Category Archives: theology

A N Wilson gains Darwin Award for Historians

After producing an awful biography of Darwin and shooting his pen off about Darwin’s bogus science practised at Downe House, I was disappointed to see that Wilson’s biography of Queen Victoria was used in the TV series Victoria. That may explain the fictitious aspects of Drummond on screen. He died three years before the repeal of the Corn Laws – the time of his murder in the TV series – and there is no evidence of a gay relationship. Having read a few of Wilson’s historical studies I have no respect for him as a historical scholar. I read his God’s Funeral twenty years ago and no longer have my copy. I wonder why.

I do think Wilson is worthy of the Darwin award for historians and this was confirmed when I dipped into his Victoria today. For interest I went to the index and looked up Darwin and this is what I found.


The three lines on Lyell and Darwin are simply historical codswollop. Yes, Lyell was a great geologist and in 1864 was rightly knighted for that. In 22 words Wilson simply got everything wrong. Yes, it is a popularly held view and especially by those who consider themselves educated that it was Lyell who shattered the views of the church over the age of the earth. But it is wrong on so many accounts.


First, before November 1797, when Lyell was born, most scientists and savants had concluded that the earth was ancient and its age was either hundreds of thousands or many millions of years old. The former was the view of the great Swiss geologist Andre de Luc snr and the latter of William Hutton. Most educated Christians throughout Europe also accepted the vast age of the earth, even if many preferred de Luc. However 100,000 years completely undermines a literal Genesis. There were also those like Lhwyd and Ray who were thinking about an older earth by 1690.

Secondly, when Lyell published his Principles of Geology in 1831, many leading British geologists were clergy e.g. Sedgwick, Buckland, Coneybeare, Henslow and many lesser ones. Within the churches there were not seen as either heretics or way-out liberals, but rather as orthodox Christians with the full backing of church leaders from Archbishops and Bishops to country parsons. In fact, when the American creationist and employee of Answersingenesis  wrote his Ph.D.  (and book The Great Turning Point) on “Scriptural Geologists” from 1820 to 1850, he could only find 20 to 30 and I haven’t found many more. These so-called Scriptural Geologists were singularly ineffective in convincing the rising numbers of Victorian evangelicals, who were happy to accept the findings of geology.

Thirdly, by the time Darwin came along – effectively after 1840 – after his Beagle voyage, the vast age of the earth could be almost taken for granted. By 1859 few educated cChristians or clergy held to a six day creation and thus in all the responses to Darwin in the 1860s I have only found one which did not accept geology and that was by the Plymouth Brother B.W. Newton in his Remarks on a Mosaic Cosmogony, which was a hostile response to Essays and Reviews.

I could was lyrical on this, but have surveyed it in my book Evangelicals and Science, where I focus only on evangelicals and develop the ideas here on  Genesis and geology unearthed




Wilson has aggravated many on his biography of Darwin, which seems to be very jaundiced to him. Reviews have been largely negative and his atricles in the press show that he has little grasp of Darwin’s science and seems now after his re-conversion to be leaning to creationism or Intelligent Design

Sadly many will read Wilson as a serious historian and accept his wrong and outmoded views not only of Darwin but also the relationship of Christian and Science – so often epitomised as the bible vs Darwin


Women can speak and teach in church after all!!Maybe Forward in Faith must go backwards!!

With the continuing controversy over the ordination of women this blog by an American evangelical scholar Dr Scott McNight is very pertinent. He discusses a recent paper by another evangelical with a Cambridge Ph D – Phillip Payne He argues that the passage in Paul in 1 cor 14 vs 34-5 is not authentic Paul and thus should not be part of the letter.

I hope all anglican Evangelicals take note

It is well worth a read and has interesting implications


via Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Authentic? No.

GMOS and science, money, and fake news


Some Greens have several shibboleths; usually  pro-organic, anti certain pesticides and glyphosphate and most certainly anti-GMO. (I forgot renewables and fracking)

To focus on GMOs many Green GMOs , like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth oppose them. As do the Green Party.

As a Christian I am concerned that they also are a shibboleth for Christian Greens and groups like Christian Aid. Eco-congregation encourage you to oppose, and as I don’t like people starving to death I don’t do Eco-congregation

GMO EU action

Typical Greenpeace fake news


Black humour on the lack of danger of GMOs

NonGMO salt

This sums it all up. But I take non-GMO salt with a pinch of salt.


Well, here is a good article on the subject, based on the film Food Evolution

Source: Food Evolution documentary looks at science, money, and fake news around GMOs | PLOS Synthetic Biology Community

Food Evolution aims to take a look at the science underlying the heated rhetoric of the GMO debate. Filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy, narrator Neil deGrasse Tyson and on-camera experts walk through the major claims and key players. While the documentary tries to communicate the science, it also realizes that the GMO debate isn’t just about the science. It’s about financial interests, fear, and fake news.

Follow the money

The financial interests in GMOs, and GM foods in particular, are enormous. We’re talking about the food supply of billions of people and some of the biggest brand names in the world. On the GMO side sits one of the most hated brands in the world, Monsanto. Food Evolution talks about their history producing harmful pesticides like DDT and the infamous herbicide Agent Orange. Crowds of people rally against the company and at one point even singing “Monsanto is the devil” in a church choir style.

