I was recently interviewed by fellow Energion author Steve Kindle regarding my newly released book God the Creator: Toward a More Robust Doctrine of Creation. The video is below.
James McGrath has an interesting crop of evolutionary links from the blogosphere today.
Having decided to blog a couple of times per week about my blogroll, I’m going to start with a site I just added, Geocreationism.com. If you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you will have noticed occasional comments from Geocreationist, and this is his blog.
I have a couple of reasons for including it. First, he disagree with a number of positions I take, but is open to dialog. That’s an excellent start. Second, his position on creation and evolution illustrates one of my key contentions: This is not a black and white issue in which there are only two sides. One of the defining features of the moderate position, as I see it, is refusing to be held to a choice of extremes. That’s why moderates are frequently very annoying to extremists–we refuse to get stuck with only two options. Sometimes even if you give us A, B, C, and D, we want E-none of the above.
Before I go to a particular post, let me look at Geocreationism’s subtitle: Geocreationism – Showing harmony between mainstream science and scripture. It’s very easy to forget that when we look at the interaction between science and scripture that both sides can vary. One can differ on a view of science or of a particular scientific theory, or one can differ on the interpretation of scripture. Any type of reconciliation or harmony involves both. This subtitle is one I would not use, for example, because I don’t think there is any need for harmony simply because I don’t believe science and scripture address the same questions. There are occasional overlaps, but these are incidental, I think. This is one of the issues for Christians. Just what is scripture trying to address, and in what way does it address it?
We’ll see some of this in action in a recent post, Evidence for Creation (Review) – Ground Rules for the Review. Geocreationist is reviewing Tom DeRosa’s book Evidence for Creation – Intelligent Answers for Open Minds. In laying out his own ground rules he distinguishes what he calls “Darwinian evolution” and “Theistic Evolution.” He defines Darwinian evolution as largely equivalent to atheistic evolution, though he sees little difference between that and the various deistic views.
He contrasts theistic evolution, in which he says that God not only starts everything, but “He started every wave of Evolution as well.” In his view, God is still distant in this view of theistic evolution, and thus he presents his own third view: geocreationism, or geocreationist theistic evolution. In this case, God is continually present and concerned. I’ll have to read more to see how this impacts the process along the way.
Now I must say that this terminology is somewhat surprising to me. For example, evolution occurring in waves with God starting each wave sounds very much like old earth creationism to me. Further, Geocreationist describes his view in this way: “Evolution would occur with our without the randomness, as long as God remains involved; remove God however, and the randomness would not be enough.” That latter view sounds somewhat like ID or “guided evolution” to me, depending on how one fills in the details.
If I’m reading all of this correctly, I’m going to fall into the “Darwinian evolution” camp. My problem with being placed there is that I don’t think God is distant. For each and every law of nature I believe we can say it happens “because God.” In other words God wills gravity, and should he stop willing it, there would be no gravity. Not to worry, however, he’s pretty fond of gravity. God also wills variation and natural selection, and those produce certain types of order according to that law. Remove God and you remove everything.
Now I know that there are some views that allow for indetectible divine intervention, but I’m not particularly interested at the moment in things that are even theoretically indetectible. I believe that God creates the laws, i.e. the system, which in turn produces everything that we see. God can intervene, but he would do so because he wants to, primarily because he wants to communicate with these weird creatures who have come into being.
I have one further comment initial comment. Geocreationist appears to be looking for at least an historical outline in the Genesis accounts. I think this is doomed to be a disappointing search in the long run. I do not believe that the literature involved was written with the intent to provide a narrative history of anything, but rather to express God’s relationship to creation using the cosmology and symbolic language of the time. I will blog more on it as time goes on, but I have found that everything tends to fit quite nicely when read in that context.
The author, Dr. James F. McGrath, makes some excellent points on just what faith means from a Biblical perspective. One thing I would emphasize is that while we may believe certain things on limited evidence, we rarely believe based on no evidence at all, or contrary to the positive evidence. Usually we at least believe that there is some evidence with us.
Let me quote one key comment that ties this in with creation:
There is no reason to think that the author of Genesis expected his readers to believe his creation story ‘on faith’. He does not dispute the basic facts of the natural world as understood in his time: that the world is mostly land with a large gathering of connected basins filled with water called seas; that there is a dome over the earth; that above the dome are waters; that there are lamps placed in the dome (the moon, like the sun, being viewed as a source of light). He says all of this because it is what people thought in his time. None of it is anticipated to require faith to believe it. What the author offered was an alternative story of creation, not alternative facts about that which was created.
