jasonbwatson

November 19, 2014

The signature of God

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by signatures. When I was in elementary school I obtained a book that purported to list the home addresses of nearly every current and former Major League baseball player. The book was intended as a resource for those who requested autographs by mail. I began writing my letters, enclosing a baseball card and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) and waited for the mailman to bring me my treasures. Some players actually did sign the cards and send them back. Others sent a postcard or something like that, some never responded at all. Later I learned that some players would have other people sign for them. I also learned that there is a device called an autopen, which is a machine that uses an actual pen to replicate someone’s signature. These are often used by members of Congress to sign constituent mail. If you learn what to look for, autopen signatures can be fairly easily differentiated from the real thing.

I am still fascinated by signatures. I suspect I am not the only person who has ever played around with multiple variations of my own signature and/or practiced replicating (that sounds so much better than forging) the signature of others. I got pretty good at some of them, too. My mother used to let me sign her name to my practice record for band when I was in high school. I got good enough at my brother’s that he let me sign a check for him one time. I have this habit–some might say odd habit–of tracing the lines of a signature with my eyes, sometimes even with my whole head, as I try to determine the exact strokes that were used to create the signature.

Anyway, enough about my quirks! An interesting fact about signatures is that they represent authority and have value. Even for someone who is not famous or “important,” a signature can accomplish incredible things. Simply scrawling one’s signature (and I have seen some that would be generously described as a scrawl!) can secure the purchase of an item, authorize the transfer of funds, give permission for medical treatment and much more. Indeed, it is amazing how many things cannot take place until the right person’s signature is placed on the right line!

Signatures have actual value when they belong to someone who is famous. Just the signature itself, on even a scrap of paper, can sell for a considerable amount of money in some instances. A signature can exponentially increase the value of an item that would otherwise be worth considerably less. As alluded to above, I enjoy collecting the signatures of baseball players. Anyone could purchase an authentic Major League baseball for $20 or so. They are not particularly difficult to come by and they are not particularly expensive. If, however, one of those baseballs has the signature of a great baseball player on it, that very same baseball could sell for several hundred dollars or more. Interesting, is it not? After all, the baseball itself could be used to play baseball. Once the signature is on it no one in his or her right mind would actually hit the ball with a bat or play catch with it, so the utility of the ball goes down dramatically. And yet the ball becomes significantly more valuable, even though no one will do anything but look at it, simply because it has someone’s signature on it.

I happen to have a large greeting card from the 1960s that, in and of itself, would be worth next to nothing now. This particular card, however, is signed by almost the entire Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. My father’s cousin was on the team, and my father’s aunt was the recipient of the card. She later gave it to my father, who has since given it to me. I do not have any idea what it is worth, but its value is significant.

Signatures have sentimental value, too. When we receive a card, a note or a letter with the signature of a friend or loved one, it has special meaning. I have only one letter that was ever written to me and signed by my grandfather. My grandmother usually wrote and signed letters and cards from them to me, but once he typed out a note and signed it “Grandpa.” The note itself is not all that significant, but because it is the only time he ever signed a note for me it is quite special.

So why all of this discussion of signatures? Here’s why: because just like a person’s signature can represent authority or add value and meaning to something, so God’s signature on a human life makes that life exponentially more valuable. Scripture teaches that each and every life is wonderfully created by God, meaning that every human bears God’s signature and is deserving of dignity and protection; every life is sacred. If evolution were true, and we all emerged over billions of years from ooze or monkeys (or monkeys that evolved from ooze), and if “survival of the fittest” were the reality for human worth, none of us would really be worth much. In and of ourselves we are kind of like that baseball I mentioned above…we have a little value perhaps but not really all that much. We might be useful in a utilitarian sort of way, able to accomplish some basic tasks. Our real value, though, comes from the fact that God created each of us uniquely and according to His purpose and design. Each of us bears His signature on our lives! I repeat, our value and worth is not in what we do or even so much in who we are, but rather in the fact that we bear the signature of God.

November 4, 2014

What the Composer intended

The November/December issue of RELEVANT Magazine includes an essay by Michael Gungor entitled “Wrestling with Faith and Doubt.” If you read this blog regularly then you will recall that I took serious issue with Gungor back in September over comments he made about evolution and his suggestion in a Liturgist podcast that Jesus may have either been wrong or lied about Adam and Noah. I commend RELEVANT for giving Gungor the opportunity to explain himself and I commend Gungor for taking the opportunity to do so.

