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, April 11, 2012

Critique of Tim Keller's "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople"

Through this past year we have been considering the arguments for an evolutionary creation to determine its validity as a 21st Century scientific theory for the origins of the cosmos and mankind specifically. And in this determination to reflect upon more recent Christian insights in favor of an evolutionary creation over the more traditional theory of a literal, seven day creation. In the fall of 2009 Tim Keller, a pastor of one of New York City's successful evangelical churches, presented his understanding of a Christian-based evolutionary mindset to that of a non-Christian mindset, as well as to his own preference for the more traditional view of biblical creation. Here are my first impressions when reading through Dr. Keller's paper with what we have earlier discussed this past year....

R.E. Slater
April 11, 2012 

Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 6
Tim Keller is pastor and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City


The six-part series that begins today is taken from a paper Dr. Keller presented at the first BioLogos Theology of Celebration Workshop in October of 2009. It considers three main clusters of questions lay people raise with their pastors when introduced to the teaching that biological evolution and biblical orthodoxy can be compatible. As a pastor and evangelist himself, Keller takes these concerns seriously and offers suggestions for addressing them without requiring believers adopt a particular view or accept a definitive answer. In this first installment, Keller gives an overview of the tension between biblical and scientific accounts on origins, before addressing the specific issues and responses in subsequent posts.

Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 1

Dr. Keller begins by presenting an argument by non-Christian scientists that a thinking person cannot believe in the Bible while accepting scientific findings. This as been discussed in multiple articles here on this web blog and we would find consent with Dr. Keller's assessment that this, of course, cannot be true, while realizing that Dr. Keller prefers the traditional presentation of the Genesis story from a non-evolutionary standpoint as versus our evolutionary presentation from a Christian standpoint.

We can also find agreement with Dr. Keller's presentation of the Christian philosopher Peter van Inwagen's statement for God's inclusion of mankind's religious belief into the human genetic structure from early on (which I think is an incredible admission by a traditional creationist, and a point of commanality that we can build upon). Consequently, by this theorized act of God humanity has gradually become more-and-more distinguishable from the animal kingdom:

For example, there have been a number of efforts to argue that there may be evolutionary reasons for religious belief. That is, it may be that capacity for religious belief is ‘adaptive’ or is connected to other adaptive traits, passed down from our ancestors because they supported survival and reproduction. There is no consensus about this among evolutionary biologists. Nevertheless, its very proposal seems to be completely antithetical to any belief that God is objectively real. However, Christian philosopher Peter van Inwagen asks:
Suppose that God exists and wants supernaturalistic belief to be a human universal, and sees (he would see this if it were true) that certain features would be useful for human beings to have— useful from an evolutionary point of view: conducive to survival and reproduction—would naturally have the consequence that supernaturalistic belief would be in due course a human universal. Why shouldn’t he allow those features to be the cause of the thing he wants?—rather as the human designer of a vehicle might use the waste heat from its engine to keep its passengers warm.3
Van Inwagen’s argument is sound. Even if science could prove that religious belief has a genetic component that we inherit from our ancestors, that finding is not incompatible with belief in the reality of God or even the truth of the Christian faith. There is no logical reason to preclude that God could have used evolution to predispose people to believe in God in general so that people would be able to consider true belief when they hear the gospel preached. This is just one of many places where the supposed incompatibility of orthodox faith with evolution begins to fade away under more sustained reflection.

After these introductory statements Dr. Keller then sets out four arguments that need resolvement if he, as a traditionalist, is to entertain evolutionary creationism from a Christian standpoint. By way of comment it must be noted that each of these areas of concern have been specifically addressed in detail during this past year blogging on my part and may be found through this blog's sidebars for further referencing and discussion....

1.  Biblical authority (cf. "bible, hermeneutics, science" sidebars)
  • Is the bible authoritative or not?
  • Are we simply left to pick and choose selective texts?
2.  Confusion of biology and philosophy (cf. "bible, hermeneutics, science" sidebars)
  • EBP, Evolutionary Biological Process (allows for mechanism superintended by God)
  • GTE, the 'Grand Theory of Everything' (is strictly a mechanistic interpretation by science)
3.  Historicity of Adam and Eve (cf. "bible, hermeneutics, science" sidebars)
  • Literal? Symbolic?
  • The problem of sin and the Fall
4. The problem of violence and evil (cf, "theism, specifically relational and process theism; sovereignty and free will; suffering and evil; and, calvinism" sidebars)
  • Why do we have suffering and evil in the world?

Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 2

Question #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?

Answer: 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 and agenda on them.

These are valid questions and again have been answered in previous articles (cf. "bible, hermeneutics, science" sidebars). It is the preference of this web blog to take the Bible literally by focusing on biblical authority and authenticity among other subjects.

