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Monday, 2 November 2009

An Evolutionary Biology Student Discovers Christ ... and the Toxic Anti-Evolutionism that often Taints the Gospel

This is a guest post by Emiliano Carneiro Monteiro and is the third post in our series on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective”. Emiliano is a doctoral student studying cellular biology with a focus on morphology at the Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. He is currently researching the digestive system of a Phasmid (stick bug) species, as well as physiological features of its digestive processes.

A) My New Life in Christ
My story with Christianity, and with its struggle with science, began on January 31st, 2007. In the middle of a great big mess in my life I met Alberto Malta, a very dear friend and a leader with Campus Crusade for Christ at the Universidade de São Paulo. I was in the last year of my undergraduate degree in biology and after a long talk with Alberto, I took the first step towards the Christian faith and accepted Christ. Before that, in my adolescence and throughout college, I would have described myself as an agnostic or an atheist, although today I realize my position was probably pantheistic. The Campus Crusade for Christ website published a little post about my story at: http://www.ccci.org/training/evangelism/cojourners/builder-model.aspx

B) My Introduction to Creationism
At the time, I was already well aware that some Christian denominations did not accept evolution and held a ‘literalistic’ interpretation of the book of Genesis. Although it surprised me at first I didn’t really mind; I was busy experiencing my new life and setting my things straight. Furthermore I saw no problem with Darwin's theory. Evolution didn't get in the way of my faith but actually helped. To me, it was a wonderful and elegant process that explained how life developed. Back then the subject of creation and origins rarely came up. When it did I often told people that I accepted evolution but wasn’t a fanatic about it and that there should be more profound and fulfilling explanations that lay outside science.

But tension soon arose. At the first church I attended (Igreja Batista Esperança) everyone kept talking about “Dr. Adauto Lourenço”. I soon discovered that he was a physicist, with a doctorate degree from Bob Jones University, and a creationist. I wasn’t completely aware at the time of what kind of arguments creationists used to defend their point of view. I never met Adauto Lourenço in person, but I rushed to buy a set of 5 DVDs with his lectures.

C) Discussions: Some Fruitless, some Fruitful
While watching the DVDs I had my first faith crisis. Here was a Christian preacher spreading information that was simply not true. Soon I ran across more and more information about the whole “Creation vs Evolution” subject. In no time I was familiar with most (if not all) arguments used by creationists to defend their point of view. I was also aware that almost all their arguments were false. To make the situation worse the topic suddenly seemed to be really important for those around me. However, the many discussions I had were tiring and fruitless, so I avoided arguments about it as much as I could when at Church or among Christian friends.

I even had one or two arguments with my girlfriend, Karollina, on the subject. She is also a biologist and played a big role in leading me to Jesus Christ. Until recently, she defended a creationist point of view (she was never profoundly interested in the whole controversy though). Through my own investigation, interest and dialogue, she became aware of the full array of Creationist’s arguments. She has since reviewed her ideas and now accepts the compatibility of evolution and the Christian faith.

D) Evangelical Christianity in Brazil
Evangelical Christianity is having truly exponential growth here in Brazil. That is great because many people are getting to know more about the gospel and are engaging in following Jesus Christ. It is also very good that we Brazilians are developing our own identity and addressing the unique problems we face here south of the equator. Still, the process is slow and evangelical Christians in Brazil tend to follow trends in the US evangelical church. Antagonism towards evolution is one harmful idea that the American church has exported to Brazil.

I’m extremely grateful to those who helped me grow in my Christian faith. Still, it breaks my heart to see so many honest followers of Jesus believe that one must deny evolution in order to be a Christian. That is due partly because of a lack of information, but also due to the spreading of misinformation (for example, the ministry of Dr. Adauto Lourenço). I continue to find the subject of evolution completely fascinating, and learn more and more everyday. I do not think that the knowledge of the theory of evolution should interfere in a destructive way with anyone’s beliefs.

E) Portuguese Resources on Science and Faith
Francis Collins’s book Language of God really helped me. I remember thinking while reading: “Hey, this guy agrees with me!”. I also had the opportunity to meet and talk to some ministers and theologians whose views on Christian faith and science differ from the creationists. Unfortunately very few books that show a positive relationship between faith and science get translated into Portuguese, and other resources in Portuguese are almost non-existent.

Instead, creationism is being widely promoted amongst evangelical communities in Brazil as being the one and only Christian approach to science. It is despairing for me to see anti-evolutionary misconceptions and false scientific statements being spread in a country that already has significant challenges with its educational system (poor management, and lack of investment from the state). I don’t think there has ever been a poll in Brazil to measure the acceptance of evolution, but I doubt the results would be good.

F) Conclusion
So that is my story. I am hopeful that with prayer, love and action, we may see a change in the evangelical churches in Brazil. I am hopeful that they can spread the Gospel in a way that is relevant for my fellow countrymen, but without the damaging additions to the Word of God that are intellectually faulty and hinder faith in Jesus Christ.

Paz de Cristo


Steve Martin said...

Emiliano: Thanks a lot for your story; I think this is a real eye-opener for many of us in the north. It is certainly sad that we as Christians put up such huge barriers to the gospel at times. You spoke of the reaction of your Christian community to your acceptance of evolution. What was the reaction of your non-Christian scientific colleagues? On the whole, it is my impression that many of them in this situation would be puzzled by your faith decision but not hostile. However, with all the rhetoric on the science / faith dialogue on the net (particularly here in the north), I’m wondering if this hostility has spilled into the south as well?

