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Monday, 22 March 2010

Encouraging Critical Thinking in Evangelical Churches: The Scientist as a Bible Teacher

This is a guest post by Philip Wala and is the seventh installment in the series "Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church". Phil attended Assemblies of God churches for nearly 54 years, serving as elder, deacon, and Sunday School teacher for teens and adults. He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering as a National Science Foundation Fellow at Stanford University, holds 17 U.S. patents, and presently works as a research engineer for ADC Telecommunications. He and his wife (a licensed Christian therapist, and former Assemblies of God licensed minister) recently moved to the suburban Minneapolis area, where they now attend a “Spirit-filled” Lutheran church. He is the author of the blog Faith for Thinkers.

The Danger of Unchallenged Beliefs
As a third-generation evangelical, I treasure the faith heritage passed on to me, and the profound influence many wonderful pastors, teachers, and fellow believers have had on my spiritual growth. I am also intimately aware of the frustration of being a scientist in a subculture that treats serious scientific inquiry with suspicion.

This suspicion of science is only one aspect of an evangelical mindset that seems threatened by divergent opinion and comforted by conformity. There is a supposedly “evangelical Christian position” on political affiliation, gun control, taxes, global warming and, of course, evolution. And many evangelicals are incredulous that any sincere believer would ever think, act, or vote any other way.

Pressure to conform can be especially strong for evangelicals that recognize the Holy Spirit as an ever-present guide and illuminator of truth. After all, if everyone can hear from God, disagreement must imply that somebody isn’t listening properly. Those with strong opinions will naturally assume the other party is mistaken, and seek confirmation of their already arrived-upon conclusions by saturating themselves with like-minded teaching. And for those whose personal convictions aren’t as strong, an assumption that everyone else must have heard from God relieves them of the responsibility to independently think through these issues on their own.

The danger in this mindset is the ease with which a debatable opinion or interpretation of scripture can be elevated to the status of unquestioned doctrine, an error Jesus warned against (Matt 15:9). To avoid this trap, the evangelical church needs to foster an atmosphere of dialogue in which new information is welcomed, questions are allowed, and critical thinking is embraced. Such an atmosphere allows the opportunity for believers to continually subject their own beliefs to reexamination and challenge, so that legitimate doctrines can be strengthened, ambiguous ones debated, and erroneous ones corrected.

Teaching Evangelicals to Think Critically
The techniques of acquiring new information, testing hypotheses, challenging the results, and subjecting conclusions to peer review, are used by scientists to correct and advance our knowledge of the physical world. Similar techniques can be used to foster spiritual growth in the local church.

As a scientist who has had frequent opportunities to teach in a church setting, I enjoy finding opportunities to challenge my students to rethink positions they assumed were unquestionable. Of course, this teaching style must be approached with an abundance of patience and wisdom, especially when the subject is the science and theology of creation. Challenging dearly held beliefs must take place in measured steps, in keeping with the level of established trust.

Step 1: Inform
For those unaccustomed to hearing divergent viewpoints discussed in church, the first step is to simply provide objective information about those viewpoints. On the topic of origins, I find it helpful to use a two-dimensional model of creation viewpoints that decouples the assumed link between faith and young-earth creationism, and identifies respected evangelicals who hold widely divergent opinions on science. By presenting such information in a non-confrontational manner, the student is given permission to admit the potential ambiguity of issues they previously assumed were unquestionable.

It is also beneficial to bring up examples of recent scientific discoveries that they usually would not hear discussed in church. Many evangelicals blindly base their opposition to evolution on arguments from the 1960s that are no longer valid. By openly discussing recent observations of the Hubble telescope, or the sequencing of the human genome, the scientist/bible teacher can demonstrate that subjecting ones beliefs to the light of new information doesn’t have to be threatening, but can, in fact, be a very Godly pursuit.

