On Living in the Middle

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June 24, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

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

On Living in the Middle

This has been an interesting week for The BioLogos Forum. From the atheist camp, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and P.Z. Myers noticed Daniel Harrell’s essay, "Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary", and had a few choice words for us. From the young earth creationist camp, Pastor John MacArthur’s team (see here and here) at Grace to You responded critically to our series on geological history.

When you’re trying to speak to both of two groups on opposite ends of the spectrum and trying to help each see there is middle ground, the forces tugging from opposite sides can be a little painful. Here are some of the responses we got this week:

From Richard Dawkins:

The Biologos Foundation was founded by Francis Collins, who was also its first President until he was nominated by President Obama to head the National Institutes of Health. It would be nice to think that, when Dr Collins was President of Biologos, an article as ridiculous as this could not have been published. Let us hope at least that, if he sees it and has time to read it, he will be profoundly embarrassed.

Jerry Coyne wrote something similar:

…If you accept apparent age to save the Bible, where does it stop?

More important: isn’t BioLogos embarrassed to have this kind of stuff on its website, which purports to accept the findings of science?

On the other side, Philip R. Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You had the following to say in reference to our critique of some of their young earth propositions:

If BioLogos is willing to throw away so much at the very foundations of our faith and at the very beginning of God's revelation, I can't imagine why they would want to keep up the pretense of being Christians at all. Selectively admiring the Bible's moral teachings is not the same thing as actually believing the Bible.

And Travis Allen, Director of Internet Ministry at Grace to You, offered this:

It’s time for Christians to return to the self-attesting authority of God’s Word and forsake the “vain babblings and oppositions of science, falsely so called.”

At times like this, I think of Kermit the Frog’s song: “It's not that easy being green…When I think it could be nicer being red or yellow or gold / Or something much more colorful like that.”

The problem with being in the middle is that both sides think they understand you, when neither does at all. Take Daniel Harrell’s outstanding essay for example. Those who are regulars at the BioLogos site all know what Harrell was doing in this essay. There are Christians whose very sense of purpose and meaning in life depend upon the historicity of Adam and Eve. For such persons, the non-historical approach of Pete Enns or Alister McGrath simply will not do. And when it comes to a historical Adam and Eve, Harrell lays out our only two options. Option #1 is that Adam and Eve were created with apparent age; Option #2 is (in Harrell’s words) “Adam and Eve exist as first among Homo sapiens, specially chosen by God as representatives for a relationship with him.”

Option #1 is the standard argument put forward by those who believe in a young earth created by God in six twenty-four hour days less than 10,000 years ago. BioLogos exists in no small part to marginalize this view from the Church. A fundamental part of our mission is to show that Option #1 is not tenable. Daniel Harrell knows this. All members of the BioLogos community know this. And the leaders of powerful young earth organizations like Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and, Grace to You know that BioLogos exists to show that Option #1 is not tenable. Reasons to Believe (RTB) knows that we are diametrically opposed to Option #1, just as we are diametrically opposed to their untenable position that there has been no macroevolution. Finally, the folks over at the Discovery Institute know that we exist to remove “apparent age” from the lexicon of evangelical Christianity. Such a view makes a mockery of the entire scientific enterprise and its ability to reveal truths about nature.

Speaking personally, Daniel Harrell has written some of my all-time favorite Science and the Sacred essays. I was especially pleased to post this one, since it makes clear that, for Christians who hold to a historical Adam and Eve, Option #2 is sound—both scientifically and theologically. There is nothing in science which would say that God could not have begun his interaction with humankind by entering into a relationship with a particular couple. After all, Christians believe that God interacted with a whole nation of people a while later, and then after that with all humankind through the coming of Christ. Science, I think we all know, is silent on these issues. Option #2 is a place where many Christians can rest comfortably, both theologically and scientifically.

To accept Option #1, however, is to reject the richness of the fossil data; the millions of genetic fingerprints which point to the common ancestry of all life forms; the premises of nuclear physics which allow us to date minerals in multiple ways; the heart of astronomy which tells us how stars and galaxies are still being born; and the science of geology where we can relate events that are taking place now to ancient events from the deep past. BioLogos exists to show that whereas Option #1 runs into trouble with modern science, Option #2 is still a possibility for Christians who hold to a historical Adam and Eve. The only other option for Christians who hold to historicity is Option #1, which smacks of a God who is deceptive (as Harrell points out). The entire context of Harrell’s article—let alone the context of BioLogos’s hundreds of other posts—ought to make it clear that we do not believe Option #1 is viable…not in today’s world.

