The Bible and Science and Evangelism: A Boat Too Far and the Literality of the Biblical Stories?

I continue to do the work of an Evangelist; it is a challenge and gift of being a Christian that I thoroughly enjoy, and from which I draw personal telos or purpose in my ongoing adventure as a Christian person soli Deo gloria! One of my most recent contacts has an interesting brew (if I can say it like that) of beliefs about reality and his own personal purpose in this amazing complexity known as life. An aspect that seems to bother, this my interlocutor, is what appears to him to be an over-literal reading of, for one thing in the Bible, the Genesis account of human origins and the related stories therein—namely, and particularly troubling for my friend, the story of Noah and the Ark. He cannot even begin to fathom how any rational (vs. rationalist) person could suppose to believe that any modernly informed person could take this literal—he seems to think that this is not physically possible (see how Ken Ham seeks to answer this apparent conundrum here, this seems to be a very reasonable explanation—proviso, I am not generally a fan of Ken Ham). I would like to expand this conversation out a bit, for my friend, myself, and anyone else who is reading; and I will do this by drawing our attention to a recently released book by Brazos Press entitled: Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter EnnsHere is how Enns describes some of his gist in this book:

And here is how Sandra Collins of Library Journal synopsizes the general themes of the book:

“[Enns's] basic argument is this: modern creation arguments that focus on either the literal historical truth of the Bible or evolutionary perspectives are wrong. The Bible, including its creation accounts, represents a comprehensive theological worldview. It’s neither a literal accounting nor is it science. And it was never intended to be either of these two things. . . . Academically minded Christians looking to bridge this intellectual divide will appreciate the tone and bibliographic references here.”

I have once written on this topic here; and my thesis, taken from former seminary professor Al Bayliss, sound very similar to the way that Collins describes Enns’ primary theses in his book. Yet, my sense is that my conclusions will probably end up differently than Enns; my conclusion would be informed by the idea that a ‘theological worldview’ and ‘literal reality’ correlate with each other. That there is a ratio that  inheres between the rational (and literal) uncreated reality of God, and that which has been given expression in the contingent, and ordered reality of creation itself; so created order and rationality is given its rationality by definition of its contingence upon God’s rationality that he built into creation through Divine fiat. My point, I can’t follow this dualism, that is often posited, between theological reality and created reality; if for no other reason, but because we have these two realities in the conjoined hypostatic union of the Non-contingent/contingent reality of the Divine/human in the person of Jesus Christ—or that I see all of reality conditioned by the primacy of this kind of ‘unioned’ life. I am digressing a wee bit.

So this issue of origins, and the literal nature of the Genesis account, in particular, and for my friend; the literal nature of Biblical accounting in general continues to be an ongoing issue. Enns’ latest book and the work of the foundation of which he is an integral part, Biologos, illustrates the ongoingness of this continued struggle (or not) between modern science and modern biblical and theological studies—in fact Brian LePort, a blogger here in Portland, Oregon has just recently posted on a very related question here.

I write all of the foregoing to come up against the question that prompted me to write this in the first place; do you think that evolution, one way or the other, should be an issue that hinders or in fact fosters the ‘intellectual’ space for someone to have the room to entertain a belief in Jesus Christ as the historic orthodox person of Christian proclamation? In other words, if evolution (neo-Darwinian) stands in the way, intellectually (whatever that means, theologically), of someone being able to give a hearing to Jesus, do you think we should be softer on this issue and allow for the fact that it is possible to both affirm modern scientific theories and claims, and the claims of Jesus Christ? I know of plenty of believing Christians (like Peter Enns, or even my beloved T.F. Torrance) who believe in macro-evolution, and also are thoroughgoing Christians—I shared this, briefly with my friend, I think he was encouraged by this.

Anyway, what do you think?

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12 comments on “The Bible and Science and Evangelism: A Boat Too Far and the Literality of the Biblical Stories?

