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Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (Part 7): Unleash the Kraken! (i.e. How AiG Dismisses the Evidence and Attacks its Opponents)

Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (Part 7): Unleash the Kraken! (i.e. How AiG Dismisses the Evidence and Attacks its Opponents)

In my past six posts reflecting on the Nye/Ham debate of three years ago, I focused on how Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge (HH) “analyzed” the debate in their book, Inside the Nye/Ham Debate. Specifically, I looked at how discussed the five-minute openings of both Bill Nye and Ken Ham, and then how they elaborated on Ken Ham’s 30-minute presentation. My essential metaphor has been HH’s use of “smoke and mirrors” to obfuscate the actual issues regarding the creation/evolution debate, and to instead convince people that evolution is the same thing as atheism, and that there is a culture war to fight.

In the next couple of posts, I will now focus on HH’s “analysis” of Bill Nye’s 30-minute presentation, but I want to do it in a rather different way than the other posts. Now, it is virtually impossible of me to adequately cover every detail of HH’s 70-page critique of Bill Nye’s presentation. I found reading those pages to be both surreal and frustrating. I imagine that if you ever have gotten into an extended debate with a YECist acolyte of Ken Ham, you will understand: diversion, personal attacks, bizarre claims from left field, random Bible references that come out of nowhere (and have little or nothing to do with the actual original context of that particular verse)…it goes on and on until you feel your head spinning. Not to sound unkind, but those kinds of “debates” end up being an incoherent mess spoken with a certainty and conviction that does not match the rhetoric.

In any case, in this post I want to do something different. Instead of trying to rationally explain how irrational most, if not all, the critiques HH gives of Bill Nye in their book, I am going to give you a taste of it. After all, if there’s one thing to realize about the arguments of YECism, it is this: the power of their argument does not come from well-reasoned and articulated points about either science or the Bible. The power of their argument is found in the sheer volume of invective, condescending statements, and hysteria. It wears opponents down, and by doing so, it gives the impression to their followers that they’re winning the argument, when in reality, they are just putting a strobe-light and a mirrorball into their fun house of mirrors, and blinding everyone.

Overview of Bill Nye’s Arguments
That being said, a brief overview of what Bill Nye argued is necessary. Basically, Nye put out a number of scientific arguments that point to an old earth, thus refuting Ham’s claims for a young earth. In addition, Nye also raised specific questions regarding Ham’s claim that there was a world-wide flood 4,000 years ago, and that the story of Noah was a historical event. Nye’s arguments ranged as follows:

  • Fossils in Kentucky are evidence of an ancient earth
  • Ice cores in Antarctica are evidence of an ancient earth
  • Bristlecone pine trees have 9,000 rings, and thus are older than 6,000 years
  • How can plant life survive underwater for an entire year?
  • The impossibility for all the various rock layers to settle so quickly after the Flood
  • The fossil record is evidence of evolution and an ancient earth
  • How could animals get to Australia from the Middle East, a mere 4,000 years ago?
  • The impossibility of the millions of species today to have developed that quickly from the animals that came off of Noah’s Ark, a mere 4,000 years ago
  • The impossibility of one man and seven family members to build an Ark
  • YEC’s lack of predictive ability
  • In order for YEC to be true, natural laws would have had to change in the past
  • The distance of starlight points to an ancient universe

There were numerous other sub-points made, but overall, the above list sums up Nye’s presentation. And as you can see, they were specific scientific arguments that are worth addressing in an honest fashion. That, though, is something HH chose not to do. So without any further adieu, I present to you my summary of HH’s 70-page critique of Bill Nye’s presentation in one post…enjoy…(actual quotations will be italicized). [Please note: I am writing as HH…these are not my opinions!]

Ham and Hodge Go on the Offensive: Changing the  Topic, Fossils, Ice Cores, and Pines
Well, right out of the gate, Mr. Nye showed he was not playing fair. He “immediately changed the agreed topic of the debate (Is creation a viable model or origins in today’s modern scientific era?) to something else (Does Ken Ham’s creation model hold up? Is it viable?)” (81). Let’s get one thing straight, this isn’t Ken Ham’s model…it’s the biblical model that God told us. How dare Mr. Nye devalue creation!

In any case, Mr. Nye first talked about the fossils in the rock layers here in Kentucky, and he claimed that they were, in fact, millions of years old. Someone untrained might have thought Nye gave a devastating argument…but of course he did not! He just merely assumed what he claimed he was proving. Not only that, he clearly didn’t understand creationism: Noah’s Flood laid down all those rock layers!

Then Mr. Nye tried to convince people that the ice cores in Antarctica had 680,00 layers, and therefore that showed 680,000 winter-summer cycles, hence 680,000 years. Wrong! Ice cores don’t come with labels on them! Here in Kentucky you can get multiple ice layers in one winter! He’s just assuming that each cycle represents a year. Just assumption and guesses…that proves nothing!

And what about the Bristlecone pine trees that have 9,000 rings? Mr. Nye would like you to believe that proves they’re 9,000 years old. Wrong! That’s just an arbitrary claim and more assumptions! Many trees can have multiple growth cycles and multiple rings in the same year. Mr. Nye can’t prove that those trees got only one ring per year—he’s just assuming that. Now, “the bristlecone pines, with its dry climate, doesn’t readily afford multiple tree rings, but to assume the climate has always been identical to that of today is without warrant, even by Mr. Nye’s standards” (87). It’s just all fallible assumptions—God’s historical science textbook (the Bible) tells us that the Flood causes massive changes in weather patterns. So no…those trees prove nothing, other than the fact that Mr. Nye is using man’s historical science to battle God’s historical science.

HH on the Global Flood, Rock Layers, Skulls, and Kangaroos
And then Mr. Nye tried to say that claiming a global flood could lay down all those different sediment layers in a short time was unreasonable. Well, that’s just him claiming his own authority and questioning God! Concrete (“which is in reality artificial rock”) can solidify very quickly—who’s to say that couldn’t have happened with the rock layers after the flood? Was Bill Nye there? No, he was not!

And then Mr. Nye showed a bunch of different skulls on a slide, and tried to argue that you can’t really tell which ones were human or ape. Well, “this was a very poor attempt by Mr. Nye to intimidate people into believing his evolutionary view. Anyone can quickly show a slide depicting lots of skulls, claim this is evidence of evolution, and move on! That was a very unfair tactic by Mr. Nye, and not becoming of someone truly wanting to debate the issue of origins in a carefully thought-out way” (95).

And then Mr. Nye mocked YECism by asking, “How could animals from the Middle East make their way to Australia?” Well, there could have been a land bridge; or they could have floated to Australia on driftwood. Why can’t creationists come up with models based on their beliefs? Mr. Nye will never accept them, though, because he just wants to mock the Bible!

He also pointed out that if kangaroos travelled from the Middle East to Australia, then why are there no fossils found anywhere on the route from the Middle East to Australia? Well, “just because one doesn’t find the fossils of animals in an area doesn’t mean those animals didn’t live there. …Not finding fossils someplace is not a good indication that they never existed there…” (97-98). Clearly, Mr. Nye’s assumptions are not reasonable at all!

HH on Kinds, Species, Noah’s Ark, Ancient Technology, and the Fossil Record
Mr. Nye then totally claimed Mr. Ham said something he never said. Mr. Nye said that Mr. Ham said there were 7,000 kinds of animals on the Ark. Mr. Ham never said that! He said there could have been 8,000! But it could have been as few as 1,000 kinds…in any case, that’s Mr. Nye for you! Just blatantly misrepresenting things! He didn’t even know the difference between “species” and “kinds!” Clearly, he didn’t do his research. “The more I listened to the debate, the more I realized that Mr. Ham’s understanding of the nature of science and the origins issue was way above that of Mr. Nye” (102).

Mr. Nye then mocked the Bible by saying it was not reasonable to believe that Noah and his family could have built an Ark. Well, how does he know that Noah wasn’t an expert shipwright? After all, he could have studied for 500 years before he built the Ark! Besides, the ancient technology of that time was probably pretty amazing; unfortunately, but the time of the Age of Exploration, much of that knowledge had been lost. In addition, Noah could have hired workers; men like Methuselah and Lamech could have helped. We just don’t know.

But Mr. Nye won’t accept this, because he’s relying on autonomous human reason—he’s a materialist, and he has no basis for the laws of logic and reason! He has to borrow from the Christian worldview! How dare he try to make a logical argument against God!

Then Mr. Nye asked, “How could only eight people take care of all those animals on a floating zoo?” Well, “I want the reader to understand that Mr. Nye’s accusation implying bad treatment of animals is one tactic used by skeptics against those who believe the account of Noah’s Ark in the Bible” (110). Noah would never neglect those animals! Mr. Nye’s accusation was just a vicious attack.

This is the actual illustration the book gives to argue for AiG’s view of the fossil record and rock layers.

After that, Mr. Nye tried to convince people that the Geological Time Scale is true, and that all those fossilized animals were buried in sediment millions of years apart. Well, that is just an evolutionary story based on Mr. Nye’s worldview and religion of naturalism. We look at those same fossils and say they were all laid down during Noah’s Flood. Same evidence—different interpretation! Why can’t our beliefs be taught as science too?

We need to just state the obvious: evolution is no different than Greek mythology. “Really, Mr. Nye’s evolutionary belief is nothing but a human fairy tale about origins similar to the Greek myths” (122).

HH on Scientific Predictions, Natural Laws, and the Big Bang
And then, Mr. Nye started to harp on “predictions,” and how YECism doesn’t make scientific predictions. He had the audacity to say, “Ken Ham and his followers.” Let’s be clear, “it is not Ken Ham and his followers, but rather Mr. Ham and fellow followers of the Bible” (125). Anyway, why is Mr. Nye so hung up on predictions? He’s a materialist! “Why would his religion with the teaching that nothing is immaterial include a concept like predictability, which is not material? This is self-refuting for the materialistic worldview that Mr. Nye has been professing” (125).

But if you want to talk about predictions, the Bible is full of them—they’re called prophecies. So why do evolutionists reject biblical prophecies and rely on “the failed ‘prophecies’ or ‘predictions’ by secular scientists (e.g., dropped transitional forms, changing evolutionary ideas), and yet keep coming back for more (125)! It’s a spiritual issue, really—they are sinful and are in rebellion against God.

