This was one of those events that was over before it began. I do not think that anyone was surprised by what either Bill Nye or Ken Ham had to say about whether or not creationism (of a young-Earth variety) is a viable model for understanding the universe. Check the video out if you don’t believe me:
Now that you may or may not have just blown over two hours hearing arguments that you have likely already heard I will further disappoint you by saying that almost everyone’s reaction to this was predictable. Those who subscribe to some form of evolution (be it atheistic, theistic, or agnostic) thought that Bill Nye carried the day (if they weren’t annoyed that he was debating a creationist at all in the first place). Those that believe in young-Earth creationism no doubt felt that Ham had carried the day. A number of groups that held what I might call some kind of alternate position that did not align with either of the two poles of this debate (anything from Intelligent Design, to Roman Catholic teachings that harmonize Christianity with evolutionary biology) remarked on how the debate was a missed opportunity to bring up their own particular views. Again, this is not at all surprising.
As for my own take, like I said, this is all old hat to me. The one thing that did strike me was how Ham continued to claim that nothing could really be known about the age of the earth since we weren’t there to observe the events that formed the Grand Canyon or layers of polar ice, but then elsewhere in the debate stated that reliable laws governing nature and logic were evidence for God. And yet it is wrong for scientists to extrapolate from those same laws back into prehistory, because who knows what went on there. So the laws are also unreliable when Ken Ham needs God to bend the rules?
So, you thought that C.S. Lewis was an evolutionist, eh? Not so fast. It turns out that the evidence is more ambiguous than previously thought. Scholars are now studying Lewis’ annotations in over three dozen scientific books and pamphlets from his library.
Lewis once wrote a letter to his father saying the ideas of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer were built “on a foundation of sand.” A 400-page book found in Lewis’ collection, which he read as a 19-year-old soldier in World War I, is heavily marked and helped convince Lewis that natural selection lacked the creative power needed to construct the world as we know it.
There were some principles of the evolutionary theory that Lewis rejected altogether – such as the idea that evolution occurs through undirected natural selection – though others he accepted. Although Lewis believed in a literal Adam and Eve and mankind’s fall from grace as told in the Old Testament book of Genesis, for example, he also believed the theory that says all living creatures have a common ancestor, though he became more skeptical of that theory later in his life, says West.
NPR has an article out discussing the recent evangelical wrestling with the historicity (or not) of Adam and Eve, and so it seems like a good time to chime in. While it might be simplest to ask “is a literal Adam and Eve important?”, I think such a question is unhelpful, because it bundles together several distinct questions. I’m going to suggest answers to what I think are the more probative questions, below.
(1) Is it necessary to believe in a literal Adam and Eve to be saved? I think the answer is, if the person is otherwise orthodox, no. Whatever conditions are placed upon justification in scripture, it is not absolute doctrinal perfection. Some might argue that the historicity of Adam and Eve is an essential doctrine, but, as I’ve argued previously, I think what is essential is properly decided more on a case by case basis, and thus while in some cases a denial of a historical Adam and Eve might be paired with other, more essential, denials, the denial in itself can often be coupled with a relatively orthodox faith otherwise. (more…)
Michael Flannery at Evolution News & Views has written an interesting article about the historical process by which Darwinism came to be widely accepted. Some of his concluding comments:
Understood in this context, Darwinism is not properly construed as simply a scientific idea that transformed society but rather as a metaphysic based upon a dogmatic methodological naturalism that had been brewing in England for some time. David Hume, who influenced Darwin, had set the intellectual tone and course one hundred years before Origin just as Auguste Comte, another influence on Darwin, prepared the way on the Continent. Thus Gertrude Himmelfarb keenly observes “that it was less as intelligent men ‘accustomed to scientific argument’ that they judged and approved the Origin than as intelligent men susceptible to philosophical prejudice.” (Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, p. 296) “Darwin,” concludes Himmelfarb, “dramatizing and bringing to a climax the ideas, sentiments, and conjectures of his age, may be thought of as the hero of a conservative revolution.” (p. 447)
The cultural armor forged more than 150 years ago and made up of the alloys of Victorian elitism, methodological naturalism, and popular secularism intermixed with the shiny gloss of scientific speculation has remained impenetrable to this very day. The important point it seems is that the paradigmatic strength of Darwinian evolution was not principally established by the scientific community, but by Darwin’s affinity group. For all the purported claims of Darwin’s contributions to “Science,” its development from an idea to an integral part of the present day elites’ mentalité shows a more storied past. While none of this should suggest that scientific critique from many disciplines should not be brought to bear upon modern biology’s most cherished icon, it does point to factors other than science in its unique historical path that made it both cherished and iconic.
