Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Evolution Sunday: February 8-10, 2008

The first thing to mark on that new calendar you have just received is Evolution Weekend, February 8-10, 2008. It has expanded from just one Sunday to a whole weekend of evolutionary fun. This will be the third year for celebration at First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton. Here is the website to find a congregation near you or to get your congregation on the list.

Also you will find a handy selection of scientists (real ones--not the ones with the fake ID) who can help clergy and congregations understand the technical aspects. At First Presbyterian we will be planning a trip to the Gray Fossil Site as well as celebrate Evolution in worship.

Here are some resources regarding evolution and its conversation with religion.

I have signed the following letter. Maybe you would like to sign as well:

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.


24 comments:

Grace said...

With all due respect, friends, I wonder how many here actually have advanced degrees in the sciences, and also have carefully studied all of the concerns, and evidence presented by the scientists who do support ID.

At this point, I'm personally not convinced one way or the other.

John Shuck said...

Grace,

ID is not a scientific theory. The whole point of the ID charade, and it is a charade, is to try to stir up confusion. It banks on the fact that people do not understand what a scientific theory is. Thus it pretends to convince people that ID is scientific.

Of course, you can believe whatever nonsense you want. I might suggest this.

Mystical Seeker said...

You don't have to have an advanced degree in the sciences to recognize pseudo-scientific nonsense when you see it. I may not be an astronomer, but I know that Velikovsky was a charlatan; I may not be a geneticist, but I recognize that Lysenko was a charlatan; and I may not be a biologist, but I recognize that ID is nonsense.

Grace said...

I agree that the Scripture was not given to be a science textbook. There are plenty of even very conservative Christian people who would disagree with ID.

But, I can't agree that all of the proponents of ID are just charlatans deliberately perpetuating fraud, or that everyone who affirms Intelligent Design is "out there," to put it kindly. I know from my own experience that this isn't the case.

But, I wonder why folks feel so strongly, and how this has gotten to be such a hot button issue in the church. I mean we either have the in your face, "Evolution Sunday," or the eviloution is of the devil thing going on. Where's the middle ground?

Seriously, why not have open discussions, and then if needed agree to disagree. No central teaching of the Christian faith is impacted one way or the other, IMO, anyway.

It's almost as if these different camps are personally irate, offended, and angry with each other. It's all craziness to me. Where is the love of Christ in all this???

But, hey, you all can have the last word.

Pax.

John Shuck said...

Grace,

This isn't about the church. This is about the integrity of science. This is about education, medicine, basic knowledge that humankind needs. The theory of Evolution is the cornerstone of scientific knowledge.

ID is a religion. I call it a pseudo-religion because it is an insult to religion as much as science.

This is not about being nice or sharing the love of Christ. We are talking about a fraud that is being foisted on the American people.

The ID movement wants people to believe that there are two equal camps with equally legitimate theories. That is not true.

For resources:

The National Academies

This is a portion of the Joint Statement from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association Regarding the Kansas Science Education Standards (KSES)
October 27, 2005:

"While there is much in the Kansas Science Education Standards that is outstanding and could serve as a model for other states, our primary concern is that the draft KSES inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory despite the strength of the scientific evidence supporting evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth and its acceptance by an overwhelming majority of scientists. The use of the word controversial to suggest that there are flaws in evolution is confusing to students and the public and is entirely misleading. While there may be disagreements among scientists about the exact processes, the theory of evolution has withstood the test of time and new evidence from many scientific disciplines only further support this robust scientific theory.
In addition, the members of the Kansas State Board of Education who produced Draft 2-d of the KSES have deleted text defining science as a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, blurring the line between scientific and other ways of understanding. Emphasizing controversy in the theory of evolution -- when in fact all modern theories of science are continually tested and verified -- and distorting the definition of science are inconsistent with our Standards and a disservice to the students of Kansas."

The very idea of introducing "controversy" regarding evolutionary theory is the fraud. There is no controversy among the scientific community.

Wikipedia has a good overview.

Snad said...

Grace -

A few hours of information focusing on evolution discussed at a minority of churches - which no one (over 13, that is) is required to attend - over one weekend a year is "in your face"? Come on!!

What, dare I ask, would you consider "middle ground"?

Grace said...

I'm standing my ground, John. For one thing, I feel that church should be primarily about the fellowship and worship of Jesus Christ on Sun. morning. What if folks in our denominations decided to hold an ID Sun., and focused the liturgy in this. I can't see it.

