Thursday, June 15, 2017

Preface to Friday Science: My Creation Quest

1. I have decided to blog through a recent book by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight called, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science. Scot is a faith-filled New Testament scholar and Dennis Venema is a faith-filled scientist.

Perhaps I should start by giving part of my own story on these topics. Ideologically, I grew up fundamentalist. My family did not have the heart of a fundamentalist, but we had the ideas of them. Fundamentalism is a militant version of a religion whose main goal is to combat forces of change coming from the surrounding culture.

I was going through my teens in the decades when Jerry Falwell was working his magic on America. I went to some of the early evolution debates between Henry Morris and Kenneth Miller because I grew up in the shadow of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was quite convinced that evolution was intrinsically antithetical to Christianity.

I was frankly disappointed with Morris as a debater. He seemed to spend most his time quoting people and giving quasi-philosophical arguments. I wanted him to blast the evolutionist with evidence. I was more pleased later with Duane Gish but let's just say that if I hadn't already been convinced, I don't think he would have convinced me. I've more recently watched Ken Ham debate Bill Nye and, again, it seems like his arguments are far more presuppositional than evidentiary.

2. In the meantime, I received a call to ministry in college. Later I felt within that call a call to train ministers in the Bible. So I went on to get a PhD in New Testament. I went through a common process of learning that there were reasons why scholars had some of the "funny ideas" I had once made fun of.

Having started out as a chemistry major and both loving and having an aptitude for math and science, I was well wired by the time I got to seminary to follow the evidence to its most likely conclusions. What I came to conclude is that at least some of my seminary professors were playing a bit of a game. They went through the motions of gathering evidence and making arguments, but it seemed to me that other interests were really guiding their conclusions, unacknowledged preconditions.

To be honest, I have personally found this to be the case for many biblical scholars, both conservative and liberal. And of course I have been accused of "cooking the books" too. The Bible scholars I have always admired are the straight shooters, but they seem few and far between.

I have at least heard that disillusionment is a common tale for faith-filled believers who go on to do graduate degrees in science. Some of them unnecessarily lose their faith in the process because they have been told that certain conclusions are incompatible with Christian faith. Then as those conclusions seem inevitable to them, they draw the logical inference--Christian faith must be wrong.

3. I am not an expert on matters of science. I have the aptitude (or at least did when my brain was nimble) and I have the interest. But I am not qualified to say what science reasonably concludes.

What I am an expert on is the Bible, and I know enough from my field to know that the biblical reasons often given against evolution are often based on shoddy understanding. In my opinion, it would not be good exegesis to read Genesis 1 as a blueprint for scientific creationism. Genesis 1 is poetic in nature and is in dialog with Ancient Near Eastern creation stories, not nineteenth, twentieth or twenty-first century science.

In my opinion, the problem for Christian understanding in relation to evolution is not Genesis 1 but Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Evolution requires lots of death, so if physical death entered the world through Adam, then evolution presumably contradicts Christian understanding.

There has been some interesting push-back on this line of thinking. What if Paul is talking about spiritual death rather than physical death? In the Garden of Eden, do not Adam and Eve need to eat from the Tree of Life to live forever, meaning that they are not immortal by nature? And whether you understand Sin as a nature or a power, you could say it came into play with Adam and Eve.

4. So in the not too distant past, even fifteen years ago, it was easy to say, "Could not Adam and Eve have been the first humans into which God placed a soul?" This approach would allow us to retain Adam and Eve in their historical form and yet let each individual make up their own mind on whether they were the absolute beginning or the spiritual beginning.

Enter Francis Collins and The Language of God. Collins is clearly a faith-filled individual. But he has also cracked the human genome. As I understand it, the current understanding of DNA is that we cannot identity a single set of parents who converge in the past. The current understanding is apparently that "the DNA in current humans could not have come from a pool of fewer than approximately 10,000 humans" (xi).

Accordingly, we have seen a few books come out very recently trying to grapple with this new conclusion from genetics in relation to Adam and Eve:
5. I do not assume that the recent finding of genetics is correct. But nor do I assume that our traditional interpretation of Romans is correct. What I assume is that:
  • "All truth is God's truth." Once we understand the Bible appropriately and science appropriately, there will be no true contradiction.
  • Our understanding of the Bible is hardly infallible. Interpretations come and go. Most of us aren't particularly skilled interpreters of the original meaning.
  • There's a lot of truth in science. If I don't believe this, I should probably turn in the computer I'm typing on, as well as my cell phone and car. Most of us aren't particularly skilled at science.
It seems to me that at least some of us need to participate in this discussion. In this age where the democratization of knowledge is reducing Christian expertise to the lowest common denominator, it might be time to bring more advanced discussions out into the open.


chamblee54 said...

I looked up a 2010 post of mine. It was about a made up concept, labelism. There was a quote from your blog.
Since I have too much free time this morning, I looked up the quote. I then clicked on your home page. I am pleased to see that your blog is still in business, seven years later.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for doing this. I've been putting off reading that book. I expect to be following your thoughts closely.