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Defending the Truth or Building a Stumbling Block?

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June 24, 2014 Tags: Biblical Interpretation, Creation & Origins, Science & Worldviews

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

Defending the Truth or Building a Stumbling Block?

I was so happy, nestled on a couch between two good friends at our church’s annual women’s retreat. The speaker was describing a biblical approach to counseling. In particular, she emphasized our gifts as women for helping and nurturing. “We are life givers,” she said. “This goes all the way back to the Garden. The world wants to remove distinctions between men and women, and to remove our status as image bearers.” Amen, I thought. “Our story is that of Creation”, she went on. “What’s the world’s story for how we got here?” “Evolution!” a chorus of voices replied. I sighed and made eye contact with another biologist in the group. She looked like I felt—disappointed.

I love my church. I love the high view of Scripture and worship that our leaders maintain. I love the emphasis on living in community and serving our world. I am grateful that even though my view on origins is different from that of my pastor, he and the rest of the elders have supported me over the years as I have sought to reconcile science and theology. Yet as my retreat experience shows, it is not always easy to be a biologist in a Bible-believing church. I think it would even be harder to become a Christian if you were a biologist confronted with such an environment.

Building a Stronger Foundation for Faith

I haven’t always accepted evolution. In fact, for a long time I didn’t want it to be true. All I knew was that it seemed to be a creation story for non-Christians. It’s true that there are many who use evolutionary science to support an atheistic worldview. But I’ve come to understand that this is by no means a necessary outcome of understanding the science.

I grew up deep in the heart of Texas, which in turn is deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. As a kid, I loved studying nature and could usually be found climbing trees, catching butterflies, or looking at all manner of things under my grandfather’s old microscope. I also loved God and the Bible. I came to faith in Christ at summer camp when I was nine and spent much time memorizing Scripture and attending church with my family. I even repeatedly shared the Gospel with my dog, Tuffy, because Jesus surely died for her sins, too.

As a teenager I thought deeply about matters of science and faith. Once I presented my dad with a list of Big Questions ranging from “What’s on the other side of a black hole?” to “What activities are there in heaven?” But when I went off to college, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of new ideas that would challenge my faith. Centenary College, in Shreveport, Louisiana, is a true gem of the South—a small liberal arts college with a Methodist connection. It was a rich intellectual environment, and there were many opportunities for fellowship with other Christians. But like many college students, I found it all too easy to avoid serious commitment to any congregation or campus ministry group, and this “untethering” made me feel rather lonely in my faith walk.

In my freshman year I took a Bible survey class and learned about other ancient creation stories that were eerily similar to the early chapters of Genesis. Also there were lots of other mysterious writings that weren’t included in the New Testament—the early church had decided which books to include. And there were loads of textual inconsistencies I’d never noticed before. How could I have never heard about these things? It had never occurred to me to ask how the Bible had come to be and how we could still say this is God’s word when there was clearly so much human intervention. With no resources to work through these things, the very foundation of my faith seemed to crumble. Meanwhile, many of the Christians I knew seemed either anti-intellectual or hypocritical—myself included. I continued to read my Bible every morning and go to church most weeks (often sitting in the back row, analyzing everything I heard with paralyzing skepticism), but I had serious doubts about Christianity.

I set out to major in biophysics and eventually added a math major as well. I was good at science and loved the elegance and beauty of it. But I avoided the one area I felt might drive a nail in the coffin of my weak faith—evolution. One biology professor on campus was an open advocate of evolution and Darwin. I am ashamed to say that it occurred to me more than once that she might be the Antichrist.

In the last semester of my senior year, the Lord gave me a gift. I began to attend a Bible study at the home of a young professor in the English department. She and I met regularly over coffee. I grilled her with four years of unanswered questions. She was the first person I met who displayed both a deep love for Christ as revealed in the Bible and a passion for scholarship and rigorous thinking. Through her, God worked powerfully in my life to restore my faith.

Becoming an Evolutionary Creationist

With a voracious appetite for theological and scientific knowledge, I arrived in California for graduate school in biology. I joined a computational cell biology laboratory focused on studying the dynamics of the cell’s internal scaffold, the cytoskeleton.

While my work was not directly focused on evolution, the topic was everywhere around me, just as creationism was part of the culture of the South where I grew up. Confronted almost daily by my ignorance of the science of evolution, I decided to embark on a study. I was confident that if Christianity were true, it could withstand even the toughest questions. And if it couldn’t, I didn’t want any part of it.

So, I set out to read a series of books from multiple perspectives. In 2006, world-famous geneticist Francis Collins published The Language of God, in which he described his radical conversion from atheism to Christianity and laid out a number of compelling lines of evidence for evolution. My heart filled with joy as I turned the pages and saw so many things falling into place. It didn’t answer all my questions (and the more I learn, the more questions I have), but I found a place of rest, both mentally and spiritually. This was another gift from God.

In the coming months I connected with others who shared Collins’ evolutionary creation perspective. They loved science because it revealed the secret workings of God’s good creation and helped them worship God better. But they also loved the Bible and didn’t try to gloss over the difficult parts. And most importantly, they loved Christ’s church, despite what her members were saying about scientists. I felt like I had come home.

Open Questions

Several years later, I still have lots of questions; some are about science and some about theology and biblical interpretation. For starters, I am unsure of the extent to which natural selection acting upon random mutation drives evolution. This is a hotly contested question in evolutionary biology. Many Christians might be confused by this, since we so often hear scientists claim that “evolution is a fact.” What is not contested is that all the diversity of life of earth, including humans, shares a common ancestry. To be sure, many relationships have yet to be worked out. But it seems undeniable, especially given recent genetic evidence, that humans share a common biological ancestor with other species. However, the specific physical processes driving evolution are still under investigation.

