Posted in: Disciplining a Retired Pastor
A) Science, in so far as I have understood it (and I have spent some time trying, though not as much as some), does not prove anything incontrovertibly. Theories -- a term used here and throughout most scientific disciplines to refer to frameworks of assumptions that both efficiently and sufficiently describe an entire body of available, relevant, and replicable evidence -- are continually revised and updated. And you will hear many, many scientists say that the moments that make being a scientist most worthwhile, which in fact make up one of the primary motivations of science as a human activity, are the moments in which theories are shown to be critically insufficient and in need of major revision or indeed replacement. Science would not be exciting if established theories did not occasionally fail. So, you see, scientists as a group are in large part motivated by a desire to prove each other wrong; there is no lack of zeal in science as is to question scientific theories. That said, science would not be worthwhile (and it would not be CONVINCING) if doing so were not very, VERY difficult and demanding of entire lifetimes of very hard work.
Pretend you are observing a court proceedings. You see the evidence presented, witnesses cross-examined, etc.; this goes on for a long time. At the end, you feel like you understand the situation at hand as well as you or anyone else possibly can given the evidence available. It comes time for the jury to read their verdict. What do you do? You could stay, but you decide to walk out. In fact, what the jury says does not actually matter to you. You have seen as much as they have and have reached a verdict yourself; if the jury decides otherwise, then you would believe that they have it wrong, not that their verdict proves conclusively that YOU were wrong.
This is essentially what science does: it provides us with an extremely sophisticated apparatus with which we present ourselves (and anyone who bothers to listen) with all the evidence we can possibly collect and which we deem credible. There are no judges or juries in science; only investigators and attorneys. What is convincing is convincing, and what is not convincing is not convincing. The problem is not so much that we would fail to be convinced by the scientific process but that there is just so much evidence to consider. Those of us who are not scientists simply cannot be convinced or not convinced by the evidence for or against a sufficiently broad theory such as evolution, in the same way that scientists could be convinced or not convinced, and this is purely an effect of the amount of time and devotion required to collate and analyze the available evidence. Suffice it to say that enough biologists (that is to say, most) find evolution (albeit a thoroughly revised and updated form of it in comparison to the ideas that Darwin actually wrote down) to be an extremely convincing way of talking about the vast body of evidence they have acquired. Proof? No. Convincing? If you believe at all in the very notion of taking the word of a reliable source to be sufficient for a relevant spread of intents and purposes -- and I have a terrible time imagining how anybody who lives, works, and interacts in the real world does not -- then, to some degree Yes.
B) This idea of being convinced by evidence (as opposed to being convinced by a judge or jury) is at the core of the Reformation, which should not need very much explanation to any Protestant who has ever considered the words sola scriptura very deeply. Walhout may have been out of line when he suggested that 15th and 16th century Christianity upheld indulgences and the rest as core beliefs, but he would not have been so out of line to suggest that believing as the Roman Catholic church told you to believe (and not in any other way) would probably have been considered a salvific issue -- though I'm neither a Catholic theologian nor a historian of such, so I couldn't say definitively. What I'm trying to say is that the Reformation, the spirit of which our confessions are very much in line with, was a blow to precisely that reliance on church doctrine (as opposed to God alone) for the salvation of souls.
The only specific point I'd like to make in this vein is that the very metaphor of the "book" of scripture or of nature places the burden of interpretation on human heads. We will only ever get by in reading scripture by assuming that its authors shared with us the abilities of intention and speech and intended and spoke much as we intend and speak: that is to say, not literally, but to some extent, playfully. For goodness' sake, look at Paul! Galations 5:11-12 "11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" Whatever else Paul was, he was a skilled rhetorician, which means that he counted on his speech (or his writing) to convince people, not on the invisible and divine "meaning" of his words to prove it to them.
What brought this to mind is the curiously repeated insistence earlier in this discussion that the households that The Banner is delivered to are somehow "innocent." No one is entirely innocent who judges for themselves based on evidence which is not complete (what kind of evidence is there that we can understand which is?) yet which they decide is sufficient for their purposes. And yet that is precisely the activity that we Protestants struggle to preserve! "Innocent households." The idea is monstrous!
Posted in: Disciplining a Retired Pastor
Then it seems that any Bibles that one might find in these innocent households are little more than curios, since any decisions the people within them make about what they do or don't believe have nothing to do with the text of the scriptures but with the "authority" of anybody who happens to take a pen to the pages of The Banner.
As Christians we may choose to defer to those who we have reason to believe possess a greater knowledge or depth of insight about scripture, but if we advocate reading the Bible at all, we advocate exposing ourselves to the evidence upon which that knowledge and insight are based, and thus we implicate ourselves to some degree in the decisions we make regarding the revealed character of God and our relationship to him.