Christianity and Science: Current Disputes among the Faithful

From the November 2014 Forum in South Beach, Miami, Florida

Dr. Jeff Hardin, Professor and Chair of the Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin

The apparent contradiction between the theory of evolution and Christian theories of creation is a major public controversy in America. Despite the perceived depth of the disagreement, Dr. Jeff Hardin contests the idea that the two are at odds with one another. Dr. Hardin hopes to encourage positive dialogue among Christian believers regarding the interactions between faith and science. He believes that such dialogue will help people of faith to see nuance in their beliefs. By broadening the discussion, we can open possibilities for more informed and inspired worldviews that integrate both science and religion.


Michael Cromartie

Michael Cromartie

MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Well, many of you have already met Professor Hardin.  As you know, he is the Professor and Chair of the Department of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin.  He did his Ph.D. in biophysics at the University of California, Berkeley.  I know there are about five or six or seven of us in here who did our Ph.D.’s in biophysics.


MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  I did my Ph.D. in biophysics.


MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  But the wonderful thing about Dr. Hardin is also he has written a book called The World of the Cell.  It’s a cell biology textbook.  And some of us heard Professor Hardin give this presentation before, and when I heard it, I thought this would be a perfect presentation for the Faith Angle because of what he’s about to share with us.

So without any further ado, Jeff Hardin, thank you for joining us at the Faith Angle Forum.


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Jeff Hardin

JEFF HARDIN:  I just wanted to say many of you are not familiar with biophysics, except for Michael apparently.  And so biophysicists, when they’re talking with physicists, talk about biology; biophysicists, when they’re talking with biologists, talk about physics; and when biophysicists are talking to other biophysicists, they talk about the weather.


JEFF HARDIN:  So I’m Chair of a Zoology Department, so Sarah has already gotten the zoo reference in yesterday, and we can come back to that.

It’s really a pleasure to be with you.  This is a bit of a cross-cultural experience for me, and it’s really been delightful so far.  And I can’t get too many opportunities to be around somebody so relentlessly positive as Michael.

So thanks for inviting me, Michael, it’s good to be here.

I do want to change the title of this talk.  Michael suggested that title because I think journalists like disputes, they like controversy.  I don’t like that so much, so I hope it’s okay, Michael, if I change the title to “Christianity and Science: Dialogues Among the Faithful” because that’s something that I’m fairly committed to.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  But they came because of the title.


JEFF HARDIN:  Okay.  Thank you.  Well, you’re free to leave at this point if you want…


JEFF HARDIN:  Okay.  So I want to talk about three things.  First of all, I hope it’s all right to give you a bit of a personal perspective on why I think this issue matters.  Then I want to talk very briefly about some data on what Evangelical Christians in particular think about science, and some of that data was actually collected in collaboration with Christian Smith, who you’ve heard from already.  And then I want to move to the thing that Michael asked me to present, which was a bit of a case study on laying out different viewpoints that Evangelicals have with regard to the Bible and science.  I’m a zoology professor, so hopefully that taxonomy will be useful to you in your thinking about these topics.

So let me begin by why I think this matters.  (shows next slide) So Geoffrey Cantor, who is a historian and philosopher of science, in a millennial essay in the premier scientific journal Nature, was asked to comment on what are the big challenges in the next millennium for science.  You can see the title here is “Fighting the Wrong Battle.” Cantor said one of the issues we are going to face in this millennium is trying to relate science and religion.  He said it this way: “Issues of science and religion are important to our civilization, far too significant to be left either to the devoutly religious physicist,” – and I think he was talking about a gentleman named Sir John Polkinghorne – “or the scoffing atheistical biologist,” – I’m guessing Sir Richard Dawkins there. “People holding different beliefs and forms of expertise need to work together in an open nonconfrontational environment accepting both science and religion as valid aspects of human experience.  It’s a challenge facing the coming millennium.”

So no matter what your own take is on religion and on science, this is an important topic.  And for you, as journalists, I think it’s particularly important. (shows next slide) So witness this recent brouhaha over comments made by Pope Francis about evolution in unveiling a bronze bust of Pope Benedict XVI, This is a piece by Elizabeth Dias from Time Magazine

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  She was invited to this.

JEFF HARDIN:  Okay. I really appreciated this article, including the words, “Sorry, but media coverage of Pope Francis is papal bull.” I think mainstream media outlets, many of them seem to have a very poor understanding of Roman Catholic thought on various aspects of science, particularly evolutionary biology, and Elizabeth is calling them to task here.

I think one of the things that’s true about you all and is true about me is that, to use Christian’s phrase, which is a new phrase to me, is that we are “knowledge-class professionals.”  That’s really what we both are, professors and journalists.  We’re in the business of educating, and so getting this issue right is important for the public, and that’s why I think you have such an important mission by virtue of your profession.

Now, for me, I will admit that there is some personal importance here.  First of all, I’m a professor; I’m Chair of a Zoology Department at a major research university, so I think about biology and science quite a lot.  One thing that’s not in my bio, though, is that I happen to be a Christian, and before I did my Ph.D. in Biophysics, I did a Master of Divinity degree at an Evangelical seminary in Southern California, which maybe because I went through there no longer exists!  It was called the International School of Theology.  So for me personally putting together science and Christian faith is pretty important.

Jeff Hardin

Jeff Hardin

Now, one proviso in this talk: I am not an evolutionary biologist, so if you want to get into the nuts and bolts of evolutionary mechanism… I mean, I can address some of that, but I’m not an expert.  You should invite other people who are experts to future Faith Angle Forum events, but I’m happy to talk about that.  I actually study how embryos develop, and that’s a lot of what I do for my teaching as well.

Now, in addition, though, I’m a faculty advisor.  So there are a lot of student groups on the UW campus, Christian student groups, and I’m a faculty advisor for several of them, so there is kind of a pastoral concern for me as well.

So given all of this, these are important issues for me personally.  And in addition, I’m in a bit of a strange class.  (shows next slide) So Elaine Howard Ecklund, who is a sociologist at Rice University – and she’s one of the co-authors of the article that Christian put out on the tables yesterday – did a survey, and I took part in the survey.  It was a survey of scientists at leading research universities in the United States about their religious beliefs.

This is an infographic from the BioLogos Foundation, and they have a page that is full of really beautiful infographics like this if you want to look for some nice resources.  But what this shows is a green test tube that is scientists and a blue test tube that is the general populace.  And it breaks people down by their religious convictions from “Don’t Know,” “Refuse to Answer,” “Nothing in Particular,” “Atheist,” “Agnostic,” “Other Religion,” “Jewish,” “Catholic,” “Mainline Protestant,” and at the very bottom, there are 4 percent that are “Evangelical Protestant.”  So, you know, I’m in a very small minority of scientists at major research universities.

Now, compare that to the general populace and what you see is that 28 percent identify themselves as Evangelicals.  And so the point is that as a practicing scientist who happens to be this particular kind of Christian, there aren’t very many of us out there, and so this is of personal importance for me to get this right.

In addition, as I said, I’m a professor.  I interact with students a lot, and one of the students I interact with is a student named Jeremy O’Connell, who eventually got his Ph.D. in Botany at the University of Texas at Austin, but he came to me one day because he saw that my hard drive was named Narnia. I don’t know if many of you might know that a guy named C.S. Lewis wrote some books called The Chronicles of Narnia; maybe you’ve seen some of the Disney franchise versions of those books. [Jeremy] was curious about that and came in to talk to me, and he spilled his heart out in this meeting, and he explained that he was very close to jettisoning his Christian faith when he came to the university because he realized what he had been told about science didn’t square with what he learned at the university, and so he felt that he was pushed into an impossible position:  either accept his Christian faith and jettison what he was learning about science or, conversely, accept was he was learning about science and cut loose his Christian faith.  He seemed to be in an impossible situation.

And so we talked about options and I helped him think through a lot of these issues, and as a thank-you – he’s a digital artist – he gave me this picture (shows next slide), and it’s kind of like horrible looking anglerfish, kind of Scylla and Charybdis here on the other side, and there is a lamppost in the middle.  If you know The Chronicles of Narnia, there is kind of a planted lamppost which features prominently in the first book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and another one as well, called The Magician’s Nephew.

So all of this is to say it’s hard for Evangelicals to think about these issues clearly in ways that are life giving, and it produces a lack of congruence.  (shows next slide) So this is Alyssa Bryant Rockenbach.  She studies a kind of educational psychology, and she wrote a piece several years ago which I found very helpful.  She interviewed a number of students who were Evangelicals, and they talked about whether they were truthful in the classroom, and one of them she interviewed said this:  “To get the A, you’ve got to repeat what the teacher tells you, regurgitate it, get your A, and get out, even though you might not believe in it.  I mean, to me, the irony of it all is that I have to play the part of somebody that’s not true to himself, and that is a problem to me.”

So from the personal side, I have a lot of passion for this issue and I have a lot of passion for us collectively thinking well about this and helping the public in the United States to think well about it.

So let’s turn then to some thoughts that Evangelicals have about science. There are some deficiencies in the way this has been assessed; Christian is far more able to identify the pitfalls here from a social science perspective, and maybe we can get into that in the Q&A.

(shows next slide)

I guess the most famous assessment is by the Gallup organization, and they have been running a poll since 1982 where they ask about human origins. They ask whether humans evolved, but God had no part in the process; that would be the bottom green line at the very bottom.  The darker green line is the percent of people responding that humans evolved with God guiding it somehow.  And then the lime green at the top is that God created humans in their present form quite recently.  And you can see that these are pretty flat, I mean, there’s not a lot of movement in these numbers over three decades despite repeated and vigorous attempts to educate the American public.

So, now, there are deficiencies in the way these questions are asked, and we can talk about that, but nevertheless, this is pretty discouraging to biology educators, including myself.  And you can break this down, or these polls can be broken down, by political party.  I think you can guess how that might shake out in terms of Republican, Independent, or Democrat.  And the orange here is the percentage that responded “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years”.  The red is that “Humans evolved and God guided the process”.  And the teal is that “Humans evolved and God had no part in the process”.  So you can see for Republicans a simple majority actually believe in a recent creation of humans.

If you look at people who go to church, similarly you can guess that there is a strong correlation with church-going in the United States and belief in a recent creation of humans.  So the orange here again is God creating humans in their present form, and you can see that people who attend church weekly ‑‑ that’s the top row ‑‑ many of them hold that position.  People who almost never attend church, well, you can see they’re kind of a mixed bag at the bottom.  And so there is a correlation between people’s belief systems and their regularity of church attendance and whether or not they’re open to some of the evidence for evolution.

Now, someone who was a postdoc with Christian, Jon Hill, who is now at Calvin College, he’s a really accomplished social scientist. I’ll mention him, and give a plug for something that’s about to come out in a moment that Jon has been working on, when I think he was still working with Christian ‑‑ is that right, Christian? [Christian nods]

JEFF HARDIN:  Yeah, this is data when he was still working with Christian, he looked at whether or not college education actually influenced your acceptance or not of evolution.  I’m a college educator; I was very interested in this set of data.  It’s not encouraging. (shows next slide)  People with no college are on the left in this diagram.  The purple represents people who are consistently creationists, so they believe that humans were created recently and that the world, in fact, was created a few thousand years ago; that’s in purple.  People who switched to an evolutionary view, accepting some sort of evolution, are in pink.  People who had a consistent view on evolution are in blue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER:  Jeff, is this Evangelicals?

JEFF HARDIN:  This is Evangelicals, yeah.

Christian Smith

Christian Smith

CHRISTIAN SMITH, Notre Dame:  And then to be clear, this is switching between late teenage years and 18 to 25.  This is not all people.

JEFF HARDIN:  That’s right, it’s not all people.

CHRISTIAN SMITH:  This is young people.

JEFF HARDIN:  This is young people.  This is part of the National Study of Youth and Religion that Christian spearheaded and has published the results in a number of really fine books that I encourage you to check out.

So these are Evangelicals.  And so what you see then is that people who are college graduates ‑‑ that’s on the far right ‑‑ the purple box is bigger.  Those are the people who are consistently creationist in their viewpoint.

So education, at least for Evangelicals, doesn’t seem to move the needle very much.

Now, Jon has gone on to do additional analyses that are going to be published very soon.  I’ve seen an advanced copy, but I don’t want to talk about work that’s not been published. Jon has gone on to do a very nice survey to disambiguate some of the data from the Gallup polls.  I’ll let him tell that story.  You should look for that in media outlets and in press releases coming soon, but I think the results show predictably that the Gallup polls are pretty naive in the way they assess people, but nevertheless, these basic facts still seem to hold true.

(shows next slide) And this is not the only kind of survey that indicates this: John Evans, who is a sociologist at UC San Diego, has done a general social survey, and his findings suggest that there is no religious group that knows less, and actually mainline Protestants know more than those who are not religiously active.  And in fact, ironically, Evangelicals have taken more science classes per capita than other types of students.

“Many religious groups don’t seem to accept the validity of scientific methodology for the few fact claims in which there is a differing religious explanation, particularly evolution.”

This is John’s conclusion from his work.  “The solution to conflicts over evolution for ordinary people, not activists, is not in teaching religious people the scientific method or showing how scientific institutions produce knowledge.  Conservative Protestants already accept that.  Rather, it lies in convincing conservative Protestants that scientists are not systematically biasing the findings of their knowledge.”

So what is that about?  Well, fundamentally, that is about trust.  In other words, trust for Evangelicals is more important than data.  If an Evangelical doesn’t trust you, they’re not open to accepting what you have to say.

