Science and Faith at the American Scientific Affiliation 2018 Meeting

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is an organization of evangelical Christians who are degreed scientists and who gather to discuss how their science and their faith interact. The 2018 annual meeting of the ASA was held last week at Gordon College, located north of Boston. A general theme of the meeting was “Bioethics and Biotechnology.” A list of links to all the talks, with audio and slides (and video for the plenaries) is here.    Videos of the plenary talks are also available here. That link might stream the plenary videos better than the general meeting link.

I will summarize here a number of presentations that I attended, which I have grouped into the categories below.

Contents

Plenary Talks

  Douglas A. Lauffenburger, “Humanizing Therapeutics Discovery”         

  Nigel M. de S. Cameron, “A Human Century?”

  Francis S. Collins, “The Joyful Complementarity of Science and Faith”

  Noreen Herzfeld, “Cybernetic Enhancement and the Problem of the Self”

  Jeffrey P. Schloss, “The Question of Purpose in the Living World: Does Evolution ‘Lead to Love’?”

Teaching Science to an Evangelical Christian Audience

More on Faith, Science, and Implications of Evolution

Three Responses to a Critique of Evolutionary Creationism

Workshop: “Reworking the Science of Adam”. Facilitated by S. Joshua Swamidass

The Image of God

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Plenary Talks

Douglas A. Lauffenburger, “Humanizing Therapeutics Discovery”

Describes approaches using new technology to speed the discovery of beneficial medicines.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, “A Human Century?”

The confluence of massive, cheap, distributed computing power with artificial intelligence algorithms and robotics and the internet and endless data-gathering may lead to unprecedented human flourishing or to oppression by a digitally-enabled power elite. He noted that in China the government now has in place a program that monitors all the accessible political and social behaviors of people and then denies them privileges such as being able to get train or plane tickets if the government is not pleased with them.

I discussed with him afterwards what might be practical policy measures to help mitigate the effect of massive job displacement, as artificial-intelligence-enabled robots are able to perform more and more tasks. There is a prospect of ever-fewer humans stressing out while working full-time to support an ever-growing welfare class sitting on their couches collecting unemployment or other transfer payments. Nigel noted that the low headline unemployment numbers are partly an artifact of people dropping out of the workforce. He suggested that extending health benefits down to say 20 hours/week could draw more part-time people into the workforce and thus even out the workload.

 

Francis S. Collins, “The Joyful Complementarity of Science and Faith”

Francis Collins led the Human Genome Project which gave the first complete readout of human DNA around fifteen years ago. He is now director of the National Institutes of Health. In this talk he first shares his personal journey from atheism to faith in Christ, and then describes some powerful techniques to edit a person’s genes to potentially cure certain genetic-based diseases. Profound ethical questions are raised with germ-line gene editing, which can in theory be used to produce “designer babies”.

 

Noreen Herzfeld, “Cybernetic Enhancement and the Problem of the Self”

Explores the feasibility and implications of uploading your thinking processes to a computer. (I found this talk so intriguing that I describe it in more detail below).

Jeffrey P. Schloss, “The Question of Purpose in the Living World: Does Evolution ‘Lead to Love’?”

Describes various key evolutionary transitions, such as prokaryotes to eukaryotes, single cell to multicell organisms, asexual to sexual reproduction, solitary to (eu)social, and primate sociality to human sociality. Although the mechanism of evolution involves competition and survival of the fittest, the overall trend is that these evolutionary transitions lead to increased cooperative interdependence and eventually to the unique capabilities of humans for collective intentionality, moral norms, and religious faith.

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Noreen Herzfeld, “Cybernetic Enhancement and the Problem of the Self: Are We More Than Minds?”

Ray Kurzweil (The Age of Spiritual Machines) laid out a vision for achieving immortality by uploading our consciousness into computing machines:

“As we cross the divide to instantiate ourselves into our computational technology, our identity will be based on our evolving mind file. We will be software . . . Our immortality will be a matter of being sufficiently careful to make frequent backups.”

The U.S. Brain Initiative and the European Human Brain Project are working to map out the functions of the circuitry in our brains. But the brain is really, really complex, especially when we factor in the roles of neurotransmitters which actually carry the signals across synapses, so it will be some time before this sort of mapping is completed.

Francis Crick told us that, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will . . .You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” But are we more than just abstract information? Does it matter that our consciousness is embodied?

Our bodies are an important part of ourselves: They give us continuity over time, they provide the locus of our intelligence (how we learn and how we remember), and they let us feel. It is argued that human emotions are closely linked to our bodies, literally, how we feel.

There are people today who lack emotions such as empathy, remorse, anxiety and embarrassment. We call them “sociopaths”. Is that what a purely thinking being could be? (One could presumably program a virtual being to think nice thoughts, even if he/she/it didn’t “feel” like it).

