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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John - #45804

January 3rd 2011

And Merv, one of those first three is Wikipedia, which unlike Meyer, gets it right.


John - #45805

January 3rd 2011

Martin:
“So context must determine what is to be understood literally, and what is to be understood as a parable or metaphor.”

Yes. I understand the self-contradicting creation stories of Genesis to be metaphorical.


Jon H. - #45810

January 3rd 2011

This article is the very definition of the pragmatism we see in modern day Christendom.

The slippery slope of evolutionary philosophy will always lead to a questioning of the integrity and perspicuity of scripture. The creation/evolution debate is not scientific as Biologos would make us believe, but is theological at its very core.


sy - #45814

January 3rd 2011

@ Doug Hanson - #45760

That was fantastic. I happen to be of the opinion that humor is often the best way to make a serious point. Thanks.


sy - #45817

January 3rd 2011

John

I believe we have discussed RNA world before, in the context of ID claims. I am not convinced that Meyer;s error in calling peptidyl transferase a protein was deliberate. He does recognize the existence of ribozymes,  and he does admit that RNA catalytic activity is real. His argument against RNA world as a viable living system leading to modern life is based on a number of problems with RNA catalysis that are not in error. I agree that he is way out of his depth, but the arguments he makes are neither absurd nor maliciously deceptive in my view. Of course, I am not a great fan of RNA world either, but thats another story.


merv - #45818

January 3rd 2011

John wrote:  “You don’t need any biological expertise to figure out whether Meyer’s statement is true. Just Google “peptidyl transferase” AND “ribosome” to see just how incredibly false it is. THE FIRST THREE results, even discounting the “scholarly articles” listed at the top, show this.”

Sorry, John.  Doesn’t cut it.  Googling up blogworld and reading Wikipedia is an interesting exercise and I’ve learned plenty doing those things myself—but I don’t mistake that for deep understanding and study of a matter which I would want to undergo before claiming any expertise or evaluating comments *in their context* which I haven’t done or seen you do here with Meyer’s comment.  Whatever mudslinging he may have done (in SOTC), I don’t remember it being as thick as what’s accumulating here.  Score for Meyers. 

Meanwhile, I’ve got classes (of the physical sciences, mathematical, & computer variety) to prep for tomorrow—none of which involve Biology, and a family I hope to spend some time with tonight as well.  So I better sign off to do that.  If a credentialed expert wants to help me at least scratch the surface, I’ll be all ears.  That’s what experts are for.

-Merv


Darrel Falk - #45842

January 4th 2011

Merv,,

FYI, both John and Sy are highly credentialed…eminently so.  Each is a biologist working at two of the best research institutions in the world. 

I think any general biology text would tell you the error that Meyer made in that quote.

Since you are a physical science professional (I believe), and Meyer is a philosopher, this illustrates pretty well the first of my three main points in the post.  What a strange way for we Christians to be doing science.  Meyer makes a mistake that any undergraduate biology major had better be able to recognize.  People without expertise in biology don’t know what to think when they are told in this anonymous internet world that a mistake has been made.  Since they don’t know which side is correct (and can’t, they feel, trust Wikipedia), they are left with making their choice on the basis of trust.  Meanwhile the water gets muddier and muddier and people in the Church are talking science (and saying what a great book Meyer has written!!!)—without having some pretty elementary facts within the discipline they are discussing—correct.  Meanwhile,  Meyer “wins out” with the Church—perhaps because he is be perceived as being nicer and thereby more trustworthy, perhaps because he is a great communicator, or perhaps because he is just telling those of us in the churches what our itching ears want to hear.  Regardless of the reason, Meyer wins out and is officially declared the “Daniel of 2009” to much fanfare by a leading evangelical spokesperson who probably has little knowledge about the subject matter—but who does know who he can trust.

With all respect for my friend Steve Meyer, that’s our situation and we in the Church deserve a better system than this.  All the key players it seems to me, are sincere (including Steve and including, especially, the lay people in churches!!), but the system is badly broken.

This is not a criticism of you, Merv, nor the things you said above.  Your input as a commenter has been much appreciated for some time…but it does illustrate our dilemma. 

God help us is my prayer.

Looking forward to a new day,

Darrel

.


Paul D. - #45843

January 4th 2011

Jon H., what about the “slippery slopes” of astronomy, geology, palaeontology, and genetics? Do you reject all of those as well when they don’t match up with your interpretation of the Bible?


sy - #45861

January 4th 2011

Just to follow up a bit on Darrel’s last comment related to Meyer and ID in general. My view is that the whole premise of ID is wrong, since it is based on a faulty analogy, and faulty logic.

