I am dismayed when fellow Christians (especially those claiming to speak for the church) make definitive statements that are unsupported in the evidence. There are many who take a dogmatic black and white stand on ideas not supported logically, scientifically or in appropriate understanding of Scripture.
I am dismayed because we stand to hurt our credibility when we make our stand on things we do not actually know and with reasoning that falls apart under closer scrutiny. It is too often the case that those who think they are defending the Gospel truth are actually destroying it in their stubborn obstinacy and inability to see past their own presuppositions about the evidence.
This is a problem in the fundamentalist circles I am most familiar with. Instead of simply taking a stand on faith or sticking to the text of the Bible as they claim, many add their own assumptions. They go another step off the firm ground of what is truly known and onto the quicksand of over-interpretation, unsupported inference and baseless speculation. It is sad because it is unnecessary, it too often is the bathwater that conceals the true baby of Christianity, and drives critical thinking people away.
Two examples (often given in opposition to Evolution theory) is the idea that there is a clean break between living and non-living things. The other is a misuse of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the word “entropy” to mean something that it does not. Both of these ideas originate in extrapolation from Biblical language, but neither one of them is actually as definitive in the Scriptural record as some might assume.
Postulate #1) Life cannot originate from non-life.
It seems obvious enough at first glance, doesn’t it? I mean, have you ever seen mud materialize into human form, then suddenly become animated, walk and talk as a human would? I have not. We do not typically see dead organisms come back to life without a miracle.
And yet, under the microscope, it is interesting that the line between life and non-life is actually blurrier than one might imagine. Viruses are considered dead because they do not have the ability to reproduce without a host cell and do not replicate themselves in the typical way of cell-division. However, a virus can reanimate a dead cell, take control of it and use it to replicate.
Cells themselves are not ‘living’ in their individual components any more than a car is alive when you start it. Yes, in one sense there is life, but it is the ‘life’ of chemical reaction (albeit in a complex system) and in physical processes not considered as living taken independent of each other.
Think about it: The sun (due to gravity and other forces) is orderly, it takes hydrogen and, through a process of fusion, creates light energy and heavier elements. Cells likewise, take one form of matter and through chemical process convert it to something else. The difference between the sun and a cell, when we cut past the descriptive language to the actual material substance, is one of complexity and size rather than living or dead.
Our physical body is basically a complex machine comprised of individual self-replicating cells that work in concert with other different cells to produce organs, tissues and a body. At the smallest level it is all chemical reaction and a sort of mechanical process that usually considered non-living. But, at some point, taken together, these dead parts become something considered a living organism. It is bit of a both/and paradox rather than an either/or dichotomy.
The difference between life and non-life seems to be a continuum more than a black and white line. We do not consider a bacteria as equal to a plant or an animal equal to ourselves and the difference is probably the amount of ‘life’ each organism represents. Likewise, I do not know if we can consider an animated universe something ‘dead’ with all the creative processes at work. All, to me, are expressions of a creative and living God.
Postulate #2) Entropy is corruptive and not a good thing.
Lay people often misunderstand the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the state of entropy of the entire universe, as an isolated system, will always increase over time) as some kind of moral statement. This misunderstanding is understandable. Entropy is associated with decay and the universe is (by appearances, because of entropy) like a wind up clock that will finally someday be exhausted.
However, the increase of disorder or entropy in the universe is not an entirely bad thing. In fact, entropy is how we get the energy and substance we need to survive. When a man enters an ‘orderly’ forest, cuts a swath out to build a cabin and cultivates the space created, he has increased entropy. Our favorite star (aka: the sun) taking ‘orderly’ hydrogen and turning it into a mix of heavier elements and light is increasing entropy. Entropy is what makes the universe work and allows something as complicated as biological life exist.
Another way to understand entropy is to see it as an increase in complexity. A stack of lumber is an orderly arrangement and has a relatively low state of entropy. Hire a carpenter and turn the orderly stack into a house and, with addition of work to cut the lumber to different lengths, along with the contamination of nails, drywall, windows, doors, plumbing, and other building materials, you have increased entropy.
A pile of rocks is at a relatively low state of entropy. People, one the other hand, represent a very high level of entropy. We are arguably the pinnacle of disorder in the universe with our complexity and creative abilities. Our turning orderly raw materials into complex creations, the process we use involving the dispersal of energy, is creating a higher level of entropy. A 747 is a product of entropy as much as human engineering.
Entropy is like the sun or rain. The same sun that produces the energy we need to survive can also cause skin cancer and kill us. The rain cycle that we depend on for fresh water is also capable of producing floods and destruction. Entropy is not exclusively creative or destructive, it is not something moral or immoral, it just is, and it is necessary for life to exist as we know it.
If life is an emergent property of physical complexity or entropy, then what?
