Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here? May 25, 2012

This is the 3d part of my presentation to BioLogos this March.

Where do we go from here?

As a professor I teach my students at least two things about method: face the facts and do not fear the facts. I believe this means we have to face both what the New Testament teaches and what science teaches. So we are right back with our two facts: science’s view that human DNA goes back to more than two people and the Bible’s view that sin goes back to Adam (and Eve).

So we face the facts. The Bible really does make it look like Adam and Eve are humans from whom we descend, sin and death entailed. But scientists are going to tell us straightaway that Adam and Eve themselves had ancestors, one of whose millions of years old grave I walked into just outside Johannesburg South Africa in what is called “The Cradle of Humankind.” Here I encountered hominid fossils dated at 2-4 million years. (Well, not the fossils themselves but the places they found them and the pictures.) Others are going to tell us that the DNA make-up of humans today goes back to thousands and on and on… so we come to this point and it is for me the most significant pastoral question pastors need to ask in tandem with scientists is this one: What if we are wrong in our interpretations of the Bible?

In other words, if the common hypothesis that our DNA owes to more than two people, the original couple, Adam and Eve, then maybe we have been reading “Adam” wrong for a long, long time. In other words, what if Adam and Eve are understood more in archetypal terms, the way the writer of Hebrews reads Melchizedek? Or, what if Jonah’s whale is a parable for the captivity of Israel (or Judah) and that when Jesus uses the analogy of Jonah he implies “Jonah as we know the story of Jonah”? Surely the “Enoch” of Jude 14-16 begins with the biblical text – seventh from Adam – and then incorporates the developed narrative history in the pseudepigraphical Enoch. To whom did “Enoch” refer when Jude used that name? Now to Adam: what if when the New Testament speaks of Adam it is simply referring to “Israel’s story about Adam” as the representative human who does/did what we all do – sin and die? What if, a la Hans Frei, Paul and Luke mean the “narratival Adam” who happens to have been an “archetypal” Adam? Is this interpretation viable? I’d like to suggest it is at least viable. Is it what Jews in the 1st Century thought? Maybe not. They thought their Story was the Story because that is what they were taught and how they thought.

We are pondering our mode of conversation. The one thing we theologians need to be wary of and that we need avoid with all our might is to say “If you don’t believe this the whole gospel comes crumbling down.” Really? The gospel comes crumbling down if we don’t believe in the so-called “historical Adam (and Eve)”? Really? Resurrection? Yes. Atoning death? Yes. Historical Adam? Slippery slope arguments don’t work for me. We might need to think about this again and maybe we theologians need to embrace our theological beliefs with what Polkinghorne called the “boldness of provisional commitment.”1 We need to have the courage to face the facts and not fear the facts and be able to ask ourselves What if our interpretation is wrong? because our framework has such a bold, provisional commitment.

Who will do this if it isn’t done in cooperative contexts of churches and scientists? Until heavy weight pastors, like Tim Keller and the good (former) Bishop Tom Wright and John Ortberg announce they are at the table, this discussion cannot gain credibility. When they do, the conversation might work.

In my own lifetime I have found science to be something that on more than one occasion has taught me to rethink a reading the Bible. A naïve reading of Genesis to Chronicles might lead to Ussher’s dating, but no one really believes that any longer. A naïve reading of pillars holding up the earth might lead to ancient cosmology but no one believes that any longer. And the reason we don’t believe such things is not because of careful consideration of ANE evidence but because science told us to look again. But hear this: if pastors join this conversation, we’ve got a chance to influence a young generation of scientists, too.

So what becomes of Adam if science tells us to look again? That is, what becomes of Adam if our DNA pool, the genetic material, could not have come from just two individuals but needed to be from thousands? Is it possible for us to reconsider what Paul meant in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 and at least wonder if we have a theology constructed on a mistake? Is it possible for us to see Adam and Eve as King and Queen of a herd of homo sapiens? Or, is it possible for us to see “Adam” as the one who represents us all, sin and death and all, and still be faithful to the Bible, to Paul? The one thing we don’t want to do is lock ourselves down to some reading that science not only denies, but that science may well blow apart. That is, when the student suddenly encounters some unassailable scientific fact, the logical webs we spin as we construct our theological interpretations suddenly falls into pieces. If we are not wise we will have more than tears in the eyes of our students.


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  • I remember sitting in a seminary class on Ruth and Esther and reading a commentary written by a Jewish theologian which suggested Esther was possibly just a “story.” People were livid. I thought perhaps this was the case. Esther might be just a story, and a very good one at that! I’ve thought about that in regard to Jonah as well. What if it’s just a story – a parable of sorts – describing God’s love and mercy? What does that do to the Bible? In my opinion, it strengthens our understanding of the biblical story. Just as Jesus’ parables strengthen our understanding of the kingdom, discipleship, etc, etc.

    I like what you’ve said here, Scot. The slippery slope argument doesn’t work for me; it’s bordering on fear-mongering. It doesn’t allow us to think, reason, and deal honestly and openly with scientific material. Thank you!

  • Scot,

    Interesting stuff. I am glad you are always tackling such issues.

    I agree that we should always seek truth, not our prejudice. I also agree that the central elements of the Gospel remain untainted. And I also agree that natural theology (science is a loaded term) contributes in a definitive way to our theological source base. However, I am very leery of placing too many eggs in the basket of science. Maybe I am a bit postmodern here (no, I am postmodern here), but scientific paradigms change all the time. I am not sure that science is able to make the conclusions that you may be implying here. There is much more mystery to our universe than anyone knows. I think the bold paradimic conclusions that we draw should be harnessed with the timidity of our finitude. We should press on in science, but we should be ever expecting of paradigm shifts.

    In this, I think we can continue to preach the bible without having to fit it into the transient and tentative conclusions of science. We don’t ignore it, but it need not affect our message too much.

  • scotmcknight

    Michael, the “game” of saying science changes says actually very little. This subject has been addressed here with nuance and clarity, so I would push back and say that while science changes it doesn’t change so much by saying “we got it wrong” but much more by “we now understand something with greater clarity.”

    E.g., if the universe really is 13.7 billion years old; if the world is 4 billion; if we know some pretty good history of the hominid we do ourselves a colossal disfavor by suggesting the Bible can be read in a way that ignores such things.

    And, Michael, turn about is fair play: do we say “don’t trust the theologians since they change their minds all the time?” Or the same of biblical scholars?

  • RJS


    I think we go wrong when we draw theological conclusions from the scientific models. Reading theological significance into the clockwork determinism of Newtonian mechanics, the “perfect spheres” of the planets, the big bang, or the openness in the intrinsic uncertainty of quantum mechanics. Here we are better off holding views with an open hand as the scientific models will continue to be refined and our theological point may well disappear. We need to preach the bible without fitting it “into the transient and tentative conclusions of science.”

    I put up a post back May 3 on Kuhn’s book ((Paradigm) Shift Happens). We need to take Kuhn where he has been revised and refined however, not stand on the rock of his classic book. Some of his discussion of paradigm shift simply isn’t right, although he contributed important and lasting insights.

    But we are not going to return to an understanding of the cosmos or of biology that is consistent with the young earth, or even old earth progressive creation reading of scripture. And we can only read a historical Adam from scripture – not from science. There are ways to reconcile Adam with science, but I would not lean to hard on any of them today. Where to go here really depends not on science but on scripture.

    One of the most useful things I’ve done lately is to listen to the OT straight through, 10 or more chapters a day, from Genesis 1 – now in 2 Samuel. When I get through to the end (OT and NT) I will start over and do it again. It is already giving a much more cohesive view of the OT story – we don’t do justice to this in our churches when we jump from sin to Jesus.

  • RJS

    One more Michael,

    Your Seven Marks of a Good Theologian post is outstanding – and this really gives us, not the answers, but the approach for moving forward on a number of issues, including those raised by science and its intersection with our faith. Here we deal with problems that no one envisioned 500 years ago or 2000 years ago and an irenic spirit, honest, adaptability, and the Holy Spirit are all necessary.

  • holdon

    I agree with Michael and not with Scot. If we want to have a fair debate about finding the truth in two contradictory issues “evolution” and “Genesis”, all things ought to be on the table. To just posit that “evolution” (also called “science”) is “fact”, and that therefore the somehow Genesis needs to be adjusted is not fair to my mind. Evolution is fundamentally also a belief system and what Vennema for instance posits as “fact” re. the various origins of the human species, is fact in this sense: “factum” means “made” “fabricated”. I am not saying this in negative sense per se. But these suppositions are the making of certain minds and they are by no means exempt from bias and subjectivity. So, it’s not fair to call those things “hard facts”. The origin of homo sapiens is certainly not a hard of fact as portrayed by Vennema even in the “scientific community”. It is at best a confluence of theories, that again are not exempt from biases at various levels. A few years ago, it was alleged by scientists that there was indeed a common mother “eve”. So, which hypothesis is wrong now?
    So, we need to bear that in mind that the “science” may shift and that it rests on biases.

