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America’s Culture Wars: A Different Perspective

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September 22, 2010 Tags: Pastoral Voices

Today's video features N.T. Wright. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In this video Conversation, senior biblical fellow Peter Enns asks Rev. N.T. Wright to respond to a common question of readers regarding the disconnect between science and religion. Specifically, he asks Wright why he thinks there is such controversy in evangelicalism about evolution. Is this a “culture war” issue?

Wright responds by noting that this is a very America-specific issue. In England, very few people have these same hang-ups about evolution, except where education and movements have come over from America and have gotten into British subculture —much to the dismay of many who think otherwise.

As a possible explanation for this issue, Wright points to the American conservative/liberal split which happened a century ago with the modernist/fundamentalist controversy. The divide was expanded with the Scopes trials and, he points out, has echoes of some of the old civil war mindset—that is, that people in the south are ill-informed and fundamentalist while people in the north are too liberal and doctrinally soft. Though these are only stereotypes, Wright notes, there are still enough examples of them that the caricatures stick.

People then project those divisions onto issues of science and faith and cast those that believe in science as secularists and those that believe in God as being anti-science. These characterizations are flawed, however, since modern science emerged from people of deep faith that wanted to explain the natural world.

Peter Enns wonders if one way past a combat mentality would be for Americans to have a better cultural awareness as to how we have come to this place and Wright agrees that this would be a good thing. “We all see the world distorted,” he says, “and that’s why we need one another, to be honest.”

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Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.

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conrad - #31509

September 23rd 2010


“Darrow really out-lawyered Bryan.”

[Yes, he did and you don’t understand law.  Closing arguments are not evidence.

  The closing arguments are where the two sides define the important issues of the case.]
Well duh!
  I guess that is why they are called “closing arguments”
The fact remains that the American people wanted to hear those arguments.
They were deprived of that opportunity

The trial was supposed to be a forum where the American people, acting as jury, could hear the summary of important issues.
They wanted to hear from the two great men, Bryan and Darrow.

The ACLU torpedoed that project.
They essentially took a great and fair debate and turned it into a negative political ad.

Bryan had great arguments which essentially were never heard.
But I have read them.
Have you?

Jon Garvey - #31512

September 23rd 2010

@Pete Enns - #31491

Pete, that is a highly explanatory article by Noll. It accounts for many of the rigid positions I read on the Biologos blogs, which otherwise seem a bit incomprehensible to a non-American.

It also gives much insight into what has been imported to the UK from across the Atlantic (and into my own Christian life over the decades) not all of which has been beneficial.

conrad - #31514

September 23rd 2010

AND ,... getting back to N.T. Wright,....
The culture war that grew out of the Scopes trial might never have started if W. Jennings Bryan had been allowed to speak.
His undelivered closing argument is really a wise, reasonable and conciliatory message.
It would NOT have inflamed the argument.
It would have calmed it.

He said science is amoral and men need to be moral so one should not exclude the other.

He mentioned airplanes,... the scientific miracle of the time.
They had just been used in warfare for the first time.
He wondered if they would bring good or evil.
Looking forward the the Enola Gay he now seems prophetic.

He said men needed God no matter how scientific they were.
That speech might have prevented the “culture wars”.
But it was blocked.

o - #31554

September 23rd 2010

Pete Enns - #31491

Perfect! That’s exactly what I was looking for.

unapologetic catholic - #31576

September 23rd 2010

“Bryan had great arguments which essentially were never heard.
But I have read them.”

These two statements are internally inconsistent.  DUCY?

Thse aren’t the only inconsistent and inaccurate staments you have made.  I’d just ask you to take a moment of self-reflection because many of your posts are thought provoking.  They would be even more effective if the the ratio of thoughtful posts to overall posts increased.

Bryan’s arguments were indeed heard and rejected as they should have been.  Nobody stopped Bryan from publishing his remarks.  As you observe, they are readily available.

