Saturday, 6 December 2014

Douglas Wilson's Letter From Moscow

7 Reasons Why BioLogos Is A Threat to Classical Christian Education

Douglas Wilson
Blog and Mablog
December 3, 2014

Before getting into the thicket, let me briefly define my terms and say a few preliminary things about my concerns. First, by BioLogos I mean this particular project as an attempt to harmonize biological evolution and Christian faith. Second, while I believe that this attempt (however well-intentioned) is a threat to every form of Christian education, I am focusing on classical Christian education because that is where my labors have largely been. And third, nothing said here is intended to question the sincerity or niceness of any particular BioLogos brothers and sisters. I believe their vision is destructive, but if a destructive vision is being promulgated here by very nice people, it wouldn’t be the first time.

There are many places where I could launch this discussion, but I think I will start with the historicity of Adam and Eve.

“Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago. This conflicts with the traditional view that all humans descended from a single pair who lived about 10,000 years ago. While Genesis 2-3 speaks of the pair Adam and Eve, Genesis 4 refers to a larger population of humans interacting with Cain. 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.”

1. The first thing to notice is that while encouraging “scholarly work on these questions,” they are not subjecting their own options to any kind of rigorous or logical analysis. So genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand about 150,000 years ago? Now when walking upstream like this, one wonders why they stopped right where they decided to stop.

This is because we could also say that genetic evidence shows that humans descended from about a billion people 200 years ago. And when we greet the several thousand ancestors from 150,000 years ago one wonders (does one not?) whether they had parents, whether they had common ancestors. What possible reason could we have for tracing our human ancestry to its point of origin, but then stopping a few centuries short? I’ll bet with a little scholarly work on this question we could go upstream a little bit further. We might even get to meet our mother Eve and discover just how hairy her back was, and how good she was at picking nits from Adam’s scalp.

2. In attempting to reconcile evolutionary theory with biblical revelation, a false equivalence must first be assumed. Scripture is God’s perfect revelation to man, exquisitely designed for our capacities and condition. Evolutionary theory is not something we “know” in the same way. If someone were to say that their goal was to harmonize “Scripture” on the one hand, with phrenology on the other, we should stop them before the actual work of harmonizing begins. “You do know,” we should say, “that what we know about phrenology is not in the same category as what we know about the epistle to the Romans?” The same thing goes for Swedenborgian Ambien dreams.

If you appropriately assume the certainty of two bases of knowledge, then it is fully reasonable to seek to harmonize them. I am all for it, because all truth is God’s truth. I have no difficulty when someone seeks to harmonize the synoptic gospels with the fact a bowling ball dropped out of plane over the Pacific will fall at 9.8 meters per second squared. Harmonize away, and it won’t take long. But if you want to harmonize Scripture with your view that criminality is determined by bumps on the head with the Pauline view that it is caused by bumps on the heart, then there is an enormous problem. You are just assuming that you have equivalent truths that need harmonizing. But maybe you just have one glaring error that needs rejecting.
On this question, the Academy is a very large, self-authenticating plausibility structure, with the words Echo Chamber stenciled on the door. What you guys know in there is not the same thing as what we know out here. I do feel a need to harmonize what I know with what I know. I feel no need at all to harmonize what I know with what I don’t know.

3. Christian education is the process of teaching our covenant children how to think about the great questions — who are we? how did we get here? where are we going? These questions are woven tightly together, and you cannot radically restructure the one about how we got here without radically affecting all the other great questions. Attempting to do so will only result in the demolition of integrated Christian worldview thinking. But the reason our schools exist is to promote Christian worldview thinking on the part of our students.

4. An essential part of the task of Christian education is to give a biblical account of evil in the world, along with the resident evil that every believer has seen in his own heart. Where did that come from?

“The sciences of evolution and archaeology can provide some insight into these questions [of original sin] 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.”

Well, I am very glad these some of these options are consistent (see Journal of Scholarly Handwaving, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 17-28), for if they were not consistent with biblical revelation, we would have to abandon them, right? Right? Where did everybody go?

How we came to be sinful is one of the bedrock questions, and students in our schools need something better than “scholars think stuff.” I dare say they do.

Everything comes down to a prohibited tree, and the fact that everyone who reads these words is descended from a man who reached out his hand to take that forbidden fruit. We are descended from our common father, and he represented us well when he defied what God had told him. That is why I find these stirrings in my heart, and that is why I need a Savior.

5. Then there is the matter of physical death. The Bible teaches that death came into the world through Adam (Rom. 5:12). Theistic evolution has to argue that Adam came into the world through death. In the biblical view, Adam is the father of death. In the other view, death is the father of Adam. The difference is a stark one.

BioLogos says this:

“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.”

Note in the first place that this doesn’t even solve the presenting problem. If Adam and Eve were the first emerging humans from a crowd of primates, what is the sense of telling them that if they violated whatever our replacement was for the Forbidden Tree, they would surely die? “Die?” they might say. “Everybody dies. My parents just died last year.” Why is it a threat to go through something that has been the way of the world for millions of years already? Why didn’t God threaten them with having to eat breakfast tomorrow, just like always?

