What is the BioLogos Epistemology?


(Peaceful Science) #1

Continuing the discussion from My ID Challenge:

Evolutionary Creation seeks to explain the harmony between the Christian faith and mainstream science. It seeks to demonstrate how the Bible and evolution can fit together in a faithful response. It aims to show how Christianity and evolution are compatible.

This leave unanswered a very important question. If evolution is True, what is the positive case for trusting the Bible and Jesus? Why do evolutionary creationists believe in God? What is the BioLogos epistemology? If not ID, YEC, or some other form of anti-evolutionism, what is the foundation for our faith in a scientific world?

Why do we believe?

This question cuts to the core of the debate. For many Christians, arguments against evolution builds their faith, giving us confidence that our faith is true. Anti-evolutionist become an epistemology: the reason why we know our faith is true. In this mindset, theistic evolution is particularly dangerous, because directly challenges this foundation, suggesting to many that our faith is false.

What is our response? Arguing that evolution and the Bible are in harmony misses the point? What is our apologetic?


(Peaceful Science) #2

For me, I search for confident faith too, but I find a different foundation than anti-evolutionism. I ask: how do I know my faith is true? Is it through science or scientific arguments? Is it through intently studying nature? Or it another way?

I believe that God makes Himself known to the world is through the death and Resurrection of Jesus. This is the “one sign” (quoting Jesus) that God offers to prove that He exists, is unimaginably good, and wants to be known. This is a “sign,” a miracle with public evidence to which we can point (both inside and outside the Bible) when we ask “why” we know our faith is true. For me, the Resurrection is my epistemology.

Of course there is evidence of God in nature, but without Jesus it is hard to appreciate it. Whether evolution is true or false, I follow Jesus because He rose from the dead. Jesus is my starting point, not anti-evolutionism.

What evidence did God leave for us regarding the Resurrection?

There are over 100,000 relevant texts. There is a whole academic field devoted to studying 1st Century Palestine. There are a few holdouts, but even those that reject the Resurrection agree that there is compelling evidence for it. It is without doubt the most substantiated ancient miracle. For example, look at this remarkable dialogue between NT Wright and Sean Kelly (chair of philosophy at harvard) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsKv9uX8rwE. I really reccomend NT Wright’s masterpiece “the Resurrection of the Son of God”. And for those with short attention spans, this article: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm.

In our scientific world, it is normal to look to science to lead us to God. This is the allure anti-evolutionism and ID. However, we know from Scripture, that God comes to us another way. He comes to us through Jesus.

This is my answer. What is yours?


#3

Jesus Himself.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

This may have become “normal” for many western (especially American) Christians in recent centuries, but it was not always so. I’m in the middle of a Bible series put out by Knox Theological Seminary (behind a pay/registration wall most likely) and particularly from a Dr. Mark Gignilliat there that I think is excellent and explores this very suggestion. I brought some of this up in another thread just now, but it is so apropos to your comments, I want to explore it more here.

From a pre-modern period (prior and up to the major reformers) there was a fundamental approach (Anselm) that might be described as “faith seeking understanding”. I.e. If you wanted to learn to understand God, the world, anything at all … you began with faith/belief because it was just a given that this is what you must stand on if you wanted to reach for understanding.

In the modern period, though, there was a major shift (1500s) that led us all to a very different set of fundamentals. From Spinoza onward we saw a shift to starting with understanding as the most fundamental platform, and then hoping that belief / faith can be slipped in the back door (in other words have belief be built on understanding rather than vice versa). This led to a lot of new pre-suppositional principles that build to historical biblical criticism – principles such as methodological doubt, analogy (what’s true now must have been true for all time), autonomy (neither church nor state should exercise prescriptive authority over the academy), and others. So in short, the reformers who had moved against the magisterium of the Catholic church as the one interpretive authority, set in motion something that has ended up replacing that with a new magisterium: the university. Now, all our interpretative efforts are to report to the altar at the academy or more specifically to the sciences to petition for approval there. And that leads directly to your comment which reflect that pervasive attitude even among Christians today. We want to understand (empirically if possible) so that we may believe. Even now, however, many are beginning to recognize the backwardness (and indeed, the impossibility and necessary incoherence) of this approach.

