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The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 53): Darwinism, Genocide, and the Fear of Evangelicalism

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 53): Darwinism, Genocide, and the Fear of Evangelicalism

In the last few posts, I have been going into detail about Charles Darwin, and his books, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. And whereas I have tried to emphasize that the theory of evolution is a valid scientific theory that is not a threat to the Bible or Christianity, I have also touched upon the very dangerous and dark philosophical assumptions that can be seen in The Descent of Man. The threat to the Bible, to Christianity, and indeed humankind itself, is not the theory of evolution, but rather philosophical materialism that attempts to hijack evolution to justify its atheism, and then is pushed to its logical conclusions.

Let’s be clear: if there is no God, and if human beings are nothing more than slightly more evolved animals, and if all that matters is the health and propagation of the human species, then you simply are not too far away from justifying things like the sterilization or even killing of human beings who are weak, genetically flawed, or retarded. Not to sound alarmist, but we need to realize those were the kinds of conclusions that many people came to in the early part of the 20th century, and that regimes like the Nazis and Communists sought to implement on a worldwide scale.

My simple point is that even though it is imperative that we take a meat cleaver to the notion that the theory of evolution and atheism are joined at the hip, we need to admit that for the better part of 150 years, not only has the general opinion throughout society been that those two things were joined at the hip, but the worst atrocities in history have occurred precisely because people believed they were joined at the hip.

I submit that the real reason why so many in the Evangelical world are opposed to evolutionary theory isn’t so much they disagree with its scientific claims (most don’t really understand them); and it’s not even really that they think it is a threat to biblical authority (even though this is the common mantra among YECists like Ken Ham). The real reason is because they fear that evolution leads to things like moral anarchy and eventually mass genocide. And let’s be honest, why do so many Evangelicals think that? That’s easy: because that is exactly what has happened in the past. Evolution has been used as the justification for everything from your garden-variety perversion and promiscuity to forced sterilization, racism, Zyklon-B, the concentration camps and the gulag.

Those who read my blog will be shocked to read what I’m about to write: in a way, Ken Ham has a valid point. But I’ll come back to that point in a bit. First, I want to go back to the Scopes Monkey Trial…stay with me, it’s related.

A Civic Biology

Clarence Darrow, a famous Chicago lawyer, and William Jennings Bryan, defender of Fundamentalism, at the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Most people know, at least vaguely, about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. It was where the issue of evolution was debated in a show trial in Dayton, Tennessee. The two major combatants were William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. I touch upon the specifics of the trial in my book, The Heresy of Ham, but in this post, I want to draw attention to the textbook that created the ruckus in the first place: A Civic Biology, by George William Hunter.

To the point, if I was alive at the time, I’d have a big problem with this textbook as well. In it, in an American high school biology book, it wasn’t just the scientific theory of biological evolution that was covered and endorsed. There within its pages, right alongside the presentation of Darwin’s scientific theory, was a thorough discussion and endorsement of the philosophical worldview of Social Darwinism and Eugenics.

  • It advocated that the same breeding methods used on animals should be applied to human beings, for the betterment of the health of the human race.
  • It claimed that the human race should demand of anyone who gets married “the freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring.”
  • It claimed that certain diseases were “not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” It described eugenics as “the science of being well born.”

A Civic Biology even went so far as to characterize people who cannot contribute to society as “parasites.” It actually contemplated killing those “parasites” off as a means to cleanse the gene pool. But it quickly lamented, “Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.” 

That’s right—in an American science textbook in the 1920s, students read how successful eugenics had been in Europe in preventing “degenerate races” from being allowed to propagate. In the same year A Civic Biology was praising European efforts to rid the world of the degenerate races, Adolf Hitler was publishing Mein Kampf, in which he too endorsed those same efforts. Let’s be clear: Hitler was not an anomaly—he was a product of the times. What he did was what the Eugenicists of Europe and America were calling for—and they made it a point to use evolution as their justification.

Make no mistake, A Civic Biology was not simply a science textbook. It was a propaganda manual that advocated the very things that later Nazis and Communists enacted. It had a clear agenda: treat human beings in the same way you treat your dog. Now, we rightly condemn the Nazis for their “final solution” and their horrific treatment of not only Jews, but also of the weak, infirm, and mentally retarded. But we need to come to terms with the fact that Hitler merely put into practice the very things American biology textbooks were advocating in the 1920s.

It’s Not the Scientific Theory…It’s the Presuppositional Worldview
Such thinking should chill any rational person to the bone. Benjamin Wiker claims that eugenics “was and is a direct implication drawn from Darwin’s account of evolution, one that Darwin himself drew quite vividly in his Descent of Man(91). I need to amend that comment on one point though: the eugenic movement is a direct implication of evolution only if one starts with the presuppositional worldview of atheism, and the ontological assumption that human beings are nothing more than highly-evolved animals.

AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: Now, I should make clear that I am obviously not saying that a tenet of atheism is the desire to commit mass genocide, and so therefore, saying the “presuppositional worldview of atheism” might not be quite right. I asked one person who commented on this how he would phrase the above statement, and he put it this way:

“The eugenic movement is a direct implication of evolution only if one starts by naively applying evolution to morality, with a moral system that evolutionary fitness is a moral good, while evolutionary weakness is a moral evil. In this naive evolutionary morality, if humans are nothing more than highly-evolved animals, then breeding better humans is a moral good, and culling unfit humans is also a moral good.”

I think that is very well said, and deserves to be mentioned. I would only add that such a mindset is one that denies the inherent worth and dignity of the individual, and values only the health and welfare of that State as whole. Back to the original post…

We must be clear: Darwin’s theory of evolution alone does not, and cannot, get one to eugenics, the Nazi concentration camps, or the Soviet gulags. All evolution does is describe what, in fact, happens in the biological world. But what the Nazis, Communists, and Eugenicists of the early 20th century did was they combined Darwin’s theory with a presuppositional atheism and rabid racism, and then they claimed evolutionary theory justified the atrocities they committed.

Eugenics, the gas chambers, and the gulags are the logical conclusion of those who deny the dignity and inherent worth of human beings, for they say the worth of someone is dependent on that person’s health and ability to contribute to society. The individual is inconsequential; society, or the State, or the Communist utopia, or the Third Reich—that is what matters. The Eugenicist takes the Enlightenment notion that society will “force one to be free,” to the next level, and simply adds, “…if not, society can sterilize you, lock you away, or kill you—it’s all about what’s good for society.”

And in the 1920s, that presuppositional worldview was prevalent throughout Europe, the Soviet Union, and America as well. Therefore, given that dark history, it should not surprise anybody that so many Evangelical Christians are scared to death of evolution—it really was used as the justification for the worst genocides in human history.

The challenge, therefore, is to try and get people to realize that the scientific theory of evolution and the presuppositional worldview of philosophical atheism are two different things. We need to point out that it wasn’t evolution that was the problem; the problem was the way that the Nazis, Communists, and Eugenicists wrongly used evolution to justify their actions.

Now, I don’t know how successful anyone can be at getting people, especially the YECist segment of Evangelicalism, to make this distinction. Consider the two pictures here. The Eugenics movement promoted itself as a veritable “Tree of Life,” and eugenicists intricately linked their movement with evolution. Should it be all that surprising that the Creation Science movement then pictured itself as chopping down that very tree that claimed evolution as its trunk? I think these two pictures say it all: if you want to know why there is such a hatred and fear of the scientific theory of evolution, these two pictures clearly illustrate all you need to know.

That’s why arguing science with a YECist, by the way, never will get you too far. The real concern isn’t science. And, as I’ve come to realize, you don’t get much further trying to get them to see that Genesis 1-11 isn’t giving scientific information, because you’ll just be accused of trying to twist Scripture and lead people astray. The real reason there is so much hatred and fear of evolution among many Evangelicals is because they are convinced that it lies at the root of all of society’s ills. And where did they get that idea from? From the very people who used evolution to justify the worst atrocities in history.

Was Darwin a Racist? Does Evolution Promote Genocide?
There is one final thing I want to note, specifically about Darwin. For all practical purposes, it does seem that Darwin was probably quite racist. For that matter though, most everyone throughout human history has been racist, and if you know anything about the British Empire at its height, you know that it had a pretty racist attitude towards all the people it subjugated. If you grew up in 19th century England, chances are you’d probably hold some racist views as well.

And thus, when we read this following quote from Darwin in his book, while it should obviously shock us at how racist it is, it also shouldn’t surprise us, given the prevalent attitudes of 19th century England. When speculating about the future evolution of species, particularly human beings and other ape-like creatures, Darwin said:

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes…will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

This quote makes it quite clear that Darwin viewed negroes in Africa and the aborigines in Australia as just lower evolutionary forms of life—no doubt “higher” than your average ape, but also certainly “lower” than European Caucasians. And he thought it was only a matter of time that white Europeans simply “won out” in the great evolutionary battle. I wonder where those eugenicists and Nazis got their ideas? That is why The Descent of Man is so horrific and dangerous. It laid the foundation for the 20th century carnage and genocide that done in Russia, Europe, and even flirted with here in America. It is what happens when people try to take the descriptive task of science and turn it into a prescription for how to “better breed the human animal.”

