here we go again

No one really bit on the evolution thing on Hydra. So in the spirit of stirring up the pot a bit, in homage to the obvious reverse-wisdom of Uncle Screwtape, we present without further ado the case for re-thinking a Christian response/incorporation/understanding to/of evolution. First off, this topic is so loaded and the individual words packed with so much contradictory meaning that it will take a great deal of preliminary explanation, reformulation, qualification, etc. But if that doesn't piss you off enough to make you stop reading this blog altogether (all 5 of you out there), then maybe we can have a fun ride together. Because the blog medium necessarily favors short entries and this topic necessarily favors a long, nuanced discussion, let's just agree that we'll have several entries on this same thing. It's not beating a dead horse exactly. It just takes a really long time to do something like this. So please bear with. More than that: please contribute. I know that more than a few of you have some experience in this area and I'd appreciate having my feet held to the fire on stuff I haven't explained well or don't know enough about. (I may have to plead ignorance, just so you know.) Are you ready? Question #1: Is it important for the thinking Christian to take a position on evolution? Can we not simply agree to disagree and yet still worship the same God in the same way? Is this not yet another topic regarding which true Christians can have differing opinions--neither necessarily closer to 'fact' than 'belief'? >Much of this seems to depend upon some definitions: what do we mean by 'evolution'? What do we mean by 'thinking Christian'? What do we mean by 'fact' vs. 'belief'? Given that it is nearly impossible to sufficiently define these terms, we'll have to set up some basics. The basics: Evolution could merely mean "change over time"--a definition few would have problems with. But evolution-ists usually would also insist on (a) common descent for all living creatures from one or a few original life forms and (b) the process of natural selection, which is undirected and proceeds through small changes in the genotype (micromutations) to produce all visible variation in and between species (macromutations). Rather than calling evolution totally random, however, most evolutionists would insist that evolution is built upon adaptation to the environment (e.g., if it gets really cold, those animals with greater ability to regulate their internal temperature would produce more viable offspring and increase their numbers in the population at the expense of organisms without the adaptation to cold). So using this very standard definition--common descent with adaptive modification over vast periods of time--there appear to be numerous conflicts between the literal Genesis account and evolution. A standard way to deal with this conflict is to divide this realm of knowledge (the origins and development of living things) into 'fact' (evolution) and 'belief' (Genesis) and then discrediting the side you disagree with. So evolutionists throw out Genesis while creationists throw out the scientific account of evolution. Eventually, as is the case now, the divide is so wide as to be unbridgable--those attempting to bridge it are labeled fools or worse. Yet, here I am advocating a "bridge" between these two ways of knowing the universe: Scripture and nature. I would go so far as to say a Christian who is in favor of loving God with their whole mind needs to seriously examine both sides of this issue sometime in their lives. For if science's interpretation of the natural world can be discounted wholesale in one realm (i.e., evolutionary theory), then why should it be any less heretical in other areas likewise founded on naturalistic principles--medicine for instance? A Christian should consider where they stand on the issue of evolution. A position one way or another on evolution should impact theology. Your theology. If, for example, the universe is essentially a clock-like mechanism that works only through natural processes, then there is no need for an infinite-personal God, no room for a personal relationship with Jesus. Your theology would be baseless. These reasons are, of course, why those advocating a creationist position lobby so strenuously against evolution. It is a very, very important issue. Yes, Christians can agree to disagree. Yes, there are more important issues to consider. But once you've been thinking about theology for a while, once you are 'settled' in your faith, you should revisit the Christian response to evolution. That was an attempt to answer the first question of why does this matter. But it doesn't get anywhere near an attempt to advocate something other than the either/or evolution/creation debate that's out there and well known already. We'll have to save that for later. Dig in.


Blogger Seth said...

I think we do need to have a well thought out position on this topic, no matter what your perspective is.

I mean, we're talking about the origins of life itself, and the reasons for the amazing biodiversity we have on this planet. Beyond that, as far as we know we're the only place in the universe that has life. To be blunt, HOLY CRAP!

Sounds like something worth discussing and figuring out.

Something to add to the discussion from me is that I have no problem trying to come to a synthesis with science and theology.

