Response to Bursting the Science/Religion Bubble: Layer #1

June 15, 2010

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.

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Bursting the Science/Religion Bubble

June 4, 2010

In this post, I pick back up where we left off a few months ago, discussing a set of scholarly essays posted on the Biologos website. Here I’ll be discussing Darrel Falk’s essay, “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process: III. Concerns of the Typical Agnostic Scientist.” First off, I’d recommend this paper as a good read. Specifically, it is easy to read and makes some points that I feel are pretty important for the evangelical community to hear. If nothing else, read the introduction, which is only a page long and is a story that clearly illustrates the problem.

Falk’s main premise is that the evangelical world has unnecessarily surrounded itself with a ‘bubble’ that makes it difficult for any agnostic scientist to take Christianity seriously. The take away message is a reflective one:

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.

It’s fair to say that certain beliefs that are common within the evangelical community are contradictory enough to science that many scientists are unwilling to take Christianity seriously.  The community must ask, “Are these barriers man-made or are they truly fundamental?”

Falk divides the bubble into 5 layers.  The first is “The story of Adam and Eve must be viewed as history.”  He begins by arguing that the story of Adam and Eve is truly foundational to Christianity.  It is central to the Christian understanding of man, his history, and his current condition.  However, he also points out that there is a large body of scientific evidence that contradicts aspects of this story (if they are taken literally).  How should this be resolved?

Should we try to convince all of the non-scientifically inclined evangelicals to cease believing that Adam and Eve are the first human beings? That would almost certainly be futile at this time—there is no point in trying. Besides it could harm their faith. What the church can, and in my opinion must do, however, is to make it clear that there are two ways in which evangelicals view this story. One is historical, the other, allegorical. To publicly acknowledge that and to make it clear that the latter view does not in any way disengage an evangelical from their faith would be of considerable significance. Let’s allow both views to co-exist in evangelicalism for now. 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. Having admitted that, then let’s quickly move on to the 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.

Falk feels that the current focus on literal aspects of the story has directed the attention of Christians and non-Christians alike away from the most important aspects of story.

The agnostic misses the profundity and the beauty of the story of Adam and Eve, and it is our fault. Sometimes it almost seems we prefer to keep the richness of the story as our trade secret.

Layer #4 Falk calls “Augustine’s Warning,” inspired by the following quote from Augustine’s The Literal Meaning of Genesis

It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, while presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense…If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintain his foolish opinions about scriptures how then are they going to believe those Scriptures in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven?

It is all too easy for the academic to dismiss Christianity as idiotic or simple-minded if Christians are constantly espousing scientific theories that are in blatant contradiction to the majority of the evidence.

Layer #5, “As it relates to science and faith, Christians are perceived as people who distort facts and lack integrity.”  As Falk points out, this layer has nothing to do with science and everything to do with how Christians live their lives.  Whether it is deserved or not, Falk claims that Christians have a growing reputation within academia of being willing to distort the truth to serve their agenda.  This can only be battled by living Christ-like lives of love and honesty.

Falk  leaves us with a final thought,

Jesus tells us that it is not easy to follow him. He spoke of it as being like a camel going through the eye of a needle. However, for some, because of our own human inadequacies, we, and we alone have plugged the eye of the needle. We have piled up huge roadblocks in the already narrow passageway. We have put so many non-transparent layers around the kingdom of God, that people are not even able to see glimpses of God’s glory anymore. The onus is on us to bring about the changes that will make the Christian life accessible to scientists and others whose way is blocked by matters that have little to do with the Kingdom of God and everything to do with our own human frailties.

As Christians, we have to be careful that not to add our own personal adornments to God’s truth.  I think that the time is coming for the evangelical church to re-examine what it holds as it’s core beliefs.  What have we added?  What must stay?  We must carve down until we reach the foundational core.