The Dawning of a New Day

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December 31, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Dawning of a New Day

BioLogos and its impact on the evangelical scene was one of the top ten stories of 2010 as judged by both Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition. This is good, I suppose. However, we have barely begun to deal with the issues in a substantive manner. The reason BioLogos made the “big ten” was because of the hype associated with personal interest stories. Bruce Waltke, the 80 year old much-loved biblical scholar chose to resign from his seminary position over the commotion created by a statement he made about evolution. Albert Mohler, among the most important evangelicals in the world, noticed us—then, like a giant annoyed by a buzzing little fly, attempted to squish us, not with a swat, but with a few delicately placed strokes on his keyboard.

BioLogos is not a little fly, however, and it is not going to go away. Dr. Mohler, giant as he is in fundamentalist/evangelical circles, represents a view that takes on the entire scientific enterprise. To this day, I have not been able to identify a single person who holds a science faculty position in any Biology, Geology or Physics Department at any secular research university in the world who would agree with Dr. Mohler’s view of creation. Not one, out of what I imagine are tens of thousands, including many who are strongly committed to living the Christian life in the context of fully orthodox Christian theology. If there is any such person, I urge them to contact us at info@biologos.org. I don’t want to overstate my case.

We live in a scientific age and that is not going to change. For hundreds of years now science has been successfully informing us about the natural world. The Church need not take the entire world of science on, and it must not allow itself to be led by those with enormous rhetorical skill and the keenest of intellects, even though they are sincere and love the Lord with all their hearts, souls and minds. These people, gifted as they are, are taking the Church down a dead end road. Scientific knowledge is not deeply flawed and we cannot allow ourselves to be led down this pathway any longer.

So can we in the BioLogos community pat ourselves on the back because evangelical Christianity may finally be starting to think about evolutionary creation? Absolutely not! The issues are enormous and the real task has barely begun.

Why is the task so difficult? What have I learned this past year in my leadership role at BioLogos that I may not have fully appreciated one year ago?

1. The “scientific enterprise” to which the Church seems to pay attention is a formidable force

Scientific issues are normally worked out among people who are highly specialized. All interpretations of data are subject to extensive peer review by experts who have spent thousands of hours reading countless sophisticated journal articles. This is a process thoroughly honed over the centuries and it has been extremely successful in revealing amazingly intricate detail about the tapestry of the natural world.

This “science enterprise” to which the Church is paying attention, however, is different. A tiny group of people work out their ideas in think tanks which have a particular agenda from the beginning. There is tremendous pressure to substantiate a pre-conceived idea. Furthermore, the ideas, pre-conceived as they are, are not further honed among competing labs each with their own highly specialized crew of experts. Rather they are quickly taken to the public sphere. The next thing that happens is that people with almost no background in the subject matter have become the “crew of experts” and they are doing so anonymously on the internet with little accountability. How could the Church have ever bought into a science done in this manner? How could the scientists, sincere people that they are, with very high levels of integrity subscribe to this way of doing things?

Let me give one example of the dire consequences of this sort of approach for doing the Church’s “science.” William Dembski is, of course, one of the three or four most important figures in the Intelligent Design movement. He has laid out several foundational principles of Intelligent Design theory. In 2007, an amazing thing happened. Dr. Joe Felsenstein who is likely one of the top mathematical biologists in the world took the time to look carefully at Dembski’s ideas. This was a very big deal because it is hard to get busy scientists to take the time to pay attention to people whose ideas seem to them like the annoying little flies I spoke of earlier. But Felsenstein did this and his article can be found here. Felsenstein, in essence, showed that two of Dembski’s most important ideas were wrong at their very core. However, to our knowledge Dembski has never replied and his public still buys into his ideas even though he has, to our knowledge never addressed the issue of their defeat by perhaps the best expert in the world.

In the real world of science the norm is to have ideas critiqued in this manner. If they don’t pass muster they are discarded and there is great pressure to move on from antiquated ideas. This alternative world of doing science in small closed groups, then bringing the findings to the public, and then effectively ignoring what the best minds have to say about the work is a most unusual situation. It is very hard to dispel false notions when science is done this way.

