This article was originally published in the March 2004 ABR E-Newsletter.
My former job as a nuclear engineer for the National Nuclear Security Administration used to require me to take frequent trips to the countries of the former Soviet Union. Occasionally, I had the opportunity to make contact with local Christian communities in these countries. It was a real privilege to fellowship with my brothers and sisters there, who often have inspiring stories to tell about their survival under the former communist regime. And they were always happy to meet believers from other parts of the world, from which they were isolated so long.
One thing that usually amazed them is that I, as a professional trained in the physical sciences, believe the Bible to be true. This combination is an extreme rarity in their experience. During the communist times, the churches managed to survive, sometimes underground, in spite of hostility and persecution from the State. But the congregations consisted primarily of little old babushkas, maybe a few laborers and factory workers, but very few educated people, and most certainly no scientists or nuclear engineers. That's because all of their education was officially atheistic. They were taught in their schools from kindergarten to the university that Christianity was a fairy tale, and that scientific facts, or historical facts, simply could not be reconciled with the stories of the Bible.
We have been heading in the same direction in the U.S. for some time now, and, without meaning to sound alarmist, it seems to me we are reaching an intellectually equivalent endpoint. What concerns me most is not the elimination of prayer from our schools, nor the teaching of macroevolution as fact from kindergarten to the University, nor the elimination of the Ten Commandments from public places. Don't get me wrong, these are all very serious issues. But, what will do more damage to Christianity in the long term is the teaching that fact and faith are antithetical, or plainly stated, that facts and faith don't mix. Our public educational system is teaching our children that facts, especially scientific facts, are one thing, and the Bible is something quite distinct from it. The Bible, they claim, is a matter of "faith," not fact. And, in the minds of people who make these claims, our freedom of religion is restricted to the realm of faith as well. You are free to believe anything you want, just don't make any claims for your religion to be factual. Such a claim not only mixes up faith and fact, but, for you to claim that YOUR religion is based on fact is considered to be quite "intolerant" of all the other "faiths" that happen to disagree with yours.
The worst thing in this dire situation is that many Christians, including evangelicals, and the majority of the clergy, have been quite content to go along with this! A recent Barna Research Group poll finds that more than half of seminary graduates in the ministry believe that the Bible is neither accurate, nor contains absolute truth (i.e. it is not "factual!"). Our secular universities, of course, had written off the Bible years ago as a set of pious stories which may have religious instructional value, but certainly no factual basis. (My friends in Eastern Europe were use to a slightly different name for it, i.e. "religious propaganda"). But just how far this mindset has penetrated our Christian universities is illustrated in an article in the March 3 issue of Christian Century, in which Robert Benne discusses the struggle for the leadership of a prominent Protestant university in the U.S. (Robert Benne, "Crisis of Identity"). Many tenured professors at this school insist that they cannot strive for academic excellence and also teach Christianity. Although they consider themselves Christians, in their opinion, Christianity is devoid of "intellectual content!" It is starting to look like Voltaire is getting his way!
While the majority of Church leaders and shepherds of the Christian flock are fast asleep while the foundation of Christianity is being undermined, there are a few voices sounding the alarm. Phillip Johnson, for example, recognized the enemy's tactics: "the typical tactic is to cede to science the authority to determine the 'facts,' and try to salvage some area for Christian Faith in the realm of 'values.' But since 'values are not granted the status of (factual) knowledge, what you put there is eventually dismissed as subjective fantasy." Johnson writings show us how to respond to the tactics with respect to the issue of macro-evolution ("Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds").
In the area of Biblical archaeology, the tactics are the same. Over two decades ago, Menahem Mansoor, professor emeritus at the U. of Wisconsin-Madison stated: "Biblical archaeology's greatest significance is that it has corroborated many historical records in the Bible. But Biblical archaeology has failed to deter people who seek to validate religious concepts by archaeological finds. These people should not confuse fact with faith, history with tradition, or science with religion." I don't know who, specifically, he was railing against, but it might well have been ABR or like-minded brothers-in-arms. Twenty years later, we seem to have lost further ground, but we are not giving up. We are undeterred, still daring to seek, find, and publicize the FACTS that corroborate the Bible, and laying bare the poor scholarship, erroneous assumptions, and errors in interpretation of those who are trying to prove that the Bible is devoid intellectual content.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
Walter Pasedag is a former Nuclear Engineer with the Department of Energy, and now serves on the ABR Board of Directors.