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From the Dust: Framing the Debate

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July 27, 2011 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now

Today's video features Ryan Pettey. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This week we feature the next clip from the documentary “From the Dust”, directed by filmmaker Ryan Pettey. It is our sincere hope that, above all else, the film can become a focal point for some of the big questions that inevitably arise at the intersection of science and faith.

To help foster such dialogue, we are once again including several discussion questions with this week’s clip. In the transcript below, you’ll find several prompts that are meant to help viewers dig deeper into the material being presented. Mouse over each highlighted region and a question will appear on the side. We encourage you to watch this video with your friends, your churches, your small groups and Sunday School classes, your pastors -- or anyone else for that matter – and take some time to discuss what is being said (and maybe even what isn’t). You may not all agree, but you will find yourselves engaged in fruitful and spirited conversation. And it is this kind of conversation that will help move the science and faith discussion forward.

Editor's Note: The full documentary is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. You can order the film here, and learn more about the project here.

"Framing the Debate" Transcript

Jeff Schloss: “So why are Christians nervous about evolution and why do we even use a phrase like the ‘e’ word? The word itself has a negative connotation in many groups.”

Alister McGrath: “I think in the States you have a culture war between forces of religion and secularism, and what has happened is that some people in that debate have seen science as a weapon to be used against religion. So, the first casualty in this culture war, I am afraid, has been a proper understanding of what science is and then how it relates to religion.”

Nancey Murphy: “One of the concerns that evolutionary biology raises for some Christians is the view that because evolution is a long drawn out process and because the evolutionary biologists themselves say that evolution is not toward anything—it is just from origins and it is not directed—that that somehow removes God’s purposes from the universe.”

Alister McGrath: “I think we find atheists arguing that evolution is fundamentally a random, directionless, purposeless development, and therefore, that means that there is no intrinsic meaning to human existence. We are simply the random outcome of an essentially random process.”

Jeff Schloss: “Are those, in fact, genuine entailments of evolutionary theory or does that involve philosophical moves that are arguable on the grounds of philosophy, and not on the grounds of the evidence for evolutionary theory? That is a conversation, I regret, that Christians haven’t had very deeply.”

Ard Louis: “Christians are hearing what non-Christians are telling them about what evolution means, and they are believing it. Underlying it are, in fact, often a worldview or philosophical assumptions that say it is all purposeless.”

Alister McGrath: “The point I would like to make in response to that is that that is a very superficial reading of things—that is simply saying, ‘Look, we can’t scientifically discern purpose or meaning, so we draw the conclusion that there is none.’ It is extremely important to make the point that the idea of meaning or purpose is not an empirical notion. It is not something that you observe; it is something you infer.”

Nancey Murphy: “The science is, by design, unable to talk about purposes. Evolutionary Biology is a science that only looks at the question of how one life form develops from another life form. It doesn’t have the sort of perspective you would need in order to see whether there is or is not purpose there. Science by its very definition cannot make pronouncements either for or against religious truths.”

Alister McGrath: “And that is why it is extremely important to emphasize that the scientific method, when properly applied, is neither theistic nor anti-theistic. It is simply about trying to offer explanations for what we find in the world—proximate explanations, not ultimate explanations. Ultimate explanations begin to ask deeper questions like, ‘Why is the universe as it is?’ That is where we can start to talk about God.”

Michael Ramsden: “I think what has happened in the last couple decades is that we have lost sight of the overall history the context of this debate, and then that has then fueled a continued misunderstanding about the contemporary debate, and it instilled this sense of war between Christianity and science—that these two things are battling each other, they are fighting each other, and they are at odds with each other. So, the options are look—be pre-modern, go live in a cave, and believe in God or embrace reality, welcome the new world, and be an atheist. Whereas actually what the facts, what the figures, what everything else shows is that that is not actually correct.”

John Polkinghorne: “There is a sort of myth in modern society that when Charles Darwin published his great book The Origin of Species in 1859 that all the scientific people shouted ‘yes’ and all the religious people shouted ‘no.’ That is not true on either side, and in particular, there were religious people who from the start welcomed Darwin’s ideas. Charles Kingsley, who was a clergyman friend of Darwin’s, said, ‘Darwin has shown us that God had done something clever. Rather than producing a ready-made world with the snap of divine fingers, God had brought into being a world so full of fruitfulness and potentiality that creatures could be allowed to be themselves and to make themselves. We have to recognize that God acts as much through natural processes as in any other way. The idea that somehow the creator of the world, who ordains the character of nature, does not work through natural processes is really a silly idea.

Alister McGrath: “In light of the deeper Christian narrative, everything makes sense if we assume there is a purposeful God, who in some way is directing his creation towards the outcomes that we now see.”

Ard Louis: “One of the really big difficulties in looking at all this stuff about creation and science is that we take a lot of our own feelings about ourselves and put them in. We think that where we come from determines who we are and how we should live. I think that is the reason why a lot of Christians intuitively would prefer man to be made in an instant because somehow they feel that where we come from determines who we are. Therefore, if we were made in an instant that would be more glorious than if God made us over time. But I think that is wrong, the Bible tells us that are value comes from what God thinks about us, not by the details of how we are made.”

