Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Apologetics from Tiananmen Square

This is the week that, 20 years ago, Chinese military opened fire in what has come to be called the Tiananmen Square massacre. There's a marvelous piece here, by the NYT's Nicolas Kristof. In addition, I have a personal story to tell...

It's December 23rd, 1993. I'm speaking to a group of international students at a ski retreat, and one of the breakout sessions I've been assigned is titled, "Science and the Bible". I come prepared to talk about geological discoveries that reinforce my belief that the Bible is largely history. You know the stuff - stories about Jericho's walls falling down, Noah's ark being found, and an explanation for what the Bible meant when it says that the sun stood still. I, the guy who's last science class was basic physics during my first year of college thirteen years earlier, was to explain to these PHD candidates in Biology, Nuclear Physics, Astronomy, and numerous other disciplines, why the evidence is overwhelming that they should believe the Bible based on these scientific discoveries.

In retrospect, the exercise was laughable, as these scientists weren't easily persuaded by what I had to say. For every point, they had a counterpoint. Back and forth we'd go, lobbing grenades of evidence at each other in order to reinforce our beliefs. Finally, when we'd seemingly exhausted ourselves, and the circle feel quiet, an older Chinese gentleman spoke. He'd been silent throughout the comical discussion, except to introduce himself at the beginning as a physicist.

"I am a physicist; and I am a Christian."

Someone asked, "What evidence do you have for your belief in the God of the Bible."

His answer was simple. "I was in Tiananmun square on June 4, 1989. I have seen how men behave when they believe there is no god. It is for this reason I believe, and nothing anyone can say will ever persuade be to go back to my unbelief."

This was an important moment for me. Seeds were planted in those few sentences, that would take root in the soil of my soul, and eventually germinate into an understanding of the interplay of faith and reason that looks as post-modern as modern - and as modern as post-modernity.

The reality is that none of us believe the things we do in a vacuum. We believe (that's faith) for reasons (that's evidence). There's never enough evidence to quench our need for faith. There's never enough faith to quench silence all the questions of the evidence side. We believe "because", and this point we fill in the blank with any number of things. But I'll tell you this - it will never be adequate to fill in the reason and evidence side of this equation with archeology and history, physics and astronomy, because these sciences are nothing more than thesis scientist believe because of their own blend of evidence and faith.

No, the "evidence" side of the equation, I began to discover on that snowy night in '93, is best filled, not with science theory about the rocks of Jericho, but with first hand experience - things like seeing Christians love their enemies, or negatively, seeing those who deny the existence of God mow down women and young people for daring to express their views. The "evidence" in other words, even for this physicist, wasn't found in the stars, it was found in the actions of humans.

Jesus talked about this too. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples...."

Dostoyevsky said something too. (see top quote of this)

I hope we're listening and, as a result of what we hear, intent on letting our light shine.


At 4/6/09 15:47, Blogger BenMc said...

Kristof's article is a very, very good one, I second that motion.

As a scientist I was drawn not to the first Dostoevsky quote but the third one: the one about loving the leaves and the other structures of the natural world. To me that reaffirms the value of looking at the world with both eyes open, with science, and putting it together with faith, a natural theology. Not as evidence to bludgeon the unbelievers but as a good and wonderful creation.

So I hope that there's room for both science and faith in our conversations.

(As you can tell I disagree with Karl Barth on this point ...)

At 4/6/09 18:04, Anonymous Jenny said...

Thanks for the wise thoughts, the chilling picture on this sad day (it's good to be reminded of people standing up against the odds, lest we forget), and the direction towards Dostoevsky words. All in all, it made me think. I appreciate that.

At 4/6/09 21:23, Blogger Sean said...

What was the name of the Christian physicist who was at Tienanmen Square?

At 5/6/09 08:52, Anonymous Geoff said...

just being annoyingly picky... but I think you meant "light" in your last sentence. :-)

Thanks for the post, Richard.

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