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    My concern for my friend, as he reads this is that because of the ‘Eastern’ assimilating mechanism he has in place he wont really take any of this as something that requires a concrete choice of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ for the mutually exclusive claims of Jesus; but instead, my friend will just take this kind of stuff as an example of how all things are really immanently, monistically, and absolutely One (Brahman as Atman). And yet, I am willing to crack this door open for my friend so that he might just come to the realization that there is a Creator/creature distinction. That creation or nature by definition is not just IS, as you my friend want to believe; but in fact if we are going to be modernly informed believing persons, then we must go where the ‘Science’ leads. And the ‘Science’ has led modern and postmodern humanity to believe that the cosmos is finite, contingent, and indeed came into existence with a starting point. Stephen Hawking calls this his point of singularity (in order to get around the idea that something bigger than cosmos may have caused this ‘big bang’ he creates a new form of math with no correlation to ‘reality’), and then, we do have and have had big bang cosmology; in the Christian tradition this has been known as God’s creatio ex nihilo (created out of nothing)—of course not exactly; big bang cosmology presupposes an already material reality which purportedly went bang and resulted in an ordered creation; creation out of nothing is just that, God purportedly created out of nothing, and imbued it with ‘His’ order (taxis) and rationality (ratio). See, my friend, at the very least, if you’re going to be intellectually consistent (and honest, I might add), you’re going to have to at least admit that the world is finite and had a beginning … Eastern mysticism can’t cope with this other than to assert that all of this talk is just myth; but then of course you’ve just posited a universe that says that myth is how things are, that itself is outside of myth, and thus an objective external mind independent reality which you must have to deny; viz. that we have access to a universal world ‘out there’ independent of your mind (that says that myth is how we interpret all of reality, except of course, on this account the world that says this is so). In other words, you must deal with this problem if you can honestly proceed to maintain your interpretive schema of reality … that is if you’re willing to be honest about this. ;-)

  2. whitefrozen says:

    I’m among those (N.T. Wright included) who view it as a temple-creation style story, as well as a demythologizing of creation (and in my own opinion, a giant middle finger to various ANE religions/creation stories). I’m also 100% convinced that science tells us how the universe started, affirm a 13.7 billion year old universe, and have been an amateur astronomer for 8 years – and have yet to have any conflicts between my faith and my love and passion for science.

    You can probably guess my feelings for people like Ken Ham based on the above information :)

  3. Bobby Grow says:

    @WF,

    I am also a fan of NT Wright, amongst others (like John Walton G.K. Beale) who are developing and postulating the ‘temple-creation’ story thesis. I studied under someone (and TA’d for) who advocates for a canonical critical approach to bib interp. a la John Sailhamer a la Brevard Childs; this approach is not favorable toward an ANE (Ancient Near Eastern, for those not in the know) reconstruction of things either. TF Torrance and the Reformed tradition I am a part of does not favor, so much, ANE approaches; but instead a christocentric Christian reinterpretation of the OT promises in light of their NT fulfillment in Christ. All that to say that I am for Revealed theology and the attendant positive hermeneutics that this kind of approach requires.

    I have plenty of other Christian friends who believe as you do about the distinction between the natural and super natural realms. I also follow what TF Torrance has called, and written books on, Theological Science; meaning that the object under consideration determines its mode and categories of disclosure as it continuously opens itself up to the inquirer as he/she inhabits its definitive orbit. So Christian Theology will be given specific shape through its study and participation in God in Christ; the Natural Sciences will be given specific shape through the empirical, natural, observable world as it opens itself up to the seeker; etc. I am on the way on how and where I will align myself on the current state of the natural sciences and their conclusions (I have been a strong Intelligent Design advocate, but I am seeing some flaws in this methodologically, but maybe not materially so much).

    I share your feelings for Ken Ham. I wanted to offer a way that someone might respond to the Noah Ark conundrum; I actually don’t have a problem with the way Ham answers that, in particular (i.e. when he talks about how it is that all the animals could fit on the ark). I take Gen 1–11 to be literal historical fact.

