The Episcopal Church Network for Science, Technology & Faith


Vol. 3-1, Ash Wednesday 2004

"Intelligent Design" theory: No way for science to behave

The Episcopal Church, at its 1982 General Convention, resolved that creationism is unsuitable science for public education. In the past ten years or so, an updated version of creationism, called "intelligent design" theory (ID) has been proposed as legitimate science. ID is a well-dressed form of "scientific creationism," and its primary spokespersons are Michael Behe (a biochemist), William Dembski (a mathematician), and Philip Johnson (a lawyer). However, ID is not science at all--it's a God-of-the-Gaps argument, an theological gloss on unsolved scientific problems. It is a updated version of William Paley's "watch-maker" argument.

In 2002, the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) adopted a position statement opposing efforts to have ID included as part of public science ecucation. The leaders of the ST&F Network endorse this position statement.

The AAAS Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, with its goal of assisting religious communities as they seek to understand contemporary science and its religious and ethical implications, organized a workshop on 12-13 January in Washington, D.C. to help clarify the issue for religious communities and to examine their relationship to the teaching of evolution in public schools. The ID movement was discussed historically, philosophically, and practically in relation to the efforts of its proponents to influence public science education. Proponents of ID are well-funded and organizing to get ID into public school science curricula, preferably to the exclusion of evolution. The major organization of the ID movement is the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle. Their recent onslaughts have centered on state science standards and state list of approved textbooks. Their "wedge" strategy is to advocate "teaching the controversy"--meaning that teachers should give ID equal time with evolution in the science classroom.

Workshop presentations included current scientific investigations of the origins of life, biological evolution, and the origins of Homo sapiens were reviewed. Scientists, science educators, and representatives of several Christian denominations discussed the roles of the churches in their theological, educational and public policy functions with respect to support for the integrity of public science education.

Representing the Episcopal Church were two members of the Network Steering Board, the Rev. Barbara Smith-Moran and Deacon Phina Borgeson. They set five goals to propose to the Steering Board of the Network and its associated arm in the national church structure, the Executive Council Committee for Science, Technology and Faith. These goals are as follows:


Science-and-religion talks at Sewanee and Vanderbilt in March

The Reverend Dr. Sjoerd L. Bonting, S.O.Sc., Episcopal priest and biochemist from the Netherlands will be in Tennessee in March to lecture and preach on a variety of science-and-religion topics at the University of the South (Sewanee) and at Vanderbilt University.

Dr. Bonting is the author of Creation and Evolution: Attempt at Synthesis (Kok, Kampen, 1996; 2nd ed. 1997 [Dutch]), Humanity, Chaos, Reconciliation (Kok, Kampen, 1998 [Dutch]); Between Belief and Unbelief (Meinema, Zoetermeer, 2000 [Dutch]); and Chaos Theology: A Revised Creation Theology (Novalis, Ottawa, 2002). He is a frequent lecturer on these topics.

His schedule is as follows:

These events have been planned by the Rev. Dr. Robert Hughes (Professor of Systematic Theology, University of the South School of Theology), and they are being promoted by ST&F Network member, Ms. Joyce Wilding (Environmental Ministry leader in Province IV). Ms. Wilding will host Dr. Bonting while he is in Tennessee. For more details about these events, please contact her at


Network Convener speculates on myth, miracle, and the God of the Hot Big Bang

ST&F Network Convener, the Rev. Barbara Smith-Moran, was invited to participate in the Public Lecture Series organized by the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C. On 19 February, she offered a theological response to a keynote talk by eminent astronomer and cosmologist Michael Turner, of the National Science Foundation and the University of Chicago.

In his talk, entitled "Evidence and Cosmology: What we have learned from NASA's cosmic radiation probe," Dr. Turner presented results from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) relating to the age of the universe (13.7 Byr, to within .2 Byr), its beginning (Hot Big Bang with nucleosynthesis), its infancy (quark soup with inflation), its future (expanding at an accelerating rate), its geometry (uncurved), and its constituency (4% ordinary matter, ~25% cold dark matter, ~70% dark energy). Not all these findings are known with equal "certitude," he said. The aspects of the current cosmological model that are most to be trusted are the Hot Big Bang with nucleosynthesis, and the expansion of matter and energy. Closely following these in certitude are the quark soup, and the amount of ordinary (atomic) matter. The aspect known with least certainty is the so-called "inflationary period."

