Book Review: Science vs. Religion by Keith Shields

The Cardus website is featuring a review of the book Science vs Religion: What Do Scientist Really Believe? In this book Elaine Ecklund encourages us “to cross the picket lines separating science and religion” and join in appreciative discussion.

The book presents several findings of Ecklund’s research:

1.Despite stereotypes, scientists are not entirely irreligious or unspiritual. Around 50% of elite natural and social scientists identify with a religious tradition.

2.Most scientists made decisions about their spiritual lives before entering science. That means that those without any religious or spiritual commitments may have chosen science because of what they thought; science may not have caused their distance from spiritual practices.

3.Elite scientists who are not at all religious—despite being highly educated, and despite operating in high profile positions—are often very ignorant of even rudimentary aspects of various religious traditions.

4.Scientists are often completely unaware of their colleagues’ religious orientation because it is either not talked about at all (being deemed inappropriate within the halls of science) or disparaged, under the assumption that being a scientist means being an atheist or agnostic.

5.Scientists who reject God and religion have similar reasons as the general population: existence of evil and suffering, bad religion, bad personal experiences, and cognitive dissonance.

6.Younger scientists are more religious than older scientists—the inverse of the general population, where older people tend to be more religious than younger people.


Ecklund argues that science and religious faith need each other.

Accepting only what can be verified scientifically (scientism) is a wholly inadequate and impossible way to live a life, according to most Americans. Similarly, rejecting all of science in favour of only religiously-derived knowledge will leave the American public open to the very real dangers of uncontrolled fundamentalism, superstition, and regressions of the worst kind.

She encourages believing scientists to be courageous in speaking about how they reconcile science and their beliefs for the sake of improvement in the way that science and religion relate. We need scientists who are both credible in their scientific community and understand enough about religion and spirituality to speak knowledgeably. We also need faithful and courageous Christians who have enough knowledge of science, and the philosophical limits of science, to join the conversation.

For an example of two elite philosophers who disagree but have the utmost respect for each other, take a look at debates between John E. Hare and Peter (Albert David) Singer. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU7sqi8iBBI

 

2011 Cohort Meeting Audio

Mp3 audio downloads from our 2011 Galiano Cohort Meeting (Available to cohort members only).
Tuesday
Bem Culiat–Shepherding the Scientist.  (Slides)
Ross Hastings–Preaching & Science
Jennie McLaurin, John Van Sloten, Bem Culiat–Design Models


Wednesday
Bem Culiat Talk–Personal Testimony. (Slides #2)
Iain Provan–The Integration of Scripture and Science, with Genesis as a Case Study
Paul Teel–Creation AND Evolution: Thinking Them Together


Thursday
Loren Wilkinson–Science, Wonder and Worship
John Van Sloten–Practical Implementation

 

 

Tidal Pool–by Keith Shields

I am sitting on a rock on the edge of the Pacific Ocean on Galiano Island staring into a tidal pool carved into sandstone. It is completely detached from the rest of the ocean as it is each day when the tide goes out. I am having an E.O. Wilson moment. The pool is approximately 1 meter in diameter, slightly elliptical and about one meter deep. It is teeming with beings. About a thousand minnows in two sizes, crabs, bottom feeding fish, orange starfish, purple starfish, tiny jellyfish, and barnacles; and that is just the fauna. The flora is more diverse, kelp, several kinds of weed I cannot identify, a liver coloured weed with iridescent blue spots that look like eyes staring up at me. Is this the way this weed protects itself from being eaten?

I was at this same spot yesterday just before the tide came in and I wondered how many of these creatures would still be here today. I am surprised to see that all are present and accounted for. I often feel sorry for fish in a fish bowl because they have so little space to swim. But after seeing these fish who choose to live in 2000 litres of water every day, I have no such sympathy. (The mathematically inclined will find themselves wanting to check my calculations.) These fish could leave when the tide comes in. They could say, “Let’s swim to Hawaii,” for the equivalent of a piscine weekend. But these are the safe fish, the smart fish who know that, by staying in this tiny pool, they will not end as food in the belly of a baleen equipped grey whale.

I am awe-struck by this tidal pool and feel that I am teetering on the edge of something large and ominous. E.O. Wilson once came to a tidal pool just like this. When he walked toward the pool he was a child; when he walked away he was a scientist.

I stand in shallow water, staring down at a huge jellyfish in water so still and clear that it’s every detail is revealed as though it were trapped in glass. The creature is astonishing. It existed outside my previous imagination. . . . why do I tell you this little boy’s story? Because it illustrates how a naturalist is created. A child comes to the edge of deep water with a mind prepared for wonder. – E. O. Wilson, The Naturalist.

Elsewhere, Wilson describes how he left his faith because he did not find a place for scientists in the church. When he found mystery and awe in nature and looked for ways to explore his world, he found himself alone. The church had lost interest in the mystics who delved into the wonders of nature. How many other small boys and fifty year-old men might lose themselves in a moment like this and teeter into the tidal pool of science. Will there be anyone in the church willing to dive deep with them? Can we love God and love the science of a tidal pool?

Photo credit: John Van Sloten.

 

“The Ministry Theorem”: Resources for Pastors

The Ministry Theorem is  joint effort between Calvin Theological Seminary’s “Center for Excellence in Preaching” and the Calvin College Science Division.   Together, these two groups have developed an impressive collection of resources to help pastors better engage with science from the pulpit.  Check it out here.

Dr. Ross Hastings: A Call for Christian Unity (Part IV): Parameters and Nodes for gracious and fruitful dialogue – the foundations and the forward motion of pilgrims in unity … an exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16.

Note: This article reflects the substance of a plenary address delivered at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. Its intent is to provide a biblical and theological basis for healthy and fruitful dialogue on the theology and science of origins for pilgrims destined for the same heaven-on-earth celestial city. This content has also appeared on the Biologos forum here.

2. United specifically around the tenets of a theology of creation:

We are all bound by the essentialist creeds as we develop our specific thinking about creation. Here are five tenets to which I think we will all adhere, and which will keep us together as we debate the finer points of the “how” of creation.

(i) We can together affirm the goodness of God’s creation and that it reflects his glory now and that its chief end is the revelation of that glory, accomplished in the Son, through the Spirit, and from and to the Father. That goodness includes the human body. We can affirm that God has acted in Christ to reconcile and redeem creation, not to destroy it, and that human beings are reconciled not to be saved from creation and from their humanity, but in Christ to become human beings fully human and fully alive (Irenaeus).

(ii) We can all affirm the distinction between God and creation and the avoidance of monism or pantheism. Athanasius helpfully stated that God created out of his will not out of his essence. This provides a necessary distinction between the eternal begetting of the Son from the Father and the creation of matter in time. We can thus all affirm the necessity of ex nihilo creation of at least some matter, whether it be of just one atom or one species or all creation all at once.

(ii) We can all affirm a theology of providence over the process of creation. Dysteleological evolution seems to fly in the face of the Christian view of the providence of God, for example, whereas teleological evolution more easily seems to accord with the notion of providence, as do ID or progressive creationism or literal seven-day creationism.

(iii) Alongside of the doctrine of providence, we must all presumably affirm some kind of a theology of the contingency of creation. The dependency of creation on the God of creation must be held in tension with the createdness and the contingency, or the ontological differentiation between God and creation. What this means for (a) the mechanism of creation (b) a theodicy is less certain and is for me one of the front edges of ongoing dialogue with respect to origins to which I will refer later.

(iv) A theology of the imago Dei for created humans, which involves the following:

Reason and moral conscience (structural) and rule, which includes work (functional), but both of which were designed to be exercised in relationship with God. Allow me to explain.

This past summer I listened to the leader of the humanist organization in the UK in conversation with a Catholic bishop over the validity of the Pope making a state visit to UK. He had some good points to make, but his fundamental assumption was the people don’t need God or religion in order to have morals and ethics–the good of their fellow human was the only criterion necessary.

Regrettably one has to point out that this is sheer nonsense. Morality cannot exist in this environ, but rather nihilism. This is to suggest that any morality touted on the basis of humanism alone is based on borrowed capital – the heritage of Christian faith which is the only true humanism- for it gives value to humans based on their createdness by a common God and in His image. The concept of a neutral secular moral arena devoid of religious influence is also nonsense–there is no such thing, as Jamie Smith has stressed–if not Christianity or Islam then some form of religious idolatry fills the public square, including idolatry of the human being or human intellect.

Related to the matter of the image of God is the whole discussion about human culture. It is a product of two influences: the image of God, which is retained in fallen humans, and the fallenness of humans. It takes great discernment to inculturate the gospel and truth without enculturation. It is our task as scientists who are Christian to think Christianly about science, which is to think humanly about science in the highest sense.

This requires awareness that we can never be acultural and that we are inevitable incarnated within the particularity of our own Western post-Enlightenment culture and influenced by it. This is what may be termed inculturation or contextualization. Part of our task is to discern with heightened sensitivity, our own enculturations, by which I mean our undiscerning taking on of cultural values that are contra to God and his kingdom.

Modernity, for example, has potently influenced how even evangelicals have done “reason” and theology.(6) How culture has been influential on the theologies of the “how” of creation is a necessary study. For example, how it has influenced the methodology of literalistic interpretation and the theology of seven-day creationism. Is this a result of literal hermeneutics and sincere study of the plain sense of Scripture or is it the product of a crass literalistic hermeneutic that has been influenced by rationalist Modernity? The desire for certainty by fundamentalists is just the other side of the Enlightenment disconnection between faith and reason

Yet, on the other hand, there is also the danger that we have as evangelicals all too readily accepted the tenets of science, without regard for its enculturation and domination by the dogma of the Enlightenment. Gadamer’s true postmodern (much that passes for postmodernity is simply hypermodernity) critique of the Enlightenment’s “prejudice against prejudice” is well taken.

It is possible to go overboard in critiquing Modernity also, however. Not all that was of the Enlightenment was negative, and as with all cultures there is evidence of that which is of the image of God. No one can deny the blessings and benefits that science and technology and medicine have brought to society. One can in fact argue that the freedom to study creation in its own right, which the Enlightenment prospered, was consonant with and had its roots in a Christian doctrine of creation with roots as far back as the medieval church. I will expand on this below.

Summing up this point, it would seem impossible to find unity unless we share a common epistemological commitment to the fearless pursuit of truth no matter its source, in an empirical fashion, and with acknowledgement that knowledge is gained by more than mere abstract reasoning. This not only validates science, but theology also.

