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From the Dust: Framing the Debate

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November 6, 2013 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now

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

Note: In honor of the digital debut of From the Dust on the iTunes store, today we're reposting another clip from the film, titled "Framing the Debate", as well as a letter from the movie's director, Ryan Pettey. You can purchase (or rent) the movie today on iTunes, or if you prefer, a physical copy through Amazon or Highway Media.

My name is Ryan Pettey, and I am a documentary filmmaker who has been amazingly blessed to work on a feature-length documentary over the last year and a half called From the Dust.

With From the Dust, we wanted to put something proactive on the table that could help motivate an elevated conversation about the “war” between science and faith. It was our goal to help Christians see (and accept) the complexity of the issues raised by modern science, as well as help them to courageously engage with the theological conversations happening within the sphere of Christian culture today. We wanted the film to address the topic hermeneutically, historically, and socially in order to gain a better perspective on the issues, and, hopefully, address some of the fears (justified or otherwise) concerning what science is telling us about our physical origins.

Personally, this project has been a spiritual shot in the arm and has whole-heartedly reignited my walk with God. I have been truly humbled by my opportunity to speak with so many incredible theologians, scientists, biblical scholars, and authors. As a result of this project, the book of Genesis has become more alive and more dynamic than I had ever allowed it to be. It is my hope that this film will both challenge and inspire people of faith, no matter where they are on their journey, to revere the complexity of God both through his word and his creation.

Through the BioLogos Forum, I am posting a few short, topic driven clips from the film in the coming weeks as conversation starters.

Thanks for watching!

Ryan Pettey
From the Dust

“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.”


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

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Hanan D - #83448

November 6th 2013

From Nancy Murphy:

it is just from origins and it is not directed—that that somehow removes God’s purposes from the universe.”

Then she says:

The science is, by design, unable to talk about purposes. 

Well, if science is not able to talk about purpose, doe she agree with what she said before, which is that it is also not directed? Is that something that science IS able to talk about?

If  it is able to conclude something is not directed, then how on earth can you believe in purpose? If there is no direction, then life may never have arisen, so how could there be purpose without life?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83450

November 6th 2013

There are several issues that need to be addressed before conservatives can begin to accept Evolution.

1) Evolution is not Darwinism.  Darwiniam is a human theory.  Evolution assiming it takes place is one of God’s way of creating change in the biological world.

2) God’s evolution is not random, no matter what some evolutionists might claim or imply.  It may have a random element, but evolutionary selection is not random.  

3) Nancey Murphy is wrong to say, “science is, by [proper] 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.” 

Even if what she says is true, Evolutionary Biology is faulty because it does not explain why there is a need for life forms to change and how that change is determined.

4) McGrath is right to say that science does not provide ultimate explanations, but people like Monod say there are also no proximate explanations. 

There are proximate explanations, which must be consistant with ultimate explanations to make sense.  In other words God’s good Creation cannot function based on conflict, when God’s good Kingdom functions on harmony.

5) Most conservative Christians are by worldview Modern absolutists and identify this worldview with Christainity.  Most people who accept evolution are probably Postmodern relativists, whose world view is seen by conservatives as anti-Christian.  

Until we reconcile these two worldviews with a worldview which is better suited to address  the spiritual, philosophical, and scientific problems of today there can be no expectation that this conflict can be solved.    

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