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Evolution and Evangelicals … What are the Barriers? (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

This is a big question for many of us these days.

What are the barriers to the acceptance of evolution amongst evangelicals? Can we (or should we) dismantle the “Great Wall” and overcome these barriers?

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Biologos has planned a working group symposium (exclusive and invitation only or I would have it on my calendar as a must) to look at just this issue.  The workshop will bring together 15 leading scientists, 15 leading pastors and 15 leading theologians to explore this issue.  Tim Keller, Francis Collins, and Alister McGrath are among the “names” involved.

This is a critical conversation as we move forward – although I am convinced of both an old earth and an evolutionary mechanism of creation, this is not the end of the story.  The theological ramifications must be considered thoughtfully, prayerfully – and with pastoral sensitivity. We must have conversation amongst sisters and brothers – fellow believers.

As part of the preparation for this workshop Bruce Waltke (or here), Old Testament scholar, author of a Genesis commentary and other books, was commissioned to write a white paper identifying barriers for the typical evangelical theologians to accepting the possibility of creation by means of an evolutionary process.  The results of his research are available here: Waltke Scholarly Essay.  The results of his survey provide the focus for the discussion I would like to have today (and Thursday).

Waltke’s white paper and survey provides some useful insights – although nothing that I find truly surprising.  He surveyed seminary professors at institutions with presidents belonging to the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents (FESP). 659 people visited the survey and 264 completed the survey. (Given my personal apathy toward the multitude of survey requests I get – I am actually somewhat surprised at the high response rate.) Of the seminary professors who responded 54% found barriers to the acceptance of evolution while 46% found no barriers. 

Here are the 11 barriers Waltke considered – and the percentage of respondents who found these to be barriers:

1. (44%) The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, when interpreted by the grammatico-historical method [hereafter assumed], cannot be harmonized with creation by the process of evolution.

2. (23%) The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 and the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 cannot be reconciled with the extended period of time demanded by creation by means of an evolutionary process

3. (34%) God’s sentence of death and decay on the creation in connection with Adam’s Fall can not be harmonized with the theory of creation by the process of evolution.

4. (28%) The theory of creation by the process of evolution does not harmonize with the doctrine of Adam’s headship over the whole human race.

5. (19%) The Institute of Creation Research, founded by Henry Morris, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.

6. (8%) The Reasons to Believe Ministry, represented by Hugh Ross, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.

7. (36%) Apologists such as those of the Intelligent Design Movement, fathered by Phillip E. Johnson, have made a sufficient case to reject the theory of evolution and to replace it with a theory of intelligent design.

8. (17%) Ken Ham rightly argues “Scientists only have the present–they do not have the past,” ruling out the possibility of science to theorize the history of origins.

9. (18%) The apparent age of the universe can be explained by reckoning that God created the universe with apparent age.

10. (6%) The Gap Theory (i.e., the destruction of an original creation) explains the geological/fossil record) hinders me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.

11. (7%) The Framework Hypothesis (i.e., the days of Genesis are artistically arranged and not literal) hinder me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.

12. (46%) None of the above. I can accept the theory of theistic evolution.

I will reflect a bit on some of the more detailed comments by Waltke in the next post, but today I would like to open this up to you.

Which of these barriers do you consider significant as you consider the possibility of an evolutionary mechanism of creation? Are there others barriers that you find significant?

What arguments do you find convincing – either way?

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



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John Ruffle

posted October 27, 2009 at 7:30 am


All the theistic evolutionists I’ve heard speak recently appear to have a somewhat de-valued interpretation of the Bible (aka the written word of God).
Indeed, the debate may possibly be more to do with how we approach and interpret the Bible overall. Theistic evolutionists seem to me to overwhelmingly approach the subject on the terms of “science is right until or unless the Bible can disprove it.” A more helpful approach may be to start with the Bible, and then see how sciencific theory fits into what we read there. But that’s not scientific. Possibly so. If so, then possibly we are using the wrong disipline by which to develop a worldview. (To me, theistic evolution is not a scientific theory but rather a worldview).
I suggest that the exploration into our human origins, along with that of the physical universe, may have more to do with a spiritual journey rather than a scientific one.



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Rick

posted October 27, 2009 at 7:33 am


RJS-
Should be an interesting set of posts. Thanks for alerting us to this.
As has been mentioned on this blog frequently, the issues of #3 and #4 seem to stand out (Adam’s role), especially in regards to the issues of death and (original) sin.
However, EO churches do not seem to have a huge problem with those.



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Howard Burgoyne

posted October 27, 2009 at 7:48 am


I just finished reading “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton of Wheaton College (IVP 2009).
He posits that Genesis 1 was intended to convey the functional origins of the universe, not the material origins – all in a cosmic temple inauguration motif (that is, God takes the material elements he made previously in an undefined manner and timeframe and then, in the biblical account, functionally organizes them and enters His rest (i.e., begins to reign over the cosmos).
So, his exegesis removes the “creation vs. evolution” issue from the table – allowing a literal exegesis of the text while allowing us to consider scientific theories of material origins to be considered. He distinguishes between teleological evolution and dysteleological evolution (creation with a purpose vs. with no purposes) – and urges we recognize the difference.



