If the Christian community (we'll say evangelical) is so profoundly wrong on origins, how can I trust any other output from that community?


#1

I grew up as a young-earth creationist. As it is demonstrably false, I’ve abandoned it. I really want to strengthen my knowledge of God, science, and my affection for the risen Christ and his people.

My question is to other Christians, probably more those who fall under the “evangelical” label. Consider this somewhat a cry of frustration. How can I trust the testimony or theological knowledge of fellow believers, family, bloggers, and leaders, when they are so profoundly wrong, demonstrably wrong, on creation? Part of what bolsters faith is those around you, especially those in a position of experience or authority. For me, community seems almost critical. I feel like I have made YEC into a sort of anti-litmus test. And I know there are a ton of people, including in my community (hopefully the majority), that are not YEC. But even other items, such as holding fast to beliefs like the necessity of a literal Adam or the necessity of special (not-evolution) creation have me on edge.

If someone shares an encouraging word or interesting theological insight, how can I take it seriously if they spout nonsense about origins? If they are so profoundly wrong (“based on the Bible”) about something demonstrable, then can I still trust their theological insight? What else do I need to throw away? What else is nonsense? God? The Trinity? Christ himself?

I asked something similar of one of my pastors recently. He told me that I have to be careful about putting teachers on a pedestal, which I think is good advice and actually did help mitigate my concerns somewhat.

Do any of you have input on these matters? How can I maintain a strong faith and community? How can I both trust and trash output coming from the same place? Or is this simply what we do all the time? We all get a lot of things wrong, but we still get some things right and have some gems to share?

Part of me thinks I just need to get over it, much of it may just be lack of information, or inertia (and which of us isn’t resistant to change in some area or another?).

Lastly, I’ll say that I do see these as different forms of knowledge. But, still. We all have our stumbling blocks in our faith, and this has become one of mine from time to time.


(Jon Garvey) #2

Josh

To start with, let me say that, though I didn’t grow up as an Evangelical, I was converted at the age of 13, and the rest is (half a century of) history. But I never imbibed Young Earth Creationism because it never had the traction in UK evangelicalism it has in the US.

My neighbour in Cambridge was the warden of the premier UK evangelical research establishment, and his 1968, thoroughly evangelical, and widely-read Genesis commentary was sympathetic to evolution. So I’ve always been in a position to discuss the possible poistions on origins, rather than suddenly discovering they exist and that nobody told me.

That said, everything taught from pulpits and even in colleges is inevitably affected by its national and theological inheritance (that includes biology teaching, by the way), and the key for evangelicals is to grow in proficiency at knowing both the Scriptures and how to handle them, inside out. That includes exposing oneself to readings outside “where one grew up” (and being just as critical of them as your own). Being a passive Christian is every bit as useless asd being a passive recipient of any received wisdom.

In a healthy Church situation, in my view, if you come back at something that’s been taught with a good case that it’s not actually what Scripture says (the myth of fallen Nature is a good example - woops, even most TEs still believe that one!) you ought to be respected because of your clear respect for Scripture, even if you don’t persuade.

If, on the other hand, somebody comes back with “Heresy!”, or “But everybody believes this!” or “But Wesley taught…” (or, I must add, “Scripture can’t be fully trusted on this”), then that somebody is not acting “evangelically”, but from mere religious tradition. In that case I’d think seriously about finding a real evangelical home.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”, and that may include having to deal with stubborn opposition to truth. But that’s still compatible with living in love and community - in fact, Jesus makes that the priority for us.


(George Brooks) #3

@Josh

I wish I had been able to put these words together as well as you have. My personal history is different, so I suppose commentary about my life will never be as well suited to the questions you are addressing here. Nice assessment.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #4

Wow, @Josh, I resonate with your concerns. “Resonate” is the right word. My own Christian journey is quite different from yours, but my concerns about trust and the future of the Christian faith (the latter concern being implicit, not explicit, in your statement) are identical to yours. If I had unlimited time, I’d use it to share my thoughts in their entirety. Alas, I don’t have that kind of time. I’ll share just a little, then, hoping that it’s helpful.

