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Vibrant Dance: “The ‘That’ and ‘How’ of Creation"

After Andy Crouch’s talk, Hugh Ross from Reasons To Believe ( gave his testimony, which can be found on his website. (If you were there, you understand the humor in that).

The next plenary session was by Ross Hastings of Regent College (and another chemist by training!) with the also incredibly long title, “The ‘That’ and ‘How’ of Creation:  Pastoral Perspectives on Deepening the Dialogue of Co-pilgrims Seeking the Celestial City.” (I tell you—these titles barely fit in the 140 character Twitter limit and need their own!)

In short, his theme was explaining how to approach a theology of Creation. He said, “Christ redeems us to be in Creation.” Therefore, he posited, Christians should be in science and not run away from it. He reminded us that we all agree THAT God created, so let’s have grace in discussing HOW He created.

He suggested two theologies of creation that I will call T1 and T2. T1 is an ‘historic ecclesiastical confessional orthodoxy, and T2 is a reflection on theoretical science in light of T1. Yeah, that was too many polysyllabic seminary words for me too, but fortunately it became more clear as he continued.

He asked what is the “Christian theology of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy,” etc? In other words, looking back at the theological statements made by many of the early scientists like Newton in their manuscripts, how did their understanding of God illuminate their science and vice versa? It has been so long since scientists felt the freedom to do so, that we can say that a Christian theology of science has reverted back to a state of infancy.

Hastings reminded us that the unity and catholicity of the Church is vital. {NB: in this blog, I capitalize “Church” when referring to the Body of Christ, all who have professed a saving faith in Christ’s redemptive acts of the cross and resurrection, not any particular organization, creed, structure, etc.} He also reminded us that all humans have faith commitments in life, even if ‘non-religious.’ I suppose you could say that one’s personal worldview is a fundamental expression of their faith commitments, even if someone would claim not to have a faith of any kind.

He then began a discussion that contrasted the scientific theory of evolution versus the closely partnered philosophy of evolutionism. (See my post “Define Your Terms!”) From that flowed his explanations of T1 and T2.

T1 states “that God created” is a theology of Creation.

T2 refers to “how” God created—the mechanism (whether young-earth, progressive creationism or theistic evolution)

T1 deals with issues such as:
  • The aesthetics of the glory of Creation (that Creation was made beautiful, not merely functional)
  • The distinction between God and Creation being separate entities versus monism (the pantheistic idea that God is part of creation or one with creation instead of a separate other)
  • That Creation was unnecessary, but in fact an act of love by a Being wanting to increase the opportunities for love to be manifest
  • That God is provident over the process of creation
  • Contingent issues of creation (free will being a necessary factor)
  • The doctrine of imago Dei (humans are created in the image of God)
    • This involves three traits
      • Relationality between persons
      • That such persons are rational
      • Therefore, they should be capable of ruling wisely and benevolently over Creation
    • Also, it should allow the rise of human culture via inculturation without enculturation.
    • {Some comments on modernity and postmodernity in this context which I didn’t clarify in my notes}
    • A contrast between epistemology (things we learn through thinking and experience) versus tacit knowledge (things we know implicitly)
    • A foundation for the ethics of science
T2, on the other hand deals with these issues on the front edge of the dialogue on origins:
  • The interplay of various degrees of freedom of creation {I think this refers to multiple issues such as free will, fine tuning arguments and the like}
  • Degree of divine intervention and interaction
  • Arguments via analogy versus unificacy {saying ‘this is like’ versus ‘this is’, I believe}
  • Interpretations of Genesis 1, 2 and other Biblical creation accounts
  • The headship of the human race
  • Death before the fall
  • Priority of the Incarnation over Creation
  • Clarifying inculturation versus enculturation
  • Certainty on the mechanism
  • Mission—how we go about fulfilling the Great Commission in light of the mutual illumination between science with faith
If Crouch’s talk was a primer on the attitude of discussion within the Church on science/faith issues, then Hastings’ was a primer on the ground rules and mechanics of the discussion, defining terms and setting boundaries for the issues. Very well thought out, and as you can tell from the holes in my notes, very information rich. (Audio of the main sessions is available for order at if you want to hear any of these talks for yourself. In a few months, they plan to have DVD’s of ALL sessions available so you can see the slides that go with the talks. Hopefully, these reports are whetting your appetite.)


