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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

An Evangelical Statement on Evolution (ESE): Objectives

In the last post we discussed the possibility & value of building an Evangelical Statement on Evolution (ESE for short). Personally, I think the time is right for Evolutionary Creationists (ECs) to produce such a statement. However, I also think we need to be very careful; there are some risks in a project like this. If not done right, the results could be very counterproductive.

A New Series
In the next several posts I’d like to take a preliminary stab at:

a) the objectives we should define for the ESE
b) the approach and character of the statement
c) the contents of the statement
d) the process by which we should build it (hint: the answer isn’t the internet let alone this blog).

I should stress that these are merely preliminary ideas. I’m hoping that they can serve as a catalyst for other ECs to come up with something even better. Actually, most of these ideas are not my own, but merely a synthesis of ideas that others have contributed here and elsewhere. At the end of this series I’m mulling over conducting a survey to get further feedback. Let me know if you would like to participate (or better yet, if you have a good idea on how such a survey should be conducted).

A) ESE Objectives


First we need to define objectives. Why do we really need a statement like the ESE? What are we trying to accomplish? Just as importantly, what is beyond the scope of the ESE? We need to set practical objectives; setting unachievable objectives is simply a recipe for failure. Since (I believe) we want to achieve a broad consensus on what the statement contains, we better have agreement among ourselves on what we are trying to accomplish.

Objective #1: Communicate the Harmony of Faith and Science to the Broader Evangelical Community

Most Evangelicals believe that modern science, and biological evolution in particular, is the enemy of orthodox Christian theology and faith. What is worse, most Evangelicals seem completely unaware that any other view is possible, and that many within their faith community, including some of their own leaders, have already reconciled biological evolution with their faith. A key objective of the ESE will be to raise awareness that coming to peace with evolution is a theologically acceptable perspective for Evangelical Christians.

Objective #2: Provide Encouragement for those Struggling with the Perceived Conflict between Science and Faith

For many, the perceived conflict between faith and science is irreconcilable and thus a choice must be made. This choice can be emotionally and spiritually destructive. The ESE should provide encouragement to those struggling with this conflict, and provide a catalyst for them to come to peace with both their Creator and his creation. This applies to at least three groups of people:

a) Evangelicals considering abandoning their faith because of the evidence for evolution

Evangelicals are often told that evolution is incompatible with Christianity and that it is unsupported by the scientific evidence. However, many Evangelicals that actually examine the evidence for biological evolution find the evidence quite persuasive, and, because of the conflict thesis, they incorrectly believe that their faith must be abandoned. The ESE should demonstrate that many other Evangelicals have accepted the evidence for evolution without abandoning the core elements of Evangelical theology, and while maintaining an authentic and vibrant faith in the risen Christ.

b) Evangelicals that are fearful of science

Evangelical students will often avoid science (I did) because they are afraid that it will be detrimental to their faith. The ESE should show that Christians have nothing to fear from studying science, and that a deeper understanding of creation can lead to a deeper appreciation of the Creator.

c) Those prevented from putting their faith in Christ because of the perceived science / faith conflict

It is my impression that many people who are science-literate have difficulty accepting the Gospel because they equate the evidence for biological evolution with evidence against Christianity. This conflict-thesis stumbling block must be removed if the good news is to be received. The ESE should make it clear that evolution should not prevent anyone from making a faith commitment.

Objective #3: Serve as both a Resource and Encouragement for ECs

Many EC’s are part of communities that are hostile to evolution. These ECs are often reluctant to discuss their ideas within this community for fear of being ostracized. The ESE should provide encouragement to ECs by demonstrating that many Evangelical leaders share their perspective. It should also be a simple and non-threatening resource that can be shared with friends and other members of their community. Hopefully, this in turn will lead to positive dialogue regarding faith and science.

B) Other Worthy Objectives that the ESE should not try to Accomplish

To be successful, the ESE should not try to accomplish too much. Below are a few objectives that, although desirable goals in their own right, should not be considered as objectives for the ESE.

1. Provide Counterarguments to those Raised by AIG, ICR and other Like-minded Organizations

“Anti-evolution Creationist” organizations are well-funded and relatively powerful within the Evangelical community; no doubt they will attack the ESE with vigour. However, it would be impossible to respond to every argument these organizations put forward if we want the ESE to be shorter than a book. We have a multitude of other methods and resources that provide persuasive counter arguments to the conflict-thesis mantra. The ESE should simply make a positive statement on the compatibility of biological evolution and the Christian faith without trying to provide a detailed defense of Evolutionary Creationism.

