Friday, 19 December 2014

Evolution and Cool-Shaming

BioLogos, Respectability, and Classical Christian Education

Douglas Wilson
Blog and Mablog
December 15, 2014

As classical Christian education has made it through our first round of trials, which threatened to make us fail through failure, we have now come to the much greater test, one that would make us fail through success. With hard work comes success, and with success comes respectability, and with respectability comes . . . spiritual heat death. As Cotton Mather once put it with regard to physical blessings, faithfulness begets prosperity, and the daughter devours the mother. Or as Moses put it, on the same topic, “Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein . . . thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17). The same principle applies to the intellectual fruit of hard academic labor.

Graduates of classical Christian schools are much sought after. They have been taught well, and it shows, and those of us in the movement have heard story after story of how this graduate got a high flying scholarship, and how that one was recruited for the honors program, and so on. We are proud of our students, and rightfully so. But one of the central tests of how we are teaching our students is going to be seen in how they respond to this praise from the world. With the arrival of this praise comes the temptation to want it in the wrong way. The respectability that got there by not caring at all what they think becomes the kind of respectability that cares very much what they think.

And I am convinced that this is one of the reasons why evolutionary thinking is starting to make a play for our community of schools.
We have shown that our graduates are smart and well-educated, and this is recognized by all. And nobody wants to see such a fine group of students wasting their intellectual talents on what the establishment considers the equivalent of geocentric flat-earthism.

So let’s move on to the issue of evolution and how it relates to our schools.

“We at BioLogos agree with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species, seeing these as descriptions of how God created.”

I first want to focus on the phrase “agree with the modern scientific consensus.”

There are two possible issues at play here. The first is the harmonization of the truth of Scripture with a truth discovered elsewhere — whether or not anybody else agrees with you on that truth discovered elsewhere. The second issue — and topic of this post — is the harmonization of the truth of Scripture with what all the respectable people think. The key word from that phrase above is consensus. The word consensus means that these are the conclusions of many minds that must be taken into account. Nothing objectionable there, and the biblical virtue of humility requires us not to be automatically contrarian. There is no biblical mandate for always believing that it is the rest of the army that is out of step. But the word consensus also brings with it the concept of peer pressure. Peer review is a good thing, except when it is a thin disguise for peer pressure.

Now sometimes all the respectable people are right, but even when they are, a biblical thinker is going to triple check his motives. Why? The reason we need to check our hearts is that God has designed much of his truth to be intellectually disreputable. That’s not a bug, but a feature. Not all of it works that way, of course — you can believe the sun rises in the east without much danger, and that water at sea level boils at 212 degrees F. Nobody looks at you funny. But when the madness of crowds sets in, the fact that it is a stampede of “approved” scientists doesn’t keep it from being an approved stampede. Think of the kind of trouble you can get in for questioning the dogma of climate change. You can easily become the world’s fool for simply refusing to be a fool.

A biblical worldview thinker must therefore have a robust immune system when it comes to facing the scorn of the educated elites. This a different issue than the simple reconciliation of truths from God’s “two books.” A man alone by himself in a library may set himself to reconcile what Scripture says about the circumference and diameter of Solomon’s bronze sea and what he knows from another source about what the value of pi must be. It could be a very quiet library, and he could harmonize it all by thinking that Scripture was using round numbers, or that the circumference were measured inside the sea while the diameter was measured to the outer lip, or vice versa, or some other clever notion. But what he is harmonizing is a fact here that contains an apparent discrepancy with a different fact there. He is a man in a room solving a problem.

But drag in the word consensus and you have other factors coming into play — things like tenure, and passing your comps, and paying your mortgage, and not upsetting your wife, and not being considered an idjeat by your respected colleagues. Anyone who thinks that the evolutionists police the boundaries of their theory by Pure Science alone, and never by shaming, simply doesn’t get out much. Let’s be honest here. Young earth creationists are assumed to have all the sophistication of the gap-toothed visage of Alfred E. Newman, peering out from underneath a propeller hat. This is simply a dogma with them. Nobody with a functioning brain stem could possibly think that. You think that, and so therefore . . .

Confronted with hundreds of scientists with terminal degrees granted to them by their own universities who are in fact young earth creationists, the establishment retreats into a very fine display of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. One person claims that no Scotsman dislikes haggis. Another person responds that his uncle, a gent from Aberdeen named Angus McFee, detests haggis. To this the all-purpose comeback is that “no true Scotsman” dislikes haggis. No scientist embraces young earth creationism. You produce a list with hundreds of scientists who have in fact embraced it. No true scientist . . . What my net don’t catch ain’t fish.

Feeble attempts might be made to justify the taunt of “no true scientist” by finding some creation scientist who got his degree from the Fargo Community College and Tire Center, saying it is a terminal degree because he must have found it at the bus terminal, but this is more cute than wise. Speaking of wise, there is Kurt Wise, the paleontologist who got his doctorate from Harvard. But what about Francis Collins, who is a force behind BioLogos? He is a Christian who was the head of the human genome project, and he believes that faith in Christ and belief in evolution are fully consistent. Okay, so I will call your Francis Collins, and raise you John Sanford at Cornell, co-inventor of the gene gun. But wait . . . that’s not how truth is established.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to say that scientists disagree on the issue than to say that if a scientist disagrees, he is “no true Scotsman”? Right, that would be simpler, and more to the point, but that is not going to happen any time soon because because this battle is a battle over the boundaries of respectability. This is a battle being fought with the weapons of shame. And my point here is that anybody who cares more for respectability than truth is going to be an early casualty in that battle. And this is an area where many of our schools may be vulnerable.

What we need to do is train first rate thinkers who don’t mind at all being dismissed as clowns and buffoons. This is part of what it means to learn how to think like a Christian. “Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” (1 Cor. 4:13).

What enables us to believe in special creation? God spoke, and the cosmos was there — as it had not been a moment before? The answer is faith. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3).
And what interferes with such faith? The answer to that is caring in the wrong way about the scientific consensus. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44, ESV).

“Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:20–22).

Unless we owe God our allegiance because He created us, there is no such thing as sin. And if there is no such thing as sin, there is no such thing as gospel. The world through its wisdom cannot find God or know God. But the world through its wisdom loves to assume the center, and loves to assert what the consensus of all right-thinking people must be.

But who do you think you are? You have never studied with the approved people. And if you have studied with the approved people, and if you have excelled there, you can still count on getting “the treatment.” The “who do you think you are” jab is an exercise in shaming, not an argument. And the reply, regardless of your scientific background should be the same. God’s Word is a light in a dark place, and it enables us to see where we are going. “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.” (Psalm 119:99–100, ESV)

As we labor to establish our schools, as we strive for academic excellence — which we should continue to do — we are looking to put points on the scoreboard. We can want recognition, which is a tool we can use, without wanting full approval, which is a weapon they can use. The most we want should come in the form backhanded compliments. “And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind”” (Acts 26:24, ESV). Festus had just discovered that Paul believed the Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky.

“For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:9).

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