With a tear in his eye

With a tear in his eye May 21, 2012

My presentation at BioLogos… surely a highlight of this academic year was getting to attend the event and offer this presentation. It is a repost of what appeared originally at BioLogos, and this lecture will be spread out this week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

With a Tear in His Eye

At the end of a class on Genesis 1—2, having finished a freshly-brushed-up lecture I give at least once a school year, a student whose name I had just learned approached me with the kind of seriousness in his eyes a professor recognizes. He looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you. This lecture saved my faith.” He hadn’t said a word in class, and he hadn’t given off the signals one sometimes sees in student behavior that indicate mountains are moving in his head. I simply looked at him with the invitation to go on. So he did. “My pastor told me that I couldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t believe in six-day creationism. He told me if God didn’t create some 10,000 years ago, then the whole Bible fell apart.” He paused then said this, “I love science and I want to be a biologist, and the earth is more than 10,000 years old. So I was wondering if I could believe in the Bible and the Christian faith any longer.” The element that gave this young biologist the courage to continue was no less than eighteen points from John Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One. I’m not sure that the cosmic temple theory got him excited as much as a credible, historical Ancient Near Eastern reading of Genesis 1—2 (we’re waiting for Genesis 3, John) that meant it wasn’t talking about a creation ex nihilo some 6-10,000 years ago. In public schools this student had been taught that science tells us the universe is 13.7 billion years old and the earth is about 4.5 billion years and quantum physics is giving that period of time life and choice it never knew before (or that we never knew before).

Those of us who are on the side of the angels, and by that I mean John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, Darrel Falk, Alister McGrath, Dennis Venema, Edward Larson, Simon Conway Morris, Owen Gingerich, and Alvin Plantinga, may have a gnawing habit of wanting to push against America’s Christian conservatives. (I could use stronger terms for Karl, but he’d perhaps say the same of me.) Indeed, we may find ourselves constantly wanting the young, restless and conservative crowd to think again about historical contexts and about the history of interpretation. But there is another side and that is that the young restless and conservative crowd believes the Bible and has radars a-throbbing for those they think are giving an inch, because they are convinced giving an inch leads to Darwin and Hitchens and bald naturalism and immorality and, well, hell. So the angels have a responsibility to mediate, I’m unconvinced we do this well, but I’m also convinced also we can do better.

There are, of course, some precedents—some of them bad ones. Like the famous polemical interchange between the brilliant young orthodox rabbi recently immigrated from Eastern Europe, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the even more brilliant Albert Einstein.1 It occurred right here in Manhattan. Einstein famously argued for a spiritual motive at work in scientific endeavor, but he found the belief in a personal God to be a relic from a stage of human development out of which moderns ought to have grown. Instead of wanting such a God, Einstein argued for the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Heschel’s primal certainty was a personal God, so he satirized Einstein as a “missionary for a forgotten confession” and then proceeded to connect Einstein to Nazi racial theories. Heschel argued the foundation for true knowledge was the Hebrew Bible and that nature without faith and morals and the Bible will lead to immoralities of all sorts. (By the way, Walter Isaacson’s Einstein fails to mention this well-publicized episode in Einstein’s life.2)

This stuff matters

Some of you may know I have done research on conversion in general, and also have applied those results to specific kinds of conversion. For instance, I have explored why it is that Jews become Messianic, and why evangelicals become Catholic, and (with Hauna Ondrey) why Catholics become evangelical.3 (That book is called Finding Faith, Losing Faith.) One of the general conclusions is that all conversions are also apostasies, so I had the idea that if all conversions are apostasies then all apostasies are also conversions. So I studied why people walk from the faith, which means I spent some dreary, depressing days reading one accusation after another against Christianity as I plumbed for a pattern. The essence of apostasy is that such persons “discover a profound, deep-seated and existentially unnerving intellectual incoherence to the Christian faith.” But more important for our topic tonight is why they leave the faith.

Some leave because of Christians, or bad experiences with Christians – parents, pastors, churches and friends. Some find the traditional view of hell—or eternal conscious torment—morally unbearable, and come to the conclusion that if that is true then that God is also insufferable. For others it is more or less historical study – learning, for example, that Genesis 1—11 has parallels in the Ancient Near East, learning that the Bible’s textual history is out of sync with the magical Bible they learned in their tradition.

