And you thought Rethinking the αlpha and Ωmega was retired.
I’m well aware it’s been a while since my last blog post. I was less aware of actually how long it’s been: over one year! I got burned out a bit making the transition from Blogger to WordPress, and then I had to focus my energies on work and family for a spell. However, I’ve recently begun to find some balance. For what it’s worth, I’ve begun reformatting posts, creating categories, adding tags, etc., in order to make Rethinking the αlpha and Ωmega a more pleasurable reading experience.
And that’s not all: I’ve begun writing again! My first series for The BioLogos Foundation just hit the streets today; so enjoy the first of five installments on confronting fears one may experience when considering an evolutionary creationist paradigm. Be sure to look for the remaining installments over the next few weeks.
If you like what you read, feel free to throw out some ideas of what you’d like to see me write about next. Keep in mind that I intend to continue blogging here about the Ωmega side of things for a while in order to balance out the website, but more αlpha-related material will likely be forthcoming at BioLogos. I will, of course, direct the faithful reader (if there are still any out there!) to BioLogos when additional series are published.
As I moved into my teen years, my personal eschatological views were heavily reinforced by some of my book choices. One of these books was Charles R. Taylor’s World War III and the Destiny of America. In the summer of 1985, my grandparents invited me to spend a week with them in Mountain View, California, located just outside San José. I remember the year quite distinctly: Back to the Future made Michael J. Fox a motion picture superstar, Coca-Cola had just introduced PepsiNew Coke, and Bob Geldof produced the massive Live Aid concert event. In addition to being treated to such tourist destinations as the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Winchester Mystery House, as well as a brief tour of Stanford University (my college of choice at the time), my grandfather and I drove up and down central California’s coastal Highway 1 on his Honda Gold Wing GL1200LTD motorcycle, with its new driver-passenger intercom system. During the trip we briefly discussed, among other things, certain aspects of my grandfather’s theology, some of which differed from that of my dad’s. Because my grandparents lived so far away from our Michigan home, my interaction with my grandfather was relatively sparse and I was curious to know what he thought of the End Times. Vehemently anti-Communist (among other anti- philosophies), he expressed a considerable amount of concern over the imminent establishment of a New World Order and the arrival of the Antichrist. When we arrived back at my grandparents’ apartment, he pulled Charles Taylor’s book off the shelf and gave it to me.
What I found in this book was, to an impressionable teenager, absolutely fascinating! Not only did Taylor believe that the New World Order was right around the corner with the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) – re-stylized as the European Community (EC) in 1993 – but he had also essentially identified which world leader was the Antichrist! He backed up his New World Order claim by showing how the EEC – which was, at the time of the book’s 1980 revision, just about to add Greece to its number for an even 10 nations – was a literal fulfillment of a “mashup” of Daniel 7 and Revelation 13. Both instances of the “ten horns” in Daniel 7:7 and Revelation 13:1 were equated with the first 10 nations admitted into the EEC, with Greece already the tenth nation by the time I read the book. The eleventh nation, claimed Taylor, was to be “another horn” that “came up among them” to pluck up three of the original 10 by their roots (cf. Daniel 7:8 and Revelation 13:1), supposedly as a prelude to ultimate world domination. With Portugal and Spain having already applied for membership in the EEC and scheduled for accession into the organization in January 1986, Taylor concluded that the country from which the Antichrist would arise would come from one of those two countries, with Spain being the most likely since it was ruled by a monarch, King Juan Carlos I, who began his reign in late 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. For years, I kept my eye on King Juan Carlos and confided my suspicions to friends and family. I also kept the other eye on those sneaky Russkies that Taylor and Hal Lindsey predicted would fulfill the prophetic role of Gog and Magog (see Ezekiel 38-39) and invade Israel, which served as a precursor to the Great Tribulation.
I also kept my eye on the size of the EEC, wondering (fleetingly, of course) whether I would need to revise my views should the EEC ever increase beyond 11 nations. Little did I know that revising one’s theories about End Times fulfillment was a noteworthy pastime among prophesy prognosticators like Hal Lindsey and Grant Jeffrey. Of course, if one read only Taylor’s World War III, and not his earlier (1975) Get All Excited! Jesus Is Coming Soon!, one would never have known that Taylor once predicted that the Rapture would likely take place on 5th or 6th of September 1975. Not once, however, did I doubt Taylor’s genuineness and apparent command of both Scripture and geopolitics. Neither was I aware that Lindsey had, in The Late Great Planet Earth, predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1981* and, once 1982 had been ushered in, begun rewriting those damning passages from future publications of his book, which were conveniently retitled as apparent sequels Planet Earth 2000 A.D. (1994)andPlanet Earth: The Final Chapter (1999) with nary a mention that Lindsey’s penchant for “newspaper eschatology” was well off the mark.
