Intelligent Design Religion Science

Historian Ted Davis on liberal Protestant acceptance that theology is at war with science

Spread the love

At BioLogos, historian Ted Davis offers:

Perhaps the greatest irony about the contemporary religion-science dialogue is the fact that, despite their own strongly articulated denials, many thinkers implicitly accept the “warfare” thesis of A. D. White—that is, they agree with White that traditional theology has proved unable to engage science in fruitful conversation. More than most others, John Polkinghorne understands just how badly White misread the history of Christianity and science, and how much theology has been impoverished by its failure to challenge this core assumption of modernity.

Nothing was more important to many modernists than the God they found within the evolutionary process itself, rather than in putative explanatory gaps in that process. What might be missed, however, is the degree to which some pitted divine immanence against divine transcendence—not as two crucial poles in an ongoing dialectic, but as a stark choice to be made with finality, in which the transcendent God was effectively discarded entirely.

A pertinent example comes from Samuel Christian Schmucker, frequently a featured speaker at Mathews’ beloved Chautauqua Institution and one of the most successful popularizers of evolution and eugenics in the early twentieth century. Schmucker all but equated his immanent God with the evolutionary process itself. “The laws of nature,” he stated, “are not the decisions of any man or group of men; not even–I say it reverently–of God. The laws of nature are eternal even as God is eternal.” They are “not the fiat of almighty God, they are the manifestation in nature of the presence of the indwelling God” (quoting his 1926 pamphlet, Through Science to God). His diffusively conceived God was co-eternal with the world and virtually indistinguishable from the laws of nature. The evolutionary progress those laws had produced was the ultimate source of his hope. I cannot escape the impression that White would have loved this, had he lived to see it. More.

Doubtless. And meanwhile, back at the shop, science has developed an infatuation with non-falsifiable ideas, comfort with post-fact thinking, and the growing conviction that we did not evolve so as to be able to understand reality.

If things continue in this direction, almost any version of Christianity will be a road to reality, to whatever extent it is a place where facts matter again.

Note:

Davis’s column is part of a series on the new atheism on his blog  Reading the Book of Nature at BioLogos.

See also: Islamic view of multiverse: “Against the philosophy of science as we understand it”? Actually, any group that stays clear of the multiverse morass stands to inherit science for future generations.

Cosmologist: In an infinite multiverse, physics loses its ability to make predictions. And that’s okay.

Follow UD News at Twitter!

11 Replies to “Historian Ted Davis on liberal Protestant acceptance that theology is at war with science

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    The only war on science there has ever been between science and religion has been the war that Atheists have declared on science.

    Modern Science was born out of, and continues to be absolutely dependent, on Christian Theism.

    The War against the War Between Science and Faith Revisited – July 2010
    Excerpt: …as Whitehead pointed out, it is no coincidence that science sprang, not from Ionian metaphysics, not from the Brahmin-Buddhist-Taoist East, not from the Egyptian-Mayan astrological South, but from the heart of the Christian West, that although Galileo fell out with the Church, he would hardly have taken so much trouble studying Jupiter and dropping objects from towers if the reality and value and order of things had not first been conferred by belief in the Incarnation. (Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos),,,
    Jaki notes that before Christ the Jews never formed a very large community (priv. comm.). In later times, the Jews lacked the Christian notion that Jesus was the monogenes or unigenitus, the only-begotten of God. Pantheists like the Greeks tended to identify the monogenes or unigenitus with the universe itself, or with the heavens. Jaki writes: Herein lies the tremendous difference between Christian monotheism on the one hand and Jewish and Muslim monotheism on the other. This explains also the fact that it is almost natural for a Jewish or Muslim intellectual to become a pa(n)theist. About the former Spinoza and Einstein are well-known examples. As to the Muslims, it should be enough to think of the Averroists. With this in mind one can also hope to understand why the Muslims, who for five hundred years had studied Aristotle’s works and produced many commentaries on them failed to make a breakthrough. The latter came in medieval Christian context and just about within a hundred years from the availability of Aristotle’s works in Latin,,
    If science suffered only stillbirths in ancient cultures, how did it come to its unique viable birth? The beginning of science as a fully fledged enterprise took place in relation to two important definitions of the Magisterium of the Church. The first was the definition at the Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1215, that the universe was created out of nothing at the beginning of time. The second magisterial statement was at the local level, enunciated by Bishop Stephen Tempier of Paris who, on March 7, 1277, condemned 219 Aristotelian propositions, so outlawing the deterministic and necessitarian views of creation.
    These statements of the teaching authority of the Church expressed an atmosphere in which faith in God had penetrated the medieval culture and given rise to philosophical consequences. The cosmos was seen as contingent in its existence and thus dependent on a divine choice which called it into being; the universe is also contingent in its nature and so God was free to create this particular form of world among an infinity of other possibilities. Thus the cosmos cannot be a necessary form of existence; and so it has to be approached by a posteriori investigation. The universe is also rational and so a coherent discourse can be made about it. Indeed the contingency and rationality of the cosmos are like two pillars supporting the Christian vision of the cosmos.
    http://www.scifiwright.com/201.....revisited/

