Why Must the Church Come to Accept Evolution?: An Update

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April 2, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

Why Must the Church Come to Accept Evolution?: An Update

As many of our readers know, the videos in our Conversations collection were filmed during the 2009 Theology of Celebration workshop in New York City. A primary goal of the Conversations project has been to provide an accessible platform from which leading scholars can explain their views on current topics in the science-and-faith dialogue. One or more Conversations entries have appeared on Science and the Sacred each week since the first release of the collection in January 2010.

Dr. Bruce Waltke, professor emeritus of Old Testament Studies at Regent College, and Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), attended the Theology of Celebration conference and presented a white paper, entitled Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process: I. Concerns of the Typical Evangelical Theologian. He was an active participant in the discussion periods, was deeply respected for his insights, and was highly loved for his spirit. Those of us who had not met him before were not surprised to see how he had come to gain so much respect in the evangelical community.

On Wednesday, March 24, Science and the Sacred featured the first of several video interviews with Dr. Waltke. In this video, Waltke discusses the danger that the Church will face if it does not engage with the world around it, in particular by acknowledging the overwhelming amount of data in support of biological evolution, which many evangelicals still reject. The original commentary for the video can be found here.

The video blog quickly became one of our most popular entries, and at the time of posting this update, it had received over 2,000 views and well over one hundred comments. On our YouTube channel, the video has been viewed an additional 2,900 times.

On Monday, March 29, Dr. Waltke informed us that the administration of RTS had asked him to request that the video be taken down. Dr. Waltke himself indicated that he still agreed with the content of the video. Indeed, Dr. Waltke has written previously on his support for theistic evolution (discussed here). However, given the brevity of the video, Dr. Waltke is concerned that his views might not be correctly understood.

For example, Dr. Waltke believes in a historical Adam and Eve, and was concerned that some might construe his appearance on our site as his own tacit approval for their non-historicity. In actuality, BioLogos does not take an official position on the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Dr. Waltke was also concerned that some might construe that he is not sufficiently supportive of those who think differently than he does on issues such as the age of the earth and evolution. He wanted to make it clear that this is not the case. As many of our readers know, we at BioLogos attest that the Young Earth position is not scientifically or theologically credible, and that the Intelligent Design movement has a reached a dead end. Nonetheless, we respect Dr. Waltke’s desire to make it clear that he thinks these views may be credible.

We had hoped that Dr. Waltke would support our proposal to keep the video posted, as long as a clear elaboration of his concerns was provided alongside it. After all, those who have seen the video will note that he is very articulate in presenting his thoughts, and he maintains that he still agrees with all that he said. But despite repeated attempts to find an alternative solution, it has become clear that Dr. Waltke feels that the only remedy to his predicament is to remove the video.

The BioLogos Foundation is aware of the inconvenience that this will cause for many viewers, especially at the peak of the video’s popularity. We are also aware that to make such a change is highly unusual by journalistic standards. Still, out of respect for Dr. Waltke, we are honoring his request to remove the video on at least a temporary basis.

The fact that Dr. Waltke felt he was unable to leave the video in place, despite the fact that he still agrees with its contents, is an extremely important statement about the culture of fear within evangelicalism in today’s world. Leading evangelicals who support evolution are rightly fearful of personal attacks on the integrity of their faith and character. Even when they believe that scientific data must be taken seriously, and that science has revealed the ways in which God created the world, they are more willing to be associated with those who are clearly wrong about God’s truth as revealed within His World, and who are thereby also wrong about how they understand His Word. How will the Church ever come to discern truth and falsehood if academic discourse is neutered for fears of public perception? This situation, before us, more than any that we are familiar with in the one year history of biologos.org, poignantly demonstrates the importance of the task we all have.

There are countless people, especially young people, who are discovering that the world of science is not out of touch with reality. Data emerge every day that make this even more clear. As Dr. Waltke himself says in the video, we cannot allow Christianity to become a cult––but this is what will happen if the Church continues to turn its head. When young people discover that neither the science they’ve been taught in their churches nor the theology that undergirds it are credible, many will feel they have to throw out their faith. For the sake of those countless young people, and for the sake of intellectual integrity, courage of conviction is required.

