The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind


I know not everyone here is an evangelical or even a Christian, but I want to commend this book, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. He was one of my favorite professors when I was in college (and I would add a brilliant yet humble scholar). His chapter on science gives insight into the ways evangelicals by and large are missing the boat. Forgive me if this book has already been discussed. His later book Jesus and the Evangelical Mind is more optimistic in its outlook, showing how Christians are rightly engaging the various intellectual spheres including science.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t the only issue in the creation debate, and probably not the main one. My opinion of the main issue: “How can science be trusted when at first blush it appears to contradict the Bible?” Some of my YEC friends are very bright but unwilling to entertain that their position could be wrong. No evidence could ever dissuade them. They perceive only the potential for massive threat to their worldview, without any sense that a different position could change their lives for the better (as I would argue happens when one opens themselves up to a clearer revelation of God’s truth in his book of nature).

So 2 questions for a bit of discussion:

  1. What do you think is the “number one issue” in the creation debate?
  2. For you personally, what is the practical value of your believing what you do about creation? That is, how is it most relevant to your life?

(Phil) #2

Excellent questions. I would have to think about it a bit more, but my kneejerk reaction to question 1 is “What is true?” I think the worst part of the debate is when it leads people to support false and deceptive statements for the purpose of supporting their positions, in the name of Christ. I find this tolerable and even understandable when done out of ignorance, but quite revolting when done purposefully.
As for question 2, the practical value of accepting EC is peace of mind and spirit, in that I do not have to juggle conflicting claims but rather reality can be integrated into an understandable scenario.

(Laura) #3

Thanks for the book recommendation – I’ve already got Mark Noll’s book about the Civil War on my “want to read” list, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for this one too.

I would agree that “truth” is probably my biggest issue in the origins debate – and what we base truth on. I eventually got to the point where I said, “I really don’t care whether God used evolution or not – he can do whatever he wants. What I care about is what he said that he did.” For me, not reading that part of the Bible as literally as before felt like a slippery slope, in which all of truth threatened to fall away.

I find that the process of embracing EC has helped me be less afraid of science and knowledge in general. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I’m realizing that my fear of science was a handicap that I didn’t need to have. It’s also helping me worry less about the kind of science my kids learn, though the theological aspect does bring up plenty of questions on its own.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

I think it is our Evangelically conditioned view of what the Bible is, what we can expect from it, and how we should approach understanding it. I don’t think most people change their mind on science without first being convinced it is right and good to change their hermeneutics.

Since I homeschool, the most practical benefit is not having to unteach my children the science or history presented all around them. We can just accept that the experts who write the books, make the nature shows, and develop the museum displays know what they are talking about.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

For me, it is the removal of a formidable stumbling block. I now feel free to explore actual meaning, authorial intent, and the Spirit’s leading toward new application rather then needing to always corral everything into one narrow modern understanding (and trying to ignore the substantial chunks of reality that can’t be made to fit that.)

(A.M. Wolfe) #6

For me, the biggest practical value to my EC position is in the domain of worship. A God who has been creating for 17,000,000,000 years is a lot more awe-inspiring to me than one who created in six days, 6,000 years ago. This EC God is “not a tame lion.” A God of that enormity could never fit in any box I could try to put Him in, so all I have left to do is worship and embrace Him. He has created entire worlds of dinosaurs and watched each of them pass away one by one after providing for them for many years, all of this 65,000,000 years before I was even born. During every one of those 17,000,000,000 years, He has been active and accomplishing His own inscrutable purposes in scales large and small. Yet somehow, inconceivably, he cherishes our feeble species in a particular way, and, even more amazingly, knows my name and how many hairs are on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #7

What is the number one issue in the creation debate?

My answer: the YECs would probably say, “biblical truth.” (I would, too, but I the set of teachings called “biblical truth” would not be identical to theirs, though certainly many common elements.)

What gets smuggled in here is the assumptions used to draw interpretations of the text(s). The YECs just don’t believe they are “interpreting” scripture, when they draw their particular conclusions about what the Bible teaches. In their view, it’s only the “compromisers” who come to very different conclusions. Folks like me, they say, have “compromised” the Bible by paying attention to other sources of truth, such as history, archaeology, geology, etc. The fact that I’m unable to interpret Genesis without also considering what we know about the ANE somehow means I’m attacking the Word of God.

It all comes down to hermeneutics. The rest is window dressing.

(Randy) #8

Thanks, Jason, for this review. Mark Noll’s book (which I read about 5 months ago for the first time) made me more comfortable with this review–and understand the history of the evangelical movement in the US better, especially in regard to dispensationalism.

  1. I think that coming from a missionary standpoint, I was worried that if any part of the Bible was questioned as being scientifically inaccurate, the rest of the salvation message would fall–and people would wind up in hell because of the confusion. In retrospect, that was a rather Darwinian view of God and survival of the fittest–God is much more just than that; and the humility with which Dr Noll pointed out the importance of understanding the Bible in its correct context helped free me to think clearly and with out fear (after all, if even the best and godliest people I knew got it wrong, God’s going to understand our fumbling!). Others, like Enns and his quirky sense of humor, helped me in that way too.
  1. I agree with the others’ posts that believing in evolution makes it a lot easier to read science without the blinders on–and PBS documentaries are way more fun.


