Gallup, Jerry Coyne, and Karl Giberson: Is the Handwriting on the Wall for Theistic Evolution?

It is not often that I agree with Jerry Coyne.  Nonetheless, his recent column on the results of a new Gallup poll about creation and evolution hits some nails on the head.

This Gallup poll that has been run every two years since 1982.  Here are the results, up to and including this year’s:


Coyne notes that, according to the data, the hard creationist position has remained virtually unchanged over the past 22 years.  On the other hand, as he points out, the “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creation” position that God somehow guided the evolutionary process has declined in a marked way, whereas the unguided evolution position has more than doubled the support it had 22 years ago.

Coyne notes that Karl Giberson, in his comments on the same poll,  expresses puzzlement at the failure of theistic evolution (evolutionary creation) to gain adherents.  Coyne, on the other hand, does not find the failure of TE hard to understand.

Coyne reasons:  From what group could TE/EC gain potential adherents?  Not from the evolutionary naturalists; if you have decided that the evolutionary process is sufficient by itself, why would you introduce a God who “guides” evolution?  Such a God would be redundant.  So where can TE/EC find converts?  Coyne suggests that perhaps the young-earth creationists could be won over, if a way of accommodating their creationism to evolution could be found; but he then dismisses that possibility, on the pragmatic grounds that they clearly aren’t being won over, and he has an explanation for that: one can’t logically accommodate young-earth views to evolution.

Coyne’s argument, as far as it goes, seems valid.  However, Coyne leaves out of account the old-earth creationists, i.e., those who allow for an ancient earth and a less literal reading of Genesis.  Some old-earth creationists allow for an Adam and Eve who lived much longer than 10,000 years ago, and most old-earth creationists accept a degree of evolution, e.g., evolution within basic types such as “dog” “cat” “horse” etc. which could allow Adam and Eve to have lived more than 10,000 years ago.  There is therefore much more room within old-earth creationism for the accommodation of which Coyne speaks.  A hardcore molecules-to-man evolutionist might hope that the old-earth creationists, allowing for a longer-than-Biblical timeline for man, and allowing for some naturalistic evolution, could be eventually persuaded to accept the whole scheme.  And indeed, TE does make overtures to old-earth creationists.  But in the end, even the old-earth creationists do not accept fully naturalistic evolution (molecules to man) and they insist on the special creation of human beings.  So in the end, Coyne is right:  accommodationism doesn’t work — at least, not well enough to win any creationist, even the most liberal, over to the entire evolutionary program championed by BioLogos.

So, following up on Coyne’s reasoning, who is left over?  If the evolutionary naturalists are out of the picture, and the creationists are out of the picture, the only “target market” for TE of the BioLogos type would be the non-creationist Christians of the so-called “mainstream” churches.  And indeed, many people in such churches — the United Church of Christ, the Episcopalian, etc. — endorse TE.  The problem is that the number of members in these churches is not growing, but shrinking; in fact, in many cases, the population of the mainstream churches is in free fall.  As these churches shrink, they can no longer be a source of new TE supporters.

Why are the mainstream churches shrinking?  It is a logical consequence of their own excessive theological liberalism.  The more liberal the church, the less most of its members can see any difference between its doctrines and plain old secular humanism; and secular humanism doesn’t ask you to get up early on Sunday mornings or donate money.  So inevitably many members of liberal churches cease to be Christian at all, and then of course they will not be supporters of God-guided evolution.  Also, there can be reactions to extreme liberalism; some members of mainstream churches are so disgusted by the abandonment of basic Christian doctrine that they see no alternative but to join fundamentalist churches, and then of course they become creationists and want nothing to do with TE.

So Coyne is right; there seems to be no natural “target market” where TEs can look for increased support.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, the strategy of BioLogos has been to look for new support from within the evangelical Protestant community.  The hope seems to be that there is a substantial group of “moderate” evangelicals who are, if at the moment somewhat guarded regarding evolution, at least not confirmed creationists and hence potentially open to accepting evolution.

Yet the poll numbers don’t indicate any such support coming from evangelical quarters.  So the question arises, why aren’t these moderate evangelicals being won over, to the degree that Giberson and other BioLogos folks have hoped?

I think a large part of the answer is supplied by a comment from Giberson himself.  In the column in which he discusses the Gallup poll, he writes:

“Evolutionary creation/theistic evolution doesn’t fare much better, however. We can’t explain the difference between our position—“God guides evolution”—and that of the atheists—“evolution runs by itself.””

Bingo!   In its entire 5 or 6 years of existence, BioLogos has not only failed to explain, but hasn’t even tried to explain, the difference between the two positions pointed out by Giberson.  Giberson himself, when he was one of the heads of BioLogos and a frequent columnist there, never tried to explain it.  Darrel Falk wouldn’t try; nor would Applegate, Venema, Louis, etc.  Nor have the new leaders of BioLogos, Haarsma and the virtually invisible Schloss.  And this fact goes a long way toward explaining why the TE/EC position has made no headway among the moderate evangelicals.