When the documentary looks beyond the United States, we see countries dealing with the fear of GMOs against the real threat of crop shortages. In Uganda, farmers watch as fields of banana trees are lost to the “Ebola of the banana” called banana wilt. We meet the scientist who has to explain how the new GM banana gets its banana wilt resistance from sweet pepper genes and how the government has to act to let the technology move forward. Then one of the farmers has to explain to her that others “think your work is against humanity”. This is the result of anti-GMO messaging being pushed across the globe.

There’s big money to be made from both sides of the GMO debate. Obviously companies like Monsanto have been derided for their profits while selling GM crops. but Food Evolution also gets into the financial incentives of the anti-GMO side. Companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle can build their brand as a healthy and all natural by demonizing the GMO products. Millions are spent on ad campaigns to make things sound healthier, even if there are no studies to back it up. Making GMO foods sound scary gives an advantage to the products with the no GMO sticker on them and more profits to places like Whole Foods.

Fear still wins a lot of arguments

The biggest tool that anti-GMO activists use is fear. Genetically modifying sounds like something from a poorly written supervillain. Inserting more uncertainty into the discussion helps bolster the argument for sticking with traditional agriculture. While scientists want to see multiple studies supporting a claim, activists interviewed in the film were more than willing to stake claims based on one study even if it’s later refuted. The argument goes that any chance that the study is right puts a risk on us. One speaker even instill the fear in parents of giving their children diseases by having fed them GMO or non-organic foods. No parent wants to feel that there’s any chance they may have given their child cancer.

Environmental activist Mark Lynas knows from experience that fear is a more effective tool than facts. He used to be an anti-GMO activist and is still active in raising awareness about threats from climate change. Upon researching the science he found the anti-GMO position on shaky ground and the climate change position with the scientific consensus. However, his tools for convincing people and motivating change remained largely the same.

“It’s much easier to scare people that it is to reassure them” ~Mark Lynas in Food Evolution

Arguments based on fear can sound convincing regardless of how sound the underlying facts are. Food Evolution pokes holes in many anti-GMO arguments but does find partial truths in some of their arguments. The trick is to take partial truths and uncertainty and dress them up as science. On the consumer end, it’s difficult to discern the validity of sources and scientific claims.

GMO science has its own fake news problem

Fake news knows more than most that fear is one of our most motivating factors. Fear sells because it drives ratings on TV and clicks online. Like fake news in other areas, the stories are driven by viral content regardless of its accuracy.

In the GMO debate there’s a narrative that genetically engineering crops brings threats that are totally non-existent in traditional breeding and farming. As anti-GMO activist Zen Honyecutt puts it, “Organic food is the way God made it”. These scenes with Honeycutt and other activists aren’t flattering when juxtaposed with the scientific evidence that humans have been changing crops since the dawn of agriculture. That doesn’t mean they’re not effective in clickbait headlines.

Some information can avoid being completely false while still being misleading. A major chunk of the film is devoted to the back and forth over the use of the herbicide glyphosate, commonly called Roundup. Plants engineered to be resistant to glyphosate–Roundup Ready crops–have lead to the increased use of  glyphosate since it now only kills weeds without harming the crop. This has lead to the increase in glyphosate in our food supply and environment. However, it’s significantly less toxic than the pesticide DDT or other herbicides. In fact, by some standards it’s rated less toxic than caffeine. The argument over GMOs and glyphosate usage hinges on what our alternative is. Are we willing or able to drastically reduce yields without an herbicide? Or do we go back to the more toxic versions? We rarely get to these questions as it’s much harder to settle a common understanding of the facts.

So what do we do now?

The film acknowledges that science and facts aren’t enough to change people’s minds. There are no clear answers here on how to convince the skeptical public. The scene at an Intelligence Squareddebate in which the GMO side wins shows that it may be possible to convince an audience of people with open minds, but it certainly doesn’t show you how to change the mind of those who have already dug in with a position. It might however give you some science-based answers to your GMO questions.

Food Evolution’s distribution is now being handled by Abramorama with a planned New York release of June 23 and select cities after that. See the trailer and more movie info at

Aaron Dy is PhD student in Biological Engineering at MIT.

The punch up of science and religion?

Science and Religion


Throughout my thirty years in the ordained ministry I have always been surprised at the number of people who are baffled by how I can be both scientist and clergyman. Many are convinced that the two must conflict and this is as common among Christians as non–Christians. Once a liberal bishop asked me how I could be an evangelical and a geologist! In England, as in America, there is a deep–seated perception that science and religion are in conflict and one must choose one or the other.

Thus we need to ask two separate, but related, questions. First we need to ask what the actuality is. Have Christianity and science always conflicted in the past and do they conflict today? And if so, then how? And secondly, we need to ask what the perception is of the relationship of science and Christianity.

