Summary and Reflection on the Christianity and Science Series

Introduction

You lost me: why young Christians are leaving church — and rethinking faith by David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins (BakerBooks, 2011).

Are Christianity and science at war? This was a major concern for me when I came to faith in Christ 22 years ago in the middle of my career as a biology professor at Iowa State University. Although it did not prevent me from coming to faith in Christ, it continued to trouble me and caused doubts about my faith in the early years after my conversion to Christianity. I wondered whether modern science is really compatible with belief in God and whether it is possible to reconcile the Bible’s account of creation with the scientific account of natural history.

These questions also trouble young adults today. A recent five-year study, headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman, identified antagonism between churches and science as one of six reasons why three out of five young adults disconnect from church after age 15. The study found that a quarter of young adults believe that Christianity is anti-science and the same proportion say that they have been turned off by the evolution-versus-creation debate.

These questions led me to develop the Christianity and science honors course that I have been teaching at Iowa State University for the past 14 years. In this last post in the , I want to summarize and reflect about some of the key ideas that we have considered.

Does science rule out God?

John Polkinghorne, a British physicist and theologian.

This question was absolutely crucial to me as a young believer. Had science found out something that ruled out God? If so my Christian faith was a lie or a sham! I was very much helped in my thinking about this question by John Polkinghorne in his chapter Theology in the University (Faith, Science and Understandingsee post 11).

Polkinghorne pointed out that reality is complex and multi-leveled. He talked about four levels, nature, aesthetic (beauty), moral & spiritual. He argued that knowledge of each of these levels must be allowed to conform to the way in which they actually can be known. Each of these levels are studied by different disciplines that must respect the way that each level can be known. Thus while science is the best tool for studying nature, its competence does not extend to the other levels (aesthetic, moral or spiritual). Some atheist scientists argue that science disproves God. While these statements sound like conclusions of science, they are actually metaphysical interpretations based on the presuppositions of their worldview. The late Stephen Jay Gould, an agnostic and one of the most widely read spokespersons for evolution, agreed with this conclusion. He said:

Science simply cannot by its legitimate methods adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. Either half of my colleagues are enormously stupid or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs – and equally compatible with atheism.

The bottom line is that science can’t be used to disprove the existence of God. Dallas Willard puts it well in his book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God:

The powerful though vague and unsubstantiated presumption is that something has been found out that renders a spiritual understanding of reality in the manner of Jesus simply foolish to those who are “in the know”. …But when it comes time to say exactly what it is that has been found out, nothing of substance is forthcoming. …You can be very sure that nothing fundamental has changed in our knowledge of ultimate reality and the human self since the time of Jesus. . . . The multitude of theories, facts, and techniques that have emerged in recent centuries have not the least logical bearing upon the ultimate issues of existence and life.

Can we reconcile the Bible’s account of creation with the scientific account of natural history?

God as Architect/Builder/Geometer/Craftsman, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55539 (retrieved January 23, 2014). Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:God_the_Geometer.jpg.

We’ve seen that there are two creation stories, one from the science perspective and the other from the perspective of the Bible.

Story from the Bible. At the beginning of the Bible there are two complementary creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The first tells the story of creation from a cosmic perspective while the second story tells it from a human perspective. The two creation stories are set within the larger context of the central story of the Bible:

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Redemption through Christ
  • Consummation.

Story from science. The central theme of the story from science is evolution. We saw in previous blogs that there are three scientific meanings of the word evolution.

  1. Change over time includes three dimensions:
    1. cosmic,
    2. chemical,
    3. and biological evolution.
  2. Common descent in which all of life is believed to have been descended with changes over time from a common ancestor.
  3. A mechanism, i.e., evolution by natural selection, which explains the changes over time and the observation of common descent.

Apparent conflict. There are several areas of apparent conflict between the two stories.

  1. Timing of creation events. Did God create the universe and everything in it during 6 literal days as some interpret Genesis 1 or did creation take place over a period of 13.7 billion years as indicated by science?
  2. Mechanism of creation. Were all non-living and living things, including man, created miraculously by special creation events or did God use a natural mechanism, i.e., evolution, which he created?
  3. Origin of man. Were Adam and Eve real people created specially by God in the Garden of Eden or did humans evolve from lower animals over a long period of time through the process of evolution by natural selection? Was the fall of Adam and Eve, described in Genesis 3, a real event involving real people or is it a mythical story which illustrates human sinfulness.

Resolving the apparent conflicts. In the first blog post of this series, I said that God reveals himself to man in two ways. One is through the Book of Nature (general revelation) and the second is through the Book of Scripture (special revelation). Both revelations must be true because of God’s character. The two books of revelation tell the story of creation from different perspectives. The story from science represents man’s attempt to understand God’s revelation in the Book of Nature while the story from the Bible is man’s interpretation of God’s revelation in the Book of Scripture. The bottom line is that there can be no real conflict between the story from Scripture and the story from science (i.e. nature). Thus the conflicts discussed above must arise from errors in human interpretation of one or both revelations.

There are three main Christian views about the relationship between the story from science and the story from Scripture: young earth creationism, old earth creationism and theistic evolution (see post 9 and 14).

  • The young earth view sees God creating all things miraculously over a period of 6 literal days. Adam and Eve are understood to be the first humans who were the parents of all mankind. They were created miraculously by God as described in Genesis 2. This view sees the fall as a literal event which brought sin and death into God’s creation. The young earth creation view believes that Scripture is inspired by God and therefore is inherent. When claims and theories of modern science contradict Scripture then Scripture trumps science because Scripture is inspired by God.
  • The old earth view accepts the science relating to the age of the earth but rejects the science behind the theory of evolution by natural selection. The old earth view agrees with the young earth view concerning the origin of life, origin of mankind and the story of the fall in Genesis 3.
  • The theistic evolution view accepts the science underlying both the timing and mechanism (i.e. evolution by natural selection) of creation. With respect to the timing they typically use the literary framework view although the day-age view and John Walton’s temple creation view are also consistent with the view from science (see post 5). With respect to mechanism, this view sees God as the creator of space, time, energy and matter as well as the laws of nature that govern evolution and other natural processes. However, there are differences within the theistic evolution community with regard to God’s role after the initial Big Bang creation event. Some would see God continuously involved in guiding the evolutionary process whereas others would see God allowing evolution to proceed without further intervention by God or see the final outcome of evolution built into the laws of nature.

With respect to mankind, all theistic evolution views see mankind originating in a purpose-driven natural process in which humans descended from pre-human ancestors. However there are differences with respect to the status of Adam and Eve and the origin of sin. One view sees the Bible account of creation in mythical terms where imagined characters (Adam and Eve) are used to convey spiritual truths. Another view sees Adam and Eve as real people in a real Garden of Eden and the fall as a real event with consequences for the biblical story line of creation, fall, redemption through Christ and consummation at the end of time. They were chosen from a population of early humans who arose through evolution to be archetypical representatives of all mankind.

At the moment there is no consensus among Christians about which of the three views is correct. My personal preference is God-guided theistic evolution because I think it does the best job of being faithful to both creation perspectives (science and the Bible). With respect to the origin of mankind I think a real Adam and Eve in a real Garden of Eden and a real fall are necessary for the Bible’s big story of creation, fall, redemption through Christ and consummation. I think John Walton’s idea of Adam and Eve as archetypical representatives of mankind does the best job of reconciling the stories from science and Scripture.

Here are some things to consider as we think about these views.

