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So, Do You Believe in Evolution?

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July 30, 2014 Tags: Biblical Interpretation, Christian Unity, Creation & Origins, Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by Rodney J. Scott. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

So, Do You Believe in Evolution?

“So, do you believe in evolution?” I get this question all the time. I get it from my students, from the parents of my students, from my friends and from my colleagues. I’m tempted to respond (and to be honest, sometimes I have) “No, I believe in Jesus and I don’t believe in Santa Claus, but I don’t even ask myself whether I “believe” in evolution – that’s just not a sensible question.” For me, the phrase “believe in” is very similar to the phrase “to have faith in”, and I don’t think of evolutionary theory as something that one can or should “have faith in.” However, what my glib response misses is the very real dynamic that some people have had their faith shaken by assumptions about evolutionary theory. So in my better moments, I try not to be glib, and I try to really explain how I have come to reconcile my beliefs as a Christian with my understanding of evolutionary theory.

Where I usually end up (after a long dialogue) is with these two simple (but I think profound) propositions: 1) God did it. And 2) I really don’t know how. But how have I arrived at such a position of enlightenment (and what do I really “believe” about evolution?)? To answer these questions I need to provide a brief sketch of my faith journey and my intellectual/academic journey which have generally run on parallel tracks throughout my life.

The first time I remember probing a matter of Science-Faith integration was when I was about six years old. I asked my mom “If Adam and Eve were the only people God made – who did Adam and Eve’s sons marry (not their sisters, right? – YUCK!)?” My mom couldn’t answer my question, and I still haven’t answered it to my satisfaction. However, I survived this intellectual crisis as a youngster by applying my two previously mentioned propositions. God certainly was the one who created the human race, but apparently, having such faith didn’t also require having all the answers. After all, my mom seemed to believe the biblical story even though she couldn’t explain everything.

The next significant step in my faith journey happened while I was in college. Although I considered myself a Christian, my faith really didn’t impact the way I lived, let alone how I thought about intellectual matters. Then two things happened that forever changed my approach to faith. First, a traveling evangelist appeared on campus. I don’t remember his name or his denomination, but he asked me a question that got me thinking: “If you died tonight, do you know with certainty where you would spend eternity?” For various reasons, my life was in a state that made me receptive to that question. He also directed another question to me and my friend Tom, both biology majors: “How can you believe in that evolution stuff? Can’t you see that God’s the Creator, and not some random process called evolution?”

I remember this question for two reasons. First, because even though the evolutionary explanation made sense to me, I didn’t let this apparent conflict prevent me from taking a step of faith. Second, because I perceived that this conflict did make it harder for my friend Tom to take that same step of faith. Tom was a hard-core biologist and his reaction was very negative. The way he saw it, to become a Christian meant that he would have to “turn off his brain” – and when it came to biology, there was no way that he’d do that. I lost touch with Tom after college, so I don’t know how things ended up for him, but it causes me great sadness to think that he may have missed out on life in Christ because he was confronted with what I believe was an unnecessary choice.

The second thing that shaped my faith during college was that I was befriended by a group of students from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. These folks were Christians and they definitely didn’t keep their religion separate from the rest of their lives. They actually read the Bible and tried to apply it to their lives. And instead of asking me how I could believe in “that evolution stuff,” they welcomed me into their lives and showed me love. The traveling evangelist got me thinking about my eternal destination, and these folks modeled a way that I wanted to live my life here and now. The result was that I dedicated my life to God.

When I entered graduate school I continued to nurture my new commitment to God by attending a “Bible Church,” meeting with other Christians in small groups, and reading books and articles about Christian faith. It was a time of wonderful spiritual growth for me, but also a time of some spiritual/intellectual confusion. When it came to understanding how my chosen profession, biology, related to my faith, I got a lot of mixed and/or negative messages. Thankfully, God provided Chuck, a mentor who helped me to understand some of the complexities of relating science and faith. Chuck taught me that both science and theology are human endeavors, and therefore, both are sometimes flawed – and this can lead to apparent conflicts. But he also explained that the subjects of those two disciplines, the created order and the Scripture, are both works of God and should therefore ultimately be compatible.

After graduate school I needed a job. I applied for positions at various institutions and I received invitations for four interviews; one was at Wheaton College. Though I’d known nothing of Wheaton during my early years, I’d come to hear quite a bit about it since entering the world of “Evangelicalism”. It was (so I was told) “the Harvard of the Christian Colleges”. Though I was rather intimidated about the interview, and I was fairly sure that I didn’t have the necessary credentials, I ended up getting the job!

When I look back on my interview this seems to have occurred despite the lack of sophistication in some of my responses. My response to one question specifically stands out in my mind. An administrator asked me how I accounted for the many physiological similarities between humans and other primates. My response was based on something that I’d read in a tract about evolution. I asked this administrator if he knew that the creator of the VW beetle and the Porsche roadster were one and the same person (Mr. Porsche of course) and that he had used components from the VW to make the first Porsche. The administrator didn’t know that bit of trivia, but he saw the connection between my story and his question, and this bit of hand-waving was enough to get me off the hot seat. (This illustration was actually more compelling in those days, but as I’ll mention below, insights from the genome projects make it less compelling now.) From that day on, I’ve continued to learn and teach, and then learn some more, about biology, and about the connections between science and faith.

