1. Last month (April 27, 2010), Reformed Academic posted an article Reformed Academic Responds to “Ten Reasons” wherein, among other things, they defend themselves against the charge that they consider Gen.1-2 to be myth. One of their arguments is:
“Third, no resort to ‘myth’ is needed because one can hold both that the theory of biological evolution and the text of Genesis 1-2 are true by suspending judgment as to how they fit together. This is the position Dr. Jitse van der Meer takes in “Humankind: The Image of God and Animal Ancestry”.
This is an intriguing defence: that it is possible--and permissable--to hold two contradictory beliefs as long as you suspend judgment as to how they can be reconciled.
Dr. van der Meer, in the (Aug.17, 2009) paper cited, ascribes this notion to Dr. Terry Gray. Gray had been suspended from his office as ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for asserting that Adam had animal ancestors. Recently, Gray relates:
“The censure was to suspend me indefinitely from the office of ruling elder…until January 1998 when I was restored after recanting of my views. My recantation was not a denial of primate ancestry, but rather an admission that I did not know how to hold my views about human evolution together with the uniqueness of Adam as taught in the Confessions and in Scripture. This small step back from my previous assertion was satisfactory to the church elders. I did not violate my conscience in this and continue to this day to have no firm idea about how to put all the pieces together. “
Van der Meer concurs with such suspension of judgment. He contends that respecting both Scripture and nature means that sometimes
there is more integrity in leaving apparent conflicts unresolved than in solving it to the detriment of our understanding of either Scripture or nature. This is my position with respect to the question of the common ancestry of humans and chimpanzees that is strongly suggested by the genetic evidence.
2. One is reminded of George Orwell’s famous (1949) novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. This novel describes a terrifying vision of life in the future when a totalitarian government watches over all citizens and controls all thought. One very useful government tool is the notion of doublethink: the act of simultaneously accepting as correct two mutually contradictory beliefs:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink... (Orwell, 1984, p.32)
For example, doublethink enabled workers in the Ministry of Truth to falsify public records, and then believe in the new history that they, themselves, had just written. Doublethink's self-deception allowed the Party to realize huge goals. Together with state propaganda and state police, it hid the government's evil not just from the people, but from the government itself.
Doublethink consists of a wilful intellectual blindness to contradictions in a belief system. In Orwell's novel it differed from ordinary hypocrisy in that the "doublethinking" person deliberately had to forget the contradiction between his two opposing beliefs—and then deliberately forget that he had forgotten the contradiction. He then had to intentionally forget the forgetting of the forgetting, and so on. Orwell described such pragmatic self-deception as "controlled insanity".
3. Is it possible to genuinely hold two conflicting beliefs simultaneously? Usually this leads to mental stress known as "cognitive dissonance". One way to relieve the stress is not to try to reconcile the conflicting beliefs. Sometimes the conflict may be only apparent. Consider, for example, the perplexing relation between God's providence and human sin. In this case we are urged not to "curiously inquire further than our capacity allows us...but to content ourselves...to learn those things which He teaches us in His Word, without transgressing these limits" (Belgic Coinfessions, Art.13).
The situation differs when it comes to origins. Here one might face challenges in interpreting the data (e.g., genetic information, fossil, etc.) within a biblical worldview. Nevertheless, we can be confident that biblical solutions will be found. No suspension of judgment is called for.
However, Reformed Academic refers not just to data but to the truth of the theory of biological evolution, including human evolution. Here cognitive dissonance is induced by upholding beliefs from two contradictory worldviews. In this case, the mind will strive to relieve cognitive dissonance by modifying its belief structure. The suspension of judgment will then be only temporary--one of the worldviews must ultimately prevail.
Indeed, in a more recent (Oct.1, 2009) paper van der Meer writes,
One can suspend judgment about the details of the interpretation of the creation stories in Genesis...
From an exegetical point of view we can, therefore, accept the history of life on earth as reconstructed in biology, paleontology and paleoanthropology.
Note well: now there is no longer a suspension of judgment as to evolution, but only regarding Genesis.
4. Finally, one wonders whether Reformed Academic's suspension of judgment is permissable, particularly for officebearers in the church. Dr. Gray, we saw, was re-instated as ruling elder simply by proclaiming to believe in both human evolution and the OPC position, which denies it. This defies elementary logic and makes into a farce the OPC's official stance against evolution.
The Reformed Confessions stress that we are to believe without any doubt all things in the Bible (BC Art.5) and to reject with all our heart whatever does not agree with it (BC Art.7). The Canadian Reformed Form of Subscription, which any officebearer must sign, stipulates:
We promise, therefore, that we will diligently teach this doctrine and faithfully defend it without contradicting it publicly or privately in teaching or writing. We also declare that we reject all errors conflicting with the doctrine expressed in these confessions and promise to oppose, refute and help prevent such errors.
This clearly rules out any "suspension of judgment" between a biblical teaching and its worldly opposite. Rather, the officebearer is obligated to uphold all biblical teachings and, not just to reject, but to oppose, refute and help prevent any errors...such as theistic evolution.