So what that suggests then is that changing attitudes about science is likely more about allaying theological concerns for the faithful than about imparting information, and that attitudes about science may be as much about social and relational considerations as they are about information.

So with that backdrop, let me give you a little bit from a presentation that I’ve given to several large Evangelical churches to help them see that there are a range of options that they might think about. Part of the motivation here is to help them to be open to seeing that there are multiple ways to be faithful as a Christian and think about these scientific issues.

(shows next slide)

And so here is the big idea, and this is the big idea that I tell them actually: “Christians should avoid binary thinking about the question of origins”.  We, in the United States, we like things that are binary, up-down, yes-no, black-white, we’re very comfortable with that kind of approach as a nation, but Evangelicals in particular like to think that way.  So the goal here is to move them to see some options, and this will also help you get a sense for the taxonomy of possibilities among Evangelicals out there as journalists as well.

Jeff Hardin

Jeff Hardin

So let me begin by saying this is not all that easy.  (shows next slide) In a really good book by a philosopher of science at Calvin College, Del Ratzsch, called The Battle of Beginnings ‑‑ so you can see what that book was about ‑‑ says, “One of the attractions of the popular caricatures that reign in this area is that they make confident choice appear supremely easy.”  These sorts of easy solutions are what people tend to go for, so the work is actually very hard to try to provide space in the middle for some discussion.

(shows next slide)

And so I start by affirming what Christians all can affirm about creation.  Let’s look at something from the Apostle Paul from the Christian part of the Bible, the New Testament, from his letter to the Church at Colossae (Col. 1:16-17).  “For by Him,” – this is Jesus he is referring to – “all things were created:  in heaven and earth, visible and invisible; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” So Christians think that Jesus is sort of the “metaphysical glue” that holds the universe together and he underlies its creation and its day-to-day functioning.  (shows next slide) And this is reflected in the ancient creeds, the Nicene Creed, for example, which many churches affirm:  “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom all things were made.”

So Christians can affirm all of this, and, in fact, Christians have a history of what’s called the “two books” kind of approach, and this really comes from a piece of poetry in the book of Psalms, Psalm 19, (shows next slide) where it begins, “The heavens declare the glories of God.  The skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day-to-day they pour forth speech” – that word is literally from the Hebrew “bubbling up,” you know, kind of like bubbling crude from the Beverly Hillbillies: oil, that is – you know that kind of idea.  So it’s irrepressibly telling us something about God, its creator.  But the psalm also goes on and talks about the Scriptures, how the law of the Lord is perfect and how it revives the soul, how everything there is trustworthy, and these commands are radiant, they give life.  And so there are these two books, the book of God’s works in the world, and the book of God’s word.

So Christians all affirm this, and you would think, well, that’s a good start; right?  In fact, ironically Francis Bacon took this two books analogy and really ran with it, and you may have heard of him, he was one of the important figures in the so-called scientific revolution. (shows next slide) He said “let no person think or maintain that they can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word or the book of God’s works”.  Now, the ironic thing is that this is quoted in a very interesting place, it’s in the frontispiece to the Origin of Species.  Interesting.  So Christians affirm these two books.  Where do the controversies come from?  Where do the disputes that are in need of dialogue come from?

Well, first we need some ground rules, and so I spend some time defining those.  We talk about what “evolution” is: it’s change over time.  Biological evolution is the biological change that occurs over time.  And as classically defined in the modern synthesis, evolution is descent with modification from earlier life forms that have shared ancestors, it’s made possible by mutation, changes in genes, and by natural selection, pressure to select for particular beneficial changes that confer a reproductive advantage on various organisms.  So that’s evolution.  And you would be surprised that most students really cannot articulate this, which is disappointing from a zoology professor’s perspective.

Microevolution is small changes over time.  Most evolutionary biologists think those are just amplified over time to get what some people call macroevolution, large-scale changes that transcend species boundaries and lead to large-scale changes in organisms over geological time.

But we also have to define the word “creationism”, often used very badly.  So what does that mean?  Well, this is the idea that the universe and ultimately life on Earth were created by one or more intelligent agents.  Now, based on what I told you earlier, for Christians, the agent is God.  And therefore all Christians in some sense are creationists.  Of course, we know there is a proviso there, and we’ll get to that.

“It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, who we can beat down, who we can win against, but who we can invite into a conversation, and during that conversation making sure that we do well by the text of Scripture.”

Now, in addition, I have to define for these folks what is “naturalism”, and maybe you’re wondering what that might mean.  We learned about “methodological nationalism” yesterday from Christian.  He was kind of playing off of the phrase “methodological naturalism.”  This is the idea that the natural world is to be explained using the scientific methodologies that are common to science.  Many of us would prefer the word “natural science” for that.

“Metaphysical naturalism”, in contrast, is a worldview or a philosophical commitment that the natural is all there is and that the supernatural can’t occur.

So no Christians, at least traditional Christians, are metaphysical naturalists, but they may be methodological naturalists.  In fact, many Christians who are scientists would be in that latter camp.

Okay, so with that backdrop then, I lay out some perspectives on all of these things, and I begin with a really helpful rubric from Eugenie Scott, who herself is not a believer.  She has run the National Center for Science Education out of Oakland, California, which is committed to helping foster education about evolution in public schools and other venues.  And in her book ‑‑ it’s in several of her books and also in her articles ‑‑ she says, “I encourage people to reject the creation-evolution dichotomy and to recognize the creation-evolution continuum.”

What she’s trying to do ‑‑ and actually a lot of people got mad at her for saying this ‑‑ is to say, “look, we need to recognize that there are a spectrum of views, and that if we want to move people and their understanding of biological processes, we need to accept that and actually help people to think ‑‑ move away from thinking in black-and-white binary terms and think more creatively”.  All right.  And Eugenie kind of lays out this interesting spectrum, and this is what I want to go through with you now.

If you look at Evangelical Christians in particular, there are a number of possibilities.  Up in the upper left, people in that position on the spectrum believe that the earth is very young, created very, very recently.  So they would be called Young Earth creationists. They might believe that the earth is apparently old ‑‑ you know, it’s actually young but appears old.  Then there are people who believe in progressive creationism over geological time scales; they might be called Day-Age or Progressive Creationists.  Then there are people who believe that God accomplished his purposes through the evolutionary process. Because they’re Christians, they’re creationists – remember I told you that – but they believe in evolution, so they would be called Evolutionary Creationists.

So on the upper left then are people who believe that evolutionary biology has either got it wrong or it’s very, very incomplete.  If you move down towards the lower right, evolution becomes a more complete understanding of the way the world works and how living organisms on the planet have come to arise.  So you get the idea that there is a spectrum here.  Then on the very lower right is what we would call Materialistic Naturalism.  These would be people who certainly believe that evolution is true, but they are metaphysical naturalists.

All right, so that’s kind of the continuum.  And it’s worth realizing what motivates each of these perspectives, and I hope this will be helpful to you as you interact with Evangelicals.

First, it’s certainly true that people in the young Earth camp have a more “literal” ‑‑ and I put that in quotes for a purpose ‑‑ interpretation of the Bible.  What they really do is they tend to read the Bible in a mid-20th century kind of way. It seems to be straightforward and it seems to tell them that the earth was created in 144 literal hours, and that’s the viewpoint that they adopt.

And then as you move down towards Evolutionary Creation, these are people who have a more nuanced ‑‑ I use the phrase “nonliteral,” ‑‑ I’m not sure that’s a good phrase, but they have a more nuanced way of interpreting the Bible. They seek to find complementarity between the Bible and science, or they’re independent, not really talking about the same things.  And, of course, materialist naturalists don’t care about the Bible, so that’s the guys on the bottom.

All right.  So let’s go through each of these and let’s see what motivates young Earth creationism.  Now, you may think that people who are young Earth creationists are not well educated, they are not particularly thoughtful, and in that, you would be wrong, at least among some young Earth creationists.  A good example here is Joe Francis. You may wonder, well, who is Joe Francis?  Well, Joe Francis graduated from the University of Michigan with a Ph.D.  You may wonder why I’m mentioning him.  Well, he was one of my college roommates ‑‑


JEFF HARDIN:  ‑‑ so he tried to teach me how to ‑‑ yeah, he unsuccessfully tried to help me with my jump shot in college, a very good basketball player.  So Joe is well educated, but he

Jeff Hardin

Jeff Hardin

holds a young Earth position because he believes the Scriptures insist upon it, so he’s trying to be faithful to the Scriptures.

All right.  In fact, that leads to some motivations for this position.  You know, I think the fundamental motivation among the faithful here is that these folks are trying to uphold a strong view of Scripture and God’s sovereignty, how he acts, and his kind of authority over the natural world.  And it seeks to be faithful to a particular way of interpreting the Bible, a hermeneutic, and one that tends to be literal.  You may have heard the phrase, “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”  At least I learned that one in seminary.  So that’s a particular way of approaching the Bible.  And we can talk about whether that’s truly a “literal” interpretation; we’ll come back to that.

And then I think, very importantly, young Earth creationists are afraid of what I’ll call the hermeneutical slippery slope, the belief that if you give up a literal reading of Genesis, then the rest of Scripture can’t be trusted, including what it seems to say about human individuals and how they are rightly related to God through Jesus Christ.

So another way to think about that last idea is that ‑‑ I’ll come back to it in a second. What I want to emphasize is that this is really what’s underlying at least one of the largest young Earth creationist organizations, Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham. (shows next slide) He has got a very large museum outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, in Kentucky.  He’s got a nice dinosaur there that he’s got his hand on.  And Ken said it this way:  “I want to make it very clear that we don’t want to be known primarily as young Earth creationists.  Answers in Genesis’ main thrust is not Young Earth as such, our emphasis is on biblical authority.”  For Ken, this is the linchpin idea, and he’s trying to be faithful to that.  And Ken is definitely one of those people who talks about this hermeneutical slippery slope.

(shows next slide)

And so for Ken, another way to think about this is this is sort of an epistemological domino theory.  Some of us in the room are old enough to know about the domino theory of foreign policy from when I was a kid, and, you know, this is the same idea here, that if we knock over that particular domino that relates to the book of Genesis, then everything that we thought we believed about our faith must be wrong. You can see how wrenching this has to be for someone if you’re asking them to make that choice, if they believe this is the only alternative.

Now, there are challenges with Young Earth creationism, of course.  (shows next slide)This is Paul Nelson, who is a Young Earth creationist.  He is also associated with the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington.  He says it this way; this is succinctly put:  “Natural science seems to overwhelmingly point to an old cosmos.  It is safe to say that most recent creationists are motivated by religious concerns.”  That’s absolutely true.  So the evidence, even for a young Earth creationist like Paul, seems to point against it.

People who are trying educate Christian students about this encounter an interesting phenomenon.  Take Dennis Venema, who is a professor of biology at Trinity Western University up in British Columbia.  (shows next slide) He said it this way:  “I’ve seen students willing to discard nearly the entirety of modern science in order to maintain a particular view.”  So one of the challenges from denying the scientific evidence is that you kind of have to walk away from those things that science seems to be telling us.

Now, in addition, there are some theological concerns. (shows next slide) You know, this seems to suggest that we’re not trusting that second book that I mentioned from Psalm 19.  Some Christians have problems with that entailment here.  And you know there is a whole interpretive approach to Genesis used by this group; some Christians feel that this interpretive approach doesn’t take the Bible literally enough, in the sense that it doesn’t seek to understand the original audience.  They would not have known anything about modern science, so seeking modern scientific explanations in the text may not be a well-founded approach.

Okay.  For Young Earth creationists, I think you got a sense for some of their motivations.  I hope you get a sense for why they hold them.  We can talk in much more detail in the Q&A about all of this.

Let’s move on, though, to people who accept the geological time scale but nevertheless are motivated to remain faithful to what the Scriptures seem to say to them from the book of Genesis, and that’s Day-Age or Progressive Creationists.

(shows next slide)

Probably the flagship organization here is a group called Reasons to Believe, run out of Southern California by the astrophysicist Hugh Ross, a really great person, very nice man.  He has written profusely about this in many, many books, and many of them are very good in terms of their coverage of astrophysics and astronomy and those sorts of things.

Others in this group would include someone named Jack Collins, who does a lot of writing on this topic, and others.

So what’s motivating this particular view?  This is kind of a via media view, a middle ground.  It seeks to uphold a strong view of the Bible.  That’s a huge motivator for Evangelicals, but balanced against the seemingly congruent results from the physical sciences.  So it tries to harmonize what the Bible seems to be saying with the evidence from geoscience, astrophysics, and other sciences, but in a way that tries to knit them together using a particular approach.  And in particular, it seeks to uphold the uniqueness of humans and the historicity of something called the Fall.

If you’re not familiar with Christian theology, the Fall is a cataclysmic event involving our first parents and the ancestors of humans who got this whole sin thing going that we’re all wrestling with today.  So it seeks to uphold an initial pair, Adam and Eve, because the text seems to require that.

(shows next slide)

This is Fuz Rana, and he is one of the Reasons to Believe scholars.  He is quite comfortable, moreover, saying that because the text seems to say that God creates groupings of organisms, but there is no evidence from the text that those change over time or go outside their boundaries of their created categories, that evolution cannot really be true.  Even though there may be progression over time, God creates different organisms over time, and so we see them in the geological record, but evolution doesn’t account for how those forms arise over geological time scales.

And so one entailment of that is what Fuz says here:  “Reasons to Believe scholars believe God miraculously intervened throughout the history of the universe in various ways, millions, possibly even billions, of times to create each and every new species of life on Earth.”

