Doctrine on Cliff's Questions


(system) #1

By Alexander Carpenter

Hey good pals.

First Jim, then I’ll tackle Cliff’s essential question. (This is in response to their comments here.)

Jim, I appreciate your critique. I think that at this stage of the conversation it's important to be really careful about language. Notice that I said that "stiff-arms the evidence" not stiff-arms the other side.

Have you read E. O. Wilson's latest book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth?

Or, Francis Collins new book, The Language of God? Here are some of the most establishment evolutionists and their approach contradicts your sense of them. You can't get more scientific establishment than Wilson (at Harvard) and Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project. Collins believes in evolution and is a confessing evangelical Christian (who smacks down atheism pretty well) and Wilson wrote his book as a very loving letter to a creationist pastor. Sure Dawkins is dismissive, I've read and heard him, but in fact, most scientists feel that he is too antagonistic. So he is actually out of the mainstream of evolutionist thought. And in fact, poll after poll continues to show that a majority of scientists self-identify as theists. Also, did you read the Numbers article? An agnostic and the preemient historian of science, he actually likes many creationists he knows. Harvard just reissued his book too. So while one may feel beleagued, the evidence suggests reason to feel otherwise. Too often the media creates false categories on either side - I have to remind myself to read them in their own words.

One of the problems in this current tolerance zeitgeist is that accusing the other side of not tolerating my side appears too often as the substance of an argument. Too often we say: but you're excluding me. But in a pluralistic age, in fact, every single point of view finds itself excluded, even hounded at some point. In talking about origins, I'm not so much interested in who feels marginalized (I am in other areas) the reality is that while almost all scientists assume long-ages, most evangelical Christians, and a significant part of the South and Mid-West believe in creation, so depending where one goes and to whom one talks, the concentration of the debate shifts.

But I'm talking here about raw scientific studies, data and analysis. The incontrovertible fact is that most reasoning about natural life supports evolution. More journals, most scientists, even a significant number of Adventist scientists. One can say that the evidence for evolution is faulty, but one cannot say that creationism has more marshaled evidence. One could make a Foucauldian argument that creationists are excluded, but that moves the debate to one of power relations and makes an argument based on the future - saying that if we had access to as much money or journals we could marshal just as much evidence. But again, the fact right now remains that the scientific method has consistently (but not without holes) given us the more evidence in support of evolutionary models for the origin of species.

By this I certainly don't want to suggest that just because lots of people, or experts believe something that one should just accept it without question. But I have noticed that some of the conversation has focused on "hey, what about this gap" arguments. There are some good books that deal with origins that gets beyond the mere argument toward what any scientific position should be based upon measured, repeatable, transferable evidence.

Ha ClifFordham,

Nice work. I'll take on your question which I understand essentially as: why believe the stories of Jesus and not the story of creation?

First let's not confuse scientific evidence and literary evidence. Both rely on interpretative models, but with differing methods. Since Dr. King's birthday is tomorrow, let me use him as a model. In fact, there is no scientific evidence that can prove that someone is divine. Correct? But we all agree that there is moral evidence to tell if someone is more or less living up to what we humans consider godly behavior. Frankly, even though I only rely on literary and visual evidence that Dr. King existed (I''ve not read any DNA studies that prove him) the record seems to suggest that he made a moral difference that is farther along the moral continuum to godliness than me. But I bet you want to know how believe in the record of the divinity of Christ but not the record of a divinely-spoken six-day creation. Good. I raise the Dr. King example only in order to point out that we are talking about differing interpretative methods: scientific, literary, moral.

When we talk about creation we’re talking science and literarry. Studying Jesus, it’s moral and literary. Whether one is a creationist, ID aficionado or evolutionist, fundamentally reasoned science gets the final word. While there is significant amounts of scientific evidence that questions the six-day model, no really can’t make a scientific case that Jesus never existed. But to talk of Christ’s divinity is even less a scientific question. In fact, it is really a moral question.

