Thinking Again About EC, TE, and CASE/CAES

I agree with this.

I think it is a safe statement to make that BioLogos is often perceived as theologically on the liberal side, even if that does not reflect the intentions or the private beliefs of particular personnel. And I think that perception of theological liberalism has made many “borderline” evangelical/conservative Christians, who might be persuaded to accept evolution if they trusted that the purveyors of it were firmly orthodox/traditional in their theology, suspicious.

We know, of course, of many openly liberal assertions made in the past by Karl Giberson and Pete Enns, and we know that at least Enns and probably Giberson as well were asked to leave (as was Kenton Sparks), and Walton who replaced Enns seems more traditional in some respects (outside the question of evolution) than Enns was, but even among those who remain, the suspicion of liberalism has not been dispelled.

In the series on possible modes of divine action in evolution, a series run by Jim Stump which featured a number of “Christian views” on the subject, one of the views presented as a legitimate Christian view, by Oord, was outside of the pale of any historical Christian orthodoxy. I am not saying that Jim Stump is personally liberal or unorthodox, but the fact that he presented a manifestly heretical description of God as a possible option for Christian evangelicals would naturally raise questions.

As for the head of BioLogos, Deb Haarsma, I know little about her current theological beliefs, which she tends not to be explicit about, seeing her role more as a diplomat or organization person than as a promoter of a particular Christian theological view. I understand that her earlier publications of many years ago were more or less mainline conservative Reformed in their theology, but it’s impossible for me to tell from her statements as BioLogos head what she she thinks, beyond “I’m a Christian” and “evolution is true.” So she could be anywhere from conservative to liberal, and it would be hard to tell.

I remember that Ted Davis affirmed a historical resurrection without ambiguity, and that he ended up indicating at least some inclination toward a Russell-type scenario in which God actively steered (albeit in a way science can’t detect) evolution. I also remember that the people running BioLogos at that time (Stump and Kramer) expressed (polite) disagreement with such a traditional, ‘hands-on’ depiction of God’s activity. From the point of a view of a conservative/evangelical Christian who is unsure about evolution but willing to consider that it might be true, the position of Ted Davis would be more tempting, because it had God involved in the outcomes of evolution in a way that expressed classical divine sovereignty, whereas the vaguer, more hands-off role of God in evolution that Kramer and Stump appeared to be championing (I say appeared, because their position was not theoretically articulate enough to count as clear), did not sound like much of a role for the Creator.

Again, I make no judgment regarding the private beliefs of anyone at BioLogos. I’m noting how they appear to many of the “conservative evangelical” persuasion – even after jettisoning Giberson, Sparks, and Enns. Even some Christian scientists who accept evolution, such as Terry Gray (an orthodox Reformed person, theologically), stay away from BioLogos because they think that its theology is shaky. And if an evolution-accepting person like Gray thinks this about BioLogos, it is not surprising that many conservative evangelicals who are not yet sure they can accept evolution would be dubious as well. The fear would be that in accepting evolution they would also be accepting a liberal theology.

If there had ever been one uncompromisingly conservative (theologically speaking) leader on BioLogos – I mean in a position of authority, and not just as a columnist – that would have gone a long way toward dispelling such worries. But none of the Presidents, Vice Presidents, Heads of Web Contents, Head Moderators, etc. have appeared to represent conservative Christian theology (where I’m talking about theological views generally, without reference to evolution or origins specifically). The impression has always been one of theological fluidity (or less charitably, theological vagueness) and of a need to “update” Biblical exegesis and theology in light of modern thought. The organization has always come across as being a bunch of scientists who happen also to be evangelical Christians, and whose main focus is getting evangelical Christians to accept evolution, rather than as a group of orthodox evangelical Christians who accept evolution but whose main focus is to make sure that orthodox theology is not compromised by integrating the theory of evolution.


That’s the feeling I get as well.

Do you think there is anything that could bridge the gap between soft Old Earth Creationism and Evolutionary Creationism? GAE could be part of that bridge, but is there something else that would be helpful?

It is a very thin line between all of those positions. Although the following essay by Dennis Venema is about abiogenesis, it still applies to evolution:

To use an analogy, it is a bit like the moment when Heliocentrism was so obvious that it could no longer be denied. The first step was to accept that Heliocentrism is true or damage the faith by trying to cling to demonstrably false claims. The second step is figuring out how it fits into theology.

