Conflicts ≠ CONFLICT: My last word on Cornelius Hunter’s Misunderstanding of the History of Science and Religion | The BioLogos Forum


(system) #1
Andrew Dickson White’s 2-volume screed, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), has profoundly influenced American thinking about religion and science right down to our own day—despite the fact that modern historians have thoroughly discredited both its overall attitude and many of the alleged “facts” it contains. As with this copy of the second printing (1897), it was handsomely bound in bright red cloth with gilt lettering, boldly proclaiming its author’s agenda. Photograph by Edward B. Davis.

Cornelius Hunter recently said that BioLogos “promote[s] the false Warfare Thesis” of science and religion. He was referring to the view that Christianity and science have always been engaged in ongoing, inevitable conflict, with science winning every battle--a view that was widely accepted for much of the last century, but almost all historians today think it’s badly mistaken. Hunter realizes that the Warfare Thesis has been decisively refuted, and he shares my enthusiasm for its demise. However, as I have already pointed out, if he really understood what originally motivated the Warfare Thesis, he wouldn’t be able to link BioLogos with that discarded idea.

Unfortunately, Hunter has replied by repeating his unfounded claim. Commenting on Deb Haarsma’s column about Jim Stump’s resignation from Bethel College (IN), he says this:

“President Deborah Haarsma expressed concern that Bethel College has decided that its faculty ought not to be advocating the view that God used evolution to create the first humans. The concern at BioLogos is that such a decision ‘effectively sets faith commitments in opposition to clear scientific evidence in God’s creation.’

This is the Warfare Thesis. Religion ought not to oppose ‘science.’”

I could write volumes about this, but I’ll cut to the chase. Hunter’s presentation of Andrew Dickson White’s overall attitude toward Christianity and science (see the opening paragraphs of his column) is on target. He also understands that historians have rejected White’s depiction of the history of science and religion as unsupported and profoundly biased by his own views on secularism and higher education. What he fails to understand—or at least, what he fails to tell his readers—is that we historians continue to think there are some instances of genuine conflict between science and religion in the historical record, while at the same time we have wholly rejected the larger conclusion that science and religion are engaged in ongoing, inevitable conflict.

In short, as I like to tell my students, conflicts ≠ CONFLICT. This subtlety apparently escapes Hunter, but he’s not an historian and the subtleties that historians deal with daily are often lost on the general public. Unfortunately, by presenting a bowdlerized version of the Warfare Thesis and its deficiencies to his readers, he’s selling yet one more historical myth to readers who don’t know enough to see the problem. Just as Copernicus cautioned his readers that “mathematics is for mathematicians”, I caution mine that history is for historians.

Don’t just take my word for it. No historians have done more to debunk the Warfare Thesis than the late David Lindberg and his close friend Ronald Numbers, both of whom taught at the University of Wisconsin, one of the top programs in the world for the history of science. In an article they wrote nearly 30 years ago, they argued, “We are not suggesting that all was harmony—that serious conflict did not exist—only that it was not the simple bipolar warfare described by White.” Note the title of their essay: “Beyond War and Peace.” Their overall point is that no simple conceptual box—neither warfare nor harmony nor anything else—accurately captures the whole history of science and religion. Thus, historians now stress the complexity of the real historical situation.

My first goal in writing for BioLogos is to get the history right, in all of its complexity. If we want to overthrow the Warfare Thesis (and all of my work is aimed at doing just that), we can’t be replacing it with an equally inaccurate, sanitized view of things. My columns aim to provide glimpses of historical episodes that readers can trust.

Finally, as for BioLogos—the organization that gives me a platform to advance good history—we do think that some parts of genuine science are sometimes in conflict with some widely accepted interpretations of the Bible, and in those cases we ought to look for new interpretations. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’d bet the ranch that Hunter believes this, too. Does he really believe (for example) that the Earth lies motionless in the center of the universe? Virtually all Christians in Copernicus’ time believed that the Bible contradicts Copernican astronomy. Likewise, nearly all Christians in the 17th century believed the Earth and the universe were created around 4000 BC. Does Hunter believe that Christians shouldn’t have changed their minds in those cases, in response to accumulating scientific evidence? BioLogos accepts the evidence for biological evolution and the old age of the Earth and universe, and so we are trying to help Christians think about that part of science, just as Kepler and Galileo helped Christians think about astronomy in their day.

