Trusting the Bible and Accepting Evolution—Call me Crazy!

I just returned from Cornell University, where I gave a joint-presentation entitled “Origins, Self, and Soul” with Praveen Sethupathy, a Christian geneticist on the faculty of Cornell.

Our presentation, which addressed biblical and evolutionary perspectives on human origins and identity, was co-sponsored by Chesterton House, a Christian study center near the Cornell campus, and the Cornell Graduate Christian Fellowship.

The implicit question we addressed was whether it is possible to be a faithful Christian and accept an evolutionary account of human origins.

Whereas Praveen brought a scientist’s perspective, my portion of the presentation focused on what the Bible tells us about human commonality with animals and about what it means to be created in God’s image, which is usually taken as something unique to humans.

I wasn’t able to cover very much in the twenty minutes allotted to me.

However, those twenty minutes were part of longer presentation that I have given on the topic of the Bible and evolution, which covered a larger scope.

The last time I gave the full presentation was in May 2018, when I participated in a conference sponsored by the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation (CSCA), held at Trinity Western University, in Langley, BC.

I was one of six plenary presenters. The presenters all came from different disciplines and addressed aspects of the intersection of faith and the sciences.

Can We Believe the Bible and Accept Evolution?

As the biblical scholar of the lot, my talk focused on biblical themes. Given the nature of the conference (and my interest in the faith-science interface on matters of origins), I attempted to relate the biblical themes of human distinctiveness and the origin of evil to what the sciences are telling us about our evolutionary origins.

I began by highlighting a number of tensions that Christians have perceived between the Bible and an evolutionary account of human origins. Then I suggested that these tensions are not necessary, but have to do with the way in which we read the Bible.

So I engaged in some serious Bible study.

My talk was videotaped and astutely edited together with my PowerPoint slides. The entire talk (with slides) can be viewed here.

Part 1: Human Distinctiveness

In part 1 of the talk, I addressed how the Bible understands the commonality of humans with other animals (in a variety of creation texts from Genesis, Job, and the Psalms), which suggests that we shouldn’t have an aversion to the idea of common descent. Then I explored the Bible’s teaching about humanity as the image of God (found in Genesis 1:26–28 and related texts). I speculated how the human calling to image God might be related to what science is telling us about human origins.

Part 2: The Origin of Evil

In part 2 of the talk, I focused on the portrayal of the origin of evil in Genesis 2–3, probing the way in which this portrayal is true to human experience and represents a profound phenomenology of temptation and sin. Then I picked up on my earlier speculation about the image of God and evolutionary origins, and added a suggestion for how human evil could have entered the evolutionary process.

I thus did what many Christians claim it is impossible. I attempted to affirm both an evolutionary account of human origins and the biblical teaching on human distinctiveness and a historical fall.

Call me crazy. But I respect God’s revelation in Scripture and God’s revelation in creation, which can be studied by science. I can’t deny either.

In fact, I believe that God is revealed—and glorified—in the evolutionary complexity of the biological world.

Insightful Devotional: “Called to Indwell the Earth”

At the conference we had a wonderful devotional one morning given by Patrick Franklin, current vice-president of the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, and newly appointed associate professor of theology at Tyndale Seminary, in Toronto.

You can watch Patrick Franklin’s talk here.

Recordings of Other Talks at the Conference

You can see the entire conference schedule of keynote speakers and breakout sessions here.

All the keynote talks and some of the breakout sessions were recorded. You can find links to them here.

 

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Science and Faith in Canada (May 11–14, 2018 Conference at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC)

The Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation is holding a conference dealing with science and Christianity in Canada, co-hosted by Trinity Western University, on May 11–14, 2018. This conference will include Canadians in science, speakers dealing with issues relevant to the theme, and talks on science and Christian faith in general.

I will be one of the keynote speakers (on “Human Distinctiveness and the Origin of Evil in Biblical and Evolutionary Perspectives”), along with University of British Columbia president Santa Ono (on “Science And Faith: Servant Leadership and the Secular University”), Dennis Danielson (on “Copernicus and the Structure of the Universe”), Robert Mann (on “The Edge: Physics and Theology”), Kathryn Hayhoe (on “Christians, Climate Science, and our Culture”), and Janet Danielson (whose musical piece “Six Pieces of a Reverberant Cosmos” will be performed). There will also be the screening of a movie by Loren Wilkinson (professor emeritus at Regent College), called “Making Peace With Creation” followed by a panel discussion.

Breakout Sessions

Fifty breakout sessions are scheduled on topics like artificial intelligence, creation care, origins, and more. There is even a session entitled “A Physicist, Geographer, and a Biologist Go Into a Church, and” (which I’d like to hear).