  • Whichever view one holds it is important to understand that evolution is not incompatible with belief in God as the creator. There is a tendency to link the theory of evolution by natural selection to atheism. This is not necessary. Atheism is a metaphysical interpretation not a scientific conclusion. It is grounded in a set of materialistic presuppositions (see posts 11 & 12)
  • The two Genesis accounts of creation are set within the context of an ancient Near Eastern understanding of the cosmos. It is not meant to convey truths about modern science. Thus we must be careful not to read modern science into the biblical creation accounts (see post 3).
  • There are several different ways to interpret the timing of creation events in Genesis 1 which remain faithful to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. Thus the 24 hour day view is not a necessary interpretation of the timing of creation events (see post 5).

Finally, there is a need for grace among Christians with respect to the different ways of interpreting the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. There are two main themes of Genesis 1 which are found throughout the creation passages in the Bible. First, God is the creator of all things. Moreover, he created with wisdom and order and he is sovereign over his creation. Second, man is the pinnacle of God’s creation – created in the image of God with the purpose of ruling and serving as steward of God’s creation. These themes are the main message we as Christians need to communicate to the world. There is no conflict among Christians about these themes and they are not in conflict with the story from science.

The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology, by Alister E. McGrath (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008).

Science and Christianity are friends and not enemies. I started this series with the concern that science and Christianity are enemies at war with each other. We’ve now seen that they are not enemies!

We’ve seen that God reveals himself to mankind through what is observed in the Book of Nature and through his word, the Book of Scripture. We also understand that science is a very useful tool for understanding God’s revelation in nature. In my last two posts we talked about nature as a Christian apologetic. We found that nature alone can’t be used to prove God’s existence. Rather nature was seen as an “open secret” whose true meaning is only known from the perspective of Christian faith. The Book of Nature serves to reinforce an existing belief in God.

Let’s look more deeply into the apologetic roles God’s two books of revelation.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. — Psalm 19:1-4b

Psalm 19:1-4 tells us several important things about the role of nature in God’s plan of revelation. The Book of Nature is a universal and tangible witness to God’s glory as revealed in his creation. It is universally available to everyone on earth. There is nowhere on earth that we cannot see at least some aspects of God’s revelation nature. The message of nature is expressed in a universal language that can be understood by all peoples regardless of their nationality or culture. Finally, the message of nature is always available, 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

But the message of nature is limited and incomplete. We saw that nature is ambiguous with respect to the question of God and thus it does not prove that God exists. It is also incomplete in that it does not fully reveal the nature and character of God.

I think that a primary purpose of Book of Nature is to point us to God and his revelation in the Book of Scripture. Nature does this by arousing a sense of awe at the grandeur and beauty of nature. Nature also raises questions that it can’t answer

  • Why does the universe exist?
  • How did it come into being?
  • Why is the universe ordered with laws of nature rather than in chaos?
  • Why are the laws of nature fine-tuned for life?
  • What is our significance in such a vast universe?
  • Is there a deeper meaning to nature and human life?

In contrast to nature, the Bible is a complete revelation of God. Here we learn about God’s character, his instructions for life, the problem of sin and God’s plan of salvation and most importantly we meet God in a personal way.

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Timothy Keller (Riverhead Books, 2013).

In the Bible we learn that at the center of reality is one God who is eternally existent in three persons, the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. Tim Keller, in his book Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God, gives us an excellent description of the relationship between the three persons of the Godhead.

In the words of my favorite author, C. S. Lewis, “In Christianity God is not a static thing . . . but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” Theologian Cornelius Plantinga develops this further, noting that the Bible says the Father, the Son and the Spirit glorify one another, and defer to one another. . . . Each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being. In constant movement of overture and acceptance, each person envelops and encircles the others. . . . God’s interior life [therefore] overflows with regard for the others.

Thus the three persons of the trinity exist in a perfect, intimate relationship. We were made to enter into this loving relationship at the center of reality. And it is through this relationship that we come to know God in a personal way. I believe that this knowledge is the ultimate proof of God’s existence. This knowledge in turn provides the verification that the Book of Nature is in fact a revelation from God.

In conclusion we have seen that science and Christianity are not enemies but rather are friends that have complementary roles in revealing God to mankind.

Questions for Further Reflection:

  1. What are your thoughts about the view, expressed by some young adults, that Christianity is anti-science?
  2. Do you view science as anti-Christian?
  3. What might you say to a young Christian who is considering pursuing a career in science?
  4. What are your feelings about the evolution-versus-Christianity debate? How might we as Christians be more respectful about our differences with each other and with scientists who support evolution?

Suggestions for Further Reading:

  1. You lost me: why young Christians are leaving church — and rethinking faith, David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins. BakerBooks, 2011.
  2. Theology in the University in the book Faith, Science and Understanding, John Polkinghorne. Yale University Press, 2001.
  3. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God, Dallas Willard. HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
  4. Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything, Gerald Rau. InterVarsity Press, 2012.
  5. Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God, Timothy Keller. Riverhead Books, 2013.
  6. Added by the editor: Thank-you to Tom for this thoughtful and challenging series! For those with interest, I have created a PDF with the titles and links to the posts in Tom Ingebritsen‘s Christianity and Science series. In addition, if you have questions you’d like addressed in relationship to Christianity and science, please comment below and/or email the Emerging Scholars Network.

To God be the glory!

Update: 5/18/2014. 2:52 pm. Editorial corrections. Thank-you David!

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Tom Ingebritsen

I am a retired Iowa State University biology professor and part-time staff person with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries. I am the husband of Denise, the father of Eric, Tracy and Isaac and the grandfather of Savannah and Emma.

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22 Comments

  • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
    Andy Walsh commented on May 14, 2014 Reply

    “I think that a primary purpose of Book of Nature is to point us to God and his revelation in the Book of Scripture. Nature does this by arousing a sense of awe at the grandeur and beauty of nature.”

    Without taking away from this primary role, this statement makes me wonder what other roles the Book of Nature might have. For example, the Bible is full of observations about nature, from the Proverbial admonition to consider the ant, to Peter’s use of metallurgy to illustrate the refining potential of suffering. These natural models help to explain concepts that might otherwise seem abstract or counterintuitive. Is it reasonable to continue to look to the Book of Nature, not just to raise theological questions, but also to provide theological answers? Or if not answers, then at least models and language with which to frame answers?

    “I started this series with the concern that science and Christianity are enemies at war with each other. We’ve now seen that they are not enemies!”

    Having established that science and Christianity are not enemies, in what other ways can they work together as allies? For example, how much should Christians be engaged with science in order to look into the future and anticipate the moral, ethical, or theological questions that may be raised by pending developments? Scientists like to answer “can we do it” questions; is there a role for Christians to help answer “should we do it” questions? If so, how do we approach that role in such a way as to be heard in a pluralistic society?

    • tsingebr@gmail.com'
      Tom Ingebritsen commented on May 16, 2014 Reply

      Andy-

      Thanks for your excellent questions. Here is my response to your first set of questions. I’m still thinking about how to respond to your second set.

      You asked “Is it reasonable to continue to look to the Book of Nature, not just to raise theological questions, but also to provide theological answers? Or if not answers, then at least models and language with which to frame answers.”

      As I talked about in my last three blogs, nature is ambiguous and thus nature alone doesn’t provide theological answers. But nature is used over and over again in the Bible to provide models and language that help us understand theological truths.

      The Bible uses images from nature to evoke affective responses (such as awe, wonder, fear and beauty) to God that go beyond the intellectual process of sense making. For example, Psalm 19:1 says that the heavens declare the glory of God. Tim Keller in his book, Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God, says that “you’re glorifying something when you find it beautiful for what it is in itself. Its beauty compels you to adore it, to have your imagination captured by it.” He goes on to say that “when it’s a person you find beautiful in that way, you want to serve them unconditionally.” Thus God’s glory in nature not only points us to God the creator but gives us a picture that evokes a worshipful response.

