Tough Questions for Thinking Faith

Why is there still an ongoing feud between “the creationists” and “the evolutionists”? I know there is one. I know that some people are deeply invested in one side or the other of this argument, to the tune of having written whole books, or built whole expensive and unaccountably popular theme parks down the road from us. I know that, but I don’t understand it.

Not really, not to empathize with it, or “relate to it.”

This is on my mind because our pastor has begun a project called “soul searching through song.” This will be a series of sermons on tough topics for thinking faith. Each one will use a popular song as a starting point, introducing some of the issues and questions that trouble people, directly and vividly. Then, the sermon will engage some of those issues and questions theologically. The first of these was this perennial conflict between the creationist and the evolutionist account of the origins of the heavens and the earth and the life on earth.

So we listened to the song, and our wonderful pastor cogently focused on the difference between literature, like poetry, and science. [The song was “A Big Mistake,” by David Wilcox. The sermon was great, too, and is online here; it starts about 17 minutes in.] Of course I appreciated all this.

Nevertheless, I realize upon reflection that I always come back to wondering why people fight about this. Because I do not understand it.

God is the author of truth. Satan is the author of lies. Christians ought to embrace truth, and shun lies.

It’s the prerogative of the author to choose their genre, and their media. It’s bizarre, it seems to me, to say that we’re calling God a liar when we refuse to read the poetry of Genesis 1 as geology, or the satiric fiction of the book of Jonah as journalism. We don’t say we’re calling Shakespeare a liar when we read Julius Caesar as poetic drama; we don’t say we’re calling Dickens a liar when we read A Tale of Two Cities as a novel; we don’t say we’re calling Langston Hughes a liar when we call A Theme for English B a poem. And if we found out Langston Hughes never “actually enrolled in English B,” or if other details were factually discrepant, it wouldn’t dim that poem’s deeper truth.

So why do people insist we are calling God a liar if we acknowledge the obvious: all the ways the Bible consists of multiple genres of literature, up to and including fiction?

Isn’t denying reality a form of lying? It seems that way to me.

[An aside: What the main point or most important truth of scripture actually is seems to be implicated in this quarrel somehow. I read a young earth creationist manifesto that insisted that accepting the evolutionists’ account of creation would imply that God let faithful people believe a “false story” about cosmic origins for a few thousand years, and then left it to godless scientists to set the record straight. Well – seriously? It’s commonplace for us to explain things to our children in simple, even if technically inaccurate, terms they can understand at their young age. We don’t say we are lying to our children, for instance, when we tell them that gas makes the car go, and leave the details of the internal combustion engine to be hashed out in high school physics, when they are better equipped to understand that more accurate explanation. So this line of reasoning seems foolish to me. What was the most important thing for the people who wrote and read the Bible between the 5th century BCE to the age of radiocarbon dating to know: the precise age of the earth, or that God was behind it all? The latter is the main point, surely.]
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On the other hand, denying the obvious when it comes to making metaphysical assumptions is as much a denial of reality as is denying the obvious about the Bible.

There is a vast difference between saying “we’re going to restrict our explanations and our theories to what we can support with public empirical evidence” and saying “we know empirical reality is all the reality there is.” How could you possibly know that?

Whistling in the dark is comforting, but still denial.
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Assuming God is the author of truth, this much seems clear, at least to me: all the public empirical evidence of creation comes as much from God as does any of the authentic private evidence – that is, all the various forms of special revelation, to use that terminology. The creation – the empirical creation – is another divine medium. It’s general revelation, direct revelation of the truth of things. Real things.

Who’s more likely to be mistaken about the age of the rocks: the priestly authors of Genesis 1, from their 5th century BCE vantage point, or the rocks themselves?

Granted, the rocks also need to be “read.” But if, according to the best readers of rock, the rocks keep telling us that they’re 4.5 billion years old or so, it seems to me we ought to take the rocks’ testimony seriously. Not doing that seems the more serious case of “calling God a liar.”

And if taking the rocks’ testimony – and the species’ testimony and all the other empirical testimony – seriously means we need to learn new things about the Bible, or even about God, then presumably we are being called upon to do that. In fact, as faithful people who love God and seek God’s truth, we must want to do that.

Unless in fact we prefer and love our imaginary rocks, and whatever story about God they tell.

But that would have to be a story with a different author, wouldn’t it?
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Image: “Coreopsis lanceolata,” by André ALLIOT, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.; “Rocks,” Vincent van Gogh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

3 responses to “Tough Questions for Thinking Faith”

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