I don’t really recall any further study into eschatology other than Taylor’s and Hal Lindsey’s books during my high school years. Much of Revelation still didn’t make much sense to me and I chose to stick with some of those tried and true proof texts that Taylor and Lindsey provided to help make sense of the newspaper headlines. (I remember using Revelation 13 on a variety of occasions, one of which was during a late night phone call with my girlfriend, hoping to scare her into being saved.) Besides, I hadn’t had any real exposure to any other eschatological paradigms until I began scanning my dad’s bookshelves for books on the End Times. Lo and behold, there was a book by the late Dr. John Walvoord titled The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation: A Historical and Biblical Study of Posttribulationalism (1976). Although Walvoord was a proponent of a pretribulational Rapture, the book did a pretty good job of showing me that there was considerable debate within the Evangelical church over the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Second Coming. Perhaps this book was the seed that caused me to eventually cast a more critical eye on any and all End Times chronologies, but it would still be some time before that seed took root. Until then, I would still cling to a pretribulational rapture and eventually fall prey to some potentially spiritually and physically damaging behaviors …
*In The Late Great Planet Earth, Lindsey predicts that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur in 1988, 40 years after Israel’s independence. Why 1988? Because, according to Lindsey, Jesus states in Matthew 24:32-34 that His Second Coming is intimately tied with the flowering of the fig tree, an alleged biblical symbol for national Israel, and that the “generation” that sees the flowering of the fig tree (i.e., Israel) would witness the return of the Christ. Since, according to Lindsey, a “biblical” generation is exactly 40 years long – it’s never been explained to me how this “fact” is calculated! – and Israel’s nationhood was restored in May 1948, then the Second Coming would have to occur in 1988 (1948 + 40 = 1988). Based on Lindsey’s beliefs in a pretribulational Rapture and 7-year Great Tribulation – yet another eschatological “fact” for which there is no explicit biblical mention – Jesus would have to rapture His Church no later than 1981.
Undergirding my childhood eschatology was Charles Anderson’s now-famous painting, which was commissioned in 1973 by Leon and Ruth Bates of the Bible Believers’ Evangelistic Association. “The Rapture” depicts a glorified Jesus hovering over a city skyline. White-robed Christians are painted in mid-rapture*, which results in empty graves (presumably verified to be empty upon inspection by unsaved family members) and vehicular carnage as Christian drivers and pilots are whisked away to meet their Savior in the sky. When “other-worldly” images such as these – or, alternatively, bad Christian novels adapted into bad Christian movies staring Kirk Cameron – pervade the Evangelical church, it is quite easy to see why so many Evangelicals retain the premillennial, pretribulational eschatology with which they were first fed. The visually-striking mind-pictures conjured up by this eschatological paradigm can be extremely powerful, so much so that any competing eschatology is dismissed immediately as unbiblical.
Like the entire creation/evolution debate, eschatology was not heavily stressed in my home. Perhaps it was because my father was somewhat agnostic at the time as to the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation. (Later on, in my still-pretrib college years, he surprised me with a paper he wrote for one of his seminary classes that argued for a midtribulational rapture.) Nevertheless, none of the churches which I attended as a boy did anything to provide me with a more comprehensive understanding of various End Times scenarios. From Winnetka Bible Church in the Chicago suburbs to Bloomington, Indiana’s Evangelical Community Church to South Church (formerly South Baptist Church) of Lansing, Michigan, never once did I ever encounter a discussion during the weekly sermon or Sunday school class that treated me to an objective look at eschatological systems that competed with their belief in the premillennial return of Jesus. (I can certainly understand why, for such a study would consume a massive amount of time – time better served protecting flocks against theological paradigms that their spiritual shepherds believe are incorrect and spiritually damaging.)
Aside from various mentions in Sunday school of Jesus’ imminent return at Winnetka Bible Church, my first detailed exposure to eschatological occurred at the age of eight while attending Sunday school in Bloomington. I remember very distinctly one of my childhood friends giggling uncontrollably while pointing out various mentions of women’s breasts in the Song of Solomon. What a find! However, he also pointed out something even more exciting than biblical mammary glands: a detailed description in Revelation 13 of a seven-headed, ten-horned Satan! Although I know now that my friend was incorrect in identifying who (or what) was being spoken of in this passage, it was a very formative moment – one that underscores the extreme influence passages removed from their cultural and canonical contexts can have on young, formative minds. (For that matter, I certainly never forgot where those sacred boobies were located.)
