Here’s What’s Not Going on with BioLogos | The BioLogos Forum

(system) #1

In a dense, rambling blog post published on July 26, Cornelius Hunter accuses us at BioLogos of “promot[ing] the false Warfare Thesis” of science and religion, a view that he says “was constructed by evolutionists to frame the origins debate in their favor.” Although in that column he does not directly associate the Warfare Thesis with Andrew Dickson White, he has done so elsewhere and it’s abundantly clear that White’s idea is precisely what Hunter accuses BioLogos of advancing. As I’ve explained myself, White helped create the view that the history of science and religion is best seen in terms of an ongoing, inevitable conflict throughout Christian history, with science always winning the battle. An outspoken advocate of secularism in higher education, over the course of his career White produced a 2-volume doorstopper that painted progressive science as the hero and Christian theology as the backward villain. Although the opening chapter pits creation versus evolution, the rest is devoted to medicine, astronomy, meteorology, and several other topics, all subsumed under his grand conflict narrative. Incidentally, although White wasn’t trying to promote atheism—he believed that Christian charity was vital for the modern world—it’s no accident that you can download the whole thing at a site called

Eager proponents of this notion are easily found amidst the current culture war, as Hunter realizes. Although he notes correctly that “historians have shown that this Warfare Thesis is a false history,” he fails to point out that a current BioLogos Fellow (me) is one of the historians who made it possible for him to say this in the first place. The irony is not lost on me.

As a graduate student in the early 1980s, because my interest in Christianity and science was already known, the late David C. Lindberg invited me to observe the private conference that produced one of the first books directly to challenge the Warfare Thesis. I then completed a dissertation on the positive, formative influence of specific Christian theological views on key aspects of the Scientific Revolution—a specific example of what can be done when the Warfare Thesis is discarded. That was just the first of several projects in the same spirit, including an essay for a trade book from Harvard University Press refuting the widespread myth that Isaac Newton embraced the idea of a clockwork universe that limited God’s role in nature. As I told readers when I first introduced myself at BioLogos, “my scholarly work aims to debunk the now-common view that the history of science and Christianity is one of ongoing, inevitable conflict—with science winning a bitter war against religion.”

Most recently, three months ago I delivered a commentary at another private conference devoted to understanding the Warfare Thesis and its legacy. My theme was the damaging influence of the Warfare Thesis on the theological Modernism of the last century. So far I am the only historian to have investigated that important, but long overlooked topic. When I drew on that work some time ago for BioLogos, I didn’t explicitly mention the Warfare Thesis, as I did at the conference. Nevertheless, that column illustrates how upholding an orthodox understanding of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus enables Christian proponents of evolution to avoid the trap that engulfed the Modernists and their intellectual descendants when they bought the Warfare Thesis.

Thus, Hunter’s claim that BioLogos advances the Warfare Thesis is wholly unfounded. In his opinion, apparently, we’ve swallowed that idea simply because we find the scientific evidence for evolution persuasive (while he claims that “evolutionary theory is not scientific” at all). He can say this only because he believes that the Warfare Thesis “was constructed by evolutionists to frame the origins debate in their favor.” I beg to differ.

Historians have known for a long time that White went on the warpath against what he disparagingly called “dogmatic theology” as a way of taking revenge against political opponents in the New York State Assembly—not to promote evolution. When the US Congress passed the Morrill Land-Grant Acts during the Civil War, new financial resources were made available to the States, designated to enhance the teaching of subjects like agriculture and engineering at the college level. To make a long story short, after an ill-conceived effort to give the money to one struggling institution didn’t work, Senator Ezra Cornell proposed an alternative: divide the money between that school and another struggling institution. At that point, the newly-elected Senator Andrew Dickson White, chair of the education committee, killed Cornell’s bill. Instead, he proposed the creation of a brand new university that would be explicitly non-sectarian in nature, and he was able to persuade Cornell to co-sponsor it. Having seen two bad ideas already fall by the wayside, the established liberal arts colleges—all of them started originally by Christian denominations—wanted their shot at the money, and at least one of them (Union College in Schenectady) had already been teaching engineering for almost twenty years.

