A Statement on Science, Faith, and Human Origins (RJS)

BioLogos published a summary statement from the 2010 Workshop Theology of Celebration II held Nov. 9-11 (link to statement and post).  Today I would like to put this statement up for consideration and discussion. There are two segments to the statement.  The first part deals with the general atmosphere of debate and an affirmation that both the nature of the world we observe, study, and model and Scripture reveal the same God the source of all.

Science and Faith

We affirm historic Christianity as articulated in the classic ecumenical creeds. Beyond the original creation, God continues to act in the natural world by sustaining it and by providentially guiding it toward the goal of a restored and consummated creation. In contrast to Deism, BioLogos affirms God’s direct involvement in human history, including singular acts such as the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, as well as ongoing acts such as answers to prayer and acts of salvation and personal transformation.

We also affirm the value of science, which eloquently describes the glory of God’s creation. We stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom faith and science are mutually hospitable, and we see no necessary conflict between the Bible and the findings of science. We reject, however, the unspoken philosophical presuppositions of scientism, the belief that science is the sole source of all knowledge.

In recent years voices have emerged who seek to undermine religious faith as intellectually disreputable, in part because of its alleged dissonance with science. Some go further, characterizing religion as a “mind virus” or a cultural evil. While many of their ideas are not new, these voices are often identified as the New Atheists, and scientism undergirds their thinking.

In contrast to scientism, we deny that the material world constitutes the whole of reality and that science is our only path to truth. For all its fruitfulness, science is not an all-inclusive source of knowledge; scientism fails to recognize its limitations in fully understanding reality, including such matters as beauty, history, love, justice, friendship, and indeed science itself.

We agree that the methods of the natural sciences provide the most reliable guide to understanding the material world, and the current evidence from science indicates that the diversity of life is best explained as a result of an evolutionary process. Thus BioLogos affirms that evolution is a means by which God providentially achieves God’s purposes.

This is a key part of the statement, an affirmation that God acts in his creation, that science is not the all-inclusive source of knowledge, that there is more than life that facts and material existence. Evolutionary creation is not an a priori assumption, but a conclusion from observation. The conclusion is consistent with Christian faith, evolution is a means by which God acts. He acted and continues to act in evolutionary processes as he acted and continues to act in the weather and the production of each new person in his or her mother’s womb.

What do you think of this part of the statement – does it say what needs to be said?

Is there something else that could or should have been said? (Bear in mind that this is a short statement not a 700 page treatise).

The second part of the summary statement deals more specifically with the question of human origins. The issue here is not the origin of the material biological animals, but the origin of fully human beings created in the image of God. It is generally accepted in the context of this statement that the material biological human animal evolved in common descent with other life on earth.

Accounts of Origins

We affirm without reservation both the authority of the Bible and the integrity of science, accepting each of the “Two Books” (the Word and Works of God) as God’s revelations to humankind. Specifically, we affirm the central truth of the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve in revealing the character of God, the character of human beings, and the inherent goodness of the material creation.

We acknowledge the challenge of providing an account of origins that does full justice both to science and to the biblical record. Based on our discussions, we affirm that there are several options that can achieve this synthesis, including some which involve a historical couple, Adam and Eve, and that embrace the compelling conclusions that the earth is more than four billion years old and that all species on this planet are historically related through the process of evolution. We commit ourselves to spreading the word about such harmonious accounts of truth that God has revealed in the Bible and through science.

Is this position on human origins reasonable?

Should we be looking for more agreement on specifics or is it wise to leave the door open for multiple possibilities?

The general sentiment is  that the precise model is not worth division. There is a difference of opinion as to the appropriate interpretation of Gen 2-3 and of the teachings of Paul, particularly those in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.  There are a number of different approaches to resolve these questions that have accord with the scientific evidence and take different positions on the question of Adam.

Dr. Lamoureux gives one such model in his book, Evolutionary Creation. The use by Paul of Adam is incidental to the message of scripture. Paul assumed the historicity of Adam and of the fall because it was simply common knowledge of his day. The revealed message is Christ centered and looks forward, this is what Paul experienced and and what Paul expounds.

Dr. Alexander (Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?) puts forth for consideration a model which he terms homo divinus, a model that also accepts all of the scientific evidence for common descent and the dispersion of mankind around the globe, but finds the OT evidence for a specific Adam, or of adam as representative of a small community, and a fall persuasive. Adam is the federal head of humankind. When Adam falls, all humankind falls with him.  John Stott suggests the possibility of such a model in his commentary on Romans as well.

Dr. Alexander also introduces a retelling model, where “the early chapters of Genesis represent a re-telling of this early episode, or series of episodes, in our human history in a form that could be understood within the Middle Eastern culture of the Jewish people of that time. The model therefore presents the Genesis account of Adam and Eve as a myth in the technical sense of that word – a story or parable having the main purpose of teaching eternal truths – albeit one that refers to real putative events that took place over a prolonged period of time during the early history of humanity in Africa.”

We can look to other writers and thinkers for other possible models or approaches. CS Lewis suggests a scenario in The Problem of Pain, Chapter 5, that takes the story of Gen 3 and the importance ascribed to this fall by Paul seriously, but doesn’t look to Genesis as an historical account of origins.The truth is in the story.