This is an extremely important paragraph. Those who have never tried it, have no idea how difficult it would be to express both a new view of God and a complete new cosmology simultaneously, and have it connect with hearers. Those who look for a modern cosmology in the Bible are really asking the wrong questions of the text. We tend to ask how accurate the text appears to us, when a better question would be what the text communicated to those who first spoke/wrote or heard/read it. I don’t mean here to say that the historical meaning is the only meaning of a religious or spiritual text, nor that we can be 100% certain we know. But we will do much better starting with that historical text, then by immediately trying to read it from a perspective unknown and unimaginable to the first audience.
The second related post is the beginning of a series by Dr. Westmoreland-White on Levellers. He has written an initial post that consists largely of suggested reading, and has now continued with an initial post looking at the texts, starting from Genesis 2:4b-25.
Dr. Westmoreland-White notes regarding this passage:
All this is clearly to say that those who told this story and those who wrote it down and included it in our Bibles were NOT asking scientific questions. They were asking about God and humanity and our relation to each other and the world (as they knew it). By the time of the early monarchy when this was written, Israel was in conflict with surrounding nations who all had their own gods and goddesses. The constant question was Who is this YHWH of yours anyway! since Yahwism was relatively new to Canaan. . . .
There is a similarity in the way in which the two bloggers are viewing the text, and I agree with them both on this. This series is likely to be good.
With reference to the sources of the early chapters of Genesis, I have thus far presented a working translation of the first 10 chapters of Genesis, and I plan to post the 11th either later today or sometime tomorrow. The purpose of using my own translation is not that I think mine is better. In fact, due to a number of factors I would consider it worse. But I wanted a copyright free, modern language translation which I could slice up according to the sources. You’ll find these posts with the sources color coded in category “Genesis” on my Participatory Bible Study blog.
I think that will do for now.
Yesterday I wrote about the significance of the theory of evolution for the view of evil, particularly whether physical death is the result of human evil. Understanding Christian views on this topic requires some knowledge of the doctrines of creation and the fall, and secondarily of redemption.
One of the most contentious issues in the creation-evolution controversy amongst Christians involves specifically the creation of human beings. When surveys ask whether humans were specially created by God recently (6-10 thousand years), they may get skewed results because of this. There are a number of Christians who believe the universe and the earth are old, and that life on earth is old and may well have developed via evolutionary processes, but believe that human beings are specially created. Thus, they would affirm that all life is related except for human beings.
This may seem very odd from a scientific point of view, but I’m dealing here with theological objections to evolution. While I’m primarily presenting this material as background for understanding the previous objection, there is also the simple objection that because of their special place in God’s plan, human beings must be a special creation. This objection is often misunderstood, and is also often misstated. The major theological problem is not whether the first human was directly formed from dust rather than developed from a prior form, but more that the development must be special and a direct intervention of God. (Note that this is not my view, but rather I’m trying to represent a range of views that require a separate, special creation.)
There are three elements here. First is the creation of human beings, however accomplished. What was the moral state of these creatures, and how did they attain “the image of God?” Second is the fall. Assuming that humanity original carried God’s image and was on good terms with God (as presented in Genesis), what happened and when? Finally, these two elements will combine to impact one’s view of redemption. The result of redemption depends on what the original state actually was.
I’m not going to try to name these views. I’m going to describe them and present them in three columns. These views range from a fairly literal one (but not necessarily young earth), to a completely evolutionary view.
|Element||View 1||View 2||View 3|
|Creation||Human beings are specially created, either separately or individually, or on a plan similar to existing apes. They are formed precisely according to a detailed, divine plan.||Human beings evolve physical, but receive or become a soul through action of God at a specific point. At that point they are morally innocent and what God would want them to be, even though their bodies are the result of evolutionary processes.||Any self-aware, intelligent creature should be regarded as “in the image of God.” The means of forming such a creature are irrelevant. Such a creature would be innocent, but also morally limited based on heredity and environment.|
|Fall||The fall resulted from a specific violation of a specific, known command of God. Eating the fruit may be symbolic, but it is symbolic of a particular event that occurred chronologically after the creation of human beings, i.e. it is not a part of their state as physical creatures.||As a general rule, similar to the first view, though the specific nature of the rebellion may not be specified so precisely.||The fall expresses something inherent in the state of a finite creature. There may be a moment of stepping away from innocence, but this is more a matter of recognizing and consciously making moral choices than specifically violating a specific command or even rebelling generally against divine authority.|
|Results||Physical death resulted from the fall. Young earthers will generally hold that all physical death results from this act. Old earthers may believe simply that human beings suffer death because of the rebellion.||Physical death is simply part of the state of being a physical creature. Creatures die; humans are creatures. There is inherent in our condition a separation from our spiritual home with God.|
|Redemption||Involves return to the originally created state via God’s creative power. (The first two views will overlap here.||Involves a return to the original state, only better, with a spiritual body.||Redemption allows the spiritual side of humanity to connect with the creator in eternal life, which is a gift given by God. What is meant by “eternal life” varies in how it will be interpreted and what that state of being will be.|
I believe that almost any actual theologian will vary from any single column. My hope is that you will think of a continuum starting with the first view and ending with the third for each element and realize that some mixing and matching will occur. These are just summaries of some of the possibilities. I’m trying to keep this short and thus have not provided all the Biblical support for each position.