Christian theology has always affirmed the value of our bodies, over against teachings such as Gnosticism and Docetism. The final state we anticipate is not to float around heaven as disembodied spirits, but to be resurrected with bodies, albeit of a different kind than our present flesh.

In the Q&A session, someone asked something like, “What would a virtual person do all day? Just sit around and think?” The speaker noted in response that she is not aware of many women who are excited about living in silico. She pointed out that self-instantiation in software is mainly proposed by men, and nerdy men at that. Also in the Q&A, she noted that there is no actual “cyberspace”. Information is always instantiated on some physical hardware. Thus, the notion of becoming independent of the physical world is illusory.

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Teaching Science to an Evangelical Christian Audience

There were a number of presentations dealing with faith and science education. I will describe four of them.

Kathryn Applegate, “BioLogos INTEGRATE: New Christian Worldview Supplement for High School Biology”

Currently, teachers at Christian schools and home schoolers must choose between secular biology textbooks, which offer no Christian worldview context, and Christian-published curricula, which often are written from young earth creation or Intelligent Design perspectives, which do not accurately convey the science. To address this dilemma, BioLogos is developing an on-line Christian worldview supplement to accompany existing standard biology textbooks such as Miller and Levine. Topics include ways of knowing (in science and theology), creation care, fossils, age of the earth, etc. Five out of a planned fifteen modules have been completed. These include videos, hands-on activities, Scripture meditations, exploration of theological/philosophical concepts, and integration exercises. Interested educators, including home schooling parents, can contact Kathryn at BioLogos to discuss participation in piloting this supplemental program.

Katherine referred to a recent TEDx talk, “The E Word” by April Maskiewicz, a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University.

In this talk, Prof. Maskiewicz describes how her pastor told her that she had to choose between Christianity and evolution, leading her to become an atheist. Some years later she came back to faith, and then had to wrestle through how to integrate that with her science. Katherine showed a slide with some discussion questions to follow up a viewing of this TEDx talk. (I believe this slide was presented as an example of the type of discussion material that is in the BioLogos INTEGRATE supplement).

 

Gladys Kober, Susan Benecchi, Paula Gossard, and Ashley Zauderer, “High School Curriculum: The Crossroads of Science and Faith: Astronomy Through a Christian Worldview–Outreach Phase”

A team of astronomers and educators have developed a complete 1-year curriculum for teaching a high school course in astronomy, preferably at an advanced (junior and senior) level. This curriculum consists of two parts: (1) an introduction to the science and faith dialogue and (2) astronomy as a discipline, including many interviews with professional Christian astronomers to engage and inspire students (more information at www.GlimpseofHisSplendor.com ). The textbook is long and lavishly illustrated.   Unfortunately, not many Christian high schools offer a full year course in astronomy, but this curriculum seems to me to be a great resource for home schoolers, who may have more flexibility in setting their coursework.

Patricia Fitzgerald-Bocarsly and Andrew Bocarsly, “The Science/Faith Dialogue in the Local Church: A Leap of Faith”

This wife and husband team offered a seven-week adult Sunday School in their non-denominational evangelical church in the Princeton, New Jersey area. Although this church includes a relatively high concentration of practicing scientists, congregants include people with young earth and other perspectives on creation.

One motivation for this course was to address the perception among young adults that churches are antagonistic to science. A 2011 Barnett group study of why many young Christians are leaving church turned up responses like this: “Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%) and “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). They have been “turned off by the creation versus evolution debate (23%).

The course theme was that God reveals himself through his two books: the Bible and his creation. God is the author of both books (see Colossians 1:15-17). The curriculum comprised the following topics:

– The beauty and wonder of creation

– The history of science and faith, beginning in the middle ages

– The scientific method

– Cosmology and the age of the universe

Some proposed topics for a follow-up discussion series include creation care (including global warming), a history of Darwin and the response of his contemporaries, and models of origins (without taking a particular stance).

The starting text was a booklet published jointly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), When God and Science Meet. That booklet can be purchased, or downloaded for free at https://www.nae.net/godandscience/ . It treats topics like the history of science and faith, the validity of scientific knowledge, worshipping God through science and discovery, and science as a Christian calling. It is clearly favorable towards evolution, but only touches on that subject briefly.

Patricia and Andrew skirted the subject of evolution and human origins, and focused on less divisive topics. In so doing, they apparently managed to get through this class with minimal outcry from young earth creationists. (One couple was upset, and asked for and received permission from the church elders to offer a two-week Sunday school class presenting the young earth viewpoint.) They received many thanks from university students and post-docs, who said how important it was to have the science/faith topic addressed, and how much it meant to them to see their professors praying in class.

