Skip to content

More on Waltke

For those still following the story of Bruce Waltke, I thought I would pass along a few interesting and helpful links I came across today. It seems the story of Walke’s resignation from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL due to comments he made about the compatibility of evolution and Christian faith touched off a bit of a storm in the blogging world. As is so often the case in the wild and woolly world of blogging, there can be a lot more heat generated than light. Many portrayed the Waltke/RTS situation as something approaching a modern-day Galileo case, with RTS being cast in the role of inquisitors. Not surprisingly, the truth turns out to be not quite as sensational.

For an excellent summary of the whole controversy, including the most recent developments, see here.

For a direct statement from Bruce Waltke himself, as well as Ric Cannada, president of RTS, see here.

I re-read my previous post after reading these articles to be sure that I wasn’t misrepresenting RTS or Bruce Waltke in any way. The only thing I would change now would be my claim that RTS ought to have dealt with Waltke “more graciously.” Based on the statements of both Cannada and Waltke, it seems that this comment was premature and inaccurate. The interaction between Waltke and RTS seems to have been characterized by graciousness and respect from the beginning of this controversy.

The rest of what I wrote, I can live with.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    It is good to know that the parties respected each other in this incident.

    Re: Waitke’s description of his beliefs where he wrote, “I believe that creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position … Evolution as a process must be clearly distinguished from evolutionism as a philosophy. The latter is incompatible with orthodox Christian theology.”

    I am not familiar with the term “evolutionism.” From what I see on the internet, as at Wikipedia, he is probably referring with that to what is called the “modern synthesis” and that is basically the combination of Darwin’s theory with genetics. I am not sure what he means by that as a philosophy. But it is certainly true that the “modern synthesis,” which is built on Darwin’s theory, is “incompatible with orthodox theology.

    My impression is that he is saying that the idea that humans and other species evolved over time rather than being made in an instant does not necessarily conflict with the Bible. I think a large number of Christians and Biblical scholars agree with him, although not in all churches as we all know. When he distinguishes “evolution as a process” from “evolutionism” I think he is saying that he does not believe that evolution has occurred in the way Darwin named “natural selection.” I don’t think anyone who believes in theistic evolution believes evolution occurred by natural selection. Theistic evolution involves believing that God guided or intervened in evolution. Darwin did not believe that. That belief is counter to the “modern synthesis.” That enables him to assert that his view is compatible with orthodox theology, even while some evangelicals may argue that point.

    Waltke also wrote, “Science is fallible and subject to revision. As a human and social enterprise, science will always be in flux. My first commitment is to the infallibility (as to its authority) and inerrancy (as to its Source) of Scripture.” Here he appears to be affirming his continued high view of scripture in a way that places him squarely in the evangelical tradition. If he did fully embrace the implications of Darwin’s theory, it would be impossible for him to make that affirmation. If Darwin’s theory is correct, the coherent position on scripture is to say that it represents wisdom, perhaps, but nevertheless myth.

    I don’t believe his position is compatible with the current scientific paradigm for evolutionary biology, and I believe he probably realizes that, even though it is compatible with the theology of many Christians.

    I imagine his books will sell quite well now.

    April 12, 2010
  2. James #

    Ken, where you and I differ is on this point-
    “I don’t believe his position is compatible with the current scientific paradigm for evolutionary biology”
    You seem to think that “compatiblity” should be achievable between science and the most meaningful things in life [possibly Waltke does as well]. I think it is a quest as doomed as trying to write a formula for love [or justice or beauty etc], or to build a bridge using theology [or philosophy]. I think this whole mess is about scientists thinking they have something to say about God or origins and conversely theologians thinking that they need to weigh in on science.
    Hawking introduced the concept of a “singularity” beyond which all speculation is meaningless [in his paradigm this was represented by the Black Hole]. In my opinion that was the most significant thing he wrote. Of course we are all tempted to speculate beyond our singularities [Hawking couldn’t resist it either but at least he had a humility about it]. There’s probably nothing wrong with that as long as we can put these machinations into their proper context. Obviously in Waltke’s case this didn’t happen.

    April 12, 2010
    • Ken #

      James, I don’t think we differ. I don’t think that “compatibility should be achievable between science and the most meaningful things in life.” (Walke may think this, to some extent, as you suggest.) I think you and I agree on this. In the sentence you quoted I was saying that Walke’s position is not compatible with the scientific paradigm. I was not saying it should be.

      April 13, 2010
  3. James #

    Why does it look like you are working so hard at reconciliation, then? At his best Waltke is simply trying to get some members of his community to stop putting themselves in the place of scientists. Yes, he crosses the line and starts to work at a type of reconciliation [IHMO] but it seems to me that you are way over that line as well. Maybe I don’t understand your argument re: Darwin and God. Darwin is irrelevant to the pursuit of God from my perspective.