We Christians focus sometimes solely on protecting the past. We must also protect the future and prepare for it. We need to stand up to the forces that will harm our young people, even when others call on us to retreat. Dr. Waltke retains our respect in so many ways and we thank him for stating so clearly on his video what he believed then and still believes now.

We have now taken his excellent video down. Instead, we post here his statement of clarification, as delivered in email correspondence between the BioLogos Foundation and Dr. Waltke on Wednesday, March 31st. We understand that other versions of this list have already been circulated across the Internet. We also understand that RTS chose to distribute this list before an agreement had been reached with the BioLogos Foundation. We regret the confusion this action may have caused for our readers.

Dr. Bruce Waltke’s Statement of Clarification:

“I had not seen the video before it was distributed. Having seen it, I realize its deficiency and wish to put my comments in a fuller theological context:

  1. Adam and Eve are historical figures from whom all humans are descended; they are uniquely created in the image of God and as such are not in continuum with animals.

  2. Adam is the federal and historical head of the fallen human race just as Jesus Christ is the federal and historical head of the Church.

  3. I am not a scientist, but I have familiarized myself with attempts to harmonize Genesis 1-3 with science, and I believe that creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position, and, as represented by BioLogos, the best Christian apologetic to defend Genesis 1-3 against its critics.

  4. I apologize for giving the impression that others who seek to harmonize the two differently are not credible. I honor all who contend for the Christian faith.

  5. Evolution as a process must be clearly distinguished from evolutionism as a philosophy. The latter is incompatible with orthodox Christian theology.

  6. Science is fallible and subject to revision. As a human and social enterprise, science will always be in flux. My first commitment is to the infallibility (as to its authority) and inerrancy (as to its Source) of Scripture.

  7. God could have created the Garden of Eden with apparent age or miraculously, even as Christ instantly turned water into wine, but the statement that God “caused the trees to grow” argues against these notions.

  8. I believe that the Triune God is Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth and that biblical Adam is the historical head of the human race.

  9. Theological comments made here are mostly a digest of my chapters on Genesis 1-3 in An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007).”

We sincerely hope these points of clarification will remove any confusion about Dr. Waltke’s position on biological evolution. We apologize to our readers for the inconvenience of removing this video.

As part of our email correspondence with Dr. Waltke and the administration of RTS, we have extended an invitation to engage in a dialogue with RTS regarding their concerns about the substance of this video, and any ways the video implies that Dr. Waltke’s beliefs differ from those of RTS. This page will be updated with further information as it becomes available.


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Merv - #9918

April 15th 2010

Roger wrote:  “...What makes me angry is the TE assertion that there is no science whatsoever to support a Young Earth. That’s just dishonest.”

I’ve seen mirror statements like this one aimed at YECs instead.  It probably comes from the impression (embellished by hyperbole & maybe a bit of wishful thinking) that all the arguments of the “other side” were addressed and knocked down with none remaining that haven’t been dismissed.  And of course, what qualifies as a “fatal knock-down” response to may vary considerably in the eye of the beholder as well.  But it does illustrate how invested people are in defeating their opponents.  Finer points of truth often get lost in the heat of battle.

—Merv


John Knapp II, PhD - #9920

April 15th 2010

I’m sorry, but so much of this is too murky to intelligently respond to, because from the point of Waltke’s “clarification,” “EVOLUTION” is nowhere defined.  He should know better.  Ask ten people was it is, and means, and see all the answers you get.  Definitions (and assumptions) are all over the place, so, it must be clearly defined to talk about.  And, for the record, I say this as a PhD in sci. ed. who believes in biblical inerrancy (google it for the Chicago statement), who has written science texts, and one who cares deeply and has written about these matters.

