Evolutionary syncretism: a critique of BioLogos
Published: 7 September 2010 (GMT+10)
BioLogos, founded in 2007 and funded with a grant from the theistic evolutionary Templeton foundation, declares on its home page that it “explores, promotes and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith.” But by their own admission, they do not offer anything specifically Christian; their article ‘On what grounds can one claim that the Christian God is the Creator?’ says: “The creation story of BioLogos is compatible with many faith traditions. Muslims, Jews and Christians alike can align their faith with the BioLogos account of our origins, and there is no way to give a scientific proof for one monotheistic faith over another.”1
Indeed, they succeed in their quest for non-specificity; on the whole site, there are very few articles that are specifically Christian, and most of those are from outside contributors. But they claim that all of their members are Christian theistic evolutionists, so in that sense they are a professing Christian group. But their embrace of evolutionary science and some of its logical effects on Christian theology is such that they, in effect, become syncretists2—rather like the way the Gnostics syncretized Christianity and Greek philosophy, and the Roman Catholic Church in Galileo’s day did with Aristotelian physics.
Evolutionary science … oh yes, and faith too
It is interesting to contrast the tone on the site when discussing the Bible and the tone used when discussing science, especially evolution. In the former, evasive phrases like “it can be argued that”, “BioLogos is compatible with the idea that”, and other phrases designed to give an impression that they are taking a stance when they are actually bending every way they can to avoid taking a stance on a positive teaching of Scripture over their science, which is their ultimate authority. If this is characteristic of all their writing, one could conclude that this simply shows that they are not only compromisers, but that they actually lack any courage or fortitude in standing up for the Bible at all. However, they do not shy away from definite statements about evolution and science. These excerpts from two BioLogos articles illustrate the difference in language well. From “What is evolution?”:
Many still wonder why macroevolutionary changes have never been observed. The simple answer, as Darrel Falk puts it, is that we haven’t been watching long enough. The types of genetic mutations that eventually lead to macroevolutionary changes are rare, and this accounts for the slow pace of evolutionary development. The amount of time that we have spent observing nature is only a tiny fraction of the evolutionary timescale. Moreover, the evolutionary process cannot be expedited by selective breeding within a species. To breed dogs with dogs, for example, will mostly result in a re-shuffling of the information that is already present within the canine genes of that population. If there is a certain trait, like size or color, that is already present within the genes, then selective breeding opens the possibility of making that feature more prevalent within the population. However, selective breeding does not accelerate the rate of genetic mutations that occur in each generation. Because those novel mutations are rare but represent necessary steps toward evolutionary change, selective breeding will not speed up the process of macroevolution.3
Note that the previous was a definitive statement from ‘science’, albeit full of equivocation or bait-and-switch—see also “A Parade of Mutants”—Pedigree Dogs and Artificial Selection. But now note how the ‘science’ is the overriding filter when judging Scripture—from “Is there room in BioLogos to believe in miracles?”:
Given quantum uncertainty, science cannot explain or even predict the exact long term behavior of nature’s most complicated systems, and the weather is certainly one of those systems. There would always be room, from the perspective of science, for God to have caused a scientifically undetectable miracle by working within the finer, subtler details of any event. But we must be careful not to carry this argument to the extent of inserting God into the many little—and some not so little—gaps in our scientific understanding of nature. For processes that are susceptible to ultimate scientific explanation, calling such currently unexplained events miracles runs the risk of being a God-of-the-Gaps theology.4
If our steadily improving scientific understanding can fully explain events, how can we say that God was involved in those events? This is the central theological problem of divine action, an animated conversation in the philosophy of religion. Is it possible that the laws of nature are open in a way that allows for divine interaction, without leaving signs of broken or suspended natural laws?
We totally agree with not invoking miracles in operational science. But where the Bible explicitly states that a miracle has occurred, including Creation, Fall, Flood, Babel, the plagues of Egypt, the Virginal Conception, miracles and Bodily Resurrection of Christ, they should never be explained away by ‘science’, since they are cases of God’s addition ‘to natural laws’.
Far from merely trying to avoid a god-of-the-gaps argument, they are removing God from the picture altogether. If He is not overarching in His Creation and superintending it, and their evolutionary science can explain everything, then why is a Creator God needed at all? What about passages like Colossians 1:15–17?