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RJS

posted October 27, 2009 at 7:53 am


Howard,
We just did a long series on Walton’s book with some good conversation. You can find some of it if you search on Genesis One on this sidebar (or click on my link). This is a good book with some excellent insights.



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Your Name

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:19 am


For me, one of the central questions answered by Christianity has to do with the origin of evil. “O Grave where is thy victory, O death, where is thy sting?” If that verse, and many other like it refer to something that truly corresponds to reality, then the resurrection is a powerful victory over real death. If, however, death is a part of God’s method of creation, if death by tooth and claw, a long struggle for survival, is the norm, then death is not the enemy that the New Testament portrays it. And if death one of God’s tools of creation then the portrayal of death as an enemy conqured by Christ loses its connection to the way things are. Salvation is no longer rescue from sin and death in a concrete sense, it is a “religious” truth only.
So options 3,4,7 and 8 are barriers to me. What needs to be added to the list is that I do not accept naturalism as a valid presupposition for dealing with origins. Naturalism and uniformitarianism are unproven assumptions that have become almost a creed in the scientific age.



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Diane

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:21 am


John, (#1): I agree with the following: “Indeed, the debate may possibly be more to do with how we approach and interpret the Bible overall. Theistic evolutionists seem to me to overwhelmingly approach the subject on the terms of “science is right until or unless the Bible can disprove it.” A more helpful approach may be to start with the Bible, and then see how sciencific theory fits into what we read there. But that’s not scientific. Possibly so. If so, then possibly we are using the wrong disipline by which to develop a worldview. (To me, theistic evolution is not a scientific theory but rather a worldview).”
Evolution and faith are not a problem for me, per se. My problem is the underlying issue of the idol we make of science and its technological offspring in this culture.
What gets primacy? What do we really trust when push comes to shove? Plenty of people trust our energy problems to be solved by a car that burns corn rather than by a systematic study of what the Bible says we should do in the case of a lack of resources. In fact, to turn to the Bible can be to invite ridicule.
Unf., Biblical supremacy can seem an extremely anti-intellectual position because of the polarities that have been pushed onto the science/faith debate. But I would argue this is a deeply intellectual (self-reflective) question: what do you put your faith in and why? How do we rightfully find a place for science WITHIN our faith framework that doesn’t embrace such foolishness as rejecting science out of hand? How do we make science (technology) our tool and not our master?



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ron martoia

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:30 am


I remain a bit baffled by the starting point of the conversation. Waltke’s 1. reason assumes a historical grammatical approach. Since when is that the right approach? From the shoot that hermeneutic assumes a certain genre and therefore approach.(why not narrative/theological for instance?) Without doubt the questions asked inform the possible answers given. So I think the questions asked have to be a bit more meta…or to say it another way I think we have to ask better questions about our questions.
On a slightly different note though, what is the relationship between science and religion for instance? Are we still stuck in the same post enlightenment conversations that have been going on for some time? What about other options that move us past the us/them impasse? Who in the scientific community for instance takes Ham or Ross seriously? Who in the Morris/Ham/Ross camp take take the secular science they site seriously?
Or how about questions of genre? Does historical narrative have talking animals in it as an example? What elements are mythic story what are meant to be historically accurate depictions of an actual reality? This seems more like where Walton is going without using some of that language. It seems we have drilled down too quickly and deeply because of Waltke’s starting point.



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Diane

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:32 am


Your Name,
This too is central problem for me: ” If, however, death is a part of God’s method of creation, if death by tooth and claw, a long struggle for survival, is the norm, then death is not the enemy that the New Testament portrays it.”
It seems to me we start tying ourselves into intellectual knots to try to wiggle out of, what to me, seems a clear revelation from the Bible that there was a time before the Fall in which humans literally did not die. To see this “eternal life” as metaphorical seems to me a huge dodge–a sort of Scholasticism about the fundamental question Christianity is trying to answer. This is the question all of humankind is trying to answer: Why are we born if we are going to die? Art tries to answer this, philosophy, science, materialism …all our human efforts, I would argue, are about facing this fundamental truth: why are we born to die? Christianity answers: we were not born to die. We were born to live–physically–eternally. We did live this way before we were disconnected with God and we can live this way again IF we can reconnect with God through Jesus Christ. We are asked to have faith that this is true and that we can live forever. Changing this is a fundamental shift that strikes at the core of the faith. I don’t think this is incompatible with evolution, but we do have to be careful.



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RJS

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:47 am


ron,
Waltke actually thinks that #1 is a barrier that should be easy to overcome. We’ll get to that in the next post. But the fact that 44% of the evangelical theologians surveyed found it significant is an important point to be reckoned with.



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Micheal Hickerson

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:04 am


Personally, #3 in Waltke’s list – the problem of death and decay – has been my greatest obstacle. However, just this week, I read Augustine’s account of the “days” in City of God, Book 11, and I’m interested in his line of thought. Augustine, of course, is using an allegorical method that’s radically different from modern Biblical criticism. He interprets the “morning and evening” of each day of creation as representing the “light of knowledge” – each day represents each aspect of creation coming to the fullness of knowledge of itself, which results in its praise and worship of the Creator. Thus, he admits the possibility that each “day” may have taken an unknown amount of time. I haven’t seen him address the arrival of death in his interpretation, but in his scheme, I suppose “on that day you shall surely die” could mean that Adam and Eve would become aware of their separation from God, the source of life. From my personal readings in science, the human awareness of death seems to be qualitatively different from other animals’ awareness of death.