What are some challenges here? (shows next slide) Well, Young Earth creationists are troubled by it because it accepts an old Earth.  We saw it’s a problem because they seem to think, they seem to feel, that the Scriptures indicate a young Earth.  Evolutionary creationist Christians see this view of God’s creative activities as sort of ad hoc – the millions of creative events seem a little bit interesting to them.  And this approach uses concordism: it tries to knit together what the Bible is saying with a modern scientific account, trying to make them fit together so they overlay on one another successfully, so the Bible is actually giving us the sequence of events that occurred over geological time.  If we could only understand the biblical record properly, we would see that it’s laying out the order of creation: a day is used in a sense kind of like “back in the day”, you know, it’s an undefined long, very long, period of time. But if we could figure that out, they would dovetail really nicely.

A lot of people feel, a lot of other Christians feel, that this approach may bring modern approaches to the text. It wouldn’t have made sense to the original audience; they wouldn’t have known about geoscience or many other processes that are implied by this approach.

Okay, so we’ve talked about young Earth creationists and this progressive creation idea.  And then there is something that’s lying along this diagonal line.  It’s really hard to know what to do with this, and that’s the idea of intelligent design.  So it’s worth talking about that very briefly.  What is that about?  All right.

Well, you may have heard that.  Some of you may be very knowledgeable, so if you are, please forgive me for being a bit pedantic here, but I think it’s helpful to say what ID is not. (shows next slide) All Christians accept the idea that intentionality underlies the creation.  That’s not what’s meant by Intelligent Design in a technical sense here.  ID, as a technical concept, is an argument.  It’s an argument for the existence of a Designer based on the premise that certain features of the universe and living things can only ‑‑ and this is important ‑‑ only be explained by an intelligent cause.  In other words, there is no possible mechanism that can explain certain events about the natural world, particularly the origins of living things from nonliving systems being one of them. Also for many ID proponents, evolution itself actually one day will be shown to be impossible, and therefore an intelligent designer needs to move the process along.

And so Michael Behe was one of the first writers in this area; he wrote a book called Darwin’s Black Box.

Bill Dembski, a mathematician by training, has written a number of books about, “Can we infer design?”  So that’s his specialty.

And probably the most articulate proponent nowadays for Intelligent Design is Stephen Meyer.  Steve has written a number of books.  One of them, a very thick book that I’m showing here, is called Signature in the Cell.

And all of them want to say that there are certain impossible structures, things that if you remove one of their components, they stop working, so they couldn’t have evolved.  Those are things Mike Behe calls irreducibly complexthings.  Where does the information come from that cells use to pass on their genomes to the next generation?  That’s a subject of Signature in the Cell, et cetera.

And Phillip Johnson, who actually went to the same church that I did, First Presbyterian Church Berkeley in Berkeley, and who is a law professor, is kind of the initiator of a movement of Intelligent Design folks.

It also includes Paul Nelson, whom I mentioned earlier.

All right.  So what’s motivating this particular approach?  Well, the main stated motivation is to provide an alternative to neo-Darwinian theory, modern kind of evolutionary thinking, since this theory is viewed as inadequate. But sociologically, at least, it is true that the vast majority of Intelligent Design advocates are Christian in their outlook, and so a key motivation I think is the concern that evolutionary theory is dysteleological in nature.  In other words, it seems to imply that there is no purpose, built into the process at least, and this leads to lots of concerns about whether God is providentially overseeing what’s happening in the world.

All right.  So what are some challenges here?  (shows next slide) Well, many scientists who are Christians feel that intelligent design makes no positive predictions about how to do science or about scientific mechanisms that lead to really testable hypotheses, so it’s not fruitful.  And it really hasn’t proposed any alternatives to methodological naturalism in the laboratory with regard to the way we do science.  And Chris has already addressed that a bit with the social sciences as well, and we can talk about that.

Now, to be fair, Intelligent Design proponents think that’s just a matter of time, so if we just wait long enough, we’ll figure it out; it’s a young movement, it hasn’t been around very long, give it some time.  I mean, that’s what ‑‑ when I talk to my friends who are intelligent design proponents, that’s typically what they would say here.

All right.  (shows next slide) So here is Paul Nelson again.  Remember he’s a Young Earth creationist, but he is also a key member of the Intelligent Design movement, and here’s what he says about this:  “Well, easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design.  Right now we have a bag of powerful intuitions.”  That’s interesting.  So he’s saying it feels that evolutionary approaches must be wrong, so we need to look for alternatives.  I think that’s kind of an emotional motivator for many in the ID movement, Paul included, and Paul is a really wonderful, generous human being.  We had him up to speak at the University of Wisconsin, just a great, articulate guy.  He would be a good interview.  If you were looking for someone from this perspective, he’s a fascinating contradiction.  He got a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science at University of Chicago, but he’s a Young Earth creationist; we can talk about that.  Okay.

All right.  So let’s then come back to the bottom of this sliding scale here, Evolutionary Creation.  Let’s talk about that here. (shows next slide) There have been a number of really nice books.  The first really early one that was probably the best is by Howard Van Till, who was at Calvin College, a Christian college in Western Michigan.  Darrel Falk, who was president of the BioLogos Foundation, also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in Southern California near San Diego, wrote a really wonderful book called Coming to Peace with Science.  Denis Alexander, who is a molecular biologist at Cambridge University wrote Creation or Evolution:  Do We Have to Choose?  Denis really likes that whole chimpanzee thing poking through the arm.  I’m not a big fan.


JEFF HARDIN:  And then my favorite title is by Denis Lamoureux.  He wrote a book called I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution.  Interesting.

Evolutionary Creationists then, you can see that they are devout Christian believers, but they believe that evolution is how things work.  And many Christians who are scientists in the United States who are part of something called the American Scientific Affiliation (I’m a member of that), and in the U.K., Christians in Science, (I’m also a member of that organization), the Faraday Institute; these are examples of organizations that promote this particular viewpoint.

But the most well-known proponent of this view is Francis Collins.  Francis wrote a book in 2006 called The Language of God in which he lays out this view.  Francis is an incredible person.  He’s a bit constrained through his work as the Director of the National Institutes of Health right now to grant interviews, but any of you who have interacted with Francis will know what I’m saying.  He leads worship songs at meetings that he attends that are Christian meetings.  He’s got a guitar with a DNA double helix inlayed in the fret – a 12-string guitar.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  We had him here.

JEFF HARDIN:  And you had him here.  He did that whole thing; right?  So some of you, you’ve seen that whole thing.  Right, yeah.

Francis I think is the most articulate and certainly the most winsome spokesperson for this view.  And I will say he’s very persuasive as well. Francis started something called the BioLogos Foundation.  The BioLogos Foundation was created to foster thinking about evolution, what molecular biology and genetics tell us about that, and how to make sense of that given the Scriptures and to be faithful to the Scriptures from an Evangelical perspective. I said Francis is fairly persuasive; he is, and he asked me to join the Board of the BioLogos Foundation, so I have.  Just to let you know that that’s true, if you Google me, you will find me there.  So we can talk about that.

(shows next slide)

What are the motivations here?  Well, the motivations are to seek to integrate what appears to be the strong evidence for biological evolution from the fossil record, from modern molecular analysis (if you don’t know what that is, it’s okay; it’s kind of like fossils in our genomes), all of that data seems to fit beautifully with the modern theory of evolution, and yet it’s committed to faithful Christian theism, and in particular, because they are Evangelicals, they are committed to the authority of the text in some sense.  They’re committed to biblical authority.  But it also seeks to honor the Second Book that I mentioned in this two books approach, by acknowledging new biological data and taking it on board.

Now, you may think, “Well, that’s interesting, that seems to fly in the face of people who have a fairly conservative view of the Scriptures”, and I think we can talk about this.  David Rennie mentioned the word “inerrancy” yesterday.  (shows next slide) You know, here is one of the architects of the modern view of inerrancy, a theologian named J.I. Packer.  He said it this way:  “I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and I maintain it in print, but I can’t see anything in Scripture, in the first chapters of Genesis or elsewhere, that bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or the other.”

So the idea that you can hold these two together isn’t just coming from Evolutionary Creationist scientists, but it’s also something that is consistent, at least with some, in the pretty conservative Evangelical Christian community.

And it comports with a lot of recent Evangelical scholarship on the Bible. (shows next slide) Henri Blocher is a French biblical scholar; Tremper Longman, who is at a place called Westmont College on the West Coast; and John Walton, who is at an Evangelical bastion, Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois. All of these guys are taking a more nuanced literary/cultural analysis approach to the Bible, trying to understand what it said to its original audience. For them, there is really no direct conflict with the scientific account of the origins of the universe, of this planet, or of human beings.

But there are challenges. (shows next slide) Many Christians, not surprisingly based on the survey data I showed you, fear that this approach is dysteleological, it seems to be lacking in purpose.  God doesn’t seem to be running the show in a way that they’re comfortable with.  There are also concerns about the view of Scripture that may be entailed, or at least that some advocates of Evolutionary Creationism have held.  And this idea of the origins of human sinfulness and our need for salvation that is part and parcel of the Christian message, understanding that and taking on board evolutionary ideas is a theological challenge for Evangelicals.

(shows next slide)

Now, other mainline Protestants and Catholics, many of them are quite comfortable with evolution:

Simon Conway Morris, who is a leading evolutionary biologist on the Burgess Shale and the Cambrian explosion.  He is an Anglican.

Joel Martin is a Presbyterian and wrote a book about evolution called ThePrism and the Rainbow.

Kenneth Miller is a Catholic at Brown University; he wrote Finding Darwin’s God.

All of these are comfortable with evolutionary approaches.

Okay.  So we’ve covered some Christian approaches.  Why is there so much pushback if there are some options here?  I mean, after all, I have presented some options to you.  What is the fundamental burr under the saddle, the bee in the bonnet, for Christians that tends to get them to dig in their heels so much?

Christian mentioned yesterday that one word can set dialogue back many years in this area.  I think he called it “posttraumatic stress disorder” approaches to the discussion.  That was very helpful for me because that immediately gave me a mental image of the kind of emotional pushback that words can cause, and I think it comes from this bottom view, Materialistic Naturalism. [animated bricks slides into graphic to separate Christian views from materialistic naturalism] We kind of need to put a brick wall between the Christian views and this view on the bottom, and I think it’s this view primarily that’s motivating a lot of the pushback among many Evangelicals.

(shows next slide)

It’s because of statements like this…

Here is George Gaylord Simpson, leading evolutionary biologist in the mid-20th century:  “Man, [human beings], were certainly not the goal of evolution, which evidently had no goal.

Jeff Hardin

Jeff Hardin

Humans were not planned, in an operation wholly planless.”

Richard Dawkins, the most articulate spokesperson for this view nowadays, said it in The Blind Watchmaker and many, many places elsewhere: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

And there are a number of other new atheists: Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, a neuroscientist.  Stephen Jay Gould had a different take on this, but even he thought, you know, Christian faith shouldn’t really be speaking to evolutionary biology.

(shows next slide)

So what’s going on here when Dawkins or Simpson make statements like this?  Well, I think what we’re engaging in here now is no longer a natural explanation. Clearly it’s gone well beyond that, it’s gone to a worldview or metaphysical statements about the way the world fundamentally is, and it’s the metaphysical naturalism which seems to be an entailment based on the writings of people like Dawkins that Evangelical Christians look at and go, “I can’t accept that, so therefore I cannot accept thinking at all about evolutionary biology.”

Now, it’s interesting.  At this point in the talk I usually try to help the audience to understand that I know a lot of agnostic or atheist biologists – many of them are friends of mine – and atheist or agnostic philosophers. Not all of them see that there is this kind of inevitable entailment of metaphysical naturalism with evolutionary biology.

And a guy I really like a lot is Tom Nagel.  He is from NYU.  Some of you may know his work.  I know Andy has written a really nice piece on Tom fairly recently.  And that’s great stuff.  You should read that piece, by the way.  You can talk to Andy about that.

(shows next slide)

And here is what Tom Nagel said in a book called The Last Word:  “I want atheism to be true and I’m made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It’s not just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope that I’m right in my belief, it’s that I hope there is no God.  My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it’s responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.  One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life.”

What I appreciate about Tom Nagel is he is just irrepressibly honest.  He says evolution, it’s convenient for me because it seems to give me an out; I have this cosmic authority problem.  And I think that’s what’s motivating some of the rhetoric here, and at least in my experience, this is helpful to some of the Christians that I present this material to.

(shows next slide)

Now, there are problems with metaphysical naturalism, of course, and one of them is articulated really well by Sir Peter Medawar, a Nobel Laureate himself, an atheist or agnostic, who said it this way:  “The existence of a limit to science is made clear by its inability to answer childlike questions having to do with first and last things, questions such as, ‘How did everything begin?’ ‘What are we all here for?’ ‘What is the point of living?’”

For Medawar, science cannot possibly answer these questions.  We need to seek answers to these questions through something else.  And for a Christian, including one who believes in evolutionary biology, as I happen to, the answers to these kinds of questions do not lie in the scientific method, they lie outside of science, and Medawar saw that science is limited in this way.  It’s spectacularly successful, but its success lies in the self-limitation of its methodology.

All right.  So that’s the kind of presentation that I give to Evangelical churches about some of this, and this leads to some interesting discussions.

Now, just truth in advertising, we have a local Skeptics Society in Madison. There are always people from The Skeptics Society who come to my talks to make sure that I’m not telling the faithful something that I wouldn’t say on campus.  Fortunately, they found congruence there.  Whew, that’s good!  And so I think even my atheist colleagues have found this kind of taxonomy helpful, and I hope you do, too.