In his essay, he begins with the illustration of a symphony orchestra and the fact that some instruments, like the first chair violinist, may play hundreds of thousands of notes while a percussionist may play very few notes but must play them “at precisely the right time.” Gungor uses this to stress his point that “all effective groups contain both diversity and unity.” He even makes a thought provoking observation about the importance of diversity in obtaining unity, writing, “it is arguable that without diversity, there is no unity (only a much less effective uniformity).”

From here, Gungor proceeds into his observation that today “the Christendom that claims to follow Jesus is divided into tens of thousands of bickering sects and denominations, more splintered and fragmented than ever before.” In many ways this is true, and there are many issues over which Christians vehemently disagree which are not of eternal significance. There are many subjects on which the Bible is quiet, if not silent, providing only guiding principals to shape our beliefs and behaviors. When the Scripture is not explicit no one should hold dogmatically to the notion that their position is the right one; no one should claim or exert superiority over anyone else because they are convinced of their own right-ness on issues Christian liberty.

Gungor says that he thinks “a little healthy friction in a team is OK. … But friction and division are not the same thing. There is a big difference between ‘you’re not doing your job well enough!’ and ‘I’m not playing on the same team with him anymore!'” I agree with Gungor here, too. Friction can absolutely be a positive thing. I seek out differences of opinion and insights from others than I may not have ever considered. I believe that we reach the best decisions when we weigh a variety of options and possibilities in the process of deciding. I believe this, though, when there are not absolutes already provided. If we were to argue at the school where I serve that students did not need to learn geography or to take Algebra we may well be able to develop convincing arguments but it would not matter. We are an accredited school, required to ensure that students meet graduation requirements established by the state before we can grant a diploma. In other words, it matters not at all how strongly, passionately or convincingly we may be able to argue against geography or Algebra because it is not up for debate. It has already been decided for us.

Gungor transitions from his explanation on the merits of friction within a team to his argument that he has been unfairly treated, labeled and opposed since his comments on evolution and Jesus’ references to Adam and Noah. “In the last few months, I personally have been called a heretic, a blasphemer, a two-fold son of hell and a fool who is leading thousands to hell, in which I happen to have a special spot reserved for me.” His explanation of why he has been called these things is that he “like a lot of Christians” believes that God created humans by means of evolution. Gungor says that he has no problem with Christians disagreeing with him or even arguing passionately that he is wrong. His issue, he writes, is when those who disagree with him start using “words that are intended to break unity, loaded words like ‘apostate,’ ‘heretic,’ ‘false teacher,’ and so on.”

I’ll own it. I am one of those who referred to Gungor as a false teacher. Not only did I blog about it, I used his comments as the basis for an entire sermon I preached on the importance of contending for the faith, defending the inerrancy of Scripture and rejecting the subtle but deadly false teaching that can easily slip in when we open our hearts and minds to “differences of opinion.” I did not do any of that, however, because Gungor believes in evolution. I think evolution is wrong and is contrary to Scripture and I think teaching it as truth is false teaching. But I took issue with Gungor because he suggested that Jesus either was wrong or knowingly lied, and, on top of that, said he wouldn’t be “freaked out” if that were the case. The problem is, if Jesus was either wrong or knowingly lied then the entire foundation of Scripture and Christianity is demolished. If you want to read more on that, check out my blog post of September 10.

Gungor goes on to explain that the early church used words like “apostate” and “false teacher” to refer to those who preached things such as Christ never coming in the flesh, but not to refer to those who “merely had differing interpretations of Scripture.” “Even in disagreements about significant doctrinal issues such as ‘Should we follow the law anymore?’ the early Christians maintained unity,” Gungor writes. I am not sure what Bible Gungor is reading, though, because he must have somehow missed Galatians. Paul addresses those who were teaching a continued adherence to the Old Testament law is very harsh terms. There were those who were teaching that salvation required following the law, including circumcision. In Galatians 1:6 Paul calls this “a different gospel,” continuing in verse 7 with, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” In verse 8 Paul says that if anyone, even an angel from heaven, preached anything contrary to the gospel message being preached by Paul, that person should “be accursed.” So strongly does Paul feel about this, so important to is the identification and rejection of false teaching, that Paul reiterates this in verse 9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Paul reinforces throughout the letter that teaching adherence to the law is false teaching.

