t f p g+ YouTube icon

The Biologos Foundation and “Darwin’s Pious Idea”, Part 6

Bookmark and Share

March 25, 2011 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
The Biologos Foundation and “Darwin’s Pious Idea”, Part 6

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

For readers who have followed my series, “The Biologos Foundation and Darwin’s Pious Idea,” it will come as no surprise that I think that Cunningham’s work exemplifies the mission of the Biologos Foundation. I am humbled at the sheer magnitude of Cunningham’s work. Perhaps the most amazing feature is Cunningham’s ability to see connections in disparate areas of contemporary biology, physics, and philosophy, while maintaining a mastery within the orthodox, catholic, and evangelic “great tradition” of historic Christianity. Cunningham is thus able to see coherences that lesser minds miss.

Cunningham mediates historic Christian theological positions to contemporary scientific thoughts with a thoroughness that would make even the most liberal Protestant blush. Unlike liberal Protestants, however, never, never does Cunningham alter the fundamental grammar of the Christian faith to make it more palatable to its cultural despisers; he writes continuously aware of the adage that the theologian who marries the thought of their age is widowed tomorrow. Cunningham argues for the coherence of evolutionary theory, properly construed, with historic Christianity; but he argues for more: without the truthfulness of historic Christian convictions, centered on Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine in one undivided person, only nihilism remains. And nihilism cannot give an account of the rationality of human experience at its most basic levels, let alone with the complex rationalities of the sciences. Science without Christ undercuts its own rationale and rationality.

Cunningham permits no “faith” and “scientific reason” divorce. He does not limit reason to make room for faith, or modify revelation to the “givens” of reason, scientifically or otherwise. Reason itself becomes tied to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Divorced from its origins in God, reason, and all creation, ultimately collapses inward upon itself. Here is the core importance of the Biologos foundation: to retrieve genuinely the faith given to the saints, not for building a “faith fortress” impenetrable against the attacks of “secular reason” in order to protect revelation. It is rather to articulate the truthfulness of the faith given to the saints for the sake of the world, to render all creation intelligible to the world for the glory of God with a thoroughness that the world itself cannot provide and finally to show that, ultimately, there is no such thing as “secular reason” -- reason itself is imbued “all the way down” with its origin in the eternally Divine Word from Whom and through Whom and to Whom are all things.

I would like to summarize Cunningham’s accomplishment in three main points that I deem most important about his work. First, in unity with pre-modern Christian thought, Cunningham insists that we frame issues of “science” and “religion” with a thoroughly Christological beginning, middle, and end. Evangelicals may balk here. A deep strand of American evangelicals have historical roots in the early modern, dissenting, English Puritan tradition that sought to ground all its language about God in what the Scripture explicitly affirms. The impulse within evangelicals is always to reduce issues of “science” and “faith” to issues of the Bible. Therefore, Dr. Henry Morris, the founder of creation science, sought to attack modern scientific positions on the age of the earth to preserve his reading of Genesis 1 -3. Yet to preserve a historicist reading of the first Adam and Genesis, he embraces a radically unorthodox view of Jesus Christ. Of course, liberal Protestants merely invert such a reading to argue that Genesis 1-3 has an enduring “mythological significance” grounded in human experience. Just like Henry Morris, such a view seeks to preserve Scripture from scientific criticism. Again, it does this by making Scripture a reservoir of some human experience behind it that is utterly separated from Jesus Christ. This undercuts the particularity of Scripture and tends to make Jesus a representative of God, the same God found within the human experience behind Scriptures, rather than God’s eternal Word in the one human person, Jesus. One thus finds the heat of the dispute between “creation science” and “intelligent design advocates” with those formed by critical biblical scholarship so vociferous, unending, and unenlightening. “Science” and “revelation” becomes equated with “science” and “the Bible.”

Cunningham refuses to correlate scientific findings directly with the biblical witness so that one or the other has to give. Instead, he mediates both through a rich, deep, fully evangelical, orthodox, and catholic view of Jesus Christ. In so doing, he brings all things in submission to Christ, re-ordering both science and Scripture to Christ in a way that maintains the full integrity and authority of each. The simplicity, beauty, and truthfulness of such an understanding show the intellectual vitality of the historical Christian tradition.

