Essentials of Creation: A Response to The Gospel Coalition

We must keep in mind that the word, Leap, in GLF can only be taken in a comparative sense that it is much faster than any evolutionary change that works through sexual reproduction and changes in the gene pool. I believe it will turn out to be quite different than the Punctuated Equilibrium that Gould et al have proposed. But even so, I don’t see it as a Miracle in the Biblical sense. It is merely a Gap in human knowledge that God fully expects us to fill.
Al Leo

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And I need to expand my overly terse (my usual mode) reply.

My comparison to Gould’s punctuated equilibrium was just that PE was initially thought to have happened “rapidly” but later was found to have happened at the same rate as evolution in general. That is the only comparison I meant to make.

As for the GLF, you are talking about paleoanthropologists that are trying to date usually a cave site when early homo sapiens lived and these dates are usually on the outer limit of C-14 dating so to me the dating becomes quite iffy, in a relative sense (there may be other dating methods used but I haven’t followed the latest work). And throw in there is no bright line that lets you know when behavior becomes “modern”. So the period of time required for the GLF could vary widely for a date in the comparatively recent past. Think a 20% error band on 50,000 years vs a 20% error band on 300,000 years. Same percentage but a big difference in the number of years.

Frankly, I’m a little disappointed by what are purportedly, or at least implicitly presented as, the “leading minds” of the discussion.

These folks are face-palm-worthy in the extreme limits of their parochial understanding of global Christianity. There wasn’t any comparable discussion of how the Eastern Orthodox tradition (providing salvation for millions of Christians over 2,000 years) handles some of these issues.

I’ve always found it paradoxical that Western Protestantism totally over-turned society’s understanding of the Roman Catholic Church and Roman Catholic theology … but when it comes to interpreting a Jewish document like Genesis, Evangelical protestants are quick to toe the Roman Catholic line - - and completely ignore what Jewish sages have to say.

I suppose it’s at least understandable why we ignore the Jewish thoughts about a Jewish document. But to also ignore half the geographic Christian world’s view is just justifiable. Science is a human-wide endeavor - - we should at least be able to pick up the pieces from our broken Christian past and integrate the valid and authentic voices of the Christian world as we face the future together.

We need to get a few more “leading Orthodox” thinkers into the highest levels of BioLogos, don’t you think?

@BradKramer, do think something like that could be possible? Americans are inherently fair-minded … and I think having a 2000 year tradition that wants its own views regarding the history of humanity heard would strongly influence a broad spectrum of our English-speaking audience.

Thoughts?

I’ve benefited a lot from Eastern Orthodox perspectives. But it’s important to keep in mind that our primary target audience is American Evangelical Protestants, because these are the folks who struggle more with evolution than almost any other religious group. I do agree that American Christians would benefit greatly from a more global perspective.

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@BradKramer

Yep… understood.

But intentionally keeping the Eastern Orthodox view hidden from the Evangelicals would seem to be at cross-purposes.

Many Evangelicals don’t believe Evolutionists can be Christians, so that’s how they explain why we don’t believe in original sin. What are they doing to say about the Orthodox? They don’t agree with the Roman Catholics on Original Sin, so millions of them have and will “Not Pass Go” and proceed directly to damnation?

If we can enlist atheist scientists to help convince them of Evolution, I would think enlisting Christians who don’t generally adhere to The Fall or Original Sin would be at least as helpful as scientists with no faith staatement.

One of the speakers repeats for emphasis that without his traditional (i.e. Roman Catholic / Augustine/ Pauline/ Western ) interpretation of Adam (i.e., federal headship ), how could he understand the New Testament!?

The Orthodox communities actually have a Christ-based answer to this … and yet we make no effort to refer to their answer.

Assuming GOD and referring to the creation of two people as a miracle and any other process as not a miracle seems strange to me.

