Saturday, November 01, 2008

More on the evolution panel

We had some great comments and questions after my last post -- tonight I'll answer a couple of them directly. I just know I'm gonna be wordy on these, so it was too much to leave in the comments section!

Question 1 -- Did you lose/win the debate?

Thankfully it was just setup as a panel, and the minister/moderator introduced us and explicitly stated to the room that it was not a debate. I appreciated that from him. He had worked closely with the four panel members over the past few weeks to ensure that the mood was light and respectful, and before we began on Sunday morning he read the following excerpt from an email I sent to the panel last week:

"I like to believe that our church members are unified in spite of our differences, not in the absence of them."

So if it wasn't a debate, what was my purpose/goal in serving on the panel? It was simple -- to put a personal face on a different perspective. I didn't want to change the attendees' minds on the issue of evolution -- they aren't ready for that big of a shift. I merely wanted to cause a ripple in their very clear, black/white worldview.

On my post about evolution several months ago, I noted that for some people this is a "Level Two" issue -- something that is essential to their entire worldview and faith. In other words, for them, if the world is more than 6,000 years old then you can throw the whole bible away. If the big bang really happened then God doesn't exist. They hang everything together on that single point -- a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. It's all black or white, with no room for grey, no room for the bible having things like poetry, parable or metaphor. One panel member said exactly that -- "if we leave room in the bible for poetry, then where does it end? Maybe Jesus never really lived at all."

So you see, if I win the debate and somehow get them to accept that the earth might be older than 6,000 years, their entire faith comes crumbling down. That's not my intent. Paul speaks pretty clearly about this in his letter to the Romans. Here are a few different sections from The Message translation:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with--even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I'm convinced--Jesus convinced me!-that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe--some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them--then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong.

Good stuff, and it reminds me to get back to following the golden rule. I want people to give me space and grace for my own opinions, then I have to do the same for them. When I spend some time seriously thinking on this, I realized there are two things that really irked me about previous conversations with creationists:

1) They assumed their own belief was the only true choice, and anybody who didn't agree was dumb, evil or terribly misinformed
2) They got very emotionally involved in the issue, literally shaking with anger at the thought of other people's weak or nonexistent faith

My main goal on the panel was to avoid both of those mistakes, by:

1) Having an open mind and projecting a sense of genuine humility
2) Staying cool, calm and loving, with no anger to those who disagreed with me

That's how I want people to treat me, so it was "golden rule" time for me to do the same.

Question 2 -- "If you dont take Scripture in its entirety, how do you reconcile the parts that dont make any logical sense. Do you actually call yourself a "Christian"?

I'll sorta be coy and devious on this one, just for the sake of brevity. These questions start to get to the core of my entire faith, and the answers are more than I can post in a few paragraphs.

So to be coy and devious, I don't really understand what "take scripture in its entirety" means anymore. I used to think I knew what that meant, and I held that over people who didn't agree.

So is the whole bible true or not? Literal or not? Song of Songs is cleary poetry, but is it "true"? If so, what is it telling us, and is that truth any less important than historical facts?

Here are my two devious closing comments:

1) If I told Jesus I was a Christian, is it possible he would reply, "You're a what?"

2) In Paul's second letter to Timothy, when he wrote that "all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching", did he think he was writing scripture?


Redlefty said...

Hal, I didn't mean to delete your comment -- sorry! I had to make an edit to the original post and lost your comment in the process. Thanks for reading!

Bob said...

See, that's the point, Michael. I think people who take the Bible very literally are those who haven't really read it with an intelligent comprehension. For if they had, they would realize that it's not a step-by-step instruction manual for daily living. Nor is it intended to be.

Is the earth only 6,000 years old? Perhaps. I don't think "science" can tell us for certain anything that happened before the start of recorded history - it's all conjecture prior to that. Oh, oh, we believe and trust in things like carbon dating - in fact we hang our hat on it. But what if carbon dating is somehow...I don't know...flawed?

See, I do believe that God can make anything happen. And with that, whether the earth is billions of years old or only 6,000 doesn't really matter to me. It's a non-issue. And so I don't have a problem with religious fundamentalists who interpret the Bible strictly and literally.

Just as long as they don't try to force me to go along with them.

Bob said...

Gee, now I have to sit here and wonder what Hal said!

Your reasoning is so incredibly sound and you obviously presented it with abundant grace, which would make the Apostle Paul very proud! You should try pointing out that there are two creation accounts in the Book of Genesis -- see how emotional that conversation gets.

I have had similar conversations about women in leadership in the church, a practice my own church forbids, following a literal interpretation of a couple of Paul's letters to specific churches, yet ignoring other passages that clearly refer to women leading, teaching and prophesying.

I came to the conclusion it's not a deal breaker (though it drives me crazy) and we have to season our conversations with much grace.

For me, once I got past trying to read the Bible as a "step-by-step instruction manual for daily living" (thanks Bob B.), it became so much more.

Tit for Tat said...

I dont think the Bible is meant to be Literal, I truly believe it has some wonderful ideas on life, and makes you stop and think about how you live it. 6000 yrs old hmmmmmm. First you need to ask yourself what determines a "day(24hr. period), and then maybe someone can explain how long the first 3 days of creation are when the sun and the moon arent created until the 4th biblical day?

One verse sums up my take on the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 5:21

"But test everything; hold fast what is good."

Don said...

I found, in my fundy days, that when I was confronted by someone with thoughts other than those of the Bible, I thought about the lines I'd heard from sermons and teachers: "Either the Bible is all correct, or none of it is correct". And the other,"Either Jesus is who the Bible says he is, or he was a liar".
There are other possibilities. The application of the "Golden Rule" aptly applies here as you so well stated.

Redlefty said...

Bob and TFT, those are great points about the inherent weaknesses in a literal view of Genesis 1, but you can bet I'm not going there in these panels/debates! Too touchy for sure, and my own ideas on the topic have their inherent weaknesses too.

Don, C.S. Lewis' "liar, Lord or lunatic" argument continues to get a lot of use in churches. The last book I read relied on it heavily. And it's another conversation I don't touch at church, as it's similar to the evolution issue in its sensitivity.

And that's cool with me. Relationship doesn't rely on total agreement -- it's more of a decision to draw near. I can do that with anybody; all I have to do is decide to elevate the person above the issue. I will admit that often I fail at doing that!