Dennis Venema chats with Apologetics Canada about Adam & the Genome


(Dennis Venema) #1

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, :grinning: I thought folks here might be interested in a podcast I recorded this week with the good folks at Apologetics Canada. We talk about Adam and the Genome as well as critiques of the book. At the end I plugged Biologos (and the Forum) pretty hard, so welcome to those who find us through this podcast.


The Big Tent ... and Genealogical Adam!
(Laura) #2

It’s nice to hear a respectful conversation about this topic, even between people who use different acronyms to describe their views on origins. I especially appreciate the part at the end about prioritizing the commonalities we have in the Christian faith, seeing other views as possibilities rather than enemies. In my experience, “apologetics” has sometimes seemed synonymous with “anti-evolution” so it’s good to see that that’s not always the case.


(Christy Hemphill) #3

@DennisVenema Well done. I’m always impressed by how coherent you sound thinking on your feet and how you can pull such clear examples out on a moment’s notice. Thanks for all the Forum and BioLogos promos. You should ask for a free mug or something. :slight_smile:


(Randy) #4

@DennisVenema, I appreciate your way of speaking and am reminded after this podcast (from the SE Baptist discussion with Dr Jeanson to Youtube presentations and your book). Thank you for this broadcast. I hope you and Biologos can continue to interact frequently. Thanks also for explaining succinctly and respectfully, what the various positions are with William Lane Craig, etc.

Note: I had trouble downloading this or getting it to play on any computer, but could get it to play on my Android. I don’t know if this is a problem with the Canadian/American interface, or not. The Apologetics Canada sounds like a good source for other information, too.


(Mitchell W McKain) #5

At around 5:30 one of speakers says “I would put myself in the I V camp.” At least that is what it sounded like. What did he mean or what did he really say? I couldn’t find anything to explain this.


(Dennis Venema) #6

He said “ID camp” - in other words, “Intelligent Design” in the sense of the Discovery Institute.


(Dennis Venema) #7

Hi Randy - thanks for your kind words.

I could listen to it on my mac, so I’m not sure what the difficulty might be. I’m not that computer savvy.


(Phil) #8

Thanks for posting, really enjoyed the podcast, and it helped clarify a few things from the past discussion for a non-specialist like me as you clarified them for the interviewers. Great job. I hope future books are in the works, perhaps refining the scientist/theologian format as even if you explain the science, the big hang up still seems to be the theology.
It leaves open the big question however: How do you get rid of fruit flies?


(Mitchell W McKain) #9

Ok, I definitely have a different idea than Venema on the answer to the question of how God is involved. Like Venema I am not only an evolutionary creationist but very much opposed to ID. But Venema’s answer sounds like lip service to me and therefore indistinguishable from the Deist at least as far as evolution is concerned. I have a different answer.

My answer is this… God is involved in the evolutionary process exactly in the same way that God is involved in our lives as Christians.

Does God break the laws of nature right and left? He does not. Can we perform an experiment and tell God, “If you exist make this experiment go against the laws of nature,” and expect God to do this? No. Whatever happens we will find that the laws of nature were obeyed. We may ask God for a sign, and God often answers, but His answers are far more subtle than this. As Christians often say, He is the “still small voice.” And this doesn’t just mean that He is only a voice in our head but that events and even things that other people say to us can be a message from God in answer to our requests. It is found in the meaning we attach to these events that other people might not. But this doesn’t change the fact that these events which mean so much to us actually happened, and that is God’s involvement in our lives.

Part of this, is understanding the difference between evolution and Venema’s example of the motion of the planets. In the latter case we are talking about something which is highly deterministic – completely described by mathematical equations. But evolution consists of the lives of living creatures and is thus quite naturally like the life of a Christian. It isn’t deterministic at all. There are no mathematical equations telling us either how our lives will go or how evolution will go. In the case of the planets you have no choice but to say that God is only involved by making the laws by which things work and setting up the whole situation. In that case, it is like God wound the clock, because the planets behave like a big clockwork, but our lives are not like that.

But I am strongly opposed all this “sustaining” terminology as Venema uses it because this makes it sound like a we are like some dream in God’s head and God is incapable of actually creating anything that works and holds together by itself. It’s like building a piece of furniture that only stands as long as we hold the pieces together, but the moment you step away it falls apart, and the word we have for a carpenter like that is “incompetence.” So the only “sustaining,” I believe in is of “protecting the nest” so to speak – making sure that random events don’t wipe out everything He is trying to accomplish.