Step 2: Challenge
The next step in the process involves a more direct challenge: leading students into states of “cognitive dissonance”, in which they are forced to deal with logical inconsistencies in their belief system. Comparing the cooperative lifestyle of the early church (Acts 4:32-35) to communism, or asking if God’s gift to humanity of free will makes him “pro-choice”, always leads to double-takes and dropped jaws. The goal here is not to change beliefs, but to help people realize that there may be subtle ambiguities in positions they assumed were black and white.

When the subject is faith and science, an appeal to historical precedent can be used to great advantage. Without any direct reference to the issue at hand, but using many of the common arguments used in the creation/evolution debate, I lay out my case, appealing to the inerrancy of scripture, the teachings of the church, and the scientific theories (that are, after all, just theories) that clearly contradict scripture. As expected, most evangelicals take a resolute stand on the side of the church. I then calmly add something I had “forgotten” to mention: that the year is 1615, and they have all just taken a stand against the heliocentric theories of Copernicus and Galileo.

Step 3: Confront
The third step, direct confrontation, must be handled with utmost sensitivity, and generally in a one-on-one setting with someone with whom you have developed a relationship of mutual trust. I was fortunate to have such a relationship with my pastor, so that when the church decided (in spite of my strong objections) to use the “Truth Project” videos, we were able to discuss my areas of disagreement in an atmosphere of respectful and mutually beneficial dialogue.

Once again, the motive of confrontation should not be to prove who is right. I have resorted to confrontation primarily to address specific behavior, statements, or teachings that, in my estimation, push away, or shut down healthy dialogue with, people holding diverse opinions on debatable issues. Because of their potentially wide distribution, it is especially important to confront politically biased or scientifically inaccurate comments in church sponsored newsletters or e-mails. Online blogs are another venue in which the scientist/bible teacher can offer respectful comments to help steer the conversation from pontification to dialogue (see this link for an example).

Conclusion
After 27 years in the same congregation, my wife and I recently moved to a new community where we have found a wonderfully dynamic “Spirit-filled” Lutheran church that is true to the doctrines and worship style I cherish, but at the same time refreshingly more tolerant of ambiguity and dialogue on the non-essentials.

The church I left behind is, I hope, better for having had a scientist/bible teacher in its congregation. I am blessed by the ongoing dialogue I have with the pastor; I am saddened by another church leader who broke off contact with me and encouraged others to do the same, so as to be protected from my supposedly heretical views; and I am touched by memories of a missions trip to Ukraine in which an eager young bible school student told me, in all seriousness, “I am so glad to learn that scientists aren’t evil!”

But for the most part, I am encouraged by the one reaction I heard over and over again in reaction to my teaching: “Thanks. You’ve made me think.”

To which I reply, “Mission accomplished.”

35 comments:

Kent said...

Thanks for this well written post. I especially like the way you address the issue of how certain positions become "unquestioned doctrine." That is certainly information that makes me pause to think. A few questions come to mind:

How do you reconcile the fact that Spirit-filled Christian can hold such divergent views? Do you think we need a rethink our understanding of the illuminating/teaching/leading into truth aspect of the Holy Spirit? Is this issue different in Charismatic v.s. Fundamentalist churches?

darevj said...

Hi Phil... so glad you're writing. Its so important for people to think and rethink through their beliefs and attitudes... I believe:
1. The attitude, "I'm right, you're wrong" promotes stagnation rather than wisdom.

2. Smart people on both sides of the story have good reasons for what they believe.

3. We must be skeptical of much and trusting of little. Challenge group-think.

4. Pursuing wisdom/peace is hard work and is rarely peaceful.

darevj said...

...forgot to ask... why didn't you like the "Truth Project"?

Phil Wala said...

Kent,

I believe that God reveals His Truth to us 1) through His word, 2) through the wisdom and counsel of others, 3)through His Spirit, and 4) through His creation.

The fundamentalist might argue that #1 trumps everything else. A charismatic might be more willing to add #2 and #3 to the mix. The result is the same: they both miss the great body of divine Truth for which God has relied on method #4: letting His creation speak for itself.

Both fundamentalist and charismatic tend to be uncomfortable accepting that there could be issues on which God's word and Spirit are actually silent. It becomes more comfortable to read something into the word, or assume the voice of the Spirit, than to admit the possibility that God's creation (especially if discovered by scientists who are not necessarily believers) can be an equally valid source of God's Truth.

