God Saw That It Was Good – All Along (Theistic Evolution)

Have you read the engaging book by scientist Francis S. Collins:  The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.?  As someone who works in the engineering field and as a Kingdom of God Venturer the book’s discussion of science and faith intersecting piqued my interest.

Before reading this book I did have the innate understanding that science and faith were compatible and that each discipline reinforced the other with their respective insights and revelations.  But prior to reading this book I hadn’t seen much credible literature discussing this premise.  Currently, there appears to be plenty of antipathy between the church and science. So I was excited to purchase the book and evaluate a scientist’s take on the nexus. I was not disappointed.

Francis S. Collins, as the back cover bio reads, headed the Human Genome Project and is one of the world’s leading scientists. “He works at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life.  Yet he is also a man of unshakable faith in God and Scripture.

Dr. Collins believes that faith in God and faith in science can coexist within a person and be harmonious. In The Language of God he makes his case for God and Science.”

Of special interest to me is the fact that Collins (as I do) accepts theistic evolution.  In Chapter Ten he writes:

“This view is entirely compatible with everything that science teaches us about the natural world.  It is also entirely compatible with the great monotheistic religions of the world.  The theistic evolution perspective cannot, of course, prove that God is real, as no logical argument can fully achieve that. Belief in God will always require a leap in faith.”

The book lays out for the reader in very accessible terms how Collins who was not raised in a Christian home came to his belief in God as a budding scientist in his twenties.  The book goes on to discuss why Collins fully accepts theistic evolution as opposed to literal Creationism and Intelligent Design.  Based on his own research Collins says the evidence is overwhelming in favor of natural evolution as God’s creative methodology.  I would agree.

He then further encourages the church to endorse scientific research as a resource for understanding God’s creation, therefore offering a better understanding of God.  In concert with his plea I believe every church leader should purchase this book and read its message.  There is, sadly, too much mis-information being preached and taught by the Christian Evangelical church regarding creation.  This information makes the church look rather foolish.  Remember Galileo’s row with the church? Being raised an Evangelical I was taught that the earth was created about 6-8000 years ago and that the seven days described in Genesis Chapter One were literal days:  Poof!  We just showed up on the scene.

Later in life I became skeptical of the Young Earth Creationist theology but I clung to it because I had heard of no other plausible evidence to the contrary.  Evolution was routinely discounted in the Evangelical church.  In fact everything I had heard in church told me that evolution was the atheist’s version of the Christian creation. Evolution was also described as a slippery slope which would carry people away from God toward unbelief.  And worse, the church seemed opposed to science and science was something I truly enjoyed being involved with.  I would later look into Intelligent Design (ID) and had wondered if ID might be the catch-all for my belief in God’s creative act. But I was to learn that ID was flawed theory that did not take into account the nature of God.

My change in thinking occurred a few years ago when I came across the writings of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga from the University of Notre Dame.  Spending two and a half hours on a train five days a week over the course of several years I had been able to read and research many different science and philosophy topics. And I did this precisely because I wanted to know more about God, the nature of His being and the world around me.  This excited me no end.  I don’t read romance novels.  I find my excitement by romancing the truth.

Through reading Plantinga’s papers, though sometimes written in difficult philosophical terms, the door of my understanding was opened wide and I accepted theistic evolution as a valid creation methodology.  I would encourage anyone to read Plantinga’s papers.

The basics of theistic evolution are clearly delineated in Francis Collins’ book and on the Biologos website.  Biologos is the name given to theistic evolution by scientist Collins.  Here are the Biologos premises/beliefs from that website:

We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to providentially sustain the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God.

