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Peter Bekins

I would note, of course, that Warfield and A.A. Hodge are also the primary theologians responsible for developing the contemporary doctrine of inerrancy. Interestingly, John Stott's commentary on Romans also has an odd excursus on theistic evolution.

In general, Reformed Christians in the traditions of RTS, WTS, etc, are aware of these views but distance themselves from them. They are considered eccentricities.


Excellent point, Pete. And thanks for the reminder about John Stott. I read that commentary a long time ago, but forgot about the excursus.

Esteban Vázquez

It has long bothered me that these "young, restless, and Reformed" folks (many of whom were loud and passionate Arminians when some of us were quietly reading Calvin's Institutes in Latin) seem to think that they're more Reformed than C. Hodge, B. B. Warfield, and J. G. Machen. This is, of course, impossible.

G. Kyle Essary

And they thought that all of us who are more Kuyperian were least until they started liking they're trying to turn Bavinck into one of their dead celebrities.


Great quote. And I think it's always worth underscoring that the most *rigorously* scientific commentator would have to agree with the substance of the quote. This is confused by Warfield's erroneous positing of "an extreme form of evolutionism," by which he apparently means atheistic acceptance of evolution, as opposed to theistic acceptance of evolution. But evolutionary theory is the same, whether held by an atheist or a theist.

On the one hand, as a matter of method, a scientist won't appeal to one-time miraculous interruptions of the natural order to explain a phenomenon. On the other hand, no scientist can say, *as a scientist*, that such one-off events can be ruled out. At the most, a given scientist might (or might not) say that she is *personally* convinced that such events don't happen and that God's existence is so unlikely as to be dismissed.

In other words, the atheistic scientist is not more scientific than the theistic scientist: science is not a belief system, but a method.


Quite fair, Brooke. And then comes the hard work of correlating conclusions made in the "hard science" realm with conclusions we have made on the basis of inquiry carried out with other methods, other "language games" (to use Wittgenstein's terminology), and other levels of analysis and abstraction.

The reason why it's necessary, practically speaking, for theists to qualify their acceptance of evolution if they accept it is that there are some a-theists who claim that evolution entails their belief system. Said atheists agree with brand X versions of fundamentalism, not the real McCoy, represented by the Hodges, Warfield, and Machen. Politics always makes strange bedfellows.

Jonathan Bartlett

Just to point out, modern evolutionists who saw someone take this tack, where someone allows for God working freely outside of law and chance (and even more so if they make any inference on that basis), would be equally condemned by the scientific culture as a young-earth creationist.

While it might be _possible_ for theistic evolutionists to work the action of God into their notion of history, the only ones who _practically_ do so are the creationists, and the only ones who _rigorously_ do so are the young-earth creationists.

My own adherence, however, to young-earth creationism has nothing to do with Genesis 1 and 2. I have historically viewed them as metaphorical, though I am now much more open to a literal interpretation. I always doubted the standard theory of evolution on engineering principles, but never doubted the timeline. However, the last hundred years of research by both creationists and evolutionists have pretty much shown that for Genesis 6-9 to be true, most of the "geologic time" recorded in the fossil record has to be from the flood, not from millions of years.

The reason why the dividing lines have been drawn deeper is not because the young-earth creationists are more foolhardy than our forebears in the 1800s and early 1900s, but rather because a century of research has refined what the relevant options look like. The Creation Research Society, for instance, used to accept both old-earth "gap" theorists and young-earth creationists. It still does, technically, but there are simply no longer any gap theorists who also hold to a global flood. The research has essentially tied the two together.

Anyway, having once snubbed my nose at young-earth creationism, I can understand why others don't take it very seriously. Nonetheless, when you look at how much of the Bible requires vast reinterpretation for not having a global flood (think not only Genesis, but, say, 2 Peter 3).

From the other direction, note that Charles Hodge, who, despite being anti-Darwinian, actually liked the general idea of evolution. However, his ideas never caught on, precisely because the project of the evolutionists is based on writing the miraculous out of history (which, interestingly, is predicted in 2 Peter 3). This is true even of the Christians, who want to remove the miraculous from history and simply place it at the beginning, but only in certain forms (such as the laws of physics).

It is a mistake to view evolution as a conclusion of science. Rather, it is a conclusion of materialism, for which Warfield, in the paragraph you highlighted, was adamantly against.

The whole evolutionary project relies at its core on understanding earth history entirely in reference to natural causes alone, and Warfield stands in direct opposition to that.

