From the Dust: Framing the Debate
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.
"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.