Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

The Story That Rings True

John Mark Reynolds

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Facing the Problem

Changing the world requires uniting good arguments with a story that captures the world's imagination. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did more to make the Christian faith understandable and appealing than any number of sermons. Anne Frank's diaries reveal the evils of Naziism better than piles of soul-searing statistics. Uncle Tom's Cabin made opposition to slavery a moral crusade. Even the philosopher Plato had his greatest impact when he told stories. The mythical tale of the lost empire of Atlantis, the cave with its prisoners who see only flickering images of reality, and the trial and execution of Socrates for attacking the dogmas of his day, buried Plato's philosophy deep into the hearts and minds of Western people.

Lofty words or even powerful arguments are not enough to move the world. It is not enough even to be right. The Declaration of Independence recites many facts related to the world of the eighteenth century. This data does not cause the Declaration to endure. When that same Declaration moved Eastern Europeans to overthrow communist tyranny, it was not because of the data it contained or mere rhetoric. The Declaration captured an idea, a story of liberty, and it was that vision that moved men both in 1776 and 1989.

Christians, of all people, should be the first to recognize the importance of the story. We do not have a Bible that consists of a simple listing of theological or metaphysical truths. God decided to convey His message in the story of His peoples, the Jews and the Church. Orthodox Christians believe that God's Word is true. This truth is most often told in stories of real men and women, in parables, or in letters written to fellow believers. The Bible contains a world view, an entire way of looking at the world, related through the lives of the people of God.

The sad reality, however, is that for the last century and one half Christians have forgotten much of this. Some Christians have abandoned their concern about truth. They have been content to relegate the Gospel to the realm of pious fable. This has proved inadequate in the competition with modern ideas, like naturalism, which claim both explanatory power and factual accuracy. On the other hand, many traditional Christians have worried about the details and have often forgotten how to tell the entire story. Just as Luther would not allow the devil to have the best tunes, so Christians should not allow the secularists the best stories.

The stories that have captured the world of the twentieth century are based on naturalism, the belief that the world can be fully explained by natural causes. Most thinkers agree that the three people who most shaped the modern mind were Darwin, Freud, and Marx. Darwin made the triumph of naturalism possible by providing a means of explaining the origin and history of life that left no active role for God. Freud and later secular psychologists provided for psychological redemption without the need for the cross. Marx gave humanity an eschatologial vision of a final conflict that would produce a secular paradise. Taken together these ideas formed a complete naturalistic religion.

Naturalists suggested that a new secular priesthood would solve the problems of society. These new priests in white lab coats, armed with the techniques of modernity, would make progress where they perceived religion had failed. Romans One tells us that it has always been part of human nature to ignore and reject God. Naturalists linked freedom from God and religion with technological progress. It is no wonder that so many were dazzled by the promises of naturalistic story tellers.

What Can We Do Now?

The creationist movement has led a heroic rear guard action against this naturalistic tide. Millions of creationists exist in the United States. Creationists have substantial reserves of power, despite naturalism's control of major educational institutions, the elite media, the legal system, and even many Christian denominations. Creationists have managed to survive in a hostile environment. This survival was beyond the imagination of secular thinkers at the turn of the century. Men like Henry Morris deserve eternal honor for such an achievement.

This achievement has to be balanced against a disturbing failure, however. The modern academy has either ignored or marginalized creationism. Most college students learn about creationism through an unsympathetic presentation of its weakest arguments. Creationists cannot improve on this situation without being granted access to the discussion. How can creationists move beyond their own constituency to have a greater impact on the secular culture and the mainstream churches?

I believe we need to move beyond the defensive to develop an offensive strategy. To do this, we have to have a better understanding of the problem we face. Creationists have often assumed that the creation/evolution debate is fundamentally about harmonizing scientific facts with the Bible, so they have mounted a scientific defense of the Biblical account and a critique of evolutionary theory. In conservative Christian circles this strategy works well, but in the universities it is ignored because of a pervasive naturalistic bias. If naturalism remains the dominant way of thinking in the universities, the failure of current evolutionary theory would simply lead to the development of some naturalistic alternative. The fundamental problem is naturalism.

In the thinking of a naturalist, Bible authority for a position is more of a liability than an asset. The very idea that there could be evidence against naturalistic evolution is viewed as absurd. The definition of science in the mainstream academic culture is applied naturalism. Naturalists exclude any divine activity from scientific accounts a priori. If God is allowed in the modern university, then it is only if He does nothing that might show up in a laboratory. He can exist only at the price of total silence.

