How I changed my mind about evolution

Review of: How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, ed. Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016).

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This book features twenty-five autobiographical accounts of evangelical theologians and scientists, in which they explain why they have adopted the theory of evolution. The editors note at the outset that fully “69% of Americans who faithfully attend church weekly believe that God created humans in their present form less than ten thousand years ago” (16). Their goal is to reduce the number of Evangelicals holding this view.

Instead of laying out the evidence of Scripture and the findings of scientists, they opt to tell their stories. Deborah Haarsma, president of BioLogos, acknowledges, “Answers won’t be found solely in intellectual arguments, and sometimes piling on more evidence doesn’t help” (11).

The book’s editors work for the BioLogos organization and share the book’s copyright with it. For those who don’t know BioLogos, it depends on generous funds from the Templeton Foundation and uses these funds to present “an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation” (16).

Each author has his or her unique story. At the same time, one can notice that a number of themes recur in the stories. I will note three major themes.

 

John Walton’s reinterpretation of Genesis 1 & 2

First, the effect of John Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 & 2 has had a dramatic effect in terms of opening the way for Christians to hold to an evolutionary account of the origins of the universe, and even of the origins of life. By appealing to Walton’s arguments, they are able to marginalize the Bible in the origins debate, arguing that the Genesis account only attempts to answer the “who” and “why” of creation, not the “how” and “when” (38, 43). Or, as two other authors put it, the biblical text only addresses the “what” of creation, not “how” God did it (50, 171).

Walton’s claim is that Genesis is simply the Hebrew version of an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) origins account (93, 102, 109, 118) and that such accounts only teach what was the function and purpose of each part of the created world. Genesis thus sets out to refute the views of surrounding nations only by attributing the existing world to the Hebrew God instead of the pagan gods, and presenting the earth as God’s dwelling, his temple. The origins of the material stuff of creation and the means of bringing the world into being were not the concern in such accounts. These claims of Walton have been soundly refuted by Noel Weeks in an article in the Westminster Theological Journal (78:1 [2016], 1–28). Walton incorrectly interprets the ANE texts, brings together texts from extremely diverse times and contexts, and, I might add, presents an exegesis of Genesis 1 & 2 that overlooks all the points averse to his interpretation and makes words like “create” and “make” mean things they simply don’t mean. I’ve listened to Walton deliver his insights in several long speeches and I’ve read one of his books. Unfortunately, J.B. Stump is correct when he writes of himself that Walton’s scholarship “has been a gateway for me (and many others) to consider a more sophisticated treatment of Scripture” (120). It’s interesting that Walton’s interpretation may appear to be more sophisticated for the average Bible reader, but it’s patently incorrect.

 

The “two books” argument

Secondly, quite a few of the authors refer to Scripture and creation as the “two books,” the books of special and general revelation, respectively (60, 78, 115, 175). Theologians draw from the first; scientists from the second; and both of these “professionals” are supplying us with interpretations of divine revelation. This metaphor for equating the findings of certain scientists with general revelation and calling this “complementary” (18) to the message of Scripture has been around for some time; it may emerge from a misuse of article 2 of our Belgic Confession (190). One author even speaks of “reading the big book of creation alongside the little book of Scripture,” telling scientists that they are “thinking God’s thoughts after him” (95). Another says that the “book of [God’s] works is one that he desires us to take, read, and celebrate” (102).

But the Scriptures never speak of general revelation in this way. Rather, the revelation that is available to all people in the world is enough to make them know that there is a God, and that he should be served and praised (Psa 19:1–6; Acts 17:24). This revelation leaves them without excuse when they suppress the knowledge of God and substitute idols in his place (Rom 1:18–20). The discoveries of scientists are not revelations from God, but human interpretations of data that are fitted within particular theories. The Lord never promised a correct interpretation of nature, but he did promise to lead his people in the rich pastures of his Word by the working of his Holy Spirit. Further, since all people because of sin suppress the knowledge of God from creation, Scripture must correct those misconceptions; thus, the clear message of Scripture must have precedence. Our own Dr. N. H. Gootjes wrote some excellent articles about this years ago, called, “What Does God Reveal in the Grand Canyon.” See here and here and here for these articles, plus a final word here. Let us honour our God by keeping his holy Word in its proper place, far above all humanly-devised theories.

 

Straw man arguments

Finally, the third major theme I picked out was not a theme the authors highlighted, but something I noticed. It really felt to me that the arguments they mentioned against evolution were some of the weakest; they were blowing over straw men. For instance, dinosaurs never existed and Satan buried the bones that testify otherwise (30). Or, “Job invented electricity” (49). These are not the types of arguments used by those who argue for a so-called “young” earth and fiat creation. See this page for examples of arguments that have sometimes been used but are no longer recommended.

N. T. Wright’s chapter—an excerpt from one of his books—tries to relativize the entire young earth position by treating it as a tempest in a North American teapot, as if only unsophisticated revolutionaries would ever treat the biblical text in such a fundamentalist way (131–37). Similarly, another author states, “Despite twenty-five centuries of debate, it is fair to say that no human knows what the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 was precisely intended to be” (73). I would have expected the editors to excise such nonsense.

Readers must also endure the expected jab at Bishop James Ussher, who concluded that God created the world in 4004 B.C. (72). In fact, Ussher was one of the most learned men of his time, and sought to determine creation’s date because this was an exercise that many other scholars around him had sought to do. Indeed, many Jews still give today’s date as determined from the moment of creation—today, as I write, it is 17th of Tishre, year 5779 since creation began. See here for a date converter.