I’m glad to hear Deb cite Derek Kidner, John Scott, and Billy Graham as orthodox evangelicals open to some kind of evolutionary origin of humans. But it must be pointed out, I think, that all three would have distinguished between the origin of the human body (the biological human) and the origin of humans in the image of God and the first Truly Human (as Albert Leo has said). All three would have spoken of a miraculous (and quite dualistic) origin of Homo divinitatis (as Stott wrote) vs. Homo sapiens. And that this first human individual represented all humankind in that first covenant of works. Kidner speaks of the rest of Homo sapiens becoming image bearers concurrently and being represented by this “historical Adam”. Conservative/confessional Reformed thinkers (i.e. those who believe that the 16th and 17th century confessions still accurately portray Biblical teaching–no apologies for being somewhat parochial) will not give up the idea of a historical, federal/covenant head Adam. Keller and company are in this camp and are unlikely to move from it.

It is somewhat disingenuous to appeal to Kidner, Stott, and Graham without recognizing that they are closer to TGC than to Biologos. The issue for them is less a matter of biological evolution and more a matter of a first divine image bearer covenant head of the whole race. Of course, with that comes the giving up of the idea of all humans descending from Adam and Eve, but it doesn’t necessarily result in the giving up of the idea of a historical Adam. Much of the Biologos discussion seems to utilize and emphasize approaches that are not consonant with conservative/confessional Reformed thought (even if many of the voices come from within a Reformed tradition more broadly defined). It seems that Biologos has made its choice not to be on the conservative/confessional Reformed side of this divide. It should not surprise Deb and other Biologos leaders that there is resistance from these communities.

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Interesting comments, and I mostly agree, but would say that my impression is that Biologos is a “big tent” organization, and I have seen many here express opinions and have read many articles that embrace a historical Adam as well as accept evolutionary beginnings, though not all of course. Walton is often quoted in his “Lost World” books, and he affirms a historical Adam, as well as many others.

There are often areas of common ground, and those are what are celebrated, though in an organization like this, there are also areas of disagreement.

These conversations are difficult and important, so I am glad that they are happening. Especially in light of the ongoing protests in STL, where I live, the Church needs a coherent voice on race and racism.

However, the article misrepresents Keller’s statements in this video. In addition to reading the article in entirety, it is important to watch the video.

The third essential belief proposed in this video is the supernatural, “de novo” creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans and sole progenitors of the entire human race. Keller, along with the other participants, believes this to be not only the clear message of Genesis but an essential part of the overall biblical message. … We appeal to the Gospel Coalition to not frame the essentials of creation around the method God used to create humans, but around God’s purpose and intent for humans. God made us to know him, love him, and to bear his image in this world. -@DeborahHaarsma

This written description of the video is not accurate. Tim Keller does not make this claim. He makes no reference to “first humans” or “sole progenitors”. All he says is that when he reads Scripture, he feels he must affirm de novo creation of Adam and Eve. In response to Keller’s exegesis, Russell Moore adds the importance of affirming de novo creation as a foundation for universal human rights.

I am an advocate of no-Adam theologians. This was an overriding reason why I chose to join the BioLogos speakers bureau in the first place. Regardless of my personal theology, they are full and dignified members of the Church. Most recently, I argued to a conservative group of theologians:

We do well, then, to remember that the traditional marker of orthodoxy is the historicity of Jesus and the Resurrection, not Adam, and a confession that He rose from the dead (Rom. 10:9). http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/2017/06/a-genealogical-adam-and-eve-in-evolution/

In response to Moore, I would also add an additional defense of no-Adam theologians. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is among the foremost advocates of universal rights. His advocacy is brought forward with a coherent theological case, even though Dr. King himself rejected any notion of a historical Adam. Dr. King’s no-Adam theology did not limit his affirmation of human rights. At the same time, the historical Adam theology of Dr. King’s contemporaries did not stop them from justifying segregation on Scriptural grounds ( https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/evangelical-history/2016/07/26/is-segregation-scriptural-a-radio-address-from-bob-jones-on-easter-of-1960/ ). This last couple weeks, watching police mistreat non-violent protesters and bystanders ( https://m.riverfronttimes.com/foodblog/2017/09/20/chris-sommer-responds-after-police-union-puts-him-and-pi-pizzeria-on-blast ), mere hundreds of feet from my home, has a way of focusing the mind. If the de novo creation of Adam gives special resources to affirm universal rights, I would beseech Moore to deploy these resources on behalf of the non-violent protestors in the segregated city of Saint Louis right now.

