The Lutheran Option?

It appears that many scientists who publicly propose the notion that subsequent days actually covered eons tend to leave the LCMS or, if teaching at an LCMS-based university, are politely asked to vacate their positions. For example if Arand wrote that he thinks the Earth is billions of years old and that humans have walked the planet for hundreds of thousands of years, should he expect to retain his current position?

aka. theological hair splitting :slight_smile:

My reply is also for @Eddie, who wrote a lengthy commentary on my view of Romans at
The Hump of the Camel. (Natural Theology, ID, and Lutherans: A Response to Davis, Murphy and Swamidass | The Hump of the Camel )

My own attitude toward natural theology is somewhere in between that of George Murphy and “Eddie.” If I felt that natural theology were entirely illegitimate, or had no value, I wouldn’t have edited the title chapter of Polkinghorne’s Belief in God in an Age of Science for BL. It’s natural theology, pure and simple, and I like it a great deal:

I also talked about how one might still do natural theology after Darwin–a possibility that I believe Darwin foresaw–here:

I can’t claim to speak for everyone at BL on this, but my own attitude should be clear enough. I don’t think Darwin killed natural theology (nor do some other historians of science and religion), but I do think he made the old-style natural theology of Boyle and Paley largely without a solid foundation. Arguments from biological “contrivances” or “gaps” in the fossil record are mostly outmoded, I would say. Instead, one needs newer arguments, based on the physical conditions that make all biological contrivances and evolution itself possible in the first place. That’s what Polkinghorne calls “new style” natural theology.

Most ID proponents think that the new style NT is just not enough. Casey Luskin (e.g.), the chief spokesperson for Discovery for several years, strongly criticized BL for "promot[ing] viewpoints that are scientifically flawed, theologically hostile, and apologetically weak,” in a lengthy diatribe against us here:

I’m not sure exactly what Luskin finds “apologetically weak” about a view such as Polkinghorne’s, to which we gave prominent exposure at least a year before his article was published. I see nothing weak there, or it wouldn’t have interested me enough to edit it for our readers. Perhaps it’s Polkinghorne’s early statement, “The world is not full of items stamped “made by God”—the Creator is more subtle than that—but there are two locations where general hints of the divine presence might be expected to be seen most clearly.” Perhaps “general hints of the divine presence” aren’t enough for Luskin, who seems to want slam-dunk answers to jump-shot questions (to borrow my own language from a lecture I’ve been doing around the country for a few years). I don’t think that sin is the only barrier to seeing God with absolute clarity in nature, any more than answers to prayer are obvious to all rational, objective people. We see, as Paul said, through a glass darkly. There are many mysteries we aren’t yet allowed to peer into.

Or, perhaps, Luskin’s biggest problem with new style natural theology is that it “offers no scientific reasons” for believing in God. I agree with the way he put this, incidentally, but I don’t think Luskin fully grasped how precisely he had stated the truth. The kinds of natural theological inferences offered by Polkinghorne aren’t actually scientific, in P’s view–or in mine. Although they are based on science, insofar as they use scientific information, the conclusions about God’s existence and the ultimate nature of reality go well beyond science. Luskin and most other ID proponents think that one must be able to make scientific arguments for God. Here, they seem to agree with Richard Dawkins, who holds that the existence of God is a scientific question. Perhaps that is why Luskin finds new style natural theology inadequate; perhaps he just doesn’t agree with me (or Polkinghorne) that inferences to God’s existence or non-existence are metaphysical rather than scientific. If so, I’m fine having this difference of opinion with Luskin, Steven Meyer, Bill Dembski, or any other ID proponent.

As for Eddie’s objections to my interpretation of Romans One and what I suggested might be a distinctly Lutheran approach to origins, I repeat what I said about my conversations at Concordia–a very conservative, and very strongly Lutheran, seminary. I deliberately asked several scholars there (at dinner one evening, so there were indeed several scholars present and they were all part of the same conversation) whether I was out to lunch. No one spoke against my interpretation, and more than one or two affirmed my approach to that passage, while one of them specifically connected it with the theology of the cross, not the theology of glory (using that language).

