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Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 4–15 

Speaking, in Love, the Truth About Creation

Del Ratzsch

Almost from its beginning, the Christian community has had internal differences over both doctrines and practices. We have been warned that it is partly through our treatment of fellow believers that we as Christians are to be known (John 13:35). But despite that fact, our treatment of those with whom we have disagreements has not always been exactly sterling. How, then, should we conduct ourselves toward other Christians with whom we have serious disagreements—disagreements over issues which we take to have real religious significance? What principles should govern that conduct?

Disagreements are not necessarily a sign of something gone wrong. Sometimes they can even be positive signs—signs of life.

We should take our cue from Ephesians 4:14-16 (NASB, passim):

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. {5}

We are to speak the truth in love. Each of those three terms has something to tell us. Let us look at each in turn.

SPEAK

Speaking is one sign and one function of community. Indeed, one way we indicate that community has been fractured is by saying that we are not speaking to her anymore, or that we are not on speaking terms with him. But together we are supposed to constitute one community, one body, and as part of that body we are to maintain that communion; we are to speak to each other the truth in love. If we break that communion, if we sever some part of that body, if we refuse to speak either by shunning or by shouting (or by silencing other voices), we not only lose that part, we may impair the functioning of the whole body.

The old comic strip Pogo was about a group of animals living in a swamp in Georgia. In one episode, a group of them were discussing a lucky charm—a rabbit’s foot. One of the group, a rabbit, was deeply moved and spoke feelingly about the poor rabbit who had given a foot so that someone could have good luck. Another member of the group, a fox, insisted that the rabbit had it all wrong—that one should not feel sorry for or be impressed by the rabbit for giving the foot, but should feel sympathy for and be impressed by the foot which, after all, had given its whole rabbit.

That’s a danger when one begins to play with breaking community, when one toys with amputation—one might end up on the wrong side of the cut. Historically, there have been Christian groups which have been very like that foot. In setting themselves strictly apart from others who did not see things exactly as they did, they have in effect cut themselves off from the body of believers. For instance, earlier in this century, a number of creationists thought that they could more effectively promote their views if they formed an organization and pooled resources and coordinated their efforts. All were conservative believing, committed Christians. But the organization plan hit a serious snag when it was suggested that they begin their first meeting with prayer. The members from one group had some differences with another group represented there and refused to engage in joint prayer with them. That first group, it seems to me, was being a foot industriously engaged in sawing off the rest of the rabbit.

Of course, there may be situations where amputation is necessary to save the rest of the body—when one has to break communion. But those occasions may be rarer than many suppose. Paul in Romans 14:5-13 notes that some Christians honor one day, some another, some none, and {6} indicates that this difference is not enough to break communion with other Christians. Although that might sound to some like a trivial issue, think of the historical context. Sabbath observance was deeply woven into Jewish beliefs, Jewish traditions, and Jewish life. As doctrine, Sabbath observance was theologically linked to the creation. As practice and tradition it had been meticulously followed for centuries. As a command, violations in the Old Testament were punished by death. Sabbath observance was not a casual, inconsequential, tangential matter. Yet Paul says that disagreement in both practice and doctrine on that point was not sufficient to justify breaking communion, at least in the sense of refusing to recognize as a fellow Christian anyone with whom one disagreed on this issue. This previously capital matter was not important enough to sever part of the body.

Again, breaking communion may sometimes have to be done, but we should be awfully hesitant, and one should at least think about whether one is being the foot that sawed off its whole rabbit. Because although the rabbit may end up limping, the foot will not make it at all.

TRUTH

In our disagreements, we are to speak the truth—not casual opinions, not what everyone knows, not half-baked plausibilities. We are obviously not infallible in our quests for truth, but we must at least try to get at truth as best we can, and that means that we are obligated to do our homework before we say very much. Let me briefly mention a couple of illustrations from the creation/evolution dispute. There are many sides to that dispute even within the Christian community, but young-earth creationism and theistic evolution are probably the most visible. Let us look at each in turn in connection with the general idea of doing homework.

Theistic Evolution: Some Homework

Five years after publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), eight scientists (several of whom were destined to be among the most influential of the period) formed the X Club with the aims of promoting the growth and social authority of science, and in particular of freeing science from any domination by religion. The members of the Club generally embraced philosophical naturalism, and for some the fight against religion went much farther than merely evicting it from the domain of science. In that broader conflict, some within the X Club saw the Origin as a major piece of antireligious artillery. Thomas Huxley, for instance, referred to it as “A veritable Whitworth gun in the armoury of liberalism.” {7} 1

And Karl Marx was so pleased with Darwinism and the potential he thought it exhibited for the cause of antisupernaturalism that he wanted to dedicate the English translation of Das Kapital to Darwin.

