Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Toward a theistic evolutionary anthropology"

From a recently exchange I had on Facebook:

"I am sympathetic to ID, but really think we can do apologetics without making TE/ID/YEC/OEC an issue. It's not an essential, but it is an obstacle for some skeptics, so I'm all about sticking to obstacle-free essentials."

i) A basic problem with that strategy is that many skeptics regard evolution in itself as a major obstacle to Christian faith. For instance, there was a 2003 Cornell survey of evolutionary biologists in which 87% deny existence of God, 88% disbelieve in life after death, and 90% reject idea that evolution directed toward “ultimate purpose.” Likewise, a 1998 survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in which nearly 95% of NAS biologists identify themselves as either atheists or agnostics.

Secular biologists typically think the evolutionary record is incompatible with a wise and benevolent Creator God. They think it shows no evidence of planning or foresight. To the contrary, they believe it shows utter indifference to which species survive and which species go extinct. It's just the luck of the draw. 

Unless you're prepared to challenge evolution, that's going to be a major obstacle to many skeptics. That's not just something you can work around. 

ii) And that's apart from the question of whether the Biblical doctrine of creation and the Fall is inessential.

Steve Hays 

i) How is your statement the least bit responsive to the specific issue I raised? I replied to you on your own terms. If you take evolution for granted, then for many skeptics, that alone is reason enough to reject Christianity. That's an "obstacle".

ii) Actually, it's unclear how theistic evolution meshes with a first sin. From an evolutionary standpoint, many attitudes or actions traditionally classified as "sin" would be reclassified as a throwback to our animal nature. For instance, it is argued that higher animals have the same behaviors.

Steve Hays As to keeping one's focus on the Gospel, the Book of Romans is a sustained exposition of the Gospel, in the course of which Paul frames the issue in terms of Adam and Christ (Rom 5).

Steve Hays 

"So you think a skeptic, who believes evolution is true & conflicts with Christianity, will more readily accept Christianity if you refute evolution (granted that is possible), than if you show how it is not actually in conflict with Christianity?"

You seem to think this is just a question of harmonizing evolution with Scripture or Christian theology. For instance, BIoLogos contributors (e.g. Peter Enns, Karl Giberson, John Schneider, Denis Lamoureux) generally say the Bible is simply wrong on this point. 

However, the objection skeptics often raise isn't that Scripture conflicts with evolution. That's one objection they sometimes raise.

But in addition, they think evolution is at odds with the argument from design. That's a broader objection. That's not about the Bible, per se, or Christian theology. 

Rather, they think the evolutionary record reflects an unguided, undirected process. A blind, groping process. 

Their objection isn't in the first instance to Christianity in particular, but theism in general. For them, the evolutionary narrative is exactly what you'd expect if there is no God, viz. Darwin, William Provine, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne. To take one example:

"Now suppose that individuals are killed at random, without reference to membership in species or higher groups. This has been called the Field of Bullets scenario–all individuals exist in a field of flying bullets, and death or survival is solely a matter of chance. The image is awful, but it does the job," D. Raup, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (Norton & Co., 1991), 71.

For them, evolution isn't going anywhere. It has no goals. Humans aren't the intended outcome. Natural selection doesn't care who dies and who survives. If you find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time, tough luck! 

You talk about the love of God, which they regard as wishful thinking in light of natural history.

Steve Hays 

1. In my experience, BioLogos contributors typically employ a two-pronged strategy:

i) They vigorously argue for evolution (i.e. macroevolution/universal common descent). They devote great time and resources in attacking Christians who deny evolution.

In addition, they attack an interventionist version of theistic evolution. Even though ID theory is consistent with theistic evolution, BioLogos contributors attack it because ID theorists like Behe espouse a version of guided or directed evolution. 

As a result, the model of evolution which BioLogos contributors promote is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. 

The evidence for theism is supplied from sources extraneous to biology. 

ii) They argue that this is consistent with Christian theology. Mind you, they admit that this is inconsistent with traditional Christian theology. And they square this with the Bible by saying Gen 1-3 and Rom 5 reflect an obsolete, prescientific outlook.

2. Now, even if that's persuasive to people who already profess Christianity, it is counterproductive when dealing with skeptics. For many skeptics regard evolution in itself as deeply problematic for theism. When, therefore, BioLogos contributors steadfastly argue for evolution, they are reinforcing an objection that skeptics already have. Many skeptics regard the "fact" of evolution, all by itself, as a powerful reason to doubt or deny the existence of a wise and benevolent Creator God.

In addition, when BioLogos contributors labor to debunk the Biblical account of creation and the Fall, that, too, reinforces an objection that skeptics already have. Skeptics think the Bible is just pious fiction, on a par with ANE creation stories generally. 

At best, the BioLogos strategy is helpful to progressive Christians who accept evolution, but struggle with how to reconcile that with Scripture or Christian theology. 

By contrast, it confirms the objections that many skeptics have for not taking Scripture or Christian theology seriously in the fist place.

Steve Hays The skeptics I read would consider a "literal first sin" minus a literal first couple (special creation of Adam and Eve) to be a makeshift compromise that's equally false to science and Scripture alike.

The ad hoc quality of theistic evolution is one of the persistent problems. Going with the evolutionary narrative in the main, but clinging to residual bits of the traditional Christian narrative. That's not something you get from Scripture, or evolution, or combining them–since they don't dovetail.

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