Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dr. Waltke resigns over EVILUTION

If you have not read much about Dr. Waltke's resignation from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), check out this article on Huffington Post, .

My intention in posting this is not to villainize Dr. Waltke because of his theistic evolutionary views,or to spark a debate over which interpretation of Genesis 1 is correct, or to get into the broader topic of how natural revelation ought ought to shape our interpretation of scripture. The real issue I have with this incident is contained in a specific quote found in this article. RTS' interim president, Michael Milton, apparently defines the nub of the concern which caused Dr. Waltke's dismissal/resignation: the situation caused the school "heartache," but Waltke ultimately disobeyed the institution's mandate on evolution: No Darwinian talk allowed. So in the very words of the school president, the issue is not that Dr. Waltke holds to a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1, its that he moved from interpretation of special revelation to making judgments about natural revelation and advocated a nuanced view of theistic evolution to account for the origins of the universe.

Let's think through the issues here. RTS tolerates a variety of views on Genesis 1, including everything from Day Age to Framework Hypothesis to Accommodated Day theory, yet, all the while it permits this, it enforces a gag rule on the professors about their views concerning the age of the earth and the mechanism which generated the material world? To me, that is extremely suspect. Are we supposed to believe that all these professors who hold to non-literal views of Genesis 1 hold such positions without reference to or awareness of the massive, overwhelming, scientific consensus that the earth is billions of years old and is the product of naturalistic evolution? If you believe that, I have a bridge I would like to sell you. It is utterly dishonest to concede that because of the supposedly open and shut case for an old earth it is obvious Genesis 1 cannot be interpreted literally, yet on the earth hand, allow no discussion or provide no guidance for students to think through the proposed scientific models which are used to account for the origins of creation. At minimum, the students deserve better than that, since they are the ones who have to stand before presbyteries and classes for orthodoxy exams, and they are the ones who have to answer questions from people in their churches who will want some help in thinking through the problem of origins and the age of the earth and the mechanisms involved, if the Genesis 1 is not meant to be taken literally after all. This gag rule constitutes a major disservice to the students and is a policy that is riddled with inconsistency.

Another problem I have with this is, where does the seminary draw the line in terms of other discussions which bear upon the interface of science with scripture? Is the line arbitrarily drawn at the point of discussion about origins only, but discussion is permitted on any other topic? I noticed that RTS has a program in marriage and family therapy which certainly interacts with science. So is the policy that, when it comes to the "hard" sciences professors are gagged, but when it comes to the social sciences they are free to comment? Why permit discussions about the social sciences though? There are certainly a number of theories in the social sciences that are a serious threat to the authority of scripture, the institution of the family, and Christian ethics, if the church accepts the findings of the social sciences as valid.

It seems to me that something else is going on here. I have no proof or insider evidence, but I think this has a lot more to do with donors than it does with discussions about scientific models of origins. I think it is about fear that the spigot which controls the cash flow from the donors might just put a squeeze on the seminary budget if word gets out of classroom discussions about the evolutionary bogeyman, and that some professors are OK with that scientific model. You say, well that is fairly cynical, and at any rate why shouldn't they have a concern not to offend their donors since the seminary ostensibly exists to serve churches where these donors attend. I am not advocating a lack of concern about the donors, I guess I am failing to see how the donors are not offended about non-literal views, which are clearly motivated by "scientific evidence" for an old earth, but the donors are offended about any discussion over whether there is a scientific model of origins which is consistent with scriptural principles.

There appears to be a real disconnect here: either the church has not come to grips with the fact that it has given science the authority to control its interpretation of one of the most foundational principles of Biblical faith, or the seminary tail is wagging the proverbial dog of the church and is intellectually bullying the pew to accept a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 but is at the same time closing its eyes to the implications of such a position. At the end of the day, I hope the resignation of Dr. Waltke stimulates a very robust and honest discussion about this issue in the churches, seminary classrooms, and the pulpits, so that the church comes to a more self-conscious view of what it believes and why.

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