Cool new thing alert: a roundtable conversation about Evolution and Christian Faith is brewing at Patheos. Launched just this week, the forum features three brand-new BioLogos videos and dozens of links to BioLogos resources, all demonstrating how evolutionary creation is impacting the church, education, and scholarly spheres.
Several prominent bloggers, from evangelical to atheist, have already weighed in, and more responses will trickle in over the next few days. (Don’t see the posts? Scroll down to “Join the Conversation with our Patheos Bloggers” for links.)
Physical anthropologist and atheist Dale McGowan wrote “How to Reconcile God and Evolution...and How Not To,” a thoughtful critique of Christians who want to preserve notions of divine omniscience and human uniqueness. BioLogos is an uneasy ally for him, he confides: he and we both care about advancing the public understanding of evolutionary science, but in upholding core doctrines of the Christian faith, evolutionary creationists--by his reckoning--“massively misrepresent the case” for evolution.
“Evolution by natural selection is fatal to conventional religious belief, at least the Abrahamic kind,” he writes. Now, that’s a bold claim, and one that BioLogos emphatically rejects, but McGowan does promote careful reflection about divine action (since natural selection is so effective, what is left for God to actually do in the process of evolution?) and other important topics. BioLogos is actively engaging scholars to tackle these kinds of essential questions.
McGowan concludes with some encouragement for those seeking to leave behind the shackles of traditional Christian theology: “There are many consolations on the other end of that process, including a new sense of wonder that’s hard to fully capture.” I’m sympathetic; many Christians I know do have too small a view of the created order, while atheist biologists like Richard Dawkins claim a front row seat to “the greatest show on earth.” But, from my vantage point as a follower of Christ, life without God doesn’t fit with our deep intuitions about meaning and order and purpose in the universe. It doesn’t explain why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe is finely tuned for life, why mathematics and science are so effective at describing the world. In my view, knowing the Creator helps me to experience a richer, deeper sense of wonder at what he has made.
Godless in Dixie blogger Neil Carter, a self-described “skeptic living in the Bible Belt,” asks the question, “Will Evangelicals Ever Learn to Embrace Evolution?” He hopes so--he has concerns about anti-science attitudes in our country, but hitting closer to home, he is raising four daughters who attend an evangelical church. Ultimately, he predicts that the church will have to jettison traditional notions of Adam and Eve, or “take their views with them to the grave.”
- Perhaps like the snake handlers some of them will keep an alternate reality alive among networks of tiny churches scattered across the Appalachian foothills or in the deepest pine forests of rural Mississippi and Alabama. But the rest of the world will move on and the churches that find a way to make the Bible fit with modern science will make it into the next generation.
As someone from the Bible Belt myself, I am disturbed by Carter’s characterization of Southern people as being backwoodsy, ignorant yokels. There are many faithful, thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed people doing good work on origins in the South!
But his point, inflammatory as it is, is an important one--the church will have to do what it has been doing since the beginning: continue to articulate theology as a faithful response to God's word and to the world he's allowed us to discover. But that doesn’t mean, as Carter clearly suggests, that any historic rendering of Adam and Eve must go out the window.
John Holbert, Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, admitted in his piece, “Evolution and Biblical Faith: The Messiness of It All,” that much has changed in American Evangelicalism since the Scopes trial in 1925: “we progressive Christians can still learn much from these reasoned and reasonable presentations [the BioLogos videos, which he noted are aimed at a more conservative audience].” The idea of evolution coexisting alongside a vibrant Christian faith seems almost ho-hum for Holbert. As he puts it, “The Bible, for me, has nothing whatever to do with science, while science has little necessary interest in faith.” (Wow, that is about as NOMA-like as you can get!)
Holbert then turned to a meditation on the messiness of evolution, finding inspiration from Annie Dillard’s classic work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). I admit to being surprised by the end of his piece. In quoting Dillard, who described the death and struggle for survival found in the tiny microcosm of a Virginia stream, I thought Holbert would turn to difficult theological questions of suffering and pain; instead, he waxed into a beautiful doxology:
- [W]hat rests at the bottom is that realization that the creator we worship and praise, that mystery who hides in bush and cloud, in the end loves pizzazz, every clack and buzz and whistle and roar. God is madly in love with the world, with the cosmos, and will do about anything to make it rich and myriad and fecund and wonderful.
I confess I often find myself musing so much on the tensions caused by my evolutionary understanding of the world, that I forget to praise God in so unrestrained a way! We may have very different views of Scripture, Dr. Hobert, but I appreciate your pointing me to the extravagance of Author of Life himself today.
Carlos Campo, who leads educational initiatives for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, wrote “BioLogos: Rooted in Scripture and Animated by Science” about his first and subsequent interactions with BioLogos as an organization. He characterized these interactions as full of surprises, such as when BioLogos founder Francis Collins made a presentation to leaders of Christian Colleges and Universities:
- Dr. Collins addressed the theological and philosophical concerns commonly voiced about evolutionary creation with a winsomeness and intellectual depth that I had never before witnessed. Many in the audience sat in shocked silence as he compared parallel slides of chimpanzee and human DNA strands, and spoke of theologically tumultuous things like “human-chimpanzee divergence” with the equanimity of a special ops pilot. The presentation was disturbing and wondrous.
Such are the mysteries of life being revealed by science every day. We know that many in Christian circles find our view challenging, sometimes from sheer unfamiliarity and more so from theological questions. As Campo says, BioLogos stands at the crossroads, and we pray we will continue to be characterized by “openness, scholarship, [and a] worshipful approach.”
We hope you will visit the Patheos Roundtable site frequently this week to read the new posts and help keep the conversation going on the various comment threads. And don’t forget to share the page with your friends--many people will be learning about BioLogos for the first time through this evolving conversation.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/evolution-and-christian-faith-roundtable-heats-up-at-patheos