“The trial was supposed to be a forum where the American people, acting as jury, could hear the summary of important issues.”

If that statement is correct, then OJ is currently serving his life sentence for murder.

Cal - #31606

September 23rd 2010

Unapologetic Catholic:

Just because a statement is in existence doesn’t preclude it from common knowledge. Most folks who get sucked up into the “culture war” would have no idea about such a statement from Bryan. Any possible remark was scrubbed from popular history and that’s a shame.

And trials, while not decided by the people as a whole, can play out certain social issues that the people are wrestling, and thus prosecution and defense would act and speakers for their respective side. This happens all the time with so many issues and when a landmark case in the minds of Americans, the Scopes case, had no finale where the arguments would be summed up, this robbed the American people of hearing a strong finish from both sides This allowed the romanticizing of Darrow drilling Bryan on the stand, making the prosecution look bigoted and foolish. This misconception has created false lines in our crumbling nation.

conrad - #31661

September 24th 2010

You got that right.

The ACLU inflamed the culture war, seemingly deliberately.

  It was an anti-Christian attack from the left..

Bryan said that man’s technology was a two-edged sword that could be good or bad.

The Darwinism of that time was definitely social Darwinism.
Stories about Jukes and Kalakaks were popular and sterilization of the unfit was considered enlightened.
Oliver Wendell Holmes famous statement was “Three generations of idiots are enough.”, when he ordered sterilization of a “lower class” woman.

On the flip side everyone believed a “superman” was in the process of being developed.
Frederic Nietzsche was popular.

The trial was in 1924.
Hitler took power in 193

Mercy for the “unfit” was not popular anywhere.


He was a social liberal. and religious conservative

Stripped of the false characterizations the trial marked the beginning of atheism’s conquest of liberalism.
Darrow and Bryan were both liberals but Bryan was a Christian liberal.

After that the left was atheistic too.

Nietszche dominated the far right and Marx dominated the far left and Christian liberals like Bryan were marginalized.

Robert Byers - #31671

September 24th 2010

There is no fight between Evangelical christianity and science.
There is only a fight between ideas paraded as coming from scientific competance that say the bible Is wrong on origin issues.
Thats the fight.
Not about furnace theory.
The bad guys are simply trying to define origin subjects as scientific ones.
As the great Henry Morris said origin issues are not science ones as seldom they are testable.

in fact there is no such thing, noun, as science.
there is just knowledge, the seeking after knowledge, and wrong conclusions on knowledge.
Biology, physics, or roof tiling are simply the same thing in knowledge gained.
science can only separate itself from other knowledge if there is a special process to it that is not otherwise used.
The scientific process is a option for this.
Yet even this is just about suring up conclusions before insisting they are true.
In subjects where it truth is not apparent.
If the scientific method is not used then origin subjects can’t take the prestige of science to vouch for them.
Creationists say evolutionism is not using the scientific process.
Origin subjects are not cozy with this process.
Thats the philosophical fight behind the conclusions fight.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #31720

September 24th 2010


I agree that the orgins question is basically a philosophical issue, even though it has strong theological and scientific implications.

However the problem with philosophy is that it is kaput!, done in by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  So we must put up with spinning our wheels talking about science and Christianity, or reinvent a new intellectual foundation for philosophy. 

I am working on the latter if anyone is interested.

rob - #32460

September 29th 2010

Now I get why living in the Northwest is like watching a huge tennis match.

Paul Bruggink - #33483

October 6th 2010

For me, the obvious next useful question is “Exactly how is it that the Brits have ‘gotten past the same hangups about creation and evolution’”?

They do appear to be working harder at reconciling biological evolution and Scripture, e.g., Michael S. Northcott and R. J. Berry (Eds.), “Theology after Darwin” (Paternoster, 2009), although Stephen H. Webb presents an interesting approach in “The Dome of Eden: A New Solution to the Problem of Creation and Evolution” (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2010).

Thoughts, anyone?

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