    I am not so sure that the dialectic approach that seems to be charted out here, is the best one. Trying to reconcile two contradictions is something fundamentally different from finding truth.

    So, do we really “know some pretty good history of the hominid”? Please define “know” here? Is this “hominid” Man or is it something else? And what is “pretty good”?

  • Rick

    The elephant in the room is the Fall and its impact on sin.

    In the history of the church, as there ever been a larger theological issue on the table? It is a key part of the meta-narrative we proclaim, and have proclaimed for 2,000 years. Therefore, what does it say about the church, or the Holy Spirit’s guiding of the church, if such a large issue is in flux?

  • RJS


    Scot did not portray the YRC as “dark angels” and we will not go here again. Any comments making this claim will be deleted.

  • Paul

    Rick #7,

    I think that is the point of this post. We need scientists and theologians to discuss these issues in the church and to work through the difficult issues (such as the fall, sin, and death). Together they can work to find a path through the difficulties created by the two “sides”

  • CGC

    Hi Holden and all,
    I does not matter to me if people believe or don’t believe in evolution, think Adam is a single historical person or something more. Whatever one views, people needs to be irenic and hold some epistemological humility about it. I will say Scot’s point about science is always changing like major paradigm shifts (or going in the wrong direction) is not as correct as saying it makes course corrections is more on target. For example, when I came to this list, I had not looked at the scientific DNA evidence that there was a fairly sizable group of humans that came along at the same time (roughly 10,000) and I remember too it was not that long ago that they said that people came from one woman and possibly one man. The DNA science has come so far in the last decade that the multiple ways of checking this seems to be beyond dispute from my perspective. Science is limited and can over-reach at times but these are ongoing studies that may be more refined in the future, but it highly probable of the way things were. We just can’t write this stuff off as these are fallble biased people (people could say the same about our interpretations of the Bible!). So I agree with you that I am not going to jump on the fact and value wagon dichotomy but the latest science does need be be looked at and dealt with in some kind of responsible way.

  • phil_style

    @ Holdon “. A few years ago, it was alleged by scientists that there was indeed a common mother “eve”. So, which hypothesis is wrong now?”

    Can you unpack this a little bit?
    Which scientists?
    What “allegation”* specifically?
    Was it tested according to the method?
    Based on what evidence was this “allegation” made?
    Which journal was this published in?

    * “allegation” is a strange word to use with respect to scientific theory…

  • phil_style

    @holdon, are you confusing your term “common mother” with mitochondrial Eve?
    Mitochondrial Eve (since proposed in the 1980s) is still supported by genetics, and is entirely consistent with Scot’s statements.

    Mitochondrial Eve is matrilineal only.

  • Rick

    Paul #9-

    I realize that, but my point is as much about “where do we go from here?”, as it is “why did we end up here, why were we allowed to end up here, in the first place?”

  • Can’t we turn the question around, though:What if we are wrong in our interpretations of Science?

    There are a whole lot of “ifs” in your #3 comment, Scot. And I for one am confused why we’ve all of a sudden given the Science Story the trump card in evangelicalism. How is this any different than the theological enterprise of some within the 18th and 19th centuries? I’m not breaking out the pejorative “liberal” term here, only asking how this is different than the Church’s accommodation of itself and Her Story to Enlightenment. If postmodernity has taught us anything it’s that Science is just that, one story among stories. And yet the Science Story now gets to dictate the terms of the Scripture Story?

    I remember being fascinated reading through Enns latest “Adam” book and his hermeneutical gymnastics in Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15. So Adam and his Fall isn’t literal, but archetypal, but Christ and his resurrection IS—even though they occupy the same literary space? How can that be? And how can we give the Science Story the near final word on origin and death/sin, yet not on Jesus virgin birth, divinity, and resurrection?


  • phil_style

    @Jeremy Bouma “If postmodernity has taught us anything it’s that Science is just that, one story among stories. ”

    Postmodernism has taught us no such thing.
    “Postmodernism” has become a cop out for those unwilling to confront the findings of scientific inquiry.

    Airplanes do not cease to fly just because science is “another story”. Lift, thrust, drag and gravity do not bend for postmodernism – and postmodernism makes no such claim on them.

  • phil_style

    Postmodernism is primarily a critique of political narrative. Postmodernism is useful as a framework for understanding the origins and orientations of social groups with respect to value judgments.

    One might say, then, that postmodernism questions the “value” of science. Maybe so… But to those who claim that cannot/ do not value science, I would suggest that life in the (post) industrialized 21st century makes them a hypocrite, because they are dependent on science.

    One might critique, as a postmodern, the political narrative of the “progress of science” , but, most of the time, one is really critiquing the political narrative of progress, and not the process of science itself. The criticism of science per.se. (under the guise of postmodernism) is fairly easily dismissed and it can be demonstrated to be a progressive process by its very nature.

  • RJS


    First – we don’t give science the final word or near final word on origin and death/sin or on Jesus’s virgin birth, divinity and resurrection.

    With respect to the latter – the only way we can make any claim through science about Jesus (virgin birth, divinity or resurrection) is through a metaphysical statement that the material reality is all there is. We draw an extra-scientific conclusion about the existence or non-existence of God and assuming a God the mode of his interaction with the world. But “science” has nothing to say other than that normal natural processes did not apply.

    With respect to the former – science can shed light on how God created the world, on the nature of sin and the role of death, but it addresses none of the theological questions directly. If there is a trump card (and I don’t like that view of the process) it is theological, but in the interpretation not the observation. The “Science Story” we should worry about is a metaphysical construct built up around the science.

  • Brian Small

    With a literal reading of the early stories of Genesis, there are still gaps in the text. For example, where did Cain get his wife? Whom was Cain afraid would kill him? The Cain and Abel story already presumes there are more human beings around than just Adam, Eve, and Cain. So, the text itself invites us to read the stories paradigmatically.

  • Norman

    The Bible doesn’t take generic human sin back to just two people; it takes a specific sin related to faith following people back to its specific origin. So historically biblical readers have been reading the wrong implications into Genesis regarding sin and are carrying the wrong definition into Paul’s application.

    There is absolutely no conflict or confusion via science discoveries about human origins once a true biblical understanding about the nature of Adam and Eve’s specific sin is identified.

  • Kaleb

    I think the real issue is that believers are ok with ascribing certain things from the O.T to an ANE cultural understandings of how the world works. So it is ok to say we know the Earth does not sit on pillars, despite what Scripture says because observable science says otherwise. It is ok to say that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, despite what Scripture says because observable science says otherwise. It is ok because ANE culture did not have the technology or insight that we now have in these matters.

    So when new science starts to shed light on something previously not known we all get a little panicy, especially when it is a central theme of Scripture.

    So my question is… is there a point when we do not allow science to challenge an aspect of Scripture no matter how critical we think it is to our faith??? My guess is most, including myself want to say YES science is created by God and everything should/can be challenged; there will always be a point where we draw a line and say that no matter what science seems to be saying about an issue we are going to trust ‘faith’ over science.

    Is it ok for some people to be drawing there line at Adam and Eve on this issue??? If not, are you willing to let science challenge your view of other things that science would say is not possible- water into wine, blind seeing by mud on eye action, dead rising, ect…

    To clarify… I am extremely challenged by this issue, since growing up it was made very central we are all born with sin because of our common heritage to a specific couple. I know science can/does have bias, we all end up trusting anothers judgement sooner or later.

    Scot do you really think it is this clear, on no Adam and Eve, that we need to start thinking about how to interpret Scripture differently on this??

  • Cliff

    I am hoping someone can explain to me why we should take Adam and Eve as a paradigm (non-literally) because the facts of science tell us that we all descend from many, not just two…while also taking Jesus’ resurrection as literal, not a paradigm, when science tells us that dead people do not rise from the dead? I’m not trying to argue slippery slope, I just think that the science behind dead people don’t suddenly re-animate is even more certain than the DNA hypothesis. What am I missing here?

  • phil_style

    Cliff, there is a destitution between the resurrection and an original pair with respect to how data represents reality.

    Your comparison would apply if we found Jesus’ body/skeleton, still dead and still buried.

  • phil_style

    destitution – in my previous – should read distinction…

    There are two types of scientific claim being used when we compare the Adam/Eve situation to the resurrection.

    Claim one is that naturalistic evens always occur within the same probabilistic boundaries. From the point of view of resurrection, we can say that naturalistic resurrection is highly unlikely/ impossible. As is a single original pair for all humanity.
    So, based on that, you’re right, science tells us neither could happen….. naturally!
    But Christians make no such claim. Those who believe in the res. claim is was not natural. Those who believe in Adam/Eve claim their pro-genesis was not natural. So, for the christian, this claim of science does not hold perfect convincing power.

