According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God's Role in Creation

What role could God have in evolution?

Image for: What role could God have in evolution?

Divine Action

Divine action is defined as God’s interaction with creation. Divine action figured prominently in early discussions of Darwin’s theory in the late nineteenth century. For some theologians, evolution was compatible with theism only if God acted supernaturally at discrete points in the evolutionary process.1 Other theologians saw the uninterrupted process of evolution as being fully compatible with Christian doctrine. They understood evolution to be “the silent and regular working of him who, in the fullness of time, utters his voice in Christ and the cross.”2

We still seek to understand God’s involvement in the world. BioLogos readily affirms that the Creator can act outside the created physical laws. However, we must not say that miraculous events outside the laws of nature are the only instances of God’s involvement—we believe God is actively sustaining all things (Col 1:17, Heb 1:3), even in regular, well-understood processes. For this reason, BioLogos does not require miraculous events in its account of God’s creative process, although they certainly may have occurred.


God’s Sovereignty and Creation’s Freedom

BioLogos affirms that God has endowed nature with a certain degree of freedom. This is not to say that nature has a mind of its own, but only that nature is not restricted to a machine-like, redetermined evolution. On the other hand, BioLogos also affirms that God has a plan and a purpose for creation. The Bible affirms both the freedom of nature (including human freedom) and the sovereignty of God.

BioLogos does not conceive of a God who is involved at certain times and who only observes at other times. BioLogos affirms a God who is at all times involved, yet who still allows a degree of freedom to the creation.


Providence and the Laws of Nature

If the laws of nature can explain an increasing number of natural phenomena, how is God involved? The laws of nature do not exist apart from God. They are a reflection of the activity of God. If God ceased to uphold the laws of nature, there would be no universe.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1:16, 17 NASB)

…in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb 1:2, 3a NASB)
If we were somehow able to fully explain the operation of the physical universe, we would not have explained God out of the picture. Rather, we would have explained the regular and repeatable sustaining activity of God.

Theologians speak of “ordinary providence,” whereby God uses means (such as natural laws), “yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.”3 We can therefore distinguish between the natural and supernatural activity of God. The natural activity of God is simply that which occurs in a regular and highly repeatable fashion. Because of its regularity over eons of time, it can be studied and understood through the scientific process.

What about the supernatural activity of God? In the words of Ard Louis, “Miracles occur when God chooses to sustain the world in a manner that is different than what He normally does.” Supernatural activity is not somehow more God’s activity than natural activity. Both types fully reflect God’s character and accomplish his purposes.


Notes
  1. David N. Livingstone, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987), 118.
  2. A. H. Strong, as quoted in Livingstone, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, 129.
  3. Westminster Confession of Faith, “On Providence” (V,3).

Further Reading

Websites

Articles
Books
  • Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action Series. Edited by Robert John Russell, et al. 5 vols. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 1997-2002.
  • Falk, Darrel. Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds between Faith and Biology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
  • Polkinghorne, John. “Creation and Creator.” In Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding, 63-82. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006. First published 1988 by SPCK.
  • Polkinghorne, John. Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2005. First published 1989 by SPCK.



Christian Misconceptions About Evolutionary Creation


Where We Come From and Who We Are
October 19, 2011




Narrated by Ard Louis
Theoretical Physics | Oxford

http://biologos.org/blog/where-we-come-from-and-who-we-are

*Today's video is courtesy of filmmaker Ryan Pettey, director/editor of Satellite Pictures.




In this video, physicist Ard Louis discusses the misconceptions about evolution and what it says about our purpose. A lot of the young earth arguments against evolution, says Louis, can be beneficial to those promoting atheism. According to Louis, both sides are attempting to extract theology from the natural world and wrongly accept the premise that where we come from determines who we are and how we should live. However, that’s not what the Bible tells us; rather, our value comes from God, and God determines who we are and how we should live.

