Hi Joe -
We spent a lot of time talking about “purely natural processes” in that thread. You have made the claim literally dozens of times that:
- Evolution explains life entirely on the basis of natural processes, and therefore …
- It rules out any possibility of God having created us, or indeed any life on our planet.
As far as I can tell, and I have read many hundreds of your statements very carefully, the above two sentences are what you mean when you say:
The problem with your approach, as many of us explained in many hundreds of posts, is that there are other steps of logic between those two steps you cite. To get to the second statement (God is excluded), you have to also believe these intermediate statements:
- Once an explanation in “natural” terms exists, all other types of explanation are invalid
- God has had no role in creating “purely natural processes”
As a follower of Christ, I very much deny the validity of these intermediate statements. Instead…
Theological explanations can exist alongside natural explanations.
This is true in many fields, not just biology:
Meteorology - We can explain rain in purely natural terms by referring to the water cycle, cold fronts, humidity, condensation, etc. We can also speak of rain in theological terms, as the Bible does - God cares for us, so He sends the rain.
Astronomy - We can explain the motions of stars and planets in purely natural terms–i.e., the forces of physics like gravity. We can also speak in theological terms, as the Bible does – God sets the stars and planets in their places.
Any field of science - Science is all about explaining the universe in purely natural terms. Chemists don’t appeal to alchemy to explain state changes. Geologists don’t appeal to God’s judgment to explain devastating earthquakes. Oceanographers explain a tsunami in terms of hydrodynamics, not theology. Yet as Christians we devote considerable theological thought to explaining why God created the universe with an order explainable by chemistry (and other scientific disciplines), and how it is that God’s judgment and/or compassion should be considered in the midst of natural disasters.
In other words, what applies to biology also has to apply to other fields of science. It is nonsensical to think that you can reject modern biology on theological grounds but accept modern astronomy, physics, and geology. If you have trouble with the “grand claims” that some biologists make, you should also have trouble with the “grand claims” of some atheistic astronomers, physicists, geologists, and meteorologists. And they do make atheistic grand claims, all the time.
For example, Lawrence Krauss claims that physics and astronomy, which have given us a universe 13.8B years old and an earth 4.5B years old, offer proof that God is just a myth. Somehow, Joe, you find yourself believing the same physics that Krauss believes, while you vehemently disagree with his grand philosophical claims.
In the same way, Christians can believe the theory of evolution as a scientific explanation, while disagreeing with the grand philosophical claims of Dawkins.
You make another point which we have not extensively discussed previously, so I want to address it. That point is that the Bible speaks in many places of God’s direct involvement with creating life (especially humanity); therefore we should not accept scientific (what you have called purely natural) explanations for the evolution of life.
The logic you want us to accept is this:
- If the Bible speaks of God doing something directly, then we must not accept any scientific explanation for that phenomenon.
- Evolution offers a scientific explanation that seems to contradict the Bible’s testimony of God’s direct involvement.
a. The Bible speaks of God directly creating mankind, and indeed all of life.
b. Evolution offers a scientific explanation for the origin of species without requiring any divine involvement.
- Therefore, we must reject evolution, which attempts (according to Joe) to substitute a scientific explanation for the Bible’s divine explanation.
I disagree with statement #2: no scientific theory inherently denies God’s creation and providence. As I have already written dozens of post on that theme, and further explained it in this post, I will move on to a further respectful disagreement. I believe statement #1 is based on fundamentally erroneous hermeneutics, as do John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo. First I will speak for myself, then I will refer to Calvin and Augustine.
The Bible speaks of God directly doing many things other than creating mankind and all of life. For example,
God directly sends the rain. According to Jesus, “Your Father in heaven…sends rain on the just and the unjust together.” (Matthew 5:45) If I agree with Joe’s logic, then I must reject the science of meteorology, which offers purely natural, scientific explanations for rainfall. But I do not reject meteorology, nor does Joe to the best of my knowledge.
God directly causes the sun to shine. According to Jesus, “Your Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good together.” (Matthew 5:45) If I agree with Joe’s logic, then I must reject the science of astronomy, which offers purely natural, scientific explanations for sunshine. But I do not reject astronomy, nor does Joe to the best of my knowledge.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If I must reject biology because it offers a purely natural, scientific explanation for the existence of life when the Bible says God did it directly, then I must also reject meteorology and astronomy on the same grounds. The reason I don’t reject meterology, astronomy, and biology, though, is that I view the passages that use language about God’s direct involvement as speaking theologically and/or figuratively, rather than scientifically.
Now let’s listen to the fathers of the church. Augustine stated in The Literal Interpretation of Genesis that Bible readers should not expect Scripture to speak as scientific truth. Instead, we need to understand the intent of Scripture, which is not really a word about this or that scientific theory. On this basis, he specifically rejected the 6-literal-day interpretation of Genesis 1-3, and proposed instead that God created the sun, earth, and stars in a single moment.
As for Calvin: he elaborated the hermeneutical principle of accommodation, according to which God revealed His character, His love, His covenants, and His plans while making allowance for the original audience’s language and general level of understanding. Calvin was not the first or the only theologian in Church history to speak on this topic, but he was the most prominent. To the extent that this general level of understanding must necessarily include scientific concepts, it follows that God accommodated the ancient understandings of what we now call science, even if they were inaccurate.
So I’ll follow the wise leadership of Augustine and Calvin in working out the relationship between science and Scripture. The scientific theory of evolution does not try to substitute a purely natural explanation for God’s creation of life; instead, it simply offers a scientific explanation of natural processes–processes that we affirm, as Christians, to be the result of God’s creation and providence.
It is true that some atheists try to turn scientific explanations (not just evolution) into grand philosophical claims. We can reject the grand philosophical claims even as we accept the science. We do this with meteorology and astronomy; we can do it with biology, too.
Grace and peace,