    April 13, 2010
    • Ken #

      James, I am not working for reconciliation. I don’t know how you got that idea. Hopefully what I write here will take that idea away.

      My point above is only that Waltke (like others who believe in theistic evolution) is only partially agreeing with the current scientific paradigm. He agrees that evolution has occurred. He does not agree that it has occurred in the way Darwin said it has, or in the way that scientists and historians call “the modern synthesis.” Waltke calls the modern synthesis “evolutionism” and says he does not agree with it.

      I don’t know whether Ryan believes evolution happened in the way described by the modern synthesis is true or not. My impression is that he believes we evolved, but stops short of believing it happened in the way described by the modern synthesis, just as Waltke stops there. Is that correct, Ryan?

      My own position is that Darwin’s paradigm, as expressed in the modern synthesis, is incompatible with belief in God and that theologians are right to stop where Waltke does – they have no other coherent choice. The idea that creation occurred through evolution can fit coherently within the orthodox range of interpretations of scripture, just as Waltke argues. The idea that it occurred by natural selection does not fit, or, at least, no one has yet shown that it does fit and many great philosophers and theologians believe it does not, just as Darwin believed it does not. Darwin, Waltke and I all agree on this point. I think you do too, James. Do you, Ryan?

      April 13, 2010
      • I guess the first thing to say is that I’m not exactly clear on what you mean by “the modern synthesis.” I don’t read Waltke (or anyone else who affirms creation via evolution) as saying that evolution occurs but not in the way Darwin says. I’m not familiar with any other understanding of evolution than the basic one laid out by Darwin. Maybe this simply betrays my scientific ignorance.

        The second thing I would say is that I remain unconvinced that the basic Darwinian picture is incompatible with belief in God. I don’t see any logical reason why that interpretation would be demanded. At the risk of putting it simplistically, you seem to equating Darwin’s theory with philosophical naturalism (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about this). Of course, I agree that philosophical naturalism is incompatible with belief in God (I guess that would be as clear a case of stating the obvious you could hope to find :)). I’m just not prepared to concede that accepting Darwin’s science entails accepting the metaphysical package that is often associated with it.

        April 13, 2010
  4. James #

    Another reason I think you are trying to reconcile Biblical faith and science is your last statement-
    “My own position is that Darwin’s paradigm, as expressed in the modern synthesis, is incompatible with belief in God”
    My position is- eloquently articulated by Chesterton- that Darwin is irrelevant to Biblical faith. This too is a long standing philosophical position but one that is routinely ignored. It is expressed in the metaphor I presented above- you can’t write a mathematical formula for love and you can’t built a bridge with theology. So why do people try to do it? Fact is that hopeless reconciliation attempts are part of life. These have made Dawkins et al very rich. They too are looking for a synthesis that doesn’t exist IMO.
    Do I believe Darwin? I don’t know- natural selection does however make a lot of sense. Is this a problem for my view that the Scriptures are God’s Words? Not in the least. It’s like comparing a Shakespeare sonnet to E=MCC.

    April 13, 2010
    • Ken #

      James, then I give up. It seems like whatever I say you insist that I am trying to do something that I am not trying to do. It seems like you think you understand my mind better than I do myself. That is unlikely.

      April 13, 2010
      • James #

        I can’t read your mind, Ken. I can only read your words. You wrote ” . . . as expressed in the modern synthesis, is incompatible . . . ”
        Sorry that exasperates you.

        April 13, 2010
  5. Ken #

    James, then if you were reading my words, you must have missed these: “I am not working for reconciliation.” They seem to state my position quite explicitly.

    April 13, 2010
  6. James #

    To me- “I am not working for reconciliation” does not jive with “My own position is . . . expressed in the modern synthesis.” It seems to me that you have to pick one or the other. I hold to the first- I reject the 2nd. You state both. That’s what has me confused.

    April 13, 2010
    • Ken #

      What I mean is that I do not think they are compatible and I am not trying to reconcile them. Maybe reconcile means different things to us. I mean that I am not trying to show that they are compatible or to synthesize something by combining them.

      When I read your position, I have the impression that you and I largely approach this subject in the same way even if our expression of it is somewhat different. But when you say that you reject the idea that belief in God and belief in the modern synthesis are incompatible, then certainly that means that we look at that issue differently.

      April 13, 2010
      • James #

        It’s not just the “modern” synthesis that is incompatible with the Scriptures- it is any “scientific synthesis”, from Ptolemy, to Aquinas, to Newton, to Darwin to . . . Science and Scripture are 2 different disciplines. It’s not science that is incompatible the Scriptures- it is the synthesis. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense to me to call science and Scripture incompatible. That was the point of my sonnet/E=MCC example. I think that got missed.
        It may be a fine point- but I obviously think it is important.
        I don’t think we disagree on all that much but we also do see some things differently. That’s why we chat 🙂

        April 13, 2010
      • Ken #

        James, okay, I’ll buy that.

        April 13, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: