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Why Must the Church Come to Accept Evolution?

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March 24, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's video features Bruce Waltke. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Update on April 2, 2010: This video has been removed from our site on at least a temporary basis. For a full explanation, click here.

In this video conversation Bruce Waltke discusses the danger the Church will face if it does not engage with the world around it, in particular with the issue of evolution, which many evangelicals still reject.

Waltke cautions, “if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.”

We are at a unique moment in history where “everything is coming together,” says Waltke, and conversations—like those initiated by BioLogos—are positive developments. “I see this as part of the growth of the church,” he says. “We are much more mature by this dialogue that we are having. This is how we come to the unity of the faith—by wrestling with these issues.”

Waltke points out that to deny scientific reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world. For us as Christians, this would serve as our spiritual death because we would not be loving God with all of our minds. It would also be our spiritual death in witness to the world because we would not be seen as credible.

While Christians may still disagree with one another on some issues, Waltke emphasizes that it is important that we are really interacting in a serious way—and trusting God as truth. Testing these things but holding fast to that which is good will bring greater understanding and unity among Christians.

If we don’t do that, Waltke cautions, we are going to die. If we refuse to engage with the greater cultural/scientific dialogue, we may end up marginalized and that would be a great tragedy for the Church.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


Bruce Waltke is a world-renowned Old Testament scholar, Biblical translator and expositor. He served on the translation committee of both the New American Standard Bible and New International Version -- two of the most popular modern translations of the Bible produced in the twentieth century. Waltke is a professor emeritus of Old Testament studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia and a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society.


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Jay - #7694

March 25th 2010

The question it seems to me is if the evidence for evolution is “so thoroughly compelling” then why can’t different sides agree upon it? Most theistic evolutionists tend to cite junk DNA as supposedly the best evidence for evolution and yet much of it has now been found to have functions.

http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2010/03/junk-dna-real-story.html
http://blog.drwile.com/?p=710
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/03/ayala_and_falk_miss_the_signs.html

Evolutionists are claiming the theory has triumphed, but a closer examination of the facts reveals this not to be so. Why must Christians jump on board with a theory that is possibly on its last legs?


Richard Colling - #7699

March 25th 2010

6. If all Christians are to accept evolution, are we talking about common descent or its mechanism?  If the latter is involved, whose version are we talking about?

Colling:  I pasted just this part of the question because I think only the first (the fact of common ancestry) is the real issue for most for whom it is an issue at all.  I say this because the reality is that common ancestry seems to be the primary sticking point in the minds of those I have spoken with over the years.  Yet that is the one that is most compelling from the scientific perspective. 

In addition, I think it would be virtually impossible for general audiences to become adequately versed in the various “mechanisms” to be able to enter into fruitful discussion.  Hey, even in the one area of genetic mechanisms that I know best, I have been learning for over 30 years, yet I do not consider myself an expert by any means.  I don’t’ think most would get bogged down.  Anyway, do the specific mechanisms matter to the layperson?


Richard Colling - #7700

March 25th 2010

7. If Christians accept evolution, must they also believe that God did not interfere with it?

Colling:  No. 

Any genuine scientist would have to admit the plausibility that “natural law” could be suspended.  They, as scientists and even as any reasonable person - would however be obligated to be skeptical where there are very reasonable and demonstrable “natural law – driven” explanations.  Inserting extra-natural God explanations where God’s natural law does the job nicely is a sure-fire recipe for destroying the credibility of the faith. 

But this is where confusion abounds in the science/faith discussion:  Many believe (and I see it on this message board) that natural law is somehow devoid of God’s hand.  One can believe this, but as a believer, how then does one reconcile this position with the idea of God as the Creator of all.  Does that not include natural law?  Another discussion perhaps…
Best to you all.
Rick


Richard Colling - #7703

March 25th 2010

Jay - #7694

March 25th 2010

The question it seems to me is if the evidence for evolution is “so thoroughly compelling” then why can’t different sides agree upon it? Most theistic evolutionists tend to cite junk DNA as supposedly the best evidence for evolution and yet much of it has now been found to have functions.

