Truth on Parade
It was a beautiful Fourth of July day in Iron River, Michigan. The annual parade was one of the best I have attended through the years. Polished fire trucks made their presence felt. Floats celebrating many local groups gave evidence of work behind the scenes. Prancing riding horses brought some real life amid the various kinds of vehicles and trailers. “Above average” children walked, peddled, rode, and smiled. My nephew, Leland, rode in one of the vehicles and my brother, Curtis, in another. Wrapped candy came flying through the air to the curbs. Young and old went away with bags full of sweets. Fittingly, Dr. F. M. Saigh III, the local dentist, advertised his Advanced Smile Design office and passed out new tooth brushes.
People watch parades from many different perspectives. Mechanics, musicians, farmers and sales people notice things engineers, plumbers, lawyers, and accountants miss. Car dealers check out the vehicles while butchers observe the livestock. One old professor of philosophy and religious studies, who sat by the curb enjoying the parade, focused his attention at one point on a local church float. Ahead of this float, on which a large wooden Bible was prominently displayed, walked two sandwich-boarded young men with short, clear messages front and back. On one was the message: WHAT IS TRUTH? HUMAN REASON? NO, and on the other the words: WHAT IS TRUTH? EVOLUTION? NO. A third sign, TRUTH IS GOD’S WORD, was displayed on the float ahead of this large model Bible. People and children associated with the float walked ahead of it, smiling, as they tossed candy to children sitting or standing by the curb.
What are the premises and arguments back of such definite negative answers the sandwich guys announced? Why did these stalwart believers venture out publicly into the streets of small-town America on a delightful Independence Day to let us know they rejected reason and evolution while honoring the Bible?
The pastor of the church later expanded somewhat on the premises on which their float was designed and built. First, biblical inerrancy as based on II Timothy 3:16 - “All scripture is inspired by God....” And, according to II Peter 1:21, - “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Jesus in John 14:6 affirms He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The Bible requires Christians to reject some conclusions of natural science. Second, humans will never be able to fully comprehend the fullness of God. (Isaiah 55:8, 9.) Third, the pastor affirms that theirs is a message, not of hate toward education, but about the love of Christ. (Ephesians 4:15.) God’s truth is above all human wisdom. A few comments. The lead question on their float, “What is Truth?,” has been argued and answered in various ways through the ages. It is a fundamental, demanding question which scientists, philosophers, theologians, linguists, and average human beings dispute endlessly. It is a tremendous question, hardly one that could be answered adequately on a float.
Ironically, these believers could not get their simple message across to us without using human reason in the process. Reason underlies the essential structure of ordinary human language. Words bundled together irrationally hardly communicate ideas effectively. I contend that human reason, even when fallen, is the creative gift of the Living God. Human discourse sets us apart from other creatures. Many animals certainly communicate with each other, but it is only Homo sapiens, created in the image of God, which has evolved and developed genuine language skills.
Reason also helps one perceive God’s invisible nature, namely His eternal power and deity, clearly in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19-20) Some theologians, following thirteenth century St. Thomas Aquinas, refer to such rational knowledge of God as natural theology and distinguish it from revealed theology. Natural theology, a way of “seeing” God in the world, requires a “Yes” to human reason. Even seeing nature from the standpoint of the Christian tradition, as Alister E. McGrath does, requires the use of reason. Reason and faith are complementary.
The human question, “What is truth?” points to a wider, more encompassing public sphere than does biblical truth. Affirming that Jesus is the truth in terms of coming into a right relationship with God in no way bans or restricts scientific discovery. Scientific concern for truth involves testing hypotheses about the empirical world through experimentation. Generally, a correspondence theory of truth operates here (i.e., truth is what agrees with the reality of the world, while falsity is what disagrees with that reality).
Ignorance of the way the scientific method operates might explain why the sandwich board guys displayed such negative messages front and back. But that’s hardly the case. They might well be at the head of their science classes. Rather, the critical explanatory factor here is their affirmation of biblical infallibility which they seem to share with their pastor. The Bible, held to be inerrant and thus above all human higher criticism, describes the natural world for them. Scientists, despite their brilliance or Nobel Prizes, who operate outside the covers of this infallible Book, are regarded as untrustworthy atheists. Say “no” or actively fight them, but do not subscribe to their conclusions when these are at odds with the biblical language.
The key issue comes down to how one understands and uses the Bible. The question is whether or not one should rely on the Bible for an understanding of the natural world today. Is the Bible a scientific or a non-scientific or a pre-scientific book? Does it reflect the science of the time it was written or does it determine what the findings of scientists must be for all time? Grappling seriously with such critical questions demands more than a simple “no” response.
The word “evolution” has many meanings and cannot be rejected as the sandwich boards did. Clearly, the person who designed the sandwich board meant “biological evolution,” rather than other kinds of social or technological evolution. Setting biblical truth and evolution against one another as strictly incompatible beliefs is highly questionable educational practice in churches or in academia. Creation science and a literal handling of Genesis are increasingly unacceptable options. The vast majority of scientists in the fields of biology and earth sciences believe in evolution, take the two creation accounts in Genesis as non-scientific prose or poetry, and regard the earth as several billions of years old. Though tension areas remain, Christian faith and evolution are not necessarily in conflict. There are various ways of bringing them together. For example, the distinguished British biochemist and theologian, Arthur Peacocke (1924–2006) puts it this way: God is creating and sustaining the world at every moment. Evolution is the continuing action of God in the world, the very means He employs in developing life forms. ‘He makes things make themselves’ (Charles Kingsley’s remark). Christian thinkers refer to such collating of faith and evolution with terms like “theistic evolution” or “Christian evolution.”
Many authors can be found on this controversial topic. A recent book by Canadian author Denis O. Lamoureux carries a candid, challenging title: I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. Lamoureux, who refers to himself as an “Evolutionary Creationist,” contends that Genesis 1-3 presents God’s Word, poetically, in terms of the science of that day. The essence of the Message is more significant than it’s incidental form. Googling names like Ralph Wendell Burhoe, Philip J. Hefner, John Polkinghorne, John F. Haught, and Francis Collins might help one locate others who have worked with this difficult issue.
Next year’s Iron River Fourth of July parade will most likely bring some new and exciting entries. An idea: A float on which scriptural truth and scientific truth ride together in peaceful, fruitful dialogue. That would indeed be something to celebrate!