Chris Tilling: “Humans are explicitly stated to have come from the dust of the earth. So, in terms of our constitution, we are no different from the animal kingdom. What is different according to the Genesis account is that God enters into relationship with humans. It shifts the focus away from who we are, to who God is, and it seems to me that that is more faithful to the Christian gospel.”

John Polkinghorne: “I think that Christian people are genuinely seeking to serve the God of truth. That means that they have a very important investment in truth, and they need to welcome truth and not be afraid of truth in whatever sort it comes. Now, not all truth comes through science, but some of it does, and it is very sad to see people serving the God of truth who are turning their backs on certain types of truth.”

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

Ryan Pettey is a filmmaker and the director/editor of Satellite Pictures. He produced the feature length video From the Dust, which examines the question of human physical origins from a theological, historical and social perspective.

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Norman - #63537

July 27th 2011

Chris Tilling …”What is different according to the Genesis account is that God enters into relationship with humans.”

I believe Chris hits the nail on the head with this statement. Genesis states in 4:26 that Adam or his progeny first started believing in Him as civilizations began to form. This is the launching of the revealed story of the men of faith contrasted to those who did not know or recognize a comprehensible God. It becomes clear when examining the totality of Jewish literature predating and surrounding Christ that these men of faith were drawn out of humanity at large and consequently Adam as a true son of God was the first of many future sons and daughters. They were the origins of the ancient church through which Christ redeemed them and all faithful to God’s best plan.

This then is the story of how God established what He deemed good for all mankind to discern and understand about what one might call the “abundant life”. Christ is the crowning achievement of that accomplishment whereby He reconciles all faith bound mankind to God bestowing upon them God’s desire for every human to be made in His Image. It was a long and arduous journey from ancient human methods as demonstrated in the OT. Yet in Christ one is the recipient of this Divine knowledge come down to us whom have been animated from the dust of this Good earth. It is a glorious story if we can accept it.

God saw fit that humanity was worth allowing His son to die; thus Himself the creator testifying to His momentous concern for our need.

Dunemeister - #63541

July 28th 2011

Chris Tilling …”What is different according to the Genesis account is that God enters into relationship with humans.”

I believe this entirely misses the point. What is different according to the Genesis account is that humans are the intended results of his creative activity. Evolutionary theory, relying on random processes as it does, processes that are apparently non-teleological in the sense that they don’t have a particular “end” in view, implies that we are a (happy?) accident. I’ve read the posts about how randomness can create order, but that doesn’t solve the problem. Randomness can produce some kind of order or other, but that doesn’t imply or even coyly hint that it can produce all the order we see. Thus the real problem with evolution, understood as natural selection operating on sources of random genetic modification, is that it seriously undercuts the view that the universe, and particularly humans, are the specific objects of God’s creative power and love. At best, it can endorse deism, an absentee god, but not YHWH, the deeply involved and participatory, covenant-making God.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #63543

July 28th 2011

Dunemeister wrote:

Randomness can produce some kind of order or other, but that doesn’t imply or even coyly hint that it can produce all the order we see.

I agree with Dunemeister.  One cannot separate God’s Creation from God as some scientists try to do.  If we assume that randomness created the universe, then we also make the assumption that randomness can create order, but there is no EXPERIMENTAL evidence or confirmation of this.  Computer simulations are not random.  Order does not come from chaos, while order can breakdown into disorder. 

We live in an orderly universe, which has some random aspects to facilitate change.  We live in an orderly world, which also has unpredictable aspects, because it is physical and temporal.  Humans are created with aspects of order and change integrated into our person.  All this is rooted in the Source of the universe, God best known as YHWH.    

Jon Garvey - #63545

July 28th 2011

“One cannot separate God’s Creation from God as some scientists try to do.

Some theologians, too, Roger!

Random Arrow - #63546

July 28th 2011

Great thread. Wish I had time to do a sociometric survey on religious people to learn the factors involved for whether they believe the Bible is the original speech and not just originary speech. I’m returning to morphometrics now after a few years in clinic and away from academy. And I notice the origins of language owing heavily to measurement and notational features.

In the beginning ...

“In The Beginning ~ of Writing ~ Pre-Writing, Mystical and Rational ~ Morphometrics”


I haven’t appreciated Nancey Murphy enough until now.

Murphy - “One of the concerns that evolutionary biology raises for some Christians is the view that because evolution is a long drawn out process and because the evolutionary biologists themselves say that evolution is not toward anything—it is just from origins and it is not directed—that that somehow removes God’s purposes from the universe.”

Exactly. We don’t have good enough data yet on the degree and spectrum of this threat to believers. But her sense is spot-on. There’s really no end to religious folk protecting sacred teleologies. Darwin hardly adds anything more to the destruction and ironies of teleological thinking than Martin Marty’s prose history in, “The Irony of It All.” It’s almost impossible for religious folk to incorporate large number theory into their thinking as the wax-melting feature of teleology. And for all that is said about trust, it’s tragic how trust is threatened by observation.

