A Review of "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind"
by Mark A. Noll (Eerdmans 1994)
Reviewed by Andrew S. Kulikovsky B.App.Sc(Hons) MACS
Mark A. Noll is the McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois and a professing evangelical Christian.
This book is meant to be an indictment of evangelical thought and intellectualism, with the idea of inciting evangelicals to act and correct their intellectual shortcomings. This motive is certainly a good one and such an indictment is certainly needed, in light of the tendency for evangelicals to be anti-intellectual and anti-education. However, Noll has gone way overboard with his treat of "fundamentalism" and the creation science movement.
Noll never really defines what he means by "fundamentalism" although he talks of it being a "disaster" and identifies various groups as being fundamentalists. One assumes he means those who hold to full inspiration, inerrancy and authority of scripture and its perspecuity.
He is right to point out the relative naivety of evangelicals in regard to science (p. 127), however he also shows a great deal of naivety himself, when he discusses it in later chapters. Noll appears to mock the idea that the that the Bible may be read and interpreted according to a logical and scientific procedure (p. 127-128). It appear he doubts the perspecuity of scripture. He also generalises about fundamentalists/evangelicals failure to understand the influence of precommitments on conclusions, and about evangelicals naive and uncritical assumptions. He therefore assumes that most evangelical efforts to promote Christian thinking in the world will also be naive (p. 130). He comments that fundamentalism has failed to think in a Christian manner about society, arts, humanity and nature (p. 132). However, the mind boggles in trying to determine how Noll managed to forget all about Francis A. Schaeffer, who in fact wrote 22 books on this very subject! (Surprisingly, Schaeffer’s work and writings are largely ignored by Noll).
Noll rightly criticises the tendency for fundamentalists to give shallow answers, guidance and responses to the people’s questions about current events, and for instructing people by merely quoting proof texts. He notes that these issues are rarely looked at and studied in detail (p. 132). He then affirms that there has been NO fundamentalist philosophy, history, aesthetics, novels, poetry, literary criticism etc. This is surely an overstatement and again, Noll forgets the work of Francis and Edith Schaeffer as well as Norman Geisler.
Noll also correctly points out that any theology that encourages Bible reading as puzzle solving is not just bad theology but prejudicial to intellectual life (p. 142-143). Yet, Noll himself does not accept the plain reading of Genesis 1-11!
Noll also holds to a dual revelation theory (p. 182), but it is completely unreasonable to suggest that general revelation in the natural world should be given equal weighting with the special revelation of scripture. There is no doubt that science has an impact on how we interpret the Bible, but scientific data does not speak for itself - it must be interpreted by fallible human beings with limited knowledge and understanding. The natural world is also a distorted world (Romans 8). Scripture, on the other hand, is written in normal, intelligible, human language, understandable to all. It is also ridiculous to think that the scope of revelation in the natural world comes even close to that of scripture. Looking at the natural world you can see that God exists and that He is powerful, but you won’t see God’s righteousness, man’s need for salvation, or Christ’s substitutionary death or hundreds of other scriptural truths! It should also be noted that Article XII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads: "We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood."
He wrongly accuses fundamentalists/evangelicals of sacrificing the idea that "properly scrutinised results of the main cultures scientific enterprises should assist Biblical interpretation." (p. 185). Those in the creationist movement would totally agree with this - what they object to is the use of results that have not been properly scrutinised!
He also wrongly defines "creationism" as "the effort to construct an alternative, fundamentalist science based directly on the Bible." (p. 186). This gives the impression that creation scientists have invented their own form of science with its own set of rules and methods. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the creation scientists are highly qualified professionals who also publish in secular journals in their respective fields.
Once again, Noll wrongly accuses creation scientists of dropping the idea "that the best theology should understand and incorporate the best science" (p. 186). Again, creation scientists would agree as long as the science is properly scrutinised and verified.
He makes the astounding claim that creationism was not a traditional belief of nineteenth century conservative Protestants (p. 188). One wonders how Noll can make this claim when he is not omniscient by any stretch of the imagination. In any case, a look at the Westminster Confession reveals that Chapter IV states:
I. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.
II. After God made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of god written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.
Noll also accuses creation scientists of being "radical" in their scientific conclusions (p. 189). If by "radical" he means rejecting the humanistic and rationalistic hypotheses and pseudo-science of the modern age then he is right.
The "gap theory" Noll refers to (p. 189) was in fact popularised by C. I. Scofield, who Noll greatly criticises in the previous chapter. The gap theory is rejected by creation scientists.