A defining moment in my career at Wheaton came early in my tenure when I thought that I would lose my job because of what I “believed” (or rather, because of what I was uncertain of) regarding evolution. That moment came when a new president, Duane Litfin, took the helm of Wheaton College. Dr. Litfin took his new responsibilities seriously, and he wanted to ensure that Wheaton was still holding Scripture in a place of high authority. Among other things, he wanted to know what the Wheaton science faculty believed about evolution. After a series of discussions with the science faculty, Dr. Litfin concluded that there were a range of possible options regarding beliefs about human origins and that some of these were not compatible with Wheaton’s statement of faith. At one end of the spectrum (highly compatible with the statement of faith) was a view that completely rejected evolution as having played any role in human origins; at the other extreme (incompatible with the statement of faith) was a view that rejected that the biblical description of human origins is in any way factual. I found myself somewhere in the middle. I honestly couldn’t say that I knew with certainty how God created humans, and that view was also deemed incompatible with the statement of faith. My tenuous situation continued for some time, but eventually Dr. Litfin softened his position and allowed for the possibility that a faculty member could be uncertain about exactly how God did it.

The events at Wheaton described above occurred in the early 1990s, and in today’s world, the 1990s are ancient history. This is certainly true with regard to debates about human origins. Two developments have occurred since then that have dramatically changed the landscape. First, the “genome projects” have highlighted the incredible genetic similarity that exists between humans and other organisms. And second, the rise of the “New Atheists” (authors like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris) has revived the notion that science and faith are at war and that science is winning.

The primary result of the genome projects is that it is not as easy to explain away the similarities between humans and other organisms as it once was. For example, it is no longer simply a question of physiological similarities between humans and chimps, but also a question of striking genetic sequence identities. My old analogy of using parts from one car to build another becomes meaningless now that we know that at least 95% of the (genetic) parts are identical. With such a huge number of identical parts, the situation seems more similar to a car-maker bringing out a new model of last year’s version than making two separate cars. Furthermore, many of the genetic similarities occur in genes that no longer appear to function because of mutations, and which have been interpreted as relics of evolution by mainstream science.

The impact of the New Atheists is revealed most poignantly to me in a few recent conversations I’ve had with students. These students say that they’ve lost their faith because they can no longer accept both the findings of science (which they regard as true) and the claims of religion. Whether these students cite the influence of individuals like Dawkins or not (and some do), clearly the arguments of such writers have become part of the cultural milieu in which they find themselves. While these writers are persuasive, what many readers fail to see is that they misuse the authority of science (the study of the natural world) to claim that belief in the supernatural is irrational. I feel similarly about these students as I do about my college friend Tom. It breaks my heart to think that they have been confronted with a false choice and for this reason have abandoned their faith.

So where does all this leave me and what, after all, do I believe about evolution? My primary response is to repeat my two basic propositions: 1) God did it. And 2) I really don’t know how. Though these two phrases are brief and simple, they summarize several key ideas that shape my faith and my thinking.

The first is the idea of Faith – God did it. I believe this proposition not because science has demonstrated it, but because I have faith. What I see in the world around me can lead me to faith, but no finding of science can ever demonstrate to me that my faith is justified… that is exactly why it’s called faith.

A second idea that undergirds my two propositions is that theology and science are two different but equally valid ways of understanding the world. As human inventions both sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions and sometimes to apparent conflicts. However, since both theology (the study of Scripture) and science (the study of the Creation) focus on different works of God, the ultimate answers found by both should be compatible.

Finally, the two propositions suggest specific roles for the Church in its interaction with science and particularly with the theory of evolution. The primary role of the Church is to glorify God. A significant way to do this is to recognize and recount what he has done in Creation. Another role of the Church is to care for God’s creation, which requires an understanding of it. Both of these roles suggest that Christians should embrace the sciences as a way of doing God’s will. A third role of the Church is to reconcile people to God – and though it’s less obvious, an embracing of science is needed here too.

While I have known of many people who have been driven away from the Church by controversies related to evolution, I do not personally know of anyone who has embraced Christianity primarily because they were persuaded to reject evolution. While evolutionary theory can be used to support an atheistic explanation for how the world came to be, it does not require that perspective. Why should rejection of evolutionary theory be considered a litmus test for Christian faith? It is time for Christians to agree about what we “believe” about evolution – not that we would agree about how God did it (that will never happen!) but we should agree that evolution is an acceptable option.


Rod Scott is an associate professor of biology at Wheaton College, where he has taught for twenty-five years. His area of specialization is conservation genetics. He is a Fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and served as the Program Chair for the 2011 ASA Annual Meeting. In 2012 he was a Fulbright Scholar in Costa Rica. He is married to Donna and has two grown children, Janeen and Phillip. He and his wife attend the Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois.

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Judy Ford - #86074

July 30th 2014

As a British Christian, and a ‘child of the manse’, I always find it surprising that there are people who think that there could be any conflict between science (including evolution) and Christian faith. I cannot remember I time when I did not accept evolution as a reasonably accurate description of how we came to be here, or a time when I thought that the story of Adam and Eve should be taken literally. Despite moving in predominantly Christian circles, I can only remember ever meeting one person who claimed to take the Genesis creation story literally, and even he admitted that he had not yet managed to accept the seven day timescale for creation!

I find it frustrating that so many atheists assume that all ‘religous people’ (Christians and other theists) reject science, because it makes it almost impossible to engage in rational argument with them. It is equally annoying to know that the reason that they have this misapprehension is that there are so many vocal creationists who manage to give the impression that they speak for mainstream Christianity.

My perception is that the apparent conflict between religion and science was almost absent when I was growing up in the sixties and seventies. But perhaps it was always like that in America and the apparent change is more to do with my becoming aware of views outside the liberal Christian establishment in Britain.

I cannot imagine anyone from the Christian community  asking me (or anyone else) whether or not I believe in evolution. It would simply be assumed that everyone does accept that as the explanation for the diversity of life on earth. The only people who might ask such a question would be from the growing class of ‘militant atheists’ who so often fail to grasp the fact that having faith does not mean believing 6 impossible things before breakfast.

It makes me sad that your post could still be necessary (or perhaps should once again be necessary) when, as far as I and my contemporaries (in Britain if not in the US) are concerned, the fact that science and theology are dealing with different areas of knowledge and different kinds of truth is self-evident.