I am also an advocate of historical Adam theologians. There is absolutely zero evidence against Keller’s confession of the de novo creation of Adam and Eve “from the dust.” Entirely consistent with the genetic and archaeological evidence, Adam and Eve could have been specially created in a Garden and be ancestors of us all. This unequivocal scientific fact is an open secret among many BioLogos biologists, including many of those on the Board. Though he misrepresents my views, even @DennisVenema himself has endorsed this scientific fact in print ( http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/2017/07/response-to-the-symposium-part-1/ ). As Tom McCall of The Creation Project summarizes our exchange:

So is belief in a historical Adam inconsistent with belief in the Common Ancestry Thesis and the Large Initial Population Thesis? Actually, it is not inconsistent; these are neither contrary nor contradictory…Swamidass offers one possible way of holding to both, and it is interesting to note that Venema admits that this is indeed possible; it is even more interesting to note that Venema’s rejoinder to it is distinctly theological. http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/2017/07/science-theology-charitable-discussion-a-symposium-recap/

The evidence does show that our ancestors arise as a large population, and share ancestry with the great apes. However, nothing in science unsettles the confession that God specially created a single couple, Adam and Eve, from whom we all descend.


For those who wish to discuss the science or theology further in my absense, I would direct you to @Jon_Garvey and @Sy_Garte, who have both written extensively on this: http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2017/08/25/hump-articles-on-genealogical-adam-hypothesis/. Regarding Dr King, as we approach the 50th anniversary of his assassination, I encourage us all to read MLK and the Image of God ( https://www.amazon.com/Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Image/dp/0199843961 ). Peace.


EDIT: An important error was made in this post that has been retracted. It said that the science error was “to” (in order to) push Keller out. This is an error, as I doubt this is Deb’s intention. What is at issue here is a scientific error on a material fact. Intentions and tone are all entirely beside the point, if it is that scientific facts matter.

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@Jay313

I think your quoted transcript from Keller is accurate. But Keller also says his scientist friends tell him that “all human being were not genetically related to a human couple”. If his “scientist friends” are actually telling him that, then he is correct to reject that advice. Keller does not state that Adam and Eve were the first people, or that they were the only people, which would be an error.

What @Swamidass has eloquently argued for, with undeniable scientific authority, is that there is no scientific reason to doubt that all modern humans are genealogically descended from all humans who were alive between 6 and 10 thousand years ago. There is also no scientific evidence against the idea that among those human couples there could have been an Adam created miraculously from dust, and an Eve created from Adam;s rib.

This result is based on solid genealogical modeling, which does not include actual genetic evidence (such as mtDNA or orther genetic markers) and is related to the well known phenomenon of pedigree collapse, wherein its clear that as we go back in time, more and more of those alive then are ancestors to more and more of us alive today. As Joshua also points out, the Bible speaks of genealogy, not genetics. So in fact, Keller’s position is not really at odds scientifically with the Biologos position, unless he also includes the idea that Adam and Eve were the only people alive at that time, which is of course, not even Biblical (Cain’s wife, etc).

So I do agree with Joshua that the video taken by itself is not really a sign of any serious disagreement with the science of ancestry to determine the position of Adam and Eve as progenitors of the human race. I cannot speak to the theological implications of these views, since I don’t have the background or understanding to do so.

