Monday, September 17, 2007


I was going to write about the economic Trinity as an essential but decided that I’m not writing systematic theology text. I do think the economic Trinity is an essential but if I get that detailed John and I will be writing a series of books. So I decided to move on.

I assert that it is an essential of the Christian faith that God created the universe. If, as some scientists say today that there are many universes, (how they can prove this is beyond me, but I love science fiction and have read of such), I assert that God made all universes. In other words, God is God and Creator of all.

There are all kinds of scientific things we could say about God as creator. We could say, since it looks like macro evolution is the best theory for how life came to be on earth at least with the evidence we currently have, (although some scientists are working on the theory that microbes of some sort came to earth from other places; see the strange rock found in Antarctica that seems to have come from Mars and may have fossils of microscopic organisms in it), that God set the universe to work in the way that it does. I would assert as a matter of faith that God also superintends the process. In other words I believe in some form of intelligent design. That doesn’t mean that I think ID is a viable scientific theory, although I think such a theory could be viable if it was based on probability. I’m saying that God is intelligent, that God designed the universe to work the way it does, and that God is involved in the process of how the universe came to be and the various stars and planets and comets and dust clouds, and life in the universe, (and since at this point we only really know about life on earth) and on earth all came to be because God wanted them to come to be.

Will I be excited if one of the Mars probes finds evidence of life in the past or the present on Mars? I sure will be! While I find life of earth fascinating, I think God is involved in a whole lot more than life on earth. After all, God made a universe in which the gravity is perfect for stars to form. God even made strange things like black holes and creatures near underwater volcanoes that are not carbon based but sulfur based. If there is life, (and let’s face it, it may be life that we can’t even understand), elsewhere in the universe that just tells us more of the glory of God and the wonders that God has created.

As some of you have pointed out, John and I are coming at this from different perspectives. I start with the divine and then move on to the human. John, it seems to me, starts with the human and moves to the divine. Have I got that right John? I would suggest that John comes at this from Schleiermacher’s perspective and I come at it from Karl Barth’s. For Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher see The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Gottingen, winter semester of 1923-24. For Schleiermacher’s views see his On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers and The Christian Faith.

So what does all this have to do with you and me? I think our response to God’s work in creation should begin with wonder. Leaves fascinate me. When I was in Boy Scouts I could identify trees from leaves. I’m fascinated that each type of tree has its own shaped leaves but even more so that each leaf on each tree seems to be slightly different in size or shape from all the other leaves. I love to watch the buds come out in the spring, turn into leaves that, here in PA, turn wonderful colors and then fall off in the fall. I love the interconnectedness of creation, with trees supplying oxygen which animals of all kinds breathe and turn into carbon dioxide that plants need. BTW, did you know that there are a whole lot more trees in the USA today than there were 100 years ago? Our ancestors cut most of them down and then somehow our society decided to let them grow again.

Microscopic organisms are just as fascinating. Deadly as some of them are to humans, they still are beautiful. Look at the shape of the Ebola virus and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t want it in my body or anybody’s body, but it is beautiful. So are crystals and mountains, (like John I prefer my mountains with the tops left on. Cutting mountains down for the coal not only creates an ugly scene it also leaves a mess of caustic chemicals).

If we start with wonder we should also move to stewardship. I said in my last blog that part of the image of God in humans is participation in community. I also believe that we image God in the way that we care for God’s creation. Immediately following the declaration in Genesis 1 that God created humans in the image of God, (and being male and female is somehow mixed up in all of that, but I’ll talk about that later), God appoints the humans as caretakers of the earth. Literally the passage says:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind£ in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (NRSV)

I know, subdue and have dominion do not directly imply stewardship and responsibility to God for the way we treat creation, but other parts of the Bible make clear our responsibility to God for how we treat the earth. I also wonder sometimes how God feels about the fact that we have made space around earth and parts of the Moon a junkyard. So I have to say we have done a very poor job in caring for creation.

I haven’t said it directly so let me say it now. We image God in our creativity when used as God intends. Since the image of God in us is distorted by sin, (a lot more on this later) as John pointed out in his last blog, creativity can be a two edged sword. Who knew in 1900 that the internal combustion engine would be such a source of pollution? (BTW, if we were all willing to wait a bit for the water to heat up, steam engines are much more efficient in their use of fuel. The internal combustion engine is inefficient in its use of fuel in comparison. But we all want to jump in our cars and go.)

