Knowing What You Don’t Know

africa-165019_640I have often heard atheists claim that theists are dogmatically sure of everything, and that they have a closed mind to anything in opposition to their closely held beliefs. They say that science is a process, not an end in itself, that no scientist should continue to hold to a theory if it is demonstrated to be false. Like Laurence Krause, during the debates he had with William Lane Craig in Australia, they celebrate the statement of “I don’t know”. They say that the only way to advance in any discipline is to maintain an open mind, to be receptive to new ideas and new interpretations of the data.

I agree.

Then why do they refuse to accept it when a theologian, armature or professional, presents an interpretation of scripture that does not follow long established traditions? I am not talking some heretical redefining of a primary doctrine, or a Joseph Smithian “new revelation”. I am talking about the, not trivial, but secondary issues that the Scriptures refuse to spell out for us in no uncertain terms. Why is it considered somehow dishonest if a theist offers an alternate explanation for a certain interpretation of a vaguely worded Biblical passage that the atheist is attempting to use against him? Are they disappointed because their straw man is being torn down, or are they insisting we play by some fundamentalist rule that they themselves do not believe in?

The Bible often talks about how creation tells us about the Creator. Psalms 19:1-2 says,

The heavens declare he glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  -ESV

This would seem to say that we can trust what we see in nature, so if what we see and what we read do not match, our perception of one or the other must be flawed. This is what led me to doubt some of the traditional teachings I heard as I was growing up. There is something wrong if Special Revelation (the Bible) and General Revelation (nature) do not agree. Not that the Bible speaks about everything we can observe in nature, but there should not be contradictions in the things that is does speak about.

A Scientist understands that new data can give better insights into old data. Just because they see that old data in a different light does not mean that the old data was unsound. It just means that given what they knew at the time they were not able to see all of the implications. Why do some people have such a hard time accepting the validity of using those same criteria on Biblical texts? There are things that theologians have been fighting over for centuries. Does that mean they are unimportant? No. Does that mean they are not at the core of salvation doctrine? Yes.

There is a famous quote by Steven Covey that says

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

That is good advise for anyone giving an argument for, or against, a Bible passage. There are main things that are crystal clear, repeated over and over for clarification. These are the things that have been recognized as essential and set in the creeds as fundamental truths of God. Then there are other things that are open to interpretation, seemingly on purpose. Who know? Maybe that’s the point. It seems like we are designed to enjoy a good fight. Maybe these things are to teach us the value of that, or to expose our character flaws as we engage. I know that I enjoy thinking about these things, and the more I mature the less I am offended when someone’s opinion differs from my own.

I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it.

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