Petition for James Dobson: comments

Ted Davis (TDavis@messiah.edu)
Tue, 16 Nov 1999 11:40:59 -0500

My comments on Wendy Holtcamp's draft statement are based not only on my
general familiarity with various types of creationism and the deep concerns
of those who hold such views, but also on two highly relevant experiences.
First, in my current research project on Protestant modernism and science, I
have become very familiar with one of the best-known such statements, that
drafted by Nobel physicist Robert Millikan for the New York Times in 1923,
and its immediate context (it happened just as Bryan was blasting scientists
and esp theistic evolutionists for their supposedly anti-Christian views).
Second, I wrote a statement on creation/evolution that was unanimously
endorsed by all natural sciences faculty at Messiah, a statement intended
for use by the administration in responding to queries from concerned
parents.

So, I can fully appreciate the difficulty of drafting an effective
statement that will not only reflect accurately the views of the signators,
but also make points that will resonate with the broader Christian community
and actually help to educate those who do not adequately appreciate the
complexity of the issues. A person who reads such a statement should be
able to come away from it with a much better sense of why most Christian
scientists are not young-earth creationists: and I don't mean "why" in the
scientific sense, because no short statement can (IMO) accomplish that, but
"why" in the theological sense--and this is a reachable goal for more
readers, because more of them will have some understanding of biblical
literature and the Christian tradition than of the scientific tradition.
Note that I do not suggest that a large number of readers will have such an
understanding, but many pastors will and they are an important target
audience.

I am gratified by Wendee's strong interest in this issue and her
willingness to write Dr. Dobson about it, in an effort to gain some balanced
treatment. The fact that it comes from a concerned high school teacher is
particularly important, and I urge Wendee to write Dr. Dobson herself and
express her concerns to him. But I do not think this is necessarily a
statement that ASAers ought to endorse in large numbers (though each must
decide this themselves) for several reasons that could make this a very long
post if I were to spell them all out. So let me be brief, with just a few
comments.

Overall, I applaud the desire to depolarize the conversation: and this is
important where Prof. Johnson is concerned. Tone is crucial. It is also
good to emphasize that this concern is placing a red herring in front of
many who might otherwise be reached by the gospel of Christ's death and
resurrection. Again, these are appropriate concerns that I fully share.

But I'm not sure it gets to the heart of the matter for most Christians.
What it fails to do, IMO, is to provide an appropriate sense of the
complexity of biblical interpretation and of the importance of telling
Christian youth about this very point. Further, it does not stress the
importance of showing thoughtful young people various options for
understanding science in light of their faith: and this is crucial, since
the person who believes that only one option is biblical is more likely to
lose their faith if they become convinced at some point that it cannot be
supported by the evidence. I think many in the ASA will resonate with these
points.

So, where do we go from here? I am not prepared now simply to share the
Messiah statement on the listserve, though at some point I might be willing
to do that. I might be willing to draft an alternative statement that I
think many ASAers (and, I hope, many others) would sign. Or, perhaps this
is best left to others. But an effective statement, IMO, needs to be fairly
short, so that I would not simply graft language about my concerns onto
Wendee's statement: I would rather pick the best approach and focus on it.

Finally, I wonder how many ASAers want to see such a statement prepared,
with an eye to signing it if they find themselves in agreement? What say
ye?

Ted Davis