18 comments
  1. For the record, evolution is only a “non God” account of the universe if it is defined naturalistically.

    But since “The heavens declare the glory of God” it seems better to me to identify God as the author of it all, including how it came about (i.e. evolution).

  2. That clip was awesome.

    You know… If you were to show me a picture of John Piper and then simultaneously play an audio clip of him preaching with that booming voice, I’d tell you that there is no way on earth that voice belongs to that guy!

    It’s funny how we (or maybe it’s just me) make assumptions about people instantly just by how they look. There’s a lesson there somewhere… I’m sure of it. I just don’t know what it is. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Excellent clip!

  3. Evolution is the process that describes the diversity of life through mutation and natural selection. It is by definition naturalistic, when it comes to science “god” is not a valid hypothosis or one that is needed.

    There is nothing about the competition of carnivorous plants and spiders that demonstrates “god,” the details of which Piper gets wrong.

  4. Mark W.

    Is God a valid explanation of Reality? Can your answer be objectively demonstrated? Why are there people who disagree with you?

  5. Mark, I agree with you regarding Piper’s handling of the NG article of the spider. And I also understand your objections to the idea of God’s use of evolution in creation. But of course evolution is only naturalistic by definition if you define it as such. There is nothing intrinsic to evolution that requires the absence of God.

  6. Hey Joe, I agree with you that there is nothing intrinsic to evolution that requires the absence of a god, but there is nothing that requires the presence of a god either. Science is intrinsically naturalistic as the natural world is all that can be tested and observed, as far as evolution is within the purview of science it is naturalistic. So defining evolution in a theistic manner removes it from science and why “god” is not a valid hypothesis because it can’t be tested and observed. Piper says plenty in that clip that demonstrates his ignorance and it would be laughable if he wasn’t being serious.

    Steve, What does postulating god help to explain or how does it improve our understanding of reality? God as an explanation of reality would have to be objectively demonstrated, the one making the claim bears the burden of proof. I am not sure what you mean by your third question, I am sure people disagree with you. What is the difference?

  7. This is the kind of topic and discussion I always want to be a part of, but I know it’s better for me and everyone around me if I don’t get involved… In fact, my work and daily life revolves around interpreting scientific evidence in light of something (you can’t get much closer to a mechanistic understanding of life than by studying “biophysics”… I challenge someone to disagree :P).

    That being said, I’ll make some commentary that deviates from the discussion at hand. Regardless of where people stand on the issue, I think that Christians, in general, are far too ignorant to be talking about evolution.

    Generally, they come in a few flavors.

    First, the Christian who knows little on the topic, respectfully gives their opinion, and then stops. I can respect that. Scripture is the first source of truth for a Christian anyway, and the best we can do is relate our own experiences. If you can’t explain to me about microevolution, biogeography, statistical mechanics and gene mutation rates, but you can tell the story of God in your life and what he has done for you, you win in my book.

    Next, militant, ignorant Christians. These are the Christians that watch the movie “Expelled”, Fox News, and listen to Ken Ham yell “Were you there?” and fight viciously against proponents of evolution. Grace is completely lost here. The understanding of the underlying debate is lost here. In fact, it’s just chaos. You won’t win a fight with a prepared evolutionist, because you’ll look ignorant. You have to win over the heart.

    This leaves Christians like myself. The intricacies of evolution, to some degree, permeate my work. But at the same time, I hold a high view of a God that not only stand above and in control of creation, but still came to Earth to save me. But day in and day out, my ability to serve as God’s ambassador to people who are not only lost, but actively combating God, is hindered because of Christians who put a fight over how long it took man to appear well above a fight for the hearts and souls of others.

    So no matter where you fall in the argument, know your limits in the discussion and stop there. You won’t win hearts by winning arguments. God’s greatest miracle is a renewed heart, not the original creation of that heart. (I know that’s blasphemous… isn’t it?)

  8. Mark W,

    God is the light by which everything else is known. He has given evidence of Himself. see John 1:1-18 and 1 Corintians 15:3-8

    Do you believe that life arose by natural causes? What evidence do you have for this?