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terri

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:10 am


Diane,
Regarding “death”: Even if you take Genesis literally, it never states that man was created immortal.
If we think of evolution as a crescendoing movement of Life, started by God, then the next step beyond merely surviving and prospering biologically would be found in preserving the consciousness of humanity, finding a way to escape death and decay.
If you take Genesis as a poetic portrayal of humanity’s predicament, portraying the struggle with evil and the imperfection of the human race coexisting with the superiority of humans over nature and other animals, then there is more wiggle room.



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Jonathan

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:22 am


In recent years, I have become convinced that the evidence for common descent is extremely strong, particularly in the DNA field. The work of Francis Collins, John Polkinhorne, and Simon Conway-Morris has been persuasive to me.
I can accept that death was part of creation before humanity came onto the scene. Based on my reading of Genesis 3.22, I believe Scripture implies that humans before the Fall would have died if not for the Tree of Life (since it states that after the Fall they would have lived forever if they had eaten from it).
However, there are still barriers or hurdles for me, and they mostly revolve around the origin of humanity and the Fall.
If we accept the current scientific understanding of life’s development, as well as human origins (which involves an original humanity of several thousand individuals):
* In what sense can we conceptualize humanity in an unfallen state? How is the garden to be understood?
* What exactly is the Fall? Can we retain a mostly literal understanding of that? If not, what truth is symbolized or represented by the Fall?
* Can we retain the doctrine that humanity’s rebellion in the Fall impacted all of creation? In what sense does creation groan and long for the renewal of all things, if the way things are now (decay, death, etc) is roughly how things have been for billions of years?
* In what sense can we say that death entered creation through Adam (and Eve)? If we lose this, how do we retain Christ’s role as the second Adam?
* What does it mean for the theology of New Creation if the first creation took place over vast stretches of time?



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Travis Greene

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:31 am


I agree with others that 3 and 4 are the biggest tensions for me. Mostly 3, actually. I can deal with Adam as an allegorical or representative figure. It is more difficult for me to reconcile the competition and wasteful death (or so it seems to me) of the evolutionary picture of Earth’s history with even a mythic view of Eden. I do it anyway because the alternatives are worse; I can’t twist like the nearly 1/5th of respondents who said God created the universe with apparent age, like he’s some kind of Loki trickster god.



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John W Frye

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:44 am


Cassuto has demonstrated the exquisite poetic beauty and symmetry of Genesis 1-2. The author was not thinking in pure historical terms as he shaped his writing. If we accept Moses as the author who was writing at or around the time of the exodus from Egypt to provide a “birth certificate” of the new nation, some of the mythic imagery takes on deeper meaning. Moses was informing the new nation that their history precedes the slavery years in Egypt. I agree with Ron (#7) that the historico-grammatical hermeneutic may be an imposition on the ancient text making it answer questions it was never so poetically created to answer.



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pds

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:14 am


peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
One of the main problems is not on the list: the perpetuation of a false dichotomy by theistic evolutionists. ID does not require that we reject “evolution” wholesale. #7 is misleading and perpetuates a pernicious misrepresentation. We will not have constructive dialogue until we can talk about these things clearly and fairly.
I accept aspects of evolutionary theory, reject aspects and am skeptical about aspects. What I reject and am skeptical about is mostly because of the science, not theology.
Francis Collins rejects the idea that evolution explains human morality and altruism. Most scientists disagree. Will the symposium explore how to break down Collins’ barriers in this area?



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RJS

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:18 am


pds,
Collins had nothing to do with the framing of these questions – Waltke did this. And if you read Waltke’s white paper it appears that he is partial to Intelligent Design and wishes there was more dialog (this is actually one of the main points we will discuss on Thursday).
For now – how about these or other barriers.



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Vaughn Treco

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:34 am


It’s been quite some time since I abandoned the creationist theology of the evangelical heritage within which I had been. Even so, I can remember quite vividly the soul-torment I underwent before the departure. Two things compelled me to do so:
(1) The convoluted historical scenarios that a creationist theological model demanded in order to account for world as we know it.
(2) The historical fact that the earliest disciples of the Apostles (the Apostolic Fathers) permitted a variety of ways of reading the creation accounts in the book of Genesis.
As I left my creationist roots, I found Henri Blocher’s “In the Beginning” (IVP) to be very helpful, providing as it did a framework within which to begin my reconsideration of the significance and meaning of the biblical creation accounts. At this time, I was also assisted by Christopher B. Kaiser’s “Creation and the History of Science” (Paul Avis, Editor).
I pray that the Biologos effort will bear much fruit among Evangelicals. If we are to love the Lord our God with all our minds, then we cannot avoid serious reflection upon all that the creation and the Sacred Scriptures have to say about them. Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists alike will find their faith deepened as we press our minds into the mystery of God as He may be known through the mystery of our humanity.



