[UPDATE: Comments are closed. For some reason this post seems to be a particular favorite of the comment spammers lately. I think anyone who has anything worthwhile or relevant to say about this has said it by now.]
Your ever-faithful Jono is feeling feisty today.
Why? you may ask. Because Lane Kiffin and Tennessee have just exposed Georgia’s football program as being worth less than the mud on the bottom of my shoes? Because of Atlanta traffic? Because of trouble at home with the imaginary wife and imaginary kids?
No, my friends. Your ever-faithful Jono is feeling feisty because the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species is coming up in about another month or thereabouts. And Kirk Cameron–the Lane Kiffin of evangelical Protestant-dom–has decided to mark the occasion by passing out free copies of Origin of Species on specially selected college campuses around the country.
Wait a minute. A well-known evangelical leader is passing out copies of an atheist book?
Uh…yeah. But there’s a catch. You see, these aren’t just any regular old copies of Origin of Species. These are specially modified copies. And the modification consists of adding a 50-page introductory rant written by none other than Ray Comfort, otherwise known as the “Banana Guy”, in which he first offers indisputable proof of the inexorable linkage between Darwin’s theory of evolution and Adolf Hitler, racism, sexism, the Gulag, the Holocaust, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, global warming, the Bee Gees, Willie Martinez, Brett Favre, Osama Bin Laden, the BCS, Britney Spears, O. J. Simpson, Tonya Harding, Jessica Simpson, the excessive celebration rule in college football, and other such unsavory things. He then proceeds to obliterate Darwin’s theory with his massively superior arguments which no mere mortal can resist, slicing and dicing it as if it were the Black Knight from Monty Python.
Now if you, my fellow evangelical, are sitting there reading this and thinking to yourself, “Wow, what a great idea to reach this generation of college students with the Gospel! I wish I’d thought of that myself!”…WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This whole thing is wrong on several levels. First of all, it’s deceptive. It is as if we flat out don’t trust people to listen to our message, so we have to slip it in under their radar, and then be like “Ha ha!!!!! Pulled one over on you, didn’t we!?!?!”
It’s kind of like one of those photo evangelism deals which turn up from time to time, where some guy in a t-shirt that says “Photo Joe” or something like that will show up at some hugely crowded outdoor event and ask to take a picture of you. He will then give you a card telling you the website to go and view your pictures. And when you get there, you will find it plastered with all sorts of Christian content, and perhaps you will feel kind of…as if someone played you for a fool.
But that doesn’t matter, does it? After all, we’re preaching the Gospel. We’re telling people about Jesus Christ, and we’re doing whatever we have to do to get the message out there. It doesn’t matter what people think or how they feel about it. It’s for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and for their own good–they need to hear this so they might be saved from the judgment to come. Right?
Wrong, people. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Since when did Christianity become the religion of “Anything goes”? Since when did Christianity become the religion of “The ends justify the means”? What would you think if Richard Dawkins decided that he was going to pass out modified copies of the Bible with an introductory rant about what a dreadful thing religion is, linking Christianity to the Crusades, the oppression of women, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, etc. etc.? Or is our message and our mission to spread it of such paramount importance that we don’t even have to bother to stop and think about such things?
Now, our good friend Ray Comfort is not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. And his hatchet man Kirk Cameron is an actor from an 80’s sitcom who, after “getting saved”, became the go-to guy for evangelical Protestant-dom any time they needed a cheesy Christian movie done. Since when, you may ask, do these people have the authority to speak on matters of science?
Well, that’s the thing about creationism. All the arguments are out there, in the form of books, videos, the internet, etc. Anyone can access these materials; it’s just a matter of taking the time to find and peruse them. Once you have familiarized yourself with the standard arguments of creationism, then you are perfectly qualified to take on any atheist, agnostic, or anyone else out there who dares to believe that the earth was not created in six literal days back in 4004 BC–all the way up to the grand poohbah Richard Dawkins himself. (By the way, I hear that Ray Comfort has in fact offered to debate Richard Dawkins–Dawkins hasn’t taken him up on it yet.)
At this point, a quote from Sam Harris is in order. Now Sam Harris is one of the most outspoken of the new atheists and he writes from the perspective that religion is a very bad thing, but there is something in this quote that we evangelicals would do very well to latch on to and learn from.
