Age of the Earth

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This is the fifth of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we are using the topic of the Age of the Earth.

Using radiometric dating modern science has concluded that the earth is 4.54 billion years old. Geologists since the 18th and 19th centuries began to understand that the earth has a vast age (measured in millions and billions of years rather than thousands of years). The 17th century bishop, James Ussher, using dates of historically known events and assuming literal and gapless Biblical genealogies and an ordinary (six, twenty-four hour day) Creation week in Genesis 1, concluded that God created the world around six thousand years ago. Today’s young-earth creationists (YEC) continue to follow Ussher’s basic interpretative procedure. Others (old earth creationists, theistic evolutionists/evolutionary creationists, some Old Testament scholars) believe that there are approaches to understanding Genesis 1 in particular that do not require a conclusion that is in conflict with modern science. (See the “Reading Genesis” section for various perspectives.)

Most ASA members accept the consensus scientific view on the age of the earth. Already in 1949 based on radiometric dating techniques, ASA member Laurence Kulp said, “One of the most probable facts in geology, I believe, is that the earth is close to two billion years old…” Kulp’s early paper supporting the old earth position and criticizing YEC is featured in the collection below. A paper written for the ASA web site, “Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective” by physicist Roger Wiens has proved to be one of the most popular in terms of electronic downloads. Many of the resources here simply review the scientific claims for an old earth and then seek to understand that great age in light of what the Bible says. YEC have brought forward critiques of the various dating methods and conclusions drawn from them. Because ASA members have tended to accept the consensus view, the articles here summarize and engage the YEC criticisms. ASA members may disagree with the YEC position but acknowledge those who hold that view as fellow believers and worthy of respectful engagement. Randy Isaac’s review of the YEC RATE project and subsequent dialog with its authors illustrates this respectful engagement.

Many Christians today, especially those in conservative, evangelical churches, remain persuaded of the YEC viewpoint. Yet there are evangelical traditions and theologians who have long accepted old earth arguments. ASA members throughout its history have sought to convince the former group that the scientific arguments for an old earth are quite sound, rooted in the same science that has given us progress in medicine and technology. Largely evangelical themselves, these ASA members have also attempted to formulate ways of approaching this question that take seriously the Bible and evangelical Christian theology.

The last group of papers deals with the idea of apparent age. Here, the earth/universe looks old, i.e. old age is the conclusion you would draw from the scientific data. Even Isaac, in his discussion of the RATE project, seems to allow this view as one with scientific integrity because it admits to the consensus view. Many reject the view because it undermines the idea that we can draw reliable conclusions from our observations or even trust God’s revelation to us in creation. Nonetheless, apparent age is a method of reconciling the scientific data with the perceived need for a young earth.

Anyone interested in tackling the scientific arguments for the vast age of the earth or the related theological questions is encouraged to study these papers and talks.


1. What have you been taught about the age of the earth in your family, church, or school?

2. Which scientific arguments for an old earth do you know?


Reading Genesis

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This is the fourth of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we are using the topic of Reading Genesis.

For some the Bible-Science conflict starts with the opening chapter of Genesis. If one assumes that the account is straight-forward narrative depicting a strict chronological sequence then you end up with a fully formed Creation that was made in the space of six (twenty-four hour) days. If you tie such a view to a historical dating of the David/Solomonic kingdom around 1000 BC and an arithmetic (rather than symbolic) approach to the genealogies of the Bible, you end up with a recent Creation, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. This is how many evangelicals read Genesis today and is the origin of such young-earth creationist (YEC) organizations as the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation Research Society, Answers in Genesis, etc. In this view the Bible teaches a recent Creation. All other approaches to knowledge (science, history, etc.) must conform to this Biblical teaching.

This YEC viewpoint seems at odds with the conclusions of modern science. Modern cosmology teaches that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, that the earth is 4.54 billion years old, that life originated on earth 3.85 billion years ago, that modern plants and animals developed through an evolutionary process around 500 million years ago, that dinosaurs lived on the earth 230 million to 70 million years ago, that modern humans have been around for 200,000 years, and that worldwide migrations of humans occurred 60,000 to 15,000 years ago. This long history embodies cosmological, geological, and biological processes that occurred over time-scales in the thousands, millions, and billions of years, not six, twenty-four hour days.

There are others who embrace the scientific account and then conclude that the Bible and the religions that use the Bible as their authoritative text are hopelessly wrong. For them Biblical faith is akin to believing in fairies and leprechauns. While coming from totally opposite perspectives YEC and atheistic evolutionists have a fundamental agreement: Biblical faith and modern science are incompatible. Yet, there are some, represented by the American Scientific Affiliation and the BioLogos Foundation, the developers and hosts of the perspectives presented here, who disagree. By and large those who disagree do not reject the conclusions of modern science. Thus, the chronology of modern science stated above is accepted as well as the idea that naturally occurring processes can explain the historical development of the cosmos from Big Bang to present. Accepting the conclusions of modern science can be done from Christian theistic framework. God remains the Creator, Sustainer, Governor, and Provider of the universe.

Those who adopt this middle path claim that it is possible to understand the Bible in a way that does not result in a conflict with modern science. Many wonder whether this is being faithful to scripture. This question is addressed in all of the papers and presentations listed below. While it is certainly true that those who accept the authority of the Bible should not always adjust their interpretation of scripture to fit the results of the latest science, it must always be remembered that our traditional interpretations may be wrong. If a conflict with science arises, there is nothing wrong with using that occasion to revisit our traditional interpretation of scripture to see if we have it right. Most everyone would admit that if the traditional interpretation is not the correct interpretation then we should change our view, and that changing our view is being more faithful to scripture.

Listed below are key papers from the ASA journal (JASA, PSCF) or presentations given at ASA meetings or other works by individuals associated with the ASA that address the proper way of reading Genesis 1. Not all of the authors agree with each other. But there is somewhat a common theme that Genesis 1 must be understood in the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context and that reading it in that context may mean that our 21st century questions may not be answered.


1. How were you brought up to understand Genesis 1? What did you learn at home, in Sunday School, in church, at school, in college? Is challenging the “traditional” reading of Genesis 1 troubling to you?

2. How does your current Christian community–your church, your Christian school, your Christian college–deal with these issues?

3. How well do you understand modern science and its claims about the origin of the universe, the earth, life on earth, and humanity?

4. Have you ever changed your understanding of scripture based on extra-Biblical information (archaeology, understanding Biblical customs, etc.)? Why did you change your view?

5. How might it be possible to reject Genesis as straight-forward narrative depicting a strict chronological sequence and not reject it being revelation from God and having some kind of authority?


Adam and Eve and Human Origins

This is the third of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we are using the topic of Adam and Eve and Human Origins.

The Adam and Eve account of human origins in Genesis 2 and 3 has been challenged by scientific theories since the days of Darwin. The Genesis account portrays Adam as being formed by God from inanimate earth and then animated to become a living creature via the divine inbreathing. Eve was created later from the side of Adam as he was found to be alone and in need of a suitable helper. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden in communion with God, created in His image. They succumbed to the temptation of the serpent and disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a consequence they were separated from God, cursed, and doomed to die. Adam is seen as the first human being with several Biblical genealogies originating with him. All human beings appear to be descended from Adam and Eve. The Genesis account is set in the Neolithic period at the beginnings of modern human civilization between 10,000 and 5,000 BC. Romans 5:12-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49 not only see Adam as the first man, but as one who uniquely represents the whole human race and through whom human sin and death comes into the world.

Modern science sees human beings as having evolved from primate and hominid ancestors. Anatomically modern humans have been around for 150,000-200,000 years and all currently living human beings are thought to have descended from an evolving population of about 5,000-10,000 individuals living in Africa. The genetic arguments for this perspective can be explored in some of the ASA resources on this topic. (See the papers and presentations of Francis Collins or Dennis Venema, for example). While all other human or hominid species have gone extinct, there is some genetic evidence that modern humans interbred with Neanderthal and Denisovian hominids. While there is recognition of human uniqueness compared to other animals and extant primates, this is attributed to various biological features such as bipedalism, opposing thumbs, and brain capacity. There is also a recognition of a transition about 10,000 BC with the rise of agriculture, metallurgy, and other uniquely human cultural expressions as human beings transitioned from a hunter-gatherer mode of existence to one of localized farming that ultimately gave rise to towns and cities. Human psychology and behavior seem to have a continuity with primate and other animal behavior in both its altruistic components and in less socially desirable behaviors. In other words, deviant behavior (sin) is not the consequence of a Fall from some state of innocence, but is part of the evolutionary process. Death was not brought into the world by one man’s sin, but has been part of the process from the beginning.