Their ASA slides included the following prescient quote from James McCosh, president of Princeton University:

“I have all along had a sensitive apprehension that the undiscriminating denunciations of evolution from so many pulpits, periodicals, and seminaries might drive some of our thoughtful young men to infidelity, as they clearly saw development everywhere in nature, and were at the same time told by their advisers that they could not believe in evolution and yet be Christians” [Bedell Lectures, 1887]

McCosh insisted that the Darwinian hypothesis, rather than calling into disrepute the existence of God, served “to increase the wonder and mystery of the process of creation.”

 

Mark Strand, “Teaching Evolution to Young-Earth Trained High School Sunday School Students”

From the Abstract:

Scientifically informed positions on scripture play an important part of the intellectual and spiritual formation of Christian young people. The creationism movement, particularly Answers in Genesis (AIG), has used books, videos, and conferences to establish themselves as the most influential source of information for evangelical Christians wanting to understand origins. Therefore, young earth creationism has shaped the thinking of young people and curricular decisions of many Christian schools and home schoolers.

In 2015, funded by the Templeton Foundation, Trinity International University began The Creation Project, to catalyze a field of study around the doctrine of creation that is faithful to scripture and informed by scientific evidence. This became the inspiration for the project presented here, which was to design a 6-lesson course to introduce evolution to high school students in a Sunday School class in a Midwestern evangelical church. A 19-item survey was created and administered pre- and post-course.

The purposes of the Sunday school series were to:

– Help students understand that the doctrine of creation is essential

– Learn to do exegetical Bible study

– Be able to describe that a variety of scientific interpretations of Gen 1-3 are possible, and

– See that science is a method, not an enemy, and an opportunity for ministry

Some challenges were that the kids seemed unfamiliar with exegetical Bible study, some parents were concerned about the topic, and student views on some issues did not change (e.g., “The Bible is a source of scientific information”, “Because Genesis is true then evolution is false”, etc.).

Lessons learned included:

– Some of the students are either fearful of or disinterested in science

– Creating a safe atmosphere was important

– It took six weeks with the issues to sink in

– 17–18-year-old students need to be pushed out of their comfort zone

– Students seem ready to expand their understanding of science and scientists in a positive way

– They were afraid of revisiting absolutist views they hold on the Bible

– We need to begin where the students are at, not where a person is at after studying this issue for many years

– Humility and agnosticism: As scientists we need to be cautious when passing judgment on creation doctrines, and theologians should be similarly cautious when evaluating the scientific theory of evolution.

– There are different epistemologies in play: empirical, personal, ethical

– The series was as much an activity in pastoral care as it was an intellectual activity

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More on Faith, Science, and Implications of Evolution

James Sideras, “The Need for Generation Z Christian Apologetics”

The exact dates are not agreed upon, but it is common to call the generational cohort born about 1995-2010 “Generation Z”. These folks are now aged 8-23, and make up about 26% of the U.S. population. This is a larger cohort than the Baby Boomers (born 1947-1963) or the Millennials (Gen Y, born about 1980-1994).

Gen Zers have never known life without the internet, and are the first widely post-Christian generation.  Some implications of the Internet are: Listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings; Independent and self-directed; Chasm between information and wisdom.

Gen-Z communicates with symbols, speed and images. Suggestions for reaching them include:

  • Engage with their objections. (Why can’t I have sex outside of marriage? Why do bad things happen?)
  • Visual storytelling.
  • Start with a hook. (You may get only eight seconds to grab their attention. It may help to define some opening statement that highlights a benefit.)
  • Be succinct. (They want bite-sized answers. It’s OK to leave them wanting more. This differs from traditional apologetics approaches which often involve long scholarly treatments of subject matter.)
  • Address emotional issues. (Many young people have grown up with helicopter parents, and so may need coaching on how to handle the stresses of the real world.)
  • Address spiritual vacuum and illiteracy. (Many in this generation don’t have even the memory of the gospel content.)

James has written a book on apologetics, where he pares each argument down to about 500 words, or three minutes of verbal presentation:   101 Good Reasons to Believe: A Comprehensive Case for Christianity .

 

Loren Haarsma, “Beyond the Free Will Defense: Natural Evil, Theodicy, and Sacrificial Love”

The problem of evil and suffering is a common theme of atheist challenges to Christianity. There are actually two distinct aspects of the problem of evil. One is intellectual, the other is emotional or experiential. No matter what we say to justify the big picture, usually no explanation is available for why some particular tragedy is permitted, and experientially, pain still hurts. This experiential aspect of suffering calls for pastoral care, and is beyond the scope of the discussion here.

With the intellectual problem of evil, it is asserted that there is a logical contradiction between the statements “God is all-powerful”, “God is all-good”, and “Evil exists”. However, this apparent problem is completely resolved  by adding a fourth statement: “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists, whether or not He reveals that reason to us”. It is not arbitrary to add this fourth statement, since it can be directly inferred from the first two statements (God is all-powerful and God is all-good). Atheists may complain about God not explaining His ways to their satisfaction, but that does not change the fact that the intellectual problem of evil for theism is resolved.

