Faith and Science

On 1 April Roger Aubrey posted an article on his Blog entitled In the Beginning on the subject of Darwin's theory of evolution. I wrote a comment to this post that caused quite a stir. Roger posted it again as In the Beginning(2).

Since then the pro/anti evolution discussion that has ensued has outgrown the original purpose of the post. Roger has moved on to other things, and has politely asked that the debate be moved elsewhere. Whilst I think we had all come to the conclusion that there was little more to be gained from further debate, this is one of those issues that just won't go away. So if there is anything futher to be added; here is the place to do it.


Roger Aubrey said...

Thanks Chris. I believe you're right: the issue is very important and I hope that you continue to press your view. You clearly have an understanding and a theology to go with it. I shall check back regularly to see how it's going.

Doug said...

Chris - great thoughts. Thanks for sharing them. From Roger's blog you seem to suggest that if we cast doubt on Genesis 1 as an historical/biological text book we then open the door to doubts on other areas of the Bible - slippery slope etc. Perhaps this isn't the issue. It is important in any Biblical exegetical and hermeneutical exercise to appreciate the genre, literary style and historical context of the biblical text under consideration. Read in this light there is solid evidence to suggest that Genesis 1-3 should not be seen as a 'scientific/historical' account of creation as we evangelicals traditionally like to believe. In fact it is a very clever, inspired and beautiful mixture of - to name a few - poetry, narrative, temple metaphor and illusions to Ancient Near East mythology. This all points to Gen 1-3 certainly being inspired by God to tell us the 'beginning' of things - but not the scientifc and historical beginning of things. That simply isn't the point of these chapters and to impose historical and scientific meanings within the text would be supra-Biblical. Thus we simply aren't told the history or the science of it all. Could it be evolution? Perhaps, perhaps not - does it matter? All our theories will be inadequate to a certain extent. But why is evolution so scary? Could not God - the all-powerful and creative God - use evolution as the most wonderful tool to create both humans and the rest of creation. Yes we are different to other created life as we are made in his image but why could God not create us in his image following an evolutory process? Aren't we limiting God by saying it could not have happened that way? In fact, this evolutory process could be seen as reflecting the very nature of God's dealings with humanity - he isn't a God of quick fixes but progressive and often slow transformation/sanctification/deification.I believe Christians do much harm when they necessarily link evolution with secular thinking. In fact we could be denying a quite amazing miracle of God. Evolution may be wrong - but I am not scrambling to prove it wrong in order to protect my faith.

Chris HH said...

Doug - welcome! And thanks for your post. What a great way to start the ball rolling again. You put your case very well, and with integrity. Thank you.

First, I'm not in the least bit threatened by evolution. _IF_ it were proven to be true, I would not abandon my faith. I would rationalise it almost exactly as you have. In fact I once did. But I don't any more. Let me try and explain why.

There seems to be this notion amongst many that evolution "must be true." It is believed by so many eminent scientists, it is mentioned in every natural history documentary, it is in every biology text book, it is the framework for all modern biology etc. The scientific laity think that although they have never seen the "proof" it is probably because of their lack of scientific understanding, and if they were privy to the knowledge and understanding that the eminent scientists have, they could not help but come to the same conclusion.

It is rather like the rational by which the UK went to war with Iraq. We can't see the proof for the weapons of mass destruction, but surely all these analysts and our Prime Minister can't be wrong. If we could see the evidence that they have....

Some of us who have studied science have come to the realisation - there is no such proof. There are no weapons of mass destruction. The emperor has no clothes!

Why then is the theory held with such esteem by the scientific community? I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the persona of Sherlock Holmes describes the principle best: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." It is believed because if you want a scientific explanation for how we are here, there is no alternative. Creation is a miracle, an intervention of the divine, and thus by definition does not fit into any scientific explanation. Who can explain the science of how Jesus turned water into wine, or walked on the water. I believe the "laws" of science are there so we can distinguish the natural from the supernatural. If there were no such rules and everything worked different one day from the next, you could never tell what was a miracle and what was just "today's menu". God created the laws of nature, but he is not bound by them.

For the Christian though as I explained in my original post, there is no compulsion to accept evolution. A Christian *must* at some point believe in the miraculous. You cannot escape it. Take the virgin birth. If you can believe that the incarnation of the eternal divine Son of God into this world was a divine and miraculous act of creation, rather than a natural act of procreation; then why not with Adam?

