I Am Not a Scientist.

Recently, I have accepted the evolutionary perspective on human origins, much to the chagrin of several of my friends.  You see, I come from a theologically conservative perspective, so this is a big move for me.  But I suppose that other things have helped prime the pump, not necessarily making it easy to accept evolution per se, but making it easier to accept unpopular ideas.  My views of salvation and sovereignty are Calvinistic, which has been a strike against me in many circles.  I’ve also believed the scriptures allow (even promote!) the consumption of alcohol.  Strike two!  I’ve lived in the southeast most of my life committed to the Southern Baptist tradition.  By and large, Baptists in my region do not accept these two views.  (Why so many still praise the drinking, smoking, Calvinist boy preacher of renown, Charles Spurgeon, is a mystery to me!)  But even these ideas have some acceptance.  I suppose the fact that they’ve been debated for such a long time is one reason.  But evolution is a relative newcomer compared to these.

How is it that I’ve accepted evolution as the most likely explanation for human origins?  Here’s the most basic reason:  I’m not a scientist.

That’s it.

I’ve spent the past several years pursuing a professional theological education.  I’ve read lots of books and a ton of theological articles, publishing some of my own. I’ve written many papers, book reviews, journals, and taken several examinations so that professors could evaluate my thinking.  I’m glad to say that I’ve made it through that training, and that work has little to do with biology.  It gives me clout as a theologian and Biblical scholar, but not as a scientist.  Now, I do read the scientific articles written by some scientists, but that doesn’t make me an expert in their field.  I do,however, understand how ancient literature works, how it takes on the characteristics of the surrounding culture, and how it shows that God uses these characteristics to speak relevantly to the historical audience.  All of these things combined helped lead me to my new position.  It’s the best position I know.

It compels me to appreciate academic study in all fields.  It leads me to honor the biologist’s studies just as I expect him to respect my research in an entirely different field.  If I want to have an impact on my scientist friends, then I need to respect the countless hours of work they have done in their own fields.  They are involved in their chosen field because they love it; the same reason I pursue mine.

I have heard some religious leaders accuse scientists of falsifying evidence to prove erroneous points.  I have no doubt that this happens…just like in the church, or in government, or in the family, etc.  Such things happen everywhere and don’t jeopardize the main goals of an organization.  I have also heard that scientists cannot comprehend the truth because their minds are spiritually darkened.  But there are a lot of Christian scientists who would take exception to that.  And, again, some of the deepest spiritual darkness can be found in the church.

If the church doesn’t start respecting the scientific community, how does it expect to reach them with the Gospel?  The ‘anti-scientist’ Gospel invitation sounds like “Come to Christ, you dummies!”  or maybe “Come to Jesus, you incompetent scientists!” I think the Gospel call sounds more like this, “You’re a sinner like the rest of us, come to Christ.”

So I’m not a scientist.  I’m okay with that.  And in my own professional opinion, we all need the Gospel.

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Categories: Creation, Theology | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “I Am Not a Scientist.

  1. Devlin Smith

    Quite honestly, I am glad you decided to broach the subject of evolution. I wrestled with this concept for quite a while after beginning my first college biology class (the first of MANY at this point). My education at MRBS had engrained in me the idea that evolution was a completely ridiculous story, created by non-Christian scientists to avoid having to deal with Christianity in any shape, form, or fashion. In fact, at some points, I felt that even my questioning was akin to veering from my faith.

    However. . . my opinion on evolution has morphed considerably in the past 3 years. I by no means claim to be an expert on the history of man, but I certainly believe evolution to be possible. Now, this is not to say that I think man came from monkeys and the universe just kind of “exploded and came to be.” I now lean towards a more creationist view of man’s origin with evolution being used as an adaptation mechanism of sorts. What many people don’t realize is that evolution is simply a term (it is a part of the language, not a secular attack on Christians’ views) – it may be used in many different contexts and it has subcategories, if you will. For example, although I do not believe that my species came from monkeys (a form of macroevolution), I am convinced that microevolution is a fairly common occurrence. Homo sapiens, as well as many other species we interact with, adapt to their environment. These adaptations can be present in a single generation or in multiple generations and are simply a method of survival. If you really want to get specific, bacteria are CONSTANTLY evolving. By swapping DNA with other bacteria near them, they gain and lose characteristics like antibiotic resistance depending upon their environment.