    Claim two, is that things which have happened in the physical world, have affected the physical world, whether or not they occurred by natural or non-natural cause/means. This claim is more relevant. A single original pair, if they really did exist would show up in the genetic code. And not only do they not show up, but evidence to the contrary is there is its place. This makes the Adam/Eve issue difficult to hold on to. The death of an individual affects the world too. There is a body, a dead body. A single resurrection event (whether natural or supernatural) could not be falsified.. unless one found a body. So, resurrection stands up to this claim (as far as our current evidence base is concerned) for the moment…..

  • AHH

    Cliff @21,

    That is apples and oranges as phil @22 stated.

    Science can’t tell us anything one way or the other about one-off miracles like the Resurrection. Yes, science can tell us that people don’t naturally rise from the dead (pre-scientific people already knew that), but that’s why it is a miracle.
    That is completely different from a situation where there is scientific evidence that events did happen in a particular way.

    Think of claims of miraculous healing. Can’t happen naturally, so if it really happened it would be a miracle, which science simply can’t address. But now think of a case where one finds footage of the supposedly wheelchair-bound person playing basketball the day before, a cancelled check from the televangelist to the guy with “pretend to be healed” on the memo line, etc. That is strong positive evidence that things happened in another way. So it is with the evolution of life; it is not a matter of science saying it could not have happened miraculously (since that would not be a scientific statement) but rather strong positive evidence for the common ancestry of life.

    Getting back to the post, one thing pastors can do to help is patiently debunk as needed for their flocks the fallacious reasoning that often comes up in these discussions, whether it is this one, or the fallacy that those who interpret Genesis differently don’t “believe the Bible”, or the fallacy that if a NT writer refers to an OT story he is affirming a literalist interpretation of the story, or the fallacy that evolution/Darwinism excludes God by definition, etc.

  • DRT

    I realize I am a bit different than others, but this subject has totally shaken my world over the past few years. During the first 45 years of my life I assumed that everyone knew the earth was very old, that we evolved, that Genesis could not be read as science.

    But as it turns out, half of the US is stuck in the 18th century. This absolutely has shaken everything that I think about this country. How could we possibly have so many people be so illiterate in science? Frankly, it scares me.

    I have been in a class to get a certification this week, and sat next to a German guy. Yesterday he brought up the subject of evolution and he was chiding me on the view in the US. He was dumbfounded that there could be such a large group of people in the world that still are not aware of the way things work.

    He too said that it is like finding a lost tribe of people living in the Amazon rain forest. We just did not think that there were mainstream people and institutions that could think that way anymore.

    So now, as a 50 year old, I am having to accept that I live in a country where most of the people are totally illiterate about science. Where we do not boldly go where no one has gone before, but instead are having to battle whether we should even teach our children science let alone take this country to the next level of making the world a better place for everyone.

    Its like you have been driving to California from New York, and after following a map you have that says you are in Nevada suddenly realizing that the map was wrong and you have not even left New York state yet.

    I try to not let this get me too down, but it does. I was hoping that I would see so much good and progress in my life, but now at my age realizing that all I can do is help lay some groundwork out there so that future generations will be able to move forward. It is quite upsetting.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I like what Norman said and the only problem it causes is for people who think that science is challenging their faith in some specific way. Maybe science can get us to take a deeper look into scripture than what we have previously done (even if one doesn’t even change one’s viewpoint in the process, I think further study is a good thing).

    Also, I think people lack theological imagination. If people really listened closely to Scot, one could interpret Adam and Eve as leaders over a tribe (which would also solve some later interpretational difficulties rather than Cain married his sister!). The historical narrative is still in tact. And logic can still dictate that even if God made a group of humans together, there still could literally be a first couple or the couple can be more typological depending on how far people’s interpretations can bend or not?

    In the end, it’s not like science is trying to prove or disprove the Bible one way or the other. The problem is going to be, even if you work these issues out for yourself (ignore science is one possibility), this does not help the countless of young people and others who have questions in trying to reconcile their Christian faith with science which seems to be one of Scot’s major concerns (is it not?).

  • Bev Mitchell

    It’s important for us to do a regular self and collective checkup using clear questions such as “Where is my faith?”, “In what do I place my faith?” “In whom do I place my faith?” “Where does my faith come from?” “Who or what sustains my faith?” ….

    I think this is the point JRS (17) was making when she said “…we don’t give science the final word or near final word on origin and death/sin or on Jesus’s virgin birth, divinity and resurrection.” To this I would add two things. First, Amen!. Second, we have a centre for our faith based firmly on the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit – in short the Trinity. This solid centre, properly applied to our lives, is unassailable. Always working out from this centre can and should give us the freedom we need to deal with our growing understanding of the universe. With only a little tongue in cheek, I suggest such a centered faith could even withstand the landing of little green women from the galaxy of who knows where.

  • CGC

    Hi DRT,
    I understand your frustration but I am not sure what your saying is really helpful either? Help others get scientifically informed, more power to you. But your post also comes off as if people who do not accept the science view of evolution (by the way, which one?) then they are like neanderthals or something (something I have heard others try to say in a humurous way on this list but it really is insulting to others).

    For example, a leading mathmatician who examines science is David Berlinski. David is absolutely brilliant and happens to be an agnostic skeptic (he’s certainly not a religious believer much less a Christian). He has studied the issues and comes a way as a skpetic also on evolution. Not everyone is ducking or sticking their heads in the sand. Berlinski’s book especially challenges what he calls “scientific pretensions” in his provocative book “The Devil’s Delusion.” All I can say is I think we need to all be more scientifically informed while at the same time drop some of our pretensions. I know Berlinski drives some in the scientific community nuts because he defies categories and can not be put into some kind of box!

  • Amos Paul

    While I’m not commiting to any view–I will say that if Jesus’s ‘body’ in Paul’s letters is the community of the church, then I don’t see any fundamental problems in seeing Adam’s ‘body’ as potentially being made up of many people as well.

    Just a thought, anyway.

  • Joey Elliott

    DRT #25,

    I agree with CGC a bit on his response, and how your approach here seems a little odd. I personally am way more shocked with the Biblical illiteracy in this country than I am with the scientific illiteracy, and I can’t believe all Christians don’t feel the same priority. And I personally would never be offended or scared if someone else questioned my scientific literacy, or that of my country. He may not know what the heck he is talking about. Either way, who are we fearing here, God or man?

    All that to say, I have benefited greatly by increasing my scientific literacy through participation on this blog. So far it has also increased my biblical literacy, and defense of its inerrancy, all the more. Sorry if that further upsets you.

  • Norman


    Sobering isn’t it. 😉

    Actually I’ve developed a more realistic view of peoples and how communities think and interact. I have optimistically learned to place God’s people in His hands and not in my opinion of them (especially since I’ve been there and people I love are still there). We simply do our part to help move the bar forward and rest in the realization that people have been ignorant for a long long time and will continue to be so into the foreseeable future. Even with that recognition God was willing to come to our rescue. 🙂

    Don’t let our German friend take everything out of context though. The US still has one of the highest rates of believers in God of all the Nations. The European countries by contrast are some of the most agnostic and unfaithful groups in the world. Even Russian and Communist countries are more God fearing than our western European friends. We make strange bedfellows with them in more ways than one.

  • Norman

    Amos Paul @29

    You may not realize how fundamental the “body” discussion is to this examination. In Paul’s concept the “Body” is collective and we read it as singular and just completly distorts his concepts. There are some good scholars on the subject that if one really wants to examine are extremely eye opening. Check out A. T. Robinson’s old book “The Body” and for a more contemporary examination read Tom Hollands work on this subject. He has two good books “Contours of Pauline Theology” and “Romans – The Divine Marriage” that will help tremendously.

  • DRT

    Hi CGC,

    I am not saying that people who do not accept evolution are neanderthals, I am saying they are like people in the 17th century. Further, I think that is patently true and those who hold that view should recognize that is what they are doing.

    As far as the “which evolution” view, I think that I am simply saying that the earth is old, we were never down to a single pair, and evolution of some type happens.

    Seriously CGC, people need to know that this is an utter failure of the educational system in this country and we are in big trouble.

    One of the concepts I have developed over the past several years is that I don’t mind if people are arrogant. I also don’t mind if people are ignorant. But arrogant and ignorant is a terrible combination. That is where we now are and it is going to be the downfall of the US.

    I know we need to be nice to each other, but folks really do need to know that their level of scientific understanding belongs int he 17th century. The world has gone by and we are stuck there like a lost tribe in the amazon. It is a very big problem for the future of out country and people.