      Additionally Jesus used nature in a number of different ways to illustrate his teaching. For example several of Jesus’ parables (e.g. parable of the soils, parable of the weeds) used nature to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus miracles of nature (calming of the storm, walking on water, turning water into wine) were signs that pointed to Jesus as the Creator. Two of Jesus’ “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John used features of nature to illustrate the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and his connection with the Father. Jesus said in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The light here serves as a symbol of the spiritual truth that gives life. In John 15:1, Jesus said “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” In the Old Testament, the vine is used as a symbol for Israel, its priestly function and its failure to live up to this purpose. In this saying Jesus is declaring that he is the true vine, the perfect fulfillment of Israel’s holy and priestly purpose.

      • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
        Andy Walsh commented on May 19, 2014 Reply

        I appreciate that ambiguity prevents nature from providing definitive propositional answers. It would seem to me that models are a useful sort of answer as well. It reminds me of math proofs, actually. Proving that a certain kind of mathematical construct exists is the bare minimum type of proof. Demonstrating it exists by actually illustrating how to construct it is usually considered more fruitful and useful.

        By the same token, Jesus illustrating what the kingdom of God is like is more helpful to us that proving the proposition that there is a kingdom of God.

        One of the things i find most exciting about modern science is that it goes beyond the human scale to the very large, very small, and very old. While God clearly wants to meet us on the human scale, as illustrated by the incarnation of Jesus, it would seem that going beyond that scale can provide some useful models for understanding God better.

  • David Eric Carlson commented on May 15, 2014 Reply

    This has been a very well prepared series as I have tracked this conversation. One of the issues that is missed as people discuss this is that much of the resistance to Darwin at the start was over the social implications of “social Darwinism” as it was presented by proponents. There is some interesting social Darwinian statements on race and eugenics that was int he text at the Scopes Trial. That residual radiation has a long half life it would seem. Thanks for posting this series.

  • vosburg@hmc.edu'
    davosburg commented on May 18, 2014 Reply

    Delightful series, Tom! Thanks for the great recap, too.

    How might Christians seek to support scientists in their congregations? How might scientists seek to bring their particular strengths to bear in their church contexts? What are some ways that science-faith engagement can be more than just defensive (responding to assumptions of conflict), but more positive and proactive? What are things emerging scholars can be doing individually and corporately along these lines?

    Two minor editorial suggestions:
    1. In the Keller/Lewis quote, “thing me irreverent” should probably be “think me irreverent”
    2. In reflection question 4, “evolution-versus-Christian” should probably be “evolution-versus-Christianity”

    Those are very helpful reflection questions. Being respectful about some differences on topics like this is very important, both within the church and for interactions with non-Christians.

    • Tom Grosh IV commented on May 18, 2014 Reply

      David, Thank-you for questions! Please let me know if you have some material (or other contributors) to offer/suggest with regard to these topics :)

      AND “Thank-you for!” for the two minor editorial suggestions to improve the post. I have made the corrections. Great to have you part of the team :) To God be the glory!

    • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
      Andy Walsh commented on May 19, 2014 Reply

      I think that exploring nature-as-model (see comments above) is one way to be more positive and proactive. To that end, I’ve been working on a Sunday school class that attempts exactly that. We’ve looked at topics like chaotic dynamics for understanding how God’s sovereignty and God’s grace can interact, and fractals as an alternative to legalism and relativism.

    • tsingebr@gmail.com'
      Tom Ingebritsen commented on May 22, 2014 Reply

      David, thanks for your thoughtful questions.

      You asked: How might Christians seek to support scientists in their congregations?

      Christians in science sometimes feel that they are caught in the middle of two opposing positions. They feel that they can’t talk about science in their church and can’t talk about their faith with scientific colleagues. I’ve experienced this at times in my own church, but I have been helped by the attitude of our senior pastor. He is a young earth creationist but has been willing and open about hearing the perspective from science. He’s given me opportunities to do some teaching in my church about the evolution/creation controversy and the controversy over intelligent design.

      You asked: How might scientists seek to bring their particular strengths to bear in their church contexts?

      I think that many Christians don’t understand the process of science. It strengths and its limitations. One thing that Christians and science could consider is to do some teaching about the nature of science.

      You asked: What are some ways that science-faith engagement can be more than just defensive (responding to assumptions of conflict), but more positive and proactive?

      I think Christians need to look for areas of common interest for example environmental or ethical issues. Christians have some important things to contribute to these discussions. In these discussions it’s important to separate scientific conclusions from political and worldview interpretations of the science. Jesus instructs us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Paul’s Areopagus speech in Acts 17 is also a good model to follow when speaking to non-Christians.

      You asked: What are things emerging scholars can be doing individually and corporately along these lines?

      We need to have more Christians studying to be scientists. Emerging scholars can reach out to and encourage Christians in the sciences. The American Scientific Affiliation is a great professional organization for Christians in the sciences.

  • Gerald Rau commented on May 25, 2014 Reply

    Tom, Excellent series. I will post a review and links to the articles on the website I am currently developing. As I am sure you figured out by reading between the lines, you and I have arrived at almost exactly the same position.

    • tsingebr@gmail.com'
      Tom Ingebritsen commented on May 27, 2014 Reply

      Gerald-

      Thanks for the encouragement. Your book, Mapping the Origins Debate was a valuable resource for this series. I look forward to visiting your website when it’s completed.

  • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
    Kenneth Litwak commented on May 27, 2014 Reply

    Tom,

    I have found your series interesting and stimulating, even at points at which I have questions. This summary is quite helpful and well-done.

    I find the discussion of how emerging scholars can be involved in the sciences of interest as well. Although I have not been able to teach full-time ever, my discipline is biblical studies. The largest organization in the “guild” is the Society of Biblical Literature. I’ve presented at both regional and national SBL meetings. However, my life as a follower of Christ, my beliefs about him, and similar things never show up in those presentations. It’s just not done. Ironically, I think, I can only present papers that treat the biblical text as just one more text to understand, not unlike trying to understand Plato. I clearly feel the tension there because of the need to separate sharply my faith from my scholarship.

    I would think that it would be similar in the sciences. No one would present a paper on some topic and even mention a god, let alone refer to the God of Scripture or Jesus. It would be, I assume, a career-limiting move. I imagine that raising questions with a colleague about ultimate realities that biology or chemistry or physics, etc., might point to, though it might need to be contextualized differently, would not be particularly different from two nurses or two fire fighters or two chefs conversing about spiritual/worldview issues. Like these other fields, there isn’t really an explicit place for Jesus. This would make sense to me if the issue was, say, musicology, but it must be rather difficult to be focusing intently on the Book of nature as you call it, and not be able to say anything about what you “read” in that book. I know that in my day job, my faith and my profession are hermetically sealed off from each other. I may start my work by thanking God for my job and praying for help to do my work well as to the Lord, and that God might help me learn to be content in Christ regardless of how negatively I feel about my work. After that, however, there’s just programming. I don’t have a solution for this (not least because I remain unconvinced that all work is “good,” in spite of all the authors I’ve read claiming otherwise).

    How do you approach this dichotomy between faith and science in general? This is not a “versus” issue but an issue of integration, and I’ve not figured it out yet. It’s easier for me these days because I work at an explicitly Christian university, but the same issue existed for me at other places.

    I do have questions, however, that I would like to pose. I have tried to read your posts carefully, and a couple of items that I want to pose are not specifically/actually your view, but they do fall, I think, within the same realm.

    1. I think you are certainly correct that science and Christianity are not really opposed but that many on both sides think they are opposed. However, what I understood you to say in a much earlier blog post is that we need to let science do its work, and we should accept its conclusions. Given the limitations of science, we can agree that science does not rule out the existence of a G/god.

