If the first talking snake had kept shtum, we wouldn't be here. Eve wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit. But she listened and was curious. So she fell into humanity, thank God. Good old snake, say I. I celebrate its independence of mind. Satan? Neh, that's a later interpretation. The snake was part of the divine purpose. God allowed it into the garden, aware of its linguistic abilities. He knew what would happen. Jesus commended dove-like innocence. AND the wisdom ... of the snake.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thou shalt not bear false witness, Mr Ham

Consider the following statements:

All creationists are fundamentalist Christians
All creationists are stupid
Creationist institutions are secretly funded by the Communist Party

None of these are true. The first I mistakenly believed was so, until the existence of fundamentalist Moslems who also take a creationist position was pointed out to me. Substitute "most" for "all" and the generalisation holds: my point is that only religious people of a certain persuasion embrace "creation science", a fact which alone should make one wonder just how scientific it really is.

I don’t believe the third statement, which might best be categorised not so much as a mistake and hardly as a lie, more as a bizarre fantasy. I imagined it being defended along the lines of: it is the mission of Communism to destroy Christianity; creationism makes Christianity look ridiculous; therefore by funding creationist institutions and enabling them to raise their profile, communism may be hoping to hasten Christianity’s downfall. I doubt that any creationist faced by such a charge would bother to take it seriously. The accuser is condemned out of his own mouth.

The second statement is not only offensive but contradicted by evidence. While I hold creationism to be as utterly stupid an idea as ideas get, and while some of its supporters are none too bright - which could be said of any point of view - to claim that they are all deficient in the brain cell department is absurd. Creationists include in their ranks men of great intelligence; that they make such elementary howlers in approaching the book of Genesis, leading to such uproarious conclusions, is all the more extraordinary. One academic to whom I have spoken attributes much of creationism’s support to low levels of education; but that charge will not stick to the likes of Jonathan Sarfati and Douglas Kelly.

So: untruths can be mistakes, delusions, or lies. Which brings me to the case of Ken "Answersingenesis" Ham, whose book "The Lie of Evolution" I dipped into earlier today. Don’t worry, I have washed my hands thorougly since.

Men who call other people liars should be more than usually careful to speak nothing but the truth themselves. His chapter "The Root of the Problem" throws all such caution to the winds, reminding me of Elton John’s justification for pursuing an expensive libel case: "They can call me a fat ugly poof. They can say I can’t sing. But they mustn’t tell lies about me."

Ken Ham libels all non-fundamentalist Christians. His book perpetrates deeply offensive untruths about us, he obviously doesn’t care, and if I had the means and were so disposed I’d sue him to Kingdom come. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure he actually qualifies as a liar. Or even an idiot. He could simply be deluded. But he does not speak the truth any more than [he claims] evolutionsts do. He also claims to be a Christian, so that matters: but it’s abundantly clear that if he is one I am not, nor any other theistic evolutionist. He has mined any common ground there might have been between us. Nothing but all-out victory will satisfy him. And, I suppose, the same goes for me in reverse, I want to see creationism pack its bags and go home: the difference is I’m right, Jesus told me so. OK, that was flippant. Ken owes the Church an apology. That’s deadly serious.

I wonder if Ken would sue if I published that last paragraph? That might be fun.

His overall thesis goes: Christianity is under attack. Its values are threatened by enemies who wish to see it collapse; and foundational to their alternative belief system is a commitment to the theory of evolution; which God’s Word (= the Bible) flatly contradicts.

So far, so conventionally creationist; and so manifestly non-scientific. Where Ham raises the stakes is partly in his accusing evolutionsts, to the last man or woman, of practising a religion which gives them license to attack Christianity; partly in his insistence that the creationist view of scripture is the only one possible. This drives him to lump all creationism’s enemies together: Christian, agnostic, atheist, Moslem, Hindu, we’re all coming from the same place.

In his words

"Evolution is a religion which enables people to justify writing their own rules".

"The real battle is aligned with the fact that these people do not want to accept Christianity because they will not accept that there is a God to whom they are answerable."