If there is no easily graspable conceptual difference between “God guides evolution” and “evolution runs by itself,” the average evangelical will conclude that the results of evolution are out of God’s control.  After all, neo-Darwinian evolution, which BioLogos champions, can’t either in principle or in practice guarantee any evolutionary outcomes.  It just bounces along this way and that, according to various contingencies that come up along the way (random variations, asteroid strikes, ice ages, and so on).  And since God is not supposed to “tinker” with the process (that would be “God of the gaps” and is a no-no theologically and scientifically, according to all BioLogos folks), he can’t actually “guide” the process, and can’t guarantee any outcomes with all these contingencies popping up to stop them from being realized.  Evolution left to steer itself, like a driverless car careening through a city: that sure doesn’t sound like the doctrine of providence or the doctrine of sovereignty taught in the Bible and in the historical evangelical churches.  So the evangelicals are not going to buy in.

Thus, BioLogos specifically, and TE in general (insofar as BioLogos represents the most influential and widespread modern form of TE) has hit a ceiling of support.  It cannot grow until it comes up with a doctrine of how God influences evolutionary outcomes that will satisfy the average evangelical churchgoer.  As long as it keeps saying, “God leaves nature and evolution to their freedom, but nonetheless, you just gotta have faith that God is somehow providentially in control,” the result will be “no sale.”  The moderate evangelicals will either recoil from such a vague doctrine of God’s power and sovereignty, and opt for fundamentalism, or they will adopt one of the “intelligently guided evolution” models advocated by ID.

TE cannot grow by the strategy it is currently employing.  The number of creationists it will pull in will be statistically insignificant, and by all projections secular humanist, naturalist explanations of origins are growing in popularity, and the pure naturalists are drawing from the same part of the population (i.e., the non-creationists) from which TE must draw.  And to be frank, a one-hour TV special by Neil DeGrasse Tyson will win over many more people than a hundred columns by Dennis Venema or Kathryn Applegate on BioLogos.

Jerry Coyne sees this clearly enough.  Karl Giberson should be able to see it, too, but he is fuzzy in his thinking, because, although he sees part of why TE is not connecting with evangelicals — he sees that an anemic God is of no interest to them — he is still “puzzled” why TE is not growing.  In this case, as so often, the atheist is the clearer and more consistent reasoner than the TE proponent.

The route to success for a TE campaign is through an orthodox rather than an unorthodox Christian religion.  Evolution must not be accepted on terms that would diminish the power, providence, freedom, or sovereignty of God.  The problem with most American TE leaders is that in order to accommodate Christian faith to evolution they have watered down the doctrinal contents of Christian faith.  That isn’t the way to go.  Not only does it lack theological integrity, it excludes any possibility of gaining support from that massive, solid block of creationists (40%-47% of the population according to Gallup) who will not even look at evolution unless it can be incorporated within orthodox rather than unorthodox Christian belief.

It is interesting that Giberson, at the end of his article, laments the division of Americans over evolution as a division into “extremes” where “moderates” (i.e., Giberson and BioLogos) are unable to make headway.  The fact is that the theology of many of the past and present leaders of BioLogos (and of many TEs outside of BioLogos) is not “moderate” Christian theology (the theology of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, etc.) but is very liberal and sometimes even heretical theology (regularly flirting with open theism, embracing non-Christian solutions to the problem of evil, openly doubting the truth of the entire Bible, and so on).  Implying that conservative Protestant evangelicals in the USA are “immoderate,” merely because they will not accept heresy in order to make peace with Darwin, takes a lot of gall.

The problem with Giberson is that he thinks in political terms (“moderate” versus “extreme”) when, this being a theological issue, he should be thinking in theological terms (“orthodox” versus “heretical”).  The orthodox view (whether “extreme” or not) should always be preferred to the heretical view (whether “moderate” or not).  The first job of the Christian is not to “save Darwin,” and still less to kowtow to Darwin; the first job of the Christian is to determine what orthodox faith teaches about God and creation.  After that, the Christian can explore those versions of evolutionary theory which are possible within an orthodox Christian vision.  It is because TE (for the most part) has been cavalier about what orthodox faith teaches that it has failed to make a serious dent in the 40%-47% of the American population.  TE can’t grow any further until it gets its theological house in order.  Giberson and his friends should sit down and undertake this task, instead of bellyaching about how those evangelical Protestants who remain true to their tradition are “immoderate.”

About Edward Robinson

Edward Robinson (Eddie) started his university career on a science scholarship, but ended up as a philosopher/theologian researching the relationship between religion and natural science. He has published several books and articles on religion/science topics in both mainstream academic outlets and denominational and popular periodicals. He has also taught courses in various departments in several universities.
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24 Responses to Gallup, Jerry Coyne, and Karl Giberson: Is the Handwriting on the Wall for Theistic Evolution?

  1. Ian Thompson says:

    So you are saying that, as those three categories in the chart are normally understood, that they are all wrong?!
    Sounds like the Christians have some work to do!!