    However, doesn’t accepting evolution as presented by scientists, (Richard Dawkins comes to mind), make God irrelevant? Your first post about Intelligent Design essentially says, I think, that “Since we can see how this might have happened for the Intrinsic Pathway for blood clotting, and we can think up a way that the Extrinsic pathway came into existence through natural selection, we should reject any other possibility.” If being able to think up “plausible” hypotheses for how something could have happened is sufficient to reject other options, then there really is absolutely no need whatsoever to assume that any divine agency was involved in creation. The scientists are correct that apparent design is not real design. We don’t need God at all to produce humans.

    I don’t see any way around this. If we must accept what science says, then we must accept a literally God-less explanation for absolutely everything from the matter and energy that was involved in the initial moment of the Big Bang to the occurrence of consciousness and moral reasoning in human means. I see no way around this. To find a palce for God in this process even though his need to act has been tossed out, seems to me a clear example, with all due respect, of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Why would anyone believe that God had anything to do with creating anything when everything can be explained by some unprovable hypothesis? Then again, who would want to believe a theory that cannot be falsified because there can always be untestable hypotheses proposed? That is much like using the Multiverse to explain the Big Bang. There is absolutely no evidence for it but it is a plausible hypothesis.

    This is a consequence of rejecting intelligent design, by the way.

    2. Regarding the Book of Nature, how does the view of McGrath and your view fit with the statement in Romans 1:2o that, “From the creation of the world, [God’s] invisible attributes,and his eternal power and divine nature have been visible, being known thtrough the things that have been made.” That does not sound so ambiguous.

    I would suggest rather that nature’s message is clear to him who has eyes to see, but to those who refuse to see, the book of Nature tells them nothing.

    3. In order to make evolution compatible with the Bible, the relevant biblical texts need to be understood in a very different way than they have traditionally been understood. That’s okay to an extent. I wouldn’t argue necessarily for a rigidly literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2, if we make it totally symbolic, as John Walton seems to do, for example, then whatever it does say, is not true because its statements are symbolic. So God did not create the universe. God did not create human beings, and he certainly did not create them in his own image. So all the doctrines that hinge on these being factual statements, since they are integrated into a symbolic framework, are invalid.

    That is to say, I don’t have any way to know how Genesis 1-2 or Psalm 139 or Psalm 19 or Job 38-41 would have been interpreted by its original audience. Since the texts can’t mean what they say, how are we to read them? What do they mean? For example, if the universe is as it is as the natural, random results of the Big Bang, then the heavens obviously do not declare the glory of God. They show what happens when a universe is created by a specific explosion.

    4. I know there is a current blog series on the image of God. How could we possibly be made in God’s image, and thus have dignity, in any meaningful sense when evolution dictates that we are the descendants of clams, slugs, earth worms, cock roaches, fish, etc.?

    5. If evolution is true, it appears that millions, perhaps even billions of species came into existence only to die because they could not survive. If that is so, and God was involved at all in the development of living things, with no intention of being irreverent, he’s not too bright, since he couldn’t make the process work in a way that spared all those millions and millions of creatures of painful deaths.

    6. Last question. If evolution is how we got here, then there has been death among living things taking place for more than a billion years. There was never a time when any species was free from death. That means that death exists by God’s design apparently. That being the case, surely Paul cannot be correct that the last enemy that God will deal with is death itself. It’s not an enemy. It’s God’s design, isn’t it?

    I don’t want to be unscientific, but as you can see, I see very serious problems with attempting to make evolution and the Bible fit together. My reasoning could be wrong, and hat’s one reason I’m posing these questions, which seem to me like elephants in the room. Thanks for your patient reading.

    Ken

    • tsingebr@gmail.com'
      Tom Ingebritsen commented on June 3, 2014 Reply

      Kenneth-

      Thanks for your thoughtful questions. It seems to me that you have two main concerns about evolution. First, doesn’t evolution make God unnecessary and irrelevant in creation? Second, what is the basis for a belief in human dignity if humans are just another type of animal, descended from lower life forms?

      Doesn’t evolution make God unnecessary and irrelevant in creation?

      The first point I want to make is that the main message of Genesis 1 as well as the other creation passages in the Bible is that God is the creator of all things (see Blog 2). The Bible does not teach modern science (see Blog 3) and I don’t believe it intends to tell us the specifics of how God created.

      I talked in more detail about your first question in “Blog 12 – Is Evolution Compatible with Belief in God as the Creator?” In that blog I talked about one of Augustine’s commentaries on Genesis, written in the 5th century AD. He used the image of a seed growing and developing into a mature plan to illustrate how God endowed the creation with the capacity to develop. Augustine developed three core themes:

      1. God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. (Modern science tells us the matter, energy, space and time came into existence at the moment of the Big Bang.)
      2. God endowed creation with the capacity to develop (through the laws of nature).
      3. The development of creation is always subject to God’s sovereign providence.

      An example which I often use in my class to illustrate God’s providential guidance of creation is that of an automobile and the driver. A car is a machine that can operate independently of the driver. Once the driver starts the car, it can continue to run without any intervention from the driver as long as it has gasoline. The driver could even put the car in gear and it would take off down the street on its own for a while but it would ultimately crash without human guidance. Thus the presence of the driver is needed for purposeful movement of the vehicle.

      We don’t know exactly how God guided the evolutionary process, but human conception and development in the womb of the mother is a good example of God working through a biological process. Psalm 139:13 states that “you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Yet, I don’t think any Christian would doubt the modern scientific understanding of the biological process of conception and early development.

      I see evolution by natural selection as a natural process created and used by God to create all living things, including man, under his providential guidance. While we may not understand exactly how this works we can trust that it does because of God’s word!

      What is the basis for a belief in human dignity if humans are just another type of animal, descended from lower life forms?

      The first thing I would say is that humans are NOT just another animal. This is because we have a dual nature – biological and spiritual which is not shared by any other biological being. Second, the image of God in man can’t be due to our physical nature because God is spiritual and not physical. So the image of God must relate at least to our spiritual nature and our purpose (e.g. relationship, being God’s vice regent on earth). I think that our biological form is only important in that it provides capabilities (e.g. cognitive, manipulative, relational) that support God’s purposes for humans. Because of this I don’t think that the process through which we attained our physical form is particularly important to human dignity.

      I’d be happy to continue to dialog with you about these questions.

    • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
      Andy Walsh commented on June 4, 2014 Reply

      Ken,

      I agree that these are the sorts of questions we need to ask and answer. Because they are important, I think they are worth answering from different angles. I don’t think my answers are substantively different from Tom’s, but sometimes multiple perspectives can be helpful. So here’s my take.

      “I would suggest rather that nature’s message is clear to him who has eyes to see, but to those who refuse to see, the book of Nature tells them nothing.”

      I think of it in terms of information. For a given message, we don’t each get our own version of the information, the bits; those are objective. The meaning of the bits, however, is open to interpretation. Communication requires that the sender and receiver agree on the meaning.

      The story of Gideon and the fleece in Judges is a great example. The single bit of a wet fleece did not intrinsically mean anything; it only had meaning because Gideon and God agreed what it would mean. That point is made clear when a dry fleece winds up meaning the same thing. The bit has been flipped, but both parties agreed to the new interpretation.

      So, with the book of Nature, the facts are the facts. Whether they mean anything about the glory of God depends on whether the interpreter has entered a relationship with God and agreed with him on that meaning.

      “For example, if the universe is as it is as the natural, random results of the Big Bang, then the heavens obviously do not declare the glory of God. They show what happens when a universe is created by a specific explosion.”

