Monday, September 6, 2010

An Open Letter to my Sunday School Teacher

Brother Ricky:

I’m writing this because we really didn’t have a chance to discuss the issue in the short amount of time I had to spend this weekend, but there were a few issues that I’d like to clear up regarding the Sunday School lesson on 9/5/10 over the subject of evolution and the supposed conflict it has with the Judeo-Christian bible.
First and foremost, I’m going to come right out and say that I am a firm believer in the Almighty God of Abraham, creator of the universe and all life found within it. I also firmly believe that the greatest gift God has allowed mankind to have is the human mind. Not only does the mind provide us with the basic knowledge necessary to survive on this planet and become productive servants of Him, but it is also the mind which allows us to make the decision to accept Him as the Lord of our lives.
Along that line of thinking, I feel it does a great disservice to Him, if we make a habit of practicing willful ignorance instead of attempting to better understand the world He has created. Obviously, the Word is a great many things to a great many of His believers. It is a book of law, a provider of comfort, a vessel for the message of Christ, and a great number of other things…as well as being a book describing the history of the world, according to the book of Genesis.

With that being said, Genesis does tell us a great deal about the things He has done, but it also leaves out a great deal concerning HOW he did them. To give my own insight into this idea, let us look to the instruction of Jesus when He tells us to care for the sick. We’d all love to go around performing miracles for everyone we see, but even the most pious man knows it would be much more efficient to use the brain God gave us, and to allow doctors to use their God-given gift of medical knowledge to help an ailing man get well.

In all likelihood, it’s not going to do me any good to spit on some dirt, rub it together, put it over my eyes, pray really hard, and have faith that my blindness will be cured. In all likelihood, I’ll not only be blind, but also very irritated by the dirt in my eyes. God has already provided me the means to go see an optometrist, who has fitted me with the glasses I’m wearing as I write this, and I view the knowledge of my optometrist as a modern-day miraculous cure for my blindness that came as a gift from God. Sight is a gift from God, and for many of us, it comes in the form of knowledge gained through people attempting to understand the life He has created.

In the third verse of my bible, God spoke and created light. It does not say HOW he created light, it does not discuss how many eons may have passed for the billions to the Nth power of molecules were necessary to create the star we know as the “sun”, or if he just whipped them up in some huge cosmic blender and poured it out into a huge ball. My bible tells me spoke it, it happened, and that’s it. Light is a gift of God. The bible didn’t say how He created light, but He did provide Edison with the gift of knowledge that allowed him to invent the incandescent light bulb. That light bulb is how a good many people lit their churches prior to the invention of the fluorescent light bulbs most use now. Light is a gift from God, and for those of us on this Earth lucky enough to have electric light bulbs, it comes in the form of knowledge He has allowed us to gain by studying the creations He has made.

I think of the many people who have lived to pray another day, through the scientific knowledge He has bestowed upon us, and it truly warps my fragile little mind. Imagine how many people were allowed by God to escape starvation and disease, because of Dr. Pasteur’s invention of “pasteurization”. How many Christians wouldn’t be alive today, if it weren’t for the pioneering work of Dr. DeBakey in relation to the human heart?

I can personally bear witness to the awesome and miraculous power of God, via a vessel known as Dr. David Herndon, every time I look down at the scars that engulf my right arm. The next time you see me, take a good long look at it, I likely won’t be wearing long sleeves. You’ll see scars that look like a road map, twisted all around it from the backside of my thumb to the top of my bicep, where the seams of those skin grafts were stapled together. Through the miraculous power of God, I was lucky enough to be the son of a man whose employer offered no health insurance coverage, which in turn kept my local hospital from amputating my right arm after suffering a severe burn at the age of 12 when they found out my father couldn’t afford it. As a result, I was sent to a charity hospital for burned children, where Dr. Herndon was busy pioneering his award-winning methods of grafting the skin of pediatric burn patients. It not only saved my right arm but, potentially, also saved my life due to the infections I would have undoubtedly been dealing with.

Dr. Herndon’s healing ability was not something that simply popped into his head, but was given to him by God in the form of knowledge gleaned from hours of work, research, study, more research, and much more work. He didn’t anoint my head with oils, and he didn’t lay his hands on me. He shaved five strips of skin from my legs and stapled them to my right arm. Tonight, the right arm the local doctor wanted to cut off is now responsible for half of the 65 words per minute I am capable of typing. In addition to that, the index finger of my right hand pulled the trigger on my first buck last year. My right hand was capable of producing several drawings in my art classes that provided for scholarships, which in turn paid for a portion of my education. My right arm reaches down to shift gears in the Jeep you see me driving. It throws darts and regularly allows me to hit my mark, when my father and I are able to spend time together. Tomorrow, it will allow me to utilize the ratchets, screwdrivers, crimpers, and numerous other tools necessary to provide me the means to travel to Ozias Missionary Baptist Church when I’m able get up there so I can hear you give a Sunday School lesson. If that right arm is not a gift from God, I don’t know what is.

