So far, I’ve looked at articles byJ Janzen, Brian Cooper, and Robert J. V. Hiebert’s . I’ve interacting with their positions regarding the debate about the origin of the universe and Genesis 1 & 2, and we’ve had more than a little spirited interaction. Next up, we’re looking at the short article by Brian Gobbett entitled Is the rock of ages compatible with the age of the rocks? Religion and science in historical perspective.
As per usual, I’ll provide Gobbett’s arguments and citations in regular font and my interactions in italics.
Gobbett opens his article with a passing reference to the “New Atheists”, which he calls “a small group of Anglo-American intellectuals who argue that all forms of religious sentiment are destructive and that non-belief forms the only acceptable paradigm for building a rational and productive society.” He comments on how several New Atheists are scientists and “often present science as evidence to confirm, as Richard Dawkins states in The God Delusion, there is ‘almost certainly no God’.”
- Okay. Agreed so far…
Gobbet comments on how Dawkins, among many other New Atheists, talk about science and religion with the metaphor of warfare. He writes “this model for understanding the relationship between religion and science places these two domains in irreconcilable conflict with one another.”
- Well, I don’t recognize the dichotomy of “science vs. religion” and the New Atheists don’t really use that category either. The New Atheists see the conflict between naturalism and supernaturalism, naturalism being represented by Darwinian Evolution and supernaturalism is being represented by Evangelical Christianity; it’s a conflict between empirical naturalism and biblical supernaturalism to all of them (Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, Barker, Avalos, Stegner, etc.). None of them spend time attacking Hinduism, and yet there’s over a billion Hindus in the world. Sam Harris, one of the “four horsemen, is a practicing Buddhist (and that covers another half a billion people in the world)! The conflict is not between science and religion (those terms are such amorphous blobs), and never has been and Gobbett should know better.
Gobbett then suggest that Dawkins is hoping to convince his readers that it’s a “science vs. religion” debate, so that any agnostic scientists or theistic evolutionists “will be driven irrevocably toward non-belief”.
- I don’t agree with Dawkins on much, but I’d agree with him that belief in naturalistic evolution will erode and destroy belief in the truthfulness of scripture, since that’s the inescapable result when methodological naturalism is applied to the question of origins.
Gobbett presents the “warfare” model as a “century-old position first propagated by scientist and intellectual polymath John William Draper and Cornell University founder Andrew Dickson White.”
- Well, it may be that these fellows were the first people to articulate the idea, but naturalism and supernaturalism have been at odds for far longer than a century…no wait. It’s not quite naturalism and supernaturalism. The battle has always been between false religion and biblical Judaism/Christianity. The Jews were in a constant ideological battle with the false religion of the Amorites, Hittites, Philistines, etc. Jesus was in a constant ideological battle with the false religion of the Romans and Jews. Medieval Christians were in a constant ideological battle with the false religion of the Roman Catholic Church. Modern Christians are in a constant ideological battle with the false religion of Western Culture, which includes but is not limited to, naturalistic evolution.
Gobbett continues on, writing that “the weight of historical evidence stands against the warfare model”. He comments that the medieval church did not believe that the earth was flat, and Galileo was not imprisoned for his belief in heliocentrism. He notes how Isaac Newton was both a dedicated Christian and empirical scientist, but then sneakily shifts gears and writes how “most Christian geologists accepted ancient dates for the age of the earth from the 19th century onward; and many evangelical theologians and scientists incorporated evolutionary theory into their disciplines following the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859.”
- Just over a century ago, there were thousands of practicing phrenologists in North America and that entire medical field is regarded as worse than shamanism these days. Around 500 years ago, people were arguing for Sola Scriptura, and that idea is as equally debated today as it was 500 years ago. Gobbett, as a historian, must know that the historic existence or acceptance of any idea is the worst indication of its truthfulness. Truth is judged by God, and God is articulately revealed by scripture alone.
Trying to build his case, Gobbett presents Francis Collins and Owen Gingerich as examples of contemporary “scientists who promote concord between their faith and their academic disciplines.” He quotes Gingerich (the Anabaptist of the two) saying “I also believe that the book of Nature, in all its astonishing detail – the blade of grass, the missing mass five, or the incredible intricacy of DNA – suggest a God of purpose and a God of design. And I think that my belief makes me no less a scientist.”
