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 firstname.lastname@example.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.