Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What Is Narrative Theology? It is the "Grander Story of God and Creation"

The Grander Story of God and Creation

In today's contemporary theology a new term has arisen called "Narrative Theology" that is sidling alongside the older term of "Biblical Theology" to give it a fuller expression to our dynamic understanding between God and man that we've been calling Relational Theism in an everyday expression of interaction, community, and relationship between the Godhead and Creation. Whereas the older idea of revelatory communication showed us what God was doing in specific covenantal areas of the Old and New Testaments, narrative theology takes this idea and couples it with another older German theological idea of heilsgeschichte (salvation history; a term used by Oscar Cullman to describe an interpretation of history emphasizing God's saving acts and viewing Jesus Christ as the central theme of redemption). That is, as God reveals Himself to mankind He is also remaking the idea of Himself to mankind into a truer, fuller, expression of Himself as He teaches us of Himself through salvific events of covenant, sin, redemption, etc. Which events continue to evolve our relationship to Himself and to Creation. It is God's narrative of himself, his divine story to us. As much as it is our own narrative. Our story of us, back to God. It is then, the story of God and us. God and me. God and Creation, as we commune each with the other, era after era, age after age, through His image relationally, in love, in truth, in passion, in anger, in all that makes us "us". It is our t-o-g-e-t-h-e-r story of the divine/human cooperative amidst the larger story of Creation.

God and Creation
To this concept I might further add the important idea of eschatological escalationwhich gives meaning to the idea that within each era's narrative story between God and man is the further idea that this narrative story continues to expand, to eschalate, upwards into a fuller story of redemption and salvation. That is, there is a future hope, or promise, within Christianity that has a time element to it that works itself progressively forward within time-and-space (e.g. within the history of mankind) which lends itself to the fuller expression of the idea of a future Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that encapsulates all of Creation's past into all of its future. That, as much as Israel moved forward in its storied history towards its ultimate expression in Jesus, their Messiah, which then gave birth to the Church. So too is the Church moving forwards towards that time when Jesus is manifested again in some future time period we call God's Kingdom. But as a returning King and not as a crucified Saviour. One who comes to Rule what He has Redeemed.

Interlocking Shalom
through Redemption
Hence, God's story of Himself is also the story of man whom God incorporates into His story - not simply by telling us of Himself - of who He is - but of telling us of who we are, and how we fit importantly into His plans in a glorious era to come that we call the New Heavens and New Earth. That we have hope and that our hope is not hopeless when we see so much death and destruction, injustice and impoverishment around us. That He is redeeming all of mankind and not only some of mankind. That He is configuring us to be a significant part of this story of redemption, of redeeming mankind. That while He tarries we are to work towards the coming Kingdom Rule of Jesus through love and good works (we call this concept the Ethics of the Kingdom of God). And that we have as much a future in eternity's history NOW, as we will LATER, as God Himself does who indwells all of eternity's history of past, present and future. That both the Creator and the Created are bound together as One in a steady evolution of recapture, re-incorporation, re-assimilation, re-adoption, reconciliation, and redemption (the adjectives to describe this are endless!).

Further, the Christian story is not one merely of redemptive revelation (biblical covenants), historical progress (heilsgeschichte or salvation history), and forward movement unto a completed Hope (we call this Christianity's teleology, it's eschatological hope). But that all of these movements show a helical structure to themselves that seem oddly familiar to us - though dissimilar as well - in that we seem to be repeating God's redemptive purposes again, and again, and again, in a circular paradigm of historical import. Only that this paradigm is stretched out in an upward fashion teleologically so that we have a helical structure of history progressing forwards, or eschalating upwards, into the fuller story of God Himself. We are thus being inextricably drawn forwards - and upwards at the same time - into repetitive, circular expressions of God's story of our redemption from sin; of stories of healing and health; and unto culminating, continuing, stories of eternal completeness. This then is the Christian story. It's narrative. It is one of culminating, eternal, completeness.