6. For a critique see Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 74-75.

Regent Summer School: Science & Christianity: Retrospect & Prospect

For all scientists, theologian scientists, scientist theologians and people interested in the science-faith dialogue, let me highly recommend the following exciting course coming up this summer (July 11-22) at Regent College. It will be co-taught by David Livingstone, professor of geography at Queen’s University, Belfast, and noted historian Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame. Below is the course description and dates. :

Science and Christianity: Retrospect and Prospect
This course examines critical historical episodes in the interaction between Christianity and science from the sixteenth century to the present. A major goal is to show how deeply embedded in specific cultural situations are all “encounters” between Christianity and science. A second goal is to subvert the notion that talking about any religion-science issue (including “creation” and “evolution”) is a simple matter. A third goal is to suggest Christian strategies for a more fruitful interchange between science and faith. From this course, students should take away both enriched historical understanding and better theological balance for approaching critical questions relating science and Christianity.

For registration details and a complete list of Summer School 2011 courses, see http://summer.regent-college.edu

Ross Hastings–A Visit to AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) in Washington, DC … reflections by Ross Hastings on fundamentalism, science in theological education and other sundry items ….


The phenomenon of fundamentalism is not unique to religion. It is a human temptation and proclivity, and therefore occurs in the interpretation of scientific data also. It is a phenomenon which is probable, even inevitable, when linear thinking prevails. Conor Cunningham’s devastating review in Darwin’s Pious Idea has exposed Richard Dawkins’ fundamentalism with respect to the ‘selfish gene.’ There is a further example of this within the field of neuroscience.

One of the speakers at a DoSER meeting (Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion – a group of thinking evangelical scientists, headed up by Jennifer Wiseman and Peyton West, which participates in the American Association for the Advancement of Science) I have just attended in Washington, DC, Dr. Bill Newsome, of the Stanford School of Medicine, spoke on ‘Neuroscience and Evangelical Christianity: anticipating and alleviating concerns.’

Areas of concern evangelicals might have in this fast advancing field are issues such as cognitive enhancement (memory enhancing drugs, for example), mind reading and embryonic neural stem cell research. But by far the most important issue he signalled has to do with the status of the self and the causal efficacy of the self, behavior control, and moral responsibility. The central dogma of neuroscience is that all of our behaviour and all mental life – including our sense of a conscious, continuing self – emerges from brain chemistry. All of the capacities once attributed to the mind or soul now appear to be functions of the brain.

On the one hand, evangelicals have, in light of these findings, been forced to rediscover that their views of the body and soul ought not to be overly dualistic. Nancey Murphy of Fuller Seminary has written helpfully on this in her book Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies, highlighting that our understanding of the inner person must be deeply rooted in physicalism, and deeply embedded in the brain in ways that harmonize with a deeply Hebraic view of the human, rather than the Greek NeoPlatonically fashioned view, which has had such traction in the Christian heritage. Furthermore, as Newsome highlighted, the work of N.T. Wright on the ultimate future of human persons not as ‘souls going to heaven’ but as embodied persons destined for heaven on earth, reinforces this integrated, rather than dualistic view of humanity. No doubt some evangelicals will remain immune to these findings of science, which actually reinforce good creational, incarnational theology, especially those of a fundamentalist grain. It is to be admitted that the question of what happens to the ‘inner person’ of Christians when they die does, for me, complicate things a little. Both Paul (‘absent from the body,’ is to be ‘present with the Lord’) and Jesus (‘into your hands I commit my spirit’) seem to suggest an entity which for the interval between death and the resurrection, is apparently separable from the body. One could argue either that this anomaly in human existence is indeed that, as 2 Corinthians 5 seems to suggest (it is a naked state for the ‘soul’), or one can alternatively adopt the ‘soul sleep’ theory. This theory suggests that from death the departed are not conscious again until the resurrection, at which time they will have ‘spirited bodies’ again. From the perspective of their awareness, they experience the resurrection and the Lord’s immediate presence immediately, even though their bodies may have lain in the grave for centuries. The findings of brain science do not on either count, really threaten the tenets of Christian orthodoxy with respect to the nature of the human person. This in fact furnishes a good example of how faith and science can be in healthy dialogue.

On the other hand, Newsome in his talk used the famous quote of Francis Crick to illustrate the reductionistic and fundamentalist tendency of some scientists with respect to neuroscience: ‘The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are in fact no more that the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.’ (1) Similarly he cited Steve Pinker, who in TIME magazine stated the following:

ANOTHER STARTLING CONCLUSION FROM the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there’s an executive “I” that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along. (2)

Acknowledging that the majority of neuroscientists are in this category of reductionism, Newsome pointed to the more systems-based approach of Carl Craver, who in Explaining the Brain (3) describes the ‘classical model of reductionism’ (as in Nagel, 1949, 1961) as metaphysical or ontological fundamentalism. He points to the fact that everything has a causal completeness … and that among those things are our minds.

Newsome’s problem with fundamentalist reductionism in neuroscience is first pragmatic: it doesn’t work in real life. Secondly he states that it doesn’t describe what neuroscientists do. Most importantly though, he asks the telling question, ‘how fundamental is fundamental?’ Neuroscientists are far from unanimous as to what level of fundamental is really fundamental. What does one reduce to? The realm of the gene, molecular biology, biochemistry, the atomic level? The quest by geneticists like Dawkins and other ultraDarwinists to make ‘swarming genes’ the fundamental unit determining evolution and reality, the irreducible unit of genetics, just as the atom (or the electron, or the proton or the quark or the ….) is for the ‘hard sciences’, brain scientists are similarly prone to a similar fundamentalism. In fact, Newsome ended his lecture with the parallel quotes of Dawkins (Genes swarm… their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence) and Denis Noble (we are the ultimate rationale for their existence). A less linear systems based approach takes cognizance of mutual manipulability, or that causality runs in both directions, and that on this basis, self-determination, autonomy and responsibility remain for the human.

In sum, this was Newsome’s conclusion: in discussion of ‘Soul’ or ‘Brain,’ there are two versions that make for the incompatibility of Christianity and Science: highly dualistic Christianity and strong reductionism in science. .. and that it doesn’t have to be this way…

This was just one of the very thought-provoking lectures I was privileged to hear this week at the AAAS annual meeting. Along with five other seminary professors in North America, I was invited by DoSER to brainstorm on how science can become more mainstream within seminary (or colleges of ‘graduate theology’) education. We were privileged to attend many seminars and lectures on the current status of many of the scientific disciplines, with the possibility, among many other for advancing this cause, that other seminary profs might be invited in the future. Some of the most interesting talks I heard were on serious issues like:

-Climate change–the data and peer-reviewed interpretation overwhelmingly suggest that there can be no reasonable doubt that significant global warming has occurred, and that we need to act, if it’s not already be too late – see the ‘Real Climate’ blog; the lecture by evangelical Jim McCarthy, ‘An Alaskan Journey to Examine Climate Change’ was also compelling, as was the talk by UBC‘s Villy Christensen, on ‘Biomass of Fish in the World Ocean, 1950–2050: A Century of Decline?’ – the state of things worldwide is not good, but interestingly Nippon Foundation has funded the UBC research facility with a $13M, 9 year grant: Nereus-Predicting the Future Ocean. This includes collaboration with scientists at Princeton, Cambridge, Duke and Stockholm).

-The discovery of new exoplanets by means of the new Kepler telescope, which may hasten the day when earth-like planets may be detected.

-Fun and fascinating matters such as how food taste preferences occur (genetics is important in this – it is possible on the basis of cheek swab testing to predict with 100% accuracy whether the substance PTC will be bitter to you or not. However, early childhood experience is also important. What an expectant mother eats is detected by the foetus via the amniotic fluid. Exposure to carrots in utero leads to the baby liking carrots as an infant, for example. The myth that our tongues have zones for various tastes has been debunked, and it has been discovered that there are many more olfactory zones related to taste – that is, it is smell that often determines taste. A very interesting finding of Gary Beauchamp, who presented this talk, was that just as ibuprofen has a throat irritant effect, so does olive oil, and that this finding has led to the discovery that olive oil has ingredients that have anti-inflammatory and other positive effects (cardiac and cancer-prevention) like ibuprofen).

-How science can be more effectively communicated (Chris Smith of Cambridge gave a very humorous talk on behalf of his radio show in the UK ‘The Naked Scientists’ which is highly interactive…the website could be a very valuable resource for pastors seeking to encourage a more positive view of science in their congregations (thenakedscientists.com) (dare I say this … there was even a calculation of how strong a fart would be required to life a human person of the ground!)

The next AAAS (and DoSER) meeting is in Vancouver next year … it would be great if many of us could attend (google AAAS to find out more)!

Notes

1) Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (NY: Touchstone, 1994), 3.

2) Steve Pinker, ‘The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness’, TIME, Friday, Jan. 19, 2007. Also http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394,00.html#ixzz1EQN59FKB

3) Carl Craver, Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the Mosaic Unity of Neuroscience (Oxford: OUP, 2007), 13.

Morgan Wills–Missing the Trees for the Forest: An Examination of Evangelical “Far-sightedness” regarding Science, with a Focus on Evolutionary Theory

Morgan Wills is an internal medicine physician serving at a nonprofit faith-based clinic for the uninsured in Nashville, TN, where he lives with his wife Heather and three children.  A self-described “Presby-charismAnglican,” Morgan is in the process of completing his Master of Christian Studies degree at Regent College, and is the founding director for the Siloam Institute for Faith, Health, and Culture.  He is also very much still “in process” regarding the interface of science and Christianity, but enjoying the journey!

I spoke just now about the Latinity of Latin. It is more evident to us than it can have been to the Romans. The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the same reason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn your head round, and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see . . . this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. (1)

In this excerpt from his “preliminary” study of miracles, the Oxford literary scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis argues that the most comprehensive view of the natural world is available to those who have in some sense stepped away from her. If Lewis is correct, then not the committed naturalist, but the “Supernaturalist,” is in optimal position to appreciate what is distinctive about Creation, to be curious about her peculiarities, and to probe her secrets. The historical record lends credence to this view, for a majority of the pioneers of early modern “natural philosophy”—as experimental science was then known in Europe—were practicing Christians whose biblically rooted faith informed and motivated their exploration of the natural world.(2)

But can the same be said for “supernaturalist” Christians today? Among all varieties of contemporary Christian believers, evangelicals are the most insistent on maintaining a belief in the reality of miraculous, divine intervention in the created order, particularly as it is portrayed in Scripture.(3) Yet evangelicals are also notoriously suspicious of some of the most significant findings of modern science and less likely than other Christians and nonbelievers to pursue careers in the biological sciences.(4) For evangelicals, it seems that extended contemplation of the natural world is somehow indicative of inattention to God himself. The refrain from a classic gospel hymn composed in the 1920’s is illuminating:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look Full in His wonderful face,

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace(5)

Over time, the impulse behind this preoccupation has had a profound intellectual cost: a sort of metaphysical far-sightedness whereby increasing clarity about the spiritual realm is pursued at the expense of clear vision of “the things of the earth.” Consequently, as historian Mark Noll summarizes it, “evangelical thinking about science is still but a shadow of what God, nature, and Christian faith deserve.”(6)

What lies behind this paradox? Was Lewis wrong in his reasoning about who is most fit to appreciate Nature? Or has something happened along the way that has rendered this particular group of “supernaturalist” Christians so thoroughly disinclined to “meet her and know her”? I think the latter is far more likely. In the pages that follow I will briefly survey the intellectual and theological history that has contributed to our current dilemma. I will also focus in on the evangelical response to one particularly contentious area of scientific thought where these dynamics are cast into particularly bold relief: evolutionary theory. In this arena the more general evangelical apathy and skepticism about science gives way to unusual skittishness(7) and even downright hostility.(8) As important a question as it is, however, the goal of this paper will not be to argue for one position or another on human origins as much as to understand the socio-cultural climate in which recent evangelical attitudes towards evolution have developed. Having done so, we will be more prepared to discern the critical but subtle theological issues at play. As we shall see, there is a spiritual root to this intellectual crisis after all.

