“How Little We Know”
In 1899 David Lipscomb wrote about “The Bible and Evolution” and “The Bible and Geology,” topics that Lipscomb had “studied . . . in my younger days.” Lipscomb was disinclined to accept the view that the “day” of Genesis 1 “was an indefinite length of time,” thinking that it was an “ordinary day of twenty-four hours.” Yet, Lipscomb hastened to add, “We have not felt sure about this, but the style naturally suggests the common day.” The plain text of Genesis seemed to suggest that a “day” was a twenty-four hour day, but Lipscomb could not be “sure” about the matter.
A few weeks later Lipscomb published a letter from Samuel Jordan. Jordan conceded the possibility that the author of Genesis 1 had twenty-four hour days in mind, but Jordan pointed out that “the first three days of creation lacked the phenomena that are so essential to our twenty-four-hour periods, sun and stars.” As Jordan regarded “these periods,” he concluded, Lipscomb’s “thoughts seem to be correct and, of course, beautiful, because unanswerable; but to think of the six-days’ creation as six days of twenty-four hours each, your thoughts are remarkable, geology as taught decidedly wrong, and the Bible language forced to imply miracles needlessly.”
“It has not been my purpose,” Lipscomb replied, “to present or discuss any theory of geology or of creation, but to present the truth that there is no discrepancy between the facts of geology that are regarded as established and the teachings of the Bible. As I have said heretofore, my study of the facts and the theories date back from twenty-five to fifty years ago. I have not kept abreast of the investigations of late years, save in their general theories. I have held doubtful the idea of the day of Genesis one being a long period of time, but I have not formed a very fixed judgment on the subject. I have long cultivated the habit of holding doubtful questions in doubt—not forcing a conclusion—for years. The theory would readily solve all difficulties on the subject; but while the Bible does not forbid such a construction, does it suggest it, with our present knowledge of the structure of the earth? If not, I hesitate and wait. I do not wish to force a statement of the Bible. What I wished was to suggest that men of science often put forth crude conjecture as scientific truth; and believers in the Bible frequently form their ideas more from popular sentiment than from Bible teaching, even on common subjects, and, from failure to observe, oppose the simple statements of the Bible. Between the two antagonism is presented, where, with regard for the true teaching of science and the Bible, they would be found to harmonize and sustain each other. We recognize the positions of our brother as in not contradicting the Bible, and, if true, fully removing all difficulties on the subject.”
No one knows everything. Lipscomb knew enough to know that surely he was not an expert in all areas and candidly admitted it. His statement, “I have long cultivated the habit of holding doubtful questions in doubt—not forcing a conclusion—for years,” is remarkable. We live in a world of increasingly shrill argument. We hear “authorities” and “activists” from all sides of every spectrum speaking and acting as if they know everything. Lipscomb did not know everything, as surely as no one of us knows all. I don’t even know all the questions anymore, much less all the answers.
The letter of James reminds us that we “know … everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). People become violently angry about things posted on the internet (especially on Facebook) and respond with ill-tempered wrath. Often they are responding to things that are patently false and sharing them with others as fact. We shall do well always to restrain our anger and, like Lipscomb, keep from forcing a conclusion for years, if necessary.
Many years ago, I was working for Procter & Gamble when a rumor got started that the company had been purchased by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and as proof the corporate symbol of a man in the moon and thirteen stars was cited. Later, the rumor changed, claiming that Mr. Gamble (who had been dead for 100 years) had prayed to God for healing and when that did not happen he prayed to the Devil, was healed and now gave 10 per cent of the profits of the Company to the Devil. Again, people cited the man in the moon symbol, arguing that if you held the logo up to a mirror (and looked at it backwards) three strands of the moonman’s beard made the number 666. Both rumors were, of course, false and misleading. Many “Christian” people spread these rumors until the company began suing the most vocal propagandists and removed the man in moon from the company’s packaging. Among those who peddled these rumors were people whose business enterprises competed with Procter & Gamble.