2. Provide Counterarguments to those that use Evolution to Attack Christianity

For a similar reason, Christian apologetics should not be the goal of the ESE. Again, there are other resources for this purpose.

3. Trigger a Wholesale Change of Attitude within the Broader Evangelical Community

We need to be realistic; a simple statement like the ESE will not result in an immediate and dramatic change of attitude among a majority of Evangelicals. If we can simply start a dialogue, and bring hope to those struggling with the issue, the ESE should be considered a great success.

4. Defend the Integrity of Science in Public Education

Christians should be particularly concerned about integrity. So, it is galling to see dishonest methods used by some Christians in attacking the teaching of evolution. But defending the teaching of evolution should not be the goal of the ESE. That should be left to organizations like, for example, the NCSE.

So, what do you think? Are these valuable objectives? Are they achievable within a reasonable amount of time? Has the bar been set to low? Too high? What other objectives would you like to see?

21 comments:

Seth Freeman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth Freeman said...

I continue to be impressed by the insight, thoughtfulness, and quiet courage you show on this blog, and never more so than by your latest post- an inspiration and an encouragement. I share your aspirations and agree that realistic goals, a wise process, and the right medium will matter a lot. But since prudence comes more easily for me than courage, I’ll focus on the hard part here.

Last Sunday, our pastor challenged us to be to be controversial, if necessary, out of our faith commitment to Christ. Given the sad recent history of religious politics, I when I hear a challenge like that. But I also felt convicted, because I’ve used that history to justify my own silence when some of my silence is driven by fear; I’ve seen the cost people pay for publicly trying to integrate faith with science. Yet if I long to see us overcome the needless dead ends of extreme literalism and anti-scientism, then I probably need to raise my voice. Alas! But I will.

So I’m on the lookout now for ways I can do that. Your leadership, and the input of faithful readers to this blog, will help me do that.

Emiliano M said...

Dear Steve. I'm very willing to participate in any way Ican! You propose some good ideas and reasonable goals for the 'ESE'

Paz de Cristo

Jimpithecus said...

Steve, would this be something like the "Clergy Letter?" I like the idea of not actually going after the ICR and AIG in terms of evidence but rather to simply state that "we have examined the evidence for evolution and have determined that it merits the status that it has received as an over-arching explanation for current and past biodiversity" or some such thing. I think it will be a challenge to try to untangle the stated objectives from those that you are trying to stay away from, but the objectives you have outlined are very sound and a statement like this is long overdue.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Seth,
Great to hear from you again. Each of us faces unique challenges in our own community, and thus there is no single “right” approach. As I indicated in my post Dialogue, Debate, Silence, or Confrontation: How should we approach the topic of evolution?. I’m still struggling with finding the right approach. My hope is that something like the ESE can be helpful to a lot of us.

Emiliano: Hey, watch what you promise – I might just take you up on that :-). BTW, I’m getting good use of google translate – at least the Portuguese to English function. Nice blog! Paz de Cristo.

Jim: Yes, the “Clergy Letter” project is, I think, a good model. But, as I’ve indicated before, I really believe we need to emphasize the coherence of orthodox Christian faith and evolution, rather than just faith and evolution as the Clergy Letter project proposes.

Regarding the challenge of meeting the stated objectives without trying to do too much (ie. those things that aren’t our objectives), well, yes that won’t be easy. But, heh, I’m just starting out with a framework – I’m looking for volunteers to do the really hard work :-).

VanceH- said...

Hi Steve, I support this initiative and I think your initial look at objectives/non-objectives is exactly the right approach to this. I think they look good, I have nothing to add to them right now.

It seems to me that the way you have framed the objectives / non-objectives the primary content will tend to focus on hermeneutics. After all if we didn't have Genesis 1-11 and the supporting references in the rest of the bible I don't think there would be a controversy. I'm curious if you see it that way too. Makes me wonder if the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy might be the key counter-document we need to respond to.

-- Vance

J. Aigner said...

Very interesting thoughts. I think the key here is that evangelicals are bred to react. They react against Protestant liberalism. They react against politics. They react against culture. They call it standing firm, but it's really reacting. This area is no different.

Personally, I think the key here is to refrain from reaction, at least in the specific makeup of the document (obviously, forming such a document indicates a reaction.) There has to be some liberty with this issue. I do not feel as if my faith hinges on the exact interpretation of Genesis 1-2. The issues of historical context, literary genre, and interpretation are too complex for the breadth of evangelicalism to come to consensus.