It wasn’t until a year later – after our move to Michigan, and about the time my father piqued my interest in biblical studies by presenting me with Henry Morris’ commentary on Genesis, The Genesis Record – that I was exposed to more systematic approaches to the End Times. In addition to borrowing a copy of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earthfrom a friend, Morris’ commentary on Genesis also provided me with a healthy (?) dose of premillennialism in its attempt to intimately tie its young-earth creationist treatment of Genesis with the book of Revelation. Further immersing me into premillennial eschatology were the occasional viewings at my church of the 1972 film A Thief in the Night and its three sequels: A Distant Thunder (1978), Image of the Beast (1980), and The Prodigal Planet (1983). Despite the cheesy production standards, the series’ writer, Russell S. Doughten, did a phenomenal job impacting a generation of believers by weaving scattered and unrelated eschatological passages into a horrific, violent narrative that potentially exists just over history’s horizon. Enhanced by a significant amount of imaginative material designed to fill in the “blanks” that exist in premillennial eschatology – well, those images became seared permanently into my eschatological psyche. Even today, there is still something inside of me that is allured by such grandiose storytelling.
I have a question for my readers who have rejected and moved beyond premillennial eschatology as I have: Do you also find yourself strangely attracted to such End Times scenarios despite your intellectual and spiritual aversion to them?
* Rapture is a term derived from the Latin verb rapere, which translates the Koine Greek verb ἁρπάζω (harpazo), which means “to snatch away, to seize hastily.” First Thessalonians 4:17, the verse that inspired Anderson’s painting, uses the verb form ἁρπαγησόμεθα (harpagēsometha).
Some of my earliest memories are of reading books about dinosaurs. Perhaps it is because, to a child, dinosaurs are “other-worldly” creatures that invoke a considerable measure of awe and fascination. They cannot be seen in zoos or found in the wild, for all that is left of these creatures are their fossilized remains. So when a child sees pictures of dino-bones and the artist’s accompanying illustrations of what it may have looked like in real life (to varying degrees of accuracy), dinosaurs take on an entirely new dimension. What I find interesting is that when one compares artistic renditions of dinosaurs throughout the last 150 years, beginning with Benjamin Waterhouse Watkins’ 19th-century illustration in which the bipedal Iguanodon’s thumb spike ended up on the snout of a quadruped Iguanodon, our modern depictions of dinosaurs don’t even come close. Gone are the illustrations of “Ford Model T” dinosaurs – those sprawling, sluggish, tail-dragging reptiles with which we grew up. Instead, continued study over the last 50 years has refined our perception of how these mysterious creatures lived and breathed, resulting in a contrast so stark that the fast warm-blooded, feather-laden, therapods of today’s dinosaur-loving generation look like Lamborghinis by comparison.
As new Christians, armed with only the Bible from which to draw our mind-pictures, certain eschatological passages regarding the so-called “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ – upon a cursory glance – can invoke a similar reaction to that which those original dino-artists experienced. Our tendency as modern, 21st-century readers, informed by a woodenly literal hermeneutic, is to ignore the original “environment” in which those bones scriptures were originally buried written. That cursory glance, without the aid of deeper study and respect for certain literary genres, can produce “other-worldly” End Times scenarios and expectations that invoke just as much (if not more) awe and fascination as dinosaur bones do for children. The result of this is, I think, a vastly different picture of how and Christ’s Second Coming was originally understood and experienced. For most, it will take a significant amount of patient study – both biblical and extra-biblical – in order to shed the old paradigm in exchange for a new one. Ironically, it is our scientific mindset, bereft of any ancient Near Eastern paradigms or sensitivities to the concept of “audience relevance,” that has produced within the Christian community an eschatology that fails to recognize how, when, and why Christ returned. (No, my use of the past tense is not a mistake.) What may be even more shocking is that this scientific mindset existed within the Church from the very beginning, producing eschatological error almost from the outset.
It is because of similar (if not identical) errors that a overwhelming majority of today’s Evangelicals fails to claim explicit biblical promises meant for the here and now. Instead, we wait. And wait. And wait for those promises to be fulfilled. If the eschatology I began embracing nearly a decade ago is the correct one, then the catastrophic events that those in my worship community believe will precede the receipt of those aforementioned biblical promises will never come to pass. And we will continue to wait. To be sure, many find themselves heartsick as they approach the end of their mortal lives, having failed to witness the Day that they believed – with every fiber of their being – would surely come to pass before they tasted death (see Proverbs 13:12a). Without radical reformation of the current eschatological paradigm in which Evangelicalism finds itself, the Evangelical portion of the Body of Christ will always fail to live up to its full potential.
Just as I hope that my journey in “rethinking the αlpha” will help bring my fellow Christians to terms with evolution and propel them into a healthy respect for man’s scientific endeavors and a deeper love for the Creator, it is my sincere hope that my journey in “rethinking the Ωmega” will help bring my brothers and sisters in Christ to terms with the past and pave the way to a more prosperous future, both materially and spiritually.
Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of conducting a 90-minute radio show with New Covenant Eyes Church (Ft. Meyers, Florida) staff Alan Bondar and Bob Lucas. (It can also be downloaded directly.) Since New Covenant Eyes Church is a thoroughly preterist congregation, the opportunity was absolutely well-timed considering I had that weekend just revamped my Creation of an Evolutionist blog into its current format with the intention of discussing my journey from premillennial eschatology to preterism.
It was an eye-opening experience for me because I was interacting with some of my preterist brethren who hadn’t yet been exposed to the concept of evolutionary creationism. In fact, the congregation is much more familiar with covenant creation, as detailed in the book Beyond Creation Science: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation by Timothy P. Martin and Jeffrey L. Vaughn (Whitehall, Montana: Apocalyptic Vision Press, 2007), a publication with which I was involved quite intimately during my transition away from young-earth creationism. (Instead of being theistic evolutionists, Martin and Vaughn are merely old-earth creationists and, taking cues from 19th-century biblical scholar Milton Terry, propose that Genesis 1 is apocalyptic literature that finds its primary prophetic fulfillment in the book of Revelation. According to covenant creation, Genesis 1 is not an ancient Hebrew account of material creation that uses mythological language, as I believe, but rather a purely literary account, with anchors in what is thought to be actual human history, of God’s original covenant with man, filled with symbolism intended to find one-for-one correspondence with various elements in the New Covenant instituted by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry.)
I must admit, it is a challenge to explain to someone why it is that I, as an evolutionary creationist, believe Genesis 1 to be a material creation account (vice purely functional/teleological a la John Walton) at the same time that I reject the foundational, pre-modern scientific cosmology that pervades the Hebrew account. The “secret” to my approach, as I explained in a pre-broadcast discussion with Alan, is the fine balance of intellectually rejecting Genesis 1′s ancient Hebrew cosmology and respecting the literary genre in which Genesis 1 was written and the ancient Near Eastern worldview with which the account is infused. With this literary appreciation in hand, it becomes an academic exercise in separating the infinitely more valuable theological message of Genesis 1 and the fallible literary vessel in which the theology finds itself. We are, in essence, to avoid keeping new wine (theology) in old wine skins (ancient cultural paradigm) for too long, or else the wine skin may burst and you find yourself spending valuable time and money trying to remove the wine stains from the plush carpet that is our faith. It is better, then, to store new wine (theology) in new wine skins (modern cosmology), to adopt new techniques of applying our theology within modern scientific paradigms, and allowing our theology to expand and reform along with new scientific discoveries, all the while keeping Jesus Christ at the center.
As a result of this interview, I’ve decided to create a new Q&A page that will address what I believe Genesis 1-3 to be teaching. Therefore, I invite my readers (both old and new) to submit questions about Genesis 1-3 for inclusion into a permanent Q&A page, answers for which I will provide over the course of time. Even if you agree with my approach to Genesis 1, I still invite you to submit questions that you struggled to answer during your own scientifico-theological journey.
Yes, it’s been some time since my last post (and the one before that). But change is afoot. Or should I say that this blog is evolving?
When it comes to Christianity, there is a definite connection between that which was, that which is, and that which is to come. In other words, how we Christians view origins has a phenomenal impact on how we live in the present and how we view the future.
As my blog’s new title suggests, I’m incorporating my long-standing view of eschatology into the mix. Of course, I expect to receive either (1) a standing ovation for bringing another contentious issue to the forefront of the discussion of what it means to be an Evangelical Christian, (2) a second cry of “heresy” to match the one typically associated with an acceptance of evolutionary theory, or (3) lengthy yawns by those who really don’t care to hear what I have to say on the issue.
In the case of option (1), I greatly appreciate your support in my effort to move beyond the “event horizon” of the creation-evolution debate into territory I’ve rarely seen treated in theological circles: consistency in one’s protology (the study of origins and first things) and eschatology (the study of last things), especially when one’s protology consists of the aforementioned acceptance of what The Truth Project host Del Tackett labels “imago goo.”
In the case of option (2), I greatly appreciate your prayers in my pursuit of both truth and my own intellectual honesty.
In the case of option (3), I urge you to stick around. At the very least, you’ll be entertained by a bunch of Christians arguing about whether Jesus is ever going to come back, and if so, when. And if not, why.
Stay tuned. There’s much more to come …
PS – Like any major move from one household to another, the transition from Blogger to WordPress software has had its hiccups. Please be patient while I restore categories to each of my 100+ posts; add “about me” and “statement of belief” pages; and add various widgets, bells, and whistles. I may, on occasion, reach out to my WordPress brothers for advice. (For example, how the heck do I choose a particular font and right-hand justify my posts?) Last, but not least, I want to personally thank my good friend Matthew Raymer for helping me make the transition to my own domain. Couldn’t have asked for a better and more patient partner in the effort!
