Have Evangelicals “Rejected Science?”

I read an article the other day in the NY Times by an evangelical titled “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason.”  The core of the article was about how Republican, Evangelical Candidates for the presidency were, in layman’s terms, stupid.

Why?

According to this article, because they “reject science” and, in doing so, reject “knowledge.”  The columnists claim that “fundamentalist” evangelicals in the red states persist in their “unyielding ignorance.”  They go on to imply that people who hold to traditional values like male headship, complementary sexual roles, who oppose gay-marriage, and believe in spanking their children, etc. have “rejected knowledge” and have failed to incorporate the insights of secular culture into their faith.

“THE SCANDAL OF THE EVANGELICAL MIND”

The article, quoting Mark Noll, says that the “scandal” of the evangelical mind is that “there is not much of an evangelical mind.”  I couldn’t agree more on this point (with Noll).  But the columnists use of Mark Noll here is terribly misleading, because it is unclear whether or not Mark Noll would apply such a statement to the issues the columnists are addressing.  I don’t believe Noll’s argument to be asserting that it is anti-intellectual to believe that evolution is not true or that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s original design.  But the columnists would have you think so.

No, holding a belief that is out of fashion is not anti-intellectual.  In fact, many highly intellectual and educated people, whom I will mention in a minute, believe evolution to be bad science.

The two columnists claim to be evangelical.  Traditionally, as Noll points out in the opening pages of his book, one characteristic of evangelicalism is a belief in the Bible as God’s Word (called “biblicism” in his book); written by the hand of men, but “breathed” out by God.[1]  However, as is surely clear by now, that is all changing; so rapidly in fact are things changing that is hard to define what “evangelical” means today.  G. K. Beale wrote a book that was published in 2008 addressing this very issue: The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway, 2008).[2]

OSTRACIZING CREATIONISTS

Men like Richard Dawkins frequently put down the intellectual credibility of those who embrace theistic views of the universe and favor intelligent design over evolutionary theories.  Ben Stein’s documentary “Expelled”, exposed much of this mistreatment of creationists by many who think like Dawkins.  In one article I read the other day, Dawkins responded to the question about why evolutionary scientists like himself would not do a public debate with a creationist: “The objection to having debates with people like that (creationists) is that it gives them a kind of respectability.”   He continues, “If a real scientist goes onto a debating platform with a creationist, it gives them a respectability, which I do not think your people have earned.”   This he told Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman, whose organization is best known for its advocacy of Intelligent Design.

Dawkins remarks would not be so dirty if it were not for the fact that he spends a great deal of time in other arenas trashing non-evolutionary theories of the origins of life (especially theistic ones).  His famous The God Delusion was on the NY Times bestseller list for fifty-one weeks.  He travels around frequently giving talks which, for those who have been to one, border more on anti-Christian rallies than real intelligent discussion about serious scientific and religions issues.  One may quickly find videos on YouTube of him making pejorative statements towards “creationists” and others.  One wonders if he is being honest in his response to creationists in saying that he will not debate them because their views are not worth the time.  It appears as though he gives quite a bit of time to dealing with them in other venues…

CHRISTIANS DON’T “REJECT” SCIENCE

Back to the main reason for this blog entry.  The most disturbing thing about the NY Times article was the simple fact that it was wrong; it is filled with misleading statements that the general public will likely not notice.  In short, it is manipulative.

The article claims that a rejection of science is equivalent to “cultural isolationism,” “simplistic theology,” and “stubborn anti-intellectualism.”

First of all, not all conservative republicans and people who believe in the Bible “reject” science.  As Phil Hills has pointed out, there is a flood tide arising that “demands that Christians must embrace evolution or acknowledge that they are opposed to science.”[3]  Such a premise is quite misleading.  The fact that many Bible-believing Christians are accomplished vocational scientists should expose the folly of such an implication.  However, it is true that even many of these Christian scientists try and reconcile their Biblically-based faith with the modern discoveries of science (as does Mr. Giberson, one of the authors of the article, who was formerly a professor of physics).  Such an approach is unwarranted (and backwards) for reasons such as C. John Collins has noted:

To begin with, the scientific theories change.  Geologists do not describe the earth’s history in 2010 the way they did in 1871.  Does the apparent agreement of the Bible with the geology of 1871 mean that we should reject contemporary geology, or that the Bible was wrong?[4]

What is more, for the Christian, to try and reconcile certain scientific beliefs, like evolution, with the Bible utterly destroys the Biblical message.  If somehow the Biblical God could be reconciled with evolutionary theory, many, such as Wayne Grudem argue that “it will not take long for unbelievers to dismiss the idea of such a God who makes no difference at all.”  He puts in a simple equation to illustrate his point:

To put it in terms of an equation, when atheists assure us that matter + evolution + 0 = all living things, and then theistic evolutionists answer, no, that matter + evolution + God = all living things, it will not take long for unbelievers to conclude that, therefore, God = 0.[5]

There is not space here to go into all the various nuances of why evolutionary theory destroys the message of the Bible, but suffice it to say for now that it undoes a number of central theological concepts such as the uniqueness of the image of God in humanity, the nature of sin, and the fall.

