Types of Mediation and Complementarity between Theology and Science

Nineteenth-century theologians' dominant response to scientific advances was one of openness and dialogue, of attempts at one or another form of mediation and reconciliation. While sharing the same objective, these responses often were distinct, and they resist being forced into exact categories. Nonetheless, they do reveal common features that distinguish them from other types of response. The three theologians here used to exemplify this response were orthodox Christians, believed in the essential unity of science and theology, and were not wholly dismissive of Darwin's doctrine. However, all three concluded that, in present circumstances, no reconciliation with Darwinism was possible.

Otto Zockler (1833-1906), a German theologian who taught at Greifswald, is best known for his four books and numerous articles on the relations between theology and science.35 His most important work is a two-volume, 1,600-page History of the Relations between Theology and Natural Science with Particular Reference to the Story of Creation (1877-1879). It stands as not only a far superior work than A. D. White's History of the Warfare (Zockler called the latter "a superficial and bungling piece of work") but also, perhaps, the best history of the biblical doctrine of creation, explored, as Zockler examines it, through the history of natural science. In this work Zockler repudiates the by-then advancing notion of a war. While frank about the hostilities between the two fields, he also stressed the positive influences that they have had on one another and the ways that theology has promoted science.

Zockler was convinced that the proven findings of science - in his context, geology, and evolutionary biology - would harmonize with and complement the biblical stories in Genesis. He called this reconciliation the "concordance hypothesis" and applied it in his extensive studies of the biblical stories of the creation and human origins in relation to developments in geology and biology, the latter especially, after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. Zockler often reiterated his theme that the Book of Nature illustrates the Bible, while the latter serves to explain the former. The two complement one another.

Zockler wrote earlier and more extensively about Darwinism and theology than any other European or American theologian. He included a 248-page discussion of Darwinism in his vast History, and concluded that Darwin's own teachings contained nothing to cause anyone to abandon the Christian doctrine of creation. Indeed, he insisted that the theological doctrines of creation and humanity's origin are illustrated and thus illuminated by Darwin's scientific researches, including his hypothesis of natural selection. Zockler was able to affirm this about Darwin's work because he believed that theologians had often misread Genesis through preconceived notions about its teaching on creation, and because he did not interpret Darwin's position as, in the main, anti-teleological, and thus atheistic. Nor did he think that Darwin himself completely rejected Lamarckian inheritance. What later - after Darwin's publication of The Descent of Man (1871) - caused Zockler to reject conciliation with Darwinism and to repudiate the Englishman's doctrine was his recognition that Darwin's naturalistic understanding of the immense, slow, and brutal course of human descent contradicted biblical anthropology that insisted on the unique status of human beings.

Zockler condemned numerous other theological attempts to reconcile Christianity with Darwinism. He regarded them as premature, and he saw their accommodations as seriously deforming Christian doctrine. They had failed to recognize that many scientific hypotheses are soon repudiated by new facts, and that Darwin's own theories had recently become suspect due to the numerous modifications and qualifications that he introduced in later editions of the Origin. Furthermore, he thought that Darwinian descent, coupling humans with the animals, relativized ethics and supported un-Christian social policies, such as eugenics. For Zockler, the facts showed that when these particular Darwinian theories are examined as a whole, they are shown to be not only unreliable but also erroneous on crucial matters. On these subjects, the reconciliation between Christian theology and Darwinian science is impossible.

The American Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878) was one with Zockler in his conservative interpretation of the Bible's supreme authority, in his belief in the unity of truth, in the possibility of a concordance or complementarity between theology and science, and in his final, resolute conviction that Christianity and Darwinism were, on a cardinal issue, irreconcilable. Zockler thought that Darwin was compatible with a theistic teleology, but that his descent theory and Christian anthropology were incompatible. While Hodge was open to the theory of evolution, even to certain forms of natural selection, he came to the conviction - in his book What Is Darwinism? (1874) - that Darwin's evolutionary theory was inherently anti-teleological and, therefore, explicitly atheistic.

Charles Hodge was professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary for fifty-eight years. As the leader of what came to be called the Princeton Theology, he was arguably the most influential conservative evangelical theologian in the English-speaking world. His three-volume Systematic Theology (1872-1873) is used today in some conservative theological schools. One of Hodge's principal interests was the relationship between theology and science. He believed in the real unity of natural and revealed truth and the complementarity of theology and science. However, he became an astute critic of Darwin and, perhaps, the best example of theological anti-Darwinism in the nineteenth century.

Hodge's writings on theology and science are informed by an explicit philosophical position associated with Scottish commonsense realism, which assumed that the world possesses a rational order that corresponds with the structure of the human mind. It also insisted on the Baconian ideal of induction in both theology and science. In a long discussion of theological method, Hodge draws an exact correlation between scientific induction and the inductive method used in theology. Both sciences affirm that theory must be determined by facts, in the one case by the facts of the Bible, and in the natural sciences by the facts of nature. But all facts are determined by the wisdom and will of God, and therefore cannot conflict with one another.

Apparent discrepancies between biblical facts and truth and those of the sciences are due to the imposition of theories, or human speculations, that distort the facts. For Hodge, all theories are human, and hence tentative. And so, just as it is unreasonable for scientists to promote theories inconsistent with the Bible, so is it "unwise for theologians to insist on an interpretation of Scripture which brings it into collision with the facts of science." Neither the theologian nor the scientist is infallible, and so it may happen, as it often has in the past, "that interpretations of the Bible, long confidently received, must be modified or abandoned, to bring revelation into harmony with what God teaches in his works." While this may be painful, it does not impair the authority of the Bible. The Scriptures "remain infallible; we are merely convicted of having mistaken their meaning."36

Hodge often cites the example of Copernicus' revolution in astronomy. In this case, as in others, "it was not that scripture taught archaic science, but that archaic science had been read into scripture by its interpreters."37 If persuaded by scientific evidence, Hodge was quite willing to correct his interpretation of the Bible, as he did in acknowledging that the word "day" refers to geological epochs. But he also felt quite justified in resisting any scientific theory that was not clearly supported by the facts or that contradicted what he considered explicit biblical truth. He applied these principles in his examination of Darwinism.

