Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sola Smorgasbord: Tim Keller And Theistic Evolution. Part III: Kicking The Atheists Off Their Own Turf

(Originally published on 5/16/10)

Tim Keller sees a problem. The problem is that there is an entrenched position among Evolutionists and Christians that Biblical faith and belief in Evolution are mutually exclusive. Those who hold this position conclude that if Man is the product of evolutionary biological processes, then every aspect of Man's soul is the product of genetic factors at work in natural selection. Most Evolutionists certainly believe this. Our capacity to love, act, our moral convictions, even our belief in God is rooted in our genetic makeup. These traits are present today because they helped our ancestors survive the process of Human Evolution. Keller quotes a prominent "New Atheist", Sam Harris. Harris says that humans have "no immortal soul, free will, [knowledge] of the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism..." (Keller, p. 5-6) Many Christians share the atheist view that if evolution is true, than Man's unique status as outlined in Scripture is an illusion, that Man is nothing more than a biological machine. The second question Keller addresses in his article "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People," on p. 5-7, concerns this view of Christianity's and Evolution's mutual exclusiveness. How does Keller think we can overcome this hostility to Evolution among Christians? By convincing Christians that "Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world view." (Keller, p. 5) Christians must abandon their conclusion that to believe in human evolutionary biological processes one must logically conclude that everything about Man is the result of natural selection. He quotes David Atkinson to make his point: "If evolution is...elevated to the status of a world-view of the way things are, then there is a direct conflict with biblical faith. But if 'evolution' remains at the level of a scientific biological hypothesis, it would seem that there is little reason for conflict between the implications of Christian belief in the Creator and the scientific explorations of the way which--at the level of biology--God has gone about his creating process." (Keller, p. 6) Keller warns Christians that if we fail to make the distinction between evolution as a world view and evolution as a scientific biological process, then Christians will never grant the importance of evolutionary biological processes. We will never change our view of the world and God to accomodate the view that man is the product of evolution. That is what upsets Keller and to affect this accomodation is the purpose of writing this paper which appears on Francis Collin's Biologos website.

To accept Evolution as part of God's creative process, Keller would have Christians ignore the implications of the evolutionary model. But Darwin himself could not have developed his theory of evolution without taking God out of the picture. Here is a quote from Ernst Mayr's book "One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought":

"Darwin was unable to build on this foundation but rather started from the fundamental question that Lyell bequeathed to him, namely, how do new species originate? Although Lyell appealed to "intermediate" causes as the source of the new species, THE PROCESS WAS NEVERTHELESS A FORM OF SPECIAL CREATION. [Capitalization mine] 'Species may have been created in succession at such times and at such places as to enable them to multiply and endure for an appointed period and occupy an appointed space on the globe' (Lyell 1835, 3:99-100). For Lyell, each creation was a carefully planned event. The reason why Lyell, like Henslow, Sedgwick, and all the others of Darwin's scientific friends and correspondents in the middle of the 1830s, accepted the unalterable constancy of species was ultimately a philosophical one. The constancy of species--that is the inability of a species, once created, to change--was the one piece of the old dogma of a created world that remained inviolate after the concepts of the recency and constancy of the physical world had been abandoned.

"No genuine and testable theory of evolution could develop until the possibility was recognized that species have the capacity to change, to become transformed into new species, and multiply into several species. FOR DARWIN TO ACCEPT THIS POSSIBILITY REQUIRED A FUNDAMENTAL BREAK WITH LYELL'S THINKING..." [Capitalization mine] (Mayr, One Long Arguement, Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 17-18)

In other words, for Darwin to formulate his theories, he had to reject the belief in the work of a creator in the creation of species. Can any one who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ explain to me how the truth of man's origins could not be discovered without the rejection of an Intelligent Designer and that now we can reconcile Biblical creation with a theory thats development depended upon a rejection of God as creator? Darwin himself worked out the implications of his theory:

"Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman...I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. This belief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete...The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career..." (From H. James Bix's introduction to Darwin's "Descent of Man.") If the development of Evolution required a rejection of God as creator, why does Keller think it strange that Christians should consider Biblical faith and evolution mutually exclusive?

New Atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are intolerant of Christian beliefs and would like to remove all religious discourse from the market place of ideas. Yet that in no way excludes the possibility that they have correctly worked out the implications of evolution for Man. Most evolutionists do not adhere to New Atheist rhetoric; in the case of Dawkins most evolutionists do not consider his views and rhetoric to be representative of the scientific community. Many consider his conduct to be harmful to their cause. Yet even most of these who believe Man's origins are in evolution take this belief a step forward to the position that genetics explains everything there is about Man, including Man's belief in God. For example, anthropologists view mankind and religious belief through the prism of evolution. In fact, this view of Man may be the next greatest challenge to faith in God and orthodox Christian belief. And Keller would have Christians who have worked out the same implications of evolution as the New Atheists ignore their own reasoning all for the sake of accepting the importance of evolutionary biological processes?