In my mind, the healthiest approach is to embrace all four means of God's revelation. When taken together, they provide a self-correcting mechanism to keep us on track. Neglect one or more, and we risk veering off course.

Jimpithecus said...

Phil, very good post. Your etch-a-sketch model is probably much better than mine, which was a crude effort to try to get away from the continuum by constructing a taxonomy.

As I mentioned in one of my comments on the last article, Step 1 above presents quite a hurdle because many Christians who hew to the YEC model earnestly believe that if you move the "science" knob up, you have moved out of Christianity. This is a big step. The folks at the ICR and AIG know who the people on the upper left quadrant are, and it is clear that they view them as apostate and are not reticent about pronouncing that to the faithful. If this hurdle can be crossed, the rest is much easier.

I think that one of the steps needs to be to tell Christians gently but firmly to stop getting the ICR and AIG flyers and stop going to any conferences or talks put on by these and like organizations. I realize this kind of goes against some of message in Step 3 and I think that we need to not describe these groups as poison but we need to be firm that we believe they are doing Christians great harm.

Steve Martin said...

Phil,

Excellent stuff! On your point that:

Such an atmosphere allows the opportunity for believers to continually subject their own beliefs to reexamination and challenge, so that legitimate doctrines can be strengthened, ambiguous ones debated, and erroneous ones corrected.

Faith for thinkers indeed. I think I’m now going to point people to your essay first and THEN to Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Re: your answer to Kent, bang-on. I would add one more way that God can reveal truth to us – through Christian writers, leaders, and theologians throughout the history of the Church (eg. Church fathers – who crafted the creeds, reformers who crafted the confessions). But maybe this is really just an elaboration on your #2 (wisdom and counsel of others). The reason I want to highlight this, is because I believe that the Evangelical church as a whole, and particularly the fundamentalists (my own background) and the charismatics have often ignored the wisdom of these Christian leaders.

On your trip to the Ukraine: I’d be interested in your comments on YEC and anti-evolutionary ideas (growth & acceptance) in the former Iron Curtain countries in the context of the discussion we had on Jim’s last post (ie. The strength of these positions is really in America but the ideas are now being spread by Evangelical missionaries to other areas of the world as well). From what I've heard, there is a real hunger for the gospel there and it is sad that the "evil scientists" mantra is being tacked onto the gospel.

Phil Wala said...

darevj,

My problem with "The Truth Project" is that it does precisely what I warn against. It mixes legitimate doctrines of the church with a lot of positions that are based on partisan politics, faulty science, deceptive logic, or just plain sloppy research, and elevates them to the status of doctrine by placing them side-by-side under the banner of "Truth".

I wish I had time or space to list the many specific examples I could cite. But here's a general test one could use to separate what is unchangeable doctrine and what is mere opinion: take the positions proclaimed by "The Truth Project" and imagine carrying them back and forth through time to see how well they stand up. Some of the arguments on irreducible complexity wouldn't have even existed before the advent of the intelligent design movement in the mid 1990s, and were already convincingly disproven before the series was filmed. Political and economic positions on issues such as "redistribution of wealth" align well with the Republican politics of present-day middle and upper-class evangelicals, but would have been offensive to many evangelicals of the early 20th century, especially those from the lower class who flocked to socialism as the political movement best agreeing with the practices of the early church (Acts 4). Other positions on the fundamental nature of God and man would hold true in any generation. Yet in "The Truth Project", all these positions are presented as if they had equal status as unquestionable and unchanging doctrines to which all true believers must conform.

In my opinion, the widespread acceptance of "The Truth Project" by many evangelicals is because it does just what I suggested in my article: it serves as "like-minded teaching" that confirms "already arrived-upon conclusions". The problem is that by drawing a line in the sand and admitting no ambiguity, it shuts down dialogue. It's a great way to perpetuate a comprehensive belief system, and a horrible way to correct one that may be faulty.

Phil Wala said...