* * *

The current situation is complex, however. In his published debate with Intelligent Design theorist Phillip Johnson, the evolutionary creationist author Denis Lamoureux suggests that “the evangelical debate over biological origins is principally an information problem, or rather a lack of information problem . . . and devoting ourselves to reading the scroll of God’s works is the most important decision that we evangelicals can make.”(9) This call for the brethren to pay more heed to the Book of Nature is certainly well founded. However, with all due respect to Dr. Lamoureux, I do not believe that the way out of this morass lies primarily in an act of the will to gather more data.(10) Rather, the biggest hurdle to an evangelical rapprochement with modern science’s all-encompassing theory is not inadequate information, but a truncated imagination. Exposure to good information will only be effective if believers are genuinely motivated to look and listen with teachable minds. For this to happen it is critical to examine the underlying and unarticulated set of presuppositions, or plausibility structure, which hinders evangelical thought about Nature in the first place. As Lewis reminds us, “what we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.”(11)

Understanding a tacit philosophy, or worldview, is no easy task. A worldview is not usually articulated but functions more on the level of the imagination. As Richard Weaver memorably wrote in his 1948 classic Ideas Have Consequences, a worldview can be understood as one’s “metaphysical dream of the world.”(12) But ideas—or dreams—have antecedents, too.(13) In Space, Time and Incarnation, theologian Thomas F. Torrance argues that the source of much contemporary Protestant confusion about the material world lays in the manner in which the Medieval Latin Church unwittingly incorporated the Greek notion of space as a receptacle or container into its theology. By contrast, “Nicene thought,” using the biblical teaching on Incarnation as its touchstone, “developed a relational conception of space.” This concept of space, still recognizable today in Eastern Orthodox understanding (as with icons), is “a differential concept that is…relatively closed, so to speak, on our side where it has to do with physical existence, but is one which is infinitely open on God’s side.”(14) Thus, God cannot be conceived as existing in a temporal or spatial relation to the universe (Time is in creation after all), but rather encompasses the entire universe by His power. Despite this emphasis among the Patristics, however, the Aristotelian notion of receptacle space crept back into Western Christian thought, and was consolidated into the whole structure of Medieval theology in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Colin Gunton augments this understanding in Triune Creator, where he argues that over a similar time period “the Trinitarian construction and mediation” of creation through the Son and the Spirit (Irenaeus called these the Father’s “two hands”) gave way to a more monistic conception of God who creates with something more like the eternal forms of Greek philosophy. In this way, the Christian doctrine of Creation entered a long “Babylonian captivity.”(15) The issue of agency—in this case, the Son’s intermediary role in creation, so vividly portrayed in the opening verses of John’s gospel—is one that continued to bedevil Christian understandings of science for centuries to come.

Torrance suggests that the Reformed school of Protestantism revived the Nicene understanding of dynamic, relational space, but that it was soon overshadowed by the receptacle notions of space retained in Lutheran thought and subsequent German scholasticism. The stage was set for Isaac Newton, who, in his effort to render nature determinate and make our knowledge of it possible and reliable, conflated infinite volume with the Spirit of God and infinite time with eternity. According to Torrance, this conjoining of God and the world by giving them space and time in common eventually led—despite Newton’s religious intentions—to a dualism that rapidly devolved into deism. Ironically, the hyper-immanence of God in Newton’s closed, container-like universe set up a scenario in which, as cause-and-effect mechanisms were increasingly discovered within it, God increasingly seemed irrelevant. Thus, later scientists like LaPlace could reasonably argue that they no longer needed “the God hypothesis.” This Newtonian “metaphysical dream of the universe” lingers unconsciously among many today who are too quick to charge “pantheism” when scholars like Jurgen Moltmann argue for a significant degree of immanence for God in the universe. Although some—such as process theologians—are no doubt guilty of this, the Patristic “differential” concept of space allows for a fully Trinitarian view in which God is both immanent and transcendent at the same time. Interestingly, Torrance suggests that the growing sense of God’s detachment from any real interaction with Nature also gave rise to a new natural theology: “a habit of projecting upon ‘God’ an objectifying form of thought rooted in our knowledge of the natural world, and thus to create objectivist concepts in theology corresponding to the static space of classical physics.”(16) Such natural theology is to be distinguished from revealed theology, the doctrines derived from God’s revelation in the pages of Scripture.(17) Variants of natural theology, exemplified in the influential design arguments of William Paley, would come to dominate thought about science, including human origins, in the early 19th century.

Before we proceed to a closer examination of “Darwin’s century,” however, we need to acknowledge one other critical influence: Francis Bacon. Bacon’s 1620 work, Novum Organum, was pivotal in promoting the careful study of nature for the sake of procuring useful knowledge for the betterment of humankind.(18) One of the hallmarks of Bacon’s thought was his emphasis on an empirical approach to learning about the natural world through observation, rather than drawing conclusions primarily through logical deduction. As he put it, “the human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. . . Hence, the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles.”(19) Baconianism is the name that some have given this rigorously empirical mindset of constantly revising previous theories in light of careful scrutiny of the Book of Nature as she really is. Although there were myriad other important developments in theology and philosophy that contributed towards the flowering of knowledge in the Scientific Revolution, the Baconian approach(20) emerged as a consistent and fundamental element of the scientific mindset among evangelicals in the 19th c. when Charles Darwin’s “revolutionary idea” came to the fore.(21)

Born in 1809, Darwin was an aristocrat who studied medicine in Edinburgh and briefly trained to become a cleric in the Church England before cultivating his career as a shipboard naturalist upon one of the voyages of discovery that were common in his day. In this way, he was typical of so many in the early 19th century who did not fall into the convenient stereotypes we often anachronistically place upon historical figures. It was the twilight of an era in which there was no professional class of “scientists,” but rather an abundance of “natural philosophers” who largely came from the ranks of clergy.(22) Although not an evangelical himself, he was in dialogue with eminent Christian thinkers of all perspectives throughout his life. Although the idea and even the term “evolution” already existed (in reference to the progressive, unfolding changes of organisms as seen in embryology), his Origin of Species argued for an understanding of the development of whole species through a similar, but much slower transformation of types over very long periods. This idea of common natural descent, later extrapolated to explain the origin of humans as well, is implicit to the term evolution to this day. Darwin’s most innovative achievement, however, was the discovery and substantiation of the principle of natural selection (of adaptive traits generated through random variation), a mechanism which made the larger hypothesis scientifically comprehensible.(23) The theory has undergone periods of relative disfavor, modification, and reworking as more information has become available from the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and genetics. And although it does not yet offer an effective explanation for the origin of life itself (as some might contend), evolutionary theory has nevertheless provided the most coherent and fruitful explanatory paradigm for understanding the emergence, interconnectedness, and diversity of living species.(24)

Ironically, what has “evolved” even more than Darwin’s theory itself in the intervening 150 years has been the evangelical Christian appraisal of it. The Irish geographer David Livingstone is among the ablest chroniclers of this development. In his book Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders he painstakingly documents the complex array of attitudes about science prevalent among early 19th c. evangelicals. He concludes: they were eager participants in scientific study; they conducted their science within the framework of some form of natural theology (“all were convinced that the creation bore the unmistakable stamp of its Creator”); there was no evangelical consensus on the philosophy of geology, particularly regarding catastrophism (the notion of a Noachic deluge causing massive disruptions in the earth’s surface); and finally, “by and large, Christian geologists had both encountered and accommodated the issue of the age of the earth long before the appearance of Darwin’s theory. Whatever Darwin challenged, it certainly was not this.”(25)

Such heterogeneity of views—surprising as it may seem to the contemporary observer—was typical both before and after the publication of Origin of Species. On the one hand, among the scientific class, one of first and foremost proponents of Darwin’s theory was Asa Gray, the Harvard professor of botany and a devout Presbyterian who converted as an adult in 1835. He was a committed Baconian empiricist who saw in Darwin’s theory a way to explain the distribution of plant species worldwide. Gray’s primary public interlocutor in the debate over Darwin’s theory was fellow Harvard scholar Louis Agassiz, a vehement defender of the fixity, or special creation, of distinct species. Ironically, Agassiz was a Unitarian who dismissed the biblical account of creation so cherished by evangelicals.(26) This ironic polarity exemplifies the truth that, “for evangelicals in science, the problem with Darwin was not that he challenged the authority of the Bible but that he had attacked design.”(27) In other words, the situation more closely resembled the renewal of an old family squabble among largely Christian natural philosophers than the provocation of an utterly new debate. Though evangelical scientists were hardly uniform in their proposed solutions to Darwin’s challenge, none found the problem insurmountable.(28)

The theologians did little to discourage them from this task. There were certainly some evangelical leaders, such as Charles Hodge of Princeton, who decided that evolutionary theory posed a tragic ultimatum: “either Darwin was wrong or God did not exist.”(29) Yet there were many others who resisted this binary mode of thinking. Within the confines of Hodge’s Princeton, James McCosh emerged as an articulate spokesman for a conservative evangelical theology that could absorb the implications of evolutionary theory without being gutted of orthodox content or confidence in biblical authority. Even B.B. Warfield, the theologian whose doctrine of biblical inerrancy forms the basis for most modern evangelical opposition to evolution, formally considered the possibility of evolution “an open question” and proposed that it was in principle not opposed to orthodox Calvinism.(30) The default “evangelical Christian” evaluation of evolution was thus anything but simple to discern. As Livingstone summarizes it,

That there was no uniform response to Darwin must now be beyond doubt. Some few rejected both Darwinism and the more general theory of evolution out right; others carefully discriminated between the two, dismissing the former while courting the latter; still others were prepared to go most of the way with Darwin. But it is just as clear that evangelicals throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth generally found the theological resources necessary to absorb the implications of the new biology.