    • Edward Robinson says:

      Hello, Ian.

      I’m sorry, but I’m not understanding your question/comment.

      Can you unpack what you mean by “they are all wrong”?

      • Ian Thompson says:

        The 3 views are:
        1. Humans evolved, with God guiding.
        2. Humans evolved, but God had no part in process
        3. God created humans in present form.

        #1 is wrong, since the TE view about ‘guiding’ makes it of practically no effect.
        #2 is wrong, since God was definitely involved.
        #3 is wrong, since historical evidence points to successive stages in the progressive development of homo sapiens. There is an ‘Old Earth’ at least.

        Maybe this is not the main topic of this post.

        • Edward Robinson says:

          I see.

          I wasn’t trying to referee between the three views, but only commenting on the uselessness of the typical TE interpretation of view #1.

          If anyone who voted for #1 actually MEANT “guided” — God acts in evolution in a hands-on way, to produce certain results — then it would not be a useless position. But of course, if the leading TEs believed that, then Coyne would be even more merciless with them, mocking them for believing unscientifically in a God of the gaps. It is because he thinks that the TE leaders agree with him that God doesn’t actually do anything in evolution that he treats their biological science as acceptable, and limits his criticism to calling them confused and inconsistent for believing in a God who does something yet does nothing. And on the charge of confusion, I agree with Coyne. That was the first point of my article.

          The second point of my article was that the TEs will never escape this confusion until they stop ducking the hard theological questions and articulate a clear Christian theology of creation, sovereignty, providence, etc. as in the past Augustine, Abelard, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, etc. did.

          The third point of my article was that the until the TEs articulate a clear theology, very few people in the evangelical world will trust that their theology is orthodox, and hence TE will never crack into the 42% of the populace who remain creationists.

          A fourth point, which I did not make in the article but which I believe to be true, is that a good number of the TE leaders do not dare to fully articulate their theology because they know that it is not orthodox and would be rejected by the evangelical world. Giberson more or less admits this when he suggests that many TEs deliberately leave the question of Adam and Eve murky; he implies that if the TEs were honest they would say outright that biology proves that there never was an Adam and Eve and that it is time that Christians dropped the doctrine.

  2. Hanan says:

    Great post.

    It cannot grow until it comes up with a doctrine of how God influences evolutionary outcomes that will satisfy the average evangelical churchgoer.

    Can you elaborate what you mean by the HOW? You don’t mean the nitty-gritty details do you?

    Regarding Karl, at least he understands the issue, but in the end, when he has a website that is trying to discover the relationship of God, and allowing for chance at the same time, nobody is going to bite that….nor should they.

    I’m curious at the statistics outside of America, but it is obvious that secularism in the western world is slowly growing, so clearly, no need for a God. And, of course, you are right about he liberal churches. Judaism has the same exact problem with reform congregations. The latest pew studies show Reform and many Conservative congregations are nose diving into oblivion. Of course, Reform leaders always seem to bounce back and say they are “thrilled” by the challenge and to explore new ways of brining people back. Mmmhmmm. If their idea of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) is simply any progressive policy that comes out of the Democratic Party, why do you need to go the synagogue or commit to a Jewish life?

    • Edward Robinson says:

      Hello, Hanan.

      By “how” I mean: in what ways is God supposed to determine the outcomes of evolution? As Giberson admits, TEs have not been able to make clear the difference between God-guided evolution and evolution operating by itself. If one can’t tell the difference, then what is the point of speaking of God’s guidance at all?

      • Hanan says:

        I am guessing that Karl would say that God is above space and time and therefore there is no “How will evolution turn out” because for him it all just “is.” I think that is what Collins said. For some reason though, I have a feeling Collins would be less able to accept the kind of ‘chance’ that Giberson allows for. But I may be wrong.

        • Edward Robinson says:

          Yes, Giberson might say that, as many TEs do. Such a reply from the TEs shows confusion between divine foreknowledge and divine action. The cause of this confusion is the aversion that most TE leaders have for systematic theological study. Most of them, given a choice between reading a popular book by another TE scientist on how easy it is to reconcile Darwin with Christian theology, and reading Calvin’s Institutes, Aquinas’s Summa, or Augustine’s City of God, would choose the book by the TE scientist ten times out of ten. Hence the low quality of their theological remarks.

          Collins is skeptical that chance can explain the fine-tuning of the universe, but doesn’t apply that skepticism to neo-Darwinism. When outside of his own field, when talking about cosmology, he applies common sense; but in his own professional field, he scraps common sense and defends the received orthodoxy even though it is not rational. Professionalism seems to make most people more slavish, not more independent in their judgments.

  3. Hanan says:

    I would also like to add that I get the impression that someone like Applegate accepts more of God actually planning for a specific outcome. Giberson is much more in line with Miller and allowing for an Einstonian type of Octopus to possibly emerge.

