Monday, October 26, 2015

Pastoral counseling a graduate biology student...

1. We are in Romans 5 in Romans and the question of evolution came into discussion. I have often said that Genesis 1 is not the biggest biblical problem for evolution, since it has a poetic character and should be read in dialog with other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories rather than modern scientific debates, IMO. No, the really big biblical problem for evolution is Romans 5.

Romans 5 indicates that death entered the world through Adam. Evolution requires lots of death before Adam. I've had some biology colleagues in the past who have wrestled with this. Was it spiritual death that entered through Adam? Was Adam the first hominid with a soul? Was the default in the Garden for Adam and Eve to die unless they could eat from the try of life?

2. For me the biggest theological conundrum here is the problem of evil. The so called Augustinian theodicy, Augustine's explanation for why there is evil in the world, is a "free will" explanation. God gave Adam free will. Adam made the wrong choice. Therefore death, suffering, and the power of Sin entered the world as a consequence. Christ will hit the reset button on the world when he returns.

So if the Adam story were merely an expression of the human situation, we would have to rethink some important theological concepts. God would have created at least animal death as the default. The conflictual nature of evolution, including the killing of one animal by another, would be built into the creation as part of God's intention. I'm not sure what to do with that.

3. So how do we counsel the Christian biology student, especially the grad student who knows everything above but is struggling with the evidence they are encountering in their classes somewhere? What do we do with the pesky kid in our youth group (there's always one) who wants to provoke on whatever topic he or she can use to get your goat, and this is their topic of choice? What do we do with the honest seeker for whom this is an obstacle to faith?

If everyone in your congregation agrees, there's not much to worry about. The problem in such cases is the odd person out, the one who struggles with ideas that no one else in the congregation does. There's the silent person in your church who wonders about whether aliens in Alpha Centauri were suddenly infected with Sin when Adam sinned on earth six thousand years ago. :-)

My suggestion this morning was that we focus on the struggling person's faith rather than their ideas. If they want to read some creationist literature and you think it will help, no problem. But in most cases, I suspect, giving this person anti-evolutionist literature won't help. In fact, it may push them further away if it strikes them as special pleading. That literature mainly helps the person who already disagrees with evolution.

We can of course present the biblical and theological problems above. Then I suggest we leave them with Romans 14:22--"Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God." They will stand as an individual before Christ, not before me or others in the congregation.

We all have quirky ideas. I certainly do, although I don't know which ones they are. :-) We must all work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Yes, we primarily do it together as a community of faith, but there is also a level on which we have to do it as individuals. There may be some ideas that we as individuals just don't have all worked out.

4. So I would encourage the MA Biology student not to let their faith in God waver one bit. It is after all our faith in him, "that God exists and rewards those who diligently seek him" (Heb. 1:6). Our faith that Jesus is Lord need not waver in the slightest, that Jesus is the king of all, whom God raised from the dead and enthroned over the cosmos.

Perhaps for the moment they don't know how to fit together the two sets of ideas in their head. God justifies them on the basis of their faith in him and the life of faith that issues from it, not on the specifics of what they believe on every issue.


Martin LaBar said...

"We all have quirky ideas. I certainly do, although I don't know which ones they are." :-) Yes.

Does the graduate student have a coherent, rock-solid interpretation of Revelation, that will stand scrutiny by others? (If so, he/she is in the wrong business, and should go on the End Times lecture/book tour.) No? Then why should that student expect to have a coherent, rock-solid interpretation of origins? It's a goal to strive for, sure, but difficult or impossible to achieve.

There are, unfortunately, some demonstrably false ideas promoted by anti-evolutionists. (There are also some philosophically false ideas promoted by Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking.)

Good job.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I learned a new word last night, "apatheism".
WiKi's definition, "Apatheism (/ˌæpəˈθiːɪzəm/ a portmanteau of apathy and theism/atheism), also known as pragmatic atheism or practical atheism, is acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief or disbelief in a deity or deities." Apatheism is not "anti" religion, these people just don't think it matters practically speaking.

This biology student must live their life within a "biological paradigm", meaning that what they do, biology, is done apart from their belief or unbelief in a deity. The same could be said of any person who takes on a "secular" interest (business, politics, art, physics, etc.). What works, WORKS.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Having a mind-set of Apatheism" would mean keeping a critical eye toward "truth".
Truth has to be researched or investigated, not accepted from authorial sources, or "inspired" mediums.

The Academy, for the most part, has become a "radical egalitarian" institution that promotes the modern liberal agenda of historicism, which inhibits liberty (free thinking/critical thinking) for propaganda that fits the policy of the political class!

Our country's very foundation was based on an ability to formulate our own convictions, and opinions within the religious realm, as well as promote inventiveness in science. America did not believe in "determinism" as a viable philosophical position, because we were the "land of opportunity". Quantum theory would have appealed to the Founding Fathers, even though they understood their "world" within a Newtonian paradigm.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, besides the scientific paradigm of Newton, (which I think similar to the "First Cause" of Aristotle), the Founders also understood the value of free trade, as trade appeals to mutual interest. Diplomacy is also based on mutual interest of maintaining peace, which most nations hold for survival (national security). National security is the basis of international law, but, ideological commitments might not hold peace as a value, because some "greater good" is the priority. Nation states do have a right to protect themselves against those that would disregard, or disrespect their boundary.

Mistrust is the shrewd way to carry out diplomatic relations when ideological commitments clash. Mistrust is like critical thinking in approaching life in a real world without optimistic hope and naive gullibility of "Kum By Yah"....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Sorry, I get irritated by these kinds of questions. I think it is futile to discuss them because they cannot be solved/proved, except by confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is typical of humans, because we want to believe that what we've always believed is true. We do not often question our assumptions. And those that base their life decisions on questions that are speculative might wake up to regret such decisions, but more often than not, they will continue to be defensive of "the truth".
I read once somewhere where the religious do not be-friend atheists because it challenges their assumptions and directly affronts their fear of death. Humans love to overcome their mortality, by imagining something they can believe or do to make their lives "immortal".