Hi Jay,

The “junk” DNA you reference is indeed thoroughly compelling proof of evolution and common ancestry.  The (correct) fact, as you mention, that some “junk” DNA has the ability to influence gene expression does nothing to dispel common ancestry.  This is a false premise, much like the ‘natural law or God’ flawed argument I mentioned in answering the questions above.
Scientists legitimately debate the details and mechanisms and other subtle points of evolution, but again, this is different than the the general process itself.
Thanks for the note.
Rick


Jay - #7708

March 25th 2010

I don’t understand. If something is performing a function then how can we know it wasn’t part of the original design? It sounds to me like vestigial organs all over again. In all of these cases design theorists predicted the function of these things and have been proven correct. We aren’t surprised to see all of these similarities between humans and primates, we all had the same designer. I don’t see any reason to think God wouldn’t reuse successful designs.


Richard Colling - #7718

March 25th 2010

Hi Jay,

The so-called “junk” DNA are often virus sequences, inserting at places where they happen to influence (positively OR negatively) another gene’s expression.  These random insertions continue in humans today producing the same (positive OR negative) effects.  They even cause some dreadful genetic diseases! 

In other words, there is new stuff happening all the time.  Tracing the genetic heritage of humans shows that humans have accumulated (and are accumulating) these “junk” sequences over vasts periods of evolutionary history.  Ie. We can see approximately where (in time) they show up in the genetic record of life.  New, NOT originals.

But the evidence for evolution from the “junk” DNA is not related to those occasional inserts that influence genes, but rather from the precise location of the random inserts themselves in the genetic evolutionary record.  That is the source of the “compelling genetic evidence”.  And these too are accumulating over time, NOT part of an original design.

There is much much more that could be explained, but perhaps for another time…

Rick


Mike Gene - #7724

March 26th 2010

Hi Rick,

Thanks for addressing those questions.  Let me share some brief feedback.

1. The problem here is that “we should do whatever is necessary to garner credibility in their eyes” sounds an awful lot like using the ends to justify the means. 

2. Sounds good, but I’m sure you’ll agree your evidence is anecdotal and intuitive.  More importantly, it only seems to apply when speaking about a small subset of the secular world – teachers and scientists.  It’s safe to say that most people don’t regularly interact with teachers and scientists and that most human interaction ignores questions about evolution/creation.  So is this whole evolution issue a problem for Christians in general or Christians in academia?  After all, my guess would be that most Christians in academia accept evolution. 

3. Again, the evidence is anecdotal.  I think something more substantial would help.  For example, it is commonly claimed that creationism is an “American problem.”  Thus, if true, I assume most European Christians accept evolution.  It would then help if BioLogos or someone could showcase the effectiveness of Christian witness among European churches.  That would be more powerful evidence. Just a suggestion.


Mike Gene - #7725

March 26th 2010

4. I don’t agree with your interpretation of Waltke.  But that would not matter anyway as I would answer my own question by noting there is no correlation between one’s spiritual life and one’s intellectual position about scientific findings.  When I think of spiritual life, I think of the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 

5. I just meant why the exclusive focus on evolution? I understand it is a hot button issue, but for many in academia, the goal posts for credibility will simply be moved once it is learned the Christian accepts evolution.  Anyway, I agree with your views and respect for Francis Collins. 

6. I agree the main issue is common descent.  But again, the goal posts will be moved.  For example, Michael Behe accepts common descent, but this doesn’t earn him any more credibility as far as I can tell.  So there must be something more. 

7.  I agree with you here.  Besides, if God did interfere with evolution, there is no reason to think it would be detectable in 2010 (Ken Miller made that point in his first book).


Richard Colling - #7735

March 26th 2010

Understood Mike.

So what is the issue to you?  If it is common descent, then, since that issue really is settled, what do you think is the problem? 

Is it fear? 

Secular folks seem fearful that creationists are attempting to redefine (and erode) science education.  The creationist Christians seem deathly afraid that science seeks to exclude God from the equation altogether. Where is their faith?  Is it so small that it cannot include a larger more creative God than they have previously known?

