Mark your calendars and tell your friends…my book, The Heresy of Ham is due out soon…really soon! I’ve been fortunate enough to have Archdeacon Books agree to publish it for me, and the plan is to have the Kindle/E-book of The Heresy of Ham out within a few days. If Ken Ham can celebrate the opening of his “Ark Encounter” on July 7th, then why not celebrate the publication of my book on the same day as well?
To be clear, only the Kindle/E-book will be available in a few days. The official print edition will come out later this month. So, if you want to wait for a physical book to purchase, stay tuned, and I’ll announce when it is available. If you want to get a jump on things and read the Kindle/E-book, you have only a few days to wait.
By all means, please share this announcement on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site you can think of. Spread the word. I’d appreciate it if you wrote a book review and shared it on Amazon.com, or perhaps your Facebook page, or even if you have your own blog.
In any case, I thought I share a short section from early on in the book, where I introduce precisely why the young earth creationism of Answers in Genesis is so problematic.
Ever since Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species in 1859, there has been controversy over the issue of evolution and how it may or may not affect the Christian faith and the Bible. It is a debate that continues to spark both interest and vitriol in many segments of our modern society. The reason for such hostility is due in no small part to publications like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, as well as increasingly influential young earth creationist organizations like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis. There’s no better way than to keep the fires of fear and paranoia stoked than to convince people that “the other side” is out to get them.
Despite such fear-mongering, my personal experience has convinced me that in reality the majority of Evangelical Christians probably don’t spend all that much time thinking about the creation/evolution debate. They go on with their lives, and are content to hold to the simple idea that since God made the world, then evolution can’t true because evolution says there is no God and all this happened by chance. In practical terms, the creation/evolution debate itself doesn’t affect their lives all that much.
On one hand, this actually is a good thing. Christians know deep down that, despite what one thinks about the age of the earth or about precisely how God created the world, it simply is not a vital issue when it comes to following Christ. On the other hand, though, this is bad thing, because most Christians who don’t think too much about it end up being largely ignorant of it, and such ignorance has left them susceptible to being manipulated by certain people who are using the creation/evolution issue to promote their own agendas. And as I have learned, the young earth creationist movement has an agenda.
Ever since Henry Morris’ The Genesis Flood, was published in 1961, the young earth creationist movement has steadily gained a considerable amount of influence and power within certain segments of the American Evangelical church—the most well-known YEC organization being that of Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis. The reason why it has grown in influence is because it takes advantage of people’s ignorance of history, science, and the Bible, and has convinced a significant portion of Evangelicalism that evolution is the front-line issue in the battle between Christianity and atheism/secular humanism.
Therefore, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that recent polls have shown that 46% of Americans, and 69% of people who regularly attend church weekly, believe God created human beings in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so. Within the Evangelical world, 64% of white Evangelical Protestants reject the idea that humans evolved at all. I doubt that poll number is the result of people having actually investigated the issue. It is rather because Evangelicals simply assume evolution is the same thing as atheism. They assume that because it is what they have been told by the various young earth creationists groups for decades.
The problem, though, is that not only is that claim demonstrably wrong, it is purposely deceitful. No, it’s not because men like Ken Ham are trying to pull a fast one on well-meaning, but unsuspecting Christians in order to get rich. Ken Ham says what he says because he has an agenda, and that agenda is to win the culture war. He is so horrified at what he perceives to be the moral decline in our society, that he believes it is his duty to restore a sense of moral order. He is so convinced that the reason for American society’s moral decline is directly linked to the theory of evolution, that he believes that if he can discredit the theory of evolution and convince people that Genesis 1-11 is scientifically and historically accurate, then this will convince people that the Bible is true, and thus lead to the restoration of Christian morality in our society.
In his attempt to prove that Genesis 1-11 is scientifically and historically accurate, though, Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis have given some truly bizarre “answers” that, ironically, are not found in Genesis, or anywhere else in the Bible, for that matter. Among other things, he has claimed:
- Adam and Eve possessed a perfect genome, stood anywhere from 12-16 feet tall, and had super-intelligence.
- There was no death of any kind before the fall, except for plants and insects; they didn’t have the “breath of life,” so therefore they weren’t technically “alive” in the first place.
- As soon as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their perfect genomes started to mutate, the second law of thermodynamics was ushered into existence, and hurricanes, cancer, and untold diseases and natural disasters burst into God’s perfect creation.
- Even though the human genome was no longer perfect after Adam and Eve’s fall, the genetic mutations were still rare and so minor that it was okay for their children to marry each other and have incestuous relationships without it being detrimental to the normal functioning of human life. It was only thousands of years later, when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, that the genome become so mutated that God declared incest to be a sin.
- The pre-flood civilization was highly intelligent and had access to advanced technology that dwarfed the modern technology we have today. This is what made it possible for Noah to build the ark, for he hired people to help him build it. All of the pre-flood advanced technology, though, was entirely blotted out by the waters of the flood, and we thus have no evidence of it today.
- Dinosaurs were on the ark, but only the small newborns. That is how they were able to fit on the ark.
- Animals like the kangaroo were able to float to Australia on the pre-flood trees that had been ripped up by the flood.
- Even after the flood, though, Noah’s descendants became just as sinful as ever, and rebelled against God’s command to be “fruitful and multiply” by refusing to have a lot of sex.
So much for providing answers that are in Genesis (or anywhere else in the Bible, for that matter). And believe me, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Nevertheless, Ken Ham is so convinced that his “battle plan” will save our society, and he is so convinced that God has called him to this fight, he feels that anything or anyone who questions him or doubts his claims is the enemy, not only to him, but to God and the Bible as well. It doesn’t matter to him that 97% of the scientific community rejects his claims of a young earth—they are in rebellion against God. It doesn’t matter to him that the most preeminent Evangelical biblical scholars of our day disagree with his interpretation of Genesis 1-11—they are compromised Christians who are undermining biblical authority. The culture war must be won, and the proper moral order must be reestablished. There can be no compromise. If Adam and Eve didn’t possess perfect genomes, then Christ died for nothing.
The fact is, though, that the claims of Ken Ham and a number of other young earth creationists are not only unscientific, they are also unbiblical and have never been universally held in the history of the Church. Let me repeat that, for it is what lies at the heart of this book: the claims young earth creationism makes regarding Genesis 1-11 are provably unscientific, provably unbiblical, and provably without any basis in the history of the Church.
Most Evangelicals, though, don’t know this. Therefore they go along with the young earth creationists party line and simply assume that Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis organization is just another Christian ministry dedicated to spreading the Gospel and standing up against atheism.
Yet, as has happened countless times, any Christian who ends up learning more about science, proper biblical interpretation, or the facts of Church history, and then starts to raise questions about some of the things that young earth creationism is claiming, will soon find that there is target on his back. His faith will be questioned, and, if that person happens to be either a teacher at an Evangelical high school or college, or a pastor of a church, chances are his career will be in jeopardy, not for questioning the Bible, but for questioning YEC dogma.
This book is an attempt to provide clarity for anyone confused by the creation/evolution debate, and reassurance and a comfort for those people who’ve been frustrated, hurt, and have had their faith shaken because of what can be characterized as nothing else than young earth creationist zealots. Trying to understand the whole creation/evolution debate and wrestling with how to properly interpret Genesis 1-11 is hard enough. It takes a great amount of courage and faith to ask the hard questions and to seek the truth in both tasks. It therefore is tremendously disheartening and devastating to find certain Christians calling your faith into question, simply because you don’t blindly parrot the party line of young earth creationism.
I believe that the paranoia, divisiveness, and frustration that the young earth creationist movement fosters wherever it goes should serve as an indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. This is not simply a case of Christians having a difference of opinion on a certain topic. This is a case of a movement willing to declare war on everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, who does not capitulate to what they have unilaterally declared to be true.
“Public Views on Evolution.” Pew Research Center: Religion and Public Life. 30 Dec 2013. Web. June 12, 2015.
Elizabeth Mitchell, “Evaluating Giberson’s Book Saving the Original Sinner with Scripture and Science.” Answers in Genesis, 11 Nov 2015. Web. 12 Nov 2015.