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scott eaton

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:40 am


I think to those who believe these are barriers that number one, three, and seven are the most significant. I cannot tell you the number of times strict creationists have insisted to me that evolution cannot be true because it would mean death had already entered the world, making the Fall meaningless and the Gospel unnecessary! Wow. And I guess that is one reason why this is a very important debate for some people and they have to hold very tightly to creationism. Without it (for them) the whole Christian faith crumbles.
RJS, I do have a question. Why would the Framework Hypothesis be a barrier to believing in evolution? Isn’t this the same thing as the “Literary Framework View?” If I understand the view correctly I think it actually opens up the possiblity for an old earth view and even evolution as a process used by God to create the world. Genesis 1 then is seen through “literary eyes” and not literal eyes. Why would this be a barrier? Can you elaborate?



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pds

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:41 am


RJS #16
It is hard for me to answer, because I think the false dichotomy permeates the whole framework.
Will ID proponents be invited to the table?



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MatthewS

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:45 am


3 and 4 are the biggies for me



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RJS

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:47 am


Scott,
Waltke also thought that the idea that the Framework hypothesis was a barrier was a bit strange, but included it in his survey because such an opinion had been expressed to him before he began … from the white paper:

This hypothesis in fact aims to support the theory of creation by evolution. Nevertheless, I have heard some students appeal to the theory as a barrier to accepting the theory of creation by evolution. Therefore, I included the following statement:



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Nancy Janisch

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:53 am


The first post by John hits the nail on the head when he says this debate is about Biblical interpretation. To try and reconcile the early chapter of Genesis with science is forcing the text to do something it was not designed to do. Genesis is about God and not about science.
Part of our difficulty is that we do not carefully read the Genesis text. Another part of our problem is that most non scientists have an overly simplistic view of how science works and what its boundries are.
There is much more that can and should be said about these topics, so I’m glad to see the conversation continue.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 27, 2009 at 12:03 pm


I’ve always found myself unable to fully understand the “apparent age” issue (on either side of the argument, really). On one hand, I’m sympathetic to those who oppose the argument, on the ground that it puts God in the position of intentionally deceiving those who would inspect the evidence.
In the other hand, let’s look at the creation of Eve. As the story goes, God puts Adam to sleep, takes one of Adam’s ribs, creates Eve out of that rib, and wakes Adam up to see the new creation. Assuming that Adam does not perceive Eve to be a newborn infant (which would in most respects have defeated the purpose of having Eve around), is she not created with “apparent age”? Indeed, I fail to see how Eve could have been created without some form of apparent age.
If anything is created ex nihilo, surely it appears as though it were older. How can it be otherwise?
(Please understand, I’m not terribly invested in this or any other argument against evolution. This is just one that I don’t fully understand either way, and would like to at least get a strong grasp on the whole thing.)



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Beckyr

posted October 27, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Gustavo over on Scot’s facebook account says “Almost half of Evangelicals are ready to accept a concept of creation BY evolution. What no Evangelical should accept is unguided or random, purposeless evolution,” That’s where I stand. Of course there’s been evolution – animals and plants adapting and changing. I just can’t go along with the chance factor in it. And there are thoughts about adapting and changing that need not include chance.



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Dan

posted October 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm


For those who refer to Augustine, he seemed to take the view that all scripture has BOTH an allegorical or prophetic interpretation AND an historical interpretation. In no way did he say the events of Genesis were not historical. He did say that the early chapters are difficult to interpret, for example, was “light” literal light or symbolic of the wisdom of God? He may well have not insisted on a 24-hour day for the separation of land from water.
But he was very clear in City of God that the flood occurred, for example and that the death that resulted from Adam’s sin included spirtual death, the second death and, for this discussion, physical death. He is not a good one to use in support of theistic evolution.



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Travis Greene

posted October 27, 2009 at 1:22 pm


Mark @ 23,
That’s a good point. Although as I read Genesis, nothing is that is made is made complete. All of it has room to grow and change. Otherwise why create in a process at all? Ex nihilo means out of nothing, not “all at once”.
The age appearance thing is not just the idea that the earth appears old, but that it was deliberately designed to give the appearance of age. The idea that God deliberately planted false fossils of dinosaurs or skewed radiocarbon dating just to test our faith is something I find profoundly silly.
Dan @ 25,
The point in enlisting Augustine is not his answers, but the fact that he considered it appropriate to ask questions. This isn’t modern secularism…the problems with the literal understanding of the text are inherent, for the very good reason that it was never meant to be read that way.



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Jjoe

posted October 27, 2009 at 1:33 pm


13. A hostility toward science in general, whether it be evolution, H1N1, climate change or any number of other examples.
The modern American hierarchy of thought often seems to be 1) political theory; 2) theological theory; 3) economic theory and then 4) science.
Who needs data when they’ve got volume?



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RJS

posted October 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm


Beckyr,
“Chance” can be a powerful mechanism to reach a predetermined result. This is where I think that we are with evolution.
But what Gustavo says is in fact pretty much a quote from Waltke’s white paper (and other sources).