If anyone still doubts what I’ve said about this (theology of the cross, Luther, and natural theology), they are invited to read the opening essay in this very recent issue of a Lutheran journal: Concordia Journal | Summer 2017 by Concordia Seminary - Issuu
“The Scientist as a Theologian of the Cross” was written by Chuck Arand, a leading Missouri-Synod theologian: Arand, Charles - Concordia Seminary
Note how he quotes George Murphy with much approval. Also: the seminary invited Murphy to speak as part of a series of talks on science and theology.

So, to sum up: critics of BL who say that BL is tone deaf to traditional Christian theology need to get hearing aids themselves. Some of the most conservative Lutheran scholars on the planet agree with the interpretation I offered of Romans One, based on what I had learned from George Murphy but also on my own knowledge of Greco-Roman thought. And, those who say that BL is “weak” b/c we don’t provide scientific reasons to believe in God, need to think more carefully: we can and do offer cogent arguments for the existence of God, and some of them are based on scientific information. We just don’t think those arguments themselves are scientific. We think they go well beyond science, just as so many aspects of our being also go beyond science. Truth is too small to fit only in a scientific box.


I was glad to read @Eddie’s positive remarks about my work, while of course noting our quite different views on natural theology. It may be helpful for him & others if I say a bit more about my own thoughts on that.

I’ve bottomed out from the position I used to have back when I sometimes used theologia naturala delenda est as a signature line. But even then I never denied that experience of the natural world and human reason could conclude that there is a God. (& I don’t think that Barth ever explicitly did either. Luther affirmed it.) But that is not a theology - certainly not a Christian theology. And in Romans, Paul doesn’t use his statement to that effect in 1:19-20 to start developing such a theology but to say, “So they are without excuse.”

I have found a fourfold typology of views about natural theologies to be helpful.

  1. The Classic view: Natural theology can be the “forecourt of the temple” of Christianity. It’s legitimate, but can only take us so far and then must be supplemented by special revelation.

  2. The Enlightenment view: Natural theology is all we really need. A significant example is Lessing’s The Education of the Human Race. Humanity needed revelation in its immature state, but when it comes to maturity that’s no longer needed.

  3. The Barthian view: “Nein” to natural theology.

  4. Torrance’s corollary to Barth’s view: A natural theology independent of distinctively Christian theology is inadequate, but a legitimate natural theology can be developed within the context of distinctively Christian thought.

I think Torrance’s view is very important and certainly the best of these four. The particular Christian theology that should contextualize the knowledge about the world that we get from science will, of course, make a difference. As I’ve said, I have used a theology of the cross, which is why one of my books is titled The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.

I do not say that the Classic view is in itself heretical, or that a legitimate Christian theology can’t be developed from it. That would be foolish. But I do say that this view is dangerous because it’s all too easy for people to remain in the forecourt and never get into the sanctuary, or to develop doctrines or practices that clash with Christianity from their natural theology. Barth’s concern about the way natural theology helped some Christians into bed with Hitler is an example of the latter concern.

An example of the former problem is pointed out by Richard Westfall in Science and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England (U. of Michigan, 1973). Some of the scientists placed great emphasis on “natural religion” to combat the threat of atheism. The result wasn’t what they expected. “Although the absorption in natural religion and the external manifestations of divine power did not did not dispute or deny any specific Christian doctrine, it did more to undermine Christianity than any conclusion of natural science”. (pp.106-107)



What a striking sentiment !: “Natural Theology Must be Destroyed” !
You, sir, could find the lyric deep within a charcoal briquette !!!

But I’m glad you have stepped back from such adamant positions.

