Self-Contradiction

On Monday of this week Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, where he made some startling statements about God and creation. I am not Catholic, but the statements of the Pope carry tremendous weight among Catholics and are often carefully considered by non-Catholics as well, in no small part to determine the course of the Catholic church and its adherence to Scripture.

In his comments, Francis said, “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so.” I do not think he is calling God a magician here, but his use of the magician as an illustration could be seen as poignant or inappropriate. Regardless, the real problem is his statement that God was not able to “do everything.” Indeed, this goes well beyond an assertion that evolution, even theistic evolution, is consistent with the Bible. Instead, it asserts that God is not omnipotent. By suggesting that God was not able to do everything, Pope Francis is suggesting that God is not God–or at least is not God as the Bible presents Him. Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27 and Luke 1:37, that nothing is impossible for God. God Himself said, in Jeremiah 32:27, “Is anything too hard for Me?” This, of course, was a rhetorical question, with the understood answer of “no.”

Now, Francis’s remarks grow confusing in his next paragraph because immediately after suggesting that God did not create everything, he said, “He [God] created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” If God created human beings then the macroevolution espoused by Darwinists is not true, since it holds that humans evolved over millenia from non-humans. Indeed, Francis continues to try to straddle the fence, saying later, “creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things.” Francis’s comments will no doubt confound evolutionists, too. If God created human beings, where does the “millenia and millenia” come from? The only possible explanation is the “gap theory,” which holds that there is a significant gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, meaning that God created the heavens and the earth, and then there was a long expanse of time before the six days of creation. There are significant problems with this theory from a biblical standpoint, not least of which is that it presumes the existence of death and dying before sin entered the world.

In keeping with his self-contradiction, Francis says that God is not a “demiurge.” This is an unfamiliar term, meaning, in Platonism, the one who made the world. In Gnosticism it refers to a supernatural being who created the world in subordination to God, and may also have been the originator of evil. Whatever Francis may have in mind, he seems to be saying that God did not create the world as we know it, even though he just said before that that God created human beings, and he says immediately after that God is “the creator who gives being to all things.”

Immediately thereafter Francis said, “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” And thus the contradictions continue… God is not a divine being? I cannot even imagine what Francis has in mind with that statement, so I will not try to guess. It simply makes no sense, particularly given the other statements Francis is making at the same time. And if God is not a divine being then what, one is left to wonder, is He? The opposite of “divine” is “earthly, ordinary, ungodly or unholy.” If God is not a divine being, then, He is not God! And again, Francis follows his statement that God is not a divine being by saying that God is “the Creator who brought everything to life.”

About the only thing that Francis says that is correct is that evolution is not inconsistent with the notion of creation–if by that he means microevolution within a species. Given the convoluted statements he made in the rest of his address, though, one has to seriously question whether or not that is what he had in mind. If he had evolution between species in mind then not only is he wrong, but he is contradicting himself again since he already said that God made human beings.

These comments from Pope Francis serve to reinforce the danger that comes from getting ones understanding of God from the decrees of a earthly leader. This is not specific to Catholicism, by the way. Protestant denominations have various structures of leadership, whether it includes a denominational president, district bishops or simply the pastor of the church. All of these individuals are human and therefore fallible. Our faith must be based on the Word of God, not on anything that man has to say. God has gifted many humans with the ability to teach, and those teachers whose teaching is consistent with God’s Word can help us to understand the Scriptures. We must always test the Scripture against the Scripture and the teaching of humans against the Scriptures. When there is an inconsistency the Scriptures must always “win.” And when the human leader teaches inconsistently and self-contradictorily, one must question whether the teaching should be given any merit at all.

“Abandoning the battle for the Bible”

A few months ago the board of trustees at Bryan College in Tennessee decided that it would insist that all of its faculty members adhere to a clarification to its statement of faith that makes clear that God created Adam and Eve in specific acts of creation–not through starting a process from which Adam and Eve eventually evolved.

According to a May article on insidehighered.com, this clarification has been deemed by many to be “too narrow” and has resulted in the departure of at least two faculty members, a vote of no confidence in the school’s president by the faculty and a variety of student protests.

The article explains that the Bryan College statement of faith previously included this statement on Adam and Eve: “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty clear to me. Then again, I believe the Bible means an actual 24-hour day when it describes the days of creation in Genesis. Apparently a number of those who claimed that they agreed with this statement in the past do not agree, since they have been squawking ever since the school made this clarification: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

The article also quotes some talking points presented at the faculty meeting prior to the no confidence vote by Phil Lestmann, a Bryan professor mathematics and head of its natural sciences division, in which Lestmann claimed that the clarification “pretend[s] that a very complex issue is really very simple and straightforward” and “possibly put[s] the college into too small a scientific or theological box.” Therein, of course, we find parts of the problem. The issue in fact is “very simple and straightforward” when you believe the Bible means what it says. Only by reinterpreting it or by trying to make the Bible (God’s Word) fit with science (man’s interpretation or understanding) does any complexity come into the matter. Speaking for myself, a “small…theological box” is exactly where I would want to be, and want my school to be, assuming that box is the one claiming the Word of God to be inerrant. After all, Jesus Himself created a “theological box” that could not be any smaller–when He said “no man comes to the Father but by Me” he was not leaving any room for discussion.

Apparently the student government at Bryan has objected to the clarification because the school’s charter says that its statement of faith cannot be changed. An open letter from the student government appearing in a February issue of the school’s newspaper said, “We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.”

I would suggest that what is unfair is the very need for the clarification in the first place. After all, fiat means “an authoritative decree, sanction, or order” or “an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it.” The original statement of faith asserts “the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God.” To suggest that fiat, act of creation and was created allow for some understanding other than that being made clear in the recent clarification is simply absurd. The reality is that Bryan has apparently been lax in enforcing its own statement of faith until this recent clarification and some faculty members have not felt troubled by the fact that they were annually signing a statement of faith with which they did not really agree. If someone consistently drives ten miles over the speed limit without getting a ticket he cannot then cry foul when a law enforcement officer finally does pull him over and issue the ticket. Getting away with something in the past is no justification for eliminating consequences for it in the future.

In the May 3 issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky, with whom I do not always agree, made a poignant and powerful statement about the importance of this issue. “Many Christian liberal arts colleges assert that their goal is to teach students how to think and not what to think. That is laudable in most areas, but should it mean that colleges do not care if students graduate with the belief that the Bible is merely a book compiling man’s fallible teaching rather than God-inspired wisdom?” Olasky asks. He answers his own question thusly: “In such an environment, a Christian college that proclaims it will just throw out to students a variety of theories and let them decide, is abandoning the battle for the Bible.” Olasky is exactly right, and his point is precisely why it is so imperative that Bryan College, as well as other Christian colleges, Christian schools and churches establish clear and accurate statement of faith and insist wholeheartedly that they are adhered to; anything else is a surrender to man’s reinterpretation and is inconsistent with Scripture.