October 20, 2014

Examining the origins debate, part 4

This is part 4 in a series exploring Gerald Rau's book Mapping the Origins Debate. For other posts in the series, click a number: 12, 3.


The origin of life

A successful model of origins provides a credible explanation of the origin of life (referred to by scientists as abiogenesis). Rau offers a detailed analysis of this complex, controversial topic, including the strengths and weaknesses of each model.

Here is an example of Rau's analysis--in this case noting a weakness he sees in strictly evolutionary models that reject outright any supernaturalistic explanations for life's origin:
If cells arose gradually, as predicted by all of the evolutionary models, certain things must have preceded the first true cell, including the presence of organic molecules necessary for life. But the existence of the molecules by themselves is not sufficient, since only specific arrangements would be useful in building a cell, a problem referred to as information. And even if all of the molecular components could be formed, a cell is far more complex than the sum of its component parts (p83, italics added).
Seeking to be even-handed, Rau is careful to note that evolutionary models do posit naturalistic explanations for abiogenesis. However, whether or not those explanations are credible is a topic for debate. According to Rau's analysis, the evidence for strictly naturalistic (i.e. non-supernaturalistic) explanations for abiogenesis remains ambiguous--a reality rarely admitted by proponents of strictly evolutionary models (p85).

A related issue in Rau's analysis of abiogenesis has to do with the issue of sequence in light of the fact that the cell's "molecular machinery [is] as sophisticated as any human factory" (p88). Rau comments:
The question for origin of life scientists is how this complexity could have arisen in a stepwise manner. Despite occasional exaggerated claims to the contrary, scientists are far from being able to create life in the laboratory. Life is too complex for such a reconstruction effort, as least given the knowledge and techniques we now have available (p89).
Though these are complex matters, there is no getting around the reality that life exists and, therefore, must have originated somehow (unless one wants to argue that life has always existed, but that argument merely ducks the issue). However, in accounting for the origin of life, none of the models is able to rely on direct, observable evidence. Therefore, the approach that each takes largely has to do with reliance on an underlying worldview/philosophy--which means (as we noted last time in this series), it's largely a matter of faith (or call it "belief," if you prefer).

Naturalistic explanations

Given that naturalistic evolution (NE), nonteleological evolution (NTE) and planned evolution (PE) all have prior commitments to the belief that there is no supernatural intervention in natural events, they all must come up with totally naturalistic explanations for abiogenesis. One such explanation involves what is referred to as the "anthropic principle":
Lacking any hard evidence of how life originated, the argument most commonly used is a variant of the anthropic principle...we are here, therefore life must have arisen, so conditions must have been such that life could arise. All we have to do is find out what those conditions were (p95). 
Of course, evolutionists continue to look for evidence of prebiotic, naturalistic evolution, postulating various options. But doing so is a highly speculative and daunting task, due to the issues of sequence noted above as well as several other challenges that Rau helpfully addresses (often in great detail).

Supernaturalistic explanations

Models that allow for supernatural causation in abiogenesis state the viewpoint that life is simply too complex to have arisen in stepwise, naturalistic fashion. Therefore, they posit the viewpoint that "God chose to create the first cell directly, fully functional." This is so because these models see living things as having a complexity that, logically, must be taken as a sign of intelligent design and creative action---in our experience, "order does not arise from disorder without intelligence as an organizing force" (p97).

Advocates of supernaturalistic explanations note that the mathematical probability of life arising by chance (through random naturalistic processes over long periods of time, in stepwise fashion) "is less than the probability of picking one atom at random from all the atoms in the universe" (pp97-98). This impossibility thus points to supernatural agency.

Critics of the three models that posit super-naturalistic intervention (young earth creation, old earth creation and directed evolution) accuse their supporters of being science stoppers. At the same time, critics of the NE, NTE and PE models accuse their supporters of being willingly and stubbornly blind to evidence for supernatural causation.

A third explanation

When it comes to abiogenesis, the naturalistic and supernaturalistic explanations seem hopelessly at odds. But as Rau notes, there is a third explanation---the directed evolution (DE) model. This model is "not philosophically tied to either a gradual or immediate solution." As a result, there has emerged within this model a variety of explanations concerning mechanisms of abiogenesis and subsequent evolution, ranging from the gradual to the nearly instantaneous. These explanations have in common the idea that "God directed low probability events to achieve his purposes in creation" (p98-99).

