Crossing the Bridge

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December 21, 2009 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

Crossing the Bridge

Recently BioLogos' Karl Giberson was interviewed by Marcio Campos for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo's Tubo De Ensaio (i.e. "Test tube") section. What follows is a translated transcript of that interview, which we will be posting in three installments. Here is the second.

Campos: You mention cases of mockery against creationists (like in The Simpsons and Family Guy episodes) and say that this strategy isn't very successful in making people accept evolution. "Creationism can be hard to dislodge", you write later. How can one make people cross the bridge and finally see the compatibility between evolution and their religious beliefs?

Giberson: The key for most people is developing an understanding of the Bible that goes beyond what they learned in Sunday School. Sunday Schools teach Bible stories about the early chapters of Genesis that are appropriate for children, but then they don’t revisit those stories to help young adults find a “grown up” way to read Genesis. Discovering that the Genesis stories contain all sorts of clues indicating that they are not literal history can be very liberating for Christians. If we encountered the Genesis stories of creation first as adults we might not be so quick to assume that this account of talking snakes, a magical garden, God “coming down” to walk with Adam and Eve every day was supposed to be actual history. Even the names of the principal characters are an important clue. The Hebrew word “Adam” simply means “man.” “Eve” means “life.” Imagine a story in English about a couple named “Man” and “Life” in a magical garden. Wouldn’t we immediately understand that this is not intended to be historical?

Also, important, but secondary to Scriptural issues, is the fact that there is a mountain of evidence for evolution. The recent evidence from the mapping of genomes proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, that humans share a common ancestor with other primates. Presenting this new evidence effectively is important to help people make the transition.

Campos: Which approach is more effective with individual evolution naysayers: showing the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution (appealing for people's rationality), or showing that evolution doesn't harm belief in God (appealing for their religiosity)?

Giberson: Protecting religion from supposed attacks by evolution is critically important. Most people are far more concerned about being on the right page with their religion than they are with their science. The problem for evangelical Christians, unfortunately, is that there are a host of really bad books circulating that argue that science supports creation. For laypeople it just seems like a battle between a “science they like” and a “science that assaults their religion.” It doesn’t set up as “science” versus “religion.”

Campos: I may be wrong, but in Chapter Seven of Saving Darwin (one of the keys of the book in my opinion) you seem quite pessimistic and disillusioned about how the debate on evolution became a cultural war where the scientific truth now matters less than destroying the opponent. Have we really reached a point of no return? Why?

Giberson: A few weeks ago I was in a remarkable museum in Kentucky run by Answers in Genesis, the world’s largest and most effective promoter of young earth creationism. They have a huge bookstore and, as I walked around in it, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the efforts to undermine evolution. There were hundreds of books, DVDs, curricular materials for every age group, including pre-schoolers, mugs with logos, T-shirts with anti-evolution messages and so on. Answers in Genesis is a huge multi-million dollar anti-science propaganda machine, devoted to convincing Christians that they must not believe in evolution. They have magazines, an extensive web site, a program of workshops, a staff of “scientists,” endless books, and more. This entire effort would collapse if they became convinced that evolution was true.

I find it hard to imagine how scientific fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett could ever make peace with religious fundamentalists like Ken Ham, who heads up Answers in Genesis.

Campos: You leave the reader wondering, along the book, how God fits in the evolution scheme and, in the conclusion, you give a great description of how evolution doesn't mean atheism. But in an evolutionary process driven by competition, natural selection, random genetic mutations, doesn't "God's creative activity" seem to play a minor role for an almighty being? What would you say to someone wishing for a somehow bigger "God's presence" in the process?

Giberson: In the final analysis, we must look to science. Does it appear that God was constantly intervening in dramatic ways throughout natural history? We must not put God in a box of our own making and insist that his actions conform to our sense of how God should behave.

I might suggest, however, that our skeptic might think hard about how they are looking for God in the world. Are they looking for God in the gaps where science is still searching for explanation? Or are they looking for God in the grandeur of a sunset, the nobility of a volunteer at a soup kitchen, the laughter of a child. We inadvertently sign on to the theology of Richard Dawkins when we insist that God must function as an engineer and his actions must be clearly identified by science.


Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

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Kyle - #1073

December 21st 2009

“But in an evolutionary process driven by competition, natural selection, random genetic mutations, doesn’t “God’s creative activity” seem to play a minor role for an almighty being?”

The idea that seemingly random developments in the world can’t be part of God’s divine work actually seems like one of the easier creationist objections to overcome.

After all, each and every one of us is here on this earth because one of a million (exact number?) sperm found its way to an egg.  That’s a pretty random event—yet we as Christians acknowledge that God uses those events to shape human beings he knew before the beginning of time.

