This is Our Father’s World.

I haven’t written anything about creation/evolution in a while.  I’m not really going to in this post, either. At least not in terms of theories or possibilities. However, the BioLogos Foundation has been posting a series of short video clips on YouTube, in which a variety of Biblical scholars talk about various aspects of creation/evolution, theology and Genesis 1. The videos featuring N.T. Wright were interesting, but this one with Bruce Waltke (conservative OT scholar, connected with the NASB, NIV/TNIV translations) sparked some new thoughts in my mind:

Initially I had some reservations with his concern about church becoming a cult (or at least looking like one), because that seems like a poor reason to accept a different view. But I think that what he says in this context (as well as his specific definition of “cult”–a “group which does not interact with the real world”) is important.

I think that if the data is overwhelmingly in favour of evolution, then to deny that reality will make us a cult–some kind of group that is not interacting with the real world…To deny the reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world and would be to deny truth. So I think it would be our spiritual death.

The implication of the creation story is that this world is God’s world and it his creation. To deny or ignore the evidence* in creation of the method or process of creation is in essence to deny the message of the creation story. It would be to “deny the truth of God in the world”–to deny what God has done.

In other words, to deny the evidence for evolution found in God’s creation is potentially more dangerous to our view of God than to affirm it. “It would be,” says Waltke, “our spiritual death.”

If God created the world, and the evidence within the world he created points to an evolutionary process, then we must conclude that God may well have used an evolutionary process to create the world.

God and evolution are not mutually exclusive.** For some reason this isn’t self-evident to many Christians. In fact, many Christians, at least by implication, would say that they are mutually exclusive, and so to preserve the one, we deny the other (some scientists will do this as well, except vice versa). So, for some Christians, the evidence must be either non-existent, faulty, or misinterpreted.

The comments on blog posts about this video show a certain lack of self-awareness on the part of the Christians commenting with unequivocal rejections of evolution. The general response of the Christian skeptic is generally that scientists are reading the evidence however they want to or that they are imposing their views on the evidence. However, Christians have to have the humility to recognize and accept that we are often no different when it comes to interpreting the “evidence” of scripture. We are often imposing our view on scripture rather than letting scripture be what it is.

Another comment might go something like this: scientists are making the evidence say more than it can. This is normally in reference to coming to naturalist/materialist view of the universe based on the evidence–i.e. the suggestion that the evidence proves that God doesn’t exist. This is a legitimate concern, but not reason to deny evolution or the evidence for it altogether (evolution and evolutionism/materialism/naturalism are different things**). But, once again, are we able to recognize that same tendency within our own views? Particularly as concerns the question of creation/evolution, are we making the Bible say more than it can or was meant to say?

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*the “if” in “if the data” is important. It’s important for two reasons: 1) most people discussing this issue in this kind of forum are not scientists. So we are dealing with what we think we know about the issue, which is probably not very much. 2) the “if” is not an implied denial of the evidence, but actually an affirmation of what is accepted by scientists generally (but, again, I need to be careful here, because I don’t know for sure), including scientists who are also Christians.

** it’s important to make the distinction between evolution and evolutionism–which is basically a distinction between science and worldview. When I say “evolution” I am referring to the scientific theory relating to the evolution of biological organisms. I am not referring to “evolutionism” or any of its worldview relatives. Unfortunately, many Christians conflate the two, making evolution a denial of God’s existence, which I think does a disservice to the scientific community as well as this whole conversation.

27 thoughts on “This is Our Father’s World.

  1. becky

    I’m outside the church, but I LOVE this part of the quote you highlighted: “To deny the reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world and would be to deny truth. So I think it would be our spiritual death.”

    I wonder where else this sentiment could be applied in today’s world — for example, maybe when there’s (even more) undeniable evidence of the genetic components of homosexuality, will the church have to adjust its dogmatic views toward gays and lesbians?

    It’s interesting that the more knowledge of the natural world we understand and embrace, the more theology is forced to adjust to this material knowledge.

