97% of scientists accept some form of evolution (there must be something wrong with them)

A few days ago I posted the main bullet points for the lecture I gave at the Evangelical Theological Society on April 6. Some of the responses perpetuate common yet unconvincing lines of defense.

For example, I began my talk by saying that I accept the scientific consensus as a staring point when discussing the question of human origins.

A response I have heard–more times than I care to recall, and that I knew would likely come again even though I think I was super clear in my lecture–is, “Aha. See! If you start with science, of course you’re going to end up with evolution. And that’s your problem. You put too much faith in science instead of in the Bible.”

“Faith in science” suggests that one’s view of scientific matters is on the same sort of playing field as “faith in the Bible,” which then gives a sort of rhetorical oomph to the posed choice. But I don’t have “faith in science.” I have made a conscious, intellectual decision to accept the overwhelming consensus of demonstrably knowledgable and trained scientists across the world and for several generations.

I have done this not by ignoring my faith, but by working out my faith. I am not ignoring the Bible and its “plain teachings,” but interpreting the Bible as responsibly as I know how.

As I see it, the real question isn’t, “Why do you choose science over God?” but, “On what basis do you think you have the right to dismiss the scientific consensus?”

A ready response to this question is some variation on the following: “I reject evolution on the basis of Scripture.”

I’ve been around this block not a few times, and this response baffles me more and more each time I hear it. For one thing, it assumes as settled the very issue that is on the table, whether Genesis is prepared to speak to scientific matters. Also, havoc would result if this response were applied consistently to other well-established truths that lie outside of the Bible’s line of sight (outer space, galaxies, round earth, a temple in Turkey that predates the biblical Adam by 5,000 years, beer making that predates Adam, by 1000 years, etc., etc).

I understand the drive to “choose the Bible over science” to protect one’s faith, especially if that is the only way one knows how to pose the problem.

But that leaves another question, a very serious one, unaddressed: “What exactly do you think is the deal with all these biologists, bio-chemists, physicists, anthropologists, etc., across the world who make up this consensus?”

I see three options for answering that question (either in isolation or in combination):

1. They are all conspiring against us.

2. They are all grossly incompetent.

3. They are blinded by sin from seeing the truth.

Those who reject evolution need to say more than “I’d rather follow the BIble.” They also need to give some account for why they think the consensus exists.

I’m not prepared to accept any of those options. To do so would mean leaving a world where knowledge can be pursued and ideas vetted, for if this line of defense can be applied to one issue, it can be applied just as easily to any other one might find unacceptable.



  • Matt

    The response I heard directly from the mouth of one of the AiG ringers (he has a Ph.D. in thermodynamics and teaches at a university in the UK, Leeds, I think) is this: “scientists who support evolution are either deceived or losing a spiritual battle.” Wow. You can’t out talk or think that kind of logic.

  • Leigh Copeland

    If there’s one heading under which the fundamentalists in my church want to put the scientific enterprise it’s “human pride”. i believe the most toxic expression of this that I’ve ever heard was Albert Mohler saying that evolution is the same thing as the lie told to Eve in the garden: The very essence of human sin.

    • Loren Haas

      I used to hear that one too.
      I am happy in a different chuch now, where I recently finished teaching “Genesis for Normal People” at an adult bible study. What a difference the change in environment can make!

  • Don L.

    The use of science presupposes no divine intervention; that there is nothing that’s going to violate the laws of science and do something miraculous. Thus, using science in a laboratory to get repeated results is fine because you can safely assume that God’s not going to intervene and mess up your experiments. However, if you try to apply it to something that involves divine intervention (the creation of the world, the flood, the resurrection), all bets are off.

    You may be right that the Bible is not prepared to speak to scientific manners. I would add, though, that science is not prepared to speak to matters regarding acts of God.

    • peteenns

      I certainly agree.

      • LarryRR

        What would be a good example of an ‘act of God’ that would render science mute?

        • http://www.thepalmhq.com thepalmhq

          The infusion of an immortal soul into an evolved hominid.

  • Craig H Robinson

    Why do the majority of scientists not believe in God?

    If there is a second Book of God, the Book of Nature, how come the High Priests of this book (scientists) can’t read it and see that it proclaims God exists?

    • peteenns

      Maybe because we live in a culture where science and faith are pitted against each other from the outset.

      • Craig H Robinson

        Not sure how that is relevant. If they are the experts on the Book of Nature, and that Book of Nature reveals God, how can they miss that revelation? Since they are missing it, maybe they are reading it wrong.

        • Josh Lyman

          Or maybe YOU are.

          • Craig H Robinson

            I am not a scientist. I am not reading it at all.

            But if one is going to claim that that there is a Book of Nature that reveals God, how come the experts (scientists) at reading this book that reveals God aren’t seeing Him.

            It is a fair and simple question. And if Peter Enns is going to claim that Evangelicals aren’t willing to answer difficult questions, doesn’t that also apply to you and Peter and others on this board. None of you have come anywhere close to giving an honest thoughtful answer. It is a very fair question.

      • LarryRR

        Or maybe the theists are reading it wrong. Or maybe we all are. The difference is that scientists HOPE they are reading it wrong because they want their answers to be verified, because that how knowledge works. Fortunately they are not bound by a single text that MUST encompass every aspect of reality, for all time. When scientists get it wrong, they are going to hear about it.

        But Peter’s point fascinates me – when, and why, did this dichotomy happen? Surely faith predates science because it’s easier to make up an explanation for lightning or a volcano than it is to understand the process behind it. It’s just as tempting to say God caused the drought (and can end it) as it is to say it’s God’s Will that your child was, or was not, healed of a brain tumor. I don’t mean to be glib but it seems that God either gets the credit for everything good that happens, or a pass for anything bad (blame it on The Fall), every single time.

    • Andrew

      Book of Nature? Do you mean the scientific method?

    • Craig Hurst

      Doesn’t Paul speak to this in Romans 1? They suppress the truth in unrighteousness. All the evidence they need is before them but they suppress that knowledge (which means they know it points to God). Knowledge of God is a basic belief but in sin men suppress it.

      • Derek

        That would raise the question as to why so many scientists suppress the truth. Out of all the other professions, why is the scientific community the leader when it comes to suppressing the truth of God’s existence?

      • Stephen

        And I would add: if scientists are so adept at “suppressing the truth,” why does their work (in general) account for the vast majority of technological, medical, and other advances we have made that let us navigate, cope with, and live longer in creation?

        • Klasie Kraalogies

          Exactly! Furthermore, as a Professional in my own field, I’m bound by a strict code, because my actions might cost billions of dollars, and might hugely influence Securities. As as scientist, I’ve had to do a course in law and ethics, and write a exam about it, to be able to practice professionally. I sometimes wonder what would happen if the standards that apply to my work were to be applied to ever so many theologians / ministers / Christian activists out there….

      • Beau Quilter

        In Romans 1, Paul used the time-honored rhetorical device known as the ad hominem. Why bother actually engaging with the arguments of those who don’t believe; much easier to simply denounce them as sinners at the outset.

        • peteenns

          I’m not sure Paul, is doing that, Beau. Luke Timothy Johnson has an enlightening take on Paul’s rhetoric there, namely to get the Jewish Christians on his side before he blasts them in chapter 2.

          • Beau Quilter

            I don’t think Johnson is the first to suggest that Paul is playing on Jewish sentiments toward Gentiles before laying out his arguments against the chosen people. But it doesn’t negate the fact that he “blasts” Gentiles first by blaming their lack of belief on sin.

            And it’s how Christians use the verse today. Alongside commenters on this very post, Tim Keller has lately been blaming the loss of faith experienced by young people on fornication. It’s a non argument that is repeated ad nauseum. Having doubts? Well I don’t have to deal with your logical quandaries; I’ll just blame it on your sin. I’m more righteous than you; that’s why I’m right and you’re wrong.

            It’s ridiculous and insulting to the intelligence whether it comes from Paul in the first century, or from Tim Keller or Al Mohler today.

    • Stephen Hesed

      I think the answer is that scientists are not the “High Priests” of the Book of Nature. They are more like architecture students studying how the Temple was built than the priests who use it for what is was built for. Science deals with the question of “how,” not “why,” and often ends up overlooking “what.” A botanist, an ecologist, and a molecular biologist might walk through a redwood forest and be able to identify exactly how it came to be while still missing the sense of awe and rapture it evokes and the response of worship it inspires in so many people, whether they realize it or not. As Leon Kass eloquently put it, “We have lost our way in the world partly because we no longer believe that our ordinary experience of life in the world may be the privileged road to the deepest truth.”

