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Sunday, 12 July 2009

An Evangelical Statement on Evolution (ESE): Approach

In the last post we discussed the objectives for the ESE. Before moving on to the content of the statement (that will be the next post in the series), I’d like to first share my view on the ESE’s approach. What should be its character? If someone read the ESE for the first time, how would they describe it?

Characteristic #1: Positive in Tone and Content

Sadly, many Christian position statements seem very negative, both in their tone (aggressively attacking whatever is perceived to be the problem) and in content (defining itself by what it is not, rather than what it is). Given the polarization of positions in the faith / science dialogue, a negative statement by Evolutionary Creationists (ECs) would only exacerbate this polarization. Special creationists are not our enemies; they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Atheists are not our enemies; they too are created in the image of God (even if this is not acknowledged). If we want our message to be heard, we need to state our position with grace and compassion. If our objective is to win hearts and minds (or at least convince others that there is no need for warfare), we need to articulate positive aspects of an EC position (see HornSpiel's comment).

Characteristic #2: Displaying a Spirit of Humility

All of us have been wrong at times. Many of us were once very wrong on the evidence for evolution (and maybe, to our shame, made aggressive claims that we now regret). Since we are called to clothe ourselves with humility (Col 3:12), the ESE should echo that humility. ECs are not necessarily smarter, more honest, or more Christ-like; we have simply discovered (often through painful experience) that the science-faith war is completely unnecessary. The ESE should be written to share this good news, and not as an opening salvo for renewed debate.

Characteristic #3: Modest in its claims

I like Allan’s point in an earlier comment that the ESE should be modest in its claims. Scientific theories are continually being corrected and modified (see Irenicums comment) and we should not tie the ESE to specific (and possibly debatable) aspects of the theory. Allan’s proposed affirmation that:

science suggests that God may have used evolutionary processes to create, and from a Biblical and theological standpoint it is OK if that's how it happened
may be too modest for some of us, but I think it is good place to start the discussion. I suspect the extent of the modesty will be one of the more difficult decisions to make when crafting the ESE.

Characteristic#4: Broad appeal

One of the most attractive aspects of Evangelicalism is its ability to see beyond denominational boundaries. Most Evangelicals are very willing to work with others in advancing the Kingdom of God, even when theological differences abound. The ESE should take this approach as well, and appeal to the entire Evangelical spectrum. This means that the ESE should avoid specific theological claims that would be unacceptable to Reformed, Arminian, Lutheran, Anglican, Anabaptist, or any other Evangelical theological tradition.

Characteristic #5: Short

If the ESE is to raise awareness of the faith-science dialogue within the Evangelical community, it will have to be relatively short. A long, detailed document will not be broadly read, and will mean that certain interpretations of the ESE (probably unfriendly) will be read more than the ESE itself. If the ESE is longer than this blog post, it is probably too long.

Characteristic #6: “An” Evangelical statement; not “The” statement

No one can claim to speak for all Evangelicals, and this is especially true in the polarized science-faith dialogue. On the one hand, the ESE should clearly state that the position it espouses on scripture, creation, and evolution is consistent with the Evangelical tradition and that it is accepted by a wide variety of Evangelicals. However, it should also acknowledge that this position will not be acceptable to all Evangelicals, at least in the short term.

Is this an approach you think would work? Are there other characteristics that should be considered?


Jimpithecus said...

Your statements in this post made me go back over my own blog to see where I acted in an un-Christian manner and found more examples than I care to acknowledge. You are absolutely correct that it needs to be positive and have a spirit of humility. I think that, at the same time, there is a need to be clear that, while it is our relationship with Christ that is first and foremost, we are also biologists, or biological anthropologists or other disciplines connected to the study of evolution. This way the ESE doesn't fall prey to the same predicament that befell the Discovery Institute's Dissent from Darwinism list when it was pointed out that most of the signatories were in fields not connected with evolutionary theory. I also like the idea of being inclusive and reaching out. Some, however, will not treat and the ESE could be subject to public ridicule on those sites. We need to accept that and move on.

