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Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: Part 14

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February 7, 2012 Tags: Education
Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: Part 14

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

Written in the genre of Henry David Thoreaus travel-thinking essays, Rick Kennedy's Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic Excursion is the story of a three-day climb into the Evolution Range of the High Sierra mountains of California (click here to see a map of the mountains). Mount Darwin stands among other near-14,000-foot-high mountains that are named after promoters of religious versions of evolutionary thinking. Using the trek as its framing narrative, this series branches off to explore the complex and at times even murky spaces at the intersection of Christian faith, ancient and natural history, and observational science.

Today marks the final installment in this ongoing series. If you are interested in reading more, please be sure to order a copy of Rick's book.

The Weak Things of the World

Having failed to reach the summit of Darwin, we hiked back to our base camp and gathered our gear. Nothing was lighter because food had not been much of our weight. We talked about coming back next August. Snow would soon block any access until probably the middle of next July.

We shouldered our packs and connected with the trail. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the mountains. We met young couples day-hiking as we picked our way down. Women would usually say something encouraging to the boys, who were looking pretty ragged at this point. Back to being single-file on the trail, my mind was free to wander.


I like Charles Darwin. I enjoy the story of his life. He was diligent and disciplined. He was adventurous. I would have enjoyed being on the Beagle with him for his five-year circumnavigation under the leadership of Captain Fitzroy. Robert FitzRoy was a remarkable scientist himself. He was a high-minded, highly-skilled captain with a mathematical bent that eventually led him to be one of the founders of modern naval meteorology.

At the beginning of the voyage, FitzRoy was twenty-five and Darwin twenty-two. I can picture myself in my early twenties joining in the voyage. The trip was focused on charting the southern tip of South America. FitzRoy chose Darwin partly for companionship and partly because, as he said, he wanted someone to focus on geology and geography while he did hydrography. I suppose FitzRoy could have picked me to help with the dinner conversation. A historian is always useful at the dinner table.

I have looked at schematic drawings of the ship and pictured the dining room full of books, technical instruments, and charts. Imagine long after-dinner conversations at sea with two such keen observers, both driven by so much being unknown about the world. One would become the greatest exponent of our ability to know the deep past, the causes and stages of creation. The other would become the first daily wizard of scientific fortune-telling, a forecaster of weather. The former was an observer-categorizer, the latter a mathematician-modeler.

Me? What would a historian contribute to the table conversation? My responsibility would be to pass on what can’t be known by observation or mathematical modeling. I could contribute useful and informative stories, such as the story of Edmond Halley, the sailor-scientist who lived over a hundred years before Darwin and FitzRoy. Halley would be interesting to both my companions. He was a great meteorologist, navigator, and earth scientist. As an astronomer, he used historical modeling to predict the return of what we now call “Halley’s Comet.” By combining history and math, he predicted the future. Halley was also one of the first people of his era to see the predictive power of statistics. But the best story of Halley, the story most interesting at the dining table of the HMS Beagle, would be Halley’s three scientific voyages on the relatively small HMS Paramour. On the first two voyages, between 1698 and 1700, Halley sailed far into the south and north Atlantic to chart magnetic variations from true north. On the third, he charted tides in the English Channel. Contrary to any naval traditions, the British Admiralty officially commissioned Halley, a forty-year-old secretary to a scientific organization who had never been in the navy, as master and commander of one of his majesty’s naval vessels. On one of the first official naval voyages dedicated to scientific purpose, the captain was a scientist! Later, in 1729, when he was poor after retiring from a job as Royal Astronomer, the queen found him a pension as a half-pay naval post captain.

Historians are good for stories like that. FitzRoy would have laughed at the absurdity of creating a navy captain out of a middle-aged scientist. Certainly it would not have been done in his day. But it is one of our duties as historians to keep alive true stories of laughable absurdities.

I like to think that Darwin would have liked me. I like him. He would have recognized that my job as a historian allows me to focus on the validity of absurdly odd reported events. On the other hand, I would have recognized his need to throw out the absurd and quirky so as to focus on general laws. When FitzRoy and I would have agreed about using the Bible for history, Darwin would have probably thought both of us naive; I think we could have had great dinner-table debates and conversations. I like to think that the three of us would have enjoyed and appreciated each other.