Such a wonderful thread. Good to see Polkinghorne still at it!





Norman - #63550

July 28th 2011

I find it interesting that when I observe evolution I see God’s artistic handiwork while atheist and others see only random meaningless. One’s recognition of the design of nature as God breathed is not bound by science or evolution: indeed it is amplified. It’s the proverbial view of the glass half empty or half full individual perspective dependent upon ones suppositions. Considering evolution as overt randomness with what we now understand about its intricate processes just doesn’t seem to wash.

Throwing evolution out the window is akin to throwing the majesty of God out the door with it.

Random Arrow - #63552

July 28th 2011

Yes! Amazing how we can celebrate the refractoriness of poetry (say of Psalms, Song of Solomon, and look at the many readings of Revelation) and yet not celebrate the recalcitrancy of nature to our purposes. I sometimes wonder (no settled opinion) how hard-wired we might be to expect nature to suffer our foraging, hence our teleological feelings. Beats me. ~ Jim

Roger A. Sawtelle - #63555

July 28th 2011


That IS the problem.  Non-believers are conditioned to believe that Evolution, that is Darwinism, supports their view, while Christians like you and I see God’s handiwork in nature. 

It is interesting that people like Dawkins and Dennett do have a mystical view of nature, but they do not want to give the credit to God.  They want to have their cake and eat it too, acknowledging the wonder and beauty of nature, while holding on to their glorification of humans and science.

The question is: Which view is right, the meaninglessness of stupid nature or God as the Source of the physical, the biological, and the spiritual?  Few want to challenge the intellectual bareness of modern scientism as the counterpart to Christian fundamentalism.  

Norman - #63556

July 28th 2011


That is why I think it’s important for believers and non believers alike to hear believers speaking of evolution as God’s dominion instead of a dead arena.  When it is seen that the man or woman of faith can view evolution through the grandeur of God’s purview then perhaps more eyes will begin to see what we see.

Acutally Dawkins is not a purest when it comes to the randomness of evolution as he seems to leave open the door to alien implantation of the seeds of life. Of course where do the alien’s come from in a dead universe?

He essentially substitues Aliens for God as the originator of life, so he is comprimised himself.

Norman - #63558

July 28th 2011


I might add that I’m not inclined to let “Darwinian Evolution” be defined either by the non-believer or those faithful who have mislabeled it. Evolution is simply evolution and trying to equate it with a pejorative definition attributed to a namesake is simply semantic gamesmanship IMHO. There are better descriptions of a “dead materialistic randomness” idea of evolution than to categorically attribute all that baggage completely to Darwin. I think perhaps we may be overstepping when we do so.

In my opinion Evolution illustrates and demonstrates intelligence down to the smallest details of biological life. Yet it doesn’t stop there as the physical material universe also seems to work in harmony with the biological to have brought us to the apex of “life” as we know it. The episodic convulsions of the Universe and planet earth work hand in hand even in physical calamities and destructions of long ago eras to work out just right so that man may come to the point we now see with our own eyes what is unimaginable.

Man as we progressed and begun our civilizations have all embraced a search for that God of creation. Look at all the civilizations of the world that had no relationship with the ANE. Yet God and goodness appears to have been an innate quality that all men strive for even in the Americas where they were separated for 15 to 20 thousand years from the rest of Asian, African and European peoples. When European’s encountered the natives they were already equipped with the ability to know and recognize God. Apparently they have been for tens of thousands of years. It was in the fullness of time though that God put His personal stamp upon what He desired for those whom he created long ago.

Rom 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

I think God intends for His people to have a long time here on planet earth and 100,000 years from now there will be no improvemensts up the Great Commandment for men to follow. It has been set in stone upon the Cross for ever for all men to look upon.

G8torBrent - #63612

August 1st 2011

I think he would expect the evolutionary process to have occurred on the world of the hypothetical aliens, to be fair.

Norman - #63617

August 1st 2011

To be fair, I’ll quote Dawkins reply to Ben Stein

“BEN STEIN: What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in evolution?”

“DAWKINS: Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now, um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.”

So fairness deems that Dawkins is playing a little loose with his emotional need for a designer of some sort. In other words he’s looking for a creative answer to what he sees in evolution like the rest of us.

I’m not one who denies Evolution in the least and I’m comfortable with “Darwinian Evolution” except when it’s defined as a “dead” mechanism in the purest sense. It baffles me that intellectual hominids can study biological evolutionary processes such as “convergence” and fail to see a design system at play. I do not see how you get intelligence and beauty from inert dead material all by itself unless it’s been front loaded in some form or fashion to produce these organic actualities.

beaglelady - #63557

July 28th 2011

Good to see Polkinghorne still at it!

Isn’t he amazing? Last fall he came across the pond and delivered our fall theology lecture at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue.

Random Arrow - #63563

July 29th 2011

I’m jealous. Did he interact? Q/A?

beaglelady - #63567

July 29th 2011

YES! It was wonderful! We had read his book Theology in the Context of Science some weeks beforehand. So he gave his talk,  followed by a Q&A.  Then he did a book signing. And then those of us who had read his book got to have a dinner with him! You can’t beat that with a stick!!!