If people feel strongly, I think it would be fine to sponsor a forum for open discussion, maybe even host a debate between scientists with differing viewpoints. (For me, this is finding the middle ground.) Believe it or not, this happens even in the large secular universitites. I was there for such a discussion.

And, talk about emotions running high. There were folks jumping up, catcalls from the audience. I couldn't believe it. I'm tellin ya, Snad, folks can get their "knickers in a twist." The reaction from the audience on both sides would have made a fascinating study in and of itself.(To me, it was an interesting and informative discussion.)

The scientists who espouse ID, are in the vast minority, for sure. They are definitely challenging the prevailing orthodoxy. But, I don't feel that it's fair to say they want to jettison the scientific method, or all advancement in science and technology.

Also, they would draw a distinction between micro-evolution which none dispute, and macro-evolution. Many do not espouse the theory of a "young earth," either.

Either way, all I'm sayin is that I think we should keep an open mind, and be willing to talk.

Above all, I think that Christian believers need to find their unity around the gospel, and not in some of these other issues. I could be wrong, but from where I sit right now, I see Evolution Sun. as needlessly divisive.

That's my honest opinion. Now I really am zipping my mouth.

Alan said...

"With all due respect, friends, I wonder how many here actually have advanced degrees in the sciences, and also have carefully studied all of the concerns, and evidence presented by the scientists who do support ID."

Me.

But as mystical seeker points out, one doesn't need an advanced degree in astronomy to realize that astrology is bunk, or an advanced degree in chemistry to realize that alchemy and homeopathy are bunk.

"But, I can't agree that all of the proponents of ID are just charlatans deliberately perpetuating fraud,"

Not only would I say they're charlatans deliberately perpetuating fraud (the proof of this is out there, they deliberately repackaged Creationism solely to make it more palatable politically). But in addition to ID being bad science, it's bad theology.

If they really believe God created the universe, why can't they have the courage to say so, rather than dishonestly hiding behind terms like Intelligent Designer? To use one of their own arguments against them, where specifically in the Bible does God ask us to call him "Intelligent Designer"? Do these folks pray to the Intelligent Designer? Do they think that salvation comes through the Intelligent Designer? Of course not. Pure bunk.

John Shuck said...

Hey Grace,

You don't have to keep it zipped. I am not. Fact is, if a congregation wants to hold an ID Sunday, go right ahead. Most congregations in my area celebrate that nonsense nearly every Sunday.

Whether you think congregations should have an evolution sunday or not somewhat beside the point, since we are anyway.

One of the things that has been a struggle for some folks in their spiritual quest is to understand how faith in God and Evolution go together.

That is a crucial aspect of teaching and worship. We celebrate and worship the God who creates. Evolution is the way God does it.

Flycandler said...

Grace, the problem is that "Intelligent Design" is inherently unscientific. It ain't science, and there really isn't any room for debate on that front. The "scientists who support ID" are almost never biologists, and usually have backgrounds in engineering or other unrelated fields.

The distinction between "microevolution" and "macroevolution" is really inflated by "ID" advocates to mean more than it is. Macroevolution is simply microevolution repeated millions of times over. I could take a hammer and a nail and tap a tiny, even invisible chip in your coffee mug, and it will still remain a coffee mug. However, if I repeat this process hundreds or thousands of times over, you will no longer have a coffee mug but a pile of ceramic dust.

Take for example corn. Maize, as grown in Central America at the time of Cortes, is not native to the Americas. A similar grass, teosinte, (with almost inedible kernels) was probably crossbred and hybridized over a period of thousands of years before it became the plant the Europeans saw and brought back. Corn cannot reproduce with teosintes, and is therefore considered a distinct species. A tiny case of macroevolution observable in a human timescale.

There are lots of theological reasons to keep "ID" out of the schools. Allowing religion to invade science also opens the doors of the church to general revelation. Essentially, this theory holds that as Creation is intentionally designed by the mind of an intelligent designer, the mind and will of that designer can be determined exclusively by studying that Creation. It holds scientific study to the same level as the Bible (specific revelation).

Grace said...

Thanks John,

I agree with you there. I think it's important to communicate to people that we are Christians based in faith alone in Jesus Christ, not based in opinion relating to evolutionary theory, or the interpretation of Genesis.