The idea of life being an emergent quality of complex physical processes is unsettling to some. There are serious philosophical questions and potentially big theological implications. Nevertheless, if honest use of terms is our concern, we must be fearless and follow the evidence where it leads.
One idea at stake is our human exceptionalism. In the book of Genesis we read an exceptional account describing the creation of man. In it we both see humanity as being “in the image of God” and also that God ‘breathed’ the “breath of life” directly into man. This is directness in the creation of humankind is unique in the Genesis narrative, but what does it really mean?
We are not exceptional to animals in our physical body. A human heart can be patched with a valve from a pig. Human insulin can be created with bacteria and our genetic code is not too significantly different from other animals of our level of complexity. It would appear that other animals also have consciousness at some level.
So clearly, for the Genesis account to be true, we are somehow special, touched uniquely by God, yet not in a physical sense. When defining the terms used in Scripture, it is good to compare different accounts and see how similar language is used elsewhere. In the case of breathing we are not without another reference for sake of comparison.
Genesis is not the only time in the Biblical canon that the divine breathed on men and gave them life:
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” (John 20:21-22)
The disciples of Jesus were clearly already physically alive. But they were not yet ‘born of the Spirit’ and therefore could not understand the things of God. Read John 6, Jesus talks about the “living bread” he represents and understand that he is not speaking about physical bread nor about physical life. There are many cases in Scripture like this one where a completely ‘literal’ (physical reality) interpretation is incorrect.
So, perhaps what many have been taught and think they know about the book of Genesis is wrong? Perhaps the book is less about physical reality and more about a greater spiritual truth? I believe that is possible, even probable, and leads to less conflict with what is known through scientific inquiry.
Knowing what we need to know…
I believe many Biblical fundamentalists confuse the bathwater of their own established interpretation, traditions and dogmas with the baby. The baby or fundamental truth of Christianity is not found in historical documents nor proved with scientific evidence. The truth of Christianity is found in knowing what Paul knew:
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5)
The truth of Christianity is Jesus. And, by Jesus, I do not mean the historical figure who’s words we read in a book and the religious traditions that borrowed his name. I mean the Jesus that we live out daily and our having the mind of Christ today. The church must represent Jesus to the world presently, the power of the Spirit must be our reality now or our religious words only perpetuate a fraud. Jesus must be experienced in our lives today and his will expressed through us or the truth is not in us.
When we find our answers in Jesus (rather than Genesis) and should have spiritual experience in our lives. What makes us unique is the emergent quality of faith and the breath of God’s own Spirit in us. We are in the image of the divine because we have the mind of Christ. These are things revealed by faith and not products of mere human knowledge.
We need not know more than the way of Jesus. If we live that out our lives will reveal the truth of Christianity without our need of superfluous or false knowledge to bolster our case. Let the proof of faith be in the truth of our actions and the image of God found in our divine love.
17 thoughts on “False And True Knowledge”
It’s like you’re one of my students or something!
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I came to check out what’s new on your blog and follow up on our convo yesterday. It seemed to me that you needed someone to talk to. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can continue to relate privately, if you want.
I read this piece, it was interesting and quite long too. You presented a good case for a reasonably consideration of evolution… I don’t hold to evolution, and I can’t say that I fully understand the timely of the creation of the world. I just believe God did it! And one of the reasons I choose not to follow the bandwagon on evolution is because I know where they are headed with their science knows best mentality. Evolution may or may not be right. God may or may not have created the world in six days. We know that a day to Him is like a thousand years, and a thousand is like a day.
I also believe that the revelation of Creation wasn’t so much to give us a timely, but to reveal how we were made in God’s image, and how we fell from His grace in the garden. The rest could well be a parable. I know Jesus loved to speak in parables… and the Bible is filled with imagery. Jesus said it was so that though seeing, they will not see…until God opens their eyes to see really. God doesn’t want us to be puffed up with too much knowledge…but to know Him and to continually learn from Him.
I am a bit concerned about your reference to true Christianity not being about the Jesus written of in the Bible. What other Jesus is there?
These are just some of my thoughts from your post. Overall, I feel I get what you are saying, except regarding Jesus.
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For clarification: I believe in the historic Jesus of the Bible. However, I think the Jesus that matters most today is the one that we live. If we have the “mind of Christ” (or the Holy Spirit’s authority) and are to be the body of Christ, then we (the church) need to be Jesus to the world.
What I meant is that the historic Jesus is proven in our faithfulness today—that is the witness people see and will believe. For example, I believe the martyrdom of Stephen spoke louder than the words he preached and, likewise, our sacrifice for the good of others (our neighbors) is our truest witness.
Many Christians seem to be all talk and no action. They want to save people through argument and condemnation of anyone who disagrees with their own presuppositions. But too often, in their arrogance, they do more harm than good and would probably be better keeping their mouths shut…
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Please forgive my long delayed response. It has been a hectic few days, and I wanted to digest your comment well, and make time out to respond just as well.
