From Intelligent Design to BioLogos, Part 5: Epilogue

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August 25, 2011 Tags: Design, Lives of Faith

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

From Intelligent Design to BioLogos, Part 5: Epilogue

For those familiar with my work here at Biologos, it might come as a surprise to know that until relatively recently I was a supporter of the Intelligent Design Movement (IDM). In this series of posts, I tell the story of my transition to the view that God uses evolution as a creative mechanism.

In the fourth post in this series, I described my second encounter with the work of Michael Behe, and my subsequent rejection of the Intelligent Design Movement’s arguments. In this final post, I consider some of the theological factors that eased my transition to an Evolutionary Creationism viewpoint and recount how I was able to right an old wrong from my antievolutionary past.

Theological tools for the journey

As I related in my last post, my transition from aligning myself with the Intelligent Design Movement to accepting evolution was rather sudden. Looking back on this transition, I realized that a few factors had helped. Of course, my training as a geneticist had been invaluable: most evangelicals cannot read the primary scientific literature on evolution as part of their own journey, and as such they are beholden to how other Christians represent (or misrepresent) it. Yet beyond this obvious advantage, there were other factors that helped from a theological perspective. One such factor in easing the shift was the rich theological material that I had spent years listening to as a graduate student. Through that material I had learned that the simple, straightforward, Sunday-school approach to the Bible that I had learned as a child and teenager was merely a façade: Scripture was interwoven with mystery, tensions and scholarly issues that are simply not discussed in the average evangelical church. Though many pastors learn about these issues in seminary, most will never mention them from the pulpit for fear of unsettling the faith of their congregations. Discovering them, and then working through some of these issues had slowly, but surely, washed away tendencies of rigid thinking: I now knew that Scripture had widely varied genres within it. I now knew that the opening chapters of Genesis had the hallmarks of an ancient near-eastern worldview. As such, the realization that evolution, including human evolution, was a well-supported scientific theory did not precipitate a theological crisis for me. Ironically, what many pastors fear to touch in a Sunday morning sermon was just what I needed to handle this shift. This did not mean, of course, that I had everything worked out theologically then (or that I do now). Rather, it had created habits of mind that were more at ease with exploring uncomfortable questions, and reevaluating long-held assumptions.

An additional factor that eased this transition was the fact that my experience of God had grown and deepened over my undergraduate and graduate school years. Specifically, I had come to experience the power of God the Holy Spirit in ways that I had not during my, until then, relatively conservative church experience. As such, my relationship with God was not tied to a specific interpretation of Genesis or literal mode of Biblical interpretation, because I was experiencing His power and presence personally. That experience did not suddenly evaporate the moment I understood the evidence for our evolutionary history. Instead, God’s empowering presence continued to be part of my life as I explored a method of His creative activity that I had previously denied.

Making amends

In 2009, I had an unique opportunity. That year was the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s opus Origin. It was also the year I was to host an annual meeting of biology instructors from universities and colleges all over British Columbia for a professional development day. Accordingly, I needed to arrange a plenary speaker. The theme, given the year, was an easy one. As I wracked my brain for a local speaker with expertise in evolution, Dolph Schluter came to mind. Dolph does internationally-known work on the evolution of freshwater sticklebacks, small fish that are descended from sea-living ancestors. There are multiple coastal lakes in British Columbia that were colonized with marine sticklebacks in the last 10,000 years, making my home province a natural laboratory for adaptive radiation. As I recounted in my first post in this series, Dolph’s research was also once the target of my antievolutionary views as an undergraduate, some twelve years prior. Dolph would be perfect for this talk, in more ways than one. Would he remember? Would he be willing to come?

Wonderfully, Dolph was available and more than happy to come out. As I introduced him to the crowd of faculty and students that attended his lecture, I recounted the story of our previous encounter and some of my personal transition to accepting evolution. His talk (and other talks given that day on teaching evolution and interacting with students threatened by it) generated much helpful discussion. All in all it was a very enjoyable day, and a significant milestone on my journey.

Conclusion

Like evolution itself, my path was at times slow, and other times rapid. Small changes, whether in my thinking or in my experiences, later combined to produce larger effects. Through it all, I have no doubt that this journey was ordained and sustained by my Creator, as He patiently led me into a deeper understanding of His creation. As I mentioned in a recent NPR interview , this understanding is to be welcomed, not feared. All truth is God’s truth, and the book of His works is one that He desires us to take, read and celebrate.


Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

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beaglelady - #64383

August 31st 2011

That list is from an issue of the pro-Darwinist Discover magazine.  (I
don’t seem to have a copy of any Creationist magazines laying around).
 And why didn’t they evolve according to Discover author Valerie Ross?
 Uh, because they were good at eating and produced a lot of spores.
 Utter conjecture and not what I would call science.  The truth is Ross,
nor anyone else, can give a convincing answer.


I’d like to read the article!! Did you read it right from the magazine itself? Please give me the month and year of the issue.


glsi - #64393

August 31st 2011

You bet:  “The Living Fossils” is in the current, Summer 2011 special edition “Evolution”.

Like I say, you might be disappointed in the actual content (if you can call it that) of the article.  Its mostly pictures and graphics. 


Alan Fox - #64406

September 1st 2011

Pandas Thumb highlighted it  a while ago. It’s a “Discover” special issue.

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2011/07/off-the-grid-di.html


beaglelady - #64413

September 1st 2011

I will take a look next time I’m at the library.


Olavi - #64459

September 2nd 2011

I gotta say, this thread is quite illustrative.

The irony of Biologos is that it is promoting a tool—evidence-based critical thinking—to dispel creationism, but that same tool also dispels a great number of other beliefs, and quite easily. Biologos is saying, “Apply this wonderful tool to this one thing but not to this other thing.” It’s a contradiction which is bound to cause confusion, as this thread shows.

Evidence-based critical thinking suggests answers which are at odds with Biologos’ stated mission. But Biologos tells us Not To Go There, and some of its members are obliged, under direct threat to their employment and livelihood, Not To Go There. While promoting critical thinking, Biologos is engaged in the exact opposite of critical thinking.

Some individuals are comfortable with holding square circles in their mind, and they will gladly accept any tortuous philosophical system to justify them. Others are unable to take that route. Strict fundamentalists are merely pointing out the inconsistency in the viewpoint espoused by Biologos. They need the consistency of a liberal approach to religion. Will they accept it? Probably not, but square circles will fare even worse.


PNG - #64462

September 2nd 2011

Is there anything that you are even fairly certain of?


Peter Hickman - #64490

September 5th 2011

Olavi,
I certainly take your point, i.e. that some BioLogos contributors give the appearance of applying evidence-based critical thinking in an inconsistent fashion. So for them the Bible is a given (supporting evidence not needed) and scientific theory is not a given (supporting evidence needed, but any such evidence will nevertheless not be accorded similar status to Biblical dogma).
Having said that, I believe in a risen Jesus and accept evolution. I think that the evidence supports both.


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