Scientific evidence alone is not going to influence this kind of thinking. The time has come for creationists to begin to expose the philosophical roots behind much modern thought. This can only be done if creationists learn why beliefs are formed, what motivates reexamination of ideas, and how to encourage such intellectual freedom. Creationists, more than any other group, must be persons willing to challenge assumptions that keep the mind in prison. Many Christians and scientists hold philosophy in low regard. It is the study of philosophy, however, which can provide the tools needed by creationists to break out of their own cultural ghetto.

Creationists must show others that naturalism is imposing philosophical constraints on academic research. Most people in our nation are not aware that a secular dogma is limiting intellectual inquiry. Such ideological control is foreign to the American story. Of course, if we are to argue in this fashion, our behavior must reflect our claims. Creationists must make plain that they do not want to impose their own brand of conformity on the university. We have enough bad experience with censorship in the marketplace of ideas to have no wish to restrict the free exchange of ideas ourselves. Conservative Christians can show their sincere commitment to this principle by showing an open attitude in their own research. We must listen to our critics and engage in a constant evaluation of our own views. If we advance our beliefs in this manner, then creationism will not only be right, it will be heard.

Creationists have a powerful story to tell. It is a story that has gripped the minds and imaginations of some of the greatest artists, musicians, and scientists in human history. We must tell this story properly. The medium should not contradict the message. What is that message? Creationism says that the cosmos is an orderly thing, that life and human existence have a purpose, and that reality is not captured by natural causation. This is a message of faith, hope, and charity. How can we convey this truth in a manner consistent with it?

Our message should be faithful one. We should never defend our convictions with lies or a lack of rigor. It is inconceivable that a science flowing from Christian theism should not aim at surpassing the professional standards of any discipline. Persecution of creationism based on our beliefs will win us friends. Justifiable outrage in the secular community over errors, inflated credentials, or sloppy work will defeat us.

We need a message of hope. It is important to show that naturalism and Darwinism do not have all the answers. Such arguments provide intellectual breathing space. After this, we must develop our own positive research program. This research will require the backing of many lay Christians. There are many examples of such worthy scientists and projects that deserve support. Michael Behe, a biochemist, has a forth coming book on the evidence for intelligent design in living things. Paul Nelson, a creationist philosopher, is working on a new design theory that will account for these very same features. Creationist scientists like John Baumgardner, Kurt Wise, and Stephen Austin, are developing new ways to model earth history. Russ Humphreys has presented a new cosmological model. Many of these theories will prove to be dead ends. We will often revise or even abandon our ideas. Progress will be slow and painful at times. There will be set backs. Creationists must learn to view even failure as a hopeful thing. This is how progress is achieved in science.

Most of all charity should guide our interaction with others, even with our opponents. Creationists must examine the best ideas of naturalists and not their worst. Christians would be unwise to resort to personal attacks. We must always remember that our opponents are fellow human beings, souls for whom Christ died. Our writings need not lack force, but can battle bad ideas with vigor while treating intellectual foes with charity.

Faith, hope, and charity are the ideals for which a creationist strives. They should form the framework for our new story telling. The success of those who have gone before in defending the Faith has given the modern creationist a place to stand. The Bible, God's written word, gives him a sublime story to tell. Creationism must take that story from its current isolation to the entire world. We must engage the hearts and imaginations of this coming generation. Creationists will move other people not just by having the right arguments, but by telling the right story properly. We must not just know the right words, but we must learn to set it in a powerful dramatic setting. If we can combine the power of new ideas with the conviction of the old gospel story, we will have a combination that naturalists cannot resist. Christians know the story of an amazing grace shown to the cosmos, and if we sing that story sweetly, even our wretched culture can be saved.

Acknowledgements: Phillip Johnson was vital in shaping both the ideas and the language of this essay. My debt to him is very great indeed. J.P. Moreland provided a thoughful review of an early draft. My wife, Hope E. Reynolds, was my sharpest critic and most faithful advocate. I am most grateful to Fieldstead and Company and to Biola University for the research fellowship that made this essay possible.

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University. Visit the Dr. John Mark Reynolds website.

Posted: 12/02/04

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Copyright 2001-2018 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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