Picture a 2d helix set along the lines of time and motion (= event). The
Christian story is one of Salvific escalation showing an historical repetition
 and forward movement in time sequences that are similar but dissimilar
as God recreates the cosmos through redemption's cycle of renewal.

In terms of biblical events God's movement through time
and history would show a progression from one covenantal
era to another as creation becomes aligned with its Creator
in redemptive renewal. This also means that God will do
newer redemptive things in successively evolving eras. In
a sense God is changing in relation to His own creation.

From this idea of storied theology come the new idea of Narrative Theology long lost over the past 500 years of Reformational teachings emphasizing systematic doctrine in place of the biblical practice of storied narrative that once incorporated doctrinal ideas into the biblical story being told amongst ancient peoples. Thus today's contemporary theologies are adjusting from past Reformational practices of scientific statement about God which gave impetus to dearly held Christian heritages, dogmas, liturgies, and practices, and allowing the larger narrative of God to arise over popularly held biblical ideas and expressions. Curiously, today's postmodernistic cultures have rapidly accepted this style of teaching making it a very popular form of talking about God and God's revelation to man.

But not to the exclusion of systematic study and biblical apologetic discussion of the Scriptures. But in the sense of "uplifting" those ideas and doctrines into the newer areas of storied theology which in its own way is recreating God's story to us from the ancient settings of past biblical events into relevant ideas available for public reception, discussion, and incorporation. This is an important development and one that needs to be used deftly, honestly, and graciously without reducing biblical teaching to the pandering philosophies of humanism's overly therapeutic cultures and narcissistic preoccupation with one's own experience. That said, Narrative Theology is a powerful tool in re-imagining God's Word to both Christian and non-Christian audiences alike thought lost so long ago to the Bedouin experiences of very ancient cultures and ideologies.

Consequently - (and I'm speaking to my past evangelical heritage now) - one such adjustment that must be made is the evangelic belief that "systematic theology" (or, reductionistic biblical re-statement) is the fuller expression of God.... But in actuality has done just the opposite by reducing God into our own privately held ideas of Himself and His Story through our own logical, analytical expressions of formulaic theological creeds, church covenants, and dogmas. By saying that (i) God is thus-and thus, and consequently (ii) we are thus-and-thus, then (iii) we must do such-and-such. These reductionisms, though at times helpful to our feeble intelligences, do greater harm to the larger story of God and Creation. A story that is larger than our own interpretation of it....

Hence, we must always give precedence to biblical/narrative theology over that of any systematizing theology, dogmatic expressions, creedal confessions and ecclesiastical statements. Not only do we look to the text of Scripture for this help through a hermeneutic of biblical/narrative theology, but we look first and foremost to the God of Scripture Himself (relational theism) to drive our expectations, our theologies, our ethics, in the story of us as seen through God's completing glories.

Our stories must then be God's stories of ourselves. And our stories must also be of God's own story of His divine majesty. It is not only a story of the Triunity of the Godhead but of the completing unity of Creation to this Godhead that gives all majesty. However you wish to word it, God created Creation to be part of Himself, and He in it, in a process of completing harmony, resolution, and order. This then is the real biblical narrative of redemption and salvation.

R.E. Slater
February 24, 2012

The Evolving Narrative of God's Redemption


The following articles by JR Daniel Kirk will address the change in relationship between three theological disciplines: biblical, systematic and narrative theology. In the older idea good biblical theology led to good systematic/analytic statements about God, us and the world. In the newer idea, systematic theology is abandoned (in a sense) and is replaced with a narrative theology that enhances biblical theology.

If systematic statements are now made of God they must be couched within the greater stories (and mysteries or enigmas!) of biblical/narrative theology. Hence, we may say that "God is good," but must realize that this statement will have multiple meanings depending upon its listeners social, cultural, and temporal milieus (that is, it is dependent upon the cultural era, type of society, and generational characteristics prevalent within that historical era).

Consequently, systematic theology has become un-systematized due to narrative (and postmodern) influences necessitating theologians to talk of God within a given socio-cultural context that would allow for cultural elasticity and flow. As well as for the broad human dynamics of linguistic communication that can be both plain and ambiguous to the same listeners on the same subject. God created man in His image. That image is infinitely complex and eternal. We are God's image bearers and should expect nothing less than to be amazed at the capacities God has given to us in bearing His image.