Merv - #86075

July 30th 2014

It makes me sad that your post could still be necessary ... when, as far as I and my contemporaries (in Britain if not in the US) are concerned, the fact that science and theology are dealing with different areas of knowledge and different kinds of truth is self-evident.

I think creationists of the young-earth variety here in the U.S. are a bit forgetfully double-minded about this.  They too already accept much as self-evident—that one can accept that God created each of us without having to reject any embryology or prenatal development studies; or that thanking God for our food does not mean we thumb our noses at explanations involving gardens and grocery stores.  It is only when we turn our attention to the origins issue that they quickly slip into a different mode of thought, suddenly casting it as an either/or situation.  I think Mr. Scott is right to tie this back to vocal atheism which we can see from Huxley all the way up to today’s militants. 

Mr. Scott writes:  A second idea that undergirds my two propositions is that theology and science are two different but equally valid ways of understanding the world.

I appreciate the point he makes here, but I wonder if it doesn’t still invite an impression that he may not intend to give.  It is one thing to assert that science and theology are both valid disciplines on their own turf perhaps more or less independently of each other.  But to compare them as two equal disciplines side by side as we might compare an apple with an orange does an injustice to theology I think.  The discipline of theology should be broad enough that it ought to include science and scientific thought within it, whereas the opposite is not true.  Science as we understand it today does not have theology *contained within* itself, despite what anti-theists want us to believe.  

I propose that it is not a symmetrical situation.  In a very real way, I think theology could still be regarded as the “queen of the sciences” just as it was of old, and also keeping in mind that “sciences” used to mean a broader scope of philophical inquiry (indeed any pursuit of any knowledge at all!) than it does now.  For the Christian, theology surrounds and undergirds it all, and partakes of all the various fruits of these pursuits as any queen would.  Far from being enlisted in the service of science, science is instead enlisted as one of the many servants of theology.  Creationists fear that this means we have ceded theological authority over to science—and perhaps understandably given how such relationships are mis-portrayed by Dawkins & co.   But that is no more true than a supposition that I have ceded the authority of my brain over to my eyeballs just because I insist on paying serious attention to what my eyeballs are seeing.  Anti-theists continue to lay out the bait, and so many creationists keep swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.  And our young people may be paying the price with the very faith their parents so wanted to preserve.

Okay—I’ll step back off my soapbox.  Thanks for your article, Mr. Scott—it provoked some (hopefully accurate) reactions in me. 

Your last paragraph about the asymmetric “exodus” nature of evolution (some people do leave the faith while accepting it—but nobody ever came to the [a] faith by rejecting it) is an interesting insight, even if anecdotal.  I’ve never heard of an example, but that doesn’t mean there is none.  I’ve also heard of many former young-earthers who came to accept deep-time, presumably after evaluating and re-evaluating much evidence.  But I’ve never heard of an opposite migration, which might be telling.


g kc - #86084

July 30th 2014

Merv,

I liked your points regarding theology as “queen of the sciences”, and think they’re consistent with common sense and with the history of Church teaching.

However, I was wondering about your last point: “I’ve also heard of many former young-earthers who came to accept deep-time, presumably after evaluating and re-evaluating much evidence.  But I’ve never heard of an opposite migration, which might be telling.”

Do you mean you’ve never heard of a person who once accepted “deep-time” but later became a young-earther?

If that’s what you meant, I suppose it depends on how broad your circle of acquaintance is. Because I personally know people who took the “opposite migration”. Educated professionals all. With bachelors or masters from places such as Princeton, Cornell, Clarkson, Villanova.


g kc - #86083

July 30th 2014

Judy,

You wrote: “But perhaps it was always like that in America and the apparent change is more to do with my becoming aware of views outside the liberal Christian establishment in Britain.”

Besides belief in evolution, what would be two or three of the beliefs of the liberal Christian establishment in Britain that distinguish it from the non-liberal?


Judy Ford - #86085

July 31st 2014

g kc,

 

You wrote: “Besides belief in evolution, what would be two or three of the beliefs of the liberal Christian establishment in Britain that distinguish it from the non-liberal?”

 

I suppose these would be a few examples:

1) a view of the Old Testament as “myth” in the technical sense of being orally-transmitted stories communicating eternal truths rather than accurate historical accounts of actual events (although there may, in some cases, be actual events upon which the storiesare based);

2) a view of the Bible as being divinely inspired (NOT divinely dictated), but transmitted through fallible human beings in words that are influenced by, and appropriate to, their own time and place and hence require considerable interpretation for use in 21st century Europe;

3) scepticism about the virgin birth, coupled with a recognition that the truth of the incarnation does not depend upon it;

4) an openness to there being many roads to God and a rejection of any exclusivity claims by Christianity.

 

I suppose that once you grant (2) all the others tend to follow on.

 

 


g kc - #86091

July 31st 2014

Judy,

Thanks for answering.

Shouldn’t your #1 apply equally to the New Testament? If not, why not?

 

For #2, why would God allow the divine inspiration to be written in a way that could readily be misunderstood years later? How does this issue relate to Christ’s thrice quoted words “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” [Mat 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33]?

Or even “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” [John 5:46-47]?

What good are His words if we can’t be certain what they mean?

 

Regarding #3, how do you make sense of the extraordinary response of Mary in Luke 1:34? I would suggest thinking about it thoroughly before answering. [I have tried to do so myself. And I came to the view that the only way her response makes any sense is if Mary had made a vow of perpetual virginity.

 

Regarding you last sentence, I couldn’t agree more.


g kc - #86082

July 30th 2014

Rodney,

You wrote: “While I have known of many people who have been driven away from the Church by controversies related to evolution, I do not personally know of anyone who has embraced Christianity primarily because they were persuaded to reject evolution.”