Now let’s look at one example and ask questions both about actuality and perception. From there we can consider other examples as well and consider the relationship over the last half a millennium. This example is of Christopher Columbus in 1492 shortly before he sailed across the Atlantic. Every high school student knows that theologians advised Columbus that he could not sail around the world because it was flat and he would sail off the edge. The common account is that Columbus had great difficulty in persuading the Roman Catholic theologians in Spain that the earth was spherical. The theologians were adamant that the earth was flat. However in the end the heroic Columbus persuaded the King to let him try despite the theologians. Off Columbus sailed and he landed in the New World and returned to tell the tale. The atmosphere of the whole incident is evoked by Joseph Chiari’s play Christopher Columbus (1979);

Columbus; The earth is not flat, Father. It’s round!

The Prior; Don’t say that!

Columbus; It’s the truth; it’s not a mill pond strewn with islands. It’s a sphere.

The Prior; Don’t say that; it’s blasphemy.


This perception is very deep–seated among people of all ages and education, but the actuality was very, very different. Only about two theologians in the previous thousand years believed in a flat earth. So where did this story come from? The writer Washington Irving fabricated it when he wrote a biography on Columbus in 1828. In this he included a long account that the sphericity of the earth was condemned at the Council of Salamanca. What a creative author! The truth is that the Council of Salamanca never occurred, but it was reported in the two classic works on the conflict of science and religion by Draper and White and has been repeated ever since. It is a prototypical example of an urban myth and most people in Britain and America believe it to be true. The actuality is that no theologian challenged Columbus about a flat earth. But the perception of what is true about Columbus is utterly false, and perniciously encourages the idea that science and faith are at loggerheads.

The perception that science and faith are mutually exclusive has had and continues to have a disastrous effect on our churches today. Rather than being simply a double bind, it is a triple bind as this perception militates against Christianity in three different ways.

First, it makes Christians very suspicious of science because they believe science intends to disprove the Bible, which encourages many to believe that if one studies science in-depth it may destroy a person’s faith. As far as the myth of Columbus goes this unsettles Christians and makes them doubt whether or not Christianity can be true.

Secondly, it makes some Christians think that only a liberal Christianity can be intellectually coherent. Thus to have a faith which is acceptable scientifically one must reject miracles, creation, and anything concerned with the supernatural elements of faith, including the Virgin birth and the resurrection. This is the appeal of the way–out ideas of Bishop Spong and other liberal Christians, who claim to incorporate science into their faith.

Thirdly it makes non–believers think that Christianity is rooted in anti–science and is thus anti–intellectual and rooted in Medieval superstition. Thus no intelligent being could possibly be a believer. Richards Dawkins and others repeat this like a mantra.


Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion


Science versus religion – the antithesis conjures two hypostatized entities of the later nineteenth century; Huxley St George slaying Samuel smoothest of dragons; a mysterious undefined ghost called Science against a mysterious indefinable ghost called Religion; until by 1900 schoolboys decided not to have faith because Science, whatever that was, disproved Religion, whatever that was.


So wrote the great Church Historian Sir Owen Chadwick on the common understanding of the conflict of science and religion in a send up of the clash between Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s Bulldog, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce over The Origin of Species in 1860. Most accounts tell us that Huxley trounced the good bishop and made him look stupid. It is quoted frequently to show how the church has always opposed science with bigoted obscurantism. Even the BBC produced a re–enactment for television and the book Evolution, the triumph of an idea, which accompanied the PBS series on Evolution, repeats a similar story. Like many good stories it has only one fault and that is that it is wrong! Those who have studied all the evidence have found this to be a fabrication and a legend. The story was not told until thirty years after the event and it transpires that Huxley’s memories played tricks on him as he compiled his memoirs in the 1890s. In fact Huxley could hardly be heard and his friend Hooker had to take the bishop to task. Even so Wilberforce made some telling criticisms of evolution and was supported by scientists including Sir Benjamin Brodie – the President of the Royal Society.

Huxley was not alone in peddling this conflict of science and religion. Two of the foremost were the Americans J. W. Draper and Andrew Dickson White of Cornell University. White wrote a book The Warfare of Science with Theology, which is in the form of a historical account of the way the church has always opposed science from the time of Christ to 1895. The historian of science Colin Russell described the book as a ‘polemic tract masquerading as history’. That is an English understatement! It is a book which raises the blood pressure of many historians as, if you check out the references as I have, you promptly find misquotation after misquotation. Yet for over a century White’s book has encouraged people to believe that there has always been a conflict and is still in print and available on line. His errors are copied in other books, at times in a plagiaristic manner. They are then copied by students who expect to get high grades!

They re-surface frequently in a wide variety of writings – “pop” history of science, popular science (often written by atheists with an axe to grind), college, and even evangelical, surveys on the history of ideas, and many works by theologians and church historians (both liberal and evangelical). Usually these focus on one or more of three main issues;

  1. The Churches’ opposition to Copernicus and Galileo
  2. The Churches’ opposition to Geology around 1800.
  3. The Churches’ opposition to Darwin in 1860.

In many books Calvin’s opposition to Copernicus is cited from his commentary on Genesis where he refers to Psalm 93:1 and then asks, “Who will dare to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” (I even have it in French!) This quote is not to be found in Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, nor is it to be found in any of Calvin’s writings. Calvin did believe the earth to be at the center of the universe, but he died in 1564, 21 years after Copernicus. His commentaries on Genesis and the Psalms were published in 1554 and 1557 – within 15 years of the publication of  de Revolutionibus. In the 1550s only a handful of people would have accepted Copernican ideas as anything other than a mathematical description. Yet the charge sticks, and generations of students are still taught such legends and I still put a red line through when a student quotes it. The Galileo myth is even stronger and was briefly discussed earlier.