And can you believe it? Mr. Nye again accused YECists of saying that the natural laws have changed. “Creationists do not say that natural laws have ever changed. Mr. Ham said this. …he couldn’t understand what Mr. Nye was really saying here, as it didn’t make sense” (126).

Mr. Nye also tried to point to various dating methods, like radiometric dating, in an attempt to “prove” that there are rocks that are millions of years old. Well, you can’t trust radiometric dating. “Uniformitarian dating methods simply assume something has been uniform in the past—that is, unchanging” (139). Besides, radiometric dating is just filled with assumptions, and are just unreliable.

With that kind of absurd accusation, it shouldn’t surprise you that Mr. Nye believes in the Big Bang. But you know what the Big Bang is? It’s just an unprovable assumption. In fact, it is a disprovable assumption, because the Bible gives a different view that disproves the Big Bang! The Big Bang says that stars came before the earth; but we know that’s not true! Some Christians try to say God used the Big Bang, but that creates more problems. “If Christians attempt to force the Big Bang into the Bible, they have to say that God’s Word in Genesis in regard to the creation of the earth and the sun is totally wrong! (129).

And by the way, that means that the stars aren’t expanding because of the Big Bang—we know they are expanding because God is stretching them out. Just consider Isaiah 42:5: “Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out…” There are lots of other verses just like that: all giving accurate, scientific information about the universe. “On the basis of God’s Word, Christians would expect to find the heavens stretching as well as evidence of it having been stretched. This stretching is a great confirmation of what was predicted based on the Bible” (133).

Speaking of stars, Mr. Nye then made an outrageous claim that the elements (as in the table of elements) were created when stars exploded! “Has anyone observed this? No. Has anyone repeated this? No. So at best, this is mere wishful thinking to try to tell a story about how they believe elements came about” (136). All it is, is fairytales! “Once upon a time,” those secularists say, “Once upon a later time…and an even later time!” It is all simply fiction! “It is stories, on top of stories, on top of stories. [Mr. Nye] is deliberately mixing historical science and observational science together and calling them one word—science” (137). It all is just as ridiculous as Greek mythological stories! “So whose arbitrary stories should be trusted—those of the Greek mythologists or the modern humanistic mythologists?” (138).

Sure, Mr. Nye tries to point to distant starlight as supposed “proof” that the universe is 14 billion years old—but how does he know that? It’s all just a bunch of assumptions. Genesis 1 says God created light on Day 4, and that was about 6,000 years ago…case closed. God could have created light in transit, the speed of light could have been much faster in the past [Writer’s Note: Reflect back on HH’s insistence that they don’t believe natural laws change], or there could be time zones in space. Who really knows? Was Mr. Nye there? Who are you going to believe? Mr. Nye and his humanistic fallible fairytales, or God’s historical science textbook, the Bible?

HH and Their Conclusion about Bill Nye
Well, Mr. Nye concluded that “Ken Ham’s creation model” is not viable. AGAIN—it’s not Ken Ham’s creation model—it is the Bible! In any case, “Although Mr. Nye brought up hosts of points, he really didn’t present anything that would be construed as remotely devastating to creation” (154). It was all just a bunch of assumptions, poor research, and assertions that were simply wrong.

Mr. Nye probably knew how pathetic his points were—that’s why he used the Skeptical Method in hopes of discrediting the Bible. “However, a careful check of his claims uncovers that he was not able to poke holes in the creation model built on God’s revealed Word” (154). It was like Mr. Nye took a gun, fired off a bunch of shots, but they were all blanks—and all he could hope for was that perhaps Mr. Ham would be rattled by the noise.

But of course, Mr. Ham wasn’t rattled at all! He was truly wise to ignore all that noise “and instead concentrate on teaching the true nature of science and relating the worldview conflict that was being acted out before the eyes of the worldwide viewing audience” (154).

Whew…to Conclude
So, let me, the actual Joel Anderson (not my “inner HH”), just ask: Was that convincing, or was that rather frustrating to read? Did HH convincingly address Bill Nye’s scientific arguments, or did they essentially dismiss every single one, out of hand, as “assumptions and fairytales”? Did you see the dizzying use of the five “mirrors” AiG employs in their arguments? Can you see through the smoke?

I know this post was rather long, but I wanted to put it all together in one post, so that you can have a taste of the unrelenting barrage of pseudo-science, ad hominems, and manipulative rhetoric that went on for 70 pages. In my next post, I will offer my thoughts and observations on what I illustrated in this post. After reading this, though, ask yourself how would you go about addressing any of this?

And indeed, that gets to the deeper question about all of this “creation/evolution debate”: How should a thoughtful Christian go about addressing these kinds of claims by YECism? Trust me, I know how frustrating it can be, especially when you get sucked into a debate with someone who continually parrots what is laid out in this post. I’ve probably said a few things in the heat of the moment I shouldn’t have.

So, what is one to do? What is the best way to go about it? That’s for next time.

Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (Part 3): Changing Natural Laws, why Non-Christians Aren’t Allowed to Use Reason…and why Bill Nye is kind of like Hitler

Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (Part 3): Changing Natural Laws, why Non-Christians Aren’t Allowed to Use Reason…and why Bill Nye is kind of like Hitler

In my last post on Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge’s take on the Nye/Ham Debate that took place in February 2014, I took a look at the way Ham and Hodge (HH) attempted to frame Ken Ham’s opening statements in a favorable light. As I noted, nothing in Ham’s statements or HH’s analysis of them actually addressed the debate topic: “Is young earth creationism a valid scientific model for the study of origins?” Instead, it was an attempt to obfuscate what science really is, to paint Bill Nye as a bad man, and to portray Ken Ham as a champion of biblical authority.

In this post, I turn my attention to the way HH analyzes Bill Nye’s opening statements. To be clear, I think Nye’s understanding of the Bible and of the Christian faith is wanting; but he does know what he’s talking about regarding the fundamentals of science, and that was the focus of the debate. As you’ll be able to see, that is precisely what HH wants their readers to forget about. HH’s goal is to convince the reader that Bill Nye is not only bad and sinister, but also ignorant of science. Let’s see how they do.

Bill Nye: He’s Trying to Blind You!
The very first thing HH does in their analysis of Nye’s statements is not to address any issue, but rather to try to equate Ken Ham…with God’s Word. They took issue with the way Nye opened his argument. He had said that the debate was ultimately about two stories: “Mr. Ham’s story” and the one of “mainstream science.” “Not so” states HH! It is “about biblical creation as revealed in God’s Word” (35). Ken Ham “is simply standing on the shoulders of most Bible-believing Christians” (36).

Well, that’s not really true. Yes, there have been many Christians throughout the years who assumed the early chapters of Genesis were historical; but for that matter, there have been many Christians who didn’t. But what’s more important (and this is the real issue), it is just blatantly false that Christians throughout history have read Genesis 1 as a scientific description of origins. Ken Ham’s “story” is that the early chapters of Genesis are “God’s historical science textbook.” I will bet my house that no one in Church history has ever made that claim until the 20th century and the rise of the young earth creationist movement.

Regardless of this fact, HH boldly states that it’s not Ken Ham’s story, but rather God’s Word; therefore, Bill Nye simply isn’t wrong about science—he is anti-God. Don’t believe me? Consider this statement: “Really, it was Mr. Nye representing the ungodly, versus God and His Word. It just so happens that Mr. Ken Ham was representing the position of the godly, with affirms God and His Word” (36).

Remember, they haven’t even addressed any of Bill Nye’s actual arguments, and they already have tried to convince their readers that Bill Nye is not simply bad, but is anti-God. They are basically saying, “So do you believe anything he tells you!” They haven’t simply poisoned the well for the debate; they have filled it with arsenic, anthrax, and cyanide, strychnine and ricin.

And to top it off (again, before they even get to any of Nye’s arguments), HH takes issue with the way Nye presented the debate topic. At the beginning of his time, Nye had put up a slide that read: Does Ken Ham’s Creation Model hold up? Is it viable? Now, as any reasonable person can tell, this was obviously a slight paraphrase of the official debate topic. “Not so,” cries HH! “Of course, this was not the debate topic. [Nye] was trying to change the topic to point to Mr. Ham as opposed to the biblical position that Mr. Ham espoused” (37).

Remember…this isn’t just Ken Ham’s position—it’s God’s position.

Historical Science and Natural Laws
The way that HH actually goes about criticizing Bill Nye’s arguments is truly fascinating, yet still predictable for anyone who is familiar with the standard talking points of Answers in Genesis. The very first thing HH criticizes Nye for is his ignorance of the difference between observational science and historical science. This is a standard plank in the YECist platform: if you take this away, the entire YEC edifice collapses. But since there really is no difference, since no scientist (outside of YECist organizations) defines “historical science” as “religious beliefs about the past that can’t be tested,” the fact is there is no edifice to YEC to begin with. It is all smoke and mirrors.

The second thing HH accuses Nye of is distorting the YECist position regarding the laws of nature. Nye put forth the point that young earth creationists believe that the laws of nature are not constant, and that at some point in the past they changed, whether it be in relation to the age of the universe, the age of the earth, or the YECist claim that there was a worldwide flood a mere 4,000 years ago.

Well, HH accuses Nye of setting up a straw man, and that such a claim “was a fabrication by Mr. Nye” (37). They continue: “Creationists agree that natural laws aren’t changing. In fact, in his presentation, Mr. Ham challenged Mr. Nye as to how he could believe the laws of logic and nature from a naturalistic view of origins” (38).

Wait…what?

Young earth creationists do, in fact, teach that natural laws have changed. (A) How can there be distant starlight from over 14 billion years if the universe is only 6,000 years? Easy: the anisotropic synchrony convention—the claim that light can speed up or slow down with the vacuum of space! Jason Lisle at AiG even claims that ancient cultures were familiar with this fictitious theory that he promotes. (B) How did millions of species develop so quickly from the “1,000 kinds” that came off of Noah’s ark a mere 4,000 years ago? Joel Duff writes about the claims of hyper-evolution made by YECists, who claim there was an explosion of genetic variation immediately after the flood, but then soon slowed down to the rate that we know observe today. Let’s be clear: young earth creationists teach that natural laws change—it’s in their very literature.