  • http://www.waterfromthewells.com Caroline

    When I converted to Christianity, I was already in law school, so I can’t say that I succumbed to the teachings of Sunday School or Vacation Bible Study for my fundamental beliefs. Yet, I entered the faith in a space where to disagree was “to love Jesus or the bible” less than others (as Sarah Bessey puts it on her website http://www.sarahbessey.com). So I just sort of pushed it aside. Said it didn’t matter. AND THE CHURCH LET ME GET AWAY WITH IT FOR YEARS and that makes me sad, and angry. I’m not less of a believe because I’m actually thinking for myself and hearing what people like the people have to say. I’m more of one. It is delightful to hear that there are bible studies on Genesis like Loren talked about for “real people” who just want to talk through real questions with real science, all the while leaving their very real God in tact. Thanks to all of you for starting this discussion here. I love coming here and hearing what you have to say.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Jesus Without Baggage

    “I don’t have ”faith in science.” I have made a conscious, intellectual decision to accept the overwhelming consensus of demonstrably knowledgable and trained scientists across the world.”

    I really like this statement!

    And thanks for the stats; they are very helpful.

  • http://garriblog.wordpress.com Jason Garrison

    Thanks for a good post. Where did you get the bar graph?

  • AHH

    97% sounds a little low to me, but I guess it depends on how they defined “scientists” for their sample. For PhD-level scientists in related fields, I would expect over 99%.
    97% sounds more like a number for something where the evidence and consensus, while very strong, is less overwhelming than it is for common descent, like anthropogenic climate change. Another area where too many Christians lose credibility, damaging the witness of the faith, choosing to believe one or more of those 3 bad options about scientists (though climate change denial seems to be primarily driven by politics as opposed to the fundamentalist basis of evolution denial).

    But back to the topic of the post, I think some of the Evangelical church has set up their Enlightenment “perfect book” idol of the Bible so strongly that the conception must never be questioned, regardless of how much cognitive dissonance one needs or how much evidence one must dismiss. Much as good people like John Walton try, I don’t think there will be much constructive progress on the science/faith front as long as the idol of the Bible as a modern perfect book has such a grip on the Evangelical church.

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  • Craig Wright

    A couple of obvious things here: science won in the Galileo affair. Something people don’t realize is that the church’s view at the the time, that the earth did not move , is that the Bible says that 4-5 times. Yet, science won. The other point is that now , since almost everybody accepts that we are moving, is that we have accepted the consensus of the science community. It sure doesn’t feel like we’re moving, but almost nobody denies it.

  • Steven Winiarski

    Dr. Enns, I was at ETS and we spoke very btoreifly afterwards. I was wondering about oa couple of things. Could you please explain your view of the image of God in humanity. What makes us different and when did that occur? Second, could you explain what role you believe the Godhead played in the creation process, specifically the role of Jesus especially in relation to passages such as John 1, Hebrews 1, and Hebrews 11? Thanks!

  • John Osborn

    This seems to leave out one rather obvious explanation for why so many scientists accept evolution as the explanation for origins, and that is that science grew up in a particular intellectual environment that creates certain philosophical presuppositions. It’s not exactly like it’s a secret conspiracy that much of the academy is militantly secular. It would be naive to think that scientists are somehow immune from such influence. Methodological naturalism rules out science advancing any kind of super-natural creation event as an explanation, but the pressure of the intellectual environment could play a part in scientists not wanting to accept an answer that by definition is beyond science. Then there’s the fact that if one is temperamentally suited to science and trained in science, you’re likely going to want everything to have a scientific answer even though it’s logically possible that not everything does.

    Finally there’s the sheer social pressure involved in pushing numbers up. Granted there had to be a significant consensus to create such pressure in the first place, but once you get the consensus it can grow as a vicious circle. Once an opinion gets 2-1 support its’ not hard to imagine it spiraling to much greater support. It’s not just the desire to be not be considered an idiot among one’s peers, there’s the fact that one’s peers control whether you get a pay-check. I’t seems far fetched to think the science community is immune from such factors and it’s not as though each of these scientists are personally doing the experiments that “prove” evolution. This isn’t proposing some grand conspiracy, it’s just common sense ways that consensus can build and how science is not immune from its’ intellectual environment. None of that disproves evolution, it just makes the consensus argument a little less convincing.

    • James Daniel

      Scientist here. Social pressure? We’re trained to be critical and suspicious. We challenge consensus on a daily basis, in order to have a deeper understanding of the natural world. Whether consensus holds or not is irrelevant — either way our knowledge is expanded.
      But if you’re going to challenge well-established consensus, you better have some evidence to back it up. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when your peers aren’t convinced. And if you argue for ideas that fly in the face of the evidence? Don’t be surprised when your reputation as a scientist suffers.

      I’d echo the question on what “scientists” we’re talking about. I expect the percentage is significantly higher for biologists, biochemists, geneticists, etc.

      • peteenns

        James thanks for this. You beat me to the comment. I frequently hear a similar argument in my field concerning, say, authorship of the Pentateuch, of Isaiah, or other issues of biblical criticism. I am not without my biases or blind spots, nor is anyone else. But neither are we so unself-critical that we cant see over time our those factors and make adjustments, etc. Nor am I caving into pressure when I speak on Adam as I do. Just the opposite.

      • Stephen

        James…I echo Pete here. Great reply. As I, like Pete, I work in biblical scholarship and ancient history, I hear the same kinds of things as you and Pete from Evangelicals about X, Y, and Z in my fields.

        One of my favorite evangelical-apologetics tropes is to caricature scientists and bible scholars by representing our attitude as “the assured results of modern criticism/science.” This then immediately gets pitted against examples of changes in our fields over the years — the idea being (as you can imagine) to illustrate how naive, blind, etc., we are in only caring about our “assured results.”

        Anyway, this tends to make me laugh since, as you point out, a common characteristic of scholarship in my field (and yours) is that people want, if anything, to challenge consensus. That tends to be how one establishes one’s career, credentials, gets noticed, and all those other things that can matter for securing employment and recognized advancement in our fields. Thus the idea that all we care about is guarding our sacred cows…well, again, that makes me laugh. It also indicates to me that the person leveling the charge probably hasn’t ever actually participated in the scholarship s/he’s is thus caricaturing. Critical inquiry is exactly what you say: everything is up for criticism in light of evidence, whether new evidence or long-available evidence that we’re re-theorizing/contextualizing.

        One final point: the “social pressure” argument also amuses me since literally every time I’ve heard it from an Evangelical it’s been deployed with zero noticeable self-reflection; i.e., the implied opposite to the “social pressure” of the “liberal academy” is/are the evangelicals who simply hold their views for the sake of truth, even though it brings ridicule and doesn’t bring social advancement, etc. etc. etc.

        Do such Evangelicals think that basic dynamics of social interaction aren’t operative in their own social formations? Do they not think that there’s “social pressure” in their evangelical “fields” to (publicly) conform to, uphold, “take a stand for,” etc., their traditional views? Do they not think that their social formations are set up such that people advance in symbolic (and even economic) capital by conforming to and defending their traditional views?

        Anyway, thanks for your comment.

        • Andrew

          This is why climate change deniers make zero sense when they use similar arguments. If a climate scientist could prove humans did not add to climate change with solid evidence, there is BIG BIG money from the fossil fuel industry awaiting to back their research and publish their results, as well as fame, notoriety etc. Being just “a part of the consensus” doesn’t give you anything . . .you are just another faceless component in the 97%!

        • mike helbert

          Stephen, I appreciate your position. And, that of Pete, James and others. There are those of who do not have an earned Ph.D. In my case, I have an M. Div. But, even that’s not relevant here. One of the issues I have is that the vast majority of people who try to speak to science, whether biology, biochemistry, thermodynamics…whatever, have NO education in these areas. Yet, they are the ones making the economic and political decisions in the church and the culture at large. These are the ones that Peter and others, at least I think, are trying to get at with books like “The Evolution of Adam.” And, I don’t think that defending our credentials with them really matters all that much. Somehow, though, we need to get these people who control the rhetoric to understand that we’re not enemies. We’re all on the same journey for some kind of understanding of truth, just taking different routes to get there.

      • AHH

        From another scientist (and Evangelical Christian), what James said.

        And I would emphasize that the slur on the integrity of the many Christians in science that is implicit in John Osborn’s post is harmful not only to the church’s mission to the scientifically literate, but also harms the church from the inside as it is part of what makes churches unwelcoming environments for scientists who are Christians.
        Going back to Phil Johnson, the ID movement has made “Christians in science know that evolution isn’t convincing, but they go along with it just to keep their jobs and prestige” a part of its culture-war rhetoric. And that sort of slander, which comes mostly from people who claim to be Christians, needs to stop.

