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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objectivegeek - #19145

June 26th 2010

(why do I keep posting)

@Martin

You seem to be invoking Hume’s Is-outght gap. Are you saying that you could choose not to survive, and then my standard would be invalidated—(because presumably you’re saying the desire to sustain your life or not is subjective)?

This is a specious perspective If one does not value his own life, they’re free to cease breathing and we can continue the debate, in roughly 4 minutes.

The only way you can escape the ‘duty’ of survival is to declare you’re own existence worthless. Further, I’m hesitant to grant you this line of argument, because you seem to speak of duty as an existent. This calls your metaphysics into question. Duty is a concept, it is far different from the law of gravity.


philoctetes - #19149

June 26th 2010

Martin, What exactly do you mean by “evil”?

Duty: Can be spelled out in Standing Orders. No standing orders, no god. I’m sure you are to clever to argue that the bible/koran/torah is written by a god. Postulate a god if you like, triggering the big bang (though there are more feasible guesses) but do not try to read his mind and discover a purpose. If such a supernatural being were to exist his purpose would likely be god-centric, not human-centric. But I know no more than you know when it comes to reading divine minds. Minds that were not even manifest in the imaginations of man for the majority of man’s existence.
I’m afraid your reality is a fantasy, but hey, if it stops you from killing and raping and general beastliness, then I guess the rest of us should be grateful you hold it.

Now then: about “evil”......?


Mairnéalach - #19150

June 26th 2010

@Martin Rizley - #19124

Martin, please support your view biblically rather than by brute reason alone. Explain why God would glorify himself by consigning a culture such as the Mayan, which did not receive special revelation until the 16th century, into millenia of stupor of such magnitude that they could not even trust their senses about the natural world around them, nor their elementary human reason.

In his recent essay, Ard Louis quotes John Donne who says: “the ordinary things in Nature, would be greater miracles than the extraordinary, which we admire most, if they were done but once… only the daily doing takes off the admiration.”

This is a thoroughly biblical view of miracles, and of anthropology, describing both God’s gracious sustenance as well as man’s spiritual dullness. The Israelites in the wilderness had access to clear, well-explained miracles, yet still grumbled. You invent explanations for speculative miracles, going WAY beyond the text of scripture, then grumble that others are not “biblical”.


Mairnéalach - #19152

June 26th 2010

@Martin Rizley - #19124


Man’s reason is fallen, but not totally incapable of accurate deductions about the world. God’s curse upon Adam was that his work would become a frustration (thorns), not that he would be completely unable to trust his senses. After all, Adam is made in God’s image and he contains all of God’s creative impulse and an extraordinary measure of his power “I have said, ‘you are gods’”...

God gives common grace to all men such that they can conduct commerce, make logical deductions, and do amazing acts. He even grants such power to unbelievers because he is kind to the evil and ungrateful (the Lord, as recorded in Luke).

Your anthropology makes man too mean and amplifies the Fall even worse than God deigned himself to impose it, and your theory of scripture demotes it from a sacred ark of spiritual wisdom into a secret decoder ring for petty facts; a kind of “book of power” for those in the know, to bar outsiders from gnosis. But Paul plainly says that all men understand from creation plenty enough to condemn themselves. His statement implies that special revelation is “another book”, given to SAVE them—not merely reiterate the lessons of creation.


brad - #19156

June 26th 2010

How does Biologos reconcile the fall with the Resurrection? The Earth is very old, and mankind is very young in relation to the other forms deposited on it. Its a piece of the Biblical puzzle that I can’t seem to put together. Without the fall, mankind would not have needed the resurrection of Christ to save us from eternal punishment.


Martin Rizley - #19174

June 26th 2010

Mairnealach,  I believe in common grace.  I believe, as one creationist pastor I know put it, that people without Christ are “capable fo investigation, of forensic science, of deliberation, of maintaining the rule of law.”  An unbeliever may be “a competent scientist, a moving dramatist, a brilliant reporter. . .the theory of relativity is not invalid simply because Einstein was an agnostic Jews.”  However, I also believe what that pastor goes on to say, “Man’s intellect has been disordered. Man is often mistaken on matters of fact, origin, purpose, and destiny.  Man is often fallacious in his reasoning, but he is still a rational being.”  The fallen character of our minds requires us to avail ourselves of God’s special revelation in Scripture, therefore, to keep a proper focus on how we ‘read’ general revelation.  And if the book of Genesis teaches plainly that all human beings are descended from Adam and that there was a worldwide flood that wiped out the human race except for eight people, and that all people alive today are their descendants, any evidence in the natural world which might appear to suggest otherwise is clearly being misinterpreted (continued).