      In addition to referring to the discussion of meaning & God’s glory above, what if we think about this in terms of computer code? Let’s say someone who knows nothing about how computers are programmed wants to know why one is currently displaying an animation of tangled green pipes. Let’s assume they can trace it back to the CPU executing a series of instructions (I’m glossing over a lot of details for brevity).

      Why those particular instructions in that particular order? Well, suppose they further trace it back to a file on the hard drive where those instructions are stored in that order. And how did that file get there? Examining the computer running the file won’t tell us any more about that.

      Now, we know that someone wrote the program to draw those pipes, but generally we only know who wrote a program because they tell us. And interestingly, what that person wrote is not the sequence of instructions in that file. They wrote a completely different file which was compiled into that sequence of instructions. And yet, their authorship of the compiled program is no less than if they had written the sequence of instructions directly.

      “How could we possibly be made in God’s image, and thus have dignity, in any meaningful sense when evolution dictates that we are the descendants of clams, slugs, earth worms, cock roaches, fish, etc.?”

      First, just to clarify, current models of common descent do not have us evolving from most of those particular organisms.

      Second, it’s not clear to me that such creatures are without dignity. Although we humans are uniquely called to be his image bearers, God cares about all of his creation. His first job for Adam was to give all creatures names. The Garden of Eden was created to meet the needs of all creatures. The ark was built to save them all from destruction. Jesus saw nothing undignified about riding a donkey. I would submit that God’s idea of which creatures have dignity is different from ours.

      Third, I’m not sure that being made of dust is any more or less dignified than being descended from fish. (And, interestingly, the evolutionary account of our origins is still consistent with man being made from the dust of the earth.)

      “If evolution is true, it appears that millions, perhaps even billions of species came into existence only to die because they could not survive.”

      It seems to me that just because something exists only for a season does not mean it lacks purpose or value. Would you say that Jesus became incarnate as man only to die, and painfully at that? To me, his life still had purpose and value even though it was intended only to last for a while.

      “That means that death exists by God’s design apparently. That being the case, surely Paul cannot be correct that the last enemy that God will deal with is death itself. It’s not an enemy. It’s God’s design, isn’t it?”

      So, in what sense is death an enemy that God needs to defeat? God himself is not subject to death, except when he allowed himself to be for his own purposes. It is only on our behalf that God is concerned with death.

      And why are we subject to death? Because we are separated from the tree of life. There’s not a lot of details about the tree of life, but I think a plausible reading is that man was not intrinsically immortal, but instead required regular access to the tree of life. And that access was taken away, not as punishment for disobedience (that part is the toil & pain in childbearing), but as a natural consequence of knowing good and evil.

      The way I understand all of that is as follows. Ultimately, God is the source of life everlasting. By choosing the knowledge of good & evil, man has decided we can figure out for ourselves how to live. That necessarily means we are separating ourselves from God, and thus from the tree of life. So what God needs to address is that separation, of which death is a consequence. And he did so by showing us the Way to be grafted back onto the tree of life.

      I don’t expect that any of these thoughts are definitive, so let me know what still isn’t clear or doesn’t ring true.

      • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
        Kenneth Litwak commented on June 15, 2014 Reply

        Andy,

        Your response was thought-provoking. I’m still mulling it over, but I still have issues with a couple of points that you made, and I will deal with the first one, which I also see in Tom’s latest response to me.

        So here we are, homo sapiens, on this planet, in a relatively unremarkable galaxy. We want to learn about the planet and the galaxy, etc., so humans for as long as I can trace back, have been trying to understand our world. Prior to the rise of modern science, the results, at least in some cases, were constrained by input from other sources, such as the creation stories of various cultures. The stories I know the most about are the Sumerian creation account, the Babylonian creation account, and the biblical creation account. None of these agrees with the others. For simplicity, I will refer only to the biblical creation narratives. One Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns (who has written little that I agree with), has described the biblical creation account, and what follows them, as humans trying to make sense of their world.

        Now, along comes modern science. While modern science was arguably pursued initially by Christians in order to understand the world that the Creator had made, modern science today, speaking as an outsider (except to some extent in computer science), seems to make claims that are a-theistic. That is, even if there was a creator, there’s no place for that creator in scientific endeavors. The tacit a priori seems to be that given enough time, humans will be able to explain how everything came to be in its current state as the result of natural processes. Any appeal to a divine creator for anything is labeled as a foolish appeal to a god of the gaps. From what I can tell, this is what is taught pretty much in all higher ed, except perhaps at a few very conservative Christian colleges. It is never acceptable to appeal to some god as the explanation for how something came to be. Of course, I find that logically fallacious because being able to say “here is how that works and how it came to be that way,” even if knowable, does not obviate the need for some Designer to have made it that way, but I digress.

        Now, put a young adult, who has grown up in a Christian environment but never really owned their own faith, in Biology 101, where they are told this same meta-narrative about all things coming from natural processes and all puzzles solvable some day without reference to any god. Here is the crux of what I am trying to say, apparently not clear enough.

        Before that young adult can come to make his or her won commitment to Jesus or the authority of Scripture, they have to become a true theist (rather than living their parents’ faith). Why would they do this? Scientists affirm that there is absolutely no need for a god to explain anything about reality. Whether looking at the ginormous universe, or building models about unseen sub-atomic particles, no god ever comes up. There is no reason then that this student would even become a theist, let alone a Christian. Attempting to show that the Christian faith is compatible with this meta-narrative doesn’t seem relevant. There is nothing in the real world that would make someone who is not a Christian become a theist, since it can all be explained through natural processes.

        I know about this first-hand because my oldest son at seventeen rejected his Christian faith and sees anything that I might say about God as a “god of the gaps” argument, which no thinking person would use. He not only does not see God in nature but has been taught by science that doing so is foolish. I have never heard anyone say that they were an atheist, but the study of biology led them to become a Christian. The reality from what I have read, suggests to me that there’s nothing better than modern science to make people disbelieve in the existence of a god at all, even if that is not a necessary conclusion. These responses to science seem to me to be empirical data. So how can Paul say that God will hold all these people responsible for ignoring what they see in nature? Maybe you are correct that it is because they choose to reject the evidence in front of their faces, but whatever the reason, science certainly did not lead them to think that a god was needed for anything. So whether the Christian faith is compatible with science seems to me to make little difference.

        Regarding your programmer example, that’s a reasonable analogy, except that such an understanding only leads to a Deistic God, one who made everything and then took a vacation in the Bahamas for the rest of eternity, so to speak. That’s a long way from the God and Father revealed in Jesus Christ. It’s better than nothing but it is not yet Christian faith. On top of that, I have heard several atheists state essentially that I would only believe in that Computer Programmer if I thought there was design, but as Richard Dawkins will happily tell you, seeing design in the universe is our delusion. We impose some concept of design upon reality as a preface to making a claim about a designer. Personally, I don’t know how one could do scientific research without assuming that the reason all the items in category X behave the same way is because they have the same nature, which suggests to me design, but I’m a computer programmer, not a biologist.

        So let me be clear. I am a Christian. I do believe that Scripture is authoritative. Therefore, scientific conclusions that directly challenge my Christian faith are problematic. The existence (or not) of a Higgs-Boson particle does not challenge my faith. The existence of other planets in the galaxy does not challenge my faith. The contention that all life on earth is merely accidental, whether a bacteria, or a human that can study bacteria, is to me a challenge for my faith.