My point here is not to expose that this happens in this world of science into which the Church seems to have bought. My point, rather, is to use this to illustrate the huge challenge ahead of us. It is very difficult to defeat scientific myths if those who propagate them to huge audiences of non-experts won’t admit that they are wrong. Normal science has checks and balances in place in a world overseen by a community of experts with significant incentives to show when ideas are wrong. This other “scientific enterprise” represents a whole different way of doing science, and it presents a whole different set of challenges in getting rid of antiquated ideas. I can express a concern about this to my heart’s content (or discontent I guess), but this is a situation that is unlikely to change quickly. There is far too much at stake—politically, financially and ideologically. It is one of the three enormous challenges we face. But we must face it and there are enough of us that care now, that eventually, I believe, the Church will cease its association with this unusual way of doing science.

2. Finding the correct path when “his banner over us is love” presents unique challenges

At the beginning of this past year, I had not yet fully appreciated the importance of the delicate task of building Christian unity while at the same time holding each other accountable for scientific and theological integrity. Dembski’s public silence on the above issue (so far as I know) is a very significant concern to me as a fellow believer. However as a fellow-believer, I have certain constraints. Bill and I, (or Fuz and I, or Hugh and I, for that matter) are, first and foremost, Christian brothers who operate on the basis of love being by far the most important criteria by which we interact with one another. Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” These are beautiful words and they must be foundational in how I interact with others who think differently. I have sat around a dinner table with all three of the above individuals at various times. Similarly, I have appreciated such times with a number of other leaders of groups who think differently. Although I didn’t know him personally, Henry Morris lived within a few blocks of me and I attended his funeral a few years ago. I was deeply moved by the sincere Christ-centered quality of this man’s life. How do we hold each of these people accountable, when it seems they are so wrong, but we are called to be people who are known for our love? How do we do hold them accountable when we feel they do much harm and we are sometimes extremely disappointed in their tactics? (I assume the same is true of them as it relates to us, as well.) This is the second enormous challenge then. We are all human. Our ego can easily get sucked into this discussion. Can we stay Christians even when we disagree so sharply about all sorts of things? There is no choice, for if love is ever superseded by the desire for correct knowledge, our work and our lives cease to be Christian. With that, all that we are working towards becomes nothing more than a puff of hot air—here today and gone tomorrow.

3. For some, the theological challenges are enormous

The third enormous challenge relates to the fact that the theological issues associated with evolutionary creation seem so huge to so many evangelicals. Will we ever be able to show the followers of Albert Mohler, John MacArthur and others that Christian theology doesn’t stand or fall on how we understand Genesis 1 or the question of whether Adam and Eve were the sole genetic progenitors of the human race? These are extremely critical issues to many and the task of showing in a convincing manner that evangelical theology doesn’t depend on the age of the earth, and it doesn’t depend upon whether Adam was made directly from dust will likely take decades before it will be convincing to all. The Church did eventually accept heliocentricity, but the theological issues (at least to many individuals), seem so much greater this time. The task will not be easy.

I am convinced, however, that God was at work in our midst in the year of our Lord, 2010. I sensed God’s Spirit all the time, and I’ll bet members of the other groups did too—even those who, so far as I see it, clearly have it wrong. It is true there are enormous challenges, but perhaps they seem greater than they really are. Perhaps, they almost seem overwhelming at times because we tend to look into the future through our own all-too-human lenses. If God really has created through an evolutionary mechanism and if God chooses to use BioLogos and other groups to help the Church come to grips with this issue, then these three huge challenges will begin to melt away as God’s Spirit enables us to look to him and not to ourselves. To the extent that we can do that, and to the extent that we can really forgive each other for our trespasses, then truly the Kingdom will be his Kingdom and not ours. With that our kingdoms will begin to melt away in the very face of the glory of God. May that be so, and may the year, 2011, truly be the year of our Lord.