Now lets look at the Genesis account. And to make matters simple lets put aside the account of the creation of the animals and just look at the origin of man.
"The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." Even if you consider Genesis to be a poetic and non-literal account, it is hard if not impossible to reconcile God creating man from dust, and God creating man from the monkeys. You see there is a fundamental dichotomy between the biblical and the evolutionary view of man. To the evolutionist man is just another animal, the pinnacle of evolution. The bible says man is the creative act of God, with a unique position above the rest of creation. I can see no reason to interpret Genesis any differently, unless you come to it with a preconceived conviction that evolution must be true. If you believe in the miraculous there is no reason for such a preconception.

Doug said...

As I am not a scientist I can't comment on evolution per se, but your last paragraph is interesting. For me God is just as much in the natural as the supernatural, antibiotics or the healing miracle, - God is no more powerful and to be praised because he does something 'out of the ordinary' or through this natural created order. He is in all things. I agree Adam could have been birthed by a miracle but does the text necesarily say that? And does it matter if God created him through a long process or a quick one? Christ's birth was miraculous and to deny that goes against the plain meaning of the text using sound biblical interpretaton and also against 2000 years of church Tradition (with a capital T). The same cannot be said for Adam and it needn't be. Adam represents us - mankind. Christ represented God-man. The necessity for Christ coming in a mariculous way is there for Adam. In some ways the evolutory framework fits our created nature amd our place in creation more than a miracle does (eg all of creation groans like we do etc). I guess my main point is that God created us - it makes it no less a creative act whether he did it through evolution, miracle or some other theory we havn't thought of yet. Yes we must beleive in miracles but we don't have to believe Adam was a 'miracle' to beleive in miracles, and in some sense it is no less miraculous to believe that Adam was formed from dust or from a long evolutory process. Yes we have a unique position above other creations but why does that mean we were a miracle? The dichotomy you mention is in fact not between evolution and Christianity but rather between secular evolutionists and Christians. My view of man is the same as yours but I can see no reason why evolution must be wrong because of my view of man. You are right - I don't need to impose evolution but Christianity does not mean we HAVE to reject it. Science may ultimately reject it but we don't have to.

Chris HH said...

OK Doug, Think through the implications....

If evolution is true, was there a literal Adam?
Who was his father? Was he a man or an animal?
If a man, was he in the image of God?
If he was in the image of God, then Adam was not the real "Adam" his father was, and the process regresses one generation.
If not, did he have a soul? Did he go to heaven?
If not, what was it about that final mutation that constituted the image of God? Is there an "Image of God" gene that we can isolate?
Did he have brothers and sisters? What was different about them?
Where were the rest of humanity when God said "It is not good for man to be alone"?
Why did God create Eve from Adam's side if after millions of years of evolution there must have been plenty of suitable mates around?
Where were all the women when a suitable helper for Adam could not be found?

If Adam is not a literal person, then it is not just Genesis that must be reinterpreted as figurative, poetic or what-have-you. Several chunks of the New Testament no longer make sense: Luke 3, Romans 5, 1Corinthians 15, 1Timothy 2, etc.

Doug said...

I need to answer this in three parts:

1: My argument is that these questions are irrelevant as we will never know, should know or can know the answers. They don't shake my faith becuase I believe the Bible tells me what I need to know - eg I am in the image of God, man's role, woman's role etc. Does a woman's role in the created order have to depend on the historicy of the rib surgery? Or can that be merely poetic to reflect a biblical truth? This doesn't open the floodgates to liberal interpretation of the rest of the Bible as the boundary marker is the genre of the text. Genesis 1 is not an historical document - but poetic etc - and therefore we are at least able - and probably should - consider non-historical meanings. Genesis 1 is not there to provide answers therefore we should not rule out evolution simply because it doesn't fit with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. All your questions are doing what you say we should not do - try and explain a miracle. We can not use a poetic document to argue against the evolutory process. Different genres. Otherwise we will be asking things like 'If trees clap their hands when did that stop as we don't see trees with hands nowadays'.
2: Similar types of difficult questions could also be put to those who do believe in a literal Genesis 1 interpretation, eg dating, incestual relationships etc etc. I am sure you know them. The point is that these types of questions will always be around because God's ways are higher than ours and - as you have said - we can't understand all of his ways.
3: So it comes down to whether we have to impose a literal Adam or do we have the freedom to let that question go unanswered until the consummation and allow Genesis 1 to be other than historical/literal. I agree that if we have to believe in a literal Adam then that has serious implications as to how we interpret Genesis 1. Your texts are interesting and I will reviset them. For the moment I will just say that I have heard strong evangelical arguements either way - from emminent scholars I respect. So it says to me that whatever I believe I can't be dogmatic about it.

