Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Concession to the Complicated?

The April 2006 edition of First Things has an excellent article about Intelligent Design entitled, “Darwin in Dover, PA.” The article got me thinking about the whole question of evolution.

Frankly, I have never been very concerned with evolution and its supposed challenge to God. If I was interested in breeding cattle, I might be very interested in what genetic adaptations make for healthier and stronger animals. In contrast, I am more interested in God’s relationship with creation and our relationships with each other. As a result, Genesis speaks more to me than biology textbooks.

People must realize that there are several questions and categories of questions surrounding the issue of evolution. First, there is the obvious question of science. How well does evolution explain past evidence and predict future natural behavior? Beyond this question, there are cultural, political, and ethical questions. In a society that values the separation of church and state, what do we teach our children? Is it morally responsible for a community to dictate what should be taught to their children? What community standards are immoral to pass on to the next generation? Finally, there are theological questions. What is the role that the Scriptures play in our faith? What is truth? Are nature and revelation in conflict? If so, which takes precedence?

None of these complex questions will be answered with a simple blog entry. Nonetheless, perhaps I can suggest some ground rules. First, Darwin is a straw man. Evolutionary biology has changed a lot since the time of the HMS Beagle. Critics must be honest about who and what they criticize. Second, critics of evolution should not be dismissed out of hand. Many who cling to the science of evolution would be appalled to find themselves in the same camp as promoters of racism and eugenics. Most critics of evolution that I know are not concerned with microbiology but rather with macro things--human relationships, the place of humanity in the created order, and the integrity of the biblical text.

Personally, I must agree that natural selection makes sense. Those whose genetics allow for better adaptation have better chances for survival. Likewise, I accept the concept of class as a helpful sociological tool. I also believe that greed and lust are great motivators. However, I am unwilling to reduce all human behavior to one source a la Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman, or Sigmund Freud. Can evolutionary biology really explain altruism? Can it explain the music of Bach or Mozart? Can it explain Jesus Christ? Every pained explanation attempted falls short. I firmly believe that there is more to life than the material. Life is just a bit more complicated.

Intelligent design suggests that God is in the details. Where natural science is unable to explain, God is there. Maybe, but is ID science? The First Things article suggests “no.” Instead ID is rightly understood as metaphysics. As a compromise, the article asks why not require a philosophy class be taught to high school students including metaphysics. Students could be exposed to Aquinas, Aristotle, and Pascal as well as the skeptical Hume. Such a class would probably meet constitutional muster, and it would prepare students for living in a world where faith is taken seriously. Perhaps, such a class would be a concession that the world is a bit more complicated than some people suggest.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Newsletter: Needs Repeating

Easter poses a special challenge to preachers. For almost 2000 years, people have proclaimed that "Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed." And in a variety of venues, pastors have tried to show the relevance of that profound statement to their congregations. After countless sermons and devotions, what else should be said? Isn’t there a danger of repeating oneself?

I heard a preacher once say, "I’ve preached multiple times on ever character in the Easter story. If only God could have slipped in one more name, I would have another ten years of sermons." There is a whole category of Christian literature which is fictional yet speaks to the death and resurrection of Jesus. In one story, the death of Jesus is told from the perspective of the tree which was hewn to make the cross. In another story, a fourth wise man shows up thirty-something years late and encounters a crucified and then a risen Christ. In still another, a Roman soldier investigating the missing body of Jesus, a la CSI, comes to faith. Each of these stories is a repackaged gospel presented fresh and new.

I see nothing wrong with making imagination a servant of faith, but I wonder why we are so worried about repeating ourselves. Jesus of Nazareth lived showing the compassion of God, calling the world to repentance. This Jesus is our Emmanuel–God with us. He was arrested for blasphemy and sedition, and the Romans crucified him. This act of betrayal and sacrifice had cosmic implications. It becomes the very avenue God uses to reconcile ourselves to Him. After three days, Jesus is raised making his victory complete. Death, sin and evil are destroyed. Here is our good news: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor 15:55).

When we walk through life encumbered with sorrows and pain, we need to be reminded of good news. The gospel may not be original but it remains our victory. In our attention-deficit world some things need repeating. "Tell me the old, old story of Jesus and his love."