Technically, this is a defense, not a theodicy. It does successfully defend against the attacks of atheists. But then it stops, having accomplished its mission. A theodicy attempts to go further and explain to human satisfaction what are the reasons God could have for permitting suffering and injustice.

The early church fathers, for instance, proposed that experiencing suffering in this life, and choosing to trust God and to express his love to others, helps us to develop character that will make us more fit for living in the presence of God in the next life (the soul-making theodicy). In recent times it is commonly proposed that God places such a high value on free will, on having human beings that can choose to love or not to love, that he created a world where there is a genuine option to choose evil as well as good. These proposals probably all have some merit but we should not put too much weight on them. On this side of eternity, there will always be an element of mystery regarding the full sweep of God’s will and plan (see, e.g. Isaiah 55:8-9). We ultimately rely on God’s complex but good character as demonstrated in Jesus Christ, not in our ability to explain everything to our satisfaction now.

With all that said, I saw a presentation in the program by Loren Haarsma that looked interesting. It is along the lines of the free will theodicy but takes it further, to an emphasis on enabling self-sacrificial love [agape love, in the Greek]. The talk abstract says:

Atheists sometimes point to features of the natural world as arguments against theism (e.g., age and immensity of the universe, hiddenness of divine action, randomness, suffering caused by natural events and moral evil, evolution, the neuroscience of belief).

In response, numerous Christians have developed “free will” or “soul-making” accounts. A recent book by Christian Barrigar (Freedom All the Way Up, Friesen Press) affirms these accounts but advocates a shift of emphasis, arguing for free will as only a necessary precondition for God’s ultimate purpose of creating beings capable of understanding and living in relationships of self-sacrificial love toward each other and God.

Self-sacrificial love is especially central to God’s Trinitarian nature and revealed in Christ’s redeeming work. This “agape” account for these features of the world can be appealing to many Christians and powerfully inviting for non-Christians. It also has some implications regarding the subtlety of divine action in the natural world, and the (perhaps) inevitability of human sin, which some Christians might find theologically troubling, and are worth further discussion.

In the slides for this talk, it is noted that the features of the universe which are cited as evidence against God (e.g., age and immensity of the universe, hiddenness of divine action, randomness, suffering caused by natural events and moral evil, evolution, the neuroscience of belief) can also be explained as being enablers or corollaries of having moral agents capable of choosing self-giving love. This would be a general explanation of why these features might exist, not specific justification for why some particular person was swept away by some particular tsunami. Some examples:

Hiddenness of divine action

– “Epistemic distance”

– Satan’s charge against Job

Suffering caused by natural events

– Inevitable consequences of an over-all good system (e.g. plate tectonics, evolutionary adaptation)

– Events have predictable consequences

Randomness

– Humans use randomness for purpose

– Necessary condition for freedom

– Range and distribution of outcomes still predictable

Evolution

– Randomness and predictability

– Freedom to explore possibilities

– Evolutionary convergence to agape-capable beings

Neuroscience / evo-psych of belief in God

– Neuroscience / evo-psych of disbelief

– Naturalness of belief while maintaining the necessary “epistemic distance”

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Three Responses to a Critique of Evolutionary Creationism

“Intelligent Design” proponents (most notably, associates of the Discovery Institute in Seattle) claim to be objectively detecting “design” in the biological world. But what they primarily do in practice is publicize gaps (which were already discovered and published by real scientists) in our current understanding of specific evolutionary steps in the past, and claim those gaps as examples of “design”. No matter how much they deny it with their words, their actions demonstrate that this is a God-of-the-gaps exercise, pure and simple. Furthermore, they grossly exaggerate the magnitude of our knowledge gaps, as we have documented with the Cambrian Explosion, with human/chimpanzee/gorilla genomes, and the general fossil record.

Although they have now had some 25 years to work on it, Intelligent Design proponents do not put forth a substantive, testable counter-proposal for how today’s species came to be. We can find in the fossil record, for instance, a whole series of fossils with transitional features between fish and tetrapod amphibians, and another series between reptiles and mammals [1]. According to the Intelligent Design model, did God specially create each species ex nihilo just in time to appear in the fossil record in the order expected by evolution? Or did He supernaturally alter the genomes of a breeding pair in each lineage once every half-million years to make each transition? Or what, specifically? The Intelligent Design proponents never say, electing instead to hide behind endless, vacuous incantations of the word “design” whenever they identify a knowledge gap.

Evolutionary creationists, on the other hand, acknowledge the reality and validity of the physical evidence for how today’s species came to be. Both genetic and fossil evidence show that all of today’s biota, including humans, were formed via evolution from common ancestral life-forms [2]. There is no evidence that God supernaturally intervened with numerous miraculous tweaks over the ages. Rather, God created a universe with the properties of matter and the initial conditions which were just right to lead from single-celled microbes to human beings. God created today’s species via the process of evolution, hence the name “evolutionary creationism” for this position.

