Balancing the books

I was reading a Young Earth Creationist’s critique of Theistic Evolution last week. He made the (usual) case that because of accepting as authoritative the human findings of science over the word of God in the Bible, mainstream TEs have denied virtually every major doctrine of orthodox Christianity.

Now after eight years within the Evolutionary Creation world, I have to admit that, of the common Christian origins positions – Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Progressive Creationism, Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution – the last is, sadly, by far the most prone to heterodoxy.

It’s such a broad church that one can’t generalize, and even BioLogos is vague about its “official” attitude to some key questions. But both in books and online I have witnessed some leading TE figures deny, either overtly or implicitly, doctrines that include the sovereignty of God, his sole Creatorhood, his providential government, the nature of sin, the Fall, the atonement, Chalcedonian teaching on the Incarnation, the reliability of Scripture, biblical ethics… what did I miss out? That revisionism of doctrine doesn’t seem a temptation in the other origins positions. You can find many articles on The Hump documenting these things: a couple of summaries here  and here. So I won’t reiterate them now.


Instead, I want to come back at the rest of what my YEC – a proper, academic theologian, rather than a combox combatant – said. For in his quite justified criticism of those who, in practice if not in stated creed, put the authority of science above that of Scripture, he effectively denies that science, and other academic disciplines like ANE studies, ancient history and so on, have any real contribution to make to our understanding of the faith, being “merely human.” Which, in other words, is to deny general revelation – paradoxical, because that is a scripturally-grounded doctrine.

The principle on which he bases this is the old Reformation premise of the “perspicacity of Scripture” – that is, that the Bible’s meaning is clear to all who come to it in faith, without the intervention of priests and prelates with esoteric “expert” knowledge. In the context of Luther or Calvin’s conflict with early modern Catholic priestcraft the reason for that precept is obvious.

But it’s actually, as the Magisterial Reformers all knew, of rather limited application. There is a reason, they said, why God has appointed and gifted preachers and teachers in the Church, and despite William Tyndale’s famous remark about the ploughman and the Pope they railed against the sectaries’ habit of appointing unschooled “mechanicks” as teachers. They knew the original tongues and drew on both Christian and secular scholarship in developing the Protestant faith – as indeed had the Church before them in formulating its core doctrine, usually rightly and sometimes not.

Scripture, the Reformers said, is indeed clear enough to bring true salvation and knowledge of God to all who read it; but that does not mean its full meaning can be found without external knowledge. I affirm the first part of that from my having known an evangelist who was converted in prison by the page of a Gideon’s Bible he had torn out in order to roll his cigarette. I affirm the second from the sure knowledge that it’s impossible to make good sense (and hence legitimate use) of the Book of Revelation without some insight into the conventions of Jewish apocalyptic. Likewise for Daniel’s visions, but also in that case, without some extra-biblical knowledge of inter-testamental Jewish history, you will misinterpret them. And the recent discoveries (partly from the Dead Sea Scrolls) of what Messianic expectations the Jews of Jesus’s day had gained from Daniel will greatly enhance your understanding of his mission… if you study them.

My critic, for example, disapproves of John H Walton for his use of ANE materials to inform his understanding of Genesis. How he uses them may well, of course, be open to question – that he uses them ought to be received with thanksgiving. For the early part of Genesis, of all the biblical books, is far from fully clear as to genre, and even meaning, partly because it is extremely ancient in origin – how many of us would claim the meaning of the episode of the sons of God and daughters of men in Gen 6 is plain and unmistakeable to everyone? And which of the common interpretations of that passage really clarifies what it is intended to teach us? The more light we can gain from other ancient materials the better. And all scholars know that, when they’re not in invective mode.

The problem with such a “Bible only” stance (held, unfortunately, by too many of the young earth persuasion), is that it sets biblical truth against the whole of the rest of human knowledge, representing it as a vast conspiracy: “What are you going to believe about the age of the earth? Merely human ancient history, archaeology, geology,  palaeontology, genetics, physics, astronomy, philosophy, linguistics, philology, glaciology, vulcanology, speleology and dendrology – or the inspired word of God?”

Yet that is not the spirit in which the Bible was actually written: its overall truth was considered uncontroversial at the time, and the main issue requiring faith was that Yahweh, and not some other deity or mere human strength, had done all these well-attested things. Even the first message of the resurrection, through Peter, was eye-witness testimony preached to people who had heard the words of Jesus, and seen his miraculous works, for themselves. The degree of cognitive dissonance that is demanded by insisting on a 6,000 year old earth in our times is the equivalent of the apostles teaching the resurrection whilst standing over the dead body of the Lord. “Isn’t God’s word enough for you, that you need an empty tomb as well?”

Such teachers seem to me like the scribes and Pharisees who “bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” You must, they say, believe in a six day creation and an earth 6,000 years old to avoid rank heresy (into which category godless renegades like John Stott,  Tim Keller or Billy Graham have sunk), but as to everything else you have learned from life, “What is that to us? See to it yourselves.”