Common ancestry of humans with other species raises immediate questions of biblical interpretation. Doesn’t acceptance of evolution require rejection of the Genesis account of human origins? Indeed, it is hard to reconcile evolution with the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as the first and only parents of the human race. But evolutionary science is silent on whether Adam and Eve were historical figures; it merely states that there was never a time when just two people roamed the earth. Perhaps Adam and Eve were the first two people with whom God began a relationship? In the fullness of time, he called them out for a purpose, just as he did with Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and pretty much everyone else in the Bible. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve, which they broke when they fell into sin. As our representatives, their sin became our sin.

I am aware that many Old Testament scholars, even conservative ones, feel there are good reasons to think Adam and Eve were not historical figures. I respect that. I don’t think the Gospel hangs in the balance, whatever the case. Christianity depends on the historical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, whose sacrifice on the cross redeemed us from our sins.

I also have questions about deep time and suffering. Humans have been around about 200,000 years, which sounds like a long time until you consider that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. What was God doing all that time before we existed? I don’t know, but I suspect he was delighting in his good creation. And what exactly does Paul mean in Romans 8 when he says that the creation was subjected to futility and groans for the revealing of the sons of God? It is hard for me to attribute all pain, death, and suffering to humanity’s fallen state (as many Christians do) for two reasons. First, physical death has been around since the dawn of life on earth, long before humans existed. And part of our creation mandate—given before sin entered the picture—was to subdue the earth (Gen 1:28). The need for “subduing” implies some amount of natural disorder existed in the beginning. Second, while death is surely our enemy to be vanquished in the end, the Bible often describes death and suffering being used to serve redemptive ends. Jesus declared that a man wasn’t born blind because of anyone’s sin, but “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Paul says we must rejoice in our suffering, because suffering produces endurance, character, and hope (Rom 5:3-4). Indeed, “this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). And most importantly, the cross of Christ was not some cosmic cleanup job, a Plan B devised when humans first sinned; it was ordained from the beginning (Acts 2:23). I can’t begin to understand all this, but it is clear that “all death is the result of sin” is too easy of an answer.

As I see it, evolution is an elegant and beautiful means by which the earth brings forth living creatures (Gen 1:24) under God’s providential hand. The idea of sharing an ancestor with a chimpanzee doesn’t offend me in the slightest. Rather I am humbled when I consider that God chose us from all his creatures to bear his image and become his sons and daughters. I look forward to the day when Christians will worship the awesome God of creation without rejecting the testimony of his works revealed in the fabric of the created order.

Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at The BioLogos Foundation. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision software tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton.

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Zander Hamilton - #85864

June 24th 2014

Im new to the site, and I really like what I just read!

I just took an astronomy class, and we learned that there were 100 trillion suns in our galaxy alone, and 100s of trillions of galaxies in the observable universe.  Do you believe that life has evolved on other planets?  What would the existance of intelligent life on other planets mean for our faith?

Kathryn Applegate - #85872

June 25th 2014

Thanks for reading!  I rather hope life has evolved elsewhere - God created such abundant life here on earth; I think it would be fitting with his extravagance and wisdom to do so.  I’ve been helped by CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy when thinking about what life on other planets might mean for our faith.  God could certainly reveal himself to other intelligent life forms and even bring about atonement (if needed).

Jesse Cadd - #85867

June 24th 2014

This is good stuff.  As a complementarian who is also an evolutionary creationist, I have found it sad that there isn’t more work being done in this area.  It would be interesting if Biologos would do some specific articles on the intersection of those subjects.

Merv - #85871

June 25th 2014

Hello, Zander and Jesse—and welcome to the forum.  (I’m not any kind of official ‘welcomer’ here, but just another long-time lurker who also appreciates resources like those found here.)

Zander, the question on the existence of intelligent life elsewhere isn’t a new one, and respected Christians of old have been on both sides of that question though I can’t remember names to list as examples at the moment.  In an important sense, we already believe in intelligent extraterrestrial life if we accept the existence of a spirit world.  But even if we limit the question to physically manifested life like us, the Bible doesn’t have anything to offer that would preclude that possiblity. 

Jesse, this vastly growing collection of essays is already a large body of accumulated work that you can access.  If you want to see theological work (say, about the temple readings of the testaments by Walton) you can put a key word ‘temple’ in the search box in the upper right corner.  Or if you decide you like the work of an author you can enter ‘Walton’ (I would highly recommend all his essays contributed here.)  Or if you want to see more science you can read essays by Venema or others that explicate in clear and accessible ways how evolution works or why various phenomena are taken as evidence for common ancestry, for example.  And don’t forget to click below an essay to sample the comments.  These often will flesh out challenges and clarifications that are themselves a valuable resource, though I understand Biologos deletes the comments after some period of time.  But there are many valuable resources here.  I hesitate to continue listing authors as many good ones will be left out—but do be sure to check out Ted Davis’ various series if you are interested in the history and historical people involved in science and Christianity.

Gregory - #85873

June 25th 2014

Thanks for sharing more of your story, Kathryn. It seems that many of us have had a welcome intervention of some kind from a professor, grilled with questions, somewhere during our studies.

My question is wrt section 2: “Becoming an Evolutionary Creationist”. Is it appropriate or necessary to label yourself a ‘creationist’ or would it perhaps be better to drop the ‘creationist’ term altogether? The section could have been entitled “Accepting Evolutionary Creation” instead, for example.

The reason I ask is because, the way I see it, ‘creation’ is the qualified noun, ‘evolutionary’ is the qualifier, and ‘creationist’ is the ideologue. Otherwise the terms are too easily confused and conflated.

So, for example, if someone asks: “are you a ‘creationist’?” What do you answer? “Yes, but I’m an ‘*evolutionary* creationist’?” Or “no, I’m not a creationist; I accept evolutionary science.” Or…?

Otherwise, it seems you are committed to the view that anyone who believes in Creation therefore qualifies as a ‘creationist,’ which doesn’t seem right. Can’t the term ‘creationist’ be dropped entirely from the self-labelled viewpoint you hold (even though that surely doesn’t mean rejecting Creation)?

