I don’t know where my head was in 2010, but the creation/evolution debate wasn’t in my purview at that time. So I somehow missed the scholarly explosion of when Bruce Waltke resigned from Reformed Theological Seminary over remarks he made in a BioLogos video about the importance of carefully considering and being open to the idea of evolution. Waltke’s point was that IF evolution is true, we need to trust in God’s provision and admit our intellectual limitations. Waltke wasn’t affirming evolution, he was just offering a thoughtful approach to the subject.
The remarks quickly led to his resignation and to the video being removed.
It was about this time that Peter Enns came out regarding his view of Adam and Eve – that they were not historical figures. Enns’ believes that the science supporting evolution is undeniable, but he remains a committed Christian, perhaps even an Evangelical.
Conservative Christians have reacted pretty strongly to Enns and Waltke and Longman III and other scholars who have accepted a less-than Fundamentalist approach to the creation narrative.
And there is one argument used against these guys over and over again. It’s an argument used by leaders or scholarly advocates of the young earth view. It is an embarrassingly terrible argument which leads me to conclude that its use is disingenuously designed as a fear-tactic to keep the loyal flock in the fold.
Rick Phillips at Reformation21 mixes sarcasm into his rhetoric, and his blatant use of the argument makes a great example:
“The crux of Enns’ argument is that the evolutionary findings of secular science are so unassailable that we must re-read the Bible in light of this higher standard of truth….What a novel line of argument Enns presents and what impressive biblical scholarship: we have learned that the Bible is wrong because the world says so!“
Here’s the difference between Enns and Phillips: Enns thinks he’s a man who interprets the Bible. Phillips is under the impression that he is God. When Enns says that “we must re-read the Bible” he’s saying that the scriptures are God’s Word and that he, as a fallible man, may have misread and misinterpreted it. But when Enns says “maybe we got the Bible wrong,” Phillips hears “Enns thinks the Bible is wrong.” Do you see the difference? Enns makes a distinction between God’s Word and his interpretation of God’s Word. Phillips is unable to make that distinction. Phillips thinks that his interpretation of God’s Word is just God’s Word, which is a naive assumption not becoming of a scholar. Phillips doesn’t think he’s interpreting it at all. Hence, Phillips is under the impression that his word is God’s Word. Rick Phillips is God.
This point cannot be overemphasized. No evangelical wants to say that the Bible is wrong or that science corrects it. So when this line of argument is employed by Phillips and others like him it creates a reaction among lay evangelicals because by our very definition, scripture is our highest authority. It demonizes people like Bruce Waltke and turns them into “deceptive agents of the devil” out to “lead faithful evangelicals astray” when it is in fact Phillips, Fangrad and others like them who are offering misleading arguments. If they are confident that they have the truth, then I have got to wonder why they employ deceptive tactics like this. Maybe I’ve given them too much credit. Perhaps this simple and obvious ploy has escaped them. Perhaps in sincerity they don’t see how they’ve conflated their opinion with God’s Word.
About 500 years ago the Church was under the impression that the earth was the centre of our system of planets. They believed this because they thought that the Bible was clear about it. The Bible talks about how the earth is “fixed” and it “does not move” and that the “sun rises and sets” around the earth. To suggest that the earth rotates around the sun seemed to be a flat denial of God’s Word. Yet when Galileo invented his telescope and discovered via science that in fact the earth did rotate around the sun, the Church reacted strongly. They accused Galileo more or less of suggesting that “the Bible is wrong because the world said so.” But like Phillips and Fangrad and Wilson and many other YEC leaders, the Catholic Church of that time refused to make a distinction between God’s Word and their interpretation of God’s Word. They dragged Galileo before an inquisition, forced him to recant, and put him in house arrest until the day he died.
All because they conflated their opinion with God’s Word.
It was another embarrassing mark on the Church. Today we know that they were wrong and Galileo was right. And the best part, the Bible survived. Scriptural authority was not undermined. Of course the church leadership was embarrassed and humiliated. But this hasn’t stopped Phillips, Fangrad and others from playing the same cards.
So if you’re reading this, Rick Phillips, I’d exhort you to learn from the Galileo event this principle and apply it to your rhetoric:
While science does not correct scripture, it sometimes corrects our interpretation of it.
Galileo’s science did not correct the Bible, but it did show the Church that they had mis-read certain passages. Science forced the Church to go back and “re-read” the Bible. The Catholic Church wasn’t willing to consider that possibility then, and many in the Reformed Church aren’t willing to accept that possibility today. Ironic.
The credibility of people like Phillips and Fangrad and writers of blogs like Reformation21 is tarnished, perhaps almost beyond repair, because of their shallow arguments and unwillingness to think carefully about these matters. And the really sad part is, they contribute to the degrading credibility of the Church as a whole.
And in this regard these men could learn a valuable faith lesson from the remarks of Bruce Waltke in the video which had been removed. But that would require humility…