  • We believe that all people have sinned against God and are in need of salvation.
  • We believe in the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man. We believe in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which we are saved and reconciled to God.
  • We believe that God continues to be directly involved in human history in acts of salvation, personal transformation, and answers to prayer.
  • We believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. By the Holy Spirit it is the “living and active” means though which God speaks to the church today, bearing witness to God’s Son, Jesus, as the divine Logos, or Word of God.
  • We believe that God also reveals himself in and through the natural world he created, which displays his glory, eternal power, and divine nature. Properly interpreted, scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Author.
  • We believe that the methods of science are an important and reliable means to investigate and describe the world God has made. In this, we stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom Christian faith and science are mutually hospitable.
  • We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution and common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.
  • We believe that God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth, but also as spiritual beings. God established a unique relationship with humanity by endowing us with his image and calling us to an elevated position within the created order.
  • We believe that conversations among Christians about controversial issues of science and faith can and must be conducted with humility, grace, honesty, and compassion as a visible sign of the Spirit’s presence in Christ’s body, the Church.
  • We reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.
  • We reject ideologies such as Darwinism and Evolutionism that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God.
  • We reject ideologies such as Materialism and Scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge and truth, that science has debunked God and religion, or that the physical world constitutes the whole of reality.

As a follower of Christ and as someone who seeks to bring people to faith in Him I see it as imperative that Evangelical church leaders (John Paul II accepted theistic evolution) come to grips with science (natural science, quantum physics, genetics, etc.) and to avail themselves of all empirical data and evidences coming out of science research.  As I see I, the church and science are completely compatible.  Therefore, the church must not seek to restrain the hand of God, an evolved hand that was once nailed to a tree, a resurrected hand that now reaches out to all of us.

For more information about theistic evolution and Christianity I especially recommend Dr. Karl Giberson’s book The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, InterVarsity Press | March, 2011

More from Dr. Giberson:

The Language of Faith:  Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins, Intervarsity Press, 2011

The Wonder of the Universe:  Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World by Karl W. Giberson, Intervarsity Press, 2012

Other resources:

http://biologos.org/

Philosopher Sticks up for God

Alvin Plantinga

Dr. Francis S. Collins speaks about science and God:

Wrestling with God?

Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011. God rest his free will.

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Out of fear of creating a post too long and drawn out (as it turned out to be) and one that no one may read I will try and summarize as best I can my take on the video posted below. Please view the video first. (You will need several cups of coffee.  Hold the scotch.)

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As you will see and hear in the video, Christopher Hitchens’ (Hitch) arguments for atheism (or against theism), after many dead-end asides, were centered on his aversion to having anyone telling anyone what to do.  His followers readily know that over the years Hitch has repeatedly taken umbrage on paper or in one-upmanship debates against totalitarianism and against any authoritarian person or religion having a say in his life or in the lives of others. For the record, William Lane Craig (marker 13:59) noted that Hitch despised and hated religion.

Hitch was certainly OK, though, with authoritarian imposition upon others if he felt the cause justified removing other authoritarian figures from the lives of those he thought were oppressed.  He, to the horror of the liberal elitists, aligned himself philosophically with G.W. Bush regarding the Iraq war and the war on terror against radical Islamists.

In the February 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, Salman Rushdie penned In Memoriam, Christopher Hitchens: 1949-2011. Rushdie wrote about Hitch’s return to the left:

“Paradoxically, it was God who saved Christopher Hitchens from the right. Nobody who detested God as viscerally, intelligently, originally, and comically as C. Hitchens could stay in the pocket of god-bothered American conservatism for long.  When he bared his fangs and went for God’s jugular, just as he had previously fanged Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, and Bill Clinton, the resulting book, God is not great, carried Hitch away from the American right and back toward his natural, liberal, ungodly constituency.”

As a way of life Hitch sought to stand juxtaposed to the universal rule of law (his own conscience) in an antinomian position while at the same time declaring moral diatribes against religious and political authorities he considered too over arching in their imposition. He also liked to keep his conscience well inebriated and his roving moralist eye ever looking elsewhere ~ looking outside and not within ~ denial and pretense being typical liberal traits.

With atheistic cowardice and hubris, Hitch attacked Mother Teresa, a little old lady. He apparently wanted to feed his prurient desire to neutralize any authority figure (overt or implied) by trying to bring her down several notches in people’s eyes.  Why? He claimed she was pushing her authoritarian teachings onto the helpless. He accused her of hypocrisy in her dealings (an easy, self-serving claim for an atheist to make against any Christian). He may have felt threatened by her devotion to an unseen God and her ability to make things happen for others and doing so as a little old lady.