All told, Hunter would do well to study Galileo’s Letter to Christina before accusing BioLogos of promoting the Warfare Thesis. Would he have accused Galileo of the same thing?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/conflicts-conflict-my-last-word-on-cornelius-hunters-misunderstanding-of-th

Here’s What’s Not Going on with BioLogos | The BioLogos Forum
(Dr. Ted Davis) #2

As with my earlier column on this topic (http://biologos.org/blog/heres-whats-not-going-on-with-biologos), I invite comments and questions. I don’t plan any further replies to Dr. Hunter, though I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t keep spreading this misunderstanding of BioLogos and the Warfare Thesis, since it fits his general narrative so well: He holds that evolution is not science, rather it’s nothing more than ancient Greek atheistic metaphysics that barely rises from time to time to incorporate scientific information in a highly selective way; and, that Christians who accept evolution are embracing the Warfare Thesis, since they are cowardly modifying a traditional interpretation of the Bible rather than having the guts to say publicly that they reject consensus science.

Since the most recent column in my series on Antebellum America, I’ve written a column on the anniversary of the Scopes trial and two columns explaining what’s wrong with Hunter’s conclusion about BioLogos. I need now to get back to that series. Barring any extraordinary developments, then, look for a column about Benjamin Silliman in about two weeks. There will be more coming about him, then it’s on to Edward Hitchcock, one of my all-time favorite people in the history of science. Stay tuned!


(Cornelius_Hunter) #3

Hi Ted:

Great picture of White’s volume! I did respond to your above post here:

Also, I’d like to clarify that I do not hold that evolution is “ancient Greek atheistic metaphysics.” In fact, quite the opposite, I have many, many times, explained that evolution is not atheistic. Nor do I intend the term “evolutionist” as a pejorative or that evolutionists are cowards. I’m not sure how you came to these judgments, but I’ve never said anything like this and I’m sorry it has come to this.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #4

@Cornelius_Hunter,

Your references (in various places) to Epicurus in connection with evolution do tend to imply that it’s related to “ancient Greek atheistic metaphysics.” I understand that you see early modern Christians as the primary locus of pre-Darwinian evolutionary thinking (and that is partly right, as I’ve said), but if you don’t wish to be misunderstood concerning atheism than it would be best just to leave Epicurus out of this entirely. Even though he did have crude evolutionary ideas.


(Cornelius_Hunter) #5

Well Epicureanism was not atheist, or at least not necessarily atheist. And more to the point at hand, their motivations for a strictly naturalistic origins certainly were not from atheism. For example, as you can see in De Rerum Natura, the problem of evil was a key driver. At points Lucretius reads amazingly like a modern source.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #6

Do you think we can expand our areas of agreement here, George? (For the benefit of my readers, Cornelius Hunter is known as “George,” just as Edward Davis is known as “Ted.”)

For example, in the final paragraph of this column I wrote this: “Does [Hunter] really believe (for example) that the Earth lies motionless in the center of the universe? Virtually all Christians in Copernicus’ time
believed that the Bible contradicts Copernican astronomy. Likewise, nearly all Christians in the 17th century believed the Earth and the universe were created around 4000 BC. Does Hunter believe that Christians shouldn’t have changed their minds in those cases, in response to accumulating scientific evidence?”

I asked these rhetorical questions, obviously, b/c you’ve said that BioLogos promotes the Warfare Thesis, and you based that partly on the fact that we do believe it’s sometimes necessary and appropriate to look for new interpretations of certain biblical texts, in light of information coming from science. I’d be interested in hearing your answers (they needn’t be very lengthy, unless that’s your wish) to the questions I posed here.

Are these good examples of instances in which Christians should look for new interpretations?

If not, why not?

If so, given BioLogos’ view that evolution is good science (I realize you don’t agree with us), then why shouldn’t we hold a similar attitude also about evolution?

And, ultimately–do you think Galileo also fell victim to Warfare-type thinking, even though White hadn’t been born yet?


(Cornelius_Hunter) #7

Ted:

===
you’ve said that BioLogos promotes the Warfare Thesis, and you based that partly on the fact that we do believe it’s sometimes necessary and appropriate to look for new interpretations of certain biblical texts, in light of information coming from science.