Ken Ham and Tim Lovett, “Was there Really a Noah’s Ark and Flood?” New Answers Book: Answers in Genesis, 15 Feb 2014. Web. 11 Dec 2015.
Avery Foley, “Did Adam Step on an Ant Before the Fall?” Answers in Genesis, 4 Dec 2015. Web. 11 Dec 2015.
Danny Faulkner, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Curse.” Answers Research Journal, 13 Nov 2013. Web. 14 Dec 2015.
Ken Ham, “Was There Death Before Adam Sinned?” New Answers Book 3, 25 April 2014. Web. 10 Oct 2015.
“Who Was Cain’s Wife?” Answers in Genesis. Web. 15 Nov 2015.
Ken Ham and Tim Lovett, “Was There Really a Noah’s Ark and Flood?” New Answers Book, 5 Feb 2014. Web. 22 Sept 2015.
Ken Ham, “Answering Claims About the Ark Project.” Answers in Genesis, 5 June 2015. Web. 5 July 2015.
Buddy Davis, “Dinosaurs on the Ark.” Answers Magazine, 24 Feb 2010. Web. 13 Oct 2015.
Paul F. Taylor, “How did Animals Spread all Over the World from Where the Ark Landed? The New Answers Book, 17 Feb 2014. Web. 13 Oct 2015.
Bodie Hodge, “Why Don’t We Find Human and Dinosaur Fossils Together?” New Answers Book, 1 Nov 2007. Web. 13 Oct 2015.
In my previous post, I discussed Jerry Coyne’s dismissive book review of a new book from BioLogos entitled, How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science. What was fascinating about it was that Coyne admitted he hadn’t even read it. So in reality, his book review was a review of someone else’s article, along with the publicity blurb that BioLogos put out about the book.
Jerry Coyne, for the record, is a science professor at the University of Chicago and an atheist who is part of the New Atheist Movement. He even has recently written a book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible—the name of the book is self-explanatory.
In any case, there was so much to talk about, I just couldn’t fit everything into one post…hence, “Part 2.”
Coyne on Haarsma…
In the second part of his review, Coyne quotes the article he read that quoted Deborah Haarsma, the president of BioLogos: [Haarsma] treasures Genesis, she said, because she reads in it the message that “God is continually sustaining the universe he created with intention and for a purpose.” Science, she wrote, doesn’t replace God, “it gives us a human description of how God is creating and sustaining.”
Now, I think that is a pretty straightforward and accurate statement: science doesn’t replace God. Science (and specifically evolution in this case) is simply a description of the natural processes of the world. Consequently, if you’re an atheist, you’ll think that there is no one behind those natural processes; if you’re a Christian, you’ll think that those natural processes are the means by which God continues to create. But science (and evolution specifically) cannot comment on the existence or non-existence of God, because it is limited to the how questions.
Well, Coyne doesn’t seem to agree. His response is, “Maybe a ‘how’, but surely not a why! As I noted above, it would be a cruel and capricious God who would create through evolution and natural selection. The onus is on theists to tell us why God used evolution rather than de novo creation.”
Methinks Coyne has over-stepped the boundaries of science. Once again, he puts forth is idea that if there is a God then evolution would make him “cruel and capricious,” (whereas without a God, evolution is marvelous and wondrous). And then, Coyne the scientist criticizes Christians who believe in evolution because they can’t explain why he did it that way, and not “de novo”—(i.e. instantaneously). I’m sorry, that response is not only not a valid scientific objection, it also is quite childish. It’s a cop out, pure and simple. Why do “theists” have to explain why God creates through evolution, and not all at once? Because Coyne says they have to? I don’t think so.
Coyne is Really Hung Up on Adam and Eve
Coyne then (again) questions how Christians can come to accept evolution based on the evidence, but then continue to believe in a historical Adam and Eve, even though there is no evidence for that. And again, as I said in the previous post, that actually is a valid point to an extent. All I can add to my previous comments is this: you can’t criticize Christians for taking the time to work these things through. In the Evangelical world, ultra-fundamentalists have shoved this paranoid, “evolution is of the devil” stuff for almost a century; many Evangelicals are finally breaking out of that kind of thinking. You can’t expect people to just flip a switch and automatically change. Thinking takes contemplation and time. To criticize that there are some Christians who accept evolution who aren’t yet ready to give up insistence on a historical Adam and Eve is, in my opinion, quite snobbish…
…and I outright condescending. Consider what Coyne says next: “In other words, the book attempts to reconcile an evidence-based scientific conclusion with a brand of Christianity based solely on ancient scripture, revelation, and wish-thinking.”
There you have it: science is “evidence-based” (okay, that’s true), and Christianity is “based solely on ancient scripture, revelation, and wish-thinking” (no…no…and no). First, Christianity is not based solely on ancient scripture. Christian doctrine was developed by some of the most astute, brilliant philosophers and thinkers during the Roman and later Byzantine empires, not to mention brilliant men like Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, and many others. Second, it’s quite clear that the reason why Coyne includes “ancient” and “revelation” is that he equates them both with “wish-thinking” (I think he means “wishful thinking”). But is Christianity just wishful thinking? What Coyne’s comment shows is that, although it is clear he has read Freud’s infantile Future of an Illusion, he clearly has not taken the time to actually understand Church history.
Coyne then says that’s why he doesn’t like these types of attempts of reconciling science and faith, “for while it touts the science, it dilutes it with superstition and enables faith-based ‘truths’ at the same time.” Let me translate what Coyne means: “I don’t like people trying to say you can have faith and embrace science at the same time, because I’ve already concluded that anyone who is a Christian is a diluted, superstitious rube.” I’d like to say to that, “Well, Dr. Coyne, tell that to the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Polkinghorne…” You get the picture. Coyne’s claim that science and faith cannot co-exist flies in the face of the reality of the history of scientific inquiry.
Coyne and BioLogos’ Promotion of the Book
Coyne ends his book review by commenting on the promotional blurb BioLogos put out for the book. BioLogos’ purpose is pretty obvious: to let people know they don’t have to choose between the stances of either atheist Richard Dawkins or young earth creationist Ken Ham, and that there is harmony between science and the biblical faith.
That is utterly true. And that is why it is a shame to see the extremists on both sides (i.e. the New Atheists and Young Earth Creationists) use this issue to stir up such paranoia and hatred. And let’s be honest, both sides have profited tremendously off of playing up this idea that there is a “war” between science and faith. I mean hey, Coyne just put a book out on this very thing last month.
In any case, Coyne’s criticism goes back to…again…Adam and Eve (which he erroneously calls “a fable”). One of the real fundamental problems with both young earth creationists like Ken Ham and new atheists like Jerry Coyne is that both of them erroneously label Genesis 1-11, thus making it really, really hard for everyday people (Christians in particular) to properly understand the genre of Genesis 1-11: it’s not “fable,” or “legend,” or straightforward history. If you want to know why so many Evangelical Christians who now accept evolution aren’t quite ready to let go of a historical Adam and Eve, it’s because people like Ken Ham and Jerry Coyne are telling them that either the story of Adam and Eve is history or else it is a fairytale or fable. And so, as we see, many Christians are still working through this…and that’s okay.
…except for Jerry Coyne. He just wants to see Christians interpret the Genesis 2-3 like he does, which is to say he wants them to think it all a fable—and this would be just as incorrect and wrong as accepting Ken Ham’s interpretation, that it is about the first couple a mere 6,000 years ago.
The Way Coyne Sees Things
In any case, it is in the course of this criticism that Coyne actually lays out his own views regarding science and the Bible. He writes:
“As for having to choose between science and faith, well, yes, the rational person should. You can’t accept scientific evidence based on one set of criteria, and simultaneously accept religious stories as true based on a completely different set of criteria. In Faith versus Fact I develop the argument that the Abrahamic religions, and others as well, are indeed grounded on assertions about the world and cosmos, and thus potentially susceptible to empirical testing…”
Basically, Coyne doesn’t think it is possible to for science and faith to co-exist. More specifically, let’s cut to the chase: he doesn’t think it is possible for evolution and faith to co-exist. In this respect, he’s in the same boat as Ken Ham. Well, he’s in luck, I’ve heard Ken Ham is building a boat as we speak!