        Of course nobody (scientists, Evangelicals, those of us who are both) is immune to social forces. But as James points out, a big part of the social dynamic of science is to question received wisdom and try to come up with alternatives. And a ton of that has gone on with evolution over the past 150 years — and the basic fact of evolution (common descent) has only grown stronger in support (even as there continues to be legitimate controversy about some details of how the evolution happened).

        • John Osborn

          A slur on the integrity of scientists? Really? All I did was point out social factors that I would think will be at play in any group of humans as it comes to consensus on an issue. Is it seriously a slur to suggest scientists are human? As to the social force in science toward questioning the consensus, certainly some ideas are safer to question than others as is true in any field of study. Certainly there is “received wisdom” to challenge that culture has not invested as much in and that can be challenged without the same risk of being stigmatized as a fundamentalist. Consider the kind of backlash Thomas Nagel received just for challenging metaphysical materialism even as an atheist. Also if the alternative position is to accept a supernatural event, then by definition you’re outside of science, so you have nothing to gain in the scientific community by holding such a position no matter how much science encourages questioning received wisdom.

          I don’t see any of this as a slur against scientists. Dr. Enns suggests that rejecting a strong scientific consensus presupposes that something is wrong with scientists (that they’re either conspiring, incompetent, or too sinful) and so I simply pointed out a rather ordinary human way I think a false consensus could develop. I don’t see this as implying that they hold their position in bad faith or are incompetent or conspiring, I simply see it as implying that they are human. As I said before, this doesn’t anyway disprove evolution, it’s just why I think we should pause before automatically accepting “consensus” as our starting point.

          Ultimately, I’m not concerned with arguing that some creation doctrine is scientific because if we accept it as a supernatural event, then we’d have to accept that science is not going to come to exactly the right conclusion on it. A dialogue between science and traditional Christianity, has to involve some inquiry into when its’ reasonable to advance a supernatural cause (thus putting a limit on science’s reach of knowledge) and when to rely on secular science for painting an accurate picture of reality. However, exploring the extent and the limits of science in knowing the whole truth is a matter of philosophy and not science, and conservative Christians (at least in my denomination) are more squeamish about philosophy than they are science. I think this lack of engagement with philosophy may be at the root of some of our problems. It seems to me that many conservative Christians are naive Rational-Empiricists who uncritically and unknowingly accept said epistemology and then when the data of this approach doesn’t lead to conservative Christian conclusions they’re forced to bend the data rather than question whether it’s really their approach to knowledge that is flawed.

          • Bryan Hodge

            John, as someone who actually understands epistemology and how knowledge really works, I sympathize with you. But you’re not going to make much progress with this crowd until you can get Dr. Enns and the others above to acknowledge that what they’re hearing evangelicals say is not what evangelicals are actually saying. That’s clear with the strawman arguments they present as the evangelical positions, as well as the proposed solutions (i.e., we’ll just look at evidence).

            The problem is that when evangelical philosophers speak of presuppositions they’re not talking about biases, which is what Dr. Enns and these others are hearing. They’re talking about ulimate/necessary beliefs that determine the boundaries for what conclusions can and cannot be made of the evidence. So, yes, one is able to challenge the consensus within certain boundaries, but anything beyond that violates the necessary beliefs that are assumed as absolute. Hence, anyone going outside that box is seen as dishonest with the evidence, just trying to save his faith position (which, of course, he is like–just everyone else), etc. That’s why you don’t get university positions if you hold to certain views that run counter to those presuppositions, even if you can work out the evidence to favor that position. It’s just plain seen as absurd, not because of data (data says nothing), but because of the ultimate beliefs that control what one is capable of arguing with that data, and the subsequent consensus that reliance upon such necessary presuppositions brings.

            I don’t know a single evangelical scholar who doesn’t work out the data consistently with their presupps. But their conclusions are not consistent with the ultimate beliefs that govern the methodologies of inquiry within the secular academy. Until we realize that this is a conflict of beliefs, we’re not going to get anywhere. And we’re going to continue to fight over who is the biggest group of idiots because they just don’t accept the clear “evidence” in front of them ’til the world’s ending.

            And just to add a little log to the fire, perhaps the reason why the consensus within the academy is so different on some issues than the consensus among the populace is not simply due to the uneducated superstition of the populace, but to the fact that they have not been conditioned by the same culture/subculture. Hence, their presuppositions are often completely different than those adopted by the academy (and a lot of that has to do with the religious nature of the larger culture).

            And while I;m at it, let me just add to the possibly interesting discussion that was brewing, but too soon dismissed, above concerning Romans 1. The reason why a scientist whose science has implications concerning the Creator is more affected by what Romans 1 would say to him is due to the fact that the passage deals with suppressing truths that would make him, as a sinner, accountable to God in judgment for his sin. A guy working on the electric car or a rocket isn’t dealing with that type of analysis of creation. Hence, if there is going to be any suppression of the truth about God as evidenced in creation, it would be here more than anywhere else, save the area of biblical scholarship. Now, it could be that there is no suppression going on at all in our culture, and those areas are right as rain, but how exactly would you go about proving that? Or is it merely up to what presuppositions you hold about the subject?

          • Stephen

            Bryan (and also John, Pete, James, etc.),

            I posted a reply to Bryan’s comment below: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/04/97-of-scientists-accept-some-form-of-evolution-there-must-be-something-wrong-with-them/#comment-104689

            I just didn’t want to extend this particular part of the thread (our interaction with each other thus far) into the world of incredibly narrow comment columns.


  • Marshall

    You left out the one about God creating a world that just looks old. As a test of faith.

    Is it really all that different to say “I believe in Science” or “I accept the scientific world-view” vs. “I believe in Christianity”? The News like to make the point, but it seems to me that foundationalism is where you find it.

  • http://www.evidence2hope.com Graham

    Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project, has no issues with reconciling the science with his faith. In his book The Language of God, he details how the science set him on his journey to Christ.

    It seems to me that there are so many popular atheists screaming that evolution has disproven God, Christians have started to believe it and circled the wagons. I’ve found Stephen Jay Gould very helpful in this matter (and I apologize for the lengthy quote);

    “But this is the oldest canard and non sequitur in the debater’s book. To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists. If some of our crowd have made untoward statements claiming that Darwinism disproves God, then I will find Mrs. McInerney and have their knuckles rapped for it (as long as she can equally treat those members of our crowd who have argued that Darwinism must be God’s method of action). Science can work only with naturalistic explanations; it can neither affirm nor deny other types of actors (like God) in other spheres (the moral realm, for example)

    Forget philosophy for a moment; the simple empirics of the past hundred years should suffice. Darwin himself was agnostic (having lost his religious beliefs upon the tragic death of his favorite daughter), but the great American botanist Asa Gray, who favored natural selection and wrote a book entitled Darwiniana, was a devout Christian. Move forward 50 years: Charles D. Walcott, discoverer of the Burgess Shale fossils, was a convinced Darwinian and an equally firm Christian, who believed that God had ordained natural selection to construct a history of life according to His plans and purposes. Move on another 50 years to the two greatest evolutionists of our generation: G. G. Simpson was a humanist agnostic. Theodosius Dobzhansky a believing Russian Orthodox. Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism, thus proving that the two great realms of nature’s factuality and the source of human morality do not strongly overlap.”

    • peteenns

      Thanks for this, Graham.

    • Jim V

      Graham, I think you make some excellent points here that evolution is not the enemy that many Evangelicals think it is. However, Enns, et al., also fail to answer a basic questions – if consensus is so important and evidence, a priori, of the truth of a theory, then why do they believe in a God at all? According to the chart that Enns publishes above, 97% of scientists believe that humans evolved by natural causes with no “guidance by a supernatural being.” Unless one of the posters here, including Dr. Enns, can explain to me how that does not translate into atheism, I would like to hear why. But THIS is the answer that so rarely is given on this site – whether it is about atheism or biblical criticism. For Dr. Enns, what makes some historical event described in the Scriptures an actual event and another an ANE myth? If everything about the old testament is simply the same as every other ANE myth – the other creation stories, the other king lists, the other propaganda from the Assyrians, etc., then what is there here that gives you any evidence of the existence of God or of God using Israel for any special purpose. Often you seem to turn to the New Testament for your belief, but some of us just wonder if that’s just because your field of study is OT and not NT. If you applied the same principles – consensus, academic expertise, etc. take precedence in determining how to filter historical truth – why aren’t Bart Erhman and Dominac Crossan, who both believe that the resurrection story is myth of the same vein as the OT stories, correct in their agnosticism/atheism. THAT is the missing link that I think you and others here often fail to present when you criticize your Evangelical brothers and sisters. None of you have yet to present what I would call a “Universal Theory” of why your thinking is not just a stepping stone to disbelief. I have one myself – and I fully accept gradual evolution as God’s means of creating man – but I have been reading these posts for some time, and I have yet to read one from you or your like-minded commenters.