On the other hand, Keller does say that his scientist friends tell him there was a small group of people in Africa from whom humanity sprung, which is accurate of course, and it is possible that Keller rejects this view, as well as the mistaken view that Adam was not (one of) the progenitors of the single human race.

If that is true, then I believe that the @DeborahHaarsma letter could be a starting point to open a dialogue on this issue with Keller and others at the TGC, to reassure them that some of their positions are not in fact opposed to the scientific consensus, and others could be modified without any danger of affecting the theological rationale for believing in a real Adam and Eve as the common ancestors of all of humanity.

This is not a trivial point of philosophy, but as Joshua and others (in the video and in the Church in general) have said, is a crucial matter today as we face racial strife and injustice. Science and scripture agree - we are one family of man, related by heritage and ancestry, and as Christians united in love for each other and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Respectfully, I do not see a scientific error in the article. It looks to me that Dr. Haarsma simply did not use your preferred wording, but I’ll let the BL “powers that be” defend themselves on that score, if they wish.

First, if intelligent, reasonable people cannot agree upon what Keller and Moore meant, then perhaps The Gospel Coalition should clarify their position.

Second, love you both, but you guys missed the boat. The president of BioLogos is not pushing The Gospel Coalition out of the tent, or attacking their beliefs on scientific grounds. The whole point of the article was the opposite – to ask TGC not to push others out of the tent by defining the de novo creation of Adam & Eve as an “essential” or “non-negotiable” belief.

EDIT: Changed the @Swamidass quote above to reflect his own edit.

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I wish I could give that response more than one like…

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There have been several direct communications between Francis Collins, Deb Haarsma, and Tim Keller about the TGC video and the content of our response. Keller has been friendly to BioLogos for many years, and this latest article has not changed that posture at all, either from our perspective or his. He has never been entirely in the BioLogos tent because he has significant reservations about human evolution, and those reservations are no secret—he explains this in his BioLogos essay. He endorses our efforts to reconcile faith and science but not every aspect of our position on evolution and human origins. As the article stated, we remain enthusiastic fans of Keller and his ministry, and are glad for our friendship with him.

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Even though I don’t see any historical claims in Deb’s column or in the video, I’ll speak to one of the issues here as an historian, in order to add that missing piece to the theological, scientific, and philosophical pieces already present.

It’s deucedly difficult to make historically accurate general claims about racism, human rights, evolution, and separate creation. That’s not a point of contention in the material here, but such claims are very often made in various contexts. Perhaps some readers/hearers of the column and the video might be inclined to add an implicit historical dimension to these issues, when that might be unwarranted.

Let me explain.

Saying (for example) that evolution contradicts human dignity, or that genetics supports human equality, are IMO going well beyond the historical record. One might construct philosophical or theological arguments about specific connections that ought to exist, and that is all well and good, as long as one is explicit about one’s assumptions. Historically, however, things quickly get complicated. What actually has been said about such connections? In fact, individual secular scientists and leading Christian theologians and biblical scholars have said many different things on many different occasions. One can easily find among scientists in the past strong support for scientific racism: http://www.helsinki.fi/~pjojala/Stein2.htm, or a strong denial of any validity to it: http://biopolitics.kom.uni.st/Stephen%20Jay%20Gould/The%20Mismeasure%20of%20Man%20(148)/The%20Mismeasure%20of%20Man%20-%20Stephen%20Jay%20Gould.pdf. One can also find among major Christian theologians outspoken support for the view that the Bible allows slavery: http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/slavery-science-and-southern-presbyterians-before-the-civil-war/, or just the opposite: http://medicolegal.tripod.com/weldbas.htm. And, as I’ve argued elsewhere, Darwin was a racist by modern standards, but he strongly objected to genocide: http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/did-darwin-promote-genocide. The previous sentence is directly contrary to what is said in another column on the TGC site: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-your-biology-teacher-didnt-tell-you-about-charles-darwin.

