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Wheaton College Professor Fired for Divorcing Wife

Wheaton College popped up in the news again.  A popular professor was fired because he would not talk about divorcing his wife with the school’s staff members.  There is a policy to determine if your divorce matches the exceptions provided by Matthew and Paul.  If not, then you can be let go.  In this case the professor was automatically let go, as it could not be determined whether his divorce was godly or not.

It’s hard to know how to respond to this.  Moral outrage is the first thing that comes mind, though I suspect those who created this rule felt justified by much the same emotion.  My biggest objection to this is the invasion of privacy.   I’m sure it was perfectly legal, but it seems there should be a much stronger limit to the powers of profit-driven companies, regardless of their motivation.  We find the limitations of government important for the health of human rights, we should apply similar limits to the corporations.

Wheaton College is interesting to me for a completely different reason; they mark a dividing line in the evangelical camp.  One one side you have scarily conservative colleges like Bob Jones University, were you are still taught Young Earth Creationism and biblical literalism coupled with biblical inerrancy.  On the other side you have Yale, Princeton, Harvard; evangelical colleges that “liberalized”, teaching evolution and higher criticism.  And in the middle you have Wheaton.

The students there are taught that there is no conflict between science and religion; between higher learning and faith in inerrant scripture.  In science classes they are taught about genetics and evolution, while in theology classes they are taught a literal interpretation of Genesis.  They are taught the scientific method, but are also taught that faith in Jesus is beyond question.

Tim George, student body president, had this say; “We just hate to see him go. . . . But we just don’t want to compromise the values that we hold.”  I really think this statement sums up the evangelical mindset very well.  To “compromise” or “doubt your values” is considered a negative thing.   All values are based on the Bible, and the Bible does not change.  Therefore you values should not change, except to become even more in line with scripture.

“How do we make sense of sin coming into this world if we evolved from apes?  So just one day an ape woke up and God decided ‘you are human now, and so I’m going to give you a soul that’s responsible to know right from wrong, and who my son Jesus Christ will die for…’…and then there’s the family trees in the Bible, they all go back to Adam.  So we seem to think that Adam was an actual person.”  Emi Hayashi, Biochemistry Major, Wheaton College.

It hard to understand what these students are going through, but Emi’s confusion above is probably quite common.  The potential for cognitive dissonance seems quite high.  The fact is, conservative Evangelical colleges had a decision to make between higher learning and biblical inerrancy a long time ago.  The ones that chose higher learning have far outpaced those who cling dogmatically to something that has been proven false over and over again.  We shall see which side Wheaton College eventually comes down on.  But hey, if they liberalize there’s always Bob Jones University!  Just don’t let your kids on the Internet, whatever you do.

BTW, Nova did an excellent and even handed documentary on this called “What about God?“, as part of their latest series on evolution.  The link above is to Google video; I highly recommend it.


Answers in Genesis: Part V – Philosophy and Morality

<–Intelligent Design Landing Page

As stated in the previous blog, Intelligent Design’s primary battle is against THE PHILOSOPHY of “Naturalism” and the PHILOSOPHY of moral relativism. To support this view with their own words, The Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document is liberally quoted in this blog.

“Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment.” Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy

Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudism (?) are apparently sources of moral decay. It’s funny how they refer to things by their founders name, instead of referring to the thing itself.

“Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards, claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.” Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy

By “materialism” they appear to aggregate elements of philosophy traditionally thought of as separate:

  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Survival of the Fittest
  • Psychotherapy
  • Scientific Naturalism
  • Metaphysical Naturalism
  • Cultural or Moral Relativism
  • Reductionism
  • Socialism
  • Utopianism
  • Social Darwinism

It’s interesting to note that virtually everything on here is related to politics, morality and philosophy. Even Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” idea is protested explicitly because of its philosophical and moral ramifications, NOT because of lack of scientific evidence for it.

“Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.” Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy

The Wedge Strategy represents the most honest Discovery Institute document to date. Where elsewhere phrased in more politically correct terms, here it is bluntly stated. To paraphrase, the Discovery Institutes purpose is to promote evidence that supports a THEISTIC understanding of the universe. I find it funny that the Discovery Institute was able to drop almost all Christian elements of Creationism, and yet they were still not able to get away from plain old Confirmation Bias. While this is acceptable in faith based systems, it is not acceptable in Science.

And There is an important point they are making. While the philosophy that best exemplifies the scientific method is “methodological naturalism”, this does not mean that science is the ultimate form of human experience. Believing ONLY in this philosophy negates much of what gives life meaning. Spirituality is important for psychological health. Art is crucial for the human soul. Ethics should be based on the will of the governed, and on justice. Morality should be based on experience, empathy, and the equality of all men. Human emotions like love, hope, and fear are best understood in a non-reductionist light. Consciousness is a higher order phenomenon that should be treasured.

“I think it’s an interesting part of knowledge [to have] a theory of evolution and a theory of creationism. People should be exposed to different points of view.” George W. Bush

Intelligent Design advocates object to what they call scientific materialism. The funny thing is, virtually everyone on the other side of the “battle” would agree with them on this. Those who practice science do not expect it to have all the answers, because it doesn’t. They turn to other things for meaning, including religion, family, art, community, philosophy, and even sporting events. There is no demon on either side; just normal people going about their lives, it’s just that some of use are “less superstitious” or “more secular”, depending on who’s describing the situation.

But to do science without practicing methodological naturalism is simply not honest, and does not work! Regardless of your personal beliefs, science demands rigor and confirmation. But by its very definition has a limited domain of knowledge available to it. To think that “this is all there is” demands as much a leap of faith as the one made by those who would force a Creator on science! So while the moral point is valid, their attack on a scientific discipline is ignorant and unnecessary.

“You got it backwards. Creationism is based upon science, reason and tons of evidence. Evolution is based on the blind acceptance of superstitions and fairy tales.” CRASH, Theology Online

And neither should G-d exist in the “gaps” of science, as if “He did it” is a good replacement for “I don’t know”. This is something ID supporters would have you believe; that the unsolved and weak sections of the Modern Synthesis are good indicators of a Creator. They should be very careful to claim these gaps for their own, science has a history of taking apart black boxes as quickly as possible.

“I often debate with evolutionists because I believe that they are narrow mindedly and dogmatically accepting evolution without questioning it. I don’t really care how God did what He did. I know He did it.” TexasSky, Christian Forums

It is deceptive to treat Intelligent Design as if it were a secular philosophy, because by definition it is not. In my next blog I will talk about the true source of Intelligent Design Creationism, the Christian Religion.

Answers In Genesis: Part IV – Intelligent Design

<–Intelligent Design Landing Page

There are many different religious philosophies that fall under the heading of Creationism. In my previous post, I focused on Young Earth Creationism, since that is the theology I am familiar with. But admittedly I’m foiling at windmills; It is very difficult to receive a higher education and continue to be a YEC. This applies not only to an education at a secular colleges, but also to mainstream Christian seminaries, both Protestant and Catholic.

The larger spectrum of Creationism is like a fractal, the closer you look the more intricate structures you find. But here’s a valid attempt at categorizing Post-Scientific Christian Origin Philosophies:

  • Evolutionary
  • “Nonoverlapping Magisteria”
  • Intelligent Design
  • Old Earth
  • Young Earth

Different categories of origin beliefs combine with religious belief in G-d and scripture:

  • Mysticism
  • Deism
  • Theism
  • Fundamentalism

For example, over at Reasons To Believe they are specifically Old Earth Creationists and Religious Fundamentalists. Speaking in generalities, most Catholics are Evolutionary or Old Earth Creationists and Theists. Mainstream Traditional Protestants tend to be Old Earth Creationists and Theists, Liberal Protestants tend to be Evolutionary Creationists, with many being Deists and many others being Theists. Of course there are many other combinations, exceptions, and contradictions to the categories above; it’s very complicated and everyone faith tradition is a little different.