But I want to focus briefly on the two most important features of the crisis, and I will tie them together. It works like this: many Christians grow up with a view of Scripture that it is inerrant, and that means for them – and I speak here of the populist impression – that it is not only true but that is more or less magically true – true beyond its time, true when everything else says something else. Connected to this view of inerrancy is a view of Bible reading that takes a sound Christian idea called the perspicuity of Scripture, that the Bible’s message is clear to any able-minded Bible reader, and ratchets it up one notch so that the Bible reader thinks whatever I see in the Bible is what the Bible is saying. This is my way of saying that one’s interpretations of Scripture become as infallible as the Bible itself, and since everything interlocks, giving in one inch is the first step in apostasy. One of which views is that the Bible teaches science in Genesis 1—2. When the evangelical student marches off to Harvard or to schools of lesser repute, takes a Biology class from an able-minded, rhetorically-skilled and atheistic/agnostic professor who makes it more than clear that the earth is not 6-10,000 years old but is in fact closer to 3.5 billion years old, and then tosses in some Gilgamesh Epic or some Atra Hasis, and then loads into that the thoroughly vain notion that intelligent people don’t believe such things any longer, a student’s faith can be more than shaken. Many walk away or, more significant today, embrace an ironic faith.

My studies of stories showed me that the most common crisis that precipitates apostasy from the Christian faith is this nexus of Scripture and Science. Since truth is tied to one’s infallible interpretation of Genesis 1—3 and that it interlocks with everything else in the Bible, even the gospel itself, and since that view is fundamentally denied by Science, the student is forced to choose: Do I believe the Bible against all Science, or does Science disprove the Bible – the whole thing – wrong? The numbers who opt for the second choice are staggering, and for this reason alone we need more and more pastors who can think with young intellectually-gifted evangelical students who are clamoring for someone to mentor them through the thicket. We need more and more scientists who can write for the intelligent student in such a way that does not minimize the problem or promise simple resolutions, but who can point ways forward into the thicket with someone to guide them. Conversion studies reveal to me that we are dealing with a deep, existential issue that won’t go away and simplistic answers won’t satisfy.

Need I remind this audience that American students are being taught something that borders on naturalism—or at best deism—in public education? To be sure, there seem to be Christian public school teachers who suggest other answers than “evolution=atheism,” but the days are already here when they can get in trouble for such ideas. But even if by and large our students are taught evolution plain and simple, that means the clash with Genesis 1—3 is inevitable. Because all of America’s students are being taught evolution in public schools, pastors and churches must master evolutionary theory and learn to pastor and teach and educate and theologizein that context instead of one that avoids that context.

The future of the church will be related to how well the church measures its message in the context of scientific research and its major conclusions. I am not urging us to step back to the days of Washington and Jefferson and become deists. What I am arguing is that we need pastors and churches to begin to think theologically in conversation with evolutionary theory. By this I mean very simply pastors thinking aloud with scientists in the room and scientists thinking aloud with pastors in the room, even though I suspect there will at times be some silence.


1. E. K. Kaplan, Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 15-18.

2. W. Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007).

3. S. McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels (Louisville, Ky: Westminister John Knox Press, 2002); S. McKnight and H. Ondrey, Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008), 7-61.


"Not to mention that Father spent 40 years leading the Hebrews away from Egypt, because ..."

Whiteness, Race, and Slavery in the ..."
"Better titled 'Old dog teaching young dog old tricks.'"

Old Dogs, New Tricks
"I'll turn 60 soon. I think I will stop fetching the ball now"

Old Dogs, New Tricks
"I'm 10 years older than you, so I guess that makes me old too. but ..."

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • DRT

    Very nice Scot, thanks

  • Jon G

    any chance there’s a video version?

  • As a big Heschel fan, I was unaware of his unfortunate exchange with Einstein. I have Spiritual Radical on my shelf but haven’t read it yet. Well, it seems even greats have low moments.

  • John W Frye

    Scot, here’s an idea. Why don’t you and RJS team up and write a book about the redemptive value of pastors and scientist at the same table? You both have helped me immensely! Thanks.

  • Hi Scot and all, I read a blog on the politics of my home stated, goog ol’ Jersey. Interesting that this was the post today–thought you would enjoy the thoughts of someone outside out camp on the subject of faith and evolution–http://savejersey.com/2012/05/new-poll-42-of-new-jerseyans-dont-believe-in-evolution/

  • RJS


    Here is a key line:

    then loads into that the thoroughly vain notion that intelligent people don’t believe such things any longer

    This permeates the atmosphere – and when we give people absolute rot, unmitigated and careless falsehoods with the air of authority (take Matt Chandler’s discussion of creation as an example) … what choice is there but to “discover a profound, deep-seated and existentially unnerving intellectual incoherence to the Christian faith?

