Recently, it came to my attention that there was an incident at the end of Eid where a Palestinian attempted to knife some Israelis only to end up shot themselves. In trying to find the story, I found that this was not an uncommon problem. It is apparently viewed as much easier for Palestinians in the high security environment of Israel to smuggle in knives than it is for them to smuggle in guns, and yet frequently these knife attacks end up being fatal for the person who is trying to knife others more than for the intended victims of such attacks. There are a variety of reasons why this is the case, but a big one is probably the highly militarized aspect of Israeli territory in general. If you attack with a knife in an area that has a lot of guns and that is prone to look at you with a fair amount of suspicion, it is easy to see how an attempt to knife someone would lead to a fatal encounter with someone armed more heavily, to the point where it seems suicidal that this should continue.
There are occasions where bringing a knife to a gunfight is not as bad as it would first appear. If one is skilled with the use of knives, especially throwing knives, and fights in an area with a lot of people where one also has a lot of cover, then it is possible to do a great deal of damage to others with knives without being as vulnerable to gunfire as one would expect. Knives are a close-in weapon, and if one can close the distance to someone with a gun effectively enough then one has a significant chance of success. Obviously one needs a certain amount of speed and skillful use of cover for this to be the case, though, and that is not generally what is meant when it comes to bringing a knife to a gunfight. Usually what is meant by the expression is that one is at an extreme disadvantage because one has not armed oneself to an appropriate level to deal with the level of rhetorical or actual violence that is going to happen in a given situation.
Yesterday’s sermon highlighted one of the cases where bringing a knife to a gunfight is particularly common. When one is discussing the question of chronology in the universe, estimates of time are remarkably broad. My own personal religious tradition has always been aligned with “Old Earth Creationism” but has not taken a dogmatic approach to questions of dating because of the uncertainty that is involved with such techniques and the assumptions that are made in various dating methods. For example, some dating methods are ineffective when faced with underwater circumstances, which greatly hinders their effectiveness. Even for the distance of stars our understanding of distances is based on estimates of parallax or of the contrast between relative and absolute brightness, and there are certain bounds of error that exist for such matters that render them not nearly as precise as we would wish. Nevertheless, such means allow us to better understand that there is a considerable amount of age in the world and in the universe even where we are not always able to precisely date such matters to our satisfaction. And to argue that the apparent age of the world and of the universe is merely dishonest and that we cannot rely on the evidence of the world around us in order to bolster a particular view of the Bible is bringing a knife into a gunfight.
It is worthwhile to examine how this can be the case, because in the world of science there exists a strong degree of confusion when it comes to views of God as a creator. For one, any scientific worldview that is contrary to evolutionary materialism is labeled as young earth creationism as part of a false dilemma that is simultaneously bringing a knife to a rhetorical gunfight, even if it something that is easily believed by others. One can believe in theistic evolution by which macroevolutionary change is worked for teleological purposes by a Creator. One can believe that the universe is old, but be somewhat skeptical of dating methods and view the total absence of transitional forms as evidence of very sharp bounds for microevolutionary variation from designed kinds. In neither case is one either an evolutionary materialist or a young earth creationist. Indeed, there exist powerful religious reasons from the Bible itself why the Young Earth creationist model is untenable on a theological basis, even apart from any arguments relating to stratigraphy or radioactive dating. Yet the existence of both irrational evolutionary hypothesizing and irrational young earth creationism serve as useful foils for each other by which each extreme can paint others as belonging to the other one and ignoring the larger space for perspectives and worldviews that exists.
And it is that realm of false dilemmas that we ought to be most aware of. It is easiest for us to bring a knife to a gunfight when it comes to an argument about something when we are unaware of the terrain that we are dealing with. To the extent that we are unaware of the perspectives that are held by those we are debating with, we simply cannot understand what they are about, much less answer their perspectives. To the extent that we are familiar with where people are coming from, we can generally be prepared either to defeat their defeaters in arguments or to at the very least point to areas of disagreement when it comes to authorities or interpretations and agree to disagree. But that requires us to be aware of where others are coming from. Often we are simply not aware of whether others come from and are thus unprepared for dealing with what they have to say. Since it is hard to think on one’s feet without adequate preparation, especially when someone is speaking from their own worldview and a great deal of knowledge and research that is focused from that perspective, the results are predictable and lamentable, as if we were attempting to knife a people heavily armed with guns far more deadly than our own weapons.