Needless to say, this made for a major political fight, with all of the things that usually happen. Motives were viewed with great suspicion, words were used with little reflection, and enemies were made on all sides. White won, the new college got named for Cornell, and their opponents underscored the fact that White promptly left the Senate to become its first president. Telling Ezra Cornell at the time that he would give his religious opponents “a lesson which they will remember,” White initiated a three-decade process of speaking and writing about the great historical myth of never-ending “warfare between science and theology in Christendom.”

Contrary to what Hunter says, BioLogos fully understands the Warfare Thesis and wholly rejects it. We don’t usually address the Warfare Thesis directly—we have other fish to fry. However, if we embraced the view that science makes Christian beliefs outmoded, why would we feature columns defending the evidence for the bodily Resurrection, showing how science supports belief in God, affirming the reality of creation from nothing against liberal theologians, correcting the widespread belief that belief in God makes for bad science, or showing how the denial of divine transcendence was implicated in the embrace of eugenics? As my friends in the ID movement like to say, follow the evidence wherever it leads.

The Warfare Thesis was a politically motivated, wholesale assault on Christian thought, not an attempt by “evolutionists” (a word that Hunter and others like to use as an all-purpose pejorative) to frame the origins debate. The problem isn’t that BioLogos promotes the Warfare Thesis; the problem is that Hunter doesn’t acknowledge that BioLogos rejects religious Modernism and the warfare-dominated view that comes with it, while offering an alternative view of Christianity and science rooted in our faith in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus.

A Note on Sources

In addition to sources given in the links, I am also indebted to James R. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900 (1979), which includes one of the first systematic critiques of the Warfare Thesis, and Lawrence M. Principe, “Origins of the Warfare/Conflict Thesis,” an unpublished conference paper cited with permission. I met Moore at the conference I attended as a graduate student, not long after I finished an essay review of his book that became my first publication.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Dr. Ted Davis) #3

I’d love to hear directly from Cornelius Hunter, but I’ll look for questions and comments from others, too.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #5


[quote=“system, post:1, topic:799”]
The problem isn’t that BioLogos promotes the Warfare Thesis; the problem is that Hunter doesn’t acknowledge that BioLogos rejects religious Modernism and the warfare-dominated view that comes with it, while offering an alternative view of Christianity and science rooted in our faith in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus.


I can understand your chagrin and concern that Dr. Hunter seems to completely misunderstand what BioLogos is about. However O have found that this misunderstanding is common with people who see reality through a dualistic world view.

As you indicated BioLogos rejects the view that one must chose between science and Christianity. between liberal Christianity and Creationism. BioLogos claims that there is a third stance that accepts the best of Christianity and Evolution, while rejecting the human flaws in both.

Now for people who take Western dualism literally, this is impossible. There is no both/and, just either/or. Since science and faith are not the same and have some conflicting claims, one must be right and the other must be wrong. Warfare is built into this type of thinking, just as it is built into Darwinism.

Since Dr. Hunter rejects the scientific truth of evolution, then BioLogos must be wrong and anti-Christian, regardless of its claims to the contrary. This is the danger of dualistic thinking. You don’t have to prove your view is right, just that the other view is wrong based on your criteria of what is wrong.

If I remember correctly Dr. Hunter does make some good points in his critique of “scientific naturalism,” but fails to produce a valid alternative scientific theory. Neither has BioLogos. The problem is the theory and the world view upon which the science is based, not the science itself.

Dualism creates many problems for both science and faith. BioLogos has created a model which is not dualistic, but has failed to create a triune world view to give it definitive form.

Science and theology do not exist in a dualistic vacuum, which invites warfare and conflict. Philosophy is the bridge that should bring them together, but in today’s world does not. This is where we should be working, even though it is the most difficult challenge that we are Christians and humans face.

(Ray Martinez) #6

Ted Davis: “Thus, Hunter’s claim that BioLogos advances the Warfare Thesis is wholly unfounded. In his opinion, apparently, we’ve swallowed that idea simply because we find the scientific evidence for evolution persuasive (while he claims that “evolutionary theory is not scientific” at all).”