Secondly, note that this solution proves far too much. It does not just prove that animal death is “compatible with” biblical doctrine; it proves that animal death is a positive good. If the days of creation are referring to the millions of years of struggle, death, disease, decay, nature red in tooth and claw, then you have to account for the fact that an all-beneficent God looked down on those bloody millennia, and pronounced them all good. And then go get a knife, find a sentient creature, preferably a fluffy bunny for the sake of my illustrative point, and torture it to death. That monstrosity, according to the theology of BioLogos, need have no connection to human sin whatever. It provides no reason for thinking that our world is broken by sin. Fluffy bunnies have always died, man, many of them painfully. God called it good.

And this is why this inconsistency on this point, on suffering and death (natural evil), is tied in with inconsistency on the previous point about moral evil.

6. The clear tendency of the BioLogos outlook is to consider young earth creationism as the ultimate academic faux pas. Young earth creationists are not just in error, they are embarrassing. But students in our schools are being taught any number of embarrassing things — like marriage consisting of one man and one woman, for example. An essential part of our training is to show our students how scholarly tongue clucking is not an argument.

So learning how to resist the academic cool shame on this point is a most excellent exercise. And we can begin by making the arbiters of all intellectual rigor answer the most basic questions about their assertions on time and the age of earth. “You say that the universe is fourteen billion years old, give or take. Where is it that age? Is it the same age at the point where the Big Bang occurred as it is out at the edges? Are there any edges? What clock are you using? What Newtonian balcony are you standing on when you measure the age of the whole universe?”

7. The Lord Jesus spoke of Adam and Eve in a particular way, and His example is normative for all His followers. I must not only follow the Lord’s ethic on marriage, but if I am His disciple I have an obligation to accept His rationale for that ethic.

“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4–6).

All these thoughts do need to be developed further, and so I believe that from time to time I shall attempt to do so.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure my comment is relevant but I struggled with much of this for a long time and eventually a book cropped up (recommended by a christian scientist who studies evolutionary stuff in shellfish while also being a trained theologian). The book "The Lost World Of Genesis One" by John Walton cleared up a lot of the questions I had about science and the bible. A key aspect for me was Walton's claim that Genesis is not science at all and, although the order of creation makes sense when you read it as its target audience would have thousands of years ago, its unwise to make claims for an ancient book on a scientific basis. Its a book about why rather than how and as it unfolded on that basis the creation account became rich and glorious as opposed to disjointed and confusing. Like Walton I still have concerns about evolution (the macro part) and think the secular world view that evolution is "settled science" is arrogant. My scientist aquaintance could show there was a gradual shift in the fossil organisms he studies but could not show they came from or shifted to anything else.

A Christian education needs to separate science from religion in my view. The Bible is all about us and our relationship with God and His creation. When you get into literalism and bend science to suit a misunderstood Bible you lose both the scientific and theological arguments.

John Tertullian and Contra Celsum said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

What Wilson implies is that once "science" is granted epistemic autonomy over Genesis 1-3, the teaching, doctrines and authority of the Scriptures collapse everywhere, at every place. The Genesis revelation of the beginnings of matter is intrinsic to the entire biblical account.

What always amuses me in these kind of discussions is the way scientists have been sucked into scientism and its claim of epistemic autonomy. In reality science can have very little to say, if anything, about the origins of matter and the creation of creatures since "it was not there" at the time. A hallmark of the so-called scientific method is observation, which requires a contemporaneous observer, plus some empirically observed matter, which can, in turn, be subject to repeated experimentation, testing, and validation. Science cannot study nor test ex-nihilo creation--since empiricism always has to start with a pre-existing something which is, in turn, accessible to human senses. Therefore, its study of origins, whatever it might be, is necessarily non-scientific in nature. We have always thought Jay Gould was on the money when he conceded it was merely a "just so" story.

Moreover, as Popper observed, if an allegedly scientific hypothesis cannot be subject to disproof it is not a scientific hypothesis at all. It is clear that "scientific" speculations about the beginnings of the creation are just that--speculations. They can never be disproved using the scientific method. Cosmological speculations by scientists are just that--speculations.

Another aspect of this discussion which never ceases to amuse is the way materialists assume continuity and uniformity--that is, the way things are now is the way things have always been. That assumption is entirely gratuitous, non-subject to scientific disproof, yet the entire "theistic evolutionism" case rests upon it.

In summary, clearly the whole of the Bible, including Genesis 1-3, is not a scientific revelation. If it were, it would not be the inerrant revelation of the Triune God to man. But the so-called scientific examination of Genesis 1-3 is not scientific either, since what it reveals is beyond the scope of science to evaluate. Ex nihilo creation is not repeatable; it cannot be disproved. Therefore, scientific analysis of it is irrelevant in every sense of the word.

In summary, the "scientific analysis" of Genesis 1-3 is an oxymoron. If science can have nothing to say about the Shekeinah glory cloud, being beyond its competence to study and investigate using the scientific empirical method, neither can it have anything meaningful to say about ex-nihilo creation.

Or, to paraphrase your final sentence, "when you get into scientism and bend the Scripture to suit a misunderstood science you lose both Scripture and science."