My gut feeling is that evolution doesn't work. I do feel certain that we play a part in God's story of creation and redemption and the creation story should be read in that context.

Blessings, friends.

http://jaaigner.blogspot.com/

Steve Martin said...

Hi Vance,
Thanks for your support. Regarding the Chicago Statement, that is a very, very interesting and pertinent question. Some Evangelicals still use this as a litmus-test for who is in, and who is out; I disagree. In fact, neither the NAE or the EFC even use inerrancy in their statements of faith (they use inspiration and authority when describing scripture – not inerrancy). However, I don’t think our statement should be a counter document to the Chicago Statement. For one, I think it should be a positive statement – we aren’t reacting (see J. Aigner’s comment). For two, our statement is about so much more than “not the Chicago Statement”. Using different (and I’d say better) hermeneutics is certainly a big part, but it is not necessarily the only salient issue.

J. Aigner: Welcome. I agree on our tendency to react and this is not something we want to do here (see above). I also agree that evangelicalism will not (and probably can not) come to consensus on biblical interpretation because of the issues you mention. In fact, not even Evangelical ECs can agree on an exact approach. So this is one of the areas in which we need to be very careful when crafting our statement.

Allan Harvey said...

I would say the objective of such a statement could be summarized as "telling those both inside and outside the church that Christian orthodoxy is compatible with the view that the scientific theory of evolution is a correct description of God's creative process." I think all the things Steve mentioned are in that summary or would follow from it.

I think a relatively simple statement can accomplish that for some subset (perhaps small, but any progress is worthwhile) of those inside and outside the church. I agree with Steve's list of things to avoid, and would also say that a statement should avoid details (like specific ways of interpreting Genesis) that are unlikely to find agreement even among ECs. A minimalist message of compatibility will also be easier to communicate.

I also agree with Steve about not wanting to respond to the Chicago statement or anything else, but instead to make a standalone positive statement.

HornSpiel said...

Steve, you state that the ESE would be a success "if we can simply start a dialogue." I see that you state limited objectives in order to make success more likely. But, I wonder they will result in anywhere near the impact that the project can and should have. Let me state categorically that everyone of us who has a heart for this matter needs to commit themselves to prayer. Pray that the Lord will in deed "trigger a wholesale change of attitude within the broader Evangelical community." Why be "realistic" when what is needed is a miracle—or don't we believe in miracles here? Think what would happen if Evangelicals stopped acting like ostriches with their heads in the sand with regard to global warming and took the scientific evidence seriously?

Don't get me wrong. The ESE is good, but I think it needs to be informed by "how holding an EC position help Christians live more integrated Christ honoring lives"
We are not going to sell this just by intellectual arguments, but by the quality of our lives: more compassion and humility, more effective evangelism, more joy in living, sharper swords to battle what really matters, better husbands and fathers.

I would like to hear from you men (and I notice, interestingly, that those posting on this and other related sites are all men) are examples of how EC makes a positive difference in your lives. I think the ESE should integrate these positive results. I, for one, never want to go back to a Noah's Ark universe (from a natural science perspective). The one we can glimpse now reveals so much more of the glories of God.

joel hunter said...

I like the pastoral tenor of your objectives.

In your commentary to Objective #1, you write:

A key objective of the ESE will be to raise awareness that coming to peace with evolution is a theologically acceptable perspective for Evangelical Christians.

I think this is very important, but the statement itself will probably not be the place to demonstrate that evolution is a theologically acceptable perspective. Some acknowledgement that evolution can be comprehended within an orthodox doctrine of creation is certainly needed, but I don't think the "broader evangelical community" cares whether or not that theology is spelled out.

Much like most evangelicals are aware that fellow believers understand eschatology differently, such that texts from Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, etc., are interpreted differently, what the statement can do is raise awareness (the chief objective istm, which also appears to be the thrust of Allan's comment above) that there are fellow believers who understand creation differently, such that Genesis is interpreted differently, but that the Bible is held in the same esteem, just as it is among those who hold varying ideas about the last things.

Further: when eschatology is discussed and debated, the polite participants agree to disagree, but always reassuring one another that whichever view turns out to be right, all believe that Jesus is returning. So they are agreed on the creedal statement: "from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." If the doctrine of creation was handled in a similar way, creationists and ECs could discuss and debate yet be unified on the creedal statement: "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible."

Just thinking out loud...

Anonymous said...

