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Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 5

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October 8, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 5
Source: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/walter.sargent/public.www/web%20104/20s%20scopes.jpg

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Historical Comments

No episode in the history of Christianity and science is better known than the Scopes trial. In the swelteringly hot summer of 1925, a rookie teacher named John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee. Scopes was technically a criminal defendant, but everyone knew that the law itself was ultimately on trial—not the man, who wasn’t even sure that he had taught evolution when he had filled in for his principal (the regular biology teacher) during an illness. The real issue was the constitutionality of the Butler Act, a new law that forbade public school teachers “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man had descended from a lower order of animal.” Even Scopes and his lawyers wanted to ensure a conviction, because they needed one in order to put the law on trial in higher courts. Fittingly, by far the most famous moment of the trial did not involve Scopes at all; nor did it take place in the courtroom. On a makeshift stage, constructed outside the courthouse under the trees to accommodate the crowd, Scope’s lawyer Clarence Darrow, a noted agnostic, cross-examined three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who had joined with the fundamentalists to lead a national campaign against teaching evolution and inserted himself onto the prosecution team at Dayton.

No scientific idea has been more controversial among Christians than evolution, and no one hated it more than Bryan. He blamed evolution for many of the great evils of modernity in his eyes—cutthroat, laissez-faire capitalism; class pride and the power of wealth, which could undermine democracy; German militarism and World War One (Bryan even wrote a pacifist pamphlet, part of a collection that included a similar tract by Darrow, his political ally on several matters); and religious skepticism, such as that displayed by Darrow. Above all, Bryan blamed evolution for the kind of liberal Protestant religion called “modernism,” the arch-foe of the “fundamentalism” that had recently arisen specifically in order to “do battle royal for the fundamentals” against liberal forces, in the words of Curtis Laws, the Baptist editor who first used the word “fundamentalist” in print, in July 1920. As far as Bryan was concerned, “theistic evolution” (a term he used himself often) was even worse, functioning as “an anesthetic which deadens the pain while the patient’s religion is being gradually removed,” or “a way-station on the highway that leads from Christian faith to No-God-Land.”

About eighteen months before the Scopes trial, Bryan had invoked a different image to summarize his views on evolution and Christianity, in a letter he sent from Galveston, Texas, to Philadelphia. The recipient was Charles G. Trumbull, editor of the Sunday School Times, a tabloid-style weekly magazine for which Bryan had written a series of articles about the dangers of modernism. Bryan’s articles defended (among other doctrines) the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, and the Bodily Resurrection—all of which were denied by leading modernist clergy. Trumbull was publishing them in a book, Seven Questions in Dispute, accompanied by several cartoons by his in-house artist, Ernest James Pace, which had already appeared in various issues of the magazine. The point of Bryan’s letter was to suggest the theme for a new cartoon, specially drawn for the book. The cartoon would “represent evolution as I believe it to be, [namely,] the cause of modernism and the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the bible.” It would have “three well-dressed modernists,” a student, a minister, and a scientist, all descending a staircase on which “there is no stopping place”—that is, a slippery slope, ending at the bottom with “a scientist stepping from Agnosticism to Atheism.” “Such a cartoon,” Bryan emphasized, “would visualize the thought we are trying to emphasize: the three persons who are most effected by modernism are the student, the preacher who substitutes evolution for religion, and the scientist who prefers guesses to the Word of God.” (Bryan to Trumbull, 31 January 1924, Bryan Papers, General Correspondence, container 40, Library of Congress Manuscript Division)

E. J. Pace, “Descent of the Modernists.” Frontispiece to the book Seven Questions in Dispute by William Jennings Bryan (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1924). Courtesy of Edward B. Davis.

Incarnational Faith

At that time, with tens of millions of American Protestants caught up in bitterly divisive denominational battles over the Bible and modern knowledge, middle ground on evolution was mighty hard to find. As Pace’s cartoon implies, many modernists accepted evolution while denying the very “vital truths of the Bible” that Bryan had identified, while the fundamentalists all rejected evolution in the name of Christian orthodoxy. One searches in vain for someone like Asa Gray, a leading scientist who had promoted what he called “theistic evolution” simultaneously with affirmations of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in lectures delivered at the Theological School of Yale College in 1880. No one could ever say that evolution led Gray to slide helplessly down Bryan’s staircase. Gray not only held that evolution is “compatible” with Christian faith, he upheld a genuinely Incarnational theology of creation in which Christ was fully divine. “I accept Christianity on its own evidence,” he told the students at Yale, “and I am yet to learn how physical or any other science conflicts with it any more than it conflicts with simple theism. I take it that religion is based on the idea of a Divine Mind revealing himself to intelligent creatures for moral ends.” For Gray, “Revelation culminated … in the advent of a Divine Person, who, being made man, manifested the Divine Nature in union with the human,” and “this manifestation constitutes Christianity.” (Natural Science and Religion, pp. 106 and 108)

Sandro Botticelli, The Cestello Annunciation (1489-90),
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

The Incarnation was for Gray “the crowning miracle,” attended by other miracles that “are not obstacles to belief,” adding that the “essential contents” of Christian faith were “briefly summed up” in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. (p. 108) So much for Bryan’s staircase; Gray never even reached the third step, despite his support for human evolution.

Although Gray apparently had no prominent theological descendants in the Scopes era, they are more numerous today. The most visible example would be John Polkinghorne, whose book The Faith of a Physicist (1996), takes the form of a commentary on the Nicene Creed, which he (like Gray) affirms alongside his acceptance of evolution. Thus, he devotes most of a chapter to exploring “whether the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead is one that is credible for us today.” Along the way he rejects the view associated with Joseph Renan and Rudolf Bultmann “that what happened was [only] a faith event in the minds of the disciples,” placing the source of doubt where it actually belongs—not in science itself, but in the unbridled skepticism of David Hume, to which Polkinghorne shows an appropriate skepticism of his own. Polkinghorne argues that Hume’s “confidence that the laws of nature were known with a certainty that extends even into realms of unprecedented and hitherto unexplored phenomena is one that was certainly falsified by the history of science subsequent to the eighteenth century, and it could never be pressed to dispose of an event like the resurrection of Jesus, which claims to be a particular act of God in a unique circumstance.” (The Faith of a Physicist, pp. 108-109)

This is not a trivial example. As he says in a more recent book, “The resurrection is the pivot on which Christian belief turns. Without it, it seems to me that the story of Jesus’ life and its continuing aftermath is not fully intelligible.” (Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion, p. 83) Indeed, one of the most reliable ways to understand a writer’s basic attitude about science and religion is to study what is said about the Resurrection.

Given his view of the Resurrection, Polkinghorne’s assessment of the larger picture will come as no surprise: “The scientific avenue into theological thinking will seek to give due weight to science, but it would be fatal to allow it to become a scientific take-over bid, affording no more than a religious gloss on a basically naturalistic account.” The crucial question, of course, involves “the degree of accommodation required of the historic faith in its expression in an age of science,” on which “there is a spectrum of response running from assimilation to consonance.” Basically, the assimilationist “seeks the most immediate and accessible correlation between scientific and religious thinking,” and the deity of Christ is set aside. But speaking exactly to the points I outlined for you in my previous two columns, Polkinghorne holds that

The consonantist, on the other hand, while wishing to ensure that theological understanding is consistent with what science tells us about the structure and history of the physical world, will insist that theology is as entitled as science to retain those categories which its experience has demanded that it shall use, however counterintuitive they might be. Jesus Christ will continue to be understood in the incarnational terms. (Belief in God in an Age of Science, p. 86)

Modernist Heterodoxy

If theologically “orthodox” approaches to evolution were almost invisible in Bryan’s day, “heterodox” approaches were almost ubiquitous, and it was the modernists who were offering them. For a historically significant example, let’s hear from theologian Shailer Mathews, the leading theological educator of his generation. Mathews was Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago for a quarter century, including the whole period of the “fundamentalist-modernist” controversy. Chicago was the hotbed of modernism, and it graduated a large number of doctoral students, who then went and taught at other seminaries or occupied prominent pulpits. Mathews’ colleagues included at least two theologians whose views were at least as radical as his own: Darrow’s close friend, George Burman Foster (Darrow gave the eulogy at Foster’s funeral in 1919), and Gerald Birney Smith, who taught his students that evolution means that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

In his aptly titled autobiography, New Faith for Old (1937), Mathews placed very revealing comments about his overall attitude. An “orthodox” position just would not work for him. Yes, there had been “some scientists like Asa Gray who championed Darwinian evolution while holding to the Nicene Creed,” but Mathews thought they “were not representative churchmen.” For Mathews, modern science had completely changed the intellectual landscape for theology: “Laboratory science did something more than lead to research. It undermined habits of thought and substituted the tentativeness of experiment for authoritative formulas [i.e., the orthodox creeds].” The fundamental problem was educational, that “Scientific method had not touched religious thought. It was only when educational processes had ceased to be controlled by the study of classical literature and grew more contemporary, that orthodox theology was felt to be incompatible with intellectual integrity.” (New Faith for Old, pp. 220-21)

I could easily multiply the examples, but I don’t need to. We can readily connect Mathews’ conclusion about orthodox theology with Ian Barbour’s historical generalization that the modernists “emphasized God’s immanence, often to the virtual exclusion of transcendence, and in some cases God was viewed as a force within a cosmic process that was itself divine.” (Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, p. 74) The attitude displayed by Mathews and his friends—that which is not “scientific” ought not be affirmed by the Christian theologian—would fit perfectly into the intellectual world of today. As process theologian David Ray Griffin has noted, “modern liberal theologies have achieved a reconciliation of science with theology at the expense of its religious content…” (Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts, p. 183, his italics) Thus, when the late Arthur Peacocke spoke of God as “the transcendent, yet immanent, Creator,” he did not mean the maker of heaven and earth who literally became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin and raised bodily from the grave. (Theology for a Scientific Age, pp, 22 and 268-89) Or, when John Haught testified at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, he declined to affirm the historicity of the resurrection: If the disciples had brought a video camera into the upper room, it would not have captured an image of the risen Christ—the camera lacked faith, apparently, and therefore it could not see.

Many of the leading religious voices in the modern “dialogue” of science and religion that has sprung up since the 1960s—including Haught, Barbour, Peacocke, and Griffin—have been intellectual descendants of Mathews and other modernists from the Scopes era, rather than descendants of Gray. This is one of several reasons why Theistic Evolution is so unpopular among traditional Christians: they judge the tree by its fruit, and they taste no transcendence.

However, they need to try more trees before carrying out the induction. Unlike the situation in Bryan’s day, it is no longer hard to find world-class scientists and theologians whose views are much closer to Gray’s than to those of the modernists. Anyone who still thinks that Theistic Evolution is just “a way-station on the highway that leads from Christian faith to No-God-Land” had better think again.