Many understand evolution as a theory underlined by the idea that our existence is purposelessness. But our value and purpose do not come from whether or not we were created by an evolutionary mechanism. Evolution may tell us something about how we were created, but it is not the source of our worth. That worth comes from God.

For more from Ard Louis, be sure to read his white paper for BioLogos.





Evolution: Is God Just Playing Dice?


October 11, 2011       
          
Evolution: Is God Just Playing Dice?                                         
Today's entry was written by Matt J. Rossano. Matt J. Rossano is Professor of Psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University and author of Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved.
This article first appeared on The Huffington Post.
"Reply the tape a million times ... and I doubt that anything like Homo sapiens would ever evolve again" (Stephen Jay Gould from "Wonderful Life", 1989 p. 289, Harvard University Press.).
With his standard panache, the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould argued strenuously that evolution had no inherent directionality. It was a cosmic crapshoot - in no way destined to produce anything complex, self-conscious or human.

We are mere accidents; a "tiny twig on an improbable branch of
a contingent limb on a fortunate tree" ("Wonderful Life" p. 291).

Highly fortunate indeed! Eons ago, a dinosaur-dominated earth held little promise for mammalian ascendancy (let alone primates or humans). Our distant ancestors might have remained little more than scurrying nuisances nipping at the feet of giants if not for a most unlikely calamity - a massive meteor strike which swept away the dinos and forever altered the earth's bio-saga. Who would have guessed?

Evolution's capricious nature seemed to represent a severe stumbling block for the Abrahamaic religious traditions. In their narrative, humans represented the culmination of God's creative work - the very purpose for creation itself. But evolution is an awfully shoddy way of enacting a divine plan. Gould delighted in annoying the faithful by emphasizing this very point:
"Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution - paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce" ("The Panda's Thumb", 1980, pp. 20-1).
Theologians, however, were quick to point out that the chance element in evolution was neither new nor necessarily contrary to the Judeo-Christian view of God. Human history was replete with chance; evolution only extended the theme. Moreover, chance allowed for freedom - a virtue high on God's agenda. However theologically sound these retorts may have been, their force was often lost on the average believer. The accidental nature of human existence provided just another reason to reject evolution altogether in order to preserve God's special concern for humanity.

Gould was a talented science writer, but he overplayed evolution's whimsy. Increasingly, science is showing that the evolutionary process has many built-in constraints which limit its possibilities and bias its pathways. Take, for example, the ubiquitous phenomenon of convergence - the tendency for highly diverse species to independently evolve similar adaptive (analogous, not homologous) traits. Most of us are familiar with the saber-toothed tiger, the scourge of our hominin ancestors. Less familiar are a group of South American marsupials called the thylacosmilids who independently evolved similar protruding saber-teeth. Convergence can also be seen in a number of specifically human traits. For example, we share a mode of locomotion, bipedalism, with birds, kangaroos, and some dinos. The lateralized and convoluted structure of our brains can also be found in octopi, this despite the fact that vertebrates and cephalopods diverged from one another over 450 million years ago.

In his book "Life's Solution" (2003, Cambridge Press) Cambridge Palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris documents scores of examples of convergent evolution from insect body designs to the social systems of dolphins and chimpanzees (both fission-fusion). The important lesson [of convergence] is that there are only a limited number of ways that evolution can solve the adaptive problems posed by the earth's ecosystems. Time and again, evolution stumbles upon the same general design features from which to fashion adaptive traits.

Now add to this the Baldwin effect - an idea originally proposed in 1896 wherein organisms are posited to actively shape their own selective forces. For example, suppose some fairly intelligent primates begin fashioning tools, giving them access to new resources and a competitive advantage over non-tool users. Any genetic predisposition facilitating tool use would also be positively selected. A severe limitation on Baldwin effects has always been the unpredictability of genetic mutation. For any heritable genetic changes to occur (so the thinking has always been) our tool wielding primate would just have to wait around and hope for a lucky "tool use" mutation to pop up. But maybe not. Two recent books, Jablonka and Lamb's "Evolution in Four Dimensions" (2005 MIT press) and Kirschner and Gerhart's "The Plausibility of Life" (2005, Yale University Press) discuss connections between recent work in genetics and Baldwinian processes. What if the primate's tool use actually raised the probability that a tool-relevant genetic change would take place which could then be passed along to offspring?

