The Creation-Evolution debate

imgresSometimes we may be inclined to think that everything that could be said about the creation-evolution debate has been said, but in this article, Tim Keller re-visits the discussion and makes some interesting points. It was a paper  entitled “Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople” which he gave last year at a conference sponsored by his church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Other papers are available through the Biologos Forum website.

He addresses the perception that many people hold, namely, that if you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution, and if you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God. Are science and faith irreconciliable and mutually contradictory?

However, he does recognise the real difficulties that evolutionary theory presents for Christians. Keller writes, “In my estimation what current science tells us about evolution presents four main difficulties for orthodox Protestants”. The four main areas that he identifies are these:

Biblical authority: accepting evolution means we must take Genesis 1 as non-literal. What is the relationship between faithfulness to the Scriptures and literalism?

Confusion of biology and philosophy: The strongest proponents of evolution (including Dawkins) take it as a “Grand Theory of Everything,” which essential is a worldview that attempts to explain all deep philosophical and existential questions through evolutionary biology. Does accepting evolution necessarily mean that we must accept this “Grand Theory”?

The historicity of Adam and Eve: If they are only symbolic in Genesis 1-3, how do we handle Romans 5 & 1 Corinthians 15, which tells us that our sinfulness comes from Adam? If we don’t believe in a historical fall, how do we explain our “fallenness”?

The problem of violence and evil: In Keller’s words, “The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops. If God brings about life through evolution, how do we reconcile that with the idea of a good God? The problem of evil seems to be worse for the believer in theistic evolution” .

In pastoral ministry, Keller has found the first three areas as the most pressing concerns from parishioners. Before getting into his answers to these questions, there is a really remarkable statement that Keller delivers in regards to the role of the pastor:

In short, if I as a pastor want to help both believers and inquirers to relate science and faith coherently, I must read the works of scientists, exegetes, philosophers, and theologians and then interpret them for my people. Someone might counter that this is too great a burden to put on pastors, that instead they should simply refer their laypeople to the works of scholars. But if pastors are not ‘up to the job’ of distilling and understanding the writings of scholars in various disciplines, how will our laypeople do it?

It really is a big challenge for pastors and preachers, and another reason why churches need not only good and godly men as ministers, but men who can think clearly and assess arguments in order to communicate effectively to their flock.

This is an interesting and challenging article that people on every side of the debate may find stimulating. His conclusion is that “Christians who are seeking to correlate Scripture and science must be a ‘bigger tent’ than either the anti-scientific religionists or the anti-religious scientists.” The text of the paper is below the fold. Continue reading “The Creation-Evolution debate”

PMS update

There was some discussion of the PMS crisis at the Assembly this week. Here’s what was said:

4. Mr Storey asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to outline the likely timescale for resolving the issues surrounding the Presbyterian Mutual Society.  (AQO 460/11)

The Minister of Finance and Personnel  (Mr S Wilson): The spending review, which was announced on 20 October, confirmed that the Government’s contribution to the proposed Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) solution will be available in the 2011-12 financial year. However, a number of local and EU agreements are required before payments can be made. Executive and Assembly agreement to the overall package can be secured as part of the Budget process. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) will take the lead on the Assembly legislation necessary to seek EU state aid approval for the loan. I hope that that work will be progressed as quickly as possible. We are working towards resolving all the issues for the 2011-12 Budget. However, I remind Members that any delay in establishing and agreeing the Budget will have a knock-on impact on the PMS solution.

Mr Storey: I thank the Minister for his answer about an issue that is of grave concern to a considerable number of people in Northern Ireland. One of the outstanding matters is that of small investors. Will the Minister outline today what further steps can be taken to ensure that those investors get 100% of their moneys back?

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: A lot of the Assembly’s attention has been focused on the small investors, who make up around 66% of those who have money in the PMS. Although we want to try to ensure that as much money goes back to all the investors as quickly as possible, most of the Members who have raised the issue in the Assembly have been particularly concerned about the small investors. What can be done to ensure that those investors get all their money back as quickly as possible? Obviously, the bigger the mutual access fund, the more money there will be to give to small investors. The Government at Westminster have put up £25 million, as have the Executive, and the Church has committed £1 million. Obviously, if the Church could provide additional money to increase that mutual access fund, there would be an ability to give much greater sums of money back to small investors.

Mr O’Loan: I am very keen that a fair solution be found for PMS savers, particularly, small personal savers, as the Minister and the Member who asked the question said, and long-term savers with the society. Nonetheless, does the Minister agree that the solution must be proper, fair and proportionate to all members of the community whom we serve and that it must reflect the Assembly and the Executive’s position vis-à-vis that of the Treasury? Does he also agree that there have to be concerns about what is in the public arena on the potential risk to the Assembly, the Executive and their future finances?

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: From the question, I am not too sure whether the Member is supportive of sorting out the PMS issue or whether he is actually trying to throw objections into the pot. Maybe we will get some clarification about that from his party at some stage. On the one hand, it appears publicly to support the savers, but, on the other hand, it seems — by the tone and nature of that question— to raise some doubt about whether that should be done.