Looking Ahead

I’ll be back in about two weeks, to begin presenting the last of the five views in our series on Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design. My approach will be identical to that taken in every other part of the series. I’ll identify main assumptions, examine implications and conclusions, and sketch the history of the view. Please join us, and in the meantime join in our final conversation about Theistic Evolution.


Edward B. Davis, “Fundamentalist Cartoons, Modernist Pamphlets, and the Religious Image of Science in the Scopes Era,” in Religion and the Culture of Print in Modern America, ed. Charles L. Cohen and Paul S. Boyer (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), pp. 175-198.
James R. Moore, The Future of Science and Belief: Theological Views in the Twentieth Century (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1981).

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Jon Garvey - #73613

October 13th 2012


You ask what implications accepting design inference as a working hypothesis has. Delay in investigating junk DNA is one, but there are more serious examples.

Epigenetic research (also probably delayed by 100 years obsession with genes and Darwinian anti-Lamarckism) is now looking at patterns of methylation/acetylation of DNA in detail. Incidentally a new paper puts a major part of the means of controlling this in the hands of lncRNAs - a large part of the junk DNA component attributed to selfish viruses.

But much of the media talk about epigenetics has to do with disease: smoking causes this pattern of methylation, and that causes cancer. Ergo, we might find new drugs to block the process and cure cancer. But that’s based on an assumption of only efficient causes. These things happen through chance, scientists assume, and the results are bad, as one would well expect.

If instead, one believes that the cells make these changes, in response to environmental stresses like smoking, for valid reasons, and that the propensity to cancer is a risk worth taking for them, then one is going to research the real “purpose” of that pattern of methylation much more carefully before spending a fortune on possibly disastrous new drugs.

So design inference changes the research program radically. Note this does not entail specifically faith in God, but only the acceptance that a good designer is at work - ie there is real teleology in nature.

Similarly the present GM problems in the US of massive weed resistance to herbicides is the result of the assumption that maize reached its present genetic state by largely adverse accident and therefore is ripe for our “improvement”. The consideration that there might be good reasons why such “improvement” has not been attempted by the plant before might prevent the degree of human ignorance now being revealed - nobody considered epigenetics, HGT, multilevel “switches” in the genome etc when they were busily (and profitably) modifying the world’s food sources. “Cavalier” is too weak a word.

beaglelady - #73633

October 13th 2012

Similarly the present GM problems in the US of massive weed resistance to herbicides is the result of the assumption that maize reached its present genetic state by largely adverse accident and therefore is ripe for our “improvement”.

Just what is this supposed to mean? Corn has been under artificial selection for 10,000 years.  

Darwin Guy Dan - #73706

October 16th 2012

Jon Garvey #73613 and Beaglelady #73633 

“[….] the assumption that maize reached its present genetic state by largely adverse accident and therefore is ripe for our ‘improvement.’”

Beaglelady, if they make you chairman of the board, then I am going to be needing a large local staff here so as to help figure out the meaning and intent of Jon’s statement. O.K.? I could use that in any case.

It has long occurred to me that we have been living under some false economic assumptions that fail to recognize actual realities. These false (depending upon ones values) assumptions are relevant to ag-economics as well as general economies. That is, our monetary and fiscal policies have become detached from the real world of supply and demand and thus have failed to reflect real world cost externalties. Perhaps one might say these systems have become overly Platonic and aristocratic as opposed to Aristotelian. (At least that is my current assessment of these two philosophers. No offense, intended to Roger and Bruce. Or, as some might say, go ahead and take some offense.) And these false assumptions aren’t applicable solely to the U.S. policies but rather are global problems in places like Africa.

Mega-farming here and in Africa has led to monoculture or duel culture cropping (examples: rice in Africa, corn / soybeans here in the U.S.) and thus the loss of plant diversity. Poor farming practices are driven largely by the false assumptions and biases underlying economies of scale and by power politics. From the economic view, the thinking is that one large farm is more efficient than many small farms. But large farms mean not just a lack of diversification in crops but also a lack of diversification in farm equipment. Thus the drive for larger and larger farms feeds on itself. (The Amish have long seemed to have solved this problem. Or, have they?) Even prior to the financial crisis, many farmers have been caught in a squeeze whereby a single farmer can barely afford to purchase a corn harvester much less other equipment. It’s not like even just 25 or 50 years ago when a dairy farmer with a couple hundred acres might have had a half dozen tractors and a variety of planting, cultivating, and harvesting equipment to work with. Even back then, the economies of scale were not necessarily appropriate, depending on ones values. That is, ideally, in my view, economics even back then ought to have allowed such a mid-sized farm to support more workers and could have been more diverse in terms of crops. My preference is for the Federal Reserve to bail out farm laborers as opposed to the “money changers” at large banks. Too big to fail is too big.

As I see it, business schools and ag-economic departments to date have yet to figure out how to appropriately and fairly deal with economic externalities such as the negative externalities (sins of commission) associated with transportation, the environment, energy, and the positive externalities (sins of omission) such as the compelling desire for local fresh food, individual passions for farming, etc.

SOME SOURCES: “Mother Earth News” magazine; BEAUTIFUL AND ABUNDANT (2010) by Brian Welch; FOOD AND THE MID-LEVEL FARM: RENEWING AN AGRICULTURE OF THE MIDDLE (2008) by Thomas A. Lyson, G.W. Stevenson, and Rick Welsh.

Dan, a.k.a NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy

Darwin Guy Dan - #73683

October 15th 2012

Re.: Jon Garvey #73613 and Merv #73655:

The paper Jon Garvey pointed to, “Lamarck’s Missing Linc,” certainly is interesting.  Lots going on at Scripps.  There was a somewhat more extensive report in the Dec. 17, 2011 issue of “Science News” magazine titled “Missing Lincs” by Tina Hesman Saey.  That article pointed in turn to Rinn Lab at www.rinnlab.com.

While I don’t agree with the ID paradigm or for that matter Evolutionism (what I have long been labeling the epistemology / paradigm of Evolutionists but see now I would need to fight for word definition priority), I do find that IDers Thomas E. Woodward and James P. Gills provide some interesting information relevant to epigenetic inheritance.  In their book, THE MYSTERIOUS EPIGENOME: WHAT LIES BEYOND DNA (2012), one can see that environmental factors might indeed be influential to germ cells and thus, in a Lamarckian manner, information may be passed down to future generations by means other than the genetic code itself. (I have also long speculated that cell walls could be highly relevant to origins of life studies and formation of DNA / RNA.)

In their book, EVOLUTION IN FOUR DIMENSIONS: GENETIC, EPIGENETIC, BEHAVIORAL, AND SYMBOLIC VARIATION IN THE HISTORY OF LIFE (2005), Evolutionists Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb similarly discuss the role of epigenetic factors such as methylation tags associated with histones.  Again, these epigenetic considerations demonstrate that horizontal transfers (beyond the extensive HTs suspected prior to the Cambrian) are or may be highly relevant to inheritance even after the germ cells of eukaryotes became supposedly isolated entities.  Inheritance may, quite likely, no longer be seen as being limited to the vertical transfers of information solely via the genetic code.  Jablonka and Lamb write (p.329):

“Chromatin undoubtedly plays a major role in the storage and transmission of cellular information, but guessing how it evolved to become a system that responds to environmental and developmental cues and transmits information about the response to daughter cells is not easy.  Part of the problem is that we still know very little about how the histones and other chromatin proteins interact with each other and with methylated and nonmenthlated DNA.”

Both books discuss cancer and other health and environmental issues.  Woodward and Gills have a chapter titled “The Epigenome and Human Health.”  While the authors tend to emphasize spirituality as associated with bodily health as opposed to pharmaceuticals (one wonders if they practice what they preach), lots of folks who have little idea what ID is also fall into that camp. (For example, a local medical doctor / researcher who also has a radio show is fond of using the disparaging term “pharmacopeia.”)

Obviously, a means need to be found by which ‘we the people’ have a more direct say and means by which to channel available public funds into the research of our choice and, hopefully, thereby eliminate or at least diminish the influence of special interest groups.  It could be a win-win for society and all involved.

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy


Jon Garvey - #73615

October 13th 2012

Merv (cntd)

Then there is the wider consideration of the good of science to humanity’s well-being generally. As Christians, you and I believe that we humans were created for worship and more - that we need salvation.

If science is operated on false intellectual premises; if those premises falsely sideline or deny the existence of God; and if scientists have actual (via education) or moral (via intellectual influence) on the public world-view, then millions are being given “cause to stumble”, not to mention that God is denied his due glory.

But I suggest such false intellectual foundations are in place in at least three ways:

(1) By the assumption that one can draw naturalistic conclusions on data that does not yet exist (“design may be the best explanation now, but it’s excluded since there’s bound to be a natural explanation one day”... “we haven’t found the ancestral fossils, but they must have been like this” ... “we have found no actual chain of cause and effect, but here’s a just-so-story” ... “there is indeed universal fine tuning, but you can do some speculative maths that supports a multiverse to explain it away”). The best hypothesis is never that there may one day be a viable hypothesis.

(2) By upholding naturalism when that cannot explain the very scientific project itself. Science assumes rationaility and a rationally constructed universe, neither (as many philosophers, including Alvin Plantinga) have shown, plausible on naturalistic and evolutionary assumptions. In other words, there is a hidden design assumption in the very practice of science.

(3) By the smuggling of teleology into every branch of science (cf my post #73610 above), excused (if it is admitted at all) as “easier communication”, when in fact it is the very core understanding. Any attempt to avoid it simply produces triviality: Eg “This trait was favoured by selection, and further mutations, drift and episodes of selection gradually turned this quadruped into a whale.” That (a) tells nothing at all about what a whale is and why it is how it is, but merely the path it took and (b) suggests that nothing useful can be said scientifically about whales apart from understanding their evolution, which is nonsense. We cannot understand the world except through its teleological functions.

beaglelady - #73654

October 14th 2012

Do you really think we know nothing useful about whales because we know about their evolution?  

Jon Garvey - #73660

October 14th 2012

Do you really think that’s what I wrote?

beaglelady - #73663

October 14th 2012


Jon Garvey - #73677

October 15th 2012


GJDS - #73627

October 13th 2012

Jon (#73620)

Ok Jon, we are moving towards something substantial (or reasonable specific). You will not have an argument from me on Aquinas. What I cannot as yet perceive is some type of plan of action, or even a ‘hoped to goal’ regarding your suggestions on scientific activities and theology. I think this should address the Sciences; focussing on evolutionary thought and effort alone would prove to be futile.

