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Evolution & the Bible: Irreconcilable Differences? (Part 1 of 8)

Can evolution be reconciled with the Bible?  Ben Spackman is a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University, and he says “Yes, but not the way people think.”  He introduces us to the idea of “Concordism.”  What is that?

Ben: This is not a question that is answered easily within 30 seconds, because it requires dealing with assumptions that people don’t even know they have. The main one is something called “concordism.” It’s an assumption that science, especially evolution or the age of the earth or various aspects of that, and scripture are speaking the same language. They’re talking about the same thing and therefore they have to match up or one of them is false. They have to be in concord with each other.

The assumption that Genesis is providing a natural history of the earth, a physical history of the earth, is simply not an accurate assumption, but most people have it. So you end up going in a couple of different ways. You have people who say, well, this is what my reading of the Bible says, so I’m going to make the science match that. You get young-earth creationists who say that the earth is only a couple of thousand years old. Everything was created more or less in its current form as we know it within the last couple of thousand years. Then you have the people who go the other way and they say, well, here’s what science tells us. So obviously that’s what scripture must be saying in some kind of veiled or poetic or metaphoric way.

You may wonder why I decided to talk to Ben. He has a very interesting background.

Ben:  If you really want to understand evolution and how different religious people have thought about it, you need three different areas of expertise. You need to understand the science of evolution, at least basically. That’s what my two major rounds of science as an undergrad and then as a post-bacc premed have given me. I have more science than a lot of people. But you also need history, especially intellectual history of about the last 500 years. That is history of ideas. That’s where two of my three Ph.D. exams come in, American Religious History and Reformation History. My third exam will be History of Science. So I’m really getting at the history of the worldview that people have today that leads them to read Genesis in certain ways. What are the roots of that worldview, of those unspoken assumptions back 500 years ago?

The third leg you need– so you need history, you need science, then you have to control the biblical interpretation. You have to be able to look at the Bible in its ancient setting, in its Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek. The problem is that many people who write about evolution are scientists. They don’t have the history and they don’t control scripture. Most of the people who write about this, well, let me limit myself to a Latter-day Saint context. Most Latter-day Saints who have written about reconciling science and religion or evolution have either been scientists, so they get the science down well, but they don’t do the history or the scripture.

Most of the people who have written about it from a scriptural perspective, they don’t know the history. They don’t know the science. Because of our 19th century populist inheritance in Mormonism, that is, we were very skeptical of experts, very skeptical of clergy, very skeptical of authority telling us what this had to mean. If you look at all the books that have been written by a Latter-day Saints on this topic, the vast majority of them have no relevant expertise at all. They’re lawyers. They’re accountants. They’re doctors. They’re people who don’t really do the science. They don’t really do the history and they don’t really do the scripture either. So to my knowledge, I’m the only one who really has a foot kind of in all those different worlds, which is kind of a historical accident. I certainly didn’t choose to spend six years in graduate school and then be given the boot because of Babylonian or to not get into medical school. But in retrospect it’s worked out very well and my wife and I have been very lucky in certain ways. So that’s my story and my educational background. I consider myself an eclectic historian with different skills depending on the time period we’re looking at.

Check out our conversation….

Ben Spackman discusses whether reconciling Genesis & evolution is even an appropriate question.
Ben Spackman discusses whether reconciling Genesis & Evolution is even an appropriate question.

Here are some other conversations about Genesis & the Bible:

154: Simon’s Thoughts on Noah’s Flood, Religious Beliefs (Southerton)

075: Is Evolution Compatible with the Bible? (Perego)

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Juvenile Jesus a Jerk? Apocryphal Stories Say Yes (Part 3 of 5)

There are lots of stories of Jesus as a child, but they are not in the Bible.  BYU professor Dr. Thom Wayment and I will discuss several of these strange stories about the Juvenile Jesus.

 

 

Thom:  He loses a game. So, he smites his friend who beats him in the game and then they go get their local leaders and they come out and say, “We’ve got to punish this kid,” and as they get ready to punish them, Jesus raises the kid from the dead.

GT:  I’ve heard that story too.

Thom:  And then they say, “Where is the evidence of this?” It’s really weird to a modern person how terrible Jesus could be as a child.

GT:  Well, and there’s another story about a bunch of birds. He made a bunch of mud birds or something.

Thom:  And gave life to them.

GT:  And then they flew away.

Thom:  Yes, yes.

GT:  He’s really a brat. Jesus is a brat in this story.

Thom:  I would agree. I would use that term. And what’s so fascinating is it’s like he has this divine power, but he’s a teenager using it, which is really kind of fun, but you wonder what it says about your view of Jesus.

Were any of these considered canonical?  Was Joseph much older than Mary?  Check out our conversation….

Apocryphal stories fill in the gaps of Jesus' childhood. Was Jesus a jerk as a child?
Apocryphal stories fill in the gaps of Jesus’ childhood. Was Jesus a jerk as a child?

Don’t forget to check out our other conversations about the birth of Jesus!

231: Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, & Birth of Christ (Chadwick)

230: Christmas Legends: Herod, Wise Men, the Star (Wayment)

229: Was Jesus Born in December? (Chadwick)

228: Separating Fact and Fiction on Birth of Christ (Wayment)

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What Does Sandra Tanner have to say about Biblical Forgeries?

In our next conversation with Sandra Tanner, I’ll ask her about biblical forgeries, the Documentary Hypothesis, multiple Isaiahs, and several other theories critical of the Bible. Is she a Christian?

Sandra:   Yes. I’m a committed Christian….I go a local church here in town, Discovery Christian community. We would just be a standard middle of the road Christian congregation just following the Bible.

Given her background on forgeries, what does she think of these theories?

Sandra: I’ve read critical material on the Bible. I feel there is sufficient historical confirmation for me to accept the record. I mean, there really are Jewish people that live in Jerusalem, and, there really are ancient documents relating to the Bible. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls that show the preservation back before the time of Christ and we have New Testament documents back into, as early as the 130 A.D.  We have part of the Gospel of John, so I feel that historically we can show the preservation of the texts and on the New Testament, we are really on strong ground as far as the documents being the earliest record of Christianity. Now one can say, “I don’t accept their story.” One can say, you could say that’s really what the early Christians believed, but did it really happen?  So, then it’s a matter of faith whether you’re going to accept Christ’s resurrection.

GT:   Well, and even tying this back to Hofmann, because another word instead of a forgery would be pseudepigrapha. We don’t know that Matthew wrote the Book of Matthew, Mark wrote the Book of Mark, Luke wrote the Book of Luke. We have no idea who these authors were. A lot of these early…

Sandra: Well I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. The earliest Christian writers accepted the designations. I mean, they were always known as being written by those guys.

There are some scholars who believe that the Book of Isaiah was written by more than one author, although most scholars at BYU believe in a single-Isaiah theory.  What does Sandra think?

GT:   …as far as the argument, that the BYU scholars would make that there was just one Isaiah not four Isaiahs, would you tend to agree with?

Sandra:  I would be more to their side of view than the critic side of Isaiah.

Are you surprised?  Do you agree with Sandra?  Check out our conversation…. and don’t forget about our other interviews with Sandra!

179: Jerald’s Forensic Background (Tanner)

178: The Cowdery Forgery (Tanner)

177: How Jerald Tanner Identified Fake Salamander Letter (Tanner)

176: When Mark Hofmann met Sandra Tanner (Tanner)

How does Sandra Tanner feel about evolution, biblical literalism, and biblical forgeries?
How does Sandra Tanner feel about evolution, biblical literalism, and biblical forgeries?