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Confronting the Data (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

I’ve been traveling this week and unable to get back to David N. Livingstone’s book Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins. We will return to this book next week. On a related note though there is a new report of a distinct archaic human lineage – reported in the Journal Nature and making the New York Times: Bone May Reveal a New Human Group. The data behind this claim is not a full skeleton but the DNA extracted from a single finger of a child excavated in a cave in Siberia. It is ironic but “the signature in the cell” – the DNA content of cells – provides much of the strongest evidence for both evolution in general and common descent in particular. The other lines of evidence – from paleontology to comparative anatomy – provide corroboration. This is data that we must wrestle with and integrate into our understanding of God’s creation.

The necessity of confronting the data connects with a recent video of a conversation with Bruce Waltke:

Waltke starts this clip with a caveat – “I think that if the data is overwhelming in favor, in favor, of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … And rightly so, … we’re not using our gifts nor trusting God’s providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.” Later he continues: “So I see this all as part of the growth of the church. We are much more mature by this dialog. …” 

Waltke is not a scientist – and the caveat about the data is a fair one. We need to have honest conversations about the data – but we also must go with the data. To do anything else is a failure to trust in the providence of God. If he created by evolution, so be it – this can be integrated into the faith.

What do you think? What should be the approach of Christians to the growing mound of data? Intelligent skepticism, Serious study, Wonder and Awe, Entrenched refutation, something else? Who do you trust?

FYI – Transcript of Waltke’s comments produced from the video:

I think that if the data is overwhelming in favor, in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group thats not really interacting with the real world. It will…I mean rightly so, I mean we will, we’re not, we’re not using our gifts nor trusting God’s providence that brought us to this point of our awareness. Because I see all of history as in God’s providence and I think we are at a unique moment in history, so many strands are coming together, we’re on almost to my mind a pinnacle of history. We’re aware of these things. And 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 if we stopped loving God with all of our minds and thinking about it, I think it’s our spiritual death. It’s also our spiritual death in witness to the world that we’re not credible, that we are bigoted, we have a blind faith and this is what we’re accused of. So I see this all as part of the growth of the church. We are much more mature by this dialog that we’re having, and I think this is how we come to the unity of the faith, is that we wrestle with these issues. We’re all in the body of Christ as one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. And we may disagree with one another, but we are really interacting in a very serious way, trusting God’s truth. And that we are testing what is true and holding fast to that which is good and we are the richer for it. And if we don’t do that we are going to die. And I think it is essential to us or we’ll end up like some small sect somewhere that retained a certain dress or a certain language. And they end up iso… marginalized, totally marginalized, and I think that would be a great tragedy for the church, for us to become marginalized in that way.



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David P Himes

posted March 26, 2010 at 6:42 am


I concur we must deal honestly with the data, and not be afraid of it. We must also recognize the inherent bias of the evolution community. Some measure of evolution has occurred. But the missing link is still missing, isn’t it?



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Ishmael

posted March 26, 2010 at 7:11 am


I don’t think that many evangelicals really quarrel with the theory of evolution as the current understanding of the data we have. What I quarrel with is the “Darwinist” world-view that evolutionas a process somehow implies the non-existence of God.
Science, as Science, cannot decide a theological truth — the most that can be said is that “it can detect no evidence in these observations”. I look at nature and see God’s fingerprints everywhere but that is a conclusion of faith.
Perhaps if we did a better job of teaching the science-of-science we might spend a lot less time, ink and bits in trying to “prove” things that are not provable with the tools we have.
— Ishmael



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Rick Presley

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:14 am


I see a schizophrenia in Evangelicals, particularly those who work in fields of science and medicine. They use evolutionary language without assenting to the validity of evolution itself. Basically, they see it as a model or explanatory framework rather than an established fact. Anyone who has taken basic chemistry and beyond is familiar with the history of models and atomic theory, so there seems to be a certain level of comfort in using language tentatively to describe phenomena that may or may not accurately reflect the state of reality.
In the area of religion, however, many arm chair theologues actually believe that God is exactly how they imagine him to be. This is in contrast to science which holds to its assumptions much less tightly than people with religious beliefs. In fact, some of the worst derision in science is directed at stubborn holdouts who refuse to modify their theories in light of confounding data. (Hence the antipathy toward creationists who seem to have a blithe disregard for Occam’s razor.)
Evangelicals with a science background often accept models while rejecting their conclusions. This is how they can remain creationist while assenting to many of evolution’s claims because it is only an explanatory model. That and the fact that they see no real difference between the science or engineering practiced by those who are evolutionists and those who are not.



