Re: [asa] comments on evolution and traditional Christian faith

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Aug 30 2006 - 13:13:18 EDT

Any claim that the Nicene (or Apostles') Creed is incompatible with
evolution (or vice versa) is just unsustainable for the simple reason
the creeds say nothing at all about _how_ God created or continues to
create. The Nicene Creed speaks about creation in connection with
all three
trinitarian persons but is silent about their modes of operation in this
work. For that matter, the creeds say nothing at all about the
concept of
an historical fall, something that anti-evolutionists often imagine is a
drop-dead argument against evolution.

The very first sentence of my book _The Trademark of God_ is the
of the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
maker of
heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen." The whole rest
of the
book then discusses how evolution can be understood within the
context of
the creed and its christological claims in particular.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 10:37 AM
Subject: [asa] comments on evolution and traditional Christian faith

> I have not yet seen Jon Wells' new book, so my comments below are not
> to be
> understood as any kind of "review" of his book. I have been sent a
> few
> excerpts from the book, and I have seen some of the issues it tries
> to get
> at by seeing some of the comments. This post, then, should be
> understood as
> a commentary on some larger issues raised apparently by the book
> itself, and
> definitely raised in comments others have made about it in various
> places.
> Sometimes my posts to this list are picked up by blogs and other
> lists--this
> is a public list, after all, and ID is as hot a topic as there is
> right now.
> If anyone copies this post somewhere else, it would be misleading
> to do so
> and unfair to me and to Wells to leave out any of this post,
> including this
> paragraph.
> Here then are my comments on what I have been hearing.
> Wells apparently uses the Nicene Creed as an example of the beliefs
> that
> traditional Christians embrace. This has been criticized by some
> as too
> narrow of an approach. I am presently writing a book about American
> Protestants and evolution in the 1920s, and as part of that project
> I am
> looking back as well as forward. In evaluating this very issue--what
> did
> "science" and "evolution" and "Christianity" and "religion" mean to
> people
> at the time, I am struck by the ease with which many liberal
> Christians
> simply jettisoned the traditional creeds, for various reasons. Many
> of them
> believed the original form of White's "warfare" thesis--not the
> inherently
> anti-religious form it takes in modern writers like Dawkins or
> somone of
> their own day like Clarence Darrow--but the softer, gentler form of
> the
> warfare thesis that White espoused. Namely, that modern science has
> made
> Christian theology incredible, and that traditional Christian beliefs
> like
> the bodily resurrection, the atonement, and the virgin birth are just
> impossible to accept now. On the other hand, the ethical teachings of
> Christianity were in their view very important and needed to be
> retained,
> along with belief in God, though what they meant by "God" is mighty
> hard to
> pin down.
> In looking at these folks, I regard the Nicene/Apostles' Creeds as
> decent
> working definitions of traditional Christian faith. In my very few
> public
> writings on this issue in the past, I've implicitly or explicitly used
> that criterion. If Wells does this, then IMO he's not off base to do
> so.
> On the other hand, what Wells apparently fails to realize, is that
> even by
> this definition of traditional Christianity, it is not hard to find
> examples
> of Christians who accept Darwinian evolution. Someone who has seen
> Wells'
> book quotes him as saying, "In other words, a Darwinian who really,
> *really*
> wants to be a Christian can be a Christian of sorts -- just not a
> traditional one." My point here is about this claim. If Wells says
> this,
> and means by it what I take it here to mean, then he's wrong. If he
> doesn't
> say it, my comments are still directed at the point it conveys. It's
> that
> point, which is very often made, that I am commenting on, whether
> or not
> it's actually said in Wells' book. I am led to respond to that point
> presently b/c of the combination of that claim with the traditional
> creeds
> as a tool to help define traditional Christian belief--a tool that,
> as I
> have said, I have used myself for this very purpose in this very
> context.
> In the late 19th century, Asa Gray defended Darwinian evolution while
> expressly affirming the Nicene and
> Apostles' Creeds as containing "the essentials" of Christian faith.
> My own
> view is virtually identical with Gray's. My book will discuss how
> thinkers
> like Gray all but vanish from the landscape in the 1920s, thus further
> polarizing an already highly polarized conversation about evolution
> among
> American Christians. HOWEVER, as my book will discuss (though only
> briefly,
> since it focuses on the 1920s), since the second world war and
> espectially
> since the 1960s the landscape has changed fundamentally. There are
> now
> world class scientists who fully accept evolution and who also
> confess a
> very traditional type of Christianity, with traditional views of
> sin/redemption, the bodily resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, etc--
> that
> is, who confess the
> kind of faith that I hold myself, so my attennae are tuned to detect
> this.
> Francis Collins is the most recent obvious case, but there are many
> more--MIT nuclear scientist Ian Hutchinson, Nobel physicists Charles
> Townes
> and Bill Phillips, Princeton geologist John Suppe, John Polkinghorne,
> etc,
> etc. The list could be made much longer.
> At the turn of the century, the self-styled "modernists" were taking
> control of religious colleges and seminaries and telling everyone that
> modern science made traditional faith incredible. That helped to set
> the
> stage for the heated, highly polarized conversations of the 1920s.
> Examples
> of middle ground, such as the views held by Gray (who had died many
> years
> before), are very hard to locate at that time. But it *is not true
> now*,
> and that's the missing historical message that my book will be
> stressing,
> among others. There are very significant differences between the
> "modernists" and their modern descendents, on the one hand (Arthur
> Peacocke
> and Jack Haught are well known examples of that approach today);
> and the
> traditional Christians who also accept evolution, on the other hand
> (see
> above for some examples). The current controversy over ID tends (as
> controversies do) to produce a lot more heat than light, and that is
> true on
> both "sides" of the issue--which is one of the reasons why I am not
> really
> on either "side" myself. Just as ID's tend to overlook this type of
> crucial
> distinction, so do their opponents. My sense is, that many IDs do
> actually
> believe that Christians who accept evolution can't be traditional
> Christians, but the reason can't really be the Apostles'/Nicene
> creeds--there is just too much evidence to the contrary. It has to be
> something else--perhaps human origins, perhaps something else. My
> sense is
> also, that many of their opponents actually believe that world class
> scientists can't consistently believe the creeds--despite the
> empirical
> evidence to the contrary. They must somehow be refusing to see the
> implications of their science, or in some other way committing
> intellectual
> suicide or dishonesty. The truth, IMO, does not lie on either "side"
> as I
> have outlined it here. And, most important of all--the failure to
> see this
> point or acknowledge its validity is harming, not helping, efforts to
> resolve the controversy over public education.
> As I have indicated, the timing of these comments is related to
> Wells' new
> book. It would be wrong, however, to take my thoughts as a direct
> commentary on his--I have not yet seen his book. I am responding
> to the
> issues that are being raised by those who have. If anyone wishes to
> reproduce my comments, it is dishonest to do so without including
> everything
> in this post, including this sentence.
> Ted
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Received on Sun Sep 3 19:15:50 2006

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