Such episodes represent a fairly strong historical thread of attempts to co-opt evolution as a worldview weapon against religious belief. In fact, such attempts continue to the present. The National Association of Biology Teachers recently issued the following statement:

The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.

Although very quickly modified, that original statement—unsupervised, impersonal—implies that by definition evolution means that no one is in charge here.

Such purported implications may not be a formal part of evolutionary biological theory (I do not believe that they are), nor may they strictly follow from the biological theory proper (I do not believe that they do). But historically there has been a widely felt smooth interlocking—clicking into place—between Darwinian evolution and opposition to religion, and that is not necessarily just “sheer Fundamentalist fantasy” either. 2 That perceived fit is what Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins referred to in his famous remark that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” 3 And as Thomas Nagel put it,

Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world. 4

The operative supposition underlying the above episodes and quotes is that science can sometimes have genuine worldview implications, and that the implications in this case (evolution) are not happy ones for religious belief. But opponents of religious belief are not the only ones to have suspected some deep tensions here—many lay Christians and many creationists have as well.

Some theistic evolutionists, however, have rejected that worry of other Christians, arguing that evolution cannot have any deep worldview implications because science is strictly empirical. They reason that when {8} things are properly compartmentalized, nonempirical matters such as religion and worldviews are completely walled off from, completely disconnected from, completely immune to, anything science could ever say. In this, they echo, e.g., Paul Tillich:

Scientific truth and the truth of faith do not belong to the same dimension of meaning. Science has no right and no power to interfere with faith and faith has no power to interfere with science. 5

But the positivist view of science which typically flavors such positions has been known to be inadequate for nearly half a century. According to more contemporary understandings of science, the possibility of deep connections between scientific theories, scientifically essential presuppositions, and broader matters cannot be simply dismissed wholesale. In specific cases there may well be no conflict, but that cannot be established merely by wielding sweeping categorizations—science over here, religion over there.

Those Christians (and those opponents of religion) who believe that evolution and Christian belief are in conflict may be mistaken. And those theistic evolutionists who believe that there is no conflict may be right. But anyone who grounds that “no conflict” position in an exploded conception of what science is, needs to find a firmer footing. And that means doing some philosophy of science homework 6—and perhaps some worldview warfare homework as well.

Creationism: Some Homework

Among creationists, there are a number of genuine scientists who understand evolutionary theory, who have done actual scientific work, and who do understand how science functions. 7 Unfortunately, the creationists who are most visible in the secular media, in church-sponsored creation/evolution workshops, and on Christian television, are often popularizers who lack all of those qualifications. 8 One result has been that much of the conservative Christian community has been seriously misled concerning what Darwinian evolutionary theory actually says, what the relevant scientific evidence is, what that evidence does or does not show about evolution, and concerning what science is and how it works. Following are two brief examples, one involving philosophy of science, the other involving the content of Darwinian theory.

Philosophy of Science. Quite a number of popular creationists take their philosophy of science from the Oxford dictionary: {9}

A branch of study which is concerned either with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws, and which includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truth within its own domain. 9

That definition misses few opportunities to embrace long-refuted positions. Science, of course, does not demonstrate truths in any strict sense of the term. Worse yet, if one began with “observed facts,” then “systematically classified” them (evidently by some Baconian means) by “bringing them under general laws,” one would never get beyond empirical generalizations to theoretical understanding of those data at all. There simply is no logic of discovery. There are no automatic “trustworthy methods” for discovering new truths—especially for getting from the empirical level to the theoretical. If there were, the creativity of scientists would not be nearly as crucial to science as it is. This conception of science has essentially all the difficulties of the Baconianism which it evidently reflects.

Beyond that, popular creationist pictures of science typically include mistakes concerning the natures of and relationships between theories and data, the nature of and scope of testability and falsifiability, the status and effects of anomalous observations, the implications of the existence of alternative theoretical interpretations, the nature and role of the concepts of observability and reproducibility and so on. 10