Steve,

Thanks for your comments. My definition of the ways God reveals truth to us came out of some teaching I did a few years ago. Afterwards, someone introduced me to the concept of the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral" which, as it turns out, says much the same thing.

John Wesley defined the sources of truth as:
1) Scripture (God's word),
2) Tradition (which I could take to include wisdom and counsel of others - past and present),
3) Reason (which I would take to include scientific observation of God's creation), and
4) Experience (which would include God's personal revelation to us through His Spirit).

So yes, when I compared my model with Wesley's, my concept of "the wisdom and counsel of others" expanded to include those of past and present generations.

Regarding my experience in Ukraine, I had two opportunities to spend a week teaching at a bible and missionary school operated by a church that has planted close to a thousand daughter churches throughout Ukraine and into southwest Asia. Many of the students have experienced recent and radical conversions from lives of drugs, alcohol, and prison. Their eagerness to go out and spread the gospel themselves means that they are like sponges when it comes to hearing from Christian teachers. Unfortunately, because the schools rely heavily on short-term visits from teams of mostly North American teachers, they hear of mix of viewpoints which, based on some of their questions, suggest a heavy influence of young-earth creationism. In addition, there is a high degree of gullibility when it comes to "urban legends" masquerading as Christian apologetics (such as the "screams from hell" supposedly heard in a Siberian mine shaft).

I'm sure my teaching didn't put an end to those kinds of speculations, and I certainly wouldn't want to do anything to squelch the eagerness with which they approach their call. But I hope that, at least for a few individuals, the integrity of their faith was enhanced by learning the value of discernment and critical thinking.

Chris Tappan said...

Phil,

Thanks for the great post. I would be curious to know your success/failure rate (by your own determinations) in bringing about these logical approaches to faith with these methods. I ask mainly because I'm continually aware of the nature of belief--i.e. it usually by definition steps outside of logic into faith and yet is deeply and personally recognized as truth. Using facts and figures is highly influential in a solely logic-based discussion, but belief almost always overrides logic.

I'm also curious how you have determined the appropriate time and place for being on the offense as it were rather than just responding respectfully but honestly when you disagree with something said in conversation, bible study, etc?

Thanks again for the post.

Paul Wala said...

I have discovered something really sad.
We went to see Mom and Dad's grave.
(I am Phil's brother).
We noticed the various marking on the graves. Of course Mom and Dad had a cross.
Looking up the markings we found one that had an atom with an A inside.
The atom represents science and the A stands for Atheist.
It is sad that Christians do not believe in science,
but it is sadder still that atheists think believing in science excludes them from believing in God.
It is even sadder that Christians may be causing atheist to think that way.

Phil Wala said...

Chris,

I don't know of a good way to quantify a "success rate", especially when the results are, as you say, gradual changes that take place in the mind of the student. I can cite anecdotal evidence of those who have said, "You made me think," or past students who remember something I taught many years ago. I've also been having an increasing number of conversations with people, including several pastors, who have eagerly embraced dialogue, and as a result, given thoughtful reconsideration to their own position on origins, or at least become more accepting of alternate viewpoints. So while it's not a quantifiable "success rate", I'm receiving enough positive feedback to encourage me to continue my efforts.

In response to your second question, I try to temper my response according to the perceived level of influence. I may respectfully offer an alternate viewpoint, or choose not to respond at all, to a young Christian who is not ready to wrestle with ambiguity, or in a bible study where opening that "can of worms" would be a distraction.

I reserve my strongest responses for occasions on which I see a church or pastor make public statements, or support teaching, that I see as damaging to the reputation of the church. When I have done this respectfully, and with those with whom I have developed some level of mutual trust, I am often encouraged by how sincerely appreciative they can be to have someone willing to point out the "blind spots" that all of us have.

Phil Wala said...

Paul,

I had no idea that the "atom with an A" emblem was being used to represent atheism. That makes it even more significant that the logo my wife had independently designed for my "Faith for Thinkers" blog was an atom with a cross inside.