Woe to that reprobate who counts up the tree-rings back to 13,000 BC and places Adam at that biblically unsanctioned time! Scripture clearly teaches the ages of the antediluvians, and the number of their generations, and the trees must therefore have been put there by Satan to deceive the gullible… though come to think of it such reasoning is not much different from those TEs who say that if God created Adam de novo, he is guilty of deceiving geneticists (uniquely!) by making it look to them as though random mutations were responsible.

As an aside, let me confess a personal interest here – I started my serious research into origins partly as a reaction to having a ten-part series shelved by a Christian magazine on whose editorial board I had served for fifteen years or so… on the grounds that the first article on creation hadn’t rejected evolution out of hand or waved a flag for a young earth. That was in tolerant Britain – I get the impression I’d have been excommunicated or divorced in some parts of America. Naturally that’s why I’m so bitter and twisted about Creationism that I question the plain meaning of the KJV!

I believe it is true – as you know if you read my posts – that scientism has elevated the authority of science far beyond what is warranted, as well as excluding divine creative acts a priori from realms in which Scripture, in my view, implies that they truly operate, and I regret that many TEs have succumbed to the soft form of that (ie that, in practice, all theological claims are subject to the censorship of current naturalistic science). But throughout history there has always been, as indeed there must be, a fruitful exchange between human knowledge and Scriptural understanding. After all, as Thomas Huxley (I think) said, science is only a particularly disciplined form of exploring the world around us – God’s world – intelligently.

And so John Calvin, knowing from the astronomers that Saturn is far larger than the moon, used that knowledge to say that Moses was condescending to the common man’s understanding in describing it as the ruler of the night in Gen 1. Isaac Newton said much the same about the heavenly bodies in his private writings:

Moses here sets down their creation as if he had then lived, and were not describing what he saw. Omit them he could not, without rendering his description of the creation imperfect in the judgment of the vulgar. To describe them distinctly as they were in themselves, would have made the narration tedious and confused, amused the vulgar, and become a philosopher more than a prophet.

In the light of modern knowledge of the ancient world (and perhaps of epistemology), I would demur from attributing modern astronomical knowledge to Moses. But I would say that he spoke phenomenologically, not scientifically, and that actually opens a whole new world of understanding concerning what Genesis is really about in its context.

Calvin was not new in his approach – one can read passages in the Church Fathers where, perceiving (rightly or wrongly) that the Bible cut across scientific, philosophical or other best practice of the time, they had recourse to the Bible’s intention to address the common man, not the wise of this world. In many cases, they simply lacked knowledge of its cultural background. One famous example is Origen’s self-mutilation as a result of failing to appreciate Jesus’s Judaean use of hyperbole (“if your hand offends you…”) from only 150 years before his own time. How much more will readers now still stumble over Old Testament numbers where only cultural parallels from archaeology tell us that hyperbole was the norm for that particular genre.

The origins question, as I have indicated, is contentious because, if we conclude that the Bible does necessarily teach a young earth (but it doesn’t – though it may well teach a recent Adam), one must either put all one’s eggs in one authority, and completely ignore the others (such as the Young Earther’s insistence that a traditional literal interpretation of the Bible trumps all else, or some Theistic Evolutionists’ insistence that science trumps Scripture). Or else one must compartmentalize one’s mind (as, I find, many TEs let science rule one half of their brain, whilst personal faith and the Bible rule the other, the corpus callosum linking them being apparently more or less completely severed). Or, thirdly, one must try to reach some accommodation between the Bible and, not only science, but all useful sources of knowledge.

Such an accommodation is neither one of the Bible to science, nor vice versa, but a mutual informing of ones understanding of each by the other. That understanding of both is bound to end up different from either that of the culturally conditioned Biblical Fundamentalist or that of the equally culturally conditioned Methodological Naturalist. But how much give and take is permissible on either side?

Here is where what I’ve been saying about science for a long time is seen to apply also to theology. There simply is no absolute certainty to be found, either in scientific theory or biblical interpretation or anything else. It is simply not available to the fallen human mind – the corruption of human reason is another Scriptural doctrine. There is, indeed, the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth as well as giving us firm assurance – but he does not work by dissolving all our intellectual doubts when we receive him, or there would be no disagreements amongst those who love the Lord. Peter and Paul would never have quarreled over table fellowship with gentiles, nor Wesley with Whitefield over predestination.

That’s why it matters that we should not gloss over the uncertainty of science, nor even act as if we now have the final truth once scientific models have made a judgement. At least that should be the case whilst there is apparent disagreement with another authority, Scripture, of which our knowledge is no less, or more, uncertain. We have scientific projections from data, and we have the eye-witness testimony of the Spirit (though not necessarily as literal history – that is a matter for spiritual and scholarly judgement), and our conclusions from both are equally prone to error. We must weigh both sources of truth, make our judgement, and pray “Lord have mercy.”

What, in fact, the Holy Spirit enables is our growth in the wisdom of God – a long process of discipleship, and not (as Adam and Eve found to their loss) a quick fix or an easy flow-chart. In other words, we need to steep ourselves in the Scriptures, and their former interpreters, to increase our sense of what they are teaching us, and how, and use God-given discernment in integrating that with natural knowledge (the famous two books).