AiG might not use the “tree metaphor” as seen in the earlier pictures, but the sentiment is exactly the same.

We need to realize that one of the reasons why Evangelical Christians have traditionally been so hostile to the theory of evolution is not the theory itself, but rather of the kinds of atrocities I’ve talked about in this post. They think “evolution = gas chambers and euthanasia.” They think that because the people who advocated for those atrocities used evolution as justification for them. I know many get frustrated with Evangelicals for making that leap from “evolution” to “genocide,” and claim that Evangelicals are just using scare tactics, and trying to slander evolution as being inherently racist (Ken Ham and the YECists at Answers in Genesis do this all the time).

Before we just dismiss such claims, though, we have to realize that they’re not just making this connection up. They are pointing to the very statements of those who made that very connection in order to justify those very atrocities. That is why it is so important to divorce the scientific theory from the philosophical worldview that tries to attach itself to evolution, like a parasite.

Deep down, despite the rhetoric that “human beings are no different than animals,” despite that biologically-speaking that is true, human beings know that there is something ontologically unique and special about human beings that make them distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom. If we weren’t, then we wouldn’t consider the atrocities of the 20th century to be atrocities and we wouldn’t consider forced sterilization to be a problem—but they are atrocities, and those are problems.

We may indeed share our biology with the rest of the natural world, and evolutionary theory certainly does explain that relationship between human beings and the natural world, but human beings are not just animals. Our very humanness and our sense of morality, testifies to the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Author’s Note #2: Another comment a few people had about this post is that they felt I was saying that evolutionary theory was the sole reason for atrocities done under Communism, Nazism, and the Eugenics movement, and that I did not take into account a host of other cultural and societal factors. So I wanted to be clear: of course there were other factors involved. But what I was seeking to point out that once evolutionary theory was introduced, those “other factors” seemed to attach themselves to it in order to justify their own agendas.

Or to put it another way: the Enlightenment had hailed science and reason over religion; it had promoted Deism, the idea that if there was a God, He wasn’t really involved with the world anyway; it had even held up “the general will of the people” as “the deity;” and it had promoted the idea that our morality is derived from nature itself.

Put all that together, along comes evolutionary theory–what impact will it have on those Enlightenment ideals and assumptions? Let me suggest the following: evolution explains how nature works without the need of God; it is survival of the fittest; and so, since we need to seek what is best for the fitness and survival of society, and since we should take our moral cues from nature itself….what should we do with all these unfit people who are obviously threatening the fitness of society?

Enter Eugenics, Communism, Nazism, Scopes’ A Civil Biology…and there you have it. Now obviously, using evolution as philosophical justification for committing those atrocities is wrong–but that is what happened. And that is the point of the post–that is why I think there still is a segment of Evangelical Christianity that is so hostile to evolution: they associate it with those things.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 52): Charles Darwin and The Descent of Man–Yes, Racism and Eugenics are Really Bad

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 52): Charles Darwin and The Descent of Man–Yes, Racism and Eugenics are Really Bad

If my previous two posts about Charles Darwin has come across as a validation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, it should, at least partly. The point I wanted to make was that one must make a clear distinction between the biological/scientific theory of evolution and the philosophical/naturalistic worldview of Social Darwinism. The two are not the same. Failure to make this distinction has led to 150 years of unnecessary conflict.

To be clear, Origin of Species puts forth the biological/scientific theory of evolution, and that theory rises and falls on the weight of the natural, scientific evidence. And since it is a scientific theory, both the Christian and the atheist (and anyone in between) can analyze, debate, doubt, and be convinced of the entire theory, or parts of it, for it is a theory that is limited to the natural world, and has absolutely nothing to say regarding the existence of God or the dignity of man.

Darwin’s Other Book
But in 1871, twelve years after Origin of Species, Darwin wrote another book, The Descent of Man—and that book is, so to speak, quite a different animal. It is a book in which Charles Darwin contemplates the possible impact his scientific theory may have on understanding the society mankind, and this immediately brings philosophical issues into the mix. Benjamin Wiker cites The Descent of Man as one of the top ten books that has screwed up the world. And after reading Wiker’s take on The Descent of Man, I just might have to agree.

My reason is simple: The Descent of Man essentially starts with the assumption that human beings are not only biologically no different than the animal kingdom, but ultimately, they are no different ontologically either. Therefore, any concept of human beings being uniquely made in the image of God goes out the door, and human beings are assumed to be “just animals.” Wiker puts it this way: “The deep-down nastiness of the Descent is eugenic: the idea that the ‘survival of the fittest’ should be applied to human beings” (Ten Books that Screwed up the World 88).

Now it is true: if there is no God, and if the laws of nature are the only things guiding a natural, evolutionary process, and if human beings are inherently no different than anything else in the natural world, are ontologically no different than apes, and thus have no special dignity and are not created in God’s image (which would go without saying if one already didn’t believe in God)—if all that were true, then yes, “survival of the fittest” should be applied to human beings, because that would mean human beings are natural, biological organisms…nothing more.

But as I’ve mentioned in the earlier posts, it must be stated again clearly: Darwin’s theory of evolution is completely impotent when it comes to answers those larger, metaphysical questions, just as, let’s say, a technical manual explaining the construction and inner workings of a computer—however technologically fascinating it may be—it still completely unable to tell you anything about the person who first designed and built the computer, or what the internet is, or what “the cloud” is, or who Bill Gates first kissed, or what is love anyway? …you get the picture.

Or to put it another way: biological descriptions do not determine ontological significance. Those who attempt to do so are using science to do something it cannot do; they are, in actuality, hijacking science to push a particular philosophical agenda. It was The Descent of Man that essentially gave the eugenicists of the early 20th century license to (in the name of “science”) commit some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.

Communists, Nazis, Shaw, and Sanger…Descent, Indeed
The problem with The Descent of Man, and the subsequent problem that we see surface in the first half of the 20th century, is its dabbling in the philosophical worldview of Eugenics—a movement that (a) began with the philosophical presupposition that human beings are just more highly-evolved animals that contain no God-given, inherent dignity or worth, and then (b) rushed to the frightening conclusion that human beings can and should be “bred” in the same manner as one would breed dogs. It was the worldview of Margaret Sanger, George Bernard Shaw, the Nazis, and a host of other progressive (and outright racist) thinkers in the first half of the 20th century. Make no mistake, the philosophical worldview that underpinned the Eugenics movement was completely inhumane, anti-Christian, and evil. It was a philosophical worldview that manipulated Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution to suit and legitimize its own goals.

But Darwin did write Descent of Man, did he not? Was he not a eugenicist? Well, he certainly contemplated the possible ramifications of his biological theory. Perhaps the most infamous quotation from his book is this one:

“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health…. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.

“Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one has attended to the breeding of domestic animals and will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

Now, that certainly sounds like Darwin is berating human beings for showing compassion to the weak and wanting of the human race. In Expelled, the 2009 “Intelligent Design” movie starring Ben Stein, Stein reads this very quote—the point the movie is making is quite clear: it is claiming that the theory of evolution itself is inherently racist and eugenic. But, like I’ve said before, we cannot conflate the scientific theory with the philosophical worldview some might try to attach to it.

Darwin’s Clarification
In any case, we must allow Darwin to speak for himself. Yes, as the first part of his argument goes, it does seem odd that human beings, unlike other species, do in fact care for the “least of these” within the human species. Let’s face it, that is true: when one looks in the biological world or animal kingdom, one does not see animals, plants, or any other organisms take care of and look after the weaker members of its species. At this point, Darwin is not saying anything that anyone would disagree with: in the natural world, human compassion is clearly unique. The question thus becomes, “Where does human compassion for the ‘least of these’ come from?” Darwin continues:

“The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. Hence, we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.”

Not surprisingly, Darwin chalks up human compassion to the evolutionary development of social instincts. As a Christian, I obviously think that not only is he wrong at that point, but that when he makes this point, he stands on the edge of the philosophical abyss. For to reduce compassion to simply an evolved instinct is to obliterate the uniqueness of human beings; and opens the philosophical door to a worldview that says human beings are nothing more than animals. And once you step across that threshold, all talk of morality and right and wrong go out the door, for that means everything about human beings–even morality itself–is reduced to mere natural processes.

As the quote shows, Darwin actually dangles his toe over that threshold, so to speak, by suggesting that it would be a good thing to prevent “the weak” from marrying and propagating (which is a eugenic tenet to the core). But even then, he quickly draws back and says, “…we can’t expect this happening.” Nevertheless, though, it was Descent of Man, and not Origin of Species, that opened the door to the dark movement of eugenics. Even if Darwin proved himself too timid to even really open the door, he did open it a crack, and it would be thrust open in the next century. The 20th century would witness the most cruel and inhumane societal actions known to man, be it eugenics, the Nazi program, or Communism.