Jimpithecus said...

Isn't it sad that where ever the Gospel takes root and thrives, not long after, the "stinkweed of creationism" (as Richard Young puts it) appears?

Emiliano M said...

Hy Steve! Thank you for giving me the oportunity to write this post, I really appreciated it and, like you, I hope it can help people out.

During my first steps towards Christian faith I was surprised at the good acceptance of many non-Christians friends and colleagues (many of them were present at my baptism for example, it was a great moment in my life). From then on what I encountered as a response to my serious commitment to Christian faith is, as you put it, sometimes puzzlement but, in general acceptance.

Still it is sad to see that the hostility, also, seems to be spreading. A couple weeks ago there were a lecture in my university about the controversy surrounding evolution and the historical roots of Creationism. After the lecture, during the time for questions and answers, there were a couple of pretty hostile comments directed towards protestantism and evangelicalism made by people in the audience who were asking questions.

Also, I do know one or two colleagues that seem pretty antagonistic towards faith, but they seem to be a minority.

@Jimpithecus: Well, there are other problems with evangelicalism here in Brazil (some more urgent than Creationism). Teachings that center only in a material prosperity and richness, and, in some cases exploitation by faith are amongst these problems. The thing is that I’m able to find people (good people) striving to fix these mistakes, spread the Gospel and struggling to bring faith in Jesus Christ, hope and social change to people who so desperately need it. In the other hand, I find very, very few people striving to open a dialogue between Christian faith and science here, and, for what i can see, a dialogue needs to be opened.

That’s it

Once again Thanks people

Paz de Cristo

ZDENNY said...

Once again...nothing but emotionalism without any facts to support it.

A person goes off and listens to Darwinians and accepts their theories uncritically even though none of them have been demonstrated.

Listen, if you want evidence, you can look at the Genome. The Genome has huge jumps between species. Humans for instance have 250 unique genes not shared by a lower species.

In all honesty, genetic drift cannot account for this jump. The jump is an act of Creation which the Bible articulates in Genesis 1

The fact that Jim talks in a disparaging tone about those who accept a literal interpretation speaks against his faith. The next step for Jim is to not take the resurrection literally also.

If Jim needs science to confirm his faith, then Jim will eventually reject Christianity because the resurrection is contrary to naturalism.

Zac said...

"250 unique genes" (assuming that is accurate) in the 6 million years or so since we split from chimps. I make that a new gene roughly every 24,000 years. Where's the problem? Why wouldn't evolutionary processes produce this?

Jordan said...

Great essay, Emiliano. I didn't realize American fundamentalism had such an influence in Brazil. Do you know if the same is true of other South American countries where Christianity is prominent? What books would you most like to see translated into Portuguese?

@ZDENNY: It strikes me that the point of Emiliano's essay was to recall his experience as a Christian evolutionist, rather than to rationalize the science of evolution. If it's evidence you're looking for, you should check out a good textbook. I'll point out that common ancestry isn't inferred on the basis of unique genes, but on the basis of shared, derived genes and morphologies. Unique genes are no problem for evolution -- they arise as a result of mutation.

Steve Martin said...

Thanks Emiliano: That was helpful in understanding your situation better. And frankly, I think striving after material wealth is probably more of a problem than creationism for the North American church as well.

Zdenny: re: the resurrection, that is an important distinction & a good question to ask of those of us that are EC. The resurrection is central to our faith; if Christ was not raised our entire faith is in vain (ie. if someone finds Jesus bones, forget it, we are done). Scientific questions re: origins are not like that. To put it succinctly, a good theology of Creation isn't about the how or when, but the who and why. Most Evangelical theologians and biblical scholars agree on this (eg. check out John Walton's new book The Lost World of Genesis One

ZDENNY said...

Jordan said, "on the basis of unique genes, but on the basis of shared, derived genes and morphologies. Unique genes are no problem for evolution"

I had a good laugh. First, Darwinians have no evidence of functional information being added to the Genome and then you use morphologies to support evolution.

My goodness...we have to think critically about this stuff and you guys are simply swallowing this stuff hook line and sinker simply because of your indoctrination.

Listen, 250 unique genes cannot be explained by evolution. We should have a ladder littered with changes from the nearest relative; however, there is none. There is no ladder to humanity.

The idea of derived genes merely demonstrates a common designer. Since there is no ladder to humanity, evolution cannot account for these genetic additions.

The fact is that Darwinians are all talk and as soon as you ask for proof, they throw out micro-evolution plus millions of years which is hillarious

Evolution if true would be ongoing and we would see this going on right now constantly in all humans as evolution went in different directions based on mutations and natural selection, we just don't see it.

Once again, where is your evidence. It seems that you simply have blind faith.

This is truly sad. All caught up in emotionalism and no evidence.

Zac said...


Regarding common design I recommend you watch this and the rest of the videos after it - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqsvEwByKU0

Emiliano M said...


Dude, my post was meant to be my story and development in relation to Christian faith, science and evolution. It was not supposed to teach or present evidence for evolution. (there are other sources for that, and people that could do it way better than me)

Still, I think that there is much that can be taken from my story and Ryan’s (last week). Through my short journey following Jesus Christ, not once I felt my faith hindered by science in the ways that you mentioned. “Are there really miracles?”, “Was Jesus really born from a Virgin?”, “Did He really ressurect?”, “Did Paul really saw Him in the road to “Damasco”? (Damascus, is it??)”. It is through faith that I can (and most certainly do) answer YES to those questions. I don’t need and don’t expect science to confirm any of those things, and still I believe in them deeply and will continue to believe and to base my life on those answers.