From our discussions and your recent comments, my first point is that for a practical outcome, it will be necessary to convince scientists (I think in all disciplines of natural sciences (NS)) that the world has been put here purposely and we need to act accordingly. This means people are converted to a belief that you and I, and other like us, share. This is not an easy task.

Secondly, even if miraculously all scientists (or decision makers at least) come around, how would this impact on the theories and programs currently undertaken by the NS? Faith informs us and forms a basis for our outlook, but to use a previous phrase, the Bible is not a scientific text book. So what sort(s) of scientific programs and paradigm do we adopt that may be theologically sound?

If somehow we achieve a desired scenario in which teleology and design are part of the new paradigm based on a theistic basis, we may have a more caring scientific community (although I think the majority of scientists are caring), but just on the basis of accepting teleology and design as general concepts, I cannot see that from this, the scientific thinking would change to a significant extent. Remember, Ted Davis through this series has shown the prominent scientists of the past, that have given rise to NT, were all convinced they were glorifying God through their work. Theology of that day simply caused misguided thinking in asserting natural laws were part of a celestial machine.

On top of all of this, religion has historically been one of controversy and a great deal of turmoil, because its primary object is the nature of human beings and how we may be saved from sin into a Christ-like attributes and life. Human beings naturally resist such things – the Faith teaches that only God can convince someone to have Faith. I have notices that in these posts we have all shown various levels of dissagreement on something as (relatively) mundane as TE (which also has its history of YEC, OEC, NT). This also points to difficulties amongst believers; we then add atheists to this mix!!

I am not being pessimistic, but rather putting forward an additional dimension to these discussions. I think that if people of talent and resources were to create a mega-project on systems, knowledge, and underpinned by an alternate view to the one promoted by atheists, science and religion, and indeed our cvilisation, would benefit. That would be a mighty task.

Jon Garvey - #73628

October 13th 2012


I don’t think there’s been a successful change in the history of the world which began with persuading an entire population to change its worldview. Certainly the ascendancy of metaphysical naturalism didn’t happen that way.

There are two things that seem important to me. The first is pointing to the inconsistencies inherent in a flawed position, such as those I mention in the previous post to Merv. Even if that doesn’t persuade those wedded to that position, it will affect those who fund them, those who are affected by their findings, those who are coming through the education, those who buy their books and so on. Anyone who knows the issues can do that.

The second is for those within the discipline of science who also own the name of Christ (or let’s be less sectarian - those who are theists, or even those who accept teleological mechanisms) to speak, act and work as those committed to the implications of that worldview. That would involve a serious re-examination of the metaphysical commitments and methods on which their work is based, which is what men and women are called to do in any walk of life.

It wasn’t easy doing medicine “christianly” in an increasingly secular health service, any more than it is being a believing rock musician, historian or prison warder. But it’s what is called being “salt and light” in the world. The main obstacle to that, I think, is the compartmentalisation of life into watertight sections. It is possible to leave ones faith at the lab/office/theatre door - I’ve even seen it advocated on threads here by someone who now seems to spend his effort on accusing James Shapiro of creationism over at Huffington post.

Overall, I think it’s better just to be committed to truth than to try and engineer society - unless you’re a politican, that is, when it’s your job!

Gregory - #73708

October 16th 2012

Just a brief holler out from the passenger window in the midst of travels…

“I don’t think there’s been a successful change in the history of the world which began with persuading an entire population to change its worldview. Certainly the ascendancy of metaphysical naturalism didn’t happen that way.” - Jon G.

As it turns out, today I did a walking tour in a city where it was told that the nation was ‘Christianis/zed’ in 966. This was a population event; not just persuading, but baptising, converting. Whether or not it was ‘successful’ is up to you to decide.  Evangelicals seem to tend to think individualistically (or locally) rather than (globally) through communitarian lenses.

Regarding ‘engineering society’ we are agreed, Jon, that truth is the better first committment. Nevertheless, surrounded by several national and regional elections (i.e. political structure, organisation) - one just happened here, one coming very soon & the potentially most ‘significant’ in N. America for 2012 already happened - I can only say that ‘engineering society’ is on many politicians’ minds, even if they are not trained in social sciences. And since politics impacts education and BioLogos is interested in improving U.S. education, in things like philosophy of science, even in the shadow of its separatistic (read: NOMA-oriented) Church and State constitution, these things do seem to somehow ‘matter.’

Of course, elections and (limited term) governments are *brilliant* (as the British say) examples of ‘Things that don’t evolve.’ They demonstrate non-evolutionary social activities. But so far, that is not a topic (i.e. distinguishing potential or actual ‘limits’ to evolutionary theories, outside of theology and biology) that ‘Theistic Evolution’ as represented at BioLogos has thus far been willing to engage.

In short and sharp as always, Gr.

p.s. day after tomorrow I’ll be meeting for the 2nd time with representatives from an organisation that promotes TE and is in my view a much more significant player in terms of academic rigour and global recognition in science, philosophy and religion dialogue than BioLogos (or ASA). You can be sure I’ll raise the TE topic with them to compare with the ‘orthodox’ (anti-A&E) position that Ted Davis has represented in this series. Til catch up with you folks a bit later…

GJDS - #73643

October 13th 2012


On a personal and individual level, the way a person practices science (and this would be true for virtually all activities), is dependent mainly by being committed to honesty and the well being of others (and this planet); this is a reflection of people’s character. My own experience shows that people of sound character are found amongst those with faith, and also amongst atheists and gnostics. Thus I emphasis on activity that goes beyond personal attributes and more towards policy and planning (including opposing those who are dishonest and manipulate science for their agenda).

We may not look to worldwide conversion; I still ask, besides the conflict regarding atheistic and theistic evolutionary outlooks, how would (let us focus on metaphysics if you like) make changes on how science is practiced even in evolutionary areas? I can envisage changes in overall outlook, but not in detail, nor in interpretation of specific experiments. I tried to illustrate this by re-reading papers in which the term evolution was removed from every sentence. In these cases I could not see any change in the meaning of such papers. Philosophical and ideologically driven papers are another matter.

I think SKL’s suggestion below is probably more practical; an effort to get theological arguments back to Orthodoxy and greater emphasis on the attributes that lead to sound character and a sound intellectual outlook for those of faith would make more sense. Putting forward informed opinion into the public arena to ensure we care for the planet, and for our well being, would also be far more useful. Avoiding pointless conflicts between TE, TEC, ID people (and I thinkg NT) would also be helpful.

Intellectual output such as Polkinghorne and others, if they stick to well established Orthodoxy, would also be useful. I have often stated to my friends that liberal theologians and atheists such as Dawkins are different sides of the same coin. Countering these would also be helpful. This would point to some of the inconsistencies in flawed positions. High level and rigorous intellectual output would also make its way into educational institutions, as these intellectuals and ther work would compel others by the force of their thinking, and not require political support.

Scientists who are Christians would say again, that performing their work diligently and avoiding the dishonesty and political expediencies, especially in obtaining and providing grants, is the core issue. I cannot see how a metaphysics would make a difference to the way science is practices (I would be really interested in any suggestions you have on this).

I think that everyone I have read on this forum, would say he/she is committed to the truth and would avoid and oppose engineering society of manipulating others to bad ends. Yet our own experiecne in this activity points to problems in outlooks, information, communication and history.

My overall position remains as it has for many years; Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The changes we are pointing to would be the result of faith. Looking to the past (e.g. Aquinas, Augustine, Patrisic writings and above all the Bible, is still the best way forward.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73640

October 13th 2012

Evolution is neither good or bad, because in theory it is not teleological.

On the other hand ecology points to problems caused by climate change and other environmental changes which have serious repercushions for humans and other species because it is teleological.  

Skl - #73641

October 13th 2012

In #73566, GJDS wrote “Since so much focus has been on Genesis, I am reminded of another section in this book, which discusses peoples who had decided they would build their way to the heavens; instead they ended up as a confused and confusing rabble.”

It got me wondering if some type of self-assessment might be in order. This five-part series began on August 15. The number of comments posted totals over 700, comprising over 190,000 words. That’s the equivalent of a 500-page book. Except this had the additional advantage of being an interactive “book”. (These stats are just for the comments. I’m not including the number of words in the five articles.)

Some questions came to my mind. As a result of reading and/or participating in this “500-page interactive book”:

1) Has anyone’s view on origins, and God’s involvement in origins, been changed?

2) Has anyone’s view and understanding of Scripture been changed? 

3) Has anyone’s faith been strengthened?


I’ll start things off, and will keep the verbiage mercifully minimal, by answering “No” to each.

GJDS - #73645

October 13th 2012


I am taking a risk by adding to the verbiage (again); I for one have learnt a great deal on the history of Natural Theology (or TE), and obtained background information on the conflicts in the USA related to evolution and ID. I find this helpful in developing a better outlook on these matters.

I will add this. It would be a extraodinary blog experience that would give yes to your three points. If you have had such an experience, why not share it with us.

Jon Garvey - #73651

October 14th 2012


Answering your question: Ted’s analysis of the historical development of TE thought clarified some issues for me. I’m also aware that people’s questions to me force me to extend my thinking in new directions (though the fruit of that is likely to come long after the thread has died).

When I used to preach regularly, my colleagues used to be saddened that hardly anybody could remember what was said the previous week, let alone identify how it had changed them. But I was relaxed about that, because the beneficial effect of food is pretty unconnected to the eating experience, and we’re usually only usually conscious of it if we get indigestion.

We change each other by interaction. That’s how we got to be what we are.

Merv - #73655

October 14th 2012

Skl, My [usually somewhat critical] views of ID have been challenged by pondering Jon’s examples of how design [or lack of design] assumptions directly influence our research programs.  While I have not much participated in either defense of or attack on ID ideas, this has helped me grow in awareness of other dimensions on this issue.

While I don’t think this specific example has changed my views of Scripture (your #2), I think I may have benefitted on your #1 and #3 (along with Jon’s well-stated caveat that one is usually does not immediately receive nutritional benefit as one is chewing.   —-so time will tell whether or not this has been a junk food diet or substantive diet; methinks the latter.)


Jon Garvey - #73656

October 14th 2012

Why thank you, Merv. Sometimes one gets to eat candy…

Merv - #73664

October 14th 2012

You’re quite welcome, Jon—thank you.  GJDS is making some reasonable points too—wondering, beyond general outlook, how design assumptions might specifically alter a research pursuit.  I continue to chew on your responses to each other.

Speaking to GJDS’ comments on ‘avoiding needless conflict’ between some of the theist camps, it may be good to note that we have our sharpest conflicts with those closest to us.  And not without honorable precedent.  Jesus gave some of his sharpest words to those who should have been (were?) closest in belief to him, but not there in heart.  


