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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

ESE Contents: Addendum

This is the fifth post in a series on “An Evangelical Statement on Evolution (ESE)”. If you are new to the series, you may wish to read 1) Introduction, 2) ESE Objectives, 3) ESE Approach , and 4) ESE Contents first.

In preparing this series on the ESE, I never intended to get bogged down in the details of the actual statement – that is a future task. However, after receiving feedback on the content in the last post, I think this brief content addendum is required to fix some glaring omissions (three), and to suggest that one of our objectives should be addressed more indirectly.

A) Randomness and Purpose

Reconciling the randomness in evolution with God’s sovereignty is a huge hurdle for many (see comments by Vance); the ESE should address this, if only briefly. In the section on purpose, we could mention one or more of the following:

  1. randomness is closely tied to unpredictability. Unpredictability is often simply a function of human limitations. God does not have these limitations.
  2. Scripture asserts that God is in control & can accomplish his purposes even in random events (eg. Prov 16:33, Acts 1:26)
  3. God provides true freedom to his creation (eg. humanity) but is in complete control, and can accomplish his purposes, even when that freedom is abused.
Whole books have been written on this subject (eg. God, Chance, and Purpose by David Bartholomew) and rigorous debate on this reconciliation still persists, even within the EC camp. So we need to carefully consider what we say here. But to Vance’s point, we can not be silent.

B) Scientific Explanations and God

Something should be mentioned about the relationship between scientific explanations & divine action. Two related points here:
  1. Scientific explanations are not an alternative for God’s action in the world; divine action and natural events are not mutually exclusive (see Hornspiel’s comments). The resolution of this false dichotomy has been so ingrained in the EC mindset (or at least mine) that we sometimes forget others may consider it a problem. Since it is a significant issue for many in our audience, we should definitely make some statement addressing the false dichotomy – maybe it should be the first item mentioned in the section on science.
  2. On the other hand, science does not exclude the possibility of miracles (eg. Comment by Vance). Making scientific statements like “this event is extremely unlikely to occur given our current knowledge” or “no scientific explanation for this past event can be made at this time” are valid claims. However, science cannot rule out any event a priora. As Evangelical Christians we firmly believe that God can, has, and continues to perform miracles within his creation, and that some of those miracles would be deemed “impossible” by science.
C) Mention of the Fear of Science

An explicit statement to those “who fear science” may be counterproductive. Per the conversation in the comments with wtanksley (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7), I agree we should take the explicit statement out of the ESE but address it indirectly since this target audience is important (even if there are many in this group that would not admit membership in it).

D) Positive Statement on the message of early Genesis

Stating something positive on the message of the early part of Genesis is, I suspect, the most glaring omission in the previous post – several people identified it (Joel was first). As a couple people noted (Allan & Cliff), Evangelical OT scholars have taken several different (often overlapping) hermeneutic approaches to the first few chapters of Genesis. Therefore we should be careful not to adopt one single approach. Still, I think there are some theological statements that should be mentioned. An example of what we might say is below (a slightly modified version of what Allan proposed):
The early chapters of Genesis have much to teach us about God (his sovereignty over all of creation, his faithfulness, and his love), creation (it is good, it owes is being to God) and humanity (our creation in the image of God, our disobedience, and our dependence on God’s faithfulness to repair our relationship). However, the inspired writers were not trying to convey scientific information in these early chapters and we should not expect it to answer our modern scientific questions.
So, yes I am abandoning my initial hesitation on taking a firm stance against scientific concordism.

Whew …

Not sure if I mentioned it before, but writing a short statement is probably going to be an order of magnitude more difficult than writing a long one.