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FIRST-PERSON: Common sense applies to Sept. 11 & naturalism, evolutionary theory

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A hijacked Boeing 767 gets swallowed up — literally — by the glass, concrete and steel of New York City’s WTC north tower, spewing destructive flames in every direction possible. Immediate reaction by the American media and populace: “What a horrible accident! It’s unthinkable! What could be worse than this?” Eighteen minutes later another hijacked aerial torpedo buries itself just as fierily into the neighboring tower to the south. Immediate reaction by the worldwide media and global citizenry: “This was no accident! It couldn’t have happened by chance! Who could have done such a thing?”

Soon to follow, a third and equally unexpected crash of an airliner into the western fifth of the Pentagon results not only in further death but also in an unprecedented shaking of our national confidence.

From astute to dull-witted observers, it didn’t take a full-blown, sophisticated analysis of Sept. 11’s events to realize that, on a basic common sense level, the attack on America had been just that — a well-planned, skillfully executed assault carried out by way of a designing agent, one whose sinister intentions were far from makeshift. Discerning this to be the case was simply an immediately known matter, intuited without undue complication.

Yet the Public Broadcasting System’s recent seven-part presentation called “Evolution” managed to meet the usual network obligation to maintain its naturalistic agenda at all costs, to uphold the scientific community’s longstanding, evolution-sponsoring status quo to the max. No surprise there! This could only mean, then, that the universe must be the way the scientific powers-that-be say it is, with its intricate disclosure — from quark to cell to humans to cosmic happenings — being nothing more than a “glorious accident,” as a handful of leading scientists phrased it some years ago.

It’s funny, however, that what Joe and Jane Citizen understand innately to be a malevolent intentionality at work, as far as terrorist attacks go, gets reworked to mean that something on the order of a life-engendering universe with volitional creatures inhabiting it is to be decreed as an anti-supernatural chance event.

More often than not, faith-embittered scientists along the lines of the English-bred Richard Dawkins (prominently featured in the PBS series) are the ones who take such an anti-common sense stance, who resolutely refuse to see a designing Who behind it all. It seems to be a case of signals of transcendence getting suppressed, as we read in Romans 1.

Everything going into the actual structuring and sustaining of a universe is certainly several orders of complexity beyond that of the comparatively simple structuring and carrying out of some terrorist plot, knowing as we do that there’s a who at work behind any such evil scheme. To acknowledge this as theistically persuasive when it comes to beneficent cosmos-making represents a stance far more rationally reflective and cogent than the evolutionary counterpart mechanism its adherents christen as “chance.” My oh my, isn’t it odd of God to exist and to design and to sustain those designs?

The tyranny of terrorism is obviously alive and well and flourishing, the U.S./British incursion into Afghanistan notwithstanding. Within the context of the whole naturalist-chance/theist-intentionality debate, there’s another form of tyranny at work here as well — the tyranny of the incumbent view. Insofar as the naturalistic/evolutionary worldview still predominates as academe’s terra firma, we’re driven to wonder about the extent to which our church folks, children and bedside communities have had their faith and confidence in the God of the Bible shaken as a result of its teachings. Perhaps more than we know or care to think about.

Personally, the most striking facet of the PBS series was its conclusion. For me it served as a poignant testimony — as a wake up call, if you will — to the fact that if we should ever find Baptist folks among us who understand the importance of acquiring some measure of worldview wits and savvy, they should next be taught how to stop playing altogether to the evolutionary script, ubiquitous as it is. Whether acted out nationally through some powerful PBS-like medium or inside the generation-shaping classrooms of America itself, secular or quasi-Christian, the script needs rewriting.

I say this only because I’m somewhat upset, disturbed even, with the fact that some of the Christian students interviewed for the PBS series showed unmistakable signs of willful concession to evolutionary theory. Perhaps not to the point of abandoning their Christian beliefs altogether, but at least to the extent of adopting some variety of theistic evolution, seemingly being taught and propagated with evident impunity in a number of Christian institutions of higher learning. Students — yes, even Southern Baptist students born and bred — buying into the evolutionary bill of goods should be seen for the distressing state of affairs that it is. After listening carefully to the youthful PBS interviewees reared in Christian homes, a dire realization kicked in: The height to which any particular evolutionary wave can swell, if the academic winds go unchecked, is far enough above sea level to destroy the Christian nurture so faithfully provided by godly caring parents.

To the degree, then, that worldview defections from Christian theism really take place, either within the SBC or otherwise, it’s to this same degree that we’ve failed to communicate to impressionable young minds the foibles and weaknesses of the naturalistic/evolutionary approach to reality. As a consequence, we should now begin taking steps to change this hopefully latent state of affairs whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Granted that precious numbers of Southern Baptist folks have been prone historically to accept any number of doctrinal aberrations for lack of having initially been taught correctly, adhering to naturalism and/or evolutionary theory is something we can, should and must curtail. We must begin working harder to bring these two worldviews — ultimately metaphysical in nature — to a timely end within our various spheres of influence, Southern Baptist or otherwise.

While it’s true there’s a sense in which the 21st century’s historical direction has already been defined as a result of Sept. 11’s national/global tragedy, the destruction of another set of twin towers — naturalism and evolution — is fully warranted and, strangely enough, anti-terrorist in nature. For these two particular towers to fall from great heights to ground zero could only save lives.
Ostrander is associate dean and associate professor of Christian theology at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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  • Hal Ostrander