    I think there is a choice – but it will require scientists, biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors (and I suppose philosophers) – at the table together.

    I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. Ambitious pastors are entrepreneurs building institutions (the bigger the better) … scientists are attempting to build careers in an atmosphere where “intelligent people don’t believe such things any longer.” Instead of support in the church there is distrust, apathy, and a total absence of any serious intellectual engagement … often because serious engagement is likely to hinder the entrepreneurial plans. And then we don’t have to ask what happens to too many theologians and biblical scholars who dare to step out and think through the issues. Job security is a risk for many.

    This comment may come across as a bit too cynical, and perhaps I am these days.

  • Matt

    “Thank you” doesn’t cut it, Scot. But thank you!

  • Chet

    I was wondering about the remark, “Many walk away or, more significant today, embrace an ironic faith.” What is meant by the term ‘ironic faith’ here that Scot sees people embracing? Is it marked by cognitive dissonance or is there something else to it?

    Really liked the talk and think it hits on issues that we have to be discussing in churches now.

  • RJS


    Scot was refering to his work in Finding Faith, Losing Faith and in this CT article he wrote: The Ironic Faith of Emergents

  • Norman


    Welcome to the cynical world. 😉 However as you have continued to amply demonstrate one’s cynicism can’t preclude the need to continuing join the fray concerning these issues.

    I just finished reading Karl Giberson’s newer book “The Wonder of the Universe” and I believe that book should be foundational background reading and provided to every faithfully raised young person who enters the college setting now days. At least they would have a foundational premise laid out before them on how to see the transcendent Creator through intelligent eyes.

    Next we need succinct follow up works that theologians like Pete Enns , Scot and others who have hearts for the struggling Christians; demonstrating how to read ANE literature. Perhaps Enn’s latest work “Genesis for Normal People” would be a good compliment to Karl’s book; too bad it’s only an e-book at present. Next we need someone who can translate the ongoing narrative of Israel coming into Jesus as King into a modern 21st Century explanation that can resonate. Perhaps Scot can help in that manner. This trilogy of books should be required reading for every high school graduating senior that is heading off to any form of college whether state or Christian. Our churches would do well to foster such a summer program of reading and discussion as a preamble to college. I think our better angels (messengers) would greatly help many as they encounter these faith questioning issues that naturally are going to arise.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    First off, let’s not get bogged downed or side-tracked on such a trivial issue of Scot’s use of “angels.” It was clear to me he was speaking about angels being mediators and Scot asking for “mediators” between science and the Christian faith (nothing more, nothing less).

    Secondly, I resonate with Scot about the student who regained some faith in Scot’s class rather than his faith continuing to slip away. I of course agree with all that is being said about more responsible scolarship, inter-dialogue between science and the Christian faith, and the like. And certainly we need more robust renewed minds and imaginations. I quess I am cynical like RJS in that it seems like we are not discipling Christians in a holistic way. Soul talk is out, body is viewed as simply sexual ethics, and it seems like being radical disciples for Jesus is something that may capture some of the young people’s imagination in the church, but the church keeps going on as business as usual.

    Norman hit on some good things and I will only add (which I think Norman would agree with) that we have got to get back to history. If Christianity is anything, it is a historical religion despite claims to the contrary. I mean, how many of the issues we discuss on this list from our faith, to politics, to inerrancy, to science are based on historical revisions with no understanding at all of the history of the church or what the earliest Christians even believed.
    Many of our debates (if not most) are still the old fundamentalist/modernist debates disguised with new language but still captured by enlightenment and western ideas rather than anything of what the Bible actually deals with much less how Christians handled similar issues down through the ages.

    It seems like so many Christians are all about the future when I say we need to go back to the past first before we can even understand the future. So many Christians are about leadership and authority when I say we need to focus on followership and what it means to be a servant to all.

  • RJS


    Thanks, that is almost certainly the reference. I wasn’t familiar with the quote – but a quick search turned up details. 1864 – five years after On the Origin of Species was published:

    What is the question now placed before society with the glib assurance which to me is most astonishing? That question is this: Is man an ape or an angel? I, my lord, I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence those new fangled theories.

    On the side of the angels would mean, I suppose, that man is not simply an advanced ape, but in the context of the BioLogos speech also that evolution can be combined with an understanding of humans as in the image of God.