What’s more, the surprising pluralism of opinion about evolution among evangelicals “did not degenerate into factionalism.”(31) Advocates and opponents alike took painstaking care to study the firsthand arguments and clearly define terms before engaging in debate. Likewise, positions regarding the theory were rarely held to be tests of Christian orthodoxy.

The contrast could not be starker with the climate among evangelicals today. Paradoxically, compared to a century ago there has been a significantly increased level of acceptance of the idea of special creation. According to a 2004 Gallup poll, despite an overwhelming consensus among scientists in favor of some form of evolutionary theory (whether “theistic” or not), 45% of all Americans claimed to believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”(32) Although Gallup does not cite survey data for evangelicals a group, there are plenty of surrogate markers for the prevalence of this view, dogmatically held: the repeated pattern of populist opposition shutting down potentially fruitful lines of inquiry by evangelical scientists or scholars when they come even close to sanctioning the evolutionist conclusions of the scientific establishment;(33) the flurry of publicity and court cases surrounding U.S. school boards’ efforts to allow public schools the freedom to teach aspects of Intelligent Design theory; and the recent high-profile forced “resignation” of Prof. Bruce Waltke from the faculty of Reformed Seminary in Orlando for airing his views about the compatibility of Scripture with an evolutionary theory, to name a few.(34)

The sentiment that drives such dogmatism is certainly varied, and sometimes nuanced,(35) but a common theme—whether articulated by the leaders of Young Earth Creationism (YEC) such as the late Henry Morris or more sophisticated critics such as ID’s Phillip Johnson—is fear of the social, political, and/or personal effects of all-encompassing Darwinism. Johnson’s stated purpose in his work, for example, is to help students “protect themselves against the indoctrination in naturalism that so often accompanies education.”(36) Morris calls Evolution a “lie that permeates and dominate modern thought in every field” and inevitably leads to “lethally ominous political developments, and… chaotic moral and social disintegrations.”(37) Ken Hamm of Answers in Genesis has specifically shaped his YEC organization to rectify the exodus whereby “at least two-thirds of children raised in theologically conservative churches walk away from the church (or even the Christian faith altogether).”(38) Judging from the growing chorus of evangelical voices like these, it would seem that the atheist spokesmen like T.H. Huxley and Richard Dawkins are right: there really is no common ground between the materialist explanations of evolutionary theory and a biblically rooted, supernaturalist faith.

* * *

The big question, of course, is: What happened over the past century? The story is complicated, but it begins with some of the conceptual and linguistic difficulties mentioned above and refracts them through the unique historical peculiarities of the American experience. An excellent overview of the developments which led to this state of affairs is given by evangelical scholar Mark Noll in his 1994 “cri de coeur,” The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In Noll’s assessment, the proximate roots of the problem were threefold: revivalism, the separation of church and state, and the subsequent development—and then collapse—of an American/Christian cultural synthesis.

Although revivals have always been a feature of Christian history, the early American experience was unique in that “revival loomed as the dominant theme defining the nature and purpose of the church.”(39) In contrast to the traditional state-sponsored churches of Europe, individual American revivalists wielded religious authority in the New World, and they found ways to propagate the gospel that resonated with a deeply democratic and individualistic society. Three traits—the exaltation of individual choice, the authority given to charismatic leaders who could preach a simple message to a broad audience, and the call to receive the faith immediately—were features that ensured the success of the evangelical church numerically.(40) Furthermore, the policy of separation of church and state resulted in what sociologist Roger Finke has called “religious deregulation”—an open market atmosphere which fostered highly pragmatic approaches to religion. This pressure for results, combined with the exigencies of life in a frontier society, left little time or margin for American evangelicals to do the kind of hard intellectual and theological work for which established Catholic and Protestant traditions had been well known.(41)

Another critical ingredient in the mix was the wholesale adoption by turn of the 19th c. evangelicals (along with most Americans) of the categories of thought derived from the “common sense” Scottish Enlightenment. Although it is initially puzzling that the heirs of the Puritans and the Great Awakening would so quickly embrace the naturalism, optimism, and scientific rationality of the Enlightenment, Noll postulates that

In the midst of an era marked by a radical willingness to question the verities of the past, the intuitive philosophy provided by the Scots offered an intellectually respectable way to establish public virtue in a society that was busily repudiating the props upon which virtue had traditionally rested.(42)

For evangelicals in a new American nation, this intuitivist philosophy arrived just in time. In particular, it met an apologetic need, enabling evangelicals to enlist reason as their primary tool in defense of the Christian faith. This led to an increasingly “Baconian” approach, not just to the natural world, but also to Christianity. “Rigorous empiricism became the standard for justifying belief in God, revelation, and the Trinity, [and] provided a key for using physical science itself as a demonstration of religious truths.”(43) As Scotsman and Princeton College president John Witherspoon put it, the intellectual goal of Revolutionary War era evangelicals was “to meet [the infidels]” of irreligion and disorder “upon their own ground, and to show them from reason itself, the fallacy of their principles.”(44) As the Victorian era progressed, conservative theologians increasingly resorted more and more to scientific language and axioms in defending the integrity and authority of Scripture against the encroachments of higher biblical criticism.(45) American revivalists like Charles Finney even used the mechanistic, cause-and-effect language of science to predict the probability of spiritual realities such as conversion.(46) In their rigorously scientific Biblicism they were speaking the American vernacular.

Yet the social and cultural landscape in the U.S. was dramatically altered after the Civil War. A massive blow had been dealt to the confidence and psyche of the still young American nation, and the Christian-American cultural synthesis, imperfect as it had been, was strained to the breaking point. For one thing, the new economic realities of an industrializing society led to the accumulation of massive wealth by a small coterie of industrial capitalists. Their philanthropy, in turn, fed the both the creation of new educational institutions—such as Johns Hopkins, Cornell, and Vanderbilt—and the transformation of old colleges—such as Princeton, Yale, and others—into research universities that increasingly were modeled, not on the pastoral ideals of the moral philosophers, but on the ideals of science.(47) Furthermore, Noll contends that “American industrialists,” who funded and filled the boards of these institutions, “to one degree or another, seemed to have favored [a] kind of social Darwinism”—a “law of the jungle” in modern dress that was gaining traction even before Charles Darwin’s theory emerged to give it a veneer of scientific credibility.(48) Whether due to their influence or the increasing role of the State, the driving forces in higher education were further and further removed from the churches which had shaped it for the previous two centuries. In fact, many have argued persuasively that the whole “warfare” paradigm for understanding the relationship between Christianity and science actually emerged during this transitional period as a result of a very intentional and ahistorical polemic by some of the new, secular scholars who were fighting to establish “science” and other disciplines as distinct professions, independent of church authority and influence.(49)

Combined with the rapidly changing social landscape fostered by urbanization, emancipation, Reconstruction, and immigration, these changes in the American intellectual climate constituted a dramatically new set of challenges for American evangelicals at the turn of the 20th century. Under the conditions of the old Christian-American cultural synthesis, moral activism and evangelism sufficed to keep the church growing in ways that far outpaced their European counterparts. It did not seem necessary to dedicate much time or energy towards cultivation of critically discerning theology of culture. Consequently, intellectual life increasingly centered around the rising, secular universities, and evangelical thinking became increasingly insulated from the broader cultural currents. Given the apparent choice between accommodating fully to the prevailing ideologies of modernism, as the mainline Protestants appeared to do, and “going it alone,” many conservative evangelicals chose the latter as a matter of faithfulness. The result over time was a vast structure of “parallel institutions”—in media, social services, publishing, and education. This alternative set of structures did serve their purposes, but they have also been characterized by their insularity, their marginality to the centers of cultural production, and their almost exclusively populist appeal.(50)

A quintessential representative of this populist emphasis was the Presbyterian layman and thrice-defeated Democratic candidate for President, William Jennings Bryan.(51) Although most known today for his oft-misunderstood role in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1922, Bryan was a passionate evangelical, a dynamic public speaker, and a tireless and passionate defender of the weak and vulnerable who was beloved by the founders of the ACLU. Bryan, like most of evangelical leaders in the opening years of the 20th c., had no problem with an ancient earth and held an ambivalent and evolving (pun intended) view of evolution. What ultimately led him to throw his lot in with the small but increasingly vocal antievolutionist camp, however, was not the scientific theory per se, “but the metaphysical naturalism and consequent Social Darwinism that scientific evolution was often called upon to justify.”(52) World War I was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Bryan and many others. After the horror of total war, he rightfully decried “might makes right” philosophy of German military ideology. He also realized how Social Darwinism had dulled the conscience of the West to the excesses of the industrial age, potentially destroying Christianity and democracy in the process. Consequently, in public lectures with title such as “The Menace of Darwinism,” he began to lambast the theory: “Forget, if need be, the high-brows both in the political and college world, and carry this cause to the people. They are the final and efficiently corrective power.”(53) This anti-elitist refrain would soon grow into a crescendo as the fundamentalist movement took off in the 1920’s.

For theologically conservative Christians the legacy of fundamentalism is ambiguous at best. On the one hand, early 20th c. fundamentalists found a way to maintain essential convictions of orthodox, historic Christianity—such as “the supernatural character of religions, the objectivity of Christian morality, and the timeless validity of Scripture”—in the face of an overwhelming number of cultural pressures to do otherwise.(54) And yet, in the process of retreat and the impulse to defend, they also gave rise to some unusual new theological emphases, or “innovations”: Holiness spirituality, Pentecostalism, and premillenial dispensationalism.(55) Although there are many nuances to each of these strains of modern evangelical Christianity, each has been marked by a consistent emphasis on otherworldliness. Believing themselves increasingly to be a remnant among a “crooked and depraved generation,” their predominant task morphed from a balance between mission and constructive engagement with the complexities of the world around them into one of maintaining their own personal purity, rescuing unbelievers from this evil age, and anticipating the End to come.(56) Life came to be seen, in Lewis’ words, as “merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women.” And perhaps angels, too. Bolstered by the surge of charismatic experiences in the Pentecostal revival, many fundamentalist leaders focused almost exclusive attention on the un-mediated agency of God in the life of the believer. In light of their intuitive instincts, it was only a short—and obvious—step for these embattled believers to apply these same habits of thought to the question of human biological origins.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider why the Creationist movement was such a distinctively American, as opposed to a British, phenomenon. Although Britain was experiencing some of the same tribulations as the U.S. in the wake of WWI, the climate was less volatile there because science—and thus scientific Biblicism—had assumed less importance for Christians in that more traditional society. The doctrine of biblical inerrancy, for instance, was much less of a preoccupation for evangelicals in Britain. In this context, “the intellectual debate over evolution [in the U.S.] was also a debate over the role of Protestantism in a culture that had forsworn tradition.”(57) Also, part of the militancy of the fundamentalist antagonism against “Darwinism” was due to a uniquely American type of ressentiment.(58) That is, as George Marsden has explained, until the turn of the 20th c. revivalist evangelicals—especially in the rural South—had never been in the position of a minority, and were eager to reclaim their lost status. British evangelicals, always a minority, had developed a stronger tradition of toleration than their American cousins.(59) This cultural ressentiment in the U.S., combined with fundamentalists’ growing familiarity with supernatural realities such as spiritual warfare, led to an almost Manichaean mindset whereby cultural conflicts came to be seen as simplistic, all-or-nothing confrontations between the forces of good and evil.

