I’m a member of a theologically conservative United Methodist group on Facebook. Yesterday, a member of the group, perhaps a student in seminary, said he was uncomfortable with the idea that Genesis 1–11 should be viewed as a “true myth.” Everyone in the group shared his discomfort, although there was little consensus on the extent to which these chapters report literal history. Notice I said “the extent to which”: no one denied that they were historical to some extent.
One frustrated member, a layperson, asked the following:
So, what’s an impressionable, non-seminary educated lay person and new Christian like myself to do? How do I explain this to non-believers?
I replied as follows (emphasis added):
You should hold fast to the complete truthfulness of Genesis 1-11 and be open to ways in which Christians of good faith interpret these events (i.e., “Does the text itself allow for a more figurative interpretation of some or all of these events?”), yet utterly reject any interpretation that says, in so many words, “The Bible got it wrong.”
Be charitable toward brothers and sisters who disagree with your position, wherever you land on the question.
Don’t be overly impressed with the latest scientific theory, whatever it may be. It will be overturned by some later theory. This happens all the time in science. When it comes to questions of origins, there is often a lot speculation and guesswork based on little hard evidence. I believe, by contrast, that the Spirit inspired the Bible’s authors to write in such a way that the Bible’s truthful accounts could be understood by people of all times and in all places. That’s part of its genius.
An abstract thing called “science” doesn’t “say” anything, despite what’s usually reported in the media. Nearly everything we think we know within the realm of science is contested by specialists all the time.
Most of what most people know about evolution and cosmology they learned in a ninth- or tenth-grade textbook: which is to say, they know next to nothing, personally, about these things—including the most stridently skeptical voices speaking against the historicity of the Bible’s early chapters. Nearly everyone “takes on faith” that evolution, for example, happened in a particular way. Ken Ham, to his credit, the most stubbornly “young earth” of young earth creationists, knows far more about evolution and cosmology than the vast majority of people who disagree with and vilify him.
Also, for people who do interpret these chapters more figuratively, please concede that there’s no harm whatsoever in interpreting them more literally.
I should have known that even mentioning a polarizing “young earth creationist” like Ken Ham would distract people from my point. Someone said Ham was “uncredentialed,” as was Billy Nye (“the Science Guy”), the engineer and TV personality who debated him several years ago. Neither person, according to a commenter, was qualified to debate scientific issues pertaining to the origins of the universe or human beings. I disagreed, saying,
I wish I hadn’t mentioned Ham! Whether he has scientific credentials or not, the fact remains that he knows far more about the science of whence he speaks than I do—having learned what I know in long obsolete high school science textbooks. I don’t doubt that a scientifically minded person like Nye could have understood the scientific literature before he came to the debate. But it sounds like [based on what I’d heard from a progressive friend who despises Ken Ham and watched the debate] that Nye didn’t bother to prepare for the debate the way Ham did.
I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech with an electrical engineering degree. (I took a lot of physics classes, for whatever that’s worth.) I’m no scientist, but if we have to relegate all scientific opinions to the credentialed experts, then let’s not bother ever saying anything about scientific questions. We’re not qualified. Certainly not Methodist ministers, many of whom are eager to say that the Bible can’t be trusted on these matters.
My point remains: even Ken Ham can know far more about these questions than the vast majority of people who disagree with him.
Finally, I made the following point, which I think is my most substantial. I make reference to a paragraph in our United Methodist Book of Discipline, of which I used to approve but now find deficient. (You can read the statement here.)
But if we do relegate scientific opinions to the “experts,” we risk giving too much ground to people who sow doubt in the authority of God’s Word—and who needs that? Despite what our Book of Discipline implies (in its well-intentioned Methodist way), science cannot exist in a separate sphere, independent of God’s revelation in scripture, without causing harm to people’s faith—especially the faith of vulnerable schoolchildren. Because kids will learn (and are learning) that science pertains to the “real world,” and the Bible to the world of make-believe and “timeless truths.”
So, even the Ken Hams of the world are not wrong to sound that particular alarm—however much we disagree with their zeal for YEC advocacy.
So… what are your thoughts?