And a lot of the time we will be wrong, but we will be increasingly unlikely either to spurn the established doctrines of Christ’s Church, or shut our ears to his speech to us through nature.

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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27 Responses to Balancing the books

  1. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    Your article is appreciated, Jon. It seeks, and achieves, the balance that is necessary for discussing questions of science/scripture and scripture/tradition.

    Those who aren’t overly fixated on origins questions, at the expense of all other important theological questions, will probably agree with your general line of approach.

    Indeed, part of the difficulty is that the American preoccupation with origins questions is such that all other theological and hermeneutical questions become distorted by the need to come to one conclusion or another regarding origins. Your article is a healthy reminder that everyone needs to think about more basic questions before plunging in polemically on Genesis, etc. Reflecting on more general epistemological, hermeneutical, and theological issues has the effect of “counting to ten” and makes it more likely that anything said about Genesis, the Fall, etc., will be more just and wise.

  2. Jay313 says:

    Good read. Put this one on your “greatest hits” rotation. Worth repeating: “Such an accommodation is neither one of the Bible to science, nor vice versa, but a mutual informing of ones understanding of each by the other. … There simply is no absolute certainty to be found, either in scientific theory or biblical interpretation or anything else.”

    Your conclusion is postmodernism in a nutshell, although Pascal had essentially the same response to Descartes 350+ years ago. It’s not really about denying the existence of truth, but about the lack of certainty of human knowledge. As Christians, we have access to Truth (the mind of God) through the Scripture and the Spirit, but even we lack certainty that our personal understanding of either one is 100% accurate (i.e. perfectly true). Taking note of the fact that God has denied us the very thing — absolute certainty — that men so desperately seek, Pascal concluded that this thirst was bequeathed to us partly as punishment and partly as incentive. As punishment for our presumptuousness in the Garden, and as incentive to seek God as one would seek water in the desert.

    My only quibble is my constant quibble (let’s avoid the word “obsession” for now) here, which is the never-ending potshots at EC/TE/BioLogos. For instance …

    Now after eight years within the Evolutionary Creation world, I have to admit that, of the common Christian origins positions – Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Progressive Creationism, Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution – the last is, sadly, by far the most prone to heterodoxy.

    I would like to suggest that ID is not an origins position. There are ID proponents in every one of the above categories. In fact, unless a Christian rejects evolution entirely, they fall into the EC/TE category by default, as do you and Gauger and Meyer and many other ID proponents. The only “argument” between ID and TE on this point is whether God’s action or design can be detected, which is hardly a disagreement about origins at all. It’s an argument about the limits of science and the nature of divine action, which should not bring about disunity and disfellowship.

    On the “heterodoxy” thing, I find it a bit of a red herring. There are books accusing YEC and Ken Ham of heresy, too. Either way, in the evangelical universe, the most theologically conservative believers are to be found in the YEC and old earth camps, so of course they appear less prone to heterodox beliefs than those on the other end of the spectrum, who are not rejecting or ignoring the evidence of evolution but trying to reconcile it with Christian belief. In that context, some people are innovating, and it may take some time for the people of God to reach a communal decision on what is silver and what is dross, just as it took time for the people of God to settle on the canon of Scripture. We are in a period of transition, unfortunately.

    In the meantime, I would be careful about labeling things “heterodox” too quickly. Some would certainly apply that label to your conception of Gen. 1 referring to the evolution of mankind, and Gen. 2 referring to the special creation of Adam many thousands of years later. That is certainly not a traditional teaching of the church.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Hi, Jay.

      I will leave it up to Jon to respond to whether or not his position is “postmodern”; I’ll comment instead on another point.

      I think you are right that ID (taken strictly, as I think you are doing here) is not an “origins position” in the sense of “offering a chronological account of what happened and when.” In that sense, it is not strictly parallel to YEC, OEC, or TE/EC.

      But if we use the term “origins” more broadly, to mean not just historical origins, but “source” or “cause”, then ID is an origins position, because it finds the origin or source or root cause of the order of the world in a designing mind. The world originates from mind — or at least, from an interplay between matter and mind. Another way of putting it: we can’t give a full and proper causal explanation of the features of the world, especially of life, without regarding mind as one of the factors in producing it.

      And that’s, as you say, where the disagreement comes in, because most of the BioLogos leaders seem to believe that we don’t need to posit mind as a causal factor to explain the origin of anything; we can in fact (or will soon be able to) explain the origin of everything given mechanical natural laws and chance, without any need for mind; but we choose as Christians to posit mind as involved anyway, because we hold by faith that God was involved in some mysterious way, no matter how causally superfluous his involvement might seem.

      My own sense is that the writers of the Bible regarded God as “causal” in the origin of the world in a very direct and unambiguous way, and that the BioLogos position is the product of recent developments in human thought (starting in the late 18th century) which seem to some people to push God further and further out of the day-to-day operation of the world and more and more into a sort of honorary position of “presiding” over a creation executed entirely by his ministers (chance and necessity), as he looks on with approval. God looks more and more like the passive Governor-General of some former British Commonwealth country, and less and less like a hands-on ruler such as Richard the Lionheart, or Henry VIII, or Augustus Caesar, or even a partly-hamstrung-by-Congress President of the United States (who still has some uncontested executive power). BioLogos folks still insist on calling him Creator, but what exactly he does that is so great or impressive as to warrant that title, as opposed to the title of Delegator, is very unclear. To me, anyway.