Several weeks ago, Christianity Today published the cover story of their June 2011 issue online. As a subscriber to the magazine, I decided to wait for my hard copy to arrive before delving into Richard Ostling‘s article “The Search for the Historical Adam.” Although it took me several breakfasts to get through the article, I eagerly anticipated the conclusion, hoping for a positive sign that certain prominent Christian pastors and scholars (beyond the usual suspects) were exercising their God-given reason and giving science a chance to illuminate the historical reality surrounding the origin of our species, all the while retaining belief in the spiritual reality in which our species has found itself since the beginning of our interaction with the Supreme Creator and His moral law. As I read the final paragraphs this morning and swallowed my last spoonful of Frosted Mini-Wheats, the milk seemed to suddenly sour. I was wrong.
While I greatly admire the ministry and works of Tim Keller, I was taken aback considerably when Ostling quoted a paper Keller wrote for a BioLogos workshop: “[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures.” My spider-sense (courtesy of a distant evolutionary cousin) manifested itself as a tingling at the base of my skull. Was Paul’s discussion of Adam in Romans 5:12-21 really meant to instruct his audience in the historicity of Adam and Eve? Nothing could be further from the truth. Although living in Rome, the historicity of Adam and Eve was already something assumed by his Jewish audience. There was no need for Paul to remind his readers of something that was part and parcel of their culturo-religious milieu. They did, however, need to be reminded of something much more important: the reality of their spiritual condition and their dire need for a savior, Jesus the Christ. That, Mr. Keller, is the focus of Paul’s teaching.
If that wasn’t enough, Keller went on to write, “If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument — that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’ — falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but [then say that] we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.” Once again, nothing could be further from the truth, specifically in regard to our salvation hinging on the historicity of Adam and Eve. While the scientific evidence of our primordial heritage is clearly recorded in our DNA and argues forcefully against a historical Adam and Eve — traditionally understood to be the first pair of human beings created de novo approximately 6000 years ago — our collective observations and human experience argue just as forcefully that we are spiritual victims of our own genes. We are subject to some of the same primal instincts that caused our particular evolutionary lineage to survive and thrive. We are driven to eat, drink, and sow our wild oats. We are compelled to protect that which is ours, desire that which isn’t, and bond together in a society for utilitarian purposes. Despite all the survival benefits that our genes have conferred upon us, we still envy. We still murder. We still commit adultery. We still bite the hands that feeds us. Our motives aren’t purely altruistic. It is clear to me that we human beings, as enlightened as we are as a species, are still quite in need of God’s power to transform our minds, allowing us to transcend that which makes us human and move us to new stage in human evolution: adopted children of God with truly transformed spirits, destined to experience a new dimension of relational living with each other and the Creator who made us. Destined, as heirs of eternal life, to survive in some fashion beyond the grave, no longer subject to the gene-ridden flesh which made us sinners unable to move beyond ourselves by our own power.
Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures declare unerringly the truth that is the crux of Paul’s argument: We are sinners in need of salvation. Salvation from ourselves and the propensity to sin that is inherent in our species, from the moment of our conception to the moment fog no longer graces the mirror in which we see clearly our imperfections. To paraphrase the Mexican bandit in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles,* “Adam? We don’t need no stinking Adam.” To prove our need for Christ, all we need is to be ourselves. To be human. For example, if I were to develop cancer, it would concern me much less as to the cause of my condition than the fact that I was suffering from a deadly disease. In the same way, how and when the human race became sinful is infinitely less important than recognizing our sinful state and seeking out a way to remedy it.
The “core of Paul’s teaching,” Mr. Keller, is that we are sinners who require redemption from the bondage of sin — inescapable sin brought on by our inherited flesh — through recognition of the loving, faithful-unto-death act of the very historical personage of Jesus of Nazareth. While we don’t need the First Adam, we still need the Second Adam in order to make us more human than human. To deny that fact, Mr. Keller, is to deny the “core of Paul’s teaching.” That would crumble the foundations of the Christian faith. Nothing more, nothing less.
UPDATE: At Joel Watts’ suggestion, I’ve changed the title of this post for the sake of accuracy from “A Response to Tim Keller’s ‘Killer Argument’ Against Theistic Evolution” to its current title. Thanks, Joel!
I received an email recently from a good friend of mine who’s just started investigating this whole Evolutionary Creationist bit that I’ve been promoting on this blog for nearly three years now. His email featured great questions indicative of a genuine seeker, and I felt compelled to answer them as best I could within the limitations of the email format and the time available to me. He’s probably not the first of my readers to ask those very same questions, and I’m sure some of his questions are ones that my regular readers have asked themselves in regard to what I believe. Thus, I requested permission to post his questions, and he quickly gave me the green light. So, here’s the Q&A;, warts and all. (I take personal responsibility for any scientific inaccuracies or over-generalizations.)
