A metaphor for Christians in science: sacred cows are idols, but attacking them ends trust and starts wars.
I want to propose a metaphor, one rooted in Paul’s natural theology, that explains the relationship between science, evolution, and our world. This is the metaphor of the Sacred Cow.
The metaphor portrays the scientific world as a foreign culture that worships sacred cows; science and evolution are among these idol cows. Our world’s attachment to science and evolution is understood as a type of idolatry. Both science and evolution are man-made understandings that our world exchanges for the immortal God we all encountered in nature (Romans 1:20-23). The scientific world sees the beauty and order of God’s creation, and then turns to worship the human effort to study nature instead of the immortal Creator. The problem is idolatry, not faulty logic or ignorance of evidence.
Frontal attacks on sacred cows start wars. Using political power against sacred cows is aggressive and ends trust. In particular, effort to politically challenge how evolution is taught in public schools is challenges the rightful control of scientists over science curriculum, attacking their sacred cows in their own house. It matters not the quality of our arguments against evolution. No one leaves sacred cows because of arguments.
We should not be threatened by science, even though it does not explicitly acknowledge God. Mere cows do not threaten Jesus, and no human effort can overcome Him. He is the living God, and no idol can overcome His light; no conspiracy can darken Him. Besides, we follow Jesus because He is risen, not because evolution is wrong. The only path out of idolatry, to the immortal God, is the Gospel of Jesus.
The metaphor inspires a parable. A tourist visits a missionary in India. Together, they go to a local’s home. They eat a meal and converse with their host. The tourist sees a cow in the front yard. He knows that cows are sacred here, and rejects this as idolatry. He starts to wonder aloud about finding a steak somewhere. The Indian and the missionary are puzzled. His musings are confusing and offensive, yes, but harmless. Things slowly progress from here. The tourist starts explaining why cows are not really sacred. This is not right. And he still is hungry. Against the missionary and the Indian’s protest, he rises up, approaches the cow, touches him, and asks where a butcher could be found. He now pulls a knife. He pokes.
Then comes righteous rage. The Indian screams for help, and so begins a riot. The missionary, she is angry, bearing blame for the hunt she hates, and torn between the two. For the tourist’s poke, the Indian distrusts the missionary, and adopts into his home the victim cow. The tourist will now be punished. He too is angry; in his courageous poke, the missionary against him stood. “Cows are not sacred, see. They rage because the cow he is the weak point. My hunt will end idolatry.” All now are angry. All aggrieved. And still lives the sacred cow.
This is the parable of the missionary, the tourist, and the sacred cow. Each of us, we all have sacred cows. Our instinct is to hunt another’s cow. “It is an idol cow!” It feels like sacred courage to declare this forcefully. This courage is false, unwise, and cruel. True courage, rather, is to hunt a different cow, to face and fight our own idolatry.