Allow me to start off by saying I deeply appreciate those who have commented here over the last two series on how we read our Bible. As I indicated in my response to one of the comments, I think it is time to open up a series on why we believe at all. I do this hesitantly for two reasons. First, there are nearly three dozen questions on other matters waiting for me at email@example.com and I feel bad that I am making them wait even longer for answers. Second, a series like this can run forever and not convince anyone. I am still going ahead with this because I want those who have journeyed with me over the years to understand how I can respect and love the Bible and still hold Jesus in higher esteem and define the former by the latter and never vice versa.
I will avoid using technical language here, for each discipline has its own language, terms, idioms, references, and definitions and it makes it frustrating to follow the conversation when you don’t share that language. I have been in rooms with experts in science, theology, philosophy, and linguistics and seen the temperature rise along with the volume of their voices as they talked past each other. I’d like to avoid as much of that as I can. So, instead of talking about epistemology, I will ask “how do we know what we know?” And instead of talking about soteriology, I will talk about how we understand our own salvation. And, as much as it breaks my heart to do so, I will strip the technical language out of my own references to physics, chemistry, biology, and quantum mechanics. Commenters are, of course, free to use whatever language they wish.
I was one of the first to run out and grab a civilian GPS. I have always been an early adopter and I have the boxes full of unusable junk to prove it. Early GPS was severely crippled by the government and it required a minimum of three connections to three satellites to function properly. And it was frequently impossible to get those. But that taught me a lesson: get input from as many reliable sources as possible and then make sure you are processing them intelligently.
I believe… but not just because “the Bible tells me so.” While the Bible is one witness, it itself says it is not the only witness. Romans chapter one tells us that nature is also a witness. Jesus’ life is a witness. Our experiences matter here, too, as we see what happens when we live like Jesus and when we don’t. We experience answers – and non-answers – to prayer. And we run up against incredible levels of complexity in even the smallest, simplest living cell; enough complexity to make us wonder.
When I came to faith, I didn’t become one of those who suddenly read only Christian books, watched Christian TV, listened to Christian radio, shopped for Precious Moments figurines, slapped on a WWJD bracelet, and carried a Super Duper Special Leather Bound Bible everywhere I went. I came reluctantly, forced along by what I knew.
And what did I know? I was confronted by the design of the brain at the cellular level and the amazing interplay of neurons, neurochemicals, tiny electrical charges, and the wisdom of cells. I had to back away from my attempt to live without faith in God and review what I knew.
We know that something doesn’t come from nothing. As I showed in my review of Stephen Hawking’s latest book, his attempt to show that something CAN and DOES come from nothing falls flat even among his agnostic friends (who have written extensively attacking his book). I’ll refer you back to those blogs and not go over that same material here. We know that matter is not eternal – it degrades and rearranges itself over time, but it doesn’t stay the same. We know that chaos does not, despite our best attempts to make it so back in the 80s and 90s, lead to order. Chaos leads to more chaos. Order can break down into chaos – and often does – but chaos doesn’t produce kittens or planets.
We know that intelligence does not arise from non-intelligence. We know that when we move any species toward the edge of its “family” it loses the ability to reproduce (think about the offspring of a horse and a donkey or a lion and a tiger). We know that we have never been able to adequately explain how one “kind” becomes another “kind.” While theories abound, they are all seriously flawed and we can’t show convincing evidence from nature to back any of them up. The late Stephen Jay Gould, one of my favorite scientists, tried hard but admitted in several papers that the “one kind to another kind” model was assumed, not seen.
We know that in any information transfer, information is lost. This is true whether you are copying a document on a Xerox machine, scanning something to email, or having a baby. There is never a net gain in information; always a net loss. That makes it hard to go from an amoeba like creature to a giraffe. Unless that amoeba had help. Outside help.
We also know that we do not know. I’ll give one example here: we have found a few genes and a few neurochemicals that play a part in the development of Alzheimer’s. However, some people get Alzheimer’s and don’t have those genes and the levels of those particular compounds in their brains (likeApololiptoprotein E-4) aren’t high enough to play a part. We shrug and say “We don’t know all the genes involved and, out of the estimated thousand neurochemicals in our brain, we really can only isolate about two dozen.” When facing questions about life, faith, the cosmos, God, the march of history, etc. it is wise to keep a bit of humility in our conversations.
We know that there are some fascinating parts of our scripture which cannot easily be explained by attributing them to the random scribblings of desert wanderers. We see science way too early in scripture; somewhat akin to finding a Buick in a pyramid. We see the first rules on crop rotation and allowing fields to remain fallow for a period so that they can regain their ability to provide abundant harvests. We see dietary rules that would help keep a desert people far healthier than their neighbors. We see rules on hygiene including the handling of dead bodies, mold and mildew, human and animal waste and more, all a long time before Pasteur, Jenner, and Snow. We see rules on genetics – who can marry whom – that would keep them safe from the inherent danger in any tribe of their time: inbreeding and resultant genetic disorders.
We also see rules of behavior that make sense (and some that make us cringe and shake our heads. Be fair: those are there, too) such as laws against adultery, stealing, murder, and dissension. In Jesus’ life, we see crystal clear rules and examples that, if followed, would make this earth far more like heaven than any of us can truly imagine.
How we put all this evidence together, and what weight we give each piece of it, determines whether we become atheist, agnostic, believers, or Deists. Over the next several blogs, I will talk about how I weigh the evidence, why, and how it has led me to follow Jesus. In my mind, the evidence is that he was not just a good man, but the Son of God. And I don’t mind sharing why I feel that way.
As always, all comments are welcome as long as there is love in them. No sarcasm or attacks are allowed. We are all in this together and while we can rejoice in what we know, we need to remember than none of us knows it all.