Not only does Keller want Christians to ignore their conclusions, he would ignore the obvious implications of his own arguements for the acceptance of evolution. On p.1 of his paper, Keller promotes the idea that there may be a genetic explanation for our belief in God. This genetic factor, called by some the "God gene," somehow supported our acestors' ability to survive and reproduce. God's purpose was to make belief in God universal among the human race. This will be dealt with in Part IV. I bring it up now to demonstrate the utter lack of logic in Keller's position. Keller wants us to seriously consider that our belief in God may be genetic, originating in evolutionary biological processes. But then, he wants us to reject the conclusion that if we have the God gene, then our belief in God, our moral convictions, are not the result of natural selection! If belief in God was genetic in origin, wouldn't it logically flow from that our moral convictions (tied to our belief in the Triune God), are genetic in origin? If belief originates in genetics, then belief is predetermined and not a response to the revelation of a loving and sovereign creator. If belief is genetic in origin, then why should Christians not conclude that the truth claims of any religion are as valid as any other?

Keller's description of those Christians who will not accept evolution as God's method of creation and his strategy for getting Christians to change their minds reveals an unfortunate attitude toward those he would counsel. This is what Keller writes concerning Christians who refuse to accept evolution: "Many Christian lay people resist all this and seek to hold on to some sense of human dignity by subscribing to 'fiat-creationism.' This is not a sophisticated theological and philosophical move; it is intuitive." (Keller, p. 6) This statement reveals some condesention on the part of Keller toward his readers. He is saying that to reject evolution is to be led by one's feelings rather than be guided by one's own intellectual reflection as well as a careful study of the scriptures. This is a subtle way of trying to make you think,"I don't want to be seen as uneducated and ignorant." Keller also appeals to reader gullibility. To remove any doubts Christians may have in accepting evolution, Keller tells his readers to make common cause with theistic evolutionists against the New Atheists. The New Atheists are trying to delegitimize any religious belief, so why not join with theistic evolutionists to thwart them and rescue evolution from its own implications, to rescue evolution from the exclusive intellectual ownership of the atheists, to kick the atheists off their own turf? This reminds me of the American Civil War. When war was seen to be unavoidable, some in the North sought to provoke a war with England to unify North and South. It seemed that these northerners had a low view of the public's IQ if they thought both northerners and southerners would fall for that. Keller seems to have a similiar view of his readers gullibility. Just remove Christian doubts over evolution by creating a new enemy, the New Atheists. And Keller wants us to see this as "a sophisticated theological and philosophical move?" What is Keller's estimate of the intelligence of the average Christian? It doesn't sound too high.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sola Smorgasbord: Tim Keller And Theistic Evolution. Part II: WDJS (What Did Jesus Say?)

(Originally published on 5/12/10)

Tim Keller's article, "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People" appears on the Biologos website. Biologos was started by Dr. Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and current Director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins is a Christian who believes in the compatibility of Biblical faith and belief in Evolution. His book, "The Language of God" was reviewed on this blog. (See here, here and here) The aim of Biologos is to convince the Christian public that Evolution and the Christian faith are compatible. Keller's article seeks to demonstrate how a pastor could reconcile the two while engaging in pastoral counsel. He identifies four questions that one must answer to affect this reconciliation. This article will examine Keller's answer to the first question which appears on p. 3-5 of his article.

The first question Keller seeks to answer is how to interpret Genesis 1. Keller correctly points out that for Evolution and Biblical faith to be seen to be compatible, Genesis 1 cannot be interpreted literally. And if Genesis 1 cannot be interpreted literally, why interpret any other part of the Bible literally? Keller's answer: "The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don't. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them." (Keller, p. 3) Keller expands upon this answer on p. 3-5.

