Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Telling Stories

The following is attributed to Archbishop Rowan Williams in a talk on theology and science delivered last night (I think). I am attempting to confirm this attribution by someone I know who I believe was at the talk last night. Here's the quote:

Both Neo Darwinism and Christianity are telling stories. Christianity acknowledges that fact, Neo Darwinism doesn't.

By Neo Darwinism the AB has in his sites the likes of Dawkins, Hitchins and Dennet. There's something right about what the AB says (if in fact he said it) and yet something not quite right, too. Dawkins is a very good scientist and when he's talking science, he's not telling stories. He's offering compelling scientific explanations of natural phenomena. It's when he stops doing science and begins to say silly things that have nothing to do with science and he fails to notice that he has ceased doing science that he is indeed telling stories and indeed fails to acknowledge it.

Christianity is a comprehensive story. It's not, I think, nor does it purport to be, a naturalistic explanation of things. Which is not to say that it's not an explanation of sorts. But it is surely a grand story and acknoweldges as much.

That's my take anyway. Yours?


SFMatheson said...

There appears to be no transcript yet available, but I agree with the commenters here who refer to the Archbishop's remarks as "silly."

If the Archbishop had meant that evolutionary theory involves a historical account of events, and that this account is in some important ways "unproven," then I guess his comments would make sense. But the bloggers I cited made it sound like he made some very inane remarks about "Neo-Darwinism," and that he doesn't understand the meaning of the term. (See a comment by "Alistair"...hmmm.)

A Christian who mouths off about evolution without knowing what the hell he's talking that's a new one! I hope that further examination shows that the Archbishop has been misquoted, or has merely (though embarrassingly) misused the term "Neo-Darwinism."

Kevin Corcoran said...


I couldn't verify the remarks myself. But I'm certain the transcript will soon be up on his website.

I think he must have meant that much of what Dawkins does in TGD, for example, is to tell a story and yet fail to see it for what it is and instead take himself to be doing science or take his views (not on evolutionary theory, but on God and religion) to be the deliverances of science.

Anyway, if that's who the AB meant to be referring w/the term "Neo Darwinism," then I say he also certainly chose the wrong term. It would have been better for him to have said

Both Dawkins (in the God Delusion) and Christianity are telling stories. Christianity acknowledges this fact, Dawkins doesn't.

If that's what he meant to say, then I agree. Sadly, that's not what he actually said. What he actually said (if he in fact said it) creates headaches and frustration for you and opportunities to proliferate and perpetuate confusion and misunderstanding for the likes of Mr. HR.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure why the delineation of tasks is so difficult for some. Christians at their best are striving for blessedness, union with God, union with their fellow man, union with creation in general. Christians at their worst engage in pseudo-science, with the scriptures as their guide, leading to murders at abortion clinics, bizarre claims regarding the age of the earth, damnation of homosexuals, et al.

Dawkins and his friends are at their best when they are uncovering the beautiful and bewildering complexities of the cosmos, curing the incurable, feeding our desire the understand, to know. They, in turn, are at their worst when they demand blood from a stone, wax theological (or atheistic?) based on evidence never intended to do so, and brush off with a quick wave of the hand belief in the supernatural with aggrandized concepts of 'memes' and 'viruses of the mind.'

Ken Bratt, gentleman, scholar and classicist par excellence just up the hall from you once told me, 'The problem with theologians is that they are not good classicists and the problem with classicists is that they are not good theologians.' The same could be said both for Dobson and Dawkins, Haggard and Hitchens (while unplanned, the alliteration is pleasing). Scientists qua scientists make scientific claims and Christian (theologians, both lay and by trade) qua Christians, well you get the idea. The place for the interplay between science and faith is there, but the boundaries cannot be aggressed. The ensuing foul leaves no one looking dignified.

Oh, and how was China?

Stephen Krogh said...

That last post was me (Stephen), by the way. Daniel and I work together on a (long neglected) blog. Cheers

Kevin Corcoran said...


Beautiful comment!!!!

China was awesome. The best part was being able to share the experience w/Rowan, who loved everything we did, ate everything set before him and never complained once the entire trip. He was a great traveling companion.

(I'm going to check out your blog.)

Anonymous said...

You say

"Christianity is a comprehensive story. It's not, I think, nor does it purport to be, a naturalistic explanation of things. Which is not to say that it's not an explanation of sorts. But it is surely a grand story and acknoweldges as much."

Including Transubstantiation, the virgin birth, miracles and how the ancestors of present day kangaroos originated in the middle east?