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dopderbeck

posted October 27, 2009 at 2:45 pm


I think it’s incredibly encouraging that someone like Waltke has invested in this effort.
The biggest difficulty for me is question #4. It is not a “barrier” for me to accepting the general theory of evolution anymore, because I think epistemic virtue demands facing the evidence for evolution. But it is a “distressing” or “vexing” dissonance.
And really, it is more of an emotional / dispositional dissonance for me at this point than an intellectual one. Many Christian theological perspectives have offered what could be helpful construals of what original sin and the “fall” could mean in light of current scientific knowledge. But, the “historic Fall” has been defined as an essential element of orthdoxy by most evangelicals. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the suggestion by many people whose views I respect that my own “evolving” views about “Adam” might be heretical.
So, personally, what I most hope for with this project is tolerance for a range of views within the scope of “Evangelical orthodoxy” — perhaps even a statement to that effect. I have no problem at all with someone who personally holds to a “literal Adam” for theological reasons — at the end of the day, in some shape or form, I probably hold a view that incorporates a “federal Adam” which is sort-of “literal”. My problem is when a literal Adam and monogenism are insisted upon as a matter of fundamental orthodoxy. That tension is unbearable.



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dopderbeck

posted October 27, 2009 at 2:55 pm


BTW, for those who struggle with the sin-death problem, and who are partial to intelligent design, check out Bill Dembski’s new book, “The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World.” It isn’t an ID book, but it shows how many conservative evangelicals who are partial to ID try to address the sin-death problem. The answer Dembski gives is that Adam’s sin exerted a sort of backwards causation, such that the animal death that preceded Adam are still “caused” by Adam’s sin.
I’m not sure I understand or buy into the mathematical proofs he offers for this idea, but the theological essence of it goes at least back to Augustine’s ruminations about God and time. If God is outside of time, then everything “happens” for God all at once, and it is no problem at all for God to pronounce a judgment that unfolds “before” the event that triggers the judgment. In fact, this is basically what the “supralapsarian” view of God’s “decrees” would suggest. So, it’s entirely possible to hold a “conservative” view of the link between sin and death without denying or rewriting natural history.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted October 27, 2009 at 3:00 pm


As a resident of Dayton, Tennessee – home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial and one of the most theologically conservative towns in the country – I know from experience that those seeking to break down these barriers have a tough road ahead. Thanks so much for drawing attention to the Biologos project. Very cool.
I think the biggest obstacle to overcome is the false dichotomy (perpetuated by young earth creationists and atheists alike) that one has to choose between believing in God and believing in evolution. When folks like Kirk Cameron use atheism and Darwinianism interchangeably, it hurts the cause. When folks like Richard Dawkins write books that ridicule people of faith, it hurts the cause. When the media focuses on the Camerons and the Dawkins of this world because they make for interesting stories, it hurts the cause.
I actually think evangelicals need to do what they do best and have a good, old-fashioned argument about it. I’d like to see prominent evangelical leaders who embrace theistic evolution be a little more aggressive about calling out those who make ridiculous claims like “evolution is JUST a theory” or “there is no scientific support for evolution.” I think it’s time for a reality check about the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of evolution, a reality check best delivered (via blogs, books, magazine articles, sermons, and speeches) by evangelical leaders that people already trust
Laypeople tend to look to their pastors for guidance on this issue, while pastors tend to look to their denominational leaders and favorite writers for guidance. Efforts to equip denominational leaders with the resources they need to write and speak on the topic (and thus equip pastors) is key.



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Phil M

posted October 27, 2009 at 5:13 pm


This is an area I have been floundering around in for some time. Every time I think I am settled on one side of the debate, something comes along and unsettles me again.
For me – the consistent barriers are #1, #3, #5 except they don’t go far enough. If it was *just* Genesis I had to grapple with, I think I would be ok with theistic evolution. But throw in many passages in both Old and New Testaments (eg that appear to assume a rapid creation, a real link between Jesus’ atonement and Adam, and that Genesis events such as the flood really did happen) and we have to start talking in terms of accommodation – which I am only ok with up to a point – but that point is well passed in this context.
Creation Scientists bother me, and I can accept Genesis 1 as being written for a purpose other than describing the physical methods that God used – and yet that hasn’t changed my view that the complete message of the Bible seems to favour a young earth and a view of Genesis as real history.
I guess another missing point from that list is the polemical approach that a lot of scientists seem to intentionally take – as if evolution somehow disproves the existence of God. They move beyond science into philosophy and metaphysics but still claim the scientific high ground.



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Matt Stephens

posted October 27, 2009 at 5:33 pm


I have to admit I haven’t studied this issue in depth, on either the biblical-theological or scientific level, though several of the reasons you listed are reasons I have yet to accept macro-evolution as a historical phenomenology of life on earth. I do want to commend you, though, for your transparency in listing these objections to your view without making those who hold any number of them look like fools.
In the spirit of charity,
Matt



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Ted M. Gossard

posted October 27, 2009 at 7:10 pm


I look forward to the rest in this series.
Most of these are not or no longer are obstacles to me, really none at this point. Though I still can’t answer #2 well, if at all. My answer would seem to be a stretch by our standards or practice. And Adam in genealogy is picked up in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.



