A Problem with BioLogos' Approach


#1

After 20 years of being a 6-day literalist, very conservative Baptist pastor, I am coming around to the BioLogos view. I will not teach it with the BioLogos approach, however, because I believe a wrong approach is causing problems with its acceptance among conservative Christians. I’d like to explain it here to give everyone a fresh view from my side, to hopefully give some perspective that will help you as you try to convince young earth creationists. Also I’d like to hear your opinions, to sharpen my approach as it is all very new to me.

While young earth, ID, evolution-rejecting Ken Ham creationists come from all over, they are heavily concentrated in the Bible belt, conservative areas. You’d probably agree that there is a correlation between Trump voters and this group. Their pastors lean towards more fire-and-brimstone. They are frank, blunt, direct, and see the world as straightforward and black-and-white.

BioLogos’ language is much more NPR than Fox News. It is more Obama than Trump. It answers questions with questions, and says things like “it depends” a lot. I know it is the nuanced and more correct way to approach things, but you will be viewed as wishy-washy and liberal-sounding by the young earth crowd.

Compare the style with that of Ken Ham. Ham answers thoughtful questions with “for the Bible tells me so.” You may scoff at that, but you’ll only alienate the Bible belt crowd if you do.

I would suggest that you approach the discussion with Bible-based, frank, direct statements instead. To elaborate:

  1. Be Bible-first in your points. You will never convince a conservative Bible-believer with scientific arguments, but that’s OK, you don’t need to. They believe the Bible above science, which remember is OK since the Bible doesn’t change but science often does. So use that to your advantage. You must show how the Bible clearly allows for long periods of time in Genesis instead of 6 literal days. Prove it from the Bible, not from science. Show them how Adam and Eve can be real people and still allow for other people. Solve the sin-death problem from the Bible. Show them scriptural proof not scientific proof. The science is secondary for them, they will accept whatever science says as long as it doesn’t mess with their interpretation of the Bible. Show them how to interpret the Bible better. Bonus tip: don’t use original languages and scholarship; use the Bible, and don’t correct it. “A better translation would be…” sounds like you’re being squirrelly. Just show them Bible verses where days are mentioned but are not 24 hours. Interpret the Bible with the Bible. They are afraid of losing their belief in God. Don’t do that to them by casting doubt on the inspiration of scripture.

  2. Be direct. Don’t say “there are 4 ways to interpret Genesis that allows for the Adam and Eve story while still making room for evolutionary blah blah blah.” Say, instead: “Adam and Eve were real. BioLogos doesn’t contradict that.” Don’t say: “The problem of original sin is something that has been discussed and there are several good solutions for it blah blah blah…” Say, instead: “The Bible doesn’t say Adam and Eve were the first sinners. Satan sinned before them.”

  3. Leave science out: You don’t need to convince them of the proper scientific understanding, you need to convince them of a Biblical interpretation that is clear, scripturally sound, doesn’t change the words or doctrines, and leaves space for science to do whatever it wants to do. Don’t say: “Recent scientific discoveries are showing more and more that a 6-day view of the Bible is inconsistent with blah blah blah…” Say, instead: it doesn’t matter what science says, what matters is that only allowing for 6 days is Biblically wrong. You’re missing all kinds of verses that prove your interpretation wrong."

I recently won over the first three YECs I talked to in 20 minutes. I said “forget evolution, think about restricting Gen. 1 to literal days. Here are the verses that show why that’s wrong…” After they saw the Bible proof, they accepted it immediately. 3 different conversations.

The problem is not science. The most argent of ID and YECs actually like to talk about science. They make museums and textbooks after all; it’s a subject they enjoy. But they hold the Bible above science, which they should. Start there, be clear, show them clearly they are wrong Biblically.

I recently read Tim Keller’s excellent, thoughtful series on the subject, here on the BioLogos site. Why does he take 4 parts to get to his stance: Adam and Eve were historical and it doesn’t contradict BioLogos? Why not just say that? I love Keller’s stuff, but liberal, New Yorker, professorial approach will not work with Trump voters, it will only turn them off.

