Amendments to the Belgic Confession? (2)

I was asked by a number of my considerate interlocutors to supplement my earlier contribution to this discussion by clarifying and substantiating claims made in my previous post. In fact, one friend found my points too random for his liking and thought I should make a second attempt to demonstrate some intelligent design. I’m happy to do so now.

But first, I want to issue a disclaimer of sorts. As much as I dislike the overture and as much as I disagree with the propriety of its proposal, I regard those who made and support it as my cherished brothers and sisters in Christ, for whom he died and rose. Moreover, I trust that behind the enthusiasm for the overture there is a godly and sincere concern for the truth of the gospel and for the health of the churches. I object to arrogance and triumphalism on all sides, and I will not be party to insincere dismissing of the overture or its supporters. I have a reputation in the federation of churches among which I serve for being more a spectator than a participant in a lot of church disputes, perhaps culpably so, and I hope my unusual foray into this dispute is interpreted to mean that I regard this overture as too important to overlook and its supporters as too sensible to dismiss.

Assessing the fundamental impetus or rationale for the overture—namely, the conviction that theistic evolution is being widely promoted in the federation, proves difficult when “theistic evolution” is mistakenly defined already in the second paragraph as “the teaching that God created the world and all organisms over billions of years.” An old universe is a component of theistic evolution, but when isolated from the other components is decidedly not theistic evolution, but the claim of old earth creationism.

The overture further alleges that some perceived-to-be theistic evolutionists within the Canadian Reformed churches teach that Adam was not the special and direct creation of God. I suspect this is a claim made by some theistic evolutionists. Not only is it not made by the scientists mentioned in the overture, however, it is something both explicitly deny. Furthermore, both scientists explicitly reject the claims that non-life produced life and that animal life produced human life and both explicitly reject the notion that the world evolved by means of natural processes. In fact, both scientists have publicly launched theological, philosophical, and scientific arguments against these claims, for which they ought be given recognition and support.

In the case of a least one of the scientists arguments are submitted in support of progressive creationism, a theory quite distinct from theistic evolution. Some find these arguments alarming because they include the presentation of data in support of the theory that God created Adam and Eve, specially and directly, from human-like ancestors. This particular scientist makes clear, however, that though he is open to discussing this possibility, he does not believe it or teach it. When this issue was discussed at Regional Synod East, this scientist was given liberty by this broader assembly to discuss and consider these theories.

I share with this scientist a fascination with the genomic similarity between chimpanzees and humans. Humans and chimps, for instance, share a broken copy of a gene that prevents them, in distinction from all other mammals, from producing vitamin C. What is remarkable about this broken copy is that its six or seven mutations are identical in chimps and humans in both character and location. To a scientist, given the yet unfalsified (though falsifiable) paradigm that prevails, this strongly suggests common ancestry. To be sure, many scientists find this to be compelling proof of common ancestry, comparable to the likelihood of plagiarism in an instance where someone includes in his illegitimate copying even the misspelled words of his source. Is this bad science? Not at all. It’s good science, the kind of science that geneticists use when they test us for inherited mutations and genetic abnormalities. Does it require us to affirm common ancestry? Not at all. It’s merely an observation requiring a lot of explanation!

This is what I was getting at in my earlier post about postulations or hypotheses and convictions. It shouldn’t need to be stated, but Reformed theology endorses academic freedom and Reformed churches, unlike cults that indoctrinate and compel adherence, invite questions and even challenges to cherished doctrines. We want to be able to stare the evidence for the evolutionary theory in the eye, admit its strength where necessary and admire its beauty where evident, and then situate all of that evidence in a wider perspective that is governed by Scripture, circumscribed by the Reformed confessions, and informed by the orthodoxy of the catholic church.

We must be hospitable to all science, including evolutionary science. I’m not a fan of Richard Dawkins, but I found his book, The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution, to be riveting and breath-taking. Sadly for Dawkins, the book did little to dislodge by faith in Christ or my trust in Scripture, but it did make me wonder how Dawkins could recognize such beauty and design in the universe and fail to acknowledge the Artist and Designer.

I remain grateful for the zeal of the delegates of Classis Ontario West (even when misplaced), but I’m also grateful for the industry and integrity of scientists in the federation, and I yearn for a day when these issues can be discussed fraternally, without rancour.

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