  • AHH

    Scot’s paragraph toward the end about populist “magically true” approaches to Scripture is perhaps the most important thing in the essay. Such approaches are the source of many problems for the church and many crises of faith, not just in the science/faith area.
    If people like Scot and NT Wright and Pete Enns and Fuller Seminary (one could add past saints like John Stott and CS Lewis and Clark Pinnock) can help wean the Evangelical church away from this “magic book” approach (in spite of the many loud voices who promote it), there will be fewer tears from young scientifically literate Christians (and others of an educated, reflective bent) who feel their faith slipping away because it is built upon the sand of an approach to Scripture that does not jibe with the Bible we actually have.

  • Bev Mitchell

    In her penultimate paragraph, RJS brings up some truly important issues that need to be addressed, and for which no scientist need be consulted – except maybe a psychologist 🙂

    You are correct, many orthodox (Creed based) believers who are also shepherds of the flock, do need to come to grips with the scientific findings of the last 150 years, not just in biology, but anthropology, archeology and ANE studies in general. However,  it seems to me that the problem is mostly one for pastors and the theologians they trust to work out. Asking an expert in one of these areas to sit in, even if she is a Christian, will not really help, unless the objective is simply to learn more about the research results and conclusions in that particular field. The honest Christian/scientist will not be prepared to water down the current scientific conclusions of their field to ‘help’ make the pill easier to swallow. For example, a good biologist will not say there is anything scientifically incorrect about basic biology or the very well established theoretical  conclusions that flow from it. Nor will he provide a science-based work-around or some sop about the half-life of scientific theories that allows us to wait another 100 years in the hope that it will all go away.

     Alternatively, the non-scientific, metaphysical conclusions of scientists (and theologians)  who contend against faith in an Incarnate God are more properly confronted on another level altogether, well outside science. The same critique will apply to both and those critiques already exist. Once on metaphysical turf, science bows out. Good science know its limits. 

    From another perspective, large numbers of orthodox (Creed based) believers have had no serious problem with this area for quite some time. They have developed theological and interpretative approaches that leave faith in the Incarnate Lord and his Resurrection intact, without serious conflict with truly scientific conclusions.  If extremely conservative Christians were more prepared to accept these folks as true brothers and sisters in Christ, they would discover that a good foundation for the necessary pastoral/theological work on the more-conservative side has already been done. As we all know, many of these good folk are even established evangelical theologians.

    It is long past time that some serious theological/interpretive re-thinking be done in conservative evangelical circles. Science is not a grand plot against faith. The best of science consists in human beings using their God-given gifts to figure out how the beautiful creation we are blessed to inhabit functions. It is a work in progress, to be sure, but so are we all, and so should be our orthodox theology. To paraphrase Rob Bell, I think, our bubble needs to be on the inside, not on the outside.

  • this reminds me of yesterday’s post about the world civ class, and what support a freshman in college needs to combat the university atmosphere. my first thought was “high school graduation is too late.”

    this post and the comments here say it much better. the evangelical church needs to give up the bible as the inerrant, “magical book” where everything rises or falls on every word of the bible being read in the same way. it’s too late to give a high school graduate a book or the youth pastor’s offer “keep in touch, especially if you have questions.” the youth pastor and youth group need to be addressing these things from the beginning, and the parents and the rest of the church have to not be threatened by addressing the questions, or you will end up with more and more students picking science and/or irony over “faith.”

    either that, i suppose, or people have to stop sending their kids to any other university than a strictly curated list of those that teach things that don’t disagree (this happened to a friend of mine in high school. she wanted to be a physicist and got into UVA with a scholarship, and her dad said, “i don’t care. you’re going to grove city.” somehow mom and dad and my friend worked a compromise and she went to penn state, but she’s a science teacher, not a physicist).

    but i don’t see that christians can stay authentically christian and refuse to engage in dialogue. we are not taken out of the world, but sent into the world, right? the inerrant bible which, as Scot said, becomes interlocked with the inerrant interpretation kills dialogue and any further learning. if it can be un-interlocked, if those who are brave enough to stand up and say, “we’ve been doing things wrong” (as RJS notes with her comment assumed authority in #6, biblical scholars, theologians on one side and scientists on the other) can be taken seriously and not attacked or mocked or fired or ostracized, then what else can happen than that the church is freed to transform the world?