If anyone would like the Bible verses I used with the YECs recently, let me know and I’ll post them.


(Phil) #2

Excellent observations. Biologos is sort of a “big tent” so necessarily has to accommodate a wide range of views, so some of the approaches you can use individually do not translate to something appropriate for the bigger organization, in my opinion.
However, I fully agree that when talking to church people, it is proper and fruitful to let the science speak for itself, and to concentrate on the theologic interpretation, pointing out the theologic difficulties that YEC has, as well as addressing up front the theologic challanges of EC.
I think this group is very afraid of contradicting scripture, and to see that you can hold to EC/TE and actually understand the meaning of scripture more fully with full respect and regard is comforting.
Thank you again for your observations.


(Christy Hemphill) #3

Thank you so much for taking the time to give us all this feedback. I do not speak for the BioLogos leadership or staff, but I think you have made some insightful observations about the demographic you describe.

One of the questions I think BioLogos is continually grappling with is “who is our primary audience?” As you have noted, what may be the best and most persuasive communication strategy for one audience can very well be shooting yourself in the foot with a different audience.

It seems to me that BioLogos has focused its efforts on expanding the Evangelical tent to include evolutionary creationism as a biblical, God-honoring, interpretive option for Christians among other options. So the primary audience has been envisioned as those Christians who have already been challenged by scientific evidence or arguments by new atheists and are wondering if it is possible to hold on to their faith if they no longer hold on to Creationist views. It has not been the goal to convert YECs who are content with their belief system.

My concern with the approach you outline is that in many ways it would mean accommodating an approach to Scripture that many of us are fundamentally opposed to. So I wonder if it could be done with integrity. Many of us whose beliefs are in line with BioLogos object more strongly to Ken Ham’s exegesis and hermeneutics than we do to his science, and it seems like you are saying we would need to handle Scripture like Ken Ham does in order to get a hearing. But your points about leading with the Bible when it comes to Evangelical audiences, not science are well taken and it is a critique that has been mentioned by other people as well.

I think you do point out a glaring lack in evolutionary creationist “apologetics.” There is very little available that is appropriate for children or for the audience you describe, people for whom the academic language and appropriate nuances often get in the way of the main message.

Thanks again for your input.


(Christy Hemphill) #4

Sure, post them! People are always interested to hear what “works” in conversations.


(George Brooks) #5

@nobodyyouknow,

I had to smile as I read your directives. I can see how they would have the desired effect!

And I could see myself saying some of these things. I still remember the day that someone here asked me how God would bo about “effecting” his Evolutionary plan on the Earth.

Without batting an eye, I posted that God would adjust the DNA mutations with a Cosmic Ray (coming in from deep space!) … whenever he needed a genetic replication to go wrong (or go right, depending on what kind of mutation he had in his master plan).

Oh man… did I catch a lot of flack from people who just got bugged all over the place with anyone trying to suggest how God would do something. I thought it was a little bizarre that when Genesis says God made Adam from dust/dirt … people seemed more willing to think God would happily pinch will micro-finger-fulls of silica into DNA molecules … than allow God to use a cosmic particle to blow out a molecular union or two in a DNA molecule!

I think the only way you are going to get someone in the BioLogos camp to endorse your perfectly rational approach of definitive explanations of what God did and does - - - - is if we send out our “apostles” into the Dixie land of Milk and Honey and let God lead them in what they want to say!

They would have to Speak for themselves … and for God … but not for BioLogos. BioLogos walks a tightrope.

We need to get some Evolutionary Brimstone out there in and amongst those who love God !


(GJDS) #6

Your emphasis on understanding the Bible first is laudable and it should be underscored with an understanding of appropriate theological teachings by the Church. I cannot pretend to understand the varying and often contradictory positions that I have encountered on this site, but perhaps I can make a useful comment on your approach. My background is Orthodox, and the faith-science discussion can be found on Orthodox and Catholic sources. Briefly, we have opinions that range from: (a) evolution is a theory that is part of the natural sciences, and we should have a sufficient understanding as we should of all science, to (b) evolution may be the paradigm of biology, but generally it is an ideology that its proponents push as a belief system, and have little regard to truth, science, theology or Biblical insights.