Intelligent Design, the new kid on the Creationist’s block, is very similar to Evolutionary Creationism, but differs by denying the “randomness” of adaptation. To get technical, evolution theory states that the primary causal agent of adaptation is “genetic survival determined by ecological fitness landscape”. Intelligent Design accepts this causal agent as generally valid, so in this regard it offers no challenge to evolution. But ID further insists that “natural selection” alone could not produce the diversity observed in our biosphere. Instead ID proponents argue that the the best explanation involves an Intelligent Designer of some sort.

“The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

In many ways, this is a strong improvement over your father’s Creationism. Its does not insist in Theism, Deism, or mysticism, for the ID in question could any of those, or even a powerful but not omnipotent being. It does not insist fundamentalist ideology, like a young earth or a literal reading of Genesis. And although it interprets it differently, It affirms the overwhelming evidence that evolution took place. Most importantly, Instead of scriptural authority it uses logical reasoning, statistics, and empirical evidence to support its position. For these reasons and many others, Intelligent Design would be welcomed by scientists everywhere as a religious philosophy that is more compatible with Science than many previous ones.

“I for one welcome our new alien overlords” Internet Meme

But Intelligent Design proponents are not happy with this new stripped down Creationism being called “theology” or even “philosophy”. The Discovery Institute believes that ID is completely scientific because it is based on empirical observations, statistical mathematics, and logical reasoning. And by removing all culture specific aspects of Creationism, they claim historical and popular support for this hypothesis, even in more educated circles.

This is the part that upsets most people, myself included. All things are not equal in science. On one side you’ve something affirmed by impacting biology, genetics, geology, mathematics, computer science, and countless other arts. And it makes further predictions about phenomena in all these fields. On the other side you’ve got a small handful of peer reviewed articles, plus some Christian Apologetics books supporting the idea. Not really a fair fight, but more on that later. And besides, even if we did find an Intelligent Creator, the most obvious SCIENTIFIC question to come next would be “Who created the creator?” regress ad-infinitum, if ID is the answer.

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.” ID Wedge Strategy

Here’s what most of ID’s detractors (and many supporters) miss; scientific modification of the Modern Synthesis is not Intelligent Design’s primary goal. This part of the Discovery Institutes game is for stirring up controversy and publicity. In th end it’s not important that supernatural events be evoked during the scientific process; that is a means to an end. By their own “Wedge Strategy” the real fight is against is THE PHILOSOPHY of “Naturalism” and the PHILOSOPHY of Moral Relativism. They have a point here, but more on that later.

There are many in the US who think Creationism should be taught in public schools, and I actually agree with them. Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Evolutionary Creationism; all have a valid place in our educational system; under both philosophy and religious studies. Putting this in social sciences classrooms also makes sense, when talking about the different philosophies of science and how they impact culture. But putting ID in a biology classroom is a big mistake, both for science and for religion.

Answers in Genesis: Part III – Creationism (Young Earth)

<–Intelligent Design Landing Page

The basic premise of the monotheistic religion is the existence and pervasiveness of YHWH. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Using simple deductive reasoning this omnipotent and omniscient being has also credited with being the Creator. This is a cornerstone of faith for a good majority of religious people on the planet, from the hardliners in Saudi Arabia to the gentle Quakers in Pennsylvania, all affirm the presence and necessity of God for the very existence of the universe and life.

Among this larger group of “Creationists”, there is a very vocal and large group of American Christians who claim that their Genesis interpretation is not only good theology, but that it’s also good science. My favorite site is called answersingenesis.org, to whom the title of this blog series pays tongue in cheek homage. They let it all hang out at Answers.

“Creationism — that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” Gallup, 2007. 66% of Americans affirmed this belief.

To quote the site: “Believing in a relatively ‘young Earth’ (i.e., only a few thousands of years old, which we accept) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator.” (Ken Ham) Young Earth Creationist makes a scientific claim primarily based on faith in literal scriptural infallibiity. This is at the very core of the motivation behind the Evolution debate.

As a child and young adult I was taught very typical Evangelical religious doctrine. The Genealogies in Genesis 5 were presented as clear evidence that the Bible explicitly states the creation of everything look place around 4,000-10,000 BC. This was regardless of heurmanetics, as no allegory could be claimed for what was so clearly meant to be factual.

“Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.” Genesis 1:9

While the Garden of Eden or Seven Days could be interpreted as allegory, accepting its literal truth was important because of the Protestant dogma of original sin. The essentially states that the main reason Jesus came was to die for the sins of Adam and Eve and all their decendants. Only by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection can anyone enter into God’s Kingdom. Only by having a literal creation and Garden of Eden could the original Protestant story make sense.

These are the primary reasons that Young Earth Creationism is still popular today. It is not evidence from the fossil record or genetics, or the lack of evidence supporting Evolution. It is because of religious belief.

Being a willful and curious child, I had many questions about what I was begin taught. Another dogma was that no shred of evidence against unlimited literal infallibility had ever been found. Nothing in science, history, politics, ethics, etc. would contradict properly interpreted scripture.

“the past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now … No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle.” James Hutton, Father of Biology.

What I found was not what I expected. I had been warned that some people would claim that there was evidence that contradicted scripture, but that in the long run the Bible would hold up. It was explicitly stated that the burden of proof was on those who denied scripture, not on those who believed.

In the end, I concluded that no evidence had ever been found against literal scripture Interpretation because of an acute form of Confirmation Bias. For those who have eyes to see, the evidence supporting Higher Criticism is overwhelming. The evidence supporting a historical-grammatical approach to scripture is overwhelming.

Furthermore, there is not a single branch of science that has found evidence of a literal young earth. This is stunning when you consider how almost all scientists originally took the factuality of Genesis for granted. But in the end the evidence was so strong that it overcame this very powerful bias.

Believing in a young Earth today would be like living in 1850 and believing the Earth is the center of the SolarSystem. But what are good orthodox Evangelicals supposed to think about all this? Could they have possibly been wrong?

In my next blog I will talk about Creationism’s reputable step-child, Intelligent Design.

PostScript: Reading over this post, I realized I’d barely touched the surface of Young Earth Creationism. For those looking for more information, I recommend the Wikipedia article on YEC as a good place to start. I would furthermore refer you to the reference material on my “Answers in Genesis” landing page.

Answers in Genesis: Part II – Biblical Infallibility

<–Intelligent Design Landing Page

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16 NIV

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Evangelical Theological Society

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Deut. 8:3

In any discussion about Creationism, it is necessary to understand the importance of Biblical infallibility to Conservative Protestant Evangelicals. Although Intelligent Design proponents have removed all Bible specific aspects of Young Earth Creationism from their theory, it would be disingenuous not to recognize that most ID proponents also believe that Christian scripture is infallible.

1 : incapable of error : unerring
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals

In its mildest form, this assumption of infallibility only applies to matters of faith and practice (Limited infallibility) . In this form, it is admitted that the Bible makes historical, geographical, and scientific mistakes; it is only in matters of faith and doctrine where it remains unquestioned. This is the form that most Catholics and “liberal” protestants believe, While this belief seems very odd to the non-believer, it generally does not cause very much cognitive dissonance for those who believe. They can rest easy that the Bible got the important things right, and that science has also gotten things right. The two domains remain non-overlapping.

The strong form is called “Biblical inerrancy”, which claims that the Bible is 100% accurate and free from contradiction in all matters, including science and doctrine. This is the dominate belief system for Evangelical supporters of Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism. This dogma is the primary reason why Evangelicals are so hostile to Evolution.

Both groups find that interpretation of scripture is of utmost importance. This is called “hermeneutics”; the process of interpreting the Bible theologically. Those who believe in Limited Infallibility generally read the Bible using some sort of historical-metaphorical or historical-grammatical heurmanetics. Those who claim the stronger form of infallibility interpret the Bible more literally, only accepting non-factual interpretations when it is explicitly identified by the text or context. When in doubt, they assume the Bible is meant to be understood as factual first, and metaphorical second. For both groups, Biblical infallibility is the very bedrock of their religious world-view.

Questioning or contradicting this belief is considered a direct attack on Christianity.

