I Don’t Know

I have given many talks in my life – at symposia, seminars, conferences. I always liked public speaking (being the egotist that I am), but my favorite part was the questions. Some were easy. Sometimes I got a question that actually opened a new way of looking at things for me. And, at least once for every talk, I got a question that I answered with “I don’t know.” Usually I would elaborate: we haven’t done those experiments yet, or the literature is contradictory, or I haven’t even thought of that issue before, or the data is equivocal, or even that I know someone has addressed this but I don’t remember what they found. I had no problem admitting my ignorance, and no one ever held it against me. Admission of not knowing is an integral part of science. I have heard top level scientists say that same thing many times.

Although I have done no new research for many years, I still say “I don’t know”, especially when asked questions related to my Christian faith. Examples: If you think evolution is true, how could there have been sin in the world before the fall of man? I don’t know. If you believe God created the universe, who created God? I don’t know.

Is this OK? Aren’t we supposed to have all the answers? No, we aren’t. It’s nice to have some answers. Like “Scripture never says that Adam was the first man” or “My faith in Christ as savior is not subject to objective proof”. I actually do have a lot of answers, and I keep working on finding more. But I know I will never have them all.

In science we have learned that every answer leads to new questions. I think that is also true in theology, and for me that is a strong pointer to God. We are not supposed to know everything, but we are supposed to keep learning. It is the process of learning, about the natural world, about God, about our souls and our bodies, that makes us human and obedient to God’s will, as His image bearers.

There are some people who seem to have all the answers. Some are scientists, and some are theologians or philosophers. When anyone says that all is clear and they will explain it to you, walk away: they aren’t worth listening to. They are wrong. They are no longer seekers of truth, but advertisers of a product. To find the truth, we must take wrong turns, get lost, go up blind alleys, make mistakes. In other words, we must learn. And in our lifetimes, this learning will never end. That is the beautiful truth of our constantly surprising, always challenging universe, designed by a Creator whose omniscience is reflected in the unending complexity of every aspect of reality.

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4 Responses to I Don’t Know

  1. Almost Iowa says:

    Years ago, I worked for the American Lutheran Church. Not in a theological capacity, heaven forbid, but as an IT guy. Yeah, God uses computers. Not being religious at the time (I still may not be, who knows), the job put me among some very knowledgeable religious colleagues.

    One day, a pastor was telling me about growing up in a small Texas town. His father was the pastor and the undertaker, his mother was the nurse and the school teacher. He said his family brought people into the world, educated them, attended to their health and spiritual needs and buried them. They were a integrated full service shop – not an unusual thing in the old days.

    I was impressed and said something to the effect, “your family had all the answers.”

    He looked at me oddly for a moment and said, “Not really, they just had a knack for helping their flock through the questions.”

    It took me a while to think that through.

  2. Don Royster says:

    Unfortunately America seems to be going through an anti-science period. It is one of the attributes that distinguishes fundamentalism of all religions. We Americans not only will go through all sorts of twists and turns to deny Darwin and the age of the earth and the universe. Even more dangerous, we deny the very fact of the scientific evidence for global warming and weather changes. A long time ago, I came to a conclusion about the true nature of the first chapter of Genesis. It lays out the Who but it doesn’t explain the What or the How, and that isn’t its job. When I lay down the evolutionary process beside the creation story, I find something very interesting. The order of development is the same. It’s just that it took millions of years for each day to occur. As St. Peter once wrote, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” He was simply reaffirming what the Psalmist said in Psalms 90:4. And I speculate that Peter and the Psalmist would have little trouble saying that a day is like a billion years. Because so many churches expect me to deny my intelligence and my political beliefs and follow the party line, I have more or less given up on churches. Some years ago I was searching for a church. Some of the churches I might have attended put out the motto: No Democrats allowed in the kingdom of heaven.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Don, and welcome to the Book of Works. I came to Christ from atheism, and I hate the idea of a party line (having been exposed to the original meaning of party line as a youth). I spent a great deal of time unchurched, being wary of exactly what you are talking about. I eventually joined a United Methodist Church in Maryland (suburban DC) where I am not only welcomed, but appreciated, and the pastor asked to present a course on science and faith, using materials from Francis Collins. So I feel blessed and lucky.

    I have online friends who think like you and I (accepting both Christ and modern science) outside of my church and some of them have also brought up the issues you do. You can find them at the facebook group called Celebrating Creation through Natural Selection, or at the web site of the Biologos Foundation, and elsewhere. We call ourselves Evolutionary Creationists or Theistic Evolutionists. I look forward to seeing more of your comments here, and perhaps elsewhere as well. For now, all the best for this holiday season, and Happy New Year.

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