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A. D. White’s “Warfare Between Science and Theology,” Pt. 3

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August 20, 2010 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now

Today's entry was written by Mark Noll. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

A. D. White’s “Warfare Between Science and Theology,” Pt. 3

This is the last of a three-part series taken from Mark Noll’s Scholarly Essay, which was originally presented as the 2009 Frederick C. Wood Lecture at Cornell University. A video of the presentation can be found here. All references and citations have been removed for the blog series but can be found in the full paper.

In Part 1 , Noll described how Andrew Dickson White relentlessly advocated a view of history in which Science and Dogmatic Theology have always been at war with one another. In Part 2 , he outlined eight of 16 reasons why White’s notion of warfare is mistaken. Below are the remaining eight reasons and some concluding remarks.

Problems with White’s “Warfare” Perspective (Continued)

9. Huxley and Wilberforce
A. D. White wrote several pages on the momentous significance of an exchange in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, which showed Wilberforce twisting scientific evidence to deny the force of evolution and Huxley defending the high truths of unfettered scientific investigation. The problem with this account is that, though some kind of exchange doubtless took place in Oxford before the British Association on June 30, 1860, no one at the time ascribed much significance to it at all. The conclusion that the Huxley-Wilberforce exchange was one of the turning points in the battle between Science over Theology turns out itself to be a myth.

10. Promoting Darwinism
A. D. White included brief mention of the Harvard botanist, Asa Gray, in his Warfare book, but Gray deserved more attention as the first, strongest, and most effective American promoter of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Gray, a renowned botanist at Harvard, did this work on behalf of Darwinism while maintaining in frank correspondence with Darwin that Gray saw no difficulty in understanding the theory of natural selection as fully compatible with traditional Christian doctrines of divine Providence, the deity of Christ, and the traditional Christian account of human sinfulness and divine salvation in Christ.

Perhaps even more notable as someone who promoted major aspects of Darwin’s science in the United States was a theologian from Princeton Seminary, Benjamin B. Warfield, who was alive and active when White published his big book. Warfield’s support for evolution is especially noteworthy since Warfield was, in his day, the nation’s strongest supporter for the theological concept of biblical inerrancy, the belief that the Bible makes no mistakes whatever. Warfield wrote carefully about evolution and with several qualifications, but he also articulated his conviction on many occasions that natural selection did not in principle contradict historic Christian faith nor did it undermine a very high conception of the Christian Scriptures.

11. The Importance of Place
Notable historical studies have also demonstrated how important local religious contexts have been for attitudes toward scientific proposals like evolution. When evaluating Darwinism, for example, it made a great difference whether debates took place in Belfast, with a history that had pitted modern science against traditional theology, or in Edinburgh, where the local culture had encouraged traditional theology and modern science together. Skirmishes, shots across the bow, much sound and fury—all certainly did attend the introduction of Darwinism in European religious life. But it was hardly a general state of warfare.

12. Testimony of the popes
The last two popes have made nuanced statements about what balanced Christian teaching should say about scientific investigations of human kind. In 1996, John Paul II gave an address to the Pontifical Academy of Science on “The Question of Evolution” in which he affirmed traditional Catholic teaching that humankind was created in the image of God. Yet the address also explained why the church could and did accept modern evolutionary theory so long as that theory did not lead to “materialist” or “reductionist” metaphysical conclusions about the nature of humanity. Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, said much the same thing in a series of lectures defining “a Catholic understanding of the story of creation and the fall.”

13. Recent scientists as traditional Christians
The recent past also reveals many instances where anything but warfare has characterized science and theology. Particle physicist John Polkinghorne and physician-geneticist Francis Collins are only two of many contemporary scientists respected for their leadership in research who have written eloquently about how their practice of science fits easily within a framework of traditional Christian belief.

14. Recent scientists as peacemakers
Even better known are modern scientists who have labored to defuse tensions between religion as such and science as such. The late Stephen Jay Gould is the most prominent of these figures; Gould’s principle of NOMA—“Non-Overlapping Magisteria”—certainly has not resolved all possible tensions involving science and theology, but it represented a major effort to differentiate proper goals of scientific and religious inquiry, and by differentiating them to ease artificial tensions.

