Saturday, September 24, 2011

Human Evolution and Theology

It’s been over six months since my last entry on this blog. My apologies to the many who continue to check in here, only to find the well still dry! There are many reasons for my writing hiatus, most of them personal. But I hope to resume writing, and today I offer this summary of a recent Biologos article, together with a brief facebook exchange from yesterday.

My friend, Dennis Venema, is an Associate Professor of Biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., and a Senior Fellow of the Biologos Foundation. Yesterday, he posted a fascinating description of early human speciation at the Biologos site. Evolution doubters confused about microevolution versus macroevolution would do well just to read Venema’s opening paragraphs about how new species develop, and when they cross that invisible line demarcating a “new species”. Venema’s main thrust is how genetics is showing the way to a deeper understanding of how the very early Hominid species spread out across the globe, and how they interacted, and interbred. But Venema’s driving passion, much like my own, goes beyond elucidation of our distant past; he longs for the conversation which evangelical Christians must engage which is less about natural history, and more about its theological implications. Venema closes his article with this:

"Even as I stand amazed in what God has revealed to us about our origins through science, I know that this new information will be difficult for some within the evangelical community to accept. Moreover, it is almost certain that some Christian groups, unfortunately, will misrepresent this data to their constituents (whether intentionally or not), and thus spread confusion that hinders the needed theological conversation. Still, I have reason for hope: God has seen it fit to reveal this information to us, and that suggests that He believes the evangelical Christian community is ready for this conversation to happen. As [Biologos President] Darrel [Falk] mentioned at the end of his recent piece, we at BioLogos want to assist our evangelical sisters and brothers in this conversation in any way we can, in full confidence that it can be done in an edifying way ..."

I posted a link to Venema’s article yesterday, and one of my facebook friends commented with several questions. My friend, Tim, is an unbeliever, and puzzles over how or why believers who understand our evolutionary past persist in efforts to reconcile “the biblical narrative from Genesis” with “what science has discovered.” Tim writes, “I just don't get this insane drive to keep believing something that is completely contradictory to the facts.” He goes on to quote Venema’s amazement “in what God has revealed to us about our origins through science.” Tim is incredulous, even infuriated, at such a statement. He writes, “God didn’t reveal anything. Man looked around observed tested and discovered. What God supposedly revealed about the natural world in Genesis is in short a fairy tale. Simply put when it comes to explaining how why things work the way they do or are the way they are its Science a whole whole lot and God zero.”

My answer to Tim’s concerns follows:

“A lot of really good questions, Tim. I'll try to answer succinctly, though each of your questions is worthy of an essay!

“People like Venema and myself make little attempt to align current understandings of natural history and science with the narrative of Genesis in the way you presume. (Some believers do, e.g. Hugh Ross, and his organization "Reasons to Believe" <>.) Rather, Genesis appears to us to be an ancient text that provides a wealth of early theological insights within it's contemporary cosmological framework, but which contains little or no supernaturally supplied information about science, origins, or natural history.

“But what you are really asking is why maintain faith in any Biblical revelation in light of the Bible's lack of historical/scientific preciseness. I cannot presume to answer for Dennis, but I can tell you that for me, this is a choice that is rooted in my faith in the person of Jesus, who is called in the Bible the "Word of God", and as such is the ultimate expression of God, the ultimate divine revelation. And the Bible, in my opinion a substantially accurate source of history concurrent with its writing, tells us much about Jesus prospectively in the O.T., concurrently in the Gospels, and retrospectively in the rest of the N.T. When I couple together the things we are learning from science about origins, evolution, physics, etc. with what is revealed in Jesus and in the book about him, the results are exciting, refreshing, and captivating (you can read some of my observations on my blog, OutsideTheBox).

“Your question about "God revealing through science" is a fair question. There is a verse in Proverbs that says "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." That is, God's revelations in nature are concealed, below the surface, awaiting discovery. Science (which you may know was largely driven by theistic belief for much of it's history) is man uncovering the secrets of the Creator. The Biblical presumption is that all of nature is God revealing, and we call this "Natural Revelation".

“So your score card ("science a whole lot, God zero") presumes that God spoon feeds information to us, or that Christians believe that he does this. While some Christians may think that way, I assure you that Venema does not. Nor do I.”

Your comments are welcome ...