I know this doesn’t get to your question then: what is the “Biologos epistemology”. And there may be more to be said about that, but other tasks call me away at the moment. I look forward to seeing what others have to say about this too.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

@Swamidass

I did add in one additional sentence toward the end of the 2nd to last paragraph above, so what may have appeared in your email will not look like my edited post above. [I am a frequent and habitual editor, so you are safest looking at actual postings here instead of an initial send].


(Peaceful Science) #6

Thanks for the initial comments by others here.

If evolution is True, why do we follow Jesus?

This is the underlying question behind @deliberateresult’s post: My ID Challenge. Theistic evolution (i.e. evolutionary creation) argues against what many see as their reason for following Jesus. What do we offer in place of the apologetic we take away?

For me, Jesus has always been greater than anti-evolutionism. I follow Him because He rose from the dead. I see this both in historical evidence and my true experience with Him. These two things together are a powerful epistemology, much more solid than any scientific argument.

Why is this talked about so rarely in the origin debates?


(Jon Garvey) #7

Merv

“Faith seeking understanding”, as applied to the creation, must surely mean a Christian ought to be raising an eyebrow both at “I see evidence for God in nature” and “I don’t see any evidence for God in nature (but I believe in him for other reasons).”

Should the attitude not rather be; “Since by faith I know that governing the creation is God’s ongoing work, what understanding of how that works out can I gain by seeking?”

You’ll notice I changed “nature” to “creation”, because the very concept of “nature” with which we now work seems to me to be a text-book example of the epistemological change to which you’ve drawn attention: it suggests that there is an effectively self-sufficient realm called “Nature” which may be adequately understood apart from faith. Who told us that nature was like that?

This realm was, surely, the product of Deist/Enlightenment materialism that had Leibniz castigating Newton for believing in a God who didn’t make it a perfect perpetual motion machine (more or less his own words). Newton didn’t believe God couldn’t do that, but that he didn’t because he chooses to be immanent in his creation, directing it to its ends providentially - whether that be the exact times and places where the nations should live (Acts 19.27), the fall of each sparrow, or terrifyoing the creatures when he hides his face (Ps 104.29)

To Liebniz a prayer would only act retrospectively, affecting the “best possible world” that God had created once for all at time t. To Newton, God remained active in creation, and responded to prayer as a personal agent in real time, albeit that he saw God’s “true” activity in the classical eternal manner:

He endures forever, and is everywhere present; and, by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes duration and space. Since every particle of space is always, and every indivisible moment of duration is everywhere, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and nowhere.

So the big dispute (of which Dr Swamidass has had recent experience) is often phrased as either believing that natural causes are insufficient to account for life, or that natural causes are sufficient to account for life (though God is invisibly behind them to a variable extent - sometimes, it has to be said, a long way behind them, refusing to compromise their “creaturely freedom” by directing them). But ought not the approach of faith to be: “Since faith (and doctrine) tell me God governs all he creates as Lord, how much understanding can I gain of how?”

Now it may be that some would reply that not all Christians believe that God does govern nature in that way. If that’s the case, then maybe it does us the service of showing (to purloin Alvin Plantinga’s phrase) “where the conflict really lies.”


(Phil) #8

Great comments and discussion. My sole addition it is that I believe the Bible because I believe in Jesus, and feel that those views that come down to believing in Jesus because you believe the Bible get things backward.


(Peaceful Science) #9

I totally agree. I believe in the Bible because of Jesus, not the otherway around.

@jpm, why do you believe in Jesus though?


(Phil) #10

Without resorting to trite and overused answers, that is a difficult question to answer honestly. I was born and raised in a Christian household, which I am sure has been a big influence, but ultimately I think it has been the testimony of the lives of Christians I have been in contact with that has made a difference. And by testimony, not their words, but their expressions of love through their lives that showed Jesus was real. That is not a complete answer, but gotta go to work. Look forward to your thoughts on the subject .


(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

I’m sympathetic to this. But I do have to ask (as opposed to “WWJD”): HDYKWJWDIYDKWJD [How Do You Know What Jesus Would Do If You Don’t Know What Jesus Did?] which I purloined from our very own @Jon_Garvey’s site here in a recent post of his.

So that’s a cute way of raising the question: So what Jesus is it that you believe in? And where are you going to get the authority for your information if not from the Bible?