I don't know that you and I have really discussed these issues before, but your comment really reflects why this dialogue is important. While it is sad when Christians deny science, or when atheists use science to deny God, it is saddest to me to consider how Christians themselves may have been responsible for putting atheists in that position.

In fact, it is ironic that the most militant young-earth creationists, and the most militant atheists, seem to be in full agreement with each other on one point: they both say, "It's either science or God; make your choice."

Sadly, it's a choice that doesn't have to be made.

Karl A. said...

Thanks for the post. I'd be interested in hearing if/how you try to gauge if someone is interested in having their thinking/faith challenged. Some as you know will react downright hostilely to that. We want to see God's people grow, but I imagine one could produce counterproductive results by pushing people too hard.

I remember talking about a book I was reading on evolutionary genetics with colleagues over lunch. I mentioned results in the tens of thousands of years, and one person said (dismissively), "Some scientists just add more zeroes to make it sound more impressive." It wasn't too hard to gauge his interest in the subject!

Jayride said...

Thanks for a great post and your thoughts regarding "The Truth Project". Allison and I are always weary of the next "hot commodity" in Christian culture (ie. The Purpose Driven Life; The Shack) and enjoy researching them for glossed over "facts", scriptural misquotes and misleading doctrine. I can't recall a single person who attended Sunday school with you that wasn't astounded by the idea of adding logical/critical thinking into what many unequivocally believe is unquestionable and blind faith.

It's good to have a God who asks us to be faithful, yet hammers us with mounds evidence and validation anyway. ;)

I think most of us have been guilty at some point of trying to pass off our beliefs as if they had their own passage in the Bible (call me Jason Muhammad-Joseph Smith, Jr.). What defense do we have for our faith if we surround ourselves with ignorance and fallacies? (1 Peter 3:15)

Phil Wala said...

Jayride,

I don't want to turn this open forum into a personal chat, but it is nice to hear from a father of four (unless I've lost count!) who still remembers things learned in a high school Sunday School class.

I don't know which part of that class I get more comments about -- using the "Hierophant Proselytizer Guide" attack on Christianity as curriculum, or coming up with "JJZ BAND GIRLS" as a mnemonic for the 12 sons of Jacob.

But in either case, it's rewarding for any teacher to hear about something that is still remembered years later. I suspect that happens most often when the teacher is willing to take chances and challenge the students.

Thanks for your comments.

Jimpithecus said...

I am reminded of the idiocy that the NCSE perpetrated on itself a decade or so back in the form of that bumper sticker of the Christian fish symbol with legs and the word "Darwin" in the middle. I remember thinking at the time "Gee thanks for throwing kerosene on the fire." It was very ill-advised and insulting.

Of course, it led to bumper stickers of the "truth" fish eating the "Darwin fish" as if, somehow, evolution was a first cause and not a biological process. I also remember how upset some of my friends got about seeing the deingration of one of their most venerated symbols. No wonder they viewed evolution as atheistic. All I could do was shake my head. How do you combat hostility like that when you are trying to demonstrate that evolution need not engender atheism?

Steve Martin said...

Paul: Thanks for your personal and heartfelt comments. It is indeed sad that we as Christians often put the science stumbling block in front of potential believers. There are many times where, as has been discussed several times in this series, it may be counterproductive to discuss the topic of evolution. But there are reasons why this discussion really does matter for Evangelicals. As Phil noted, this “science or God” choice just doesn’t need to be made.

Karl: Knowing when to challenge someone to think critically is, I think, not always clear cut. However, I might phrase it differently. It is not so much whether they are interested in being challenged (very few people are!), but whether they are ready to be challenged (ie. Will it be counterproductive or will the journey enhance their faith?). But THAT is an even more difficult judgment to make.

Phil: Thanks for sharing your experiences on the church in the Ukraine. That is very exciting. And thanks for your comments on the Truth project (TTP). Honestly, until Dennis mentioned it late last year (his experience of confronting it in his church was installment #3 in this series), I had never heard of it. But maybe that is because FotF is just not very strong in my church (or maybe even in my part of the world). I’m wondering if besides Dennis’s videos, there have been any other thoughtful responses to TTP? It might be interesting to index some of the better responses and try to get the word out. It is much harder for people to think critically about TTP if there is absolutely no dissenting information to compare it with.

