Dialogue With a Skeptic Part 2

This is part two of an ongoing conversation. See Part 1 HERE. I’ve separated the questions with asterisk lines to make the dialogue more coherent for the reader.

Skeptic:

Thanks again for your willingness to engage my questions. I have gone to Biologos website from time to time to look at some of their articles. I find some of their theology questionable. I suppose the biggest one would be the existence of Adam and Eve. It could very well be that Genesis is metaphorical but it would be hard to tie that in with Jesus’ death. I am not a YEC so I look at the creation account as a combination of both metaphor and reality. If the account is complete metaphor then what sets it apart from ANE (ancient near-eastern) creation accounts? There has to be something unique in order for it to be acceptable otherwise why not throw it in with other mythologies. Why is ID not considered science by the mainstream? What is it lacking?

My understanding is that science has refuted the order in which creation happens although I have to admit that I don’t completely agree with this. I can come up with a reasonable case that combines science and metaphor to show the account is accurate. I don’t have a problem with evolution per se. I find it fascinating that all life is related and interconnected. What I have a problem with is the randomness and blind watchmaker aspect of it. I don’t like that I may be the product of chance rather than God. The Genesis account does say that God commanded the seas and lands to produce life which could signify creation and evolution of life. Man is also made of carbon which is indeed the dust of the ground. I kind of like Hugh Ross’ take on the account. We also have to be careful about the creation of life because science may one day answer that without the need for God. Have a look at the attached video and let me know what you think.

http://www.voicesfromoxford.org/video/physiology-and-the-revolution-in-evolutionary-biology/184

Melissa: 

I totally agree about BioLogos using some questionable theology. I do like to mention them for the sake of demonstrating that there are some committed Christians who argue for a reconciliation of Neo-Darwinism with Christianity. I do not hold the BioLogos view for scientific, philosophical, and theological reasons.

I think we have to be careful with the term “metaphor.” I don’t think it’s an appropriate word for the creation account of Genesis chapter 1. Rather, I share the view of scholars such as Dr. C. John Collins, that the proper genre classification is exalted prose. In other words, the chapter gives a historical cosmology but not in a way that is meant to be taken as a chronology or a scientific account. I personally favor the theory that the six days of creation are the 6 days in which God revealed creation history to Moses. Therefore, the account is topical in how Moses received it, not strictly chronological. This completely preserves the “six days of work/one day of rest” model for the Sabbath, in my view. I do agree with you that we can see some correlation between the cosmology of Scripture and the fossil record, with the simpler organisms coming first, and then mankind appearing most recently. Furthermore, the second chapter of Genesis seems to transition to a different genre, much more akin to what we would call historical narrative.

Yes, good point about God commanding the seas and land to produce life forms. I’ve often pondered those passages, particularly because the language is so different from what is used in the account of man’s creation. The origin of life is an issue that is becoming more and more problematic for naturalism. The more we learn of the complexity of the cell, the more difficult it is to hypothesize an unguided process bringing such a thing about. I watched the video you referenced and found the lecture very interesting. In my view, the take-home points are: 1)  life is designed with a remarkable ability for adaptation to the environment; 2) the fact that there is MUCH MORE going on in reproduction that just DNA replication is strong support for ingenious design; 3) the lecturer repeatedly used the term “information,” and science knows of only one source of the type of information that is exhibited by biological systems (known as specified complexity)—intelligent agency.

I have addressed your statement about the ancient near eastern creation accounts below.

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Skeptic:

I do mean that humanity arose from a population rather than two people. Although science has shown Mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam. Again, combined with metaphor, this could work. Also, Adam does mean mankind in ancient Hebrew. Can you cite the articles that show that this study is unreliable? If I understand evolution correctly, individuals don’t evolve, populations do. In order for this to happen, wouldn’t one or more individuals have to mutate and then spread that mutation to the rest? The beginning of humanity would have to start small and work through the rest. I read your article on H. heidelbergensis alongside of a H. sapiens.

I can’t believe humans evolved from that. The skulls don’t look similar at all. Where are the transitions from one to the other? There would have to be more evolution taking place to have one change to the other right? What are your thoughts on this article?

http://www.reasons.org/articles/when-did-mitochondrial-eve-and-y-chromosomal-adam-live

Melissa: 

Yes, “Adam” does mean mankind in Hebrew, and I think that is a reasonable argument used by some when attempting an integration of science and Scripture.

The articles that are very problematic for the reliability of population estimates are:

1. “Przewalski’s Horses Not Ancestors of Modern Domestic Horses” Genome Biology and Evolution, July 2011. (This article gives details of a study that reveals how quickly heterozygosity increases whenever a population grows out of very small numbers of individuals.)

2. “Unexpected Heterozygosity in an Island Mouflon Population Founded by a Single Pair of Individuals” Renaud Kaeuffer et al., Proceeding of the Royal Society B 274 (2007): 527-33.

Both of these articles support the assertion that populations diversify much more quickly than the idealized mathematical models could predict. It seems that there is actually selection FOR diversity that happens when there are small numbers of individuals. This would make complete sense as a mechanism designed to prevent concentration of deleterious mutations, which would drive a small population to extinction. We need more studies like these, which show that the models are way too idealized to give us truly reliable data about past population sizes.

I’m glad you read my recent article on human origins data. I totally agree; if humans evolved from lower animals, we should have an abundance of fossils that look almost like us but not completely. H. heidelbergensis doesn’t fit the bill.

I really like the Fazale Rana article you cited. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Dr. Rana’s work. (I actually know him personally. We presented alongside each other at a conference last month.). Dr. Rana and I share a strong conviction about the importance of considering all of the data and the related philosophy when forming theories about origins. Sometime soon, a revised edition of his book, Who Was Adam? will be released. It will incorporate the latest research coming out of physical anthropology.