My father was an evangelical pastor without a typical evangelical pedigree. He graduated from Yale College and Yale Divinity School, neither of which did anything to encourage an evangelical outlook. He later earned a doctorate from Princeton Seminary in church history. In short, he was a highly educated mainline pastor, yet he found evangelical faith while reading Karl Barth at Princeton–that probably sounds wrong to most ears, but it’s fully accurate. From reading Barth while serving as a pastor, he became persuaded of the literal truth of the Resurrection, something he’d not previously believed. He was later heavily involved with Billy Graham’s crusade in Philadelphia (mid 1960s), such that I have a professionally shot photograph of him shaking hands with Graham.

All of this is to say that I grew up in a church in which the sermons were written by a highly educated person, who understood evangelicalism fully but didn’t bring any “baggage” from that tradition into his pulpit. I cannot ever remember even a single time that my father said anything much about science in relation to Christianity, either from the pulpit or even privately at home. He actually loved astronomy–I inherited some pretty interesting books from his student days at Yale, and he encouraged my own interest in that science. But, he didn’t try to relate science to the Bible or theology, except for vague generalizations about the intelligibility of nature pointing to a Creator. Consequently, I never heard about creationism of any type in his church. I heard about it for the first time not long after finishing my undergraduate degree in physics, when a classmate who is now a prominent creationist author (http://www.creationwiki.org/Stephen_Boyd) introduced me to it, by lending me copies of some YEC books.

Within about 48 hours, I overcame an initial fascination with the sober conclusion that creationism of that type was an empty suit, just junk science being marketed as biblical truth. I’ve learned a great deal about creationism since then, from a wide variety of writers and speakers, but I’ve never thought even for a moment that I’d reached the wrong conclusion. So, I never had the baggage you brought to the science issues. I’m very grateful for that.

Today, however, so many young people carry that baggage with them, often into a spiritually fatal confrontation with genuine science. My hope is that what we are doing here at BL will be genuinely helpful to you, both spiritually and intellectually. The attitude that I bring toward helping inquisitive people is described here: http://home.messiah.edu/~tdavis/course.html. I can’t teach live courses for BL, but at least I can bring some of the same stuff onto the internet. Perhaps you’ll drop into my blog here from time to time, bringing your questions and your open mind into that electronic space. If your experience is like mine, then you’ll probably have more questions than answers, but that’s one of the hallmarks of truth: as I say in the site just referenced, we must always keep in mind the distinction between “what God knows to be the case” and “what we think God knows to be the case.” Truth must be sought, but we can do so only fallibly.

I wish you well. Thanks for stopping by at BL.


(Christy Hemphill) #5

Hi Josh, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It try to think about YEC as a cultural blind spot like any other cultural blind spot. Despite their best and most sincere intentions, some of my Evangelical friends and family are racist. Some are really sexist. Some are xenophobic. Many are really materialistic and wasteful. I don’t think they have chosen these mindsets, they are just a product of the environment in which they function. I work cross-culturally and the believers there have their own cultural blind spots that are sometimes hard to process. If I decided I couldn’t learn from someone unless they had never disappointed me in any area, there wouldn’t be any people to learn from. We’re all messed up in any number of ways. But there is grace enough for all of us.


(Scott Jorgenson) #6

Josh, I’ve been there and done that, and I hear you. Here is what my experiences have led me to think about this.

First, your instincts are right. You can’t just trust what they say, or what anybody says for that matter. You need to weigh it against scripture, tradition, reason (particularly evidence), and experience - the whole Wesleyan quadrilateral. And while this is true to a degree of everybody and everything, it is particularly true of those who so persistently cling to something so demonstrably wrong (based not just on your own opinion but the opinions of such a vast and persistent majority of relevant experts). Anyone so far out of the mainstream and so demonstrably counter-factual for so long has something faulty in their judgment in at least certain areas, and needs to be taken with an extra grain of salt.

Second, when you do that extra diligence, that extra research into what it is that they’re saying on other subjects, you will quite probably find yourself re-assessing those claims as well and rejecting at least some of them. And that’s OK. Conservative evangelicalism, or fundamentalism, is not the end-all and be-all, and if it is wrong on some of its other distinctives besides creationism, its not the end of the world or of faith. Don’t be afraid of evolving into rather a different kind of Christian than you were, or even are right now. Christians throughout history have agreed universally on almost nothing except the reality of God the creator and the lordship of our savior Jesus Christ. Everything else is questionable when seen within the broad, world-historical sweep of Christianity. This is why we have so many denominations, and while some may decry that we do, I think its a good thing.

