In Which I Try to Be Prudent, But May Fail

In Which I Try to Be Prudent, But May Fail January 17, 2015

Hunter Baker is a good man, a thoughtful man, a Christian, and is convinced that my young earth creationist views are wrong, but he does not stop there. He also thinks them wrong headed.

They certainly have kept me from jobs and he is right when he says that being publicly young earth costs me credibility with a certain sort of person. He has allowed me to respond publicly to his letter arguing that I should stop being young earth, at least openly. Hunter is, by the way, an intellectually courageous man, as any traditional Christian must be in this time and place, and so he is not urging intellectual cowardice, but intellectual prudence.

I can believe a thing without defending it or talking of it publicly. A man who works with Democrats need not wear his Romney 2020 t-shirt to work.

Here is his letter:

1.  You conceded in argument that the young earth viewpoint is not necessary to be a Christian.
2.  You further stated that the young earth view (if disbelieved) tends to lead people to abandon the faith entirely.
3.  If the first two things are true, then why not defend the more easily defensible old earth view and prevent more people from believing the young earth view and then becoming outraged by it?
Note that I am not saying to abandon your young earth beliefs.  You could still work to vindicate them.  But why not embrace the easier to defend ground publicly, while keeping the young earth thing as a private effort?
Baker is generous even to care what I think, let alone take the time to persuade me to prudence and yet I shall not be prudent here. I do not think I must admit my view because I am wiser, more prudent, or more courageous, but because I am in my nature none of those things.

I certainly do not think that one must be young-earth to be a Christian, examples abound: see C.S. Lewis. I think one should be a young-earth creationist, because it is the most natural reading of the text of Sacred Scripture, the nearly uniform teaching of the Church Fathers and Mothers, and an intellectually interesting alternative viewpoint.

I do not think this prevents Christians from using the best present theory of the origin of the species in research to the extent it is useful, even if they think it false. I may know a tool is deeply flawed, but it still might be the most useful tool I have at present.

And Professor Baker is right: I know many people who have found young earth creationism intellectually difficult and a deterrent to their faith. If they could not be old-earth, they could not be Christians. For those people, I urge them to consider the false nature of the choice. Even if I am right, being wrong about the age of the earth is a forgivable intellectual error!

Nobody will be damned, or should even be criticized for following the scientific evidence where they think it leads. In fact, when they cannot see their way clear to my own position, I argue, I urge, I plead, that fellow believers realize that the truth of the Faith (centered on the Lordship of Jesus Christ) does not depend on a particular theory.

I also agree with Hunter Baker that one can privately hold a position (say monarchism in America) without advertising it, since it is of relatively little practical importance. The American monarchist should face facts: he will not live to see King George IV of America and wasting time on this Quixotic project will distract from better things.

A rare man or woman might be called to such a lost cause, who knows what God might do, but most of us who think we have such callings are vain. We are so sure of even our fringe opinions that we must promote them when there are better things for us to do.

So if I were a better man, I might do as Hunter Baker suggests, but I am not able to be that virtuous. Why? You can love a thing so much, it is in danger of becoming an idol. When one seeks the admiration of an idol, or what might become an idol, one must be very wary to the point of destroying that idol for oneself.

I love University life. I love libraries, faculty lounges, and the entire wonderful American higher educational system. When I criticize it, as I am often called to do, it is the criticism of a man who has gained much, loves greatly, and would save what can be saved from barbaric times. My teachers in college or university were uniformly excellent and most were admirable.

I care about their opinions and I wish (as anyone should) to please them.

But like any lover who is also a Christian, I must take care not to turn my love into an idol. I hate being thought a fool and I am rightly impressed by the intellectual consensus on any issue. I know the hard work that it takes to reach it and am not foolish enough to believe my intellectual capacity is great enough to know I am right when other greater minds are wrong.

Combine the two and there is the makings of an intellectual coward.

Take the closely related issue of Darwinism: I wish I could be persuaded Darwinism is true and not deeply flawed. I wish theistic evolutionists could persuade me by their arguments, but I am not persuaded. Simultaneously, I also wish to be accepted by the intellectual community. My “creationism” is stupid to people I admire or worse still intellectually arrogant. And yet I am not persuaded.

A better man could say nothing and do other work, but for me to be silent on Darwin in this time would be (for me) intellectual treason. I would never be sure that I was not being quiet for the sake of approval of people whose approval I wish to have.

Why do I (rarely) attack a television evangelist? Not because I approve of them, I do not approve of most to their practices, but because it is too easy for me. I don’t care for their good opinion, do not want their good opinion, and do admire those who dislike them. If I were to “punch” them, I would be (usually) acting in a self-serving manner.

My general rule: don’t criticize those it benefits me to criticize. Defend a friend, even to career death, if it costs.

In short, given my temptations, I feel called to defend the intellectually friendless (or nearly friendless) if I actually agree with them.

So what is my calling? My calling is, I think, on any issue whatsoever, to follow the Logos (the argument) where He leads and report my thinking regardless of the cost. Why? Not because I think it will save your soul, but because it is necessary to holiness in my own soul. Hunter Baker is not saying  that I should stop doing this, but stop making certain results (dealing with young earth creationism) public.

And there are areas (in politics, for example) where I follow this prudential advice, unless I am asked my opinion by someone whose good opinion of me I value. Then, and only then, I feel I must tell the truth, not to persuade, but to stand as a witness to the state of the argument in my own life. Sadly, I am the kind of person who gets asked all kinds of questions about such things and in an Internet age, having answered them once, there is no sense in trying to hide my views.

So I do not view a central aspect of my teaching or profession to be defending young-earth creationism, my eccentric neo-Platonic (but I hope deeply Christian) views on it are not accepted even by most young-earth types. I do see my calling as being a person willing to state his views, if asked, with clarity, charity, and openness on any issue relevant to my central calling: working toward a national Christian university. 

I think my views on the relationship between religion and science are relevant. If you think it insane (as most American intellectuals do) that God acted in ways discernible in space and time, then you should not hire me to do a job. If you think it unworthy of belief that Scripture can give us knowledge about the natural world otherwise unavailable to humankind, then that matters. If you think that my position that an old earth is far easier to defend scientifically, but young earth creationism is worth some people pursuing as an alternative, is crazy, then that matters.

My idols may be your art.

And so if you ask, I do not tell, unless not telling would betray intellectual friends who are unpopular, be an act of cowardice (in me), or hide relevant information about my general views in an area where I (frequently) opine. If you ask, and you should know, then I will tell not out of virtue, but in hope of virtue.

 


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