We have also focused quite diligently upon the relevancy of communication of the biblical text through postmodern scrutiny as well. A scrutiny that sees the Bible as always relevant (or open-ended in relational/process terms) and not as a static set of fiat statements, irrelevant liturgy, closed-end creeds and subjective religious belief sets left to us in the cold light of Calvinism and Classic Theism.

Under the sidebar "Bible, Hermeneutics, Science" will also be found further discussion related to the various texts found in the Bible: poetic, prose, narrative, historical, parable, apocalyptic, etc, which will relate to topics relative to the Genesis 1-2 text.

Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 3

Question#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?

Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.

In several specific articles we have discriminated time-and-again the difference between a Christian view of Evolutionary Creation as versus the more mundane non-Christian view of "Darwinism" or "Scientific Naturalism." Dr. Keller uses the term "Grand Theory of Everything," or GTE, to describe this latter view of Darwinism from an agnostic, or atheistic, viewpoint. He allows that Christians may consider an "Evolutionary Biological Process," or EBE, as a countering scientific explanation without requiring the non-Christian philosophical view of GTE. In this we would be in agreement here with Dr. Keller:

Another very important area where we must ‘push back’ against GTE is in its efforts to explain away moral intuitions. An excellent recent volume where, again, Christian philosophers take the lead is Jeffrey Schloss, ed. The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion (Oxford, 2009.) See especially Christian Smith’s chapter “Does Naturalism Warrant a Moral Belief in Universal Benevolence and Human Rights?” (By the way, his conclusion is ‘no.’) So what does this mean? Many orthodox Christians who believe in EBP often find themselves attacked by those Christians who do not. But it might reduce the tensions between believers over evolution if they could make common cause against GTE. Most importantly, it is the only way to help Christian laypeople make the distinction in their minds between evolution as biological mechanism and as Theory of Life.

Dr. Keller then returns to his first consideration in Part 1 of whether "religion" has been planted mechanistically by God into the human genome structure to circumvent the GTE statement that man's religious nature is simply a byproduct of evolution rather than a hominid characteristic distinguishing it from other living species. In a convoluted argument both for-and-against his statement Dr. Keller then comes back to the side of the traditional creation theory to avoid what seems most naturally a true assessment of God sovereign acts in the development of mankind by a Christian evolutionist (even up to this present time and beyond!):

Many know about Alvin Plantinga’s ‘Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism’ in which, much like C.S. Lewis in his book Miracles, he argues that “Evolution is interested (so to speak) only in adaptive behavior, not in true belief. Natural selection doesn’t care what you believe; it is interested only in how you behave.”5 The argument goes like this. Does natural selection (alone) give us cognitive faculties (sense perception, rational intuition about those perceptions, and our memory of them) that produce true beliefs about the real world? In as far as true belief produces survival behavior—yes. But who can say how far that is? If a theory makes it impossible to trust our minds, then it also makes it impossible to be sure about anything our minds tell us--including macro-evolution itself-- and everything else.6 Any theory that makes it impossible to trust our minds is self-defeating.

When considering the Christian Evolutionary Creation (EC) as versus the GTE it makes for a great set of philosophical arguments that would seem to nullify one another:

EC: "God has put His Image upon our genetic structure."
GTE: "No, man's cognitive facilities have produced your sense of "God."
EC: "Man's sense of God is there because they were built in to give us our cognitive facilities."
GTE: "You have answered your own argument!"
EC: "Aye, verily, and so have you!" J

Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 4

Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

Answer: 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.

Says Dr. Keller thus far:

"My answers to the first two sets of questions are basically negative. I resist the direction of inquirer’s thought. I don’t believe you have to take Genesis 1 as a literal account, and I don’t think that to believe human life came about through EBP you necessarily must support evolution as the GTE.

"However, I find the concerns of this question much more well-grounded. Indeed, I must disclose, I share them. Many orthodox Christians who believe God used EBP to bring about human life not only do not take Genesis 1 as history, but also deny that Genesis 2 is an account of real events. Adam and Eve, in their view, were not historical figures but an allegory or symbol of the human race. Genesis 2, then, is a symbolic story or myth which conveys the truth that human beings all have and do turn away from God and are sinners."