Darwinian Content. Creationist popularizers very frequently have an inadequate grasp of current evolutionary theory. For instance, a number confuse Darwinian evolution with earlier theories of evolution, especially that of Lamarck, who died thirty years before Darwin’s publication of the Origin of Species. Failure to distinguish Darwin from Lamarck is quite common among creationist popularizers, despite the facts that the differences are not just in superficial detail but are fundamental, and that Darwin himself explicitly rejected the structure, basis, underlying principles, and mechanism of Lamarckian evolution (referring to some parts of it as just “nonsense”). Many popular creationist criticisms might very well point to real difficulties in Lamarck’s theories. But the problem is that Lamarck’s theories have been rejected by the scientific community for two-thirds of a century, and that given the deep differences between Darwinian and Lamarckian evolution, criticisms relevant to Lamarckian theories often have no bearing at all on Darwinian theories. The creationists in question have not done sufficient work even to discover that they are often attacking a theory which no one actually holds, that few have {10} held for generations, and that the attacks miss the real theory entirely. 11

Unfortunately, such confusions have had consequences. Creationist popularizers are often accepted as authorities by thousands of Christians—sometimes by influential hosts of religious television programs. Thus, many well-meaning lay Christians and ministers have been substantially misled as to what evolutionary (and other) theories actually say and misled as to the alleged trivial ease with which evolution can be refuted. Beyond that, such visible mistakes by some creationists have tarred the whole movement and have thus made it more difficult for other creationists who are attempting to construct legitimate, real science from a creationist perspective, to get serious consideration.

Upshot

For both sides, failure to do the homework generates real risks: first, the risk of speaking something other than the truth, and second, the risk of getting caught flatfooted in a variety of embarrassing errors. And the louder you have trumpeted those errors, and the larger they turn out to be, and the more obvious it becomes that you have not done your homework, the more embarrassing it can be. And rest assured that if one is speaking to a competent practitioner from the opposite side, those errors will be instantly spotted. The fact that you have your foot stuffed firmly in your mouth will be duly pointed out to you—and to everyone else as well. And that is not where our feet are supposed to be. We are supposed to know the truth and to firmly stand with both feet on the ground stabilizing us against the winds that try to blow us around.

LOVE

Sometimes, even when both sides have done their homework, disagreement persists. What then? Having done your homework, being responsibly convinced that you are right, the temptation is to take aim at your disagreeing brother or sister and blow ’em away—with the truth, of course.

But if we have not sawed off our entire rabbit, then we are still one body—you may be hands, someone else eyes, your opponent may be a foot. They—the foot—are part of the same body you are part of. And that means that blazing away at one’s fellow believer may be, in effect, shooting one’s self in one’s own foot. We are to love others as ourselves, and since we are one body, our usual reluctance to open fire on our own foot thus has consequences for our proposed firing at fellow believers. Since we are reluctant to shoot ourselves in the foot, we should not shoot them—either in the foot, or as a foot. {11}

Does that mean that we should not pursue disagreements? That we should not try to convince others of their errors? No—we are, after all, to speak the truth.

But it must be in love. Suppose that in something like the creation/evolution case you really do have the truth—your side really is right. If you speak it, but not in love, what does Scripture say about you? It does not congratulate you for speaking that truth—even Balaam’s donkey spoke truth. It does not give you permission to vilify those with whom you disagree. It does not applaud you for your insistence on correcting those around you. The Pharisees do not get a lot of extra credit in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul says:

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

So if you know not only the truth about origins and creation and evolution, but even all mysteries, but lack love, you are nothing.

So how does love do it? We are given a description and a model. The description is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The model? In John 13:34, Christ says,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

That is not always easy. For instance, after having gotten nailed on something we vociferously held but which turned out to be wrong, how many of us rejoice that the truth of our opponent has now triumphed over our own error? And how often do we speak truth in superiority? in scorn? or as a weapon? And how often do we make other views and motives easier to attack by not reading them charitably? And how often do we really love those aggravatingly confused and obnoxiously bullheaded people on the other side of our issues who simply refuse to see it the right way—our {12} way? But that is what we are supposed to do—love.

Of course, sometimes there may really be something about some other part of the body that does require serious corrective action. But we must be careful how we go about it. A few years ago, a woman who had been troubled by a very painful corn on her foot decided to fix it permanently. Being completely plastered with wine at the time, her choice of surgical instrument was a bit questionable—a shotgun. The treatment was effective—the corn was indeed removed, and she has not been subsequently bothered by that corn.

But nonetheless, as can be imagined, the story did not have a completely happy ending. After all, she literally shot herself in the foot. And if we Christians are one body, then in correcting our fellow believer with a shotgun, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot after all. And the ending may be just as unsatisfactory.