God exercises ongoing providential care over all of creation, whether or not this providence manifests as miraculous acts. For instance, most Christians would hold (following Romans 8:28, etc.) that God superintended the mutations in your parents’ genomes, and which egg and which sperm (out of thousands possible) combined to make you exactly the individual you are, even if no supernatural intervention were involved. Evolutionary creationists see God’s normal supervision of the evolution of today’s species in terms of this sort of providential activity. Note that this is not deism, and does not preclude miraculous interventions, such as the resurrection of Jesus. This view entails taking a non-literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story.

In late 2017, a group of Intelligent Design proponents published a 1000-page attack on evolutionary creationism. This book is Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (Crossway, 2017) edited by J. P. Moreland, et al. This book gets it wrong in many ways, starting with the title. The editors know perfectly well that most of today’s serious evolutionary creationists say that “theistic evolution” is not an apt description of their position, but the editors chose that title anyway. A chapter-by-chapter review of this book by Christian apologist J. W. Hartwick may be found here.

As evident from the title, there are three main prongs to this critique: scientific, philosophical, and theological. Three presentations were made at the ASA meeting, addressing each of those three areas. Due to time limitations, these talks could only cover a few points apiece.

Denis Lamoureux, “Intelligent Design Theory: The God-of-the-Gaps Rooted in Concordism”

Denis responded to some of the theological issues raised in the Theistic Evolution book. For instance, Intelligent Design proponents have carefully tried to paint themselves as objective scientists, who happen to be open-minded towards evidence for design in the natural world. They claim that they are not driven by religious concerns. This is the basis of their case for trying to get their material included in public school curricula. Their opponents are not fooled, since (as noted above) all they do in practice is identify gaps in knowledge which they claim can only be filled by the actions of some Intelligent Agent (and the only Intelligent Agent who would have the knowledge, power, and longevity to frequently inject massive amounts of new information into the biosphere over the past half-billion years would be God or some super-race of aliens), and since the proponents of Intelligent Design are mainly evangelical Christians or other strong theists. Not surprisingly, various court cases have ruled that Intelligent Design is not a scientific activity, but a religious one.

Denis points out that with the publication of this book, the Intelligent Design proponents have shown that their critics were correct all along about the religious basis of their work. As he notes in the Abstract, “One-quarter of Theistic Evolution is a strident defense of a concordist hermeneutic that ultimately undergirds this antievolutionary God-of-the-gaps view of origins”. We already knew that the Intelligent Design movement is fundamentally a religious enterprise – – the internal (but leaked) foundational “Wedge” document of the Discovery Institute gave as one of its two Governing Goals : “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”. That is pretty clear, but that is something that Discovery Institute authors have tried to downplay over the years as they have tried to get Intelligent Design inserted into public schools. However, the fact that the Intelligent Design authors have (with the publication of this book) apparently stopped pretending that they are doing objective science seems to me a possible signal that they have accepted defeat for their effort to get into public education, and will instead emphasize their theological correctness, in order to appear more relevant for their conservative Christian base.

Denis cited assertions in the book that the Genesis creation stories must be understood as historical narrative, not as figurative or allegorical literature. Thus, it must be the case that Adam and Eve were the first humans, that Adam was specially created from dust, Eve was directly created from Adam’s rib, human death began as a result of Adam’s sin, etc., no matter what the physical evidence is.

Denis noted that the book consistently misrepresents the theological implications of evolutionary creation. The book claims that evolutionary creationism (or, as the book terms it, theistic evolution) “says no living creature in nature bears witness to God”. That is false, since the entire natural order, including all its (evolved) living creatures, bears witness to God. Another claim is that theistic evolution “completely nullifies the evidence for God‘s existence and therefore significantly hinders evangelism.” Wrong again. Denis notes the irony of this accusation, since it is the anti-evolution teachings of Intelligent Design and young earth creationism which have been documented (see poll results above) to lead many young people to abandon their childhood faith. Anti-evolutionism also greatly hinders evangelism among educated adults [3].

The accusation is further made that theistic evolution “significantly undermines the doctrine of the atonement” and that it “undermines the effectiveness of the Resurrection to give new life to all who are saved by Christ”. This is more baseless fear-mongering. Denis, and many other evolutionary creationists, make it clear in their writings that Jesus died to atone for their sins.

