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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 - #19038

June 25th 2010

objectivegeek
even animals survive. Are they rational?
I dont think we are really disagreeing on anything. i understand the nuance you are trying to make. however broadly speaking I use rational in a different sense and as you say a broader brush than you do. e.g. I wouldnt hesitate to call sarah palin irrational even if she does make *some* rational choices.


philoctetes - #19039

June 25th 2010

Martin,
Yes, aspirations not aspiration. I have an aspiration to understand more about the universe, I can’t advance that particular aspiration by just ascribing every natural phenomenon to a supernatural being. Ultimately that tells me nothing. I aspire to a world where people don’t kill each other because of variations in their concept of the nature of their supernatural favourite. I am sorry that you have only one aspiration and I fear that you are in for an awful disappointment at the end of your days, though you will not be conscious enough to feel it. And why not for a moment consider that because the bible says something it is literally, metaphorically and most importantly historically true. It is the perspective and the interpretation of its fallibly human author. Stop worrying about the afterlife there probably isn’t one. Make the most of the life you know you have


objectivegeek - #19041

June 25th 2010

Comment removed by moderator.


objectivegeek - #19042

June 25th 2010

@Deepak Shetty
>“even animals survive. Are they rational?”

They are not volitional, and probably not even conscious, so they cannot be rational.

I don’t mind using the word rational as you have in passing but I don’t think it would do in this context.


Greg Myers - #19047

June 25th 2010

Of course, because it is useful to consider a broad gulf between us and other animals, we deny them rationality and consciousness.  But self-awareness, communication, planning for the future, tool use, altruistic acts, joy, shame - some animals do demonstrate qualities some claim to be solely human.  This makes sense when you think about evolution - that we make use of traits and abilities that evolved elsewhere in the wheel of life.

Life can be of value for a variety of reasons (because it is rare, because we all do better when our community does better, because to value life sets up systems whereby your life is valued and enhanced, for example) - not only because some deity says it of value.  And since most deities also say that some life (their chosen) is more valuable than others (their rejected), an atheist ethic may well value life a good deal more than a theistic one.

What is more, there is no single theistic ethic - their are tens of thousands of theistic ethics, trying to make sense of a body of largely contradictory tradition and writings.  There is no broad consensus as to what a god or gods wants from us, values us for, or demands in return for our being found worthy.


Deepak Shetty - #19049

June 26th 2010

objectivegeek

and probably not even conscious

Are you joking?
My point merely is that survival skills are normally not thought of as rational , they fall more into the instinct category.


objectivegeek - #19051

June 26th 2010

@Deepak Shetty
I did not say that all survival is rational, I said that man’s is. Man does not have the ability to suspend his volition. Animals do not have the ability to be volitional. The survival modes are distinct. Agreed?


Ben Landrum - #19055

June 26th 2010

Wow, the signal to noise ratio in these comments has dropped tremendously.

I just want to congratulate Darrel Falk and the rest of the BioLogos gang for all that you’ve done.  You have my support, fellas.  You have your convictions but also show a lot of class.

Some words from N. T. Wright’s “Justification” on the need for an online ethic (the original context is about Christian blogging, but it also applies here).

“But the cyberspace equivalents of road rage don’t happen by accident.  People who type vicious, angry, slanderous and inaccurate accusations do so because they feel their worldview to be under attack.  Yes, I have a pastoral concern for such people.  (And, for that matter, a pastoral concern for anyone who spends more than a few minutes a day taking part in blogsite discussions, especially when they all use code names: was it for this that the creator God made human beings?)”


Mike Gene - #19056

June 26th 2010

Alan (#19035),

I think the Red A’s came out about a year after Dawkins’ site went up.  He began selling t-shirts with the red A about the time many atheists began putting A’s on their blogs.  Movements tend to gravitate around symbols.  It’s a way of saying, “I belong.”  It taps into that tribalistic instinct. BTW, Dawkins has new versions of the A shirt up for sale for anyone interested. 

And no, I don’t have anything against promoting a point of view by advertising.  The whole bus advertisement thing is just one piece of evidence that there is a New Atheist movement.


Deepak Shetty - #19062

June 26th 2010

@objectivegeek

Man does not have the ability to suspend his volition. Animals do not have the ability to be volitional. The survival modes are distinct. Agreed?

If you have ever starved, youll know how volitional man is. I see that you think any act of taking a decision is rational, thats not a definition I share.


objectivegeek - #19063

June 26th 2010

@Deepak Shetty

I’m sorry but I don’t follow. The mere act of deciding does not constitute rationality in my view either. When did I give that impression?


