Are we (clergy) children with nothing to do?

"But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'" Those are the opening words of Jesus in Matthew's Lectionary reading this week (11:16) and as I prepared for this week's sermon, I ran across this piece of history...

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin on July 26, 1856. He left school at an early age and was largely self-taught. In 1876, Shaw moved to London to become a writer. He became an active member of the Socialist Party and wrote pamphlets to further that cause. He went on to write the plays Pygmalion, Saint Joan, and Candida. In 1925, he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

He was an outspoken and controversial atheist. He was a showman, satirist, critic, and at times an intellectual buffoon trying to coax people to believe in socialism and in to reject God.

In the autumn of 1950, Shaw fell off a ladder while trimming a tree at his home outside of London. He died a few days later of complications from the injury at age 94. While on his deathbed, Shaw said: "The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, have led directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith."

This isn't so much to get into the debate of atheism today but it in regards to the secularism or pluralism in our churches especially my own UMC. It also is not about being against anything either BUT it is about an acceptance of a diversity that is slipping away. I do care deeply for all voices to have a place, no one deserves to be shouted or ridiculed into silence. Let us all both dance and mourn and not seek to shut up anyone.

And it is for this reason I have to share this e-mail from my friend, Jim Hogan. I have known Jim for a while. He is a scientist and an engineer. He is United Methodist, a founding part of Crossroads UMC and true Jesus-follower. We don't always agree but we do always listen to each other so when Jim raised concerns about the UMC position on evolution and the clergy letter project (see links below), I knew I needed to listen carefully. I'm not a scientist and don't pretend to be one, I am pastor and I think Jim carefully words a response that we clergy need to respect before we do become children with nothing to do...

------------Beginning Jim's E-mail--------------

Just two days before I sent the e-mail to which this is a follow up, I had sent another e-mail entitled, “Links to Some Interesting Audio Files.” The first link was to a recording of John Lennox speaking on “Myths Christians Believe,” and one of those myths he spoke of was, “Everything a scientist says has got the authority of the hard sciences,” or “Everything a scientist says is science.” And then I quite unintentionally came across the commentary by Al Kuelling on THE UMC web site entitled, “It’s Time for People of Faith to Accept Evolution” (http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259669&ct=10843351) which led me to The Clergy Letter Project web site (http://www.theclergyletterproject.org/).

I understand that many of you are probably not as interested in this topic as I am, and may not have even read this far. I certainly have no hard feelings over that. But perhaps you might keep this as it may prove to be a useful reference at some future time when the subject may be of more immediate importance to you.

For those of you who read on, I hope that your trust in me is justified in that I provide you with factually correct and interesting information which may both benefit you now and prove useful to you in the future should you have the opportunity to discuss this topic with anyone.

Even those of you who are interested may not read all of it. As you have no doubt discerned by now, my writings tend to be a bit on the long side. That is because I like to be thorough and precise. I am sorry if that bores or frustrates you. I have not yet learned how to combine thoroughness, precision, and brevity.

So, let me get to it.

As my first point, I think it is necessary to clarify the term “evolution.” I think the author of the UMC commentary (Al Kuelling) provides a false and deceptive definition when he claims that evolution simply means, “change.” That may be a succinct dictionary definition, but it does not come within a country mile of capturing the scientific meaning in the context in which he is addressing the topic.

A better definition is provided by Michael Behe in the preface to his book, “Darwin’s Black Box (10th Anniversary Edition)”. Michael Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University. He holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and his “… research involves delineation of design and natural selection in protein structures.” (Quote taken from “About The Author” in his book.) Michael Behe is clearly qualified to speak authoritatively on the topic of evolution in the scientific sense. Michael Behe writes the following:

“In its full-throated, biological sense, however, evolution means a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely by natural means. That is the sense that Darwin gave to the word, and the meaning that it holds in the scientific community.” (Emphasis is Behe’s)

That is why I believe that this issue is vitally important. In the scientific community, life occurred spontaneously through nothing more than natural (physical) means. In the view of the scientific community, there is no such thing as the supernatural (meaning, literally, beyond the natural or physical world which we can directly observe and measure). There is no Creator. As Stephen Hawking claims in his latest book, the universe created itself from nothing.

Those are the claims of the scientific community. Many scientists, and many more people who simply believe that “everything a scientist says has got the authority of the hard sciences,” think that science has disproved creation and thereby disproved the entire Bible. Take a look at attacks on the Bible, and those who hold to its Truth, from this “scientific” web site: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13695-evolution-myths-the-theory-is-wrong-because-the-bible-is-inerrant.html.

While I agree that the Bible is not a science book, when it does speak on matters of science, it is correct. Take a look at Job 26:7, which (speaking of God) says, “He … hangs the earth on nothing.” (ESV) Job is considered by many Bible scholars to be the oldest (in terms of when it was written down) book of the Bible. Compare the idea in the Bible that the earths hangs “on nothing” (i.e., it is by itself in the void of space as we now have evidence) with the other religious or superstitious writings of the ancient world. You will read of theories such as the one that states that the earth rests on the back of an enormous elephant which, in turn, is standing on the back of an even larger turtle that is swimming in an endless ocean.

(By the way, I think it interesting to see how common the idea is that the world started in a large ocean or that there was only water before there was earth. Isn’t that what you would expect based on the story of Noah’s ark?)