The WMAP discoveries were collectively awarded the "#1 Breakthrough of the Year 2003" by AAAS's Science magazine (18 Dec. 2003). The panoramic picture of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) shows the subtlest irregularities or anisotropy which "grew up" to become the clumpy structures we are familiar with in the present era.

Then he showed a slide "that gets every cosmologist's heart racing," he said. It showed the so-called Power Spectrum of the irregularities, which is the result of a mathematical analysis of the data using the "fast-spherical harmonic transform." This analysis shows patterns and periodicities that characterize the irregularities. These are recognized as the acoustic waves (shock waves) that reflected off the surface of the early cosmos at the moment it became transparent to light, about 400,000 years after the Hot Big Bang.

In her response, Ms. Smith-Moran said that we could look at the WMAP picture and see in it the "Grandmother" or "Grand-Matrix" of us all. She speculated on where God was at that time, what God might have been doing, and even on who or what God might have been, some 13 billion years before human life arose. Using the concept of "coevolution" borrowed from biology, she proposed that perhaps humanity and humanity's God grew up together and influenced each other's evolution. She drew a comparison between God and the elusive "magnetic monopole" that many cosmologists and physicists pursue out of a deep belief in the nature of matter.

She borrowed the "fast-spherical harmonic transform" as an analogy for how people of faith analyze history and personal experience to find evidence of pattern, purpose, and the "marks" of God. "In the history of a community or of an individual, the patterns of God at work are often not obvious," she said, not until the "data" are analyzed using what she called the "fast-harmonic faith transform" (in religious language, "eyes to see"). After this operation, a "sacred story" emerges in which events have meaning and purpose, and in which God's involvement is plainly seen.

Audiotracks of these talks will soon be available on the AAAS/DoSER website.


In the Spotlight: Some Network members take a bow

In this new feature, we invite our members to introduce themselves with short biographies. Please send your own bio-sketch to the Editor. Give your email address if you wish others to contact you.

  • Dr. Robert J. Schneider, classics and humanities scholar, Boone, North Carolina

  • Dr. John C. Greene, historian of science, Pacific Grove, California

  • Ms. Joyce Wilding, educator and environmental ministry leader, Kingston Springs, Tennessee


    Book review essay: Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century, by Denis Alexander

    reviewed by John C. Greene

    In this book, two decades in the making, Denis Alexander, a molecular immunologist at St. Edmunds College, Cambridge University, presents a comprehensive, closely argued, and well written historical, sociological, philosophical, and metaphysical-theological analysis of the relations between science and faith in the Western world in support of his thesis that the critical realism of biblically-based theism provides a solid, intellectually coherent, and morally inspiring framework, or matrix, for both science and religion. Science he conceives as "an intellectual endeavor to explain the workings of the physical empirical investigation...carried on by a community trained in specialized techniques." Religion he defines as "organized systems of belief in God as practiced by communities and not just by individuals." The word "faith" incorporates personal systems of belief.

    As a historian Alexander develops fully the argument suggested earlier by Alfred North Whitehead and Sir Michael Foster that the Judaeo-Christian doctrine of creation paved the way for modern science by demythologizing nature, by conceiving nature as a contingent phenomenon intelligible only by empirical investigation, by raising the status of the manual trades essential to Bacon's experimental method, and by glorifying natural philosophy and natural history as the study of God's works. How, then, does Alexander explain such widespread and persistent ideas as that science and religion have always been in conflict, that science is responsible for the secularization of Western thought, that scientists are cold-blooded, amoral problem solvers quite unlike emotional, sentimental religious people? These misconceptions, Alexander argues, are generated by badly informed historians, biographers, and novelists and perpetuated by the media--witness the images of Frankenstein and Star Trek, Berthold Brecht's Galileo, Washington Irving's picture of Columbus's sailors trembling lest they sail off the edge of the earth, and the perpetuation of this and other historical myths by John W. Draper and Andrew Dixon White. Witness also the extent to which scientists accepted and implemented groundless notions about "race" in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.

