Sunday, September 02, 2007

Only Evolutionists can be Saved

OK, not really, but I’m on holiday in England at the moment (hence my absence and lack of response to comments) so do be patient with me today! But I have to respond to one comment in an earlier post. A few chaps have been engaged in a most edifying discussion here. In it, Ed wrote:

“… for the record as much as I am very sympathetic to Chris's views I do think he goes a bit far - if I understand him correctly - in his wholesale affirmation of evolution”

To be honest, I do understand Ed’s sentiment, and before I decided to affirm evolution more thoroughly, I also preferred more of an agnostic-but-affirming position on this issue.

However, I tend to think that such “humility” is an option most appealing to theologians who haven’t really grappled with the scientific argumentation presented by evolutionists. Later in my personal research (though I am no scientist), I became a convinced evolutionist in light of the coherence and eloquence of the theory to explain the data. This has recently been affirmed in the most startling manner by reading The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution by Sean B. Carroll. The DNA record is further powerful evidence that collaborates the evolutionary hypothesis of descent through gradual modification with such vigour that I am compelled to affirm evolution with more confidence than some would like. But I blame the evidence.

I was skimming Sam Harris’ book, Letter to A Christian Nation, the other day, and in it he asks why the bible, if it is God’s word, doesn’t detail a cure for cancer. A good question. But this is only a troublesome point, I think, for those who understand biblical inspiration in a manner that in some ways parallels the heresy of Docetism in Christology. And it is only under the influence of such a model, I suggest, that would cause some of us to believe the myths of ancient peoples (remember that the biblical account parodies other ancient Mesopotamian myths), rather than the findings of moderns science. But it is because of science that we can engaging in these debates at all (giving us the electricity, microchips, computers, screens and keyboards we are now using).


At 9/03/2007 1:11 AM, Anonymous TJ said...

England? Where is that?

At 9/03/2007 1:58 AM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

I agree that the evidence from DNA powerfully corroborates the theory.

In fact, Darwin was painfully aware that he had failed to identify the biological mechanism which allowed evolutionary advantages to be passed on, with further refinements, to succeeding generations. Darwin died with this gap still undermining his hypothesis.

Then the merits of Mendel's research was belatedly recognized, and later the double helix was discovered. The science of genetics is a perfect fit for the troubling gap in Darwin's theory.

You can compare mice to chimpanzees and chimpanzees to humans at the genetic level and practically see evolution in action. I don't see how any objective inquirer can fail to be impressed by the data.

At 9/03/2007 2:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, why believe anything the bible says if you can just blow off the creation account? I find it strange that over the years of man's science, and how many times they have to change their understanding, people who claim to have faith continue to follow man and man's understanding. It's like trying to understand scripture by studying what others believe and have written instead of asking God to give you spiritual eyes and understanding.

At 9/03/2007 3:15 AM, Anonymous Eric Rowe said...

Chris, do you believe that miracles have occurred in the history of the universe? If so, then how can you know for sure that we are to seek a purely natural explanation of human origins and that no miracles occurred in that process? If not, then in what sense could you be a Christian of any kind that was conceivable to the apostles?

It is the nature of the game of science to seek natural explanations for all phenomena. With the accumulation of data and repetitive iterations of subjecting those naturalistic explanations to refinements, there is nothing remarkable about these explanations gradually getting more and more successful in their explanatory power. But the very presumption that the naturalistic explanation for past unwitnessed events must be the best is a stacking of the deck. And as long as the prevailing explanations have gaps, who's to say that God is not in those gaps, except by excluding Him at the level of one's assumptions?

At 9/03/2007 8:54 AM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

Dear Anonymous,

these “spiritual eyes” which are given to those who ask God are very important. In the New Testament it would seem to be a matter of life and death. The Pharisees were condemned for remaining at the level of the “letter” and not grasping the letter's “spiritual” meaning. So as you can imagine, it's very important that we understand this issue.

So here are my questions concerning “spiritual eyes”: What is their purpose? Do they enable one simply to understand the literal sense of the text (surely not, Chris understands this level of the text, as does anyone)? Is it a matter of enabling one to believe a difficult, literal text, i.e. has nothing to do with understanding it per se, just receiving it? But then, if it's about being able to believe difficult texts read literally, surely the Holy Spirit should make me believe that trees clap their hands and that stars sing (as in the Psalms). Or does the Holy Spirit help me decide when a text is literal or not? If so, I'd like to know how he communicates that knowledge. Does he work with human understanding (i.e. requiring that we use our intelligence and the education we have been privileged to have) or despite it (i.e. by sending us into a spiritual state that reveals the truth to us, bypassing our knowledge)?

Or perhaps the spiritual meaning of the text is about more than grasping the surface of the text? Being set free from sin is hardly the literal interpretation of Exodus (deeper, but not literal). The rock of water in the wilderness can hardly be literally interpreted as Christ. What exactly would my God-given spiritual eyes help me to see? And what's worth knowing anyway?

At 9/03/2007 9:41 AM, Anonymous John said...

I don't always agree with you, but I see that you are objective in your
postings. Despite the differences I still enjoy reading your posts and I
often learn even when our viewpoints are different. :-)

At 9/03/2007 12:42 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

*TJ gets a pop on the nose*

Hi Anon,
"So, why believe anything the bible says if you can just blow off the creation account?"

Let me be clear that I am not blowing off the creation account. I believe it is inspired by God, his word to us. It teaches us theological truth important for salvation and godly living. However, I don't believe it is a scientific account of what actuallz happened. That does not, in my view, datract at all from its message, its theological truth. In fact, when I stopped trying to make vere this or that compatable with modern science, I could hear much more clearly the actual message, and what the authors were trying to do in their own context.