Of course, all sides in the origin-of-life debate rely on inferences, utilizing inductive reasoning. There simply is no direct evidence explaining abiogenesis that can be examined and analyzed using deductive reasoning. It would be helpful if all sides in the debate would acknowledge this and then approach the debate with greater humility, reserve and flexibility. That seems particularly hard to do for those who embrace strictly naturalistic or strictly supernaturalistic models (did you see the televised debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham?).

Next time we'll look at the topic of the origin of species. The debate continues.

October 12, 2014

Seek Jesus, not the church?

In this post I'm taking a short break from the series on origins to address the topic of the church (ecclesiology). I hope you find it helpful.

The rock band Fleetwood Mac performed in concert recently on NBC's The Today Show. Some people in the audience held up a banner proclaiming, "Death ends in hell--Seek Jesus, not the church" (click here to see it). I suppose their primary goal was to "scare the hell out of people" (a topic I address elsewhere in this blog). But the banner also expressed the viewpoint that the church is unnecessary---even an obstacle to knowing Jesus. But can we have communion with Christ apart from the church? Let's look to Scripture and the teaching of the early church for answers.

First, note this statement from Jesus: "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Note how he refers to the church as his own ("my church") and takes personal responsibility for its construction ("I will build").

If we take Jesus' statement seriously, I think we must conclude that any real or imagined separation between Jesus and his church is not of his devising. To paraphrase Jesus' words concerning the union of a man and woman in marriage, "What God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matthew 19:6). Indeed, the union between Jesus and his church is so close that Paul refers to the church as Jesus' own bride (Ephesians 5:22-32) and body (Ephesians 5:30, Colossians 1:18). In short, from Jesus' perspective, by his design and through his continuing work in the Spirit, the two are inseparably united as one body of which Christ is head (Ephesians 5:23).

Picking up on these and other related Scriptures, Cyprian, who from 248 to 258 served as a bishop of the church in Carthage (present day Tunisia) in Africa, wrote this concerning the unity of Christ and his church:
He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. The Lord warns, saying, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathers not with me scatters" (Matthew 12:30). He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, "And these three are one" (1 John 5:7). And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? He who does not hold this unity does not hold God's law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation (Cyprian's Treatise I, found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5).
Words like these are likely hard for many to hear in the context of our individualistic, autonomous Western worldview. Many would want to insist on a "just me and Jesus" mentality. But if we are faithful to Scripture and to the creeds adopted by the early church, I think we must conclude that Jesus' desire and plan is that people experience intimate communion (koinonia, meaning fellowship and participation)--both with him and with his body, the church. In fact, it is in, by and through the church that the fullness of union and communion with Jesus is experienced.

This is so because Jesus as both Son of God and son of man, is in eternal union and communion with the Father and the Spirit (as established in the doctrine of the Trinity) and eternally united to all humanity (as established in the doctrine of the Incarnation). Those who, by faith, embrace Jesus, thus share with Jesus, by the Spirit in this double communion. They do so by gaining entrance through the Spirit into the "body of Christ," the church. Members of the church (the body of believers who are disciples of Jesus) experience this double communion in ways that others do not.

The "communion of the saints" (as the ancients often called the church) is thus no small thing. The church is Christ's body and he is its head. Therefore, the church should be honored, protected and built up by those who trust in and follow Jesus. They do so by assembling regularly with other Christians for worship, for sharing the sacraments, for caring for one another in love, and for participating together in what Jesus is doing in the power of the Spirit to fulfill the Father's mission--a mission that reaches beyond the church to embrace all of humanity.

