Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Nature of Idolatry

(This will get me in trouble.)

Ever since I affirmed that the evidence for evolution is reasonable and that evolutionary theory has not failed, I've been explaining ideas about science and evidence leading up to this post. After many years in this debate, I've come to the uncomfortable conclusion that we creationists have made an idol of our own arguments. I don't say this lightly or flippantly either. This is a deadly serious problem, and the conservative wing of Christianity desperately needs to address it.

Now I realize that the apostle Paul commonly uses logic to develop his readers' understanding of Christian theology, but Paul is also the one who wrote this:
For to those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God's power. For it is written,
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.
Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn't God made the world's wisdom foolish? For since, in God's wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom, because God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength (I Cor. 1:20-25)

And elsewhere:
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great:
He was manifested in the flesh,
justified by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory
(I Tim. 3:16)

Somehow, in our modern world, I think we've come to believe that the mysteries are all solved, that our position is literally the only one that makes sense. But how can this be? How can any of our theology "make sense?" Let's just look at the most basic point of all: When Adam and Eve sinned, why didn't God just wipe them out and start over again? Why curse the creation then become a part of it and suffer a humiliating death in order to fix it? How does that make any sense? It doesn't. It is the foolishness of God, and it is wiser than any human wisdom. How do I know? I know by faith.

That's not the attitude you'll hear today among many Christian thinkers. They'll tell you that we're the only ones with any sensible position. What happened to God's foolishness? What happened to the great mysteries of the faith? When did we figure them all out?

I greatly fear that our faith in Christ has been replaced with an idolatry of apologetics. I fear we've stopped believing in Christ and started believing in arguments about Christ (or the Bible or creation or what have you). I fear we've bowed to the world's demand that we believe only that which is rational. We're certainly no longer content with merely saying "I don't know." We have to have answers, and endless (and often pointless) argument has become our substitute for simply telling unbelievers what Christ has done for us.

Don't believe me? Try telling a creationist that there is evidence for evolution. Watch how tenaciously they'll argue against you. They might even try to insult you, maybe call you bipolar or just plain ignorant. They'll certainly question your creationist "credentials." Only an evolutionist would say there's evidence for evolution! I've even been told that I'm going to lead people away from faith in Christ by my position on evolution. Imagine that. What kind of world is this where telling the truth about something would lead someone away from faith? The only way that could possibly be true is if our faith is actually wrong, which it isn't.

OK, maybe evolution is a big, touchy subject. Let's look at something a little smaller: the geologic column. Any creationist worth his salt knows that the geologic column is a debated topic in creationism. It all started with George McCready Price at the very beginning of the twentieth century. He claimed that the geologic column (worked out largely before evolution became popular) was bogus. It was supposedly built on circular logic (which it isn't), and there was no reproducible order to it at all (which there is).

The first creationist to question Price's geology was Harold Clark, who actually spent a summer doing field work with oil geologists. He tried to formulate a model to explain the regular order of the fossil record. For his trouble, Price accused Clark of spreading "theories of satanic origin" and tried to bring charges of heresy against him to SDA church officials.

I wish I could say things are better today. In modern creationism, the majority of Ph.D. geologists accept the geologic column as a legitimate summary of the order of the fossil record. There remain critics, however, who sometimes bitterly argue against the geologic column. I've read a lot of these criticisms, and the one thing that always sticks out in my mind is the veiled accusations of "compromise." By accepting the geologic column, so the argument goes, we are compromising with an unbiblical and ungodly uniformitarian view of nature. It's not merely a disagreement over the interpretation of data (which it should be). It's a moral and faith issue.

I ask you, why should that be? Why do creationists get so breathtakingly passionate about this or that argument? Why fight so tenaciously over the order of the fossil record or even sillier things like the Zuiyo maru carcass? Why do we think our faith depends on these arguments being true? Why can't we just let these things go and rest in our own experiences of the risen Lord?

By now some of my readers probably think I've gone way off the deep end. Fair enough. Let me leave you with another chilling possibility. What if we teach the next generation that there is no evidence for evolution? And what if we're wrong? What do you think will happen when those kids find out? I think what will happen is the same thing that always happens. They'll be disillusioned and fall away from the faith. I've heard of this happening, and I've seen it happen. People find out that all the antievolution arguments in the world won't survive a semester of basic biology at a secular university. While we thought we were teaching them to believe in Christ, we instead taught them to idolize our arguments about Christ. And when those arguments are shown to be incomplete, inadequate, or just wrong, that idolatry (which we thought was real faith) slips away.

That's why I want my students to know the truth about evolution. It's not bogus. It's not a failure. There's lots of evidence in its favor. But that just doesn't make it true. Have faith in the risen Christ, and it will not matter what scientists tell you (or anyone else, for that matter).

Some of you might be wondering why I bother doing science at all. That's touching on the nature of creation science, and that's a topic for another day.