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Christianity and evolution: lessons from the past, prospects for the future Dennis R. Venema Department of Biology, Trinity Western University Fellow,

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Presentation on theme: "Christianity and evolution: lessons from the past, prospects for the future Dennis R. Venema Department of Biology, Trinity Western University Fellow,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Christianity and evolution: lessons from the past, prospects for the future Dennis R. Venema Department of Biology, Trinity Western University Fellow, BioLogos Foundation Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam (1511)

2 Resources: Evolution Basics: a 40 part blog series (and counting!) on evolutionary theory from a Christian perspective Ted Davis: Science and the Bible

3 Talk outline: Part one: learning from the past Part two: evaluating current concordist approaches to evolution Part three: coming full circle ikolaus_Kopernikus.jpg

4 Talk outline: Part one: learning from the past Part two: evaluating current concordist approaches to evolution Part three: coming full circle Titian: The Fall of Man (c. 1570)

5 Talk outline: Part one: learning from the past Part two: evaluating current concordist approaches to evolution Part three: coming full circle Bruegel the Elder: The Tower of Babel (1563)

6 The findings of evolutionary biology present a number of perceived tensions with common interpretations of Scripture: Review:

7 The findings of evolutionary biology present a number of perceived tensions with common interpretations of Scripture: 1.Humans are not de novo creations, but share ancestry with other forms of life. Review:

8 The findings of evolutionary biology present a number of perceived tensions with common interpretations of Scripture: 1.Humans are not de novo creations, but share ancestry with other forms of life. 2. Humans do not descend from an ancestral couple, but rather a large population. Review:

9 The findings of evolutionary biology present a number of perceived tensions with common interpretations of Scripture: 1.Humans are not de novo creations, but share ancestry with other forms of life. 2. Humans do not descend from an ancestral couple, but rather a large population. 3. The boundaries of the population that led to modern humans are fuzzy. There is not an easy point of demarcation between “human” and “non-human”. Review:

10 Christian responses to these data are varied. Many Christians simply reject the evidence for evolution and favor an anti-evolutionary approach (YEC, OEC, ID). These approaches require rejection of a large swath of modern science.

11 Other Christian responses attempt to respect the science, and find a means of integrating it with orthodox Christian faith. In general, these approaches fall into concordist and non-concordist approaches, each with their strengths and weaknesses. These same approaches were in play when heliocentrism was a theological issue for the church – and revisiting this time in our history may prove informative for our times.

12 Part one: learning from the past Part two: evaluating current concordist approaches to evolution Part three: coming full circle ikolaus_Kopernikus.jpg

13 Learning from history: heliocentrism as a test case Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) Copernicus was the first to propose a coherent model of a heliocentric (sun-centered) solar system ikolaus_Kopernikus.jpg

14 Up until this time a geocentric model was assumed, based on common sense observation, as well as years of scriptural interpretation:

15 Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) Galileo made additional observations that supported heliocentrism: - the moons of Jupiter (1609) - observed the phases of Venus (1610) File:Justus_Sustermans_- _Portrait_of_Galileo_Galilei,_1636.jpg - the second observation ruled out the Ptolemaic model of geocentrism, but not that of Tycho Brahe

16 - the key difference between the models is a stationary versus moving earth - Brahe’s model was developed as a more theologically acceptable model in response to Galileo/Copernicus

17 Copernicus and Galileo encountered theological resistance: (e.g. Martin Luther): "There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must... invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth."

18 Copernicus and Galileo encountered theological resistance: (e.g. John Edwards): “The Copernican Opinion seems to confront a higher Principle than that of Reason. If we will speak like Men of Religion, and such as own the Bible, we must acknowledge that their Assertion is against the plain History of the Holy Book; for there we read that the Sun stood still in Joshua’s time, and went back in King Hezekiah’s. Now this Relation is either true or false. If it be the latter then the Inspired Scripture is false, which I take to be as great an Absurdity as any Man can be reduced to.” Edwards, John. A Demonstration of the Existence and Providence of God From the Contemplation of the Visible Structure of the Greater and Lesser World. London, 1696, p 33.

19 Copernicus and Galileo encountered theological resistance: (e.g. John Edwards): “The Copernican Opinion seems to confront a higher Principle than that of Reason. If we will speak like Men of Religion, and such as own the Bible, we must acknowledge that their Assertion is against the plain History of the Holy Book; for there we read that the Sun stood still in Joshua’s time, and went back in King Hezekiah’s. Now this Relation is either true or false. If it be the latter then the Inspired Scripture is false, which I take to be as great an Absurdity as any Man can be reduced to.” Edwards, John. A Demonstration of the Existence and Providence of God From the Contemplation of the Visible Structure of the Greater and Lesser World. London, 1696, p 33.

20 The reason produced for condemning the opinion that the earth moves and the sun stands still is that in many places in the Bible one may read that the sun moves and the earth stands still… In contrast to the concordism of his opponents, Galileo defended himself with appeals to a non-concordist, accommodationist approach: Galileo Galilei: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, 1615

21 The reason produced for condemning the opinion that the earth moves and the sun stands still is that in many places in the Bible one may read that the sun moves and the earth stands still… These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities of the common people, who are rude and unlearned. In contrast to the concordism of his opponents, Galileo defended himself with appeals to a non-concordist, accommodationist approach: Galileo Galilei: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, 1615

22 arparallax_parsec1.svg Given the theological benefits of Tychonian geocentrism, Christians largely maintained geocentric views until the 1800s and rejected Galileo’s approach to Scripture.