15. Christian support for modern natural science
From the seventeenth century to the present, many traditional Christians who are also scientists have given their wholehearted support to the study of nature limited to what can be observed empirically. In other words, with eyes wide open, they have advocated “naturalism” as defined by historian Ronald Numbers: a “purely methodological commitment to explaining the workings of nature without recourse to the supernatural, largely devoid of metaphysical implications about God” At the same time, such scientist Christians reject “naturalism” defined as “a philosophical embracement of materialism tantamount to atheism.” To follow Numbers again, the former definition of naturalism has always enjoyed “much support from devout Christians, who often eagerly embraced it as the method of choice for understanding nature.”

16. Conservative Christianity and literal interpretation of Genesis
From the time of Augustine to the present, a large number of theologically traditional Christians have interpreted the early chapters of the Book of Genesis in ways that welcome scientific investigation. To be sure, traditional Christian believers who stress literal interpretation of the days of creation and of Noah’s flood have received much attention, whether Phillip Gosse in the nineteenth century, who felt that God had created the world with only the appearance of great age, or flood geologists in the present, who ascribe the appearance of great geological age to the workings of Noah’s flood. But even more common among traditional Christian believers who have become expert in ancient texts and mid-eastern cosmology is a long line of scholars who do not read early Genesis as a guide to modern science. This group included the nineteenth-century conservative, William Henry Green, of Princeton Theological Seminary, who showed how to read the genealogies of Genesis as allowing for vast eons of time, and many modern biblical commentators—including Derek Kidner, Bruce Waltke, John Sailhammer, Ronald Youngblood, and John Walton—who interpret early Genesis as directed against the gods of Egypt and Babylon rather than toward the questions of contemporary science.

Conclusions

In sum, a plethora of well-established historical conclusions, along with observations from the present day, demonstrate beyond cavil that no simple formula can adequately describe the rich, thickly textured, and complex history linking Christianity and science.

Throughout most of the last 1700 years, Christian believers have simply shared the intellectual conventions of their day; sometimes they acted to retard the empirical investigation of nature; sometimes they promoted it. In the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, when modern science emerged as a distinct field of human inquiry, Christian beliefs played a prominent role in almost every move resisting science, and they played a prominent role in almost every move promoting science.

Since the eighteenth century, religious controversies over science have been driven by dogmatic theology, by secular belief, by factors having nothing directly to do with science or religion, and by much else. Since that time religious cooperation with science has been driven by dogmatic theology, by secular belief, by factors having nothing directly to do with science or religion, and by much else.

The historical picture is complex, and Western history has certainly witnessed much argument that involves science and religion. But warfare is simply not the best metaphor to capture that history. Rather, negotiation, dialogue, competition, workaday hiccups, and isolated thunderstorms are all better metaphors to describe what has actually occurred.


Mark Noll is a historian, essayist and professor specializing in the history of American Christianity. Since 2006 he has been the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. His books include America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln; God and Race in American Politics: A Short History and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which has been widely recognized for making a strong appeal for a better approach to intellectual life among American evangelicals.

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conrad - #26381

August 20th 2010

Inerrancy has more going for it than most folks realize.

    AND,.... There is more concordance than most people realize.

BUT YOU HAVE TO MATCH THE BIBLE WITH REAL SCIENCE ,....AT A LEVEL OF SCIENCE THAT MOST THEOLOGIANS DO NOT HAVE.

When, [as Wilberforce is accused of having done] you hastily manufacture junk science in order to support the Bible , all sorts of trouble is ensues.

STUDY FOLKS!


MF - #26388

August 20th 2010

Dr. Noll,

I’d be interested in hearing your response to this paper seeking to refute your point (made briefly here and in more detail elsewhere) about Warfield being an evolutionist:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/35-2/b-b-warfield-on-creation-and-evolution

The conclusion of that paper: “This much is clear: although at times speaking with allowance of the possibility of evolution (carefully defined), Warfield never expressly affirmed it. Rather, he affirmed that he had rejected it sometime about age thirty and that he remained unconvinced. The Livingstone-Noll thesis does not reflect the evidence, and the prevailing understanding of Warfield as an evolutionist must be rejected.”