Finally, all sides in this debate ought to agree that pat responses such as “with God one day is like a thousand years,” will never suffice, and, in fact, represent a misuse of Psa 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8 (35).

 

Conclusion

The book at hand was not composed to marshal all the arguments in favour of evolution. Rather, it tells the stories of various evangelical theologians, pastors, and scientists. As such, its style is completely in line with the purpose of BioLogos, which aims to “translate scholarship on origins for the evangelical church” (back cover, re the task of Kathryn Applegate at BioLogos). In other words, the book seeks to make evolution seem acceptable by holding up a series of twenty-five models for evangelical believers to follow, and thereby to reduce that statistic of 69% that was mentioned at the outset.

However, the book only leaves me more concerned, inasmuch as some of the strongest arguments that seem to have opened the way for these Evangelicals to change their minds about evolution—the three that recur most often in the book—turn out to be very bad arguments.

 

I Believe in Theistic Evolution

I recently realized I believe in/affirm theistic evolution.  Depending on your perspective, have I sold out or have I finally come to my senses?  Neither.  Let me explain.

It has long perturbed me that those who affirm or allow for Darwinian macroevolution to be compatible with a biblical worldview will sometimes call themselves “creationists” or will claim to believe in/affirm biblical creation.  They do this knowing that biblical creation is usually understood to refer to a view that holds to God having created in six ordinary days on a timescale of some thousands (rather than millions or billions) of years ago.  By claiming to believe in creation they lay concerns to rest, whereas all they have really done is disguise their true position.

Stephen C. Meyer has helped me to see I could do the same thing with theistic evolution.  Meyer wrote the “Scientific and Philosophical Introduction” to Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, a massive volume published in 2017 by Crossway.  He notes that theistic evolution can mean different things to different people, as can “evolution” without the modifier “theistic.”  For example, it can refer to common or universal common descent or to the creative power of the natural selection/random variation (or mutation) mechanism.  But evolution can also just simply mean “change over time.”  And if one believes that God causes “change over time,” then that can be understood as a form of theistic evolution.  With that, Meyer contends, no biblical theist could object (p.40).  He concludes, “Understanding theistic evolution this way seems unobjectionable, perhaps even trivial” (p.41).   So, in the sense of believing or affirming that there is change over time directed by God, I am a theistic evolutionist — and I suspect you are too!

But what’s the problem with this?  Let’s say I were to (miraculously) get myself invited to a BioLogos conference as a speaker who affirms theistic evolution.  It appears I’m on board with the BioLogos agenda.  The conference organizers are a little doubtful, but I insist that I affirm theistic evolution and they take me at my word and welcome me in their midst.  Then I give a talk where I evidence that I’m actually a six-day creationist who believes Darwinian macroevolution to be a fraud.  “But you said you hold to theistic evolution!”  “Oh, but you didn’t ask me what I meant by that.  I believe that God causes change over time — that’s how I’m a theistic evolutionist.”  Would anyone blame the conference organizers for thinking me to be lacking in some basic honesty?

Integrity is really the heart of the matter.  If I say, “I read a book and I realized I’m a theistic evolutionist,” most people will hear that and conclude that I still believe in God, but I also affirm Darwinian evolution.  And that is not an unreasonable conclusion.  Furthermore, what would be my purpose for making such a claim?  Would it be to tell something designed to mislead so as to advance my cause?  Does the end justify the means?

If you affirm Darwinian macroevolution as the best explanation for how life developed on earth and you believe God superintended it, then man up and say so.  Honestly say, “I am a theistic evolutionist.”   As for me, believing that God created everything in six ordinary days on the order of some thousands of years ago, I will say directly, “I am a biblical creationist” or “six-day creationist,” or “young earth creationist.”  But let’s all be honest with one another.

Biblical creationists also have to stop being naive.  Just because someone says they believe in biblical creation doesn’t mean they actually believe the biblical account as given in Genesis.  They can fill out those terms with their own meaning.  So we have to learn to ask good questions to ferret out impostors.  Questions like:

  • Do you believe God created everything in six ordinary days some thousands of years ago?
  • Was the individual designated as Adam in Genesis ever a baby creature nestled at his mother’s breast?
  • Was the individual designated in Genesis as Eve a toddler at some point in her life?
  • Do you believe it biblically permissible to say that, as creatures, the figures designated in Genesis as Adam and Eve at any point had biological forebears (like parents/grandparents)?
  • What does it mean that God created man from the dust of the earth?

These are the types of questions churches need to be asking at ecclesiastical examinations for prospective ministers.  These are the types of questions Christians schools need to be asking prospective teachers at interviews.  True, even with these sorts of questions, there are no guarantees of integrity, but at least we will have done our due diligence.

Follow the money…

moneybagIn my previous post, I examined the roots of the Templeton Foundation, the philosophy of its founder, Sir John Marks Templeton, and the way in which his philosophy is being disseminated through the Foundation’s ongoing efforts. In that post, the BioLogos Foundation and the Canadian Christian and Scientific Affiliation are mentioned as groups that receive Templeton Foundation funding to support their work.