@ HornSpiel. Just so you know, not “all” who read and comment here and at “other related sites” are men. Maybe there aren’t many women speaking up but certainly there are other women like myself (mother of three college graduates) who are interested in these issues.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for doing this. My response is so long that I decided to post it on my own blog.

I'll summarize.

A Statement should define what is meant by evolution, should indicate where Evolutionary Creationists and other types of creationists are in agreement, should point out that God is not only creator, but sustainer, and should indicate the difference between scientific evidence and faith, and the importance of both.

One important group that needs encouragement to realize that science and faith are not necessarily in conflict, as stated in the second objective, but not mentioned in the discussion of it, is parents of children currently home schooled, or sent to Christian schools, to escape public school science classes.

Thanks.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Joel:
Re: the statement itself not demonstrating the “how” of theological compatibility. Agreed completely.

And I like your analogy on how Evangelicals handle eschatology and build a broad tent (although unfortunately, it seems even here, there seems to be a dearth of polite participants :-( ). The last part on the doctrine of creation is exactly right – in fact, I would argue that the inclusion of “we believe in creation” & comments around that are just as important as our statements about biblical inspiration and authority; personally I think a brief statement on creation should precede any comment on scripture in the ESE. But that is my opinion (which others are free to disagree with) – and I’m getting ahead of myself – wait for more on this 2 posts out.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Hornspiel:
Welcome. Re: committing ourselves to prayer, yes, very important – and part of this prayer needs to be for ourselves, for wisdom, patience, and indeed a heart of love. And excellent point on the fact that what we do & how we do it (for example in presenting the ESE) is more important than what we say.

Re: your question. For me personally, I’m not sure being an “EC makes a difference in my life”. However, the process of examining the claims of evolution has really helped me trust that God is in control, and that no questions are “out of bounds”. I don’t need to be afraid of the tough questions anymore (and there are still a lot of questions I have). God helped saw me through a process of facing my most feared questions.

Re: lack of women. As anonymous indicated, there are women that read & comment hear. I actually get quite a few email responses too (I understand that for one reason or another, many don’t want to respond publicly in comments). But you are right that the great majority of the commenters / emails I receive (and in general, participants in the faith / science dialogue) are male. One very notable exception is RJS who writes for Jesus Creed. (See the end of my new Faith and Science Resources post for some links & comments on this). As well, my next guest post series (hopefully this fall) should have some (at least one tentatively scheduled) woman contributors.

Steve Martin said...

Allen: Wow. 30 words and the ESE is done. I envisioned short but not quite that short  . Actually, for 30 words though, that is pretty good.

Anon: Welcome & thanks for your comments.

Martin: Good post and suggestions. Thanks. I’m not going to respond to that right now because I think most of your remarks and suggestions are more relevant to my upcoming posts in this series (particularly the one on the content of the ESE).

On homeschooling, just want to point out that not all homeschoolers are trying to escape public school science classes. They have other reasons. Douglas Hayworth and his wife homeschool their children - check out Douglas's post The Challenge of Teaching Science in a Homeschool Setting

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Steve. Yes, I spoke too strongly about home schooling. There are many reasons for doing so, many of them perfectly valid. But surely there are some parents for whom avoiding public school science classes is a major motivator.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Martin,
I agree with you - and in fact I think avoiding those public school science classes is probably a significant motivation for many that homeschool. And you are right that this is one group we want to reach - that is what makes Douglas's initiatives so important.

Rob Mitchell said...

One observation regarding objective #1 - I agree that Science and Scripture are in harmony and there cannot be ultimately any disharmony between them.
That being said this objective should be clearly explained so as to avoid the connotation of scientific concordism as a hermeneutical construct like that suggested by Henry Morris. As Denis Lamoureux has ably observed, scientific condordism of this sort which is used to advance a hermeneutical agenda can be detrimental to any attempt to promote the harmony of science and scripture.
Science and Scripture are harmonious, but certain hermeneutical approaches make such harmonization problematic.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Rob,
Welcome. I agree with you that for many Evangelicals, ideas of scientific concordism is the most important hurdle to remove. However, believe it or not, there are a few EC’s (maybe very few) that do take a somewhat concordist approach. So, we do need to be careful how we word the ESE – I think we want it to be as inclusive as possible (ie. Include everyone who agrees with Christian orthodoxy, assents to the inspiration and authority of scripture, and believes the evidence strongly supports the theory of evolution). Still, as you point out, scientific concordism is such a critical & problematic attitude, so we may have address it directly.

Rob Mitchell said...

I agree wholeheartedly Steve. Clarity, not polemic, should be the emphasis.