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…
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.