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 - #9717

April 14th 2010

want black & white explanations on that the only answer to be had is:  “I don’t know.”

But this I DO know (as a matter of faith and testimony—-NOT founded in science):  God created us ——NOT just Adam & Eve, but he knit each & every one of us together in our mother’s wombs.  (Psalm 139:13)  (Regarding the historiocity of an actual Adam & Eve, I could go either way—- maybe they were entirely metaphorical and represent the human race, maybe they were a chosen by God to be a ‘Federal head’ of peoples, or even just the Israelites.  A lot of intelligent Christians have made good arguments many ways, so I unapologetically remain on the fence on that one – AND see Paul’s theological use of Adam reduced not one whit by the metaphorical possibility despite what many of you insist.) —-It doesn’t seem likely to me thought that we were all biologically descended from Noah or Adam.  But I don’t pick any fights…


merv - #9719

April 14th 2010

over that one.

continuing what I DO know:  that our existence here is not random or meaningless (contrary to militant Evolutionist drivel which you all should know better than to take seriously.——such assertions go way beyond the reach of any science and represent Evolutionist philosophy, not evolutionary science.)  I know this as a matter of faith, because the Bible tells me so;  it isn’t a matter of science.

I DO know that Jesus was the son of God, crucified, and risen again.  This also is a matter of testimony and faith.  Science doesn’t touch it other than to highlight for us how fantastic and miraculous such an event is.  In fact this last paragraph is really the crux, the center of everything and all the voluminous paragraphs before it are really a distraction from what is of central importance in the Bible and in creation.  We should be reading our Bibles in light of the gospels, not in light of Genesis disputes.  I respect your need to challenge all this since you hold a certain kind of inerrancy as such an indispensable doctrine.  And I agree with you that we all need to flesh this out as seekers of truth which is why I took the time


merv - #9720

April 14th 2010

this morning to try to give a more complete answer.  Hopefully this doesn’t fall in the category of I Timothy 1:4 or 6:3 -5.  Whatever you may now think of me, I still think of you as a brother in Christ.  If I am dangerously wrong in the things I think I know, then I pray for God to gently correct me—-I may presumptuously extend that prayer to you as well, though I pray it more fervently for myself.

In Christ,
—Merv
(Truth seeker to the end; as I believe all Christians should be…  will be happy to clarify further on anything as I can)


merv - #9721

April 14th 2010

... and of course I can only look with exasperation at my typos above which I hope are obvious enough to not distract from points being made.  Towards the beginning of 9716 it should read “I no more believe in ....”  instead of “I know more ...”. 

My brain knows better than my fingers did ... you got the unedited stream-of-consciousness version of an essay this morning.


Merv - #9724

April 14th 2010

One more clarification that is more significant than trying to clean up my many typos…

When I said our existence here is not ‘random’ or ‘meaningless’—-I’m much more dogmatic on the latter word than the former and I separate the two more easily than perhaps many here will.  The term ‘random’ bears a lot of unpacking; more than I will attempt here.  But suffice it to say, I don’t think it an un-Scriptural concept.  (Proverbs 16:33 & other New Testament uses of the same).  A scientist using the word ‘random’ when attempting to describe a process does not get my dander up nearly as quickly as a scientist using the word ‘meaningless’ and then trying to pretend the latter word was somehow scientific.

—Merv
(now ... to refrain for using my work time today to keep checking back in here for responses!  so many temptations ...  please take shots at my inconsistencies and force me to at least attempt some clean-up.  I really listen—-which is what debate, at its best, is all about.)


Trevor K. - #9728

April 14th 2010

Merv,
Quite a mouthful you’ve given there. Thanks for the considered answer. It raises a lot of questions but I’ll refrain from asking them for the moment.

Like you I’ve also been walking in the “evidence for science” camp until little by little I clarified for myself what exactly is Science and what is man’s speculation that is passed for Science.

Please do take the time to read what I’ve said about Exodus 20:11.  Consider the implications of that verse as well as the implications of what happens to Jesus’ reference to Genesis if it cannot be taken literally.
From your reply I think I can assume you’ve probably heard the arguments on that score already. The conclusion of that particular argument is simply that if you do not believe in Genesis as a literal, historical account then you might as well throw Christ out the window too.

So the upshot of the discussion here is simply that a lot of prayer and searching is required.

May God the father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you as you travel the road set out for you.