Both of these views can be discussed without the rancor and extreme views found in the US. I do not have any experience with YEC or OEC, so I cannot make a useful comment, but I am convinced that BioLogos has made a fundamental mistake in seeking to use evolution as a basis for theological understanding of the Christian faith - claiming a big tent is a distraction. Until ToE is restricted to one scientific discipline, and the faith-science dialogue is shown to involve much more than speculation based on ToE, BioLogos will be part of the waring culture that has bedevilled the US Christians.


Is evolution ever the *basis* for theological understanding?
(George Brooks) #7

@GJDS

How can you have spent so much time on these boards, and still come up with such a verdict?

The ToE cannot be restricted to one scientific discipline if millions of Christians continue to believe God was involved in the evolutionary rise of life on Earth. Because by this one belief alone, Evolution is no longer part of a science - - it is part of an entire religious viewpoint on the Cosmos.

In essence, you seek to drive Evolution into the wilderness by relegating it to the realm of the atheists. But such melodrama is completely unnecessary. With the emergence of Christian Science (and Mary Baker Eddy), one could have argued the same thing - - that once all the surgeons and medicine peddlers could be confined to their academic towers, the real work of divine healings could begin a new and more effective phase!

But there is no reason why the practice of medicine and one’s faith cannot be integrated together, and the same can be concluded with the study of God’s role in Evolution.
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As for your connection to the Orthodox tradition… you still have not responded to a question of mine in a separate thread, where I ask you why you might disagree with a writer for the Archdiocese in Massachusetts, who is rather explicitly opposed to your interpretation of the creation of life in Genesis:

"The traditional Orthodox view of the Genesis account, therefore, does not see it as a literal scientific account of the physical processes of the origins of the physical universe, nor a scientific account of the origins of life, or of the origins of human existence. Thus, St. Basil writing his work “On the Six Days of Creation” in the fourth century, did not limit himself to the Genesis account, but used the scientific information and philosophical terminology of his day to present a balanced account of the origins of the world, both spiritual and scientific. "

When Evolution is rejected in an Eastern Orthodox writing … it is most usually the Godless variety of Evolution that is being rejected, like so:

Another response more characteristic of the Orthodox approach, and accepted by many Roman Catholic and non-fundamentalist Protestants, may be characterized as theistic evolution. This view rejects evolutionary theories [i.e. Evolution without God], which are formulated in exclusively materialistic perspectives primarily because they fail to acknowledge the non-material spiritual verities of existence. Theistic evolutionary development, seeing in it justification for the view that God uses such processes not only to bring into existence the material world, but to guide it in its material development. The world as described by objective scientific description is, after all, God’s world, and it must be understood as such so that one truth about the origins of the world is maintained.”

http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resourcesforteachers/Faculty%20Statement%20on%20Creation%20and%20Evolution.pdf


(Christy Hemphill) #8

2 posts were split to a new topic: Is evolution ever the basis for theological understanding?


(Christy Hemphill) #9

For a number of years a woman named Susan Emmerich attended my church. She was involved in mediation in communities where environmental activists were in conflict with local farmers and/or fisherman. She realized that the way environmentalists were presenting the problems was not resonating with the local people, most of whom were the kind of Christians described above. So she would go into churches and teach a Bible-based creation stewardship class and the results were really amazing. There is a documentary about here work on Tangier island described here with the trailer:

While she was at our church she inspired the people (it was a predominantly blue collar church with many people who are politically conservative) to do all kinds of environmentally conscious reforms. We replaced an outdated heating/cooling system with an energy saving one. We started using rain barrels and paper or reusuable coffee cups and fair trade coffee. We even got written up in Flourish magazine which is kind of amusing if you know how absolutely not-hipster we are and if you know that a sizable segment of the congregation regularly listens to Janet Parshall complain about the “Green Dragon” on her Moody radio show.