There is actually a man who shares on another blog that at one time was part of a very conservative denomination. Evidently, it was communicated to him that he could not be a Christian believer, and a theistic evolutionist at the same time. What nonsense! To me, this is a real heresy, and makes a travesty of the gospel.

IMO, we should be as open, and inclusive as possible in matters that are not central to the "good news."

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

John,

You are correct that ID and Creationism are attempts to foist fraud upon the unsuspecting in the name of religion. I know from your passionate statements that you value truth, so in all humility I would hope you would consider the error in the following statement you are making:

"The very idea of introducing 'controversy' regarding evolutionary theory is the fraud. There is no controversy among the scientific community."

With regards to the FACT that evolution has occurred, that biological/organic evolution is a reality, that there are underlying natural causal mechanisms responsible for change in form through time, indeed there is no controversy within the scientific community. Period. And when ID-Creationists try to portray the fact of evolution as just a theory, they are either grossly uninformed our outright dishonest.

But both scientists (they are actually more clear on this point) and the lay public need to become a little more sophisticated in their understanding of the nature of the scientific enterprise, and of the difference between such things as fact, hypothesis, theory, and speculation. In the polemics of this screaming match between ID-Creationists (and they must be defeated in the courts to protect the integrity of our science education, no doubt about that) and some more radical materialist-minded evolutionists (e.g., Dawkins et. al.), the more moderate and truth-centered and reality-focused scientists voices are lost, and that is a tragedy, for some very important insights are lost in the polemics of the debate.

The problem with this statement is that it fails to distinguish between the fact of organic evolution (descent with common origin and change based upon genetic variation), the paths of descent, and the theoretical mechanism(s) that are the believed to be the cause of evolutionary change in form. I know John, you are rolling your eyes about now and saying, "What is so important about this distinction?" Well, it is important because as science gains a deeper understanding of the true nature and cause of genetic variation, the theoretical mechanisms (i.e., the theory part of the triad regarding the causal mechanisms) will change, and this change in no way invalidates or in any way refutes the fact that organic evolution has occurred.

And it is happening in a big way right now, as entire new fields of biology have opened up since the 1990s that are revolutionizing our understanding of not only human genetics, disease, and how the genome (genes) are not the whole story, but these new facts are challenging and in some cases flat out refuting existing theory, such as for example the long held belief in Neo-Darwinian theory that environment does not play a direct role in genetic variation, but rather only plays an indirect through natural selection. For a long time any proposal that the environment could directly influence the genome as ridiculed as "Lamarckianism" (they would use erroneous caricatures of Lamarck's ideas as "use and disuse," which of course are not an accurate reflection of what he was proposing) and dismissed by Neo-Darwinian theorists; today the evidence is no longer speculation, but hard core empirical evidence that there is a mediating epigenome that does allow the environment to directly influence heredity.

I strongly suggest you watch Ghost in Your Genes:

So if genes don't tell the whole story of who we are, then what does. Scientists expect the answer lies in a vast chemical network within our cells that controls our genes, turning them on and off. [Andrew P. Feinberg, Johns Hopkins University] "It is a little bit like the dark matter in the universe. We know its there, we know it's terribly important, but we don't really know all that much about how that symphony is played out." [Mark F. Mehler, A. Einstein College of Medicine] "We are in the midst of probably the biggest revolution in biology that is going to forever going to transform the way we understand genetics, environment, the way the two interact, what causes disease; its another level of biology which for the first time really is up to the task of explaining the biological complexity of life." (NOVA. Ghost in Your Genes. WGBH Educational Foundation; 2008. DVD; ISBN: 978-1-593757-93-9.)

There is plenty of "controversy" in the "theory" part within evolutionary biology; controversy is healthy in science; but there is no doubt or controversy that organic evolution has occurred. It is important to distinguish the difference, for what happens when we pass though a scientific revolution that transforms the "theory" part (i.e., the theoretical mechanisms causing change in variation), and the lay public cannot distinguish between fact and theory, do we then have to descend into more of this silly debate (i.e., ID-Creationism) that misses the real truth of the matter?

We are smack dab in the middle of a scientific revolution in biology (and it is exciting); the new fields of Evolutionary Developmental Biology and Epigenetics are revealing aspects of genetic variation that were once (and still are!) denied by some rather dogmatic Neo-Darwinists, but then, that is the nature of the way science advances. The debates are hot and heavy in the actual scientific community; there is no shortage of "controversy," it just isn't controversy over whether evolution occurred or not, but over what are the underlying genetic mechanisms that bring about evolution. And that is where things are getting really interesting.

