Wednesday, 27 August 2014

W.F. Barling - On Accommodating Evolution

The correspondence to The Christadelphian in the wake of then editor L.G. Sargent's review of Ralph Lovelock's argument contains this stellar letter [1] from W.F. Barling. While showing no sign of accepting evolution, bro. Barling's conciliatory words stand in stark contrast to the rhetoric of those who want not just to excommunicate those who accept the fact of evolution, but those who while not accepting evolution do not regard it as a fellowship issue:
Dear bro. Sargent,
The Brotherhood owes you its thanks both for your able critique of The Origin of Man and for your courage and fairness in publishing the author’s reply. In your exchange you and bro. Lovelock have each set a splendid example of vigour without venom which all should follow whenever differences arise. The blunt yet brotherly way in which you have both made your points enables readers to reach their own conclusions in an informed and dispassionate manner. This is great gain.
Such was the case also at the Study Class at which bro. Lovelock first gave his talks. There, as was inevitable, discussion was spirited, but never at the expense of Christian courtesy and forbearance. Bro. Lovelock, by his gentle manner, his scrupulous fairness in replying to searching criticism, and above all his manifest reverence for the Word, did much to set so fine a tone, and it is as well at the present juncture that this fact should be more widely known. Like your own opening tribute to him, it might help to restrain his more intemperate detractors, and even induce them to ask whether their present methods are in fact meeting our community’s need. 
I feel, moreover, that the utmost clear-sightedness is necessary if that need is to be recognized for what it is, since discussion of differences can so easily conceal the measure of agreement between contestants. The fact is that God’s activity as Creator is in no way being challenged, either explicitly or implicitly—just as the fact that it is He who sends the rain on the just and the unjust is in no way being questioned when the scientist’s explanation of rainfall is accepted, as surely it is by all of us, daily, when we listen to the weather forecast. The real issue before us is whether (to use two much abused terms) “creation” and “evolution” are contradictory, or complementary, explanations of God’s activity as the Maker of all things. 
Traditionally, we have vigorously declared them to be contradictory. Now, a growing number among us are not so certain that this is so. What is not generally realized is that this section of our community is not an organized, self-confident group bent on converting the remainder to a new opinion, but a number of perplexed individuals, deeply loyal to the community, desperately anxious not to offend those who do not share their anguish—let alone transfer it to their minds—but who feel that they must be intellectually honest. What they ask of their brethren and sisters is not a change of viewpoint but a change of attitude. None would rejoice more than they if incontestable evidence were finally produced to warrant the most literal acceptance of the opening chapters of Genesis. Meantime, what they seek is not approval but tolerance. If a repudiation of the notion of slow change as God’s method of creation is demanded of them, then their loss to the community is inevitable. So too, alas, is the loss of many potential candidates for baptism who share their perplexity and, feeling that the Brotherhood will not tolerate them with their mental reservations, are being driven, in their desire to give themselves to Christ, more and more towards evangelical groups with less exacting theological demands to make on their converts than we have. 

In an age of astounding scientific discovery and technological achievement the problem thus posed is one with which we are going to have increasingly to live, whether we like it or not. Recourse to our pioneers is not enough, for like us they were men of their day, and who, in fairness, could guarantee how they would tackle the problem were they among us now? Our safest course is to be true to our claim to be a first-century community, and go back to New Testament precedents. 

Paul recognized that the disagreement between strong and weak over the matter of meats was too complex to be settled by discussion, let alone coercion. The fact had to be faced that “to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean”. His advice to the strong brother was therefore, “Destroy not him with thy meant, for whom Christ died”. With equal realism he took account of the intractable nature of Jewish habits of thought and accommodated himself to them so that something more important than intellectual consistency might be achieved thereby—namely salvation. Have his words no relevance to our present problem? Can we not likewise learn the wisdom of a similar adjustment “for the gospel’s sake”, giving compassion precedence over condemnation? Those advocating draconian measures would do well to ponder the Lord’s words, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones . . . for the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” Otherwise their kind of concern with the opening pages of Scripture runs the risk of nullifying the teaching of other pages of Scripture without which Genesis would have no meaning anyway.
Your brother by grace,
Those who want to tear the brotherhood apart by making evolution a fellowship issue would do well to heed this sage advice from the past.

1. Barling W.F. "Letter: The Origin of Man" The Christadelphian (1965) 102:463–464. (Emphasis mine, though frankly all of it is worth emphasising!)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Andrew Perry: closet theistic evolutionist?

