Evolution for Evangelicals: Biologos Recently Held a Conference in NYC

Here’s a bit of what Christianity Today reported about it:

The most sobering moment for attendees of the Biologos “Theology of Celebration” conference in New York City, March 20–22 [2012], came when David Kinnaman of Barna Research presented findings on what U.S. Protestant pastors believe about creation. More than half profess a 6-day, 24-hour creation of life. Fewer than one in five, on the other hand, follow Biologos in affirming an evolutionary process as God’s method of creation.

Knowing that they are in a minority among Protestants did not limit the gathering’s enthusiasm. About 60 participants came by special invitation, with the proviso that their names would not be publicized without permission. This was intended to encourage open conversation on sensitive topics. Attending were such luminaries as N. T. Wright, Alister McGrath, John Ortberg, Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Os Guinness, Joel Hunter, and Andy Crouch. Prominent scientists included Ian Hutchinson of MIT and Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Translation: the Bible is not inerrant; the earth is billions of years old; plants and animals have changed over time; and Adam and Eve never really existed. Now what?

Contemporary evangelicalism is in serious trouble, isn’t it?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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12 Responses to Evolution for Evangelicals: Biologos Recently Held a Conference in NYC

  1. donsalmon says:

    Hi Santi:

    I’m new to this blog – are you saying that it’s a bad thing that those who accept both evolution and theos are not willing to take the Bible literally? I assume from a recent blog post saying that you appreciate Obama’s calm, Enlightenment virtues, and from other blog posts criticizing atheism, that you would find it heartening to find intelligent Christians accepting both evolution and evidence of “mind” (or “Consciousness” or “Chit, as they would say in India) underlying the evolutionary process – no? or am I not understanding you??

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Don,

      The Bible shouldn’t be taken literally. It’s not inerrant. It’s good that Biologos is trying to face reality. The fact that the group is so small within evangelicalism suggests how sick evangelicalism is as a movement. Any group that cannot face reality, even if it can attract large numbers of the uneducated, is doomed to be a marginal historical phenomenon in the world (at least going forward). The human future does not belong to fundamentalists.

      Like Mormonism and Islam, evangelicalism is a cult. By cult, I mean that it is so insular and divorced from reality that even the most basic facts about the world around it cannot be acknowledged. By contrast, Catholicism, Anglicanism, Biologos, etc. are not cults because they take the world seriously.

      The Republican party, by becoming infested with Mormon and evangelical culture, has become cultish as well (rejecting global warming science, for example).

      But, as an agnostic, I’m not quite prepared to make the strict materialist move and conclude that mind is a mere epiphenonemon of matter; that there really is no effective “will in the world” (to echo Stephen Greenblatt’s title for his book on Shakespeare).

      Greenblatt, by the way, is the “founder” of what’s come to be called the “New Historicism.” One premise in his arguments, as a New Historicist, is that human INTENT is always functioning in the world (hence the wonderful title for his book). People are making real choices, and those choices are made in very particular existential situations, with unpredictable and surprising consequences.

      So you are right that I’m trying to keep mind, free will, and even God in play—or at least I’m trying to have an open mind concerning these things as potential “ontological mysteries” that are real and not mere delusions.

      So I suppose you could say I’m an existentialist in the 1960s sense, not a determinist. I’m not prepared to surrender contra-causal free will just yet.

      On the other hand, I don’t like fundamentalism (obviously).

      So I’m naturally interested in people who try to bridge a sensible gap between fundamentalism and strict materialism. The Biologos people are trying, but they’re losing badly. Maybe, over time, they will bring their brethren around to their view. In the meantime, evangelicalism is as divorced from reality as Mormonism and Scientology, and this is why there is a crisis in the movement. Thoughtful people cannot really land there comfortably (as the Biologos group displays). A choice is before every evangelical: face the facts that the Bible is not inerrant; that the earth is old and the product of evolution; and that Adam and Eve never existed—or don’t face them. If you don’t, then welcome to Cultsville and irrelevance where it counts (in the realm of learning and intellect, which is directing the human future).

      —Santi

  2. Longtooth says:

    Santi,

    It’s encouraging to know that intellectual circles within evangelical Protestantism are not totally dominated by Alfred Mohler type literalists. From my unaffiliated vantage point in the secular world it most often seems that “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” are practically synonymous terms. With the decline of the mainline churches, Protestant Christendom in general is very seriously in need of a solid injection or reinjection of theistic evolutionism. Biologos would seem to be a nice development in that direction.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I agree. But theistic evolution, for fundamentalists, seems a slippery slope leading to a rejection of biblical inerrancy. They are, of course, correct. The Bible is simply wrong about many things, but to admit that forces one to have a more nuanced take on God (if you are a theist). Fundamentalists, by their very nature, don’t do nuance well. That’s why they’re fundamentalists.

      I think, ironically, it may be in part genetic (that is, related to temperament) whether a person is fundamentalist or not. The very thing that so frustrates intellectual evolutionists about anti-evolutionists is probably a product of the varieties of evolved temperaments in the human species.

      In studies of twins reared apart, for example, researchers find religious and political correlations far beyond chance. It suggests a strong genetic factor in the beliefs we tend to adopt. Temperamental authoritarians are going to tend to gravitate to conservatism and fundamentalism.