Lastly, despite all that, remember that nobody needs to be perfect, intellectually, doctrinally or otherwise, to be worthy of our love in Christ. Forgive and move on if that’s what you need to do, holding fast to the good things you’ve received from the conservative evangelical / fundamentalist tradition.


#7

Thank you all for your thoughtful and beneficial responses.

@Jon_Garvey That is a good reminder about culturally or nationally inherited theology. So strange that this took off in the US but not elsewhere. I agree with you on the importance of having an “evangelical” home where there is room for push-back without a reactionary “heretic” branding. I wouldn’t survive in a no-questions-asked environment.

@gbrooks9 Thanks! I am glad it made sense.

@TedDavis Thanks for sharing some of your background. I enjoy reading the blogs here, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for your posts. So having never been exposed to YEC until after graduating in physics, what did you believe growing up? Were you just at complete peace about what you learned in science classes? I’d like my children free of baggage like that.

@Christy I think you are making an important point about the blind spots. It’s a struggle to know where to draw the line. For a ridiculously oversimplified example, I wouldn’t trust Hitler to give me moral advice on how to love even my non-Jewish neighbor. His absurdity in one area discredits him in another. Of course what you are saying is more nuanced, and I think true. It’s just a struggle to disentangle sometimes. When is a person theologically discredited, and when are they just someone with a blind spot? You are for sure right that we are all messed up.

@dscottjorgenson Agreed about due diligence. I care less and less about toeing the line on any bulleted lists for what makes a “conservative” or an “evangelical” (or certainly a “fundamentalist”). Over the last few years I have been dropping things in other areas when I don’t think they hold up to scrutiny. This just creates some anxiety once in awhile regarding when to stop dropping.


(Dennis Venema) #8

Josh, thank you for sharing your thoughts - like Ted, I too resonate strongly with them. I think I’ll even link to your comments in a blog post I am writing about these issues - as long as that is ok by you! Welcome to BioLogos and I hope you find something of a “home” here with other like-minded (and even not likeminded, but nonetheless hopefully friendly) folks.


#9

@DennisVenema Thanks, it helps to know that many resonate. Regarding my comments, feel free! Thanks for the welcome.


(Dennis Venema) #10

Thank you!


(Albert Leo) #11

I can understand your dilemma, Josh, since I experienced somewhat the same thing when I left parochial school and began a career in science. First of all, I accepted what most scientists realize: humans can gradually approach The Truth, but they can never capture it completely. Only God can. Scripture can help, and science can help, but each has its limitations. Both can mislead us if misinterpreted, but each can help the other to get the interpretation straight. I’ll give you a very short account of how I worked out what was, for me, a seemingly insoluble problem with evolution. (A more extensive account is on my web site.)

The evidence provided by evolution says that humans descended from primates (ape-like ancestors) over a period of millions of years. But the Bible leads us to believe that God gave humans an immortal soul. Question: How did God decide when, in the gradual evolutionary process, was that to happen? Just exactly when was this animal form worthy of a covenant and soul? A parent primate would still be an animal, but its offspring a human with an eternal soul? There is no gradual change possible from mortal to immortal. Then I read what paleoanthropologists, like Ian Tattersall, were finding about the Great Leap Forward–the sudden transition of Homo sapiens from the rather brute-like behavior of the Neanderthals to a behavior we would be comfortable with now. This GLF apparently did NOT occur through change in DNA, as was the case with previous evolution. It had to be epigenetic and was relatively swift, and carried with it the ability to communicate ideas with symbolic language. [Although we do not as yet know the biological mechanism for the GLF, it shouldn’t be thought of as a “God-of -the Gaps” explanation, because it will almost assuredly be explained biologically in the near future.]

Did this GLF begin with just one couple, which Genesis refers to as Adam & Eve? Possibly, but that is not the important point theologically speaking. We can look upon the GLF as God’s gift to humankind, and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as a conscience that allowed this ‘elevated’ primate to be freed from the dictates of the often selfish animal behavior. The first recipients of this Original Blessing could, through symbolic language, teach fellow Homo sapiens–perhaps as many as a million (the biblical People of Nod) inhabiting much of Europe, Asia and Africa–how to become truly human. Of course all of Adam & Eve’s descendants inherit the ‘selfish genes’ that impart a predilection to sin, but Jesus’ life shows us the potential each of us has to become co-creators with him.