Sahotra Sarkar writes:

If high school curricula include mention of the neutralism-selectionism debate, or the promise of the new evolutionary developmental biology, and the challenges posed by the structure of the genome [i.e., epigenetics], and the relevant teachers are conversant enough with contemporary biology to discuss these topics accurately, so much the better. It would be a major achievement, at least in the United States, if high school science instruction achieved such a level. However, in contrast, ... the criticisms leveled against evolutionary biology by ID creationists are vacuous and driven by their theological agenda. Moreover, the "controversy" within biology allegedly over evolution versus ID creationism is an artificial controversy generated by the claim that evolution is controversial. To the extent that this book helps resolve that artificial controversy, or at least remove it from the debates about science education, it will have served its purpose. (Sarkar, Sahotra. Doubting Darwin? Creationists Designs on Evolution. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing; 2007; p. 166.)

John Shuck said...

Rob,

Thank you for that clarification. I will check out "Ghosts in the Genes."

Rob said...

From the transcript of Ghost in Your Genes:

Identical genes active in one [identical] twin may be shut down in another. Thus as the years pass, epigentic changes accumulate in twins as in the rest of us. [Manel Esteller: Spanish National Cancer Center] "One of the main findings of research is that epigenomes can change as a function of what we eat, or what we smoke, or what we drink. And this is one of the key differences between epigenetics and genetics." But why does the epigenome change, when the genome does not. In Montréal, scientists Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf, believe the question contains its own answer. [Moshe Szyf, McGill University] "We have this very, very static genome. Very hard to change. It could be only changed by really dramatic things like nuclear explosions or hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. On the other hand, the dynamic environment that changes all the time. And so, what there is here is an interface, between the highly dynamic world around us and a highly static genome that we have. The epigenome is an in between creature, built in a way, to respond to changes around us." Szyf and Meaney believe experience itself changes the epigenome. To reach this startling conclusion they studied two kinds of rats. Those born to nurturing mothers who licked and groomed them intensely after birth, and those born to mothers who took a more paws off approach. [Michael Meaney, Douglas Institute/McGill University] "What we were particularly interested in is the way in which these animals might respond to stressful events. And we found the offspring of low licking mothers, during periods of stress, showed greater increases in blood pressure, and greater increases stress hormone production." .... To rule out a genetic cause, high licking mothers were given the babies of the low licking ones, and visa versa. Once again, the less nurtured pups grew up markedly different. And not only on blood tests. [Moshe Szyf, McGill University] "So, the conclusion from that is, its not the genes that the mother brings into the game, its the behavior that has an impact on the offspring, years after the mother is gone. And a basic question was, 'How does the rat remember what kind of care it received from its mother, so that it now has better or worse health conditions?' And we reasoned that there might be some mark in in genes, that marks that memory." But could such a mark, capturing memory, be found? .... Less nurtured rats had multiple epigenetic marks silencing the [stress lowering] gene.... [Moshe Szyf, McGill University] "The maternal behavior essentially sculpted the genome of their babies. We looked at one gene; we know hundreds of genes were changed. But for me it was a fantastic thing that just a behavior of one subject can change the gene expression in a different subject." The most surprising phase of the experiment was yet to come. Szyf and Meaney injected anxious rats with a drug known to remove epigenetic marks. [Moshe Szyf, McGill University] "And as we injected the drug, the gene turned on. And when it turned on the entire behavior of the rat changed. It became less anxious; also it responded to stress like a normally reared rat. And we looked at the way that gene was marked in the brain, and we saw that we actually changed the epigenetic marking of that gene." (NOVA. Ghost in Your Genes. PBS.org: WGBH Educational Foundation; 2008. DVD; ISBN: 978-1-593757-93-9.)

Jodie said...

That's way cool.

Many many years ago I saw my daughter respond to a spider in sheer panic and horror, when her only previous life experiences with spiders had been through the reading of Charlott's Web. Clearly there is a genetic marker, a memory of some sort that tells even human beings that spiders are bad and much to be feared. After that I started watching for where the genome studies have been going, because it seems pretty compelling that certain experiences are so important to the survival of a species that their memory is passed on to the offspring. It's not reasonable that random mutations would include some cases of "oh, lets be afraid of spiders" If it was important you would never get enough random cases to make a difference. Either all would die out, or non mutated specimens would continue to survive and pass on their genes as well.