  • Norman


    The reality is that anything that helps fosters a healthy respect for science and its interfacing with scriptures is never too late. We can’t wait for the evangelical church to move forward and embrace these concepts that Scot and RJS are constantly putting forward. There is a need to be proactive in ways that recognize that the local church is not going to change anytime “soon”. Books that are easily discernible and available will likely be the most productive approach for the foreseeable future.

    When my daughter was ready to enter college I would not allow her to attend what I considered the secular state Universities here in Texas and wanted her to follow my wife’s and mine pattern of the Christian college scene. We ended up compromising and allowing her to attend Baylor instead which had some liberal Bible teachers that she encountered. Long story short is that I ended up working myself out of my parochial past because Baylor presented her with new ideas that I worked through with her as she encountered what I considered liberal bible concepts. By the time she graduated I was tending toward many of the same concepts she brought home to discuss. The bottom line is that people can change anytime in their lives if they are presented with the right information and are motivated to try and understand divergent views.

    I remember that I was pretty well a blank slate when I entered the college scene and some of the concepts I was presented then became foundational even though I could have been introduced to them much earlier. We often underestimate the potential for people to change worldviews and make paradigm shifts and I say grab them when you can and before they seemingly don’t have time any more after they graduate. We need to quit worrying about changing the church and the pastors overnight as it isn’t going to happen. We need to be smart and present good ideas and works in which common sense have a chance. Post High school and college is the prime fruit picking time for many IMHO.

  • Bev Mitchell

    CGC, Norman

    Yes, the argument is old and so very tired 🙁 And, it’s a great pity because there is so much new and fresh material out there. Not new in the sense of novel, but new in the sense of renewing our contact with the early Church and it’s thinkers, like Athanasius. Norman, your suggested books list is great, but a fuller theological foundation is also needed. 

     For a great discussion of the many ways such theological dialogue could develop see Colyer’s wonderful summary of Torrance’s thinking on doing theology scientifically (“How to Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding his Scientific Theology” by Elmer M. Colyer). With this book as a guide, the round table could include scientists and theologians who have kept their orthodox faith as well as those who have not, along with pastors with an open mind who do not hold an extremely conservative view of inerrancy. It would also be suitable for some 4th year university students.

    If, on the other hand, the goal is to ‘reach’ the confirmed, card-carrying inerrantist of the fundamental variety (many wonderful sisters and brothers there) this approach will probably not cut it. If these pastors truly want to come to grips with science/faith issues, just knowing some uncompromising scientists who maintain a vibrant, Spirit inspired, faith  will certainly help. However, real trust takes much time and it comes from serving together extensively. Even then, it will be very difficult for people who have spent a good part of their life strongly and vociferously defending an entire suite of secondary approaches and beliefs to do a convincing about face, even if they wanted to.

    As Norman implies, it probably is up to the students, and the suggested books can truly help. When some of these students become pastors, things will begin to change. In fact, things are changing in some quarters, are they not? Does someone have a good handle on how much progress has already been made, at the level of congregations, because of the work of pastors who ‘get it’? An ancillary question, what resistance do such pastors face? How can believing scientists help?

  • Tim Seiger

    I want to ask that you look back at my post (#17) about the likely source of the comment in question. As a pastor one of my roles is to be a kind of jack of all trades and master of none in regard to a number of disciplines brought to bear in the practice of my ministry. On Sunday in speaking about the Ascension I explained to my congregation the concept of cultural literacy. The idea that cultures use all kinds of “short hand” to avoid unpacking a concept over and over again. So, for example if someone refers to the gay marriage topic and argues that it is the new civil rights movement the intent is to bring into the conversation all of the arguments and history that went along with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. But if you are not familiar with the civil rights movement of 1960’s it may not be a helpful reference. Similarly with the scriptures. There are references to events or ideas that would have been readily captured and understood by the audience at the time of the writing that are lost on us in our present situation. So, with the ascension for example it is lost on most of us that the recording of the event would have been a political jab at emperor worship where the sould of the emperor ascended to the heavens to assume his role as a god. So, that is what some historians have concluded about that story among other things. Theologically there is probably more going on as well. In anycase we use the tools we have absent the presence of the writer to ask about his intentions. Hopefully we get close to an appropriate understanding in this way. But this practice can be applied elsewhere in our reading and interaction.
    So, with the tools at hand we know that the way the phrase “on the side of the angels” is being understood here by some and speculated at by others is inconsistent with what we know of Scot. He doesn’t generally seem to be that arrogant and forward. We also know that it is a strange turn of phrase to use in our time, it sounds dated and for a scholar like Scot to have chosen to coin the phrase also seems odd just by virtue of the word choice. This should lead us to ask ourselves if there isn’t something behind the turn of phrase that we are missing that the author would like to not have to explain in detail but would like to say nonetheless. So, we search to see if the phrase is a reference to something (gotta love the interenet) and it turns out the phrase comes from a speech given in 1864 about Darwin’s work and I think can safely assume is not a coincidence that the same phrase is used by Scot in a speech about Evolution and Faith. The phrase points to the idea that Scot and the others on the list are not interested in having God removed from the equation and that it is possible that evolutionary theory does not necessarily entail that man is nothing more than a glorified ape and he wants to side with those who affirm the unique status of humankind as bearers of the image of God. Now it is possible that I got this all wrong and we have the benefit of being able to hear from the author what his intentions were which is not something we have the benefit of with alot of other writing we must deal with in scripture and so we must “defend” our readings. Here we do not have to defend we must just be patient. I hope this was not read as condescending because it was not meant that way. I just know that my congregation doesn’t always understand how I do what I do and I think it is important that they do so I offer this a glimpse for those who do not share my vocation 🙂 Blessing to you all.