Josh, can I tell you this scenario is True? No. But I can accept it as closer to the Truth than any other I have encountered. Perhaps it might be something you are searching for. You might want to look on my web site for the more complete evidence in its favor. God bless.
Al Leo


#12

@aleo thanks for the thoughts. I don’t have enough expertise to know the scientific plausibility of a sudden behavior change, but something like that is an interesting possibility to think about. Perhaps that is the way God operated.


#13

Very well stated, Christy!

I found myself having to make that very point so many times with angry undergrads from church backgrounds which were steeped in “creation science”—and they were furious because at a public university they had found themselves face-to-face with science textbooks and even primary sources which basically allowed them to see and understand for themselves that their youth ministries, Sunday Schools, pastors, and parents had (1) taught them definitions of science terms and concepts which were just plain wrong, (2) told them that the bizarre “Same evidence. Different interpretations.” mantra accurately summarized the “difference of opinion”, and (3) filled their heads with a long list of memorable slogans, catchy cliches, fallacious factoids, and mind-numbing mantras which were just plain false (e.g., “There is no observable evidence for evolution”, “the Theory of Evolution is not real science”, “There are no transitional fossil forms”, “Radiometric dating is hopelessly unreliable and based on unprovable guesses.”)

Of course, neither their textbooks nor their professors set out to specifically deal with “creation science” pseudo-science, but the students were sharp enough to figure out the glaring discrepancies. (e.g. “We were told that modern geology strictly follows Uniformitarianism, meaning that geologists ignore everything but very slow processes—but that hasn’t been the case in centuries!”; “It wasn’t just the lies. It was the cherry-picking of the 0.1% while not telling us about the 99.9% of the slam-dunk evidence!”)
Usually these “new or almost ex-YECs” weren’t even my advisees but for a variety of reasons (usually falling into one of three categories that I won’t expand upon here) they seemed to badly need (yet fear) what I began to call their “exit interview” from the Christian faith. Not all of them had made or would ever make such a resolutely final decision, but many clearly wanted to impress upon somebody just how frustrated and disappointed they were in their former spiritual heroes—and some would even tell me outright, “You are my last chance to remain Christian.” Those who had already made their decision (or at least wanted me to think that they had), nevertheless seemed to dare me to “Just try to make excuses for my church and my parents! How can I possibly believe what they taught me about God and the Bible when everything they told me about science was wrong?”

Yes, that is quite a leap (a logical fallacy, in fact) to go from learning that their Christian background had fed them some false information about science to abandoning their Christian faith and identity all together. But for many it was an emotion-driven threat based entirely upon their sense of betrayal–because they felt that their vulnerability as young, naive, trusting children had been violated and even exploited by adults in positions of power over them.

In response to them, Christy’s appeal to grace and common sense was always my Point #1. But probably around 90% of my response to them focused on Point #2: “Your church and parents didn’t set out to deceive you by deliberately teaching what they knew to be false information. Wouldn’t you agree that they sincerely thought they were doing their best for you and teaching you solid science and Biblical hermeneutics? Have you considered the possibility that they were misled by others—and their own lack of adequate information— just as much as you were?”

I usually found that if a student was willing to walk through the steps of (1) “What were their motives?” and (2) “What benefits did they think they were conveying to you?”, they were usually willing to admit that nobody in their local church conspired to teach them knowingly false information. I usually found that they would be softened by: “Yes or No: My parents/pastors/teachers sincerely believed that what they were teaching me was to the glory of God and for my good.”

From there it was usually easy to get them to answer more rationally: “So what would you say was the biggest sin or shortcoming in what they did? What would you say was the biggest ‘crime’ they committed against you?” (Obviously, I used an exaggerated term in order to encourage them to articulate a defense of their parents/pastors and to develop a sense of reasoned proportion.) All but the most hardened would (sheepishly) say, “As teachers of children, they had a responsibility to carefully research and verify what they were teaching, especially if claiming that they had the full authority of God behind it.” In some cases they even added “And they were allowing their opinions and fears about science to be co-mingled with the Gospel as if those opinions were essential to salvation and being a ‘true Christian.’”