      • Hanan

        >For Dr. Enns, what makes some historical event described in the Scriptures an actual event and another an ANE myth? If everything about the old testament is simply the same as every other ANE myth – the other creation stories, the other king lists, the other propaganda from the Assyrians, etc., then what is there here that gives you any evidence of the existence of God or of God using Israel for any special purpose.

        Ya. The million-dollar question that I doubt he would ever attempt to answer.

  • Mark McCormick

    Regarding a different issue, I remember reading Philip Stott’s (biogeographer at London University) claim that a hundred years ago 90% of scientists were eugenicists – consensus in itself is no argument. It’s likely, as John Osborn avers, that the culture within academia has enforced conformity on the issue. And I’m disappointed that you only seem to have encountered creationists who are unable to supply any credible scientific arguments against evolution. There are many such arguments and they’re becoming increasingly compelling as our knowledge – particularly of the sub-cellular world – advances. J.C. Sanford (a former Cornell geneticist) has written a remarkable book, Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome, arguing that the genetic fitness of the human genome is in terminal decline, a fact recognised by prominent geneticists (though rarely broadcast – it might challenge the consensus!) but in flat contradiction to the expectations of those following the neo-Darwinian synthesis. The decline is, however, completely consistent with the biblical account of our origins. A challenging read.

    • James Daniel

      Those of us who are in the sciences — even from a Christian background — would question your claim of a “compelling” scientific challenge to evolution. It’s just not there.

      Who are these mysteriously silent “prominent geneticists”? Sounds like a classic conspiracy theory to me. Those claims simply don’t mesh with anything I know about molecular biology and genetics, especially the advances of the last decade.

    • peteenns

      “Increasingly compelling” to whom? And is this knowledge really being suppressed? I asked Karl Giberson once about minority views in the scientific world. He said there are always intelligent, learned people who buck the system so to speak, and that is good for science. A well known example is Einstein he stuck with his own theories until the day he died rather than go along with quantum physics. That tension is partly how science keeps moving and refining. The error in thinking, though, is when minority opinions are rushed forward as disproving or crippling the consensus. That takes time, and if the minority winds up being the majority, it’s because the theory will convince the community at large over time. Evolution is been the reigning theory for several generations and is not losing steam.

  • http://www.servicemusic.org.uk/ David Lee

    One point no-one picked up on…

    Your opening talks about “faith in science” and “faith in the Bible”. Yes, people picked up on the flaws of the “faith in science” bit.

    But look at the other phrase, “faith in the Bible”, that you use to characterise the supposed “Christian” view. I think you here similarly touch on, perhaps without realising it, a fundamental flaw in the defensive stance of creationists who would use such a “faith in the Bible” argument.

    Dare I suggest that the fundamentalist concept of “faith in the Bible” is flawed?

    1. As Christians we are called to put our faith in God, not the Bible. Shouldn’t our faith be in God himself, and only secondarily in his inspired word, the Bible? Untangling this needs a clear head, but I suspect it is important in our discussions.

    2. I deliberately say “inspired word”, not “written word”, because I suspect that there is an additional confusion point here whose untangling also needs a clear head.

  • http:/dancingpastthedark.com Nan Bush

    I am thoroughly confused by the anti-evolution arguments, all of which are based on the belief that the universe originates with God. Genesis 2 is an Iron Age story of how that came about (and the theory of Original Sin did not arise until much, much later). Almost two thousand years after the story in Genesis was told, physical evidence emerges indicating a different explanation of how God was working. So…it’s a different story but the same God, as understood by people living two thousand years apart. The Eden story is still true in a developmental sense, so isn’t disproved as much as reframed. Why is this a faith-breaker? One can still understand it as being all God’s work.

    I know that may sound disingenuous, but the intensity of the protestation is beyond me. What is it about the need for a rigid literal reading that has such a hold on otherwise workable intellects?

  • http://www.muzicindi.net Muzi Cindi

    Most of the responses here are from Evangelicals. I follow this blog because I’m a recovering Evangelical myself. I do follow may other sites by liberal scholars as well. I encourage other concerned Evangelicals to follow other liberally minded blogs; they’ll then see the level of debate there. I no longer see any need to debate these differences myself. Most liberal blogs have accepted evolution and are now having conversations on how Christianity can move forward in the light of evolution

  • Leo

    When scientists are constantly confronted with AiG types and their pathological insistence that the Days in Genesis are literal 24 hour days, is it any wonder scientists or even anyone familiar with BB cosmology, etc, reject the Bible and belief in God? If the Bible (especially Genesis) is a science textbook, the author (Moses or whoever) got it wrong. Calvin once said to “look elsewhere” if you want to study astronomy, because you won’t find it in the Bible.

  • http://www.muzicindi.net Muzi Cindi

    JUST GOT THIS NOTE BY Brennan Manning; R.I.P (He passed on yesterday)
    “If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition.”
    ~ ~ ~Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934-April 12, 2013)

  • Mark Chenoweth

    I’m very curious how this survey was specified. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in common descent, and fully endorse Enn’s views of Adam (although I’d prefer to say I’m agnostic on Adam’s existence), but don’t young earth creationists believe in some form of evolution as well? I had a young earth professor, and he argued adamantly in favor of micro-evolution, which you could say is some form of evolution.

    Ironically, YEC’s have to believe in SUPER EVOLUTION after the flood, since they think all animals are descended from the ones that survived the flood. This sort of evolution isn’t even accepted by most scientists because of how rapid it would have to be.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Mark Chenoweth wrote “Ironically, YEC’s have to believe in SUPER EVOLUTION after the flood, since they think all animals are descended from the ones that survived the flood. This sort of evolution isn’t even accepted by most scientists because of how rapid it would have to be.”

    Though the audio file is no longer available on the web, Kurt Wise once gave a talk at Messiah College in which he said that in the years after the Flood, new species were popping up daily. That’s hyper-evolution!

    Graham wrote “It seems to me that there are so many popular atheists screaming that evolution has disproven God, Christians have started to believe it and circled the wagons.”

    I’m a long-time atheist and longer-time scientist, and I can’t recall any “popular atheist” screaming that. Not even Richard Dawkins does so. One can’t prove that negative, but one can make the argument that (a certain sort of) God is very very improbable.

    • Beau Quilter

      Thanks RBH!

      RBH is right. The screaming atheist claiming to disprove God is a straw man. What Dawkins does argue (without screaming) is that religious presuppositions routinely stand in the way of scientific progress. I can see great examples of this in the comments on this post.

      • Jim V

        I’ve read Dawkins and I’ve heard him lecture – he most certainly does argue that the theory of evolution renders the need for a God in the universe obsolete. So, to argue that he is not claiming that it “disproves” God is obscuring his message. His argument is that the best explanation for God was the natural explanation and with that gone, there is not good reason for a God. And while he doesn’t “scream” – he does treat everyone who disagrees with him as ignorant rubes. I guess you see no problem with this – I wonder if Dr. Enns does?

        • Beau Quilter

          I’ve read and seen Dawkins as well. He’s one of the finest science writers alive today (take a look at The Greatest Show on Earth and The Blind Watchmaker). Dawkins makes it crystal clear that he doesn’t think it’s possible to disprove God’s existence, though he certainly doesn’t find it very likely. Had you read anything on the subject, you would realize that the distinction is important in philosophical and theological circles. Whatever Dawkins rhetoric may seem patronizing to you is nothing compared to the diatribes of vitriol aimed at him by Christians.

      • Jim V

        I would also argue that your statement of “religious presuppositions stand in the way of scientific progress” is such a gross generalization that people like you are the reason that Evangelicals are so defensive. Maybe if the other Evangelical scientists posting to this board read your posts and defended their faith against you and RBH, other Evangelicals would be able to see that one can be a scientist and have faith – and criticize gits (notice the use of a British term – like Dawkins!) like you just as harshly as they do their Evangelical brothers and sisters.

        • Beau Quilter

          That religious presuppositions bring creationism into public classrooms, climate-change denial into congressional houses, and condom bans into aids-stricken 3rd world countries is no generalization.

          You can call me any name you like. Your words will not harm me, and ad hominems will not aid your arguments.

        • Beau Quilter

          Jim V

          I’m not sure I understand why I need “harsh criticism”. I am simply someone who does not share your religious faith, and so do not feel that religious ideas should be privileged over other ideas. We disagree. Why does that make me a “git”? Why does that make me deserving of harshness?