So important is the church that the Nicene Creed proclaims belief in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. This clause flows from the one that proceeds it concerning belief in the Holy Spirit. We believe in the existence and calling of the church because we believe in the Holy Spirit who is sent by the Father and the Son into the world to form the church and to equip and send it on mission. Let's look briefly at the Creed's four identifying characteristics ("marks") of the church:
  1. The church is one in that it is rooted in and thus expressive of the essential oneness of the triune God. The church is formed by Christ, through the Spirit to be a servant of the Father's mission and kingdom. 
  2. The church is holy because it is formed by the Holy Spirit and thus is to be revered and honored as holy because upon it is the imprint of the character of the Holy Trinity. The Church's holiness is thus not its own, but rather its sharing in the holiness of God.
  3. The church is catholic, meaning universal or all inclusive in that it embraces all dimensions of the people of God and their existence throughout space and time. According to T.F. Torrance, "The one church is intrinsically catholic because it is the one Body of Christ in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in whom all things visible and invisible are gathered up and reconciled to God, and because as the Body of such a Christ the Church is itself the fullness of him who fills all things" (The Trinitarian Faith).
  4. The church is apostolic. This mark refers to the original foundation of the Church laid by Christ upon the apostles and to "the existence and mission of the Church in its unswerving fidelity to that apostolic foundation" (Torrance in The Trinitarian Faith). This foundation includes the Gospel conveyed to us through the Apostle's writings (the  New Testament). However, this apostolic foundation is more than information on a page, for the Gospel points directly to the life-giving reality of Christ himself (his being) and to his mission in the world (his doing).
By God's will, design and superintending grace, there is no separation between Jesus and the church as it is defined in the Creed. Of course, that definition sets forth the ideal, and the church always falls short and is always in need of forgiveness and renewal. But recognizing the reality that the church, to one extent or another, is always flawed is no reason to sweep it aside in our hearts or in our practice. Instead, followers of Jesus are called to work together in the power of the Spirit to tear down the obstacles that keep the church from realizing and experiencing the actual, intrinsic union and communion that it has with Christ and with other believers.

As I viewed that banner while watching Fleetwood Mac perform, part of me resonated with its sentiment. I too, at times, experience some of the frustration that many people (believers and non-believers alike) have with the church. Sometimes the actions of the church do create obstacles that work against experiencing union and communion with Jesus and with his people. But by our Lord's design, the union and communion that we long for is found in fullness only within the fellowship (communion) of the church, not outside; not on our own. So let's not abandon the church. Instead, let's work together, in step with the Spirit, to build up the church in love. We do so for our own benefit, of course, but most importantly, we do so for the sake of the world.

October 6, 2014

Examining the origins debate, part 3

This is part 3 in a series exploring Gerald Rau's book Mapping the Origins Debate. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 4.


The origin of the universe


A successful model of origins will credibly explain how the universe came into being. Because this point of beginning is now long past (and thus not directly observable), the scientific evidence related to it (largely from cosmology and astronomy) must be inferred and then interpreted through a process of inductive reasoning (see the first post in this series regarding this key issue). This inferential-inductive process is highly influenced by the interpreter's own philosophy-worldview, which, as we'll see, necessarily brings into the discussion (for theists and atheists alike) the issue of faith (or call it belief, if you prefer).

The big bang

Though not without its detractors, the current consensus of scientists is that the universe began with a singular event typically referred to as "the big bang." This was followed by the expansion and development of the universe into what we now see (see a proposed process with timeline above). This development was dependent upon the presence of an amazingly fine-tuned balance of four physical forces: the strong force, the electromagnetic force, the weak force and the gravitational force. Even tiny variations in this precise balance would have prevented what occurred.

Of course, this stunning reality raises many questions (in science and philosophy/theology): How did these forces arise? What has kept them at their current, finely-tuned levels? What caused the universe to have the total mass that it now has? Why does the rate of the expansion of the universe out of an initial big bang appear to be accelerating rather than decelerating? What existed, if anything, before the big bang? Are the big bang beginning and the delicately fine-tuned forces holding together the universe the result of chance or is something supernatural involved?

The faith factor

Because positing answers to these questions involves making inferences and using inductive reasoning concerning events that cannot be directly observed, one's belief system (personal philosophy-worldview) comes strongly into play. In particular, one must decide whether or not to allow or disallow the possibility of the involvement of supernatural forces in bringing the cosmos into being and participating in its development. This decision is, by its very nature, a matter of faith (again, call it "belief," if you prefer).
  • Those embracing the philosophy-worldview of naturalism (as is the case with proponents of the NE model) have "faith" that nothing supernatural brought the cosmos into being or participated in its development. 
  • Those embracing the philosophy of theism (as is the case with the other five models) have "faith" that supernatural forces were involved in bringing the cosmos into being and some of the models believe the supernatural continued to be involved in one way or another in its development.  
The key point here is that when it comes to the beginning of the universe (primarily) and the development of the universe (secondarily), both naturalism and theism rest to some extent on a foundation of faith (p77). This is the case because the empirical (scientific) evidence, gleaned from the natural world, can tell us only so much. How the remaining gaps in that evidence are filled, will necessarily be based on one's basic philosophical belief system (i.e. one's "faith").