Martin Rizley - #19175

June 26th 2010

I believe Christians should accept by faith the teaching of Scripture when it touches on matters of history, then approach the study of various disciplines in that light, with a biblical informed mind.  To reject the teaching of Scripture is to set ourselves up for the embracing of error.  As one great hymn puts it—“Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his works in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He shall make it plain.”  If we reject God’s teaching concerning past events as these are recorded for us in the Bible, if we refuse to embrace that teaching ‘by faith’—not because we have established the truth of that teaching through human wisdom— how can we avoid falling into error when we seek to interpret God’s works and world apart from the light of special revelation?


Gregory - #19178

June 26th 2010

Much of the past 30 years of History, Philosophy & Sociology of science (HPSS) has made the position of ‘objectivism’ obsolete. Surely in the human-social sciences, one simply cannot pretend to be ‘objective,’ as A. Rand would have it. Attacking altruism, sabatoging mysticism & wailing against collectivism; these are results of Rand’s unique journey from Russia to the USA. It is romantically extremist to say the least.

The hyper-rationalism of Rand’s approach is actually quite damaging to people who wish to be more holistic about reality. Sure, one human feature is reason (aside: this is what for Rand distinguishes us ‘in kind’ from ‘other animals’ - she was not an evolutionist), but there are other human features such as intuition & emotion that play important roles in human life.

Rand’s cry against faith is easily muted today.

objectivegeek, what is Rand’s understanding of ‘spirit’? She seems to consistently confuse mind, body & spirit in her books. How would you define what ‘spirit’ means to her?

My question above remains also: What is spurring people to comment & ‘debate’ at BioLogos who think that science & religion are at war with each other & that nothing can be done to change this?


philoctetes - #19186

June 26th 2010

“What is spurring people to comment & debate at BioLogos who think that science & religion are at war with each other”
Well the “war” is evident where religionists are determined to introduce the supernatural into the science classroom, or prevent work in labs on say stem cells. Where there is no natural answer at present there is no war, because science can say, we don’t know what’s causing this, call it god if you want. It is when science has demonstrated a correct and experimentally provable condition that the war breaks out if religion says, “that’s all very well but our holy book says different.”
I can’t think of an occasion where religion has questioned science and been right. What’s more it can take them several hundred years to admit the mistake. Errors that science might make are proved to be errors by other scientists with further research. The position is straightforward. Science says on the basis of these events or this data this phenomena is explained thus. That remains true until demonstrated to be false.
That is the battlefield, not that a particular scientist choses to believe in god, and there are a few, but none of them would argue that the earth and man arrived in the way it is represented in Genesis


gingoro - #19232

June 27th 2010

norm @18641

Thanks for your input. I would like to highlight though that Biologos should consider becoming even more “accommodating” to those who come at Adam and Eve from the Historical and theological perspective.

I would agree with norm and wish the presentation was more ballanced even though both
Tim Keller and Bruce Waltke posts supported a historical perspective.

Recently the ASA (American Scientific Affiliation) site refused to allow publication of one of their long time science contributors (Carol Hill) who has been a strong proponent of the Historical Adam approach that you just highlighted.

Do you have any evidence for this assertion?  The membership who accept evolution seem close to equally divided on this topic.
Dave W


Paul Seely - #19255

June 27th 2010

norm - #18641

Carol Hill has written some valuable papers on specific subjects, but her background as a geologist is not always adequate for more general papers. There are significant academic problems with her overall view. See her paper at http://www.asa3.org/asa/pscf/2007/PSCF6-07Hill.pdf  and my response to her overall view at http://www.asa3.org/asa/PSCF/2008/PSCF3-08Seely.pdf 

Dick Fischer’s work, which you also originally mentioned, is informed about ANE literature, but suffers, in my opinion, from too much pure speculation.
Paul


norm - #19256

June 28th 2010

Paul,

Thanks for your response. However I’m very familiar with yours and Carol’s interaction at ASA which you linked. Your point is noted that Carol is not a Theologian and I do not agree with some of Dick Fischer’s implication nor all of Carol’s.  The point I’m trying to emphasize is that yours and Denis Lamoureux’s theological position that there is no historical Adam is a challengeable position as well on theological grounds.  Dr. Falk brought up in this post that there is a reluctance by many to accept the non-historic Adam and Eve presented by some such as yourself and he specifically mentioned Pete Enns. This is a discussion/debate that needs to happen in the scientific community.  ASA’s own recent newsletter stated that a survey revealed there was no consensus on how the scientific community at large viewed Adam’s historicity at this time.  I would venture that Carol’s lacking in the theological letters does not disqualify her from presenting some valid positions that may have good theological merit when investigated.  However by not allowing her recent discussion to go forward the ASA community may not be able to enjoy this debate that has potential for discernment.