Vibrant Dance: Christian Vision vs Naturalistic Vision

{Apologies for the missed post yesterday—I returned home after midnight, so figured I’d just do Saturday’s post, and now I’m in danger of missing that!}

The first plenary talk was by Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, entitled “Christian Vision vs Naturalistic Vision:  What is at Stake and a Call for Graceful Discourse Among Brothers and Sisters in Christ.” I’m not sure who titled these talks, but they are nearly blogposts in their own right!

As the opening batter in the plenary lineup, Crouch’s job was to set the tone for the attendees (and the speakers). Given the vitriol that “Creation Science” has even within the Church, it was an apropos start. The main theme as the title states is the encouragement to have “graceful discourse.” We can disagree strongly, but remember our ties as siblings in Christ.

He described the idea of a wall between science and faith that inhibits discussion and how as Christians, we have an opportunity to reach across those walls and engage science again in graceful (and informed) discourse. He suggested we use phrases such as “yes, and” rather than “no, but;” that we earn the right to be heard by listening first. We need to discuss in an attitude of hope rather than one of fear.

He reminded us of the historical facts that 1) Science has done more than it promised, and 2) the Church has done less than it promised, so we as the Church have much to be humble about. (If this statement is problematic for you, let me know and we can discuss it!)

He reminded us that ultimately what really matters is the image of God. Now, of course, God does not need a PR firm to maintain His image, but as His physical representatives on Earth, tasked with the Great Commission, it is reasonable to examine the quality of our representations. Christians have said many foolish and ignorant things about science and the world as a whole.

So what do we bring to the table? We have insights from Scripture and the indwelling Holy Spirit on the very nature of what it means to be a human being.

Crouch also asked, what does it mean in Genesis where we are told to have dominion? When we see folks radicalized by passion for the environment, many Christians object, seeing it as a form of idolatry (see my post “Top of the World, or, Bottom of the Heap?”), so what then is an appropriate Christian view? (and what does this have to do with the topic?)

An examination of Genesis 2 shows how God views the idea of dominion—He has Adam in the Garden and brings to him an example of every living creature for him to name, and Scripture goes on to record, “whatsoever he called them, that was its name.” Jokes have been made about Adam calling them “Joe, Bob, Frank, etc.,” implying random or arbitrary designations, yet, when he names his wife, it gives his reason for her name and the name of her gender—that she would be the mother of all living, and that she came out of man. In many cultures, names have profound significance, and in some cases, a person does not receive their name at birth, but after a time, when folks have had a chance to observe them and learn something of who they are.

So we see that the idea of naming something is more than putting letters and sounds together, it requires observing that thing, learning about its nature. Gee, that sounds an awful like what scientists do. So maybe exploring the creation is part of having dominion.

Also, Adam was to “till and keep” the Garden—he was to help it to flourish, to tame it for the purpose of helping it to reach the fullness of its potential in bounty, health and beauty. This too is part of having dominion. What is our purpose as humans? To glorify God. How do we do this? By doing what He has tasked us to do--care for the Creation He has given us. In this we bring Him praise and honor.

Is this not something profound, beautiful, positive and hope-ful that we can bring to the discussion with those in science? Is this not a common starting point for building walls of understanding rather than ones of contention?

Thanks, Andy.


Vibrant Dance Day 3 Recap

(NB: detailed summaries/assessments of each talk will be given in later posts.)

Day 3 started with Deborah Haarsma’s testimony, followed by a taped talk by Alister McGrath from London. It was an interesting big picture talk about the relationship between science and faith, but it is hard from my notes to nail it down succinctly, so watch for the post on it. Some surprising ideas await!

Then there were two panel discussions. The first, moderated by Andy Crouch, with Deborah Haarsma, Rob Norris, Dinesh D’Souza, Darrel Falk, Hugh Ross, and Stephen Meyer, started with a discussion of how to raise the number of evangelicals in science with the main point that not using the term evangelical will get a better response. Also, discussed how to improve the Christian schools and colleges and help pastors interact better with sci/tech folks.