But to finally get around to answering Swmidass’ question, though: I believe in Jesus mainly because of the testimonies of many people, starting with especially the very witness of those in the New Testament: Peter and Paul and Co [so enters the Bible into this.] And to that cloud of witnesses I add my own less weighty, authoritative, or dramatic testimony too, but still mine nonetheless. It is primarily transformed (and transforming) lives that I would start with if one needs a discussion of evidence for Christ’s continued work.

Swamidass [Joshua?], you asked earlier: [quote=“Swamidass, post:6, topic:5224”]
What do we offer in place of the apologetic we take away?
[/quote]

Just what apologetic is it that you think we’ve taken away? If you are referring to faulty apologetic such as: “the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and therefore we know God is at work in our world” – then yes, biologos.org generally discourages trying to conflate perceived falsehoods with apologetics. After all the poorly built things get shaken down, what is still left standing will hopefully make for more stout apologetic contribution and should serve our mission better, no? I see biologos as being helpful toward trying to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks, so as to improve an overall apologetic, rather than dismantle an actual apologetic.

And to go to one of your earlier questions yet asking what is biologos’ epistemology, I think similar thoughts will probably be expressed that really biologos isn’t inventing anything new here. They are trying to draw on robust existing epistemologies that have a high view of Scripture and are non-dismissive of what we can learn about the world and its history through science as well. That is my unofficial perception, though, you are always safer reading their “what we believe” section if you want things straight from the horse’s mouth as it were.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #12

Agreed, on the first part. In fact the very word ‘evidence’ as used there already betrays the modern “understanding-based” mindset (whichever direction that is taken) as opposed to “faith-based”. I should be clear that I’m not in all this trying to draw a stark dichotomy that the former “faith-based” times were good, and everything the modern has now gone toward in the understanding-based system is evil. It isn’t that black and white, but it is still worth pondering.

And some might answer that the entire enlightenment history with its favorite child: modern science, is in fact the outworking answer to that very question. It’s just that the question seems so old by modern “fad-lifespan” standards, that most have forgotten this was the original question.[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:7, topic:5224”]
…it [the ‘nature’ label] suggests that there is an effectively self-sufficient realm called “Nature” which may be adequately understood apart from faith.

So the big dispute (of which Dr Swamidass has had recent experience) is often phrased as either believing that natural causes are insufficient to account for life, or that natural causes are sufficient to account for life
[/quote]
[my own emphases added]
I suppose entire dissertations and tomes are packed into those highlighted words there. At some point somebody may have decided that having a reliable ability to predict and harness how natural forces work for whatever purposes we could wish [science and technology] is all the sufficiency we need. Most of us here though who know full-well that life is more expansive than this, and want to delve into the many other facets and dimensions will disagree with that facile ignorance.


(Peaceful Science) #13

@Mervin_Bitikofer, lest this gets lost in the weeds. I do like your answer focused on the testimonies in the Bible plus your experience with HIm.

To help you understand why I ask the question:

The section you reference explains what we believe about God, the Bible, and Jesus, but not why we believe it. It tells the content of our beliefs, not the reason for it. This is really important distinction.

At BioLogos, we explain what we believe. We spend a great deal of time explaining why we believe evolution from a scientific point of view. We explain how evolution is compatible with the Bible. However, very little is put into explaining why we believe in Jesus, the Bible, and orthodox Christianity.

This is a consequential omission, because many are left wondering about us. Our faith feels (to them) like a poorly motivated non-sequitur. There is more to it of course, but we need a full throated explanation of why we believe in Jesus, even if evolution is true.

The apologetic we are taking away from them is the reason for faith to which many cling: “evolution is a horribly failed understanding of the world.” We argue just exactly the opposite, that “evolution is a largely accurate (even if it is incomplete) understanding of the world.” This is a very threatening position for most in the origins debate. They feel that arguments against evolution are a solid place to build their confidence. In this regard, the BioLogos position is directly attacking their personal apologetic.

This is a faulty apologetic, in the sense that it is not well grounded (either scientifically or theologically). However, it is the true apologetic of many Christians.

An analogy would be if someone was to attack the testimonies on which you (@Mervin_Bitikofer) base your faith. This would be a very unsettling experience, especially if there was strong evidence that specific testimonies were wholesale lies. For example, when a pastor of a large church is shown to be lying or living a fraudulent life, this often sends those in the church into a deep, painful reassessment of their own faiths. Arguing against bad arguments for God (or against evolution) can have the same effect on others. It can send them into a crisis of faith, wondering “if this foundation is false, is my faith really true?” Of course, it is faulty to base our faith on the behavior of another fallen person. We still do it. It is our way.