    The truth about science and religion By Terry Scambray – August 14, 2014
    Excerpt: In 1925 the renowned philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead speaking to scholars at Harvard said that science originated in Christian Europe in the 13th century. Whitehead pointed out that science arose from “the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher”, from which it follows that human minds created in that image are capable of understanding nature.
    The audience, assuming that science and Christianity are enemies, was astonished.
    http://www.americanthinker.com.....igion.html

    The Threat to the Scientific Method that Explains the Spate of Fraudulent Science Publications – Calvin Beisner | Jul 23, 2014
    Excerpt: It is precisely because modern science has abandoned its foundations in the Biblical worldview (which holds, among other things, that a personal, rational God designed a rational universe to be understood and controlled by rational persons made in His image) and the Biblical ethic (which holds, among other things, that we are obligated to tell the truth even when it inconveniences us) that science is collapsing.
    As such diverse historians and philosophers of science as Alfred North Whitehead, Pierre Duhem, Loren Eiseley, Rodney Stark, and many others have observed,, science—not an occasional flash of insight here and there, but a systematic, programmatic, ongoing way of studying and controlling the world—arose only once in history, and only in one place: medieval Europe, once known as “Christendom,” where that Biblical worldview reigned supreme. That is no accident. Science could not have arisen without that worldview.
    http://townhall.com/columnists...../page/full
    Several other resources backing up this claim are available, such as Thomas Woods, Stanley Jaki, David Linberg, Edward Grant, J.L. Heilbron, and Christopher Dawson.

    50 Nobel Laureates and other great scientists who believed in God by Tihomir Dimitrov
    PART IV. FOUNDERS OF MODERN SCIENCE
    (16th – 21st Century) – page 89
    http://nobelists.weebly.com/up.....nglish.pdf

    Let us be VERY clear to the fact that ALL of science, every discipline within science, is dependent on basic Theistic presuppositions about the rational intelligibility of the universe and the ability of our mind to comprehend that rational intelligibility. Modern science was born, and continues to be dependent on, those basic Theistic presuppositions:

    Science and Theism: Concord, not Conflict* – Robert C. Koons
    IV. The Dependency of Science Upon Theism (Page 21)
    Excerpt: Far from undermining the credibility of theism, the remarkable success of science in modern times is a remarkable confirmation of the truth of theism. It was from the perspective of Judeo-Christian theism—and from the perspective alone—that it was predictable that science would have succeeded as it has. Without the faith in the rational intelligibility of the world and the divine vocation of human beings to master it, modern science would never have been possible, and, even today, the continued rationality of the enterprise of science depends on convictions that can be reasonably grounded only in theistic metaphysics.
    http://www.robkoons.net/media/.....ffd524.pdf

    Moreover, if we cast aside those basic Theistic presuppositions about the rational intelligibility of the universe and the ability of our mind to comprehend that rational intelligibility, and try to use Atheistic Materialism, i.e. methodological naturalism, as our basis for understanding the universe, and for practicing science, then everything within that atheistic/naturalistic worldview, (i.e. supposed evidence for Darwinian evolution, observations of reality, beliefs about reality, sense of self, free will, even reality itself), collapses into self refuting, unrestrained, flights of fantasy and imagination.

