“In the popular mind, science is often thought of as a disinterested search for empirical truth. However, philosophers and historians of science know well that science, just like any other human profession, is often shaped by egos, ideology, partisanship, and struggles for power. “What science says the world is like at a certain time is affected by the human ideas, choices, expectations, prejudices, beliefs, and assumptions holding at that time,” write philosophers of science Peter Machamer, Marcello Pera, and Aristides Baltas. When one scientific theory is enshrined as the reigning paradigm, dissenting views are often silenced for reasons other than lack of evidence. Dissenting views represent a threat to the ruling paradigm, and so those who have earned power and prestige from advancing it are loath to let their authority be eroded. For this and other reasons, scientists who have spent their lives working within one paradigm may have a difficult time acknowledging problems within that paradigm no matter how much contrary evidence accumulates.”
John D. West, Darwin Day in America. How our politics and culture have been dehumanized in the name of science. Kindle location 5473.
A person mentioned in an overture recently adopted by Classis Ontario West feels that he has been grossly misrepresented in this decision. I am genuinely open to that possibility but so far have not been convinced. Central to this feeling of being misrepresented is the question of the meaning of “theistic evolution.” One of the persons mentioned in this overture states forcefully that he is not a “theistic evolutionist.” While there is no universally accepted definition of theistic evolution, here are a couple from credible Christian proponents of this idea:
- “Theistic evolution is the proposition that God is in charge of the biological process called evolution. God directs and guides the unfolding of life forms over millions of years. Theistic evolution contends that there is no conflict between science and the Biblical book of Genesis.”
- “The dictionaries I checked don’t define the term, “theistic evolution,” so I offer my own definition: the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans.”
I think the above definitions capture what most people mean by “theistic evolution.” The main idea is that evolution is God’s way of creating new life forms in the history of the world. Typically, theistic evolution advocates acknowledge that God directly created some original form of life and also that at some point in history, God created human beings by placing his image upon some pre-existing creature.
Do we have reason to think that the persons mentioned in the overture of Classis Ontario West embrace or want to make room for theistic evolution as a way of understanding the origin of species, including homo sapiens?
First of all, should it be difficult to ascertain a person’s belief in this regard? I have read a lot over the years in relation to this topic and it’s usually not hard to figure out an author’s orientation.
Secondly, have the persons in question sufficiently profiled themselves for readers to formulate an opinion about their orientation and direction in regard to the issue of evolution? I think they have. In their writings at Reformed Academic and elsewhere, these men have indicated that evolution is, at the very least, a highly credible theory that deserves the utmost respect from all serious-minded people. It’s just as credible as the prevailing theory of gravity, one of them writes.
A reader would therefore be within his rights to consider that these brothers accept that life probably began about 4 billion years ago and from that point developed through mutations and natural selection into the millions of species we see on planet earth today. At the same time, they are members of Christian churches which confess “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
In short, evolution happened and yet God created. Putting those two ideas together in the same mind and on the same page understandably leads readers to the term “theistic evolution.” This is a term with a considerable history and has been freely used by Christian scholars who seem to have the same view of creation as do the brothers mentioned in this overture. Is it slander to use this term in regard to these men? I don’t think that would be a fair ethical assessment of the overture adopted in Classis Ontario West.
Naturally, the next big question is: what about human beings? Are we also the result of a process of evolution? Are we biologically related to prehistoric hominoids and presently-living primates? Do Adam and Eve have a pre-history? Like many other proponents of theistic evolution, the brothers mentioned in the overture adopted by Classis Ontario West clearly and repeatedly affirm that human beings are the result of a special act of creation by God.
I’m very happy for that affirmation. However, the questions remain: did God create Adam as Genesis records that he did? Did God make Adam from the “dust of the ground,” that is, from inanimate matter? To ask the same question differently, was Adam biologically related to pre-existing creatures? Was he made directly or was he born from pre-existing hominoids only to be subsequently and supernaturally endowed with the image of God? Was Eve made directly form his side? Are Adam and Eve the ancestors of all presently living human beings?