FitzRoy later killed himself. His family had a history of suicide. Darwin was later devastated by the death of his young daughter and his family had no history of trusting God in times of crisis. Both men had a tendency toward melancholy. They found solace in silence and hard work. It is a mystery to me why I feel so much divine grace in my life. Why didn’t God shower some extra grace on FitzRoy and Darwin? Maybe God did. I don’t know. It would have been nice to sail with them. I wish for both of them that things had turned out better.

One thing Darwin and Christianity agree upon is the naturalness of selfishness and death. Christianity and evolution are rooted in the reality of violent competition, suffering, pain, and death. Christianity does not absolve God of the ultimate responsibility for allowing suffering, pain, and death. All Christians can say in the face of such things is that God as Jesus joined us in the suffering and pain and saves us by his death and resurrection. Darwin helped scientifically understand the integral role suffering and death play in natural history. Christianity affirms the integral depth of suffering and pain in human life. God punished humanity with suffering and death and offered redemption to all in his own suffering and death.


Our pace back to the car was quicker than it was going up. We each gained energy as the oxygen thickened. Gravity was also working for us rather than against us. We didn’t talk much. We were deep in our own thoughts. A few hours and a little over ten miles later, we dropped to the pavement below Lake Sabrina. I sped up ahead of the group because I was anxious to see if the car would start.

Would a Serious God Do Tricks?

Michael Ruse in Can A Darwinian Be A Christian? (2000) writes as a philosopher who can find plenty of ways for Christians to tweak Christianity so as to fit with Darwinian truth. But Ruse is befuddled by insistence on biblically reported miracles. Ruse thinks an emphasis on miracles is an intellectual cop-out. Most importantly, Ruse thinks Christians who believe in miracles demean God. Such a theology is undignified, and God is turned into “a conjuror,” a magician, a circus act. Would a serious God do tricks? Would a serious God meddle with the weather, kill a tree, walk on water, and supply wine at weddings? Would the God worthy of rational people do those weird appearing/disappearing tricks before levitating himself up into the clouds? Such a God is not worthy of a sober and sophisticated Christianity.

This is where we start and end with this academic excursion into the differences between natural history and ancient history. Natural history assumes things straight. Ancient history accepts the crookedness of things. Natural historians tend to want a serious God. The God of traditional, biblical, ancient history is not that kind of serious God. The God of ancient history is a God who is self-humbled into an irritating but reliably true story. The God in the history of Christianity allows the divine self to be laughed at as a conjuror or magician. The God of Christianity is a disconcertingly undignified God who allows the divine self to be thought of as a circus act.


Theodore Solomons named the mountains behind me to honor men who felt empowered by Darwin to pursue deeper into the workings of nature. What inspired many people about Wallace, and probably inspired Solomons when he heard Wallace speak in San Francisco, was the great evolutionist’s honest reporting of evidences of unexplainable powers that seemed unbounded by natural laws.

I am intrigued by Wallace for this reason too. I have never seen anyone levitate in a chair, but I believe multiple well-attested reports of a man walking on water. Does this disqualify me as a university man? Maybe it does by the standards of some of the severe rationalists, Totalizers, who demand that universities uphold their intellectual models. On the other hand, I have mostly worked with Tentative Investigators who understand that universities thrive as collection of disciplines using many methods of inquiry and understanding. Universities should hand out pocketknives at graduation.

If we understand that disciplines have mutually independent reasonable methods, each proposing credible conclusions, then it is reasonable to think that gravity is a natural law and Jesus walked on water. Darwin can be right about the normal functioning of a mechanism of variation and selection, while Jesus’ resurrection can point to God who is active and communicating in human history. Natural history can do its good work and ancient history can do its good work. Neither is subservient to the other. One is scientifically and rationally stronger than the other, but the weaker has its academic strengths too. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians tells us that “God has chosen the weak things of the world.”