    As someone who is outside the faith, I find it interesting that the reverse has yet to happen (ie., the more theological knowledge one possesses, the more adjusting views of the natural world must occur).

  2. rilla

    I’m glad that you posted this whole thing, actually. I often am afraid that Christians ignore factual scientific data just because they believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s nice to hear leaders speaking out against cloistering themselves from reality. It gives me some faith in religion.

  3. Toni

    This is an area in which I’m less inclined to be dogmatic than I was: probably mostly because I’m older, rather than because of any evidence either side could produce. I can see reasons for both sides being valid and for both being in conflict with reality. So although I’m essentially creationist in outlook, it’s not a position I demand of others, nor will argue.

    Your point about evolutionism is sensible: the concept of a purely chance-based evolution producing the life we know on this planet is grasped as an article of faith by some to justify a denial of God. At the same time, to deny that creatures change and adapt to their environment is simply foolishness. Both sides could use a little humility and recognise they may not have the entire answer.

  4. Marc Post author

    Toni: Isn’t it awefully late/early for you to be on the internet?

    Becky: re: sexuality. That’s already happening in some parts of the church.

    re: changing theology. I think that’s fair. I would say, however, that nothing has fundamentally changed: even if I accept evolution as ‘fact’, I can still see God as the Creator. Technically, I suppose, it isn’t theology per se that’s changing so much as our view of what it might mean for God to create.

    Rilla: I don’t want to exclude you, but I don’t know if your comment calls for response. So I’ll say that I always appreciate the occasions when you do comment.

  5. Scott

    You are correct Marc that most Christians (I assume that other religions that oppose evolution use the same arguments) that oppose evolution use the same tired arguments. They use them over and over again, but none are valid. There is a lot of evidence for evolution, to the point where it is as solid a theory as relativity, but it is being attacked by non-specialists who are trying to make the science fit their literal interpretation of the bible. I feel confident saying that the evidence is strong as I have and am actively studying the science. Many of the critics ignore or are ignorant of the body of evidence for evolution by natural selection.
    @Toni: I need to correct you on something you said: “…the concept of a purely chance-based evolution producing the life we know on this planet…”
    A very common misunderstanding of natural selection is that it is a chance driven process. The only chance inherent in the system is the errors or mutations that always occur in the genome’s of organisms. Natural selection is not chance driven in that it selects the mutations that increase the fitness, or the ability to survive and reproduce, of the organism. The organisms with mutations that help it survive just a little better pass on those mutations, those that have mutations that are less beneficial, die. Darwin, in Origin of the Species” uses the analogy of artificial selection, or breeding, to help illustrate his point. Natural selection is selection by the environment for beneficial traits.
    In addition, evolution actually says nothing about the origins of life. There are many interesting theories about how life got started on the earth, but this is a separate field from evolution. Evolution only kicks in once there is a molecule that is capable of encoding information and reproducing itself…

  6. Toni

    Scott – thanks but correction not accepted. I understand the concept of how evolution works. You short-changed my quote: “the concept of a purely chance-based evolution producing the life we know on this planet is grasped as an article of faith by some to justify a denial of God.” In fact you even suggested it’s a common misunderstanding.

    😉

    But thanks for making your final paragraph say what I couldn’t be bothered to write at 1am, as Marc pointed out.

  7. Pingback: Thoughts on Creation arising out of my studies « LineaLanoie’s Weblog

  8. Jay

    Wow, I wish I had read this when it was newer. So much I’d like to say and add. I’ll be brief and make my points.

    About the post: I fear the accepting of evolution denies so many points in just the first few chapters of Genesis. If you start to accept evolution you know what you’re going to need to concede to supporters that we came from monkeys and were not created in God’s image unless you want to visualize him as a monkey. If that were the case I’m surprised there were not more accounts of Jesus looking like one in the Gospels. That may be a little bit silly but truly, think about the slippery slope you might be on in so many areas.

    As for literal interpretations when I see something a straightforward as a number indicating time or weight or measurement or valuation in the Bible I think that you can pretty solidly take that as literally as you could take anything in the Bible.