With this context in mind, it is very telling that modern Creationism began to emerge in the U.S. in the 1920’s. George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist “geologist” who was motivated to defend the literal six-day creationist interpretations of the sect’s founder Ellen G. White, wrote a series of anti-evolutionist tracts culminating in a book-length treatment, The New Geology in 1923. Although he had no formal training or field experience in geology—Numbers calls him “a voracious reader . . . who self-consciously minimized the importance of field experience”—his views about six-day creation and a universal flood soon began to win over many fellow fundamentalists, most of whom had previously subscribed to the “day-age” or “gap” interpretations of Genesis 1 (both are compatible with an ancient age for the earth).(60) The appeal of his writing lay in its intuitive, or common sense, reading of Genesis, as well as its implicit anti-elitism. In one telling anecdote, Price scolded one of his young disciples for challenging the scholarship of his textbook, accusing him of suffering from “the modern mental disease of university-itis” and of currying the favor of “tobacco-smoking, Sabbath-breaking, God-defying” evolutionists.(61)

The creationist movement lost momentum after the public relations disaster of the Scopes trial, and the distracting hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, but it resurfaced again with a flourish in the 1960’s. The dynamics of resentment were at play once again. In the intervening decades, the expansion of federal government was substantial. With the launch of the satellite Sputnik by the Soviets, and the ensuing “space race” with the U.S., vast amounts of federal monies were put towards new high school science textbooks and curricula nationwide. The result of this frenzied publishing effort was not only the introduction of some important contemporary findings of modern science, but also some “grandly phrased metaphysical claims about the evolutionary character of the cosmos.”(62) This hegemonic governmental intrusion precipitated intense localist reactions among evangelicals in particular. In 1961 Henry M. Morris, an engineer, and John C. Whitcomb, Jr., a young theologian at Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana, threw a lit match into the tinder of popular, fundamentalist frustration. The book they co-wrote, The Genesis Flood, was essentially a modern updating of Price’s flood geology. As the social upheaval of the 1960’s unfolded, the book touched a collective raw nerve among many of the faithful. With its copious footnotes and other scholarly veneer, it also seemed to make biblical catastrophism “intellectually respectable.” Yet, like the armchair scientist Price before him, Morris’ impulse was not to “meet [Nature] and know her” on her own terms. In fact, he refused to be drawn into scientific debate about the merits of their argument, saying that “the real issue is not the correctness of the interpretation of various details of the geological data, but simply what God has revealed in His Word concerning these matters.”(63)

Although there have been modifications of Morris and Whitcomb’s proposals over the ensuing decades, the appeal to Scripture—and a particularly American, evangelical, individualistic and scientific appraisal of Scripture—continues to be central to creationism. Consider this excerpt from a contemporary creationist textbook:

Starting with God’s eyewitness account of the creation of the universe we can then use scientific principles to understand the world around us. From the Bible we can conclude that the earth is about 6,000 years old, man lived with dinosaurs, there was a worldwide Flood, and God came to earth as Jesus Christ to die for our sins. Using these ideas as a framework for scientific exploration, we can begin to understand how the world around us came to be in the state that it is in.(64)

What ideal is suggested by the appeal to God as an “eyewitness”? Who determines the highly selective content of this “framework for scientific exploration”? By assuming a capacity to “clearly” understand a text which St. Augustine himself could not definitively interpret after decades of study and six volumes of commentary,(65) the creationists appear to have committed a deeply unbiblical error: they put too much confidence in themselves. Once again, Noll captures the paradox beautifully:

Thus, under the illusion of fostering a Baconian approach to Scripture, creationists seek to convince their audience that they are merely contemplating simple conclusions from the Bible, when they are really contemplating conclusions shaped by their preunderstandings of how the Bible should be read. This misguided Baconianism toward the Bible has led to the practical abandonment of Baconianism toward nature. In an effort to avoid the godless conclusions to which some scientists put their results, creationists abandoned the practice of empirical openness to what their senses told them for the practice of deductive dogmatism.(66)

No doubt there is a long tradition of godless conclusions which have been ascribed to evolutionary theory, and modern science in general. As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote on the centennial anniversary of Origin of Species, misguided creationists may have been guilty of “telling a lot of little lies in the interest of a great truth,” but Science has often been “telling a lot of little truths” about causes, which are fashioned into a “big lie.(67) No one has been more helpful in pointing out this tendency than Phillip Johnson. Although Johnson’s polemic about the pervasiveness of naturalism seems somewhat exaggerated, the Intelligent Design movement which he has nurtured is at its strongest when it is exposing the misguided claims of metaphysical naturalism that are supposedly justified by evolutionary theory. One of the tactical successes of the ID movement has been its conscious decision to eschew appeals to Scripture and to focus on what is essentially a variant of the old natural theology. The detailed biochemical and mathematical arguments of legitimate, credentialed scientists like Michael Behe and William Dembski have also made it more intellectually respectable than traditional creationism.

But is this movement so different from creationism? Or is it just a case of same tune, different verse? There are too many considerations to fully explore here, but for a start let us consider the underlying ideals of ID. These come out a bit more clearly in a published debate between Johnson and his fellow evangelical, the “evolutionary creationist” Dr. Denis Lamoureux. In this particular example, Johnson criticizes Lamoureux for allowing no “detectable role [for God] in evolution.” He complains that Lamoureux’s notion of “teleological” evolution “has no more scientific content than the ‘theism’ in theistic evolution. . . . What exactly did God do (beyond establishing the laws at the beginning of time) and how do we know that he actually did it?”(68) This language of precision (reminiscent of Hodge), and even more importantly, the ideal that the ID movement implies of finding a “detectable” role for God (or an unspecified “Designer”) seem to be more evidence of the problem of that Torrance pointed out: the impropriety of using Newtonian spatio-temporal language to describe God. Johnson’s tendency towards the typically naïve Baconianism of American evangelicalism comes further into view as you watch the published “debate” unfold.(69) Although there is some genuine give-and-take between scientists such as Lamoureux and Behe, Johnson simply sidesteps most of Lamoureux’s arguments. Keith Miller rightly calls out Johnson for insulating himself from criticism and subverting meaningful dialogue.(70) Although Johnson justifies his dodge on philosophical grounds, the parallels to the tactics of the arch-creationist Morris are striking.

* * *

This pattern of “deductive dogmatism” about scientific matters runs deep in the mindset of modern evangelicalism. In tracing the controversy over evolution, there are no doubt countless issues and questions which we do not have time to explore. It is critical to note that evangelicals have “fought the good fight” in defending and protecting some of the core components of Christian orthodoxy from the corrosive effects of modernism. Yet their own unquestioned modernist (and Aristotelian and Newtonian) assumptions have often been camouflaged in the process. Although there are certainly individual exceptions to the trend, the resulting, general theme in the twentieth century evangelical encounter with science has been a failure of near vision. Whether the issue at hand is a text of Scripture, the geological strata, the distribution and diversity of species, the genetic evidence for common descent, or even the straightforward arguments of a critic, post-war American evangelicals have demonstrated a remarkable tendency to minimize, avoid, or deny what is right before their eyes. Once again, Noll says it well: “In their enthusiasm for reading the world in light of Scripture, evangelicals forget the proposition that the Western world’s early modern scientist had so successfully taken to heart as a product of their own deep Christian convictions—to understand something, one must look at that something.”(71)

As we have seen, a Christ-centered way of looking at the world involves actually looking at the world. Not to do so with any genuine interest or concern is more in keeping with the ancient Christian heresy of Gnosticism. There is no room in Christianity for otherworldliness at the expense of attention to actual life in this world—whether in science, aesthetics, or other arenas. If the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus mean anything, it is that God takes this physical, created world very, very seriously. In order to recover an appropriate sense of wonder, curiosity, and appreciation for “the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current,” perhaps evangelicals would do well to learn from the other streams of tradition within the Christian family. Just as evangelical renewal has spiritually revitalized many branches of the church through history, so the rich intellectual traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Reformed tradition, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism have their own particular strengths to offer their younger, vital sister. It is no surprise to note that C.S. Lewis himself, a British evangelical who advocated so eloquently for the Supernaturalist’s embrace of science, was also a practicing Anglican. For him, the sacramental approach to life—simultaneously affirming both the physical realities we experience and the spiritual realities they point to—was the best way to keep the tension of God’s immanence and transcendence in Nature in proper perspective. In this way we may truly “meet her and know her”—as a gift from the Creator himself. For American evangelicals, the “pure water from beyond the world” is tantalizingly sweet, but until our spiritual capacities are fully transformed, “sweet and sour” may make for a more appetizing—and nourishing—meal.

Notes

1) C.S. Lewis, Miracles: a Preliminary Study (NY: Macmillan, 1978), 66, italics mine.

2) See Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator: a Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), as well as the Rodney Stark Survey cited in Denis Alexander’s notes from Regent pastors’ Conference 2010.

3) British historian David Bebbington identified the four key ingredients of evangelicalism that I will assume in using this term throughout this essay: conversionism (emphasis on a “new birth” experience), Biblicism (reliance on Scripture as the ultimate religious authority), activism (the priority of sharing the faith), and crucicentrism (a focus on Christ’s redeeming work on the cross). These are just tendencies, however, and the institutional forms of evangelicalism can and do differ widely, especially in the U.S. See Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 8.

4) Francis Collins, current NIH director and the former leader of the Human Genome Project, is one who defies this general characterization. However, his very prominence as an outspoken evangelical Christian and nationally respected scientist and evolutionist makes him the novel exception that proves the rule.

5) “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” written in 1922 by Helen H. Lemmel, in Noll, 144.

6) Ibid, 233.

7) As a product of the Reformed evangelical community, I have felt this skittishness myself over the years. As I have begun to grapple with my own reflexive bias against evolutionary theory, I perceive the visceral responses among my evangelical friends as well. It appears I am not alone. In a 2009 study of evangelical seminary faculty opinions on evolutionary theory, OT scholar Bruce Waltke found that of 659 who viewed the online survey, only 264 (40%) actually completed it. The issue appeared to be too super-charged. Fear of survey bias one way or the other was cited especially. Bruce Waltke, “Barriers to Accepting Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process, Part I,” accessed 17 December, 2010, available from http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Waltke_scholarly_essay.pdf.