Why this is the case is not hard to understand, but it’s best to use an analogy. All US law is subservient to the Constitution of the United States. All governmental authority is derived from our Constitution. All federal and local law must not contradict the Constitution, otherwise it is struck down and not considered law. The Constitution must be interpreted, and for all practical purposes the interpretations of the Supreme Court ARE the highest law of the land. Similarly, a Christian considers themselves a citizen of God’s Kingdom, and the Bible is their Constitution. All authority is dependent on it. All law is subservient to it. The Bible is interpreted by leaders of the different sects, and for all practical purposes these interpretations are the final word in Christian theology.

But there is an important difference between the Bible and the Constitution. The Constitution is a product of a democratic process; while the Bible is the elite witness of early church founders. Because all law is up for a vote in a democracy, it was important that the Constitution did not assume infallibility, and that it contained a process by which it could change itself.

The authority of the Constitution is based on the consensus of the governed. In contrast, the authority of Scripture is based on the belief that was inspired by G-d. While the former requires question and modification, the authority of scripture CANNOT BE QUESTIONED or it looses its absolute authority. To question the Bible is to question all of Christian morality and belief, from the Golden Rule to the Eucharist.

In the next part of this series I wll explore Young Earth Creationism and its latest incarnation, Intelligent Design.

Answers in Genesis: Part I – Introduction

<–Intelligent Design Landing Page

“Believing in a relatively ‘young Earth’ (i.e., only a few thousands of years old, which we accept) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator.” answersingenesis

“If you were a true follower of science and religion, you would realize the unmistakable, wide-ranging implications of Darwinism not only because it’s bad science, but because it essentially debases any claim to ultimate morality.” Dr. Dakota, amazon message boards.

(emphasis added)

Ben Stein has stirred the pot with his new movie “Expelled”. There are plenty of blogs about Intelligent Design and Mr. Stein’s documentary, so I’m going to talk about Creationism instead, and about Young Earth Creationism.

In the context of a pre-scientific age, it’s difficult to call “Creationism” a religious belief, it was more like believing in death or taxes, or that the earth stood still. People just assumed that if you had a watch you also had a watchmaker, and they assumed their god(s) were that Creator.

Plato and Aristotle were creationist. Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed were Creationists. Newton and John Locke were creationists. In the very definition of irony, Galileo affirmed the literal truth of Genesis while at the same time defending the Copernican Model. (Nova – Galileo’s Battle For The Heavens).

In the Christian West, it was assumed by most that the Jewish account in Genesis was historically as well as metaphorically true. There really was a literal Garden of Eden, as revealed directly to Moses by God. A literal reading was central to the dogma of original sin. Another interesting consequence of these beliefs was that one could use the genealogies to figure out the rough age of the earth, on or around October 23rd, 4004 B.C, at 9:00 in the morning.

As the quotes at the beginning of this blog indicate, this is not a war between competing scientific theories. At the core, the traditional values of Christian theology has come into direct conflict with the values of the secular humanist/democratic worldview incubated during the Enlightenment.

How this became the Science vs Creationism debate is rather lengthy, so I’m breaking it up into sections.

I will explain the traditional concept of biblical infallibility and how this relates to an Evangelical’s moral certainty. Exposing “factual” errors in literal scripture readings is considered a direct attack on Christian moral values.

I will explain the modern conservative Protestant manifestation of Creationism called “Young Earth”, and show how this movement directly led to current debates on Intelligent Design. ID has simply dropped all Bible specific aspects of YEC and substituted the Standard Model of Evolution in its place, only changing “natural selection” to “intelligent designer”

I will highlight the current state of evolutionary theory, its big gaping holes, and how we are using the Scientific Method to fix those holes.

I will discuss the difference sources of moral behavior, and emphasize the importance of parable and myth, story and creed. Without the creative and interpretive spirit we would not even have science. But while personal morality is governed by philosophical beliefs, civil morality is best served by a democracy and not a theocracy.

Buddies Looking for Work

I have some buddies who are looking for a job, so check out their resumes.