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“The Language of God” Book Club – Chapters 10-11

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April 18, 2014 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin, BioLogos, Divine Action & Purpose, History of Life, Science as Christian Calling

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

“The Language of God” Book Club – Chapters 10-11

Today we wrap up the online portion of The Language of God book club. We’ve been encouraged by the overall response: there were hundreds of people who downloaded the questions and thousands who visited the book club page. We heard from groups meeting at colleges, churches, and in homes—like this group who sent us some photos of their gathering:

Book club group photo Two people studying the book

I’m especially grateful to those who read these posts and offered thoughtful replies in the comments section. Instead of quick back-and-forth dialogue, our discussion here has become a repository of reflections on Collins’s book. We’ll archive those reflections and make them prominently available on our site for future readers of The Language of God. There is still one more chance to engage the material here today: chapters 10 and 11.

Chapter 10 introduces the BioLogos option. Collins’ original use of the term “BioLogos” was as an alternative label for the position often known as “theistic evolution.” Now this gets a bit confusing as “BioLogos” became the name for our organization that Collins founded (after the publication of this book). We continue to be dissatisfied with the label “theistic evolution” because as Collins said, most non-theologians are unsure how the term “theist” “could be converted to an adjective and used to modify Darwin’s theory” (p. 203). Yes, we are theists; and we accept the science of evolution. But by comparison, we also accept the science of chemistry (and believe that God had something to with it), but I don’t know of anyone who adopts the label “theistic chemistry” to describe their beliefs. We prefer the label “evolutionary creation” for the position that God brought about the life on earth through the process of evolution.

  1. How about you? Which of these labels seems to best capture the understanding of God and science that Collins has advanced in the book? What are the pros and cons? How much should we worry about the marketability of labels?

Collins responds to one of the major tension points for Christians thinking about the implications of evolution: Adam and Eve. We at BioLogos are persuaded that the scientific evidence convincingly shows that it is not the case that all human beings descended ancestrally from one pair. But there are still several options for interpreting the biblical texts about Adam and Eve that might fit with that evidence. We’ve recently begun a blog series called Interpreting Adam, and there are other resources we point to on the topic at our supplemental resources page. Collins also notes several possibilities of dealing with Adam and Eve (and quotes a lovely passage from C.S. Lewis), and then offers this conclusion:

Given this uncertainty of interpretation of certain scriptural passages, is it sensible for sincere believers to rest the entirety of their position in the evolutionary debate, their views on the trustworthiness of science, and the very foundation of their religious faith on a literalist interpretation, even if other equally sincere believers disagree, and have disagreed even long before Darwin and his Origin of Species first appeared? I do not believe that the God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has revealed to us, in order to prove our love for Him (p. 209-10).
  1. What is your response to this conclusion? Is Collins fair in his characterization and assessment of the situation? Why might it not be persuasive for some Christians?

Finally, chapter 11 relates more of Collins’ personal faith journey. He gives his reasons for aligning with Christianity in particular among the other religious options and describes some of his own experiences that have been formative in understanding his faith. The chapter concludes with exhortations aimed at both believers and scientists, which he believes will help to bring about a “truce in the escalating war between science and spirit” (p. 233).

  1. What do you take to be the best way forward for the dialogue between science and Christian faith?

Jim Stump has served as the Content Manager at BioLogos since August 2013. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates the existing content. Jim's PhD is in philosophy from Boston University where he wrote a dissertation on the history and philosophy of science. He is the author (with Chad Meister) of Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010) and the editor (with Alan Padgett) of the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). Jim is a frequent speaker at churches and other groups on topics at the intersection of science and Christianity.

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sy - #85126

April 19th 2014

I would like to address the third question. Evolutionary creationists (I guess that is a tacit comment on question #1) find themselves in the middle of the debate/war between anti-faith scientists, and fundamentalists who reject science. The recent Nye - Ham debate is a good illustration of how most of  the public views the situation. Collins’ message that the war is a myth, and that debate between the two “sides” is not necessary, was revolutionary at the time of publication, and it still is. 

One aspect of the question “where do we go from here” is which of the two sides that face us should we focus on. We can try to convince those who believe in scientism that faith is not contrary to real science, or we can devote more energy toward our Christian brethren to try to convince them that the Book of Works is as Godly and as much a part of faith as the Bible. Or we can try to do both.

