Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective

Has anyone else read this book? I picked this out from the “Recommended Resources” on the Biologos website. I just finished Part I, which deals mostly with epistemological and theological concerns. I don’t really have any philosophical or theological hang-ups about evolution so this section was mostly a breeze. I’m sure I will have even more questions after I hit the science portions, but for now I do have a few questions from this first part.

  1. The authors say that discussion of miracles usually take place in the context of distinguishing between natural and supernatural events, but that there is no real distinction in ANE thought between natural and supernatural. So the idea of “divine intervention” is pretty recent and basically has no biblical warrant. He quotes Thomas Torrance as saying that rather than violations of laws of nature, we should think of Jesus’ miraculous acts as “within the limits, conditions, and objectives of our worlds….” All of this kind of makes sense to me, except for the resurrection. So I’m curious about other’s thoughts on this.

  2. The authors talk about God’s “patience” in using evolution to create. It made me start wondering about whether or not this is really an accurate attribute for God…I mean, the Bible refers to God’s “long-suffering” towards us, but don’t the terms “patience” and “long-suffering” involve some kind of experience of time which God wouldn’t experience??

  3. The authors say that a creation made out of nothing is particularly vulnerable, that it is contingent and finite so that it cannot sustain itself in being. This may be a stupid question, but IS creation contingent and finite? I mean is there any way that this has been shown?

If these questions have been asked elsewhere, please feel free to point me to the correct thread.

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I think one share in the 1st century’s view of a seamless reality that is all within God’s purview, while at the same time recognizing that there is a gradation of distinction, all the way from the “ordinary” (what now might get called ‘laws’) to the special signs and wonders - which by definition don’t happen as often or are associated with prophecy in such a special way as to call our attention to God’s ever-present hand in our affairs … all the way to the resurrection itself; which I think retains its rightful place of prominence at the apex of “signs and wonders” without necessarily detracting from that 1st century “seamless garment” view of the world. After all, even a seamless garment has its various parts, all the way from the lower “ordinary” regions up to the head covering.

We necessarily anthropomorphize God in order to help us better (or at least a little more closely) understand “him”, not because that is the final accurate representation of God. God has no human flesh (much less male flesh), but people apply such attributes as needed to help them personally relate (… since God is personal), and likewise, we have no concept of moving through existence apart from the notion of time. So we are bound to imagine God “moving through time” with us. What is an eternal “now” to God would appear to be long suffering patience to us. And why not? Even though we can try to imagine this “divine domain”, we all still live in our world, which God’s love is happy to condescend into for our benefit.

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“which I think retains its rightful place of prominence at the apex of “signs and wonders” without necessarily detracting from that 1st century “seamless garment” view of the world.“

How does it not detract when the act of resurrection seems to clearly defy that natural order? And because it is difficult to ascertain tone through writing, I’m not challenging the line of thought by asking that. It is new to me and I don’t have enough knowledge to do that, I am just not following.

“What is an eternal “now” to God would appear to be long suffering patience to us.“

So it really isn’t an appropriate term, then? It is simply something that comforts us and helps explain to our little minds some of the “hows” of God’s love?

You probably have as much or more authority than I do in this … so … challenge away! I’m just sharing my thoughts - some of which have been shaped by interactions in this forum.

I wasn’t trying to claim that the resurrection is “merely natural”. I guess I’m just following the article (and agreeing with it) that “natural” was not an existing category back in that time. They had no word for “nature” or “natural” … because they didn’t think about things in that way like we do. We have such a word now because we have added an abstract layer in our own thought that there might be something known as “supernatural”. So now we have a distinction to make, which ushered in the food fights over some or all of the miracles - and of which sort were they. But now many of us here are thinking that stuff like “supernatural” is so ill-defined (or not defined at all) to begin with, that maybe we’re just better off thinking like they did then. The whole world just is, with all that that entails. Whether we fancy we can explain it or not shouldn’t subtract from its status as a special sign or wonder (even if we could explain it.) I don’t know if I just muddled everything there. Can babble on if needed.

Maybe. I know it sounds really condescending, but … there’s really no way around that right? Anything the Creator God of the universe does to interact with any of us would have to involve condescension in its most extreme possible form.