So, I sincerely don’t think that the “next step” to be taken by me, or Jim, or Ryan will be towards denying the ressurection, or miracles. On the contrary! It’ll be towards seeing a little more of the Wonders and miracles of God’s Creation every Day while trying to learn more about it.

I guess all your doubts regarding evolution were answered, still, I can’t help to point out that there are plenty of evidence of functional information being added to the Genome. One good example is given by the notothenioid fish: http://www.pnas.org/content/94/8/3485.full

@Jordan: There’s a deep influence between North American and South American evangelical movements, I’ve been in the evangelical Christian comunity for only a couple of years, but it seems to me that ‘trends’ in the churches in the U.S are ‘exported’ here. I don’t know about other countries in South America, but I believe it’s about the same. Here in Brazil, we are starting to develop an identity,reaching maturity, taking into account our social/cultural context and the Gospel and not simply copying the north american "way to do things" (keeping what is good, of course) . We seem to be taking our first steps though and there’s a LOT to be done.

I’d really like to see books that divulge science and inform people in a theistic/Christian perspective translated. One good call in my opinion would be Kenneth Miller’s books (“Finding Darwin’s God” and “Only a Theory”). I think we really need books that teach and explain science to the general public, but also nurture and instigate faith. Alister Mcgrath’s books would be a good call too (To my knowledge, only “Dawkins Delusion” was translated to portuguese and became fairly popular).

Not only books, but also other sources would be good! For example, I’m pretty sure that If you Google the words “Evolucionismo Teísta” (Theistic Evolution in portuguese), on Google, you won’t find more that 2 or 3 sites explaining and supporting it, and more than a dozen sites bashing it.

Paz de Cristo

Steve Martin said...

Hi Emiliano: That is a good point that it may be the web resource translation that is most important; although for me personally I depended on quite a few books (from all sides of the argument) a lot of internet resources helped immensely. And I'm sure google translate doesn't cut it when dealing with nuances of the science / faith dialogue.

All: I occasionally use translate.google.com to see what Emiliano is writing at his blog - check out the "Portuguese to English" translation of his pointer to his guest post here at: http://kleineherz.blogspot.com/2009/11/saiu.html. You always know what he's saying but some pretty funny stuff comes up once in a while. I can only imagine how google translate mangles an academic english essay into Portuguese.

Zdenny: A couple of points.
1) Many of us ECs do not self-describe ourselves as Darwinists for a reason. We accept biologist evolution but do not accept the metaphysical ideas inherent in what is traditionally thought of as "Darwinism". (For that matter, many "Darwinists" deny that ECs have the right to use the name because of our faith in the risen Christ etc.

2)On a related note, definitions are important or we will just talk past each other - check out The definition of evolution article (based on Evangelical Dr. Allen Harvey's definitions). Which of these 6 definitions for evolution do you have difficulty accepting?

3) Most importantly, the vast majority of us ECs did not make a quick emotional decision or swallow anything whole. This investigation took us a huge amount of time , reading voraciously from all sides of the debate (and many of us were ardent YECs at one time & throwing insulting language - to our shame - against anyone who accepted evolution. Emiliano is in the minority here in that he dispassionately studied evolution, then found Christ, then found out Christians were using very, very poor arguments against evolution - and thus had a faith crisis. (A good index of some of the poor creationist arguments is at talkorigins. And that is why many of us are so vocal about the science / faith dialogue; anti-evolutionism is a huge problem for many people in coming to (or staying with) faith in Christ.

Jordan said...

Thanks for the great reply, Emiliano. If I can follow up with another question: what is the state of science teaching in Brazil? Are you exposed to evolution at all in grade school? Or is it something a student confronts only come post-secondary education?

@ZDENNY: With respect, I can't help but think that you've accepted the same misinformation that Emiliano mentioned in his essay. There are many examples of new functional genes being added to the genome. The ability of Flavobacterium to eat nylon is one such example. We also see new functions developing in the wild: There was an excellent case in the news a year ago that documented the evolution of caecal valves (among other things) in a population of lizards that enabled them to feed exclusively on a diet of plants. And all in a 36 year period! That's evolution in action. Check out PNAS 105:4792-4795 for more on this.
I should also point out that evolutionists no longer speak of the pattern as a 'ladder'. That's a grossly outdated understanding. Evolution produces bushes of diversity, not the scala naturae of Owen and other Victorian natural historians. That said, we do see the gradual acquisition of traits in animals progressively closer to humans. Endogenous retroviruses are a great example of this. We share certain EVs with inclusively nested sets of apes -- a pattern that only evolution can account for ("common designer" certainly does not predict this). Read more here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section4.html#retroviruses

Anyways, I'm not so sure this is the place to debate evolution. We're here to talk about the relationship between science and faith. If you'd like to debate evolution, perhaps you could take it elsewhere?

Michael Thompson said...

the difference is the resurection and other miracles cannot be falsified, so they can always be objects of faith without denying reality.
On the other hand,a 60000 yr old earth, global flood, firmament, etc ARE falsified by overwelming evidence, so to believing those does make one have to deny reality. We don't even need the theory of evolution to show that!