Maybe this can be added to your list of open questions?

“evolution is an elegant and beautiful means by which the earth brings forth living creatures (Gen 1:24) under God’s providential hand.”

I agree, and wouldn’t want that to be labelled ‘creationism.’

Steve Sterley - #85877

June 25th 2014

I have to agree, I’m not fond of using the term “creationist” to describe myself since to me it implies an ideological commitment to interpreting scientific findings in the light of my preexisting religious beliefs.

Jon Garvey - #85882

June 25th 2014

Just one question on your comment, Steve. What should atheists and agnostics do to avoid interpreting scientific findings in the light of *their* preexisting religious beliefs?

Gregory - #85890

June 26th 2014

Do you consider yourself a ‘creationist’ of any variety, Jon? Your question to Steve’s comment takes things in a rather different direction from the basic point and question to Kathryn, which it would be helpful if you would also address. I will gladly answer in advance that I do not consider myself a ‘creationist.’


Jon Garvey - #85891

June 26th 2014


Semantics as ever. If you mean “Do you believe in the Christian doctrine of creation?” the answer is yes, unequivocally. Its exploration is my main activity.

If you mean “Do you subscribe to something defined by the suffix -“ism” as an ideology” then probably the answer is no, but I haven’t seen the definition you’re using. What are the specific criteria for this ideology?

My question to Steve was to address the idea that the practice of science can somehow be free of metaphysical prior commitments, which I don’t accept, and neither, it seems, do the majority of philosophers of science. Since religious beliefs address, in principle, the deepest level of commitment possible, then it would be anomalous not to interpret scientific findings in accordance with them.

If one does “leave religious beliefs at the lab door” then it’s pretty certain that some deeper religious commitments are not left at the door - though they may be hidden by the illusion that they represent “neutrality” or “reason”. That illusion is why many people, in a largely secular society, suppose the atheist is *not* in danger of interpreting science according to religion.

Kathryn, of course, will have her own view on the validity of your question. But in a world in which most people who don’t self-describe as YEC or OEC *don’t* call themselves creationists, nevertheless the term is still deliberately applied to them by true ideologues of the materialist bent - and so Francis Collins is a Creationist, James Shapiro is a Closet creationist, Tom Nagel is suspiciously friendly to Creationism, etc.

I’m not sure that more will be achieved by abandoning the word to become, like “Fundamentalist”, just a synonym for “Son of a Bitch” than deliberately reclaiming as the main difference between the materialist and theist views of the world. I think it might be more productive for believers to say, “Of COURSE I’m a creationist - the evolutionary kind” rather than play the game of ducking and weaving to escape the charge.

FWIW I suspect Kathryn was simply trying to make a simpler descriptor for “one who believes in evolutionary creation.” But we had this conversation a couple of years over the term “evolutionism”, which was used as a synonym for “evolutionary theory” long before it was used of believers in evolutionary ideology, a post World War 2 meaning, I believe. The word “evolution” itself, of course, is universally used in a nonsense way as its etymology is all about the unfolding (e-volution) of an implicit design, not the exploration of novelty, nor (as you have rightly said) “change over time.”

So if we were to say that words must be defined by their current usage, not their original meaning, then “creationism” may mean what the consensus of biological scientists say it means, which is “the belief in a God who creates, or giving aid or comfort to that belief.”

A separate question is whether the word “creation” itself is used appropriately in juxtaposition with an open-ended process like Darwinian transformism. “Creation” too has an etymology, which has everything to do with the enduing of divine order on that which lacked it - if you like, the moulding of clay into a form, rather than the trajectory of a missile into the distance.

Gregory - #85896

June 27th 2014

Seeking clarity, Jon, rather than ‘mere semantics.’ I’m aware that you believe in Creation. So does Kathyrn. So do I. So does BioLogos and ASA and CiS and Faraday Institute, etc. This is not news.

My concern is with the specific label ‘creationist.’ Steve agrees with that concern and so do many USAmericans, across a wide range of professions.

‘Creationism’ is still a preferred ideology among evangelicals (especially Protestants) and fundamentalists, whether young earth or old earth. Social surveys show this. So, if Kathryn, a computational cell biologist who believes in Creation, yet specifically disavows the ideology of ‘creationism’ by rejecting the label ‘creationist’ of *any* variety, that in my view would be progress. That’s why I asked her. Nothing tricky, anti-Creation or anti-Christian is meant in the question.

As an institution, BioLogos is also against ‘creationism,’ which can be seen here: http://biologos.org/questions/biologos-id-creationism

“FWIW I suspect Kathryn was simply trying to make a simpler descriptor for ‘one who believes in evolutionary creation’.”

Yes, that’s what I suspect too. The signifier ‘creationist,’ however, is awkward for this because it already refers to something else. See BioLogos link above.

“‘creationism’ may mean what the consensus of biological scientists say it means, which is ‘the belief in a God who creates, or giving aid or comfort to that belief’.”

I don’t think that’s what ‘creationism’ *should* mean, nor that biological scientists have particular training or disciplinary competency to so define it. Do you? If you’re looking for push-back in proper places that would seemingly be one.

But to do that, with due respect, Jon, you would have to take a stand and stop equivocating. That’s why I asked if “ you consider yourself a ‘creationist’ of any variety?” and not “do you think I consider you a ‘creationist’?” If I asked you if you are/were a doctor, you wouldn’t say “Tell me first what you mean by ‘doctor’,” would you? Taking a position that “I am sometimes a creationist and sometimes not a creationist,” please excuse, doesn’t seem to be helpful in this conversation.

For communicative purposes, ‘evolutionary creation’ differs from ‘evolutionary creationism,’ rightly so. Likewise, ‘one who believes in evolutionary creation’ differs from an ‘evolutionary creationist,’ if one aims for accuracy. But let’s wait and let Kathryn speak for herself, since we’ve been around the block on this before, shall we?