The Laws of Logic
And while we are at it, what was that talk about the laws of logic? Let’s put aside the fact that it had nothing to do with the topic of the constancy of natural laws, and let’s focus on the fact that HH positively hammers Nye on this point. Later on, they say the following:

“Mr. Nye is actually borrowing from a biblical worldview to make the claim that natural laws will not change in the future. …Christians have a basis for such a thing (natural law being constant in the future). But in the secular view, natural laws have changed from the onset of the Big Bang, and they have no way of knowing that in the future the laws of nature might not change again. Christians know that the laws of nature will not change since God, who is not bound by time and knows the future, reveals that to us. As God’s Word states, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8)” (39).

And when Nye asked the crowd if Ken Ham’s version of Noah’s flood was “reasonable,” HH came back says this:

“I want to address something more disturbing about Mr. Nye’s use of ‘reason’ by his own professed worldview. Mr. Nye is a secular humanist, thus naturalistic and materialistic in his religion. …Those who hold to a naturalistic and materialistic worldview say that everything is matter. …But here is the disturbing part: logic, reason, truth, knowledge, and so on are not material…. If Mr. Nye (or any other materialist) is consistent in their worldview, then logic, truth, and reason should not exist in their worldview, any more than God, who is also nonmaterial. Mr. Nye is actually borrowing from a biblical worldview when he attempts to use logic and reasoning” (42).

Are you confused? That’s okay, I think that was sort of HH’s goal. Allow me to trace their argument.

  • Bill Nye appealed to the constant laws of nature, pointed out that YECists claim that, whether in their attempts to explain distant starlight or hyper-speciation since the flood, they argue that natural laws can change.
  • HH responded with the claim that “secularists” believe natural laws change and that Christians are confident that natural laws don’t change, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
  • HH further said that Nye is simply “borrowing from the biblical worldview” when he attempts to use reason and logic. They thus implied that since Nye was a naturalist, he wasn’t allowed to use logic and reason…? What?

Now, let’s be clear: what Nye said is true—YECists claim natural laws change. How else can HH respond, but with the illogical mess that they present? Does anyone in their right mind think that when Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, that that is the basis for belief that the laws of nature don’t change? Are they really trying to claim that Hebrews 13:8 is making a scientific statement about the natural universe? That is nonsensical.

And so what if Nye is “borrowing from the biblical worldview”? Now, let me say that technically HH has a point here. If you take philosophical naturalism to its logical conclusion, then there really is no naturalistic basis or reason for logic, meaning and purpose. But that’s really beside the point. As a Christian, I realize that even though Bill Nye is not a Christian, he is still created in God’s image and still has the ability to use his reason and logic to understand the world, even if he fails to acknowledge where that ability comes from.

But it seems that HH sees that as justification for completely dismissing Bill Nye’s very reasonable argument. HH essentially says, “Bill Nye is appealing to reason, but he can’t do that because he’s not a Christian…therefore we can dismiss what he has to say.” And just like that, HH has succeeded (at least in the eyes of Ham’s followers) in completely having to address the very real fact that they have to claim natural laws change at random in order for their YECist claims to work. They have side-stepped having to address the fact that their claims are illogical.

Bill Nye might not be a Christian, and he might not have a philosophical basis for his use of reason and logic, but at least he’s using it.

The Flood and Science Education
The rest of HH’s analysis of Nye’s opening comments were fairly predictable.

  • How could plants survive a year underwater? They were only under water 110 days, and some could have survived on floating log mats. Besides, “some plants or seeds that may not survive underwater today may have been able to do so at the time of the Flood” (41). Wait…isn’t that evidence that HH is claiming natural laws can change, something they adamantly deny a mere three pages prior?
  • What about fossils and rock layers? It’s all historical science, and interpretations will depend on one’s starting point. Bill Nye wasn’t there, but God tells us in the Bible, and we’ll take God’s word for it.
  • So what if millions of people don’t embrace 6,000 year creation? Would you agree with Hitler if he said there were millions of people who didn’t believe the Jews were people? (Yes, HH actually compared Bill Nye with Hitler).
  • The reason why science education in America is falling behind is because Christianity has been “thrown out of public education and replaced with evolutionary humanism” (47).

And with that, HH finishes their analysis of Nye’s arguments with a general accusation of the culture: “The more Mr. Nye’s naturalistic view of origins permeates the education system, the more I suggest we will see moral relativism pervading the culture—which is exactly what we see happening today. The religion of naturalism will ultimately destroy a culture! Mr. Nye’s religion is pernicious for any nation” (48).

Remember, the topic was: “Is young earth creationism a viable scientific model?” Bill Nye gave initial reasons why he thought it wasn’t, and in response, HH called him ignorant, dishonest, and anti-God; they said he was not allowed to use reason because he wasn’t a Christian; they were able to get in a Hitler reference; and they falsely equated a scientific theory with a naturalistic philosophy, and then put forth a rallying cry to fight the culture war.

So…is young earth creationism a viable scientific model for origins? There has been no evidence given as of yet.

Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (Part 2): The Smoke and Mirrors of YEC Debate Tactics

Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (Part 2): The Smoke and Mirrors of YEC Debate Tactics

If you have ever spent any time in one of the many “creation/evolution” debate forums on Facebook, you can attest to the fact that many of the debates get pretty toxic pretty quickly. Indeed, it is easy to get frustrated and to allow yourself to get sucked into the pettiness. It is hard to stick to making your case and not allowing the toxicity get to you, and it is hard not to get frustrated at the lack of coherence in many of the young earth creationist claims. And it certainly is hard not to get offended when, after you make a basic logical point, not only does the response you get not address your point at all, but you find in the response, some rather nasty and condescending innuendos about your character and rejection of God’s word, and thinly veiled boasts about their own unshakeable faith.

Such responses do not come from a well thought out worldview, though. They come from rather blind imitation of those who are advocating YEC. They are predictable knee-jerk responses that have essentially been programmed into YECist adherents by organizations like ICR and AiG. The trick is to clearly identify all the triggers and stock answers that are in the tool box of YEC organizations. Once you do that, you can see them coming a mile away, and it becomes something akin to pointing out the tricks of a rather bad magician. The fact is, men like Ken Ham never really discuss actual science or biblical interpretation. Oh, he may use scientific terms and biblical passages, but the context in which he uses them is not science or biblical studies. It is a complex and often confusing web of half-truths, distortions, and innuendo. It is smoke and mirrors—but once you see where the mirrors really are, it becomes easier to see through the smoke.

It’s on full display on the AiG website, Ken Ham’s blog, the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, as well as Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge’s book, Inside the Nye/Ham Debate, the book I am currently analyzing this month as a way of commemorating the debate of three years ago. These posts are not analyzing the scientific arguments of Ken Ham in the book, for like I said, there really are none. Instead, these posts will attempt to point out where the mirrors are so you can see through the smoke. So let’s get to Ham and Hodge’s (HH) analysis of the 5-minute opening statements of both Bill Nye and Ken Ham from the debate.

As a reminder, the agreed upon topic for the debate was this: “Is creation a viable scientific model for origins?” Or in other words, “Is young earth creationism a viable scientific method for understanding origins?” For that matter, if we to be blatantly honest about what the debate was about, we’d just state it this way: “Is Genesis 1-11 providing accurate scientific and historical information?” Let’s see how Ken Ham addresses this question.

Ken Ham’s Irrelevant Opening Statement
Part One of Inside the Nye/Ham Debate is devoted to HH’s analysis of the 5-minute opening statements by both Ken Ham and Bill Nye. The chapter covers 18 pages, five of which are devoted to Ken Ham, thirteen of which are devoted to Bill Nye. The reason for that discrepancy will soon become apparent: the aim of the chapter, and indeed the entire book, is not so much to analyze the arguments put forth by both men, as it is to convince the reader that Bill Nye is a bad, mean-spirited man, and that Ken Ham is a champion of God’s word.

In any case, HH points out that the very first thing Ken Ham said in his opening is that there are “biblical creationists” who are able to do “observational science” and build technology, without having to have an evolutionary worldview. That is absolutely true, but given the topic of the debate, that is also absolutely irrelevant. The topic wasn’t “Do you need to have an evolutionary worldview to build technology?” but rather, “Is young earth creationism a viable scientific model for origins?”

So why did Ken Ham open with this completely irrelevant fact? Simple: to mislead and to get people to not focus on what the topic of the debate actually was. To be clear, not only was the point he made irrelevant, what Ham was implying was also illogical. He was implying that (A) since there are scientists who are “biblical creationists” who build technology, that (B) somehow that proves evolutionary theory isn’t true. But that proves no such thing. The two points have nothing to do with each other. It’s like saying, “There are ‘biblical creationists’ who build technology who don’t believe Harvey Oswald acted alone…therefore Harvey Oswald must have had an accomplice.”

And while we’re at it, let’s just point out the misleading name Ken Ham gives for his position: biblical creationism. It is slipped under the radar, and no one even considers how misleading that label is. Even Ham’s opponents often use that label, and when they do, he’s already won the debate he is really focused on: getting people to believe that to question his claims about Genesis 1-11 is to question the Bible itself. Let’s be clear, his position is that of young earth creationism, and not biblical creationism. The Nye/Ham debate was tackling the question, “Is young earth creationism actually scientific?” Another debate could easily tackle the question, “Is young earth creation actually biblical?” But to allow the claim that the YEC view is the view of the Bible to stand is a huge mistake, for it allows Ham to put forth as his premise that the Bible is on his side. It isn’t.

Let’s Define “Science”
In any case, HH then pointed out that Ken Ham rightly took the time to define the terms in the debate, namely, what the definition of “science” was. (By contrast, HH pointed out that Bill Nye didn’t do this. Why not? The answer will soon become obvious).

So how did Ken Ham define “science”? He looked it up on the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and came up with this: “the state of knowing; knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.” He ignored the specific definition in regards to the scientific method, and instead decided to use the most general one. The reason was obvious: by completely ignoring the actual definition in regards to the study of the natural world, Ham was able to then put forth his own definitions of his own fictitious categories of observational science (science that is “based on the scientific method” and builds technology) and historical science (“non-repeatable, non-observable science [knowledge] dealing with the past, which then enters the real of beliefs [really, religion]).