My diesel engine struggled all the way back to San Diego. On the high desert we kept to the speed limit while listening to the second game of the World Series on the radio. But as we climbed over the mountains north of San Bernardino, the car was straining to go forty miles an hour. A couple of hours later, dropping finally into Mission Valley and the flatlands of the San Diego River, our top speed was around fifty miles an hour. In Ocean Beach, we found Dave’s old convertible VW. It was close to midnight with school in the morning for all of us. The boys and I had one last hill to climb to get home on top of the ridge of Point Loma. I asked Dave to follow me up to make sure we got there. He did, and my car soon whimpered to a stop in front of my house. Dave waved goodbye as I began to unload the boys’ packs from the roof rack.

Rick Kennedy received his BA, MA, and Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara and is professor of history at Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, California. His books include A History of Reasonableness: Testimony and Authority in the Art of Thinking (University of Rochester Press, 2004), Aristotelian and Cartesian Logic at Harvard (Colonial Society of Massachusetts and University Press of Virginia, 1995), Faith at State: A Handbook for Christians at Secular Universities (InterVarsity, 1995), Jesus, History, and Mt Darwin: An Academic Excursion (2008), and The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather (Eerdmans: 2015).

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HornSpiel - #67762

February 7th 2012

One thing Darwin and Christianity agree upon is the naturalness of selfishness and death.

An Orthodox father, who was my Greek professor, once told me that he did not like the NIV translation of the Greek σάρξ (flesh) as “sinful nature.” Why? Because Nature is what God created and God did not create Man to be sinful.

A another friend of mine, who is a theology professor at a well-known conservative seminary insists that Death is always bad. Death is an enemy that God will overcome. The awfulness of Death should never be minimized. God never intended for Man (Adam) to die. Even the peaceful death of a 104 year old Saint is a tragedy. Nothing to celebrate.

Biblically, selfishness (sin) and death (judgement) are the result of the Fall.  They are not part of God’s it-is-good creation. But if we believe God used evolution to create, selfishness (the drive to survive) and death (the circle of life) are necessary.

 Darwin helped scientifically understand the integral role suffering and death play in natural history. Christianity affirms the integral depth of suffering and pain in human life. God punished humanity with suffering and death and offered redemption to all in his own suffering and death.
So would you agree with my two Seminary professor friends?  Or is Death a necessary evil? What would you say?

R Kennedy - #67763

February 7th 2012

I am not good with this kind of question.  I am a pocketknife kind of thinker.  If you push me for an answer, I fold.  Sorry.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67767

February 8th 2012


If humans are created as physical beings, they are going experience physical death.  The physical does not last forever!  It changes, it wears out, it dies.

God did create non-physical, eternal beings we call angels.  They do not die.  They are either eternally good or eternally evil. 

If humans did not die, you would need only two of them, Adam and Eve.  Any additional humans would be superfluous and therefore we and all of human history exist because of sin and death. 

I would say that this is good coming out of evil, but it does mean that we should not fear death and sin, because God is in charge.  Sometimes it seems that Christians are afraid to act because they do not want to make a mistake. 

I am probably speaking from my own experience, but we must remember that God has forgiven our sins, past, present, and future, so we need to act in faith even expecting that we will make mistakes and get things wrong.  God has our back when we act in humility and faith not because we are sure we are right, but because we see a problem that needs to be addressed.    

Roger A. Sawtelle - #67770

February 8th 2012


Concerning Michael Ruse and God.  I would say that Ruse sees nature as straight forward and linear.  This has been the basis of Western philosophy though the ages.  Another way to say this is that life is determined. 

However we know that human life is not straight forward and determined.  It is nonlinear.  God and Jesus are on the side of nonlinear human life, as opposed to linear legalism. 

Today we see in science the move to nonlinearity with Einstein’s Theory, quantum physics, and ecology.  That is why Darwinian linear thinking is not good science.  That is why legalistic Scientism and Creationism are not good scientific thinking or theological thinking. 

Linear dualisms of all kinds are no longer viable, but we need a new philosophical world view to replace them with something viable, something that works like triunity.     

R Kennedy - #67772

February 8th 2012


We agree that not everything is straight forward and linear, but I do not think we need to construct a triunity to help us understand and I am wary of philosophical world views. I think God created personhood as the best model for understanding creator and creation—life, the universe, and everything.