Roger D. McKinney - #9750

April 14th 2010

merv: “I think the evidence for a billions year old earth rather than a thousands year old is overwhelming…”

And just on pure science, not considering the Bible at all, I disagree that there is any evidence at all that the earth is billions of years old. If you study how scientists “date” geology, you’ll find it is mostly circular reasoning. The very first attempts at dating the age of the earth was done by simple guesses based on one faulty assumption—uniformitarianism. The uniformitarian assumption asserts that the only forces that have ever acted upon the earth at any time in history are those that we can observe today. So early evolutionists asked themselves how how it might have taken for annual floods to lay down the sediment that we observe and they concluded at first millions of years. And by their assumptions, that is the only conclusion they could have come to.


Roger D. McKinney - #9751

April 14th 2010

But there was never any proof that the earth is that old. The assumption of uniformitarianism requires it. But if at some point in the past, something different did happen, such as the Biblical flood, then the uniformitarian assumption is completely wrong and the ages wrong. Later, when scientists came up with the radioactive dating methods, they “calibrated” them using the guesses on ages of past geologists because those ages had become set in stone. And if you read Roger Lewin’s “Bones of Contention” you’ll see that radioactive dating methods are highly inaccurate. The range of dates is so large that paleontologists pick the date that is closest to the age of the rock strata, which age was determined a century ago by guessing.

You may choose to believe that the evidence for an ancient earth is better than that for a young earth, but you should be willing to admit that it is no where close to being overwhelming. Young Earth scientists have some pretty good evidence for their position, too. Have you seen Walt Brown’s book at creationscience.com?


merv - #9800

April 14th 2010

Thank you, Trevor for your prayerful words.  I did see your reference to the Exodus passage.  Those who are already willing to countenance a metaphorical six days of creation don’t consider it as big a leap as you probably do to understand God’s (symbolically needed) 7th day rest in the same way.  I do understand (I think) the danger of “picking and choosing” what passages are literal and which aren’t.  I’ve obviously already engaged in some of that myself.  But I would add that I think nearly everyone else does this too —-even you, perhaps?  What I think to be a non-threatening example of this is with parables.  You may point out that parables in the Bible are explicitly labeled as such which should definitively prevent narrative content from being taken as such.  Others, though, may allow that stories not explicitly labeled as parable nevertheless were written to be that (I’ve heard this suggested of the book of Job.)  But back to the “safely labeled” parables:  Imagine my


merv - #9801

April 14th 2010

surprise when I heard of a confrontation with a lady I personally know well who was hotly indignant when somebody suggested to her that the story of the prodigal son was not a real historical event!  To her, even the suggestion that God would lie in such a way was scandalous.  (I’m assuming you are at least willing to allow that parables are there for greater purpose than mere chronicling of events.)  If so, how would you answer her?  We Christians come in a glorious variety of flavors, don’t we?  Just so long as it is one Lord, one Spirit ...


merv - #9805

April 14th 2010

To Roger;  I haven’t read everything you reference here… but I do have Walt Brown’s book on my shelf here at home “In the Beginning” 7ed.  And I have skimmed and referenced it.  I was most fascinated with is discussion of the moon’s orbit and the apparent shortage of time for it to get where it is according to its current rate of precession.  It’s been a while so the arguments aren’t fresh on my mind any more.  Many of his arguments have been answered in places like talkorigins.org (You would find this and similar sites quite hostile, with their unveiled mockery of creationism, but nevertheless if you can blow away much of the ideological chaff and concentrate on the kernels of real insights in such places, it will help you either refine your arguments or discard the truly discredited ones.  (or of course, you could end up persuaded that the earth isn’t really young.  –being changed is always a danger in honest research.)  I’m afraid though I have failed to find any YEC rebuttals to the rebuttals.  It would appear on many such arguments that creationist detractors seem to have had the last scientific word.  I’m open to web sites or places I may have missed.


merv - #9806

April 14th 2010

One other thing I should mention;  I have read (and though I disagree with him I very much respect him)  Kurt Wise.  He is a YEC and a paleontologist who studied under Stephen J. Gould no less, but who maintains his belief in a young earth.  He maintains that his conviction comes from the Bible alone and not from science at all.  So he seems to concede what you probably won’t:  that belief in a young earth is in spite of much prevailing evidence; but he simply chooses to maintain what he sees as a faithful reading of Scripture and then just trusts that whatever it is in science that makes the earth look old will somehow all work out in the end.  Along this same vein, you are probably familiar with the RATE II conference of Christian scientists who are committed to a young-earth reading and a global flood.  I haven’t read their reports first hand, but I do understand that they took an unprecedented step of conceding in their last conference that there are formidable scientific problems that remain substantial challenges to the young-earth position.  They remain committed to it, nevertheless, trusting that problems will somehow be worked out.  This is (I think) a refreshing


merv - #9807

April 14th 2010

departure from what I view as previous denials of any problems and an honest admission that yes, there are some lines of evidence that at the very least do give a formidable appearance of age.  But even if such things don’t sound like welcome changes to you, they should challenge any person defending such a position to take stock and continue studying.  For all I know you are in the middle of all this and probably know more about it than I do.  If so, I apologize for any of this that may sound condescending.  I don’t want to sound like those who accuse each other of all manner of deceit or other insulting things.  Places on the web where people who differ over all this can have respectful exchanges without it degenerating into a flame war —-those are few & far between. 

