The white paper written by Tim Keller for the November workshop “In Search of a Theology of Celebration” is posted on the BioLogos web site: Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople (or direct link). In his paper Keller gives what he finds to be the three most common problems posed by laypeople in the church on the questions of science and faith.
1. Biblical authority. With three subquestions – “What does that mean for the idea that the Bible has final authority? If we refuse to take one part of the Bible literally, why take any parts of it literally? Aren’t we really allowing science to sit in judgment on our understanding of the Bible rather than vica versa? “
With respect to this question Keller gives essentially the answer I would give: “The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.”
Genesis 1 is not intended to be literal – and we should not impose a literal interpretation on it. The stories of the resurrection of Jesus Christ are intended to be literal – of this there is no real question. To tie these together – as both literal or neither literal is to impose our agenda on the text.
The second two problems he identifies as most common are:
2. Biology and philosophy. This is the convolution of evolution with atheism and ontological naturalism – the real culture war battle.
3. The historicity of Adam and Eve. What is the proper understanding of the account of Adam, Eve, and the fall? The problem is not so much Genesis 2-3 as it is Romans 5, Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15. “If we don’t believe in an historical fall, how did we become what the Bible says we are–sinful and condemned?“
Today I would like to consider Keller’s approach to the second problem. In the next post (tomorrow) we will wrestle with the third.
If biological evolution is true, does this mean that we are just animals? Do natural explanations remove both the need for and the plausibility of belief in God?
To the second question: If biological evolution is true — does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection? Keller answers: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.
This is an absolutely critical point – acceptance of the scientific evidence for method of creation, most importantly evolutionary biological processes (EBP) does not require acceptance of a naturalistic view of the world. This is where many Christians (myself included) find themselve squeezed on both sides. Many people – from the new atheists to the Christian creationists (of all varieties, young earth, old earth, and intelligent design) use rhetorical techniques of attitude rather than argument to sustain the point. It is quite helpful, in fact – absolutely critical – to understand what is going on here.
Keller says that naturalism as the grand theory of everything (GTE) is…
GTE is fast becoming what Peter Berger calls a ‘plausibility structure’. It is a set of beliefs considered so basic, and with so much support from authoritative figures and institutions, that it is becoming impossible for individuals to publicly question them. A plausibility structure is a ‘given’ supported by enormous social pressure. The writings of the new atheists here are important to observe because their attitudes are more powerful than their arguments. The disdain and refusal to show any respect to opponents is not actually an effort to refute them logically, but to ostracize them socially and turn their own views into a plausibility structure. They are well on their way.
He goes on to point out that this creates a culture war in where for many Christians there is a responsive reaction in favor of fiat creationism to retain a sense of human dignity and take a stand against secular naturalism. He points out that “This is not a sophisticated theological and philosophical move; it is intuitive.“
So what does this mean? Many orthodox Christians who believe in EBP often find themselves attacked by those Christians who do not. But it might reduce the tensions between believers over evolution if they could make common cause against GTE. Most importantly, it is the only way to help Christian laypeople make the distinction in their minds between evolution as biological mechanism and as Theory of Life.
The intuitive response of some against secular naturalism – and the function of secular naturalism as the plausibility structure in our society. These are, in my opinion, the most important fronts in the battle between science and faith in our society. But the solution is not to fight the battle head on, but to look for the true third way. Keller hits it here – we need to make common cause against naturalism as the grand theory of everything. More importantly we need to present the gospel (the Christian alternative to secular naturalism) and we need to do so without tying it to patent absurdities – deal breakers that prevent a hearing in many circles.
As I approach these problems and questions I begin with the following set of assumptions – you can challenge away.
God exists – and has made his presence and plan known. The most significant part of his interaction is seen in the incarnation – God became man; that is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and in presence of the Spirit. Scripture is key here as it reliably tells the story of God’s interaction with his creatures.
The existence of God is proven not through the failure of “natural” mechanism to account for aspects of the world around us, but through the relationship of God with his creation. Science studies God’s mechanisms. It is a cumulative and self-correcting process.
Evolution will stand or fall on its own terms by the weight of the evidence. Truth will out – eventually. I think that the truth is that evolutionary mechanism is very well attested and supported by the evidence. It is as close to proven as anything in biology. So I am convinced at this point that the truth that will out is the truth of evolutionary biological processes. But whether it stands or falls makes no difference to the faith (my faith) – it is no more significant than meteorology or mechanics.
What does this mean within the church? One of the driving forces behind the resistance to evolutionary explanations within the church is the belief that evolution promotes an atheistic world view and thus must be resisted by believers. Secular naturalism, it is felt, devalues humans to mere animals leaving the door open for eugenics, social Darwinism, and all forms of evil. There is also an insufficient appreciation for the strength of the evidence for evolutionary biological processes and the role that creationist stances can play as deal breakers in the presentation of the gospel.
So, discussing this issue in the church I think that we need to realize that ….
We need to divorce scientific explanations of nature (God’s method) from the presentation of the gospel.
We cannot decide the validity of scientific theories based on the search for empirical proof for the existence of God.
We cannot decide the validity of scientific theories and explanations based on unsavory bedfellows or the philosophy of secular naturalism. While an atheistic world view is to be resisted – it must be resisted on defensible grounds. Keep the focus on the real problem – not artificial problems.
We cannot allow our (finite and limited) understanding of theology to decide the validity of scientific theories. Rather, with open minds and hearts, we must allow our faith to rest in and on God – and operate on the assumption that the whole world (and universe) is in his hands. It sounds trite perhaps, but all truth is God’s truth.
What do you think? What battles do we need to fight – and how?
If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net