I’m not sure if you read my blog posts, but I certainly did not mean to suggest that. For instance, I wrote this in the blog you responded to:

“Of course Scripture can have different interpretations. But the science leaves no such wiggle room. It does not prove, indicate or suggest that the species arose spontaneously, as a consequence of natural laws and processes. That is a metaphysical mandate that is in conflict with the science.”

So to answer your question, yes, those and many other examples would be instances in which Christians can look for different interpretations.

(continued) …


(Gregory) #8

Hello Cornelius/George,

This is what you wrote: “Instead, BioLogos fits precisely into, yes, the Warfare Thesis.”

In what way did you “not mean to suggest that”?

  • Gregory

p.s. now there are 2 threads on this, so I’ll respond in the other since the quotations are there, unless the 2 threads merge into 1


(Cornelius_Hunter) #9

Ted:

===
If so, given BioLogos’ view that evolution is good science (I realize you don’t agree with us), then why shouldn’t we hold a similar attitude also about evolution?

I didn’t say you shouldn’t.

===
And, ultimately–do you think Galileo also fell victim to Warfare-type thinking, even though White hadn’t been born yet?

I would say the Galileo Affair was more complicated than that. You had politics (encompassing a lot), the science, Galileo’s personality, and lastly biblical interpretations, all going on concurrently, and most of them not in Galileo’s favor.


(Cornelius_Hunter) #10

Ted:

Well this is not about a disagreement over scientific details. I realize evolutionists believe evolution is good science, but we need to understand the reasons why they believe that. This is abundantly documented and not something evolutionists have left in question. Their reasoning is theological. Yes they point to the fossils, genetics, and so forth, but evolutionary thought interprets the empirical evidence according to a particular theology. This runs all through the apologetic literature, and it is why they are certain of the theory. This is not an idea people are contemplating, it is a fact. Spontaneous origins must be true. Then evolutionists point to the skeptics and accuse them of imposing religion on the science.


(Cornelius_Hunter) #11

Ted:

Sorry for my slow response, I just now found your post and gracious invitation. In the meantime I did post another blog on this topic.

I think you make many good points, and I certainly agree with you that the history of White’s work differs substantially form BioLogos. I did not mean to draw any such close parallels. Nor did I intend to use the term “evolutionist” as a pejorative.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #12

I’m glad you found my invitation, @Cornelius_Hunter, and thank you for the information about your further post. I linked that one in my further reply this morning:

http://biologos.org/blog/conflicts-conflict-my-last-word-on-cornelius-hunters-misunderstanding-of-th

While we may still differ on some other matters, thank you for affirming my point that BioLogos isn’t a close parallel with White’s agenda. I’m sorry to have misread your use of “evolutionist” as a pejorative. Opponents of BioLogos, including mainstream creationists, do quite often use that word in precisely that way, with great imprecision that deliberately (IMO) creates confusion, heat rather than light. Ken Ham’s dismissal of Bill Dembski as a “theistic evolutionist” (a wholly inaccurate assessment) is a case in point.


(Gregory) #13

Let’s clarify terms early on so that no one mistakes something as ‘pejorative’ when it is simply meant in a technical sense. I don’t mind starting because I’ve done work on this for several years and see several terms repeatedly misused both by IDists and by people who are promoting ‘evolutionary creation’ and/or ‘theistic evolution’ at BioLogos. (I don’t use the term ‘BioLogians’ because the term ‘BioLogos’ has not gained enough currency thus far.) If clarification is achieved by consensus, then at least Ted can stop putting ‘evolutionist’ in “scare quotes”. 

There is a need to clarify because of comments like this by @Larry_Bunce: “From what I see on Dr. Hunter’s blog, I gather he thinks evolution is a belief system, not science…” and this one by @TedDavis “Hunter wants us to believe that evolution is just bad metaphysics with no empirical warrant” as well as by @PGarrison “you won’t wait long to be told that evolutionary theory ‘isn’t science.’ How convenient to just define your opponent out of the desired classification of science.”

Here’s the precise clarification move: ‘Evolutionism’ and ‘creationism,’ no matter what qualifying terms if any are used in front of them, are both ideologies. (The identifying ‘-ism’ in English language is the hint, but not exclusive.) They are not ‘science’, they are not ‘philosophy’ and they are not ‘theology’. According to this technical-social categorisation, anyone, no matter their personality or worldview, who self-labels as a ‘creationist’ or an ‘evolutionist’ is an ideologist. And if you call someone an ‘evolutionist’ or a ‘creationist’ you mean intentionally in a technical-social sense to identify them as an ideologist.