      —Santi

  3. Longtooth says:

    Santi,

    That’s a scary thought when considering that something like 40 percent of the American public currently subscribe to a literal interpretation of Genesis. I optimistically lean toward the nurture rather than nature side of the equation on this one. Inherently authoritarian personalities doubtlessly abound in some notable percentage. Still, in another time they might just as well have had their tendencies translated into being staunch lions for a status quo other than fundamentalism, like theistic evolution or pure naturalism. It’s only been about 90 years since the nationwide advent of mandatory public education and the Scopes “Monkey” trial which propelled the biblical creation-evolution controversy into the national spotlight for the first time. That’s a lean number of generations for the grassroots culture to absorb the critical empirical evidence and work out all the necessary theological and or philosophical nuances. Hell, I suspect that as a group most of the inherently (?) atheistic folk (who have their authoritarian contingency too) really don’t have much of a handle on evolution science either. Nurture wise, subscription to evolution is a known increasing function of education. I liked Jon Millers informative slant on these issues:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060810-evolution.html

    -Longtooth

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Yes, conservatives like the status quo they’re born into. The Soviet Union had conservatives.

      Here a link to a twin study correlating religiosity to genetic (as opposed to environmental) factors (in excess of 60%!):

      http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-of-religion/2011-03-12/religiosity-genes-again-confirmed-by-another-twin-study

      • Longtooth says:

        Santi,

        This is intriguing stuff. I’m a little thin on the genetics, but after surfing through the accessible articles and blogs, my inclination is that the “God gene” or “religion gene” does not really exist. It seems more likely only a construct based on a complex of behavioral tendencies commonly attributed to religion or religiosity. These tendencies likely do, however, stem from an underlying complex of genetic predispositions which in turn undergird a larger complex of behavioral potentialities from which the religion subset derives. In other words, the same complex of underlying genetic predispositions and resulting larger complex of behavioral potentialities may also support a subset that motivates a career in the military with internalization of the associated cohesive mindset. Or alternatively law enforcement, firefighting, medicine, or teaching as a vocation, as these and other endeavors can claim an underlying altruistic motive and sense of unity with and or participation in something greater than the self for instance. If a religion gene is hypothetically possible then why not also look for an agriculture gene or a science gene?

        Religion has been a persistent instution in culture since the dawn of civilization and most likely before that. It quite obviously continues to exert considerable influence on ideations and life choices in the human population, but not without considerable competition. Although the demographic data is supportive of the notion of a prevalent tendency toward religious affiliation, it also suggests that public interest in religion waxes and wanes over time and tends to be regionally specific in that regard. It’s notable, as you indirectly alluded, that populations of countries that were formally part of the soviet communist bloc typically show the highest percentages of religiously unaffiliated in the European world. However, the popularity of religion in Europe appears to be on the wane overall and it is likely waning in America too. For the latter, the unaffiliated ranks have grown from about 7 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2008. The main reason given was the increasingly conservative nature of America’s religious politics.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Longtooth,

        I’m inclined, with you, to not think we have a “God gene” or God genes per se, but I do think genetics plays a more than 50% role as a predictor of whether or not you will report yourself to be religious to those taking surveys, and I think this is because certain temperaments and personality types correlate with heightened tendencies to religiosity. I bet, for example, that people with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) report higher religiosity than the non-OCD population, and that authoritarian personalities are more inclined to religion than non-authoritarian personalities. A lot of this is genetic.

        I bet that people with OCD also report higher beliefs in conspiracy theories, but this doesn’t mean we have conspiracy theory genes. Certain beliefs just correlate better with certain psychological tendencies (such as paranoia, anxiety, and obsessiveness).

        —Santi

  4. Gato Precambriano says:

    One problem for Biologos (and that is why they are in such a minority in the Evagelicalism perhaps), is: If the Bible is not inerrant and should not be taken literaly then why the hell to take it into acount at all? What possible sensible meaning the Bible (or the Kuran, or the Book of Mormon, or any other antient book for that matter) may have for the life of humans today, that we didn’t figured out ourselves, and for better reasons?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Gato,

      You ask a very good question!

      I don’t recall—perhaps it was Emerson—who said the following: “Unitarianism is the feather bed on which to catch the fallen Christian.”

      Biologos is also a feather bed that keeps the evangelical from dropping straight away into Nietzscheanism.

      But don’t laugh at this. Humanism is the feather bed atheists drop into for a similar purpose—to avoid Nietzsche. Ultimately, if you drop God-belief or weaken external grounds for decision making too much (such as losing belief in the inerrancy of the Bible), the black hole that awaits you is a confrontation with Nietzsche, and trying to decide what to do about him.

      Nietzsche is Darwin’s bastard child, which we all pretend is someone else’s spawn.

      Here’s where I elaborate on the Nietzsche-Darwin connection a bit more (if you’re interested):

      https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/12/26/what-did-friedrich-nietzsche-take-from-charles-darwin/

      —Santi

      • Gato Precambriano says:

        Maybe what I’m about to say is very very stupid, as I’m ignorant on Nietzche, but following what you write, what about if Nietzche was simply wrong? It seems he confused what always was justification for morality for it’s true origin. Looks like there was a time when there was God, purpose and meaning (it still baffles me why the hell people think to have a purpose and meaning external to us is a good thing we cannot live without), then came that bastard Darwin and blow the party, when for real, it was always humans, that pretentious naked primate species, telling another humans what their purpose and meaning was suposed to be. But as a naked primate is just a mammal as any other naked primate, they have to sell it as not what it was, humans telling humans what to do and not to do, but as GOD’s WILL.
        Or maybe I’d just miss something.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Well, I think your position is Nietzsche’s. Humans have been bamboozling one another; we’re contingent primates tasked with making what we will with our fucked (that is, mortal) situation. Face that. And decide what you want to do with each day you have. Nature, God, other people—they can’t tell you.

        Now create, don’t imitate.

        —Santi

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