    Darwinian evolution, and atheism/naturalism in general, are built entirely upon a framework of illusions and fantasy
    Excerpt: Thus, basically, without God, everything within the atheistic/naturalistic worldview, (i.e. supposed evidence for Darwinian evolution, observations of reality, beliefs about reality, sense of self, free will, even reality itself), collapses into self refuting, unrestrained, flights of fantasy and imagination.
    It would be hard to fathom a more unscientific worldview than Darwinian evolution and Atheistic materialism/naturalism in general have turned out to be.
    Scientists should definitely stick with the worldview that brought them to the dance! i.e Christianity!
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Q94y-QgZZGF0Q7HdcE-qdFcVGErhWxsVKP7GOmpKD6o/edit

    To reiterate, it would be hard to fathom a worldview that is more antagonistic to modern science than Darwinian evolution, and Atheistic naturalism in general, have turned out to be.

    Darwinian evolution, since it has no empirical evidence that it is remotely feasible, (M. Behe, D. Axe, J. Sanford), is heavily reliant on imaginary just so stories. Just so stories where the imagination of the audience stands in place of actual empirical evidence.

    Where Darwinian evolution goes off the rails, theologically speaking, as far as modern science itself is concerned, is that it uses bad liberal theology to try to establish the legitimacy of its atheistic claims, all the while forgetting that it itself is dependent on basic Theistic presuppositions about the rational intelligibility of the universe and of our mind to comprehend it. (As far as modern science is concerned, Naturalism saws off the branch that it is sitting on)
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-612345

    1 Thessalonians 5:21
    but test everything; hold fast what is good.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    OT:

    NASA just released over 100 images of Pluto — and the footage is breathtaking – Jan. 20, 2017
    http://www.businessinsider.com.....=buffer-ti

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Interesting challenge …

    The laws of nature are eternal even as God is eternal.” They are “not the fiat of almighty God, they are the manifestation in nature of the presence of the indwelling God” (quoting his 1926 pamphlet, Through Science to God). His diffusively conceived God was co-eternal with the world and virtually indistinguishable from the laws of nature. The evolutionary progress those laws had produced was the ultimate source of his hope.

    This is an argument against ID which may appear, on face value, to be successful. If the laws of nature are co-eternal with God, then the design we observe in nature is not from an intelligent source.

    But the argument fails in the same way multiverse arguments fail. In this case, proposing a god who is eternal with physical laws is proposing a god who does nothing, and creates nothing.

    Sure, this refutes ID but it is simply a materialist-deterministic model that undercuts rationality while at the same time proposing an unintelligent god. Since that sort of god is unnecessary for anything, it can be removed, and therefore all we have is an eternal physical universe (at least of laws) unexplained. Why are there eternal physical laws with nothing (no material universe) to act upon or within?

  4. 4
    wrossite says:

    SA, I agree. I think Ted Davis spends a lot of time trying to use others to say what he thinks. He, like many, also misuses the views of people in history. For example, while it’s true that Asa Gray advanced Darwin’s theory, he could not have been clearer in distancing himself from Darwin’s instance on the process being driving by chance. You never hear that. I’m sure that Davis rejects the link between Darwin and eugenics. Even as we have the following logical relations:

    In 1838 Darwin “happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population” and immediately declared, “I had at last got a theory with which to work.”

    Malthus’s “dismal theorem” was predicated upon zero-sum scenarios in which man competes with his neighbor for one or more limited resources. He warned of overpopulation, scarcity and death. In An Essay on the Principles of Population, Malthus argued that,

    “All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons. We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality.”

    This fed into Darwin’s model of creation, where, “from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, the production of the higher animals.”

    That is to say, the very basis of Darwin’s theory derived from social theory.

    Darwin writes, “the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. . . hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

    But then, we’re supposed to see no connection between such words and Charles Davenport saying, “Man is an organism—an animal, and the laws of improvement of corn and of race horses hold true for him also.” After all. Darwin also suggested, “there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage.”

    But I digress.

    Anyway, I know Ted a little. He will claim “conservative” Christianity, while accepting that an ultimate theological account in no way interferes with purely scientific explanation (except for Jesus). He criticizes the belief that the laws of nature are co-eternal with God. But what really does that have to do with the question at hand (is science compatible with Christianity?)? Guys like Davis say yes, because they are the theologically liberal. They begin with the assumption that God exists, which means that God is there no matter what science finds.

    Theistic evolutionists like Davis make God immune to facts. No matter how brutish and short, no matter how red in tooth and claw, regardless how much cruelty and pitiless indifference, or how random and unguided things appear; the theistic evolutionist will maintain that God did it. Thus, no matter what Darwin believed, it is compatible with God. Of course, we could say the same of Zeus or Xenu. If there is no conflict between a science built on naturalism and God, then God is naturalism. It’s really that simple.