Interestingly enough, skin grafting technology is mentioned nowhere in any of my many translations of the bible…nor is optometry, the study of electricity, or any of the myriad other sciences God has granted us the ability to study…but it is no less real, and it is no less a gift from God.

The same holds true with the study of evolutionary theory. I’m not absolutely certain how much formal education you’ve had on the subject, but I know so little about it that I wouldn’t even think of going beyond the mere basics. I was but a mere art student in college, and my experience in the field evolution was yet another gift from God. I know so little about chemistry that it should probably be illegal for me to pump my own gasoline, but was required to take a science course as part of my degree plan. I chose “Biology for Non-Science Majors”, as that was the one available class that semester that was lecture-only and didn’t require a separate lab course!

However, I feel blessed that my professor was not only an award-winning geneticist that has already forgotten more about evolutionary theory than you and I will ever imagine knowing, but also happened to be a very devout and faithful Southern Baptist. We began study of evolution theory about half an hour into the first class, as it is the basic building block of understanding the scientific principle of life. Roughly three seconds into this discussion, a young woman got up to leave, and Dr. Schneider asked where she was going. Her response was something along the lines of “evolution is against my religion”, to which he replied those eight words which have stuck with me ever since that evening.

“God gave you a brain. Start using it.”

One of the other very important things he stressed, that I had heard countless times before (from people as diverse as an astronomer named Carl Sagan, to a rig welder named Rocky Rhodes) was the idea that the more a man learns, the more a man learns how much he truly has to learn.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone identifying himself as a “Christian”, yet disagreeing with the notion that the bible is the inspired word of God. Yet still, I can instantly find twenty one DIFFERENT translations of the Holy Bible, in English…and that’s just the protestant versions!

In my high school years, I studied both Spanish and Latin, and did more translations than I’d ever like to have to think about again. In my three years of Latin studies, one of the main things I learned was that in addition to various rules (and the little quirks) of both the origin and destination languages, there were also many cultural variances that will drastically affect the manner in which a translation ends up. To add to these issues, the King James Bible often utilized by protestant churches is the third translation commissioned by the king of England (King James, obviously!), after King Henry VIII broke with Rome over the issue of an annulment of marriage from one of his various wives.

The original version of the Old Testament was not only written in ancient Hebrew, but was then translated into either ancient Greek or Latin, depending upon which version the English translators were going by. With this in mind, also remember that the original Hebrew was written hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of years after the events of Genesis actually happened.

The Word of God is infallible…but the scribes of God’s word were fallible men, which was personally witnessed by my uncle Sam on Sunday night when he, myself, and my girlfriend read the bible verse he was to memorize. The three of us had three different translations. Sam had a KJV, Tabatha had an NIV, and I was using a St. Joseph’s that belonged to my grandmother’s recently-deceased sister. For the majority of the encompassing passage, all three versions offered the identical conceptual idea, albeit with slightly different wording…except for the latter half of the one particular verse Sam was to memorize. These are three different Christian bibles, being read by three different people, in the same room at the same time. The difference between these versions of what is supposed to be the same work were not contradictory, and neither offered anything that hadn’t been discussed elsewhere, but the concepts were completely different when translated into English. If my memory of Latin class is correct, you can have several different English translations of the same sentence that are all “technically” correct with the applied rules of both languages…but only one will be correct with the intended meaning of the original statement in the original language. Does that mean that Sam’s bible or Tabatha’s bible was incorrect, simply because the Catholic church predates the Anglican church?

Keep in mind, all three versions of Proverbs 11:30 stated things that were teachings of Christ himself, none contradicted the other, but the SJV was different from both the KJV and the NIV. This doesn’t even get into the fact that the original ancient Hebrew of the Old Testament was written long after Abraham’s covenant with God, and had been passed down through oral tradition that predates man’s invention of the written language.