    • Jon Garvey says:

      You may well be right Hanan – but the truth is we don’t know, because these people never make it clear. Kathryn, despite Gregory’s pleas to her to show him right and the rest of us wrong, hasn’t responded since the day after her post.

      Likewise Deb Haarsma, whose own book actually presented a model of evolution clearly under the control of divine providence, hasn’t responded to requests to clarify her position after her first replies on the “survey” thread.

      It’s a pattern that’s continued since I became involved in 2011.

    • Edward Robinson says:

      You may be right about Applegate. It is hard to say because she does not interact with questioners beyond an initial “thank you for reading my column and responding” sort of reply. Probably you are right about the alignment of Giberson with Miller as well, though I have not read Giberson’s books but only his columns on BioLogos and elsewhere, and so cannot say.

  4. Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks for this post, Eddie. As most of us know, the survey was reviewed by Deb Haarsma on BioLogos, and the difficulty of actually getting useful information from the poll was well aired. If it’s hard for us to know how the various well-known positions have voted, it must have been hard for those polled to decide where to put their cross.

    OECs are actually ignored in the questions (and are a sizeable group). One might also believe in evolution totally but have an exceptionalist view of human origins, as B B Warfield did and the Catholic Church allows officially – humans created within the last 10,000 years. The problems you’ve raised about distinguishing BioLogian TE from secular Darwinism may affect things too: if you’re TE who’s bought into BioLogos’ distancing itself from ID on the basis of the “dead hand of design”, then you might boost the “unguided evolution” vote having previously thought evolution was guided (until you read Giberson’s book!).

    My own impression relates back to recent posts on education – US biology teaching has been progressively secularised, the churches have declined, and unguided evolution has been pushed in all popular science, so what does one expect but an increase in that view?

    But BioLogos has not helped, for all the reasons that you state, and especially the attempt to nuance the unnuanceable in a garbled theology – “God didn’t guide evolution, but he guided evolution.” Huh?

    It all underlines that what we’re attempting here is worthwhile, if only people generally begin to see the issues.

  5. Merv Bitikofer says:

    This was probably clarified over on the Biologos post … but when this poll claims to have been on “America” what they probably really meant was: U.S. I presume. It doesn’t sound like the results include Canadians or Central American nations (much less South America) or I’m sure we would see much more extreme and still interesting numbers. But, aside from that …

    I still find something unpersuasive about your thesis, here, Eddie. I agree that TEs need to get their theological house in order, and I think yours (and Coyne’s) insights are indeed … insightful and seem accurate. Perhaps I’m being more pessimistic than most here, but I just don’t see that largest of U.S. groups: mostly YECs if I’m not mistaken, flocking over to TE type of thought if or when TE leadership gets their theology aligned with orthodoxy. The fly in the ointment (perhaps hippopotamus in the ointment better reflects the situation) is that for those who reject any evolutionary flavored explanation of origins equate that rejection with orthodoxy. So the TE leader who has dotted all her theological “i”s and crossed her “t”s will still fail to impress such a target audience if she leaves the hippo in place.

    And the hippo, from the TE perspective is just part of the reality that is God’s creation so it can’t very well be evicted — it it was that would be akin to becoming liars for Jesus as God’s two books are pitted against each other. No matter how orthodox one’s theology is, if it includes insistence on something that is known literally and scientifically to be false by the vast majority of thinkers, then so much the worse for that theology.

    So what I see from this poll (as regards the U.S. anyway) is that writing may be on the wall for good science (in the U.S.). Secularists (if these trends continue) will eventually prevail, and will eventually wake up to the shocking (for them) discovery of just how bad that will be in the end for science. Other religious fanatics here who oppose the religion of secularism may be able to thrive for quite some time as indeed they are currently the biggest single portion and show little sign of decline; but you can only do that for so long when you have ceded the testimonies of the rocks and trees (God’s works, which won’t go away no matter how popular any which side becomes) almost entirely to your opponents.

    So I guess I agree with you and Coyne that TEs have, slim prospects here at the moment. The only (apparently modest) asset TEs might have is their closer proximity to truth, if they can keep their theology straight. But since that particular asset (truth about creation) doesn’t seem to be much valued in this culture war, the secularists have had that cheaply tossed to them too. I don’t see this going anywhere good, but then we’re not the ones in charge. God will be glorified in the end, even if our ways may go through the valleys.

    • Edward Robinson says:

      Hi, Merv.

      I admit that there is a core of rigid Genesis literalists who are opposed to any form of evolution at all, and I agree that such people aren’t going to convert to TE no matter how orthodox TE is on theological matters. I don’t think that BioLogos places much hope in converting many from that group. But I don’t think they make up the entire 42% of the relevant poll results. I think there is a “soft” creationist vote, consisting of more liberal OECs and people who are partly attracted to, say, Behe’s ID, but who are afraid to support any version of evolution for fear that their support will be taken as support for something like Giberson-TE or Miller-TE.