The second panel was moderated by Pastor Larry Coulter of Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church, with Rob Norris John Walton, Jack Collins, Walter Kaiser, Hugh Ross, and Tremper Longman. As most of these gentlemen are pastors, it focused on theological issues and how they interacted with science.

In the afternoon were two breakout sessions (with about 10 options from which to choose each session). The one I attended during the first was an interesting discussion by Paul Nelson from Biola and the Discovery Institute on how Christian scientists should not follow methodological naturalism (i.e.-assume lack of divine action/cause in the course of following the scientific method). This topic is something I will have to unpack when I cover it in the next week or two. I see his point, but don’t fully agree with him. We discussed it, during and after, and I came away with the idea that he was deliberately overselling his point to make the point, which I understand, but never got a chance to finish fleshing it out with him.

The second breakout session I attended was by William Dembski. As I was his TA for the session, I didn’t take notes, but basically his point was that ‘randomness’ is really the absence of pattern, and so therefore is hard to detect, because you never know when you will see a pattern in it and if there is a pattern that is present but unknown to you, and that you almost have to work harder to find or produce something truly random than you might think, and so randomness may actually have close ties to design. (I know that may sound confusing, but when I get the DVD of the symposium in a few months, I’ll watch it again and take notes to hopefully explain it better.)

Then there was a final worship time and closing, but most folks had left by then, so it was a small gathering. All in all, feedback has been enthusiastic, and the organizers have a vision for there to be more in the future.


Vibrant Dance Day 2 Recap

(NB: detailed summaries/assessments of each talk will be given in later posts.)

Day 2 started with a talk by Deborah Haarsma from Calvin College on how we can incorporate science in Christian stewardship of the environment, in worship and in teaching the Body through sermon, Sunday school and Bible study. I resonated with a number of her ideas.

Fuz Rana gave his testimony before the first panel discussion moderated by Walter Bradley (Baylor). Panel members were Andy Crouch, Ross Hastings, Dan Heinze, Hugh Ross, Fuz Rana, Darrel Falk, Stephen Meyer, and Deborah Haarsma, with the topic of “Science Supports Christianity-Revealing the Congruence, Illuminating the Tensions.” It was a lively and interesting discussion. Meyer, Ross and Rana tended to dominate and had the most interaction with Falk, with the others, particularly Haarsma not getting much ‘screen time.’ Much to the amusement of the panel and audience both, Bradley wrapped up by saying they had three minutes left and he wanted to get one more question out, and took the full three minutes to ask it, for which he received some good-natured ribbing later.

Jack Collins (Covenant Seminary) rounded out the morning with a discussion of Genesis 1-11, which I unfortunately had to miss.

Bradley opened up the afternoon session with a talk (timed well) on the history of the ‘war’ between science and Christianity, showing that for most of history, there wasn’t a war—it is a myth applied by historians antagonistic to the church and that the first ‘volleys’ tended to come from thinkers of the Enlightenment, and accelerated over the last 100 years or so as one side then the other would step out of line to various degrees.

Next Rob Norris from 4th Presbyterian in Washington D.C. gave an insightful study of the Tower of Babel account in Genesis as an analog of living in a technical society like today. It was delightful hearing his Welsh brogue as he expounded the passage.

Closing out the afternoon session was Dinesh D’Souza dissecting the ‘new atheism’ and how we can respond as technically-oriented Christians. All of us who teach before groups should aspire to be as comfortable and dynamic in extemporaneous speaking as him! Dinesh also opened the evening session with his testimony.

The evening program was the second set of 10 breakout sessions. I attended one entitled “Scientific Challenges to Neo-Darwinism.” The speakers were a panel of four from the Discovery Institute, Steven Meyer, Richard Sternberg, Doug Axe, and Paul Nelson. As I was the ‘TA’ for the session (helping with various needs, advancing the PowerPoint slides, etc.) I was unable to take notes for a later post, but the gist was that Neo-Darwinism suffers from several apparent fatal flaws—population genetics don’t allow enough time for specified changes, embryonic development terminates when significant body shape mutations are introduced, and a couple of others.

It was a long and interesting day.