          Especially since I was only making simple points. The first that new atheists aren’t “screaming”, and the second that, when religious ideology has public ramifications for people who may not share the same ideology, that ideology stands as open to criticism as any other.

          • Jim V

            I’m going to point this out one more time – the new atheists are “screaming” and people of faith aren’t the only ones who criticize them for it. Take for instance the criticism of one of my favorite atheists and scientific writers, Michael Ruse:
            “Let me say that I believe the new atheists do the side of science a grave disservice. I will defend to the death the right of them to say what they do – as one who is English-born one of the things I admire most about the USA is the First Amendment. But I think first that these people do a disservice to scholarship. Their treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant.”
            Now to your other points – you stated that “religious presuppositions bring creationism into public classrooms, climate-change denial into congressional houses, and condom bans into aids-stricken 3rd world countries is no generalization.” Yes, they are. There isn’t a public classroom in the US that currently teaches creationism. I guess you didn’t hear the news, but you guys won that war – the last battle was fought in Kansas and they lost. The courts repeatedly throw out any attempt to teach creationism in public schools. So, while certain fundamentalists may continue to try to get creationism in the schools, they always fail. If you can point out a single jurisdiction in the US where what I said is not true, the by all means, I’ll correct myself.
            Generally, people of religious faith question science because people like you are always telling them that science makes their belief improbable and therefore they are stupid to believe it. Let’s call a spade a spade here, Beau – and please don’t try to argue that this is not what you are saying. So, you expect to have people trust science when loudmouths like Dawkins (and I presume you, since you are defending him) say that science demands that we treat all people who believe in God as fools (who are abusing their kids, by the way). Yeah, that’s going to engender trust.
            Even a person like Francis Collins, a truly notable and brilliant scientist who has done more for the actual progress of science than Dawkins can ever dream, is discounted as a fool by Dawkins (and I presume you because you defend him) because he believes in God. So even a religious person who believes 95% of what you believe (the remaining 5% being his faith in God) is a fool. Atheists like Dawkins (and I presume you because you defend him) objected when Collins was nominated to head the National Institutes of Health. Why – because he believes in religious concepts? That doesn’t sound like you want religious ideology open for criticism – it sounds like you want it eliminated. Yeah, I can’t understand why evangelicals don’t trust the scientific community.
            As for climate-change, I know of no one who questions whether climate change is real who does so based on religious grounds. Maybe you’ve encountered these people, but I haven’t. Most object on the grounds that it seems that the solutions to climate change are vaguely familiar – namely a radical turn to socialist political and economic policies and a curtailing of the US energy consumption while allowing other nations to keep producing gases (ahem, China anyone)? Now there is an overlap (picture a Venn diagram) of religious to climate deniers, but that is probably because the conservative religious in this country have been on the receiving end of the type of vitriol I pointed out above and, consequently, don’t trust the scientific community.
            Finally – as to deserving of harshness – I dislike anyone, Christian or atheist, who presents themselves or their ideas as so far above another person’s that they demean the other person’s position. So, I see Dr. Enns often criticize his fellow Evangelicals as ignorant, unwilling to look at these issues or come out of their bubbles. I see unjust hubris in that (even though I actually come to the same conclusions on many things scientific and biblical as him). I see an atheist such as you come along and piggy-back on his criticism and then augment it with more “oh, their just stupid” claims and that causes me even more frustration. You didn’t make “two simple points.” You made them in a snide and snarky way – intending to belittle those with whom you disagree. It’s acceptable amongst certain crowds, I know, but it doesn’t help the dialogue that Dr. Enns says he is trying to foster with his Evangelical brothers and sisters. So, I would like to see him defend those he supposedly agrees with on some foundational issues – like the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ, and how the Bible is not just another ANE document (even thought it has similarities to the others) – against arguments made by people like you, with whom he supposedly disagrees, at least on these points. I would like to see if he could make his arguments against an atheist such as yourself with equal passion as those he makes against fellow Christians. Quite frankly, I would like the “harshness” and tone of most of these posts to stop and be more respectful, but if you’re going to do it, at least be equal about it!

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    The problem with the three options at the end of your post is that it creates a world where anyone’s understanding of physical evidence is compromised. This is a problem to the opponent, because the Bible is also a physical artifact that must be interpreted. The epistemological hazard is that if generations of hard working scientists applying rigorous statistical method and documentation get these science wrong, how could we ever expect Bible scholars to get the Bible right? The entire line of thinking is preposterous. It would eventually boil down into some kind of Monte Python 5-minute argument.

    • http://www.godofevolution.com God of Evolution

      I think you make a good point, but I would say it’s incorrect to equate scientists doing complicated science with reading the Bible. I don’t think very many Christians believe we are to rely on Bible scholars to “get the Bible right.” My experience within most Protestant circles and especially evangelical ones is that believers are encouraged to read the Bible for themselves. Scholars could certainly offer wisdom and different or deeper perspectives than we might be able to bring ourselves, but at the same time, scholars can and do disagree with each other at times, and we are free to disagree with them as well. Even in scripture, we are encouraged not to take the words of any teacher as truth without testing them first. I think there is more reason to trust scientists, because yes, they have been exploring this theory for quite a long time, and the scientific process does work — the evidence for that is all around us (including the computer I’m typing on right now).

  • Stephen


    Thanks for your feedback, though your rhetorical framing is a bit off-putting; i.e., “as someone who actually understand epistemology and how knowledge really works.” Talk about an attempt at the outset to stack the relevance deck in your favor!

    Several points:
    (1) You may want to keep in mind that Enns was part of the “presuppositional” apologetics and epistemology seminary par excellence for, what, 20-25 years? I guess it’s possible that he has forgotten what evangelicals who talk in terms of presuppositions mean, or that he never understood in the first place, but…well, you get the point.

    (2) You’re presuming an (what is rapidly becoming) outdated view of epistemology, knowledge, and how the brain works. Folks are moving away from the idea of overarching determinative “worldviews,” “presuppositions,” “ultimate/necessary beliefs” that “determine the boundaries for what conclusions can and cannot be made of the evidence” as an accurate description of how the human brain works.

    In short, this model tends to presume a singular and unitary model of the brain, as though it’s one big supercomputer with one central control center. In fact, the “modular” (or similar; e.g., “dual processing” and other) view of the brain is becoming much more prevalent, wherein our brains are made up of thousands (zillions?) of little computers, most of which operate independently of the others and most of which operate without the parts of our brain that we tend to term our “consciousness” being aware of what they’re doing.

    The upshot here is, for example, that many of these modules are for the most part universals among people. That’s why the non-malfunctioning person has the same intuitive/folk physics, biology, and psychology (i.e., “Theory of Mind”) as everyone else.

    Though there are parts of our brain that hold the kinds of beliefs and commitments you’re talking about, those parts of the brain do not necessarily control, override, or even communicate with (astonishingly) all the other parts of our brain that control things like our intuitive physics, Theory of Mind, and other ways that we (by default) interact with the world around us. While these parts of our brain that do hold the beliefs you’re talking about do have profound effects on how we behave and (at least parts of us) think, their beliefs simply do not exercise “worldview” level of unitary and determinative control over the other parts of our cognition.

    BTW, these modular kinds of approaches to the brain have proven incredibly useful for psychologists, sociologists, and others who study ubiquitous but seemingly bizarre human phenomena, like why is it the case that people everywhere seem to be “hypocrites”? This approach allows us to go further than simply saying that it’s because people are sinners. Instead, for example, it becomes relevant if the parts of our brain that hold certain “moral” beliefs or engage in “moralizing” (i.e., holding and propagating beliefs about how people should behave) are different from the parts of our brain that most directly influence how we actually behave. At this point it also becomes quite interesting to study the possible extents of interaction between these different parts of our brain.

    So, before moving on to the next point, could you spell out for us the actual cognitive and psychological mechanics of your determinative “worldviews”?

    (3) There are cognitive scientists, psychologists, epistemologists, sociologists, and anthropologists who work within the above kind of framework to study the kinds of beliefs you are talking about. For example (and please forgive use of the term “bias”), it is widely held that properly cognitively functioning people have what’s called “the Confirmation Bias,” whereby certain modules of our brain work together (especially with the parts of our brain that we tend to consider our “conscious” and “reasoning” parts of the brain) to prefer evidence that conforms to positions we (or a group with which we self-identify) hold and to discount evidence and arguments that militate against a certain subset of our beliefs.

    Related to the Confirmation Bias is the sociological phenomenon that when you put a bunch of people who already agree with each other together in some kind of (insular) network or group, they tend (if anything) to adopt more extreme versions of the views they already hold, and they certainly do not tend to be self-critical.