I could find a link to the audio portion of his talk if you’d like.

Random Arrow - #63569

July 29th 2011

Yes. Please link. Beaglelady, you might be able to help me. Would be so cool. This has been bugging me for a few months or more. I read a book review online for a Polkinghorne book. Maybe a year or so ago. I did not bookmark the article. I lost it. And there are so many others. The review included an interview. Polkinghorne analogized the bible to a scientist’s field journal. Like living anthropologically in an experimental diorama. He elaborated a little. I’m searching to learn which of his books that was! I’m currently reading Polkinghorne’s contribution in, “The Work of the Spirit: Pneumatology and Pentecostalism” (Welker). But maybe, “Theology in the Context of Science,” is where Polkinghorne elaborates this laboratory or field journal concept of the Bible? If not, do you know where?

beaglelady - #63571

July 29th 2011

Actually it wasn’t for the Fall lecture but for another series. I’m getting things mixed up.  No matter;  Polkinghorne was here and it was wonderful! Here’s the link to the audio and pdf of his talk:


The book you mention doesn’t sound familiar to me—sorry.  Since Fr. Polkinghorne doesn’t use email, you might try contacting his collaborator Nicholas Beale, who might know. Beale runs an untidy website for Fr. Polkinghorne:

You should also check out Nicholas Beale’s own blog:

Random Arrow - #63577

July 30th 2011

thank you! ~ Jim

Dunemeister - #63560

July 28th 2011

Actually, my point earlier was that randomness, if that is the basis for the genetic changes that produced big and beautiful you and me, undermines the view that humanity is the specific creation of God. Genesis teaches that human beings are the final triumph, the pinnacle of God’s creative activity. How can that be if dumb luck is all there was to it? Or are theistic evolutionists saying that these blind, random, nonteleological mechanisms inevitably produce human beings?

Again, evolutionary theory sits all right with deism, but honestly, I don’t see how it squares with the view that God intended to create human beings. The only way it could is to suggest that at least some of the genetic changes, although they appear random, were actually sovereignly decreed. Is that the solution?

Norman - #63561

July 29th 2011


I find it incredibly difficult to examine the evidence of evolution coming to the pinnacle of humans endowed with intelligence and then declare it as a random dead mechanism. It took the universe 15 Billion years to produce us and as far as we know it took at least 14 billion years for even biological life to come to fruition. If the universe was dead and there was no guiding hand then at the very least only dead physical material would still be its inhabitants. I wish I could fully explain God and His powers more explicitly yet simply looking around at the beauty of nature and what I can feel, see and touch convinces me that it is not a dead world as imagined by some.

I recommend one begin with Simon Conway Morris’s book “Life’s Solution” Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe “for concepts on this discussion.

Chip - #63562

July 29th 2011

Or are theistic evolutionists saying that these blind, random, nonteleological mechanisms inevitably produce human beings?

Maybe some are.  But if they are, if the outcome is really inevitable, then we’re dealing with some kind of front-loaded programming, which belongs in the ID camp.  I think others (and these are probably the majority) are trying to argue that the mechanisms are not blind or random—that God somehow “guided” or “directed” evolution, probably at key stages along the way. 

I see two problems with this. 
1) The mainstream literature again and again depicts us (and any other evolutionary outcome for that matter) as the result of a purposeless process that did not have us in mind.  And its not just philosophy bolted onto the science—its built into the heart of the theory itself. 

Let’s all remember that the primary driver of evolutionary change is random mutation coupled with natural selection.  In this model, even if natural selection is non-random (as it is sometimes descibed), all it can do is either accept or reject the truly random mutation that is dropped into its lap.  Thus, the only initiator of any change is randomness, since NS, which merely acts as a sort of filter, can neither create nor initiate anything on its own. 

2) Which of us if we had a goal to accomplish would choose such a methodology?  Why would God choose such an apparently random process to engineer what he says is a very intentional goal?  Furthermore, given his (ostensible) selection of such a methodology (in which is actions are completely hidden behind only apparent randomness), how fair is it to turn around in passages like Rom 1, and subsequently hold people responsible for not recognizing his handiwork! 

BL has some more work to do…

Cal - #63564

July 29th 2011

Random does not mean purposeless. And neither does upholding the construct by His very being take away from His sovereignty. It is along the lines of Deists and atheist critiques of Christians (along with justification by many Christians themselves!) that Creation is able to just be Creation by itself, as if it is a self sustaining construct. God upholds it all. So in a sense such a thing as gravity exists, it only exists because God upholds the world that contains such a phenomenon. Even if Evolution was to be said “random” or spoken of in terms of mutation, God Himself upholds such a process and He alone can guide it.

Chip - #63565

July 29th 2011

Random does not mean purposeless

Actually, it does.  According to the online etymological dictionary, random is defined as “having no definite aim or purpose” (my emphasis)

Holding to a contradiction while affirming God’s sovereignty doesn’t resolve the contradiction.