  9. Josh, I agree with you on the three categories of Christians. I would put Piper in the first group, because he isn’t militant on this issue, though it is a problem because he has an audience who listen to his uninformed opinion and misinformation and accept it as if it were fact. Piper does see a conflict in the evolutionary development of Homo sapiens with the Bible, particularly Romans 5 (in another video available at desiringgod.com). How do you resolve the conflict? If god came to save you, what did he save you from? With evolution there is death long before “sin” and there is no single man to blame for the entrance of “sin” that infects all humanity. Piper’s theology is tied to the creation narrative because Paul uses that narrative as the foundation for his arguments.

    Evolution is not a big deal to me and relatively unimportant in my deconversion, I object to Piper’s misrepresentation of evolutionary theory and the positions of other people like Dawkins and Hitchens.

    Steve, Ideas of god, and the church, have hindered knowledge, when people came to the limit of their knowledge they stopped investigating, or were afraid to continue and said “oh, that must be god” when a natural phenomenon is responsible. What does god illuminate for our better understanding? The evidence god gave was not good enough to convince people about Jesus (John 1:10-11), nor were appearances of Jesus evidence for some of his own followers to believe (Matthew 28:17). How life arose through natural causes is abiogenesis not evolution, a different topic and many scientists are working on it because โ€œgod did itโ€ is neither satisfying nor enlightening on โ€œhowโ€ it was done. What evidence do you have of god, or more precisely the Christian god? Though that would really get off topic. Abiogenesis is not a big deal for me, and in part is a matter a probability.

  10. Mark W

    Naturalistic evolution is a non starter without abiogenesis. The topic deserves sober consideration.

    I will leave you with a thought from Blaise Pascal:

    The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. I say that the heart natually loves the Universal Being, and also itself natually, according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other at its will. You have rejected the one, and kept the other. Is it by reason that you love yourself?

  11. I guess I should clarify. While details and some observable phenomenon related to evolution permeate my work, I’m not necessarily suggesting that I hold fast to an “evolution is the means by which all the diversity and complexity of life” viewpoint. I tend not to share my opinions on the actual science and religious arguments, simply because I get lumped into one of the categories I mentioned (or, if I play devil’s advocate to Christians, they assume that I don’t take scripture seriously. But I think I do that too frequently because I am often frustrated by ignorance). It’s kind of a running joke for me that the only person that knows what I really think on the issue is my wife, and she’s been kind enough not to lump me into a category (and not get too overly frustrated when I argue with people on both sides of the issue for the sake of it).

    But on to answer your question about God coming to save me. Simply put, God saved me from myself. I’m not willing to get into finer theological details about the appearance of death in creation, the mentioned passage from Romans, and to what level that was a spiritual or physical realization. (I plead ignorance and the inability to explain myself thoroughly :P) But I do know that I am capable of some pretty evil stuff… There was a time in my life where I was the most important thing in my life, at the expense of most everything else. And while I still struggle with it often, I have seen immense change in my life and the lives of others that I can only attribute to the power of an active and living God.

    The points you are making Mark are the foundation by which I make my arguments in this kind of discussion. Scientific debates and arguments never have the weight on the heart that radical life change and experience can have. If evolution isn’t important and didn’t play a role in your deconversion, what did? (If I can ask…) It’s likely that personal experience with the church, faith, or other Christians played a major part.

    I feel I may be getting too wordy… For anyone who is interested in reading more on this topic, it’s worth knowing that there are people that fall along the “spectrum” in a variety of places and have wrestled with these very issues.

    Francis Collins, the former lead scientist of the human genome project and the current head of the National Institute of Health, is probably the most well-known and most successful proponent of evangelical Christianity and theistic evolution. He has a number of books about this very issue (“The Language of God” is his most successful).