I don't agree with the idea that spheres of knowledge are seperate and that some simply can't inform the other. Mathematics, history, sociology, science, psychology, economics, theology, etc. don't exist in seperate vacuums. They interact and inform each others perspectives constantly. Maybe it's too naive or idealistic, but let's pursue truth despite the arguments different disciplines bring to the table and deal with the problems.

For example, archeology and history (sp?) informs theology. As far as I can tell there is good evidence in history (beyond the Bible) for the Gospels. These are events rooted in history, and that impacts what these book of the Bible mean. To paraphrase Lewis, the amazing thing becomes that the Greatest Story Ever Told actually HAPPENED!

Conversely, I've run into a lot of people (myself included at one point) who take a book like Job - for example - and argue as if its historical accuracy is the most important thing. It's not, the moral of that story is the important thing, besides, there's no evidence it REALLY happened. And you know what? That's ok.

Same thing with Exodus, so I hear. We have this account, but in Egyptian history there is no mention of it at all (again, as far as I understand it). That's important to my understanding of Christianity, and if that challenge to Exodus is true then if I'm to have an honest faith I've got to deal with it, regardless of how scary its implications might be for me. It's going to be ok, Jesus still loves 'because the Bible tells me so.'

Does this make sense, or is it too non-sensical?

Anyway, my point is that yes it is good to come up with an answer to evolution from a Christian standpoint - because religion/theology and science do not operate in seperate vacuums, they are both disciplines trying to describe reality.

1/08/2005 9:24 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Great topic Erik. I've been waiting for you to bring it up again. I don't think I can add much to what is a great intro at this point, beyond this:

I predict that within 50 years, the majority of the church won't have a problem with evolution. The more I study it, the more I realize that not only is it not in conflict with the Bible, its implications actually
demonstrate what we believe about how God works and about free will. At the same time, I think many people intuitively sense that evolution is not the COMPLETE story.

One of the reasons things have become so polarized has been the reaction of the church. If we could learn to mellow out a little bit then I don't think people who are in the scientific community would be so quick to jump all the way to the opposite position (pure naturalism as a personal philosophy as well as being necessary for their day job).

Belief is about relationship and community - reason, logic, evidence, philosophy, in the end, have very little to do with what most of us believe.

Anyway, that's all for now. I look forward to getting into the discussion.

1/09/2005 5:37 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

I don't have much (well, any) time to dive into this tonight, but I just thought I'd throw a couple things out there.

Given the latitude a 'literary criticism' approach to scripture affords, there are many things in the Bible that can be harmonized with our understanding of science. But there are some that can't, and as Christians, we just need to make sure we're willing to accept that, even if it makes us look foolish.

Otherwise, we find ourselves constantly looking for ways to explain away all of the parts of scripture that make us uncomfortable or don't make sense.

So, when we try to harmonize scientific theories and Biblical accounts of origins, we just need to make sure our motives are clear. Because as soon as we get past Genesis 1, and we've dismissed the historicity of the flood, the parting of the Red Sea, Namaan's healing, and the widow's oil, we run smack dab into the really big ones. Like the VIRGIN BIRTH. And the bodily ressurrection of Jesus. Not to mention a bunch of 'little miracles' like water-into-wine and feeding the 5,000.

None of the miracles I mentioned make any sense scientifically, and are, it seems to me, equally as 'impossible' as a literal, 7-day creation.

1/09/2005 6:01 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/09/2005 6:01 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

I can't disagree with the principle of what you're saying. In the case of natural history, however (unlike the other miracles recorded in the Bible) we also have a record that we can observe and test. Some people call nature God's other book. I have trouble believing that God would create a world that so convincingly points us to one conclusion and then tries to get us to accept another.

As I understand it, the literal reading of the first chapters of Genesis are largely an Anglo-American phenomenon - certainly not Semitic, and most of the Christians I have met in other parts of the world don't read it that way either. That doesn't mean it's not true in every sense. Not everything has to be literal (as opposed to metaphorical or symbolic) in order to be true. It's just harder for us to wrap our minds around.

