The Value of Evolution

Laying Down Arms 2The fourth section of Gary N. Fugle’s book Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide looks at the value of biological evolution. It is hard for the non-scientist, and even many scientists who are not conversant with biology, to appreciate the depth and importance of the evolutionary theory in biology.

[O]nce the idea of evolutionary change is considered, we find that it has enormous power to explain much of what we see in the biological realm. This explanatory power pervades all levels of biology, extending from the origin of cell organelles to complex interactions within ecosystems. With evolution in mind, phenomena in one area of biology after another become understandable like they never were before. Biologists are able to repeatedly exclaim, “Aha! I get it! Now that makes sense.” It is because of this sweeping power to make sense of the natural world that evolution is regarded as one of the few unifying principles in the biology discipline. (p. 129)

Now some biologists will claim that this level of explanation removes God from the picture. Fugle’s response, along with that of other Christian scientists, is a sense of awe in understanding God’s methods of creation.

If you wonder why scientists find the evidence persuasive, read this section of Fugle’s book. He runs through a discussion of body plans and embryology; moves to fossils, with sequential ordering and transitional forms; considers biogeography and the dispersion of forms and species; and concludes with evidence embedded in the genetic coding of DNA. This gives a flavor of the range of evidence for evolution available. It is important to realize however, that the evidence for evolution is so pervasive that no short book can do justice to the sum total. Fugle includes a range of examples, but it would be a mistake to think that this is more than just the tip of the iceberg.

An outline of a few of the examples:

WhalesWhales provide a particularly significant example illustrating a number of the lines of evidence for evolution. Mainstream science leads to the conclusion that whales evolved from land mammals over the last 65 million years or so. Almost every line of evidence for evolution is illustrated by the whale.

The whale fin has the same external hydrodynamic structure as fish but the bone structure found in vertebrates, especially mammals with a humerus, ulna, radius, carpals. Whales also have vestigial pelvic bones.

The embryos of many whales develop hind limb buds that are reabsorbed, as well as external ear lobes, also reabsorbed. “Baleen whale embryos start with nostrils toward the tip of the snout, but, as development progresses, changes in the shape and size of skull bones cause the nostrils to migrate to their final place at the top of the head to form the blowhole.” (p. 144)

The fossil record shows a progression of whales with disappearing rear legs and nostrils at various locations along the snout. Transitional forms abound. The ankle bones of ancient whale precursors have a structure similar to that of even-toed hoofed animals.

The genome project confirms these connections. Whale and dolphin DNA is most similar to the hippopotamus, then cow, sheep, deer and giraffes. All consistent with evolution from an even-toed hoofed precursor. All of these connections could simply be “the way God chose to do it,”creating a succession of unrelated species, but this does not seem as satisfactory as the explanatory power of evolution … as the mechanism God chose to use in creation.

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Posted in Evolution, Science, The Fossil Record | Tagged

Where Do You Start?

ASAThe issues surrounding science and Christian faith are huge. They seem complex and technical. It is tempting to search for short simple solutions and move on … or to ignore the issues all together. What do Christians with training and a background in science think about these issues? Where is the Christian leader, teacher or pastor able to turn to get started?

Wouldn’t it be useful to listen to Christian scientists discuss these issues?

The American Scientific Affiliation is a a network of Christians in the sciences that has been existence for some 70 years. Over this time the organization has fostered many discussions on science and Christian faith. These conversations have occurred at the annual meeting and in the pages of the ASA journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF). Much of this material has been available on the web for many years, but access was often confusing and finding the desired material could be something of a hit and miss proposition requiring a bit of luck. I have found some very useful material in these archives (lectures by Francis Collins and Jack Collins for example, or an article by Richard Bube or Dennis Venema). But even returning to a previous find could be something of a challenge.