The so-called “science versus religion” debates evaporate and the disciplining of the church by a secular reason shows itself as the irrational power move that it always has been, even as the church’s attempt to discipline empirical science tries to emulate the same power play. Cunningham reorders our understanding of Scripture as absolutely necessary for the church to render Jesus Christ and the church’s life intelligible; Scripture does not, however, function as a replacement for a scientific and historical discourse that would actually render Scripture unnecessary if we had full historical and scientific transcripts of the events.

Secondly, Cunningham delves into the relationship between the “orthodox Copenhagen” interpretation of quantum physics and philosophy. Underneath all of Cunningham’s work is an often subtle, at times explicit criticism of contemporary scientific and philosophical thought, particularly in its reductionist form. Cunningham argues that too many contemporary thinkers still dwell in a Newtonian rather than a quantum understanding of “matter.” More fundamentally, such thinkers persist in a “culture/human” versus “nature/matter” dichotomy that has become philosophically, institutionally, and culturally embedded into Western culture. Cunningham thus pulls together disparate movements in philosophy, ancient and contemporary, to challenge the dominance of modernist and postmodern philosophies (modernist philosophy’s inverted twin). Cunningham grasps that the Christian tradition refuses a “mind/matter” dichotomy that has become basic in the modern (and post-modern) Western world. He thus shows a deep common logic shared between a certain strand of quantum physics (the irreducible and indispensable role of the participant-observer in Copenhagen quantum physics), recent continental philosophy (the phenomenology of Michel Henry), and recent analytical philosophy (philosophy of mind of E. J. Lowe). He thus subtly aligns himself with a new movement in philosophy that seeks to overcome or deny the “correlationist” commitments between the binary poles of the human and nature, a correlation that has formed all of us in Western culture and is classically stated in the works of Immanuel Kant.

Thirdly, Cunningham shows the need for new evolutionary synthesis that accounts for form. Cunningham participates in an inner-biology, scientific dispute that argues that the neo-Darwinian synthesis is not sufficiently comprehensive to account for the empirical data. He explicitly notes his dependence on the work of Conway Simon Morris – as readers of this blog have noted as well. To steal a pun from Cunningham itself – evolutionary studies show that form matters. Evolution itself depends on the formal characteristics the very materiality that evolution presumes—and matter itself evolves in formally rational ways. Suddenly the abandonment of a Platonic/Aristotelian/Thomistic theory of forms that entered scientific discourse in Francis Bacon with his commitment to late medieval nominalism no longer seems warranted. We remain in the awkward position in evolutionary theory whether the neo-Darwinian theory can account for this new data, or whether a new theory that incorporates the successes of the neo-Darwinian account into a broader understanding remains to appear. In either way, it seems to me that any full biological account with have to include the role of structure and form within evolutionary and biological systems. Cunningham places his finger on the correct spot for biological, philosophical, and theological reflection – which, of course, are not three different “things.”

Perhaps the “orthodox Copenhagen” account of quantum physics will pass as a scientific theory; perhaps a neo-neo-Darwinian synthesis can appear to account for the role of structure, systems, and form in evolution. Perhaps someone can give a neo-Darwinian account where natural selection itself evolves along formal patterns. Even if so, in his most fundamental point, Cunningham is correct: because of the Incarnation, the church catholic is committed to matter, not because matter is ultimate, but because it is not: it is a gift of God. Christian thought at its most basic commitments, is a type of speculative materialism or realism. If and/or when new data requires a modification to our scientific understandings, it will still be human beings that produce the science, and human beings who understand it. And Cunningham’s book will still sustain its importance: for it is ultimately anchored in Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Given the constant production of new knowledge, Cunningham’s work will require new mediating thoughts, rethinking the issues again and again in taking all things to Christ. In so doing, humans may receive the gift of the wonder at the life that the eternally Triune God, as Life itself, has given us through participation in Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is this very same task that lies at the root of the Biologos Foundation. By the grace of God, may its program continue for its witness to a humanity that finds itself, at the point of its highest achievements in science and technology, unable to give an account of even why it should matter -- and in the process, even lose its grip on matter. At least Christians can tell why it does: because God has gifted us with life, and redeemed this life from endlessly turning into itself through becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ, to point us to not only God, but in pointing us to God, to point us to our truest humanity.

