November 18, 2017

Mike the Geologist: Science and the Bible (Lesson 8)

Photo by kathryn_goddard1

Photo by kathryn_goddard1

Science and the Bible – Lesson 8
By Michael McCann

Last time we looked at the fossil record from a broad perspective view.  The fossil record is a history of how life appeared on this earth.  The overall view is that life, both animal and plant life, developed over a long period of time from very simple to very complex.

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We could, if we wanted to, just stop right here and not go into further detail.  The fossil record does not support the young earth creationist view that all life was created at once in complete form.  There are detailed, complex, coherent, and discoverable lines of evidence that point to a natural process that took place over a long time.  If all life had been created at once there would be no segregation of fossil remains.  The bones of elephant and apatosaurus, tyrannosaur and tiktaalik, velociraptor and vulture would all be found jumbled together.  And Carboniferous coal would have 80% angiosperms and 20% gymnosperms just as we see on earth today; not 100% gymnosperm.  That coal has nothing but gymnosperms BECAUSE flowering plants did not exist when that coal was formed.  Coals formed in the late Cretaceous and Tertiary periods have plenty of angiosperm content.

This over-arching view is sometimes lost in the creation-evolution controversy.  Because a detailed look at the fossil record, despite still supporting the overall view, has messy loose ends.

“Why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms?”  (Charles Darwin)

“The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and `fully formed.’” (Gould, Stephen J. [Professor of Zoology and Geology, Harvard University, USA], “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History, Vol. 86, No. 5, May 1977, p.14).

Simple microbial life shows up as far back as 3.4 billion years ago, but from about 540 million years ago to 530 million years ago there is the seemingly sudden appearance of a variety of complex animals (often referred to as the Cambrian explosion).  Of course 5-10 million years is hardly an “explosion” but still it is pretty impressive.

Nevertheless, despite the quote above being commonly quoted by YEC’s, Gould had a pretty good explanation of why the fossil record appeared as it did and often expressed irritation about being quoted out of context or quote-mined into saying something he emphatically did not believe:

“It is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists, whether through design or stupidity, I do not know, as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level but are abundant between larger groups. The evolution from reptiles to mammals . . . is well documented.”  (Stephen J. Gould in “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” Discover, May 1981)

The problem is that the subtleties of punctuated equilibrium are hard to grasp for the average Christian layman, especially when his fellow co-religionists are making ridiculous arguments appear as convincing “logic”.

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The transitional form conundrum for the evangelical is well illustrated in the following example from the book Of Pandas and People:

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Although the depiction shows no transitional forms between ray-finned fish and lungfish (which is essentially true) it does show the excellent record of transition between lobe-finned lungfish and the tetrapods that are plausibly the forerunners to amphibians.  Also, Panderichthys fossils date to 380 mya and Acanthostega fossils date to 365 mya.  In 2004, a team of paleontologists went looking in rocks in Canada that were 375 mya and they found “Tiktaalik rosaea”.

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Tiktaalik seems to bridge the gap between Panderichthys and Acanthostega.

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So you have a case here where a prediction is made on the basis of a scientific theory and that prediction is tested and verified.  But it would be a mistake to think that a depiction of the above series is a straight forward “ladder” of one species succeeding the other.  This group of fossils were thought to be roughly contemporary with the transition onto land. However, recently tracks of a four-footed animal were discovered in marine sediments firmly dated at 397 million years old. If that animal was a genuine tetrapod, then creatures like Tiktaalik may have been “late-surviving relics” exhibiting transitional features that actually evolved somewhat earlier.

In short, these are not the actual ancestors of modern land animals; but they are related to the actual ancestors, and so they do show us the sort of creatures that developed during the great move onto land. Straight-forward “proof” of evolution? Hardly.  Complicated? Yes, but is the concept of transitional forms still demonstrated?  I think so.

In my class I usually cover a few more examples of transitional fossils like dinosaur-to-bird, but the one transitional assemblage that really matters to most people is this one:

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Now we come to the real tension between science and the Bible.  After all it was Jesus himself who said:

Matthew 19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female…

The apostle Paul said:

Romans 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come…

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

The science would seem to say that these creatures show part of the transition between the common ancestor we shared with the apes and modern humans.  Now it is a bush not a ladder relation.  We did not descend directly from apes.  Nevertheless, it is a continuum with regard to the development of our physical bodies; there seems to be no clear line of demarcation.