      • Jay313 says:

        Yes, I was taking ID in the strict sense, but even in the sense that you describe — “mind” as the origin or root cause — I still think ID is a subgroup of every Christian origins position, since “mind” is certainly one of God’s attributes that every Christian would endorse. The truth of that is easy to see in the Discovery Institute’s board members and constituency, which extends all the way from YEC to old earth to secular Jews.

        I think every Christian believer would agree that God began to create with a plan. Where things start to run off the rails is on questions of divine power and control of events. You outlined that pretty well in your last paragraph, and Jon has written extensively on the topics of “chance” and God’s sovereignty. As I mentioned to Jon a long time ago, this is the real theological struggle over evolution, not Adam or original sin. There are many possible solutions to the latter that do not affect core traditional doctrines of the church. But what good will it do to “solve” the problem of Adam and original sin if, in the process, we are left with a concept of God barely worthy of capitalizing?

        Returning to the OP, Jon wrote: But both in books and online I have witnessed some leading TE figures deny, either overtly or implicitly, doctrines that include the sovereignty of God, his sole Creatorhood, his providential government, the nature of sin, the Fall, the atonement, Chalcedonian teaching on the Incarnation, the reliability of Scripture, biblical ethics… what did I miss out? That revisionism of doctrine doesn’t seem a temptation in the other origins positions. You can find many articles on The Hump documenting these things: a couple of summaries here and here.

        When you throw all the heterodoxies in a pile, it does look impressive, but characterizing theistic evolution and BioLogos as the mother of all heterodoxy is untrue. I read both your linked articles, and both cited John Stott approvingly. I’m sure you know he had his own heterodox opinion about the ultimate annihilation of the wicked, which had nothing to do with evolution. You criticized BL for hosting comments by Plantinga, whom you recently featured in a blog post, and Oord, whose embrace of Open Theism also had nothing to do with evolution. In your other piece, you spend the first half defending substitutionary atonement, yet just recently you were writing positively about ransom atonement theory.

        I mention all this because it reminds me a great deal of John Frame’s essay, “Machen’s Warrior Children” (well worth Googling if you have time). You paint with too broad a brush, which only encourages the tribalism, divisiveness, and party spirit that you mention below.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Jay

      Less “post-modern” than “critical realist”, I hope. The difference (as I see it, anyway) is that postmodernism denies there is truth, or makes it an entirely subjective matter. And it can end up with “I’m definitely what I self-identify to be.”

      I’m saying more that we can approach truth increasingly and effectively, but never absolutely – to doubt is an intrinsic human weakness, but to claim absolute certainty is a human vice.

      As for the identification of ID with other origins positions, I’m aware that it sits in a unique position, which is closest to what “theistic science” was in the nineteenth century, natural theology being accepted by anti-evolutionists like Owen or Agassiz, Darwinists like Asa Gray , and those non-biologists and literalists not having a dog in the origins fight.

      My list was intended to reflect sociological reality – (some) YECs distance themselves from ID and TE because of their of theology, TEs distance themselves from YEC and ID because of their science, and so on. And those are the categories people seek to identify in polls, usually inadequately.

      I’ve said for a long time that they’re more tribes than positions – you’re right to say that many theistic evolutionists – particularly those in the pews rather than in the labs or writing books – are fairly close to ID. They’re usually not seen as prominent in the discussion however (how often has David Wilcox’s “chance is God’s handwriting” appeared as a serious viewpoint on EC sites?), just as agnostics tend not to be identified with ID, at least from the outside. “Creationism in a cheap tuxedo” is a tribal label, flattening out religious affiliation, origins positions and academic expertise – but it describes an identifiable group.

      • Jay313 says:

        Less “post-modern” than “critical realist”, I hope. The difference (as I see it, anyway) is that postmodernism denies there is truth, or makes it an entirely subjective matter. And it can end up with “I’m definitely what I self-identify to be.”

        Nope. Postmodern to the core. Sorry. haha. This goes to my “broad brush” comment again. We Christians have a bad habit of reading our “opponents” in the worst possible light. Only some postmodernists — mainly followers of Derrida — deny that truth exists or subscribe to complete relativism (what’s true for you isn’t true for me). If we weren’t so quick to throw the baby out with the bath water, we would realize that a great many postmodern philosophers are not only compatible with a Christian worldview, they are downright useful. Wittgenstein and Hans-Georg Gadamer, for instance, were dedicated opponents of scientism. Consider just a few quotes from Gadamer’s page at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.iep.utm.edu/gadamer/#H4):

        “First, Gadamer wanted to elucidate the historical and linguistic situatedness of human knowing and to emphasize the necessity and productivity of tradition and language for human thought. … Second, Gadamer sought to contend against the hubris of twentieth century positivism by demonstrating that truth is not reducible to a set of criteria, as is suggested by promoters of there being a scientific method. … Gadamer aimed to demonstrate that truths derivable from method require a deeper, more extensive Truth.