There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend an eternity in hell…. An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse-and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.
Those of us who believe that, armed with the Bible and a few simple arguments, we are now qualified to refute everyone up to the most accomplished scientific and academic experts, would do well to think again. Show some humility. Please.
But there is even more that is wrong with this thing–and that is the package deal. A package deal is when you take two or more completely unrelated concepts and argue that they are inexorably tied together in such a way that if you accept one you accept them all, and if you reject one you reject them all. Evangelical Protestant-dom is rife with package deals. And the young-earth creationism which Comfort and Kiffin…er–I mean Cameron…espouse is a prime example.
The idea here is that if you are a Christian, then you of necessity accept the Bible as the word of God. And God does not lie. Therefore every word in the Bible is true–else God would be a liar. And we all know He’s not. So that means that everything in the early chapters of Genesis is true exactly as written–because it was inspired by God and if it were not true then God would be a liar. And we all know He’s not. Right?
Wrong, people. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Believe it or not, people, the Bible is NOT a scientific textbook!!! Nor is it a psychology textbook, or a parenting manual, or a handbook of investment advice, or a dietary guide, or anything else. It is the story of God’s redemptive plan for humanity, headlined by the announcement that sin is defeated and man is reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Bible was written by people who understood the world in certain ways that are different from how we understand the world today. We should accept it at that. We are wrong if we try to judge their understanding of the world by what we know today, or if we let our understanding of the world be governed by things the Bible says which came out of their understanding of the world.
For further reading on this point let me refer you to a piece by Michael Spencer on why he is not a young-earth creationist.
Can we please just cut it out with all the either/or’s, the package deals, the lines in the sand that we try to draw on issues that are completely and totally unrelated to the Gospel? Can we please just drop all of that and get back to the Gospel as articulated in 1 Corinthians 15?
Another thing that is wrong with this whole thing has to do with the whole concept of apologetics–at least as it is seen by most of us here in evangelical Protestant-dom. We have this idea that every question that could possibly be asked by someone doubting the faith has already been answered irrefutably somewhere in one of the Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel books or something of that nature. So if you see someone who is asking questions or expressing doubts, the thing to do is try to find the intellectual issue which is driving their doubts, and find something in one of the books which will answer their question. And once their question is answered, all their doubts will just magically go away and all will be at peace in the kingdom.
This is the underlying motivation for Comfort and Kiffin…er–I mean Cameron…in this little project of theirs. Their idea is that creationism is the correct answer and that if we can get it out there into the hands and minds of this generation of college students, then we will stanch the rising tide of atheism in our nation. Because of course we have the right answers, and they can’t even begin to stand up to the superior truth of our answers. Right?
Wrong, people. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You see, even if all the underlying scientific aspects of creationism were completely and totally up to scratch (which they aren’t–but that’s another diatribe best left for another day; this diatribe has already gone on long enough), this approach completely and totally ignores the human reasons which underlie people’s doubts.
The pastor at my church says that people don’t abandon the faith because they are convinced by superior arguments; they leave because they made a choice to behave in a certain way and found logical arguments to back up their choice. It sounds simplistic–but it’s true. Consider the young man who grew up with a sound, impeccable Christian upbringing only to find himself on the verge of unbelief because he fell in love with a non-Christian girl. He was not convinced by any superior argument from the atheist side of the fence–he just met a real, sincere, authentic person and, when compared with the empty cardboard of his religious upbringing, all those injunctions about not being “unequally yoked” were completely and totally powerless to restrain him from pursuing this woman who to him was worth more than life itself.
Or else consider the signs on those buses in Europe that said “There is no God. Just enjoy your life.” This is pathetically inadequate as a worldview. It does not even begin to answer the most fundamental questions of human existence. But to the human who is caught in the vise grip of empty religion, this seems like a blast of fresh air.
Those college students out there on those campuses that Comfort and Cameron have pegged are NOT simply brains in a jar, waiting for us to fill them up with all the right answers before those godless atheists can get to them and shut us out and fill them up with all their answers. They are people. Real, live, flesh-and-blood human beings. They don’t need answers. They need community. They need to belong. They need to be accepted. They need to be loved. They need to be shown the way to their heavenly Father.
