Thursday, February 23, 2012
reason versus faith part 2
Lately I’d heard several stories of young Christians trotting off to college and getting blown out of their faith because of hearing views that didn’t harmonize with their Sunday-school version of faith. Listen: faith is rigorous, not opposed to reason, and not for the faint-hearted.
And a lot of the time it seems to center on creation and science…which is unfortunate in my mind. It doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, evangelical Christians have different views on the issue.
There are basically four positions that Christians take regarding this issue. I’m indebted to my fellow Vineyard Pastor Ken Wilson in Ann Arbor for this overview…
Young Earth: This position says the earth was created six to ten thousand years ago. Each species was created separately with no common biological root. Once each species was created, it remains fixed. Small changes are allowed, but none so great that they eventually result in two species where there was once only one. Of the four positions, this maintains the maximum disagreement with mainstream science. Evangelicals who hold this position include John MacArthur, Josh McDowell, John Maxwell, and Charles Stanley.
Old Earth: This position says the earth could be as old as mainstream scientists say; the six days of creation in Genesis 1 could be six eras, when each species (though species may be defined flexibly) was separately created, with no descent from common ancestors. The theory of evolution has no merit, except to account for changes within a given species. This position maintains much disagreement with mainstream science, though less than the Young Earth position. A primary writer is Hugh Ross and the evangelical leaders in the U.S. who hold this view are way too many to mention.
Intelligent Design: This position is a relative newcomer to the debate, championed by writers like Philip Johnson. However, it’s difficult to assess this view because it’s advocates hold a wide range of views. Many who hold Young Earth and Old Earth positions advocate this position in public debate. Others, like Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, leave a lot of room for evolutionary process. Behe articulates what he views as a key weakness in evolutionary theory, what he calls “irreducible complexity.” Some biological structures are so complex that it’s difficult to imagine how an evolutionary process could account for them. There are so many using the language of Intelligent Design these days, but certainly Behe’s position involves less disagreement than the Young Earth and Old Earth positions, but it’s still substantial.
The fourth view is Theistic Evolution: This position says that God, working through evolution, created. Theistic evolution objects to scientists who step beyond their science to say that evolution proves that there cannot be a creator God. These are scientists who claim that since we have in evolution a mechanism that accounts for the diversity of life as we know it, then it follows that there is no creator God, no purpose in creation, and no design, not even in a big picture or theological sense. Theistic evolution says, “That’s just importing atheism into science; nothing in the science itself justifies that conclusion.” Many big guns, even in the field of evolutionary biology, agree. Theistic Evolution has many variations but certainly many who hold it would claim that Genesis is not meant to be read as science. God is very much the author, the text is inspired, reliable and authoritative. It simply isn’t meant to convey a scientific understanding of origins.
There are a growing number of evangelical Christians taking this position. Much in the writings of C.S. Lewis suggests that he held this view. B.B. Warfield, a contributor to Christian fundamentalist movement and a very conservative scholar who championed the “inerrancy” doctrine of Scripture, held to a version of this. Billy Graham is friendly to this view, along with Francis Collins, John Stott, Tim Keller, Peter Enns, to some degree J. I. Packer, and even Pope John Paul II.
I’m not here to tell you which of these views you should adopt, but I am saying there is a wide-range of very respected Christian thinkers, theologians and scientists who do not take a monolithic view on the interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis…and all deeply love Jesus and His atoning work on the cross for us. But for us to have a relevant voice in the culture, we need to be wise.
When Galileo was inquisitioned by the Church for promoting heliocentrism (the earth wasn’t the center of the universe and actually revolved around the sun—not a totally new thought but the Church considered it only a theory), his accusers based their view on scriptures like Psalm 93:1: Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved (NKJV)…and multiple verses about the sun “rising and setting”, proving that the sun moved around planet earth. And since scripture cannot lie, then Galileo must be wrong.
Galileo would write: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.”
Physics professors Loren and Deborah Haarsma of Calvin College write:
“The Galileo incident shows us that the Holy Spirit can sometimes use discoveries of science to prompt us to reexamine our interpretation of Scripture, leading us ultimately to a better understanding of Scripture. We should not neglect this means by which God can teach us new things.”
Or as the proverb says, Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights. Proverbs 18:15 (Message Version)
Again, my reason for talking about this is not to convince you of any particular view, but to reconsider the idea that you have to park your brain at the door to become a follower of Jesus. But you may need to do some research. And truth is, all four views have difficulties Biblically…and to varying degrees, scientifically. But you have to think.
I love how Luke, the physician, historian, and someone who took some hellish missionary trips with his friend Paul, writes to a friend to help him in any open questions he might have regarding the truth of Jesus the messiah. Luke would have lived before and after the time of Jesus’ resurrection. His gospel is simply a letter written to his friend Theophilus. Luke writes:
Most honorable Theophilus: Many people have written accounts about the events that took place among us. They used as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eyewitnesses of what God has done in fulfillment of his promises. Having carefully investigated all of these accounts from the beginning, I have decided to write a careful summary for you, to reassure you of the truth of all you were taught. Luke 1:1–4 (New Living Translation)
In other words, “Theophilus, your heart has experienced the reality of God, but you may have some open questions intellectually, or some doubts regarding the historicity of the stories. I’ve taken the time to investigate this thoroughly so that you can trust the reports you’ve heard…”
The reality is: There are honest, real issues that Christians have to wrestle with: Why is there suffering? What is the origin of evil? How can natural calamities happen if God is good? Our most painful questions are usually more along philosophical, moral and theological lines than scientific. That’s simply because science, in general, is designed to answer “how” questions, not “why” questions.
I’ve recently been posting Facebook questions, such as “If Jesus sat across the table from you, what would you ask Him?” All of sudden there were over 160 comments…some funny ones, of course, but many of them were heartbreaking, as in “Why did my baby…” or “Why did my marriage…” or “How come cancer took my mom…”—issues of loss and pain and brokenness.
Another question was: “Total honesty: what barrier keeps you from deeply experiencing God?”—and again very vulnerable comments were posted exposing a longing to know why God did or didn’t do certain things.
And beneath all those comments is an undercurrent of fairness or justice. Something is simply not fair. “That’s not right.” “That’s not just.” The unfairness of life and circumstances was a common theme. That issue was a large part of former atheist C.S. Lewis’ whole problem with God in classic little book: Mere Christianity. He writes:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?
“…In the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
In the end, reason will lead you to the doorway of God, but it won’t take you in. Reason will take you all the way to the door, but it won’t turn the handle. That’s where the actions of grace, repentance and faith must kick in. To experience God, one has to walk through a very small and narrow door that one can only fit through humbly on one’s knees. The only way in is via humility…with just enough self-awareness to say, “Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was. Maybe not as clever as I think. Maybe I don’t have all the answers. Maybe I’m more broken than I realize. Maybe there is something more to this life than this life.” Repentance means to change your mind. That’s why the Bible says that a fool says there is no God (Psalm 53:1). It’s the fool who believes he already knows everything, who has such little self-awareness that he can’t see any need. Only a fool would accept the senselessness of the universe as a way to live.
Again, often the problem is not an intellectual one, but a moral one.
The amazing Jewish prophet Isaiah—the prince of prophets in my mind, persecuted for his proclamations—once had a word from God for his people, his tribe. Israel had become so defined by her rebellion against God in the worst religious ways, that God had some gut wrenching things to say to them:
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18
Once that condition is taken care of, then you’ll know God. Or as Jesus put it, “You shall know the truth…and it will set you free.”
[ Part 3 contains some recommended resources ]