In a previous section I discussed the rise of geology and the fact that many early geologists were Christians. Yet the common view is that the church opposed geology at every turn. A minority of vocal Christians did oppose geology from 1800 to 1850 but did not represent the mainstream of the churches or evangelicalism. Some years ago Simon Winchester, a journalist with an Oxford degree in geology, wrote a life of William Smith entitled The Map that changed the World. It became a best–seller and had rave reviews, but on many pages it lambasted the church for opposing geology. Winchester wrote on page 29, ‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested [creation in 4004BC],…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’ Winchester seemed oblivious to the fact that Smith’s main advisors and supporters were three clergymen, one an Evangelical. He does not mention which law forbade people to re–consider the age of the earth (assuming there was one!). The brief treatments in this chapter should demonstrate the falsity of his statement, but I wonder how many readers, Christian or not, will swallow his fabrications. Winchester is not alone as many writers repeat similar inaccuracies.

My favorite story about the response to Darwin in 1860 is what the Bishop of Worcester’s wife is supposed to have said, “Oh, my dear, let’s hope that what Mr Darwin says is not true. But if it is true, let us hope that it will not become generally known.” The source of this story is unknown and is regarded by many historians as an Urban Myth. Yet it appears on BBC documentaries about Darwin.

The Oxford biologist, Richard Dawkins, also is in error when he wrote in The Oxford Companion to Animal Behaviour, ‘… in 1862 the eminent physicist Lord Kelvin greatly worried Darwin by ‘proving’ that the …earth could not possibly be more than 24 million years. Although this estimate was considerably better than the 4004BC date then favored by churchmen…’p155 Apart from inaccuracies about Kelvin, Dawkins did not state which churchmen, presumably because he could not name any!

Sometimes when browsing in bookshops, I check history, theological and scientific books and usually find a few more examples of these alleged conflicts between science and faith. Unfortunately it is the minority who do not repeat these myths. We may ask what the effect is on the readers. I am sure that it re–inforces the popular perception that Christianity is in opposition to science. There is also a negative reverse side to the conflict thesis which, I believe, affects numbers of Christians for the best of motives. The effect here is to convince some Christians that much of science is wrong and atheistic in intent. The result is that Christians may be susceptible to believing the truth of any attack or demolition of science, which appears to contradict the Bible.


Refs J.H.Brooke Science and Religion, some historical perspectives, 1991, Cambridge University Press

Brooke and Cantor Reconstructing Nature, 1999, T & T Clark

**Denis Alexander Rebuilding the matrix, 2001, Lion (most readable of these!)

Lindberg and Numbers God and Nature, 1985, Univ of California Press

Lindberg and Numbers, When Science and Christianity meet,  2003 Univ of Chicago Press

And also the grossly unreliable

  1. D. White , The Warfare of Science with Theology, 1895 and reprints.


Influence of Science on Belief


Many Christians would be horrified that science can affect our belief and understanding of the Bible. It does, but it may be for good or ill. For example, there are many instances where archaeology illuminates the Bible and suggests that one interpretation is better than another. One simple example is that nature of the manger that Jesus was born in.  It was not a rustic log cabin but rather an extension carved into the limestone hillside of Bethlehem, which was common in that town.

On matters astronomical we will reject the type of astronomy suggested in Genesis 1 and Isaiah 40:22. It clearly depicted a flat earth with a firmament above, which was the common cosmology before 500BC. I do not think many will insist on a three–decker universe today! After doubts about Copernicanism until about 1650 hardly any theologians since then have opted for geocentrism. They accepted heliocentricity for scientific reasons and reckoned it was not important theologically. However it must be said that some Lutheran theologians did reject heliocentricity until the 19th century in the American Mid-West.


The question of the age of the earth is more problematic. Geologists have been categorical that the earth is millions of years old only from the late18th century. Before then there was no way of reckoning the age. So from the time of Christ until shortly before 1800 both “scientists” and theologians gave no clear answer as to the earth’s age. Thus a biblical commentator could do no more than guess and many left the question open. Thus for 1800 years commentators gave differing answers to this question. They also varied over their interpretation of the Bible. But by the early 19th century even the most conservative and evangelical commentators accepted the findings of the geologists and thus rejected a simple 6-day creation. To them geological findings eliminated one possible interpretation of Genesis.  They argued that this was no more significant than theologians who rejected geocentrism two centuries earlier. These include some of the most prominent evangelicals of the 19th Century – Chalmers, Candlish, Hodge father and son, B. B. Warfield, J. C. Ryle, Handley Moule, Gaussen among others. Several of these contributed to The Fundamentals of 1910 and are thus the earliest Fundamentalists.

