Every Monday, “Science and the Sacred” features an essay from
one of The BioLogos Foundation’s co-presidents: Karl Giberson and
Darrel Falk. Today’s entry was written by Darrel Falk.
This past Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species, undoubtedly one of the most influential books of all time. It seems there have been dozens of Darwin conferences this year commemorating not just the publication of the book, but also the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth on February 12, 1809. Most biologists, including myself, would likely consider Darwin to be the most thorough and insightful biologist in history. As a biologist, and as a Christian committed to seeking truth, I believe there is much to celebrate during this anniversary year.
On the day before the official anniversary, I was talking with a friend who had attended one of the Darwin conferences. The meeting had included some of America’s most well-known experts, who weighed in on the social ramifications of the 150 year old evolution/creation debate. My friend told me that the experts at this conference had been somewhat stumped when someone in the audience asked how it could be that when faced with the enormous amount of data in support of Darwin’s theory, good honest thinkers could remain young earth creationists–a line of thought so out of touch with scientific reality. I was somewhat incredulous that the experts would have been stumped by this question. Perhaps I’m the one who is naïve, but to me the answer is simple. As I see it, all it takes is a couple of one-on-one dinner conversations with a couple of articulate persons and I think you come to understand their dilemma.
I am going to discuss three people with extremely impressive academic scientific credentials who believe in a young earth. They all have something in common and, even though these three individuals know the science much better than most in our society, I think they epitomize why millions of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians refuse to blink in the face of the mass of scientific data. Since some of what I will write is based on informal conversations over a meal, I have decided not to name them. I hope you will see that I deeply respect each one of them.
I met Person A at a conference in Kansas City eleven years ago. He was the only young earth creationist in attendance and I admired his courage to stand up for what he believed to be right, even though he was the only one who thought that way. “A” obtained his Ph.D. in paleontology at the nation’s most prestigious university with one of its most prestigious scholars. He knows the science very well and he knows how compelling the scientific data is. However, at this Kansas City conference he told us that no matter how strong the scientific data seemed to be, he was confident that it would eventually prove to be false. “Right now, we who hold the young earth perspective are losing,” he said, but he was staking his life and career on the premise that eventually the tide would turn. His faith in the literalness of the Genesis account trumped all else. Why? He told us that all that brought him meaning was grounded in the literalness of Scripture. Change the interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis, he believes, and the entire Bible disintegrates, and with that disintegration so also goes all aspects of his purpose in life. So from his perspective when the Bible and science disagree, it is science that will eventually be shown to be incomplete, not the Bible.
Person B, like “A,” has extremely impressive academic credentials. He is well-trained in the field of population genetics and served as a professor in plant genetics at a university which has a long tradition of being the world leader in this discipline. He is also the inventor of a very important biotechnology tool. I had a most enjoyable dinner conversation with “B” as part of a small one day meeting we attended in Pittsburg in July, 2008. “B” told me of his journey from agnosticism/atheism to theistic evolution, to “big tent” intelligent design, until he finally ended up as a young earth creationist. “In essence,” he told me, “I choose young earth creationism because it allows me to engage the Bible in a manner that results in my feeling closer to God.” Like “A,” he acknowledges there is overwhelming supportive data for an old earth and evolution. Like “A,” he believes it will be possible to identify holes in the evolution arguments and he is working optimistically at identifying them. I loved being with “B,” for reasons that had nothing to do with his science, but everything to do with his warm Christian spirit. Except for my feelings about the quality of his science, being with “B” was a wholly positive experience. “B” has ultimately decided that God speaks through scripture in ways that are literal and not figurative. If we try to force the Bible to conform to scientific interpretations, he feels, we gain credibility with the world, but we lose the faith element that holds us close to God. He chooses the latter, and is convinced that the data will eventually catch up to the Bible.
Person C is another young earth creationist with very strong credentials. He has a Ph.D, in the history of science from another of the world’s best universities. “C” was one of about 16 persons at a small one-day meeting I attended in Chicago in July 2007. I didn’t have the good fortune of sitting down for a meal with him like I did with “B, or going for a short one-on-one walk as I did with “A.” However, I did sit across a table from him for several hours and felt that I came to understand his heart, as well as his mind through the words that he spoke. At one point, the tears started to flow as “C” described that his one and only desire was to be thinking in a way and acting in the a manner consistent with what he sensed God wanted of him. Choked with emotion and unable to talk for awhile, he eventually told us he would step away from his position in a “second,” if he became convinced that is what God wanted of him. I have no doubt he would. With theological reasons as his motivation, he genuinely thinks that he can find flaws in the scientific data. Theology and his personal relationship with God trump the science. The science, as he sees it, will eventually come around.
Each of these individuals believe as they do, not because of scientific data–they all realize how strong it is–it is their view of the Bible and the concomitant theology which drives their thinking. Their purpose and meaning in life is deeply embedded in a particular view of Scripture. Their relationship with God is deeply embedded in that view. Their hopes and dreams for their children and grandchildren are steeped in the view provided by this tradition. If you rip that view away from them, you rip away their compass and they would have nowhere else to turn.
So I am a little surprised that leading secular scholars find it difficult to understand why these individuals and their many followers hold fast. Each of us need to get up in the morning with some sense of purpose, and even these three individuals with minds that are as sharp as the secular scholars themselves are convinced that they have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ consistent with what is revealed to them through Scripture. They know of no way to hold on to that conviction while at the same time accepting the science that seems to contradict. Given that choice, they choose Scripture over science. They are more certain of their relationship with Christ, as grounded in Scripture, than they are of the findings of science.
