Making Sense: Forum #3

Making Sense:

  • An Exploration of Science and Faith
  • Topic for discussion "Is Christian Faith Dangerous?"
  • A panel discussion
  • Dr Sean Devine, physicist and systems analyst, VUW
  • Dr Dennis Gordon, evolutionary biologist, NIWA
  • Prof Jeff Tallon, winner of the Rutherford Medal, 2002, physicist, VUW
  • Dr Neil Whitehead, formerly of the DSIR, interdisciplinary scientist
  • Dr Nicola Hoggard Creegan, theologian and mathematician, BCNZ
  • Prof Chris Marshall, biblical scholar, VU
  • Chaired by Prof Jonathan Boston, Deputy Director of the Institute of Policy Studies, VUW

My initial thoughts before it all starts:

  • I believe the Lord gave me a scripture and a word for today.
  • 2 Peter 3:3 "…knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
  • 4: and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."
  • 5: For this they wilfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water,
  • 6: by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.
  • 7: But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
  • My question will be "Given your belief in Evolution, could you be wrong?"
  • If yes, then is all well and good. My belief system determines you are wrong.
  • If no, then you’ve proven yourself a religiously dogmatic non-scientist.
  • I also believe that the answer to the topic of the day is
  • Of course, we’re dangerous because we "turned the whole world upside down"
  • However, it was only Christian faith which first permitted intelligent men to explore a perceived orderly universe, in order to "think God’s thoughts after him."

Prof Boston starts the panel discussion:

  • Gave a good summary of the current position about the conflict between scientists and Christians.
  • He made reference to Sarah Palin (newly announced Republican VP hopeful) and her conservative opinions against Global Warming being caused by human activity. (His tone implied he disagreed with her.)
  • "Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that non-Christians consider us Christians are dangerous."

Dr Sean Devine:

  • Spoke accurately that Galileo’s persecution was not due to any threat to Christian doctrine, but because of his threat to established authority.
  • Feels the current scientific antagonism is recent (4 years) and reactive (Intelligent Design). I dispute this: it’s always been there (see 2 Peter 3:3-7 above).

Dr Dennis Gordon:

  • Spoke accurately that Dawkins points to "Christian" crackpots as indicative of all of us.
  • Spoke in depth of Sam Harris’s position too.
  • Spoke of Christopher Hitchen’s book too.
  • We can respond without fear that the truth is ours.

Prof Jeff Tallon

  • Background Issues:
  • The consistent theme in Scripture is that Creation is real.
  • His starting point is that God sustains all physical law by His word.
  • The achievements of science are truly amazing.
  • It’s easy to understand why some believe faith is puerile.
  • God doesn’t respect Scientists any more than any others. Perhaps scientist can appreciate Him more fully? (I don’t believe this.)
  • Christian faith is not blind faith. It’s underpinned by much objective knowledge.
  • Science has gone beyond intellect and leaves us with a sense of awe.
  • Science seems concrete but under the surface are layers of (?) (I think he was saying there are controversies and changeable theories).

Dr Neil Whitehead

  • Waffle
  • We can’t know anything?!?!?

Dr Nicola Hoggard

  • Is Christian faith dangerous?
  • An understandable response by people without faith.
  • In the mystery of God, a lot of things are hidden, especially to people like Dawkins, but also like Jesus was not universally accepted in His day.
  • Is reality all about a matter of interpretation?
  • A discovery of meaning.
  • Evolution is riven with ambiguities.
  • There is much room for rapprochement.
  • But within theology, there is no wriggle room.
  • Without a Fall, what of the problem of evil?

Prof Chris Marshall

  • Is there a clash?
  • In principle there can be no clash, if both claim to deal with objective reality.
  • Christian theology has always asserted that some knowledge of God is available via natural observation. Natural theology can’t prove God’s existence (some see and don’t believe). (Not sure I believe this, what about Intelligent Design?) The fingers of the creator are discernable.
  • Both science and theology are hermeneutical (attempting to make sense of reality). However, the science of chaos theory (the theology of "oops") is in conflict with a theology of order.