As scientists—as eminent scientists—who hold truth in the highest regard, I wish Coyne and Dawkins had had a better grasp of the “data” before they sat down at their computers to write. Popping in, reading one article, and then pulling that article out of the context of all that BioLogos is trying to do is not fair practice. I want to quickly add though that I am fully aware that Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne do not have time to be regular readers of the BioLogos Forum. We cannot expect them to know that none of us would give Option #1 a moment of our time, except to contrast it with a position that we do believe is a viable option, or to know that many of us at BioLogos do not take a literal position on Adam and Eve at all. However, if they are only going to drop in on occasion, read a single article and then not understand the point of the article, perhaps it would be appropriate if they would let the thousands in their audiences know when they have misunderstood. It would be good for them to tell their readers that they have posted something which unintentionally distorts our views.

So that is my message to the atheists in our audience. To the rest of us, I would like to say that these are folks that Jesus would be inviting in for dinner. He loved interacting with people like this and he loved them. Some of my favorite speaking engagements have been with atheists. They really need to know us better and we need to make them feel welcome in our midst. The God they are unable to acknowledge, loves them; indeed He especially loves them. My prayer is that we will always see them through his eyes.

So that addresses those who are violet in contrast to BioLogos’s Kermit-the Frog-green. What about those who are on the other end of the spectrum: the red end? What I wish to say to them is that they interpret the early chapters of Genesis one way, and we interpret them another—but we both interpret. Anyone who thinks otherwise is only fooling himself.

I do wish though, that we would not be put forward as those who, according to the above quotations, live under the “pretense of being Christians,” or that we be represented as “vain babblers.” At various times, we have written respectfully that we understand why this issue is so important to you. We love and respect you for the sincerity of your position, but please don’t call us “vain babblers” any more, and please don’t imply that we are only “pretending” to be Christians.

If I were red, I would end this essay with a somewhat preachy Scripture verse, and if I were violet, I would offer some witty, cynical statement to put all of this into a nutshell. However, I’m not red and I’m not violet, so here’s the best I can offer:

It isn’t easy being green…
But green is the color of Spring…
And green can be cool and friendly-like…
And green can be big like an ocean…
Or important like a mountain, …
Or tall like a tree…
It’s beautiful…
And I think it’s what I want to be.


Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.


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Deepak Shetty - #19006

June 25th 2010

BenYachov
>It doesn’t logically follow that because God as you put it seems to “actually play a moral agent” that >he is in fact one.
I didnt say he is , I said he COULD be (and he chooses not to be based on whatever reasons you want to state). He COULD and HAS played a moral agent , therefore there is nothing preventing him from doing so again. That he doesnt is proof to me that if he exists, he cant love us.
>who cares for neither God nor man” who winds up helping a woman just to make her go away.
Great. Lovely fellow this God of yours.
I dont have to convince you of anything. My original point was that you cannot make the claim God loves us. Not that he is good or any such attribute. For the goodness I apply the same rules to God as I would apply to any other person. if i see someone capable of preventing evil and choosing not to do so, i don’t call that person good. You might have another definition of *good* to allow you to keep believing your religion - in what sense is God good?


objectivegeek - #19009

June 25th 2010

@ Martin Rizley

>“You would have no rational ground for anything right or wrong, for there is no “ought” about matter—matter simply is.”
>“A silent universe is an amoral universe.”

False. Whatever something is determine’s what they ought to do. Man’s sole means of survival is rationality. Whenever you incorrectly integrate the facts of reality into your consciousness you suffer the consequences, to varying degrees of severity.

The objective facts of our universe that dictate our means of survival are also a valid basis for an objective morality. Using your imaginary friend as a moral compass is in fact a negation of morality because it is based on whim and not objective fact. Whim as moral standard is a contradiction in terms. It’s actually your view that is amoral. What makes your imaginary friend more moral than mine? (should I choose to invoke one).


objectivegeek - #19011

June 25th 2010

@ Martin Rizley

>“But one thing is certain—the God of Scripture refuses to be domesticated!  He refuses to ‘play by the rules’ by acting only in predictable ways so that men will be able to trace all his ways in the physical world, nor do I think He cares about people being able to write a complete geological history of the earth based on non-interventionist assumptions!”

So, he then wants people to be irrational and belief in his existence anyway? If such a god did exist, I would want no part of him. I can respect arguments that attempt to explain a position coherently but you’re simply saying (in effect) ‘god doesn’t make sense! stop trying to make sense of him!’

This is as low as it gets, in my opinion.


Deepak Shetty - #19012

June 25th 2010

objectivegeek
>Man’s sole means of survival is rationality.
Unfortunately not true. demonstrably false :(


objectivegeek - #19014

June 25th 2010

@Deepak Shetty

>>Man’s sole means of survival is rationality.
>“Unfortunately not true. demonstrably false :(”

Please, demonstrate it. Or at least give a brief explanation of where you’re coming from.


objectivegeek - #19015

June 25th 2010

@Deepak Shetty
A pre-emptive strike: Even if a man is given a piece of bread, it may not have been his rationality that sustained him, but make no mistake - it was rationality.

