November 24, 2017

Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!  Chapter 3- Terms that Begin to Free Us

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes  Chapter 3- Terms that Begin to Free Us

By Denis O. Lamoureux

To begin Chapter 3- Terms that Begin to Free Us, Denis makes the point that the origins debate is fueled by conflation of ideas.  For most people today, the word “evolution” is conflated with a godless and purposeless view of the world.  The conflation leads to believing it is impossible to believe in God, particularly the God of Christianity, and evolution at the same time.  Similarly, the term “creation” is conflated with the so-called “literal” interpretation of Genesis 1.  And the extremist proponents of either side love to drive these conflation of terms to their logical conclusions of absolute dichotomy.  You know the battle cries- “God’s infallible inerrant word vs. man’s fallen and errant word”, or “No reasonable educated person would choose ancient myths over settled science”.  As frequent Imonk commenter, Headless Unicorn Guy, says; Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham are fun-house mirror images of each other.  They remind me of the ridiculous 1997 movie “Face/Off”  where hambone over-actors Nicholas Cage and John Travolta exchange faces to foil each other… or something…  something.

Which one is Ham, which one is Dawkins, you can’t tell, can you?

Anyway, Denis tries to un-conflate (deflate?) the terms “Creation” and “Evolution”.  As he says:

Let me suggest that to define the term “creation”, we should consider the way theologians use it in their day-to-day work.  They emphasize that this word is a religious idea and not a scientific concept.  More precisely, it a religious belief and refers only to the things God made.  Someone who is a “creationist” is a person who simply believes in a Creator and that the entire world is his creation.  Theologians are interested in how the world originated, but they know that science is not their area of expertise.  Therefore it is important for them to have trusted Christians who are scientists to help them understand the Lord’s creative method.

So, according to theologians, the doctrine of creation according to the Bible, has little to do with the material mechanics, but concerns the following basic religious beliefs:

  • The creation is completely separate from the Creator (Gen 1:1, John 1:1-3)
  • The creation is totally dependent on the Creator (Acts 17:24-28)
  • The creation was made out of nothing (Col 1:16-17, Heb 11:3)
  • The creation had a beginning (Gen 1:1, Heb 1:10) and an end (Heb 1:11-12, 2 Pet 3:10-13). The Creator not only made the physical world but created time.  Therefore, the present universe has not always existed, nor is it going to last forever.  Only God is eternal.
  • The creation declares the existence of the Creator (Ps 19:1, Rom 1:19-20)
  • The creation is very good. (Gen 1:31)
  • The creation features humans who are created in the image of God. (Gen 1:26-27)

Likewise, the word “evolution” has been conflated with a process of blind, purposeless chance.  From this perspective, there is no place for God, and our existence has no ultimate meaning or purpose.  Furthermore, this conflation of evolution with atheism is assumed to be the official view of modern science and some claim a real scientist has to be an atheist, just like the Hamites claiming that only creationists are the real true Christians.  But evolution, in the simplest terms that scientists use it, is the physical, material processes by which the universe and its life arose.  There is no mention of whether these processes are created by, or directed by God; because science deals only with physical reality and not spiritual reality.

Denis identifies three basic evolutionary sciences.

  • Cosmological Evolution examines the origin of stars, planets, and all astronomical phenomena. The current theory is the universe as we know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.
  • Geological Evolution investigates the formation of the earth. The geological history of Earth follows the major events in Earth’s past based on the geologic time scale, a system of chronological measurement based on the study of the planet’s rock layers (stratigraphy). Earth formed about 4.54 billion years ago by accretion from the solar nebula, a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation of the Sun, which also created the rest of the Solar System.
  • Biological Evolution explains the origin of living organisms. Fossils found in rock layers of the earth reveal a pattern that shows how plants and animals gradually transformed over time into entirely new species.

Denis uses the following analogy to explain his viewpoint of creation through evolutionary processes:

Imagine God’s creative action is like the stroke of a pool cue in a game of billiards.  Divide and label the balls into three groups using the words “heavens”, “earth”, and “living organisms”, and let the eight ball represent humans.  In depicting the origin of the world, a six day creationist sees the Creator making single shot after single shot with no miscues until all the balls are off the table.  No doubt about it, that’s impressive.