Environment MUST affect evolution and now we are finding the mechanisms by which it can happen.

No matter how tempting it may be, one should never give in to ascribing a supernatural explanation for a natural event. God does not want to be derived from nature. Nor does he seem to want to disturb it in ways that unambiguously reveal Him.

Yet there is something of God's character in Nature. Nature, like God, though awesomely powerful and at times very not safe, Nature likes its creator, can be always be trusted.

Rob said...

The most dramatic discoveries in evo-devo have been quite unexpected DNA homologies. It turns out that organisms as different as fruit flies and humans share considerable amounts of practically unaltered DNA, especially those stretches that are involved in development itself--ordering the rates and ways in which the parts of the body are formed (heads before legs and so forth). The jury is still out on the precise significance of all of this. Some seem to think that selection will now have to take a back seat in evolution: “The homologies of process within morphogenetic fields provide some of the best evidence for evolution just as skeletal and organ homologies did earlier. Thus, the evidence for evolution is better than ever. The role of natural selection in evolution, however, is seen to play less an important role. It is merely a filter for unsuccessful morphologies generated by development. Population genetics is destined to change if it is not to become as irrelevant to evolution as Newtonian mechanics is to contemporary physics.”4

[4] Gilbert, S. F., J. M. Opitz, and R. A. Raff. 1996. Resynthesizing evolutionary and developmental biology. Developmental Biology 173: 357-372.

(Ruse, Michael. The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 2005; p. 193.)

THE SYSTEM OF HEREDITY AS A CONTROL SYSTEM

In a world dominated by thermodynamical forces of disorder and disintegration, all living systems, sooner or later, fall in disarray and succumb to those forces. However, living systems on Earth have survived and evolved for ~3 billion years. They succeeded in surviving because a. during their lifetime they are able to maintain the normal structure by compensating for the lost or disintegrated elements of that structure, and b. they produce offspring. The ability to maintain the normal structure, despite its continual erosion, indicates that living systems have information for their normal structure, can detect deviations from the "normalcy" and restore the normal structure. This implies the presence and functioning of a control system in living organisms. In unicellulars the control system, represented by the genome, the apparatus for gene expression and cell metabolism, functions as a system of heredity during reproduction. Homeostasis and other facts on the development of some organs and phenotypic characters in metazoans prove that a hierarchical control system, involving the CNS [Central Nervous System] and the neuroendocrine system, is also operational in this group. It is hypothesized that, in analogy with unicellulars, the control system in metazoans, in the process of their reproduction, serves as an epigenetic system of heredity. (Cabej, Nelson R. Neural Control of Development: The Epigenetic Theory of Heredity. New Jersey: Albanet; 2004; p. 11. )

This theory introduces to the explanans of metazoan heredity the unique computational attributes of the CNS. The tremendous computational capability of this organ makes possible the generation of the enormous amount of information necessary for erecting the metazoan structure. In this book it will be shown that the CNS is not only recorder of this history of the evolution; it is responsible for shaping it. By demonstrating this, it brings the Creator and the creative forces of evolution back within metazoans.

(Cabej, Nelson R. Neural Control of Development: The Epigenetic Theory of Heredity. New Jersey: Albanet; 2004; p. 6.)

The findings of evo-devo (including epigentics and the regulatory genome with its associated master pattern genes and genetic switches) are opening the black box of genetic variation to science’s gaze, and they are finding a highly complex, hierarchical system consisting of various integrated layers, ranging from bottom up the highly static 4-base genome, to epigenetic chromatin markings (and other means we are just beginning to study), to the Central Nervous System (CNS) and endocrine system, which all work in a symphony of homeostasis. Scientists now speak of facilitated variation rather than only random variation. (See The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma by Gerhart, C. and Kirschner, Marc W. 2005.) Old debates once (and still) dogmatically closed are now being reopened: Is evolutionary novelty caused by the random small accumulation of single point mutations on the 4-base DNA, or is novelty a function of the highly conserved regulatory genome on all its leve as it was remodeled and reused in a modular fashion through time? In this last case, natural selection is relegated to being a filter for maintaining stasis rather than the source of that creative novelty that we call evolution, and new mechanisms are revealed in the hierarchical hereditary control system. This would mean that sudden leaps in form, once called macromutations or saltations are once again considered highly probable; in fact, Gerhart and Kirschner predict we will be modeling them in the lab eventually! That in turn impacts the debate between the concepts of macroevolution and microevolution, which evo-devo and epigentics is once again (in powerful empirical ways) showing are possibly based upon different mechanisms of genetic change and variation; one (natural selection) highly stochastic (random) and one (it is just being discovered! So that is why Gerhart and Kirschner propose the name facilitated variation) non-random. And none of this has aught to do with Creationism and their silly claims; this is pure science in revolution (evolution), but it is hard to see because we are smack dab in the middle of the forest and can’t see the trees for the forest.

