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Flipping the Argument

Recently on this website there has been heated discussion regarding the Michigan Conference’s decision to deny tuition subsidy for its workers who might wish to send their children to La Sierra University. The rationale for denying subsidy is the presumption that LSU’s approach to teaching evolution constitutes apostasy.

Some have expressed approval of this action and used an argument that goes something like this: the Bible is the word of God and explicitly teaches a literal 6 day creation. La Sierra is teaching evolution as truth and this is apostasy and should be stopped. Therefore Michigan’s action is an affirmation of Biblical truth and is to be commended.

Here are a few of the comments along this line:

  • The lines have been drawn. The teams are forming. On one side are those who pledge to be faithful to our beliefs and want to be obedient to God and the Bible. On the other side is the group that wants to tear down our distinctive beliefs
  • Science says one thing, Christ said another. It is up to us to chose, but choose we must. To straddle the fence can no longer be an option. The Michigan Conference took a stand against the science of man. True Christians must also take that stand.
  • I want my tithe dollars to be used for those who teach truth not error!!!
  • When I hear it said that Creationist are narrow minded what I'm really hearing is that the Bible is wrong and God's inspiration cannot be trusted, therefore neither can God.
  • This debate is not about evolution, it's about choosing who we are going to follow.
  • religious belief cannot be backed up by scientific fact. Religious belief can only be backed up by faith, faith in God and His Word.
  • A line in the sand is being drawn. On one side there are those who believe in God, on the other side there are those who believe in man's science. I choose God, not from a scientific point of view, but from a faith point of view.

Now it is an open question to some people whether the Bible actually teaches a literal 6-day creation. And it is also disputed whether La Sierra is really teaching evolution as truth.

But I do not wish to pursue those issues, as important as they are.

What I wish to explore in this article is the nature of the argument being used by those I’ve quoted. I contend that it is deeply flawed. And my contention has nothing at all to do with whether the position espoused is actually right or wrong.

To explain my contention I would like to propose a hypothetical situation – sort of a thought experiment, if you will.

Consider a ‘counter-factual’ world where the Bible doesn’t contain the account of Genesis as we presently have it. Instead let’s say there is an alternate Genesis account that runs something like this:

God tells us that He created the universe eons ago, and created this Earth with basic life. Then when Satan sinned he and his followers were exiled here. They, being highly intelligent, began to experiment with the life already existing. Because they interfered with God’s original order this life became subject to death. But they were able to evolve this starting material into advanced forms, over a period of millions of years. The repeated death and evolution accounts for the geologic column. Finally, in the fairly recent past, God chose to redeem Earth with a fresh start and created an ‘island’ of unfallen life – the Garden of Eden – using 2 existing humanoids and giving them a ‘spark’ that elevated them to the humanity as we know it today.

All right. I am definitely not declaring this account to be actually correct. And it doesn’t matter for my purposes if this account is true. But let’s say, in this hypothetical world, that this is what Christians find in their Bibles. Consequently Christians would not likely be having the same contentious discussion, as illustrated above, because a Biblical literalist would have little quarrel with evolution.

Now let’s say that the actual Genesis account of creation is instead found in the Koran! That is, Muslims, not Christians, would have the Genesis 1-2++ material in their holy book. And consequently Muslims, not Christians, would potentially be stressed by the apparent divergence between science and a literal interpretation of Allah’s word. Now I am not an expert on Islam. I don’t really know how closely Muslim beliefs align with a literal reading of Genesis. No matter. I could have, instead of Islam, chosen some XYZ religion and used their Holy Book of XYZ to contain the actual Genesis content. But illustrating with Islam is, I think, somewhat easier to wrap our minds around.

I might also envision, in this hypothetical situation, a Muslim website – let’s call it Spectrum – where this issue was being hotly debated at times. And literal-minded Muslim readers might make comments on this website like: “A line in the sand is being drawn. On one side there are those who believe in Allah, on the other side there are those who believe in man's science. I choose Allah, not from a scientific point of view, but from a faith point of view.”

Finally consider an Adventist in this alternate world who has a Muslim neighbor. And our Adventist – being evangelistically-minded – would like to persuade their neighbor to leave Islam and become an Adventist Christian.

How would they go about this task?

You see the arguments being used by my quoted real-life Spectrum commenters are, in this hypothetical world, exactly the same ones being used by Muslims. The arguments begin with the premise that their holy book is true. And it doesn’t matter about external evidence. Now if the Islamic neighbor thinks this way I contend that our Adventist has absolutely no way of gaining evangelistic traction.

I hope it is a little clearer – when I flip the argument being used by some on this website – that using the presupposition that the Bible is true and external evidence is irrelevant is a faulty starting place. And I am not, repeat NOT, casting doubt on the Bible’s truth. Only the tactic of not allowing it to be subject to investigation. We would be evangelistically hamstrung if a Muslim took that position. Why is it ok for a Christian to do so?

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