The two extreme positions for relating these two accounts are the rejection of one or the other. There are some who see the Genesis account of human beginnings as being the way ancient Near Eastern people in the tradition of the Abrahamic religions saw their beginnings. It is from a distant culture both in time and space. It is what they believed, but it is simply not true. And there is no reason for us to think it is true. The scientific account is true inasmuch as we can say that about scientific accounts. New data or perhaps new ideas about old data will result in our continually revising the scientific account. But, based on our understanding today, this is the way it happened. We will call this view “atheistic naturalism”. (NOTE: The “atheistic” part of this extreme is its rejection of any truth claims of the Biblical text. There are many Christians willing to accept the scientific claims described here.)

Alternatively, we could reject the modern scientific story as being completely wrong, rooted in an enterprise dedicated to denying God. The Bible is true. The people, places, times, events are real. We will call this view “Biblical fundamentalism”.

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) has fostered discussion of this topic over its 70 year history. One of the features of the ASA discussion is its rejection of the two extremes. The ASA accepts the Bible as inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative and thus disagrees with the “atheistic naturalist” who simply disregards the Biblical teaching. The ASA also believes that scientific investigation (and its results) are legitimate because God created and preserves the universe in such a way that it has contingent order and intelligibility. The ASA discussion is among people who take both the Bible and science seriously. Thus, the outright rejection of one or the other view is not really an option.

The Adam and Eve and Human Origins resource is a compilation of articles and audio/video presentations discussing the question of human origins from many different perspectives. For each article/author there is an introductory comment and some tips for reading/listening/watching for each one. The ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue. It is committed to providing an open forum where controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation. Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth. Consequently, you will find a range of views, some which disagree strongly with the other. ASA simply hopes to help Christians work through these difficult questions.

Big questions are in this discussion. What does it mean to say that the Bible is inspired, authoritative, and trustworthy? What is the correct way to read/interpret the Bible? Does the Bible teach science? What is sin and how did it enter the world? What is the image of God? Are Adam and Eve historical figures? Are there theological truths in Genesis that can be separated from actual historical events?

The Adam and Eve and Human Origins resource contains contributions by ASA members to annual meetings, articles in the ASA journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF), books and blog posts written by ASA members that address the question. Nearly everyone acknowledges the basic scientific claim that human beings, at least in their biological form, descended from non-human ancestors or at least look as if they descended from non-human ancestors 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. That is in keeping with the ASA spirit of taking the science seriously. The differences and most of discussion concerns what it means to take the Biblical account seriously and how to relate traditional theological views such as the image of God, state of innocence, the Fall into sin, original sin, unity of the human race, etc. to the scientific viewpoint. Some argue that the Genesis account is just ancient Near Eastern “science” and that God accommodated his revelation to that cultural context. In that view it becomes important to distinguish the historical and scientific details of the account (which may be wrong) from the theological truths that they represent. Others seek to preserve a degree of historicity and speculate how the event character of the Genesis account might fit into the scientific story. Both viewpoints argue that they are taking the Bible seriously. The theological questions about God’s image, the role of Adam and Eve in original sin, the effect of Adam and Eve’s sin on the rest of humanity, etc. are handled in a variety of ways in either perspective. The history of theology tells us that there are differences of opinion on these theological questions quite independent of any questions of human evolution. In certain theological traditions, for example, the covenant theology as articulated in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith from the 17th century, there is a commitment to certain answers on these theological questions.


1. What is your reaction to this summary? Are you familiar with the Biblical story? Are you familiar with the modern scientific story? Was there anything new to you in either of them?

2. Our examination of this topic will continue, and we will examine different ways of thinking about the two accounts. Begin to make a list of ways to relate these two accounts.

3. What is your reaction to the two extremes as presented? Do you know of people or organizations represented by such extreme views? What critique of each can you offer?

4. Do you agree or disagree with perspective of the ASA? Why is it important to take both the Bible and science seriously?


Getting Started in the Evolution/Creation Conversation

Getting Started

This is the second of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we use the Getting Started in the Discussion topic.

The science/faith or evolution/creation discussion is huge. Where do you start? What follows are contributions by members of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) to annual meetings, articles in the ASA journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF), and other resources available on the ASA web site. We have pulled together this set of resources as an introduction covering the areas of reading Genesis, the age of the earth, evidences for evolution, theistic evolution (or evolutionary creation), the first humans (Adam and Eve), and intelligent design.

The ASA is a network of Christians in the sciences and has fostered discussion of faith and science issues over its 70 year history. The ASA accepts the Bible as inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative and thus disagrees with the “atheistic naturalist” who simply disregards the Biblical teaching. The ASA also believes that scientific investigation (and its results) are legitimate because God created and preserves the universe in such a way that it has contingent order and intelligibility. In other words the ASA discussion is among people who take both the Bible and science seriously.

The ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue. We are committed to providing an open forum where controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation. Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth. Consequently, you will find a range of views, some which disagree strongly with the other.

For the newcomer to the discussion we have arranged the resources in a logical order. In a few cases, there is a audio or video presentation followed by a more detailed written version by the same author With each resource there is a brief introduction of the author/presenter and there are questions for reflection or discussion. Keep a journal of your reflections based on those question and others that may come to mind. Many additional resources from ASA are available If you wish to dig deeper into a particular topic.

The first resource on the list is Richard H. Bube’s 1970’s paper entitled “We Believe in Creation.” Richard H. Bube is emeritus Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. He was editor of JASA from 1969-1983 and a frequent contributor to the journal. Here is the abstract:

It should be well known to readers of the Journal ASA that the ASA does not take an official position on controversial questions. Creation is not a controversial question. We believe in Creation. We praise the Lord for that faith. But let us avoid either posing creation and evolution as intrinsically antithetical alternatives, the acceptance of one demanding the rejection of the other, or presenting creation as a scientific mechanism alternative to evolution, as though good science must ultimately lead to the verification of fiat creation and a falsification of evolution.

Here are the study/discussion questions associated with this introduction and with the “We Believe in Creation” article.


1. What are your initial thoughts about the relationship between faith and science?

2. Bube asserts that creation is not a controversial subject. What does he mean by that and how can he say that in light of all the controversy?

3. How does he distinguish between fiat creation and Creation?

4. What is meant by “descriptions of the same phenomena on different levels of reality?”

5. What is “evolutionary philosophy” or “evolutionary religion?” Why is it important to distinguish between “evolutionary philosophy” and “evolutionary biology?


Resources on Science and Christian Faith

This is the first of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). Future posts will feature the introductory essays associated with the various topics.

ASA began in 1941 as “a group of Christian scientific men devoting themselves to the task of reviewing, preparing, and distributing information on the authenticity, historicity, and scientific aspects of the Holy Scriptures in order that the faith of many in the Lord Jesus Christ may be firmly established.” [1] Today, with a similar but somewhat broader purpose, ASA seeks “to investigate any area relating Christian faith and science and to make known the results of such investigations for comment and criticism by the Christian community and by the scientific community.” [2] ASA has a 74 year history of dialogue and discussion. Reflection on ASA’s early history can be found in the 50th anniversary (1991) issue of its journal, Perspectives on Science and Faith [3-6].

Anyone interested in learning more about faith/science issues would profit from tapping into the rich set of resources available through the ASA. The most valuable of these resources is the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (JASA), now called Perspectives on Science and Faith (PSCF). The ASA also sponsors annual meetings where members and key figures in the faith/science scholarly community present their latest thinking. In addition, ASA members meet in local sections around the country. In recent years these meetings have been audio and/or video recorded and made available on the Internet. There are also monographs, newsletters, and other publications such as the SEARCH series of articles on contemporary Christian scientists and the eZine, God and Nature. Seeing how ASA members have worked through these issues and settled on the various options could be instructive for those currently exploring these questions.

ASA desires to foster civil dialogue among Christians with differing perspectives. The most controversial debates in ASA’s history have been on the topic of evolutionary creation. As one of the oldest and largest groups of Christians in science worldwide, the annals of ASA document the story of believers grappling with the growing scientific database on evolution. While the ASA throughout its history has remained officially neutral on controversial topics where there is honest disagreement, including evolution/creation, its membership as a whole has moved toward acceptance of the prevailing scientific views, which is reflected in its publications and meetings. Papers, videos, and audio recordings document how this large body of Christians from differing perspectives has moved from hesitation about evolutionary science to widespread acceptance of evolution as God’s process in the natural world.

Although the earliest ASA scientists appeared to find data important to modern science in the Bible (e.g. age of the earth/universe, biological kinds) the general trajectory has been to recognize that the Bible’s primary purpose is redemptive-historical and not scientific and that it was written in the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East where our modern scientific questions were not necessarily their questions. In other words the Bible is not a scientific textbook. Answers to most of our scientific questions will not be found in the Bible. This is not to say that ASA members do not take the Bible seriously however. ASA members believe that the Bible continues to inform the Christian worldview and the theology of Creation and God’s interaction with the universe. These are both relevant to the scientific endeavor.