A little research shows the incredible reach that the Foundation’s money has. And an examination of the nature of the grants that the Foundation provides, as well as the purpose behind these grants, is telling indeed. One of the Foundation’s main funding areas is “public engagement,” and a representative sample of grants (ranging from tens of thousands to millions of dollars) clearly shows the Foundation’s goals. Here is a small sample of grants that have been made over the past three years:

  • Vatican Observatory Foundation – “Building a bridge between faith and astronomy”

  • John Carroll University – “Integrating science into college and pre-theology programs in U.S. Roman Catholic seminaries”

  • Union Theological Seminary – “Project to develop a spiritual worldview compatible with and informed by science”

  • Cambridge Muslim College – “Developing religious leaders with scientific awareness”

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science – “Engaging scientists in the science and religion dialogue”

  • Luther Seminary – “Science for youth ministry: The plausibility of transcendence”

  • Christianity Today – “Building an audience for science and faith”

Other grants have been made to train Roman Catholic teachers and preachers to engage the dialogue between science and religion, to promote science engagement in rabbinic training, and to measure science engagement in Roman Catholic high schools and seminaries. Further investigation in the nature and purpose of these grants reveals a common thread. For example, La Jolla Presbyterian Church received a grant from the Templeton Foundation for a program that “seeks to engage young adults (college and post-graduate) in a discussion of science and faith with leading scientists who are Christians.”

The McGrath Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame University received a $1.675 million grant for their Science and Religion Initiative, which “seeks to frame science education within the broader context of Catholic theology.” According to the Institute’s director, “The perceived conflict between science and religion is one of the main reasons young people say they leave the Catholic church… this grant allows us to address this misperceptions and help high school teachers create pedagogies that show that science and religion – far from being incompatible – are partners in the search for truth.”

Multnomah Biblical Seminary has received a Templeton grant (as well as a grant from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, itself supported by the Templeton Foundation), to “equip pastoral studies majors to become more effective in engaging our scientific age.” Among a number of other Christian theologians, Niels Henrik Gregersen, professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Copenhagen, received a Templeton research grant for his work on the constructive interface between science and religion.

Another recent recipient of the Templeton Foundation’s largesse is Regent College in Vancouver, which this year received a grant funding a program called “Re-faithing Science at Regent College.” The program will seek, over the next two years, to address this question: “How can the relationship between Christian faith and scientific endeavour be conceptualized and communicated in a way that effectively engages diverse audiences?”

The detailed description of this particular grant on the Templeton Foundation website is insightful:

“Sir John Templeton recognized that science and spirituality should be neither sealed in separate boxes nor positioned at opposite ends of a battlefield, yet even a cursory glance at contemporary culture reveals that the supposed incompatibility and even hostility between faith and science is something of a truism in much of Western society. Regent College believes that this widespread perception is a significant threat to the development of theology and science alike, as well as to the spiritual and intellectual flourishing of countless individuals.”

So, utilizing Templeton’s funds, Regent College’s project team will “propose an alternative model for the relationship between faith and science: mutual coinherence, or existence within one another.” Their goal is to communicate this proposal “in an accessible form” that will encourage and enable further exploration of science, theology, and their interaction, using academic publications, public lectures, graduate-level courses, and an online presence, to “target different audiences with the same basic narrative, a story of one world, created by one God, who can be known and worshipped through both theology and science – and who is best known and best worshipped when theology and science work together.”

What can we learn from all of this? If we were unaware of the foundational principles behind the Templeton Foundation, perhaps all of this would appear to be somewhat innocuous. After all, who could argue against Christians being involved in the sciences? Why oppose efforts aimed at developing “scientific awareness”? Certainly we shouldn’t want to bury our heads in the sand, and ignore what the sciences have to offer, as if science were somehow “off-limits” to the faithful Christian, should we?

But remember this important fact: the Templeton Foundation has a very clear agenda – a utopian, panentheistic philosophy that has an ecumenical goal of uniting the religions of the world around a synthesis of “science” and religion, with “science” seated firmly in the driver’s seat in this relationship. This agenda is being promoted by the lavish dispersal of funds to Islamic, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and other religious organizations, including, sadly, many evangelical Christian groups, many of which are making their influence felt in Reformed churches as well.

Two popular sayings come to mind: “Follow the money,” and “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” The money trail leads us to Sir John Marks Templeton. And clearly, Templeton’s agenda is making headway in many places, although it is also clear that this agenda faces many obstacles.

First of all, there is reluctance to accept the premises of this movement among religious organizations, as can be seen from the numerous grants being made to support efforts to decrease the resistance of religious leaders and members of religious groups, including evangelical Christians, to this religious/scientific paradigm. But that reluctance is being overcome, as the Templeton agenda makes inroads through a judicious use of funding. Efforts to reach youth, and those who teach the young, are effective means of dissemination for any propaganda effort, whether political, cultural, or religious in nature. Young people are more easily influenced, and they are most definitely being targeted, in a well-funded, concerted effort.

But there is also resistance from the other side – from unbelieving scientists who reject all religion, any idea of transcendence, and the idea that anything exists beyond the physical. This group is also being addressed by the outreach efforts of the Templeton Foundation, as it works toward fulfilling its long-term goals.

A spiritual war is being waged against God’s people, using that ancient question, “Has God really said?” This is not novel; every generation of Christians faces this reality, in different ways at different times in history. The battle is being played out in a world in which money talks, and a lot of money talks loudly. We cannot afford to be naive on this issue. We need to be on our guard against the influence of the Templeton Foundation’s money, even if it’s being spent by organizations that may have been respected among us. That money is being spent to promote an agenda that is radically different from the agenda of God’s kingdom. Our allegiance to the One True God must lead us to reject alliances with organizations like the Templeton Foundation, whose agenda is completely incompatible with that of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

“The Humble Approach”

9781890151331-usPossibilities For Over One Hundredfold More Spiritual Information: The Humble Approach in Theology and Science. Sir John Templeton. Templeton Foundation Press. Philadelphia and London. 2000.

Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008) is best known as the creator of the Templeton Growth Fund, an investment fund established in 1954, which made him a very wealthy man. Two years before his death in 2008, Templeton, who was born in Tennessee and later became a British citizen, found himself in 129th place on the Sunday Times‘ “Rich List.” But Templeton was not only an investor and a money-maker; he was also well-known as a philanthropist, through the work of his charitable organization, the Templeton Foundation. Established in 1987, the Templeton Foundation offers over seventy million dollars’ worth of research grants each year. The Foundation is currently headed by Templeton’s daughter, Heather Templeton Dill, and it is an important source of funding for a number of individuals and organizations, including the BioLogos Foundation and the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation.

One of the Templeton Foundation’s purposes is to advance what Templeton called “Humility-In-Theology” – “helping spiritual information to multiply over 100 fold about every two centuries, especially by encouraging people of all religions to become enthusiastic (rather than resistant) to new additional spiritual information, especially through science research, to supplement the wonderful ancient scriptures” (Templeton, 180).

“Humility” was an important word for Sir John Templeton, as can be seen from the title of this book, as well as throughout its pages. Templeton’s philosophy of humility, and the way it shaped his thinking and his philanthropically efforts, is central to his thinking. For example, Templeton writes, “Although we seem to be the most sophisticated species at present on our planet, perhaps we should not think of our place as the end of cosmogenesis.” We must resist the pride that might tempt us to think that we are creation’s final goal, and seek to become “servants of creation or even helpers in divine creativity.” We may be “a new beginning, the first creatures in the history of life on earth to participate consciously in the ongoing creative process” (p. 41).

Templeton argues that theologians need to be “humble and open-minded,” and that most of the world’s religions exhibit a “tendency for dogma or hierarchy to stifle progress.” Humility should lead religious leaders to “re-form dogma in a more open-minded and inquiring way as a beginning point for continual improvements” (p. 41). Templeton claims not to want to quarrel with any theologian, and that we must “happily admit” that a particular theologian may be right. “But,” he writes, “let us listen most carefully to any theologian who is humble enough to admit also that he may be wrong – or at least that the door to great insights by others is not closed” (p. 50).

The great problem, for Templeton, is egotism, which has led to many mistaken ideas throughout history – including the notions that the stars and the sun revolve around mankind, and that humanity is as old as the universe. “Egotism is still our worst enemy… Only by being humble can we learn more,” Templeton writes (p. 59).

So where did this understanding of “humility” lead Sir John Templeton? Sadly, it led him to practically reject the Bible as the completed Word of God, his perfect self-revelation. The Bible, which Templeton includes as simply one of the  “ancient scriptures” of all the world’s religions, was written in a different context than today. We now know that the universe is much larger, much older, and far more complex than the ancients believed. And so we are confronted with a challenge: “to enrich understanding and appreciation for the old with a welcoming of concepts and perspectives which may represent truly new insights and creative improvements, which can leverage the power of the past into a forward-looking adventure of learning more and more about the wonders of god and his purposes through ongoing creativity.” Since our understanding of the universe has been “vastly enlarged,” we should no longer be limited in our expression of spiritual truths to “obsolete words, limited concepts, and ancient thought patterns.” The tremendous development in human understanding, Templeton writes, allow us a “fuller and wider interpretation of divine revelation today” (p. 47-48).

Ideas have consequences. While Templeton was an elder in a Presbyterian congregation (Presbyterian Church – USA), and even sat on the Board of Princeton Theological Seminary, he did not “limit” himself to the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. His “humble approach” led him to declare, “I have no quarrel with what I learned in the Presbyterian Church. I am still an enthusiastic Christian,” and then to ask, “But why shouldn’t I try to learn more? Why shouldn’t I go to Hindu services? Why shouldn’t I go to Muslim services? If you are not egotistical, you will welcome the opportunity to learn more” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/julyweb-only/128-31.0.html). The sad fact is, however much one claims to be “an enthusiastic Christian,” believing that the teachings of religions that deny Christ can be positively appropriated by a Christian makes one, for all intents and purposes, anything but.

And this unfortunate truth is also clearly revealed in Templeton’s book. While Templeton denied being a pantheist (one who believes that the universe is God, and God is the universe), his understanding of the nature of God can only be described as a form of panentheism, which declares that God and the universe are distinct, but that the world is “in” God. Traditional pantheism serves a useful purpose, in Templeton’s mind, but he admits that it is incompatible with the Christian understanding of God. And so he turns to the teaching of the Unity School of Christianity for his conception of God: “God is also me: and I am a little part of him.” As little parts of God, “we may realize the mutual unity of god and his creation. We may conceive that our own divinity may arise from something more profound than merely being ‘god’s children’ or being ‘made in his image'” (p. 86; note that the use of the word “god” as written is in the original).

At this point, it must be said that, for all his self-proclaimed “humility,” Templeton’s foundational beliefs are, in Christian perspective, anything but humble; they are, in fact, blasphemous. True humility is expressed in Psalm 8:

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens… When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:1,3, ESV).

True humility is expressed in humble submission to the LORD, the Creator, who has revealed himself clearly and completely in his Word – those “ancient Scriptures” which we humans have not outgrown, or surpassed, with all of our scientific understanding.

True humility is acknowledging our origins as the direct creation of God, acknowledging the reality of the Fall into sin, and its enduring impact on humanity and all of creation, God’s provision of a Way of salvation, and the fact that we can do nothing in ourselves to merit that salvation. We are created in God’s image. That image has been badly marred by sin. But in Christ, that image is being restored among God’s people.

