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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 - #19074

June 26th 2010

objectivegeek
I think so . In any case too late to continue


objectivegeek - #19075

June 26th 2010

@Martin Rizley
>“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.”

I find this incredibly ironic. My standard exists. I exist. I am alive. You can’t evade this. I am not deriving morality from my whims. I’m deriving it from the fact that I exist and what the natural world requires of me in order to sustain my life. I cannot make these things up, nor change them. They are distinct from my consciousness.

You’re the one presupposing a moral standard so that you can invoke a god to back it up. Which came first your morals or your god? and how do you know? It’s you to whom your statement applies.

The only way to escape this is to invalidate your very existence by declaring it worthless. Since you’ve made a fine attempt at accomplishing this in post #19036 I don’t see us getting anywhere.


Gregory - #19078

June 26th 2010

I agree with Ben Landrum - #19055. Did someone spread the word at a particular location or two that non-believers should come to BioLogos to ‘debate’ believers?

With many of the comments by new posters to BioLogos in the past couple of weeks, there is no sense of connection with the mission of the BioLogos Foundation: to engage in communication between science and religion in a potentially fruitful way.

What is spurring people to comment and ‘debate’ at BioLogos who think that science and religion are at war with each other and that nothing can be done to change this?

Perhaps some atheists are upset that BioLogos acknowledges an ‘old’ Earth, as do they, and that it has little problem with ‘biological evolution,’ as do they. In other words, it maybe upsetting for someone who defends an ideology of scientism (or in the case of the A. Rand follower, hyper-rationalism), to realize that mainstream religious persons can be scientists and accept must of the ‘scientific consensus’ too.

Some of the ‘middle ground’ to be found here is in accepting that there are non-scientific and extra-rational topics and questions, which can benefit from enlisting philosophical and (gasp) theological knowledge.


Mairnéalach - #19088

June 26th 2010

@Martin Rizley - #18972

The ONLY divine commandment regarding how man is to regard the natural world is this—“Thou shalt not have any gods above me.” This means, man shall not ascribe ultimacy, nor salvific power to the creation he sees around him. He is to ascribe it all to God’s handiwork alone.

We know the unbeliever strays when he adores creation but not the creator; however, the believer strays when he adds commandments to special revelation, binding the conscience when God has not done so. This is what you are doing. There is only one stumbling block to mankind—this is Christ on the cross, and how his blood both judges sinners in unbelief and redeems the righteous in faith. The offense is NOT geology, not astronomy, not biology.


Mairnéalach - #19089

June 26th 2010

@Martin Rizley - #18972, continued

God may have seemed afraid of man’s industry at Babel, and frustrated it accordingly. Yet, the bible also says that while it is his glory to hide things, it is the glory of kings to search them out. And it says knowledge will increase in the last days (in which we now live). Neither of these facts are noted by the inspired writers with any sense of contempt. Therefore, it is safe for the Christian to assume God is not out to trick anyone with starlight or rocks.

Unfortunately, in your conception of God, his handiwork is so meager that he HAS to play parlor tricks in order to frustrate man’s science. You must reject uniformitarianism because you feel that, without it, God wins some breathing room to protect his secret wisdom from the prying eyes of man.

However, the trinitarian scientist knows otherwise. He knows that, even WITH uniformitarianism, God’s created world remains utterly astounding to man and will until the end of days. God’s work is so breathtaking that the SPIRITUAL man will grow in reverent humility even as he grows in penetrating the mysteries of the universe.

God is not afraid of what man will discover—he simply hates man’s hubris. Knowledge is not the problem-SIN is.


Mike Gene - #19097

June 26th 2010

Gregory and Mairnéalach,

Great comments!


philoctetes - #19104

June 26th 2010

Martin,
Atheists do not borrow moral values from believers, otherwise we would consent to all the more outrageous moral demands of the bible which only the crazy fundamentalists support. Monotheism by the standards of humanity is a recent phenomena and the values of each of the three most well known monotheistic religions vary enormously.

Even so it is not credible to assume that morality was non-existent in the tens of thousands of years before monotheism. Christianity, for example has adopted moral values from older sources like Buddhism and from polytheists like Aristotle.