A second trajectory is that ASA members have tended to become more accepting of the well-established results of mainstream science. Early ASA scientists tended to be somewhat suspicious of the claims of mainstream science, especially in the area of origins. In part, this is a simple corollary of the first trajectory. Many in the ASA no longer see the Bible as teaching ideas that are contrary to science proper. Thus, while there is seldom unanimity on any scientific issue, the majority of ASA members hold to an old earth/universe, biological evolution, and even human evolution. There is also serious engagement of the multiverse, evolutionary psychology, and the latest ideas of neurobiology. Recognizing the distinction between science as a description of the way God governs the universe and scientism (also known as scientific/atheistic naturalism or scientific materialism), which misuses science to make scientific explanations ultimate explanations, has allowed ASA members to embrace scientific claims without fear of abandoning a belief in God’s role in creation.

ASA received a grant from the BioLogos Foundation as part of the Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF) project. It was entitled “Seeing Evolutionary Creation as a Viable Evangelical Perspective: Seventy Years of ASA Resources.” ASA is seeking to make its resources more broadly available to the general public. Audio/visual materials from recent ASA annual meetings are on the Internet and have now been added to an already existing database of JASA/PSCF. A rich metadata tagging/indexing system allows us to use search tools to present these resources in many different useful formats. We are in the process of developing some guided tours through these resources with introductory comments, background information, and even study questions for individual or group reflection. Since ASA provides an open forum on faith/science controversies these resources can help people work through the issues involved. At this point there are three nearly complete collections: “Getting Started in the Evolution/Creation Discussion,” “Reading Genesis,” and “Adam and Eve and Human Origins.” Preliminary work has been done additional topics: “Age of the Earth,” “Intelligent Design,” “Environmental Stewardship,”  “Divine Action,” “Philosophy of Science,” “History of Science”, “Body and Soul,” “Bioethics,” “ASA History,” “ASA Authors”, “Annual Meeting,” and “Recent Issues of PSCF.”  These are all accessible from the Resources on Science and Christian Faith (RSCF) page at There is opportunity for reader comments and ratings that eventually will allow the most useful resources to be identified by the learning community.

Please join us in this quest that takes seriously both God’s Word and God’s world.


1. From the title page of Modern science and Christian Faith, F. Alton Everest, ed. (1948, 1951)
2. For example, see the 2014 ASA brochure
3. Darryl G. Hart, “The Fundamentalists Origins of the American Scientific Affiliation” PSCF 43:238-248 (1991)
4. John W. Haas, Jr., “Irwin A. Moon, F. Alton Everest and Will H. Houghton: Early Links between the Moody Bible Institute and the American Scientific Affiliation” PSCF 43:249-258 (1991)
5. Mark A. Kalthoff, “The Harmonious Dissonance of Evangelical Scientists: Rhetoric and Reality in the Early Decades of the ASA” PSCF 43:259-272 (1991)
6. Richard H. Bube, “The Future of the ASA: Challenges and Pitfalls” PSCF 43:272-277 (1991)

Communicating Climate Change with Mind and Heart

This past Friday (9-5-2014) I attended Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture entitled “Communicating Climate Change with Mind and Heart.” The sponsor of the event was The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Here’s the YouTube video of the lecture. Anyone interested in an abbreviated version of Katharine’s talk can find her recent talk from the 2014 meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) or her keynote from the 2011 meeting of the ASA or her book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. Katharine is an evangelical Christian who is a climate scientist. Many evangelicals are global warming/climate change skeptics and Katharine seeks to communicate to that skeptical audience that global warming/climate change is real and that the evangelical faith of these skeptics ought to motivate them to see the urgency of the problem and to take action to protect God’s second greatest gift, our planet, and to be concerned about the effects of climate change and its impact on our neighbors (especially in the underdeveloped majority world) whom we are commanded to love.

It was a great talk and I would recommend listening to Katharine and paying heed. As the Q&A time winded down a question came to mind. Unfortunately, I was not able to ask it. I will ask here though and doing so will afford me the chance to develop the question more fully–by the time I’m done it probably won’t feel like a question. Perhaps I can get Katharine to respond with a comment.

Hi Katharine. Great talk and thanks for all you do in communicating the message that faith and science are not incompatible. And thanks for all the tips on how to communicate climate change issues to skeptics.  As you anticipated in the press release this was not a hard-sell crowd. It was Boulder, CO after all–one of the more environmentalist-friendly places in the universe and just down the road from NCAR, the mothership of climate research. You might expect some pushback from this crowd on faith issues. I commend you for your unflinching affirmation of your Christian faith (ever so subtly lifting up Jesus Christ as God’s greatest gift) and calling on Christian values as a basis for action on climate change.

But as you have noted in your talks this is a “tribal” issue and almost everyone in the audience was from the same tribe. You’ve noted how most of us can’t be expert on climate change (or any issue for that matter) and that we get our opinions from the people we trust. So that’s one big issue here. The conservative Christian evangelical (most likely on the right end of the political spectrum) doesn’t trust anyone from the other tribe (and they consider left-leaning evangelicals to be in the other tribe). A few years ago I led a discussion among Christian faculty members at Colorado State University on this very question. This was a thoughtful group of academics but not all were scientists and on the whole they were politically conservative. I asked them if they thought their ideas about environmentalism were determined by the Bible or by their politics, i.e. that if Al Gore thought it was true that it must not be. They all immediately confessed that it was the latter.

As you noted, politically right-leaning evangelicals are going to get their opinion on climate change from people they trust–Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Focus on the Family, Cornwall Alliance and not from Al Gore or Barack Obama or Greenpeace. Sadly, those in the politically right-leaning evangelical tribe who become convinced of the reality and perils of climate change are often thought to have abandoned the tribe. Richard Cizik is a case in point.  Often there is a cluster of positions (abortion, environment, homosexuality, public assistance, national security, etc.) that seem to go together. Politically left-leaning evangelicals are perceived to have more in common with political liberals than evangelicals. (The perception runs the other way as well, I’m sure.) I admit to being at the right end of the political spectrum (even though I’m not a global warming skeptic and am an evolutionary creationist).

One of my dreams is that we right-leaning evangelicals who are scientists and who are convinced of climate change can convince some of these opinion makers on the right to see that climate change is not a right/left issue. The reality is that the opinion makers get their opinion from the people they trust. Why can’t they trust you, for example? Why do they have to trust climate scientists who have contrary views on climate change? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Glenn Beck interviewed you and changed his mind on climate change? So, here’s my question. Don’t you think that convincing these opinion-makers that they are wrong could be a fruitful project. What if we could tell Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck that we more or less agree with them on everything except their opinions on climate change? Might we get a hearing?

But this raises a challenge. At  your talk you showed the slide about the Founding Fathers and the issues of taxes and big government. This, I think, is the more fundamental issue and the reason that conservatives tend to be climate change skeptics. The answers of the tribe on the left seem to involve expanding government and increasing government regulation.  In the Slate article about you you promote free market solutions to decarbonizing our energy. I didn’t really hear you talk about this. I’d be curious to hear more. This is why I identify as a non-skeptical heretic. I’d be curious to hear if you put yourself in that camp too.

What are some of the market friendly solutions? Is some kind of carbon regulation necessary (whether cap-and-trade or carbon tax or Hanson’s tax and dividend)? Isn’t carbon regulation at its heart a left-leaning solution? Is there market incentive to moving to carbon free energy. Wind and sunshine are free and don’t get used up–it seems that there ought to be a market solution. Consumers pay less for energy. Companies that offer such services ought to be competitive. I’ve done back-of-the-envelop calculations that suggest that reducing captured CO2 to liquid fuels using carbon free energy (solar, wind, or nuclear) might be profitable given today’s oil prices. Why aren’t these solutions being pursued?

Well, you get the point. If CO2 is a pollutant, then cleaning it up becomes part of the price of producing it. But only if the government makes the oil and power companies (oops–more government regulations) clean it up.  Right? That’s how externalities are properly dealt with. Then the price gets passed on to the consumer. Of course, in the process other solutions (e.g. renewables) may gain some ground. Anyway, is there really a right-leaning solution? Should we press for cap-and-trade as a pseudo-market solution (which doesn’t seem to be working so well in the EU after all, but seemed to work for SOx)?

Some might argue that Christians shouldn’t necessarily be wedded to right-wing politics. I’m all for not letting faith get tangled up in politics, although I’m also a firm believer that faith has implications for all of life, including politics. Suffice it now to say that right-leaning evangelicals find support in a Christian worldview for their views of limited government and individual liberty.

Bottom line–I’m convinced that global warming is true and that human produced CO2 is the chief culprit. And I’m doing all the low carbon footprint things I’m supposed to be doing. What conservative solutions am I supposed to advocate to take care of this problem?

