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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!


James F. McGrath said...

Your blogging has been and will continue to be appreciated. I'm sure many will continue to find their way here and find your posts helpful!

RBH said...

Steve, I'm sorry to see you go on what might be permanent (or at least long-term) hiatus. I've appreciated your posts and the comment threads. Thank you.

RBH (house athiest)

wtanksley said...

You'll leave quite a gap; there's a paucity of bloggers willing to tackle evolution from a theistic perspective.

The question of reconciling God's decree and providence with random events is a serious one, but as you said, not unique to evolution. The Bible addresses it by talking about the decisions of the lot (dice) and the fall of a sparrow -- evidently God can direct truly random things.

shernren said...

May God bless your further endeavors.

With regards to where ECs fall on "the spectrum". I recall an example from a forum where we regularly discuss these things. To quote it:

Now, if the Arians and the Gnostics had been Americans, they might each have considered the Orthodoxy the "moderates" (if the Orthodoxy hadn't been in the majority). But consider the dogmatics of the Orthodoxy versus the dogmatics of the other two. For the Arians, Christ was not true God from true God. For the Gnostics (depending on the sect), Christ was not really Man born of Woman. But the Orthodox doctrine of "hypostasis" can hardly be called the middle ground. It is a position unto itself that happens to affirm the Arians in the humanity of Christ, and the Gnostics in his divinity. But, again, you don't have a particularly wayward Arian saying, "Well, maybe Christ actually is God from God," and landing on a slippery slope into Orthodoxy.

The challenge of being labeled the "middle" is that ECs are seen as half-creationists, half-evolutionists. The deeper challenge is that many of us actually are, especially those of us who have tunneled our way out of previously neo-creationist worldviews (such as myself).

I wonder if we should consider the situation along two axes:

A) the extent to which the Bible has authority in describing physical reality
B) the extent to which empirical observations have authority in describing spiritual reality.

Of course this is undoubtedly a vast oversimplification; each and every word in those axes' descriptions probably needs to be carefully qualified. Nevertheless.

It strikes me that even though neo-creationists and hardcore atheistic evolutionists are miles apart on axis A, they actually have very similar positions along axis B, believing heavily in some kind of one-to-one correspondence between evolution and the soullessness of man. I often put the neo-c position as "if man evolved then they have no soul" and the atheistic position as "since man evolved thus they have no soul"; it's frustrating to see how hopelessly blind neo-creationists can be to the deep similarity between those two positions!

It would seem that ECs tend towards the liberal on both axes: namely that the Bible shouldn't be taken so literally so as to constrain the findings of science, and that science should not think that it can overturn spiritual truth (e.g. that man has a soul, even though we are biologically connected to apes).

Interestingly, I think ID would tend liberal on axis A and conservative on axis B, which is why they are vilified by neo-creationists (for "not being serious" with the Bible, even though they sometimes appreciate all the anti-evolutionist help they can get) and by TEs (for being philosophically suspect with "God-of-the-gaps" beliefs even though they don't try to back up their science with the Bible).

I could, of course, be entirely wrong. :D

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your good work here - and I hope that you continue to explore a full range of questioning online or offline. Best wishes to you.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your work, and, in particular, the mention of the Bartholomew book.

Kurt Willems said...

I can't say enough about how influential this blog has been in the past year of my spiritual/ intellectual journey! A year ago I was open minded to an old earth but didn't even begin to ponder the possibility of 'theistic' or creational evolution. You have given legs for my questions to run with and have allowed me to build a scriptural/theological basis for accepting evolution. The last series in particular and also the sharing of the stories earlier this year stand out as very formative in my life. Thanks for your bravery in dialoguing about such a sensitive issue in the evangelical world and for equipping us with similar courage!

airbornisgood4u said...

Thanks for providing a home for evangelicals who believe more or less in common descent, and all the varying positions beyond that. It is nice coming to this site after talking with evangelicals who are young earthers, and knowing there's a home for my beliefs and there are others that think like me. thanks Steve for all the great information, and being so kind to those who disagree with you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful work, I think many people appreciate it.

Bill Ather said...

Thanks for your wonderful site. It will be sorely missed. Would a bribe encourage you to return to cyberspace?

Unknown said...

Hate to see you go. My browser opens your blog automatically every morning. As others have mentioned, this blog has helped me tremendously over the past year. It's nice to know I'm not alone as an Evangelical Evolutionary Creationist. Thanks for all the time you've put into this site.

Mike Beidler said...

Say it ain't so, Joe! ;-)

Sorry to see you go on hiatus, Steve! But that may give me time to wade through your earlier posts again and dig up some good bones to chew on!

Patiently waiting for you to come off of hiatus,


Anonymous said...

Steve:If this answer causes so little cognitive dissonance for us, what is the big deal with randomness and biological evolution?

What? Evolution and Christianity? Where does the Bible affirm evolution?

Cliff Martin said...


What? Evolution and Christianity? Where does the Bible affirm evolution?

And one might also ask, "Where does the Bible affirm relativity? Where does the Bible affirm the laws of thermodynamics? Where does the Bible affirm Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?

The Bible was not written to affirm or deny any of these scientific constructs.

Steve Martin said...

First, thanks to all for the kind comments and numerous emails I received; I really appreciated them. Second, sincere apologies for not responding to all those comments and emails. January ended up being even more stressful at work than the end of 2008 (and Feb. wasn’t a whole lot better). But, even if I was dropping the blog for a while, I should have at least stuck around long enough to acknowledge the comments and emails. A blogger who ignores comments can (justifiably) be perceived as arrogant; that certainly wasn’t my intention. On the other hand, as Ecclesiastes states, there is a time for everything – and if the author was alive today he would probably include “and a time to ignore comments” – particularly for heated topics like human origins. But that was not the case here, so, again, apologies.

One note to shernren – excellent and interesting comment – a topic I was actually considering writing on at some point. If I do choose to continue this blog (and per my last post, no decision yet on that), I look forward to further interaction with you.