Do you personally know of anyone who embraced Christianity primarily because they were persuaded to accept evolution?


Jon Garvey - #86086

July 31st 2014

I’d like to endorse Judy’s post on the radical difference between the US and UK situations.

g kc exemplifies it when he seems unable, like many Americans, to credit that “liberal” and “evolution” do not necessarily belong together. I was in the highly theologically conservative Christian Union at Cambridge in the early 70s, and deep time simply was not a big issue.

It’s not that there aren’t different positions here - it’s that they don’t tend to divide the churches. Any rancour was mainly imported across the Atlantic from the 1970s on.

Oddly enough our local paper carried two letters from Baptists this week, one from a Creationist complaining that the Jurassic Coast visitor’s centre had exhibits about an old earth, and a reply from his personal friend saying that deep time is no problem for many believers. They remain friends.

That said, I relate very much to Merv’s point on the assymetry of theology and science. One point of real contention is when the details of science are allowed to dictate the core of theology… or rather, when metaphysical assumptions of science are allowed to do so.

Example: Evolution seems to have happened [science]. Most scientists believe it was undirected and purposeless [naturalist metaphysical assumption]. Therefore God must have created a self directing and goal-less evolutionary process and we must downgrade the doctrine of special providence [naturalist metaphysics dictates theology].

Unfortunately the US culture wars have been exascerbated by such basic errors. Scientists are often blind to their own metaphysics (and sometimes to their unrigorous theology).

I’ve come across a few people who moved from a deep time/evolution position to a YEC one. And not a few the other way. It’s a complex sociological issue, and one biased by the fact that the two viewpoints occur in different church circles. Its significance may be no more or less than the fact that a few prominent theistic evolutionists have drifted away from Evangelicalism - or even from Christianity - altogether.

One should seek to understand those changes - not make glib assumptions about them based on the “my side good, their side stupid” stuff that both sides like to employ.


g kc - #86090

July 31st 2014

Jon,

“g kc exemplifies it when he seems unable, like many Americans, to credit that “liberal” and “evolution” do not necessarily belong together. I was in the highly theologically conservative Christian Union at Cambridge in the early 70s, and deep time simply was not a big issue.”

Are you no longer in the highly theologically conservative Christian Union?

Are you no longer highly theologically conservative?

If your answer is “yes” to either, was your departure related to your growing closer to an evolutionary view?


Jon Garvey - #86094

July 31st 2014

g kc

The answer to both questions is no. The Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union is an organisation for students at Cambridge, and since I am no longer a student, nor at Cambridge, I cannot be a member. I do however still belong to a prayer fellowship of my contemporaries which has now been running for 41 years.

You’ll have to ask my friends whether I’m still theologically highly conservative, but they will probably chuckle because that’s what gets me into most hot water here. And on my own blog, come to that.

And though those answers mean your last question is irrelevant, I’ll tell you buck-shee that I haven’t grown closer to an evolutionary view, but was back then, and remain now, questioning and critical. All that’s changed (apart from specific views on specific issues) is that I’m now retired and have time to pursue the goal of reconciling a robust biblical faith with a robust theistic science.


Lou Jost - #86104

July 31st 2014

Jon says this about evolution:“Most scientists believe it was undirected and purposeless [naturalist metaphysical assumption].”

No, theis is not a mere naturalist metaphysical assumption. The naturalism here is based on observation that divine intervention has not proven to be a useful, powerful hypothesis, and on the absence of strong evidence for divine intervention, even in places where such evidence would be expected under theistic views.

If evidence for divine intervention were to pile up, science would have to accept and incorporate that. There are no naturalistic assumptions that prevent it from doing so.


Lou Jost - #86106

July 31st 2014

Evidence of purpose or final causes or direction would also be incorporated if it were solid enough. The latter two don’t even necessarily conflict with naturalism. And indeed there are some broad generalizations one can make about directionality in evolution, within a naturalistic paradigm.


Merv - #86087

July 31st 2014

g kc wrote: 

Do you mean you’ve never heard of a person who once accepted “deep-time” but later became a young-earther?

If that’s what you meant, I suppose it depends on how broad your circle of acquaintance is. Because I personally know people who took the “opposite migration”.

g kc and Jon, thanks for sharing that.  In fact I had thrown that out there to see what other anecdotal information it may invite.  On the strength of your words I accept that this has been a two-way street.  Actual statistics about how well traveled each way is would still be interesting, but I suppose numbers only reveal so much.  Of even more interest to me would be the reasoning and experiences of those who came to embrace  young-earth convictions after having accepted deep-time evidence in a prior stage of life.


Jon Garvey - #86088

July 31st 2014

Merv

Here’s one speculative case that must be common enough. Unbeliever swallows the whole materialist mindset, including undirected evolution, at school. Gets converted at a Church where Creationism is the norm, and accepts it as a small part of the package in which knowing Jesus and soaking up the Bible is the big thing.

Has he a serious intellectual case for Creationism? Maybe not, but in the scheme of things it’s a small issue. In any case, it’s no less irrational than (say) someone brought up as a Fundamentalist who becomes an atheist at college because they seem the cool guys, and throws over God, Creationism, Christian morality, Republican politics and teetotalism as a job lot.

That’s what I mean by the sociological complexity. It seems to be a fact of life that you seldom find a libertarian who believes abortion is a social evil or a conservative who thinks that legalising drugs might be the best way to reduce their use.

So I question the significance of any Christian trends towards or away from evolution: everyone might end up in the same camp and still be wrong. It’s only the arguments that matter - and they should be listened to on both sides, and critically.


g kc - #86092

July 31st 2014

Jon,

“So I question the significance of any Christian trends towards or away from evolution: everyone might end up in the same camp and still be wrong. It’s only the arguments that matter - and they should be listened to on both sides, and critically.”