Thus, God cannot be systematised. And should not be. He is a living Being as we are living beings. Nor should the Bible be systematised. It is God's living Word which thus makes the Bible an open document without a culminating interpretation so that it can dynamically speak to every age, era, culture, and community of humanity. It opens God up to us without providing systematised, formulaic, expressions of definitive statement about God and ourselves. It can do this because we are open beings who live in open socio-cultural contexts and use an open language that is symbolic and can be as ambiguous as it is plain. All of which then allows for fluidity (that is, elasticity and flow) within our communication with God and with each other.

Humanity changes with time and circumstance. This is what is meant when Classic Theism meets Process Theology - one is old timey, the other postmodern. Somewhere in between is its synthetic alternative I prefer to call Relational Theism. An alternative that I think better retains the past to the relationship of the future (e.g., postmodernism) without throwing out God's steady redemptive narrative that has been evolving since He spoke the worlds into being. And will not stop evolving until all worlds have come under submission to His will and Word.

A submission that will allow for the greatest amount of freedom without the terror of sin, death and destruction behind it all because of Jesus' work of redemption. Because all things have come under God's redemption - and will come under God's redemption - both now and forevermore. God's Word is as living and true now as it was a hundred years ago, a millenia ago, or even eons ago. And it is spoken from the very God who "Is" (Yhwh = I Am), and is evolving with us, even as we are evolving with Him, in an open theology of time and import.

R.E. Slater
April 16, 2012 

Part 1
Narrative Theology and Biblical Theology

by JRD Kirk
February 24, 2012

Having just read Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?, a reader emailed to ask what, exactly, this narrative theology is that I’m on about in the book. Is there a go-to definition or description? The book embodies it, but what is this “it” we are beholding?

In short, narrative or storied theology is a way to talk about God and proceeds on the premise that the Story is the thing.

Learning the story of God as a story, articulating the various aspects as parts of a dynamic movement that not only passes through time but genuinely develops and changes as it does so, narrative theology never seeks to leave the story behind to get on to the real business of theology or ethics. The church’s theology is the narrative, and its ethics is the telling of that story in the words and deeds of Christian communities.

"Narrative theology recognizes changes in people’s expectations
and even in the nature of the fulfillment of God’s promises."

Narrative Theology is (un)Like Biblical Theology that Preceded It.

Like the biblical theology movement that finds description in the likes of Geerhardus Vos and Reformed theology more generally, it strives to do justice to the interconnections between what we are told about God, God’s promises, and God’s people in the OT, and what we are told about them in the New.

However, unlike the work of some of the older Reformed Biblical theologians, narrative theology reads the story as a history of God’s action, not merely a history of revelation. In the latter, as it is defined within this world, there is a truth about God that is progressively revealed through time–much as though it existed in a heavenly cache, only to be distributed a bit at a time over the course of history.

Narrative theology, instead, recognizes changes in the people’s expectations and even in the nature of the fulfillment of God’s promises. We cannot read the Bible from Genesis through Malachi and be prepared for the surprises of Matthew through Revelation.

Narrative theology is more dynamic, allowing room for dead-ends to certain OT roads, and a radical revision of our understanding of God and salvation in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus–even within the same story that is the story of Israel.

Such a move toward seeing surprise is not absent in the Reformed Tradition, and is captured quite well at several moments in Herman Ridderbos’ Paul. But in general, I see it as a movement beyond Vos, and ultimately untenable metaphors such as the idea that the story develops “from acorn to oak tree.”

Going back further, Narrative Theology also stands over against the notion of biblical theology enshrined in Gabler‘s famous “On the Correct Distinction Between Dogmatic and Biblical Theology and the Right Definition of Their Goals.”