      Suppose, for example that one thought that some sort of natural evolutionary account was adequate for the animals, but that man came into being as an act of special creation which went beyond the evolutionary process. Would one select answer #1 or #3? And if one selected #3, out of fear that #1 did not adequately highlight the special character of man, would that prove that one was anti-evolution, anti-science, an uneducated literalist, etc.?

      This partly points up the problem with polls in which the options aren’t refined enough, and I think the fault lies partly with the poll questions rather than in anything TE believes or fails to believe. I don’t think it would be fair to blame TE supporters for flaws in the poll itself.

      Nonetheless, if someone associates the “God guided evolution” answer with TE as often presented on BioLogos, such a person will avoid that answer like the plague, because they know that many BioLogos TEs, e.g., Venema and Falk, are very uncomfortable with the idea of God guiding anything, and they also suspect that many TE leaders don’t believe in a historical Fall, and hence in the whole Pauline-Augustinian structure which undergirds much of US Protestantism.

      When the survey was first instituted in 1982, neither ID nor modern TE existed, and it is likely that most respondents back then understood the idea of evolution guided by God as a sort of hands-on supernatural interference (perhaps quite subtle) in which God guided the mutations along certain beneficial lines. Something like this had been suggested long before, by Asa Gray — though Darwin himself, no supporter of “guided” evolution of any kind, sternly rejected the suggestion. But now I think that most TE leaders (Robert Russell being a rare exception) have so regularly and thoroughly ridiculed the idea that God enters into evolution as an efficient cause (however subtle), and have so firmly embraced an “only naturalistic accounts of origins” stance, that it is hard for other Christians to see exactly how TE evolution differs from Dawkins evolution, Coyne evolution, Dennett evolution, etc. Most American Christians who follow the debates see TE leaders as supporting Darwin’s rebuke of Gray. (After all, it is not “Asa Gray day” or “Alfred Wallace day” but “Darwin Day” that TEs loudly and eagerly celebrate every year.) So, *in today’s context*, many evangelicals probably fear that in voting for “evolution guided by God,” they are voting for a Trojan Horse, with the word “guided” being the Asa Gray horse, with a couple of dozen non-Gray inhabitants (Darwin, Thomas Henry Huxley, Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Gould, Monod, etc.) concealed inside it, armed and ready to take Troy the moment the gates are open and the horse is let in.

      I would like to see more options in the survey, since the landscape has changed since 1982. For example, suppose that there were not one but two “in between options,” one (call it A) reading: “God is somehow mysteriously responsible for human evolution, but it is impossible by any scientific or empirical or rational means to tell the difference between this God-supervised evolution and an evolution in which God is not involved at all, so that the assertion of God’s involvement lies entirely in the eye of faith,” and the other (call it B) reading: “God determined in advance exactly what the outcomes of the evolutionary process would be, including man, and by some means, natural, supernatural, or a combination, arranged things so that evolution had no choice but to produce his desired outcomes.” In such a case, I think you would find that the total of the two results would be greater than the 31% that the middle option currently gets, and that this total would dig somewhat into the 42% that most people suppose (mistakenly, I argue) is hardcore creationist. I think the creationist total would still be high, but it might well sink below 40%, because some would shift their vote to choice B. The decisive factor would be the clear, non-hedged affirmation that God, not chance or randomness, is entirely in charge of outcomes, especially man.

      It may be that I am giving too much credit here to the average survey respondent. For all I know, very few of the respondents keep up with the debates on the level that people like us do. Perhaps most of the people who answer are folks on the street who know nothing of BioLogos or Ken Miller or Van Till etc. and to whom “God guided the process” sounds like a reasonable balance between God’s sovereignty and modern natural science. I may be over-thinking things here.

      But supposing that is the case, supposing that all or most respondents in the 31% mean literally that God steers evolution in a hands-on way, that still poses a problem for the TE leadership, especially at BioLogos, which would like to wean Christians away from any notion that God interacts with nature in an efficient-cause way — at least, when it comes to origins. Suppose that the poll numbers for “God guided evolution” rose to 50%; what would then follow would be an intra-Christian battle between TE leaders (most of whom don’t appear to think that God had to “guide” anything) and the people in the pews in their churches (who think the opposite). So the question of God’s sovereignty, providence, and Biblical “activism” would still come up, and would still have to be dealt with. TE leaders would still have to put their necks on the block and openly state their theological views regarding whether and how God acts in the natural world. Karl Giberson’s point still remains important: if one can’t tell the difference between a God who does something and a God who does nothing, TE is in big trouble, from a sales point of view. Its target market, the evangelical world, wants to hear a non-hedged affirmation that God does something, and wants to know, in broad terms, what it is that God does.

  6. GD says:

    I suppose the discussion on TE and similar outlooks would confuse the ‘man in the street’ especially when confronted with these short sharp questions. The confusion becomes rather odd if we look at the comments and discussions spanning the period from early Christian beliefs on providence and election (all totally dependent on God acting as an act of Grace), to, for example, the Calvin commentaries on the subject. We would find a consistent outlook, which is maintained by the Orthodox traditions and the teachings of the Church. The distinction is between the animal nature of all life on earth, and the human soul that is the result of direct and unmistakable intervention and involvement by God.