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RJS

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:00 pm


Phil M,
I think that you are right. The polemical approach that uses “science” – including evolution – to disprove God is a significant barrier for many. It increases the stakes and helps to inhibit productive conversation even within the church. The connection to world view causes problems.
I think that there is another barrier as well for some, the connection of evolution (survival of the fittest) with some rather unsavory ideas – social Darwinism and such.



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Mike M

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:08 pm


My barrier is not listed: how can I trust in evolution and natural selection when it results in brains that truly believe dinosaurs walked with humans?



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Marcus Goodyear

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:37 pm


Frankly, I do not understand the problem with evolution. Maybe like John Ruffle (#1) said, I have a devalued view of Scripture. Maybe like others said, we’re dealing with false dichotomies. Maybe like ron martoia (#7) said, this historical grammatical approach is a false restriction.
But mostly, I just don’t see the problem. There are many things in Scripture that I can’t explain. My inability to explain how every piece of Scripture relates to the world around me doesn’t throw my faith into doubt. Nor does it cause me to toss out what so many scientists agree to be the evidence about the world around me.



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Edward Hamilton

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:44 pm


I’m not fully persuaded of the absolute necessity of theistic evolution, instead of an alternative like ID. Here are my thoughts, speaking as both an evangelical Christian and a professor of physics. (Incidentally, all my points are made in favor of humble agnosticism, rather than in favor of strongly rejecting evolution.)
1. The eschatology problem: Christianity demands a strong commitment to a vision of the future that involves a miraculous restoration of the entire cosmic order, not just the rescuing of human souls to an incorporeal heaven. That means that the future can’t be the slow entropic death suggested by most current models of cosmology, nor the alternative of a “Big Crunch”. It must be something distinctly supernatural. It’s philosophically inconsistent, in my mind, to hold rigidly to a naturalistic explanation of the past, and yet have a fiercely supernaturalistic vision of the future. At some point, I fear, the commitment to the former will drive theistic evolutionists to deny the latter.
2. The narrative theology problem: God’s involvement in natural history, it seems to me, should be identifiably similar to God’s involvement in human history. They should display a common modus operandi. In human history, God is a more hidden participant for long periods, but then steps strongly into history to accomplish decisive action. This occurs most drastically in the example of redemption from sin. I don’t see any good reason to insist that God endowed the natural world with a seamless “functional integrity” from the moment of creation, capable of running itself, while at the same time having a reading of human history that involves us being totally dependent on God’s periodic outside agency to rescue us from sin.
3. The “we’ve already crossed that line” problem: Since recent divine activity (the creation of the Church, for example) has already influenced the natural world (for better or worse, since some Christians both do environmental harm, but some also work to repair it), it can be argued that God has changed history in such a way as to alter the “natural” development of speciation quite recently. The effects that humans, including Christian humans, exert on the environment, suggests that God could have allowed other beings under his direct influence to change natural history also. (Angels, or maybe even extraterrestrials from another galaxy, if you don’t mind being fanciful!) This provides an inoffensive mechanism for similar interventions in natural history in the more distant past.
4. The essentially relational nature of God: The Biblical record depicts a God who is constantly interested in strong communion with creation. Evangelicals, in particular, speak about God as wanting a “personal relationship” with human beings, and also a desire to bring us into conformity as bearers of the divine image. This implies a strong teleological constraint on history. If there is an ultimate purpose to creation, it does not appear sensible to me to believe that God would wait for several billion years before beginning to structure or influence history toward that end. For example, I think the emergence of intelligent life is a necessary, rather than a contingent, characteristic of the cosmos. Imposition of that constraint amounts to exclusion of many (probably infinitely many) physically possible universes. To me, exclusion of alternate states of the universe represents a very strong form of supernatural agency, regardless of the mechanism by which it is accomplished.
None of these are, to me, arguments against the idea that evolutionary biology might locally be an explanation for some features of the natural world. They are only arguments against a strong philosophical demand that only naturalistic mechanisms are consistent with the behavior of the God of traditional Christian theology.



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R Hampton

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:22 pm


Edward Hamilton,
God wanting communication is a misnomer that leads to incorrect theology. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, so every moment he speaks with all things, and more importantly, is one with all things. There is no separation of him from us, on his side of the relationship.
Before the Fall, Man was like all other animal life in that we were in perfect harmony with God – not knowing of another way of knowing. But with the advent of intellectual evolution, Man gained the ability to know the world without God, or with many Gods, etc. This is spiritual death – Man’s ignorance of Universal Truth. So when Man intellectually chooses to accept God, Man opens himself to receive God’s eternal presence, and thus regain the ability common to of all other forms of life that exist without doubt or disbelief.



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RJS

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:25 pm


Edward,
I would make two comments (or three).
First – not knowing the future doesn’t actually impact the way I look at the past. I assume that what ever happens in the future it won’t look as though something else happened from yet later perspectives.
Second – the essentially relational nature of God is absolutely key. But this relationship doesn’t seem to be with creation as much as it is with humans created in his image.
Third – if you define evolution as as without purpose and goal (as many are want to do) then we have a real problem – but evolution can, in fact be a mechanism to a determined goal. The real issue is not evolution but the fine-tuning of the universe to develop and sustain life. This is where I see the clearest evidence for design.