Gabler suggested that the job of biblical studies was to distill the truths from the Bible, to be handed over to the systematicians for proper and logical ordering. Such a vision holds onto what Narrative Theology will always deem a mistake: thinking that “systematic theology” is the real thing, whereas biblical theology is a road on the way to theology’s completion.

Narrative theology grows from the soil prepared by biblical theology, or perhaps it is a branch off the same tree, but it embodies a commitment to the narrative that older concerns with the enduring primacy of systematic (or, if you prefer, analytic) theology in the life of the church did not allow.

In future posts I’ll talk about narrative theology in relationship to systematic theology and to ethics.

Part 2
Narrative Theology and Biblical Theology
February 25, 2012

In practicing a narrative theology, the overarching conviction is that the revelation of God is a story: the story of the creator God, at work in Israel, to redeem and reconcile the world through the story of Jesus.

Part of what this means for me is the possibility of transformation, reconfiguration, and even leaving behind of earlier moments in the story as later scenes show us the way forward and, ultimately, the climactic saving sequence.

This is one point at which I differ from N. T. Wright.

Regularly in Wright’s writing we will find statements such as, “This is what God was up to all along.” I don’t disagree here. But what often goes unspoken, and where I think we need to be more clear, is that one only knows “this is what God was up to all along” once one is already convinced that “this new thing is actually what God is up to.”

The work of Jesus is not merely a saving act. For a people who are convinced that the saving work of Jesus is what was “pre-promised in the scriptures” (Rom 1), the Christ event becomes a hermeneutic. It becomes a lens by which we re-read the Old Testament and discover what can only be seen by the eyes of faith.

In light of the climax of the story, we re-read the earlier moments and discover things that would not have been visible to the original audience. We boldly read those as indications of God’s work in Christ, nonetheless, because we believe that the same God is at work in the same story to bring it to its culmination in him. 

 Image courtesy of The Open Fiction Project tofp.org

This brings me to a point at which my version of narrative theology differs from the work of some practitioners of what is sometimes called “theological interpretation of scripture.” Here the specific example who comes to mind is Kevin Vanhoozer.

Confronted with the incongruity between “behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son” as it is used in Isaiah and in Matthew, Vanhoozer appeals to authorial intention to say that the Matthew meaning was, in a sense, the meaning intended for Isaiah as well. Of course, by “authorial intention,” Vanhoozer means God as author.

Matthew's meaning = Isaiah's meaning
(using authorial intent where God is the Author)

This, it seems to me, is cheating.

Instead, I propose a multiple-reading strategy: Allow the text to mean what it meant in its first context, as much as we can determine this. Do the historical critical work that sheds light on why, for example, an eighth century BC audience would formulate matters just soand then recognize the freedom of later readers to re-read those texts differently in light of later events.

Reading Vahoozer or Dan Treier, I sometimes fear that theological readings become a way to circumvent critical issues. But even if the demands of the church push us toward a final, post-critical reading, where we reincorporate the difficult message of an earlier day into the story of the church by a dramatic rereading of the text, I want to contend that we must still be first critical in order to be post-critical.

To my mind, narrative theology allows for such transformations. We are part of a story. Later moments take up, fulfill, recapitulate, and transform earlier. We can say both, “Isaiah 7 has nothing to do with a person born hundreds of years later to someone who has not had sex,” and, “the virgin birth of Jesus fulfills Isaiah 7.”

Reading a book on theological interpretation by a scholar across the pond, I was struck by a claim that we are to read the Bible as a book addressed to us–that the ideal audience are those who proclaim and profess to follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

This, it seemed, to me, was half right.

Yes, we are like the first and ideal audience: those expected to respond in faithful following of Jesus.

But we are also not like them: we are not first-century Romans; we are not first-century Jews; we are not fifth century Jews in Babylon. There is a specificity to the particular audience that sets us apart from them. To the writer, there would have been a hope that first-century Galatians would respond by “kicking out the slave woman and her son,” even as Abraham did. That word is not directly addressed to us in the same way.

What I propose for reading the Bible itself also pertains to reading it for our communities. We are part of a long story. This means that the retellings will involve some measure of transformation. And this is, itself, faithful and living renarration of the story of God.

