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Ted Davis on Theistic Evolution

Dr. Edward B. (Ted) Davis

In the debates on the origins of life, it is easy to argue with each other without understanding each others true positions. In that vein, Dr. Ted Davis, my colleague at Messiah College, offers his take on the tenets of Theistic Evolution as part of a series at the BioLogos Forums‘ site. He will eventually be offering the same take on Young Earth Creation and Intelligent Design as well, I believe. Here is how he describes the core tenets (all emphasis his):

Core Tenets or Assumptions of Theistic Evolution

(1) The Bible is NOT a reliable source of scientific knowledge about the origin of the earth and the universe, including living things—because it was never intended to teach us about science.

This reflects not only modern scientific knowledge, but also (more importantly) modern biblical scholarship. Peter Enns and some other evangelical scholars have recently stressed this point, initiating a firestorm in the evangelical academic community that, so far, has confirmed my view that evangelicals in general are just not ready to deal with this, even though it is consistent with the classical notion of accommodation. My own comments about the magnitude of the problem, written before the firestorm started, can be found here.

(2) The Bible IS a reliable source of knowledge about God and spiritual things.

Remember the quip that Galileo attributed to Cesare, Cardinal Baronio, “The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.” (We discussed this earlier in the series). Evolution was not an issue in Galileo’s day, but this platitude is frequently quoted by advocates of TE—and often without proper attribution to Baronio. Commonality obviously lies in the attitude, not the topic. Many critics of TE are willing to adopt Galileo’s approach when it comes to the Solar System, but not when it comes to evolution: they are anxious to keep Galileo out of the garden of Eden.

(3) Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible—it is simply not a science book.

See above. This needs to be stated separately, since some believers look to science for “proof” of the Bible, just as some unbelievers look to science for “disproof.” Proponents of TE stress that science and the Bible aren’t like apples and oranges; rather, they are more like apples and rocks: you can hold one in each hand without tension, but they have very little in common. We wouldn’t look for God in the phone book, or in an automobile repair manual. Don’t look for science in the Bible. In principle, scientific theories neither support nor threaten the Bible.

(4) The creation story in Genesis 1 is a confession of faith in the true creator, intended to refute pantheism and polytheism, not to tell us how God actually created the world.

This is meant to echo what we said about the Framework View. It is not necessarily true that all TEs accept the Framework View or something like it, but many do. Most would probably say that the Bible is not contradicted by any specific scientific theory of biological diversity—unless that theory oversteps its philosophical boundaries and functions as a kind of religion, what Conrad Hyers called “dinosaur religion.”

(5) The Bible tells us THAT God created, not how God created

Again, this sounds like the Framework View—or, at least, it should. Belief in God the creator is consistent with science, and even supported by some aspects of science; but, it is not a substitute for scientific explanations.

While this is not the tradition in which I grew up, I have come to understand how this is a theologically consistent world view that is certainly consistent with Christianity (though it also would be consistent with Jewish thought as well since there is no reference to Christ or salvation in this discussion).

As a statistician, and a Christian, it is my firm belief that God calls us to search for His truth. I do believe that science is one way in which we can learn about God’s wonderful Creation. If we believe that God would create a world which would testify truthfully about Himself and His character, then the truths learned in science (often with the use of statistics) should be relevant and acceptable to us as Christians. Discrepancies between what we are learning about the created order today and what the Bible seems to say are not surprising. The worldview of those who wrote the Bible could not have understood the complexities of the universe that are known today. Even if God had revealed modern technology and astronomy, the ancient writers would have had no words to accurately describe this reality in their language. I don’t find modern scientific inquiry to be a major concern to my faith, since I see the Bible as much more than a simple science textbook. Seeing the Bible as a science text can distract us, I believe, from understanding the hard work of living out what God has actually called us to do in our lives!

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