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AHH

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:32 pm


I’m late to the discussion today, but it is worth mentioning that “acceptance of evolution” in Christian theology can mean (at least) 3 things:
1) Acceptance of the basic picture of common ancestry, descent with modification, without getting into whether Darwinian and other “natural” mechanisms give the whole story on a physical level. Even many people in the ID movement (like Michael Behe) are “theistic evolutionists” in this sense (which I might add has reached the “beyond a reasonable doubt” category from a scientific standpoint).
2) Acceptance of Darwinian and other “natural” mechanisms being the whole story on a physical level (not excluding God on the metaphysical level, of course).
3) Acceptance of #1 and/or #2 not necessarily in the sense of saying they are true, but in the sense of considering them as theologically acceptable for Christians to hold.
I think #3 is the most important thing for dismantling the wall that is hurting the witness of the Gospel among the scientifically literate. If we can say that it is theologically OK IF God used evolutionary means in creating, then evolutionists, ID people, etc. can discuss the scientific evidence (if they wish) without the baggage of the truth of the faith depending on the outcome.



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AHH

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:49 pm


While none of these are significant barriers for me, among my fellow Evangelicals I think the barriers fall into 3 main categories:
1) Barriers caused by trying to ask Genesis scientific questions the inspired writer was not trying to answer (mistaking the genre)
2) (not on Waltke’s list explicitly) The apparent purposelessness of evolutionary mechanisms. This is tougher, but is no tougher in principle for evolution than it is for weather — one has to think about what God’s sovereignty over nature means
3) The one that is much less easily dealt with, as dopderbeck and others pointed out, is #4, issues concerning Adam and the origin of sin. There are ways of dealing with this within Christian orthodoxy, but they mostly involve interpreting some passages in Paul in non-traditional ways.



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AHH

posted October 27, 2009 at 11:05 pm


Last post for tonight — I should clarify that my #42 above is the main barriers people have to accepting evolution as a means of creation from a Biblical and theological standpoint. In other words, from saying that it is theologically OK if God created that way, independent of whether or not that’s actually how God did it.
It is a little unfortunate that Waltke’s list is a jumble of some Biblical and theological arguments (which would prevent accepting evolution as theologically OK) and some scientific arguments (which have no bearing on evolution’s theological acceptabilty). Of course asking seminary professors to evaluate scientific arguments is dubious anyway — about like asking me to evaluate arguments about nuances of translating Hebrew.



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Calvin Chen

posted October 28, 2009 at 5:29 am


I share Michael Hickerson’s hesitation to fully accept theistic evolution because of #3 – death and decay. I do think that Genesis 1 and 2, read correctly within their genre and even assuming inerrancy, do not directly refute the theory of evolution. However — if we do not see the fall as an actual event… and a pre-fall creation as an actual reality… how do we keep ourselves from allegorizing consummation or an expectation of a literal, actual return of Jesus Christ? This is a fundamental tenet of evangelical faith.



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RJS

posted October 28, 2009 at 6:35 am


AHH,
Good observations – I also think that the barriers can be grouped in three categories:
Biblical objections (how we view and interpret scripture).
Theological (and philosophical) objections – nature of God, nature of man, considerations of sin, death, and evil.
Scientific objections – concerns over the validity of the scientific underpinnings of our view of origins.
But they all become muddled to an extent as people think about these issues from different perspectives. Personally I find the most significant issues to be the theological ones as many above have also commented. As a result I take a path toward reconciliation that is slightly different from many above. I am convinced of the truth of the gospel and I am convinced that the evolutionary picture of origins is good science – as proven as anything in biology is. Therefore my goal is to think about how all of this actually fits together.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted October 28, 2009 at 9:18 am


#45 RJS
“I am convinced of the truth of the gospel and I am convinced that the evolutionary picture of origins is good science – as proven as anything in biology is. Therefore my goal is to think about how all of this actually fits together.”
But that would mean living with mystery and paradox. :-)



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RJS

posted October 28, 2009 at 10:42 am


Michael – a starting point, mystery and paradox are unavoidable.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Then I will know fully – but the important thing is that even now I am fully known.



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pds

posted October 28, 2009 at 10:46 am


RJS and AHH
I appreciate your balanced comments, esp. #43:
“It is a little unfortunate that Waltke’s list is a jumble of some Biblical and theological arguments (which would prevent accepting evolution as theologically OK) and some scientific arguments (which have no bearing on evolution’s theological acceptabilty).”
And #45: recognizing that some Christians like me mainly have problems with the science.
One theological problem that is not on the list is related to #3 and #4: how do you reconcile the specialness of humans (image of God) with a gradual transition from non-human? Are human rights relative? When did “murder” become “murder” and not moral hunting for food?
I have meant to raise this question before. Curious to hear a TE answer.
I don’t have a problem with it because I think God intervened supernaturally here.



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RJS

posted October 28, 2009 at 10:46 am


The rest of 1 Corinthians 13 is an excellent guide and rule for this entire discussion as well … if we have not love in our interactions with each other we have nothing. Being right is never enough – and is not justification for lack of love.