Thanks for the responses. I resonate with basically everything that has been said. Thankfully, God is kind and patient with us in this process. It’s an awesome thing to have eyes to see and marvel at the works of God in nature, and to be able to do this with our children.

(Peter Wolfe) #10

The thing that I don’t understand is the 6000 year thing. AiG say Man’s word vs God’s word but a man did the calculations … why do they think this is correct? May be I am missing something but I don’t think you get any real idea of length of time from the Bible or is it just my lens of reading?

(Mark D.) #11

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of those that are other than Christian. While I don’t believe in a creator god or an afterlife, I do take god belief seriously. That means I think you don’t dismiss something so widespread and popular as belief in gods as simple superstition or a mistake. So I’ve decided (for myself of course, not selling anything here) that there is something intrinsic to the human experience which supports god belief. I suspect/believe that our minds are capable of producing more than our conscious mind and so God may well be a co-product of consciousness … as real as who we think we are but there is no reason I can think of to think this God is the creator of the entire cosmos. That just seems like overkill just to explain how there seems to be something beyond … perhaps something wiser and, in some ways at least, capable of and inclined to help me. So I can accept God as an inner counselor but not a creator, and also not a bestower of any afterlife, whether wonderful or horrible. Of course I could be wrong. Any of us could. But that is where I’m coming from.

1 - I don’t really have a dog in the creation debate. How did things get to be as they are? Why is there anything instead of nothing? I do not feel entitled to know the answers to such questions. For what partial answers are available by way of science, I am grateful. It certainly is interesting. But nothing rides on it as far as I’m concerned. Life goes on.

2 - Not having any reason to think the cosmos is as it is as the result of a creator and being inclined to believe that what we see is what we get as regards ‘eternal rewards’, I guess the value for me is that I can accept that I am a creature like any other on this planet. That helps me keep things down to earth regarding my perspective. Of course our human perspective, capacity for abstraction, language, science and history makes us very different from the others. But at base we are just one more creature on the land and this is our time. That will seem like too little to some but I find it liberating.


Thanks so much Mark for sharing your views. I agree with you (if I understand you rightly) that we are a strange and fascinating line of the great apes. :wink: Just curious, do you believe that there any objective reality outside of us to which our existence must conform? Also, what’s your take on the origin of the universe?

(Mark D.) #13

Hello Jason,

My best guess regarding the origin of the universe (meaning here everything associated with the big bang) is probably the only part we can access at all of a much vaster cosmos that has gone on for much more than 13.8 billion years. I don’t think there was ever a true nothing before anything at all began to exist; so sufficient cause for every new state of the universe was always present in its prior conditions. We just can’t peer back before the bang nor can we observe anything beyond the horizon of this big bang, at least not yet.

I definitely believe there is an objective reality outside ourselves which limits and largely determines our existence. But I also think there is an objective reality which puts parameters on what we experience subjectively as well. Our subjective experience arises within the greater objective reality beyond ourselves and is still part of it. I know some people think consciousness is a dimension unto itself. But unless digestion requires its own dimension I don’t think consciousness does either as both are processes associated with these bodies of ours, and they very definitely have a location in the greater objective reality.


Thanks for sharing. I’ve read Hawking and Hertog argue against the theory of cosmic inflation (believed by many to imply a multiverse), but I don’t think that a multiverse is quite what you’ve theorized here.

(Mark D.) #15

Actually I think a multiverse pretty much describes what I have in mind. But who knows? We are as bacteria living in the gut of an immense flea riding on an even larger mouse hiding in the scales on the back of a huge dragon. Pretty hard to know where the dragon comes from or where it is going.

(Randy) #16

Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
Little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum :slight_smile:


I like the word picture, Mark, even if I disagree with it. :wink:


One of the interesting concepts that I have come across is the “Democratization of the Facts”. This is the idea that the facts are what we decide they are, as if free speech and freedom of religion also extend to a freedom of facts. For some people, if they believe something to be true then those are the facts because it is their right.

This causes conflicts with people who think that the facts are independent of what we believe, that facts are objective. This can lead to people feeling insulted because their beliefs are not treated with equal deference as evidenced facts.

(Randy) #19

I am sure that you run into that a lot in research. In medicine, we run into that as well.

(Darek Barefoot) #20

Number one issue?

High on the list is the question of how Christians can simultaneously accept expert opinion in general and yet still give the Bible moral authority. If God reveals the truth through expert consensus and societal trends, and if the Bible is always by some means made to conform to those sources of knowledge, then what’s the point of (or need for) divine revelation? I don’t think the answer is easy or simple.

On a practical level, how do Christians who value critical thinking and scientific knowledge and yet who still have a high view of the Bible’s moral authority find others of a similar bent with whom they can fellowship and worship?

I have an evolutionary view of creation, which allows me to be a disciple of Jesus Christ without deceiving myself and recommending falsehood to others in the area of the historical sciences. It lets me teach my two teenage sons spiritual truth without devaluing truth in general. However, it also poses many problems in my relationships with other Christians.