As part of the Evolution and Christian Faith program run by BioLogos and funded by the Templeton Foundation the ASA has organized and categorized a wide range of resources addressing questions of evolution and the age of the earth. These resources can be found through the link Resources on Science and Christian Faith. From the introductory page:

WELCOME to Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation. We have prepared mini-courses on a variety of faith and science topics using resources from our journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (formally Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation) and from presentations from our annual meetings. Click on one of the categories below to find readings, audio recordings, and videos that have been selected from our collection to introduce you to a particular topic. We encourage you to proceed through the collection in the order presented and write answers to the study questions in a personal journal. These study questions can also be used in a conversation with another person or in a discussion in a small group.

This is followed by a range of topics: Getting Started, Reading Genesis, Adam and Eve, Age of the Earth, Bioethics, … and so on.

This isn’t a monotone presentation covering only one view. There are unifying themes rooted in Christian commitments

The ASA accepts the Bible as inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative and thus disagrees with the “atheistic naturalist” who simply disregards the Biblical teaching. The ASA also believes that scientific investigation (and its results) are legitimate because God created and preserves the universe in such a way that it has contingent order and intelligibility. In other words the ASA discussion is among people who take both the Bible and science seriously.

But also strong disagreements.

The ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue. We are committed to providing an open forum where controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation. Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth. Consequently, you will find a range of views, some which disagree strongly with the other.

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Posted in Resources for Discussion, Science and Faith

An Adam Seminar

France_Paris_Notre-Dame-Adam_and_Eve-dsAs I wrap up a rather exhausting (and exhilarating) period of travel I would like to take the opportunity today to highlight yet another set of conversations on the question of Adam, perhaps the key issue at the intersection of science with Christian faith for many. Books and Culture just recently concluded a series of posts – a Symposium on the Historical Adam. The series consists of initial positions and responses on the question of Adam with contributions covering a range of views. Contributors include in alphabetical order: Peter Enns, Karl Giberson, Denis O. Lamoureux, Hans Madueme, Harry “Hal” Lee Poe, John Schneider, William VanDoodewaard, and John H. Walton. Links to all of the articles in the series can be found in John Wilson’s brief wrap-up article Adam’s Ancestors and with each of the separate contributions as well.

We’ve covered works by many of these authors in the past, in particular Peter Enns (The Evolution of Adam), Denis Lamoureux (Evolutionary Creation), John Walton (The Lost World of Adam and Eve) and Harry Lee Poe (God and the Cosmos with Jimmy H. Davis) among others. You can find links to the posts on these books under the Index of Books and Posts link at the top of the blog. All of them have thought quite deeply and carefully about the issues involved, although they emphasize different points.

Hans Madueme and William VanDoodewaard argue for a “traditional” understanding of Adam. VanDoodewaard just published a book The Quest for the Historical Adam laying out his position in more detail – I haven’t read it yet, but will see about getting a copy. Madueme edited a book defending the need for a historical Adam Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin, although not all contributors take this to require a young earth perspective.

Peter Enns, Denis Lamoureax, Karl Giberson and John Schneider do not take the “traditional” view.

We’ve just finished a long series on John Walton’s book – although he sees Genesis as teaching a historical Adam, he doesn’t see Genesis as teaching a straightforward Adam and Eve as unique progenitors of all humans.

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Posted in Adam

Videos Galore … On Evolution and Christian Faith

imageThis has been a summer of travel. This week I am enjoying the American Chemical Society Meeting in Boston with some 17,000 colleagues. Stimulating talks, dinner on the waterfront … all in all a good week.

Rather than struggle to pull together an original post, today I am going to highlight a number of videos from a somewhat smaller meeting. In Grand Rapids at the end of June BioLogos held a public conference celebrating the culmination of the projects funded by the Evolution and Christian faith program. This was a wonderful three days, highlighted by worship, fellowship, and a number of very stimulating talks.  Both the plenary sessions and the topical breakout sessions provided a lot of useful material.  I, like many others, left the conference a buzz with new ideas and insights.