  —JKII


Rich - #9951

April 16th 2010

Roger (9852):

By a “natural” reading of Genesis you mean a historical-literal one.  That would not strike all Christians and Jews at all times and places as the “natural” reading; have a look at the Greek Fathers, e.g., Origen.  And when you speak of “THE rules of hermeneutics”, as if there is only set of rules that is “correct”, you are engaging in wishful thinking.  In fact there are many different schools of hermeneutics, and what the Bible “means” or “teaches” is quite different, depending on which school you follow.  In the end, Old Earth, Young Earth, theistic evolution and every other position applies both scientific and hermeneutical principles to Bible-evolution discussions, so it’s not a question, as you suggest, of some putting more weight on science and some on Biblical interpretation.  It’s always a question of relating two different types of investigation, which is hard because very few people are naturally good at both types.


Roger D. McKinney - #9960

April 16th 2010

Rich: “In fact there are many different schools of hermeneutics…”

If by that you mean that there are a lot of different methods that people use to interpret the Bible, that is true. But there is only one science of hermeneutics. It is logic and honesty applied to the interpretation of any communication. For example, if I say my favorite color is red and you interpret that to mean that I am a communist, because red is their symbolic color, then you have violated several principles of the science of hermeneutics. And you have been very dishonest. There is a science of hermeneutics that is very consistent in its principles.


Rich - #9974

April 16th 2010

Roger (9960):

I have never met a Biblical scholar who would say anything as stupid as the example you give, so I’m not sure why you are giving it.  In any case, the word “science” means “systematic knowledge”, and since the principles of hermeneutics are disputed, there is no science of hermeneutics, i.e., no single discipline called “hermeneutics”, parallel to “organic chemistry” or “Euclidean geometry” or “Newtonian physics” in which there is worldwide agreement among the experts.  Thus, not only the methods of interpretation differ, but even the systematic discussion of the methods of interpretation (i.e., the hermeneutics) differs from sect to sect, seminary to seminary, university to university.  Do you think that the “Biblical Hermeneutics” seminar would cover all the same material, with the same attitude, at Bob Jones University and at Yale?  In any case, your conclusion that an old earth or theistic evolution cannot be compatible with a sound reading of Genesis presupposes literal-historical commitments which come from a certain type of Protestant theology, not from any “science” of hermeneutics.


Rich - #9993

April 16th 2010

Roger:

Just to avoid any misunderstanding, when I used the word “stupid” in the above post I was not referring to you personally.  I was agreeing with you that the interpretation of “red” as a marker for “communism” was ridiculous, and my point was that no well-trained Biblical scholar would ever offer a crudity such as that in a Biblical interpretation.  Of course, there are people who do say things that are that stupid about the Bible, but they are not trained Biblical scholars. 

The rest of my point remains:  there is no neutral, objective science of Biblical hermeneutics from which one can derive rules which say things like:  “Genesis 1-11 cannot be interpreted as myth or legend but must be interpreted as an accurate chronicle.”  All such conclusions are based on the literary and theological presuppositions, not to mention the cultural background, of the interpreter.  So whether the Bible is compatible with an old earth, or evolution, cannot be settled by any appeal to allegedly objective hermeneutical principles.  If we’re honest, we just take our best shot at interpreting the scientific data, and take our best shot at interpreting the Bible, and make no pretense of complete neutrality.


The Mirror - #9995

April 16th 2010

To Scott 9185:

LOL! Hysterical.

Thank you for that enlightening thesis defending the free exchange of ideas.


Roger D. McKinney - #10003

April 16th 2010

Rich: “I have never met a Biblical scholar who would say anything as stupid as the example you give, so I’m not sure why you are giving it.”

You must hang out with a bad crowd. I know lots of scholars that would make the same point. And yes there is a science of hermeneutics. There may be some disagreements over finer points, but not the major ones. Hermeneutics is applied logic. Are there different schools of logic? I can see why TE’s get a rash with the mention of hermeneutics; it limits one’s flexibility dramatically. But if one doesn’t apply the rules of hermeneutics, then one is dishonest.


Roger D. McKinney - #10008

April 16th 2010

Rich: “The rest of my point remains:  there is no neutral, objective science of Biblical hermeneutics from which one can derive rules which say things like:  “Genesis 1-11 cannot be interpreted as myth or legend but must be interpreted as an accurate chronicle.”