MF - #26390

August 20th 2010

Also, I respect Polkinghorne for the work he has done, but his free acceptance of “higher criticism” (A. D. White’s hero as destroyer of “divine oracles”) makes it difficult for me to place him within a “framework of traditional Christian belief.”


nedbrek - #26399

August 20th 2010

Francis Collins isn’t a model of Christian thinking either.  His recent statements on ESC are very troubling.  See Albert Mohler’s piece: http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/12/04/what-do-you-really-believe-about-human-dignity-dr-collins/

Said Collins:
“these stem cell lines were derived from embryos that were donated under ethically sound informed consent processes”

There is no ethically sound method for killing people and using their bodies for science experiments.


MF - #26403

August 20th 2010

Impatient with overly sensitive comment moderation, I’ll try writing this again without getting flagged as spam.

Regarding Warfield, there’s an article in the latest issue of Themelios (35-2) that attempts to refute Dr. Noll’s claims about Warfield and evolution (summarized here and discussed more fully elsewhere). The article by Fred G. Zaspel is called “B.B. Warfield on Creation and Evolution” and is free online (google for it—I think a link may get me flagged).

The conclusion runs thus: “This much is clear: although at times speaking with allowance of the possibility of evolution (carefully defined), Warfield never expressly affirmed it. Rather, he affirmed that he had rejected it sometime about age thirty and that he remained unconvinced. The Livingstone-Noll thesis does not reflect the evidence, and the prevailing understanding of Warfield as an evolutionist must be rejected.”

I have always held Dr. Noll’s position and didn’t know there was any doubt about it, and I’d be interested to hear his response to that article.


conrad - #26404

August 20th 2010

Ned the stem cells get a chance to live if they are used.
If they are not used they are condemned to death.

It is a fairly complex moral issue.


conrad - #26406

August 20th 2010

I want to state my views on evolution.
I see it fitting into Day 7 ,
It is not an integral part of creation.
Sure it happens,.... LATER!

And it is NOT a suitable explanation for the FORMATION of life.
Even the scientists will tell you that.
They are mucking around with an “RNA universe” theory which has bugs in it.

BUT continued speciation through natural selection undoubtedly happens.

The DNA molecule looks like something made out of tinker toys.
You can easily remove a piece and substitute something else.

THE TINKER TOY SET ITSELF IS GOD’S CREATION.

Making a tinker toy tower into a doggie is NOT creation.
[If you think so, try getting a patent on the little tinker toy “doggie” that you made.]

The patent office will tell you it is not a new creation.
NOW THE MAN WHO INVENTED TINKER TOYS DID GET A PATENT AND NOW MAKES MONEY.

Play ing with the tinker Toys to make a little “doggie” is not real creation.

So selective breeding to preserve mutations whether by man or nature is not what God’s creation was all about.

AND I REPEAT. THEY CANNOT GO BACKWARD TO GET THE FIRST DNA THROUGH DARWINIAN THEORY.
AND THEY HAVE BEEN TRYING TO DO THAT FOR A CENTURY.


nedbrek - #26408

August 20th 2010

Conrad, the embryos are destroyed to create experimental lines.  It’s really not complex at all.  There is, however, an economic driver: creating embryos for implantation one at a time would cost more.  We have allowed economics to destroy our morality.


conrad - #26409

August 20th 2010

Ned the embryo without a mother’s womb has bleak prospects.
It cannot live on it’s own.


nedbrek - #26412

August 20th 2010

But Conrad, we don’t kill people just because their prospects are bleak.


conrad - #26415

August 20th 2010

Really?

One of the big deals now is withholding all fluids on hospital patients like Terri Schaivo and others.


nedbrek - #26417

August 20th 2010

Sure.  Starving a person to death is pretty cruel.


conrad - #26426

August 20th 2010

Well it is done all the time and they say it is not starving.
It is just “withdrawal of life supports” which includes food and water and usually they have an ethics committee involved.
Most people don’t know the definition of life support includes fluids but it does.
Watch what you sign.


conrad - #26449

August 21st 2010

The stem cell battle is similar to evolution in that it is bad for Christianity AND IT IS A DISTRACTING SIDE ISSUE.

