-The Upper Story Leap

The Upper Story Leap

Gregory Koukl

What's at heart here is not so much science and facts, but a philosophy of doing science which says that you can only talk about things which are scientific and you must remove any reference to a supernatural force whatsoever.divider
I want to talk to you about what's happening in the Vista school district. The Vista school board is a group of men and women who were elected to their positions--many of whom are Christians and have been very open to the idea of including creationism in the public schools. From what I can tell, they're trying assiduously to comply with the state law, but even the fact that they would get around the law in some sense to bring a critique of evolution into the schoolroom has really upset a lot of people like the ACLU and the LA Times . So you might have been reading about this.The Tuesday, August 17 issue of the LA Times has two perspectives on evolution and creation on the editorial page. Two pieces were written, one pro and one con. Phil Johnson, a professor of law at UC Berkeley and the author of Darwin on Trial, writes the first piece. It's titled "Can 80% of Us Be Dead Wrong?" And his simple point is that this whole thing is about a philosophy, it's not about science. It's about philosophy.

There is a group of scientists from the Darwinian perspective, whom he calls fundamentalists, that demand that not only their view be taught–which he says is understandable because it is the reigning paradigm in science–but also that their view be taught without any criticism and critique. What’s at heart here is not so much science and facts, but a philosophy of doing science which says that you can only talk about things which are scientific and you must remove any reference to a supernatural force whatsoever. This is called naturalism and this is what he objects to.

He points out that more than 80% of the population of the United States believes that God was somehow involved in the process, even if he was directing evolution. The question, as he points out, is not about the facts of evolution itself, but the philosophy behind it. He says, “Evolutionary biologists may like to assume that God played no role in creation, but why should everyone else be required to assume it?”

He closes with this paragraph: “So the question is not whether fundamentalists should be allowed to foist some dogma upon other people, but whether students may hear well-founded objections to misleading presentations of evolution that slight the difficulties. Let evolution be taught in the schools, of course. But let the problems with the Darwinian theory also be acknowledged, and let students be taught how to tell the difference between what biologists really know by observation and what they fervently believe because it fits their philosophy. Teaching the difference between philosophy and science isn’t creationism; it’s good critical thinking.”

This strikes me as a reasonable kind of thing to say. He says “Let’s not indoctrinate students by saying this is the truth and it’s wrong for anyone to raise questions about it or raise evidence contradictory to this reigning paradigm.” That, by the way, is not a liberal education. That is dogmatism. That is scientific fundamentalism. And he objects to that as not being good thinking or good education.

In response is a piece written by Michael Gottlieb who is the rabbi at Temple Judea in Vista. His piece is called “The Bible is Not a Textbook.” I may sound that I’m really biased here to make this comment, but it seems to me that what Phil Johnson is saying is a reasonable thing to say. However, by contrast Michael Gottlieb says some things that strike me as being very unreasonable. They’re not unreasonable because I’m sitting in the position of someone who believes in creation and not evolution. You know as well as I do that when I have someone agree with me for the wrong reasons I’m after those bad reasons just as quickly as someone who disagrees with me for the wrong reasons. I think his ideas are poor ideas. Let me read some of what he says and see if you can pick out the flaws.

“As a rabbi, I have no intellectual sympathy for two of creationism’s basic tenets: that the Bible must be read ‘literally,’ and that it hold scientific truths….The Bible is not a science text. I do believe that the Bible is divinely inspired.” I wonder what he means by that. He goes on to say that the Bible is good to give us “insight to our lives, to add purpose and meaning and comfort. It can become a handbook to life itself.” But it is not to be taken literally and it’s not a guidebook for science. Then he says, “What is conveyed is the religious belief that we were put on this planet by God. All whoever lived share the same creator.”

Now here’s the difficulty that I have as a critical thinker. He says first that we cannot accept a six day perspective or any creationist perspective because the Bible is not to be taken literally. Instead, what we ought to accept is that we are put on this planet by God and we all share the same creator. My question is: if we are to take the Bible literally on what amounts to a historical account not a scientific account of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, why must we take the Bible literally when it says God was responsible for putting us here? It could be that this was some astral intelligence that was communicating through the Bible. Maybe what we ought to take literally is not that God exists and we all come from Him, but that we all come from some other divine intelligent source that is outside of out solar system. Maybe what is really being taught here is something about extra-terrestrials. Of course, most people would consider that bizarre and so would, I presume, Rabbi Gottlieb. But my question is why would it be bizarre using the hermeneutic that he applies? If the Bible is not to be taken literally or at face value, why must one take anything at face value, even the view that God made man at all?

He goes on to say that “science ought to be taught in the classroom, not theology” and that “for issues of theological concern, the world has a guide” and that guide is the Bible. Science teaches us science. The Bible teaches us theology. Let me give you one other thought here. He says this other very important thing. “If we really are the products of random forces over an infinite period of time, whence do we derive ultimate value to our lives? Why are we any more valuable than a dog or a spider? Because we came later in the evolutionary scale? Realistically, is that a substitute for the biblical belief that human beings are created in God’s image?” Let me tell you what’s going on here.

He’s contrasting two things, science and theology. He says science gives us facts about the world; theology provides the foundation for belief. The fact of the matter is that we’re evolved and that we are products of random forces over an infinite time, which is what science holds and he takes no exception with that. If we look just that far at the facts of science there is no reason for us to consider ourselves more valuable than a dog or a spider. We are merely later in the evolutionary scale. However, that gives us no foundation for our ultimate value so we must reach into theology and go to the Bible for belief that we are in fact something special.

This is a textbook case of what the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer called an upper story leap. What he described in his book Escape From Reason –which is a short book and is worthy of being read if you want to understand why people think the way this rabbi thinks–is that in the realm of facts and history and science–in other words, all that is measurable–we come up with a conclusion that man is meaningless. Life is meaningless. We are caught in a cause and effect naturalistic system. We are part of the machine. That’s the fact of the matter. That’s what science tells us. Because that is hard to handle, we make what Kirkegaard called a leap of faith and we leap into the upper story of faith and significance. So we make a theological statement of faith that we are valuable and we are worthwhile. Here’s what’s important. The statement about value that we are assuming based on belief in the Bible has nothing to do with reality. That’s why modern religious thinkers who think this way are schizophrenic. They can’t defend their faith in the real world because the point is there is no defense in the real world. The real world speaks against value in human beings so we must take a leap of faith.

Personally I don’t buy this scientific assessment that we are all accidents in the world and I think God has penetrated history. For me to believe in God doesn’t require a leap of faith because my faith is grounded in the reality of the world. I refuse to accept a philosophic notion of science which limits scientific fact merely to the natural realm and natural processes and forces me into a ridiculous upper story leap of faith to find significance. I think there’s significance grounded in fact and science. Unfortunately, this particular view expressed here robs us all of that.

At least that’s the way I see it.


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