An example of how “creation science” sees evolution: as the root of every evil in modern society, including Racism, Nazism, Euthanasia, and Communism.

Tomorrow, I will have one more post related to Darwin that will attempt to tease out the tension and challenge that people still wrestle with today regarding the relationship between the scientific theory of evolution and the potential societal implications it has on a philosophical level. The fact is, Darwin’s theory did have tremendous philosophical and societal implications that people are still debating today. Hopefully tomorrow’s post will shed some light on this very challenge.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 2): The Philosophy of Classical Greece (479-323 BC): A Very Brief Look at Socrates–Democracy, Tyrants…and the Unexamined Life

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 2): The Philosophy of Classical Greece (479-323 BC): A Very Brief Look at Socrates–Democracy, Tyrants…and the Unexamined Life

Pericles QuoteAround 500 BC, a major political shift occurred in Greece. After the defeat of the Persians, the Greek general Pericles (495-429 BC) led Athens into a golden age. It was this time that Greek democracy was introduced and flourished, if only for a short time. In 404 BC, at the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta effectively kicked Athens in the teeth, took over control of the Aegean Sea, and put an end to the great democratic experiment of Athens. In its place, Sparta imposed an authoritarian oligarchy known as the Thirty Tyrants. 80 years later, with the death of Alexander the Great, the period of Classical Greece came to an end.

One of the benefits of Greek democracy is that it allowed the freedom of independent thought in the realms of politics, the arts, and philosophy. After all, democracy entails different people giving their opinions about things concerning the nation, and then working together to come to some sort of compromise and solution. In order for democracy to work, there has to be increased freedoms, so that the populace can voice their views.

That being said, Athenian democracy was not the same kind of democracy we have in America today. In Athenian society, the only people allowed to participate in the actual democratic process were males above 30 years old. Women and non-citizens had no voice in the democracy. Furthermore, because democracy involves more people than just a dictator to decide how the nation is run, it was necessary that many of those male citizens over 30 had to spend most of their time debating politics—and therefore there was in increase in slave labor to do the work the citizens didn’t have time for. All in all, only about 20% of the Greek population were actually citizens who were able to have a say in the government.

Nevertheless, a little bit of freedom and democracy is better than none at all, and it was because of that freedom that there was an explosion in the arts and philosophical thought. It was during this time of classical Greece that the great Greek playwrights Sophocles and Euripides wrote their plays; and it was during this time (albeit during the time of the Thirty Tyrants) that the great Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle made their mark.

Socrates (469-399 BC)
Socrates lived his entire life during the time of Athenian democracy…well, almost. Given his habit of questioning authority, it should come as no surprise that it was a mere five years after the end of Athenian democracy and the imposition of the Thirty Tyrants that Socrates was arrested and put on trial. The charge? Refusing to acknowledge the gods of Athens, and leading the Greek youth to question authority.

Probably the real reason why Socrates was put on trial, though, had something to do with his argument regarding justice. Socrates taught that “justice” could not simply be whatever those in power said it was, so that the so-called “justice-system” would be nothing more than a manipulative tool to serve the interests of the powerful. Instead, he argued that there must be a real standard of “justice” that could be used to evaluate the actions of all men, the poor and powerful alike.

Death of Socrates JacquesLouisDavidSuch teaching probably didn’t sit too well with the newly established Thirty Tyrants who sought to impose their will by force. If there’s one thing a tyrant cannot stand, it is the claim that he is accountable to a very real standard of justice and morality. Not surprisingly, Socrates was found guilty, and his punishment was death. He was forced to drink hemlock, and subsequently died in 399 BC.

Belief that some sort of moral standard for justice exists, and the determination to use one’s intellect and reasoning powers to question things in order to come to a better understanding of the truth of reality—that is what got Socrates killed. Moral standards that hold everyone accountable and a rational desire for the truth are not things that are valued by corrupt and authoritarian tyrants. Nevertheless, even when faced with the threat of death at the hands of such tyrants, Socrates still held to his conviction that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Whether it was through questioning and dialoguing with others (something called “dialectic”), or taking a cold, hard look within, and daring to “know yourself” (i.e. introspection), the quest for understanding the truth regarding the nature of reality is something deeply rooted within the very nature of human beings. There is something within us that simply is wired to search for the truth. Unfortunately, at the same time, we see a different dynamic at work as well: those who have abandoned the search for truth are often those who lust only for power—and they will do everything within their power to deny others the opportunity to discover the truth.

That’s the Ways of the Worldviews (A Book that Will Be Blog Posts This Year!)

That’s the Ways of the Worldviews (A Book that Will Be Blog Posts This Year!)

Back in the Fall of 2007, I started teaching Biblical Worldview at a small Evangelical Christian high school in Alabama. The headmaster essentially gave me free rein to develop an entire four-year Worldview curriculum from scratch—and I did just that. I created an Old Testament Worldview class for the 9th grade (i.e. basically OT Introduction), a New Testament Worldview class for the 10th grade (i.e. basically NT Introduction), a Church History and Theology class for the 11th grade, and a class I titled Worldviews and World Religions for the 12th grade—the first semester being an overview of Western culture, civilization, and philosophy.

003345Since my background was in Biblical Studies, the 9th and 10th grade classes weren’t that hard to put together. But when it came to things like Church History and Philosophy, let’s just say I had to do a lot of personal study and reading in those areas. In any case, in regards to my 12th grade class, I had to start somewhere, so I decided to use Francis Schaeffer’s book, How Shall We Then Live? I remembered reading it on my own early in college—it basically gives an overview of how Western culture and philosophy has developed ever since ancient Rome. I figured that would be a good “introduction” to Western culture and philosophy to high school seniors.

I ended up using that book for my eight years at the school, but with each passing year, the more I read and studied Western culture and philosophy on my own, the more and more I tended to disagree with many of Schaeffer’s views and claims. I found it somewhat simplistic in a number of areas. Since Schaeffer was such a devotee of Reformation Calvinism, his book gives (a) a very passing glance at early Church Christianity, (b) virtually no consideration to the rich legacy of Orthodox/Byzantine Christianity, and (c) an overly-negative view of Medieval Christianity, while (d) spending way too much time glorifying the Reformation, and virtually ignoring some of the key tragic consequences of the Reformation.

And so, year after year, I started providing supplements to Schaeffer’s book. My goal was eventually to write a high school-friendly introduction to Western culture and philosophy, and possibly get it published one day. As things turned out, I am no longer teaching high school, and am now teaching Old Testament at the college level. Although I learned a tremendous amount about Western culture during my years teaching that class, and although I even was able to bang out a very rough draft of the book I wanted to write, I highly doubt I will ever get around to ever finishing that book idea.

Nevertheless, I DID do all that writing, and I really do find that topic quite fascinating! I have decided, therefore, over the course of this next semester, to occasionally post various excerpts from my rough draft. Hopefully, I will be fortunate to get feedback from anyone who reads the posts.

History and Story-Telling
So allow me to just start off in this initial post with a few thoughts on the very idea of “history.” Let’s be clear on one thing: there is no such thing as “objective history.” All history is, in a sense, an exercise in storytelling. When you think about it, this should not be surprising. After all, anytime someone writes a book about some historical event or time period, that person is essentially trying to make a point about that event or time period. And since that author cannot possibly include every fact and every detail about a historical event or time period, he must choose what facts and episodes of that event or time period he will include in his book. So he selects and chooses the details, he arranges them in a certain way, and he attempts to convince the reader that his particular take on that event or time period is convincing, more true, or makes better sense than other attempts to explain that event or time period.

In effect, he is attempting to make his story about that particular historical event the most convincing way in which that historical event is understood. He hopes that his story is accepted above all other stories regarding a particular historical event, that his interpretation is more convincing than all others. But at the same time, since things in the past either really did or didn’t happen, some histories that are written are much more illuminating and truthful than others. Just because I say there is no such thing as objective history, doesn’t mean I am saying that “everything is relative” or that “there is no such thing as truth.” All I am saying is that anytime anyone writes anything about a history event, that person is going to have a limited perspective. Therefore, that person (hopefully) will do the best he can to articulate his perspective on that historical event, and (hopefully) that attempt will bring the past into clearer perspective for the reader.

And so, I am going to tell a story. In this story I am going to try to give my take on the major historical, theological, philosophical, political, and cultural events and time periods in Western history over the past 2,500 years. I want the reader to be able to say, at the end of this book, “This is where Western culture has come from, these are the major events and people that have shaped Western culture, these are the things that have gotten us to where we are today as a culture, and these are the issues of the 21st Century that Christians will have to wrestle with and address if they are to continue to be the prophetic voice that Christ has called them to be.”