    FWIW, in my experience this tends to be the closest that cognitive science has come to explaining what certain kinds of philosophers and epistemologists (and Evangelical Apologists!) mean when they talk about overarching and unifying determinative presuppositions and “ultimate/necessary” beliefs that predetermine what can and can’t count as evidence, etc. In fact, there have been numerous detailed studies that bring these psychological and cognitive science findings to bear on phenomena parallel to what we are discussing here about Evangelicals on science, faith, evolution, the Bible, their disagreements, and how different “sides” seem to have determinative presuppositions that control how they treat potential “evidence.” To pick from among accessible books written by big names in these cog-sci and psychology fields of research, see Jonathan Haidt’s recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religions (2012). Also relevant, see Robert Kurzban’s recent, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind (2010).

    Of course, much work has been done on the social and cognitive conditions that (on average) counteract the Confirmation Bias and its “groupthink” manifestations. E.g., you tend to need non-insular settings, networks, or groups in which not everyone already agrees and in which one’s views are up for (acknowledged) peer-criticism by those who disagree.

    (4) Ironically, the epistemological positions with which you operate are most closely paralleled in the broader academy (i.e., outside of certain philosophy departments and then outside of the Evangelical apologetics world) by people that I assume you would consider the “radical relativists” in the Humanities of the University. As someone who works in the humanities, I most often encounter ideas of determinative ultimate/necessary beliefs and worldviews that color all other cognition (especially weighing of evidence, arguments, and “values”) among those we would categorize as thoroughgoing “post-modernists” who talk constantly of extreme cultural diversity and incommensurability. It’s among these types that you find the most eager and energetic analyses of “science” along the lines of yours: i.e., what really matters are the assumptions and presuppositions, not “evidence,” despite the (naïve) pretentions of scientists to be engaged in empirical study, etc. etc. etc.

    (5) Finally, just for fun, how in your model do you explain and account for people who change their minds about matters relating to such “ultimate/necessary” beliefs, worldviews, and presuppositions? I assume that you consider this possible. How does it happen?

    Sorry for the long comment.

    • Stephen Hesed

      Hey Stephen,

      I don’t think, at least I understand it, the language of worldviews and presuppositions is supposed to model all of cognition and behavior. I agree with you that the mind is complex and modular, often resulting in a mess of contradictions in our lives. But I do think the idea of a “worldview” has some utility in describing how higher-order, “rational” thought operates, in terms of how we consciously mentally conceptualize the Universe and our place within it. Worldview deals with how we mentally decide what we believe. Of course, because this is only one cognitive “module,” we often turn around and contradict what we say we believe with our behavior, as everyone from Plato to Sartre has bemoaned. And that’s also not to say that this “rational module” is isolated and unaffected by other modules (i.e. social cognition) – it definitely is. But there’s still some domains of human thought within which the idea makes sense.

    • Bryan Hodge

      Thanks Stephen. Let me clarify a few things that I think were misunderstood, and continue to be, precisely due to word confusion when we speak of bias, presupposition, ultimate/necessary beliefs, and presuppositionalism.

      1. Dr. Enns was actually a professor of mine at Westminster, which, as you say, is the center for presuppositional apologetics, which is related, but not identical, to the idea I’m discussing here . That a school is well known for a particular position also doesn’t mean that everyone who teaches there has a good grasp of it. I read Dr. Enns’ blog almost every day, and from things he says, it indicates to me that he is confusing bias with presuppositinal ultimate beliefs. If he wasn’t then he wouldn’t be able to say that he can adjust them over time or be self critical of them to accord with the evidence. It also seems clear to me that you may be doing the same by what you say in your comments (but I’ll address that below). If, however, I’ve misunderstood what he, or any of you, were saying, I do apologize and am fully ready to receive any correction. But having said that, I don’t know how the statements made are reconciled to the fact that necessary beliefs can’t be changed using logical argumentation and data without assuming another ultimate belief that governs both.

      2. There is a lot of confusion in what you’re saying between how the brain functions and how we come to beliefs versus our critical analysis and building our arguments to support our beliefs. The former is irrelevant to the latter, as it is often either not conscious of why we hold particular ideas or it is not critical and seeks to build an argument using logic, which must be based in ultimate beliefs. There is no theory that can negate such a thing without proving its validity.

      3. Again, here, by bringing up confirmation bias, it really does tell me we are speaking past one another. Confirmation bias is what I would consider bias, not presuppositions rooted in ultimate beliefs. The nature of reality must first be settled in one’s assumptions, whether he even is aware of those assumptions in his argument, before an argument based upon those assumptions can be made. I think you would agree that this is obvious, but this is precisely the problem when evaluating data.

      4. Actually, it’s not that ironic, since I consider myself a postmodern theist. I am radically skeptical, and an outright unbeliever, in the concept that one can build a view of reality that is analogically accurate to the objective existence of reality without revelation and the aid to understand it. What that means is that I don’t believe sufficient knowledge is possible without assuming a particular view of reality that is sufficiently descriptive of that objective reality. Hence, if you have a wrong ultimate belief, you have an insufficient and distorted view of the meaning of everything, not just some things.

      5. That’s a great question, and what I was arguing for above. People don’t change their minds between ultimate beliefs based on reasoned arguments or evidence. If they did, they wouldn’t be ultimate beliefs. They change them by shifting their faith in one to the other. That happens for a variety of reasons, some of which you mention above; but as I said, it doesn’t come from pure argumentation or evidence, because such is impossible. If a person believes otherwise, it is likely he is thinking of biases, which can be changed with reason and evidence (although those are still difficult to change, it does happen often), and not necessary beliefs that rule logical argument and the interpretation of data.

      • peteenns

        Bryan, just to make sure I get what you are saying—presuppositions are not open to reasonable critique, but change for more subtle reasons? Do you feel that presuppositions are open to critique, i.e., that presuppositions can be unwarranted? Do you deny that presuppositions are largely a function of our own limited experiences, and therefore are intimately and invariably tied to psychology, sociology? I ask that last question because,in retrospect, what WTS calls “presuppositions” are, frankly, quite open to logical critique.

      • Stephen

        Oops, posted my reply below and not in this thread.

  • Bryan Hodge

    Hi Dr. Enns. Great to speak to you again. To answer you questions:

    1. “presuppositions are not open to reasonable critique, but change for more subtle reasons?”
    If by “presuppositions” you mean “necessary beliefs” and by “reasonable critique” you mean “critical analysis that judges whether it is true,” then, yes, by virtue of the belief being necessary, it cannot be proved or disproved (otherwise, it isn’t necessary/ultimate). One can only believe or disbelieve it and then move on in one’s argumentation from there. Hence, we may move in and out of them for a complexity of reasons, but if we think one of those reasons is because they are proved or disproved, then we’re mistaken.

    2. “Do you feel that presuppositions are open to critique, i.e., that presuppositions can be unwarranted?”

    Again, this really depends on what is meant by “presupposition.” I think what I was trying to say above is that a lot of the problem is in the nomenclature. Ultimate beliefs cannot be warranted, and hence, they cannot be unwarranted by anything else other than the conflicting ultimate beliefs of others. They themselves warrant other beliefs. So you can critique an ultimate belief using another ultimate belief, but that takes us out of the realm of empirical certainty and into the realm of faith.

    3. “Do you deny that presuppositions are largely a function of our own limited experiences, and therefore are intimately and invariably tied to psychology, sociology?”

    No, I wouldn’t deny that completely, although I would exclude the idea that their existence is sourced in us, as I believe the Spirit gives faith and therefore conditions an individual believer to hold certain ultimate beliefs. So I would agree that they are rooted in the self for the whole world, but would save the medium for how a Christian worldview is obtained to the Spirit’s work–although one could say that such is through the social and psychological influences of the individual believer as well. But I’m not sure why the last question is as relevant to what I’m arguing, simply because the way one comes to an ultimate belief and the fact that ultimate beliefs are not capable of being critiqued are two different arguments. I think you can point out why you think someone has come to a particular ultimate belief; and I think you’re fine in critiquing people who think they can tear down the ultimate beliefs of you or others by using their own necessary beliefs to interpret the data instead (since all they are doing is arguing with you over beliefs that cannot be proved or disproved); but that’s as far as the analysis should really go. To say, on top of that, that their ultimate beliefs make them dishonest with the evidence and whatnot is confusing bias with ultimate belief. Their bias may be making them dishonest, but their necessary beliefs are simply interpreting reality for them, and their as honest in that as anyone else is. But from what I see as the critique of evangelical philosophers concerning the conclusions of the academy on various topics (e.g., Darwinian evolution, higher critical biblical scholarship, etc.) it is not concerning bias, but necessary beliefs. The problem, as they see it, is found in the assumptions that govern the methodology of inquiry itself, not in the personal biases of the individual scholar or scientist.