Now, my hope in this is that ‑‑ and, hence, the change of the title of my talk from “Disputes Among the Faithful” to “Dialogue Among the Faithful” is this:  you know, I hope that these kinds of discussions and maybe the way you cover this topic can help create space for Christians, to recognize that sincere Christians can sincerely disagree, but they’re all part of one large family even though they have these disagreements.  And as I was talking to somebody last night, not all of our families are actually functional, so using that family analogy, I know it’s fraught with difficulty for some of us. But the fact is that I hope that Christians can learn to dialogue about these topics.

I mentioned Francis Bacon at the beginning of this talk.  He talked about this “two books” analogy and how it got pasted into Darwin’s Origin of Species.  Well, just below the part I quoted at first, Bacon says this:  “Let people endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both science and the Scriptures [those two books], only let them be aware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling.  To use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound those learnings together.”

That’s my hope.  My hope is that we can create a space where there is not a lot of swelling; it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, who we can beat down, who we can win against, but who we can invite into a conversation, and during that conversation making sure that we do well by the text of Scripture, that first book, and that second book, the book of God’s world.

So that’s my hope, and I would like to end it there.  Thank you very much.


MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Well, we have a long list already.

And, Robert Draper, you’re up first, and Will Saletan and Byron and David and Michael and Carl and Emma and Sarah and Shadi.

Go ahead.  Robert Draper, go ahead.

Robert Draper

Robert Draper

ROBERT DRAPER, New York Times Magazine:  Yeah.  Thanks.

You said something near the end, you said, why is there this pushback among young Evangelicals when there are several options available?  And you were talking about evolution, but it occurred to me from the phraseology of the question which sounded so familiar to me that you could have been asking the same thing about immigration reform, and in a sense that question is maybe answered by a slide that you showed at the beginning, the Gallup survey, and that survey showed in fact that the numbers are not flat over the last decade or so, the numbers are getting worse in terms of this, that I think the number of people who believe in evolution has slid from 38 percent to 32 percent or something like that ‑‑

JEFF HARDIN:  Yeah, it’s gone down a bit, yeah.

ROBERT DRAPER:  ‑‑ which coincides with, over that same period, with a spike in political polarization, which in turn suggests a linkage between the two.  And so I guess what I’m wondering is if you see that that’s the case, that what has ‑‑ that the problem is not so much that young Evangelicals are uncomfortable with the science, they’re uncomfortable with the messenger, they feel that the messenger is politically biased, and so the challenge here is to somehow delink this dialogue, as you put it, from the political shouting match.

JEFF HARDIN:  I think that’s absolutely true, that these are ‑‑ I think we are religiopolitical creatures in profound ways.  I think the U.S. is completely polarized on many of these points, and we have an eminent social scientist, and many of you have covered this topic for a long time in the room, so I hope some of you will comment on this, but, you know, I mentioned that trust is more important than impartation of knowledge.  I didn’t unpack it there.  Madison is a bit of a weird place in that we have a lot of progressive Evangelicals who are politically left of center but theologically right of center.  But we are an aberration; if you’ve been to Madison, that goes without saying, I suppose, but in other parts of the country this is absolutely true; there is a great suspicion based on a total package which involves a number of political issues. It involves questions that relate to whether or not there is an ecological crisis looming, and a number of other things, and these tend to be all packaged into kind of one giant ball of yarn, and it’s hard to untangle those threads and that giant ball of yarn, very hard.

But very important, I think, trying to get people to ‑‑ I use this technical word “disambiguate” ‑‑  I think that’s what we need to do, we need to disambiguate these issues, and that is very hard work, it takes a lot of time.  So I think some of you journalists in the room who have covered Evangelicals, you know that there is a lot of mistrust out there.  If you’re from certain newspapers in the room or certain news outlets, you know that you give them your card, and, “I’m not sure I want to talk to you.”  And so I think you’re familiar with that pushback, just that kind of immediate pushback.

And so I think maybe one of the things that journalists can do to help make ‑‑ help the American people, whether you’re on the more conservative side of the journalistic spectrum in this room ‑‑ and there are certainly some of you in that case ‑‑ or on the less conservative side, is for you not to just create one giant ball of yarn and perpetuate the problem.  And so to the extent that you can be more nuanced in teasing apart these different inputs to how Evangelicals think about the world, you can help them think about the world.  And so I really hope that you will try to do that.  I know it’s not easy; right?  Because it’s ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Do you have a follow-up, Robert?

ROBERT DRAPER:  Yeah, yeah.  Jeff, well, as a means of doing that, can you explain this creature in Madison, Wisconsin, you were referring to, the person who is politically to the left and religiously to the right?

JEFF HARDIN:  Sure.  There are quite a number of people in Madison who are Evangelicals who voted Democratic in the last set of elections, including our gubernatorial election that we just had, but they would go to the very large Evangelical church in town.  So what are the things that tend to characterize them?  They tend to have a lot of concern about the environment, they have a lot of concern about social justice issues, and they seem to find support for that in the Scriptures, both the Old and the New Testaments.  Jesus had a lot to say about the poor, for example, and about oppression, and so they find that those resonate really well, but they are Evangelical in their outlook towards the Bible, towards the fundamental way that you become a Christian.  So for Evangelicals, this is by putting your trust in Christ; you can’t do anything on your own to become in a right relationship with God, and Jesus died for you, but you need to trust in what he has done for you.  These are classical Evangelical ideas about how one becomes a Christian.  It’s not by doing good things and being a good person first and foremost, those come as a response to becoming a Christian.

So all the things that are classically true about Evangelicals defined theologically are true about them, but politically they ‑‑ now, they may be personally pro-life, which is one of the important issues here in the debate ‑‑ but they will vote Democrat.  So they’re interesting.  But I think that’s Madison; when you go outside of Madison, it only takes about 15 minutes to get into total farmland, and then things really change.  There I think there is the standard kind of alignment of conservative politics, a particular brand of conservative politics, I would say, and distrust of certain kinds of “intelligence”, yes.  So that leads to the potential for some anti-intellectualism.  It’s not uniformly true.  I’ve certainly met lots of very thoughtful people in all parts of the country, but it makes it easier.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay.  Will Saletan?

Will Saletan

Will Saletan

WILL SALETAN, Slate:  Yeah, that’s for the ‑‑ that was an extremely useful taxonomy.  Thank you very much.

I have sort of a short, straightforward question and then a little more complicated question.

The short question is, is Joe Francis ‑‑ and just to pick one person ‑‑ impaired in his ability to do science by being a young Earth creationist?  But let me set that aside and I have a little more complicated one.  You used a phrase, I think it was “literary cultural analysis”.


WILL SALETAN:  And I just wanted you to go on about that for like an hour, but I’ll settle for a couple minutes.


WILL SALETAN:  How ‑‑ what is that?  Or let me put it this way:  Can you pick a couple of biblical propositions and explain, show us, how that tool, that way of reading, adds flexibility so allowing reconciliation between Scripture and scientific evidence?  Does it in fact do that?  Because to most of us who don’t know much about this topic, we look at something like creationism and we think, well, these people read plain sense at what the text means to them, and that nails them down to things that science will not allow, but perhaps by using this idea of what the text meant to the people of the day, you are able to use, to apply, a kind of metaphoric interpretation in places or perhaps somehow it allows reconciliation between the scientific evidence and the religious text.

JEFF HARDIN:  Sure, that’s a great question.  So let me deal with the first one.  You know, Joe is at a Christian college called The Master’s College in Southern California founded by a guy named John MacArthur, some of you who really know Evangelical subculture might have heard that name.  It’s not a research university.  I will tell you that Joe was quite able to get a very good Ph.D. and published papers that are required to get a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, even though he went on to young Earth schools from there.  And why was he able to do that?  Well, it’s because of the kind of science he was doing.  He didn’t really ‑‑ your view on origins really didn’t affect the kind of science that he was doing.

So if you pick your science in a particular way, then there is really no ‑‑ you don’t have to face kind of the empirical conflict that seems to be created by young Earth creationism.  So I think that’s how he gets around that.  There are many engineers who are young Earth creationists.  Now, they buy into the operational utility of science.  And, in fact, Evangelicals love technology.  In fact, one of my colleagues at the University of Wisconsin who is in the Communication Arts Department wrote a book called Digital Jesus, about fundamentalists finding each other on the internet and forming chat rooms.  So there’s an instrumental use of science that’s incredibly ‑‑ that Evangelicals are incredibly enthused about.  So you can compartmentalize, and that’s one way that you can face that.

I don’t know anyone who works on geoscience or ‑‑ there are some young Earth creationists who would say that they are geoscientists and have worked in the petroleum industry or things like that, but I don’t know anyone who is working in that area or anything that involves where the science leads you to consider the age of the earth or the universe who would be young Earth creationists, so that says that for those people who work in those areas, you can’t do the kind of high quality science that would be required to succeed in those areas.

Okay, so the second question, so I think what I’m saying, let’s take a good example.  “Out of the dust of the ground the Lord made Adam”.  You know, this is the kind of language that’s used in Genesis.  Okay.  A literal interpretation of that is that out of mineral components in the ground a non-corporeal entity fashioned, by sort of like Play-Doh, put a human together, and then it says “breathed life into him”, and the word for “spirit” ‑‑ the Holy Spirit got some mention yesterday ‑‑ well, the word for “spirit” is the same as “wind” or “breath”, and so it’s hard to know what’s being referred to there, but it becomes a living being.

Now, my friend John Walton, who is a Hebrew scholar, would say, now, what is that about?  Now, if we want to read that as a textbook on human construction plans, it seems to say that the original humans were made from dust, and, in fact, that’s part of the funeral liturgy, “You came from the dust and to dust you will return.”  Right?  But John would say, you know, the original readers would not have thought this was like human Play-Doh. They would not have thought that; they would have thought that this is an account that God created human beings, yes, but it doesn’t really say anything about the material origins of human beings. That is very helpful, and most Bible scholars would say that don’t ‑‑ you need to try to think like an ancient Hebrew receiving this text, someone from the ancient Near Eastern context, not someone from North America in the 21st century, so that it’s a category error to read back into the text things that we want to see there.

So that’s an example: if it’s no longer about material origins, then how God created humans, if that’s not actually what’s being discussed there, now we have a lot more options about that.  Now, whether all of those options are congruent with what the text is actually saying, we can talk about that, but I think you can see that moving to a more culturally savvy interpretive schema helps you to untangle our sense for using the Bible as a textbook from what its message to its original audience was saying.

Now, Chris has actually written a whole book called The Bible Made Impossible in which he addresses some of these issues.  I didn’t write that book, you can talk to Chris about that, but I think ‑‑ but you can see how this frees us up to make the Bible a lot more possible and actually allows us to explore congruence with what modern science seems to say.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  I have a sense you have a follow-up quickly, Will.

WILL SALETAN:  I’m just going to impersonate a young Earth creationist for just a second here.  It feels to me like what you’re saying is a blanket justification for using metaphors.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Justification for what?

WILL SALETAN:  For using metaphors.  That you’re saying we’re being faithful to the text as it was meant to be conveyed to these people and it was all poetry.

JEFF HARDIN:  I was not saying that.  Some people might say that.  I would not say that.  And actually John Walton would not say that either.  He would say real events lie behind the text.  But it’s not the kind of historiography, the blow-by-blow mechanistically explained kind of sequence of historical events that you and I are used to in a modern history book, so don’t look for that kind of thing there; that’s what I’m saying.

So, no, I think the Bible is not just a metaphorical collection of things that allow us to think nice thoughts about things that we want to think nice thoughts about.  There are a lot of things there ‑‑ I think there are positive statements being made in the Bible that we have to take seriously, but I want to be careful not to read into the text. See, you used the word “metaphor.”  You and I have a shared understanding of that word from a 21st century perspective.  That’s a literary device that we understand is a nonliteral literary device that conveys some sort of meaning.  Now, I think there are such things in the Bible, most assuredly, but I don’t think everything in the Bible is a metaphor.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Let me quickly, we’ve mentioned John Walton several times, Jeff.  He’s an Old Testament professor at Wheaton College.  The name of that very important book he wrote about 2 years ago is what again?

JEFF HARDIN:  It’s called The Lost World of Genesis One.  It’s a popular level book.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  The Lost World of Genesis.

JEFF HARDIN:  The Lost World of Genesis One; this is the story about how God created the heavens and the earth and the whole six day thing and he rested on the seventh.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  A very important book.  Okay.

Byron York and then David Rennie.

Byron York

Byron York

BYRON YORK, Washington Examiner: I have a question.  First I wanted to ask you, you made a brief reference to a Skeptics Society in Madison?


BYRON YORK:  What’s that?

JEFF HARDIN:  What’s that?  So this is a ‑‑ okay, so there is a well-known foundation in Madison called the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which has been involved in several lawsuits across the country. That’s not them, although the Venn diagram, there is a large reach of overlap there, but the particular guys who came ‑‑ have come to the talks that I have given, they have ‑‑ they are ‑‑ they would consider themselves atheists.  They have ‑‑ they run a thing on Capital Square in Madison called Pub Science, and they have speakers come in and talk about science, and so they’re mainly advocates for good science. They’re not ‑‑ they weren’t really there as skeptics of Christianity per se, they were more there as guardians of scientific accuracy, but they are skeptical of a lot of truth claims, so, you know, a lot of them would like ‑‑ I think they’re big fans of Michael Shermer, for example, and some people may know him.  So that’s who they are and ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Next question.