Cal - #63568

July 29th 2011

I should have clarified, random does not always mean purposeless. Random as in random mutation. You can play word games with defining, in webster’s dictionary random is “a haphazard course”, which haphazard is to mean “at chance”, which chance can be defined as “something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause”. Or it can be defined as “the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings”.

Clearly BioLogos affirms a Creator who made things to His good pleasure. Perhaps it is good you’re laying counter point so they don’t get sloppy, but it seems mighty vitriolic, but one can never know over type and keyboard. As for myself, I’m applying an equal counterweight, I’ve not declared a side as some have.

Merv - #63570

July 29th 2011

I’ll happily declare a side:  “random” (in this context) does not necessitate “without purpose”.  With all due respect to whatever dictionaries you can find this in, Chip, theistic evolutionists are going to be slightly more robust and specific—even mathematical, about the definition than what you may find in general public discourse where “random” often is used to imply exactly what you said. 

So earlier, when you said:  “1) The mainstream literature again and again depicts us (and any other
evolutionary outcome for that matter) as the result of a purposeless
process that did not have us in mind.  And its not just philosophy
bolted onto the science—its built into the heart of the theory itself. “

... you need to turn that exactly on its head.  Calling it a purposeless process is precisely a philosophy bolted to science (or rather a failed attempt to bolt a philosophy onto science).  In fact, such a statement is so incoherent it can’t even rise to the status of being wrong.  What does it mean for a *process* to not have something in mind?  Processes don’t have minds.  So it is nothing more than a knee-jerk religious reaction against creationism and an attempt to claim there is not creative or acting God—-all quite philosophical and religious claims with no science to back them up.  Biologos is way ahead of the curve on this one. 


Dunemeister - #63572

July 29th 2011


I’m sorry I just don’t see it. Scripture says that human beings were created by God; more than this, that we were created for a very specific purpose by God, to be His viceregents here on the earth, re-presenting the love of God to His created order. If humans were not created by divine fiat a la fundagelical young-earth creationism, and if we reject a front-loaded intelligent design, we are left with evolution. Evolution, as far as I understand it, requires that all life arose out of happenstance. If BioLogos is saying that it’s actually just apparent happenstance, that in reality God directed the process, ensuring that the right critters got the right genetic changes in the right circumstances so that humanity—the intended result—obtained, that at least gets us back to humans as the specific creation of God. This solution has other problems, but at least not this one.

If BioLogos is not saying that, then what can they say to account for the evident (at least to me) contradiction between a process that both operates randomly and produces an intended result?

It’s really this problem that stands between me and fully accepting evolutionary theory.

Norman - #63573

July 30th 2011


Remember that in Genesis Walton has pointed out that “created” from the ANE perspective does not necessarily imply physical creation. So defining the “creation” of man in Genesis is very likely the same as in the NT where man is “created” new through Christ. These are theological terms and mixing them with a physical application appears to take the concept out of its biblical framework. Notice below how Paul continues with God “creating” man but in this case it is in the image of Christ instead of in Adam.

Eph 2:10 for of Him we are workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works,

Eph 2:15 … that the two he might create in himself into one new man, making peace,

Eph 4:24 and to put on the new man, which, according to God, was created

Paul details this very issue in 1 Cor 15 as well in which he describes the “creative” change taking place regarding the newly “created” man in Christ.

1Co 15:49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Essentially when Adam was placed in the Garden beginning the relationship of faithful humanity with YHWH he was created just as you and I are when encountering God today as a new man in Christ. This recognition changes completely the framework that you are attempting to place upon the Genesis story line and essentially renders your arguments moot at their core foundation from the theological standpoint.

By the way the idea that the eternal all everything God of this world does not have the wherewithal to utilize the natural process that we observe for His good purpose is an extremely short sighted observation IMO. Calling processes such as evolution a dead random Godless mechanism just comes across to me as absurd from a logical viewpoint. That idea is the epitome of reading one’s preconceived arguments into an equation to hang on for arguments sake. I take umbrage at the idea that “the created” can limit God’s creative means in which he has given us the abilities to discern some of that process called evolution.

All faithful people have God as the “creator”; so there is little ultimate difference between a Theistic evolution creationist and a six day literal creationist except in the details of how life and humanity arose. However the Theistic evolutionist is very likely walking on better biblical hermeneutic ground than the literal reading creationist who doesn’t understand the ancient literatures intent.

Merv - #63574

July 30th 2011

Dunemeister, I think the phrase “apparent happenstance” is an excellent one because happenstance or chance or randomness, can be taken to imply ‘lack of direction’ by assumption only.    It is merely ‘apparent’ on at least a couple different levels—and here is an example restricted to only physical terms; so even atheists should be able to connect with it:  We call a coin flip ‘random’, and yet this does not mean that the outcome is ‘undetermined’.  We can all easily identify many factors (trajectory, spin, air currents, surface properties, etc.) that all very directly determine the outcome—nothing much ‘random’ about it in that sense.  Since predetermination of all those factors is beyond our capability, and since we see statistical confirmation of something we expect (~50% heads over many, many flips) —all that causes us to label it as random.  But it is only ‘apparently’ so, since actually physical factors determined each & every single outcome.  (This does not address the more embedded quantum randomness that would be one of those factors especially opaque to our observation.)