DISAGREEMENTS

One final issue. Disagreements are not necessarily a sign of something gone wrong. They need not be feared. Sometimes they can even be positive signs—signs of life. There are some things in Scripture which sometimes seem to point simultaneously in different directions, and we may not know quite how to put everything together. With many of the major historical disputes of the church—like predestination vs. free choice, for instance—both sides were firmly rooted in Scripture, and the dispute arose because the two groups had taken hold of different pieces of the larger picture or different poles of what looked like a tension. But in such cases, the fact that there is a dispute means that both sides have gotten hold of something in Scripture—which is good—and are defending it as faithfully and committedly as they can—which is good—and are not going to be easily dislodged from that truth—which is also good.

And sometimes disputes are an opportunity to learn, to grow. They can be part of the very process by which some of our crucial homework gets done—by which we learn some of the truth. Sometimes both sides end up being better for having had the disagreement. Proverbs 27:17 says:

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.

So raise the tough issues with your opponent. Ask the tough questions. Probe their position. Speak the truth. But do it to sharpen them, to strengthen them—and not just because they disagree with you and thus obviously deserve to be clobbered. Recall the passage at the beginning, Ephesians 4:15-16: {13}

. . . but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

That is the object—we are to grow, and the body is to grow and to be built up in love. And it is in your interest for those you disagree with to be stronger—after all, they and you are ultimately of the same body, and in body, in a genuine community, the weakness of one can affect all.

Ask the tough questions of yourself too. That is part of doing the homework. And listen to the questions and answers of your opponent. You just might discover that your own house has a shakier footing than you thought. And finding that out is in your—and the community’s—interest as well.

CONCLUSION

This essay has presented three principles concerning disputes within the Christian community:

  1. Speak. Do not break community lightly. Do not be the foot that cuts off its whole rabbit.
  2. The truth. Do the homework. Do not get caught with your scientific or theological or philosophical foot in your mouth. That not only hampers speaking, it makes it difficult to use both feet to stand firm.
  3. In love. Do not, by shooting fellow members of the body, thereby shoot yourself in the foot. Do not trim corns with a shotgun.

Speak the truth in love. And it seems to me that in many of our frequent internal disputes, the greatest of these is love. {14}

NOTES

  1. Liberalism, as Huxley used the term, involved philosophical naturalism and included the view that “A religion is an emotionally valid form of human experience, but false when formalized into a statement about objective reality.” [my emphasis]. See, e.g., Ruth Barton, The X Club: Science, Religion, and Social Change in Victorian England (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1976), 72-74.
  2. In a recent article about the commercial market in dinosaur (and other) fossils, one dealer explained the popularity of such fossils in extremely telling terms: “[Since there is a limited supply of such fossils] people think, ‘Maybe I should grab it before it’s too late’ . . . . Museums can’t satisfy the public’s demand now. Just look at this dinosaur egg. There’s a power in it. It’s real, more real than any man-made thing. The egg is a direct link to evolution, to Darwin and Jurassic Park. It’s like owning a piece of the cross” (Henry Galiano, quoted in Virginia Morell, “A Dinosaur for the Mantel,” Natural History 107 [October 1998]: 64).
  3. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton, 1987), 6.
  4. Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (New York: Oxford, 1997), 131.
  5. Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper, 1957), 81.
  6. In this general connection, see esp. ch. 11 of my Battle of Beginnings (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996).
  7. I include in this category a number of “Intelligent Design” advocates (although, of course, not nearly all within that movement accept young-earth views, reject evolution as such, etc.), as well as many Seventh-Day Adventist scientists.
  8. In many states it is perfectly legal for anyone to draw up a “college” or “university” charter, declare him- or herself to be president of that “college” or “university,” and to begin issuing “doctoral” degrees (on any grounds or no grounds)—the only requirement in some states being that the “school” simply be registered with the state office as a “proprietary” school. It is an unfortunate fact that the credentials of a number of highly visible creationist popularizers who advertise themselves as “Dr. So and So” have credentials coming from proprietary schools. Such schools are, of course, typically unaccredited by any reputable accrediting agency. In a few cases, the holders of such “degrees” cite the mere fact that the school is registered with the relevant state agency as testifying to the school’s legitimacy. That, of course, testifies to little more than the fact that the school is in compliance with the law that it be registered.
  9. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University, 1967), 1806, definition 4 (dated 1725). Not only creationist popularizers, but a number of the most influential professional creationists in the U.S. explicitly adopt that definition.
  10. For more detail, see my Battle of Beginnings, ch. 10.
  11. The foregoing is just one example. See my Battle of Beginnings, ch. 4, for further discussion.
Del Ratzsch is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. His book on the creation debate, The Battle of Beginnings, was published in 1996 by InterVarsity Press.
Taken from Science and Its Limits by Del Ratzch. Copyright 1999 by Del Ratzch. Used with permission from InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. A similar presentation was given at Tabor College, April 20, 1998.

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