At least, that’s the impression I get.

In the sense you mean it, that is happening. What I observe is that OECs are seriously considering the idea of coming to terms with evolution, and the GAE certainly does help. However, they won’t do that at the cost of accepting the whole range of EC views.


Thanks for the irenic and dialogical response.

I think that among some “conservative” Christians (that term itself is of course capable of a wide range of meanings!) the view would be that God could have chosen to create through a process of evolution, and so the question is whether such a process of creation would be compatible with God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, providence, etc., and with an orthodox notion of Fall and Redemption. If the the answer to this question is “yes,” then some conservative Christians could be moved to accept evolution, provided the empirical evidence for it was in their view strong enough.

Of course, for those Christians who have already made up their mind that God could not have used evolution because the Bible, read literally-historically, does not allow it, then there will be no movement.

BioLogos chose the tactic – I think not the best – of trying to persuade conservative Christians to read the Bible differently in order to make room for evolution. I think a better tactic would have been to demonstrate that all the leaders of BioLogos were orthodox regarding God’s sovereignty, providence, omnipotence, the Fall, etc., and defer the Biblical exegesis questions until trust on that point had been built up.

But I suppose I was asking for the impossible, because the sort of people that founded BioLogos (Collins, Giberson, Falk) are not the sort of people whose Christianity is expressed in terms of systematic orthodox doctrine. They were mostly from Nazarene, Wesleyan, Pietist, Mennonite, etc. groups where there is very little interest in “confessional theology”, i.e., rational articulation of doctrine.
For most of them, Christianity means “Jesus as I personally interpret him when I read my Bible” and there is very little interest in comparing their own theological conclusions with the conclusions reached by Christian theologians over 2,000 years of theological reflection, to see whether their personal theologies are in fact orthodox or traditional. Repeated attempts on the BioLogos site to induce Haarsma, Applegate, Venema, Falk, Giberson, Ard Louis, etc. to discuss the thought of Calvin, or Luther, or Knox, or Hooker, etc. failed. Repeated attempts to discuss subjects such as sovereignty or providence failed. The BioLogos people just weren’t interested in discussing theology on that level. They were interested mainly in cobbling together some makeshift reading of Genesis and of Paul which would allow Christians to accept evolution. Science, not historical or systematic theology, was always their focus.

As for Venema’s comments, I agree that God can work directly or indirectly through natural processes, so there is no difference in principle between myself and Venema. In principle, we should consider both natural and non-natural explanations of origins. But there is a difference between us in what might be called religious or theological attitude. I think it’s clear that the folks at BioLogos have a preference (emotional, aesthetic, theological, or however you wish to characterize it) for explanations of origins in which there is a completely closed causal system starting with the Big Bang and ending up at man. They don’t deny that God could have created the first life by a miracle, but frankly, they don’t really like that option, and would be happier if an account could be given in which no miracle ever happened from the beginning of the universe up to the emergence of man. I think there are both theological reasons (connected with the change in Christian theology after the Enlightenment) and professional reasons (scientists don’t like untidiness, and if there are areas of origins that require miracles, that would be untidy) for this inclination of theirs. But whatever the reasons, there is no reason why the philosopher or theologian should rule out the possibility of miraculous activity when it comes to origins.

I understand why you use this analogy, but I don’t think it’s sound. It was never really part of Christian theology in the strict sense – the positions of the earth and sun etc. in the actual scheme of the cosmos. You can search the Creeds and the writings of the Fathers and you don’t find such things to be points of faith. Unfortunately, during the Middle Ages, a fusion of Aristotelian and Biblical ideas came to be championed by some theologians and Church authorities, as if that fusion was Christianity itself. It took some disentangling for people to realize that the old scheme of the planets was not a required part of Christian doctrine.

In the case of evolution, the question is different. The question is whether an evolutionary process is compatible with God’s sovereignty, providence, omnipotence, etc., and whether it has any implications for the Fall and for human nature. And these subjects – sovereignty, Fall, human nature, etc. – are all subjects – unlike the geometry of the planets – on which orthodox Christian theology has issued doctrines, confessions, creeds, etc. So the theological focus has to be on showing that evolution is no threat to core Christian doctrines concerning God, Creation, and Salvation.