GJDS - #73669

October 14th 2012

Good point Merv

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73665

October 14th 2012

I will answer yes, because it has been a good discussion.

IMHO the discussion of teleology is very important, because it is a key disagreement between modern science and theology.  Philosophy is in the middle as it should be. 

Ted Davis - #73769

October 18th 2012

I’m coming back in at this point to highlight—once again—my comments on the significance of human antiquity, leaving common ancestry and other aspects of evolution entirely out of the picture. I really don’t think I’m being heard adequately on this. Every position I’ve presented or will present in this series, except the YEC view, has to come to terms with the implications of human antiquity for taking any sort of “historical” view of Genesis 2 & 3 (leaving aside the next 8 chapters). I haven’t been seeing comments that reflect this; rather, I’ve seen comments that assume that “evolution” can or can not be understood in terms of the traditional view of Adam & Eve.

When I wrote about the Framework view some time ago, some of you showed me earlier examples of it than the ones I knew about. One of those identified by Eddie, S. R. Driver’s “The Book of Genesis” (1904 and many other editions). I am especially glad to know about. A big THANK YOU to Eddie for this reference to a work by a great biblical scholar about whom I knew next to nothing. I got ahold of a copy this week (a late edition, but as far as I can tell similar to identical to the earlier ones), and among many fascinating things he has a section on “The Antiquity of Man” in which he draws on history, philology, geology, and and anthropology—but not genetics obviously, and not really from evolution either—to say this by way of summary (p. xlii in the long introduction):

“In what light, then, in view of this conclusion [great antiquity of humans], are we to view the representation contained in the early chapters of Genesis? The facts cannot be denied: yet the narrative of Genesis takes no account of them, and, indeed, leaves no room for them. The great antiquity of man, the stages of culture through which he passed, and the wide distribution of the human species, with strongly marked racial differences, over the surface of the earth are all alike unexplained, and inexplicable, upon the historical system of Gen i-xi. ... [long editorial snip] We are forced therefore to the conclusion that though, as may be safely assumed, the writers to whom we owe the first eleven chapters of Genesis, report faithfully what was currently believed among the Hebrews respecting the early history of mankind, ..., yet there was much which they did not know, and could not take cognizance of: these chapters, consequently, we are obliged to conclude, incomparable as they are in other respects, contain no account of the real beginnings either of the earth itself, or of man and human civilization upon it.”

All of this written before 1910. As I’ve tried to say, this issue of human antiquity confronted the OECs and the TEs more than 100 years ago, and its challenge is still being ignored by a lot of writers in both of those camps—not to mention the IDs, most of whom almost certainly hold an historical view of Adam and Eve, even though most of them won’t say so.

Leave evolution out of this for the time being. Is my point coming across?

Gregory - #73789

October 19th 2012

“I got ahold of a copy this week, and among many fascinating things he has a section on “The Antiquity of Man” in which he draws on history, philology, geology, and and anthropology…”  - Ted Davis


I’m in between 4 countries brief pause, but there’s a moment to write b/c what you exclaim here is dubious & deserves some commentary as with a ‘looking-glass self’ - how what you have said looks much different (at least to me) than what you seem to have meant by it. Please accept this as a legitimate possibility, a contribution from the human-social sciences, whereas your PoS focuses on natural-physical sciences and the genomics of ‘humanity’.

You took time to follow-up on Eddie’s recommendation. Fair enough. Good activity, following leads.

I know that you know Eddie (even if you haven’t met him in person), that you’ve reviewed Eddie’s work and agree with some features of Eddie’s work. I’ve even read your generally positive review of Eddie’s book (that’s the reality, not revealing real names). Eddie appears to agree with your anti-real, historical A&E position, which is considered heterodox by most (orthodox) Catholic and Orthodox theologians.

Should it strike us by surprise then that you’re interested and thankful to read ‘liberal’ heterodox theology on the topic of A&E, Ted? It does seem to me that you are attempting to make ‘orthodox’ what is actually deemed ‘heterodox’ by most Christians, more specifically, by the teachings of the (major) Christian Church(es). This is clearly the case on the topic of A&E.

Question: Did you take the time to familiarize yourself with Kenneth Kemp’s article, Ted, which I referred you to earlier and which was directly linked (by someone else) in TE#4 thread? If not, what’s your reason for continuing to delay reading Kemp? He rejects your subjective ‘point’ in rejecting real, historical A&E. Obviously time is not the main reason. Kemp, Feser, Bonnette are waiting for you, Ted. How long will you put them off?

“Is my point coming across?” - Ted Davis

Well, your point is coming across as needlessly radical liberal evangelical. The Catholics are waiting patiently with knowledge for you, Ted. Jon Garvey seems to have no problem or hesitation in reading them. How about you?

<b>“Leave out evolution,” said the self-labelled Theistic Evolutionist on a thread about Theistic Evolution.</b> Wow, if that isn’t a laugh! 

‘Human antiquity’ depends on what you, I and others mean by ‘human’ (and what we mean by ‘antique’). That leads us into anthropology, Ted, which might not be your strongest point as a historian (of science, especially more recently, of biology). Like I said, H. Dooyeweerd failed in his anthropology and you have not provided a more contemporary favorite (Russell & Polkinghorne don’t count). Here at BioLogos you’ve got only Kidder. Hurd isn’t satisfactory, Ted, though he tried in PEC, and failed. There’s a deeper understanding still waiting for your (and his) perception of ‘orthodoxy’ wrt TE.

For R. Dawkins = religious people are stupid, foolish, gullible, etc.

For T. Davis = writers are/must be ‘ignorant’ because he disagrees that ‘human antiquity’ does *not* require rejection of real, historical A&E

Gregory - #73791

October 19th 2012

“in that [ANE] setting, Adam functions as an archetype of all the others who are called, but a historically based, individual one in at least the same sense as Abraham and Moses.” - Jon Garvey

Jon Garvey - #73794

October 19th 2012

Correction: “in that [biblical] setting”


Ted Davis - #73796

October 19th 2012

If you think that time constraints are not genuine reasons, Gregory, then your life is very different from mine. I have a day job, and for about 15 weeks every year it takes all the time I can give it. I invite the “students” in this series to write “reports” about good books and articles that (a) I have read but do not have time to write very much about or (b) I have not read and do not presently have time to read and then to write about here. Lots of things in either category, and Kemp is in (b). You’ve obviously put his article in category (a) yourself, or else you would be telling us in some detail just what he argues. I just don’t have time to do that right now, and I don’t appreciate your implicit accusation that something else—obstinance? deliberate ignorance? fear of what I might find?—is preventing me from doing so.

For what it’s worth, Gregory, Ken Kemp is an excellent philosopher and I know him personally. We’ve never had as many occasions to talk as I would like, but last summer we were both directing (different) workshops at Calvin College at the same time, and we did have a few conversations then. Your implication that I just don’t want to read his work is very far from the mark.

We’ve also warned you about going after Eddie, which you keep doing. We’ve warned you enough.

Ted Davis - #73797

October 19th 2012

PS for Gregory: the reason I finally read some of the book by Driver (recommended many weeks ago by Eddie) this week, and not yet the article by Kemp you recommended, is simple: I lectured about the framework view yesterday. Thus, I was reminded to take a peek at that book as part of my preparation this week. From the comments I received here about the inaccurate historical material in the Framework column, I knew I had some revisions to make in my lecture, but I also knew it probably wouldn’t happen until shortly before the lecture got delivered.

Time constraints, once again, but I don’t expect you to believe it.

Ted Davis - #73811

October 20th 2012

For others (not Gregory): “going after Eddie” means (as Gregory knows) speculating about Eddie’s identity as part of an ongoing spat Gregory obviously has with Eddie, which is evident in many earlier comments. Gregory won’t just let this go. It also refers to the spat itself, when I’ve told both Eddie and Gregory to cease and desist. Here, Gregory clearly resents the fact that I have now acted on Eddie’s recommendation to peruse a particular book, while I have not yet acted on Gregory’s recommendation to read a particular article. He presents this as me favoring Eddie in their spat, when it’s nothing more than me preparing my lectures this past week.

And, obvioiusly, he puts this down to my holding a bias against an historical A&E, despite the fact that I’ve invited Gregory (and many others) to share their views as often as they wish, and I’ve invited Gregory (in particular) to provide a summary and commentary on Kemp’s article. Of course I have opinions, Gregory—don’t we all? But if I weren’t conducting an open forum on these things, with all respectfully expressed (and relevant) opinions welcome, then most of the other readers would have disappeared long ago. Anyone and everyone is free to say that my views don’t qualify as “orthodox” in their analyses; I’ve stated my definition of “orthodoxy” in clear terms, and I don’t pretend to be the only person entitlted to an opinion about that. Gregory or anyone else can say it’s not adequate, but when I say in full honesty that I just can’t read everything I ought to and want to read in a given space of time, I expect people to look at their own schedules and accept my statement at face value, rather than looking beneath it for an ulterior motive that just isn’t there.

Jon Garvey - #73776

October 18th 2012

Hi Ted

I thought I’d addressed some possibilities to this, especially re John Walton’s understanding of the Genesis text in its ANE setting. The 4th part of his audio here on BL is not his best presentation - rather hurried - but does mention one key point, as follows.

Genesis 1 addresses the whole creation functionally, and therefore contains no chronological information (other than evenings and mornings making days!). An evolutionary origin to mankind and its intellectual and cultural heritage is quite compatible with it. So far, so good with respect to arch. and anth.

Gen 2 follows a new toledos formula and so is not dealing with the same events, Gen 1 being the creation of cosmos as a sacred space ministering to man and Gen 2’s Eden being where a representative of the mankind created in Gen 1 is elected to enter a specific sacred space so that he can learn to minister God to creation, and through him all mankind. His experience is archetypal (though not allegorical - ANE didn’t do allegory) for mankind. At that point (ch3) things  get complicated, with the moral that you should never take apples from snakes (no, that’s my gloss).

His ideas have interesting parallels with Ed Feser’s quite independent pair of articles written, of course, from an AT standpoint, in which he sees mankind as endowed with a rational soul but subject to death like the animals, but Adam in Eden with gifts of special grace which, through sin, were simply not acquired by the rest of mankind, leaving them mortal and fallible by default, not commission. Feser doesn’t seem to distinguish Adam from the first humans, but his theological distinctions are comparable to Walton’s (and similarly incomplete - Walton wonders, and Feser fails to wonder, about how the propensity to deliberate sin became universal, but I think that’s still an unsettled question even in non-historical Adam scenarios.)

Eden’s setting can be at any time and place, including that in the text: the text does not seem to demand Adam’s progeniture of the whole race, but his solidarity and representative nature respecting it. There’s certainly more work to do on the model, but at very least it enables one to read Romans without charging Paul with theological error, which is no minor consideration.