Great interview.  I’d love to see more discussion on how to talk to those who hold to creationist views in both a thoughtful and loving manner.


Glen Davidson - #1084

December 21st 2009

But in an evolutionary process driven by competition, natural selection, random genetic mutations, doesn’t “God’s creative activity” seem to play a minor role for an almighty being?

First of all, we don’t see some grand design in life, which is one of the reasons we don’t accept “intelligent design.”  What are you going to do, take what has all of the appearances of life evolving without a telos (unless it’s of a more intangible sort, as many of the religious state), and claim that instead everything was designed, simply because you want life to be what it is not?

The trouble is that if you want to demand that life comes from something other than competition, natural selection, and genetic mutations, then you logically have to admit that it was designed (in a way that looks amazingly like evolution did it) and God then abandoned his designs to competition, natural selection, and genetic mutations.  Does that make sense scientifically, or even theologically?

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Glen Davidson - #1085

December 21st 2009

Continuing (why is the limit suddenly so small?):

What I see the IDists doing is demanding that we see design in certain parts, while complaining any time we point out the less than intelligent bits that so plainly point toward evolution (evidence which they’d accept as “natural” if it just didn’t go “too far”).  This is supposed to be more respectful of God than taking all of the evidence at face value, even as they credit God for the disease and death that evolution explains.  And while Giberson and others may be as respectful as they wish, let’s not forget that the DI fellows are often quite disparaging of theistic evolutionists in return.

I do think that it’s probably the best strategy here not to satirize creationists, but I fail to see how it doesn’t work on the Simpsons and elsewhere.  If it hurts socially to be spouting the ignorance of ID, then being told that you can be intelligent and Christian “can be very liberating for Christians.”

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Brian - #1108

December 22nd 2009

Continued…

Third, you often oversimplify the issues by implying that anyone with questions or issues about macroevolutionary theory is a young earth creationist.  For the record, I have many issues with macroevolutionary theory, but I have no problem whatsoever with an old earth.  The fact that you don’t seem to recognize such distinctions makes your arguments seem somewhat shallow. 

Along these lines, you put the word “scientist” in quotes in your piece.  I’m wondering who you are referring to.  Is this just YECs?  Anyone non-orthodox?  What qualifications—other than ideology, of course—are necessary to be a scientist, and not a “scientist?” 

Finally, why is it that in your pieces you guys consistently attack the views of evangelicals you disagree with and are either silent or fawningly positive toward the likes of Dawkins and Dennet?  Why is it important for Christians to “make peace” with these “fundamentalists” (your terminology) when it is they and their many ideological brethren who consistently and vehemently deny your assertion that there is “compatibility between evolution and… religious beliefs”?


Brian - #1109

December 22nd 2009

Seems my first attempt to post got lost…  this one should come first. 

Hi Karl,

As I’ve read through your stuff over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a few broad areas that make your stuff difficult to accept.  I offer the following for your consideration. 

The first is simply a matter of tone:  Folks who don’t agree with your views haven’t yet come to a “grown up” way…”  Just a suggestion, but if you drop the patronization you’ll get a more serious hearing. 

Second, your content is non-specific and poorly-defined.  In this piece you discuss, for example, the “mountain of evidence for evolution” and cite the mapping of genomes as support.  But this supports common descent (a notion supported by many ID advocates), not necessarily macroevolutionary theory as it is broadly defined.  IMO, the word “evolution” is quite malleable and this malleability is often exploited by advocates of the theory to make it seem more solid than it actually is.  You do your readers a disservice if you repeat the practice.


Darrel Falk - #1117

December 22nd 2009

Brian,

In 1108, you ask an important question that has been noted by others as well.  Why does it seem that our primary focus is on Christians who are philosophically opposed to evolution, rather than atheists are philosophically opposed the notion of a Creator?  First of all, I would like to point out that Karl has written a whole book, highly acclaimed, that does exactly what you ask for.  It is called “Oracles of Science.”  I think if you read it, you’ll see he does an outstanding job of addressing your concern.

  So why, in this space, don’t we spend more time addressing the fallacies of new atheism? Currently we have defined our primary audience and focus as people like ourselves— Christians.  We love the church every bit as much as we love science, and we want to see the day when the current culture war between science and faith is over.  We also want to explore the theological, philosophical and scientific frontiers that are associated with this understanding that God creates through the process of natural selection.

Blessings,
Darrel


Darrel Falk - #1118

December 22nd 2009

One more point, Brian:  You’ve also asked that we get more specific and I want to emphasize that I think you are right about this.  I think you’ll find us getting more and more specific in coming days.  On my post next Monday, I will be presenting some thoughts I have about “Signature in the Cell.”  Stay tuned.  Soon after that, we’ll have a White Paper by biologist, Jeff Schloss.  This paper was first vetted at the landmark New York workshop that we’ve discussed in this space.  It is highly specific, but also wonderfully accessible to a general audience. 

