Dialogue: is it always worthwhile?

In the recent past, I have participated in dialogues, discussions, and debates with various proponents of evolution (theistic and otherwise). After many words and much time spent, I came to a realization. While dialogue can certainly be useful, there are times when you find yourself going around in circles. On one of those occasions, I wrote the following to explain why I felt the discussion had reached a natural endpoint:

We seem to be going around in circles, to some degree. We both have a decent understanding of the Scripture and the science being discussed.

I believe that the Genesis account is meant to be read as a literal history of what actually happened and that there are repercussions on many fundamental Christian doctrines when one takes a more allegorical approach. I also believe that the science, especially the evolutionary science, is open to interpretation and debate.

You believe that the evolutionary science is solid and that there are repercussions to the rest of science when one interprets the science differently. You also believe, from what you’ve stated, that the Scripture is open to interpretation and debate.

These are fundamentally opposite positions. From what I’ve read, your position is that YEC is bad science and bad theology, in that it does not accurately represent the truth of nature, and it is damaging to the faith and witness of the Church. I believe that theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism is bad science and bad theology, in that it relies on fundamentally flawed presuppositions to interpret the scientific evidence, and it does damage to the faith by undermining or redefining many important doctrines.

I’m not sure we can say that we are the same where it counts. Not that I question your faith, because I don’t. I hate to keep using the same word, but there is a fundamental difference in our hermeneutic approaches to Scripture and that leads to many, many differences. There is a very real danger that the hermeneutical approach favored by theistic evolutionists, like those at BioLogos, will lead to an eventual denial of the resurrection. Not that everyone who holds to theistic evolution will eventually deny the resurrection, but the same approach that reinterprets Genesis in light of what “science knows” is regularly used to reinterpret the resurrection.

So, I’m not sure where we go from here. I don’t mind discussing with you, but we do seem to be saying the same things over and over again.

While this is based on one particular conversation that I had, it is generally applicable to most dialogues between creationists and evolutionists. In my opinion, arguing over the evidences, one way or the other, is often wasted breath. I don’t believe that I can change their minds, although I pray that the Lord will, and I know that they will not change my mind, although I bet they are praying for me too. So, while I do believe that there is a time and place for evidence and dialogues, I also believe that there is a time for silence.

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31 ESV)

The Stigma of Our Generation: Rejecting Evolution

[E]very generation of Christianity has its own stigma by which the believer’s faith is severely tested. … The most hotly contested issue of any day is that which makes the minority view look foolish and makes the believer look a fool. Athanasius stood alone in his day when he stood for the full deity of Jesus Christ. The world is against you, they would say to Athanasius. Flashing his black eyes, he retorted: ‘If the world is against Athanasius, the Athanasius is against the world.’

Things are no different today. We may think that our issue is unprecedented in weightiness in its threat to the Bible. We may fear that at long last the Bible will be disproved and Christianity made extinct. But there is nothing new under the sun. …

The stigma of our generation then, it seems to me, is to reject the theory of evolution and stand unflinchingly for creation by God:’that things which are seen are not made of things which do appear.’

R.T. Kendall, “Faith and Creation,” Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, pgs. 109-110)

No crisis of faith necessary, simply exchange conservative beliefs for liberal ones

One of the goals that organizations like the BioLogos foundation have is to reconcile evolutionary creation and biblical faith. Of their great concern is the number of people who have had a “crisis of faith” because of the apparent conflict between science and faith and have left the church. The goal is to show Christians that they don’t have to give up their faith to accept the scientific consensus on evolution. All they have to do is adjust their understanding of Scripture and what it teaches.

Many critics of this approach have argued that this kind of accommodation leads to further accommodation and the loss of more and more tenets of biblical faith. Slippery slope arguments, as they are often called, generally are sneered at and ridiculed. However, the truth of this danger is fairly easy to demonstrate.