Am I off target?


Alan Fox - #19016

June 25th 2010

When you’re trying to speak to both of two groups on opposite ends of the spectrum and trying to help each see there is middle ground, the forces tugging from opposite sides can be a little painful.

False dichotomy, Professor Falk? Where are the buddhists in this melée?


Deepak Shetty - #19017

June 25th 2010

@objectivegeek

it may not have been his rationality that sustained him, but make no mistake - it was rationality.

It wasnt rationality , but it was?
Demonstrably false in the sense that irrational people / cultures have survived - but you seem to have a different definition of rational.


objectivegeek - #19018

June 25th 2010

@Deepak Shetty

>“It wasnt rationality , but it was?”

You mis-quoted—- I said it wasn’t his rationality—but actually I wasn’t even entirely correct. He was still required to eat the thing—which is a rational decision.

Because a person is irrational with respect to one area of their lives, it does not follow that they are irrational with respect to meeting their needs of survival. You paint with too broad a brush. Rationality applies to a person’s decisions individually, it is not a category one belongs to.


Martin Rizley - #19022

June 25th 2010

Objective Geek, 
You write “The objective facts of our universe that dictate our means of survival are also a valid basis for an objective morality.”  I agree that IF someone places a priority on the survival of the human race, then the “objective facts” of what is needed for the race to survive would require something like the “golden rule” to keep people from each others’ throats.  But the point I’m making is this:  if there is no God, and no transcendent ethic beyond what I arbitrarily choose, why should I be concerned about the human race surviving at all?  There are some ‘far out’ people who are hoping the human race will go extinct in the next century, so that the planet can return to its pristine, pre-human state of ecological balance.  If ‘matter’ is all there is, who is to say they are wrong?  If human beings are not uniquely created in God’s image and if they have no unique value in His sight—no value at all in the eternal scheme of things—, then why should I value them over the blades of grass on my lawn that I mow down every week?  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #19023

June 25th 2010

Blades of grass may be less biologically complex than human beings, and for that reason, less interesting, perhaps, but they are less violent and destructive of other species.  If there is no God, there is no ultimate difference in value between a blade of grass and a human being.  Both are ‘accidental collocations of atoms drawn up from primordial ooze,” as Bertrand Russell put it.  Dostoyevsky saw the truth clearly, “Without God, anything is permissible.”  If there is no final judgment, no final reckoning because we live in a mindless, pointless, godless universe that doesn’t care at all about us, why not just go out in a blaze of glory like the Columbine killers.  In that case, who’s to say that what they did was wrong?  I may not like someone shooting me in the head, but who am I to impose my “survival based” value system on him, if he doesn’t care about my survival or his own?  So there is no “ought” without God.  There is no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose without Him.  There is nothing then but blind chance, ruthless will, and the dark consequence (which atheists must face) that “might makes right.”


Martin Rizley - #19024

June 25th 2010

Objective Geek,  You also ask that if God’s ways are past our comprehension, is it that “He wants people to be irrational and believe in his existence anyway?”    I would say rather that God wants us to face up to the fact that His existence is the only basis for thinking rationally about anything, since He is the source of rationality.  Without Him, there is only ultimate chaos and absurdity.  As VanTil put is, “I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other belief, or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other belief; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else.”  If there is no infinite reference point in which to ground our interpretation of reality, then all of our knowledge is uncertain, relative, and provisional.  We don’t really know anything.  The fact that all human beings have a sense of their knowledge is grounded in some stable, ‘objective’ reality outside of themselves stems from the fact that deep down, we all know that God exists, but we suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness, because we do not want Him to exist.  We do not want to be answerable to Him for our lives, so we deny His existence.


Deepak Shetty - #19025

June 25th 2010

@objectivegeek

You paint with too broad a brush.

Perhaps. But when you say a personal is rational what do you mean? Do you mean he is rational in every aspect , in most aspects or what? If a mentally challenged person knows that he has to eat to survive , are you going to say he is rational? If you have to answer is a YEC is rational are you going to say, He is only irrational when it comes to the yec bits? Or lets be direct . is Sarah Palin rational (without going into politics)?


objectivegeek - #19028

June 25th 2010

@Martin Rizley

You assume too much. I don’t ascribe to a “secular humanist” or other altruistic view of morality. There is no single entity “the human race”. “The human race” is only a concept, it is not an existent. Only individuals exist, and by way of the fact of our existence, we are each ends in and of ourselves.

It is only by our existence that the concept of value means anything at all. I’m not sure about you, but I ascribe immensely more value to my life than to a blade of grass. The idea that value only comes from a supernatural being is outrageous. Don’t feed me the, “without god, we’re meaningless” line—BULL. I live now and I value every moment. Life is the sole giver of value.