(I’ll add that a literal Adam and a literal Fall are not at all essential to the gospel. Paul develops the universality of sin and the solution of Christ’s atonement in Romans 1-3 with no mention of original sin. In all the gospel proclamations 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 their personal need for mercy for their own sins, regardless of what did or didn’t happen with somebody else 6000 years ago. See Adam, the Fall, and Evolution for more on this, including a treatment of the Romans 5 and I Cor. 15 passages dealing with Adam. )

Another citation from the Theistic Evolution book was, “A non-historical reading of Genesis 1-3 does not arise from factors within the text itself, that is, the word of God, but rather depends on a priori commitment to an evolutionary framework of interpretation.” That again is easily shown to be wrong. Denis pointed out that it was not a commitment to evolution that first drove him away from a literal interpretation of Genesis, but rather, it was seeing the ancient science and other ancient Near Eastern motifs within the scriptures. Dennis was still an anti-evolutionist at that time (!). He named some other well-known theologians who likewise abandoned a concordist hermeneutic because of biblical, rather than scientific reasons. I might add that various early church fathers proposed nonliteral interpretations of Genesis, long before Darwin.

To counteract all this misinformation about “theistic evolution”, Denis articulated several more accurate statements about evolutionary creationism. He holds that:

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process.

Also: Evolution is intelligently designed and creates intelligently designed living creatures that “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 18:1).

Note that this is not “Darwinism”. The Biologos statement of faith  has similar declarations of God’s sustaining, providential activity in upholding the universe (including evolution); this statement of faith specifically rejects “deism” and “ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process”.

Intelligent Design proponents set up a false dichotomy, claiming that believers must choose between macroevolution OR divine design. But in reality, it’s both. The Theistic Evolution book claims that “any proponent of theistic evolution who affirms that God is directing the evolutionary mechanism, and who also rejects intelligent design, implicitly contradicts himself” (pp. 43-44). This statement assumes that the only way God can “direct” something is to miraculously intervene; as noted above, this contravenes the traditional Christian understanding of God’s providential supervision of the world.

Denis would like to wrest back the term “intelligent design” from the hands of the anti-evolutionists. He would more intelligently define intelligent design as:

Belief that beauty, complexity, and functionality in nature impacts everyone powerfully, pointing to an Intelligent Designer and revealing some of his attributes (beyond reasonable doubt, according to Psalm 19 and Romans 1).

 

Randy Isaac, “In Defense of Theistic Evolution”

Randy offered a response to what is probably the key scientific argument made by Intelligent Design (ID) authors in the Theistic Evolution book as they attack evolution. That is the claim that new functional information can only be generated by an intelligent mind.

ID proponent Stephen Meyer argues as follows:

– Cause A (evolution) cannot cause Effect X (creation of new information like the genetic code in DNA)

– Cause B (intelligent mind) is known to be able to generate new information

– Therefore, Cause B (intelligent mind) can be inferred to be the cause of X (new information in the genome)

But Randy contends that:

– Cause A (evolution) CAN cause new genetic information, so there is no gap

– Cause B (intelligent mind) has NOT been shown necessary to generate new information

All Randy needs to do to prove his point is to find one example of new genetic information being generated by evolutionary processes, such as mutation and natural selection. But there are billions and billions of such examples staring us in the face. Randy points out that practically EVERY reproductive event involves some modification to the functional DNA, and thus generates new information. Thus, the case against evolution collapses immediately.

(Every human being is, due to mutations and recombinations, genetically different from his or her ancestors, and so is based on a new-to-planet-Earth set of genetic information. If the ID proponents demand an increase in the overall amount of genetic code, that is easily met by the well-known phenomenon of gene duplication combined with additional mutations. See, for instance, this study by Brown, et al., documenting multiple gene duplications in yeast, resulting in the formation of at least three new, chimeric genes.  ID proponents attempt to discredit these examples by trying to define them away, but they still stand.)

Only Abstract Information Requires an Intelligent Mind

Stephen Meyer claims that “All our experience shows that [functional] information is always generated by an intelligent mind”. He provides examples such as language, phone numbers, computer code, engineering designs, etc.

Randy counters that “All our experience in biological systems shows that functional information does NOT require an intelligent mind”, for the reasons described above. All reproductive events with mutation or recombination of alleles generate new information which is functional for every organism which survives and reproduces.

Randy makes a key observation, that abstract functional information is the only type of functional information that requires an intelligent mind to generate and act on. The meaning of information in human-designed information systems (such as all the examples cited by Meyer) is abstract, i.e. is independent of its physical embodiment. This abstract meaning, which can only be comprehended by other conscious beings, is a hallmark of the intelligent design of these information systems. For instance, the meaning of the command “Close the door!” can be expressed as “Cierre la puerta!” in Spanish or some very different symbols in Hebrew or Chinese, or reworded in English to something like “Seal the portal!”. This shows that the meaning of “Close the door!” is a concept which does not depend on the letters “C”, “L”, “O”, etc. being present in that sequence, or on the shapes of those letters. Typically it does require an intelligent mind to formulate a statement in English like “Close the door!”, and also to understand the meaning and to act on it.