- The “two books” idea (the book of God’s word and the book of God’s world) is one of those ideas that sounds clever because it rhymes, but completely falls apart when you actually try to understand it. God did not write two books, unless we completely abandon the meaning of “write” and “book” and remove any connection between words and reality. Does nature have a clear message to all? Is that message propositional? Books are propositional and have clarity. Nature is neither, because images aren’t clearly propositional. That’s why the constitution of the United States wasn’t a painting. Scripture even talks about the lack of clarity in nature in Romans 1, and scripture says that nature only tells us that God is eternal and powerful (i.e. whoever made this is older than this and more powerful that this).
Still building, Gobbett writes “”While we need not agree with everything Collins and Gingerich advocate, of course, both have produced popular works that reveal their stature as leading scientists and as testimonies to their Christian faith”.
- Why need we not agree with them? Because they don’t consider Adam and Even to actually be people in history? Because they don’t believe that sin is actually moral rebellion against God’s law? Because they have a worldview that is utterly inconsistent, apparently accepting historical miracles everywhere in scripture except in Genesis 1 & 2? Because they question whether or not the gospels are accurate portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth? How about I ignore Collins and Gingerich when they’re writing outside their fields of training? Why is it that when it comes to the questions of origins, an astonishing majority of the ink being spilled is by people writing outside of their field of expertise?
Gobbett makes two observations from this all:
1. The conflict metaphor has been slain, though Dawkins and some Christian authors still use it.
- Gobbett cannot hold back here, but takes a rather telling stab. The “Christian author” he has in mind is Henry Morris. He refers to Morris’ book The Long War Against God as a “deeply flawed work of historical scholarship”. I’m not a super fan of Morris myself, but judging all of creation science on the basis of Morris is like the medium of television by MTV; it’s not all there is, and it’s definitely not the best there is. There are many other writers in the creation circles who are better scholars (Kurt Wise or Delvin Lee Ratzsch) and exegetes (William Barrick or Douglas F. Kelly) than Morris.
2. The rise of science in Canada and America has not led to an abandonment of Christianity. Gobbett attempts to prove his point by citing two surveys that are separated by around a century. The first survey discovered that 42% of the scientists in North America believe in “a God to whom one may pray in expectation of receiving an answer”. The second survey discovered that almost 40% of the scientists in North America believed in a personal god.
- I honestly laughed out loud when I read this. The question on that survey was so general it was utterly useless. Even people who refer to their religion as “Jedi” pray, and belief in a personal god is just vague theism. As Christians, it should be important to us whether or not people pray to Donald Duck or the God of the Bible. Evolution hasn’t impacted the various forms of religion, both true and false, in western society? That’s utterly irrelevant to the question of whether or Darwinian Evolution leads people away from Biblical Christianity.
Gobbett closes his article saying “If history has anything to teach us, we need to approach this subject matter with generous portions of humility, intellectual integrity, and respect for the scientific disciplines involved.”
- Okay. Humility and integrity are good, as is respect. But it seems that Gobbett is getting at humility and integrity and respect in relation to scientists who disagree with the scriptures. Why is Gobbett, as a historian, not calling empirical scientists to humility, integrity and respect for the science of history since almost all of them are stepping from science labs into Gobbett’s field of expertise? Why does Gobbett not think that empirical scientists should have respect for the scripture as a historic document, written by the only eyewitness of the events, who just happens to be absolutely trustworthy? I’d say that any intellectual that doesn’t consider divine testimony that directly addresses the issues in question doesn’t have a whole lot of humility or integrity to speak of.
So, Gobbett’s basic case is that science and religion aren’t at war, and most people in history agree that they’re not locked in combat, but he makes a point that the new atheists still utilize the warfare model (and subtly suggests a parallel between them and *others* who use the model…i.e. people who believe in biblical creationism). Gobbett is a great historian, but he’s not a theologian or a bible exegete. Gobbett can only build his case from academic liberals who reject an orthodox view of scripture outright (among other things), and though we should ignore and reject some of the other things they say, we should listen to them when it comes to the question of origins. Finally, Gobbett (in a typical fashion it seems) rightly assumes the moral neutrality of the tools (i.e. the scientific method), but he applies that neutrality to those who use the tools as well (i.e. scientists), as if being unregenerate doesn’t affect how one thinks about questions like “is the Bible true?” Gobbett, like the previous 3 writers, seems to use the term “scientist” as a synonym for “rationally and morally neutral/objective”. If Gobbett has a biblical understanding regarding the noetic effects of sin, he sure hasn’t applied that understanding to the question of origins. Once again the anvil of scripture crushes the graham cracker of doubt.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Anvil Dropper” Unger