Asking Questions of Evolutionary Creationism

Where are the Transitional Fossils?

November 10, 2011

Today’s entry is part of our Video Blog series. For similar resources, visit our audio/video section, or our full "Conversations" collection. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. For more on what BioLogos believes, click here.

Today's entry was written by Kelsey Luoma. Kelsey Luoma is a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, where she received a bachelor's degree in biology. She plans to continue her education in medical school. As an evangelical Christian and student of biology, Luoma is very interested in resolving the conflict between faith and science. She has spent two summers working as a student intern for BioLogos. In the future, she hopes to serve internationally as a physician.


A common argument leveled against the theory of evolution is that scientists have not been able to produce the expected transitional fossils that show the change of one species into another. If evolution were true, wouldn’t there be instances of clear intermediary species, like, for example, a species that was half whale and half hippo to show the transition between those two? In this, the first of what we expect will be many BioLogos podcasts, BioLogos intern Kelsey Luoma addresses this misconception about what a transitional fossil actually is. Rather than a mix between two related species, transitional fossils point back to the common ancestors that modern species share. The fact is that the number of transitional species is massive and it grows with each passing year. Given the rarity with which organisms are actually fossilized, the amazing thing is actually the completeness of the fossil record, not its incompleteness. The transitional species story strongly supports, and certainly does not disprove, evolutionary theory. 1

1. To hear the full audio clips which have been referenced go to:

Where is the Genetic Evidence for Evolution?

January 19, 2012

Today’s entry is part of our Video Blog series. For similar resources, visit our audio/video section, or our full "Conversations" collection. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. For more on what BioLogos believes, click here.

Today's entry was written by Kelsey Luoma. Kelsey Luoma is a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, where she received a bachelor's degree in biology. She plans to continue her education in medical school. As an evangelical Christian and student of biology, Luoma is very interested in resolving the conflict between faith and science. She has spent two summers working as a student intern for BioLogos. In the future, she hopes to serve internationally as a physician.


In our last BioLogos podcast, we looked at the question of transitional fossils, and how the transitional species story strongly supports, and certainly does not disprove, evolutionary theory. In our latest, we move on to look at the genetic evidence for evolution. The discovery of DNA has revolutionized our understanding of common descent, particularly in the past few decades. Mutated genes spread through populations over generations, leading to the change we know as evolution. Amazingly, deeper study of DNA lines up with Darwin's initial observations of the larger natural world. While it would take weeks to highlight all the genetic evidence for evolution, today we focus on a few specific examples: the similarity of genomes for related species, psuedogenes, and genetic markers left by retroviruses.

Possibilities and Second Chances

February 22, 2012

Today’s entry is part of our Video Blog series. For similar resources, visit our audio/video section, or our full "Conversations" collection. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. For more on what BioLogos believes, click here.

Today's video is courtesy of filmmaker Ryan Pettey, director/editor of Satellite Pictures, and features Dr. Rick Colling, biologist and author of Random Designer.


In today’s video, Dr. Rick Colling states that one of the biggest difficulties in communicating compatibility between evolution and faith is a misunderstanding of what evolution is. Evolution is not, he says, about the imposition of death and destruction and survival of the fittest. Rather, it is about second chances. Our bodies contain thousands of genes, which duplicate like a computer back-up copy and can serve as raw material. When an organism encounters adverse environmental condition, this raw material can be used to help adapt and survive.

“God is so creative," says Colling, "that he’s actually put into place a mechanism to start doing these gene changes in advance before they’re even needed. And God has given us a second change through the evolutionary process of creating duplicate genes that give rise to new raw material that give rise to new possibilities, and that really more accurately describes the process of evolution. It’s redemption, it’s possibility, and it’s hope.”

Speciation and Macroevolution

February 23, 2012

Today’s entry is part of our Video Blog series. For similar resources, visit our audio/video section, or our full "Conversations" collection. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. For more on what BioLogos believes, click here.