If we got that far into the discussion, I could usually get them to think about (1) how/why their parents/pastors had adopted their “creation science” position, and (2) how the unhappy student was actually in an advantaged and even very privileged position (both by accident of the generation and era into which they were born and due to their parents’ love for them) to be able to learn about science at a major university and to so easily find all sorts of helpful and applicable scientific and apologetic material on-line—something their parents/pastors usually hadn’t had in any measure.
If we got that far in our talk, and the student was willing to admit that their parents, pastors, and Sunday School teachers had lovingly taught them what they knew and in the best ways that they could, I would ask the student: "Now that you are having opportunities to learn about science (and how it can integrate with a Biblical theology) in ways that they never had, is it possible that you might have a responsibility to reciprocate to them that favor and blessing by graciously and gently letting them know what you’ve learned from your study of these topics?

Of course, all of those students badly needed time to integrate their new science knowledge with a re-examination of the Biblical hermeneutics of their parents in order to see if the Bible truly requires that one and only set of tradition-bound interpretations. Thankfully, the Internet has made that research assignment far easier (both for me and the student) than it was when I dealt with the same conflicts in the early 1990’s, for example.
As I said, those students usually weren’t my own advisees but as the perceived “token evangelical professor” on a secular university campus, I seemed to them to be the default defender of all that was Christian and “Biblical”, probably because 18 to 22 year olds have such an extreme demand for immediate justice and black/white, no-middle-ground, right/wrong declarations. (Of course, Fundamentalist Christianity has its own totally-right/totally-wrong rigid dichotomy, so you can imagine how all-or-nothing that made many of those ex-YEC students.) Even so, if one could get them started in an empathetic direction—and perhaps even ask them if they had ever changed their opinion on some subject to where they regretted ever having held their former opinion on it—the reachable ones would usually soften. Yet I would also remind them that that initial anger they felt towards their parents/pastors could be channeled for good and to everyone’s benefit if it led to everyone agreeing on the importance of TRUTH and the process of re-examining the available evidence.

That’s just a few thoughts as my mind travels back in time reflectively. I wish I could say I had follow-up opportunities with every such ex-YEC student and knew that everything turned out wonderfully for everyone. Most graduated and moved on without keeping in touch. (I occasionally get a “Remember me?” and get to find out where they are theologically today, but that is rare. Of those few who have updated me, about one-third remained Christians of some sort, one-third called themselves atheists, and one-third didn’t give me clear indications of self-labels.)

In helping those who are making the same journey out of YEC-dom that many of us once did, we do the best we can to step up and use the teachable moments we get with them----and as with the Gospel itself, one person plants, another waters, and another sees the harvest. Yet, it always saddened me to hear so many of those conversations during my open door office hours begin with “I don’t know of anyone else who might be able to understand my situation. Perhaps you can help me?” (Even some of the students who initially projected “I’m now a much more enlightened atheist!” were clearly shaken by a crisis of trust at what they experienced in their Young Earth Creationist and that was probably why they had come to see me.) [1]

I’ve shared these memories in hopes of hearing the experiences of others in helping those who experience “crises of confidence” concerning their Christian heritage and spiritual heroes as they integrate their knowledge of science and scripture. I’ve often wondered if some, the young people from YEC backgrounds especially, leave us with only relatively brief windows of influence and opportunity before their “final” decisions are made and their minds are closed to any sort of intellectual resolution which does not leave them outside the local church entirely. With the Baby-Boomers, we eventually assumed that many would return to the local church (even if not necessarily a vital faith) once they had children of their own, even if they remained angry over the science-denialism of their upbringing within the church. Obviously, we can’t say that about the generations since. That return to the church as young parents certainly doesn’t seem as likely with the Millennials.

Thoughts? Experiences?


FOOTNOTE: [1]: While both Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists often get lumped together as simply “creationists”, I invariably found a very different set of dynamics and attitudes among the OEC students who came to me to discuss their “eye-opening” experiences with science. Even though most of them had been raised on many of the same anti-evolution myths and slogans as the YECs—and they were often just as theologically fearful of the implications of what they had learned about science at the university—they seemed far less resentful towards their parents/pastors, and they were usually far less “pre-programmed” to think and react in terms of rigid, false-dichotomies. As expected, they were less likely to have been taught “One can’t be a true Christian and believe in the science of X.” Perhaps some ex-OEC readers have experiences to share in this regard.


(Brad Kramer) #14

@Josh,

I know I’m late to the party here, but I’ve been mulling over your post for several days now and reading the responses that others have given. Your story resonates with my own in so many ways, and I want to thank you for taking the time to share your story here. You are asking all the right questions.