How can this be reconciled with the goodness of God’s creation; all the death and extinction of millions of years?  What of the fall?  Is man falling upward?  How is Christ’s death necessary under an evolutionary paradigm?  Is the absolute dichotomy of the fundamentalist atheist and fundamentalist Christian valid; you must choose between science and the Bible, they both can’t be true?

I cannot resolve this tension.  I will tell you how I live with it.  I have no intention of renouncing my faith in Christ.  I have no intention of indulging in pseudo-science.  Let us return to first principles.

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All truth is God’s truth.  If something is true in the natural/physical realm then it is true – period.  The science depicted in the human transitional forms is NOT going to go away.  In fact, the number and quality of transitional forms is only going to increase as discovery continues.  Since that chart was put together by the Smithsonian there has been the discovery of Denisovans and Homo Naledi ()  And as we shall see in the next essay, the science of genetics, especially at the molecular level, which could have overturned the family tree constructed by: 1. comparative anatomy, 2. biogeography, and 3. the fossil record, instead has confirmed it.

That being the case, what I am waiting for is the development of an interpretive grid that puts the meaning with the mechanism.  As Alister McGrath said in his essay “Faith and the limits of science” :

“I have no doubt that science can identify the mechanisms of life. But that’s not the same as telling us what life is about. The question here is about meaning, not mechanism. Telling us how something happened doesn’t tell us about why it happened, or what it means.  One of my scientific heroes is Sir Peter Medawar, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine some years ago. He was not a religious man. I think it would be fair to describe him as a rationalist, with a distaste for many aspects of religion.

In one of his final publications, entitled The Limits of Science, he reflected on the kind of questions raised by Karl Popper. Medawar rightly insisted that “science is incomparably the most successful enterprise human beings have ever engaged upon.”  Yet he drew a sharp distinction between questions about the organization and structure of the material universe, and what he called “transcendent” questions.  What sort of transcendent questions did he have in mind? Medawar points to “questions that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer” – such as, What are we all here for? What is the point of living?”

McGrath is one of those who is working on that interpretive grid that respects science, but puts science’s limitations as a way of knowing into the proper place in human experience.  He goes on to say in that same essay:

“One such answer is that we find our true identity and meaning through coming to know God. This is now the answer – or, at least, part of the answer – that I myself would give. It is not one that I always adopted.  I used to be an atheist when I was younger. But while I was a student at Oxford many years ago, it gradually came to capture my thoughts and imagination. It is an answer that continues to thrill and excite me.  For me, discovering God was like finding a lens that helped me see things more clearly. Faith offers me a bigger picture of reality. It doesn’t just make sense to me, it makes sense of me as well.  Believing in God doesn’t contradict science, but rather gives me an intellectual and moral framework within which the successes of science may be celebrated and understood, and its limits appreciated.  That’s no criticism of science. It’s just respecting its limits, and not forcing it to become something else.”

Sarah Coakley is another thinker on the forefront of these issues.  In her essay “God and Evolution: A New Proposal” she points out that there are three problems that confront us as we try to see a coherent relation between a good, providential God, and a naturalistic explanation for our biologic life.  First, there is the issue of how we should understand the relation of God’s providence to the seeming randomness of the stochastic processes science had identified as leading to human life.  Second, there is the issue of how God’s providence can relate to the specific area of human freedom and creativity.  Third is the problem of evil.  How such stochastic processes lead to such destruction and suffering, even if the suffering in pre-human history is animal suffering.  Modern evolutionary theory intensifies these conflicts even though they are not new and have been explored by philosophers and theologians of times past.

To quote Coakley:

But modern Darwinian evolutionary theory appears to underscore the contingency or randomness of evolutionary “mutation” and “selection,” and thus to render newly problematic the possibility of a coherent divine guidance of pre-cultural evolution…

Consequently, modern evolutionary theory appears to intensify the problem of evil intolerably.

