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13 Things I Learned at the BioLogos Conference

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June 16, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Rachel Held Evans. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

13 Things I Learned at the BioLogos Conference

On her blog this past Monday, Evans kicked off a short, three-post series about science and faith with a little summary of what she learned at the BioLogos Foundation conference last week. What follows is a re-post of that blog, originally written for folks who don’t know as much about BioLogos as the average reader here probably does.

The BioLogos Foundation was founded by Francis Collins to address the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life. This particular conference was held at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where it can apparently be 50 degrees in the middle of June. Here are some things I learned:

1. Always bring a sweater to Massachusetts.

2. It is possible to talk about the origins debate with an attitude of respect and humility.Peter Enns, Darrel Falk, and Karl Giberson exemplified this beautifully in their lectures by critiquing the ideas of those with whom they disagree without challenging their opponents’ commitment to their faith. This is the first time I’ve been a part of this conversation in which the “other side” was not reduced to a caricature. It was refreshing and convincing.

3. When a group of scientists laugh about a joke involving protein biosynthesis, it is polite to laugh along…but not too hard, or they’ll know you didn’t actually get it.

4. Young earth creationists and “the new atheists” (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.) actually have more in common than one might think, for both groups have arrived at the conclusion that accepting an old earth and evolutionary theory inevitably rules out the existence of God. As a result, one group has essentially made a religion out of naturalism, while the other group has avoided serious consideration of scientific data. The folks at BioLogos are attempting to forge a third way that leaves room for both faith in God and a commitment to intellectual integrity. I’m beginning to think that they are doing some of the most important work in the Christian community.

5. Science professors (particularly at Christian colleges) are desperate to find good ways to counsel students whose faith is challenged by the scientific data they encounter in the classroom. I was really moved by conversations I had with tenderhearted biology teachers struggling to double as theologians and counselors when their students realize there is conflict between what they were taught about creation/evolution growing up in the Church and what the evidence suggests.

6. While it may be impossible to gather scientific data that conclusively shows God’s intervention in the universe, such intervention is evidenced by the fact that Lobsta Land—the suspiciously named seafood restaurant a group of us just happened upon when we were lost in Gloucester, Massachusetts—serves the best food in town. (Special thanks to Justin Topp and Linda Vick from North Park University for letting me tag along.)

7. At the heart of the tension between science and Scripture is what Pete Enns calls “genre misidentification.” Modern Christians tend to impose today’s questions upon an ancient text, demanding that the Old Testament address current scientific paradigms when instead it simply uses the language, terminology, and cosmology of the culture in which it was written. Enns noted that once again fundamentalists and liberals seem to agree when they suggest the Bible cannot be both inspired by God and reflective of typical ancient near Eastern literature. His response is, Why not? Why wouldn’t God choose to communicate in a way that would be accessible and relatable to the people at the time?

8. The question “where do you draw the line?” is not one that only evolutionary creationists have to answer. I am often asked, “If you don’t believe the seven-day creation account is historical and scientific, why should you believe that the resurrection account is historical? Where do you draw the line?” And yet, most of these same people would distance themselves from an interpretation of Scripture that required belief in a solid firmament that holds back the waters (Genesis 1:6-8) or a stationary earth (I Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1). We all face the challenge of drawing a line when we are interpreting an ancient text.

9. “Evolutionary creationists” is a preferred term to “theistic evolutionists.”

10. Both evolutionary creationists and proponents of intelligent design believe that God is the creator of the universe. But proponents of intelligent design seek to show that God’s ongoing presence is scientifically detectable. There seems to be a consensus among the evolutionary creationists that the intelligent design folks have not provided sufficient data to support their claims and are therefore not taken seriously by the scientific community. I probably need to do some more research in this area before I reach any conclusions.

11. There are some great resources out there for helping people harmonize faith and science: The Language of God by Francis Collins (one of my favorite books on the topic), Coming to Peace With Science by Darrel Falk (which several professors told me has been especially helpful for students), Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson (which I am currently loving), and The Lost World of Genesis One (which we will discuss next week on my blog). Also check out the BioLogos FAQ section).

12. Evolutionary creationism does not necessarily add apologetic value to the Christian faith. Just as science doesn’t disprove Christianity, it doesn’t prove Christianity either. As one participant noted, the Apostle Paul faced a somewhat similar conundrum when he wrote, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (I Corinthians 1:22-23). Our best apologetic always has been and always will be a life transformed by the scandalous and subversive work of Jesus Christ.