And all that without even pulling in any metaphysics.  As Norman discusses above, these things can be seen in a higher theological context by believers who should see creation not merely in physical terms—though I would insist that the physical aspect is necessarily a subset of what creation is to the believer.


Dunemeister - #63575

July 30th 2011

These are theological terms and mixing them with a physical application appears to take the concept out of its biblical framework.

Norman, I’m sorry, but this strikes me as nonsense. To imagine that Genesis 1 and 2 are not referring to the physical creation of the cosmos and life stretches credulity well beyond breaking. Of course, I allow that the word creation can have both literal and metaphorical meanings. Noting this possibility does not mean that we must (or even should or even can) regard that idea as metaphorical in Genesis. The fact that Paul uses creation metaphorically in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians to get at the significance of our new life in Christ does not licence our taking the concept that way in Genesis. It may well be that the concept is being used that way there, but you’ll have to make an argument for that. Pointing out the possibility is not an argument.

By the way the idea that the eternal all everything God of this world does not have the wherewithal to utilize the natural process that we observe for His good purpose is an extremely short sighted observation IMO.

I’ve never said that. I affirm that God does so. what I deny is that it’s impossible for undirected processes to achieve anyone’s (even God’s) intentions, especially intentions as specific as what the covenant-bearing creature that will share the life of God is supposed to be like. If evolution achieved that aim, it can only be because God constantly intervened to make sure the right mutations occurred. Otherwise, we have a picture of God where he sets evolution loose and then waits with bated breath to see what sort of things emerged, and finally, against all expectations (the odds were infinitessimally small), there arises a critter that is suitable for God to breathe his spirit into. Imagine God’s delight and surprise!

However the Theistic evolutionist is very likely walking on better biblical hermeneutic ground than the literal reading creationist who doesn’t understand the ancient literatures intent.

Well, at least here we can agree. Except that “better”, since a literal reading is so bad, doesn’t imply “good”.

vader - #63659

August 5th 2011

Hi everyone. I think Chip has a solid point there. Is evolution ateleological or teleological? If it is ateleological, which seems to be the consensus view in the literature at large as Chip notes, then I think this presents a problem to BL. The prime driver of evolution is random mutation coupled to natural selection whereby the criteria for selection is survival. While there is no doubt that complexity and beauty has resulted in the natural world as a result of this process, it begs the question of whether there is a commited author. Sure, it squares with a deistic picture of things, but I don’t think it fits easily with the Biblical depiction of God. Of course, if it was a teleological process, that is an entirely different story, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case at least for now. That said, and I speak as a complete non-specialist here, evolutionary computer algorithms (genetic algorithm, genetic programming, etc.) that emulate the evolutionary process to solve optimization problems are some of the best out there. Heavy on the computer resources, but the results they produce can be brilliant. So, assuming a God’s-eye point of view, I wouldn’t immediately discount evolution as a means of unfolding creation.

Norman - #63576

July 30th 2011

Dunmeister you stated ... “Norman, I’m sorry, but this strikes me as nonsense. To imagine that Genesis 1 and 2 are not referring to the physical creation of the cosmos and life stretches credulity well beyond breaking. “

Yes it does sound like nonsense when one expects Genesis to read literaly. However Genesis has been framed with a physical cosmos mistakenly for a long time. The original Hebrew concepts are well documented in their literature that predates the Greek Philosphicaly influenced church. The Hebrew intent is theologicaly driven not physicaly so. As long as one believes its physical then there is going to be little progress in understanding it properly.

Dunemeister - #63579

July 30th 2011

I don’t hold that the days are literal 24-hour periods, if that’s what you mean by “literal”. But I do insist that at least part of what the biblical account of creation is is an account of the creation of the cosmos. Yes, the account is framed theologically in order to do other things, too. Augustine and others have found within the biblical account resources to understand spirituality, for instance. Some here in the BL community hold that the account is framed in such a way as to tell the story of the creation of Israel. I’m cool with all that. I am NOT cool (for whatever that may be worth) with denying that the account is ALSO about the creation of the physical cosmos. For it is the idea of a literal creation that gives the metaphorical extensions of the idea their force, poignancy, and mystery (not to mention profundity and usefulness).

Bottom line acknowledging that the Genesis account is theologically driven/biased/determined/interested/putyourfavouriteadjectivehere does not imply that the account is not also literal—in the broad sense of saying that one of the theological claims made in the account is that God created the entire physical cosmos with human beings as the climax of creation. Denying this aspect of the account doesn’t “sound like” nonsense. It IS nonsense.