Why would a grown man verbally attack a helpless woman who indeed went about helping others who themselves were under the totalitarianism of poverty and squalor?  Maybe Hitch thought she wasn’t helpless. Maybe it was a direct attack against God. It certainly was an act of unmatched intelligential cowardice. To be sure Mother Teresa fought the unseen authorities of this world (the “powers of darkness”) by physically helping the outcast, the hungry and the hurting with an agape-powered love and not verbal hubris.

Hitch, on the other hand, fought the very public “seen” authorities of this world by aligning rhetorically with causes which he felt were important for him. He should have noted that he and Mother Teresa were fighting the same issue ~ human suffering at the hands of others (whether a dictator or a false religion) -from two different sides. Yet, he chose to denigrate Mother Teresa. I believe he did this because he felt threatened by her belief in the unseen God.

Hitch postures that Christians, especially Christian missionaries like Mother Teresa, are hypocrites who say things they know to be true and good but live disconnected lives apart from such truth – their deeds not matching match their words. This argument (?) against God was replayed in his use the La Rochefoucauld quote “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue.” Yet, this hypocrisy argument folds in on itself if one were to hold any moral standard at all. Perhaps Hitch, a polymath, saw moral laws as “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.” (The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe)

Clearly Hitch’s excessive lifestyle (his immoderate drinking, smoking, etc. have been noted elsewhere) made his salacious attacks against God all the more the more forthcoming and lubricious.  His lifestyle had also proved his belief in nihilism – life is nothing if not suffering. So he apparently used a “get it while you can” justification to medicate the blows between verbal jousting contests.

His liquid lifestyle also spoke to the fact of Hitch’s drive for “freedom” from any limitation imposed on his person including by his own person – his physiology. He chose against himself again and again.  He did this while throwing the world a bone now and then, choosing willy-nilly causes to deflect away any personal soul-searching which might lead to accountability to any higher authority. (see marker 25: 5, If god does not exist then objective moral standards don’t exist – a self-satisfying argument.)

Hitch detested dictatorships of all kinds and he did so while as a potentate of his own world. He would not bend the knee to anyone or to anything.  He would fight, as Salmon Rushdie recalled in the same Vanity Fair article remembering his friend, for anyone who was made to do so.  Hitch’s rebellion was against dictatorial authority of any kind and not just in the political and religious realm.  And he certainly rebelled against authority stated as codified truth – the Bible and the recorded history of the resurrection of Jesus.  His moral relativism, stated above, is characteristic of most atheists (and the “ungodly constituency”) since they affirm that no moral standard exists outside one’s self.

In the video Hitch asks the universal question posed to theism:  why would a God who was all powerful and good allow suffering?  My answer:  suffering comes out of created man’s free-will choices in a fallen world. God has allowed it for a time but not forever. Justice will be meted out and suffering will end.

He continues his disbelief:  “Why would God spend eons of time in creating a world that he could set up in a blink of an eye?” He went on to say that Christians are now co-opting evolution theory in accordance with the Creation argument, evolution being a position long held by atheists.  He “christens” this “tactic” or “style” of argument as “retrospective evidentialism” or as a “second thought.” (marker 37:40)

As a Christian theist I see no conflict whatsoever with science and creation.  I believe in theistic evolution-a finely tuned theistic universe, a personal cause of the universe and a theistic objective morality. As scientific evidence becomes available it should be used and not discarded.  Beyond scientific proofs, my own belief in God is vindicated every day because I, a rational human being, know that God exists. I continue to pursue Him actively and I submit to His authority. Hitch, on the other hand, fled from any such authority outside of himself and employed his own existentialist belief system where he felt safe from intrusion.

Also in the video, Hitch uses the Creationist argument of a literal seven days to say that we as Christians are basically lunatics to believe such things. Again, I see no conflict with a Creationist’s position of a literal seven days and the theory of relativity which could make thousands of millennia appear as seven literal days.