13. The smartest people are the ones who are humbled by how little they know.

So I’m guessing that one or two of these points might raise additional questions in your mind. Which ones would you like to discuss in future posts? And in which “camp” do you tend to fall—the young earth creationism camp, the intelligent design camp, the evolutionary creationism camp, or the where-are-the-smores-because-this-is-over-my-head camp?


Rachel Held Evans is a self-described "writer, skeptic, and Christ-follower" from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Her first book is a spiritual memoir entitled Evolving in Monkey Town. She enjoys speaking, blogging, traveling, playing poker, and talking theology over coffee.

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Rich - #18071

June 19th 2010

U.C:

I’m still short of breath.  Another agreement, this time, about Miller.  Still, it isn’t a perfect honeymoon, since I disagree about Schonborn.  But I’ll leave that aside.

I’ve never argued that “evolution” poses a problem for orthodox Christian theology in general.  Nor does it pose a problem for orthodox Catholic theology in particular.  What poses the problem is a certain notion of chance or contingency that lies at the heart of the Darwinian concept.

It is not Darwin’s inference of common descent that is the irritant.  The Roman Church has given the green light for scientists to investigate the building up of the human form from animal antecedents.  Which is *not* to say that the Roman Church has declared the truth of any particular scientific hypothesis about human origins.  The Roman Church wisely avoids pronouncing where there is no need for it to pronounce.  But any interpretation of “random” mutations which would render God, in effect, out of control of the evolutionary process, is rightly rejected by the Roman Church.  Unfortunately, in some American Catholic TEs, like Ken Miller and Fr. George Coyne, I am increasingly hearing a Protestant rather than a Catholic interpretation of evolution.


Gingoro - #18098

June 20th 2010

Rich @17874

An important correction to one statement:  ID does *not* equate evolution with atheism.  Many ID supporters, including the Catholic Michael Behe, are evolutionists. 

UcD is an important ID blog and Ms O’Leary has been touted by Dembski as a wise woman and someone to listen to.  IMO in the referenced series of exchanges she does call EC/TEs atheists, at least me in particular. 

http://www.uncommondescent.com/evolution/coffee-which-of-these-theories-is-not-like-the-others/

Admittidly Dembski in a later post does correct this to some extent although Ms O’Leary feels that her position was supported:

Now this implication, though perhaps underscoring a sociological phenomenon (people exposed to Darwinism frequently become atheistic or agnostic), is logically unsound. Theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins, Denis Alexander, and Kenneth Miller provide a clear counterexample, showing that some bright biologists think it’s possible for the two
to be compatible.

http://www.uncommondescent.com/evolution/id-atheism-and-theistic-evolution/

Dave W


Rich - #18128

June 20th 2010

gingoro:

It’s important to make some distinctions regarding Denyse O’Leary’s position.

It’s true that she often suggests that contemporary theistic evolution is either concealed atheism or an unwitting ally of atheism.  However, she has mind those forms of theistic evolution that are “100% Darwinian”, to use a phrase once used by Ken Miller.

In other contexts, she has said that she could easily be classed as a theistic evolutionist herself, since she is a practising Catholic who accepts evolution. 

It is the Darwinian view of evolution, not evolution itself, which in her view is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Sometimes this is obscured by her rhetorical style, but if you sift through the tactical statements to the core ideas, she has the standard Catholic position on evolution:  evolution is a permitted belief, as long as “mere chance” is not conceived to be in control of it.

Some people don’t like her writing style, but her theoretical position is really no different from Michael Behe’s.  Rhetorically, however, she differs from Behe in that she tends to attack TEs, whereas he is content merely to defend himself from TE attacks on him (which are many, and sometimes below the belt).


BenYachov - #18928

June 25th 2010

REPEAT ALERT
If you want to make any headway with Evangelicals or other conservative Christians while being Evolutionist YOU MUST

1) Stop tolerating foolish ideas like Adam being a mythical figure.  It’s pure liberal Christian nonsense.  Dennis Bonnette has show that you can except Evolution & a real Adam.  I would add based on the ideas of Gerard Schroder, Rabbi Kaplan & Rabbi Ari Kahn that you can have a biological polygenesis while holding to a Theological Monogenesis.

2)  You should stop ignoring patristics.  Many Church fathers believed in the simultaneous creation of all things and took Genesis One to be an allegory.  This was long before Darwin came on the scene.

3)  Deep 6 the methodological naturalism & stop overly naturalizing the Biblical narrative.

4)  Point out the philosophical errors of both Metaphysical naturalism and Scientism.  Some of your patrions seem to think we must prove all things from the Bible using empirical science (sans philosophy, historical method, logic etc)

Biologos has potential but sometimes it seems to support rehashed liberal Christian nonsense about the Bible.  You don’t need any of that to believe in both the Bible&Evolution;. Seriously!