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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Robert Neville - #45537

January 1st 2011

This website has become a regular stop for me.  I appreciate the work you do which has the potential to strengthen both a person’s faith and their mind.
I have to admit though, that I’m a little wary of “peer-reviewed” science.  What I really like is to be able to see the facts so that I can work through them in my own mind.  For many years, darwinists with an axe to grind have done a disservice to science because they were (are) more interested in advancing their worldview which does not include the possibility of a God. 
As long as you stick to the facts, I’m going to keep coming back.
Great Job!


Nick Matzke - #45538

January 1st 2011

This sentence could be better phrased, I think!

“The Church need not take the entire world of science on, and it must not allow itself to be led by those with enormous rhetorical skill and the keenest of intellects, even though they are sincere and love the Lord with all their hearts, souls and minds.”

...you obviously meant to add something about “those who use their keen intellects and rhetoric to maintain unscientific views in spite of the overwhelming evidence”, or some such.

Cheers!
Nick


Joe Felsenstein - #45539

January 1st 2011

Thanks for the publicity, the link, and the kind words.  I’ve been trying to get people to notice my 2007 article refuting William Dembski’s arguments.  I think it is a very clear explanation and that I have come up with a couple of new points that are central to evaluating his theories.

However you made it sound as if no scientist had replied to Dembski before me.  Actually I was rather of a latecomer to the controversy.  As my article says, previous refutations of Dembski included ones by Wilkins, Elsberry, Godfrey-Smith, Rosenhouse, Schneider, Shallit, Tellgren, Wein, Edis, Perakh and Häggström, from 2001 on.  Many of these concentrate on the inadequacies of Dembski’s view of information theory, and the unworkability of his Design Detector.  I think that the two most telling arguments are Jeffrey Shallit finding a hole in Dembski’s theorem, and me pointing out that a change of his “specification” in midstream makes it impossible to use it, as he does, to disprove the ability of evolution to increase fitness.

As you note, Dembski has not replied to any of us.  He instead points us to his more recent work, which makes an argument that does not refute natural selection.


Jon Garvey - #45554

January 1st 2011

@Robert Neville - #45537

Robert - isn’t it the Evangelical Church’s tendency to say, “Don’t confuse me with science - just give me the facts” that has led to our current problems? It’s the equivalent of a crowd outside a court saying, “Why waste time listening to all that conflicting evidence? Just tell us if the guy’s guilty?”

Peer-review has great flaws (and I believe is more recent in the scientific journals than you’d think), but as Dr Ben Goldacre, of the “Bad Science” column in the Guardian, says, “It’s the best we’ve got.”


RJS - #45578

January 1st 2011

Nice post Darrel. These are the key points and the importance of theology can’t be dismissed.


sy - #45592

January 1st 2011

To address the second point, I would say that all of our ideas,  and our basic conceptions of truth should be put forward with great humility. The Lord alone knows the tuth, but He has provided us with the tools to learn it. We have been and always will be wrong more often than we are right.

I have been asked how can a layperson judge which side is true when examining a scientific controversy. My answer is: see which proponent appears to me most certain, presents only confirming evidence, and states that final proof has been acheived. That one is probably wrong.

I believe we might be in a similar situation with theology. God has given us a book of words, but the truly pious have always known that claiming complete understanding of God’s word is an act of hubris.

I dont mean to say we know nothing. We know that Christ was born and died to redeem us from sin, and that He is Lord. We know a great deal about how our universe was created and how it works. The awe inspiring task of Biologos is to reconcile these truths.

There is no question, that the third point, the difficulty of the task, is real.  But I believe God and the angels are smiling at these efforts. Blessings for the New Year.


Mike Gene - #45593

January 1st 2011

If God really has created through an evolutionary mechanism and if God chooses to use BioLogos and other groups to help the Church come to grips with this issue, then these three huge challenges will begin to melt away as God’s Spirit enables us to look to him and not to ourselves.

Then again, maybe it is not possible for human beings to understand and grasp the mechanism of God’s creation.  Why think that our puny brains which often fail to grasp mundane realities associated with interacting with other puny brains, have the ability to envision the workings of divine action that is not restricted to our space-time reality? 