Jon Garvey - #85897

June 27th 2014

It’s not equivocating to insist that an ambiguous word must be given an individual context, rather than accepting it as a label, or a shibboleth.

Basically, anyone who reads Kathryn’s piece and infers from her adding “-ist” to “creation” that she stands four-square with Ken Ham is a fool. And anyone (a New Atheist blogger, perhaps) who might brand her (or BioLogos) as a “creationist” organisation on that basis is simply mischievous. And such fools and mischief-makers will always find some excuse to sow confusion, whatever vocabulary she uses.

For myself, to refuse to accept a label (that I don’t use for myself) without its being defined is *not* being “sometimes a creationist and sometimes not.” It’s being context-sensitive.

When Polkinghorne was asked if he was an Open Theist he didn’t know what it was. When it was described to him, he reportedly answered, “In that case, yes.” I imagine that if he had later discovered that the person who described it had a unique and aberrant view of what that position is, he’d have disowned it again.

And if he discovered it had just become a buzzword, like “liberal” or “Darwinist”, if asked he’d either say, “It depends what kind of Open Theist you mean” or better still, “Go and read my stuff, and then use whatever label you like.” And that’s my reply to anyone who doesn’t know what to call *me*.

By the way, to most Christians I’ve ever met “Creationism” is not an ideology, but a position within their Christian “ideology.” Or if it’s an ideology, so are paedo-baptism, amillennialism, cessationism, kenoticism etc. I suppose the way to sort them out is to ask them “Is ‘Creationism’ your ideology?” When they say, “No,” (as Kathryn also would, I’m certain, possibly adding words to the effect that it should already be obvious to anyone with half a brain), the problem is resolved.

Gregory - #85898

June 27th 2014

“When they say, “No,” (as Kathryn also would, I’m certain…)”

Let’s just let Kathyrn speak for herself, o.k. Jon? (And btw, saying “anyone with half a brain” is not very polite.)

*If* BioLogos promotes an ‘evolutionary creationist’ position, then yes, it is by definition a ‘creationist’ organisation. That would signify it promotes ‘evolutionary creationism.’ No need to bring Ken Ham into this, just choose your words carefully.

The OP in this thread discusses Kathryn “Becoming an Evolutionary Creationist.” Was that her chosen wording or the editor’s? Would she consider not calling herself a ‘creationist’? We’ll only know if she replies. As I said above, nothing tricky, anti-Creation or anti-Christian is meant in the question.

Eddie - #85883

June 25th 2014

Dear Dr. Applegate:

Thanks for telling us your story in a humble, gentle, and straightforward way.  It always helps to know where people are coming from.  And you have said many things that it is hard to disagree with.

I have a question for you, which is not a criticism of your words, but rather a request for you to relate them to the words used by some other TE/EC folks.

You wrote:

“As I see it, evolution is an elegant and beautiful means by which the earth brings forth living creatures (Gen 1:24) under God’s providential hand.”

As you may know, many of your colleagues in TE/EC, in the course of their criticism of intelligent design arguments, have belittled or rejected the idea that creation shows a design that is always beautiful or beneficial.  They have pointed out “nasty” creatures such as parasites which kill little children in Africa, and they have complained about the poor, “backwards” wiring of the human eye (claiming that any engineer who designed such a thing would be fired), and they have complained about the weaknesses of the human spine, etc.  They have argued that much of DNA is junk and that this shows how redundant and wasteful a designer must have been.  Their alternative to ID is Darwinian evolution, which in their mind explains all this dysteleology in nature.  God lets evolution handle everything, and evolution is sometimes sloppy, redundant, ad hoc, and cruel.  We can hear this kind of argument from Ken Miller and I’ve heard it from many ASA members.  

On the other hand, these same TE/EC critics, having shown what a lousy “designer” neo-Darwinian evolution is, will, when expressing their religious feelings about evolution, say things much like what you have written:  evolution is elegant, beautiful, shows God’s wondrous providence, etc.

I wonder.  How can TE/EC say that God creates through a wasteful, ad hoc process which yields clumsy or even harmful engineering, and positively malignant organisms, and then say something like what you have said, i.e., that evolution is elegant, beautiful, and shows God’s wondrous providence?  Does the child whose insides are eaten out by an African parasite feel that providence is watching over her?  And is providence best revealed by *bad* rather than good engineering?  Or to put it another way, does the allegedly bad wiring of the eye simultaneously disprove design while giving evidence for providence?

I’m not accusing you personally of any contradiction here, but when I look at TE/EC as a whole, I see this major thematic contradiction running through it.

Dr. Applegate, you have attended ASA meetings where there are many TEs.  You were at the Wheaton conference.  You have frequently sat over coffee etc. with many of the leaders of TE/EC.  You must have had many discussions with, and observed many discussions between, TE/EC people.  In your experience, do they ever discuss, or even note, this thematic contradiction in their public statements?  Does it ever strike them as odd that God exercises his providence frequently by not providing, that we should praise God’s wondrous engineering of the universe even though that engineering is often bad, that we should give God the credit for all the wonderful things in the universe, but must never say that he designed those wonderful things?

It seems to me that this sort of question should be front and center in TE/EC discourse—any intellectual movement should seek theoretical consistency and coherence.  Yet we never see this kind of discussion on BioLogos.  We never see TE #1 writing a column showing that creation is a pretty incompetent engineering job, followed by TE #2 writing a counter-column showing that this is quite wrong, that in fact things are marvelously engineered and almost all the alleged bad design actually serves quite good purposes.  Somehow, TE/EC writing has come to focus almost exclusively on how TE/EC differs from ID or YEC or atheism; yet it seems to me that some intra-TE debate over the goodness of evolution’s “designs” is long overdue.  Will we ever see such an intra-TE debate, either on BioLogos, or in the ASA journal, at ASA conferences, etc.? 

