Warfield on Methodological Naturalism and Evolution:
A Theological and Philosophical Perspective

Robert C. Bishop
Department of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1887-1921, presents an interesting case study on the interaction between science and theology. He is the architect of the modern formulations of such doctrines as the inspiration and authority of the Bible, but he did not believe that a literal interpretation of the Bible required a young earth creationist view. On the contrary he was remarkably well read on and respectful of the science of his time. Warfield was a strong defender of evolution, though he believed it was theistically directed. For Warfield theology provides an appropriate foundation for approaching the study of nature that takes natural causes seriously while at the same time viewing them as responding to divine will. Warfield had a theological justification for methodological naturalism. He believed that scientific investigations based that type of naturalism would reveal truths about the world on a par with those revealed in Scripture: "Let us, then, cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day. None should be more zealous in them then we. None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it wherever it leads. It is not for Christians to be lukewarm in regard to the investigations and discoveries of the time" (Warfield 1970-73, 464-5). For Warfield the uncovering of a genetic relationship among all living creatures was one of those "discoveries of the time."

I will briefly clarify Warfield's foundational theological concepts and explain their relationship to his views on the methodology of science. Most of the presentation will focus on Warfield's treatment of evolution. I will conclude with a possible literal interpretation of the creation texts that is consistent with Warfield's view that evolution can be a mechanism of divine providence.

Copyright © Robert C. Bishop