In contrast, in its native state the “meaning” of DNA information is its biochemical function, which is utterly dependent on its physical embodiment and environment. Specific sequences (triplets) of nucleotides, known as codons, physically bond to matching sites on specific transfer RNA molecules which cause specific amino acids to be placed into protein chains, all operating according to regular natural laws of biochemistry. Plain physical mutations in DNA will alter the resulting proteins. Thus, there is no evidence that DNA information requires an intelligent agent for its source or its function.

One of Randy’s slides puts it this way:

FUNCTIONAL INFORMATION IS CONNECTED TO INTELLIGENCE THROUGH ABSTRACT RELATIONSHIPS

    – Abstract reasoning is a defining hallmark of intelligence

    – Functionality in human-designed systems is determined by abstract relationships

– Intelligence is required

   – Functionality in biological systems is determined by offspring survival and success in reproduction

– No intelligence is required

Randy has posted his slides and an extended summary of his talk on his blog at ASA. He goes into more detail there on definitions of various types of information.

James Stump, “Did God Guide Evolution?”

This talk dealt with a rhetorical maneuver that Intelligent Design proponents use, which is based on the same confusion about providence that is noted above. From the abstract:

Part of the recent book Theistic Evolution is a “Philosophical Critique.” There are not a lot of new ideas here, but there is one rhetorical strategy that intelligent design (ID) proponents have increasingly used that needs a clear response drawing on philosophy.

ID proponents have taken to asking those of us who accept the science of evolution and traditional Christian theism, “Did God guide evolution?” and they expect a simple “yes” or “no” answer. This puts us on the horns of a dilemma: if we answer “yes,” they think we have conceded to an intervening God along the lines of ID; if we answer “no,” they claim our God is not substantially different than the God of deism.

I will suggest that there is an implied premise in the question that forces us into the dilemma, namely, that God’s action occurs at the same metaphysical level as the causes that science investigates. If that premise is rejected, we can affirm that God “guides” evolution in the same sense we affirm that God “creates,” without thereby being committed to finding gaps in the scientific explanations where God can insert himself.

The problem lies in how to explain clearly and cogently the different metaphysical levels at which God’s action occurs. Classically, Aquinas invoked notions of primary and secondary causation. That was helpful, but ultimately I will claim that contemporary philosophy of language gives us better resources to understand science and theology as different discourses. Each describes or “re-presents” an aspect of reality, but neither tells the whole story.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Workshop: “Reworking the Science of Adam”. Facilitated by S. Joshua Swamidass

Most of the discussion in this workshop revolved around the assertion that, due to the phenomenon of pedigree collapse  as you go back through many generations, it is theoretically possible that all humans today are descended from one couple, who may have lived around 500,000 years ago. This man and this woman interbred with other contemporary humans and thus were not the only humans living in their day, but they were the only ones whose genes ended up being passed down to modern humans. The lineages of everyone else from 500,000 years ago happened to die out, in this scenario.

I was not familiar with the science here, but there were four scientists on the panel, and dozens of other scientists in the audience, and nobody disputed that this was at least a possibility. This claim (that it is theoretically possible that all humans today are descended from one couple from some 500,000 years ago) is consistent with (i.e. does not contradict) some other established scientific findings, such as the fact that our genome looks exactly as it should look if we are related to other primates (see e.g. Endogenous Retroviruses in Your Genome Show Common Ancestry with Primates ), and that the human total human population never dropped below a few thousand people in the past half million years.

Naturally, this proposal interests believers who desire to maintain a literal Adam and Eve. It does raise other difficulties, such as what were all the thousands of other humans (pre-Adamites or non-Adamites) doing in the days of this primordial couple. Young earth creationists will not be satisfied by this proposal, since they insist on Adam and Eve being the only true human beings alive in their day, which was only about 6000 years ago.

Some questions I have on this proposal:

In reflecting on this workshop, it is not clear to me why it would be so essential for all human beings to have all their DNA coming from just one man and just woman one woman, 500,000 years ago. The notion that original sin is passed along in our genomes makes little sense to me. Was there a particular mutation that occurred at the moment of the fall such that the genomes of all their descendants are slightly different than the genomes of the first man and the first woman? That implies that we might use genome sequencing and reconstructive algorithms to discover what those original sin mutations are. And then we could use modern genetic engineering to reverse those mutations, and thus re-create perfect, sinless human beings. Salvation for the human race could thus be accomplished through CRISPR gene editing. No need for the Son of God to die on a cross. I don’t think that this scenario is where the enthusiastic Christian proponents of pedigree collapse really want to end up.

Also, at about 50 mutations per generation, each of us has acquired around 1 million mutations in our genomes since the days of this putative common ancestor of 500,000 years ago. So even if we are all genealogically related to one man and one woman, we do not have their exact genes. So, considering they were not that different from all the other humans living in their day (since their children could mate with these non-Adamites), why would it be essential that 100% of our genetic material comes only from that one couple?