    So, thank you for bringing this up. It has pained me greatly to realize how many people simply believe what they’re told in church without even questioning its premise. I feel that one should question any belief they are presented in order to determine its validity and the extent of their belief in it. Questioning is NOT necessarily refuting. . . it is simply research. Questioning a view or concept doesn’t mean that you do/do not personally accept it as fact. In the words of Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”. . . I heard somewhere that he was a pretty smart man. 🙂

    • I think you’re moving in the right direction, Devlin. I continue to be proud of you and your ideas!

  2. Jim Aldridge

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that no thinking Christian will reject microevolution. It is plainly observable in the natural order (the most popular example being that of the peppered moth) and it in no way threatens even the most conservative view of the creation account. Macraoevolution, however, is a different matter entirely. The closest that the Neodarwinist can cite as an iron clad, repeatable, observable example of macroevolution in the natural is the genetic engineering of a fruit fly which cannot reproduce with its parent species. While that is commonly adduced as an argument in favor of the macro evolutionist, the fact that the introduction of the species requires genetic engineering seems to me to point towards the need for an intelligent designer.

    Jason, my major problem with those scientists who act as if the rejection of macroevolution is the equivalent to the affirmation of a flat earth is that they fail to recognize that macroevolutionary theory is not hard science in the sense that it is based in the empirical method. It is historical science, not experimental or applied science. As such, the standard of proof is reduced to merely having to coherently explain a particular set of data with a greater efficiency than does any other available theory. It does not have to be falsifiable and the “results” do not have to be repeatable. The problem then arises that such a standard of proof is the same level of proof assumed by Van Til’s transcendental argument for the existence of God, but they would summarily reject it as an argument even though it meets the same standard of proof as does Neodarwinism (and does it far better I might add, without the need for the numerous “ad hoc” hypotheses that are required for the acceptance of Neodarwinism)

    Essentially, Jason, I respect the humility you have in the face of science, but this is not really an issue of science. Ultimately it is an issue of epistemology. Modern science, however, does not have the humility to say, “I am not well versed in epistemology, so I will refrain from making statements of ‘iron clad truth’ with regard to the question of origins.”

    • I don’t think that’s any different than saying that these scientists are incompetent at thier own scientific procedures…similar to the point I’m trying to make in the post. Yes, they could have poor epistemological approaches, but shouldn’t the philosophers be lined up to throw argumentative pies in these guys’ faces? Instead, philosophers tend to agree with evolutionary ideas, just like their biologist colleagues.

  3. dmwilliams83

    Yes! That was almost exactly my experience: the sudden realization that I was not competent to just shrug off normal science. I had been skeptical of higher critical claims about the Bible while in college, but in seminary and grad school immersed myself in that discipline, learned the languages, the arguments, the history, the data, and so on. After specializing in that field I became much, much more sympathetic to the higher criticism I had so easily dismissed as an undergrad. One day it just dawned on me that just as I as an undergrad had had no idea what I was talking about when I tried to dismiss higher criticism, so, too, now I haven’t a leg to stand on if I as a non-scientist try to dismiss evolution.
    I am totally with you on this!

  4. There’s a stereotype behind this whole thing. It’s a presumption that scientists only believe what they do because either they are evil or incompetent. No doubt, one or both is true of some scientists, but certainly not all. I just can’t stand playing this kind of game anymore.
    It’s very good to hear from you, David!

