Posts tagged ‘Evolution’

Back To The Beginning

greenland-fossils

A couple of weeks ago, a scientific discovery significant enough to merit coverage in The New York Times was revealed.  Geologists have discovered the world’s oldest fossils in Greenland.  According to these researchers, the fossils are around 3.7 billion years old and are thought to be stromatolites, which are formed by the growth of layers of cyanobacteria, a single-celled microbe that lives in shallow water.  But the discovery has posed a problem for scientists.  Nicholas Wade explains:

The great age of the fossils complicates the task of reconstructing the evolution of life from the chemicals naturally present on the early Earth. It leaves comparatively little time for evolution to have occurred and puts the process close to a time when Earth was being bombarded by destructive asteroids.[1]

For years, scientists have struggled to date the age of and construct a prehistory of the earth.  Just when a consensus about the earth’s age seems to emerge, new evidence surfaces that forces scientists to rethink the prevailing wisdom.  Theories of the earth’s origins and the origins of life are constantly being modified.

Part of the trouble with the discovery of this fossil is that it forces the origins of life, from an evolutionary perspective, back to more than 4 billion years ago. This timeframe coincides with cataclysmic meteor events on the earth, including a hit by a meteor so big that it tore out a chunk of our planet that spun into orbit and become our moon.  As Mr. Wade notes in his article, “It is difficult to see how life could have begun under such circumstances.”  It is difficult, indeed.  That is, unless there’s more to life than evolutionary chance.

Whenever a discovery like this is made, it points not only to the wonder of the earth, but to the problems that emerge with what appears to be a designer planet when one denies any sort of a Designer.  This is why the Bible opens its pages with a declaration of one Designer: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Whatever one might think of fossils that are purported to be billions of years old, this much the Bible says we can know:  the fossils, and the life they represent, did not happen by accident.  Someone formed life and, through whatever this planet has endured, has sustained life.  This is why some researchers struggle so mightily to reconstruct earth’s origins.  They work out of a worldview that will simply not allow an author and sustainer of life.  They may study fossils to date them, but they do not take the time to marvel at the very existence of them.

The question each of us must answer is this:  am I wedded – philosophically and academically – to a universe that is constrained by naturalism?  Do I believe that there is no cause of anything save what we can see and measure?  Or, as Christianity claims, am I open – philosophically and academically – to a universe that bears the marks of supernaturalism?  Do I believe that what we see is simply too fantastic to be described in merely mechanical terms?  Do I believe that things can also be described in theological terms?

Christians should by no means be closed off to scientific study and discovery.  Curiosity, after all, is hardwired into the human spirit.  But scientists also should not close themselves off to God. For if one is subscribes to sheer naturalism, he may be able to accumulate lots of information about what he sees, but he will still be left with little meaning as to why it’s all here.

Christianity tells us that everything is here because, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He is why everything exists.  He is why we exist.  And that means He is worth at least considering in any theory of origins.

The fossils got here somehow.

_________________________

[1] Nicholas Wade, “World’s Oldest Fossils Found in Greenland,” The New York Times (8.31.2016).

September 19, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why I Don’t Read The Bible Literally (But I Do Take It Seriously)

Bible in PewIt never ceases to amaze me how misunderstood the orthodox Christian belief concerning Holy Scripture is.  Even The New York Times can’t seem to figure it out.  Take Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist for the Times, who stands stunned at the views of many Americans on the Bible.  With a mixture of disbelief and disdain, he reports:

One Gallup report issued last week found that 42 percent of Americans believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.”

Even among people who said that they were “very familiar” with the theory of evolution, a third still believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.

It’s not clear what the respondents meant by being “very familiar” – did they fully understand the science upon which evolution’s based, or was their understanding something short of that, as in, very familiar with it as being antithetical to creationist concepts?

Whatever the case, on this issue as well as many others in America, the truth is not the light.[1]

Blow goes on to cite people’s opinions on the Bible itself according to this same Gallup pole:

Nearly a third of Americans continue to believe that the Bible “is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.”