"It's like trying to understand scripture by studying what others believe and have written instead of asking God to give you spiritual eyes and understanding"

Of course we pray for God to open our iner eyes, but this is not opposed to learning from others.

Thanks for your comments. Oh, and do give Phil's comments below a read - very helpful.

Hi Eric, a good question!
You wrote: "If so, then how can you know for sure that we are to seek a purely natural explanation of human origins and that no miracles occurred in that process?"
Well, I am not pursuing a totally natural account.

I think there is a dynamic between evolution as chance, and God’s activity within it - comparable with the tension between human works as truly human, yet also the outworking of God’s grace (cf. e.g. 1 Cor 15:10: ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them - though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me’). We are the products of evolution 100% by natural means, but also 100% by God's gracious power. We are from dirt, but made in the image of God.

However, you have hit upon an important point about miracles. I tend to struggle very much with the God of the gaps hypothesis however. The position I just outlined doesn't push God to these gaps but sees him at work in and through it all. I suspect that this is the more orthodox view. What are your thoughts in response as I think you have hit upn an important matter here.

Thanks for your kind words, John!

At 9/03/2007 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God directs the rise and fall of nations and individuals by the laws of time. Scripture is very specific in recording those times such as how old Adam was before Seth was born and so on...So, I assume from Phil's explanation, before Adam, there were others that did not receive the covenant and we are to take the creation as a more theological explanation? In my opinion, God is very specific. Time is one of those very specific things we are able to see in Scripture to give us understanding of the validity of Scripture.

At 9/03/2007 3:12 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

God's interaction with His creation is a great mystery. He is revealed in biblical history, in church history and in contemporary experience as interacting powerfully with His creation - these interactions are often called miracles. Yet He often seems incredibly reticent, apparently preferring to preserve the dignity of His creation.

So when I look at the evidence, and I've not read Mendel's research, I cannot deny natural selection. Yet I know that God interacts with his World. So how much did He wind up and just set in motion, and how much does He still interact with?

My answer right now is at least the following:
1) God made the first living organism however small. I can't believe that DNA just randomly appeared.
2) At some point God formed humanity to be his image bearers. Perhaps it was a creative miracle on existing creatures.

God's activity with creation is a very difficult issue. Indeed a great mystery, perhaps of the same kind as the incarnation, or the dual nature of Christ. Like other either/or mysteries (predestination/freewill for example) you will have very polarized positions. As usual I will want to argue a "both and more" position.

God has interacted with creation and he does still. But God will not be manipulated nor put in a test tube. He will not be subject Himself to testability or falsifiability. He values the dignity and integrity of His creation.

At 9/03/2007 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 9/03/2007 4:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 9/03/2007 4:36 PM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

Dear Anonymous,

you said: "So, I assume from Phil's explanation, before Adam, there were others that did not receive the covenant and we are to take the creation as a more theological explanation?".

I'm afraid I don't quite get what you mean, and I don't see how that connects to what I said.

Concerning the website: although I'm sure that there are experts there who know more than all of us put together, it's only through personal dialogue that one can learn to take responsibility for what one believes. Therefore, I'd rather know what you think.

At 9/03/2007 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phillip, taking the evolution theory, my assumption is that man needed to evolve from whatever. So before Adam, man or whatever we were did not matter.

In my opinion, evolution takes God out of it and the evolution of man becomes equal/like to God by evolution, not by God forming man out of dust and breathing life into him.

The article on the family tree is just what it is. Science knows a lot but they don't know enough. Just like this conversation...we both are talking out of what we know, but we also know there is much we don't know. This all boils down to faith. Either scripture is from God or it's not. I prefer to look at Scripture as if God wrote it. Looking at a specific time line(since God is pretty dang specific) I have no problem believing that since Adam, we're nearing the 7,000th year.

At 9/03/2007 9:34 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

It's like trying to understand scripture by studying what others believe and have written instead of asking God to give you spiritual eyes and understanding.

In a sense, that's true. It is a serious mistake to suppose that you should try to empty your mind of all knowledge from other sources and study scripture in isolation: in isolation from the tradition of the church, including those who study ancient Hebrew society and first century Palestinian society to understand the worldview out of which the scriptures emerged.

Chris is pointing you to some of that data when he talks about the role of mythology in ancient societies, which shapes the way the opening chapters of Genesis are formulated (even if only in conscious counter-assertion to pagan myths).

Also in isolation from the wisdom you might learn through hard personal experience; and yes, the things that extrabiblical sources can teach us about the nature of reality. All these sources of knowledge are good, provided that we make the right use of them.

Your statement seems to propose that we come to scripture in complete ignorance and ask God to write on the blank slates of our minds. But ignorance is not the right strategy. Even if it were some sort of ideal, it would be impossible to realize it. You are not a blank slate, any more than Chris is, or I am. You are a product of your socialization.

Your understanding of Christianity is peculiar to the specific place you occupy in time and space. The Church Fathers certainly didn't approach scripture the way that a modern, American evangelical does. They were heavily influenced by Greek thought.

Indeed, even within the text of the New Testament, we can see the author of Hebrews (for example) playing with constructs learned from the Greek philosophers; likewise John, whose concept of the logos is not strictly Jewish but is also conscious of the use of the term "logos" in Greek philosophy.

It isn't a matter of ignorance of the surrounding culture, but of not being captive to the surrounding culture. By all means, we should be critical of the atheistic, materialist, false pretensions of science.