Today's entry was written by Kelsey Luoma. Kelsey Luoma is a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, where she received a bachelor's degree in biology. She plans to continue her education in medical school. As an evangelical Christian and student of biology, Luoma is very interested in resolving the conflict between faith and science. She has spent two summers working as a student intern for BioLogos. In the future, she hopes to serve internationally as a physician.


In our last two BioLogos podcasts, we looked at the question of transitional fossils and the genetic evidence for evolution. In our final installment of this three part series, we move on to the question of speciation and macroevolution. A common challenge to evolutionary theory is that while life does indeed change over time (what is known as microevolution), no one has ever seen one species evolve into another species (what is known as macroevolution). For example, no one has seen a dog evolve into something other than a dog. Because speciation has never been observed, and because science is based on observation, evolution cannot be considered scientific.

In fact, examples of speciation have been observed by scientists. We must also remember that we are able to observe just a tiny window of the long history of life on Earth, and the fact that any speciation has been noted at all is impressive indeed.


It’s pretty clear to most of us that life can change over time. For those who aren’t convinced, just take a quick trip to your local animal shelter. Each of the dog breeds there, from the Great Dane to the Chihuahua, descended from a single ancestral population. As you probably already know, that ancestral group was a wolf-like species. -How did these drastic changes take place? Well, basically, genetic variation within that original population was acted upon by selective forces. Now, just to be clear, the selection at work here wasn’t natural. It was the result of breeding done over hundreds of years. But the basic principle is the same. Genetic variation plus some sort of selection results in genetic change. This is evolution.

For the most part we are ok with accepting this. Yet many people still have a problem with the Theory of Evolution. Those suspicious of evolutionary Theory generally split evolution into two categories. Instead of arguing that evolution is completely impossible, they will say something like, “I know microevolution is real, but I just can’t accept macroevolution.”

Kent Hovind, an especially outspoken opponent of evolutionary theory, often makes this argument in his presentations:
“Maybe you’re talking about macroevolution. That’s where an animal changes into a different kind of animal. Nobody’s ever seen that. Nobody’s seen a dog produce a non-dog. I mean you may get a big dog or a little dog, I understand, but you’re going to get a dog, okay?” (source)
But what does this mean? What is the difference between micro and macroevolution anyway, and why is one of them ok while the other is condemned?

Well, like many terms used in the evolution debate, the definitions tend to differ depending on who you talk to. This can make rational discussion difficult. Most opponents of evolution, like Kent Hovind, say that macroevolution refers to one “type” or “kind” of organism evolving into another “kind”. Microevolution, they might say, is evolution within a “kind”. Evolution of one dog breed into another, they would say, is microevolution. Evolution of a “dog into a non-dog”, as Hovind puts it, would be “macroevolution.”’

One big problem with this argument is that “kind” is not clearly defined. It is a subjective term referring to organisms that seem similar to each other. Now, this is a definition that can easily be manipulated. And it doesn’t work very well when asking scientific questions. Because there is disagreement about what they actually mean, the terms micro and macroevolution aren’t often used in scientific literature. But when biologists do refer to “macroevolution”, most define it as “evolution above the species level”.


In other words, at the smallest scale, macroevolution is the development of a new species. This definition is more useful because you can objectively determine whether two organisms are members the same species, but “kind” has no specific definition.

So what does “species” mean anyway? How is it different from “kind?” Well, the term species can be hard to define. Life is complex, and categorizing it into clear groups can be tricky. The currently accepted definition of species comes from what we call the “biological species concept.” Basically, the biological species concept says that a species is made of populations that actually or potentially interbreed in nature.

So, two populations that cannot mate to produce successful offspring are by definition separate species. Now, this definition doesn’t always work. For example, when you have a species that reproduces asexually, finding the boundaries between species can be a little tricky. But in most cases it does a pretty good job. It’s a good way to objectively determine where one species stops and another one begins.

