Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Was Honesty Questioned?
P.O. Box 25
Pea Ridge, Arkansas 72751
From: JASA 34 December 1982): 63.
William F. Tanner's "Time and the Rock Record" (Journal ASA, June, 1981) included some excellent insights and principles to be used in approaching the various positions available to Christians on the question of origins. Most useful were those points made under the headings "What Do We Learn From the Bible?" and "What Do We Learn From Nature? "- though I would not necessarily endorse all the points under each heading.
It would, however, have been very helpful to those who take a recent creationist viewpoint of origins if Dr. Tanner had enumerated specific instances of invalid inference from scientific data and scriptural passages on the part of creationist scientists, and explained precisely why he believed them to be invalid. His brief references to several minor points in creationist arguments, without citation and without specific refutation, is quite unhelpful.
What most distressed me about Dr. Tanner's article, however, was the intimation in the third-to-last paragraph that he believes some of the creationist scientists are simply dishonest with their handling of the facts. He refers to ". . citation by persons who are willing to misstate the observable and the verifiable facts of geology in order to support what they consider to be a biblical doctrine."
The Apostle Paul enunciated what I believe should be one of the key principles of Christian discourse on topics of disagreement (and in lots of other aspects of the Christian life) when he wrote, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Phil. 2:3.
When this is worked out in practice, it seems to me it demands at least that we give fellow Christians (and indeed, nonchristians as well) the benefit of the doubt wherever possible. It means at least that I should imagine myself doing the very thing for which I judge my brother, and then consider that even if the act was wrong, he had a better motive for it than I would have had in his place. If we believe they have wrongly represented data, the least we should do is to grant that they did it accidentally, not out of a willingness to misconstrue the facts. Tanner's comment fails to give creationist scientists that benefit of the doubt.
It is this attitude which I believe has helped make communication among the various positions in the origins debate even more difficult than it would otherwise be. The tendency of both sides to turn theoretical disagreement into moral judgment makes dialogue rather uncomfortable, if not impossible.
A recent conference in Toronto of theologians discussing the inerrancy controversy proved what great strides can be made when Christians of differing points of view come together with an earnest desire to understand each other. Many misunderstandings were cleared up, mistakes were admitted on both sides, and a groundwork was laid for continued dialogue. Some even confessed to having wrongly judged the moral character of their brothers. Such a conference is long overdue for the origins question. I hope ASA will consider that possibility.
P.S. If Dr. Tanner did not intend his comment to denote questioning of the honesty of creationist scientists, I most humbly apologize for mistaking his intent.