Obviously not. But clearly you don’t know much about hermeneutics. Rule #1 is to determine what the author’s intent was. You do that by looking at the whole document. The author of Genesis clearly intended the book to be history. There is no evidence internally to suggest that he intended it to be myth, poetry, or anything other than history. Now he could be wrong. He may have thought he was writing history but was mistaken. Anyone is free to decide that. But you cannot say that the author intended Genesis to be anything but history. And if the author was wrong, then it is not any type of communication from God. It’s all myth.


Roger D. McKinney - #10009

April 16th 2010

Rich: “Do you think that the “Biblical Hermeneutics” seminar would cover all the same material, with the same attitude, at Bob Jones University and at Yale?”

Yes, it would. Have you ever read a textbook on hermeneutics?


Rich - #10059

April 16th 2010

Roger (10008):

Authorial intent is the number 1 rule in hermeneutics?  Funny, I tend to agree, but you’d be amazed how many world-class scholars think that authorial intent is not automatically the decisive criterion in determining the meaning of a text.  You are unaware of the serious academic dispute over this?  And funny that those major scholars who *do* think that authorial intent is central cannot seem to agree on what the intent of the author of Genesis was.  Apparently you see simplicity where the learned see difficulty.  You must be wiser than Origen, the most learned of the Greek Fathers, who denied that all of Gen. 1-11 was meant to be taken literally.  It is too bad that Origen is not still alive, so that he could sail from Alexandria to Grand Rapids and get a list of books on hermeneutics from you.  And you should definitely let the faculty of comparative religion at Chicago know that a myth can never be a communication from God.  They clearly don’t know what they are talking about.  Oh, and tell us the names of the those textbooks on Biblical hermeneutics that would be agreed upon by James Barr and Ken Ham.  (You do know who James Barr is, don’t you, without having to Google his name?)


Kevin - #10064

April 16th 2010

how about we grow some integrity and put the video back up?


merv - #10066

April 16th 2010

Okay, Rich & Roger .... before you ramp up the sarcasm any further, Rich, or before either of you come to blows, let me just interject a thought or two. 

I’m inclined to agree that a great rule of understanding is to have a grasp of author intent.  And I can be just as dismayed as the next guy about turning things into “post-modernist” “living” documents where all meaning is supposedly supplied by the reader instead.  I don’t buy it either.  BUT… that is a rejection of a straw-man extreme form of an idea.  There may be legitimate times then “human author intent” would be too limiting.  When Paul or other N.T. writers see Scriptural fulfillment in (or make theological points about, say Adam) are they not going beyond original author intent?  You may say, well, God was the author.  Fine.  But then that puts all “author intent” speculations on equal footing since there is no “literary method” that could nail down God’s intent for all time.  But human authors used by God ...  they could be studied and most would not have foreseen the entire scope of how their writings would come to be used by Christians.  In short,  the Spirit may legitimately lead us quite beyond “human author intent.”

—Merv


Rich - #10073

April 17th 2010

OK, Merv, I’ll behave.  Let me state my argument again without the sarcasm:  (1) There is no universally accepted set of hermeneutical principles in academic Biblical studies (or academic literary studies of any kind); (2)  Even if there were a universally accepted principle that the meaning of a text is found in the author’s intended meaning, not all scholars agree on how to determine the author’s intended meaning; (3) Not all scholars agree that the author of Genesis 1-11 intended the stories contained therein to be read as historical chronicles.  Beyond this, I would say that you have picked a good example:  the superseding of the intention of Old Testament authors by New Testament re-interpretation.  So I come back to my original point:  the so-called “rules of hermeneutics” aren’t non-partisan.  Their contents and application are dictated by theological concerns.  Rich may believe that Ken Ham is a better interpreter of Genesis than Origen, but he can’t invoke a “science” of hermeneutics to validate that conclusion.  The history of Biblical exegesis shows the non-existence of any consensus regarding such a science.