Hodge offered scientific, philosophical, and theological objections to Darwinism. He did not reject the possibility of theistic evolution itself, although he saw most forms of evolution as actually deistic, not biblically theistic. His primary scientific objection was that, as Darwin admitted, his theory was a hypothesis, "with no pretence that the theory can be proved."38 And Hodge was confident that some of the "facts" could be accounted for in other ways. However, Hodge's critique, based as it was on the paucity of facts, on the absence of links in the fossil record, and on the antiquity and modification of species, was a risky tactic, since later scientific work might, and indeed often did, fill those factual gaps.

The strength of Hodge's critique was theological. It consisted of two related issues that he insisted were crucial to the claims of biblical revelation and Christian faith. One was the uniqueness and immutability of the human

"primordial form" or soul and, second, God's providential governance of the world. Both assumed a divine teleology. Hodge came to recognize that the distinctive feature of Darwinism was its use of the mechanism of natural selection in such a way as to exclude all teleology. Hodge was willing to qualify his defense of the immutability of "species" in that he distinguished species from what he called "primordial forms," and claimed immutability only for those forms. Some "species," he conceded, may have arisen by natural transformations. It was neither evolution nor natural selection as such that defined Darwinism but its rejection of design in any and all organisms in the natural world, all having evolved "by unintelligent causes." And this, Hodge insisted, makes Darwinism irreconcilable with Christianity.

A final feature of Hodge's critique has to do with the nature of his appeal to design. He was suspicious of natural theology. He did not appeal to the teleo-logical argument from design, as did many theologians. He was clearly aware of its philosophical shortcomings. Rather, he believed in design because of Christianity's belief in a providential guidance. Presuming that a providential God exists, then all things must be designed.39 It can be argued that Hodge sensed, better than many of his theological colleagues, the real threat of Darwinism and, furthermore, that his refusal to adopt a vague evolutionary theism was salutary.

The Scottish minister James McCosh (1811-1894) is another theologian who defended the unity of nature and revelation, saw them as complementary, and worked for their reconciliation. In an early work he insisted that, despite their obvious differences, it is also true that science and theology "meet in a higher unity ... and are two aspects ... of one Great Truth."40 McCosh saw the current exemplification of this truth of complementarity in the growing recognition of evolution or what he called "development," "the method of God's procedure." He had defended this unity before the appearance of Darwin's Origin, but also after its appearance in his largely positive response to Darwin's doctrine of natural selection. In this he greatly differed from his colleague-to-be, Charles Hodge.

McCosh served for many years as a minister of the Church of Scotland. It was the considerable praise that he received for his first book, The Method of the Divine Government, Physical and Moral (1850), that led to his appointment in 1851 to the chair of logic and metaphysics at Queens College, Belfast, where he taught until 1868. He then accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University.

Important for McCosh was the eminent British anatomist Richard Owen's (1804-1892) transcendental morphology, which held that organic structures conform to divinely ordained archetypes. McCosh thought that this better explained design than did Paley's functional argument. He appealed to two great principles operative in nature's development. One was "the Principle of Order, Pattern, or Type" to which natural objects conform. The second was "the Principle of Special Adaptation or Particular End" by which an object is "at the same time accommodated to the situation which it has to occupy, and a purpose it is intended to serve."41 McCosh believed that this "wider" teleology of an interconnected, unitary plan was a more compelling support for a natural theology, particularly since it appeared to be supported by distinguished scientists such as Owen and Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire: "The agents of nature are so arranged into a system, or rather a system of systems," so that a complex of independent agents are made to conspire for the achievement of a great end.42

What might appear to us as a useless plant may be needed by one kind of bird for its seeds or by an insect for its root. And these birds and insects may serve a larger purpose in nature's economy. Therefore, in addition to the necessary Principle of Order there is the Principle of Particular Adaptation, that is, Providence. Scientists who trumpet the Reign of Law fail to take sufficient account of what McCosh calls the "fortuities of Nature." These "fortuities" may well appear to humans as pure accidents; to God they may be the very instruments of His government.

McCosh never felt a need to revise his natural theology after the appearance of Darwin's Origin of Species. He thought, rather, that Darwin's theory of natural selection contained "a large body of important truths," although he always insisted that "it did not contain the whole truth about evolution."43 However, McCosh became increasingly certain that natural selection was an agency "undoubtedly" operating in the whole of organic nature, along with the influence of environmental factors, as was proposed by the Lamarckians. It was on the subject of human evolution that McCosh parted company with Darwin. With the religious scientists St. George Jackson Mivart (182 7-1900) and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), who early supported Darwin, McCosh believed that humans represented a unique development that required factors beyond the capacity of natural selection alone to explain. Science may, however, explain these unique factors; and McCosh remained convinced that the advancement of science would see "purpose in the ways in which the materials and forces and life of the universe are made to conspire."44

McCosh's Calvinist teleology, with its seemingly unaccountable "fortuities of nature," was, if nothing else, bracing. The forces of nature, whatever they are, "all and each work in the midst of a struggle for existence, in which the strong prevail and the weak disappear. But in all this," McCosh was certain, "there is a starting point and a terminus ... and an intelligence planning and guiding the whole, and bringing it to its destination."45

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