I happen to know a number of the presenters, including Gord Carkner, who will be speaking on “Scientism and the Search for an Integrated Reality,” Doug Harink, whose talk is entitled “The Burning Bush, the Theotokos, and the Theology-Science Relationship,” and Janet Warren (president of the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation), who will be addressing “Addiction: Discomfort and Denial.”

Sky Gala

There is a “Sky Gala” on Saturday evening, which is open to the public. The evening features a talk by renowned climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech) and a cosmos-themed concert by Janet Danielson (Lecturer and Instructor, School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University) and the Isotone Ensemble (Oakridge, Tennessee). The evening will conclude with a reception featuring hors d’oeuvres.

Conference Schedule

The conference, running from Friday dinner through Monday lunch, will include morning devotions and a Sunday morning worship service.

You can download the entire conference schedule of keynote speakers and breakout sessions here.

Registration

For further conference details, including registration, see the CSCA conference website.

You can see a video with registration instructions here.

Early-bird rates end March 31.

For those unable attend the entire conference, single-day tickets are available, and the Saturday evening gala can be attended as a stand-alone event. The conference fees are low to moderate, with discounted on- and off-campus lodging options. Those who also attend the nearby Regent College Pastors’ Conference (May 9-11, ending with lunch) will receive a 25% conference registration discount for both conferences.

Scholarships

Scholarships are available to cover student attendance & travel. Registration includes meals.

For questions, please email Mark McEwan.

Plenary Presenters


Dennis Danielson, Ph.D.
(Professor and Former Chair, Department of English, University Of British Columbia)

Janet Danielson, M.F.A.
(Lecturer and Instructor, School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University)

Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D.
(Director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University)

Robert B. Mann, Ph.D.
(Professor of Physics & Astronomy, University of Waterloo)

J Richard Middleton, Ph.D.
(Professor of Biblical Worldview & Exegesis, Northeastern Seminary)

Santa J. Ono, Ph.D.
(President & Vice-Chancellor, University of British Columbia)

On Genesis, Job, and Psalms—Five Recent Essays Published

Five essays I’ve been working on for a while have recently been (or are about to be) published.

I wrote this essay last year for oral presentation at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and then again at the Society of Biblical Literature. I conceived it as an introductory exploration of the phenomenon of vigorous prayer in the Bible, which grounds research I am currently doing for a book on lament vis-à-vis Abraham and Job. You can download the essay by clicking on its title (or here).

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  • “Reading Genesis 3 Attentive to Human Evolution: Beyond Concordism and Non-Overlapping Magisteria.” Chap. 4 in Evolution and the Fall, ed. by William T. Cavanaugh and James K. A. Smith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 67–97.

This essay was written specifically for this collection, at the invitation of the editors. It was the first piece I ever wrote trying to relate the Bible to human evolution. I presented it at a conference in Spring 2015, which led to my becoming a Theological Fellow with BioLogos, writing blog posts for them, and giving a number of related presentations on the Bible and evolution. My approach both in this essay and in the subsequent blogs and presentations on the subject has been to listen to the Bible first, then explore how this might help us understand what scientists are telling us about human evolution.

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For a long time I had been mulling over my sense that most interpreters were misreading God’s response to Job’s complaints; instead of reprimanding Job for daring to question him, I understood God second speech as encouraging him (while his first speech functioned to critique his assumptions and enlarge his vision). So, some years ago I worked up my ideas into a paper that I presented at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies; this led to my being asked to give this paper as the Peter C. Craigie memorial lecture at the University of Calgary. Then I put it away for a while, but reworked it for presentation last year in a Biblical Studies Seminar at St. Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra, Australia. It is now published in their journal with the other papers from the Seminar.  You can download the essay by clicking on its title (or here).

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I’ve always prized Psalm 51 as an amazing articulation of the meaning of repentance. But like the Job paper (above), I had the sense that the traditional reading of this psalm as David’s prayer of confession did not fit the actual story in 2 Samuel 11–12. So I tried out my ideas on the topic a few years back at the Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society and then at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. I revised the paper for presentation in 2015 in the “Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics, and the Theological Disciplines” Research Group of the Institute for Biblical Research. It is published in a volume of collected papers that have been presented in this research group over the last few years.

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This essay is an exposition of the story of the Garden of Eden, to show how it grounds the dignity of work and the equality of men and women in God’s original intentions for human life. Yet God’s intentions in both cases have been distorted by human sin (and our sinful perspective often leads to our misreading of this story). The essay was commissioned for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Roberts Wesleyan College and the title of the volume comes from the name of the newspaper (The Earnest Christian) published by B. T. Roberts, the founder of the College and of the Free Methodist Church. The essays also function as an earnest of the heritage of the College and of B. T. Roberts’s vision of socially embodied Christianity (he was an evangelical egalitarian back in the nineteenth century and wrote a booklet in 1891 advocating the ordination of women). Although the anniversary of the College was last year, the volume of essays is being published this summer.