I’m told that Walton’s scholarly monograph presents his case best, but it’s not available over here and I don’t have a University to fund it!

Jon Garvey - #73784

October 18th 2012

Erratum: For “toledos” read “toledoth” - no Mexican resturants in Eden, as far as I know.

GJDS - #73778

October 18th 2012


Hi Ted,

Your historical treatment was informative on the ways scholarly and scientific activity has impacted on the various views on Genesis 1-2, especially since the enlightenment, on various strands of protestant thinking, even though we considered traditional outlooks, such as those of Calvin and Augustine.

IMO, I think one aspect not sufficiently explored in the role of sin, to a deeper understanding. By this, I mean the context is more than sin equated with the fall of Adam and Eve. Sin is introduced by the ‘talking’ snake in deceiving Eve and than Adam. This implies that sin was present before Adam and Eve.

I am reminded on the story Josephus of the Macedonian ruler of Egypt, who decided to have the Old Testament translated into Greek. His comments were directed to the antiquity and history of Israel, and the place their sacred text had in the identity of the nation and its people. In those days, ancestry and lineage were important not only to Israel, but also other nations and its rulers. Much more so than the scientific outlook we prize nowadays.

These matters provide the context for an understanding of Genesis. We may look at treatments by poets such as Dante and Milton, and we see they provide a context that includes a cosmology and the impact of sin, viewed as existing prior to Adam and Eve, and impacting on the entire creation. Sin and its impact on the creation, is portrayed, after God had created all things (material and spiritual). Milton includes all of the deities then known to that part of the world, as part of his treatment. Whichever poetic treatment we consider, the role of sin, death, and of Satan, are considered as part of the context. Nowadays we seem squeamish and embarrassed to look at matters in this way. Yet this is the context in which ancient people understood religion and national identity.


GJDS - #73779

October 18th 2012


Thus, we may commence with the creation of the cosmos and all things seen and unseen, as the context; Genesis quickly takes us through the cosmological, and to humanity as understood by Israel as the chosen people, amongst the other nations (i.e. the world of that day). I think this provides a view – it is not that other people were, or were not present – Adam and Eve are shown to be human beings who had the opportunity to avoid sin and live in God’s grace, but were unable to do this. This is as real as any person who we meet each day. Sin however, is considered to impact on the entire creation (and thus to the entire world of Adam and Eve); the (perverse) understanding of God as creator by the religions and traditions of other nations, is shunned by Israel, and the chosen race commences with Abraham.

I think some of the present difficulties regarding so many details of Gen 1-2 may stem from an over-zealous scholastic and archaeological interpretation, and continued with evolution; this is seen in YEC, in theistic evolution, and in some versions of natural theology, and other similar projects. They want to change Genesis to fit in with various interpretations of archaeology, and science. If I am correct in this assessment, they will continue to experience tensions amongst themselves, and also conflicts with atheists.

Jon Garvey - #73790

October 19th 2012


I think you make a good point in insisting on a connect between Adam and Israel: that is after all the story’s context in Genesis, in the Pentateuch and in the Bible.

Adam is called to blessing and to bless the human race, but fails. Genealogy follows.. his descendant Abraham is called to a similar blessing (and to be a similar blessing). Genealogy follows - book ends with recapitulation of expatriation, but with purpose. Genealogy follows - Moses called to bring descendants Israel into being and blessing (and to be a witness to the nations). Pentateuch ends on brink of “New Eden” (and in Joshua, Israel gets there with provisos). Genealogy follows - Israel fails. Genealogy follows - Jesus is called as minister of New Covenant with parallel blessings to Adam’s and to bring blessing to whole world.

One might add that all of these stages involve temple themes, culminating in Revelation’s new cosmic temple - how symetrical is that!

Now, in that setting, Adam functions as an archetype of all the others who are called, but a historically based, individual one in at least the same sense as Abraham and Moses.

GJDS - #73800

October 19th 2012


I suppose we are back to considering terms, but it is important to understand what is meant by archetype. Paul talsk of the first Adam (when sin enters) and the last Adam (Christ) when sin and death are defeated. I do not like the term because it is often a Jungian term: “a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious.”

The OT contains the teachings and experiences mainly due to Moses and the Prophets - and they are all very critical of Israel. Worship and the Temple are a means that God gave Israel to forsake their ways and to follow and learn God’s way - which is ecompassed by the Law. It is here that meaning and purpose become clear, and how often both Israel (and today those who are the Church) often do not learn and do not do what the Faith asks us to. Meaning, the Law, sin, and growth in the Faith are all purpose and activity.


Ted Davis - #73810

October 20th 2012

For Jon and everyone else,


(Let me make this a separate comment rather than a reply, since it’s far more than just a comment for Jon.)

I agree that you’ve commented on authors who look for intermediate possibilities, and I appreciate the details you’ve given about their views. Your analysis of the difficulty here is spot on, and echoed in a different key by philosopher James K. A. Smith in the Septembet issue of Christianity Today magazine: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/september/what-galileos-telescope-cant-see.html. Indeed, when I read his article the other day I was struck by the number of things he says that connect with themes in my columns, so much so that I wonder whether he intends it silently as a direct commentary. He (like me) sees Galileo and Bellarmine as crucial figures (although he says nothing about the way in which Bellarmine set up a slippery slope to unbelief starting with the motion of the earth); he (like me) realizes that hardly anyone today still agrees with B’s view of astronomy (true, he says that “not a single Christian would later believe” in geocentrism, but I won’t quibble with ignoring the crazies); he (like me) realizes that a lot of modern Christian thinkers have simply accepted what science tells them, without having the confidence that he and I both have in the intellectual resources of the great historic creeds to express fundamental truths that can actually dialogue with the findings of science, rather than simply surrender to them; he (like me) decries the almost complete absence of “Christological affirmations” in “discussions of ‘creation’ with little or no reference to Christ.” I mean, wow—is this just a precise of my columns?

He goes on to suggest that we ought to have more sympathy for Bellarmine than we usually do. I also agree with that, when I speak as an historian, and I think I said something sympathetic to B in one or two places (including the comments) at that part in the series, but I obviously did not stress it. I do stress it in my historical lectures: what B was arguing at the time was very reasonable, in light of what was then known. I make sure my students at Messiah know that my sympatheis at the time would have been as much with Bellarmine as with Galileo (no single answer here, it depends on the specific aspect of the issue one has in mind). So, we agree even on that.

And, finally, we agree on the crux of the issue, as I’m presenting things here, and we might even agree on the bottom line, depending on how we understand original sin. Here is that part of his essay: “But unless—and until—we are willing to recognize the creative wisdom of Chalcedon, or generate any kind of sympathy for Cardinal Bellarmine, we can’t have much hope for authentic Christian witness in these contested areas. Instead, contemporary conversations between faith and science will continue to be dichotomous bartering games that simply try to ‘update’ the faith (“I’ll give up on original sin if you let me keep the Resurrection,” etc.)”

I’ve already indicated my preference for Robin Collins’ position on “evolution and original sin” (the title of his article cited in an earlier column on TE), but I don’t know Prof Smith’s position on Collins’ preferred model. Perhaps he and I even agree about that. Perhaps not. But, my own theology begins with the events of the passion week—no crucifixion and bodily Resurrection, then the church would never have existed in the first place (if you say I’m thinking as an historian might, you’re right)—and goes on from there to an understanding of the rest. I’ve tried mightily to help people see how someone like Polkinghorne (who also constructs his faith starting from the passion week, not from Genesis) absolutely does not do the things that Smith rightly decries here. So, that makes at least 3 of us on the same page. Again, I have to wonder whether he’s read my columns??

Jon Garvey - #73826

October 21st 2012


After another strange “not authorised” episode I find I can post again!

I too was impressed with the Christianity Today article, and intrigued by the thought of the need in theistic evolution (or science-faith more generally) to attempt to synthesise, or resolve, Bellarmine’s and Galileo’s positions. 2000 years + of respect for Scripture’s authority and the theology built on that simply cannot be subjected to the vagaries of a current science as if that were the source of divine revelation.I’m completely with you in your “series summarising statement”.

I’ve said here and elsewhere that the core dividing issue seems to be a worldview one that began with Renaissance humanism, which has jostled with theocentric and christocentric faith uneasily ever since, but that’s another story.

Personally (and selfishly) I hope James Smith doesn’t sdopt Robin Collins’ kind of position, because I find it unsatisfactory, partly because like all “everyman” interpretations of Adam it places the responsibility for “designing in” sin firmly on God. As GJDS hinted in his review, I’m not sure it deals with Paul’s doctrine adequately either. But that is detail - attitudes towards both Scripture and the “apostolic tradition” are the key issues, which makes me sound rather big “C” Catholic, but I’m actually small “c” catholick.

One thought on Christocentrism in these issues. This of course is essential, and I guess one needs to remember how much of theistic science has its roots in Unitarianism, as in Priestley, possibly Newton etc - and certainly in today’s thinkers like Paul Davies. Like the inherited influence of materialism, it is hard to gauge how many science-faith assumptions arise from that heterodoxy. Another example would be the almost unconscious, but deepseated, influence of Process Theology on the mindest of theistic evolution. I’m not sure why those inputs should be any more acceptable to Christian scientists  than Muslim or Marxist theories.

But my impression is that when there is “Christocentric” thinking, Christ, like Adam, is sometimes treated almost as a mythical archetype - overarching Christological themes like incarnation, suffering, kenosis etc are seen to permeate creation in an almost Jungian way.

But I’d want to start more simply, than that: what did Jesus actually teach, and embody, with respect to living creation, to the nature of God, the Scriptures and so on? “Christocentric” surely means primarily learning from Christ, more than thinking about Christ. That as opposed to (or preceding, rather) deep meditation and speculation on the “meaning of the Christ event for creation” etc. The undoubted strength of the Church’s tradition is that it has thought and meditated for 2 millennia on the teaching of Christ and the apostles: we need total familiarity with that before developing it “beyond what is written”.

Ted Davis - #73843

October 22nd 2012

There is no question, Jon, that much (perhaps most) TE thinking in recent decades is influenced by process theism—or panentheism, which is not quite the same thing. Or something pretty close to it, by whatever label we give it.

The group of thinkers I’ve been talking about (the “orthodox” TEs), however, unanimously reject process theism and its relatives. Indeed, the rejection of process theism is one of the distinguishing features (e.g.) of Polkinghorne’s thought. Sometimes this is not realized, I suspect b/c P is an open theist and, on that score, similar to process theism. However he is very clear in various writings that I won’t take time here to quote that he differs fundamentally from process theism, by favoring classical ways of understanding God’s power over the created order and the dual nature of Christ. Likewise, George Murphy and Bob Russell reject process theism.