Gungor then reverts back to his orchestra illustration, suggesting that by dividing over things like Gungor’s statements on evolution and Jesus’ statements about Adam and Noah is akin to a situation in which “every single player in the orchestra has gone off into her own corner, playing her part to whatever tempo she deems best in the moment. And what we have as a result is a din of clamorous noise–a series of competing factions, each trying to prove they are more right about the musical score than the others.” While this is no doubt the case at times, it is not the case with the reaction of myself and others to Gungor’s position. When Gungor suggested that Jesus may have been wrong about Adam and Noah or may simply have lied because his audience believed something that was not true and it was more convenient for him to let them believe that he was the one insisting that he was “more right about the musical score than the others.” Indeed, he was creating his own score! To his original point, there is indeed a difference between saying someone in the orchestra is not playing their part right and saying you will not play with that person anymore. The reality is that Gungor’s position is the equivalent of demanding the orchestra allow him to play a different piece of music than the rest of the group is playing, to acknowledge that he has the freedom and liberty to do so and that his playing his piece while they play the score the composer wrote is both acceptable and harmonious. This is patently absurd.

Gungor ends his essay by suggesting that the ultimate goal of the Christian is found in Matthew 26–which is true. What he fails to understand is that we are neither loving God nor our neighbor when we allow false teaching to go unchallenged. To suggest that we show love to Gungor by letting him hold to–and spread–his false interpretations of Scripture is the equivalent of suggesting that it would be loving for a parent to allow a toddler to stick a fork into an electrical socket simply because the child thinks it would be fun. The parent knows the danger involved and the damage that would result, meaning that the only loving course of action is to stop the child from his intended action and to teach him, sternly if necessary, not to pursue such behavior in the future. We are not loving Michael Gungor to suggest that his beliefs on this matter are acceptable or merely a difference of interpretation on an issue of liberty. We are not loving anyone else by allowing them to be exposed to Gungor’s position without warning them that it is wrong and dangerous. I hope and pray that Michael Gungor comes to see the error of his ways. Until then, however, I will continue to call his position what it is–false teaching. Because, contrary to what Gungor thinks, that is what the Composer intended.

October 29, 2014

Self-Contradiction

On Monday of this week Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, where he made some startling statements about God and creation. I am not Catholic, but the statements of the Pope carry tremendous weight among Catholics and are often carefully considered by non-Catholics as well, in no small part to determine the course of the Catholic church and its adherence to Scripture.

In his comments, Francis said, “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so.” I do not think he is calling God a magician here, but his use of the magician as an illustration could be seen as poignant or inappropriate. Regardless, the real problem is his statement that God was not able to “do everything.” Indeed, this goes well beyond an assertion that evolution, even theistic evolution, is consistent with the Bible. Instead, it asserts that God is not omnipotent. By suggesting that God was not able to do everything, Pope Francis is suggesting that God is not God–or at least is not God as the Bible presents Him. Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27 and Luke 1:37, that nothing is impossible for God. God Himself said, in Jeremiah 32:27, “Is anything too hard for Me?” This, of course, was a rhetorical question, with the understood answer of “no.”

Now, Francis’s remarks grow confusing in his next paragraph because immediately after suggesting that God did not create everything, he said, “He [God] created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” If God created human beings then the macroevolution espoused by Darwinists is not true, since it holds that humans evolved over millenia from non-humans. Indeed, Francis continues to try to straddle the fence, saying later, “creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things.” Francis’s comments will no doubt confound evolutionists, too. If God created human beings, where does the “millenia and millenia” come from? The only possible explanation is the “gap theory,” which holds that there is a significant gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, meaning that God created the heavens and the earth, and then there was a long expanse of time before the six days of creation. There are significant problems with this theory from a biblical standpoint, not least of which is that it presumes the existence of death and dying before sin entered the world.

In keeping with his self-contradiction, Francis says that God is not a “demiurge.” This is an unfamiliar term, meaning, in Platonism, the one who made the world. In Gnosticism it refers to a supernatural being who created the world in subordination to God, and may also have been the originator of evil. Whatever Francis may have in mind, he seems to be saying that God did not create the world as we know it, even though he just said before that that God created human beings, and he says immediately after that God is “the creator who gives being to all things.”

