Eight Reasons to Give Evolution a Second Chance

If you have already embraced evolution as a credible explanation for why life on earth is the way it is, I hope you will find the resources below useful in helping to harmonize this view with your faith. If you still aren’t sure what to make of evolution or if you have always been suspicious of it, I hope these ideas will inspire you to at least give the theory second chance.  They certainly inspired me. 

1. I recently discovered The Biologos Foundation and have been really impressed with its Web site and blog. Established by renowned geneticist and Christian Dr. Francis Collins, the foundation seeks to advance the claim that “faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation.” The site includes reliable resources and reflections on contemporary issues surrounding the creation/evolution debate. Plus it boasts a really clean, pleasant design.  One of my favorite features is the “questions” section, which addresses everything from belief in miracles, to the nature of The Fall, to the age of the earth, to the fossil record.  

2. Non-literal interpretations of Genesis 1-2 did not originate in response to evolutionary theory, but have been around for a long time. Many historical Christian scholars acknowledged the possibility of interpreting the creation account non-literally, including Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis.  Believe it or not, 1500 years before Darwin conducted his research, Augustine wrote in The Literal Meaning of Genesis that “in matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it." (This article by Alister McGrath examines Augustine’s position more closely.)

3. Ancient Israelites accepted a completely different cosmological paradigm than we do today, and the Old Testament was written within that context.   John Walton’s new book, The Lost Word of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate explores the creation account in light of ancient cosmology, concluding that "its message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture" (page 21). The Bible includes references to many of these ancient assumptions. God does not take it upon himself to “correct” such assumptions or to reveal to his people science that is beyond their culture. (Scot McKnight posted aseries of reviews about Walton’s book on his Jesus Creed blog this summer. See also this Denis O. Lamoureux’s article about ancient cosmology.) 

4. Evolution is not just a theory. It’s not merely a guess or a hunch. In science, the word theory refers to a well-supported, well-established framework for understanding a set of observations (e.g., the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, germ theory, etc). A good theory enables scientists to make predictions. Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, predicted that stars in the Hyades cluster should appear in a different place during an eclipse. Sure enough, in 1919 scientists observed such movement during an eclipse.

A theory is accepted as true when its predictions are tested over and over again and repeatedly confirmed. By all legitimate accounts, Darwin’s theory of evolution has consistently made testable predictions.  For example, scientists predicted that if whales evolved from land mammals, they should find intermediate fossils that show whales with feet. Sure enough, whales with just such limbs were discovered in the 1990s in the exact geological strata that the scientists predicted. This is just one example among thousands. 

Time and time again, scientists have confirmed the prediction that we should find evidence for evolutionary change in the fossil record with the deepest, oldest layers containing fossils of more primitive species and the youngest layers containing fossils of species similar to those of present day. Time and time again, they have confirmed the prediction that we should find cases of speciation in the fossil record.  Scientists have also confirmed the prediction that species should show genetic variation for traits, that we should observe imperfect adaptation in nature, and that we should see examples of natural selection occurring in the present.  The evidence in support of evolution is overwhelming, which is why about 99 percent of scientists accept it as fact. 

(Biologos addresses the fossil record here. The best presentation I’ve encountered regarding evolutionary theory’s success at making predictions was in Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. For a response to so-called “gaps” in the fossil record, check out this excerpt from Richard Dawkin’s new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.)

5. The easiest way to disprove evolution would be to find a fossil in the wrong geological stratum. This has never happened

6.  Advances in the field of genetics provide powerful support for Darwin’s theory of descent from a common ancestor with natural selection operating on randomly occurring variations. In fact, a computer can construct a tree of life based solely upon the similarities of the DNA sequences of multiple organisms. Its similarities to conclusions drawn from studies of comparative anatomy/ the fossil record are staggering.  I’ve always been impressed with this evidence. 

7.  Francis Collins. Enough said. (If you haven’t read The Language of God, consider adding it to your Christmas wish list!) 