  5. Darrell Harvey

    I went through a similar process 10 years ago, and am therefore slightly further along in my journey than you, so let me be a voice of encouragement that, though you might experience varying degrees of ostracization at certain levels, you have to stay true to where you feel God is leading you and what you feel he is revealing to you through the study of both his special and general revelations.
    Bravo to you for your humility and honesty.
    Bravo also to Jim Aldridge for ironically confirming your point (points to be addressed below).

    I minimally demonized “evolution” when I was younger, out of tradition and ignorance, and entered seminary with that mindset. However, like dmwilliams83, I became exposed to and came to embrace the higher critical claims regarding the scriptures.

    “Wait….Genesis Ch.1, Elohim, light, ocean, land/plants, Sun, fish, animals/man/woman…Ch.2, Yahweh, water, man, trees, animals, woman….wait, what??”; Satan’s names not Lucifer??, Gahenna’s an actual valley?? Kirk Cameron’s pulling stuff outta his own imagination and Daniel (as an aside, are you still a premillenialist, Mr. DTS?)??”

    Coming to a place where I started to differentiate what the scriptures explicitly stated from what millennia of tradition had implanted in my psyche, I realized that certain stale paradigms were better off discarded as God opened my eyes to new revelations into his purposes and nature.
    These realizations coupled with my studies as I segued into a career in science made it easy to embrace evolution as an amazing and God edifying explanation for many aspects of the living world I observed every day.

    Now, 10 years later my home library takes many by surprise as about 40% of it consists of theology books, and 40% of it science books. An entire shelf is dedicated to Creation in Genesis, from Henry Morris the father of modern young-Earth creationism, to William Dembski, ID proponent, to Francis Collins and other evangelicals that embrace the theory of evolution and incorporate it in varying ways into their belief system. My favorite book so far is “Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?” by Denis Alexander, which puts forth a spectrum of scenarios involving Adam and Eve, the Flood, timelines of creation, etc. that one might believe to varying degrees, and explains how they might be integrated into an inerrant view of scripture.

    I appreciate your deference to professional scientists, though find it unnecessary. Do you defer to astronauts in your belief in a round Earth, or to physicists in your belief in a non-geocentric view of the Universe? Likewise, it seems that you have a basic appreciation of the facts that evolution explains, but have grown enough as a theologian to allow yourself to believe what your God-given rational mind tells you to be true. (Ironically it took a PhD in theology to lead you to accept a high school Honors Biology understanding of the nature of life).

    Hopefully, your feelings of frustration at ignorant persecution will subside (though the persecution might not, depending on your church and geographic location), and you will feel mercy and sympathy for those who are slaves to tradition. More importantly, God can now use you to reach with the gospel those fellow sinners (red in tooth in claw, ;oP) for whom this is a stumbling block to knowing Christ.

  6. Darrell Harvey

    Now to focus on some of the comments that your post on facebook and in your blog has begat, all being well intended, and most of what I see, all being from concerned believers with varying degrees of knowledge of the topic (caveat: the following represents my humble opinion as a scientist and theologian, regard or disregard with ease):

    First, the short, quaint, and/or misconception prone:

    Devlin, bravo on expanding your horizons and your healthy views on questioning. That being said, no biologist thinks humans came from monkeys. The theory of evolution espouses the principle of “common descent,” namely that humans and monkeys that are alive today have a common ancestor about 50 million years ago, possibly Plesiadapi. Also, no astrophysicist thinks the universe exploded from nothing. The term “Big Bang” is a misnomer made up by a non-scientist to make fun of the notion. The “Big Bang” Theory simply states that the Universe is expanding at an increasing rate and everything used to be a whole lot closer 14 billion years ago. So close, in fact, that the laws of physics break down and we can’t talk about what existed before that without stepping outside the realm of Science into the realm of Metaphysics, or The Mystery mentioned by Benjamin. Plus, the nature of cosmic expansion doesn’t relate a whole lot to whether or not evolution takes place.

    Carol, I think Jason is saying we ARE animals, albeit special ones made in the image of God, and that animals evolved from multicellular organisms, and that THOSE evolved from unicellular organisms, and that those evolved via semi-biotic processes from organic molecules that organized via abiotic processes.