BYRON YORK:  Well, so the question is then, what’s the role of a political system in all of this?  You’ve talked about these various schools of thought and we have state and local boards of education, we have federal education spending, you yourself are at a state university.  So should the educational bureaucracy funded by taxpayer dollars in your view stick strictly to the straight science and let this whole burgeoning school of thought be covered by somebody else out there, either judges or somebody else, but in your view, should education money be strictly devoted to the straight scientific explanation?

JEFF HARDIN:  You know, I think science education should be about the science.  Do I think there are many other things that students should be educated about?  Absolutely.  I think if you look at school boards across the country, I mentioned Eugenie Scott earlier, so she ‑‑ you know, the mission of her organization is to kind of hold state boards of education accountable for their textbook choices and what they’re teaching about evolution. Whether or not you like the idea of standards, you know, there has been a lot of discussion about that point, what kind of standard should educators be held to with regard to teaching about evolution?

You know, it’s very clear that the state ‑‑ or the textbook adoptions ‑‑ are dominated by the most populous states, so California and Texas in particular are the benchmarks.  So a textbook publishing company, if they can get their book into California and Texas, then they’ve succeeded.  If they can’t get it into those two states, it won’t be an economically viable product.  So there is tremendous pressure then to get books in, approved, through the State of California or the State of Texas.  Now, I think you can guess that Texas will be more conservative on those points than California, and so there are a lot of discussions about what appropriate books are and where various disciplines should be covered in the curriculum.  I mean, my own view ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Is your textbook in Texas and California?  Yours?

JEFF HARDIN:  My college textbook?  Yes, it is. So I’m mentioning this because there are two approaches.  One was the kind of straight-up approach that was defeated by the celebrated court case in Dover, Pennsylvania, by using Intelligent Design texts in the biology classroom.  That was defeated soundly and that kind of set the current legal approach across the country to that point.

So the battle, the discussion, shifted to, “Okay, so we can’t do that, but I don’t find evolutionary biology very palatable, so I’m going to remove as much as I can of that from my high school biology textbook to make it more palatable to a Christian audience,” and I find that disappointing.  I mean, I would like there to be full-on coverage of the modern evolutionary biological mechanistic view of how all of this works.

I’m of the opinion, though, which we don’t often have ‑‑ I certainly didn’t have it in my public high school ‑‑ we don’t have a course where we can talk about the meta-issues that surround science; that never gets discussed.  Like, where is that going to be discussed?  The main place that that’s discussed in a Catholic high school curriculum is in a religion or philosophy class.  We don’t have those classes in most public high schools.

So that’s the problem.  Where can we discuss issues like metaphysical naturalism?  Now, that’s a philosophical or worldview issue, it’s not a scientific issue.  I would argue it’s not a scientific entailment, yet there is no good place for students to get exposed to teasing apart philosophy of science from science, metaphysics from physics.  So we don’t have good places in the curriculum.

So if I were rewriting the curriculum, I would want a space for that.  I’m not advocating for ‑‑ I have a German degree ‑‑ I’m not advocating for the German approach, which is to have kind of an incredibly vanilla religion class that all students by all accounts just endure and don’t really listen to what’s being covered there; I would rather have something ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  What David Rennie calls a soggy ‑‑ a soggy view.

JEFF HARDIN:  Soggy religion.  Okay, yeah, that’s helpful.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay, David Rennie, you’re up next.  And I’m trying to ‑‑ we have a lot of people to get in and we want to take a break for some of you all to check out.

David Rennie

David Rennie

DAVID RENNIE, Economist:  Yeah.  I have just kind of a question, you expanded on it.  You threw in a fairly kind of startling fact, which is as you were drawing on John Evans’s research in San Diego that you talked about trust being more important than data, and you have this idea that a substantial number of these Evangelicals who are taking a lot of science classes, who are not ignorant, their problem is that they need to be persuaded, but most scientists do not systematically skew the data, but that’s kind of an unreasonable position; isn’t it?  I mean, does that square with your view of how scientists operate?  And can you expand on how important that is as a suspicion?

JEFF HARDIN:  Well, I think in the ‑‑ if you talk to the Evangelical on the street, I’m not ‑‑ some of them have overt mistrust.  They do believe that, I think, that they’re not getting the full story in college, to be sure, so there are a lot of people who learn what they need to do to get an A in the class, spit back what the professor wants to tell them, but they don’t believe what they just spit back on the exam to get the A.  Right?  So there are certainly Evangelicals out there like that.

I mean, the students that I interact with, which is a very limited sample, I don’t think they believe there is a massive conspiracy to skew data.  I don’t think that’s what John is getting at, but he is getting at the idea that when what I seem to be learning in some discipline collides with my worldview, then my impulse is to distrust the message and the messenger.  And Christian will have much more to stay about that for young adults, and I hope maybe he can weigh in on this.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  In fact, he just ‑‑ do you want in on this point?

CHRISTIAN SMITH:  I think very few Evangelicals would suspect that scientists are somehow cooking their data or at a micro level they’re doing something dishonest.  I think it mostly is driven by the observation ‑‑ and I think it’s an accurate observation ‑‑ that some of the most vocal atheist science activists very easily and unselfconsciously switch between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.  They just jump from ‑‑ and they genuinely are experts in zoology, to making these grandiose claims about cosmic meaning and so on, and that they can’t see that they’re making that switch themselves.  And so it’s this more macro like if these really smart people, because they’re driven by atheism, can’t see they’ve changed the subject now, they’re speaking philosophically without any grounding for that, then that just presents this, “Well, wait a minute,” this general, “Wait a minute, I’m not sure, I’ve got to put a hard line in the sand now and really be suspicious.”

So I really don’t think that there is a general sense they’re making up their data, they’re falsifying the facts, I think it’s a more general there’s an agenda that some people have on atheological grounds that I have to be deeply suspicious about.

JEFF HARDIN:  It’s probably worth pointing out, too, that ‑‑ I don’t know how it is in the U.K., but certainly in the U.S. ‑‑ there is a culture of suspicion sometimes, so, you know, you ‑‑ if ‑‑ these nagging doubts in your mind make it epistemically more difficult for you to be open to new information.  Right?  This is true whether you’re on the left or you’re on the right.  I mean, we know this is true in many areas.  Right?  So I think this is what John was getting at, is that students have a hard time disentangling what E.O. Wilson, the ant guy, says about ants and their social biology from what he says about lack of meaning and purpose for all of human existence.  They can’t see where to make those dividing lines.

I guess that’s why ‑‑ you know, I’m a bit reluctant to be at meetings like this, frankly. I’m just kind of a professor, but I think it’s why people like me or social scientists like Chris need to be out there talking about this a little bit, because the students need the freedom to see that that’s true, they need guidance to learn how to tease this apart, so that’s a process that they need to be taught, and unfortunately we’re not doing a good job of that.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay, Michael Paulson, pull the mic over, and you’ll take us into the break and then at the break for 15 minutes those of you who have not checked out can check out, and we can get back to the Q&A after that.  Michael?

Michael Paulson

Michael Paulson

MICHAEL PAULSON, New York Times:  I’m curious about how open you are with your colleagues and students about your own faith, your own ideas, about the role that God does or does not play in evolution and how ‑‑ I mean, you’re a tenured chair of a department at a large research university.  Could you have been open about your views when you were a doctoral candidate, when you were climbing the academic ladder?  What are the consequences in academia for the kind of beliefs, association, even a willingness to engage in discussion that you are having?

JEFF HARDIN:  There are several layers to that question.  Let me start with the first one.  So one never knows what one’s friends and colleagues say about one behind closed doors when one is not present, so… But, you know, I have not really had any issues with any of my colleagues.  The fact that I’m a department chair, I think people have a lot of confidence in me seemingly.  I’m not sure whether that’s warranted confidence, but they seem to have some confidence in me as an administrator and as a leader of our department.

What I think people are looking very closely for is whether I am true to the biological data, whether I am true to the science, and they’re really concerned about that.  So if there were any sense that I were soft on science, I would be in a lot of trouble; I would not have the respect of my colleagues.  But it’s pretty well known that I’m a Christian in my department, and, you know, that has not been an issue.

Now, I personally have been a pretty big champion for hiring evolutionary biologists.  We just finished a search.  We have a guy coming from the American Museum of Natural History; he’s going to join our department.  He works on something called evo-devo, the relationship of development to evolution.  He happens to work on daddy long-legs spiders.  Like he goes dark in caves in Laos to hunt these creatures for months at a time, bring them back, and extract their DNA and stuff.  It’s pretty cool.


JEFF HARDIN:  You know, so I think they sense that I’m not trying to shift the department to somehow fit my own faith commitments, so that’s been okay.  And what we try to do at Wisconsin is to try ‑‑ a friend of mine, a very eminent historian of science named Ron Numbers, and I started a group called the Isthmus Society.  Madison is built on an isthmus between two land masses; there is a lake on the north and a lake on the south, and the idea is to connect religion and science by a little strip of land ‑‑ right? ‑‑ so that’s the word picture.

But we’ve always tried to have a spectrum of views presented, and I think what allows people to relax is to make sure that their view is represented.

MICHAEL PAULSON:  Let me try once more.  Where are you on the taxonomy that you put up there?


MICHAEL PAULSON:  And do you share that with your students?

JEFF HARDIN:  I’m an evolutionary creationist.  I don’t teach evolutionary biology, so it doesn’t come up in my class.  I do self-identify as a Christian.  I teach a course on embryonic development and I know most of the students aren’t going to take a course in bioethics, and so I do a little bioethics, I sneak it in, because I believe it’s important for them to be citizens in a country that’s ‑‑

MICHAEL PAULSON:  But you believe ‑‑

JEFF HARDIN:  And then I self-identify as a Christian in those contexts, you know.

MICHAEL PAULSON:  What does that mean as an evolutionary biologist?  Like you believe God plays a role in guiding evolution? Launching it?

JEFF HARDIN:  I believe that the standard evolutionary picture is correct.  We can talk about how God specifically acts in scientific or natural processes.  I mean, God’s activity is an important idea to talk about, you know.  How does he act?  How is he tweaking the system?  Is he tweaking it?  You know, what does that mean?

I do believe God created the world with the intention that we would be here and that we would one day be capable of interacting with him, but, you know, we ‑‑ I don’t talk about ‑‑ I don’t really have a detailed mechanism for how that works, I just accept the evidence for evolution as incredibly strong, and ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  And that’s why you’re on the Board of the BioLogos Foundation founded by Francis Collins.  And, by the way, we have a representative, if you haven’t met Kathryn yet, is here from the BioLogos Foundation.

Do you have a follow-up to that?


MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay.  Carl Cannon, you’re up first.  And then Emma Green.

Carl Cannon

Carl Cannon

CARL CANNON, RealClearPolitics:  I wanted to follow up on what Robert Draper was talking about, about that Gallup poll that you talked about.  I actually have a two-part question, both about that poll.

The first thing is a number of us have heard ‑‑ we’ve had previous seminars where speakers have talked about the rise of the “None of the aboves,” the, “Nones.”  The first three times I heard it, I thought it was nuns ‑‑ N-U-N-S ‑‑ and I thought why are people picking on nuns?  The poor Sisters.


CARL CANNON:  Anyway.  But people know how polls are used.  People are polled.  The public knows.  They ran this in the Clinton impeachment saga.  So I’m wondering if those numbers are really exactly what they are or if it’s more like they’re giving an answer and they’re answering a slightly different question.  You know, the flipside of the “Nones” thing is that one of the reasons that young people are answering that question “None” we know is that they’re saying, “Well, if Glenn Beck and Ted Cruz are believers, whatever they are, I’m not that,” and it strikes me that Evangelical Christians might be saying to this question, you know, the Democratic Party and my liberal professor and the New York Times tells me that if I don’t believe in evolution, I’m an idiot.  Well, you know, I have to believe in evolution.  Well, no, I don’t, I don’t have to do anything they say, and that it’s a more generalized answer than people really saying they don’t believe in the theory of evolution.  That’s my first part of my question.  And defending ‑‑

Well, I’ll just give you the second part now because they’re related.  And the second part is, regardless of that, is it incumbent on schools, on Bible schools, schools of faith, colleges, high schools, Christian high schools, Evangelical colleges, to have a required course in evolution taught by a believer, a believer in Darwin?  Should that be something that Christian colleges do for their own betterment and the betterment of the country?

So those are my two questions.

JEFF HARDIN:  So this is really wimpy, but I’m going to defer to an eminent social scientist who is among us about these polls in the sense that, are these lumped parameters, as we like to say?  Yeah, they’re embedding all kinds of motivations into the final response.  The questions are worded in a way where one really questions whether the people, the respondents, understand the question.  That’s one of the huge issues with these highly simplified three-question surveys, you know.  So I think that’s an issue.  I mean, I think it’s a given that the people have multiple motivations for adopting a position.

With regard to the “Nones,” that’s a complicated category, and that ‑‑ I know Chris has done a lot of thinking about that ‑‑ who is in that? what do they mean by that?  You are probably right in your assessment that often they are ‑‑ I mean, David talked about certain kinds of views in the U.K. that are kind of do-it-yourself smorgasbord religious perspectives.  You know, some people in that category may have that kind of an approach.  Others of them don’t want to be pigeonholed, so I don’t know how much of a motivator that is.