One last thing: Toward the end of this post is an offer to purchase the original questioner the books mentioned in the Q&A.; Unfortunately, it’s not something I can offer my readers at large. Money doesn’t grow on phylogenetic trees, ya know.
Here is a list of questions I have after having read (and watched) your twelve-part series. I don’t expect you to address all of them. You may wish to simply point me toward the appropriate reading material for where I’m at in this journey.
1.Do you believe in abiogenesis?
Yes. I believe God created the universe for a purpose. I also believe that God created a universe with all of the necessary natural laws to form itself (e.g., planets, stars, etc.), and that those self-same laws worked to form the first “life” on earth, from which I believe all living things on earth are descended. Taking God out of the that particular “event” takes nothing away from His majesty, for not only did He set the cosmos in motion, but He also continues to uphold and sustain it by the word of His power.
The irreducible complexity argument (which fails at its most basic level) requires God to tinker with the cosmos merely because the laws He put into effect weren’t sufficient to achieve His purposes. I understand some feel the need to have God’s hand directly involved in the creation of life, but wouldn’t the creation of the universe itself fulfill the same need?
As for evidence of abiogenesis, the scientific literature is replete with examples (based on lengthy, observed experiments) of how life could have formed on its own. What’s in question is the exact method by which it did so. And that is likely an impossible question to answer. It’s akin to figuring out how a molecule of air made it from one end of a maze to the other in a maze with more than one possible route.
In the end, my choice to believe in abiogenesis is slightly more a scientific choice rather than a philosophical one. I find it quite plausible.
2.Where are all the transition forms? Especially if irreducible complexity is negated because the intermediate steps actually served a purpose (wouldn’t they continue to exist?).
Considering the manner by which fossils are formed, no one should expect the geologic column to preserve every so-called “transitional form” for our study. (I believe ALL fossil specimens and ALL living beings are transitional in nature to one degree or another.) In fact, even today, the act of fossilization is extremely rare, only occurring in certain environments. We’re lucky to have the specimens we have. Highly recommended: The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth(Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley, both Evangelicals). I’m half-way through it and it’s absolutely fascinating!
Nevertheless, the fossil record records for us, in chronological order as preserved in the geologic column, a wonderful bounty of “transitional forms” (e.g., fish to amphibians, reptiles to mammals, horses, land-dwelling “whales” to seaborn mammals, etc.). These fossils serve as “snapshots” of evolutionary change, in much the same way we observe how our children have grown up by looking at their annual school photos. What’s missing are the in-between months. Similarly, as a species continues to evolve, you wouldn’t necessary notice the change from generation to generation due to the fact that the changes are, in most cases, small (albeit critical in some cases). Using the previous example of watching your children grow up, you don’t necessarily notice the day-to-day changes, although you become quite aware of them when viewing photos separated by a certain measure of time. Highly recommended: Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (Donald Prothero).
3.Material I’ve read (decidedly anti-evolution) indicates that even with 4.5 billion-year old earth, there simply isn’t enough time for random mutations to account for the diversity of life.
I used to parrot this argument, but it really isn’t a very good one. What most people (Christians or otherwise) don’t appreciate is how long a million years really is, especially in terms of reproductive life cycles. It’s a loooooooooooooong time. So is a billion years. There’s more than enough time to account for the diversity of life. In species that have extremely short life cycles (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fruit flies, etc.), scientists have observed massive amounts of evolutionary change. Heck, we observe it every flu season as certain populations of viruses meet their timely demise while others are able to evolve and “dodge” the vaccine, requiring ever-new vaccines. Highly recommended: Why Evolution Is True(Jerry Coyne) and The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution(Richard Dawkins). (Just ignore their occasional digs at theism.)
4.Is there no teleological argument for God? If everything arose by chance, how do the heavens declare His glory? The psalmist wrote that he was fearfully and wonderfully made, but by who – Father God or Mother Nature?
Sure, there’s a teleological argument for God, but it has nothing to do with science. It’s purely a philosophical argument. Moral purpose cannot be scientifically proven, only philosophically deduced. In fact, I would say that, scientifically speaking, the non-teleological argument carries more scientific weight. However …
Supposing God exists, the heavens declare His glory for the very reasons I mentioned in Answer #1: He set the cosmos in motion, and He continues to uphold and sustain it by the word of His power. Again, one can’t scientifically prove that. It is a choice, and one that I make because of my admittedly subjective experience with the being Whom I believe to be the Living God. Highly recommended: Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution(Catholic scientist Kenneth R. Miller).
5.Do you believe in punctuated equilibrium?