  • Norman

    Bev Mitchell,
    Wise words.
    The books I suggested I consider primers that will enable some from going off the deep end that Scot highlights for us. At least they will know there are ideas out there that form a backdrop for them to explore if they need to. Some will and some will not as they individually build their life of faith. If we can just keep the doors open for an open minded investigation then we have performed our first duty. It’s amazing the transformation that can occur if the mind is open. Of course we know what can happen otherwise to the Evangelical Mind as Mark Noll has so ably laid out for us.

  • leah

    Norman (#28): i agree with you that “We need to quit worrying about changing the church and the pastors overnight as it isn’t going to happen.” but i won’t give up on worrying about changing the church and pastors in the long run 🙂

    i also agree that people can change at any point in their life and early adulthood is particularly malleable, but i fail to see a reason to wait until then, and no reason not to push back on magical book thinking that pervades, only to throw kids into crisis. so i guess i will keep pushing for change 🙂 but i take your point that there are other paths.

  • RJS

    The word “arrogant” has been banned on this site for good reason. Perhaps condescending should be too.

  • Norman


    I think we are on the same Telepathic mindset 🙂

  • The Gleddiesmith

    I am wondering what books would be recommended for a pastor wanting to “master evolutionary theory” as suggested by Scot? I can do the exegesis of Geneis in the context of the ANE and I understand the philosophy of science but I have never been provided with a primer on the current state of evolutionary theory within the scientific community.

  • Norman

    The Gleddiesmith,

    Excellent request, I find that even my friends who follow Genesis from the ANE sometimes have concepts about evolution and it’s implications that are not based in reality. They hang around the fringes of science but realy have never given their mind an oppurtunity to investigate evolution from a positive mindset. I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I am with Karl’s latest book that I mentioned previously. The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World

    Just like theology one is not going to become comfortable with evolution in todays environment unless they discover it for themselves. One has to realize that the boogey man in the night closet that has been constucted by the church is just another boogey man that we eventually can learn to dispense with. However you cannot give this idea to someone they have to grasp it for themselves.

  • scotmcknight

    I am awake down here in Adelaide, hours after the unfortunate and uncharitable misreading of what I meant. For me the worst part of the misreading was that in spite of everyone else, including RJS, trying to get the person to recognize that he was misreading, he insisted on his point and accusations. I did my best to delete all traces of that comment.

    The expression was humor; everyone in the room had a chuckle.

  • Darrin W Snyder Belousek

    Thanks, Scot. Very well said. I appreciate your research on conversion/apostasy–which I can confirm with anecdotes from my own experience with students who see themselves as stuck with that impossible dilemma–Science or Scripture. Last year I had three students in my Science & Religion course who were determined to stick with “Scripture” (i.e, their own infallible interpretation) and so were willing to casually discard Science to save Scripture (amazingly, one was a nursing major and another a physics major!–oh, my). Thankfully, there were far more students who were wanting to find a way to reconcile their faith in a Creator and trust in the Bible with taking science seriously. What they needed was thoughtful and careful leading through the horns of the dilemma, especially concerning not so much the evidence for evolution but the interpretation of Scripture. And that is just what most of them had never encountered before in their previous church experience. So, yes, we very much need to be training pastors to be able to guide their parishioners, especially young adults, through the unnecessary (and, I would say, unholy) dichotomy of “Science v. Scripture.”