Recent genetic research (in a field called epigenetics) shows that experiences occurring over one's lifetime can produce heritable genetic changes. For example, mice exposed to two weeks of environmental enrichment (more social interaction, activity, novel objects to explore) show evidence of enhanced memory function (not surprising). More surprising is that their offspring also show evidence of enhanced memory even though they were never exposed to environmental enrichment (Journal of Neuroscience, 29, p. 1496). Thus, the increased environmental stimulation created a genetic change in the parents that was then transmitted to offspring. This change appears to involved altered patterns of gene regulation (how genes are turned on and off during development). Similar effects have been noted in humans (see European Journal of Human Genetics, 14, p. 159).

Convergence, epigenetic inheritance, and Baldwin effects are only a few of the mechanisms serving as directional constraints on evolution's pathways. In his review of the various factors affecting the evolutionary process, anthropologist Melvin Konner concludes:
"There are no intrinsic driving factors in evolution, but there are intrinsic constraints and canalized paths along which either evolution or development may more easily proceed" ("The Evolution of Childhood," Harvard Press, 2010, p. 59, emphasis in original).
Of course, none of these constraining factors guarantee our arrival on the evolutionary stage. They do, however, raise the odds that in time a complex, rational, self-aware creature capable of entertaining both scientific and religious ideas might emerge.

The more we understand evolution, the less it seems like neither the bogeyman creationists fear nor the universal God-dissolving acid some atheists crave.




A Proper Biblical Epistemology v. Christian Certainty

Certainty Not (another one of those pesky pre-biblical theological decisions)
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/04/certainty-not-another-one-of-those-pesky-pre-biblical-theological-decisions/

A strong dose of intellectual humility, rooted in acknowledgment of
one's own fallibility, would save the world around them a lot of trouble.

by Roger Olson
posted April 19, 2011

Some time ago I wrote here about two important theological decisions the Bible does not help us solve. The first one was (1) nominalism/voluntarism versus realism (with regard to whether God has a nature) and the second one was (2) whether the church of the New Testament was the church in embryo or the mature church. Where a person comes down on these issues inevitably influences much of his or her theology, but the Bible does not directly (or perhaps even indirectly) tell us what the right view is.

Another such pre- or extra-biblical theological decisions every thinking Christian makes and that influences his or her theological thinking is whether certainty is a human possibility. I often find myself bemused about a theological discussion or debate and then figure out that my lack of understanding my debate partner’s point of view relates to (3) our different views of certainty.

I am a fallibilist; some Christians aren’t. That is, (1) I believe, because of our finitude and fallenness, all human beings are fallible all of the time with exceptions of Jesus Christ and the writers of Scripture. I admit it is possible that some other human persons have infallible revelation, but I doubt it.

I am also convinced (fallibly!) that (2) finite and fallen human beings are not capable of certainty without an immediate, supernatural gift of certainty. And I don’t think I know anyone who has that and I’m alway suspicious of claims to it.

Two books have been especially helpful to me in this regard: Dan Taylor’s The Myth of Certainty and Lesslie Newbigin’s Proper Confidence. These are excellent, small treatments of the subject of certainty from a Christian perspective.
  • Taylor’s is a semi-autobiographical, narrative-shaped discussion of certainty. In place of "certainty" the author recommends that we settle for "the risk of commitment".
  • Newbigin says “Christian faith is not a matter of logically demonstrable certainties but of the total commitment of fallible human beings "putting their trust in the faithful God who has called them.” (99)

[Summary position]. I believe we can have blessed assurance and proper confidence in God and God’s revelation, but absolute certainty that transcends all possibility of being wrong is normally unavailable to mere mortals, at least in this life.