You see where I am going. I thinking apophatically. All we have are reports of, not writings by, Jesus. So we must reason from the negative who he was by what people said and did as a result of knowing him. In short, I believe via the moral meaning in the literary evidence that he is real. Frankly, I find the old Lewis "crazy or divine" dictim a bit too simplistic, but I think that the evidence of his moral action speaks of his divinity much more than his or any other recorded words. The fact is that lots of people claim divinity, no one has loved as much as he did. And that's why I want to live like him. And the last time I read the gospels, Jesus said that I AM, not creation, is the way, the truth and the life.

Ok, so that was a rhetorical flourish at the end, but you get my drift (albeit a bit neo-orthodox). Of course you will ask, why believe those words about Jesus and not those words about a six-day creation. In reality it would take a couple of hundred pages to make a logical case compiling scientific evidence, dealing with the Jesus seminar folks, smacking down New Agers, and articulating the ministry of Jesus as the Christ. But the fact is that there exists a lot more evidence for macro-evolution independent of God than for Jesus doing what he did independent of a supernatural connection to divinity. Palestine was packed full of first century messiahs.

I believe that Jesus is God and I seek to understand and model (too often terribly) his life and teachings, especially the Beatitudes - what part of blessed are the peacemakers don't we understand?

The fact is that when people really take Jesus’ teaching about the equality of humanity seriously (across race, gender, class, and religion) our morality becomes more like God. Oh wait, Dr. King got it right in the face of incredible Christian opposition (reading the story of Ham literally I might add) and changed human relations for the better. Not to say that Camus' The Plague doesn't give me pause on that point, but whoever Jesus was, remember we really only have a couple of anecdotes, the fact is that the way he lived and died shocked some first century humans into caring more and reversing the world order. It happened to Ellen White in the1880s. The evidence suggests that Jesus creates new visions, and that is a moral truth that trumps any scientific evidence.

Creationism on the other hand functions more as a link used to support biblical literalism. The feeling is that if someone admits that the bible is made of stories, not propositional truths, than w(h)ither faith. But the fact is that Christianity wouldn't exist without Christ, but both Judaism and faith in general don’t require a six-day thing. I believe after a significant season of reading and thinking that the creation story comes to us via the ancient near-east collection of stories about origins. I think that we can look at any prescientific culture and see a greater credence given to supernatural explanations and as the scientific method gets applied, the demons and the magic disappears. For me it's much easier to see how the story could have meaning to the pre-1600th century consciousness. But even great churchmen like Augustine realized that the creation story functions allegorically, not literally. I mean were not talking even about 1000 BC when people started writing stories down, creation stories come from the earliest oral traditions. The fact is that if Moses was writing it down via God, God had also told a bunch of other people widely different versions. Enuma Elish anyone. Read those Creation Stories and these.

Why should we ignore science for the Genesis account except in an attempt to bolster faith. I grew up an Adventist creationist. Until I actually started reading and following the logic I, too, worried about everything unraveling. But the fact is that when I tackled the doubts head on, I didn't strip away my faith, instead I stripped away the stuff clouding my faith. Understanding how faith functions more clearly I don't need linked texts to support my faith. True I can never de-historicize creation or Christ, but it's only the Word that prexists, not creation. I believe that we Christians say that in Christ we are a "new creation," perhaps the old reasons for belief - because of hell, because of a list of texts, because of culture - fall away and at some point I believe in Jesus because he re-creates me every day.

This is crazy, it's Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting here in Manhattan staring at my computer screen with the Met just across the park. I'm outta here. . .

Fight the power,Alex

p.s. The question for any creationist: is there any reason to believe in a six-day creation independent of faith in God or the ministry of Christ? In other words, is creation just a prop or can we get everything that we get from it - Sabbath, God's care for us, human worth, the reality of redemption without pinning them to creation, caring for our environment. Could you still have the essence of Christianity - like Collins and millions of real Christians do - without believing that God created the earth as literally recorded? Does evolution hurt all faith in God or just faith-based on a six-day creating God?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4378