    Homosexuality: if you want to accept the development/evolution of this trend becoming genetic you might as well just tear a few pages out of your Bible strictly rejecting that lifestyle. Yes, God gives some people a more difficult set of circumstances in which to live their lives but that also doesn’t mean compromising just because some people at it a little bit easier than others do.

    As for the whole natural selection thing my question is why are there so many more allergies and illnesses? If natural selection and evolution, including human intellectual development which leads to greater ability to fight off illness and disease, were the case why is there such an increase in everything from allergies to illnesses and disease? I suppose one answer could be because we’re living in a more toxic world. Perhaps we are at a point where we can prolong life but not cure allergies or diseases and that is to come.

    I disagree with what was said in the video about Christianity eventually dwindling down to a small cult or sect because there are significant statistics of greater proportions of people seeking faith or answers to life from a spiritual side. This may mean Christianity, it may mean Islam or Buddhism or which ever religion has attracted them.

    Please do not misunderstand me; I really like science and I really respect facts. I do not appreciate overly interpreted Scripture that pulls up meaning out of it so distant from the original words that it loses the impact of its basic truth. But I also do not appreciate extensively extrapolated and deduced data that strays so far from the original information that it came from.

    I think Marc made a very valid point and that our view of an infinite God is pretty limited based on our comprehension limitations and Scripture alone. Who knows what we will learn about him when we meet. New data may cause a fresh look or addition to our view of something but it never really changes at a basic level.

  9. Ian H.

    Hi Marc! You found the perfect bait to bring me back to your blog… I can’t resist a good science-vs-theology throwdown. 🙂

    First of all, thanks for posting this video – it summarizes neatly things I’ve been trying to say for a couple of years.

    I’ve argued for a while now that the first couple of chapters of Genesis are more about who than how, given who it was written for.

    I also fear that as the more radicalized voices of Christianity become our public face (partly the church’s fault and partly the media’s, for always looking for the sensationalist aspect of any story), we will turn away people who would be accepting of a more rational view of the world.

    Jay, the question of “made in God’s image” is an interesting one. We can argue that God is both male and female, both white and black (and every other hue). Where do we draw the line if we’re going to talk about physically being in the image of God – I have more body hair than average, so does that mean God is hairy, or is He smooth-chested like a Hanes advertisement? Perhaps the physical isn’t the argument we should be using… maybe made in the image of God means that we have the ability to choose for ourselves whether we will do good or ill in the world, just as God chooses.

  10. Toni

    Ian – while there are many holes one could kick in Jay’s comments, please don’t ridicule him (is God hairy?). What makes Man like God? You might have to look inwards for the answer.

  11. Marc Post author

    Jay: I think the point of what Waltke was saying is not that Christianity *is* becoming a cult, but that it is in *danger* of becoming a cult if it insists on denying reality (i.e. what is evident in nature). He wasn’t saying anything about general trends in faith, but simply pointing out a danger he sees.

    Also, I don’t think it necessarily follows that accepting evolution requires denial of “the image of God” nor the suggestion that God is a monkey.

    Toni: I don’t think Ian is ridiculing Jay–at least I don’t get that vibe. I think it’s a valid question he’s asking–one that came to my mind as well.

  12. Linea

    The topic does deteriorate into arguments about method and so we continue to miss the point of including these chapters in the books of instruction of Moses. I agree with Ian that these chapters are more about who than how. We need to leave the arguments about how aside – since we can not know in any sort of definitive way anyhow. We need to read them for their theological value – the author’s understanding of God as creator and as loving God as compared to the manipulative gods of the surrounding peoples. And maybe we would even find ways to interpret them for our day, where the creation stories of our era would leave God out altogether.

  13. Ian H.

    Toni – I did not mean to ridicule Jay, and I apologise if it came off that way. My point is that looking simply looking at the variety of physical manifestations of “man”, what should we take as being made in the image of God?