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Skeptic:

Why don’t you find the evidence compelling? It seems to answer a lot of questions. My struggle with progressive creation is that there are no precursors to the fossils. That would mean that many lifeforms would have appeared out of no where and disappeared all of a sudden. Evolution does explain the emergence and death of the lifeforms we see in the fossil record to some extent. Otherwise, the forms were just “poofed” into existence which isn’t science. If Darwinism has to explain the lack of transitional fossils then creation would have to explain it even more. Also, I think Dembski’s view may be justified by science to a certain degree. Quantum mechanics has found that our decisions can effect the past. I think it’s called Wheelers delayed choice experiment.

Melissa:

The reason I don’t find the usual “evidence for evolution” compelling, is because the evidence doesn’t require an evolutionary interpretation. It’s very reasonable to expect that a Designer of all life would use some commonality in his designs. Similarities between living things are not problematic for the concept of divine creation.

I should have specified what I meant by “progressive creation.” I do not mean an evolutionary progression, rather, divine creative acts taking place throughout natural history. Now, could God have caused dramatic genetic changes over very few generations to bring out new animal “kinds”? I think that’s a viable possibility, and it would explain why the fossil record has the appearance–stasis–extinction pattern that you mention. God creating each kind ex nihilo is another option.

I am a bit familiar with Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment, but I’m not sure how you’re relating it to biology. The principle the experiment demonstrates applies to photons.

But, speaking of quantum mechanics, I am extremely interested in the theory that God acts at the quantum level to create and sustain material reality. I’m about to read a book by John Polkinghorne called Science and Providence:God’s Interaction With the World. From what I know about Polkinghorne, I won’t agree with all of his views, but I do think the basic premise is intriguing and, properly formulated, could be powerfully explanatory.

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Skeptic:

What theological questions would have to dealt with if man was physically evolved? I guess that is the problem that I have for evolution. Mainstream science says that it is random and purposeless. I do have a bit of an issue with this though. Science seems to be finding that it’s not as random as we once thought as shown by the above video. The other thing is that randomness is a metaphysical claim. Just because we don’t know what it will produce, doesn’t mean it’s random. It could be that there is some undiscovered natural law to this but because of the current dogma, we refuse to look into it. At the very least, God knows what will be produced. I would also like to hear your arguments as to how this can be proof for common descent.

Melissa:

There are two scenarios that we can talk about when it comes to theorizing an evolutionary origin of man. We could say that God selected a male hominid and intervened both biologically and spiritually to make the creature fully human. Other hominids would have gone extinct, and Adam would be the biological ancestor of all subsequent humans. This is the least problematic view, theologically. The other choice would be that God selected a population of hominids and intervened to make them spiritually aware, and designated Adam as their representative. This is problematic in several ways, but I’ll just mention a few major ones. First, there’s no reason that God should have imputed Adam’s guilt to the rest of the population. That would be very arbitrary. Second, Scripture speaks of Adam naming his wife Eve because “she would become the mother of all living.” That contradicts the idea of an entire, newly-human population giving rise to the rest of humanity. Third, Paul’s theology strongly implies a single human ancestor who sinned, not an entire group. Acts 17:26 speaks of “one man.” I don’t think having Adam as a group representative is a satisfactory answer to these difficulties.

I would like to recommend that you check out this interview series involving Dr. C. John Collins. It is broken up into several parts, but here is the link to part 1: http://www.reasons.org/podcasts/straight-thinking/did-adam-and-eve-really-exist-jack-collins-interview-part-1

You are right to see a big problem in reconciling purposeless and randomness with a Creator. The two are not compatible. As for a natural organizational principle, that itself would have to be explained. It seems that the need for a design inference is inescapable. You’re right that reigning dogmas stifle science. That is what the intelligent design project is working to remedy.

I’m not sure what you mean by that last sentence. To be clear, I don’t think there is good evidence for universal common descent. But even if common descent is factual, it would need to be fully guided, either at the molecular or quantum level to achieve what it has in the time available.

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Skeptic:

I think the danger in this [multiple creation accounts from other cultures] is that atheists can use it to dismiss it as a copy of other mythologies. This is my worry which I stated earlier. Something has to set it apart as being true or else there is no reason to believe it. Part of me thinks that saying it’s all metaphor is just a retreat. Science proves the creation account wrong and then Christians say “No, it was metaphor all along so you have proven nothing.” Connor Cunningham argues that the early church always saw it as metaphor. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that creationism took off in order to battles the rising tide of secularism.

Melissa:

I agree that we have to find something distinctive about the Genesis creation account so that we are justified in saying that it is reasonable to embrace. I would say that features of the prose give it a very different feel from mythological accounts. I have more reading to do in this area. I just bought a book called The Babylonian Genesis by scholar Alexander Heidel. It deals with the actual text of the Babylonian mythology. Heidel offers an examination of the relationship between mythological accounts and the Old Testament account. Should be really fascinating!

Yes, I think you’re right that retreating by dismissing Scripture as metaphor in order to avoid conflict with science is not a good tactic for responsible integration of the two. On the other hand, we do have to do some thoughtful work to get at the true intent of the biblical authors. Genre is so very important. This relates to my comments above about using the term “metaphor.” Sure, I believe Scripture uses metaphor in some instances, for very specific purposes. The creation account may contain some use of metaphor, but I don’t see how that claim is required to make good sense of both the text and the related science. I’m not familiar with Connor Cunningham. I’ll have to look him up. Thanks for the tip!