Lame and Blind said...

Hi, guys. I am really appreciating this series of posts. I thought I'd point everyone toward Mark Noll's new book "The New Shape of World Christianity." which specifically examines America's role in the rise of global evangelicalism. He argues that America hasn't had a direct role, per se, but has rather provided a model for evangelicalism to arise in similar environments world-wide. I recently talked with Mark and asked him about the nature of much of this new global gospel being very prosperity-oriented and he gave a thoughtful answer - that this may be, but it isn't American Christianity's place to judge these things - that must be done by indigenous theologies and missiologies that are sure to arise in the wake of this sudden global shift. He talked more about Africa and Asian than Latin America, but I thought of this conversation in reading Emiliano's comment about finding 'good people' in Brazil who are making efforts to change the way the Gospel is viewed and presented there.

All the best, Emiliano!

Emiliano M said...

@Steve Martin - The “google translator” is pretty good (even a little impressive! Automatic translators are not usually that good), but it is really not enough when you really want to get into the text. I noticed that (at least in the case of Portuguese->English translations), it completly confuses some phrasal structures and slangs.And I know what you mean, I too depend more on books but other material can be really helpful.

@Jordan- The current science curriculum obliges the teaching of evolution during high school, so students are confronted with evolution before post secondary education. From what I know there’s not much emphasis on science teaching during basic education (I heard some private schools slip creationism into the curriculum by teaching it during this period). I remember being taught evolution only in high school.

Still, in theory the curriculum is pretty good. Unfortunately, in public education at least, there are a LOT of problems ranging from poor teacher formation to poor infra-structure and lack of funding. So, many, many people don’t get a decent science teaching.

While the public school system is in shambles, the public universities are very, very good (amongst the best in the continent). The “vestibular” (S.A.Ts) usually selects students which had good private education. Those who can’t get in a public State University usually end up in private universities, some of which have a “franchise mentality” and don’t provide a complete formation.

I guess that’s it. I’m not sure I explained thoroughly what you wanted to know Jordan, if not please let me know, ok!

@Lame and Blind: great comment! Thanks!


Steve Martin said...

Lame and Blind: Thanks for the tip on Noll's new book ... that goes on my "to read" list immediately.

I think the story of the spread of the early Christian church and of the Evangelical church have some interesting similarities. The early church was centered in the Jewish world, and as it launched the gospel to the Gentiles it brought along some of the Hebrew legalistic baggage. The apostle Paul was particularly harsh to this damage done to the gospel.

The Evangelical church is (or was until a few generations ago)largely centered in the "West". This has now changed radically (for the better) and the growth of Evangelicalism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia has been astounding ... so astounding in fact that the west will soon no longer be the center of Evangelicalism. But, unfortunately, the West is also exporting anti-evolutionism along with the gospel - with the same (or worse) damage inflicted by the legalism of the early church.

Lame and Blind said...

Well, I'm not so sure we're exporting it. I think that perhaps it is just the case that the factors that are likely to lead to the rejection of evolution are common to the American and Global south evangelical experiences, namely strong focus on Biblical revelation with a very weak, often non-existent import given to tradition and history. These characteristics go hand-in-hand with the organic, egalitarian nature of evangelical Christianity, a sort of Christianity that is rooted in being rootless.

So I'm not sure we're to blame for anti-evolutionism in the new world Christianity. But the problem is the same one, of course.

Jimpithecus said...

Like the other writers on this page, I did not "blindly" accept evolution. There was no "emotionalism" involved. In these posts, you have been provided with a large number of links and information to give you the evidence. What you do with these is your business but don't complain that there is no evidence. Try looking at the evidence rather than responding spitefully.

Steve: excellent point about the theology of creation. I was strongly influenced by Conrad Hyers' book The Meaning of Creation and how the creation story is simply not a scientific account of how things came to be. I have this conversation with my wife regularly. She is convinced of the science behind the old earth, evolution position, but is uncomfortable with how original sin and the fall fit in.

Lame and Blind: thanks also for the tip about Mark Noll's new book. I wonder about what you say about there being factors that lead to the YEC interpretation in areas where evangelical Christianity is taking hold. I think of people like Ken Ham with AiG who wants to reach out to the whole world and Carl Wieland's group Creation Ministries International, which has a strong evangelical (missionary?) component. When you read creationist tracts from other countries, they have been plainly influenced by these individuals and groups. I am sure there are some home-grown groups wherever you go, but they have the backing an support of these organizations.

Steve Martin said...

Lame and Blind: Good points. You are right that there are inherent characteristics of evangelicalism that make its reconciliation with evolution more challenging. However, I think (as Jim pointed out) a lot of the creationist organizations see their narrow view of creationism as an integral part of the gospel - and work to spread this (I would say) tainted gospel "abroad". Also, as Emiliano's article points out, some of the leaders in the developing world are educated in western seminaries / universities & bring creationism along with them. So, I don't believe exporting is too strong a word.

Cesar said...

ZDENNY, every one of us have 100-200 genetic mutations:

Remarkably, the new research, recently published in Current Biology, shows that these early estimates were spot on - in total, we all carry 100-200 new mutations in our DNA.


Are you complaining about 250 unique genes?

bobxxxxx said...

The resurrection is central to our faith; if Christ was not raised our entire faith is in vain (ie. if someone finds Jesus bones, forget it, we are done).