With regard to the second question, I did not come through a Christian school program, but, you know, my older son, who is now 27, did attend a Christian school until he was fifth grade, through fifth grade, and that was a young Earth curriculum, so we talked about that a lot; we talked about that a lot.  I believe that curriculum, it’s by the Beka program, which services a lot of Christian schools.  It’s awesome on certain things.  Like they were learning about electronic orbitals, which are things that affect how atoms hang out with other atoms and making molecules and things like that in fourth grade!  Amazing.  But the biology curriculum I felt was quite ‑‑ needed to be supplemented.


JEFF HARDIN:  So many of the schools in what is called the CCCU, which would include ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities.

JEFF HARDIN:  Thank you.  Sorry, I needed to explain that ‑‑ which would include flagship Evangelical institutions like Wheaton College, Gordon College in the Boston area, a number of other eminent Evangelical schools ‑‑ many, many of the faculty in the biological sciences are very comfortable with something that looks a lot like an evolutionary creationist position.  Others would be maybe progressive creationists.  But, I mean, I know a lot of professors at these colleges, and evolution is taught pretty rigorously at many of these schools.  Now, at the lower levels, K through 12, that’s I think a very different issue.

I know BioLogos has an initiative with home-schoolers, which are a huge component in the Evangelical community, to try to provide alternative curricula that supplement the standard home-school curriculum with better presentation of a standard evolutionary theory and evidence for evolution.  And I don’t know where that’s at exactly in terms of its development and implementation, but I would like to see that curriculum and see what that looks like in its final form because I think that’s the kind of thing that’s going to be pretty important moving forward.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  On this point, Chris, you had an intervention, maybe about the “Nones” also.

Christian Smith

Christian Smith

CHRISTIAN SMITH:  One very particular point on the religion, science, and education.  So I have an article co-authored with some others on the views of religion and science of 18- to 23-year-olds and whether they viewed religion and science as compatible, in conflict, and so on, and by far and away, the absolutely most powerful factor in predicting, so to speak, who thought religion and science were perfectly compatible, went together, were not in conflict, was whether the 18- to 23-year-old had gone to a Christian high school, and I believe that they thought they were compatible, and I believe it goes back to because in those kind of high schools in the curriculum space is made to address the meta-issues like, “Okay, we’re learning biology, and we’re teaching you theology.  How do they fit together?”  And so there is an opportunity for 15-year-olds to try to wrestle with, “Is this really ‑‑,” and most of the messages were not anti-science, all this fits together ‑‑


CHRISTIAN SMITH:  No, it’s ‑‑ it ‑‑ no, I’m sorry, it doesn’t include Catholic schools, it’s Protestant, Protestant, more or less Evangelical schools, not the Catholic, yeah.  Catholics already start off not having a problem with religion and science.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Did you want to add something about the “Nones,” Chris?  And what I mean by that, who they are.

CHRISTIAN SMITH:  It’s a definite growth since the mid-1990s, and they tend to be people who are not really ‑‑ the additional “Nones” tend to be people who are not all that religious anyway.  They used to identify on a survey as nominally a Protestant, and the best argument I hear is that the religious right are people that violate their sense of separation of church and state have made them angry enough to push them into saying, “I’m not religious.”  It doesn’t reflect a major religious change, it reflects the criteria by which people will self-identify on a survey as something.

JEFF HARDIN:  Which was Carl’s point, I think.


JEFF HARDIN:  Yeah.  I mean, I think this point about ‑‑ what Chris said about these Christian schools, you know, this goes back to the comment I made about there is really no space to talk about the meta-issues that surround science in the standard public school curriculum, and I don’t know where we’re going to make that space, but that would be very helpful, in my opinion, no matter what people’s religious perspectives are, to be able to have a space to talk about it clearly and thoughtfully would be helpful.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay.  Emma Green and then David and then Sarah and Shadi and Napp and ‑‑

Emma Green

Emma Green

EMMA GREEN, The Atlantic:  So I think this question dovetails nicely with Carl’s question actually, which is one of the words that you used a couple of times during your presentation was “dysteleological”?


EMMA GREEN:  The concern that any kind of adaptation of evolutionary principles into a view of creationism is dysteleological, it fundamentally derives ‑‑ it takes away the meaning of the universe.  And so it seems to me that this kind of gets at one of the core questions here, which is basically, you know, to some extent some of this is based on a first principle, which is, do you have a will to see meaning in the universe?  And if you do have a will to see the meaning, that the universe is inherently teleological, as having an inherent meaning and purpose, then you will be more invested in trying to sort of either commit to, for example, young Earth creationism or commit to sort of incorporating creationism in some way.  But, you know, to people who don’t, to people who think we’re all just going to be here and then we die, you know, I will resist quoting Naz (ph) right now, it seems like basically there is no reason to engage with that because you’re just basically ‑‑ you’re divided at the first principle.  If the universe is meaningless, you know, who cares about creationism?

And so I guess my first question is sort of, how do you reconcile that first principle question?  And then the bigger question is, doesn’t that kind of mean that this might be a debate that’s broiling among people who are Christians and Christian Scientists but ultimately people who are creationists and just don’t care about the meaning of the universe, don’t really care about any of these sort of gradations that you have aligned for us or outlined for us?

JEFF HARDIN:  There was a lot packed in there!  All right, so this question of purpose is important, I think.  I mean, you know, I’m an educator at a major public university.  There are many parents, Christian parents, who are loath to send their students to public universities because they feel that these are sort of godless places that will shipwreck the faith of their children.  And it is certainly true that there are many voices at public universities that want to promote a view of the ultimate meaning of life, which suggests that there is no coherent ultimate meaning to our lives: either we have to construct them through some sort of ‑‑ you know, in the old school days, it might have been an existentialist approach, now in a post-modern era, we can construct our own meta-narrative ‑‑ or whatever it is, in the humanities; in the social sciences, that the sociological and social science analyses exclude certain things, as Christian was talking about; or in the biological sciences, see those evolutionary biologists, they don’t believe in any meaning or purpose.  So I would say that it’s an important issue.

You know, for Christians, it’s odd; right?  So there is this book in the Old Testament called Proverbs, and in Chapter 16 in there it says that “The lot is cast into the lap, but the Lord determines its every outcome.”  So it doesn’t mean that God loads the dice every time the die is cast, but it does mean that seemingly stochastic or what to us seem random processes nevertheless somehow ‑‑ and this is the important point ‑‑ it’s not clear how exactly, but somehow they do fall under what Christians would call God’s providential control of the universe.

So you look at something like that, and the average creationist person would say, okay, yes, that is a seemingly random process.  So helping them to see that randomness in the sense of unpredictable, or stochastic in a mathematical sense, so probabilistic events, can nevertheless ultimately be under the control of God in some way, that’s an important thing to make clear to people who are worried about that.

You know, if you understand physics, quantum mechanics is all about stochastic events, probabilistic things, and now the average creationist person in the pew doesn’t know a lick about quantum mechanics, but if you lay that out for them, then they quickly realize, okay, randomness doesn’t mean purposeless, so we need to be clear about that, and that’s something that is important to try to work on.

Now, the psychological thing: that was a really interesting point that you raised.  I should point out, by the way, this whole thing about people losing their faith when they go to the university, at least for people born in the 1970s, Emma actually wrote a really nice article in The Atlantic analyzing some data about that which I found very helpful and kind of ‑‑ I should wave that in front of some of my people I know, but ‑‑

JEFF HARDIN:  So thanks for that.  But the psychological need to see purpose, that’s really interesting, right?  A lot of my atheist friends talk about that language in terms of, you know, people who are immature and have that need.  Right?  They use that kind of language a lot.

EMMA GREEN:  Mm-hmm.

JEFF HARDIN:  I just ‑‑ show me the evidence that directly correlates personal maturity with a desire for there to be purpose in the universe.  I just really want to dispute that.  I think that’s a statement that’s not founded on any evidence.  That’s kind of a desire to ratify one’s own particular worldview. I think actually humans by nature crave meaning and purpose in life.  Now, you may not agree with me.  I happen to have a Christian response to that, why that’s so, but I don’t see that it’s a sign of intellectual weakness or immaturity to desire meaning and purpose.  Many of the smartest people I know are convinced that there is deep meaning underlying all of reality.

EMMA GREEN:  So isn’t that kind of impossible to argue because basically you believe it or you don’t, and there is really no way to go deeper than that.  Right?  I mean, either you believe the universe has meaning or you don’t believe the universe has meaning.  You can’t really acquire evidence and build a case for that.  I guess you can, but ‑‑

JEFF HARDIN:  I mean, I think ‑‑ yeah, is that indubitable in that way?  Maybe so.  But I think whether your life is lived consistent with your claim about whether there is meaning or purpose, that we can discuss, and I think that’s probably where the discussion needs to be had.  Can you really ‑‑ you know, it was interesting. Richard Dawkins, when he came to Wisconsin on his God Delusion book tour ‑‑ I mean, that event was interesting on sociological fronts in many, many ways because he actually has this fan club that kind of goes from venue to venue with him, and they’re very devoted.  It’s very interesting.


JEFF HARDIN:  They are like disciples in a way.  That was sort of ‑‑


JEFF HARDIN:  But a student got up in the Q&A and said, “Well, I really appreciated this talk and I read your book, but you claim that there is no ultimate meaning and purpose in the world, in the universe, and yet how can you live your life ‑‑ you affirm there is meaning and purpose to your own life, how do you make sense of those?” and he really had no answer for that.  Right?  I mean, that’s an issue for a kind of naive materialistic naturalism in a sense: what is the locus of meaning?  Hard to ‑‑ it’s not evident there is one.  It doesn’t mean we can’t live lives as if they have meaning or that we ‑‑ but we need ‑‑ or that we ‑‑ that it’s not possible to create or import meaning in some ways, but it’s a question that I think that often is not asked.  It’s just kind of naively said, “Well, of course our lives have meaning.”  That’s kind of begging the question, which I feel is what sometimes happens.  Now, Christians beg the question on all kinds of things, too, I’m not ‑‑ let’s be clear about that.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  I’m going to go to David Gregory.  Before I do, Jeff, there were a lot of people that wanted to know if they could have copies of your presentation.  Is that ‑‑ can you print that out or what is your feeling about that?  No, not, “What is your feeling?”  We would like a copy.


JEFF HARDIN:  Okay.  Yeah.  I’ll have to look through and see if there is copyrighted or embargoed material.  I think there is not.  I would have to provide attribution for ‑‑ I think I didn’t give an adequate journal attribution for John Hill’s data, which was I think published with Christian.  So I have to make sure I go back and look up the journal article and all of that, but ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  We would love to get a copy.

Okay.  David Gregory?  Have you got the mic on?

David Gregory

David Gregory

DAVID GREGORY:  I do.  (off mic)


DAVID GREGORY:  I’m not one to generate that much without the mic.


DAVID GREGORY:  So I’m curious about two things.  One, where does this go? How does this end?  If there is momentum along this continuum, does it reach a final place of acceptance?  And do political debates and political evolution, just like there is evolution on other issues, like gay marriage and such, in our public life, does that have an influence?

But then I’m curious to ask you, just as a matter of faith, I mean, I’ve spent some time with some pretty serious Evangelical thinkers and trying to understand more about faith, and one of the ‑‑ some of the feedback I get is that the journey is not enough, the notion of a faith journey is not in and of itself a destination, that you must make a decision about who God is, so you must come to a final resting place.

So I wonder for you, as a Christian, how you square this room you have created for ambiguity and confusion with your own rather certain faith.

JEFF HARDIN:  Well, I hope I’m not creating a space for confusion, but ‑‑

DAVID GREGORY:  Well, some ‑‑ well, I mean, it seems like ‑‑ maybe “confusion” is the wrong word.

JEFF HARDIN:  “Ambiguity” is a good word.

DAVID GREGORY:  Ambiguity.

JEFF HARDIN:  Right.  So this gets back to I’m not sure who was talking about the need for certitude that some Evangelicals have.  Different human beings have different thresholds for the need for kind of certainty, and that goes for faith as well.

You know, as a Christian, I want to say that I may be on a journey.  I’m definitely a work in progress.  You know, the Apostle Paul told the Church at Philippi to work out their salvation in fear and trembling for it is God who is at work within them both to will and to work for his good pleasure [Phil 2:13].  Amen to that.  I should have been living in Philippi.  That’s me.  You know, that I’m a work in progress.

So in that sense, a faith journey, we’re all unfinished construction projects.  I think Christians all want to affirm that.  But it is true, I think, that Christians want to say that not all roads lead to the same destination.  Just as it’s true in the real world, not all roads converge.  Some roads might run closely parallel or maybe converge onto the final destination, but not all roads are going to do that.  And so I would want to affirm that.  So I’m not sure who you spoke to and how they couched this.

Evangelicals do talk about “Truth”, with a capital T, quite a bit.  Now, Jesus of Nazareth did that.  You know, oddly, on the main administration building for my college at Wisconsin, which is a College of Letters and Science, is a quote put there by the Class of 1955 from John Chapter 8:  “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”  That was Jesus who said that actually.  Interesting.  Just ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Is it still there?

JEFF HARDIN:  It’s still there, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER:  That’s also on the main building at the University of Texas.

JEFF HARDIN:  My wife went to UT Austin, so, you know, great minds think alike, I guess.


JEFF HARDIN:  So Christians want to talk about truth.  Truth and absolute certitude are not the same, so I think truth in John 8 is personified in this person Jesus of Nazareth.  So I can apprehend that truth has its locus in Jesus of Nazareth as a Christian in that this leads me on a path of what Christians call discipleship, of following him, without having all the answers or having ‑‑ being in lockstep with other Christians.  What unites us is that we follow a common leader.  And so I want to be careful about sort of epistemic 100 percent certitude about everything that I affirm as a Christian.