    Your question is right on point with what I was asking – what makes man like God? I would argue against the physical nature being the similarity, since we know that God is spirit, and mankind is not. Why then, would we be threatened if evidence comes to light showing the humans and apes descended from a common ancestor, if it is something beyond the merely physical that ties us in nature with God?

  14. Toni

    I’d argue that we’re made like God in that we’re trinitarian in nature: flesh, soul and spirit. Each of those echos aspects of the nature of God as He’s revealed Himself to us.

    A significant hurdle to overcome for Christian evolutionists is to ask at what point did we become like Him, and what were we before that. Did the whole race become like Him at once, or was it gradual as those individuals who were ‘human’ bred with/eliminated those who were not. I can see a lot more complicated questions too, about related species, but that’s a fruitless discussion.

    Sorry, Scott, if you weren’t doing that.

  15. Marc

    Toni: Those are indeed significant hurdles to overcome. It’s what I keep coming back to as well.

    I think the point that Waltke is making, however, is that we cannot deny/ignore/disregard the evidence of creation. It may complicate doctrine/theology, but it may well be that our doctrine assumes the world to be a way it is not.

  16. Scott

    mmmmmm so much to write…
    @Toni – I did not mean to short change your quote, I was just wanted to highlight the common misconception that evolution is chance driven – it is not. When I woke up yesterday morning I realized that I should have addressed the second part of your statement that people use evolution as an article of faith. I have to disagree with that as evolution is a matter of evidence. Faith is the belief in something for which there is no evidence (illustrated by several new testament verses). There is plenty of evidence for evolution, one just has to decide if they will accept it or not.

    @Jay – I strongly urge you to spend some time studying evolution. It is a fascinating topic. I would point you towards a book by Ken Miller called Finding Darwin’s God. Ken Miller is a devout Roman Catholic and a strong advocate for evolution. He gives good reasons why one can accept evolution and Christianity.

    I would also like to quickly address some of your questions:

    1) We are primates. This is a biological fact. We are not insects, echinoderms, marsupials, felines or cetaceans. We are naked apes. It is as simple as that. We fit no where else in biological phylogenies (biological family trees). We are animals as well… The “made in His image” part is highly unlikely to be literal. It is a spiritual thing.(IMHO)

    2) Homosexuality – there are several documented cases of homosexual behaviour in some other organisms. It is thought to be a way of sub dominant males to release sexual tension and also for trust.

    3) “The whole natural selection thing”… First of all, it is unlikely that there is an increase in disease, as there have been several major diseases (polio, smallpox) that have been essentially wiped out by modern medicine (vaccines). Allergies are on the rise because of our tendency to increase hygiene. Our immune system is a very complex system. One part, the acquired, develops during childhood. It has to “learn” (our immune system is not sentient – the learning involves the recognition of protein markers called antigens that are found on everything from dust mite poo to bacteria) what is bad, and thus requires an immune response, such as a viral infection and what is normal, such as food, pollen, etc. Research has shown (trust me, there is research – I can give you refs if you really need it and if you do not trust me!!) that if we are raised in too clean of an environment, our immune system is unable to distinguish normal, non-harmful antigens from harmful ones, and thus mounts an immune response against things such as pollen and food = allergies. Our civilization is obsessed with cleanliness, and this can be a bad thing. As for toxins in our environment, there are a lot. They do not cause traditional diseases, those are caused by pathogenic viruses and bacteria. Toxins have more insidious effects such as causing cancer or mimicking hormones and causing developmental issues. These toxins are due to human activity, and not related to natural selection, though if the environment changes enough, it will cause selection on organisms…

    ok, enough for now…
    my 33 cents worth!

  17. Scott

    Sorry – Jay: one more thing. Yes we are evolving to fight disease etc, but the diseases are evolving as well, usually faster. Look no further than drug resistant bacteria (MRSA, VRSA) for the evidence…

  18. Marc

    Scott: When people refer to evolution as an article of faith, I’m not sure they’re always referring to having faith that evolution is true. I think often the concern is the faith in what they think evolution says about the existence of God, for example.