The easy answer here would be that origins is an isolated issue, so even if Evangelicals are wrong about evolution and the age of the earth, we don’t need to question everything else in the process. But, as I think you’ve already figured out, it’s just not that simple. Part of the problem is that Evangelical perspectives on faith and science are bound up in bigger ways of seeing the world (“worldview”). Young-earth creationism in particular is not first and foremost an origins perspective. It’s a total package of answers and explanations about the entire sweep of modern history, which is meant to give Christians a frame to segregate the world into categories and equip them to live faithfully.

Great question. Here’s what I’d say: In my experience, there are a lot of people who are sort of “accidentally” YEC, in that it’s part of their faith tradition or community, and it’s just sort of assumed. I know plenty of wonderful Christians who are YEC and continue to have a big impact in my life. Being YEC does not automatically make someone untrustworthy.

HOWEVER: I have become convinced that Fundamentalism, which is the root perspective behind YEC, is a dangerous and unhelpful way to practice the Christian faith. Fundamentalism is weaponized faith. Its focus is first and foremost on being right, and its faith communities are centered around that. It separates the world into easy categories of right and wrong. Fundamentalism, in my opinion, steamrolls the Bible into an answer book, and thus flattens the Christian life. Evangelicalism was supposed to be a critique of Fundamentalism, but in many ways, it has failed to finish the sentence. Origins is one area where Fundamentalism has absolutely dominated the evangelical conversation. I honestly think Evolutionary Creationism is the first honest and full-throated attempt at a non-Fundamentalist Evangelical perspective on origins.

So there’s no black-and-white answers here, because there’s no easy radar system for Fundamentalism that lets you detect when you’re encountering harmful levels. I’ve had to make some really, really tough decisions in my life to walk away from faith communities that ended up being too toxic. I’m very blessed to be currently attending a wonderful non-Fundamentalistic evangelical church.

The good news for you is that Fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, and there’s absolutely no need to throw out the whole faith in the process of rejecting it. There are so many wonderful and faithful Christians out there who are non-Fundamentalist, and I would strongly advise reading deeply of books by C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Tim Keller, N.T. Wright, Roger Olson, and Scot McKnight (Barth is chunky, but all these others are very accessible).

A final, more pastoral thought: The foundation of Christianity is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the testimony of the saints. The authority of the Bible is important, but it’s not the foundation of our faith. When Jesus came, many of his early followers struggled with how to reconcile his teachings with what they knew from their Bible. Nobody expected him; he was a surprise. Our faith is founded on an event with obliterated people’s pre-conceptions of just about everything.

So yeah, evolutionary science is a big surprise. Not many people saw it coming. It forces us to rethink a lot of things, some of which are quite messy. But for me, I see the fingerprints of God all over it. It makes sense to me that God would do things in surprising and messy ways—even in ways that challenge traditional religious ways of thinking. Isn’t that exactly what the Bible’s story is about? Isn’t that exactly like God to do? Fundamentalists have a lot of trouble with a God of surprise, and try to make a faith that can never be surprised by new things. I think this is toxic, and it’s one of the reasons I’m not a fundamentalist.

This has been long-winded. Sorry about that. I hope this conversation has been helpful for you. Please consider us your friends and allies in your journey. We’re rooting for you! Keep asking good questions.

Grace and Peace,
Brad


(Albert Leo) #15

[quote=“Josh, post:12, topic:3584”]
I don’t have enough expertise to know the scientific plausibility of a sudden behavior change, but something like that is an interesting possibility to think about
[/quote]@Josh
The Great Leap Forward came as a great surprise to many scientists–a very unpleasant surprise to Richard Dawkins, the most famous of the New Atheists and author of ‘The God Delusion’. In a previous book, ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’, Dawkins presents good evidence for evolution acting in very small steps with no evident direction for all animal and plant life. But for humans, he admitted the evidence supported a great leap and forward direction, as measured by complexity and capability. As an atheist, he was happy to believe humans appeared on earth as an unplanned accident, but as a scientist, he had to (reluctantly) admit humans were special.

I believe you would enjoy reading Ian Tattersall’s books, “Becoming Human” & “Masters of the Planet”. They are non technical, but they provide convincing evidence that the behavior that makes us human–language, art, music, belief in an afterlife–all appeared very suddenly (on an evolutionary timescale) and almost certainly without any change in the Homo sapiens genome. So the pre-scientific image presented by an author of Genesis some 3,000 yrs ago of God forming Adam from clay and breathing the spirit of Life into him contains a great deal of Truth for us to ponder on today.
Al Leo


(Mervin Bitikofer) #16

@BradKramer

…long winded, but good-winded as spiritual things go.