If those who are named in the overture of Classis Ontario West seek to dissociate themselves from the label “theistic evolution” and thus quell the sort of concerns evident in this overture, they could do so quite readily by answering questions such as these, as they have been invited to do in another blog by a concerned and well-informed author.
When Christians disagree with each other or when tensions arise in the life of the church, it’s important to take the time to hear each other carefully. Misrepresenting people is a serious sin and so due diligence is required of us in analyzing what others say and write. Processing what others say and write can be hard work but it’s a task we can’t avoid if we want to be part of the discussion.
However, there’s another side to all of this. It’s what I call the obligation to speak clearly. Sometimes, those who feel that others have sinned against them by misrepresenting their view have only themselves to blame because they did not communicate clearly or did so evasively. The 9th commandment, however, obliges us to speak clearly and forthrightly in personal relationships and in the life of the church. When issues arise, we should strive to make our position clear. If our position is not clear, perhaps we should simply be silent. If we do speak unclearly, we should not complain when people give our words an interpretation we did not intend. Instead of complaining, we should be ready to give more clarity by answering questions posed or by responding to criticisms offered.
History shows that when false doctrine arises in the church, it often does so in a subtle manner. Those who introduce ideas foreign to the confession of the church frequently cloak their thoughts in orthodox language while closer inspection reveals that there is a new content and a new direction. For this reason, the Forms of Subscription used in the Reformed Churches contain the following provision: “If at any time the consistory, classis or regional synod, upon sufficient grounds of suspicion and in order to maintain the unity and purity of teaching, would decide to require of us a further explanation of our views, we do promise that we are always ready and willing to comply under penalty of suspension.”
So if we feel that members of the church or even church leaders have sinned against the 9th commandment in their evaluation of our views, shall we say about the issue of evolution, perhaps we should stop and ask: “Have I been speaking clearly?” Perhaps the issue is not an uncharitable interpretation of our words by others but a somewhat obscure communication on our part. The ninth commandment obliges us to speak clearly so that everyone can know where we stand on the issues of the day. Similarly, this same commandment obliges every Christian to “speak the truth in love” when we perceive that the “unity and purity of teaching” in the church is in danger.
I’m enjoying the first day of a spring break. Switching from work mode to rest mode has always been a challenge for me. It’s hard to stay away from the study and to not check emails and phone calls. Over the years, I’ve found the transition works best if I do something physically intense at the beginning of a holiday. In pursuit of that goal, I did a bike ride today through the western part of the Fraser Valley. It turned out to be a kind of tour of some fine urban forests in this area, including some hidden jewels like the Irene Pierce trail in south Langley and Sunnyside Acres in south Surrey as well as better known areas like Crescent Park in Surrey and the Green Timbers forest of North Surrey. Spring is early this year and the forests are coming alive with the “dearest freshness deep down things.“ Along with time in the forests, I had a nice break at Boundary Bay where the sea breeze was particularly invigorating. If you are interested, you can do the same route as me in an armchair flyover. Click on the 3D flyover button on the upper right corner of the map.
Here’s a brief review of a worthwhile book about parenting. Even the review may change a lot of things in your household.
