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From the Dust: History of a Worldview

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December 17, 2013 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now, Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by Ryan Pettey and 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.

Note: In honor of the digital debut of From the Dust on the iTunes store, today we're reposting another clip from the film, titled "From Chaos to Order", as well as a letter from the movie's director, Ryan Pettey. You can purchase (or rent) the movie today on iTunes, or if you prefer, a physical copy through Amazon or Highway Media. In this clip, Bishop N.T. Wright discusses the history of evolutionary theory and of the science and faith debate.

My name is Ryan Pettey, and I am a documentary filmmaker who has been amazingly blessed to work on a feature-length documentary over the last year and a half called From the Dust.

With From the Dust, we wanted to put something proactive on the table that could help motivate an elevated conversation about the “war” between science and faith. It was our goal to help Christians see (and accept) the complexity of the issues raised by modern science, as well as help them to courageously engage with the theological conversations happening within the sphere of Christian culture today. We wanted the film to address the topic hermeneutically, historically, and socially in order to gain a better perspective on the issues, and, hopefully, address some of the fears (justified or otherwise) concerning what science is telling us about our physical origins.

Personally, this project has been a spiritual shot in the arm and has whole-heartedly reignited my walk with God. I have been truly humbled by my opportunity to speak with so many incredible theologians, scientists, biblical scholars, and authors. As a result of this project, the book of Genesis has become more alive and more dynamic than I had ever allowed it to be. It is my hope that this film will both challenge and inspire people of faith, no matter where they are on their journey, to revere the complexity of God both through his word and his creation.

Through the BioLogos Forum, I am posting a few short, topic driven clips from the film in the coming weeks as conversation starters.

Thanks for watching!

Ryan Pettey
From the Dust

“History of a Worldview” Transcript

Bishop N.T. Wright: “The debate such as has happened between so-called science and so-called faith, has a lot of quite murky roots. In the 18th century in my country, for instance, one person I happen to know a little bit about is Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, because I once lived in Litchfield, which is where he lived. Litchfield, in the eighteenth century was one of the small, buzzy, intellectual centers of Britain, and those guys were already exploring their scientific experiments within basically, what I have called, an Epicurean universe and it says in Epicureanism, ‘God and the world or the gods and the world are a long way apart, God is not involved in the world—if there is a God—and so we just have to explore the world as it is.’ That goes with the philosophy called Deism where you have an absentee landlord God.

The 18th century was a way of simplifying certain questions: ‘Alright, God is out of the mix, now we can just do our experiments…but, as we do our experiments, if God is out of the mix, then when we observe change going on in the world, it must be a change which has happened from within the processes of the world. When Charles Darwin went on his boat off to the Galapagos and studied these things and those things and finches and turtles and goodness knows what, that was fantastic and extraordinary and mind blowing, but the philosophical framework within which he interpreted that was one that his grandfather had been working on two generations before (and so had lots of other people): the idea that God was out of the picture and that what you had was evolution [and] development of an explicitly godless kind, a God-out-of-the-picture kind. The problem is that in America even more than Britain—and it was quite true in Britain as well in the 19th century—the Deism of people like Thomas Jefferson, had split off God from the world for political reasons because once God is out of the picture, then we are free to develop whatever sort of empire, whatever sort of power we want. Sadly, the church colluded with this because the church basically treated Christianity as a sort of escape from this world off to this distant God, and you have that in spirituality which is not anchored and earthed in social reality…

And you have it in a soteriology, a theory of how you get saved, which is that you leave this world, and you go off to be with that God; neither of those is actually Biblical. In the Bible, God and the world, heaven and earth kind of mesh together, and you find Jesus in the middle of that, and the Bible in the middle of that, and you should find yourself in the middle of that. Part of the point of being a Christian is that we are meant to be living at those strange, overlap points of heaven and earth—that is what prayer is all about, that is what the sacraments are all about, that is actually what ministering to the poor in Jesus’ name is all about. As Jesus himself said, ‘If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.’ There is a sense of overlap and that actually makes life much more complicated.

It seems to me you need to unpick all of that, you need to understand how we got where we got before you even get to Scopes and monkeys and, you know, court cases, and so on, because those court cases are just misunderstood before they even start because of all that worldview baggage that is coming to us from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. We need to relocate the question as between devout Christians here and eager scientists there. We need to relocate that question within this much larger understanding of where our culture has been [and] where it might now be going. Otherwise, it will become a dialogue of the deaf or a battle in the dark, as it were.”


Ryan Pettey is a filmmaker and the director/editor of Satellite Pictures. He produced the feature length video From the Dust, which examines the question of human physical origins from a theological, historical and social perspective.
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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Roger A. Sawtelle - #83962

December 17th 2013

While I appreciate the efforts of Bishop Wright to understand how the Church got caught up in this predicament and agree that we must understand the worldviews of those involved, I must take issue with some of his points.

The first is that he said that the Deism of Thomas Jefferson was intended to take God out of the picture so humans could govern without God.  Whatever the intention maight be that is not what happened.

His most famous sentence, “All men are created equal and endowed with their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” puts God right in the middle of governing.

Maybe what he means is that American “deism” puts the emphasis on good laws to protect the rights and maintain order rather than good rulers.  Certainly God and God’s law is not against good laws, although good rulers are important also.

Deism in science and government does put the emphasis on laws and order, which is not contrary to Christianity, unless it excludes love and the personal.  

Wright’s point of view leaves out the Methodist movement in England and America which combined support for the rule of law, Newtonian science, and advocacy for the slave and poor workers.  This is perhaps where we need to look for the answer of how to reconnect faith and science.

However the Methodist movement has dimmed since Newton has lost out to Einstein, most Methodists have become haves instead of havenots, and laws are being used to prevent change.        

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