The downside of religious conviction
I'm in a bit of a quandary; I don't know whether to admire scientists more than theologians or theologians more than scientists. As a believer in the God of the Bible, who claims to have created all things, I recoil from the proud claims of those scientists who reject creation by God. In spite of all the clever arguments against William Paley's defense of divine creation on the basis of design, I believe that intelligent design makes a whole lot more sense than the notion that the universe works so well because it just happens that the big bang accidentally, mindlessly, fortunately, contained the seeds of creative genius within it. To me, if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck and gambols in water like a duck, it's most likely a duck. Everything in the universe looks designed to me, right down to the multifarious mechanisms for coupling the front and back wings of insects for flight. I'll be … if I'm going to reject the obvious answer of origins in favor of a foolish answer, no matter how many brilliant people tell me I'm a victim of immature teleological thinking.
Yet perhaps I despair even more at the locked-in mentality of believers. It's one thing to have convictions one is willing to die for, it's another altogether to doggedly cling to dogmas just because that is what the church has traditionally taught. If scientists took the same approach we'd still be squandering huge resources trying to learn the secret of turning base metals into gold. True, we late-comers to history's scene ought to show a little respect to those who have gone before, but must we doggedly adhere to doctrines and creeds crafted decades or even centuries ago? Is it godly to brand those who in all sincerity call for submitting these ideas to the light of hard analysis “heretics”? Most Christians adhere religiously to the Trinitarian formulae of the Nicene and Athanasian creeds without question, even though they were worked out over 1500 years ago. When this web site posted an article that questions traditional
concepts of the bodily resurrection, one person wrote, “I stand by the Reformed understanding of the resurrection (bodily) of Christ. And I believe his resurrected body now is identical to what it was between his resurrection and ascension. My theology of Christ's resurrection and ours at the return of Christ is amply spelled out in the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and the three ecumenical creeds.” End of subject. Maybe traditional teachings are right, maybe wrong. But how can we ever grow in grace and knowledge if we cling like a limpet on a rock to a teaching just because that's what we have always believed?
Of course, in order for any faith community to function properly it needs to have solid convictions. And what chaos would ensue if churches fell into an orgy of doubt and uncertainty, and what waste of resources if doctrinal teams jumped to the crack of every whip. After years of thinking about just how to get the right balance between holding to convictions on the one hand and seeking to expose and weed out dogmatic error on the other, I'm still not sure how best to achieve it. Here's where theologians and churches may well be able to take a leaf out of the scientists' book. Rather than lean fully on received wisdom, scientists continually probe science's dogmas. They might not always do it with an open mind; after all, scientists are no more humble than Bible believers, and many have an ax to grind. But the process of allowing iron to sharpen iron seems to work much better in the scientific community than it does in the religious community. If churches would just relax a bit, and not get so paranoid, and not worry themselves sick that their members are going to lose their salvation if they allow a new thought to sneak into the marketplace of ideas, just maybe they would grow in truth.
When people are obsessed with defending truth rather than seeking truth, truth invariably ends up losing out.