Shameless PlugEnergy: What the World Needs Now by Terry M. Gray & Anthony K. Rappé

Event Character and the Early Chapters of Genesis

The debate about the historicity of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Flood, the Genealogies, the Tower of Babel continues. Faith/science and faith/history discussions are where the discussion seems to be the most pressing. Are these stories in the first chapters of Genesis in any way historical? Some of them, such as the Adam and Eve account and the Fall account in Genesis 2 & 3 are deeply embedded in the confessional documents of certain traditions–namely Reformed and Presbyterian 16th and 17th century confessions and perhaps others. Unless one moves to a very loose confessionalism, these expressions of the Christian faith are committed to historicity if they are committed to their confessional documents.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) is a denomination that has struggled (and continues to struggle) with how to maintain the historicity of certain events in redemptive history (Adam and Eve’s creation in a state of innocence and their subsequent Fall and the effect of that Fall on the rest of humankind) especially in light of the findings of modern biology, paleontology, and anthropology concerning the origin of human beings which is largely regarded as being full legitimate.

In this post I provide an extended quote from the denomination’s 1991 report on Creation and Science that illustrates what the CRCNA refers to as event character. The point here to to illustrate that the CRCNA affirms some aspect of historicity, but does not claim to locate it precisely in ordinary history. Historicity is deemed to be an important part of what the text is claiming, but any attempt to identify the event with any particular ordinary historical event is doomed to failure because the historical account has been so stylized and adapted to serve an extraordinary redemptive historical purpose.  An earlier report from 1972 on The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority initially developed the idea in the CRCNA.

What precisely is the character of the Bible’s account of the earliest history of the world and humankind? This question constitutes the nub of the problem we are dealing with, and at present there is no consensus among evangelical biblical scholars. The best we can do is to present an example which we believe does justice to what is known about pre-Abrahamic history, to what Report 44 says about the necessity of distinguishing between an event and the way it is reported even while maintaining the event character of biblical historical narrative, and to the revelational significance of the historical account.

The example is the Tower of Babel story. The traditional interpretation of this account in Genesis 11 seems to conflict with the findings of historical linguistics, for there is a great deal of evidence that the diversity of languages precedes Babylonian culture. Since babel in Hebrew is the standard word for Babylon and since the Tower of Babel very probably refers to a characteristic institution of Babylonian culture, the temple tower (or “ziggurat”), the biblical narrative refers to a civilization which already knew a diversity of languages, such as Akkadian, Sumerian, and Egyptian, to mention only three well-known languages from the Ancient Near East. According to linguistic evidence available today, it would seem that the diversification of language must have taken place long before the rise of the Old Babylonian culture.

Because of this conflict some propose to read the story as a parable illustrating human pride but not as a historical narrative related to an event or to a series of events. But “parable” seems not to do justice to the overall tenor and context of the story, which functions as a part of the broad historical prologue to God’s call of Abraham and the history of God’s chosen people. Thus various other interpretations have been proposed. One suggests that, while the story does indeed concern Babylon, the judgment of God refers not to the origin of languages but to a breakdown in communication. The word translated as ‘language” can refer to “talk” or to “speech” in a more general sense. Then the whole episode speaks of the religious pride of the Old Babylonian empire, centered in the ziggurat dedicated to the god Marduk in the City of Babylon, and of God’s judgment on this proud manifestation of pagan culture. Ultimately it was a breakdown of communication, of mutual understanding, which brought disaster upon the first great empire of recorded history. Others, however, think it necessary to retain the reference to languages and then suggest either that Genesis 11 as a historical event must be assumed to be prior to the table of nations in Genesis 10 or that Genesis 11 should be understood as a history that compresses into a single event a process that elapsed over a period of time. In all of these interpretations connecting Genesis 11 to Babylon, the interpreter is assuming that an extensive and complex historical tableau is being described in a highly stylized manner and from a perspective that compresses history into a single focus to serve the purposes of the history of salvation. In addition, by its use of this history, however stylized the shape of its report, the Bible intends to illumine the basic nature of human history when it is divorced from the God who is Creator and Redeemer. Hence, Babylon continues to serve, even in the book of Revelation, as a symbol of the cities and empires which humanity erects in opposition to God. Beginning with the story of the Tower of Babel, Babylon is both a historical city and, in Augustine’s terms, a symbol of the City of This World in rebellion against the City of God.

Without placing a stamp of approval upon any single interpretation, we suggest that the approaches mentioned above satisfy the requirements of Reformed hermeneutics. Our increased knowledge of early human history has underscored the highly stylized and compressed nature of the biblical account and cautions us against drawing historical inferences unrelated to the revelational intention of the account. In such historiography the Bible does not intend to present the entire history in which the narrative is rooted, and the stylized character of the account prevents us from inferring what the total historical picture may have been. In spite of these limitations imposed on us by the nature of these biblical narratives, the function of the historical narrative concerning the Tower of Babel in the unfolding history of redemption remains clear. In general we can say that the primary intention of the historical narratives in Genesis 1-11 is to serve the understanding of the unfolding history of redemption, not to present us with a detailed history of pre-Abrahamic times.

Notice particularly the last paragraph. There is a recognition that the account is “highly stylized and compressed.” We are cautioned “against drawing historical inferences unrelated to the revelational intention.” We acknowledge that the Biblical account does not “present the entire history” and that we can’t even “infer what the total historical picture may have been.” Nonetheless, the historical character, the event character, of the account remains.

Theologically speaking, there is little difference with so-called non-literal, ahistorical, or symbolic treatments of the text. But the CRCNA insists on the event character (a nuanced historicity) because of the narrative functions in the overarching history of redemption (as summarized by its confessions).

Perhaps this approach is a way forward on some of these issues. Historicity is preserved but there is no expectation that the historical narrative of the early chapters of Genesis can be readily connected with the history of our history books in any precise way.

Karl, Thanks, but No Thanks

Karl W. Giberson is a respected contributor to the faith/science (evolution/creation) dialogue. His contributions have been valuable, and I have learned from Karl. However, as a scientist myself with great interest in these issues and as a member of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), I have to take some issue with his commentary about the CRC in The Daily Beast. The piece is a good reminder that the broader church and even the whole world is watching what happens when the denomination acts (or doesn’t act). But, honestly, to have Karl Giberson complain about actions of the CRC is like Bill Clinton complaining about what happens at the Republican National Convention.

There are several parts of The Daily Beast piece that warrant comment:

1) The CRC takes a strong stand on science, even on this issue of human evolution. Despite the controversy of the 80’s and 90’s concerning Howard Van Till, Clarence Menninga, and Davis Young, Calvin College (the denominational liberal arts college) and the CRC never flinched. The Synod 1991 report fully embraced an old universe, and old earth, and the evolutionary development of life on earth. (To be clear, “embrace” does not mean “adopt”–it would be inappropriate for Synod to make declarations about scientific matters–it is only qualified to address Biblical and theological questions. “Embrace” here means to say that there is no necessary inconsistency between the claims of science and the church’s views.) See the full 1991 report.

Synod 1991, however, did include “Declaration F” which more or less ruled out human evolution. Many thought this was a misstep and that Synod went further than necessary to safeguard its theological position (namely, a historical Adam and Eve–more on that below). However, in 2010 Synod declared that the restriction completely ruling out any notion of human evolution was no longer valid. See “Overture 18: Remove Declaration F of the 1991 Decision on Creation and Science” (, pp. 697-700). I was the primary author of that overture. The gist of the matter is that there are ways of allowing for animal ancestry of human beings that do not necessarily conflict with a historical Adam, the theological point that the church desired to preserve.

The key point for Karl Giberson to hear is that the church has stood up for science. It has not closed the door on any aspect of the commonly accepted understanding of the history of the universe, the earth, life on earth, or even human origins.

Admittedly, these are difficult questions. I have had my own trials with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church prior to my joining the CRC. See this long after-the-fact-reflection on that experience. This is not to say that there are not continued struggles. But the gist of the Dan Harlow and John Schneider controversy at Calvin College and in the church has little to do with science. The CRC has not put up barriers to studying, teaching, researching, accepting science. Harlow and Schneider are theologians (not scientists) and were proposing significant changes in the church’s theological formulations–largely unnecessary given the CRC’s attitude toward the science.

2) Giberson makes it sound like Howard Van Till left the CRC over these faith/science issues. It may well be the case that the controversy precipitated Van Till’s departure, but it wasn’t over science questions. You can find Van Till’s own telling of his story in the Foreward to David Ray Griffin’s book, Two Great Truth: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith ( link). So let’s get the facts straight.

