Last night Kay and I attended the world premiere of a new film. I could wax eloquent and say this was the first time I’ve ever attended a movie premiere, and it was, but when we use that language it conjures up the idea of limousines, red carpets, stars in formal attire, paparazzi and other media hype. This world premiere was in a small old theater just off University Avenue in Palo Alto. The film, From the Dust: conversations in creation, is a documentary looking at the state of the conversation concerning science and evolution in the fundamentalist and evangelical communities.

The film asks questions such as, “Does the Bible provide a narrative of mankind’s material origins?” “What is the real source of the controversy surrounding evolution vs. creation?” And how do we reconcile scientific discovery with a loving, universal, creator-God?”

The importance of opening a true discussion as opposed to and name-calling those who do not agree with us cannot be overstated. The construction of the film allows representatives of the two sides of the discussion, i.e. those evangelicals and fundamentalists who insist on a recent six-day creation and those evangelicals who see the physical evidence in the world as pointing to the reality of evolution, to present their positions in their own words. This format is effective in avoiding such caricaturization.

The list of those appearing in the film is impressive. Among those interviewed are: Dr. Alister McGrath (Ph.D. in molecular biophysics & D.D. both from Oxford University), Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne (mathematician, theoretical physics,  Anglican priest); Dr. John Walton (Old Testament scholar, Wheaton University, author of The Lost World of Genesis One), Bishop Dr. N.T. Wright (New Testament Scholar, Anglican Bishop of Durham); Dr. Peter Enns (Old Testament scholar and author of The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins), Dr. Richard Colling (Olivet Nazarene University, author Random Designer), Dr. April Masckiewicz (Assoc. Professor of Biology, Point Loma Nazarene University).  Dr. Clay Brinson (D.V.M. University Georgia, Canopy Ministries) Dr. James Denton (M.D.  University of Virginia), Dr. Daryl Falk (Ph.D., President of Biologos Foundation and Professor of Biology, Point Loma Nazarene University), Dr. Jason Lisle (Ph.D.  Astrophysicist), Dr. Jeff Schloss (Ph.D. Professor of Biology, Westmont College) to name just some of the interviewees.

The tone of the film is balanced and positive and representatives of each position articulate their answers to the questions under discussion in their own words and with their own rationale.

Production values are acceptable to good. The digital projection at the theatre was somewhat problematic—projecting a DVD onto the big screen caused occasional pixelization of the image.   However, when viewed on the small screen these problems  disappear.

The questions of worldview and paradigm change are addressed head-on but not in these terms.  There is an explicit recognition that for those who have been raised in the fundamentalist and evangelical camps and taught to distrust science and see all truth as being grounded more or less directly in scripture, the exposure to the scientific method and how science really works is a “gut-wrenching” experience.  A number of years ago the son of one of my colleagues, who graduated from one of the best Christian high schools in Northern California, matriculated at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he majored in one of the scientific disciplines.  Shaking his head he complained that virtually everything he learned about science and the scientific method in High School needed to be unlearned.  I am not talking about evolution here. I am talking about the nature and practice of the scientific method itself.  Unfortunately, as the film reveals things have not changed over the past two decades.  Many conservative Christians still remain ignorant of and hostile to science itself.

The film pivots between science, its nature and limits and biblical interpretation. It raises the issue of the nature of the biblical text and what questions was it trying to answer: to whom is Genesis written, how would its first readers have understood it?  What are the questions they were asking? Were they asking of the text the same questions we ask? Likewise with reference to the scientific method: what are its strengths as well as its limits. Specifically, the interviewees assert the limits of the scientific method.  It is strictly materialistic. As a method of knowledge it can only address the and how of material processes as opposed to questions of meaning and purpose.