I would like to add to the context of your very first sentence. He and I were once devoted correspondents… he would insist that I devote all my thinking to what he wrote, and I was devoted to showing him that too many sentences spoiled the Metaphysics. Within days of our first encounter he devoted a lengthy discourse on why the encyclopedia reference I used to introduce my topic was a vain exercise because he had already established that the editors of that particular encyclopedia didn’t actually know anything. It was then, in that very moment, that I knew there was no real concern about taking him seriously on most any topic.

In contrast, I am thoroughly enjoying your postings. They are always thought provoking, and they usually create a moment where I am compelled to pause and consider the implications of your position. :smiley:

Wiki Quote of the Day
"Natural theology, once also termed physico-theology, is a type of theology that provides arguments for the existence of God -
[1] based on reason and ordinary experience of nature.

This distinguishes it from Revealed Theology, which is
[2] based on scripture and/or religious experiences,

and also from Transcendental Theology, which is
[3] based on a priori reasoning.


As you say, Lutherans have largely been silent in these debates. As a Lutheran pastor and graduate of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, it seems to be that it is time to take a closer look at this topic.


As you know, the Lutheran-Missouri Synod is a Young Earth Creationism institution. This branch of the Lutheran Church does not stop and think that YEC does not bring salvation; on the contrary, it is the Son of Man and God Jesus the Christ. The length of time since the creation has nothing to do with it. Right now, I am a Southern Baptist that is attending an Independent Baptist Church. They are YEC; however, what would they do if they found out that I am either EC or PC. Progressive Creationism can come with common descent or without common descent. I suppose Nancy and I would be stoned like Stephan in Acts 7:58-60. By the way, Is PC with common descent and PC without common descent like having a hamburger with or without French Fries? :grinning: Oh, Rev Sahlstrom, please understand that I am not insulting the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. There are fine people in that church.

@TedDavis, @Jon_Garvey

Several of whom [fine people] I met during my two visits to Concordia Seminary. What you say about the L-MS being committed to YEC views is largely true at the grass roots, and also among their pastors. This doesn’t mean, however, that Concordia has no interest in engaging certain issues raised by modern science; nor does it mean that Concordia scholars lack the tools to engage those issues. I am impressed with the excellent work done by several faculty there.

I should add that a couple of prominent MS Lutherans in the last century were outspoken proponents of geocentricity, namely, Franz Pieper (onetime president of Concordia) and Walter Lang. I hasten to add that no one at Concordia today doubts that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Incidentally, the well known Christian author Nancy Pearcey worked for Lang’s Bible Science Association many years ago, though I have no reason to believe she agreed with him on geocentrism.


I hope that I have not offended anyone in anyway. That was not my intent. I hope that Dr. Davis was not thinking that ever. I once attended a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I just never discussed the creation issue because I did not want cause troubles in the church. I speak High German and the congregation wanted me to hold the Christmas Eve service with the Pastor.

The church I am attending now wants everyone to only use KJV Bibles and believe in YEC. I just keep my mouth closed on those issues. I hope you and Dr. Davis do not take me wrong from my last message.


It is unfortunate when there are topics that people feel like they can’t discuss in church. There have been times, such as with Copernicus and Galileo, when discussion was not possible but their study encouraged the church to revisit the subject and consider whether the church might be saying more than they knew. This was a case when they were taking a verse in Psalm 104 literally, even though the wording of this psalm uses very poetic language, such as God riding his chariot and that God had set the earth on its foundations. The point was that God had established the earth, rather than being a commentary on celestial motion. Back in the year 415, Augustine, in his Literal Meaning of Genesis cautioned us to not say more than we actually know when the Bible does not provide sufficient clear information on a topic and when questions are raised, to see this as an opportunity to double-check. Unfortunately, churches sometimes circle the wagons at such times rather than studying. Resorting to the KJV, translated over 400 years old and not from the oldest Bible manuscripts, doesn’t help. Studying isn’t the enemy. Study is our “friend.”


You are correct, Pastor. God bless you in your work.