Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm back ...

Though I only gave it a somewhat veiled remark, one of the chief reasons for my hiatus from blogging was a disturbance in my own church fellowship. I help to lead a small fellowship of 50 or so believers here in Toledo, Oregon. When my friends here learned (from my own mouth!) that I consider common biological descent to be undeniable, and that I am open to Darwinian evolution, which seems to be the most likely theory to explain common descent, many were deeply troubled. It resulted in a crisis in our church life, and in a number of important relationships.

It has become clear to me that many of my friends either do not understand what I am doing here on this blog, or they suspect that science is somehow leading me away from Biblical faith. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Evolution is a very small piece of the larger picture I am trying to develop here at “OutsideTheBox” But it is the piece that results in the strongest reactions among my friends. As I reenter this arena of writing, and interacting with you, I wish at the outset to submit to you once again what I am trying to accomplish here, and how evolution fits into the bigger picture.

Some of my friends are offended or deeply disappointed with me. Others are undisturbed, but unconvinced. A handful (mostly those who have read
Francis Collins or Gordon Glover) find themselves in agreement with me. But there are others who have indicated that they just "don't care about this issue." That is, it matters little to them whether we got here by special creation or by natural processes. I must say that, as an isolated question, I am right there: it doesn't matter to me either. I frankly hated biology in school. Evolution is not some little hobby horse of mine. (I am far more interested in physics.) But here is the deal. I find that all of the scientific findings of the last 100 years play in big to our understanding of Scripture and theology. And I find that very few evangelical theologians and church leaders of our day have taken notice of this salient fact.

Not many people realize that after he came to his remarkable and earth shaking understandings about gravitational fields and the laws of motion, Newton spent the last years of his life thinking and writing about his favorite subject:
theology. But this has not been true for the 20th century leaders of science such as Einstein, Bohr, Hubble, or Dirac. What changed? For many centuries, believers drove the engine of scientific discovery, and the engine was fueled by their love of the Creator. And with each new revelation of natural truth, they would go back and adjust the theology of the church as needed. The exploration of our cosmos and natural phenomena was seen as a doorway to deeper and more accurate understandings of God. Of course, these adjustments were always in line with the written revelation, although often a change in the way we read and understand scripture was necessary. Science was helping us to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

But with the near wholesale rejection of Darwin at the turn of the 20th century, a new course was set. We deeded over nearly all of science to the secularists. The church, as a whole, paid little attention. And certainly, faith no longer drove science.

My main interest is today, as it has always been,
theology ... knowing and understanding God and his ways. And ultimately, not theoretical theology, but theology that filters down into the every day life of the believer. I study as I do because I want to make sense of my life and my world. I study science because it profoundly informs my theology ... it helps me to see what God might be up to in this world as he forms his Kingdom though people of faith. 

Evolution is a very small part of this picture. But evolution does imply some things about the possible place of randomness in the workings of God. Evolution does suggest some strong possibilities about how God may have chosen, and may still choose, to operate through natural processes. Evolution may have some extremely profound things to say about an ages-long battle between the powers of death and the Power of Life! 

But I am even more interested in things like Big Bang cosmology and what we have discovered about entropy in the last 40 years. Nothing in recent science touches upon theology more than this! It effects our doctrines of salvation, atonement, etc.; it profoundly effects eschatology; it effects the prayer of the church; it effects how and why we do what we do in the world. I am deeply interested in Einstein's relativity and how that impacts Newton's laws of motion, and how that, in turn, speaks to theological determinism (an expression of ultra-calvinism.) Newton left us with a world in which the very laws of physics strongly endorsed determinism. Einstein changes all of that. But even more, quantum physics changes all of that. Quantum physics may just be God's delayed message to us late-day people that the stage of this life, and the ultimate battle with evil, has not been rigged ... indeed, could not have been rigged.

So, left to itself, I couldn't care less about the competing sciences of origins. Or science in general! But I do care deeply about understanding pain and suffering. I do care deeply about why God watches Hitler and Pol Pot and Stalin from the sidelines, and chooses not to intervene. I do care deeply about the "why" of my wife’s life-threatening cancer. And I care deeply that the church learn to respond with better answers to the reasoned objections and questions currently being voiced by the skeptics. For many believers, the stock answers which the church has been offering for hundreds of years are adequate. For me, and many like me, they simply are not. 

This might be hard for my friends to believe, but I am actually not a science buff! I am, as I have always been, a disciple of Jesus and a student of the Bible first and foremost. But I am jazzed about the possibilities suggested strongly by what science is uncovering in God's universe, and how these possibilities impact the way we think about God, how he operates, and what the Scriptures are saying. 

