Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Monday, August 15, 2005

sacred and secular

Jesus was a carpenter, but the gospels do not provide instructions for building a house. Jesus was a healer, but the gospels don't talk about surgery or medicine. Jesus spoke often about seeds and fields, but his intent was not to give advice about farming.

Most Christians understand the Bible to be authoritative in matters of doctrine and faith, but also acknowledge the value of other ways of learning. God gave us a world that operates according to rational principles, and he gave us rational brains to understand the workings of that world. God gave us a way to preserve the knowledge of previous generations, and he gave us ways to build on that knowledge.

Therefore, no one thinks it strange, for example, that Habitat for Humanity uses the same techniques for building a house that commercial builders use. Or that a surgeon who is a Christian and another surgeon who is not a Christian may have graduated from the same medical school. Humanity has built up a body of knowledge in each of these specialties, and that body of knowledge is available to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

The recognition of the value of secular knowledge in understanding the natural world is ingrained in western culture to the extent that most people simply accept it without thinking about it.

And yet, many Christians make an exception in one area of knowledge. Many who would never consider relying on scripture for nutritional advice are perfectly content to let the Bible be their source for biological theories. A narrow reading of Genesis leads them to reject evolution and favor creationism. And it's not just fundamentalists. Recent polls show that more Americans now believe in creationism than believe in evolution. This, despite the fact that evolution has been observed countless times in the natural world.

Here in Kansas, the State Board of Education is planning to revise the state's science standards for high school students, to promote more criticism of evolution.

Evolution's critics claim that the theory is grounded in an atheistic worldview. They ask for equal time for other viewpoints.

The reality is that the theory of evolution, like all scientific theories, is grounded in a secular worldview. Like all forms of secular knowledge, scientific knowledge is not dependent on a particular religious affiliation. The facts do not change whether one is a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an agnostic.

It's also a reality that many evolutionary biologists are committed Christians. Evolutionary theory would not be where it is today without the contributions of Alfred Russel Wallace, Asa Gray, Theodosius Dobzhansky, or Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. None of these men saw a conflict between their faith and their science.

The key is confining science to its proper sphere of knowledge. Science can tell us about the workings of the natural world. Scientific knowledge is grounded in what we can observe with our five senses. It can help us develop new medicines or better farming techniques. It can tell us how to build energy-efficient houses. It can tell us about the origins of species.

Science cannot tell us about God. That's not the purpose of secular knowledge. To know God, we must move into the realm of sacred knowledge, which may build on what we know from our senses, or may be given to us through revelation. It is important to recognize that revelation is not like secular knowledge -- it does not derive from our senses. It is not scientific.

"Creation science" is a reaction to our society's ever increasing secularization, but it is the wrong answer. Instead of calling people away from a narrow secular worldview, creationism adopts the mindset and attempts to fit God into the equations. In the attempt to bring God into biology class, creationism gives us a secularized God who is in reality just another hypothesis.

God is so much greater than a hypothesis. God is so much greater than the bones uncovered by a paleontologist or the fruit flies used in speciation experiments. God is so much greater than anything we can see or touch. To think that the theory of evolution somehow diminishes God, one must already believe in a diminished God.

A researcher performing a scientific experiment must take care to control all variables to get an accurate result. That's why creationism will never be science. We cannot control God.

The answer to secularism is not to try to fit God into that box. The answer, it seems to me, is to acknowledge the value of secular learning while also acknowledging its limits. Creationism fails on both counts.


At 8/16/2005 10:10 AM, Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

I think you have very good insight on the problem here. I like how you parsed out the issue and exposed the lack of consistency in the thinking involved.

For me, I simply do not care if the first few chapters of Genesis are history or allegory (which is my opinion). I think that is the wrong question. I think the real question is how are those words transforming my life, bringing me closer to God and my fellow humans. How is it pointing the way for me to serve those I on this world with?

At 8/17/2005 8:42 AM, Blogger BruceA said...

I agree that the real question is how do the scriptures affect my life, rather than what do they tell us about the past.

Incidentally, I had not planned to write about creationism in this post. My original intent was to discuss the Bible's authority. In what matters should I look to Scripture for advice, and in what matters should it not be considered authoritative?

Somehow the words took a different turn while I was typing. I'll have to do another post to complete my initial thoughts.

At 8/17/2005 9:45 AM, Anonymous eddie said...

hi bruce,
excellent post and so eloquently stated!!


At 8/17/2005 4:22 PM, Blogger BruceD said...

I think I believe in creavolution. Good post, man.

At 8/24/2005 8:33 AM, Anonymous Barry Dundas said...

Don't be so sure that folks don't look to the Bible for nutritional advice. My mother-in-law just signed up for a class on "the Maker's Diet". Don't you love it when people use the Bible to make a buck? As for evolution and creation, I have never figured out what is the big deal. For some reason, many Christian leaders are scared to death of evolution. It probably goes back to your original topic; Biblical authority. If we question the Bible's authority on the creation of the world than we can question it's authority on every topic. That scares the hell out of people who think questioning the Bible just might have eternal consequences. Never mind the consequences of being unable or too afraid to ask questions.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home