Righting America

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The (De)Evolution of Truth | Righting America

by Rachael Griggs

Rachael Griggs is a science advocate and a Jesus advocate. Her awe of nature and appreciation for the sciences began with her first telescope at the age of twelve. As an adult, she participated in various evangelical congregations until she converted to Catholicism in 2011. She holds the harmony of faith, science, and reason within the Church in high esteem. She is a military Veteran and a former schoolteacher. Currently, she is pursuing a M.A. degree in Religious Studies at the University of Dayton. 

Painting of "What is Truth?" by Nikolai Nikolavich with Jesus in tattered black clothing looking anguished and Pontius Pilate in white roman attire interrogating Jesus.
What is truth? Christ and Pilate, by Nikolai Nikolavich Ge, 1890, (via Wikimedia Commons)

Nikolai Nikolavich Ge’s oil painting “What Is Truth” (1890) is one of my favorites. The image captures a clip of dialogue between Pilate and Jesus in John’s Gospel: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.” Pilate then asked Him, “What is truth?” (18:38). 

After spending some time with the painting, it doesn’t take too long to notice the artist’s use of light and shade; the sun illuminates Pilate’s body, his arm stretches out to Jesus in his philosophical moment. From head to toe, Pilate is clean and neat. Light, symbolizing the favor of the gods.

Not so with Jesus. His back is to the wall. His arms are behind him, perhaps clasped at the wrists with chains or rope. His disheveled hair and beard, coupled with his torn and uneven robe, place him into the condemned position. Darkness, symbolizing God’s abandonment. 

I think about Pilate’s question. I wonder about Truth with a capital “T” and the dangers in attempting to claim it as my own or assign it some black-and-white definition. The truth for Pilate (or Truth?) is up for grabs. 

Yet, despite Jesus’s underdog position in this painting, I know He is King. This is my Truth, and the Truth that Christians profess. I commit my heart to the Truths of the Nicene Creed. But, I’m also careful. Pilate’s musings, for me, are jolting. My challenge, therefore, is to negotiate his question within the parameters of my faith and the reality in which I live.  

It’s all about truth. Or, Truth. I’ll only know the Truth in part as long as I’m alive here on Earth. 

And I’m totally okay with that. 

Some aren’t. 

In an attempt to reconcile the Genesis creation myth (or “account,” as young Earth creationists insist) with Darwinism, scientists and theologians with a fundamentalist lens have invented ways, rather ingeniously, to circumvent laws of natural science as evinced by leak-proof empiricism in order to safeguard their belief in an inerrant Bible. 

We have a menu of options from which to choose. First up, and popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, is “old Earth creationism,” with both the gap and day-age theories. But, perhaps due to the evolution of human thought, which may naturally select an even better, more fit model over time, “progressive creationism” surfaced from its warm pool of goo and began to walk on all fours in the mid-twentieth century. However, the 1960s created a drastic change in the environment, from which emerged “young Earth creationism,” drowning out all previous models with its faith in flood geology. 

And of course, these feats at stuffing science into the Genesis paradigm would not be complete without a random mutation: the geocentric model. Yes folks, the sun revolves around the Earth. 

It’s the Truth.

Now, I could spend a couple paragraphs reviewing the wonders of E = mc2 or Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize winning work in chemistry and physics. I could discuss carbon dating, half-life, and the Hubble Space Telescope. Or, I could get creative (and a bit sassy), and personify an extinct Woolly Mammoth, make him talk to you, saying things like, “Excuse me, but I am not any younger than the Holocene epoch. Thankyouverymuch.” 

But I’ve realized that, when looking again at Jesus in Nikolavich Ge’s painting, assertions about science and the real age of our Earth might be beside the point. Instead of defending His Truth, Jesus does not insist on standing in the light. In fact, in the other three Gospels, Jesus says even fewer words during his trial. 

Instead, he continues to the cross. 

Perhaps, then, these creative creationist “spins,” crafted to align scientific theory with an inerrant Bible, are not about Truth. All this hullabaloo might instead be about salvation, life, and what happens after our physical bodies expire. After all, if God did not create our world according to the methods and times which the Bible ascribes, then what would be the purpose of existence? If we’re random accidents, what then are the implications regarding our souls?  

These questions are scary. On par for imperfect Homo sapiens, we instead succumb to our fears and we force. We insist. We spend millions of dollars on buildings, exhibits, animatronics, videos, television airtime, and educational materials in order to assuage our dread of the unknown. Unlike Jesus, we step into the light and impose our Truths, robbing God of the chance to be God.

The most evolved action I can take as a follower of Jesus is to trust in His wisdom, love people, care for this world, and follow Him to the cross. As I continue my own Christian journey, I’ll regard quantum leaps in science as additional revealed glimpses of the Divine Artist at work—not to mention the obvious testimonies of the night skies. 

I don’t have all the answers, but Jesus, as Truth, is more than enough.