Re: [asa] Olasky on Collins

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed Aug 26 2009 - 15:22:12 EDT


Your post (to Randy) is thoughtful, engaging, and on topic for this list of
Christian scientists and science junkies (I am the latter).

We need more contributions of this type, IMO.

I will comment on selected statements, as follows:

R Howe: But I will offer this for your consideration: when the church
seemingly was so intransigent in its views of the Earth being the center of
the Solar System vis-à-vis Galileo's view, the church was holding on to its
position not only because of what they (wrongly) thought the Bible taught,
but more so because geocentricism was the reigning "scientific" view of the
university astronomers of the day. The view was grounded in the cosmology of
Aristotle. Galileo was not accepted until several centuries later when his
findings were confirmed by the mathematics. Thus, such a resistance on the
part of the church then is not parallel to the current debate between the
creationists and the evolutionists.

Ted: This is a very interesting point, and original as well. I cannot
recall hearing it before, even though so much has been said about Galileo,
vis-a-vis contemporary views on origins. I would say, however, that the
more important point is whether physical truth was closer to Galileo and the
evolutionists (on the one hand), or to their opponents. Universities in the
17th century were actually very slow to respond to the new knowledge being
created both within their walls (by people like Galileo and Newton) or
outside their walls (by people like Kepler and Boyle). Newton learned about
Descartes, e.g., by buying his books in town rather than by studying him in
the curriculum. Today, it's universities that are the main locus of
knowledge creation; this was less true at that point. Also, things move so
fast generally today, but much more slowly generally then.


R Howe: The creationist's intransigence is the opposite of the churches
opposition to Galileo since creationism is not the reigning view of the
universities of our day. I bring this up because it usually isn't long in
the discussion before this hackneyed point about the church's resistance to
Galileo is raised (not by you necessarily). If anything, it is the
Christians today who are evolutionists that seem to parallel the Christians
who were geocentricists in Galileo's day. I say this, not to parallel
geocentricism with evolution, but to parallel which side of a given debate
the church (Christians) was on. The church then sided with the reigning
"scientific" view of the universities (geocentricism) and the church today
(read evangelicals) are siding against the reigning "scientific" view of the
universities (evolution). This in itself does not adjudicate the debate, but
it is an important antidote to the view that somehow the creationist should
take a lesson from history. I'll grant that the Christians have held views
about the physical universe that are wrong to the degree that others will
grant that science has held views about the physical universe that are

Ted: Most historians, me included, are ambivalent about drawing "lessons"
from history, since in so many cases those "lessons" can be made only by
taking certain facts out of their proper historical context -- and context
does give meaning to facts in historical disciplines. However, we can
safely say that a large number of Christian thinkers subsequent to Galileo
-- esp natural historians in the early and mid-19th century -- were quick to
invoke Galileo's heresy trial as a "lesson" for opponents in their own
time(s). Above all, they used it to distance themselves, and to shame their
opponents into distancing themselves, from the obscurantism that they saw to
be one of the fundamental characteristics of the church's stance vs
heliocentrism. (It wasn't nearly as obscurantist as they made it out to
be.) They were Protestants, after all (those I speak about here), not
Catholics; mainly Protestant audiences in the US and the UK could be counted
on to buy into this rhetoric and embrace an appropriate measure of humility
concerning alleged scientific facts and theories in the Bible. That
"lesson" may be based on distorted history, but (ironically) it remains a
good lesson, IMO. Roberto Cardinal Bellarmine was a strict biblical
literalist, who held that anyone who questions the Bible on the earth's
motion might just as well question the Bible on the Virgin Birth. A pretty
flat reading of things, I would say -- would you agree with me, Richard?


R Howe:

  I must now bring my musings to a close. Before I do, however, (and at the
risk of being misunderstood due to my brevity) I would suggest that our
principles of interpretation must come from reality. Now someone might jump
on this and say "That's what we're trying to get those creationists to
understand!" But by this I don't mean something so simple and perhaps, at
times, naïve as "science." I concur with your sentiment that "bearing the
image of God and his commission of stewardship of his creation, we have been
given the power to observe God's works in nature." Whether this tracks what
scientists are saying regarding evolution is part of the debate. I suggest
that much of what goes on in the name of scientific discourse has a
tremendous philosophical foundation to it (or at times a tremendous
philosophical bankruptcy to it). Again, by this I don't merely mean
something as simple as the presuppositions of naturalism (though I do
include this). Instead, I am talking about broader issues in metaphysics and
epistemology. These issues, coupled with the resultant theology from these
philosophical commitments (and other considerations), have led me to embrace
a number of doctrines that I believe are incompatible with certain
evolutionary positions. While I will grant to another the prerogative of
holding whatever views he wishes, what I resist is the notion that one can
hold such views and still consider himself theologically an evangelical
Christian. I am not surprised or startled by what liberal or neo-orthodox
(or, for that matter, postmodern) Christians believe. But no liberal or
neo-orthodox would consider himself an evangelical. I believe that with
certain moves toward a more Darwinian view of the history of the Earth, such
a move requires a move away from a certain view of the nature of the Bible
as God's special revelation (and, I might add, from certain sound principles
of hermeneutics). One side or the other might be wrong. But they both can't
be right.

Ted: I think that evolution (understood here simply as common descent,
ignoring the matter of mechanisms said to be responsible for producing it)
raises hard problems for evangelical theology and Biblical interpretation.
I talked about some of them at

Through the ASA and in other ways, Richard, I have met a large number of
Christian scientists who want to think of themselves as evangelicals, not
simply b/c their faith journey has been mainly or entirely evangelical; they
want to continue to embrace an evangelical understanding for various
reasons. Many of those scientists believe that evolution (in the sense
defined above) is true, for various reasons, perhaps above all b/c of what
we have learned about genetics. (Francis Collins summarizes some of this
information in his book, "The Language of God.") In short, it really looks
to the experts like humans and other modern primates have common ancestors;
evolution appears to be true, from the evidence. No other explanation of
the same evidence makes nearly as much sense.

Whether it's possible to put together the truths of science (if that is
what they are) and the truths of evangelical Christianity, is IMO presently
an open question. If you come down on it differently than I do, it would be
unfair and uncharitable to say that it must reflect some stupidity or
irrationality on your part (or on mine). It could well be a matter of
genuine ignorance, either way -- we are all ignorant of so many things,
aren't we? Or, it could be as you suggest a matter of certain
epistemological and theological commitments. For my part, as someone who
has found the genetic evidence convincing, I hope that the historic
evangelical commitment to the general validity of natural revelation (when
rightly interpreted) will overcome the historic evangelical commitment to
separate creation. Those who don't agree with me about how to interpret
general revelation in this case may well parse that differently.


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Received on Wed Aug 26 15:23:39 2009

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