Anyway, these are some of my reactions to this subject. This topic may continue to create interest among a subset of evangelical Christians who accept an old (more than 10,000 years) earth and an old human race, but who want to retain  historical, individual (perhaps specially-created) Adam and Eve.

Cultural inheritance Of Original Sin?

Another notion was mentioned by some of the workshop participants. That is the cultural, rather than genetic inheritance of Original Sin. This proposal flows largely from the teachings of Renee Girard. A key point here is that much of what humans do is mimetic, that is, they imitate what they see other people doing. One suggestion was that the whole human population in the time of Adam and Eve was essentially unfallen, living in harmony with God and one another. Adam and Eve were the first to willfully rebel against God and start behaving badly towards one another. This unpleasant behavior pattern was then picked up by other people and so spread throughout the human population, according to this proposal.

The Image of God

In the Genesis creation story, there is a significant difference between humans and all the other creatures: humans (men and women together) were created to be “in the image of God”:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [Gen. 1:26-28, NIV]

What is meant by “in the image and likeness of God”? Traditionally, theologians have considered the “image of God” to be some psychological characteristic or capacity located in individual men and women, such as rationality, free will, spiritual awareness, etc. Opinions have shifted back and forth regarding the significance of the physical appearance of the human body. Twentieth century theologians placed more emphasis on relational capacities. Barth and Brunner argued that it is our ability to establish and maintain complex and intricate relationships that make us like God. There is a tendency for various modern thinkers to read their favorite theological or socio-political concerns into the creation account.

At the “Science of Adam” workshop, a seminary professor stated that there is a growing consensus among Old Testament scholars as to what “in the image of God” would have meant to people in the ancient Near East cultures where Genesis originated. From ancient manuscripts we learn that a high king in Egypt and Mesopotamia could considered to be the “image” of the local god. This gave them their mandate to reign, since they were ruling on behalf of the god of that land. In Genesis, Yahweh is Lord of all the whole earth, and he sets mankind to rule the other inhabitants of the earth on His behalf. This mandate to rule is plain in the passage cited above: “…Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”. This is a remarkable “democratization” of the divine right to rule – – instead of a few despots lording it over the masses, ALL humans, women and men alike, are considered as being in the image of God. This in turn gives every human being enormous value and dignity, and provides a solid basis for human rights.

What sort of rule are humans supposed to exercise over the earth? Although they need to do what they need to do in order to force the earth grow the food they need and to keep animals from eating their food or them, their mandate is not an absolute right to exploit nature any way they please. They are to function as representatives of God and thus to exercise dominion justly and generously like He does. They do not own the earth. Rather, they are responsible to God for how they handle His property. This would entail paying attention to all the other directives that God gives them, and operating with the consciousness of their dependence on, and obligation to, Him.

The nature of mankind’s dominion over nature is further described in the second chapter of Genesis:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. [Gen.2:15, NIV]

In this verse Adam was told to “work” or “serve” (i.e. “tend”) the garden, and to “take care” of it. The Hebrew word translated here “take care” typically means “keep, watch, preserve”. In the Sunday morning sermon at the ASA meeting, James Davis noted that this word is used for tending or shepherding a flock of sheep. This passage clarifies that humans are called to care for creation responsibly and to preserve it from undue harm. Although we ourselves benefit from intelligent management of nature, in the end we are accountable as stewards of someone else’s property.

Endnotes

[1] See, for instance, Realistic Expectations for Transitional Fossils

[2] See e.g. Endogenous Retroviruses in Your Genome Show Common Ancestry with Primates  and  http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ .

[3] Here is a telling lament from a missionary in the former Soviet Union:

The worst aspect of YECS [Young Earth Creation Science] teaching is that it creates a nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated world and the church. .. How many have chosen to give up their faith altogether rather than to accept scientific nonsense or a major reinterpretation of Scripture? How much have we dishonored our Lord by slandering scientists and their reputation? How much have we sinned against Christian brothers holding another opinion by naming them “dangerous” and “compromisers”? …Pastors need to rethink these issues as outlined above and teach a responsible Christian viewpoint with all humility…Christian radio and TV stations need to invite qualified speakers to wrestle with these issues in a responsible way…Finally, missionaries and evangelists need to get materials expressing other viewpoints translated to oppose the virtual monopoly YECS teaching has overseas. As I write this paper, I see YECS literature becoming more and more widely distributed in the growing churches in my corner of the former Soviet Union. We are sowing the seeds of a major crisis which will make the job of world evangelism even harder than it is already.

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About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 80 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
This entry was posted in American Scientific Affliliation, Evolution, Intelligent Design, Natural Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Science and Faith at the American Scientific Affiliation 2018 Meeting

  1. Pingback: Listing of Articles on Science, Faith and Other | Letters to Creationists

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