Friday, 14 June 2013

Once again, my aims for this website

John  Bedson is a Christadelphian atheist (to use his term which I regard as something of an oxymoron, but nonetheless am willing to use as he prefers it) has made a few comments over at the Facebook page. In light of these, a summary post at the blog is indicated.

My goals here are fairly simple:
1. Demonstrate that historical Christadelphian theology is not affected by evolution as we do not believe in Original Sin (which requires universal human descent from Adam in order for the guilt and consequences of Adam's sin to be genetically transmitted) or the immortality of the soul (at what point would one insert an immortal soul into the human line?).

2. Show that while our community has never officially accepted evolution, prior to its infection with fundamentalism in the mid-20th century, it was willing to work with the best of contemporary scholarship in order to refine its understanding of the Bible. No one should ever say that Thomas, Walker or Roberts would have been evolutionary creationists if they were alive today. What we can say is that they did not regard the scholarship of the day (astronomy, geology, textual criticism) as an enemy. I am not so pretentious as to claim that I am their intellectual heirs so much as to say that I am working within what I regard as the trajectory our community would be following had fundamentalism and YEC not derailed us in the mid-20th century.

3. Point out special creationism arguments made by many in our community for the mendacious nonsense that they are, and show how positing a YEC/Christian vs evolution/atheist dichotomy will eventually drive out the intellectually honest members of our community.

As this is my page, I can do what I want, so if you grow weary of references to contemporary and not so contemporary thinking from the best of modern Christian scholarship, you can always find another website to browse. :) Having said that, given the presence of over 40 articles written by myself on subjects ranging from theology in the light of evolution to the ANE background of Genesis, I would argue that I have written more than enough to provide something more than an outline of what a Christadelphian perspective on evolution is.

I admit to being seriously worried about a gaping lacunae in your understanding of N.T. Wright who is hardly a wooly-headed liberal, but very much a theological conservative, and one of the most influential NT scholars alive today. He is very much of interest to any Christadelphian who interacts with contemporary Christian scholarship, given his views on the New Perspective on Paul, and his rejection of the naive belief that a disembodies soul wafts its way to heaven after death.

While I am reluctant to recount personal anecdotes for their own sake, I must point out that I have been where you are. Almost 28 years ago, my YEC faith crumbled when I went to university and read outside the Christadelphian circle. I patched it up into an OEC model, but seven years later I had another crisis of faith over similar issues, and was effectively an unbeliever for a few months, just going through the motions at my ecclesia. Over the best part of the following decade, I rebuilt my faith from the ground up, using what can only be called the scientific method. In short, my understanding of the Bible is constructed so that it can be falsified, and will be revised in the light of new evidence. I'm not on a slippery slope towards unbelief. Nor am I a Christadelphian atheist in denial. Been there. Done that. Got the T shirt It's been a difficult pathway moving from YEC to evolutionary creationist, but the end result is a robust, honest, authentic faith.

That brings me to my final reason for maintaining this page, showing others who are going through the problems I have faced that they do not have to do it alone. In many ways, this is the most exciting time to be a Christadelphian. Our traditional theological position is being vindicated as academic Christian scholarship converges on many of those positions we've always held. Evolutionary biology, as Jerry Coyne accurately notes, makes Original Sin and the atonement model built on it untenable. However it leaves our original position essentially untouched.

I do worry John that even though you are no longer a theist, you are still a fundamentalist in your understanding of the Bible. I've seen this pattern all too often among unbelievers from a Christian background, whose intellectual trajectory tends to follow this path:
  • Pre-crisis: The only way to read the creation narratives is literally
  • Crisis: Science shows that this is false
  • Post-crisis: Therefore, I can no longer believe the Bible
  • Encountering evolutionary creationism: However, I still think that the only way to read the creation narratives is literally, which means these Christians who read Genesis as a polemic against ANE creation myths, see Gen 1 as a depiction of the world as the Palace-Temple of God, and believe that God accommodates a limited human position in order to accommodate his theological message to that worldview are on the path to atheism, but don't know it because they have rejected literalism.
Needless to say, it demonstrates that the ex-Christian still remains a fundamentalist in his understanding of the Bible. The theological horizon is far wider than fundamentalism John.

Finally, there's the risk of cognitive dissonance. If you've set out to make a name for yourself as a Christadelphian atheist, and encounter believers who do not regard evolution as lethal to belief, regard the life of the mind as fundamental for an informed faith, and do not regard contemporary scholarship as evil, you have two choices:
  • Accept the possibility that your atheism may have been founded on emotion, non-rational reasons, and come to those people humbly, willing to learn to see if the faith of your youth is indeed rational.
  • Eliminate the dissonance by pretending that they're merely half-way on the path to being a Christadelphian atheist, and confidently predict their imminent defection.
It's not only believers who are plagued by cognitive dissonance, John. We Chistadelphian theists are always there to help you find your way back to belief.