Thanks to everyone for your welcoming comments. I want to start by giving an overview of my own positions and the topics on which I believe I can make a profitable contribution here.
I’m called a theistic evolutionist. I have significant problems with that designation, though I find it necessary to use it at times. First, I accept the biological theory of evolution. It’s not a doctrine, it’s not a philosophy, it’s not my religion; I accept it as a valuable and overwhelmingly well-documented and supported scientific theory. Second, I am a theist, in that I believe in a personal God. The second does not impact the first. There would be no difference in my formulation of any scientific statement about evolution and that of an atheist. There is no such thing as a theory of “theistic evolution,” there is only the theory of evolution. But because there are those who assume that the debate over creation and evolution is one between theism and atheism, it is necessary to make that designation.
So what am I doing here?
Let me note that I was trained by the other side. I grew up as a young earth creationist. I have literature from the young earth camp that I purchased as a teenager. I went to a private, Christian elementary school where we memorized Genesis 1 & 2 and were indoctrinated in the clearly literal intent. Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are from Seventh-day Adventist schools, and the SDA position has long been strong young earth support.
I came to accept and understand evolutionary theory (to a limited extent as a non-scientist) first through Bible study. I took my first personal step away from a young earth position in writing a research paper on textual issues with the genealogies of Genesis 5 & 11. At the time, I simply thought that in order to accommodate the evidence from archeology, we would probably need about 100,000 years, considering population growth, migration and so forth. I followed this by studying the cosmology and imagery behind the creation stories of Genesis and other parts of the Bible, and comparing them with their counterparts in neighboring cultures. As a result, I came to understand that there is nothing in the Biblical text that cannot be explained entirely by an understanding of contemporary cosmology in the ancient near east, and that there is no implication of any modern scientific understanding in those texts.
At this point I still had no understanding at all of either geology or the theory of evolution. That had to wait for a number of wonderful trips through the western states with roadside geology books in hand as I watched the elements of evolution and geological processes fall into place for me.
I say all this because I am often confronted by the assumption that I learned about evolution in public school (I never spent a day in a public school classroom) and was indoctrinated in the “worldview” of evolution and then abandoned my previous belief in Genesis. The process was, in fact, the reverse. By studying the texts, I found that they could not be taken as any form of scientific statement, that they could not possibly be regarded as narrative history, that they had no claim to chronological accuracy, and thus they must be rejected as an explanation of the origin of the diversity of life and the early history of humanity. It was only after I had done so that I read my first books on origins written by authors who were not young earth creationists. (I exempt my High School biology text, because I was required to read a creationist book alongside it to prevent me from believing any of the evolutionary theory presented.)
Because of my background and training, I plan to contribute posts in the following three areas:
- Literary and critical studies of the Biblical stories relating to creation and human prehistory. I have already published a translation of the flood stories, disentangling and annotating the sources (http://energion.com/rpp/flood.shtml, and I intend to follow with a similar breakdown of all of Genesis 1-11. I will also write about the genre of the literature involved and how we understand it.
- Specific religious elements of the arguments and goals of the creationist and intelligent design movements. I find these as objectionable from a religious point of view as I do from a scientific one. I will argue that we must allow the science curriculum to be driven by the concensus of scientists, and that giving the force, authority and financial backing of the state to religious doctrine is destructive both of the state and of spirituality.
- Theological (and just logical) problems with intelligent design theory. I believe this is simply another means to get the support of the state for a particular religious doctrine. I believe it is both bad theology and bad science. In fact, it is generally bad theology that requires the combination of disguise and government authority in order to gain acceptance.
Finally, I note that while I have been called a theologian in some of the responses to the post introducing me, that’s not my profession. My field is Biblical languages most specifically and Biblical studies in general. Thus I will focus on the first item I listed. My best area of contribution to this debate, I believe, is in the serious study of the literature.