On Capital Punishment

We have all experienced THINKING we knew something FOR SURE and then finding out we were wrong.

Does denial of certainty amount to lack of commitment? No. Commitment takes on special significance in the absence of absolute certainty. In the absence of certainty I must sometimes take the risk of commitment to a cause, but I CANNOT take another person’s life based on my uncertain “knowledge” of their guilt (to use one example of the practical implications of my epistemology). Neither should anyone, because no one has that kind of certainty.

Am I absolutely certain that capital punishment is wrong? I can only say that I am as certain of that as I am of almost anything I believe. But of course my certainty falls short of absoluteness. To claim absolute certainty about anything is, my opinion, tantamount to claiming to have God’s own knowledge of it.

Lack of absolute certainty requires humility and humility requires circumspection in all decisions and actions. Taking another person’s life when you could be wrong about their guilt is, I believe, a sin. (That’s not the only reason I think it’s a sin, but it’s one reason.)

On the other hand, lack of certainty does not paralyze; putting someone in prison for life without the possibility of parole when you think they deserve death is an act the risk of commitment in the face of lack of absolute certainty. It leaves open the possibility of reversal of judgment if it should turn out that the person was not guilty (however unlikely that may seem).

[Captial Punishment] is just one case study in proper confidence rather than absolute certainty. I am always a little afraid of people who claim to have absolute certainty about anything. I’ve known too many people who claimed to have “the mind of God” (and really seemed to believe it!) who went off on crazy crusades involving absurdity and/or abuse. A strong dose of intellectual humility, rooted in acknowledgment of one's own fallibility, would save the world around them a lot of trouble.

None of this means we shouldn’t act. What it means is, as we act, we should be aware that we are taking a risk and that God is both our judge and the giver of mercy when, by his light and help, we do the best we can.