These quotes deny the integrity of all who oppose creationism, a common move by its contemporary apologists: Henry Morris could be more gracious. If I believe in evolution it’s not because I have studied the evidence and found it persuasive. That cannot be, because Ken has read his Bible, therefore "knows" evolution cannot be true and doesn’t need to study the evidence: there isn’t any. So I must have some other reason for accepting Darwinism, and it’s not even that I have made the honest mistake of assuming that the overwhelming majority of scientists know what they’re talking about; no, it’s because I am looking for a religion with which in my fallen state I am more comfortable than with true, Bible-believing Christianity.

Besides being untrue, that is a gross insult, for which one might account in a number of ways:

Ignorance: Ken has actually never met, sat down with, read the works of, a scholarly theistic evolutionist and considered that, mistaken though such a person might be in his eyes, his views spring from real Christian commitment just as intense as his own.

Bafflement: Ken has done exactly this and still finds theistic evolution such a perplexing point of view, as crazy perhaps as I find his, that he needs to find some way of making sense of it and "evolution is an alternative religion" is his best shot.

Cocksure bigotry: Ken is a bruiser who likes dishing it out; he knows he’s going to offend any non-fundamentalist readers who trouble to pick up his polemical outpourings and just thinks tough, they won’t agree with me anyway so I might as well slag them off.

Blissful unwareness: Ken has no idea how much unjustifiable offence he is giving, because from within his bubble it simply stands to reason that he is on God’s side, so anyone who’s against him is against God.

None of which quite entitles me to call him a liar, although I do wonder who Ken is writing for: it feels very much like preaching to the converted. He certainly is not pitching to persuade Christians from the mainstream denominations that he has a case worth considering. You don’t make converts by insulting their present convictions.

Then we have

"If the Bible is not the infallible word of the One who knows everything, then we have exactly nothing."

"If evolution is not true the only alternative is creation."

These are attempts to marginalise firstly non-fundamentalists, secondly evolutionists of all religious convictions and none, by setting up absolute black and white alternatives.

My instinct is then to write: a moment’s thought should be enough for anyone to realise that both these are false dichotomies as crude as they come. What about: either Shakespeare is the greatest writer of all time, or he couldn’t even put a sentence together, which is it? or, if smoking does not cause lung cancer the only alternative is demon possession? There are many, many views of the Bible other than Ken Ham’s; if Darwinism collapses tomorrow it will be because a better scientific theory has taken its place, not because scientists have suddenly gone crackers and mistaken Genesis 1- 11 for a piece of history. But Ken has obviously given this a great deal more than a moment’s thought and still the penny hasn’t dropped ... or has it? Again, let’s consider.

Assuming, on the basis of circumstantial evidence, that he is not a complete moron, he can only be forcing the issue by way of these simplistic either/ors because

- he is sincerely convinced there are no in-between possibilities: there is no dimmer switch, the light’s either on or off

- he has an immature personality that prevents him recognising or coping with shades of grey; or

- he is telling whoppers: he knows the world is more complex than this and hopes his readers will forgive him a specious argument, it’s all in a "good" cause.

But others can force the issue too, Ken: so here’s my pitch.

I do not accept your description of the Bible. I was taught theology by liberals who loved their Scriptures, as I do and never could if I were still held captive by fundamentalism. Am I left with exactly nothing? Hardly. I have wonderful stories to ponder, whose historical truth does not matter to me and if it does to you that’s your problem; I have the Psalms to worship with [and set to music], prophetic poetry to expand my imagination. I have the teachings of Jesus to which I am committed as an ordained minister of the Church, I have Paul to lay the foundations of Christianity as a belief system, and I could go on. That is not even approximately nothing; you say that if I’m not a fundamentalist the Bible is worthless to me. I declare to you the opposite: fundamentalism devalues the Bible by idolising instead it of recognising it for what it is; a collection of writings drawn from one particular culture through which God speaks universally. That is my firm conviction as a mature and educated Christian which you would deny me the right to hold. Well, I deny your right to tell me I may not hold it. I say that your statement about the Bible is false because there is an infinite range of options between your two extremes: so are you mistaken, are you deluded, or are you lying about your brother in Christ? Will you confess your error?

