It seems to be rather quiet over at BioLogos recently. Two things to note, though, about themes that particularly interest me. On an apparently uncontroversial thread, the failure of those influential at BioLogos to engage with the questions raised by many of us, about its ongoing fudging of the issue of God’s involvement in evolution, was noted.
The gauntlet was again laid down by Eddie, Chip and myself, and was even seconded by usually pacific Merv. Ted Davis, a board member of course, did chime in to remind us that his series on John Polkinghorne had raised such issues, and named other published writers who have. But he was as usual a lone voice – neither the original poster nor anyone else on the staff of BioLogos felt it worth responding, any more than they had pitched in on the Polkinghorne series on either side of the question.
I know that another regular BL supporter, also a reader here, alerted them back in the spring to my 6-part series on early TEs and their profound theological differences from current TEs, and suggested they might reproduce or link to it, but that too produced no response. Once more, given the ongoing trickle of references to “free creation”, and to the evils in nature for which this free nature, rather than God, is responsible, the failure to answer the repeated challenge speaks volumes: there can be no credible response from an Evangelical viewpoint. BioLogos is, theologically speaking, limping along and apparently hoping nobody will notice. But they have noticed. Maybe that’s why it’s quiet there.
The second theme is that BioLogos recently carried an excellent short series by John H Walton, giving not an exposition of his views on Genesis (much lauded here at The Hump), but some new streams of thought and detailed responses to things that came up on his recent speaking tour. The content and tone of the pieces, and Walton’s interaction with commenters, suggests that he feels quite closely associated with BioLogos, and that they endorse his views.
My suspicion is that their support is based on the fact that his understanding of the Genesis creation stories all but removes the conflict between the Bible and the science of material origins. As I’ve reported frequently, he argues that Genesis is a functional, not a material, account. It tells how God organised the cosmos as his own dwelling-place, with mankind as his image and vice-regent. It can be taken quite literally (that is, in the intended sense of its author) without any treading on scientific toes.
This is a very good reason for giving Walton column-space: part of BioLogos‘s brief is, quite properly, to show the compatibility of biblical faith and science. But the problem comes, as I hinted briefly in a post earlier this year, if they really do espouse the “freedom of creation” theology we have critiqued. BioLogos‘s continued equivocation, and lack of direct dialogue, on the matter of God’s control of evolution suggests that to be the case.
Now taken in isolation, taking the Genesis accounts functionally might countenance an original material creation that was wild and ungoverned by God. This would be signified by the tohu wabohu (formless and void) description of the world on which God began to work in 1.2. But taking such a view would actually necessitate denying the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Walton points out that, like other ANE accounts, Genesis is simply unconcerned with material origins, and perhaps they all share a worldview in which “raw matter” is not considered as coming from nothing, mainly because the matter isn’t considered at all. He also points out that, if this is true, it is neverthless strongly modified by later biblical writings, which make it quite clear that God is the maker of all things whatsoever – and one who from the start exercised his wisdom and judgement in that creation.
The Genesis accounts, then, do not intend to say anything to the effect that God was at all hands-off in the formation of the cosmos, but just that at some stage he ordered it specifically for the benefit of mankind and for his own “occupation” as Lord. And therein lies the big issue as far as BioLogos theology is concerned. Whatever silence Genesis may have about the relationship of the “raw cosmos” to God’s will, its core, original – and from the Evangelical point of view inspired – message is this: the universe that we see around us now, in this world of humanity, is ordered in its entirety to serve God’s purposes towards man. In other words, it is “very good”, and functions exactly as God ordained in the Genesis accounts.
TEs, including myself, dispute the YEC claim that “natural evils” – disease, predation, parasitism, tsunamis and so on – are the result of the fall of man. They are instead part of the natural order of the original universe. To say that they are nevertheless outside God’s control is a straight denial not of some modern interpretation of Genesis, but of its key message according to the best scholarship. That God has ordered the world’s function for his good purposes was always central to Christian teaching, and John Walton’s work has only confimed its biblical foundation, whilst rightly drawing attention away from the merely material existence that science studies. It makes “free creation” theology even more precarious than it already was, unless one wishes to claim that it is not the Bible’s science that is radically errant, but its theological teaching too.