23 arparallax_parsec1.svg Given the theological benefits of Tychonian geocentrism, Christians largely maintained geocentric views until the 1800s and rejected Galileo’s approach to Scripture. In the absence of “convincing” evidence, there was no perceived need to alter 1800 years of consistent interpretation.

24 arparallax_parsec1.svg It was in the 1800s that two key pieces of evidence for heliocentrism would become available: the observation of stellar aberration, and later, stellar parallax.

25 arparallax_parsec1.svg It was in the 1800s that two key pieces of evidence for heliocentrism would become available: the observation of stellar aberration, and later, stellar parallax. Eventually, geocentric views within the church would decline in light of the scientific evidence, and Scriptural interpretation would shift accordingly.

26 Part one: learning from the past Part two: evaluating current concordist approaches to evolution Part three: coming full circle Titian: The Fall of Man (c. 1570)

27 As with the Galileo affair, current evangelical responses to evolution encompass concordist and non-concordist approaches.

28 As with the Galileo affair, current evangelical responses to evolution encompass concordist and non-concordist approaches. While non-concordist approaches cannot be affected by advances in the relevant science, concordist approaches can be so affected – to the point where they become untenable.

29 As with the Galileo affair, current evangelical responses to evolution encompass concordist and non-concordist approaches. While non-concordist approaches cannot be affected by advances in the relevant science, concordist approaches can be so affected – to the point where they become untenable. Conversely, non-concordist approaches are widely perceived to have no apologetic value.

30 Following on from ~2009, some evangelical scholars have attempted to construct a model of human origins that concords with (a particular interpretation of) Scripture, as well as the findings of modern genomics. (To be sure, many more have simply sought to find ways to discredit it.)

31 For example, Vern Poythress rejects common ancestry and (erroneously) claims that estimates of Ne are long-term averages unable to detect a bottleneck down to two individuals:

32 One more thoughtful concordist model is the substantial work of C. John (Jack) Collins: his book-length treatment appeared in 2011.

33 One more thoughtful concordist model is the substantial work of C. John (Jack) Collins: his book-length treatment appeared in Collins attempts to establish what he terms “Mere historical Adam and Eve-ism” - with several key points to the model.

34 One more thoughtful concordist model is the substantial work of C. John (Jack) Collins: his book-length treatment appeared in Collins attempts to establish what he terms “Mere historical Adam and Eve-ism” - with several key points to the model. Since , however, advances in genomics have already begun to pressure Collins’ tenets:

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36 Challenges: There is no convenient point of biological demarcation between “human” and “non-human” since human speciation is a gradient over time. This makes it challenging to identify the “image of God” – which, for Collins, includes our distinctiveness from animals.

37 Collins spends a significant amount of time noting the differences between humans and chimpanzees in support of this assertion, which rather misses the point:

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39 Challenges: Collins’ concern is partly founded on his view that the imago Dei is in some measure hereditary – hence it must spread from Adam and Eve (or from a small population of which they are leaders). Hominin interbreeding involving our lineage is problematic for such a scenario: do other hominins have the imago Dei ? What about the offspring of interbreeding?

40 Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam (1511)

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42 Challenges: Again, there is no convenient point of biological demarcation between “human” and “non-human” since human speciation is a gradient over time.

43 Placing the origins of humanity at 40,000 years ago is problematic, since anatomically modern humans enter the fossil record at ~200,000 years ago.

44 Placing the origins of humanity at 40,000 years ago is problematic, since anatomically modern humans enter the fossil record at ~200,000 years ago. Placing Adam and Eve at 200,000 years ago, however, means that there is ~190,000 years of human remains with no evidence of activities referenced in Genesis (metalworking, agriculture, animal husbandry).

45 For Collins, original sin (following Augustine) is hereditary. The “early Adam” approach, while tempting, faces the absence of evidence for human religious expression until ~50,000 years ago. The “late Adam” approach places Adam well after the advent of humans in the fossil record.

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47 Challenges: Ne < census size At no point prior to large-scale agriculture could a single tribe of 10,000 (or more) individuals be sustained as a unit. Limited polygenesis is in fact a feature of our heritage – some modern humans have ancestors from other hominin species. Collins’ view of a tribe of all humanity is untenable.

48 Part one: learning from the past Part two: evaluating current concordist approaches to evolution Part three: coming full circle Bruegel the Elder: The Tower of Babel (1563)

49 Options for moving forward: Revise and re-work a concordist model in light of new developments? Shift to a non-concordist understanding?

50 Options for moving forward: Revise and re-work a concordist model in light of new developments? (Add epicycles?) Shift to a non-concordist understanding?

51 Options for moving forward: Revise and re-work a concordist model in light of new developments? (Add epicycles?) Shift to a non-concordist understanding? (Capitulate on the authority of Scripture?)

52 What is more important than finding a quick resolution to the perceived conflict is (a)an affirmation of points of agreement: the Bible is the inspired Word of God; humans are created in the image of God; humans have fallen into sin and need Christ’s redemption

53 What is more important than finding a quick resolution to the perceived conflict is (a)an affirmation of points of agreement: the Bible is the inspired Word of God; humans are created in the image of God; humans have fallen into sin and need Christ’s redemption (b) a commitment among believers to allow time and space for charitable dialogue.

54 Hence I should think it would be the part of prudence not to permit anyone to usurp scriptural texts and force them in some way to maintain any physical conclusion to be true, when at some future time the senses and demonstrative or necessary reasons may show the contrary. Who indeed will set bounds to human ingenuity? Who will assert that everything in the universe capable of being perceived is already discovered and known? Let us rather confess quite truly that “Those truths which we know are very few in comparison with those which we do not know.” Galileo Galilei: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, 1615

55 Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam (1511) Questions and discussion


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