Update, 7:32 PM I have revised portions of the second vignette in response to the first comment below.
Via Josh Rosenau I came across this post from Todd Wood. Wood is an unabashed young-Earth creationist. What makes him considerably more interesting than most YEC’s is that he sometimes writes things like this:
Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well. (Bold face in original)
Richard Dawkins could not have said it better.
Wood goes on to explain:
Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn’t make it ultimately true, and it doesn’t mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution. I am motivated to understand God’s creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don’t be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don’t idolize your own ability to reason. Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it. Maybe that’s not enough for your scoffing professor or your non-Christian friends, but it should be enough for you. (Italics in original)
Number me among the scoffers, though I do appreciate Wood’s clarity and forthrightness. He elaborates further in his present post:
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.
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).
That last sentence is a bit chilling. After all, it should matter what scientists tell you, at least on scientific questions. Whatever. I would note that other creationists have expressed similar ideas, for example, Andrew Snelling at 2008’s International Conference on Creationism.
As it happens, I don’t think Wood has really identified anything especially mysterious about Christian theology. Adam and Eve sinned in Chapter Three of Genesis, and by Chapter Six God did indeed destroy (almost) everything. And cursing the creation does not mean abandoning it completely.
Leaving that aside, I feel compelled to say a few words in defense of creationists. The general view that Wood is defending, that human reason is inherently unreliable and pales as a source of evidence when compared to the Bible, is ubiquitous in creationist literature. It is a central feature of the exhibits at the Creation Museum, for example. I don’t get the impression that their overreliance on scientific sounding arguments has caused them to overlook this point.
Wood is surely correct about the arrogance of so many Christian apologists. Spend any amount of time circulating among YEC’s and you are quickly struck by their utter confidence in the correctness of their view (and the manifest absurdity of any contrary doctrine). I don’t see that, however, as the product of idolatry or of an over-obsession with arguments for Christ as compared to faith in Christ himself. I see that as a product of simple ignorance (perhaps willful). If the facts of biology really were what creationists think they are, their cockiness would be entirely justified.
Mainly, though, I want to address his last point. It is all well and good that blind faith, indeed, faith in the face of contrary evidence, is enough for Wood. But I can understand why that is not enough for so many others. It is not idolatry that causes one to seek rational justification for the claims of one’s faith. On the contrary, it is hard to imagine anything more natural. Surely God gave us our big brains for a reason, and it is hard to believe that reason is to ignore the facts uncovered by science.
Wood frets that if children are exposed to bad arguments early on, they will fall away from the faith upon learning the truth later. Indeed. But what do you suppose is the effect of telling them up fron that the available scientific evidence is entirely against the teachings of their faith? I suspect that tends to drive people away from the faith too.
For our second vignette we turn to David Heddle, who presents a very different view of the importance of apologetics. He is decribing the views of John Gerstner. Gerstner outlines a case for apologetics in seven numbered points. For example:
- People who argue against arguments (That is, Christians who claim that apologetics are unseemly, reason is unreliable, and only unquestioning faith is virtuous) are, in fact, making arguments. They are using their heads to justify not using their heads. To provide reasons for not using reason is simply not very smart.
- You will encounter those who will, as they should, ask why. You need a because that is more substantive than just because.
- When sane people appear to be against reason, they actually are not. When Tertullian said he believed (in God) because it was absurd (as opposed to logical) he was in fact saying that it was logical that the ways of an infinite, Holy God should (by reason) appear absurd to fallen creatures.
I agree with all three of those points. The trouble comes when we actually try to provide a decent argument in support of Christian faith. As an improvement over “Just because,” we get charming little items like this:
5. Christ proved He was who He claimed to be.
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (John 14:11)
But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” (Matt. 9:6)
Before healing the paralytic, Jesus forgave him of his sins, thus claiming His divinity. He then did not say: believe it or not. Rather he went on to prove His divinity by means that no rational person could deny.
