Monoliths and Myths

by | Apr 15, 2023

Speaking the truth in a loving and respectful way with people who have fundamentally different worldviews isn’t always easy. During my senior year at the University of Southern California I enrolled in an upper division evolution course taught by the renowned biogerontologist Bernard Strehler. Dr. Strehler believed in evolution, but he questioned whether time and chance alone could explain the transition of primordial soup to human life. Evolution apart from some guiding force was not, in his opinion, mathematically probable. Instead, he argued that there had to be a higher intelligence influencing the process. 

This is where his thinking became interesting, if not bizarre. Dr. Strehler wrote poetry about “Monoliths” that were similar to the pyramid in Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction short story The Sentinel, which gave Stanley Kubrick the idea for his iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Monoliths functioned as deity in Strehler’s worldview—autonomous, independent crystalline evolution from another planet that guided the creation of organic life on earth. 

All his students were required to read his poetry and then individually meet in his office. “Does my poetry connect with you? Do Monoliths make sense? Is my thinking compelling?” he queried. I was apprehensive that my grade could be affected negatively if I disagreed with him; I was tempted to go along with him. Instead, I remembered the words of Paul to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable… whatever is pure… think about these things.” Perhaps first among all character traits in these situations is speaking truth in love, and there is no higher truth than the gospel. 

So, taking a deep breath and quiet prayer, I agreed with his theory of the mathematical improbability of time and chance alone resulting in the creation of humanity. This was my point of contact with Dr. Strehler, which also showed I took his thinking seriously and respected his struggle to understand the origins of life.

Finding common ground with someone with whom you may fundamentally disagree is a bridge to presenting the gospel. Paul used this strategy at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-23, when he addressed the crowd, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are every religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” “Seeing that you worship this unknown god,” to paraphrase Paul, “I think I can throw some insight into who he is!”

After agreeing with my professor’s skeptical mathematical presupposition, I threw a philosophical curve ball at him. I proposed a more reasonable solution to crystalline gods from a distant galaxy. “Perhaps you might consider my solution,” I said. “I find it easier to believe in a higher power that can be seen and known personally in Christ. He is an uncreated Creator who revealed something about his character to us. For me, this makes more sense than an impersonal Monolith inspired by Arthur Clarke.” Reason shows that our existence demands a first cause, and God is the most logical candidate.

My faith, rooted in the historical fact of the life of Christ and his resurrection, was more compelling to me than his poetry. The undeniable historicity of Christ, his life, death, burial, and resurrection were objective, rational explanations for the higher power behind creation.

Bernard Strehler was speechless. He didn’t disagree with me. He didn’t challenge me. He went silent. So I left the office.

I received an “A” in the course. I think Dr. Strehler respected my honesty. Ironically, he died in 2001.

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