So we at The BioLogos Foundation cannot focus purely on the “Science” in Science and the Sacred, nor can we focus purely on the “Bio” in BioLogos. Every bit as important to our discussion is the “Sacred” is the “Logos.” We have to show people in ways that really make sense that the tenets of evangelicalism don’t stand or fall on whether we accept 150 years of data from evolutionary biology and 180 years of data from geology. With that in mind, we are delighted to announce that beginning tomorrow, Harvard-educated evangelical biblical scholar Dr. Peter Enns is officially joining the BioLogos team and will be especially involved in working with us on our Science and the Sacred blog. Clearly there are two important components to our work. One is to communicate the solidity of the scientific data. Together with our many scientific colleagues, Karl and I will continue to work on that. The other, however, is every bit as important. We want to remain faithful to Scripture as the inspired Word of God and to the living Christ through whom all things are created and in whom all things are held together. We need a biblical scholar to help us communicate this message well. Welcome Pete. We believe your availability is not just happenstance, and we are delighted to work alongside of you.
Every Friday, “Science and the Sacred” features an essay
from a guest voice in the science and religion dialogue. This week’s
guest entry was written by Peter Enns. Enns is an evangelical Christian
scholar and author of several books and commentaries, including the
popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament
, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional
views of Scripture. This is the third of his multi-part series on an incarnational model of Scripture.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, since the nineteenth century, the discovery of texts and artifacts has given scholars a backdrop against which to understand more clearly the nature of Israelite religion in general and Genesis specifically. The texts that were discovered in the nineteenth century contained Mesopotamian stories of creation and a flood. The names of these stories are known to us as Enuma Elish, Atrahasis, and Gilgamesh.
These texts were written in Akkadian, the language of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians. It was a new language to scholars and it took a bit of time to decipher them, but once these texts were translated, their impact was immediately felt. Whereas beforehand, the biblical creation and flood stories could safely be read in a self-referential manner, these texts placed Israelite religion in a larger context. It was inevitable that discerning readers would begin comparing and contrasting Israel to her neighbors and forbearers.
Placing Israel in its broader cultural and religious context has been referred to as the “comparative approach.” This is a sometimes-maligned term, as it is unfortunately understood by some to imply that Israel was simply copying or “borrowing” what was around them. This is not the case. Rather, the literature of Israel and that of her predecessors and neighbors reflect a common way of looking at the world.
The value of these ancient texts is not in telling us from where Israel got her ideas. Instead, they help us understand what kind of a text Genesis is. I like to refer to this as “genre calibration.”
By comparing Genesis to the creation and other primordial tales that other cultures of antiquity produced, we gain a clearer understanding of the nature of Genesis. I understand that some object to allowing something outside of the Bible to tell us what the Bible is doing. It seems to put ancient stories on the same level as the Bible, so to speak. But the fact of the matter is that faithful readers of the Bible looking to things outside of the Bible to help us understand what the Bible is doing. A glance at a good study Bible will put to rest any notion of trying to isolate the Bible from its ancient setting.
To put it another way, genre calibration guides us in seeing what we have a right to expect from Genesis. To cut to the chase, despite whatever unique elements we see in the opening chapters of Genesis, comparing and contrasting Genesis to the Mesopotamian texts discovered in the nineteenth century (not to mention to the broader ancient Near Eastern world of subsequent discoveries) leads to the conclusion, quite inescapable in my mind, that Genesis 1-11 is not prepared to answer the kinds of questions that occupy modern scientific or historical studies.
The biblical descriptions of creation and the flood are ancient texts that address ancient issues within the scope of ancient ways of knowing. These stories are not to be read as if overlapping with or informing scientific investigation of human origins or modern notions of historiography. To think that they do is a genre misidentification of a most fundamental order.
But there is something more important than just excluding certain genre options. Calibrating the genre of Genesis by ancient standards will lead to positive articulations of the nature of Genesis that also respect its ancient setting. In the Genesis/science dialogue, it is not enough to say “we know that Genesis is not science” and be done with it. We must also attempt to articulate, in as direct and unflinching manner as possible, what Genesis is. What was the book of Genesis written to do?
Addressing this question will help us articulate positively how Genesis contributes to Christian thought. The synthesis of Christianity and evolution is all too often perceived as taking something away from Genesis (its literal, historical, scientific value) and leaving nothing behind. Rather, a comparative approach will leave us with a proper notion of what Genesis contributed to ancient Israelite thought, what it now contributes to Christian thought, and the extent to which that entire dynamic can be brought into the Christianity/evolution discussion.
A comparative approach, therefore, has helped modern readers “calibrate” the genre of Genesis, and thus has helped us understand how to read it
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and
“The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful.”
Two week agos, Darrel Falk discussed the sense of community and fellowship he felt at our November workshop “In Search of a Theology of Celebration”, in which pastors, theologians, scientists, and other scholars gathered to discuss the important issues surrounding science and religion, and how the evangelical church can address them.
In keeping with the same spirit of fellowship and earnest dialogue, participants of the workshop signed a statement of commitment to continue exploring and pursuing the important issues of science-and-faith, and to emphasize the value of the workshop in fostering this ongoing exploration.
In their own words:
“Many voices in our current culture assert that there are irreconcilable conflicts between science and faith in Christ. We, the undersigned Christian pastors, theologians, scientists, and other scholars, respectfully disagree. We have learned much from each other during these days of communal prayer, presentation, discussion, and worship, but we also recognize that we have much more to learn and many others from whom to learn. We affirm that the truths of Scripture and the truths of nature both have their origins in God, and that further exploration of all these truths can enrich our joyful and worshipful appreciation of the Creator’s love, goodness, and grace. We commit to exploring these important issues further.”
The full statement, available for download on the BioLogos Web site, includes the names, affiliations, and endorsements of the workshop participants. We hope that this list, a collection of important voices in both science and religion, will encourage others to likewise commit to the further exploration of the compatibility of both science and Scripture.