If I generate enough interest in my own mind or on the blog, I may write some more on the Biblical and theological implications of each of these points.
Yesterday I wrote about the senses in which the phrase “bad theology” is used in the creation-evolution debate and in particular on the question of ID. To call something “bad theology” generally requires either a challenge to the internal logic of the statement, or a reference to a particular faith community, because there is no single “good theology” against which theological statements can be tested.
I’d like to follow up by looking at a theological argument against evolution, and how it relates to the some faith groups. While there has been considerable argument against intelligent design on theological grounds, the theological objections to evolution have been addressed less frequently.
In fact, I am frequently told that a belief in evolution really doesn’t have any theological consequences. The Bible tells us that God created the world, science tells us how. The only folks who have a problem with this are a few who incomprehensibly treat the Bible as a science textbook. There are two problems with that. First, there are quite a considerable number of folks who believe that the Bible is true in a sufficiently literal sense that they expect to connect the factual dots of Genesis to scientific data. They are frequently addressed with the rather inadequate statement “You shouldn’t take the Bible so literally!” Second, an excessively literal reading of scripture is not the sole theological problem with the theory of evolution.
Regarding the first point, the issue is a bit more complex than simply “not taking the Bible literally.” One has to ask just how one is to take it. I’m not going to address this in detail in this post (I talk about it a great deal more in my book When People Speak for God), but at a minimum one needs to specify how someone ought to take the Bible. For example, assuming Genesis 1 is not narrative history (one of the things loosely grouped as literal) what is it? I would suggest that it is liturgy, and that in turn suggests some things about how to understand it.
But today I want to look at a theological argument in a different form. Instead of arguing that evolution must be incorrect because the Bible makes certain historical claims, one can argue that evolution must be incorrect based on certain theological claims. These theological claims may be derived from the Bible, but the important issue is that they seem to contradict certain things derived from evolution.
Those who are not religious, or specifically not Christian will find this a strange form of argument, but it is valuable to see how certain people think about these issues in any case, and to realize that there are many for whom evolution poses substantial theological problems, quite apart from the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 as narrative history.
Sin and death is such an issue, and in my experience, it is the key issue. The theological proposition involved states that physical death is the result of human sin, and that had human beings remained loyal to God, there would be no death. Now I’ve discussed this position from the point of view of theodicy in Theodicy: Taking a Stab at Natural Evil. Since some may have a hard time comprehending this argument, it states that evolution cannot be true simply because it involves creatures dying before there were human beings to have committed sin. As I discuss in the referenced post, this is a problem for old earth creationism as much as it is for evolution, and Dembski has proposed an alternate suggestion, that God created physical death as a sort of pre-emptive response to sin, which God’s foreknowledge told him would occur.
But I’m dealing here solely with those who hold a chronological relationship. In this view human beings are created perfect in a world without death, they rebel against God, and death results. Obviously, for someone who holds that position, evolution cannot possibly be true. I grew up with that view as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church. It took me some time to step away from it, as it can get pretty much ingrained.
I can now argue against the theology involved, pointing out that Genesis doesn’t actually say that, but in fact suggests that barring the way to the tree of life is a way to prevent human beings from becoming immortal. One can understand spiritual death in many other passages that relate to death. None of that really matters for my purposes here; this particular position demonstrates that there are theological consequences to belief in evolution, and the presence of physical death as a fundamental fact of the universe is one of those.
Indeed, one key mental exercise I propose to such people is to propose a universe in which there is no death and yet there are things such as “fruit” to eat. How exactly does such a thing work? In particular, choice seems to be a fundamental of the universe and of the Bible, and what exactly is choice without a chance of failure?