Norman - #63582

July 30th 2011

The biblical concept of the Heavens and Earth is indeed drawn from the physical aspects of Nature and it is assumed throughout scripture that God is the creator of it all. However the Hebrews used them as symbols and motifs to illustrate their theological constructs. Prime examples are found in the NT where Paul and the Apostles interpreted the Heavens and Earth as representative of Covenant governances that would be changed and renewed in the Day of Messiah. As an example the H & E described in Hebrews 1 is going to be rolled up and changed like a garment. Hebrews is not talking about the physical cosmos here but is talking about the change taking place through Christ and the New church.

Heb 1:10-12 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; (11) they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, (12) like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.

The Hebrew author comes back again in chapter 12 to illustrate that in the time of the giving of the Law through Moses that the earth was shaken and that at the time of judgment upon old covenant Judaism there is going to be another shaking of the Heavens and the Earth as occurred at Mt. Sinai. It’s quite clear that the author doesn’t imply that the H & E under discussion was the physical cosmos otherwise what happened to the physical earth at Mt. Sinai. The new shaking of the H & E would be at the judgment upon Judaism as prophesied by Christ concerning the destruction of their Temple worship and the dissolving of their abilities to sacrifice by the priesthood. This occurred in the NT generation when Titus surrounded Jerusalem and leveled the city including the Temple as prophesied in Daniel 9 and 12.

Heb 12:26- At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens

These terms are related to the Hebrew concept of God’s governance of His called people and the messianic change that is taking place through Christ as His New Kingdom is being ushered in.

Heb 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,

To understand biblical origins language you must understand the eschatological messianic terminology of the Hebrews. Some Hebrews grasped and received Christ the messiah and others didn’t and rejected Him and His followers. It is the same in Rev 21:1 where it is often misunderstood that the New Heavens and Earth without a Sea is in Heaven but most fail to read the rest of that chapter carefully and notice that it’s apocalyptic imagery envisioning a city that comes down from Heaven where God dwells with His people. The Sea in the OT was metaphor for the Gentile Nations and now through Christ there is no more Sea as the Two Men[Jew and Gentile] have been created into one new man.

Rev 21:1-3 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (2) And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

Eph 2:15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two


So again I restate that the Hebrews had a different understanding of the concept of Heavens and Earth than the typical Christian has for centuries. It has no semblance to what most people today actually believe it does. Of course this is a hard pill to swallow for those of us who have been instructed otherwise for generations.

It’s easy to casually disagree with this understanding but actually disproving it will be quite the challenge.

Dunemeister - #63586

July 30th 2011

It’s easy to casually disagree with this understanding but actually disproving it will be quite the challenge. 

All I’m saying is that I acknowledge the ways in which “heavens and earth” language can be used metaphorically. But I contend that the ancient Hebrews, the Apostles, the Fathers, the Apologists, and the Doctors of the Church, not to mention the schismatics (even the gnostics, although they attributed creation to a lesser god) are univocal in asserting that Genesis 1 and 2, whatever else they might be doing, refers to (although doesn’t describe literally) the creation of the physical cosmos. Yes, the theologically motivated text is doing MORE than that, but not less.

To be consistent with your theory, we would have to say that resurrection is likewise not literal because Paul uses it metaphorically to describe the restoration of all creation in Romans 8. Never mind that such language is used literally elsewhere in scripture. Resurrection is a theological concept. Bitter pill for those of us who have been instructed otherwise for generations.

Norman - #63589

July 31st 2011

And all I’m saying is that the Hebrew concepts were consistent from Genesis to Revelation on their metaphorical application to the Heavens and Earth. That consistency is foundational as it illustrates their literature was unswerving for hundreds of years as they carried forth their messianic expectations until Christ arrived.

The early church fathers [post first century] often believed the earth was only 6000 years old because they didn’t grasp the metaphorical usage of the term “a day as a thousand years”. Therefore when they interpreted the six days of Genesis 1 they missed that one little detail and took it literally as a thousand years. This problem has been propagated in the church for centuries and is still with us via the Young Earth Creationist evangelical crowd today. I don’t hang my hat on ancient church traditional misinterpretations of Hebrew concepts otherwise I’d be a YEC if I followed that crowd.

Walton is also going against the collective church history himself by trying to get us to recognize that Gen 1 is an ANE Temple creation account that is not physical in nature. It’s the same problem with Revelation where all the varying church constructs of Pre, Post and AMILLENNIALISM are simply a hodgepodge of ancient and modern church screw-ups interpreting the eschatological time of the messiah. Correcting all these “traditional church” constructs simply waste our time as it’s better to go back to the original times and their literature and sort things out without our historical biases having to be filtered out. In other words a systematic academic approach requires one separate themselves from historic traditional concepts and rebuild from the original foundation of the church; not what has been passed down.

Once we discard the collective baggage of the historical church that has been handed along over the centuries we are then able to rationally deal with a true biblical understanding of what is being presented. That discarding is typically more emotional for the faithful investigator than it is intellectual. Your mind won’t go where it can’t emotionally settle in. Wanting to be true to a biblical investigation necessitates one come to grips with the emotional walls that have been constructed first. It then requires that one broadly master the vast Hebrew literature both from the OT and NT including Second Temple Judaism and First Century Christian literature. The short answer is these discussions are much more complex than a casual biblical student may grasp and actually have enough tools to be effective. This may sound condescending and elitist but it’s the reality.