Here are the Canadian responses to the 2007 question by percentage, along with the US figures to a similar series of questions in brackets:
-Less than one in three Canadians (29%) believe that God had no part in the creation or development of human beings. (US: 13%)
-Fewer still (26%) believe “that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so”. (US: 46%)
-A plurality, but still only 34%, say that “human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process”. (US: 36%)
What did surprise me is that Decima, the polling firm, did not ask for the religious affiliation of the respondents. Here’s why I think that was an oversight: In a trend that also departs very much from the American scene, the people who intend to vote Liberal were much more likely than those who intended to vote either Conservative or NDP (leftist) to choose a “theistic” option – God either created humans or guided the process. Only 22% of Liberals thought God had nothing to do with it, but 31% of Conservatives thought that, as did 31% of leftist voters.
I’m reading through Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box for a course that I’m taking right now. It turns out that the substantial criticisms of Darwin that exist today were very similar to those in the late 1800s.
Here’s St. George Mivart, writing in 1871, sounding eerily like modern critics:
What is to be brought forward (against Darwinism) may be summed up as follows: That ‘Natural Selection’ is incompetent to account for the incipient stages of useful structures. That it does not harmonize with the co-existence of closely similar structures of diverse origin. That there are grounds for thinking that specific differences may be developed suddenly instead of gradually. That the opinion that species have definite though very different limits to their variability is still tenable. That certain fossil transitional forms are absent, which might have been expected to be present … That there are many remarkable phenomena in organic forms upon which ‘Natural Selection’ throws no light whatsoever.
This is the second part of a two part series on Greg Beale’s understanding of Genesis 1-2 and science. Click here for part one.
Quite frankly I am bored by debates about the relationship of Genesis to modern science. While I’m not a theistic evolutionist, I don’t particularly care to land the plane on any of the other evangelical options regarding dating the universe and so on. I know God created all things. I believe Jesus and Paul thought Adam and Eve were historical persons. And most definitely, Genesis depicts a true account of reality (there’s no Harry Frankfurt “bullshit” here). Beyond that, I have no idea.
Part of the appeal with Greg Beale’s work on Genesis 1-2 is that he sees the Genesis narrative depicting the universe in a phenomenological and theological sense, not scientific. This hopefully will allow me to bypass debates that I can’t be bothered to look into.
In this blog post I just want to share some of my notes, which back up Beale’s claim that Israel’s small temple was understood to be a microcosm of the entire universe. And for the author of Genesis, the entire universe was one massive cosmic temple in which God dwelt. Hopefully you will find this as helpful as I have. (more…)
Neil Reynolds of the Globe and Mail has a really interesting article on studies done by psychologist Jesse Bering who has studied the relationship between God and morality. It turns out that children who are unsupervised will cheat more than children who are told that they are being supervised by an imaginary princess. No surprise here. What is surprising is that adults will cheat less when they believe they are under the supervision of God (or a god).
Bering spins this research off in an evolutionary direction but I think his work has interesting ramifications in terms of the debate on whether theism makes people more moral than atheism.
I shared some of my initial impressions of McLaren’s new book in my previous (somewhat rambling) post. In this post I want to narrow my vision a little bit and look at some of the theological currents running through the first part of the book. There are a number things that McLaren is talking about and I want to pull some of these strands apart and look at them individually.
McLaren is looking at the atonement in a way that is outside of the Western (read: Augustinian) tradition. McLaren does not call out our man in Hippo by name, but he talks about how Western Christianity changed its views of these things (for the worse) in the 5th or 6th C. – pretty obvious hint there. The obvious place (at least for me) if you want to look for an non-Western view of the atonement would be the Orthodox tradition. Yet I see little or no evidence of McLaren looking East.
McLaren is still holding onto the Anabaptist tradition into which he was born. The place where the church got it wrong was, in his view, at the Constantinian turn. Given the pacifist streak and the rejection of political power in many strains of Anabaptist theology, it is not surprising to see someone from the Anabaptist tradition uncomfortable with state power. Many, particularly in the neo-Reformed camp are much more comfortable with the church aligning with the state.
McLaren does not take the creation account literally. Again this is something that would trouble some evangelicals but such a view is acceptable to even the current (conservative) Vatican.
All of this is, perhaps, a long-winded way of saying that there isn’t much that is actually new in McLaren’s book, though it may be new to some of his readership. I suppose in McLaren’s defense, it’s not a secret that he writes for a popular audience and isn’t necessarily try to break new intellectual ground. While his opinions may have antecedents in other strains of Christianity, McLaren is drawing a distinction between what he believes and what evangelicals have conventionally believed.
A number of bloggers have suggested that it’s for the best that McLaren has drawn these distinctions so that people will know who is on what side. I’m not so sure about that, what seems to have happened instead is that people are putting themselves into theological crouch positions where believers are asked to pick a “side” in this. This troubles me since one of the things that I have wanted to do more reading on is different Western and non-Western views of the atonement. If I end up incorporating something non-Augustinian into what I think about the matter are people going to say “Ah ha! McLarenite! Convene the heresy trial!” or something like that? Put another way: Someone (possibly N. T. Wright) has said that they think 1/3 of their theology is wrong, they just don’t know which third it is. If we have the humility to admit that we may be very wrong about lots in our theology we should have the ability to adapt our theology if we are convicted that we are wrong about something – choosing sides and making “teams” is not a great way to facilitate this.