Against this, some argued that science undermined the Christian Faith. From the time of Copernicus some Christians have thought that new science was a threat to faith. This is seen in some Lutheran reactions to Copernicus and the Inquisition’s opposition to Galileo. From the late 17th century until the middle of the 19th century a minority opposed early advances in geology on the grounds that it contradicted scripture, especially on the Creation and Flood. Thomas Burnet was criticized by some in 1690 because he suggested that the Days of Genesis might be longer than 24 hours, even though others put forward the same ideas. At the end of the 18th century some opposed geology in Britain and France. The major opposition to geology took place in Britain from 1817, when a small minority of Christian leaders argued that geology had to be wrong as it contradicted a literal Genesis and that the existence of animal death prior to the Fall negated the atonement. Most had no geological skills but a few had a smattering, and are variously termed Scriptural or Anti–geologists. They published a flurry of pamphlets and books, which were roundly opposed by leading evangelicals such as Sumner and Chalmers. However by 1855 hardly any Evangelicals still insisted on a literal Genesis. I give these two examples as they demonstrate a reaction against science by some Christians.

Since the 18th century various thinkers of an agnostic or atheistic persuasion have used science to undermine Christian belief, seeking to demonstrate that science has made faith untenable. Some argue that every scientific discovery since Copernicus has negated faith and here they adopt an extreme conflict of science and faith perspective. Such writers as Draper and White are typical, as are Jones and Dawkins today. Very often writers like these trot out the old stories of Columbus, Galileo, opposition to Geology and Darwin without much concern as to accuracy. As this is the dominant opinion of popular scientists today it molds the beliefs and perspectives of many and is often what is presented in the teaching of science at all levels from high–school to post–graduate.

Science has also affected the way that miracles are understood. Before the rise of science miracles were seen as acts of God and not given any explanation. David Hume changed that in the 18th century in his attack on miracles. The key was to define miracle as an event contrary to scientific law and his definition is now the accepted one. The Bible does not see miracles like this, as the Bible is prescientific, and considers them as particular acts of God. This is very clear in the treatment of “signs” in John’s Gospel. (In John’s Gospel miracles are always called “signs”.) This definition has taken root by Christian and non–Christian alike with unfortunate consequences. It has meant that the biblical miracles can be rejected as contrary to science and this has been the theme of much liberal theology since 1800. Some of the early examples are the re–writing of the New Testament to eliminate the miraculous by D. F. Strauss and F.C. Baur in the 1840s. From then on there has been a tendency to reject the Virgin Birth and Empty Tomb and bodily resurrection and if faith is retained the content is purely naturalistic and rejects the possibility of the miraculous. Thus today many Christians in mainstream denominations will reject core doctrines for being anti–scientific. Arthur Peacocke, a recipient of the Templeton Prize, argues very strongly that miracles have no place in the Christian faith as he believes God does not intervene in that way.  Questions about miracles are never far away when one considers the relationship of science and faith, but miracles have been given careful study by writers like C.S.Lewis, Colin Brown and Denis Alexander.


C.S.Lewis Miracles

Colin Brown Miracles and the Critical Mind

**Forster and Marston Reason, Science and Faith, 1999 Monarch, and on website


Genesis 1 to 11

When it comes to science, Genesis 1 to 11 is the locus of most controversy and confusion. There are basically four problem areas; a) the days of Genesis One, b) the Creation of Man and Woman En 1.26 – 2, c) the Fall of Man and the nexus of sin and death and d) the Flood.

As the focus of this volume is on the age of the earth, I shall only consider the first. I have already been sharply critical of those who falsely accuse Christians of hindering the rise of geology. In the two millennia of Christian history there has not been one fixed or even dominant interpretation of the Days of Genesis. The New Testament is silent on the matter and perhaps that should tell us not to make it a touchstone of orthodoxy. The Early Fathers of the first Five Christian Centuries were divided on the matter. Some took the days literally and reckoned the earth would last only 6,000 years as did Barnabas and Theophilus in the second century. Other writers including Augustine did not take the days literally. From this we may conclude that the duration of the Day is a secondary matter, unlike the Trinity and the Person of Christ which were the dominant theological questions of the early church. Further, at that time there was simply no geological evidence on the age of the earth, so people could only speculate from the Bible or various Greek and Roman myths.

The general opinion is that the Christian Church of whatever denomination believed Genesis literally until geological evidence forced them to reconsider the matter in the 19th century. Most writers claim that literalism and a young earth was the orthodox position until Chalmers succumbed to geology in 1802 and put forward his Gap Theory. Many secular and liberal Christian writers argue from this that the church was obscurantist and anti–science and thus Christianity had to bow the knee to science. Some liberal Christians like Bishop Spong use this as an argument as to why Christians must reject the authority of the Bible and discard most of the classical Christian doctrines. Some Christian writers argue differently and posit that to be orthodox in belief, as the church was before 1800, a Christian must believe in a literal Six-Day Creation. This almost pincer movement of atheists and liberal Christians on one side and young earthers on the other often makes it difficult for a Christian to claim that it is perfectly orthodox to believe in an old earth now and it was also orthodox to do so in 1800.