    W

  5. 5
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Interesting commentary, WR – thanks.
    Yes, as I started reading was immediately wondering about Davis’ motivation – although it’s hard to guess, I’m glad you touched on it.

    He will claim “conservative” Christianity, while accepting that an ultimate theological account in no way interferes with purely scientific explanation (except for Jesus).

    It’s the exception that just destroys the whole thing (I’ve seen exactly the same from other TE’s). They have a supposedly air-tight view of the power of science. But then miracles? They make an exception and then ignore what the exception entails. I wondered why … but I think you’ve got it here:

    Guys like Davis say yes, because they are the theologically liberal. They begin with the assumption that God exists, which means that God is there no matter what science finds.

    Interesting – again, I’ve seen the same thing with TE’s. They cannot communicate any reason to believe that God exists. I’m not sure what Davis would say but I guess it’s just some sort of personal thing. Something convinced him, but it’s entirely personal to the individual. Or maybe he doesn’t even have a personal reason – it’s a belief from childhood (like his Dad’s favorite baseball team) and he just holds on to it. You can’t prove why the Yankees or Red Sox should be a favorite team. It just is.

    So maybe that’s God for them? “It’s a concept I like to have in my life” – but there is zero observable evidence of its truth.

    With the exception of … the exception mentioned above. That’s why they won’t talk about how the exception actually destroys their position.

    I find the whole thing mind-bogglingly absurd.

    ID is the most natural and normal conclusion that any Christian must have. Even most theists would see the truth of it. If only one of the miracles of the Bible is accepted as true, then the ID hypothesis is correct.

    To deny ID is to deny that any miracles ever occurred since miracles are incompatible with materialism (thus not scientifically accessible directly).

    And yet … so many TE’s just go along with their obviously contradictory view, and they actually argue and try to defend themselves while never even addressing this issue.

    Ok, I get it. Some people think that religious belief of any kind necessarily requires contradictory, non-strictly-logical views. So they just live with it.

  6. 6
    wrossite says:

    SA. Yes, you’re exactly right. Literally, Jesus is their great stumbling block. Consider the words of Darrel Falk (one of the BioLogos founders):

    “Faith in Christ’s resurrection is thus the single most important belief that Christians hold. Is it scientifically credible? . . . It is not. Yet this is the position we hold. to a scientist . . . the belief in a risen body is irrational.”

    They think that purely scientific explanations for the world are compatible with Christian theism…except on Jesus. There, they will fly in the face of their science. But why? And if there, why only there? They all make space for miracles in principle, but never tell you which they actually accept. And what do they do with petitionary prayer, the miracles surrounding Jesus (in the NT). Heck, most aren’t real warm to the concept of angels.

    I’ve continued to evaluate all manner of TE-types. All have massive contradictions and unfounded claims. But boy, they’re an atheists best friend. That’s why Salon magazine called TE “training wheels towards atheism.”

    W

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    Silver Asiatic and wrossite:
    You’re having an interesting discussion.
    Thank you.

  8. 8
    Silver Asiatic says:

    WR

    Great analysis here.

    They all make space for miracles in principle, but never tell you which they actually accept. And what do they do with petitionary prayer, the miracles surrounding Jesus (in the NT). Heck, most aren’t real warm to the concept of angels.

    Exactly. All of these things remain mysterious and they simply refuse to answer or explain them. They will go so far as to totally distort or destroy any meaning the term “God” could have, in order to preserve science-alone. They do pave the way for atheism because atheists can merely laugh and say “Christians believe in a God who does nothing and has no evidence of his existence”. Or they could look at the contradictions of a God who works miracles but who could never interact with his own created universe to design features of it. That’s enough to affirm atheism itself.

    I’ve continued to evaluate all manner of TE-types. All have massive contradictions and unfounded claims. But boy, they’re an atheists best friend. That’s why Salon magazine called TE “training wheels towards atheism.”

    That slide into atheism is very significant. Believers are on a continuum – either strengthening faith and moving towards God, or getting weaker and moving to atheism. In the spiritual life, we can’t stay still – we’re either going forward or backward.

    Some believers fear philosophy (or human knowledge) in support of faith, but without good, logical thought we wouldn’t arrive at solid conclusions like a First Cause. Logic doesn’t require faith, but it is necessary to make sense of religion.