If, after all, God is the author and “sustainer” of the destructive mess and detritus of both pre-cultural and cultural evolutionary processes, why is God so incompetent and/or sadistic as not to prevent such tragic accompaniments to God’s master plan? If intervention is an option for God, why has God not exercised it?

She proposes three broad-based preliminary solutions.  First is to avoid having God compete with evolution.  As I stated earlier, science can’t explain away God, if God works through proximate causes to carry out His ultimate purposes.  It’s still ALL GOD !!!  How does God make it rain?  How does He make the sun rise?  How are babies made?  In fact, let’s look at that last one more closely.  How probable was it that of the 400-plus eggs and billion-plus sperm of your biologic parents, that YOU would appear with just the characteristics you have?  Your conception was a RANDOM event. Extending that back into the past; think of the immense improbability of your parents meeting, their parents meeting, their grandparents meeting, and so on back into dim history, each meeting and merging contingent upon the previous.  You, dear evangelical reader, already accept that and still believe God created you.  Is it so strange then, to extend that back into pre-human history?  Are we not earthy, of this earth…

Ecclesiastes3:18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.  19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.  20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

The second issue of how God’s providence can relate to the specific area of human freedom and creativity she resolves by reminding us that it is an error in assuming that God is a mere item, albeit “big,” in the temporal universe itself.  She says:

In other words, once again we can think not deistically but trinitarianly and incarnationally of God. We can make Christ’s agony in the garden, or his submission to divine will on the cross, as the hallmark and pattern of achieved human freedom rather than its supersession.

Once we see human freedom, in its truest and best sense, as freedom-for-God, rather than freedom-against-God, then much of the force of this second problem falls away.

The third problem, that of theodicy, she resolves, as Christians historically have always done; christologically.   “The deepest agony, loss, and apparent wastefulness in God’s creation” is mirrored in Christ’s “needless” death and agony.  Evil, from this perspective, is mere absence of good, and death the prelude to resurrection.  She concludes:

God, in short, is always intervening; but only rarely do we see this when the veil becomes “thin,” and the alignment between divine, providential will and evolutionary or human “cooperation” momentarily becomes complete.

Such, we might hypothesize, was Christ’s resurrection, which we call a miracle because it seems, from a “natural” and scientific perspective, both unaccountable and random.

Yet, from a robustly theological perspective, it might be entirely natural, the summation indeed of the entire trinitarian evolutionary process and thus it’s secret key.

Yeah, everything is summed up in Jesus.  That’s the best I can do for now.

• • •

Photo by kathryn_goddard1 on Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Comments

  1. ” As I stated earlier, science can’t explain away God…”

    All that I have read from renowned scientists is that anything that is not physical cannot be verified, therefore, according to scientific reasoning, it cannot exist. Why WOULD science even TRY to “explain away God” when God, as a consideration, is not even a possibility?

    This series has been illuminating, but it has done nothing for Faith. At least for ME, and I am NOT a YEC believer.

    • Sorry to have failed you, Oscar. I did my best and tried my hardest.

      “All that I have read from renowned scientists is that anything that is not physical cannot be verified, therefore, according to scientific reasoning, it cannot exist.” Does love exist?

      How does science impart meaning to our existence? Answer; it doesn’t and indeed can’t.

      • Mike, you didn’t fail. You may be a glimmer of light in the scientific world, but your light is just a spark in the overall darkness.

        Can love exist? They say it is nothing but the result of chemical reactions, synapses firing in the brain and nothing more. The same goes for thought, a result of chemical processes. Imagination? Same thing. Even faith is a result of evolution, a coping mechanism that the feeble use to give meaning to a seemingly pointless existence. Darwin never posited such thinking although his observations may have lead the way. This is called the Neo-Darwinian synthesis.

        The steadfast belief that all is the result of physical processes and that nothing else can exist is called “scientism”, another philosophy or religion, if you will. Of course, I do NOT believe in this philosophy, CANNOT believe in it! It only leads me to despair and pointlessness.

        Science is a toll to understanding the physical world around us, but when it is turned into a philosophy then it jumps the gap to religion.

        • Yep, we are on the same page, Oscar.

