The Way Forward? (RJS)

Darrel Falk posted an excellent column on Science and the Sacred yesterday. In this post he comments on three conversations with highly educated people who hold a young earth view of creation. The reasons are not scientific, all three will admit that the science points in another direction.  Hope and purpose is tied together with a theology and view of the bible which seems incompatible with the view of creation portrayed by science. These are intelligent committed Christians.

The path taken by these three is not unusual – in the face of this dissonance there is a conscious choice to rest on faith. I know a number of similar stories.

But I know far more stories of those who, faced with the same choice and apparent chasm between the story of scripture and evidence of science, simply turned away from faith.

These same issues, theology, science, and scripture are at play in the controversy over intelligent design.

We have a problem, one we must face as we search for the way forward.

Some – like the three Falk sketches – feel that the way forward is to try to chip away at the scientific evidence. This clearly isn’t working in the short run, and I don’t think it will work in the long run.

Rather, I think that the way forward will come through the collaborative efforts of theologians, biblical scholars, and scientists. We need a partnership on a personal level – where theologians cannot for theological reasons dismiss the science, and scientists cannot, for scientific reasons, brush off the theological implications. And neither scientists nor theologians can trump scripture – we need Biblical scholars in the conversation as well. And maybe we need historians at the table who can help us understand
how we got to the current place, and psychologists who will shed light on how people think about hard problems. And it wouldn’t hurt to toss in a philosopher or two.

This approach has shaped the conversation I have tried to cultivate here – with Scot’s forbearance, consent, and participation (perhaps even his blessing).  I don’t have definitive answers – but I am trying to move forward, for myself more than anything else.

I am pleased to see that Peter Enns has joined the team at BioLogos and will be especially involved in working with the conversation on the Science and the Sacred blog.  The coupling of biblical and theological expertise with scientific expertise is much needed. We will continue along the same track here, and perhaps even collaborate on occasion.

What advice do you have? What is the way forward?

Who else do we need to bring to the table?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • AHH

    I basically agree about the path forward, but would point out (and I suspect RJS would agree) that the Biblical side of the conversation needs to be more than scholars like John Walton telling us what Genesis means in its context (valuable though that is).
    Many of our problems in this area have their roots in deeper issues of human expectations of Scripture. As long as “perfect book” (by Enlightenment standards of perfection) views of Scripture dominate the Evangelical church, and as long as literalist and concordist readings are preferred with narrative and figurative genres seen as something one might have to reluctantly settle for, all the Genesis scholarship in the world won’t make much of a dent in the problem. To deal with the root of the problem, the church needs to be weaned off these Enlightenment-tainted approaches to Scripture — science/faith discussions are only one of many areas that would be helped by such a move. Books like Scot’s The Blue Parakeet, Wright’s The Last Word, and Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation can help. So I’m glad to see Enns becoming part of the Biologos team, which previously was deficient in including only people from the science side.

