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Theistic evolution challenged, defended in online exchange
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Posted on May 25, 2012 | by Erin Roach

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Editor's note: To read a second story Baptist Press has posted on this issue, visit http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37908

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- The danger of the scientific tail wagging the theological dog is real, a Southern Baptist seminary professor wrote in an ongoing debate with evolutionary creationists at The BioLogos Foundation.

"Can one start with the Scriptures and arrive at anything resembling theistic evolution? Are we to start with a scientific conclusion and then look for biblical sanction?" Kenneth Keathley, theology professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote.

'Are we to start with a scientific conclusion and then look for biblical sanction?' -- Kenneth Keathley
"I don't think most scientists would want to do science the way evolutionary creationists seem to be asking theologians to do theology," Keathley, who also serves as SEBTS senior vice president for academic administration, noted.

Keathley's essay, "Expressing Our Concerns," is part of a series titled "Southern Baptist Voices," which also includes essays from six other Southern Baptist seminary professors as well as responses to each from BioLogos representatives, posted at BioLogos.org.

In addition to Keathley's introductory essay, William Dembski, research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written, "Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?" Others will be posted roughly every four weeks throughout the summer.

The series emerged as an effort to "engage in charitable dialogue" as a result of discussions between Keathley and Darrel Falk, president of The BioLogos Foundation.

In comments to Baptist Press, Mark Sprinkle, a senior fellow at BioLogos, said it's crucial that such conversations happen not just in academic circles but in the broader church.

BioLogos, according to its website, "believes that evolution, properly understood, best describes God's work of creation."

"Science, as it turns out, does not overthrow the Bible. And faith, as it turns out, does not require a rejection of science," BioLogos says.

Concerns about the theological method used by evolutionary creationists were among those Keathley cited in his essay.

"One gets the impression at times that evolutionary creationism is a theory in search of theological justification," Keathley wrote. "It's easy to see why believing scientists who hold to evolution would want to find ways that evolution could be compatible with orthodox Christian doctrine. However, theologically speaking, the danger of the tail wagging the dog is very real."

Keathley added that certain evolutionary creationists "ask us to accept more and more fanciful interpretations of Genesis," though "the textual skin of Genesis 1-3 does not readily fit over an evolutionary drum."

"The BioLogos community has yet to convince Southern Baptist scholars that they are correctly handling the Genesis accounts," Keathley wrote.

Other matters that remain unresolved are the connection between natural history and salvation history, the status of Adam and Eve, and the problem of evil, Keathley wrote.

"The BioLogos Foundation has not made clear its view of Scripture, but the nature and authority of the Bible will have to be a major portion of any serious conversation between Southern Baptists and BioLogos," Keathley wrote.

"... If the members of the BioLogos Foundation someday demonstrate how evolutionary creationism fits reasonably with a high view of Scripture, a credible approach to Genesis 1-3, a historical Adam and Eve, and a historical Fall, then I will be the first to take their arguments seriously. I just don't think they've done that yet."

In a response to Keathley's essay, Falk along with Kathryn Applegate of BioLogos and Deb Haarsma of Calvin College welcomed the opportunity "to clarify our positions and remove stumbling blocks where possible."

BioLogos would emphatically agree with Keathley that the "goal should be more than merely finding a way to reconcile Genesis with the latest discoveries in genetics," Falk, Applegate and Haarsma wrote.

"We are evangelical Christians ourselves, active in our own local evangelical churches, so it saddens us to observe that our own segment of the Protestant church has not, to date, adequately interacted with the enormous body of evidence for evolution or dealt with its implications in a substantive way," the three wrote. "Reconciling Scripture with firmly-established scientific theories ought to be a concern for all Christians in the present age."

Responding to Keathley's statement that the Scriptures would not lead to a belief in theistic evolution, the BioLogos writers pointed to the sun-centered model of the solar system, which would not have been evident in Scripture, adding, "The church eventually came to see that heliocentrism wasn't so threatening to the Bible after all, because Scripture wasn't concerned with providing details about astronomy."

Christians need to rethink the kind of information they're expecting from the Genesis creation account, Falk, Applegate and Haarsma wrote, because the early chapters likely were not written to explain how God made humans' physical bodies.

"While only the Bible provides the knowledge necessary for salvation in Christ, creation itself reveals true knowledge about God's world including certain details about how God has created," the BioLogos writers said.

Regarding Adam and Eve, BioLogos does not take a firm position but "welcomes a range of perspectives." The three wrote, "We view the historical details of Adam and the physical details of the Fall as secondary matters of belief and not core beliefs on which all Christians must agree."

Whether Adam was a real person "is a theological question, not a scientific one; the most science can say is that there was never a time when the human population from which all modern humans descended was as small as two individuals," the BioLogos writers said.

Furthermore, the BioLogos position is that all physical death is not the result of human sin because "many entire species became extinct long before humans appeared on the scene."

Concerning the authority of Scripture, the BioLogos writers said, "We do not use the words 'infallible' or 'inerrant' here because these words mean different things to different audiences."

In a statement to Baptist Press regarding the series, Keathley said, "The BioLogos participants self-identify as evangelical Christians and we addressed them as such. They have demonstrated charity throughout this process and we consider them to be Christian brethren.

"The articles written by the SBC profs focused on our concerns about the biblical and theological implications of the positions advocated by the BioLogos fellows," Keathley added. "We determined to let others address the scientific matters.

"We wanted to challenge their understanding of Scripture and their willingness to jettison the historicity of Adam and Eve. Hopefully they hear us when we warn that these biblical truths cannot be abandoned without serious consequences."

Southern Baptist professors included in the series, in addition to Keathley, are William Dembski and John Laing of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Bruce Little, John Hammett and James Dew of Southeastern; and Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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