Evolutionary Creation in the News (RJS)

BioLogos has received a good deal of press in recent weeks. The series Southern Baptist Voices has been an impetus for much of this press. One of the primary reasons for this series is a belief, deep and sincere, that we are brothers and sisters in Christ first – not opponents or enemies to be shouted down and vilified. This means that we must engage in serious and respectful conversations. A number of sources have reported on the story – a positive story about Christians for a change. You can find the Washington Post story here: Evangelical scientists debate evolution online with Southern Baptist seminary professors

Public discussion of evolution often turns into a nasty debate between young-earth creationists on one side and atheists who believe science disproves the existence of God on the other. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Witness the gracious dialogue taking place between Southern Baptist seminary professors and evangelical scientists on the BioLogos website.

And the Christian Post story here by Lillian Kwon: Evangelicals Debate Theistic Evolution, Historical Adam:

Evangelical Christians have launched a civil debate on their opposing views on evolution and its compatibility with Scripture. Rather than a “tit-for-tat” exchange, they sought to start something more “charitable” and “respectful” in the science and faith discussion.

The online debate – or what The BioLogos Foundation is calling a “charitable dialogue” – began earlier this year when Southern Baptist scholars were given the opportunity to express some of their concerns to BioLogos regarding the organization’s approach to Scripture, interpretation of the first book of Genesis and the status of Adam, among other things.

The dialogue here is refreshing – and addresses a number of key issues. It does not, and cannot,  answer all the questions to the satisfaction of all, but it can help to build understanding and refine the way that the discussion takes place.

But wait, there is more …

In another development Tim Stafford has written a cover article for the July/August issue of Christianity Today: A Tale of Two Scientists: What Really Happened ‘In the Beginning’. This article highlights the stories of Darrel Falk, President of BioLogos and Professor of Biology at Point Loma Nazarene University and Todd Wood, a young earth creationist and Professor of Biology at Bryan College. Todd takes the position that he does because he believes that it is what the Bible clearly teaches, but he also, as far as I am aware, is truthful and straightforward in his handling of the scientific data. He is looking for evidence to prove that he is right. Dennis Venema (another Christian Biology Professor) highlighted some of Wood’s ideas in a post on BioLogos back a year and a half ago: A Tale of Three Creationists, Part 1.

From Stafford’s article, first Wood:

Wood remained fully committed to a six-day creation—he says he never doubted it for a minute—because he saw no other way to read the Bible. But that didn’t keep him from recognizing that evolution had powerful attestation.

“I want to redeem science,” Wood says. “I don’t want to refute science.” Many creationists focus on apologetics, which needs convincing answers. Wood wants to do science, which is more invested in asking the right questions. Wood believes that the questions he poses based on his reading of Genesis will lead to greater illumination.

Then Falk:

In Coming to Peace with Science, Falk lays out the evidence for an ancient earth and the gradual development of its creatures over millions of years. He speaks of the message of Genesis—indeed, the whole of Scripture—as a testimony to God’s goodness and his plan to save the world. However, “I expect that many persons in our churches will read this book and put it down still believing in sudden creation. From my perspective, that will be fine. My prayer is that each person who reads it will respect that one should be able to be accepted as an equal partner in Christ’s body even if he or she believes that God created gradually.”

One of the most interesting incidents related in the article is an encounter between Dr. James Dobson and Dr. Falk as the content of Dr. Falk’s book was becoming known. Dr. Dobson is a Point Loma graduate and does not hold a young earth view, preferring, I believe, an old earth progressive creation position. After some indirect exchanges Dr. Falk was invited to meet with Dr. Dobson and “[t]o Falk’s great relief, the meeting went well, ending in a cordial agreement to disagree.

Dr. Wood and Dr. Falk are excellent choices to highlight the paths Christians take and the reasons for those paths. As with the series on Southern Baptist Voices, we will only begin to make headway in the church and beyond the walls of the church when we move past the culture war and truly try to listen and understand.

Take a look at the whole article and lets start a discussion here.

Which approach makes the most sense to you?

What problems do you see with the approach taken by Dr. Falk? by Dr. Wood?

How should Christians approach these issues?

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

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • James Rednour

    Since first exposed to Darwin’s theory in high school over a quarter century ago, I have been convinced and captivated by it. I think it stands as one of the five or so greatest ideas in human history. Darwin was a scientist par excellence amassing a wealth of observations throughout his life and developing his theory of common descent by means of natural selection because the evidence told him that was the case. He knew full well the firestorm it would cause, but he was true to himself and the evidence in the natural world. That takes great courage.

    These articles encourage me that we are beginning to see real change with regards to how evangelicals think about evolution. I admire the work of men like Peter Enns who are willing to take the arrows of the first assaults by those in the church who are threatened by a reexamination of scripture in light of the fact of evolution. I think this process will only accelerate as genetics pushes forward. Evolution will be as self-evident as a spherical earth by the end of this century and probably much sooner.