His concern is one of describing the reality of sin and evil if there is no literal figure of Adam or Eve. In a small way I have attempted an answer to both dilemmas in the following post:

How God Created by Evolution:
A Proposed Theory of Man's Evolutionary Development
by R.E. Slater

Moreover, I accept Kenneth Kitchen's past dictum that there is truism in the Genesis 1 account and will continue to work towards resolving this conundrum.... That is to say, to me, Genesis 1 reads like a mythological poem that is TRUE - and is, in this sense, not to be read as a fabled myth, as is commonly thought, but rather as a true essay written in mythological terms to the non-Christian. Consequently, I feel that there is more work to be done in explaining the Genesis creation account with parallel, modern day, evolutionary equivalents if Christianity is to proceed in a scientifically relevant way. Thus, Kitchen's comment certainly would explain my current understanding as well, and to that end I have been considering a future article that would work on the pros and cons of EC where the themes of Genesis 1 are further explored in a similar vein to the earlier proposal I wrote (above) on additionally selected theological/spiritual topics:

The ancient Near East did not historicize myth (i.e. read it as imaginary ‘history’.) In fact, exactly the reverse is true—there was, rather, a trend to ‘mythologize’ history, to celebrate actual historical events and people in mythological terms…- Kenneth Kitchen

However, where it concerns Dr. Keller's argument from the basis of Paul's understanding is where I will have to agree to disagree. Paul's ancient non-scientific mindset cannot be considered apropos in this discussion. What can be considered apropos is Paul's theological account by the Spirit of God of man's fallen condition and his consequential sin. These theologic facts are true otherwise there is no sense given for the Christian story of God's redemption, salvation, and atonement of mankind. In fact, there is no story of God at all at this point except as a useless religious concept that can only help mankind in sociological terms of ethics, morality and common human development in its storied evolutionary history. A history devoid of any meaning beyond the observance that we live, we die, and our species continues on until someday the cosmos goes cold and black.

Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 5

Dr. Keller now turns to "sin and salvation" saying,

Some may respond, “Even though we don’t think there was a literal Adam, we can accept the teaching of Genesis 2 and Romans 5, namely that all human beings have sinned and that through Christ we can be saved. So the basic Biblical teaching is intact, even if we do not accept the historicity of the story of Adam and Eve.” I think that assertion is too simplistic.

Here, he pretty much re-iterates what I previously had just mentioned in my last paragraph of Part 4, so that I find we are both in agreement with our concerns except for his preference for the more simplistic, literal explanation, for an Adam and an Eve.

Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 6

It seems that Dr. Keller finally relents and thinks through the proposition of Evolutionary Creationism by positing that from the population of hominids existing on the planet at the time, that God chose one species to endow with tool making ability. However, we know that tool making ability pushes primitive mankind back into a far more distant past than simply the homo sapien time period. Consequently, Dr. Keller has suggested a time that cannot be remembered through even the simplest of oral histories if we were to go millions of years into the past. If, however, he is suggesting that he is referring to the more recent development of the homo sapien society, a society that in its simplest forms was still hundreds of thousands of years removed from Abraham and Moses, then we still have a problem of oral transmission. If we continue to push Dr. Keller's hypothesis forward from the old stone age, to the new stone age, and into the pre-bronze age of ancient near eastern civilization than we are beginning to come to the possibility of transmitting a "realized creation story." One that may be possible to transmit orally many thousands of years later into the didactic annuals of Hebraic narrative history. But still, you cannot have a first hand account of creation itself. Nor of man himself. It can only be a creation account given by God because no man lived to witness creation's development. There is only the cosmic, geologic, biologic, and fossil record to tell us what may have taken place.

And thus you have yet another problem. The problem of the story of creation amidst the problem of the creation of God's story claimed by many believers as true, and by as many non-believers as not true. From this author's perspective it is true. But how to bring its perspective to scientific probability will ultimately be one of faith. Not scientific argument. Even from an evolutionary creationist viewpoint. The times are too distant and the skepticism of our hearts seemingly unabated. Consequently, as much as we try to describe a reasonable scientific view that accords with 21st century discoveries, still, in the end, it comes down to faith. Is God real? Is He out there? Can He be known? Has He made Himself known? If He has then how did He manage that? By what process? Is what we have in the Christian Bible true? How can we know that its true? How can we trust ourselves in an evolutionary sense to know this truth? In a philosophical sense?  How have we made the Bible its own god? How are we limiting its words with our own words? How can we hear God if we can't hear one another? The questions can go on, and on, and on. But thanks to Dr. Keller's willingness to air his concerns, the Biologos foundation to shape better Christian arguments, the innumerable theologians and scientists committed to discovery, and today's crop of relevant blog writers, we will have no end of discussion on these subjects. But for my part I believe God is real. Is knowable. That He has somehow, and in someway, mysteriously communicated with us in many ways, including the transmission of His Word that we call the Bible. That God has a plan. A purpose. A will. And it all starts and ends with His Son Jesus. Who is the God of the universe. And Savior of our souls. So then join with me on this never-ending journey of creation, redemption, renewal and the divine-human cooperative we call "walking with God" and let us explore these mighty realms of mystery impassioned by the relentless footprint of man.

R.E. Slater
April 11, 2012

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