I heard this very recently presented in quite different terms, dealing with God’s care, grace, and gentleness. How could a God who teaches the law of love create by means of such violence? Then there are those promises of a future, peaceful world where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpents food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.” Isaiah 65:25 (ASV). Surely if it’s promised for the future world, it must also have been true of the past!
Now I personally would compare this approach to a belief in verbal dictation of scripture, for example. People accept this position while ignoring the abundant evidence of different writers, backgrounds, perspectives and so forth throughout. Don’t come to a conclusion of how something ought to be, and then assume that it is that way. The physical evidence for evolution is extremely strong, and for an old earth it is overwhelming, either of which would require substantial modification of this particular doctrine.
The key thing to remember, however, is that for someone who holds the specific form of this doctrine I cited, there is a serious theological impediment to accepting the theory of evolution, and this is based not necessarily on reading the Bible literally, although the sequence is. You can argue the evidence for evolution as much as you want, but they won’t be moved, because they have a key theological proposition that directly contradicts it.
I have been interested to note as well that my own view of God is perceived as more distant, because I believe that God honors choice and allows the consequences to take place. In fact, I believe those who suggest I see God as more distant are quite correct. I believe God is distant enough to allow human responsibility to be meaningful.
This separates me just a bit from the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) approach, since I hold that the discoveries of science can have a substantial impact on one’s theology. They certainly have had such an impact on my own theology. In general, I believe NOMA to be the correct approach, and theology and science must clearly be separated to prevent theology from attempting to predetermine the results of scientific research. (I’m reminded of the notice at my graduate school offering grant money to those who would do research “to support a 6,000 year model of the earth’s history.) But physical reality should have an impact on theology.
Quite frequently in the debate over intelligent design someone mentions that ID is “bad theology.” That someone might even be me! The problem is that it is not all that easy to delineate just what is bad theology. My bad theology may well be someone else’s belief system. Of course, the reverse may also be true. There isn’t a common set of standards by which someone can judge just what is bad and good in theology when the term is used in a general sense.
In addition, if ID is bad theology, so what? If the primary issue is whether it belongs in the science classroom, or in peer-reviewed science journals, what difference does it make whether it is good theology or bad? The issue seems irrelevant from that point of view.
But when we recall that a large part of this battle is political, then we can perhaps understand why the accusation of bad theology is frequently heard. But the question remains of just how one can tell what is good and bad in theology.
There are two senses in which I believe “bad theology” can justly be referenced in the discussion of ID. There is one overarching point that I must make first, and that is that the simple statement that ID is theology rather than science is more relevant than the quality of the theology involved. One could also say that ID is philosophy, and it would be hard to draw the line in that case. Personally I think it is a theological construct not very cleverly disguised as science, but that is another subject.
As an aside, it is this variety in the standards, premises, and even processes of theology that differentiate it so much from science and make the teaching of particular religious beliefs so inappropriate for the public school classroom. Teaching about beliefs is another matter. One should ask whether ID behaves like science or theology in this sense.
The first sense in which ID can be described as bad theology is by showing that it is not internally coherent, i.e. that arguments made in favor of it are inconsistent with one another or are not derived from the stated (or assumed) premises. It is often hard to support such a claim, simply because it’s often hard to tell just what those premises are. It would be inconsistent, for example, to argue that the design of the first living organism requires a supernatural agent, but then claim to have resolved the issue by positing an intelligent natural designer.
ID advocates rarely do this in one and the same paragraph or speech, but this kind of inconsistency shows up in the difference between the way ID is presented to religious audiences and to secular ones. To the secular audiences the designer is presented as unknown, but potentially natural (as though that would solve anything), while to religious audiences are told (or at least permitted to think) that the designer must be God.
If ID could be satisfied by a natural designer, then it is either not theology at all or very bad theology. It really bad science, since it proposes an undefined and unbounded entity, and declines to investigate it.
This type of theological critique requires that the one giving the critique shares some standards with the one critiqued, but only in a minimal way. Both would have to accept, for example, that theology ought to be internally consistent. If that is not the case, this will blend over into my second category.
Second, one may be asserting that the theology of ID contradicts some important aspect of the theology of a specific group. A simple version of this is pointing out that teaching evolution is not anti-Christian, because there are a substantial number of Christians who accept the theory of evolution. One might point out specific groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, or the United Methodist Church (of which I’m a member).
The creationist movement in general has been guilty of a good deal of sleight of hand in dealing with groups. When they want there to be lots of creationist, everyone who believes in God is a creationist. They then turn around and say that theistic evolutionists are not really Christians when challenged with the number of Christians who do accept evolution.