True humility is submitting ourselves to Jesus Christ, who declared that he, and only he, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Templeton’s “humility” is, at bottom, and however unwittingly, the height of human arrogance and pride in disguise. In refusing to submit to God’s perfect Word, Templeton set a man on the throne in God’s place. And now, through the work of his Foundation, Templeton’s utopian vision for human society, based in anything but the Word of God, is continuing to be spread.

Templeton foresaw a “glorious” future, and thanks to his great financial savvy, his legacy lives on. His Foundation has three billion dollars in its reserve fund, and that money is being spent to promote that legacy, with a very definite, and very long-term, goal in mind. Templeton’s vision of the future is summed up in two citations in his book. He first cites Marceline Bradford:

“…Millions of intellectuals the world over have become disenchanted with backward-looking religious institutions… In order to recapture the great thinking minds of the world, the clergy must turn their heads 180 degrees from past to future. With feet planted squarely in the present and eyes directed to the future, leaders can find factual bases in science for viable, solid, dynamic doctrines. For science and rationality are enemies not of religion – only of dogmatism” (Templeton, p. 47).

Next, he cites Ralph Wendell Burhoe, who was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1980:

“…At several points in the next few years and decades the traditional theological and religious communities will find the scientific revelations a gold mine, and… by early in the third millennium A.D. a fantastic revitalization and universalization of religion will sweep the world. The ecumenical power will come from a universalized and credible theology and related religious practices, not from the politics of dying institutions seeking strength in pooling their weaknesses. I cannot imagine a more important bonanza for theologians and the future of religion than the information lode revealed by the scientific community… It provides us with a clear connection between human values, including our highest religious values, and the cosmic scheme of things. My prophecy, then, is that God talk… will in the next century increasingly be fostered by the scientific community” (Templeton, 103).

In the conclusion of his book, Templeton lists a number of the “founder’s favourite charities,” which also provides real insight into Templeton’s agenda. They include the promotion of education about free competition, entrepreneurship, and the enhancement of individual freedom and free markets; supporting research and publications in genetics; supporting education and other help in voluntary family planning; supporting character development research, and also:

“Supporting the publication and dissemination throughout the world of the religious teachings of the Unity School of Christianity… and of closely similar organizations, provided that major support for such organizations shall continue only so long as the Trustees of the Foundation… determine that such organizations adhere to the concepts of (i) usually pioneering in religion and theology with little restrictive creed, (ii) usually teaching that god may be all of reality and man only a tiny part of god and (iii) generally accentuating the positive ideas and attitudes and avoiding the negative” (Templeton, 183).

Such were the goals of Sir John Marks Templeton, and such are the goals of his foundation. A serious examination of Templeton’s guiding philosophy, and the philosophy of the Templeton Foundation, in the light of Scriptural principles, should lead us to a sense of genuine concern about any organization that the Foundation chooses to support financially, to question the ultimate motivation behind this support, and the fruits that this foundation is bearing in the numerous organizations that receive its funding. “The Humble Approach” of Sir John Marks Templeton has absolutely nothing in common with the genuinely humble approach of the Lord Jesus Christ. His utopian vision has nothing in common with the eschatological vision of God’s Word.

My concluding thought is this: those who receive large amounts of financial support from the Templeton Foundation may do so “with no strings attached,” and perhaps some recipients may be unaware of the totality of the Foundation’s founder’s spiritual vision. But could it be that they are unwitting victims of a larger, and more nefarious, agenda, which has at its base a desire to proclaim a different gospel, by denying the explicit teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and his exclusive claims?

Keller: If biological evolution is true, are we just animals driven by our genes?

Keller’s white paper asks a second “layperson” question, one that really gets at a problem: “If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?” Keller’s provides this short answer, “No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.”

Two senses of “evolution”: EBP & GTE

In explaining this question and his response, Keller distinguishes evolution in two senses. The first is the teaching that “human life was formed through evolutionary biological processes” (he gives the acronym EBP for this), and the second is evolution “as the explanation for every aspect of human nature,” which he calls the “Grand Theory of Everything” and refers to as “GTE” (6). We might call this evolution as a worldview. Similarly, some Canadian Reformed authors have argued for the distinction between “evolution” and “evolutionism.”[1]

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The problem Keller is addressing is that self-described “evolutionary creationists”—such as those at Biologos tend to be—end up hearing the same critique from both creationists and evolutionists: both argue that you can’t hold the theory of biological evolution without at the same time endorsing atheistic evolution as a whole. Essentially both critics assert that evolution is a package, a worldview, a big-picture perspective, and you can’t just isolate one part of it.

Keller suggests to his fellow Biologos members that most Christian laypeople have a difficult time distinguishing EBP from GTE. They have a hard time understanding that it is possible to limit one’s commitment to evolution to “the scientific explorations of the way which—at the level of biology—God has gone about his creating processes” (6, Keller quoting David Atkinson). “How can we help them?” Keller asks, for “this is exactly the distinction they must make, or they will never grant the importance of EBP.” He simply states that Christian pastors, theologians and scientists need to keep emphasizing that they are not endorsing evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything.

