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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A New Year, A Break, and some (Final?) Thoughts

As the old year draws to a close, I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year. I realize that, for many of you, this particular New Year could be particularly challenging, but my hope is that God will bless you despite these challenges, during these challenges, and possibly even via these challenges.

A Break and Possibly the End
I am also announcing that I’ll be taking an extended break from blogging – probably for at least three months. The last 4 months have been the busiest of my career (with no relief in sight), and it is difficult to justify any more time in front of the computer. I realize that these “breaks” have a nasty habit of becoming permanent, and frankly there is a good chance that will happen here as well.

When I started this blog I wanted to 1) share my perspective on the interaction of biological evolution and an evangelical expression of the Christian faith, and 2) to learn from others who shared an interest in this interaction. Looking back, I feel I’ve more-or-less accomplished those objectives – maybe more of the latter than the former; for that I am very thankful to many of you who have helped me on my journey. As to the first objective, well, most of that (l-o-o-o-ng) essay I wrote in 2006 and early 2007 has been published on this blog in some form, and the rest is better off in the electronic recycling bin (heck, not even I agree with some of what I wrote in that essay!).

More to Say, but Must it be Said?
I do have more to say (although, to be honest, maybe not a whole lot that is new). First, I acknowledge that I have not yet delved deeply into the discussion of randomness and its implications for God’s sovereignty. Ie. How can God bring about his purposes when some events are “outside of his direct control”? This is a good question, but probably one that is more salient for Christian historians than Christian biologists. For example, how exactly, given human free-will, could God ensure that the incarnation, life, and death of Christ worked out the way it did? Our choices seem to be a) total divine micro-management & illusionary human free-will (including the dark implications thereof) or b) a God who is able to accomplish all his purposes despite allowing active intelligent agents free reign in opposing these purposes.

In this choice, I’ll take the latter - yes, mostly on faith. But isn’t this what God’s people have been doing for millennia? If this answer causes so little cognitive dissonance for us, what is the big deal with randomness and biological evolution? There seems to be multiple fruitful approaches to the biological conundrum (David Bartholomew’s “God, Chance, and Purpose” has a good discussion on this) – it certainly seems to be a trivial exercise when compared to the historical puzzle.

Secondly, I did plan at one point to discuss the inadequacy of the uni-dimensional creationist-evolutionist spectrum – one used by even self-confessing Evolutionary Creationists (EC). This spectrum is misleading in that it makes the EC position look unstable at best. I firmly believe that nothing could be further from the truth and that a better model for understanding the various theological positions on creation is in order. I have done some thinking about this (eg. See the end of this comment on Marlowe’s ingroup-outgroup post) but have not taken it much farther. Maybe someone with some real academic credentials could take a run at this. Or maybe a more useful model has already been developed, and again, I’m just not looking in the right places.

But given my limited time and energy, I’m not sure writing a series on these items (and they would both be series) is worth the investment at this time. Although the science-faith discussion will always be of great interest and of some importance to me, I can’t say that it is a huge priority in my life right now; it is probably not even the most important aspect for my current faith journey. Since I can be almost obsessive at times (for those who know me well, please control the volume on those amens!) recognizing the law of diminishing returns in these matters is an important survival skill.

A Coherent Story
In conclusion (for a least a short time) I’d like to say that I believe the Christian story as revealed in God’s creation (through science, including the science of biological evolution) and his word (scripture) is a coherent story, a story that is satisfying both spiritually and intellectually. It is a story worth repeating, but more importantly, a story to live by.

Happy New Year!

Index for Series on Evolution and Original Sin

A series on Evolution and Original Sin was published here between October 16, 2008 and December 20, 2008. The discussion focused on George Murphy's paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin.

1. Evolution and Original Sin: Series Introduction
2. Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin: A brief survey by George Murphy
3. That Old Time Theology Revisited: Response by Terry Gray
4. Challenging and Reshaping Historical Approaches to Original Sin: Response by Denis Lamoureux
5. Further Reflections on Genesis 1-3 and Original Sin: Response by David Congdon
6&7. George Murphy replies to the responses: Part 1 and Part 2
8&9. Reader Q&A with George Murphy: Part1: The Historicity of Adam and Part 2: Pastoral Implications of Original Sin and Evolution
10. Evolution and Original Sin: Conclusion

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Evolution and Original Sin: Conclusion

This is the tenth and last installment in a guest-post series discussing George Murphy’s paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. Profuse apologies for the delayed conclusion; the moderator (currently scurrying back onto the stage) was distracted by his day-job for the last 4 weeks.

This ends our series on George Murphy’s very important paper. I for one have found the discussion of great value as I work through the theological implications of evolution; as I’ve said in the past, the origin of sin is (was?) the most difficult challenge for me personally. I found the distinction between “Sin of Origin” and “Original Sin” as discussed in this series very helpful.

A big thanks to all three responders.

  • To David, who while acknowledging that his interaction with science was of deep personal rather than professional interest, showed no hesitation in accepting the challenge. I found his contribution very helpful.
  • To Denis, who brought his characteristically uncompromising style and message to this forum. We need more Evangelicals like this. (For more of the same, check out his recent interview with Canadian Christianity)
  • To Terry, who provided a compelling and succinct critique of George’s paper that, I suspect, resonated with many (most?) of this blog’s readers. Terry agreed to do this (indeed, was the first to volunteer) even though he understood the format of the series was not set up to allow him “equal time” to respond.
Finally, a huge thanks to George for taking the time and energy to discuss his paper in this forum, to allow others to critique it, to respond to reader’s questions, and for continuing the task of making theology relevant. As he indicated in the last post,
“If theology is to have any real value it must help to inform, support and encourage the work of the church in proclaiming the gospel, teaching, pastoral care and action in the world”.
An absolutely crucial point to remember; articulating the continuing coherence of the Christian gospel in a scientific age is important, but if there is no application, what is the point? Thanks George for working towards making the gospel both coherent and relevant.