8 ) Although the “warfare” model of the relationship between faith and science is increasingly seen as passé, the issue of creationism vs. evolutionism has, in the opinion of Mark Noll, been second only to abortion as an issue driving the “culture wars” in the U.S. since 1960 (p. 192).

9) Phillip E. Johnson and Denis O. Lamoureux, Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins (Vancouver, Regent College Publishing, 1999), 75.

10) This appeal to and confidence in human volition is deeply characteristic of both the Enlightenment and the revivalist roots of evangelicalism. See Gordon Smith, Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic Transformation (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVPress, 2001)

11) Lewis, 3.

12) Accessed 15 December, 2010, available from http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/print.php?id=23-01-008-c.

13) I am indebted to Ken Myers of the Mars Hill Audio Journal for this particular turn of phrase.

14) Thomas F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997 paperback edition), 18. I am struck by the resonance of this concept with the image from the Narnia Chronicles of the wardrobe and other “portals” between worlds.

15) Gunton, 96.

16) Torrance, 40-41.

17) David Livingstone, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: the Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1984), 3.

18) Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 124-5.

19) Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, I, 45, quoted in Lewis, 27.

20) As Michael Polanyi and Loren Wilkinson have pointed out, the Baconian approach and the subsequent positivism which it birthed are nonetheless flawed by a utilitarian tendency to minimize the role of wonder and the personal subjectivity of the scientist him/herself in discovery.

21) Noll, 178.

22) Timothy Larsen, “’War is Over, If you Want it’: Beyond the Conflict Between Faith and Science,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith vol. 60, Number 3 (September, 2008): 147-154. Nonetheless, for purposes of simplicity and style, I will usually use the simpler term “scientists” in this paper.

23) Julian S. Huxley, “Darwin and the Idea of Evolution,” in A Book That Shook the World: Anniversary Essays on Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1958), 2.

24) For a frank and popularly accessible analysis of the sheer scientific fruitfulness of evolutionary theory by a committed evangelical scientist, see Francis Collins, The Language of God: a Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (NY: Free Press, 2006),

25) Livingstone, 27.

26) Ibid., 57-62.

27) And the idea of design in Nature, we may recall, was most developed in the Protestant schools of natural theology, which were themselves marked by characteristic Enlightenment confidence in man’s ability to discern accurately and precisely the patterns of design God put into Nature. (See Noll and Livingstone lectures).

28) Ibid, 98-99.

29) Frederick Gregory, “The Impact of Darwinian Evolution on Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century,” in God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, eds. Lindbert, David C. and Numbers, Ronald L. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 377.

30) Livingstone, 119.

31) Ibid., 145.

32) Collins, 147.

33) Noll, 230.

34) “Resignation of Bruce Waltke over issues of science and faith,” www.cosmos.regent-college.edu.

35) Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller is a good example. He has helpfully demonstrated the importance of delineating evolutionary theory per se and Evolution as “a Grand Theory of Everything” (which out to be definitively denounced) in his white paper “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” available at http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf.

36) Phillip E. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 10.

37) Collins, 5.

38) Ken Hamm, “It’s an Attack on the Son,” AnswersUpdate (newsletter), Vol 17, issue 11. The motto of this organization—which recently founded a state-of-the-art Creation Science Museum in Kentucky depicting Adam and Eve living in proximity to dinosaurs—is “equipping Christians to uphold the authority of the Bible from the very first verse.”

39) Noll, 60.

40) The revivalists placed a newfound emphasis on conversion as an immediate, punctiliar decision of the will, rather than a mediated process of the whole person, as it had historically been seen. I find it intriguing that the modern heirs of the revivalists have embraced a similar understanding of Creation as an un-mediated, punctiliar event effected by God’s will.

41) Noll, 60-67.

42) Ibid., 87.

43) Ibid., 91.

44) Ibid.

45) The classic statement of such “Enlightenment biblicism” was found in Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology: “The Bible is to the theologian what nature is the man of science. It is his store-house of facts; and his method of ascertaining what the Bible teaches, is the same as that which the natural philosopher adopts to ascertain what nature teaches…The duty of the Christian theologians to ascertain, collect, and combine all the facts which God has revealed…in the Bible.” (Ibid, 98).

46) Ibid, 96.

47) In a telling anecdote, the opening ceremonies of Johns Hopkins University in 1876 featured no prayer, but the famous agnostic T. H. Huxley, also known as “Darwin’s bulldog,” was an invited speaker (Ibid, 108).

48) Ibid, 112.

49) See Larsen for a good introduction to this body of research.

50) James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: OUP, 2010), 86.

51) Pre-dating as he did most of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, however, Bryan’s life work cannot be seen as either insular or marginal to the culture at large.

52) Noll, 189.

53) Ronald L. Numbers, “The Creationists,” in Lindberg and Numbers, eds. God and Nature, 396.

54) Noll minces no words in his assessment of the impact of fundamentalism on the life of the evangelical mind. Although not without hope for its renewal, he likens the situation to that of a cancer patient who, in fighting for his life, ends up severely disfigured by the very chemotherapy that was used to save him.

55) Noll, 115.

56) Ibid, 119-20.

57) Ibid., 181.

58) Hunter defines ressentiment as “a discourse of negation” that is grounded in a narrative of perceived injury, based on a sense of entitlement. It is often operative structurally, regardless of whether the individuals involved feel resentful (107-8).

59) Numbers, 406.

60) Ibid., 400-401.

61) Ibid., 406.

62) Noll, 193.

63) Numbers, 409.

64) Roger Patterson, Evolution Exposed: Biology by Roger Patterson, accessed 15 December, 2010, available from http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/ee2/introduction. (italics mine).

65) Collins, 152.

66) Noll, 198.

67) Reinhold Niebuhr, “Christianity and Darwin’s Revolution,” in Essays, 32. Richard Dawkins is only the most prominent among those who contribute to this false conflation of ideas today.

68) Johnson and Lamoureux, 51 (italics mine).

69) I personally have qualms with the manner in which Lamoureux essentially rules out a role for God to intervene in Nature (aside from personal, charismatic experiences), and prefer the approach used by C.S. Lewis in Miracles: “The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern. It does not violate the law’s proviso “If A, then B”: it says, “But this time instead of A, A2,” and Nature, speaking through all her laws, replies “Then B2” and naturalises the immigrant, as she well knows how. She is an accomplished hostess” (60).

70) Johnson and Lamoureux, 115.

71) Noll, 199.

Dr. Ross Hastings: A Call for Christian Unity (Part III): Parameters and Nodes for gracious and fruitful dialogue – the foundations and the forward motion of pilgrims in unity … an exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16.

Note: This article reflects the substance of a plenary address delivered at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. Its intent is to provide a biblical and theological basis for healthy and fruitful dialogue on the theology and science of origins for pilgrims destined for the same heaven-on-earth celestial city. This content has also appeared on the Biologos forum here.

There are two aspects to this exposition of Ephesians 4:1-6 that are relevant for the science-theology of origins:

1. United in the faith

We are, I trust, united theologically in the main things that are the plain things – that is, around the essentials of the faith which are developed and more fully expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 381), which includes the affirmation “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;…” without saying how!

That God created must unite us as we dialogue over how God created.

There is much diversity in the history of the church as to how the world was created. Augustine for example, believed in fiat creation, but was convinced that Genesis 1 could not be literally interpreted for the simple reason that a twenty-four hour day was too long. Why would God need twenty-four hours to create the animals if they were created ex nihilo or even out of other dust? (3)

It comes as a shock to many in the Reformed tradition that the theologian best known for his defence of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures may also have been open to creation by means of divinely supervised evolution.(4) I am speaking of B.B. Warfield. To make any viewpoint as to the “how” of creation a matter for determining Christian fellowship is frankly divisive and sectarian or uncatholic.

Whilst we may be convinced we have the best theory of origins at present, and whilst we may be convinced that we are the most intellectually honest or scientifically rigorous, or that we understand the genre and history and authorial intent of Genesis 1 most appropriately… important as these factors are … I venture that the level of certainty due to the nature of the science and the hermeneutics and the theology in this field, is a level of magnitude below that of the creedal assertion that God created and that he in his providence is sovereign over and at work creatively and redemptively in creation.

We Protestants have enough divisions and schisms as it is–we don’t need another one based on the speculative matter of how God created. Rather we must unite on the basis of the fact that the triune God is the Creator. There isn’t a viewpoint represented in the dialogue on origins that doesn’t have some problems associated with it, problems that need to be worked through. Acute curiosity, robust research and careful scholarship in these areas are consonant with the creational or cultural mandate and the command to love God with our minds.

Dialogue between persons of different persuasions is healthy and good–in fact necessary for advancement in the field. But it requires an irenic and peaceful spirit along with an inquiring mind. I feel a particular need to exhort against accusations in the midst of this dialogue that disparage a person’s integrity with regard to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. These “how” discussions between serious minded evangelical believers are not about the authority and inspiration of Scripture, but on appropriate interpretation of Scripture. The Scriptures are authoritative as and only as they are properly interpreted.

Borrowing terminology from Jamie Smith,(5) another way to say this is that we must distinguish between theology type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is confessional theology, which is pre- and supra-theoretical and which must inform all the disciplines of knowledge, including science. Theology type 2, which are more theoretical and speculative.

The first is the rich and unambiguous confession of the church’s faith down through the centuries, expressed in creeds like Ephesians 4 and the ecumenical Creeds rooted in the revelation of God in His Word and affirmed by the historic church. This theology should shape Christian theoretical investigation of the world, including science, and indeed theology type 2. It is when Christians elevate their work in the theology type 2 area to the type 1 category that damage is done to unity and catholicity and therefore the mission of the church. Of course theology type 2 will be interacting always and will be shaped by and subject to theology type 1.

One of the reasons why I devote time to this issue is that it is a very important for missional reasons. First, because our unity as the body of Christ around essential issues and in Christ, is hugely influential on our mission, as Jesus expounds it in this great prayer, and as I have stated, I feel compelled to call the church to unity on the essential tenet of Christian faith that God is Creator and that he created the universe. There are times when I am tempted to write off others of a persuasion that seems to me unscientific and/or hermeneutically naïve, but I cannot.

The rub here is that commitment to cherished principles comes into conflict when this happens: on the one hand, a commitment to a process of seeking knowledge in this area through the use of fearless reason, and research, albeit grounded in faith and tempered by faith and creedal commitments; on the other hand, a commitment to the unity of the body of Christ grounded in the essentials of the historic, orthodox, Trinitarian creeds of the church. This latter principle must win for the serious scientist Christian.

Of course, that immediately distances us from the secular scientific community, who often may not understand that they too have faith commitments that influence reason. It will certainly distance us from evolutionism as an ideology or completely dysteleological (goalless) evolution.