8.  These days, you can find more and more books about harmonizing evolution with faith. If you’ve already read The Language of God, consider checking out A Fine-Tuned Universe by Alister McGrath, Coming to Peace With Science by Darrel Falk, Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson, or I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution by Denis Lamoureux.

Can you think of more? What is your position on evolution? How did you arrive at that position?

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Living in a Construction Zone

As you might have noticed, I often compare the adaptive qualities and ever-changing nature of faith to that of evolutionary biology. This is one of my favorite metaphors, in part because it is provocative, controversial, and delightfully ironic given my location, but also because few comparisons are as colorful or as spot-on.

I was reminded of the similarities the other day when I happened upon biologist Jerry A. Coyne’s observation that “evolution is like an architect who cannot design a building from scratch, but must build every new structure by adapting a preexisting building, keeping the structure habitable all the while.” (Why Evolution is True, page 12)

You could say the same thing about vibrant faith, which survives change (be it cultural or experiential) by continually reassessing, reforming, and rebuilding upon its current structure. In fact, if I had a second favorite metaphor to describe what my faith journey has been like over the past few years, it would probably have something to do with a construction zone. Theologically, I’ve been tearing down walls and putting up new ones, rerouting plumbing  and rewiring electricity, tossing out blueprints and sketching plans out in the dirt.  

We touched on this a little bit Friday, when several of you encouraged me to focus less attention on deconstructing fundamentalism and more attention on moving forward in the reconstruction process—good suggestions for bringing more life and focus to the blog.

Truth be told, the defensive part of me wanted to respond, “But I am rebuilding! Haven’t you noticed? I’ve written posts about moving from absolutism to openness, from eschatological escapism to kingdom-building, from propositions as fundamental to love as fundamental. I’ve written a whole book about embracing change and learning from doubt. I’ve reviewed N.T. Wright and linked to Scot McKnight.”

But as I reflected on your comments and on my own insecurities and fears, I realized that what you’re really asking for (and what I really need) is not an end to the theological construction zone, but rather the assurance that the structure remains habitable, that life can go on in the midst of all the drilling and sawing and hammering.

You see, sometimes I get so consumed with the remodeling process that I neglect to actually live in the house and make it home. I forget to invite people in, to prepare and share food, to rest, to take shelter, to beautify, to do the laundry, to wash the dishes, to throw parties, to play music, and to take off my shoes. I guess I just assume that I can finish all the construction first and start living like Jesus once I know exactly what that means.

But this is misguided. Imagine what the world would be like if Jesus had waited for his disciples to figure everything out before using them to launch the Kingdom!

So what does living amidst a construction zone look like?

I’m pretty sure that a few things are about to force me to figure that out:

1. The first is the possibility of partnering with some old friends to start a new church in Dayton. (I should note that this is not a for sure thing, but rather an idea still getting tossed around.) So far, the time I’ve spent talking with Dan and others about our visions for what a church should look like in this community has been invigorating, inspiring, and absolutely terrifying. If anything is going to force me to put my crazy ideas into practice, it’s this project. As we talk together about caring for the poor, loving our neighbors, following Jesus, and living in community, I am confronted with the fact that it’s easier to hang out alone in the construction zone when you’ve got a living room full of broken people with all kinds of different opinions and ideas and needs inviting you to join them in conversation and service. Something tells me that the next few months and years are going to be beautifully uncomfortable and life-changing.

2. The second is the increased exposure that the publication of Evolving in Monkey Town will certainly bring. As I contemplate speaking topics, article ideas, and future book projects, I am continually reminded of the importance of a) providing people with practical ideas for how to respond to my calls to action, and b) practicing what I preach by responding to my own calls to action!

3. The third is the possibility of starting a family. Seeing as we are both approaching 30, Dan and I know that children are in the not-too-distant future. According to our friends, kids force you to get practical. I think we’ve finally let go of the idea that we need to figure everything out ahead of time before we raise kids of faith. But kids will undoubtedly change the nature of how we go about our faith construction, because they will require a safe and secure home.