    I’ve only recently come out of the closet with regards to my Christian friends. For most of my life I have given lip service to the idea of a literal Adam even though I never believed he existed as a literal figure. Some of my friends are shocked but a surprising number are willing to listen and consider what I have to say. That’s encouraging. I see great potential for peace about the issue going forward.

    Of course, I’m sympathetic to Dr. Falk’s view. I think Dr. Wood runs the risk of bringing a large amount of bias to the table in his quest. If he can go though a doctorate program in biology and still hold to a YEC view, I have to wonder if he was paying attention in class. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want him to teach my children biology.

    Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic that this will become less and less of a wedge issue among evangelicals. I don’t care about convincing every Christian that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. I just want there to be peace and no questioning of a person’s salvation because he accepts that Darwin’s great idea is true.

  • Rick

    James #1-

    “If he can go though a doctorate program in biology and still hold to a YEC view, I have to wonder if he was paying attention in class”

    The post mentioned good, healthy dialogue between sides, and yet you can to throw that in there. Those type comments to not help move things forward.

  • RJS

    James,

    I don’t think that your comment on Dr. Wood quite hits the right mark. So far as I know he agrees that evolution is a theory that is strongly attested by the data. He also respects his mentors and instructors as scientists. He thinks, however, that on account of the revelation found in scripture, especially but not limited to Genesis, that there must be something we are missing and he aims to find it. I think the problem here is not science, but how to approach scripture as revelation and how to uderstand God’s creative act.

    I agree with you … I also think evolution will be as self-evident as a spherical earth by the end of the century (for many of us this is already the case). Thus I think it is essential that we start to wrestle with the hard questions raised by this mode of creation.

  • James Rednour

    Rick at #2:

    “The post mentioned good, healthy dialogue between sides, and yet you can to throw that in there. Those type comments to not help move things forward.”

    I apologize if it cane across that way. That was not my intention. Scot asked about problems with either Dr. Falk’s or Dr. Wood’s approach. That was a potential problem I saw. I did not mean to impugn his character but I am genuinely confused as to how a professor in biology could hold to a young earth view.

  • SCP

    Have any of you read “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” by Dr. John Walton of Wheaton College? I’m not quite done with it; maybe 70% through it so far. He sees creation in Genesis one, not as a record of material origins, but as a record of functional origins. He is not claiming that God did not have a material phase in which he created all things from nothing. He is claiming that Genesis one simply is not a record of that material phase. Instead it is descriptive of God giving functionality to his cosmic temple.

    If any of you have read it, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. If not, I think it is good material to consider checking out. Even if one doesn’t agree with everything Walton has to say in it, it is a informative work with many fresh perspectives.

  • phil_style

    @SCP, RJS ran a commentary series on that book in the last 12 months at some time. I don’t have links for you, but yes, many of the JCreed readers have touched on that book. On the whole I think the reception was quite positive.

  • Rick

    James #4-

    Thanks for responding.

    First of all, just to clarify, this post is from RJS, not Scot.

    Second, I appreciate you confusion on his conclusions, but I think the question has to be how the sides can find common ground, thus allowing more progress in moving forward. For example, all sides seem to hold to a high view of Scripture, so conversations about genre may help move things along. SCP’s comment in #5 regarding Walton’s work, is one helpful option.

  • RJS

    phil_style (#6)

    How time flies. It was back in August-September 2009 when we discussed this book, and Scot wrote most of the posts, not me. It has been discussed some since then as well. Yes, the reception was and is generally postitive. Walton has put some important ideas on the table.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    I am not in rejoice-mode regarding the Wood-Falk dialogue. There is just too much agreement between them. They both regard the evidence in favor of evolution as substantial. Even more troubling, neither tens to acknowledge how corrosive the theory of evolution has been to the Christian faith and those who try to marry the two. In this regard, please see: http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2012/07/darwin-and-why-i-let-my-subscription-to.html

  • Bev Mitchell

    Well, I’ve now read the CT article and scanned the comments (sigh!)  It would be difficult to find a better example showing why biology can only be a catalyst in this complex of issues. There is no Christian biology (apparently Wood’s quest), nor will convincing Christians of the validity of the evidence for biological evolution (apparently Falk’s main quest) directly address the real problem. I’m with Falk as far as it goes, but that really is the job of all biologists – the science doesn’t change with the faith of the professor. Like haircuts and big Macs, science just is – no Christian version available.

    But speaking of catalysts, ANE studies of all kinds especially including archeology and history should be discussed together with biological evolution as bodies of scientific/scholarly evidence demanding a re-think of how we approach Scripture, and the questions we expect Scripture to answer. These secular studies, where they pertain to the many questions not addressed by Scripture, will continue on, virtually unaffected by our views of Scripture. In the presence of these powerful catalysts the demands most Christians place on Scripture will eventually become more realistic and reasonable, assuming our attentiveness to suitable guidance from the Holy Spirit

    The real issue is how we view Scripture. However, since even thinking about changing anything in this area is so traumatic to many, we will likely continue being sidetracked by critiquing or attempting to tweak the catalysts while we resist working to understand the reaction. It would be good if we could each better see our particular view of Scripture as influenced by both humans and the Spirit. Our views that are essentially human derived are as much subject to correction as any careful human conclusions in the secular world. Everyone expects scientists and other secular scholars to continually challenge their conclusions, yet many Christians appear to think it unreasonable to ask them to seriously challenge their reading of Scripture.

