II. Outdoing the Scientists: The Love Affair of Evangelicalism and Modern Science
Theology and science in the modern world have not seemingly had a happy coexistence. Issues of ‘creation v. evolution’ have cast the relationship between evangelicalism and science into a light that seems clearly to be one of contention. Thus, it seems hardly appropriate to claim that the evangelical relationship with modern science has been a “love affair.” Nevertheless, I contend that, despite the different conclusions regarding the origin of the universe, evangelical theology has enthusiastically adopted the same canons of scientific reasoning that their Darwinist opponents claim. To that end a brief overview and evaluation of some of the most nuanced theological approaches to relating theology and science is needed.
The fundamental response of Christian theology in its more conservative circles has been to show that modern science – particularly in its Darwinist expression – is not true science at all. Rather, scientific naturalism and evolutionary theory is simply unsound and illogical science and as such should be rejected simply on scientific grounds prior to even bringing theological or biblical issues into the debate. One of the foremost proponents of such a view is Phillip E. Johnson. Johnson’s works are many, but all feature the same themes. Johnson argues consistently that Darwinism is simply unsound science. Johnson argues throughout that Darwinian theories are beset with logical fallacies, dogmatic biases, inconsistencies and a profound lack of empirical evidence.
Much of Johnson’s approach is appreciable. He viciously applies scientific and logical reasoning to Darwinian orthodoxy and shows many of the inconsistencies and difficulties with evolutionary theory. It is not my intention to berate or completely dismiss Johnson’s critique of Darwinism, however, there are certain pressing flaws in his argument that should be noted. The first is that he completely brackets out theological or biblical considerations. He seeks to “distinguish the evidence itself from any religious or philosophical bias that might distort our interpretation of that evidence.” But in so doing, Johnson simply accepts the canons of the scientific tradition without question. We see here nothing more than a philosophic theistic account of modern science that holds unquestionably to the naïve realism that has characterized the scientific tradition since the Enlightenment. Johnson’s belief that he can rise above his “religious or philosophical bias” and objectively arbitrate between competing scientific claims is one that should certainly be viewed with skepticism by the responsible theologian. That a person can simply by an act of will transcend their theological and philosophical presuppositions is a claim that has been amply demolished by the postmodern critique (and in truth, it was demolished long before that by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1). Such an assumption of a God’s eye perspective on reality is naïve and question-begging.
Despite Johnson’s adept use of logic and the scientific tradition to question Darwinism, he does not offer a properly theological way forward. While Johnson does point out some of the problems with evolutionary theory, he by no means goes to the root of the problem, but is merely content to prune off the branches. (Of course there is the pressing question of whether Johnson’s critique can really hold water, which I leave aside in this treatment.) This problem is shared by the recent ‘intelligent design’ movement, which is in many ways Johnson’s project come of age. This movement likewise merits analysis.
2. ‘Intelligent Design’ and Bridge Building
Intelligent design (hereafter ID) is a movement that is somewhat in vogue in certain scientific and theological circles today. Mathematician and theologian, William Dembski has been central in promoting and popularizing this perspective in evangelical circles. It shares with Johnson’s project the rejection of Darwinian evolutionary theory. The key difference lies in its desire to ‘bridge the gap’ between theology and science through the use of the ‘design inference,’ namely that the inherent designed-ness of the world is “empirically detectable.” ID posits itself as a “scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes.” Through scientific observation of the world (the effect), proponents claim that they can logically infer the existence of God (the cause). As such ID posits itself as “the bridge between science and theology.”
It is this bridge-building metaphor to which I would like to call attention. In Dembski’s view science and theology operate as “two different windows on reality.” Thus, theology and science offer mutual support for one another if they are done properly. Theology’s claims will not contradict science and science’s claims will not contradict theology. They form complementary perspectives that mutually enforce and illumine one another. To the extent that science is truly done in a proper scientific manner, science and theology will be “bridged” and there is the potential of convergence and illuminating dialogue between the two disciplines.