In this answer, Keller identifies a key component of sound Biblical exegesis: what is the original intent of the author? How does the author wish to be understood? The answer, according to Keller, is to identify the genre the author employs to convey his message. Keller points to Judges 4 and 5 by way of illustration. Both chapters concern Israel's defeat of Sisera and his army. In chapter 4 the author employs historical prose narrative to chronicle this historical event. Chapter 5, Deborah's Song, contains verses such as this: "From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera." This is evidence that the author was employing Hebrew poetry to explain the theological significance of the historical events described in chapter 4. These choices of genre indicate that the author intended chapter 4 to be read literally while chapter 5 was not. Keller points to Exodus 14 and 15 as another example illustrating similiar intent by a Biblical author. Exodus 14 is a straight forward historical account of the Red Sea crossing and the destruction of the pursuing Egyptions. Chaper 15 contains poetical language to convey the meaning of what happened in chapter 14. From these examples, Keller correctly identifies an important principle of Biblical interpretation: "...to assert that one part of scripture shouldn't be taken literally does not mean that no other parts should be either."(Keller, p. 3)

Keller maintains that these two examples serve as evidence that the author of Genesis intended Genesis 2 to be interpreted literally, but not chapter 1. Keller quotes Hebrew scholar Edward J. Young (who believes Genesis 1 is an historical account) as writing that Genesis 1 is written in "exalted, semi-poetical language." It describes a sucession of historical events characteristic of prose and does not feature a key element of Hebrew poetry, parallelism. Keller points to the use of refrains within this prose style which repeat themselves as they do in songs. "And God saw that it was good" is repeated seven times, as is "and it was so." "God said" and "let there be" appear ten times each. The author also employs poetic phrases not repeated anywhere else in Scripture as well as the phrase "beast of the field," a term usually reserved for poetic discourse. Keller comments: "Obviously, this is not the way someone writes in response to a simple request to tell what happened." (Keller, p. 4) Keller quotes scholar C. John Collins in labeling Genesis 1 "exalted prose narrative" which Collin's defines as a narrative making truth claims but in being labeled exalted it is understood that it is not to be interpreted literally.

Keller believes the strongest evidence that Genesis 1 is not to be interpreted literally is the order of creative acts in the first two chapters of Genesis. Gen 2:5 is proof, according to Keller, that God followed the natural order of creation. Keller reads this verse to say that God did not create vegetation before there was an atmosphere or rain, while he reads Genesis 1 as saying God did. In Genesis 1 God created light on the first day before there were any sources of light which were not created until the fourth day. But in chapter 1 vegetation appears on the third day. According to Keller, this is impossible because on the third day the sun was not yet created. If there was no sun, there was no atmosphere. No rain was possible on the third day either. Keller concludes that we cannot interpret both chapters as literal historical accounts because their orders of creation are not compatible. Since Genesis 2 provides a natural order of creation events, according to Keller, then we must interpret Genesis 2 literally while Genesis 1 is to be read as a theological statement concerning the actual events presented in chapter 2.

Keller is correct that just because one portion of scripture is not to be interpreted literally does not mean that no portion is to be interpreted literally. But is he correct that the scriptual evidence is clear that Genesis 1 was never meant to be interpreted literally? NO! Lets us examine why his assertions do not stand up to scrutiny.

Lets begin by examining the above mentioned chapters in Judges and Exodus. Judges 4 is a straight forward historical account of Israel's defeat of Sisera and his army. Chapter 5 is Deborah's Song commemorating that defeat. The Song indeed contains poetic language not to be read literally. The stars did not literally fight against Sisera. (v. 20) Yet chapter 5's poetic language refers to actual historical events. The language in verse 20 may be written in poetic language, but it refers to God acting on Israel's behalf, bringing about Sisera's defeat even before the two armies met. We know this because the Lord told Deborah to tell Barak that the Lord Himself will lure Sisera to the Kishon river and give Sisera and his army into Barak's hands. We read this in Judges 4:7, the straight forward historical account of the battle. While chapter 5 may be poetry, it still narrates historical events. Verses 6-9 speak of the conditions in Israels' villages and on its highways while Israel was dominated by Sisera's king, Jabin. Verses 13-18 identify which tribes of Israel fought and which ones hesitated. Again, this describes a true historical episode. Verses 19-23 contains poetic language, but it describes an actual historical battle. Verses 24-27 describe Jael's killing of Sisera with a tent peg in straight forward language. The genre may be poetry, but almost all the verses refer to actual history. Since the language may be poetry, that does not mean the historical events it describes did not actually happen, did it? Of course not.

We can make the same observation concerning Exodus 14 and 15. Exodus 14 is the historical account of God's delivering Israel from Egypt by parting the Red Sea. Chapter 15 is a poetic retelling of the same historical event. Moses speaks of God's right hand shattering Pharoh's army. (Ex 15:6) He writes that the waters were piled up by a blast from the Lord's nostrils. (Ex. 15:8) We know that God does not possess physical traits as we do, so we know the language used here is poetical. Yet the poetry describes the actual historical events described in chapter 14. Ex 15: 13-18 may be poetry, but it is declaring future historical events about how Israel will enter the Promised Land.