However, as a Christian evolutionist, I picture God using only one stroke of his cue representing the Big Bang.  His opening shot is so incredibly precise that not only are all the balls sunk but they drop in order.  The balls labelled “heavens” fall first, then “earth” followed by “living organisms”, and finally the eight ball- the most important ball in billiards- signifying human beings.  To complete the analogy, the Lord pulls this last ball out of the pocket and holds it to his heart to indicate his personal relationship with men and women.

Isn’t the Creator who uses just a single stroke to sink all the balls infinitely more amazing that the God of the six day creationists who takes shot, after shot, after shot?  I believe that the Lord’s eternal power and unfathomable foresight is best illustrated by creating through an evolutionary process that he set in motion with the single miraculous event of the Big Bang.  Just think about it.  God with only one creative act set up the laws of nature for everything in the entire world to self-assemble through evolution.

Denis then introduces the terms “teleology” and “dystelology”.  Teleology is the belief that there is an ultimate purpose and plan for our existence and that we are moving toward an end and final goal.  Dystelology, in opposition, is the belief that there is no meaning or purpose to the universe.  As Richard Dawkins in River out of Eden says:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Denis notes that most people today are indoctrinated by both the church and secular society into believing that evolution is by necessity dysteleological.   They assume evolution has to be an unplanned and purposeless natural process driven only by blind chance.  Denis believes this is another notorious conflation.  He then brings up intelligent design which he says is a belief that the world’s beauty, complexity, and functionality point toward an Intelligent Designer.  He contrasts that with “Intelligent Design Theory”, propounded by people like Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski and Stephen Meyer, who claim that design in nature is scientifically detectable.  Denis co-authored a book with Phillip Johnson called Darwinism Defeated?  in which they debate biological origins.  Denis does not believe in the “Intelligent Design Theory” of Johnson, Behe, Meyer, and others; rather he believes design is discerned and induced philosophically and religiously.

Denis introduces his “Metaphysics-Physics Principle” as illustrated by his Figure 3-2.  From his perspective Christianity and science are “complementary”; each adding something that is lacking in the other which leads us to a fulfilling, unified, and whole understanding of creation and its Creator.  Science only deals with physical reality, but it leads us to think about the reality “beyond”, “behind”, and “after” the physical world.  Hence the term “metaphysics” from the Greek meta; “beyond”, “behind”, and “after” and phusis (physics)—nature.  Everyone takes a step of faith upward from the physical evidence to come to their metaphysical belief.  There is no direct connection or mathematical formula to move from physics to metaphysics or vice versa.  Whether one sees teleology or dystelology; it is a matter of personal perspective and metaphysical assumption.

As Denis has noted, “scientific concordance” is the idea that God revealed some basic scientific facts in the Bible thousands of years before their discovery by modern science.  In the upper half of Figure 3-3, he introduces the term “spiritual correspondence” which is the belief that statements about spirituality in the Bible align with spiritual reality, or, to put it another way, the belief that the personal God of Christianity communicates spiritual truths to men and women through Scripture.  Denis says:

You will notice in Figure 3-3 that the issue of origins in the Bible features an overlapping area between statements about spirituality and statements about nature.  In my opinion, this is where the greatest challenge appears in attempting to develop our view of origins.  To explain what I mean, consider an issue that is often debated among Christians.

Genesis 1 refers ten times to God creating living organisms “according to their kinds”.  Is this a scientific statement about how he actually made different types of plants, birds, sea creatures, and land animals?  Many Christian ant-evolutionists claim that this phrase is biblical proof that the Creator did not employ evolution to create life.  They contend that God used miraculous interventions to create separate “kinds” or groups of creatures individually (e.g. all dogs as a kind).  However, other Christians like me suggest that Genesis 1 does not reveal how the Lord created living creatures.  Instead this creation account reveals who made plants, animals, and humans—the God of Christianity.

Here are a few ideas I would like you to consider regarding scientific concordism and spiritual correspondence.  Is it possible that statements about nature in Scripture do not align with the physical world because God accommodated and allowed the biblical writers to use the science-of-the-day?  More specifically, did he communicate timeless spiritual truths by using an ancient understanding of origins as a vessel to deliver them?  In other words, is it reasonable to reject scientific concordism, but to accept spiritual correspondence?

