Celebrating Creation: A Conversation with BioLogos

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Two weeks ago I attended a “Celebrating Creation” conference hosted by the BioLogos Foundation. As many readers know, BioLogos is an organization of evangelicals who accept theistic evolution (or evolutionary creationism, EC, as many prefer to call it). Evangelicals hold to a wide range of views concerning creation and evolution, and I’ve had the privilege of engaging with a number of groups representing positions across the spectrum, including intelligent design proponents (ID) and old-earth creationists (OEC). Similarly, I’ll always be grateful to Answers in Genesis (a young-earth creationists organization, YEC) for the opportunity a few years back to float down the Grand Canyon on an eight-day rafting tour and hear them present the case for the young-earth view. Personally, I hold to old-earth creationism. I affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve and believe the original couple were the special creation of God. When the invitation came from BioLogos to attend this event, I was glad to take part. I’m thankful to Debra Haarsma, Jeff Schloss, and Jim Stump of Biologos for the opportunity. Here are a few of my takeaway thoughts.

1. BioLogos deserves a place at the table, taking part in the conversation. Evangelicals need to hear what they have to say. They represent a minority view among evangelicals, and they realize it. However, significant evangelicals of the past–such as B. B. Warfield and John Stott–held to versions of evolution. And today evangelical thinkers such as Alister McGrath embrace some aspects of evolutionary theory. I still believe that the issue of a historical Adam and Eve present EC proponents with a herculean (and perhaps impossible) theological task. But they are saying some things we evangelicals need to hear. The claims made by EC advocates can be discussed, challenged, and (when appropriate) opposed, but the adherents themselves should not be vilified.

2. EC advocates recognize that they have theological work to do, particularly on the issue of a historical Fall. As the various speakers made their presentations, their candor and transparency was refreshing. We heard from a number of speakers (Denis Alexander and Jeff Schloss) who wished, one way or another, to affirm a historical Adam and Eve within an evolutionary context. In this area, evolutionary creationists face challenges. The latest findings in genetics place human origins in Africa rather than the Middle East, and the evidence indicates that humans descended from a community (of perhaps several thousand individuals) rather than just a solitary couple. Invited guest Jack Collins demonstrated the important role that the original couple play in the biblical narrative. I was glad to hear the BioLogos representatives acknowledge the significance of this matter.

3. EC advocates utilized ID and OEC arguments on several important points. All too often advocates of the respective views have been unwilling to acknowledge points of agreement, instead choosing to stress the areas of disagreement. This conference was different. Several speakers made arguments that parallel those made by ID and OEC advocates. They observed that the Big Bang theory lends itself readily to a theistic interpretation. Time and again presenters noted the fine-tuning of the universe. They acknowledged that, at present, all attempts to account for the origin of life have failed. These are talking points generally made by ID advocates. Some took care to distinguish evolutionary creationism from naturalistic Darwinism and from the atheistic nihilism that Darwinism so often produces. Old-earth creationists such as Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana were referenced in positive ways.

4. We need a Christian understanding of evolution, not an evolutionary interpretation of Christianity. There are plenty of examples of those who have attempted to interpret Christianity through the lens of evolution. (I’m thinking now of modernists such as Harry Emerson Fosdick or Teilhard de Chardin.) The results have not been pretty. Modernists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries attempted to accommodate Darwinism by shoehorning Christianity into a naturalistic framework. The outcome was a complete capitulation to the spirit of the age and the Gospel was lost. The members of BioLogos seem to be keenly aware of these past disasters. But they note that evangelicals cannot pretend that the scientific evidence is going to disappear. Jeff Schloss rightly pointed out that even YEC proponents accept that some type of mutability of species occurred after Noah’s flood. As recent articles in the New York Times and the journal Nature illustrate, Darwinism–as a paradigm–is in serious trouble. But evolutionary theory is not going away.

