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.