BioLogos does seem to share something in common with the DI, creationist organizations, and even the NA movement – they all seem to believe that Science (however that is defined) and Scripture should converge – they should tell the same story. 
But why believe this to begin with?


Martin Rizley - #45597

January 1st 2011

Darrel,
You say, “the task of showing in a convincing manner that evangelical theology doesn’t depend on the age of the earth, and it doesn’t depend upon whether Adam was made directly from dust will likely take decades before it will be convincing to all.”  I believe that this statement leaves out the central issue of concern to those who wish to uphold a biblical theology of sin and redemption, and that is how one can maintain such a theology while denying the truth of what Paul says about sin’s entrance into the world through one man at a definite moment in the past.  When someone tells me that Paul’s words in Romans 5 really mean that sin NEVER entered the world through ONE man and ONE sin at ONE moment, I want to say, “Who do you think you’re kidding?”  How can such a denial have any effect other than to shake people’s confidence in the authority and perspicuity of Scripture and to muzzle robust biblical preaching on the fall of mankind into sin?  When was the last time you heard a liberal preacher preach on the historic fall of mankind into sin from an original condition of perfect righteousness?


Darrel Falk - #45601

January 1st 2011

Hi Martin, (45597)

  I believe that this statement leaves out the central issue of concern to those who wish to uphold a biblical theology of sin and redemption, and that is how one can maintain such a theology while denying the truth of what Paul says about sin’s entrance into the world through one man at a definite moment in the past.

Although we have not yet posted Part 4 of Dr. Alexander’s series as a blog, we have posted the entire paper.  http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/alexander_white_paper.pdf  See pages 6 and 7. 

The scientific data is not at all inconsistent with God entering into relationship with a particular couple, Adam and Eve.  As Dr. Alexander outlines in his paper, that couple then chooses to reject God, to become alienated from him through disobedience and, with that ,sin enters the human race. 

The issue, then need not be Paul’s understanding of Adam.  This is retained.  The issue is whether evangelicals will be able to accept a reading of Scripture whereby this couple has been created through an evolutionary process.  The model also asserts that other humans were present on earth, but God chose to enter into relationship with this one specific couple.


sy - #45629

January 2nd 2011

@Mike Gene

I dont think the point is that science and Scripture should tell the same story, clearly they dont, and probably never will. But what is essential is that their stories do not clash and do not contradict each other. No one should even be forced to believe one at the expense of giving up the other. Christians who come to understand the truth of evolution should not lose one iota of their faith, and Scientists who come to Christ, must be comfortable holding to the validity of their scientific world views.


Gabriel Powell - #45633

January 2nd 2011

“I have not been able to identify a single person who holds a science faculty position in any Biology, Geology or Physics Department at any secular research university in the world”

So I guess Scientists at Christian institutions do not count, eh?  Perhaps you can’t find one because they are afraid of losing their position should they reveal their true beliefs, like several documented cases demonstrate.

You won’t find true Muslims worshiping in a Baptist church either… or if they do, they probably won’t tell anyone.


Mike Gene - #45638

January 2nd 2011

Hi Sy,

I dont think the point is that science and Scripture should tell the same story, clearly they dont, and probably never will. But what is essential is that their stories do not clash and do not contradict each other.

Over this short time, I’ve come to greatly respect your opinions here.  But I’m not sure I agree with that.  First, the biblical narrative about Jesus’s virgin birth and bodily resurrection does contradict what we know from biology (and common, empirical experience).  Yet I feel no obligation whatsoever to find come reconciliation there.  Second, even if we should pursue answers that avoid such clashes or contradictions, our “science” merely represents our best understanding at the time.  In other words, the essentiality of non-contradiction might make sense once the Science Story is finally completed and there is nothing left to learn about our reality.  But until then, contradictions may only be the appearance of contradiction as a function of our incomplete understanding of our reality and its history.