But also, you need to be critical of the particular religious culture (modern American evangelicalism) that you've been socialized into. You need to recognize, at the very least, that the narrow evangelical mind isn't the only legitimate way of exercising Christian faith or of submitting to the authority of scripture.

At 9/03/2007 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q, I was born and raised in the Orient and certainly don't think like an American Evangelical, ( I don't even attend a "church" nor do I think like most scholars (and obviously I am not one) that stop here to give their insights. I read and study most anything I find concerning my faith (as well as what other faiths believe). This particular subject I find interesting because so many christian scholars believe that the Genesis account was created by hearing stories from other cultures... and whomever wrote it down in Hebrew was just copying/adding/whatever from these "previous" accounts of creation.

I get what most of you are writing and believing and I happen to disagree with the way many are coming to their conclusions. As far as the comment you quoted from me

"It's like trying to understand scripture by studying what others believe and have written instead of asking God to give you spiritual eyes and understanding."

I have no problem with reading and studying what others write...but I do believe what most of us write (including the great scholars), many times is nothing but words trying to justify a belief they have for the moment because they have been shaped by their culture/studies instead of asking for divine insight.

It's like God can't do something like the biblical account of creation or a miracle, unless He abides by certain physical laws that humans understand. If that's true...what's the point in all of this? Why follow a God that is bound to our understanding of physics/science/whatever?

Even in China the early scriptures of Tao (which many say are some of the oldest written texts found) begins man at about the same time as the Hebrew biblical account..and btw, they clearly teach Christ coming)...because there is nothing more that is written prior to that...and that may be because that's when man was created by God.

I'll bow out of this topic for now and let you and others continue. Blessings.

At 9/04/2007 12:36 AM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

Sigh, though I find Anon's position problematic he raises an important issue again.

How does God interact with His Creation? The God of the Bible is not a distant hands-off theistic god. From walking in the garden, to the Resurrection, and Pentecost He is interacting with His creation somethings in dramatic ways. But I don't think that he is quite the god some of the extreme charismatics would have. He seems to honor the dignity of His creation, the dignity of our own choices.

Like the other theological dichotomies, I'm convinced that how you understand this issue has large implication for how you relate to God and the world.

For example when trying to make a decision do you just use your reason, do you ask God for wisdom and then make a decision, or you ask God for an answer and expect Him to speak.

I suppose I struggle with this because I am simultaneously deeply convinced of the goodness of creation and eschew much of the dualism that plagues many forms of Christianity. But I am also convinced of and have experienced God's dramatic action.

When I consider the evolution issue I am struck that this is another one of these kinds of questions. Clearly God created the universe at a point is space/time. How much has He been interacting with it since?

At 9/04/2007 4:56 AM, Anonymous The Late Meredith G Kline said...

As observed above, the creation as described in the Genesis prologue is a work of construction without trace of struggle. The Genesis account itself does not make even a poetic use of the conflict theme current in extra-biblical cosmogony, the theme of the slaying of the chaos monster by the hero-god as the means of founding the world order.

Elsewhere in the Bible that theme and imagery are used, usually to portray God's redemptive triumph over the powers of Hell. Sometimes it is used to describe the Creator's government of the world of nature, particularly his control of the more tempestuous phenomena and especially the raging waters of the sea (Job 9:13, cf. 8[RSV]; 26:12, 13; cf. 3:8; Pss 65:7; 89:10). The latter instances might well include the divine providential rule and ordering of forces of nature operative during as well as after the creation era (notice the clear allusions to creation in Job 9:8, 9 and 26:10) and in this qualified sense it might then be said that the Bible does on occasion make a literary use of the conflict motif with reference to God's activity during creation. In such passages (cf. too Pss 74 and 89) the distinction between the unique, closed era of the "six days," marked by the series of supernatural acts of origination, and the postcreation era is allowed to fade while the broader theme of God's providential control and direction of nature, which overlaps both eras, is brought into focus. However, even in this limited sense that God's providential activity during the creation "week" is at times described in terms of a conflict with chaotic forces it is purely a matter of poetic literary idiom, not a theological adoption of the cosmogonic myth, either whole or piecemeal.

The pagan cosmogonic myth, a garbled, apostate version, a perversion, of pristine traditions of primordial historical realities, could not pass through the conceptual grid that forms the consistent framework of the teachings of Scripture except as already demythologized poetic idiom. Even among the ancient myth-makers themselves the practice is attested of redacting earlier cosmogonic myth with polemic intent. In order to propagandize for some new development in the cult, they would so adapt the myth that the old god who was to be eclipsed would be replaced by his rival, the current favorite, in the role of heroic conqueror of the chaos monster in the mythopoeic drama of cosmic origins. The adoption of the earlier myth was thus for the purpose of rejecting its message, if not at the conceptual level of its mythological cosmogony as such, at least in the political level of rival cultic claimants. The Bible's use of the cosmogonic conflict myth is with similar but incomparably more radical, polemical intent.

- Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, pgs. 27-28

At 9/04/2007 7:03 AM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Anonymous writes,

"It's like God can't do something like the biblical account of creation or a miracle, unless He abides by certain physical laws that humans understand. If that's true...what's the point in all of this? Why follow a God that is bound to our understanding of physics/science/whatever?"

Certainly God can (and has, at times) work outside the laws of physics. But your question can be turned around. Is it more likely that God would 1) create a cosmos with a given set of physical laws which he fully intended to violate in the processes of creation? or 2) create a cosmos with a given set of physical laws within the bounds of which he could do his creative work?