Dr. Peter Enns, formerly a BioLogos senior fellow, wrote in his book, The Evolution of Adam, that maybe we should reconsider our definition of sin and our understanding of death, in consideration of the “truth of evolution”:

Although … sin and death are universal realities, the Christian tradition has generally attributed the cause to Adam. But evolution removes that cause as Paul understood it and thus leaves open the questions of where sin and death have come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful — for example, in an evolutionary scheme the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest” and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool — are understood as means of ensuring survival. Likewise, death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally (160).

Dr. Karl Giberson, formerly VP of BioLogos, has written a book with Dr. Randall Stephens entitled, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. In their book, Giberson and Stephens argue that evangelical Christians must learn to accept the scientific consensuses and stop making fools of themselves by going against the tide. They also believe that there is a simple answer to avoiding a crisis of faith:

Not all born-again Christians lose their faith in such crises, of course. Many simply find a new articulation and a new place in the parallel culture of evangelicalism where they are more comfortable and where they can live more faithfully. The spectrum of evangelical belief runs from a rigid, judgmental, sometimes harsh fundamentalism on one end to a more liberal and culturally plural expressions on the other. Often an evangelical ‘crisis of faith’ is resolved with a simple liberalizing, whereby specific beliefs—biblical literalism, young earth creationism, homosexuality as perversion, eternal torment of the damned in a literal hell, the sinfulness of abortion—are abandoned and other beliefs—the Bible as literature, concern for the environment, racial and cultural equality for oppressed groups, universality of salvation, an emphasis on social justice, tolerance of diversity—move to the center as animating ethical and theological concerns. The evangelical spectrum encompasses both of these camps (216).

Notice that evangelicals are urged not only to give up a belief in Young Earth Creationism, but also the inerrancy of Scripture, a literal hell, and homosexuality and abortion as sins. It’s never just about evolution. To accept evolution as the “way God created” requires a type of mental gymnastics with what Scripture teaches. Once you give up the orthodox teachings on Scripture, everything else is open to redefinition. How much longer until Giberson and the rest accept the scientific consensus that no man has ever risen from the dead?

An Atheist Evolutionist Asks a Good Question of Dr. Peter Enns

It seems that Young Earth Creationists are not the only ones who find BioLogos’ attempt to “reconcile science and faith” lacking. One atheist and evolutionist, Dr. Jerry Coyne, believes very strongly that evolution and Christianity are not at all compatible. In a recent article, Dr. Coyne challenges what he sees as BioLogos’ “sucking up to evangelical Christians, or giving them ludicrous ways to comport their faith with scientific truth—ways that are themselves unscientific (e.g., the historicity of Adam and Eve).”

First, Dr. Coyne reiterates his concern with BioLogos’ basic approach:

For a long time now BioLogos has ignored its initial mission of trying to convert evangelical Christians to evolution. It didn’t work—as I predicted—because those Christians know that if you buy Darwinian evolution, then you have to see much of the Bible as either fictional or at best metaphorical. And if you do that, then where does the metaphor stop? Was Jesus a metaphor for how we humans can save ourselves?

Evangelicals won’t buy that, nor do they like what they see as the other philosophical accoutrements of evolution: our status as mere evolved beasts like gibbons, the lack of a human soul, the absence of an external purpose or meaning to our lives, or of a God-imposed morality, and so on.

He goes on to quote from an article by Dr. Peter Enns on the subject of the Bible as metaphor where Dr. Enns attempts to show a similarity between Jesus’ parables and the “stories” in Genesis:

If this is how God chooses to communicate at the incarnation—the very climax and epicenter of his story—we should not be surprised to see God painting vivid portraits elsewhere in Scripture. This is especially true of Genesis and creation. Something so fundamental to God’s story may need to be told in a way that transcends the limitations of purely intellectual engagement. Genesis may be written more to show us—by grabbing us with its images than laying out a timeline of cause and effect events—that God is the central figure on the biblical drama.