A good case-in-point is the reaction of the academy to Intelligent Design. In the case of Michael Behe, who is an evolutionist, his own University has a web page up denouncing his views. And he's one of the ones the academy has treated *well*.

Sorry for the long post.



On the contrary, thank you for taking the time to comment.

A couple of remarks. All of the sciences today, and the applied sciences, from engineering to medicine, have no need of God in their equations. This does not set biology or geology apart from the other sciences.

It's the law of parsimony. The law has appropriate and inappropriate uses. A scientist, theist or atheist, who interprets the biological evidence in terms of descent is, it seems to me, doing just what we want him to do. This is an appropriate use of the law of parsimony. For an inappropriate use, see below.

Or would you rather have your doctor explain your cancer in spiritual terms? Everyone with a half a brain knows that our health is a function of very complex psychosomatic relationships which, at least from the point of view of the patient or doctor or both, may have a spiritual dimension as well. No one will bat an eye at that. But still, we don't expect the doctor to diagnose on that basis, or propose treatment on that basis.

We want the doctor to use reductive logic on the implicit assumption that reality is layered in such a way that each layer can be explained without reference to the ones "above" and "below" it. I can exemplify if this sounds odd to you.

My physics teacher in high school was a nuclear engineer. He was an atheist but he couldn't help noticing how us kids got all animated in talking about God and faith and science things. So he piled into the discussion with a remarkably candid observation. He prefaced his comments by saying he was an atheist (I think for reasons of personal tragedy, like losing the love of his life in an accident or to sickness; this, BTW, is the reason historians say Darwin lost his faith, or found his faith to reduced to a basket case of what it once was). But then our teacher said he was in awe of the fact that the law of gravity came out to be perfectly symmetrical numerically, no matter how often things were re-measured, with ever more accurate instruments.

In short he was telling us he found a reason to postulate an Engineer, even if he didn't and couldn't, because he couldn't bear to attribute to that engineer the tragedy he had endured.

Physical reality hang together beautifully. He worshipped the ground (to use Tillich's term) on which he walked as an engineer. It was metaphysical reality that made no sense to him. That was the rub.

Since then I have known many scientists who are so entranced by the way the world works, that aspect of the world they study. IMO they worship "the unknown God" behind it all, so much so that they recoil at the thought of associating that God with the God spoken of, say, the Bible, tribal totem that he is.

One can sense this in some of Einstein's comments, though he is all over the place, blowing bubbles as it were on these things.

Really, there are plenty of scientists who believe in intelligent design. They just don't believe in Intelligent Design.

Finally, and for that reason, it is false to say that Hodge's ideas did not catch on. They pre-existed him, and they continue after him. That's because we are talking about a conviction that it is easy to grasp with no substantial evidence in its disfavor: it is possible to (1) accept as the most parsimonious thesis available the notion that the biological and geological evidence suggest a remote chronological origin for the earth and common descent of the species, and (2) hold to creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua.

How is this so? On the same basis that I can say yes, at some level, biologists are right that art and preaching are means of attracting mates just like everything that humans do.

And I can point to the particular biographies of artists and preachers as proof texts for the thesis.

Fine, but that doesn't invalidate an entirely different way of looking at art, pretty much as artists themselves tend to do: as an exploration of experience, of the extraordinary collaboration of eye and hand, as Marilynne Robinson puts it in her new book, Absence of Mind, in which she lays ideological Darwinism low over and over again, without ever giving up on the theory of evolution as our best current explanation for the evidence in hand.

Jonathan Bartlett

Posting this in installments because apparently I went over the word limit.

"All of the sciences today, and the applied sciences, from engineering to medicine, have no need of God in their equations. This does not set biology or geology apart from the other sciences."

While I disagree to some extent (my senior paper in seminary is about utilizing non-material entities in scientific reasoning), let me put that aside for a moment. Biology and geology are distinct from other sciences because they deal with history. Physics, for instance, deals with what normally happens. History, however, deals with what did happen. When you use the assumptions of physics to do history, you write God out as an active participant - God's participation is more-or-less passive. Can Jesus' resurrection be understood by physics? Probably not. Certainly not by biology. Can it be understood by history? Yes. Did it have an effect on geology? Yes, the stone was moved.

It is precisely at the point where you move from what *normally* happens to what *did* happen that any assumption of naturalism will be brought forth. That's precisely the mindset that 2 Peter 3 addresses. Taking what normally happens today and extending it back into the past is simply not a tenable way for a Christian to understand history.

As to your doctor example:

"But still, we don't expect the doctor to diagnose on that basis, or propose treatment on that basis."