You seem to be saying

1)     Both theistic evolution and theistic non-evolution are ultimately matters of faith which cannot be settled by science nor by any objective means, and

2)     Even if science/objective means/arguments brought all people into only one camp, that one camp could still be wrong, and

3)     Given 1) & 2) above, the entire subject really doesn’t matter.

If I’ve misunderstood your words, I’m confident you’ll try to correct me. However, right now I see no other conclusions, based on your words.


Jon Garvey - #86095

July 31st 2014

g kc - you’re quite right. I *will* try to correct you.

I’m saying that mass movements of people, just like church councils and Popes (to quote the Reformers) can err and have erred. So polls that show a decrease in Young Earth Creationism, for example, or an increase in atheistic evolution, tell you something about education, something about culture, something about fashions, even - but very little about the truth. If the original poster were correct in saying that many move towards an old earth position but few towards a young earth position, it means precisely nothing in itself.

So if all the world became atheist, God would still exist, and Scripture would still be unchanged. That, of course, would never happen, because the Kingdom is God’s project, not men’s - though remember that the love of “most” will grow cold in the end times. I see plenty of evidence of that on all sides of the evolution question.

All that does not mean that evidence and sound arguments are not important, whether those arguments be theological or scientific (or philosophical and metaphysical, just as importantly, not to mention arguments from personal experience) - just that there are usually more bad arguments in the air than good ones.

Beware when you speak about “objective” means, though: objectivism is a rationalist heresy most often indulged as scientism. There will always be uncertainty in this age, which is a shame because issues *are* important. But not all disagreements are reasons to pronounce others *anathema*. Usually better to hear them out respectfully.


g kc - #86100

July 31st 2014

Jon,

As happens frequently when reading your posts, they initially strike me as well-reasoned, historically-supported, and almost un-arguable, but upon further thought and usually a re-read, I have questions, if not objections.

“I’m saying that mass movements of people, just like church councils and Popes (to quote the Reformers) can err and have erred. So polls that show a decrease in… or an increase in … tell you … very little about the truth.”

“Mass movements of people” brought an image to my mind of migrating or stampeding animals driven by instincts or fear. It seemed to me an unfortunate choice of words when you were expounding on your point that all human beings “might end up in the same camp and still be wrong”, presumably with at least some intelligent consideration of intelligent-sounding arguments.

 

“…church councils and Popes (to quote the Reformers) can err and have erred.”

This simple statement caused what ended up being a steady stream of questions in my head. I’ll try to recall and order them:

1)     Does this mean you agree with the Reformers that the church councils and Popes can err and have erred? or,

2)     Does this mean that you don’t agree with the opinion of the Reformers, but you’re just acknowledging the opinion?

3)     If the meaning is as stated in 2), why bring it up? Is it because you think you might change your mind about the Reformers, given another 500 years of theological debate?

4)     If the meaning is as stated in 1), on what basis would you be assured that the Reformers’ position was correct and the non-Reformers’ incorrect?

5)     Following 4), what would you say are the top two or three theological errors of the church councils and Popes? To be clear, I’m not talking about theological opinions but about universal theological teaching for which belief was mandatory.

6)     Following 5), how does the church councils and Popes proclaiming of theological error relate to the following verses considered together?

   - “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” [John 14:26]

   -  “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” [John 16:12-13];

   - “…I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” [Mat 16:18]

   - “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” [1 Tim 3:15]

Considering these verses, are you saying that the church did not prevail and was not the preserver and protector of the truth for the 1500 years between the Apostles and the Reformers? Echoing 4) above, on what basis would you say this?

 

“All that does not mean that evidence and sound arguments are not important… just that there are usually more bad arguments in the air than good ones.”

I never even implied that evidence and sound arguments are not important. My point was that your words indicated that all the presumably good evidence and sound arguments might lead you and everyone else into a camp that is in fact false. And if I didn’t explicitly say it earlier, I’ll add that you appear to indicate that you have no sense of certainty or conclusiveness, only an expectation of considering ever more arguments ad infinitum.

I hope you’ll take my questions and comments in the right spirit. I mean no disrespect. I’m simply voicing thoughts that my perhaps limited sense of history and logic bring up. (If my logic violates yours, please let me know where you think I’m being illogical.)


Jon Garvey - #86108

August 1st 2014

By golly g kc - If you’re going to ask 6 questions+ in reply to a post, I’ll end up referring to my blog, where you can wade through the search function and get a book length reply about my views. You sound a bit like a Catholic guy who used to post here who suspected everybody in sight of dissimulation.

The reason my posts sound reasonable and unanswerable (if they do) is that I work hard to be reasonable and cover the ground. Looking for a secret hidden agenda is just a little byzantine of you, don’t you think?

First the pre-question:

...at least some intelligent consideration of intelligent-sounding arguments.

Yup - history shows that mass movements encompass those things, but still achieve widespread error. The deep south, 1860 - most people were convinced that Christianity was compatible with racial slavery. Uzbekhistan, now - most people belief that Christianity is an extremist western sect.

This bears on your other questions, taken en masse. Chruch history is an interesting and challenging study, simply *because* the truth of the Scriptures you cite seems at first sight to be dened by all the doctrinal variations, and even downright evils, seen down the years.

If you’re an Evangelical, the “Babylonish captivity” the Reformers considered to have existed for a thousand years is a challenge - but so is the subsequent division amongst the Protestants (ending in the pic’n'mix Protestantism of America today). If on the other hand you (too) are a Catholic, the schisms of the first 1500 years, and the grievous internal errors that led to the Council of Trent also make it foolish to take a simplistic view of how Christ and his truth are maintained until he comes.