Your call.


Blogger John Fraiser said...

Well talking snake, aren't you an angry little man. Your anger at fundamentalists make them look kind. You have an air of arrogance in your criticism. You think that its so patently absurd that someone would be a creationist but you don't interact with one single argument for creationism. You just assume that it's so obvious that creationism is a farce. It's your prerogative to do so, but your ship is sinking. There was a time when you could assert the intellectual superiority of evolutionism, but fewer people are buying it in exponentially increasing numbers. In a postmodern culture people don't really buy into claims to superiority. People hate nothing worse than smuggness Now I know that you don't think that all creationists are stupid, but you clearly think that the creationist position is stupid. If you want to lose public opinion just keep on asserting the intellectual superiority of your view without defending it.

As far as your use of the term "fundamentalism" goes. Here's a thought from Alvin Plantinga:

"We must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ’son of a bitch’, more exactly ’sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ’sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ’stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ’sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accepts traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ’stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’" (Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, p. 245).

11:05 pm  
Blogger Peter Henderson said...

Don't agree with you there John. Like talking snake I too was brought up in the Methodist church which didn't have a problem with science or evolution. Unfortunately I now find myself a member of a church which is Young Earth Creationist. The denomination (the Presbyterian Church in Ireland) does not take any particular view on the subject and it leaves it up to the individual to make up his/her own mind. If the Christian church is going to take on science then it had better have good grounds to to so. In my opinion Ken Ham and his followers do not. I find a lot of the articles by Ken Ham offensive as well, and in my opinion, Young Earth Creationism will only damage the evangelical church, in the long run. I just wish more Christians would speak out and say people like Ken Ham are wrong.

7:57 pm  
Blogger Anebo said...

Actually fundamentalist is easy to define; perhaps it is not often done becuae it si so obvious.

Before the NElightenemnt, people possessed what we may term an innocent or authentic attatchment to Christianity. it was part of their way of life and for that reasonw as not questioned becuase it was not common to deeply probe the basic assumptions of life in the medieval intellectula enviroment.

The enlightenement made it possible (and inevitable for any educated person) to deeply question everything. This inevietable placed an ironic distance between the self and any beliefs or trditions. They could not be emraced from the inside anymere.

Fundmanetalism was created by the enlightenment. Some people were terrified by the ironic distance from tradition created by the new sysytem of thought (including science), but once Pandora had opened the box, it was impossible to get the sins back in. Creationists simply deny that the ironic distance exists--but it does so they cannot simply go back to innocent Christinaity. instead they ahve to creat a pseudo-or kitsch version of the old religion as a substitute. Insisting on an absolute literal reading of the text is an entirely false procedure that would have horrifed Paul or Augustine, or Aquinas (or Luther for that matter). What about the parables for a start? TalkingSnake is quite apt in calling it idolatry.

the first fundamentalist was Thomas Taylor. he was also the first Neo-pagona nd the first creatinsit. He denied such things as Heliocentrism and the existence of Jupiter's moons becuase he felt wthey were incompatible with the creationsit myth in Plato's Timeaeus. talk about irony!

3:32 pm  
Blogger R2K said...

I feel dirty.

4:48 pm  
Blogger CaptainCarrot said...

I just happened on this post while browsing through blogs on related subjects.

John, it's more than a little ridiculous to mock someone as angry when you're snarling like a cornered wolverine yourself. If TalkingSnake doesn't engage creationism directly here, that's because it's not his topic. Creationists themselves are his topic.

Does he assume fundamentalist creationism is a farce, and a stupid position? There's a good reason for that. It is a farce and a stupid position. That's not smugness, it's just the truth. There's an awful lot you have to ignore, and some very devout Bibliolatry you have to follow, to embrace it. There's no such thing as "evolutionism". It's not a belief system, it's part of a science called "biology". There are a number of reasons why one might reject it out of hand, which is what a good portion of the post was about, but reason isn't one of them. Reason will lead you squarely away from fundamentalist creationism, and biology is hardly in retreat as you assert.