I agree that the Church, being Christ’s Body, needs to be as Christ to the world… But I don’t understand or agree with this statement “However, I think the Jesus that matters most today is the one that we live”. It seems like you are saying the real Jesus who came and died for us so that we can become His Body on Earth doesn’t really matter??? How so? If He doesn’t really matter, how do men come to know Him and His teachings and join His Body? How can we reflect Him if He doesn’t matter anymore?
I believe Jesus is risen and enthroned on high, and though we needn’t birth Him every December, or kill Him afresh every April, the fact that He came at all and died for us will always be the BIGGEST deal of all. It was always matter and always be relevant, and I can only reflect Him as I meditate on just what He did for me, and why He did it, and what He calls me to do as a follower. If He stops being my focus at anytime, it is so very likely that I will be reflecting a Jesus of my own making, that agrees with just the way I want to live and love, which may or may not agree with what Jesus taught.
The historical Jesus is the focus of the Christian faith for this purpose. The Church is as it is because they have lost sight of Him. Every year at Christmas time, He is a Baby again, and every year at Easter, they kill Him again! They rarely deal with the Living Christ, who never seems to ask them to do anything uncomfortable. Christ came to shake the world, but all we seem to be interested in is religion and parties.
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I agree that salvation is through faith in Jesus. But is that a historical event or is it a spiritual reality that we partake of in our being full of the Spirit and taking up the cross? I think there’s some deep mystery here that goes over the heads of many Christian fundamentalists. Worse, it seems focus on the historic events becomes a justification for sin that grace may abound. I suppose my complaint is that few people actually live in the example of Jesus (who spoke with God’s authority) and many are merely creating a religion from his teachings. Many hoping their knowledge will save them.
Hi Joel… I’m still confused by what you’re saying. You said that you agree that salvation is through faith in Jesus… Then you ask whether or not Christ’s coming was an historical event… Do you not believe that Jesus actually came in the flesh? What faith can you have in a fictional ideological Jesus that never actually existed or died for your sins?
How can we partake in this “spiritual reality” without actually believing that Jesus existed, and did all that was written about Him, including dying on the Cross for your sins, which was why He came? Jesus said that we will receive His Spirit if we love and obey Him… How can you obey someone if you don’t believe that they actually came or told you to do anything to show that love and obey them?
Please don’t over spiritualism what God has made plain. If it was all so abstract, Christ need not have come in the flesh to die for our sins. They would have conducted a crucifixion ceremony or some sort of sacrificial service in Heaven as a symbolic show of Christ’s sacrifice.
But Christ came physically down to show us in the most practical way what real love is, and how we are to become His disciples by following in His steps. It’s not an airy fairy “we are the world” kind of love… It is down and dirty pick up your cross and die daily to yourself kind of love.
However the Church has lost its way, don’t discard of the real Jesus. Faith and obedience in another will not grant the salvation that is only available in Him…the risen Christ Jesus.
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Neither you nor I can actually verify the reality of the historic Jesus. Yes, we can trust the accounts we read to some extent, I’m as certain a man named Jesus walked the earth as I am the existence of Julius Caesar, that is not in question. Even Jesus, if you believe the Bible is true, acknowledged this distinction, he told Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
I know many Christians (such as yourself) believe based in their acceptance of the Scripture canonized by the Catholic and Jewish traditions. However, this argument from the authority of the book only works for those who accept it as truth. That is a precondition not mentioned, it is a product of religious tradition more than anything else, and the real Gospel is something we live out today. It is our walk of faith, our being Jesus to our neighbors, bringing the message of salvation in the same way Jesus did, and not our mere acceptance of historic facts, that actually matters.
People can argue facts all day and get nowhere. But true self-sacrificial love, the word made flesh in our lives, is something that cannot be argued with and that is the true Jesus. What I’m saying is the belief in historic Jesus is actually only theoretical belief unless we are picking up the cross and following him. Love, practical love, is the mark of true faith and not my historical knowledge.
My apologies if I’m not getting any closer to helping your confusion…
Hi Joel, thanks for your feedback. What is becoming clearer is that you do not accept the Bible’s testimony of Jesus. This leads to the question of why you believe that salvation can be found through faith in Him alone? What do you really know about Jesus, and how was that knowledge gained?
If you accept some of the Bible, but reject some or most of it, can you put any faith in the part your accept? Wouldn’t it be as suspect as the rest?
You know I don’t hold the Bible to be the inerrant word of God as is taught to Christians today. But I do accept it as authoritative. I do believe it is a true testament for the purpose of making known the revelation of Jesus Christ for our salvation. And I have another witness that confirms it is true. And though I have never seen Jesus, I place my faith in Him. My journey with Him started with the Bible, but it doesn’t end there.