Andrew Perry's defence of old earth creationism and opposition to evolutionary creationism are a matter of public record. His book Special Creationism, according to the publisher's blurb:
examines the creation, evolution and intelligent design debate. It presents an Old Earth Creationist view and combats theistic evolution. [1]
One can hardly get more specific than that. In his recent article in The Testimony (critically reviewed here), Perry further emphasises his opposition to evolution with comments such as:
"If theistic evolution and young-earth creationism are polar opposites, old-earth creationism sits in the middle between these two extremes." [2]
"It is well known that complexes coded information and complex functional systems are the result of intelligent agency, including those produced by scientists in biology laboratories. It is reasonable therefore to infer an intelligent cause (God) for at least some specified complexity in nature" [3]
"Once [the philosophy of naturalism] is rejected on philosophical grounds, the theory of evolution cannot exclude either special creation or divine agency. Consequently, a fairly literal view of Genesis can be defended." [4]
However, Perry has contradicted himself by admitting that he endorses 'localised OEC' and believes that 'evolution is OK' before Adam. This begs clarification.
A few days ago, Perry, after repeatedly failing to answer the questions in this post:
>>It argues that Genesis 1 is an account of a recent special creation of a habitable environment for humankind focused on Mesopotamia<< 
Oh. I thought that was the TE position? Outside of the special creation in the area of Mesopotamia, was there other life? If so, did it appear at the same time as the special creation or was it there before? And how did it get there? Previous special creation? Or Evolution? And does this other life include humans? 
>>The account is nevertheless exemplary for all of the planet (and the universe)<<
So… Gen 1 is local or universal?
>>Evolution is a matter for Science and to be considered in the pre-Adamic space<< 
Evolution is OK before Adam? 
>>Genesis presupposes the existence of the planet and Science has shown that there is an ancient history of life on earth<< 
OK, so this fits with OEC… 
>>Philosophically, Science cannot exclude divine action (special creation) from this history<< 
From what I can tell, YEC, OEC and TE would all agree with this… 
>>And Genesis gives us warrant for seeing the creative acts of God throughout the history of life on earth and nature shows this to have been the case<<
God has been creating since life began? Not restricted to 6 days? 
>>…in evidence for its intelligent design<<
Intelligent design of creative acts that have been happening since life began? Or was the intelligent design restricted to a 6 day period? [5]
finally confirmed that he did accept evolution
1. Mesopotamia. Maybe it is the TE position. TEs can reply to this. I haven't read it in TE literature - but my reading is limited.
2. Other life: yes. Before: yes.
3. Special creation or evolution: bit of both.
4. Include humans: not as biblically defined - the image and likeness of God. (see Second Edition). Hominins, yes.
5.Gen 2 is local. Gen 1 is local but generalized in the rest of Scripture.
6. Evolution is OK before Adam - its a matter of judgement for IDers and evolutionists to fight over and amongst themselves. 
7. Yes God has been creating since life began, not restricted to 6 days.
8. Again, prior to the Adamic creation, the judgement call for ID or evolution is for each person to make. [6]
Perry may call himself an OEC, but any form of OEC which allows for an evolutionary origin of life (including hominins) other than Adam is nothing like the OEC with which most Christadelphians would be familiar. This may well appear to explain his bizarre qualification, when in response to a statement pointing out that if he accepted evolution, he ran the risk of isolation and disfellowship, coined the term 'localised OEC' to describe his position:
The irony here is that I think localised OEC is more of minority than TE/EC. [7]
Yet the publisher blurb for his special creationism book asserts that it "argues that Genesis 1 is an account of a recent special creation of a habitable environment for humankind focused on Mesopotamia." How can localised OEC suddenly become recent special creation?

If he is arguing for a special created Adam in Mesopotamia, with an evolutionary origin of pre-Adamic life, then his position (assuming he rejects monogenism) is consistent with the position I, and other ECs maintain. Using the term 'localised OEC' is then intellectually dishonest as he would appear to be trying to hide evolution under a special creationist term.

However, if Perry is arguing for an evolutionary origin of all life other than humans, and is arguing that the entire human race descends exclusively from a single recently created pair. then he is wasting his time as the evidence for human-ape common ancestry, as well as the evidence against the entire human race descending from two people living 6000 years ago are beyond dispute. Perry would then be obliged to explain purely on scientific grounds why he would appear to accept the scientific consensus on evolution, but reject it for humans.

To date his position remains unclear.



