The trouble with intramural accommodationism

Can one be consistent in accepting both the common form of inerrancy as described in the Chicago Statement and universal common descent?

This question is something I struggle with when I observe people try to sell other believers on evolutionary theory without openly acknowledging the ways in which their own rejection of the idea of a single pair of progenitors has resulted in an often subtle yet usually profound modification of how they understand the Bible to work. I, too, have been tempted on numerous occasions to begin the presentation of my case by positing a (purely hypothetical) scenario in which accepting that early Genesis was unhistorical does not result in a revised or nuanced bibliology; if not outright dishonest, I feel that this approach is nonetheless misleading, perhaps even disingenuous, and a setup for problems later.

Rather than giving in to this temptation, I have opted to problematize their assumptions about what the Bible should be or should say. After all, this is the main problem, and one that underlies more misconceptions and naïveté than just their beliefs about origins.

Now, the fact is, there are indeed many Christians who accept mainstream evolutionary theory but are otherwise quite conservative theologically, including in their bibliology, although anecdotally I surmise that the number is far fewer of those who accept evolution and maintain an “inerrant” Scripture as taught by most of our evangelical pastors and teachers. Even when they say they accept inerrancy, they have – futilely, in my opinion – taken up the tack of nuancing “inerrant” to mean something quite different from those who take the term at face value; “inerrancy” implies more than a mysterious theological concordism, but scientific and especially historical concordism as well. But for those in the group, however small, that have (for the moment, anyway) caught their foot on their way down the slope, I understand why they can feel free to try to persuade others that they can go on believing essentially the same things that they’ve been taught they should, at least about the nature of the Bible, mutatis mutandis for the Adam/Eve part of course.

But what about the rest of us? My question is this: how legitimate is it to advertise compatibility between science and “that old time religion” while we know good and well that it’s only compatible after precisely the kind of modification to their bibliology that’s held them to their skepticism of science in the first place? Should we instead put more effort into maturing their bibliology on all fronts, and not just Genesis? I vote for emphasizing the latter and minimizing the “cake-and-eat-it-too” sort of accommodationism that misrepresents what most of my fellow theistic evolutionists have begun to conclude. Until they’re ready for a change in their understanding of what our faith rests upon and for an acknowledgment of the limitations of Scripture, I doubt they’ll go particularly far into acceptance of science no matter how cleverly we present it.

Do you agree?

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  • rmwilliamsjr

    Modern evangelicalism's doctrine of inerrancy is a recent accommodation to the scientific worldview that began with the Renaissance, it is a combination of Luther's doctrine of the primacy of the literal and an epistemology of scientism that defacto asserts that the only valid knowledge is achieved by historical and scientific methods. Essentially we believe that mythos can not give us valid knowledge, therefore the Scriptures must be interpreted via logos in order to be true. Genesis can not be true unless it is historically and scientifically accurate, this is the idea at the heart of inerrancy. The problem, more than the fact that it means we interpret Scripture as fundamentally addressed to our culture's interests and dominant ideology, is how unconsciously and firmly we believe/assume these things without ever examining them.

    In both the early church and rabbinic Judaism, allegory and other not-literal methods of Biblical interpretation dominated(4-fold way), it wasn't until Luther that the literal gained even a preference, and not until Newton that most people assumed the superiority of scientific and historical epistemology.

    Now most modern people will consider this a good and necessary progressive development, the ideology of progress being one of the pillars of our worldview. It maybe that God wants for us to see the Scriptures in a primarily scientific rather than literary(the chief competitor), but to do so as an unconscious default position due to the prevailing assumptions of our age is wrong. It is necessary to chose not to simply assume.

  • Welcome, Robert. An excellent comment. I particularly liked the way you stated the following:

    It maybe that God wants for us to see the Scriptures in a primarily scientific rather than literary(the chief competitor), but to do so as an unconscious default position due to the prevailing assumptions of our age is wrong.

    Well said!

  • Welcome, Robert. An excellent comment. I particularly liked the way you stated the following:

    It maybe that God wants for us to see the Scriptures in a primarily scientific rather than literary(the chief competitor), but to do so as an unconscious default position due to the prevailing assumptions of our age is wrong.

    Well said!

  • lac

    This is excellent. This is the first time I have seen it, as I was not a blog reader in March 2010. Thanks for directing me to it…I just wish more TE would do exactly as you describe.