        • Again, I guess I disagree. To me, the insistence on ghosts, magic, fortune-telling and time travel (or would you prefer gods, prayers, prophecy and A Divine Plan) leads ME to despair and pointlessness.

          My wife and I suffered through a miscarriage a number of years ago. The doctor was talking to me afterward, suggesting a few things that might have caused this. But in the end he said that, realistically, they have no idea what causes most miscarriages. “These things just happen.”

          He didn’t mean it to but it was, in fact, the most helpful thing he could possibly have said: A lot of the time, things just happen. There’s no meaning behind it. And that’s GREAT. It’s not divine reward OR punishment. It’s not because the world is fallen. Things just happen. And you don’t need to spend any time at all thinking about the moral meaning of them.

          Meaninglessness saved my sanity.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            Sorry to hear about the past miscarriage.

            “Meaninglessness saved my sanity.”

            I totally get that. In fact, one of the first books of the Bible I read when I became a Christian was Ecclesiastes, in which the whole point is “Meaninglessness.” Now, you might think that’s an odd book for a newbie Christian to read, but it’s exactly what *I* needed to hear from this so-called book of God. Discovering “Yep, everything’s meaningless” is one message of the Bible immediately made it a trustworthy source.

            Ecclesiastes remains my favorite book of the Bible. It gives much-needed balance to what some people make out of the Good News (God has a plan for your life, Nothing bad happens that God doesn’t will, “insert next trite Christian phrase here”).

          • J, I think that as Rick says, we need the “shit happens” sometimes. Looking for a meaning in everything is exhausting. Some things just don’t ‘mean’ anything.

            Going from there to ‘nothing means anything’ is a bit of a leap for me though.

            This is where I have difficulty with *some* neo-atheists using (what seem to me like) logical tricks to say that questions of meaning make no sense. Shifting categories around and effectively sweeping the hard stuff under the carpet.

            As far as I can tell, at this point in time, there are hard, as-yet-unanswered questions whichever way you chose to turn. Trying to evacuate them with sophistry – whether you’re a systematic, concordist theologian, or a neo-atheist – doesn’t feel honest to me.

            As I (believe) I commented here once before, I have the choice between being a Christian who wonders if there’s really a God, or an atheist who wonders if there really is a God.

          • StuartB says:

            A lot of the time, things just happen. There’s no meaning behind it. And that’s GREAT.

            Exactly. The deterministic or fatalistic or whatever God is a myth. Which is why the ancient stories were about deities wrestling order into chaos. Chaos is default. Things like love, justice, compassion, grace…those bring order to chaos, regardless if there is a literal actual God or not. And maybe those things are in fact God, or the closest glimpses to ‘a’ God there might be.

          • Danielle says:

            “My wife and I suffered through a miscarriage a number of years ago.”

            I just want to say that I’m sorry. After our first child, we’ve have only recurrent miscarriages. Been there. It’s sad and hard.

            I also wanted to say that my feelings about explanations are similar. It’s a burden on people to make them assign grand meaning to something they probably experience as essentially pointless, frustrating, and painful. Trying to add value just makes it hard to talk about what it just IS.

            Come to think of it, its a burden to have to slather butter on top of the good stuff too, as if it needs the butter to taste good.

            I think that if there is a ‘meaning’ it can only be found in (or creatively brought out of) what it means to go through whatever an experience ‘just is.’ In regard to the bad portions, I read a quote (Google tells me the source might be someone named Megan Devine), “Some things can’t be fixed. They can only be carried.” There might be some meaning in the necessity of doing the carrying. Or the decision to do it. But if so, that’s later (either logically or chronologically). Don’t start off by saying I don’t need to carry whatever it is, and don’t tell me I’m not carrying it. Especially don’t tell me that if I want to find meaning, I can’t be carrying it. Don’t change the topic.

            I’ll take pure old meaningless over the poor alternatives any day.

        • Danielle says:

          “You may be a glimmer of light in the scientific world, but your light is just a spark in the overall darkness.”

          That’s a rather glum assessment. What’s dark about seeing how the world works, and learning to work and live in it better and more intelligently?

          It’s fantastic!

          Hopefully that’s not at cross-purposes with our Big Questions or our Big Answers. If it is:

          “Houston, we have a problem.”