Hi GStanto,

I will try and answer your initial post.

—“The authors say that discussion of miracles usually take place in the context of distinguishing between natural and supernatural events, but that there is no real distinction in ANE thought between natural and supernatural.”

What is primarily meant by this is expressed this way in the chapter,

  1. God is involved in everything. (p. 36)
  2. There’s no biblical warrant for restricting God’s activity in nature to some kind of violation or suspension of creation’s functional integrity. (p. 37)
  3. The doctrine of creation implies that the Trinity is as intimately involved in the gravity keeping you glued to Earth’s surface as in resurrecting Lazarus from the dead.
  4. The doctrine of creation, with its emphasis on the variety of forms of divine mediated action, helps us see that the properties and processes God gave to creation are not violated when God acts, whether acting normally (functional integrity) or in special ways (signs and wonders). (p. 38)

Okay so here is the main point I believe they are trying to make. Some people conceptualize reality as having a part where God is not involved (the natural) and a part where God is involved (the supernatural). The authors deny this conceptualization. Their claim is that God is involved with all aspects of reality not just part of it. This is main point of saying there is not distinction between “natural” and “supernatural”, God is involved with all of reality not just parts of it.

To get more detailed there is not a lot to go on. The authors use words like “mediated” (p.37) which seems to imply maybe “direct” as the other way. The authors infer at least two ways God interacts with the world “normal” and “special”.

So the resurrection in their view would be a special/direct act of God and the normal orbiting of the sun by the earth is a normal/mediated act of God. The important point they want to make is that God is involved with both.

Summary: The main point the authors make is that God is involved in all aspects of reality not just part. How we might specifically conceptualize this is a little hazy in the chapter and not tackled in depth.

—“The authors talk about God’s “patience” in using evolution to create. It made me start wondering about whether or not this is really an accurate attribute for God…I mean, the Bible refers to God’s “long-suffering” towards us, but don’t the terms “patience” and “long-suffering” involve some kind of experience of time which God wouldn’t experience??”

The standard way of dealing with this has been called antrhopomorphism. We are attributing human qualities to God in order to help us get some understanding of God, but the term does not apply to God in the same way it applies to humans.

“So it really isn’t an appropriate term, then? It is simply something that comforts us and helps explain to our little minds some of the “hows” of God’s love?”

Depends on what you mean by “appropriate”. The same type of thing is done with poetry or metaphor when applied to humans. We say things like “She has a big heart” we don’t literally mean she has an enlarged heart medical condition. Its not just about comfort either, though it could be comforting. Something metaphors and anthropomorphisms do is they can make us reflect on something more deeply than if we merely used some drab prose.

— “The authors say that a creation made out of nothing is particularly vulnerable, that it is contingent and finite so that it cannot sustain itself in being. This may be a stupid question, but IS creation contingent and finite? I mean is there any way that this has been shown?”

I think this is primarily a theological statement (that they believe comes from the biblical authors). As far as from a scientific perspective I’m not sure we know the exact nature of creation.

Personal Note
I don’t necessarily agree with the authors in every detail but I think they are basically right about God being involved with every aspect of reality and that anthropomorphisms are a standard way of talking about God. I don’t know if they are correct in thinking the biblical authors believed that the creation is “particularly vulnerable”. I do think the biblical authors believed God was in control of every aspect of creation and is subject to Him.

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@GStanto

Whether God exists or not, creation is infinite and eternal. That’s a rational fact. No further ‘proof’ is necessary. Or possible. If God does not exist, there is no transcendent creation. No heaven. No glory. We come. We go.

I would agree. My thought is God takes great pleasure in watching the universe develop. There are so many wonders we have only begun to see on both the macro and micro scale, and so many wonders we will never see in galaxies beyond our view and outside our time, that I cannot help but feel God’s pronouncement of creation as good reflects that pleasure.

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That raises the question of what does this even mean because ANE thought includes thinking that some events in the world are the work of supernatural beings and other events are not.

I cannot agree with that unless by divine intervention you mean something contrary to the laws of nature.

