'I'll believe it when I see it!' How often have we heard those words? There are certain subjects that trigger in us an unwillingness to accept what others say. Over the years each of us has developed a penchant for taking some things at face value, while others cause us to demand extremely rigorous proofs before we will accept their factuality - if at all
This thought came to mind recently as I followed an interesting online discussion about the Paluxy River trackways. For those unfamiliar with them, the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas is famous - or infamous, depending on your viewpoint - for its overlapping, apparently human and dinosaurian footprints, indicating men and dinosaurs coexisted. The eyewitness testimonies of those who are certain those humanlike prints were manmade throw the skeptics into a tizzy! Many are far more comfortable with supposedly scientific models (which are just that - models, not reality itself) than with human testimony about experiences and non-repeatable events, particularly when those testimonies don't jibe with their models. Models are rather safe to deal with. They exist purely in the sanitary realm of ideas, unsullied by the dirtiness of the real world, with its uncomfortable requirement that we exercise trust in the reports of others. We don't have to 'trust' models the way we have to trust people, so it is very easy to use those models to filter out testimony that does not fit our expectations.
Yet, whether or not it is recognized, underlying every model is a foundation of testimony-based trust that has built up over time. Although people at times make an appeal to some presumed authority as justification for holding to a model (with an associated disparaging of the credentials of those they disagree with), such trust generally depends not on one person's authoritative say-so - 'you can trust me' - but from more or less well-documented observations from numerous individuals. As the track record of coherent observations from varied witnesses builds up, the presumption becomes that those giving future testimony fitting the model are trustworthy as well. Repeated confirmations of a model, whether real or merely apparent, generate confidence that one can uncritically accept the model and reject any testimonies that seem to contradict it.
It is my contention that this is a dangerous state of affairs for those who seriously seek God's truth about the world He created and at times intervened in. The Bible places a high primacy on the value of testimony, not human-created models of reality. When our models, however sanctified we may think they are, sit in judgement over the testimonies of human beings, we are departing from the Scriptural pattern. As Christians we rightly refuse to let the models of fallen men determine our spiritual and moral perspectives. We reject the models of the worldly man, instead accepting God's testimony about Himself and His patterns for life. We embrace the testimony of Scripture as an accurate picture of Ultimate Reality. We deem that the God behind the Bible has proven Himself worthy of our trust, both in His faithfulness in our own lives and in the historical record of His dealings with humanity.
Since we have learned to trust God's wisdom as far surpassing ours, it is instructive to reflect on how the Lord values testimony. He has chosen to deal with this subject frequently in the Scriptures. There are 112 entries given in Strong's Concordance for the words 'testimonies' and 'testimony.' Understandably, most of them refer to trusting the statements God Himself has made, but some have reference to the claims made by men. One example is Deuteronomy 17:6, 'On the evidence [literally, mouth] of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death...' A similar statement is Deuteronomy 19:15, '...on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.' Jesus affirmed the continuing validity of these OT precepts in Matthew 18:16 and John 8:17. Obviously, the testimony of human beings is important enough to God that He made it a basis for judging truth-claims.
It should also not excape our notice that human testimony is the primary method by which He reveals himself to people today. After all, what is the Bible but the accumulated written testimonies of those who came before us, and experienced Him in dramatic ways that are no longer the norm? Not one of us who has laid hold of saving faith has done so in a vacuum. Rather than experiencing the pillar of cloud and fire of the ancient Israelites in the wilderness wanderings, today we live in a time when the Lord uses testimony to bring people to Himself - the testimony of the Old Testament, the testimony of Jesus, the testimony of the apostles, the testimony of the martyrs of the ages, even the testimony of fellow believers of our own time. Jesus has promised to bless such testimony; He said, 'I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me' (John 17:20-21, NASB). The 'word' of the disciples was their testimony of experiencing daily life with Him and witnessing His resurrection. Such experiences can never be repeated, but they can be embraced by faith as life-changing truth through the disciples' enduring testimonies.
It should thus be self-evident that testimony is a critical means by which God imparts His truth to us. But what about the testimonies of our fellow believers, and those of the large God-fearing portion of mankind who value truth, fair dealing, etc.? When they report things they say they have seen for themselves - and particularly when diverse claimants relate the same details - which don't fit our accustomed models, are we justified in rejecting their testimonies as mistakes at best, or frauds at worst?
I raise this question because it bears closely on the topics of archaeology and creation/evolution issues - subjects where a person may claim, 'I saw such and such.' Distrust of others is a pervasive problem of human nature, and we find it reflected in how we often hesitate to accept the testimony of people. It is fascinating to observe this was a problem even among the close-knit 'inner circle' of Jesus' disciples. The apostle Thomas was part of this group from the beginning, but he was not willing to accept the testimony of these, his closest friends, about the Resurrection. Notwithstanding the Lazarus experience, Thomas' model of reality told him that resurrections don't happen, so his friends had to be wrong. Their proven character was not enough to sway him; he had to see with his own eyes the nail-pierced hands of his Master before he would believe. He got his wish, but not without a mild rebuke: 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed' (John 20:29). Likewise, the women closest to the disciples saw the risen Lord first, but rather than accept their testimony, the disciples pooh-poohed it. 'Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them' (Luke 24:10-11, NASB).