  • DRT

    Joey Elliot, you believing in biblical innerency does not bother me. I am not bothered by specific people and their situations. There are specific people in all possible situations.

    I am bothered by the big trends and macro data. It is very disheartening to me.

    I also want to point out that it seems to be OK for biblicists and creationists to say that non-inerrentists and non-biblicists have a low view of god than it is for someone like me to say that inerrentants and biblicists are uneducated (the first is a very personal attack, the second is not).

    I am simply saying that it is very disappointing that the educational system in this country is in such an incredibly poor state.

    Folks, the earth really is old. The earth was not made in six days. God did not take dust and breath in it. At least not literally. I believe all of that is true, but not literally.

  • DRT

    Norman, perhaps it is just the mood I am in today, but if a believer believes that we should go to war to protect oil, give big business money, execute criminals, torture people., know that god tortures people forever, etc. Do they really believe in my god?

    I am sorry, and perhaps this is just a dark night sort of thing for me, but my atheist daughter who is the sweetest and nicest person I have ever met and wants to take care of the animals when she gets older,….I guess I am just in a bad place with all of this today……

    People need to know that they are living in the 17th century.

  • DRT

    …and so you all are not putting me in too small of a box, let me say this.

    I do believe that our reliance on science and the view of progress in this country is very misplaced. I feel that we were better off without the computers everywhere and the constant entertainment and distractions that are going on in our lives. I feel that participating in the progress creates many evils, and that those evils could end up being the demise of us all.

    BUT, to reject that I should have a TV and computer in every room or in my house at all is quite different from rejecting the idea that TVs and computers work. They do.

    People need to become expert in the science. We need to teach the science. The application of the science is quite a different problem than the knowledge of the science.

    One of the most important lessons I learned in my career went as follows. When I started to get into middle management and the politics of the organization got pretty intense, I told dad that I did not want to play that politics game and I would not. He countered with the notion that I had to learn that game before I could make an informed decision about my participation.

    So it is with science. Ignorance is no reason to doubt it.

  • DRT

    Sorry for writing so much.

    But the question I have is: Are Evangelicals going to become the next Amish? Or worse yet, branch davidians!

    Folks, I know it seems outrageous to all of you, but when Christian sects start to throw objective evidence out the window in favor of their own leaders’ opinions then we have real problem brewing. Certainly and cult leader is going to start by distancing themself from the mainstream, and start demonizing the other, but that is where evangelicalism is these days.

    Perhaps in 100 years my kids will be taking tours of some Kentucky town and show how the people live who don’t understand science.

    I don’t intend this to be insulting, just eye opening.

  • RJS


    Your response here seems to me to be singularly unhelpful.

  • TJJ

    I very much appreciate Scot’s comments. Very well said. I take the latest theories of science with some caution, yes. But I do not take them lightly. For the most part I find the lastest theories in astrophysics regarding the big picture of how the universe came to be and what it is and where it is going and time and dimensions and String theory etc. as faith affirming. The issues of humanity and evolution of lower lifeforms into hominids etc. is more challenging to me.

    But I agree that we cannot just turn away from or deny facts and become another flat earth society. And we should be able to explore and wrestle with new ways of seeing and interpreting Genesis and origins without attack or threat of being liberal or apostate or whatever. I am thankful for this blog because these things can be discussed and interacted with here without personal attack or accusation (well usually).

  • Albion

    DRT. Can’t say I agree with RJS about your comments being singularly unhelpful. Good to know where you stand, even if I don’t share all your frustrations. It’s a difficult issue. Hang in there with your daughter.

  • DRT

    I would like to hear from CTC and Joey Elliot. Am I just insulting people here? If I am, then it is unhelpful.

  • Rick


    Those people you disagree with have their reasons, namely that their faith has taught them otherwise. Faith trumps science.

    The way forward is to show how it does not have to be one or the other.

    By the way, how is the job situation?

  • RJS


    #37 went over the top for me – wondering whether evangelicals will join the Amish or the Branch Davidians (especially the latter) is something akin to a slippery slope argument – and one that side steps the issues to force a decision on other fear-based grounds.

  • DRT

    Rick, I see a good pick up in the job market these days, no actual job yet, but I now believe the question is going to be more of how much I accept rather than whether it will happen. I think I am just going to do some consulting for awhile until I see how it all works out.

    If I am still saying this in October then I would really appreciate some prayer intervention….

  • DRT

    Re: Faith Trumping Science

    I agree with Rick that for many faith trumps science. But my assessment is that, for most, they don’t understand the science therefore they are not actually making an informed decision. They are pledging allegiance, and that is quite different than informed decision making.

  • John Inglis

    I can understand the expression of DRT, and that the framing of his comments of the moment are an outpouring of his anguish of the moment. Its rather like reading Jeremiah or some of the Psalms that give vent to feelings.

    Nevertheless, taking a step back from passion, America is not unscientific in the least–which nation files the most patents and wins the most Nobel prizes? which one put someone on the moon? not even a contest. That is not to say, however, that many people bracket off a part of their understanding of the world, such that it is shaped by their relational truth rather than institutional scientific truth.

    By relational truth I mean the truth that people receive as truth because of their relationship to the truth teller and not because of their own independant verification (whatever form that verification would take). How is it that we know that the Sun runs by fusion? Relational truth based upon our relationships to people and institutions we trust.

    If someone I trust, who lives a holy life, who lives a life of Jesus, who has prayed and had God answer, tells me that the world is 10,000 years old, why shouldn’t I believe him? Why shouldn’t I believe him over a Dawkins who mocks my faith and believes that we are nothing but a deterministic bag of chemicals? Not really much of a contest.

    Does that mean I give up science? Especially when I see it work in front of my eyes and when I receive truth-tellings about science from people I trust? No, it does not. But what may happen is that I bracket off portions of my belief system, live my life in compartments. It is well known that people do this with other aspects of their lives (e.g., moral commitments, etc.). No one lives out their life completely consistently.

    Does my bracketing out impede my life? Keep me from flying or feeding my kids? No, of course not. On the other hand, is it not better to get rid of brackets? Yes. Could it affect my faith or the faith of others? Yes, but it’s not critical to my existence to remove all brackets and compartments in my life immediately.

    We all establish truth relationally, and so there are good (non-scientific) reasons for people to believe in a young earth. And the fact that many do does not mean that they are consistently unscientific throughout all aspects of their life.

    We need not despair, but we do need to work with those who are trying to remove these brackets in a way that is consistent with their discipleship to Jesus, and in a way that respects those that still have brackets. Respects them, because methodological naturalism is not the only way to truth, nor is it able to reveal or even understand all truth.

    John I.

  • DRT

    Yes, my comparison to the cult is unhelpful and I retract that statement.

    Of course I fall into the group who is potentially giving the emperor new clothes and we need people to step out and speak truth to emperor. Having said that, there has been plenty of opportunity for that to happen.

    This is a very interesting subject because at some point people need to decide what to believe. A conservative mindset is never going to want to go against the established perspective, but for change to happen the rebellion has to actually occur.

    I don’t envy those deeply ingrained in conservative churches, particularly those who don’t believe the party line yet must be silent to be accepted. It is a very difficult predicament.

    I have spoken to some folks (mainly family) regarding updating the RCC. What I have come to find is that the Priests and those in power are actually in favor of an update, but the people are not.

    I wonder if there is more of that here than anything else. Do the educated pastors actually believe that we need to move forward, but they are unable to do it until the people, er, change.

    Depending on your analysis of the problem you would come up with a couple different solutions.

  • Percival

    I just wanted to commend you on a very well-written summary of years of discussion at Jesus Creed. I would echo your call to serious conversation, but whom to invite? Sometimes people you invite to walk on a journey are more interested in dragging their heels than in walking together. The names have to be representative of the evangelical tribe, but they must be interested in movement. And what about courage? It is the kind of conversation that can destroy careers, and thus, some may see it as a peripheral issue and not worth the risk.

  • John Inglis

    DRT, I too have been out of work for a long time (not that that has made me unbusy), and will–God willing–be working for pay in a week. It is a difficult experience and I pray for you as I do for me that the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ will continue to provide you Comfort and increase your faith in this difficult time and provide you with fulfilling and paid work in due course.

  • DRT

    John I.#46, I hear you. I agree with you. I think my #47 is in the same sphere.

    I don’t disrespect individuals for beliefs (at least I try to make sure that I don’t). But I do want to confront establishment causes that I find counterproductive.

    The acquaintance that stood in my kitchen and said “I can’t believe in evolution because I can’t stand the thought that we came from animals” never heard me doubt or refute his view. That view is fine.

  • DRT

    John Inglis #49, thank you so much. I loved the way you said that.

    At the risk of jinxing, congrats.