Naturalism

Though many who embrace naturalism deny any reliance on faith, the fact remains that naturalism cannot adequately explain the emergence of the universe by pointing solely to natural processes. This reality is a significant problem for the NE model, though it should be noted that atheistic evolutionists continue seeking purely natural explanations to fill gaps in the empirical evidence. An explanation that is gaining popularity among those who embrace naturalism is the concept of a multiverse. According to this hypothesis, the energy that fueled the big bang originated in preexisting, multiple universes--perhaps an infinite number of them. The weakness of this argument is that there is no empirical evidence for a multiverse. Once again, faith emerges--in this case faith in a multiverse.

Theism

The other five models of origins are theistic in that they embrace, to one extent or another, the idea of the supernatural. However, they differ in how they explain the nature and timing of any supernatural interventions in bringing the universe into being and superintending its development. Three of the five theistic models harmonize supernaturalism with evolution thus positing a form of theistic evolution. The other two, old earth creation (OEC) and young earth creation (YEC), disallow some or all aspects of evolutionary theory.

A significant weakness of the YEC model is its insistence that the cosmos is no more than 10,000 years old, despite empirical evidence for the great antiquity of the universe (14 billion years old in the timeline above). YEC proponents have posited various explanations. In the past they embraced the idea that God created the universe looking old. But this "apparent-age" theory was dropped by most in the YEC camp in favor of the idea that our galaxy sits at the center of the universe and that the universe is expanding from that center out of a "white hole" that, because of gravitational force, causes time to run slower from our vantage-point than it does as one gets further from the center (p79).

These are some key issues that each model must address in dealing with the origin of the universe. Next time's we'll look at issues related to the origin of life.

September 28, 2014

Examining the origins debate, part 2

This is part 2 in a series exploring Gerald Rau's book Mapping the Origins Debate. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 34.

In this post we'll overview Rau's six origins models. They fall into two groups: evolutionary models (of which there are four) and creationary models (of which there are two). We'll note points of agreement and disagreement, due to multiple factors that will become more evident as we proceed through the series.

Evolutionary models

If the origins debate is to be productive, a key issue has to do with agreeing on what is meant by key terms. One such term is "evolution," which is used in various ways, sometimes referring to a philosophy as much as a process. That philosophy is naturalism, "the conviction that everything can be explained by natural causes" alone, an idea closely related to materialism, "the idea that there is no reality apart from the material world" (p42).

Rau points out that not all proponents of evolution accept naturalism/materialism--a fact often overlooked by proponents of the creationary models (described below). Rau's analysis also points out that many Christians (who embrace theism and reject naturalism) accept evolution as a process that God used in creating/developing the universe. These nuances of meaning are often overlooked (quite unhelpfully) in origins debates. The parties in the debate would be well served by reading Rau's book, as he is careful to note how the term "evolution" is used in different ways in the four evolutionary models. Here is a summary of each:

1. Naturalistic evolution (NE)

NE is the model most closely aligned with what many people think of when they say "evolution," having in mind the philosophy of naturalism/materialism. The NE model, being fully grounded in that philosophy, propounds these key ideas/ideals:
  • There is no supernatural (the atheistic position promoted by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett) or, there is nothing that can be known about the supernatural (the agnostic position promoted by Stephen Jay Gould).
  • Therefore, evidence from the natural world (empirical evidence) is the only basis for knowledge. Anything else is either pure falsehood (the atheistic view) or mere speculation that cannot be confirmed by evidence in nature (the agnostic position).

2. Nonteleological evolution (NTE)

NTE allows for the supernatural, but "posits that there is no intervention of the supernatural after the foundation of the universe" (p43). This is a fundamentally deistic viewpoint as reflected in the term nonteleological, which conveys the idea "that although the universe was created with the ability to evolve, there was no specific end or direction (telos) in mind at the beginning" (p44). Thus NTE is essentially identical to NE in how it interprets scientific evidence with the exception of the origin of the universe. NTE seeks only naturalistic causes for the development of the universe after the point of beginning. NTE is grounded in these key ideas:
  • The supernatural exists but whatever that force is, it has no plan for the universe and thus does not intervene in its development.
  • Only natural forces have brought about the universe's development since its supernatural beginning, thus naturalistic explanations are sufficient to explain that development.