So without agreeing with the EC position, I am thankful for the BioLogos Foundation. They are prodding evangelicals to examine the findings of genetics and geology in ways that do not appear to be glib and dismissive. Let the conversation continue.

This blog is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Michael Denton’s Awe-Inspiring Description of A Living Cell –What I’ve Been Reading (9)

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In 1986, Michael Denton published Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Many attribute this book with starting the Intelligent Design movement. Denton provides an elegant description of the living cell that I want simply to quote at length:

“To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometers in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the port holes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity. We would see endless highly organized corridors and conduits branching in every direction away from the perimeter of the cell, some leading to the central memory bank in the nucleus and others to assembly plants and processing units….A huge range of products and raw materials would shuttle along all the manifold conduits in a highly ordered fashion to and from all the various assembly plants in the outer regions of the cell.

“We would wonder at the level of control implicit in the movement of so many objects down so many seemingly endless conduits, all in perfect unison. We would see all around us, in every direction we looked, all sorts of robot-like machines….

“We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell: artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage and retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, error fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and modular construction….

“What we would be witnessing would be an object resembling an immense automated factory, a factory larger than a city and carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth. However, it would be a factory which would have one capacity not equaled in any of our own most advanced machines, for it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours. To witness such an act at a magnification of one thousand million times would be an awe-inspring spectacle.” (pp. 328-29).

Awe-inspiring indeed. “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.” (Psalms 139:14)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

What I’ve Been Reading (6)–Creationism Is Evolving

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We often forget to make the distinction between creation and creationism. Creation is a doctrine, and as such it is an unchangeable tenet to the Christian faith.  Creationism is an apologetic approach which attempts to integrate the doctrine of creation with the current understandings of the natural sciences.  As such creationism is always changing and subject to amendment. Ronald Numbers has provided us with an excellent history of creationism with his book, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Numbers’ father was a Seventh-Day Adventist evangelist who preached in tent revivals sermons such as “God’s Answer to Evolution: Are Men and Monkeys Relatives?” Numbers today appears to be agnostic, but he treats creationists with respect, and he writes as who was an insider to the creationist movement. Creationism indeed has evolved, and Christians need to be aware of the changes that have occurred over last 150 years. The Creationists makes several points of interest: 

1. Virtually all early fundamentalists and evangelicals held to an ancient earth. For example, B.B. Warfield, who coined the term “inerrancy”, held to theistic evolution. R.A. Torrey, who founded both Moody Bible Institute and BIOLA and who edited The Fundamentals (from which we get the term “fundamentalist”), held to the gap theory.  In a celebrated debate over the creation account in Genesis between two early fundamentalists, W. B. Riley and Harry Rimmer, neither advocated young-earth creationism. Even William Jennings Bryan, of the Scopes Monkey Trials fame, held to a day-age interpretation of Genesis One. 

2. Young-earth creationism (YEC) did not ascend to prominence until the early 1960’s with the publication of Whitcomb and Morris’ The Genesis Flood (1961). Prior to Whitcomb and Morris, the view that the proper interpretation of Genesis requires that the earth be less than 10,000 years old was advocated almost exclusively by Seventh-Day Adventists such as George McCready Price. Ellen G. White, founder of Seventh-Day Adventism, claimed to have received a vision in which she was carried back to the original week of creation. There, she said, God showed her that the original week was seven days like any other week.

3. Young-earth creationism (YEC) originally was called “scientific creationism.” Whitcomb and Morris argued that, when the evidence is examined in an unbiased manner, the case for a young earth is much more compelling than for an old earth.  Artifact number one was the claim that humans footprints were found along with dinosaurs tracks in the river bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas.  YEC advocates don’t make that claim about the tracks anymore, nor do they still use the label of “scientific creationism.”

The Creationists was published in 1992, so it doesn’t cover significant developments within creationism over the last 20 years.  Most notably, there is no discussion of Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis organization, nor is there anything about the rise of the Intelligent Design movement.  However, if one wants to know how the debate got to be where it is today then this book is an excellent place to start.