If you weren’t able to attend, never fear … most of the plenary lectures are now available on YouTube.  You can choose the ones you find the most interesting.

Ard Louis Professor of Biophysics at Oxford University (UK) gave an excellent talk “Randomness and Other Metaphors in the Theory of Evolution.”  My personal favorite.

John Walton Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College gave an concise and entertaining talk summarizing his most recent work on the question of Adam “Investigating What the Bible Claims Concerning Adam and Eve.

Scot McKnight Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary spoke on “Adam and the Scientists.” Also an excellent talk and very thought-provoking, although more academic than for a general audience.

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Posted in Bible, Christian Life, Evolution, Genesis, Pastoring and Preaching, Science and Faith

Vocation as Holy Ground

A while back I was given a short book by Marc Baer, Mere Believers: How Eight Faithful Lives Changed the Course of History (HT JP). Marc Baer is a Professor of History at Hope College. His specialty is modern British history. In this book he looks at eight Christians in Britain examining how their lives, inspired by Christian faith, made a difference. The individuals range from Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1790) to Dorothy Sayers (1893-1956) spanning some two and a half centuries. In between we find Olaudah Equiano, kidnapped in Africa, enslaved, freed, and a voice for the humanity of Africans in Britain, Hannah More an author and reformer, as well as the more well known William Wilberforce, Oswald and Biddy Chambers, and G. K. Chesterton. The mix of men and women is intentional – and the women were active in preaching, teaching, shaping, and building. No mere supportive role here.

All eight of these individuals were committed orthodox Christians. Not evangelicals or fundamentalists, but converted and committed nonetheless. Selena Hastings practically formed her own denomination, the others are of Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, and Roman Catholic persuasions. Several of them experienced a clearly documented “conversion” of some sort, and this experience was transforming. In other cases there is little evidence for an abrupt conversion, rather a gradually maturing faith.

The book is well worth reading, and designed for small group study – especially appropriate for younger adults perhaps, but of value for all of us. Each chapter includes a set of discussion questions.

Today I would like to focus on one theme Baer brings out in the book – the importance of work as a Christian calling. Every Christian is called to make a difference through their life and work. There are not professional Christians (pastors, evangelists, missionaries, seminary professors, …) and then the rest of us – with an ordinary job or vocation, but not a Christian calling.

WilberforceWilliam Wilberforce, for example, entered politics as a young man elected to the House of Commons at 21. His conversion experience was a number of years later. He then wondered if politics where he should direct his efforts.

Withdrawing for a season of prayer and reflection on his vocation, Wilberforce considered a career change, including becoming a clergyman, but was persuaded by Newton that his calling was to serve God through politics “that the Lord has raised you up for the good of the nation.” … And so Wilberforce entered into his diary: “My walk is a public one. My business is in the world; and I must mix in the assemblies of men, or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.” …

The public walk, the mixing in the assemblies of men may look secular, but was as spiritual – perhaps in his case more so – than had he become a pastor. Contemporaries dubbed Wilberforce and his allies “the Saints,” recognizing, not always in a complimentary fashion, that the motivation for their actions lay beyond political office or power for its own sake. Thus when Wilberforce stood on the floor of the House of Commons, he was on holy ground. Signifying his own sense that politics was his vocation, he set the highest standard for himself: “A man who acts from the principles I profess reflects that he is to give an account of his political conduct at the judgement seat of Christ. Accountability became one of the hallmarks of his public life. (p. 69)

Baer outlines four aspects of his approach that helped Wilberforce toward this aim of integrating public, private, and Christian life. (1) He had a close network of friends “to whom he might open his heart and who in private confronted him regarding his faults.” (p. 70) (2) He embraced philanthropy. After his conversion and before his marriage he would give away 25% of his income. Philanthropy marked his entire life. In his own words: “When summoned to give an account of our stewardship, we shall be called to answer for the use we have made of relieving the wants and necessities of our fellow creatures.” (p. 71) (3) Believing in the power of ideas to change society he devoted much time and effort to his writing. (4) He stood for what was right, not necessarily with his friends. This hurt him politically – he would side with the opposition when they were right and this wasn’t popular among politicians then as it isn’t popular today. Wilberforce also persevered with what was right and in the end achieved the passage of a bill ending the British slave trade.