  • Patrick

    As a former fundy, I can say the biggest problem I had was accepting that the Bible is not perfect. That’s hard for a fundy. We should stop using the term “the bible is the word of God”, IMO. That connotation means it has to be perfect and when we find it isn’t, there is a psychic freak out. I struggled with this. Bart Ehrman lost his faith doing just this.

    The Bible is a God and man work and He allowed scientific ignorance to stand. I think for good reason.

    Anyway, for any pastor to tell a parishoner what he told that kid shows the pastor doesn’t even know the Gospel. Go figure.

    I do want to suggest to Scot and others that patience will always be a must. It probably took me a couple of years to arrive where I am now. Don’t consider fundies as the enemy. Fundies need loving education using reason. We can be reached, I was as hardcore a fundy as there was and I now agree with Scot’s mission. Pray for the Church!

    BTW, I think that Walton work is exceptionally important. I loved that book.

  • AHH


    I would say asking a pastor to “master evolutionary theory” is too much to ask, much like asking me to “master” Biblical Greek while keeping my full-time job. What I think is needed is a basic understanding, enough to know a basic outline and what the issues are, enough to keep from shooting yourself in the foot.

    For one large part of things, an accessible overview of why the scientific consensus is for the basic fact of evolution (common ancestry), I recommend Darrel Falk’s Coming to Peace with Science.

  • RJS


    It would be better not to use the word “fundy” to describe your former postitions, because those who still agree with that position may be put off byt the expression – this is another “flash word” that has caused problems in the past.

  • The Gleddiesmith


    The language of pastor’s mastering evolutionary theory is Scot’s. I put it in quotation marks to show it was Scot’s as well as to say I thought it was ambitious for me.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. It looks like a good starting point.

    Any other book suggestions on evolutionary theory for someone who has little better than a popular level understanding?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Gleddiesmith and Norman,

    As far as I can tell from reviews there is only one chapter in Giberson’s book on biological evolution, and that by a physicist. I’m sure Giberson’s book is great for evangelicals wanting to come to grips with science/faith issues, and, modern physics does indeed  lead to many questions about nature than can only be fully answered by an holistic view of rational and revealed knowledge, as argued by T.F. Torrance. 

    However, Gleddiesmith is concerned with pastors who wish to “master evolutionary theory”. This is a very tall order, even without taking it literally 🙂

     I respectfully suggest studying biology with great biologists, without regard to their faith, or lack of it, if a very good understanding of any aspect of it is the goal. For those with some chemistry under their belt, try Nick Lane’s 
    “Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution”. A believer in the great and good work of the Creator, who is willing to accept that it’s up to us to figure out how it was done, will find many opportunities for praise and wonder here. For the more general reader, who believes in loving our enemies, you could do worse than Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale”. It’s a fascinating journey that moves from humans backwards in time to simple forms of life. His “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution” is an easy read that may be sufficient for many of the pastors Gleddiesmith has in mind. When Dawkins tries to beat up on or slur Christians anywhere in these books, sometimes he is right (pay attention), sometimes he is funny (enjoy), sometimes he just doesn’t understand.  When he tries to use knowledge from biology to attack faith,  he is way over his head and well beyond biology or good science of any kind. As an explainer of the basics of biological evolution, however, he is hard to beat.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Speaking of banning words, it seems like our Bible colleges and seminaries teach us a whole arsenal of weapons to use in our apologetics like ad-hominems to logical weapons to personal attack words where we are no longer dealing with arguments but actually making the person the problem and the argument. We learn to “label” positions (even if we don’t understand them) and we use arguments like guilt by association and the like. We like playing winning trump cards like inerrancy, the Jesus card, the apostolic succession card (depending on what church tradition we are coming from).

    In the end, our whole apologetic arsenal I believe creates more damage and problems than really helps and heals. If we can not come up with more intuitive, imaginative, charitible, and relational apologetics, I think our silence would better serve the gospel of Christ.

    My rant for the day!

  • ‘Perfect,’ I’m convinced, is another one of those concepts about which we need historical/cultural perspective. Conservative evangelicals (moderns?) see it is a moral term, but my understanding is that for the Jews it is (was?) rather the idea of exactly right as regards the purpose of the thing, of that which is exhibiting perfection.

    It didn’t rain for a literal 40 days & nights; the temptation of Christ was not a literal 40 days; the slavery in Egypt was not a literal 400 years. Rather, each of those events was the perfectly right amount of time it needed to be for its purpose to be accomplished/fulfilled. We see this idea arise in Walton’s work, wherein creation was about assigning function, not about material existence – each aspect of creation was for its intended I hope those more knowledgable that me will correct as needed.

