Poythress on Science and Faith
April 23, 2011
Rev. Dr. Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation, talks about Westminster's confessional position, specifically as it relates to issues of science and faith.
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On April 8-9, 2011, Westminster Theological Seminary and Discovery Institute are co-sponsoring a conference on science and faith, with the theme "God and Materialism." This conference follows the pattern of a similar conference a year ago, which had the theme, "Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?" We hope to have further conferences in future years. The conferences will have different themes from year to year. The presentations do not assume any familiarity with previous years, so new people are welcome. At the same time, each conference presents new material, so that people who have attended in a previous year will find it worthwhile to come again.
What is the position of Westminster Theological Seminary on issues of science and faith? Westminster Seminary was founded in 1929, as an orthodox continuation of the Reformed theological tradition that was formerly present at Princeton Theological Seminary. Westminster has a firm confessional commitment to the full divine authority of the Bible and to orthodox Reformed theology. That commitment continues to this day. The faculty and administration still hold the teachings of the Westminster Standards, including the statements about creation that are found in the Standards. The Standards expound the teaching of Scripture, and indicate that they are subordinate to Scripture (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.1, 1.6, 31.4). See
Historic Creeds and Confessions
Westminster Confession of Faith
Shorter Westminster Catechism
Westminster also has a special statement on the days of creation, issued originally in 1999:
Westminster Theological Seminary and the Days of Creation
In addition, in 2008 the Board of Westminster published a document of Affirmations and Denials, posted at
Affirmations and Denials
The Affirmations and Denials (2008) have a section that addresses issues related to creation and Genesis (section IV.D). The Introduction to the Affirmations and Denials indicates that they are not intended as a supplement to the Westminster Standards. Rather, the Board has specified that they function as a kind of exposition of what we think are some of the legitimate implications of the Standards (and, of course, implications of the Scriptures to which the Standards point).
Among these affirmations and denials are an explicit statement on creation and a statement about Adam and Eve. "Adam and Eve were real flesh-and-blood individual human beings and ... their fall into sin was subsequent to their creation as the first human beings." The statement about Adam and Eve excludes certain kinds of "theistic evolution" positions, namely any position that does not include a once-for-all and definitive introduction of sin through a historical fall of two individuals, who were the first two human beings.
In addition, the Affirmations and Denials affirm the space-time reality of all the events of creation described in Genesis 1. But the Affirmations and Denials do not take a particular stand with regard to the details for how Genesis 1 relates to modern scientific claims. Westminster Seminary wishes to avoid going beyond Scripture in its confessional commitment.
Westminster Seminary also has a commitment to presuppositionalist apologetics in the tradition of Cornelius Van Til (see Affirmations and Denials, final section on "Westminster Seminary Distinctives"). We believe that the fall into sin and the radical sinfulness of human beings affects all human thinking, including thinking in all the sciences. At the same time, through common grace, unbelievers working in science sometimes make useful contributions. The various areas of science, like all areas of life, must be inspected critically because of the influence of sin and erroneous presuppositions. Hence, we do not accept uncritically claims made in the name of modern science. At the same time, we encourage the study of science, in order that we may reap fruits from common grace.
Westminster is partnering with Discovery Institute in putting on the conference on Science and Faith. Last year the conference directors, namely Peter Lillback, President of Westminster, and John West, Discovery Institute Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture, made it clear in introductory remarks that each speaker at the conference speaks for himself. Hence, Discovery Institute does not endorse anything that Westminster faculty say, nor does Westminster endorse anything that is said by a speaker from Discovery Institute.
The two institutions remain completely separate institutions, and each institution follows its own policies and convictions. That is what makes our partnership possible. We desire to provide the public with resources for dealing with issues in science and faith, and for this purpose Discovery Institute and Westminster provide resources along side one another.
Vern S. Poythress
Professor of New Testament Interpretation
Westminster Theological Seminary
Participant in the Westminster project for Science and Faith