        “From Plato, Gadamer discerns the centrality of dialogue as the means by which we come to understanding. Dialogue is rooted in and committed to furthering our common bond with one another to the extent that it affirms the finite nature of our human knowing and invites us to remain open to one another. It is our openness to dialogue with others that Gadamer sees as the basis for a deeper solidarity. With Aristotle, Gadamer affirms the commitment that all philosophy starts from praxis (human practice) and that hermeneutics is essentially practical philosophy. We must not allow knowing to remain only on the conceptual (that is, distanced and theoretical) level; we must remember that knowing emerges from our practical quest for meaning and significance.”

        In fact, Gadamer’s description of an “encounter with truth” sound a great deal like biblical “repentance”:

        “Gadamer does not just offer a critique of modern subjectivism, he also argues for the practical moment in which one feels compelled to change one’s life. The anti-subjective implication of Gadamer’s account of truth, to the extent it is a move away from oneself, is suggestive of the Platonic motion of ascendance. And the subsequent impetus for practical application, the return to oneself, reflects the descendance also reminiscent of Plato. If we do not engage in such a dynamic experience, one both in which one is caught up and from which one emerges changed, then one has not experienced truth.”

        Not all postmodernists are created equal!

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          Jay

          I still don’t accept that the “uncertainty” model I’ve suggested both here and at BioLogos draws anything much from how Britannica lays out Postmodernism, though I clearly rate as “postmodern” in the sense of rejecting the Enlightenment “assured results of modern scholarship” concept, which I never shared anyway.

          I think it goes way back beyond postmodernism, though, for example to Descartes:

          Descartes says that “some things are considered as morally certain, that is, as having sufficient certainty for application to ordinary life, even though they may be uncertain in relation to the absolute power of God” (PW 1, pp. 289-90). Thus characterized, moral certainty appears to be epistemic in nature, though it is a lesser status than epistemic certainty. In the French version of this passage, however, Descartes says that “moral certainty is certainty which is sufficient to regulate our behaviour, or which measures up to the certainty we have on matters relating to the conduct of life which we never normally doubt, though we know that it is possible, absolutely speaking, that they may be false” (PW 1, p. 289 n. 2).

          Or even to Aristotle’s realisation that different matters carry different degrees – and kinds – of confidence. Critical realism takes a pragmatic approach to human abilities, whilst being confident that “the truth is out there.”

  3. Mark Mark says:

    Good read.

    “Here is where what I’ve been saying about science for a long time is seen to apply also to theology. There simply is no absolute certainty to be found, either in scientific theory or biblical interpretation or anything else. It is simply not available to the fallen human mind – the corruption of human reason is another Scriptural doctrine. ”

    It used to be what we call “science” today was called “natural science”, as distinguished from the other sciences. With the philosophy of naturalism, Natural Science has attempted a sort of “aunchless” of all science. I join you in what you are saying, which is effectively calling for a return of “the theology of Science” and a key part of that is putting natural science back in its proper place rather than letting its presuppositions infect other areas of science. https://earlygenesistherevealedcosmology.blogspot.com/2018/03/a-call-for-return-to-theology-as-science.html

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Hello, Mark.

      First, a quick question. I don’t know the word “aunchless.” Did you perhaps mean the German word Anschluss? Or were you making a play on words that I missed?

      Second, about the column on your website. Thanks for putting in some good words for Richard Hooker. I’ve begun to read up on him lately, and I think he’s a voice well worth listening to — despite the fact that he was praised by John Locke! 🙂

      • Mark Mark says:

        I meant the German word Anschluss. I am helpless without spell check and it does no good with German.

        I know what you mean about Locke. I meant to show that Hooker was a seminal and important thinker, not that Locke was a step forward instead of backward in some ways.

  4. Mark Mark says:

    “how many of us would claim the meaning of the episode of the sons of God and daughters of men in Gen 6 is plain and unmistakeable to everyone?”

    Not me. But I do claim it is now understandable, at least since we have a proper interpretation of 4:26 and the Christ-centered model to make sense of it. The Jewish scholars who forged the latter parts of the Book of Enoch did not have the knowledge that we do now, if we choose to avail ourselves of it, and invented tales to fill the gaps. The reality is, I now believe, as put forth below… (though the “Adamic Race” should have been as you say the “Adamic Line” because all of humanity is the Adamic Race even if Adam is the representative of it rather than the sole progenitor)….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc7BLlnSEbo

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Not me. But I do claim it is now understandable

      Quite so – but because of study, not because of “the perspicaity of Scripture”, or nobody would ever disagree on it and you’d discuss it in the barber’s chair.

  5. GD GD says:

    Jon,

    We need to be reminded that the Church has worked to find answers based on Scripture, and relying on guidance from the Holy Spirit, and this applies to our time. The Orthodoxy accepted by every major denomination attests to this, and we need the humility required by Christ from us to continue in that tradition and methodology. Your post imo falls within that.

    “It’s such a broad church that one can’t generalize, and even BioLogos is vague about its “official” attitude to some key questions.”

