Brownback on Evolution

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Jonathan Adler is belittling Sam Brownback's relatively nuanced (for a politician) position on evolution. The comment thread is getting pretty heated, almost entirely in a direction that seems to me to miss the most important factor in interpreting his position. I would go so far as to say that most of the commenters are immorally taking Brownback's position in the least charitable way possible.

Roughly speaking, the problem seems to be that Senator Brownback is using language that leaves the issue wide open, where what he says is consistent with anything from theistic evolution to six-day creationism. The charge is that he is using coded language that's supposed to tell six-day creationists he's with them, while also using coded language to tell theistic evolutionists that he's with them, or something like that anyway. The assumption is that he couldn't be genuinely conflicted on this issue in a way that's consistent with rationality. I want to suggest that the most plausible interpretation of his comments is not the political coded language one but that he really is conflicted in such a way and that it even results from rational conflictedness.

Given that many people do think the most reasonable interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis is that the world was really created in six days 10,000 years ago (note: I don't think this is the most reasonable interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3, given its poetic elements, but I can understand how an intelligent, rational person might think it is), I can understand why he might genuinely feel conflicted, resulting in the following views:

1. Whatever the Bible teaches is true.
2. The Bible's teaching can be interpreted in a way that's consistent with the consensus among contemporary scientists, but some interpretations are more reasonable than others.
3. Science isn't infallible and has often been very wrong, even when scientists are correct at the time to think their best information leads them to that view. Most of the time these are minor variations, but sometimes they are major overthrows.
4. The most plausible interpretation of the Bible conflicts with the contemporary consensus.

I can easily see why an intelligent, informed person who knows all the science and understands why the consensus holds what it does might still refrain from holding any belief whatsoever on whether speciation occurred in the way the consensus says it did. The key is to insist both that (a) our interpretation of the scripture might be wrong and (b) our science has at least some chance of being wrong, while insisting that (c) whatever the Bible does say is true (whether our interpretation is correct or not) and (d) whatever a perfect scientific study would result it will almost certainly be correct.

Only if you assume from the outset that divine revelation about such matters is impossible could you end up concluding that such a person is irrational.


Hey Jeremy,

I’ve enjoyed reading all of your posts on commentaries and series. I recently received some correspondence from Zondervan concerning their upcoming “Zondervan Exegetical Commentary” series. I know the information has been quite limited, but some of the folks at Zondervan provided me with the series synopsis, scope, and an up-to-date listing of the contracted authors (which is more detailed than your most recent list). I just wanted to offer to pass that along to you. If you’re interested in the information, I’d be glad to post it in the comments section of one of the commentary posts for you.

Thanks! God bless!

This is by far the clearest explanation of my position as a christian and scientist. It perfectly draws on Augustine's dictum that we should never take so firm a stand on some perspective of scripture that if further discoveries show us false that we look like fools and our christian testimony topples with it. Yet accourding to the christian worldview, God's word is Truth, His special revelation, however His creation order is also His truth, His general revelation, and God does not lie. Therefore we always recognize anything that is "true" we simply presuppose that God two revelations will alway complement each other. If the scientist has a problem with such uncertainties, i would ask "which is true of the nature of light, is it rather like a wave or a particle?" Modern physics teaches us the value of complementarity princeple. Why can't we apply it to science and faith?

"while insisting that (c) whatever the Bible does say is true (whether our interpretation is correct or not)"
I'm confused. In the face of dozens of Biblical contradictions, which do I insist is true?

I mean, can I marry my brother's widow (Deut 25:5), or can't I (Lev 20:21)? Can I cheat on my wife (Ex 20:14), or can't I (Num 31:18)? Can I divorce my wife (Deut 24:1/21:10,11,14), or can't I (Matt 5:32)? At least I know one thing... thou shall not kill... unless the victim is an Israelite.
Either the omnipotent one was oft confused and in a hurry, or this book was written by a number of not-particularly-talented scribes.

I obviously don't agree with your views, but I do like the arguments on the site. Thanks.

Bob, did it ever occur to you that someone might have thought through these issues during the 2000 years since the New Testament and the much greater time since the Torah? It's not as if no one has ever wondered about them before, and it's not as if no one has ever offered any response to them. The first issue is a complete pseudo-problem resulting from the fact that human language often assumes a context or assumes what you already know about background conditions that no longer obtain in our contemporary situation. I'm not even sure what the problem in your second case is supposed to be. The third one is a difficulty for how people might put together various texts, but there's no inherent contradiction. It's more that certain statements aren't entirely clear on all their implications, and people have gone different ways on them. But all of those ways (or at least most of them) are entirely consistent.