Though this is a very common perception, there was not a unanimous belief in a Six-day creation in the past. It is, of course, correct to say that most writers in the Reformation period and many until the early 19th century did believe that Creation took place in about 4000BC, but many did not. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552?-1618) in his History of the World (1614) written in the Tower of London considered the world to be created in about 4000 BC. Raleigh’s date was the same as that proposed by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Roman Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621), and the devisor of the map projection, Mercator (1512-1594). A century earlier Columbus (1451-1506) was more generous with 5443 BC. These few dates show how widely accepted a date of 4000 to 5000 BC was for the origin of the earth. The majority of Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians concurred on about 4000BC and the Geneva Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) typically reckoned “the present world is drawing to a close before it has completed its six thousandth year.”

As the Reformation progressed some developed a revamped Chiliasm, that is that the earth will last “six days” of one thousand years (a millennium) followed by the seventh chiliastic day  – the Millennium. In the early 1600s the Dutch Protestant theologian Josef Scaliger put creation at 25 October 3950 BC. (Autumn was a favored time for Creation, as the fruits would provide sustenance for the winter.) The best known Chiliaist was Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh (1581-1656). Ussher wrote Annales Veteris Testamenti in 1650, which was a solid piece of chronological scholarship in which he argued from historical grounds that Jesus was born in 4BC. But he is remembered for his date of creation – 4004 BC. Despite popular representations, he did not arrive at this figure from arithmetic applied to dates of patriarchs and other Old Testament figures. To Ussher there were six Chiliastic days of 1000 years apiece followed by the seventh day of the Millennium. There were four Chiliaistic days before Christ and thus Creation took place in 4004 BC, on the night before 23 October. Adam was created on 28 October. This date causes amusement to many, but the rest of Ussher’s chronology was very sound for the 17th century, as he was a careful scholar. ( figure n.) His chronological calculations for the rest of the Old Testament are close to today’s estimates. Had not Ussher’s chronology been inserted in many English Bibles from 1704, he would probably have been forgotten, except to historians who valued his careful work on most of the Old Testament. As a result Ussher’s date of 4004BC is even today regarded as official church doctrine until the geologists demonstrated the vast age of the earth.

And this is where the story stops for most, but it is where the story begins. We have already considered how geology and its arguments for a vast age developed from early beginnings in the late 17th Century. One of the features of the Renaissance as understood by the various churches was that all knowledge was part of a unified whole and thus ‘Biblical History’ was related to other spheres of knowledge both classical and modern. Thus Genesis was not considered in isolation but with reference to those classical writers like Heisiod who spoke about chaos. It was widely held that God first created chaos (identical with tohu vabohu – the ‘without form and void’ of Genesis 1:2) and sometime later re–ordered the chaotic creation in Six Days. This extended understanding of Genesis predates any scientific influence.  In the early 17th century the Arminian Hugo Grotius in The Truth of the Christian Faith in Six Books argued that ‘the most antient tradition among all Nations [Phonecian and Greek] is exactly agreeable to the Revelation of Moses’[1] and his work was later translated and widely available and used throughout Europe. Many later writers, like Nathaniel Grew, cited Grotius in support of a chaos of undefined duration. In 1624 Mersenne, priest–mathematician, wrote a massive commentary of early Genesis (size 18”x12”x5”!!) adding much mathematics to his exegesis which included many references to classical writers.[2] He also included a chaos of undefined duration.

Some decades later from the 1660s Steno, Ray, Woodward, Whiston and others began to study the earth and laid the foundations of geology. Several wrote Theories of the Earth, which built geology around Genesis 1 to 11. Most take these Theories as teaching a literal Six-Day Creation and Flood, but in fact they all speak of the initial creation of chaos, which lasted for some time. Burnett wrote of indefinite chaos, ‘so it is understood by the general consent of commentators’ and the commentator Bishop Patrick wrote of the duration of chaos that’ (I)t might be a great while’. A survey of these Theories and theological writings of this period show that most did not follow Ussher’s chronology and allowed more time for creation. I am tempted to call these writers MECs (middle–aged earth creationists). This view was the dominant one until after 1760, when an increasing number of writers, acknowledging geological arguments for a great age, interpreted Genesis accordingly. They did this in two ways. Some argued that the Days were indefinitely long – extending Whiston’s idea that the Days were each a year long. The Swiss geologist de Luc reckoned the days to be a few thousand years, but Buffon, who was no atheist or deist, argued for tens or hundreds of millennia. Others kept the Six Days of re–ordering and extended the duration of chaos to include all geological time. Thomas Chalmers classically expressed this in 1802 with his Gap Theory. All Chalmers did was to tweak the common interpretation of Genesis.

By considering the way these interpretations developed we can see that Christians did not suddenly realize in about 1800 that geologists were arguing for millions of years and then as a desperate expedient made up the Gap Theory or the Day–Age Theory in a last–ditch attempt to save Christianity from geologists. This is how it is often presented in popular books and websites. In fact, Chalmers’ Gap Theory is a gradual development over two centuries from Grotius’s apologetics, as he himself claimed.

Though there are theological problems with the Gap Theory it was the dominant view held by conservative Christians until the last thirty years when many began to insist on a literal Genesis. However forms of the Day Age theory and the Gap Theory have been held by Christians since the time of the early church which saves them from the charge of being sops to geological ages. During the 19th Century most evangelical Christians held to one or the other and that includes the architects of Inerrancy – the Princeton theologians Charles and Archibald Hodge and the great B.B.Warfield. Space forbids listing any others. Many of the contributors to The Fundamentals and early 20th Century Fundamentalists agreed with Hodge and Warfield. It is often not known that very few 19th Century Evangelicals took Genesis literally and denied geological ages.