The False Enlightenment (and Evangelical) Worldviews
EnlightenmentNow, for the past 200 years increasingly secular Enlightenment thinkers have successfully controlled the narrative of the history of Western society. Their narrative of history, though, has been far from honest. In fact, it has been purposely misleading and deceptive. The basic narrative goes something like this (I’m sure you’re familiar with it):

The ancient pagan society of classical Greece and Rome was a golden age of learning, philosophy, innovation and the arts. Yet when Constantine became the emperor of the Roman Empire in 325 AD, he cunningly seized upon the minority religion of Christianity and used it as the vehicle to destroy his opponents, crush all other largely pastoral and tolerant pagan faiths, and unite the empire under his iron grip. Christianity thus became the oppressive, irrational, superstitious, intolerant religion that destroyed the glorious ancient pagan societies of Greece and Rome, and ushered in over 1,000 years of intellectual, scientific, philosophical darkness over medieval Europe.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance when, aided by the rediscovery of those ancient classical authors of Greece, that the oppressive grip of the Church over Europe began to loosen. And then, with the coming of the Enlightenment, the dark stranglehold of the Church was broken, and a new era of progress, liberty, rationality, and science began to dawn across Europe. Yet, Christianity, being that hateful intolerant beast, continued to fight the emerging enlightened society that brought about secularism, logic, and science, and we are still witnessing the ongoing warfare between science and religion in issues like “creation vs. evolution.” “Religion,” we are told, is just part of human evolution, and that we are witnessing human society evolving away from religion, for it no longer holds any benefit to the human condition.

Does that sound familiar? Well, virtually everything in that narrative is wrong. Critical thinking people would rightly be wary of such a simplistic and over-generalized depiction of the past 2,500 years of Western history and civilization. I could probably write an equally over-simplistic worldview that has come to dominate modern American Evangelicalism: (A) Early Church = Good; (B) Roman Catholicism = Bad; (C) America was originally a Christian nation; (D) then the Supreme Court took prayer out of public schools, and the next thing you know, we have abortion and evolution, and Barack Obama! (Yes, I know, that is entirely over-simplistic, but that’s the point).

In reality, history is never simple, and is always complex. History is not a static, easily deciphered and clear progression from one point to another. There is an ebb and flow to history, a give and take, where one event is the culmination of countless smaller, seemingly unrelated and unforeseen events; and that event, in turn, spawns countless reactions and unintended consequences. Consequently, trying to understand how we got to where we currently are in our society is really, really hard and really, really time consuming. The posts I will share over these next few months are simply my attempts to understand these very things.

What to Look for…
The basic eras I will focus on are the following:

  1. The Greco-Roman World (500 BC-325 AD): This will focus on Greek Philosophy, Roman Culture, and the early Church within Roman culture
  2. The Byzantine Age (325-1054 AD): This will focus on the era during with Eastern Orthodoxy was prominent.
  3. The High Catholic Age (1054-1500 AD): This will focus on the rise of Catholic Church, from the time of the Great Schism, through the Crusades, and up to the Reformation.
  4. The Age of Revolution and Reform (1500-1800 AD): This will focus on the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, what I call the “Secular Revolution,” along with the Scientific Revolution.
  5. The Modern Age (1800-1900 AD): The rise of modern philosophy, the industrial revolution, evolution, and liberal theology.
  6. The Age of Fragmentation and Fundamentalism (1900-Present Day): Just think of what happened in the 20th century—there will be a lot to address.

That’s quite a lot to cover, but hopefully I’ll be able to put a lot of it into perspective. I’ll continue to write on other topics as well, from Young Earth Creationism to Biblical Studies. But I’m going to make a concerted effort to present my reflections on Western culture over the next semester.

The Heresy of Ham Has Arrived…at the Ark Encounter!

The Heresy of Ham Has Arrived…at the Ark Encounter!

It has been ten days since I last posted anything. It’s that time of year, getting the kid ready for school, etc., where some things get put on the back burner. In any case, I have a little bit of time tonight to share a short post.

HH at the AEJust the other day, a friend who had purchased my book, The Heresy of Ham, had also made the trek to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, and was kind enough to send me quite a picture: my book had arrived! Needless to say, I am simply going to have to put that picture in a frame. If anyone else happens to visit the Ark Encounter, I would love it if you sent me a similar picture as well!

At this point, though, what else really can be said about Ken Ham’s Ark, or highly dubious claims of young earth creationism regarding science, Church history, and the Bible? Over this past year, I’ve written over 80 posts on Ken Ham and young earth creationism, I’ve now written a book about it…what else can be said?

Well, for this post, I thought I’d elaborate on something that I briefly mentioned in one of my posts about my visit to the Ark Encounter: let’s revisit Ham’s speculation about Noah’s waste removal system that he developed for the ark.

If you visit the Ark Encounter, you’ll see a lot of “explanatory notes” next to many of the exhibits, describing what things “could have” been like, or how Noah “might have” done this or that, or what “probably” was the case. In other words, to support his claim that there really was a giant ark built by a man 4,000 years ago that housed thousands of animals, including dinosaurs, for about a year, Ken Ham resorts to imaginative speculation and, well, fiction.

  • How did Noah know how to build a giant boat? He obviously went to Shipwright School in the pre-flood world.
  • How could he alone have built such an Ark? He didn’t—he hired pagan workers.
  • And getting down to some practical matters, how was Noah, his wife, his three sons and three daughters-in-law able to deal with all that animal excrement for about year? Simple, Noah’s son Ham designed an ingenious waste-removal system for the Ark. And, as you can see, it is apparently elephant-powered.

All of that is admittedly highly imaginative, but let’s cut to the chase—none of it is actually biblical.

The History of…the Methane Digester?
To be clear, Ham’s ingenious waste removal system was not drawn up 4,000 years ago by Noah’s son. It was drawn up by another Ham, back around 2012. But in addition to this “waste removal system,” Ken Ham thought up another device that Noah and his sons could have invented. On the Ark Encounter website, there is an article from August 24, 2012 that describes how Noah and his sons were able to deal with all the piles of manure that would obviously quickly mount up on the Ark with thousands of animals.

This short article mentions that Noah and sons could have obviously dumped it overboard, or perhaps used it a compost to enrich the plants that they had brought on board, or maybe Noah just let it all pile up on the bottom deck.

But then the article proposes something quite…ingenious. They could have developed a “methane digester.” All they would have needed for such a device was “a simple airtight container to hold the manure, the proper bacteria, and a way of piping the resulting bio-gas to places where it could perform useful work—like a heating, cooking, and lighting inside the ship.”

It goes on to speculate that they could have used “hollow reeds” from the rubber tree to act as the gas pipes, and that these pipes could have also provided “reliable gaslight” to illuminate the interior of the Ark—after all, the inner recesses of the Ark must have been pretty dark!

The article ends by saying that the Ark was designed 4,450 years ago, “when mankind was still highly intelligent (Noah’s ancestor, Adam, possessed a nearly perfect brain as God created him), and Noah could easily have mastered this simple technology.”

That’s quite a claim, isn’t it? Adam possessed a “nearly perfect brain”? I don’t remember that being said anywhere in the Bible. I do remember, though, that the early Church Father Irenaeus wrote a book back in the second century, entitled, Against Heresies, in which he clearly states that one of the heretical teachings of the Gnostics of day was that they claimed Adam was “perfect.”

It’s all quite fascinating. If you go to the Ark Encounter and read the exhibits, you should come away with a curious feeling. Think about this: aside from the Ark itself, and the names of Noah, Shem, Japheth, and Ham, what else in the Ark Encounter is actually supported by the Bible?

Answer? Not much…no Shipwright schools, no methane digesters, no dinosaurs, no “one ice age that lasted for 200 years immediately after the flood, right before the Tower of Babel.”

Not…a…whole…lot.

In order to try to convince people that the Flood Story is a historical account, Ken Ham has resorts to imaginative fictions as his “evidence,” and he has made claims that are verified in Church history as being heretical.

And the Saddest Part…
When you think about it, the saddest part of all this is that I am sure Ken Ham would attempt to convince everyone that posts like this one, or books like The Heresy of Ham, are “attacks on the Bible,” and are “mocking biblical authority.”

Let me be clear: the exact opposite is the case. The only one making a mockery of the Bible is, in actuality, Ken Ham. The only one undermining the actual message of stories like Noah’s Flood is, in actuality, Ken Ham. The only one actually distorting the stories of Genesis 1-11, with all his talk of perfect brains, shipwright schools, methane digesters, and dinosaurs, is in actuality, Ken Ham.

By insisting that the flood story in Genesis 6-9 has to be historically accurate in order to be true, Ham has ended up focusing on fictitious speculations, and has actually drawn people’s attention away from the inspired message of the story of the flood, and to logical absurdities that make God’s Word look ridiculous.

No, posts like this and books like The Heresy of Ham are not attacking or mocking the Bible; they are defending the integrity of the Bible against people like Ken Ham who are setting it up as a mockery in the eyes of the world.