When the Torah was written, mankind was still in the early stages of the written language. The Egyptians were still using hieroglyphics long after Moses led the Israelites through the parting of the Red Sea. “Fire” was relatively old news at the time, and we as a species had already discovered simple machines such as the wheel and the wedge…but it’s silly to say that man was “technologically advanced” in the myriad scientific disciplines when Genesis was first scribbled onto an animal skin using pigment made from plants. DNA was about as foreign of a concept as a cellular telephone…or, for that matter, even a telegraph. At the time of Genesis, the moon was merely a big bright thing in the sky that no one really had a clue about…and yet, through the wonders of the knowledge that He bestowed upon mankind, some very famous words were transmitted via a radio (another unknown idea at the time Genesis was written). It may have been a small step for a man, but it was a giant leap for mankind.

I’m not certain how old you are, but I’m not quite 32 years old. In my short time on God’s green Earth, it hurts my head to think of the numerous things mankind has discovered. Keep in mind that the words “discovered” and “invented” aren’t the same as “created”, for mankind has created nothing. God created everything we see, smell, feel, taste, and hear…as well as everything we think. Even today, our limited understanding of God’s creation is leaps and bounds above what they were as recently as the day I was born. I can still remember seeing a cellular telephone for the first time in real life, one of my uncle’s friends had an old Motorola “brick” phone like you saw in early rap music videos and episodes of Miami Vice. The computers used to put a man on the moon that at the time took up entire rooms, now take residence in our back pockets…and are also capable of simultaneously taking photographs of our families as we take boat trips on the river, and sending them to relatives and friends on the other side of the world. These advances are here because of mankind taking advantage of the gifts that God has given us all.

I am not persecuting or prosecuting you for the lesson you gave yesterday, I am merely hoping that you open your mind a bit. Your mind is a gift from God, and I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t challenge you to use it as much as possible. However, I do feel that it is insulting to those who have studied evolutionary theory, as well as the countless many who have made it their lives’ work to better mankind through the multitude of scientific advances gained via the knowledge of evolution, when people ridicule it without understanding it. Out of respect for Ozias Missionary Baptist Church (and more importantly, my uncle and aunt), my tongue was on the verge of bleeding from biting it so much during your Sunday School class.

Evolutionary theory is one of the most misunderstood, and most misused, theories found within the realm of science and brought into a church. Throughout your entire lesson, you made two statements dealing with the theory of evolution, with the remainder being your thoughts on certain theories of origin.

Many “evolutionists” such as myself firmly believe that the universe was created by THE Almighty God, end of story. However, I know of at least one of these “evolutionists” (yeah, that “evolutionist” would be me!) that happens to think my God has a plan and a purpose for everything. Every single one of those little atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that make up the essential building blocks of human life has its purpose, and this plan has existed since before God commanded the plants to sprout forth from the earth…and absolutely NOWHERE in the various translations of the Judeo-Christian bible (your version, or mine, or any of the other two dozen), does it say how He went about making it happen.

You choose to believe He spoke it, and it “poofed” out of the earth. I choose to believe that He decided to speak it, and had it planned out for longer than you or I can fathom…and He allowed those atoms to form the building blocks of particular species of vegetation that had been extinct since long before the beginning of recorded history, and have since evolved into the Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Washington Red apples I see at the grocery store today.

Our bibles say He spoke it, and it happened. It does not go into detail as to how it happened, and I feel that it does a disservice to God if we do not investigate to the best of our ability HOW our Almighty God weaved his various creations, in order to provide a better life for our fellow man. We will never understand completely, but He will allow us a bit of knowledge as he has done for thousands of years.

Your discussion of the “Big Bang Theory” is, as I said earlier, one scientifically possible theory of “origin”. It deals with the origin of the creation of the universe, not the origin of life…or the first organism’s evolution into other organisms. To lump them together is either scientific ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. Ignorance of science is certainly no character flaw, as I am personally very ignorant in a great many scientific disciplines…including the majority of evolutionary theory.

If memory serves, you work in the area of hydraulic energy transfer, and in all likelihood you understand how much more of that area there is that you could learn. I know very little about that subject, but I know a bit more than the average bear when it comes to building a computer…and, in fact, I built the computer I’m writing this letter on. Daily, I must glean knowledge from those more knowledgeable than myself in order to do my job, simply because I did not create computers and don’t know all there is to know about them.

Is it is not only an insult to those who have made it their lives’ work to improve our lives through scientific advancement, but also an insult to God when we deny the gifts that He has bestowed upon them (and also, by extension, ourselves)? To recognize the evolution of species as a work of God is not, in my opinion, a contradiction of God’s word or His works. To me, it is a praise of God’s glory, a recognition of His awesomeness, when we truly realize how little we really understand about it but attempt to do our best to use the minds He gave us so that we may help our fellow man.

With love from a Brother in Christ,
-Barry H. Rhodes

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