To a degree. I don’t think “punk-eek” applies universally, but rather at certain times and for certain species. But I recommend you read up on the theory (especially the “common misconceptions” section) before passing judgment on it. (It’s an easy thing to do if you’re not familiar with the 40,000-foot view.) It merely suggests that while evolutionary change is always occurring, it makes its most critical advancements in spurts as a population of species undergoes hyper-evolution under just the right geo-environmental conditions. This is, of course, somewhat misleading, for that self-same “hyper-evolution” still occurs over tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of years.
6.How does evolution develop a moral code? C. S. Lewis eventually embraced God and Christianity because of the conscience inherent in man – the “moral ought” – which he felt had to have been given to man by someone or something. He believed this was evidence of God. Was conscience actually only a evolutionary product which God merely took advantage of in Lewis’ life?
I think you hit the nail right on the head. Our spirituality, I believe, is an outgrowth of our physicality, an evolutionary development (for the non-teleologically-inclined) or achievement (for those of us who view life in a teleological manner). In this view, our moral conscience is truly inherent, but it wasn’t always the case in the evolution of the creaturely branch that led to our species. Of course, there would have been, at some point, a time when we became morally culpable for our actions.
Personally, I believe that God did not interfere in the affairs of our world until such time as a creature (Homo sapiens, in the case of planet Earth) achieved mental and moral characteristics that mirrored God’s own. It was because of this very development/achievement that God chose mankind, a creature capable of representing God (i.e., bearing His “image”) on Earth.
Of course, this also leaves open the possibility that, at some point in Earth’s distant future, another species could achieve moral culpability.
7.Do you believe there is other life in the universe?
Yes. I believe the statistical odds favor it. Personally, that’s a very exciting prospect! (In my new bio-spiritual body, I’d love to take a “star trek” and explore the rest of God’s grand universe.) A corollary to this belief is the idea that if a morally culpable species should ever arise elsewhere in the universe, then God would also desire to enter into a covenantal relationship with it, entering its social and religious world (much like He did with the Israelites), and expressing His love to them in a manner relevant to their unique culture, possibly by performing another act of Incarnation and dying in a culturally-relevant manner.
That’s it for now. As I stated before, I’m warming up to the idea that Genesis may not be a creation account of the physical universe. Evolution, on the other hand, is a different story.
In fact, if you are willing to read any of these books, let me know and I’ll have any (or all!) of them shipped to your house in a matter of days. My treat. As well, I think you’d really enjoy The BioLogos Forum website. Great Q&A;, scholarly essays, and contributions by a few good friends of mine.
Looking briefly at the outline for Lesson 8 prior to watching the session, I decided to test myself: Could I actually watch an entire Truth Project session without writing down a single criticism? By the end of the hour-long session, the outline sheet looked exactly as it had when it was handed to me.
I had absolutely no issues with Del Tackett’s Trinitarian-based theology as he discussed the biblical themes of intimacy, union, and oneness as it relates to (1) a husband and wife, (2) Christ and the Church, and (3) God and mankind. And, to the best of my recollection, nary a mention of Darwin and the “pernicious truth” of evolution. Well done, Del. But don’t believe for a minute I’ll be so kind when I blog about Lesson 9 …
That being said, Dear Reader, I have a question:
Despite my rejection of biblical inerrancy and the Bible’s ancient Near Eastern cosmology, and my subsequent acceptance of evolution as fact, why has my faith in God not wavered? Why is it that I still affirm a significant portion of traditional Christian theology instead of embracing atheism?
Lesson 7 of The Truth Project (TTP) is another mix of good Christian theology and poor scientific reasoning. For Del Tackett, it’s not enough to have biblical support for God’s ideal social order for mankind in general and the Church in particular. It needs scientific support as well. The danger of this approach is obvious: When the scientific facts contradict the reasons for belief, belief itself is left holding the bag and subject to unnecessary ridicule.
Tackett introduces Lesson 7 by declaring God to be a God of order (cf. Job 25:2 [NIV] and 1 Cor 14:33). Because God is a God of order, it is understood that He created directly mankind’s social order from the beginning, leaving His “divine imprint” to direct human society toward an ideal relationship structure that reflects God’s own triune nature, a nature which delineates specific roles among the three persons of the Godhead. These roles, in turn, necessitate certain persons of the Trinity to possess, in some cases, authority over the other person (or persons) in the Godhead, and requiring submission by the person (or persons) so as to preserve divine unity. From an orthodox Christian perspective, this is acceptable theology (although I find some of his analogies forced and potentially problematic). Tackett’s argument, however, is tarnished by his anti-evolution obsession.
Tackett claims that the “exquisite design and intricacy” of a chicken egg poses a problem to evolutionists: order. Because “randomness results in chaos and disorder,” the so-called “random” forces of evolution could not have produced (and cannot produce) order on the level of a chicken egg (or, for that matter, even a single-celled organism). And since God is a God of order, evolutionary processes cannot have been the means by which God created. It quickly becomes clear that Tackett desires to extend his anti-evolution bias to sociology, claiming that desirable, orderly social systems could not have evolved via natural means and, because both the “ideal” human family and the “ideal” Christian Church reflect the triune Godhead in certain ways, it is unimaginable to him that these orderly social systems could have resulted from the “random” forces of cultural evolution.
