I have just had a great 60 minute chat with my pastor about creation and evolution - to be resumed at a later date! His starting point is “I accept micro evolution, but not macro”. He was very willing to listen and digest what I said (which was from a BioLogos perspective), but he has two sticking points: It concerns him that we see nothing of evolution in the Genesis accounts. And secondly, though he is starting to see what the genetic evidence is saying about common descent, the thought that we all came from a bunch of low life cells is too much - especially as we have the capacity for self awareness, creativity, empathy etc. that the low life cells do not have.
I am doing my best to respond and I see some other forum entries that are helpful, but I would be interested in where you think I should focus (including links to good video clips or whatever). He is not a scientist, but he has a sharp (lawyer) brain!
I think that with pastors, the best approach is minimize the science, and present the theology, which ultimately is his sticking point. That is tough for us laymen, as it is not our territory, so I would encourage him to read what his peers say, starting perhaps with Walton and his Lost World books.
An important factor will be the doctrinal, denominational realities of the pastor’s local church. The pastor will be bound by the church’s doctrinal statement which will impact the freedom h/she has in exploring these issues. Those political realities will likely impact how fully transparent the pastor can be with you about his theological musings/journey.
I wouldn’t push evolution or Science. Rather, talk about the hermeneutical (interpretive) issues. If you aren’t already, become familiar with someone like John Walton and his work on Genesis. Walton accepts the historicity of Adam/Eve which may make reading him more palatable to your pastor.
I should explain that this is a very low church charismatic Anglican in the UK, so he has a lot of freedom both in what he believes and in stating it! He has a lot of respect for Francis Collins, mainly because he appears in an Alpha video - and we are good friends with the church that started Alpha. And he knows he is a high caliber scientist. He also has a lot of respect for Alister McGrath - having been taught by him!
I did start with some of the theology, and he liked what I had to say. (I did 2 years Bible College.) If there are good accounts of both the theology and the science, written by a Brit, for non-scientists, that would be ideal. But then, maybe I need to write that myself!
One thing he did say, when we were talking about God continuing to create - rather than putting his feet up after 6 days:
“All creative people I know, including you, can’t stop painting! You have to express the creativity within you! I cannot imagine our creator God doing less! He must still be creating!”
The Seas and Land 'Bring Forth’
I think a simple thought from Genesis is the fact that the seas and land are told to ‘bring forth’ various species. This is quite different that the idea that God spontaneously poofed them into existence.
The Image of God
I think it’s an awkward place to be in when the image of God is thought to be related to our abilities (self awareness, creativity, empathy) as many other creatures exhibit such traits as well, some of them exceeding our own species capacities. In other words, rethinking what the image of God means can be quite liberating when thinking about evolution. It’s not that God made us with certain characteristics and abilities that made us unique from the other creatures, but it’s that God declared our purpose to be to represent His image and walk like Him as we live our lives (this is along some of the lines of articles on the Image of God on the BioLogos website and also drawing from John Walton’s functional cosmogony). So even if animals do many human-like things, even if we find aliens, even if there are other universes, does any of this change God’s purpose for mankind? No! This is a small little blurb but I hope that you can see the beauty and freedom that comes from rethinking the image of God.
God’s nature and character revealed in Nature
As far as ‘low life cells’ I think pointing out the remarkable interconnectivity between simple objects like cells illustrates so much about our Creator. In fact, everything in nature reflects this property of God. You can go large scale like where is our galaxy located to what do you need to live on a habitable planet (it’s quite a lot of related ideas like you need to be the right distance from your star, the star needs to have the right temperature and age, the star needs to produce enough radiation to protect your solar system from harmful radiation coming from elsewhere in the Milky Way but not so strong it destroys life on Earth, you need to have plate tectonics recycling material and helping control the climate but plate tectonics don’t work unless you have simple life producing granite and other materials - and the two of these work together to control the amount of CO2 and O2 in the atmosphere… so many things really). The point of all of this is that there is such a beauty that reflects an eternal Godhead who exists in the mysterious trinity as if you take away any one of these things, the whole thing fails and life cannot exist on Earth. The same thing for cells where they work together to accomplish mighty tasks (like digesting a slice of pizza!).
Evolution is consistent with the Scriptures
Such cooperativity is seen in all life forms, from cells to human beings and is a beautiful part of the idea of natural selection. Certain birds will put themselves at danger to save others of their kind when a dangerous predator like a hawk is sighted. There was the famous bonobo named Kuni that cared for a baby bird and tried to help it fly. So this love and connection goes beyond even our own species, with the closer you get to human beings the greater these abilities are reflected. None of this is surprising as the ultimate virtue is of course love and connectivity with others, which is something that is reflected even on the smallest of scales. Certainly there is selfishness in our genes, but again this tension between selfishness (or sin) and cooperativity (or love) is exactly predicted by the Scriptures.
Maybe I’m missing something but this is how I currently see it and I hope that it helps in some kind of way.
I’d highly recommend the book “Paradigms on Pilgrimage” by Stephen J. Godfrey & Christopher R. Smith. Someone on the boards recommended it to me, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it! In fact, I think it should be on the recommended reading list on Biologos.
The book is authored by two brother-in-laws, who share their journeys from YEC to TE. One is a scientist, who studied science to find holes in the acceptance of an old earth & evolution, only to find that once he studied the facts, YEC fell apart. The second half of the book is written by a pastor, who also was a YEC, but as he studied the Word more, found that YEC theology, and the “literalistic” viewpoint they push, has a lot of holes in it, when one looks at it more closely. He does a great job outlining the theologic issues of YEC, and gives a very good review of the Genesis creation account.
