[original image from https://jerkfest.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/whiteflag.jpg?w=1200)
In preparation for my recent interview with Greg Koukl, a blog over at biologos.org was brought to my attention. It’s an offering by Dr. Rick Middleton, and kicks off a new series he’ll be penning. I would like to take a (very) brief minute to make some observations.
Of particular importance is the title of the blog: Why Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened by Evolution.
Let’s start with the introduction by Jim Stump:
“For too long Christians in North America have thought the Bible was in conflict with biological evolution. Yet many orthodox Christian theologians of the nineteenth century (including Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield) saw no conflict in principle.”
First, that depends on what you mean by evolution. All brands of Christianity incorporate some theory of diversification and speciation that we might call biological evolution. But, if by “evolution” we mean the Darwinian mechanism as scientists understand it, with it being the only real force in the process, then yes, there seems to be conflict. Second, we all could really care less if a few scholars of the nineteenth century saw no conflict. The fact is, many did. This would include those close to Darwin himself (Lyell, Wallace… even Asa Gray had some concerns). This is just a blatant appeal to authority.
Now on to the meat and potatoes of Middleton’s blog.
“The infamous ‘war’ of science and religion (of which the creation-evolution battle is the most prominent example) is a relatively recent invention, manufactured from the atheist side by John William Draper (History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, 1874) and by Andrew Dickson White (A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 1896) and on the Christian side by conservatives who misread the Genesis creation accounts as scientific.”
This is demonstrably false. Yes, we all know that theists of antiquity (namely, those of the Renaissance and Enlightenment) pursued science as the discovery of God’s creation. But, to suggest that there was no conflict between theology and scientific discovery prior to the late 19th century is just false. Also, note that the origin of the “invention” of this conflict coincides with the release of Darwin’s theory. Coincidence?
“To start with, I take Scripture as providing the normative framework for the worldview of the church, with guidance for how to live in God’s world. The overarching biblical story of creation and redemption constitutes the non-negotiable framework for Christian discipleship…”
“…[T]he task of exploring how various Christian doctrines relate to what we think we know about science (and especially evolution) is not something defined in any of the ecumenical creeds. It is not a core essential of our faith, but rather a fallible human task to try and think biblical faith and evolution together—and there is always the danger of simplistic harmonization…”
“…I will endeavor to honor both discourses (the scientific and the theological), while suggesting how we may think beyond the evident tensions or contradictions between the two.”
Notice how carefully obtuse Middleton is about what Scripture provides. Does the Bible exist only to provide a normative framework (whatever that looks like) and guidance for how to live? Does it every report historical events? He is right to point out creation as a central aspect of what the Bible has to tell us. Of course, the details of what we mean by that word are precisely what the Christianity-evolution interface tackle. If both science and Scripture are attempting to convey a telling of what God did (or did not) do, then we find overlap, and the potential for conflict. As one quick example, if the creation of “kinds” (which is repeated for emphasis in the creation account, and seems to emphasize taxonomic fixity) doesn’t match up with what science tells us (i.e., one universal common ancestor), then this is rightly seen as a point of conflict. Heck, the theistic evolutionist must even equivocate on what they mean by God “creating” life. After all, science would insist (at a minimum) that an abiogenesis account (life from non-life) must be achieved by secondary causes, and not direct divine intervention. As Greg Koukl often says, “what exactly did God do?”
Finally, just note our first admission that it at least seems as if there’s some tension. This is what Middleton seeks to reconcile.
“For example, what do we do with the tension between what we know about the evolution of the cosmos over deep time, from the Big Bang to billions of expanding galaxies, and the biblical account of creation in six days, which seems to assume a flat earth with the dome of the heavens overhead and the sun and moon created after vegetation on the earth? How might we go about thinking of the relationship between these two accounts of reality?”
This is what we call a straw man. Rather than seriously consider the range of views on creation, Middleton intentionally goes for the most obscenely laughable one. We have known that the world is a sphere and that there is depth to the heavens since the time of the ancient Greeks (if not before). The view Middleton raises as problematic doesn’t exist in the minds of any living theist…and hasn’t for a long time. Shameful. Why not instead engage a view like that of Michael Behe, which (though I reject parts) maintains a robust view of biological evolution, complete with universal common ancestry, but devoid of an overarching mechanism of Darwinian evolution?
From here, we get a laundry list of tacit admissions to the real tensions that still exist.
“And what are we to do with the biblical idea of humanity created in the image of God, given what we know of hominin evolution? Are Homo sapiens the only species made in God’s image? What about Neanderthals? And before them, what about Homo erectus, or even Homo habilis? In other words, which species of hominin should we attribute the image of God to?”
“Then, what about the ‘Fall,’ the disobedience of Adam and Eve narrated in Genesis 3? Does it make sense to still believe in a historical beginning of human sin (in a single event), given the long evolution of hominins (or even just of Homo sapiens), including the violence that seems endemic to the evolutionary process, even prior to the origin of humans?”
“And connected with the idea of the ‘Fall,’ can we attribute all the problems of the natural world (including sickness, predation, and biological death, generally) to the consequences of human sin—as has been often been done in Christian theology? And even if we don’t go this route, how do we reconcile a loving, providential God who made the world ‘very good’ with a seemingly random evolutionary process that thrives on the suffering and death of billions of organisms, not to mention the mass extinctions of entire species?”
“How do we take seriously the Bible’s vision of new creation (a new heaven and a new earth), including the promise of resurrection and immortality, in relation to biological organisms whose very nature is mortality and decay in the context of a finite universe characterized by entropy, a universe which (as far as we understand scientifically) will gradually cool and die?… there are many other such tensions between science and theology.”
Indeed, these are but a sampling of the problems theistic evolution must deal with. Notice that some forms of theistic evolution (namely, modern Thomism) derive from careful considerations by thinkers from many centuries ago. So, not all of these are new problems. But many of them get much harder to reconcile when it comes to forcing Darwin and Christianity to be bedpartners. It is telling that some 150 years of discourse over these issues leaves the folks at BioLogos still struggling to offer remedies (meaning, answer are presumably not presently available). Maybe, just maybe, unresolved problems persist because they are real and genuine.
Thereafter, things get much more tentative for Middleton.
“These are some of the questions I plan to explore in the series of blog posts to come…I’m honestly not sure where I will end up in each case. It isn’t even clear to me that there are fully satisfying answers to these questions…Expecting to have definitive and immediate answers is a decidedly modern form of hubris. Instead, Christians need to learn the virtue of patience, and to take a long view of things. If we trust in the God of creation, revealed supremely in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, we can learn to live with the unanswered questions we have.”
This of course is just a poorly concealed feign at modesty and openness. Does anyone really believe that a Fellow of BioLogos, writing for them, will return to us with arguments against theistic evolution? In fact, if we re-visit an earlier passage from his blog, Middleton shows his hand:
“So, far from being threatened by evolution, Christians who embrace a biblical understanding of creation may see the hand of God in the deep time of the cosmos and the complex processes of biological evolution. In fact, we may be in awe of the amazing creativity of this great God of ours.”
So, we all already know where he’s going. He’s going to where we’ve already. And, if necessary, he’ll just assume there are no conflicts, even where apparent ones pop up, because we all can live without being able to explain our own theology.
In recap, what we have is an honest admission to the present shortcoming of the theistic evolution enterprise, dressed in a title that assures us (apparently despite the litany of apparent points of conflict), “Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened by Evolution.” This is like waving a white flag behind your back, so no one actually sees it.