    Turning sociologist, Alexander writes that "many of our beliefs are absorbed imperceptibly as a result of our upbringing, from the media, and from our general cultural milieu. These beliefs feed into the Paradigms (courtesy of Thomas Kuhn) which act as the ordering overarching principles of our lives and at the same time support a broad array of more focused paradigms that hold sway over more specific subdomains of our beliefs, profoundly influencing the way we interpret the world around us."

    [This review essay is continued at Rebuilding the Matrix.]


    Book Review: Darwin's Religious Odyssey, by William E. Phipps

    reviewed by ST&F Network Records Secretary Robert J. Schneider [This is an expanded version of his review that appeared in Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2003 (85:2)]

    Would it surprise you to learn that although he seldom attended services Charles Darwin was a life-long member of St. Mary's, Downe, that he served on the parish council, generously supported its educational programs, funded the visit of an evangelical missioner who preached against drunkenness, and for thirty years was a "fast friend" and conversation partner of the vicar, the Rev. Brodie Innes? That he directed in his will that Innes officiate at his funeral and burial in the parish churchyard, until prominent friends arranged for him to be interred with Britain's famous in its national shrine? These are among the many biographical facts that appear in this comprehensive study of Darwin's religious odyssey.

    Phipps, professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at Davis-Elkins College in West Virginia, USA, has extensively mined the public and private writings of Darwin and his contemporaries, as well as the writings of twentieth-century historians, to construct a detailed portrait of Darwin's own religious journey that is as complete as any this reviewer has read.

    While Phipps tells a familiar story, he contributes significantly to its details and lays to rest any possible argument that Darwin could rightly be considered a foe of religion. As a young Cambridge student he accepted the creeds and the literal truth of Scripture. His commitment to Paleyean natural theology was perhaps a complement to a deep interest in natural history greatly stimulated by his mentors Henslow, Herschel, and Segwick. His most influential friends at Cambridge were either priests or candidates. Darwin might well have become one of the numerous Anglican parson-naturalists who studied God's creation in the English countryside had not his experience as naturalist on The Beagle effected a profound metanoia, a change in his way of seeing reality--both of nature and of God.

    By the time he returned, Darwin's intention to become a priest had died a "natural death." With it died other beliefs. The literal truth of every verse of Scripture was one; and, according to Phipps, Darwin viewed this as a diminution rather than an enhancement of his faith. Darwin's theory of descent with modification by natural selection, led him to abandon the doctrine of special providence, along with miracles and other notions of direct divine intervention in nature. Yet, he firmly held to the notion of general providence: God using "his most magnificent laws" works through a series of intermediate causes that bring about the astonishing variety of living beings that grace this universe. In his 1842 sketch Darwin wrote, "The existence of such [evolutionary] laws should exalt our notion of the power of the omniscient Creator." This notion of God he would hold on to, even as he abandoned the benevolent Father of his Anglican tradition.

    During the years following, Darwin's desires were divided between his pursuits of natural history and his wish to enjoy the life of an English family man. His wife, cousin Emma Wedgwood, and Darwin brought eight children into the world, three of whom died young. The death of his beloved Annie in 1851 at age eleven, for whom he grieved the rest of his life, destroyed any last vestiges of faith in an interventionist God. Near the end of his life, he acknowledged in an interview: "I never gave up Christianity till I was forty years of age." Why, then, did Darwin continue to be a pillar of Downe parish for the rest of his days? To please Emma? To maintain the good graces of the country folk with whom he had daily intercourse? To mollify an English public threatened by his revolutionary ideas in natural history?

    What one can be certain of, Phipps argues, is that he did not dissemble in his views on religion and his relations with clergy and his community. In tracing Darwin's religious odyssey after 1859, Phipps reviews the extensive correspondence Darwin maintained with churchmen on both sides of the Atlantic. His exchanges with his American champion Asa Gray are well known. But more pertinent to his public life in England, Darwin corresponded with Charles Kingsley and a number of those British parson-naturalists, including Frederick Hope, Charles Whitley, Algernon Wells and William Herbert, who spread his message that there is no essential incompatibility between evolution and religious faith. Priests were his defenders at the meetings in 1860 of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, when Sedgwick vehemently attacked the Origin, and the Oxford debate between Wilberforce and Huxley sponsored by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Some of the opposition to Darwin stemmed from a like distress over concurrent developments in biblical criticism reflected in the controversial Essays and Reviews (1860). Opponents of both Darwin and the higher critics tended to lump them together in their outcries. And while many were prepared to greet the argument of the Origin with some degree of equanimity, the thesis of human evolution in The Descent of Man produced a greater nervousness within both the general public and scholarly circles.