The other topic that was introduced but not (unfortunately) more fully developed was that of intellectual certainty.  Specifically what is the nature of the certainty we can have in this world. The fundamentalism of the atheists as well that of the creationists seeks certainty without ambiguity; simplicity with the discomfort of complexity. There is an inherent fear that to let go of certainty is to slip into irrationality. I have observed elsewhere it is as if the rigid belief system literally holds reality together and to question anything is to see reality itself crumble.  I first became painfully aware of this phenomenon over twenty-five years ago, with reference to attitudes toward quantum physics (not evolution)…

. . .in a series of articles in Christianity Today during the mid-1980s on how quantum physics was revolutionizing the concept of the nature of reality. To those with no previous exposure, the subject of the discussion was in some cases quite unnerving. The telling point here is not primarily in the articles themselves, but in the reactions that appeared in the letters to the editor in the following issues. One pastor wrote: “Mass that exists, then becomes non-existent in transit, then exists again according to our will? I don’t have to listen to this! Beam me up, Lord!”. . . Perhaps most disturbing was the example the author of the original article cited in his opening paragraph: “A few weeks ago an acquaintance of ours, a theologian, remarked in the course of a stimulating dinner conversation that he considered quantum mechanics the greatest contemporary threat to Christianity. In fact, he said if some of the results of this theory were really true, his own personal faith in God would be shattered.”  Those responding to the new ideas reacted strongly to having their view of creation challenged with the new paradigm because, I suspect, their own faith and understanding of God himself were tied in an almost absolute way to their view of the nature of the created order, the physical world. To assent to the truth of quantum physics would be to destroy God himself. These reactions did not just come from lay people. They came from pastors and theologians as well. [1]

I find it ironic how deeply we as contemporary conservative Christians had bought into what Daniel Taylor has called The Myth of Certainty[2]. In an era that has been more safe and stable than most any era in history, security/certainty whether it be financial, political or intellectual has been set up as a virtual idol. Doubt or uncertainty is not to be tolerated. Underlying this quest for or belief that, one has achieved absolute certainty is I believe an irrational fear that without our certainty reality itself will come unraveled. While common, it is in fact idolatrous! Our certainty, our trust and stability is not to be found in our mental constructs, or our bank account, our political system or anything besides our Creator and Savior. Certainty is where we end up when we lose faith. The stance of faith is exploring questions rather than absolute scientific answers.

The film doesn’t break new ground but is a call for understanding between the two camps.  As I watched I recognized several unspoken assumptions that were not explicitly addressed in the film in other than a single comment by one interviewee.  First, what is the source of authority?  From the second century, Christians have formally recognized two “books of revelation,” the scriptures and the created order.  This is true of Catholics, Orthodox and the Reformers as well as later Protestants. These two must be in harmony since God is the author of both—one cannot be legitimately pitted against the other and each has its own sphere to which it is speaking.  Galileo was not the first one to say it, but he did make the quip famous. “Scripture was not given to teach us how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.”

I believe the film achieves its goal of opening up conversation about the “elephant in the living room,” the E-word (evolution).  It will be valuable conversation starter for  campus and church study groups.

The From the Dust DVD can be ordered from BioLogos Foundation for $20 or $25 for the Blu-ray:

[1] M. James Sawyer, The Survivor’s Guide to Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 53.

[2] Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999).

    77 replies to "From the Dust: Conversations on Creation – a Review"

    • Daniel Eaton

      There IS a framework that is accepted. But there are definitely parts of his theory that have been replaced, updated since then, and some that are outright rejected and are NOT held by BioLogos. For example, Darwinism rejects supernatual activity. BioLogos believes that while things are designed (by God) to change, there IS supernatural causes and intervention in the creation. As such, to call their belief “Darwinian” is not accurate. And it isn’t MY claim, but their actual statement of beliefs.

    • teleologist

      First, Darwinists have never rejected the term NS. They have refined their argument by proposing various underlying mechanisms to explain NS. Collins’ must know this and knows that NS is a random unguided process void of divine intervention. Atheists have never rejected NS but seek to complement it, such as epigenetics. Again, it doesn’t matter what BioLogos say to the Christian community, the fact is that if they fully support the random and unguided process of NS that is incompatible with Biblical creation through divine intervention. I am accurate to called them Darwinian.

