In a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt, University of North Carolina professor Molly Worthen (author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism) asserts that “Evangelicals … defend their beliefs by twisting scientific evidence to affirm authorities that are often incompatible with science, namely their reading of the Bible, or personal religious experience.”
This is a troubling charge. The blanket statement that Evangelicals, apparently as a group, “twist” scientific evidence and advocate positions “incompatible with science” is a serious and sweeping accusation.
That such incidences exist is, no doubt, true. In their eagerness, or even desperation, to affirm certain biblical assertions, some Evangelicals likely take liberties with fact and reason to make their cases.
Yet this is not what Dr. Worthen says: her claim is aspersive of a movement, not of some individuals within it. Were she to make such a claim about, say, gays and lesbians (for example saying something like “homosexuals refuse to acknowledge the danger of their sexual practices”) she rightly would be criticized for oversimplification.
As a young man, I became somewhat dismayed by the dearth of serious scholarship in the Evangelical circles with which I was familiar. Then I encountered Carl F.H. Henry, F.F. Bruce, Gleason Archer, Edward John Carnell, Os Guinness, I. Howard Marshall, Donald Wiseman, and a host of other intellectual luminaries whose scholarship not only was exemplary but whose commitment to the authority of Scripture and concurrence on the great doctrines of the Christian faith were ironclad.
In today’s academy, there are myriad academics, men and women, whose Evangelical orthodoxy and intellectual credibility are beyond serious dispute. They are engaged in every discipline and respected for their scholarship even by their severest critics. Not only do they possess indisputable academic credentials, but their faith is as public as their expertise is unquestionable.
Other Evangelicals with deep, rigorous, and devout minds populate think-tanks and public policy organizations and make substantial contributions not only to debates about the issues of the day but to the broad pool of Christian thought. One of the reasons they are credible is that they take their faith seriously enough not only to question it but to interact with its sternest critics and criticisms.
Would this growing cohort have more credibility to the decriers of the “Evangelical mind” were they to jettison their Christianity? Or if they were to bow to the received truth of supposedly empirical science whenever it issued one of its stentorian dogmas?
Of course there are Evangelicals who try to make shallow or even untrue answers conform to the contours of truth. But they are few and far between, and usually have limited spheres of influence because they are recognized for the superficiality and/or inaccuracy of their thought.
The life of the intellect is critical to the believing Evangelical; Jesus told us to love God with all of our minds, something we cannot do if we assume the posture of unquestioning automatons who submit their own good judgment to some supposed Christian luminary.
All Evangelical scholars in every discipline will not concur on everything. But they concur, by virtue of identification as Evangelicals, on the main things as such things are described and defined in Scripture.
I’m sure Dr. Worthen’s book has much to commend it, and should induce in thoughtful Evangelicals a measure of self-reflection that might be quite healthy. But Evangelicals as fact-twisters or anti-science or opponents of fact and reason? Don’t buy it.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.
Publication date: March 13, 2014