    While you may not like his approach in the video, I’d say John Piper has done a fairly good job of articulating the stance against evolution from a purely Biblical standpoint. In general though, I’d avoid stuff by Answers in Genesis and the Creation Institute, because they have a bad habit of intentionally doing bad science or misleading audiences (did you know the Creation Institute once paid a man’s way through a PhD in Cell Biology just so he would have the credentials to argue against evolution? I’m not sure how I feel about that)

    For some discussion from the “pro-evolution” standpoint, I would avoid Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens. While you may not appreciate Piper’s “misrepresentation” of them, they are among the most militant voices of atheism and evolutionary theory, as they frequently deviate from the arguments at hand to condemn and insult the voices from the other side. I’d recommend looking into “Atheism 3.0”, a recent movement that insists there is no God but that religion has had some positive impact on society. I don’t agree with that set of beliefs, obviously, but if you want to see some discussion on atheism with a different set of biases than the usual “Christians are dumb”, it’s worth a look.

  12. Steve, Abiogenesis is not needed for naturalistic evolution, just life is needed. Where that life comes from isn’t important to evolution. Though I consider myself an atheist, deism and pantheism are perfectly acceptable as well. Pascal is known mostly for his writings in Pensees which also contains his famous wager, he was a product of his time but a genius no doubt. “Heart” has reasons which “reason” can know, Pascal did not have the cognitive understanding of the brain that we have now. Pascal assumes one “naturally” loves a god, but that “love” is more a product of culture and conditioning as there are cultures without a concept of “god.” I am not hardened against god, and it is by reason that I rejected Christianity, and at great cost.

    Josh, I am glad that you have become a better a person. I would say that my experience was similar, however I realized that it wasn’t from god when I read and talked to others about their religious experience. They all would say the same thing; Mormons, Jews, Wicca, Muslims, Scientologists, and even atheists. Were they all completely insincere, did god just give everyone an equal dose of life change, or was it psychological and they just needed the right motivators to encourage them to be better people living in a community of others. So when people claim that changed lives are proof of the power of god, or the truth of their religion I see no validity to that claim.

    I disagree on Piper articulating a stance against evolution from a Biblical standpoint. To me his stance was evolution is a joke because it doesn’t glorify god and he can’t comprehend it. Seems to me if the Bible said “god made man over a long time resulting in several dead ends, mass extinctions, until there was a population of humans,” or if every science paper started with “to the glory of god” he would be ok with that. (I also thought it was egotistical of him to suggest god would look at him before laughing at those being judged.)

    Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens I think get a bad rap, they can be antagonistic, but when I have seen them in debates or interviews “insulting” or “deviating” from the arguments they are reacting to people who are being dumb, acting dumb or are being intellectually dishonest. They don’t have a full comprehension of how people interpret their religious text but take what it says at face value which does hurt their criticisms of belief. “Atheism 3.0” from what I have read about their position amounts to “we don’t believe in god, but if your belief in a lie gives you meaning, comfort, and makes you a decent human being that is fine.” I think that is patronizing, that the truth is really too much for them to handle. Their position is only suitable for modern Western religious belief that is mostly harmless, where people aren’t killing each other or being killed because of religious beliefs.

    My deconversion was largely from examining the claims of Christianity. For the most part I was able to look past my bad experiences with churches, and other Christians, those events motivated me to study more, and I really didn’t have bad experiences with my faith. Evolution did play a role in my deconversion, it just was not as important as the other claims that I was working through. I would describe my deconversion as a search to find god, and finding nothing.

  13. Mark,

    Thanks for sharing. That’s very interesting to hear where your experiences led you. My experience seems to be the inverse of yours, in that I was an atheist and actually sought out discussions and reading on various religions and found them all wanting… except for a biblical view of Christianity (not Christianity as defined by the 700 club :P)

    I agree with your assessment of atheism 3.0. It just seemed to provide some literature for reading that didn’t hold the same antagonistic biases (the more viewpoints the better, because atheism isn’t represented by just 3 people).