I think about how science informs my understandings of the Scriptures when I consider and pray for my wife, Ginger. I think about how science informs my understandings of the Scriptures as I listen to and try to minister to hurting people (such as Kathy, a recent guest at our fellowship.) I think about how science informs my understandings of the Scriptures when I deal with hard questions about evil and suffering from young people today. I think about how science informs my understandings of the Scriptures when I encounter the arguments of my atheist friends (and many of those arguments would blow most believers I know right out of the water!). And I think about how science informs my understandings of the Scriptures when I consider the coming train wreck for the church when the powerful DNA evidence for common decent finally filters down to be understood by the masses. It will not be a pretty sight. I feel desperately the need to alert my friends. 

Apart from all of that ...
I couldn't care less about evolution!


Steve Martin said...

Welcome back Cliff. And beautifully said.

Vance said...

Hi Cliff, Welcome back. I share your preference for physics and am likewise intrigued with how quantum mechanics might allow us to appreciate new aspects of God. I also find myself spending more time on evolution and Genesis than I would have guessed. Maybe God is calling us to prevent a train-wreck..
-- Vance

MacDennis said...

As always I am intrigued by your lines of thinking. Honestly, I don't know what I think about all these things. It challenges some of my long held beliefs...causing me to examine them more closely. I do know this, however, to reject someone's thinking just because it doesn't match up with mine is the inherently immature response that has been endemic in the church since the beginning of its time. "Burn him at the stake," they cried.....only because he thought differently and dared to express it. Insecurity is a far worse and debilitating power than questioning the status quo. It drives man to do the most horrific things.

Lisa Pietzold said...

Dad, I hope you know that, although being a new mommy leaves me with very little leisure time, when I do have the chance, I love reading your blogs. You are such a good writer. Most of my reading these days consists of emails, checking people’s blogs, and reading on the internet. It’s great to stay current in this way, but I sure do miss reading “real” writers, and reading anything you write is refreshing for me (even if I don’t understand all of the big words--smile).

But enough about your writing style. What I really appreciate is how much effort you put into forming what you believe. I am lazy as a couch potato by comparison! It’s so much easier just to believe what your’e taught, even to be challenged in my thinking by what I read on your blog. But you are proactive and tenacious in your quest for answers to questions I’m too lazy to ask most of the time. Thinking like this takes energy! Even though it takes so much of your time, and there are some who criticize you for “wasting time,” it is clear to me that you are simply being responsible to seek the truth. You are like the writer of Ecclesiastes, “What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? I directed my mind to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation...” (7:24&25a) I don’t care what they say, I believe Jesus is pleased with the work that you are doing, since it is his desire for us to know the truth (John 8:32). Please keep it up, and I can only hope that I (and others with me) will be inspired to work a little harder to ask difficult questions and seek God for real answers, not just the patent answers. Thank you for what you are doing, Dad!


Stephen (aka Q) said...

Wow, that's quite a tribute from Lisa!

I'm glad to see you back in action, Cliff. I don't care about evolution, either, for all the same reasons you don't care about it.

Mandy said...

I am so glad you are blogging again. Lisa's comment was very to the heart, and very well expressed! Keep on researching. I learned a new word tonight in my class: perspicacity. The meaning, which I am sure you know, is to see thoroughly. You write with such validity and perspicacity, that I go away feeling challenged to do research on my own in new areas. Ok, enough of the big words, that was challenging enough :)

Thanks for writing again, I am looking forward to more posts,

David McMaster said...


I, too, am grateful that you are back to this. Though I often do not feel qualified to comment, I am learning from your clear, precise writing. I especially can't wait 'til you get to the part where nonresistance fits in to all this.


Cliff Martin said...

Steve, Vance, Dennis, Lisa, Stephen, Mandy, and David:

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words.

Yes David, I will be weaving non-resistance into this big picture as I believe that God himself is the original pacifist! Should that surprise us?? There are some interesting conversations on pacifism/just war going on right now on two or three blogs I visit. I've been commenting at Emerging from Babel, Stephen's site. You might find the discussion interesting.

Webb said...

I happened to "stumble" across you blog while doing research for mine. As a Chaplain and a student of Faith I have not witnessed irreconcilable issues between science and faith. Evolution and creation co-exist and challenge us to research and reflect on our cosmatic reality. I agree with you, Cliff, for the most part. However, I don't believe God was the "origninal Pacifist" but the original compassionist. In seeking justice we cannot be passive nor do I think God would expect the same of us. Thanks for another nudge.