Only then, did Ham then define the scientific method. Notice what he did. Without batting an eye, Ham:

  • Defined “science” in the most general way possible (i.e. knowledge)
  • Presented fictitious categories of science (i.e. observational and historical)
  • Defined “observational science” as the kind that uses the scientific method
  • Defined “historical science” as essentially “knowledge based on religious belief”

And voila! Ham deftly ruled out the use of the scientific method in any discussion about origins, and instead put in its place “religious belief.” That statement alone is proof that Ken Ham lost the debate: he essentially admitted that young earth creationism could not be supported by the scientific method. But because of the “smoke” of over-generalized definitions and the “mirrors” of fictitious categories of science, Ham can continue to state that YEC is “science”…historical science, the kind that is outside the realm of the scientific method, the kind that is a matter of religious belief…and religious belief needs to be based on…authority. And whose authority is it going to be? God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible word?

The Book’s “Analysis” of Ham’s Opening Statement
“This was a good opening, considering that the speaker was on the defensive. Mr. Ham started by destroying the idea that creationists cannot be ‘real’ scientists…” (32).

Thus begins HH’s “analysis” of Ken Ham’s comments. Ironically, given the obvious tactic Ken Ham used to mislead people in regards to proper definitions, HH actually states, “Evolution and science are both terms with multiple definitions that can muddy the waters if not clarified up front. …At least when Mr. Ham gave his presentation, people knew what he meant by words like evolution, science, and creation” (32).

But Ken Ham didn’t define “evolution” or “creation.” He defined “science” as “knowledge,” said that the scientific method is only applicable to technology, and claimed that “science/knowledge” of the past has to be based on religious belief. And yet, HH wants their readers (who are probably already fans of Ken Ham) to know, that this was a “good opening.”

“Ken Ham destroyed the idea that creationists can’t be real scientists!” (But no one said they couldn’t be good at technology)

“Ken Ham is the one who took time to define the terms!” (But he didn’t…at all)

And, if I may draw an analogy to a famous children’s story, “Just look at the beautiful clothing the emperor is wearing!” And the people applauded…until… (But he’s not wearing any clothes!)

“There’s a Difference Between Observational and Historical Science!” (“Four legs good, two legs bad!”)
The rest of the book’s “analysis” of Ken Ham’s opening statement really is an example of the pigs in Animal Farm teaching the other animals the farm’s motto: “Four legs good, two legs bad!” For it hammers home this supposed difference between “observational science” and “historical science,” and accuses Bill Nye of being dishonest and refusing to admit there is a difference. To paraphrase a number of paragraphs: “Mr. Nye refuses to admit this, because if he did, he’d have to admit his view on origins is a religious belief, and he’d lose the debate! Mr. Ham is honest enough to admit his beliefs…and his beliefs are based on God’s Word!”

Objective analysis, this is not.

But it’s not just Bill Nye who is the enemy—the modern education system is the enemy as well.  And at this point, HH simply slips in the accusation that evolution is the foundation of secular humanism, and that schools are brainwashing students, and are “arbitrarily defining science as naturalism and outlawing the supernatural” (33). And with their fictitious distinction between “observational” and “historical” science, HH then states, “Sadly…so many people are being duped into believing that evolution…is also science in the same way [as observational science]” (33).

Amazingly, HH then claims that evolutionary theory is the religion of naturalism or atheism, and that “secularists” have used “the bait and switch” to “rename the religious aspect of evolution” as “science” in order to teach “that autonomous man is the one who determines truth” (34). Never mind the fact that we are now light years away from the actual debate topic, let’s point out one of the more maddening tactics AiG loves to use: accusing opponents of doing the very things they do. Let’s be clear, the only one redefining terms and pulling the bait and switch is Ken Ham. In a debate that was to focus on whether or not YEC is scientifically viable, within the first five minutes, he redefined what science is, introduced fictitious categories of science, accused evolution of being the same as religion, launched into an attack on naturalism, materialism, atheism, and accused anyone who is convinced of evolution of trying to set up autonomous man as the determiner of truth.

Did I mention none of that had to do with the topic of the debate?

But this is what YECists like Ken Ham routinely do. This is their playbook: not just smoke and mirrors, but the mirrors they use are those crazy, distorting mirrors that one finds in fun house attractions.

Wrapping Up the Book’s “Analysis” of Ham’s Opening Statement
At the end of their analysis on Ken Ham’s opening comments, HH throw out a number of statements that could warrant their own blog posts on their own:

“Mr. Ham’s opening was perfectly consistent since observable science comes out of a Christian worldview that is built on a literal creation” (35).

What does that mean? We can observe and measure the distant of light from stars, and they are billions of light years away—this contradicts Ham’s claims that the universe is only 6,000 years old. And what is “a literal creation?” Creation is the natural world, how can it not be literal? Does he really believe the Christian worldview is dependent on whether or not the universe is only 6,000 years old?

“We can trust that those same [natural] laws won’t change and thus can be relied on since the Bible alludes to this in several places” (35).

But Ken Ham rejects natural laws in order to argue for a young earth. The speed of light in a vacuum is constant, therefore we can be confident, based on the unchanging natural laws that make it possible to do science in the first place, that there are stars that are billions of light years away from the earth. YEC rejects that and claims that light can speed up or slow down in a vacuum. And where does the Bible speak of the laws of science?

And finally, “All the historical sciences (or historical knowledge) are wrong, save one. They are all fictional stories but one…. All other forms of historical science are based on man’s fallible, imperfect guesses about the past by people who were not there. Therefore, they are arbitrary, next to God’s absolute standard” (35).

That’s right, without saying anything related to the actual debate topic, HH has deftly discarded the basic definition of science, substituted two fictitious categories of “science,” redefined one of those categories as nothing more than “knowledge based on religious belief,” and thus concludes that any “historical science” that isn’t based on the authority of God’s Word (i.e. the assumption that Genesis 1-11 is scientific) is a fiction.

The debate topic was, “Is young earth creationism a valid scientific model for studying origins?” and the answer that Ken Ham gave (which is re-affirmed in the book) is, “Evolution is a fiction; Bill Nye is dishonest; our education system promotes atheism.”

Smoke and funny mirrors….it can get comical and frightening at the same time.

The Nye/Ham Debate (Part 1): A Month Long Celebration of the 3-Year Anniversary! (My critique of “Inside the Nye/Ham Debate”)

The Nye/Ham Debate (Part 1): A Month Long Celebration of the 3-Year Anniversary! (My critique of “Inside the Nye/Ham Debate”)

Three years ago, Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham debated each other at the Creation Museum. The topic of the debate was this: “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins in Today’s Modern Scientific Era?” By that time, I was already pretty convinced that young earth creationism was not true, but I hadn’t yet really delved into really investigating it beyond just some of the more general themes. And so, when the debate rolled around, I made sure to watch it. I knew I didn’t agree with Ken Ham, but I thought, “Surely, there must be something worthwhile to consider regarding his claims.”

Needless to say, by the end of the debate, I was shocked: for all practical purposes, Ken Ham had said absolutely nothing. I ended up writing about twelve posts on my old blog, analyzing the debate, discussing the meaning of Genesis 1-11, and sharing my thoughts on what I was learning about how the early Church Fathers viewed Genesis 1-11.  By the end of that school year, some of my comments about Irenaeus and Orthodoxy’s view of Genesis 1-3 were used by my headmaster at the time as justification for terminating my employment. In time, much of those posts made their way into my book, The Heresy of Ham.

Yes the book cover might look familiar….

In any case, watching that debate, quite literally, changed the course of my life. Last year I even purchased Ken Ham’s book, Inside the Nye/Ham Debate, in order to get a glimpse about how he felt the debate went. He and his son-in-law Bodie Hodge co-wrote the book, and it was even more shocking than the debate. The book essentially takes the reader through the various parts of the debate, and supposedly gives extra insights into the debate.

In reality, the book is nothing more than shockingly bad propaganda. I can liken it to the sort of pictures you may see in a partisan media source of an opponent of that media source. To touch upon the current political mess in America, Vox will always portray Donald Trump this way and Hillary Clinton this way:

Crazy Trump: “The camps will have huuuge walls!”
Patriotic Clinton: “I’ll be ready for that 3 AM call!”

By contrast, Breitbart will portray these two a little differently:

Let’s Make America Great Again!
Me wants the precious!!!

Why is that? Because each media source has clear agenda they are pushing; therefore, they purposely choose pictures to bias you either for or against any certain candidate or figure before you even read the article. Such actions are intentional, and intentionally try to influence you before anything is even said.

Inside the Nye/Ham Debate is like that all the way through. In fact, it is so blatant, that is what shocked me most of all. I was well aware of the actual debate claims the book covered—I had watched the debate and had written on it. But what stood out to me was how Ham and Hodge purposely tried to manipulate their readers by the way in which they discussed the debate. I knew at some point I would have to write about it.

Well, that time has come! The three-year anniversary of the Nye/Ham Debate is upon us, so what better time to analyze Ham’s analysis of that debate? Throughout February, along with my continued series on “The Ways of the Worldviews,” I will also be writing a number of posts about Inside the Nye/Ham Debate. After all, just today, Ken Ham sent out TEN TWEETS within ONE HOUR, calling to people’s attention that this was the three-year anniversary of the debate, and he even wrote a post of his own about it, where he encouraged people to buy a copy of the debate along with the book Inside the Nye/Ham Debate.

So I figured I’d help him out in spreading the word about, not only the debate, but also what he and Bodie Hodge actually say in their book about the debate. I think you will find it eye-opening…at least those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. So, let’s jump in and get our feet wet.

The Introduction
Before Ham/Hodge (HH) even get into their analysis of the debate itself, they open the book with some introductory comments. And one of their first introductory comments was how the debate wasn’t fair from the start: “Due to the nature of the topic, the discussion was not set up as a fair debate” (27). The reason they felt it is unfair was because the topic was, “Is creation a viable scientific model for origins?” That meant that Ham had to defend his position, whereas Nye could just attack Ham’s position, and not have to defend his own.

Of course that would be the case, HH mused, because, “Evolutionists…do not want to defend their position, but are willing to attack the opposition, which gives them the edge” (27). So allow me to point out the book’s first manipulative tactic: accuse “evolutionists” of not only being cowards unwilling to defend their position, but also of being those kind of mean people who only want to attack others.

By contrast, HH portrays Ken Ham as a veritable angel bathed in light, willing to undergo such unfair persecution: “Mr. Ham probably agreed to the debate topic knowing it would be skewed against him; that considered, it was very gracious for him to entertain the debate, ‘knowing how the cards were shuffled’” (28). Not only that, but HH wanted the reader to know that Ham showed even more grace by agreeing to speak first, and thereby giving Bill Nye the opportunity to have the final say.