    I’ve watched a number of debates by these guys and I always get a little turned off. My favorite was a debate between Hawkins and Francis Collins (Hawkins never does debates, because he doesn’t want to give creationists or intelligent design proponents an air of credibility). Collins gave the “God of the gaps” comment about where God seems to do some truly miraculous things where we can’t explain them. Hawkins was just nasty in his response, calling it a cop-out and blasting Collins for being dumb (just like you said he tended to respond). But Collins gave an incredibly articulate response that demonstrated his politeness and the fact that he has a true scientific mind (honestly, as much as Dawkins talks big, Collins is the one doing real science day in and day out).

    “I do object to the assumption that anything that might be outside of nature is ruled out of the conversation. That’s an impoverished view of the kinds of questions we humans can ask, such as ‘Why am I here?’, ‘What happens after we die?’ If you refuse to acknowledge their appropriateness, you end up with a zero probability of God after examining the natural world because it doesn’t convince you on a proof basis. But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion”

    I love that conclusion. While Dawkins lands on the “we can’t explain it, thus no God”, Collins actively holds to the most scientifically robust argument in this debate, which is the “we can’t explain it, let’s keep searching and asking questions.” (That’s a bit different than the, “we can’t explain it, thus God”, which leaves God only in the realm of science we can’t explain, which frankly is a shrinking realm). The quote above doesn’t do it full justice, I’d recommend searching out that debate sometime… it’s amazing.

  14. Josh,

    I came to realize what someone determines as a “biblical view” of Christianity is largely dependent on the sect of Christianity one is apart of. 2 Timothy 4:3 is fitting, what one church sees as “biblical” is heretical in another and people join with the churches that hold similar views as there own. That is a whole other discussion.

    I was able to find a partial transcript of the Dawkins/Collins debate, if you know where I can find the whole debate I would like to know. Reading through I found the exchange that you commented on. When I first read your comment I was scratching my head, after reading the transcript I question whether you understood it. I’ll paste a larger section because Collins does not hold “to the most scientifically robust argument.” (This is after a discussion of a “finely tuned universe” for life to occur. A topic I don’t think either are able to handle well)

    COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.

    DAWKINS: I think that’s the mother and father of all cop-outs. It’s an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from. Now Dr. Collins says, “Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this.” Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don’t do that. Scientists say, “We’re working on it. We’re struggling to understand.”

    COLLINS: Certainly science should continue to see whether we can find evidence for multiverses that might explain why our own universe seems to be so finely tuned. But I do object to the assumption that anything that might be outside of nature is ruled out of the conversation. That’s an impoverished view of the kinds of questions we humans can ask, such as “Why am I here?”, “What happens after we die?”, “Is there a God?” If you refuse to acknowledge their appropriateness, you end up with a zero probability of God after examining the natural world because it doesn’t convince you on a proof basis. But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion.

    DAWKINS: To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God–it’s that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

    (Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1555132,00.html#ixzz1gdmMTDct)

    Dawkins hits it on the head that the scientific and the intellectually honest answer to a question you are ignorant of is “we don’t know, we’ll work to figure it out.” Collins on the other hand says “yeah let’s see if we can figure it out, until we do it was god.” His god is a god of the gaps, which like you said is a shrinking realm and it is an argument from ignorance. The amazing thing for me in this debate is how Collins compartmentalizes his science and his religion. He sees no conflict because the rules of inquire for his science are not applied to his religion. Another thing that irks me with some of these debates is the Christians will argue for a deist god that they don’t believe in, then object when they are called to defend the actual god they believe in. Collins does this by stating “God’s existence is either true or not. But calling it a scientific question implies that the tools of science can provide the answer. From my perspective, God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God’s existence is outside of science’s ability to really weigh in.” But he is being subtle in his dishonesty because the Christian god is claimed to interfere with our reality, if that is true then we can throw the full force of science at those periods of interference.

    To bring it back to the video Piper sees the disconnect between evolution and the Bible, and that it causes tremendous problems for him theologically. Would he think god would laugh at Collins who agrees that evolution from a common ancestor is undeniably the way humans came to be upon this planet? Dawkins doesn’t blast Collins for being dumb, but accuses him of circumventing his responsibility as a scientist, he does call people like Piper clowns.