Atheists may though share certain moral values with believers. Moral values vary over time to cope with conditions in changing societies. Slavery for example was considered perfectly acceptable in the bible and by christians up until it was abolished in the British Empire in the early C. 19. It is not considered moral now, though I understand that it is still acceptable in some areas of the Islamic world.


Martin Rizley - #19119

June 26th 2010

Objective Geek,  Let me just ask you one question:  did the Columbine killers do anything ‘wrong’?  Was it wrong of them to walk into their high school and started killing people indiscrimnately?  On what possible ground can you say they OUGHT NOT to have done what they did, if mindless matter is their and our ‘mother’?  You say, what they did is contrary to what is required for life on earth to continue; the principle of ‘blind rage’ on which they acted is ‘wrong,’ because if everyone acted like that ,the human race could not survive.  The question is, why OUGHT they to be concerned about their own, or anyone else’s survival?  Can you answer me that?  If the final reality out of which we all spring—mindless matter—is impersonal, unconcious, and uncaring, and what we ‘call’ personality, consciousness, and compassion is a merely a temporary, accidental, capricious fluke of nature that appears for a moment, then disappears forever (which is what an atheist must affirm), why SHOULD I give a flip about anything?  (cont.).


Martin Rizley - #19120

June 26th 2010

If I have no more ‘given’ or ‘intrinsic’ value than a blade of grass, why SHOULD I treat myself or anyone else differently than a blade of grass?  I don’t think atheism has any real answer to that question.  Notice my question to you is not whether you have any values or ethical beliefs that give you the ILLUSION of meaning and value.  My question is whether you have any objective, rational basis for saying that you have meaning and value which are not ‘self-appointed.’  Do you have any meaning and value that are intrinsic or ‘given’—that precedes any self-evaluation—or do you only have the meaning and value you have ‘created’ for yourself?  Do you have to ‘make up’ any meaning or value that makes your life worth living?  If that’s what you are doing, then how is that any different than the drug user who takes LSD because he prefers the psychedelic world he sees when he ‘drops acid’  to the real world he sees when he comes off his trip?  If meaning and value are self-created ‘illusions’ in a world that has come out of chaos and is returning to chaos, how can you accuse theists of living in a fantasy world, while you are living in reality?


Martin Rizley - #19124

June 26th 2010

Mairnealach,  All I can say is that your view of God are not intervening supernaturally in the natural world is not in accordance with the Bible.  Where in the Bible are we given the assurance that God will be careful to ‘proscribe’ HIs miraculous interventions so as not to ‘disturb’ earth’s geomorphology in a way that could confuse scientific investigators several millenia down the line?  Where in the Bible do you get the idea that God is at all concerned about man’s ability to write books on earth’s geohistory on strictly naturalistic principles?  Am I saying that that God does not want people to investigate the world He has made and to ‘think His thoughts after Him’?  Of course wants us to learn about His world.  But He wants us to ‘presuppose’ His special revealtion in Scripture as the context for all of our investigations into His general revelation in nature.  The assumption of strict naturalism (divine non-intervention in the natural world) rejects the teaching of Scripture, so God gladly ‘befuddles’ the efforts of those who try to explain the world from that starting premise.


norm - #19125

June 26th 2010

Martin,

The material Atheist has no answer for these issues and there is a frustration on their part to think that someone believes there could be.  I don’t know why they are wasting everyone’s time to demonstrate the reality that they have no answers for life as it is a given that they do not. IMO they should go their way and get together with each other and see how far they can get collectively in this pursuit. However I have the feeling that some of the less strident ones may simply be exploring their own measure of logic and reasoning in these interfaces hoping beyond hope that they will find the magic formula to exonerate that deep need within for purpose.


objectivegeek - #19126

June 26th 2010

@Martin,
You keep asserting that without god, it’s impossible for my value to be more than a blade of grass. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Without the beholder, the concept is meaningless.  Why do you insist that god is the sole beholder? Cannot I value my own life? Cannot my wife value my life?

The fundamental question one must answer when determining if an action is moral is immoral is whether the action is life sustaining or life threatening. The columbine killers were hideously immoral. You have a gross mis-understanding of my position.

You insist on talking about pre-existence and post-existence as means of determining value, but you ignore the here and now. You keep ignoring the undeniable fact of existence. Please read this summation of objectivist ethics to understand where I’m coming from.