2. Perry A "The creation versus evolution debate" The Testimony (2014) 84:69-72 

3. ibid, p 71

4. ibid, p 72




Thursday, 14 August 2014

Former YECs show why science denialism is dangerous to your faith

It's true that the plural of anecdote is not data. However, string enough of them together, and you're likely to see a trend. When you gather together the witness of former YECs, what you do see is the utter folly of tying Christian orthodoxy to a position that is so easily falsified. Add to that the fact that some YECs insist that the only true Christian option is YEC, and it is not hard to see why many ex-YECs also desert Christianity completely.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Christian musician Michael Gungor on evolution and faith beyond literalism

I don't follow contemporary Christian music, but it was hard to avoid the controversy that followed WORLD magazine's article on CCM artist Michael Gungor, which mentioned his belief in a non-literal Adam and Eve, as well as elements of his theology which the author implied were drifting from evangelical Protestant orthodoxy. Following the article, the usual fundamentalist Christian response followed, with cancellation of concerts, boycotting of his music by Christian retail chains, vitriolic tirades from Ken Ham and hate-filled comments implying less that subtly that he was bound for eternal damnation. Given that nearly 60% of young people aged 15 years and over either leave Christianity or abandon it for long periods of time, this kind of response seems almost calculated to accelerate the rate  of decline of Christianity in the US.

Friday, 8 August 2014

C.C. Walker and the Flat Earth Christadelphian

I've referred on more than one occasion to C.C. Walker's response to a correspondent who argued that belief in a spherical earth was a pagan theory which directly challenged the inspiration and authority of the scripture, as it showed that over 100 years ago, our community regarded a fundamentalist reading of the creation narratives as anything but normative. As the concepts of YEC and Biblicism still influence our community, it is worth specifically revisiting this brilliant article as its parallels to the contemporary debate on evolution are clear, and worth applying.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Censorship in the Christadelphian community?

Late last month, I commented with no little pleasure on the appearance of Christadelphian - Origins Discussion, a new Facebook group dedicated to examining the implications evolution has for our theology. Cynic that I am, I wondered how long it would be before it was suppressed.

Well, it's gone. While it's possible that the author has elected to take it down voluntarily, given that there are fundamentalist enclaves in our community which not only demonise evolution, but make it a doctrine to be rejected, it's likely that the author has been intimidated into taking it down. If that is the case, then it represents yet another example of how far removed from the spirit of Christ fundamentalists of this ilk really are. Christ never intimidated. Christ never threatened disfellowship.

History and time are against them, of course. Evolution will eventually be regarded with no more hostility than the fact that the Earth is a sphere, but there is considerable damage that these fundamentalists can inflict on our community before they go the way of all flesh, which of course makes it imperative for every fair-minded Christadelphian to stand up and be counted.

Nearly fifty years ago, in the wake of the Ralph Lovelock disfellowship, the arranging brothers of his ecclesia recognised that the issue of human evolution was not going away, and needed to be discussed in a rational, tolerant manner, admitting that:
we are strongly  of the opinion that the problems that undoubtedly exist should be frankly admitted by us as a community, for we do naught but dishonour to the word of God by pretending that these problems are not there. Our Brotherhood bears a responsibility to those in search of Scripture truth, and especially to those of tender years, to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study, unhindered by the rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgments that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times.  (Emphasis mine) [1]
Those who are behind the suppression of Christadelphian - Origins Discussion should seriously reconsider their approach to contentious matters.


Thankfully, the person behind the page wasn't pressured to take it down, but did so in order to accommodate the sensitivities of others. One hopes that our community will progress to the point where this is no longer an issue.


1. "Statement From The Watford Ecclesia", The Christadelphian (1966) 103:543

What special creationists should know about evolution and how to discuss it

While this site does have a couple of FAQ lists, this article (reproduced with permission of the author) provides a concise summary of the main errors special creationists make when debating the subject. In short:
  • Evolution refers to fact and theory, and the evidence for the former is beyond dispute
  • Evolution is not an atheistic 'theory of everything'
  • Evolution is not synonymous with atheism
  • No one will take an uninformed special creationist seriously
  • Avoid arguments from authority
  • Avoid quote mining

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Recommended Christadelphian sites

I've added a new page including links to Christadelphian sites of interest. Although some discuss the impact evolution has on our theology, the main purpose of some of these is to hold a critical eye to poor quality exegesis in our magazines.

You can find it here.

