Theistic evolution’s shy Calvinists

In my last post I looked in more depth, through the writing of Karl Giberson, at the “free process” idea of creation that has been so prevalent at BioLogos since I became a visitor and contributor there maybe three years ago. I want today to look at the views of Deborah Haarsma, BioLogos President for the past year. This has been prompted by Ted Davis’s invitation to me, on one of his BioLogos threads about Robert Boyle, to read the book she and husband Loren co-authored (Origins – Creation, Design, and Evolution), which he thought would accord with my own viewpoint. He asked me to feed back my conclusions there, but I have more space here.

Ted suggested I read the first edition, written from the Haarsmas’ own specifically Reformed position. Subsequent editions, he said, have been re-edited to appeal to a broader audience. Whilst suspecting that such modifications would also be likely to appeal less to the Reformed, as well as to other traditional streams like the Orthodox and Catholic, I dutifully managed to find a used copy of the first edition, which arrived (as it happens) in a rather battered state from the USA. In fact the authors’ own assessment of their position is by no means narrowly sectarian:

In this book, Reformed refers to what might be called a Reformed “flavor” of generally accepted Christian beliefs. For example, Christians generally believe that God is sovereign over every part of life, but the Reformed branch of Christianity has developed its theology with an especially heavy emphasis on this idea.(p17)

So it’s a book that takes a “generic” Christian position, but with a discernible and acknowledged confessional accent. That’s a good start. I propose to assess it in two ways. Today, the first and more serious part, is to consider it in connection with the public position of BioLogos, which I find deeply problematic.

In a later post I will briefly critique Deborah’s own scientific position on evolution from a less theological aspect – the kind of discussion of the science that in my view would move theistic evolution along if only it were not so often diverted into heterodox views of God.

As I started reading Origins, not only did I find stuff to agree with, but I was rather astonished to find it was, to  a great extent, just the kind of book I would like to have written myself. It was informed not only by sound science, but by appropriate use of Scripture, and appeals to the great statements of Reformed teaching like the Belgic Confession. It expressed a high view of God’s sovereignty, of his providence and of the Bible… in short, all the orthodox things we prioritise here on The Hump, applied to the science surrounding creation. And the tone is irenic, too.

I should, then,  have been in camel heaven. But I received the book at about the time when we revamped this blog in the immediate wake of BioLogos’ temporary closure of comments over the prolonged discussion about God’s control over creation. It had appeared that BioLogos would prefer to stop the conversation rather than answer these serious doctrinal questions honestly.

As a result, far from the book’s many strengths encouraging me, I found it quite distressing to continue reading it at all, because it seemed so at odds with anything I have read on BioLogos itself in my entire time there, except in comments from its critics. Regular readers will be aware that when the issue was raised in early 2012, then-President Darrel Falk gently dismissed poster Crude’s standard Catholic position on God as sovereign Creator as “Calvinist”. BioLogos doesn’t have a track record of being Reformed-friendly.

So I find myself wondering where Deborah’s own voice is in the organisation, and why a theology more akin to Giberson’s and Falk’s (both of whose books are on its shortlist of recommended reading) still predominates, whilst mainstream views are conspicuous by their absence in articles or responses from staff members.

Loren Haarsma’s own latest piece, for example, is about the need for multiple theories of atonement in the light of evolution, and once more the hackles of some Evangelical critics have been raised, without any corresponding attempt from BioLogos itself to reassure them their standard views remain legitimate, even if others might be considered. Once more, a central doctrine under discussion, and no-one from the team to discuss it, still less to argue for orthodoxy (by which I mean, arguing their position as orthodox).

Previously Deborah has written several pieces on how God might use randomness in evolution, which is a legitimate subject. But again there is scant reference in them to the clear Reformed (and catholic) teaching that chance itself is subject to providence, though in her book we find:

Proverbs 16.33 indicates that God can select particular outcomes in systems that are scientifically random… But in any, or perhaps every, particular random event, God could choose to select one particular outcome (p43).

I find this change of tone between book and blog both mystifying and disturbing – the passage quoted above is a direct contradiction of the concept of randomness as “freedom”, ie autonomy from God, which we must (Giberson, Collins, Falk, Polkinghorne, Van Till, etc say) embrace or make God a puppetmaster over an enslaved creation. Such diametrically opposed theologies ought at least to be openly acknowledged as incompatible – and given the depth of that incompatibility, thrashed out and a judgement made between them by which BioLogos itself could be gauged by the Church of Christ. As it is it seems more like “least said, soonest mended”.

I found online a good presentation by Deborah to the ASA (unfortunately I’ve lost it again so can’t provide a link!), which covered the various Christian positions on creation in a fairminded and pretty comprehensive way. She treated ID and the various types of Creationism fairly and respectfully, acknowledging their strengths, and also covered the various rival theological streams within theistic evolution very even-handedly (perhaps too even-handedly, given the convictions apparently expressed in her book). Like the book, it was a good overview, the like of which has not, to the best of my knowledge, appeared on BioLogos itself.

So perhaps her reticence in presenting her own Reformed views is out of ecumenical consideration for others. At least, I can’t think of any other good reason. If so, I think it is a mistaken policy. BioLogos has been very widely criticised since its foundation over the theological doctrine of some of its leading officers. It is not for nothing that several on its team have, reportedly, found themselves at odds with their own Christian academic institutions. Indeed BioLogos has a track-record of employing controversial figures, for reasons that are unclear in an organisation making its primary appeal to Evangelicals.

And it is not only because of blanket opposition to evolution that the whole BioLogos project has been questioned by Church leaders as well as by Creationists, ID people and even atheists. They just see that evolution seems to be a one-way street to heterodoxy, and want nothing to do with it. Poor apologetics, guys.

How can one support an organisation that speaks with such different voices, especially when the truer voice is so still and small as to be inaudible?

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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5 Responses to Theistic evolution’s shy Calvinists

  1. GD GD says:

    I don’t know why but I have been ‘locked out’ again – will try and post.

  2. GD GD says:

    The system has forgiven me! Great. For those who have not seen thus enjoyable material (I am sure you would enjoy Thomas Aquinas’ Song Jon):
    http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/08/17/fermats-last-stand-soundtrack-and-adventure-log/
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/fermats-last-stand.html#comment-form

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      GD
      The system is set up to refer posts with multiple links to moderation – a spam prevention move. It can take a few hours for me to sort it when I’m the other side of the world!

      The links are very amusing – thanks for posting.

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