Rob said...

Flycandler says the following:

"The distinction between 'microevolution' and 'macroevolution' is really inflated by 'ID' advocates to mean more than it is. Macroevolution is simply microevolution repeated millions of times over."

Indeed Creationists misuse and abuse the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution; they argue that microevolution is real, but macroevolution is not, and therefore organic evolution never occurred. Of course, this is a fallacious argument that hides a real and legitimate debate with a long, long history within the scientific community regarding the relationship between these two concepts. But this issue, the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution, and whether they are the same phenomenon observed in different time scales or two distinct phenomenon based upon distinct mechanisms is far from a settled issue within the scientific community, despite the strong and persistent and dogmatic rhetoric from hard core Neo-Darwinian panselectionists (See Gregory, T. Ryan, ed. Macroevolution and the Genome. In The Evolution of the Genome. Amsterdam: Elsevier Academic Press; 2005; pp. 684-686.) (Or see Prothero, Donald R. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. New York: Columbia University Press; 2007.) (Or see Levinton.)

Jodie said...

Humm...

Honestly, discussing the details of evolution theory on a primarily religious blog makes about as much sense as discussing the doctrine of atonement on the pages of "Science" magazine...

But its an interesting sidebar in any case.

It's a very insecure faith that feels compelled to attack scientific theories on the basis of its understanding (or misunderstanding) of Scripture. But modern Fundamentalists seem to be 100 years behind the times in attacking science. It seems so pitiful. If it weren't for the damage ID proponents have tried to cause to the public school system, I would ignore it completely. But because of that context I agree it needs to be killed. Any ID proponents that come peddling their hog wash around my kid's school better be armed with a very good lawyer.

(by the way, I too have an advanced degree in science. Not in biology, but science is science)

Rob said...

Jodie said,

"Honestly, discussing the details of evolution theory on a primarily religious blog makes about as much sense as discussing the doctrine of atonement on the pages of "Science" magazine."

I think it makes great sense. First, the fact of organic evolution refutes the entire theological foundation of the atonement doctrine. As Pastor Bob makes plain, the fact of organic evolution has everything to do with the atonement doctrine (refuting it, that its):

“The real problem ... is the opposing narrative of modern science. If the theory of evolution is a correct evaluation of the evidence ... what are we to say about sin and death? Clearly Paul’s statement that sin and death came into the world through one man is contradicted by the evidence pointing towards evolution…. [I]f you take away the doctrine of original sin the whole Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption fall apart. How can one man/God die for the sins of the world if we cannot say that human sin is collective and not just individual?” (Pastor Bob)

Jodie said...

Rob,

This belief, "First, the fact of organic evolution refutes the entire theological foundation of the atonement doctrine" is part of the reason Fundamentalists believe science to be the enemy of Faith. You need to step out of the Fundamentalist paradigm.

I think Paul did not so much claim that sin came from one man, as merely used the preexisting belief of his audience as a debating strategy to convince them of the importance of Christ. A shadow opponent is saying "but Paul, how can one man take away the sin of the world" and Paul says "well, you know that one man brought sin into the world, well, just in the same way one man takes it away. And just as we all are one in Adam, and therefor all are one in sin, now those who are one with Christ have it removed"

Its a Greek logical formula used to bridge the gap between Hebrew logic and cosmology and Greek logic and cosmology.

Paul completely blurs the distinction between the physical and the spiritual, the literal and the metaphorical. He uses them like threads in a tapestry to paint a new picture. It's the picture that he wants you to see, not the threads.

To a 20th Century evolutionist Paul might have said that just as we have all inherited survival traits that cause us to harm one another in ways that are no longer necessary or even desirable for the survival of the species, in Christ we now inherit new traits to help us survive the new and future environments we must live in. He might even have said that in Christ we are new mutations.