Sagegrouse - #85894

June 26th 2014

Hello Eddie

I realize your question was for Kathryn regarding Biologos subject matter; but I had a thought to toss in.  It seems like the discussion you hope for is  part of the discussion that has been going on throughout church history, concerning the existence of moral evil and the parallel truth of an elegant, divine plan.  It seems to climax in the death of Christ.  On the one hand there is human blindness, arrogance, greed, betrayal, slander and murder.  Each vice and evil act is revolting to look at in detail.  It can make you angry and sad at the same time.  Yet “It pleased the Lord to bruise him.”  All of this evil was to accomplish “What your hand and counsel foreordained to be.”  It seems appropriate to speak of the elegance of the cross, including all that led up to it.  It also seems appropriate to focus on the horrors that went into the actual unfolding of the plan.  

I imagine that discussion among the various advocates of EC would be as diverse in relating the two aspects of evolution as we’ve been historically at relating divine sovereignty and human evil.

Eddie - #85899

June 27th 2014


Thanks for your reply.

I agree with you: I would expect that various EC people would give various answers.  And that is fine with me.  I just want to know those various answers.  What I find unsatisfying is the artificial presentation of a “common front.” whereby very real theological differences among EC people are swept under the rug in order to maintain a look of unity for the combat with ID, YEC, etc.

For example, Ken Miller, whose answer to the problem of evil is (to state its essence) that God’s hands are clean because “evolution did it” has never on this site been challenged.  No EC person with column-writing powers—Giberson, Applegate, Louis, Falk, Venema, Haarsma, etc.—has ever written a column pointing out the flaws in Millers’s view from a theological perspective.  There almost seems to be a code of honor operating at BioLogos, i.e., “No BioLogos EC shall ever in public contradict another EC on a theological matter.”

So, are there NO EC proponents who take offense when other EC proponents say things like:  “The wiring of the retina in the human eye is backwards; this is very bad engineering, so the intelligent designer couldn’t have been very intelligent”?  One might expect to find EC proponents who say:  “Hey, wait a minute, God created us, and even if he did so through a process of evolution, he wouldn’t have used a process that involved bad design—God is too wise and good for that.  We should consider the possibility that the “backwards” wiring of the retina has a biological purpose that we don’t yet understand.  After all, we used to think the appendix was useless and now we know it is functional.  We must take seriously the Biblical view that God’s ways are not our ways and that God’s wisdom is subtler than ours.”  But I’ve looked up and down, and I’ve not yet found a single example of a statement by an EC proponent against “dysteleology” arguments employed by other EC proponents.

There is a legal principle:  silence implies consent.  I think that applies in intellectual and theoretical matters as well.  If you don’t speak against something that you have heard or read, and the matter is of such importance that giving an opinion is your obligation, then one has the right to assume that you agree with what is being said.  If a Harvard prof said (seriously, not jokingly) that the moon was made of green cheese, and no astronomer in the world contradicted him, we would rightly infer that astronomers agree that the moon is made of green cheese.  And if a leading EC says, in a book or article that is widely read by ECs, that we can know that species got here by evolution and not by design because the organs and systems of man and other creatures are so amateurishly cobbled together that no wise and powerful being would ever have produced such lousy work, it can reasonably be inferred that the other ECs accept this opinion, because if they did not accept it, they would rise up to defend God from a dreadful calumny.

I hope that Dr. Applegate will jump in on this at some point.

Sagegrouse - #85907

June 30th 2014


It would be interesting to hear different perspectives on biological design and work out some of the definitions and nuances among EC advocates.  I notce major contributors are willing to acknowledge differences among themselves, such as the historicity of Adam mentioned in Kathryn’s post.  Maybe they’ll take you up on it or provide a good reference.

But doesn’t the EC position necessarily have to present a united front against good biological engineering as a necessary component of creation?  Theologically, God doesn’t have to be neat and tidy, or use good engineering (from a human perspective) to accomplish his will.  Maybe its not his purpose to use the best adaptations or to make anything a biological masterpiece.  He may have little or no interest in exquisite biological design.  EC in general resists the notion of using biological precision as a pillar of Christian apologetics or as proof of the supernatural in the creation process.  At the same time they find glory for God in the over all elegance of the final product.  It is a wonderful world and a wonderful process that brought it forth.  And however “messy” it is, it is the “mess” God willed to create.

I do agree with you when I find lack of biological efficiency considered as a price God had to pay for a contingent universe.  I think some are trying to get him off the hook for the existence of suffering and adopt an out of control universe as the best way to do it.  I doubt he wants off the hook.

Jon Garvey - #85908

June 30th 2014

And however “messy” it is, it is the “mess” God willed to create.

There you state the crux of the matter, Sagegrouse. There might be all kinds of reasons, many of them opaque to our understanding, for why God would do things the way they are. The question’s worth asking though, as a positive one, because some positive and useful answers might be found, from physical ones such as the constraints of his chosen means, or the needs of the bigger picture (inefficient organisms, for example, might provide easier prey, for the benefit of the total ecology). There might even be deeper theological reasons such as (purely conjecturally) the desire to show us that material creation is not the final goal. Yet even if we must admit our ignorance (another good reason for God not to do things the most obvious way), the question when put that way expresses the Christian doctrine that “He has created all things in heaven and earth by his will.”

But the question is, so often, asked rhetorically, to mean “God clearly wouldn’t do things this way.” Put like that, theology can become just one big theodicy to distance God, though finally ineffectively, from his creation by putting “evolution” in as a flawed Demiurge.

The extent of this is greater than merely looking at examples of “bad design” or “natural evil,” and calling it blasphemy to attribute them to God. It can extend, and not infrequently does, to the whole edifice of the world. A loving God (‘tis said) cannot be the creator of a system wholly dependent on death and suffering. (Woops, I forgot to add the obligatory “gratuitous” death and suffering). He cannot create viruses, earthquakes or tsunamis for any valid reason (so either he didn’t, or he had no choice on a cost-benefit analysis).