The argument (I hear it a lot) goes like this: those of us who believe in evolution as God's beautiful vehicle for the creation of life just don't think God is big enough to circumvent the natural laws which he himself set in place. This argument strikes me as very strange. It supposes that God was either unable or unwilling to create an ordered cosmos that would actually WORK! One in which he would need to violate his own laws, his own cosmic order, in the propagation of life. It suggests he didn't quite create it right in the first place, and has to tweak it, bending the physical laws he himself wrote, in order to make it work.

At 9/04/2007 3:55 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

In addition:
for my money, a God who can create all that there is in one split second, setting into motion processes that spread out over billions of years is indeed bigger than one who can only create things piecemeal ala a literal Genesis 1.

At 9/04/2007 7:37 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

I'd be very uncomfortable claiming that we understand all the physical laws. Its not at all clear how God's acts of power relate to what we understand of physical laws.

Let us suppose that Cliff is right that God has set the process in motion - presumable at the Big Bang - and hasn't touch it to create anything thereafter - so a theistic evolution. Nevertheless God clearly has been interacting with His creation in other ways. Biblical history, church history, and contemporary experience testify to God's acts of power.

The point is that I don't see a difference between God creating things in at various points in history and His other acts of power: the crossing of the Red Sea, the Resurrection, Jesus' miracles or contemporary miracles.

That said with the exception of the first living being, and the creation of humanity I don't have any problem with a theistic evolution. vis. I believe that the authorial intention of Genesis was theological not scientific.

At 9/04/2007 9:37 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...


I understand what you are saying ... if we agree (and we do!) that God does intervene miraculously in the affairs of man at certain points, why not during the creation of life? That’s a valid point, Ed. However, because of the way I have been looking at Creation/Evolution, and the over-arching story of the cosmos as I am coming to understand it, I actually see a great deal of difference between acts of "Special Creation" and God powerfully bringing his Kingdom to bear upon the earth in response to people of faith. Space here does not permit of full explanation, just believe me when I say ...

... You may not see a qualitative difference in those two scenarios (and I understand why you might not), but I do.

At 9/04/2007 10:30 PM, Anonymous Arni Zachariassen said...

So my question is this.. As theistic evolutionists (or whatever term we apply to our affirmation of God's creative work being taking shape as the one that science has discovered and affirmed - at the time being, evolution), can we still believe in diving providence? How can a doctrine of God's providence be believed if God by all (scientific) accounts cruelly experimented with all kinds of apparently pointless life forms for millions and millions of years? And I guess is still doing it today?

At 9/05/2007 12:53 AM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

Arni raises a good point. I don't find the notion of evolution problematic in and of itself. But extinction episodes trouble me. People are familiar with the passing away of the dinosaurs, but in fact there have been other major extinction episodes in earth's history.

I posted on this issue some while ago. The most dramatic single example occurred at the end of the Permian era. According to Richard Fortey, 96% of all the species living in the sea died at that point. Many of the land-based vertebrates died, too.

That God should choose to create via evolution does not trouble me, nor do I think it incompatible with the early chapters of Genesis. But extinction episodes do trouble me, for the reason Arni brings up. And I don't have a satisfactory answer: it's just something I puzzle over in the back of my mind.

• Late Meredith:
I think (I'm not certain) you share the same understanding of Genesis that I have. Genesis 1 is modelled after pagan myths, but in order to subvert them. We shouldn't assume syncretism (a direct borrowing from the pagans); but we should recognize that we're in the literary genre, myth, and not approach Genesis 1 as if it were an ancient lab report.

• Anon:
My apologies for assuming, incorrectly, that you were American. I don't often encounter someone who believes in a literal seven day creation who isn't American.

A good alternative interpretation of the "seven days", viewing them as a literary construct, is summarized here:

For centuries it has been recognized that the six days of creation are divided into two sets of three. In the first set, God divides one thing from another: day from night, waters above from below, and waters below from each other. Classically, this is known as the work of division or distinction.

In the second three days, God goes back over the realms he produced by division and populates or adorns them. He populates the day and night with the sun, moon, and stars. He populates the waters above and below with birds and fish. And lastly he populates the land (between the divided waters) with animals and man. Classically, this is known as the work of adornment.

That this two-fold movement represents the ordering principle of Genesis 1 also is reflected at the beginning and end of the narrative. At the beginning we are told that "the earth was without form and void" (Gen. 1:2). The work of distinction cures the "without form" problem, and the work of adornment cures the "void" (empty) problem. Likewise, at the end of the narrative we are told "the heavens and the earth were finished [i.e., by distinction], and all the host of them [i.e., by adornment]" (2:1).

People have recognized for centuries that this is the ordering principle at work in Genesis 1 (e.g., see Aquinas, ST 1:74:1).

Food for thought!

At 9/05/2007 3:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q said; • Anon:
My apologies for assuming, incorrectly, that you were American. I don't often encounter someone who believes in a literal seven day creation who isn't American.

All I can say is...hmmm, maybe those Americans are not as faithless as they seem!

Not sure why you haven't encountered others who believe in a literal seven day period. With friends from many parts of the world who walk with God, I have found few (outside of theological blogs) who believe in evolution the way that it has been presented here. It's hard for me to understand tieing the hands of God to our understanding of an evolutionary process and not allowing God to enter in to create Adam out of dust. To create Eve from Adam's rib. The thought that God is bigger because he created the evolutionary process seems extremely strange to me. I ask, if God is not involved in our activities, moving in and out of our lives, creating miracles, creating chaos, why would or should we even care to believe?