Although my own background is that of an atheistic scientist, and I would naturally feel some sort of connection with that community, my suggestion is to go with the second option. I don’t believe that at this moment, engagement with atheists and those who revere “science” (or their own peculiar definition of science) is likely to be fruitful. On the other hand, the idea of a church that fully embraces real science (I omit such things as evolutionary psychology, and other forms of nonscientific scientism here) is a real possibility, and one that would simply end the war, no matter what the atheists do or say. Is such a vision possible? I think it is. I think there have already been successes, and while this struggle is only at the beginning, it is worth pursuing. And Biologos is playing a leading role in this effort. 

I am not saying it’s likely that Ken Ham, and the large number of fundamentalist Christians who are firmly wedded to a young Earth creation interpretation of the Bible are ready to change their minds, and accept all aspects of evolutionary science. But, middle grounds are possible, for those who share the truly fundamental belief system in Christ as savior and redeemer. And many Christians who are not quite sure about any of this evolution and science stuff (and aren’t even sure it all mattersI would like to address the third question. Evolutionary creationists (I guess that is a tacit comment on question #1) find themselves in the middle of debate/war between anti faith scientists, and and fundamentalist who reject science. The recent Nye Ham debate is a good illustration of how most of the public views the situation. Collins message that the war is a myth, and that debate between the two “sides” is not necessary was revolutionary at the time of publication, and still is. 

One aspect of the question where do we go from here is which of the two sides that face should we focus on. We can try to convince those who believe in scientism that faith is not contrary to real science, or we can devote more energy toward our Christian brethren to try to convince them that the Book of Works is as Godly and as much a part of faith as the Bible. Or we can try to do both.

Although my own background is that of an atheistic scientist, and I would naturally feel some sort of connection with that community, my suggestion is to go with the second option. I dont believe that at this moment, engagement with atheists and those who revere “science” (or their own peculiar definition of science) is likely to be fruitful. On the other hand, the idea of a church that fully embraces real science (I omit such things as evolutionary psychology, and other forms of non scientific scientism here) is a real possibility, and one that would simply end the war, no matter what the atheists do or say. Is such a vision possible? I think it is. I think there have already been successes, and while this struggle is only at the beginning, it is worth pursuing. And Biologos is playing a leading role in this effort. 

I am not saying its likely that Ken Ham, and the large number of fundamentalist Christians who are frimly wedded to a young Earth creation interpretation of the Bible are ready to change their minds, and accept all apects of evolutionary science. But, middle grounds are possible. And many Christians who are not quite sure about any of this (and arent even sure it matters) are ripe for persuasion. I believe this is the great work that God has in mind for us in this generation to care for his Church, and to bring the good news to mankind. 


Matthew Winegar - #85139

April 20th 2014

How about you? Which of these labels seems to best capture the understanding of God and science that Collins has advanced in the book? What are the pros and cons? How much should we worry about the marketability of labels?

I like the label Biologos, however, I think it is obscure enough that it might not be good, from a marketability standpoint.  I prefer EC, because it makes the activity of good (primary cause) into a noun, and the secondary causes (physical causes), into an adjective, which reflects the primacy of the two better than TE.  I think I have changed on this thinking (including in posts here in the last several months).

What is your response to this conclusion? Is Collins fair in his characterization and assessment of the situation? Why might it not be persuasive for some Christians?

I think Collins is spot on here.  Some Christians would not find this persausive, because they do hang their faith in the authority of the Bible, in the correctness of the accuracy of their (frequently, but not consistently) literal interpretations of the Bible.

What do you take to be the best way forward for the dialogue between science and Christian faith?

I agree with sy above, that the best approach is not to focus so much in hard line atheists, but focus on mending divisions in the Church, in helping well meaning Christians that reject parts of our scientific understandings that this stance drives people away from the Church.

At some level, some people will respond to the Gospel, and others will not.  As we read numerous times in the New Testament, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear”.  We need to proclaim the Gospel, and do so as one Church.  Our differences should not be used to interfere with this, so we should focus on mending rifts in the Church.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85161

April 21st 2014

Historically the most serious conflict between Darwinian science and the Christian faith is the Malthusian concept of the survival of the fitest.  This conflict still stands, even though no one but me takes it seriously any more.

This conflict can be overcome by combining evolution and ecology based on symbiosis, rather than Malthus, thus giving biologists a unified theory of natural change needed to solve the problems of climate change.   

Jesus, the Logos, does make a difference, which is why Darwinian natural selection is fundamentally flawed.   


sy - #85171

April 21st 2014

Hi Roger

I know this will sound familiar to you, since people have been telling you this for years. The problem is your understanding of what is meant by survival of the fittest (not a Darwinian term). There is no conflict between the mechanisms of natural selection and Christianity. Individuals who are less fit, are not killed or decimated, and usually  a new allele will take thousands of years to become fixed in a population. The combination of ecology and evolution is already part of Darwinian theory, so the problem you see (and continue to bring up) is not real except in your own conception. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85174

April 21st 2014

Sy,

With all due respect you are wrong.  Even though Darwin did not originate the phrase “survival of the fitest,” he accepted it and incorporated it into later editions of his book as a synonym for natural selection. 