Remember though we have chosen to focus on a Christian audience for now. Agnostics and atheists are more than welcome to follow along…but we are a group of Christians communicating with brothers and sisters who have been stumbling over an issue that actually ought to have enlightened our understanding of the God of Scripture. Ultimately, many will come to see that the stumbling block is actually a stepping stone, an upward boost that leads us closer to God.

Darrel


John A. Davison - #1150

December 23rd 2009

The fact remains that a living God cannot be demonstrated. That does not trouble me. What troubles me is that atheists like P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins go much further by insisting that a God or Gods never existed. That is unacceptable. Everything we know for certain points to a planned evolution which I believe terminated with the present biota, a biota that I believe will never be replaced and is already undergoing substantial extinction. I concur with Robert Broom that there was a Plan, a word he capitalized much to the dismay of the Darwinians. I further believe the Plan has been fully realized with the present biota, doomed like its predecessors to extinction.

jadavison.wordpress.com


John A. Davison - #1151

December 23rd 2009

Natural selection, the sine qua non of the Darwinian fairy tale, is very real but has always been anti-evolutionary, serving only to maintain the status quo for as long as possible, a losing strategy as the fossil record makes very plain. I am not alone in this appraisal.

“The struggle for existence and natural selection are not progressive agencies, but being, on the contrary, conservative, maintain the standard.”
Leo Berg, Nomogenesis, page 406.


VMartin - #1190

December 25th 2009


Even the names of the principal characters are an important clue. The Hebrew word “Adam” simply means “man.” “Eve” means “life.” Imagine a story in English about a couple named “Man” and “Life” in a magical garden. Wouldn’t we immediately understand that this is not intended to be historical?

Do you mean that account of events sounds somehow different in Hebrew than in English? It sounds like Kabala. In that case professor John Davison is right as well, because “evolution” derives from “evolve” and it’s meaning in Latin clearly indicates that process was preprogrammed. Merriam-Webster:

Etymology: Latin evolvere to unroll, from e- + volvere to roll.


Daneil Ketch - #1195

December 25th 2009

Hello Gentlemen,
I am assured theses comments will be wiped out assuredly as the previous ones have. Glen’s idea of evidence is “many evolutionists theorize” and I agree many do…so what? It dosen’t make them correct. A good theory is testable - it makes predictions, and it can be falsified. The Darwinian theory of evolution is not in the same category. It is still very immature. Yes, life changes over time, that’s the fact of evolution. But a theory that explains how and to what extent, (e.g, the boundaries of the mechanism(s), we don’t have one.

Sorry Glen did that hurt?


Daneil Ketch - #1196

December 25th 2009

“My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.”


Mark - #1256

December 28th 2009

Darrell: “So why, in this space, don’t we spend more time addressing the fallacies of new atheism?”

I could not agree more.


Brian - #1267

December 28th 2009

Thanks for the responses. 

A quick follow-up: In your view, can all of creation with all of its fantastic complexity be completely accounted for by unguided natural processes alone?  I believe most mainstream evolutionary biologists would say that it does and was wondering if this is what you mean when you say “evolution.”

If yes, it seems to me that any references to god become either trivial or meaningless, a narrative gloss superimposed on top of philosphical naturalism, which does all the heavy lifting.  Any god in this model is at best a deistic one, observing (or not) a process he had nothing to do with.  Pretty tough to reconcile this with just about any xian theological perspective. 

If no—if he actively creates, causes, or intervenes in the created order in any way—then certainly you have some opinion on what he may have actively accomplished, and what may have been done through undirected means.  What did he actually do in your view?  To what extent does your knowledge of science inform your understanding of this distinction?


Charlie - #1576

January 2nd 2010

All of the conflict that arises between science and religion is fairly obvious to me.  Science looks at evidence and from it, theories are either strengthened or weakened, leading to our human definitions of truth.  Science is unbiased in that it openly accepts change to “truth” if new evidence arises.  Also, science makes us humans humbly accept there is much we do not understand.  Because of the immense amount we do not understand, religion enters the lives of many to give them a satisfactory answer.  These answers are based solely on one’s interpretation of scripture.  Interpretations are made in religion either to explain the unexplained or to support an ethical way of living.  I think religion is good for many in the sense that if develops great morals, however we must all accept that religion explaining the unexplained is not scientific.  The answers it provides is a hypothesis supported by no data.  It is because religion goes against the scientific method, that there is great conflict between religion and science.  Sure someone can interpret the Bible around today’s scientific truths, but no one can determine truth without evidence.


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