I really don't need an answer to that...I'm really sad to see most of the input in this blog. It must be hard to just believe and have faith. Thankfully, I am a simple man with a simple faith and I believe in God who knew that we would all struggle.

At 9/05/2007 5:00 AM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Wow! Anonymous, I have a very active faith. I pray, I study the Scriptures, I look for God's active involvement in my life, and those around me. I totally believe in a God who is “involved in our activities, moving in and out of our lives, creating miracles” etc. Always have, always will! Meanwhile, I have come to see evolution in a light that ignites my enthusiasm for the workings of God more than anything I’ve thought about for years!
(I know, “Get a life, a thought life, Cliff!”). Coming to see the facts of evolution has in no way diminished my faith or trust in the Father. It has energized my faith and obedience.

Arni and Steven, I don’t understand why evolution creates the problem to which you refer. You are right that mass extinctions pose one more layer to the Theodicy problem.(in fact, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe I have read that something like 100 times as many species as are today living have already gone extinct in the history of life on earth.) But it escapes my why you see evolution as the culprit, or how divinely instigated naturalistic evolution makes matters worse. If God specially created all those species to let them die ... is that any easier to swallow? If God guided evolution with a more active hand ... does that make it easier to swallow?

I have been actively seeking a better Theodicy for over 30 years, never having been satisfied with the Sunday School answers I grew up with. The views I am developing now, which included naturalistic evolution, actually gives me answers for extinctions, suffering, natural evil, and man on man evil which are far more satisfying than any alternative I’ve ever considered.

Arni, I do not see these extinctions as “cruel” divine experimentations. (Those who believe in a more “directed” theistic evolution might have no alternative. Those who believe in Special Creation of the species also have to explain this somehow.) I see a cosmic struggle between the powers of death (the entire universe is extremely – extremely! – inhospitable to life. It is driven by entropy (read “death”) itself. And yet ... amazingly, here we are! Life has gained a foothold on planet earth. And it is my conviction that death and mortality will ultimately be swallowed up by life (see 2 Cor 5:4-5, NIV). And this, not because God rigged the system, or because he keeps intervening to assure the success of life, but because he knew from the get-go that Death cannot (no matter how many advantages it has) restrain the greater power of Life. This plays out on a spiritual plane (I Cor 15). And it is playing out on a huge cosmic scale before our very eyes (if we will open them!). Remember: If evolution is true, it is not Darwin’s idea, but God’s! And what a beautifully awesome idea it is!

When we view suffering, physical death, species extinction in this light, it changes everything.

At 9/05/2007 6:25 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

• Cliff:
Arni and Steven, I don’t understand why evolution creates the problem to which you refer. You are right that mass extinctions pose one more layer to the Theodicy problem. … But it escapes me why you see evolution as the culprit.

The issue for me is not cruelty (perhaps I shouldn't have agreed so quickly with Arni's objection) but whether or not the evolutionary process is purposeful.

Atheists maintain that evolution is not teleological (end-oriented) — there is no goal that it is designed to accomplish, no end state toward which it is directed.

Theistic evolution must surely insist that God has objectives in mind, even if God used evolution as an admittedly indirect mechanism to achieve those goals. A key issue is whether God intended that evolution would at some point bring human beings into existence; or at least some pre-human being to which God could impart consciousness and such other traits as constitute "the image of God" in us.

Extinction episodes trouble me because they constitute evidence that the atheists are right, and evolution is not being guided toward an identifiable end. Otherwise, why allow species to arise, become dominant on the earth for thousands or millions of years, only to wipe them out and start over?

To me, that constitutes a problem that is distinct from theodicy.

• Anon:
I'm really sad to see most of the input in this blog. It must be hard to just believe and have faith.

I appreciate that you put it this way, instead of declaring that we're all heretics who know not the Lord, or something along those lines. You express your dissent compassionately; thanks for that.

But you're viewing the position taken by several of us through a distorting lens. I tried to say as much to you earlier: you may not be American, but you are still coming at this issue from a perspective that is only one option among many (faithful!) others.

This is a false dichotomy you're working with, that a literal interpretation of Genesis constitutes "faith" whereas a non-literal interpretation constitutes "not-faith".

At 9/05/2007 6:56 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Thanks for the clarification. I now see better where you are coming from.

I do believe in a distinctly teleological theistic evolution. It culminates, in my thinking when the “sons of God are made manifest” (whatever that means!) ala Romans 8 and the resultant end to entropy, death and decay. But imagine with me a pre-Big Bang conversation between Satan and God. (This is not exactly what I believe, but maybe it is the simplest way to set in focus an idea.)

Imagine God and Satan strike a deal to test Satan’s new-found theories about the power of evil and death. But God knows that Life is, in essence, irrepressible. That death is ultimately swallowed up by life. That darkness cannot overcome light. That evil cannot withstand the stronger forces of love and goodness. So he agrees to a plan to corroborate with Satan on the architectural layout of a new universe, one that will be governed by a principle of death and decay (entropy), and that will be very inhospitable to life (we know that the conditions on earth are extremely unlikely in this universe, and that earth may, in fact, be the only habitable planet). Imagine the size of the new universe would be sufficiently vast to ensure at least one “fine-tuned” earth-type planet. Even though the cards were to be stacked against life, God knew that life would inevitably arise. It might experience a series of fits and starts, it might be a bumpy road, but all the powers of death and hell would fail in their attempts to subdue it, to repress it, to destroy it. Imagine with me that ground rules are laid out, rules of engagement, if you will. And among them is the rule that God would not tinker with life. It would arise quite on its own. That God would only intervene when spirit beings eventually arose, and invited divine activity.