3. Planned evolution (PE)

According to PE, "God had a definite plan in mind, which was set into motion at the moment of creation." Proponents of this view "typically employ an interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis in which the creation story is treated as an ancient genre wherein the emphasis is placed on the actor rather than the action, on God as Creator rather than on the process of creation" (p45).

PE acknowledges that "God has the capacity to intervene in nature but does not need to do so because of the perfection of the original creation" (p45). Proponents of this veiws believe that a "fully gifted creation" was able to bring forth through natural, evolutionary processes, all that we see in the universe today, including humankind. PE has gained prominence as a form of "theistic evolution" through the work of Francis Collins and his BioLogos Foundation.

Scientifically, PE is essentially equivalent to NE and NTE, "since God does not regularly intervene in the development of life or species, and therefore natural processes are thought to be sufficient to explain the evidence. The difference lies in the fact that PE asserts the mechanisms for change were built into creation and established for the specific purpose of bringing about God's plan of creating a sentient being who could worship him (p46).

PE is grounded in these key ideas:
  • God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring that plan to fruition without further intervention.
  • The natural laws and processes created by God are sufficient to account for all natural events since the moment of creation. Therefore, science can always find natural explanations for natural phenomena.

4. Directed evolution (DE)

DE and PE have a shared perspective on interpreting Genesis, though "proponents of DE are more likely to view Adam and Eve as single individuals who are the progenitors of the entire human race. [DE] asserts that God not only brought the universe into being but continues to act in it, not only in the lives of individuals in response to prayer but also in creative events, to bring about his plans. In many cases this does not involve superseding natural law as much as direction of low probability events, hence the name of the model" (pp46-47). 

DE views science and religion as "interacting domains of knowledge," therefore "at least some questions [concerning the origin and development of the universe] are best addressed  using evidence from both domains" (p47). The evidence that is found in Scripture has to do with the existence of a deity who intervenes from time to time in miraculous ways. The evidence for all other aspects of development is to be found through science, in natural mechanisms. 

Proponents of DE include Michael Behe, the well-known advocate of "Intelligent Design" (ID)--a philosophy that seeks to harmonize the ideas of creation and evolution. For more about ID, see The Discovery Institute website.

The DE model is grounded in these key ideas:
  • God has a predetermined purpose for the world, and the Bible shows that he intervenes in the natural world as necessary to advance that purpose.
  • Noting the miracles recorded in the Bible where God intervenes occasionally in redemptive history, it's reasonable to think that he has (and is) intervening in natural history. This would be true particularly with respect to low-probability events that seem to be directed toward a particular goal.

Creationary models

Rau also presents two "creationary" origins models: old-earth creation (OEC) and young-earth creation (YEC). Both assert that "empirical evidence of direct creative acts" can be found in the natural world (the book of nature). They also assert that "the Bible explains not only the purpose of creation but also something about its mechanism" (p48).

As we explore the creationary models we should remember that two of the evolutionary models (PE and DE) share with OEC and YEC the belief that the Bible and the book of nature are both important revelations of God and his creative activity. Moreover, these revelations, when properly interpreted, will not conflict. But why then the differences between PE, DE, OEC and YEC? The answer has largely to do with how the Bible (particularly the first chapters of Genesis) is interpreted. Those who reply, "well, I don't interpret the Bible, I take it literally" are ducking this issue, for the very act of reading Scripture is an interpretive act as the reader assigns meaning to the words (for more about this issue, click here to read an earlier Surprising God post).

1. Old-earth creation (OEC)

OEC agrees with DE "that science and religion are interacting domains of knowledge" though OEC asserts that the Genesis account has "explicit scientific value" (p49). Over the years, several OEC models have been advanced, including progressive creation, day-age creation and various "gap theories." The most well-known defender of OEC today is Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe organization.

The OEC model is grounded in these key ideas:
  • God chooses to reveal himself through the Bible and creation, both clearly disclosing his existence, identity and creative activity.
  • In harmonizing the evidence of science with the testimony of Scripture, we must find the most straightforward interpretations. That includes harmonizing the biblical statement that God created in six days with the empirical evidence that the universe and earth appear to be billions of years old. 