Fundamentally, being a follower of Jesus is a life of faith, so there has to be some sense in which my faith is not rationally compulsory.  So I may have good reasons for my faith, and many Christians much smarter and more articulate than I am have laid out some of the good reasons for being a Christian, but ultimately those reasons don’t compel my faith; I still have to exercise faith.  Following Jesus involves that no matter who you are.  So I do want to say that.

Now, I am really sensitive to the idea that someone is really satisfied with what they think they know and what they understand about the world. I don’t want to throw their life into turmoil, I want to be sensitive to that.  That’s a pastoral concern that I have.  So I don’t want to just drop some sort of hand grenade into their lives without providing some tools to think about that.  So I think this spectrum of views and pointing people to resources of good articulate spokespersons along that spectrum, that’s the approach that I’ve taken.  So when I give this talk, I give a really detailed handout for further reading; here’s where you can go to look at all of this.  And this guy Jeremy that I mentioned in the beginning of my talk, that’s what we did. We did a bunch of readings, and he said, “I’m just not buying positions X, Y, and Z. I’m most comfortable with this particular position,” which for him happened to be evolutionary creation, but, you know, that was a way to help him move forward and get past this impasse that he thought he was facing.

DAVID GREGORY:  And just to follow up, you’re still committed in a way, in a very intellectually honest way, but you still are trying to create some momentum behind the absolute place for science in this particular debate about how the world was made; are you not?  I mean ‑‑

JEFF HARDIN:  What do you mean by “absolute”?

DAVID GREGORY:  That you advocate that.  I mean, as a scientist, you think it’s important that that is central to your and your students’ understanding of how we all came to be.

JEFF HARDIN:  Yeah.  I mean, the church that I happen to attend now is in something called the Reformed tradition, and so they have a big ‑‑ there is a long history there of affirming that all truth is God’s truth, that all valid ways of knowing, from whatever disciplines they come, are things that we should embrace and we shouldn’t fear them.  So I would certainly put science in that category, that I fully expect ‑‑ although I don’t have an airtight articulation between the book of God’s word and the book of God’s world ‑‑ I expect them to have significant touch points and that the entire package is going to be ‑‑ it’s not going to be 100 percent coherent because as creatures we’re limited, but that it’s ‑‑

DAVID GREGORY:  See through a glass darkly?

JEFF HARDIN:  We see through a glass darkly, as the Apostle Paul put it in Romans ‑‑ or in 1 Corinthians 13, yeah, that’s right, that glass being a mirror, you know, we don’t get a good reflection; right?  And so ‑‑ but I think we should strive for that.  We should strive to be fully integrated coherent human beings and, as Christians, perhaps more than any other people, we should be wanting that.  I think that’s something that our faith insists of us.  That’s hard work, and a lot of people don’t want to put in that effort.  It’s just easier to ‑‑ I mean, I don’t like the phrase “easy believism,” but that’s a phrase that some Evangelicals use as something we don’t want.  Right?  Easy answers because they’re easy, I don’t like that, so I want something more robust than that.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay.  Sarah Bailey. And, Shadi, you’ll be next.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY, Religion News Service:  Okay.  So I have two ‑‑ two like kind of big questions.  I think to get at what David was asking a little bit.  So, again, I wrote these down so I could read it.

Okay.  I find it really interesting that this is such a big thing for Evangelicals and not so much for Catholics, as Christian mentioned, especially given the Catholic Church’s history on science, and maybe not from Muslims, as Shadi tweeted during your presentation.

So, as you know, many of the Evangelicals see some of these issues, especially historical Adam and Eve, as a fault line or a litmus test for whether you can be a true Evangelical or whether a place like Wheaton is truly Evangelical.  Like Christian and I were talking at the break, this was a big deal when he went there and it was a big deal when I went there.

So you talk about people who are more nuanced and less ‑‑ you know, they take a less literary approach to the Bible.  Once you accept that nuance, won’t people say there would be implications for other issues, perhaps the biggest example being sexuality?  It may or may not have political implications, as David was asking about with same-sex marriage, but it has to have implications, I would imagine, for the church and biblical interpretation.

So these are the questions I could see people asking, not ones ‑‑ I’m not asking you to like answer, but these are you can take or leave.

So from the science side, to what extent is evolutionary theory tied up with the idea that nature is purposeless or only directed at the survival of the fittest?  Can a Christian evolutionary scientist also identify purpose in the universe and in life forms that point to an intelligent designer in a way that Evangelicals can accept?

So on the Bible side, if Christians accept evolutionary history, conservative Evangelicals would ask, how can someone like you reconcile it with the Bible’s emphasis on the unity of the human race descended from one original pair, Adam and Eve, and a historical fall into sin?  So what do you do with these kinds of questions ‑‑ this is a big overarching question ‑‑ what do you do with these kinds of questions and their theological implications for how you read the Bible?

And then I have a second question, but ‑‑

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Whoa, whoa, whoa, Sarah, Sarah.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER:  She has a follow-up.



MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Sarah, there were about four or five in that question.

SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY:  But what I’m saying is I don’t necessarily need you to respond to each different one, but like the overall, how do you read the Bible in light of these questions?

JEFF HARDIN:  All right.  So let’s just start with the Wheaton question.  I think it is true that current scientific understanding of the genetic diversity of extant humans suggests that there was never a time at which the population of Homo sapiens on the planet was less than tens of thousands or so.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  But could I just interrupt here, Jeff?  For those of you who don’t know, Wheaton College has been called the Evangelical Harvard, and Sarah went there and Mike Gerson went there, outside of Chicago.

JEFF HARDIN:  So in particular, faculty of Wheaton must sign a doctrinal statement that is very specific about the biological progenitors of the entire human race.  So that’s what’s at issue and that’s what Sarah is referring to.

SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY:  But someone like you would not affirm.

JEFF HARDIN:  I would have to look ‑‑ I don’t actually ‑‑ I don’t have that statement memorized that the Wheaton faculty have to sign.  I actually am pretty conservative on this point, and I think there are a number of ways that evolutionary creationists think about the historicity of Adam and Eve.  You know, some want to say that the early chapters of Genesis are ahistorical, so they’re not really talking about historical personages.

Others want to say that they are historical, but it’s not a historical account.  So there are historical events that underlie the account, but it’s not a historical account itself.

Others ‑‑ John Walton would be in this camp, he would be ‑‑ I mentioned him several times, let’s just single him out.  Since he’s not here, he’s an easy target, I suppose, but he would want to say ‑‑ he would want to affirm that Adam and Eve existed.  He would say that the text is not saying anything about the biological origins of all humans on the planet.  That kind of a view would comport well with the genetic data, so that if Adam and Eve existed, there were other humans at the time.

If you look at the scope of history of Genesis, I mean, one approach is God seems to narrow down what he’s doing in the book of Genesis and beyond to a small group that are kind of the hope for the planet. You know, in Genesis 12 we have this guy Abram who gets a name change to Abraham, and he’s one example of that.  But if you look at the narrative about Adam and Eve, it fits that pattern really well, and so maybe one way to think about Adam and Eve is that they’re the progenitors of ‑‑ they’re the leaders of a small group of people, maybe the progenitors of the nation of Israel, but for them to be the biological progenitors of all humans doesn’t comport well with the biological data.

So the rub comes ‑‑ this guy, the Apostle Paul, makes a comparison between Adam and Jesus, through the one man sin enters the world, or however we want to understand what he’s saying there, there is this one guy, bad stuff happens, we’re all suffering the consequences, so we need help; there is one guy who solves that problem, Jesus.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  The second Adam.

JEFF HARDIN:  The second Adam.  So to me it’s hard to make sense of that argument personally unless both are historical referents.  Other people, though, want to say, “Well, he’s just operating within his own milieu and so he doesn’t ‑‑ of course, he assumes Adam was a real guy, but we know better now,”. I’m very wary of the “we know better now” kind of argument.  I tend not to think we always know better now.  So there are different ways of construing that.

So I think ‑‑ but that’s a challenge for evolutionary creationism.


JEFF HARDIN:  But I think evolutionary creationists are committed to looking at the biological data and the biblical data and trying to make sense of both of them together.  You know, if ‑‑ I guess that’s all I need to say there.

Is there any way we can condense down all the rest of what you’re asking?

SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY:  Yeah.  So I guess the point I wanted to get at is like let’s say like, you know, people affirm that someone is born gay; right?  Biologically you decide that.  What does that mean?  How would you apply like science there with your faith in light of biblical interpretation?

JEFF HARDIN:  I mean, you know, this is my take on what we know at the moment.  I should contextualize this by saying my father was gay, so I have a lot of personal experience with thinking about these issues.  There is just not good scientific data on this point that I think everybody agrees on at the moment.  When scientific data emerges that people agree is really solid, then I think Christians have to take that extremely seriously, and I think I would say that about any area of biology.  You know, there are other areas of biology as well.  The whole issue of genetically constrained behaviors includes a much larger set of issues.

Is there a genetic component to behaviors?  Absolutely.  That’s indisputable.  But parsing out the components of that, that’s ‑‑ I think biologists don’t have a good handle on that.  And so I think at the moment it’s unclear how that particular question is going to shake out.  I don’t ‑‑ in general, I think it’s probably a good idea when one is approaching the Bible not to ‑‑ I want to avoid packaged deals whenever I can.


JEFF HARDIN:  I’m not sure that’s a fruitful approach.  So that would be my ‑‑ that’s my general approach, I want to look at each individual case.  What does the Bible seem to be saying?  What is its trajectory?  How can I make sense of that in any particular area?  And then see, where is the good science that pertains to that?  And I think the evidence from evolutionary biology and genetics is so overwhelmingly strong at this point that I can speak to that one clearly.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  That was a good concise answer to the question itself, so thank you.  I’m just worried that we were just going to go off another trail there, and I’ve got a bunch of people who want to get in.

So, Shadi, you’re up next, and then Napp.

Shadi Hamid

Shadi Hamid

SHADI HAMID, Brookings Institution:  Okay.  Just two questions.  First, I was struck by the quote from I believe it was Paul Nelson where he said something like he has a bag of intuitions but not necessarily the data or research.  That struck me as a little bit concerning because it sounds like he has already reached the conclusion and then needs to find a way to fill the gap and find research or data that leads him to where his intuition suggests he should go.

Let’s say hypothetically he stumbled upon research or data that led him against his intuition.  Could he, as a committed Evangelical from his particular perspective, accept that data?  That’s one.

And then just a question on you said something about Evangelicals not wanting ‑‑ something about a hand grenade?  What was the exact ‑‑

JEFF HARDIN:  Oh, I think David was saying, am I creating confusion by giving them options along a continuum?

SHADI HAMID:  Yeah.  So it strikes me sometimes when I hear about Evangelical movements that there is almost this persistent concern that if they go out too much into mainstream institutions that their faith may not be sufficiently resilient, but it would seem to me that if they found the capital “T” Truth and there is real conviction, then there should be a kind of confidence that goes along with it.  And I’m just thinking about other religious movements that really make it a thing to infiltrate, if you will, mainstream institutions.  I’m thinking, for example, about the Gulen movement in Turkey, and others, that want ‑‑ that don’t seem to be afraid to be co-opted or absorbed by mainstream institutions and feel that’s necessary to achieve their objectives.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Christian Smith, by the way, has written a lot about cognitive contamination.

Am I right, Chris?


MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  You did, yes.  So after Jeff is formulating his question, I may turn to you and say, “Tell us what that means.”

JEFF HARDIN:  Shadi, this is terrible.  I forgot the first part of your question already, unless I’m brain dead.

SHADI HAMID:  Paul Nelson and ‑‑

JEFF HARDIN:  Oh, yes.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  So actually I quoted Paul a second time, and he said, look, the overwhelming evidence argues against a young Earth, nevertheless he holds that position.  So that seems to be an answer in a way that there is ‑‑ it’s not evident that there would be a sufficient weight of information that would change his mind that ‑‑ so I’m not sure that he is epistemically open to other possibilities.  Now, I would have to talk to Paul about this.


JEFF HARDIN:  Would he really be open?  I mean, what he usually says is the Bible just seems to say this is how it was, I must believe that, and so that’s just really how it is.

SHADI HAMID:  So what’s the point of finding data (off mic)?

JEFF HARDIN:  So the point of finding ‑‑ yeah, so then what’s the point of finding data?  That’s a great question.  Right?  So the point of finding data ‑‑ well, first of all, let’s talk about, what would data look like for Intelligent Design people?  I mean, I think most of us in the scientific community find the arguments look sort of like the following:  we don’t understand how process X works, therefore, that’s evidence that God must have stepped in and bridged the gap, because we don’t have an understanding of that.

Now, Intelligent Design theorists want to say more than that; they want to say there will never be a scientific explanation, therefore, God must bridge that gap.  But that’s not so clear.

So there’s a very famous example of Isaac Newton in his Principia, he said, “You know, I can’t fully account for the orbits of all the planets, the data looks really good except there are just a few wobbles in the orbits of these planets I can’t explain.”

Well, he didn’t know about the outer planets; they hadn’t been discovered yet, and they have a gravitational effect on the inner planets. But his solution was God must reset the orbits of the planets when they decay so that the planets can continue in their orbits.  And so there was a gap he couldn’t explain, and he invoked God to explain the inexplicable there.  Now, later, of course, Neptune and Uranus were discovered, and that explained Newton’s data, and Newtonian mechanics explains the orbits of the planets; he just didn’t have all the information.