    I applaud the good work of BioLogos and believe it will be the path many follow and have followed. But, the work being done by Pete Enns, Kenton Sparks, Tom Wright and many others encouraging us to seriously consider the human spin we place on our reading of Scripture (as well as the writing of Scripture) is closer to the ultimate goal. 

    P.S. 
    Here a groan. I don’t even want to guess how many Canadian universities would take great exception (with copious evidence) to the following statement: “Falk started at Simon Frazer, Canada’s leading research university”. SFU is a great school but……..  This is the kind of thing that makes one cringe when reading “approved” evangelical literature.

  • CGC

    A couple of thoughts:
    1. Healthy dialogue versus polemical apologetics is a start in the right direction. Showing respect for others even when we disagree is a rare positive.

    2. Peter Enns is going to print his Genesis book in written form (I had hoped he would do this and I am looking forward to reading it). One of the issues and divisions between Evangelicals that Enns himself righty focuses on (and takes a decisive side on) is the methodology of study from a literal-historical (more conservative Evangelical approach) and a historical-critical (more progressive Evangelical approach). I for one don’t like “sides” much less, I think these are only two approaches in a multi-approach world that is bigger than both of them.

    3. Walton’s temple approach has great merit and should be seriously considered as people study ANE studies.

    4. Daniel, you have collapsed and confused so many issues together, that for one to believe in evolution is either now believing in “another gospel” or “another Jesus” or is simply on a slippery slope to losing one’s Christian faith. There are so many distinctions and much more dialogue that needs to happen in properly distinguishing the authority of the Bible from it’s interpretation (and an overly literalistic one at that). And are the only choices Christians have today is “mere” literal versus “mere” metaphor? How about Scripture is “more” than both of these? Nor do I believe that when metaphor is in the equation, people are saying that historicity is out (let’s at least hear what others are saying than drawing our own conclusions without hearing what “the other” truly is saying). Lastly, I read your full article and read “Firefly” response to your words (which I think we should listen to as well).

    Here is my first suggestion in all this ( I got this from N. T. Wright). Another confusion we make today is discussing these issues as if literal means concrete and metaphorical means abstract. There are many metaphors in the Bible that have concrete realities (especially in the apocalyptic genre and eschatology).

    Unless we quit confusing categories and think of these issues in larger ways rather than simple either/or ways, we will never see the forrest from the trees.

  • MattR

    Respectful dialogue is good. However, the real issue is not science but rather our interpretation of Scripture.

    A main issue as I see it, is that the approach Wood and others take seems to make one interpretation of the text THE view if you believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture… that’s the big hurdle we need to get past. The science and faith conversation is important. But until more so-called ‘conservatives’ recognize that there are multiple acceptable views of such complex texts, and there are other faithful ways of reading Scripture that aren’t strictly ‘literal,’ not sure how far we’ll get.

  • CGC

    Hi Matt and all,
    The bigger issue is our interpretation of Scripture. Here is a problem in reading Genesis as in reading many scriptures in the Bible. A straightforward literalistic (and proof-texting) reading 1 Cor.14:10 that some make is speaking in tongues has to be a foreign language (that is what the literal text says!).

    But the whole argument by Paul is using ‘analogies’ in explaining spiritual and actual truth. The point Paul is making is not that speaking in tongues must be a foreign language (no more than speaking in tongues is playing a literal instument—see 1 Cor.14:6-12) but rather just as a hearer of one who is speaking a foreign language cannot understand what is said, so are these worshippers in the Corinthian Community who cannot understand what is spoken “in tongues.” Paul’s point is about intelligibility, not the exact nature of tongues.

    But biblicists (and literalists) make these king of arguments like this from various texts of scripture all the time which is not a higher view of the Word of God but actually a very superficial misreading of God’s Word.

    Many arguments and descriptions given in Scripture are analogies. Why in the world do we fight over this or try to deny this as an aspect of God’s Word? I sometimes wonder if its simply to tame and make God’s Word less dangerous so we can go our own ways and not really have to change in the process?

  • CGC

    PS – I was reading 1 Cor.14 yesterday in why I used this as an example. The beginning of Genesis should not priviledge one way of reading the biblical text over against other features and nuances of meaning within the text. There is a depth and breadth to scripture that neither the theological right nor left fully seem to grasp.

  • EricW

    Wood remained fully committed to a six-day creation—he says he never doubted it for a minute—because he saw no other way to read the Bible.

    I hope his opinions about what the Bible says, and how it reads, are based on his competent reading of the Bible in Hebrew, with sufficient familiarity with Hebrew grammar, syntax, vocabulary, etc., so as to be able to interact with the text and scholarly commentaries (Jewish and Christian) on the original text. Knowing LXX Greek would help, too, since the LXX is perhaps our oldest translation and commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures re: both their meaning and their text.


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