On BioLogos today, a frequent and apparently well-meaning poster, George Brooks, wrote the following:
God COULD arrange an entire Cosmos at the very moment of creation.
God COULD nudge and prod during the entire course of the Cosmos.
It could work either way. And the difference in one scenario or another is based on premises that might be embraced or rejected by an entire denomination …. or by individuals within a denomination.
Trying to compel BioLogos to BE SPECIFIC is a diversion … and not productive … when faced with Christian real estate that varies completely depending upon time and place…. and doesn’t really matter to the BioLogos mission.
There are a few things that need to be said here.
First, the alternatives posed by George are correct, though the first one is not entirely clear. By “arrange an entire Cosmos at the very moment of Creation,” does he mean “instantly produce and arrange the stars, planets, living beings etc.”? Or is he talking about “front-loading,” whereby God packs the potential for all future evolution into the original situation, and the universe unfolds over time, in an evolutionary manner? I suspect, given George’s dislike of special creationism and his general endorsement of evolution, that he means the latter, but it’s not clear. In any case, I’ll assume that he means the latter for the rest of these comments.
Second, what does he mean by “trying to compel BioLogos to be specific”? Does he mean that I or Jon Garvey or others have insisted that BioLogos come down institutionally in favor of one or the other of his alternatives? I certainly have not asked BioLogos as an institution to take a stand on one or the other of the above alternatives, and I don’t think anyone on the Hump has made such a demand, either here on the Hump or over on BioLogos. But one thing is certain: individual BioLogos columnists do have their own views. Some of them very definitely reject the first alternative; some of the them very definitely reject the second. But it is hard to get them to say so directly. One has to infer it, from reading scores of their posts over a long period. So since they have these views, why not state them forthrightly?
Does George believe that if they did so, people might confuse their individual views with the BioLogos view? That would not happen, if due care were taken in expression. BioLogos columns always are prefaced by the disclaimer (I paraphrase), “The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the position of BioLogos,” and if any given columnist reinforced that point by stating that he or she was speaking for himself or herself, there is no danger that his or her view would be mistaken for an institutional view.
I’m quite willing to accept that EC/TE is a “big tent” containing differing theological views. I don’t have any problem if Applegate disagrees with Stump or Stump disagrees with Haarsma or Haarsma disagrees with Venema over theological matters. I don’t think that such disagreements in themselves would undermine the case for evolutionary creation, any more than the fact that Gould disagrees with Dawkins over evolutionary mechanisms undermines the case for common descent. But TE/EC would be infinitely stronger as an intellectual position if its proponents, whether at BioLogos or elsewhere, stopped hiding behind a fraudulent unity (which appears to be adopted for the tactical reason that it is unwise to show any internal disagreement in the face of those dastardly IDers and creationists) and openly discussed their differences.
For example, if Deb Haarsma, who at one point appeared to endorse a near-deterministic front-loading that must produce intelligent life, were to openly disagree (I don’t mean in a nasty way, but in a civil, constructive way) with Dennis Venema, who appears to endorse the very opposite of front-loading, i.e., God leaves the universe and evolution alone to do their freedom thing (so that no result, not even man, is or can be guaranteed), that would be useful, because then people would know more clearly how different the theology of Haarsma is from that of Venema. By hiding behind a show of non-existent theological unity, the BioLogos columnists actually make the EC position harder, not easier, to understand. And I would have more respect, not less, for TE/EC, if I could easily tell from the theological argumentation, “Ah, this TE/EC is a Calvinist, whereas that one is a Wesleyan, and that one is a Lutheran, and that one is a Thomist.” I would take TE/EC folks as serious theological writers, willing to lay their cards on the table as real academic theologians do.
Third, what George fails to see is that TE/EC is making a very big claim, i.e., that the Darwinian, anti-teleological evolutionary process is completely compatible with traditional, evangelical, Biblical, orthodox Christian theology. It claims that evangelicals don’t have to give up a single thing from the Bible or the orthodox Christian understanding of creation in order to embrace Darwin. But that very claim then requires TE/EC proponents to explain how Darwin’s claims are compatible with traditional Christian claims. It’s not enough to say, “As a biologist I think neo-Darwinism is a completely adequate account of the origin of species, but as a Christian I love Jesus, too, so everything fits together.” People can believe all kinds of incompatible things side-by-side. Humans are great compartmentalizers, great disguisers of their own cognitive dissonance. It’s not enough to merely assert there is no contradiction between a random, non-teleological evolutionary process and divine providence; one must show possible ways of harmonizing the two notions. And I’m not insisting that all TE/EC proponents adopt the same harmonization. I would be happy if each one would offer his or her own harmonization. Then I could analyze and evaluate the harmonizations, one by one.
The main target of BioLogos evangelization for Darwin is American conservative evangelicals. BioLogos wants to convince these people that evolution does not undermine evangelical faith. Well, for gosh sakes, why doesn’t BioLogos have the wit to realize that if you want to convince someone who strongly suspects that evolution is anti-Christian, you can’t just assert the harmonization, but must show the harmonization? Isn’t that plain common sense?
This is where George is wrong. While it is true that it is not necessary for BioLogos as an institution to come down on the side of one or the other of his alternatives, it is necessary for EC/TE columnists on BioLogos to offer their own individual harmonizations of Christian doctrine with evolution. It is necessary for them to state how they believe that God is involved in the evolutionary process. Their statement doesn’t have to be rigid or inflexible. They can offer a tentative view. And it doesn’t have to involve either of George’s proposed views; it could be a third view that George has not thought of. And they can say very clearly that they are speaking for themselves and not for BioLogos or other TE/ECs. But they should be offering a view. They shouldn’t be hiding behind vagueness, lack of definition, failure to be clear where they stand within the theological spectrum of the Christian tradition, etc. The whole claim of BioLogos — that Protestant, evangelical, Biblical Christians can safely accept evolution — is not credible without examples of particular formulations of Christian theology in relation to evolution.
Those examples have been sadly lacking on BioLogos. Or rather, in the few cases where they have been provided, they have come from outsiders, guest columnists such as Russell or Plantinga, not from any of the BioLogos leaders or regular columnists. The general approach of BioLogos columnists has been to be as general and non-specific as possible regarding how God is connected with evolution. And that general approach is not working. Most of the American evangelical world is still deeply suspicious of the BioLogos project. It would be less suspicious if BioLogos spend as much time explaining how Darwin harmonizes with orthodox Christian thought as it spends explaining the significance of synteny and whale fossils or demanding that the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve be scrapped.
I can’t at present interact with George due to a slight disagreement of opinion with officials at BioLogos which prevents me from posting there. But he is welcome to sign up and continue the conversation here. I hope he will.