    This is amply illustrated by the following (this material is easily found on the internet). From Calvin’s’ commentaries on election and predestination:

    “All men alike were created out of the earth, and all had souls created from nothing put into their bodies. If this be so, we see that when God gives precedence to one race over others, the distinction among them must have its source in his gracious favor. . .”

    “For as I said the bodies of donkeys and men come from the same clay. And all of a donkey’s strength and energy he possesses because he was so created by the secret life-giving power of God.”

    “We know that Adam was made of the earth as were the other animals, and therefore as to body there was no real difference between men and the dumb beasts.”

    On Adam and Eve and Eden, an orthodox view is easily found on the internet, in which the author shows again the intervention by God in creating life, and in selecting Adam and placing him in a protected environment (Fr. Deacon Andrey Kuraev, Orthodoxy and Creationism):

    “The seeds of life are not found in the earth; rather, “God’s word creates beings” and plants these in earth, which, in turn, germinates them. Earth is unable to be fertile by itself, yet there is no reason to downplay its role: “Let the earth bring forth by itself without having any need of help from without.” While life proceeds from earth, the very life-giving ability of matter is a gift of the Creator.”

    “Of all the living creatures, God creates only man in a special way, not by way of commanding the earth or the waters. Earth’s ability to respond is apparently finite: earth is unable to bring forth man. The crucial transition between animal and man occurs not by way of God’s command but by His direct act…… The fact that the earth in response to the Word is producing life…”

    “….even this doctrinal reason fails to explain why these anti-evolutionary views, which are in scandalous disagreement with the views of modern science and knowledge…”

    “… Thus, each appearance of the higher level of being is, in a way, a new creation: the type of creation, of which the least of all can be called “creation from nothing.”

    This article discusses the various issues that seem to confuse some people, including death, sin and the particular situation of Eden … “the Garden of Eden was certainly not the whole world…”

    The difficulties faced by the various outlooks that seek to modify Christian doctrine to suit people who seem to want to create a “doctrine of Darwin” are as great as those who seek to turn the Bible into a scientific text book. As Calvin points out, without God’s intervention and Grace, mankind is indeed another animal, and one that perhaps causes greater harm to himself and this earth than any other animal. Those who want to espouse Darwin for their odd theology would please the materialist amongst us a great deal I have italicised the quotes but this has been lost when I pasted the material?).

  7. Jon Garvey says:

    GD – technical note: the comments editor requires tags to italicise – it won’t preserve them in pasted text. Use < i> before the text and < /i> afterwards.

  8. I’m a TE who attends a small evangelical church (Southern Baptist) in western Colorado where evolution enjoys the same level of acceptance as does child molestation. As you guess, I don’t raise the subject when I’m in church.

    An entire cadre of creationist “scientists” on sites such as offer evangelicals technical-sounding arguments in such areas as radiometric dating and genetics. People who don’t see the case for old earth/evolution as obvious are left to judge between one expert opinion and another. If push comes to shove they will incline toward an “expert” opinion that defiantly proclaims its allegiance to God and the Bible as opposed to one espoused by atheists, agnostics, and secularists of all stripes.

    Once a person contemplates evolution on the basis of experto crede (“believe the specialist in his field”) then higher criticism is next in line for consideration. Engage Darwin honestly and you will have to deal with Bishop Calenso as well. C. S. Lewis was willing to give higher criticism its due but drew the line at the gospels. If the line is not drawn somewhere, the faith itself evaporates. Is it any wonder that believers with few educational and philosophical resources (who have always been numerous, 1 Cor 1:26-27) find it less confusing to draw the line earlier rather than later?

    It is naive to imply, as Biologos does, that science takes no position on Christian morals. Conventional medical science now sees homosexual behavior as inevitable, normal, and acceptable for those so inclined. The stopping point of the modern train, moveover, is not just homosexuality but the whole LGBTQ spectrum—affirming sexual expression of virtually every kind. A version of Christianity that endorses absolute sexual license has severed any link between ethics and the Scriptures.

    Finally, in the US evolution is part of the “culture wars” and is highly politicized. Evolution, in the minds of a formidable number of American evangelicals, is inextricably bound up with Marxism, nature-worshiping environmentalism, and a conspiracy to emasculate US sovereignty in favor of an internationalist totalitarian world order.

    Given this complex psychology, US evangelicals will not be shifted in their opinions for a long time to come. The best that believers such as myself can hope for are a few oases of devoted rationality. If Biologos simply helps such pockets of thought to survive, they have done a great service.

    • Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Darek, welcome to The Hump, and thanks for your perceptive comments.

      You’re absolutely right to say that for most of us – in fact, all of us in areas we’re not trained in – arguments from authority are bound to affect us more than anything. Even if one could train the entire Christian population in every field of biology, why would they want to study it? Conversely, Christian scientists are always going to be amateurs in theology, philosophy and whatever, for the most part.