        Now (and this is my last paragraph you’ll be relieved to know)is regarding death. I think that you didn’t get what I was trying to say, which again may be my fault for communicating poorly. On an evolutionary model, from the moment the first organism randomly popped into existence (which, by the way, I consider impossible), there has been death. Every living thing in every phylum to my knowledge dies. As long as there has been life on earth, there has been death. While I disagree with your reading of Genesis 3 and very much see Scripture saying that death for humans in because they sinned, everything before there were humans died. So any story that presents humans as dying because of some action is obviously an invalid interpretation of reality. Everything has always died. If there were Cro-Magnons on the earth, who gave rise to humans, then the former all died, just like everything else. Why in the world would I, if only considering the scientific data, think that humans died for any reason other than what causes everything else to die? In sum, maybe I can be a Christian and believe in evolution as the explanation for all life forms on the planet, but why would I want to do that? Obviously, if I stay faithful to science, there’s no need for even being a theist. Science does not rule out Christianity. It simply makes it irrelevant, and renders some of its claims (why is there death? Why is there anything? Is there a problem with human existence or is it all just the way things go in a random world?) wrong.

        • vosburg@hmc.edu'
          davosburg commented on June 15, 2014 Reply

          Kenneth,

          You raise some great questions/issues that are hard to tackle concisely. A few potentially helpful resources for reflection come to mind:

          1. The film “From the Dust: Conversations in Creation” (available on iTunes).

          2. The recent book “Four Views on the Historical Adam.” Two of the contributors, John Walton and Jack Collins, will be coming to speak on the topic in Claremont, CA on October 25. We’ll also have Jeff Schloss to give some biological perspective.

          3. My friend Denis Alexander at the Faraday Institute just wrote a related blog post on “How are Christianity and evolution compatible?” here:
          http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/how-are-christianity-and-evolution-compatible

          These are good topics for Christians to have conversations about and to be gracious with each other when we come to different conclusions on them.

          Peace,
          Dave

          • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
            Ken Litwakkennethdlitwak commented on July 26, 2014

            Hi Dave and Andy,

            I know you responded to me some time ago, but the crush of my schedule has kept me from being able to get to this. (Unlike F/T faculty, I don’t get my summers off to read and reflect. :-) ) I have not read the books you (Dave) listed, though I am part of the way through a book of seven views or so on reading Genesis 1-2. I did read Alexander’s blog post, however. I can’t shake the thought that his approach, with all due respect, is trying to have your cake and eat it too. If I accept the full scientific account of the origins of all things, including humans, there is no need for a god at all. I can, however, in some way “overlay” biblical teaching on top of the Big Bang and biological evolution if I want to do so, but three’s no need to, if we wish to avoid a God of the gaps.

            Let me affirm again that I’m not lobbying for creation 6000 years ago or that every single species was made directly from scratch.

            Andy, thanks for your response as well. What I want to say regarding the blog post by Denis Alexander leads to what I would say in response to your substantive, thoughtful response to me.

            (In proofreading this, I see that the computer I’m using seems to be having a problem with keeping all the letters I am typing, which is not usually the case, and I apologize up front if I’ve missed any of these lacunae.)

            I will need to make time to read Alexander’s book on pain and suffering in light of creation and evolution, but here is just one of the places where I see this “overlay” being necessary. In Psalm 139, the psalmist says, using figurative, poetic language (as most of the psalms do), that God knew him before he was conceived and that God assembled him or something to that effect in the womb. Science tells me that a sperm cell and an egg combine, the genes and chromosomes do what they do–a naturally occurring process, and the end result is a human being in six to eight weeks. Did God need to be involved for this to happen? Scientifically speaking, no. However, I can overlay the psalm on top of the physical process and say that God is involved in the physical nature and development of some or all humans at the point of conception. Why would I do that, however? Is it only to rescue biblical truths from the realm of irrelevancy? We are only fearfully and wonderfully made if one wishes to interpret the process that way, but that seems to me to fall woefully short of providing such strong evidence for God that at the final judgment of humanity, people will be held responsible for not seeing the process of conception and other aspects of nature as clear pointers to the God presented in Scripture, if they have eyes to see.

            I’m already a Christian, and therefore see some connection between God’s doings and the conception and development of a human being, but since we can explain that whole process scientifically, I have nothing useful to say to a non-Christian who says, “Science explains it all,” because he/she is correct.

            So it seems to me that I can maintain what Scripture teaches about God and the world and believe what science teaches, as long as I keep the two in hermetically-sealed containers so that the two sets of beliefs never intersect. I can believe there was a Fall, even though the scientific data on the origins of species would tell me that there has always been death, there has always been suffering, and if you are the animal being eaten, there has always been violence (but not evil, because that is not a scientific category). There have always been mutations, though in spite of the theory of evolution, I can’t think of any instance in which a human mutation was “good.” I can believe that the heavens declare the glory of God, but the scientific reality is that the nature of the universe is the random result of various forces acting upon the matter and energy released at the Big Bang, and therefore the heavens really tell me nothing.

            The problem is that I don’t want to have my theology and my science sealed off from each other.

            Ken

          • vosburg@hmc.edu'
            davosburg commented on August 3, 2014

            Ken,

            Like Andy, I very much appreciate your thoughts on having theology and science interact or overlay. I feel that some of the tensions or ambiguities or paradoxes that can seem to result from bringing theology and science together actually reflect some of the realities of both theology and science themselves, too.

            For example, one could have a theology of God’s transcendence without considering God’s immanence, or vice versa; but neither of those is what the Bible presents. Somehow, they overlap. Likewise with the divine/human nature of Jesus, the nature of the Trinity, and other major Christian beliefs.

            On the science side, there are the overlapping principles of particles/waves and energy/matter. And also the potential interaction of general relativity and quantum mechanics (e.g., in the Big Bang). The interface of the properties of single molecules and those of bulk materials is an area of interesting tension, too.

            I think if there are two different ways of looking at something that each contribute something to my understanding of what is really true, then I should value both and look deeper even if these two perspectives seem to have some contradictions. This is true in theology and in science, and also in mixing theology and science. (Tom McLeish, a physicist at Durham University, prefers to talk about a “theology of science” as a more harmonious term rather than “theology and science”, which implicitly sets up theology and science as potential rivals.) Not being scared of apparent paradoxes can actually be a strong witness both within the church and in interactions with secular colleagues.

            Also, I promised to let you know when more info was available on the October 25th Claremont conference. Here it is:
            http://www.eventzilla.net/web/event?eventid=2139036577

            I hope you can make it! I’m sure you’d have much to contribute to the day!

            Blessings,
            Dave

          • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
            Andy Walsh commented on July 31, 2014

            Ken,

            I’m happy to continue this conversation at whatever pace is convenient.

            Since there’s already other material you are still working through, I’ll just add a couple of brief points.

            “If I accept the full scientific account of the origins of all things, including humans, there is no need for a god at all.”

            I’m inclined to agree to some extent. If all one is interested in is a reductionist, mechanistic account for how the universe came to exist, then a deity needn’t enter into it. Then again, would a mechanistic, reductionist account of the construction of a building require the invocation of an architect, or such an account of the performance of a symphony require the invocation of a composer? I’d guess no, because I’m not sure one can even talk about architects or composers in a reductionist account.

            When I think of the things I need God for, things like salvation rate much higher than explaining how the universe works.

            Second, you asked about good mutations. One concrete example would be the CCR-delta 32 mutation, which confers resistance to HIV infection.

            Finally, I wholeheartedly agree that a theology and a science that are hermetically sealed from each other are both diminished. I pray that you are able to find a way for them to interact satisfactorily. My own pursuit of such interactions has been fruitful, rewarding, and encouraging.

        • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
          Andy Walsh commented on June 24, 2014 Reply

          Ken – Thanks for sharing and no need to apologize for length. These are complex matters, and I’m happy to get as deep into the details as necessary, even if it takes a little longer. Also, thank you for sharing the personal facets of your struggle in this area. I pray that this discussion is helpful in making sense of the journey you are going through with your son.