End of my ramble for the moment.
—Merv


john hinson - #9829

April 15th 2010

I commend Dr waltke for his years of service to RTS.  I was fortunate enough to sit under his teaching.  RTS unfortuately still shows limited academic freedom.  I am not surprised, just saddened by those who are afraid to challenge themselves.  Dr Waltke is to be commended for years of service to the cause of spreading the gospel and challenging those under his care.

John C Hinson


Roger D. McKinney - #9851

April 15th 2010

Merv, Actually I have been at this about 40 years. I have read a lot on both sides. A few years ago two professors from Calvin College, I believe, wrote a book on geology that was supposed to end the controversy once and for all and prove beyond reasonable doubt that the earth is billions of years old. I’m sorry I can’t remember the name of the book, but you probably know which one I’m talking about. It was an interesting book and made some good points, but I can summarize its main argument with this: the majority of geologists disagree with the young earth theory. I was very disappointed.

Of course old earth geologists have evidence for their theory. Few people would follow a theory with no evidence whatsoever. Young earth creationists also have scientific evidence. Walt Brown’s book is a good summary of it with excellent references. Both sides do a poor job of responding to the criticisms of the other, but I think the Young Earth crowd does a better job; the old earth crowd seems to just assume that the Young Earth guys are too stupid to bother with.


Roger D. McKinney - #9852

April 15th 2010

I don’t think that Old Earth has no supporting evidence whatsoever. I think Young Earth has the better evidence scientifically. However, I have known good Christians who looked at the same evidence and disagreed.

Evidence alone is not enough to convince anyone. Each of us attach different weights to each piece of evidence. What some might think is overwhelming evidence, others dismiss as nothing. Personally, I tend to attach more weight to evidence for a Young Earth because it agrees with a natural reading of the Bible. Science and the Bible agree with a Young Earth theory. I happen to place more emphasis on the rules of hermeneutics than do others and I can’t make the Bible agree with an old earth and be true to the principles of hermeneutics.


Roger D. McKinney - #9853

April 15th 2010

However, if someone else places less importance on hermeneutics and more on science, then he will place more weight on the evidence for an old earth. I won’t say that person is a bad Christian. I have known several great Christians who were TEs.

What makes me angry is the TE assertion that there is no science whatsoever to support a Young Earth. That’s just dishonest. Or the assertion that scientists are not human and don’t have prejudices. Thomas Kuhn taught us that scientists are very human. They develop a paradigm and ignore all evidence that contradicts that paradigm until the evidence becomes too great to ignore.


Roger D. McKinney - #9855

April 15th 2010

But what probably predisposes me toward a young earth theory is the history of the theory of evolution. The promoters before Darwin were atheists and saw evolution and an old earth as a serious blow to Christianity. The godly men of the day opposed it on scientific grounds, especially Gregor Mendel. To me, Darwin was not a great scientist at all. He came up with nothing new. He was the willing dupe of the atheists who were too afraid to go public with their atheistic ideas, so they used Darwin to promote them. Evolution has been the primary weapon against Christianity for the past 150 years. So yes, I admit that I place more weight on evidence for a young earth than evidence for an older one. But that doesn’t mean the evidence doesn’t exist. And that doesn’t mean I can’t put aside my prejudices once in a while and give the evidence for the other side honest consideration. I have done so for 40 years and I think the scientific evidence for a young earth is better, not overwhelming, than the evidence for an ancient one.


Tyrone Browne - #9860

April 15th 2010

Can someone tell me where did the genetic information come from to change a biological blob to all the differnt species that are around us and secondly, why is man superior in intellect etc, to all the other animals?
Evolution is a joke.


Merv - #9917

April 15th 2010

Roger stated: “... two professors from Calvin College, I believe, wrote a book on geology that was supposed to end the controversy once and for all and prove ...”

Actually I’m not familiar with the work.  But it their main thrust was, as you suggest, that most geologists agree on this; then I would have shared your disappointment with it as well.  I agree that large scale consensus on things is of limited & suspicious value.  (which is not, however, to deny that it has any value whatsoever.)


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