For some time, there has been significant debate about whether or not the facts in the Bible are true. This debate has been framed in a variety of ways. In the early twentieth century, biblical scholars searched for evidence of the historical Jesus. School boards consider the merits of biblically based creationism and theories of intelligent design. Working groups of scientists and theologians consider whether one can accept the findings of science and remain a person of religious faith. In this debate, the goal seems to be to prove whether the Bible, Christian belief, or tenants of any faith are factually true.
I am a Christian. I am a social scientist – a psychologist. I enjoy and appreciate learning about other sciences including astronomy, evolutionary biology, and physics. Knowing that all life evolved on earth over time is not inconsistent with my faith as a Christian. That’s because I don’t consider the facts of the Bible to be of any particular significance. I believe that the Bible is true, but the facts — well, probably not so much.
Biblical scholars have long demonstrated that there is no evidence to support that a wide variety of biblical figures ever existed including Abraham and Sarah, the other patriarchs and matriarchs, and even less ancient people like Ruth and Job. There’s no evidence that Hebrews were slaves in Egypt or that any pharaoh set them free. The historic evidence suggests that in his life time, Jesus was just one of many wandering Jewish teachers with a message about the coming realm of God, which was due to arrive in what we know today as the first century of the Common Era. Yet, I affirm that the Bible is true. But that truth isn’t in its facts.
I’ve found myself challenged as to how to describe this truth in a sufficient way. Recently, while reading Krista Tippett’s book, Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit, I found a way to describe this truth. While being interviewed by Tippet, V.V. Raman, a theoretical physicist, spoke about the two kinds of truth found in poetry. Poetry can be studied from an analytical perspective which defines the rhyming scheme and structure of a poem. Knowing that a poem is in traditional haiku form or iambic pentameter conveys a certain kind of analytic truth about it. But this analytic truth doesn’t convey the multiple levels of meaning which may be found in the poem or the emotion that the post tried to express.
In a similar way, a scientific examination of life provides us with an analytic understanding of the evolution of life which physicists commonly hold began with the Big Bang. But the truth of science is just one dimension of the larger realm of truth. When the great religions of the world examine life, they convey a sense of the meaning of life, its wonder and mystery. Truth related to meaning and wonder are subjective truths. Religious truth is not based on objective fact but on the subjective experience of life as something mysterious that should be approached with reverence.
My faith as a Christian is inspired by the rich meaning and wonder which my ancestors in faith shared. Whether Noah built an arc, whether animals were on the boat in two pairs each or seven pairs each (the Bible says both things) really doesn’t matter to me. What stories like that of Noah teach me is something of the meaning of life as special, unique, and sacred. It is this subjective reality which is beyond the realm of objective science.
What good is religion if the facts aren’t true? The heart of religion should draw the follower deeper into the truth of the mystery and wonder of life itself. When it does so, religion is indeed very good.
(Originally posted July 29, 2010)
© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.