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JHM

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:26 am


Rick,
So all, or at least a big majority, of Evangelical scientists reject the conclusions of evolutionary theory? How do you know that?



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John W Frye

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:52 am


I had Dr Bruce Waltke as my Old Testament/Hebrew prof while in seminary (in his DTS days). One thing: Waltke is an extremely diligent and well-respected scholar. I think RJS’ caveat that Bruce is not a scientist is correct, but his ability to assimilate data is phenomenal. Has he changed his position over the years on evolution? I think so. He stressed to us (in the mid 70s) that whenever the Hebrew word “day” (yom)is preceded by a number (e.g., 6), the Hebrew mind would conclude 6 revolutions of the sun (or 6 24 hour days). In Exodus Moses writes that the LORD created the heavens and the earth in 6 days. There you have it as far as Hebrew grammar and thought go. Young Earth creationists jump to this. I think we’ve come a long way in dealing with Scripture and ANE world-views and cosmologies to not take the grammar argument as a scientific statement.



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RJS

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:28 am


John,
I found this video interesting, not so much from his conclusion (he didn’t really give one), but from his approach. We go with the evidence and without fear. To do anything else is to fail to trust in the providence of God. This is, I think, the approach that Christian scholarship should take – whether in science, old testament, or sociology.
We have a tendency to bend the evidence to our preconceptions rather than rest in the assurance of the gospel and face the world.



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Phil Atley

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:43 am


I think one must be clear about one thing at the outset: by definition, the Christian and Jewish theological claim that man differs from the other animal species in some fundamental, unique way says that the difference is not sense-perceptible.
Therefore, the issue simply cannot be resolved by empirical scientific data. Whatever these early hominids were, we cannot say that they were human based on genetic or fossil evidence. Nor can we say that they were not human based on that evidence because what defines “human,” in Christian belief, cannot be read from such data, neither data from “way back then” nor data available about humans who can be examined directly today..
Christians are, by faith, asserting something that cannot be proven by science. But neither can it be disproven. Even today, the behaviorist claim that we are nothing more than highly sophisticated but entirely conditionable aninmals is a faith statement. So too is the Christian and Jewish claim that we are not merely that but possess something variously alled soul or spirit or mind or person that cannot be empirically proven.
But the Christian claim is not irrational or unreasonable. Psycho-social data can be read as supporting the Christian faith claim. It can also be read as supporting the behaviorist claim. But the behaiviorist, “Mind or ‘soul’ is nothing but chemical reactions,” claim is a negative claim: it is a blind-faith claim asserting that no such non-empirically observable Mind exists.
It would be helpful, I think, to keep in mind that any reference to these archaic hominids as “human” already has made a choice in the matter, has assumed that the characteristics of “human” are entirely empirically/scientifically observable via genetics or bone structures which survive. That may be true (if so, behaviorists are right and Christians and Jews are wrong). But to make that assumption is to make a faith assumption. People on both sides of the issue need to be clear that they are making whichever of the two assumptions they are making.



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pds

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:46 am


The Design Spectrum
I think the title of this clip is a bit misleading. I don’t see Waltke saying “the church should accept evolution.” I see him calling the church to accept the data and engage in good faith dialogue.
In a paper I discuss on my blog, Prof. Waltke called for dialogue between TE and ID proponents. He noted that he was informed by a reliable source that Francis Collins will not ?publicly engage? ID proponents in dialogue. He also suggested that if this is not the case, Dr. Collins should make this known. See here:
http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/bruce-waltke-on-the-need-for-dialogue-between-biologos-and-id-proponents/
Has this happened? What is Collins? position?
I agree that the church needs to address the evidence for evolution. The best way to get the people in the pews to explore the evidence is to embrace an exploration of all the evidence, both for and against evolution, with a respectful debate that includes all positions. Waltke seems to agree, as noted in my most recent post, linked above.



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pds

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:59 am


The Design Spectrum
Who do you trust?
I trust the evidence plus logic more than I trust any one person. But as for people, I trust:
1. scientists (and others who have studied the evidence) who show a good grasp of the proper methodology for the historical sciences.
2. people who show that they are willing to wrestle with all the evidence, including the evidence that poses problems for evolutionary theory
3. people who show a good grasp of logic and epistemology, and a humble approach to what the evidence can establish.
4. people who address opposing arguments in their strongest form.
5. people who do not put limits on what God can do and how he can do it.



