America’s Culture Wars with N.T. Wright and Pete Enns

America's Culture Wars
Conversation with: N.T. Wright and Pete Enns

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

To discuss this video, see our post "America's Culture Wars: A Different Perspective" on Science & the Sacred.

Video Transcription

Dr. Peter Enns, The BioLogos Foundation: Hi, I'm Dr. Peter Enns. I'm Senior Fellow in Biblical Studies at the BioLogos Foundation and we're here today with the Rev. Dr. Tom Wright. We have a chance to ask some questions, some of which we've gotten via Twitter and emails and also about a lot of topics such as his recent book, "After You Believe" and science and faith issues. So, welcome, Tom. Good to see you again.

Rev. Dr. N.T. Wright, Author: Thank you.

Enns: Tom, why do you think there's such controversy in Evangelicalism about evolution? Is this a culture war issue?

Wright: I want to say first, this is a very America-specific issue. In England, very few people have anything like the same hang ups about creation and evolution as you do in America, except where certain movements in education have come across from America and got into our subculture as well, much to the consternation of many of us. Because I just think the question is wrongly posed and I think the American Conservative/Liberal split, which happened a century ago through the Evangelical and Fundamentalist Modernist controversy and was then heightened by the Scopes trial and so on, has also got echoes, I think, as an outsider looking in, of some of the old Civil War issues.

Now I've lived in the northeastern America and people look down south and they expect to see redneck fundamentalists who are backward, and there are enough who sort of conform to the caricature to make them think yep, there they are. And ditto, people in the south look north, and they expect to see liberals who are going soft on all the key doctrines and stuff. And there's enough of that in the caricature for that to stick.

So, people then project that distinction, which is very America specific. Most countries in the world just don't work like that. They project that onto issues of science and faith and so on because the scientists have sometimes used the rhetoric of science, not necessarily the discoveries of science, but the rhetoric of science, to say we now run the world.

We now know what's what, and we basically do the material world. And so you people with religion you can clear off. And that always was silly. And so, you people with religion, you can clear off. That always was silly. There have been deeply believing scientists and indeed, modern science emerged from Christian faith as people of deep faith wanted to explore the worlds that God had given them.

The antithesis is so badly drawn and it's so tragic that it infects a whole culture and its divisions and plays out in Democratic and Republican and all the rest of it. I just want to say, you really don't need to do it that way. That isn't to say that there aren't foolish things in some people's faith that science needs to address. It isn't to say that there aren't foolish things in some science which faith needs to address.

Let's put this thing on a broader canvas, and let's lighten up and have the proper discussion instead of assuming that we already know as soon as anyone mentions any scientific evidence for anything oh, they're a Darwinian, they're liberal, they're this, that, and the other. Or when somebody says they believe in God, oh well you must be anti-science then. These are both trivial, actually childish, reactions and we need to grow up.

Enns: So, you seem to be suggesting that one way past a combat mentality is, maybe for Americans to have cultural self-awareness of how we even got to where we are at this moment.

Wright: Exactly. It's much easier to see the moat in somebody else's eye than the plank in your. And I'm very much aware as a Brit, we have all sorts of cultural hang ups which you need to tell me about. But you happen to be asking me about yours at the moment, so that's what I'm addressing. And it's easier for me to see the smudge on your spectacles probably than on my own. But we all see the world distorted and that's why we need one another, to be honest.