We cannot be one with people of this persuasion in an ecclesial sense, though we will still engage lovingly and humbly with them as image bearers and scientists. We must also see them as people designated by God for the new humanity in Christ. But we are speaking here of an organic and creedal basis for unity that on the one hand includes every Christian devoted to Christ and the essentials of the faith, irrespective of their views on Genesis 1, and that, on the other hand, delimits perspectives outside of this relationship and these commitments.

On these grounds, I would suggest the following very practical exhortations for maintaining the unity and advancing Christ’s mission through his church:
-Terminating the positions of professors of colleges or seminaries who express any one of these views on origins whilst still committed to the authority and inspiration of Scripture and these Creeds, and indeed to the denominational or widely evangelical distinctives of these, is sectarian;

-Establishing schools where teachers or even students are required to profess one view in this arena is counter to the mission of Christ and therefore sectarian;

-Accusing opponents of compromising the Deity of Christ publicly on the internet because they may differ on origins of creation is malicious and a move that grieves the heart of our Great High Priest and his desire for his church to be one, that the world might know him through it. It is after all intended to be the one new humanity, the harbinger of the kingdom of God–the community in which persons can dialogue well and even agree to disagree about non-essential matters.

-Caricaturing of the position of others or falsely representing them is grievous to the Spirit, and inhibits the mission of the church.
Uninviting preachers who are committed to evangelical orthodoxy because we discover they hold one of these views in this arena of secondary theology, grieves the Spirit also.

But there is a second concern of a missional kind. It has to do with how we present the Gospel. Making literal seven-day creationism a condition for saving faith or conversion is adding to the Gospel in a way that has possibly been the greatest stumbling block in the way of thinking people for over a century since this viewpoint became popular in American evangelicalism. The Church has all too often buried its head in the sand with respect to scientific reality and we can ill afford a repetition of Galileo proportions.

Notes
(3) St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J.; 2 vols.; New York: Newman Press, 1982), 1.125-50.

(4) In his class lectures, Warfield comments, “I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution. The sole passage which appears to bar the way is the very detailed account of the creation of Eve … We may as well admit that the account of the creation of Eve is a very serious bar in the way of a doctrine of creation by evolution.” Warfield was clear that the origin of the human soul could not be accounted for by evolution. His position in sum seems to be that he did not consider evolutionary theory convincing but stayed open to the possibility that it might be true. “The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law & wh [??]. does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, &c) will entail a great reconstruction of Xian doctrine, & a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the occasional [crossed out, sic.] constant oversight of God in the whole process, & his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new ie, something not included even in posse in preceding conditions, — we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Xians in the ordinary orthodox sense.” Warfield, Lectures on Anthropology (Dec. 1888), Speer Library, Princeton University. Quoted in David N. Livingstone, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 118.

(5) James K. A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

Dr. Ross Hastings: A Call for Christian Unity (Part II): Parameters and Nodes for gracious and fruitful dialogue – the foundations and the forward motion of pilgrims in unity … an exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16.

Note: This article reflects the substance of a plenary address delivered at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. Its intent is to provide a biblical and theological basis for healthy and fruitful dialogue on the theology and science of origins for pilgrims destined for the same heaven-on-earth celestial city. This content has also appeared on the Biologos forum here.

In what follows I want to do two things. First, I want to give a basis for the preservation of the unity of the church as it comes at the issues of science and faith, and in particular as it dialogues over the more controversial areas in this arena. I would suspect this first section is not ground-breaking, new information for most of us, but it is necessary exhortation nevertheless, especially given the disparate opinions of the kind that characterize the Christian church on matters of science and faith.

Secondly, I want to point to some areas that may be called front edge areas for forward motion in ongoing healthy dialogue, in the field of science and Christian theology, which are specifically of a theological nature (B. “Front edges for forward motion in the dialogue”.). These are important issues around which we may fruitfully dialogue to take the discussion forward.

A. The foundations for unity as we dialogue – Things that should unite us:

Ephesians 4:1-6 : 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Let me offer brief comments on this text and its relevance to believers in this dialogue (or any other, for that matter):

(i) The priority of unity
I am always struck by what comes first in Paul’s exhortational or paraenetical section of this epistle. There are five exhortations towards “walking” (peripateõ) and most of us would perhaps assume the first should be about holiness or right living or ethics. But the first is about unity. This reflects the weight Paul places on it, and it is in keeping with the primary theme of the theological section, which is the creation by the reconciling God of a new humanity in Christ.

It is one new humanity, it is one body, it is one temple. In making unity first, Paul is faithfully reflecting the heart desire of his Great High Priest Jesus as that is reflected in John 17. We evangelicals and Protestants in particular seem to worry least about what Jesus and Paul worry most—unity and catholicity. We readily use our aversion towards organizational oneness and our theology of eschatological oneness in the future to justify our ever-growing multiplicity of unconnected churches, and also the potshots we take at each other in areas such as this one.

(ii) The urgency of unity
This urgency in Paul here is further accentuated by the forcefulness of the exhortation in verse 3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. This phrase can be rendered “take pains to keep the unity!”

Markus Barth expresses this very potently: “It is hardly possible to render exactly the urgency contained in the underlying Greek verb. Not only haste and passion, but a full effort of the whole man is meant, involving his will, sentiment, reason, physical strength, and total attitude. The imperative mood of the participle found in the Greek text excludes passivity, quietism, a wait-and-see attitude, or a diligence tempered by all deliberate speed. Yours is the initiative! Do it now! Mean it! You are to do it! I mean it! Such are the overtones in verse 3. Those given the “vocation” to walk worthily (4:1) appear to be urged to race ahead, to meet the deadline, or to receive a “prize.”(2)

We should not naively imagine that the preservation in earthly practice of the heavenly and organic unity that is Christological and more real, will be easy. But pursue it we must. It is inimical to who we really are and it is crucial to our witness that a new humanity has been formed in Christ, and into which all are invited.

But how will this unity be preserved. Preachers are good at the “why” and not often at the “how.” There are two aspects to this “how.” The first relates to personal formation of character. The second relates to the framework for unity–a communal theological basis for unity—one which is asserted positively in an essentialist creed which is remarkable both for its affirmations and its absences.

(iii) The personal character required for unity
Verse 2 reads, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” It has often been noticed that the first two of these relate to how we affect others and the last two how we are affected by others. Humble and gentle people can express their opinions and disagree agreeably without offending others. Patient and forbearing people don’t quickly react angrily when others are less than humble and gentle, and they forgive.

You don’t need me to remind you how passions run high around the issues surrounding origins, nor of the arrogance that can just very occasionally (stated ironically) be evident in very bright scientists and even more so in very bright scientists who hold theological convictions. We need a dose of humility especially to admit when we are wrong. We also need humility to ascertain when we have sufficient evidence and when we don’t. And when we don’t, we need humility to expose that our prejudices have taken over. We need humility even about our approach to knowledge given that we are all influenced by presuppositions that influence our reason.

Scientists especially need humility to know that the existence of pure reason or objectivity does not exist! Furthermore, on this pilgrim journey in which the kingdom has come but has not yet fully come, we must have the humility to know that there are some things we may not know until we reach the celestial-terrestrial city! Paul wraps all four of these traits under the head of love. He reminds us of what he says on other occasions, that there is something more important even than knowledge in the economy of God and what he wishes for us … this is love.

The Eastern Orthodox monasteries which privilege love over knowledge, and silence over noisy thought, can teach we Western theologians a great deal about this. The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:2 seem timely: “If I … can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

(iv) The communal union with Christ which is the ground of unity:
Communal unity with Christ is expressed by Paul here in the phrase “keep the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3). This is a reality that sits over every exhortation here. It is the reality that we are one. Paul is building on all he has said in the first three chapters, and late scholarship has suggested particularly the opening paragraph which functions in this lyrical epistle like a refrain in a symphony.

What is its emphasis? That all believers in Christ are just that, in Christ. They are that by the pre-mundane electing covenant of God the Father in the Son who is both the electing God and the elect human for us (1:4; 3-6a); they are that by the redemptive reconciling work of the Son (1:6b-12); they are that by the regenerating and sealing and earnest and incorporating work of the Spirit (1:13, 14). These ontological realities are crucial to Paul’s and to my exhortation towards unity of all who profess to be believers in Christ.

Pertinent to the theology/science interface, then, we are:

(1) United in the Christ of creation and redemption. We are united by the desire to honour that Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega of creation: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev. 1:8);

(2) Fearless in our pursuit of truth in all aspects of science, for nothing can ever transcend the One who is the Alpha and the Omega of creation;

(3) United in the desire to participate in the redemption and reconciliation of creation (Colossians 1:15-20):

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

We are also united, irrespective of our positions—Creation Science, Progressive Creation, Intelligent Design, or Evolutionary Creation—in the endeavour of rescuing the church from latent dualisms, helping them affirm a theology and praxis of creation, helping them to see that Christian salvation is not salvation out of creation but of and for creation.

(v) The communal confession that is the framework for unity
We read in Ephesians 4:4-5:

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This seems to have been one of the first of the creeds of the Christian church. It is remarkable for what it contains and for what it does not contain. It is Trinitarian in structure. It is minimalist in terms of content. It is salvifically oriented or kerygmatic in its intent.

It does two things: first it unites us around the core essentials of the faith and thereby minimizes and relativizes our differences with respect to secondary issues. For example, it speaks of baptism but says nothing of its mode or timing. It defines our Christian hope without specifying whether it is premillennial, amillennial, postmillennial or pan-millennial (it’s all going to pan out in the end).

But secondly, it also provides some limits to unity. We cannot be in Christian unity with those who cannot affirm the Trinity and these essentials of triune, Christian faith. This early creedal statement, and creeds which developed from it in response to clarification of heresies and new cultures which the gospel encountered, is the guideline for our unity. In particular, the Apostles’, Niceno-Constantinopolitan, and Chalcedonian creeds are sui generis in that there is nothing else like them as widely-agreed narrative and/or propositional summaries of key points of Christian doctrine.

Notes
2) Markus Barth, The Broken Wall: A Study of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1959), 428.

Book Review: Darwin’s Pious Ideas

Dr. Ross Hastings Reviews Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans) by Conor Cunningham.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt no one who is interested in the New Atheist phenomenon or the origins debate within Christian circles can afford not to read this book. If Dawkins has for the most part refused to debate evolutionary creationists, especially those with a knowledge of state of the art genetics and molecular biology, there is a reason. His science is as suspect as his philosophy. The basic thesis of this book is that both the denial of the Darwinian theory of evolution by Christian literalists and the reductionistic extrapolation of it into a universalist philosophy (evolutionism) by Ultra-Darwinists, are errant and vacuous positions.

The former critique, Cunningham contends, is true in that its interpretation of Scripture is out of harmony with the interpretation of the Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus) and is in fact a product of Modernity, and secondly, because it simply refuses to accept the findings of science and thirdly because it is grounded in unhelpful dualisms, dualisms which Cunningham skilfully debunks (grace/nature, sacred/secular; natural/supernatural (only God is pure nature, all else exists only by participation in God by methexis)). Cunningham’s command of Patristic theology is impressive, and his view of creation as eschatological, of creation and redemption as inseparable, and of Christ as the agent of creation, and as the recapitulation of Adam (the only real Adam) the goal of creation, are all attractive elements in his profoundly Trinitarian theological sweep of reality. There are detailed discussions of Genesis 1,2,3, and of the place of death in creation by evolution, of theodicy and so on, that I cannot engage in detail here, but they are worth their weight in gold (I may write more on these later). Clearly not all will agree with his Eastern Orthodox view of original sin (Cunningham is clearly influenced greatly by this tradition and by Schmeman, though he is fond also of deLubac and Balthasar of Nouvelle Theologie also) and of sin as defined by the Christ event, but his account is coherent and substantial. Placing what seems to be the best theory of origins to date within the context of a weighty orthodox Christian theology has done all thinking Christians a favour.

It is the withering critique of Dawkins’ ‘science’ that is most impressive in the book, however. Even though Cunningham is not a biologist by profession, he has amassed the work of contemporary molecular biologists and geneticists to debunk the dualist and reductionist notion of the ‘selfish gene’ (they are neither selfish nor genes, in the simplistic sense of that term) so prominent in Dawkins’ atheistic diatribe against creation and religion. Both the replicator/vehicle dualism and the dualism of selfishness/altruism, the bases on which the biological and evolutionary world have been parsed by Ultra-Darwinists, have been demonstrated by Cunningham to be untrue. Genes have in fact been shown to be very much a product of evolution and ‘cannot be equated with evolution’ (63). Furthermore, phenotype has been demonstrated to be as influential as genotype in evolution. Indeed natural selection, as Cunningham states, ‘is itself derivative’ (63). ‘Therefore, ’he goes on to say, ‘the materialists, operating in quasi-Cartesian terms, generate what can be called a homunculus fundamentalism…’ (65).

Crucially, the Ultra-Darwinists have confused ‘the phenomenon of heredity with the physical mechanism of inheritance’ (72) which is much more complex than simple ‘genes’ based on the sequence of bases in DNA (Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, Thymine). There is ‘very good evidence for extragenetic modes of inheritance that act in conjunction with genetic modes’ (72). Cunningham cites Jablonka and Lamb, for example: ‘Molecular biology has shown that many of the old assumptions about the genetic system, which is the basis of present day Neo-Darwinism, are incorrect. It has also shown that cells can transmit information to daughter cells through non-DNA (epi-genetic) inheritance. This means that all organisms have at least two systems of heredity. In addition many animals transmit information to others by behavioural means, which gives them a third hereditary system. And we humans have a fourth, because symbol-based inheritance, particularly language, plays a substantial role in our evolution’ (72). As a chemist, I found the reference to mythalation especially interesting. This is the phenomenon within some eukaryotes by which a single methyl group [CH3] is added to some of the cytosine bases (one of a few typos in the book is ‘cystosines’ (73)) of DNA by enzymes within the cell, to influence gene expression. The directed changes are thought to be transmitted through sexual reproduction. Thus the idea of ‘simple genes’ being invoked as an equivalent to the atom in the hard sciences, and as the omnipotent agent of evolution has been shown to be wrongheaded. Current genetics is ‘more like the genetic theory of relativity’ in that many factors influence the operation of genes.

Crucially Cunningham also debunks Dawkins’ pet view that genes are selfish and that natural selection in its lack of altruism rebuts the idea of God. Without regurgitating all of Cunningham’s argument, I was fascinated by the Trinitarian overtones behind his contentions that although selfishness is a vehicle for complexification in evolution, that the increase in inclusivity is intrinsic to this process, and that in fact, selfishness is more like individuation, an acknowledgement of the ‘self’ of the organism. In fact, Cunningham argues ‘that if there were in fact real self replicators – or better, if selfishness was primary or originary – then evolution would be impossible. It would be impossible because truly, intrinsically selfish entities could not, and therefore would not, replicate at all. They would not replicate because it is only ever a type that survives, never a token, as is also the case with phenotypes. And this is some sense, requires that the replicator relinquish any monadic pretense of autarchy. To put it in Freudian terms: the only instinct of a would-be selfish replicator would be Thanatos (the death instinct) because self-identity, with its precarious, finite nature, involves a central ingredient of altruism. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is patently obvious. Persistence in grounded in endless exchange. We are therefore the product of fundamental reciprocity…. “To be” is to be vulnerable. “To be” is to be beside oneself (ecstatically). “To be” is to be open to alterity, that which is different, other (68-9).’ Whilst I am very hesitant about looking for analogies of the Trinity everywhere, I am not surprised when the fundamental nature of matter and the stuff of the mechanisms of created life reflect the fundamental reciprocity and mutuality of the triune Creator.

In the end, on Cunningham’s account, then, Dawkins is as guilty of fundamentalism as literalist creationists, and as dismissive of good science.

Cohort Member David Opderbeck’s Sunday School Class: God And Creation

2010 Cohort Member David Opderbeck has created a Sunday School Class exploring the intersection of Faith and Science entitled “God and Creation.” His presentation slides are available below. Feel free to review them. Be sure to leave comments below to let us know what you think.
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Dr. Ross Hastings: A Call for Christian Unity (Part I): Parameters and Nodes for gracious and fruitful dialogue – the foundations and the forward motion of pilgrims in unity … an exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16 (Part 1)

Note: This article reflects the substance of a plenary address delivered at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. Its intent is to provide a biblical and theological basis for healthy and fruitful dialogue on the theology and science of origins for pilgrims destined for the same heaven-on-earth celestial city. This content has also appeared on the Biologos forum here.

Let us begin with some profound words about truth-seeking written by Thomas Merton:

We make ourselves real by telling the truth. … To destroy truth with truth under the pretext of being sincere is a very insincere way of telling a lie … A man of sincerity is less interested in defending the truth than in stating it clearly, for he thinks that if the truth can be clearly seen it can very well take care of itself. Fear is perhaps the greatest enemy of candor. (1)

My own interest in theology and science arises out of a curiosity to know the truth that takes care of itself in every realm of reality, and that sets us free. It is motivated by the presupposition that all truth is God’s and because all truth concerning the creation of the universe and its reconciliation is centred in the God-Man Jesus who said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).

My interest in science and faith and their integration comes also out of two vocations in which disbelief that this is possible has often been expressed by people I have met, some who are people of faith, and many who are not. I have found over the years of playing the occasional golf game with people I don’t know, that when, during the round, my vocation as a pastor comes out, that they are often terribly embarrassed about the expletives they have been uttering in the round up to that point. When I tell them that I played a lot of rugby and am used to this kind of language, and it’s between them and God anyway, they are not always put at ease.

When I tell them that I have a PhD in chemistry, they are utterly bewildered, and usually say, “How do you put those two things together?” Their reactions epitomize the Enlightenment dichotomization of fact (the realm of science) and faith (the realm of religion), and have energized me towards this science-faith dialogue, and in recent years, back to the question of origins.

The dictum of Augustine and Anslem that the pursuit of truth is always a “faith seeking understanding” prospect has for me been the basis on which I have sought to debunk the scientism of the secularist on the one hand, and on the other hand, to encourage Christians to become aware of science and to embolden fledgling young scientists to pursue truth fearlessly in careers in science.

My interest in Christian unity in the dialogue on origins comes out of having served churches in which all shades of opinion were present and how I, with fellow-leaders, have sought to manage this. I want therefore to bring my reflections on the foundations of unity and forward motion towards unity in the context of an exposition of Ephesians 4. I write as a pastor or pastoral theologian and so I shall seek to do so in the manner in which a pastor should, through exposition of the Word of God.

Before looking at this passage however, I want to charge it with the elements of the prayer of Jesus on unity, John 17:20-23. I suspect that Paul may have been conscious of this prayer as he wrote this section of his epistle.

20 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

As we eavesdrop here on the inner communion of the Trinity, we get to hear what’s on the heart of the Son as he pours it out to his Father. And what we hear is his deepest desire for the church – its unity.

Jesus defines it as a unity grounded in two unions – that between the Father and the Son (Trinitarian union) and that between believers who are in the Father and the Son (participatory union). The former is brought about by the incarnation or hypostatic union of God with humanity, and the latter in the indwelling of the Spirit which brings about the regeneration and incorporation of saints into Christ as His church.

There can be no more profound aspect of the gospel than this, one which does not negate the forensic aspect of the gospel, but which precedes it in God’s intention for humanity, and surpasses it. These words about our organic unity in the triune God need to pervade our deliberationst. But now to Paul.

Note: This post will be continued in one week. Be sure to check back for Part II.

References:
1) Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (Boston: Shambhala, 1955), 198, 199, 205, 206.

Cohort Member David Opderbeck’s Blog Post: Humanity As and In Creation

David Opderbeck’s most recent Podcast, Humanity As and In Creation, explores the differences between the anthropologies presented in Genesis 2 and other ancient Mesopotamian creation myths. In so doing he poses some fascinating questions like: What does it mean to be human–“of the humus”? What are the implications of the Genesis 2 anthropology in terms of calling and responsibility, humility and self-hood? Does the Genesis 2 anthropology offer a corrective to both materialism and Gnosticism?

Check it out here: audio text

David Opderbeck’s Resource Page

2010 Cohort Member David Opderbeck has been compiling a list of helpful resources relating to the intersection of Faith and Science issues. Check it out here.

Book Review: Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think by Elaine Ecklund.

The Cardus Group just recently posted a review of Elaine Ecklund’s new book: Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. Check it out here.

Expert Call with Dr. Dan Harlow

Dr. Dan Harlow guides our cohort in a discussion regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve in light of recent scientific findings. A fascinating and thought-provoking conversation. (December, 2010).

Download audio: Here.

Cohort Member David Opderbeck’s Podcast: The Triune God and Creation

In David Opderbeck’s most recent Podcast: The Triune God and Creation he explores how the contingency of Creation invites us to see the Cosmos as gift and God as benevolent gift-maker.

Check it out here: audio text

Cohort Member David Opderbeck’s Podcasts: Immanence & Transcendence

2010 Pastoral Science Cohort Member David Opderbeck has begun podcasting on topics relating to the intersection of Science and Faith. Visit his full blog here, or, check out one of the podcasts below:

Immanence: audio text
Transcendence: audio text

Enjoy!

List: Enduring but “Upended” Scientific Beliefs

Richard Thaler (Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business) has been compiling a list of “Enduring but Upended Scientific Beliefs” that is a fascinating read. Check out the list here.