3) Giberson does not seem to understand how a doctrinal confession works in a conservative confessional church such as the CRC. He rightly quotes the Canons of Dort, a 17th century document, that together with the Belgic Confession (16th century) and the Heidelberg Catechism (16th century) and the ecumenical creeds of the early church summarize the beliefs of members of the CRC. A confessional church such as the CRC believes that its creeds, confessions, and catechisms summarize the teachings of scripture. Officers in the church (pastors, elders, and deacons) and professors in the denominational college and seminary (Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary) declare in the Covenant for Office-Bearers (formerly known as the Form of Subscription) of these creeds, confessions, and catechisms that their “doctrines fully agree with the Word of God”. I taught chemistry and biochemistry at Calvin College, have been an elder in a local CRC church, and a delegate to Synod 2010 and 2012–in all three cases I reaffirmed the Covenant for Office-Bearers. Perhaps, John Schneider and Dan Harlow meant something other than what the Form of Subscription says, but not because there is any ambiguity about it. The way it is supposed to work is that people become pastors in the CRC and professors at Calvin College because they agree with the denomination’s theological views (not vice versa).

Giberson claims that evangelical theologians have said that Christianity can survive the “loss” of Adam and Eve. Sure, he may find some will say that. Less conservative theologians have been saying that since the late 1800’s. Giberson seems to be asking the CRC to join that crowd. This is where he seems like Bill Clinton at the Republican convention. CRC theologians and the Synod as a whole, as well as other conservative theologians in the Reformed world, have not been willing to say such a thing. According to them, a historical Adam is a key part of the Biblical story and changing that story cannot happen unless one changes his or her fundamental approach to the Bible and to theology. There are many conservative scholars (inside and outside the CRC) who don’t see that option as being viable.

So what to do? Interestingly, the CRC is willing to let the science take its course. We stand up for science just fine in the CRC. As far as I know, the Calvin College biology department teaches the standard fare on human origins. Perhaps Giberson insists on saying that if you hold to the standard fare, you can’t embrace a historical Adam. I don’t think that, nor do I think the CRC Synod thinks that. (It could be that Harlow and Schneider think that.) See my own suggestions here for some ideas.

I would also suggest that a posture of ignorance (a docta ignorantia) is possible as suggested in the 1991 report noted above. Perhaps we cannot in a fully satisfactory way put the two accounts together. We ought not twist science or our theology to make them fit. Because of its Reformed and Kuyperian roots, the CRC has a robust view of science. Christians ought to do science. We’re not afraid of it. The conclusions of science are simply human expressions of what we see God doing in Creation and Providence. Christianity is not anti-science. But we have an understanding of the Bible that is equally robust. The Bible and Reformed theologizing have been around for a long time (much longer than the sciences in question) so it is not a trivial matter to change those basic views. Our tradition is one that seeks to understand the Bible correctly as well. We don’t guard our confessions just for the sake of preserving the tradition, but because we believe the confessions rightly summarized the teaching of the Bible. Thus, the CRC has not changed its views on a historical Adam because it does not find a Biblical warrant for doing so.

Ironically, I think it could be said that Synod’s reason for inaction on this matter was a belief that the church’s position is adequate, allowing science to flourish and preserving the historical understanding of the Bible and our creeds. My own reading of “Overture 18: Establish a Study Committee to Look into Recent Theologies That Teach That the Genesis Accounts of the Creation and Fall of Humankind Are Not Historical Events and That Adam and Eve Are Literary Rather Than Historical Characters” (, pp. 408-420) is that the overture springs from a concern based on the Schneider and Harlow writings and an article from the Banner, the monthly denominational magazine, that the CRC needs to reaffirm its commitment to a historical Adam. Thus, Synod’s decision to deny the overture suggests that Giberson’s concerns are unfounded: both our theology and our commitment to do good science are being upheld by the way the issue is already being addressed by Calvin College and by the Synod.


Thoughts on Synod 2012

I was a delegate from Classis Rocky Mountain to the 2012 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. It met from June 8-14 at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. Several major items were before Synod this year: the Belhar Confession, a new Covenant for Officebearers to replace the old Form of Subscription, and the report of the Creation Stewardship Study Committee. I’ll comment on each of these and a few other issues that were before synod.

While Synod 2012 had many potentially contentious issues before it, it is remarkable that there was not a single minority report from any of the advisory committees. Apparently, the advisory committees reflected the composition of the synod and they worked hard to tweak the recommendations that originally came from the various standing committees, special committee, and task forces so that there could be one largely united voice from synod. This resulted in significant changes made to all the major reports, but in the end Synod 2012 followed the advisory committees’ advice.

The Belhar Confession

Synod 2009 had proposed adoption of the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession equal to the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort to be voted upon at Synod 2012. The Ecumenicity and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) helped the church study the Belhar in the intervening years and advocated for its adoption. The Belhar Confession arises out of the Reformed churches in South  Africa in the context of divisions in the church on the basis of racial and ethnic differences caused by apartheid. The Belhar focuses on themes of unity, reconciliation, and justice. Interestingly, the anticipated vote on whether to make the Belhar Confession a fourth confession for the CRC generated a near record number of overtures from the classes and from individual church councils. Overwhelmingly, the overtures came in opposed to adopting the Belhar as a fourth confession and many calling for its adoption as a testimony (something official, but less binding than a confession).

So, what were the criticisms of the Belhar? One criticism was that it was too narrow in scope to have the status of a confession. It does not contain a comprehensive summary of the Christian faith or of the gospel of Jesus Christ like the other three confessions/catechisms. Also, it is very much rooted in the South African situation. While it is clear that it is their confession, it was not so clear that it would be our confession even though we fully support the general themes of unity, reconciliation, and justice. There were also some questions about some particular sentences/phrases in the Belhar. One statement causing some concern was “…we reject any doctrine which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.” This statement in the Belhar has been used by one of the authors of the document to promote the acceptance of practicing homosexuals and same gender marriages in the church. Synod 2009 disavowed this application by saying “the Belhar Confession does not negate the biblically derived statements of synod on homosexuality, including those of 1973 and 1996.” But the concern remained. Other statements causing some concern was “that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged” and that “the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.” To some these statement sounded like Liberation Theology which interprets the Christian faith “in terms of liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions” (Wikipedia). Most theologians in the CRCNA would regard Liberation Theology as a theological error.

In the end the Advisory Committee sensed that if Synod 2012 were to take a vote on whether or not to adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession that it would fail. But they also sensed that Synod 2012 wanted to endorse the Belhar in some manner, so they took up one of the recommendations that came in one of the overtures, that the Belhar Confession be adopted as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration, a newly created official category. This would be similar, although not identical to the status of the Contemporary Testimony “Our World Belongs to God” — adopted by synod as a faith statement but less than a confession to which officebearers must agree. Synod 2012 adopted the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, creating the Ecumenical Faith Declaration category and adopting the Belhar Confession as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration. Interestingly, while some of the materials that were to accompany the Belhar Confession if adopted as a confession (according to the original EIRC recommendation) accompany it as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration, the prefatory sentences

Synod further observes that, as a faithful witness to Scripture, the Belhar Confession does not negate the biblically derived statements of synod on homosexuality, including those of 1973 and 1996. Finally, synod recognizes that injustice and enmity between peoples are two dimensions of all-pervasive human sinfulness, for which every human being needs Jesus Christ as Savior.

are now not included.

The Advisory Committee also recommended that Synod form a Task Force to study exactly what we mean when we adopt something as a confession to report in 2015 at which time we would reconsider the Belhar Confession in light the findings of the Task Force. That recommendation was not adopted by Synod 2012.

Covenant for Officebearers

The current Form of Subscription that officebearers (ministers, ministry associates, now commissioned pastors, elders, deacons) in the CRC sign has been unchanged for nearly 400 years. Several years ago the church determined to update the language so this document would be taken more seriously and would be more useful to the churches. Two major revision committees, several synods where there was intense debate on the revision committees’ recommendations, and discussion in the classes and in the churches have now resulted in a new Covenant for Officebearers finally being adopted by Synod 2012. The second revision committee came back with a proposal in 2011 that was very similar to the original form of subscription but in modern, more celebratory language and much more pastoral toward those officers who have some disagreements with the confessions of the church. Synod 2011 asked that the new Covenant for Officebearers demonstrate even more commitment to the creeds and confessions of the church.  The revision committee made some of the suggested changes but not all, the Advisory Committee put in the remaining changes suggested by Synod 2012. The new Covenant for Officebears as adopted by Synod 2012 now contains a very strong commitment to the creeds and confessions.

The Form of Subscription Revision Committee II made a few changes at the request of Synod 2011. These were incorporated into the final adopted document:

which proclaims the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of all things in him.

in the opening sentence was replaced by

which proclaims the good news of God’s creation and redemption through Jesus Christ.

because the former was thought to suggest universalism.

Grateful for these expressions of faith, we promise to be formed and governed by them, conforming our preaching, teaching, writing, serving, and living to them.

in the fourth paragraph was changed to include the stronger language

Grateful for these expressions of faith, we promise to be formed and governed by them. We heartily believe and will promote their doctrines faithfully, conforming our preaching, teaching, writing, serving, and living to them.

The Advisory Committee made a few additional changes all of which were incorporated in the final adopted version.

