Dogmatic on Evolution, Flexible on Everything Else

One of BioLogos’ stated purposes is to help the church develop a worldview that reflects the harmony they believe exists between evolutionary science and faith. They:

value gracious dialogue with those who hold other views, and our ever-expanding conversation includes academic and other professionals in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, business and medicine, but also theology, biblical studies, philosophy, history, literature, education and the arts.

While they are open to dialogue and conversation on a number of subjects, there are a handful of beliefs that are not open for debate. Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH and founder of BioLogos, said in an interview with Dr. Karl Giberson:

Again, evolution may seem from the outside to have a lot of complexities and components and, certainly, lots of details—some of which we haven’t worked out—and for anybody to say there are no arguments would be a total mistake. There’s lots of stuff we don’t agree upon. But we do agree upon descent from a common ancestor, gradual change over a long period of time, and natural selection operating to produce the diversity of living species. There is no question that those are correct. Those are three cardinal pillars of Darwin’s theory that have been under-girded by data coming from multiple directions and they are not going to go away. Evolution is not a theory that is going to be discarded next week or next year or a hundred or a thousand years from now. It is true.

Another area that is settled, as far as BioLogos is concerned, is the issue of human ancestry. BioLogos does not believe that the human population was ever just two people:

Evangelical Christians have long suspected there are allegorical components to the Genesis story—a talking snake, for example—but as to whether Adam and Eve were not real people, there has been much more hesitancy–and for theologically important reasons. The science itself is silent—the most it can say is that there were never just two individuals who were the sole genetic progenitors of the entire human race. Several independent lines of genetic evidence unambiguously point to this conclusion. Science also make it very clear that humans developed through an evolutionary process.

So if these are the absolutes, what are the topics that are open for discussion? Here are a few examples:

Where Adam and Eve historical people?

One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions.

Was there death before the Fall?

Humans appear very late in the history of life. The fossil record clearly shows that many creatures died before humans appeared. In fact, many entire species had already become extinct. This appears to conflict with Genesis 3, which describes death as a punishment for human sinfulness. However, the curse of Genesis 3 was that Adam and Eve, not the animals, should die for their disobedience. Therefore, animal death before the Fall is compatible with Christian doctrine. For humans, Genesis 3 and New Testament passages may be speaking primarily of spiritual death, not physical death.

How does original sin fit into the evolutionary history of man?

Original sin often refers simply to the current state of humanity, in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Evolution does not raise questions about our current state of sinfulness. It does, however, raise questions about how and when the first sin occurred, and how this fallen state was transmitted to all people. The sciences of evolution and archaeology can provide some insight into these questions but are not equipped to answer them. These questions are theological, and over the centuries the church has considered many possible answers. Some of these options are consistent with the scientific evidence currently available.

Did evolution have to result in humans?

Because evolution involves seemingly “random” mutations, it seems that the Earth could have been the home of a different assortment of creatures. But belief in a supernatural creator leaves the possibility that human beings were fully intended. An omniscient creator could also have created the Universe’s natural laws so as to inevitably result in human beings.

What about Noah’s flood?

Genesis 6-9 tells the fascinating story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood. Some Christians interpret the text to mean that the biblical flood must have covered the entire globe. They also work to explain the evidence in rocks and fossils in terms of this world-wide flood. Other Christians do not feel the text requires that the flood be global, but could have covered the small region of earth known to Noah. The scientific and historical evidence does not support a global flood, but is consistent with a catastrophic regional flood. Beyond its place in history, the Genesis flood teaches us about human depravity, faith, obedience, divine judgment, grace and mercy.

It seems clear to me that while BioLogos states that:

Properly interpreted, scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Author.

what they mean is that Scripture must be reinterpreted in light of their understanding of science. I think Francis Schaeffer said it best:

What the Bible teaches where it touches history and the cosmos, and what science teaches where it touches the same areas do not stand in a discontinuity. There indeed must be a place for the study of general revelation (the universe and its form, and man in his “mannishness”) – that is, a place for true science. But on the other side, it must be understood that there is no automatic need to accommodate the Bible to the statements of science. There is a tendency for some who are Christians and scientists to always place special revelation (the teaching of the Bible) under the control of general revelation and science, and never or rarely to place general revelation and what science teaches under the control of the Bible’s teaching. That is, though they think of that which the Bible teaches as true and that which science teaches as true, in reality they tend to end with the truth of science as more true than the truth of the Bible. (Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Worldview, Volume Two, [Wheaton: Crossway, 1982], 154-155).

Schaeffer on Science and the Bible

In his book, No Final Conflict, Francis Schaeffer wrote about science and the Bible. I thought the following quote was worth sharing here:

What the Bible teaches where it touches history and the cosmos, and what science teaches where it touches the same areas do not stand in a discontinuity. There indeed must be a place for the study of general revelation (the universe and its form, and man in his “mannishness”) – that is, a place for true science. But on the other side, it must be understood that there is no automatic need to accommodate the Bible to the statements of science. There is a tendency for some who are Christians and scientists to always place special revelation (the teaching of the Bible) under the control of general revelation and science, and never or rarely to place general revelation and what science teaches under the control of the Bible’s teaching. That is, though they think of that which the Bible teaches as true and that which science teaches as true, in reality they tend to end with the truth of science as more true than the truth of the Bible.

Schaeffer and Social Justice

Considering the current discussion in evangelical circles regarding “social justice,” I thought it would be interesting to read what Francis Schaeffer wrote on the subject. Francis Schaeffer was certainly not one to advocate that Christians withdraw from the world, and he was well-known for his beliefs about what influence Christians should have on society. Here is an excerpt from his book, The Great Evangelical Disaster:

It is comfortable to accommodate to that which is in vogue about us, to the forms of the world spirit in our age. . . .

Thus in another area we find that a large section of evangelicalism is confusing the kingdom of God with a socialistic program. This too is sheer accommodation to the world spirit around us. A clear example can be found in a newsletter published by a leading evangelical magazine. In a recent issue the newsletter featured the work of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), their social strategy, and their critique of society. As ESA explains:

Summarized briefly, this critique claims that the social problems Christians in this nation are most concerned about (i.e., crime, abortion, lack of prayer, secular humanism, etc.) are important, but are actually symptoms of much larger problems – unjust social structures in the United States – which underlie these legitimate Christian concerns. Continue reading