Matthew Tripp said...
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Allan Harvey said...

Agreement on all counts.

I'd even retract a bit of my "modesty" in your quote under #3, going for "has made use of evolutionary processes" since one is already being modest with "suggests". But however worded it should have a tone along the lines of "the evidence suggests that God worked in this way, and we believe that is fully compatible with Christian faith."

Martin LaBar said...

This works for me.

Kent said...

I think Short is the most problematic characteristic.

I agree a concise preamble needs to be upfront. You say:

A long, detailed document will not be broadly read.

That is true if it is written in academic language. However the academy is not our taget audience, regular Evangelical Christians are. Perhaps it can be written so they continue reading, even become engaged in looking deeper.

So instead of Short, how about Clear and concise

Why the ESE needs to be fairly long

The ESE, as currently conceived, only addresses the the first of the five universal audience attitudes that need to be overcome:
1. Rejection
2. Indifference
3. Skepticism
4. Procrastination
5. Fear

I propose that the ESE be long enough to respond to these five attitudes using the five responses Jesus modeled:
1. Attention
2. Interest
3. Conviction
4. Desire
5. Response

This is then what the ESE would look like:

1. Attention: Build a relationship based on respect and affirmation—be positive. This seems to be what the current ESE is limited to.

2.Interest: Raise need to a conscious level—make a huge claim, e.g. "You don't need to be afraid of the tough questions anymore."

3. Conviction: Portray evidence and related benefits—Why do we understand creation this way?

4. Desire: Create urgency—Why does the church need to address this issue tight now?

5. Response/Reassurance: Give a clear opportunity to respond and reassurance they are making the right decision.
* Links to resources.
* List of evangelical leaders that support the statement.
* Opportunity to "sign" the statement

Yes this would be longer and would take longer to write. Perhaps the ESE should only be the preamble. But then I would like to see it as part of a larger effort to communicate with the church.

Steve Martin said...

Jim: I can probably say the same thing about my own blog.

Allan: Yes I like that. You now have it down to < 20 words - excellent progress :-)

Hi Hornspiel,
Thanks. Good challenging comments. First a question: I’m not familiar with the “five universal audience attitudes” as you’ve listed them. Where is this from?

I do agree that we do not want to use academic language and that “clear and concise” should probably be added to the characteristics (and maybe “non-technical” and “easily understandable by non-academics”). So, yes let’s add those. Thanks.

Where we probably differ is in how much we want to accomplish with the ESE (and how fast). (eg. Re: our exchange in the last post where I would like to be “realistic” while you (and maybe many/most ECs) would like to have a “miracle occur”). Maybe this is something I need to flesh out more in that survey I’m thinking about. It would be interesting to get actual data on what others think.

So, I’m in complete agreement that the ESE needs to address attitudes #1 (rejection) and #5 (fear). If we don’t tackle these, I don’t think we can even start a dialogue (at least with those who most urgently need to hear the message – primarily those that have been identified in objective #2).

However, I’m not really concerned with those Evangelicals that are “indifferent” to evolution, at least not now. I have met many Christians who take a “whatever” attitude to evolution and who wonder what the big deal is about. For me, that is OK. “Converting” these Evangelicals to an EC worldview may not be that important, at least in the short term. I really think that within 20-50 years (ie. The next couple generations), Evangelicalism will have, for the most part, come to peace with science. I do believe this “miracle” will happen and that resources like this blog will be interesting only as historic artefacts.

So yes, the ESE as currently proposed is limited. I think this is a good thing. Others may not agree. That’s fine, and why this discussion is important.

Finally, your last comment that “Perhaps the ESE should only be the preamble” may have hit the nail on the head. The ESE (at least as I envision it) is simply a first step.

Kent said...

Thanks for your response Steve. I agree my hopes are a bit more ambitious than yours. I am putting out my thoughts in the spirit of promoting discussion, not my own agenda.

