Interview with Denis O. Lamoureux

Be sure to read this excellent interview with Denis O. Lamoureux, author of Evolutionary Creationism.

Now, back to working on my review of chapter 3 of Lamoureux’s book …

14 Comments

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14 Responses to Interview with Denis O. Lamoureux

  1. Excellent! Lamoureux’s got some wonderful stuff in there. Our movement will owe much to his efforts.

    Mike, as you are quite familiar with what I’m about to say already, I’m focusing this towards others who read this blog (including Dr. Lamoureux himself, it seems). What I wanted to discuss is the “evolutionary creationist” terminology: I’m not sold on it. It might work when you’re reassuring Christians who aren’t dead-set against evolution, but what scientist is going to take that any better than “theistic evolution”? As a lesser-known term, it inspires some measure of confusion; when I first heard it, the noun “creationism” threw me off, and it took me a while to figure how it differed from divinely-tweaked evolution (á la Behe’s ID or Ross’s progressive creationism). Theistic evolution, at least, is a widely recognized term.

    I suppose it strikes me as a bit contradictory: although Dr. Lamoureux is (I hope) trying to steer the origins question away from those who answer scientific questions with theological answers (special creationists) and towards a recognition of science as something approachable naturalistically even by Christians, he says, “I refuse to have the Lord as secondary to a human theory about the origin of the physical world.” Surely this is rhetorical: hardly would a Christian who calls himself an evolutionist say that he is demoting the Lord below science, but rather that he is focusing not on the theological question but the scientific one.

    In other words, is he talking about a scientific understanding of origins (for which evolutionist would certainly suffice), or is he talking about a theological statement of God’s role as Creator through whatever means? In the latter case, I’ll be darned if I can figure out how affirming God’s authorship of the universe requires more than the label “Christian”. The polarizing and misleading term creationism should, in my humble opinion, be dispensed with and/or steadfastly resisted.

    The implication of a special Christian brand of science also weakens the modifier “theistic” in theistic evolution. However, if one needs to kill both the scientific and the theological birds with one stone, I suggest that we look no further than “Christian evolutionist”.

    Thoughts?

  2. Tom

    I’ve just started reading Lamoureux’s book and I’m marking it up all over! I look forward to debates with you guys over it — he sets a nice stage.

    First of all, I appreciate his efforts and his approach. It can’t be easy. I think having definitions and categories is necessary for that. If somebody just calls themselves “evolutionist”, you do not know their theology or how they integrate evolution into their theology, and obviously, there is a need for the evolution/creation, science/religion debate. (And a need to move beyond it, as he claims.)

    That being said, I have always been confused by the terms “theistic evolutionist”, “evolutionary theist”, and “evolutionary creationist”. I still do not see a distinction because all of them (to me) assume the deity used (or is using) evolution in the creative process and that evolution is “purposeful”.

    ———

    One thing that I found frustrating in the first chapter of the book and that he mentions in this interview was the scientific evidence for scientists’ belief in God. He cites the article (on p.6) by Larson and Witham that 40% of scientists believe in God. Lamoureux does not say what percentage of Biologists believed in God, (but it turns out it was also 40%). Furthermore, study used a comparatively small sample — they sent their questionnaire to 1000 people, half biologists, and got a 60% response rate. What Lamoureux does not mention was that only 20% of the physicists responded to a belief in God. Nor does he mention the follow-up study by these same authors published a year later in Nature that out of “greater” scientists — National Academy of Sciences members, only 5.5% of biologists believed in God. What is more interesting, and perhaps exists in a separate report (if anyone finds it let me know!) is how many evolutionary biologists (the ones who are much more explicit about explaining the mechanisms of evolution rather than having it be the implied starch holding their science together) believe in God.

    The other article Lamoureux presents as “evidence” that the scientific community does not unanimously accept the atheistic position is a review article by Gregg Easterbrook (p. 7) where two scientific institutions and a few religious were working to promote a dialog between science and religion.

    The point is, Lamoureux calls both of these reports in his book “landmark papers” and misrepresents them. His intent is to say that there should not be any conflict between science and religion, or certainly between evolution and Christianity because there are a lot of scientists who believe in a personal God. Sure, you can find scientists who believe in a personal God. In reality, however, there is an anti-correlation between science and belief in God. Maybe it’s these “greater” scientists who influence us underlings. If you want to argue that, then find some data to back it up.