    Secondly, the ironic (considering Jason’s post), the cliché, and the misguided:

    Jim, thank you for being the poster child for the very argumentation style of ad hominem, quote-mining, erroneous categorizing, and genetic fallacies of irrelevance, that perpetuates evangelical misunderstandings of God’s creation and makes Christiandom unappealing to people whose careers are spent discovering what you dismiss so readily using the just mentioned rhetoric. It makes it a lot easier for people to see the back flips that traditionalists have to engage in to maintain a 150 year old understanding of the world around them.

    In such a short space, one can only graze your points. I advise anyone sincerely interested to get a (current, non-Kentucky) high school Biology textbook and use that as a springboard for your own research into the matter.

    However to briefly address some points:

    For those of you mislead and are misled, there is no scientific distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. It’s a categorical phantasm made up by non-scientists. There is only evolution of populations (not individuals) over time that leads to speciation. Similar species descended from the some original ancestor species are part of the same genus, same process, back in time, up to same family, etc. to kingdoms and domains. If you must, “macroevolution” is an accumulation of “microevolutions” over time to the point of speciation. Your limited fruit fly speciation (by design) example is a falsehood (traditionalists should be more responsible with the literature they read as I think falsehoods, though not intentional here I’m sure, are bad).

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

    There’s about 50+ examples of observed evolution leading to speciation.

    A lot of them are in a lab. There goes your false categorical fallacious argument towards “Hard Science” only. Then there’s my favorite, Peter and Rosemary Grant, that spent 36 years in the field and observed evolution leading to speciation actually take place in a population of finches due to natural selection…Google them for an interesting study.

    All these experiments are pretty empirical.

    Ignorance about or rejection of the above empirically observed and repeatable results is more likely the reason evolutionary biologists treat you like you just said the Earth is flat, because they just showed you something that everyone can use their senses to verify and you just said it doesn’t exist.

    Hmmm…what else…quote mining Steven J. Gould’s personal metaphysical philosophies to disprove scientists’ abilities to make empirically based assertions about evolution? Dubious.

    And finally my personal favorite traditionalist argument…the classy, “Hey, why do YOU get to decide what the definition of “Science” is Mr. Scientist??” Ummm…maybe because they’re the Sci-en-tists….? Now that the intelligent design and irreducible complexity movements have gone by the wayside, I’ve found this epistemological argument of irrelevance to be more and more pervasive among traditionalists, specifically among apologists and philosophers. I actually discovered it while listening to William Dembski speak about the possibilities that should be taught in Science classes when it dawned on me… “Oh. He wants to change how Science is defined!”

    Connivingly genius. Or annoying. “Hey you biologists with your evolutionary paradigms looking for cures to genetic diseases by manipulating genomes based on your knowledge of mutational mechanisms driven by natural selection!! Can we philosophers harangue your empirical methods while you’re making real contributions to society so we don’t feel obsolete?!?” No wonder there’s professional bias among scientists…they’ve slipped into self-preservation mode due to ideological attack from outside…can you blame them?

    And if it is an epistemological debate, what’s wrong with strict empiricism? It’s helped us form every technological, medical, and engineering feat of the last 300 years. And if empiricism is an acceptable approach to Science, and evolutionary biology is empirically based, what’s the problem? Your great-great-great-great- grandfather’s Anabaptist preacher’s reformed seminary systematic professor’s interpretation of a commentary on the King James Bible’s treatment of a group of 50+ disparate scholar’s translation of a slew of primary sources of a 2000-400 B.C. written/redacted inspired Word to a bronze age group of Elect people says that God created Adam from the dust of the Earth, breathed life into his nostrils, and put him into the Garden of Eden means that God didn’t use biological evolution to accomplish this though 99.9+% of people that currently devote their life studies to this field observe that it is so and can provide you with evidence you can see and touch to support the notion?

    What epistemological system do you subscribe to that allows you to do this?