          “One Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns (who has written little that I agree with), has described the biblical creation account, and what follows them, as humans trying to make sense of their world.”

          That seems like a perfectly reasonable attempt to sum it up, and I’m happy to go with it.

          “Now, along comes modern science.”

          So, let me pause here. This wording suggests a discontinuity — those old-timey folks did things one way, we do things another way in the present. This is certainly the image the scientific community generally projects. But I would suggest that there is actually much more continuity between the mindset behind the Sumerian creation myth, say, and current scientific endeavors. They are part of an ongoing effort to “make sense of the world.” Such efforts have always been empirical, that is to say driven by observation.

          We observe that the world is here; we need an explanation for it. We observe comets streaking across the sky; we need an explanation. We used to believe they were messages from the gods about impending disaster. That was partly because of the metaphysical framework from which we reasoned, and partly because we observed genuine correlation between the timing of comets and the timing of ruinous events. Over time, our metaphysical frameworks have shifted, so we are less inclined to assume the involvement of gods. And we have collected more data, such that the correlation between the timing of comets and the timing of disasters is not as strong; there is a stronger correlation with orbital models based on gravitation. The process of modeling data within our metaphysical assumptions remains largely the same, though.

          “While modern science was arguably pursued initially by Christians in order to understand the world that the Creator had made, modern science today, speaking as an outsider (except to some extent in computer science), seems to make claims that are a-theistic.”

          To clarify, while it is often presented this way, in fact science makes no such claims. Certain scientists make these claims, because they are working within an atheistic metaphysical framework.

          “That is, even if there was a creator, there’s no place for that creator in scientific endeavors. The tacit a priori seems to be that given enough time, humans will be able to explain how everything came to be in its current state as the result of natural processes. Any appeal to a divine creator for anything is labeled as a foolish appeal to a god of the gaps.”

          I think the question here is what do we mean by natural processes? There is nothing unnatural about baking a cake, for example, meaning that it violates no laws of nature. It can be described in great detail at a molecular or even subatomic level, in terms of chemistry or physics; we could even include the physiology and neurobiology of the baker. And yet there is nothing natural about it either, in the sense we usually mean by natural, because it involves a number of intentional human activities all the way back to agriculture that we don’t consider occuring in nature.

          Science can offer us models and descriptions (sometimes called laws or theories) but is silent on intentions. Thus, for example, we don’t know if the existence of the universe itself is natural or the result of intention, even though we can describe in great detail how it came to be as it is now. We *are* making an appeal to the god of the gaps when we claim the only “place” for God is in the bits for which we have no models or descriptions. The reality is that such models and descriptions do not obviate a role for God at all, and so we don’t need to worry about carving out a spot for God apart from “natural” processes.

          “From what I can tell, this is what is taught pretty much in all higher ed, except perhaps at a few very conservative Christian colleges.”

          As an aside, for what it’s worth, in 12 years of undergrad, grad, and post-doc education/training in biology at Carnegie Mellon and Johns Hopkins, I never encountered any critique of my Christian beliefs from faculty. It is possible to teach biology rigorously without veering into metaphysical waters.

          “It is never acceptable to appeal to some god as the explanation for how something came to be.”

          So we saw before with comets that correlation does not always equal causation. But we generally expect that causation will manifest in some kind of correlation. Without the ability to make independent observations of God’s activity, i.e. apart from its effects in the world, we can’t establish correlation, and so we don’t know how to make causal inference about God. This is why appealing to God is not generally useful in the practice of doing science. However, I suspect many scientists would be perfectly happy to accept God-as-explanation if there was some way to correlate divine activity to observable effects, and in fact some have made comments to that effect.

          “There is nothing in the real world that would make someone who is not a Christian become a theist, since it can all be explained through natural processes.”

          If science is the activity of making sense of the world, then the Bible itself is part of the world that needs sense made of it. One needs to have a credible explanation for its existence and content to have fully made sense of the world. Among other things, the Bible does offer a record of correlation between God’s activity — based on God’s testimony about himself — and events in the world. In other words, exactly the sort of data many claim to be looking for to accept God as part of causality.

          There are also observations about the present reality that need to be explained. For example, we all can see that millions of Christians attend church on Sunday every week. Why is that? Why would devout Jews, who were reluctant to give up the practice of circumcision, so readily change the day of the week on which they worshipped in contravention with the 10 commandments?

          “I have never heard anyone say that they were an atheist, but the study of biology led them to become a Christian.”

          For what it is worth, the testimony of Francis Collins, for example, is of someone who was committed to an atheistic metanarrative, who was drawn to Christianity because his atheism did not adequately explain for him the observations and experiences he had as a physician and biologist.

          “The reality from what I have read, suggests to me that there’s nothing better than modern science to make people disbelieve in the existence of a god at all, even if that is not a necessary conclusion. These responses to science seem to me to be empirical data. So how can Paul say that God will hold all these people responsible for ignoring what they see in nature? Maybe you are correct that it is because they choose to reject the evidence in front of their faces, but whatever the reason, science certainly did not lead them to think that a god was needed for anything.”

          First, I am not saying that they choose to reject evidence. I don’t think it is the case that observing the natural world either proves or disproves the existence of God. Rather, I believe that God communicates to us about himself through the natural world. Communication is information plus meaning. We all have access to the same information — the same observational data. But if we do not agree to assign the same meaning to the information as the communicator intended, then we won’t get the message. In this way, I think it is credible for Paul to say no one has an excuse, because the information is there. But it is also credible that some will look but not see and hear but not understand, because they apply a different meaning.

          Second, I think for many science is great for making them disbelieve in particular notions of God, such as the one described in popular conception and culture as demanding faith in opposition to evidence, who rewards the ignorant and naive with permanent harp gigs and punishes those who ask questions and use their minds. But this is not the God of the Bible, who encourages the verification of his prophets by testing if what they say lines up with reality, and whose followers encourage empiricism with invitations to “taste and see that the Lord is good” or “examine all things; hold fast to what is good.”

          “Regarding your programmer example, that’s a reasonable analogy, except that such an understanding only leads to a Deistic God”

          OK, but I would not propose the programmer analogy as a reason to believe in a deity of any sort. It is not evidence or proof of anything. Rather, if one is willing to at least entertain the possibility of God, then such an analogy can illustrate why it is consistent to ascribe authorship of the universe to God even when his activity may not be the most proximate cause for the phenomena we observe around us.

          “Personally, I don’t know how one could do scientific research without assuming that the reason all the items in category X behave the same way is because they have the same nature, which suggests to me design, but I’m a computer programmer, not a biologist.”

          In biology, the assumption actually tends to run the other way these days. Genes or proteins with the same “nature”, usually understood to mean the same or similar sequences, will behave the same way. This is generally understood to be a consequence of common descent (which does not necessarily rule out design). One could thus even go so far as to say that those genes or proteins are the same “thing” rather than just in the same category or sharing a similar nature, in much the same way that we call each of a collection of manuscripts “The Gospel of Mark” even though not all of those manuscripts have the exact same characters in the exact same order.

          As for whether it suggests design — I’ll confess that the idea of design is a bit squishy to me, so I generally try to avoid appealing to it.

          “The contention that all life on earth is merely accidental, whether a bacteria, or a human that can study bacteria, is to me a challenge for my faith.”

          Fair enough, but “merely accidental” is a statement of intent, or lack thereof, which cannot be determined solely from the results. Affirming some or all of evolutionary biology does not require affirming anything about accidents.

          “Why in the world would I, if only considering the scientific data, think that humans died for any reason other than what causes everything else to die?”

