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Confronting Our Fears, Part 4: Losing Face

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November 26, 2012 Tags: Lives of Faith

Today's entry was written by Mike Beidler. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Confronting Our Fears, Part 4: Losing Face

As we continue our tour of fears that confront evangelicals considering evolutionary creation, I’d like to start with an extended (and possibly familiar) quote from Augustine about what’s at stake when we ask, “What if I’m wrong?”

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.1

– St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)

For a good portion of my life, I had an extremely difficult time admitting that I was wrong. To do so was an admission of intellectual failure, faulty logic, or simple ignorance—not knowing everything about everything.2 Being wrong is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, because in many cases it equates to losing face. As it pertains to the creation-evolution debate, I believe that we evangelical Christians tend to express that fear by “holding the line” against certain areas of scientific study, rather than being willing to admit that we might be wrong. In most cases, we have no problem accepting the authority of the world’s best physicists, chemists, meteorologists, engineers, and physicians. Our problem tends to be with scientific authorities in only certain areas of study, such as biology, anthropology, paleontology, geology, and astronomy. Why? It’s because the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God and these areas conflict with the plain reading of Scripture, right?

When we evangelicals come to the table of scientific discussion, we tend to pick and choose those “foods” which appeal to us, while wrinkling our noses at what our theological tastes find disagreeable. As long as the menu includes a wide assortment of things we already like, and we share the table with people with similar tastes, we can get along just fine with this strategy. But is this wise in, say, a survival situation? Food is food, and if we’re hungry enough and don’t have a life-threatening allergic reaction to something specific, I would venture to guess that we’d dig right in without a second thought. In regard to the creation-evolution debate, I am convinced that the evangelical church will find itself in dire straights if we intentionally starve ourselves intellectually, especially with a healthy banquet in full sight and within reach. I also think having a too-restricted “diet” limits our ability to sit down with those outside the church and can, as Augustine believed, play a role in actually prohibiting the secular world at large from coming to a saving knowledge of Christ, “to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil.” Several years ago, Bruce Waltke, former Evangelical Theological Society president and former professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, updated Augustine’s caution in a brief video production for BioLogos, suggesting that the church risks losing our ability to really interact with the world if we don’t trust God’s providence in this area. Wheaton College’s Professor of Christian Thought, Mark Noll, as the very first sentence of his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind writes, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”3 If not for the fact that I’ve never met Professor Noll, I’d believe he was talking about me a decade ago.

What drives us evangelical Christians to “hold the line” against acknowledging truths in these certain categories of scientific knowledge? After undergoing several theological shifts myself over the last decade, and seeing others do the same, I believe I’ve been able to “reverse engineer” what happened in my own life: It was a subtle slide from a confident faith into a comfortable, unwitting arrogance. When we believe that we are in an intimate spiritual union with the Creator of the universe, it’s quite easy to forget (if we ever understood this in the first place) that God can couch theological truth in a variety of literary genres and, yes, even in the context of ancient, scientifically inaccurate cosmologies.4 Caught up in the awesome truth of spiritual union, what makes perfect sense to us at any particular point in our spiritual walk can be easily confused with “the truth.” We also gravitate toward churches that conform to our particular belief systems. We prefer pastors who preach to the choir. We buy books that support our particular theological system. To attend another church, listen to a theologically edgy pastor, or read a book from a completely opposite viewpoint from what we’re accustomed to would be to invite a considerable measure of tension into an otherwise comfortable intellectual and spiritual environment.

How many of us actually have or take the time to study evolutionary biology, theology, the history of biblical interpretation, ANE literature, or modern translations of Babylonian creation myths? I would venture to guess that very few of us have the same opportunities that professional scientists and theologians take for granted in their academic careers. To overcome the fear of losing intellectual face, I recommend exposing oneself to different ways of thinking about these topics, including perspectives that you might deem “outside the box.” Reading multi-view comparisons and critiques, such as those found in Zondervan’s wonderful Counterpoints series, is particularly helpful in this regard. Familiarity with and exposure to these views helps temper that initial fear or shock when we come across those few brothers and sisters in Christ who opt to take another approach to any one topic. (One youth pastor friend of mine, when discovering my views on a particular topic, approached me and excitedly exclaimed that meeting me was like meeting a dragon: “You hear stories about them, but you never see one!”)