I will never understand how a person can accept evolution, which has tons of evidence, and also accept the Resurrection, a wild claim that does not have one shred of evidence. Is there some switch in the head of these people that they turn off when they don't want to think?

I am very pleased to know Christianity can't exist without the Resurrection belief, because there is no belief more insane. If Christianity really depends on the idea that a stinking decomposing corpse could return to life (a zombie), then Christianity is doomed.

Cesar said...

bobxxxx, not only that, but there are a nice pack of things that you muts accept by faith, only:

1. That there's a God;
2. That this God is somewhat responsible by the existence of the Universe (this belief defines you as a creationist, even if you accept the scientific theoryes of );
3. That this God became human;
4. That this human was born from a woman that had not sex;
5. That this human made miracles (feats that defies all laws of nature) proving that he was God himself;
6. That this God-man died, and in 48 hours, more or less, became alive again by his own;
7. That this God-man had gone to "heaven" (or to the "sky");
8. That this God-man will be back again, someday, to kill all humanity and send some to heaven, some to hell;
9. That the ones that believe all of this will go to heaven, and the ones that doubt it, will go to hell.

Emiliano is a nice person, I don't know him personally, but from what I read on internet from him, I think he is a sensible and intelligent person. But it puzzles me how you can use skepticism in half your day (as a student of science), and how you can turn it completelly off the other half (believe in such things that cannot be tested, proven, and that you have only "testimonials", basically "anedoctal evidence"). No cognitive dissonance? You cannot be a "skeptical christian", it's an oximoron. And you cannot be a "believer scientist". As a christian you must accept that something is true because you believe it's true. As a scientist you cannot accept anything "by faith". Faith is irrational, and as a scientist you must be rational. "Cognitive dissonance?" Am I wrong? Did I missed something?

Sorry for the "engrish".

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...


Yes, with respect, I think you missed something. Here is what I think it is.

We all have internalized criteria of plausibility, which differ widely from person to person. So, it becomes very difficult to enter someone else’s mental universe. How much of the origins debate in our culture is due to that problem? A lot. For instance, even though one would think that scientific evidence should be pretty determinative of some of the answers to some of the questions, some people don’t find science plausible. Specific evidences then become irrelevant (the same problem occurs for people who don’t find religion plausible).

(Personally I don’t find Congress plausible, but I strongly suspect it does exist, just the same. A joke, son.)

Theological questions (for the most part) are outside of the domain of science. I have no quarrel whatsoever with anyone who says that. But if you think that science is the only means of determining truth and value, then there is a problem (if you think that “nonscientific knowledge” is an empty set by definition).

What the other ways of knowing might be would require a very long essay. But faith does not mean the lack of rationality. It means the application of rationality to domains that are not empirical and replicable.

For instance, I believe that the resurrection of Christ happened in part because the historical evidences are very strong. But this isn't a replicable event, so science as such can't pass judgement on its truth or falsity.

Faith is not irrationality. But it is the conviction of things not seen.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D.

Emiliano M said...

(Sorry, should have posted this earlier... I Wasn’t sure it would be relevant and then decided to post it anyway)

This is na interesting discussion!
I think that Steve's comparison between the early church and its legalistic ‘problems’, and evangelical Christianity in the US and the problems with ‘anti-evolutionism’ are somewhat accurate (given the right proportions).

On one hand, for what I can see, as Steve and Jim pointed out, there is active effort from creationist organizations to spread Creationism as integrant part of the Gospel. I’ve recently been told about donations from these organizations to schools and churches of Creationist and ID textbooks (very, very poorly translated).

Still, I think it is harsh and hasty to “blame” U.S. Evangelicalism and its influence for the problems we’re currently facing. It’s a little as if early Christians in Galatia blamed the church of Jerusalem for its legalistic influence. I mean that’s where their influence came from!

Particularly, today, I’m not very fond of the influence from churches in the U.S. here in Brazil, still I can’t forget that this same influence helped, and in certain extent enabled my journey as a Christian! The first church I attended to was founded by american missionaries and emphasised anti-evolutionism. If I went there today, i might feel a little out of place, but I remember how much it helped take my first steps and, as I mention in the post, I’m trully greatfull for them.

As lame and Blind put it, the problem remains pretty much the same independently of Who we “blame”. I think it is up to us to strive to teach and stablish a dialogue with Love and understanding... Its all we can do, and trying to accomplish it, was the first thing that called my attention in this blog.


Bobxxxxx and Cesar

Hy Cesar! Thanks for reading!

I’m not sure how to answer you both. For me being a scientist is about discoverying and studying the regularities and patterns in nature. It doesn’t seem far feched to me to think that there might be stuff that lay beyond these regularities and that science can’t grasp. One thing is to dedicate your life to understand the material world around us and how it works. Another thing is to believe that that’s all there is. So I believe we can be “scientists believers”. It doesn’t interfere with our work, and it can only develop our faith.

Paz de Cristo

bobxxxxx said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cesar said...

Mr. Embree, thanks for your kind comment.

I think that when you make an statement that can be tested by science, then science must have the last word about the truth of the statement. And if you cannot test the truth of some statement, then you cannot claim it's true.

