Slippery Slopes?

It is common to hear Christians express concern about the slippery slope. The image is of a peak, or perhaps a plateau or mesa on which we are safe – but to step away is to risk all. In the discussion of science and faith there can be a fear that exploring the issues, asking questions, begins a slow or precipitous descent. This often comes up in the conversation on this blog – a real concern for where a line of thinking might lead. I have received a few e-mails from people who assure me that I am not challenging their faith, but that posting on science and faith, and insisting on taking science seriously, is a dangerous undertaking – they fear for others.

But perhaps we have the wrong image. Two comments from last week’s post on Genesis 1-11 as “just a collection of stories” addressed this issue.

First comment …(21)

To your point on using the word “just”. It reminds me of the slippery slope argument in that it seems that if you concede that they are stories then it is a short hop to just adding the word “just” andthen before you know it there is no god at all. I think that step from stories to “just” stories is not a small step but a very big one. They most definitely are not “just” stories, but they are stories.

We have to stop sliding all the way down the slope, perhaps get some cleats. Just acknowledging that they are not historical narrative does not mean they are meaningless and that argument has to prevail.

Does the fear of a slippery slope have merit? Do you view questions and ponderings as dangerous rambles around pitfalls, cliffs, and slopes, or as necessary part of the process of seeking God?

Justin Topp responded to this comment (22) (and elaborated on further in a blog post worth reading: Removing the fear of the slippery slope):

I appreciate the danger of the “slippery slope”. But I do want to add a paraphrased anecdote I heard at a recent conference. Slippery slopes aren’t just encountered when we are going downhill; they’re also encountered when we climb a mountain. So being afraid of the slippery slope may actually prevent us from ascending towards the truth. Something to think about…

Fear of the slippery slope does not protect – it paralyzes. And it prevents us from moving forward in our understanding of God, his creation, his redeeming work in creation, and our role and function. Truth is not something to be afraid of – but in order to move forward we must have our face turned in the right direction worrying more about the summit than the valley.

I have found that in the science and faith discussion fear of the slippery slope is far more damaging than facing problems and questions head on. Yes, sometimes our conclusions and understanding will change somewhat, will be refined. But is the goal preservation of the status quo or a search for God’s truth?

I have also found that the fear that is expressed in some church settings can keep people looking down rather than upward and onward – and for some provides no option other than a downward slide. After all, the fear appears to be rooted in a conviction that there are no satisfactory answers to our questions.

It is far better to keep looking up toward the goal as we seek answers to our questions. Justin noted in his blog that while there are dangers along the way “the desire to reach the end of the hike or the top of the climb overcomes the fear of slipping so that the hiker or climber proceeds on.

 Does the slippery slope argument have merit? Do we focus too much on the problems and not enough on the goal – the summit?

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