  • Thanks for this topic, RJS.
    RJS, you write: “But I know far more stories of those who, faced with the same choice and apparent chasm between the story of scripture and evidence of science, simply turned away from faith.”
    The problem, it seems to me, is that people are putting their faith in scripture (which is problematic), or, perhaps even more so, putting their faith in a certain interpretive schema based on scripture – even more problematic, and also intellectually dishonest; because it claims to be a first source movement, when clearly it’s not.
    Personally, I consider myself a post-evangelical. For me, that means that I don’t lean on scripture to the same degree that many do. I allow for a lot of elbow-room because of the inevitable, contextual particularity of all human beings – of even those who wrote what eventually became known as scripture. I simply do not feel threatened when ANE writers get the “science wrong”, in terms of Creation. And, of course, even assuming they were attempting a “scientific understanding” is anachronistic. So there’s no threat there for me. In fact, it seems like a bizarre example of comparing apples and oranges to even get worked up about it – even a little bit.
    Now, that said, I do understand that this creates its own pandora’s box. Because if scripture isn’t reliable according to the (what I would call *misplaced*) assumptions of many, then where do we draw the line? What can we count on? Are we quickly moving along the infamous slippery slope? Is relativism next up?
    I don’t think so.
    I think God reveals much to us, some of that via the progressive revelation of the Bible (in that it records God’s interaction with human beings over milennia), but also through the revelations of nature, which includes the discoveries of science – be that in geology, genetics, astronomy, etc. And, as I’ve said many times before on this blog, I lean heavily on a robust theology of the Holy Spirit. In other words, I give more than lip service to the idea that God really is moving in the hearts and minds of human beings – both self-identified Christians and not. So I grow less concerned than many when other historic pillars, like scriptural understanding for instance, go through a season of shift.
    Now, admittedly, this leaves plenty of questions that are (temporarily) without answer. But, to me, that’s okay. In fact, to me, this is the only intellectually honest place to stand. This is where God would have us. So who am I to argue?
    Some might call this a reduction to deism, not Christianity. And I say, no, because Jesus is still the primary revelation of God incarnate in my perspective; as well as the primary human template to draw from and build upon.
    Now, lastly, let me say that probably the reason this whole issue disturbs me less than many on this blog, is because I grew up in a pretty postmodern context. So much of this is just a given for me. I am not dying to a former worldview, because it was never really my worldview to begin with. So, I do have sympathy for those suffering through this period of disorientation. But what I want to say is: trust God, trust that God’s still moving, still revealing, still teaching, still leading. And get out there and love others in the Spirit of Christ. Let the questions take care of themselves in due course, whenever that may be. And how about this, why not enjoy the mysterious journey while you’re at it?! 🙂

  • I appreciate Darren’s comments. As someone born after 1970 who has spent most his life on the West Coast in mainline Protestant churches, I too find that “there’s no threat there for me”–that is, I don’t feel threatened by science. It would help my understanding for persons who do see science as a threat to biblical faith to explain (1) the hermeneutical rules they employ when using Scripture and (2) what they fear will happen if they don’t defend creationism or intelligent design.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Falk’s post is, I think, misleading. Falk suggests that the only reason why people doubt aspects of evolutionary theory is because of their reading of the Bible. It only profiles 3 people, and they all happen to acknowledge the “overwhelming” evidence for “evolution” (not defining what Falk and they mean by this). This ignores the very large number of Christians and agnostics who doubt aspects of evolutionary theory because of the science.
    I would like to hear if Persons A B and C agree with his characterizations of them.
    Person B sounds very much like John Sanford, professor at Cornell and inventor of the Gene Gun. One of the commenters there thought so too. If it is, then I think Falk has given a highly selective and very misleading portrayal of his views on the relevant science.
    I have posted some quotes and a link on what John Sanford really believes about the relevant science:

  • RJS

    We will get to dealing with science – but I get e-mail’s every month from people who have proven quantum mechanics wrong, or think that relativity is a crock, or have demonstrated the construction of a perpetual motion device. Doubting is not the same as demonstrating unless it stands peer review. Those who doubt an old earth and a long development time for life and for humans don’t have a scientific leg to stand on.
    You can say that many “doubt aspects of evolutionary theory” and you are right – some of these doubts will in fact work together to change parts of the paradigm down the road. I doubt aspects of the current theory as stated by some people. Understanding evolution is not a finished project. But I don’t see what this has to do with the science and faith debate. Doubting aspects of the theory does not demonstrate the need for a supernatural source.
    I think that Falk is right on one important count here – the principle reason that evolution is a problem for the church is biblical/theological. If this were not the case we would care about it no more than we care about the quantum theory or the standard model in physics. There are aspects of these theories that are undergoing change and refinement as well.
    What this means – my point and I think Falk’s is that it is not enough to say “here is the science – take it or leave it.” Rather we need a collaborative effort to think through the Christian faith.
    This is what I would like to do – fine tuning of our understanding of the science is interesting (after all, I’m a scientist), but it is not the central issue in the science/faith discussion.

  • RJS

    And you’ve criticized – but not actually addressed my question(s).
    What advice do you have? Who else do we need to bring to the table?

  • pds

    RJS #6,
    I don’t have too much to add that I have not said before. “The way forward” is pretty broad. I guess the 2 main points I would throw out are:
    1. Everyone deserves a place at the table although that depends on the topic. (I have little interest in debating a young earth.)
    2. Everyone’s position should be stated accurately and discussions should be civil and respectful.
    Nothing really ground-breaking there.