All these are variants on the theme that the world is not, to whatever extent, the “mess” that God willed to create, but a “mess” he couldn’t prevent. There’s always been room for argument about this regarding human evil - if God foresees the perversion of human will but freely creates it anyway, the relationship to his will is nuance, but it must fall somehowwithin his highest purpose, or he had only to abstain from creation altogether.

But in the context of the material creation, any effect that is not his will is a straight failure of the means he has chosen - he is no longer the sole and wise Creator, but something else, and often something rather Gnostic - the good but distant God whose will is frustrated by the realpolitik of a rebellious material realm.

That’s a lot more crucial than the smaller issue of how obviously optimal living systems are, and that’s the issue where Evolutionary Creation has not spoken with a clear voice.

Jon Garvey - #85910

June 30th 2014

Incidentally, for any interested I did a recent post on the importance of contingency, in the sense of God’s free creative choice rather than of chance, to the original Christian conception of science here. Seems to relate to Sagegrouse’s comment.

Gregory - #85913

June 30th 2014

“creationism was part of the culture of the South where I grew up. Confronted almost daily by my ignorance of the science of evolution, I decided to embark on a study. I was confident that if Christianity were true, it could withstand even the toughest questions. And if it couldn’t, I didn’t want any part of it.”

Though some BioLogos commentors seem to avoid the cultural reality in favour of only science, creationism is indeed a significant problem in the (South or evangelical or fundamentalist) USA. 

Thanks to Kathryn for highlighting this in her personal story, though so far she has not addressed the self-label ‘creationist’ and why or if she deems it necessary. The notion that “Evolutionary Creation has not spoken with a clear voice” of course pales in comparison with Jon’s ‘classical providential naturalism’ manifesto - not having spoken with a clear voice either. I don’t find BioLogos guilty in any way for this.

Kathryn, will you speak again in this thread with us?

John Smith - #85945

July 5th 2014

In making these claims against God about the heinous acts of parasites, you must realize that you are making a moral argument.  I will put down an essay I wrote a while back.  As master and creator of the universe, wouldn’t inefficiency be his prerogative?  How can you challenge someone saying evolution is beautiful when the concept of beauty is completely subjective to the individual?  That would be like you saying, “I like hamburgers” and me saying, “no you don’t, you’re wrong.” 


Humanism and Materialism the Two Irreconcilable Philosophies


I wrote this poem about humanism


“What intoxicating gaze dost set upon me

The look, the glance, my heart is yours

You set my ways, you guide, I see

And from your face, the love it pours

You lift me up, I’m safe from doom

The life and light you give are fine

But as the smoke clears from my room

A mirror, all that I saw was mine.”


Every ex-Christian friend I know is now a “humanist”.  I find this odd, for to me they seem to be saying, “I am done with faith, I want logic and reason” and while saying this, they jump headlong into another faith that makes even less sense.  I am not saying that everything in Christianity makes sense, far from it. I am just saying that, on it’s own principles, humanism is self-defeating.   




Humanism is the golden calf of today’s society. Like any other idol it is created by humans and does whatever you want it to do.  Ironically, it is often put forward by materialists (people who believe only in the things you can touch feel and measure).  They shun the supernatural and then launch themselves headlong into supernatural concepts that are transcendental to nature like “purpose, meaning, and morals”.  Humanism is a false religion that has nothing to do with materialism. 


Humanists often speak of the value of humankind.  To analogize this I think we should look at a scenario that is one virtually everyone could agree is morally egregious; the rape and beating of a small child.


To say that it is wrong to rape a little girl presupposes something beyond materiality. If the pain inside her head is nothing more than a triggering of electrical impulses and a flow of chemicals, then there is no real scientific difference between her pain and a thunderstorm or a chemical being poured in a beaker. It is no more “immoral” to beat her to death than it is to toss a rock across a stream or plug in a tv.


You cannot make any moral judgment based on the material world alone. Darwin has showed that differences between the species is illusory.  All forms of humanism fabricate a difference between us and other animals, but in the real world, we are all evolved bacteria. How would killing a man be any different from killing a bacteria? They are we and we are they and the only difference between is a bridge made of random mutation.


They say humans have intrinsic value but at the same time argue that their very existence is nothing but mistake and coincidence (ignoring the enormously improbable universal constants).  This is self-contradictory, this is nonsense.


Random mutation is not a recipe for human rights.  There is nothing scientific about believing humans are special and different from all other forms of life, or even non-life.It is as the atheist professor John Gray stated in his book Straw Dogs:“Most people today think they belong to a species that can be master of its destiny. This is faith, not science. We do not speak of a time when whales or gorillas will be masters of their destinies.Why then humans?… Darwin teaches that species are only assemblies of genes, interacting at random with each other and their shifting environments.Species cannot control their fates. Species do not exist. This applies equally to humans. Yet it is forgotten whenever people talk of ‘the progress of mankind’. They have put their faith in an abstraction that no one would think of taking seriously if it were not formed from cast-of Christian hopes.… In Victorian times [there] was a conflict between Christians and unbelievers. Today it is waged between humanists and the few who understand that humans can no more be masters of their destiny than any other animal… Darwin showed that humans are like other animals, humanists claim they are not. Humanists insist that by using our knowledge we can control our environment and flourish as never before. In affirming this, they renew one of Christianity’s most dubious promises –that salvation is open to all. The humanist belief in progress is only a secular version of this Christian faith…In the world shown us by Darwin, there is nothing that can be called progress.To anyone reared on humanist hopes this is intolerable. As a result, Darwin’s teaching has been stood on its head, and Christianity’s cardinal error – that humans are different from all other animals – has been given a new lease on life.”When speaking on the origins or humanism and western thought, he comments on the irrational origins of Socratic thinking,“The faith of Socrates in the examined life may well have been a trace of an archaic religion: he ‘habitually heard and obeyed an inner voice which knew more than he did… he called it quite simply, “the voice of God”… If Socratic philosophy originates in shamanism, European rationalism was born in a mystical experience. Modern humanism differs from Socratic philosophy chiefly in failing to recognize its irrational origins- and in the hubris of its ambitions… Among contemporary humanists, the Greek faith that truth makes us free has been fused with one of Christianity’s most dubious legacies- the belief that the hope of freedom belongs to everyone. Modern humanism is the faith that through science humankind can know the truth – and so be free. But if Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true this is impossible. The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals.”