A word of warning: Before I adopted evolutionary creationism, my neatly packed theology was virtually stress-free. Ignorance was truly bliss. Then came the paradigm shift, and all sorts of previously suppressed tension, questions, and doubts rose to the surface. Another word of warning: If you’re not confronted with tension, questions, and doubts in your day-to-day spiritual walk, something’s wrong. Wrestling with theological issues is not an activity to be avoided; it is a discipline to be vigorously pursued! If you are comfortable enough in your relationship with the risen Savior, you should not fear admitting your ignorance on various topics and entering into a period of temporary uncertainty. This fear can be remedied by taking advantage of a fully informed palette of theological options provided by genuine Jesus followers, including those that embrace biblical criticism. If one’s faith is truly rooted in the One by, for, and through Whom all things were made, all the theories put forth by the higher biblical critics and esoteric scientists should be no cause for fear—but all should be cause for loving dialogue.

Notes

1. St. Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram), Trans. J. H. Taylor, in Ancient Christian Writers (Long Prairie, MN: Newman Press, 1982), vol. 41.
2. “Ignorant,” Oxford Dictionaries, accessed October 08, 2012, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ignorant.
3. Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 3.
4. See Denis Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008); Brian Godawa, “Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible,” accessed October 04, 2012.


A retired U.S. Navy commander, Mike currently resides in the Washington DC Metro Area and works in international business development for a major aerospace/defense company. Mike holds an MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego, a BA in Political Science from the University of Michigan, and an AA in Persian-Farsi from the U.S. Army’s Defense Language Institute. Mike is President of the DC Metro Section of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), a member of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and helps administer the Facebook group Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection.

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Cliff Martin - #74718

November 26th 2012

Again, my friend, BINGO! We in the evangelical wing of Christianity have, quite unwittingly, allowed fear to govern so much of our thinking, our activities, our definitions of truth. Before we can genuinely open our minds to a renewed pursuit of truth, we must first deal with our fears! Thank you, Mike, for this installement!


Seenoevo - #74719

November 26th 2012

“What drives us evangelical Christians to “hold the line” against acknowledging truths in these certain categories of scientific knowledge?”

What “truths”?

Would anybody say it is scientific to say something is old? Probably not?

Would somebody be more apt to say it is scientific to say something is 250,000 years old? Probably yes?

Is it also scientific to say that what you yesterday called 250,000 years old is “truthfully” 500,000 years old?

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/11/121116-stone-spear-tips-science-human-neanderthal-hunting/

Should truth be acknowledged when scientists say a supernova, known of since 1604 A.D., is about 20,000 light years away? Should this truth be acknowledged when scientists say it may be only 10,000 light years away?

http://phys.org/news/2012-09-kepler-supernovae.html

 

If yesterday someone said he was not only a scientist but also weighed 200 pounds, but today corrected himself by saying he actually weighs 400 pounds, what might the hearer think?


bren - #74725

November 26th 2012

Seenoevo,
You may be confusing self-correcting with fickle, open-to-new-evidence with wildly untrustworthy, global convergent conclusions with individual measurements and deceptive fat scientists with trenchant analysis.  Are you suggesting that the last few hundred years have been a monumental waste of time or should something else be understood by your observations?


Eve Langford - #74747

November 27th 2012

St Augustine of Hippo believed that human beings were born into sin not only through the disobedience of Eve, but on account of their sexual relationship in Eden.  He got it wrong. 

The story of the naked couple and the first man to enter the garden paradise circulated in  Abraham’s Mesopotamia before the Old Testament was set into written form.  Almost all the components of the beautiful Eden myth are found in some of the world’s oldest literature: the epic poem of Gilgamesh.  At its origins these stories - almost certainly known to the Hebrews - do no speak of original sin.  On the contrary they preserve the allegory of an inspirational and world-changing event in the human story in which the naked female was a heroine.

