Friday, March 26, 2010

The data of evolution and the Christian faith

I am on record as affirming the validity of the scientific concept of evolution. Scientists might disagree on the details, but with very few exceptions that agree that evolution is the scientific explanation for how things came to be. 

From a theological perspective, we must wrestle with this data and discern what it means for us as believers.  What is helpful, in my mind, is to hear from those whose credentials as conservative theologians/biblical scholars are really beyond question affirm that if the data of evolution is overwhelming, then we must accept it or face spiritual and intellectual consequences.

Thus, I'm very pleased to hear Bruce Waltke, a conservative Old Testament scholar teaching at the very conservative Reformed Theological Seminary, make the point -- if the data is overwhelming and we reject it then we become a cult.  He also suggests that if we choose not to use our minds, which God has given us, then we face spiritual death.  With that, I invite you to watch this brief video conversation.  Do you hear in what he says, what I think I hear in his words? 




H/T to Scot McKnight.

38 comments:

Allan R. Bevere said...

Very good... I love what Biologos is doing.

Anonymous said...

I actually see less cult-like thinking and behavior on Sunday than I do Monday-Friday. Perhaps the real world can follow the lead and wake up to the reality that we need to question our blind assumptions. Pure, true science and faith are partners in selflessly seeking truth. "Test all things and hold fast to that which is good". That's genuine wisdom that should stand. Thanks for being truly wise Bruce. David Mc

John said...

Faith and truth should go hand in hand. When faith denies truth in favor of wild fantasy, then faith has been perverted, and God will be disappointed.

John

Gary said...

I'm guessing Waltke claims to be a Christian? Why does he? If evolution is true, then Christianity cannot be. Waltke is deluded.

John said...

Gary,

What is it that most concerns you in this debate? That Scripture regarding Creation may be metaphorical? Or that the interpretation of Scripture which you were taught should not be questioned?

To carry this debate any further we need to talk about these things.

For me, I am unable to disregard the evidence of evolution and other scientifically authenticated data regarding an "old earth". Also, I am convinced that the details of the process o creation are simply byond my imagination to think that od wold ever bother to tell me those details, though God might tell me things ABOUT creation which will help me have a closer connection with God.

John

Gary said...

John,

Genesis is the historical foundation upon which the Bible rests. Genesis was written as history, not metaphor. If it is not historical, then the foundation upon which Christianity, (and Judaism), rests is destroyed. If evolution is true, then that means that Genesis is not real history, and therefore, Christianity and Judaism cannot be considered as true. At least not by rational people.

Every Biblical person of faith, from Adam to Moses, to David, to Jesus Christ, to the Apostles, believed Genesis was historical, not metaphorical. You will search the Scriptures in vain for any evidence that they thought otherwise.

If evolution were true, then God could have told us so, but instead, He told us a story that contradicts evolution.

People who claim to be Christians, and who embrace evolution, probably do not understand what either Christianity or evolution are saying. Either they don't see the incompatibility, or they choose not to.

Anonymous said...

I see what your saying Gary, but I choose not to dismiss all mysteries on the basis of incomplete, or paternalistic descriptions found in very old texts or even very new texts for that matter. They're both awe inspiring stories. They're both compatible with a powerful force of creation. They're both obviously incomplete- both the rational and the spiritual should be able to agree on that. Most of us are both, with a little cynic mixed in. David Mc

John said...

I want to respond to what you said in several posts.

First, you said: "If evolution is true, then that means that Genesis is not real history, and therefore, Christianity and Judaism cannot be considered as true."

What is fundamental to Christianity or Judaism in an historical interpretation of the first 11 chapters of Genesis?

Next you said: "Every Biblical person of faith, from Adam to Moses, to David, to Jesus Christ, to the Apostles, believed Genesis was historical, not metaphorical. You will search the Scriptures in vain for any evidence that they thought otherwise."

As a professed Christian am I bound to adopt the 'beliefs' of 'every Biblical person of faith'? If not all beliefs then which beliefs? What if two Biblical personalities held different beliefs, then how do choose whom to follow?

Third, you said: "People who claim to be Christians, and who embrace evolution, probably do not understand what either Christianity or evolution are saying."