But I’m not actually pessimistic at all. I believe that a careful reading of history shows that the heart of the gospel has been preserved for 2000 years, sometimes amongst a minority, sometimes more widely. But never universally. Christ rules his Church, but predicted tares in the wheat.

The principles are relatively easy: I hold to a high view of Scripture, but also the need to complement that high view with good and faithful scholarship. I believe that the central truths of the gospel have actually been preserved in all the main traditions of the Church - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant - but in no case without greater or lesser errors against which one needs to guard oneself. Often looking at other traditions helps, because they tend to go for different kinds of error. And I believe that the Holy Spirit lives in his people… even when they disagree on many important things.

Because differences, then, are a reality, we have to cultivate as charitable a fellowship as possible, even whilst we hold firmly to what we are convinced of as important and true.

How does that relate to whether evolution and biblical Christianity are compatible, in my view? That depends on what you mean by evolution.


g kc - #86116

August 1st 2014

Jon,

I hope you and the moderator are not upset with me asking one more question about a subject which you brought up in #86095. You expounded on this subject of theological error further in #86108 with

“I believe that the central truths of the gospel have actually been preserved in all the main traditions of the Church - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant - but in no case without greater or lesser errors against which one needs to guard oneself. Often looking at other traditions helps, because they tend to go for different kinds of error.”

My question is:

What would be the one or two biggest errors of the specific Christian denomination you’re in now (or if you’re not in any now, your last denomination)?


Jon Garvey - #86121

August 1st 2014

I can handle one question, I think - though badly, since I tend neither to rate faults in heirarchical order, nor to think much about denominations so much as local fellowships (the church I was in for 20+ years before I moved was not in a denomination, and benefited from it).

I live in a small village, and belong to a Baptist Church because it’s closer to my comfort zone than the equally alive local Anglican church, the only other choice. As a non-Baptist then, two of my beefs are

(a) Baptists tend to think in terms of “the Baptist Family”, which to me tends towards insularity.

(b) The Baptist Union has avoided a detailed statement of faith, and that has allowed some pastors holding modern heterodoxies to go relatively unchallenged - eg unorthodox views of the atonement, dubious biblical interpretations on sexuality issues.

They also have exceedingly boring and bureaucratic church meetings, but I don’t suppose that counts as a doctrinal error.


Merv - #86089

July 31st 2014

...you seldom find a libertarian who believes abortion is a social evil…

...I do have a brother-in-law…  who I’m not surprised to learn is in a rare category (in a good way!)

It’s only the arguments that matter - and they should be listened to on both sides, and critically.

Well put!


g kc - #86093

July 31st 2014

Merv,

You say “Well put!” to Jon’s “It’s only the arguments that matter - and they should be listened to on both sides, and critically.”

I would think it’s only the truth that matters, and decisions for the truth.

A close Christian corollary to this might be that faith is what gets you to this truth, primarily. [Secondarily would be your senses, science, etc. And, ironically, these things can be trusted only with faith. For example, before I rely on my senses I must first have faith that my senses provide an accurate view of reality. This is a philosophical, non-scientific step, a stepping-out in faith.]

How many arguments regarding theistic evolution have you and Jon heard in your lifetimes? Yet, at least for Jon, whatever he’s decided on theistic evolution he’s admitted could be dead-wrong. Obviously, it’s not the arguments that matter.  


Merv - #86096

July 31st 2014

Truth is the more central matter than argument; I didn’t intepret Jon to be claiming that “argument is *everything*!”. 

Here is the way I see it.  Truth is out there whether or not you or I or everybody believe it, understand it, or even deny it.  I pretty sure we both agree about that.

But given that we have limited and fallible minds, we have to work to understand Truth.  One of the important human tools we have for such work is ... argument.  In its best form debate (argument) is communication between various parties both interested in learning from the other for the purpose of bringing their own understanding closer to truth.  It is the proximity of such “argumentative activity” to truth that makes argument/debate so much more important than mere polls which only tell us what’s popular.  That is what I took Jon to mean, and what I affirmed with “well put!”.

You are correct that science only proceeds after the acceptance of multiple faith propositions.  Many find them to be “self-evident”, to be sure, but they are faith nonetheless.

Don’t mistake these concessions, though, for a concession that no scientific propositions can be considered trustworthy.  In an absolute sense, it is true that I can’t prove anything to you.  But given that I can’t even prove to you that I exist (beyond some long dream you are having)—If I can’t prove something even so basic as that, I won’t be proving anything else either.  So “proof” is an unattainable barrier that is therefore a useless criteria to demand of anyone (beyond mathematics—but even there only after accepting axioms). 

But confidence and even certainty (short of proof), are things we can latch onto.  We all here agree with good certainty that the world is not flat, despite the fact that none of us have orbited it to see first hand, or completed some exercise to verify it for ourselves.  But enough different trusted authorities have made pictures available, and it makes enough sense logically (to our geometrically / spatially educated minds) that we even carelessly use the word “proof” about such a thing, meaning only that we have as much certainty as one could wish. 

So I maintain you would be badly using your time/intellectual resources if you felt that all issues needed to be re-opened or critically held at arms-length just because our minds are fallible.  There are times when a revolutionary thinker is right and ends up overturning (often posthumously) a prevailing paradigm.  But we celebrate and learn about those few times when that happens.  The vast majority whose innovations or rebellions never did pan out fade into obscurity.


Merv - #86097

July 31st 2014

...sorry I had to rush off without cleaning up my thoughts / grammar in the last post.  But let me just finish my conclusion here.

So arguments DO matter to the extent that they help point us to the truth, which is what really matters.  And all along the way, we are making decisions about how much confidence we place in each various authority—a necessary risk.


g kc - #86101

July 31st 2014

Merv,

I think I’d agree with everything you wrote, except for sentences in the last paragraph:

“So I maintain you would be badly using your time/intellectual resources if you felt that all issues needed to be re-opened or critically held at arms-length just because our minds are fallible.”