(Christy Hemphill) #10

Ironically, I think the “sustaining terminology” is what distances the view from deism and addresses a concern/critique in evangelical audiences that the EC view sees God as completely hands-off unless he chooses to directly “intervene.” (And if that is the view, why throw all that shade on ID which is just trying to identify those instances of incontrovertible intervention?) God’s sustenance of creation speaks to his ongoing involvement not his incompetence. Your competent carpenter who steps away to let nature function “purely” by natural law is most Evangelicals’ concept of a deistic theistic evolutionist God.


(Dennis Venema) #11

About an inch of red wine in a jar, and mix in 2 drops of dish soap. The soap breaks the surface tension and the flies get sucked in and drown. You’re welcome. :slight_smile:


(Mitchell W McKain) #12

So what you are setting up here is a choice between “sustain” and “design,” and I am insisting on a third alternative “participation.” So lets complete this with examples of these three.
Design: God puts a clock together so that all the pieces work right as they are supposed to and thus the clock does exactly and no more than what God made it to do.
Sustain: The clock is like the planets where we have an explanation according to natural law about how they all came together, but God is required to hold all the atoms and matter together in their shape or it would all fly apart (or something like that because apparently He cannot make the laws of nature work by themselves).
Participation: The laws of nature explain how the planets all came together because God created those laws to do just that. But the laws of nature are not completely deterministic in all situations and so where there is more than one possibility sometimes God makes the choices of which outcomes come to pass. Thus Christians experience God working behind the events in their lives as one of the participants in what they experience. Its not design or control or supplementing the forces of nature, but simply taking an active part in their experience of life.

But now consider the situations these three words work best with. “Design” works well for machines. “Sustaining” works best for dreams. “Participation” works perfect with living things.

Yes, but sustenance is an empty version ongoing involvement, and yes it basically saying that God cannot actually create anything he can only visualize them. The carpenter who steps away shows that he can create a piece of furniture that works. There is no participation in that case because the furniture is a lifeless object. The fundamental point being made here is that living things are different. They are not a product of either design or sustaining of some finished product because being alive is all about growth and learning and thus if you want a hand in what they become then what you do is participate in their lives in roles such as a farmer, shepherd, teacher, or parent.


(Mitchell W McKain) #13

The lego metaphor is pretty good, but once again it misses the crucial point because it is an example of inanimate objects. So how about this… it is more like you set up a machine to shake the box so you can watch a whole world coming together over time with little lego creatures learning how to make themselves better with more abilities and awareness until they look up and see you and when you say, “I am here,” they understand. And you can can even stick a finger in occasionally to help them out. But if you stop the shaking so you can put every piece where you want it, then they are just legos and there is no life there at all.

They danced around this with the word “spontaneous.” But that is really the essence of what it is all about because that spontaneity is where the life is. So why do they have such an aversion to this word? I cannot help thinking these religions simply do not want any life or spontaneity in what they teach – because it is all about having and maintaining control over people. And that makes them just like the Pharisees which Jesus saw as crushing the life out of people. So the ID guy is concerned that humanity never surprises God because He has to be in absolute control. But what is the point of creating life or having a child if you never want to be surprised? Has God been surprised in the Bible? Absolutely! The pleasant surprises like in the story of Jonah are few but the most obvious surprises are quite horrible, enough for God to even say He wished He hadn’t created mankind at all.

Oh… I didn’t know Francis Collins was involved in creating Biologos. Now I do.

A lot of discussion of science followed which confirmed what I already understood, and then I perked up when the topic turned to Adam and Eve curious about what he would say. But all he really did was confirm the impossibility of a single couple within the last 700,000 years being the sole genetic progenitors of the human race today. I also learned that the evidence suggested that the population did not go lower than 10,000 for any long period of time. So for this idea of a long genetic bottleneck 100,000 to 200,000 years ago in southern Africa, it is not likely to have been a population of only 2,000. Which is not to say it couldn’t have dropped that low for a brief period of time. It was good to get my facts more precise on that point.