Seriously, though, Coyne is rejecting the very premise of BioLogos’ argument. They have come out with a book where 25 scientists, theologians, philosophers and biblical scholars describe how they have come to the conclusion that science and faith are not at war with each other, and Coyne’s basic response (in a book review of a book he has not bothered to read!) is this, “Nu uh!”
He claims it is “rational” to choose between the two because, as he states, you can’t have different sets of criteria for science and religion. Simply put, Coyne believes scientific criteria is the only basis for ascertaining truth in the world. By claiming this, he is completely rejecting the notion of metaphysics. His assumption is that the natural world and natural laws are all that exist, and he is putting forth that assumption as his argument against religion. But that assumption isn’t an argument—it is an unprovable assumption. Again, like I said in my previous post, Coyne’s shell game is almost as obvious as Ken Ham’s.
And while we’re at it, let’s not what he says about his own book, Faith vs. Fact. He states that his argument is that the Abrahamic religions “are grounded on assertions about the world and the cosmos.” What that means is that Coyne is assuming that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all doing modern science in Genesis 1-11, and that therefore they are wrong in their claims. But Genesis 1-11 isn’t doing modern science! To assume it is, is just foolish, plain and simple.
Let’s be clear: Coyne’s understanding of Genesis 1-11 is the exact same at Ken Ham’s, namely that Genesis 1-11 is attempting to provide answers to 21st century scientific questions. This is highly ironic, given the fact that in the very BioLogos blurb that Coyne quotes, BioLogos points out that many Christian scholars and scientists “are grieved by the way Scripture is often forced to answer twenty-first century questions that it was never intended to address.”
Of course Coyne is going to criticize this book, it undercuts the very premise of his own.
Coyne ends his review (of the book he hasn’t read) by predictably criticizing BioLogos’ claim that God is the source of all truth, and that science reveals truth about the natural world, whereas scripture reveals the truth about the metaphysical nature of who man is and who God is, and how He has revealed Himself in the history of ancient Israel and the early Church. He writes two things. First he writes:
This assumes, of course, that religion does tell us the “truth” about Jesus Christ and the way to have a relationship with God. But Islam gives us completely different “truths” from Christianity. Which one is right? Science has a way of adjudicating these issues; religion doesn’t.
I’m sorry, this is an utterly sloppy and uninformed statement. First, “religion” doesn’t tell us the truth about Jesus—Christianity, specifically the first century writings of the New Testament, tells us the truth about Jesus. And much of that is historically reliable. Ascertaining the historical reliability of these writings is the responsibility of the historian, not a biologist.
Second, although it is obvious that Christian claims about God and Jesus are different than than of Islam, and although it is true that one or the other is true, it is utterly absurd for Coyne to claim that science is able to “adjudicate these issues,” when he has just stated that among the “issues” to which he is referring is “how to have a relationship with God”—which is clearly not a scientific issue.
To be clear: the issues of God’s existence, and the nature and purpose of human beings are not “scientific issues”—they are metaphysical issues. Coyne, though, not only dismisses the very existence of metaphysical reality, he actually claims that science is able test and adjudicate those metaphysical issues that he denies even exist. That is truly astounding.
Coyne ends with the following:
In the end, that’s why a dialogue between science and faith is futile. Or rather, it’s a one-way dialogue—a monologue. Science can tell religion which of its claims are false, but religion can’t tell science which of its claims are true. And it is this asymmetry that compels a rational person to choose between science—construed as a combination of evidence, observation, agreement, and reason—and faith.
First, Like both Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham, Coyne criticism of what BioLogos is trying to do rest on a mere assumption that science and faith don’t mix—and such an assumption flies in direct contradiction to the historical facts of the rise of modern science (namely, that a whole bunch of Christians were at the forefront of it).
Second, Coyne clearly cannot tell the difference between scientific claims regarding the natural world and religious claims of metaphysical realities. He also wrongly assumes that the primary function of religion (and let’s get more specific, the Bible) is to make scientific claims. And again, as should be obvious, the Bible isn’t trying to do modern science. But Coyne can’t see that. His reading of Genesis 1-11 is just as simplistic and uninformed as that of Ken Ham. Again, they’re in the same boat…head to Kentucky today to see its grand opening on July 7th!
Finally, the very way Coyne juxtaposes science and faith is outright false. He presents them as addressing the same thing (i.e. trying to make scientific claims about the natural world), and then says science uses evidence, observation, agreement, and reason to find truth about the natural world. That is actually true—that is what science does. But religious faith (and again, let’s be clear, he’s talking about Genesis 1-11) isn’t addressing the same issues of how nature works.
To be blunt, Coyne’s review of the book he didn’t read is completely unreasonable. He displays (1) a contempt for even considering the possibility of metaphysical reality, (2) an inability to differentiate between what science addresses and what religion (particularly Christianity) addresses, and (3) a curious hubris for his disdain of faith and his unwillingness to even figure out what Genesis 1-11 and the rest of the Bible are actually addressing.
I would say I’m baffled, but I’m not. I’ve read too much of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris (as well as their doppleganger Ken Ham) to be baffled at anything they claim. It is all so predictable and pedantic. Rabid ideology always is.
The other day I came across a short book review by Jerry Coyne, the well-known atheist and biology professor at the University of Chicago. It was entitled, “The Intellectual Vacuity of Theistic Evolution: A New Book from BioLogos.” Just this past May, Coyne published the book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. I haven’t read the book—after reading books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, I’ve had to detox from books by militant atheists for awhile.
In any case, Coyne wrote a short book review of How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, the most recent book that has come from BioLogos. As the title suggests, the book is a collection of short essays by Evangelical scientists, pastors, biblical scholars, theologians and philosophers, in which they tell how they came to accept evolution as the means by which God creates the natural world. I’m about half way through the book, and it is very enjoyable and easy-to-read. The aim of the book is obvious: to ease the fears of many in the Evangelical world about evolution. It’s not the boogey-man, it’s not atheistic religion—it’s just a scientific theory that has discovered some pretty amazing things about the world. Simply put, you can be a Christian and be okay with evolutionary theory.
It is safe to say that the folks at Answers in Genesis will not like this book—I expect at some point they will write their own book review of it, and include insinuations about “those so-called Christians,” and pepper their review with the standard AiG talking points: “the serpent’s lie,” “there are two kinds of science,” “God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible opinion,” “evolution isn’t a salvation issue, but it really is,” etc. etc.
Simply put, BioLogos is going to “get it” from young earth creationists.
But BioLogos won’t just get it from AiG—they, as Jerry Coyne’s book review makes clear, are going to “get it” from the new atheist movement as well. As I’ve said in other posts, this should not be surprising, for at heart—at the fundamental worldview level—young earth creationists and the “new atheists” are each other’s doppelganger. Coyne claims theistic evolution is vacuous (i.e. empty-headed and unintelligent). Let’s check his own arguments, to see if there is a sound of a vacuum to them.
Now, one might think that a scientist and an atheist like Jerry Coyne would be thrilled that BioLogos is trying to convince the Evangelical world that evolution is true. Well, he’s not…and he wrote a book review to show why he’s not.
The first thing I noticed about the book review that gave me pause was Coyne’s admission, right at the start, that he hadn’t yet read the book. His review is based on what some of the authors and editors have said about the book. More specifically, his review is based on another article about the book, as well as the summary of the book that BioLogos put out.
This struck me as rather funny…and typical for both young earth creationists and the new atheist movement: each group “already knows” their conclusions before they even investigate or pick up a book. In any case, it should be obvious: Coyne isn’t so much reviewing the book—he’s just using the book as an excuse to put forth his own ideas regarding the relationship between science and religion, namely they’re incompatible (“so I don’t need to read a book in which other scientists and philosophers disagree with me on this point—I already know I’m right!”).
Perhaps that is too harsh on my part. In any case, here are Coyne’s specific objections to the book (that he hasn’t read):
First, Coyne says the book is a farrago (i.e. mishmash) of naturalism and supernaturalism. Some of the contributors, although they accept evolution, nevertheless believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve, even though, as Coyne points out, genetics have proven that to be impossible.