In other words, readers, please go slowly if you are inclined to draw conclusions about the historical situation on this very important issue, or if you want to extrapolate from an individual historical example to a broader generalization in the hope of applying it to our situation now. Things get very messy, very quickly. Anyone who thinks there is a specific, necessary connection between human rights and either the Bible or Christian theology or evolution had better take a deep breath before going any further. There isn’t. Historical context can influence specific interpretations of the book of nature (science) and the book of scripture (hermeneutics and theology) in diverse ways, any one of which can seem very convincing at the time to an author and her or his audience. I urge humility all around—yet paradoxically the courage to uphold one’s moral convictions.

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4 posts were split to a new topic: George is not a big fan of Tim Keller

[quote=“Jay313, post:21, topic:36663”]
Second, love you both, but you guys missed the boat.

@Jay313 Thanks, but I wasn’t actually aiming for that particular boat. I wasn’t so much addressing Deb’s letter (which I thought was carefully and lovingly written to a fellow Christian leader) as trying to explain how Joshua @Swamidass’ insights into the genealogical science behind Adam as a biological progenitor of all modern humans, could help smooth the differences between the Biologos position on Adam and that of Keller and the TGC. Perhaps such smoothing is neither necessary nor possible, in which case, no harm done, and we can all sit comfortably under a large tent that includes the many ideas about Adam and Eve we are all familiar with. I agree that it is not necessary that we all agree, and I didnt really hear Keller say that we must, but rather that he cannot accept a mythical Adam, despite what he thinks the science is saying (which it actually isn’t).

I

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As I read @Sy_Garte, we are in agreement.

IMO almost all of the controversy surrounding the “Essentials of Creation” can be resolved if we accept this premise:
"To be truly human, it is necessary but not sufficient to possess the genome of a Homo sapiens." @grayt2 assumes that the experts taking part in these discussions appreciate this, but I see no evidence that they have.

The best scientific evidence dates the first appearance of the Homo sapiens as a species at approximately 200K yrs. ago, and for at least 100K yrs. their behavior and lifestyle (as much as is evidenced by artifacts) closely paralleled the Neanderthals, who, although related closely enough genetically to mate with H.s., probably would not have fit in with modern human society; i.e.,be Truly human. It wasn’t until about 50Kyrs ago that we see evidence of any brains (H.s. or Ndtl) operating as Mind and possessing a Conscience.

Question: If we could currently train a Neanderthal infant, would it become a productive member of today’s society? We may never know–just as we may never know if God could consider some intelligent octopus-like creature on another planet as ‘made in His image’.
Al Leo

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Stott and Graham both refer back to Kidner. Kidner paints broad strokes (and, if I remember correctly, refers back to some Australopithecene, much earlier than 50,000 years ago), but the idea is that there is biological evolution and then some kind of ensoulation or at least a granting of capacities (say, a conscious and moral knowledge and awareness of God) not present from the biology alone (however that might work except by ensoulation, I can’t say). It seems to me that that is exactly what aleo is saying. There is biological evolution up to a point, then some special/immediate creation that results in a true human. Kidner suggests that this occurs with some representative head followed by some en masse creative act for the remaining biologically human people on the planet. It seems that Jack Collins is also willing to entertain something like this.

As for BradKramer’s post, I was not all suggesting that Keller is not friendly with BioLogos or supportive of its work up to a point. It’s simply that conservative, confessionally Reformed folks like Keller (and myself) continue to draw the line with some sort of historical, covenantal head first truly human who represented all other and future humans, and who failed to keep that original covenant, which failure plunged humanity into alienation from God rather than the previous right relationship with God. The willingness of BioLogos to draw the line elsewhere for whatever reason (being big tent, not limiting itself to being conservative, confessionally Reformed, etc.) means that a relatively fundamental disagreement will continue. And if that’s the case then BioLogos isn’t really offering anything particularly new. Such adjustments to Christian theology were made already a century ago.

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