I call it "fundamentalist creationism" only because you wish to contrast it against evolution (i.e. biology), but creationism and biology are not incompatible. This is yet another false dichotomy such as TalkingSnake mentioned. One need not take Genesis 1 literally in order to believe that God created the universe.

Fundamentalism indeed has a technical meaning denoting the anti-modernist movement of the early 20th century, and it's true that when it's not used in that sense it's pejorative. But your writer skews the truth, or you do by quoting him here as if the quote were applicable. The "certain liberal theologian" of his example is not TalkingSnake. I say this as someone far more conservative on religious matters than he is. For example, I cannot accept the rationale for his nick, or thank God for the Fall as he does. His understanding and mine of its consequences are at considerable variance. However, I do not see him extending the fundamentalist label to "Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth", and it's moderately dishonest to imply that he does based on this post.

Your writer skews the truth again when he says that "fundamentalist" labels anyone "relatively conservative". Here's a shocker for you: Your fundamentalist Bibliolatry is not conservative. In the broad view it's of very recent coinage. You have no idea how jarring it is for a genuinely traditional Christian to see the Bible referred to as the "Word of God", so capitalized. Traditional Christians -- those who may well kiss the Gospel, but who also read it -- use that phrase to denote a Person, not a book. See John 1. The Bible is the word of God, but the Word of God is Jesus.

It would be a simple matter to do nothing more than take the Old Testament at face value. It's true that the Church Fathers mostly did -- however, the literal meaning of the text was almost always of secondary importance. If all you get out of the Noah's Ark story is that a man brought a bunch of animals into a large watertight box and rode out a worldwide flood with them, you miss most of what it's telling you.

This is probably what's behind the fundamentalist assertion that when one rejects the literal reading of the Bible one has nothing left at all. It's certainly true for them. But if one reads it as Augustine, Aquinas, and Barth did -- not to mention Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Athanasius of Alexandria, and other Fathers both earlier and later, there's much more to it than that. (I can't answer for Calvin and Luther; I'm frankly ignorant of much of historical Protestantism.) If literalism drops away, you then still have a great deal of meaning.

So no, "fundamentalist" doesn't denote someone to the right of me at all. It denotes someone out in left field.

6:46 am  
Blogger Aaron said...

I totally agree with you, Snake. Anyone who has taken some moderate college level science courses can immediately recognize that something is rotten in the state of AiG's Denmark. It would take some higher level science, Grad or Post-grad to specifically identify some of the things that are bunk. (The so-called "technical" articles).

But ANY layperson who's a natural skeptic can easily identify the very well-done propaganda techniques AiG is using. It doesn't matter if there IS any truth behind what Ken "lies through his teeth" Ham says, because they're still using underhanded low-blow logical fallacies.

I would be really curious to see if Ham ever files a libel suit against someone for calling him a liar -- he'd have to prove BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT that he ISN'T a liar. That would be interesting.

Since I'm pretty sure that isn't possible, and it would be a PR nightmare for their organization either way, keep spewing the accusations of bearing false witness, friend.

1:47 pm  
Blogger Jonathan Castro MSc(Eng), CMath MIMA said...

How about ham and eggs for breakfast?


1:23 am  
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6:06 am  
Blogger Cleve said...

Thank you for your statement in the last paragraph of your post.

"I declare to you the opposite: fundamentalism devalues the Bible by idolizing instead it of recognizing it for what it is; a collection of writings drawn from one particular culture through which God speaks universally."

It is a great summation of the writings of Rudolph Bultman whose theology ran much deeper than just demythologizing the Bible.

When viewed as confirmation of the principal message of the Old Testament; the establishment of monotheism, the Genesis creation story is a complete departure from previous myths and comes remarkably close to our modern scientific version of events.

7:04 pm  

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