From: Don Winterstein (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Jan 24 2003 - 00:34:14 EST
Iím a new subscriber, so Iíll briefly introduce myself before getting to my two topics.
I recently retired from a satisfying career in geophysical research (seismology) and am now following pursuits related to my first love, who is God. I say God, not theology, because my endeavors are more spiritual than intellectual. My primary goal in life is to do what I can to see that Godís will is done on earth. I was born a conservative Lutheran and still have ties to the Lutheran church, but my beliefs have changed.
Iíve more or less just started exploring Christian topics on the Web, and Iíve been surprised. One of the unexpected findings is that many Christians who accept an old Earth still hold to biblical inerrancy. While I value the Bible highly and accept that God inspired it, I personally tossed out inerrancy even before I took up science. God gave us the Bible to draw us to himself, not to give us a big collection of ďtrue facts.Ē Iíd always thought that most of those who are sufficiently plugged in to the real world to accept that the Earth is old would also have acceded to biblical fallibility.
As you know, the Bible is a collection of writings from many authors over many centuries. The writings were composed and canonized by fallible human beings. The writings are anything but uniform; some evince a higher level of divine inspiration than others. They have in common that they witness to Godís activities on behalf of humans, and in this way they deliver the message that God can and does act on behalf of you and me. But I canít think of a single reason why I should consider all of them completely error-free.
The word of God is infallible, but the word of God is not the same as Scripture. Only rarely can ďword of GodĒ as used in the New Testament be made to refer to Scripture. I think of the word of God as the power of God that comes to his people in their time of need. Sometimes Scripture can be the word of God, as a part of it was for me at the time of my conversion. Scripture becomes the word of God for Christians when they find help and meaning in it. But the writings themselves are not infallible; and in fact I suspect Godís people today would be better off ignoring some of them, including the first ten or so chapters of Genesis.
Those 16th century reformers may be largely responsible for elevating Scripture to its current status. They realized that the influence of tradition had gotten way out of hand in the Catholic church, so their cry was sola scriptura. The reality, though, is that Christianity is dead if revelation is not continuing. We have the promised Holy Spirit, and revelation is one of the Spiritís jobs. This means that the word of God in the New Testament sense is continuing among us, even though we donít have the inclination or the guts to canonize any of it. Just as well, perhaps; under present circumstances thereís no way a majority of Christian leaders would agree to canonize any particular writing.
Everything Iíve read so far in the way of attempts to force the Bible to fit an evolutionary, old-Earth scenario has been either contorted or obviously deficient. The thrust in every case has been to try to convince us that the words, especially those of the first chapters of Genesis, mean something quite different from what a straightforward reading would suggest. But whatís so terrible about assuming that the authors of Genesis were simply doing the best they could to straightforwardly fit what they ďknewĒ about the world into a framework consistent with what they knew about God? The Bible: Inspired but limited.
In view of all the things we now know from science, thereís no valid reason to believe that God dictated those first chapters of Genesis like boss to secretary, is there? God living and active among us enables us to adapt. We have the Person, who is far more than the Book.
Still, those first chapters of Genesis set the stage for all succeeding messages pertaining to Godís plan of salvation. I suppose this is why people go to such great lengths to try to preserve inerrancy. If sin and death did not come with Adamís fall in the Garden, what does salvation mean?
The main reason biblical fallibility is not a concern for me is that God has fitted my thinking into a new paradigm, one that has done far more than merely persuade me that God is bigger than the Book. From the pedestal of my paradigm I have no problem detouring around the first chapters of Genesis and fearlessly accepting the important discoveries of science as they stand while at the same time acknowledging a close personal relationship with God. Those first chapters of Genesis were fine for an earlier time, and they remain beautiful and inspirational, but now they fall short if taken as hard information about the world.
As for those important scientific discoveries, another thing that surprises me about my Internet investigations is that old-Earth Christians seem to have little difficulty swallowing the details of organic evolution. For a long time as a scientist Iíd felt that the thing that best gave atheists the courage of their convictions, and the thing that generated scienceís greatest challenge to faith in God, was the evolutionary sequence of living organisms. I mean, if God was behind all this, and if God is both almighty and intelligent, why do plants and animals seem to emerge haphazardly? While certain fine details of the world may suggest Intelligent Design, the absence of logical sequence in emerging life forms seems to suggest Stupid Disorder, or randomness. Life forms emerge, life forms go extinct, again and again. Letís call it, for ease of memory, ďWhy the hundred million years of dinosaur dominance?Ē syndrome. Doesnít this bother anyone?
From the pedestal of my new paradigm, it doesnít bother me; but without my paradigm it would, and I donít understand why it doesnít seem to be a bigger issue for others.
So what Iíd like is feedback on two topics: 1) Some evaluation (seat-of-pants OK) of old-Earth Christians who still hold to biblical inerrancy. Are there large numbers of these people? Insight on why they are so attached to the Book as a repository of facts would be helpful. 2) How much of a problem does the haphazard nature of organic evolution pose to old-Earth Christians? And if itís no problem, why not? I know itís not a problem for someónamely, those who are eager to trash traditional theology and Scripture at the least drop of a scientific hat. I donít have a lot of respect for such people and have difficulty at times regarding them as Christian. But what about those Christians who still feel a need to retain basic teachings?
Confession: I have an ulterior motive. Ultimately Iím trying to promote my personal website, which goes into detail on some of these issues. In fact, it contains a spiritually oriented book I wrote on these and several other topics that presents my extended creed as a believing scientist (órather, as of now, believing ex-scientist). I donít want to divulge the URL right away, because the new paradigm I talk about emerges from a personal revelation of God that some people will likely regard as the most outrageous claim of religious experience in the entire history of Christianity. But new paradigms as a rule initially seem outrageous and hard to swallow. I feel constrained to make my revelation public, but Iíd like first to see what, if any, response these comments generate. Such response may influence how I present my material.
PS Ė Incidentally, the new paradigm implies things relevant to the ethical status of homosexuality, although I have never explicitly addressed that topic and would prefer not to. But letís please keep our minds open.
For a listing of the papers I published in geophysics, visit http://www.seg.org, select ďPublications,Ē then ďDigital Cumulative Index,Ē then search on ďWinterstein.Ē
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