No matter how many creative ways Ken Ham thinks up how to shovel excrement to support his claims, the fact remains that shoveling excrement is all he is really doing.

I’ll take the Bible instead.

My Visit to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum: Down the Rabbit Hole (or should I say Velociraptor Hole?) (Part 1)

My Visit to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum: Down the Rabbit Hole (or should I say Velociraptor Hole?) (Part 1)

Over the past couple weeks, I have written a few posts about my visit to the Ark Encounter. This week, I hope to write a couple of posts about my visit to Ken Ham’s initial attraction: The Creation Museum. My friend Ian Panth and I spent the morning at the Ark Encounter, live-streamed various parts of our visit, and took a lot of pictures. After that, it was off to the Creation Museum, which was about a 30-minute drive from the Ark Encounter. If this post is interesting to you (or even if it isn’t!), please consider buying my new book, The Heresy of Ham: What Every Evangelical Should Know About the Creation-Evolution Controversy.

As far as specifics were concerned, I really wasn’t sure what to expect at the Creation Museum. I figured it would focus on arguing for a young earth, and giving supposed scientific evidence for those claims, but beyond that general assumption, I really wasn’t sure what I’d see.

Three weeks later, I still can’t get my mind around what I saw.

Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! (Did I Mention Dinosaurs?)
IMG_20160711_124645159
As my friend and I made our way to the front door, we saw a statue of dinosaur on the outside, and as soon as we walked in, it became obvious by just glancing around the foyer—Ken Ham is obsessed about dinosaurs. In fact, after going through the entire Creation Museum (as well as the Ark Encounter), I’d have to say that his #1 objective is to try to convince people that dinosaurs lived only a few thousand years ago.

As soon as you walk in to the Creation Museum, you see banners and signs that all make statements like, “Dragons were dinosaurs!” “What dragons?” you might be wondering? Well, the dragons in various literatures around the world, of course! I’ll just focus on one example that was particularly disturbing to me: the display regarding the Anglo-Saxon Epic Beowulf. As you can see in the picture, after summarizing the basic storyline of Beowulf, AiG claims that “The epic contains accurate historical information…” The display then goes on to say that the dragons in Beowulf may have been based on real events…and that this would be “consistent with the Bible.”

IMG_20160711_124900162I’m sorry…WHAT??? No! Beowulf does NOT contain accurate historical information…it is fiction! To then say, “The dragons in Beowulf could have been dinosaurs,” and then turn around and say, “This would be consistent with the Bible” is so unbelievable that even today, three weeks later, as I write this, I feel my head it going to explode. The Bible never mentions dinosaurs in the first place, and you can’t speculate “the dragons may have been dinosaurs,” and then turn around and use that baseless speculation as supposed “evidence” the Bible is true, because Beowulf doesn’t mention dinosaurs, and neither does the Bible!

Yet somehow, at the Creation Museum, AiG just has this absurd claim on display. My literary sensibilities were probably offended just as much, if not moreso, than my biblical sensibilities.

On to the Exhibits
In any case, as we made our way to the actual exhibits, I saw a giant display of AiG’s Seven C’s of God’s Eternal Plan: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion (that takes us up to Genesis 11), then Christ, Cross (that’s the gospels), and Consummation (that would be Revelation). I was amazed that apparently, outside of Genesis 1-11, the entire Old Testament is of little or no importance to AiG. Or to put it another way, I find it highly ironic that not only does AiG insist that Genesis 1-11 is “history” when it clearly is not, but that it turns around and dismisses out of hand the actual history that is in the Old Testament. God’s dealings with Old Testament Israel is inconsequential to them.

IMG_20160711_125124632As we waited in line to enter the exhibits, I noticed other displays as well—they showed examples of varieties of plant and animal life. Underneath all of these (as turned out to be the case throughout the museum) were little descriptors and explanations that argued for YEC and against evolution. One of the signs said, “There is not enough time—even billions of years—to get such differences by small steps from a common ancestor. The Bible tells us where this amazing variety came from—created by an all-knowing, all-powerful, creative God.”

Now, I agree. I believe all the variety in the world, indeed in the universe, comes from God. I just don’t think He poofed it all into existence within the span of a week, a mere 6,000 years ago. But the thing that struck me was the claim that there wasn’t enough time to get all the variety we see today. It struck me because Ken Ham believes that natural selection and genetic mutations are the processes that account for the variety of species and life forms in the world. He just denies the idea of a common ancestor, and he claims even billions of years wouldn’t be enough time.

Rather, what Ken Ham believes is that all the variety of species and life forms we see today have come about within the past 4,000 years, since Noah’s flood. So if “billions of years” isn’t enough time, what are we to make of AiG’s claim that it only took 4,000 years? Sure, they say the starting point wasn’t one common ancestor, but rather 1,000 original “kinds,” but trust me, if you do that math, that still is an impossibly ridiculous claim. I’ve said it before as an example: Ham’s claim would require an original “dog kind” to procreate so much, with so much genetic mutation, to have so many generations within the span of seven years, that by that seventh year the offspring would be Siberian Huskies. And then it would have to happen again, only this time…wolves; then another seven years…poodles. This would have to happen at that rate to account for all the varieties of land species to have come about in a mere 4,000 years.

That claim has about as much historical merit as Beowulf’s killing of Grendel.

The First Main Exhibit: Dinosaurs Again…and the Battle Between Man’s Word and God’s Word
The first main exhibit focused on…you guessed it…dinosaurs. There was a life-sized display of a standard archeological dig, with two archeologists inspecting a dinosaur fossil in the rock layer. The explanation below this display said, “Dinosaurs don’t come with tags on them telling us how old they are, where they lived, what they ate, or how they died. …Because we never have all the evidence, different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.”

Above the display was a video screen where the two archeologists were talking about the fossil. One concluded it was millions of years old, and it died in such and such a way; the creation scientist said, “You see? He’s just interpreting this fossil based on his assumption that the earth is millions of years old. I look at this fossil and conclude that this dinosaur lived 4,000 years ago and was instantaneously buried in the waters of Noah’s flood. It’s all about starting points!

There was also another chart on the wall, further arguing this point. This was shocking to me, because when it gets right down to it, what AiG is claiming is that scientists don’t really do science when studying the fossil record. AiG gives the impression that a “secular geologist” looks at a fossil and simply says, “Oh, it must be millions of years old, because I just assume the world is millions of years old!” And then AiG turns around as essentially says, “That’s how we come to our conclusions, only we assume the world is only a few thousand years old!”

In order to make themselves sound “scientific,” AiG resorts to redefining scientific disciplines like geology to nothing more than “labeling things according to starting assumptions.” But that’s not science, and real geologists, astronomers, and biologists don’t do that. That’s what AiG does, though, and that’s why, despite scientific-sounding jargon, they’re simply not doing science.

IMG_20160711_125507398_HDRAlong with this initial display, there were other charts involving astronomy and the variety of species, including human beings. Each one was clearly labeled with “Man’s Word” on one side, and “God’s Word” on the other, thus giving the impression that Genesis 1 was presenting accurate scientific information in the fields of astronomy and biology. I’ve written on this before—simply put, that’s not true. Insisting Genesis 1 is literal history and accurate science has about as much logic as insisting Isaiah 55:12 (“The mountains…will burst forth in song…and all the trees of the field will clap their hands”) is making the claim that mountains have voice-boxes and trees have hands.

Starting Points and Biblical Authority
From this initial display, we went on to see that AiG took this notion of “starting points” and turned a corner away from archeology and fossils to the issue of morality and human existence: “Why am I here? Am I Alone? Why do I suffer? Is there any hope? Why do we have to die?” Now, granted, these are important questions—I just was at a loss to see how they had anything to do with inspecting dinosaur fossils.

IMG_20160711_125848983In any case, this opened the door to AiG’s other major display: Biblical authority. In the next room there were life-sized representations of various figures in the Old Testament, from Moses, to Jeremiah, Isaiah, and David, followed by an empty tomb, and then the Apostle Paul. The emphasis was clear: if you want to get answers to life’s important questions, you’ll find them in the Bible. Again, this is true—but again, I was at a loss to see how this had anything to do with dinosaur fossils and distant starlight.

Well, AiG made the connection for me, for the very next exhibit dealt with “attacks on the Bible,” namely attacks from “secularists” and “evolutionists.” The logic is like this: if you say the earth is millions of years old, you are “attacking” Genesis 1, and are therefore undermining the truthfulness of the Bible. Or in other words, If Genesis 1 isn’t scientifically reliable, then the Bible isn’t truthful, and is therefore unreliable…and any society that questions that will find itself going to hell in a handbasket.

We’ll get our handbaskets ready for the next post, in which I conclude our tour of the Creation Museum.