    • Daniel Eaton

      There is a difference between belief in NS and belief ONLY in NS. The fact that you characterize the BioLogos position as “unguided” PROVES that you don’t have a clue about what they believe. I’m fighting figments of your imagination. That might be entertaining to you, but it is no replacement for education. Go read their blogs and papers and come back when you actually know what you are talking about. Until then, your disapproval of their views is based on ignorance and assumptions. Until then, I have no interest in continuing this. Last thing you want to do with trolls is feed them.

    • John Inglis`

      re J. Inglis says at June 6, 3:18 pm (#41) & reply by T @ #42

      It should be noted that one non-ocurring phenomena is fatal to the phenomenological argument of T. The Israelite authors could not see the pillars, the bronze dome, the attachment points of the stars, the windows in the dome, etc. Hence those descriptions are not eyeball observations of phenomena, but entirely an intellectual construction.

      Second, it is of course obvious that an omnipotent god would know the true nature of the earth and universe, however it is apparent that he never revealed its true nature to the Israelites.

      Third, given the above, the ancient authors would have accepted the common wisdom regarding the nature of the earth. Thus T bears the onus of proving otherwise. That is, it is his burden to show that the ancients did not believe the common understanding of the earth as truth.

      So, we have ancients who truly believed that the earth was flat, etc., and Yahweh who knew otherwise but did not…

    • John Inglis`

      Gee, no need to be harsh. I perceive Teleological as advancing arguments based upon his knowledge and understanding. I don’t perceive him as being a Troll. I think we need to argue with love and patience and respect for those we believe to be wrong, or whom we believe to have inaccurate facts. I hope T continues to post.

    • Daniel Eaton

      I have lots of patience with anyone posting their opinions. But to state things as fact when it has been shown via quotes from the source, as well as explained to them, that the allegation is false is not the act of someone wanting to have an open and honest discussion about something. If he’d spent any time at all reading their papers and blogs on BioLogos, he’d know that they don’t deny that God wrote the Bible and don’t “make the Bible fit whatever atheist Darwinian evolution tell them as fact”. He claims they “essentially…write God out of the mix.” Nothing could be further from the truth. And if he had spent much time here, he’d know that they would not endorse material from groups that do what he alleges.

    • teleologist

      @John, I don’t understand how you could possible say that descriptions like “vault of heaven”, “circle of the earth” or any such phrases are not observable phenomena. If you stand on a hill with a clear view of the horizon you will see the arc or the circle of the earth and the night horizon arc across heaven. As for the pillar it is obviously figurative based on physical world understandings. Pillars are used in the physical world to hold things up and are a sign of strength. Why would it be a problem to use that image to convey the idea of strength? So when the Bible says “The pillars of heaven tremble, and are amazed at His rebuke.” Job 26:11 Passages like these are obviously trying to convey power not science.

      Furthermore, even our modern minds use the same figurative speech, e.g. “pillar of the community”, “pillar of truth”. Are you going to tell me that I am making a scientific declaration that a community is literally held up by a pillar or truth is a physical object held up by a physical pillar? Your objection to the Bible’s use of phenomenal language is not logical.

      I am not sure what onus you think I have to prove. I never claim that the ancients have a correct view (according to our current understanding) of the physical world. What I am claiming is that the Bible is not making scientific claims by the use of these “figures of speech”. And I think I’ve made a good case for why my interpretation is correct. to be cont…

    • teleologist

      I suspect BioLogos is doing this because if they can prove that the Bible is wrong about science in these “figures of speech” then It is wrong in Genesis 1 and we must yield to the altar of Darwinian science.

      If you insist on making such claims then you must first show why all these Texts that BioLogos pointed out must be interpreted as a scientific reality. Second if it was God’s intent to convey scientific knowledge in these Texts how should He have done it? How much science should God include? Maybe He should have included a separate science textbook that took them from Aristotle’s atoms to Newtonian mechanics to Einstein’s relativity to quantum mechanics to a unified field theory which we have yet to figure out and even theories we have yet to imagined? No the onus is on you and BioLogos to prove that God is writing a science manual.