Dr. Coyne isn’t buying it:

Most of us see the Bible as a total fiction. The great tragedy of Enns, and of accommodationists like him, is that he can’t buy that whole hog: because of childhood indoctrination or a desire to believe what is comforting, a Biblical scholar convinces himself that part of a fictional book really is fiction, though it teaches timeless truths, while other parts or non-negotiable fact. And he has no way, despite his Ph.D. in Biblical scholarship, to do that. Tell us, Dr. Enns: if Genesis was just a useful myth rather than truth, how do you know that Jesus was the Son of God and came back from the dead?

When Young Earth Creationists ask the question of where theistic evolutionists draw the line between reality and metaphor, they are ridiculed for over-reacting. Theistic evolutionists roll their eyes and say of course we believe that Jesus was actually resurrected. But notice again that the question keeps being raised and not just by the YEC crowd. If we can’t trust Genesis to be historical fact, then how can we trust that the Gospels are either?

GA Seminar: No Room in the PCA for Young Earth Creationism?

In 2000, the Creation Study Committee submitted a report to the 28th General Assembly on the issue of creation. The report is extensive and covers many topics including various views of the length of the creation days and the original intent of the Westminster Assembly in regards to interpreting Genesis 1–3. The most important part of the report comes from the advice and counsel portion at the end of the report. While acknowledging there to be different opinions within the PCA regarding the nature and length of the creation days, they found considerable unity on the issues of “vital importance to our Reformed testimony.” Here is the statement from the committee:

All the Committee members join in these affirmations: The Scriptures, and hence Genesis 1–3, are the inerrant word of God. That Genesis 1–3 is a coherent account from the hand of Moses. That history, not myth, is the proper category for describing these chapters; and furthermore that their history is true. In these chapters we find the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo; of the special creation of Adam and Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all humanity (hence they are not the products of evolution from lower forms of life). We further find the account of an historical fall, that brought all humanity into an estate of sin and misery, and of God’s sure promise of a Redeemer. Because the Bible is the word of the Creator and Governor of all there is, it is right for us to find it speaking authoritatively to matters studied by historical and scientific research. We also believe that acceptance of, say, non-geocentric astronomy is consistent with full submission to Biblical authority. We recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism.

The report explains, in great detail, four main interpretations of creation that are common within the PCA. These views are: the Calendar Day interpretation (also known as Young Earth Creationism), the Day-Age interpretation, the Framework interpretation, and the Analogical Days interpretation. According to the committee, these views are all different, but all are in agreement with the affirmations made by the committee. The conclusion one can draw from the report is that there is room in the PCA for a diversity of opinions on the age of the earth and the length of the creation days. Or, at least, there used to be room.

Apparently, some in the denomination believe that it’s time to reinterpret the Creation Study Report based on the “scientific evidence for an ancient earth.” At the upcoming General Assembly, there will be a seminar on this topic: The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now? Dr. Gregg Davidson and Dr. Ken Wolgemuth of Solid Rock Lectures will be speaking on why we must accept the scientific consensus for the age of the earth:

This seminar will provide an update on the scientific evidence for an ancient earth using examples non-scientists can easily apprehend. Pastors and theologians are generally familiar with the biblical arguments surrounding questions of the age of the earth, but few have access to scientific data that they can understand. Most rely on information from young earth organizations that do not adequately or accurately reflect conventional scientific understanding. When information from these sources is passed on to students and congregations, Christ, as the author of truth, is poorly represented. More importantly, our members are inadequately prepared to wrestle with challenges to their faith when encountering the actual scientific evidence. Church leaders need to be aware of the evidence even if convinced it is wrong. The seminar will explicitly acknowledge the authority and preeminence of scripture over natural evidence, while also recognizing that God’s natural creation can sometimes aid in choosing between plausible biblical interpretations.

What’s interesting about this seminar is that while the PCA Creation Study Report does not take a position on the age of the earth, the speakers at this seminar do. The implication from the summary is that the science is settled, and therefore, we need to accept that Young Earth Creationism is not a viable position. According to the summary, not only is YEC bad science, it also reflects badly on Christ as the author of truth. This is a very disturbing statement.