For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself.  …  But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes where directed to purely material and natural ends. Then in fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness,  … We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state.  But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods. … They wanted some corner in the universe in which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were and must eternally be, mere adjectives.  We have no idea what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression.

The thrust in the second part of the BioLogos statement is that it is not wise to take a firm stand on any one of these models or approaches as necessary or as eliminated. They can be considered better, or worse, but it will take time, and a great deal of thinking in community, to reach any kind of consensus opinion. Let’s make it a conversation rather than a battle. Personally I find Dr. Alexander’s models unnecessary and a bit too convoluted. Dr. Lamoureux’s approach, while on the right track, seems to go to far in dismissing important parts of the theological message in scripture as incidental ancient views of origins.  CS Lewis takes the message of Gen 3 and retains this message in integration with scientific understanding of the origin of the human animal – such an approach appeals to me.

What do you think?

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

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  • Scot McKnight

    Perhaps I can make a general comment:

    BioLogos is providing many with a platform for discussion. Even when it is clear that one of their authors is exploring an idea rather than reporting the results of some study and even if the site is overall representative rather than committed to one particular view, what BioLogos is doing provides for many of us a place where Christians can affirm faith and science and strive to work things out.

    Thanks for mediating this stuff for us.

  • dopderbeck

    Excellent statement. And it attracted a range of signatories. If I have a critique, it is in perhaps making too much of the “two books” metaphor, which I think ultimately invests too much in natural theology (showing my Barthian stripe). But that is a very high-level critique. Kudos and applause.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I like it. One con though. I don’t like the word scientism and feel that using a word so closely related to the word science in a derogatory manner can easily lead to more generalized condemnation and hate and fear.

  • Matt

    DRT: What word would you suggest they use instead of scientism?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Matt, thats for the people who make the big money to figure out :). I have to think more about that..

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I think the central premise of the text is that we need faith and science as opposed to faith alone, or science alone. I think it would be good to frame the document more along those lines, that they refute that faith alone is able to fully describe our existance as is science alone. That there is an interplay depending on what what is being sought.

    So, I guess I am saying that I would approach this differently and make the partnership of faith and science front and center.

  • rjs

    dopderbeck,

    It is a great group of signatories – and it was a great discussion. I had the privileged of being at the workshop this year. First time I’d ever been to Manhattan as well, so that was interesting, but the workshop would have been great anywhere.

    It is a excellent statement and one I agree with completely. In many respects the first part was easy to reach consensus on. The sticking point, of course, is the issue of human origins. I thought it would get more discussion today, but perhaps we’ve talked it out for now on this blog.

  • AHH

    Kudos on the statement overall. But I’m going to prod a little.

    Under Accounts of Origins, the sentence in the 2nd paragraph about “synthesis” mentioning Adam & Eve is hard to parse. It reads like somebody wanted to alter it late in the process (to mention Adam & Eve?) and didn’t have time to make the writing flow smoothly.
    RJS, was there some major discussion/controversy that resulted in that kludge-y sentence?

    If I parse it correctly, I think it is saying:
    1) Doing “full justice both to science and to the Biblical record” needs a synthesis that accepts an old Earth and common descent.
    2) Some viable syntheses have a real couple Adam & Eve, and some don’t.
    If that is what is meant, I thoroughly agree.

    RJS, two more questions if I may since you were there:
    1) I recall that some of the people present last year did not sign last year’s statement for various reasons. Were there some this year who would not sign? Can you (presumably without naming names) mention reasons for non-signers?
    2) I don’t see your name on the list. Did you choose not to add your name (I know you have reasons for being shy about that), or were you in some second tier of people present who were not invited to sign?

  • rjs

    AHH,

    Yes, doing “full justice both to science and to the Biblical record” means the synthesis accepts an old earth and common descent. And yes, some viable syntheses have a literal couple, some have Adam and Eve as representative of an early community, some don’t interpret the text as representing a literal Adam or a literal “Adamic” community. That is what I was trying to get at with the discussion after the statement in the original post above.

    Not surprisingly, this is/was the biggest point of disagreement.

    On the second set of questions … as I was there and you don’t see my name on the BioLogos post you can infer that there were people there who weren’t willing to be publicly associated with it. I don’t know the reasons of anyone other than myself, and I won’t speculate.

    For myself, I was debating internally … in fact the post I put up Dec. 23 was in some sense an attempt to fish for thoughts of others as I was thinking about it. Bad timing – it didn’t get much response.

    But this had nothing at all to do with the content of the statement. I thoroughly agree with the statement.

    To the best of my knowledge there were no “second tier” people present.

  • AHH

    dopderbeck @2 mentioned the “two books” metaphor, which I also have mixed feelings about.
    I have heard a good amendment to that (I think due to Nancey Murphy), which is to think about the order in which one reads the books. For getting an overall view of reality it is not the best course to read the books independently. Instead, read nature as a “sequel”. First read the book of Scripture to understand the full depth of the characters, and then one can better take in the book of nature in a way that recognizes the legitimate role and limitations of science.

    Not sure how one might have conveyed that nuance in a brief statement, however.


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