    • teleologist

      @Eaton: he’d know that they would not endorse material from groups that do what he alleges.

      You really need to stop FALSELY accuse me of things. I have presented evidence from BioLogos’ own founder that he supported Darwinism and instead of providing counter evidence that BioLogos does not support NS as it is understood by everyone you falsely accuse of lying. I have no interest in talking with you anymore until you apologize.

    • John Inglis

      Re Teleologist and pillars are “obviously figurative”.

      Nobody denies that pillars are obviously figurative. The point, however, is that they do no describe a phenomenom. A phenomenom is something observable; there is no phenomenom to which pillars would relate.

      It is no argument to say that the earth not falling into the waters below is the phenomenom. Other nations had other things holding up the earth. If the relationship between pillars and the earth failing to fall into an imagined huge body of water below is sufficient to count as “phenomenological language”, then anything can be called phenomenological and the word is emptied of all relevant meaning.

      Furthermore, there was nothing to justify the belief that the world was surrounded on all sides by water, nor that the dome held back a huge body of water that entirely covered it, nor that the earth was placed atop a huge body of water. These were all common beliefs in the ancient near east, that were taught to children, and in which everyone believed, and none of them were based on any observable phenomenom.

    • John Inglis

      Re Teleological and “Are you going to tell me that I am making a scientific declaration that a community is literally held up by a pillar or truth is a physical object held up by a physical pillar? ”

      No, and that is not the point.

      If you claimed that there were actual physical pillars under the city, holding it up, and keeping it from falling into a huge body of water, I would tell you that you are factually wrong. I would tell you that your belief is not true and that it does not correspond to reality.

      It is the same with the inspired ancient writers of the Bible. They were part of a culture that taught and believed that the earth was actually held up by physical pillars such as one would find in a temple, and that without such pillars the earth would fall into and be consumed by chaotic waters (oceanic waters were considered to be chaotic, and chaos was the antithesis of the god ordered world of the ancients, and thus a threat to the earth).

      Hence, the ancients held a belief that was factually false because it did not correspond to reality and was therefore not true.

    • teleologist

      @John, I disagree a bit, pillars are figurative and derived from physical objects. But you’ve are still missing my point. I am not arguing for a scientifically accurate view of these Texts, it is BioLogos that demands these to be scientifically accurate. The problem is on BioLogos’ side not mine.

    • Daniel Eaton

      T, all you have done is INTERPRET some statement to mean something CONTRARY to direct statements of their belief. Instead of assuming what they believe, do what I did. Look them up on FaceBook or elsewhere as ASK them what they believe. ASK them what parts of Darwin’s ideas they accept and reject. ASK them how they can “believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God” and believe what they do. But don’t put words in their mouth based on your own assumptions than state it as fact. Even if they WERE the atheist-loving God-deniers that you suggest, they still deserve a response that is honest, irenic, and done with gentleness and respect.

    • Daniel Eaton

      I agree with you, John, that “figurative” is different from “phenomenological” language and that you can’t seriously mix figurative language with historical narrative describing material creation of figurative elements. But I disagree that there is “nothing to justify the belief that the world was surrounded on all sides by water”. I get that the references to pillars and foundations and “the deep” and the underworld and all that would not be something they are seeing that they are describing, but wouldn’t put the “waters above” in that same category. The water in the oceans is blue. Water comes from up in the sky. When they look past the sun, they see blue from horizon to horizon. Water comes from there. So why NOT believe that the blue is a body of water? Why believe something different?

    • teleologist

      @John, why are you twisting what I’ve said. Let me try to itemize it for you.

      1. Yes, the ancients have an incorrect scientific view of the universe.
      2. God was using figurative and phenomenal language according to their understanding to convey His message. The alternative would be to first correct them of their scientific errors before God can teach them anything and that would be inane.