(Likewise so with ‘naturalism’ and ‘naturalist’ regardless of either qualifier ‘methodological’ or ‘philosophical’ [although the obsolete job/profession of ‘naturalist’ adds to the intrigue], but let’s leave that aside for now to hone in on the creationism/evolutionism ideologies.)

Again, clarification is the goal. This means that while biological evolution is a legitimate natural scientific theory (whether one agrees with all, some or none of it aside), evolutionism is not. Likewise, while people believe in Creation theologically, being a ‘creationist’ is non-scientific and ideological by definition.

Self-labelled ‘creationists’ don’t have to be anti-scientific, although they often are in one way or another. But nevertheless simply by accepting that ideology actually is involved is a big step for many people to take (which opens many new and interesting avenues of ‘objective’, ‘subjective’ and ‘reflexive’ questioning). BioLogos has not yet made this step of recognition, while neither has the Discovery Institute (e.g. Dembski mistakenly conflates ‘evolutionism’ and ‘scientific theory’).

BioLogos, however, definitively rejects ‘evolutionism’ (they call it an “atheist worldview” and “a kind of scientism”), so Hunter should at the very least agree with them on that. Thus, with the new categorisation, to call BioLogos people ‘evolutionists’ is simply a technical mistake, not necessarily a pejorative intention.

Yet there is nevertheless still a problem at BioLogos with people who intentionally accept for themselves the label ‘creationist’. So, when Ted writes about “Opponents of BioLogos, including mainstream creationists…” he is not actually being clear communicatively about what distinguishes BioLogos from (those ‘other’) ‘creationists’ except for the qualifier ‘evolutionary’. Does Ted think of himself as a ‘creationist’ too, if not as an ‘evolutionist’?

Here is BioLogos’ best attempt to officially distinguish terms on its website, but without any acknowledgement of ideology.

BioLogos seems to still want to be ‘creationists’, just not ‘creationists’ who are anti-science, meaning specifically, anti-evolutionary science. Folks like Hunter, otoh, are challenging whether or not evolutionary theory (wide variety) even counts as ‘science’. However, at the same time Hunter confuses things by not distinguishing ‘evolutionary science’ from ‘evolutionist’ ideology (and please don’t bring in [neo-]Darwinism leading to a 200 comment thread diversion, a typical move by IDists).

Although the topic Ted raises is only superficially about ‘history’ and almost entirely about the way people use various terms today, I certainly agree with Ted that BioLogos is far from being a ‘warfare thesis’ institution or collection of scholars and laypeople.

p.s. as for communicative prediction: I predict Cornelius (George) Hunter will get ‘crushed’ in this discussion. He is, after all, as a DI fellow, defending, advocating and promoting the ideology of IDism, which is currently framed as a ‘strictly scientific’ theory by the DI, but is far from being just that. Hopefully the conversation at BioLogos will be edifying for him and lower the rancour that many IDists hold against BioLogos and their support for evolutionary science alongside/within biblical Creation. Maybe at least he’ll tame his published rhetoric that BioLogos is a ‘warfare thesis’ institution.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #14

I’m sorry, George, but you said all of these things, which Iquote directly, in order as you state them:

(1) To aid in this presentation, evolutionary thinkers also constructed a false history known today as the Conflict orWarfare Thesis. It can be traced back to Voltaire and his mythological reconstruction of the Galileo Affair, but it gathered strength in the nineteenth century. The idea is that science and religion are in conflict as science churns out new, occasionally inconvenient, truths while religion retreats and resists where it can.

(2) So according to the Warfare Thesis, there is a conflict for Christians who are unwilling to bend their interpretation of Scripture. Their religious faith is in conflict with science.

(3) But the Warfare Thesis continues. In spite of its obvious failure and falsehood, it is too powerful to resist. A few years ago when Haarsma became President of BioLogos she called for respectful discourse. I took that opportunity to voice my concern that BioLogos was reliant on the Warfare Thesis. Not only was there no reply, but BioLogos has continued to promote the false Warfare Thesis.