G. K. Chesterton, one of the most famous Christian authors of all time, was active primarily at around the turn of the previous century. Though he was a devout Catholic, he nonetheless was a staunch advocate for the Christian faith as a whole. He moved primarily among intellectual circles and commanded a lot of respect. His whole approach to the Christian faith was to simply say, “This is what it is, this is how it lands in my life.” He did not attempt to try to set the Christian faith up in relation to the latest scientific ideas, or to engage in any fool’s errand quests to debunk every new philosophical system that could be regarded as contrary to Christianity. He regarded all of Christian truth as timeless truth. Scientific and philosophical ideas will come and go, but the truths which lie at the heart of Christianity will still be here. These truths were around long before Darwin ever came on the scene, and they will still be around after Darwin’s theory of evolution is long forgotten.
Thus Chesterton would not be out there talking smack to all the science professors. He would not be trying to “defend” Christianity by debating the bigwigs in the atheist camp. And he certainly would not be passing out modified copies of Origin of Species with a 50-page anti-evolution rant in the introduction.
Same goes for C. S. Lewis. Lewis is the premier Christian apologist of our day, yet you don’t see him trying to take on the latest scientific theories, trying to score points for Christianity by laying the intellectual smackdown on the peeps over in the science department. Even in Mere Christianity, his most strongly apologetic work, you see that he is quite clear about the limits of science, and that his faith arises from the God that is presented in Scripture and his experience of God in his own personal life.
So here is where the rubber meets the road in all of this. We have a college student (we’ll give her a flagrantly and obnoxiously Southern name–how about Charlotte?) who is at one of the universities that Comfort and Cameron have pegged as their top 50. Now Charlotte is decidedly evangelical, with a solid Christian upbringing and an impeccable testimony. She gets involved in one of the campus ministries at her school. The people in this ministry prove to be very warm, loving, and accepting. They are there for her when she feels the inevitable pangs of homesickness which plague all college freshmen. They are there for her through all the stresses and strains of college life–term papers, exams, projects, weird professors, bad dining hall food, etc. They walk with her through a traumatic breakup with her boyfriend, and even through the sudden and unexpected loss of her mother to breast cancer. All in all, they prove to be the best friends she could ever have hoped to find.
But Charlotte wants to study molecular biology–perhaps work at the CDC, perhaps even find a cure for breast cancer. Along the way, she learns all the ins and outs of evolution. While attending and participating in her college ministry, she hears all the creationist arguments against evolution. And she is–shall we say–somewhat less than fully convinced. She finds the science underlying the creationist position to be decidedly flaky. And she is more than a little put off by the arrogance of certain creationist advocates who don’t know jack shit about science, yet believe that the truth of God which comes from that Bible in their hands puts them on an even footing with the brightest and most accomplished scientific minds ever to walk the face of the earth.
So Charlotte gets wind of the fact that Comfort and Cameron are coming out with a specially modified copy of Origin of Species with a 50-page creationist rant in the introduction, which they plan to distribute at selected universities around the country. She learns that her campus is one of the ones which Comfort and Cameron have pegged as their top 50–and that her campus ministry will be intimately involved in the effort to distribute this thing.
Charlotte is not too terribly pleased about this. Eventually some of her closest and most trusted friends pick up on the fact that she is somewhat less than completely and totally on board with this Comfort/Cameron thing. At this point walls start to go up and lines start to go down in the sand. The position is clear: Charlotte is an unregenerate apostate if she will not renounce evolution and go wholeheartedly over to the creationist side of the line.
Now Charlotte’s heart is breaking. This community of friends has meant so much to her, and yet she has no choice but to leave if she wishes to remain true to her scientific convictions.
So what happens next? Perhaps Charlotte will find a new community of Christians who are more accepting of her scientific interests and convictions. Perhaps she will come into contact with Christians in this community or in the world of science who believe that Christianity and evolution can coexist, that the first few chapters of Genesis don’t rule out the possibility of an old earth, and that many facets of science, including the Big Bang, point directly toward God. Francis Collins is a fine example of this.
Or perhaps, as she continues on from here, she will become convinced that it really is an either-or thing, that by choosing evolution she has rejected Christ, and will thus come to a point where she actually does reject Christ. And in many places in evangelical Protestant-dom, that will be a perfectly acceptable outcome. After all, she has been confronted with the truth of the Gospel, and she has made her choice. We’ve done our part; her blood will not be on our hands.
Is that an acceptable outcome to you?