Presentations: Reframing the Debate

We have been giving presentations on the science/faith interface to various audience in Northern California for several years. Recent public engagements include presentations at a local church's high school youth group, at a public forum on the campus of a Christian liberal arts university, and as a guest lecturer for a sociology course on culture wars at a public university in Kentucky. More on the speaker and our approach can be found below.
 
The Questions
Creation and Evolution: Foes or Friends? It’s creation versus evolution, right? Or do we have to choose? A growing number of believers think that God may have created via evolution. But how can these apparent foes be reconciled? And why would you want to? Doesn’t the Bible explicitly teach against evolution? Besides, isn’t it “just a theory,” unfounded and atheistic? 
 
Important as these questions are, should the debate over the mechanisms of creation take center stage? Or might Scripture have more pressing things to communicate?
 
The Speaker
Grappling with these very questions, our speaker Dr. David Vinson began a long journey of exploration. He has a fascination with the Christian Scriptures and with the biological sciences. He is an emergency physician and a widely published clinical researcher. David served on the Advisory Council of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena (2008-2012) and has been teaching Bible to diverse audiences for over 30 years. More here
 
Start with the Message of Creation
Before diving into the discussion surrounding creation and evolution, it's important to appreciate the larger message of creation. The Bible is seen by Christians as God's word to his people. What might God have to say through Scripture's many creation-oriented passages? Once we grasp the message of God to his beloved people we will see that it provides a constructive framework and an interpretive context for the conversation about whatever mechanisms he may have employed in creation.
 
One take on the message of Genesis 1 is provided in a sermon I gave in San Jose, August, 18, 2013. Day Zero: Creation amidst Chaos. The accompanying handout is here. Day Zero Handout 
 
An excellent tour through several key creation texts is this accessible book by David Wilkinson, The Message of Creation (The Bible Speaks Today) (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002).
 
 
Appreciate the Church's Diverse Opinions
After placing the message of creation at the center of the conversation, one is prepared to address the various opinions the church holds on the matter of creation and evolution. For this, I refer you to the presentation given at William Jessup University in early 2013. Here we situate the debate about creation and evolution within the context of Jesus' command to love God and neighbor. With that as the governing paradigm, we move on to distinguish between evolution as science and evolution as philosophy. This discussion allows one to understand why a large proportion of evangelicals accept evolution as God's means of creation. Evolutionary creationism can then be seen as one of several reasonable options available today for those who want to be faithful to God, to Christ, and to Scripture in this increasingly scientific era. Here's a copy of the handout: WJU Handout   
 

Fliers, Handouts, and Videos from Prior Presentations 

Outline of Earlier Presentations
 

Distinguishing Central and Secondary Issues

That the biblical God is our magnificent Creator is a central truth that unites Christians of all stripes. This should give us ample cause for wonder, for celebration, for trust. Our varied opinions of the mechanisms he may have employed are secondary issues.

A Biblical Posture

In approaching this discussion there is a preferable posture to adopt, one that befits a follower of Jesus Christ, one that is enjoined by the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit. As maturing children of God, we are increasingly oriented toward others. We value relationships and seek to understand why others reason the way they do. We guard against the sins of arrogance and divisiveness. We respect that there are different ways of looking at the same thing. We are humbly aware that our own perspectives are limited and biased by our culture, tradition, exposure, and networks.

Jesus makes it clear how his followers must treat each other. “Love one another as I have loved you. The world will know you are mine by how you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Paul tells us to embody compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love in our relations with one another. In such a manner we are to pursue unity within God’s family (Col 3:12-14; Eph 4:1-3). In Romans 14-15 Paul explains to Christians with disparate views on non-essential issues how they are to treat one another. This section is highly applicable to our topic at hand. He exhorts us to embrace those with whom we differ and to accept others as Christ has accepted us. In 1 Corinthians Paul admits the limitations of his knowledge, something also germane to our discussion: “Now we see things incompletely as in a cloudy mirror…all that I know is partial and incomplete” (1 Cor 13:11-12).

A Broad Framework

We offer here an introduction to two popular models of relating biblical creation to biological evolution.

A. The Conflict Model      Creationism  versus  Evolutionism (held by about 60% of US Christians)

1. What Divides these Two Poles?

These polarized extremes are seen by their advocates as antagonistic and threatening. Their sometimes militant approach can feel to the ‘opposition’ as though they are trying to invade and take over the other’s territory. Radical creationism seeks to undermine ‘naturalistic science’ and scientism wants to overthrow ‘irrational religion’. Because these poles get the lion’s share of the media’s attention, many assume the conflict model is the only way to approach the interaction of creation and evolution.

2. What Unites Them? They Agree on Many Presuppositions

The number of options? Only two, creation or evolution. The relationship between them? Either/or; they are presumed to stand in irreconcilable opposition. The nature of biological evolution? In this model evolution is seen as inherently atheistic (or even anti-theistic). The teaching of the Bible? It is thought to demand that each species is a distinct, unrelated special creation, each miraculously ‘poofed’ out of thin air. 

B. The Complementarian Model       Creation  via  Evolution (held by about 40% of US Christians)

My adoption of this model was slow and progressive. Over time I found the evidence for evolution to be compelling, fascinating, and worship-inspiring, and I was not alone. (See My Journey.)

Other Advantages of this Integrated Framework

1. Appreciates How God Usually Works in the World

Does it minimize God’s handiwork when we discover the mechanisms he employs? Meteorology explains why it rains, yet we still thank God for watering the earth. With the eyes of faith, Christians can discern the hand of God working through natural means. We can view the world in two integrated dimensions—natural and divine. Common examples include our multi-layered appreciation of the formation of babies and God’s gift of daily bread. Why not also in the generation and expansion of life on earth?

2. Grasps the True Nature of Science

Science is successful and reproducible because it limits itself to natural explanations of physical phenomena. In nature, it can answer “How?” but cannot address the “Who?” or the “Why?” questions. There is a critical distinction between methodological naturalism (how science works) and metaphysical naturalism (the belief that science is the only way to know things; scientism). Science at its best is metaphysically neutral and thus can be incorporated into various philosophical and theological systems, which explains why scientists inhabit all three major groups: atheists, agnostics, and theists.

3. Opens the Door to Integration for Scientists and Students

This model breaks down the unnecessary dividing barrier thought to separate Scriptural realities and scientific realities. Gone here is the false dichotomy that forces a choice between God and evolution. Scientists have no need to jettison their science in coming to Christ and students have no need to abandon their faith as they learn about evolution.

4. Respects the Contextual Nature of Scriptural Communication

Scripture affirms the scientific perspectives endemic to the ancient Near East. Is this simply the science-of-the-day, a vehicle for communicating more critical truths, or is it “timeless truth” that should trump all future discoveries? What do we do with all the ancient science the Bible presumes? Like slavery, ancient science can be left with the ancients.

C. Why These Models Make Great Sense to Their Respective Advocates

The Conflict Model

1. Takes selective scientific cues from Scripture

2. Distrusts science as having an atheistic bias

     Methodological naturalism is thought to be inseparable from metaphysical naturalism

3. Denies the evidence for evolution

4. Presumes that some natural mechanisms are eternally inexplicable and, as such, provide “proofs” of supernatural intervention

5. Insists on multiple “poofing” events

 

The Complementarian Model

 

Reverse each of these 5 points above to grasp the presuppositions of those who view evolution as God’s marvelous means of creation.

 

With this perspective, science and theology both seek understanding, but generally they address different topics, raise different questions, and use different methods. Together they allow a richer view of the world.