Why is the PCA having only one side of this issue represented? Is there not anyone in the PCA who can represent the Young Earth position? Given the diversity of opinions represented in the Creation Study Report on the age of the earth, it seems odd that one position would be promoted in this way.

The other very disturbing part of this seminar is who Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth are and what they believe. Drs. Davidson and Wolgemuth are the founders of Solid Rock Lectures. Solid Rock Lectures provides resources on “understanding evidence for Old Earth Creation and its Biblical basis.” Their website describes the problem facing the modern church this way:

Young people raised in many churches are told that the Bible teaches a recent six-day earth or evolution is weak. When confronted with the actual evidence in college or later in life, they often experience a crisis of faith. The scientific evidence is so overwhelming, many determine it must be their faith that was mistaken. Questioning non-believers likewise face a monumental obstacle to faith when told that to accept Christ they must reject what seems to be reason itself.

As geologists, the theme of their work seems to be correcting the false (according to them) Young Earth Creationism belief “that the Flood can account for the earth’s complex geology, and that all genuine Christians should accept this viewpoint.” In the essay that Drs. Davidson and Wolgemuth wrote for BioLogos, “Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology,” they lament the number of people they’ve met who have had their faith shaken when they began to be confronted with the scientific evidence for evolution and millions of years. Their goal in writing is to remove this “stumbling block” to the faith:

It is our conviction that these stories of strained or lost faith derive not from an inherent unwillingness to trust the Bible, but rather from misguided teaching on the message of Scripture. Those insisting the earth is young are not simply putting their faith in God’s Word, they are putting their faith in their own particular interpretation of that Word. As such, an entirely unnecessary stumbling block to faith is created, where faith in Christ first requires rejection of sound science. As we have prayed and studied this subject, we have felt God’s call to speak out against this misplaced stumbling block.

Obviously, Drs. Davidson and Wolgemuth deny that Noah’s flood was global and believe that the earth was formed over millions of years, but their accommodation to naturalistic science goes further. In his book, When Faith and Science Collide: A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Age of the Earth, Dr. Davidson explains why we should be open to evolution:

Rather than defining evolution as Darwinism, evolution should be defined as the name man has given to the study of what God’s creativity looks like. God does not guide, mimic, prod, or adjust evolution as if it is an independent force that God must rein in. God creates. Evolution is merely the physical, chemical, and biological description of what that creation looks like. (90-91)

Along with accepting evolution as the way God created, Dr. Davidson believes in common descent of man:

If our creative nature is truly a reflection of god’s nature, then it is entirely consistent that God would start with a lump of clay (earth materials), and begin to form and shape life through myriad generations until he arrived at what he was ultimately after. (63)

When Dr. Davidson professes a belief in a literal Adam and Eve, he qualifies it this way:

[I]t is conceivable that the Eve and Adam of scripture are genuinely mitochondrial Eve and her mate, selected by God from a population of hominids and endowed with a soul. (65)

In summary, despite the previous acceptance of a diversity of opinions on the age of the earth and length of creation days, there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent. The BioLogos workshop held in NYC in March concluded with an “urgent desire to bring about change.” It would seem that that same desire for change has reached the PCA.

Clarifying: BioLogos, Michael Ruse, and the Resurrection

**My original post on this subject was not as clear as I would have liked. I have expanded my post to reflect the topic more fully.**

As I have discussed before, BioLogos is dogmatic about evolution, but flexible about everything else. My point is that while BioLogos states that they believe there can be harmony between evolutionary science and Christianity, they believe that the evolutionary science is settled, and therefore the Scriptures must give way. Karl Giberson, formerly Vice President of BioLogos, wrote in an essay for BioLogos:

I am happy to concede that science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world.

The problem with allowing “science to trump religious truth” is that eventually all of the central claims of Christianity are subject to being overridden by naturalism. For example, according to naturalism, dead men do not rise from the grave. The most central tenet of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Christ. According to “science,” Christ could not have risen from the dead.