      Actually, item 2a is not too different than how BioLogos interprets these verses. But the problem here is when BioLogos is forcing me to say I am interpreting these verses as scientifically true because they want to make the point of concordism, so they can have a hook back to Gen 1.

      3. No there is no concordism in these verses.

      So in order for us to progress our discussion forward please stop telling me that I have to accept these verses as scientific when I’ve explain why I don’t.

    • Daniel Eaton

      Again with the claims again, T. EXACTLY WHERE does BioLogos demand that these physical objects are scientifically accurate? I think you are confusing two different things here. It is one thing to point out how the ancients had a bad cosmology. It is quite another to say that the Bible teaches this as being “scientifically accurate” when the authors in question lived in PRE-science cultures. Their point is that we CAN’T take the Bible to be scientifically accurate because if we put it in that context and understand it that way, it is wrong. If you had actually read the paper you are arguing against, you will see that is says, “Biblical writers did NOT teach their cosmography as scientific doctrine revealed by God.” They go on to say, “The skeptic who says that the Bible is scientifically false and therefore unreliable myth reducible to mere
      human construction assumes the same criteria of judgment as the Evangelical Christian who says that the
      Bible must be scientifically accurate or it is not the Word of God. They both assume the fallacy that precision
      of physical description verifies the accuracy of transcendent meaning or interpretation.” So much for the idea that they think God didn’t write it and that it’s just “human construction” and that they are demanding that it is scientifically accurate….

    • John Inglis

      RE Teleologist at #12, June 7, @ 1:19, “@John, I disagree a bit, pillars are figurative and derived from physical objects. But you’ve are still missing my point. I am not arguing for a scientifically accurate view of these Texts, it is BioLogos that demands these to be scientifically accurate. The problem is on BioLogos’ side not mine.”

      (1) T does not provide any evidence or reasons why we should believe that the Biblical authors believed that the “pillars” description was figurative. I contend that they did not so believe, but rather believed that they were a true fact about the physcial world–a true fact that they could not see. The evidence for this is that the entire near eastern culture in which they lived held and taught this belief. Archeological and Biblical evidence indicates that the Israelites believed the things that their neighbours did (e.g., that Baal, Ashteroth, etc., were real gods and could be worshipped, even though they could not see the god). The writers never give any indication that they ever believed anything else, and obviously Yahweh never revealed a different view to them.

      On the other hand, Yahweh did reveal to them that he created the universe from nothing, which is an astounding belief for the time and unlike the beliefs of surrounding nations. Israel believed in an omnipotent God who created from nothing and could do anything; if he revealed to them that there are no pillars, they would have accepted that.

      Their is, I agree, a difference between scientific beliefs and other beliefs. I’m not claiming that the “pillar” belief is some ancient scientific belief. However, I do claim that it is a belief about what is factually true, about what is a true statement about the earth.

      Those issues are, however, different from whether we should believe these statements about the earth to be true, or whether God wanted us to believe these statements.

      Of course, when written and for years after, everyone did believe…

    • John Inglis

      RE D. Eaton #16, June 7, @ 1:47 pm, ““The skeptic who says that the Bible is scientifically false and therefore unreliable myth reducible to mere human construction assumes the same criteria of judgment as the Evangelical Christian who says that the Bible must be scientifically accurate or it is not the Word of God.”

      Not exactly. The word and concept “science” is a red herring, and adds nothing to the force of the argument, nor can they be used to destroy the argument.

      The issue is not whether the ancient views are scientifically correct, but whether they are correct at all; whether they are true, period.

      It is legitimate to ask, “if the ancients were were factually wrong about the earth (i.e., they believed there were real, physical pillars, but there aren’t), couldn’t they be wrong on other things (e.g., morality, God’s faithfulness, etc.).”

      How to respond? I do agree with Eaton that it is a reasonable to take the position that God never intended to reveal the true facts about the physical nature of the world to us through His inspired Word. God only intended us to take other statements as true (His power, his faithfulness, etc.).