Continued


norm - #19257

June 28th 2010

I have already posted her article (with permission) on a private forum for some here at Biologos to read and received some favorable feedback from those who seem disposed to Carol’s understanding of Adam as the historic forerunner of Israel.  The idea that Israel considered Adam as a non person does not appear consistent even under the ANE mindset.
Here is the link again for those who are interested in reading Carol’s article; the full article is a PDF attachment at the end of the introduction.

http://deathisdefeated.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-worldview-approach-to 

One thing I would like to mention concerning Paul’s response to Carol on ASA is that there is an attempt to paint her as a “concordist” which IMO is not entirely accurate. Carol accepts much from the “accommodationist” point of view but simply believes that a mistake is being made to declare a historical Adam as classic scientific “concordism”.  Would believing Abraham’s historicity be considered concordism?

Paul it would have been nice to see this discussion carried on ASA’s site but since it is being restricted under the guise of an “academic lacking” then perhaps Biologos should be the site in which it should be posted and debated.


norm - #19258

June 28th 2010

continued

Carol makes the point that there is commonality in her presentation with the “accommodationist” approach which I would agree with. Many of us are highly indebted to Paul Seely, Denis Lamoureux and Pete Enns and the work you put forth. However not everyone buys the non-historic Adam as a legitimate Jewish understanding but then we could be wrong. It would be good to see a strong and vigorous debate on these theological ramifications “academic letters” or not. Viewers should read Carol’s piece and judge for themselves.


norm - #19259

June 28th 2010

I should remind the readers that Dr. Falk seems to have basically endorsed the premise of Carol Hill’s article with the following excerpt. Just another reason one should make themselves acquainted with her presentation.

Dr. Falk ... “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.”


Mike McCants - #19323

June 28th 2010

“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.”

This seems to be a correct analysis.  Those who simply point out that it seems hopeless for science and religion to communicate in a potentially fruitful way are here to laugh and point at the ridiculousness of an opinion like:

“Option #2 is still a possibility for Christians who hold to a historical Adam and Eve.”

That opinion seems quite irrational to me.  So links from sites like Pharyngula have attracted people like me to express the opinion that your “mission” really is “impossible”.


Manfred - #19342

June 28th 2010

It’s a sin to work for common ground with pagans, which is what you say your mission is.  Repent and believe on Christ and stand on His word, not the failed wisdom of sinful men (which includes you and me).


Gregory - #19348

June 28th 2010

Norm wrote to Paul:
“The point I’m trying to emphasize is that yours and Denis Lamoureux’s theological position that there is no historical Adam is a challengeable position as well on theological grounds.  Dr. Falk brought up in this post that there is a reluctance by many to accept the non-historic Adam and Eve presented by some such as yourself and he specifically mentioned Pete Enns. This is a discussion/debate that needs to happen in the scientific community.”

I agree with Norm´s point here. My question is: where in the ´scientific community´do you think this discussion/debate should happen? I agree that it should happen too.

What I mean is, if you could choose representatives from a few fields who can best address or represent the topic of historic vs. non-historic A&E, which fields would you choose?

If your list leaves out anthropology, sociology or psychology, it could turn into a pretty flat (horozontal) discussion/debate, even if theologians are involved. This is exactly the same point I return to time and again in a conversation about ´science and religion´ that really means ´natural-physical sciences *only* and religion´. Do you hear where I´m coming from on this?


Paul Seely - #19358

June 28th 2010

Norm,
The ASA does not exclude papers on the basis of a lack of formal education. I publshed a paper on the GISP2 ice core (no formal education in that area) but I documented everything from professional journals, conferred with glaciologists, and had a leading glaciologist review it before submitting it for publication).

The ASA journal rejected one of my papers for no good reason that I could see.  I sent it to a similar journal in England (Science & Christian Belief), and they were glad to have it.  The ASA rejected another paper that no one would publish. That’s just the way it is.

If it is discussion you want, Carol could break her paper into parts, e.g., Genesis 1, Adam , Pre-Adamites, Flood,  Overall view, streamline the parts and present them one at a time on “ASA Voices”  This might get her the criticism she might need to make the paper better. Terry Gray very recently wrote there with concern that the ASA should not let the “errantist” view of such as myself and Lamoureaux dominate; so you are not alone.

Paul


Norm - #19371

June 28th 2010

Paul,

Thank you again for taking the time to respond. Also again I want to emphasize that I do not want to lessen the respect that I have for you, Denis and Pete. Believe me your work is foundational toward much of what many of us need and so keep up the good work. The reason I’m taking up the cause for Carol though is that I believe her latest article needs to be heard sooner rather than later and not broken up. What Carol has laid out is a systematic framework in which further work and discussion can proceed from. By setting the bar so high it may be too difficult to instigate the debate. It would be nice if all of ones scholarly ducks could be put in order before the discussion begin but if the issues were fully fleshed out then what would be left. It simply doesn’t always work that way in theological discussions. Putting heavy burdens upon allowing new ideas sometimes comes across as a way of limiting the discourse to those who are selectively trained.  It may be what it is but wisdom needs to be exercised in seizing the moment and the debate between the historical Adam and the non-historical may be a happening that the Lord wants to occur. Paul I believe you have influence at ASA so I appeal to you.


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