The problem is, as you said, different people has different criteria or plausibility. How then we can get some accordance about anything? I mean, how can someone claim that Santa Claus doesn't exist? Or that there is no goblins and fairies in my garden? Or that you cannot fly if you put your underwear over your pants, no matter how much you try, or how high is the tower from where you jump? How can you say that someone in Torres, Brazil, is lying if he says he's seeing the elefants in the coast of Africa (I play this a lot with my kids, pretending I can see Africa from Brazil)? How can someone say that "holy water" is more than "common water", and that it can cure cancer and AIDS? Why you have to believe any of these claims? Or other claims? Or how can you dismiss it as baloney?

I think that there are some criteria of plausibility that are valid, and some that aren't, because they cannot determine the plausibility of anything.

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection is the answer, for me.

About the ressurrection, I disagree the part about "strong historical evidence".

About the "science is the only way to determine truth and value", I'm in debt here. History isn't a science? Of course you cannot repeat historical events, but that means that you don't have any tool to help the poor skeptics to become sure about anything in the past? I mean, a lot of people claim that the events of Apollo 11 were faked. I think it was a fact, and that there's a lot of evidences that help prove that it was a fact. More, I did read the claims of the deniers, and found them weak, improbable, and even plain wrong. So I think that you can determine if some event in the past was true or not in an objective manner. How? Studying the evidences.

What are the evidences of the ressurrection? Only "anedoctal evidences" - people that allegedly meet and talk with the ressurrected Jesus. You cannot prove that it happened by claiming that people can ressurrect (that would be a way to prove it's plasibility, but it would kill faith and religion - if people can ressurrect, then it cannot prove that Jesus was God). Are there more evidences? Only faith. But believing something is true because you have faith that it's true sounds a lot like "wishful thinking", don't?

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

Steve, as moderator of the site, I would ask you to police "flame wars" comments, please. Those who seek to demonize their opponents should be blocked from the site. Personal, ad hominem attacks are never appropriate. They reflect badly on those who make them. I hope there are some rules of engagement here. A person who is a college professor at a secular institution, with an earned doctorate from a respected secular institution, deserves intellectual respect - certaintly having religious beliefs is no disqualifier!

Obviously, to those who equate rationality with the philosophy of the Enlightenment, no religious believer can be regarded as rational. But that's simply assuming at the outset what one then seems to prove. There are no independent grounds (e.g., psychological testing) for asserting that believers are less rational or less intellectual than nonbelievers, by any unbiased criterion of rationality. (And if kindness and tolerance are the tests, I am coming out well ahead here...)

As to the more sober commentary about faith and evidences, more later, but I think this whole line of discourse is hijacking the original author's thread. I don't want to do that.

Anti-evolutionary and anti-theistic polemics both belong elsewhere, in my view. Neither is the purpose of this site. Odd that both polemics are appearing. It's hard to live in no man's land when snipers on both sides are seeking to take pot shots.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Marlowe: I agree that Bob's second comment crossed the line (a line that I believe is fairly generous) and has been deleted ... I would have done it earlier if I had seen it but alas I don't always have time to react quickly to comments on my blog. Fortunately these type of inappropriate comments are few and far between here. Thanks to everyone on all sides for remaining (mostly) civil.

Note that Bob's diatribes are well-known in the blogosphere and should probably just be ignored.

Steve Martin said...

Thanks Emiliano. Well put. I can feel another blog post (series?) bouncing around in my head here re: faith / science & global evangelicalism. Some food for thought for now:

1. My small group at church is reading Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now. He talks in one section about “reverse mission” – it is great that the “north west” is bringing the good news to “the south”, but there is “good news” flowing the other way as well

2. A favourite author of mine (John Stackhouse) has written an excellent and thought-provoking piece entitled called The Continuing Responsibility of North-West Theologians in Global Christianity. Highly recommended.

Cesar: Welcome. Glad you joined. I can’t possibly address all your points but would echo some of Emiliano’s & Marlowe’s re: knowledge. I think we need to also understand that “proof” is a word that should probably be reserved for mathematics and not science, history, philosophy (except logic), or theology. “Evidence” is probably a more appropriate term. And on that, I think there is “appropriate” evidence for the resurrection. Some good books on this are Wrights The Resurrection of the Son of God and Swinburne’s The Resurrection of God Incarnate. But, it will come down to interpretation of the evidence and very intelligent and very rational people (very different things per a recent York University study … oops, another tangent) will interpret the evidence differently. Maybe a good place to start if you are unfamiliar why intelligent people could possibly believe in the resurrection, is a recent series by John Stackhouse on his blog called "Why Christianity is Believable" part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Emiliano M said...

Cesar - Your comment reminded me: Happy Carl Sagan day! http://www.carlsaganday.com/

Steve – That’s an interesting idea! And those are some very, very interesting tips you gave! I’ll add Henry Nowel’s book to my ever increasing list of books to read! Also the links you suggested Cesar were great! Guess I’ll read them too!

Paz de Cristo

Jordan said...