Why would Ken Ham be so gracious, after already showing grace by accepting such an unfair debate topic? I’ll let HH explain: “Mr. Ham told me…it was most important for him to know that the message God had laid on his heart was heard clearly—even if that meant giving Bill Nye a seeming tactical advantage. And as anyone who watched the debate knows, Mr. Ham presented not only the biblical creationist worldview, but also unashamedly and clearly shared the gospel of Jesus Christ” (28).

But that’s not how Bill Nye is presented in the introduction. HH pointed out that Nye said after the debate that he took his debate tactic from the young earth creationist Duane Gish, whose tactic (known as the “Gish Gallop”) was to throw so much information out in rapid fire succession, jumping from point to point, that it wouldn’t give the opponent time to adequately address it all, and he would end up looking foolish. Nye essentially tried to do to Ken Ham the same thing YECists do to others.

If you’ve ever seen Duane Gish debate, you know that is exactly what he did. Well, HH simply said, “That’s misconception of what Dr. Gish did,” and then proceeded to accuse Nye of just throwing too much information out there in order to try get Ken Ham bogged down in details. But don’t worry, HH assures the reader that “Mr. Ham didn’t take the bait and stuck to the debate topic” (29).

Well, I watched the debate, and I have to say, I didn’t see Ken Ham present the gospel of Jesus Christ. But upon reading the introduction, I saw clearly what HH really wanted the reader to see: (A) what a cowardly attacker Bill Nye was, and (B) what a selfless, gracious, clever and godly man Ken Ham was.

…all before anything about the actual debate was discussed.

So, do you think the introduction is just a version of the Trump/Clinton pictures from your favorite hyper-partisan media source? I sure do.

Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, and Georgia Purdom, showing off Ham’s book, “The Lie”

Just wait until HH’s discussion of the actual debate gets going.

I hope you enjoy my month-long celebration of the three-year anniversary of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham Debate. It will not so much be an analysis of the scientific claims made in the debate, as it will be an analysis of the manipulative tactics Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis use in place of making any actual substantive arguments. You can go to youtube and watch the segments in question as you read my posts. There will be plenty to hear and read…that is, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.

A Brief Look Back at the Past Year…

A Brief Look Back at the Past Year…

It was just about a year ago that I wrote my first post about young earth creationism, and how dangerous I felt it was. My first post was entitled, “Why I am not Teaching This Year…and the Heresy of Ham,” In it I talked about how I was let go from a small Evangelical Christian School because I essentially did not adhere to Ken Ham’s young earth creationism. I was told I was not a “good fit” for the Biblical Worldview department, despite the fact that I not only had I taught Biblical Worldview for eight years, but I was the one who had developed all four courses of Biblical Worldview for the high school. That meant I was no longer a “good fit” for the very department and courses I had created.

It was a very painful experience, because I knew I had done nothing wrong. I wasn’t pushing evolution, or theistic evolution, or even young earth creationism in my classes. I did have one three-week unit for my seniors in which we looked at all the major views of the creation/evolution debate, but my goal was to have the students analyze and question each view, pure and simple. But apparently, because I personally disagreed with young earth creationism, that was grounds for my dismissal.

FB_IMG_1469234876929Over the past year, I have written quite a lot on this blog on not only young earth creationism, but also the new atheist movement, Biblical Studies, as well as some more personal stories. I’ve also worked on finishing my book that is now out, The Heresy of Ham, that makes the argument that not only is young earth creationism unscientific, but it is based on demonstrably wrong biblical exegesis. In addition, Ken Ham’s claims that Christians throughout Church history had always read Genesis 1-11 as literal history is absolutely false, plain and simple.

But if you read the end of my post, “Why I am not Teaching This Year,” you’ll see I had a few other goals for the year. In addition to finishing The Heresy of Ham (accomplished), I also wanted to publish my book, Getting Schooled, which is a humorous memoir of my crazy experiences as a high school teacher–I am happy to say that I completed that too, and it is available at Amazon.com. I said I also wanted to get closer to completing my translation of the Bible. Well, I have been able to get through a “rough translation” of the Old Testament, and am in the midst of polishing it up, little by little. Hopefully, I will have the Torah out within the next month or two.

I have been able to, though, go back through my translation of the New Testament, make a number of revisions, and correct a few mistakes. It is also available at Amazon.com. I title it: The New Testament: JAV (Joel Anderson Version)–not out of a sense of hubris, but actually as sort of an acknowledgement to the students of my class of 2001. For the four years I taught them Bible and English, occasionally sharing with them translations I had done of various passages, they were the ones who kept telling me I needed to translate the whole Bible. I remember one student in particular, Elliot Sagan, said I should call it “The JAV.” And so, hence the title.

I have also gone through a previous book of poetry I had written, and have also revised it a little. It is entitled Up Until August. It’s more of a personal project.

The other goal I had stated last year was to finish a Worldview book, entitled The Ways of the World, in which I trace the history of Western Thought and Philosophy. Well, I haven’t gotten to that. The rough draft I had last year is still a very rough draft. I eventually might finish it and try to publish it as a book, but for now I am leaning toward (at least at first) turning the chapters into various posts for this blog.

It certainly has been quite a busy year. We will see what this next year brings.

    

Quick Announcement about “The Heresy of Ham”….It’s Here!

Quick Announcement about “The Heresy of Ham”….It’s Here!

I’d like to announce that the print edition of The Heresy of Ham is now available immediately on createspace.com, and  Amazon.com.

Please, go check it out, “like” it, then, of course, buy it and, once you read it, go to Amazon.com and write a review of it. (And by all means, share this announcement with whomever you want!)

https://www.createspace.com/6398648

Thanks again,

Joel

Atheist Jerry Coyne is a Scientist: He Can Review Books Without Even Having to Read Them (Part 2)

Atheist Jerry Coyne is a Scientist: He Can Review Books Without Even Having to Read Them (Part 2)

hicmmea-2In my previous post, I discussed Jerry Coyne’s dismissive book review of a new book from BioLogos entitled, How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science. What was fascinating about it was that Coyne admitted he hadn’t even read it. So in reality, his book review was a review of someone else’s article, along with the publicity blurb that BioLogos put out about the book.

Jerry Coyne, for the record, is a science professor at the University of Chicago and an atheist who is part of the New Atheist Movement. He even has recently written a book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible—the name of the book is self-explanatory.

In any case, there was so much to talk about, I just couldn’t fit everything into one post…hence, “Part 2.”

Coyne on Haarsma…
In the second part of his review, Coyne quotes the article he read that quoted Deborah Haarsma, the president of BioLogos: [Haarsma] treasures Genesis, she said, because she reads in it the message that “God is continually sustaining the universe he created with intention and for a purpose.” Science, she wrote, doesn’t replace God, “it gives us a human description of how God is creating and sustaining.”

Now, I think that is a pretty straightforward and accurate statement: science doesn’t replace God. Science (and specifically evolution in this case) is simply a description of the natural processes of the world. Consequently, if you’re an atheist, you’ll think that there is no one behind those natural processes; if you’re a Christian, you’ll think that those natural processes are the means by which God continues to create. But science (and evolution specifically) cannot comment on the existence or non-existence of God, because it is limited to the how questions.

Well, Coyne doesn’t seem to agree. His response is, “Maybe a ‘how’, but surely not a why! As I noted above, it would be a cruel and capricious God who would create through evolution and natural selection. The onus is on theists to tell us why God used evolution rather than de novo creation.”

Jerry-coyneMethinks Coyne has over-stepped the boundaries of science. Once again, he puts forth is idea that if there is a God then evolution would make him “cruel and capricious,” (whereas without a God, evolution is marvelous and wondrous). And then, Coyne the scientist criticizes Christians who believe in evolution because they can’t explain why he did it that way, and not “de novo”—(i.e. instantaneously). I’m sorry, that response is not only not a valid scientific objection, it also is quite childish. It’s a cop out, pure and simple. Why do “theists” have to explain why God creates through evolution, and not all at once? Because Coyne says they have to? I don’t think so.

Coyne is Really Hung Up on Adam and Eve
Coyne then (again) questions how Christians can come to accept evolution based on the evidence, but then continue to believe in a historical Adam and Eve, even though there is no evidence for that. And again, as I said in the previous post, that actually is a valid point to an extent. All I can add to my previous comments is this: you can’t criticize Christians for taking the time to work these things through. In the Evangelical world, ultra-fundamentalists have shoved this paranoid, “evolution is of the devil” stuff for almost a century; many Evangelicals are finally breaking out of that kind of thinking. You can’t expect people to just flip a switch and automatically change. Thinking takes contemplation and time. To criticize that there are some Christians who accept evolution who aren’t yet ready to give up insistence on a historical Adam and Eve is, in my opinion, quite snobbish…

…and I outright condescending. Consider what Coyne says next: “In other words, the book attempts to reconcile an evidence-based scientific conclusion with a brand of Christianity based solely on ancient scripture, revelation, and wish-thinking.”

There you have it: science is “evidence-based” (okay, that’s true), and Christianity is “based solely on ancient scripture, revelation, and wish-thinking” (no…no…and no). First, Christianity is not based solely on ancient scripture. Christian doctrine was developed by some of the most astute, brilliant philosophers and thinkers during the Roman and later Byzantine empires, not to mention brilliant men like Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, and many others. Second, it’s quite clear that the reason why Coyne includes “ancient” and “revelation” is that he equates them both with “wish-thinking” (I think he means “wishful thinking”). But is Christianity just wishful thinking? What Coyne’s comment shows is that, although it is clear he has read Freud’s infantile Future of an Illusion, he clearly has not taken the time to actually understand Church history.

Coyne then says that’s why he doesn’t like these types of attempts of reconciling science and faith, “for while it touts the science, it dilutes it with superstition and enables faith-based ‘truths’ at the same time.” Let me translate what Coyne means: “I don’t like people trying to say you can have faith and embrace science at the same time, because I’ve already concluded that anyone who is a Christian is a diluted, superstitious rube.” I’d like to say to that, “Well, Dr. Coyne, tell that to the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Polkinghorne…” You get the picture. Coyne’s claim that science and faith cannot co-exist flies in the face of the reality of the history of scientific inquiry.

Coyne and BioLogos’ Promotion of the Book
biologos2xCoyne ends his book review by commenting on the promotional blurb BioLogos put out for the book. BioLogos’ purpose is pretty obvious: to let people know they don’t have to choose between the stances of either atheist Richard Dawkins or young earth creationist Ken Ham, and that there is harmony between science and the biblical faith.

