Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Science is the Evangelical Trophy Wife

In many evangelical circles, science has become a trophy wife. Put her front and center, and show her beauty in, say, the form of Hubble nebulae photographs, with the requisite Psalm 19:1 caption, but do not ever let her speak, for she is likely to embarrass you. Her theological utility is only in the pleasant optics, not in the substance.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Nothing makes me more of a pariah among my fellow believers than my support for theistic evolution (or by the preferred name du jour: "evolutionary creationism"). I honestly don't even know if it is considered (any longer) an acceptable view in my own church. I sort of don't want to know.

Evolutionary creationism, like every other ism, has a liberal-conservative spectrum. That range is on full display on the portal devoted to evolutionary creationism: biologos. I play a lot in the site's forum, which is a relatively collegial environment, beset only by the occasional troll. 1

On biologos, I think it is accurate to say that I'm on the conservative end (maybe even lunatic fringe end) of the spectrum (which is an odd place for me, this rightward lunatic fringiness). My enumerated summary of my position is this:
  1. The physical evidence, from a number of independent studies from disparate disciplines including geology, plate-tectonics, physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, all point to an earth that is about 4.5 billion years old and a universe that is roughly three times older.

  2. It would be a Herculean task to show why any one of these methodologies is wrong, let alone all of them. And in the unlikely event that you prove them all wrong, you are left with the equally difficult task of explaining how they all arrive at the same wrong answer.

  3. There is a fossil record that numbers in the millions that shows plenty of transitional species, including the most famous, the Tikaalik, whose existence and fossil location was predicted by applying a combination of evolution and geology.

  4. Evolution was the secondary means God used to create the diversity of life on earth. It was never out of his control and man was always the intended and inevitable pinnacle of this ordained process.

  5. Adam and Eve are historic beings, the first ensouled people. There were, at the time, other genetically identical hominids; it is perhaps from those that the sons of Adam and Eve selected their wives. 2
It is #5 in the list above, the historicity of Adam and Eve, that is something of a minority position on biologos.

I take solace from Reformed Baptist Augustus Strong. From the Wikipedia entry on Agustus Strong:
Augustus Hopkins Strong (3 August 1836 – 29 November 1921) was a Baptist minister and theologian who lived in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His most influential book, Systematic Theology, proved to be a mainstay of Reformed Baptist theological education for several generations.
Strong had a progressive (that's a bad word, isn't it?) view on evolution. He wrote:
There is a Christian conception of evolution, and in light of it, I propose to interpret the fall and the redemption of man. To prevent misunderstanding, I must define what I mean by evolution. Evolution is not a cause but a method. God is the cause. He is in his universe, and he is the source of all its activities with the single exception of the evil activity of the human will. When I speak of evolution as the method of God, I imply that the immanent God works by law; that this is the law of development; that God, and the old the basis of the new, and the new an outgrowth of the old. In all ordinary cases God works from within and not from without. Yet this ordinary method does not confine or limit God. He is transcendent as well as immanent. His is not simply “in all” and “through all” but he is also “above all.” 3, 4 (emphasis added)
I am weary of the arguments against a non-literal view of Genesis from young earth creationists. 5  Some, like Wayne Grudem and Al Mohler, like to make slippery slope arguments about how a denial of a young earth will ultimately lead to a denial of the gospel, and most likely the proverbial cats and dogs living together out of wedlock. I have been an old earth creationist for some time and so far I still affirm the gospel. Apparently the slope on this slippery slope is not very steep.

Try not to ponder that if the world's voluminous database of observations, from the fossil record to the comic background radiation to the recently discovered (as predicted) gravitational waves, should they be nothing more than faith tests, points to a God of deceit and confusion and not the God of the bible.

And by all means don't consider that the solid state devices in the computer you are using to write your polemic against "scientism", evolutionary creationism, and indeed any form old earth creationism is the self-same science by which we understand radiometric dating.

Send the trophy wife inside when her beauty has served its purpose.

1 The trolls that do show up can be from any ideology: atheists, young earth creationists, intelligent design proponents (biologos is anti-ID), fundamentalists, etc.

2 This is, of course, pure speculation, but no more so than the speculations of young earth creationists who either speculate on incestuous relationships for Adam and Eve's sons and never-mentioned daughters, or invoke additional special creation about which the bible is also utterly silent.

3 The Fall and the Redemption of Man in light of Evolution, Augustus. H. Strong, A paper read at the Baptist Congress, Buffalo NY, November 15 1898. Reprinted p. 163, Christ in Creation and Ethical Monism, Augustus. H. Strong, Roger Williams Press, Philadelphia, 1899.

4 In revising history, some modern Baptists will argue Strong never really supported evolution. This is like the atheist claim that Anthony Flew didn't "really" renounce his atheism.

5 And they really are not making an argument for a literal view of Genesis, but rather a particular literal view. Day-Age proponents (I am not one) will argue that their view of Genesis is just as literal, but it is done with the proper meaning assigned to the Hebrew word yom which is translated as day. They are on solid ground in that argument.


  1. Well said. The book of Strong's essays has some other interesting material, such as the first one, "Christ in creation." Thanks for the link.

  2. Hello! I clicked into this article from your Twitter post. I think your comment about being on the conservative end of the Biologos continuum really resonated with me. I come from a very theologically conservative background, and I found that the evidence for evolution (for those who are willing to look at it) is pretty undeniable, and the counter-evolution materials (whether the Answers in Genesis stuff or the Intelligent Design stuff) tend to fall quite flat in comparison. For me, it's always been about intellectual honesty. I just don't think Christians should spread around false information just because it furthers their chosen narrative, as tempting as that can be, and as well-meaning as I know many people are.

    So where does that leave me? I'm still conservative in all other regards, but cannot deny "mainstream" science. No, it's not infallible, but I just can't entertain a conspiracy theory that every field of science is dead wrong about evolution. The theory checks out on so many levels.

    So (and this is the crux of my post), in the midst of my conservative friends who decry evolution as a slippery slope to theological liberalism and atheism, I look with alarm at the communities that have been generated around evolutionary creationism, and to my alarm, that "slippery slope" portrayal, at least on the surface, tends to find plenty of fodder. There are so many theological and moral positions advocated in the Biologos community and the wider EC community that don't mesh with me at all. They cause me great discomfort. Could it be that some people adopt EC because it's progressive, edgy, and contrarian, and not because of a sincere struggle with the truth from a heart that desires to be conformed to God's word? I can't judge hearts, of course. But when one is a conservative adherent to EC, one tends to be "tribeless," at least within the domain of science and faith.

    Thanks for the great read!