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Low, really low view of Scripture
BioLogos’s view of Scripture is probably best summed up by this quote from a paper by professing evangelical contributor Peter Enns,: “Most Christians understand that, even though the Bible assumes a certain way of looking at the cosmos, from a scientific point of view the Bible is wrong. And that is perfectly fine [emphases his].”5 Enns had previously left (or was dismissed from) Westminster Theological Seminary over his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament which attacked biblical inerrancy (see a thorough review by Dr Don Carson).
And the people at BioLogos are very aware that it is not just Genesis 1–11 that is at stake. “For Paul, Adam certainly seems to be the first person created from dust, and Eve was formed from him.” I.e. creationists have been right all along about what the New Testament teaches about Genesis. But “[i]gnoring the scientific and archaeological evidence6 is not an option” in their mind, so Paul was simply wrong.7 In fact, Enns says that rejecting Christianity is a more viable option than taking the Bible’s account of creation at face value! He says that a true synthesis of Christianity and science “calls for a reorientation of what informed readers of the Bible expect from Genesis or Paul on the question of origins.”8
This is not a problem for the Christian, they argue, because Scripture, like Jesus, is both human and divine. The orthodox Christian believer would agree that Jesus is human and divine, and the believer can believe much the same thing about Scripture having divine and human components, but BioLogos uses this as a sort of doublespeak—a way of ‘excusing’ Jesus’ alleged mistakes in science by implying that the human part of Him was fallible. The comparison between Christ and Scripture is right, but they draw a conclusion 180° away from the truth. Another Enns, Paul, drew the right conclusion:
There is, in fact a correlation between the two aspects of special revelation: the Scripture may be termed the living, written Word (Hebrews 4:12), while Jesus Christ may be designated the living, incarnate Word (John 1:1,14). In the case of Christ there was human [only maternal] parentage but the Holy Spirit overshadowed the event (Luke 1:35), ensuring a sinless Christ; in the case of the Scriptures there was human authorship but the Holy Spirit superintended the writers (2 Peter 1:21), ensuring an inerrant word. The Bible accurately presents the special revelation of Jesus Christ.9
Although the Bible is a collection of books, in its message and authority it is regarded as one book, because its books cannot be separated from one another. They all point to the Bible’s big picture—the very Gospel of Christ and His redemptive work. The books of the Bible record history, so similarly, its statements about history cannot be separated from its spiritual teachings. More than that, its spiritual teachings depend on the statements about history being true.
But since Biologos draws the wrong conclusions, they argue that the Bible is wrong about origins, then chalk it up to the ignorant Bronze Age culture of the time that couldn’t possibly be expected to know that the earth is actually billions of years old and that we actually evolved from ape-like ancestors who were themselves ultimately descended from the primordial ooze.
But then do we chalk up the Resurrection to the ignorant, superstitious first-century culture that couldn’t be expected to know that the dead don’t rise? After all, they argue that Paul was just as wrong about Creation as Moses was (or the rabble of priests whose writing was attributed to Moses, according to the liberal JEDP theory).
Jesus was in error!—BioLogos
But when they finally do talk about Jesus, it’s to say that if we want to avoid Docetism10 we have to acknowledge that He didn’t have perfect knowledge; He was just a man of His time. And they have the same view of Scripture: “If Jesus as a finite human being erred from time to time, there is no reason at all to suppose that Moses, Paul, John wrote Scripture without error. Rather, we are wise to assume that the biblical authors expressed themselves as human beings writing from the perspectives of their own finite, broken horizons.”11
But BioLogos makes the equal error of Ebionitism, which denied the deity of Christ; their view is essentially an Ebionite view of Scripture. Of course, Jesus was certainly fully human, but He was the unique sinless human who was also fully divine.
And therein lies the problem—Jesus said, “If I have spoken to you about earthly things and you do not believe, then how will you believe if I speak to you about heavenly things?” (John 3:12) So it’s not surprising that BioLogos criticizes biblical morality as well as biblical history.12 Yet Jesus commended even ‘harsh’ sections of the Law: “If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him” (Leviticus 20:9). (This is different to the question of whether this law applies to those today who are not signatories to the Siniatic Covenant—see Is eating shellfish still an abomination?) And Jesus commended many of the Old Testament teachings that skeptics love to mock—see Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture.