Randy Stonehill: Social Insight from a Musical Jester

Randy Stonehill: Social Insight from a Musical Jester

In my last post, I wrote about the Christian singer-songwriter Bob Bennett, particularly his 1991 album, Songs from Bright Avenue, that dealt with the pain of divorce. In this post, I want to turn my attention to another Christian singer-songwriter, Randy Stonehill, who had a considerable influence on me as a teenager in the 80s. If you grew up in an Evangelical church in the 80s, chances are you heard the song “Shut-De-Do” by Randy Stonehill. If you were like me, and were attuned to the emerging “Christian rock” scene in the early eighties, I’m sure you’ll remember Randy Stonehill.

Randy_Stonehill_-_Equator“Shut-De-Do” was on Stonehill’s 1982 album, Equator. As catchy as that song was, though, it wasn’t my favorite—oh I liked it for sure, but there were other songs that caught my attention even more…the funny, satirical songs that, in their own comic way, were a pretty astute assessment of the absurdities of our modern American society. That’s the thing I loved about Stonehill: he could write extremely thoughtful songs like “Turning Thirty,” or “Even the Best of Friends,” and beautiful praise songs like “Light of the World,” and then turn around like a court jester and slap you in the face with “Big Ideas (In a Shrinking World),” “American Fast Food,” and “Cosmetic Fixation.”

Given my sense of humor and overall sensibilities, these songs made a profound impact on me. I’ve never really gotten into the standard Evangelical church “worship music” for basically two reasons: (A) it often involved a choir singing music my grandparents might enjoy, but teenage me just found irritating and rather boring, and (B) much of the worship songs just seemed tepid and vanilla to me—I mean, really: “Yes Lord, Yes Lord, YES YES Lord”? That means nothing!

That is why I consider myself so fortunate to have grown up when the contemporary Christian music scene was filled with so much creativity, from the likes of Keith Green, Phil Keaggy, Daniel Amos, Petra, Sweet Comfort Band, Bob Bennett, Amy Grant, and a host of others…and of course Randy Stonehill. They wrote about real things, and not every song had to be a “full worship experience.” Here were Christian artists writing not only praise songs, but also songs about divorce, losing a friend, getting older…you know, everyday stuff, but from a very creative and reflective place through which their Christian faith just shown through their music. It’s not enough to say I “appreciated” that—those artists and those songs shaped my life and my entire outlook on the world.

And when it came to Randy Stonehill, I realized that a Christian could be satirical and funny, and speak subversive, Kingdom of God humor to a backward world, and do it in such a creative, lyrical, and poetic way. I can still sing those songs from memory, a good thirty years later. With that, I want to share a few of Stonehill’s songs that provide a rather humorous but biting social commentary.

Big Ideas (In a Shrinking World)

Are you, like me, fed up with the empty promises that come from Washington? Are you sickened by the madness and stupidity that is our current political system? Well, “Big Ideas (In a Shrinking World)” might be for you. Simply put, “Big Ideas” chastises all those politicians who trot out their “big ideas” you hear at every party convention and every political campaign, but then who turn around and just continue to let things go to hell. Politicians try to paint themselves to be the saviors of our society, but they are actually the ones most responsible for our society’s demise. If this song isn’t directly applicable to the fiasco that is the presidential campaign of 2016, I don’t know what is.

Consider the very first lines of the song. If they don’t get your attention, nothing will:

The economy is shrinking; our money is a joke
We should go back to trading seashells and just admit that we’re broke
And our food supply is shrinking; but we continue happily
Building condos on farm land, and dumping sewage in the sea

Stonehill doesn’t just address a crumbling economy and food shortages, though. He also mentions dirty water and air:

Our water is shrinking, all the pipes are in decay
But don’t think of it as water; it’s more like “soup of the day”
And our air supply is shrinking; the sky is turning brown
We’re getting cancer of the cancer, just from walking around

And then, at the end of the song, after talking about the saber-rattling some politicians often engage in, and the threat of nuclear war, Stonehill drops these lines:

And our compassion is shrinking; it’s the ultimate crime
’cause we could save the starving millions, but we can’t seem to find the time

Ouch…after a number of funny and clever lines that actually address serious problems, Stonehill then just hits us between the eyes: people are starving in the world, and we’re too busy with the incessant banalities that make up so much of American pop culture. Incidentally, Stonehill practices what he preaches. He’s worked with and for Compassion International for decades, working hard to “save the starving millions.”

In any case, interspersed throughout these stanzas are recurring refrains that talk about how people are always speaking about a “higher vision,” pointing to another “savior of the ages,” or a supposed “light in the darkness.” I take this to mean how we often virtually deify our political leaders and candidates—at least the ones we like (we obviously then demonize the opposing candidate!). Just consider the recent conventions: pep rally, political theater, and secular worship service for possibly the two worst candidates in history, both spouting off their “big ideas,” while nothing ever really changes.

Even as a teenager, what I took from this song was simple: don’t deify your political leaders. Hold them accountable if they’re not actually addressing the needs of society and the world.

American Fast Food


I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I loved this song so much as a kid was that there is a giant belch in the middle of it. But hey, it’s about American Fast Food—what do you expect? Do you want to guess what Stonehill’s opinion of American fast food is? If you guessed, “It’s crap!” you’d be right! The first line says it all: American fast food, what a stupid way to die…and it gets even better as the song goes on:

American fast food, what a stupid way to die
American fast food, order me the jumbo fries
It’s so easy and it’s trouble free
It’s quick and disposable, just like me
If I don’t stop eating this greasy American fast food

Well we’re undernourished, but we’re overfed
And we’re munching on the burger with the white bread
And we’re sucking up the sugar in a milkshake
Till we slip into depression with a big headache
And our arteries are crying out, “Give us a break!”

When Morgan Spurlock came out with his movie, Supersize Me, I thought this song would have been perfect for it. In any case, as you listen to the entire song, you have to laugh at how spot on truthful the song is: we Americans shove crap down our throats, even though we know full well that eventually what’s waiting for us is corroded arteries, heart attacks, and diabetes! Who cares? It’s a Happy Meal!

Now, I’m guilty as anybody in this regard. One of the things that got me to seriously cut down on my fast food intake was back in my late twenties, when I realized that numerous and painful canker sores I would continually get were due to whatever chemical is in MacDonald’s french fries. And the pounding headaches? Maybe having two venti mochas a day had something to do with it. In short, I eventually realized it wasn’t worth it. I still have the occasional Wendy’s cheeseburger, and I’ve traded my specialty coffees for just one cup of regular coffee per day.

In any case, I have to say it was Stonehill’s American Fast Food that planted that thought in my brain, “Joel, eventually you’re going to get to the point where you cut out all of that junk! Yes, it will happen…just you wait. It really is a stupid way to die…and since you’re going to die someday, at least be smart about it!” If nothing else, it’s a funny song…remember it next time you pull into the drive-thru.

Cosmetic Fixation


And finally, there’s “Cosmetic Fixation”: a veritable prophecy of the sex-saturated, image-obsessed, Hollywood/Entertainment Tonight culture we’re living in today—and I thought it was bad back in the eighties!

Each stanza in the song paints another aspect of the “cosmetic fixation” of our society: the objectification of women, and seeing them as nothing more than conquests and trophies; how we put our entire sense of value into things like our cars and vanity plates; and the whole “lifestyles of the rich and famous” mentality—Stonehill reminds us quite bluntly: in the end, it doesn’t mean a thing.

But in the midst of this song (as you listen, you realize Stonehill is couching the entire song in an aura of silliness), there is this cutting lyric that gets to the real problem of each one of us and society as a whole:

We’re so concerned about keeping up appearances
And all the while we ravage our humanity
We’re so annoyed with the Truth’s interferences
And real values get sacrificed to vanity

Did you catch that? The more we try to maintain a certain “image,” and “keep up appearances,” the more we allow our very humanity to be ravaged and raped by the worldly idols of Mammon and Babylon. We don’t want the truth—it’s annoying; and in the end, real values are sacrificed for some form of “health and wealth gospel”—it doesn’t really matter if it is served by the likes of Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland, or in yet another show of “Entertainment Tonight.”

Conclusion
In the Middle Ages, the court jester wasn’t some buffoon. He often was highly insightful and smart. His “job description,” if you will, was to play the fool, and revel in absurdity—and by doing so, actually make cutting critiques and potent political and social commentary that served as a challenge to his audience.

I’ve always seen Randy Stonehill as sort of a court jester in that regard. He put out seemingly silly and absurd songs like these to get you to laugh, but then at some point, you’d actually listen to some of the lyrics, and end up going, “Oh…ouch…point taken!”

foto_stonehillRandy Stonehill’s early music still has a place in my heart. It was simply phenomenal. And yes, he has plenty of heart-felt serious songs about life and about following Christ. But for me, these satirical songs loom large. As funny as they are, they also hit on a number of social concerns and issues that I just assumed all Christians shared. Given our current political climate, it wouldn’t surprise me if some people’s reaction to a song like “Big Ideas,” is, “That Stonehill sounds too liberal!”

