Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My miracles, your miracles

Yesterday, in a NYT op-ed, Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens took fundamentalist evangelicals to task for their "rejection of reason." Giberson and Stephens are evangelicals themselves, respectively a former physics professor and a historian at Eastern Nazerene College in Massachusetts. They call for a more enlightened Christian faith that is willing to engage with modern thought, including the embrace of evolution and (apparently) gay marriage. They approvingly quote the evangelical historian Mark A. Noll: "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."

Well yes, one can only applaud, especially given the powerful influence evangelical fundamentalism presently exerts on American politics.

Karl Giberson has been kind to me in the past, so I am hesitant to take issue, but the kind of thinking expressed in his op-ed strikes me as evasive.

I am assuming that Giberson and Stephens believe that Jesus was literally and truly God, the creator of the universe, and that he rose from the dead, two central tenets of orthodox Christianity. To my way of thinking, these beliefs are no more "reasonable" than the story of Noah's ark or a 10,000-year-old Earth. I would not want to take issue with Giberson's and Stephen's faith -- lord knows I used to believe some pretty bizarre stuff myself, and maybe still do -- but it seems to me once you let God into the door of the intellect you're going to have a hard time "reasonably" getting him out of the house.

Of course, it's possible to be a "Christian" and not believe in miracles, in the same way one can be a Jeffersonian democrat or a Keynesian economist, but I don't think that's where our authors are coming from.

There is either a personal God who intervenes in creation -- to redeem humankind or answer prayers, for instance -- or there isn't. If yes, then one has the hopeless task of deciding which events are miracles and which are not. If there is a central thread to the "modern thought" that Giberson and Stephens ask evangelicals to embrace, it is that miracles don't happen -- the underlying assumption of science since science was invented.

Picking and choosing one's miracles seems to me a fool's game. I'd guess that if Giberson or Stephens had been born in Qom, Iran, he would embrace a different set of foundational miracles. The alternative to picking and choosing is not necessarily a Dawkinsesque atheism, but a silent awe and reverence for the perhaps ultimately impenetrable mystery of creation that scientists -- and poets -- are working hard to understand.