Emily Ruppel is Web Editor at Biologos and Associate Director of Communications for the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). My wife Grace met her at the 2012 ASA national meeting in San Diego.
Grace is intelligent and well-educated but was never interested in science. She became very dismayed for some years over the directions she saw me taking regarding creation and evolution. Grace recognized that the violent emotions provoked in her by the debate over the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 were representative of many others as well. She wrote up her experience for Emily’s review and then Emily talked with Grace. Emily wrote up the interview for publication in ASA’s God and Nature magazine. The article, entitled The Bible, Evolution, and Grace, was posted in the BioLogos Forum.
Did I mention violent emotions? The interview post starts out:
“I remember being so angry about it, I wanted to shoot him,” said Grace Buchanan over the phone.
Whether you are a theistic or non-theistic evolutionist, if you are going to engage constructively with anti-evolutionists you need to understand the depth and basis of these passions. The Biologos post describes my journey from YE creationism (anybody here old enough to remember The Genesis Flood ?) to evolutionary creation. This came through incremental realizations of what the scientific evidence is, as I read back and forth between pro- and anti-evolution sites, and dug into the primary literature.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
For ten years, Grace had been listening to Scott as he conducted his private research about geology and was expressing concerns about YEC. She recalls going through a process of denial and rage because he was disturbing what she felt she knew about the Bible. “I felt like the very basis of my faith was being challenged,” says Grace, “and I felt rage over someone taking away my comforting view of a personal God who downloaded the Bible without human partnership or error. I felt guilt because I had taught the Genesis story as literal fact to children for over 25 years. How could I be forgiven for deceiving them and/or possibly causing them to lose their faith when they got to science classes that convinced them they had been lied to in Sunday school?”
The post notes that what helped Grace was not being bludgeoned with physical facts, but realizing (initially through a graduate course) how high was the level of human involvement in writing of the Bible:
“I learned in that class that there was a great deal of human thought and planning involved in many biblical writings and stories. I learned that the parable of the prodigal son was crafted from a story that already existed in rabbinical teaching, for which Jesus changed the ending to show what his Father in heaven was really like. I also learned that many of the psalms and proverbs followed the elaborate literary devices of the Hebrew poetical forms of that day, including acrostics and very specific poetic patterns. Wait a minute!, I thought, that means that a human being filtered those thoughts through an educated mind and had to work hard over a long period of time to craft his writings! How did that fit with divine inspiration?”
….Grace says she learned that the people of ancient times very much studied nature and fully embraced the science of their day, including the concept that the world was capped by a rigid dome called the “firmament” which prevented celestial waters from deluging the earth, and in which the sun, moon, and stars were suspended. Their ancient biology observed that living things came from reproduction by their own kind, rather than branching off from the stalks of a long and complex evolutionary tree. Says Grace, “I learned that God faced a choice when choosing how to reveal God’s nature and purposes to mankind over the centuries: God could try to change the scientific understanding of the ancient peoples or God could use their current understandings to begin to reveal God’s nature through stories and lessons that complied with those understandings. It appears God chose the latter method.”
……“Finally, I could grasp the concept that the beginnings in Genesis are every bit as valid ‘parables’ as the other parables we read in the Bible,” recalls Grace. “Jesus told stories about realistic characters who were not actually real people. That does not make the stories less ‘true’—all parables contain a message of God’s truth, a revelation of the true natures of both God and man. The truth is the message or meaning that God wanted to convey, and the story is a vehicle for that truth.
Grace’s advice is to address the biblical issues first, and maintain an attitude of patience and respect:
“What I’ve said to my husband over and over is that those who want to change the thinking of the church in America on science must address the fear and guilt factor, first—because no human being who is invested in what they perceive to be loyalty to God can even consider rationally an idea that asks them to fly in the face of that loyalty. But there can also be no respectful debate unless those who are not still angry and threatened can kindly and patiently take the lead and speak with loving-kindness to those who are.”
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This is why the rants of Richard Dawkins and P. Z. Myers against religion are completely counterproductive in helping conservative believers to give consideration to the claims of biological evolution. (We won’t get into how the atheism of Dawkins and Myers is no more proven or objective than are the beliefs of the theists). Their sneers and jeers simply reinforce the suspicions of theists that “Darwinism” is some sort of godless conspiracy, a “universal acid” to dissolve away all that is good. I can hardly blame them, then, for circling the wagons and looking to the likes of Stephen Meyers and William Dembski as their champions.