Now, I don’t know his political views, but I find it sad that caring about things like clean air and water, concern for growing violence, and caring for the poor is somehow deemed “liberal.” All Christians should be concerned about these things and should want to address those needs and concerns. How one thinks they should be addressed might determine if you are a “conservative” or “liberal,” but if you’re a Christian, I think it goes without saying that you should want to see such social concerns addressed and resolved.

But that’s the extent of political discussion I’ll engage in here. Just listen to and enjoy Stonehill’s songs…and maybe let yourself be convicted along the way.

Ken Ham’s Ark: My Close Encounter of the (un)Biblical Kind (Part 3)—Odds and Ends

Ken Ham’s Ark: My Close Encounter of the (un)Biblical Kind (Part 3)—Odds and Ends

In this final post about my visit to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, I want to just touch upon a few odds and ends (as the title of this post suggests). The things I’m about to say do not necessarily relate to each other, but I think they are worthy of comment nevertheless.

First: A Shameless Promotion!
FB_IMG_1469234928313One of the reasons I’ve written these posts (as well as many others that you can find on this blog) is to not only call attention to the very odd and rather dangerous teaching of young earth creationism. It is also to let you, the reader, know of my upcoming book, The Heresy of Ham, that lays out the case that young earth creationism is not only unscientific, but more importantly unbiblical and with no standing in the history of the Church. The Kindle version is already out, and the paperback edition will be out (hopefully) within a week. If you want to get a notice, just subscribe to this blog, and when I make the announcement, you will get an email (as you will every time I write a new post).

Truth and Lies About Evolution
Ken Ham acknowledges evolution happens. Yes, he really does. In the Ark Encounter there are displays in which clearly say that natural selection and genetic mutations have been the driving force that has produced the wide variety of life in the world. One display even says, “Observational processes show speciation within kinds.” That statement is 100% completely half true, and 100% completely fanciful.

IMG_20160711_101632804It is true in that it acknowledges natural selection and genetic mutations have given rise to new species. In fact, that is pretty much what Charles Darwin himself said. Remember, the name of his famous book is Origin of Species. That’s what Darwin argued; that’s what evolution is. Hence, Ken Ham acknowledges evolution is true.

…but then he turns around and ruins it. He ruins it in basically two ways. First, he misrepresents what evolution is. In another display he claims that evolution claims that life sprang from non-living matter—that is not true: evolution only describes the observable processes of natural selection and genetic mutation that give rise to the varieties of life here on earth. Evolution does not even address the question, “How did life original begin?” Remember, Darwin’s famous book is Origin of Species, not Origin of Life.

Second, Ham claims that in verses like Genesis 1:24 (“God made the wild animals…cattle…and everything that creeps on the ground of every kind”), that that word “kind” is an actual scientific classification of animal, akin to the modern scientific classification of “family.” Well, no—Genesis 1:24 is not giving us a scientific classification of animal, pure and simple. A plain and simple reading of the text (the way I am willing to bet Christians throughout Christian history have read it) is simply this: “God made all kinds of animals,” meaning, “a lot of different ones, a bunch, a whole mess of them.”

It is from that extremely faulty claim that Ham then bases his whole argument that modern species didn’t descend from a common ancestor, but rather from about 1,000 different “kinds” of “common ancestors,” a mere 4,000 years ago. The problem with that argument isn’t necessarily even with the idea that there was more than one “ancestor” from which all live descended—I’ve often wondered that. But that is a detailed scientific issue that someone more learned in that area should address. The problem is the idea that all that variation could have happened in a mere 4,000 years. I’ve written about that before. Long story short, unless you believe two beagles could procreate so much that in 7 years you’d have Siberian huskies, and then another 7 years you’d have coyotes, etc.—Ken Ham’s claim of hyper-evolution on steroids is just totally unbelievable.

But it is evolution, nonetheless, even if Ham refuses to admit it. So it’s true: he does believe in evolution (natural selection and genetic mutation giving rise to new species); but his definition of evolution is false, as is his insistence that he doesn’t accept evolution—he does, but it’s an impossible form of hyper-evolution.

Oh the Wondrous, Imaginative Ingenuity (that Ham thinks Noah must have had)
IMG_20160711_102046394One of the things you’ll notice if you visit the Ark Encounter is the amazing technology that Ham claims Noah must have had. It is highly imaginative, to be sure. As I mentioned in my first post, there are the what I like to call “PetSmart water containers made of clay” that were attached to the countless wooden baskets and cages that supposedly held all the different kinds of small animals. These cages were also designed with rather a very clever waste removal system. Hey, if I ever decide to have enough gerbils as pets that would necessitate ten cages stacked on top of each other, I might try that waste removal system—but let’s face it, that’s not mentioned in the Bible, nor is there any evidence of that in the ancient world…anywhere.

And then there is the really cool waste removal system for the larger animals. I was so impressed that I took a video of it. As you can see, Shem carries a wheelbarrow full of excrement, and dumps it down a shoot, to where Jephthah spends the day shoveling the mountain of excrement into buckets on a pulley system…powered by an elephant…that then is able to dump the excrement into the sea.

All I can say to that is, wow…that really is imaginative, and yes, kind of cool! But also, I’m pretty sure I saw that on the Flintstones. Now, to present something like that as just a purely imaginative and creative way to make the story come alive would be fine; but to present that within an entire project that is attempting to “prove” that the Noah story was historical, and to then claim if you don’t believe it, that you’re a compromised Christian who is undermining the Bible…I’m sorry—what could be considered a really creative and artistic interpretation of the flood story becomes something that is silly and ludicrous.

Blurred Lines
IMG_20160711_103717931No, I’m not talking about the Robin Thicke song. I’m talking about claims like the picture shows. The irony is this sign is in a small little room on the Ark Encounter dedicated to attacking how Noah’s Ark is often portrayed in children’s books. Yes, the way it is portrayed (i.e. happy Noah, happy animals) is pretty weird, when you come to think what the actual story is about. But, Ken Ham thinks it’s wrong because makes kids think the flood story isn’t history. And for Ham, if “secularists” can convince your children that Noah’s flood isn’t historical, then the next step is to reject the belief in heaven and hell (and as he says elsewhere, the miracles and resurrection of Jesus).

Needless to say, that’s a really big leap to go from a legitimate question of genre (i.e. what kind of literature is the Noah story?) to denying the resurrection of Christ. In addition, the irony is this: in his attempt to “prove” the story of Noah’s flood is historical, Ken Ham has built the Ark Encounter that displays fictitious animal kinds—at least in children’s books you’ll see elephants, giraffes, tigers, and other animals that are actually real and historical. At the Ark Encounter, though, the animals aren’t real, and they aren’t historical. Isn’t it ironic? Don’tcha think?

What Have the Reactions Been?
Finally, I have to say something about the various reactions I’ve come across of people, both Christians and atheists alike, who have visited the Ark Encounter. To the point, the reactions were much like mine: surreal, just odd, rather disappointing, and overall pretty boring. One common observation has been that, despite Ham’s claims of thousands upon thousands just pouring into the Ark Encounter, the parking lot is often rather empty. Simply put, it just isn’t attracting too many people. My friend Joel Duff of Naturalis Historia recently visited and came away with the same impression as I did—he’ll be writing his own observations on his blog. In addition, Tracey Moody of The Friendly Atheist actually wrote a post entitled, “Ken Ham isn’t a Bad Ogre,” in which she admitted she felt sorry for Ken Ham. It’s a really thoughtful article actually.

But the point is this: there hasn’t been scores of people flocking to the Ark Encounter, and there hasn’t been (at least not that I’ve seen) unmitigated vitriol leveled against it, now that it has opened. The overall mood seems to be, “Meh, why bother? It’s just all pretty odd and silly.”

As I said in “Part 1,” I think that within a year or two the Ark Encounter is probably going to be regulated to “that odd attraction out in Kentucky that has dinosaurs on a boat.” In a way, the Ark Encounter might be the best thing for people like me who are alarmed at the growing influence of young earth creationism within Evangelicalism. When someone reads an article or blog post about by Answers in Genesis about young earth creationism, one might think, “Wow, that’s convincing!” especially if one doesn’t know much about science, history, or proper biblical interpretation.

IMG_20160711_114145114_HDRBut when one actually sees something like the Ark Encounter up close, chances are one is going to get an odd twinge in his/her brain that will say at various displays, “Wait…what? Really? That’s weird.”

With the Ark Encounter, Ken Ham has successfully brought young earth creationism into the full light of day. It will now be exposed for what it really is: something really odd, with no basis in science, history, or the Bible—and something that is ultimately just boring.

The Ark Encounter, Atheists, and Billboard Wars: Welcome to Junior High!

The Ark Encounter, Atheists, and Billboard Wars: Welcome to Junior High!

Even though I have written quite a bit on Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis this past year, even going so far as to say that young earth creationism is heretical, I feel the need to clarify just a few things, and then comment on the most recent “dust-up” in the world of Answers in Genesis that most illustrates my biggest problem with Ken Ham.