The phrase

whose doctrines fully agree with the Word of God

was added after the list of the three Reformed confessions (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort).

The statement

We heartily believe and will promote their doctrines…

was changed to

We heartily believe and will promote and defend their doctrines…

The word “affirm” was changed to “recognize” in reference to Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony slightly weakening the commitment there.

In the sixth paragraph that talks about what to do when an office bearer disagrees with one of the doctrines of the confessions

is irreconcilable with God’s Word…

was changed to

is not the teaching of God’s Word…

Finally, the sentence

If the church asks, we will give a full explanation of our views.

was added as new penultimate sentence in the sixth paragraph.

Remarkably, one amendment was made from the floor of synod upon the advice of one of the young adult representatives and one of the faculty advisors. The opening sentence that declares our commitment to scripture

We believe the inspired Word of God as received in the Old and New Testaments of Holy Scripture

was thought to be open to liberal and neo-orthodox interpretations. It was changed to

We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God.

In the end the new Covenant for Officebearers passed unanimously. It seems to me that the changes that were made make the new Covenant for Officebearers quite similar to the old Form of Subscription in regard to the degree that office bearers are bound to the church’s confessions.

Creation Stewardship Task Force

In response to the Board of Trustees’ adoption of the Micah Network’s “Declaration on Creation Stewardship and Climate Change” Synod 2010 asked for a Creation Stewardship Task Force to report to Synod 2012 with a mandate

to identify a biblical and Reformed perspective of our position on creation stewardship, including climate change, applicable to this millennium, for congregations, society, and our global gospel partners.

In part the issue was raised out of a concern that the Board of Trustees ought not adopt statements on matters outside the expertise of synod delegates. One of the grounds was

There is an urgent need to focus on the biblical and Reformed perspective so that we may unify our community around common ground and enable the formulation of concrete positive action strategies.

The recommendations of the Creation Stewardship Task Force were somewhat controversial with there being five overtures leaning against the recommendations (with one overture asking for adoption). Synod’s Advisory Committee modified the original recommendations to make them less controversial. Even with these modifications, the recommendation stirred up much debate requiring an entire evening session and some time the next morning. In the end the recommendations as presented by the Advisory Committee passed. The Task Force report included a 27 page appendix entitled “A Climate Change Primer” that spelled out the current scientific consensus among climatologists concerning the matter of human-induced climate change. Interestingly, I could have used that document as the textbook for the greenhouse gases and energy units of my Chemistry 103 “Chemistry in Context” course for non-science majors that I taught this past spring at Colorado State University. It was somewhat surprising to see such a scientific treatise in the Agenda for Synod.

The Advisory Committee changed the order of the original recommendations of the Task Force so that the first recommendation was an affirmation of Biblical and theological principles. Synod 2012 adopted the following:

That synod re-affirm biblical principles of responsible dominion, care, and stewardship of creation as articulated in Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony and referenced in section IV, A of the Creation Stewardship Task Force report (Agenda for Synod 2012, pp. 295-301; Contemporary Testimony Pars. 7-10, 13, 15, 18, 23-25, 43, 44, 50, 51, 55-58, also paragraph 16).

The original Creation Stewardship Task Force asked Synod to state the following:

That synod declare that both Scripture and continually emerging scientific knowledge are necessary and valid ways of knowing that should guide our response to creation stewardship issues, including climate change.

Many regarded this as putting science and the Bible on equal ground. The Advisory Committee’s recommendation was adopted instead after a small amendment from the floor of synod:

That synod reaffirm that continually emerging science is a valid and necessary source for knowledge about God’s world and should therefore guide us, along with scripture, in our love of God and neighbors, including care for the creation (cf. Par. 50 of the Contemporary Testimony).

Then we got to the crucial recommendation where the Task Force asked Synod to

Affirm the following findings concerning climate change and that it commend them to the churches as guides to prayer, discussion, direct action, and advocacy:

  1. Climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity.
  2. Human-induced climate change is a moral, ethical, and religious issue.
  3. Human-induced climate change poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable.
  4. Human-induced climate change poses a significant challenge to us all.
  5. Urgent action is required to address climate change. This includes actions at the personal, community, and political levels toward reducing human causes of climate change and mobilizing ourselves to urgent assistance of those who are forced to adapt to its negative effects.

Many delegates, including me, appeared to be concerned that Synod was being asked to make scientific and political statements concerning the question of human-induced climate change. Is this really the task of the church? Is it really an ecclesiastical matter (as the Church Order restricts Synods to considering)? (See the discussion later about Church as institute vs. Church as organism.) Even if human-induced climate change is true and will wreak havoc with the world’s economic and political systems, is it the work of the church to make such scientific, economic, and political declarations? Some delegates were global warming skeptics and even more alarmed at the recommendations of the Task Force. Thankfully, the Advisory Committee had members that shared some of these concerns and tweaked the original recommendations in such a way as to make them more acceptable to delegates that had concerns. The Advisory Committee recommendations were adopted by Synod. The Synod “recognized” that there was a “near-consensus of the international scientific community” concerning human-induced climate change “recognized that human-induced climate change is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue, and that the “precautionary principle compels us” to take action. The precautionary principle is the idea that even though there are uncertainties involved that it is wise to take action in light of the potentially catastrophic consequences. Then Synod adopted a series of recommendations calling the churches and members to action promoting stewardship, protecting the poor and vulnerable, protecting future generations, and reducing our carbon emissions, and educating our churches and members on the issue.

While I personally am not a climate change skeptic (I taught a lot of the science that was in the report to my Colorado State University Chemistry 103 class) and I am grateful for the Advisory Committee’s adjustments, I still question whether or not the church should be making these sorts of recommendations. I don’t question that Christians who are scientists, climatologists, environmentalists, economists, politicians, and relief workers ought to be active in this area. Of course, they should be–as we should be in all areas of life, bringing the truths of God’s Word to a broken world. But the church as church has no expertise in these areas. It was clear that very few of the ministers and elders voting on this had any competence to judge the merits of the science or the economic policies presented. It was also clear that there was disagreement on the science, the economics, and the politics. We can agree on the need for Creation care. We can agree on the need for the church to do good deeds in the name of Christ to help the poor and vulnerable. Beyond that requires special expertise that the church does not have. Individual Christians do have such expertise and need to wield that expertise in Christ’s name in their vocation.

At one point a speaker argued that Synod’s decision in 2010 about human evolutionary ancestors was an example that should make it clear that the church makes these sorts of declarations all the time. Since I was involved in that matter directly I would suggest that that is not at all the lesson one should take away. Declaration F from Synod 1991 which said that there could be no evolutionary ancestors was an example of the church making a scientific declaration outside of its expertise and authority as church. There are ways, for example, for the church to maintain the Biblical and confessional witness for a historical Adam and Eve and a historical Fall, and allow for some kind of evolutionary ancestry. Synod 2010 rightly undid the error of 1991 by keeping the church’s declarations on appropriate matters, i.e. interpretation and application of scripture and theology. In no way did Synod’s decision declare that any particular scientific view was correct.

A speech I wish I had given at Synod but only conceived of after the fact was along the same lines. What if the Task Force, the Advisory Committee, and Synod had been populated by a majority of climate change skeptics? What if the final word would have been that all the concern about climate change is based on a hoax? What if there had been declarations that the economic and political concerns were really about leftists’ attempts to regulate our lives, restrict our freedoms, and redistribute wealth? I guarantee to you that many of the scientists in our denomination would have been outraged. The church has made mistaken scientific pronouncements before (i.e. Declaration F from 1991). It’s not the church’s place to make such pronouncements. It is the church’s place to call us to Creation care (whether human-induced climate change is true or not), to call us to care for the poor and vulnerable (no matter what is the cause of their need), and to call us to work for justice, especially in the church, but also in society at large.

Despite my misgivings, the Primer on Climate Change is a good survey of the issues written by practicing scientists with Christian and Reformed perspectives on their work as scientists. The precautionary principle leads us on a very wise course on this issue. We all need to be reminded of moderation in our life-style especially when we live in a society of extravagance, over-abundance, and waste. Finally, loving our neighbor, especially in the modern globalized context that we find ourselves, means that we use our abundance to help those in need.