Immediately thereafter Francis said, “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” And thus the contradictions continue… God is not a divine being? I cannot even imagine what Francis has in mind with that statement, so I will not try to guess. It simply makes no sense, particularly given the other statements Francis is making at the same time. And if God is not a divine being then what, one is left to wonder, is He? The opposite of “divine” is “earthly, ordinary, ungodly or unholy.” If God is not a divine being, then, He is not God! And again, Francis follows his statement that God is not a divine being by saying that God is “the Creator who brought everything to life.”

About the only thing that Francis says that is correct is that evolution is not inconsistent with the notion of creation–if by that he means microevolution within a species. Given the convoluted statements he made in the rest of his address, though, one has to seriously question whether or not that is what he had in mind. If he had evolution between species in mind then not only is he wrong, but he is contradicting himself again since he already said that God made human beings.

These comments from Pope Francis serve to reinforce the danger that comes from getting ones understanding of God from the decrees of a earthly leader. This is not specific to Catholicism, by the way. Protestant denominations have various structures of leadership, whether it includes a denominational president, district bishops or simply the pastor of the church. All of these individuals are human and therefore fallible. Our faith must be based on the Word of God, not on anything that man has to say. God has gifted many humans with the ability to teach, and those teachers whose teaching is consistent with God’s Word can help us to understand the Scriptures. We must always test the Scripture against the Scripture and the teaching of humans against the Scriptures. When there is an inconsistency the Scriptures must always “win.” And when the human leader teaches inconsistently and self-contradictorily, one must question whether the teaching should be given any merit at all.

July 10, 2014

Listening to the Other Side

Back in May Janie B. Cheaney wrote a piece for WORLD entitled “The debate is never over.” I was reminded of it yesterday when I wrote about Amanda Marcotte’s rant against those who hold to the position that unborn babies have a right to life. Cheaney began her column by quoting Barack Obama’s assertion that the debate over the Affordable Care Act “is over.” She went on to explain why that assertion was false and also why the tactic of declaring a debate to be over in the midst of that very debate is a tried-and-true, although entirely un-American, strategy.

I am not going to elaborate on Cheaney’s comments about Obamacare; you can find and read her column if you’re interested. But she made a point near the end of her piece that pertains to Obama’s declaration in the ACA, to Marcotte’s declaration on abortion, to many evolutionists’ declarations on creation and to any other debate in which either side tires of the debate and simply decides to say, “It’s over. I win.” Here is what Cheaney writes…

The nation that began with shouting and guns has–with one notable exception–developed a talent for settling disputes without guns, though always with shouting. Violent argument in pursuit of reasonable law is what we’re all about. But as dead set as we are on our own opinions, we must make room for listening and responding to what the other side actually says. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). In this country, debate is seldom over. If and when that day comes, what will really be over is the United States.

Cheaney’s point is that the United States is built around the idea that opinions and beliefs should be freely and passionately argued in the pursuit of law. Those on either side of the political spectrum who would rather just tell the other side to shut up and then declare victory are not only attempting to become philosophical bullies, they are undermining the very essence of what it means to be American. So rarely do we stop to think about what it would be like to be on the other side! Amanda Marcotte would never suggest the debate is over if the law of the land currently prevented abortion. Barack Obama would never have declared the debate to be over if Congress had voted to de-fund Obamacare. Evolutionists would never declare the debate to be over if every school board in the country decided that creation would be taught in the classroom as well as the theory of evolution. That’s the way bullies work, though; as long as they are the biggest, baddest, toughest and meanest it’s their way or the high way. Let someone bigger and badder some along, though, and their position instantly does a one-eighty. So I would ask Mr. Obama, Ms. Marcotte and others to kindly recognize that the debates are not over.