    Now, when it comes to the presuppositions to which “WTS” is referring, can you give me an example of that? I’m not sure which ones we’re talking about, as I’ve heard this same confusion among students and professors even at WTS. Now, part of that might be that the current professors there may have a different view of presuppositions than I, as a postmodern skeptic, do. My introduction to epistemology was at TEDS before I came to WTS. I think I read something by a certain professor there that wanted to argue for a presuppositionalism that still included some form of warrant obtained via evidentialism. I would reject that when we’re talking about presuppositions as ultimate beliefs. By the very definition, that is an impossibility.

    So, in the end, it may be the nomenclature that is the problem here. But that still means that after throwing off the objection of bias, the objection dealing with necessary beliefs that then influences all of these other arguments concerning academic consensus and whatnot remain unanswered.

    • LarryRR

      I’m going with nomenclature, too. That’s my final answer.

    • Bev Mitchell

      A very interesting discussion, and out of my area of expertise for much comment. I do think there is some category mixing here however. It seems the main subject morphed from presuppositions (fallible) to necessary/ultimate beliefs (infallible?) without warrant. Unless indeed we do have a mere definition problem.

      But what to do with this statement? “……their necessary beliefs are simply interpreting reality for them, and their (sic) as honest in that as anyone else is.” I agree with the honest part, but is it possible that their necessary belief is wrong, not for them, of course, but ontologically? Because if two people hold differing necessary beliefs, they both cannot be correct, even if they both apply their necessary beliefs honestly. Christians do seem to hear the Spirit in different ways. Maybe, just maybe, the fruits of the Spirit, which are directly observable, even by non-believers, are at least a partially reliable test for the validity (utility) of various necessary beliefs. Or maybe this is just how a biologist, thinking like a critical realist of course, would be expected to approach the problem.

    • Beau Quilter

      “Ultimate beliefs cannot be warranted, and hence, they cannot be unwarranted by anything else other than the conflicting ultimate beliefs of others. They themselves warrant other beliefs. So you can critique an ultimate belief using another ultimate belief, but that takes us out of the realm of empirical certainty and into the realm of faith.”

      If by “ultimate beliefs” you mean beliefs in God; then I accept your assessment that they cannot be warranted. However, your second clause contradicts your first. How can an “ultimate belief” be “unwarranted” if it cannot be “warranted” in the first place.

      The premise that only an “ultimate belief” can “unwarrant” an “ultimate belief” is, quite simply, false. When an “ultimate belief” makes predictions that are testable, the “ultimate belief” becomes falsifiable, like any scientific theory, regardless of the beliefs (or lack thereof) of the scientist. How do we know that the Greek panoply of Gods are unwarranted? We’ve seen the top of Mount Olympus; there’s nobody there.

      • Bryan Hodge


        I find the self evident concept that I’m seeking to convey here to be hardest for contemporary atheists who are continually told how solid their beliefs are based in empirical verificationism, as your example relates. The problem, of course, as most philosophers point out, is that empirical verificationism has metaphysical presuppositions that cannot be verified empirically. Hence, if one can only rely upon that which is empirically verifiable, then one cannot rely upon empirical verificationism, and it thus becomes self refuting.

        Second to this, my point concerning ultimate beliefs being neither warranted or unwarrented was taking Dr. Enns’ use of the word “unwarranted” to mean “without evidential support,” so I think that you have a little word confusion going on there. What I was saying in response to that was that an ultimate belief can neither be established upon evidential support or disestablished by lack of evidential support due to the fact that such would require the interpretation of data with a higher ultimate belief in order to criticize and establish/disestablish the lower ultimate belief. But then it isn’t an ultimate belief. Hence, there is no contradiction in my statement, nor does your example do anything but prove my point concerning your ultimate beliefs.

        However, after saying that, your example is not an example of an ultimate belief. You don’t seem to be grasping the concept. If something is verifiable, one must ask, “By what is it verifiable?” If it turns out to be a reliable source and it is viewed by those same people holding the ultimate belief as an accurate interpretation of the data, then those people will simply figure that their secondary beliefs that stemmed from the ultimate belief were wrong and adjust them to the ultimate belief. Everyone does this. If one jumps ship and moves to another ultimate belief because of the above, it is only because it was always his real ultimate belief by which he criticizes his only supposed ultimate belief.

        I would take some time to ponder these points before attempting to shoot them down because you don’t like them, as they seem very new to you.

        • Beau Quilter


          Are you assuming here, that everyone has an “ultimate belief”? And rather than defining warranted, perhaps you should define an “ultimate belief”?

  • Mary Lou

    This article asks more questions than it answers for me. First of all, where does the statistic of 97 per cent of scientists believing in some form of evolution come from? I am leery of statistics until I know who conducted the study and who their test subjects were. Statistics can sound impressive, but they can also be terribly misleading.

    Secondly, how are we defining evolution? Are we describing it in the strict Darwinian sense? Are we including both those scientist who accept macroevolution AND microevolution in this study? If so, then that needs to be clarified. Many who accept microevolution, that is, evolution within a species, will not accept macroevolution, that is, evolution between species.

    If the poll included both types of evolution, that needs to be clarified. It would be misleading to simply say that 97 per cent of scientists accept evolution and allow people to think that means macroevolution when, in actuality, it may be that more than half of that number reject macroevolution, but accept microevolution.

    What is science but human beings trying to figure out how God has done things? I think that, currently, we only understand his work of creation to a small degree. Hopefully, the future will bring further clarification.

    • James Daniel

      The information is from a 2009 Pew study. For the data, see this link:

      Regarding microevolution vs. macroevolution:
      That’s a distinction commonly made in popular circles, but *not* in professional circles. So to answer your question, these scientists are holding to full-fledged evolution.
      By the way, scientists generally don’t use the adjective “Darwinian” with evolution. The science has advanced dramatically in the last 150 years.

      • peteenns

        These are helpful clarification, James. Thanks.

    • Leo

      Hi Mary Lou, A Pew research poll in 2009 had the number of scientists affirming evolution (yes, macro, too) at 97%. It’s hard to imagine anyone denying evolution except for those who have a Kung Fu grip on the “literal 24 hour day” view of the Days of Genesis. Evolution has had robust support from the scientific community for over 150 years now. Most of the people I know who deny evolution based on “what the Bible says” are home-schooled or at least have been taught from a very early age that we must “stick to what the Bible says” which brings up the question: What does the Bible say?? There’s plenty of room for discussion on this matter and for me, the least likely view of the Days of Genesis is the 24 hour view as the Bible is not a science textbook.

  • James Daniel

    For those interested, information on the survey methodology is here:

    2,533 AAAS members. Roughly half identified as biomed; 14% chemistry; 6% geoscience; 9% physics/astronomy.

    A really interesting point in there is this: Only 60% of the public say that “scientists generally agree that humans have evolved.” Contrast this to the 97% of scientists who do agree that humans have evolved. (The gap is similar on anthropogenic global warming: 56%/84%.)

    So, evangelicals, please stop trying to tell us what “the best science” says. Apparently a whopping 40% of Americans are oblivious to the overwhelming scientific consensus on evolution.

    Great post, Pete. The overall evangelical attitude towards science is disheartening to say the least.

  • Stephen


    Thanks for your continued interaction. I guess we may to some extent be talking past each other, but I think it’s more that we just disagree (not that this must be a conversation-stopping disagreement). I do understand what you mean by ultimate beliefs and presuppositions. My point is that you’re operating out of a (certain kind of) philosopher’s paradigm for how they construct the mind as working, and I do not think it’s accurate.

    Let’s try to get at this in a more concrete way: can you give us a few examples of “ultimate beliefs” and then spell out how they influence evaluations of evidence and arguments? This will let us work through some issues in relation to specifics.

    • peteenns

      Bryan, I hope you find this comment on this increasingly confused thread! Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts on all this. To help me see where this goes, can you bring this back to what I think began your engagement–something about not being able to convince evangelicals about evolution because of their presuppositions? Is that right? If I am right, I would say that the #1 road block for evangelicals is inerrancy, which I would think does not qualify as a presupposition according to your definition. Inerrancy is an articulated and defended (I would argue) social/theological construct. Comment as you get a chance.