The explanatory power of science as it relates to physical life is substantial.  If Christians have bought the flawed argument that evolution is incompatible with belief, then (since evolution/common descent is real) faith really is in trouble and their fears are justified.  And many Christians (even the Christian college theologians) do not know how to respond, except to deny evolution.

But what if the argument is reframed - as Biologos is attempting to do - in a way that allows evolution to be part of His creative genius?  Physical and spiritual truths are preserved and everyone gets what they claim to want: Science is free and God’s place in the culture is forever secure from perceived (not real) threats from science.
Rick


Bilbo - #7741

March 26th 2010

I think I understand what Waltke is trying to say about accepting evolution as worshipping God with our minds.  Let’s consider two easier examples:  spherical earth vs flat earth, and heliocentrism vs geocentrism.  I’m not sure, but I suspect that there are Christians who are flatearthers and geocentrists, and not because they are unaware of modern scientific views, but because they think the Bible teaches flat earth and geocentrism.  I think Waltke would maintain that in some sense, such people are not worshipping God with all their minds.  And I think he has a point.  Don’t we think there is something “wrong” with such people—wrong in the sense that there is something wrong with there intellectual powers?  There is a disonance between what they believe and what is taken as commonly known facts.


Kendalf - #7742

March 26th 2010

Thank you Dr. Colling for taking the time to respond to each of Mike’s questions in depth (or as much as 1250 char./comment can allow) Some of my thoughts in response:

“It is abundantly clear to me that for these folks, evolution has become a barrier to faith.”

I would grant that this is indeed true for some people, but here I share Mike’s concern about the moving of the “goalposts for credibility”. Eventually we will reach a point in our witness as Christians where we must declare our belief in the resurrection of Christ, which goes against all findings of modern science, and which will likely shatter any claim to scientific credibility that may have been garnered by accepting evolution. How do we draw the line between beliefs that we accept in spite of the fact that they go against our current scientific understanding, and the beliefs we reject because we are more scientifically informed?


Kendalf - #7743

March 26th 2010

You raised the example of Francis Collins, and while I have nothing but the highest respect for him and an appreciation of the key role he has as a Christian in the field of science, it seems to me that he is an example that no matter how eminent a scientist you are, or how fully you may embrace evolution, you will still be rejected by the atheistic establishment. The ridicule that continues to be thrown at BioLogos by the likes of PZ Myers, Dawkins, and Coyne and their disciples should serve as yet another indication that the rejection of evolution is not the stumbling block; the preaching of Christ crucified is.

You also cite the example of Paul before the Athenians. But while Paul displayed a penetrating insight and understanding of Greek culture, he did not have to actually embrace their culture in order to be heard. Acts 17 describes how he was distressed that the city was full of idols and his message spoke against their objects of worship, declaring them ignorant and commanding them to repent. And what he cited as proof of the authority of his message was the resurrection of Jesus, even though that turned off a number of those who had been listening to him till that point.


Kendalf - #7744

March 26th 2010

(cont)
I am fully in agreement with you that those who would engage in the science and faith discussions must be fully versed in the science being discussed. But I would disagree that we must personally accept a particular position—even one held by a majority of scientists—in order to engage. There is a distinction between familiarity and acceptance. I think it is fair to say that skeptics of evolution like Behe, Dembski, and Meyer et al are certainly more familiar with evolution than the vast majority of people, and they are fully capable of engaging in a compelling discussion with the secular world.


Bilbo - #7745

March 26th 2010

Waltke is saying that if the truth of evolution is as overwhelmingly certain as a spherical earth and heliocentrism, then Christians have an obligation to accept evolution. 

Now I’m not sure about the intellectual history of the shape of the earth, though it was known to be spherical by the ancient Greeks.  But I’m pretty sure the debate between geocentrism and heliocentrism went on for a couple of centuries.  And that was a fairly simple issue.  As Mike pointed out, evolution is a much more complex issue, involving a large number of independent theories.  I doubt all the issues will be settled any time soon in the secular community, let alone the Christian community. 

Perhaps the most we should hope for is the ability to dialogue and keep an open mind.