What then are Christianity and evolution 'saying' that I am not understanding?

John

Anonymous said...

I would love Gary to be my advocate, if I were the devil that is. Just kidding Gary. You keep telling us our faith is futile though. Very consistently. David Mc

John said...

It is not my intention to 'prove' Gary wrong, just to have a more sympathetic understanding of where Gary is coming from. And I hope to share with him a more sympathetic understanding of how my faith can continue to exist along with my openness to the acceptance of the evidence how God's creation operates as discerned by science.

I think it is safe to say that on Judgment day the sheep and the goats will be separated by how attentive they were to the "least of these" and not by whether their respective knowledges of history or even Scripture were sufficient and sufficiently accurate. And I think Hary will agree with me in accepting the accuracy of the statement that genuine faith (not superstition) welcomes genuine truth (not agenda driven pretend science).

I want to know what specifically it is that compels Gary to the conclusion that those who disagree with his beliefs on some of these issues are doomed to hell.

John

John said...

In the spirit f self-disclosure, I am about to lead a Scripture study group consisting of 5 or 6 very bright young religious skeptics and I am trying in this blog thread to master my own intolerance and open myself up to inquire and listen to others with whom I strongly disagree - without myself going on the offensive. I figure if I can do this with Gary, repeating the exercise with religious skeptics will be a piece of cake.

John

Gary said...

John,

"What is fundamental to Christianity and Judaism in an historical interpretation of the first 11 eleven chapters of Genesis?

I think a book could be written about this, so it will be a challenge to hit some of the highlights.

Genesis tells us:
-where we came from
-why we are here
-how sin came into the world
-why we need a savior
-why there is a sabbath
-why our lives have meaning
-why there is death
and that is but a partial list.

Every subsequent reference to those things in Scripture presupposes the historical accuracy of Genesis.

I think Genesis is the only Biblical account of the origin of those items. Every other reference to them is dependent upon Genesis. If you reject the historical accuracy of Genesis, I think you have to invent your own explanation for those things.

Now, let me say that I don't consider myself an expert on this. And I would say that I could be wrong about something I listed being proven only in Genesis. But I do know that the rest of Scripture presupposes the historical accuracy of Genesis.

For instance, the New Testament says that Adam was the first man(I Cor. 15:45), and sin came into the world by Adam. If evolution is true, then neither of those things could be proven to be true.

I have to stop now, have other things to do.

John said...

Gary,
I don't want to get into a "debate" about these things, where you show me where I am wrong and I show you where you are wrong. And the cleverest debater wins. What I want to do is see if we can agree on some basics and eventually reach an understanding that you have your theological premises sustained by your Scriptural supports and I have mine, likewise supported by my Scriptural supports. And though we may not agree on all things we are both deeply and sincerely engaged in our faith journeys.

In an earlier post you said "Every Biblical person of faith, from Adam to Moses, to David, to Jesus Christ, to the Apostles, believed Genesis was historical, not metaphorical." I checked in my concordance about the use of the terms Garden, Eden, Adam, Eve, Flood, Babel and Noah. In the Old Testament only the term Eden appears outside of the first part of Genesis, and is used only by Ezekiel where he suggests to Egypt that its was once in the Garden, and that Israel will be restored to Garden-like abundance. No other historical figures in the Old Testament refer to any places, events, or persons from the first 11 chapters of Genesis. The story is different in the New Testament where there are several references to Adam.

I point this out only to caution both of us from overstating our case - we can both read the text.

You said "Every subsequent reference to those things in Scripture presupposes the historical accuracy of Genesis."

I think I acknowledge the same truths you acknowledge (though we may have different understandings of those truths), however, for me their truthfulness does not depend on the historical accuracy of the first 11 chapters of Scripture.

I think each of the truths you refer to are true, but not because of the historical accuracy of Genesis, but because my faith tells me they are true. The stories from Genesis help to teach me these truths and do so in a way that renders most of them clear and understandable, even to someone who lived three thousand years ago.

Will you explain to me how your answer to the question of "why we are here" for example, depends on the historical accuracy of Genesis.