My own critique of process theism begins (no surprise) with the Resurrection. A God who is powerful enough to re-order nature to accomplish that event is also powerful enough to order nature in the first place. That is the sort of God from whom process theologians flee, for various reasons including the crucial factor of theodicy (which, IMO, drives process theism more than anything else). But, IMO, without the bodily Resurrection there is simply no Christian faith, neither theologically as a set of beliefs nor historically as an actually existing body of believers. I can’t make sense of the church without it. Thus, for me, process theism is a non-starter. Ditto for Polkinghorne and Russell.

I know I keep hitting the same points, but I don’t mind. When you’re trying to explain a third way, in the face of widespread convictions that there are only two ways (“liberal” heterodoxy and “conservative” orthodoxy), you just have to keep saying some of the same things over again. Anyone who really wants to get past the chasm of the 1920s realizes that, sooner or later.

Eddie - #73847

October 22nd 2012


I hope that you, and others, will continue to flesh out this “third way.”  What BioLogos has presented so far (up till recently, when you returned) has not really been a “third way,” but an attempt to hover diplomatically between old and new theologies of creation, without squarely facing the implications of each position.

The diplomatic devices employed have been (i) to ground a new view of God’s relationship to nature in out-of-context statements of Origen, Luther, Aquinas, Augustine, Wesley, etc.; (ii) to appeal to a NOMA-like separation of faith and science.  Neither of these will work.  Historical research can easily show that all pre-Enlightenment Christian thinkers would have violently repudiated the theology of “freedom” and “randomness” that is being justified in their names.  And the separation of theology and science cannot be maintained when the question is raised whether God controls the outcomes of the evolutionary process.  A serious Christian theologian simply must declare himself on that question.  Those who theologize out of intellectual cowardice are condemned never to be influential in their own day or later. 

Let’s be frank about the political situation.  Conservative evangelicals either reject evolution outright, or can only accept it if the process is understood as tightly controlled by God to produce outcomes determined in advance by God’s non-negotiable will.  They are not going to accept any form of evolution in which the main mechanism is understood to be stochastic.  If TE continues to insist on neo-Darwinism, it has no hope of converting any conservative evangelicals.  And liberal evangelicals are already onside with TE— even a muddy, murky, intellectually incoherent TE.  For such evangelicals, there is no need to articulate an intellectually clear “third way”—they accept evolution without reserve.  The people with the “deciding vote” are the moderate evangelicals, who have some concerns about the theological implications of neo-Darwinism, but are open to the idea of evolution.  The “third way” has to win them over.

I think the moderates of the evangelical world could be persuaded of a third way, but TEs are going to have to be very frank that a third way means you can’t keep all of pre-Enlightenment theology, and that creation theology must to some degree be altered in order to harmonize with natural science.  There is a metaphysical conflict between a God who controls the universe (at least outside of human decisions) to the last detail, and one who leaves a large number of things (natural events, that is) undetermined.  I think this conflict should be conducted in the open, and not slyly.  

Will that create division within churches?  Yes.  Is it necessary?  Yes.  At some junctures in the history of the Church, truth has been placed higher than unity as a value.  Such was the decision of Calvin and Luther, to break unity rather than to endorse things they deemed untrue.  It’s not diplomacy that is needed, but the frank and open laying out of theological commitments.  Diplomacy (and I’m not here speaking of gentle manners, but a political stance) is the enemy of such frankness.  A decision has to be made whether it is more important to get the doctrine of Creation—a fundamental Christian doctrine—right, or to keep all evangelicals together, even if the cost is murky doctrine and intellectual dishonesty.

I can only speak for myself.  I see no value in “keeping evangelicals together” at the present moment.  They are already hopelessly divided, and an open battle over creation doctrine would have the benefit of ensuring that if they remain divided, they remain divided over something that really matters.  And trying to paper over differences between a God who controls outcomes and a God who wants atoms and molecules to be “free” and “co-creative” will never produce more than a false unity.  

So please, push your “third way”—but eschew diplomacy, and make it absolutely clear which teachings of traditional theology must fall by the wayside if the third way is adopted.  Truth in theological advertising is the most important thing at this historical juncture.  Evangelicals should know exactly what it is that they are being asked to accept or reject. 

Ted Davis - #73857

October 23rd 2012

The theologians and biblical scholars will have to carry the load on this, Eddie, not the historians and the scientists: we’ve already done our part, especially the scientists. The implications of the science have already been explained with adequate clarity, IMO. One place where I apparently differ with Prof Smith (see above) is that I believe we are presently in a Galileo moment.

The problem is that, when certain evangelical theologians and biblical scholars have accepted that burden, they’ve been dismissed from their academic positions. This is well known; those who want the details can read Richard Ostling’s excellent overview: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/historicaladam.html.

Lacking the tools of the biblical scholar or the theologian, Eddie, I can go no further than to help show evangelicals that what Bryan told them about TE ain’t necessarily so. As I’ve said elsewhere (http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2008/06/evangelicals-evolution-and-academics.html), “In Galileo’s day, it was the scientists [esp Kepler and Galileo himself] who eventually convinced the theologians and biblical scholars to accept Copernicus’ theory of the earth’s motion around the sun, but it took a long time. And the process was difficult and often painful. I suspect we are in for more of the same.”

Eddie - #73863

October 23rd 2012

Thanks for all these replies, Ted.

I can agree with much that is in them, but not with the very first sentence.

TE scientists cannot pass off the theological questions onto the Biblical scholars and theologians.  Not if they are leaders in the TE movement and frequently lecture and write books on the way to reconcile theology and science.  If you claim to be able to reconcile A and B, you have to know something about both A and B.  You can’t be just an expert in A (say science) with a passing interest in B (say theology).  You don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. in both fields, but you need to know something serious about both of the fields you are claiming to bring together.  To harmonize science and theology, you can’t be just a scientist who goes to church, or a scientist with lots of faith.  You have to know something about the theological tradition; you have to have studied it.

“Studying theology” doesn’t mean reading a few semi-popular books on “how I reconciled science and faith” by other evangelical scientists.  It means reading original works by Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, etc., plus leading scholarly commentators on those authors, and leading historians of Christian thought (Pelikan, Gilson, Chadwick, etc.).  People who aren’t willing to read primary sources, and good scholarly secondary sources, have disqualified themselves from the competition.  It would be as if a theologian claimed to have reconciled theology and physics when his knowledge of physics came exclusively from watching Bill Nye the Science Guy. 

Now a number of TE-biologists have made very confident statements about the compatibility of neo-Darwinian evolution with Christian creation doctrine.  But when asked direct questions, e.g., “explain how you see God as involved in evolution,” they will say things like:  “I don’t know, I’m a biologist, not a theologian.”  So they are making a claim, but then, when asked to theoretically justify the claim, they are backing out.  That won’t do.  You either make the claim, and then justify it intellectually, or you don’t make the claim at all.  You don’t step into the intellectual arena, assert a thesis, and then exempt yourself from examination on the grounds that your thesis isn’t in your line of specialization!

And how many times have biologists and physicists here and elsewhere alluded to the doctrine of providence without stating it when asked, or explaining how it would work in relation to evolution when challenged?  Can we allow it as an excuse for someone to say, “Don’t ask me about providence, I’m just a scientist”?  When it was the scientist who introduced “providence” into the discussion in the first place, specifically as a way of harmonizing evolution with Christian theology?  Again, when one makes an intellectual claim, one had better be prepared to back it up, or else withdraw it.

I’m not saying you have done this, Ted, but more than a few TEs (whether here, or in discussions among ASA members, or elsewhere) have.  I know that you can cite Russell as an example of someone who does not hide out in silence; but he has not been followed in that respect by very many leading TEs.  And with all due respect to Russell, he is not a biologist, and it is the TE-biologists who need to speak clearly here.  It is their doctrine—neo-Darwinism—which is theologically problematic; it is therefore their responsibility to address the theological fallout of that doctrine.  I don’t see where they have done that.

Ted Davis - #73859

October 23rd 2012

Another way to say this, Eddie:

The fundamentalists of the 1920s believed that higher education was their deadly opponent, for that is where their children learned about evolution and biblical criticism. I gather that you are fully up to speed with the latter, and also well informed about the former. And evangelicals, as my late mother used to say (she who knew Billy Graham at Wheaton and briefly worked for him), are the children of fundamentalists.

For American evangelicals, at least (I think the dynamic is somewhat different in England), those two foes are still prominent. Partly b/c, when anyone tries to look at them differently, they’re shown the door. And, partly, b/c (as far as I can tell), evangelicals have never really figured out how to combine a high view of biblical authority with a robust conception of accommodation. Well, I should say that more accurately. When some evangelicals actually do that—Denis Lamoureux and Pete Enns are two obvious examples—the reception is not always warm. We’re back to Galileo and Bellarmine again, with my money on the scientist rather than the theologian in that case.

Eddie - #73864

October 23rd 2012


In the case of Pete Enns—who, by the way, is in my opinion a good Biblical scholar—I think that the problem lies not so much in specific things he says about Genesis which would allow the text to accommodate evolution, but in his broader approach to the Bible, which suggests to some that he is far from a traditional American evangelical position on inspiration, inerrancy, etc.  To many readers of BioLogos, he probably seems uncomfortably close to the position of Kenton Sparks, who here came very close to saying that the Bible contains not merely historical and scientific errors, but theological and ethical errors as well.

I’m not saying that is Pete’s position, but it could certainly look like that to readers of his columns.  And I’m guessing that “general lack of confidence in the Bible” is a much more serious matter for American evangelicals than “belief in evolution.”  If “belief in evolution” always went hand-in-hand with a “robust” faith in the inspiration and truth of every last word of Scripture, I think evangelicals would be less wary.  But the suspicion is always that the non-historical reading of Genesis 1 is merely the tip of the iceberg, and that the general reliability of the Bible is being questioned.

And again I would raise the need for frankness.  If some TEs think that it is necessary to question the reliability of some parts of the Bible, then I would rather they said so openly than in a murky, ambiguous way.  If the “third way” you are talking about is going to involve a re-weighing of a number of traditional and Biblical notions, then it is best to get that out in the open.  I have met many a good Christian who cannot accept that God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites.  If a TE feels that way, and states that openly, I don’t despise the TE for it.  I even sympathize.  What frustrates me is that I suspect that many TEs do feel that way (about that and many other Biblical passages), but will not say so, because they fear that questioning parts of the Bible will cause their case for evolution to be rejected by evangelicals.  This tactic simply creates confusion.  If the “third way” is going to involve some theological changes in Christianity, let’s get them out in the open.  I might even support some of the changes.  But I won’t support changes that are offered in the form of hints and evasions. 

