Cognitive Whiplash – What I’ve Been Reading (8)

I dare you to read Andrew Snelling’s Earth’s Catastrophic Past and Davis Young’s The Bible, Rocks and Time side by side. Both men are professional geologists, and both books exhibit the proficiency and expertise of their respective authors. Snelling’s two volume set argues for young-earth creationism and that Noah’s flood created the preponderance of the geological record. Young and his co-author, Ralph Stearley, present the case for an ancient earth and that Noah’s flood was a local phenomena. Snelling’s book is intended to be a successor to Whitcomb and Morris’ seminal work The Genesis Flood (1961). Young and Stearley’s book is a revision of Davis’ earlier Christianity and the Age of the Earth (1982). The two works together total over 1500 pages. I just finished both and I’m suffering from cognitive whiplash.

Snelling is thorough in his presentation. He realizes that he is arguing against the consensus view of the geological community and therefore must meticulously make his case. Davis and Stearley’s give more attention to the historical development of the debate about the age of the earth, but they also give methodical attention to the evidences for their position. Geological laymen (like me) will probably find the books to be a difficult slog. Both books attempt to make their respective cases via cumulative arguments—piling up one example after another. Again speaking as a non-geologist, for me reading them–at times–was like being pummeled to death with ping pong balls.

Snelling and Young often present the same geological data—the geological column of the Grand Canyon, the mid-Atlantic ridge, coral reefs, etc. But they almost always arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions.

What’s going on here? There are at least four possible explanations: (1) The postmodernists and deconstructionists are right–all meaning and truth is subjective and created by the reader. In this case the text is the geological column and the readers are the geologists. (2) At least one side is engaged in deliberate deceit. (3) Spiritual forces are at work. One side is blinded by the evil one while the other’s mind is divinely illuminated. Or (4) at least one side has an almost pathological inability to see the truth. These blind spots render them unable to see what should be obvious.

I don’t like any of the four above possibilities. I am open to another explanation. The postmodernist answer (1), is self-referentially contradictory. Deconstructionism may work as a descriptor but fails as a philosophy. As for explanation (2), there is nothing about Snelling or Davis that indicates either would be willing to deceive or be deliberately dishonest. As for (3), Christians have no doubt about spiritual warfare, and that spiritual battles occur in every avenue of human endeavor, and this includes the scientific realm. However, both Davis and Snelling (and the respective Christian communities they represent) affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their vocations as geologists. Both are servants of Christ. I am in no position to make a spiritual determination about either one. Of the four possible explanations, the phenomena of blind spots (4) is the most likely.

Explanation (4) is also the most optimistic, even if one or both sides seems to be intransigent. Here the community of faith can play a crucial role. If Davis and Snelling, and others who hold to their respective views, will meet, talk, and pray together; if they will allow other godly, concerned, and informed brethren to speak truth into their lives; if they will be humble enough to acknowledge their respective blind spots, then it will be possible for progress to be made and for some type of consensus to be achieved.

As it stands now, the dissonance between the two geologists and their respective books is so great that one has to wonder if they are looking at the same planet.

This post was cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?

Francis Collins, a devout evangelical who headed the Human Genome Project, founded the BioLogos Foundation in 2007 for the purpose of advocating evolutionary theory as a viable option for evangelicals. When Collins stepped down from BioLogos to become the director of the Health and Human Services agency, Darrel Falk became president of the foundation. At Falk’s request, a number of professors at Southern Baptist seminaries have submitted articles to the BioLogos forum to express our concerns about the foundation’s promotion of theistic evolution. These articles are part of a series entitled “Southern Baptist Voices” in which consists of each article paired with a response from a BioLogos fellow.

The first article (which I wrote) is entitled “Expressing our Concerns” (found here), to which Kathryn Applegate, Darrel Falk, and Deborah Haarsma responded (found here).

Today (May 2) BioLogos posted the second article written by Bill Dembski of Southwestern Seminary entitled “Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?” (which can be found here). The BioLogos response will be posted before the end of the week.

Other articles to follow have been written by Steve Lemke (NOBTS), John Laing (SWBTS), John Hammett (SEBTS), Bruce Little (SEBTS), and James Dew (SEBTS).  I hope you will take a look at the discussion.  It is a model of how Christian brethren, who have serious disagreements, can debate an important issue with candor and mutual respect.

This post has been cross-posted at theologyforthechurch.com

Doing Theology as a Servant of Jesus (15): Christian theology aims for wisdom.