Furthermore, nearly half believe that it is “the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.”

About a fifth of Americans said they believe the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.”

The questions Gallup asks concerning the nature and character of the Bible frustrate me.  Gallup wants to know, “Do you believe the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word?”  Personally, I would have to answer “yes” and “no.”  Do I believe the Bible is “the actual word of God”?  Yes.  Do I believe it is to be “taken literally, word for word”?  No.  But this is not because I want to discredit the Bible’s veracity, authority, or inerrancy.  Rather, this is because I follow the Bible’s lead when it interprets itself non-literally in some places.  The Bible is full of metaphors, symbols, and other figures of speech as even an elementary reading of it will uncover. One need look no farther than “The LORD is my shepherd” (Psalm 23) to find a metaphor – and a beautiful metaphor, I would add – of Scripture.  Thus, I would find myself more at ease with Gallup’s second position:  “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.”

Blow, however, summarily dismisses this second position:

I am curious which parts would get a pass from most of these respondents and which wouldn’t. Would the origins of the world fall into the literal camp? What about the rules – all or some – in books like Deuteronomy?

Perhaps Blow has not yet discovered the difference between reading something literally and reading something contextually.  Just because I don’t practice, for instance, the sacrifices outlined in Deuteronomy doesn’t mean I don’t understand them literally.  It just means that I read them in light of Hebrews 10:10:  “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  Christ’s sacrifice for sin put an end to all those Old Testament sacrifices for sin.  For me to try to follow those laws would be like me taking a ticket for an Elvis concert, going to the venue listed thereon, and expecting a concert usher to let me in!  Though I may read the ticket “literally,” that ticket’s time is past.  So it is with the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Its time too is past because it has been fulfilled by Christ.  But that isn’t me reading the Bible non-literally.  That’s just me reading the Bible contextually.

I suspect part of the reason Blow disparages option two when it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible is because, for him, only option three, which says the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man,” is viable.  He writes:

I don’t seek to deny anyone the right to believe as he or she chooses. I have at points in my own life been quite religious, and my own children have complicated views about religion. As my oldest son once told me, “I’d hate to live in a world where a God couldn’t exist.”

That is his choice, as it is every individual’s choice, and I respect it.

What worries me is that some Americans seem to live in a world where facts can’t exist.

Facts such as the idea that the world is ancient, and that all living things evolved and some – like dinosaurs – became extinct. Facts like the proven warming of the world. Facts like the very real possibility that such warming could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise.

Ah yes, facts.  Facts like the Bohr model of the atom or the rallying cry of biogenetics: “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”  Oh, wait.  Those “facts” turned out to be not quite as factual as we once thought.  Contrary to Blow, I’m not so sure that a great uprising of people who want facts to not exist is the problem.  The problem is there are people who disagree with him on what the fullness of the facts are and how the data that form the facts should be interpreted.  Now, I’m not saying these other people are correct on the facts.  I’m just saying these other people with other thoughts on what the facts are that contradict Blow’s thoughts on what the facts are not necessarily rejecting facts themselves.

Blow says he is “both shocked and fascinated by Americans’ religious literalism.”  I don’t think he even understands what “religious literalism” is.  Nor do I think he understands that many serious people of faith understand and trust the Bible theologically, morally, and historically without always reading it literally.  No wonder he’s so shocked and fascinated.  He simply doesn’t understand.  Then again, I’m not so sure he wants to.

__________________________

[1] Charles Blow, “Religious Constriction,” The New York Times (6.8.2014).