The Biological Species Concept is especially useful when you have two species that look and act very similar. Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are a good example of this. They look almost exactly the same. But they cannot interbreed successfully. Therefore, they are separate species. This definition also helps when we study evolution. Where can we draw the line between microevolution and macroevolution? Well, it’s never easy, but having a working definition of this thing called a species helps out a lot. When enough genetic changes accumulate in a population, eventually it loses the ability to mate with others of its species. Then, by definition, it becomes a new species. In other words, macroevolution has occurred.

As we just discussed, many critics claim that macroevolution can never happen—one species can never cross over to become another one. This statement might sound valid, but a little bit of investigation shows that it is not well supported by evidence. For one thing, the only difference between micro and macroevolution is scope. When enough micro changes accumulate, a population will eventually lose its ability to interbreed with other members of its species. At this point, we say that macroevolution has occurred.

The same processes—random mutation and natural selection—cause both micro and macro evolution. There are no invisible boundaries that prevent organisms from evolving into new species. It just takes time. Usually, the amount time required for macroevolution to occur is significant—on the order of thousands or millions of years. That’s why you don’t normally see brand new forms of life appear every time you step out your front door. And that’s also why some people think that speciation never happens at all.

But sometimes macroevolution doesn’t take that much time. In fact, the evolution of new species sometimes happens so quickly that we can actually see it take place! Let’s look at a few recent examples.

Biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant had been studying finches since 1973. They lived on an island called Daphne Major in the Galapagos. It was here that they conducted their studies. When they first began their studies, only two species of Finch lived on Daphne Major: the medium ground finch and the cactus finch. But, in 1981, Peter and Rosemary noticed that an odd new finch had immigrated to the island. It was a hybrid, a mix between a cactus finch and a medium ground finch. It didn’t quite fit in with the other birds. The odd misfit had an extra large beak, an unusual hybrid genome, and a new kind of song. But somehow he was still able to find a mate. The female was also a bit of a misfit and had some hybrid chromosomes of her own. So their offspring were very different from the other birds on the island.

Rosemary and Peter continued to carefully watch the odd hybrid line. They wondered if the birds would become isolated from the other finch species on the island or if they would eventually re-assimilate. After four finch generations, a drought killed off many of the birds on Daphne Major. In fact, almost the entire hybrid line was exterminated. Only a brother and sister pair remained. The two family members mated with each other, producing offspring that were even more unique than their parent line. From that point on, as far as biologists Peter and Rosemary could tell, the odd population of finches mated only with each other. They were never seen to breed with the cactus finches or the medium ground finches on the island. The finches with the strange song had become a brand new species.


Another example of speciation, or macroevolution, also took place on an island—this time, on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. According to history books, the Island of Madeira was colonized by the Portuguese about 600 years ago. The colonizers brought with them a few unassuming European House Mice, which they accidentally left on the island. It’s also possible that a group of Portuguese House Mice was dropped off later on.

Recently, Britton-Davidian, an evolutionary biologist at University Montpellier 2 in France, decided to collect samples of the Madeira mice and see how those original populations had changed over time. What she found was surprising. Rather than just one or two species of mouse, she found several. In only a few hundred years, the original populations of Mice had separated into six genetically unique species. The first mouse populations had 40 chromosomes altogether. But the new ones were quite different. Each new variety had its own unique combination of chromosomes, which ranged in number from 22 to 30.

What seems to have happened is that, over time, the mice spread out across the island and split into separate groups. Madeira is a rugged volcanic island with crags and cliffs. So it makes sense that this would have been easy to do. There were many isolated corners for the mice to occupy. Over time, random mutations occurred—some chromosomes became fused together.

Now, In order to reproduce successfully, both parents must have the same number of chromosomes. So when a population develops a chromosome fusion, suddenly that group cannot mate with the other members of its species. It becomes a brand new species. That’s exactly what happened on Madeira. And because of this phenomenon, 6 new species evolved from just 1 or 2 in an extremely short amount of time.


Another fascinating example of macroevolution was recently observed by researchers at Pennsylvania State University. This time, two species combined to make a single new one. In 1997, researchers at Penn State noticed a fruit maggot infestation on some recently introduced Asian Honeysuckle bushes. They decided to investigate the Honeysuckle fly population and determine how it was related to the other flies nearby. When they examined the honeysuckle fly’s genes, the researchers discovered something interesting. The fly appeared to be a hybrid of two native species—the blueberry fly and the snowberry fly.