Yet in the piece Hunter wrote and posted at Uncommon Descent he argues that Darwin obtained evolution from preceding Christian thought. Is this not the words of an Evolutionist, or have I misunderstood Hunter’s intentions?

C. Hunter: “…evolution derives, at least in modern times, from theologians and philosophers in the church. To be sure, evolutionary thinking is obvious in ancient Epicureanism, but its resurgence in the seventeenth century was almost exclusively the work of Christian thinkers. Descartes, Malebranche, Cudworth, Ray, Burnett, Leibniz and Wolfe are good examples of how widespread was the movement within Christian thought, and of how varied were the arguments for a strictly naturalistic origins narrative. These Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans agreed that the world must have arisen by natural causes. The common theme was that the arguments were theological and philosophical (i.e., metaphysical rather than scientific). These mandates for naturalism increased and by the nineteenth century were the received truths for progressives. This was the culture Charles Darwin was born into and his book applied these arguments for naturalism to the problem of the origins of the species.”

As I pointed out over there, simply ridiculous! Christians were NOT the originators of the idea (Naturalism) to exclude God. So I see Hunter as an Evolutionist attempting to conceal the true origin of Naturalism and evolution (Atheists). And it’s worth noting, prior to the rise of Darwinism (1859-1872) the word “natural” presupposed design and supernatural causation; hence, for example, Natural Theology (Paley 1802) .

(Mohammad Nur Syamsu) #7

There is still a war going on, if some side wants to have a war. That there need not be war, doesn’t do much for the reality that it is a war.

As an abolute minimum, schools should be teaching how choosing works. Teach what everybody already knows, that is to say teach the knowledge about how choosing works inherent in common discourse. Teach how subjectivity works. Just bring the awareness of how choosing works to an intellectual level.

Evolutionists are making an onslaught against all knowledge about how things are chosen. They did it with all knowledge about how things are chosen in the universe, that knowledge is gone from the general consciousness, and they are doing it with all knowledge about how people choose too.

The evolutionists oppose it because the only functional concept of choosing has the (human) spirit doing the job of choosing. Which word spirit means to say, the identity of what makes the decision turn out the way it does is categorically a subjective issue.

The suppression and changing of all knowledge about how choosing works is directly affecting people’s lives and society. The ridiculous evil on the evolutionist side of things requires action.

(Albert Leo) #8


I began reading BioLogos blogs fairly recently, and so I appreciate your current one that puts me in touch with your previous contributions. Much too late in life have I developed a love of history, especial history of science. Everyone who has an interest in how religion and science interact (sometimes in conflict) knows a bit of the Galileo story, but often ‘a bit’ can be superficial and misleading. I want to thank you for leading me to the correspondence between Cardinal Bellarmine and Paolo Foscarini. It helped me to better appreciate the “earth-shaking” problem that the Copenican hypothesis must have been to the clergy of those days.

In the Introduction to a presentation I have given to the Adult Confirmation classes in our parish, I give a brief synopsis of the ‘Galileo affair’. You would do me a great favor if you read the first paragraph and let me know if you think it misleading or superficial. You can access it at:

Your response to Dr. Hunter makes it clear how important it is to have historical facts at your fingertips to make an effective rebuttal. No nasty charges or insults; just facts.
Al Leo

(Larry Bunce) #9

From what I see on Dr. Hunter’s blog, I gather he thinks evolution is a belief system, not science, so he lumps evolution with religion as non-falsifyable conclusions to be believed by the gullible. There should not be warfare because someone who believes in Christianity should be naive enough to believe in evolution.
The fact that evolutionary theory was developed by Christians doesn’t mean that it is an outgrowth of Christianity, or was endorsed by the church. I fail to see how his idea that the concept of warfare between science and the church benefitted evolutionists. Galileo ran afoul of the church before evolution began to be discussed, and some religous people denounced the findings of geology in the early 19th century that the earth was older than 6,000 years, so the idea of warfare between religion and science predates Darwin, even if the idea has been exaggerated over the years.
For Dr. Hunter to accuse BioLogos of promoting warfare between science and religion, he had to be making assumptions rather than reading. It makes me question his other judgements also.