Why not? If, as you pointed out, there may be a spiritual dimension, why are we systematically ignoring it? Shouldn't we, as Christians, be systematically focusing on it instead? The reason why medicine leaves out spirituality is precisely the reason biology does - it is attempting to form a view of a person that is based on physics. Why should we normalize our pursuits and investigations to standards which are antithematic?

This is the place where Christianity has lost its way. Academics such as Noll correctly point out that evangelicals have often left their mind behind. But most evangelicals who have pursued a life of the mind have thought it worthwhile to do so as the world does it and not by bringing in a uniquely Christian perspective into academics. A few have managed to do so in a field or two (for instance, Scot McKnight), but even they often times denigrate other evangelicals who do so in other areas.

I agree with your "unknown God" examples. But the problem is that it is only part of the story of God's action.

In our current reducible-to-physics mindset, everything must have a historical cause for it to be real. While the advent of historicism does indeed shed a lot of needed light onto all human activities, I disagree that it is the whole story. In our current physics-only mindset, explanations must be historical. If I find a relationship in nature that is formal instead of historical, I have to posit a historical cause for that to make sense. But why? If God is the Creator, why cannot something have a logical relationship to something that is based on the Creator's design independent of any historical basis?

That is precisely the fight that Warfield was fighting. Christianity isn't inconsistent with the idea that some animals came from other animals. It is, however, inconsistent with the idea that God was not actively doing something in history, and left no trace of what He was doing.

Jonathan Bartlett

Along the same lines, I never realized until my late 20s how much secularism I had swallowed growing up. One day I was thinking about history, and I had the question - "what was God doing in this action of history?" (I forget which part of history I was thinking about at the time) But what startled me was not the question, but the fact that the first 20 years of my life I had never asked such a question about history. I had studied history in terms of *theological ideas* and what they did, *great religious people* and what they did, but never, ever did I think about what God Himself was doing in history.

Why not? Because we've convinced ourselves either (a) that He is practically irrelevant to the actual process of history, or (b) that in order to be relevant to our secular friends we have to give up on thinking about what God might be doing.

Of course, it is dangerous to think about what God is doing in history, and all sorts of grave mischief has resulted from it. But the solution is not to give it up. Why give up such a splendid pursuit simply because of what someone might do with it?

And yet, in all the books on history, or even Christian history or Church history, I never see someone wrestle directly with the question, "what is God doing with history at this moment? Where is God taking us?" At the end of the day, this is precisely the way Christians need to be thinking about history. When you see that Liebniz and Newton both invent calculus at the same time, you have to wonder, was God trying to emphasize something? Was there a move in history that God was putting in motion and had doubled-up the ideas in people's minds? Or was it just a product of the history of math, that enough of the prerequisites had been discovered that calculus was simply the next thing on the block. I don't know the answer, and the biggest reason I haven't a clue is that no one in the academy has taken the head time to look into it, because that's not what physics-minded people think about.

You could rightly argue that there is no methodology for determining God's action, or understanding God's involvement in the world. But that's precisely because no group has bothered to attempt it.

Anyway, that's my "what's wrong with the world" speech :)


Very nice conversation, Jonathan.

I am just as troubled as you are by the old and new positivisms which have been proclaimed in the name of science. If you haven't taken a look at Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind (2010), I encourage you to do so. She picks apart positivism with great skill.

I disagree with your attempt to dismiss things that geology and biology (and physics and the other sciences) have to say about the past by interpolation and extrapolation off of a set of data points. The suggestion, furthermore, that biologists and geologists (and all the others) should add God back into their equations when dealing with the past when they don't for the present is also not convincing. All the sciences have to approach the past, present, and future with the same equations. Interpolation and extrapolation are normal procedures - and subject to abuse - in reference to any point along the chronological continuum.

Finally, at least in the United States, there are plenty of doctors who practice holistic medicine. I have nothing against it. In fact, I have a great uncle who is a surgeon who now has a thriving holistic practice. I would simply observe that my great uncle routinely puts his patients in the care of non-holistic colleagues whenever his holistic methods reach their limits, something that happens every day.

W. Scott Womer

But at that time they thought the living cell was filled with jelly. Today the theory of evolution does not allow any divine(God)help; and if so it's not the theory of evolution. Can't the theists see through the hand waving nonsense?

John Hobbins

If you are suggesting, Scott, that practitioners of the science of biology the world over constitute some kind of vast anti-Christian conspiracy, I don't see it

There are dozens of converging lines of evidence which suggest that the universe as we know it contains deep time and deep space and a progression from nothing to a world of incredible complexity.

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    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
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    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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