Paul D. - #45664

January 2nd 2011

I agree with Mike Gene. The Bible’s authors don’t even agree with each other on many matters — just as different painters may render the same historical person or event in different ways — so I don’t demand that there be some way to harmonize the Bible for use as a science or history textbook. Science helps us understand what is, and the Bible helps us understand why it is.


Darrel Falk - #45667

January 2nd 2011

#45639

“First, the biblical narrative about Jesus’s virgin birth and bodily resurrection does contradict what we know from biology…

Mike Gene,

It’s important to point out that biology is silent on the issue of whether there could have been a virgin birth or resurrection.  As Christians, we (you and I) believe these events occurred as singularities.  The natural laws are a manifestation of the normal (natural) activity of God.  There is nothing in biology to say that God cannot act in unique (one-time only) ways as well.  We call such supernatural events miracles and the science of biology is not equipped to effectively study them.  Hence, on their past existence (or non-existence) science is muted.

Science studies the natural activity of God—that which is detectable through the study of what we call nature’s laws.  It is primarily those aspects of reality which exhibit regularity which are amenable to the marvelous tools that science brings to bear in studying God’s activity.

It is extremely important that we point out the limits of science.  The scientific method (applied to thousands of data sets) points clearly to the fact that life has diversified through an evolutionary process over a long period of time.**  However, because of the limits of science, Mike, in the cases you cite, science and faith do not disagree.  Science has nothing to say.  It is silent. 

**  As Christians we insert our “why” in here—we believe that it happened in and through the Word of God.  Scientific methodology does not address this question either.

CORRECTION:  AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS COMMENT HAS BEEN CORRECTED. THE FINAL PARAGRAPH CONTAINED THE STATEMENT “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD…POINTS CLEARLY TO THE FACT THAT LIFE HAS ARISEN THROUGH AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS.”  IN ITS CORRECTED VERSION IT NOW READS “...LIFE HAS DIVERSIFIED...”


Jean - #52119

February 21st 2011

If biology is silent about whether or not there could have been a virgin birth or resurrection (and I agree it is), isn’t it also silent about how life forms originated.  I mean, we never have observed life arising except from pre-existing life.  Even if we can prove it could happen, does that mean it did?  Why do some people keep asking historical questions and expect science to give definitive answers?

If you take the limits of science more seriously (or realistically), I can’t imagine why you would be espousing a competing worldview (to the Christian one) just because it is held by many scientists.  Molecules-to-man evolution is very convincing when one has never seriously (or doesn’t want to) considered an alternative.  While receiving my degrees in science related fields at a secular college, I kept looking for the elusive evidence.  I saw evidence that things can change, but not into something significantly different.  That is why I am a YEC.  It makes sense of the real world observations!


Mike Gene - #45671

January 2nd 2011

Hi Darrel,

I agree there is nothing in biology to say that God cannot act in unique (one-time only) ways.  Nevertheless, the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus contradicts what biology teaches about human birth and human death.  Of course this does not mean that science is in the authoritative position to pass judgment on the truth of such events.  One would need to adopt the metaphysical position of scientism to make that step.  It simply means that the events contradict what we know from science.  Miracles are like that.

I’m just saying that I don’t feel any form of obligation to get science and scripture to converge.  Let me tell a quick story.  Yesterday, my wife taught my daughters to play chess.  The 10 year old was able to grasp it, but the 7 year old could not.  The 7 year old is quite smart and quickly picked up the basic rules and movements of the pieces, but she eventually became frustrated with it all because she could not understand the basics of strategy.  In other words, her brain isn’t developed enough yet to see the “big picture” of chess that integrates everything.

Likewise, we all see how many of the pieces of reality move around us and we pride ourselves on figuring out many of the basic rules.  But what makes anyone think our brains are “developed” enough to see the “big picture” that incorporates both science and scripture? 

I’m not saying people should not attempt to harmonize.  I just don’t think there is any good reason to be so invested in it.  On the contrary, given that harmonization often becomes shoehorning, it might be a bad thing to be too invested in it.  Instead, it might help to acknowledge not just the limitations of science, but the reason science is limited – the limitations our own minds.


