Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Preachers in Lab Coats and Scientists in Geneva Gowns

Dr. Bryan Estelle, OPC minister and professor at Westminster Seminary California, has written a helpful piece with this title.  Here is an excerpt:

"I was struck by my brother-in-law's comment several years ago (he is a trained scientist and not a professing Christian), when he claimed that the creationists (he had in mind certain ICR—Institute for Creation Research representatives) are "preachers in lab coats." This was his way of saying they had a pretty slick way of presenting their material on the university campus in debate, which to the untrained ear sounded good; however, those creationists were not doing real science and for one that was a scientist, they were basically charlatans..."

"In contrast to the preachers in lab coats are what I am calling "Scientists in Geneva Gowns." Here I have in mind practicing scientists who depart from the rigors of their respective disciplines and make exaggerated claims with an overstated degree of certainty with respect to the contemporary scientific picture. Sometimes they will even make grandiose claims for a particular cosmological worldview. They have left the realm of science and entered the realm of "folk science."[8] Carl Sagan and his views on the cosmic structure of the universe are a good example of this.'

Estelle goes on to discuss how matters of creation, and in particular, Adam's origin, have been handled in his own church.  For example he uses as a backdrop for this article the 1996 trial of an OPC elder who taught  that Adam originated from a pre-existing hominid.  Drawing upon the wisdom and experience of Cornelius Van Til, J. Gresham Machen, and Herman Bavinck while offering comment on ID (intelligent design) and recent controversies at reformed seminaries, Estelle shows us the way forward. 

This article will not answer every question on every facet of the relationship between science and theology but it is a good first step.  Click on the link to read the entire article: Ordained Servant Online


Joe said...

"Folk science." Love it!

Rachel said...

The one group that seems to be left out of these distinctions are actual scientists, like my husband, who believe in a 6 day, young earth, creation. My husband, who has a PhD in inorganic chemistry, is hardly a "preacher in a lab coat." There are many scientists who are young earth creationists.

Dave Sarafolean said...


I'm not so sure that men like your husband are left out. I think that Estelle assumes they are following (perhaps slavishly) the ICR crowd.

For some additional reading about different exegetical approaches to Genesis 1 & 2 see this post (under Genesis on this blog):


Both Estelle's denomination (OPC) and my own (PCA) have adopted lengthy position papers on this topic. There are some strong exegetical reasons for looking at those chapters as teaching something other than a young earth while simultaneously denying evolution.