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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

New Faith / Science Resources

One of this Blog's objectives is to provide pointers to other helpful Faith / Science resources. Here are three new resources that should be of interest to many readers.

A) New Resource for Churches: "Test of Faith" Film
The UK based Faraday Institute for Science and Religion is one of the world's premier faith / science organizations and has probably the best set of multimedia resources available on the web. Faraday has now launched a Templeton Foundation supported initiative called Test of Faith with the goal to provide resources to churches. Contributions will come from Polkinghorne, McGrath, Collins and many others. A documentary film has been shot and you can catch a preview at the Pentecost Festival this weekend in London - unfortunately that is London, England and not London, Ontario – so I won’t be attending.

Additional related (but work in progress) resources include:

  • A book
  • A short course for small groups based on sections of the film.
  • A leaders' guide with background information and helps for preparation and further study
  • Short articles for free download
  • Extracts from the film for use in a talk or sermon
  • Extended interviews with scientists to watch online
B) Biologos

Over on this side of the pond Collins along with Karl Giberson and Darrel Falk have launched their own Templeton supported initiative – the Biologos Foundation.
BioLogos represents the harmony of science and faith. It addresses the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life. To communicate this message to the general public and add to the ongoing dialog, The BioLogos Foundation created BioLogos.org.
On their website they have articles, answers to frequently asked questions, and a blog called Science and the Sacred (unfortunately, the authors don’t appear to be participating in the comments section). Other projects include providing curriculum for Christian schools, short courses, and workshops. The first workshop will be led by Tim Keller and looks very interesting:
The fall workshop is intended to build bridges between key leaders, which will open up comfortable communication channels between respected evangelical scientists working on origins, and key religious leaders in the evangelical Christian church. Invitations have been extended to 15 leading scientists, 15 leading theologians, and 15 leading pastors.

The focus of the 2009 workshop will be celebrating God’s creation in the light of 21st century knowledge about the universe and our place in it.
Since this workshop is “invitation only” I won’t be attending this event either. Hey if they have 15 each of leading scientists, theologians, and pastors, you would think they could include at least one blogger? If that concession is made, my vote (and all proxies my readers care to give me) go to RJS who posts on science and faith over at Scot McKnight’s Blog JesusCreed - some of the best conversations in the blogosphere. On her most recent post both Kenton Sparks (author of God’s Word in Human Words) and Peter Enns (author of Inspiration and Incarnation) are participating in the conversation.

C) New Resource for Christian Schools

If you can’t wait for the Biologos curriculum, you should check out Gordon Glover’s just completed 16-part video series Science and Christian Education on his youtube channel. No Templeton Foundation funding or team of world famous scientists and theologians on Gordon’s team. Just one guy that is passionate about helping his fellow Christians understand that science does not have to threaten their faith.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The NCSE Creationism-Evolution Continuum: It is Time for a New Model

The creation-evolution dialogue is complex. This complexity has lead many to misunderstand the issues, and is an important reason why the false creation/evolution dichotomy continues to enjoy such wide support. Any tool that can accurately simplify the discussion should be welcomed.

A) The Creationism/Evolution Continuum

At first blush, the NCSE's “Creationism-Evolution Continuum” appears to be such a tool. To support their objective of encouraging quality science education, the NCSE developed the tool to combat the perceived conflict between religion & science. In Eugenie Scott’s brief overview of the continuum on the NCSE site she states:

It is highly desirable to move people away from this inaccurate [creation / evolution] dichotomy. A simple classroom exercise, the Creationism/Evolution Continuum, has been used successfully by middle and high school teachers as well as university professors to illustrate the many intermediate positions between the extremes.
Pointing out these intermediary positions is a good way to help people understand that there is some complexity to this discussion. However, it is my view that this model may actually be counter-productive, particularly when promoting evolution in various faith communities. I believe that those of us that support the coexistence and coherence of evolution and an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith need a much better model if we are to make any progress on this issue within the Evangelical community.

1) An Overview of the Continuum
The following diagram illustrates the continuum with two modifications that I added myself. These are the addition of an “Evolution Line” in red and a “Faith Line” in blue.

In the diagram, each of the names to the right of the black diagonal line is a position on origins. Those above the grey dotted line believe the earth was created 6-10 thousand years ago; those below accept the scientific consensus regarding the age of the earth. The red-line separates those that oppose evolution (above) from those that support it (below) while the blue line separates those who profess faith in a creator God (above) from those who do not (below). As a list of origins positions, this is not bad. If you have never seen these before, I encourage you to read Scott’s summary. Her description for most of the positions is quite fair.