  • Bev Mitchell

    It is helpful to know the extent of your frustration. After all, the current ‘crisis’  is engendered mostly by a long-overdue realization by many Christians that what we know about our universe may actually demand a rethink of some long-held positions and interpretations. This is not to say that you must believe anything from modern science to be an exemplary follower of Christ. It is to say, however, that denial of very well supported scientific findings is weakening and will continue to seriously weaken our witness, our discipleship and our nurturing of the flock, particularly the youth.

    Furthermore, when we say that faith trumps science, we are, at least, obliged to define faith. If it’s faith in our interpretation of Scripture, faith in some system of theology so tightly wound it cannot conceive of any change without falling to pieces, faith in some cultural way of looking at faith, faith in our faith, and so on, it does not trump much of anything. Donald Bloesch summarizes it well when he warns of how faith is warped when it becomes “more a struggle for certainty than a venture of obedience on the basis of certainty.”

    ref: Donald G. Bloesch, “God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love”.

  • Patrick

    Michael Heiser reviewed Peter Enns’ book on Adam. Michael said he was going to see Enns soon in San Fran, so I asked him to ask Enns about the following and might it answer some of our questions w/o having to mythologize Adam or see Paul as theologically flawed which Enns sees to “fix” Adam in theology( this assumed genome is perfect):

    1) Cain was desperately fearful of a group of people who might murder him. Reasonable to assume they could have been other people NOT Adam’s genetic seed? I think more reasonable than expecting they were all Adam’s kids or that Paul had flawed theology.

    2 ) Cain went to “the land of Nod” for his wife. “the land of” lends itself to being somewhat of a society. Reasonable to assume not Adam’s kids? I think so.

    3) Sin still entered into the world via Adam, he’s the federal head of sinful humanity( just as Paul saw him) and sin infected those other folks as soon as Cain met them so it was Adam who was the genesis of that, it was inevitable they would sin. It just changes from Adam being the genetic father of all sinners or humanity.

    These other people may be what genome sees if genome is fact.

    There are textual problems for my idea that need answering, like the word “EVE” and Genesis 3:20.

  • John Inglis

    It seems to me, following on from what the Apostle Paul says in Romans about not knowing sin without the law, that at least part of the Adam story is the first introduction of Law by God. In Eden we have God giving the first recorded command by Him, the first Law. Sin is more than merely being disordered, or failing to be perfect, it seems to include the necessity of knowledge that what one is doing is contrary to a command of God imposed directly on oneself. Sin, at its core, is disobedience.

    Furthermore, since “adam” can be generic as well as specific it does not seem to me that we must understand the Adam of Gen. 2 as being the same as the adam of the 1st.

  • Jim

    I think there are so many issues at hand here that make discussion difficult.

    The first problem that I notice is that fundamentalism and extremist views are the most often visible. This problem can be visible in various areas of life. For example, most Americans don’t know about the peaceful and tolerant Muslims who live throughout the world because their vision of Islam is that of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. When we bring this example to science, we unfortunately face the views of people like Dawkins who uses evolution to promote atheism rather than to promote the science itself.

    In essence what happens is the various voices of extremely talented and good scientists (both Christian and non) get lost because generalizations and prejudices are created against those who are, at their core, militant in their nature to use science to disprove faith. Why don’t we hear about the accommodationism of Biologos and the voice of the faithful who believe evolution? Because most Churches create a generalization; because atheists promote evolution as a grounds to disprove faith, evolution is wrong.

    The first point is simple, most people in the Church only see one side of evolution and that side is completely antagonistic to what they believe.

    The second problem that we can see is the continued problems that certainty and arrogance create. I find it interesting that we have such a hard time following Jesus’ example in being humble! I don’t mean to believe everything that science may or may not say, I mean that we should hold it with an honest eye and discern whether or not it at least has a possibility of truth.

    What I find extremely sad is the amount of people whom I have conversed with in my Church that have told me they have researched the evolution vs. creation debate heavily. When asked what they researched, everything was either from a creation blog, an apologetics page, or a book written thru a creation lens. All that was researched in most cases was one biased viewpoint and the only exposure to the other viewpoint was derogotary to begin with. I would love for them to read books such as Lost World of Genesis 1 or The Evolution of Adam, but the furthest I got was for someone to read the back cover before dismissing it as “flawed and deceptive.”

    Another problem underlies at the heart of this discussion is that of Biblical interpretation. I find it ironic that one of the core reasons that Protestantism broke away from Catholicism in the Reformation was that we no longer wanted to follow the man-made traditions that the Church started. And we were to look more at the Scriptures than anything else. Now, do we truly dig into the Scriptures? We have the means to understand more of the language, the culture, the context and the history than ever before; we have the tools available to help us dive deeper into Scripture and we would rather simply believe what we have been taught over the years.

    What we hear is that Scripture is infallible and it is perfect. Therefore God had to create the Heavens and the Earth in a literal 7 day period. Meanwhile they don’t try to wrestle with the ideas. For example, how do they describe the firmament or dome of the second day? The Hebrew tells us that this was a solid construct. How do they explain that God created all animals before man in Genesis 1 and then in Genesis 2 there was NO vegetation or animals on the earth. God created man first and animals second so that man would not be lonely. Then it was AFTER this that animals were not suitable companions for man so God created a helper.

    The biggest problem I have with this view of Scripture as inerrant and infallible lies with the fact that it is not the Scripture itself that they view like this but it is their interpretation of it. Also, what pieces do you treat as “literal” and “right” and which do you view as “metaphorical?” Is snow truly held by God in Heavenly storehouses? This was the view that the Israelite would have and it is explicit in Scripture; so why don’t we trust that as literal?

    Another problem that I see is people like to have answers and they like to have a consensus. I think this is largely neglected when talking about this topic. Why is is so hard for Christians to allow evolution an inch? Because many people feel that evolutionary theory changes regularly. But this is part of what makes science great is that it continues to develop and explore new possibilities. It’s not that evolution has changed since Darwin’s (and actually long before Darwin’s) initial ideas; it’s that evolutionary theory has grown (the initial ideas are still very much there) and progressed.

    Also, because it is relatively new for Christians to embrace evolution and faith and fit them together; there is not much of a consensus on various topics that used to be “unified.” For example, must we believe in a literal fall? Must we believe in a literal Adam? Must we believe evolution was guided by God? Many people who are Theistic Evolutionists have no consensus on these questions; how can anyone embrace something when there is so much disagreement in it?

    Finally, as I finish my comment (my apologies for the length), most do not know the history behind what we believe and why. Ask a creationist his opinion and he will likely answer that it is “historical” Christianity. But there have been many different opinions on how science and religion relate. Augustine held an opinion (can be seen in Literal Interpretations of Genesis) that we must allow science to do what it is meant to and shape our interpretations of Scripture accordingly. Calvin held that we must remember that God was revealing Scripture to common man and had to do so in a way that man would understand; if He used science as we know it, the Israelite would not comprehend what was being said.

    Most importantly, they don’t understand where much of the “Creation Science” originates. It does not originate with scientists who have come up with hypotheses and tested them, it originates with an Adventist schoolteacher (not a trained scientist) who wrote down and believed all his leader’s visions about a great flood. Flood geology which is supposedly one of the strength claims of creationists actually started with a person’s vision and not a person’s scientific discovery or idea. This idea slowly infiltrated Churches later as many felt there needed to be an answer to evolution and this was the suitable alternative.

    The problems are many in this debate/discussion. The first point is who is willing to come to the table amidst the prejudices and generalizations. The second point is who is willing to humble themselves in order to come to the table and discuss. The third point is will we allow Scripture to speak for itself and start understanding it in its context/culture so we can embrace other ideas. And the fourth and final point is are we willing to understand the history of this issue and see it may not be as rooted as we would like to think in our theology.

    Blessings to all!

  • Scot (and RJS),

    First, please know that I don’t have any problem fitting evolution into my theological scheme. I have a bit of a problem with the archetypal “Adam” thing, but if I can fit James into my theology, I can work around anything! I say that because I don’t want to be identified too closely with some here who may have misunderstood my position and come to my support. I don’t really like the young earth movement much either. However, I don’t follow many on either side who are too dogmatic or who give the impression that the sky is falling if you don’t follow us (and these are definitely on both sides). My faith is in the resurrection of Christ. Once I have that down, there are a lot of dominoes that fall.

    As well, I think you both know how much I appreciate you. I have personally contacted you both and expressed this.

    Scot, you said:

    “And, Michael, turn about is fair play: do we say “don’t trust the theologians since they change their minds all the time?” Or the same of biblical scholars?”

    Yes, I think we need to be very careful with theologians as many of them do change their minds so much. I like Oden’s model. 🙂

    However, there is a regula fide to theology which anchors us. We can take into consideration the new “discoveries” in theology, but we hold them tentatively. Right? If it does not fall into the “that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all” it only has the right to make our grip too strong. I don’t think that there is too much of a difference when it comes to natural theology. It contributes much and has a regula fide itself.