Martin Rizley - #19064

June 26th 2010

Philoctotes,    You write, “It is hardly a moral person that suggests only a belief in god stops him killing his neighbour and raping his wife.”  First of all, what do you mean by a moral person?  If there is no objective standard of morality to which people ‘ought’ to confirm,  how can you distinguish between people as moral and immoral?  I am not saying that only belief in God stops people from killing their neighbors and raping their wives.  What I am saying is that if one denies the existence of God—and therefore a transcendent, eternal, spiritual order, then he has no rational justification for believing that one OUGHT to refrain from antisocial behavior.  OUGHTNESS makes no sense within a worldview framework of pure materialism.  You say my belief in God is unproven and unprovable, but you say that your “moral sense” tells you that certain behaviors are “wrong,” by which I assume you mean such behaviors are “not good.”  From where does your “moral sense” arise?  By what standard do you define what is good?  If you say that people “ought”to show their neighbors compassion, rather than cruelty ; where does this sense of ’oughtness” come from?


objectivegeek - #19065

June 26th 2010

@Deepak Shetty

volition: the capability of conscious choice and decision and intention

Are you saying your level of volition (I don’ t think there is such a thing - you either are or aren’t) is inversely related to your level of hunger? I can’t imagine why you’d think that. At what point on the hunger scale does man cease to be volitional? Or are you saying humans aren’t volitional at all?

In the later case I’d say we’re on quite opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum. You’ve totally lost me. This is a weird tangent I might add.


objectivegeek - #19066

June 26th 2010

@ Martin Rizley
>“If there is no objective standard of morality to which people ‘ought’ to confirm,  how can you distinguish between people as moral and immoral?”
>“OUGHTNESS makes no sense within a worldview framework of pure materialism”

False. I repeat, the objective standard is individual life. My life provides plenty of “oughtness”. Deriving morality from here is not difficult.


Martin Rizley - #19068

June 26th 2010

Philoctetes (continued)  That sense of ‘oughtness” certainly does not arise from the impersonal material universe itself, for mindless matter simply ‘is’—it doesn’t dictate any ‘should.’   
I am not denying that atheists may live outwardly ethical lives.  They may live exemplary lives in certain ways, caring for their families, etc.  My point is that they have no rational justification for placing the value on other people that they do.  If the universe is completely ‘silent’ regarding the quality of our choices—if consciousness itself is only a recent development in cosmic history, a passing ‘blip,’ freak phenomenon in a universe destined for the ash heap—then atheists must derive any sense of moral ‘oughtness’ by borrowing from a non-materialistic worldview like Christianity.  Any time atheists talk of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ “moral’ or ’immoral’,  they are displaying flowers transplanted into their own atheistic garden from another garden, for on atheistic principles such concepts are absurd.  How can our ideas of the “good” be anything but arbitrary, subjective, ephemeral and ultimately absurd, if the world came out of chaos and is returning to chaos?


objectivegeek - #19069

June 26th 2010

@ Martin Rizley
... The morality derived from the standard of individual life is quite different from the altruistic christian morality. I’m not attempting to derive *your* morality—rather the morality best suited for life in the natural world.

I don’t mean to put words in @Philoctetes’ mouth. He may disagree.


Deepak Shetty - #19070

June 26th 2010

objectivegeek

“the capability of conscious choice and decision and intention”
I believe the key word there is conscious.


objectivegeek - #19071

June 26th 2010

@Deepak Shetty
>“I believe the key word there is conscious.”
I’m with you that far… I feel like I agree with you, we just mis-communicated somewhere?


Deepak Shetty - #19072

June 26th 2010

Martin Rizley

Any time atheists talk of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ “moral’ or ’immoral’,  they are displaying flowers transplanted into their own atheistic garden from another garden, for on atheistic principles such concepts are absurd

You know there are quite a few words to describe your views. All of them will probably get me banned.


Martin Rizley - #19073

June 26th 2010

Objective Geek,
“The objective standard is individual life. My life provides plenty of “oughtness”. Deriving morality from here is not difficult.”  Your life, if it comes out of chaos and is returning to chaos, has no ‘oughtness’ about it other than the ‘oughtness’ you invent for yourself.  But if you invent your own ‘oughtness,’ then you are living under a self-imposed delusion of obligation.  That is, you are living in the very fantasy world that you accuse theists of living in.  The person who denies there is any objective moral order outside himself to which he must conform, then talks about the existence of an oughtness arising from within himself to which he must conform, is like a person who locks the door of his room from inside and then pretends to be unable to get out.  He is like a person who claims that it is raining because when he closes his eyes he can imagine raindrops falling.  In other words, he is a person living in a world of his own making—or rather, who ‘remakes’ the world in his own image because he doesn’t want to live in the world that is.


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