By Jeff Brumley
A two-day conference beginning Sunday, April 21, in Dayton, Ohio, seeks to dispel the notion that science and faith are natural enemies and to prove that acceptance of evolution and the Big Bang theory are compatible with Christianity.
The “Thelma Fordham Pruett Conference on Science and Religion” is co-sponsored by an American Baptist church whose pastor said Christians must realize they aren’t heretics for harboring doubts about literal interpretations of the Genesis creation account.
“People struggle with the dilemma – they believe there is an either-or situation between science and faith, and there’s not,” said Rodney Kennedy, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Dayton.
Some of the conference speakers, and even a leading six-day creationist interviewed separately by ABPnews, concurred that no inherent conflict exists between belief and reason, and that much of the apparent war between the two is generated by extremists in both secular and religious camps.
“There’s just as much a problem with the fundamentalists on both ends of the spectrum who are creating this illusion of a war between science and faith,” Kennedy said. “Both sides want the tension to exist and both sides are simplistic in their theologies.”
Baptist theologian Fisher Humphries said Baptists themselves hold a distinguished history of blending faith and scientific integrity, and recently felt compelled to write about the so-called battle between the two spheres.
“I was suspicious of the warfare concept because I knew people who are scientists and Christians,” he said. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”
‘Surrounded’ by creationists
It doesn’t make any sense to Kennedy, either. That is why he was keen to co-sponsor the conference along with two fellow downtown congregations, one Jewish and the other Episcopalian. United Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton’s continuing education department are also sponsoring the event.
Kennedy said another reason First Baptist wanted to participate is because Ohio is “surrounded” by voices and movements on the Christian right who want to see six-day creationism and Intelligent Design taught in public schools. He cited Albert Mohler at Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., as examples.
The rhetoric from them and others, plus that coming in the other direction from die-hard atheists, often leaves everyday Christians feeling fearful and conflicted, Kennedy said.
Some Christians believe the earth was created in six days some 6,000 years ago. That’s OK for them, Kennedy said, but not believing that doesn’t make one less of a believer.
The program includes more than 20 plenary and breakout sessions led by some of the leading names in faith-verses-science controversies, including author and biblical scholar Peter Enns and Michael Pahl, the Cedarville University theologian fired last year after writing a book on Genesis that did not mention six-day creationism.
Session topics include anti-intellectualism and biblical studies, science and theology, religious responses to Darwin and bridging church and academy.
The event is being made possible by a $20,000 grant from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization which provides research, analysis and commentary to promote excellence in education. Its president, Chester Finn Jr., is the keynote speaker at the Dayton symposium. It will be held at the University of Dayton.
Not appearing at the event is Ken Ham, one of the nation’s leading six-day apologists and president of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Though often quoted as a partisan in the faith-versus-science debate, Ham said he agrees with the premise of the conference.
“There is a war, but not between science and faith as such,” Ham said. He said the real disagreements are over what is and is not science, but when those disputes are played out in the media, “the general public gets the false idea of a dichotomy between faith and science.”
Ham said there is also no built-in conflict between science and biblical creationism. The conflict occurs because secularists and Christian believers in evolution fail to understand the concept of “historical science,” Ham said.
Unlike “observational science,” which involves phenomena that can be seen and measured, “historical science involves beliefs about the past,” Ham said. These include evolution and biblical creationism.
Both require some degree of faith, he said.
“The real battle is between the historical science of the secularists and the historical science of the Bible,” he said. “It’s a battle between two accounts of history.”
‘Messing with paradigms’
Enns disputes Ham’s take on the situation and said he never heard of the term “historical science.”
“I wonder if he made that up,” said Enns, affiliate professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa.
Enns has been battling creationists and biblical inerrancy for years. In 2008, he was suspended from Westminster Theological Seminary over his 2005 book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.
Enns said he holds firm to both a belief in Christ and that evolution is scientifically sound. He noted that the ancient Greek church fathers even taught that the Genesis creation account should be read allegorically.
Six-day creationists, meanwhile, have a very tight and narrow worldview that is constantly being undermined by scientific discoveries, Enns said. “The difference here is that Ken Ham has no facts on his side, and the anti-Christian, pro-evolutionary atheists do,” he said.
Even so, Enns said extreme voices on the far end of both views make so much noise as to confuse those in the middle. In both cases, it’s likely fear that drives them. “Most people don’t like their paradigms messed with,” Enns said.
When science, theology collide
Humphries, who is not connected to the Dayton conference, said the whole debate is astonishing when considering that much of modern science was founded by Christians.
Iconic scientific figures such as Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton were Christians, said Humphries, emeritus professor of divinity at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
There are many others in modern times, he said, and many of them are, or were, Baptists. They include leaders of major governmental and private health and research organizations.
For more than 20 years, a group of scientists and theologians have been meeting in Birmingham to discuss books and issues of the day, Humphries said. But theology and science do operate in separate areas, he added.
“Often the conflict comes when one person gets into the other person’s territory.”