19 Responses
  1. Zach says:
    Great Post! Particularly in regard to epistemology and acting (particularly from a Christian perspective) I’ve always found Reinhold Niebuhr to be top dog; having and not having the truth, the struggle for justice, etc (I have to admit I find the late Niebuhr top dog in most things). What’s your take on Niebuhr? Do you recommend/have found helpful a Christian ethicist who covers this topic well (the extent of our knowledge and how we should act, i.e. ethics)?
    • Roger says:
      I find Niebuhr helpful. A recent Niebuhr-like treatment of Christian social ethics is Making the Best of It by John Stackhouse.
  2. K Gray says:
    Two topics relating to certainty: spiritual knowledge and other knowledge.
    Spiritual knowledge – “Now faith is being sure [assurance] of what we hope for and certain [conviction] of what we do not see.” I do not know Greek so maybe someone else knows whether or not this approximates certainty.
        • K Gray says:
          Professor Olson, do you have any comment on Hebrews 11:1? Also, Jesus promises, and Paul explains, the Spirit will disclose truth to men, as taken from God’s mind. If God chooses to reveal and disclose certain truths, and grants spiritual knowledge, wisdom and understanding more and more (to those who have), should mature Christians remain less-than-certain of those things, e.g. Jesus will return? Maybe this is an issue of semantics. That’s why I was asking about the Greek in Heb. 11:1, for example.
          Ben – Truth for today: Jesus is risen! :)
          • Roger says:
            Perhaps it is an issue of semantics. I don’t know any human being who, in the deepest recesses of his or her thoughts, doesn’t occasionally have a doubt about something revealed. 
  1. Jerry L says:
    Roger, we certainly can agree on this point. A belief in our own fallibility would go along way towards solving many of the useless arguments we have regarding issues of theology. I am always leery of pronouncements from the left, right or middle that they some how, outside of clear scriptural mandate, know the mind of God on a particular issue, this usually results in my asking for a clearly laid out argument from scripture.
    It is also why I think many Evangelicals/Post-Evangelicals/Liberals/You Name the Group, fail us when they don’t also look to the wisdom of nearly 2,000 years of church thinking on many these very same issues, while I am confident that the catholic (small c intentional) church has not always been right or in a position to speak to every issue a little attendance to the wisdom of the whole church might have saved us many an argument. This is one of the reasons I am ill at ease regarding arguments about, capital punishment, just war and many other topics. I can’t fail to listen to Yoder any more than I can to Agustin.
  2. Aaron says:
    “Dan Taylor’s The Myth of Certainty and Lesslie Newbigin’s Proper Confidence.”
    – Agreed, great books!
  3. jc_freak says:
    This is my favorite post from you thus far. You have managed to capture something that has always been true for me that I have never thought to articulate, but is at the heart of much of my interactions with other people.
    One of the things that I have been working on in my life is actually taking those risks of commitment that you are talking about. Because I recognize the possibility of being wrong, it therefore means that I often don’t want to act, and I usually prefer decisions that are reversible or at least alterable.
    But what I have become aware of over time is the need of decisiveness(and I mean ‘need’ in the literal sense). This has driven me to take more risks, and to be comfortable walking out on even important issues confidently on probablies and maybes.
  4. Ian Paul says:
    Thanks for this–I love your differentiation between proper confidence and absolute certainty. I wonder if this debate relates to James Smith’ ‘The Fall of Interpretation’ arguing that hermeneutics is pre- not post- lapsarian as an element of human finiteness not human sin?
  5. Taylor says:
    Dr. Olson, I’ve not read Taylor or Newbigin’s books, but I’ll have to add them to my list. A couple of summers ago, I took my Wednesday church crowd through Alister McGrath’s book “Doubting” which includes a marvelous chapter entitled, “Doubt and the Vain Search for Certainty.” The church responded very well to the study. Not only is it freeing to recognize that having faith is not the same thing as being certain, but, like you wrote, it also helps us to live with more humbly with one another.
    • Roger says:
      I’m sure you’ve heard this, Taylor, but I’ll put it here anyway (for others’ benefit). Fred Buechner wrote that “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith–it keeps it moving.”
  6. Joel Naranjo says:
    I completely agree with you, dr. Olson. For long time i’ve struggled with the issue of certainty, and come to the conclusion that epistemological humility (that would be a fancy way to put it) is actually a christian virtue. But I’m not that sure that the Bible doesn’t say anything about it. When I read passages like Proverbs 9:8 or 21:11 I see that a mark of the wise is willingness to be corrected. And this would imply that the wise is willing to recognize the possibility of being wrong, and therefore would be open to listen closely to other people opinions, to ponder them and even change his mind if there are good reason for it. I’m not sure many people have passages like this in mind when it comes to theological discussions…
  7. Adam L says:
    Hey Dr. Olson!
    Great post!
    I was wondering if you could speak more about why you exempt the writers of scripture from fallibility. I can understand the logic when it comes to Christ (who is God), but I’m not sure how that could be claimed of non-divine beings (such as authors of scripture).
    Thanks!
    Adam
    PS – Great blog! Wow, I didn’t even realize you had one!
    • Roger says:
      Hi, Adam. By faith I accept that God granted the prophets and apostles special inspiration that resulted in infallibility in matters pertaining to salvation. If others have also written or spoken infallibly on such matters (or any other matters) I’m not aware of it.
  8. James W. says:
    How certain is certain? Its only relatively certain, and, yes, fallibly certain, and yet certain. When it arrives, it comes as a gift from God. I have searched my whole life for certainty. It arrived through my baptism with the Holy Spirit. It came as a great surprise, and it is my life’s watershed moment. It happened when I struggled to let go of my heart’s attachment to worldly things, and when I asked Him to fill me with His Spirit. I now carry with me the gift of certainty concerning God’s love for you and me and the presence of his Holy Spirit in our lives.