The premise is that we can spot evidence of intelligent design in biology, The well known analogy is to a complex human made arftifact like a watch. The problem is that this reduces God to our own low level of intelligence. Biology does not work like a watch. Biology is way beyond intelligent, in the human sense. I do believe the universe is designed, but I would call it “Divine design”. The fundamental error in ID is then propagated by (as Darrel says) using statistical tools that appear legitamate in ways that arent, to make inferences that are neither scientifically, nor theologically sound.

I also believe that it is futile to try to demonstrate God’s role in nature beyond any reasonable doubt using statistical and engineering arguments (the basis of ID “science”) since such arguments will always be subject to refutation.

I agree with Darrel that the church needs solid science, but also that the way scientists think about origins needs help from the church.


beaglelady - #45892

January 4th 2011

Meanwhile,  Meyer “wins out” with the Church—perhaps because he is be perceived as being nicer and thereby more trustworthy, perhaps because he is a great communicator, or perhaps because he is just telling those of us in the churches what our itching ears want to hear.

Isn’t this similar to the “halo effect”?  Advertisers pay athletes big bucks to endorse products. The great football star is perceived to also be an expert in selecting the best deodorant or shaving cream. Similarly, our church leaders must be able to guide us in scientific matters.


John - #45903

January 4th 2011

Merv:
“Googling up blogworld and reading Wikipedia is an interesting exercise…”

Sorry, but the other two of the three hits weren’t from blogs. They did happen to directly refute Meyer’s claim about highly relevant evidence.

Your desperate “blogworld” fabrication is predicted by my hypothesis. Any excuse to avoid looking for the facts for yourself, everything has to be hearsay, because in your soul you have no faith in ID.

“... and I’ve learned plenty doing those things myself—but I don’t mistake that for deep understanding and study of a matter which I would want to undergo before claiming any expertise or evaluating comments *in their context* which I haven’t done or seen you do here with Meyer’s comment.”

The context is that Meyer devotes an entire chapter of his book to denigrating the RNA World hypothesis, but misrepresents the hypothesis itself. But you’re never gonna get that far unless you can deal straight up with his misrepresentation of the most powerful evidence supporting the hypothesis. There’s no ethical or intellectual excuse for Meyer’s behavior, even if you don’t accept the hypothesis.

And let’s not forget that nearly the entire ID brain trust allegedly reviewed this for accuracy.

“Whatever mudslinging he may have done (in SOTC), I don’t remember it being as thick as what’s accumulating here.  Score for Meyers.”

There you go. Your scoring is based on hearsay, particularly on hearing what you want to hear.

“Meanwhile, I’ve got classes (of the physical sciences, mathematical, & computer variety) to prep for tomorrow—none of which involve Biology, and a family I hope to spend some time with tonight as well.  So I better sign off to do that.”

It still took much longer for you to brag about why you couldn’t look it up than it would have taken to look it up.

“If a credentialed expert wants to help me at least scratch the surface, I’ll be all ears.  That’s what experts are for.”

No, Merv, experts in science DO science. They don’t help lazy people whom they know will employ the genetic fallacy to support their wishful thinking. Look up the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


John - #45908

January 4th 2011

Darrel:
“FYI, both John and Sy are highly credentialed…eminently so.”

Psst…don’t tell Rich!

“I think any general biology text would tell you the error that Meyer made in that quote.”

I’m curious, Darrel: do you have any evidence suggesting that it was merely an error? Have you asked Meyer himself about it? The way he fudges related points suggests otherwise.

“...Meyer makes a mistake that any undergraduate biology major had better be able to recognize.”

Maybe even a high-school student…

“...Since they don’t know which side is correct (and can’t, they feel, trust Wikipedia), they are left with making their choice on the basis of trust.”

But when challenged, their behavior reveals a lack of trust and faith. It’s only wishful thinking. Have you tried challenging them to a wager?

“...Meanwhile,  Meyer “wins out” with the Church—perhaps because he is be perceived as being nicer and thereby more trustworthy, perhaps because he is a great communicator, or perhaps because he is just telling those of us in the churches what our itching ears want to hear.”

All the evidence—ecological and experimental—points to the last as the motivation, and there’s clearly little faith behind those wishes.


John - #45915

January 4th 2011

sy:
“My view is that the whole premise of ID is wrong, since it is based on a faulty analogy, and faulty logic.”

Agreed, but we should not ignore—and therefore repeat—the mistakes of scientists in using metaphors that are so easily distorted.

“...The well known analogy is to a complex human made arftifact like a watch. The problem is that this reduces God to our own low level of intelligence. Biology does not work like a watch. Biology is way beyond intelligent, in the human sense.”