Second, Coyne also has a problem with theistic evolution. He describes it as “the doctrine that in some way God impelled the evolutionary process, usually toward Homo sapiens.” He finds to be similar to deism: God just wound the clock up, and let evolution do the rest, but somehow still guided the process to produce human beings.
Because of this, Coyne concludes that theistic evolution is not the kind of thing we should want taught in schools. He then gives three reasons:
- Theistic evolution, for Coyne, invokes God in the process, and thus is a violation of naturalism. We don’t have “theistic physics” or “theistic chemistry,” so why “theistic evolution”?
- The notion of theistic evolution is rooted in teleology: namely, that the evolutionary process is directional and “upwards,” with the creation of human beings being the goal. But there’s no evidence for such teleological guidance, Coyne claims. Besides, if that was the case, how can anyone explain the sheer waste of evolution? The vast majority of life forms on earth are now extinct: If there was a God, then why did he do it that way?
- Finally, one of the wonders of evolution, Coyne says, is that natural selection is a mindless, purposeless process—and that somehow it has produced such marvelous variety in the plant and animal kingdom. By showing that “the diversity of life could all be explained by the simple sorting of hereditary variations in populations,” evolution dispelled the evidence (or need) for God. Coyne claims that what makes evolution “so marvelous” is that “you realize that these fantastically intricate creatures are the products of evolution over billions of years, starting only with a few inanimate molecules, and that nothing guided that save the exigencies of the environment.”
Evolution…and Adam and Eve?
Here are my thoughts regarding Coyne’s book review of the book he hadn’t read. Let’s get right to it.
First, regarding some of the contributors accepting evolution but also accepting the historicity of Adam and Eve—Coyne actually has a point here. For the past 20 years, I have not read the Adam and Eve story as being of the literal, historical first couple. Of course, evolution had absolutely nothing to do with my understanding of Genesis 2-3. My training in biblical exegesis and my background in literature just made it clear to me that not only Genesis 2-3, but Genesis 1-11 as a whole, simply is not trying to relate actual historical facts to begin with.
That being said, I’m not going to completely discount the arguments other theologians and scholars have for their belief that there was a historical first couple. I’m just going to be honest and say, “Okay, but you can’t historically prove it, and it seems pretty obvious to me that those chapters aren’t attempting to give historical information in the first place.” So yes, you can speculate that there might have been an Adam and Eve, or a first couple that God endowed with His image after the long process of evolution—but let’s be honest: it’s speculative, and it always will be speculative, because the Bible itself doesn’t really seem concerned with trying to prove it, or tell how it historically happened.
Nevertheless, Coyne’s real problem (as we will see later) has to do with people believing in the supernatural at all.
Theistic Evolution: A Doctrine and Deism?
Second, although Coyne does have a point about why we need to add “theistic” to evolution, it’s quite clear he doesn’t really get what theistic evolution is. No, it is not a doctrine; and no, it is not a form of deism.
The very reason the term theistic evolution was invented was because atheists (like Coyne) have done a real good job at convincing people that evolution is atheistic. It’s not—it is neither atheistic or theistic, for that matter. It is simply a description of the natural processes that have led to variety of life we have in this world. So yes, we don’t have theistic physics, because at no point is physicists try to claim that physics disproves God and the Bible. Physics is just physics. The case should be the same with evolution, but since over the past 150 years, so many people have tried to equate evolution with atheism, Christians who are convinced of evolution had to come up with something that pushed back against that incorrect equating of evolution and atheism.
In addition, theistic evolution is not a doctrine. Coyne is the only person I’ve ever come across to make that assertion. It also isn’t deism. Deism was a concept birthed in the Enlightenment that essentially regulated God to another part of the universe: he essentially wound nature up like a clock, then left, leaving nature all to its own.
Such a notion betrayed this false Enlightenment notion that radically split the realms of the natural and supernatural worlds. Even Christians still hold to this notion today: God let’s creation run according to natural laws, but then occasionally intervenes and suspends natural laws somehow—and that’s how we get “miracles.”
The Jews and early Christians would be shocked as such a view of reality. They viewed God as intimately involved with his creation at all times, and they also were well aware of what we would today call “natural laws”—(i.e. they didn’t have the word “gravity,” but they knew full well that things fell to the ground). Simply put, they were able to hold both ideas together at the same time: (A) God’s involvement in creation, and (B) the constancy of nature and “natural laws.” And so, far from being deistic, theistic evolution really is just a reaffirmation that these two ideas are not incompatible.
That Word, “Teleology,” I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means
Coyne’s objection that theistic evolution is teleological is also shockingly off. To understand teleology, you have to know a little bit about Aristotle. He taught that in order to truly understanding anything, there are four things you must consider: the four causes. They are as follows:
- The Material Cause: You have to understand the actual material that makes up something (i.e. wood, stone, rubber, etc.)
- The Formal Cause: You have to understand the form of the thing (i.e. a table, chair, baseball bat, etc.)
- The Efficient Cause: You have to understand the process by which that thing was made (i.e. a carpenter in his shop made the table, the existence of me is because my parents made love one night, and that initial cluster of cells developed over the course of nine months).
- The Final Cause: You have to understand the purpose or goal for which that thing was made (i.e. a table was made for eating meals on; a bat was made for hitting baseballs).
Teleology deals with this “Final Cause,” for it deals with understanding the purpose of any specific thing. Coyne though, by claiming theistic evolution is “teleological,” is mistaking efficient causes for final causes. Or to put it another way, saying that God uses evolution to eventually bring about the creation of mankind is not a teleological argument. It is really just saying that God is the ultimate efficient cause, if you will. Or still another way, it’s just saying that efficient causes are blind, and that God is involved in efficient causation.
And yes, that claim (i.e. that God is involved in efficient causation) is not a scientific claim—it is a metaphysical claim. But that is really beside the point, for Coyne’s claim that evolution is blind and purposeless is also not a scientific claim—but rather a metaphysical one. Or more properly, it is simply a denial of the possibility of metaphysical reality, with absolutely nothing on which to base that denial.
But my point here is simple: Coyne doesn’t know the difference between efficient and final causes. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Evolution: If God is Behind it–What a Waste! If Not–How Marvelous!
I’ll expand on that point in a “Part 2”. For now, let me just address one more thing Coyne says that baffles me. He says that if there is a God, then how could one explain all the sheer waste evolution has unleashed over billions of years? Simply put, Coyne’s thinking goes like this: if there is a God, then the process of evolution is a horrid waste of death—so therefore, they’re can’t be a God. Got it? Good.
Because immediately after he issues that conclusion, Coyne then turns around and gushes over the “great wonder” of evolution—how a mindless, purposeless process could produce such marvelous adaptations and variety in nature. Now, like I said earlier, Coyne simply throws out the claim that evolution is mindless and purposeless (that in itself not a scientific claim), and then proceeds to praise it as a being marvelous and a great wonder.
I’m sorry, I’m confused. Coyne is saying if there is a God, then evolution is just one, long sordid history of death; but if there is no God, then evolution is a wondrous, marvelous affirmation of life! That is completely illogical, because it’s the same process. You can’t hold up evolution as evidence against God because it involves death, and then turn around and praise evolution for being a life-producing godless process.
It seems that the young earth creationists at Answers in Genesis aren’t the only ones who love shell games.
In the next day or so, I will post “Part 2” of my analysis of Coyne’s book review of How I Changed My Mind About Evolution—a book he didn’t bother to read before he felt compelled to voice his opinion of it.
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.
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).
Now 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.
And 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?
In my reading and research of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, I’ve come across quite a lot of material, so much so that I simply will not be able to include it all in the book I’m writing. Be that as it may, that doesn’t mean the material that doesn’t make the book can be shared on my blog. So, without further ado, here are some of my comments on a blog post of Ken Ham’s from September 19, 2014.