June 16, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Adam Is For Real

Adam and Eve 1 editIn 1906, theologian and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, surveying theologians’ attempts to understand who Jesus was historically apart from what Schweitzer thought to be the layers of mythologizing that had been overlaid on Him by the Bible.  Schweitzer finally concluded that Jesus saw Himself as One whose suffering and death would bring in the Parousia, or the final appearance of God.  In Schweitzer’s own words:  “He must suffer for others…that the Kingdom might come.”[1] But Jesus proved mistaken in His imminent expectations of God’s Kingdom and Christianity has been grappling with Jesus’ failed apocalyptic expectations ever since:

The whole history of “Christianity” down to the present day, that is to say, the real inner history of it, is based on the delay of the Parousia, the non-occurrence of the Parousia, the abandonment of eschatology, the progress and completion of the “de-eschatologising” of religion which has been connected therewith.[2]

Interestingly, Schweitzer later abandoned his quest for the historical Jesus, considering it futile.  After all, reconstructing who Jesus was apart from and skeptical toward the record of Jesus in the Bible is a tall order!

Over one hundred years after Schweitzer’s quest, Christianity Today published an article titled “The Search for the Historical Adam.”[3]  Much like the quest for the historical Jesus a century earlier, this quest seeks to reconstruct who Adam was quite apart from the biblical record of him.  But this quest questions not only what Adam did and did not do – for example, “Did he really eat some forbidden fruit?” – this quest questions whether Adam even existed.  The argument against Adam’s existence, which is where the shining stars of this quest have broadly landed, runs thusly:  because evolution is true, a historical Adam cannot be.  Instead, the human race emerged out of the chaos of natural selection, albeit this natural selection was guided by the detached hand of theism, rather than according to the simple and succinct word of the personal Creator.

It is important to note that cries to dispense with a historical Adam are not few and far between, nor are they outside the mainstream of Evangelical Christianity.  Consider this argument against the existence of a historical Adam:

What is a “given” for Paul is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The other things he says, especially about sin, the Law, and eschatology, are reinterpretations that grow from the fundamental reality of the Christ event. Recognizing this relieves the pressure that sometimes builds up around a historical Adam…We can now recognize that Adam is not the foundation on which the system of Christian faith and life is built, such that removing him means that the whole edifice comes crashing down. Instead, the Adam of the past is one spire in a large edifice whose foundation is Christ. The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.[4]

From where does such an argument against the historicity of Adam arise?  From J.R. Daniel Kirk, and associate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a one-time bastion of classic evangelical orthodoxy.  Denying the historical existence of Adam has gone mainstream.

Contrary to the sentiments of many, I would argue that it is theologically and logically necessary for the historical Adam to have existed.  It is theologically necessary because no mythical character can account for real sin.  And the apostle Paul identifies Adam as the original sinner:  “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  It is logically necessary because it is incoherent to make an argument for Christ’s death and resurrection, boldly contradicting the consensus of the scientific community that dead people do not come back to life, on the one hand while arguing against the historicity of Adam because of the general consensus of the scientific community concerning evolution by natural selection on the other hand.

What Professor Kirk engages in is nothing less than a full on gospel reductionism.  That is, Professor Kirk is willing to cede the integrity and veracity of the biblical record on whether or not Adam really existed as long as he can hold on to the gospel that Christ died and rose again.  But once one lets go of what the Bible says in general, he will not be able to hold on to what the Bible says about the gospel in specific for long!  The church body of which I am a part, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, has explained it this way:

The Gospel is not normative for theology in the sense that beginning with it as a fundamental premise, other items of the Christian system of doctrine are developed as provisional, historically conditioned responses to a given situation which will need to be revised for another situation.[5]

This is precisely what Professor Kirk does in his article.  He assumes that we can reinterpret the historicity of Adam for our situation because Paul’s insistence on a historical Adam was only a “provisional, historically conditioned response to a given situation.”  But this false view of Adam can only lead to a false view of the gospel.  In the words of G.E. Ladd, who was addressing those who were undermining the historicity of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ life:

Jesus was a historical person.  His words were historical events.  His deeds involved other people; but they were far larger than the boundaries of personal existence.  His deeds included interpersonal fellowship, healings of bodies as well as minds.  His mission created a new fellowship of men; and this fellowship after the resurrection because the Christian church which has become one of the most influential institutions in Western culture.  All of this happened in history; and it is only because certain events first happened in history that other results were experienced in their existential dimension.  Existential import results only from historical event.[6]

What is true of Jesus is true of Adam.  The existential reality of sin can only be meaningfully explained by an existentially historical Adam.  Evangelically orthodox Christians must settle for nothing less.