    (Please don’t revert to evolution as a historical science, as I don’t have the space or energy to explain the empirical sciences of geological and biological dating methods, paleontology, astrobiology, and molecular biology involved that buttress the Theory of Evolution, as it’s not every scientists job to plug the ignorances in every argument from ignorance, ie. your ad hoc argument accusation)

    Bravo once again Jason for breaking those chains and focusing on the Gospel message as the central tenet of time and scripture. Beware those that fallaciously caution your perceived fall down a “slippery slope” as it’s a tribute to their arrogance and adherence to tradition that they assume they are on top of the slope.

    (p.s. No vitriol intended Jim, just trying to protect my boy Jason…he’s very emotionally fragile right now at this tender stage of his development….; )

  7. Jim Aldridge

    Darrell,
    Let me assure you that there is no need to protect Jason from me – either from the perspective that I harbor any ill will towards him or from the perspective that he is incapable of making a cogent intellectual defense of his own position. I will also be the first to say that I am not an authority in the realm of science. I am a firefigther/EMT and spent much of my adult life as a law enforcement officer. Not exactly genius material, but I do generally try to read both sides of an issue and make an informed decistion. Some of my criticisms may be grounded in a partial understanding or a misunderstanding of some of what I have read. If so, I am willing to entertain that possibility. You can ask Jason, I’m not afraid to learn or to be corrected. However, based on my current level of understanding, I do still hold that the “connivingly genius, or annoying” criticism that the debate boils down largely to epistemology is a sound approach. I would like the chance to discuss that with you more thoroughly. The truth is that science, and even our understanding of the theory of evolution, changes from age to age. I am open to having my understanding of creation impacted by scientific discovery up to a point (I would like to think that the church learned something from the Copernican Revolution), but I am extremely leery of embracing any belief that potentially compromises the integrity of Scripture and the very foundation upon which the gospel rests.
    You bring a great deal of emotion into this debate, Darrel. I don’t think that it would be out of place for me to state that some of your accusations concerning my character and motivation were unfounded. Might I also point out that your characterization of me seemed rather “ad hominem?”
    I will continue to research and read. But despite your characterization of this issue as an “open and shut” case, I think a great deal of this boils down to the weight that one gives to particular points or bits of evidence. That is largely a function of epistemology. I would like to continue the conversation with you. Feel free to get my number from Jason, so we can talk over the phone. I would, however, rather maintain a more mutually respectful tone in the future. Perhaps, if you live in the area, we could even arrange a “face to face” meeting. I find that angry people are generally more respectful when I meet them face to face. You can ask Jason, if you and I could meet face to face, I think you would realize that such “vitriol” is neither warranted nor healthy.
    More later, Jim

  8. Darrell Harvey

    You mean a guy can’t be condescending and mocking and then just say “In Chist’s love” at the end and make it all better?? Sheeesh. My PROFUSE apologies to you and your friends Jason! I thought people were attacking and misleading an old friend of mine and was therefore trying to stick up for him. Again, apologies if you felt personally attacked or your opinions belittled Devlin, Carol, and especially Jim!

  9. Darrell Harvey

    Now that I have the 411 and don’t erroneously feel the need to be “Jason’s Bulldog,” let us continue in a more civil tone. I would love to conference Jim, perhaps with Jason involved as well, though I don’t know the best format beyond this one. I live in the DFW metroplex, so don’t know the feasability of getting together.

    I’m intersested in your epistemological views on the matter, as they can be very nuanced. Truly, I just realized this is as being a debate hinging on what you can and can’t know when I was listening to Dembski at a conference. I’m reading his “Mere Creation” book that he edited, and he relies on this argument heavily. Also, as a believer in the infallibilty of scripture, I’m interested in what epistemilogical approach, beyond empiricism, you would propose be used in Science or Science education.

    I’m an evolutionary creationist, but still hold to a historical Adam and Eve (Homo divinus), so I don’t have to deal with Jason’s hamartiological issues, thus, we could focus more on the other points.

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