'Where faith partners with truth'?
You may have wondered about the subtitle of this newsletter: 'Where faith partners with truth.' It needs explaining. If we are talking about scientific evidence of the Flood, why faith? In fact the chief defenders of the Flood today do refer to their defense as Creation Science. These newsletters have mainly reported on issues in science and history. But however interesting, my chief concern is faith. I decided to address Noah's Flood because I knew that it, more than evolution, was the linchpin for the scientific challenge to biblical faith. It is also where biblical apologists have failed to impact the scholarly community.
But why 'faith's partnership with truth'? Doesn't everyone claim to be on the side of truth? Who admits to spreading falsehood? In fact there are some: mainline churches who teach Noah's Flood as myth. Their motto should be 'where faith partners with myth'. Faith is too often contrasted with truth if rarely so explicitly as the child who explained to his classmate: 'Faith is believing what you know isn't true.'
There is something called fideism, appearing in the wake of the Reformation, that often amounts to this child's explanation of faith. Fideism is usually linked to the teachings and practices of the Church rather than the Bible. As Ignatius Loyola explained it: "If the Pope declares white to be black and black to be white, you must believe it regardless of what your eyes might see." His formulation was to defend the Roman Catholic Church but mainline Protestants came to embrace a form of fideism that placed faith and science in separate realms. They look to science for truth and for them science trumps faith whenever they conflict. Their "faith" is more slave than partner to science.
If we are going to have blind faith, the object of our faith ought to be truly divine - authentically infallible and the source of all truth. It should not be contradicted by what we believe as fact. Otherwise, we place faith in an idol. Any source of authority from which we cannot or will not appeal becomes effectively our "God." If that authority is not truly God, it is an idol. The idol might be our church, our nation, science, or the rulings of a supreme court. It may be some tradition or leader. But I believe in the adage 'It is human to err.' Only prophets and apostles who are truly inspired by the God of Truth and the Scriptures that preserve their testimony can be infallible.
Even so, these same Scriptures recommend that we test whether the prophets and apostles are true or false. That would include their writings. Our Scriptures have indeed been tested more than any human witness or document. The God of the Scriptures proves himself to his people whenever they trust him enough to allow him to do so. Thus, our faith in the Scriptures is not founded on blind fideism. But once faith has become established firmly in our hearts, we have reason for blindness to everything that would challenge our faith. A faith that is not established so firmly will not be able to overcome severe challenges.
Another reason that I chose 'where faith partners with truth' is that many dismiss The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood with a seemingly pious, "I just believe the Bible!" That response would be admirable were I presenting evidence against the Flood. What they seem to be saying is that they do not need if they even approve of searching for evidence of things mentioned in the Bible. I suppose they have no interest in biblical archaeology.
They may sense the risk in seeking extra-biblical evidence for things in the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is remarkable for making so many extraordinary claims however wonderful they may be. Testing the Bible against the evidence of history may seem the greatest of risks. Moreover, unlike myths and philosophical religions, the Scriptures make a multitude of references to specific individuals, places, times, peoples, and events, which means that we can search archaeological and textual evidence to judge their truth. Suppose the evidence really does contradict the Bible as modern science and scholarship have claimed? If they are telling the truth, that destroys any faith worth having, evidenced by the declining members of mainline churches. This does explain the loss of faith in the Western world, but if faith cannot withstand testing, is it a faith worth having?
Many evangelicals keep their religious beliefs separate from teachings of science just as do the fideists but in their case by refusing to admit there are contradictions between science and the Bible. I know intelligent Christians who believe that the teachings of science support the Bible! Of course, intelligence is not the same as a sound grounding in Western science and scholarship. Many intelligent nonbelievers who are familiar with Western science and scholarship reject them. But evangelicals are remarkable for affirming both the Scriptures and "true" science, whatever the latter might be.
Creationists at least understand that there exists a contradiction between mainstream science and the Bible, even if their success is also because so many lack a firm grounding in the teachings of modern scholarship and science. Though Creation Science addresses extra-biblical evidence, it is never going to be contradicted by any type of evidence because it is grounded in dogma: fossils were created by the Flood; all human remains are from after the Flood; the world was created from 6-10,000 years ago in the space of 144 hours; evidence of the antediluvian world was essentially destroyed by the Flood. Creation Science amounts to coming up with theories to explain everything according to these dogma. It is a partnership between faith and dogma. Dogma is correct opinion, but it is not truth. It is why Creationist Science is no more in danger of being refuted than Darwinian evolution. As I explain in the article on Karl Popper (below right), it is because neither of these schools make predictions specific enough for testing. We can test the Scriptures, but we can test neither Darwinian evolution nor Creation Science.
Those who have read my book know that is not the way I went about searching for archaeological evidence of the Flood. I looked for evidence that might count either for or against(!) the historicity of the Flood. I begin by establishing criteria that I believed would be archaeological evidence of the Flood: (1) The disappearance of mankind from the earth some time prior to about four thousand years ago; (2) following that, evidence of a new spread of mankind from the Ancient Near East; and (3) clear discontinuity in the material cultures belonging to the new spread from the archaeological remains of the former populations. Because I trusted ancient history as currently taught, I concluded that the continuity of civilizations like that of Egypt disproved the Flood. I didn't give up my faith because it was grounded in a personal experience that my heart refused to deny. But the problem of the Flood hung over me as the shadow of a dark and depressing cloud.
I had given up searching for the Flood when, surprisingly, I discovered the population discontinuity around the date of the Flood while engaged in an altogether different archaeological quest. Still, it would still be many years before I gained complete confidence in the biblical account. That happened as my new insight began clearly up one scientific muddle after another and as the historical sciences became far more integrated and simpler.
My pious friends describe me as a doubting Thomas. I don't think those who do this had the same scientific education. Nor are they concerned about widespread unbelief in the historicity of the Flood. Those indoctrinated in the teachings of modern science and scholarship may need to see the scars of the Flood. But those who have claimed the fossils and Grand Canyon as scars from the Flood have only make us less inclined to believe. I ignored such "evidence" for a careful search based on what had to be the case according to the ancient witness of the Scriptures.
In truth, it was not doubt but faith that cause me to search for evidence of the Flood in a way that was testable. One should not confuse this type of testing, which is about trusting God, with the biblical injunctions that refer to trying God through unbelief. It was in fact widespread unbelief that I was testing. Do those who refuse to put the Scriptures to work to challenge unbelief really have faith? The brother of Jesus declared, "Faith without works is dead." [James 2:17, 26] What good is lamp if we don't put it to use? Jesus gave a parable about entrusting his servants with a various sums of money. He was not referring to capitalism because he didn't leave us with money. He left his Church with the Scriptures, the witness of his apostles and prophets.
Of course, there is much more to do with the Scriptures than learning about science and history, but if they are not telling the truth about the past why should we believe they tell us the truth about the even more inscrutable future? We don't need to protect the Scriptures through dogma. As I discovered, the Scriptures are more than capable of defending themselves.