Robert Shedinger: Religion, Science and Evolution: Confessions of a Darwin Skeptic

In the past, Joshua and others here have shown an interest in Lutheran thought on origins. I came across a well-written article the other day by a professor at a Lutheran college, and thought some people here might be interested. The author has an Engineering degree, an M.Div., and two graduate degrees in Religious Studies. He is a New Testament scholar with an interest in Science/Religion questions.

The format of the article isn’t ideal; a whole magazine comes up, and then you have to go to Page 23 and zoom in to read it. But it’s interesting.

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I wonder what he would think of my book. At the moment, he is working from a lot of misunderstandings of evolution and science. I’m sure he would be excited to find there is a better way forward.

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You are absolutely correct, the format of the article is totally annoying. I had fight it tooth and nail just to read the long winded article. The author sits on his high perch of Professor of Religion and looks over the 150 years of scientific discovery and gives religious commentary as one who has some privileged position of knowing the truth. A whole lot of words in a magazine from the liberal arts school of a Lutheran college.

I agree that the format of the article is difficult to work with, and I warned everyone about that in advance. But your comments on the contents of the article seem to be without substance; they don’t address any of the points the author made. In any case, I did not expect that you would be one of the people here interested in Lutheran material. It was Joshua and a few other commenters of Lutheran background that I thought might be interested in another Lutheran perspective.

Which points do you consider most important to address?

None in particular. I thought the article was well-written, but wasn’t asking for any point in particular to be accepted. But a review that says, essentially, “This article is crap” and doesn’t explain why it’s crap, is of little use as a response.

What I’m really interested in finding out is whether other champions of Lutheran thought here think that the article represents a significant view within Lutheran thought. In other words, I’m trying evoke a response from Lutheran and Lutheran-sympathetic readers, to find out what they think. Yet another Pavlovian atheist denunciation of anything Christian is of no use to that end.

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4 posts were split to a new topic: Comments on Robert Shedinger’s Artilce

Robert Shedinger wrote a book on this topic too:

The review by Puck Mendelssohn is interesting.

This book is a bit of a surprise; it does not appear to be the typical case of rank dishonesty. The author seems sincere, and the hallmarks of dishonesty such as quote-mining are relatively (though not absolutely) absent from this book. He makes a badly mistaken case, and I will both examine that case and reach the question of how it might have happened. I give the book two stars as a recognition that the author really does seem to have tried; in terms of its scientific merit it is less than a one-star performance.

What is odd about most of this, though, is that it really is directed against a straw man “Darwinism” to which nobody subscribes and to which nobody really ever did – not even Darwin. This is a fairly common problem in anti-evolution literature, especially when written by non-biologists: the authors often don’t really have a nuanced understanding of evolutionary theory or of its development, and wind up writing a critique which is quite effective against a summary of evolutionary theory that a non-biologist might hurriedly scribble on the back of an envelope, but which is not meaningful or even relevant against actual evolutionary theory.

In the preview of the book, this really stood out to me:

This makes me profoundly sad, and is in fact why I think Peaceful Science is so important. I wonder if he had opportunity to interact with scholars outside the ID bubble, if he would have come to different conclusions.


I also am curious what @Philosurfer, @EvolvingLutheran, @JustAnotherLutheran, @CPArand and others might say.

Anti-evolution thought is common among Lutherans, but it seems to be (at least in part) due to the invasion of fundamentalism into Lutheranism. In this case, though, I do not think Shedinger is a fundamentalist. I’m not even sure if Luther College is LCMS. He sounds like he might be more in the ELCA direction.


The suggestion in the quoted bit is that he interacted with mainstream biologists, though in a stealth mode. Or at least that’s what I get from it. “Valued colleagues” sounds as if he’s talking about biologists at his institution, though I’m not acquainted with Luther college, and maybe the biologists there are all IDers. Nope, I see this on their web site: “Courses are taught from an evolutionary perspective, which explains both the unity and diversity of life.”

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I can’t help but see parallels to other conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific groups. We often see the same approach, where people play the persecution card in place of actual evidence or arguments for their position.