In a September 19, 2014 post entitled, “Does the Creation/Evolution Debate Hurt the Gospel?” Ken Ham picks a bone with Tyler Francke, the creator of GodofEvolution.com, who claimed in a podcast that the whole debate was essentially a side issue that was not central to the Gospel. Well, Ham begins by actually agreeing with Francke that the creation/evolution debate “is not a salvation issue,” but then he immediately turns around and, in true “Hamean form,” says, “It’s an issue that is central to the very gospel because it’s an attack on the authority of God’s Word—from which we get the gospel message! It’s a question of whose authority you’re going to accept: man’s ever-changing opinions or God’s authoritative Word?”
This is a tactic that Ham and those at Answers in Genesis regularly use: double-speak. To be clear, on one hand, Ham says, “it’s not a salvation issue,” but then he turns around and says “it’s an authority issue,” and the “authority issue” is central to the very gospel—which obviously is about salvation! It absolutely amazes me how blatantly deceptive Ham is in his language, and how his followers simply cannot see it.
It needs to be said time and time again that, regardless of whether or not you are convinced by the claims of evolution, the fact is evolution is not an attack on the authority of God’s Word, because God’s Word is not attempting to give a 21st century historical/scientific account of the origins of the material universe—evolution can’t be an attack on something that doesn’t even address the issue evolution addresses.
One cannot even say that evolution is “an attack” on Ken Ham’s young earth creationist interpretation of the Genesis 1-11, for the simple fact that when Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, there was as of yet no thing as “young earth creationism.” Despite what Ham might try to claim, young earth creationism is a 20th century phenomenon that was birthed out of the writings of Seventh Day Adventist George McCready Price, and that took root within Evangelicalism with Henry Morris’ book The Genesis Flood in 1961.
Simply put, evolutionary theory is not “an attack” on anything. It is, as of now, the most convincing explanation of certain processes in the natural world. Yes, atheists like Richard Dawkins might misuse evolution in an attempt to attack Christianity, but the problem is with Dawkins’ misuse of evolutionary theory, not evolutionary theory itself.
Evolution is not an attack on the authority of God’s Word. Yes, Ken Ham himself no doubt feels attacked, but that’s because evolution proves his claims (that have never even had a “history” in the history of the Church!) are simply wrong. The reason Ham wrongfully claims that evolution is an attack on the authority of God’s Word is because he quite obviously is equating his own authority with the authority of God’s Word.
So when Ham says, “evolution and the account of creation in Genesis are completely and utterly in conflict with one another,” he is absolutely wrong. Evolution is in conflict with his claim of a young earth and his claim that Genesis 1-11 is God’s eyewitness historical account of the origins of the universe. But if you know your Biblical Studies, you’ll know that you don’t even need evolution to prove that Ham’s claims are wrong.
There was No Death of Any Kind?
One of the “evidences” that Ham uses to argue for the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is that “according to Genesis, death arrived after the Fall as a punishment for sin.”
Well, does the Bible really say that before the Fall there was absolutely no death of any kind, whatsoever? Did apple cores not rot after Adam and Eve ate them? Did animals not defecate, and did certain insects not eat animal poop? Did plants not die when they were eaten? Such questions, as nonsensical as they sound, are completely legitimate questions that Ham cannot answer, given his claims.
In actuality, Genesis states that death came to human beings as a result of their sin. It doesn’t say there was no death in the plant or animal kingdom before the Fall. So even if you read Genesis 1-11 as literal history, you still have to acknowledge that Ham, by claiming there was no death of any kind at all, is clearly reading something into the text that isn’t there.
Damn, Dirty Apes…and the Image of God
Ham makes another odd claim, if one stops to really think about it. He says that evolution claims mankind descended from earlier ape-like creatures (which is essentially true, it does claim that), but then he contrasts that with, “whereas in Genesis, man was specially created by God from the dust and woman from his side.” What I would like to note is that for some reason Ham believes being made directly from dust is somehow more “special” than any kind of evolutionary process. My question is, “Why? How is dust more special and more dignified than an ape-like ancestor?” I simply don’t see it.
What Ham clearly fails to understand is that mankind’s specialness, his uniqueness of being made “in God’s image,” has nothing to do with the way in which the natural, biological body was created. Whether mankind biologically descended from ape-like creatures, or whether the first man was literally made from a pile of dust is completely immaterial and irrelevant to what the Bible is getting at when it talks about being made in God’s image. But Ham, being the modern Enlightenment thinker that he is, reduces everything to materiality and biology, and therefore is blind to the theological truth about mankind’s inherent worth, dignity, and God-ordained vocation to be God’s priestly-kingly-custodial-gardeners of His creation.
Imaginary Categories and the Hamean Shell Game
At the end of this post, Ham once again falls back on his imaginary distinction between “two kinds of science.”
“Observational science is the kind of science that we can test, observe, and repeat—it’s what gives us space shuttles and medical advancements. Historical science deals with the past and cannot be tested, repeated, or observed. Because of this, your starting point will determine how you see the evidence.”
Well, if it can’t be tested or observed, then it’s not science. Ham is attempting to make up a category so he could argue that Genesis 1-3 is “scientific” without having to actually prove it scientifically. It is the shell game of Ham in full swing.
We 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).
In 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:
- The Reformers’ claimed “Sola Scriptura”
- But in reality they based their understanding of Scripture on each Reformer’s own limited, autonomous reasoning
- 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
- This led to the wars of religion in Europe for two centuries
- 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
- 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
- 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).
Ironically, 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).
If 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.
Brief Note: My apologies for the length (3500 words). I was debating whether or not to split it up into two posts, but in this case, I think one large post is better. Enjoy…
On April Fool’s Day this year, God’s Not Dead 2 hit the theaters. Reactions to the movie were as predictable as the movie itself. There were scores of positive comments and reviews by conservative Evangelicals who saw the movie as a light that put a spotlight on the secularization of our culture and mounting persecution of Christians. Then there was everyone else, who excoriated it as a paranoid, shallow example of Christian propaganda, a movie that “preaches ham-fistedly to its paranoid conservative choir,” and “plays into the Evangelical persecution narrative.”
So, I’m sure you are thinking, “So what’s your opinion, Joel?” Well, welcome to my post…
Well, let me first say that when it came to production value, and the quality of the acting, it was, for what it was, well done. After all, the movie actually had real actors in it—Robin Givens, Melissa Joan Hart, that guy from John Tucker Must Die, Fred Thompson, and even Ernie Hudson (yes, one of the original Ghostbusters).
To get right to the point, though, the main problem with God’s Not Dead 2 is that it is a fiction. The reality that the movie portrays about Christianity in America is, plain and simple, a false reality. That is not to say that there have been instances where people who are hostile to Christianity have tried to push it out of the public square. I just wrote 22 posts on Richard Dawkins, the militant atheist who actually argues that religious faith is a form of child abuse worse than molestation.
And while we’re at it, let’s highlight a few real instances that have caused Christians concern:
- The Christian couple in Oregon who didn’t want to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, and who ended up getting fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who take care of the sick and elderly, being threatened by the government for not wanting to have anything in their health care coverage that provided contraception or birth control (mind you, these are nuns)!
- In some public schools there has been pressure to not allow prayers being said over the loud speakers at football games.
- Back in 2014, Annise Parker, the openly gay mayor of Houston, had her administration issue subpoenas to collect the sermons of five local pastors.
Fair enough. For what it’s worth, here are my views on these four instances. First, it’s a cake—the gay couple could have simply gone to another baker in town. Not everything needs to go to court. Second, they’re nuns. A case involving contraception in the health care coverage of nuns has had to go all the way to the Supreme Court? Really? Third, I don’t see a big deal with prayers before football games. But I’d like to ask Evangelicals who think it is persecution to say you can’t do that at public schools, would you object if your school opened each football game with a Muslim prayer to Allah? I’m guessing you would. And fourth, you know what happened in Houston? Ms. Parker rescinded those subpoenas, and, when people flooded her office with Bibles, she distributed the Bibles through the police force. And for what it’s worth, if you have a problem with this (and you should), are you concerned when certain presidential candidates advocate for government surveillance of mosques? If subpoenas of sermons is wrong, then how is government surveillance of mosques right?
So yes, there will always be people in society who hate Christianity, and there will always be stupid and outrageous and offense things done. But that doesn’t mean Christians are being persecuted in America. To perpetuate that narrative, as this movie does, is to perpetuate something that is not true. I’m not going to say “perpetuate a lie,” though, because I’m convinced that those who made the movie, and the many Evangelicals who love it, really do believe Christians are being persecuted in America. They aren’t “lying.” They are just horribly wrong.