Allan Harvey said...

Jimpithecus,

We're sort of on a tangent here, but the "Darwin fish" is not a product of the NCSE. Some atheists came up with it in the 1980s. Go to Wikipedia and search on "Darwin fish" to see the history.

Of course your point is right that it is false and harmful to set these up as opposites, and the whole "fish wars" are a sad commentary on the unhealthy assumptions many (on both extremes) have about evolution and Christian faith.

Which reminds me of the old "Fish Wars" essay by Wendee Holtcamp that is worth reading:
http://www.wendeeholtcamp.com/fishwars.htm

robinwoodchurch said...

I'd like you all to post on my blog essay on evolution and creation, called "Desperately Seeking Copernicus"

http://wp.me/pGQxY-4z

Phil Wala said...

For everyone's information, the Desperately Seeking Copernicus essay referred to in the previous comment is the same one to which I provided a link in my original post (last sentence before my "Conclusion" section).

It's an excellent example of what can happen when those of us with different viewpoints engage in respectful dialogue. Obviously, there are a number of different viewpoints represented, and not every participant was really interested in true dialogue. But the eagerness with which the original poster seeks to keep the discussion going, and specifically his invitation to frequenters of this particular blog to enter into that discussion, shows a refreshing openness to dialogue.

Thanks for posting the link, and for cross-referencing this site in your own blog!

Jimpithecus said...

Sorry, I did not mean to get on a tangent. Thanks for the clarification on the Darwin Fish.

One of the things that characterizes our church and, I suspect most churches is that most of the congregation is made up of what I would call critical thinkers. All of the leaders who deliver sermons teach about the word in very cogent, logical fashion. I think that is why when I had my discussion with my pastor, he responded to my arguments in measured, respectful ways. I also think, however, that most Christians, like most Americans, are not really conversant with the biological and palaeontological sciences and might not, initially, be willing to engage their theological ideas in that arena.

When we enter the realm of belief, we are called upon to use not just our heads but our hearts in the worship of Christ and most have a hard time separating those two when it comes to evaluating their theological responses to scientific arguments. Steve is right: if we push too hard, we alienate people that we are trying to reach. When I address this issue with members of my church, I do so individually and, usually, with a great deal of trepidation. Typically my response to the question of why I think the way I do about evolution and the age of the earth is "Are you sure you want to go through that door?"

gingoro said...

David

Interesting article. When I said the same about the social or human sciences about a year ago I nearly had my head taken off by someone in that field. However, that experience has not changed my mind.

What do you mean by evolution?

If you mean common descent then I tend to disagree with you as I think that is relatively well established.

If you mean evolutionary theory in terms of the modern synthesis then I would agree that as I observe and read popular books the science does not seem to be settled as yet.

IMO having science restricted to natural causes is a fine idea, however as I have written elsewhere it seems to me that there also is need of a field that does not exclude the supernatural as a cause or exclude teleology. I think of such a field maybe as being called natural philosophy although the name is not important. ID would be a part of natural philosophy rather than science. Both science and NP would have a common goal of understanding all that we see.

Dave W

Phil Wala said...

jimpithecus: Nothing wrong with an occasional tangent, as long as we stay away from the asymptotes! Maybe we could digress to the search for evidence left behind by Noah on Mt. Ararat; then it would be an ark-tangent. (Sorry. Engineer humor.)

gingoro: Which David are you addressing? Am I correct in assuming it to be David Housholder of the Desperately Seeking Copernicus blog? If so, you've added an interesting aspect to that discussion with the introduction of the concept of natural philosophy; however, it might be more effective to post such comments on that site, rather than here.

Karl A. and others: I think we all have a similar perspective on the need to use caution and wisdom in communicating our scientific understanding with fellow Christians. The "communicate/challenge/confront" model I used is just one way to describe the levels of engagement we can achieve in response to perceived level of readiness.