Chris HH said...

> All your questions are doing what you say we should not do - try and explain a miracle.

Yes. They were meant to be provocative. You said that you did not think man's creation had to be a miracle - in which case the questions are valid.

> We can not use a poetic document to argue against the evolutory process. Different genres. Otherwise we will be asking things like 'If trees clap their hands when did that stop as we don't see trees with hands nowadays'.

LOL! Nice answer. But is Genesis a poetic document? You consider it to be, but that is because you do not believe it to be factual in the creation account. The rest of Genesis is factual and historic. Are the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph just poetic? If not where do you draw the line between fact and fable? I believe that the whole of Genesis (although not scientific) is still factual. And if creation is a miracle, as I maintain, then it cannot be a scientific account by definition.

> The point is that these types of questions will always be around because God's ways are higher than ours and - as you have said - we can't understand all of his ways.

Yes. But we can understand some of his ways. There are two equal errors in theology: the first is to assume we can know everything, the other is to assume we can know nothing.

We know about God, because he has revealed himself. We cannot go beyond that revelation, but we should not shrink back from pressing in to know God as far as it is possible to go, down the avenues of revelation that he has given us.

> I have heard strong evangelical arguments either way - from emminent scholars I respect. So it says to me that whatever I believe I can't be dogmatic about it.

I hear that a lot these days. And I know what you mean. But if you know the truth - hold on to it! We have been far too influenced by political correctness, and pluralism. One person's opinion is *not* just as valid as someone else's. If that were true, then truth itself has lost its meaning. Either you are right or wrong. A man of God should not be easily swayed from his convictions, or tossed back and forth by every wind of teaching.

Doug said...

Chris - the questions still aren't valid if you don't believe Genesis 1-3 to be a literal account of history. I wonder what forces you to think that they are historical/literal? Is it more than needing a literal Adam? As for having to decide whether something is right or wrong - that is quicksand to me and something I try and avoid. Don't get me wrong, there are boundaries to truth but sometimes we look for 'truth' where God simply hasn't revealed that part of truth to us. For example, the Trinity - we know a semblence of the truth but no-one knows the truth of the internal workings of the Trinity. It is a mystery. I think faith is also a mystery to a certain extent. As is suffering. As is evil. As is the church to some degree. Yes he reveals elements of truth to us and we should be firm in those areas but we should steer away from seeking 'right' and 'wrong' in areas where God simply hasn't revealed it to us. Is creation one of those areas. There are unanswerable questions if you are a creationist, evolutionist or something else which tends to tell me that there are elements of mystery in it. So I listen to various arguments but have no problem in saying - I don't know and have strong reservations about saying 'this must be right and everyone else is wrong'. Strong convictions are not necessarily a sign of godliness.

Doug said...

As for the rest of Genesis. I agree this is problematic but welcome to the world of biblical interpretation. The books of the Bible aren't easy books - they are often a mix of poetry, narrative, mythology etc. We must not make the mistake at saying because Genesis is predominantly narrative the whole book must be. We need to be more sophisticated in our interpretation. My background in UK New Churches often wanted to simplify matters and 'interpret it how it reads to modern 20th century readers' - but it isn't sound methodology. These books are wonderfully inspired documents - the very word of God - but at times we struggle to interpret them. I know of evangelical scholars who think the whole book is histiography, others believe only after chapter 3 is it history and still others who are happy to say that everything up to Abraham is truth but not history. My own belief sways towards everything Abraham onwards is most suredly history. Before then? It is truth, it is God's word and it is God saying WHAT he did but not necessarily HOW he did it. I therefore relate to it in the same way the New Testament related to it - God did various acts and he wants and requires us to think of these acts in terms of Adam - Noah etc - but I am happy to wait for the day when God says - hey, look Doug - this is HOW I did it! To be more certain would seem to impose more on the Bible than it/God wants to tell us.

Chris HH said...

Doug, we are agreed on a number of things. The importance of correct exegesis, the limits of human knowledge in the divine mysteries, and the danger of going beyond what is written. Were we disagree is how these apply to the book of Genesis.