However in the 21st Century we cannot consider Genesis independently of our understanding of modern science. That is the case, whether we are Christian or not, or whether we accept the findings of science or not. The result is that the options presented are often reduced to either accepting Genesis in a literal sense, or else bending or breaking Genesis to conform to the dictates of science and rejecting the “traditional” literal interpretation. A consideration of the history of the interpretation of Genesis One will prevent such a stark choice and much heartbreak.

Today several liberal theologians claim that before Darwin all took the Bible literally and now cannot. Thus today that means one can accept neither Genesis nor the rest of the Bible, thus the OT becomes folk tales about Israel and the NT is demythologised. The existence of Jesus is accepted but his Divinity, the Virgin Birth and any objectivity of the Resurrection are firmly denied. This is also the common fare of the humanist, atheist and confused unbeliever. The net result is a considerable scepticism and resistance to the Bible and Christ’s claims.



Forster and Marston Reason, Science and Faith


The Problem of Perception


Last year a colleague of mine was unjustly critical of American churches at a meeting. I confess to interrupting him and saying that this was racist. It stopped him in his tracks! He suffered from a false perception of American churches and only focussed on the bad. I have spent too much time with American Christians to allow such false perceptions to go unchallenged. Unfortunately false perceptions of America and her churches are rife in Britain, as are false perceptions about the British in America. It is essential to have a good knowledge of the other nation so we can see both the good and the bad in them and discern where the two nations are simply different.

There is also a serious problem of perception on the relationship of science and religion. The alleged conflict is often a matter of perception, and at times this perception can be fuelled by ideological concerns, especially by some with an atheistic axe to grind. Believing the atheist to be correct in their historical facts some Christians react and thus develop a perception, which perceives that science is anti–Christian. The two mis–perceptions feed each other and cause havoc both in churches and in the classroom.

One of my purposes in this short account of the history of changing concepts of science is to challenge false perceptions both by agenda–driven atheists and Christians as they have both done so much damage to the Gospel over the last century. Despite the fact that today there is so much good history of science (and its relationship with Christianity), whether by believers or not, it is simply overlooked and ignored by many Christians. There are many fine Christian historians of science who can help our understanding; Mark Noll, David Livingstone, Edward Davies, David Knight, the late Reijer Hooykaas, Colin Russell, Paul Marston, Martin Rudwick, Ted Larsen, and also many historians, who make no Christian claims, whose work is sympathetic and helpful; Geoffrey Cantor, Michael Ruse, Ron Numbers, Peter Bowler, Hugh Torrens. Perpetuating false perceptions mars much popular writing on the subject from non–believers and believers alike. The one presents scientists as anti–Christian and the other Christians as obscurantist bigots.




Very briefly, we have selectively looked at the development of science in the last 3000 years. It shows how we have moved from a pre– and non–scientific culture to one dominated by science. Particular emphasis has been given to geology and astronomy because of the implications on the age of the earth and the universe.

The development of the sciences has been put into the cultural and religious context of the time, so that any possible conflict can be seen in context rather than according to atheistic spectacles, which makes us judge the Christian Church in a negative way.

It cannot be denied that science causes a major problem to many Christians and that non–Christians often believe that science contradicts Christianity. As a result unbelievers believe that science has disproved faith and good numbers of believers hold that to be a Christian one must reject large parts of science. However by looking at the issues historically, the problem of perception is raised and identified. Here the whole issue is confused and inflamed by the Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion, which was introduced by 19th century polemicists like Draper and White. This misperception has been widely accepted and is used by atheistic popularizers to denigrate Christianity. Though the conflict thesis has been refuted by many historians, both non–Christian and Christian, it still forms the perception of the majority of people.

It is this false perception that does so much damage to the Christian Faith throughout the world. One of the purposes of this chapter is to change that misperception and recognize that in the past many of the scientists who developed their particular fields were devout Christians.

I will conclude with the epitaph to Adam Sedgwick, the greatest evangelical geologist of all, in the church of his birth at Dent in the Yorkshire Dales;













[1] Grotius, The Truth of the Christian Faith in Six Books tr John Clarke, 1719, section XVI

[2] Mersenne

Oxford theologian outs himself – as being on the right.

Some personal comments. I met Nigel Biggar in 1999 at Oriel college at a Gaudy i.e. graduates gathering!! He wanted me to read a lesson in the chapel. This was odd as I’d never been to chapel while at Oriel.

We haven’t met since but I noted his writings didn’t fall into the usual watermelon mush beloved by today’s Anglicans

Reading this I found we had much in common especially over the silly RMF Rhodes Must Fall movement which wanted to remove rhodes statue from Oriel Coll as Rhodes was reckoned to be a racist. Having been in South Africa working in mining I followed much of Rhodes legacy, – his shady deals in mining , the Jameson raid etc. However he was not a racist as he ensured non-whites had the vote in Cape Province way back in 1900. Now that is progressive

Here Biggar makes some good points.