I believe natural science does actually figure things out about creation.  There is much that mathematics and logic can figure out, much that is actually straightforward and linear.  Science is amazing!  Science is a grace from God, a gift given through which God grants our requests to know more.
But as a non-scientist and non-mathematician, I will stick with Paul’s humanistic picture of God as potter and people as talking-clay/jars of clay.  
Pascal pictured humans dangling in a middle area between infinite bigness and infinite smallness. Maybe all creation dangles in such a way between infinities. Maybe this is where science and history meet. 

But here again, there are lots of ways of thinking and I am wary of grandstanding theology.  I try to avoid trying to get into the mind of God or putting God in a box.  One of the great joys of being a historian is that our best work is in allowing humans to be individuals.  And when we listen to humans talking about their experiences of God, God just gets wilder and wilder rather than simpler and simpler. 

In the blog above, I wanted to end the book with Darwin and I being human. 



Roger A. Sawtelle - #67810

February 9th 2012


Maybe you are wary of philosophical world views, but my point is that everyone has one, whether they realize it or not.  The Western dualistic worldview no longer works for us and maybe the triunity is a better alternative.

It seems to me that the model that you suggest of humanity between infinite bigness and infinite smallness is a tripartite world view that has some possibilities.  The only problem is that you reduce it to a dualism of history and science without humanity.

Certainly science has discovered many intersting things about God’s Creation.  Math and logic are important tools of science, but its main contribution is its insistence that facts be based on experimentation or documented observation, instead of speculation and theory.  Science has serious problems when ideas cannot be verified by experience, such as with Darwinian natural selection.  Faith is also based on experience, but documentation is difficult since it is so personal.

 I wholeheartedly agree that “God created personhood as the best model for understanding creator and creation—life, the universe, and everything.”  I doubt if you expected that agreement.  As you know Gen 1 says God created men and women in God’s own Image. 

I hope that you will not think that I am putting God in a box when I state that God is powerful (Almighty), rational (All-Wise), and spiritual (Love,) and God made humans with these abilities.  Persons are physical, intellectual, and purposeful.  Dualism limits persons to mind and body, denying the basic spiritual aspect of humanity.  Scientism limits all of reality to the physical, denying reason and purpose.    

That is the basic Personal Model of Reality.  It does not purport to make God simple.  It is not grandstanding or trying to get into the Mind of God.  It just tries to understand what God revealed through the Logos, the rational Word of God.  



dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67794

February 8th 2012


Considering what you said towards the end of part 13 of this blog

faith needs to be backed by a changed life… a relationship to God that fundamentally changes the way we live.”

Then comes the process of perfection through the Spirit, which does include obedience and work as well as love and peace.”

Then wouldn’t we agree that obeying Christ makes one a Christian? (Speaking normatively, i.e.  excluding exceptional cases such as the Good Thief, or the baptized infant who dies.)


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67802

February 9th 2012

Don’t Blame,

Please do not confuse cause and effect.  We are obedient because we are Christian, not Christian because we are obedient.

When we put obedience first it leads to legalism.  Thus we are Christian because we go to church on Sunday, because we vote for Republicans, etc.  Many of these thinks may be the right thing to do, but they do not make us Christain.  Only being born anew of the Spirit makes us Christian, and that is a very personal thing that we cannot really judge.

Theologically we are Christians because we are saved and receive the Holy Spirit which empowers us to do God’s Will.  Look at Gal 5:22-23.  Love etc are the fruit of the Holy Spirit working within us.  Conformity or obedience to God’s Will comes from the Spirit which is the gift of Salvation. 

The Fruit of the Spirit is evidence of salvation, evidence that the Holy Spirit is working within and through us, not that which makes us Christian. 

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67808

February 9th 2012


I still don’t get it. (Actually, so much of what I read on BioLogos I just don’t get.)

It seems like you’re explaining a difference without a distinction. My reading of the Bible indicates that although being saved and obedience are two different things, they are inseparable.

You said “We are obedient because we are Christian, not Christian because we are obedient… Only being born anew of the Spirit makes us Christian, and that is a very personal thing that we cannot really judge.”