      The issue then becomes, how do we know? How do we distinguish between those statements that God does want us to take and believe as true, from those statements that he does not? Some statements are obvious–parables are clearly not true; poetry contains exagerations and metaphors that are not true.

      But some are more difficult and controversial–like the statements about the flat earth, the four corners of the world, the geocentricity of the universe (still believed today by some American christians), the pillars, the waters surrounding the earth on all sides, a creation in seven 24 hour days, etc.

    • John Inglis

      Re Teleological and “3. No there is no concordism in these verses.”

      Sorry, but I don’t understand the statement. Would you explain it a bit, please?

    • teleologist

      @John: why we should believe that the Biblical authors believed that the “pillars” description was figurative.

      We start from different presuppositions. I believe that God is the author of the Bible not Man.
      “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20–21)
      The Bible can have errors due to corruption of transmission but that is another story. Therefore it makes a difference to me if God was making a scientific truth claim or was He speaking figuratively or phenomenally.

      And I did provide exegetical evidence for why these Texts are figurative and phenomenal, but either you didn’t understand or ignored what I said. I suggest you re-read what I wrote and come back with a more specific rebuttal.

      However, let me try to reiterate what I said and hopefully with more clarity. e.g. “The pillars of heaven tremble, and are amazed at His rebuke.” Job 26:11
      First, nowhere in Job is there any indication that God was trying to convey a descriptive reality of the universe. This verse specifically is in the context of a dialogue between Job and Bildad about the feebleness of Man and the Majesty of God. And more specifically the point of this verse is that when God rebukes even the strength (pillars) that supports the heaven would tremble. This is typical of a metaphor even we use every day without any concern for scientific accuracy. to be cont…

    • teleologist

      So let me summarize again,
      1. God is the author of the Bible therefore He would not deliberately put in factual and historical errors in His revelation to us.
      2. BioLogos is wrong about me; I do not and did not claim these types of Text are scientific descriptions.
      3. BioLogos is wrong these types of Text are figurative and phenomenal taken in context. It is incumbent upon BioLogos to demonstrate exegetically that these Texts are scientific declarations.
      Therefore, there is no scientific error in the Bible. Even if the ancients did not understand that these were figurative and phenomenal descriptions it doesn’t matter because they would have understood the point of this Text was to teach them about God’s majesty and not the nature of the universe.

      P.S. I assume you know what concordism is, as it is loosely defined, the belief that the facts of nature, as discovered by scientific investigation, will be discernibly consistent with Scriptural statements about the natural realm. By this definition I would not see any problem with Scripture and science since the objections put forth by BioLogos are not scientific claims in the first place.

    • teleologist

      @John: But some are more difficult and controversial–like the statements about the flat earth, the four corners of the world, the geocentricity of the universe (still believed today by some American christians), the pillars, the waters surrounding the earth on all sides, a creation in seven 24 hour days, etc.

      But it isn’t like these criticism have not been addressed before. But you are right many of these stems from the problem on what you might interpret as statements of fact and I interpret it as figurative and phenomenal.

    • Daniel Eaton

      @teleologist: Do you believe in some dictation method of inspiration that makes the earthly authors little more than robo-scribes doing automatic writing? Or is the written text both a product of God AND man?

    • John Inglis`

      RE “I interpret it as figurative and phenomenal.”

      Yes, true, you do. But the issue is that the ancient writers did not. Even if the point is to write about the majesty of God, they were still making the claim using language that described things that did not correspond to reality.

    • […] by parachurch organization, especially campus ministries. A review of the film can also be found on Pen and Parchment Blog.What do you think we need to start a useful conversation?Who do you think needs to be […]

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    • Jane E Gallina

      Thank you for writing about “Undercover” by John Bevere. I wondered about this book since Bible school at church 2004 and every time I happened to hear John Bevere speak, it always made me feel stifled. I honestly don’t have enough education on the subject, just always more of a gut reaction. Definitely more informed now.

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