          • Danielle says:

            …. And in such a case, maybe we call the engineers and not the philosophers.

            Or at least give me a Philosopher-Engineer.

        • This is called the Neo-Darwinian synthesis.

          Uh, no it isn’t. Neo-Darwinism is the union of the theory of evolution with genetic science.

          Can love exist? They say it is nothing but the result of chemical reactions, synapses firing in the brain and nothing more. The same goes for thought, a result of chemical processes.

          Well, you say these things are objectionable to you but:

          a.) They aren’t actually mutually exclusive: Love exists. AND it can be described as a series of chemical reactions and of synapses firing in the brain.

          b.) They aren’t actually demonstrably wrong: When parents contact electrodes placed on their scalp and/or is placed in an MRI and shown photos of their children, their certain areas of the brain–associated with recognition and affection–are shown to activate. And they activate in very similar ways in most people examined this way. Why does that diminish the idea of ‘love’? Shouldn’t it be reassuring to you to know that ‘love’ is, in fact, a real, physical thing?

          Have you seen the documentary “Alive Inside”? About people with severe dementia, who cannot recognize their loved ones or speak but who, if you place headphones on them with music from their youth, suddenly seem to ‘come to life’? Food for thought.

          Anyway, I guess I don’t understand your objection: Yes, love is real. And yes, it can be described as a series of physical phenomena in the brain. What’s the problem?

          • Rick Ro. says:

            Are you the same J who’s been popping in and out of the iMonk boards? If so, I commend you for coming with some really good, thoughtful stuff today! (I’ve criticized you in the past for primarily being a grenade-tosser – “toss provocative one-line statement, leave, toss another one-liner, leave.)

            This is stuff we can chew on and discuss!

        • Danielle says:

          That said, I do think there’s a tendency toward reductionism, which is what you is bothering you.

          That’s ultimately a philosophical position. It’s the result, I think, of a lot people feeling that the questions that go beyond scientific questions and explanations are speaking in gibberish. It’s also because metaphysics seems to shut down investigation into mechanisms rather than encouraging it.

          I share that skepticism, in part. At times, it seems like our cherished big picture explanations turn into a kind of linguistic merry-go-round. Words, referencing other words, correlating to nothing.

          I tend toward Mike’s comments to the effect what arises out of the processes is not reducible to them. However, it is dependent upon them.

          • “I tend toward Mike’s comments to the effect what arises out of the processes is not reducible to them. However, it is dependent upon them.” Danielle- exactly. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I viscerally resist reductionism. J finds meaning in science. Well, J is thinking, reasoning, reacting, emoting. Are those just random physical processes? The fact that J imparts meaning means there is meaning. I’m trying not to go too far down the woo-woo trail here, but the very existence of J as a thinking being means there is something more than just the sum of the processes. I guess you understand emergent properties or you don’t. You either see it or you don’t and then we just talk past one another.

          • Danielle says:

            Yes.

            I like the emergent properties approach for two reasons. On the one hand: I resist reductionism.

            In reverse, I also resist any ‘metaphysical’ or ‘philosophical’ explanation that doesn’t want to deal with processes — or which won’t stay down in the tall grass and dissect how it grows. “This is happening.” “It looks like this.” “Here’s how – specifically – we can solve a problem.” “Here’s how we can’t solve it.” This is the difference between a grounded conversation, even if the conversation does move into speculative territory, and – to borrow the term – “pure and unchecked woo.”

            I’m in the humanities, not science (a fact I sometimes regret – I got redirected from science in youth and its the path-not-taken to me). But within the conversations on that side of the fence, my preference is similar. I’m relatively skeptical and careful about the merits of, say, systematic theology. I went into history: tall grass.

        • StuartB says:

          The universe is beautiful but cold.

      • “How does science impart meaning to our existence? Answer; it doesn’t and indeed can’t.”

        I disagree. I find many scientific ideas very meaningful. Considering deep time, deep distance and deep ‘connection’ have big mental effects on me, putting a lot of things in my day-to-day life that might otherwise loom large in a new and, I think, healthier perspective. (Viz. today I spent two hours in a meeting arguing over whether we should purchase some new scheduling software. On the other hand, this planet is seven billion years old.)

