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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Faith and Science Conference Write-Up

The Challenge Weekly has written an article on the recent Faith and Science Conference I participated in. Apart from the unfortunate title, "Conference fuels controversy" which gives a false impression of the largely collegial atmosphere, the mis-characterisation of certain views as deism and the omission of a mention of Dr Jeff Tallon's memorable talk it is a reasonable report on the papers given.

Extracts below:

CHRISTIAN scientists and theologians expressed their belief at a conference in Auckland recently that they believed in evolution, and that the universe, earth and life were millions of years old. However, they made it clear that evolution did not remove the need for God's existence. Some of the presenters said they believed God had "intervened" or had more of a hands-on approach at points in evolution, while others held a view more in line with Deism - that God had set up the physical laws (natural law) of the universe and since then let the universe and nature run by itself. Several of the presenters affirmed that humans had descended from a primitive species of ape-like creatures which lived before humans and the present-day ape family.

These controversial claims were made at a full-day seminar, entitled "Faithful Science" at Northcote Baptist Church, North Shore, on August 1. The event was attended by about 200 people of all ages and featured nine speakers. The conference was run by TANSAA (Theology and the Natural Sciences in Aotearoa Auckland.) Presenters the Rev Dale Campbell of Northcote Baptist Church and the Rev Dr Graham O'Brien who is on the InterChurch Bioethics Council, spoke of how they deal pastorally with people, particularly young people. Many people they said had questions and their own struggles or doubt regarding what to believe about God in relation to creationism, and the theory of evolution.

Mr Campbell said evolution "loads people down; they are expected to carry problems if they feel they can't believe in it. "Dealing with evolution-creation conflict can distract people from the main issue of sharing the gospel and doing [God's work]. There are so many important issues which need to be dealt with by Christians and the Church". Dr O'Brien said the process of evolution was true as "it scientifically accounts for natural selection, Mendelian inheritance, molecular biology, cosmology and the age of the universe, principles of physics, and geology including plate tectonics".

Yael Klangwisa, a lecturer in world-view studies at Laidlaw College, said the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, and the fall in Genesis were symbolic, and tended towards a poetic-style when read in Hebrew. She said it was essential to read Genesis using linguistic and cultural tools and analysis, and in the figurative or metaphoric way it was written, rather than taking or reading it in a literal sense. Dr Graeme Finlay, a senior lecturer in molecular medicine and pathology who gave a message entitled "Just a Glorified Ape?" maintained that humans could be seen genetically to be strongly related to the various species in the ape family such as orangutans and gorillas. Dr Matt Flannagan, an adjunct lecturer at Laidlaw and Bethlehem Tertiary Institute rounded off the seminar with his topic on "Does Evolution make Belief in God Untenable?" Dr Flannagan said "evolution does not, if it's true, disprove God."


  1. Cheers Matt,
    I'm going to drop by the Challenge office tomorrow late morning to talk with Michael Hamilton (if he's there), about the article (esp. the out-of-thin-air notion that any of us had presented views comparable to Deism).

  2. ...and I'll also just add that I think there is little doubt concerning a strong relationship between the content which was selected to share (perhaps the most creationist-ruffling content of the day) and the title (which is indeed unfortunate).

  3. While I disagree with some of the claims reported, I don't think the article is saying that people were promoting deism, rather they were drawing a parallel. Advocates for evolution were a God guiding changes versus setting up the organisms and evolution occured according to the standard mechanisms. This is moderately analogous to God setting up the universe but not interferring morally or supernaturally. It is not the same, and one does not imply the other.Perhaps the article was stronger than I am suggesting, but I don't see it as a significant issue.

    Matt, the link is broken.

  4. Your link:

    The correct link:

  5. bethyada,
    I don't want to be too negative just yet, before I've had the chance to contact him, but there are some significant mistakes/misrepresentations there.

  6. I have fixed the link - thanks Bethyada.

    It will be interesting to hear what the reporter has to say Dale. Media reports never get it completely right but it is always disappointing and frustrating when they attribute a view that you do not hold.

    Matt was impressed at how carefully and precisely he was summed up, the reporter had paid enough attention his talk to ensure that <span style="font-family: verdana;">"if it's true"</span> was included in the summation. However, like you he was not happy with all of it and he could not fathom Jeff's talk being left out.

  7. Yes, he also left out Myk Habet's talk and Nicola, and Neil Broome...  I guess they were less 'controversial'??

  8. Less controversial - that is funny if you know what gets (unjustly) said about some of those people by the uber-creationists (as I am sure you do).

    We are all aware of the almost litmus-test for being a 'real' Christian that <span style="text-decoration: underline;">some </span>literal 6-day young earth creationists bring to their consideration of the slightest suggestion that their view and their reading of the relevant Scriptures might not be correct. Even if others do not hold it so firmly, that view does influence a significant chunk of Christendom and that was probably either the case with the reporter or he had it in mind in terms of the Challenge's readership.

  9. I'm a bit concerned that I am the "other"<span style="font-family: verdana;"> the reporter mistakenly believed "held a view more in line with Deism - that God had set up the physical laws (natural law) of the universe and since then let the universe and nature run by itself."</span>

    My exchange with Neil Broome could have been interpreted this way, similarly my references to Richard Swinburne's argument could have been interpreted this way by someone who was not familiar with Swinburne's writings.

    The author confuses the claim that God did not 'intervene' in some miraculous way during the creation process with the claim that the universe exists independantly of God and runs by itself. These are not the same thing.

    If God happens to run the universe by his own laws and regularities all the while sustaining it in being, it hardly 'runs by itself.'

  10. I have written a paper on how to interpret the Adam/Christ typology  presented in Romans 5 under an evolutionary world view if anyone is interested.  I think that people tend to get very hung up on Gen and pay little attention to how evolutionary theory impacts up on the soteriological significance of Christ.

  11. I'm interested Max - you can email to dale at nbc dot org dot nz if you want?

  12. Max, sounds very interesting, why not put it online?

  13. Max if you'd like to submit it as a guest post just email it through to us.


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