If you don’t believe me, let me put it to you this way. How do you think an Iraqi Christian who has seen ISIS systematically destroy 2,000 years of Christianity in the Middle East, slaughter thousands of Christians and rape their daughters, react to this movie? How might Orthodox Christians who were slaughtered for 70 years under Communist Russia? Or Christians in Communist China? Even if the story-line in the movie was true (which it isn’t), what would their reactions be? Let me venture a guess:
“Let’s see, a teacher might lose her job for mentioning Jesus in a public school. She has recourse through the court system where, if she can convince a jury of her peers that she was just making reference to the historical figure of Jesus, and not preaching, she could be vindicated, retain her job, and go on with her life. Mmmm…so she lives in a country where, even if some bad people try to get her fired over her faith, there’s a system in place to protect her rights.”
No, sorry, that’s not persecution. That’s living in the real world where sometimes bad things happen to you. That’s living in the United States where, when bad things happen to you, you have a shot at rectifying the situation. Persecution is beheadings, rapings, fleeing for your life, and the Gulag. So please, Christians in America, even when bad things happen to you…don’t call it persecution. That’s an insult to your brothers and sisters in Christ who have witnessed family members slaughtered.
Can Public School Teachers Get Fired for Even Mentioning Jesus?
In any case, let’s look at a few specifics points from the movie. First, is it true that in public schools that the mere mention of Jesus is “against State and Federal policy”? Is it true that teachers can lose their job and have their teaching certificates revoked for saying something like, “Gandhi and MLK’s use of non-violence was inspired by Jesus?”
The answer to that is, “No.” That’s not true.
In the movie, in the course of trial, the impression was that the very faith of Grace Wesley was offensive to the principal, the teacher union representative, virtually everyone associated with the public school. Gasps could be heard in the courtroom when it was revealed that Ms. Wesley had collected donations in her class for a faith-based charity, had invited her principal to church, and had told Brooke that she was a Christian.
Let me tell you why I found that characterization to be offensive. My father worked in public schools for 30 years, both as a teacher and as a principal; my mother worked in public schools for 20 years; I went to public schools for all but four years of my youth; I worked at my dad’s school as a janitor and befriended many public school teachers; I know a whole lot of teachers, both in private and public schools. And I can tell you beyond a shadow of doubt that this movie’s depiction of the public schools as being the hotbed of hatred against Christian teachers is utterly false. I can guarantee you that the Christian teachers I know who work in public schools are probably either wholly embarrassed or wholly outraged at how this movie depicts the schools at which they work.
My favorite teacher from the Christian high school I attended eventually left that school and has been a teacher in a public school for the past 20 years. He told me that he has experienced a tremendously more amount of freedom to talk about his views on religion and faith at his public school than he ever had at the Christian school. The sad fact is that often times suppression of honest discussion about religion and faith takes place at Christian schools.
The way this movie depicts “life for Christians in public schools” not only false, but it does indeed foster paranoia within Evangelical circles. Of course, public schools have their problems—but actively persecuting Christian teachers isn’t one of them. In the real world, if a teacher mentioned Jesus in class, the way Ms. Wesley did, nothing would happen. In fact, there are teachers all across this country today who have probably mentioned Jesus, and nothing has happened. Imagine that.
The Historicity of Jesus
Another huge problem with the movie was the defense of Ms. Wesley. She and her lawyer argued for the historicity of Jesus as a way to say that Ms. Wesley was just simply talking about a historical figure. They brought in Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ, as well as another author (whose name I missed) to testify that Jesus really existed.
The problem is that it gives the impression that “secular people” don’t believe Jesus existed. The fact is, this is not an issue. Yes, there are some really radical nuts who deny Jesus’ existence, but they are fringe at best. (Ironically, this exercise in reality denial is fostered by the likes of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins—another reason why the New Atheist Movement is devoid of credibility). But my point is simple: virtually nobody disbelieves Jesus existed. Yes, there are plenty of people who doubt the resurrection, but his historical existence is not disputed by 98% of the public. Therefore what the defense is “trying to prove” doesn’t need to be proven, because it’s already accepted.
Incidentally, in one hostile review of the movie, the reviewer ended by criticizing the movie in the following manner: “A reading of scripture grounded in facts and figures, rather, is a deeply petty one, unworthy of the transience offered by religious belief. Historical veracity is antithetical to the very premise of faith, powerful precisely because it needn’t be true to be real.”
Let me say, that sentiment is rather stupid. The Christian faith, at its core, is testimony to things that happened in history. This reviewer simply has no idea what he/she is talking about. That is why I, for one, will openly admit that I think The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel is a good book. (I’m not a big fan of his other ones, but this one was good). The reason why it is good is because he interviews actual biblical scholars and you learn about how the New Testament writings were preserved and why they are historically reliable—and they are, pure and simple. You might not believe the claims of Jesus’ resurrection, but you can’t be intellectually honest and deny that that was precisely what Jesus’ earliest followers were claiming.
What Does “Bearing Witness to the Resurrection” Mean?
The problem I found with the movie, and sadly with many Evangelicals understanding of the faith, is that it reduces the Christian faith to this mentality of “If I can just convince a non-believer of certain facts, then he’ll repent and become a Christian.” Let me ask you, how many people do you know who have been “logically reasoned into the faith”?
That’s not to say logic and reason and history aren’t important—as a biblical scholar myself, I can talk to you all day concerning why I believe Jesus was resurrected, why the New Testament is historically reliable, and why most of the events in the Old Testament really happened. But the reality is, I’m not going to convince you to accept Christ because of my great scholarly arguments that Jesus really was resurrected. Here’s why…
The Gospels are testimony to the resurrection of Christ. They claim it really happened in history. More than that, though, the Church itself is supposed to bear witness to the resurrection as well. This doesn’t simply mean we have to go out and convince non-believers of a historical fact. It means we are to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ by living out that resurrection life every day. And that means truly living out Christ’s life, being Christ-like, caring for the poor and needy, reaching out to the hurting and helpless, bearing up under injustice when we are wronged, and identifying with the unlovely and despised.
If Christians, both individually and as the Church, do not live out those things, then those Christians are not bearing witness to the resurrection of Christ. If instead, Christians spend their time (1) aligning themselves more with political parties, (2) endorsing candidates who advocate killing of family members of terrorists, and not just terrorists, (3) routinely calling the poor “lazy parasites,” or (4) spewing forth hate-filled rants condemning anyone they deem to be “sinners,” then I’ve got news for you—non-believers are never going to be convinced by any argument regarding the historical fact of the resurrection. They will have been convinced that God is dead and Jesus never rose from the dead because they will have not seen the resurrection in the actions and speech of people claiming to follow Christ.
If you want non-believers to be convinced that Christ is alive, they need to see it in your life, not your argument. If Christ’s life cannot be seen in your life, then why would anyone think Christ rose from the dead?
The One Part of the Movie that Did Make Me Tear Up
There were a number of minor things about the movie that I could be nit-picky about, but I’m not going to mention them. Instead, I want to finish this somewhat long post by sharing three thoughts.
First of all, the scene where Ms. Wesley’s students show up at her house at night to show their support and love for her by singing “How Great Thou Art” got to me. I know, some will find it cheesy, but it choked me up a bit. Here was a teacher being attacked by the higher-ups of her own school, in danger of losing her job, and depicted as a religious zealot, all because she simply was engaging her students in a discussion that certain people didn’t want talked about. In that kind of situation, support and encouragement is like a drink of water in the desert.
I know exactly how that feels like, because it happened to me, twice. The only difference is that I wasn’t taken down by “godless secular administrators” who objected to talk about Jesus. I was taken down by supposedly Christian administrators who objected to the fact that I didn’t subscribe to young earth creationism, and that I let my students discuss the differing points of view on topics like the creation/evolution debate and Genesis 1-11. Ms. Wesley was labeled a “religious zealot.” I was called a “liberal,” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who undermined biblical authority, threatened students’ view of Scripture, and spoke with the voice of the serpent.