Church As Institute vs. Church As Organism

The Report of the Creation Stewardship Task Force (and the situation which prompted it) and perceived implications of the Belhar Confession have potentially non-ecclesiastical (i.e. scientific, economic, political, etc.) aspects. The CRC Office of Social Justice tackles all sorts of similar topics (immigration, abortion, poverty, fair trade, millennium development goals, Middle East conflict, etc.). Some question whether or not the church should be involved in these matters (again, without questioning whether or not Christians should be involved in these matters). See my article “Whatever Happened to Sphere Sovereignty?” ( ) written about a year ago. Two overtures came to Synod expressing concern about the increasing tendency for the church to address these alleged non-ecclesiastical matters. One of the overtures asked for a study committee to study the distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. Synod declined to create a study committee, but in response to the overture adopted the following recommendation

That synod instruct the Executive Director to draft a pastoral letter:

  1. Urging the church on all levels (congregations, classes, and denominational agencies and officers) to reflect on the issues and concerns that Overture 3 raises.
  2. Urging the church on all levels (congregations, classes, and denominational agencies, and officers) to take note of the full range of ethical positions that the CRC has adopted through the years (readily available on the CRC’s website).
  3. Admonishing all those who speak on behalf of the church to speak with discernment as to how their words will be received by those on whose behalf they speak.
  4. Admonishing all members to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19), seeking the unity in Christ, which is both the gift and calling of the church, and the love by which, according to Jesus, all people will know that we are his disciples.

with grounds

  1. Discernment is better found through continued respectful conversation, rather than through attempting to formulate prescriptions as to how the church speaks on issues of the day.
  2. Out of these multiple conversations, the church may find various ways to address the concerns raised in the overture, and move toward greater unity in its witness to the world.

I plan to do some reading and research in the coming year on this issue to give heed to Synod’s advice. Interestingly, the preliminary report of the Office of Deacon Task Force ( ) addresses some of these issues, although in a matter that actually expands the work of the institutional church rather than narrowing it as many would like to see.

Lift Up Your Heart Hymnal

The new hymnal from Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the CRCNA, is nearly finished. Faith Alive asked synod to endorse the new hymnal for use in the churches, which it did. The only controversy here was that neither Synod nor one of its Advisory Committees had actually reviewed in detail every hymn. This concern was dispelled by reminding Synod that it was not a replacement for the Psalter Hymnal and that it was a project of Faith Alive and not the Synod (like other songbooks and secondary hymnals in the past) and that Faith Alive had a thorough review process involving musical review and theological review. Songs from the new hymnal were used in all of synod’s worship services and a special hymn sing on Sunday night. Marketing research by Faith Alive shows that there is still a significant number of churches in the CRCNA and in the RCA that use hymnals rather than projection systems in their worship. There will be numerous electronic resources with the new hymnal that will be valuable even for those congregations that use projection systems primarily.

Name Changes

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2012. Synod approved a request from CRWRC that its name be changed to World Renew with a tag line of “Living Justice Loving Mercy Serving Christ”. Some questioned the removal the word “Christian” or the identification with “Christian Reformed” but these concerns did not carry the day. CRWRC’s ministry has moved beyond relief which is only about half of what it does–community development is another significant aspect of its ministry. Also, having the word “Christian” in the name makes it impossible to serve in some parts of the world. Canadian Director, Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo said “We don’t lose our Christian faith by what we are called. Once we gain entry, we continue to live out our values as a Christian ministry.”

The term “Ministry Associate” was changed to “Commissioned Pastor”. Ministry Associates are pastors, church planters, youth pastors, worship pastors, campus pastors, etc. that are called to serve in full-time church work in local congregations. Ordinarily, these individuals do not have a seminary degree and have not been approved for service by the seminary or the Synod for service across the denomination. Yet they are gifted and called by God to serve in their churches in full-time staff ministry. This category of ordained officer in the CRC used to be called “Evangelist”. The term “Commissioned Pastor” was regarded as being a more accurate descriptor for what many of these people do, especially those involved in pastoring churches.

Calvin College Matter

Concern about some writings of Calvin College religion department professors on Adam and Eve had been expressed at Synod 2011. One of Synod’s advisory committees met with Calvin College representatives on this matter receiving a progress report of sorts. The advisory committee made the following recommendation

That synod take note that Advisory Committee 3 received an update from representatives of Calvin College on the progress of their study on “the limits of academic freedom within the bounds of confessional fidelity” which Synod 2011 asked them to submit upon completion of the study (cf. Article 49, D.2 in the 2011 Acts of Synod). They indicated that they will continue their conversation with further input from other Reformed colleagues, and could, if requested, have a report ready for Synod 2014. They have an interim report entitled, “Evolution, Human Origins, and Confessional Parameters,” available on the Calvin web site ( ), which they encourage people to read and provide feedback.


That synod request Calvin College to submit to Synod 2014 a report on the study about academic freedom and the confessions referenced in the Acts of Synod 2011 (Article 49, D.2).

Doctrine of Discovery

Included in the Report of the Creation Stewardship Task Force was a discussion of the notion of “dominion” which is part of the Biblical teaching on Creation Care (Genesis 1:26-28 and Psalm 8:6-8). In a discussion of the misappropriate of dominion the Task Force considered the “Doctrine of Discovery” which was the basis of European and Western domination of indigenous peoples during the “Age of Exploration” often for the cause of Christian missions. This resulted in indigenous peoples having their land taken away, being relocated to reservations, having lands and resources taken by the explorers, etc. In the USA and Canada, children of native Americans and First Nations peoples were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools where they were educated with total disregard of their native culture. In light of this the Synod adopted the following recommendation (which was a reworked version of one of the recommendations of the Creation Stewardship Task Force):

That synod affirm the necessity for the CRC to examine, better understand, and respond to the “Doctrine of Discovery” and related legal instruments—particularly in their origins, their historical effects, and their continuing effects on indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. To that end synod instructs the Board of Trustees to form a small task force with a clear mandate, process, and time frame composed of knowledgeable CRC staff, board members, and appropriate resource persons. The task force will be expected to keep the church informed throughout its work and to conclude its work with a summary report of its findings and, if appropriate, recommendations to the Board of Trustees and synod for further action.

Ground: This responds appropriately to the Creation Stewardship Task Force report’s conclusions that, although a deeper understanding of the “Doctrine of Discovery” and related legal instruments could be very helpful in clarifying our cultural attitudes toward caring for creation, the issues raised by the “Doctrine of Discovery” and related instruments cut deeply across the entire spectrum of the church’s life and ministry in Canadian and U.S. society and, therefore, merit a separate effort.

Certainly, injustices were carried out against indigenous peoples by western Europeans, Americans, and Canadians as they explored the rest of the world and took control of many parts of the world in many cases making it their own in disregard of the original inhabitants. What appropriate restitution looks like is a vexing question in light of the unfolding of modern history. Often these injustices were performed by Christians more influenced by the spirit of the age rather than a Biblical sense of justice. As obvious as these things are I am still left with some nagging questions. In the mystery of his providence God has used this mindset to evangelize the nations. The modern missions movement followed on the heals of western colonialism with the result that the church was brought to the nations and peoples of the world. Often this has been done with a blatant disregard of the indigenous culture–it’s unsettling to hear Chinese Christians in China singing “This Is My Father’s World”–at least they are singing in Mandarin. Nonetheless, Christ has been made known to the nations and the nations are now worshiping the triune God. In addition, those who have come to Christ have turned from their idols and false religions to worship the true and living God. While much in these cultures is to be celebrated and preserved, part of turning to Christ is turning away from cultural practices that are contrary to God’s ways. God has used our foolishness and our injustice to further his kingdom. In retrospect we can confess these things and set them right, especially in the church. One other question is that about our fundamental identity. The dividing wall has been broken down and our fundamental identity is our identity in Christ as the one people of God. Racial, ethnic, national identity are all subservient to that new identity in Christ. Again, this does not mean that we ignore our cultural heritages, but it does mean that they take second place to our common cultural heritage in Christ. His story is our story. His ways are our ways. His kingdom is our kingdom. His work in the world is our work in the world.

Joys of Synod

Worship at Synod was a treat. The Lord’s Prayer was used to structure our worship times and we were led in song by members of the new hymnal committee. It’s fantastic to see and hear the diversity and worldwide presence of God’s people. Prayers in many languages. Greetings from ecumenical delegates from all over the world. Renewing old friendships, making new ones, amazing conversations are all part of the unofficial synod business. Having the joint worship and prayer time with the young adults conference was a great experience. I wanted to hear more of what they were doing. We heard educational and inspiring interviews with the incoming Calvin College president, Dr. Michael Le Roy, and a new Calvin Seminary professor, Michael Goheen. We heard the reflections of outgoing Calvin College president Galen Byker. We heard greetings and challenges from Tom DeVries, the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America. Although we started meetings at 8 am every day and worked till 9 or even later on a couple of nights, there was good food at meal times and breaks mid-morning and afternoon with refreshments. This was my second CRCNA synod and it was a delight to see the church at work once again.

Can a Christian Be an Evolutionist?

The theory of biological evolution is widely acknowledged in the scientific community as the great unifying theory in biology. Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr writes:

The theory of evolution is quite rightly called the greatest unifying theory in biology. The diversity of organisms, similarities and differences between kinds of organisms, patterns of distribution and behavior, adaptation and interaction, all this was merely a bewildering chaos of facts until given meaning by the evolutionary theory. There is no area of biology in which that theory has not served as an ordering principle (Animal Species and Evolution).