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Pops

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:20 am


Please – what evidence!
They have lied so many times in the past just to further their evolutionary cause, what makes you think they wont do it again!
If this gent is so against biblical teaching he should find another job!



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pds

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:22 am


And by the way, Stephen Meyer’s latest book is the best treatment of the methodologies for the historical sciences that I have read. I think some familiarity with these issues is essential for good dialogue.



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Brianmpei

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:22 am


Started out in Anthropology/Arch in my B.C. days. Saw/heard as much dodgy science and reasoning there as in “Creationism”. For that reason I’d go with the response just as you outlined:Intelligent skepticism, Serious study, Wonder and Awe. Some “science” is just wild speculation but eventually the good science wins out and skepticism, after serious study, will give way to wonder and awe.



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RJS

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:49 am


pds,
That is an excellent summary in #9 – I agree completely. And here is the problem as I see it with Meyer’s book. He fails on your #2…people who show that they are willing to wrestle with all the evidence, including the evidence that poses problems for evolutionary theory except change that to “including the evidence that supports evolutionary theory.” More accurately for Meyer’s book we should actually limit this to abiogenesis. But in his book Meyer does not deal fairly with the science or the scientists.
We don’t need a “debate” between Collins and an ID proponent and I think Collins would be foolish to agree with such a proposal. I certainly would not agree. These issues are not settled in debate and no light is provided by a formal debate. Light is provided by an honest dialog with well reasoned give and take — and a dialog that first tries to understand the points made by others without caricaturing them.



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pds

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:03 am


The Design Spectrum
RJS #13,
“But in his book Meyer does not deal fairly with the science or the scientists.”
You keep saying that, but you refuse to give specific examples. What significant origin of life theory did he not deal with fairly? What specifically was lacking?
I would say that you are failing at #2 if you do not give specifics.
As for Collins, I think some public debate would be helpful. Some public dialogue of some kind, at least. I think Collins’ book fails on #3 and #4, at least at some points.



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Josh Mueller

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:21 pm


Way back in High School (30 years ago) I was a zealous Young Earth Creationist and was convinced that all the scientific data were actually in favor of a young earth and a young universe. The books of Henry Morris and A.E. Wilder-Smith were my ammunition and the evidence they cited seemed irrefutable to me. The theory of evolution seemed to be nothing but a huge conspiracy that manipulated the interpretation of the fossil record, had flawed dating methods and needed hundreds of millions of years just because the notion of a creator was unscientific and unacceptable. But the real force behind my dogmatism was the connection made between the reliability of the Bible and my personal faith in Jesus. If the Bible couldn’t be trusted in its account of the creation and historicity of Adam and the fall, everything else might as well collapse with it as well. I was determined NOT to get on that slippery slide!
It never dawned unto me that my reading of Genesis 1-3 was not the only possible faithful interpretation of the text. I had never considered that God might have created all life THROUGH evolution rather than seeing evolution exclusively as an atheist plot wanting to topple God. And I certainly wasn’t aware at the time of the huge amount of data supporting not only the accuracy of radiocarbon dating and the measuring of the distance light had travelled from stars and galaxies which are a whole lot further away than 6000 light years, but also ample evidence of “missing links” which according to classic creationism supposedly didn’t exist.
To sum it up, as a Christian I do believe that all truth is God’s truth and that we have nothing to fear from scientific data. We’ve been able to come to terms that the earth is not flat and that stars aren’t attached to a firmament, we will continue to be led only into deeper awe as we learn more about the universe, the earth and its history. I’m very grateful for the work of the Biologos Foundation btw and thanks for this video clip as well!



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DRT

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm


One of my favorite books is by the Dali Llama, ?The Universe in a Single Atom, the Convergence of Science and Spirituality?. If you have not read it yet then I recommend it.
I don?t have it with me, but one of the things he discusses is something to the effect of ?if one refuses to acknowledge reality then they disqualify themselves from serious conversation?. Many Christians emphatically disqualify themselves from serious conversation.
Here is a quote from the Kalama Sulta
“Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, not by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up…And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them.”[
Who do you trust? ? I believe this is the single most pressing question facing our country as we move forward. In our post-information age world we have access to virtually limitless data, both raw and processed as well as experts that will espouse every possible point of view. So science and knowledge becomes much like the bible, you can find something supporting any position that you want to take.
So who do you trust? Much like religion, in knowing who to trust we have to trust a process, not a person. Do you trust you? I don?t trust me. Instead, people need to trust the directionality of evidence, not the statement of the conclusion. If the vast preponderance of expert evidence is pointing toward a specific conclusion that it probably makes sense to view it that way.
Isn?t that how you believe in God? I don?t believe in God because someone told me to, but instead because the vast preponderance of evidence in my life points that way. It still doesn?t make it true?.
Dave