  4. Jerome Ellard says:

    I am an Old Earth Christian, in other words, I don’t hold to a literal six days to create the entire vast universe we have now explored with radio telescopes for decades in search of other intelligent beings. A “big bang” universe fits what I read of the Triune God’s action in creation, the background radiation, etc. As far as the evolution of species, I am not convinced, but I don’t see it as necessarily a hindrance to faith in Christ – see Alister McGrath. I have a geology degree, and one of my professors, a Dr. Sprinkle, a renowned paleontologist with various species named after him, spent the entire first class apologizing for the lack of fossil evidence he had for what he was about to teach for the semester. That struck me. The complexity of life structures and the astronomical numerical odds against the chance formation of complex proteins – irreducible complexity – blows my mind. Telling me that the DNA of a particular animal is nearly the same as human DNA has about as much impact on me as telling me that evolution is proved by the fact that all life is composed of the same chemical elements, of which there are only ninety-something in the universe anyway. It just tells me that God is infinitely clever with only a few building blocks. But I will not condemn a brother who feels that the evidence is otherwise (and I hope he would grant me the same grace), and will gladly sing choruses of praise to the Creator God of our universe!

  5. Bobby Grow says:

    Jerome,

    Thanks for sharing, I still love you ;-) !

    So what do you think of the Intelligent Design movement, then? I’ve read McGrath on such things, btw.

  6. Duane says:

    Bobby,
    You wrote “And the ‘Science’ has led modern and postmodern humanity to believe that the cosmos is finite, contingent, and indeed came into existence with a starting point.”
    Bobby, I read a little science, but I get a lot of the pop sci out of Discovery Channel et al. The trend is not toward a finite, contingent universe. Theory goes in every plausible direction, still, there is nothing new under the sun, and no naturalistic scientist will EVER rest with a theory of a finite contingent universe. Michio Kaku a co-founder of string theory relates that as a child with both Catholic and Buddhist background, the theories available are appealing to him. The big bang appeals to his side that proposes a big once for all beginning, but “brain” theory offers an infinite resource for big bangs. “Brains” (membranes) are a visualization for a theory that universes exist each in it’s own [universe?]. But, if one membrane should happen to intersect with another, either as a cataclysmic event, or as an ongoing affair, then things may happen which are inexplicable to our current understanding of science, so that a brain of some dozens of billions of years ago could have intersected with this brain that contains this universe, and caused the big bang. Hundreds of billions of years before that, another intersection could have started that universe and so-on. Each universe may have a diverse set of natural laws quite different from our own. This could also be the answer to the questions “where do black holes lead to?” or “is time travel possible?”. I’m telling this from memory, so may have some details asque, but this is the playground of theoretical physics. Dr. Torrance assumed that science had met it’s match with the big bang. Science would prove that (prove what? isn’t that natural theology?).
    On the contrary, science will always attempt to disprove God, just as commerce will always try to be a god unto itself, just as government, just as religion, just as psychology…….

  7. Bobby Grow says:

    Duane,

    I was referring to folks like Stephen Hawking and his point of singularity; which is related to the empirical data gathered from the Hubble telescope’s findings that the universe is expanding, which inferentially leads to the hypothesis that the cosmos had a starting point. Of course there will always be quackers out there who can’t live with the evidence, and thus come up with things like multiple universes and hopeful monster theories; but I can’t and don’t take them seriously.