Ironically your arguments of not filtering the ancient texts through 20th/21st century understanding and not reading in what is not there, apply far more strongly to those who try to impose the modern theory of evolution. There is no imposition at all to infer a literal Adam - it's there black and white.

Remember that there is a prohibition on removing scripture, not just adding it. When we come to the Bible it should be as humble disciples to the words of our master, to learn, grow and change. Not as sophisticated scholars to an ancient text, to edit, sift and divide. If you go down that route, then you are absolutely right, you cannot make any definitative statement. Not just about this issue, but on any matter of doctrine. The scriptures are no longer the final authority on faith and practice, but have become a smorgasbord of subjective opinions.

Before you retort, and I know you will want to. Can I ask you to do one thing? Don't take my word on these matters, but be a good Berean (Ac 17:11), and search the scriptures yourself. Get a concordance and look up all the references to Adam, not just in Genesis, but the rest of the Old Testament, and in the New. Apply the principles of exegesis that you obviously know: What is the message the author is trying to communicate? How would this be understood in the historical, cultural, and geographical context of his listeners? Then ask the Holy Spirit to give you revelation into what the eternal living word has to say to you today. You should not have to wait for the last day to receive revelation from God on what his word means. Then come back and tell me if you believe in a literal Adam or not. If there is one positive thing that has come out of this discussion, it is that it here that the theological side of this debate hinges.

Be blessed.

Doug said...

Chris - we do indeed agree in many areas. I will do as you request - but let me clarify my exegetical method as divergence here has been one of the main Protestant thorns. I take my lead from Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in their joint book 'How to Read the Bible for all its Worth' and their individual books 'Old Testament Exegesis' (Stuart) and 'New Testament Exegesis' (Fee). I must - if I am to be a good Sola Scriptura Protestant - first understand what the orignal author meant to communicate in the historical context. Only then can I apply that text to my life - and then only in a way that doesn't deny the orignal plain meaning of the text. But lets be clear we have to be sophisticated/learned etc to go step one. It is not an easy task - these books are thousands of years old, in ancient languages, in sometimes extinct genres and then we have to decide which ancient manuscripts should we use - the MT, LXX etc etc. You know the issues. Thankfully we now have evangelicals scholars who are very learned in these areas and they give us an English translation but it still remains an ongoing task to understand certain areas of these texts. This doesn't scare me as I believe we have so much clarity through the leading of the Spirit in conjuction with orthodox scholars using their brains for God's purposes. Yes I will again read the references to Adam but we cannot just ignore that Genesis 1-3 contains a very interesting mix of genres, illusions etc. In conclusion, I don't believe Genesis 1-3 - using good exegetical method - says there has to be a literal Adam. I believe at best it leads it open, and I actually think the genre sways away from a literal Adam. Now does the rest of the Bible claim a literal and historical Adam? - that is a different question and I will look again! And it is important as we should interpret Scripture with Scripture.

Doug said...

Chris - will bow out of this conversatoin now. Thanks for taking the time to chat. I don't think there are easy answers to what we have spoken about, and we would be unwise to be dogmatic about it. I can recommend two very helpful commentaries - Walton in the NIVAC series and Bruce Waltke's Genesis. Both evangelical, scholarly and try and tackle the tensions we have been talking about. Here is an article I came across which was very interesting by Professor Watts from the evangelical Regent College. He has an interesting interpretation of Genesis 1. http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Bible-Science/6-02Watts.html#Making%20Sense%20of%20Genesis%201


Chris HH said...

No problem Doug. Thank you for your comments. From the hits this page has got, I know our dialog has generated a lot of interest. Hopefully it has been of help too. I couldn't have done it without you.

Lars Ruben Osland said...

I agree with Roger that this is an important issue. Many people are struggling with their Christian faith because they learn in school that there is scientific evidence for a theory that is contradictory to the Bible.

I'm glad there are Christians who are able to defend the Christian belief in creation. However, a lot of the arguments used by creationists are in my opinion pseudo-scientific, and makes it clear to evolutionists that creationists haven't understood the theory of evolution properly.

For those who are interested, I would recommend the site www.answersingenesis.org. The people behind the web site are creationist scientists. One of the articles I found most interesting is Arguments we think creationists should NOT use.

Chris HH said...

Thank you, Lars.
That is a very good and helpful site. I agree with you completely that the pseudo-science on the creationist side does not help our cause, and just reinforces the misconception that we are anti-science, or misinformed.