      • Leo

        Hi Pete, Hope you don’t mind if I comment on your question to Bryan. I wonder if the problem is one of interpretation. It’s difficult for anyone to admit, after believing in say, the 24 hour view of Genesis 1, that they were wrong. Why? Because those who hold to this view of Genesis 1 feel they are the ones contending for the faith or “God’s Word” in all it’s simple purity and the rest of us are “bringing outside ideas” into the Bible and thus besmirching God himself. AiG feels that any view other than the AiG view of Genesis 1 is to destroy Biblical Authority, which is nonsense, but no matter how rational an argument you make for another view, it’s rejected because the YEC’s seem to be the keepers of “Biblical Authority” (a term they often use as a trump card or weapon to win the argument.)

        • peteenns

          Not at all Leo, the more the merrier. I think we are on to something good here.

    • Bryan Hodge

      Stephen, don’t make me apply my ivory tower theories to real life. ;-) I think our missing one another may still be that we’re addressing two different questions. What you’re talking about is how we believe to be true. I’m discussing how we support what we believe to be true. The theories that you’re talking about deal with how we come to beliefs. But I’m not discussing that. I’m specifically discussing what ultimate beliefs and assumptions govern those beliefs, regardless of how we come to them. It’s simply impossible for my theory to be outdated, as I would argue it is an easily demonstrated, self-evident description of what we do when we attempt to obtain knowledge through reason.

      But I think Dr. Enns has given us one example below with the issue of inerrancy, so see my comments there.

  • Bryan Hodge

    that should read “how we believe what we believe to be true”

  • Bryan Hodge

    “something about not being able to convince evangelicals about evolution because of their presuppositions? Is that right?”

    Yes, this works for everyone. The specific conservative evangelicals who will not be convinced of evolution have certain ultimate beliefs about the Bible that governs their view of all other things. So I actually think that inerrancy is something that cannot be tested, since it directly derives from certain ultimate beliefs that cannot be tested. You can get people to change their minds over it, and I think the Spirit Himself changes peoples minds over it as they study the Bible more; but while people hold a certain belief about the Bible, any contradictions will be viewed as limitations of knowledge on our part. When forced to see the Bible differently by external factors, there are a host of options that an evangelical might choose in order to keep his ultimate beliefs in tact. But the problem is that if the ultimate belief is true, then what he has concluded is true. If the utlimate belief is false, then what he has concluded is false. But there is no way to test whether the ultimate belief is true. It’s just something you believe or or disbelief, and a lot of that has to do with the issue of what you believe about reality and the ability to know reality through a particular means. For most evangelicals, reality most reliably known through the Scripture. It, therefore, has the highest place of authority in the evangelical’s life. So when confronted with something like evolution, if the evangelical thinks it contradicts what the Bible says, he’s not going to give it the time of day. The course one needs to take to convince him would be to show (a) his ultimate belief about the Bible is not true (something that cannot be proved or disproved, but rather needs to come to him with a faith shift), (b) evolution is not really in conflict with what the Bible teaches (which is a matter of hermeneutics which would change the way he reads the Bible), and/or (c) evolution is knowledge that can be known through a reliable source.

    All three of these is a monumental undertaking, and they each require a faith shift, since they all assume something about knowledge and what reliable sources of that knowledge might be.

    Now, of course, it’s easy to speak of the presuppositions of others, but let’s draw this closer to home to the group here. In order to convince everyone here that evolution is not true, an evangelical would have to (a) argue that neither the methods nor the people using them to demonstrate that evolution is true are adequate sources of knowledge, (b) that evolution conflicts with what is known to be true from what is an adequate source of knowledge, and (c) demonstrate that the interpretation of that adequate source of knowledge is correct.

    Each of these intersects just as equally with ultimate beliefs that cannot be proved or disproved. But this is why conservative evangelicals who see the Bible as the most reliable and adequate source of knowledge, and believe that the correct interpretation of the Bible contradicts the findings of what they view as an inadequate source of knowledge, find it just as easy to dismiss the findings of that inadequate source as most on this thread find it to dismiss the findings of conservative evangelicals using what people here would find to be an inadequate source of knowledge.

    By “inadequate source of knowledge,” of course, I mean “knowledge in the specific area we’re discussing.” Most here would find the Bible to be adequate in relating spiritual truths, and most conservative evangelicals would find contemporary natural methods adequate to discover knowledge in the areas that they have no reason to see as incorrect.

    So I really do think that this whole battle is one over ultimate beliefs concerning the nature of reality and what is considered the most reliable or adequate source to interpret reality given those assumptions. I can look at a Hindu and say, “It’s obvious that evil exists in the world, You Fool.” And he will simply look at me and say, “It’s obvious how deeply delusional you are in thinking that this world and what you perceive as evil is real, You Fool,” But we’re both just arguing our faiths with one another.

    • Bryan Hodge

      btw, I just want to say, that when I speak about “inerrancy,” I’m assuming we’re talking about details inerrancy. I personally believe in a type of inerrancy that most would call “infallibility,” which, of course, is not something that can be proved or disproved either (but I do think it describes what the Bible is doing better than detailed inerrancy does).

      • Bryan Hodge

        “detailed inerrancy.” I need an edit button. ;-)

  • Bryan Hodge


    That’s a great question. I’m not arguing that because we all hold ultimate beliefs that cannot be proved or disproved that this means that all of our ultimate beliefs equally, or even remotely, describe reality (analogically speaking).

    But what I am saying is that, since ultimate beliefs are not something you can prove or disprove, we must argue for them via faith. People don’t adjust to data and logical argumentation when presented before them. They adjust to fit their ultimate beliefs. So if we want them to believe X through what we say, we need them to move from a faith position that does not produce a belief in X to one that does. What this means, for Christians, is that I think we need to get back to just speaking the Word of God, and reasoning from it, and let the Spirit make faith adjustments with His people as He sees fit through that, as I think that is the only time a faith shift occurring is very meaningful in the long run.

  • Bev Mitchell


    Thank you for this clarifying response. Sorry to have missed it – this thread is sort of convoluted. Regarding the need for a faith fix, I’m inclined to agree with you . For example, being a biologist I used to suggest that evangelicals who rejected evolution should take a lot more courses in biology. This advice alone, of course, would completely miss the need for a faith shift – unless we allow that the Spirit can speak (not like via Scripture) but speak nevertheless, through a faithful exploration of her work. Then, good science and sensitivity to the Spirit could effect a kind of faith shift. The same ‘confession’ could be made by an anthropologist or archeologist, or lexical/biblical scholar. “If they would only understand better what my field of study has revealed, then…….” And yet, to balance this potentially unsettling idea, we also need to remember the words of Athanasius “It would be more godly and true to signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name God from his works and call him Unoriginate.”

    There is a freedom of spirit in the Spirit that can help greatly in these matters. Of course, as Christians, we believe that our faith stance comes through the Spirit and is oriented to Christ and from him to the Father. It is necessary to read/interpret Scripture in the presence of the Spirit. If we are prepared to let truth from all quarters help us, the Spirit will give the necessary faith, and freedom, to be open to all of truth. Fear of being wrong, fear of openness to new interpretations are antithetical to the work of the Spirit. One of Elmer Colyer’s fine interpretations of T.F. Torrance fits here. “The church’s belief in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, belongs to the very essence of the gospel for it is God the Holy Spirit who comes forth from the Father, receives from the Son, sheds the love of God abroad in our hearts and lives, and lifts us and all creation up through the Son to the Father in a life of worship and witness.” Or, from a truly unimpeachable source: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ” Rom. 8:15

  • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

    If “science” requires that the uniformity of natural causes must exist within the closed system of nature (with no intervention from the God who exists outside of nature), then evangelicals who insist on a God who can and does intervene in nature aren’t scientific. BUT if “science” is possible where the uniformity of natural causes can exist within an open system of nature (where God who exists outside of nature can intervene in nature if He so chooses), then there could be evidence about God in nature that is “sinfully” suppressed, rejected, misinterpreted as Paul said in Romans one.

    What view or approach to science does the individual bring to their examination of nature? If it rejects the possibility of any intervention from outside the realm of nature, then they will see God as irrelevant to science. It seems to me that giving the third option as, “They are blinded by sin from seeing the truth,” unfairly frames the possibilities in a way that ignores the possibility of science being done within an open system of nature, namely one into which God can intervene if He so chooses. “Science” only as the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system creates a false dichotomy between science and the God of the Bible. Science as the uniformity of natural causes within an open system allows for the possibility of a theistic sense of evolution which believes that “humans and other living things evolved over time guided by a supreme being;” and even “evolution over time due to natural processes” so long as there is a possibility of intervention by God into these natural processes.

    But what if the third option was stated something like: They are blinded by “their view of science and their own presuppositions about God” from seeing the truth?

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