The anti-evolutionists are not unique in this response of sticking fingers in ears and dismissing evidence which they have decided ahead of time cannot be correct. Humans have a well-documented propensity towards confirmation bias, which is the tendency to acknowledge and remember only the information which accords with a previously-formed opinion.
For instance, I get the same response to some of the links I have posted on this site which provide evidence of miraculous healings: some commenters have evidently made up their minds ahead of time that miracles simply cannot happen, and therefore are unwilling to consider the videos displayed right in front of their noses. (It’s fine if they detect some flaw in the specific evidence presented, but the fact that miracles rarely occur is not a valid basis for concluding they can never occur). Same with dedicated political liberals or conservatives – if I try to present a different point of view, I typically receive maybe 20 seconds of polite attention, after which my conversation partner breaks in with “Yes, but…” and interjects some anecdote which tars some opposing politician but which does not address the actual point at hand. From The Vampire Lestat:
Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world… On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds – justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on.
Most Panda’s Thumb and TalkOrigins articles (not true for the comments on PT!) tend to stick just to the facts. I found those articles very helpful in sorting out the science, since with those I was not distracted by the noise of ill-informed metaphysical opinions or epithets such as “IDiots”.
Although I put most of my efforts into penetrating to the truth on the physical facts, Grace’s observation on the importance of addressing the worldview or theological aspects applied to me, as well. A key input in my journey towards accepting evolution was a book on biblical exegesis, Paul Seely’s classic (1989) Inerrant Wisdom. Seely examines the concept of literal, absolute inerrancy that many evangelical Christians feel they must hold in order to be faithful, and shows that this version of inerrancy is actually unbiblical. Go figure. Inerrant Wisdom is summarized chapter by chapter by Peter Enns. A number of similar books have come out in the past decade that share a similar outlook on the Bible, but also treat the evidence for an old earth and for evolution in some detail. These books include Evolutionary Creation, Beyond the Firmament, and Coming to Peace With Science. Francis Collins’ The Language of God offers good science and personal anecdotes, but does not dig deeply enough into the exegetical issues to be of much help here.
A fear that needs to be addressed is the slippery slope: if, on the basis of physical evidence we deem the opening chapters of Genesis to be nonfactual, does this inevitably lead to jettisoning key elements of the gospel narratives such as the Resurrection as well? This panics believers into wholesale rejection of modern science. Whole books could be written on this issue. I’ll just note some key differences between Genesis 1-3 and the Gospels. The Genesis creation story is at odds with known history, but we expect the writings of the Bible to reflect ancient views of origins, which includes some sort of special creation of humans as opposed to development from earlier species. It is important to note that the Genesis creation account is not eyewitness attestation. The writer just starts right in telling the creation story. Many believe there is an authorial connection to Moses, but we don’t know how the book of Genesis took its final form. The ordering of the 6 days of creation (Days 1-3 being creation/structuring of various domains, and Days 4-6 being creation of entities to fill or govern those domains) strongly suggests idealized or literary structuring.
In contrast, the New Testament presents the key Jesus-events as being well-known and well-grounded in history. Luke starts his gospel noting that he had made careful investigations before writing. Paul notes in Acts 26:26 that these things were “not done in a corner,” and appeals in I Corinthians 15:6 to hundreds of witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. Paul’s paradigm is that a credible spiritual message must comport with the physical facts, even though some inner enlightenment may be necessary to enable people to personally embrace that message. In that passage in I Cor 15 Paul reminds his readers in Corinth that when he visited them some years earlier, he was passing along a narrative of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection that he had in turn received from the original apostles yet more years before. There is no reasonable doubt that Paul wrote I Corinthians in 55-60 A.D., so he heard the message from Jesus’s disciples within about 10 years of the events of ~ 30 A.D.
The apostles spent the rest of their lives spreading the Christian message, and in most cases suffered grisly deaths as a result of their proclamation of the Resurrection. The New Testament narrative is found to agree with known history in a plethora of details. All this stands on its own, regardless of whether the Eden story is literal or figurative.
If believers could grasp these distinctions between the Genesis story and the gospel story, they could more objectively consider the physical evidence for an old earth and for evolution, and let that be a separate issue from the truth of the Christian gospel. Of course, the people best placed to make this case are evangelical Christians like myself. However, non-Christian evolutionists as well, if they want to be constructive in dealing with resistance to evolution, will recognize the underlying source of that resistance, and refer anxious believers to sites like BioLogos or to books like those mentioned above. My Adam, the Fall, and Evolution post tries to offer resolution on one of the most disturbing issues.