Last time I mentioned three different substitutes for the Bible as the central organizing precept for one’s world view.
It’s important to recognize that whatever substitute we accept, it must resemble the very best in some way. Ancient peoples worshiped gods associated with storms, thunder, the seas, the sun. That’s not because they were stupid. After all, who has not watched a thunderstorm approach, or witnessed a nearby stroke of lightning, without a sense of awe. The ancients worshiped what they recognized as awe-inspiring. That’s an undeniable attribute of God.
And so it is with us. The false gods we choose must resemble very closely what our idea of God is. I placed the Bible at the center of my belief system because it reveals God to me. So whatever substitute a person chooses will be something that they believe reveals God to them.
In my encounters with believers today, I see three popular substitutes: Knowledge, Mercy, and Justice. Each of them meets the requirement of appearing godlike. Each of them is, in fact, an attribute of God. And that makes them highly seductive.
We shouldn’t be surprised to see Knowledge on this list. It was after all the original temptation. The Serpent told Eve a partial truth: that if she ate of the fruit, she would be like God, knowing good and evil. Previously, she had only known good. On eating the fruit, she gained knowledge: She soon knew evil.
Knowledge, the proverb tells us, is power, and we all lust for power. The knowledge we lust after takes many forms, but these days the most common candidate to become the sun in our system of belief is science. In fact, the Latin word scientia, from which our word science derives, means knowledge. For many today, science trumps everything else. And no wonder. Science, and its handmaid technology, does amazing things, even to the point of turning organs from cadavers into living organs for rejection-proof transplants! Truly, some of science’s achievements seem magical. Perhaps most seductive of all, in an uncertain world, it appears to add a measure of predictability and control to our lives.
In the advanced world we rely on technology literally 24/7. When a major storm disrupts the power grid, we realize how dependent we are. So we depend on science both for our present needs and to predict or control our future. That easily becomes total reliance, and whatever we rely on totally is de facto our god.
With the present and the future entrusted to science, only the past remains. And there we encounter the defining issue. Science and the Bible could not differ more radically about the past; the origin and age of life on earth, and the function of death.
I will not in this limited space attempt even a cursory examination of all the issues involved in origins. But how you view the question reveals what is the center of you belief system. Which explanation of origins gets the benefit of the doubt? Do you seek the answer to the question of origins by seeking to know more about the Bible, or do you seek to harmonize the Bible with what science claims? The one that takes priority is your actual god. And every god is a jealous god, and will accept no rival.
Science is very seductive discipline. One of three laws from famous science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis tells us that science and magic resemble each other for good reason:
The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. . . .
There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious — such as digging up and mutilating the dead. . . .
The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. [The scientist] rejects magic because it does not work; but his goal is that of the magician.
For many today, knowledge, in the form of science, has become the central truth by which all others are judged. I have already looked at some of the failures of science as the sun in our universe. But what lies beneath that is the desire for power. Power to prolong human life, power to give ease, power even to feed the hungry. But as Charles Colson once wrote, “Power is like salt water; the more you drink, the thirstier you get.”
And the power of knowledge leads to pride. As Paul warned the Corinthians, “Knowledge makes [us] arrogant.”
In the end, that is enough to make putting any kind of knowledge at the center of our belief system fatal, for we know that God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. Only grace can save us; from sin, from death—from ourselves.