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ari_ayn_rand_the_objectivist_ethics
” Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.” ~Ayn Rand


philoctetes - #19127

June 26th 2010

Sorry I have to split this, Columbine, chaos and meaning are in the next message.
Have you ever considered it from the point of view of the blade of grass? Grass has been around for 60m years, humans for less than a quarter m years. Grass seems well adjusted. Also you might find it interesting and possibly informative to look at research into the nature of the intelligence of fellow members of our ape family. Chimps with their phenomenal short range memory, their preferences in video material, their competence in learning our sign language and most recently the discovery (along with Orangs) of their own independent (sign) languages. For me one of the most negative assumptions of christianity is not the supernatural stuff, but the notion that every other animal vegetable and mineral exists to serve our convenience. At the very least this is rather arrogant and perhaps one of the causes; certainly the justification of, the rape of our planetary resources. It is not beyond belief that man will consume himself as he follows the 99% of all other species that have lived on earth to extinction


philoctetes - #19128

June 26th 2010

To Columbine, disturbed teenagers in a gun-worshipping culture. Is it surprising? I don’t know whether they or McVeigh or or the other serial killing nutters did it for god or as an expression of rejection of god. I somehow doubt that they were philosophically capable of looking or acting beyond their own neuroses. Certainly the 9/11 bombers did it in the belief that they would be rewarded by the abrahamic god.
You do seem obsessed with meaning. There may be some but it is equally likely their is none. I suspect your “chaos” is Miltonian (we can discuss that if you wish) , I tend to see it more in terms of entropy. I am content to realise that every atom in me and the world around me was once at the heart of a star and will be so again in a few billion years. If your life has no meaning but for a supernatural creator of this unimaginably immense universe then all I can say is “get a life” and I mean that literally and compassionately not superciliously


philoctetes - #19130

June 26th 2010

Comment 19127

That should of course have read “Short term memory” not “short range memory”


objectivegeek - #19132

June 26th 2010

@ Martin
>“If I have no more ‘given’ or ‘intrinsic’ value than a blade of grass, why SHOULD I treat myself or anyone else differently than a blade of grass?”

It is the fact that you cannot see the obvious answer to this question that makes you and your ilk the most dangerous people on the planet.

>“Notice my question to you is not whether you have any values or ethical beliefs that give you the ILLUSION of meaning and value.  “

You have defined value in such a way that god is the sole giver of it. Athiests of course have to answer for an objective standard for “intstrinsic” value. Intrinsic value is a contradiction in terms.

The only thing that keeps bring me back here is a clarification of my position. I have no hope of convincing you of it’s validity. I don’t have time for this any longer, so I’ll be done now.

Take care.


objectivegeek - #19133

June 26th 2010

.... Eh, that should read “Athiests of course nave NO answer”.


Martin Rizley - #19136

June 26th 2010

Objective Geek,    You quote Ayn Rand as saying, “It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”  I would modify that by saying, “It is only to a personal entity that things can be good or evil.”  Plants are ‘living entities’ but they have no concept of good and evil.  Only personal beings have the concept of good and evil, because only personal beings have the concept of ‘duty’  (what is ‘due’ to one person by another).  Duty only exists in the context of personal relationships, where a superior being imposes his will on an inferior being, and demands a reckoning; if the universe has a personal origin (i. e., God) then one can speak intelligibly of duty as an ‘objective’ reality into which human beings are ‘born.’  But if the world has an impersonal origin, and there is no superior Being over us who imposes his will on us and to whom we are answeable, then we are not ‘born’ into the sphere of duty.  Any ‘sense’ of duty that I impose on myself, therefore, is self-created and therefore imaginary (illusory)—not an objective fact of my existence into which I am ‘born.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but I prefer to live in reality, not fantasy. (continued)


Martin Rizley - #19138

June 26th 2010

If I want to assert, therefore, that duty is NOT an ‘imaginary’ concept that I have created for myself, but an objective reality into which I was born, as objectively real and external to me as the law of gravity, then I must acknowledge that I have been born into a universe that has a personal origin.  Ultimate reality must be personal, not impersonal, for duty to exist as an objective fact, to which I MUST conform. 

This is the last comment I can post for today.  I’ll get back to you later if you post any comments in response.


objectivegeek - #19142

June 26th 2010

@Martin,
You fail to understand my perspective. Read the article if you care to continue this conversation. It’s pointless for me to re-hash it here.


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