what Christians can learn from the American Museum of Natural History (NYC)

When we were in New York, Natalie and I were struck by something very distinctive about a bunch of the displays in the American Museum of Natural History:

Where there was debate, the displays would usually outline two alternative explanations.

Whether it was theories about how certain dinosaurs walked — ie. more like horses or more like lizards — based on conflicting reconstructions of the fossil evidence. Or speculation about what might have given Homo sapiens a competitive advantage over Homo erectus (or whatever). They wouldn’t hide the fact that expert opinion was divided. Rather, they’d just put it out there.

Now, I make no claim to prophetic insight into the precise motivations of the museum curators. Who knows how much their readiness to foreground debate has to do with the reputedly litigious culture of the US?

But I do think Christians can able to learn something from this. I think we can learn that it’s OK to be clear and confident in proclaiming the things we do know with certainty and — at the same time — to be honest where there are uncertainties or differences of opinion.

Of course, there’re lots of questions to settle about which uncertainties or differences of opinion are legitimate (it’s kind of the nature of the beast that the legitimacy of most of the issues upon which Christians are divided is contested by those who are doing the disagreeing). Just are there’re things to sort out about how exactly we communicate our differing degrees of certainty — without preventing us being clear about the matters that matter.

But I think it’s just a reality that ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children for ever, to observe all the words of this law’ (Deut 29.29). And so we’ll often bring our questions to the Bible only to discover that it doesn’t seem very interested in answering them — leaving us all sorts of uncertainty — because it has more important questions of its own to put to us.

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