Two annoying Templeton-related fleas to scratch.
In case you don’t follow what’s going on over at at BioLogos, the biology website funded by The Templeton Foundation, the accommodationism continues fast and furious. Three days ago Kenton Sparks, identified as “a professor of Biblical studies at Eastern University,” a Christian college at St. David’s Pennsylvania, wrote a BioLogos essay on “Scripture and the Problem of Science (Part 2)”. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Eastern harbors the “Templeton Honors College,” funded by John Jr. and Josephine Templeton.)
What’s the “problem”? It’s the difficulty, for the faithful, of accepting literally the supernatural stories of the Bible (Jesus as the son of God, his resurrection, and so on), while realizing that its description of origins, and other assertions that conflict with science, aren’t to be taken literally. Sparks’s solution: realize, as did Augustine of Hippo and Calvin, that the Bible isn’t to be read as a textbook of science:
First, regarding the scientific evidence, both Augustine and Calvin regarded the cosmos as an important source of revelation from God. Following Psalm 19, they understood that the “heavens declare the glory of God. Day by day they pour forth speech. There is no language in which their word is not heard.” When the cosmos is understood in this way—as divine speech to humanity—then it is no longer possible to characterize Christian debates about science as a conflict that pits “God’s inerrant word in Scripture” against “errant human science.” Rather, any conflict between Scripture and science should be understood as a conflict between “human interpretations of God’s word in Scripture” and “human interpretations of God’s word in nature.”
Secondly, regarding Scripture itself, although Augustine and Calvin deeply trusted the Bible as a witness to Christ and the Gospel message, they did not feel any deep need for Scripture to provide dependable insights on everything in human experience. In particular, both theologians averred that the Bible is not a science book. This is why Augustine was so comfortable reading problematic biblical texts as allegories and why Calvin was able to say, rather nonchalantly, that one could not depend on Scripture as a guide to the structure of the cosmos.
. . . I think we should follow the lead of Augustine and Calvin. It is time for the Evangelical tradition (of which I am a part) to take scientists more seriously and the Bible somewhat less seriously, with respect to Science.
What I mean is this. As a rule, God has not specially revealed in Scripture those things that human beings can figure out for ourselves. Basic facts about electricity, magnetism, gravity, quantum physics and genetics, however interesting, could not have been understood by ancient readers. On top of that, we have been able to tolerably appreciate and understand them by applying our natural, God-given intellectual gifts to a study of the cosmos that God made for us. And what we have discovered reveals a cosmos that is truly amazing and that, if anything, only points us towards the God who made it. And this, the Bible tells us, is precisely what the cosmos—the “book of nature”— was designed to do!
Is biological evolution among those things that we can discover for ourselves? And if it is, could it be that the evolutionary process, rather than pointing us away from God, might actually impress us as the work of a mighty God? That is the question that we will begin to take up in Part 3.
Once again we see that modern theology is the art of turning empirical necessities into spiritual virtues. Except for a few dissenters like Augustine and Calvin, the bulk of Christian theology up to the rise of science in the sixteenth century involved seeing the Bible literally—in its entirety. Six-day creation, Noah, Adam and Eve—the whole megillah. That held for cosmology, biology, and evolution. It was only when reason and empirical studies began to show phenomena in conflict with scripture that theologians began to realize that the Bible was not wholly inerrant. Today, every liberal theologian realizes this, and that leads to Sparks’s problem. The modern resolution is to take Sparks’s line that the Bible wasn’t really meant to be taken literally—except, of course, for the parts about God and Jesus. As for the rest, well, it’s just a metaphor, don’t you know?
By ignoring the many centuries in which theologians did indeed see the Bible as a textbook of science, these theologians are claiming, without saying so directly, that centuries of theology were simply dead wrong. And wrong not because science hadn’t yet shed its light on origins, but because early theologians simply failed to grasp that the Bible wasn’t meant to be taken literally! And they point to a few people, like Augustine and Calvin, as those prescient individuals who realized this. Now why should we hold Augustine and Calvin up for honors? Because their theology just happened to coincide with the theology that arose centuries later, when science showed that the Bible was wrong. They knew it in advance!
Sparks is simply saying, to all of the faithful who continue to take much of the Bible as “scientifically” true, “you’re wrong because Augustine said so. Never mind that hundreds of theologians continued—and still continue—to see Scripture as nearly inerrant.” This is, I think, what Dawkins means when he claims that Biblical literalists are the most honest among believers. They don’t water down the Bible by picking and choosing what must be true versus what must be metaphor. On what warrant can Sparks assert that the Biblical account of the origin of plants, animals, and humans is just a metaphor, but the birth of Jesus, well, that occurred via parthenogenesis?
And these people conveniently ignore the parts of Augustine’s and Calvin’s theology that are unpalatable today. Were A&C also prescient in their adherence to predestination, the idea of an “elect” who would go to heaven while the rest of us, no matter what our good works in this life, would suffer eternal torment in hell?
Theology moves ahead not under its own steam, but by pressure from behind by science and reason. And the “progress” it achieves is not some clearer understanding of a spiritual reality, but simply a new kind of doublethink that purports to reconcile the natural with the supernatural.
In the February 13 New York Times, Gary Rosen, the chief external affairs officer of the John Templeton Foundation, reviews Timothy Ferris’s The Science of Liberty, a book about the supposedly crucial role of science in the rise of modern democracy. Rosen takes issue with Ferris’s claim that science itself, with its openness to new ideas and rational method of adjudicating them, serves itself as a model of democracy:
But crucial distinctions are lost in these comparisons. The scientific community may be open to everyone, in principle, but it has steep and familiar barriers to entry, as any layperson who has tried to read the research papers at the back of journals like Nature or Science can attest. When not distorted by its own personal and political rivalries, modern science is, in the most admirable sense, an aristocracy — a selection and sorting of the best minds as they interact within institutions designed to achieve certain rarefied ends. Experiment, equality and freedom of expression are essential to this work, but it is the work of an elite community from which most people are necessarily excluded. Thankfully, participation in the everyday life of democracy does not require a Ph.D., nor are theories and ideas its basic medium.
Scientists today are understandably eager to shape policy debates on a number of urgent issues (like climate change, to which Ferris devotes much of his closing chapter). But they have to appreciate the many ways in which scientific discourse, even in its experimental mode, makes an awkward fit with democratic politics. Only then will they find it easier to talk to — and persuade — the rest of us.
Granted, becoming a scientist takes training and work, and granted, some scientists, like Nobel laureates, are accorded scientific deference because of their stature, and may find it easier than a graduate student to get their papers published in Nature. But does our professional jargon and training make us an “aristocracy”, an “elite”? (Shades of Sarah Palin!) No more so, I’d think, than any other profession that requires training and expertise, like plumbing, auto mechanics, medicine, architecture, and engineering. Do those professions also have an “awkward fit with democratic politics”?
And what, exactly, is this “awkward fit”? Rosen isn’t clear about this, but it appears to be the Palin-esque assertion that we aristocratic scientists turn people off with our elitism, snobbery, and in-group jargon, making us less able to communicate effectively with the “real” people. Our realization of our fundamental elitisim, claims Rosen, will open up the floodgates, turning us all into politically effective communicators. It would be helpful if Rosen told us what we’re supposed to do to break down these barriers, but until then it’s nothing more than blame-the-scientist framing.
Or maybe it would help to reconcile our elitist science with more democratic spirituality, the avowed goal of the Templeton Foundation?