Perspectives and Truth

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind).
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the elephant
Is very like a tree!'"

The fifth who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quote he, "the elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

The Moral:

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an elephant
Not one of them has seen!

(From an Anthology of the New England Poets , edited by Louis Untermeyer, Random House, 1948, pages 410-412.)

Probably many of you have read the above poem and perhaps enjoyed it as much as I do. The problem with the poem, however, is how well it describes each of us. Whether you are an atheist or a Christian reading this article, there is a good reason to consider how its message might apply to you. There is a tendency for each of us to think that we are the only rational open-minded thinker and that everyone who holds a different view or interpretation than we do is less than objective in coming to their conclusions. I would suggest to you that in all matters that you and I might discuss, there are three points of view--yours, mine, and the right one. Please notice that I am not saying that mine and the right one are the same. In all cases, if we could draw a line from me to you, the truth would be somewhere on that line. It might be closer to you than it is to me, but it is still between us.

The difference between the atheist and the Christian on this subject is over whether you and I can ever be congruent with truth. If one holds to the position that there is a source of total and absolute truth, the answer to the question is "yes." The Christian believes the Bible to be such a source. The atheist must believe that man strives for truth through his intellect and thus truth changes as man's intellect and situation changes. Thus, whether something is morally right or morally wrong is dependent upon the situation, and the term "situation ethics" is used to described the method. The question that becomes obvious in this discussion is over whether the Bible really is absolute in its teachings or not and does it cover all situations or is man left on his own in many areas of determining truth.

I believe that both atheists and Christians are, to a great extent, like the blind men in our poem as they examine the elephant. If the blind men in the poem had been asked what an elephant was good for, I doubt any of them would have given a right answer. The one with the tail might have said an elephant was good for tying of boxes. The one with the trunk might have said to take in water and blow it out somewhere else. The one with the foot might have said to build a house with, and so forth.

Both atheists and Christians seem to do the same thing. Instead of "seeing the whole elephant," people tend to see only the part with which they have had experience. An enormous number of people in this world see the Bible as a legislator of morality. Like the blind men, they have felt the sting of the "thou shalt nots" and know nothing of the rest of the Bible's properties. This problem becomes especially obvious when issues that are not specifically spelled out in the Bible are under discussion. The Bible does not say "Thou shalt not drink alcohol," for example. It does not say "Thou shalt not clone a human being." There is no passage that says "He who wears a toupee is a sinner." In fact, if the Bible were to provide a specific statement for every moral judgment a man or a woman might make, it would be so large a book that no one could lift it. It has been my experience that when people attempt to use the Bible to answer questions about the creation process and events related to it, the same error raises its ugly head. People want to find dinosaurs explained in the Scriptures. Many are determined to find the age of the earth and the processes that God used to prepare the earth for man in the Bible. Grabbing hold of a particular piece of Scripture, many are like the blind man holding the tail of the elephant. No comprehensive or overall view is entertained and the result is a distorted understanding.

When we get down to making moral decisions and when we teach our children how to make moral decisions, we must comprehend all of God's teachings. The Bible identifies very few things in completely objective terms. There are some notable exceptions, such as murder and adultery, which even many atheists would agree to, but most of the guidelines the Bible gives are principles of how to decide and not overt "thou shalt nots." Some examples of these principles are:

  1. How does what I am going to do affect others (physically and spiritually)? See 1 Corinthians 8 , 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 , Matthew 5:14 ,1 Timothy 4:12
  2. How will my action affect my health? 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 , 1 Corinthians 6:19 .
  3. How will my choice affect the church? 1 Timothy 3:7 , 2 Corinthians 6:14 , Ephesians 5:11 .

Notice that questions such as drinking, drugs, dress, type of work, and so forth, can be answered from these perspectives even though a specific "thou shalt not" is not involved. The Bible deals with the root of the problem rather than trying to anticipate every moral choice in which man might place himself. Jesus dealt with this concept beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount. He said that to avoid murder we should fill our minds with things other than hate. Sexual problems also were dealt with by going after control of the mind. In Galatians 5:16-26 we are shown the way to comprehend the whole concept of moral truth by being given two things from which we can choose. Notice the contrast:

Bad Moral Influences
Good Moral Influences
Adultery Love
Fornication Joy
Uncleanness Gentleness
Lasciviousness Faith
Idolatry Temperance
Witchcraft Peace
Hatred Long-suffering
Murders Goodness
Revelings Meekness

Atheists and skeptics can never comprehend total truth in moral issues because they have only one part of the "elephant" in hand and that is self gratification. An attitude control that helps us deal positively with others is impossible when the only motivation you logically have is to serve yourself. Many who claim to be Christians have similar problems with moral choices because they have not understood the whole basis of making moral choices. They, too, tend to look only at their own pleasure, the immediate visible consequences, and what the wisdom of their associates gives them. Their Christianity is shallow and ineffective because they have not gotten the whole foundation. No wonder the "light of the world" is covered so that few in the world can see it.

The evolution question is another good example of seeing only part of the "elephant." Many scientists have only examined the physical side of man and the changes that have taken place in that area. They saturate their minds with the writing of authors antagonistic to Christianity and to even those fields of science that deal with man's uniqueness. By reading and considering only one aspect of man's make-up, they miss important aspects of man's nature. Not only that, but they cause conflict with the biblical view that is unwarranted and create problems for science, schools, and the academic world in general.

Some religious people have also contributed to the evolution controversy by seeing only a very small part of the issues involved. They have seen the negative implications of some parts of the theory of evolution. They realize that a full acceptance of evolutionary theory relegates man to being just an animal. This conclusion eliminates man's spiritual make-up and makes the concept of Jesus dying to save our souls meaningless. They also have seen that to accept such an explanation of man's origin means to make the Genesis account allegorical.

Believing all Scripture to be God's word, they resist this strongly and correctly. What they have failed to see is that the ability of things to undergo change is a beautiful design feature which enables things to survive in a changing world. Without the ability to change, farmers and livestock managers could not feed us and man could not live in all kinds of climates. They have also failed to see that God functions both miraculously and naturally and in a way that has no time limitations.

By seeing only part of the "elephant," these people leave themselves open to being unable to deal with new discoveries. Frequently, their attempts to explain the dinosaurs, cavemen, age of the earth, etc., cause more conflict than they resolve. By carefully controlling what they read, they do what the evolutionists we described earlier in this article do. Only one perspective is explored and all areas are fitted into that perspective of man.

What we have suggest is shown in this drawing.


Notice that the Bible, true science, factual changes in living things, and truth are all together. I would suggest that this is the "whole elephant." All other positions on the line are seeing only a part.

The way to solve the evolution/religion controversy is not a court decision or a new law. It is to instruct those at the ends of the line so they can see all aspects of the issue and move toward the center. It is also necessary that all of us recognize we have room to grow toward total truth and strive to accomplish that growth. The creation was created by the author of the Bible. If there is a conflict between what the evidence of the creation shows and what the Bible says, we are misunderstanding either one or both of them.

So oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean,
And prate about an elephant not one of them has seen.

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse; Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened... ( Romans 1:19-22 ).

--John N. Clayton

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