  19. Toni

    Scott: just following up from Marc, while the bible does talk about faith that way, it doesn’t make faith exclusively about believing something for which there is no evidence. If that were the case then since the time of Jesus, God would have had to withdraw from the world and no longer be involved. While some Christians seem to think that’s what’s happened, I suggest many of us experience God in a more direct fashion than that, and would be able to point to evidence in their own lives. In fact one might view the written gospels as the most basic form of evidence that we have about Jesus.

    Maybe I should have been more careful with my words. To me, the phrase ‘article of faith’ in this kind of context means something you cling to as fact in the face of opposition. It seemed an appropriate expression, and was not meant to draw on exclusively religious meaning.

    BTW, regarding atopic reactions to environmental antigens, the IgE response may well just be a derangement of a mucosal humoral response, and not necessarily caused by insufficient challenge. There are a number of non-immunogenic environmental factors that may be driving auto-immunity too.

  20. Scott

    Toni – I hope I do not come across as “know-it-all”, that is not my intention. Thanks for the additional info about auto-immune response. My knowledge is not that extensive.

    Marc (and others, I think) – Is there anything wrong with someone finding a satisfying answer in evolution by natural selection to the question of the origin/development of life without God? I seem to get the vibe that some people (Christians in this case) feel/think that it is wrong of people to use evolution as evidence for the lack of God, but ok to use scriptures as evidence for God. I get this vibe from comments here and from talking to friends in the ‘real’ world. There seems (IMHO of course) to be an undercurrent of resentment (if that is the right term, it might not be) towards those that do not believe in God (or god, gods, etc) by believers for using evolution as evidence for that “non-belief”.
    I do not know if my thought is coming out clearly, but it is something I was thinking about and wanted to mention… Discuss!

  21. Scott

    Adenum to my last post – I know evolution only works once life gets started, but since origin of life research is related to evolution studies, I lumped them together for the sake of brevity…
    (though I doubt anyone would ever accuse me of being brief 😉

  22. Marc Post author

    Scott: No, I would say that there is nothing “wrong” with that, per se. I certainly don’t resent people for making that choice.

    My point is simply that in doing so a person takes a step of “faith” or belief. Your comment implies the point: just as the scripture can only take me so far to “prove” God’s existence, the science of evolution can only take a person “so far” in terms of God’s existence. My point is simply that when someone uses evolution in that way, it is not longer a question of science.

    That’s not saying anything about evolution itself, but about how it is used.

  23. Toni

    Hi Scott – no, you didn’t come across that way: and likewise (it’s more than 20 years since I studied autoimmunity, and I had to do some riffling through mental filing cabinets, which was probably good for me).

    As for using evolution as a reason to not believe in God, sure there’s some of that floating around, although I didn’t *think* there was any here. What there might be, however, is a dislike of people using the conviction of others as a way of deciding what’s real and what’s not. But OTOH we all have to start off somewhere and from a position of ignorance (and many of us continue in it, quite blissfully 😉 ) before we get edumacated. You may be one of the rare exceptions, who seems to have sought to find out.

    But Marc’s final point about coming to faith in evolution is a good one.

  24. Toni

    “Asked if this limits academic freedom, Milton said: “We are a confessional seminary. I’m a professor myself, but I do not have a freedom that would go past the boundaries of the confession. Nor do I have a freedom that would allow me to express my views in such a way to hurt or impugn someone who holds another view.” Indeed he added that the problem with what Waltke said was as much his suggestion that religion will lose support over these issues as his statements about evolution itself. (The statement of faith at the seminary states: “Since the Bible is absolutely and finally authoritative as the inerrant Word of God, it is the basis for the total curriculum.”)”

    And this is really the bottom line. Not ideal, but their rules appear to be ‘if you want to be part of our theological seminary then you must publicly believe what we state’. So by making the video he was probably knowingly pushing the envelope.

    The topic is entirely reasonable for debate, and to fire him in different circumstances would be wrong. However, if this quoted portion is true then he’d broken his contract with the seminary. There was also the suggestion that he’d offered to resign, rather than being fired.

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