Scientists are using the term “fitness” today in talking about natural selection, so how is it not a concept inspired by Darwinian thought?   

You say that ecology and evolution are already a part of Darwinian theory, but if that is the case why does Dawkins keep spouting all his anti-ecology theory and no one wants to argue against him?  In fact the Templeton Foundation recently spent more than a million dollars to fund a study trying to reconcile evolution and cooperation, which was only partially successful.  Please do not tell I am wrong unless you can give clear evidence.     

The fact is that if natural selection works by conflict, which is the classical model, and does the Dawkinsian view, then it is against the Christian view of the universe.  If it works by symbiosis, then it is not.  Show me where BioLogos or Dawkins or anyone else accepts this view and I will be satisfied.

 

   


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85195

April 22nd 2014

Sy and whoever,

If Evolution has changed its stripes and is now based on mutualitym rather than conflict, we Christians and we the thinking people of the world deserve to know. 

IT MUST NOT BE A SECRET.

I refered to the Cooperation Project above.  This is the $1 million project funded by the Templeton Fund for Harvard U and Sarah Coakley to determine the how to bridge the gap between Darwinian conflict theory and the need for cooperation in the world today. 

After I had written that statement I recalled that the book compiled from papers for the project was supposed to have been published by now, but I has heard nothing about it.  Indeed it had but there were no breakthriughs to report.  Instead of examining the “science” of selection, attention was diverted to Game playing.

The one important development was the publishing of the book The Social Conquest of the Earth by E. O. Wilson which raised the ire of Dawkins and Co. but was hardly mentioned by BioLogos.  Sadly Wilson does not give a rationale different from Malthus for natural selection.  His evolutionary sin was endorse group selection.

Again has evolutionary ascience changed its stripes.  You say yes.  I say where is the evidence. 

If Christianity has won a hard earned change in science that is important to know.  If BioLogos gives evolutionary science a clean bill of health despite this conflict at a basic level, shame on it!       

 


GJDS - #85203

April 22nd 2014

“Which of these labels seems to best capture the understanding of God and science….”

The term BioLogos is a catchy one and also novel, so I think in that respect it does what Collins set out to achieve. One point I wish to make is that it may give the impression that all science is derived from the bio-sciences, and by linking the Bio- with Logos, it may give a wrong impression, that somehow biology is divinely ordained. I am not saying that Collins had this intention since I am certain he did not.

On a more positive note, capturing the understanding of God and science is perhaps a way of giving science a similar status as theology. I prefer terms that commence with the harmony of Faith and Reason, and perhaps a term such “Science in the Service of Man”, or similar terms that emphasise the basic tenet of the Christian faith, which is to serve God and humanity, and how science may also be part of such an enterprise.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85206

April 23rd 2014

A big part of the problem of Darwinism is that it gives the illusion that “nature” somehow shook the dice long enough that life and humanity arose by chance out of DEAD matter.  If life arose by chance out of dead matter/energy, life will fall apart by chance into dead matter/energy.  

BioLogos as Collins’ name for evolution makes it clear that life and humanity arise not out of chance and dead matter/energy but out of the creative power and wisdom of the Living God.  Life out of Life, which will never die.

The problem with BioLogos is that there is too little Logos (Word of God, Jesus Christ) and too much word of God, the Bible.  There are too many words trying to compare the Bible with Science, and not enough Word showing how Jesus is the Logos of Science and Theology and Philosophy.

This glorification of the word, Bible, which has come at the expense of the Word, Jesus, has come as the result of historical events when modern Biblical scholarship was seen by evangelicals as an attack on the authority of the Bible.  Attitudes toward the Bible and theology of the Bible were set by these unfortunate events. 

While we cannot make these events go away, we need to revisit them.  We need to see where modern scholarship went awry and how the evangelical response was also mistaken.  We need reconciliation so both mainstream and evangelical Christians can move forward.   

I think that one of the strengths of the tradition that I am a part of is that it does not seem to be affected by the trauma of these historical events that have divided American Christianity.

In large part what I am saying is that the hope of changing evangelical attitudes toward “science” without changing evangelical theology is not possible.  Also we need to be concerned about Chriatianity as a whole, instead of just one branch of it in isolation, as if it were the whole.          


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