What about you? What does it mean for you to live in a construction zone? In what ways have you learned to love and follow Jesus in the midst of theological change?

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What do you people want from me? (A Happy Post)

So every few months, I like to take a long hard look at the blog in order to generate some fresh ideas about how to draw new readers and keep current ones.

Some ideas I’m currently tossing around include: working harder to employ the same writing style in posts that I employ in my books (more story, less ranting!); sticking to the Monday-Wednesday-Friday post schedule; including more interviews with fellow bloggers and writers; including more links as resources; returning to book reviews; and of course updating some of the site’s graphics and pages.

Regarding topics, I’d like to write more about church (believe it or not, it looks like Dan and I will be partnering with some old friends to start a new one in Dayton!), community, love as fundamental, Dayton, the Scopes Trial, women in leadership, reflections on Scripture, writing, religious pluralism, and of course my favorite themes—doubt, faith, and questions. I’d also like to respond more quickly to news events and trends, giving you the opportunity to weigh in right away.

Of course, there’s always the fear that I will run out of things to say…or perhaps worse, I’ll keep writing even AFTER I’ve run out of things to say!

So I need your help.

Please consider answering some of the following questions to help me reassess “Evolving in Monkey Town” and make it a better forum and community.

1. What are your favorite blogs? Which ones do you visit every day, and what do you like about them?

2. How do you keep up with “Evolving in Monkey Town”? Do you subscribe through a reader? Do you follow links from Facebook and Twitter?  Do you simply visit the site when you happen to think of it?

3. How did you first find “Evolving in Monkey Town”?

4. Regarding navigation and site design, do you have any suggestions for the site?

5. Perhaps most importantly - What topics would YOU like to discuss on the blog? Which conversations have you enjoyed in the past? What would you like to see me write more about, and what would you like to see me write less about? I'm really open to your ideas on this! I want YOU to help guide the conversations here. 

Feel free to offer constructive criticism. Remember, I'm a full-time writer...so I'm used to "feedback"! :-)

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God Hates?

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this photo of a protestor protesting the protests of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas recently.  Gotta give the guy points for irony!

But then I noticed the little boy holding the “God Hates Fags” sign in the background and stopped laughing. It’s so sad to see children participating in events like these, so troubling to think of how such memories will affect them as adults.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of crowds, but over the past few years, a couple of local incidents tempted me to get out my magic markers and make some protest signs myself. 

The first, in 2004, happened when the Rhea County Commission voted to introduce legislation that would amend Tennessee’s criminal code so that the county could charge gays and lesbians with “crimes against nature.” The decision drew national attention to the area, and sparked protests from the gay community, as well as from the fundamentalist community. I remember that one street preacher carried a sign that said, “Sodomites don’t produce; they recruit.” At the time, I stayed out of it, but sometimes I wish I could go back and simply stand with the local gays and lesbians who turned out—just to let them know that not everyone in this community hated them or wanted them to be charged with a crime. The decision was overturned within the week. 

I also thought about protesting when local activist June Griffin got away with vandalizing a Mexican store in town. The case was dismissed because the immigrant she threatened did not testify. Disheartened by the amount of support Griffin had received from the community, I considered showing up at the courthouse with a sign that included Exodus 22:21, "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt”—mainly because June prides herself on being a strict biblical literalist. But, once again, I figured I’d just be contributing to the madness, so I stayed home.  I read in the newspaper the next day that a small group of Hispanics showed up at the courthouse and stood alone. 

In both of these cases, I’m pretty sure that my presence at a protest would have done little to change the circumstances. However, it might have made people from two of the most oppressed minority populations in Rhea County feel a little less alone.

So, have you ever been a part of a protest? If so, what did your sign say? What’s the strangest protest sign you’ve ever seen? 

And what does God hate anyway?

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