Even the most skeptical of scholars wouldn't think there's any conflict between the Levirate command for a man to marry his brother's widow to provide his dead brother an heir and the general prohibition on marrying your brother's wife either while he's still alive or if he already has an heir.

How can the command against adultery in Exodus 20:14 count as allowing you to cheat on your wife? Are you thinking of the faulty translation that appeared in the first print run of the KJV? It would be easier to put that up against the Hebrew rather than compare it with something that isn't really about adultery at all but is about a method of acquiring slaves or wives from conquered peoples. If anything, you might try putting Num 31:18 up against the commands in Deuteronomy about not marrying the Canaanite people and other related peoples in the area, although even that founders on the fact that Deuteronomy is issuing a new command upon entry into the land, whereas Num 18 is prior to that.

The divorce issue is treated very systematically by the work of Craig Keener. He does an excellent job of putting together the non-contradictory but incomplete statements in different parts of the Bible, and given a sense of salvation-history, different covenants, and all the other things any half-decent understanding of Christian theology will bring you there turn out to be plenty of other proposals besides Keener's (but I think his is the best). But the most obvious thing to say is what Jesus said. Divorce is generally bad, and God opposes it with some exceptions, but God through Moses allowed certain circumstances to be legal in the Israelite government because of the hardness of heart of the Israelites. It's clear to me that what Jesus says doesn't conflict with the Torah statements, because Jesus acknowledges that it was allowed in the Torah.

But the point of this post has nothing to do with the particulars of biblical interpretation or reconciling supposed biblical contradictions. I was making a point about general propositions and how someone can put all of them together, not about what support someone might give for any of them. That issue is way beyond the scope of this post, and I wasn't pretending to offer any support or defense of any of the propositions I was presenting, just explaining how someone might arrive at all of them without irrationally rejecting anything that our best science proposes but also without necessarily endorsing some of those scientific conclusions. How someone might deal with supposed biblical contradictions is therefore completely irrelevant to this post.

If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a 'simple' living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the 'simple' cell.

After all, shouldn't all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a 'simple' cell.

If it weren't so pitiful it would be humorous, that intelligent people have swallowed the evolution mythology.

Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence 'FOR' evolution for THEMSELVES.

Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the 'raw' stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth's recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and Walla, LIFE!

Oh, you don't believe the 'original' Mother Earth recipe will work? You are NOT alone, Neither do I, and MILLIONS of others!

If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a 'simple' living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the 'simple' cell.

That's been done, actually. The question isn't whether material processes can lead to a cell. It's whether unguided processes are likely to. Scientists are guiding it, so it shows nothing about that question. But it does show that it can occur with merely natural processes.

Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so.

Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in George Washington, Julius Caesar, and Abraham Lincoln is that sources they admire say it is so. The same is true of most of science for most of the populace, who cannot reproduce the arguments necessary for understanding why we think the universe is expanding, why we think light displays both wave and particle behavior, why we think there are particles smaller than protons called quarks, and why we think a certain part of our brain is where memories are stored. Come to think of it, the only reason the readers of Answers in Genesis think evolution didn't occur is because sources they trust tell them so!

Jeremy: Come to think of it, the only reason the readers of Answers in Genesis think evolution didn't occur is because sources they trust tell them so!

Yeah....and the fact that if you have death and decay before "The Fall", you have the "fall" of Orthodox Christianity. The punishment for the disobidence of Adam and Eve is foundational for the purpose of Christ. Undercut creation and you undercut Christ!

I enjoy your blog....

I've discussed the old-earth view and death before the fall here and here. Suffice it to say that orthodox Christians have lots of options about how to deal with that apparent problem.

But it is true that that argument is important for a lot of young-earthers. I was mainly thinking of the pseudo-science that gets pushed at that site. There are occasional theological arguments there, and that one is one of the more halfway-decent ones.

By all means, Jimmie, yes, post what you know of the upcoming Zondervan Exegetical Series. I am very interested.

Mike, it doesn't belong on this post. The information is already up in my forthcoming commentaries posts.

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