Rev Prof Nigel Biggar, Prof of Moral Theology at Oxford and former chaplain of Oriel

I was certainly in the sixties, but I was never of them. Born in 1955, I grew up alongside the post-war emergence of pop culture, the rumble of resentment against Americans as they waxed and we waned, the flourishing of utopian flower-power, and the associated debunking of all the old certainties and heroes. While Blackadder didn’t dare to mock the Battle of Britain pilots, he was merciless in his caricature of their fathers.

Nevertheless, my Inner Edwardian refused to vacate my soul, and so I found the cultural changes swirling around me painful and unsettling, and I resisted swallowing the New Narrative whole. But observing that the tide was against me, I went into inner exile.


Growing old has its advantages. One is that we come to know our own mind more clearly; the other, that we cease to care so much what others think of it. It’s not that I am always sure of myself; it’s rather that I feel that I have a vocation and a duty to say it as I see it. If I’m proven wrong, then we’ll all learn through the proving. But if I’m right, then what I say needs to be heard. Either way, the truth wins out.

I first started making trouble in 2013, when I published a book called In Defence of War. My pacifist confrères were, of course, aghast. But even others baulked at my defence of military intervention without UN authorisation. One whispered to me that I was abusing my authority as an eminent professor; another, that I was just being “contrarian”. Somehow they couldn’t compute that I say what I do simply because I believe it. And rather than tackle the argument, they preferred to tackle my integrity.

The same thing happened the following year when I produced a book that argues – with oodles of qualification – in favour of the nation-state, a certain sort of patriotism, the Anglican establishment, and (even) the British empire. In response, a colleague of 30 years, who has never once taken the trouble to engage me in conversation on these matters, published a review in which he described my opinions as “glorying in their unfashionability”. No responsible, rational engagement. Not even charity.

Then came the First World War. Late in 2013 I had published an article in Standpoint, which argued that that Britain was right to go to war in 1914. Early in the New Year Michael Gove praised it in the Daily Mail, provoking the Cambridge historian Richard Evans to enter the lists in the New Statesman, where he dismissed what I’d written as “absurd”, declining to offer reasons while sneering at the “self-importance of his [ie, my] tribe”. Sneering at whole tribes is what we call “bigotry”. But in this case Evans was shrewd in lining up the victims of his prejudice. Had he chosen Jews, blacks or gays, it would have cost him his job. But because he targeted the class of Christian theologians, and because he is an eminent Man of the Left, it was fair game.

And then there was Rhodes. Because of my sympathy for the British empire, and because I’d been reading about the history of British involvement in South Africa for the past four summers, when the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement started to besiege Oriel College in the autumn of 2015, I felt moved to act, first of all in print and then in a debate at the Oxford Union.


About that debate two things are remarkable. First was the opening sally of one of my opponents, Richard Drayton. Drayton argued that, if he were to presume to offer his opinions on the theology of the eucharist, he, as an historian of Africa, wouldn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Therefore, nor should mine on Rhodes, I being a mere theologian. Had there been time to respond, I’d have said that, had an Africanist shared his views on the eucharist, I’d have treated them on their merits, and that it was disappointing that he wouldn’t extend the same justice to me.

Then there was the intimidation. The RMF group in Oxford was little more than 2,000 strong. On the generous assumption that they were all Oxford University students, that amounts to about 10 per cent of the student body. They were a small minority, but an intimidating one. During the debate, every statement by an RMF proponent met promptly with a storm of cheers and applause. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d have thought the audience overwhelmingly supportive. But at one moment I decided to look rather than listen, and observed that, during the thunderous applause, most of those present were actually sitting on their hands.

But the most shocking revelation of the whole controversy was that the RMF activists had no interest in the truth. I laid out my views in the London Times in December 2015, in the Oxford Union debate in January 2016, and in Standpoint that March. Those views included a demonstration that the quotation usually cited as proof of Rhodes’ genocidal racism is a mixture of fiction, distortion, and fabrication. No one at all has challenged my account, either then or since. The truth about the past, and the duty to do justice to it, is of no interest. History, it seems, is merely an armoury from which to ransack politically expedient weapons.


So what are the morals of my story? One, that academics – despite their self-perception – are no more morally virtuous than any other class of people. The fact that academics are unusually clever doesn’t make them unusually honest, just, or charitable.

The second moral is more hopeful. The zealous certainty of a minority can tie the tongues of an uncertain majority. But when someone dares to stand up and out, others begin to find their voices, reassured that what they think can be said in public without risking social death. For, despite appearances, they are not alone in thinking it.

Not 4004 BC. The Doctrine of Creation considered geologically.

Some years ago I was asked to write an Anglican view of creation for the Geological Society of London’s Special Publication on  Geology and Religion. 


Here it  is. My brief was to deal with the relationship of geology  to Christianity. Hence I omitted the important issue of the environment which would have required as much wordage again. Hence I only deal with the Geology/Genesis aspects and consider the variety of responses from the Sea of Faith, throught the (sane) views of those like Peacocke, Polkinghorne and McGrath and finally Creationism  in its various forms.


Needless to say Triceratops-riding Christians were never far away.

Caution Creationists3


Here is my chapter

An Anglican priest’s perspective on the doctrine of creation in the church today