But it can’t matter what Jesus said anyway because He was wrong about so much else when it came to ‘science’ (see their next section ‘Jesus was in error’) according to advocates of BioLogos. But one problem is, which of Jesus’ saying should we accept, and who decides? Maybe the Second Greatest Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is also faulty, because He was quoting from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Of course, if one is suggesting Jesus made errors, then it is a logical assumption to suggest He was not divine. If one does not believe Jesus was divine, is one really a Christian? Because if Jesus was not fully divine, even while in human flesh, then His earthly human sacrifice could not pay for the sins of mankind. The Scripture is clear. When you look at Jesus you are seeing God, fully in the flesh. Hebrews 1:3 says:
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
The biblical errantists on Biologos confuse several concepts:
Adaptation to human finitude vs accommodation to human error: the former does not entail the latter. A mother might tell her four-year-old ‘you grew inside my tummy’— this is not false, but language simplified to the child’s level. Conversely, ‘the stork brought you’ is an outright error, and if known to be an error, a lie. Similarly, God, the author of truth, used some simplified descriptions (e.g. using the earth as a reference frame, as modern scientists do today) and anthropomorphisms, but never error.
Limitation vs misunderstanding: while the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, He voluntarily limited His omniscience (Phil. 2:5-11). I.e., in His humanity, He did not know all things. But this does not entail that He was mistaken about anything He said. All human understanding is finite, but this doesn’t entail that every human understanding is errant. Also, what Jesus did preach, He proclaimed with absolute authority (Mt. 24:35, 28:18), because He was speaking with the full authority of God the Father (John 5:30, 8:28), who is always omniscient. So if these BioLogos theologians wish to maintain this charge that Christ was mistaken because of His humanity, they must logically charge God the Father with error as well. Worse still, since the Father in His omniscience would know that it was error, they are in effect charging Him with involvement in propagating lies.
As Jesus is the founder of the faith, one wonders what to do with His own words in Mark 10:6 when questioned about marriage when he said “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” When referring to Adam and Eve as the foundational and historical basis for marriage, He obviously did not mean the beginning to be an evolutionary big bang 14 billion years ago. So by BioLogos standards, Jesus would be wrong too. But they sidestep the issue by being willfully ignorant of Jesus’ teaching about Genesis. Enns says, “After Genesis 5:3, Adam is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament only in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1:1. … In the New Testament, Adam appears in two genealogical contexts, Luke 3:38 and Jude 14. The only place in the Bible, other than Genesis 2:5, where Adam is of any theological importance is Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, … and 1 Timothy 2:13, where Paul is addressing the role of women in church matters.” He seems bewildered by this: “After a virtual scriptural silence on the subject in the intervening centuries from Genesis one, Paul suddenly appeals to Adam and holds him side-by-side with Jesus.” But Scripture is anything but silent about Genesis; the New Testament alone appeals 60 times to Genesis 1–11. An Old Testament scholar like Enns should know that one doesn’t get the full picture by simply doing a word search or looking for outright quotes of a certain part of Scripture; the Bible is full of allusions that look back to a previous part of Scripture without spelling it out completely.
The vibrant dance of apostasy
BioLogos’s participation in the conference The Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith raised some eyebrows. Christians and atheists alike wondered what Biologos was doing partnering with the likes of Hugh Ross’s Reasons to Believe, the Discovery Institute, and Dinesh D’Souza. Ross in particular, with his brand of Progressive Creationism, claims not to be an evolutionist, and even wrongly, if not deceitfully, accuses biblical creationists like CMI of believing in ‘hyper-evolution’ because we teach rapid speciation. His supporters should take note that he seems all too eager to jump on board with anyone who subscribes to his old-Earth view. Also interesting is that many of the participants have mutually exclusive views of origins; the advocates of Intelligent Design, Old Earth Creationism, and Theistic Evolution would have much to disagree over.