Ok, apparently violations of the laws of nature is what was meant by “divine intervention.” According to Paul in 1 Cor 15, the resurrection is to a spiritual body not a physical body, not of the stuff of the earth and not according to the laws of nature by which things are perishable. Thus I don’t see how the events in the resurrection of Jesus are all that different from all the other stories of the Bible about interactions with God and angels which are spiritual beings not physical.

Just because God is not a part of the space-time structure of the physical universe doesn’t mean God is incapable of time ordered experiences. Science no longer accepts the notion of absolute time or space and so being outside our measure of time doesn’t automatically mean God is without any time of His own. Frankly, this sounds like it is part of the enslavement of God to traditional human theology with a long list of things that God supposedly cannot do. I don’t agree with any of that at all. I say that God CAN and reject all such lists as absurd.

This is another notion derived from antiquated science. Modern science erases the distinction between action and substance. Surely no one would claim that the universe is created without some action on the part of God, but then that action becomes the substance of the universe. Thus the only real meaning of “creation ex-nihilo” is that God did not require some pre-existing stuff outside of Himself in order to create the universe, which is perfectly reasonable.

The real issue as I see it is whether God really created something apart from Himself that He does not have to hold together like some inept carpenter who cannot make furniture properly. And if God can do so then I see no reason why God would do otherwise. Frankly this sound to me like a fantasy of religionists who simply want to make themselves and their religion more important.

To deny that the universe is contingent is to deny creation, and there is no warrant for that in science. All the evidence points to the universe including space-time itself having a beginning. We don’t know if the universe is finite or infinite, but I see no reason why an infinite God could not create an infinite universe if He so chose.

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I don’t think there is anywhere to go from, “The whole world just is…”. :slight_smile: I did think you were saying that resurrection was “merely natural” so thanks for clarifying.

@Klax I haven’t been around the group very long, but I do believe we have already had this conversation. :slight_smile: I’ve already been around the philosophical block, I was just curious if there was scientific evidence for or against since I am not well-read in this area.

I am so glad that someone else has read this. Thank you for your response. So it seems to me that rather than thinking of everything as “natural” with some divine intervention here and there, we should think of everything as supernatural, regardless of whether or not they had those specific concepts in mind at the time.

I was thinking that, of all the characteristics we attribute to God, patience makes the least logical sense because of His supposed “timeless” nature. (I.e. It makes logical sense that He is loving, even with the presence of evil.)

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As I have been reading further in the book, I think they are basically saying that creation has a “functional integrity” that will lead it to fulfill the purposes of God. If God’s intention is for us to be resurrected, then in the case of Jesus, this process was “sped up”, and isn’t distinct, as I think I see now.

As for 1 Cor. 15, it is my understanding that the original Greek does not mean that we will not have physical bodies anymore, but that what will emanate them and sustain them will be spiritual versus natural.

You could be completely right. There are a lot of ideas that were pretty ingrained as the young child of a grandfather who was a preacher. So I like this point, but I am wondering: doesn’t science itself point to the “fact” that there was a beginning to time?? Or are you simply trying to say that God experiences some kind of time that isn’t like ours? If so, what makes you think that?? Or is it just not logically impossible, therefore it’s a possibility??

ETA: I think you answered part of this in your last paragraph, I see.

You’re just taking away all the easy bits to object to. If there were many who’d join you in that sort of reasonableness perhaps your progeny won’t have to become the next generation of angry atheists.

That is roughly the way it seems to me too, although I allow that there will be well schooled science types who will have some basis for saying some pretty unintuitive things such as “everything came from nothing”, “before time began” and “the limits of space”. However, I’ve never found anyone who would accept that position merely by declaring it a “rational fact”.

But I’m really not sure what you have in mind here. What makes creation “transcendent”? Are you in the camp of those who say there is or the one which denies it?

I assume you do posit heaven and glory. So we don’t come and go? Clarification and/or clues gladly accepted.

i’m not sure what you mean by “taking away”. I’m not denying the resurrection, after all. I’m just thumbing my nose a bit at our johnny-come-lately categories of “natural” and “supernatural”.