1/09/2005 6:13 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

Ray said -

'As I understand it, the literal reading of the first chapters of Genesis are largely an Anglo-American phenomenon - certainly not Semitic, and most of the Christians I have met in other parts of the world don't read it that way either. That doesn't mean it's not true in every sense. Not everything has to be literal (as opposed to metaphorical or symbolic) in order to be true. It's just harder for us to wrap our minds around.'

That's what I think too. When it comes to certain parts of the Bible, I just don't understand why we think it so important to prove or accept their literalness.

The relatively recent silliness surrounding end-times theology is a good example for me personally, and in a way is how I started to move away from 'The Whole Bible Is Literally True.'

Really, only in the 20th century does it seem people have interpreted Revelation so literally... to the point of stuff like 'Left Behind.' The craziest part is that then people try to pass it off as a 'sober and true reading of the Bible' and that this how 'Christians have always thought about it' when that is simply not the truth. I get along better with Lewis' 'The Last Battle' then LaHaye's 'Left Behind' as far as 'end times' goes.

It doesn't sit well with me, at all. It's a lot like what I aluded to in my first post too. I was in a class 'The Origins of Evil' and we were discussing the Book of Job. There were a lot of Christians in the room who seemed to think that the most important argument to make was that Job is literally true. To me, that simply wasn't important when trying to read the book.

I don't think it automatically lends to a slippery slope. John, you are right to challenge that and makes sure that we still hold things like Jesus' life in their proper place. 'Literary criticism' certainly DOES for A LOT of people lead to watered down Christianity.

1/10/2005 10:28 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

Good points.

By the way, I read a book a few weeks ago called "The Rapture Exposed". The author has a lot to say about how the LaHaye version of end times only started to develop about 200 years ago and she makes some really good points about how dangerous theology based around the Rapture actually is, particularly with regards to US foreign policy and American's understanding of the world in general.

Sorry to stray off topic.

1/10/2005 11:03 AM  
Blogger John McCollum said...


I promise I'll get back to the evolution issue soon enough. But I never seem to have more than a minute or two at a time to blog. Anyway...

I think that a lot of people claim to believe that the Bible is 'literally true,' when no one really does. I mean, no one believes that Jesus is claiming to be made of wood when he calls himself a 'door.'

I do think, however, that the traditional protestant reading of the Bible is one not of 'literalism,' but more of 'plain sense reading.' That is, the Bible usually means what it appears to mean.

Hence the traditional protestant approach to Genesis 1 would be to understand creation to have taken 6 24-hour days.

I've heard a number of people here mention that the 6-day creation interpretation is relatively recent. I'd be interested in evaluating some of those sources -- seems counter-intuitive to me.

Anyway, I'll be back. Later.

1/10/2005 4:47 PM  
Blogger e said...

This is going way off topic, but as far as I can tell, Ray is correct: 6 day, 24 hour "Creation Science" comes from the Scofield movement and the Seventh Day Adventists. Prior to that, Genesis was typically supported, when challenged at all, with either the day-age idea (each "day"--'yom' in the Hebrew--is a period of creation rather than 24 hours) or the "gap theory" that places a great chronological distance between Gen. 1:1 and Gen 1:2.

I would also like to mention, though I'm not sure that it helps explain any of these issues, that questioning the "Creation Science" position of 6 24-hour days didn't happen much prior to the 1600s (though there were some notable exceptions) because there was no such thing as Creation Science--i.e., an apologetic for the relatively young age of the Earth and the static nature of species--until Archbishop Ussher issued his dictum that the Earth was created in October, 4004 B.C.

Ussher's work was itself an attempt to put the Church calendar on firmer footing, to standardize the use of astronomy and astrology in the Church, and to sync the understanding of the origins of Earth up with "scientific" evidence rather than mythology. So, interestingly, Ussher was attempting the same sort of natural philosophy as Darwin and others, only several centuries earlier and within the walls of western Christianity rather than in some scientific circle.

I know this doesn't deal with any of the questions of biblical interpretation, etc., but I thought you might find it helpful....

1/10/2005 6:08 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

Hey, all.

I'm gonna sign off of this discussion. Not that it's not interesting, but I don't have the time or energy or patience to put all of my thoughts down in writing.

Talk to you in person...

1/12/2005 9:19 AM  

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