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Science and the Sacred (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

At the Following Christ Conference this last December Francis Collins announced his coming BioLogos website and foundation.  I was not at the conference, but several who were  mentioned it in comments on various posts on this blog, so I’ve been watching for it.  Yesterday the long anticipated site launched and can be found at The BioLogos Foundation. The site is worth a good and careful look. It is well designed with much information and more to come I’m sure.

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But that is not all … Collins and his associates have also launched a beliefnet blog Science and the Sacred - with a cool masthead (although not quite as nice as the Jesus Creed).

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And this leads us to the important question for the day:

Have I been put out of business? Is there any need to continue the science and faith discussion here on the Jesus Creed?

There are a couple of interesting things to note about BioLogos and Science and the Sacred.

The Core Team at BioLogos is composed of Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, and Francis Collins.  We have discussed all three of their major books on this blog – most recently “Saving Darwin” by Giberson, the most edgy book of the bunch. Francis Collins is an impressive scientist – with a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry and an MD, he has made a career exploring the genetic causes of disease, first at the University of Michigan, and later at NIH where he also directed the human genome project. He is a member of the National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine (for those who are not in science this means that he is a “two sport” hall-of-famer in the business). As an interesting aside – when he was at Michigan he attended for a while the same church I currently attend. He left Michigan shortly after I joined the faculty (a coincidence I’m sure).

Building Bridges. One of the projects of the BioLogos foundation is to build bridges between working scientists and the evangelical Christian church. As a working scientist, a professor, and an evangelical Christian – this is an effort I certainly support.  The conflict running both directions is intense. With this goal in mind they are organizing invitation-only workshops with key
evangelical opinion leaders, in order to explore ways to help the
larger evangelical community become comfortable with contemporary
scientific perspectives on origins. The first such workshop is
scheduled for the fall of 2009, and is co-sponsored by Rev. Tim Keller. Invitations have been extended to 15
leading scientists, 15 leading theologians, and 15 leading pastors (Information obtained from the BioLogos website).

Having given Dan Kimball and the Origins network a hard time about  the lack of women -  I feel it only fair to do the same here – the only woman involved to-date is Diane Baker, Dr. Collins’s wife.  Will the foundation – and even more importantly the workshops – involve both male and female voices? Knowing the statistics on all three groups (pastors, scientists, and theologians), especially combined with the nebulous term “leading” and the qualifier “evangelical”, I am rather doubtful. And that is a pity.

Asking and answering – or at least working through – frequently asked questions. The site currently has essays discussing 33 questions concerning science, theology and the historicity of Genesis and the death of Romans. Not surprisingly there is substantial overlap with issues we have discussed, are discussing, and will discuss here.

Concerning Adam, Eve and the Fall:

Another view sees human-like creatures evolving as the scientific
evidence indicates. But at a certain point in history, it is possible
that God bestowed special spiritual gifts on those who had developed
the necessary characteristics. This historical event would endow the
recipients with the Image of God. (See Question 18 about The Image of God.) We can say that Homo divinus was therefore created from Homo sapiens.
With these spiritual gifts came the ability to know and experience evil
– an opportunity that was grasped with tragic consequences that have
carried through the history of Homo divinus.
This view can fit whether the humans in question constitute a group
or a specific male-female pair. In the case of a group, we can imagine
God interacts with all members of the group and essentially initiates
the relationship that exists today. If the initiative is with a single
human couple, then that relationship can spread to and through their
offspring as that subset of the existing population comes to dominate. In these two cases, humans exercised their free will and caused the
Fall. The connection of the Fall with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Evil suggests that Homo divinus exercised their moral
consciousness by choosing to live independently, rather than by God’s
instruction. The Genesis narrative provides a vivid description of
their consequent alienation from God.
These accounts can be fit together with the genetic evidence of all
species’ relatedness and a larger initial population of humans. They
also keep Adam — whether an individual or illustration of a group – as
representative of all humanity.

This is along the lines of my current thinking – although I waver at times on the importance of the Fall as an historical event.

On the question I raised on Tuesday in the post on Darwin and the Bible: What role could God have in evolution?

We still seek to understand God’s involvement in the world. BioLogos
readily affirms that the creator can act outside the created physical
laws. However, we must not say that miraculous events outside the laws
of nature are the only instances of God’s involvement.(See Question 13 about God-of-the-Gaps Theology).
For this reason, BioLogos requires no miraculous events in its account
of God’s creative process, except for the origins of the natural laws
guiding the process. Instead, BioLogos states that “once life arose,
the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the
development of biological diversity and complexity,” and “humans are
part of this process.” Moreover, “once evolution got under way, no
special supernatural intervention was required.”