Vibrant Dance Day 1 Recap

There were seven plenary sessions today and one breakout session. It was kind of a marathon, but worthwhile. The first two plenaries, by Andy Crouch of Christianity Today and Ross Hastings of Regents College, helped set the tone of unity in Christ and the fundamentals we agree on and therefore the proper place of the different theories of Origins in evangelical Christendom. Dan Heinze then discussed “What is Science?” to establish the extent and limits of science. The remaining talks were speakers from the three major ‘camps’ present at the symposium. Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana from Reasons To Believe presented the Progressive Creation view as applied to cosmology and biology respectively. Darrell Falk from BioLogos gave the theistic evolution (or Evolutionary Creation) viewpoint, and Steven Meyer from the Discovery Institute discussed Intelligent Design (ID). This way, the entire spectrum of what is to be discussed was presented on the first day, so that remaining sessions can refer back to this foundation. It is a good plan.

I plan to give a short recap of each day’s sessions and in future posts discuss each of the talks I attended, so that it can be delivered in blog-sized bites.

I missed most of Crouch’s talk because I was helping with registration, but it seemed pretty good. Hastings’ talk was similar (only heard part of it), but we had a lovely discussion over dinner, and I respect and like him a lot. Heinze’s talk on science was a good evaluation of what science can and cannot do and why. Of the four position talks, I have to say that Fuz’s on the biological story of the earth from a progressive creationist perspective was the most solid and tightest. Meyer’s was pretty good, but I think Falk has it right that ID is a single issue camp that is really an umbrella for the others (including the Young Earth folks):  Did God do it or not, regardless of the How. Ross as usual had the slickest presentation, yet his reliance on overwhelming the audience with improbabilities makes it hard to truly evaluate the solidity of his assumptions, and some of his predictive tests seem to be God-of-the-Gaps things—‘we haven’t found evidence of X yet, so as long as we don’t, then it makes God a plausible argument.” How often do we find out that God can do things differently than we expect? Finally, Falk’s presentation was poorly done with difficult to read slides, which made it a little hard to evaluate how convincing his arguments really are, and he tried to cram too much into too little time. This last point was a bit endemic to all, and while it is an understandable problem, it might be better to give a more surfacy overview of the position in a few minutes and then thoroughly explore a single point or area to demonstrate the power of that position on that topic as an example of the overall quality of the argument.

I will come back and address each talk more fully after the conference is over. Note: I have advertised this blog to most of the speakers, so I say these things knowing they may well read them at my open invitation. My spirit in these posts is constructive praise and criticism both, and would express these sentiments to them directly were we to sit down together to discuss them, so I invite dialogue. It is in the best interests of all of us for all of the positions to express themselves at their very best for good scholarship and constructive dialogue between them and with the secular scientific community. They are brothers and sisters in Christ, and qualified scholars in their own right. I also think I may do a post on effective PowerPoint presentations!


The Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science

Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, October 26 through the 28 at Grace Covenant Church in Austin, Tx is the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science Symposium. Details can be found at

Often when science and faith are discussed, it is people of faith reaching out to scientists and academics. In this case, it is Christian academics reaching out to the church, particularly the clergy and sharing many of the variety of Christian attitudes towards science and origin of life/universe issues.  Some of the speakers are appearing on stage together for the first time and some of them have had rather critical things to say of each other in the past, so this is a remarkable event. Registrants come from at least 15 states and the speakers are international caliber and internationally known.

If you are in the area, come! I will be blogging from it this week, so will likely have multiple posts per day, depending on internet access, so check back often.


“But It’s Just My Opinion…”

There are those who ask you about something in your field, you give them a response, then they proceed, at length, to give full airing of their view of the topic which is largely contradictory to yours and explain (usually with faulty reasoning) why the prevailing view is rubbish. They will then (out of some sense of humility, I’m sure) sign off with “but, that’s just my opinion.”

If you are graciously generous, you may take another stab at correcting their ignorance, at which point they shift slightly their arguments but come to the same conclusion, with the same ’disarming’ signoff.

I suggest you let them enjoy their opinion in peace. They obviously find more solace in their self-constructed ignorance than in refining it with expertise.