    I am all for pushing forward in science. I don’t really agree with methodological naturalism (science’s authorial intent hermeneutic) as I think it creates some awkward decisions that, while creative, don’t fit into the worldview of someone who is necessarily theistic. Why is a “science of the gaps” better than a “god of the gaps”. However, I do think that science should push forward with some sort of “soft” methodological naturalism (which I don’t suppose I can get into here).

    But it is evident that I am not a scientist, so I need to be very careful. But you must understand that most of us who are non-scientists do see the erratic results of science and medicine and have learned to hold on to these these loosely. As well, we see other intelligent people who may be the galileos of our world today who do not ascribe to the consensus. And, as a lay person, this stuff gets confusing. As a teacher, all I can do is say that there are good arguments on all sides. The best advice I have is not to be too dogmatic on your conclusions that affect your theology or your pandemic understanding of Scripture. In the end, we have to hang our hat on the issues that are most certain, are part of the regula fide, and turn our faith to the right or the left. And (here is my great conclusion!): this issue does not fit.

  • Scot, I believe that Hugh Ross has done some excellent work on this very topic. Here is a short article that addresses this topic. Here is a quote at the end of this article from Hugh Ross, who is a scientist, “New discoveries in paleoanthropology increasingly undermine the plausibility of evolution as an explanation for human origins.”


  • Bev Mitchell

    Jim, (55)

    I see every point you are making, and they are all good. The situation is indeed multilayered. Don’t take what follows as antagonistic criticism. Rather, it is meant as a clarification of the points you raise, because, even in hitting the targets, you sometimes do it through the fog created by the manner in which the battle is currently being waged.

    “people like Dawkins who uses evolution to promote atheism rather than to promote the science itself” You make two statements here, only the first is true. Dawkins is one of the best promoters of evolution out there. He also has a great gift for explaining complex matters to non-scientists. Have a look at his “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

    “prejudices are created against those who are, at their core, militant in their nature to use science to disprove faith” There are more than a few theologians of the same mindset who use a faithless approach to Scripture to create the same result. The rebuttal to both (scientist and theologian) is an argument from faith, and to an extent, metaphysics, not from science.

    ” I would love for them to read books such as Lost World of Genesis 1 or The Evolution of Adam” Yes indeed, but for understanding the foundation for the general conclusions of evolutionary biology, they should read books by evolutionary biologists. There is no such thing as Christian evolutionary biology, but it seems that is what many are hoping for. 

    “we have the tools available to help us dive deeper into Scripture and we would rather simply believe what we have been taught over the years.” Sad, but true.

    “it is relatively new for Christians to embrace evolution and faith and fit them together; there is not much of a consensus on various topics that used to be “unified”. For many decades now,  millions of Christians have had little problem with evolutionary biology conclusions. What they have written could help – but they are not from ‘our group’.

    “are we willing to understand the history of this issue and see it may not be as rooted as we would like to think in our theology.” Depends on whose theology we consider. But, as I’ve pointed out several times here, our faith should not be based on our theology. Faith precedes theology, is a gift from God and results in a relationship with God, through Christ in the power of Holy Spirit. If this is the starting point, we are building on bedrock. If our Christian faith is based on anything else, even the Bible, as we interpret it,  we are on sand.

  • AHH

    Michael @56, thanks for your thoughtful words, but let me pick out (pick on?) one statement:
    But you must understand that most of us who are non-scientists do see the erratic results of science and medicine and have learned to hold on to these these loosely.

    I sympathize with that, but it should be recognized that much of this “science is always changing” impression comes from the things we see on the news, which are often about diet, medicine, and similar areas where preliminary results tend to get overblown and where thorough hypothesis testing is more difficult. Most science is more stable than the impression one gets from watching TV.

    If there was one thing I wish non-scientists could “get”, it would be that some scientific results are much more firmly established than others. Usually, especially on issues big enough for people to care about, science eventually hones in on the truth, not without the occasional step in the wrong direction. We can talk about paradigms and ever-changing science all we want, but some things (the Earth is not flat, the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Earth is ancient, species are related by common ancestry, smoking causes cancer, no recent global flood) are established beyond any reasonable doubt. Others are pretty well established but maybe room for a sliver of doubt (anthropogenic global warming, neodarwinian mechanisms for common ancestry). Others are much more tenuous (theories for origin of life).

    I see the “ever-changing science” card played a lot to allow people to discount scientific results that they don’t like for political or theological reasons, which I think is irresponsible without making some effort to discern how tenuous or firmly established the result in question is. Which may be hard for non-scientists, especially when one can always find somebody with some scientific credential (perhaps irrelevant credentials, like an astronomer trying to be an authority on biological evolution) who will affirm nonsense. Thoughtful Christians in science like RJS, like the ASA, like Biologos, like CiS in England, can be resources in that regard [and we are typically happy to prevent our pastor from saying something foolish about science 😉 ].
    By the way, by the above I am not accusing Michael of being irresponsible as some are; his comments here have been measured and constructive.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    DRT, this day I was celebrating graduations and have family all weekend. I hope your weekend goes good for you and may God give you peace.

    John, thanks for the good thoughts on compartmentalization!

    I miss Darrin in this thread (his thoughts are some of the best I have read lately)

    Thanks Jim for some wise counsel . . .

    Hugh Ross reads modern science everywhere into Genesis if you have read his books. Do people think modern scientific viewpoints are really what the book of Genesis is really about? People can look at his article and make up their own minds if this is just reading in evolution into the science but when one looks at how Ross turns the Bible into a book of science, I find this more troubling than whether or not evolution is true or not!


  • DRT

    Funny, I told my wife about this thread and she does not believe me that there are that many people who do not believe in evolution.

    I asked her why she does, and she pretty much has the same answer as me. Ever since I can remember, and multiple times a year, I would go to the science museum in Pittsburgh and marvel at all of the dinosaurs they have on display. You walk in and they tell you what has happened with the science.

    You all should go there if you get the chance.


  • Bill

    This is one of the best posts I have read. We in the church must be honest and be willing to accept the truth from wherever it comes. Thank you.

  • Jim


    Thanks for the criticism. I always like to be critiqued in order to better understand and develop new ideas.

    I think you are right in how I phrased the Dawkins comment. He’s quite an interesting man to me. The reason why is many of his ideas are genius. I think he’s probably one of the best promoters of evolution out there and I enjoy much of his works. However, I do think that he often uses evolution as a means to the end of disproving God/faith rather than simply to further the science itself. I think its probably more complicated than that as to him the two are probably linked while I am compartmentalizing them. I am relatively a novice on this topic, so I could be plenty wrong (and admit it). My point is that most people read titles of books such as The God Delusion and/or Why Evolution is True and automatically take it as an attack. If they feel that science is an enemy, will there ever be dialogue.

    I was actually considering including a line or two about how theologians can be just as “militant” in their beliefs and actions with regards to scientists. I felt the post was getting quite long and decided against it. I agree that much of the Christian world is just as difficult in getting to the table. I also feel that if there is conversation it will NEED to start from the Christian side but that is another story for another day.

    In regards to the books I presented to them, I decided upon the books I did because I feel that most of my Church/friends are YEC. They have read all the apologetics books and have all the answers to evolution (or so they think). I don’t think that they will ever give an inch or evolution a chance unless they see that their interpretation can change and they can still hold their beliefs.

    I also agree with your conclusions. It really is about faith, and Spirit. I would say its also about loving in a Christlike matter. Without these, there will never be any conversation.

  • Chris Echols

    What both developing science and religion need is more searching and fearless self-criticism, a greater awareness of incompleteness in evolutionary status. The teachers of both science and religion are often altogether too self-confident and dogmatic. Science and religion can only be self-critical of their facts. The moment departure is made from the stage of facts, reason abdicates or else rapidly degenerates into a consort of false logic.

  • Jim,

    You said: “I don’t think that they will ever give an inch or evolution a chance unless they see that their interpretation can change and they can still hold their beliefs.”

    I think you are right. However, I think that the loosening of the grip must be accomplished by a release of dogmatism on both sides. As well, much of it has to come from internal consession (i.e. those who are YEC and theistic evolutionists who believe in the merits of the other positions and don’t think that this is a central issue).

    Unfortunately the two positions that are most dogmatic and self-assured are the evolutionists and the YEC. Both present their own versions of “the sky is falling” and use fear tactics. At least, this is my experience. The slippery slop on the YEC side is that if you give in to evolution and an old earth, you will eventually have to deny sin and the historicity of the resurrection. We know that this is not true. And the slippery slop on the side of the TE is that if we do not accept evolution, we will lose our voice in the market place of ideas and end up losing an entire generation. This needs to stop as well. Right?