John Wesley Wright, Ph.D. is Professor of Theology and Christian Scriptures at Point Loma Nazarene University. Dr. Wright has published numerous articles and edited a number of books, including Priests, Prophets, and Scribes: Essays on the Formation and Heritage of Second Temple Judaism in Honor of Joseph Blenkinsopp, which he co-edited with Eugene Ulrich, Robert Carroll, and Philip R. Davies. (JSOT Press, 1992) and Conflicting Allegiances: The Church-based University In A Liberal Democratic Society, co-edited with Michael Budde (Brazos Press, 2004).

< Previous post in series

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 1 of 1   1
conrad - #55598

March 25th 2011

   “Perhaps the “orthodox Copenhagen” account of quantum physics will pass as a scientific theory;”

Perhaps M-theory will show us multiple parallel universes which… #1,are very close to us and    ..#2,..which share our gravitational force field so they can be in constant communication  with us. [Unfortunately we only know how to communicate on the electromagnetic force field but the second force field,.. the gravitational force field would seem to be similar and offer similar communication possibilities.]

If the intelligence on the other parallel universe has mastered gravitational field communication,... then the two universes would have access information that was asymmetric.
They would see and hear everything we say and do and we would be able to talk to them.
[ But we would see and hear nothing from the other side because we only understand the electromagnetic force field and utilize electromagnetic communication ]

 Then we would pray. God would hear our prayers. But we would have to believe in God through “faith”.
Well M theory tells us the other nearby universes exist,.. and that out gravitational force field communicates with the other universes.
Darryl - #55663

March 25th 2011

Would someone mind explaining briefly what Wright is referring to when he says the following?  “The impulse within evangelicals is always to reduce issues of “science” and “faith” to issues of the Bible. Therefore, Dr. Henry Morris, the founder of creation science, sought to attack modern scientific positions on the age of the earth to preserve his reading of Genesis 1 -3. Yet to preserve a historicist reading of the first Adam and Genesis, he embraces a radically unorthodox view of Jesus Christ.”

What unorthodox view of Jesus Christ is he claiming Morris had?  Thanks in advance.

penman - #55686

March 26th 2011

Darryl - #55663

“What unorthodox view of Jesus Christ is he claiming Morris had?  Thanks in advance.”

Perhaps this:

“More recently Henry Morris, a polemicist for American fundamentalism, has attempted to resolve the Christological dilemma precipitated by modern genetics. To prevent the transmission of a sinful nature into Jesus, he claims the zygote that was planted in Mary’s womb ‘was formed neither of the seed of the man nor the egg of the woman’... God created ex nihilo the perfect zygote for the Second Adam. Even though Jesus lacked real human parents, Mary provided the surrogate uterus for nurturing God’s fertile implant” (“Supernaturalism in Christianity” by William Phipps, p.52. The Morris quote is from Morris’s “The Battle for Creation” 1976 p.308.)

If Morris seriously maintained this, I’d say it was a hugely serious error: both unscriptural & uncatholic. It cuts the link between the Saviour’s humanity & ours, & makes the incarnation a rent-a-womb affair.

Darryl - #55689

March 26th 2011

Penman, thanks for that quote. It sounds unorthodox indeed. I know that Morris felt himself qualified to make up “scientific” stuff to explain any perceived difficulties.

One thing I think is odd about the “scientific creationist” approach is the way they walk into the trap of implicitly conceding that honest science is indeed worth taking serious about origins, independently of scripture. But then it’s merely a scientific dispute and they’re in no position to criticize those who do take it seriously and reach a different conclusion.

Darryl - #55701

March 26th 2011

penman (or anyone else), on second thought I should have asked my question more precisely:  Why does Wright say that Morris’ unorthodox view of Christ is a necessary consequence of his attempt to maintain a historicist view of Adam and Genesis?  For example, I agree that the “genetic” view of Christ you ascribe to Morris is odd and unnecessary, but he didn’t have to argue for that just because he believed in historical Adam, did he?  In my days at YEC churches, I never heard such views about Christ, but was of course taught a literal Adam, etc.  So I continue to be a bit puzzled here, and hope that someone can elaborate a bit more.  By the way, I have Cunningham’s book and look forward to reading it, but haven’t done so yet.  Thanks, all.

penman - #55702

March 26th 2011

Darryl - #55701

It looks like we’ll have to read Cunningham’s book to get the details. I myself don’t see why a belief in Adam leads to the bizarre rent-a-womb view of the incarnation that Morris seemed to espouse. I accept a historical Adam, as federal head (not genetic father) of humankind, within an evolutionary framework, but I feel no need to embrace unorthodox Christologies to justify belief in Adam. The whole idea is absurd.