In response to your question:
The five universal audience attitudes (or stages of resistance) and countering responses come from a book called Modules for Memorable Talks compiled and edited by Jerry Long an internal publication of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Jerry does not reference where he gets these but I have heard him say they are based on proven communication principles. He calls them Five steps to effective communication. Also, they are modeled in the Jesus' discourse with the Samaritan woman in John 4:7-24 and Paul's address on Mars Hill, Acts 26.

Steve Martin said...

Thanks Hornspiel,

re: "I am putting out my thoughts in the spirit of promoting discussion ..."

that is exactly what I'm looking for. So thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Hi everybody. I'm Bilbo from telicthoughts.com We have a link to site that advertised Keith B. Miller's book. From that I linked to the amazon.com site, then read Steve Martin's review, then found his blog.

I have no theological or philosophical objections to Darwinian evolution. I accept common descent as pretty much proven. On the other hand,I think the evidence points to someone having designed the origin of life. And I think Behe's arguments that design extends deeply into biological history seem pretty cogent.

I suggest that if you want to get someone like me to sign on to your statement, it would need to go something like this: "The present scientific evidence strongly suggests that all of life is commonly descended from a few living cells that appeared on the Earth billions of years ago. Presently scientists have no idea how those cells could have come into existence without the aid of an intelligent being, such as God. And though most biologists think that the process of evolution since then can be accounted for without the aid of an intelligent being, such as God, there is a minority of biologists who disagree."

Steve Martin said...

Hi Bilbo,
Welcome. I occasionally visit telicthoughts and have commented on at least one post over there. Mike Gene (who I believe was one of the originators of that blog) has also commented here in the past.

On your suggestion for a statement to include in the ESE, I’ll reserve substantial comments on this for the next post in which I’ll provide my own suggestions for the content of the ESE. What I will briefly say here is that I certainly agree with the first sentence you’ve proposed, but not with the second or third – so I doubt that these latter two will be part of my suggestion :-). To get a hint of what I’m going to include (at least for the science part), you may want to check out my post on Allan Harvey’s definitions for evolution – what I’ll include will only be those concepts from the definitions that enjoy (at least IMHO) a high level of certainty – even if I myself personally accept more than this minimal amount.

From what you’ve said above, I believe you will be able to agree with the scientific assertions that I’ll propose.

Mike Taylor said...

Hi. I am a publishing academic palaeontologist (http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/pubs/) and also an evangelical Christian, occasional preacher, worship-leader, etc., so it will be no surprise that I am very much on board with what this site is doing. I have only just found it, and will be following from here on; participating if it looks like I have anything to offer.

I just wanted to say that your approach seems absolutely spot on to me -- all your points are excellent. I'm interested to see what you come up with.

If I were going to quibble, it would be that the statement "science suggests that God may have used evolutionary processes to create" contains too much hedging. I would prefer to see "science suggests that God used evolutionary processes to create", which is still humble enough to use "suggests" rather than "shows" or "proves". I just think that having the "may" in there as well leaves too much wiggle-room.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Michael,

Welcome. Good to have you here. Took a quick run through your paper DINOSAUR DIVERSITY ANALYSED BY CLADE, AGE, PLACE AND YEAR OF DESCRIPTION.
From a very young age I was always fascinated with statistics (yah I know, kind of a bizarre obsession) so this one jumped out at me. Very interesting!

Re: your quibble, see Allan’s comment on how modest the statement should be where he says almost exactly the same thing.

geocreationist said...

I think is going in a really good direction.

You can tell me if I'm jumping the gun, but I would suggest a possible list of affirmations that Evangelicals Christians should generally agree on. Should they be part of ESE? Not sure, but perhaps. I am not suggesting an exhaustive (or even a long) list, but a list that might cause someone to pause and think, "Oh. I didn't know you can believe that if you believe Evolution." Some examples:

Original sin
Many YECs believe that you can't be an evolutionist and believe in original sin, because evolution requires death, and death to a YEC is inherently sinful, and sin did not occur until after the fall.