That is utterly true. And that is why it is a shame to see the extremists on both sides (i.e. the New Atheists and Young Earth Creationists) use this issue to stir up such paranoia and hatred. And let’s be honest, both sides have profited tremendously off of playing up this idea that there is a “war” between science and faith. I mean hey, Coyne just put a book out on this very thing last month.

In any case, Coyne’s criticism goes back to…again…Adam and Eve (which he erroneously calls “a fable”). One of the real fundamental problems with both young earth creationists like Ken Ham and new atheists like Jerry Coyne is that both of them erroneously label Genesis 1-11, thus making it really, really hard for everyday people (Christians in particular) to properly understand the genre of Genesis 1-11: it’s not “fable,” or “legend,” or straightforward history. If you want to know why so many Evangelical Christians who now accept evolution aren’t quite ready to let go of a historical Adam and Eve, it’s because people like Ken Ham and Jerry Coyne are telling them that either the story of Adam and Eve is history or else it is a fairytale or fable. And so, as we see, many Christians are still working through this…and that’s okay.

…except for Jerry Coyne. He just wants to see Christians interpret the Genesis 2-3 like he does, which is to say he wants them to think it all a fable—and this would be just as incorrect and wrong as accepting Ken Ham’s interpretation, that it is about the first couple a mere 6,000 years ago.

The Way Coyne Sees Things
In any case, it is in the course of this criticism that Coyne actually lays out his own views regarding science and the Bible. He writes:

“As for having to choose between science and faith, well, yes, the rational person should. You can’t accept scientific evidence based on one set of criteria, and simultaneously accept religious stories as true based on a completely different set of criteria. In Faith versus Fact I develop the argument that the Abrahamic religions, and others as well, are indeed grounded on assertions about the world and cosmos, and thus potentially susceptible to empirical testing…”

Basically, Coyne doesn’t think it is possible to for science and faith to co-exist. More specifically, let’s cut to the chase: he doesn’t think it is possible for evolution and faith to co-exist. In this respect, he’s in the same boat as Ken Ham. Well, he’s in luck, I’ve heard Ken Ham is building a boat as we speak!

Seriously, though, Coyne is rejecting the very premise of BioLogos’ argument. They have come out with a book where 25 scientists, theologians, philosophers and biblical scholars describe how they have come to the conclusion that science and faith are not at war with each other, and Coyne’s basic response (in a book review of a book he has not bothered to read!) is this, “Nu uh!”

He claims it is “rational” to choose between the two because, as he states, you can’t have different sets of criteria for science and religion. Simply put, Coyne believes scientific criteria is the only basis for ascertaining truth in the world. By claiming this, he is completely rejecting the notion of metaphysics. His assumption is that the natural world and natural laws are all that exist, and he is putting forth that assumption as his argument against religion. But that assumption isn’t an argument—it is an unprovable assumption. Again, like I said in my previous post, Coyne’s shell game is almost as obvious as Ken Ham’s.

And while we’re at it, let’s not what he says about his own book, Faith vs. Fact. He states that his argument is that the Abrahamic religions “are grounded on assertions about the world and the cosmos.” What that means is that Coyne is assuming that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all doing modern science in Genesis 1-11, and that therefore they are wrong in their claims. But Genesis 1-11 isn’t doing modern science! To assume it is, is just foolish, plain and simple.

Let’s be clear: Coyne’s understanding of Genesis 1-11 is the exact same at Ken Ham’s, namely that Genesis 1-11 is attempting to provide answers to 21st century scientific questions. This is highly ironic, given the fact that in the very BioLogos blurb that Coyne quotes, BioLogos points out that many Christian scholars and scientists “are grieved by the way Scripture is often forced to answer twenty-first century questions that it was never intended to address.”

Of course Coyne is going to criticize this book, it undercuts the very premise of his own.

Coyne ends his review (of the book he hasn’t read) by predictably criticizing BioLogos’ claim that God is the source of all truth, and that science reveals truth about the natural world, whereas scripture reveals the truth about the metaphysical nature of who man is and who God is, and how He has revealed Himself in the history of ancient Israel and the early Church. He writes two things. First he writes:

This assumes, of course, that religion does tell us the “truth” about Jesus Christ and the way to have a relationship with God. But Islam gives us completely different “truths” from Christianity. Which one is right? Science has a way of adjudicating these issues; religion doesn’t.

I’m sorry, this is an utterly sloppy and uninformed statement. First, “religion” doesn’t tell us the truth about Jesus—Christianity, specifically the first century writings of the New Testament, tells us the truth about Jesus. And much of that is historically reliable. Ascertaining the historical reliability of these writings is the responsibility of the historian, not a biologist.

Second, although it is obvious that Christian claims about God and Jesus are different than than of Islam, and although it is true that one or the other is true, it is utterly absurd for Coyne to claim that science is able to “adjudicate these issues,” when he has just stated that among the “issues” to which he is referring is “how to have a relationship with God”—which is clearly not a scientific issue.

To be clear: the issues of God’s existence, and the nature and purpose of human beings are not “scientific issues”—they are metaphysical issues. Coyne, though, not only dismisses the very existence of metaphysical reality, he actually claims that science is able test and adjudicate those metaphysical issues that he denies even exist. That is truly astounding.

Coyne ends with the following:

In the end, that’s why a dialogue between science and faith is futile. Or rather, it’s a one-way dialogue—a monologue. Science can tell religion which of its claims are false, but religion can’t tell science which of its claims are true. And it is this asymmetry that compels a rational person to choose between science—construed as a combination of evidence, observation, agreement, and reason—and faith.

First, Like both Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham, Coyne criticism of what BioLogos is trying to do rest on a mere assumption that science and faith don’t mix—and such an assumption flies in direct contradiction to the historical facts of the rise of modern science (namely, that a whole bunch of Christians were at the forefront of it).

Second, Coyne clearly cannot tell the difference between scientific claims regarding the natural world and religious claims of metaphysical realities. He also wrongly assumes that the primary function of religion (and let’s get more specific, the Bible) is to make scientific claims. And again, as should be obvious, the Bible isn’t trying to do modern science. But Coyne can’t see that. His reading of Genesis 1-11 is just as simplistic and uninformed as that of Ken Ham. Again, they’re in the same boat…head to Kentucky today to see its grand opening on July 7th!

Finally, the very way Coyne juxtaposes science and faith is outright false. He presents them as addressing the same thing (i.e. trying to make scientific claims about the natural world), and then says science uses evidence, observation, agreement, and reason to find truth about the natural world. That is actually true—that is what science does. But religious faith (and again, let’s be clear, he’s talking about Genesis 1-11) isn’t addressing the same issues of how nature works.

Conclusion
To be blunt, Coyne’s review of the book he didn’t read is completely unreasonable. He displays (1) a contempt for even considering the possibility of metaphysical reality, (2) an inability to differentiate between what science addresses and what religion (particularly Christianity) addresses, and (3) a curious hubris for his disdain of faith and his unwillingness to even figure out what Genesis 1-11 and the rest of the Bible are actually addressing.

I would say I’m baffled, but I’m not. I’ve read too much of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris (as well as their doppleganger Ken Ham) to be baffled at anything they claim. It is all so predictable and pedantic. Rabid ideology always is.

Book Review: Norman Wirzba’s “The Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity”

Book Review: Norman Wirzba’s “The Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity”

Wirzba, Norman. Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity New York: HarperOne, 2016. (238 pages + notes & index)

Way of LoveNorman Wirzba’s most recent book, The Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity, speaks to our current cultural climate within the American brand of Christianity that often values “right doctrine” over the day to day imitation of Christ in the living out of Christian love. It is not that correct theology isn’t important—it obviously is. But, as Dr. Gordon Fee would often say in his classes at Regent College, “Right doctrine has become the idol of many Evangelicals.” What he meant was that too often we become so obsessed with being right that we forget to live out what is good and loving. Or to put it another way, we are so anxious to nail people up for not agreeing with certain points of our doctrine, we forget that Christ has called us to bear our crosses for the good of those very people—that, essentially, is the “way of love” that Wirzba is encouraging Christians to recover.

In that sense, Wirzba argues that Christianity is best understood as “a training ground in the way of love” (4), and a school in which love is learned: “It is an ongoing training session in which the many versions of love on offer are tried and tested” (7). Now, training is not always easy or fun. It often feels like the first day of working out when you are completely out of shape—it’s going to hurt. What’s more, it’s actually harder than that, because it involves dealing with other people who have their own hang ups and flaws as well.

This reminds me of another thing Gordon Fee said, “God has called us to love the unlovable—He’s called us to be part of the Church.” Translation? Being part of the Church is to be part of a community of flawed, often unlovable people, and to somehow figuring out the way of love within that community. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, you can have all the theology, doctrine, programs, or spiritual gifts you want, but if you don’t have and live out Christ’s love within the community, then you’re just a banging gong.

Real Life Examples of Loving Working Out in Life
In order to illustrate how hard the way of love really is, Wirzba offers a number of real life examples throughout his book of Christians who have done some pretty incredible things in their attempt to live out the love of Christ in the real world. Let me relate just two examples. In chapter one, Wirzba tells of Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was eventually assassinated because he chose to live out Christ’s love and care for the poor.

And then, in chapter 12, Wirzba tells the story of Maggy Barankitse, a Burundian Tutsi who lived through the massacres that engulfed both Burundi and Rwanda in the early 1990s. Although she witnessed unspeakable atrocities and suffered tremendously, she chose to stay and care for the orphans whose parents had been slaughtered. Amazingly, one of those children went to the neighbor who had killed her parents and asked him to ask her for forgiveness. She knew she had to forgive, because if she didn’t, the hate in her would fester, and she’d never be able to live again. She ended up actually asking that man to be her father…and he agreed. That astounding act of love and forgiveness resurrected life out of death and despair.

New Creation
I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’d be able to do what that young girl did, and the fact that I know I couldn’t tells me how much more I need to learn about love. Nevertheless, Wirzba insists that the way of love is, and will always be, a sacrificial act done in community, committed to seeking the good of others. Yes, it’s hard, but that is the way of love, the way of Christ.