Depends on what the issues are. For example, I’ve often heard/read that the theory of evolution is every bit as valid as other accepted theories, such as the theory of gravity. I would strongly disagree. In fact I find it insulting. Although mysteries may remain about gravity (actually, I’d say all of existence is quite a bit mysterious), at least gravity has been seen and experienced by every living thing throughout  earth’s entire history, we can accurately predict its effects, and even state them with verifiable mathematical precision. Nothing close to this can be said of evolution.

“There are times when a revolutionary thinker is right and ends up overturning (often posthumously) a prevailing paradigm.”

Depends on what the paradigm is. And on how well that paradigm stands up to reality, to new confirmed observations. Some think that the Big Bang/Standard Cosmological Model is not only a paradigm but a pristine paradigm. Some even are enamored with what the BB/SCM provides, such as 14 billion years, among other things. But as I wrote on “Belief in God in a World Explained by Science, part 2”, this paradigm has been getting more holes poked into it than Swiss Cheese, yet the paradigm prevails. Because, as an article and a quoted scientist said,“But the cosmological principle is so ingrained that it is hard for researchers to shake. “People are maybe understandably reluctant to give up the thing, because it will make cosmology too bloody complicated.””

I think this means better to have an invalidated paradigm than no paradigm at all, especially if the former can provide some results you’re comfortable with.

Virtually everyone has heard of the BB, and virtually everyone believes in it. How could they not when it’s what they’ve heard since birth from any number of popular sources? But how many of the same folks hear about the growing body of evidence that presents confounding, intractable problems for the BB paradigm?

How about dinosaurs and fossils? Every sane person believes in them. But neither is a paradigm by itself. The paradigms are about the when and how. Yet how many of the folks hear about confounding, intractable problems for the paradigm of fossilization? You say when a paradigm is upended “we celebrate and learn about those few times when that happens.” Really? How much celebration was made over Mary Schweitzer’s discovery of soft tissue in T. Rex? How many of the folks know about this? And as I asked several times on the recent BioLogos article “Not so Dry Bones…”, why was Mary “terrified” and her boss “angry”? Doesn’t sound very celebratory. Maybe because the old paradigm gave some results scientists were comfortable with, and the alternative is intolerable?

I don’t think one has to be a “revolutionary thinker” to have legitimate concerns that the paradigms involved in evolution (cosmic and biological) may be significantly problematic. Unfortunately, when one points out the problems he’s usually considered nuts. Like the kid who cried “The King has no clothes.”


Merv - #86103

July 31st 2014

Some even are enamored with what the [Big Bang]/SCM provides, such as 14 billion years, among other things.

Your forgetting that this Big Bang favoratism is actually quite young ... less than a century ago scientists were enamored of an eternal paradigm and when Lemaitre and then Hubble rolled out a new cosmological model, very few liked the “new kid on the block” (or accepted it).  Decades later as evidence started to accumulate (especially CBR), then favor was shifted towards it.  But nobody was celebrating with Lemaitre or Hubble at the time ... they were just plain nuts, right?  Nobody celebrated with Copernicus either because obviously the earth doesn’t move.  Old paradigms die hard (and often for good reasons—you seem to forget), so it takes a pretty good push to displace them (hence it being so often posthumously). 

So, no ... nobody would be celebrating with Mary, even if her discovery did turn out to be significant—even [especially] if it turned out to be revolutionary.  But that doesn’t seem likely given that if a substance from an ancient geological layer tested to be “young”, then it would open up a whole lot more problems than it would solve.  YECs have too many major unanswered riddles for that paradigm to be presently viable in any scientific sense.


g kc - #86110

August 1st 2014

Merv,

This first observation may be small, may be invalid. Or maybe it’s not.

I think one of the problems I’m having in my limited experience at BioLogos is that I actually read what is written, assume the author means what he says, and assume he knows what he’s talking about. But more and more here, I’m finding this doesn’t work well.

First I read…

“There are times when a revolutionary thinker is right and ends up overturning (often posthumously) a prevailing paradigm.  But we celebrate and learn about those few times when that happens.” 

But then I read…

“But nobody was celebrating with Lemaitre or Hubble at the time ... Nobody celebrated with Copernicus either… So, no ... nobody would be celebrating with Mary [Schweitzer]…”

So, at first I’m thinking Merv means we celebrate overturning paradigms. But then it appears Merv is saying nobody was celebrating the overturnings.

I wonder if this is somehow related to liberal Bible interpretation, where commonly understood passages and words later are said to mean something very different, even the opposite, of the original understanding.

Anyway, just a small point.

 

Decades later as evidence started to accumulate (especially CBR), then favor was shifted towards it [the Big Bang Theory].”

Have you ever looked up a definition/description of cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR or CBR or CMB)? It can be quite remarkable. http://wmap.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/bb_tests_cmb.html

CMBR goes with the Big Bang Theory and with cosmic inflation (i.e. an expanding universe). Allan Guth created inflation theory in 1980 and won a $1 million prize for doing so, because it supposedly explained things which had previously bothered cosmologists. Before long, though, Guth’s inflation theory began running into rough waters, even lately: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140620-bicep2-prl-dust-physics-big-bang/#

http://www.nature.com/news/no-evidence-for-or-against-gravitational-waves-1.15322

I wonder if Guth will ultimately have to give back some of the $1 million? He’ll probably celebrate even if he does. That’s the way paradigm-busting and paradigm-busted scientists are.


Merv - #86115

August 1st 2014

I had written:

But we celebrate and learn about those few times when that happens”

g kc responded:

So, at first I’m thinking Merv means we celebrate overturning paradigms. But then it appears Merv is saying nobody was celebrating the overturnings.

