An evening with Ron Choong by Alwyn Lau
I attended my first Ron Choong lecture/seminar last Thursday and whatever else I say below, I’m glad I did. Ron is one of the best scientific-theological minds in the world who’s also an ordained minister with a vibrant Christian apologetics ministry. He’s extremely well-read and a major component of his oeuvre includes the sharing of many stories about science, history and literature. In about an hour and a half, I learnt so many new things about Louis Pasteur, Mary Shelley, Watson & Crick, Sir Alexander Fleming, Isaac Newton – I mince no words when I say that listening to Ron is like tuning in to a high-speed radio program on 1001 Fascinating Facts About The World.
The wonderful thing, too, about Ron’s stories that he uses them to weave in ideas of God’s providence, love and action. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone connect Frankenstein to the Bible’s view of us and God (in a nutshell, Frankenstein’s monster went on a killing spree because Frankenstein failed to love it – compare this to the account of Christ loving us despite our on-going killing sprees throughout history…).
Also, his brief account of the debate between Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris on the quasi-theological significance of the Burgess Shale was deeply moving as it illustrated how two perspectives on the existence of God may arise from viewing the same scientific data. In a sense, this event encapsulated for me Ron’s overall approach to apologetics: Ron doesn’t focus so much on providing compelling scientific evidence for the truth of the Biblical position of how the world began and prefers to highlight the personal struggles of the key players within these debates. For Ron, the human dimension is a non-negotiable and, having a pastoral heart, I suspect he sees little value in abstract argumentation which doesn’t convict the soul.
From his talk, too, I learnt that every year many new species are discovered. From this fact, Ron brought forth the theology of creatio continua i.e. continuing creation. This follows from creatio originalis – the original creation – and precedes creatio nova i.e. new creation at the end of days. (I didn’t get to ask about creatio continua and whether this meant that new species ‘popped into existence’ regularly, how this can be proven scientifically and where in the Bible this is discussed – cool topic, no doubt.)
On the topic of Natural Science ‘versus’ Biblical Creation Accounts proper, Ron’s position appears to be that Biblical accounts of origins cannot be said to be rendered incoherent by natural cosmogony chiefly because those sciences (i.e. physics, bio-chemistry and biology) deal exclusively with measurable phenomena whereas origins is about metaphysical speculation and un-repeatable events. Whilst Ron has specifically said that he’s seeking a convergence of theology and science, he’s also declared that, “good theology is not science and good science is never theology”.
I look forward to finding out more (from his book, perhaps) about Ron’s views regarding what scientific evidence he would offer to challenge the claims of folks like Dawkins, Gould and so on (this isn’t as straight-forward as it seems because if there is NO counter-evolutionary evidence which aligns well to the Biblical data then this would in a very real sense render the Christian account incoherent by scientific standards; on the other hand, if there IS evidence which puts the lie to existing evolutionary takes on origins, then this would imply that the question of origins is not exclusively metaphysical in nature and that good science is sometimes good theology too!)
Such scientific evidence for the Christian account of origins would also, in my view, strengthen the Christian narrative vis-a-vis the non-monotheistic religions like Buddhism, New Age, etc. Because failing publicly verifiable proof or confirmation that “God created the world”, there would appear to be no compelling reason why an atheist scientist ought to accept the Christian’s position on origins as opposed to, say, the Hindu one.
Thus I confess I found problematic Ron’s view that the opening chapters of Genesis should be more or less rejected as scientific truth and that their main objective was to engineer a mindset-change for the Hebrews who’ve previously lived in Egypt and thus were influenced by the worship of pagan gods of nature. So, as Ron puts it, the purpose of the Genesis 1-2 was not to write ‘factual history’ but to tell the Hebrews who God really was. Ron also stated his not-uncontroversial view that Adam could NOT have been a historical person because 1) Genesis 1-2 wasn’t a historical record and 2) if Adam was a specific person this would entail universalism from the text of Romans 5:12-18. He also notes that we could justifiably deny that Adam was a specific person in the same way that we don’t seriously expect David to have killed ten thousand men in 1 Samuel 18.
I would argue that Ron is right in what he affirms but stands on shaky exegetical grounds in what he denies. Granted that Genesis 1-2 was not written for exclusively historical reporting reasons, are we justified to render everything it says ‘mythical’ or non-literal? Assuming we don’t declare everything in Genesis nothing but myth or poetry, how would we delineate between what is – for lack of better terms – ‘spiritual fiction’ and what’s ‘historically true’?
Ron is certainly right in that we needn’t believe that David literally slaughtered a whole army (although here I suspect we only need to compare it to the statement that “Hitler killed six million Jews” to see how such phraseology works without rendering it entirely ‘mythical’ or merely poetic – no, the statement isn’t literally true but it’s STILL true). Then again, just because we may doubt if David physically killed an entire stadium’s segment, this doesn’t entail doubting that he killed Goliath in the immediately preceding chapter of the same book, 1Samuel 17.
The critical task, therefore, is to tease out the literal from the non-literal and I wonder if Ron may have been too hasty with Genesis creation accounts, particular that concerning Adam who, in his view, probably referred to a community of hominids i.e. instead of Adam being one man (with one rib missing), ‘he’ was really a group representing early humanity (and who could’ve numbered up to 10,000). To briefly restate the (largely evangelical) argument, it is unlikely that the writer(s) of Genesis held to Ron’s view of the non-literal-ness of Adam given, among other arguments, the very specific account of Adam’s lifespan and family details in Gen 5:3-5:
“When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.”
Needless to say, it doesn’t appear that a community of hominids is in view here.
The point, again, is not to insist that Genesis cannot have a figurative dimension but to more vigorously ground our separation of what was meant to be taken literally and otherwise. This bold faithfulness to the face-value of the text (a term that Ron endorses no less) can helpfully spur the demonstration of how the Biblical accounts of origins are not merely ‘religious’ but also scientifically valid where they are intended to be so and ALSO to convince scientists working in the origins fields of the value of the Creation hypothesis (to borrow a term from the J.P. Moreland’s book).
This would involve investigating instances in our natural world which:
- suggests evidence of a Designer (e.g. complexity, information levels, pattern-making, etc.) – it’s interesting to note that writers like Steven Pinker (in his book How The Mind Works) invoke ‘reverse engineering’ to understand the human mind yet reject the idea of a Supernatural Engineer…
- entail contingency and thus logically a beginning, and therefore cannot requiring an entity ‘beyond’ itself to get things going (e.g. variations of the Kalam or cosmological argument)
(Note: Somehow I suspect Ron is already involved in the above and much more. He has, however, implied to me in private conversation that he’s disinclined towards the Intelligent Design way of doing science – I look forward to understanding more from him why and other alternatives for making public the truths of Biblical creation)
I suppose at the end of the day non-Christian scientists can be challenged by Christian ones to ask whether the world ‘makes sense’ more with or without God as the one who created it from the start, continues to create and will create it anew when Christ returns. To this question, I know Ron would say that – from his vast experience and knowledge – that nature only works and is so beautiful because God is her Maker. And, if nothing else, I thank him for reminding us of this truth.