I could have picked other questions, and maybe we can come back to the other questions later, but let's start with this question.

John

John said...

Gary,
Just to be sure we are on the same page, my understanding of why we are here is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Or more winsomely, we were created to make God smile.

John

Gary said...

John,

When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, God said:

"For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." Exodus 20:11

That is a direct quote from God to Moses. As you can see, God said He made everything in six days and on the seventh day He rested. Since that is a direct quote from God, that ought to be enough to convince anyone that Genesis is history.

Also, the sabbath makes no sense if you separate it from the six days of creation.

Why we are here depends upon our being created by God. If He had not created us, we would not be here. Now, I suppose you could say that God created by evolution and that answers the question as well as Genesis does. But evolution just does not fit with what is in the Bible; the Bible contradicts evolution instead of supporting it.

If evolution is true, then the sabbath makes no sense, we do not know when or how sin came to be, we don't know who the first people were, we don't know if, or why we need a Savior, and several other things are mysteries, if Genesis is not true.

If your faith is not dependent upon history, which is what I thought you said, then you should study the implications of that. If you do, I think you will find that a faith divorced from history is not a faith that can be supported by Scripture. It might be some kind of religion, but it would not be Christianity, because Christianity depends upon certain historical facts.

John said...

My faith depends on my faith alone, and not history, or on provable facts or logic - I believe because I believe. If my faith were supported by reason alone, then someone with a better argument or better evidence could argue me out of it. I don't buy the series of books which make the "Case for Christ" and all, because the 'case' depends exclusively on the skill of the lawyer. My belief depends on my relationship with God, in my belief in things unseen.

I really don't want to argue details but in your analysis of day, as I am sure you've heard many times, the definition of day is subject to interpretation.

The Sabbath makes sense because it is taught in multiple places in Scripture along with the notion of Jubilee - the Sabbath was made for humans, to take time to be with our God.

My core question was "why are we here" and your response is that the answer depends on the historical accuracy of Genesis. I was really asking about our purpose, not where we came from. But OK, I believe we came from God. More than that I don't need to know with any degree of precision - that's it, God created me in a day, in a million years, in four billion years - it really doesn't matter.

Genesis teaches that God created us and that sin was contemplated and carried out by the very first man and woman. OK, I believe that. I don't need to know who the first man and woman were to accept the truth of the teaching that they were the first to sin against God. It is in our genes not to trust God - just as it is in our genes to seek God out.

"Why we need a savior" is what the whole of Scripture is about because we are lost and incapable of being all that God want us to be without the teaching and sacrifice of God himself.

And I really don't think I am capable of grasping, or even have the right to inquire into all of the mysteries of God's efforts in human history. So why would God bother to even try to explain in detail such mysteries?

John

Gary said...

John,

If you divorce your faith from history, your faith is meaningless. If there never actually was an historical Jesus, if Jesus never actually died on a Roman cross, if he never actually rose from the dead, then your faith means nothing.

Unless there was a six-day creation, and a seventh day in which God did no work, then the sabbath makes no sense. The days in the creation story are literal 24-hour days. It destroys the meaning of the sabbath to make them anything else.

You say you believe Genesis when it says that God created us and that the first man and woman sinned. Why? If you don't believe ALL of Genesis, why would you believe part of it? I'm sorry, but I'm not smart enough to know which parts of Genesis are true and which are not true, and I don't think you are either. Either believe all of it, or believe none of it. If the creation story is not true, then nothing else in Genesis, or in the rest of the Bible is credible.

John said...

Gary,

In the Gospel of John it says:

Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

And Paul says: "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."

And also:

"Just as Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you." For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed."

Taking my cue from these Scriptures, my faith and my hope is not based on the witness of others, true or flawed, but, like Abraham, on my faith and hope in God.

One result of this 'faith based' theology, is that I am open to see and interpret Scripture from different points of view without having my faith threatened or undermined.

