Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Evolution: What Should I Believe?


I thought I'd start small and tackle evolution. It seems appropriate, given the raging debate here in Kansas. I have really struggled with how I, as an evangelical Christian, should view Darwin's brainchild. Should I embrace it as simply sound science? Or should I fight it tooth and nail as the bane of faith?

Allow me to frame the debate for my particular purposes. Firstly, purely naturalistic evolution is disqualified a priori. My belief in a personal God who routinely involves Himself in the affairs of His creation is not presently up for evaluation. Second, the struggle I am most interested in, and the one in which I find myself torn, is more of a civil war within the body of Christ. Evangelicals (theological conservatives) find themselves opposed to evolution en toto, while more "liberal" believers feel that the authority of scientific knowledge carries enough weight to warrant adjustments to traditional church views.

I have found little help from either side of the conflict. Most evangelicals are firmly entrenched with little or no real understanding of the scientific data. The debate isn't even open to them. Similarly, most "liberals" or "Christian" scientists (not talking about Mary Bake Eddy) balk at any suggestion that the scientific community could be in error. I am trapped between two dogmas, it would seem.

Aren't we truth seekers? Aren't we compelled to follow the evidence, no matter where it leads? While I do enjoy Kierkegaard's writing, the idea of the "leap of faith" is ultimately self-defeating. That apporach simply can't distinguish between legitimate faithfulness in the face of doubt, and stubborn mind-closing in the presence of recalcitrant data. No, we must weigh the evidence and use our God-given rationality. Of course, "evidence" (in the broader context)includes not only "scientific" data, but religious experience, revelation, reason, etc. All must be taken into account, each with their appropriate weight.

My fear is that those reading this will not come with open hearts and minds. They will see these comments as "enemy ideas" and will feel it appropriate to raise the epistemic drawbridge with all haste. I understand this reaction. All I can say is, "I come in peace."

9 Comments:

Anonymous Kevin said...

Not surprisingly, there are a couple of parts of your essay on evolution that I find lacking. Mainly, your evaluation of the status of the conflict doesn't deal with people like me. That's why we had all those lunches together, remember?

1. Dividing the two sides of this issue into "evangelicals" and
"more 'liberal' believers" is a value judgment that I disagree with. I certainly consider myself solidly evangelical, even theologically conservative. That's why Jan and I left the Methodist church!

2. It is wrong to say, at least for me, that "Christian scientists balk at any suggestion that the scientific community could be in error". Science is not divine revelation, it is the current best theory that fits all the data. However, there is a big difference between admitting the possibility that science might be wrong in a hypothetical case and evaluating the strength of the scientific argument in a particular situation. I have examined both the evidence for evolution and the
teaching of Scripture, and, using the intellect that God gave me and the work of the Holy Spirit that lives within me, I conclude that evolution is how God has implemented His creative activity. I am certainly willing to listen to counter arguments, but naturally I will give more
weight to arguments from people of similar intellect who have done at
least as much study of the data. My position is much more in line with your admonition to be a truth seeker with an open heart than the
Biblical literalists who discount evolution out of hand without
examining the scientific evidence.

OK, there's my $.02 for today. You know me, always out to stamp out any perception of sloppy thinking! Great job on the argument clinic tie-in,
by the way.

5:45 PM  
Blogger chris said...

You're absolutely right. Reading it again from your perspective, I can see what you mean. Of course, you know that I know that you don't fall into either of those categories. I didn't bring up the middle ground people (is that fair? -- that's where I put myself also) for good reason: they're not the problem. The problem falls with the two camps I described (of course, I realize no one will identify themselves as being in either of those camps). Now, in retrospect, I probably should have said something about the "middle" folk. I know you're not a "balker" (usually). I understand your position, and approach it similarly. Again, the two camps I described don't take you into account. Perhaps I should have clarified that. I really didn't intend to lump you in with the "balkers." Sorry about that.

5:50 PM  
Anonymous joel said...

It is my opinion that the majority of Christians probably falls into this "middle ground" group (no, I have no data to substantiate this assertion). However, as is typical of American approach to social issues and issues where Religion and Government overlap, it is the loudest voices that are heard, often at the muting of the majority. At the risk of validating Chris' prediction, I personally fall into the middle group. I think Kevin summarized it quite eloquently stating, "evolution is how God has implemented His creative activity..."

At the risk of taking the discussion on a tangent, I am intruiged by Chris and Kevin's use of the terms "conservative" and "liberal" with respect to theology. What makes one's theology "liberal" or "conservative?" And, further, is either any less valid than the other? Certainly, the term "liberal" has become a perjorative term in the political arena. I wonder if it carries this same connotation in the theological arena. Of course, I would assume that self-described "liberals" do not view the term as perjorative, just as self-described political "liberals" do not consider the label perjorative.

7:41 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I hope that you are right Joel -- that the majority of Christians would be middlers. Maybe I just don't know many of them.

As for "conservative (C)" and "liberal (L)," the use of these terms is difficult. By (theologically) C I would mean someone who accepts the apostle's creed, believes the Scriptures are (1) without error in the original manuscripts and (2) the product of human-divine authorship, and takes Christianity to be exclusive (non-pluralist). I'm sure that othes will fuss at my definition here -- too much in it or not enough, etc.

Is C or V more "valid?" Depends which side of the fence you're on! I would self-identify as C, and I believe I have good reasons. Is C the "right" position? I hope so. Is my position valid (logical)? Definitely.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous joel said...

So, let me see if I understand. A theological conservative (C), believes the Scriptures are without error. The Scriptures would seem to suggest the Earth is on the order of 10,000 years old and does not allow (in a strictly literal interpretation) for acknowledgement of evolutionary processes. Please feel free to correct me if you think I am making assertions that are in error.

How do you reconcile being a self-identified "C" and a "middler" with respect to the Creationism/Evolution debate? I don't necessarily disagree with you. Just trying to reach an understanding. I'm not big on labels, self-applied or otherwise. If you're comfortable with the label, more power to you.

7:59 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I posted an earth-shattering, universally-enlightening comment, but it somehow got lost in cyberspace.

3:06 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I'll try to re-create it.

There are many things that the Scriptures "seem" to suggest: oppression of women, condoning of slavery, snake-handling, socialism, etc. The question is, what do they actually teach? I.e., what was God trying to tell us? The Scriptures are not in error, rather it is our interpretations that are so often in error. I agree with Peter when he says that in the Scriptures there are "some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort" (2Pet. 3:!6)

In all my study, I have found nothing in the Scriptures that contradicts the basic premises of (theisitc) evolution.

3:11 PM  
Anonymous joel said...

Thanks for the explanation. I'm betting the snake handlers out there consider you a liberal though.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Kelley Bell said...

If Adam and Eve were the first humans, then who were Cains enemies, and where did he and Seth get their wives?

Could it be that Adam and Eve were the first in a line of people who are the earliest ancestors of the Hebrew Nation?

Makes sense when you look at the geneology of the old testament

6:06 PM  

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