One word of caution: there will be those whose level of readiness is difficult to ascertain. I've had the experience (and I'm sure others have as well) of totally misjudging someone's eagerness for dialogue (based on other discussion we'd had on other controversial topics), only to be surprised later by an unexpectedly hostile attack from someone I had previously trusted.

Steve Martin said...

David H (Robinwood Church): Thanks for commenting and the invitation. I did leave a comment on your blog - but man, 40K words of comments? Sorry, I just don't have the time to wade through all that :-)

All: Here is the inline link to that article that Phil referred to. And if you, like myself, can't work your way through everything, at least scan through the comments by "Phil Wala" ... now THAT is a model for how all of us EC's should conduct this conversation.

darevj said...

I would LOVE to know if you, Phil, or any bloggers here have read, "Genesis Unbound" by Sailhamer... and if so, your thoughts...

Jordan said...

Great post as always. Phil. Incidentally, I've found myself asking the same questions as yourself (Is God "pro-choice"?). Some would find it apostasy to even ask such questions. Those kinds of people I tend not to dialogue with. But I'm more than happy to engage with those willing to ask and listen (and reply in kind).

gingoro said...

Phil
"Which David are you addressing? Am I correct in assuming it to be David Housholder of the Desperately Seeking Copernicus blog?" Yes I was addressing Housholder. I did not post on his blog as comments ceased quite a while back plus comments from previous posts in this series mentioned David Housholder's blog and I tend to post under the current topic as I expect people are no longer checking the older posts for new comments. Maybe Steve Martin does not want us to do that?

I use my email reader to read blog posts and comments. It would be nice if we had better blogging tools that would selectively send out comments on older posts only to those interested or more selectivity in the email readers to filter comments by post topic. As it is one gets all the comments on any topic or one has to check for new comments by looking at each post in a browser. Google reader seems no better in this respect.

Good post although it does not seem too applicable to the congregation where we are members. There are lots of people with masters degrees and a few with phds. Our minister is a chemical engineer by training and at times finds it rather challenging to preach to a group of intellectuals.
Dave W

ttotto said...

Jordan
"I've found myself asking the same questions as yourself (Is God "pro-choice"?). Some would find it apostasy to even ask such questions."

That would be a very interesting topic to discuss sometime. As someone who had significant handicaps when I was young I often wished that I had never been born. Lots of ID, YEC folks already consider me an atheist or a deist so being branded apostate would not be much more of an insult unless the elders of my church did it. I know that some people with handicaps want to live but at times for days and weeks on end, I did not.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled onto this via http://sunandshield.blogspot.com/2007/06/elizabeth-moons-paksenarrion-christian.html

For me, a bored YEC AiG/CMI type, there's no conflict between the Bible and Science. At worst a few questions. Christianity and evolution are another matter. Take a simple example, God's declaration that His creation is (very) good. Any God who describes millions of years of death, disease and suffering isn't a God I want to follow, nor is He a God likely to die for me.

I've a paleontology friend who is both Christian and some sort of evolutionist but neither I nor his sister precisely understand his position. I'd guess he's divided things along the lines defined by Schaeffer (or was it Lewis?). Roughly spiritual and physical realities that don't overlap. Unfortunately that doesn't work for me. A God that doesn't exist in the real world doesn't exist.

I've not noticed any suspicion of science in the church. What I have seen is an increasing intolerance towards non-evolutionary views, the prohibition of non-state schools in SA teaching Creationist content as science or the requirement that to graduate in particular fields e.g. astrophysics a student must support evolution.

To conclude, something from a sociology class that I found absurd. Americans are apparently mostly Creationist, they are also bad at maths ergo belief in Creation stunts intellectual ability. Apparently nobody pointed out to the lecturer that America was the leading scientific and military power of the day. Yes I'm aware that China is an atheistic/evolutionary nation but does have a growing number of Christians whereas America has the reverse.

gingoro said...

A nony moose
First let me be very clear, while I think that the YEC position is a dangerous one especially for young people just going off to university, however a YEC view in no way makes one not a Christian. The YEC position can result in a great deal of intellectual disconnect between science and ones faith.