6. The bible testifies to its own inspiration, but not through circular reasoning. The gospels have proven historically reliable, and they testify to a miracle working Jesus, miracles of which His enemies do not deny but rather attempt to attribute to Satan.
That no rational person could deny, if you accept the gospel accounts as accurate depictions of what Jesus did. Which his enemies do not deny, according to what is recorded in the gospels. The soundness and the historical accuracy of the gospels is precisely the point at issue. I don’t know what specifically Gerstner has in mind in saying the gospels have proved themselves historically reliable, but I do know that a handful of ancient accounts of someone performing miracles does not comprise a good reason for believing that actual miracles took place.
From the blind faith of Wood, to the bad arguments of Gerstner, we move now to our third vignette. Consider this essay from Robbins Milbank:
I believe it is very easy to build God in your own image and very hard to rebuild Him when you crumble. I was born to see and experience the love of God. I saw Him in my father, whose kindness and wisdom led me through a thousand anguishes of youth. I saw Him in my wife-especially in her. I told my father about her when I was nine years old. “We’re going to marry,” I said.
He smiled. “I’m glad you feel like telling me. I hope you’ll always want to tell me things like this.”
Skipping ahead a bit:
This is know: I believe in the Lord’s Prayer, all of it, but particularly where it says, “Thy will be done.” For me, that’s one clear channel to God. That one belief, “Thy will be done,” carries me through each act of each day. It teaches me to live with all that is given me and to live without what is taken away. It rescues me from the idea that happiness for myself is either important or desirable. But it doesn’t at all destroy happiness as a gift I can give, miraculously, from an empty vessel.
This sort of thing I do not understand at all. I honestly do not understand what Milbank is trying to convey. When he says he sees God in the kindness and love of his father, what does that mean? I am surrounded by kind, loving people in my life, but all I see are kind loving people. Have I actually been seeing God all this time without realizing it?
“Thy will be done,” is what gets him through his day? Atheists also live with what is given to them and accept the loss of what is taken away. Are we doing it wrong? Would the good times become more meaningful, and the bad times easier to endure, if we managed to see everything as playing a role in some divine plan? Somehow I doubt it. In fact, I find that idea distinctly unpleasant.
One reason I write so much about religion is that the subject baffles me. It is not simply that, as an intellectual matter, I do not believe in God. It is that I can only stare with incomprehension at those who do. To me atheism has always seemed completely obvious. To most people it is the existence of God that is obvious. What do they know that I don’t?
At various times people have told me that Jesus Christ was God in human form, that he performed miracles, then paid the price for my sins and defeated death on the Cross. Upon hearing such a tale my first instinct is to ask how they know it is true. At this point rather a lot of people insist I have already missed the point. Get over that silly commitment to rationality and evidence! It is about faith and the human heart and coming to terms with the human condition and a whole lot of other meaningless cliches. It is admirable to believe this, people tell me, precisely because it does not seem to make sense. I do not understand such people at all.
People have told me they find inspiration and comfort from reading the Bible. I have read the Bible, and I mostly find it appalling. How could anyone be inspired by the scientific gobbledygook of Genesis? Or the threats of eternal damnation in the New Testament? How coud anyone see a God of love and justice in the relentless horrors of the Torah? Some of my atheist friends are fond of referring to the Bible as a beautifully written work of fiction. I can’t imagine from where they are getting “beautifully written.”
Does science tell us that humanity is just an afterthought of an evolutionary process that did not have us in mind? No problem, because it is possible that what appears random to us actually has a direction when viewed from afar. Does the cruelty, waste and suffering of the evolutionary process challenge the idea of a loving God? Certainly not, because it is possible that God’s unfathomable purposes could be attained in no other way. Does the ceaseless march of science make explanations based on the supernatural seem ever more tenuous and irrelevant? How absurd! It is only the theologically unsophisticated who find God in what we do not know. It all looks like tedious special pleading to me.
I know many who would think Milbank’s essay was simply lovely. To me it may as well have been written in a foreign language.