it depends on what you mean by "evolution"

Question #2: How can a godless concept of evolution be compatible in any way with God-directed Creation? The two seem mutually exclusive--unless of course you mutilate the meaning(s) of Genesis or empty the theory of evolution of most of its constituent parts. >Evolution as a "theory"--and by theory here, we don't mean "hypothesis" or half-baked idea, instead we mean theory in the same way as it would be used with the "theory of gravity" (something that we believe exists, believe we have enough evidence to "prove" it, but cannot actually see the thing)1--rests upon two philosophical foundations. The first is that the universe is a closed system. By this, it means that references to any imput from outside of the system are not allowed. The second foundation is that sciences are by and large naturalistic and quantitative--they have trouble dealing with unique occurances that have an absolute quantity of 1 and (almost) never ascribe anything to extra-natural sources. So, obviously, any religious account of anything--from a miracle or a conversion to creation ex nihilo (a one-time-event)--is unable to be seen, comprehended, measured, weighed, or considered by any known science. I have to belabor this point: science as it currently exists cannot directly accomodate a literal (and by literal we mean 6 days beginning at sundown and ending 24 hours later at sundown according to ancient Hebrew custom) with the Genesis 1 account of creation because this is not what science does. Science likewise cannot directly accomodate a young Earth interpretation of Genesis because this would contradict the naturalistic account of gradual deposition of sediment that eventually forms rock that rarely but sometimes entombs plants and animals, creating fossils, all of which implies that species of organisms arise and die out over exceedingly long periods of time. In order for the Earth to be relatively young, as in Ussher's chronology, we need to posit a different kind of Earth than the one that we currently know--one in which the climate, geology, and biology work differently than they do now. Dramatically differently, in the case of geology. Please do not now assume that I am advocating this account of evolution. Before stomping out in righteous anger, know that I am simply setting the stage for the three types of interaction between the naturalistic sciences and evangelical interpretations of the Genesis account. Two of these types are likely well known to you and have been described in different ways by the commenters to the last post. The third type of interaction is, ironically, the oldest and the one I am advocating thinking Christians now find a way to get back to. Basically, the three types are:
  1. Antagonism. Probably the most popular type of interaction pits evolutionary science (e.g., biology of origins, geology, etc.) against traditional religion. In scientific communities, religion often loses this battle. In churches and schools, evolutionary science is tried and found to be wanting. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and other popularlizers of science often fit into this camp. Ken Ham, the Institute for Creation Research, Scientific Creationism, Henry Morris, and other types of Deluge geologists are religious representatives of this type of interaction. Though the concept was not developed to support this position, many Intelligent Design (ID) scientists appear antagonistic.
  2. Non-interaction or weak interaction (what I call the pick-and-choose model). Many educated Christians and less violently atheistic evolutionists fall into this camp. Stephen J. Gould is probably the best example of a science popularizer here. Pope John Paul II is likewise a non- or weak interactionist. These individuals usually advocate only limited overlap between evolutionary science and religion. In other words, most of the time, they would say that the science is trying to explain something different than the scriptures--different enough that they are talking past each other for the most part. One can believe that science has its own turf and religion its own turf and, for the most part, they should stay there. I myself am still inclined toward this concept, though now I think that it is internally inconsistent. For example, if science and religion say that they are talking about the same things, the origin of species for instance, how can we proclaim that they are not? It seems somewhat disingenuous to set up or support competing ideologies and yet, because we tire of conflict, proclaim that they don't compete. Though I would still agree that in many particular domains of knowledge they simply can't speak to each other, origin theory seems to be one area where both science and religion have something important to say primarily because empirical evidence and religious tradition appear to be saying opposing things about the same information.2
  3. Engagement. This category accommodates diverse scientists, philosophers, and theologians, yet remains the least popular type of interaction. Engagement implies that both the science and the religion is taken seriously and that when they appear to be in conflict, it is probably our interpretation and understanding of both nature and scripture that needs to be adjusted. How we do this of course is open to discussion and is the topic of later blog entries. The point is that there must be a way to get these two ways of knowing into the same room in our minds without there having to be a lot of pushing and shoving or cold indifference and standing in the corner. There must be a way we can say, Nature and Scripture, when interpreted correctly, are both true, valid, and justified when believed. More than that--each has something to tell us about the other. They are two books (nature and Scripture) leading to a deeper understanding and love of God. And therefore they deserve to be properly understood alongside one another.
To sum up: yes, I think that traditionally with the underlying philosophical commitments to closed-system naturalism in science there is no way to make evolution work within the framework of Scripture without twisting Scripture to fit it. Yet I think that, for all the dirty bathwater, there's a baby in there. Evolutionary theory can work with and not against Scripture (for the most part); evolutionary theory and evangelicalism are able to interact honestly without dropping out important fundamentals like miracles, the incarnation, the resurrection, etc. from Christianity or common ancestry, uniformitarian geology, or natural selection from evolution. There's my two cents for today. I'd love to hear what you think--even if you don't have time to spell out long, nuanced comments. [Remind me next time to talk about the problem with design arguments (ID and the anthropic principle).] __________________ 1I have come to understand this concept only recently, though evolutionists have been saying it for years. When scientists say "theory" they mean something still pretty law-bound and exact. Something that actually exists. "Theory" differs from "law" in that it is not always predictive. In other words, you could say "This pencil falls to the ground because of the law of gravity" or "According to the theory of gravity, all particles are attracted to all other particles." One refers to what will happen; the other to what science believes is true. I'm sorry if this isn't a particularly helpful explanation--I'm still learning it myself. 2In my opinion, many Christians take this route (including me) because they want to proclaim both a particular belief about God, Scripture, and their faith community and hold onto some limited view of the truth of science too. Or, to say it more bluntly, they want to believe experts on both sides without exploring the evidence themselves. So they pick and choose what they can live with in each area. They can believe in evolution, for instance, if they limit "evolution" to a change within species over relatively short times (very micro-evolution). But they can't believe that an ostrich and their pet beagle shared a common ancestor at some point in the past, so they toss out that part of the theory. In doing this, we accommodate the naturalistic, closed-system mechanism of natural selection but insert some degree of supernatural interaction when it suits us--like when we need to get both birds and dogs. We might say that God created Giant Flightless Birds and Canines seperately and then, through natural selection, they eventually (over a few centuries anyway) became moas, emus, ostriches, penguins, beagles, German shepherds, chihuahuas, terriers, etc. Saying this, I don't mean to be too hard on people. It takes a lot of work to really find out what you believe. What I'm attempting to do, rather than criticize those of us who don't get to hang out with books about ideas all day long, is to start thinking about this stuff in more detail. I think it's especially important to those who work in the sciences and in education--those who bump up against people that hold to the antagonism account of science/religion or those that just don't think about this stuff at all.


