Thursday, April 30, 2009


I am not an expert in any of the sciences, but I have been interested in the culture war that has been a staple of American society between Biblical Christianity and evolution. I was schooled to be a young-earth creationist, intellectually breastfed on books like The Genesis Flood. I never thought too deeply about the issues, and mostly stayed away from the fray when I was a pastor. It was only when I began studying Genesis seriously that my views began to emerge.

This is not the normal path that those who come to question creationism take. The stereotypical student who comes to reject the fundamentalist view becomes a questioner through considering scientific evidence. However, my doubts were born from studying Scripture! Genesis is so much richer and deeper than the bare literalist explanation. The creation narratives also fit within a larger work, the Torah, an interpretive context that most fundamentalists fail to consider adequately.

Now, esteemed scientist and believer Francis Collins has established a foundation with an excellent website that attempts to provide an alternative to the culture war approach of both atheistic and Christian fundamentalists. It's called BioLogos, and here is its mission...
The BioLogos Foundation promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives.
It is a well-designed and well-written site that seeks to answer many of the questions that arise when one tries to take both the Bible and science seriously.

You can also check out the blog that complements the site at Science and the Sacred.

Highly recommended, even if you don't agree. BioLogos is a fine example of thoughtful, careful, and irenic scholarship.


Janice said...

I've just started a BTh degree. Currently I'm doing the Introductory OT topic and loving it. What a mind-stretch!

I started off doing the introductory theology topic too but had to withdraw from that because, with my science background, I found learning to write for the humanities - having to balance opinions rather than presenting facts - a major struggle. But before I withdrew I read a book chapter by Sandra Schneider (in "The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture" Harper, 1991) in which she wrote that inerrancy, "constitutes a kind of Biblical Docetism. ... an inerrant Bible would only appear to be a genuine human text." I'd never come across that argument before and I find it convincing. So I don't believe in inerrancy any more but that doesn't mean I think the Bible is not God's word, or that it's not inspired, not reliable and not true. It just means I'm even more amazed by how gracious God is towards us human beings. He risked his message with us!

My second Intro OT assignment was an exegesis - my first. I chose Gen 4:1-16 and as I worked on it, looking at other OT texts that throw some light on the passage (e.g., Lev 2:1), and thinking about the generally accepted range of dates for the final compilation of the Pentateuch I found myself thinking about what it would mean to choose a view that says the story was entirely made up at a late date, or one that says the early story was modified to fit in with a later theology, or one that says that the story was originally written essentially as we find it now.

Since God knows the beginning from the end I have no difficulty in thinking that what happened at the beginning should be consistent with what God revealed, more specifically, later on. After all, it's his plan that has been unfolding. But what if I choose either of the first two options? Why would I do that? Perhaps for the same reason that Cain asked God if he was his brother's keeper (shamar)?

I'm writing all this to try and demonstrate my non-(so-called)fundamentalist credentials. (I gave up on complementarianism a year or so ago.) So now when I say I'm still a young earth creationist maybe you won't write me off straight away.

The reason I don't accept evolution is not that I don't understand science. It's because I do. I have bachelor degrees in medicine and surgery, a post-graduate diploma in public health and a Master of Information Technology. I've always loved science, partly because of what it can do to make life better for everyone, but mostly because I just love finding out how things work. But when I say that I'm using a particular definition of 'science'.

The word used to mean nothing much more than 'skill'. So one could be a master of the 'science' of pugilism, embroidery, history or music. But I'd be very surprised if, when you think of science, that you're thinking about any of these subjects My guess is that you would be thinking of the kind of work that brought us planes, polio vaccines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and non-stick cookware.

Glover's definition ("a community activity of fallen and fallible individuals that is based, not on revealed truth, but on reasonable consensus") is garbage, except for the bit about it not being based, "on revealed truth". The activity that has brought us all the advantages we associate with the word 'science' is the one that deduces a possible cause for a repeatedly occurring natural event, tests the deduction using one of several formalised experimental or observational methodologies, records the results of the experiments or observations and applies inductive reasoning to that data to determine the probability that the result is correct. Consensus has nothing to do with it. Consensus is a political tool. Consensus is what brought Galileo undone.

I agree with you that Genesis is, "much richer and deeper than the bare literalist explanation," but that doesn't mean the literalist explanation is wrong. It's merely inadequate. That's because it's only dealing with what we can infer about the 'how' rather than what Genesis can tell skillful exegetes about the 'why'. On the other hand, what we have been led to believe is the 'scientific' explanation about the 'how' is a) not 'scientific' according to my (our?) understanding of science, and b) presumes materialism, or naturalism, or physicalism - take your pick of the termininology.

My husband bought me Francis Collins' book. I couldn't read very far into it because it bored me to tears. Same old, same old guff. A more interesting book is Dr. John Sanford's "Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome". Not being a geneticist I found it fairly hard to read but I know enough to know that he has blown the biological evolution story right out of the water.

Michael Mercer said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Janice. From my perspective, I think it is problematic to posit that the earth is only a few thousand years old with any kind of scientific integrity. And I don't think one has to take a very radical position on the Bible in order to say that it doesn't teach a young earth. Also, while you are absolutely correct that consensus is not the final arbiter of truth, one must take seriously the nearly universal acceptance of some sort of evolutionary process and recognize that it is tested every day by the normal scientific method. If it were so radically wrong, as YEC's suggest, wouldn't someone within the scientific community have published compelling evidence that would have at least caused splits in that consensus? This is where many YEC's unfortunately become conspiracy theorists, casting aspersions on the whole scientific enterprise that disagrees with them as being rooted in naturalistic atheism. Collins and others like him are trying to show that this is unnecessary and unhelpful to Christian witness to God's truth in the world.

Marcus Goodyear said...

Janice, I'd encourage you to give Collins' book another try. If nothing else, skim ahead to the end. Great stuff.