This may be a stretch for our minds ... and as I said, it is not exactly what I believe, or how I envision it. But it comes close. I find it to be consistent with numerous scriptures, and to give us a whole new approach to theodicy, and other hard questions. What do you think?

At 9/05/2007 7:01 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

BTW, your probing is compelling me to jump ahead of my own blog on these matters. But that blog will lay out all of these ideas (and more) in a fuller, more Biblically oriented way.
~ Cliff

At 9/05/2007 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q said: This is a false dichotomy you're working with, that a literal interpretation of Genesis constitutes "faith" whereas a non-literal interpretation constitutes "not-faith".

Of course I know you have faith. There is room enough in God's Kingdom for all of us!

I will always struggle with man's knowlege of science. They have proven to me enough times that they are not God and have very little understanding of what God has created.

To Cliff; I believe the "sons of God" will be transformed in "the twinkling of an eye" and it won't be by an evolutionary process. These are the "overcomers" that will reign with Christ in the millineum. And what I believe that means is "we will be transformed into the image of Christ" and the whole world as scripture says; "will be filled with the glory of God."

At 9/05/2007 8:33 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Thank you for your comment. The view you take of Romans 8 is that standard dispensational view which I was taught most of my growing up years. It seems to me, however, that it ignores the context of God's purposeful subjugation of creation to the bondage to decay, and the way in which that connects to the transformation.

I may not have made myself clear. I do not believe that some biological evolutionary transmutation will result in, voila, the manifest sons of God. But I do believe that the process Paul lays out in Ephesians 4:11-16, is still going on. We haven’t yet “attained unto the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”, but Paul suggests that the church is headed toward that goal; and his language indicates that the goal will be achieved. Christ is returning for a church that is ripe, in full maturity, a worthy bride! So I see “evolution”, if you will, occurring simultaneously on both physical and spiritual fronts. But of course, the significant evolution which will lead up to and precipitate the end is primarily spiritual.

The change that occurs “in a twinkling of an eye” is the transformation of our bodies which is itself made necessary by the manifestation of the sons of God referred to in Romans 8 ... in fact, the whole of creation (including our physical bodies) must pass through an immediate transformation from an entropic to a non-entropic reality. All the laws of Physics undergo a dramatic change! You’re right! that will be no evolutionary process. But there is, I believe, a significant process leading up to it.

For now ... all of Creation is waiting on us! The ball is in our court!

At 9/05/2007 9:16 PM, Anonymous TJ said...

Come on now. Obviously some of you evolved from the apes and some didn't. Get over it, and don't be so judgmental at each other. Didn't St. Paul write that in Christ there is no ape and man? Be reconciled, and he will give you peace. Till then...

At 9/05/2007 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cliff: I love your passion but still can't understand the transformation. Man is incapable of being sinless and through our "evolutionary" process, we have figured out many more ways to be corrupt. The only way Christ comes for a pure and spotless bride, is because of Him. Not because man can evolve to a higher plane. All of creation will not be renewed until all is complete. At the end of all, Jesus gives all of creation back to the Father, and then He Himself submits to the Father, and all things will be made new.

My mind can't wrap around your understanding, but I feel that what you are saying is much more than what Scripture reveals due to your love of science...which is fine with me! We must look to Jesus and in time, all will be revealed.

At 9/06/2007 4:13 AM, Anonymous Eric Rowe said...

Chris responded to me saying, "I tend to struggle very much with the God of the gaps hypothesis however. The position I just outlined doesn't push God to these gaps but sees him at work in and through it all. I suspect that this is the more orthodox view. What are your thoughts in response as I think you have hit upn an important matter here."

First, I wholeheartedly agree that God is in complete providential control of all natural phenomena as you do. So my comment about God being in the gaps was not intended to imply that He is only in the gaps and not in the normal things that are explainable by natural laws.

However, so long as I believe God exists, I must believe that He has the ability to perform miracles no less than He is able to control all non-miraculous things by providence. Moreover, I couldn't continue to call myself a Christian if I disbelieved in miracles (i.e. phenomena that occur contrary to the established, observable, testable, and repeatable natural laws). But if such miracles do exist, then they necessarily exist in the gaps.

Moreover, gaps in science do exist and will always exist. Behe's argument from irreducible complexity is a genuine and valid observation of gaps in the explanatory power of current evolutionary theory. The uproar in the scientific community against him is not so much a denial that he has hit on genuine gaps, but an insistence on the dogma that all gaps can eventually be filled by purely natural explanations. To them, any scientist who denies this dogma betrays science.

As a Christian I find such a purely religious constriction on science not at all conducive to a genuine search for the Truth.

But then, when I do allow for miracles, there is no limit to what they can explain. Once I have admitted that God brought the universe about in a way that was not entirely constrained by natural laws, I am free to accept as true whatever I find myself convinced in conscience to be the teaching of God's Word concerning origins without pressing it into a mold that is shaped by modern notions that were not available to the ancient authors and audiences.

At 9/06/2007 4:21 AM, Anonymous Ross said...

Hi Chris

I hope you are enjoying England. We were back there recently too.

I was extremely interested in your comments on evolution. I think that the chances of it, or something very like it, being true are very high. The problem for me is not squaring this with the existence of a Creator - that's easy - but where that leaves the story of Adam and the New Testamnet theology dependent on it. How can Christ be the second Adam if there wasn't a first one?