Our response to those in faith crisis because of weaknesses in ID and YEC cannot be just arguing, “yes, YEC and ID is really a false foundation for your faith.” In my opinion, we also have to explain what the true foundation of our faith is. It is only when we see a solid place to plant our feet, that we can confidently leave a sinking foundation.

This is why I ask the question. What is the BioLogos’s apologetic? Why do we believe what we believe about Jesus? What is our grounding and our foundation?

This is just as important to explain as the content of our beliefs. We have to offer an apologetic, an epistemology, too.


(Peaceful Science) #14

Hey Jon. I agree that many feel this is the dispute. But I do not understand this really.

I am a theistic evolutionist (so is Michael Behe, btw), and I do not believe that natural causes alone are sufficient to account for life. As far as I know, this the BioLogos position too. We think that evolution (in naturalistic) terms is a reasonably accurate description of life, but it is not complete. Natural causes alone cannot, for example, explain an immortal soul, or how the laws that enabled evolution to proceed came into being. It is even possible that God inspires some mutations.

Where I part from ID is not the sufficiency of natural causes (which I believe are not sufficient), but on the scientific “provability” of God’s necessity. I just think that science is too limited to do this. It is not up to the task. ID disagrees, and does intellectual backflips to make their case. I am not impressed.

All this is to say that BioLogos (as far as I can tell) does not argue that natural causes are sufficient to explain life. Given this fact, what exactly is the conflict? We agree on the metaphysical conclusion, but disagree on how to arrive at that conclusion (and a whole host of minor scientific points along the way).


(Jon Garvey) #15

Joshua

I could spend a long time on “the conflict”, which would include the usual stuff about biblical literalism, quite a lot on the sociological forces that created a conflict model between science and Christianity in the US (particularly) a century ago and works hard to maintain it today…

As far as the “provability” of God is concerned, it appears to have been a reaction to popular science’s drip-feed of the message that science can _dis_prove God. But my main point above is that the metaphysical assumptions of science (to be brief, efficient and material causation only) are inadequate in considering science in relation to faith - but even many believing scientists are unaware of how those shortcomings impact on their integration of the two.

Or to put it another way (as I did above) the natural/supernatural distinction is an unhelpful way to view reality, if one is trying to bridge the gap between science and the bigger picture.


(Phil) #16

Great thoughts and comments. I was thinking along similar lines after reading some of the blogs elsewhere where the bloggers are heavily invested in arguing against YEC. The scientific issues can stand on their own, and really do not need our help, but the theologic issues are where the most grievous differences are present. So many in the fundy/conservative community close their ears and hearts when the word “evolution” comes up, and it becomes difficult to have an open discussion about the differences in theologic interpretation. Unfortunately, those who have a stake in maintaining their position due to financial investments in museums and large landbound boats are more than happy to keep troops riled up.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #17

Thanks for your patience in helping me focus on the area of interest.

The charge of “non-sequitur” implies that faith should flow logically from some prior and presumably well-established edifice. And indeed this is appropriate. Few to none of the faith heroes we read of in the Bible were above asking questions and letting their faith be developed in response to life, observations, and other teachings from their traditions and accepted authorities. But if you press the game of continuing to ask “why”, peeling away each successive layer of presupposition built on the one underneath it, you will eventually come to something that has no foundation. This isn’t just a ‘religion’ thing. This will be true of everybody from the stoutest atheists to the most pious saints. Eventually (if you dig as far as you consciously can) you will reach some axiom or even set of axioms for which there is absolutely no warrant at all. But it has to be there, and it must carry the weight of everything stacked on it.

So the natural question to ask is: Doesn’t this need to be based on something? But now we see the obvious problem. If we’ve philosophically dug down as far as we can, then we can only answer this with silence. Now, I’m not suggesting (even for the Christian) that this “core” whatever it would look like must be some pious looking statement straight out of a creed. It may be something as basic as “I exist.” or “the world that I perceive really exists”. But my point is that we would rightly grant them a “faith pass” at that point and not continue to demand further proof or even evidence. My point is that, while good reason could and should be offered about why we believe in Jesus, there is still going to be a faith leap waiting somewhere underneath that claim for any determined skeptic who keeps digging through your foundations. And sooner or later you will have only silence to offer that skeptic. But the key thing to remember is that the skeptic has not himself escaped this problem. He has simply chosen a different core on which to build, and why should we his faith basis get a free pass, while the believers foundations of faith are required to yield up yet more foundations underneath and on down ad infinitum? You have to start with something. Sorry, that was a lot of words to get around to a lack of an answer.