Keller’s helpful critique of evolution as the GTE

To support this, Keller provides a brief but helpful analysis, showing that evolution as the GTE is self-refuting. I’ll explain his point with the help of an online video where he elaborates a bit more. Basically, according to those who hold to evolution as the GTE, religion came about only because it somehow must have helped our ancestors survive (survival of the fittest). In fact, they say, we all know there’s no God, no heaven, no divine revelation. Such things are false beliefs. But if that is the case, argues Keller, then natural selection has led our minds to believe false things for the sake of survival. Further, if human minds have almost universally had some kind of belief in God, performed religious practices, and held moral absolutes, and if it’s all actually false, then we can’t be sure about anything our minds tell us, including evolution as the grand theory of everything. Thus, with reference to itself, evolution as the GTE is absurd.

In the online video that I used to supplement the explanation here, Keller is dealing with the problem that opponents of Christianity and of religion generally try to “explain it away.” He states, “C. S. Lewis put it this way some years ago, “You can’t go on explaining everything away forever or you will find that you have explained explanation itself away.”

Keller, following Lewis, illustrates “explaining away” with “seeing through” things: A window lets you see through it to something else that is opaque. But if all we had were windows—a wholly transparent world—all would be invisible and in the end you wouldn’t see anything at all. “To see through everything is not to see at all.”

How does that apply? Keller asks. He then shows that many universal claims are self-refuting.

If, as Nietzsche says, all truth claims are really just power grabs, then so is his, so why listen to him? If, as Freud says, all views of God are really just psychological projections to deal with our guilt and insecurity, then so is his view of God, so why listen to him? If, as the evolutionary scientists say, that what my brain tells me about morality and God is not real—it’s just chemical reactions designed to pass on my genetic code—then so is what their brains tell them about the world, so why listen to them? In the end to see through everything is not to see.[2]

As usual, Keller is an insightful apologist for the Christian faith. He helps us oppose evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything. Just the same, I heard another prominent evolutionary creationist, Denis Alexander, answering questions at a recent conference (2016) and musing about our lack of knowledge as to when “religiosity” first evolved among our ancestors. So, Keller’s helpful critique notwithstanding, at least one of his co-members at Biologos appears to think that religiosity is an evolved trait (or at least allows for this view).

 

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But not GTE

But Keller doesn’t prove that EBP doesn’t lead to GTE

Although I’ve highlighted something helpful in Keller’s white paper, the main point he needed to do was to prove that one’s commitment to the theory of evolutionary biological ancestry for humans (and all other living things) does not entail holding to evolution as the grand theory of everything. He didn’t do this because the setting in which he spoke was Biologos, an organization which is committed to EBP but wants to avoid GTE because the members are Christians. They’ve already crossed that first bridge. Nevertheless, this is the real point at issue.

Can and will Christians be able to hold to EBP without moving to GTE?

I seriously doubt that Christians can or will be successful in adopting evolution as EBP while avoiding the trajectory that moves toward evolution as GTE. Here’s why, in short.

It seems to me that as soon as one adopts EBP, the following positions come to be accepted (whether as hypotheses, theories, or firm positions):

  1. Adam and Eve had biological ancestors, from whom they evolved (some sort of chimp-like creatures).
  2. These “chimps” in turn had other biological ancestors and relatives, as do all creatures.
  3. In fact, there is an entire phylogenetic tree or chain of evolutionary development that begins with the Big Bang. All living things have common ancestry in the simplest living things, such as plants. At some point before that the transition was made from non-living things to the first living cell (some evolutionary creationists assert that God did something supernatural to make the transition from non-living things to living).[3]
  4. Evolving requires deep time. “Multiple lines of converging evidence” apparently tell us the universe is 14.7 billion years old; the earth is about 4.7 billion, life is about 3 billion, and human life is probably about 400,000 years old (these numbers may vary; I happen to think 6-10 thousand is rather ancient as it is!).
  5. Humans do not have souls; they are simply material beings. This is being promoted by Biologos and other theologians and philosophers.[4] Not all evolutionary creationists would agree; some say God gave a soul when he “made” man in his image, others that the soul “emerged” from higher-order brain processes at some point in the evolutionary history.
  6. The world is on a continual trajectory from chaos to increasing order, or from bad to good to better to best. This creates great difficulties for one’s doctrine of the fall, redemption in Christ, and the radical transition into the new creation.
  7. The earth, as long as it has had animal life, has been filled with violence. Keller admits in his paper how critical this is: “The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops” (2). This presents enormous difficulty for one’s doctrines of the good initial creation, and the fall into sin.
  8. The universe’s order arises mainly due to the unfolding of the inherent powers and structures God must have embedded in that initial singularity called the Big Bang. There is a movement toward Deism inherent in the theory.
  9. Much of what the Bible ascribes to God’s creating power and wisdom actually belongs to his providential guidance, which itself was probably a rather hands-off thing.
  10. God’s nature—particularly his goodness—needs to be understood differently if creation was “red in tooth and claw” from the beginning.[5]
  11. The authority of God’s Word falls under the axe due to the exegetical gymnastics required to accommodate EBP. Scripture apparently no longer means what it appears to mean. This opens up the reinterpretation of everything in the Bible.

Conclusion

In sum, Keller provides a helpful critique of evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything, but fails to demonstrate that holding to evolutionary biological processes does not in itself, very much open one up to evolution as the GTE, and may in fact ultimately make it impossible to avoid more and more of evolution as the GTE. This is surely because for the most part evolution as such depends upon atheistic presuppositions. And in fact, it’s actually quite hard to determine just where the line is between evolution as EBP and GTE. I’m afraid that’s a sliding scale, depending upon which scientist or theologian presents his views. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent . . . you know the rest.