First, I agree wholeheartedly with bobxxxxx that if Christ did not rise bodily from the dead, our Christian faith is in vain. Paul tells us as much in the Scriptures. No argument there; however, I do take issue with the argument that evolutionary creationists are somehow being cognitively dissonant by both accepting evolution and believing in the resurrection of Christ. I don’t see this as a problem because I understand that science is a tool, not a way of life. Science is a means by which to investigate the natural world, and I use it as such when I seek to understand evolution. On the other hand, science is a terrible way to find out about the existence or inexistence of the supernatural (i.e., God), and so I do not use it for that purpose. So I think it is hardly cognitively dissonant to believe in something science was never intended to inform us about anyway. It’s like telling someone they’re being cognitively dissonant by using different tools to accomplish different chores throughout the house. That’s silly. The argument would be valid only if we unanimously subscribed to positivism, which is a philosophical position I reject from the start. I accept the existence of the Christian God not simply because of the testimony of Scripture, but also because He has kept the promises He makes to me in the Scriptures. That’s evidence for me, regardless of whether I can measure it empirically or not. And yes, the resurrection is ridiculous by scientific standards and must be accepted by faith – but that’s the whole point! The resurrection was a miracle. A singularity. It was the exception to the rule. Science tells us that bodies don’t naturally rise from the dead, but Christ’s resurrection was no natural event. So again, using science to shed light on such a phenomenon – particularly without a physical body as evidence – makes no sense. I’ll touch bit more on the difference between philosophical and ontological naturalism in a couple of weeks in my own essay for this blog.

Jimpithecus said...

Cesar, another place to go would be Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict for information on how one could rationally believe in the existence of a risen creator. Many of us that believe in God and accept the divinity of Christ follow in a long line of thinkers, some of whom are the best and brightest that this world has ever known, who have argued persuasively for the existence of God. If you choose to believe that the observable world is all there is, then you will not ever see this argument. However, as Isaac Newton said:

This thing [a scale model of our solar system] is but a puny imitation of a much grander system whose laws you know, and I am not able to convince you that this mere toy is without a designer and maker; yet you, as an atheist, profess to believe that the great original from which the design is taken has come into being without either designer or maker! Now tell me by what sort of reasoning do you reach such an incongruous conclusion?

Newton had no trouble with the scientific discipline and its practice but believed (rationally, he thought)that it did not explain everything there was.

I can live with that example.

Cesar said...

Jimpithecus, I think that if Newton was adept of Inteligent Design, it doesn't mean it's true. I think all scientists searched by naturalistic explanations for the world, and Newton was not exception. His mechanics doesn't need the "voluntas dei" to works. The equations of gravitation doesn't need faith in Good to work. In fact, they work to atheistics too, without any change.

What I can say for sure is that we know a lot more than Isaac Newton in his days. Can you be certain that, if born in our days, with the knowledge accumulated in the last 200 years, Sir Isaac Newton wouldn't believe in a God like the Eintein's God (almost the same as the Baruch of Spinoza's God)? A God that don't interfere, that doesn't give heaven or hell, or even the surviving of conscienciousness after the death of the body?


Lame and Blind said...

I would just point out to Cesar that if one rejects the resurrection of Jesus, then one still has a lot to explain. Namely, if it didn't happen why did all of his early followers think that it did? And where would they have even gotten the idea of resurrection as a possibility for Jesus? The idea God raising an individual from the dead (as opposed to raising all God's people from the dead at once, in the last day) was outside of Jewish thought. This is confirmed by their statements of puzzlement leading up to his death. The resurrection of Jesus was a total surprise, even to his closest cohorts. And how does one explain how Jesus' resurrection became so central to Christian belief when resurrection was fairly peripheral in Jewish thought?

These are just some of the questions that arise. The accounts in the Gospel and other early historical accounts are clear that something happened after Jesus died. The question is, what is the most likely thing that happened? Even if by default we put resurrection last on that list, to me it comes out on top in the end. I'd encourage Cesar to read up on some of the evidence. Perhaps a decent place to start is NT Wright's 'Surprised by Hope'. All the best!

Cesar said...

I would just point out to Cesar that if one rejects the resurrection of Jesus, then one still has a lot to explain.

I disagree. That Jesus had ressurrected is the thing to be proven. It can't be proven. That means to have faith. You have to accept it by faith, only.

Namely, if it didn't happen why did all of his early followers think that it did?

That someone believes something doesn't mean that this something is true. Even if it's an "alien belief" (and that's a thing that must be stablished, that the jewish don't have any belief in ressurrection). Even if all humankind believe that thing. Belief, faith, don't turn a lie into a truth.

The "cognitive dissonance" here works this way (if I understand it correctly):

1. they believe Jesus was God, and as a God, he cannot die.

2. Jesus died.

Two strong notions that cannot live in the mind at the same time. You have to conciliate it in some way. Then the supernatural explanation of the ressurrection is accepted:

3. Jesus died, but ressurrected.

Would they deny the death even having witnessed the dead body? Of course. Would they construct some kind of narrative explaining how it happended? I think that yes, they would. Would they die for this lie? They don't think it's a lie, they will bet their lives that this is true. As they did. The wikipedia article on "cognitive dissonance" has some incredible accounts, of how turn a lie in a truth in their minds, and how they conciliate it.

Now these are some "wild assumptions". I wasn't there, and I can be wrong. But can someone proves me being wrong?