Regarding your statement: [quote=“Swamidass, post:13, topic:5224”]
… we need a full throated explanation of why we believe in Jesus, even if evolution is true.
[/quote]
The “even if evolution is true” may well be non-sequitur, though, I do acknowledge and agree with your observation that for so many it isn’t. Perhaps among the best answers we can have for such people is to show by our own living testimonies that taking science seriously, does not mean putting it on some kind of infallibility pedestal, and certainly doesn’t mean leaving Christian faith behind. As we all grow and mature slowly in faith, our questions may slowly change their focus. That seems more likely to me than our arriving at settled answers built on some ultimate edifice independent from God that have eluded generations of brilliant philosophers for millennia.


(Peaceful Science) #18

I am certainly not advocating building

I am not even saying we should all have the same answer either, or be able to existentially peel back every “why” till we get to cognito ergo sum.

Rather, I am encouraging something more theologically grounded.

I’m sure Paul would have said he believed Jesus because “he had seen Him on the road to Damascus.” If pressed further, he might talk about the role of the Church in helping understand what he had seen. For proof, he regularly offered the Resurrection (see Mars Hill). Peter would give a similar answer. Once again offering his personal experience with Jesus, including seeing the Risen One, and offering the Resurrection as proof. Thomas would give the same answer too, and maybe talk about touching Jesus with his hands, to feel his wounds. Jesus Himself called the Resurrection the one sign He would offer the world, the one miracle with public evidence.

What I see here is an epistemology rooted in three things: (1) the Resurrection, (2) the testimony of witnesses and (3) or own experience with Him (or own witness). We encounter this evidence first-hand, through the BIble, in public historical evidence, and the community of the Church.

I’m not sure how this all interacts with a Cartesian reduction to cognito ergo sum. I’m not sure if this is the single answer we all offer. Still, this feels like the missing part of the BioLogos narrative. We explain to people all the time why we think evolution is “true”, and that it is compatible with Christianity. Somehow, missing in our narrative, is an explanation of why we still cling to Jesus.

In my own experience, it was only as I rooted my faith more in Jesus (instead of anti-evolutionism) that I was able to honestly approach the science behind evolution. Ultimately, I came to recognize that ID functioned as a type of idolatry in my life.

Any how, thanks for participating in this conversation @Mervin_Bitikofer. I hope we can all be the living testimony you describe.


(George Brooks) #19

@Swamidass

I quickly ran a COMPARATIVE assessment of this question you ask:

Evangelical YEC’s are FULL of FAITH … so strong, they oppose any scientific evidence that might invalidate the plain reading of their scriptures.

And yet you wonder what it is that fortifies the faith of those who ACCEPT science! I would think it is easy to see that people who believe in God AND accept Science are somehow a little LESS extreme in their Faith.

The better question is … what is the foundation of a faith for a person who can witness, face to face, the evidences of an ancient Cosmos … and REJECT the evidences.

Now THAT is Faith … and perhaps a little too much.


(Peaceful Science) #20

Here in lies the rub. I have a very hard time with this analysis.

As for me, I hope that Evolutionary Creation does not in any way lull me into a life with less faith. In many ways, choosing to follow Jesus in the science has required a great deal from me. In faith, I have had to risk the rejection of my church and family. In faith, I have had to risk the rejection of my scientific colleagues and friends. In faith, I have had to live a life in obedience down an often lonely path of exile. In many ways, my faith does feel very extreme.

My issue with YEC is not that they are extreme in their faith, but that their faith is misplaced. It is placed in creation science (all to often) and their idiosyncratic way of interpreting Scripture, rather than the work of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

For me, leaving YEC and ID was a process of turning from idolatry. From putting my faith in the wrong things, not from having too much faith.

I wonder if this could be the role of BioLogos in the Church. Calling many of us back to a more complete devotion to the Risen One.

So @gbrooks9, no, I am sorry but I cannot accept that the problem is that YEC has too much faith, and that we have less. I hope this is not true of us. I’d rather say they place their faith in the wrong things, and we find confidence by placing in the right thing. In this right thing, we cannot have too much faith.