We see that even in that time of dramatic miracles, those who should have known best were unwilling to accept testimony that conflicted with their models. Yet Jesus, as a general rule, clearly wants us to accept the testimony of others who belong to Him, as the John 17:20-21 passage makes clear. Believing the best of others, that they are reporting truth, is also in the spirit of First Corinthians 13 - 'love...believes all things.' We may not give to any human being today the unqualified acceptance we extend to the testimony enshrined in the Bible, but we seriously err when we elevate any ostensibly 'scientific' models of creation or human history to the level of Scripture. WE MUST NOT THINK TOO HIGHLY OF OUR MODELS, since they have all been created by fallen men of imperfect understanding, even Christians with PhD's. The day that we begin to uncritically reject reliable testimonies that bear on creation and archaeology, is the day that we depart from biblical patterns of thinking.
The Paluxy track debate is one example of this clash of models versus testimony. Dr. John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research recorded some of the Paluxy River finds in his 1980 book, Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs - And The People Who Knew Them. Morris wrote that reputable witnesses, including Dr. Ceil Dougherty, Dr. Clifford Burdick, Dr. Harold Slusher, Dr. Omar Hamara and Dr. Ed Blick - several of whom were connected with ICR - witnessed human tracks in situ in the Paluxy limestone, including what they said was 'the most perfect track ever found.' Unfortunately, these tracks were not removed for safekeeping, and being in a vulnerable position on the river, in more friable rock, within a year they had eroded. Later, under pressure from evolutionists who came late to the party, notably Glen Kuban, Dr. Morris felt obliged in 1986 to backtrack on the Paluxy evidence; writing of the Ryals trail he said, 'If this trail is, in actuality, a dinosaur trail, the testimonies of the 'old timers' must be questioned' (http://www.icr.org/article/255/). But it must be realized that hundreds of early witnesses testified to the human nature of the tracks in their original condition before erosion set in, against a handful of evolutionists speculating about the original conditions. What happened is this phenomenon I am sounding a warning against - a model has been allowed to discredit otherwise unimpeachable testimony. Should we not hold to the testimony of the eyewitnesses instead?
Another example of models overruling testimony is seen in a matter close to my heart, the search for Noah's Ark. There is a very significant body of eyewitness testimony that holds that the Ark is on Mt. Ararat in Turkey, usually hidden by snow but occasionally revealed. The bulk of these testimonies, 25 of which have been listed in a chart on page 468 of the book Explorers of Ararat, bear remarkable correspondences with each other, though in nearly all cases those reporting did not know the stories of the others. Against these coherent testimonies is a creationist model currently in vogue that alleges Mt. Ararat is a post-Flood volcanic peak, and therefore by definition cannot be the landing-place of Noah's Ark. This requires all - every single one - of the Ararat-based testimonies to be explained away as error or fraud. I believe taking this viewpoint is a serious error itself. Geological models are fraught with guesswork, since we were not there to actually see what took place. Back in 1976, Dr. John Morris (whose PhD is in geology) and Tim LaHaye in their book, The Ark on Ararat, laid out on pages 10-13 an alternative model that does not require any attempt to discredit or minimize the testimonies. This does not mean their model is necessarily the correct one, but it DOES allow us to accept the testimony of our fellow man. Should we not make an effort to do just that, rather than toss all the testimonies into the rubbish bin because they do not fit a certain model?
Since the testimonies placing Noah's Ark on Ararat exist, whether one believes them or not, they deserve to be given the benefit of a doubt. Behind each testimony stands an individual, in many cases a Christian who values honesty just as we do, who has placed his credibility on the line by telling his story. For this reason, I am unashamed to say that I am personally convinced that the Ark remains on Mt. Ararat. Though this conviction runs against certain models, it does not run against evidence, as there is radar satellite data I am currently researching that fits the testimonies. We need to let these testimonies speak, just as we heed the testimonies which led to our salvation. The subject matter may be different, but the underlying principle is the same.
The point I am making here is just this: barring clear, fact-based reasons for not accepting a testimony, God wants us to accept the witness of trustworthy people without demanding, like doubting Thomas, to first have it vindicated by whatever scientific model or archaeological understanding is currently in fashion. This is what the archaeological community did regarding the site of Ai for many years, until the work of ABR's Dr. David Livingston and Dr. Bryant Wood showed that the prevailing model was flawed.
In the end, it is true that yes, we have to 'examine everything carefully' (I Thess. 5:21a); but it is also true that we are adjured to 'hold fast to that which is good' (I Thess. 5:21b). Let us beware lest, in endeavoring to be discerning about what evidences for the trustworthiness of Scripture are valid, we cross the line into sinful doubt. Valid evidences for God's work in the world will never seem adequate to the one who has decided not to believe, but this does not justify a hyperskeptical approach to the evidences, requiring them to 'toe the line' with current models before accepting them. As far as Scripture is concerned, testimony trumps models. Let us seek to construct our models in such a way that testimonies are given their proper place.