Exactly! It’s an amazingly alien, relentlessly iterative sort of intelligence. Part of the problem here is that the genome, which can be studied digitally, has been oversold. If one leaves the genome to study the “plumbing” of the individual cell, it looks nothing like bodily or home plumbing; it’s all fuzzy, with sewage routinely being mixed with fresh water and food supplies.

“...The fundamental error in ID is then propagated by using statistical tools that appear legitamate in ways that arent, to make inferences that are neither scientifically, nor theologically sound.”

And are misrepresented as science when their promoters will do anything but empirically test their own hypotheses.


merv - #45953

January 5th 2011

John, I think you over-estimate the background knowledge that most lay people must have about biology (even of the general or undergraduate variety)—-and nor would you know this about me specifically, but my last (and only) biology class was about 30 years ago in high school.  So what looks to you like a ‘simple fact’ or ‘absurdity’ that any ignoramus should see through looks to me like a vague collection of technical words—some of which I have only a general understanding of.  I presume you have more background in biology and immediately see the context and know all the foundational information that help you see the misinformation easily.  Were I to spend ten times my Biologos blogging time on the task, I doubt that would give me enough of a genetics foundation to effectively do that.  So even though it may be bad science, the reality is that I (and I suspect a few others too) will choose who we trust on subjects that aren’t our specialty while we work and feed our families around the subjects that are.  It has nothing to do with wishful thinking.

Thanks Darrel and John, for your input.  I will scratch the surface as I can.

—Merv


Darrel Falk - #45958

January 5th 2011

Thanks Merv.  God bless you. 

Darrel


unapologetic catholic - #46018

January 5th 2011

“So even though it may be bad science, the reality is that I (and I suspect a few others too) will choose who we trust on subjects that aren’t our specialty while we work and feed our families around the subjects that are.  It has nothing to do with wishful thinking.”

sounds a lot like:

“I am ignorant, I have no intention of correcting that fact, but I will join a discussion amongst PhD scientists and opineon the subject anyway.”

The fact is we are all ignorant on a variety of subejcts.  That means if we choose to remain ignorant we don’t have an informed opinion nor do we have the capabliltiy of criticizing anybody else’s informed opinions.  We especially can’t criticize an expert who calls “bullpucky” on some “astroturf” organization’s alleged “major breakthroughs overturning the Darwinist conspiracy” for example.  (google “astroturf”).

Correctly identifying “manure” as “manure” is not “mudslinging.”  It is telling the truth.  Manure happens. Identifying the manure and the source of the manure not a moral reflection on the depositor of the manure.  Correctly identifying illegitmate arguments in a particualr field is the role of an expert.


DBB - #46105

January 6th 2011

Dear Dr. Falk:  I normally enjoy reading the articles in Biologos and most of them are reasonably well written.  I can follow the author’s line of reasoning and I can state that I agree with the author on this point and I disagree through with him or her on another point.  On a scale of zero to one hundred I would rank most of them between 80 and 90.  Since I don’t find any of them sufficiently persuasive to cause me to accept the theory of general evolution as factual, I don’t rate any of them beyond 90.  However the article by Joel Felsenstein on William Dembski falls far short of your usual standards. I could follow his reasoning through the section on “Conservation of Information.”  However starting with the section on ” Dembski’s proof”  he completely lost me. HIs arguments did not relate to probability theory in any way that I have ever studied. I would hope that you would choose better articles in the future or at least have some articles that cover probability theory at a more elementary level.


Dewey - #46193

January 7th 2011

Why does BioLogos seem so preoccupied with Al Mohler ? Is he somehow keeping BioLogos from attaining scientific credibility? Ive often wondered why they dont ask Richard Dawkins, Steve Pinker, Sam Harris, Victor Stenger, Steven Weinberg and/or other like-minded scientists what THEY think of BioLogo’ position. Chances are, the response woulndt do much to boost BioLogos scientific credibility either. The reason is simple: neither AL Mohler NOR BIoLogos believes in evolution as postulated by the secular scientific community, especially as represented by these men. Maybe i havent been searching the site long enough. Has Dawkins ever posted a comment to the effect of “Keep up the good work”?


JWF - #46264

January 8th 2011

I rather liked this essay. Denyse O’Leary from Uncommon Descent, and Albert Mohler aren’t as impressed.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #47039

January 12th 2011

The Reason for our faith that the Bible and science can be and will not be ultimately in basic contradiction is found in John 1:1 and following.  In other words, Jesus the Logos of God.  This is also the key to understanding that the Bible is not the Absolute Word of God, but until BioLogos addresses this theological fact, then it is spinning its wheels.


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