Aside from that, though, there is still plenty in ‘standard Christianity’ to find objectionable. Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, after all …

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Well the supernatural category has always made my jaw drop as a nonstarter. I definitely think there must be a better case to make that doesn’t require anything so … flamboyant.

Oh aye MarkD. As for the well schooled science types, they know no more than me an’ thee. Eternity is a rational fact. All else follows. No scientific proof is possible by definition or necessary. Science is irrelevant as all one needs is the rationality that underpins mathematics, sets, series and science itself; the axiomatic, common sense. Time and space did not start with this universe 13.8 gya. They have started for every one of the growing infinity of universes from eternity. It’s a very simple drum to beat. If universes come in to being ex nihilo then there has always been time and space somewhere. But they probably, intuitively don’t. They come in to being from quantum perturbations in an infinite, eternal field, manifold. What constantly feeds that, if anything, from eternity, would either be ex nihilo or in deo; God thinks everything in to being at ground up.

You’ve found me, the old, semi-literate, bloke banging his drum on the bus.

If God exists then the transcendent is real, the transcendent is the source of the physical; the physical is a constrained sub-set of it. The less constrained subset beyond the physical realm is the glorious; heaven, where all outcomes are equalized. That’s what I want. In Jesus I have that hope.

Oh aye GStanto, we probably, almost certainly, in fact certainly have but I bang this drum at every opportunity.

There is no scientific evidence either way apart from in the rationality that underpins science. Scientists certainly don’t like actual infinities any more than theists do, but tough.

Exactly! But natural is precisely what the word “physical” means to a physicist like me. Words in the English language have multiple meanings. “Physical” can mean bodily as opposed to mental and it can mean according to the laws of nature as opposed to something outside of physical universe or apart from the laws which govern it. The resurrection is to something which is bodily but not of the earthly laws of nature. This difficulty isn’t helped by the infusion of Greek philosophy (particularly Plato) which equated the spiritual with the mental. But I think Paul clears all of this up with the term “spiritual body.” So we are not talking about something mental or ghostly but something solid and substantial with a tangible form which can be touched and can interact with things – even eat. And yet it is not bound by the laws of nature, but can appear in a room without opening the door.

But then going back to your question… if the resurrected Jesus is not of the earthly laws of nature the same as God and angels then how is the resurrection any different than all the other interactions in the Bible with God and the angels?

It only points to a beginning of our measure of time in the physical universe. Again, the concept of absolute time is rejected, so you can have more than one measure of time. Science certainly does not point to there being no other measures of time than this one.

I am saying God can employ whatever temporal ordering He chooses. He CAN think orderly thoughts. He CAN make decisions. He CAN count and otherwise put one thing before another. And God could do all of that before this universe and its space-time continuum existed. I am certainly NOT saying that God is confined to some system of time outside of Himself. So it does not make sense, for example, to ask what God was doing in some infinite past before the creation of the universe.

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I recognize communicating with me is more burdensome since I don’t come with the source material the rest of you have in common. So thanks for breaking it down for me. I doubt it has anything to do with your education. More likely it is related to the reason I always have to ask my wife to repeat bits of dialog from British broadcasting. I have no ear for languages beyond my own and that only when the inflection and nuance is what I’m used to.

I lean to the first half of this excerpt. Intuitively I suspect that whatever preconditions led to background radiation which contains what we think of as this universe has come and gone before along with countless other universes. However that is a position I cannot defend except that it appeals to a basic intuition of this chimp cousin so YMMV.

I’ll never understand what added value the last sentence of this excerpt adds to anyone’s understanding. If God thinks everything into being ‘at the start’, doesn’t that undo the eternity we both suspect our universe to be a part of? I guess it appeals to an intuition many (though not I) share that someone or something is calling the shots. There may yet be something transcendent which accounts for the steady movement toward greater complexity and freedom in a cosmos where what we observe regarding thermodynamics should incline us to expect the opposite. But I cannot imagine that whatever that may be is a being imbued with traits and emotions like our own acting on its intentions.

There is no start of starts, no beginning of beginnings. Uniformitarianism in eternity is a given. Luckily I’m dumb enough for this.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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