If the theological obstacles are cleared, then the scientific part – whether or not evolution happened, what all its mechanisms are – can be discussed without fear or panic. But the suspicion among a number of Christians has always been that evolution threatens not mere incidentals (such as which planet moves around which) but core doctrines regarding God and man. BioLogos has done an extremely poor job at reducing the anxiety of Chrstians on such points, and that is why it continues to be regarded with suspicion, not so much because it endorses evolution but because it appears to endorse evolution at any theological cost.

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^This. I agree with you here.

^This too. Exactly correct.

That is the perception among many…

Now that is a bridge too far. They were not very focused on the science…

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I come away with a very different view, but then I am not a Christian and don’t really focus on their theology. What matters is how Christians view it. When I was briefly in sales as a side job many years ago one of my managers told me “for the customer, perception is the reality”. So it is with BioLogos. This is why I am honestly asking questions of what Christians think of BioLogos. My own views may push through a bit, but I am really trying to understand where the Christian community is on this topic.

I would agree with that. I think it is an aesthetic choice, as you say. I don’t think it is a theological choice, but I could be wrong. I think they are trying to avoid a God of the Gaps, but there may be more to it.

I have to wonder if this approach is a result of the brash nature of scientists. Scientists are often told to start with the evidence and be brave enough to follow it wherever it leads. This may not be a good way to approach the non-scientific crowd within the Christian community.

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I agree that their treatment of science has been far from adequate. They’ve never even bothered to keep up with recent evolutionary theory. And I appreciated your challenge to Venema etc. regarding what genetics has supposedly “proved.” But they have preached evolution as something that must be accepted by evangelicals because it is “consensus science.” So science, or at least the inadequate understanding of science that they have, is the supposed motivation of their activity.

My remark was making only a simple point. Look at the training of most of them: Collins, Giberson, Falk, Haarsma, Applegate… no theology degrees there. All science degrees. Basically, they are science-trained people (not theology-trained people). And they have come to the conclusion, based, they say, on their scientific training, that evolution is true, and that everyone, including all Christians, should accept evolution. So they then engage, without theological training, in ad hoc methods of stitching together evolution with bits of theology and Biblical exegesis. They are scientists dabbling in theology, with in most cases no really deep interest in learning Christian theology beyond what is necessary to persuade evangelicals to accept evolution. That was my point.

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I understand your point about perception and reality. But I can’t speak for “the Christian community” – which is far too diverse to easily characterize – but only about certain parts of the Christian community that I know something about. I know enough conservative evangelicals to know that they are deeply suspicious of BioLogos, that they think that BioLogos is selling not just a “science” of evolution but an adjusted and unorthodox Christian theology along with it. And speaking now not for them, but only for myself (decidedly not a conservative evangelical, though I agree with them on some things), I’ve always found the theological reflection on BioLogos very historically uninformed, and theoretically very sloppy and hazy.

Indeed, oddly enough, the two things BioLogos most pushes, evolution (in the descriptive sense of descent with modification) and a non-literal reading of Genesis, I have no problem with; it’s the deficiencies in systematic and historical theology that have always offended me. But my complaints on this front have been registered before, and there is no need for me to repeat them again. The important thing is that if the people at BioLogos were better theologians, they might have had a much easier time converting evangelicals to evolution than they’ve had. Their doctrinal ineptness, their tendency to hint at or flirt with heresies, has brought them no end of opposition. Terry Gray, like Haarsma from the Reformed tradition, called them out on this, but there was no response from Haarsma or anyone else. One can hold to evolution (or some form of it) and be orthodox. Jon Garvey has shown this is possible. That’s why Hump of the Camel is a better place for information on how to be both an evolutionist and an orthodox Christian than BioLogos is.

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That is an excellent description of what I’m seeing in my little corner of the Evangelical world.

I think Eddie has done a great job in the above quote of capturing my impressions and reservations with Biologos. As a conservative Christian who was trying to understand evolution in the context of my YEC interpretation of the Bible. While I don’t believe that correct science and correct biblical interpretations will ever disagree, if there is apparent disagreement I will trust the Bible.

Thus the challenge in accepting evolution is not the science, but a Biblical interpretation, that is faithful to Biblical principles and good hermeneutics, while also aligning with the science of evolution. Biologos seems to come at this from the wrong direction.


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