What we see in these two pairs of chapters is the coupling of two chapters where the first chapter describes actual historical events while the second chapter describes the same true events in poetic language. In the poetic recapitulations, very few verses actually speak of events that literally did not happen. From these very few verses in Judges 5 and Exodus 15, Keller wants us to conclude that the ENTIRE first chapter of Genesis was not chronicling actual historical events. THE ENTIRE CHAPTER! This is bad Biblical exegesis. To infer that from a very few verses in the midst of a poetic retelling of actual events that the writer of Genesis 1 did not want us to interpret it literally is to make a sweeping conclusion from too little evidence.

What about Keller's statement that the language of Genesis 1 is not written in the language of one responding to a simple request to write an account of what happened? From what evidence does Keller conclude that Genesis was written in response to a simple request to write an account of what happened? There is no evidence in scripture that Genesis was written because of such a request. The only scripture concerning why Moses wrote any account of God and Israel that I can find is Ex. 17:14 where God commands Moses to write an account of the defeat of the Amalekites. Because there is no evidence of such a simple request, we cannot conclude that the poetic language employed in Genesis 1 is evidence that the events it describes did not actually occur. After all, in Judges 4, the writer employs poetic language to symbolize a historical event: "After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. SO THE LORD SOLD THEM INTO THE HANDS OF JABIN..." (Judges 4: 1-2, caps mine). Are we justified in reading all of Judges 4 non-literally because of its use of poetic symbolism? No. Neither is Keller justified in concluding that the events of Genesis 1 are non-historical because of the use of certain poetic phrases. Perhaps it was the intention of the author of Genesis 1 (Moses) to use language to emphasize that radical difference between God and the idols? Perhaps the author wanted to demonstrate how only God could create, how God was so powerful that all He had to do to create was to speak the word? This message was so at odds with the religious thoughts of Man that perhaps Moses employed poetic language to drive the lessons of history home? Perhaps prose was not adequate to the task?

Keller's evidence concerning the order of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, which he states is the strongest evidence there is for a non-literal reading of Genesis 1, does not withstand critical examination. It appears that vegetation was created on day three before the sun on day four. But we need to examine Gen. 1:1 and the Hebrew word used for "light." "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The phrase "heavens and earth" most likely means universe or cosmos and must be taken with the same sense it is used throughout the Bible (Joel 3: 15-16) which would include the sun, the moon and the stars. The whole of the universe, including the sun, the moon and the stars, were created on the first day, not the fourth. On the fourth day, the Hebrew does not read "Let there be lights" but "Let the lights in the expanse of the sky seperate." The lights already existed in the expanse (created on the second day) and on the fourth day they were given purpose by God's command: to seperate the day from the night and mark the seasons and years. In v.6, we read of the creation of the expanse between the waters. In the Hebrew syntax, it speaks of God creating the expanse where there was nothing previously. The syntax in v.14 concerning the lights suggests that the lights already existed but had not yet been seperated. Also, Gen. 2:6 informs us of streams that came up from underground to water the Earth. The conditions for an atmosphere were already in place for the vegetation to be created on the third day in Gen1: 11-13. (The information for this paragraph comes from the commentary on Genesis by John H. Sailhamer in the Expositors Bible Commentary, which I have on CD ROM.)

If we look closely at Gen. 1:11-13 (the third day) and Gen. 2:4-7, we see that these two verses are not two different accounts of the same aspect of creation. Gen. 1:11-13 speaks of the creation of vegetation: "...seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with the seed in it..." Gen. 2:4-7 speaks not of the creation of vegetation but the beginning of agriculture, the human tilling of the ground. No shrub of the field or plant of the field appeared before man could cultivate the vegetation already existing.

Keller is correct when he identifies the discerning of an author's original intent as a major ingredient of biblical interpretation. Yet this is not the only principle of Biblical interpretation. Nor is it the most important. There is the principle of interpretation which demands that we let Scripture interpret Scripture. Reading a Biblical passage within the context of the entirety of Scripture sheds light on that passage we would never have just by reading that passage alone. It also guards against unbalanced interpretations of Scripture. Jesus said to His opponents, " You diligently study the Scriptures (The Old Testament) because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me..." (Jn. 5:39) The Old Testament writers had their reasons for writing what they did, but they were not aware that their writings were speaking of God's Son, Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers. Therefore, the original intent of the Old Testament writers is not always the controling factor in Biblical interpretation of the Old Testament.