But the honeysuckle fly’s genetic material was not an exact balance between that of the two parent species. The ratios of DNA varied from fly to fly. This showed the researchers that the honeysuckle flies had been breeding amongst themselves for many generations—probably at least 100. Also, they found that the Honeysuckle Flies were very unlikely to breed with any other species. They bred only on their host Honeysuckle plants. So they weren’t likely to mix with flies that lived on a different host.
According to Dr. Dietmar Schwarz, post-doctoral researcher in entomology, as far as the researchers can tell, “The new species is already reproductively isolated. They seem to be in a niche on the brushy honeysuckle where the parent species cannot compete."


While this kind of speciation—two species hybridizing to create a new one—seems odd, it is a significant mechanism of macroevolution. And it’s especially common in plants. In fact, a new species of weed recently arose this way in Great Britain. In 1991, Richard Abbot, a plant evolutionary biologist from St. Andrews University, noticed an unusual weed growing next to a car park in York. He discovered that the species, an unassuming scruffy weed, was a natural hybrid between the common groundsel and the Oxford ragwort, a plant that was introduced to Britain only 300 years ago. The York Groundsel lives in a different niche, or microenvironment, than either of its parent species. It is able to breed and reproduce, but only with other York Groundsel plants. It cannot successfully reproduce with any other species, including either of its parent plants. Thus, by definition, the York Groundsel is its own new species.


So, as we have seen, macroevolution is an established process. Usually it takes thousands of years to occur, but sometimes we get lucky and catch it in the act. When Kent Hovind said that, “no one has ever seen a dog produce a non-dog” he was technically quite correct. But this statement infers that macroevolution means a drastic and obvious change from one type of organism into another. Those who think this way believe that macroevolution is something like two dogs breeding to suddenly produce a cat, or two guinea pigs mating to produce a mouse.

But this is not how evolution works at all. Over millions of years, a dog-like animal may indeed evolve into a something that looks completely unlike a dog. However, this is not something that we would expect to be able to observe. It just takes too much time. To put the scale of evolution into perspective, consider this. If the average lifespan of a United Stated citizen, 78 years, were a single minute, then single-celled life has been around for nearly 100 years. On this scale, all we get to see is one minute. And even in that time frame we sometimes see new species forming. God’s time is not our time and we tend to forget this. What we do expect to observe is a very slow step-by-step accumulation of tiny genetic changes that eventually result in speciation. And indeed, as we discussed today, this is exactly the sort of evidence revealed in nature.

So, macroevolution is not a “myth” by any means. It is supported by a vast amount of evidence. That evidence includes the fossil record and genetics, as discussed in previous BioLogos podcasts, and, when we get lucky, direct observation of speciation. God, being who God is, could conceivably have created species out of thin air in a single instant. But what if instead if God created and sustained the process by which new species are created? Does that make him less powerful or “God-lie”? Is it somehow more God’s process if it happened in an instant, than it is if it happened over a long period of time? Presumably even if it happened in an instant, it would still happen by some sort of process—only faster.

God’s time is not our time, and perhaps it’s a good idea for all of us to simply stand back in amazement while God does God’s work in God’s time through God’s process.

How to Help Children in Poverty, Rescue Mothers and Babies, and Fight Child Poverty

Carter's Idea

A young man with a rare kniest syndrome, Carter, shares His idea and encourages others to join the effort.

This video was originally created to support the sponsorship of children with disabilities thru compassion international at a vineyard christian church event. The video has gone way beyond that reach now and is encouraging many. Feel free to share it and forward it so awareness of helping kids with disability is increased and hearts around the world are impacted to be more loving and realize that a great God has a loving plan for each of us. Thanks to www.yamofilms.com.

More info or to reach carter at www.vineyardlive.org. Please comment on your reaction to the video if you have time.