That’s also the way of the New Creation. Wirzba makes it a point to emphasize that living out the love of Christ in the real world isn’t just some abstract platitude, but is actually rooted in the very real “deeper reality,” if you will, of Heaven. He is quick to point out, though, that Heaven should not be seen as some sort of escape from this world, but rather should be seen in the way the Bible actually presents it, particularly in Revelation: the Christian hope isn’t to escape from this world, but to have Heaven come down to earth and redeem and transform it. God created this world and declared it good, so good that He is intent on redeeming it. Therefore, part of the Christian’s calling and mission is to help extend Heaven’s reach in this world. Or as Wirzba states, “Heaven is not found by ascending to some faraway place, but by the love of God descending into the lives of creatures” (207).

This is why “the way of love” is so crucial to understand, for it really does lie at the heart of the Gospel. It is the self-sacrificing within the community for the good of others, in the hope that such an expression of love will actually help transform and resurrect God’s good creation. Or to put it even more simply: the death of self for the good of others that leads to resurrection and the new creation.

And the kicker is that that resurrection of life isn’t something one has to wait for far into the future. Yes, the new creation won’t be consummated until Christ’s comes again, but we can get a glimpse of that future Kingdom of God now, because, as Christ himself said, “The Kingdom of God is near.” Heaven has broken into our present world, and is transforming it from the inside out. The Christian life has no other goal than to be transformed by it, and to take part in the transformation of others.

That is the way of love.

No book review will be able to adequately cover all the richness and insights that can be found in The Way of Love, but hopefully this will be an encouragement to pick the book up and read it for yourself.

The Unintended Reformation: The Grand Conclusion (Part 10)

The Unintended Reformation: The Grand Conclusion (Part 10)

Unintended ReformationWe now come to the conclusion of my book analysis of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation. Let me say up front that I do not think Gregory was attempting to pin every ill in modern society back on the Reformation. Obviously, quite a lot of good things came out of the Reformation. And for that matter, as Gregory himself clearly shows, no one has illusions that the Medieval Catholic Church and society was some sort of perfect embodiment of the Kingdom of God. There was plenty wrong with it.

That being said, there were a number of things that the Medieval Catholic Church got right, and there were a number of things that the Reformers got wrong. But that is always the case in history—it is inevitable. Even though I am no officially Orthodox (I joined the Orthodox Church ten years ago), I still readily acknowledge that much of my outlook of life comes from my Evangelical upbringing, and I am grateful for that. I just do not think it is wise, whether you are Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or any one of the over 20,000 different Protestant denominations out there, to deny the flaws and failures within your particular branch of Christianity. Oftentimes, it is when we are honest about those things that we can then branch out and grow further in our faith.

The Problem with Medieval Christianity
In any case, the first thing in his concluding remarks that Gregory points out is that the ultimate failure in Medieval Catholic Christianity didn’t lie in any specific doctrine, but rather in the simple fact that far too many Christians—be they priests or laymen—simply did not live out the Christian life that that the Church bore witness to. The Church taught the importance of practicing the virtues, it taught about cultivating an on-going relationship with Christ, it taught an appreciation for God’s creation, as well as many more things—but when it got right down to it, far too many professed Christians simply failed to live out what they claimed to believe.

For that matter, that is a problem for the Church in every era. Even today, what’s the biggest complaint non-believers (and even many believers!) have against Christianity? Isn’t it hypocrisy? Isn’t is that professed Christians don’t, in fact, act or live like Christ? What was Martin Luther’s fundamental complaint against the Catholic Church? Yes, people know about indulgences—but why did the Pope issue them? To make money. And what did Luther find so repulsive? The so-called Vicar of Christ was living more like a king, and not at all like Christ.

The Problem with the Reformation
Since that was the case, it was probably inevitable that there was going to be some sort of uprising against the corruption in the Medieval Catholic Church. For that matter, many of Luther’s initial complaints were supremely valid. But where the Reformers went wrong, as Gregory points out is that:

“They thought that doctrinal error lay behind medieval Christendom’s moral shortcomings. They believed that human life was so troubled not merely because of the manifest failure of so many sinful Christians to live up to the church’s teachings, as so many medieval reformers had said. It was also they many of the church’s teachings were themselves false, as those condemned for heresy in the Middle Ages had also claimed” (368).

Martin-Luther1In other words, instead of seeing that the problem lay in good old-fashion sin, the Reformers thought the reason for the corruption was that the Church’s teachings were wrong. Therefore, the prescription the Reformers put forth was “Let’s get our doctrine correct, then we won’t have corruption in the Church.” They then proceeded to throw out all Church Tradition and teaching, claim “Sola Scriptura,” and get into hostile debates and yes, even wars, with fellow Christians who had doctrinal disagreements—you know, because other Reformers started with “Sola Scriptura” and got different answers. How could that be? Because they threw out 1500 years of Church Tradition, and in effect, every Reformer became his own Pope, relying on his own reason and authority to interpret Scripture.

Because of this, the schisms, wars of religion, and yes eventually even the highly secularized modern society we now live in, were all unintended consequences of the Reformers’ claim of “Sola Scriptura.” To clarify this even more, consider this:

  1. The Reformers’ claimed “Sola Scriptura”
  2. But in reality they based their understanding of Scripture on each Reformer’s own limited, autonomous reasoning
  3. They also refused to acknowledge this, and each Reformer claimed his particular view wasn’t just his particular view, but rather the result of the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the other guy (who claimed the same Holy Spirit) wasn’t just wrong, he was working for the Devil
  4. This led to the wars of religion in Europe for two centuries
  5. After those 200 years, by the time of the Enlightenment, people were sick of killing people over doctrinal differences, and so the “new rule”: keep religion private, and have the state be secular
  6. And this led to the addition assumption that “faith,” since it is a private affair, is ultimately subjective, as is all religious claims, and therefore isn’t “true” in the sense that objective facts are true
  7. And what does our modern society consider “true”? Science! But in trying to make science the determiner of all truth, we have elevated science to do something it simply cannot do: speak to metaphysical truths and life questions.

The Problem with Modern Secular Society
And this leads to the problem in our modern society: philosophical naturalism. Simply put, philosophical naturalism is impossible to truly live out. As Gregory states, “Rights and dignity can be real only if human beings are more than biological matter” (381). And as he elaborates:

“But if nature is not creation, then there are no creatures, and human beings are just one more species that happen randomly to evolve, no more ‘endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights’ than is any other bit of matter-energy. Then there simply are no rights, just as there are no persons, and no theorizing can conjure them into existence” (381).

Dawkins HamIronically, on this point, young earth creationists like Ken Ham almost get it right. If there is no Creator-God, if human beings are nothing more than biological matter, than there is no such thing as rights, dignity, or morality. It is on this point that atheists like Richard Dawkins are so self-contradictory. On one hand he says, The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference,” but then he decides to write an entire book, and make much of his life’s mission, arguing that religion is immoral and evil. Well, I’m sorry, Mr. Dawkins, you can’t have it both ways.

Of course, where Ken Ham goes wrong is that he equates evolution with atheism, and says, “If evolution is true, then there is no morality in the world.” That makes about as much sense as saying, “If gravity is true, or if photosynthesis really happens, then morality is an illusion.”

But here’s the point, and the problem, men like Dawkins and Ham both wrongly think that evolution is the same thing as philosophical naturalism, and therefore they both wrongly assume that if evolution is true, then the dignity of human beings and morality itself must go out the window. They do this because both have grown up in a secularized society that has lost the very metaphysical framework of truth that makes it possible to understand the natural world and science in their proper light.

The Problem with “The Academy” (and I would say “Society”)
Gregory points out that “the findings of the natural sciences…provide no legitimate intellectual grounds for an a priori exclusion of all religious truth claims from academic discourse.” Simply put, the natural sciences simply do not and cannot “disprove the existence of God,” but our modern society goes on the assumption that it does. Therefore, since even the consideration of the existence of a Creator-God is largely excluded in such discourse, that has a tremendous effect on society.

The exclusion of discussion on God protects our society’s hyperpluralism and our attempt to claim that “all views are equal” and “whatever is true for you” is okay. If there really is a God, then that will inevitably mean some ideas and behaviors really are not good, and some ideas and behaviors actually are detrimental to human flourishing because human beings are made in God’s image. If there really is a God, then there really is “Truth” with a “Capital-T.” So when consideration of God is taken out of public and academic discourse, any real concept of “Capital-T Truth” vanishes, and all that is left is the notion, “You can believe/do whatever you want, as long as you don’t hurt someone.”

That mindset is what Gregory calls “the modern ideology of liberalism,” and it is failing because ultimately it “lacks the intellectual resources to resolve any real-life moral disagreements, to provide any substantive social cohesion, or even to justify its most basic assumptions” (386).

TrumpClintonIf you don’t agree, consider this: our two presidential candidates are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, each side vehemently hates the other candidate, and our modern American society is more divided along every conceivable line than it ever has been. I’m sure Gregory would say, “This is the fruit of modern liberal ideology.” I should note, that this kind of “modern liberal ideology” is actually within both political camps. Both sides are fueled by emotions, and both lack any real, coherent, intellectually thought-out understanding of society, or right and wrong for that matter.

Conclusion: Gregory’s Challenge to the Academy
In any case, Gregory ends his book with a challenge to the modern charade that one can be “objectively scientific” in all things. In my particular fields, Biblical Studies, this means that no one can be completely objective in one’s study of the Bible. The historical-critical scholars of the 19th century claimed that was possible…but it isn’t. Everyone brings their own assumptions and biases to the conversation, whether it is about Biblical Studies, politics, or anything.

Given that, Gregory states challenge for society in general, but also the academy in particular:

“It would require an intellectual openness on the part of scholars and scientists sufficient to end the long-standing modern charade in which naturalism has been assumed to be demonstrated, evident, self-evident, ideologically neutral, or something arrived at on the basis of impartial inquiry. It would require all academics not only those with religious commitments—to acknowledge their metaphysical beliefs as beliefs rather than to keep pretending that naturalist beliefs are something more or skeptical beliefs as something else” (386).

I believe I can clarify this fairly easily. It means, “Just be honest with yourself and with others than you aren’t God, you don’t know everything, and that your particular position about any given topic was not come to by cold, objective reasoning alone.”

If you can do that, you can then exercise a degree of openness and humility that will open the door to a lifetime of true learning. But that’s a tough thing to do, because we don’t like people questioning our assumptions—it’s too unsettling.

My advice—do it anyway. You’ll find yourself soon walking on water, whereas before you were in a sinking boat in the sea.