From the first creation story I (and I think you do as well) draw several lessons, including the certainty of God's hand in every part of Creation, the sanctity of Sabbath, and the understanding that I, like each and every other man and woman, was created in the image and likeness of God. From the second story of Creation I (and I think you do as well) draw the lesson that God intended us to live in communion with God and with each other, and that God desires us to have a mate. I also learn that from the very beginning of the human race, people could not trust entirely in God to provide for all their needs - they were deceived into thinking they were self -sufficient and could take care of themselves without God's help - they sinned in their arrogance, and in their failure to trust in God's providence. And for their pride, God rewarded them with the very independence they claimed, and so on leaving the garden, death came into the world.

You and I agree that Genesis teaches several truths, and we agree for the most part on what those truths are. We just root our understanding in differing interpretations of the historical record standing behind Genesis.

Do we have to agree on the historicity of Genesis to acknowledge each other as children of God and brothers in Christ? From my perspective I don't think such intellectual agreement would better equip us to serve God by caring for the least among us.

John

Gary said...

John,

I believe that Christianity is a religion that is rooted in history. I don't believe it is possible for Christianity to be in any way true if it is not historical. If there was no Adam, then nothing the Bible says about him, or about sin is valid. If there was no Christ, who was a real man, then I have no redeemer, and no hope.

Have you wondered why none of the believers in the Bible viewed Genesis as you do? And why do you think God would tell a creation story that contradicts evolution, if evolution is really the way he did things? God could just as easily have told us a story that is compatible with evolution, if indeed that is what happened.

Can you point to anything in the Bible that would indicate that Genesis is not historical? Isn't it true that the only reason you have for thinking it is myth is because you have chosen to believe the "scientists" rather than Scripture?

John said...

Gary,

You said: "Isn't it true that the only reason you have for thinking it is myth is because you have chosen to believe the "scientists" rather than Scripture?"

Your question suggests that I have allowed modern science to pull the wool over my eyes, and that no believing Christian should succumb to such deception.

I your zeal against modern science, you seem not to be aware of the fact for 2000 years MANY of the greatest fathers of the church, Origen and Augustine being the most significant and perhaps the most clear, have taught that Genesis should be understood figuratively or metaphor.

Augustine, who wrote a whole treatise against the literal interpretation of Genesis, said:

“In all the sacred books, we should consider the eternal truths that are taught, the facts that are narrated, the future events that are predicted, and the precepts or counsels that are given. In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense.”

And also:

"Above all, let us remember, as I have tried in many ways to show, that God does not work under the limits of time by motions of body and soul, as do men and angels, but by the eternal, unchangeable, and fixed examplars of His coeternal Word and by a kind of brooding action of His equally coeternal Holy Spirit." (41; 18:36)

3. Scripture is sometimes ambiguous

"In matters that are obscure and beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture"

And also

“Usually even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars … and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. ... how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?
"

My understanding is not particularly modern nor is it the result of blind acquiescence to modern science.

Sorry for the long quotes but they were too good to leave out.

John

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. You know Gary, a good scientist only goes as far as to prescribe theory and describe laws that appear to be obeyed under certain situations. No infallible knowledge is claimed. I wish the scriptures could have explained gravity. David Mc

Gary said...

John,

How do you reconcile your beliefs about Genesis with the fact that none of the Biblical writers, nor Jesus Christ himself, agree with you?

John said...

Gary,

Here is a Biblical writer who allegorizes from Genesis:

"For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. The child of the slave was born according to the flesh; the child of the free woman was born through the promise. Now this is being allegorized: for these women are two covenants. One, indeed, is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. This is Hagar, for Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is a slave with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother." Galatians 4:22-26

John

John said...

Gary,

Are you saying that if I disagree with any of your interpretations of Scripture I surrender salvation?

Is it not possible that we can disagree on details and still have some confidence that each other will be saved? And should we not pray for this because in the end, surely both of us will be guilty of many errors of interpretation?

And again I turn to Matthew's Gospel where the sheep and goats are separated not based on their intellectual and theological understanding of Biblical details, but based on whether we tended to the least of these? (By the way are not the sheep and the goats METAPHORS for humans who are faithful and those who are not?)

John

John said...

Gary,

In Deuteronomy 5:14-15, Moses gives a completely different reason for the Sabbath, that it is a remembrance of their bondage in Egypt, not as a reminder of God's creative work. This does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong, as both are undoubtedly true. But each gives a distinctly different reference point behind the meaning of the Sabbath.