          Well, of course you wouldn’t. That is why there is both general and special revelation; there are certain particulars that need to be communicated more explicitly and directly than general revelation allows.

          “In sum, maybe I can be a Christian and believe in evolution as the explanation for all life forms on the planet, but why would I want to do that?”

          Because it helps to make sense of the world, meaning that as a model it does a good job explaining the observations we make about the world around us. It doesn’t explain everything, and indeed will continue to be refined as more data become available, but many find it to be a sufficiently satisfying working hypothesis within the domain it covers.

          “Obviously, if I stay faithful to science, there’s no need for even being a theist.”

          Perhaps, but there’s no need to be an atheist, either. What science does need is some kind of metaphysical framework to operate in, and both theist (including Christianity) and atheist options are suitable.

          “Science does not rule out Christianity. It simply makes it irrelevant, and renders some of its claims (why is there death? Why is there anything? Is there a problem with human existence or is it all just the way things go in a random world?) wrong.”

          I’m sorry you feel this way, but I have not come to the same conclusions. In fact, I have found that my study of science has only deepened my belief that the Bible and the natural world share an author. Not so much because the natural world seems designed, or inspires a sense of wonder. More because I see common themes and motifs. It’s more like the same way I can tell that “The Avengers” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” share an author. The existence of Joss Whedon helps me make sense of the similarities between the two.

  • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
    Kenneth Litwak commented on October 13, 2014 Reply

    Hi Andy,

    I hope you were serious about the “pace” comment.I’m not a whole lot farther in reading. Mostly what I’ve been reading that is relevant is something of prep for the conference that Dave mentioned. I signed up and am looking forward to it. I listen to a weekly apologetics radio program, and was intrigued by a questrion that was posed. I will ask it of you, with my own “amplifications.”

    Given the scientific model of origins, in which our solar sysem’s existence is a fluke, the moon’s existnece is solely the result of some ginormous asteroid striking the earth and breaking off a failry large chunk,and all living things are the result of evolution, a question looms.
    Given the massive suffering of creatures throughout the last billion years or so,
    all the mutations that did not survive,
    the propensity of violence and evil that humans seem to possess,
    the “violent” nature of, well, nature, with tornadoes, typhoons, tsunamis caused by plate techtonics,
    the realization that “beauty” is really the result of random processes of evolution and wind, rain, erosion, etc. interacting (Yosemite is not beautiful–it is an example of the way natural processes work),
    the massive number of bad genetic mutations (probably far far far greater than all the positive one shat could be named),

    what sort of a deity would be behind such a thing? Was this god too dumb to make a straight genetic path to whatever goal he/she/it had? Or maygbe not stupid but incapagle? Or perhaps capable, but disinterested in the suffering of allt he species that have lived over time?
    With the results of fires, earthquakes (I’m a Californian and know all about those), tsunamies, dangerous species (of which Australia seems to have been particularly blessed), to say nothing of the violence over time of predators upon prey, in what sense could this planet and its contents be called, “good”?

    If we look at the world through the scientific eyes I’m being urged to use, any god responsible for this mess hardly seems worthy of worship.
    I am a devout Christian and I don’t mean to sound blasphemous. I am, rather, trying to make a point. If I look at “creation” to reason out anything about the existence of a creator, that being gets a pretty low score for iehter intelligence or compassion, or both. Who would design a system that produces Down’s Syndrome or Multiple Schlerosis? Who would design a system that had so many “false starts” or that is marked by the most resilent creature being deadly baceria?

    Looking at what you wrote:
    Not so much because the natural world seems designed, or inspires a sense of wonder. More because I see common themes and motifs. It’s more like the same way I can tell that “The Avengers” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” share an author. The existence of Joss Whedon helps me make sense of the similarities between the two.

    At the risk of sounding flippant (but no disrespect is meant), the world I see does fill me with wonder. I wonder why any being, that was not wholly malificient, would make such a thing.

    What are your thoughts?

    Ken

    • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
      Andy Walsh commented on January 6, 2015 Reply

      Ken,

      Sure, I was serious. It also gives me an opportunity to gather my thoughts as well.

      Yes, the world as we observe it is full of interactions that we are generally loathe to call ‘good.’ That’s an observation that all models need to account for. One approach is to say that all the ills of the world are the consequence of Adam and Eve sinning. There is much to recommend that approach, particularly theologically, but it still raises its own questions. For example, you note that Australia has a disproportionate number of venomous species; why did Australia merit this extra portion? Or, if Adam and Eve had had children pre-Fall, where would the biomass for that new person come from? Ascribing the ills of the world to the fall also seems to works best if the pre-Fall Earth isn’t around long; it’s harder to explain eons without earthquakes or death. Such a scenario raises questions of why so many lines of evidence suggest the Earth is billions of years old? Of course, these questions have been asked before, and answered in various ways. You are welcome to comment if you wish, but I am not looking for answers to them so much as pointing out that every origins account has its trickier elements.

      Now, back to your questions. In general, I approach them in this way. I would say that the world is as it is, not because God couldn’t think of anything better, but because God allows it to be that way. And what way is that? It is a world where it is possible for both the Creator’s will and the created’s will to affect outcomes. Indeed, we must live in such a world or Adam and Eve would not have been able to choose to sin. It stands to reason that in such a world it is also possible for other aspects of creation to deviate from God’s will as well, leading to harmful mutations or tornadoes. And it is for this reason that we are taught to pray “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” — we have a choice of whose will is done, and prayer is our way of inviting God to have his will done in a particular situation.

      Why create a world where his will is not always done? I believe it is to allow us to make an informed decision about how we want to spend eternity. We are offered a choice between a place where the Creator’s will is always done, or a place where the created’s will is always done, and in order to choose, we need to be able to experience both.

      And when you mention that more mutations are harmful than beneficial, and many “false starts”, that just calls to mind Matthew 7: “The gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I think we could equally ask why God would create so many humans only to allow a large number of their lives to end in death, not just from this life but for eternity? To me, an evolutionary origin is a reminder that the stakes in life are high and the opportunities to go astray are myriad. In that sense, the story of creation and the story of the Gospel are one and the same.

  • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
    Kenneth Litwak commented on October 13, 2014 Reply

    Hi Dave,

    Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to this thread. It’s nothing personal. I find your suggesion of paradox interesting. I have thoght about this and I don’t really have any comments on it. Maybe this is a good approach.

    I am, however, still uncomfortable with the Bible using the word “create” for things like the Moon, if in fact it is only the result of an asteroid hitting the earth. I also have to wonder about the entire evolution description when I have read that otherwise reputable scientists have suggested that since they cannot figure out how life actually started, maybe aliens deposited it here. Is that really a serious suggestion by scientists? My thought here is that probably no one reading this would sign up for Intelligent Design, but aliens capable of space travel who managed to avoid destruction from all the micro-asteroids out there, and content to perhaps go throught thousands of generations to reach this planet went to all that trouble to deposit life here?

    I know you are not advocating that position, but that such a view exists (as well as other things that I have read or heard) suggests to me that claims are being made for evolution because having to invoke a deity for anything is simply unthinkable. Isn’t that what “punctiliar equilibrium” is about? It can’t be demonstrated but it sure releives one of any need to explain how complexities suddenly show up.

    It seems to me like at least some of what is said about evolution isn’t really things that anyone knows or can demonstrate through experimentation, but are necessary to avoid having to allow for any “outside interference.” Or is that just my (mistaken) view as an outsider?

    I will be at hte conference in a couple of weeks. I hope to meet you there. Thanks to one of those pesky mutations, I cna’t really read name tags without violating personal space; hopefully you’ll see me and introduce yourself. Thanks.

    Ken

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