        Unless you have what I would consider a cramped definition of ‘meaning’, that is.

        • Danielle says:

          To me, I don’t think the meaning can be derived from the scientific facts, as if you can add pieces together and arrive at Meaning. However, the scientific facts to propel the questions.

          I think they’re also an important “check” on philosophy and religion.

          Suppose my Philosophy of Life asserts that you must always do This Special Thing. But the facts show that This Special Thing is not even remotely possible, and is in fact harmful. That should at least send up a big red flag.

        • StuartB says:

          Yes, you should purchase new scheduling software.

          Soft plug for When I Work.

  2. I’m not saying the explanations/interpretations at the end are wrong, but it still very much feels like “God in the gaps” (as opposed to God of the gaps).

    To be honest, from where I’m standing, the most ‘rational’ conclusion would be just to jettison the notion of God, and the associated strife of trying to ‘harmonise’ him into the dwindling space that science leaves. Obviously, what seems rational or not is heavily influenced by the world I live in.

    But obviously that leaves a whole load of other unanswered questions (and unanswerable if we only admit to ‘scientific’ explanations, as you say).

    So, here’s my current attempt at ‘harmonisation’:
    – If there was death and suffering in the world even before the ‘fall’, AND if we believe that God is good, it would seem that he had no choice: death and suffering are somehow a logical necessity in order for this universe to exist. One assumes he considers it is ‘worth it’.
    – Adam & Eve, knowledge of good & evil, the ‘fall’: this was the start of self-awareness, the start of ‘anti-evolution’: man rising above his animal instincts and becoming aware that his ‘natural’ infliction of suffering on others is ‘evil’. Also, instinctive fear of death becomes existential dread of annihilation.
    – This would be coherent with the idea that ‘law brings awareness of sin’: i.e. the sin is already there. In the same way, ‘eating the apple’ opens Adam & Eve’s eyes to their natural egocentricity, at which point it becomes evil.
    – This ties in with my thoughts about the problem of the ‘origin of evil’: there is no problem. Evil isn’t a ‘thing’, evil is just a perversion of love: a continuation of the ‘animal instinct’ of self-preservation, and self-interest. Self-everything, others-nothing.
    – I’m not sure where this takes us with Jesus, the Cross, resurrection (his and ours) and salvation… I haven’t got that far yet!

    • Good try, Ben. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said.

    • Robert F says:

      Sometimes I get a little tired to the objections to a God-of-the-Gaps. If science is limited in its scope, if it can’t answer the transcendent questions, then there will always be gaps. That we revise our theology to find the place where God fits in those gaps is not necessarily a bad or ignoble thing, Bonhoeffer’s words to the contrary notwithstanding. If the Christian God is one who we find in the weakness and humiliation of the cross, in his being edged out of the world and onto a cross, as Bonhoeffer also said, then why shouldn’t we experience him as the one whose power is such that works from the gaps, in the gaps, and from there “leavens” all things (the resurrection of Jesus)? What appears to humanity to be weakness and nothingness and losing is to God power and omnipotence and victory. God is a judo-master.

      That’s not any argument against the theodicy you’ve traced out; I think your points are good ones.

      • ‘Cept:

        1.) What are the ‘transcendent questions’?

        2.) Why are people so, SO sure they have the answers to the transcendent questions? (And, conversely, so sure that other people’s answers are obviously wrong)

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “Why are people so, SO sure they have the answers to the transcendent questions? (And, conversely, so sure that other people’s answers are obviously wrong)”

          I’m not sure this is unique to only transcendent questions. Have you been listening to this year’s political crap?! EVERYONE is WRONG except whoever it is who’s saying that everyone is wrong (which happens to be whoever is speaking at the time).

        • Robert F says:

          @ J:

          1) I can’t answer for everyone, but here are some of my own questions: What is the meaning of life? Where do I come from? Where am I going? Is love real, or just a sentimental and misleading word for a mere biological epiphenomenon?

          Btw, these are typical human questions, not specifically Christian ones; although some people may not ask them, many people, probably the majority, have asked them in one form or another down the long ages of time.