The humanist will respond that we don’t lose all value just because we are made of dirt and water.


My response is that you have to prove we had value to lose to begin with.  Dirt doesn’t have value, why should we? And the truth is that you can’t prove we have value with materialism. Only faith and religion will get you to those conclusions.  Humanism, like all other religions, requires faith.  In order to lose value, you have to have gotten it in the first place. Who gave us this value? 

John Smith - #85946

July 5th 2014

I see all these atheists and humanists on the internet constantly arguing with the religious, accusing them of having a “make-believe” friend, hating knowledge, and being immoral.  Many times their arguments are correct and there are many ignorant and hateful Christians out there.  But this is not my point.  My point is that these humanists obviously feel morally obligated to “spread truth”. A noble goal, but they will have to prove that it is noble. Wanting to “spread truth”is a moral compulsion, is it not? 



I had a conversation with one guy that started with him saying morality came from society.  I responded, “which individual in the society has the right morality?  I mean, society is nothing but a collection of individuals, which one should we listen to?”  He responded with the idea that you go with the majority to see what is moral. 

“John, on naturalism, we can say it is wrong to rape. Subjectively wrong. Collectively agreed as subjectively wrong. We can make it illegal. We can put people away for doing it.That’s what morality is in practise; the majority imposing their moral opinions on the minority by cultural means.”To this I responded, “you live in a society with 50%Christian majority (if you are in the US). Should you not give up your humanism then in favor of Christian morality?  They hold the majority? What moral code are you going to that says that it is moral to argue with the Christians about morality even though they are in the majority?  

I am not advocating you do this, you do what you want. I’m just pointing out the inconsistency of your philosophy. Majority has no more a monopoly on morality than it does on any other kind of truth. Without faith, everything is meaningless… or at least only as meaningful as dirt.


Your solution really just opens up more questions than it answers.Also are you mixing morality and legality?Why follow subjective morals? What is the punishment for not following them? If they are the product of my own head, then I am my only judge.  If I am my only judge then I can literally do whatever I want and morals do not exist at all.  What you call “morals given by society”are just actions I should avoid because the people around me will make my life less fun if I treat them in a certain way. 


Again, why follow subjective morals?  Are they only enforceable through legislation? Do it because it’s the moral thing to do? What if the individual doesn’t care? There’s nothing there. All there is is all of you saying, “they exist but they’re subjective, they’re there, they’re real”but it’s nothing but a list of arbitrary rules you choose to live by. How much does it weigh? How long is it? Where is it on the periodic table. Sounds like faith to me. (and of course theism takes faith, no one ever said it didn’t. How could worshiping a homeless Jewish man not take faith!)


He didn’t answer me.


Another one said,“When we look back at the horrors committed by our ancestors, it is obvious we are the descendants of people with subjective morality, not objective morality. The bible is a good example. Slavery? Even god thinks slavery is normal. Now we feel differently.”I responded, “The horrors committed by our ancestors”. So which is it? Is there an objective right and wrong you are judging “our ancestors” with or what? It appears so. Where did this objective moral framework come from? Are you are implying that slavery was never immoral until it was decided against by the majority?  And that if the majority decided again that it was ok that it would then be moral? 


You can’t just take what a bunch of people think and call that morality, that’s nonsense.  Again, why do what society says to do?  Why not sin in secret and get away with it? Because you’re too good of a person to cheat people?  Too good according to what moral standard?  This example can’t be referring to society’s moral standard, they would never know if you cheated someone.


Does loving others as you love yourself support slavery?  Go read Philemon for an example of how to treat slaves.


Another time I was talking about how if you have morality subjective to society you cannot judge Hitler.  To this one responded,“You dont lose the ability to judge [Hitler] you only concede the fact that the morality you used to judge is not objective.”To this I responded, “You lose the ability to judge because you concede the fact that the morality you used is not objective. Let’s measure a line. We’ll both use subjective rulers we made up in our heads.  Our measurement means absolutely nothing.  A subjective standard is no standard at all.


This is nonsense.  When we are comparing our modern day subjective society to Nazi society, are we not applying both to a third one with perfect morals? Where did this come from?


You can bash divine command theory, but it’s either God making the rules or you as an individual. And if it’s you as an individual there is no reason to listen to you if I am a different individual. If there is a God, then all must listen.


And another guy,

“That being said I know of very few moral systems that think genocide is morally acceptable though it depends on the goals and values a moral system is based on. Lets not forget that the bible has similar genocide accounts being ordered by god. How do you answer that problem?” So now we are getting our objective standard of morality from the majority of moral systems? So is it based on the society we are in or the majority of systems on the planet? And for Biblical genocide we must ask the question, “why is it wrong to kill people, why is it wrong to be cruel?” The only objective answer you can get is, “because God said so”.  Naturalistically there is no difference between killing the babies and killing the butterflies. It’s all just animated dust. Humanism is a faith just like any others, the only difference is that it doesn’t even have a divine revelation.    At least with theism, when they commit genocide it is because the master and commander of the entire universe ordered them to.  Humanistically you commit genocide because it’s what everyone else is doing. There is no moral reason to follow the dictates of society.  Under your reasoning, not only was Hitler justified,

John Smith - #85947

July 5th 2014

but Shindler was being immoral when he saved Jews!  Bonhoeffer was a monster for trying to save the country from Hitler! “But if it is up to God isn’t that just subjective to his own mind?”  Well, assuming he created the entire universe and is master of it, it is no more subjective than the universal constants he set in place.  Strong and weak nuclear forces were also a fabrication of his subjective mind, as well as the speed of the universe’s expansion, gravitational constant, and the speed of light.  You can’t find anything more objective than those variables. 