Mike McCants - #19173

June 26th 2010

“The folks at BioLogos are attempting to forge a third way”

Either some religion (which one?) is true and science is hopeless or science is the best way to learn about reality and all religions are just silly superstitions.  There is no such “third way”.

“We all face the challenge of drawing a line when we are interpreting an ancient text.”

Why are you wasting your precious time on this Earth trying to interpret this ancient text?  Because this is the religion that your parents taught you when you were too young to think for yourself?

“one group has essentially made a religion out of naturalism”

Well, science really, really works for an understanding of reality.  Why should the word “religion” be associated with that endeavor?


Gregory - #19176

June 26th 2010

“Either some religion (which one?) is true and science is hopeless or science is the best way to learn about reality and all religions are just silly superstitions.” - Mike McCants

There are many things about religion which are true & many things about science that are true. But neither is ‘totally true’ & both have their examples of falsities entering their realm. Phlogiston & eugenics are two examples ‘in science’ where theories had to later be dropped or changed.

I find this black & white version, this ‘either/or’ approach unhelpful for people who want to gain a deeper understanding of how science & religion, plus philosophy, offer knowledge & experience that can improve human existence. It sounds so fundamentalist & extremist.

Where the conversation gets more interesting is when one speaks of spirituality or spiritual reality. Even those who avoid ‘institutional’ religion often accept the non-material reality of human existence, e.g. love, values, intuition, emotion, etc. These are not ‘fully scientific’ topics & invite other realms into discourse.

To conclude ‘either science or religion’ is exactly why a ‘third way’ is needed, even if it is not A. Giddens’ or R. Merton’s third way.


DWDMD - #19346

June 28th 2010

completely off the subject, but is anyone attending the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) meeting at the Ian Ramsey Center in Oxford next week, July 7-10? John Polkinghorne will be honored there on the occasion of his 80th birthday. I was hoping some Biologos folks might be there!


Gregory - #19351

June 28th 2010

Got the invite, but couldn´t schedule it. Would like to be there to celebrate with John Polkinghorne, who has made such a large impact on many of the discussions held at BioLogos. It would be something to count cited authors on this website; I´d guess Polkinghorne comes pretty close to the top. Put in a good word for the conversation that BioLogos is promoting while you´re there!


DWDMD - #19384

June 29th 2010

Yes, we are certainly all in this conversation together. I expect to learn a lot, and it will be good preparation for the Sunday school class and evening study I will be leading in my church this fall on the topic of science/ theology interaction. It’s kind of interesting - I have written and talked to leaders in my UMC conference, offering workshops (gratis) on this topic, and no one is interested. I think our leaders are so busy trying to keep our churches viable that they don’t want to introduce any potentially divisive and controversial subjects - no matter how graciously and openly presented. Certainly what matters most is living out our witness to the Gospel as the reality of existence, but incorrect understanding of the science/faith interface keeps many people from being interested in the church in the first place - so this discussion is part of evangelism as well as nurture within the church. But… I know that slow sure steps are better than polarizing people by coming on too strongly. I really have to pray for God’s direct guidance as I lead in this area, because the last thing I want to do is to create confusion in the minds of dedicated Christians.
Diane


Trent - #25006

August 7th 2010

I haven’t read all these comments but if I could just but in a bit.
I respect all these views ID, YEC, and TE. I myself am unsure, but the Word of God is there, and I was not at the creation so I really don’t know. But it doesn’t matter God could have used a completely different method, or when Christ returns tells us that this and that happened. We must never though undermine what God’s Word said. The Holy Ghost that dwells within us will guide us and a particular verse or so may speak slightly different from person to person. In Corinthians 13, it is stated if we could solve anything but don’t have love, then we are nothing! So I will not try to solve every mystery, all is to the glory of God. More research and figuring things out should make God bigger, because even the smallest of creations we can’t duplicate to perfection. God lies outside all logic, space and time, because he created these. The logic isn’t exactly His though just ours from our puny minds. I know that God could create a universe will entirely different atoms, if there would be any and so on…..continued below


Trent - #25008

August 7th 2010

Continued….
All I can say is that God gets bigger with science. 400 years ago we didn’t know about an atom and a few years ago nothing about quarks. Proverbs says it’s Gods glory to conceal a matter and a Kings glory to figure it out.
So basically what i am saying is glory is in all things that God created. We are to live by faith and follow His Word that is to have Fellowship with Him for His Son Fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and died a substitute to us and raised again to abolish death for those who will carry their cross and follow Him. It’s not a biology text book like I have in my bedroom.


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