It’s hard to discern where to draw the line between a toxic level of “being about being right” and what I would call an equally toxic polar opposite: “being all about questions to the point of disallowing any hard or universal answers”. Bible studies tend to clump into those two kinds of polarized versions. It’s a messy and necessary job of discernment to thread one’s way in between.


#17

@Mr.Molinist, I appreciated reading through your summary of experiences with your students. (Side note: I just want to clarify that I do not feel betrayal or think that those in my life had any malice here. The people in my life were deceived just like me. My tension comes more from asking: what other sincere, honestly, graciously held beliefs are false?) I think the how/why question you mentioned in your post is very important. Thanks for the thoughtful reflection and good advice.

@BradKramer, your assessment of fundamentalism and handbook-ness is a refreshing read. Lots of truth, I think, packed into your post. Thanks for the perspective and the reminder about old, fundamental, non-fundamentalist truths.

@aleo, a sudden appearance of human sophistication would provide some interesting fodder for armchair hypothesizing about God’s possible activities. Human evolution is an interesting topic in general, thanks for the book recommendations.


(Jon Garvey) #18

Brad, you’re dead right about Fundamentalism which, having never been as strong in the UK, may be the explanation of why the YEC “conflict” is so much more a US problem… but by that token, not one to impose on the rest of the world.

Always alert to “small print” issues, though, can I add the danger that I’ve noticed for “Non-Fundamentalists” to stick the label on others in order to dismiss and marginalise them intellectually? This would (to some) automatically include even thinking YECs and OECs, but is equally easy to lay on anybody one disagrees with. It’s rather too convenient a label unless it’s given a clear context.

One more point (speaking as a biblical conservative but thoroughly non-YEC, and referencing, mainly, N T Wright here). You write:

The authority of the Bible is important, but it’s not the foundation of our faith. When Jesus came, many of his early followers struggled with how to reconcile his teachings with what they knew from their Bible. Nobody expected him; he was a surprise.

As Wright points out at book length, Jesus’s whole ministry arose from his understanding of the truth of the Bible and its application to him. He and the early Church similarly built their case not on the need to downplay or relativise the Scriptures, but to re-interpret them as Jesus did in a new way that was actually, they said, inherent in the original meaning but had been lost by his own generation of Judaism. They fully expected a scripturally-promised Messiah - but had to be re-orientated (from Scripture) in why Jesus was that Messiah.

That seems to me entirely relevant to the Fundamentalist question, and a few others too. But remember that the “testimony of the saints” for 2000 years before skeptical criticism, was that the plenary truth of Scripture (however that was understood at the time) was axiomatic to orthodox and orthopractic Christianity.

Jesus was not a timeless divine figure, but one who came “just at the right time” (prophetically) and who “as of first importance… died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried and raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (Paul in Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15).

If Fundamentalism has become an authoritarian straightjacket, I sense that some American Evangelicalism has, perhaps in reaction, neglected the foundational nature of the concept of revelation. This ranges from the Old Testament conviction of the divine presence in torah (by Jesus’s time held to be equivalent to his shekinah in the Temple), the prophetic word (debar) of Yahweh actually accomplishing what it spoke, and of course the whole Post-Ascension Lordship of Christ through the Pentecost Spirit of prophecy.

It’s as artificaial to separate the Word from his word as it is to separate the President from his speech.


(Marvin Adams) #19

thanks for the helpful comments.
As you comliment the question as “great”,considering that God and the trinity are concepts not unique to the evangelicals, how would the error in the interpretation of one parameter of their worldview justify questioning other independent parameters that are part of their model but also in others peoples worldviews? Sounds a bit like when I find an error in a physics model that I therefore would have to put chemistry in question.


#20

@marvin, it’s an issue of credibility. If a witness on the stand gives false statements about one thing, then that witness is not considered reliable for anything else they say. This doesn’t at all make everything else they say false (that would be a logical fallacy), it just means that to whatever degree your case depended on or was significantly bolstered by that witness, there’s an issue. Personally, I experience some tension because both the false and the true statements are coming from the same witnesses on the same subject matter (theology, Biblical application, etc.).