      The risk of the slippery slope you outline is actually exemplified by the number of TEs who have felt the desire to redefine the faith to accommodate the science, and in some cases have ended up abandoning Christianity altogether. It’s a real risk.

      But maybe the one remark of yours I disagreed with (speaking as a medic) gives a clue as to what might help steer through the jungle, and that’s when you say that “conventional medical science now sees homosexual behavior as inevitable, normal, and acceptable for those so inclined.” The fact is that science in this area more or less ceased some decades ago on the grounds that it was unethical. In other words, what science would be done, and how it is interpreted, was the outcome rather than the source of a cultural choice.

      So in the UK this week there was a public debate between two LGBT supporters on the question of whether homosexuality is a biological given, or a lifestyle choice. Possibly the answer is both, or some third thing is the truth, but the science doesn’t exist to settle the matter, and will just not be done in the present climate. “Experts” will continue to trot out their personal opinions as “science”!

      My wishlist? That the “expert” differences on origins should be discussed, at least amongst Christians, without the “Creationist Fundie hicks”, “Godless evolutionists” and “Lying IDiots” stuff. And that the worldviews and theological presuppositions behind positions, and those holding them, should be central to the discussion.

      Thanks again.

      • Jon

        I appreciate your comment and your words of welcome. I feel blessed to have chanced upon your site.

        I believe that guides to psychological disorder diagnosis and other artifacts of science relied upon, for example, by western courts have largely conferred normalcy upon homosexual behavior.

        It seems difficult to deny that there are many people who experience same sex attraction but would rather not have such feelings, who indeed adopt strategies to suppress those feelings or conceal them. To me, this is similar to people who have a particular susceptibility to alcohol or drug addiction. Whether to act on certain feelings—whether to drink heavily or adopt a homosexual lifestyle—is a matter of choice, to be sure, but simply to have the feelings or the weakness in the first place is not a matter of choice in all cases.

        The same sex attraction or the weakness to alcohol are (again, in cases at least) abnormal states of the body and brain, while the way a person deals with the abnormality is a moral decision. That is the way that Christianity leads me to frame the discussion. So for scientific bodies to declare based on certain criteria that homosexual feelings are NOT abnormal has moral implications.

        Speaking of scientific authorities being hijacked by social fashions, YECs argue that scientific assessments of the age of the earth and the manner of origin of living things are hopelessly biased, the result of deliberate blindness to contrary evidence both physical and scriptural, and not qualified to be called “science” at all.

        Am I actually equating the two cases of science-on-origins and science-on-sexual-morality? Of course not. I am saying that it is becoming an increasingly delicate business to tease apart such issues, and therefore pessimism about US evangelicals becoming more trustful of science as a whole is, sad to say, thoroughly warranted.

        I could not agree more on the need for discussion of such matters among believers with generosity of spirit.

  9. Merv Bitikofer says:

    Hi, Darek.

    I balk at the presupposition that conferring normalcy on a behavior [science has a fair shot at doing this] equates to ethical sanction of the same behavior [science hasn’t a whisper or a prayer on how to do that.]

    If we considered many other cultural settings historically, what we now call child molestation would be the norm in many of those settings. Try flying a defense of that to those same scientists who have just worked themselves into a froth trying to defend the morality of homosexual behavior! I’ll bet we’d witness the quickest about-face ever seen as we listen to them hem, haw, and frantically bolster some kind of case involving mutual consent always being needed, and children being incapable of providing that —all arbitrary and legalistic sexual mores that another society would easily label as something like prudish Victorian sexual mores that our scientific thinkers pride themselves as being emancipated from. Yet science has nothing for them to use to build their case. So as Jon has said in recent columns …. they smuggle in just enough religion through the back door to get by.

    Alcoholism, wife-beating, gluttony, … we could build quite a list of normal behaviors; in fact come to think of it … it is Biblical to recognize that our states of normalcy are sinful. So while many are eager to play the card of “science has shown x, y, and z to all be normal” as some kind of an ethical argument … my response has been: “that’s very interesting … so what?”

    It has been noted by some (and I find significance in this) that in the bulk of the prophetic messages and new testament exhortations, greed (and how we throw money and power around to try to protect our own at the expense of others and all creation) seems to have netted a much larger portion of God’s wrathful attention than the sexual sins ever did. That isn’t to try to justify our every sexual preference (and for that matter … even just limiting ourselves to where the Bible does address sexuality: which is addressed more? homosexual behavior or heterosexual iniquities?) After sorting through all that and looking at the scant few direct references to the homosexual behaviors, one is left puzzling how the church gets away with making such a tempest over such a small portion of the commandments while simultaneously sitting happily in the pews with the elephantine representatives of other sins that dominate prophetic invective on nearly every other page!

