Sunday, August 2, 2009
Institute for Creation Research
Almost at the end of living out of a suitcase! I left New Orleans two days ago, spent last night in northern Alabama at the wedding of a friend from high school, and got up this morning and drove to St. Louis, where I am staying the next two days on my way to Syracuse. Along the way, I happened to catch part of a radio commercial for a group that promotes “creation science.” What was particularly interesting was the clarity with which they laid out the logic of their position; in battling mainstream biology, they take issue with claims that dinosaurs existed for millions of years before human beings, and here’s why: if dinosaurs lived and died for millions of years before humans existed, then that counters Paul’s argument that death entered the world because of the sin of the first humans, so sin is NOT the wages of death, and then, what is the value of the cross of Christ as the sole means of the salvation of humanity? It is stunning to me how clearly they see where the crux of their problem lies: the point was not about challenging pagan science or anything like that, as they put it, but about the centrality of Christ, which, ideologically twisted though their position is, it has a certain internal logic to it which I find interesting. However, the unexamined parts of their argument are even more interesting to me. Early on in Christian history, mainstream Christianity fairly tightly defined the orthodox teachings on Christology, i.e. who Jesus is in his relationship with God and other human beings, but no official teaching was ever given on soteriology, i.e. the means by which Christ saves. There are any number of models and analogies in scripture and the teachings of various theologians, but never has any one been declared to be the definitive model. However, this particular group has taken an analogy (or more likely, taken a few analogies and conflated them) as literal speech. Paul and other early theologians wanted to say that somehow in the midst of the horror of the cross, salvation was understood to be present, but they used so many images and models that it is quite obvious that they did not take any one model with final seriousness. The other problem is that as much as the term “salvation” gets batted around, people often enough don’t have a clear sense of what it actually means. We tend to think of it in extraterrestrial terms, e.g. the forgiveness of sins as means of attaining heaven or some such thing, rather than being involved in people’s real lives, encompassing physical well-being, social reconciliation, and so on. This infomercial ended by urging listeners to go back to the Bible and “get right” with Genesis, that is, don’t allow yourself to be led astray by the disenchanting teachings of evolutionary biology. I have no problem with claiming that I experience salvation in the cross of Christ, but that in no way forces me to believe that death did not exist until humans existed, or that the death of Jesus is only or even primarily about a transaction with God to propitiate God’s anger into forgiving sins. So the effort of defending “creation science” boils down to protecting an analogy, to taking literally that which was meant to be a pointer, and one of many at that – as Nietzsche says, “Truth is an army of metaphors.” Images of Jesus as scapegoat and sacrifice and exemplar and ransom and many others all shake together, not so they can all be taken literally (impossible, as they mutually undercut each other), but so they can together point beyond themselves. Such a reality is too big to be adequately captured by any one image, or even by many working together, and to attempt to do so, despite their best efforts, does not uphold the integrity of the cross, but reduces it to one image. At the same time, on the creation vs. evolution front, I would offer Paul Tillich's "principle of correlation": good science may not necessarily lead to good theology, but bad science inevitably leads to bad theology. If truth is genuinely one, that is, if all truth comes from God, we don't have to be afraid of science - new learnings may well give us new, better questions to ask of the tradition that we could not have asked otherwise.