Will frankness cost some TEs jobs?  Yes, it will.  But am I supposed to agonize over the injustice of that, when frankness has also cost ID supporters jobs?  And the loss of entire academic careers?  I’ll agree that academically credentialled TEs should never lose a job teaching theology when all the leading biologist-TEs sign a statement that academically credentialled ID supporters should never lose a job teaching biology.

Ted Davis - #73884

October 24th 2012

Just for the record, Eddie (and others): my views about academic freedom and ID are well known. I strongly, and publicly, dissented from the firing of Guillermo Gonzalez, to name just one instance here. Your complaints about academic freedom relative to ID simply do not apply to me. I’ll ignore the hyperbole in your last sentence.

My point about evangelical scholars, TE, and certain institutions should be apparent, but I’ll underscore it in case it’s not: if a third way on this issue is ever to materilize, the scholars who hold the key to advancing it among evangelicals (theologians and biblical scholars) must be allowed to make the case for it from within the evangelical community. This might be a “chicken-and-egg” situation, in which conditions for laying the first egg are just not conducive. IMO, Eddie, one of the reasons why many young conservative Christians abandon their faith as they mature is that they don’t see places within their churches where issues like this can be openly discussed, without the “correct” answer having already been determined.

Finally, concerning Peter Enns, his views on biblical inspiration were judged by his own peers (the faculty at Westminster Seminary) to be within the bounds of orthodoxy. The vote was not close. The president of the seminary basically ignored that, listened to vocal critics on the inside and the outside, and terminated him for his own reasons. You give the impression here that he was pushing the boundaries of evangelicalism too far. When you consider the fact that Westminster is one of the most theologically conservative seminaries in the USA, and the fact that a substantial majority of his own colleagues found his views acceptable, then I think your interpretation is highly questionable. Nevertheless, the fact that he lost that position does partly mute his voice in some parts of the evangelical community—which only supports the point I’m making.

Eddie - #73899

October 24th 2012


I certainly did not intend to charge you with not supporting academic freedom.  I was merely pointing out that, if we speak of “sides” in a “culture war,” the “conservative” Christians who would demand the resignation of an Enns are matched by the “liberal” TE Christian biologists who do everything in the their power (notably on this site) to bad-mouth ID, and who have never raised a word of protest when ID-sympathetic biologists (Crocker, Sternberg) have been actively mistreated by the (largely atheist) biological community.  The world is not fair; I agree with you.  But some TEs are active participators in the unfairness.

On Enns, I was trying to represent how me comes across to conservative evangelical and even some moderate evangelical readers.  I indicated that his actual position might not be as radical as his apparent position.  But if you want to know how his position appears to some moderate, thoughtful evangelicals, look at the comments of Jon Garvey here and on his own site.  Garvey is clearly open to non-historical readings of Genesis 1—note his enthusiasm for Walton’s writings!  So his criticism of Enns is not based on the fact that Enns doesn’t read Genesis 1 historically.  It’s on what he perceives as Enns’s more general position on the Bible.  And many other evangelicals I have talked with seem to perceive Enns in the same way.  In fact, I have had to defend some of Enns’s points to many of them, so strong is their perception that he had an unorthodox agenda.  So I’m not attacking Enns but pointing out the problem in public perception.

On your more general point, I agree about the chicken and egg situation.  It happens in all of academic work, not just in matters related to Christianity.  New approaches find it hard to get a footing, because the young leaders in thought often can’t get academic positions, as they threaten older ideas, and therefore they can’t reproduce their ideas in future generations.  So I can sympathize to some extent with Enns and others, but it’s hard for me to get worked up personally over Enns when discrimination is endemic to academic life, and I’ve known many a young academic just at talented as Enns who have never got beyond teaching single courses for a living, because their academic positions are not liked by the old guard.  Academics are mostly narrow-minded, tribal, and largely (despite their self-flattering self-image as bold, independent thinkers) followers of the received paradigm; and that applies to most scientists I have known as well as to most philosophers and theologians.  Change takes time.  But it will happen.  As Kuhn (or someone) said, fields change not because the new idea defeats the old in fair battle, but because the old people die off and the young people move into their jobs.  Based on current trends, I project that twenty years from now, Enns’s views will be standard in most evanglical seminaries.


Jon Garvey - #73879

October 24th 2012


It’s ironic that you mention Peter Enns and Denis Lamoreux, both of whom parted ways with BioLogos because it was making too many concessions to conservatives like Southern Baptists (like entertaining even the possibility of a historical Adam). So cool receptions seem to be a two-way street.

One often feels these guys are less offering suggestions to their brethren than offering ultimata: “Since there are no valid alternatives to our viewpoint, your refusal to agree with us marks you out as intellectually dishonest.” That pushes me out of the conversation, since I find their own argumentation theologically and logically woefully inadequate. But they’re actually still not the only TE game in town for us degenerate confessional Evangelicals.

Ted Davis - #73860

October 23rd 2012

One more thing, Eddie, by way of response to your call for more details about a “third way.” It’s obvious from your comment here and from several on other threads that you are fully convinced that the rock bottom theological issue for TE is randomness, and that genuine randomness (whatever we mean by that) is incompatible with a theology that will appeal to “conservative evangelicals.” You are probably correct about that. I’ve already indicated my liking for Russell’s approach, which does not fall afoul of this criticism.

However, your statement here may not be the last word, when all is said and done: “There is a metaphysical conflict between a God who controls the universe (at least outside of human decisions) to the last detail, and one who leaves a large number of things (natural events, that is) undetermined.  I think this conflict should be conducted in the open, and not slyly.”

[An aside: The scholars I’ve been talking about here aren’t sly; they are fully open about their beliefs, and about areas where their beliefs are not settled. Indeed, they conscientiously explore questions that others won’t tackle. This is the opposite IMO of many who promote ID, while leaving their theological beliefs entirely unstated. Some might say that qualifies as sly.]

Your claim here is philosophical, and I have two comments by way of response. First, a God who does not necessarily control every human decision has already ceded a bit of sovereignty—or, so some important theologians would say, as I’m sure you know. This is obviously not the same thing as giving the rest of creation some measure of autonomy, but it’s fair to ask what it means for God actually to give being to something that isn’t God’s self, and whether that activity in itself results in some further limits on divine sovereignty. I’m not saying that one should simply jump from A to B, but I would be a bit cautious about setting down limits, about telling God what to do, as Bohr cautioned Einstein.

Second, I’ve long felt with Russell that it’s philosophy that mediates the conversation between theology and science. Your statement (again) is philosophical, and IMO the fundamental question you are getting at is closely related to questions in the philosophy of mathematics, questions arising out of “random” processes. That topic is not new, of course, but some major exploration of it may be coming down the pike: http://www.calvin.edu/news/archive/a-q-a-on-randomness-and-god-s-providence. I think it may be imprudent to draw any hard lines in that part of the beach before all the grains of sand have been held up for examination.

Eddie - #73866

October 23rd 2012


I certainly agree with you that philosophy is an important mediator in the conversation between religion and science.  I come at religion/science questions with years of reading Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Descartes, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, etc. under my belt, as well as years of reading of theologians—Augustine, Aquinas and many others—who are deeply shaped by the tradition of philosophy.  My sense, however, is that the most popularly influential TEs (whatever might be said about Russell) have done very little reading in philosophy, and tend to be attracted to forms of Christianity that are more pietistic and less systematic in their formulation.  

So for many TEs, one can do science over here, and love Jesus over there, and the details of how Jesus fits in with science—working out the notions of causality, providence, time, eternity, chance, necessity, intervention, concurrence, Logos, divine will, etc.—are of almost no interest.  You simply say, by faith, that faith and science are compatible, and then get with lab work from Monday to Friday, and go to church services and retreats on weekends.  But for Christians who seek a holistic vision—Thomists, Calvinists, Christian Platonists, and others—such a separation between science and faith into compartments is unthinkable.  The two cry out for metaphysical integration.  But that can’t be done without hard thinking, and that means philosophical and systematic-theological thinking.  It may mean reading Augustine’s City of God from start to finish.  Or Aristotle’s Physics.  Or Plato’s Republic.  Or large chunks of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.  Or of Calvin, or of Boethius.  Unfortunately, in the popular works of TE, there is very little evidence that reading of this sort has been done.

As for your specific remarks about limits on divine sovereignty, they raise good questions—questions which are almost never discussed competently in the writings of Miller, Collins, Giberson, etc.  So I would say that one of the first things on the agenda for TE, if it hopes to become a general influence upon theological thought, is to raise its own standards of discourse by requiring much more familiarity with philosophy and systematic theology.  And as most people are intellectually lazy and only rouse themselves to new study when challenged, the way to bring that about is for the philosophically and theologically more competent TEs (like Russell and Polkinghorne) to start publically criticizing the philosophically and theologically inadequate presentations of TE that we have seen in the popular bestsellers.  And this needs to be done not just in rarely-read academic journals, but in the public eye, in the ASA journal, and on sites such as this one.

TE thus far has focused upon attacking its perceived external threats:  YEC and ID.  To become a significant intellectual force, it must now change directions and turn to extensive internal debate.  It must articulate a positive vision of what it believes, not merely a negative vision of what it doesn’t believe.  And articulating that positive vision will require a good deal of philosophy.


Ted Davis - #73882

October 24th 2012

With all of your comments here about calling people out, Eddie, it’s clear that you are much more of a culture warrior than I am. Your narrow focus on “biological-TEs,” when most of the leading TE authors don’t happen to be biologists (including most of those who are deeply familiar with the theological and hermeneutical issues that, we both agree, are really prerequisites for having something important to say), is also becoming a bit of a side show, if I may say so.

Those who are articulating a positive vision are all over the place, but mostly in academic literature not in the popular presses. Most popular proponents of TE probably don’t read that work, either, Eddie—whether they are biologists or not—and sometimes it shows.

Not to be too personal here, Eddie, but how many works of Polkinghorne, Russell, Southgate, or Gingerich have you read?


Ted Davis - #73883

October 24th 2012


I should have said more at the end of #73882, to explain my pointed question—which otherwise might seem like a frontal assault that would seem personal, which is not my intent. If it seemed so to you or anyone else, I apologize. I was about to be late for a class, so I just stopped mid-thought.

The thought behind it is as follows. You seem to be a very well read critic of my ideas, probably much more well read than most other readers. So please help me put together a couple of your comments. First, you say that TEs are slyly slipping past issues, which is a comment about having a deceptive intent; then, (and we agree on this part), you say that popular TE writings lack philosophical and theological depth, which is a very different type of criticism about qualifications, not motives. Then, you bring in the “biological TEs” category, as if they are somehow more important than other TE writers.