I’m telling you, that wounds deeply. It’s just that such instances don’t happen in public schools—they actually happen in Christian schools. I can’t help but think Paul’s condemnation of his fellow Jews in Romans 2 who, although they often condemned “those godless Gentiles,” often were guilty of doing those very same things. Something to think about…
What’s Going to Happen to Kids in Christian Schools Who Go Off to State Universities?
Here’s another thing to think about. When students who grow up going to Evangelical schools that push the kind of persecution complex God’s Not Dead 2 displays, then go off to the University of Alabama, or Auburn, or North Alabama, or any state university, what are they going to realize? I can tell you, because I’ve had a whole lot of former students tell me: they realize that what they’ve been told is not true. Non-Christians aren’t “out to get” Christians; there aren’t professors who verbally attack Christian students in class; there isn’t a nation-wide persecution of Christians going on.
And when they realize that the narrative of movies like God’s Not Dead 2 is a fiction, they often have a crisis of faith. What do they do when they realize so much of what they’ve been told growing up isn’t true? Many students can work through those things and grow in their Christian faith. But other students end up walking away entirely from the faith. Why? Because contrary to what the Evangelical persecution narrative says, the fact is it is often easier to be open and honest with non-Christians than with Christians, and that much more condemnation and judgment comes from pharisaical Christians than non-Christians. That is often the sad state of affairs.
Don’t get me wrong. There really are people out there who mock, ridicule and would love to destroy Christianity. And when issues like removing crèches from government buildings over Christmas come up, we live in a democracy, and Christians have every right to make their case. But let’s ask that question Evangelicals love to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Would he fight those battles in court? Would he and his disciples worry and fret, “Oh it’s just government pressure today, but it will be persecution tomorrow! We need to stand up for our rights!” Really?
Did Jesus call Christians to “stand up for their rights” and make movies that display their fear of non-existent persecution, or did he call them to lay down their lives for the sake of the least of these, and not worry about possible hostility and persecution? That’s another thing to think about…
The Spirit of the Age
Finally, here is one more thing. In the movie, when the pastors are told the government wants copies of their sermons, Pastor Hill says, “We’re in a war, just like what’s in Ephesians 6: ‘For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’”
Well, he’s right—as Paul himself said, Christians are “at war” with the cosmic powers of this present darkness. The problem with God’s Not Dead 2 is that it wrongly identifies the “cosmic powers” and “spirit forces of evil” with…public schools, the government, or the ACLU. When Evangelicals make those sorts of connections, they end up seeing all the evil as “out there in the world,” and they are blinded to the fact that such “spiritual forces of evil” are at work within as well as without.
To put it plainly, the “spiritual forces of evil” that Paul is talking about are those that get Richard Dawkins to write a paranoid rant of a book that labels “all religion as evil” and refuses to admit the evil that has been done in the name of atheism. They are the spiritual forces that get Ken Ham to base an entire organization that publishes paranoid rants that say “evolution is evil,” “the secular world is persecuting Christians,” and “Christians who aren’t young earth creationists are compromisers,” and yet refuses to admit that he himself encourages Christian schools and churches to attack Christians who don’t think like him.
Simply put, the “spiritual war” Paul is talking about is on a deeper level than the shallow depictions of “the other” that can be seen in this movie, or in propaganda of both the New Atheist Movement and Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis…or in the political demonization that both political parties regularly engage in. Such forces foster a spirit of division and paranoia—and such division and paranoia is on full display on the Left and Right, within secular circles and Evangelical circles.
And I’ve come to see that, at least in many Evangelical circles, those who foster such paranoia are more concerned with keeping their followers afraid so they continue to follow and listen to them…and not so much Jesus Christ.
I’m convinced that such “spiritual forces” work in this very way. They tilt the balance just a bit too far in one direction in order to provoke an over-reaction that rushes completely in the other direction, which in turn evokes a more violent and paranoid response in the other direction, and so on. And what was once a largely balanced society able to take on the inevitable challenges of life becomes torn apart by people letting their paranoia about the “other extreme” take them headlong to the opposite extreme.
Case in point, consider this clip by Joshua Feuerstein, who advocates that Christians should use guns to fight for their rights. He’s discussing some crazy attempt by a gay person to sue a Christian publisher over publishing the passages in the Bible that deal with homosexuality–for the record, yes, that’s crazy (i.e. one extreme). But listen to Feuerstein’s response–spoiler alert, it puts the other extreme on full display.
Now I doubt very much that the makers of God’s Not Dead 2 would applaud this kind of lunacy. But the sad fact is, the movie is perpetuating a false persecution narrative that give nuts like Feuerstein a platform. This is what we are seeing in our society, in both the political and cultural spheres: people, driven by their own paranoia, rushing to opposite extremes. This is the effects of the “spiritual war” Paul talks about.
Don’t let yourself get roped into it. And specifically, to my fellow Christians, don’t buy into the false narrative in God’s Not Dead 2, as well-intentioned as it may be. It is perpetuating fear, paranoia, and a false narrative of persecution. I can’t ridicule the movie. I’m not going to deny that Christians face challenges in what has to be considered our post-Christian culture. But I can say that, no, God’s Not Dead 2 is not the direction Christians should go. It’s not true. Walk away from the edge of that abyss.
Richard Dawkins opened his book, The God Delusion, with a creative reinterpretation of John Lennon’s famous song, Imagine. Essentially, Dawkins pined, “Just imagine how great this world would be if we got rid of religion!” Well, after 21 posts, I hope you feel I’ve shed some light on exactly what kind of world Dawkins’ atheistic utopia would be like.
It would be a world where historical facts wouldn’t really matter—they would be simply misrepresented to push Dawkins’ own agendas. Historical revisionism would rule the day.
It would be a world where people were so illiterate that they wouldn’t know how to even read and interpret ancient texts like the Bible correctly.
It would be a world where people couldn’t tell the difference between Mother Teresa and Fred Phelps.
It would be a world where teaching the Bible would be considered a form of child abuse worse than rape and molestation.
I could go on…but mind you, I did not make up any of what I just said. All of that, and more, can be found in Dawkins’ own words. There are only a few more points I’d like to make about The God Delusion…a few more things that Dawkins helps us, “imagine.”
Well, I’m Not Saying We Actually Need to Get Rid of Religion!
Surprisingly, near the end of his book in which he railed against the evils of religion on every page, Dawkins tries to make nice. He writes:
“…an atheistic worldview provides no justification for cutting the Bible, and other sacred books, out of our education. And of course we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.” (387)
That might sound really nice, but in light of his clear vendetta against religion, such comments not only ring hollow…they are downright nonsensical. Think about it, Dawkins has said, that even though religion is evil, the root of all atrocities in human history, and the number one child abuser in the world, that doesn’t mean we can’t be sentimental about religious rituals and religious heritage! Just don’t believe all that evil, barbaric, anti-intellectual crap!
I’m sorry, but if “all religion” truly is as insidious and evil as Dawkins makes it out to be, how could anyone in their right mind “retain a sentimental loyalty” to religious traditions? The answer? It’s impossible. That would be like saying, “Oh yeah, the KKK is a horribly racist organization, but that doesn’t mean we should give up cross-burnings!” Any person who says, “All religion is evil, but let’s keep our religious traditions and be sentimental about it,” is an utter fool.
It turns out that person just so happened to write a book entitled, The God Delusion.
In any case, I leave you with three other insights Richard Dawkins gives regarding that kind of world he could only “imagine.”
Words of Wisdom Regarding Euthanasia
“When I am dying, I should like my life to be taken out under a general anesthetic, exactly as if it were a diseased appendix. But I shall not be allowed that privilege, because I have the ill-luck to be born a member of Homo sapiens rather than, for example, Canis familiaris or Felis catus. …But, it might be said, isn’t there an important difference between having your appendix removed and having your life removed? No, not really…” (400)
Yes, that’s right. Richard Dawkins laments the fact that he was born a human being, because that means that he won’t have the opportunity to take out his own “diseased appendix” of a life. Now, the issue of the “right to die” in regards to patients that are terminally ill or in un-ending pain is a serious issue. But the cavalier way Dawkins argues for the right to die is utterly shocking. His argument is basically that a human life is no different than a diseased appendix.