    I know that part of this isn’t the church’s fault as it doesn’t choose which causes and issues get pushed under its nose, and yet it is I think, a large measure of our responsibility for how we have historically singled out some sins as meriting a higher level of public acrimony than others, and there is predictable kickback from such a past.

    • Merv

      Preach it, brother! Some of the Peruvian Indians provide an examples of incestuous pedophilia as being, if not a cultural norm, historically tolerated to a degree we would find both shocking and revolting.

      Note, I didn’t indicate that I buy into the argument that the judgment of scientific bodies such as phsychiatric associations should guide our morality. I’m saying that separating science from moral judgment can be a subtle business that muddies the debate about other fruits of scientific consensus, such as about the age of the earth or the shape of biological history.

      There is a sense of “normal” that in fact has moral implications even in the Bible. Paul speaks about “unnatural” relations in Rom 1:26-27 and refers to learning from nature about gender distinctions in 1 Cor 11:14-15. Nature, fallen as it is, and our perceptions, flawed though they are, allow us to see some of God’s intentions in the course of nature. Perversions of his intentions are natural in one sense and unnatural in another, just as cleft pallet is a deformity that occurs in the natural course of things and yet is in fact a “deformity,” a deviation from intended form.

      I would be the first to say that the murder and oppression of black people with impunity in the Deep South of the US for generations, in the part of the US that called itself the Bible Belt, was a far greater sin than government sanctioning homosexual unions.

      However, I would not soft pedal chronic, unrepented sexual sins. In some liberal churches in the US there is a logic that says, “We all shade the truth, we all lose our tempers, we all fall short from time to time . . . therefore, homosexual behavior ought not to be labelled a grave sin along with adultery and fornication; it’s needlessly offensive to say that it must be repented and turned away from.” Sexual sin has in fact become an oxymoron in some churches, and goes without a mention in others. This is not biblical.

      The church should bear witness to unpopular truth in tones of humility, acknowledging its own past hypocrisy and colossal failings. But bear witness it must.

  10. Jon Garvey says:

    Merv and Darek

    Merv’s point is graphically illustrated by this current piece from the Daily Telegraph. The journalistic aim there is clearly of the pattern “even some scientists are secret perverts”. But in fact the social dynamic appears identical to what was happening over other forms of “minority sexuality” a generation ago. Then too dubious research said it’s normal (the infamously flawed Kinsey Report, for example, was taken as gospel in my Social Psychology training, and is still cited today), practitioners formed human rights lobby groups, and the response was at first public outrage, morphing under the influence of the nonsense science and the one-sided human rights message into a complete reversal of public morals.

    The deciding factor for the future of paedophilia seems to be no more than whether the dominant message comes across as “children’s lives ruined” or “young people’s natural and healthy sexuality affirmed.” Currently the pendulum (thankfully) favours the former, but the tragic stories of teenagers who have had abortions has never figured high in the abortion debate (though I met a good number in medical practice), so fickle public opinion could easily change.

    One of the few factors preventing that change is that paedophiles are the one group in society that can be absolutely hated and demonized nowadays without fear of being “phobic”. The public seem to need scapegoats, and paedophiles and Christians seem the only ones left!

    I concur with both of you that, in terms of biblical teaching, other sins than sexual have greater weight, and especially economic wrongs. But I think for the most part (prosperity gospel notwisthstanding) churches have both taught and acted on the need for responsibility over wealth and poverty, and the public has shared that conscience and even praised the believers for their stance (Good old Mother Theresa and the Salvation Army!) in a consumerist society.

    But the emphasis on sex was surely an appropriate response to a society that has become obsessed with licentiousness, which has led both to public dismissal of Christian sexual morality as repressive (in the Feudian sense) and latterly as evil and worthy of legal sanction itself. If teaching biblical marriage now makes one fall foul of discrimination legislation, as it does in the UK now, then silence on the matter is scarcely an option.

    • GD says:

      Jon, Merv and Darek,

      “But the emphasis on sex was surely an appropriate response to a society that has become obsessed with licentiousness,..”

      This is the major point; the relentless emphasis on ‘sex is free and a matter of preference’ has been combined with a materialistic outlook, backed by a perception of the authority of science (even when science has shown the opposite of what they claimed), has created a western culture that demands licentiousness, promiscuity, homosexuality, paedophilia, drug use, until many people in our communities have come to regard such things as the norm and any opposition is now a phobia, with some regarding virtue a psychological problem.

      There are many reasons for this state of affairs, and past periods have shown that many communities adopted vice and excesses in their culture – the extraordinary aspect that I have observed is the willingness of various churches to accommodate such vices, and the lack of any public opposition to such immorality. Our communities are already paying a huge price (see the blanket drug addiction in some cities, and the response – make it legal and find ways of treating these poor wretches whose life has become a nightmare). Off course, any attempt by Christians to offer solutions is met by the ‘judgemental’ response.

      I think the challenge to the Church today is to make a determined effort in affirming and living according to the teachings of the Gospel. This witness will do the most good – and this is done by returning to the teachings and theology expounded during the first few centuries of Christianity.

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