          2) I’m not so sure that I have the answers to these questions, or that other people’s answers to them are obviously wrong: are you?

          • 2) I’m not so sure that I have the answers to these questions, or that other people’s answers to them are obviously wrong: are you?

            Fair enough. As for what I’m ‘certain’ of, I’ll only say: I’m betting that all of the catechisms, shahadae, shimoah, articles of faith, Heidelberg principles, whatevertheheck, are at least partially wrong.

          • Robert F says:

            So am I.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            –> “I’m betting that all of the catechisms, shahadae, shimoah, articles of faith, Heidelberg principles, whatevertheheck, are at least partially wrong.”

            Yep. I know for a fact that the denomination of the church I attend is partially wrong. Every theology is partially wrong. (And it bothers me, too, when people DON’T seem to understand the flaws in their own belief systems.)

          • Rick Ro. says:

            –> “And it bothers me, too, when people DON’T seem to understand the flaws in their own belief systems.”

            That would include agnostics and atheists, by the way, and Dems and Republicans. Let’s see, who else…

    • Robert F says:

      And we should remember that kenotic Christology existed long, long before the theory of biological evolution developed; it wasn’t developed to fit into any gap left by scientific advances. If self-emptying is part of the character of Jesus Christ, then it must be part of the character of the Trinity, the Godhead, as a whole; that we extend an already existing theology to explain how our faith and God is not contradicted by the subsequent discoveries of science can not justifiably be called an evasion.

    • That’s quite an astute list Ben. That 1st harmonization in particular is the one that has haunted me for awhile.

      • Did you guys read the Bethany Sollereder articel in Biologos about “Did God Intend Death”. I thought it was good.

        • Yeah, I did read it. I also thought it was good, and it sounds like that’s an area of focus for her, so there’s probably more where that came from.

        • Here’s a few quotes from David Bentley Hart (The Doors of the Sea):

          ”The cross of Christ is not, after all, simply an eternal validation of pain and death, but their overthrow.”

          –In what meaningful sense can we speak of an “overthrow” if something is good and necessary, even eternally intended?

          ”It makes a considerable difference, however – nothing less than our understanding of the nature of God is at stake – whether one says that God has eternally willed the history of sin and death, and all that comes to pass therein, as the proper or necessary means of achieving his ends, or whether one says instead that God has willed his good in creatures from eternity and will bring it to pass despite their rebellion, by so ordering all things toward his goodness that even evil (which he does not cause) becomes an occasion of the operations of his grace.”

          ”For, after all, it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.”

          I don’t think that these above quotes and the article “Did God Intend Death” (or any evolutionary science) are, in the end, necessarily at odds with one another, but they aren’t exactly hand-in-glove either. There is work to be done. I’m glad to see some movement to a time where theologians (and even more so pastors, priests and chaplains!) are permitted to wrestle with these things and not lose their jobs (sometimes) rather than deny them.

          • Robert F says:

            What if God did not intend death for animals or humans; what if authority over the primordial creation was given to angelic beings, and some of the “fell” into disobedience; what if they subsequently twisted aspects of the primordial creation, intending to prevent God’s intentions to create life; what if God created life anyway, working through his typically diving power that looks like weakness; what if humanity was intended to finish God’s intentions for creation, and redeem it from its twistedness; what if despite the failure of humans to do so, and their cooperation with the intentions of the fallen angelic beings, God through his incarnation of Jesus Christ redeemed humanity and creation at the same time, straightening its crookedness in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and implementing this through an act of new creation that exists alongside the twisted one, and one day will overshadow and subsume it, redeem it?

          • Robert F says:

            Please forgive the numerous typos…

          • I’m fairly certain, Robert, that DB Hart holds to something like what you’ve posited here – a “fall” within “deep time” that penetrates the cosmos, a Triune God who makes all things new, and that what we experience now is “birth pains”. This, incidentally, is why I don’t personally get overly caught up in the eschatological distinction between resurrection vs. some sort of other-worldy afterlife thingy. It’s essential that the physical not be portrayed as being inherently evil or as some kind of prison from which humanity must escape. I’ve virtually no interest in the specifics, but whatever may lay ahead for creation, it has to look fundamentally different if it’s to be “deathless” with God “reconciling all things” and being “all in all”. Resurrection is not the same thing as resuscitation.

