13 Things I learned at the BioLogos Conference

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today I kick off a short, three-post series about science and faith with a little summary of what I learned at the BioLogos Foundation conference last week.  Tomorrow  Sometime in the next couple of days, we will talk about the questions you posed to help me pass as an intellectual at the event, and next week I’ll review John Walton’s excellent book, The Lost World of Genesis One.

The BioLogos Foundation was founded by Francis Collins to address the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life. This particular conference was held at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where it can apparently be 50 degrees in the middle of June.  Here are some things I learned:

1. Always bring a sweater to Massachusetts.

2.  It is possible to talk about the origins debate with an attitude of respect and humilityPeter EnnsDarrel Falk, and Karl Giberson exemplified this beautifully in their lectures by critiquing the ideas of those with whom they disagree without challenging their opponents’ commitment to their faith. This is the first time I’ve been a part of this conversation in which the “other side” was not reduced to a caricature. It was refreshing and convincing.

3. When a group of scientists laugh about a joke involving protein biosynthesis, it is polite to laugh along…but not too hard, or they’ll know you didn’t actually get it.

4. Young earth creationists and “the new atheists” (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.) actually have more in common than one might think, for both groups have arrived at the conclusion that accepting an old earth and evolutionary theory inevitably rules out the existence of God.  As a result, one group has essentially made a religion out of naturalism, while the other group has avoided serious consideration of scientific data. The folks at BioLogos are attempting to forge a third way that leaves room for both faith in God and a commitment to intellectual integrity.  I’m beginning to think that they are doing some of the most important work in the Christian community.

5. Science professors (particularly at Christian colleges) are desperate to find good ways to counsel students whose faith is challenged by the scientific data they encounter in the classroom.I was really moved by conversations I had with tenderhearted biology teachers struggling to double as theologians and counselors when their students realize there is conflict between what they were taught about creation/evolution growing up in the Church and what the evidence suggests.

6. While it may be impossible to gather scientific data that conclusively shows God’s intervention in the universe, such intervention is evidenced by the fact that Lobsta Land—the suspiciously named seafood restaurant a group of us just happened upon when we were lost in Gloucester, Massachusetts—serves the best food in town. (Special thanks to Justin Topp and Linda Vick from North Park University for letting me tag along.)

7. At the heart of the tension between science and Scripture is what Pete Enns calls “genre misidentification.” Modern Christians tend to impose today’s questions upon an ancient text, demanding that the Old Testament address current scientific paradigms when instead it simply uses the language, terminology, and cosmology of the culture in which it was written.  Enns noted that once again fundamentalists and liberals seem to agree when they suggest the Bible cannot be both inspired by God and reflective of typical ancient near Eastern literature. His response is,  Why not?  Why wouldn’t God choose to communicate in a way that would be accessible and relatable to the people at the time?

8. The question “where do you draw the line?” is not one that only evolutionary creationists have to answer. I am often asked, “If you don’t believe the seven-day creation account is historical and scientific, why should you believe that the resurrection account is historical? Where do you draw the line?” And yet, most of these same people would distance themselves from an interpretation of Scripture that required belief in a solid firmament that holds back the waters (Genesis 1:6-8) or a stationary earth (I Chronicles 16:30, Psalm  93:1). We all face the challenge of drawing a line when we are interpreting an ancient text.

9. “Evolutionary creationists” is a preferred term to” theistic evolutionists.”

10.  Both evolutionary creationists and proponents of intelligent design believe that God is the creator of the universe. But proponents of intelligent design seek to show that God’s ongoing presence is scientifically detectable. There seems to be a consensus among the evolutionary creationists that the intelligent design folks have not provided sufficient data to support their claims and are therefore not taken seriously by the scientific community. I probably need to do some more research in this area before I reach any conclusions.

11. There are some great resources out there for helping people harmonize faith and scienceThe Language of God by Francis Collins (one of my favorite books on the topic), Coming to Peace With Science by Darrel Falk (which several professors told me has been especially helpful for students), Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson (which I am currently loving), and The Lost World of Genesis One (which we will discuss next week). Also check out the BioLogos site (especially the Science and the Sacred blog and theQ&A section). 

12. Evolutionary creationism does not necessarily add apologetic value to the Christian faith.  Just as science doesn’t disprove Christianity, it doesn’t prove Christianity either. As my friend Dennis Venema noted, the Apostle Paul faced a somewhat similar conundrum when he wrote, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (I Corinthians 1:22-23.) Our best apologetic always has been and always will be a life transformed by the scandalous and subversive work of Jesus Christ.

13. The smartest people are the ones who are humbled by how little they know.

So I’m guessing that one or two of these points might raise additional questions in your mind. Which ones would you like to discuss in future posts? And in which “camp” do you tend to fall—the young earth creationism camp, the intelligent design camp, the evolutionary creationism camp, or the where-are-the-smores-because-this-is-over-my-head camp?

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