Blogger Ray said...

Perfect explanation, Erik.

I can't think of a better way to explain what scientists mean by "theory" (an often mis-understood word).

I also appreciate your explanation of the three points of interaction, and to be sure the third option is the best. I think it will rest on believers to take this position before we can expect science to, due to so much (unnecessary) antogonism.

If we can do this successfully and not expect scientists to automatically include into their approach anything beyond a naturalistic methodology (and this is a very good thing, believe me), we may actually be able to move beyond 500 years of conflict between the church and science.

1/13/2005 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am glad and encouraged that this topic is open for conversation. The best way to achieve the third aim of engagement is to make sure that we are consistent in our use of terms and definitions. Also, it might be useful to state what the goals of theology and science. Where the respective goals overlap, I think we will see the most profitable engagement. Where they are unique, the aim might be just to state the strengths and weakness of each paradigm and not ty to force one paradigm on another.

As an example, science does a fantastic job of explaining the how questions. For instance, if we are driving a car, and the car in front of us makes an abrupt stop, science will serve us very well in telling how the car comes to a stop. What it wont do is tell us why. There could be a variety of answers (an animal was in the road, a stop sign was on the asphalt, or the driver might have had an aneurism, or being a jerk because they considered the driver behind them to be rubber-necking... or some combo of all).

The why questions can be answered by theology, but are signigicantly more difficult to prove in the way science can prove the how questions.

Going back to E's first post, only Christianity is bothered by the creation vs. evolution debate as far as worldviews go. The Jewish community does not have a problem with Genesis 1-3 being interpreted allegorically. The Muslim community does not engage in the debate. And other worldviews are ammendable to multiple answers to "truth". However, Christianity appears to be the only where where the basis is in conflict. Jesus in his teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:4 clearly states that God created them male and female. Also, if evolution were true, why would Christ have to come and die for reconciliation to God? And lastly, Genesis 1-3 was written as history and should not be subjected to 21st century science because it was never intended to be a scientific text. Unfortunately, these constraints muddies the bathwater as well as our ability to engage in discussion.

In summary the difficult matter we are experiencing is that as Christians, we have to excercise faith in some aspects of our worldview. The Bible is a complete text (in that we have to trust that we have all the information necessary to believe), but not exhaustive (the answer to every question which can be posed).

In closing, I am looking forward to contributing to this discussion, knowing that I will be challenged in areas that I might not be as wise I first thought.


1/14/2005 7:41 AM  
Blogger e said...

matt, thanks for posting. i knew you could do it

you brought up a good point that has been a topic of philosophical conversation for a long time: causality and what we can know.

Aristotle divided everything up into the four "causes" (material, formal, final, and I can't remember the other one). Science has flat-out denied for the most part that it can discern final causes (the "why" questions). The problem, of course--and this is why non-interaction doesn't always work--is that sometimes, like in evolutionary theory, science IS trying to propose a final cause. In fact, Dawkins has stated in many different ways that the final cause of everything is simply survival and reproduction.

Obviously, if Dawkins is correct, then there's no point in wasting breath on faith issues--our faith would be relatively pointless. I would strenuously disagree with Dawkins' assessment of evolution, but I would also have a problem with Judaism and Islam because they, like some varieties of Christianity, simply choose to not engage with the difficulties of evolutionary theory. In a sense, Christianity is unique, like Matt said, simply because it made evolution into a problem to be explained--a challenging "why" question--rather than ignoring it.

1/14/2005 2:46 PM  

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