The author of Hebrews states this concerning the seventh day of creation: "...And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: 'And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.' " (Heb. 4: 3-4) The author is quoting Gen 2:2, which speaks of God's rest on the seventh day. The author quotes Gen 2:2 in making the case that there will be a future Sabbath day of rest for the people of God. Without Gen. 2:2, his scriptural case for such a promise collapses. Gen. 2:2 is the evidence for a promise from God to his people. Obviously, the writer of Hebrews believed that Gen 2:2 chronicled a historical event, an event that actually happened. If the writer did not think so, he would be comforting God's people with a promise based on an event that did not happen. He would be giving a false comfort. Obviously the writer thought Gen 2:2 should be interpreted literally. And if a New Testament writer interprets Gen 2:2 literally, then according to the principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, so must we. If the verse chronicling the seventh day is to be literally interpreted, so are all the verses covering days one through six. After all, if the seventh day is an historical event, so are all the previous days.

Did Jesus have anything to say concerning a literal interpretation of Genesis 1? Yes. What did Jesus say? In Mark 10, in speaking of marriage, Jesus said, "But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female." AT THE BEGINNING OF CREATION. Jesus tells us that Man and Woman appeared at the very beginning of creation, not after a period of human evolution. This agrees with the account of creation in Genesis 1. To interpret it otherwise would be untrue to the text of Scripture.

Part III will be posted soon.

All Scripture quotations are from the NIV.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sola Smorgasbord: Tim Keller And Theistic Evolution. Part I: A Faith And Evolution Reconciliation?

(First published on 5/9/10. This post has been edited from the original.)

Tim Keller is the pastor of The Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. While pastoring his own church, he has been influential in planting numerous churches in New York City. Most of these church-plants are not even of his own theological conviction. Of these 65 church-plants, only 10 are of Keller's denomination, The Presbyterian Church of America. The rest include Lutheren, Charismatic and Christian Missionary Alliance Churches. The largest church-plant is Southern Baptist. (For the source, see here) For this, Keller deserves enormous respect. I have heard some of Keller's apologetic sermons and found them profitable for their insights. Sometime this year or next, his book "The Reason for God" will be reviewed on this blog. Therefore, I was disappointed to discover that Keller has written an article which was published on Francis Collins' Biologos website entitled "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People" which attempts to reconcile Biblical faith and belief in Evolution.

In his article, Keller states that the widespread conviction that Evolution and Biblical Christianity are mutually exclusive poses problems for Christians and those who are attracted to Christianity.  According to Keller, many Christians cannot reconcile their gratitude toward modern science and what modern science tells them about Evolution with their theological beliefs.  Those who are exploring the Christian faith have a different problem.  Seekers may be drawn to the faith but ask, "I don't see how I can believe the Bible if that means I have to reject science." (Keller, p. 1)The merits concerning Keller's presentation of this conflict will be examined in part V of this series.

Keller maintains that the conflict for Christians and seekers can be resolved by demonstrating how Biblical faith and belief in Evolution can be reconciled. To affect this reconciliation, Keller attempts to answer four questions:

1. How can we interpret Genesis 1 as non-literal while honoring the authority of Scripture ?

2. How can we accept Evolution without adopting the views of the New Athiests such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?

3. How do we reconcile the historicity of Adam and Eve, which is at the center of Paul's theology of human sin, with Evolution?

4. If God used evolutionary biological processes to produce Man, how do we account for the introduction of sin and violence into the world?

Keller's answers to all four questions fail to stand up to scrutiny.

Originally this series had been planned as a single article, however, realizing that the one article would have been too long, I have divided it into five parts. In the next three posts, I will examine how effective Keller's answers are to the four questions he poses. Part IV will evaluate a possible model Keller uses to explain how the Biblical account of creation could accomodate evolutionary biological processes. It is in part IV that the rational for the title of this series will be explained. For now it suffices to say that his model violates the doctrine of sola scriptura adhered to by Protestants. It is also in conflict with Calvinist theology, of which Keller is an adherant. Part V will examine whether the conflict between faith and belief in evolution for believers and seekers is as Keller portrays it to be and why the two cannot ultimately be reconciled.

Judging on past experience, when this blog has dealt with the topic of Evolution, I would advise anyone who would like to comment to read the new comment policy which can be found at the right hand side of the screen.  I would also encourage you to read Keller's article linked to above.  I do look forward to your responses.

Friday, May 13, 2011

No Title

Last night I finished writing papers for the ordination process.  Now I can move on to finishing two projects on Wesley which will appear on this blog in the future.  In the meantime old articles will be reposted.  In a few days the series "Sola Smorgasbord: Tim Keller and Theistic Evolution" will again appear.