There are many shortcomings of such an approach of “bridge-building” as Dembski tries to establish it. As with Johnson’s “scientific” critique of Darwinism, ID does not step back to question the very presuppositions that undergird the modern understanding of science in the first place. Dembski’s characterization of theology and science as “two different windows on reality” does not seriously reckon with the questions of epistemology that are quite pressing in light of the postmodern critique. Dembski, like Johnson continues to assume the ability of science to give direct insight into the nature of reality through empirical observation. However, this presupposition is never examined or de
Moreover, the entire intelligent design project is based on investigating “the effects of intelligent causes.” However, this is very problematic epistemologically. Cause and effect cannot be empirically proven, it can be inferred, but only on the basis of a fiduciary committment. Moreover, such an understanding of the world solely based on a concept of causality is more Aristotelian and Newtonian than Einstienian, though that avenue of critique cannot be persued here. Dembski’s argument for ID as a bridge falters on numerous points, but most centrally because of its theological bankruptcy. It seems hard to believe, then that ID can do the work that its proponents want it to do. Even if proponents of ID are able to convincingly infer the existence of an intelligent designer from an empirical investigation of the world, there is no reason to assume that theology and science have been effectively bridged, let alone Christianity and science. Or most importantly,that the indelligent designer will have any connection to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
ID, then seems deficient in its epistemological and scientific underpinnings as a means of relating theology and science. Its failure to reckon with the postmodern critique of objectivity, the noetic effects of sin and its uncritical adoption of modern understandings of science put it in a distinctly poor position to serve as a means of bringing theology and science into dialogue. However, perhaps the most glaring weakness of both Johnson’s proposal and the more sophisticated forms of intelligent design lies in their failure to question, or even chasten the viability of science as a reliable source of knowledge. All such approaches simply assume the autonomy of science as a viable, objective and rational way of gaining accurate knowledge about reality.
Perhaps even more problematic is the theological bankruptcy of such approaches. Even if they are able to dismantle Darwinian evolutionary theory and establish beyond any reasonable doubt the existence of an intelligent designer, none of these approaches can establish that this creator is the Triune God of the Bible. They start where modernism starts, with the autonomous individual, and they end where modernism ends, in a shallow and ultimately presumptuous and overconfident view of humanity’s ability to know and master nature.
Considerations such as these show forth the importance of finding another paradigm for relating theology and science. Rather than the standard approaches that simply seek to prune off aspects of modern science – normally its conclusions rather than its methodology – a theological approach that seeks to go to the root of the problem of modern science is needed. Rather than simply granting the scientific tradition autonomy and writing it a blank check on what can be considered epistemologically viable, instead theology must engage more foundational questions abut the nature of science and scientific reasoning and engage in proper theological evaluations of the presuppositions of modernist conceptions of science. To that task, I turn now. Such an undertaking will require the construction of a new paradigm for understanding science and theology and the nature of their relationship. In light of the preceding criticisms of other approaches, the one articulated here will attempt to be distinctly theological and wary of the common tendency of evangelicalism to simply seek to accommodate the scientific tradition on its own terms.
 On this point see George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 122-152.
 Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 14.
 On this point see Phillip D. Kenneson, “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing Too,” in Phillips and Okholm, eds., Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, 156-170.
 See for example, William Dembski and James Kushiner, eds., Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001).
 In fact, Johnson has jumped fully onto the ID bandwagon. See
 Dembski, Intelligent Design, 105-109.
 Dembski, Intelligent Design, 13.
 The subtitle of Dembski’s book.
 Dembski, Intelligent Design, 187.
 Indeed, Dembski never engages postmodern criticisms in any significant way throughout his book. His mentions of postmodernism typically consist of mere assertions that postmo
dernity has not really had any major impact. He touts ID as being “premodern” (Intelligent Design, 44-48), but that way of putting the matter is anachronistic and overlooks the radical dependence of the ID project on forms of scientific reasoning that are distinctly modernistic. Despite such claims, there seems to be no way for Dembski to persuasively deny that his use of mathematics and information theory is dependent on Enlightenment forms of scientific reasoning and epistemology.
 On the issue of the “interpretedness” of all forms of human activity and knowing, see James K.A. Smith, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations of a Creational Hermeneutic (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
 On the issue of the noetic effects of sin, see Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 199-240.
 See Middleton and. Walsh, Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be, 20-27.