Noll also claims that the creation science movement originated from the efforts of Seventh-day Adventists such as George McCready-Price. While it is true that McCready-Price's work greatly influenced Henry Morris, it it is simply not true to say that creation science originated from Adventism, especially when one takes into account the rise of creation science outside the USA. For example,. Ken Ham, one of the founders of the Creation Science Foundation in Australia, recently wrote (Creation Ex Nihlo, vol. 19 no. 4, p. 14) that when he became involved in the creationist movement 20 years ago, he had never even heard of George McCready-Price. Ham goes on to state that the reason he was a young-earth creationist was for theological reasons. In any case, the whole discussion of the influence of the Adventists is a genetic fallacy. Noll (and Ronald Numbers whom he quotes) is trying to caste doubt on the credibility of creationism by associating it with a mildly cultic church group. Just because Adventists were very influential in the revival and rise of creationism, does not automatically make creation science false.
Futhermore, It would be far more accurate to state that the old-age theory of creation arose from the efforts of modern rationalistic and humanistic scientists. In fact, such is admitted on p. 43 of Ronald F. Youngblood’s introductory commentary "The Book of Genesis" (2nd edition). After surveying the results of radiometric dating, he states: "In any event, the likelihood that the "early-earth" theory is substantially correct suggests that it might be well for us to take a closer look at the Genesis account of creation."
It is interesting to note that Noll chides the Adventist, Price, as an armchair geologist with little or no formal training, for reconstructing natural history in order to question the understanding of the geological column and indication of an ancient earth. Yet Noll openly accepts and endorses B. B. Warfield’s comments on Genesis and the age of the earth, even though Warfield is also not a qualified geologist. It should also be noted that there are a number of modern young-earth creation scientists such as Andrew Snelling, John Morris and Steve Austin (just to name a few), who do have high qualifications in geology and are regarded as experts in their specific fields.
He also misleads the reader when he writes that Henry Morris was just "a hydraulic engineer". When his book the "Genesis Flood" was published, he was Professor of Hydraulic Engineering and Chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering at Virginia Polytech Institute. He is also a full member of Sigma Xi and Honour member of Chi Epsilon, as well as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi honorary societies. He is also a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and holds professional memberships in American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, Geochemical Society and National Society of Professional Engineers among others. Morris also has biographical listings in 6 different "who’s who" publications.
While Noll admits that Morris had been moving in a creationist direction for some time, he still makes the unsubstantiated claim that Morris found "confirmation in Price’s work". In the introduction and testimony of his book "The Genesis Record", Morris tells a completely different story - it was Irwin Moon’s "Sermons from Science" and regularly reading the Bible again which led him to creationism. Once again, Noll’s research is poorly done.
Noll, views the 6-day creation reading of Genesis as a "literal one" but it would be more accurate to describe it as the "plain" reading.
He appears to ridicule the notion that there were major structural disjunctions between the original created order and the postfall and postflood worlds (p. 195). Yet the Bible clearly teaches that this is the case. In Genesis 3:14-19 we read that the serpent is cursed above all the livestock and wild animals (implying that the livestock and wild animals are also cursed). Women are to have greatly increased pains in childbirth. The ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin and will produce thorns and thistles. And eventually Man will return to the ground. This is confirmed by Romans 8:20-22, which states that the creation has been "subjected to frustration" by God, and that it will be "liberated from its bondage and decay" in the future and that it has been "groaning as in the pains of childbirth" waiting for this liberation. Also, Romans 5:12-14 states: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned - for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come." With regard to the flood, it is only logical and sensible to conclude that such a global flood would have had a massive geological impact on the natural world.
Again Noll, makes the astounding claim that creationism is "making it much more difficult to think clearly about human origins" (p. 197). Yet it is creationists who hold to the "plain" and simple reading of Genesis ("plain" is a more accurate description than "literal"). The old-earthers, on the other hand, insist on a complicated, figurative and non-chronological reading, despite the narrative nature of the text. Noll also accuses creationists of not being careful thinkers (p. 197), and again no reason or documentation is given to support his accusation. Presumably, it is because they don’t agree with him!
He also forgets to point out that there are a number of Old Testament scholars who disagree with Bruce Waltke’s conclusions (p. 198), such as John Whitcomb and James Barr. He also does a "straw man" with creationist hermeneutics (p. 198). Creationists believe that Genesis 1-11 should be read plainly and that it is possible to derive simple conclusions from these chapters, one of which is that the earth is relatively young (ie. less than 10,000 years). What Noll fails to point out is that those who reject the creationist interpretation of Genesis 1-11, also read it with their own preunderstandings about the age of the earth - preunderstandings that are derived directly from the conclusions of rationalistic and humanistic pseudoscience.
Noll goes on to make the incredibly naive claim that research and experiments are not important to creationists! (p. 198) Firstly, scientific research is very expensive, requiring substantial funding from governments and industry. This money is usually not available to creation scientists, so there is a huge limitation to what direct research into creationism can be done. Secondly, in spite of this limitation, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), the Creation Research Society and the Creation Science Foundation/Answers in Genesis (CSF/AIG) all undertake whatever direct research they can in a young-earth creationist framework.