For sure Paul would have used your own cosmology turned in on itself. "All things to all people." The metaphorical and the literal amalgamated together to create a new vocabulary.

What of the doctrine of atonement? It's part of a pre-existing vocabulary and grammar. If you don't speak that language, then obviously its use does not help you understand what has happened in Christ.

Nevertheless, something >has< happened.

I don't think we must remain captive to the vocabulary of our ancestors to explain it, but I do think it is a beautiful language in its own right. (Oppenheimer wrote poetry in Sanskrit). I like it and feel comfortable enough in it to use and make sense out of it. But it's entirely inappropriate to gut the language, take away elements of its grammar and then demand that we still communicate effectively in that same language. The real test of understanding is rather to use our own words and language to say the same thing, to paint the same picture.

So the real theological question is: What, in our own language, what is that something that Christ does for us?

Can we show ourselves to be "imitators" of Paul as Paul is an imitator of Christ? Can we paint the picture with our own threads? I think we can. I think that is what we are called to do, those of us who like to write.

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

"I think Paul did not so much claim that sin came from one man, as merely used the preexisting belief of his audience as a debating strategy to convince them of the importance of Christ."

There may well be a seed of truth in the argument that Paul was attempting to use preexisting beliefs of the Jews to win them over to believing in Jesus, which of course failed.

But that does not change one iota the fact that for 2,000 years many Christians have continued to literally believe this atonement doctrine, and at various times attempt to reinterpret it.

And neither does it change the fact that what they did not know about organic evolution, we now know, and that this fact most certainly undermines both the literal and metaphorical versions of the atonement doctrine, as Pastor Bob so eloquently states.

"So the real theological question is: What, in our own language, what is that something that Christ does for us?"

I think that is the whole point; in light of modern knowledge, we must rethink the meaning of Jesus' life and death, and ask again, what were his teachings, and the meanings to be attached to the manner and way in which he lived, and died. And the fact of organic evolution is a part of the knowledge base and context in which we must do this rethink of our philosophy and theology, in my view.

Jodie said...

Close Rob,

I tend to agree that modern science trumps most Fundamentalist claims, especially those that speak to the physical cosmology of the world we live in. Verifiable reality can't be denied by religious dogma. If your faith is based on religious dogma, that is the house Jesus said was built on sand.

And I agree that "substitutionary atonement", whatever it might have meant in the past does not make sense to us today in America and it is impossible to truly put ourselves back in a place where it did. What was once an easy thing to understand has literally become a barrier to understanding today.

But what I'm saying is that it is >sufficient< to say "in our own language" without risking the arrogance implied by "in our modern knowledge". The only thing that we really know for sure is how little we really know about everything.

Modern knowledge is not something that can be adequately defined. It's not clear what we know and it's not always clear that something contemporary is more profound or wiser than previous knowledge. All human endeavors have a cyclical nature to them. I just got back from the Getty Museum in LA where I saw some 5000 year old figurines made of stone that are as contemporary and metaphorical as todays most modern art. Gorgeous stuff. And I saw Roman portraits showing peoples faces that were nearly photographic and much more faithful renditions of human expression than anything produced in Europe for another 1700 years.

Our language on the other hand is always contemporary and always current. God always speaks to us in our own language in the place and time we use it. Whether two people's languages be separated by centuries of time or continents of geopolitical and linguistic differences or whether we have PhDs in some esoteric field of human endeavor or be an illiterate gold digger from Nowhere, God speaks to us in the language we know. For that purpose, my language is not superior to yours, nor does it nullify your language. It is 'merely' different, and God uses it to reach me - and you - in ways nothing and nobody else can or could, even in a dream.

So in that context I personally reject the contest of who has the greater knowledge or doctrine, or whose doctrine trumps whose knowledge and the basis for said trumping. There is a meta-message from God that trumps them all and that is the message I am interested in. If you speak the language of Scripture you can hear the message in the language of Scripture. I don't speak other Faith languages nearly as fluently or even at all, but hypothetically speaking I am sure God speaks to people who are fluent in those other languages just a he speaks to us who are fluent in the Judeo Christian language.

As I am sure that evil speaks to them also.

So what I am trying to encourage is a more eloquent form of discourse, one that doesn't start with "my language is better than your language" but one that starts with "I bring you good news".

News that is news, and news that is good.