In response to Matt’s post last week (Bursting the Science/Religion Bubble), I wanted to discuss a few of the points both he and Darrel Falk made. This point, in particular, hit home for me and reminded me of several discussions I’ve had with Christians about the gap between evangelical Christians and academia:
Perhaps it is time for us, even we evangelicals, to explore whether we are propping up the layers of a bubble that we, and not God, have put in place and thereby, have artificially isolated ourselves from the world of academics.
While I have had heard of experiences where people studying science came to believe in God as a result of their studies, I have heard more stories, including firsthand ones, that went the other way. The stories I have heard are much the same as the one Falk describes – people who were raised in a Christian home and grew up hearing and believing the gospel abandoned it after experiencing the world of academics and being unable to reconcile their upbringing with what they have learned. While I do think that in many of these cases, these people may have not been true believers – lacking a deep-rooted relationship with God – I don’t think that this is always the case. I do, however, believe that if more Christians raised their children using Falk’s suggestion (quoted below), that there would be fewer cases where people abandon their faith in the face of academia.
I am convinced that we can eliminate the barrier by simply admitting that there are many deeply committed Christians who believe that many elements of the story of Adam and Eve is not historical. I think we need to tell our children that at a young age and I think we need to show them why there are committed Christians on both sides. It also would be good to show them why the historicity of Adam and Eve is not foundational to faith.
I think there is a large disconnect between the evangelical church and the academic world as a whole, and many Christians, I fear, think that this disconnect is necessary. In my (limited) experience, many Christians believe (1) that a literal interpretation of the story of creation as found in Genesis is a foundational belief as a Christian, (2) that any other explanation for how the world could have come to be is out of the question, and (3) they seem to have a great lack of reasoning skills when it comes to listening to or even considering any other explanation, whether that comes from fellow believers or not.
Of all of these things I have encountered, the latter is the most frustrating, and I am a believer myself. That alone has led me to the conclusion that these evangelicals themselves are a huge part of the disconnect and, unfortunately for the academic community, they seem to have the loudest voices around. Until something is done about this, I feel that the gap is only likely to widen.
I have also had discussions with Christians who believe that it is their duty as a Christian to go out and try to convert the scientific community using outdated debates against evolution, with just enough ‘training’ in the matter to be very opinionated but without being at all educated about what the academic world actually believes and why. This, too, is quite unfortunate because it only leads to harden more hearts against the gospel message. I think that more hearts could be won with open-minded discussions rather than closed-minded lectures.
If more evangelicals were to read articles like Falk’s and to be ready to realize that some (possibly many) of the reasons for the barrier are likely man-made, I think that this could be a very good start to undoing a lot of the damage done by this particular layer of the barriers Falk discusses.
At the very least, I would like to see Christians who understand science well enough to admit that, scientifically, the best explanation for the world’s beginnings could very well be the theory of evolution. Obviously, a theory isn’t proven, it’s just the best current explanation given the evidence. I know just enough about science to understand that theories have to have evidence in their favor, and that they can’t just be taken on faith like religion is. But that doesn’t mean that to believe a theory, you have to abandon your faith. I think that we need to reach a greater understanding of how to balance the two, but in order to move in that direction, you have to be flexible to changing what you believe about science (and as Falk suggests, also how we interpret the Bible).
Although the historicity of the story was not an issue in Jesus’ day, Jesus called for people to look beyond literality—to seek out the message. Perhaps we, by focusing on the historicity of this story are a little like the Pharisees. We see the words in Scripture, but we miss that to which the words are pointing us.
However, I also think that we cannot discount that many true Christians do believe that the Genesis account is to be interpreted literally. As Christians, perhaps we need to learn better to respect each others’ opinions when it comes to interpreting the Bible and its meaning.
The take-home message:
Let’s do like Jesus did when he tried to get the Pharisees to move beyond the words of the law and to focus on its meaning. Just like the Pharisees who, in focusing on dotted “i’s” and crossed “t’s” had lost sight of what God really wanted to say, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to us.
Let’s learn to figure out what God is saying to us with the message in the Bible, and how that pertains to how we live our lives here on earth; how we treat one another, how we reach out to one another, and how we remember every day how we live each day by the grace of God.