Free online college level course on evolution

One thing which strikes any informed observer who looks at Christadelphian attacks on evolution (ditto for other special creationists irrespective of their faith tradition) is that almost all of them betray monumental ignorance of the subject they attack. There is no excuse for this given the amount of quality information available on the subject, such as this free online college level course offered by evolutionary biologist Mohamed Nour of Duke University.

Although it is an entry level course, as the syllabus shows, it covers a wide range of material, more than enough for the person successfully completing it to be able to appreciate the depth of ignorance in the usual attacks on evolution:
  • Evidence for evolution
  • Introduction to basic genetics
  • Recombination and genetic mapping simple traits
  • Complications to genetic mapping
  • Genes vs. environment
  • Basic population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg
  • Gene flow, differentiation, inbreeding
  • Natural selection and genetic drift
  • Molecular evolution
  • Adaptive behaviors and sexual selection
  • Species formation and phylogenetics
  • Evolutionary applications and misapplications

More critical commentary on poor Christadelphian exegesis and promotion of pseudoscience

Earlier, I commented on the appearance of Christadelphian - Origins Discussion, a new Facebook group looking at the theological implications of evolutionary creationism. Since then, I've noted the appearance of more Facebook groups, whose purpose is to cast a critical eye over poor quality arguments on science and theology that appear in some of our magazines, both major and minor:

Given the unwillingness of at least one of these magazines (The Testimony) to engage with those who point out the dire quality of its anti-evolution arguments, external criticism such as that provided by these sites is important, and may help to show those who have taken these arguments on trust where they are wrong.

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 12: Megan DeFranza

Part 12 in Peter Enns' series of articles from Christian scholars from a fundamentalist background comes from Megan DeFranza, adjunct professor of Theology at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, who like many other people from conservative backgrounds who deepened their study of the Bible to get closer to Jesus found that things did not work out quite as she thought they would.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

James Kidder refutes a YEC attack on his BioLogos 'Human Evolution' series

Evangelical Christian and physical anthropologist James Kidder has written one of the best overviews of the evidence for human evolution. Not only is it authoritative, it comes from a devout Christian, so the usual YEC attempt to link evolution and atheism fail to work. Unsurprisingly, Ken Ham has become greatly agitated over the subject, exhorting the faithful to consult a 2010 article by AiG anatomist David Menton. Kidder has finished a masterly six-part takedown of Menton's post which confirm that Menton's attack on Tiktaalik roseae [1] was not a one-off mistake.

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #20

Collyer's twentieth 'scientific fact' is his assertion that language could not evolve: "[l]anguage studies have revealed that ancient languages were far more complex than modern languages in their form, syntax, cases, genders and tenses. Of the thirty-six known cases of feral children, reared without human contact, it is evident that language is not inherent but is learned from other humans. Language did not evolve but was an endowment from creation."

Once again, Collyer invokes the standard special creationist fallacies of the argument from personal incredulity, and the 'God of the gaps' argument. Furthermore, he errs with his 'feral child' scenario by ignoring the fact that language would have evolved over time in a group, so his 'feral child' analogy is a straw man argument.

Languages tend to become simpler over time as grammar is streamlined, as one can see in the differences between ancient and modern languages such as English and Greek. In fact, language provides an excellent analogy to evolution in that we see descent with modification, and gradual change over time. No one would hardly argue that God has been specially creating human languages over thousands of years

The evolution of language is still an area of active research, with many unsolved questions. This is freely admitted and is not something that linguists hide from students. What special creationists need to do is avoid the sterile 'God of the Gaps' apologetic approach. Each time an alleged 'unsolved problem' falls to science, the creation evangelist finds that the roles he assigns to God become smaller and smaller. For those whose faith is predicated on creation evangelism, the implications of this downsizing of God to an irrelevancy can’t be overestimated. 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Peter Enns' comments from Evangelical Theological Society discussion on inerrancy

OT scholar Peter Enns is one of the contributing authors of the recently published book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Last November, he was part of a panel discussing the book at an Evangelical Theological Society meeting. He's just posted the comments he made at the panel at his blog. The following comment should give you a feel for where he is at:
As I see it, inerrancy prescribes the boundaries of biblical interpretation in ways that creates conflict both inner-canonically and with respect to extra-biblical information. This is why “holding on to inerrancy” (as it is often put) seems to be such a high-maintenance activity, requiring vigilant and constant tending.
This dynamic suggests to me not only that the term may not be an apt descriptor of Scripture, but it virtually guarantees continued unrest within evangelicalism whenever alternate voices are raised. (Emphasis in the original)
Full article here