Since you do not see any conflict between the Bible and Science I assume that you know little science in the area of geology or the life sciences and any other science that implies an old earth. As someone with a background in Electrical Engineering and Applied Math I never ran into issues between science and my faith while I was at school. On the other hand as someone who grew up in the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia by the end of high school I had already rejected a young earth and did not see a conflict with Genesis as I thought that either the day age theory or the gap theory seem plausible and could see no way to differentiate between them.

Go and read Todd Wood's blog at:
http://toddcwood.blogspot.com
Like you he is a YEC but he also sees the issues between science and a YEC position.

"God's declaration that His creation is (very) good. Any God who describes millions of years of death, disease and suffering isn't a God I want to follow,"

Yes I also find that a problem although it is not clear to me that the lower animals feel pain in the sense that we do.
One way I deal with the issue is the thought that maybe this world operates in the best possible manner that produces the kind of beings that God intends.

But it seems to me that you have a problem as well and that is how to account for all the viruses and germs that plague mankind. To paraphrase Francis Schaeffer one can be young enough, health enough and wealthy enough to be able to ignore many things in our world, especially living in the West. But where I grew up it was impossible to ignore a leper whose lower legs have been gnawed at by rodents since the nerves are deadened or the beggars whose eyes are almost gone due to some tropical eye disease and have the liquids from the eyes running down their faces. I know the typical answer is that such things resulted from the fall but go back to Genesis and read and it only talks about a limited number of results from mankind's sin. The other problem you need to account for is the diversity of species of animals that we see. Even on a large ark, not all of them would fit so where did they come from?

"I'd guess he's divided things along the lines defined by Schaeffer" Yes it was Schaeffer who also said that their would be no final conflict between science and Christianity. Other's have said similar kinds of thing about science and religion being none conflicting areas of knowledge (NOMA). Schaeffer at least allowed for the possibility of an old earth, although he kept his own position hidden in terms of the age of the earth. NOMA is not a position I can accept. History is important to Christianity and if it could be definitively proved that Christ did not live, die and rise again, 2000 or so years ago then I for one would throw it out with the bath water. .

Dave W

Steve Martin said...

Ttotto: Welcome. Because of modern medicine and scientific understanding, there are now lots of ethical dilemmas that we need to face that past generations did not; I suspect that over the next generation the number of these dilemmas will grow considerably. That is why, like Phil has so ably articulated here, it is important for evangelicals to be able to think critically. Our faith may not change, but how we must react to a changing world must change. Of course, for many of us these questions are mostly academic; for you, it looks like many of those questions are deeply personal. I hope and pray you find, if not always the answers, at least the support you need.

Dave W: re: comments, I encourage people to comment on anything they see here – even if it is an old post. I will see the comments & respond (maybe not always quickly). For guest posts, I can’t promise that as past guest authors probably do not have alerts set up to notify them if they get a new comment.

Phil Wala said...

Follow-up to my original post:

In the latest edition of Enrichment Journal, the magazine for Assemblies of God pastors, there are two articles addressing faith and science issues.

An article on Pentecostal views of origins lists evolutionary creationism as one of the views that is coherent with Assemblies of God theology, while another article on science and belief explains why evolution does not remove the need for a Creator.

While this is apparently how science has been taught in Assemblies of God colleges for some time, I am hoping that the publication of these articles in a pastors' journal indicates a recognition that the time has come for this openness to move beyond the colleges, and into the pulpits and pews.

Fidel said...

I also left my church (AG) due to disputes with my senior pastor on evolution, abortion, same-sex marriage, Obama, political liberalism, etc. Thank you for your post.

robinwoodchurch said...

What do you all think about Biocentrism? See the tail end of the LONG train of comments on: http://wp.me/pGQxY-4z

Sprout said...

Really great post. Its a sad fact that probably most Christian congregations are never challenged on the tough issues. I've started a blog to try to address some of those issues, http://epistemoblogy.blogspot.com.