See Eden: The Buried Treasure by Eve Wood-Langford and say goodbye to original sin.


Seenoevo - #74731

November 26th 2012

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” [Mat 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33]

Is not the truth of Scripture said to be constant?

Are not the truths of science inconstant?

Which of the inconstants (i.e. of the “self-correcting … open-to-new-evidence … global convergent conclusions …trenchant analysis”) will determine the truth of the constant?

 

Lastly,

Before 2005, in the entire history of paleontology and geology, what was the probably universal consensus on the range of time within which fossilization would occur?


Cliff Martin - #74733

November 26th 2012

Seenoevo, When the church, after 200 years of dragging its feet, finally allowed the inconstant science of cosmology to correct our understanding of the constant Scripture (I refer, of course, to Galileo’s confirming of heliocentricity), what was happening, in your view? Should we ever allow scientific discovery to adjust how we read the Scriptures? Imperfect as it is, hasn’t science helped us to better understand Creation, and by extension, the Creator? Would you turn the clock backwards 500 years?


lancelot10 - #75398

December 18th 2012

Cliff - see ’ galileo was wrong the church was right’  fascinating stuff on various websites.  A guy called Sungenis and his physicist friends have a website where you can see moving heliocentric and geocentric models both working.  It is relative as einstein said - also hubble said geocentrism equations work but we cant let the Divine foot in the door - hoyle also said both systems are viable.

What about the Word of God - the psalms and Job have the sun moving - not the earth - plus Hezekiah - God made the sun go back to verify his healing and for Joshua God made the sun stop till he won the battle.  These bible facts are as far away from evolution as we could get.

Can the WHOLE universe go around the earth in a matrix faster than the speed of light - I dont know enough to explain how but I will always believe the word of God since it has never been proven wrong.

The devil uses the same tricks “did God really say that ?”   “did God really mean that ?”  - once he has got the door of unbelief  open on one part of the bible he will then start attacking other parts - Genesis is a favourite target of the devil.

 

 

 

 


wesseldawn - #75009

December 5th 2012

“Are not the truths of science inconsistent?

If you believe that God made this world then logically, His creation (nature) would not contradict the findings of those that study it (science).


lancelot10 - #75397

December 18th 2012

Seenoevo

Can fossiliziation not occur in a very short period like a few years - google the fossil cowboy boots - the giant stalactites a few hundred years old  and the fossil trees in mt st helens only 30 years old - etc


Seenoevo - #74737

November 26th 2012

“…allowed the inconstant science of cosmology to correct our understanding of the constant Scripture (I refer, of course, to Galileo’s confirming of heliocentricity)”

Has the science of cosmology been immune from corrections and reversals, unlike the other sciences?

Isn’t heliocentrism referred to as a theory and not as a fact?

Has heliocentrism been proven beyond all reasonable doubt?

[While some may try to equate the validity of the theory of heliocentrism with that of the Theory of Gravity, is not gravity considered a fact, something not only observed but experienced by everything which has ever lived on earth? Is gravity thus not significantly different from heliocentrism?]

“The irony is that after all the disputes over these different theories, neither one is necessarily correct. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity upset both models. New evidence has also shown that the Solar System’s center of gravity is not the exact center of the Sun. This means that either model is acceptable regardless of the fundamental differences between the theories. Astronomers use both the heliocentric and geocentric models for research depending on which theory makes their calculations easier. It definitely seems as if some things are relative after all.” http://www.universetoday.com/36487/difference-between-geocentric-and-heliocentric/

“What really set Copernicus’s heliocentric model apart was its simplicity. It did no better than Ptolemy’s model at predicting the planets but it was easier to use and handle.” http://astro.unl.edu/naap/ssm/heliocentric.html