Prof Boston asks Dr Devine re: Christian perceived arrogance. However, the former Pope gave instructions to his Catholic Theologians to "take account of" modern scientific advances in order to (a) see whether its useful for them; and (b) whether doctrine should be altered. Comments?

  • Jeff: ???
  • Nicola: there’s an attitude that Christian can choose not to believe certain findings of science. That’s arrogance.
  • Chris: there’s not much that science can add to existing doctrine.
  • Neil: Did the Fall affect Mathematics?
  • Nicola: no, only maths wasn’t affected. Evolution has freed us from the burden of evil: we aren’t responsible for tsunami’s (Adam’s sin put all creation under bondage).
  • Sean: humans are the only beings who have responsibility for the moral choice we make. We need redemption.
  • Nicola: I agree.
  • Dennis: we’re unique primates; we alone have a concept of the above, the Other.
  • Jeff: St Augustine wrote about this: where Scripture is capable of multiple interpretation, we need to careful not to attach to any one particular view that would need to be revised. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics proves decay, death is fundamental to our universe. Physics therefore is responsible for evil?!?!? (tongue in cheek)
  • Jonathan: why do we consistently have a conflict between Christians and science? E.g. Dr Wayne Goodin and 100 theologians signed confession against Climate Change science. "How is it possible that educated men can put themselves up against the overwhelming weight of scientific knowledge?"
  • Neil: it’s not as clear-cut as you put out.
  • (My thought: Jonathan sounds very zealous)
  • Jeff: Is this a red-herring? It could be used as both finger-pointing at Christians and some scientists.

My thoughts after the panel discussion, before the Q&A:

  • I find their use of terminology as deliberately obfuscating as any Mormon to whom I’ve witnessed.
  • On the surface, they all say "creation" but underneath they don’t mean the same Creation that I believe in.
  • However, I want be gracious, and won’t say any of the above, merely my original question:
  • "In your expert opinion, did God (however you define It) use Evolution in order to Create? Could you be wrong? Why or why not?"