As I’ve noted a number of times in this series, evolution is anything but random. It is certainly indifferent, but evolutionary processes do not disobey the natural laws which govern the workings of the cosmos. Even the results of a “random” coin toss are determined by the laws of nature. If it were possible to enter the Matrix and take advantage of the realm of “bullet time,” one could feasibly calculate the results of a coin toss by taking into account all sorts of factors such as air density, the force of the toss, the angle at which your thumb strikes the coin, etc. These things only appear random as a result of our limited ability to ascertain their direct causes or calculate particular magnitudes. So much for the God of evolution being a God of disorder.
As for the evolution of human civilization, it’s obvious that while ascertaining which cultural factors may have played a role in the extinction of some of our hominid cousins is extremely difficult (if not impossible), this much is clear: Just as hominid biological structures are subject to the forces of natural selection, hominid cultural practices are also subject to environmental pressures. If a certain aspect of hominid culture leads to a particular group’s extinction, cultures with superior social constructs which survive successfully in a particular environment will remain; if a certain aspect of an individual’s behavior leads to his shunning, that individual tends to adapt his behavior in such a way that it benefits him. So what if the best aspects of human civilization arose through “cultural selection”? What’s wrong with God taking the best of human societal structures—products of eons of cultural evolution—and declaring them to be ideal? While I can affirm, from a certain point of view, Tackett’s declaration that “God has designed these [social] spheres,” I must disagree with the manner by which Tackett claims God “designed” them. From an evolutionary creationist perspective, God’s modus operandi in regard to the fundamental ethos that undergirds human civilization is identical to the manner by which God designed the body you use to read this blog: via natural (or, in this case, cultural) evolutionary processes. Although ideal human societal structures may indeed reflect certain aspects of God’s triune nature as revealed in Scripture, it is not necessary for them to have been “created” de novo in the Garden of Eden, as a literal interpretation of Scripture would suggest. From an evolutionary creationist perspective, God’s “divine stamp” didn’t come upon human social order until after our fundamental ethos arose naturally. It came about later through God’s occasional intervention in human affairs over the course of thousands of years, beginning with the call of Abraham. From there, human society was remolded, refashioned, and transformed gradually, finding its maturity with the advent of the Christ, and aging (sometimes not so gracefully) into the future by a process of “divine selection.” In short, humanity’s God-endorsed social order … evolved.
Moreover, because God accommodated His ideals to His chosen people gradually, co-opting existing symbols and traditions to transform Israel from a physical entity into a spiritual one, there can be no true homology between God’s nature (as revealed in Scripture) and His ideal social order, especially when viewing the entirety of Scripture. The cultural evolution of God’s chosen people, from the early days of Israel’s history to the early days of the Church and beyond, is clearly seen in both Scripture and Church history. To assert that a snapshot of 15th-century BC Israelite society (commanded by God Himself through Moses) and the culture of those who support Focus on the Family represent the same divine social order is to deny both anthropological reality as well as the theological diversity so evident throughout Scripture.
After his discourse on God’s ideal social order as it relates to the family and the Church, Tackett enters into a general discussion of why human society has failed to live up to God’s standard. “What happened at the Fall?” he asks rhetorically. “Relationships were severed and damaged between God and man, man and man, and man and creation.” As much as I disagree with the “historical” aspect of his argument, I do believe this to be true … from a “certain point of view” (HT: Obi-Wan Kenobi). Assuming God’s existence, humanity is certainly in rebellion against the Creator. Without exception, we sin against each other. And we clearly aren’t in harmony with nature. Despite the fact that I reject the historicity of Adam and Eve, as a Christian, I can affirm the theology behind the biblical language. What Genesis does so well is capture the state of humanity, in all of its sinfulness (Gen 6:5). It captures all of the familial disharmony that we experience today (Gen 4; 16:1-6; 25:23). And it offers eternal life to those who obey His commands (Gen 2:9, 16-17; cf. Gen 3:22). No refutation of Genesis’ historicity or cosmology can change that.
Returning to my main point, Tackett’s claim for objective, scientific support for the ideal Christian society flies in the face of established scientific and historical fact. While Tackett appeals to Psalm 19:1-4
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voicegoes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
and Job 12:7-8
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Tackett fails to heed the very call to which he demands we listen! He ignores the fossil record. He ignores the evolutionary history embedded in our DNA. He ignores the findings of anthropology. He ignores the culturo-theological diversity in Scripture. He refuses to let our ever-expanding knowledge of human history and the cosmos inform him.