In the last installment, we noted that Christian theology strives for truth. In our Western intellectual context, we tend to equate “truth” with science-oriented knowledge. But Christian theology provides more than that sort of knowledge. It also leads one to wisdom. In fact, for two millennia, theologians have debated about what type of intellectual activity characterizes the task of theology. Should it be construed upon a scientific model (Latin, scientia) or upon a wisdom model (Latin, sapientia)? Augustine preferred sapientia to scientia, but later medieval theologians preferred scientia to sapientia. This chapter will argue that theology is indeed science, but more ultimately it is wisdom. We agree with Vanhoozer that, “Doctrine has a cognitive component . . . but the thrust of Christian doctrine is not mere knowledge, but rather wisdom.”[1] In our opinion, wisdom is the ultimate goal of theology because it includes not only the scientific aspect of knowing, but also the prudential aspect of living wisely in light of what we know. In order to flesh out this view of theology as science and wisdom, we will address both aspects of theological knowledge.

On the one hand, theology is scientific, if by scientific we mean that it is a bona fide discipline oriented to a legitimate object and possessing appropriate methods of investigating.[2] Wolfhart Pannenberg argues that theology is a science because it has a defined sphere of investigation, an internal coherence, a purposive attempt to describe external reality, and a public sphere of justification.[3] Likewise, Millard Erickson writes, “(1) Theology has a definite subject matter to investigate, primarily that which God has revealed about himself. (2) Theology deals with objective matters. It does not merely give expression to the subjective feelings of the theologian or of the Christian. (3) It has a definite methodology for investigating its subject matter. (4) It has a method for verifying its propositions. (5) There is coherence among the propositions of its subject matter.”[4] Pannenberg and Erickson both argue that theology must be subject to verification, and in Pannenberg’s criteria, public justification. We agree with Pannenberg and Erickson that theology is a bona fide discipline oriented to a legitimate object and possessing appropriate methods of investigating, and in that manner science-oriented.

On the other hand, theology is wisdom-oriented. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10; Ps. 111:10). As Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd have argued, the wisdom theme pervades the biblical witness.[5] Although theology is science-oriented, it is more ultimately wisdom-oriented for two reasons. First, theology is more than science because it involves a personal relationship between the knower and the known.[6] True knowledge is rooted in commitment to God. Gerhard von Rad writes, “The thesis that all human knowledge comes back to the question about commitment to God is a statement of penetrating perspicacity. . . . Israel attributes to the fear of God, to belief in God, a highly important function in respect of human knowledge. She was, in all her seriousness, of the opinion that effective knowledge about God is the only thing that puts a man into a right relationship with the objects of his perception.”[7] Indeed, theology goes beyond correct information, extending ultimately to right relationship with God. Second, theology is more than science because it seeks to equip the church to live wisely in light of its knowledge. Theology is wisdom in that it involves both true theory and right practice. David Ford writes, “[theology] asks not only about meaning, interpretation and truth but also, inextricably, about living life before God now and about how lives and communities are shaped in line with who God is and with God’s purposes for the future. In short, it is about lived meaning directed toward the kingdom of God.”[8] If one focuses on theology’s science-orientation to the exclusion of its wisdom-orientation, one warps and distorts the task of theology and hinders the mission of the church.[9]

In summary, theology is more than science because theology is missional by its very nature. Theology is centered on knowing and loving God, on being transformed by Him, and on being a light to the nations so that they also can know and love God. David Bosch writes, “Just as the church ceases to be church if it is not missionary, theology ceases to be theology if it loses its missionary character.”[10] God’s biblical self-revelation is the true story of the whole world, but he does not reveal this account merely for us to step back and be wowed by its elegance and power. He has given us the Bible so that we can live within its pages, allowing its missional story to shape our identities so that we can in turn take this story to the nations.


[1] Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 88.

[2] This sense of the word “scientific” stems from the earliest medieval universities. I have adapted this definition from David Clark’s definition. Clark, To Know and Love God, 213.

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and Philosophy of Science, trans. Francis McDonagh (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 326-345.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 36.

[5] Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd, Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), 231-260.

[6] Ellen Charry writes, “Sapience [English, “wisdom”] includes correct information about God, but emphasizes attachment to that knowledge. Sapience is engaged knowledge that emotionally connects the knower to the known.” Ellen Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 4.

[7] Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, trans. James D. Martin (London: SCM, 1970), 67-68.

[8] David Ford, “Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God (1),” in David Ford and Graham Stanton, Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom (London: SCM, 2003), 4-5.

[9] David Clark notes that overly cognitive approaches to theology (1) obscure the transformational aspect of theology, which is its true purpose; (2) give the false impression that one must have a seminary degree in order to read the Bible; and therefore (3) intimidate Christians who have not formally studied theology. Clark, To Know and Love God, 240-241.

[10] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 494.