Today we continue our discussion surrounding Crystal Downing’s How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith.
In Chapter 4 Downing develops the idea of “moving foundations” within the Christian faith. She uses as an illustration the fact that foundations for new skyscrapers in Southern California are placed on rollers, enabling them to roll with the movements of the earth during an earthquake so that they won’t crack apart. “The foundations hold strong,” she writes, “precisely because they move.”
The Church operates in much the same way. “Sometimes Christians get so rigidly committed to a certain idea of ‘truth’ as foundational that when the earth, or at least culture, moves under them, their faith develops huge cracks…”
Of course, the best example of this is geocentricism. In Galileo’s day, support for the traditional paradigm of an earth-centered universe was adamantly espoused by the Church. Anyone presenting evidence to the contrary drew accusations of heresy. Even John Calvin argued that “those who assert that the earth moves and turns…[are] motivated by a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding; possessed by the devil, they aim to pervert the order of nature.”
If the survival of the Christian faith were dependent on the earth sitting still, Christianity would have most certainly perished sometime in the 18th century when the existence of a sun-centered solar system became widely accepted by the scientific community and the public. But because the Church successfully evolved, because believers were willing change their minds about the structure of the universe in order for their faith to makes sense in a modern world, what was once considered heretical is now embraced as scientific fact. What was once thought to be an essential, fundamental element of the faith-a geocentric universe-is now considered a ludicrous idea to any educated believer.
I often wonder if the current debate about evolutionary theory might turn out to resemble the fight about geocentricism. I saw in a Christian magazine the other day a headline that read, “Why we must teach our children to be young earth creationists,” as if young earth creationism was one of the most important, unmovable fundamentals of the faith.
I’ll conclude with a quote from Augustine that I really think supports Downing’s theory. Oddly enough, Augustine was writing about the mysteries found within the book of Genesis, when he said, “in matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”
While I don’t think Augustine would want us to abandon the evolution/creation dialogue altogether, I think he might like the idea of leaving a little room in our theology for God to surprise us now and again…even if that surprise involves evolution.