The neo-Darwinian synthesis, the version of evolutionary theory that arose in the 1940’s, brought together taxonomists, ecologists, and geneticists with the recognition of the importance of geography and population biology in evolutionary change. Consequently, among all branches of biology evolutionary theory commands nearly universal acceptance. Not only does evolutionary theory organize the various branches of biology, but each of them contribute somewhat independently to a unified coherent theory. Paleontology, classical and molecular genetics, population biology, sociobiology, taxonomy, developmental biology and biochemistry have joined together to contribute to the grand universally accepted synthesis. This is not to say that these contributors do not argue among themselves concerning the relative weight and interpretation of their respective contributions, but these are in-house discussions. Among professional biologists evolutionary theory is considered not only the best explanation of the available data, but a very good explanation of that data.

Of course, universal acceptance of a theory does not necessarily mean that it is correct or even that those who accept it accept it on the basis of the empirical evidence. Critics of evolutionary theory often claim that a deeply rooted religious commitment to atheistic naturalism drives most of the scientific community to accept evolution. In other words, evolution (together with big bang theory, chemical evolution, plate tectonics and other geological theories) is part of a “religious” origins account for the atheistic naturalist. Recent criticisms along these lines include those by Phillip Johnson (Darwin on Trial) and Alvin Plantinga (Christian Scholar’s Review, Special Issue: Creation/Evolution and Faith, “When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible” and responses). There is no doubt that some evolutionists, especially those who write for a more general audience, have used evolutionary theory to support their atheistic views. Perhaps the most celebrated example of this is the widely quoted statement of Richard Dawkins (author of The Blind Watchmaker) “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Plantinga claims that given atheism, evolution is a warranted theory, but that given theism (which all Christian would admit), the empirical evidence for evolution is not compelling and that some sort of special creationism seems more likely. Plantinga seems ready to admit to some of the evolutionary claims, but believes that at key junctures in the theory (e.g. origin of life, the pre-Cambrian explosion, origin of human beings, and perhaps other sudden appearances of new forms) that a more warranted explanation, given theism, is to call upon some act of special creation.

In principle, I sympathize with the claims of Plantinga and Johnson. Certainly, some evolutionists use this biological theory to buttress their atheistic worldview and Christian scholars are called upon to point out this use of evolutionary theory. Also, the atheist, who has no origins alternative, has much at stake, morally and existentially, in denying God a role in creation. Christian scientists must be cognizant of these non-scientific factors at work in the theorizing that occurs in the professional community. However, having said this, I do not agree with Plantinga in his claim that, given theism, the warrant for evolution is weak. It is my judgment, as a biologist and as a theist, that the evidence for evolution is strong and that it something that the Christian community needs to wrestle with. It is interesting to note, without getting into all the historical nuances, that Darwin left England on the Beagleas a theist with special creationist leanings (like most of his contemporaries) and that it was his observations of the natural world, especially in the tropics, that led him to his evolutionary views.

The theory of biological evolution does not necessarily imply the atheistic worldview described above. In fact at several key junctures I must disagree with many of the advocates of evolution. In doing so they may even claim that I am not an evolutionist at all, but that is a conclusion that they and not one that I make. The heart of this disavowal has to do with the claim that although I accept evolution as a biological theory, I am still a Creationist. The biological theory is our human formulation (subject to on-going refinement) of God-governed “natural” processes whereby God created the vast array of living things. The word “natural” is used not in the sense of “autonomous” but in the sense of “regular” or “ordinary”. The notion of secondary cause captures the idea. God is the ultimate governor, yet He choose to govern process via regular cause and effect relations that can be understood as we observe the world. This can and should be said of every natural occurring process that can be described by science.

There are several implications of this theistic view of evolution. Since the term “theistic evolution” seems to be suspect for some reason, perhaps we should call it an “evolutionary creation”. This semantic shift makes creation the noun rather than evolution, perhaps for the better. The evolution that I hold to is not random in any ultimate sense, nor is it purposeless, nor is it without design. These are all claims that some evolutionists make. But these are metaphysical and theological claims, not scientific claims. There is a certain sense in which I believe that chance or random processes are involved in mutation or chromosome rearrangements or in recombination or chromosome pairing during meiosis or gamete fusion. These processes are empirically known to follow the laws of statistics, just as coin flipping, card drawing, or sex determination does. But this is not to say that these processes are chance or random in any ultimate sense. Since God is the ultimate governor of whatsoever comes to pass, each coin flip, card draw, or mutation is determined by his all-wise and all-holy counsel. There is even a Proverb (16:33) that says “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Design and purpose can be discussed in the same way. Just because adaptations (the excellent fit between an organism’s structure and function or environment) can be accounted for by natural selection, does not mean that there is not a divine design or purpose. That claim is fundamentally religious and atheistic. There is no necessary incompatibility between evolution by natural selection and divine design and purpose.

I can think of no better way to support my point here than by quoting from A.A. Hodge, the Old Princeton theologian whose commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and to the Reformed faith is beyond question. Hodge wrote the following in the Introduction to Theism and Evolution by Joseph S. Van Dyke and reprinted in The Princeton Theology 1812-1921 edited and compiled by Mark Noll (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1983):

Evolution considered as the plan of an infinitely wise Person and executed under the control of His everywhere present energies can never be irreligious; can never exclude design, providence, grace, or miracles. Hence we repeat that what Christians have cause to consider with apprehension is not evolution as a working hypothesis of science dealing with facts, but evolution as a philosophical speculation professing to account for the origin, causes, and end of all things.

Hodge’s colleague and contemporary at Princeton, B. B. Warfield, wrote the following in his unpublished “Lectures on Anthropology” (Dec. 1888) (cited in Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, p. 119):

The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law and which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new i.e., something not included even in posse in the preceding conditions, we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.

The lengthy citation of Abraham Kuyper (cited in Creation and Evolution by Jan Lever) is worth repeating here to express the notion that evolutionary theory is not necessarily antagonistic to the Christian faith if design and
purpose are not excluded.

An entirely different problem is that so often discussed in England whether religion permits, as such, the spontaneous evolvement of the species in the organic world from one single primary cell. That question, of course, without reservation, must be answered in the affirmative. We should not impose our style upon the Chief Architect of the universe. (emphasis mine) Provided he remains, not in appearance, but in essence, the Architect, he is also in the choice of his style of architecture the Omnipotent. If it thus had pleased the Lord not to create the species as such, but to have one species arise from the other, by designing the preceding species in such a way that it could produce the next higher, the creation would have been just as wonderful. But this never would have been the evolution of Darwinism because the predetermined plan would not then have been excluded, but would have been all predominating, and not the world had then built itself up mechanically, but God by means of elements which He himself prepared for that purpose. The contrast shows itself most clearly from an illustration selected by Haeckel. In order to remove the objection that is inherent in the mechanical explanation of a complex organism, he asks whether a Zulu Negro, who at Lorenzo Marquez sees an English armored battleship enter, would not certainly view this colossus as an organic monster, while we, of course, know very well that it has been riveted together mechanically. Everyone naturally agrees with this. But Haeckel overlooked the fact that in the shipyard the steel plates did not place themselves in the proper position, but that they have been put together by a skillful architect according to a previously prepared plan. And that same difference would differentiate such a divine evolutionistic creation from the system of the Darwinists. Evolutionistic creation presupposes a God who has first made the plan and then executes it omnipotently. Darwinism teaches the mechanical origin of things that excludes all plan or purpose or draft. The acceptance of evolutionary theory by Christians must be seen as mediate Creation, whereby God called some things into existence using pre-existing materials and ordinary means. As indicated by the above citations, these orthodox Presbyterian and Reformed theologians, found no reason to disagree with evolutionary theory as long as the certain essential characteristics were not disregarded: the dependence of the Creation on God, His design and purpose, the Creation of human beings in God’s image, and God’s freedom to act miraculously in his Creation.

An additional issue is whether or not evolutionary theory comports with specific teachings of scripture concerning the creation of all things. The days of Genesis 1 and the specific account of the creation of Adam and Eve have been particular sources of difficulty. In the orthodox Reformed tradition dating from at least the middle of the 19th century, the days of Genesis 1 have been regarded as long periods of time or as a literary framework for the execution of God’s creative decrees. My own view is the latter. Reconciling evolutionary theory with the specifics of the Genesis 2 account of the creation of Adam and Eve is much more difficult. The text of Genesis 2:7 does not appear to allow for the view that the body of Adam derived from animal ancestors. How this squares away with evidence from the created world suggesting others is still an unanswered question in my mind. Clearly, the creation of Adam as a whole human being, body and soul, in the image of God, was the result of a special miraculous act. Also, the creation of Eve as derivative from Adam was the result of a special miraculous act. This conclusion about the origin of man derives primarily from the text itself. If the text were silent on this matter, I would have no problems with a Divinely guided evolutionary origin of the first human beings.