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Vibrant Dance 2011: Day 1 Recap

Today was the first of the two day conference on the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science, Theology Edition:  Creation—Biblical Options. All of the presenters come from more of a theological or philosophical background rather than a science background, so it was a change for me. 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.

There were seven plenary sessions and a breakout session interspersed with times of worship, breaks and meals. The first, by Dr. Craig Blaising, Provost and Executive Vice President of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, set the tone by establishing a framework for discussion in terms of generally accepted principles of Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) and understanding knowledge (epistemology). He also laid out the importance of Creation as a Christian doctrine and the key questions that tend to come up in debate.

Next, Dr. Todd Beall, professor of Old Testament at Capital Bible Seminary gave an apologetic for the ‘young earth’ position, though he appeared slightly reticent to use that label and made a point of saying that he was happy to have fellowship with those that disagree with him and doesn’t see it as an issue of orthodoxy versus heresy. Third was Dr. John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Biola, to address the relationship between science and theology from a philosophical viewpoint, and comes from a ‘young earth’ position as well.

Next was Dr. Walter Kaiser, distinguished professor of Old Testament and President Emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, to discuss whether Genesis 1 and 2 are one or two narratives of the same events, concluding that Genesis 2 zooms in on activities in the Garden of Eden. The fifth speaker was Dr. Bruce Waltke, Reformed Evangelical Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Knox Theological Seminary. He talked about the various points of tension between Scripture and scientific understanding, proposing “that the Biblical literature is historically conditioned, is narrative (i.e., a mixture of history and plot), represents God figuratively and is influenced by the cosmology of the Biblical world.”

Dr. John Walton, Old Testament professor at Wheaton College, presented a new view to me, suggesting that the days of Creation should be interpreted in terms of how ancient Hebrews would have understood the narrative:  they are a creation of function from the material rather than creating the material itself (which He did beforehand). Furthermore, that the text is what the ancient Near East culture would have recognized as a “Temple text,” describing the Creation week as the sanctifying and inauguration of Creation as ‘sacred space.’ Finally, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, MS, discussed the reformed view of the Creation week stating that the view that the days are six 24 hour days has been the default view throughout Church and Jewish history because they viewed the narrative as historical rather than figurative. Many of the speakers seemed to view the length of day as a separate issue from age of the earth, at least partly because Genesis 1:1-2 seems to cover everything until the Earth was ready to be transformed, and that is when the days begin.

The evening breakout sessions were each speaker going into more detail and holding Q&A over their presentations from earlier. I attended Dr. Walton’s presentation, and got to hear more detail about his Cosmic Temple/Functional Ontology view and ask a couple of questions.

In addition to separating the age of the Earth from day length, many seemed to subscribe to some form of NOMA (non-overlapping magisterial), the idea that science and theology were largely independent spheres that have little or no overlap. NOMA says that science and faith answer different questions so do not inform each other much and so the conflict is actually minimal. I was a bit surprised that this view had such sway over such a broad group. None expressed it quite this blatantly though some were close, and not everyone expressed it at all, but there were distinct flavors of it in most talks. Also, the concordist view that says the ‘two books’ (Scripture and Nature) should agree with each other when properly interpreted, received little attention, and what attention it received was negative. This surprised me a little bit, since the idea that God being the author of both would lead to some level of interaction and agreement makes sense to me. What remains to be seen in my mind is the degree of interaction and agreement, and how much of that we are able to perceive and understand.

Tomorrow will mostly consist of panel discussions of today’s speakers (with some additions) to interact on various aspects of Creation from their respective viewpoints.

I will come back and address each talk more fully after the conference is over. Note: I have advertised this blog to the speakers, so I say these things knowing they may well read them at my open invitation. Not only that, but many of the speakers handed out notes, and of those that didn’t, when I asked for a copy for purposes of posting, they handed me their handwritten copies right out of their hands. I am humbled and honored by their willingness to share their views here. Thank you.

My spirit in these posts is to accurately report what they said and hopefully offer 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. Furthermore, as I am a scientist and not a theologian, I am the novice in these discussions. 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. They are brothers in Christ, and qualified scholars.

Day 4 Praise:
“The saints below and saints above
The church on earth and in heaven”
 From Charles Wesley hymn, “Glory to God, and Praise and Love”

The Church above and below is still one Body, and those are words of comfort.


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