The big issue is whether God lives or whether we are alone in the universe.

  I believe God lives and there is remarkable evidence for it.

  AND THE GREATEST EVIDENCE IS THE CONCORDANCE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND GENESIS.

WE COULD SPREAD THAT MESSAGE FAR BETTER THAN WE DO.

No bronze age philosopher knew that there was a beginning to time,..... or that originally the universe was in an unformed state,...... or that there was separation of the dark matter,........ or that a burst of light was the original expression of the new creation ..... or that separating the products of creation through an “expanse” was how the actual shape and design structure was given to earth and stars.

Only God could have known that. ..[or done that!]
It is a message from outside this space-time continuum from a Being of a higher order.

AND THE FACT THAT THE MESSAGE EXISTS IS OUR GREATEST REASON FOR HOPE.


conrad - #26453

August 21st 2010

Well comments are scarce here,... I’ll add a few..

  The “expanse”  refers to what scientists call “inflation”.

It occurred within the first second of creation.

The universe suddenly expanded exponentially and then stopped expanding.
The rate of expansion was faster than the speed of light.
Within our universe nothing can travel faster than light but the universe itself can expand faster.

[The speed limit only applies within this space-time continuum.]
After this expansion the matter within the universe was much thinned out.
But particles of matter and antimatter appeared briefly in accordance with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
[These particles come from moving through the time.]

The particles than gave quantum irregularity to the density of the universe.
These irregularities became the seeds on which gravity coalesced the other particles AND CREATED OUR PATTERN OF GALAXIES.

As fiction this would be unbelievable.
As science it has been proven.

So the “expanse” on Day Two is probably NOT a two dimensional roof or dome.

Biblical “Expanse” is called “inflation theory” today.


conrad - #26462

August 21st 2010

“This group included the nineteenth-century conservative, William Henry Green, of Princeton Theological Seminary, who showed how to read the genealogies of Genesis as allowing for vast eons of time, and many modern biblical commentators—including Derek Kidner, Bruce Waltke, John Sailhammer, Ronald Youngblood, and John Walton—who interpret early Genesis as directed against the gods of Egypt and Babylon.”

Well that group is WRONG.
Genesis DOES describe modern science.
In fact it publishes it first!


conrad - #26464

August 21st 2010

“9. Huxley and Wilberforce - A. D. White wrote several pages on the momentous significance of an exchange in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, which showed Wilberforce twisting scientific evidence to deny the force of evolution and Huxley defending the high truths of unfettered scientific investigation.”

Neither Huxley nor Wilberforce had the slightest inkling that DNA chemistry was the subject of their debate.

When Watson and Crick discovered that genetic material was in the form of DNA it was also found that DNA cannot reproduce itself without RNA.
This greatly complicated the problem of imagining how DNA could have originally formed and ruled it our as the first self-replicating molecule.

Now evolutionists are up the creek without a paddle philosophically. They are postulating an “RNA world”,  [whatever that is.]

THEY ARE STRUGGLING!    BIG TIME!

Huxley and Wilberforce ,, [may they rest in peace],.... have about as much to contribute to the dilemma as,... say,.. Shreck and Donkey, ....or Micky Mouse and Donald Duck .

BUT GOD STILL LOOKS LIKE THE ANSWER!


nedbrek - #26570

August 22nd 2010

“The stem cell battle is similar to evolution in that it is bad for Christianity AND IT IS A DISTRACTING SIDE ISSUE.”

It’s a matter of our right to life.  If human beings can be killed for convenience or profit, it is gravely dangerous for us all.  Even atheists should stand up for their right to life.


Headless Unicorn Guy - #26760

August 24th 2010

Problem is, SCRIPTURE vs Godless Science is now a Holy War, and there’s only one way a Holy War ends.

The same way a Middle Eastern Blood Feud ends.

P.S.  Stephen Jay Gould had a “how it really happened” account of the Huxley-Wilberforce debate in one of his essay collections.  Like many of his history-of-science essay subjects, “what everybody knows” is very different from what actually happened.


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