The key thing was she understood how to frame things in a way that people accepted as a biblical mandate, instead of what they would consider tree-hugging liberal nonsense.

However, in her work there were clear practical goals to work toward (peace in communities involved in conflict, stewardship of financial and natural resources and reduction of harmful pollution). I am not sure I could say what the clear practical goals would be in trying to get rural right-wing America to adopt evolutionary creationism. That would be worth discussing. Because unless we can articulate why it is so important they change their mind, what is the point in rocking the boat?


(Phil) #10

Well stated. Personally, I really am not too concerned with changing the minds of those who are comfortable with their beliefs and strong in their faith. My primary concern is the large number of young adults who when confronted with the overwhelming evidence that the Bibical interpretation they were told was the foundation of their faith is not true and who then leave the faith altogether. I’m sure there are many other factors involved, but that is one. Other issues are certainly present, including the division caused by some vocal YEC proponents in questioning the faith and motives of anyone not accepting their particular interpretation, the ammunition some give opponents of the gospel my making Christians look foolish,and others.


#11

Thank you for all your replies. I feel I came off as condescending or know-it-all, please forgive me for that. I appreciate greatly the work that everyone here has done. It has helped me tremendously and is actively saving many many Christians from their own crisis of faith. I understand BioLogos has more in mind than Bible belt YECs and it’s helpful to be reminded of the intended audience of BioLogos.

I think there’s a greater deal of overlap in audiences than may be suspected. I don’t have the experience with more liberal Christian audiences, but I would assume that they are already taught a view of scripture that is easily compatible with evolution and modern science. A few basic tenants that seem to be repeated often here:

  1. Approach scripture within its historical context. The writers were “men of their time.” God described the world in a way they would understand according to their time.

  2. Much of scripture is not literal but poetic. Genesis is metaphor, not history.

  3. The Bible is not a science book and it is not meant to speak scientifically.

These views are seen by conservative Christians as very liberal. I’m not trying to offend here, I’m just saying that they will turn off very large portions of Christianity. Here’s how they sound in their ears:

  1. You can’t understand the real meaning of the Bible unless you have outside discoveries in history, archeology, and cultural anthropology. The Bible is not understandable without scholarship. Scholarship is more authoritative than the Bible.

  2. If you don’t like something the Bible says, feel free to call it figurative. Your personal perspective is more authoritative than the Bible.

  3. The Bible was written by ignorant ancient farmers. Science is more authoritative than the Bible.

Here’s my point: If someone has been taught or is willing to accept the basic hermeneutic BioLogos bases its work upon, they have probably already been taught theistic evolution in their church. I KNOW there are many many people for whom that will not be true. But it will be true for the majority. I’m saying that BioLogos is preaching to the choir. They are teaching the ones who are already close to theistic evolution, and only need to know the particulars. They are not winning the bulk of literal creationists.

Maybe that is the intended audience. If so, that’s fine and its prerogative, but as the leading authority on theistic evolution, it drives YECs further backward, because they think they only was to accept evolution is to view the Bible in a way they deem as liberal. This view is driven further by interactions that BioLogos has with YECs like Ken Ham.

Christy: what a fantastic story. It’s exactly what I am taking about and what is needed.

It’s important to do because for millions of conservative Christians it’s all or
nothing. Genesis can only teach literal days so if evolution is true the Bible is a fairy tale. They used to be able to get away with this but with the internet and advances in evolutionary teaching you simply cannot deny the truth of evolution. So the kids dismiss the whole Bible once they get to college and their parents are proven wrong on evolution.

An entire generation of kids are being lost unnecessarily. They need to know you can be a conservative Biblical literalist and still accept evolution.


#13

Phil,

Yes this is exactly my concern. The youth and young adults. Ken Ham realized this too, which is why he’s doubling down on teaching kids. His latest book is all about losing the next generation. It’s called “Already Gone: Why your kids will leave the church and what you can do to stop it”

What do you think Ham’s findings are? It’s that kids are leaving because they doubt the Bible is true and they need better education to equip them for college biology class. Hence a giant ark in Kentucky.