Some Clarifications
First off, believing the earth is only 6,000 years old is not a heresy. It’s just wrong. For that matter, I have no problem if someone doesn’t believe evolutionary theory is true—it’s an extremely complex concept. Like I’ve said before, there are parts to it that I’m not quite sold on, but after having done a lot of reading on the topic over the past couple of years, I’m convinced that (A) the earth is millions of years old, (B) the universe is billions of years old, and (C) genetically, all life is inter-connected in some way—modern species have evolved from earlier life forms. Even Ken Ham admits to this (even though he won’t use the word “evolution”).

The question has always been “To what extent does evolution happen?” For fear of being too simplistic, I don’t think it’s that much a stretch to see that human beings and modern apes share some sort of common ancestor; but I still don’t get how human beings could share a common ancestor from a pine tree. But it doesn’t really matter to me. My point though, is this: your opinion on the age of the earth or evolution is completely irrelevant to the Christian faith. It doesn’t matter. You can be a solid, faithful Christian either way.

Secondly, what makes young earth creationism a heresy isn’t its claims of a young earth. What makes young earth creationism a heresy is its insistence that belief in a young earth and a literal/historical reading of Genesis 1-11 is the foundation to the Gospel itself. When you make that claim, and when you, as Ken Ham routinely does, accuse Christians who aren’t young earth creationists of “speaking with the voice of the serpent,” “undermining the Word of God,” being “liberal, secular, leftist,” etc.—well, that kind of divisiveness is the fruit of heretical teaching. It is a clear demonstration of the “works of the flesh” that Paul describes in Galatians.

Thirdly, what further shocks me about Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis is the way they continually misrepresent science, the Bible, and Church history in order to “prove” their claims, and the way they routinely engage in manipulative speech. Just yesterday, TheNaturalHistorian wrote a blog post pointing out the misleading new advertisement Answers in Genesis has for their upcoming Ark Encounter. Both the poster and the TV commercial depict modern species of animals coming into and out of the Ark. The only thing is that Answers in Genesis makes it clear that modern species didn’t exist back then. The animals that came onto the Ark were “original kinds,” and the Ark Encounter is going to display on Ken Ham’s replica models of what they think these “original kinds” were like.

Therefore, TheNaturalHistorian made a legitimate observation: the animals Answers in Genesis is putting in their advertisements for the Ark Encounter aren’t the animals that are going to actually be on display at the Ark Encounter.

Well, just yesterday, Ken Ham wrote a post scouring the post by TheNaturalHistorian. Ham accused the post of just wanting to “mock” the Ark Encounter, and of just not understanding the way modern marketing campaigns work. Ham called it a “hit piece.” No, Ham said, they meant to do it that way, because it is “a quite brilliant marketing campaign.” He then proceeded to send out SIX TWEETS within a few hours, hailing how “brilliant” their marketing campaign was, and how critics just don’t understand marketing.

I’ll just say, I think the man protests too much. A simple response to just clarify what they were trying to do with their advertisements would be understandable. But to come out with charges of “mocking” and “being a hit piece” tells me one thing: the only thing Ken Ham knows how to do is conflict—or as Paul says, “the works of the flesh are obvious…enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, [and] divisions…” (Galatians 5:19-21).

ArkEncounter2Now for the Billboard Wars
And then there is the newest dust-up today…and with this one, I’m not going to just blame Ken Ham—both sides are equally guilty of junior high childish drama. A few months ago, in his campaign to promote the Ark Encounter, Ken Ham put up this billboard—passive-aggressive hostility on full display: “To all our intolerant liberal friends.” Let’s be clear, the billboard isn’t exactly Christ-like; the billboard is looking to agitate; the billboard is, quite frankly, looking for a fight.

AtheistsArkAnd sure enough, it wasn’t too long before an atheist group called, “The Tri-State Free Thinkers,” responded in kind. In their attempt to protest Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, they came up with a billboard campaign of their own.

Well, as it turned out, the company who the TSFthinkers were going to use in their campaign backed out. So they were going to use another company to do a mobile-billboard campaign, but that company backed out as well, claiming they had “personal safety concerns” for their driver. TSFthinkers then bemoaned the “double-standard” that was in play: the Ark Encounter got to put their billboards up, but alas, no company was willing to put up their billboards.

Well, Ken Ham jumped on this happy news of the demise of TSFthinkers’ billboard campaign in his most recent blog post entitled “Secularists Want to Hurt Kentucky!” Basically, Ham said, “The atheists tried to stop us, but they failed! Hurray!” He quoted Genesis 50:20, which says, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

Ham then pointed out that atheist groups tried everything they could to stop the Ark Encounter from getting tax incentives, but hurray! They failed in that too! And the thing is, Ham points out, is that these atheist groups were really hurting Kentucky, because the Creation Museum has brought revenue to the state, and the Ark Encounter will do the same. Ham’s point is simple: atheist groups like TSFthinkers don’t just hate Christians, they hate Kentucky, and they are against economic prosperity for the state.

Ham ended his post by quoting the TSFthinkers press release that said: “We secularists, agnostics and atheists are essentially like everyone else. We’re your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. All we want is a place at the table for our ideas, too, and we are concerned that our voice and message is being denied in favor of religious messages.”

Ham’s response was predictable: “Well, what can you expect from hypocritical people who have no basis for absolute standards? Those who claim tolerance the loudest are some of the most intolerant people around! …There are secular museums and themed attractions across the world, yet this ‘Freethinkers’ group claims it is being ‘denied’ a place at the table for their ideas ‘in favor of religious messages’? And secular humanism dominates almost all government-run schools. The secularists’ claims are nonsense!”

When Can I Hand Out Detentions?
Hopefully, if you’re like me, you’re just shaking your head at the immaturity and persecution complex both sides have put on full display. Let me share a few quick observations:

  • Yes, the Ark Encounter billboard is petty, passive-aggressive, and offensive—not Christ-like in the least.
  • Yes the TSFthinkers’ billboard is equally petty and offensive. They’re displaying their own ignorance of the purpose of the story of Noah’s ark, and I can guarantee you that they don’t know the proper definition of ancient myth. The story of Noah’s ark is a myth, but that doesn’t mean “fairy tale,” or “untrue.” TSFthinkers is using the term as a pejorative to ridicule the story as untrue, but that just shows they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • Yes, Ham’s glee over their failure to get their stupid billboard campaign up and running is absolutely palpable. Calling them “evil” and equating himself with Joseph in Genesis 50:20 is not only further offensive, but also displays Ham’s own hubris. God used Joseph to save the lives of his family; who is the Ark Encounter “saving”? Ham will claim it will save souls. But how can souls be saved when you’re completely putting forth a misleading and false interpretation of the story of Noah’s flood, and mocking those very souls you claim to be trying to save?
  • Here’s a shocker: I have no problem with the Ark Encounter getting the tax incentives from the state. The state is not endorsing any religion; it is just giving incentives to a project that probably will boost Kentucky’s economy. The vitriol against AiG on that issue is, in my opinion, misplaced. It is trying to do legal maneuvers to hurt a group with whom one doesn’t agree.
  • That being said, Ham’s claim that “seculars want to hurt Kentucky”—come on, please. This is manipulation on full display. This is the kind of demonization that corrupt political parties engage in. You know, the whole, “We love America! They hate America!” So it needs to be asked, “Does AiG reflect more the politics of the Kingdom of God or the politics of Caesar?”

Let’s be clear, this whole thing is ridiculous. No, TSFthinkers, you’re not being discriminated against; you’re not being persecuted. Grow up, stop trying to put up billboards that are the equivalent of a junior high spat, and try to do something useful with your time.

And no, Ken Ham, you’re not being discriminated against; you’re not being persecuted. You catch a lot of flak because you ask for it. You intentionally antagonize and condemn, and you do it in the name of Christ—that’s what enrages people. Atheists don’t rail against you because you’re a Christian. They rail against you because you claim to be a Christian, yet do not reflect anything of Christ to the world.

This “Great Billboard War of May 11, 2016” is a perfect example of what the “works of the flesh” look like in day-to-day reality. Or, if you don’t want to “get all biblical,” we can just say, both sides are putting their stupidity on full display. Ken Ham has his persecution complex and the TSFthinkers have their persecution complex. Both sides think Genesis 1-11 is trying to convey scientific information, both sides think that evolution and Christianity are at odds with one another, and both sides have devoted themselves to going to war over a figment of their own imaginations.

Young earth creationist groups like Answers in Genesis and atheist groups like Tri-State Free Thinkers are each other’s doppelganger—that’s why they hate each other so. They’re looking into a mirror, and don’t like what they see.

Do yourself a favor and avoid them both. Your heart, soul, and mind will be grateful. You wouldn’t want to go back to junior high, would you? Why then would you want to identify with a group that routinely displays the mentality of a 12 year 7th grader?

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.

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