  1. Jill asks Sean "re: single celled animals, did they choose not to evolve?"
    • Dennis: Selection processes are thrust upon them.
    • There is a continuum of life that exists today.
    • Therefore we have to be careful not to limit God by our understanding.
    • Therefore if we don’t understand evolution, that doesn’t invalidate it!
    • = faith!
  2. Comment made about Christians being arrogant. However your comments about the anti-Climate Change people are arrogant is in itself!
    • Sean: Scientists can be arrogant (if they are not Christians). But Christians should never be arrogant.
    • Jeff: arrogance also prevents belief. "Intellectuals by Paul Johnson" book shows their views were based on their morality.
    • Nicola: whether or not its true, we should be doing those things anyway as they are good. (My thought: good things done for wrong reasons [e.g. worship of Ghaia] are still evil.)
  3. I’m not a scientist. But there are Christian Creationist Scientists. E.g Dr Jonathan Sarfati. How come?
    • Jeff: it’s not a measure of quantity of knowledge. It’s to do with correct interpretation. Life is not a straight-forward thing. Life shouldn’t be here. I’m trying to have it both ways. At the end of day, scientists will sort it out (with integrity). (=faith!)
  4. The Fall. How does God’s love and mercy and justice, work out across the entire universe?
    • Nicola: (her non-scientific hunch is) there’s more to the universe than just us. Until we get out there, we can’t know what their redemptive story is.
    • Neil: the Scripture confines us to the Earth. Concentrate on ourselves.
    • Sean: CS Lewis wrote some Sci-Fi about this. Read them.
    • Dennis: We don’t know. Scripture is silent (rubbish, "all creation groans under travail from Adam’s sin")
  5. What is knowledge? What is Truth? If knowledge continually evolves, is it ever possible to know objective truth? Don’t you end up with agnostism (without revelation)?
    • Jeff: scientific knowledge is acknowledged to be intrinsically provisional. However no theories have been overturned, all have merely been refined (rubbish: there are more than 4 elements that make up the universe. This is classic historical reductionism and deification of science.) However, we’re moving to a unified theory of everything. Therefore, if there’s a single narrative in the physical, it’s not unreasonable to assume there’s a single narrative in the spiritual; therefore there is an objective reality.
    • Nicola: seeking beauty is our goal
    • Neil: Jesus claim, "I am Truth" is very radical.
    • Sean: we’re limited by our senses. Therefore we have to careful that we don’t think that we know more than we do.
    • Dennis: "it is the glory of God to conceal, and the glory of kings to seek out". So therefore scientific enquiry is justified.
    • Jonathan: sums it up.
  6. John asks "re the timing of atheistic scientist attacks, especially during debate about Global Warming. Paradoxically they say we’re the biggest problem on the planet. Why?"
    • Chris: Dawkins is blind to the atrocities of atheistic regimes.
  7. It’s not arrogant for Christians to talk about the Holy Spirit, a subject that is wholly missing from scientific discourse.
    • Nicola: not just the Holy Spirit in our lives but the whole of Creation.
    • Sean: the transformational power of the HS is the critical difference between the Christian and anyone else.
    • Jeff: the motivation of our attackers is usually personal hurts. These need dealing to.
  8. Don Stuart, book about Egyptian archaeology, universities have dropped the ball. You can’t trust the scientists to be truthful. The original text justifies the gap theory. Comments?
    • Sean: There has to be engagement between mediators of both worlds
    • Chris: Does the Bible have anything relevant to say to Science?
    • Jeff: Genesis does a spectacular job of setting out some "basic truths" without recourse to any scientific language.
    • Jonathan: it’s very difficult, because of specialisation, for interdisciplinary dialogue, not just between theologians and scientists, but also between scientists.
  9. Young child asks "why do some people think Christians are arrogant?"
    • Chris: There are many Christians in the world. Some are; some aren’t. Scientists ought to have more religious awe.
    • Neil: Desensitisation.
    • Dennis: When we are certain we’re right, we get arrogant. We don’t argue because we’re afraid.
  10. What is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics?
    • Neil: "you can win, you can’t get even, you can’t even get out of the game."
    • Jeff: the universe is running down (in the long run)
  11. Shouldn’t theology evolve?
    • Nicola: absolutely agree
    • Jeff: too much already in there (the Bible); that’s quite enough for me.
  12. The Theory of Evolution (increase of information) contradicts the 2nd Law. Comments?
    • Jeff: An open system reverses this. (faith! The universe is a closed system. You’ve just moved the problem to theory.)
  13. I got to ask my question. (Do you believe in [molecules to man, millions of years] evolution and could you be wrong?) Initially they tried to dither about definitions, but I nailed them to millions of years, not thousands.
    • Chris: yes and yes
    • Nicola: Yes, and yes
    • Neil: possibly seeded from space (merely a diversion)
    • Jeff: yes and yes
    • Dennis: yes (and didn’t answer implying "no")
    • Sean: possible we were all created 1 minute ago with memories intact therefore yes (and didn’t answer implying "no." This was merely a diversion and would make God out to be a liar, as He didn’t give Adam any false memories.)
    • James: predictable. I hope the Holy Spirit works on those that were honest enough to answer yes, and those that answered no now realise the depth of their Religious convictions in Evolution.
  14. I missed this question, as I was listening to my answers and typing them up during it. I think it was along the lines of how can we encourage or why aren’t there more meetings like this one?
    • The panel said it’s hard because there is unwillingness on both sides to engage (rubbish: CMI are there to engage.)

I find it ironic that as I type, the Chairman is summing up and reminding us to have mutual humility, when they’ve universally panned the conservative view and the Creationist view. They are post-modern relativists and worshippers at the altar of a false doctrine. In my opinion, they are worshipping a false Jesus, are teaching a false doctrine and basically not Christians. I don’t believe their testimony can have the radical power of the early apostles.