I believe God is Creator and we, along with all the rest of the earth and the universe, are created. The difference is very important and the denial of the difference is a large part of the human problem.

Grace and Peace



Rob said...

Hi Bob,

I have been watching your posts on John's site and greatly enjoy both your views. There are many things you assert that I agree with, and some I just can' wrap my mind around, or find myself simply confused wanting to ask further questions. One of those areas is your statements on science, evolution, and the big bang.

My own religious perspective is similar to yours in that I believe God is the Creator of the universe and evolutionary life therein, and that ultimately there is an intelligent overcontrol of this vast evolving panorama of time and space and evolutionary creatures like you and I.

A couple statements you made left me with some questions:

1) What do you mean by "macro evolution"? Would this idea include the idea that life started with single celled organisms and evolved from there by common descent into more complex forms of life, eventually even us?

Note, I think it is very useful to differentiate three main questions in evolutionary theory: 1) Fact. The fact of organic evolution by common descent. 2) Paths. The actual pathways of common descent (phlogeny). 3) Mechanism(s). Theories about the underlying causal mechanism(s) responsible for change from one form to another.

2) I agree that ID Creationism is a religious/philosophical view, not a scientific theory. Give the repeated attempts of ID Creationists to teach creationism is the science classroom, what do you see as the resolution of of this debate? Where do you see it going?

3) If life is was created by God using the technique of evolution by common descent, and we are really evolutionary creatures, doesn't this have profound implications for some (not all) traditional Christian doctrines? Such as "original sin" or the story of Adam and Eve? Barth for example did not view the scripture "literally," as some biblical fundamentalists do.

Pastor Bob said...


Thanks for stopping by. Let me answer your questions.

1. Macro evolution. Yes, I do mean the process of genetic change from one celled organisms to multi celled organism like mammals. Micro evolution would be changes within a particular species.

2. Facts, Paths and Mechanisms. I don't think I would call evolution fact. I see facts in relation to evolution as the evidence. For example, the various homo sapien ancestors, like Lucy or the curious fish fossils with limb like fins. The evidence the is evaluated and a theory is proposed to describe the evidence. Evolution is a theory to describe the evidence. It may be replaced some day, or at least altered, as Stephen Gould has done but suggesting that there are long periods in which there is relatively little evolutionary change and then shorter periods in which there is much change. I would agree with you about paths, but I think we need to be open to new ways of examining the paths. For example, most anthropologist are now fairly certain that Neaderthals were not homo sapiens ancestors. Again, I agree with you about mechanisms, but am not sure that we really know what these are.

And yes, if evolutionary theory is correct according to current evidence, this has an effect on theology. But if we take ID as a theological viewpoint we might say that at some point or another humans were given the gift of the image of God and then violated that image. I'll say more on this when I get around to sin.

Thanks for the conversation.

Oh, as a side comment, I think God can speed up or directly change the evolutionary process if God chooses to do so.

Rob said...

Thanks Bob,

I think we may in large be in agreement. For example, when you say “I don't think I would call evolution fact. I see facts in relation to evolution as the evidence. For example, the various homo sapien ancestors, like Lucy or the curious fish fossils with limb like fins,” I think I may not have explained what I mean in enough detail, for I agree with your assessment. What I mean by “fact, path, and mechanism” is to differentiate between the evidence (facts), such as some of those you point out above in contrast to the current theories regarding paths and causal mechanisms of evolution. So when I refer to evolution as fact all I am saying is that there is so much evidence (facts) from many different areas of science (fossil record, paleontology, molecular biology, etc.) that I believe it is of such a high probability that organic evolution (defined as common descent from simpler forms, which is different from Darwinian theory of the causal mechanism) is in fact part of our true origins. The goal here is to differentiate (fact-evidence) organic evolution (common descent from simpler forms) form the theory (mechanism) which has been for the past 100 years first Darwinian and then neo-Darwinian theory. And paths would be the inferred phylogenies (i.e., family trees).