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Milton Pope

posted October 28, 2009 at 12:46 pm


Mr. Hamilton, thank you for #38. It was well thought out, and provocative for me. I think these issues have answers, but these are important matters to consider.
In general, may I say that this discussion is wonderful and vital for me. Thanks to everyone for taking it so seriously.



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John W Frye

posted October 28, 2009 at 1:16 pm


As a layman in terms of scientific expertise and knowledge of evolutionary mechanisms, why is death prior to the Fall a problem? Are we talking animal and (proto)human death or only human death? Did plants die before the Fall? I do think that the reality of the “imago dei” within the evolutionary process needs to be clearly addressed and synchronized with the biblical record(s).



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Dan

posted October 28, 2009 at 1:26 pm


#38
“It must be something distinctly supernatural. It’s philosophically inconsistent, in my mind, to hold rigidly to a naturalistic explanation of the past, and yet have a fiercely supernaturalistic vision of the future.”
Excellent point. Beyond that, why have a rigidly naturalistic explanation of the past to begin with? What necessitates that as the starting point for science?
“I don’t see any good reason to insist that God endowed the natural world with a seamless “functional integrity” from the moment of creation, capable of running itself, while at the same time having a reading of human history that involves us being totally dependent on God’s periodic outside agency to rescue us from sin.”
Again, well stated. The “narrative” of scripture surely assumes a supernatural universe where God not only intervenes in “spiritual” affairs, but acts in ways that seem to affect nature (water to wine, healing one blind from birth, resurrection of the dead – and dare I say, judgment by flood or fire).
“None of these are, to me, arguments against the idea that evolutionary biology might locally be an explanation for some features of the natural world. They are only arguments against a strong philosophical demand that only naturalistic mechanisms are consistent with the behavior of the God of traditional Christian theology.”
Key phrase, I take it, is “some features”. Even young-earth creationists accept natural selection in a limited sense.
But it has to be said, IF the universe is not explained by merely naturalistic cause and effect THEN quite a different view of the evidence may emerge. Once the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system is reconsidered and one sees a uniformity of natural causes in a system that is open to supernatural intervention, a lot of possibilities can be considered that wouldn’t be considered otherwise.
That’s been the heart of the creationist argument for at least 40 years and I’ve never really heard a good explanation why many Christians seem to insist on a naturalistic or uniformitarian starting point.



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dopderbeck

posted October 28, 2009 at 3:53 pm


pds (#48) said: Are human rights relative? When did “murder” become “murder” and not moral hunting for food?
I respond: this is a great question. I would answer it this way:
The first question is easy: No, human rights are not relative; all human beings possess equal dignity as God’s image bearers.
The second question is both easy and difficult. It’s easy in that any human person within the horizon of the Biblical witness is a human being whom it would be “murder” to kill without justification. The Biblical witness presents “Adam” as the archetype of all human beings and knows or suggests nothing of any human or human-like beings prior to “Adam.” Therefore it is “murder” to kill any human being without justification. There is zero possibility of any valid argument, Biblically or scientifically, that any human being alive today is anything less than fully “human” as a result of our common ancestry.
The second question is also difficult in that we don’t know “when” the horizon of the Biblical narrative interfaces with the scientific narrative of human origins. Perhaps this interface was sudden and dramatic, or perhaps it was gradual. In either event, we might say there was a tipping point in the distant past at which human animals became morally accountable to justify certain kind of conduct. We simply don’t know, and probably will never know, when that point was reached.
I don’t think this difficulty should be too troubling. After all, this is how we typically think about the moral culpability of infants, children, and adolescents. We recognize that a growing child gradually becomes morally responsible for his or her actions; there is no dramatic “historical” point in a person’s development at which merely “childish” conduct becomes “evil.”



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pds

posted October 28, 2009 at 4:42 pm


dop #53
Thanks for your stab at an answer. I agree that human rights are not relative. But your answer does not satisfy the difficulties, for me at least.
The moral culpability of the killer depends in part on the age of the killer. But the age of the victim matters not at all (except for the unborn). If you kill a human of any age, it is murder. If you kill an animal for food, it is not.
Put it this way: if Adam (or whoever was the first “human”) killed his biological father (or his great-uncle), was it murder? Or was it morally neutral hunting?



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Travis Greene

posted October 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm


pds,
1. Are we talking legally, or morally?
2. What makes you assume hunting is morally neutral?
3. The question you are really asking is what distinguishes humans from animals.



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pds

posted October 28, 2009 at 5:57 pm


Travis,
1. Mainly morally, but legal questions are implicated.
2. It is not sin to hunt ducks and eat them, nor is it illegal with the right permits.
3. My question is more specific. If humans evolved, what distinguished the first human from his non-human animal father?



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John W Frye

posted October 29, 2009 at 12:36 pm


PDS (#56)
“3. My question is more specific. If humans evolved, what distinguished the first human from his non-human animal father?”
This is so far beyond my thinking, but…Is this question pointing us to the interface between evolution and the biblical text in that God marks the first human with the *imago dei* and the evolutionary process peaks. So if Adam killed his non-imago dei procreator, he did not commit murder in the biblical sense. Wow, this all sounds like wild sci-fi.



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