As I was growing up, there were no personal computers and no internet connections. The most thrilling activity I knew as a boy was heading for the local public library. I would feel shivers of delight and anticipation as I settled in for the afternoon. You never could tell what you would stumble upon. Today, I have the same feeling when I fire up my browser and check out some of my favorite websites. Here are my gleanings for this morning:
1. The Fall 2014 issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, available in totality as a free download. This issue is devoted to the study of Deuteronomy which interested me as I am considering taking a course on Deuteronomy later this year at Regent College in Vancouver. This issue of SBJT contains articles by notable scholars including James M. Hamilton and Peter Gentry. All 157 pages are now sitting on my desk and I’m thinking, “How’s a minister supposed to get a sermon written with all this material needing to be read?” Of course, given that this is a Baptist journal, we need to make sure that our confessional Reformed antenna is activated. Here’s the link: http://www.sbts.edu/resources/category/journal-of-theology/sbjt-183-fall-2014/
2. I read as many bits of World magazine as I can online. This morning, there was an excerpt of a just-released update of John G. West’s book entitled, “Darwin Day in America.” This book chronicles the spread of social Darwinism in North American culture. The excerpt was sufficiently enticing to cause me to order the book for my Kindle. I may blog about it over the next week or so. I encourage everyone to read at least the free bit: http://www.worldmag.com/2015/02/from_science_to_scientism_in_the_obama_era/
3. Here’s a follow up to my post of a couple of days ago regarding vaccination. Take a look at this and let me know what you think: https://medium.com/@therebootedbody/bringing-much-needed-sanity-to-the-vaccine-debate-e143f089bfd1
4. On a different matter, I am currently working my way through an interesting book entitled “More Than Myth,” edited by Paul D. Brown and Robert Stackpole. The authors promote something called “progressive creationism” with which I don’t agree but chapter 1 by Casey Luskin is entitled, “The Top Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution.” I found it to be a concise and helpful summary.
When it comes to the current hot-button issue of vaccination, many ordinarily quiet and a-political folks suddenly reveal strong passion. Should anyone oppose vaccination or merely ask some questions about the standardized protocols of this medical procedure, the defenders of the status quo pile on with heart-felt indignation.
Now I have no poker in this fire, to be honest, but as one who bears the scars of polemical ventures in other fields, I see some commonalities. What happens to people who question generally-prevailing opinions about climate change or biological evolution is similar to the fate of those who don’t with their whole heart endorse the current model of vaccination.
Here’s what happens. First, they are labelled as anti-science. They are informed that they have become honorary members of the flat earth society. Then they are told that because they are resisting true scientific progress, they are actually dangerous. Through their ignorant recalcitrance, they pose a threat to the rest of society. The last step is to make their position illegal. Publishing anti-vaccination ideas should be prohibited, we’re told, and those who persist should face severe sanctions. Already some newspapers are calling for the imprisonment of anti-vaccinators. Demeaning people, demonizing them and finally removing them from civil society: that’s the line of attack that I’ve witnessed wherever this issue raises its head.
What I see in this ongoing dispute is an amazing display of group-think. It’s a form of intellectual crowd control. Anyone who steps out of line must be dealt with be it ever so severely because imagine what would happen if others follow them! The world as we know it will end. Millions will die. The great enterprise of science will come to ruin. Not least of all, profits will be greatly diminished. What we are seeing in the press lately about vaccinations is really the secular equivalent of church discipline or shunning. The sinners must be exposed, isolated and dealt with for the greater good of the world.
Except I don’t believe a word of it. There are plenty of reasons to question the dominant models of climate change. There are strong, compelling reasons to doubt neo-Darwinism. Likewise, there appear to be good reasons to think twice in regard to what people want to inject into the bodies of our infants and small children. When vaccines were few in number and were given to ward off extremely dangerous diseases such as polio and smallpox, there didn’t seem to be a controversy about them. Now that the number of vaccinations has greatly increased with the potential for future additions, people are asking more questions and I say good for them. It can’t be good for the cause of liberty and rationality when millions of people meekly accept procedures involving their own or their children’s bodies without asking a wide array of questions. If some people come to different conclusions about such matters, well, that’s fine. We are allowed to have different opinions. It’s OK to look at the same data and come to different conclusions. It’s also true that the kind of data admitted into the discussion greatly affects the outcome of the debate.
My main point here is that people should be generally a lot more sceptical of what they are told by those “in authority.” Yes, medicine is a gift of God and so are medical doctors but the health care system is far from infallible. No one has yet found a way to immunize the general public and the medical establishment against the influence of group-think, politics and greed.