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Posted in Christian Life, Work | Tagged

A Responsive Potter

Ishtar Gate 2Jeremiah was a prophet in Jerusalem at the time leading up to the Babylonian captivity. He was freed from confinement by King Nebuchadnezzar and recorded the troubling reactions of the people of Judah during this cataclysmic event. Jeremiah 18:1-12 is a troublesome passage for many interpreters. Walter Moberly in Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture refers to this passage as “the passage whereby all other depictions of divine repentance elsewhere should be understood, when one is reading the Old Testament as canonical scripture.” (p. 116)

First the text (NIV):

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. (v. 1-4)

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. (v. 5-6)

After noting that the passage refers to Israel, i.e. God’s chosen people as a whole, not simply to Judah and Jerusalem where Jeremiah spoke, Moberly continues:

The imagery is also striking. For if a potter’s ability to do with the clay as he wishes (v. 4) illustrates the power of the maker over that which is made, then such imagery applied to God (v. 6) intrinsically symbolizes divine power. The imagery is not that of interpersonal relationships, which is the predominant biblical idiom for depicting God and Israel; king and subjects, master and slave, husband and wife, father and son are perhaps the most common images. … But with a limp of clay a potter has no relationship or responsibilities – it is an object to be used and shaped at will. When applied to God, therefore, the imagery of potter (yōtsēr) does not evoke mutuality, but rather unilateral power. (p. 116-117)

This imagery makes the sequel surprising. The next several verses do not depict divine power, “but rather divine contingency and responsiveness.”

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. (v. 7-10)

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Posted in Bible, Theology | Tagged

I Dare You to Change!

Thomas Kirche LeipzigChange is hard. Changing a position on any significant issue involves a disruption of social networks. This disruption can be painful. Today I would like to highlight two projects connected to the BioLogos Evolution and Christian Faith program that deal with the issues surrounding change.

Justin Topp, involved with Craig Story in the project Moving Pastors Toward Scientific Literacy, had an interesting post on the BioLogos blog last week: Creation and Evolution “Research Programs” (And Why It’s So Hard to Change Perspectives). In this post he is focused on analyzing the approaches that different groups take to the questions of evolution and Christian faith and the way these approaches control perspective. To lend context to the discussion he tells some of his story moving from a young earth creationist view to an evolutionary creation approach. The post is well worth reading.

Justin includes a table outlining what he sees as the three core positions or “research programs” at play in the discussion of evolution and creation.

To provide a better context to the reader, I have taken the liberty of constructing what I see are the three main research programs that are most relevant to the creation-evolution discussion for Evangelicals (see table). As a reminder, the “core hypothesis” is a thesis that is unchangeable and to which the researcher commits at all costs. Everything else within the research program is designed to connect (or protect) the core hypothesis to data that supports (or refutes) the central theory.

researchprograms_JustinToppThese are broad categories and there are subdivisions within these groups, especially within the evolutionary creation program, but the overall scheme seems accurate. There is substantial agreement on what might seem to be the core issues (Jesus Christ and the nature of God), and even on the authority of scripture, although the hermeneutical approach differs in the three programs. In fact, the approach to an understanding of the Bible and the way it should be interpreted defines the core position of both the young earth and old earth creationist programs. In contrast, the evolutionary creation program is driven less by a specific approach to biblical interpretation and more by a desire (need) to accommodate what are seen as the well supported conclusions of science into a Christian world view. This leads to the frequent charge that those of us who support evolutionary creation are letting science take the drivers seat.

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Posted in Conversion, Resources for Discussion, Science and Faith | Tagged ,