More seriously, if humankind slowly evolved where does that leave the story of the fall and the idea of humanity's disobedience? In the evolutionary account there never was a pure state that we fell from and there never was a point at which we disobeyed. This also means that death rather being a punishment for sin is just a part and parcel of the cycle of life. Paul's argument in Romans seems a bit precarious.

In other words, I think there are more consequences theologically in believing in evolution than we care to admit.

It is these sort of issues that I find especially challenging. I would be very interested to hear your take on them.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday!

At 9/06/2007 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cliff did not respond to the many NT Scriptures which suggest that we do become mature heads of wheat, or that we do in the end grow into (process, not momentary transformation) the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, etc. etc. Is the Church not to take these passages seriously? Are we suppose to go on excusing ourselves indefinitely from the pursuit because “we could never be sinless anyway?” Is there really no significance in moving toward the goal of Ephesians 4:11-16 because it is either unattainable or meaninless?

Cliff: Just like you would continue to practice your guitar, the more you practice the more you evolve as a muscician. Will you evolve to be a perfect guitar player? No, you will always strive to be one though...I hope! "Be holy as God is holy" seems to be an impossible evolution of character...unless we are holy because God is holy. As Paul said, we run for the prize! We are waiting for the "culmination" of the ages when Christ Jesus will come and reign, and seemingly will continue the process of teaching man to know Him.

Ross: I loved what you wrote!

At 9/06/2007 2:13 PM, Anonymous Steve Martin said...

I think that this post "Only Evolutionists can be Saved" should be read in tandom with "The Gospel of the Young Earth" at

Ross: You said: "In other words, I think there are more consequences theologically in believing in evolution than we care to admit."
Oh ya. But they are there, so we need to grapple with them. Denis Alexander had an excellent presentation at the annual CIS / ASA meeting called "Darwinian Evolution – The Really Hard Questions". Its not yet on the web (I have a soft copy but have been told we can't send it out yet). There were some other great related presentations at the conference as well - See: for the program extract.

At 9/06/2007 5:47 PM, Anonymous Arni Zachariassen said...

First, I don't think God is cruel. I was just putting the thought out there.. Cruelty is hard to pin down, especially when talking about God. Cruelty is any kind of pain inflicted for no other reason than inflicting pain. Following this, very few people are actually cruel (since most people who inflict pain have some sort of excuse (however deplorable)) and it is impossible to determine whether God is cruel, since the mind of God is un-knowable.

In response to Ross' last comment, I don't think either Adam or the fall need to be a historic person or event. I guess this is kind of an existentialist reading of things, which to some is automatically negative, but I think the fall can be/is a symbolic representations of an (inner and universal) reality and Adam (and Eve) is a symbol of man's participation in this state. And I don't think that Jesus being non-historical necessarily needs to follow this belief. What the fall actually is and what was before, etc., I don't know. I'm not theologically knowledgeable enough to answer that question yet.

At 9/06/2007 6:10 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

you sure do take a lot of holidays.... ha ha! hope all is well.

At 9/07/2007 12:05 AM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

• Ross:
I wonder whether you've ever read Derek Kidner's insightful little commentary on Genesis, in the Tyndale commentary series. Though Kidner is an evangelical, he accepts the theory of evolution. He conceives of many near-humans evolving together from the apes:

If, as the text of Genesis would by no means disallow, God initially shaped man by a process of evolution, it would follow that a considerable stock of near-humans preceded the first true man, and it would be arbitrary to picture these as mindless brutes. Nothing requires that the creature into which God breathed human life should not have been of a species prepared in every way for humanity, with already a long history of practical intelligence, artistic sensibility and the capacity for awe and reflection. (p. 28)

Kidner considers the possibility that these near-humans subsequently died out, leaving Adam as the physical forefather of us all. He argues that it isn't necessary to take that view.

It is at least conceivable that after the special creation of Eve, which established the first human pair as God's viceregents (Gn. 1:27,28) and clinched the fact that there is no natural bridge from animal to man, God may have now conferred His image on Adam's collaterals [i.e., the near-humans], to bring them into the same realm of being. Adam's "federal" headship of humanity extended, if that was the case, outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both alike.

There may be a biblical hint of such a situation in the surprising impression of an already populous earth given by the words and deeds of Cain in 4:14,17.
(p. 29)

In support of this idea of a "federal" headship of Adam over his "collaterals", who were not physically descended from him, it should be remembered that Abraham and Jesus also function as "heads" over people whom they did not physically father.

Kidner acknowledges that his reconstruction is speculative and he remains open to better suggestions. What I take from his interpretive experiment is this: I think we often demonstrate a poverty of imagination in our interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis (and the corresponding passages in Paul's epistles).

We are so locked into a pedantic understanding of the texts that we think we have to reject science in order to preserve the truth of God's word. Maybe if we had a little more imagination of the sort Kidner exemplifies, we would be less threatened that science will somehow invalidate a faith that takes the Bible seriously.

At 9/07/2007 12:08 AM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

• Cliff:
I don't have a strong response, pro or con, to your speculative suggestion. But I am somewhat inclined against it.

I am inclined to think the Deists were largely right in their conviction that God doesn't intervene in human affairs.

Admittedly, they took the idea to an extreme. I don't assume that God never intervenes in human affairs, but I do think it is very exceptional.

As for your attempt to ground your idea in scripture, I'm not immediately persuaded. I'm on Anon.'s side of this part of the dialogue. I don't read the "progressive" texts you mention as referring to evolution per se.

No doubt God is working out his purposes for his creation progressively, as we can see in the pages of the Bible itself. (We who are Christians have come a long way from Leviticus!) But I've never thought of evolution as a mechanism by which we will be progressively saved.

