Sunday, February 11, 2007

So, if that's wrong...what is true then?

There is a phenomenon that I've observed. When you have a radical paradigm shift after leaving an environment like Adventism or some other closed culture where you are taught ideas that are later refuted, something clicks inside our head. The person one day stands back and looks at the world and pauses, and asks, "So, which part of what I believe is real and true and what else might be wrong?" If X idea was totally unfounded and has been proven to be false, what about Y or Z?

This leads some to question Christianity, the Bible, and even religion in general. This can be especially troubling, when in the process of attempting to honestly understand what is real and true, the searcher is presented with something as fundamentally flawed as the age of the Earth. If one grows up in a fundamentalist community – which Adventism is – they are generally taught that the age of the earth is somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 years old. We were also taught that carbon dating schemes were flawed and that Darwin was the anti-Christ. Yet when the mass of the scientific community, through a variety of radiometric and other dating methods, all come up with an age for the Earth greater than 10,000 years (conservative ice layer counting methods show at least 50,000 years) one begins to not only doubt the conclusions of their fundamentalist community but the methods of deriving truth.

This brings the honest and earnest searcher back to some very fundamental questions: How do we think? How do we know? How do we know that we know? (Epistemology) How can we be certain? What is the role of faith when faith has proven to cause so many problems in this world – our present "war on terror" is really a war between warped faith and our own perception of what is right and what our role in this world should be.

At a more basic and focused level the Christian who has left, or is seriously questioning Adventism starts wondering what they should believe and how they go about arriving at truth. This is one of the most serious issues with the dishonesty of Adventism and other flawed systems of belief that persist in a self-preservation mode. When what they insist is true is shown to be false everything else – even truth – is questioned. For those of us unfortunate enough to have grown up in fundamentalist environments, we discover as adults that we were never taught as children how to think and arrive and truth, but rather were simply feed someone else's version of "truth". (Think Mormon, Islam, Hindu, LSU fans – why are they what they are? Because they were brought up to believe it.)

While I don't have an answer that is a panacea I do have a suggestion. If we (as Christians) are to start over in our quest for truth we have to walk back through history. There was a guy named Noah, and one named Abraham and one named Moses. These guys all claimed to have met, talked with and followed a God who simply called himself "I am" (a philosophically perfect description for God). Following their generations we arrive at the conclusion that they all were looking forward to some event – to someone. About 2,000 years ago it is said that that event happened and that someone came. Our search for truth must start with that event and with that someone. If the story about that event is wrong and that someone was not who he said that he was then it's all a lovely story. However if he was indeed who he said that he was – and more importantly if his mission and his accomplishment is accurate, then the importance is greater than discovering the age of the earth.

It seems to me that it is understandable and profitable to stand back and gaze thoughtfully at the world and ask, "What is true?" But it seems that our search must have a starting point – a reference point – in order to produce accurate conclusions. Science can tell us what they see; it can not tell us what truth is. Hollywood can delight our senses; it can not soothe our souls. America can "win" a war on terror; she can not solve the sin problem. If there is an ultimate truth and an ultimate being, he exists outside of and apart from us (he can not be found within as Buddhism teaches); a good starting point is to look again at the man and the claims of Jesus Christ.

Oh, and the age of the Earth? Who cares? In no place does the Bible set an age for the Earth – nowhere. Theologians (cf James Ussher) have added up the time periods documented in the Bible and have derived an age for the Earth. They have come up with a dating method; any serious study on the various methods for dating the Earth will mention the Biblical methods. Yet, when crosschecked with the other methods there is a huge difference. Christians, then, naturally conclude that all the other methods are flawed since they go "against the Bible". But do they contradict the Bible or do they contradict our interpretation of the Bible? Indeed, no where does the Bible define the duration of time between creation and the Fall. That period could have easily been thousands or even millions of years. And Genesis 1 says that the spirit moved over the waters of the deep – where did the waters come from and upon what did they sit, and for how long had they been sitting before God decided to stir them up and create us? So, is it the Bible that speaks error or is it our traditional and fundamentalist interpretations that have been culturally and traditionally handed down?

Indeed, if Genesis 1 doesn't say what we've thought the consequences are insignificant; If Jesus doesn't say what we think he says, however, Christianity has built its house on a sandy flood plain. More important than the age of a rock is the question of the solidity of the Rock we base our faith upon.


Anonymous said...

Search for truth is good. but if you start questing the bible where do it stop?

Curtis Forrester said...

The fear that I had for years was that if I questioned Ellen White I was crossing a dangerous line. People still believe that today - surprisingly enough, even people who normally do not read or pay any attention to her.

I am not suggesting that one "question the Bible", however. But I do think that we are forced to question our understanding of parts of it, and to be honest about the intention of certain passages. It always concerns me when people quote from the poetry sections as if they are scientific truth. Poetry speaks in imagery in order to communicate deep truths. "It's raining cats and dogs out there". One never expects to step outside and hear the barks and howls of poor animals falling from the cosmos.

I believe it is never wrong to ask questions in an honest and earnest search for truth. Unfortunately what many more conservative and fundamental Christians suggest is that certain questions simply are not asked, and that "faith" is an ample placeholder until we reach heaven and find the truth. Of course, the questions that should not be pondered are exactly those that tend to cast doubt on the popular or traditional interpretations of Scripture.

I am writing a web-based software that helps people understand their exact financial condition and how long it will take them to be debt free. There are people who will never use it because they simply do not want to know the truth. Others may suspect they are in shaky financial condition and bravely want to know. It is only by knowing the truth about the past and present that we can make sensible decisions for our future.