(Phil) #14

I resonate with what you are saying, and think your view and Dr. Venema’s view are really not far apart. Certainly God’s involvement in our lives is one of active participation, but the role in creation requires something different. I enjoyed the example he gave of how randomness is involved in the reproductive process, yet God is involved in forming us. It is as though sexual reproduction recapitulates evolution on some scale, yet we accept that God is doing the knitting.
It is interesting to think if the tape were rewound would we be the same species? Would I be the same person? Would it not still be God’s will?


(Christy Hemphill) #15

I’m not insisting on anything or setting up a choice. I think all three word pictures are in Scripture and none is intended to be a scientific model. They are conceptual metaphors that help us understand God’s involvement in our world. You may not like the word picture of God sustaining creation, but it’s biblical: Col. 1:17.

My favorite picture would actually be VanHoozer’s idea of the theodrama, where we are all (including God) characters in a story that is being acted out. God knows the ending and shapes the plot toward it, but there is plenty of improvisation going on, because we don’t have a script. Then you can have your spontaneity with your teleology.


(Mitchell W McKain) #16

I am aware of that, but this is a case in which I oppose the literal treatment. We can use the word “sustaining” for what the farmer, shepherd, parent, and teacher does also, but “participation” is the more accurate word without an implication that is misleading. Again my point is that Venema’s use of “sustaining” only creates a rather empty difference from Deism. The real difference of theism is the belief that God is an active participant in our lives not just a dreamer who is simply prerequisite for dream to happen at all. The fact that God is quite capable of making the laws of nature work without having to back them up is a good reason to reject this literal understanding and instead understand this to mean that God is playing the shepherd/parental role of making sure environment is right for our successful development.


(Dennis Venema) #17

Lest anyone be confused, I’m not sure why you’re ascribing this view to me. I believe God is an active participant in my life, and in the lives of all people.


(Christy Hemphill) #18

Sure. But wasn’t the context “sustaining” was used in the context of answering the question “How is God involved in the natural processes of evolution?” The idea of God’s involvement in human history is more expansive than the idea of God’s involvement in processes like natural selection or neutral drift. God’s involvement in human history wasn’t the topic of the discussion.


(Mitchell W McKain) #19

Oh… Hi there! Listened to the recording of your discussion last night and took the time to make some comments to show my active listening of what you had to say. Yeah, I am only now noticing that the OP poster and the discussion speaker are one and the same person. The extraction of general evolutionary information from the genetic data is fascinating.

Ascribing views to you isn’t the point. I know very well that in a recorded discussion like you participated in, what comes out is far less precise than when you have time to think and compose your words to perfection like in writing a book or a post. Responses are usually more about contributing to the discussion by making what we think are the needed nudges towards a better explanation. It is more helpful to simply say whether you agree with those “nudges” or not than to get into any he-said-she-said sorts of disputes.

So the real point here is that the difference between deism and theism isn’t accomplished by saying that God is sustaining the existence of these things (that just seems a little too easy to me), but by the active involvement of God in the events of our lives. It is true that it is a pet peeve of mine that I do not like this idea of God holding up the world/universe like the Greek Atlas, and I believe I have explained why quite thoroughly in this thread. I would even go so far as to say that this is the only difference of substance I can see between theism and pantheism – whether God created the universe as something apart from Himself which can exist without his support. Because otherwise you essentially reduce the universe to the status of a dream in His head, which only exists because He is constantly holding it in existence just like a dreamer does.

Now to be sure here, I have more of a theological agenda. Because rather being undecided on some issues as you suggested you were in the recording (although that could have been a matter of diplomacy), I am a staunch advocate of incompatibilist libertarianism and open theism.


(Mitchell W McKain) #20

I believe I already explained that the evolutionary process is much more like human history than it is like the movement of the planets. There are no mathematical equations to tell you what is going to happen in evolution any more than there is to tell you what is going to happen in history. The crucial difference I have repeatedly underlined is the difference between living things and inanimate objects. To be sure human beings are much more alive and more capable of responding to God directly, so it is not like there is no difference at all. But still, evolution isn’t just a clockwork type mechanism either. Where this has an important impact on theology is with regards to things like the human appendix (or other flaws in human biology if you don’t like that as an example) and diseases for which we don’t have to push the rather insipid idea that God planned these things for some mysterious reason we cannot yet fathom.