Norman - #63590

July 31st 2011

by the way, I did not use profane language above where
church #####-ups was blanked out. I’ll change the wording to church mess-ups and see what happens.

Dunemeister - #63587

July 30th 2011

My previous post will have to be my final word. I fear this is turning too much into a debate between Norman and myself, and that’s not what anyone wants.

G8torBrent - #63592

July 31st 2011

Darn. I had just popped a bowl of popcorn.

Papalinton - #63594

July 31st 2011

Still trying to fit the bible mythos to the science.

I guess we all need hobbies.

Polkinghorne:  “We have to recognize that God acts as much through natural processes as in any other way. The idea that somehow the creator of the world, who ordains the character of nature, does not work through natural processes is really a silly idea.”

This is the new rationalized apologetic that theists have been attempting to sell to their more literalist and neanderthalic comfreres.  Needless to say, the history of Apologetics is all about ‘fitting’ the mythos to the scientific facts and truths as they are revealed.  Religion is a moving feast.  It doesn’t add to the overall growth of improved knowledge and understanding of the world, the cosmos and the human condition.  Christianity follows science.  Christianity is a slave to science. Religion is a sausage-machine that takes the facts of science [indeed it is mandated to as science does not change in the light of theist philosophy or thought in any meaningful way] and adds spices and condiments to make christian sausages, or Islamic sausages, or Hindu sausages, or Jehovah’s Witness sausages.

I might add Alister McGrath seems a bit of a bully with his christian polemic.

Cal - #63595

July 31st 2011

“I guess we all need hobbies.”

And Lo! Here cometh Paplinton back into the fray.

Papalinton - #63597

August 1st 2011

Hi Cal

G8torBrent - #63613

August 1st 2011

There seems to be a good bit of kvetching over randomness and order and purpose. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive concepts or factors. 

First of all, the randomness is not so random. It is not genetic material that makes us less likely to live that gets passed along. That would be truly random. It’s the good stuff, the stuff that promotes life. And if there is no Deity, than death is as “good” as life; existence is no better than non(never)-existence.

Consider this example, though. If I roll a small boulder downhill, there is going to be many random twists and turns and bounces. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be at the bottom of the hill, more or less where I expect it to be. Which side of the boulder will be up? How much earth and mud will it bear? Does it matter? I guess it depends on what my purpose was. 

I think the same could be said of God’s creation. And to speak of it so, I don’t think I am being overly deistic. Imagine on that hill where I rolled the boulder down, I had built in certain slopes and divots and bits of soft grass and mud and some trees. My influence could said to be seen in the environment I set up. I may not have followed the big rock down the hill, ever touching and guiding and coaxing the boulder, but I would’ve been involved nonetheless.
Jeff L - #63615

August 1st 2011

That’s an illustration I’ve sometimes used, only with water rather than a small boulder. I think it’s how God often works in human affairs, not simply in the creation process.

Cal - #63616

August 1st 2011

I like the example G8torbrent but it fundamentally lacks even more than what God in Christ is doing.

Take all of what you said and then add that said builder of the course is also sustaining the very fabric of reality by his whim, that without him being there would be nothing. Also every ounce of wind that blows, even the reality that boulders roll down hills instead of up was apart of said creation.

This is beginning to scratch the fundamental reality of our Lord.

G8torBrent - #63618

August 1st 2011

I completely agree, Cal. I was just keeping it on a surface level. 

Jeff, I think Scripture teaches that He moves that way and then some in human affairs. The course of His-story is set. But if He doesn’t intervene, the miracle of salvation doesn’t happen. The raising of life from the dead—I have in mind my own dead-in-my-sin existence before I was saved—is not a naturally-occurring event in this wonderful, intricate, complex world God has made. He has to get involved. (And I’m pretty glad He did.)
Roger A. Sawtelle - #63620

August 2nd 2011

The point is that humanity does not live in a vacuum.  “Atheists” seem to think that humanity lives in a universe bounded by “nature.”  In a sense this is okay because we believe that nature is created by God, but it is not okay because nature cannot think and nature did not create itself, so to give nature the highest honor is false and idolatrous.

The Judeo-Christian tradition says that God -YHWH is the Source of Nature and people cannot truly understand the universe until they accept the fact that God is the Author of natural law and moral law.

In my understanding of this situation, the universe is not determined in any mechanistic fashion, but it is shaped by autonomous forces of nature, humanity, and divine, which together give form and shape to the human world, in which we live.  We live in a physical, intellectual, and spiritual Reality that demands a scientific, philosophical, and theological understanding.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #63614

August 1st 2011

The problem as I see it is that modern science has rejected teleology.  This means that it maintains that things and people have no meaning or purpose.  This is a serious conflict between theology and science, including Darwinian evolution. 

The work most commonly cited as the basis of the rejection of teleology is Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity .  A careful reading of this work indicates it is built on flawed reasoning, so it is hard for me to understand why BioLogos seems agree that evolution that evolution has no purpose.   


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