    The questions that take Collins to god as the answer I think are answered well by Neil deGrasse Tyson when Stephen Colbert asked him “Why is there something instead of nothing? in ten woods.” Tyson’s response “Words that make questions may not be questions at all.” (Great interview and it is on YouTube)

  15. Mark,

    I can’t find the original video, I recall watching it around when it happened, but I’ve since lost the link.

    Collins is not clinging to a God of the gaps approach. The very quote “But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion” insists on his original point, which is that there exists evidence of God aspects of the universe everywhere, not just in the things we don’t understand.

    Dawkins’ response is the correct one, but not the one he holds. To claim that he is ignorant on the matter would be an honest claim, and one he takes in order to make Collins’ argument less scientific, but it’s one he hasn’t taken in years. His stance has consistently been one of “we have enough evidence to refute a God”. I mean, one of his books is about the delusion that believing in God is for humans. So for him to take a stand on ignorance and scientific inquiry is simply hypocrisy.

    And I don’t think Collins would argue against a stance of scientific inquiry. I think the point is that he believes the evidence is already there (thus the discussion for a finely tuned universe). I think Dawkins was frustrated with Collins suggesting that a finely tuned universe was real evidence for a creator, so he called it out as “God of the gaps.” No matter how many times I read Collins’ statement at the beginning of the transcript you posted, I can’t see where Collins’ is suggesting that God is filling in our lack of knowledge. On the contrary, he is suggesting that we have knowledge there, and it points to God.

    On that note, I think I’m going to step away from this discussion (I’m not timing this to “get the final word”, you are welcome to respond and I will definitely read it). But I’m enjoying this too much and I’ve spent more time in the last week on David’s blog than I should ๐Ÿ˜› … Thanks for the discussion!

  16. Josh,

    This has been a good discussion but we do seem to have come to an impasse.

    I would agree that Collins wasn’t clinging to a god of the gaps if he pointed to evidence for god that was not beyond his understanding, like something in the genome. His “evidence” for a god is a “moral law,” a “finely tuned universe,” and that people ask questions about meaning, life, death, and god. For Collins a lack of an explanation is evidence of god. There are explanations for the development of a morality through evolution, physicists don’t hold to a notion of a “fine tuned universe,” and people are capable of asking those questions because we are capable of contemplating our existence. A god of the gaps is to assume god when you don’t know the answer, which is exactly what he says, “God is the answer to all of those ‘How must it have come to be’ questions.” If we don’t have an answer for how something came to be then god is the answer, god fills the gap.

    I haven’t read the God Delusion, but from other lectures and debates I have read and heard by Dawkins, when he takes the stand that “we have enough evidence to refute a god” he is attacking any conception of god that people worship and claim influences this world. It is not hypocrisy for Dawkins to say that god is a delusion when those are the gods he is refuting, and sees no evidence to support the existence of such a god. Anytime people have come to the conclusion that something in the natural world is from god, it is later shown that god was not a needed hypothesis, it even happened to Newton.

    Back to the video again, Piper claims that the natural world proclaims god and anyone that can’t see it are laughable and blasphemous. At one point Collins suggest that god in order to not force anyone to seek him can choose to operate in a manner that won’t leave “obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation.” I think it is hypocrisy to pretend that god can or would act in a way that is totally opposite from what your religion actually claims it acts, that is not Piper but what the Bible claims. Collins knows the genome through and through and can’t find evidence that a mechanism other than evolution was at work, and his last ditch effort is to say that must just be how god set it up. Collins’ god hides in the shadows but Piper’s is out in the open for all to see. Collins is lazy when it comes to reconciling his religion and his science, Piper chooses to be ignorant of science because it conflicts with his religion. I don’t like Piper’s theology but he is more honest about where he stands than Collins.

    Thank you for the discussion Josh, I think that my ever growing book list has grown several books longer because of it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    David, thank you for allowing Josh and I to take over your comments section for the week. Have you had any more time to think about gender and the church? I think it has been a year since that conversation, which I did pick up Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood haven’t yet finished but I am working my way through it.(It is a free pdf on their website)

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