Mike Gene - #45675

January 2nd 2011

Hi Paul,

Yes, the Christian faith is filled with antinomies.  Is God one or three?  Was Jesus man or God?  Is there free will or predestination?  Etc.  In all cases, we Christians embrace both, although our minds cannot truly reconcile them.  And for me, that is the wisest option, as both options represent facets of reality that we can glimpse, but given our finite (and fallen) state, we really have no hope of seeing it all at once.


Darrel Falk - #45677

January 2nd 2011

Mike Gene,

O my word, I think we’re on exactly the same page!  One of my primary concerns with the ID movement is that its followers don’t recognize the limits of science.  They are trying to force harmonization by taking science in directions it is not equipped to go (and, as I see it,  they are doing so badly).

Personally, I am quite comfortable to accept that science doesn’t provide the whole picture.  I don’t want a forced harmony.  There are things I believe that science is simply not able to address, even though I have very good well-thought-out logical reasons for believing them. 

However, there are certain things that science does allow us to see with near certainty, and when that happens, I celebrate the harmony that clearly exists between information gained in that way and that gleaned from classic orthodox Christianity.

That harmony is beautiful, Mike, and I think we both agree, that it provides reason to celebrate…and worship!


Sam Alex - #45679

January 2nd 2011

Being a new reader to this web site has encouraged me to continue thinking ‘outside the box’, even though I concur that that box’s boundary has never been measured.  Am I to relate thinking outside the box to the game ‘In the river, on the bank’ where the demarcation is a thin line?  I am confused at times to decide whether an author is ‘inside the box’ or ‘outside the box’. When God created trees( a miracle outside of man’s box), some were at a maturity that scientifically would have taken 200 hundred 365-day years to reach. When God formed Adam from the ground, maybe he was formed at a maturity of our present day 30-year old! God’s spirit guides our mind’s willingness to mature to understand that GOD is just that, GOD- Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent, attributes all humans, scientists and theologians and I wished we had.


John - #45680

January 2nd 2011

Darrel wrote:
“The scientific method (applied to thousands of data sets) points clearly to the fact that life has arisen through an evolutionary process over a long period of time.**”

Darrel, it’s really, really important to point out the limits of science, as you noted, but that statement fails to do so. It’s far more important for laypeople to point clearly to the fact that life has DIVERSIFIED via evolution, which is a very strong theory, but wrt to how life itself arose, all we have are much weaker hypotheses. The closest to a theory is the RNA World hypothesis, but that is limited in that it only means that RNA replication and catalysis preceded proteins and DNA. This alone scares IDCreationist leaders, as Stephen Meyer misrepresents both the hypothesis and the data supporting it in his horrible book.

Our ability to test theories and hypotheses is limited, but we biologists have far more faith in them than any IDCreationist does, because we aren’t afraid to test them. The key here is that IDCreationism is the result of pathetically weak faith, not strong faith.


NOTE ADDED BY BIOLOGOS:

JOHN IS CORRECT.  THAT STATEMENT SHOULD HAVE READ “LIFE HAS DIVERSIFIED THROUGH AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS.”  Darrel Falk


sy - #45681

January 2nd 2011

At the risk of sounding silly, I also agree with Mike and Darrell completely. My original comment was not worded precisely enough to avoid the perception that I think that science as we know it is capable of confirming miraculous events which we all believe in. It isnt, and all of Mike and Darrell’s comments about the limits of science are certainly true, but perhaps even understated. Lets not forget that less than century ago, the scientific consensus was that the universe was eternal, and the idea of a beginning to the universe was considered to be religious nonsense.

There is no biological evidence that contradicts the possibility of the virgin birth or the resurrection. On the other hand the scientific evidence in favor of a 4 billion year old earth, and for evolution of species by natural selection is pretty strong. On the other hand again, science has failed at explaining the origin of life, the origin or even the actual nature of human consciousness, the meaning of morality, and so many other aspects of our reality.

Is this only a matter of time? Will, as some commenters here have said in the past, science eventually answer everything? Possibly. But only with the grace (and input) of God.


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