What Todd Wood would like to hear an evolutionary creationist say
  • SimonSimon July 2012
    I'm not sure how much this adds to the conversation, however we need to remember that evangelicalism has approximately the same relationship to Christianity as capitalism has to economics. Evangelicalism is a movement of change, re-interpretation, adaptation to changing environments, individualism and thus rejection of authority (see the work of David Bebbington for an analysis of this). As a result many in the evangelical fold are unwilling to look to history as their emphasis tends to be on "God doing new things". It is therefore hardly surprising that there is not the recognition of the historical context of the creation debate from YEC's & IDers who almost exclusively come from the evangelical fold. So although exchemists comments (and Michael Roberts articles amongst others) are valuable, I do not think they will necessarily be paid more than a cursory glance from the YECs/IDers whose entire world view is based around the present moment and their own personal (out of context) interpretation of the evidence.

    BTW I am not saying that there are not genuine evangelicals who try to understand their own context, however such individuals are rather rare (Denis Alexander would be one example). 
  • Thanks for the information, exchemist. I'll have a look before long.

    It would be fair to assume that either Todd Wood is historically illiterate, or that he is well aware that many educated people from the 19th century to today have claimed that their Christian faith and their beliefs about the long history of life on earth are quite compatible. I hope we would all have the charity to assume the latter.

    Perhaps "begin" was not a wise choice of words on his part, but I think he was trying to make the point that the task of reconciling Christian theology with evolutionary biology and geology has only just begun and has a long way to go.
  • SimonSimon July 2012
    ...but I think he was trying to make the point that the task of reconciling Christian theology with evolutionary biology and geology has only just begun and has a long way to go.

    But this is the nub of the argument I think exchemist and others are making. The task of reconciling Christian theology with (at least the overall themes) of evolutionary biology and geology has been going on for over 100 years, and for most Christian thinkers has been pretty much settled. Sure there will always be new issues arising due to new science, but the overall relationship of Christianity with evolutionary theory has been settled. The problem comes when people like Todd Wood (and perhaps yourself?) refuse to accept this and live with the myth that their YEC/ID/whatever represents some "new" take on the subject. A great example is the current ID movement not recognising how it is a recapitulation of the Paley design argument. Similarly the disagreement over penal substitution is not some "new" evidence that casts doubt on evolutionary theory, rather it is a thousand year old theological argument that will not be resolved (no matter what the science says) as long as Christians prefer different interpretations of the atonement. As such this "new project to create a new theology in the light of modern science" you seem to be so keen on is nothing of the sort. YEC/ID etc. is old hat, has been dealt with, and will not add anything new or beneficial to the Christian world view.
  • Simon - isn't this attitude of simply dismissing large portions of the church part of the problem?
  • Also, I don't see any claim anywhere that the young-age creation position is adding anything new whatsoever to Christian theology. I've no idea where you got that idea from. The actual claim is quite different - that the grand evolutionary narrative has required a rethink of much that was considered traditional Christian theology - a claim that I don't think you would dispute, and that is backed up by the shelves full of books on "Theology after Darwin" and similar themes.
  • GavinM July 2012
    It probably was a little ill thought out for Todd to use the word "begin" as indeed both Anthony and Exchemist point out there is a vast body of work on this topic already both modern and historical. I suspect Todd is not as ignorant of it as it might initially sound, but is just highlighting the new direction of theological thinking begun in partnership with evolution. From the perspective of post-Reformation/Enlightenment Americanised Christian thinking it is indeed something new (competitively).

    However, it should also be pointed out that many of the theological tools to do this (how to interpret Scriptural genre, various definitions of Fall and Sin, Christology, etc) have been discussed thoroughly throughout the history of the Church. The strand of Christianity that is Western and modern did indeed start to re-examine its thoughts on Scripture in light of evolution, but much of that work has been rediscovery of past thought as well as original thinking.

    To say that we are only beginning this process is to dismiss a (very) large portion of the Church both modern and historical. As much as it would be do dismiss the theological concerns of YEC out of hand. And demonstrably not the case.

