New Article: A (Very) Brief History of Christians in Science

I don’t doubt that there is a convenient shorthand use of the word that we probably shouldn’t completely fault them for - or at least realize that we all have our casual shorthand phrases for things.

Perhaps this is related to what @aarceng is getting at, but I think it fair (necessary even) to acknowledge that no (or almost no) theory or “way of thinking” springs up devoid of precedent (whole cloth) from one human mind. So just as Erasmus (I had to look him up too to know who that was) may have unsurprisingly had what we now recognize as evolutionary undertones in his way of approaching the world, so could any movement, including any flavor of creationism, probably find some roots and veins of thought that predate its main century of widespread appearance. In fact, every one of us strives to be rooted ultimately in Christ and his apostles of 2000 years ago, right? -the only real “trophy” worth having when it comes down to it.

Since none of these modern movements with all their now-attendant particularities existed back then, all sides are stuck grappling only with the actual precedents of how those people actually did think and respond to the particularities of their own day, and then we try to capture that general attitude for emulation in our own context. I think we must grant that this happens (and certainly should happen) because it is the resource we are given. But it also should force on us some humility of admission that there is always at least some uncertainty (though not much it would seem in Maxwell’s case) in speculating what so-and-so would think were they here with us now. Maxwell, Faraday, and co. are no longer with us. Christ, however …

[Okay - and only after posting this do I see the flurry of responses above that I didn’t see before writing this - including your objection, @aarceng, to the one post violating forum standards. So noted. Given how much reaction (not entirely unfruitful?) is coming out of that, we can probably let it stand, though with the always attendant reminder that we shouldn’t belittle those who disagree with us - a thin line which I may be dancing close to myself even in this thread. So your reminder is appreciated.

I guess I just take too long to get my thoughts composed around here. The world refuses to stop while I’m writing. Even on an early Saturday morning!]

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I’m prepared to generally concede this. I remember Lamarkian evolution contrasted with Darwin’s natural selection, from high school. Erasmus Darwin in the 1790’s, Lamark in the early 1800’s, both articulated some form of evolution. There was much discussion of the geological age of the earth following Lyell’s work in 1830. This was the period leading to the heyday of humanism culminating in the cult of man during the French revolution. Undoubtedly, there were already intellectual alternatives available to Faraday and Maxwell if they were so inclined. In any event, they did not publish on the topic and we do not know what was going on in their heads; not that it really matters. Charles Darwin himself long delayed publication for personal reasons.

Where I disagree is the significance. The comfort blanket of appealing to these historic figures seems to be, “well Maxwell was really, really, smart; so if you are YEC, you are in great company”. As several posts above point out, this is anachronistic and is not material to the current state of investigation. Science is not systematic theology; you cannot build a case by proof texting. There is no Faraday 3:16 or Newton 2:1 that clinches it.

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Er … whatever …

Maybe @aarceng does have a point and I was being a bit ungracious there. Maybe he himself is a bit more circumspect in how he uses the word “evolutionist” than I’d assumed. However, I have seen far too many YECs who do use the word “evolutionist” to refer to any and every scientific conclusion that they don’t like. I see it, for example, when they write papers titled “The Sea’s Missing Salt: A Dilemma for Evolutionists” or "Can Evolutionists Now Explain the Earth’s Magnetic Field?” (D Russell Humphreys, Creation Research Society Quarterly 33, no. 3 (1996): 184–185). Neither the amount of salt in the sea nor the origin of the Earth’s magnetic field have anything whatsoever to do with biological evolution. It just comes across as passive-aggressive and hostile, and I really, really don’t like it.

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Point well-taken. And I agree that it is technically incorrect on their part to try to lump everything in with that singular word. We do similar things with tribal words like “conservative” or “liberal” when we start to freight each of those words with a rather large corpus of causes that are all ostensibly supposed to come with it which doesn’t make it any more accurate, but perhaps a useful shorthand for passing mention. I think you are right to call people on it, though, since the devil really is in the details of what all they are trying to package into that word.