    Application? Scripture’s purpose, role and our view of it – our ideas of inerrancy, of a perfect God and what his word must therefore necessarily

    Perhaps just another area where context may shed light on our understanding and help shift some of the walls?….

    And, as a relative newcomer here, my curiosity can finally stand it no longer!.What does RJS stand for?

  • Patrick


    I’ll find another term, I didn’t know that offended some.


    One other thing about Walton’s work( and others) is words did not necessarily mean to them what they do to us. As you know, create is one such word. Just this info alone completely changes my interpretation of Gen 1-2.

  • Bev,

    Yes you are correct about Giberson’s book being from the physical side of the science discussion. However he lays a very basic philosophical foundation that I think is needed for skeptical science investigators including the biological evolutionary perspective. He ties it in with Simon Conway Morris’s evolutionary investigation in a very nice and easy manner which may help build confidence for the newbie. Whether it is the best to begin with likely depends upon the person and their needs.

    I know as a layman that worked this all out myself; I had to start with the big picture books that you often find laying on coffee tables. The bigger the pictures the better. 😉

  • DRT

    leah#15, I read your comment and could go no further. If she has a scholarship to UVA then she seriously needs to think long and hard about turning that down. I am a Penn State grad, but UVA is a darn toot’in good school….. not necessarily in science but university is not all about that.

  • @34 Patrick

    Yes – changes in meaning was what I was pointing out, Patrick. ‘Perfect’ means something different to us than it did to the writers of the text. Sorry I wasn’t clearer on that.

  • DRT

    I don’t mean this as a jab to anyone, but more of a confirmation (I believe), for Scot. When I read that phrase it seemed obvious, in the context of a conversation about evolution and religion what the phrase referred to. It is obviously an allusion to something from the past regarding those on the religious side of the argument.

    In retrospect, I think it is a good signpost to show that our culture wars within Christianity are heated enough that we need to give latitude to other interpretations. It is certainly inconsistent with Scot, but some are definitely hypersensitive (gun shy? whip trained?)

  • Bev Mitchell

    That’s why I always recommend “The Ancestors Tale”, wonderful pictures, diagrams and text. 🙂 I admire anyone who can get there as a layman. Biology is a huge subject. Research biologists take a decade or more to get their feet somewhat firmly planted. I suspect it is something like theology, which I have spent the last two years as a layman trying to get some idea of a few major players. 

  • leah

    DRT, thanks for the support, but… unfortunately, that was in the past tense… about 15 years ago. i don’t recall the details of the compromise anymore, but i do recall there was a lot of yelling and crying. i told the story to illustrate one way that conservative evangelical parents try to keep their children from being the young people Scot talked about in his post (those that choose “science” over “faith” or opt for “ironic faith”). “stay in the bubble!” is one answer, but it’s one that i personally disagree with, and it’s not one that helped my friend.

  • E.G.

    Gleddiesmith: Evolution, the Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer is a great book on that count. He even devotes a chapter to faith.

    Scot: I must say, this set of postings at Biologos came at the perfect time. I had just read them when a young man whom I know approached me to ask about faith and science. As a biology professor and a Christian, this is not new for me. But your postings hammered home why I spend my time talking to seekers of truth like the student with the big questions.

    Thank you! Honestly – again, as a biology professor and a Christian – the carnage that this debate causes in the minds of thoughtful young men and women is deplorable. And it’s folks like me who end up picking up the pieces.

  • I gave a talk on Historical Adam at Grace United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, MD, here is the five minute introduction http://youtu.be/VieQsWEnyGc followed by the talk: http://youtu.be/XxJCrvMKIM0

    I think you’ll find it interesting. The introduction in only five minutes long and the talk is about 30 minutes.

  • Hi Scot,

    Interesting post. Of course, a student’s tearful response to the issue is not an argument for or against any particular interpretation. And the biblical text is not all that we must and do interpret. The fossil record is variously interpreted by different scientists, so no one believes the Bible “against ALL Science” (emphasis mine). Those scientists which “deliberately overlook this fact, that … the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:5-6 ESV), cannot possibly interpret the geological or fossil record correctly. Faith in their interpretation establishes Science as the final authority in the mind of the “believer” to which one must accommodate the biblical record. Ultimately, God’s Word will stand and the ever-changing interpretations of science will finally align with the truth.
    (TEDS, 1991)