Hitch takes another jab at Christian theism by invoking his own god-like view point when questioning why God would do what Christian theists believe He did. He balks (and I’ll paraphrase):  “…the eons of time that God has created-evolved ~ that all of this fine tuning, mass extinction and randomness is the will of a Creator God (marker 40:21) and that all of this happened so that one very imperfect race of evolved primates might become Christian ~ all of this was “with us in view” is a curious kind of solipsism, a curious kind of self-centeredness.”  Hitch jests that he thought Christians were modest and humble, not self-centered with certain arrogance to the assumption that this “was all about us.” And, “The tremendous wastefulness of it, the tremendous cruelty of it, the tremendous caprice of it, the tremendous tinkering and incompetence of it, never mind at lease we’re here and we can be people of faith.” This projection from one who, with a free will, spoke from a self-centered and solipsistic core!

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Creator, was always meant to bypass the wise of this earth: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.”” (Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church).   A priori rebellion coded as cleverness is found in the Mitochondrial DNA of man.

Apart from free-wheeling self-directed solipsism, there is a bounty of sound arguments for theism and William Lane Craig (WLC) highlights them artfully:  “No good argument that atheism is true, there are good arguments that theism is true ~ not via social questions or ethics (marker 16:00).

WLC philosophical arguments in quick notation:

Cosmological argument:  things exist, not nothing; the universe began to exist not infinite, not eternal ~ Big Bang Beginning, ex-nihilo, a cause by an UnCause beyond space and time;  David Hillburg ~ The infinite;  there must be a cause of creation. This Being must be uncaused, timeless, space unfathomable & personal and not abstract thought or object; The universe has begun to exist and is not infinite, not eternal (astrophysics concur); Past event are real, there must be Personal creator of the universe, transcendent intelligent mind

Teological argument:  (marker 20:00) finely tuned universe ~ mathematically constants (e.g., gravity) not determined by the laws of nature & the arbitrary conditions (entropy, balance between matter and antimatter); any change in these would be the end of life itself (the atomic weak force being altered)

Chance?  Odds are incomprehensibly great, life prohibiting universes are more probable

It follows logically by Design ~ intelligent argument, intelligent designer

Moral argument (marker 25: 15):  if god does not exist then objective moral standards don’t exist; if God exists then valid and binding; the morality that has emerged proves that god exists ~ via moral experience; we understand that there are things that are really wrong.

Historical fact (marker 27:40):  The resurrection of Jesus a historical fact not just a belief;  tomb discovered empty eyewitnesses;  individuals and groups saw Jesus, appearances to believers and unbelievers;  the original disciples believed in the resurrection and Jewish religion believed otherwise about when resurrection occurs; Christian die for the truth of the resurrection (marker 30:26)

Experiential knowledge:  The experience of God or claim to know that God exists – properly basic beliefs part of a system of beliefs including the belief of an external world;   Context of physical objects; grounded in our experience of God; God immediate reality

Hitch responds (marker 33:16):  arguments the same across religions ~ belief in God but differences; presuppositionalists (by faith) and the evidentialists a distinction without a difference.

As you will note Hitch’s arguments are all basically dismissive of Christian belief and are not evidentiary in favor of atheism; note his “rather sweet” dismissal of those who believe ~ that those of faith should have evidence.  (Hitch once again conveniently dismisses the facts of the resurrection and the improbability of causation by chance.)

Hitch: “We argue that is no plausible or convincing reason, certainly no evidential one to believe that there is such an entity…all observable phenomena is explicable (marker 42:00); I don’t believe that following the appropriate rituals…

“Even if this deity did exit it doesn’t prove that he cared about us…cared who we had sex with …care whether we lived or died… (marker 42:32)

“Miracles suspend the natural order ~ Christians want it both ways (“promiscuous”) (marker 44:00); The natural order – “It is miraculous without a doubt”

“I have to say that I appear as a skeptic, I doubt these things.” (marker 46:16)

“The theist says it must be true…”Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”;

Too early in the study of biology…to make these claims.”

Perhaps Hitch, the verbal grappler, was as a sound and fury professional wrestler who was successfully agile at avoiding a real match-up with Truth. But now, the fight has ended, the match is over. All that’s left in the empty corner is a book ~  God is Not Great.   His last words?