  • slope, not slop. Grrr

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Yeah, right C Michael, if you said “slop” twice we KNOW what you meant to say!!

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jim (63)

     “I don’t think that they will ever give an inch or evolution a chance unless they see that their interpretation can change and they can still hold their beliefs.”

    Exactly. That is why books like Pete Enns’ “Evolution of Adam” and many other authors on better ways for some Creed believing Christians to interpret Scripture are so important. Discussions of this point however often become clouded by suggestions that pastors etc. should learn more biology. That is actually the easy part, assuming they have the will and the time 🙂 The biological, archaeological and related facts from science are just the reasons for doing the hard work of reconsidering the way we view Scripture. This only only believers, guided by the Holy Spirit, can do, and biology or non-believing biologists can’t help in that difficult process. For these reasons, we first have to begin trusting the Creed believing theologians and biblical scholars in our midst who have aready written volumes.

    Chris (64)

    “What both developing science and religion need is more searching and fearless self-criticism, a greater awareness of incompleteness in evolutionary status” 

    Well, sort of. But, by design, science is self-critical to a fault, and also being human and very competitive, any evolutionary biologist would like nothing better than finding some clear demonstration that a long held bit of scientific ‘dogma’ can no longer be supported. Science has no plot against faith and is really quite independent of it. Some individuals (scientists, writers, theologians, etc.) are another matter. 

    C Michael (65)

    “I think that the loosening of the grip must be accomplished by a release of dogmatism on both sides” 

    Scientists do not have to recognize the truth of the gospel or even think Christians are on anything close to the right track in order to do good science. They hold their positions based on the empirical and historical evidence – and they demand a mountain of evidence before they will accept something as all encompassing as the general conclusions of evolutionary biology. Any crack anywhere will be attacked with full force. It’s true, some pet theories from some individuals or labs receive preposterous defenses for a time after their best-before date, but this is another matter altogether.

    We Christians have to get over the fact that many scientists think we are crazy. So what! Their position does not affect the quality of their science, nor should it affect the quality of our faith. Their findings have, however, raised questions re exactly how we approach Scripture. Fortunately, many of our brothers and sisters with the appropriate gifts have already written more that sufficient material to help us along this road. It’s time we saddled up!

  • holdon

    Bev Mitchell:
    “They hold their positions based on the empirical and historical evidence – and they demand a mountain of evidence before they will accept something as all encompassing as the general conclusions of evolutionary biology.”

    I think the “evidence” points to the contrary of what you say. Here is what I read when sometime ago it was recommended to read some articles on Biologos (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/04/12/evangelical-evolutionists-and-an-opportunity-rjs/):

    Biologos says:
    “The discovery of one early whale, Maicetus, has provided evidence that early amphibious whales retained land-based birthing, though this interpretation has be challenged by other experts in the field. The evidence comes from one fossil specimen that appears to have a near-term fetus positioned for head-first birth inside it. While the evidence is suggestive and intriguing, other interpretations have been put forward (such as the possibility that the second, smaller skeleton was actually a recent meal, and not a fetus). Future work, with additional specimens, will hopefully shed more light on this issue.”

  • Bev Mitchell

    Holdon (69)
    The last line should address your question, viz. “Future work, with additional specimens, will hopefully shed more light on this issue.” Waiting to see if future work supports or does not support the contention is the point, and the way science proceeds. As for the general conclusions of evolutionary biology, the ship has come in and is so overflowing with supporting light it glows in the dark! Again, I recommend that you read, Dawkins, “The Greatest Show on Earth”. If this bothers you, fortunately we now have excellent Christian writers who can help you see that the truth of evolution does not have to upset your faith. Many of these are regularly discussed on this blog site. 

    I’ve recently been reading the excellent commentary on Genesis from Brazos Press by R.R. Reno (thanks to David Opterbeck for the great tip on this series!) You may also want to have a look.

  • AHH

    Holdon @69, your post is a non sequitur.

    You quote something about a hypothesis, where scientists disagree and there is not much evidence either way, concerning one little detail of how evolution happened. And you write as though that somehow casts doubt on the “mountain of evidence” for the general conclusions of evolutionary biology. That is ludicrous — roughly at the same level as citing scholarly confusion about the meaning of one verse in a Gospel to argue that we have no reason to conclude Jesus ever existed.

  • holdon


    It was called in that article “evidence”. Now, if you want to equivocate on the meaning of “evidence” that’s fine. But then “mountain of evidence” may appear to be not much at all.

    And if the word “scientists” may represent for you some kind of absolute, it does not. There are “scientists” that will not agree about matters such as the origin of whales, hominids out of Africa, etc..

    Why do you feel the need to hide behind the “scientists”?

  • Bev Mitchell

    P.S. to (70)
    Reno makes a very telling statement in his notes on Gen 1:10 that is  amplified elsewhere, “……. creation provides the stage rather than the plot for the divine plan.” We must be careful not to worry so much over the staging and props that we miss the glorious plot.

  • Bev Mitchell

    P.S. to (73)

    Again, Reno, since that is what I am reading at this moment: “God’s words are reality creating……….God does not cause or fabricate reality as does an artisan……God originates all things out of his power to command reality into existence.” Or, if we want a less traditional statement “to make it possible for reality to be and become.”

  • AHH

    Holdon @72,

    The “mountains of evidence” that Bev referred to was for the general conclusions of evolutionary biology. The point you seem to be missing is that this little detail you quoted about how one small bit of evolution happened, where the evidence is indeed far smaller than a mountain, has no bearing on the general conclusions of evolutionary biology for which there are many mountains of evidence. Just like disagreement on a detail like what some verse in Revelation symbolizes would have no bearing on the general conclusions of Christian theology.

    And I don’t know what you are accusing me of “hiding” behind or from, but let’s keep personal attacks out of this blog, OK?

  • holdon


    Why take it as a personal attack? It wasn’t meant any of that. Your argument sounded like “scientists may disagree on some minor detail (as evidenced in the article) but they certainly don’t as regarding “the big picture”. So that big picture and its scientists got elevated to some kind of absolute standard.

    Yes I know the difference between a “mountain” and a single specimen of evidence. But the mountain consists of all these specimens, or not? So, if this single specimen being called evidence is representative of the mountain, I think there could be problem.

    Do you agree that “the scientists” may not all agree on “the general conclusions of evolutionary biology” similar to that they might not all agree to what the meaning of one fossil is for the origin of whales? Or does the argument go like this: if someone does not agree with “the general conclusions of evolutionary biology” that person is not (much of) a scientist? What are these “general conclusions” anyway? Are we talking about the common descent out of primordial soup or what?

    Apparently you think that “the general conclusions about evolutionary biology” are valid. How so? Can you cite examples of what these might be?

  • John Inglis

    RE C. Michael Patton and regula fidei

    I don’t think the regula fidei helps us at all. The regula fidei refers to Chistological assertions by the early church, as recorded by the Fathers. These were essentially that Christ died for our sins and rose again. Not much help vis a vis science, except to bracket out a historical Christ (for those that believe historicity of a physical person called the Christ is important).

    Beyond the bare christological assertions, the length and shape of a rule (whether one calls it regula fidei or not) depends on who is doing the measuring, where they are measuring, and what they are measuring. The result takes on the shape of the measurer and the doctrines they consider to be core (the others end up being heretical enough that they don’t make it into the group that counts as “Everyone”). That issue, who is “everyone”, cannot be overcome? Who sets that boundary? Do we exclude charismatics? (why?), 7th Day Adventists? Mormons? Arians? Gnostics? Coptics? Carribean syncretists? Liberal christians? Outside of an institutional and bureaucratic church, such as the Roman Catholic and its majesterium (also called a kind of regula fidei), the regula fidei makes no sense.

  • AHH

    Holdon @76 says,
    Apparently you think that “the general conclusions about evolutionary biology” are valid. How so? Can you cite examples of what these might be?