I agree with Anon., your view seems to take us outside of the framework of redemption via the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and his conquest of the (personal and impersonal) forces of darkness.

But despite such a negative review, I don't mean to close the door to your idea. It's new to me, and therefore I don't want to leap to judgement. I'll watch your blog for further arguments (biblical and extrabiblical) in support of the idea.

At 9/07/2007 4:31 AM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Stephen, thank you for the Derek Kidner citations. I really appreciate his ideas here. The interesting thing: I have had Kidner on Genesis for maybe 35 years (way back to my YEC days!), but haven’t read it (at least not the portions you cited). I will now dust it off and ...

Generally I have held to a view more in line with Arni’s, that Genesis 2 and 3 are to be understood existentially as representative of the choices we all make. But Kidner presents an interesting alternative, and I am certainly open to it. You are right about the dearth of imagination in our understanding of these texts. There are many possible interpretations. However they are understood in the end, the story of Adam and Eve’s creation and fall is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” And that is the bottom line for me.

Thank you also for your openness to considering my thoughts.

However, to be clear, I do not for a moment think that we arrive at some elevated spiritual state through biological evolution. As I wrote in an earlier comment,

I do not believe that some biological evolutionary transmutation will result in, voila, the manifest sons of God. But I do believe that the process Paul lays out in Ephesians 4:11-16, is still going on.

The progress (and I do believe the church progresses) which I envision will lead up to the Parousia event, and the “manifestation of the sons of God” is entirely spiritual in nature. I would not be surprised if the Parousia were to happen in the next 50 or 100 years. Any evolutionary change worthy of mention requires tens of thousands of years, or longer.

But do stay tuned to the posts on my blog. I am trying to move slowly and systematically. I find that when I present some portion of the my thoughts prematurely, the reaction is nearly always negative. But typically that is because the context is missing.

At 9/07/2007 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will remark that as an atheist who has no stake in the theological differences here, I find these sorts of discussions interesting to watch.

And, by the way, for those who are interested in Behe's ID notions, you should know what he says in his most recent book, The Edge of Evolution:

"Here's something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts. C-Eve's children died in her arms partly because an intelligent agent deliberately made malaria, or at least something very similar to it.

"What sort of designer is that? What sort of "fine-tuning" leads to untold human misery? To countless mothers mourning countless children? Did a hateful, malign being make intelligent life in order to torture it? One who relishes cries of pain?

"Maybe. Maybe not. A torrent of pain indisputably swirls through the world—not only the world of humans but the world of sentient animal life as well. Yet, just as undeniably, much that is good graces nature. Many children die, yet many others thrive. Some people languish, but others savor full lives. Does one outweigh the other? If so, which outweighs which? Or are pleasure and pain, good and evil, incommensurable? Are viruses and parasites part of some brilliant, as-yet-unappreciated economy of nature, or do they reflect the bungling of an incompetent, fallible designer?"
(pp. 237-238)

No mention of the Fall there.

I was raised an evangelical. The problem of evil was a significant part of what led to my migration to atheism, just as it underpinned Darwin's migration to agnosticism. In essence, I came down on the "incompetent, fallible designer" end of the spectrum, and that designer is no god worthy of worship.


At 9/07/2007 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RBH: Some people languish, but others savor full lives. Does one outweigh the other? If so, which outweighs which? Or are pleasure and pain, good and evil, incommensurable? Are viruses and parasites part of some brilliant, as-yet-unappreciated economy of nature, or do they reflect the bungling of an incompetent, fallible designer?"

The only way to know love is to experience hate. The way to know pleasure is to experience pain. The way to know good is to know evil.

As one that came to think the way you do at one time in my life, thankfully, I experienced the miraculous. Why God chose to create evil along with good is as simple as why you would allow your son or daughter to go through a trial to learn a more important truth or way.

There is suffering in this world... so I hope that all of us who are taking time to communicate our beliefs and understanding in this blog, will also be taking time to help those in need. This I believe, is the purpose of life. To give of ourselves.

Also RBH, as a believer in God and in the Scriptures, I don't think you are going to burn in hell forever for not believing! Believing is a gift from God and that gift will be there for you at the right time. Why the Potter has the right to form the clay as He wishes may be a mystery to us...there is a greater purpose and we will all come to understand one day.

At 9/07/2007 6:36 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

RBH, thank you for the insightful Behe quote. Much of Christian thought and theology has (in my opinion) done great damage to the reputation of our Creator. Intelligent Design is just another in a series of “christian” ideas that fails to address the problem of evil.

I have struggled with the problem of evil all my adult life (35 years and counting!). I have not abandoned my faith; but I understand why you, and countless others raised in the evangelical church, have done so. I tend to analyze my own belief through the eyes of the skeptic. This keeps me (hopefully) humble; but also leads me to stretch my thoughts, and my interpretation of the data, to develop an over-arching theology that is 1) true to the Scriptures, 2) true to the scientific data, and 3) preserves the honor and character of God.

I reject Behe’s notion. There is far more data suggesting randomness in the history of life than design. If we posit that God’s essential purpose in Creation is the annihilation of evil, and if we further posit that success requires a “natural” course for the cosmos, with evil being allowed to express itself until the ultimate victory of life and goodness, evil and suffering can be seen in a completely different light. I invite you to follow the development of my thoughts as they unfold on my blog. The approach that has been helpful for me may or may not be meaningful to you. But I can say this. I have, for the first time in 35 years, come to a settled peace with the problem of evil in God’s creation.


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