Contrary to the claims of some, most Christians do not altogether “reject” science.  Instead, many Christians believe that there is a right and a wrong way to do science.  These faithful belief that science done with an eye towards obtaining infallible knowledge is crooked and misguided because no such knowledge can be obtained from science.  As it is, scientific claims to irrefutable knowledge have been adequately proven wrong over and over again, not only by science itself,[6] but by philosophy (and, of course, the Bible!).

Many Christians believe that science is only fruitful when done according to biblical principles, given to us by the one who created the world: God.  That is not a flat out rejection of science, but a belief that scientific methods that seek to obtain knowledge apart from God’s revelation will inevitably fail; and deeper still, it is belief that moral conclusions cannot be reached based upon science and apart from special revelation.  In short, science relies upon God and can’t be at all without him.[7]  Vern Poythress put out a book in 2006 that was devoted totally to the idea of a Christian approach to science: Redeeming Science: A God Centered Approach (Crossway).  Poythress is a minister in the PCA church but holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Harvard.  Shall we call Dr. Poythress “anti-intellectual” simply because he holds a high view of the Bible and believes that science should submit to God’s revelation??

A FEW EXAMPLES

There are actually dozens of very qualified scientists who do not believe evolutionary theory.  Websites abound where scientists of all stripes express their growing doubts about Darwin’s conclusions.  Dissent from Darwin is a website that gives scientists a place to verbalize their doubts and reasons for them.   There slogan is:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

There you will find articles written by qualified scientists in a number of fields all stating their reasons they find evolution quite problematic and dubitable.  Some of the articles I stumbled across were written by Ralph Seelke, Colin Reeves, Edward Peltzer, and Chris Williams.

Additionally, there are many scientists who not only are expressing their doubts about evolution, but their confidence in some kind of creationism or intelligent design theory (I’m not sure if the scientists at Dissent from Darwin do or not).  One thinks of Michael Behe (author of Darwin’s Black Box), A.E. Wilder-Smith, Robert Gentry, Raymond Jones, Ian Macreadie, William Dembski, John R. Baumgardner, Raymond V. Damadian (inventer of the MRI technology), Scott Minnich, Douglas Axe, Henry Schaefer, Dean Kenyon, and John Lennox.  There are scores of scientists from all walks of life and across many disciplines who believe evolutionary theory is seriously flawed.  One popular book on the topic is titled In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation (Master Books, 2001).

Ad Hominem ARGUMENTS FROM EVOLUTIONISTS

One ploy of many evolutionists is to cast negative light on creationists by making them sound like half-scientists.  Contrary to what they would have you believe, many of these scientists are well accomplished and even leaders in their fields.  Much of this is well known, but evolutionists would want you to think otherwise.

The article in The Times seems to be taking a similar approach.  While some of the arguments are not altogether wrong, they are misleading.  The weak evangelical mind has been written about extensively and is not a new topic of conversation.[8]  What is newer, is the argument that those with non-evolutionary theories about the origins of life should not even be respected as credible thinkers; there is an association of ignorance with traditional values and Biblical views of the origins of the universe, which the “new atheists,” like Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennet are saying do not even deserve respect.  Dennet “likens people of faith to drunken drivers in that they are not only a danger to themselves and others but are doubly culpable because they have allowed religion to cloud their rationality.”[9]  Tim Keller and the Gospel Coalition talk some about the polemics of the new atheists here.

The evangelical authors of this article use language resembling that employed by Dawkins and the rest of the new atheist gang, labeling many of the beliefs of conservative evangelicals as being “discredited,” “ridiculous,” and “dangerous.”

THE REAL TRAGEDY OF THE EVANGELICAL MIND

In closing, I would agree with the general argument that the evangelical mind is highly underdeveloped.  I would add that, in many ways, we are reaping the consequences of that fact today in the overwhelming preponderance of anti-Christian material that is in publication.

However, I disagree with the columnists that a Christian failure to embrace evolution and more progressive values is in any way evidence of a lack of Christian intelligence.  That argument is not only illogical but troubling coming from two “evangelicals.”

The real tragedy here, in my opinion, lies in the fact that there is little balance in the evangelical world today (at least from what I gather).  On one hand there is a predominance of folks today calling themselves “evangelicals” who have rejected the authority of the Bible and embraced other schemes of explaining reality, most of which simply mirror the culture’s; they appear to want all the assurances of being “in” with God while also avoiding all the criticism associated with being “traditional.”  On the other hand, you have evangelicals who hold dogmatically to traditional beliefs but refuse to ground them in anything (except “faith”) and therefore are unable to articulate why they think one way over another.

Both extremes are problematic.

_______________________

[1] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1995), 8.

[2] The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism showing that more and more “evangelicals” are beginning to question biblical authority.

[3] Phil Hills, “Preface,” in Should Christians Embrace Evolution?  Biblical and Scientific Responses, Norman C. Nevin, ed., (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 14.

[4] C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 106.

[5] Wayne Grudem, “Forward,” in Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, 10.

[6] Science is simply the study of natural processes.  Such study assumes all sorts of philosophical premises before it can even get off the ground.  In other words, the methods of science cannot be proven by science, which, therefore, implies infallible knowledge of all things is impossible via science because science itself must incorporate philosophy for its own operation.

[7] Vern S. Poythress, “Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes of Scientific Law,” in Redeeming Science: A God Centered Approach (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 13-31.

[8] One example is Os Guiness’s book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to do About it (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994).

[9] Hills, Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, 11.

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