None of these quotes are taken out of context, and all of them consist of consecutive complete sentences with no deletions or additions. Forgive me, George, if I therefore draw this conclusion from your column (these are now my words):

BioLogos promotes the false Warfare Thesis, b/c it believes that religious faith must always yield to scientific progress.

The words prior to the comma are a close paraphrase of yours. The words after the comma follow directly from the series of quotes given above. If I am mistaken, I think many other readers will find themselves
in the same place.

My two columns were intended to refute both parts of my sentence, which fairly re-states the substance of your accusation about BioLogos.

The other subjects raised in your column are interesting,but not to the point; hence I left all of that out in my columns.

There’s an easy way to resolve this, George: retract your inaccurate claim that BioLogos has relied on the Warfare Thesis and continues to promote it.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #15

@Gregory,

I’m not interested in “crushing” George or anyone else. I’m interested in the truth. Perceptions of truth can fairly differ, but what George said about BioLogos and the Warfare Thesis is demonstrably false. I seek simply to set the record straight. George and others are entitled to their own opinions, but they aren’t entitled to their own facts. The Warfare Thesis was formulated for political reasons, not specifically to advance evolution per se; the (reasonable) belief that science does sometimes call for re-interpreting the Bible is not equivalent to accepting the (false) Warfare Thesis; and, BioLogos entirely rejects the Warfare Thesis.

On some other matters he’s written about, George’s ideas are at least partly right, and sometimes quite interesting. Let’s not elevate this into a boxing match–er, I meant to say a hockey game.


(Gregory) #16

“I’m not interested in ‘crushing’ George or anyone else.”

This is young persons’ jargon, Ted. Lighten up a bit at the non-literalness, non-violence of it. :wink:

Like I said, this topic is only superficially about ‘history,’ your field. It is predominantly about how people see science, philosophy and theology/worldview today, not in the past. It is about philosophy (and the impoverishment of it in the USA nowadays, which jolts @Cornelius_Hunter into the current ‘hipster’ evangelical ideology of IDism) more than history.

If all you want to do is have Cornelius/George apologise, then the thread will be over. As if you wanted a ‘gotcha!’ But there’s much more beneath the surface (some of which will likely make you and BioLogos uncomfortable) and imo it’s a welcome move that Cornelius/George has come to BioLogos to have discussions in a ‘gracious dialogue’ atmosphere (very different from censor-filled Uncommon Descent, where you are already active Ted).

History lessons, however, will only take us so far. Hunter obviously has more to say than just a ‘historical’ critique of BioLogos’ chosen terms (e.g. ‘evolutionary creationism’). Communications is a key field, which is why I started above with clarifications.

I’ve already agreed that attributing ‘warfare thesis’ to BioLogos was wrong, so please acknowledge or credit that, Ted, in a spirit of ‘gracious dialogue.’

Thanks.


(Gregory) #17

How about a chess match then, Ted? (But thanks for the Canadian ‘hockey game’ reference, since there are not only USAmericans commenting on this site.)


(Cornelius_Hunter) #18

Ted:

I’m perplexed. You characterized me as saying that BioLogos promotes the Warfare Thesis because, at least in part, they look for new biblical interpretations. I never wrote anything like this, and in fact I wrote the exact opposite (“Of course Scripture can have different interpretations”).

When I pointed this out you instead cited passages which also do not make that point. You conclude with this characterization:

“BioLogos promotes the false Warfare Thesis, b/c it believes that religious faith must always yield to scientific progress.”

I don’t know how you arrived at that conclusion from the passages. This follows several other characterizations that I needed to correct. Perhaps you are reading something into my text.

===
There’s an easy way to resolve this, George: retract your inaccurate claim that BioLogos has relied on the Warfare Thesis and continues to promote it.

I would be glad to retract that statement, but I need some reason to. The statements from BioLogos are precisely in the Warfare Thesis tradition. Evolutionists are making religious claims and then accusing others of doing the same, while insisting that it is mere science behind evolutionary theory, and then seeking a false “harmony.”

I mean, I could try to use some other terminology if you would like. This is a misrepresentation of the science, it is hypocrisy, it is metaphysical, etc. But it comes right out of the Warfare Thesis tradition, so that seems like an appropriate term to use.


(Gregory) #19

No, they’re making ideological claims. Your terminology is imprecise. So yes, please “try to use some other terminology.”


#20

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