    That being said, I agree with Lamoureux that most scientists do not have an atheistic agenda, even if they are atheist. That message needs to be made clear to Christians leery of science and scientists.

    The thought has struck me especially more as I’ve begun reading Lamoureux’s book that evolution was not the straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to my faith. My problems were theological, but through my study of evolution, I obtained a more objective view of that theology. I think that’s why there is a discrepancy between science (especially evolution) and religion for other people, too. Lamoureux also segregates them, but still attains both, so I’m curious to see how he does it.

  3. Tom

    P.S. If you would like a copy of the two articles by Larson and Witham, let me know — tommct at a gmail account.

  4. Tom

    P.P.S. I particularly liked this quote from the second Larson and Witham paper:

    As we compiled our findings, the National Academy of Sciences
    issued a booklet encouraging the teaching of evolution in public schools, an ongoing source of friction between the scientific
    community and some conservative
    Christians in the United States. The booklet assures readers, “Whether God exists or not
    is a question about which science is neutral”. NAS president Bruce Alberts said: “There are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in
    evolution, many of them biologists.” Our survey suggests otherwise.

    Why does Lamoureux conveniently disregard this paper?

  5. Steve,

    Not sure if this will help, but Lamoureux just emailed me an updated definition of evolutionary creationism and gave me permission to post. Here goes:

    Evolutionary creation asserts that God created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained, and design-reflecting evolutionary process. This position fully embraces both the religious beliefs of biblical Christianity and the scientific theories of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution. It contends that the Creator established and maintains the laws of nature, including the mechanisms of a teleological evolution. Notably, this view of origins argues that humanity evolved from pre-human ancestors, and through this process the Image of God and human sin were gradually and mysteriously manifested. Evolutionary creationists experience God’s love and presence in their lives, and they enjoy a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus that includes miraculous signs and wonders.

    The category evolutionary creation might seem like a contradiction in terms. This indeed would be the case if the words evolution and creation were restricted to their popular meanings. That is, if the former is conflated with a dysteleological worldview, and if the latter refers exclusively to young-earth creation. But this Christian approach to evolution employs professional definitions and moves beyond the evolution vs. creation dichotomy. The most important word in this category is the noun creation. Evolutionary creationists are first and foremost thoroughly committed and unapologetic creationists. They believe that the universe is a creation that is absolutely dependent for its every instant of existence on the will and grace of the Creator. The qualifying word in this category is the adjective evolutionary, indicating the method through which God created the world. This view of origins is often referred to as “theistic evolution.” However, that word arrangement places the process of evolution as the primary term, and makes the Creator secondary as only a qualifying adjective. Such an inversion in priority is unacceptable to me and other evolutionary creationists.

    Another reason for the category evolutionary creation is that the word theistic carries such a wide variety of meanings today. Derived from theos, the common Greek word for god, the proper definition of theism refers to a personal God, like the God of Christianity. But as everyone knows, there is a countless number of different gods. Therefore, the term evolutionary creation distinguishes conservative Christians who love Jesus and accept evolution from the evolutionary interpretations of deists (belief in the impersonal god-of-the-philosophers), pantheists (everything is god), panentheists (the world is god’s body and god is the world’s mind/soul), new-age pagans (a divine force in nature), and liberal Christians (Jesus is only an enlightened human and he never rose physically from the dead).

  6. Thanks, Mike. But in actuality, it totally misses my points. Keep in mind, all, that I realize this is strictly an academic dispute: the terminology is not that important, and in no way do I wish to impugn or distract attention from the extraordinary contributions of Lamoureux or any other self-proclaimed evolutionary creationists. But since Lamoureux regularly raises the issue, I feel it’s worth pushing back a little.

    I suppose part of my problem is that I’m not so willing to waste effort (of which we still need so much) on restructuring all the terminology when it’s been pretty clear up until now. I’d rather be as candid as possible in saying that I’m an evolutionist and that I’m a Christian. I suppose my reluctance to combine the two into one term has to do with my belief that the magisteria of faith and science do not overlap in practice.