            If at the heart of everything is creation ex nihilo by the Triune God, and we believe that God’s disposition towards death and evil is displayed in the Incarnation and cross (and I don’t mean PSA appeasement theology), and we’re willing to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus about the age of the cosmos and the means of things coming to be, etc., then some sort of “deep time” fall is about the only thing that makes sense to me. Meaning that it plugs the equation nicely. That’s only if you can start with creation from nothing and a God who doesn’t eternally need death as a means to reach some end that might not otherwise have been possible. If God somehow needs death and/or evil in order to “display his wrath and justice” or some other such nonsense, then all bets are off.

            But it really leaves the same uncomfortable questions for me. We just push them back to (pre-temporal?) demons…who “fell” because of why? I’m agnostic on all aspects of that, and sort of uncomfortable with the idea of ‘demons’ having the sort of omnipotent power that looks like a cosmic dualism. And I fear making the words “good” or “love” meaningless. There’s also the Biblical idea that the Christ who entered history in the middle is also somehow the center of history and outside it all together – not just a late entry after things supposedly got screwed up. I don’t know though. I really don’t.

      • Thanks, I’m flattered. (And also relieved to find a bunch of people who even understand the questions we’re struggling with here).

        • Trying to reply to Robert F here:

          “what if humanity was intended to finish God’s intentions for creation, and redeem it from its twistedness”

          That is an element that I forgot in my list. I think that the idea that mankind was to spread out this ‘anti-evolution’ to all creation is coherent.

        • Ben:
          I can speak for no one else. I know that my Evangelical past is not particularly good at living with tension and unanswered questions. I can now, but the road was hard. I wonder if this is what Paul was getting at when he admitted that we know in part.

  3. Mike, is this the final post in your series?

  4. Russ Jacobson says:

    Just stumbled across your series Mike on Geology. Great series thanks for doing it. I am now a retired geologist and paleontologist, not far from you it seems — live in Urbana, IL and worked 34 years as a coal geologist at the Illinois Geological Survey. Your journey is like mine in many ways (outlined in your first of the series). I hope this series will help those who struggle with this whole issue!

    Russ Jacobson

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    It just occurred to me…one of my friends is agnostic AND into geology! He’ll LOVE this series. (Why this occurred to me only just now, I have no idea.)

    Thanks for the series, Mike the Geo.

  6. >> I’m trying not to go too far down the woo-woo trail here . . .

    Uh, Mike, could you step it up a little? This is no time to dawdle. Don’t forget your salt shaker, you’re going to need it. Wouldn’t hurt to pack an extra pound of salt. Glad to see you checking out the exhibits on transcendence along the way, but don’t miss those on immanence. Good stuff, lots more ahead.

  7. StuartB says:

    For a true believer, no proof can convince them otherwise.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For a true believer, no proof can convince them otherwise.

      Same dynamic as Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory:
      The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  8. I don’t know what happened to the reply nesting but in reply to:
    j says:
    June 9, 2016 at 12:18 pm
    2) I’m not so sure that I have the answers to these questions, or that other people’s answers to them are obviously wrong: are you?

    Fair enough. As for what I’m ‘certain’ of, I’ll only say: I’m betting that all of the catechisms, shahadae, shimoah, articles of faith, Heidelberg principles, whatevertheheck, are at least partially wrong.

    I’ll take that bet. In fact I’ll raise you a Pascal’s wager that they are ALL partially RIGHT. I’m going to throw my lot in with the majority of worshipping humanity down through the ages. If we are completely wrong then when the final lights blink out in the heat death of the universe none of it will have mattered anyway. In the meantime, in fact, I’m ALL IN (please visualize Mike pushing all his metaphorical chips to the center of the table).

    • StuartB says:

      It’s iMonk. I always delete the comment url and reload the page twice between comments. Only way to ensure I see anything new as well as my most recent comment.

      I blame WordPress.

  9. Two reactions:
    1) How did they get all those transitional guys to pose for their pictures? Kudos to the portrait photographer!
    2) Australopithecus africanus is a total ham bone! I want to party with that guy!