So if you look at an example like that, scientists like me tend to be very hesitant to want to say we’re not going to be able to figure that out one day, but we’re quite comfortable saying we have no idea how that works.

You know, gravity is a good example.  We do not have a coherent explanation of gravity that takes into account the very small and the very fast.  So this is the realm of quantum mechanics.  We can’t take that part of physics and unite it with the really big “Über” stuff that happens in the universe that relates to what Einstein called general relativity.  We don’t have a theory that knits those together yet.

Do we deny the existence of gravity?  I think not.  I think we admit gravity works, but we don’t have a coherent theory of gravity.  But in that case, most Christians do not step in and want to explain the lack of a theory using God-talk.  That’s interesting to me.  So why do we not do that there, but we do want to do it with biological evolution?  I think the difference is that we ‑‑ the uniqueness of humans and our origins through biological processes is in play in the latter case and not in physics.  So there is a difference there of why we want to jump to that conclusion.

The ID people I think ultimately hope that by showing gaps in our understanding and the need for an intelligent designer, that people will be brought to a sense that they need to seek that intelligent designer.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  On the question of ‑‑ Chris, do you want to quickly say something about Shadi’s point about ‑‑ I mean, he’s a written a whole book on this, cognitive contamination, and Shadi’s ‑‑

CHRISTIAN SMITH:  In short, Evangelicalism thrives in part because of the embattled sense that it feels and constructs in relation to threats from the world.  That’s part of its energy.  It does a lot, and I have a whole theory about how this works.  At the same time, I would say sociologically to keep all this in perspective, pretty much every human social group has orthodoxies, senses of purity and danger, and is happy to conduct any versions of their own versions of inquisitions or exclusions or ‑‑ so even though Evangelicals are sort of way obvious on this and worried about contamination, in some sense, it’s just part of human nature and social life to be worried about boundaries and the other and contamination and so on.  And sometimes I think we privilege some groups as being really strange about that without realizing that’s just kind of general human operational procedure.

JEFF HARDIN:  So I do briefly want to answer the last part of Shadi’s question, which is why, if Evangelicals feel like they have the Truth with a capital “T,” why aren’t they out there proclaiming that Truth and mixing it up and why are they afraid of this contamination issue?  And that’s a really good question.

There have been times in the past where they have really mixed it up.  I mean, you know, Evangelicals were very famously involved in the abolition of the slave trade in England, for example. William Wilberforce is a really probably way overcited example, but I think a good one.  There have been times when ‑‑ you know, in the U.S., it’s often been co-opted by expressions like the Religious Right and the Mmoral Majority, for example, that was an example.  That’s not really Evangelical per se, although there were a lot of Evangelicals involved.

But there are lots of Evangelicals who I think are actually out there mixing it up; you just maybe don’t know that they are like this.  You know, Francis Collins is a good example, you know.  There are people in lots of areas of life.  I think there are some people in this room; I mean, if you ‑‑ and I know this is not something you guys really like to do, but if we took a poll of your personal religious beliefs, we would get a pretty interesting statement about people being out in the culture.  The question is whether they are proclaiming their faith in the midst of performing their job, and that’s something maybe they’re not doing all the time.

But it might be a mistake to assume that all Evangelicals are scared of being out in the culture and interacting with the world.  I think that would be a mistake.  There is certainly an impulse toward separation among some Evangelicals, but a lot of Evangelicals have a strong sense of a cultural mandate to go out there and try to be a redeeming or a leavening influence in the culture.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Quickly, David, and then ‑‑

DAVID GREGORY:  Yeah.  I think it is important to consider the broader implications of Sarah was asking in part, whether it relates to sexuality or other areas of skepticism because, Jeff, what I hear you saying is that there is a threshold test for truth which competes with the Truth with a capital “T.”  And in your realm, you think there has been something that’s approached that, and therefore it should become more central even for Evangelicals to allow this competing information.

But when you said earlier, you talked about you can look at the creation story and look at God breathing the spirit into Adam, and say, well, that doesn’t say specifically how he created life.  It invites skepticism.  Are there not ‑‑ are the implications of your work and your beliefs such that there should be broader skepticism even for Evangelicals in other areas of understanding the Bible, perhaps with regard to sexuality, homosexuality, or other areas?  Should it not have broader implications?

JEFF HARDIN:  I mean, I just don’t see it as skepticism.  I’m not sure I want to triangulate the discussion along those lines.  I guess I would ‑‑ I mean, I think about it for myself, I would prefer the phrase “self-critical.”  “Skepticism” implies something different to me.  I want to be a self-critical reader of the Scriptures.  Anyone who has studied church history will quickly recognize the historical contextualization of a lot of Christian thought.

“Changing attitudes about science is likely more about allaying theological concerns for the faithful than about imparting information, and that attitudes about science may be as much about social and relational considerations as they are about information.”

It’s pretty much impossibl

It’s pretty much impossible for us to fully extricate ourselves from our historical embeddedness, and to pretend that we can do so is arrogant.  So I don’t want to be like that.  I mean, I’m arrogant sometimes, anyone who knows me will ‑‑ my wife will tell you that, but I think, you know, my ‑‑ so I think that’s what I’m trying to say ‑‑ maybe I didn’t say it well ‑‑ that I want to be sure that my approach to the Scriptures is not ‑‑ to the extent that I can make it possible, I don’t want to bring inappropriate baggage to my interpretation of Scripture, and the different kinds of baggage that have been brought to the Scriptures have differed over the history of the church over two millennia, and we can look back with hindsight and say, “Those guys, boy, they really didn’t have it”, but I really want to be careful about that, you know.

St. Augustine has a really great quote, which I can reproduce, but I won’t tire you with it, but basically he says, look, I don’t want ‑‑ and this is in his commentary on the book of Genesis, you know.  It’s called the literal meaning of Genesis, but for him, literal had a very different meaning from how we would use the word “literal,” ‑‑ but, you know, the point he makes there is, look, my interpretation of Genesis, if there is some really knowledgeable person next-door here who ‑‑ I don’t want to say something really foolish here ‑‑ because that is really going to discredit the church.  So I am much more concerned about that than about ‑‑ I just don’t have a goal of inciting widespread skepticism.  I believe that the Scriptures are just crucial for faith and life, as Evangelicals like to say, and so I hope you haven’t misheard me on that particular point.

I think ‑‑ I know this is true for me, so I don’t know, you can weigh this for yourself if you’ve ever tried to read something, but I think we all bring our own ideologies to the table, so we want certain things to be true.  You know, we talk about Paul Nelson, but, you know, it’s not restricted to creation and evolution, we bring things to the Scriptures that we want to be true, and so we are strongly tempted to find them there, and I just want to be careful to avoid doing that whenever I can.  I want to be ‑‑ just as I’m an empiricist about the natural world, I want to try to be, to the extent that I can, an empiricist about the Scriptures.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay.  We’re coming down close to the end, and we have got three people.

Napp Nazworth

Napp Nazworth

NAPP NAZWORTH, Christian Post:  All right.  I’ll try to make this short.  So back to the public school debate.  Yeah, I’m sorry, you expressed uncertainty, so I’m sorry to bring it back to you, but ‑‑ so I think there would be general consensus that parents want their kids taught what the debate is about.  Right?  And I think most parents would not be offended to have their children presented the information that you presented.  Right?

JEFF HARDIN:  I think that’s right.

NAPP NAZWORTH:  And so we probably have this broad consensus, but then when you get to the question of, “Well, which class will it be taught in?” all of a sudden it’s very passionate, taking sides, biology class versus civics class, which means, you know, the football coach teaching it.



NAPP NAZWORTH:  And there is almost a sense of if it’s taught in the biology class, then the biology will be corrupted by this information or something like ‑‑ so I wonder what you think about when you get down to the debate about which ‑‑ you know, where that information should be taught.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Okay.  Before you answer that Jeff, why don’t we get Mike Gerson’s question, and Matt, and then you can answer all three together if you don’t mind.

Mike Gerson.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson

MICHAEL GERSON, Washington Post:  Okay, I hope I can make this brief.  When I’ve written about this before, the reaction I’ve gotten is interesting.  So David Klinghoffer, who accused me of writing my last column while I was sleepwalking, which was probably actually true ‑‑


MICHAEL GERSON:  ‑‑ but said to think that no assertion from science can challenge religion is to make your faith basically fatuous.  If it is so forgiving, so content-free as to accommodate any statement whatsoever about the universe, about reality, valid or invalid, so long as this statement comes from scientists, I don’t see that as a formula for religion that’s worthy of consideration.  Now, he applies that to Darwinism, as the guy at the Discovery Institute.

But I’m just curious about, is there any conclusion of science that you could imagine that would actually refute your faith?  Is it possible for science or is it an entirely different realm? is the issue that he’s raising here.  He uses the example of Maimonides, who said that he could not accept an eternal universe within the Jewish construct of thought.  Right?  And we at some point have had a consensus about this, essentially an eternal universe, you know, which we don’t have now, I think that’s true.

But I’m just curious about whether there is any conclusion here that would essentially say, “I can’t accept that because of my faith tradition.”

JEFF HARDIN:  So let’s go to Napp first, I guess.  Right.  I think this is really hard.  I mean, I’ll tell you what I do.  So I don’t teach evolutionary biology, I teach embryonic development.  There I teach a little bit about bioethics, and I flag it, I say, “Okay, now we’re ‑‑ we’re now ‑‑ we’ve talked about the biology.  Now let’s talk about things that biology can’t address.  What is the value of human organisms?  What is the nature of what it means to be essentially human, and when does that arise during a human organism’s development?”, all of those kinds of things.

So biology is an input into the discussion, so you don’t want to say things that are silly, you know, like human organisms don’t arise through fairy godmothers zapping women so that they become pregnant with fully formed human organisms in their womb.  It doesn’t work that way.

So biology informs the question, but the question itself is a meta-scientific question, and it involves your philosophy, it involves potentially your religious inputs, it certainly involves your metaphysical perspectives.  Right?

So we can have that discussion in my biology classroom I think successfully, but they know we’re not talking about biology.  So I don’t do a lot of that.  It’s a biology course, so it would be unfair to the students to do too much of that, but, you know, I’ve been comfortable with doing a little bit of that, but it’s not ‑‑ we’re not doing biology when we’re doing that.  I just want to be clear about that, we’re not doing biology.  So I think I would prefer to have those kinds of discussions in a way that flags, whatever course it is, it flags it as we’re not doing science anymore, we’re talking about the implications or the questions raised by a scientific question, but thinking about them requires not doing ‑‑ we need to think about other things that lie outside of science.  Science can’t answer some of those questions.  So that’s what ‑‑ I would like to see that happen.  I think that’s pretty rare.

I don’t know about the football coach.  I’ve met some pretty smart football coaches in my time, so ‑‑


JEFF HARDIN:  Okay.  So Michael’s question about, would there ever be a scientific discovery that would destroy my faith?  I think people of faith have ‑‑ you know, you believe something, and I think if there is not a possibility of revision, then you have ‑‑ your faith is kind of held ‑‑ it’s kind of unassailable I think in some ways.  I wouldn’t say that I hold my faith in that way, but I do ‑‑ I am committed to certain key fundamental truths about Christianity.  The Nicene Creed, which I mentioned, I’m good with everything that’s in that statement, and I would go to the stake for all that stuff, you know, so I’m serious.  So I’m really serious about it.


CHRISTIAN SMITH:  If there was definitive proof that Jesus Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, it was Roman soldiers (off mic)…

JEFF HARDIN:  If there were definitive proof that Jesus ‑‑ there were some fully naturalistic explanation for Jesus’ resurrection ‑‑

CHRISTIAN SMITH:  Or there was no resurrection.

JEFF HARDIN:  Or there was no resurrection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER:  (Off mic) historical amount of evidence.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER:  I guess it was really more of a question (off mic).  I tend to, by the way, view them as entirely separate.  I can’t imagine what that would be, I don’t know what it would be, although there are cosmology issues that ‑‑ you know.  Would it affect your views if they could prove a multiverse?  Would it affect their view ‑‑ you know, would there be any way for that to happen?

MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  In 2 minutes, see what you can say.

JEFF HARDIN:  I mean, I do view them as largely separate realms of inquiry.  I do affirm that a single reality underlies both realms of inquiry.  In part, your question is an epistemological one.  Can they intersect in ways we would all agree, aha, that’s a deal breaker from the science side?

So I think David Klinghoffer ‑‑ I don’t ‑‑ I mean, I don’t know him at all, but I think clearly he thinks, yes, there will be such things one day.  So I think that’s a motivation one day for some Intelligent Design proponents, is that they want to find those spaces that provide the clear positive epistemic support for theism.

You know, I would rather go for a looking at the totality of reality and going for an inference to the best explanation, and for me, that’s Christian theism.  So that’s not exactly the clean answer that you want, but I think that that’s how I view science.  You know, thus far there hasn’t been a scientific discovery in my lifetime anyway ‑‑ and there have been a lot ‑‑ that have caused me any substantive faith issues.  So I’m not like Jeremy O’Connell, who came to my office.  I actually didn’t go through a crisis of faith due to science.


MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Conveyor belts.


JEFF HARDIN:  Conveyor belts, yeah.  No, not conveyor belts.


MICHAEL CROMARTIE:  Ladies and gentlemen, let it never be said we only deal with light issues at the Faith Angle Forum.


MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Join me in thanking Jeff for a wonderful presentation.  We are very grateful.

Full Session Video



Dr. Jeff Hardin

Professor and Chair of the Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin

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