Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind ruffled many a feather. For roughly two centuries the evangelical was told to play the short game. That is, engage in evangelism and let your pastor do the theology. You just bring people into the church and let them come to Christ after hearing a salvation message. Lather, rinse, repeat. That’s the revivalist way. At least for the most part. There have been exceptions but those have been in the minority.
Peter Enns takes this further by saying “The real scandal of the Evangelical mind is that we are not allowed to use it.” His concern is that the evangelical Christian is allowed to think — but with a serious limitation. There are certain dogmas, doctrines, and assumptions which are out-of-bounds. There are things which the evangelical is not allowed to question. You may explore evolutionary theory but you’d better end up with Adam. And nothing in your historical studies should challenge either the Biblical histories or the doctrine and practice of inerrancy. That is, “doctrine determines academic conclusions.”
My follow-up is to make two points. First, all worldviews do this. Second, so what?
We Think in Systems. All of us.
In the recent publication “Science Unlimited? The Challenges of Scientism” the collection of essayists pursue the extent to which science (or scientism, depending on the author) should inform other areas of life. Ethics was the major topic of conversation. Some included a discussion of the legitimacy of philosophy as a discipline. But none of them abandoned naturalism per se.
The mind of the scientist-philosopher dare not abandon metaphysical naturalism. It matters not whether one allows for Christianity, monism, Islam, or some other theistic-class metaphysic. What matters in this work is that scientism is not informed by any other ideas. Scientism is scientism because it sits atop all worldviews, acting as the practical expression of and positive apologetic for empiricism.
This is standard for all orthodoxies. No naturalist constructs an apologetic for young earth creation (YEC), old earth creation (OEC), or theistic evolution (TE). They just don’t. These are called “belief systems.” It seems silly to have to say that, but it seems Mr. Enns missed something really basic.
Everybody thinks systematically. We interpret everything around us according to our frame of reference, which is certainly more than a mere mental state. When one reads “throw off your shackles” one would properly interpret that as a call to violent revolution. Of course one might read it metaphorically and existentially to reinterpret it as “set yourself free to be yourself.” But we know that such a lay interpretation misses the original author’s point. So we construct universities to reinforce what the original author really meant.
But in both cases, the interpretation follows the goal of the original author. That’s the author’s system and it later becomes the student’s system. It grows legs and takes root in not just the individual but in the whole of society. It’s a sort visit to D.C. for one to locate collection “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm” bumper stickers.
Lots of Intellectuals Don’t Think Independently
All systems have limits. That’s the “so what?” of it all. It’s the nature of systems. And though systems may change they always bear that feature. If it has no limits it is not a definable system.
What happens when one abandons an orthodoxy? Mr. Enns’ suggestion that the evangelical effectively adopt an alternative system. There is, seemingly, room for the evangelical to abandon any sense of special creation and inerrancy. Of course to abandon either of these would move the individual outside of evangelical orthodoxy. But that is no different than the follower of metaphysical naturalism adopting even the most benign form of theism — even deism. It’s heresy and apostasy on either part.
The criticisms of Jerry Fodor & Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini (What Darwin Got Wrong) and Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos) were significant. The very idea that (a) Darwin might have been wrong for being such a materialist and ignoring the mind and (b) that evolutionists really have no idea how the process actually works were significant confessions. But how dare one abandon Darwin? And how dare one open the door to either (and it is problematic) mind-body dualism or mind-body, non-materialistic monism?
Likewise, the “third wave” biologists are viewing genetic material as real information. They’re not creationists by any means. But the materialists are, well, not at all happy. Even if they might agree with the conclusions they’re not saying it out loud. Why? Because a philosophical door has been opened. For those materialists & empiricists who think philosophy has someplace, this is critical, for one must account for the origin of real information. Wolfram has one idea, but it doesn’t work very well. So their struggle to maintain orthodoxy continues in parallel to ours.
Like any cliche, these terms have a myriad of meanings. They might mean that you refuse to think about certain subjects. They might mean that you are out of the mainstream of thought on a topic. Or even in general. They might mean that you are simply operating outside of orthodoxy. Sometimes the meaning is even political.
Yes, the revival era left the fundamentalist without a motivation to read things like philosophy. It’s fair to say that there has been a tenor of anti-intellectualism within a subset of evangelical Christianity. Philosophy and other liberal arts topics are seen as distractions. For some they are.
But let’s also keep in mind that some of these are middle-class luxuries. The demand that everyone is not built to read let alone study philosophy. Hey, Kant is boring. Nietzsche is, well, odd. Marx is tedious at best. It’s just not what everyone wants to read. Complaints like this tend to come from an elitist attitude.
Raising questions about Darwinism isn’t ours alone. Look at the evolution movement itself. Darwinism was replaced by neo-Darwinism, the synthesis, and the extended synthesis. Now we have third wave and epigenetics along with some post- and non-Darwinist proposals out there. All of them have a “scientific” foundation. Each is right about something in its model — enough that it raises doubts about the other models. There is no uniform evolutionary theory.
And then there’s climate science. This is certainly a politicized science. But apart from the politics, there are questions about the science itself. Some raise questions about fudged data. The question I raise is the falsifiability of the model. Does the model include a full set of evidence? That’s important. When one reads the material one sees that it’s entirely climatological. Geological change is not often, or should I say seldom if ever, part of the equation. There are events which occur every couple of decades that give this question weight.
Does that make me “anti-science?” To some it does. It’s that I’ve presented a model that disregards evidence. All I’ve done is question the existing models and their adequacy. That’s enough.
We Are Thinking
Of course, scientific theory is being seriously explored. We’re not all YEC. But are we free to question Darwin at the same time? Are we only thinking if we act as libertarian thinkers? There is a pretense to such a radical idea. Even thinking is a community concept.
Would that one be skeptical of his own skepticism.