“According to [Ernst] Bloch, the heliocentric system – just like the geocentric – is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated. Among these, an important role is played by the affirmation of the existence of an absolute space; that’s an opinion that, in any event, has been cancelled by the Theory of Relativity… The advantage of the heliocentric system over the geocentric, he suggested, does not consist in a greater correspondence to objective truth, but solely in the fact that it offers us greater ease of calculation.”  http://ncronline.org/node/11541


bren - #74753

November 27th 2012

Interesting spin Seenoevo, though I’m not sure that you have quite succeeded in rehabilitating Ptolemy.  No, I somehow still think, in my culturally conditioned way, that Ptolemaic epicycles aren’t just an alternate way of seeing things that neglect to facilitate the now available “greater ease of calculation” afforded by that other (equally legitimate) model.  It’s a bit like shaking a camera to simulate an earthquake in a homemade movie and claiming that since there is no absolute space-time frame of reference, it is really the earth that is shaking.  Einstein would be turning over in his grave (or is it the earth that is turning over while Einstein remains unmoved). (-;

I understand that you are suspicious of modern science Seenoevo and there are many powerful cultural elements (maybe especially in the evangelical community) who have every interest in encouraging that suspicion, but there are probably reasonable limits that should be put on any doubt, especially when that doubt is ideologically driven for some reason.  It starts to seem pyrrhonic at a certain point (worth checking the eponym on that one, this guy was a serious doubter!), and when it is only applied to some things (like science) instead of others, it starts to seem dubiously motivated.


Cliff Martin - #74754

November 27th 2012

By the way ... I have no idea why my earlier comment posted as it did, creating on the one word column on the left side of this thread. My apologies. And if anyone knows how to remove the post (I am able to do so as the poster, I know not how) any help toward that end would be appreciated! 


Mike Beidler - #74758

November 27th 2012

Done!


Seenoevo - #74766

November 27th 2012

“I understand that you are suspicious of modern science … but there are probably reasonable limits that should be put on any doubt, especially when that doubt is ideologically driven … it starts to seem dubiously motivated.”

If anyone, especially one of academic authority (or one who takes seriously their utterances), says that a specific thing is true (i.e. not possibly true or probably true but scientifically true), and that specific thing turns out to be untrue, would some suspicion of that person’s pronouncements be wrong? Would doubt necessarily be an “ideologically driven” and “dubiously motivated” response? Or could the doubt be a common sense, prudent response?

Do not revisions, which can be so severe as to be call reversals, happen even in observed, “hands-on” scientific arenas (let alone the unobserved, “hands-off” arenas of evolution and billions-of-years-ago-big bangs)? E.g. http://sciencelife.uchospitals.edu/2011/07/19/reversals-of-fortune-and-misfortune/

 

 

Reposting and rephrasing:

Before 2005, in the entire history of paleontology, geology and biology, what was the probably universal consensus on the range of time within which a dead organism either completely decomposes or fossilizes (in a non-freezing environment)? Was it not a matter of months, perhaps years?


lancelot10 - #75394

December 18th 2012

The long time scale ?  what about consistent C14 being found in diamonds coal and oil when there should be none.   Plus  God created light first and then the stars - this is not the way us mere humans would put it. 

People look at sedimenatry layers but look at St Helens with its hardened rock and fossils 30 years old - they look millions of years old.

What about lava a few hundred years old being dated in the billions of years - radio dating is crazy science.

Plus the soft tendon tissue of a 70 million year old TRex can be seen in a test tube  - and I believe that dr. schweitcher found dino blood but it was obfuscated by the high priests of evolution who waited two yrs and called it rust.

Long time scale is not compatible with the word of God or the mass of evidence for the young earth.


lancelot10 - #75396

December 18th 2012

Mike

To paraphrase st augustine’s doubts - a ‘baby’ christian comes up to me and asks do you really believe that the dead will rise and even come out of the sea - I say yes, that is my belief - but he then asks do you also believe that God needed 5 billion years to design evolve  adam  - if I answer yes - he will say but how could he raise the dead instantly if God needed 5 billion years - will I lose a christian ?  

Or should I tell the truth of God that he created Adam from dust instantly - will I gain a true christian through the power of God’s word.

Christians were ridiculed for believing these things - they were slaughtered - evolution is not new but greek mythology dressed up as science and went right back to before Augustine.

 


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