    There’s nothing about evolutionary creation as he defined it that contradicts classic theistic evolution. He must essentially redefine the well-recognized term “creationism” in order to make this new term work.

    I am baffled that Lamoureux continues to make the claim that “theistic” is not specific enough — and what’s specifically Judeo-Christian about “evolutionary creation”? Muslims and most other religions refer to “creation”. Moreover, if we want to be really picky, von Daniken’s extraterrestrial hypothesis would fit under the umbrella of “evolutionary creation”! At least “theistic” is more defined than that on its face.

    I’m not convinced of the need for (or even the possibility of) a term that affirms both one’s scientific framework and the entire set of theological presuppositions that he claims for evolutionary creation in his quote. Declaring to special creationists that we believe the Judeo-Christian God is responsible for the universe surely could be done by simply saying “I am a Christian.” Declaring to one and all that we accept mainstream science is surely accomplished by simply describing ourselves as “not creationists”.

    By having to put a label on one’s origins position, it strikes me as playing a never-ending scrimmage: we all get tired, and even run the risk of injury, but our standing for the season doesn’t advance. Is it not enough to say that the Bible wasn’t meant to teach science, but that we must ask the scientists about matters of science? This way, we’re not tying ourselves to an evolving theory that might even turn out to need an overhaul at some point; we’re just saying that we don’t expect to find a scientific or historical description of creation/the Fall in the Hebrew Scriptures which were, rather, meant to instruct us in doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness to equip us for good works.

    When speaking scientifically, “evolutionist” or “someone who accepts the consensus of mainstream science” would work. When speaking theologically, “concordist” vs. “non-concordist” might work well enough; it will require a little explanation, but for that matter, so does evolutionary creationism (although I should point out that, despite my misgivings with the term, this is not true of theistic evolution).

    Anyway. Lots of ink spilled here over what amounts to a cosmetic difference. Move along — nothing to see here… 😉

  7. Pete

    Evolutionary creationists experience God’s love and presence in their lives, and they enjoy a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus that includes miraculous signs and wonders.

    Interesting. I heard that Lamoureux was pentecostal. I must admit I don’t personally see any miraculous signs and wonders in my own life. I wonder whether this was his point or only that he was reaffirming the miracles as described in the Bible.

  8. AMW

    I posted this comment over at Undeception, and I suspect there’s a lot of crossover readers of that blog at this one (and vice versa). But for the three of you who just can’t be bothered to visit Stephen Douglas’ site, I’ll share my wisdom here as well.

    I think Gordon J. Glover makes the most sense on this topic in his book Beyond the Firmament. He just calls himself an evolutionist. Why does it need a modifier? He believes the account of modern embryology and meteorology, both of which contradict a literal reading of the Bible. But no one insists that he refer to himself as a theistic embryologist, or a Christian meteorologist.

    As the science of evolution becomes more well-known in the popular culture, and more and more Christians accept the evidence, I predict that adding a modifier to one’s stance on evolution will become less popular, fade altogether, and eventually be a semi-comical artifact of Church history.

  9. www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure

    Dear Stephen,
    You write:
    “There’s nothing about evolutionary creation as he [Lamoureux] defined it that contradicts classic theistic evolution. He must essentially redefine the well-recognized term “creationism” in order to make this new term work.”

    I appreciate everything you’ve said in your 15 Dec post. However, it’s that the term “theistic evolution” carries so many meanings. If people would use this term properly (as you’ve defined it), there would be no need for the category evolutionary creation.
    It just that I’ve met deists, pantheists, panentheists, and pagans who use the term TE to describe their view of origins.

    As well, I use EC to focus on how evangelical ECers are. I have found that the term EC helps Christians move pass the idea that all TEers are liberals (no miracles, no Divine Jesus, no bodily resurrection, etc. These are all non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned.)

    Best,
    Denis

  10. Denis,

    Thanks for responding. First let me say how instrumental you were in my creation as an evolutionist. 😉 I found your page about seven or eight years ago, and you helped me to learn that we could honor the biblical text while not interpreting early Genesis as historiographic. Thank you.

    It’s just that I’ve met deists, pantheists, panentheists, and pagans who use the term TE to describe their view of origins.

