Oct 23, 2018
In Open Forum
Interpretations inevitably take shape from the beliefs and assumptions that we hold, or rather, that have a firm hold on us. Our beliefs hem us in on every side, and we cannot escape from them. None of us put aside our beliefs or step away from them in order to interpret a Biblical text more "fairly." It is our beliefs that enable our reasoning about the text to take the paths that they do and constrain us from other directions. All of us (theistic evolutionists included) interpret in accord with who we are, and who we are is a consequence of the beliefs that hold us and as a consequence of which we interpret the world as we do. Our minds are an assemblage or a structure of related categories, logics, assumptions that we think with and that enable us to reason and argue about a text and make the sense of it that we do. We are all extensions of numerous communities with their own networks of beliefs (some of which overlap), and we have been taught to interpret the Biblical text within this network and with logic internal to the structure of beliefs—a logic which delivers interpretations that seem obvious and obviously right to us. It is these constellations of beliefs that form the important context within which we interpret a text. And so, the old-earth creationist or theistic evolutionist interpretations of the Biblical texts emerge from the different structures of beliefs which hold them in their grip. In a sense, their beliefs put them in conceptually different worlds where they see the text differently; where words can have different meanings; where different standards of evidence are in place; where what counts as "facts" can vary; where different ways for determining genre are in place; where different criteria apply for deciding correct and incorrect interpretations; where there are different ways of reasoning, and different ways of dealing with textual “problems.” For example, Behemoth in Job Chapter 40 must be an elephant because their beliefs constrain them from seeing anything else. Is Behemoth an elephant or a dinosaur? For them, the choice is obvious, and they are certain that they are right. And the same goes for YEC. Both give coherent reasons and justification for their interpretations, but they are reasons from within their perspective and not outside or free of it. This is why, when the "facts" from one side of the divide are presented to the other side, facts which seem obvious and incontrovertible, the arguments are quickly discounted, or they are not seen as decisive, or the evidence is re-characterized (re-interpreted) to arrive at another conclusion. An evolutionist once compared faith and reason to oil and water, things that do not mix and should not be confused. Facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts." I contend that this is simply false. The easy opposition between faith and fact rests on the assumption that we have minds full of beliefs, but they are beliefs that are always subject to a world of independent fact checking that can either confirm or reject belief's correctness. It assumes that all we have to do is stand at a distance from our beliefs, check the facts against them and adjust our beliefs according to the facts. It's like imagining "facts" to be these supremely benign arbitrators handing out unvarnished truth to all who ask. But as we have seen, the relationship between faith and facts is the other way around. Facts are not just "hanging around" waiting to be uncovered by unbiased observation or there would be no debate about them. Facts are seen as facts, they take the shape they do, in the light of the beliefs and assumptions of interpreters who see them from the perspective that has been provided by their beliefs. That's why theistic evolutionists so so easily (in their view, at least) dismiss all the facts of YEC and assert their own facts (which, by the way, YEC also reject as legitimate). Facts aren't separate from belief. They depend on belief for their livelihood. As there is no opposition between faith and fact, so there is no separation between belief and knowledge. What we believe, we believe is true, and what we don't believe we believe is not true. Having beliefs is being committed to the truth of what is believed and the falsehood of what isn't. We cannot escape our beliefs and become disinterested "knowledge seekers," so that we can then base our beliefs on a foundation of knowledge more certain—because more true--than our beliefs themselves. There is no neutral knowledge that makes our beliefs more secure. Believing is seeing and seeing is knowing! By no coincidence, the author of Hebrews writes, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Exactly right. In the same way, faith is not independent from reason. Again, it is the other way around. Reason needs faith to get started. Without some premises and presuppositions already in place, there is no direction for the reasoning process to take. You can't have one without the other. That is to say, it is the structure of beliefs —beliefs of which the mind consists—that directs the way we reason about a Biblical text's meaning. Theistic evolutionists and YEC both reason about the text in ways dictated by their beliefs and not independently of them. The imagined "battle royal" between faith and reason does not, in fact, exist. The battle (and it does exist) is between different systems of deeply held beliefs which yield competing arguments of what counts as evidence, competing ways of reasoning, and competing visions of truth.