The academic and religious trajectories of scholars who were once orthodox and Reformed show how hard it is to maintain evolution as EBP only. I’m thinking of such men as Howard Van Till (who is now more of a “free thinker”),[6]  Peter Enns (who now only holds to the Apostles’ Creed and treats the Bible as arising from the Israelites, not from God),[7] and Edwin Walhout (who advocated rewriting the doctrines of creation, sin, salvation, and providence).[8] There are whole swaths of theologians and scientists associated with Biologos, the Faraday Institute, and the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation who are trying valiantly to hold together their Christian faith with evolutionary science, and the money of the Templeton Foundation will ensure that pamphlets, presentations, conferences, and books, will bring these views to the Christian public. Holding to Dooyeweerdian philosophy’s sphere sovereignty may help some of these Christians compartmentalize their biology, geology, and their faith, but that philosophical school has been subject to severe criticism in our tradition, and on precisely this point.[9] I fear that the dissonance of EBP itself with the historic, creedal Christian faith will prove to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Christians to keep their faith and EBP together. I also doubt that one can very easily maintain evolution as EBP only.

 

[1] See, for instance, http://reformedacademic.blogspot.ca/2010/03/response-to-clarion-s-ten-reasons.html. Accessed 24 Feb 2016.

[2] See http://veritas.org/talks/clip-explain-away-religion-tim-keller-argues-we-cant/?ccm_paging_p=6. Accessed 24 Feb, 2016.

[3] As an example of an evolutionary creationist attempting to defend the evolutionary link from egg-laying reproduction to placenta-supported reproduction, see Dennis Venema’s recent essays on vitellogenin and common ancestry at Biologos. See http://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/vitellogenin-and-common-ancestry-does-biologos-have-egg-on-its-face. Accessed 25 Feb 2016.

[4] See my essay entitled, “In Between and Intermediate: My Soul in Heaven’s Glory,” in As You See the Day Approaching: Reformed Perspectives on the Last Things, ed. Theodore G. Van Raalte (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 70–111.

[5] See https://sixteenseasons.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/evolution-and-the-gallery-of-glory/. Accessed 27 Feb 2017.

[6] See https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/howard-van-tills-lightbulb-moment/. Accessed 26 Feb 2016.

[7] See his book, The Evolution of Adam (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press 2012), ix–xx, 26–34.

[8] See https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/walhout-gets-it/. Accessed 26 Feb 2016.

[9] For example, see J. Douma, Another Look at Dooyeweerd (Winnipeg: Premier Printing, 1981).

Keller’s advice to fellow Biologos members

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A theological orthodoxy as well-aligned as that of Timothy Keller is hard to find among the increasing numbers of scientists, theologians, and organizations currently urging evangelical Christians to accept biological evolution. He is the pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) and is well-known through his writings on apologetics, church planting, and preaching. His 13 page white paper, hosted by Biologos and entitled “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” has been referenced favourably by scientists and theologians in conservative Reformed churches.[1] For example, when Frieda Oosterhoff introduced Keller’s paper some years ago on the Reformed Academic website, she stated,

(Readers of this blog, incidentally, will notice that our blog partner Dr. Jitse van der Meer sees eye to eye with Dr. Kidner in the matter of human evolution, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the descent of all humans from Adam, and that he affirms the same tentative approach as Kidner and Keller.)[2]

In his paper Keller entertains the real questions of concerned Christians and offers answers as to how to help them integrate evolution with their faith. We have intended to interact with his arguments for some time.

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It’s important to situate accurately our debate with Keller. The debate between us is not whether the Christian faith and current science (or what is claimed to be science) are irreconcilable, for we all agree that in many respects they are reconcilable while in some respects they are not. The debate, rather, is in what particular respects they are and are not able to be reconciled.

The debate between us is not whether evolution is a defensible worldview that gives us the basis of our views on religion, ethics, human nature, etc. We all agree that it is not the “grand theory/explanation of everything.” We all agree that there is a God and he is the God of the Bible—Triune, sovereign, covenant-making, gracious, atonement-providing, and bringing about a new creation. Nor am I debating whether Keller is an old-earth creationist aka progressive creationist or an evolutionary creationist or a theistic evolutionist. His own position is a bit unclear so I will simply deal with what he has published in this paper.[3]

The debate between us is not whether matter is eternal; whether the universe’s order is by sheer chance; whether humans have no purpose but to propagate their own genes; whether humans are material only; whether human life is no more valuable than bovine, canine, or any other life; whether upon death all personal existence ceases; or whether ethics is at root about the survival of the fittest. We all agree that none of these things are the case—Scripture teaches differently. We are not debating these points.

Our differences emerge in the compatibility of Scripture with biological evolution, namely, whether Scripture has room for the view that humans—insofar as they are material beings—have a biological ancestry that precedes Adam and Eve. Is this a permissible view?

The first thing to realize as one reads Keller’s paper is its context and purpose: Delivered at the first Biologos “Theology of Celebration” workshop in 2009, Keller lays out 3 (at first 4) concerns that “Christian laypeople” typically express when they are told that God created Adam and Eve by evolutionary biological processes. Keller advances strategies to help fellow Biologos members allay these fears of Christian laypeople. The context thus is that biological evolution is a permissible view; the scholars just need to figure out how to make it more widely accepted.

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Keller deals with the following “three questions of Christian laypeople.”

  1. If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?
  2. If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?
  3. If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

These are excellent questions! Keller provides summary answers and longer explanations for each question. His short answers to the first two questions seem solid enough on the surface of things, yet his longer explanations deserve careful examination. His short answer to the third question is something we have directly contested on creationwithoutcompromise.com more than once, from the standpoint of Scripture. Here are his three summary answers. You can correlate them with the questions above.