Christians who have commented on the conference tend to emphasize their unifying theme of compromise13—all of them believe in the big bang and billions of years—i.e. cosmological and geological evolution—and many (though not all) are comfortable with some sort of biological evolution. The common unifying factor is their disdain for straightforward biblical creation; all of the contributors have written or spoken out against young earth creation in some way. In fact, the agenda seems to be to marginalize true biblical creationists by claiming that the majority believe in an old Earth. It has been also noted that BioLogos seems to be keen to win the non-evolutionist old-Earthers fully over to their theistic evolutionary camp.
Atheist bloggers have so far tended to view the ‘reasonable’ BioLogos’s partnership with ‘fundamentalist’ groups with horror:
Now as far as I know BioLogos professes to be anti-creationist and anti-ID. They claim to fully accept the findings of science, which, last time I looked, supported evolution. Why … [profanity] are they sponsoring a meeting that includes [progressive] creationist speakers yet tries show the mutually supportive interactions between science and faith?14
Some, however, are more pragmatic:
I don’t know why Jerry [Coyne] & crew aren’t supporting BioLogos on this, or at least neutral. The only people who can even talk to the creationists (and more importantly their audiences) and have much chance of convincing them of mainstream science are people who (a) fully accept modern evolutionary theory but (b) are evangelical Christians. Having anyone else usually turns it into a debate about theism vs. atheism, and the audience is forced to choose between accepting science and abandoning their whole worldview, community structure, moral system, etc.
Theistic evolutionists, aka evolutionary creationists (who are not creationists in the common sense of the word, i.e. denying evolution), bug the ID people and the old-earth creationists probably even more than the atheists do. So if the goal is to fight the creationists, this is what you want.
BioLogos has devoted itself to changing the opinions of the evangelical world on this issue, and to do that they will have to participate in things like this.
So, anyway, what they are doing is the exact opposite of promoting fundamentalism, being a Trojan Horse for ID, yadda yadda. [Emphasis ours].15
Darrell Falk’s comments on the BioLogos blog defending BioLogos’s involvement in the conference are telling:
Truth, when put side by side with views which are untrue, will prevail. Why would we not want to co-sponsor an event which is designed to facilitate, perhaps for the first time, consideration of the evolutionary creation view alongside of other views which, we think, are not strongly supported by evidence?16
So why no biblical (‘young earth’) creationists? In response to an atheist blog, Falk proclaims:
BioLogos is not providing any financial support for this meeting. However, we definitely do support helping pastors in evangelical churches see that Hugh Ross is wrong about evolution and that the Discovery Institute anti-Darwinian stance is based on false pre-suppositions. Both groups know we feel this way about their work, and we have been invited to present the pro-science [sic] side of the story.17
In other words, BioLogos is going to the conference to try to persuade the other compromisers that they’re wrong because they’re not compromising enough! One wonders what Progressive Creationists Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana, who reject biological and chemical evolution, are doing at a conference full of evolutionists, sharing the stage with people who believe that the Bible is wrong and that Jesus erred. Has their opposition to biblical creation reached the level where they are willing to join with theistic evolutionists against their common opponent—biblical young-earth creationists?
Atheists: “We’re not impressed!”
Some of the most revealing comments about BioLogos came from atheist blogs:
The real issue is that BioLogos doesn’t have a bright line stance on science versus religion, saying that science and sound and tested evidence trump religion where the two conflict. Such a position is the only consistent scientific position to take, but it puts both biblical literalists and “moderates” in the same basket, since it opposes impossible virgin births and impossible re-revivification of corpses as much as it opposes a 6,000 year-old earth. Thus BioLogos has no actual principle to stand on when they oppose a literal reading of Genesis but support a literal reading of a story of a virgin birth.18
Another self-confessed apostate blustered:
You hold that science cannot demonstrate that Adam, biblically said to be created directly by God, the wellspring whence all humans came, did not exist, but it can demonstrate that there did not exist such wellspring in the first place?
… yeah, somehow not buying it. And I would have noted the blatant contradiction even in by bible-believing days as well.