2) Problems with the Continuum
Although the Creationism/Evolution Continuum is a useful starting point for understanding the origins controversy and for engaging in dialogue, I think that there are three significant problems with it. These problems include 1) how views on scriptural interpretation are placed on the continuum 2) how views on science are placed on the continuum and 3) there is no simple progression of change within origin views so any model based on a continuum is misleading.

a) The Continuum and Scripture
The first parameter that Scott uses in her continuum is scriptural interpretation. She describes the differences in origin positions this way:
[The diagram] presents a continuum of religious views with creationism at one end and evolution at the other. The most extreme views are, of course, at the ends of the continuum. The creation/evolution continuum reflects the degree to which the Bible is interpreted as literally true, with the greatest degree of literalism at the top.
This is partly true. For the positions above Progressive Creationism this is the case, but after that the characterization of “more literal on top” breaks down. For example, many Progressive Creationists (the last position above the evolution-line) would be comfortable with relatively “non-literal” interpretations of scripture, whereas some TEs would advocate “more literal” interpretations of scripture (eg. Glenn Morton and Dick Fischer).

b) The Continuum and Science
How Scott uses the second parameter – the acceptance of science - is a much bigger concern. She states:
Although it is a continuum of religious and philosophical beliefs, the Creation/Evolution Continuum inversely reflects how much of modern science holders of these different views accept.
This characterization is incorrect. At least when it comes to biological evolution, none of the positions below the evolution-line differ in their science whatsoever; the differences are all philosophical and theological. The EC / TE position is excellent science combined with (IMO) excellent theology and philosophy. The positions below the faith-line also encapsulate excellent science, but (again at least IMO) combine it with incorrect theological and philosophical conclusions.

And here is the key point. The continuum as described on the NCSE site strongly implies that “atheist science is better science”. Even though the objective of the continuum is to counter the belief that “evolutionists must be atheists”, it indirectly implies that evolutionists should be atheists. For this fact alone, I think the model needs to be replaced.

c) There is no Continuum
Continuums by definition are unidirectional; as a parameter changes, one progresses along the scale. The discussion above demonstrates that the Creationism/Evolution Continuum model is incorrect for the two parameters identified on the NCSE site (ie. Scriptural interpretation & acceptance of the scientific evidence). However, my contention is that, if the salient parameters are considered, the Creation-Evolution dialogue is not a continuum at all. In fact, I believe that those positions placed on the bottom of the continuum (those below the blue faith-line) share a very strong common viewpoint with those above the red evolution-line. In other words, the middle of this continuum is a mid-point only if you ignore other important parameters.

B) A New Model

I think a much better model is one that groups the positions above based on their answers to two simple questions:

1. The “Who” question: Did a loving God create the universe, the earth, and life in all its diversity, and does he continue to sustain that creation?
2. The “How” question: Is the theory of biological evolution correct? That is, did life on earth develop over millions and millions of years through the process of evolution?

1) Three Basic Groups
Based on how each position answers these questions, I think that all the positions can be grouped into three broad categories that I’ve defined as “Non-evolutionary Creation” – those above the evolution-line, “Evolutionary Creation” – those between the evolution-line and the faith-line, and “Materialistic Evolution” – those below the faith line.

2) Relationships Between the Groups
What is important to note is that the relationship between these three positions is NOT linear; each group has shared viewpoints with the other two groups. Groups A & B both believe that the universe was created by a loving God, and that he continues to sustain his creation. Groups A and C both believe that the theory of evolution is correct. Finally, Groups B & C also share a common viewpoint, that is that the theory of evolution and theism are mutually exclusive concepts ie. Either God is the creator or evolution occurred. The following diagram illustrates these relationships.

C) Some Brief Concluding Thoughts

I realize that this is a fairly simple model and that there are some weaknesses in it; I will likely comment further in future posts. However, let me briefly list some of the advantages I see in this model:

1. A Simpler Model: Simple is often better and this model includes only the most important categories of positions on creation & evolution. Distinguishing between the many different anti-evolution positions (as the Creationism/Evolution Continuum does) needlessly complicates the picture and is unnecessary when the salient point of discussion is evolution. One either accepts that the theory of evolution is correct or one doesn’t. Placing all the positions that do not accept evolution in a single “Non-evolutionary Creation” group means the model is easier to understand.

2. Connecting the Continuum Extremes: The model points out that there is a very strong shared viewpoint between the “opposite ends” of the Creationism/Evolution Continuum. That is why you sometimes see statements of (tepid) respect from those in group B for those in group C (and vise-versa) when lashing out at the wishy-washy EC crowd in the middle.

3. Creation & Evolution: Independent Concepts: This model clearly illustrates creation and evolution as independent concepts; an answer to one does not necessarily dictate an answer to the other. Of course many disagree vehemently with this claim, but that just shows how committed they are to the BC shared viewpoint, a viewpoint that is just as contentious as the AB and AC viewpoints. Identifying and understanding our shared viewpoints, and where we disagree, is an important step towards dialogue.

4. EC is not one step towards Atheism: This model illustrates (IMO correctly) that the EC position is no closer to atheism than other creationist positions. We too believe in a Creator God, and EC theology can be as orthodox (or more so) and EC faith as strong (or stronger) than that of Christians that take other Creationist positions.

5. EC = good science: This model demonstrates that when it comes to science, EC’s share a common view with other evolutionists. From a scientific perspective, the positions are indistinguishable.

Finally, although I’ve been thinking about this for awhile (see the end of this comment on a past post) I should note that the model shown here is really Draft 0.1 – I fully expect that I’ll need to modify it somewhat. I am interested in hearing feedback and criticisms from readers. Is this a helpful model? What would you change? Are there other models that also deal with these issues better than the Creationism/Evolution Continuum?