As far as judgment, let’s put other people aside. Let’s deal just with one’s self. Wouldn’t one HAVE to exercise some judgment as to whether one’s self is truly “born anew of the Spirit”? Wouldn’t one need to know, in a fairly objective way, whether any “saving” is going on, just for one’s peace of mind, even for the peace that passes understanding? (See 1 John 5:2, 13.)

Elsewhere in Galatians 5, Paul says “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” In 1 Cor 13 he saysif I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Paul is saying that “faith”, in the sense of mental assent or even in a more passive sense of receiving the Holy Spirit, is of no avail; only “faith working” through love matters.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Bible is clear that being “born again” is absolutely necessary for entry into heaven. I just don’t see it saying that it is sufficient. This is a big difference.

One can call one’s self a “Christian” or a “believer”. These are just words, labels. What one wants is not the label, first and foremost. What one really wants is what the “label” can get him, namely eternal life.

Here’s an analogy. Let’s say you want to get a college education. You don’t really want to be a “student” so much as you want to be a “graduate” (i.e. one who has really attained a higher education).

Now I could say “Truly, truly, unless you become a student (i.e. register with the registrar, be “born” into the student body), you cannot become a graduate and enter into the kingdom of the educated.”

Very true. You must be “born again” (into the student body) to graduate.

But not everyone graduates after they become a student.

Who will graduate?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67818

February 10th 2012

Don’t Blame,

Paul is saying that there is no intermediate situation.  There is only being a Christian or not.  We have immature Christians and mature Christians, but we don’t have and semi-Christians or “students” who are seeking to graduate and become Christians.

As far 1 Cor 13 Paul says that Christians must have three gifts of the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, and love.  He does make the point that faith without love is empty, because it is not from God, not rooted in Jesus Christ, but none of these come from obedience, they come if real from God through faith and the Holy Spirit.

Salvation is relational.  You love Jesus with your whole heart or you don’t. You have a personal relationship with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or you don’t.  We do not work our way into a relationship, although the relationship can be strengthened or weakened, but it is an either/or thing. 

God always loves us.  We must make the decision or commitment to turn our lives around to accept God’s love and Jesus Christ as our Savior.  We must accept Jesus as the Savior and be born again before we can be trusting and obedient as a Christian.  Again do not confuse cause (salvation) and effect (obedience.)

Salvation means being a Christian and having eternal life with God with no ifs, ands, or buts.  Paul’s opponents said that to be saved one needed to be saved, that is baptised  by the holy Spirit and be obedient by which they meant following God’s Law which they took to be the Torah.  Paul said NO. 

Salvation, being in Christ makes one a Christian.  If you add anything to this, you are violating the gospel.  Faith in Jesus plus anything no matter how good is an insult to the power of God to save us from our sin.              

Merv - #67821

February 10th 2012

Don’t blame wrote:  “t seems like you’re explaining a
difference without a distinction. My reading of the Bible indicates that although
being saved and obedience are two
different things, they are inseparable.”

Think of it this way.   A car going 55 mph, and its speedometer registering 55 are inseparable.  But that doesn’t mean the speedometer is making the car go 55.  Taping the needle down won’t force the car to maintain 55 any more than my claiming to be a Christian forces that to be a reality.  The only evidence we are shown (our “speedometers”) are the works that Christ works through us.  His work of saving us is prior to all our works.


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67825

February 10th 2012

Roger and Merv,

Thanks for responding.

Something in my head or gut is still not comfortable with this.

Is what you’re saying the equivalent of the teaching variously known as “once saved, always saved”, “eternal security”, “you can’t lose your salvation”?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67835

February 11th 2012

Dont Blame,

There is a connection.  It is encouraging to remember when things are not going as well as we hoped, that it is not because we have lost our salvation.

But when people get too hung up on this type of question I think it could be a sign of judgemental legalism.  I cannot judge your faith.  I can look for signs that your faith is strong or weak, but only God can judge if you are saved or not.  I can evaluate my relationship with God from the inside, but no else can except God. 

Conceivably a person could abandon his or her faith, so I am not absolutely sure on this point, but I do not think so.  It is also true that some people have converted to other faiths or claim to have lost faith altogether.  It is an issue, but not a big issue.   

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67847

February 11th 2012

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67883

February 13th 2012

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67846

February 11th 2012

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