Rich - #10074

April 17th 2010

Ooops!  It should have been “Roger”, not “Rich”.  That last bit above should read:

“Roger may believe that Ken Ham is a better interpreter of Genesis than Origen, but he can’t invoke a “science” of hermeneutics to validate that conclusion.  The history of Biblical exegesis shows the non-existence of any consensus regarding such a science.”


merv - #10090

April 17th 2010

That all sounds reasonable to me, Rich.  Of course, I already pretty much share the same camp of thought you come from.  Roger will be the true test of how convincing your argument is.

—Merv
P.S.  Can’t speak for Roger, but I DID have to google ‘James Barr’.  Mainstay authors for one camp of people may stay at the fringe of consciousness to others from different traditions.  Well, okay—-maybe it just means I haven’t read widely of many theologians.


Denis O. Lamoureux - #10105

April 17th 2010

A very, very sad state of affairs.

Dr Bruce Waltke was one of my professors in seminary (Regent College, Vancouver BC). He’s a first rate Old Testament scholar and wonderful Christian. When he opened the class in prayer, I wanted to open my eyes and write his prayer down because it was that good.

Evolution is indeed a FACT, and my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ need to come to terms with it. The Church came to terms with Galileo, and I trust we will come to terms with Darwin.  And I pray that we can limit the damage, so that we don’t have the shameful “resignations” of amazing Church leaders like Dr. Bruce Waltke.

Denis O. Lamoureux
PhD (Evangelical Theology) PhD (EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY)
Associate Professor of Science & Religion
St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta
Website:  http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure


Rich - #10118

April 17th 2010

Merv:

Thanks for your comments.  The point that I was making in the aside about Barr was that if Roger did not immediately recognize the name “James Barr” and had to look up who Barr was, then he did not know the name of the man who was, for a couple of decades, the most famous Old Testament scholar in the world, and by common consent, even among those who violently disagreed with him, one of the greatest Old Testament scholars in the world.  Not to recognize Barr’s name would be to show that one was completely unfamiliar with the main stream of Old Testament scholarship, and therefore that one had no business talking about Biblical “hermeneutics” at all.  It would be like never having heard of Thomas Kuhn or Karl Popper, but holding forth on the nature of scientific theories.  (Of course, not having heard of Barr would not disqualify one from having an opinion on the meaning of Genesis, but it would disqualify one from pronouncing authoritatively on Biblical hermeneutics.  It was Roger’s overconfident generalizations that I was criticizing, not his particular views on Genesis.)


Trevor K. - #10262

April 19th 2010

Refer:  Rich - #10118
Barr is as much human as Roger is and hence fallible in his interpretations. The only real authority we had in human form was Jesus. People were in awe of the fact that he spoke with authority. And so they should have been. Jesus is God!
This same Jesus said: If you don’t believe Moses and the prohpets, even if one rose from the dead, you still would not believe. You don’t believe that Moses wrote:”..and God spoke these words….for in six days God created the heaven and earth and all that in them is…”. So you’ll always be an unbeliever.


Rich - #10268

April 19th 2010

Trevor K:

I never said what I believed or didn’t believe.  I was said that someone was writing overconfidently about Biblical interpretation.  And I never said that James Barr was infallible in interpretation.  I said that anyone who hadn’t heard of James Barr wasn’t familiar with the main stream of Biblical scholarship, and that anyone who wasn’t familiar with the main stream of Biblical scholarship had no business pronouncing authoritatively on hermeneutics.  I don’t know if Roger has heard of James Barr or not, because he dropped the conversation.  In any case, his views on Biblical interpretation struck me as narrow.  Regarding Jesus, his interpretation of the Old Testament was loose and flexible, in accord with the rabbinic style of the day—nothing at all like the mechanical conception of “inerrancy” of today.  Jesus wouldn’t have wasted five minutes arguing against radioactive dating or trying to prove that light could exist before the sun.  He was interested in the spirit, not the letter.  Unfortunately for Dr. Waltke, “conservative” Christians in America aren’t much like Jesus in that respect.


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