I’ve been watching the evolution wars on a couple of biblioblogs recently (specifically, Exploring Our Matrix and Unsettled Christianity). I appreciate the work Dr. McGrath and Joel (respectively) are doing on the subject. However, I can’t help but think that a sustained, direct war on biblical literalism will, in reality, accomplish little actual change. Likewise, the war on liberal theology waged by the conservative side of Christianity (e.g. Al Mohler, Norman Geisler, et al.) will not effect much change, either. In my opinion, here’s why:
1) The two positions differ from each other in first principles.
On the one hand, Christian liberalism is devoted to follow evidence wherever it leads. If the evidence seems to show, for instance, that life arose on Earth through a process that lasted for millions and millions of years, the good liberal has an obligation to follow this evidence to its logical conclusions, even if that means he/she must re-think what it means for God to have created the world.
In the same way, Christian conservatism is devoted to follow the Bible wherever it leads. If the Bible seems to teach, for instance, that God created everything ex nihilo over the course of six 24-hour days, the good conservative has an obligation to follow this teaching to its logical conclusions, even if it means he/she must re-think the nature of science.
2) Both sides say harsh things about the other, but usually only to their supporters (“preaching to the choir”).
It has long been recognized that humility and charity are two mark of true Christian character (see, for instance, C. J. Mahaney’s excellent little book Humility: True Greatness). However, for some reason, both sides in this debate act with very little charity or humility toward the other. Rather than treating each other like fellow Christians — remember, we’re all trying to follow the faith the best way we know how — both sides treat the other like willful distorters of the truth. Such an attitude had its place in the past, but now is anachronistic. For instance, Tertullian wrote, concerning heretics, that “obstinacy must be conquered, not coaxed” (Scorpiace 2). Such a tactic, though, is ineffective in the end, which brings me to my third point:
3) Harsh and direct fighting only serve to make the other side more convinced of their own superiority.
Think back to the last time you had an argument face-to-face with someone. As the argument went on, which was more tempting: to calmly and rationally examine your own position and see how the other side might inform your position in ways you hadn’t seen, or to entrench yourself deeper and argue even harder for what you already thought? If I were a gambling man, I’d bet that it would be the latter more than the former. When you perceive an attack, whether explicit or implicit, on a system of thought that you cherish, the natural response is to attack right back, not to examine yourself or your way of thinking. Which leads to the conclusion that:
4) If you want to persuade someone to your side, you have to be willing to admit where you’re wrong.
Conservatives: do you want to reclaim a historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3? Then be willing to admit that your position has a hard time explaining scientific data cogently. Liberals: do you want to see evolution accepted as fact by all Christians? Then be willing to admit that to do so entails a radical re-thinking of Christian theology, with which not everyone is comfortable. Both sides: do you want to see an end to this debate? Then be willing to admit that your side does not hold a monopoly on truth; be willing to learn from the other.