Note, I do not mean when I say the fact of organic evolution (common descent from simpler forms) the neo-Darwinian theory of the mechanism that is supposed to account for change in form, nor the specific phylogenies (paths) evolution has taken. This is a distinction commonly made in the scientific community. The point is that there has been over the last 100 years a great mass of evidence from many different sources that only makes sense within the framework of organic evolution (common descent from simpler forms). The same cannot be said with regard to the evidence (facts), especially the new evidence coming forth from Evolutionary Developmental Biology, and the current paths (phylogenies) and Darwinian theory. For example, because of the human genome project, which was made possible because of technological breakthroughs in the 70s and 80s, we are now able to produce the genomes of many other species and open up for the first time an age of comparative genomics, we have discovered that some of the paths (phylogenies) that were established by paleontology by using only paleontology (comparative morphology) have been determined to be incorrect based upon comparative genomics. In other words, some the phylogenies have been modified based upon new evidence. So the paths are subject to change. In the same way, because of this new field of biology, we have now gained new evidence regarding the nature of genetic variation (patterned, facilitated, and constrained), and scientists are discovering it is not so random as they once thought, and this new evidence challenges current neo-Darwinian theory, which claims all genetic variation is random. So, the theory of the mechanism of change in form, neo-Darwinian theory, may well be in for some major modifications as we are smack dab in the middle of scientific revolution in biology as we speak.

You mention the “fish fossils with limb like fins,” for example. Consider this fact. Traditionally, even up until the 1970s or later, it was believed that every single base (i.e., “spot mutation”) was open to random mutation, and therefore there would be no single sequence of base pairs that would be conserved over long periods of time. This assumption was one of the critical assertion of Darwinian theory. Well, based on new evidence we now know that there are anciently conserved “Master Pattern Genes” and they are associated with “Genetic Switches” and “Genetic Toolkits,” so that the same “Genetic Pathways” that create a fin in a fish create a limb in a lizard and an arm in a human. We now know there is a “regulatory genome,” that is responsible for regulating the “housekeeping genome,” and that it has been conserved (with patterned modification) since the earliest life. That is a revolutionary finding, and neo-Darwinian theory neither predicted it nor is able to account for it now. Scientists have taken one of these “Master Pattern Genes” for eyes from a mouse and put it in a fly and it works; a flies eyes are produced.

Another of the interesting findings of this new field of biology pertains to the question of whether or not evolutionary change is gradual or sudden; whether or not change in form is due to small “spot mutations” over long periods of time or is due to sudden “saltations” or “macromutations.” Evolutionary Developmental Biology is revealing that small changes in the “regulatory genome” in “patterned” ways brings about large (read “macromutation” or “saltation”) changes in form that are viable. This again was not predicted or is not compatible with traditional neo-Darwinian theory.

To cut this short, scientists are now beginning to propose that “natural selection” (i.e., the random mechanism of neo-Darwinian theory) is responsible for change in already existing features within species, and another mechanism, one which is based upon the newly discovered “regulatory genome,” is responsible for those genetic mutations that result in those creative novelties that account for change in form or the sudden transformation of one species into another. In fact, we have advanced so far in being able to manipulate this “regulatory genome” that some scientists are predicting they will be able to take one organism and manipulate the “regulatory genome” in the laboratory and change its form in such a way that would be considered one species into another.

If you are curious to see a scientist writing on this subject, read Robert G. B. Reid’s “Biological Emergences.” Sorry for the long post, guess I got excited ;-)

And I agree with your other points too.

Rob said...

Hi Bob,

Here a couple links you might find interesting:

Development and Evolution


Macroevolution and the Genome

Rob said...

Hi Bob,

I think it fair to say we are pretty much in agreement when it comes to evolution. Would that be fair to say?

I think God is Creator; if evolution by common descent from single celled organism to humans is reality, then it raises questions in my mind about some traditional Christian doctrines.

Take the story of Adam and Eve, and the supposed "original sin" they caused. If God's uses evolution as a technique to make human beings, then it simply does not make sense to interpret this literally. Clearly then, God did not create human creatures in perfection, but in imperfection. I see nothing wrong with this, but is means that it does not make sense to blame a creature for the imperfection that the Creator in his greater wisdom planned and created. Kind of like blaming my children for being immature.

I guess have been led to redefine evil, sin, and iniquity in light of the reality of evolution. I know it does not fit Christian doctrine, but it makes sense to me.

If humans are evolutionary creatures created in imperfection, than evil (defined as error, misadaptation, and ignorance) is our natural animal origin state. Sin, is the state in which the creature has attained a consiousness that can differentiated between good and evil (knowledge), and knowingly chooses to do evil, which then makes the choice sin (deliberate disloyalty to Deity), and iniquity is the measure of the creatures habituation of mind and personaltiy to the choosing of sin. Indeed, we are by nature evil; and we are all sinners -- we all do some "pet evil" which we know is wrong. And some even choose to become iniquitous.

I know this won't work for some, but that is how I have figured this issue out.