  1. The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking or agenda on them.
  2. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.
  3. Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.

With this introduction in place, we can now interact with Keller’s advice to his fellow Biologos members in his longer explanations of each of these summary answers.

[1] Keller’s paper can be found online at http://biologos.org/blogs/archive/series/creation-evolution-and-christian-laypeople. Accessed 22 Feb 2016.

[2] See http://reformedacademic.blogspot.ca/2010/03/tim-keller-on-evolution-and-bible.html. Accessed 27 Feb 2016.

[3] For this debate see https://adaughterofthereformation.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/is-dr-tim-keller-a-progressive-creationist/. Accessed 27 Feb 2016.

Test of Faith: Challenging Assumptions (3)

In two previous posts, I examined Dr. Deborah Haarsma’s assumption that the original audience for the Genesis account of creation was the “ancient Hebrews,” and her claims that the ancient Hebrews believed that there was a solid sky dome above the earth. Time constraints have meant a lengthy delay for this third response, so to refresh your memory, here’s the video:

First of all, I’d like to follow up on the point I made in my previous response to this video. When we seek to understand the “ancient Hebrew” descriptions of creation, we are dealing with issues that go much deeper than human understanding of the physical nature of reality. Every human being has a “symbolic” view of the world. It’s not something that we may ever consciously consider, but it is there, nonetheless. Scripture’s symbolic view of the world is that of a three-story house, and because the ancient Hebrew worldview was based in Scripture, this was the “Hebrew” view.

There are the heavens above, the earth below, and the waters under the earth. We can see that symbolic view of the world clearly in passages like Deuteronomy 5:8, the Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” In other words, do not make an idol to worship any creature in any part of creation.

Does this mean that the ancient Hebrews actually believed that the universe is literally a three-story house? No, it doesn’t, any more than we actually believe that heaven is somewhere “up there,” and hell is somewhere “down there.” This is a symbolic understanding of the nature of reality. We still speak of “sunrise” and “sunset,” and think of the sun as moving through the heavens, even though it is far simpler to describe all planetary motion relative to the Sun, and relative to the Sun, it is the Earth that is doing all the circling.

Consider this related example:

As Christians, we divide the population of the world into two groups, based on the teaching of Scripture. On the one hand we have God’s people – described in Scripture as “wise,” as “righteous,” as “the children of God.” These are the believers. On the other hand, we have people who are described in Scripture as “fools,” and as “the wicked.” These are the unbelievers.

Our concept of humanity is shaped by our understanding of the antithesis – the separation of humanity into two distinct groups – the “seed of the woman,” and the “seed of the serpent” (Genesis 3). This is what we know about these two groups of people, from God’s Word:

Ecclesiastes 2:14 – “The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness.”

Proverbs 4:18,19 – “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.”

We describe “the wicked” as sightless people, stumbling around in the darkness. They are unable to see, and because of their lack of sight, they are unable to keep from falling. We describe “the righteous” as people who, unlike the wicked, have eyes in their head. The righteous person walks in the light, and so can find his way.

So: do we believe that there are literally two groups of people in the world, one of which is sighted, the other of which is visually impaired? Do we believe that only a specific segment of the population is able to physically see, while the rest of humanity does not have eyes?

Clearly not. But imagine a 25th Century sociologist discovering some of the writings of the ancient Christians of the 21st Century, and interpreting them as though we do believe that one segment of the population is physically blind, and one sighted. Immediately we see that symbolic language, a symbolic construct, that describes a true state of affairs in metaphorical terms, would have to be read in a foolishly literal manner in order for such an error to occur. This is what happens when the claim is made that the people of Israel believed the world was flat, for example.

So when we read about the “three-story universe,” in the Bible, we need to keep this symbolic worldview in mind. The division of the world into three segments is found throughout Scripture. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the world (the “second story” in the three-story universe) is described as being itself composed of three parts – the greater world, the land of Eden, and the Garden of Eden.

In the tabernacle and the temple, this division of the world into three segments is shown symbolically in their construction, as well as in their furnishings and decorations. In the typology and symbolism of Scripture, the heavens, the earth, and the waters below (and the created things that fill each “story”) often stand as symbols. This is an example of a way of understanding the world that does not attempt to scientifically describe physical reality, but rather a mental and symbolic construct of that physical reality.

So before we make claims about what the ancient Hebrews believed about the physical nature of the universe, and what they didn’t believe, we need to understand the symbolic worldview of Scripture, and what the Bible is, and is not, telling us about the actual physical structure of the universe. We should not take the metaphorical and poetic descriptions of the world in a woodenly literal fashion.

Did the ancient Hebrews believe that the world stood on a literal foundation? If you don’t understand the use of figurative language, you might come to that conclusion:

He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved” (Psalm 104:5).

But then consider this: did the ancient Hebrews believe that these foundations were immovable? Did they believe that they were permanently fixed? If so, how do we deal with passages like this?

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken” (Psalm 82:5).

These descriptions use word pictures to make specific points. In one word picture, the foundations of the earth cannot be moved; in the other, the foundations of the earth are shaken. So which of these verses supposedly describes the primitive cosmology of the ancient Hebrews?

The ancient Hebrews’ worldview was shaped by Scripture, not reflected in Scripture. This is an important distinction, and it’s one that is overturned by modern critical scholarship, which views the Bible as the work of men interpreting reality, instead of as the work of God, meant to shape human understanding of reality. Our understanding of the world, too, must be shaped by Scripture. In order for that to happen, we must seek to understand it on its own terms.