[1] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), 387.

[2] The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 358.

[3] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (6.3.2011).

[4] J.R. Daniel Kirk, “Does Paul’s Christ Require a Historical Adam?Fuller Theology News & Notes (Spring 2013).

[5] The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, “Gospel and Scripture” (November 1972), 9.

[6] G.E. Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1968), 64.

May 13, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Cosmology and Philosophy

Your philosophy is an inextricable concomitant of your cosmology.  Charles Darwin knew this all too well.  Most people are at least passingly familiar with Darwin’s seminal work, The Origin of Species.  In it, he proffers a framework for understanding the origins of human life – and all life – using his mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  In his own words, here is Darwin’s theory in a nutshell:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive, and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.  From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form. (Origin of Species, p. 29)

Darwin begins with the assumption that life, at its root, is a struggle for survival.  He then concludes that those who win the struggle for survival carry on while those who lose the struggle do not.  This is natural selection.  Moreover, those who win the struggle for survival propagate more of their kind and develop “modified” characteristics which further benefit them in their struggle.  This is evolution.  Over time – indeed, over lots and lots of time – these beneficial characteristics continue to evolve so radically that whole new species arise from common ancestors while other, weaker species die out.  This, then, is the origin of species.  This is the origin of our species.  We are the product of the cold hand of evolution by natural selection.  This is Darwin’s cosmology, that is, his view of the laws of the world and, by extension, the cosmos.

But how you view things cosmologically inevitably informs how you view things philosophically.  That is why, after publishing The Origin of Species, Darwin published The Descent of Man, a philosophical take on his cosmological theory.  Thus, Darwin lamented according to the presuppositions of his cosmological theory of evolution:

We civilized men do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.  There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.  Thus, the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (Descent of Man, p. 168)

Darwin laments that humans work against evolutionary progress through wrongheaded ignorant attempts to save and care for those which natural selection would eliminate.  If evolution by natural selection is the incontrovertible law of the forward progress of life, then to work against it by tending to the weak and sick is to take life backwards rather than forwards.

Most people, of course, are not nearly so bold connecting cosmological evolution to philosophical evolution as was Darwin.  Allowing our sick and maimed to die in the name of natural selection would appall the vast majority us.  And yet, Darwin is simply teasing out the philosophical inevitabilities of his cosmological presuppositions.  He is being perfectly consistent.  Why aren’t we?

The fact of the matter is, the way one views the universe informs and, finally, dictates the morals and ethics one holds.  Darwinian evolution, if it is perceived to be the engine behind the improvement of life, cannot be meddled with by the likes of so-called “do-gooders” who are not really doing good at all.  For such people are slowing evolution’s forward march by caring for the lesser evolved among us.

Christianity, of course, has a very different view of humanity’s place and value.  According to Christianity, human beings are not merely the products of an inexorable evolutionary march, eventually to be displaced as the kings of the cosmos by a better and higher form of life thanks to natural selection.  Rather, we are specially created by God “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27) to be the caretakers of His creation (cf. Genesis 1:28-31).  Thus, we can, and are even bound, not by some unfathomably lengthy evolutionary progress, but by the intentions of our Creator.  And one of His intentions for us is “to love mercy” (Micah 6:8).  So, we are merciful to each other.  We care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Your philosophy is an inextricable concomitant of your cosmology.  So what is your cosmology?  One that is driven by evolution by natural selection?  Or one that rejoices in the merciful, creative hand of our God?  How you answer that question makes all the difference in how you view your life…and the lives of others.

December 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment


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