  • pds

    BTW, do you think Falk was talking about John Sanford (as Person B)? Was he accurate?
    Also, did you see Thomas Nagel’s nomination of Signature in the Cell for Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement?

  • Rick

    “Who else do we need to bring to the table?”
    You may fit this in the “historian” category, but at least one archeologist should be included.
    Since much of this discussion will involve ancient texts and cultures, such insights would be valuable.

  • This is a good article because it is serious. Unless we take fundamentalist teachings seriously, we will never convert anyone to science. The usual approach of making fun of people or disparaging them as idiots wins no friends at all for science, not even among scientists!

  • RJS

    I don’t know who Falk was referring to, and I don’t know that it matters (meaning I don’t really want to speculate). I have met people, highly educated people, for whom the final conclusion is the same although the personal details somewhat different.
    I heard about Nagel’s nomination in a comment on an earlier post, maybe the Thanksgiving one. I intend to read and interact with Meyer’s book – the publisher was kind enough to send a copy, I have it here – but it is long. I have had some huge deadlines, so I haven’t had time to get to it yet. When I interact with it I want to be sure I have the time to do so fairly.

  • RJS

    I agree – we need the archaeology at the table. And history broadly based, from ancient to modern.

  • NAT

    As a “lurker” on the blog I often feel the conversation is well above my layman’s understanding. I have heard the debate from the young earth stand point. Currently I’m biased that way. (Probably from my reading of the Bible. I haven’t gotten a chance to read The Blue Parakeet yet.) Based on this discussion (and a similar topic I’ve been reading on diet) my hang-ups center on the reliability trustworthiness of peer reviewed articles. I guess I don’t have much to add to who needs to be included except maybe some “common man” like myself to keep asking for explanations in plain english.

  • RJS

    Thanks – you are absolutely right, we need people who can give explanations in plain English, or at least pressure the experts to give explanations in plain English, for pastors (who likely understand bible, but not science) and for the people in the pews (or chairs).

  • NAT

    I’ve been thinking about the “conflict” (I’m boycotting quotes for the rest of this post or there would be too many to count) between the Bible and science.
    As I look back on the evidence I’ve seen–I concede it has been biased– it appears that the arguments fall into stereotypical insults. The young earth’s are depicted as ignorant and not knowing science. The mainline scientist are characterized as conducting biased studies in support of preconceived notions. That is young earth supporters portray science as having a bias against the Bible.
    I’m not telling anyone anything new. My struggle is to find “fair and balanced” information. (Sorry I don’t want to start a tangent on the news).

  • Randy

    Maybe the issue of who needs to be included at the table has less to do with areas of expertise and more to do with levels of trust.
    This is what Wheaton College did several years ago when they brought Dr. John Houghton to speak about climate change, and even before that when Dr. Houghton brought American evangelical leaders to Britain to tell them, as a fellow evangelical and a Nobel-winning scientist, that Global Climate Change is real and we need to do something about it.
    In my experience, Francis Collins and Cal De Witt fit this bill as well. Collins’ folksy ways of storytelling help overcome skepticism, and his sharing his own folk songs helps too. Cal De Witt’s beautifully graphic illustrations of the inter-relations of creatures combined with his DEEPLY scriptural presentation of the place of humans opens new avenues of communication and understanding.
    After much thought, I am convinced that these ways that we tell the stories or present the facts or stories, makes as much difference as the content or what we “believe.”
    Randy Gabrielse

  • AHH

    NAT @15,
    As a source of fair-minded information about various views, and a good introduction to how to think about these issues in general, I VERY highly recommend the book “Origins” by Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma (both on the faculty at Calvin College). It is very accessible to the non-scientist and non-theologian. Of course they have their own viewpoints which they reveal here and there, but they bend over backward to fairly describe different positions and their strengths and weaknesses.
    In my view, the book should be the starting point for every non-specialist Christian starting to think about these issues. That would include the scientist Christian who hasn’t thought much about theology, or the pastor who hasn’t taken a science class since High School, or the interested lay person.

  • NAT

    The link from the weekly meanderings sums up some of my concerns with both evolution and global warming. Thoughts…