I assure the Assembly that we have gone through a long process with the Treasury. It has looked closely at the figures for the liabilities, the value of the assets and what is likely to be raised from those assets over a 10-year period. The indications are that the £175 million loan that we will take out, which will not impact on the capital programme for the Assembly as it will be over and above what we have been allowed to raise through loans for capital projects, will be not only serviced but paid back. From the surplus, we will be able to reimburse the money that will be put up for the mutual access fund. That is the intention. The quicker the property market picks up, the quicker that money can be paid back. It is on that basis that we have proceeded.

Since it was a question asked by a DUP member to a DUP Minister, it is clear that the Minister wanted to say something. I believe he is making three points:
1. So long as the Assembly delays in arriving at an agreed budget, the resolution of the PMS situation will be delayed.
2. The more money the church contributes to the Mutual Access Fund, the more there will be for smaller savers. The General Assembly has pledged £1 million and has, as yet, not been asked to increase its contribution.
3. The Northern Ireland Executive is not making a gift of £25 million to the rescue package but are planning to have any contribution to the Mutual Access Fund reimbursed to them.
These issues will undoubtedly cause some debate and discussion among PMS savers. There is so much to be said, but most savers are hoping that soon all the hurdles will be surmounted and a resolution will be arrived at. The pain and anxiety has gone on far too long.

Rory’s staying closer to home

rory-mcilroyYou have to say that the young man, Rory McIlroy, is not only a great golfer (currently number 9 in the world) and a great ambassador for Northern Ireland, but is also showing remarkable wisdom. He has not been seduced by the American dollar and has decided to play most of his golf on this side of the Atlantic.

I like the bit where he said he found himself sitting in an American hotel room watching the European Tour on the Golf Channel and thinking to himself, “That’s where I want to be.” It’s good to know where you belong and where you want to be.

Clearly he understands that there is much more to life than making loads of money. He has already made a small fortune and will probably make much more money in the future, but it’s encouraging that he realises that there are other aspects to life that are important, and that relationships and friendships are very precious. By showing this kind of wisdom, he might avoid the awful mess that his colleague Tiger Woods has made of his situation.

Well done, Rory. And maybe with this decision he will be able to be a more regular visitor to Ravenhill to stand up for some other of his fellow Ulstermen.

Heaney’s Miracle


A few months ago, Seamus Heaney’s twelfth collection of poems, entitled “Human Chain”, was published, and with much acclaim. The central poem, “Miracle”, was directly inspired by a stroke he suffered a few years ago. Recalling the people who helped him receive prompt medical attention, he draws on the biblical imagery of the men who carried a paralysed man to Jesus to be healed. In a radio interview Heaney said, “I realised the guys that are hardly mentioned are central… without them no miracle would have happened.”

As with many of Heaney’s poems, there is much more being said than is immediately apparent.

“Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,

Their slight light-headedness and incredulity

To pass, those ones who had known him all along.”

The only way some of us know that paid-out ropes burn our hands is because we have helped to lower a loved one’s body into a grave. It is a most solemn moment. The paralysed man’s friends, because of his illness, might have expected to have been his pall-bearers. But in this story when they lowered him into the presence of Jesus, it resulted in a remarkable outcome. They did so in faith, and it resulted in life and vitality that was both physical and spiritual.

Like Heaney’s poem, the story of the healing of the paralysed man operates on a number of levels. It is a wonderful story about the resourcefulness of the man’s friends in getting him in front of Jesus. They were men of faith. They really believed that God was at work through Jesus and that all their effort in getting their friend into the house where Jesus was present would be worthwhile. And it was.

But it is also a story about the remarkable insight which Jesus possessed with regard to human needs. Jesus penetrates beneath the surface of the man’s physical disability and addresses his underlying spiritual need. There were important issues in his life that ran deeper than his need for physical healing. He needed to be made right with God. He needed to be forgiven of his sin.

Jesus spoke a word of forgiveness to him and immediately he stood up, took what he had been lying on, and went home praising God.

The story also highlights how radically different Jesus was from the Jewish religious establishment. Luke records that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting in the house, watching Jesus and listening to him. They believed that the only way God forgave sins was within their system, through the temple and all the rituals of cleansing and sacrifices that went on there. If anyone could speak for God and declare to the people that God had forgiven their sins, then it was their priests, and particularly the high priest.

But Jesus cuts through all that traditional understanding and declares on his own authority, and in view of the faith of his friends, that this paralysed man was forgiven. He is claiming to speak for God in a way which challenges and undercuts the traditional channels of authority.

Jesus explains what he is doing by using a mysterious phrase, “the Son of Man” to describe himself. Jewish hearers would immediately recall a passage in the Old Testament, in the book of Daniel, where “one like a son of man” is brought before God and, after a time of great persecution, is given authority over the world. Many Jews understood that this person would be the Messiah, the one through whom God would set up his kingdom after Israel’s long suffering.

Not everyone would have understood what Jesus meant. His actions and words were part of God’s kingdom work and God would ultimately vindicate him. The healing of the paralysed man functions as a sign that Jesus’ authority was real and that he was Messiah.

No wonder the crowd was amazed. Luke says, “They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” The word “remarkable” in the original language means things you wouldn’t normally expect. For those people who followed Jesus, there were plenty more remarkable things to come.

When people come to Jesus today, even with a grain of faith, the remarkable and unexpected can and does occur. People who are helpless and paralysed by sin know new life and new freedom. People who are guilty are forgiven. And people who are spiritually dead come to life. It can be so remarkable that for those who look on it results in what Heaney calls “slight light-headedness and incredulity”.