Dogmatic on Evolution, Flexible on Everything Else

One of BioLogos’ stated purposes is to help the church develop a worldview that reflects the harmony they believe exists between evolutionary science and faith. They:

value gracious dialogue with those who hold other views, and our ever-expanding conversation includes academic and other professionals in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, business and medicine, but also theology, biblical studies, philosophy, history, literature, education and the arts.

While they are open to dialogue and conversation on a number of subjects, there are a handful of beliefs that are not open for debate. Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH and founder of BioLogos, said in an interview with Dr. Karl Giberson:

Again, evolution may seem from the outside to have a lot of complexities and components and, certainly, lots of details—some of which we haven’t worked out—and for anybody to say there are no arguments would be a total mistake. There’s lots of stuff we don’t agree upon. But we do agree upon descent from a common ancestor, gradual change over a long period of time, and natural selection operating to produce the diversity of living species. There is no question that those are correct. Those are three cardinal pillars of Darwin’s theory that have been under-girded by data coming from multiple directions and they are not going to go away. Evolution is not a theory that is going to be discarded next week or next year or a hundred or a thousand years from now. It is true.

Another area that is settled, as far as BioLogos is concerned, is the issue of human ancestry. BioLogos does not believe that the human population was ever just two people:

Evangelical Christians have long suspected there are allegorical components to the Genesis story—a talking snake, for example—but as to whether Adam and Eve were not real people, there has been much more hesitancy–and for theologically important reasons. The science itself is silent—the most it can say is that there were never just two individuals who were the sole genetic progenitors of the entire human race. Several independent lines of genetic evidence unambiguously point to this conclusion. Science also make it very clear that humans developed through an evolutionary process.

So if these are the absolutes, what are the topics that are open for discussion? Here are a few examples:

Where Adam and Eve historical people?

One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions.

Was there death before the Fall?

Humans appear very late in the history of life. The fossil record clearly shows that many creatures died before humans appeared. In fact, many entire species had already become extinct. This appears to conflict with Genesis 3, which describes death as a punishment for human sinfulness. However, the curse of Genesis 3 was that Adam and Eve, not the animals, should die for their disobedience. Therefore, animal death before the Fall is compatible with Christian doctrine. For humans, Genesis 3 and New Testament passages may be speaking primarily of spiritual death, not physical death.

How does original sin fit into the evolutionary history of man?

Original sin often refers simply to the current state of humanity, in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Evolution does not raise questions about our current state of sinfulness. It does, however, raise questions about how and when the first sin occurred, and how this fallen state was transmitted to all people. The sciences of evolution and archaeology can provide some insight into these questions but are not equipped to answer them. These questions are theological, and over the centuries the church has considered many possible answers. Some of these options are consistent with the scientific evidence currently available.

Did evolution have to result in humans?

Because evolution involves seemingly “random” mutations, it seems that the Earth could have been the home of a different assortment of creatures. But belief in a supernatural creator leaves the possibility that human beings were fully intended. An omniscient creator could also have created the Universe’s natural laws so as to inevitably result in human beings.

What about Noah’s flood?

Genesis 6-9 tells the fascinating story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood. Some Christians interpret the text to mean that the biblical flood must have covered the entire globe. They also work to explain the evidence in rocks and fossils in terms of this world-wide flood. Other Christians do not feel the text requires that the flood be global, but could have covered the small region of earth known to Noah. The scientific and historical evidence does not support a global flood, but is consistent with a catastrophic regional flood. Beyond its place in history, the Genesis flood teaches us about human depravity, faith, obedience, divine judgment, grace and mercy.

It seems clear to me that while BioLogos states that:

Properly interpreted, scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Author.

what they mean is that Scripture must be reinterpreted in light of their understanding of science. I think Francis Schaeffer said it best:

What the Bible teaches where it touches history and the cosmos, and what science teaches where it touches the same areas do not stand in a discontinuity. There indeed must be a place for the study of general revelation (the universe and its form, and man in his “mannishness”) – that is, a place for true science. But on the other side, it must be understood that there is no automatic need to accommodate the Bible to the statements of science. There is a tendency for some who are Christians and scientists to always place special revelation (the teaching of the Bible) under the control of general revelation and science, and never or rarely to place general revelation and what science teaches under the control of the Bible’s teaching. That is, though they think of that which the Bible teaches as true and that which science teaches as true, in reality they tend to end with the truth of science as more true than the truth of the Bible. (Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Worldview, Volume Two, [Wheaton: Crossway, 1982], 154-155).

3 thoughts on “Dogmatic on Evolution, Flexible on Everything Else

  1. Eileen says:

    In a nutshell, then, Scriptural data must be (re)interpreted in the light of the current conclusions of Science (where all data which do not support the current model are excluded). The conclusions of Science must never be (re)interpreted in the light of the Scriptural data. Oh, the wonders of the infallibility of the Science Magisterium! I’m struck dumb with awe and wonder at its magnificence and omniscience.

    Just for starters, do any of these guys who claim to have such certainty about things know the topological features of the ocean floors which cover much more of the earth’s surface than dry land does? It seems that there is quite a gaping hole in that data set which might affect the validity of their conclusions. Might that knowledge have some bearing on whether one might reasonably conclude that Noah’s flood was global?

    If the Fall resulted in the penalty of *spiritual* death (because their position seems to demand that the other hominids were already dying physically for a long time prior to the existence of “Adam and Eve”), then why was the Incarnation necessary? Why was it necessary for Christ to die physically? Did Christ die a merely spiritual substitutionary death to redeem us merely spiritually? Why do we make such a big deal about His physical body being resurrected, and why does it matter that His resurrected physical body is the one in which He ascended to the Father?

    This is such a muddled mess. It reminds me of what might happen if you started pulling a wayward yarn on a Wal-mart sweater…

  2. reformedsinger says:

    It would appear that those who endorse the BioLogos position(s) would be unable to affirm that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and sufficient . . . that if, in our human fraility and limited understanding, something is not easily understood or easily reconcilable to any circumstantial “evidence,” the THEORY of evolution must trump the TRUTH of the Bible.

    This is how cults are born.

    Good comments, Eileen. And thank you, Rachel, for making us aware of BioLogos and what their proponents / members believe.

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