Now, BioLogos believes in the “historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” However, they appear to be more concerned with supporting their claim that evolutionary science and Christianity are compatible than with addressing how various scholars make them compatible.

For example, Michael Ruse has written a series of posts for BioLogos called “Accommodationist and Proud of it.” In the intro for the essay, BioLogos states:

Michael Ruse is an author and philosopher of biology well known for his works on the creationism and evolution debate. Though not a believer in God, he takes the position that Christianity and evolution are not incompatible.

So, even though Ruse is an atheist, what matters here is that he believes that evolution and Christianity are “not incompatible.” What is interesting is how Ruse believes evolution and Christianity are compatible. In his essay for BioLogos, Ruse says:

My first work in this area was Can a Darwinian be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion, in which I lay out in a fairly standard way what it is to be a Darwinian and then I go through the main claims of Christianity as they might be impacted by the science.

His book, Can a Darwinian be a Christian?, used to be listed as a recommended resource by BioLogos, although the link appears dead now. As he says, he addresses various claims of Christianity in his book. What does he say about the Resurrection?

[T]he supreme miracle of the resurrection is no law-breaking return from the dead. One can think Jesus in a trance, or more likely that he really was physically dead but that on and from the third day, a group of people, hitherto downcast, were filled with great joy and hope (96).

He goes on to say in his BioLogos essay:

What the Christian cannot do is encroach on the domain of science. That is why I offer no hope to the Creationist, because that position does clash with science. (Expectedly, I don’t have any time for those who would alter science to fit with Creationism.)

And then he concludes with:

Am I an Accommodationist? It all depends.

If it means thinking that the Christian religion is true, then I am not. If it means thinking that religion, and Christianity in particular, is a valid way of knowing, and that as such I should not criticize it, then I am not. I think religion is a delusion and that faith is chimerical.

I really do.

However, my form of Accommodationism says that science can only go so far and that after this if religion wants to take over, science as science cannot stop it. You can use other arguments, theological and philosophical, and this I myself would do. But these are not scientific arguments. Note the caveat that my Accommodationism allows only those aspects of religion that do not encroach illicitly on science. So Creationism is ruled out. (emphasis added)

So, BioLogos believes in the Resurrection. Michael Ruse does not. In his essay, Michael Ruse writes in support of BioLogos’ chief purpose which is:

exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.

But this compatibility comes at what cost?

Are Science and Faith at Odds?

Well, it may depend on what you mean by science. One of the most common complaints about creationists is that to believe in a literal Adam and Eve and a literal 6 day creation mean that one must be anti-science. But that’s just absurd. I have no argument with science. Obviously, I use computers, and I highly approve of epidurals. I just don’t believe that evolution is how God created life.

I read the following definitions of science and origins that help explain the difference between observational science and historical science (the study of origins):

The Nature of Science and of Scientific Theories

Science is our attempt to observe, understand, and explain the operation of the universe and of the living things it contains. Since a scientific theory, by definition, must be testable by repeatable observations and must be capable of being falsified if indeed it were false, a scientific theory can only attempt to explain processes and events that are presently occurring repeatedly within our observations. Theories about history, although interesting and often fruitful, are not scientific theories, even though they may be related to other theories which do fulfill the criteria of a scientific theory.

The Nature of Theories on Origins

On the other hand, the theory of creation and the theory of evolution are attempts to explain the origin of the universe and of its inhabitants. There were no human observers to the origin of the universe, the origin of life, or, as a matter of fact, to the origin of a single type of living organism. These events were unique historical events which have occurred only once. Thus, no one has ever seen anything created, nor has anyone ever seen a fish evolve into an amphibian nor an ape evolve into man. The changes we see occurring today are mere fluctuations in populations which result neither in an increase in complexity nor significant change. Therefore, neither creation nor evolution is a scientific theory. Creation and evolution are inferences based on circumstantial evidence.

Thus the notion that evolution is a scientific theory while creation is nothing more than religious mysticism is blatantly false.