Kendalf - #7747

March 26th 2010

Bilbo, great point about the truth of evolution. Speaking for myself, I have not been fully convinced of the truth of evolution, not because I am ignorant of the data, or am blinded by a particular reading of Scripture, or because I do not care about reaching a dying world. I am not fully convinced for what I believe are valid scientific and philosophical reasons, which is why it grates me when I see the equating of “scientific reality” or intellectual honesty with evolution which routinely takes place in the writings of BioLogos proponents.

Dr. Colling, this came across even in your gracious comments:

“If I am unwilling to acknowledge the physical/biological realities of God’s created order…”
“What other conclusion could they draw when the overriding message they hear from the Christian community is that they must check their intellect at the door of the church (regarding science) before they would be accepted into the fellowship?”

I just don’t think it justified for evolution to be a litmus test for scientific or intellectual integrity, which is how this wording comes across.


Richard Colling - #7749

March 26th 2010

Rick
Kendalf # 7742:
How do we draw the line between beliefs that we accept in spite of the fact that they go against our current scientific understanding, and the beliefs we reject because we are more scientifically informed?
—————————-
I believe that the resurrection of Jesus, can be simply taken on faith that it actually did occur.  Although you make a good point, in that most secular scientists would scoff at such a claim.  However, science cannot disprove this event. 

It seems to me that one of the errors in our thinking is the idea that science is THE authority on everything, and that the physical dimension is the only dimension of our existence.  Perhaps this is true, but people of faith hold to the possibility/hope of a dimension not currently describable by the tools of science.  But we must be honest I think in our assessments AND assertions if we are to be taken seriously. 

Continued in next message.


Richard Colling - #7750

March 26th 2010

Our beliefs are by faith, not scientifically validated fact.  The is no scientific proof of the resurrection.  We are all fellow travelers - hopefully working out our faith with humility and openness to new information.  In my experience, people outside faith are open to hear of our personal spiritual experience so long as we do not make claims that cannot be substantiated.  For an extreme example.  Can I claim with an expectation of credibility that the resurrection (a physical phenomenon) is an non-negotiable fact?  I don’t think so.  It is my belief, by faith.  I think people can respect and even appreciate/embrace this type of faith.

In short, I am not too worried about shifting goalposts.  Science describes our physical reality: faith extends beyond the dimensions described by science.

What is your background?  Theology?
Rick


Richard Colling - #7751

March 26th 2010

Hi again Kendalf,
Regarding your comments here:

Dr. Colling, this came across even in your gracious comments:

  “If I am unwilling to acknowledge the physical/biological realities of God’s created order…”
  “What other conclusion could they draw when the overriding message they hear from the Christian community is that they must check their intellect at the door of the church (regarding science) before they would be accepted into the fellowship?”

I just don’t think it justified for evolution to be a litmus test for scientific or intellectual integrity, which is how this wording comes across.

———
I don’t intend to make evolution a litmus test for intellectual integrity, nor even any science.  Being unaware of evidence is fine.  Are you aware of and understand the genetic evidence?  If so, and you still seem to deny evolution, how do you justify this denial of the data?  (I really am asking in a friendly tone!!!!!)

Best,
Rick


Karl A - #7752

March 26th 2010

Excellent discussion.  Mike G., you said (#4), “...there is no correlation between one’s spiritual life and one’s intellectual position about scientific findings.  When I think of spiritual life, I think of the fruits of the Spirit… ”  There are other angles to spiritual vitality besides what you mentioned here.  I think Rick C. nails it when he talks about fear.  II Tim 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and sound mind.” 

I have not been so long out from under a cloud of fear - whenever the next article came out about fossil remains (like the pinkie in Siberia), or about ID’s shortcomings, or seeing my children exposed to the ape-to-man graphic.  How many Christians/churches live under that cloud of fear (not speaking to you directly, Mike)?  Do we have any idea how debilitating fear is to spiritual vitality?  How it twists us, keeps us from loving, makes us paranoid and with evil suspicions, puts us in a shell rather than reaching out? 

If BioLogos and other Christians can help the church move away from a spirit of fear toward science and scientists and toward a spirit of power, love and sound mind, that is a huge accomplishment.


Richard Colling - #7755

March 26th 2010

Amen Karl,


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