In my short time at BioLogos since I grabbed the baton from Emily Ruppel as the new content editor, I have quickly realized that one of our most frequent tasks is to help correct misconceptions of what BioLogos is actually trying to do. Atheists tend to think that we are just a trojan horse for religious fundamentalism in mainstream science, while evangelical Christians and their allies tend to accuse us of negotiating terms of surrender with atheistic materialism. Neither of these descriptions are remotely true of our mission, but it is punishingly difficult to defend ourselves in the context of a rancorous debate between science and faith in which most people assume the two sides can only win at the expense of the other.
Thankfully, there is a growing group of orthodox, biblically faithful Christian thinkers who are taking up the task of recasting the interaction between science and Scripture and thus opening new avenues for conversation and harmony between the two. This list now includes N.T. Wright, one of the most prolific Bible scholars of the last 100 years and the obvious candidate for successor to C.S. Lewis as premiere intellectual apologist of the historic Christian faith. Professor Wright is also a good friend of BioLogos. In addition to the many articles and other resources on our website to which he has contributed, he has delivered several lectures at BioLogos conferences held in New York City. Two of these lectures are found in adapted form in his latest book Surprised by Scripture, which is dedicated to BioLogos founder Dr. Francis Collins.
Thus it is no surprise that the first chapter (adapted from a 2012 BioLogos lecture) is titled “Healing the Divide Between Science and Faith.” It is a daunting topic for Wright, as he acknowledges, not only as an outside British observer to the American context but also as a Bible scholar with little formal training in the sciences. His goal, therefore, is not to explain the science of Darwinian evolution, but to zoom out and see the conflict over Darwinism in its historical, philosophical, theological, and political context.
Wright firmly believes that the story of the modern Western world is one of the revival and dominance of an ancient Greek philosophy called “Epicureanism,” which he defines as “the worldview in which God, or the gods, may perhaps exist, but if they do, they are far away and remain uninvolved with the world” (p. 6). This has implications for all of life, for if “God and the world don’t mix,” then this creates dualities between “faith and the public square, religion and education, prayer and schools—you name it” (p. 15). As a consequence, many important issues (particularly in America) have become package deals, because “you can’t address one of these topics without implicitly addressing all of them” (p.2).
The problem with this expansive dualism, according to Wright, is not simply that the two sides are intractably at war with each other but that they are representing two variants of the same Epicurean worldview. In particular, he highlights the ways in which creationism and evolutionism, at least as stereotyped in popular culture, both exacerbate the Epicurean separation between God and creation:
[Creationism and evolutionism both] inherit and operate within the deeply damaged vision of the creator and the cosmos that they get from Deism, and which shares its worst features with Epicureanism: that some things happen naturally, while other things only happen because God makes them happen. (p. 14)
To Wright, Darwinism only leads necessarily to atheism “if causation were a zero-sum game, so that either God orobservable physical causes were involved. As soon you challenge that rather naive assumption, all sorts of other options are open” (p. 13). Thus, the problem is not Darwinism or creationism per se, but instead a limited imagination of Divine action handed to us from modernity.
When you view the conflict from this angle, Wright argues, “the real problem ought not to be posed in terms of faith on the one hand and science on the other, but in terms of a worldview that splits science and faith...and one that does not” (p. 18). In light of this, “our vocation as Christian thinkers is not to make an easy, compromising peace,” he explains, “but to discern how to restate and reinhabit a genuinely Christian worldview in its place” (p. 18). Wright then lays out the broad strokes of this Christian worldview, which instead of dualizing God and his creation, “celebrate[s] and explore[s] the mysterious interpenetration of heaven and earth” (p. 21) and thus sees fresh and new ways to integrate faith and science without making either beholden to each other. The final (and most important) step in this new conception of faith and science, according to Wright, is to see all of creation not only in light of God’s good work in Genesis but his project of new creation in Jesus:
If we want to make the real quantum leap that the science-and-religion debate badly needs, we should look deeply into the four Gospels and their story of Jesus inaugurating God’s kingdom, dying on the cross, and rising as the firstfruits of the new creation, and ask ourselves about the nature of the new temple, the new heaven-and-earth reality, and the new creation itself, which Jesus was modeling and launching. (p. 24)
As a student of the Scriptures myself, I deeply resonate with his yearning to recast these contentious debates in terms of a more holistically biblical Christianity. When we adjust our lens to account for the influence of modernity on Christianity (whether “Evangelical” or not), it is less clear who is surrendering to whom. In fact, I would agree with Wright that the way forward is a path that remains largely untrodden by modern Christians; a path where God’s presence and action is not relegated to an apologetic punchline but instead infuses our whole picture of reality. I am thrilled to be a part of an organization that is courageously charting this renewed course for biblical Christianity—not simply to acquiesce to science or materialism but to bring together both science and faith into the kind of greater, harmonious unity that the Bible models and demands.
All quotations are taken from Wright, NT. Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. New York: Harper One, 2014. pp. 1-25.
In the next part of this series, BioLogos content manager Jim Stump will review chapter 2 of "Surprised by Scripture" on the question of the "historical Adam."