Noll chides creationists for not looking at the world they wish to understand in light of the Bible (p. 199). This amazing statement simply highlights Noll’s utter ignorance of creationists work and publications. One only has to look at the literally thousands of articles, technical monographs and books published by creation scientists on the natural world to realise that Noll really has no idea what he is talking about.
His misguided accusations continue when he includes a quote insinuating that creationists commit the sin of intellectual pride by believing they can "conjure the knowledge of the nature of things out of one’s own head instead of seeking it patiently in the Book of Nature." (p. 200). In actual fact creationists believe that knowledge of the nature of things is revealed by God in simple human language in the early chapters of Genesis. It is the old-earthers who commit the sin of intellectual pride by believing they can conjure up knowledge of nature using their own fallible methods which are based on humanity’s limited knowledge and understanding.
Again, it appears Noll does not accept the perspecuity of scripture (p. 201). Yet Article IV of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states: "We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation. We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration." This statement was signed by over 300 noted evangelical scholars including James Boice, Norman L. Geisler, John Gerstner, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, Harold Lindsell, John Warwick Montgomery, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, Robert Preus, Earl Radmacher, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, and John Wenham (note that some of these also hold to an old-earth theory). Noll seems to imply that creationists interpret the Bible with no regard for scientific evidence (p. 205-206). This is not so. Creationists simply hold the revelation of scripture over and above the subjective evidence from science. Again, Article XII of the Chicago Statement reads: "We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood."
Noll quotes Warfield, who states that the age of the earth and natural mechanisms have no theological significance (p. 206). But it is clear they do, since an old earth with natural mechanisms that included death, suffering and bloodshed before the fall, would be in direct contradiction to scripture. Contra Warfield, Calvin held to a literal 6 day creation (p. 207), which may be confirmed by looking at his commentary on Genesis. The reason why Warfield and other theologians come to different conclusions is due to presuppositions. Warfield presupposed that the earth was very old and then interpreted the Bible to fit his presupposition.
Noll uses a logically fallacious argument to suggest that "If the consensus of modern scientists, who devote their lives to looking at the data of the physical world, is that humans have existed on the planet for a very long time, it is foolish for Biblical interpreters to say that ‘the Bible teaches’ the recent creation of human beings." (p. 207). One wonders, if Noll also believes that it is foolish for interpreters to say the Bible teaches a virgin birth without IVF technology and bodily resurrection from the dead, since the consensus of scientists who devote their lives to looking at the natural world, is that these are impossible! Noll’s line of reasoning is completely fallacious. Consensus is never a necessary indicator of truth - a billion Chinese can be wrong! While Noll chides creationists for being uncritical, he himself uncritically accepts the conclusions of rationalistic and humanistic pseudoscience as indisputable proven facts, when in fact they are not. Neither does he mention the large volume of data that suggests a young earth.
He notes that Francis Schaeffer urged more careful attention to the theological meaning of general cultural developments (p. 223), but fails to mention that Schaeffer also believed in a young-earth, the perspecuity of scripture and a disjunction between the original created world and the fallen world.
Noll quotes Young, who accuses evangelicals of being afraid of what scientific discussions might "turn up" (p. 232). However, what evangelicals are afraid of is having the foundations of Christian Theology blown apart by speculations based on rationalistic and humanistic pseudoscience and unproven hypotheses. Young complains about the lack of anthropological study in evangelical circles, but creationists are certainly not guilty of such. Indeed, creationists have pointed out that almost every known culture in existence has a ‘great flood’ legend, with many details that match exactly with the Biblical description of Noah’s flood. Creationists have also proposed that the many dragon legends and references to dragons in scripture are most probably references to dinosaurs. Again, creationists have pointed out that the description of the Behemoth in Job 40:15-24 matches perfectly that of the Brachiosaurus.
Even Noll’s comments on the Bible reveal an amazing naivety. John 20:31 is merely John’s reason for including what he did in his gospel, not the purpose of the whole Bible! (p. 244).
In the final analysis, Noll’s book is very disappointing and it is quite obvious that Noll himself is all too often guilty of the very things for which he attacks creationists - a gross naivety of science, uncritical acceptance of ideas, bad hermeneutics and a poor handling of scripture.
It is quite ironic that Noll includes this quote from Hodge: "If the Bible cannot contradict science, neither can science contradict the Bible…" Hodge continues: "There are some good men who are much too ready to adopt the opinions and theories of scientific men, and to adopt forced and unnatural interpretations of the Bible, to bring it into accord with these opinions." (p. 184). This is a remarkable description of Mark A. Noll and many others who hold to the same old-earth, progressive creationist/theistic evolutionist ideas.