  8. Duane says:

    The Astrophysicist lady on “universe” poses the question something like: You think about an explosion, everything bursts away from the center. There is a relative vacuum at the center of an explosion. So you would expect the center of the universe to be empty of galaxies. Is that what we find? No. Just something I was just watching. :)
    I mispelled “membrane” which lead me to mispell “brane” theory. So I did a very little tiny “research” to find that “brane” is just one attempt to explain the big stretch, which is a more descriptive of the beginning as current cosmology sees it. Space “stretched out” or expanded from it’s singularity. The larger attempt is to explain creation in terms of a “cyclic model” in which there is not necessarily a beginning. This cosmology is in it’s infancy (but Einstein’s relativity is less than 100 years old, not even an adolescent in the whole history of cosmology).
    The crackpots responsible for this move? Theoretical physicists from Princeton, Cambridge, many others I’m sure.
    The point is, science will never save anyone. If your point is, that we need not defend Genesis against scientific scrutiny, because that will never save anyone, you are probably right. But, and this is my point, if one is going to spiritualize the Genesis creation story, to satisfy the Steven Hawkings, or any seekers, then there is no reason to stand firm on big bang either:
    There is no reason, if Genesis is not generally true, (not arguing literallity, e.g. “the serpent was the most cunning creature”) then there is no reason not to spiritualize “In the beginning”. The beginning could be eternity, with God always Before the beginning. God could have begun trillions of years ago with a big bang of universes which would one day 12 billion years ago birth our universe which would one day birth a single celled life form which would live and die trillions of lives and deaths and would evolve and evolve and evolve living by tooth and claw and in pain and suffering until a race began to be born whom God would call Adam and Eve which lived a suddenly blissful existence “It is good” until the “fall of man”. An appeal to science of any nature, if not in support of Genesis creation is, (trying to think of an analogy) kind of like responding to the argument “My dog is meaner than your dog” with “Oh yeah? well my dog is meaner than your guinea pig”. Ok, so maybe that’s a bad analogy, but I have 3 dogs and a guinea pig in the house ;)
    Finally Bobby, I’m curious, maybe I misunderstand the categories and arguments, but isn’t this an appeal to natural theology to bring someone to the cross? Ultimately, is not the question (for the seeker) “what will you do with Jesus?”
    Love ya Bobby!

  9. Bobby Grow says:

    Duane,

    I am just relaying to you where my studies have led me on this (in the past). The science (empirically is clear and undisputed as far as I am aware). How that correlates to hermeneutics and Genesis 1 in particular is indeed an issue for consideration. But I definitely hold that Genesis 1 and 2 was not intended to be a science book, and so its off limits to both so called hard scientists and Fundamentalist Christians who are into creation science; to me they are both wrongly engaging the book of Genesis in equally deleterious ways.

  10. Bobby Grow says:

    I’m not using evolution to bring someone to Christ; but if evolution is a hindrance, then I don’t think it needs to be—since we are talking about two completely different disciplines (i.e. Christian Theology and the natural sciences—they will both have their distinct categories and emphases of inquiry). That’s where I’m at with this Duane.

  11. reyjacobs says:

    Everyone knows nobody cares whether Adam is historical or not. The whole debate is about original sin. Without a literal Adam and a literal original sin, you guys will just jump to this original selfishness idea put forth by Christian evolutionists. But this betrays the lack of common sense and honesty involved in Christian theology.
    Sure, if you define sin in the idiotic Christian way where everything is a sin then you can make a baby a sinner. Being selfish is a sin? Well then babies are sinners. But where the hell does the Law say being selfish is a sin? Thus Christianity falls apart (as always) when someone who interprets the Law properly comes up against it. Christianity is nothing more or less than Paul’s messed up misinterpretation of the Law. Nowhere does the Law say selfishness is sin; nowhere does the Law say if you commit one little sin God condemns you to burning fiery torment for all eternity; nowhere does the Law say if you commit a non-mortal sin you can’t just repent and instantly be forgiven (in fact it implies that very thing!)! By non-mortal sin, obviously I mean one which the Law does not impose a death penalty on. For again, nowhere does the Law say that the wages of every sin is death! Paul might have misinterpreted it that way, but the Law didn’t say it. You didn’t get put to death for lying under the Law, just for murder, adultery, beastiality, homosexuality, idolatry, and yet not for incest, and pre-marital sex between singles would only get you a fine from the chick’s dad. So Christianity falls apart because its built on horrible misinterpretation of the Law.

  12. Bobby Grow says:

    Rey,

    Not sure why I’m even responding to your tortured comment (I am contemplating just deleting it because it is such an off the topic incoherent rant). But you thoroughly misunderstand the Christian Faith; it does not stand or fall on an interpretation of the ‘Law’, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus resurrected from the dead his interpretation of the ‘Law’ (just read his sermon on the mount), and those he personally imbued with his interpretive power (the Apostles!–Paul) is authoritative. As soon as you can take down the reality of the bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ; well then I might entertain your tripe, but until then why don’t you just take a hike!!!! In fact don’t comment here again; I’ll make sure you don’t … bro.

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