Now to playing the devil here: If you have any proof that Jesus ressurrected, that this is all true, then you don't need faith - you have the proofs. But without faith you cannot please God. So, if you have the proof that Jesus ressurrected, then it will not change anything to me (I will accept the evidences, but without faith, only based on evidences, so it is as bad as if I didn't have the evidence, and denies it), and it will condemn you to hell, as you will have a conviction based on evidences, and doesn't need faith any more. Like in the movie "Constantine" - you saw hell, so you know it's real, so you are no more guided by faith, and cannot be saved.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cesar:

Re: explain vs. prove – per my point above, “proof” is not really the right term here … I think evidence is more appropriate. Now, frankly, I personally am uncomfortable with McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” phrase (maybe I'm the minority here on that), since it implies that the evidence is so conclusive for Jesus’ resurrection, that any rational person would come to the conclusion that he did come back from the dead. Personally, I think that in hindsight rational people can come to either conclusion – BUT, I also believe that the evidence is much stronger for the resurrection than against it. So you are right that ultimately one needs some faith to accept the resurrection.

Re: your point on cognitive dissonance below, I think the argument goes astray right at the beginning – I really don’t think the followers of Jesus did believe he was God during his ministry and therefore could not die; the early Church “believed Jesus was God” because of the resurrection – but it took many, many generations for us to really articulate how this Jewish Rabbai could be both God and human.

Cesar said...

Well, Steve Martin, two points:

1. It's strange to read all christians talking about proofs. They don't have any proof, or "evidence" that is uncontroversial. All in all, what you have is only a feeling that you are right. I felt this too. But I discovered that my feelings can go wrong. When you let you feelings be your guide about what is true and what is not, you can be plain wrong, and don't know, or worst, don't accepting evidences that you are wrong.

2. About the disciples thinking Jesus was God, Matthew 16:13-16 illustrates my point: they where thinking Jesus was the son of the living God. Doesn't this mean being God himself, to a jew?

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cesar,
Yes, some Christians talk about proofs when in comes to things like the resurrection; I disagree with them & think they are using the term proof incorrectly.

But evidence is an entirely different thing. An "controversial" is really a red-herring ... there is a lot of controversy over evolution even though there is massive evidence that it occurred (notice: we can't really say evolution is "proved"). Again, the references above are a good place to start if you want to check out the evidence.

Regarding "son of God" meaning "God" to a 1st century Jew, no it is not. This is getting way beyond the scope of this article (or my expertise for that matter) but it is pretty clear that even Jesus closest followers were not thinking that Jesus was God prior to his death. His early death devastated them (they thought he was going to inaugurate an earthly political kingdom) - and his resurrection was completely unexpected.

Cesar said...

Steve, as I know, saying you are Son of God makes you equal to God. To a jew of the 1st century.

Matthew 26:

63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God. 64 Jesus said unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.

65 Then the high priest rent his garments, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy: what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard the blasphemy: 66 what think ye? They answered and said, He is worthy of death.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cesar,
Jesus was referred to by many titles during his ministry (eg. Messiah, son of man, son of God etc.) - there has been a lot of academic discussion on what these titles meant. But it is my understanding that his followers would have been unlikely to say "Jesus is God" prior to the resurrection (not sure how they would have articulated his relationship to the divine if they had been grilled by the religious authorities). Certainly Jesus gave them enough hints of this (eg. John 10:30 - I and the father are one) but more often than not it appears his followers really didn't understand what he was saying.

But, back to your point above. I think there is general agreement that most of Jesus followers thought he did have a special relationship / mandate from God and that that mandate would lead to an earthly political kingdom. When Jesus died, this dream was basically shattered. They thought everything was over; the resurrection wasn't something they were expecting at all.

So I find the argument completely unpersuasive at both #1 and #2. (But I suspect you find my arguments unpersuasive as well).

Steve Martin said...

Hi Emiliano:
Maybe you knew this already but I see that some of the Faraday papers are translated into Portuguese. Unfortunately, not McGrath's "Has Science Killed God?" (which was relevant to the discussion here. Maybe you should drop an email to Faraday, thanking them for starting the translation process, and asking for an ETA for the rest of the translations?

Cesar said...

Well, Steve, we can change the point #1:

1. they believe Jesus was the messiah, so he cannot die before becoming king as they think he wold be someday.

2. Jesus was dead.

I think you cannot dispute the truth of the point #2... I won't discuss this any more, because I'm really not an expert in "cognitive dissonance", all that I put here is what I learned from reading the page of Wikipedia (and there are some interesting cases there), so I'm not qualified to prove or refute it. For all that I read, Cognitive Dissonance is a good explaining to everything that happened after the death of Jesus, this and the emphasis in believing without any proof.

Besides, this is an all off-topic. I think we made our points very clear, and I thank you for your time and patience, as well as the patience of the blog owner.

Emiliano M said...

Steve!!! Thanks a LOT for the tip!!!

I'll write an email to the people in the Faraday institute to check for more translations!

And your discussion with Cesar was very interesting!

Paz de Cristo

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cesar,
1st century Judaism had several messiah claimants (Jesus may have had the least# of followers of these messiah claimants) ... and they all AFAIK came to bloody deaths which resulted in their followers being dispersed. That is except Jesus' followers who, despite being possibly the most ragtag bunch, kept his movement going because they were convinced he was raised from the dead. This is not something they expected (1st century jews like the rest of us were pretty convinced that dead people don't come back to life) and there were lots of precedents for Messiah dreams being shattered.

Again, I don't think this is "proof" of the resurrection, or even "unassailable evidence" for the resurrection. But this (along with other evidence) convinces me that orthodox Christianity is a perfectly rational position. However, faith is an significant (in fact primary) component as well. On this, McGrath's Isn't science more rational than faith? is interesting.

But you are right, this is getting more than a little off topic.

Edward T. Babinski said...
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