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DRT

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm


Oh, I also recommend that anyone who is seriously considering human ancestry and what the evidence in the cell really is telling us should learn about Mitochondrial Eve.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrial_Eve
Dave



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John W Frye

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm


POPS (#10),
I fail to see how your comment helps this discussion. I have a friend who was an ardent creationist and fiercely anti-evolutionary until he found out some of the Christian “scientists” fudged the data, i.e., lied, too, to further their cause. My friend’s faith collapsed because some Christians were just as untrustworthy with the data as some atheistic evolutionists. And Bruce Waltke is one of the preeminent Old Testament scholars around these days. He taught me to deeply revere the Old Testament and New Testament. You may not like his take/views, but I assure you, many don’t like yours, either.



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Dave Corder

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm


#5 John W. Frye “In Exodus Moses writes that the LORD created the heavens and the earth in 6 days.”
Moses wrote Exodus? Confronting the evidence?



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Dave Corder

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:07 pm


Or Genesis?



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James-Michael Smith

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:31 pm


Here’s a summary for anyone interested in the main ways Christians have attempted to integrate Science with Scripture. It may be helpful to readers who are struggling to decide how to approach the issue:
http://www.examiner.com/x-8276-Methodist-Examiner~y2009m11d30-Christian-approaches-to-the-Bible-and-science
Thanks for posting this interview with Waltke. It would be nice, however, to post a response by a Biblical scholar of Waltke’s caliber who leans more towards ID as well.



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RJS

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm


James-Michael,
As I listen to this video, I don’t think that Waltke is leaning any specific direction with respect to ID – or at least some forms of ID. I think he is saying that we must go with the evidence and we must have an open and civil dialogue about the issues. He is also saying that if we trust in the providence of God we need have no fear of the truth – wherever it lands on issues of creative mechanism.



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John W Frye

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm


David Corder (#19-#20),
Yep, at the time that Bruce Waltke, (Ph.D. Harvard University) was teaching us Old Testament Introduction (using R.K. Harrison’s textbook), Waltke argued for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.
I am not exactly sure where Bruce is now on authorship of the Pentateuch.



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Josh Mueller

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm


Talking about data and their repercussions for our faith, I would like to ask the question whether even hypothetically speaking there could be any scientific evidence that would automatically negate our Christian faith.
From what I can see, there is only one: if the tomb was not empty and Jesus was not raised from the dead, the Christian faith is futile and without foundation. In other words: if someone found Jesus’ remains and could conclusively prove he had unearthed the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, we may as well stop praying and close down our churches. But that’s really the only data I can think of that would be so diametrically opposed to clear biblical teaching at its most central point that no modification in interpreting this new reality could rescue the historical and biblical meaning of faith in Jesus as true man and true God and Savior of the world.



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RJS

posted March 26, 2010 at 7:45 pm


Josh,
I agree. Even then I would go with the data – but I don’t think such a thing will ever happen.
All else can inform our understanding, but does not undermine it. This doesn’t mean accept everything blindly, but it does mean hold conclusions with an open hand and go with the data.



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Josh Mueller

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:52 pm


“Even then I would go with the data.”
Absolutely. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise.



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Pops

posted March 30, 2010 at 9:21 am


John W Frye (#18)
Dear Sir,
I responded to the Authors request which was:
What do you think? What should be the approach of Christians to the growing mound of data? Intelligent skepticism, Serious study, Wonder and Awe, Entrenched refutation, something else? Who do you trust?
Perhaps you failed to see how my comment helps the discussion because I did not wish to enter into a discussion for I did not see that option in the Authors request!
You said: He taught me to deeply revere the Old Testament and New Testament.
Well Sir, some folk have helped me revere Harley Davidson motorcycles but they should definitely not be working with them!
You said: You may not like his take/views, but I assure you, many don’t like yours, either.
But I do not see any one else stating this?
I also notice that you have failed to address my statement about the accuracy or honesty of the data/evidence. I wondered why you chose not too, but quite honestly, I did not wonder for long.
I still do not wish to enter into a discussion.
Thank you.



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