This sort of behavior is illustrated by recent comments by Michael Behe about Kenneth Miller. Miller believes that the universe is designed by God, yet does not believe in intelligent design. Behe wants to claim him on the one hand, but exclude him on the other, because he doesn’t believe quite enough. He believes in design, but not the (alleged) theory of design. (Pim van Meurs discussed this today on the Panda’s Thumb blog.)
“Bad theology” in this sense, means theology that contradicts key tenets of a particular group or fails to meet the standards of that group in terms of how theology is formed. Since it is so community based, it is clearly only of value in helping to clarify those groups that support, or are likely to support a particular view and those who will not.
It is in this second sense that theological critique of ID is most important. As I’ve mentioned, it is really irrelevant just how good of theology is contained in an idea that is trying to masquerade as science. A scientist can justifiably say, “So what?” But in the political and PR game, one of the issues is trying to treat the teaching of evolution as an attack on Christianity. It is quite critical, in that case, to be able to point out how many Christians find the theology involved in ID unacceptable.
In my own area of work, religious education in local churches, this becomes very important as well, because the ID propaganda mill is working quite well. Many churchgoers, even those who accept evolution, are convinced that the whole argument is over whether God is the ultimate designer of the universe. Stated in those terms, they are in favor of intelligent design. When they realize that ID searches for specific evidence of God’s design at the molecular level, they generally become much less attracted to it. It looks like ID is proposing that God is more the designer of some pieces of the universe than of others. Of course the idea that one can prove design of the whole by discovering instances of design in the whole is as old as Paley’s watch, at least.
The theological critique of ID is important in Christian theology, in which Christian theologians need to look carefully at the implications of ID within their own faith traditions. This is where serious questions of a “god of the gaps” argument arise, for example. Scientists do not, and need not, care whether a particular argument is a god of the gaps argument.
There are also the very interesting issues of the origin and design of damaging organisms raised by Behe in The Edge of Evolution. I have not read this yet, so I cannot critique it directly, but I will certainly be reading it carefully looking for claims of intelligent design of specific pathogens.
These sorts of issues will have a great impact on how acceptable ID will be in Christian circles, which in turn has a great impact on the success of various political goals related to such success.
Jon Blumenfeld thinks that reconciling religion and science is a colossal waste of time. He says:
Time for battle stations in the comments section, because I am going to say something that is sure to ruffle some feathers: The attempt to reconcile religion and science in general, and the bible and evolution in particular, is a colossal waste of time.
He’s apparently particularly concerned that the most recent Reports of the National Center for Science Education contains many articles on the topic.
I have a suggestion: If you believe reconciling religion and science is a colossal waste of tim, just don’t do it. Hmm. Come to think of it, I don’t think he does. Problem solved. Well, not quite, because apparently he doesn’t like anyone else to take their time doing it. Now I’m not going to bother to defend theism. I rarely do. I’m not even going to suggest that any particular group of people need to read material on religion and science.
But the NCSE is interested in sound science education in the United States, and particularly in the teaching of evolution (see their about page), and in the United States there are a variety of groups that support that goal. I, for example, am a Christian Bible teacher who supports the teaching of evolution (and the absence of creationism of any variety including ID) in public schools.
As an advocacy organization, NCSE is simply intelligent to serve all of the constituent groups who are likely to support the cause they advocate–sound science education, and particularly the inclusion of evolution. I know atheists are making a few gains as a percentage of the population right now, but sound science standards for public schools are going to need the support of some religious people.
I don’t mean to sound cynical, but this is simple, basic politics. The NCSE staff seems to understand it quite well, which is one reason they are very effective. We can go ahead some day and have an argument over religion vs. atheism. But let’s not mix up the battle for sound science education get confused with that issue.
(HT: The Panda’s Thumb)
Evolutionary science is so much bigger, so much deeper, so much more interesting than its opponents (understandably) will admit. It’s more complicated than Michael Behe or Bill Dembski let on, and yet it’s not that hard to follow, for those who are willing to try. The best papers by evolutionary biologists are endlessly fascinating and scientifically superb, and reading them is stimulating and fun.
That’s how Dr. Stephen Matheson opens his excellent post They selected teosinte…and got corn. Excellent!, illustrating the process of evolutionary change from teosinte to corn. This is some excellent science writing for non-specialists (like me). It’s easy to follow and clear.
Everyone on both sides of the issue should go read it. (HT: Panda’s Thumb)