So how is BioLogos reconciled with a theistic, interactive God
instead of the disinterested God of deism? Is it rational to believe
that God had any involvement in the Darwinian history of the world?

BioLogos does not seek a concept of a God who is involved at certain times and who only observes at other times. In harmony with theism, BioLogos affirms a God who is at all times involved, yet who still allows a degree of freedom to the creation.

{But both quantum physics and Darwinian evolution are inherently probabilistic with randomness built in – thus there is an intrinsic unpredictability in nature} It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation. In this way, modern science opens the door to divine action without the need for law breaking miracles. Given the impossibility of absolute prediction or explanation, the laws of nature no longer preclude God’s action in the world. Our perception of the world opens once again to the possibility of divine interaction.

Does this make sense to you? Is it possible to reconcile Christian theism with evolutionary creation?

Well, there is much more to digest on the site – with more to come I am sure. No definitive answers, but a process of putting forth ideas and championing a robust Christian faith that remains true to historic orthodoxy, evangelical commitment, and the realities of the world we see around us.

I will end with Question 12 (for many Question 1) Can scientific and scriptural truth be reconciled?

Dr. Collins thinks it can. I think it can. So lets work on asking the right questions and finding the way. And in case you were wondering – I certainly intend to continue posting on Jesus Creed. Science and the Sacred offers another forum to tackle important
questions.  I look forward to the interaction.

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.



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Comments read comments(18)
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Rick

posted April 30, 2009 at 7:20 am


You are a valued voice here.
The community here, with its certain interests and concerns (living out the Jesus Creed), are going to vary in some ways from the community at the new site, although there will be some overlap. How the issues of science and education (I think your higher ed posts are just a valuable) relate to the Jesus Creed need your insights.
Keep your posts coming.



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Phil

posted April 30, 2009 at 9:24 am


I would agree. I have time for following 1 blog only, and this has been it for a few years. I value links to other things going on, this suits my interest having both a science and religion education, but prefer the breadth of topics at Jesus Creed.



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Travis Greene

posted April 30, 2009 at 9:32 am


“Have I been put out of business?”
No.
“Is there any need to continue the science and faith discussion here on the Jesus Creed?”
Yes.
“Does this make sense to you? Is it possible to reconcile Christian theism with evolutionary creation?”
Yes.
“Can scientific and scriptural truth be reconciled?”
Yes.
That was easy.



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RJS

posted April 30, 2009 at 9:41 am


Travis,
I have every intention of continuing – we have a somewhat different niche.
On the last two – the answers may be “easy” but the devil is in the details of course. The next part of each question on my final exam is “If so, how?”



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Marcus Goodyear

posted April 30, 2009 at 9:51 am


Of course, you should continue the conversation here. That would be like Wendell Berry saying someone else has started a farming blog, so he should stop writing poetry.
You are a particular kind of voice in the conversation that needs to be heard. I figure the conversation may change to be a more intentional dialog with Collins’ site and Foundation though.



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Travis Greene

posted April 30, 2009 at 10:28 am


“If so, how?”
I’ve found the baby analogy to be quite useful. Do we believe that God created every human being on the planet? Yes. But of course, by created, we don’t at all mean that God individually, all at once, constructed each person as a special act of creation. The usual channels were used: human interactions, natural biological processes, cells dividing and so on.
So with evolution.
Although I do have a question that I don’t believe we’ve addressed, to which I don’t know the answer. What is the current science on the actual origin of life? Evolution, as I understand it, is about the development of life into all the various forms we see. But how did life itself originate? And how does that question interact with Genesis?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 30, 2009 at 10:45 am


“Have I been put out of business? Is there any need to continue the science and faith discussion here on the Jesus Creed?”
I’m guessing that at some point we could reach a market saturation point of too many blogs having civil and productive discussions about faith and science. I willing to bet that two isn’t the saturation point. :-)



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RJS

posted April 30, 2009 at 11:03 am


Travis,
The origin of life (as opposed to the origin of species) is much more speculative – there is much less known, and less evidence to go on. I think that we can identify an approximate time (very shortly after the formation of the earth – relatively speaking). But how it came about is a tough one – how the first self replicating, information containing, molecule appeared – wow… it is amazing.