    We are getting off the topic of the post, so I’ll be exiting the thread (at least this part of it) after answering this question.
    The general conclusions of evolutionary biology are that life has branched out by common descent so that existing species (including humans) are all very distant cousins, and that natural selection acting on genetic variations has been a major driver in this development. You made a comment about primordial soup, but abiogenesis (origin of first life) is not strictly speaking a part of evolutionary biology and not a part of the “general conclusions” that I was referring to.
    This is not the place for the “mountains of evidence” for those conclusions to be debated; you have been around this blog long enough to see several threads where books have been recommended. My personal recommendation as a starting point for a Christian non-scientist is Coming to Peace with Science by Darrel Falk, biology prof at Point Loma Nazarene.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Holdon (76)

    Where to begin? Once again, read “The Greatest Show on Earth” for a snapshot of the mountain. You mention ‘specimens’ suggesting you are reading things at the organismal level, perhaps only fossils.  Nothing wrong with that, evidence from ‘specimens’ is an important part of the mountain. But then there is evidence from behaviour, physiology, molecular biology, genetics, to name some of the basic lines. And the really important thing is that evidence from all these levels of organization overwhelmingly supports the general conclusions of evolutionary biology. (maybe we should dub it GCEB 🙂

    The biology professor in me is now calling for attention. Do you know the story of how our cells (and the cells of all organisms with a nucleus) are able to respire? That is, to get energy by burning glucose. They all use mitochondria. No big deal until we realize that these mitochondria originated as free living bacteria – and still retain the DNA they need for some of their function (the rest of their DNA is now subsumed within the DNA of the more complex cell.) This symbiosis of two free living organisms (for that is what it originally was) resulted in one of many ancient characteristics that our cells share with amoebas. Neat, huh?  For a great, and inspiring, summary of the mountain of research in this one area see Nick Lane “Power, Sex, Suicide”, or his award winning “Life Ascending: the Ten Great Inventions of Evolution” (college chemistry required).

    I hope you can get by this block you seem to have concerning understanding what scientists do as well as why and how they do it. It will liberate you.

  • holdon

    Bev Mitchell:

    “This symbiosis of two free living organisms (for that is what it originally was)”

    How do you know that that is what it was?

    “It will liberate you.”

    I need no condescending talk from a biology professor. Thanks but no thanks.

  • holdon


    “You made a comment about primordial soup”,

    If you read me better than you would have been able to conclude that I was not talking about abiogenesis, but rather that common descent from there. Bye.

  • DRT

    Bev Mitchell#79, I have been considering the origin of mitochondria along with the human dependence on microorganisms [the eye opening phrase i have seen is that humans have 10 times the number of bacteria in us than we have human cells] to illustrate the lack of purity.

    The reason I think that, as you probably have guessed, is because I think the moral component of purity has a big part in the evolution/creation debate. I feel the surface argument seems to be around authority, and that is a factor for sure, but I think the real motivation for a non-belief in evolution is more due to purity in otherwise intelligent people.

    Holdon, sorry for talking about you in the third person, but, holdon seems to be an otherwise intelligent person and he/she is not even going down the authority path. It seems that holdon’s view is more in the purity space because holdon does not want to even consider that the evidence is rational. Therefore we never get to the authority question in this conversation.

    Ah, I guess it is just the scientist in my that keeps doing all this ridiculous hypothesizing….

  • Rick

    John #77-

    Michael is big on the Regula Fidei and the Vincentian Canon (I happen to agree with him). It is based on the core teaching of the Apostles.

    If you haven’t already done so, I recommend Michael’s own blog, Parchment and Pen, for various posts he has put up on the topic(s).

  • Bev Mitchell

    Yes, you’re right, but it is such a pity. The following little anecdote from pg. 133 of Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show on Earth” nicely illustrates the tragic mindset a closed, combative and fearful approach to science, by highly intelligent people, can engender. 

    Holdon,  please note that I just called you highly intelligent, for I suspect that you indeed are. Sorry that you took one of my previous statements as condescending – but you did miss the point and the intention. Until you are prepared to do some more serious reading in evolutionary biology, I don’t think we can get much further in this conversation.  And do remember, no one on this blog would say you have to ‘believe’ in evolution to be an outstanding Christian.

    Dawkins’ story about Endler’s encounter

    “My colleague Dr John Endler, recently moved from North America to the University of Exeter, told me the following marvelous – well, also depressing – story. He was travelling on a domestic flight in the United states, and the passenger in the next seat made conversation by asking him what he did. Endler replied that he was a professor of biology, doing research on wild guppy populations in Trinidad. The man became increasingly interested in the research and asked many questions. Intrigued by the elegance of the theory that seemed to underlie the experiments, he asked Endler what the theory was, and who originated it. Only then did Dr Endler drop what he correctly guessed would be a bombshell: ‘It’s called Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection!’ The man’s whole demeanor instantly changed. His face went red; abruptly, he turned away, refused to speak further and terminated what had hitherto been an amiable conversation. More than amiable, indeed: Dr Endler writes to me that the man had  ‘asked some excellent questions before this, indicating that he was enthusiastically and intellectually following the argument. This is really tragic.’ ” 

  • DRT

    I didn’t know there were wild guppies! Wow, imagine that, wild guppies…..

  • holdon

    Bev Mitchell:

    “Until you are prepared to do some more serious reading in evolutionary biology”

    I read most seriously, thanks. I think that most of what people find, is because they want to find it. This applies in all areas of life not in the least because of the large crowd on your mountain that will applaud you when you have contributed something to make that mountain even bigger.

  • DRT

    I thought I could get rich here, either the name of a band, or a religious site, or who knows what. Alas, it is already taken http://www.wildguppies.com/

  • Bev Mitchell

    Wild but not fierce. An experimental biologist has to follow where the best models lead, and this was a great one for measuring significant evolution, in nature and within the lifetime of a single research program.

  • John, I don’t want to get this off topic, so I will keep the discussion about what the regula fide is aside. However, I would say that your view of it is far from mine. I could talk all day about it though. It is a concept grossly lacking in Protestantism.

    Either way, my point still stands. We are to question theologians. And we are to question scientists. This issue is obviously not as self evident as many people think, just like so much of theology is not. And the slippery slopes on both sides are not as slipperly as we are let to believe. I just don’t like the fear tactics on both sides.

  • RJS


    I agree that we are to question both theologians and scientists. This is one reason I think we will be much further ahead if we have theologians who understand enough science to listen to and understand the arguments the scientists make, and scientists who understand enough theology to listen to and understand the arguments that the theologians make. Then we are in a position to begin a useful conversation. (Biblical studies, philosophy and more could profitably join the conversation as well.)

  • Bev Mitchell

    One way of making this dialogue a reality is through multi-disciplinary studies. We now have biology and computer science combined in rigorous Informatics programs at many top schools. Why not biology (or pick any science) – theology or biblical studies courses? I wouldn’t suggest science – theology combinations, because science is just too broad. An interesting take on this question is found at the Polkinghorne site. See http://www.starcourse.org/jcp/qanda.html#Preparing_to_be_a_Scientist-Theologian

    Thanks for your patience with this afternoon’s conversation. Not sure any progress was made 🙁

  • Yes. Since my thoughts gravitate to prolegomena in almost all areas, it would be nice to start with methodological naturalism of which I used to be an advocate (and may change back). It is so much like authorial intent hermeneutics in biblical studies. There is a “hard” variety and “soft” variety in both disciplines. I used to advocate “hard” authorial intent hermeneutics, but I am now softening up!

  • James Beinke

    Sorry to get in so late on this conversation. I offer the following as something that has caught my attention.

    Gerald Schroeder in “The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom”, Free Press. NY, 1997, writes in Chapter Nine, pp. 131-151, that the commentaries Talmud (ca. 400), Rashi (ca. 1090), Maimonides (ca. 1190), and Nahmanides (ca. 1250) were all written prior to paleontological discoveries of human-like creatures, and all concluded that scripture makes room for pre-Adam human-like creatures.

    Seven hundred years ago Nahmanides stated that Genesis 2:7 held a vital clue. The Hebrew reads “…and [God] breathed into his nostrils the ‘neshama’ of life and the adam became to a living soul.” The literal ‘to’ is left out of our translations, but Nahmanides argued that it was there to teach something. He noted that the lamed ‘to’ indicates a change in form and may have been placed there to describe mankind as progressing in stages. Finally, on receiving the neshama the creature that had already been formed became human.

    His commentary on that verse is extensive and I have not read all of it, but his conclusion is worth noting. He wrote: “Or it may be that the verse is stating that [prior to receiving the neshama] it was a completely living being and [by the neshama] it was transformed into another man.”

    Perhaps the literal Hebrew of the Bible actually tells us that before the neshama there was something like a man that was not quite a human.

    When we die our neshama leaves us. Paleontologists, when they find human-like remains, have no way of determining whether they once had neshama. At the very least, the most respected of the early Hebrew commentators leave open that science has something to teach about God’s work in the creation event.

  • John Inglis

    RE regula fidei, etc.

    RE #83 Rick, #89 C Michael Patton

    Rick I do read CMP’s blog and am familiar with his regula fidei postings. I’m not convinced of its utility, and neither are many others, so it’s not like I’m a voice in the wilderness.

    On the other hand, I do agree with CMP (and your post #89, etc., CMP) that we need to take the historical findings of our faith more seriously especially when they are of long standing. “Science” (however that is defined, given that even philosophers of science can’t come up with an agreed upon definition) has undergone changes itself, and its revered findings often overturned by the next generation. There is no march of progress in science; more like a mix of lurches, marches, falls, steps backward, leaps, etc.