(Preston Garrison) #11

Even if Ted and his colleagues have convincingly debunked the warfare hypothesis as a general account of the history of Christianity and science (and they have,) there certainly are plenty of places where this war is waged daily. Ironically, of course, two of them are Dr. Hunter’s blog and Uncommon Descent, where 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. The same thing goes on at any number of Facebook discussions, blogs and websites. When I have ventured onto them and told them that I am a Christian biochemist who, having spent a few years looking carefully at the evidence, concluded that yes, evolution did happen and it included us, I can depend on being vehemently consigned to hell within minutes to hours.

My view is that this is the result of a false view of what Christianity is. If Christianity is just a set of doctrines which includes the view that the Bible is inerrant and intended to teach us modern science, you get pretty directly to these shouting matches. If Christianity is really about repentance and forgiveness of sins and a God whose love can be known personally, and if you have really made His acquaintance, then you get to something quite different. Making His love known to other people becomes the important thing, not arguments over any number of minor matters like evolution or ancient near eastern history. These things have their interest and in some cases practical importance, but they are very minor concerns next to the good news of what God has made possible for us in Jesus. It really does change everything.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #12


If you can send me the paragraph by email (tdavis AT messiah DOT edu), I’ll try to take a look. I’m juggling a lot of balls right now so having it at my fingertips would be helpful.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #13

Thank you, @PGarrison, for pointing us all to the gospel. The rest pales by comparison. If it doesn’t, then we need to look in the mirror and try to see Jesus.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #14


As you point out, Christians did not invent naturalism–that came mainly from the Greeks, long before Jesus walked the Earth. However, Christians have typically embraced naturalistic methods, which we ground ultimately in the faithfulness of the Creator to uphold the creation in a lawlike manner. It’s no accident, for example, that the term “lex naturae” (law of nature) was used by Ambrose of Milan (4th century) long before it’s used by natural philosophers. And, the notion of methodological naturalism (as vs philosophical naturalism) was promoted mainly by Christians for a thousand years, starting with the division of labor in the medieval university, according to which the natural philosophers were to avoid dealing with God or theology, but the theologians had no boundaries on their end–so some of the greatest natural philosophers of that period were theologians.

Hunter is not entirely off base, however, in claiming that Darwin was drawing on earlier Christian thought. To be sure, his picture is partly off base–for example, John Ray, who held strongly to the immutability of created biological species, was not an “evolutionist” in any meaningful sense (pace Hunter). But, like his picture of the Warfare Thesis, it’s not entirely off base. Christians had been exploring naturalistic cosmogonies for a long time before Darwin–Descartes is an appropriate example–and so of course were other natural philosophers (such as Buffon). What’s often not realized is the extent to which Darwin was influenced by Paley’s ecological picture of the biological world, which emphasized what Paley himself called the “economy of nature,” a term Darwin later used himself.

Hunter wants us to believe that evolution is just bad metaphysics with no empirical warrant. Some scientists seem to say that evolution is simply an inference from empirical data, leading to broader metaphysical claims but not arising from them. The true, IMO, is in between: Darwin brought certain metaphysical ideas to the table; he also learned a great deal from his own empirical observations and those of many others (whom he often cites). The interplay of ideas and experience created his theory of evolution by natural selection, with NS coming by extension from Malthus’ economic theory rather than directly from observations (though he says explicitly that it explains numerous observations).

There’s more metaphysics here than meets the eye, but far more empirical evidence than Hunter is prepared to admit.

(Brad Kramer) #15

I moved 3 posts to an existing topic: Conflicts ≠ CONFLICT: My last word on Cornelius Hunter’s Misunderstanding of the History of Science and Religion | The BioLogos Forum


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(Roger A. Sawtelle) #17


In a sense I agree with Eddie, but I wish that Ted had been more aware of the distorted vision that Hunter’s dualistic views give him so it is almost impossible to discuss ideas with him that almost everyone shares.

This is the problem of dualism to the nth degree. Again Hunter is a symptom of a very deep problem that needs to be faced.

(system) #18

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