2. Young-earth creation (YEC)

Advocates of YEC refer to it as "scientific creation." Its detractors tend to refer to it (rather mockingly) as "creationism." According to YEC, "where evidence from another domain, particularly natural science, appears to conflict with what the Bible says, it is the latter that comes out on top" (p50). This idea is based on a particular way of interpreting Scripture, the first chapters of Genesis in particular. This approach to the subject, of course, creates strong animosity between YEC and NE and thus the current "creation vs. evolution" debate, which is mostly a debate between atheistic or agnostic proponents of NE and conservative Christian proponents of YEC. In short, YEC and NE are polar opposites, "the former claiming that the Bible overrules scientific evidence, the latter that scientific evidence disproves the Bible." 

Christian YEC advocates believe that the Bible teaches that God created the world and everything in it in six literal 24-hour days about six (some say ten) thousand years ago. For them, any other idea is tantamount to "reinterpreting the Word of God on the basis of the fallible theories of sinful people" (p51, quoting Ken Ham, perhaps the most well-known proponent of YEC through his Answers in Genesis organization with its creation museum in Ohio). 

The YEC model is grounded in these key ideas:
  • Each word of the Bible, as the inerrant Word of God, must be understood in accord with its normal, common meaning, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary from within the Bible itself.
  • When the Bible says that God created everything in six days, it means six sequential 24-hour days. When it says he created each kind of animal, or that he created man (male and female), it means each was created separately and fully formed. That being so, all scientific evidence must be interpreted in a way that is consistent with these presuppositions which are grounded in a particular interpretation of Scripture.
Next time we'll look at what each model has to say concerning the origin of the universe.

September 22, 2014

Examining the origins debate, part 1

This is part 1 in a series exploring Gerald Rau's book Mapping the Origins Debate. For other posts in the series, click a number: 2, 34.

What does this topic have to do with incarnational, Trinitarian theology? Principally this: the Triune God, who created the cosmos, now sustains it moment by moment. As noted in Scripture, "In him [God], we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). There is no distant, uninvolved, deistic God here.

The Triune God revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ is one who has been and continues to be involved with his creation in the most intimate, personal way. However, in his grace, God does not, through his involvement, dictate all that happens to his creation as though he was a puppeteer manipulating his marionette. Rather, in love and for love (real relationship), God grants his creation (humankind included) freedom to develop--or in the words of science (which need unpacking), freedom to evolve. This freedom to be and to become does not exist apart from God, and thus is said by theologians to be "contingent freedom" (more about that in later posts as this series unfolds).

Gerald Rau
Unfortunately, the origins debate (often more a war than a respectful debate), tends unhelpfully and unnecessarily to pit science against religion (or perhaps better said, science against theism). At times, it also pits one group of Christians against another. Sorting through the issues in the debate is a huge undertaking--too big for a blog like this. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to sort through the primary issues in a series that will draw from Gerald Rau's helpful book, Mapping the Origins Debate, Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (InterVarsity, 2012). I particularly appreciate Rau's humility and, to the extent possible, his objectivity. Note how Rau concludes the book:
Wars are costly and take resources away from other things [that] time and money and lives could be better spent on... Unfortunately, they seem to be inevitable, a result of our sinful hubris that leads us to believe that we are right and others are wrong, rather than admitting that the truth is beyond our ability to grasp. Doubtless in the end the whole truth will prove far more complex than we can conceive at the moment... [Therefore], let us strive for humility and charity in our dealings with our brothers and sisters (and even those we do not consider family) who hold a different understanding of the issue than we do, realizing that we all see as "through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12 KJV) until we see face to face (p190).
I hope that this post, and ones that follow on this topic, will reflect the same reserve and humility. There was a time when I felt quite confident that I had the whole origins thing buttoned down. But the more I learned from Scripture and from science, the more I came to realize that the issue is complex and I know far less about both topics than I had assumed. Rau does us all a favor by mapping out six basic positions (he calls them "models") in the ongoing origins debate. With an admirable even-handedness, he compares and contrasts the six models, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each, all the while looking for common ground.

