Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Towards cogency on Genesis, Evolution, Science and Theology

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the topics mentioned in the title. It seems to me that many who occupy pulpits or the like in the Sydney-associated region have a mindset (that I have shared) that goes likes this: Genesis 1-3 isn't about science, it's about theology. So I can just teach the theology, and ignore the other issues. There's some truth to that, and it's fine as far as it goes, but I think we need something more robust.

1. This approach utterly fails to help people deal with historical scientific investigations of the development and origin of the world.
2. This approach utterly fails to help people deal with the literary forms of Genesis in any significant way.
3. This approach overlays theology and history in early Genesis, without giving us any grasp for how we might disentangle them

The way I see it, one needs to do the hard work to reach a certain position. This hard work should include:

1. Understanding the basic elements of the current Scientific Consensus on the Theory of Evolution. You don't need to master the intricacies of it, you do need to understand what Evolution actually is.

2. If you can do (1), then you also need to manage (2): an understanding of the principle of methodological naturalism that undergird science as a method. Methodological naturalism is foundational for science. Of course, methodological naturalism paves the way for philosophical naturalism, which is why atheism is so quick to ally itself with science. That is to be expected. Christians need to be able to articulate a counter-claim for why methodological naturalism does not guarantee, in fact cannot guarantee, philosophical naturalism.

3. Read up on Abiogenesis. Because Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of life, only the development of life forms. Far too many people collapse the two, and articulating the difference is worth it. Abiogenesis is an open scientific question.

4. Grapple with Genesis 1-11. It's not enough to embrace the literary framework method. One needs to read up on it, apply it, and be able to articulate one's position. This needs to include the ability to distinguish between what Genesis is saying (its real theological affirmations) and the form in which it is saying it.

5 Significant problems. At this point, I am fairly agnostic on questions of how God created the world. Genesis doesn't answer those, and I'm still working through these issues. I'm also not a scientist. But it's too glib for Christians to go “oh, evolution and Christianity have no real contradictions, I see no problem”. That's true, as far as it goes, but you will still need to come to terms with significant issues: suffering and death in the natural world pre-Fall (the problem of natural evil); the inefficiency of evolution as a design-method; the historicity of Adam (which seems difficult to avoid given the theological function his historical existence plays in later scripture), etc..


Mikey Lynch said...

Amen. I'm amazed at how fierce theistic evolutionists can be in slamming and dismissing creationism without having wrestled with these questions.

Creationists raise important questions:
- if you allow for a historical Adam and Fall, how do you fit that into any respectable evolutionary schema?
- what literary markers are there to separate the 'poetic' parts of Genesis from the rest?

And so on. Would love to hear you develop these thoughts some more.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Will do. Plan to offer a few more thoughts down the track. Still working over a few of these issues.

Mikey Lynch said...

Have you seen Mark Baddeley's thoughts?


Seumas Macdonald said...

Some time ago, but the reminder is timely and I will revisit them.

Bernard said...

Mmmm. Thanks Seumas. I've been nutting through some of this stuff for sermons engaging with Dawkins, et al., and feeling the same frustrations with our shared heritage.

I gather the CPX guys have some stuff forthcoming, which will hopefully be of some benefit.

May I suggest that point 4 might be expanded to include other passages as well (although Gen 1-11 is an obvious starting point)?

Seumas Macdonald said...

Thanks Bernard,

Re: point 4 could certainly be expanded. My vibe is that other parts of the Scriptures dealing with creation are fulfilling various other functions. There's something about the way Genesis fits into the Pentateuch in particular, its very foundational narrative for how Exodus shapes Israel's identity in relation to God, that gives Gen 1-11 a rightly foundational place in thinking not so much about science & God, but about Creator & Creation.