I’m really struggling to see how you can advocate for people to obey and imitate Jesus when there is no better testament of His life and teachings than the Bible, while you disregard it. That is what is confusing to me.
I think you are pigeonholing me a bit. I have actually shared the testimony of Jesus from the Bible. I do accept the testimony of Jesus in the Bible. But what I am saying is that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26) and trying to explain the practical implications. Paul wrote the early church to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) which certainly seems to indicate some personal ownership or duty beyond mental acceptance of written claims.
I think our misunderstanding here originates from what we are trying to address. I am speaking of the weakness of our apologetics, suggesting we are too focused on presenting our ‘facts’ and not actually delivering in practical terms as is truer obedience. Yes, we must preach the ‘good news’ message and the Bible is useful in that regard. However, if that information is not accompanied with action it is dead works and faithless religion.
We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus. That is a metaphor, but I also believe it is meant literally as well. We are told to partake of the same suffering, bear each other’s burdens and basically do the same work as Jesus, to heal, preach repentance and bring forgiveness of sin (or salvation) to the world.
You cannot claim to believe the historic Jesus without following or it is a false profession. We must be the Jesus we preach or we lie to ourselves and those we try to reach. There are many who might be making those whom they ‘convert’ twice as damned and it is because they teach a religion of talking about Jesus without being Jesus.
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Now I believe we are on the same page 🙂
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My apologies for not being better stated to begin with… 🙂
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Thanks for taking the time to explain 🙂 Have an awesome day!
Well, I can’t afford to lose one of my most loyal subscribers…and same you!
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I do not know for sure as far as evidence of Evolution and proper understanding of Genesis. I know all scientific theories continue to evolve as more evidence comes in and doubt the current understanding is the final word. But I also disagree vehemently with those who take their own presuppositions into the book of Genesis and demand my conformity to their own ideas.
Many things are not actually said in Scripture and yet have become Creationist dogmas. I was always told there was no animal death before the fall. But that makes no sense when you consider that the predatory animals were given names that literally mean things having to do with hunting or tearing flesh. Plants are living organisms, are they not?
I don’t believe a perfect paradise is found in Genesis. The garden of Eden had temptation lurking at very least. And, Eve’s pain in child birth is said only to have increased after the fall. There was death before the fall or there would be no need for the tree of life in the garden. So that is a major flaw (of many) in popular Creationist ideology.
But my point is not that we choose against one or for the other. My point is that we not find our answers in Genesis or in Godless science. A Christian must find their answers in Jesus and in literally being Jesus. Jesus did not say we should be known primarily by our authority historical, theological or scientific, right?
Jesus said people would know his disciples by what?
I wanted to respond to this comment as well. Firstly, regarding evolution theory and science, you wrote “I know all scientific theories continue to evolve as more evidence comes in and doubt the current understanding is the final word.” To this, I respond “BINGO!” That’s why I’m not jumping on that train… I am not tossed to and fro with their theories… All I need to know is that God did it! And it is not hard to see that however we came to be, there’s a Master Designer.
Regarding the Genesis account, you wrote “Eve’s pain in child birth is said only to have increased after the fall.” Actually, Eve had not conceived in the garden or given birth! Yes, God said He would “multiply her sorrow”, which implies that there would have been some pain in labour… How much is unknown. But pain is not always a bad thing. If there is no pain, how can you delight in its absence. The Garden of Eden wasn’t perfect by the non-existence of pain or temptation or even death… They had choice in the garden too. Without choice, there is no value in wisdom!
Think about your body, which was created by God… you excrete waste, you have good bacteria that is useful for cleansing your system, even sleeping is healthy. Maybe you think perfection would require that you don’t need to eat or sleep, but that is hardly a pleasurable existence. Even if you don’t need to eat, it would be nice to eat something…and you would therefore need to excrete the waste… Notice how perfection does not require the absence of certain things we may feel are “bad” or useless…
Also, the tree of life is for immortality (Gen 3:22-23)… Clearly, Adam and Eve were not immortal yet. Maybe if they had resisted the enemy and proven themselves worthy, God may have given them of the tree of life freely. He actually had not forbidden them to eat of it…only of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that was what the devil drew their attention to, because it was forbidden. The devil seeks to make us rebellious like he is. If he was smart, he would have encouraged her to eat from the tree of life before eating from the forbidden tree!
But really, we don’t have to overthink the Genesis account. As it is written, it is beautiful enough. You’re right that knowledge of Christ trumps all other knowledge. And not knowledge of Christ alone, but conformity to Christ, imitating Him by following and obeying Him. Real knowledge of God and Christ is the eternal life we were promised (John 17:3), and we can have that life and fellowship right now.
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I think we are essentially saying the same thing.