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MatthewS

posted April 30, 2009 at 12:03 pm


I was reminded again yesterday how spoiled we are for the tone and content here. I have participated in blogs for many years and am not shocked at anything that happens there but I avoid most of them these days. I need to practice patience and gentleness more than the warrior arts of online debate and fending off trolls and all the rest of it right now.
Intelligent, respectful discussion. In the same vein as Michael, may we be cursed with it so that we never recover!
I know it makes RJS roll her eyes, but I am just not comfortable with the evolution thing. Maybe some day, maybe not. But I appreciate the content and tone here and am grateful for RJS, Scot and all those who put the work into it.



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Ken

posted April 30, 2009 at 4:45 pm


I would like to thank you for your efforts in addressing relations between Science and Christian Faith. It has been the best I have been aware of lately. Maybe you could become one of the currently few female contributors to the new blogs. The problems of our view of science as Christians has not disappeared. I have become interested recently in the psychology of belief and how it interacts with evidence. Mark Noll addressed this in the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. This is captured in the following quotes from Richard Dawkins concerning the YEC scientist Kurt Wise. How is this mind set related to holocaust denial, climate change denial, HIV denial, etc? Is there any hope for intellectual processes in which faith seeks understanding. Is there any role for rational thought in Christian faith?
Dawkins has written:
“Kurt Wise doesn?t need the challenge; he volunteers that, even if all the evidence in the universe flatly contradicted Scripture, and even if he had reached the point of admitting this to himself, he would still take his stand on Scripture and deny the evidence. This leaves me, as a scientist, speechless.”[6]
“We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism?s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.”[6]



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John L

posted May 1, 2009 at 12:21 am


RJS, are you familiar with the work of Joie Jones at UC Irvine? An MD and PhD physicist doing real science on positive effects of (effectively) “laying on of hands” (prana, etc.). I blogged it: http://www.microclesia.com/?p=683



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Mariam

posted May 1, 2009 at 3:42 am


RJS
I’ve really enjoyed your contributions on science and faith. I hope you’ll continue. I have been faithfully reading. I haven’t been able to comment much lately because quite frankly the issues are pretty complex and deserve more than a 5 minute thought and comment. I’ve also been interested in watching your personal theology evolve. I have felt privileged to observe you and others here lay their beliefs on the table and publicly grapple with them



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RJS

posted May 1, 2009 at 6:22 am


John L,
Interesting.



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RJS

posted May 1, 2009 at 6:58 am


Mariam and MatthewS,
You bring out the strength of civil conversation. The intent isn’t to layout expert answers and be done – but to state a case and discuss it. If we can converse – watching tone and trying to keep to the point – perhaps we can all learn something. We are thinking in public and inviting others to join in.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted May 1, 2009 at 7:00 am


I very much appreciate all your posts, RJS. And I agree with the thought that you could be a great female contributor to what’s going on on the BioLogos webite. But your posts on “Jesus Creed” are a great complement to both the blog and for a needed voice among evangelicals.
Glad to hear of this website, and actually I somehow found it earlier and linked the blog to my blog.



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Steve J

posted May 1, 2009 at 7:02 pm


RJS wrote:
“although I waver at times on the importance of the Fall as an historical event.”
These days I’m leaning toward a gradual and not necessarily unidirectional fall, as explored in the posts listed below. I would very much enjoy interacting with any folks here on that.
A Gradual Fall?
http://thinkingaloud99.blogspot.com/2009/05/gradual-fall.html
On the Evolutionary “Chisel,” the Divinely Intended “Sculpture,” and the Glorious Meaning and Destiny of our Lives in Christ
http://thinkingaloud99.blogspot.com/2009/04/on-evolutionary-chisel-divine-sculptor.html



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RJS

posted May 1, 2009 at 10:22 pm


Steve,
Both the posts on your blog are interesting. I don’t know if this post will get much more conversation. But we will come back to these ideas in the future.



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AHH

posted May 2, 2009 at 4:34 pm


I’ll echo others on the value of RJS’ contributions in this venue; we need for her to stay in business.
One thing that concerns me about BioLogos is that, from a brief look, the whole project seems to be people from the “science” side. Where are the professional theologians and/or pastors? Without some “buy-in” and participation from that side of things, the impact of this, wise as their answers seem to be, is likely to be small. Collins’ book, for example, I thought had some missteps on the non-science side of things (not blunders — more not addressing significant questions). Many of the best people in this area (George Murphy, Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne) are people with professional training in both science and theology. And a pastor like Daniel Harrell (or Tim Keller) could also help make the effort something that would have a real impact at the level of the people in the pews.
Also echo the concerns about women — well qualified people would include prominent women from the American Scientific Affiliation (past ASA President Ruth Douglas Miller, Deborah Haarsma, Jennifer Wiseman) and Fuller’s Nancey Murphy from the theology side. Not to mention RJS.



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