    Phipps includes in his account Darwin's views on the evolution of morality and religion. Anyone still thinking that Social Darwinism constitutes Darwin's own view might be relieved by reading his exposition in Descent. Darwin emphasizes the evolution of sympathy and cooperation, social instincts that probably sprang from "familial affections," and the development of conscience. "The golden rule," he declares, "lies at the foundation of morality." While Bishop Butler and Sir James Mackintosh influenced Darwin's moral thinking, Edward Tylor gave him a model for describing the evolution of religion. Darwin concluded that "the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God" was not a feature of humanity's earliest evolutionary stages, but appears "when advanced in his intellectual and moral faculties to at least a moderately high level." For Darwin, the behavioral aspect of religion made better sense when understood as a product of evolution than as the special revelation of a divine lawgiver. Yet, like his champion Huxley, Darwin was prepared to find in the highest developments of morality and religion the ethical gospel of Victorian Christianity.

    For that reason and others, Phipps argues that even as Darwin rejected traditional faith, he remained a deeply religious man who "exhibited reverence toward whoever was responsible for originating and developing the universe...." "Even though Darwin rejected Christian orthodoxy, he retained Christian orthopraxy...." Phipps cites numerous examples. The devoted husband and father who doted on Emma and the children was a kindly and compassionate man to all, generous in his praise to both supporters and critics alike. He avoided the limelight and public controversy, and often suffered without retaliation sometimes vicious attacks by his detractors. A vigorous opponent of slavery and any form of human oppression or cruelty, he supported organizations to aid the poor and the handicapped and to prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals. It is not surprising that he would expend some of his generosity upon the village of Downe and St. Mary's; he contributed to church repairs and the Sunday school, funded a temperance reading room, saw that his boys were tutored by nearby clergymen, and served as treasurer of the Coal and Clothing Club that provided welfare for the village needy. He regularly contributed to the South American Missionary Society. These activities, Phipps maintains, show Darwin to be a man truly committed to the ideals of Christian life as practiced in Victorian England.

    Yet, what can one say of Darwin's personal religious beliefs? Phipps thinks that the term agnostic as Darwin used it in later life accurately summarizes his theology; but it was a "reverent agnosticism" that pertained "to a lack of certainty, not to a denial of Deity." In concluding that God is beyond human understanding, Darwin stood in the company of prophets, theologians, and mystics, Phipps asserts. Yet his mind continued to ponder the question, not whether God existed, "but what kind of God a reasonable person can accept." It had led him long ago to that great stumbling block, theodicy, and thence to the conclusion that God creates the general laws governing the universe, but does not exert direct control over natural events. One gains the impression from Phipps' exposition that Darwin's God remained a mystery to the end.

    I think that at times Phipps' portrait of Darwin crosses the line into hagiography. The warts, if any, do not show. And I would question whether Darwin's agnosticism bears any resemblance to the "hidden God" mystery of prophets and mystics. Yet Phipps is not the first to express such great admiration for his subject. What he does provide is a clear, vigorous, and comprehensive portrait of Darwin's religious odyssey. This book will be an absorbing read for anyone wishing to explore anew the story of a brilliant thinker and admirable human being who continues to capture our attention.

    [Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2002. xiv + 207 pp. $16.00 (paper)].


    Invitation to join the ST&F Network

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    Past issues of the Newsletter:
    Vol. 1-1, All Saints 2001
    Vol. 1-2, Epiphany 2002
    Vol. 1-3, Trinity 2002
    Vol. 2-1, New Year 2003
    Vol. 2-2, Sts Peter & Paul 2003
    Vol. 2-3, Christmas 2003

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