In Section Three of this book we have looked at the scriptures, not through modern eyes but through the eyes of the original audience. When we do that and honour the text for what it is, we find spiritual lessons that are timeless.
The ancients believed things to best of their knowledge, in the context of their knowledge in their day. It doesn’t make them wrong by our standards, it simply means that they served God and searched for his truth as best they could with the knowledge they had available. God was very careful to guide them spiritually, but he did not teach man about biology, geography, palaeontology, physics, geology, or chemistry. He left man to explore these on his own and build his knowledge of the natural world. The message in that is loud and clear: the things that God finds important are the spiritual matters, not the natural.
If that’s the case, why have I just written a book explaining natural matters? Why reference the work of our community’s early scholars, knowing full well that at the time they didn’t endorse evolution as a method of creation?
Just because they differ on this point doesn’t make them ‘the enemy’. These men were excellent scholars, and the reason I have made frequent mention of their writings is because of the attitude they adopted towards sound scholarship. Their writings show they were the progressives of their day. Knowledge-boundaries were there to be pushed, not fearfully guarded against new ideas, and we know that from time to time they changed their views on various matters as new insights shaped their thinking. This attitude towards the exploring natural world, didn’t not threaten their perspectives on the spiritual world. In fact, I dare say it actually helped them in their spiritual journey.
I realise this subject won’t be as exciting to everyone as it has been to me, but nevertheless I have been genuinely surprised at the fearful reaction to it. I wanted to understand why this would be so, and it made me wonder about the psychology behind the fearful and aggressive reactions, because sometimes, based on some of the arguments I see and hear, I think we tend to treat “Science vs. Religion” like a team sport. We’re either on one side or the other, and once we have picked a side, there is NOTHING the other team can say to change our thinking. This is a pity, because when our minds are locked into sports-mode we become blind and defensive. As Brian Cox said, “The best discoveries come from minds that have the freedom to inquire…”1
This is why the Bereans were commended for searching things to see if they were correct, and they did so eagerly. The reason they were commended for this is because of the alternative, which demonstrates why it is vitally important that all sides of this debate are able to have honest and open conversations about this topic. If we don’t, the result is behaviour not befitting followers of Jesus, and it applies to all participants in this conversation.
In trying to understand why humans react like this, I came across a research paper that caught my attention because of its amusing title: You Can Lead a Group to Information, but You Can’t Make It Think.2 In this paper, the researchers discuss how they observed situations where people within groups simply refused to process information they did not feel was credible enough. In my words, their minds were in sports-mode. Team A vs. Team B. This is not a new idea in this field of research.
In 1972, Irving Janis became famous for research he published on a phenomenon he called “Groupthink.” This is when members of high-status decision-making groups develop such extreme forms of camaraderie and solidarity that they suppress dissent, valuing group membership and harmony above all else.3 Janis opened the way to much more research on this topic. Over the following years, he and his fellow researchers defined how group cohesiveness was emphasised over critical analysis, and how group members suppressed personal doubts and actively sought to silence dissenters. This led to a “strong belief in the inherit morality of the group, combined with a decidedly evil picture of the group’s opponents,” leading to dehumanising actions against those outside the group.4
This is in contrast to organisations that build groups with members from different areas so that a wider range of information and opinions can be considered. When members of such groups share the information they have, the group as a whole can access a larger pool of information than any one member acting alone, resulting in better decisions.
The research we have at our disposal today, so perfectly describes the situation Jesus experienced with the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. He bought a new ‘information set’ to the group and was utterly dehumanised for it. The Jews thought that they owned all the knowledge about God, and completely rejected any new knowledge presented to them. Their position become one of prohibition, and their faith become a filter to keep new influences out rather than a compass to guide an inquiring mind. 5
We have such a profound opportunity to be leaders in the way we take God’s word into a new age, and God will not punish anyone for searching for the truth. Guided by the compass of faith, we have so much for our inquiring minds to explore. The Bible is a beautiful book that teaches about purpose and the love of God. Modern science is teaching us about things that until recently were invisible to God’s people. I find that thrilling and exciting, something to be explored enthusiastically.
1 Brian Cox, In Search of Science (BBC TV Documentary, 2013) https://goo.gl/HTpYjS
2 AR Dennis, Information Exchange and Use in Group Decision Making: You Can Lead a Group to Information, but You Can’t Make It Think (MIS Quarterly, 1996) vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 433-457.
3 P Hart, Irving L. Janis’ Victims of Groupthink, (Political Psychology, 1992) Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 247-278
4 M Turner and AR Pratkanis, Twenty-five years of groupthink theory and research: lessons from the evaluation of a theory (Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 1998) 73:105-15.
5 Eliezer Schnall, Michael J. Greenberg, Groupthink and the Sanhedrin (Journal of Management History, 2012) Vol18 Iss3 pp. 285 – 294