    The discussions at BioLogos, from what I understand, indicate a confusion that stems from the stark differences between YEC proponents, and for want of a better label, those opposing YEC – all (or most) of this centres on the way they interpret biological evolution. I feel that such emphasis on a paradigm of biology is unhealthy, and we may better employ our time on broader discussions of theology, faith, and new insights arising from the sciences. However, we should note that this is a very broad area and almost impossible for an individual to cover in an attempt to arrive at the truth of some particular.

    I find hope in the fact that much of the theology has been dealt with (albeit we need to understand some remarks in a modern context). On the sciences however, I can understand why many may be confused and/or overwhelmed. I think it better for a Christian to listen and read with a skeptical approach, rather than seek to adopt a heterodoxy that sounds informed, but is most likely laced with error.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      GD

      I think it’s true that a major reason for the development of biologos (to employ Collins’ original useage as a position, not the organisation) was a reaction to the oppressive Creationist teaching described in the OP – there are so many stories of people getting to university and being forced (by their pastors) to choose between their church and their studies.

      Because that 1960s creationism was never strong in the UK, neither is Evolutionary Creation in its self-aware form. Though there is, of course, traffic across the Atlantic, as The Hump itself demonstrates.

      The other major strand, reflecting BioLogos’s origin in the biological sciences, was the insistence on making creation origins consistent with naturalistic explanations, often needing to reformulate theology to make that possible. That is partly due to the sociology and history of science outlined in recent posts – folk have been trained for over a century into assuming that, principally, origins=science=naturalism. Any role for God must sit with that, but without getting in its way at all.

      There may well be an element of truth in the charge that some embrace TE over other positions because they want to be able to retain kudos in a naturalistic scientific community. I doubt it’s that cynical, but realpolitik would make it entirely rational – theistic evolution in its original form was excluded from science in the late nineteenth century and so can only be academically respectable now if rebranded as naturalism-friendly. That explains why few TEs wave the flag for Gray, or Kingsley, or Warfield, or Wallace as their progenitors.

      And it’s a sad matter of fact that even to be perceived as a creationist in the USA, whether in a cheap tuxedo, or even simply as a progressive creationist like Hugh Ross’s lot, is not only the death knell to ones scientific career, but will guarantee your work is not cited, that fellow Christians will accuse you in public forums of being a liar as well as incompetent, and, in all likelihood, that Wikipedia will doctor or erase its references to you or your academic achievements… and then accuse you of paranoia for noticing!

      • GD GD says:

        I have not experienced such intense feelings on creationism or evolution so I am an outsider looking in on this one. The machinations of some professionals and academics however, are well known, so I can only imagine what some responses could be – and from Christians? Perhaps I have noticed atheists and forgot the evolutionists/creationists.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          GD

          Look out for the TE critiques of “non-mainstream” scientists, along the lines of “not only did X not mention the work of Y, but he must have known about it and deliberately ignored it.”

          The softer form is to see some Christian lose their job or their reputation for becoming persuaded of some kind of creation, or design, or consorting with such persons, and to turn a blind eye (perhaps with some idea that “they had it coming to them”).

      • Ted Davis says:

        Jon says, “That explains why few TEs wave the flag for Gray, or Kingsley, or Warfield, or Wallace as their progenitors.”

        BioLogos waves their flag for Asa Gray, and quite proudly. I’ve done so myself in certain columns, and so have others. Here’s just one of several examples:

        https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-5

        I’m a big fan of Gray, myself. I gather you are too, Jon?

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          Hi Ted

          You’re definitely among the few! I like Gray partly because he seems to have had the strength of character to place Darwin’s science within a consistent (and orthodox) theistic framework, publicly arguing the toss about the directedness of variation with Darwin, even as a friend.

          Perhaps that’s part of the key – he was dealing with a friend’s new theory, not a long-established Heliocentric Fact.

          Neither was he alone, in that a number, or most, of the nineteenth century TEs took a strongly providential approach to Darwinian evolution. Though I admit Gray discussed with others how one could square the providence (or mediate creation if you were Warfield) of God with the scientific principle of uniformity – perhaps it can’t be squared in the light of the Resurrection. Theism and complete uniformity in nature are questionable bedfellows.

          The problem seems to be (and this relates to your post below) is that his kind of theistic approach to science, normative in the early nineteenth century, became outlawed from science. It was decided that uniformity trumped divine action, and design, and so theistic evolution effectively died as a serious position, I guess until recently.

          But it seems significant how, in a current climate strongly conditioned by the naturalistic model of science, theistic evolution has re-emerged in very different forms from his, for example trying to shoehorn divine governance into natural gaps (as Russell), replacing it with some idea of nature’s autonomy (so the multitude of open process ECs), or somehow trying to justify a model incorporating both ontological randomness (a concept alien to Gray) and completely invisible divine directedness. Gray would, I suspect, find himself considered a peripheral figure, if not a closet ID proponent, in theistic evolution today.

          That leaves out the wider theological considerations, which don’t really concern Gray – but do concern some of the nineteenth century liberal Christians who developed “evolutionary theologies” which seem to re-emerge nowadays more often than does Gray’s rather critical approach to the science.