    Some people think that the Christian faith should “just be believed” – like a fairy tale. No further evidence can be given to support it. That’s a big mistake because God gave us all minds to use to gain understanding of the world.

    Or as it is said: “theology is faith seeking understanding”.

  9. 9
    Dionisio says:

    WR & SA:

    You’ve brought up very interesting points within this discussion thread.

    There’s no conflict between true science and genuine faith in Christ.

    Scientists of different philosophical/theological perspectives have been awarded the Nobel prize in science.

    The first few verses of the first chapter of John in the New Testament of the Christian Bible tell us that Christ created everything that is. Honest science is about studying Christ’s creation, which obviously includes ourselves.

    I strongly believe that the reason for my current “uncontrollable” addiction to reading the latest biology research papers is at least partially explained thus:

    Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

    The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in His way; Psalm 37:23 (ESV)

    Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2 (ESV)

    However, there was a time when I did not believe in God.

    I received a very strong education rooted in materialism and atheism. From elementary school through middle and high school and specially in the university studies.

    In my spiritually lost years I did not care much about biology or any science in general, except what was required for passing academic tests. Back then I wasn’t interested in learning much of anything besides what was expected in order to move up to next academic level. I didn’t think the exact meaning of words really mattered much.

    In order to get my engineering degree I had to pass Soviet state tests on Marxist Philosophy and Scientific Communism. Had I not passed those tests, I would not have received my engineering diploma, even if I had invented the internet and designed the iPad.

    Perhaps I could teach hard-core theoretical materialism to many new atheists. But I don’t want to squander precious time on senseless arguments with anybody who is not seeking the truth. That’s why I try to avoid philosophical/theological discussions online, unless I see that the potential interlocutor shows sincere motivation to have a serious discussion. That rarely happens these days.

    I had a stable interesting job working as a software analyst/developer in a project for engineering design. I was enjoying what I was doing. Until I saw something that attracted my curiosity in a way it had not been stirred up since I was a child.

    Several years after I got my saving faith in Christ, a close relative who had graduated from medical school left in my home the textbook “The Developing Human” (Clinically Oriented Embryology) by the Canadian professors Moore and Persaud.

    To be continued…

    PS.
    BTW, a few years after I looked at the the above-referenced textbook, it was mentioned in this UD website by:

    1) StephenB @107 in the discussion thread:
    Great TED Talks vid: Human life from conception to birth
    Posted by News November 15, 2011
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-409753

    2) vjtorley in his OP
    An anti-ID biology professor who doesn’t even know the facts of life, let alone evolution
    August 30, 2012
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....evolution/

  10. 10
    Dionisio says:

    #9 addendum 001

    Several years after I looked at the mentioned textbook, it was mentioned in this UD website by:

    3) vjtorley in his OP
    The fetus is a parasite, abortion is like plucking out a hair: how much does Jerry Coyne really know about biology?
    December 29, 2013
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....t-biology/

    4) vjtorley in his OP
    Science illiteracy on the liberal left: PZ Myers and Amanda Marcotte can’t face the facts of life
    May 25, 2014
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....s-of-life/

    5) vjtorley in his OP
    Memo to Myers and Marcotte: Embryologists agree that an individual human life begins at conception
    August 13, 2015
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....onception/

  11. 11
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Dionisio

    Thanks for sharing your personal journey and background. I found that very interesting and valuable — and inspirational! To come from such a strict materialist atheist background and find faith — is remarkable.

    Perhaps I could teach hard-core theoretical materialism to many new atheists. But I don’t want to squander precious time on senseless arguments with anybody who is not seeking the truth. That’s why I try to avoid philosophical/theological discussions online, unless I see that the potential interlocutor shows sincere motivation to have a serious discussion.

    That sounds like a good policy – to avoid wasting time. I’d suggest also, you have a lot of knowledge to offer about materialism and you might be surprised to find that even people who don’t seem sincere may actually allow the truth to enter into their thoughts. It may seem that they’re totally closed off, but sometimes the right word or a unique argument can change them for the better.

    We have to be careful though, as you say. Many times such debates are not worth the time. I have seen, however, many atheists slowly make the journey to faith through discussions like we have on UD. Once they realize that materialism simply doesn’t work, they’ll drop it and search for something else. They won’t look to God, but he will eventually pull them to himself if they keep searching.

    And a reminder to me (and anyone else) … don’t forget to pray for the atheists we encounter. Without that, even very good arguments will fall flat.

Leave a Reply