… Do you ever get tired of tying yourself into a pretzel trying to ignore obvious logical implications, and to keep others from noting them?19
Still another anti-christian asked:
Are people truly supporters of evolution if they’re not accepting it as a natural process? Do people really understand natural selection if they think God is zapping in mutations or had a plan for humans to eventually evolve? Why is it that our tactic involves people preserving their religious beliefs (which are based on faith), but molding science (which is based on facts) to fit their world view? If anything, it should be the other way around. Religion should have to accommodate science.20
Nothing new here really. T.H. Huxley, David Hull, Jacques Monod, and Richard Dawkins were likewise most unimpressed with Christians who denied what the Bible clearly teaches (see the linked articles).
Thus it’s not surprising that an astute Christian blogger noted Biologos is having a diametrically opposite effect from what it intends:
By your compromise, (A) you are not winning them over, but (B) are signalling to them that they are winning you over. They will simply wait you out, until you continue in your process of jettisoning everything the world hates about you as a Christian.
After all, if they can get you to toss such a straightforward chapter, the rest should be child’s play.21
Pastors, leaders and even creationists with different views about the age of the earth, beware!
We have affirmed over and over that a person can be saved and an evolutionist. One’s stance on the first 11 chapters of Genesis does not affect whether one’s name is in the Book of Life. But BioLogos’s consistent syncretism goes beyond the “blessed inconsistency” which we believe enables a person to be a Christian evolutionist. They are a syncretistic religion which no longer takes Scripture as its authority; rather, they twist and distort Scripture to try to fit with their true authority, evolution. The result is a religion, but it is not Christianity. As Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed out in a reply to Karl Giberson, vice president of Biologos:
If your [Karl Giberson’s] intention in [his book] Saving Darwin is to show “how to be a Christian and believe in evolution,” what you have actually succeeded in doing is to show how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender in order to accommodate itself to evolution. In doing this, you and your colleagues at Biologos are actually doing us all a great service. You are showing us what the acceptance of evolution actually costs, in terms of theological concessions.22
BioLogos shows the logical end of compromise regarding origins; ‘progressive creationists’ and theistic evolutionists should take BioLogos as a warning of where such thinking can end up.
References and notes
- biologos.org/questions/biologos-and-christianity, 2 September 2010. Return to text.
- Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile two fundamentally different philosophies or systems of belief. Return to text.
- biologos.org/questions/what-is-evolution, 2 September 2010. Return to text.
- biologos.org/questions/biologos-and-miracles, 2 September 2010. Return to text.
- Enns, P., “Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Bible: Moving Toward a Synthesis,” p. 1. Return to text.
- Of course, we’re not advocating ignoring the evidence, either; what is usually meant by such phrases is ‘ignoring the current evolutionary consensus about how the evidence is to be understood’. Return to text.
- Enns, ref. 5, p. 4. Return to text.
- Enns, ref. 5, p. 5. Return to text.
- Enns, P., Moody Handbook of Theology, Chicago: Moody, p. 159, 1989. Ch. 18 has an excellent treatment of inspiration and inerrancy. Return to text.
- The heresy which denied Jesus’ humanity and said that He only seemed to have a human body, from the Greek dokeo, to seem. Return to text.
- Sparks, K.,“After Inerrancy, Evangelicals and the Bible in the Postmodern Age, part 4” Biologos Forum, 26 June 2010. Return to text.
- “After Inerrancy, Evangelicals and the Bible in the Postmodern Age, part 2” Biologos Forum, 10 June 2010. Return to text.
- Such as Morris III, H.M., “The Deceptive Dance of Compromise” Acts & Facts 39(8), 4–5. Return to text.
- “Biologos gets in bed with the fundies,” Why Evolution Is True, 22 July 2010. Return to text.
- Comment from blog, ref. 14. Return to text.
- “I am the Lord of the Dance,’ said He,” Biologos Forum, 10 August 2010. Return to text.
- Comment from blog, ref. 14. Return to text.
- Comment from blog, ref. 14. Return to text.
- Comment from blog, ref. 14. Return to text.
- Religious accommodationism at Evolution 2010 Blag Hag, 26 June 2010. Return to text.
- Phillips, D., “A Coda on the Week’s Discussion” Pyromaniacs 26 June 2010. Return to text.
- Mohler, A., “On Darwin and Darwinism: An Open Letter to Professor Giberson,” AlbertMohler.com, 26 August 2010. Giberson had published an abusive ad hominem piece in the secular liberal site Huffington Post. Return to text.
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