Also I can't find where Jesus talks about Adam and Eve. In Matthew 19:4-6: Jesus said: “Did YOU not read that he who created them from [the] beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”

This is an affirmation of the single theological truth (which you and I both accept) that God made them male and female, and that the marriage relationship profoundly favored by God. This by the way is from the first creation story, and says nothing about Adam, Eve, and serpents, and punishment.

Other than affirming theological truths from Genesis, Jesus did not spend any time at all affirming the historical accuracy of Genesis.

John

Gary said...

John,

Lots of things in the Bible have symbolic, or allegorical meanings. You referenced Abraham, Sarah, Haggar, Isaac, and Ishmael; those were real people, not fictional characters. Their story is actual history, not mythology. Yes, there is allegorical meaning to their lives and what they represent, but that does not change the fact that they were real. The same could be said for Genesis. There are meanings there that go beyond the obvious, but it does not mean the events referenced in Genesis did not happen.

As to your question of your salvation: I have some doubts. I wonder whether an evolutionist could be a Christian since I do not believe that evolution can be reconciled with the Bible, or Christianity. I question why any professed believer would want to dismiss the historicity of any part of the Bible that was written as history. There are parts of the Bible that are not history, but Genesis is not one of them.

Gary said...

In Matthew 19:5 Jesus is quoting Genesis 2:24.

In verse 4, Jesus says "he which made them at the beginning made them male and female"; another obvious reference to Genesis. Notice that Jesus said God made them "at the beginning", whereas in evolution, the first man and woman wouldn't have come along until ages after the beginning.

John said...

Gary,

While we continue to disagree, I have enjoyed the discourse.

John

Gary said...

John,

Same here.

Gary

Anonymous said...

I think maybe God gave us evolution for allegorical meaning. So, that makes its study worthwhile and its implications relevant. What a refreshing exchange (change?)you guys! David Mc

Anonymous said...

Cool, did someone mention he wished God would reveal what gravity is? Come on Gary, how can there be any modern science conspiracy towards faith in God with kind of science? David Mc

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24975/

...But perhaps the most powerful idea to emerge from Verlinde's approach is that gravity is essentially a phenomenon of information...

Some physicists are convinced that the properties of information do not come from the behavior of information carriers such as photons and electrons but the other way round. They think that information itself is the ghostly bedrock on which our universe is built.

John said...

David,

I believe that it was you who wished for more scriptural information on gravity.

I am going out on a limb here but I think that when God said "Let there be light!" God created gravity, for I am fairly certain that neither photons nor any other energy wave can exist operate without gravity. And after h created energy and nothingness, he extruded matter from the energy, and life from the matter, etc, etc. It's all very scientific.

John

Anonymous said...

I'll leave these quotes as a final statement. We'll know truth by its simplicity. David Mc


"Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone".
Albert Einstein

"He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas better than any man I ever met".
Abrahan Lincoln

John said...

I just saw this in a news article - its all about "Let there be light!"

The first step in simulating the moments after the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago was to produce a tiny bang. The most potent force on the tiny atomic level that man has ever created came Tuesday [03/30/2010].

Two beams of protons were sent hurtling in opposite directions toward each other in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel below the Swiss-French border — the coldest place in the universe at slightly above absolute zero. CERN used powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross; two of the protons collided, producing 7 trillion electron volts. [From: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100331/ap_on_re_eu/eu_big_bang_machine]

And God saw that the light was good.

John

Anonymous said...

John,

INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER

Did you ever read "The Last Question"? Published in the year of my birth. David Mc

http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html

david Mc said...

Oh, this is cool John,

http://vimeo.com/9953368?hd=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number#Popular_culture

Anonymous said...

I just saw this and thought this was a good place to link to it. Have you ever really observed the sun? This is a clip 4-13->14. 9hrs compressed..

Let there be light indeed!

http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/pickoftheweek/

Main site. Try bookmarking it for up to date stuff and more. I find it aids earthly meditation. Enjoy.

http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/

David Mc said...

darn