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The argument of @aarceg is founded on one HUGE false premise. That whatever “evolutionist” may mean and however he may bend and twist this to fit anything he likes, that it has anything whatsoever to so with scientists who simply accept the objective evidence and the conclusions of a scientific inquiry. Speculations and ideas leading up to Origin of the Species, as well as any so called “forshadowing” is simply not the same thing as a working theory with the evidence to back it up. Science is nothing like philosophy and theology with its schools of opinion which are impossible to substantiate. It is impossible for someone to belong to a group which ignores the objective evidence and rejects the scientific conclusion before that the theory is explained with evidence to back it up.

In a way, I have to admit that even arguing that past scientists (of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries) were Christian is a bit of an anachronism as well (though I liked the paper). If they were situated in the 20th or 21st centuries, with what we know now, and under the same cultural influences, would they be Christians? Most of the Europeans of those centuries were de facto Christians.

All of this reinforces that we should, I guess, emphasize going forward that we are committed (as in Biologos and other groups) to taking the evidence at face value, admitting when we don’t know the answer, and humbly changing our minds when we encounter something that challenges our world view–just as we expect anyone else to do. I like a quote made somewhere else by @Michael_Callen that it magnifies God’s glory to learn about His creation, not to fit it into our preconceived notions.

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No Randy, you go too far. There is a huge difference between a “defacto Christian” of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and those who were enthusiastic defenders of the faith. Both Maxwell and Faraday were well known for their strong defense of the Christian faith even if they were nothing like the opponents of evolution that the creationists try to paint them to be. The creationists want to equate these and that is precisely why it is so offensive to those of us who embrace both Christianity and science let alone those like me who are only Christian BECAUSE of evolution.

Isaac Newton was a theologian in a time when this was considered queen of the sciences and he privately rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. So a better case can be made for this in his case. But an even better case can be made for Galileo who like Einstein did not even believe in a personal God. Therefore, he is an excellent example of a scientist who was only a “defacto Christian.” Whether he or Einstein can be called an atheists as some of the atheists like to claim is much more doubtful, unless it is from a Christian extremist viewpoint (including ex-member atheists who equate Xtianity with such extreme forms), who tend use labels like atheist, postmodernist, and communist with a really broad brush.

…part in italics is a questionable claim from dubious sources

I’m curious about this and would like to read more about it if you had a particular source in mind. I was under the impression (from having read his letter to the Grand Duchess) that Galileo was a devout Catholic to the end. But perhaps he was only nominally so, then, or “defacto” as you suggest? I may be forgetting something, but till now I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody compare him to Einstein in that particular regard.

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Good call. I should have read that site more carefully. I was refuting the claim mentioned that Galileo should be considered an atheist, but clearly I should have questioned more of the claims, which apparently come from atheists. It may be that he is only a better candidate than Maxwell and Faraday because there is not as much solid evidence written in english what he personally thought about things. In the more well known quotes, we don’t see him saying so much about God, except for the odd off-hand comment just like we see Einstein making, which could easily be understood as a manner speech. Perhaps that similarity inspired such a comparison. It is easy to wonder if the church was irritated by Galileo because he frankly just didn’t speak about God enough.

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I would highly recommend reading Galileo’s letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, just a google search away. The title might not seem very promising, but be assured that it is a remarkably contemporary document, and can be read in a hour. For anyone with an interest in the relationship of scriptural revelation and nature, Galileo here lays it out as well as anyone to this day. Galileo writes better than anyone writing about Galileo, so just get the straight goods.

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In this letter, we see Galileo’s presumption that things stated by the Bible are true, but he argues that it is very often “abstruse” and considerable care and work is required to understand the intended meaning. He argues that God should be known first through the study of nature and then in the revealed word. His principle purpose seems to complain that since the purpose of the Bible is salvation rather than the explanation of nature then it isn’t right to make issues of nature the basis for declaring people to be heretics.