(GJDS) #14

@gbrooks9

What part of my statement has evoked your response? I have made a clear point that we have a wide range of opinions on ToE while we diligently study Biblical teachings and theological writing going back to Patristic times - my comments are aimed at what I see as a central and unusual focus on ToE amongst US Christians. I think I may begin to understand the divide between liberals and conservatives, and how YEC fit into the latter, but I still find it puzzling when I come across some views/theological statement that can end up causing such conflicts and even loss off faith.

To hopefully ease your anxiety, the six day scenario has been discussed for almost 2000 yrs, by Basil the Great, Gregory of Nissan, Augustine - just to name a few. All accept that you cannot speak of 24hr days when the earth and sun have not come into existence. None to my knowledge speak of God directing uv rays to make evolution work" - such statements are bizarre - all speak of God creating and sustaining everything - this is 101 theology.


(Thanh Chung) #15

@beaglelady showed me a YouTube channel called Global Weirding with Katharine Hayhoe. Watching those videos made me think about the way I could engage with people on science and faith. I haven’t really change my approach but maybe I should. Today I watched one of her videos, and she said that connecting with other people on shared values allows one to make a better case than just unloading a bunch of science stuff on them.


(Christy Hemphill) #16

I’ll skip my minor quibbles with your number 2 and grant that yes, these are basic tenants. We would argue that even though they may “seem liberal,” they aren’t. They are an essential part of good biblical scholarship. (Even many conservative Evangelical Bible schools and seminaries are going to present good exegesis in this way.) So the answer can’t be, “ditch the basic tenants,” it has to be “convince people the basic tenants are a good way to approach the Bible” and these tenants are not what they assume. And maybe that would be a good place to start, with a less academic treatment and more down to earth examples that relate to passages that are less controversial.

Maybe we could get Scot McKnight to do a blog series based on the ideas in the first half of Blue Parakeet, which dealt with some of the default Evangelical approaches to the Bible and how they fall short. I would hesitate to recommend the whole book to someone who was staunchly conservative because I think the fact that the last half argues for women in ministry would be a distraction from the excellent points made in the first half and cause people to dismiss the first half as liberal nonsense.

Another point about the “typical” journey to evolutionary creationism: Many people I have interacted with did not go straight from staunch YEC to EC. Most had their paradigms challenged by Reasons to Believe (Old Earth Creationism) or some form of ID or even atheism/secular humanism. They spent time some time there processing and adjusting their worldview before checking out BioLogos. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons for this. But the point is most people are probably not prepared by their churches to come read articles here and feel like it all makes sense and sounds familiar.


(Phil) #17

Good point. It seems acknowledging that the earth and universe are ancient is a prerequisite for considering evolution. That is perhaps why some insist on a 6000 year old world so strongly, as everything else put forth is built on that premise, and any reading of scripture that sees things differently is a real threat to the financial well being of that world.


(George Brooks) #18

@GJDS

You got me to smile again… good work!

Technically speaking, I did not use the term UV rays … I referred to Cosmic Rays (much more powerful). And the only reason I like to use that term is because they are Real Things in the universe… not made-up mumbo jumbo. They can also have a very precise aim … because they aren’t the size of bullets… they are the size of photons. And cosmic rays travel for light years with no trouble at all.

So… for those Christians who believe God uses virtually nothing but natural laws and natural phenomenon to work his wonders … Cosmic Rays are a legitimate member of the catalog for how God could arrange for a “faulty transcription” of genetic material. And generally speaking, a “faulty transcription of genetic material” is almost always a mutation, right?

So let’s look at the other side of the coin. If I were “shamed” into not offering Cosmic Rays as an instrument of God’s work … how would a devoted Christian better explain that faulty DNA transcription?

  1. poof < , a wave of God’s figurative hand?

