foremost acknowledge the divine authority behind it. To me, that means this –
    If there are myth, story, allegory, or any other literary features far removed from literal fact in the Bible – then God chose to speak to us through this. I will not place requirements on it, and on what need be historical. For it is God’s Word to do what He wishes with it, and I will submit myself to it. It is the Highest authority in Christian life, and Christian practice – and the only source of Christian theology. It is absolutely infallible in what the authors intended to speak about God’s person, character, and actions for the world in salvation – which is ultimately revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible attempts to teach us this – nothing else – and is infallible in doing so.
    Is this not a “High” view of Scripture? Does such a view really fall outside of Evangelicalism?
    To me, the only alternative to this view, if we say “yes, it does fall outside of Evangelicalism,” is the following:
    The Bible need be literal truth in (_____)% in order to be trustworthy as the Word of God. Likewise, the writers cannot be mistaken in their history, even if that history is used to make a theological point. In order for the Bible to speak true theologically – the History used to make such points must also be true. God cannot speak truthfully about Himself through botched history.

  • Phil M

    I personally believe that Adam was a real person, but I didn’t say that you have to believe that in order to be Evangelical – I merely expressed my view that within Evangelicalism there is room to believe that without being fundamentalist, and that one of the biggest points of conflict with evolutionary theory goes away if the young earth/universe was created already looking “old”.
    I personally find the various attempts to work out how much of Genesis is pure myth vs mythohistorical vs true history to be unsatisfying, so I lean back towards more and more of it being more than pure myth. However, as I said, Evangelicalism does have plenty of room to move.
    You said:

    “*IF* it extends further into the Pentateuch, then God decided to work with such and speak to us through this and we should be submissive”

    but without a special revelation of exactly how far it extends, we are left with the task of determining that ourselves. Evangelicalism has established a fuzzy boundary that is hard to nail down so we have to be careful not to be too restrictive. But I would say that there are nevertheless limits. For example, the account of the transfiguration has Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus. This would seem to be a pretty strong indication that they were real people.
    I have, during the course of this discussion, checked on this with a couple of friends of mine who are better trained in this area than me, to make sure I wasn’t saying too much. But they both agreed that, while there is absolutely room to interpret the creation account in several different ways, it would be going beyond Evangelicalism’s view of scripture to consider Moses, Abraham etc as purely myth. But you you are not suggesting that they are (I think) so there is not argument there. And I agree that the creation account is written differently than the account of Abraham.
    My particular point of view comes from the difficulty of working out at which point the myth becomes the historical. I fully agree with pretty much all of your post #57 on what a high view of scripture is.
    My original post (which was in response to Derek) was simply trying to show that there was room within Evangelicalism to have a response to evolution without accepting evolution (and without being fundamentalist). Because taking Genesis 1-3 as myth, or (as John Walton posits) as a functional explanation still says nothing about evolution or YEC.
    Phil M.

  • http://pascalslager.wordpress.com Phil W.

    I think that it is important to distinguish between the idea of evolution by a process of natural selection as the main driving factor (Darwinism) and simply the idea that life on earth came about gradually over many years and that all living things share a common ancestor. The latter seems to be well supported by the evidence (geological, fossil, genetic), even from within a theistic paradigm. The latter seems to depend mainly a fundamental belief in materialism in order to gain its plausibility.

  • dopderbeck

    BenB: what denomination are you in?
    Phil M — who really cares what is “Evangelical” and what isn’t? You’re probably right, if “Evangelical” means “literal adherence to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy” — but then, who sez that’s what “Evangelical” means, and anyway, J.I. Packer himself might beg to differ!

  • RJS

    Phil W.
    Stick around – Conway Morris has some good thoughts on the nature of the evolutionary mechanism.
    You hit on a key point here. I certainly don’t care whether others will class me as “evangelical” or not, although I consider myself evangelical. But my goal is to follow God – not conform to a human litmus test. I know it isn’t quite this simple as we must interact with and listen to tradition(s) – but the final test isn’t a doctrine of inerrancy, adherence to the Westminster confession, or a local statement of faith. The final test is to follow Jesus.

  • BenB

    Phil M –
    Thank you for the dialogue once again! I never intended to indict you anywhere, and I hope I didn’t come off as such. I was really asking questions hoping to get to exactly what you’ve said in your last post. I was looking to see what answer you would give, and I now understand you fully. Thank you for that. This has been fruitful for me, and I hope in some way for you too!
    You are correct, I don’t think Abraham and Moses are myth.
    Dopderbeck –
    I am a licensed minister in the Church of the Nazarene. I’ve also done my Bachelor’s work and now my Master’s work at Nazarene institutions. Thank you for asking!
    Also, as to why it’s important (to me) as to what it means to be “evangelical” or what that even is: So that we can speak meaningfully with one another within the same context. I agree overall it’s not important whether we are or are not Evangelical, and what it means to be such. However, I do think having common understandings on the issue opens up some channels of dialogue.

  • Phil M

    thanks also for your dialogue – it helped clarify my own thoughts further and I’m grateful for that.
    I also agree with you’re expression of the value of knowing what it means to be Evangelical. It is just a label as dopderbeck says (although I don’t recall making any reference to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy), but the label has a meaning that represents a tradition and in my journey away from a form of fundamentalism, it has been useful as a reference point.