I think we can also see from this letter that Galileo was quite cognizant of the teachings of the Bible and Christianity and very much ready to argue from its principles. But that is something we can expect from both the devout Catholic and the defacto Christian, though certainly not from an atheist. Galileo certainly follows the basic presumption in the society which he is a part of, and we don’t see much rebellion over the issues of religion and theology but only concerning whether that should interfere in the scientific investigation of nature. He even challenges the idea that theology should be the queen of the sciences.

From this I think one can easily come to the conclusion that he is a defacto Christian for the simple reason that he argues so strongly for the secular separation of science from the concerns of religion. I think it is clear that his priorities are oriented towards the work of science rather than religion or theology. I don’t see a lot of expression of piety and religious devotion in this letter to counter this conclusion.

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Whoops, I just “liked” it. As a linguist, I’d say it’s an accurate description of how the word is used in YEC literature, and it wasn’t necessarily mean-spirited. I’m pretty sure AIG regularly calls geologists and astrophysicists “evolutionists” because of their stance on an ancient earth.

Does this help?

https://answersingenesis.org/search/?refinement=&language=en&q=evolution

  • Evolution

Evolution

Evolution is the supposed process by which the first cell evolved into the diversity of life we see today. Natural selection and mutations are considered its driving force. However, evolution has never been observed, and natural selection and mutations cannot add the information necessary to change one kind of creature into another.

Dig Deeper

Is Natural Selection the Same Thing as Evolution? Hasn’t Evolution Been Proven True? Couldn’t God Have Used Evolution?

You do have a partial point there. Looking at “The Sea’s Missing Salt: A Dilemma for Evolutionists" (the only one with a link) this should be a question for geologists. However it does have implications for Evolution theory because “A differential equation containing minimum input rates and maximum output rates allows a maximum age of the ocean of 62 million years to be calculated.” If this is correct then it severely limits the time available for Evolution to happen.

I make no comment on the second paper.

It is not. It relies on outdated and cherry-picked data that does not take everything into account, and in any case, the error bars are far too large to allow any meaningful conclusion to be drawn.

Can an Evolutionist be a Creationist?

The question as stated is seriously messed up and this demonstrates the problem with these “evolutionist” and “creationist” labels. These products of rhetoric have grossly distorted the issues.

If we are simply asking whether a scientist can believe that God created the universe and all living things then the answer is certainly yes. A scientist accepts the determination of the scientific inquiry into origin of the species also known as the theory of evolution, but that doesn’t mean that God didn’t create all living things. He might, however, let the discoveries of science enrich his understanding of what these religious claims mean. For example, he might realize that creating living things is fundamentally different than creating machines and other things which are not alive – better described by and compared to roles such as farmer, shepherd, teacher, and parent who do not design their crops, livestock, students, and children, but by participating in the processes of living, growing and learning.

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I was pleasantly surprised by this citation and praise of Rebecca McLaughlin’s book, Confronting Christianity in this commentary in this week’s issue of WORLD magazine.

Mindy Belz writes:
"Too easily we put man and the material world at the center, rather than God, and then our focus goes haywire. Christians led early scientific gains that today’s New Atheists use to stake their belief in no God.

In her excellent 2019 book, Confronting Christianity , Rebecca McLaughlin unmasks the limitations behind such efforts to divorce science from God. “The measurable script and the meaning script do not jostle for position. Both are needed,” she writes.

In Genesis God was fully capable of giving a scientific description of creation, but He chose instead to give a detailed account of who we are and why our lives matter in relationship to Him. Those who take the observable world as the measure of all things are left without anchors when it comes to drawing moral imperatives. Writes McLaughlin: “Using evolution to blast theism leaves the secular humanist stunned by the kickback.”

Despair is what results,…"

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Sounds like a thought provoking book. I enoyed the article. Thanks!

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