    Well, I suppose I’ve never heard this myself. But even so…

    Ok, last time I give this spiel — scout’s honor!

    When we’re talking about the different Christian views on origins, the fact that they’re Christian views should require no explicit affirmation. And if we’re talking the merits of our view on origins, does it matter how we view the evangelical distinctives that, while important, are peripheral to the discussion? A liberal Christian TE and an EC are on the same page on the issues that separate them from the other Christian views of origins — and aren’t those issues the ones we should be discussing? I think Christians have been running scared from sharing beliefs with those who are (somewhat monolithically) considered “liberals” or “infidels”. I personally tend to think it’s more valuable to get Christians to get out of their bubble and buy (intellectual) products not specifically labeled “Christian”; to understand that all truth is God’s truth, and that sometimes we have to agree on certain issues with those we might consider grossly misled on other issues.

    There. I’ve spoken my last on this (non-)issue. Thanks again for your response, Denis!

  11. Denis O. Lamoureux

    Dear Stephen,
    Thanks for your kind comments. With all my energies focussed on writing my book and its shorten version, I haven’t touched my webpage in six years (I’m pretty embarrassed about that). But that will soon change. Going to add a number of lectures in the next few months.

    I completely appreciate your concerns about terminology. And I’ll admit that my obsessiveness is reactionary to my experience of lecturing on origins.

    Let me share a story. I was invited to speak at a well-known evangelical school in the US. I always ask to open my lectures in prayer so that Christians know that I’m “one of them.”

    After I spoke, the theological professor who was ask to respond to my paper stood up and called me a deist. Needless to say I was amazed. This was a professional theologian! He heard me pray, and refer to the Holy Spirit, Jesus as the Messiah, and God the Father a number of times. And he still called me a deist (I might also add, I really liked him). But because I was an “evolutionist,” no matter what I said, he still disconnected me from the Faith.

    So, this is why I emphasize the terminology, and yes, even use it polemically. I’m trying to jar people from the common conflation of evolution with unbelief or liberal belief.

    The term EC (I never coined it) is being used to identify people who love the Lord Jesus and accept standard evolutionary theory (without the dysteleological metaphysics).

    Now if I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting there is no need to qualify the term evolution. Well, you’re right, because you use the term correctly–it’s a scientific theory, period. But regrettably that is not the way most people use it.

    Merry Xmas!
    Denis

  12. Tom,

    I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Denis’ book. I suspect that you’ll love many portions of the book, especially the chapters that deal with ancient science in the Bible. Of course, I also suspect you’ll have major reservations with some of the more philosophical arguments for Denis’ belief in intelligent design (small “i”/small “d”).

    I’ll let Denis address your criticisms of his use of Larson/Witham and Easterbrook articles.

    The thought has struck me especially more as I’ve begun reading Lamoureux’s book that evolution was not the straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to my faith. My problems were theological, but through my study of evolution, I obtained a more objective view of that theology.

    Very interesting, Tom! I’d love to hear more about this journey on your blog (or here, for that matter).

  13. Interesting. I heard that Lamoureux was pentecostal. I must admit I don’t personally see any miraculous signs and wonders in my own life. I wonder whether this was his point or only that he was reaffirming the miracles as described in the Bible.

    Pete,

    I’ve certainly seen the hand of God in my life and others, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a genuine, miracle that broke the laws of nature (my own near-death experience notwithstanding, the survival of which I cannot definitively say was a nature-breaking occasion).

    I suspect that Denis’ mention was merely an affirmation that miracles (as described in the Bible) actually did (and do) occur, although he may have experienced modern-day “signs and wonders.”

  14. AMW,

    [Glover] just calls himself an evolutionist. Why does it need a modifier?

    When I discuss origins with non-Christians, I refer to myself as an evolutionist (no modifier). However, when I discuss origins with Christians, I do feel the need to use “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creationism” if/when the appear shocked by my admission that I’m a proponent of evolution.

    As the science of evolution becomes more well-known in the popular culture, and more and more Christians accept the evidence, I predict that adding a modifier to one’s stance on evolution will become less popular, fade altogether, and eventually be a semi-comical artifact of Church history.

    That will be a day in which I rejoice to the point of tears. =)

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