The “Without God, anything is permissible” line is in the same vein. It presses upon everyone else the same worthlessness that the espouser of this argument views himself with. Just because you see no value in life without god, does not mean the statement holds for everyone.

See Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” for an elaboration. I cannot do an introduction to Objectivism in a combo box.


Mike Gene - #19029

June 25th 2010

Hi Alan,

Does the atheist “camp” have a wedge document?

Not that we know of.  But then, throughout history, the vast majority of movements didn’t and don’t come with leaked wedge documents.  For example, can you link to the animal right movement’s wedge document?

When you were an “atheist”, did you go to meetings?

Nope, I went to parties.  And my T-shirts had Pink Floyd on them instead of red A’s.  And I spent money on objects that would induce pleasure rather than help put up ads on buses.


objectivegeek - #19030

June 25th 2010

@Deepak Shetty

>“But when you say a personal is rational what do you mean?”

I don’t think you can classify a person as rational or not. I try to act rationally in all cases, but every once in a while I catch myself thinking that my lucky underwear really will help my team win

Again, I don’t think rationality is a category. When Sarah Palin eats breakfast, she’s making a rational decision, when she prays for success in Iraq she isn’t.

As it turns out we only have the luxury of being irrational about things that don’t directly impact our survival. You don’t see many religions making it a sin to drink water (I’m sure their was one sometime, but the adherents would have died out by now!).


philoctetes - #19034

June 25th 2010

Martin Rizley,
“IF someone places a priority on the survival of the human race, then the “objective facts” of what is needed for the race to survive would require something like the “golden rule” to keep people from each others’ throats.”

Except that since the dawn of recorded history man has been at the throat of man for a variety of reasons, religion being prominent among them yet man; in terms of pure numbers, has prospered, I believe the figure is now 6 1/2 billion but I may be wrong. As for live not being worth living without god, well I can vouch that it is and there are millions of us that agree that there probably is no god and so we get on with enjoying life. We should be allowed to enjoy our life safe from the threat of men going through a crisis of conscience and belief deciding to mow us down like blades of grass because we do not share their views about the unknowable.


Alan Fox - #19035

June 25th 2010

Oh dear HTML errors!  Trying again!

Nope, I went to parties.

If you remember them, they weren’t real parties!

And my T-shirts had Pink Floyd on them instead of red A’s.

Instead of Red A’s? When did the A logo become current? Not in the ink Floyd era, surely?

And I spent money on objects that would induce pleasure rather than help put up ads on buses.

Well, it was your money, after all. Have you something against promoting a point of view by advertising?


Martin Rizley - #19036

June 25th 2010

Objective geek,  I don’t say that human beings without God are worthless.  I say that they are LESS than worthless—the most miserable all anomalies in the universe—for at least a rock has no aspirations, but human beings DO have aspirations and a sense of purpose and meaning that looks beyond the brief ‘batting of an eyelid’ that is our lifespan.  The book of Ecclesiastes says that God has put eternity in our hearts, and if we deny that sense of eternity—the awareness that our lives will go on and that they do have significance in “the eternal scheme of things”—then we really de-humanize ourselves to some degree, I believe.  For then we could not OBJECTIVELY see ourselves as anything more than a fluke, our lives as a farce, and our destiny that of ferilizer.  On that premise, would not human existence be utterly absurd?  You may wish to ‘find meaning’ in absurdity,  but your effort to do so reminds me of the wino on the street who, in his druknen stupor,  imagines a broken card board box to be a plush feather bed in a palace.  He may cheer himself with such ‘fantasies,’ but meanwhile, the cold weather is turning him into a popsickle.  Truth will out.


philoctetes - #19037

June 25th 2010

Dostoevsky was a great author and a mystic,  he called his jesus figure “the Idiot”, albeit ironically, but the point is that D like his great contemporary George Eliot, was concerned with morals. Both produced some of the greatest novels in our culture, one was a believer the other an atheist or as they called it in her day an agnostic.
It is hardly a moral person that suggests only a belief in god stops him killing his neighbour and raping his wife. My moral sense tells me that such behaviour is wrong because it is wrong not because it leads to the wrong sort of afterlife. It’s good to be good, and doesn’t or shouldn’t require the prospect of heaven to validate it.
Your assumptions about god and love and rationality are exactly that, unproven and unprovable assumptions. Monotheism is a recent concept. for the previous 50, or 100 thousand years before monotheism where was the chaos and absurdity? Is there anything more absurd that groups of people killing each other in a dispute over who’s concept of the imaginary is true?
You might reflect on “purpose”. We can prove none but imagine many. We are an infinitesimal fraction of the Universe. Consider that LIFE JUST IS and Live it to the best of your human ability.


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