9 thoughts on “Making Sense: Forum #3”

  1. There is a science that brings the two together( spiritual science or Anthroposophy) !
    Why wasting so much time and energy to discuss these things when the answer is already known ? Kind regards, Adrian


  2. Very good, an interesting read. You are an awesome ambassador.ButAll it has done is upset youNothing has changedMany are called but few are chosenTherefore do not be anxiouus about tomorrow; for tomorrow shall beanxious for it\’s own things. Sufficient to the day is the evil of it.If all else fails, I have some good pills which may help.


  3. Hi James,
    Dr Neil Whitehead* Waffle * We can\’t know anything?!?!?

    could you expand on you comments regarding Neil Whitehead please. He is a personal frined of mine and have always found him concise.


  4. Kiaora,
    Wayne, I\’ll try to expand, although it\’s been a week since I took those notes. 
    Perhaps it\’s hubris, but I believe myself to be a reasonably intelligent individual.  However, I found Dr Whitehead\’s comments to be near-unintelligible dribble.  Perhaps he considered the venue (a church) and the audience (non-tertiary students) beneath him to address in any form of meaningful dialogue.  I think he was enjoying playing around the edges of the discussion, rather than actively engaging.  If I was his professor, I would have given him a D for effort.
    For example, his attempt to divert my straight-forward question "Do you  believe that [millions of years] evolution is an established fact?"  His answer "maybe aliens seeded us" is instructive.  It tells me two things: (a) he knows there are holes in the theory of evolution that cannot be explained by naturalistic assumptions and (b) he is unwilling to commit to a position.
    I have been accused (see below) by a Christian brother of being hasty in my assessments.  However, I believe that after 3 x 3 hour sessions, I have seen through the lies to the heart of the matter: they all consider evolution a scientifically-established fact, and are desparately attempting to harmonise the Bible (out of some misguided sense of loyalty) in accordance with Man\’s current understanding.


  5. 02 September 1:53 a.m.

    I\’ll read over this properly (and fully) a little later, but while I findthis quite interesting (and wish that I had had time to go to some of theearlier sessions) you might want to take a little care with howbroadly/quickly you pigeonhole some of these people. -In terms of how youattribute particular views to the entire panel.I know a couple of these people(panellists) a bit, and one quite well.The one that I know particularly well most certainly does not fit theprofile of, "They are post-modern relativists and worshippers at the altarof a false doctrine." –I remember an interesting conversation with thisperson about the applicability of post-modernism which they found to be"intellectually dishonest" among other things.Just because one discusses particular topics with a particular ontology (andsome cases epistemology) that does not completely conform to particularChristian values does not mean that they are not adhering to Biblicalphilosophy. Far from it, I think that such people are engaging theircommunity (particularly the non-Christian community) where they are at, andshould be commended for it. Non-engagement strategies of debate should onlybe used as a last resort, not a first resort. The non-engagement should onlycome about when fundamental value/belief differences arise, but even then,effort should be made to maintain a degree of continuing dialogue.I commend to you:(a) Acts 17 –Particularly v. 19-23.(b) God\’s Home Page by Mike Riddell. (First half is great, particularly on\’engagement\’, but the second-half runs out of steam somewhat)Kind Regards,Roy.


  6. 02 September 8:54 p.m.
    Nah, not too upset. Just get mildly frustrated when I see this form ofdis-engagement (including from my own family). Hope things are well guys,Roy.Quote for the Week:All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer,but none can see the strategy out of which great victory is evolved.-Sun Tzu


  7. 03 September 11:31 p.m.

    Thanks for going to all the trouble of attending, engaging with, and reporting on this series.Most interesting reading. I\’d hoped to attend but managed 0 out of 4.
    Whilst I may not agree with all your views, from what you report, the position mainly adopted by the speakers is disappointing and, coming from Christians, disconcerting. Actually, some of it sounds like science-lite as well as as Christianity-lite.
    And so the retreat into privatised belief and from the public square and from engagement with God\’s plan for His whole creation.
    Perhaps a good job I didn\’t go as it would have raised my blood pressure.


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