      • Ted Davis says:

        Jon says, “And it’s a sad matter of fact that even to be perceived as a creationist in the USA, whether in a cheap tuxedo, or even simply as a progressive creationist like Hugh Ross’s lot, is not only the death knell to ones scientific career, but will guarantee your work is not cited, that fellow Christians will accuse you in public forums of being a liar as well as incompetent, and, in all likelihood, that Wikipedia will doctor or erase its references to you or your academic achievements… and then accuse you of paranoia for noticing!”

        Jon, please take care to avoid a bit of paranoia yourself. You strongly overstate the situation, IMO.

        We entirely agree that an openly YEC biologist or geologist is not likely to land a major university position in her own field. Why isn’t that appropriate? Isn’t the evidence for the antiquity of the Earth and the universe so great, from so many independent lines of inquiry, that if someone denies the validity of that conclusion then he probably has a very poor view of how science should be done? I certainly think so. Would you agree with me here?

        As for calling people “liars,” Jon, here the biggest offender I can think of is Ken Ham–to be perfectly blunt. In his view, as you know, anyone who teaches “evolution” (and keep in mind that “evolution” for him means a lot more than just the biological idea of common ancestry) is spreading “lies.” Remember the title of his early book? The Lie: Evolution. Still in print, with updated covers and new hype. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a YEC speaker talk about the “lies” being taught in science classes, I’d be retired. (Perhaps this really shows only how cheap such talk actually is.)

        As for Wikipedia, Jon, I’m not famous enough to be the subject of an entry, so I have no dog in that fight. I have modified a few entries (not very often), based on my own scholarship (and cite it), but even in such cases I sometimes find that others come in and change it back, even when they just don’t know what they’re talking about. Wikipedia is like that. Despite what they might like to think of themselves, it’s not a very reliable source for many things. And anyone who expects anything approaching objectivity from Wikipedia will be sorely disappointed. Depending on the circumstances, one might indeed be exhibiting paranoia to care very much about what happens there. I’m aware of some instances in which opponents of creationism (and I classify myself as such, though I don’t exercise that bias on Wikipedia) will remove things, including in rare cases entire entries, based on their view that something is just too sympathetic to creationism (or ID). I’m aware of that. However, in at least some instances that I won’t spell out, I might say fairly–fairly–that I merit an entry on Wikipedia much more than the person who’s entry has been deleted. Yet, it’s just not clear from publicly stated criteria that I merit an entry at all. I don’t lose sleep over that situation. All of the big people I can think of in creationism and ID have Wikipedia entries (present tense), and many of those entries are very long. So, let’s please not get carried away about this.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          Ted

          Given that this piece was primarily about the abusive nature of some YEC polemics, I have no reason to defend Ken Ham. But if he is to be criticized for casting moral aspersions on evolutionary scientists, then the reverse is equally true, and more from the other camps visit this site. To my mind, subtle aspersions are morally equivalent to blatant ones.

          But even a YEC, especially an established scientist who has arrived at that view as a matter of persuasion, would still be competent in fields that don’t involve the age of the earth, such as (for example) molecular biology or population genetics. If we start judging scientists on having kooky beliefs (no true scientist would believe in a young earth – hard luck Todd), we have restored the Test Act to the dogma-free discipline of science.

          It’s certainly a scandal that you don’t have a Wikipedia page, and that says something about how the system works (I think one gets ones IT savvy kids to make the initial entry, at which point you become famous). But I question whether it’s only YECs who suffer at the hands of Wikipedia editors, appointment boards and grants committees.

          Gray redividus, for example, still to regain tenure in his resurrected form, writes a book laying out the idea that divine design is evident in the variations of species, and that natural selection is merely the tool God uses to tidy up the older, less adapted models.

          Leaving aside anachronisms in the science, how would we rate his chances of getting a decent job, getting research published, or having a Wikipedia entry that doesn’t draw attention to his belief in the pseudo-science of Intelligent Design Creationism (and accidentally erase his qualifications)?

      • Ted Davis says:

        Jon says, “There may well be an element of truth in the charge that some embrace TE over other positions because they want to be able to retain kudos in a naturalistic scientific community. I doubt it’s that cynical, but realpolitik would make it entirely rational …”

        I wrote about this here: https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/refuting-compromise-the-troubling-tone-of-creationism

        It’s worth pointing out that an author affiliated with Discovery (at that time) and the owner of a major ID website both make this cynical charge about proponents of TE. And one of them (Barry Arrington) brings realpolitik directly into this, by referring to people like me (proponents of TE) as “useful idiots.”

        It seems like one just can’t have an honest difference of opinion these days. People are quick to invent false motives, b/c they just cannot accept that an honest, well informed person might actually come to a different conclusion.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          It seems like one just can’t have an honest difference of opinion these days. People are quick to invent false motives, b/c they just cannot accept that an honest, well informed person might actually come to a different conclusion.

          Well, amen to that – that’s my whole point, really. The fact that (some or many) YECs regard science as a conspiracy, based on the weaponization of an, in itself, reasonable commitment to the Bible as God’s truth, is balanced by the fact that (some or many) scientists regard theistic commitments as a conspiracy, based on the weaponization of an, in itself, reasonable commitment to nature as truth.