The book is written for laymen, and is very easy to read and understand. I’m very thankful for finding out about this book on the discussion forum, and I hope the book will be as enlightening to you (and your pastor!) as it was for me.
I shared this material before, so I apologize if this is a bit repetitious.
“Psalm 139 12Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. 13For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.”
Nowhere does the Psalm mention developmental pathways, hox genes, or any of the other science that we now understand which undergirds the field of developmental pathway. Psalm 139 just says that God does it. You might want to ask your pastor if this also poses a problem for the Bible or his beliefs.
If your pastor has a sharp brain he would already know that his argument is an Argument from Incredulity, which is a logical fallacy. Just because something is hard to believe does not make it impossible. It was hard for ancient people to believe that the Earth actually moved about the Sun instead of the other way around, yet it was the truth. It was hard for some people to believe that there could be tens of billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, yet it is true. It was hard for people to believe that diseases were caused by little microorganisms, yet they were. “I just can’t believe it” is simply not a valid argument, especially when their is evidence to the contrary.
Thanks for those thoughts. I think Psalm 139 is very helpful and I have already passed that thought on to him.
He does have a sharp brain, and he might appreciate the challenge of your “Argument from incredulity” - though I have no desire to get into a logical argument by trading blows! I’d lose! He’s a lawyer by training! But he actually wants to see this from my point of view (He respects my brain too!), and I think he is enjoying having his brain stretched. It is something he normally does to other people. I have a lot of respect for him, being prepared to think it through. I think he does want to understand the science, and he wants to see the big picture of the temple/kingdom implications.
Actually, I don’t think his problem is with the vastness of it all - that is exciting! The challenge is that if you have had a diet of ID DVDs, you think that evolution implies purposeless mutations - and it is hard to see how they can develop into new skills all the way up to a human level of achievement. So I need to keep stressing that natural = supernatural. God is in it all!
Perhaps you could use a trial as an analogy. Imagine that there is a murder case where the defendant’s fingerprints, DNA, shoe prints, clothing fibers, and tire prints are all found on and around the crime scene. On the knife sticking out of the victim’s chest you find the defendant’s bloody fingerprints. Around the victim you find the defendant’s bloody shoe prints, as well as those same shoes with blood on the sole in the defendant’s home closet. In the defendant’s car you find those same blood footprints and bloody fingerprints all over the exterior and interior.
In response, the defense calls the defendant’s mother to the stand where she testifies that she just can’t believe that her child could commit that crime.
He would certainly get that, and that is definitely how his mind works. But he might stand up for the defense and say “I need to see all that evidence for myself”. So, I think I need to explain each bit of the evidence and make a good case! I’ve started doing that. But I probably need more modules of good evidence!
I personally prefer the endogenous retrovirus (ERV) evidence when discussing the genetic evidence with people who are seeing this stuff for the first time. If you want, you can start a new thread (or discuss it in this thread) on ERV’s and I would be happy to contribute whenever I can.
Perhaps his lawyer mind will appreciate finding precedent. The apostle Paul uses this – finding a practice people already have accepted or engage in and then using that to help them see how a new truth fits right into their existing custom.
In that regard, I like to bring up meal-time prayer. Your pastor probably has no trouble giving thanks to God for the food on the table. And he probably also accepts without second thought that farmers, processors, grocers, and even his own money and shopping efforts that he is blessed to be able to spend all played an essential part in getting that food to his table as well. Wouldn’t he/we all think it silly (and rightfully so) if someone tried to insist that it can’t be both, and that we need to decide whether it was God or all the observable work that got the food to our table? Yet this is exactly what so many do for evolution. We don’t expect God to magically make food just appear before us on our table, but yet so many demand just such a “magical” restriction on God when it comes to this particular issue despite the fact that the Bible teaches that God is involved in everything whether it looks ordinary to us or not.
Personal note: I, too, am Anglican, here in the UK (many years in Durham, now in Berkshire), and with charismatic sympathies.
He respects Collins; he has been taught by McGrath; he will have been exposed to real theological debate in training. You are actually in a really good starting position!
As with the other respondents, I would emphasise the theology and biblical hermeneutics over the science. The science can be a distraction.
You could point him towards McGrath’s “The Dawkins Delusion”. There is also Collins’ “The Language of God”.
But even above those, I would very strongly recommend Peter Enns “Inspiration and Incarnation”. Enns is an American Hebrew Bible (O.T.) professor, whose roots are strongly in the evangelical side of the church, and who is also Episcopalian (i.e. Anglican). Enns’ books are semi-autobiographical, and he often refers to his own struggles as his OT scholarship opened up some very awkward questions. For him the major turning point, which meant a complete re-evaluation of his understanding of scripture, was 1 Cor 10:4 “…they [the people in the Exodus] drank from, the spiritual rock that accompanied them…” That may look innocuous on the page, but it goes far, far deeper into how Paul did his biblical interpretation. Enns’ faith survived that shock, and was deepened and enriched by it. I really do recommend this book.
By the way, if the conversation drifts towards human origins, Adam & Eve, original sin, the Fall, Paul’s “first and second Adam” etc. it’s probably worth saying "hold that thought, we’ll come to it later; first we need to do ‘Inspiration and Incarnation’ to cover the groundwork. Just as I wouldn’t attempt to teach a five-year old multiplication without the groundwork of addition, nor an A-level student Einstein’s gravity without the Newtonian groundwork, nor Picasso’s perspectives before classical “vanishing point” perspective, then neither would I attempt those theological human origins questions with the “Inspiration and Incarnation” groundwork.
If he wants to look at science, then here in the UK he might also look at Christians in Science. The southern annual conference is usually in October in Oxford (I sometimes lead the songs and hymns); the northern one is in Spring.
Hope that helps. Feel free to contact me outside this forum if you wish.