I’m trying to sort out these claims, which go in different directions. I don’t see a single coherent charge, but perhaps I’m missing something b/c my own way of viewing things has blind spots.

I asked you whether you knew any of those authors (and obviously I mean whether you know them as well as you apparently know classical theological authors), b/c I’m trying to figure out just which of these claims you really want to make about TE, and about whom. I’ve never seen anything “sly” in the people I’ve been talking about in my columns, or the people you talk about either. I see a lack of philosophical and/or theological depth in most popular treatments of TE, whether or not biologists wrote them, but that is almost to be expected. ID authors are guilty of the same thing, if they even talk about theology at all. The theoretical works that advance either ID or TE can be off-putting to non-specialists. In my ID columns, e.g. (coming very soon), I will note how technically demanding some of the best work is, such that I can’t evaluate some of it myself—and I’m an academic, but simply an academic with the wrong training for that work. The same is true of academic TE writing—numerous well-read scientists (e.g.) have told me that this or that TE author is very hard for them to read, b/c they don’t have an adequate background in theology or philosophy.

If the fundamental issues are philosophical and theological, Eddie, as we both apparently think, then what is the particular relevance of being a “biological TE” vs any other sub-category? And, when popular writers don’t go deeply into the deeper issues, either b/c they don’t have that kind of depth themselves or b/c their editors don’t want them to, how is that sly?

I probably won’t continue this line of thought further, since I have another column coming and I don’t want to make this thread into a 2-person conversation. I will read any replies, however.


Eddie - #73904

October 24th 2012


I don’t make accusations against people whose work I haven’t read.  I’ve read nothing of Gingerich beyond one paper on the web and his brief video here; I’ve never criticized his ideas.  I’ve read an article by Russell, and the columns about Russell here, and I’ve exempted him from any charges of evasion regarding God’s control over evolution.  I’ve read articles and lectures by Polkinghorne, and I’ve heard him interviewed, and I respect him, and I haven’t attacked his views here.  Polkinghorne and Gingerich, to my knowledge, don’t say much about biological evolution anyway, and my main criticism of TE is focused on the biologists.  I try to make my labels precise by saying “biologist-TEs” or the like, so that people will know who I mean.

As for slyness, I have not accused you of that, nor the authors you have named.  But it is clear to many that some TE writers at least flirt with open theism when they speak vaguely about the freedom of nature in evolution, and suggest that maybe God didn’t plan all the details, and will not let themselves be pinned down when the question is further pressed.  My point was that they would gain more respect—from serious thinkers, if not from their churches—if they openly endorsed open theism than by leaving the impression that they support it but lack the courage to say so. And similarly, if there are some TEs who believe (and I think there are, though I cannot prove it, as they are not forthright, but only drop hints) that the Bible is not a perfect book, but contains errors even in its theological teaching at points—and Karl Giberson dropped a pretty strong hint here once that he thought that the slaughter of the Canaanites may have been written by someone with the wrong conception of God—I think they should say this outright, rather than pussyfoot around.  In other words, if at least some versions of TE are going to require changes in traditional Protestant understandings of the perfection of the Bible, or the traditional Christian theology of God and Creation, let’s get those changes out in the open.  That’s all I’m asking.  

I’m not saying that all forms of TE will require departure from Christian orthodoxy; but I think some do.  I’m just asking those who make such departures to be frank.  And when I think they are not being frank, I call them sly.  That is all I will say on the subject, as it cannot be further discussed in a forum such as this without making formal charges and presenting textual evidence about the theology of partcular individuals, which would turn the discussion in a confrontational direction, which is not appropriate.  Besides, I would rather see the questionable theology of some TEs exposed by the probing questioning of other TEs whose theology is deeper and based on more historical study.  The question arises why the theologically deeper TEs are not publically challenging the others more often, but I think we should not pursue that here.

I will switch now to your ID columns.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73872

October 23rd 2012


I am very interested in philosophy and theology, but you don’t want to talk to me because you don’t like the way I think about philosophy and theology.

That is a real shame.

GJDS - #73876

October 23rd 2012


You state: “Second ….. that it’s philosophy that mediates the conversation between theology and science.”

I want to say that for philosophy to fulfil the role you suggest, it must come to terms with the language of theology (by this, I mean the Orthodox view of God and His attributes) and the latest advances in Science. Thus far, the use of words and sentences by some, have been used with the aim of modifying our theological understanding (e.g. Open Theology, Process Theology). This to date has amounted to re-definition, or heterodoxy/unorthodox/heretical teachings under the guise of philosophy (as you have pointed out in your article; in such effort God is now given roles by to “do things in a particular way” (e.g. co-creation).

Instead, we need to commence with a fuller understanding of the attributes of God as creator who created from nothing; this is not the same as a Sovereignty attributed to God. Philosophy may grapple with meanings of the terms ‘nothing’, ‘act of creation’ and ‘freedom’, but to include the Sciences in this is a dubious exercise. Philosophers with a strong grounding in maths and theoretical physics may be able to do something, but after this we need theology to come in – a daunting task by any measure.

There are a number of notions that are plaguing poorly considered outlooks such as TE, particularly that of ‘freedom’. On the ‘act of creation’, science would provide meaningful terms and sentences, such as in theoretical/particle physics, to understand the basis of a created thing. ‘Nothingness, however is a problem; so far, I think existentialist (e.g. Satre) have been woefully poor in grappling with ‘Nothingness’; a consciousness that transcends a ‘concrete’ being, and in so doing encounters nothingness. The notion of freedom, within a creation that is comprehendible to God, can only be understood as a singular attribute that is added by the creator to the creation – it cannot be simply a human construct that is reduced to ‘choice by intelligent agents’, nor choice as an existential burden in that there is no choice but to choose. It is not randomness as encountered in nature; I am staggered at the unintelligent way this term is discussed in these exchanges.

 ... continued

Ted Davis - #73886

October 24th 2012


Interesting comments; thank you for them.

The person best known for stressting the role of philosophy in mediating the conversation between theology and science is Robert Russell. This is caputured nicely in the title of an anthology he edited many years ago: http://undpress.nd.edu/book/P00340. Many of the contributors, including Russell, do not embrace process theology or open theism (some contributors are process theists, however). You seem to simply here that “philosophy” apart from the Orthodox view of theology leads to process theism, although perhaps I’ve just read that into what you wrote. I would not want readers to draw such a conclusion.

I agree that “randomness” is not usually mentioned in very intelligent ways in these conversations. I’ve tried to point out a few times that it doesn’t mean what it’s often said to mean, and that many people are giving it larger philosophical meanings that mathematicians and physicists (who use “randomness” more than most other folks) don’t necessarily endorse.


GJDS - #73877

October 23rd 2012

... continued

These scant remarks point to difficulties that are imbedded in the naïve view of random, predetermined outcomes to Nature, and  similar problems faced by those who take an poorly developed hypothesis such as evolution, and than, in an almost imbecilic manner, place it over a theological/biblical outlook that is itself, poorly fashioned. 

IMO a good starting point is to obtain a better understanding of Orthodoxy as this has been the result of hundred of years of effort by some of the best minds in our civilisation, and once we have understood this, we may look to philosophy more as an exercise in reason, and to science as providing some insights into the creation. These things are useful if they strengthen our faith – if they lead to greater confusion, they are of little use. Philosophy and science have played an important role in the development of our current understanding, because their approach has been systematic and ‘free’ in the intellectual sense. Theologically we need to understand what is intelligible accessible to human research; God provides for us, we do not co-create of define God for him – these notions are in place because of the efforts of orthodox thinkers and theologians.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73881

October 24th 2012


We must build upon the Biblical interface between theology, philosophy, and science, that is the Logos and Teleology.

If you respect the Bible, you must base your world view on the Logos/Word, Jesus Christ, Who is the Alpha and Omega of our faith.  

GJDS - #73905

October 24th 2012

Ted (reply #73886) thanks for your response,

Your comment, that each person would give a perspective that stems from his training and experience is correct (e.g. a historian would give historical perspective). I must find time to read thoroughly Alvin Plantinga and one or two other current philosophers you have mentioned – philosophers usually articulate their ideas well. Hopefully they do not follow Whitehead and such versions of theology.

I have noticed that no matter who I read, I find myself acting/thinking as a scientist – and this means I inevitably start with, “What is the question?”; .. what terms am I using? is that word used in a specialist way, or as the ‘man in the street’, and so on.

On the development of Orthodoxy and traditions of Christianity, the major figures of that era were intellectually capable, and most of them were well educated (which meant studying philosophy); this approach continued when Aristotle was introduced to the West. We are in a different age, one of huge information. How can current philosophy play a useful role in dealing with Science, and the current atheistic, heterodox, and heretical, teachings? We cannot hope for an Aquinas and/or Newton to come and provide a clear understanding of science and religion for this age. There is a general view in some academic circles that the ‘battle’ between science and faith is over and science is the winner. Christian scientists may provide a counter, but I still ask, “What is at stake?” Should we look to philosophy to play a role in winning this war (if there is one)?

I agree that whatever the conflict (or not), faith is a gift from God. It is not a compelling argument, but the conclusion nonetheless is, an atheist by definition cannot have faith. WE may ask why this is so, but the Bible says that it is, so what would be argued?

My approach begins with the question, “What is a human being (myself and others)?” Based on this, I address meaning when using words such as God, freedom, law, community, revelation, faith, and so on. This commences with an Orthodox view – in this way, I place my thinking and belief in a ‘scientific’ context. We are in an age dominated by scientific and technological. It is important to achieve a peace within regarding scientific thinking and faith. I place the emphasis on Science, and than look at evolution as a secondary matter.

Reading the works of great philosophers has been both a challenge and an extraordinary exercise that has provided intellectual benefit. However I honestly cannot identify benefits regarding faith. The achievements of Orthodoxy are brilliant and I maintain that for theological discussions these provide a sound foundation for the present age and its questions regarding God, humanity, science, and so on.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73924

October 26th 2012

It seems to me that the discussion has gone far afield.

In an effort to get beck to the subject which is primary the conflict between liberal Christianity and fundamental Christianity.

I would suggest that liberal Christianity through the Social Gospel was true to the Telos of the faith by seeking to realize the Kingdom of God, which is the Telos of Jesus Christ.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

However in reaction to criticism of a traditional view of the Bible conservative Christians sought to hold on to the traditional understanding of the Logos of the faith. 

Thus we have a division is how Chrsitains understand their faith, one group concentrating on the Telos and the other on the Logos.  I think that we need both aspects of the faith, both Logos and Telos, to have a true dynamic faith.

Thus we need to reconcile these two views in a new more complete new view, which is what I am trying to do.

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