          That is a particularly American phenomenon, I think, in its extreme form, but I believe it goes beyond sociology to a more fundamental issue – false metaphysical commitments on both sides, which developed historically with more or less inevitable results.

  6. Robert Byers says:

    Its not accurate for YEC or anyone to say its the bible over science or deny science ever trumping the bible.
    Thats not the equation.
    its the bible is true. SO if the science contadicts it IT means its the humans who did the science wrong. Science is not to blame.
    anyways science is just a dumb human term for conclusions said to have been proven by a high standard of investigation.
    Its all about Gods word verses human competence in dealing with subjects in question.

  7. Ted Davis says:

    This is a nice piece of work, Jon, very nice. Thank you for writing it!

    I strongly agree with most of your main points, including that the Bible seems to teach a recent Adam—at least a Neolithic Adam, since “cities” and agriculture existed. I especially agree that the “perspicacity of Scripture” underlies the YEC view. Indeed, I nearly wrote a column about that very point for BioLogos, but never got around to it when other ideas expanded. If I had done so, it would probably have been part of the little series about the YEC dogma that believing in an ancient Earth makes Jesus a liar. For that, go to
    https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/series/is-god-a-liar

    Let me respond by proposing a thought experiment, based on a major point of apparent agreement: the Bible seems to teach a recent Adam. Let’s start by dismissing evolution entirely from the conversation and consider only the antiquity of humans as the relevant science. Suppose that Darwin had never lived, and that every modern scientist were a special creationist. I submit that it would still be highly unlikely that all human beings who have ever lived are descended from this recent Adam. The question would then be, what do we faithful Christians do with that piece of information?

    As you probably know, Jon, this question intensely interested some of the Princeton divines in the late 19th century, especially B B Warfield and William Henry Green, but also the non-Princetonian George Frederick Wright. In their view, one could legitimately stretch the genealogies in Genesis very far back indeed, by introducing “gaps” of unknown sizes in the lists of fathers and sons–similar in spirit to the way in which many exegetes earlier in that century had put a large, but indefinite “gap” of time between verses 1 and 3 in the opening chapter of Genesis, in order to avoid a fatal encounter with geological ages. Hugh Ross does entirely similar things today.

    I don’t find that particular approach very persuasive, Jon, but perhaps you do. I don’t recall you speaking about it, but I’m not a regular here. If you’ve addressed it already, please just show me where.

    My own response is to recommend one or more of the various alternative interpretations of Adam. For example, there’s much to say (IMO) for Robin Collins’ “Historical/Ideal” interpretation, which I serialized for BL a few years ago: https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/series/evolution-and-original-sin-by-robin-collins

    Or, I also like aspects of Denis Lamoureux’s position. There are others I find appealing, but this is enough to talk about already.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Ted

      Amongst a welter of comments, which are all very welcome, I didn’t notice this one (WordPress put it in for moderation because it has 2 hyperlinks!). That’s why it’s arrived down here.

      First, re your thought experiment, I agree that evolution is largely irrelevant to these issues – except in the broadest terms of how God makes rational or spiritual beings like man, or even the broader one of how creation occurs within a coherent metaphysics. But we agree Adam is a recent figure in a world that seems, on all counts, much older. How can that work?

      As it happens, I did dust off the Gap Theory in 2013, apparently in response to a conversation we had. You’ll see that I wondered then if it might gain a new lease of life from modern understandings of the genre of Genesis. That is, if Genesis isn’t primarily “ancient scientific cosmology”, then the lack of reference to ages past is simply because they are irrelevant to the story being told.

      More recently, in close collaboration with Joshua’s work on Genealogical Adam (hat tip to David Opderbeck), I’ve been addressing more closely those genre issues, particularly within the OT canon, drawing on the work of John Sailhamer and, particularly, Seth Postell’s work on “Adam as Israel” (Like Peter Enns, he links Adam and Israel. Unlike Enns, and I think more plausibly, he doesn’t conclude that Adam was a late fiction in the light of the Exile). Overall it’s a big project, involving many fields, but one of the most important efforts is to examine whether, in fact, Scripture itself includes the pre-existence of mankind within its metanarrative: I think it does.

      My most recent excursion on that is here , and an overall summary is here. (Too many) links from both – maybe it will end up as another book: so far just one rejected paper, which is par for the course!

      What excites me, apart from the way that it can accommodate historic and prehistoric data, on any model of creation/evolution, is that it potentially brings it all within an intentional biblical – and Christological – narrative. Ancient man, rationality, art and all, has his role within the Genesis 1 creation: the story of the new creation in Christ begins in Genesis 2 and continues logically through to Revelation 22. The Bible is about the cosmological Christ, and knows about it from the start.

    • Henry Tudor says:

      I took the course by Dr. Denis Lamereux at St. Joseph’s College in Edmonton Alberta. I spoke to him by telephone and had a very good conversation. Thank you Dr. Ted for the recommendation.

      Karl Eduard Mueller

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