All I can think of is that if Morris took “Second Adam” too literally, he might have wanted to make Jesus “without father OR mother”, as he believed the First Adam to be (specially created).

Then again, maybe Morris held some other, different unorthodox view of Christ that Cunningham is referencing - in which case I’ll have to read the book…

Darryl - #55733

March 26th 2011

penman - Okay, thanks.  I’ll probably start reading the book soon.  Judging from these commentaries on the book, it looks like one of those books where one needs to stop and think about what the author is saying.

Richard William Nelson - #55823

March 27th 2011

At stake is whether the evolution is compatible with the Genesis account of creation. Let’s test the compatibility -  

  • In Genesis it is written - “So God created man in his own image”

  • Biologos promotes - “So God evolved man from the microbe over millions of years”

The question is whether these statements are compatible. Since evolution, by definition, means the “survival of the fittest” in the “struggle for life”, struggle had to exist for millions of years before the arrival of the first human. According to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Darwin, “extinction and natural selection go hand in hand.”


In Genesis, at the end of the sixth day it is written - “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was VERY GOOD”. For evolution to be compatible with the Bible, God must be a liar since 

·         Struggle and extinction is obviously not “VERY GOOD

·         Struggle, extinction, and death – sin - did not result from Adam’s fall


What is the real point of reading Darwin’s Pious Idea?

Darrel Falk - #55840

March 28th 2011

Dear Richard,

Evolution, by definition does not mean the “‘survival of the fittest’ in the ‘struggle for life’.”  In fact demonstrating this is, in no small part the point of the book and it is the point of Dr. Wright’s six part series.

I urge you to keep reading.  If you do, you will see that you are in for a much richer understanding of the ways of our Maker.

Darrel Falk
Gregory - #56545

April 2nd 2011

“Evolution, by definition does not mean the “‘survival of the fittest’ in the ‘struggle for life’.” - Darrel Falk

Well, Darwin did use *both* ‘survival of the fittest’ *and* ‘struggle for life’ in his writings. Let us not evade or distort the historical record on this since we are seeking truths. In this case, ‘Darwinian evolution’ does mean what Darwin said - ‘survival of the fittest’ & ‘struggle for life’.

Darrel, you surely do not disagree with this, do you?

If you had prioritized it alternatively, I could agree:  
“Evolution, does not by definition mean the “‘survival of the fittest’ in the ‘struggle for life’.”

In other words, non-Darwinian or non-Spencerian ‘evolution,’ for example, does not mean those things. There are ‘other’ evolutionary theories that don’t mean those things. But Darwinian & Spencerian ‘evolution’ do mean those things because those people invented those expressions (via Malthus). Capice hombre?

‘Darwinism’ according to BioLogos just means “the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection.” Hence, the confusion.

Denis O. Lamoureux - #56542

April 2nd 2011

Dear Richard,
I just finished the book. Horrid writing style.
(4 page paragraphs) Limited grasp of biology,
even less regarding hermeneutics. 

I would suggest you spend time with Darryl’s
book. Much more profitable for where you


Roger A. Sawtelle - #55854

March 28th 2011


I expect the answer to your question is this.  God’s plan of salvation is not dependent on Adam and Eve.  God is not dependent on humans, but we are dependent on God.  

Some have held that Jesus Christ and thus the Trinity would not have come into existence without the need for salvation, or the Fall.  The Church has rejected this view. 

God is God.  God is not dependent on humanity and yet God chooses to relate to humanity in an interdependent manner.  This paradox is the key to the understanding of the Bible. 

When we make the New Covenant into a transactional process like the Old Covenant, then we are reducing the freedom and power of God and humanity.

Rich - #56552

April 3rd 2011

Denis Lamoureux:

Just for clarification (since several books have been mentioned in the comments above), when you write to Richard Nelson:

“I just finished the book. Horrid writing style. (4 page paragraphs) Limited grasp of biology, even less regarding hermeneutics.”

Are you referring to Conor Cunningham’s book?

Page 1 of 1   1