A key concept in Rau's book is to recognize that each model is framed/influenced by a particular worldview (philosophy/perspective) leading to and grounded in certain presuppositions that influence how people view/interpret the relevant data (be it data in Scripture or from the natural world via science). Rau explains it this way:
The fundamental thesis of this book is that although everyone has access to the same evidence, the presuppositions implicit in a person' philosophy determine the perspective from which he or she views the data, leading to different logical conclusions about which explanation [of the data] best fits the evidence (p20). 
This concept comes to the fore most significantly when facing the reality that the universe exists, thus raising this fundamental question: Is the universe eternal (i.e. has it always existed) or did it at some point in time come into existence? Rau frames the question this way:
Something external to the universe must have been present--either another source of the matter and energy it comprises or something with the ability to create matter and energy. Put more simply, there are only two logical choices for what is eternal--natural or supernatural (p20).
Related to these two positions are various worldviews with certain deeply held presuppositions. No one in this debate is exempt from this dynamic. Those who hold a naturalistic worldview, "must of necessity postulate a way for matter and energy to be eternally self-existent" (p22). Those who hold a theistic worldview, may have various views of science, depending on how they believe God interacts with the world, and thus the origins debate often pits one Christian group against another, particularly when it comes to interpreting the early chapters of the book of Genesis.

Unfortunately, the origins debate often is framed as science vs. religion, or evolution vs. creation (as though these concepts are hopelessly at odds). But the debate is far more complex than that and there are certainly more than the two positions that fall at the polar extremes of the debate (the ones that often get the most press!).

To some extent, the polarization we see in the debate arises because "science" is a particularly difficult word/concept to define. "There are many types of science, each with its own methods and techniques... [as a result] it is hard to delineate where science ends and some other way of knowing begins" (p23). Moreover, it often is not fully appreciated that the scientific method, by its very nature, necessarily involves three components: presupposition, evidence and logic. Different fields of science utilize different types of evidence with a logic that is specific to that type. For example, historical science studies non-repeatable physical events (including origins). This field is quite different from fields of science that study ongoing events. But in all fields of science, inferences must be made in order to interpret the evidence deemed relevant. These inferences necessarily rely on either deductive or inductive logic.


Inferences arising from deductive logic are either valid or invalid, while those arising from inductive logic are either strong or weak (see the decision tree above). Inferences related to origins, necessarily are inductive, and thus cannot be absolute--that is, they cannot be shown to be true or false (in an absolute sense). No one was present at creation (using a biblical term) or at the big bang (using a scientific term). Looking at the evidence for this non-repeatable event, we use inductive reasoning to infer what occurred. Those inferences are, necessarily, shaped by our presuppositions--this is true for scientists and for theologians.

Contrary to what I just said, there was a time when it was claimed that science uses only evidence and logic in its work and was thus free from any presuppositions. That claim now is understood by most to be false. "Science cannot be done without some philosophical assumptions or presuppositions" (p26). But lest we religious types get all smug about this, we must admit that we too bring to the debate our own set of presuppositions. The point is that when it comes to the topic of origins, pure objectivity (reasoning apart from any presuppositions) is simply not possible for naturalists or for theists. We all approach the topic with the perspective of a particular theory, and doing so affects both our data collection and our interpretation of the data.

Rau admits that one of the presuppositions of his book (a presupposition that I happen to share with him, holding as I so degrees in Christian Studies, Environmental Science and Psychology), is that "ultimately there is a unity of knowledge--a reality that can be known--but we [must] use multiple approaches to seek that knowledge" (p27, italics added). I would add that I find Rau's perspective in line with an incarnational, Trinitarian theological viewpoint, for it speaks to the real and dynamic relationship, one grounded in freedom, which God has with his creation. However, I acknowledge that this position, itself, cannot be "proven" in a direct way. Rather it is inferred from available evidence, and for me, that evidence comes both from the book of revealed knowledge (Holy Scripture) and the book of nature (science)--both which tell us important things about the ground of all reality, which is the Triune God himself--Father, Son and Spirit.

As we proceed in this series on the origins debate, we'll see that Rau maps out and carefully examines six explanatory origins models: 1) naturalistic evolution 2) nonteleologial evolution 3) planned evolution 4) directed evolution 5) old-earth creation, and 6) young-earth creation. Next time we'll begin to define and explore each one. I hope you'll find this series illuminating, and that you'll come to more fully appreciate the issues involved, no matter which model you personally embrace.