Given the level of pedantry you’re applying to this g kc, I’ll have to take responsibility for at least one unfortunate word choice of my own above.  I should have written “...when that happened” (past tense). 

But I can’t take responsibility for your neglecting (whether willfully or not) to understand my meaning in context.  Do we normally throw parties with people posthumously? 

I do stand by what I wrote (with the correction of tense), and I’ll now clarify again here:  ... we celebrate the *long past* overturning of paradigms that we *NOW* recognize as having birthed more currently successful paradigms.  And nobody in the two examples I gave knew at the time how successful those newborn theories would become (hence no celebration then).


Ted Davis - #86098

July 31st 2014

I reply to this, from g kc:

“I would think it’s only the truth that matters, and decisions for the truth.”

We agree that truth matters a great deal, but those decisions about how to obtain it are rarely easy. As I advise my students, we always need to distinguish between what God knows to be the case and what we think God knows to be the case.


g kc - #86102

July 31st 2014

Ted,

“We agree that truth matters a great deal, but those decisions about how to obtain it are rarely easy. As I advise my students, we always need to distinguish between what God knows to be the case and what we think God knows to be the case.”

The New Testament seems to emphasize this idea of knowing, even of knowing with certainty. Judy above stated that she and her liberal church hold “scepticism about the virgin birth.” Ironically, the NT chapter addressing the virgin birth is started off by Luke with the following:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-oph’ilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.”

 

Then Jesus:If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

And the Apostle John: “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

It seems strange to me that so many Christians and theistic evolutionists claim such difficulty in deciding and distinguishing truth. Jesus and the Apostles seem to be saying we can and should know the truth. And by “know” I mean not just acknowledge some thing or teaching, but rather have full confidence that it is true.  

What do your students think about the virgin birth?


Lou Jost - #86105

July 31st 2014

g kc: Note how much you are relying on the exact validity of every phrase in the Bible, in spite of the fact that some of these verses contradict others, and some certainly seem to be false. Even accepting the divinity of Jesus, these words were written by fallible people, and generally not by eyewitnesses. If you demand that scientists be skeptical even of things which are backed up by mountains of evidence, wouldn’t it be appropriate to do the same with your own presuppositions about these verses?


g kc - #86111

August 1st 2014

Lou,

That sounds exactly like what an evangelical theistic evolutionist said to me once somewhere. Perhaps you’re in the same evangelical church, or group, if they don’t have a church.

What do you think would be two really good examples of verses that contradict others?


Lou Jost - #86114

August 1st 2014

No, I’m not in the church of your friend….

The contradictions are well known. For example, two different versions of the creation myth in Genesis, two different  nativity stories in the gospels (especially regarding the motivations for events following the birth), and multiple contradictory accounts of the visit to Jesus’ empty tomb.

I know fundamentalists have invented interpretations that reconcile these contradictions, but these interpretations are often often based on quite unnatural readings and contradict your assumption that the Bible must be clearly written.

I also recognize that many of these differences are trivial and of little importance. More important are the stories that are now known to be false. The flood story is the best example. Yet most Christians took it literally until recently. There’s no clear indication that it is a metaphor or allegory; on the contrary, Noah appears matter-of-factly in NT genealogies.

Returning to my earlier point, what evidence do you have that the Bible is literally true or even divinely inspired? Obviously you can’t use self-referential Bible verses to support this.


g kc - #86117

August 1st 2014

Lou,

“…what evidence do you have that the Bible is literally true or even divinely inspired? Obviously you can’t use self-referential Bible verses to support this.”

That’s a good question.

I’ll defer to others here to provide light on this.

Any response of mine might be considered as just more heat. I’ll go cool off for a while.


Lou Jost - #86123

August 1st 2014

It was your answer I was interested in. I already know why most of the regulars here believe that. This is a well-hashed theme here and elsewhere.


g kc - #86128

August 2nd 2014

The short answer is common sense and a little faith. It’s about 99% and 1%, respectively.

 


Lou Jost - #86164

August 10th 2014

Thanks for the answer and sorry for the long delay in answering, I’ve been out of civilization for a week. “Common sense” is a novel reason! Naturally I wonder why you accept the miraculous claims of the Bible as “common sense”, but not the claims of other religions. But a discussion of that is probably not relevant to this post.


Jon Garvey - #86112

August 1st 2014

Why would history of science students discuss the virgin birth with Ted, I wonder?

Don’t forget you’re talking to individuals here, g kc, not generic “Evolooshunists.” The trouble with shooting from the hip all the time is that people react in kind, and you never get to understand where they’re actually coming from.

You’d get much further if you took the time to discern (even on this thread alone) who is associated with BioLogos, who is posting for the first time here, who has reservations about evolutionary theory (and what they are), who is a Calvinist, Anabaptist or Wesleyan, who is an avowed atheist…

It would even help if you put some of your own views forward to be discussed - the pseudo-socratic questions soon get to be completely unrewarding to answer.


James Stump - #86113

August 1st 2014

Jon, I think you’re correct here.  Discussions with g kc are generating more heat than light.  I’ve sent him two private emails about this, and they have gone unacknowledged.  So I’ll say publicly that I am not going to allow the comments section of this blog to devolve into this sort of unproductive faux-discussion.  There are plenty of other places on the internet to do that.  I’m going to start more aggressively enforcing these lines from our “Ground Rules for Commenting”:

We reserve the right to remove any comments that we feel are outside the boundaries of civil conversation, and these include comments that attack other commenters, use profanity or other harsh language, steer conversations off topic, or take a hostile or aggressive tone. We also expect fair space to be given to all commenters. Therefore, posting an excessive amount of comments on a single thread, especially if they simply reiterate the same point without adding to the conversation, will result in removal of comments.


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