The mischaracterization of Crick’s Central Dogma is also unfortunate. Crick was simply saying that you can’t derive a nucleic acid sequence from an amino acid sequence. This is still true. There is no biological process that uses proteins as a template for creating a nucleic acid sequence. The Central Dogma does not state that proteins can not modify nucleic acid sequences, as the author seems to suggest.

The author also mischaracterizes random mutations as a part of the theory of evolution. The theory states that life does not sense an environmental cue and then make a specific adaptive mutation in direct response to that environmental cue. Nowhere does the theory state that mutations can only be copying errors, or simple modifications. What matters is the relationship between the mutations that are produced and what the organism needs in a specific environment. McClintock’s and Shapiro’s work does nothing to challenge these ideas. In both cases, the mutations they point to are random with respect to fitness because they are not specific mutations to a specific challenge. Instead, the mechanisms they point to produce neutral, beneficial, and deleterious mutations.

Next, we have ID being described in explicitly creationist terms, and evolution being labelled as atheistic. This goes against the author’s previous claim that ID is really about science. It becomes all too obvious that the author is rejecting evolution based on religious beliefs and preferences.


Luther College is affiliated with the ELCA, but either way I think it’s inconsequential here. He affirms evolution as fact early on, which is consistent with ELCA thought.

The rest of his questions I think are better addressed by those in the scientific discipline.

But I think he’s asking some critical questions there. Essentially, is what is good enough for the goose good enough for the gander? Are scientists free to question established consensus? Has it stepped into religious territory while forbidding religious people to ask similar questions? Can science explain all things? Can science recognize its limits? And can it allow other disciplines like theology to answer questions it cannot?

He seems to be pointing out simply that science has left theologians to do all the leg work without any obligation to reciprocate by moderating its own established views.

But I don’t see a particular Lutheran theological dog in the fight. These are just good questions to ask regardless.

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But Shedinger and you should look for answers too.

That goes without saying. So should we all. That wasn’t the original question.

I know. I’m trying to point out that Shedinger didn’t bother to look. What he “seems to be pointing out” is a direct function of his failure to look:

IOW, he saw “dogma” and ran with it.

Interesting quote I found skimming through an article written by Dennis Venema:

At times, Intelligent Design is playing the dangerous game of allowing science to determine if God exists. What if we do observe evolution producing things that ID supporters claim that only God can produce? What then?

ID also runs the risk of putting science above theology. When they want to discount the theory of evolution they try to make it look like religion, and when they want to promote intelligent design they try to make it look more like science. By their own actions they are giving the impression that science holds more truth than theology.


That’s actually much more common among BioLogos and ASA TEs. The moment “Science” speaks its authoritative word that some traditional religious teaching is impossible, the TEs dutifully run off and try to come up with different theologies, different exegeses of the Bible, etc., so as not to run afoul of science. ID Christians, on the whole, tend to be more conservative than their TE counterparts. Thus, ID Reformed people are closer to the original firm Calvinism, ID Catholics have scorn for liberal Catholic schlock like Teilhard de Chardin, ID Anglicans tend to hold to the older Anglican tradition and wince at the liberalism that has taken over the church, etc. Of course, there are exceptions, but it’s a tendency I’ve noticed.

I do agree that both ID proponents, and their enemies, put too much emphasis on science. The question whether ID is “scientific” is almost uninteresting; more important is whether or not its conclusions are true.

I agree that this is an issue at BL and ASA (as should be blindingly obvious as this time). However ID just makes a different sort of error in trusting science too much.

That could be a place fo common ground @eddie. If you pushed back on the claims that ID was science, you’d add weight to the common ground.

Most of us also agree that whether their arguments are true is far more important. More important still is if their final conclusions are true.

As you know, I agree that God created everything, and in this sense He designed us all. But I do not think that most ID arguments in biology are valid. There might be ways to modify some of them, but most are too far reaching in their claims, and often rely on factual errors. Whether or not it is science is beside the point. If it were science, these issues would make it bad science.


Fair enough. My point is that whatever he’s doing or isn’t looking at doesn’t deal with theology Lutheran or otherwise. So it’s really a question for scientists to take up with him. Scientists can agree or disagree with whether his charge of dogma is legitimate or not.

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The paradox is that IDers are accused, here and elsewhere, of being anti-science or being not science at all, as if these are bad things, but then are also accused of trusting science too much!

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