Before you jump into too severe a critique of what Denis is saying in this chapter, bear in mind the audience he is writing for.  As he said, this is the book he wish he had when he went from his sheltered home life to the big bad wild world of the university.  I think it is also obvious he is writing specifically to evangelicals who have been brined in the pickling juice of “choosing God’s infallible and inerrant word over the fallible and atheistic word of scientific man”.   I think it is a useful endeavor to try and correct this thought process.  This thought process is part of the reason that 81% of evangelicals voted for a man for president who rejects evolution, vaccination, and climate change.  Anyone who has ever cooked and eaten country ham knows how difficult it is to remove a brine and how worthwhile the final result of that endeavor is.

Comments

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    I think Denis misses a trick with his pool analogy. God becomes a deist God who kicks everything off and then leaves the scene. Traditional Christian concepts of God as “first cause” do not just, or even primarily, mean historically, but also that God is also the reason why things continue to exist, why there continues to exist something rather than nothing. God remains the driving force of the universe and the ultimate explanation (which is otherwise lacking) as to how it operates in accordance with a single set or universal laws and as a single harmonious whole. God created the universe out of nothing. He is the pool table itself, as well as the player, and operates the rules of physics which determine how the ball moves.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      A fair point, Iain. Later, in Chapter 6, Denis distinguishes “deistic evolution” from “evolutionary creation”; so I think he ends up pretty much agreeing with your point.

      • 12 hours later. I’m late. I think you just happy go lucky dismiss her points, which are well taken. There is no functional distinguishing “the creator is totally separate from his creation” from Deism, no matter what literary gymnastics Denis does. This statement reduces the gospel to: Supreme Being creates a one time preprogrammed existence bomb, pulls the pin and sits back to see how it goes. You can not reconcile this view of God with the gospel message. Read Thomas Jefferson sometime.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > also that God is also the reason why things continue to exist,

      Agree, and I have recollections of that coming up in conversations. On the other hand it is a very nebulous insubstantial belief – there is never much ‘howness’ attached. On the other hand people naturally understand making-stuff, as it has a human corollary.

      I suspect his arguments can survive in that crowd without becoming entangled in the howness-of-continuation. And it is something so terribly vague perhaps it was ignored on purpose? Most Evangelicals, IMO, are much nearer in heart to a clockwork-universe than a universe-on-mystic-life-support.

      > God remains the driving force of the universe

      Easily hand waved away – the old “God exists outside of time” trope; creation to the end of creation is without distinction from His perspective.The point of the pen exists at every place on the page simultaneously. 🙂

      > God created the universe out of nothing

      I also remember that one … but… God is eternal right? So there was something: God, at least. The Scripture does not say “out of nothing”, anywhere. I doubt the Hebrews even had a concept of “nothing”. This is also a point that can likely be skipped over – nobody saying ‘ex nihilo’ has any notion of what they mean; it is a shibboleth.

      Mr. Lamoureux creates a narrative in a dialect I feel many Evangelicals might be able to, at least, hear. The construction and form is familiar enough.

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I am not really arguing with Mr Lamoureux, more wanting to see him expand more on his point.
        “Ex nihilo” isn’t a shibboleth, it’s fundamental to an understanding of God as not being an entity within the universe and acting upon it, but as the sole origin of existence itself. The real problem with the pool table analogy is that it gives the impression that existence, time, the laws of the universe etc (ie the pool table the game is played on) are external to God and not dependent on him: as I said God is traditionally viewed as being the pool table itself, not (just) a player in the game. “Ex nihilo” asserts that there was and is no external reality or existence outside God except that which God created; God is subject to nothing but himself: it is far from a meaningless catchphrase.

        • The Bible no how no way teaches creatio ex nihilo. Like the good ancient near easterners they were, the authors of the accounts in Genesis assume a venerable cosmology that describes creation as the shaping of the universe from pre-existing materials snatched out of primordial chaos. Certainly the sophisticated writers of the accounts in Genesis have radically demythologized their sources but this idea lurks behind these accounts. Creatio ex nihilo as a concept developed as a response by the church to second century Gnostic and pagan speculations.

          • +1. Truth.

            It’s theological power creep. Gotta always be building God bigger.

          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            I’m not sure you are right. Genesis 1.1 exactly rejects the idea that Chaos preceded God. It says that when God created the heavens and the earth it was empty and formless (or whatever “bohu” means), and then God went on to form it into order. This is a direct rejection of the notion that God or the gods only formed the universe out of the existing chaos. To say that chaos was preexisting is to re-write the text to read “In the beginning, when the earth was without form and void, God created the heavens and the earth…” the actual text carefully states it the other way round. Given that every other creation myth had it in the other order, this has to be deliberate.