  2. “don’t know”, so I’m not going to answer?
  3. “however God turned dust/dirt into DNA when he made Adam”

GJDS, do any of these 3 appeal to you more than “Cosmic Rays”? Or is there a 4th or 5th option that you would prefer?

Why would you think it is Bizarre for God to use natural phenomenon to interact with other natural events? To me, to think he would not is even more bizarre. And for that matter, since we are all very familiar with the Exodus story, and God sending “the destroyer” out to kill the firstborn of any house not protected by blood - - why would god flood the entire Earth, and kill every human and beast that couldn’t get on the Ark? Isn’t that Way Over the Top, even for the Creator of the Cosmos?

He could have been much more precise and much less wildly destructive if he had sent out The Destroyer 10 or 20 centuries earlier, don’t you think?

As for your question, what part of your post triggered my response, I quoted exactly the section that provoked my response:

You wrote:
“Until ToE is restricted to one scientific discipline, and the faith-science dialogue is shown to involve much more than speculation based on ToE, BioLogos will be part of the waring culture…”

To me this is a logical error. BioLogos cannot restrict ToE to science alone - - and it cannot do so “by definition” !!! Because BioLogos advances the idea that God was especially involved in Creation by means of the ToE. Why would a devoted Christian insist that the ToE should be relegated to pure science under these circumstances?

[And I threw in the copy of the Greek Orthodox quote on Evolution to, again, contrast your literalist views with the more figurative ones of your millions of Orthodox co-religionists.]


#19

George,

Why isn’t "I don’t know: an acceptable answer? I think the idea of God firing cosmic rays at one’s crotch is a bit bizarre.


(George Brooks) #20

@beaglelady

I listed “I don’t know” as a possible answer to be fair to everyone. I think it’s a perfectly fine answer.

But if someone asks me how do I suppose God would do it, I can only think of two things:

“poof!” or cosmic rays. The answer “I don’t know” is just procrastination. If you Have to Have an answer, and you have to make a choice, I’m inclined not to say >poof< !

In reference to your anatomical reference … God could be working on ovaries just as well… Or in the fetus of a female.

Miss Beagle, when you read the New Testament and you read about God giving Mary a child… how would you describe what God did?

Since all of Mary’s unfertilized gametes only had half of their genetic content [++] … God had to step in and do something, right? Right there in her Ovaries… or her fallopian tubes … or in her womb . . . in order to turn at least one gamete into an embryo.[++]

You can say “I don’t know”. But if you were to speculate, how would you arrange for the virgin birth with hundreds of embryos with half their genetic component?

[++] Footnote: sentence edited to replace the word embryo with gamete. By definition, embryos have a full set of chromosomes. Thanks for catching that @beaglelady ,


#21

Maybe we’ve found one of the core differences. These are considered liberal hermeneutics. So what I hear when you say this is that I, a conservative Christian, must accept liberal hermeneutics in order to accept evolution. What I’M saying is that you do not. You can subscribe to conservative hermeneutics and have room for evolution.

Have you empathetically considered the other side (YEC, OEC, conservative Christians) when they show their fear of the “slippery slope?” Think of how often you hear this argument from them. It’s a major hurdle. This is what they’re afraid of. If you accept evolution, you also then open the door to accept women preachers, homosexual ministers, pro-choice politics… and slide slide slide we go.

So is BioLogos here to promote good science or their particular ideological hermeneutic? Convincing conservatives that evolution is not unbiblical CAN be done without undoing their entire way of reading the Bible. Must they become liberals in order to accept evolution? Good luck with that!

Take for an illustration (oh boy, here is the preacher in me coming out… an illustration) the Battle of Iwo Jima. It was a terribly bloody battle and both the US and Japan lost a huge number of lives there. It is controversial because the Japanese were heavily fortified there, and we attacked them head on, when it was proven that we could have skipped this battle and still made progress in the war altogether. Iwo Jima is argued to have been a needlessly fought battle.

The lesson? Don’t fight where the enemy is most entrenched if you can just go around them and still win the war.