It seems that Dawkins is testimony to the charge that with atheism, human life is ultimately worthless.
Words of Wisdom Regarding Enlightened Thinking
“At least, that will be the case unless I move to a more enlightened place like Switzerland, the Netherlands or Oregon. Why are such enlightened places so rare? Mostly because of the influence of religion.” (400)
Yes, that’s right. Richard Dawkins rationale for considering Switzerland, the Netherlands and Oregon to be “enlightened places” is based on the fact that they allow you to put your aged loved one down…much like you would your family pet.
Furthermore, Dawkins actually criticizes places that don’t let human beings kill one another, and blames this high regard for the sanctity of human line on that bad and evil, life-affirming religion.
Ah, that Life-Affirming Atheism!
“The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self-pity of those who feel that life owes them something. If the demise of God will leave a gap, different people will fill it in different ways. My way includes a good dose of science, the honest and systematic endeavor to find out the truth about the real world.” (405)
It should strike anyone as utterly amazing that in a mere five pages after he criticizes religion for not allowing people to euthanize the elderly, Dawkins proudly claims that atheism is life-affirming and life-enhancing.
So there it is. I ask you, do you believe Richard Dawkins when he claims that God is just a delusional, hate-mongering, suicide-bombing, circumcised-crazed, jealous, pedophiliac child-abuser who won’t let you take out your own diseased appendix of a life? Or do you think that Richard Dawkins is just an inflammatory propagandist?
If you really want to imagine a world without the influence of religion, trying to imagine a world without the contributions of Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Chaucer, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, charitable hospitals…the list could go on and on.
For all the faults of Christians throughout history, Christianity has been the single more positive force for good in the history of the world. In addition, there a millions of people in other religions who have also done a tremendous amount of good in this world. For Dawkins to completely…and I mean completely…ignore all that, and instead continue to trot out the most extreme examples of fanaticism and claim that people like Fred Phelps represents Christianity is worse than ignorant. It is dishonest and diabolical.
The arguments Dawkins makes against religion and religious people are the same ones made by the only atheistic regimes in history, most notably Communist Russia and China. What kind of world would that be? We don’t have to imagine—we already know. Dawkins might protest comparing his arguments to those of Communist ideology, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…it’s a duck…and he’s coming to arrest you if you read Bible stories to your children at night.
Throughout The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that not only is religious faith a delusion, but that it is downright horrific, and a danger to the civilized world. At the end of his chapter 8, Dawkins says things like:
“Christianity…teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to ‘respect’ it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings.” (346)
“More generally…what is really pernicious is the practice of teaching children that faith itself is a virtue. Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them…to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades.” (348)
“If children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior virtue of faith without question, it is a good bet that there would be no suicide bombers.” (348)
According to Dawkins, “faith” = blind adherence to claims you can’t prove. According to Dawkins faith is evil because it leads to suicide bombers.
The problem, of course, is none of that is correct. Dawkins very definition of faith is wrong. Whereas it is true that many religious people hold to some sort of blind indoctrination, but that kind of blind indoctrination is simply not the biblical or Christian understanding of faith. Faith cannot be caricatured as something akin to: “mental adherence to claims about the natural world that I can’t prove.” That is not biblical faith; that is stupidity and ignorance. When Dawkins laments that Christian children are not taught to question and think through their beliefs, he is ignoring, quite literally, 2,000 years of Church history that produced some of the most brilliant minds that has shaped the world.
Sure, Dawkins is right to criticize the specific instances of ignorance, stupidity, and violence, but his attempt to use those instances to condemn 2,000 years of a faith that has produced the likes of Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Galileo, Copernicus, Bach, Handel, etc. (and the list can go on and on)…is just irresponsible and, well, quite unenlightened.
In Any Case, Let’s Talk About Child Abuse!
So that is how Dawkins ended his chapter 8. Those comments act as a springboard for what he discusses in chapter 9, aptly entitled, Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion. The title alone tells you one thing: the chapter is going to be a doozy.
The way Dawkins decides to argue that religion is a form of child abuse is to go to where most militant atheist go whenever they want to disparage Christianity: the inquisition. During that time in Italy, Dawkins tells us, there was a young six year old Jewish boy who was baptized by a young Catholic girl, and once the Catholic Church found out that he was baptized, he was taken away from his Jewish parents and forced to live with a Catholic family. Why? Because the Catholic authorities wrongly believed that because his parents were Jewish, that his soul would have been in danger.
Now let’s be clear, such kind of medieval antisemitism is truly heinous—Dawkins calls it heinous, because it is. The problem, though, is from that one example, Dawkins proceeds to take an incredible jump to the conclusion that all religion for all time is evil. He writes:
“This story of the Italian Inquisition and its attitude to children is particularly revealing of the religious mind, and the evils that arise specifically because it is religious.” (351)
Needless to say, there have been many, many black marks on the Church throughout history, and I will in no way excuse them. But as a Christian, neither will I conclude that all Christianity for all time is utterly evil based on a handful of black marks throughout Church history. But, apparently, that’s exactly what Dawkins does! In fact, he essentially says that those black marks that are often thrown up as charges against the Church aren’t even the worst ones. Take for instance, the recent sex scandals in the Catholic Church:
“…horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.” (356)
Please think about what Dawkins has just said. In Dawkins’ view, simply teaching Catholic doctrine is worse than priests molesting and raping children. For Dawkins, growing up Catholic is more psychologically damaging than child molestation and rape. If you really think that, I don’t know what to say, other than that is insane.
And You Thought That Was Bad…
But the thing is, Dawkins doesn’t find it so insane. In fact, he finds it so sane that he approvingly includes part of a speech by psychologist Nicholas Humphrey given at an Amnesty International meeting. When asked if Amnesty International should go after those who say truly offensive and abusive things, Humphrey answered with a resounding “No!” “Freedom of speech is too precious a freedom to be meddled with,” he said…but there was one exception:
“…moral and religious education, and especially the education a child receives at home, where parents are allowed—even expected—to determine for their children what counts as truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas—no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no God-given license to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.
“In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.” (366-367)
Humphrey believes that parents have no rights to teach their children their religious beliefs and that society has a duty to protect children from the “moral and religious education” they might receive from their parents at home! He equates teaching children the Bible with locking children in a dungeon. To be fair to Dawkins, he does state that “such a strong statement needs qualification,” but it’s quite clear that Dawkins concurs with Humphrey’s sentiments.
Let’s be clear: these comments should be utterly chilling to anyone who knows about 20th century Communism, for this very sentiment is at the core of the Communist ideology and plan to eradicate religion from human society. This is a historical fact. Atheist Communist leaders declared the teaching of religion as a form of child abuse. Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who suffered under both Hitler and Stalin, and who wrote the famous book, Tortured for Christ, tells us that it was Communist policy that parents were forbidden to teach their children their religious beliefs because it was considered “child abuse.” If parents were caught teaching their children about Jesus, they were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Now I doubt very much that Dawkins would ever openly advocate something like that, but let’s use his own line of argument here. If religious teachings—even in moderate form—are evil because they open the door to “religious extremism,” (and Dawkins clearly believes this), then what are we to conclude regarding statements like Humphrey’s and Dawkins’?
Logically, what should a society do to parents who “abuse” their kids? Arrest them! Logically, if teaching the Bible to one’s children is the equivalent of knocking children’s teeth out or locking them in dungeons, and knocking children’s teeth out and locking them in dungeons are considered child abuse that warrants the arrest of the parents, then what should be the punishment for teaching the Bible to one’s children? That’s right, arrest them!
I will say it again, Dawkins comments about religion are not only false, his analysis of religion as “evil” and a form of child abuse is utterly irresponsible, inflammatory and utterly dangerous. Based on Dawkins’ own words, a logical conclusion would be to arrest and imprison parents for teaching their children the Bible. Welcome to the USSR, Mr. Dawkins. Enjoy your time in Mao’s Red China. Would you like to take a tour of the Gulag, where millions of Christians were brutally killed for the crime of teaching their children about Christ?