          • Actually, it is Gnosticism that would leave part of existence outside the lordship and redemption of Jesus Christ. Gnosticism bifurcates the world, making matter itself the repository of irredeemable illusion and darkness, and what all we usually call evil. Jesus then is seen as the spiritual redeemer of the spiritual world, who reveals the knowledge necessary to escape the darkness and illusion. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo developed (yes, it certainly did develop) to address and reject the Gnostic teachings that the material world is an evil illusion by asserting that Jesus is lord and redeemer of all that exists; by inference, God must also be the creator of all that exists.

        • So, just out of curiosity, how do you guys interpret Hebrews 11:3? At the very least, ex nihilo is a viable option there…

          • Let’s quote it:

            By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.[a]

            Footnotes:
            [a] Or was not made out of visible things

            Sure you can interpret the passage that way I guess. But It could be that the writer is making an analogy. between the “things that are not seen” and the “word of god”. And this line is in the context of a passage extolling the virtue of believing without seeing, i.e., having faith. I think interpreting this as a statement of creatio ex nihilo only works if you take the verse out of context. The point here is that there are things that do exist even though you can’t see them.

            • What is your idea? That some things were not created by God, but have their own power of self-existence, and have always existed alongside the being we call God? If that is your idea, I think the title God for such a limited being is a complete misnomer. That’s no God; that’s more like the demiurge of Gnostic metaphysics.

              • Well I wasn’t staking a position here. I was simply pointing out that the idea of creation ex nihilo was a later intuition and was not the view of the ancients. Me, I think the ultimate origin of all things is unknown and am content to say, I don’t know.

                • I guess agnosticism regarding cosmogony is a theologically neutral position, as long as one can assert that Jesus is Lord, which means that he is Lord of all that is, because then the central affirmation of Christianity is being upheld. If one cannot make that assertion, however, then it means that Caesar, in one form or another, is also lord of part of a bifurcated existence, which is not even a universe, and only part of which is creation.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Denis introduces his “Metaphysics-Physics Principle” as illustrated by his Figure 3-2.  From his perspective Christianity and science are “complementary”; each adding something that is lacking in the other which leads us to a fulfilling, unified, and whole understanding of creation and its Creator.

    Sounds like a “slightly overlapping” variant of Stephen Jay Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria.”

  3. The Dawkins vs Ham thing is a bit facile. Even if we disagree with the conclusions Dawkins derives from the facts, nevertheless he does have the facts on his side. As a description of the process by which life spread and diversified on this planet, evolution is incontrovertible. Ham’s problem is not just that he doesn’t understand the science, it’s that he doesn’t understand the Bible.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Ditto. Dawkins doesn’t do PR very well. But he is not a manipulator and sometimes outright deceiver. Also, he did real science. He didn’t fleece the gullible and taxpayers into providing him with rural mansion while constantly begging for funds.

      • But did he do real theology, or philosophy for that matter?

        I don’t think anyone is begrudging his pronouncements on his field of expertise. It’s the hubris of thinking that this makes him an expert beyond that.

  4. Christiane says:

    I always liked the idea of Creation ‘unfolding’. 🙂

  5. The tinkering required of the Intelligent Design God does not seem to me to envision a high view of Deity. The following quotes from John Haught in Deeper than Darwin seem appropriate

    “A universe that could “evolve” from within itself, rather than requiring constant divine tinkering from outside, is surely a more marvelous handiwork than one that requires constant infringements and patchwork repair.”

    “Evolution helps us realize that God is much more interested in promoting freedom and arousing adventure in the world than in preserving the status quo”

  6. Sort-of on topic, but I really wanted to share this with everyone here: I’ve been listening to Jordan Peterson’s series “Maps of meaning” (you can see the videos on YouTube).

    There are several elements which I think people here will find interesting:
    – A psychological/evolutionary take on interpreting Genesis
    – The idea that humans are fundamentally story-based (this joins up with something that Chaplain Mike has often come back to about us inhabiting a narrative, and the Bible being a narrative more than a textbook).
    – He also has a substantial exegesis of Pinocchio 🙂