When Darwin proposed his theory, the scientific belief at the time was that the cell was the smallest divisible unit of life, and that a cell was a homogeneous entity. It was believed that cells were akin to Legos® in that they could be assembled in such a fashion as to form any living thing. Techniques of observation had not progressed to the point where anything smaller than a cell was visible to scientists. It was just a “black box” upon which Darwin built his theory.

Tremendous advances have been made in the area of molecular biology in the last 50 years or so. Biologists now know that highly sophisticated molecular “machines” control every cellular process and are nowhere near the homogeneous blobs of life that Darwin thought they were. Untold thousands, if not millions, of scientific papers have been published in the field of molecular biology. Michael Behe write that, since it is widely stated that the theory of evolution is the basis of all modern biology, then one would expect that the evolution of biological structures would be the subject of a significant number of papers in the scientific literature. Behe writes that, “… if you search the scientific literature on evolution, and if you focus your search on the question of how molecular machines – the basis of life – developed, you find an eerie and complete silence. The complexity of life’s foundation has paralyzed science’s attempt to account for it.”

Michael Behe puts forth the ideas of “irreducible complexity” and “minimal function.” “Minimal function” means that a system must have the ability to accomplish a task in physically realistic circumstances. Irreducible complexity simply means that all the pieces of the system are necessary for it to perform its intended function, and that function cannot be performed if even one of the pieces is not present. Michael Behe points out that Darwinian evolution encounters major obstacles in light of those ideas.

As an example, he discusses the cilium, which is a structure used by some cells to “swim.” Michael Behe notes that, “In the past several decades, probably ten thousand papers have been published concerning cilia. … One might … expect that, although perhaps some details would be harder to explain than others, on the whole science should have a good grasp of how the cilium evolved. … In the past two decades, however, only two articles even attempted to suggest a model for evolution of the cilium that takes into account real mechanical considerations. Worse, the two papers disagree with each other even about the general route such an evolution might take.”

Michael Behe further points out that the first paper :… does not even try to present a realistic, quantitative model for even one step in the development of a cilium in a cell line originally lacking that structure.” In the end, Michael Behe concludes that this paper is really more of an attempt to get others to do work to come up with a model. Likewise, the second paper, “,,, is a simple word-picture that presents an underdeveloped model to the scientific community for further work.”

Michael Behe concludes, I believe correctly, that the, “… amount of scientific research that has been and is being done on the cilium … lead many people to assume that even if they themselves don’t know how the cilium evolved, somebody must know. But a search of the professional literature proves them wrong. Nobody knows.” (Emphasis is Behe’s)

By the way, Michael Behe is not a creationist.

So that’s it then. Science has not even put forth a plausible explanation for how an existing cell can wind up with a cilium, much less how an entire cell can come into being from non-existence. After an immeasurably huge investment of time and resources into scientific research on cilia, the best that has been done in terms of substantiating the theory of evolution is apparently to put forth a wholly inadequate model and then submit a plea for others to propel (pun intended) the idea beyond the stage of laughable sophistry.

My point in all of this is that Al Kuelling (the author of the commentary posted at the UMC web site), along with a lot of other people, assume that scientists have “the authority of the hard sciences” behind everything they espouse. In this case, they fully submit to the theory of evolution as defined by the scientific community.

It is frightening what the authority of the label of “science” can lead to when science has been deified as it has been in this culture (and indeed most of the civilized world). Following is a link to a heart-breaking and utterly horrifying example of that. Before you visit the web site, I would caution you that some of the material (words, not pictures) is shocking and vulgar. The article is rather long, but I found it quite compelling, and certainly enlightening. http://www.healthyplace.com/gender/inside-intersexuality/the-true-story-of-john-joan/

In his commentary on the UMC web site, Al Kuelling makes not the first attempt to present a case for theistic evolution. What he does do, and what the Clergy Letter Project does, is state that “people of faith” must accept Darwinian evolution since science has “proven” it is true. They attempt to completely divide science and religion – a task I regard as impossible. I would point out that The Clergy Letter obliges me, and shoots itself in the foot, by providing a prime example of a failure to practice the separation they claims to be so necessary when they write that they, “… believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.” How does having “Christian clergy” endorse a scientific theory fit into their mythical separation?

I do not think the import of The Clergy Letter will be lost on the scientific community. I think they will count it as another defeat of religion at the hands of science. And I think the world will see it that way, too. The church is not pushed out of a position of relevancy but, instead, once again chooses to be irrelevant. How tragic.

Make no mistake. Ideas have consequences. The efforts of mankind to throw off the moral constraints given by God in the Bible will be further bolstered. Man will believe even more firmly that he is the supreme arbiter of right and wrong. Consider this horrifying video clip of Virginia Ironside on British television: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/uk-pundit-to-shocked-tv-host-suffering-children-should-be-smothered/

It is bad enough that I have to battle against the secular world to demonstrate the evidence for the reality of God, the Glory of His Christ, and the Truth of His Word in the Bible. But now I have to battle “Christian clergy,” too?

------------End of E-mail-------------

It wasn't lost on Jim either that our ad campaign of "Open Minds, Open Hearts and Open Doors" was not in the least bit felt. My prayer is for clergy to read this, not for fuel to add to a fire but to get fired up about the Gospel message we have been called to carry to the nations, for the care we are called to give to the needy and for the love we are to show for our enemies.

It seems to me we continue to dilute our influence not because we share about the Way, the Truth and the Life but because we've tried to dictate OUR way, OUR truth and OUR life.



(My thanks to Jim for his years of friendship and permission to post his e-mail)

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