Some have often said, “I don’t need a ‘god’ to tell me right from wrong, I can figure out for myself!”


Again, where did this concept of right and wrong come from?  Why do what is morally correct?  If you are your only judge, why not do whatever you want to do?  If all you can think of is a subjective reason, then you are just as holy for feeding the homeless as you are for getting happiness from raping someone.   Both make you feel better subjectively and that is your only reason for doing them. Neither action is getting you closer or further from the moral laws of an objective moral standard.

Whether it’s Kant, Utilitarianism,Rawls, or whoever, you cannot escape the subjectivity of these secular moral systems.  Kant says to follow the categorical imperatives because it is your duty.  Duty according to whom?  Rawls says that you should judge your actions with a community you make up in your own head. Here you have a polytheistic religion with no divine revelation, it’s nonsense.  Utilitarianism is the idea that whatever makes the most people happy is the moral decision.  How do you quantify happiness?   Why do something that makes someone else happy if you can hurt them and make yourself even happier? What is the punishment for not doing the utilitarian action?  How do you know which action will make the most people happy? 


All these secular philosophies area bunch of self-defeating nonsense. 


I will go shortly into other subjects now.

The universe had a beginning and it will have an end. Every single thing you do whether moral or immoral will not change the endof the universe at all. It will spread until super cooled and nothing you did will matter. Everything is meaningless. Every minute you spent in angry rhetoric on the Christian sites of the internet will leave the world in spacedust, just as refraining would. Meaningless.Now I’ll rehabilitate the theist position on moralities a little.   When you argue the atrocities committed by the church in the past you can ask yourself a two part question, “were they loving their neighbors as themselves and were they treating others the way they wanted to be treated?” You see, slavery fails the test, crusades fails, hating atheists fails, being derisive toward homosexuals fails, etc…And before there is an appeal to Levitical law as is fun to do, I know, read Galatians 5 (Levitical law does not apply to Christians today, this is why they eat shrimp and piggies).Other tests for seeing if someone is acting in the behavior advocated by this religion are:“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister[c] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.”If you want the term  “neighbor” defined then look up Luke chapter 10. Just read the whole thing. It’s useful even if you’re a humanist who doesn’t believe any of the crap I just said.“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”“18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

I once saw a guy saying that Christian morals are subjective, he could tell because everyone thought the crusades was moral at the time. 


To this I say, well hold on a second.  Didn’t people used to argue that the sun revolved around the earth?  Is this also a subjective truth?  The answer is no to both.  This argument is nonsense.  Christians being wrong about the crusades doesn’t prove subjectivity of truth any more than arguing about the planets makes those truths subjective. 




Even the nihilistic atheists are hypocrites.  If they really believed that everything was meaningless, they wouldn’t be writing books to everyone trying to prove that everything is meaningless.


If you met a guy who said his daughter was raped and killed and that marauders destroyed his home and he fled from his country and he asked you what you thought, you would say, “those people were monsters to you”.  You would not sit there and say, “let me check this with my subjective societal norms to see if it is in violation before I judge these marauders.  How many of them were there?  Were there more there than there were people like you?  If so they were correct and morally justified.  How big is the society you’re in?  Were you the only one they attacked?  I need to know all this before I can tell you if they were wrong or not.”  You wouldn’t say all this because in the real world everyone knows that in practice this sort of “society is morals philosophy” is horse skat.


This article is hard on humanism and may be hard for some to read.  I am not a fundamentalist and I am not sure what I believe about a lot of things.  I am just pointing out through this note that humanism can’t stand. 


I will leave with a note from the prophet Isaiah.  I will slightly alter the text to make it fit humanism. This is a quote from God.  Modified Isaiah 44:9-14&17-20


 All who make idols are nothing,     and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind;     they are ignorant, to their own shame. 10 Who shapes a god, a humanistic philosophy, and casts an idol,     which can profit nothing? 11 People who do that will be put to shame;     such craftsmen are only human beings. Let them all come together and take their stand;     they will be brought down to terror and shame.

John Smith - #85948

July 5th 2014

12 The philosopher takes a pen     and works with it in the pages; he shapes a humanistic philosophy with his own mind,     he forges it with the might of his thinking. He gets hungry and loses his strength;     he drinks no water and grows faint. 13 The New Atheist measures his thoughts     and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels     and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form,     human form in all its glory,     that it may dwell in his book. 14 He collects his thoughts,     or writes down lists. He formed his secular “ethics”,     with his own thinking. 17 From his own thoughts me forges  a god, his idol;     he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says,     “Save me! You are my god!” 18 They know nothing, they understand nothing;     their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,     and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 19 No one stops to think,     no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “It’s a creation of my own mind;     Why follow rules that I am making up?     There is no punishment for not following my own subjective rules Why have them?     Shall I bow down to thoughts I dreamed up?” 20 Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;     he cannot save himself, or say,     “Is not this thing in my own mind a lie?”

Gregory - #85950

July 5th 2014

Dr. Kathyrn:

My question is wrt section 2: “Becoming an Evolutionary Creationist”. Is it appropriate or necessary to label yourself a ‘creationist’ or would it perhaps be better to drop the ‘creationist’ term altogether?

Are you yet willing to face this clear distinction or rather maintain BioLogos fuzziness? = )

John Smith - #85952

July 5th 2014

Language is a tool to be used for communication.  She’ll probably use the word “creationist” whenever it is useful for conveying the message she desires to.  This will depend largely on the audience.  Amongst atheists who equate creationism to ignorance and close-mindedness, she will likely not use it.  Amongst fundamentalists who equate it to a believer in a universe created by God she probably will.  I don’t see what the big deal is with this word.  Use it like every other word in the entire language.  Use it when it’s useful, don’t when it’s not. 

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