Cliff Martin said...

Welcome Webb.

I went over to you two blogs, and found them interesting ... especially the one you just started. I will check in on the progress on that one.

I see no contradiction between God's compassion, and his pacifist approach to the undoing of evil. Quite to the contrary, pacifism, properly understood, is compassionate and always seeks ultimate justice. Some people get pacifism confused with passivity. Aside from sounding similar, the two terms are poles apart in my mind. Pacifism is, for me, a very active choice, to respond with peace as opposed to anger, violence, vengeance, or resistance. And yet, when responding to the injustices that effect others, our approach must always be modeled after Jesus.

Jesus is my pacifist role model! But it did not prevent him from exerting force when he encountered injustice. It will take a full post or two to develop my view of pacifism, so I'll stop here ... except to say that I appreciate your emphasis upon justice.

Thanks for your comment!

Jamison said...

I feel a little guilty that I have not written earlier with my questions, concerns and other contributions. But here goes now.

I appreciate that you have engaged unbelievers, and have sought to answer some of their questions that have perhaps bolstered their unbelief, but I must admit that I do not agree with your search for a new meta-narrative.
Perhaps the most disturbing moment in this whole discussion was a year and a half ago (or so) on the e-mail exchanges, when you said we need a new metanarrative. Then when Les responded with a gospel summary, you answered him by saying that it just wasn’t compelling or exciting enough to you. The overarching story, the gospel, has already been written and it is the power of God that leads to salvation for them who believe.

You know I too am fascinated by physics, intrigued by quantum mechanics, etc. And you know I value a good search for answers that are deeper or more satisfying than the short, pat ones that are just easier to teach. (Of course I agree with some of what you’ve written over the last couple of years.) But re-thinking the foundations ought to serve to deepen our experience of them, our understanding and application of them, and strengthen our love for them; those foundations were given by God. But if we begin to change foundations, then we begin to invent a new gospel, which is not a gospel at all.
I’m convinced that if we lack power in the church, and we have not reached the lost, it is primarily due to our lack of prayer and obedience, and not for lack of a new and exciting or more intellectually-satisfying explanation for the meaning of life. Even as the apostle Paul said, (in paraphrase) ‘I came not with persuasive words of man’s wisdom, but with demonstration of the Spirit’s power.’ In the places where miracles are manifest, and souls are being saved, it seems they have lived out the old gospel, and have not felt the need to discover a new one.

Perhaps you have asked some valid questions, and done some worthwhile reading, but because so much attention has been given to these issues, it looks to me like a side-track, and not, in the long run, a fruitful focus.

Still your friend,

Cliff Martin said...

Thank you for your comments. I feel I need to respond quickly, lest others get a mistaken impression. I may respond at length later.

I’m not sure now of my exact words in responding to the “standard” gospel metanarrative which Les offered. I probably did say something about its lack of dramatic appeal for me. All alone, that is no reason to reject the idea that the overarching story Les offered is the exhaustive story of the ages. I am not looking for something more “exciting”. But one of my assumptions (I could be wrong, of course) is that we actually do not yet have the full story, but that more of the story may be available to us today than was 100 years ago. Another assumption (again, I could be wrong!) is that when we do encounter the full “big picture”, it will be the most dramatic, exciting, compelling story ever told. The metanarrative Les gave (which, of course, I’ve heard all my life) does not rise to that level for me. So, while it is without doubt part of the picture, I am compelled to look beyond it. I am not looking beyond the Scriptures. But I do expect that with more understanding of our cosmos (understanding which has increased exponentially in the last 100 years) will come greater elucidation of the Scriptures. Those are my premises. I’ll stand by them for now. They in no way involve a rejection of even one particle of what Les wrote. I remain convinced, however, that what Les wrote is a small part of an overwhelming and marvelous story that will knock our socks off when we ultimately get ahold of it. I’m seeking.

But rest assured, I am not at all looking to “discover a new” gospel!

Tom said...

Hi Cliff!

I, too, am glad you're back. I am getting more and more convinced that meaning can only be found through randomness. How God is, and isn't random or can or can't use randomness is worth several posts (or books!) and I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Cliff Martin said...

I recently purchased Richard Colling's book, Random Designer, and it is next on my "to read" list. The slightly oxymoronic title suggests the paradox which, I think, a theistic approach to randomness must pursue. As my thoughts continue to coalesce, I will begin to outline them in upcoming posts. And I will be interested in comparing notes with you.

Thank you for your kind words.

Tom said...

Random Designer is also on my "to read" list, which is much too long!