She Felt Like Shooting Me

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.”

* * ** * ** ** * ** ** ** * ** * ** * ** ** * ** * ** ** * **

Commentary:

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.

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About ScottBuchanan

Long-time evangelical Christian, interested in everything, including science, miracles, gardening, and macro-economics. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. from Princeton University, both in chemical engineering. Since then, have conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and am an inventor on over 70 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
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4 Responses to She Felt Like Shooting Me

  1. Jim V says:

    Points of agreement and disagreement (for what they’re worth):

    I haven’t read “The God Delusion” but have read other books by Dr. Dawkins and several articles. Necessarily TGD must upset people who hold a contrary view of religion, but my impression is that it is sincere and fairly argued. In private conversations one tends to back off when one’s arguments cause strong feelings, but in print one expresses one’s points of view fully. You yourself have received angry responses to some of your writings, so perhaps you and Dr. Dawkins are not so different.

    On the other hand, take Dr. Myers – please (as the Henny Youngman joke goes). I read him daily several hears ago, but don’t read him at all anymore. First his commenters, and then his own postings lost all moderation. (I can remember when he treated questions from creations kindly – for a while.)

    I use “IDers” rather than IDiots. I agree the latter is needlessly offensive, Perhaps the former is too, although not intentionally. I am just too lazy to type the full words.

    I must of course disagree that “the atheism of Dawkins and Myers is no more proven or objective than are the beliefs of the theists.” Proof in the sense of the preponderance or the evidence (as in a civil court case) falls clearly on the side of non-theism. Otherwise, 19 years of Sunday School, Church, Youth Service, Release-Time Religious Education (Thursday afternoons the Protestants marched to one church and the Catholics to another, for two hours of sermons – I don’t think that is still done in NYS these days) and Daily Vacation Bible School would have kept me a theist. Example: on a clear, moonless night in the desert if you hold your hand up it blocks about 30 stars – some of which may actually be galaxies, bigger than our own. This universe was not made by anything that cares any more for humans than we care for ants, and it is very nearly 100% inhospitable to our form of life. Even if we pretend the planet Earth is the most important venue in the universe, bacteria out-mass all other forms of life here by a factor of about ten.

    About being unable to accept videos as evidence of non-coincidental miracles – guilty. The alternate explanations such as lies and fakes are too credible, backed by numerous known cases, without reproducibility under controlled, double-blind conditions. After all, Hindu Fakirs have much more extensive (anecdotal) successes, yet you don’t believe Ganesh the Elephant God is responsible for them – do you? Speaking of elephants, I have seen a video of David Copperfield making an elephant disappear – but it was not a miracle.

    No doubt you have heard all these things before, as I have heard theistic arguments. In the end, as my friend Mario likes to say, “you have to believe whatever it takes to get you through the night.” But we should be polite to each other, on that I completely agree.

    • Jim, Well put. I don’t want to open up a big debate on these well-worn subjects, but will add two brief remarks:

      re big hostile universe: It’s not clear why a universe largely devoid of life, or a biosphere where there is more biomass at the bottom of the food chain, would be evidence against God. I observe exquisitely fine-tuned physical constants that allow large molecules to exist, and initial conditions at the Big Bang that led to the formation of you and me and our loved ones on this planet. For me, that is ground for gratitude.

      re people faking miracles: No doubt that happens a lot. But I have to note for the record that the key players in most of these videos or journals articles that I cited (Randy Clark, Heidi Baker, and Bethel church staff) are people that either I or my eminently reliable adult daughter have become pretty well acquainted with in person. It is not remotely credible that these individuals would be perpetrating a fake. However, were the healees suffering from psychosomatic conditions that became relieved via prayer? I cannot exclude that possibility. I don’t claim expertise here, am just putting the evidence out there so the open-minded can judge for themselves.

      Best regards…

  2. gigaboomer says:

    Respectfully Scott, how can you even have a gospel story if the Genesis story never happened?

    • Hi Gig, I understand your concern. It has taken me years to work through some of these issues. I wrote on Adam and the Fall in a post called “Adam, the Fall, and Evolution: Christianity Today and WORLD Push the Panic Button”, which you can find on the right hand side of this blog window. Here is an excerpt (between the astericks) which I think most directly answers your question:
      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * **
      How central to the Christian faith is the doctrine that Adam’s fall is responsible for our present sinfulness and that God deals with us through Adam? It is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament, apart from the two passages [Rom 5 and I Cor 15] discussed above, where we have shown that it was merely an add-on to the points Paul was making anyway. Paul develops the universality of sin in Romans 1-3 with no mention of original sin. He moves from, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness… although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (1:18-21) to “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23) quite apart from Adam. In all of the gospel proclamation to both Jews and Gentiles recorded in the Book of Acts, there is not a single reference to Adam’s sin.

      The Fall is never mentioned in the sayings of Jesus. On the contrary, Jesus directed people away from religious speculations or blaming others, and towards a consciousness of their own transgressions and their personal need for mercy. We might have expected Jesus, in addressing the seemingly random tragedies of unjust executions and the collapse of a tower (Luke 13:1-5), to tie this seemingly fallen state of affairs to Adam’s sin. Instead, he warns his hearers to be mindful of their own sin and its consequences. When his disciples asked for an explanation of why a man was born blind (John 9:1-3), that was another golden moment to teach on the effects of Adam’s fall. Instead, Jesus rejected the disciples’ suggestions that this malady was attributable to either the man’s own sin or the sin of his ancestors (parents), and then modeled a godly response by alleviating the man’s suffering.

      Three great early creeds of Christendom are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. The versions used by the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) are given here. These creeds affirm lots of things, but have absolutely nothing to say about Adam and the effect of his Fall.

      This can come as a surprise to those of us who are steeped in Reformed theology. The overarching meta-narrative of creation-fall-redemption, and the series of covenants which start with Adam and culminate with Christ, have structured our worldview for so long that losing the literal Adam seems like losing “historic Christianity.” But taking the witness of the Scriptures and the Creeds into account, we find that that the doctrine of original sin is not core to the gospel.
      * * * * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** ** ** ** * *

      I don’t know how deeply you have engaged with science. If you believe that a young earth can be maintained an a viable option, I suggest you read my post (at top of the page) called Grand_Canyon_Creation. It’s pretty long, so you might want to print it out first. It shows in some detail how the arguments of young earth creationists are unsound. At the end I note some reasons why this issue is important for evangelical Christians, e.g.

      …Christianity purports to be based on truth and historical reality — if we demonstrate massive and willful ignorance by claiming the earth is young and macro-evolution did not occur, we lose our right to be taken seriously by the outside world when we claim that the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are firmly anchored in history. This can only hinder the sharing of the gospel.

      …waves of Christian young people each year are forced to engage with the reality of biology and geology in high school and college classes. Many of them come to realize that their trusted Christian parents and teachers have misrepresented the case regarding evolution. They find that evolution is in fact true. So “If evolution is true, Christianity is false,” what do they then conclude about Christianity?

      ….this [god-of-the-gaps] mindset fails to appreciate the operation of the providence of God in natural operations, and the comfort that can bring. If things (such as evolution) that occur according to natural laws are “purposeless,” that means that all Christians who aren’t experiencing daily miracles are living purposeless lives. Conversely, if we claim that God can be at work in our midst without supernatural miracles, then He can equally be at work in the processes in the natural world.

      Presumably your desire is to uphold the authority of God’s word. I respect that, and I share that intent, even if we differ in how that plays out in practice.
      Best regards,
      Scott

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