Genesis 1 is true
Another stumbling block I have seen is the false impression that evolutionists do not believe Genesis 1. Of course we do. We might not agree on how to interpret it (even amongst each other), but we all agree it is the sovereign word of God and that whatever God meant when He inspired it is true, and Moses was faithful to record it.

God is the author of physical law
This one should not have to be affirmed. On the other hand, YECs believe it and so do we. Where we disagree is on the content of those laws, and whether God has kept them the same over time. Evolutionists generally believe the laws have remained the same the big bang; YECs believe laws, such as those governing the earth's magnetic pull and various types of decomposition, have been modified... but whatever the physical laws are, they are from God.

We are the intentional product of a loving and engaging God
Again, this shouldn't have to be stated, but there is this false impression that if we believe in Evolution, then we must then believe that God doesn't involve Himself in human affairs... after all, the reasoning goes, Evolution is a completely random and Godless process. But such thinking pushes a scientifically astute person toward deism. By affirming this, and those other affirmations above, the read may have hope, even before considering any evidence, that their view of God (His love, righteousness, etc.) will remain intact.

I am sure there are others, but I wouldn't recommend too many more.

Unfortunately, affirming any set of truths might come off as being combative, but that is not my intent in suggesting them. It is in support of the big tent analogy, showing that we (surprisingly, to some) affirm the very truths that make Christ's death worth something.

With a carefully worded set of doctrinal affirmations, someone might read them and say to themselves, "Wow. We really have these in common? That's amazing, because they're the foundation of my faith." And perhaps that one realization would allow them to press on further, without the fear that entertaining evidence might draw them away from their Savior... they should feel like such investigation could only bring them closer to God, or at a minimum, have no affect at all.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, I checked out Allan Harvey’s definitions for evolution. Yes, I could live with E1-3. -- Bilbo

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that after I posted here the first time, I went back to telicthoughts, and saw that we already had your blog listed. -- Bilbo

Laestadian said...

I Am really glad I found this blog.

I can understand scientific creationism and the bullshit Answers in Genesis produces can go home in US, but elsewhere in the world this kind of stuff just makes Christians look utterly stupid.

I had to make a Youtube film about the topic. Just take a look at the film and you will realize what kind of catastrophe scientific creationism is.

Click on my Nick or open:

Laestadian said...

I have to add that my channel is a pro-christian channel, about the laestadian (lutheran) revival movement.

Laestadian said...

Thank God for this blog! Here are answers for everything I has been thinking about.

Even the problem with original sin and evolution is handled here. I think sin is a general experience everyone has, regardless of religion and culture. There has always in most old cultures been a need to make scarifies to a higher power, because of humans shortcomings. The concept of sin is not bound to Adam and Eve as physical persons.

I have to make a new Youtube video based on the content in this blog.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Laestadian:

Welcome. Glad to have you here - although you may want to tone down the rhetoric when referring to AIG etc. I agree that the type of message they provide is dangerous (eg. see my post Evangelicalism and Evolution: Why the Discussion Matters), but I still believe we need to treat these Christian brothers and sisters with respect.

BTW, what country are you from? I'm from Canada, and, although YEC type ideas are not nearly as strong here as in the US, there is still a pretty strong contingent of that within the Evangelical church. I would say the same is true for several other countries where the Evangelical church is relatively strong (eg. UK, Australia). What is interesting (and sad), is that it appears to me that YEC ideas may be making inroads into the 3rd world as well.

Also, if you are looking for another youtube channel with a similar message, check out Gordon Glover's channel.

Steve Martin said...

Mike (geocreationist):

Sorry for missing this comment. I was really busy for a few days & ignoring the blog and this comment fell through the cracks. Good points. Some of this is indeed covered in the new post I just put up on content. Your point on “Genesis 1 being true” is germane to the comments coming over there. Thanks.