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 6–Secularizing Knowledge (Part 9) What can we say about modern education?

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 6–Secularizing Knowledge (Part 9) What can we say about modern education?

Unintended ReformationBrad Gregory’s sixth chapter in The Unintended Reformation is entitled, “Secularizing Knowledge.” In it, he looks at the modern American education system, particularly universities. To the point, the problem as Gregory sees it is that it has come to be assumed that since “religious truth claims are based on faith…they are a matter of subjective opinion and personal preference…hence they are  not and cannot be candidates for claims of objective truth confirmable by shared epistemological standards” (299).

What does that mean? Simple: what has come to happen in universities and academic research is that what passes for “knowledge” is only that which can be testable and objective. Questions of ultimate meaning and purpose are regulated to the realm of “religious faith,” and are therefore deemed private and personal opinions. How this is shown in academia is in way research is done. Academics are “experts” in very highly specialized areas, but there is no attempt to see how that specialized knowledge in a particular field of discipline fits into the bigger picture of existence. As Gregory puts it, “there is almost no attempt by anyone to see how the kinds of knowledge thereby gained in different disciplines might fit together” (300).

The Assembly Line Effect
It’s what I like to call the “assembly line effect” of learning. Every academic is an expert in one particular aspect of one particular discipline, much like every assembly line worker has his/her own particular job…but no one bothers to ask what the heck is being built, or how everything fits together.

Now, that’s not to say that academic specialization isn’t important, whether it be in biology, astronomy, American history, Biblical Studies, the list can go on. But Gregory’s point is that the reason why there is no emphasis on figuring out how these various disciplines might relate to each other within a larger unity of knowledge is because the very concept of “Truth,” in terms of there being ultimate purpose and meaning, has been abandoned.

And the thing is, different disciplines do, in fact, make contrary claims about various things, and Gregory says many undergraduate courses fail to “teach students how they might even begin to evaluate contrary claims in disparate disciplines,” and in the end “like consumer choice in the marketplace, knowledge of ‘truth’ in the marketplace of ideas is a matter of whatever they want to buy on the basis of individual preference” (302).

harvard_shield_wreathThe result of this is an ever-growing accumulation of testable facts and data, but a gradual withering away of any concept of actual truth, value, purpose and meaning, replaced by an attitude that says, “I think this is true because it makes me feel good, and it’s what I prefer.” Just look at the current political coverage in the presidential race: a whole lot of disparate facts and “truths” are being spewed out by news anchors, politicians, and pundits alike, and they are being parroted by millions of voters, but very few people are able to step back and evaluate those truth claims in light of bigger realities.

Critical thinking is simply not emphasized or valued these days. Universities were a product of the Catholic worldview in the Middle Ages, and the purpose for getting an education was to become a well-rounded, educated person so that you could constructively contribute to society as a whole—that’s where we get the term “liberal arts” education: get an education across a broad range of disciplines, and be challenged to evaluate and reconcile the knowledge across disciplines into an overarching and critically-thought out worldview.

PrincetonNowadays, though, going to college is put forth as what you need to do to get a degree, so you can get a good-paying job, so that you can make money, so that you can buy more stuff and live the American dream. Don’t think about those challenges across academic disciplines, just get the degree and get a good-paying job. In light of this, Gregory says that most scholars and scientists choose to ignore the problem, choosing instead to remain “burrowed in their dens of specialization, continuing to pursue what is rewarded most highly in the academy: the creation of new, highly specialized, knowledge within one’s own discipline” (303).

Now obviously, that is not true across the board, but if you’ve ever done academic work, you know it is true to a large degree. It’s the whole “academics in the ivory tower” syndrome: some are simply cut off from the real world, holed up within their own specialized discipline, writing solely for other academics in academics journals that hardly anyone reads—and that’s how they want it.

Darwin and the Fundamentalists
Failure to critically think across various disciplines has also had a huge effect within the Evangelical world…and we have Darwin to thank for it. At the risk of being oversimplistic, there was dramatic shift in American higher education in the first quarter of the 20th century. After the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, Fundamentalists across the country were convinced that evolution was the grand enemy of Christianity, and that the more education you got in those “liberal and secular universities,” the more susceptible you were to being lead down the wrong road.

Bob Jones UniversityTherefore, Fundamentalists opened up scores and scores of Bible Colleges across the country, and most of them were devoted to biblical literalism, deep in dispensationalist theology, and, after Henry Morris and John Whitcomb came out with The Genesis Flood in 1963, also heavily into young earth creationism. The result was that there was a generation of Evangelical Christians who were raised on a steady diet of outright falsehoods, and who were unable to intellectually interact with claims from various academic disciplines, particularly evolution. Gregory points out that Mark Noll calls this “the scandal of the evangelical mind” (306). Simply put, Noll’s accusation was that Evangelicalism has intellectually crippled a generation of believers—they don’t know how to think, and they hold that up as a virtue!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard Evangelical preachers say things like, “Now, I’m not a smart man. I don’t have fancy degrees, but I love Jesus!” I can’t help but think, “If you really loved Jesus, you wouldn’t be glorying in your chosen ignorance.”

There are Different Types of Knowledge
Since we’re on the topic of evolution, at the heart of the problem is that religious fundamentalists like Ken Ham and atheistic fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins have the same problem: they assume there is only one kind of knowledge, namely scientific, historical facts. Gregory points out that the liberal arts education in Medieval Catholic universities emphasized that “all truth, if it was what it purported to be, contributed somehow to knowledge of God’s intelligible creation in space and time” (309). Simply put, there were different ways of “knowing” things, and if we want to get a better understanding of both God’s creation and His interactions with it, we need to keep this in mind.

For example, (a) interpreting texts requires certain methods particular to its discipline, and (b) tracking the movement of the planets requires other methods. Different from the kind of knowledge each of those disciplines reveal is the experience of forgiving and the knowledge you are forgiven. All three are different kinds of knowledge, but they all contribute to understanding the bigger picture of God’s creation and His interaction with the world.

If you say that the scientific method is the only way to ascertain truth, not only will you not understand a lot about the world, but you’re going to misinterpret a whole lot of stuff. This is precisely Dawkins’ and Ham’s problem. Dawkins reads Genesis 1-11 using the scientific method and concludes Genesis 1-11 isn’t true because it isn’t scientific. Ham reads Genesis 1-11 using the scientific method and concludes Genesis 1-11 really is true and science does prove it, but those evil secularists are suppressing the truth!

No—Genesis 1-11 should not be evaluated as if it were a scientific document, because it isn’t. Neither Dawkins nor Ham knows how to read.

Yes, It All Goes Back to the Reformation
This fragmented understanding of knowledge that is so prevalent in many American universities and Evangelical churches can be traced back to the unintended effects of the Reformation. As Gregory states, “By rejecting the authority of the Roman church, the Reformation eliminated any shared framework for the integration of knowledge” (326). By pitting “Church Tradition” against the Bible, and by labelling anything they went against any particular Reformer’s view of the Bible as “human additions” or “the traditions of men,” the Reformers unleashed a huge problem.

We should remember that what started the Reformation was Martin Luther’s nailing the 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. This was not some sort of protest—it was a common practice in the university system. It was an invitation to debate these arguments in an academic setting. That, in and of itself, is what should be done. Unfortunately, due to both Luther’s temper and the clear corruption of the Pope, everything soon blew up.

The result, as we’ve seen in the previous posts, is that Reformers ended up appealing to local political leaders for protection, and they in turn set up their own local political/religious fiefdoms that weren’t interested in vigorous intellectual and academic debate in the universities on religious truth claims—they were concerned with promoting Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Calvinism, Catholicism…depending on what particular fiefdom you happened to be in.

Divorced from the life and worldview of the Church that provided the “Capital-T Truth” framework to incorporate all kinds of knowledge, education ended up being cut loose on a sea of disparate “small-t” truth claims, that instead of being incorporated into a coherent and unified worldview, stayed separate, or if they ever came in contact with each other, decided it was time to go to battle…and this is what happened in the centuries following the dawn of the Reformation.

Two More Items to Considers
In light of this, Gregory points out that the way in which the Early Church/Orthodoxy was able to convey a sense of a unified worldview was by means of the liturgy. He writes, “Besides the shared practices of the virtues, the center of Christian life was not the Bible or Bible reading per se, but the liturgy of the word and the Eucharist in the representation of Christ’s self-sacrificing love…” (334).

Simply put, the center and focus of Orthodoxy is not the Bible—it is Christ. The Bible is used within the larger context of the liturgy that points to Christ. The Church, as the Body of Christ, remembers and re-enacts Christ’s teachings and sacrifices in the liturgy, and the Bible bears witness to that. If you divorce the Bible from its part in the larger life of the Church as a witness to Christ, you have divorced it from the unified worldview that the Church provides, and as a result you get the over 20,000 Protestant denominations we have today. Unity and an unifying worldview is lost when the Bible is divorced from Christ as expressed in the life of the Church.

Another interesting point Gregory makes is what happened to the universities in Europe in light of the French Revolution. Remember, the French Revolution touted the values of the Enlightenment, and railed against the Church as being the seedbed of ignorance and superstition. Well, facts can be a troublesome thing. In 1789 there were 143 universities throughout Europe; by 1815 there were only 83. Why did that happen? By trying to get rid of the Church, Enlightenment thinkers succeeded in getting rid of the very educational framework that made higher learning possible.

All this is to say is that Gregory’s take on modern university education is this: without the concept of “Truth” in terms of the bigger Life Questions, universities have become places of specialized knowledge only. Gregory describes modern education like this: “Its aim is not the pursuit of truth—or rather, ‘truth’—with respect to any of the Life Questions, but rather indoctrination in the conviction that there are no definitive answers” (359).

Yes, that is a rather over-generalized statement, but it seems to be largely true. There certainly is a lot to think about. If I had to sum up this 2,000 post, I’d have to say this.

1. Gregory’s criticism of much in the modern university system is that it is a place solely of specialization, without any really emphasis of attempting how so many “small t” truths might be incorporated into any “Capital-T” Truth claims, because they don’t acknowledge “Capital-T” Truth claims as a valid means of knowledge.

2. Gregory’s criticism of much in the Evangelical world is that Fundamentalism has essentially committed intellectual suicide by not only largely rejecting the academic world as “too secular,” but by clinging solely to the Bible, divorced from the larger Tradition and life of the Church.

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