    It has always annoyed me a little that books are marketed as things like 'theology after Darwin' etc as it is a bit misleading. It might be theology being speculated upon after Darwin's time, but more often than not such writings draw upon the rich history of theology down the ages. Much of which was quietly missed out on in the post-Reformation era of Western Christianity - hence our very modern ignorance of theologies rich legacy.

    John Hedley Brooke has an excellent essay on the state of Christianity and science in the mid-19th century in the book 'Reading Genesis after Darwin' that came out a couple of years back. Very interesting stuff. The first couple of sections in the book also deal a lot with historical overviews of how Scripture and science have been viewed down together through the centuries. I recommend the book (all of it!) as a great discussion on many aspects (scientific, Scriptural, historical, social, etc) of theological thinking on evolution.
  • SimonSimon July 2012
    Anthony - I apologise for the generalisations in my post earlier today. I have to admit that in the five or so years that I have known you and had such discussions I am generally impressed with your openness to acknowledge difficulties in your own position, an openness I imagine you wish I also had!!!

    I think the thing I am reacting to is a certain overly-spiritualised, charismatic wing of the evangelical church who have the attitude that God is directly guiding them as a "revival" generation who are "breaking new ground". Such people tend to have a mistrust of any type of institutional authority which includes conclusions drawn by historians of religion. Such people also seem to hold the YEC position almost as a badge of membership, and are often the most vocal in the origins debate. With these people in mind it is perhaps hardly surprising that as an academic I do dismiss them quite readily, simply because I hold their logic to be deeply flawed. Just because they make up a "large proportion" of the evangelical church does not mean that their position is any less flawed.
  • exchemist July 2012
    Gavin, thanks a lot for the pointer to Brooke. Sounds like a book I should read. 

    Anthony, Simon, actually I was thinking myself about the position of Wood. He's clearly no fool. For example, I saw a plea he made for creationists not to delude themselves that evolution "doesn't work" or is "about to collapse" (I suppose he had in mind the sort of desperate stuff one finds on Uncommon Descent and the like). He seems to be in the position of acknowledging that the science makes sense as far as it goes, but being unable to reconcile it with his biblical beliefs. I also think I detect that he shares Cardinal Newman's view (around the time of Origin of Species) that basing one's faith on the gaps in science is building it on sand: you are just asking to have your faith shattered, if and when the gaps are closed. For now that seems to me to leave Todd Wood in a unstable "transition state", where he acknowledges 2 mutually incompatible intellectual systems. I'll be intrigued to see how he resolves this for himself. 

    But, like Simon, I am not sanguine that he will have read - or if he has read, will have taken any notice of - the relevant European religious history. From my time in Houston I can attest that US Bible Belt people, however delightful, are often not exactly international in outlook. And I certainly recognise Simon's remarks about a reluctance among evangelicals to to accept prior authority (which I'd have thought would be fatal to any serious attempt to construct a system of theology with a half-life exceeding one generation, though that's another discussion). Also it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the thought of Anglicans and Catholics may have been implicitly dismissed by Wood, as coming from the wrong sort of Christian. 

    Several contributors besides myself have now made the point that acquiring some understanding of the history of religious ideas is pretty essential to making progress on this kind of issue. Otherwise we get trapped in a never-ending process of various people individually reinventing the wheel over and over again, many times square or elliptical rather than round. It seems to me that the whole YEC/ID phenomenon is a manifestation of precisely that - a failure to learn from the past.

    However, whether or not Wood is in a bit of a self-referential bubble, I am inclined at least to think that he may well not be one of Simon's charlatans. I suppose that, from me, that's grudging praise, of a sort. 
  • Simon - thanks for that. Maybe my experiences of YEC type things come from a different wing of the church? I tend to associate it more with the very conservative parts - small independent congregations, dark suits, old hymns - and those churches seem to be most likely to host an event with CMI or AIG, for example. I don't see their speakers doing much at the big charismatic churches, at least not recently. Maybe those churches are more into ID and other "new" things?