At the same time, though, I would like to ask those of us on the other side of those arguments–myself included–to remember the same thing. We have to be willing to listen to and respect the positions of those who disagree with us if we want them to listen to and respect us. We do not have to agree with them. We do not necessarily even have to be willing to compromise with them. But we do have to be willing to listen and to show respect if we want the same in return. No, we do not have to welcome Ms. Marcotte’s potty-mouthed insults, and certainly we could insist that we will listen only if she is respectful in her speech and tone, but we must all remember that we have to be willing to show respect if we expect to receive it. Mr. Obama and Ms. Marcotte and others may not see it that way but, if anything, that is all the more reason for us to listen and show respect to them. After all, the Golden Rule does not say “do unto others as they do unto you.” No, it says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Quite a difference, isn’t there?

July 7, 2014

“Abandoning the battle for the Bible”

A few months ago the board of trustees at Bryan College in Tennessee decided that it would insist that all of its faculty members adhere to a clarification to its statement of faith that makes clear that God created Adam and Eve in specific acts of creation–not through starting a process from which Adam and Eve eventually evolved.

According to a May article on insidehighered.com, this clarification has been deemed by many to be “too narrow” and has resulted in the departure of at least two faculty members, a vote of no confidence in the school’s president by the faculty and a variety of student protests.

The article explains that the Bryan College statement of faith previously included this statement on Adam and Eve: “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty clear to me. Then again, I believe the Bible means an actual 24-hour day when it describes the days of creation in Genesis. Apparently a number of those who claimed that they agreed with this statement in the past do not agree, since they have been squawking ever since the school made this clarification: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

The article also quotes some talking points presented at the faculty meeting prior to the no confidence vote by Phil Lestmann, a Bryan professor mathematics and head of its natural sciences division, in which Lestmann claimed that the clarification “pretend[s] that a very complex issue is really very simple and straightforward” and “possibly put[s] the college into too small a scientific or theological box.” Therein, of course, we find parts of the problem. The issue in fact is “very simple and straightforward” when you believe the Bible means what it says. Only by reinterpreting it or by trying to make the Bible (God’s Word) fit with science (man’s interpretation or understanding) does any complexity come into the matter. Speaking for myself, a “small…theological box” is exactly where I would want to be, and want my school to be, assuming that box is the one claiming the Word of God to be inerrant. After all, Jesus Himself created a “theological box” that could not be any smaller–when He said “no man comes to the Father but by Me” he was not leaving any room for discussion.

Apparently the student government at Bryan has objected to the clarification because the school’s charter says that its statement of faith cannot be changed. An open letter from the student government appearing in a February issue of the school’s newspaper said, “We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.”

I would suggest that what is unfair is the very need for the clarification in the first place. After all, fiat means “an authoritative decree, sanction, or order” or “an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it.” The original statement of faith asserts “the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God.” To suggest that fiat, act of creation and was created allow for some understanding other than that being made clear in the recent clarification is simply absurd. The reality is that Bryan has apparently been lax in enforcing its own statement of faith until this recent clarification and some faculty members have not felt troubled by the fact that they were annually signing a statement of faith with which they did not really agree. If someone consistently drives ten miles over the speed limit without getting a ticket he cannot then cry foul when a law enforcement officer finally does pull him over and issue the ticket. Getting away with something in the past is no justification for eliminating consequences for it in the future.

In the May 3 issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky, with whom I do not always agree, made a poignant and powerful statement about the importance of this issue. “Many Christian liberal arts colleges assert that their goal is to teach students how to think and not what to think. That is laudable in most areas, but should it mean that colleges do not care if students graduate with the belief that the Bible is merely a book compiling man’s fallible teaching rather than God-inspired wisdom?” Olasky asks. He answers his own question thusly: “In such an environment, a Christian college that proclaims it will just throw out to students a variety of theories and let them decide, is abandoning the battle for the Bible.” Olasky is exactly right, and his point is precisely why it is so imperative that Bryan College, as well as other Christian colleges, Christian schools and churches establish clear and accurate statement of faith and insist wholeheartedly that they are adhered to; anything else is a surrender to man’s reinterpretation and is inconsistent with Scripture.

February 5, 2014

The Debate

On Tuesday, February 4 an historic event took place in Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. It was attended by more than 800 people and it was viewed live through Internet streaming by more than one million. Odds are, you already know what I am talking about. As I skimmed through comments on Facebook last night after the event was over it seemed that many people were referring to it simply as “the debate.”

The Debate was just that, an intellectual exchange of ideas between Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and Ken Ham, co-founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Nye is an evolutionist and Ham is a young earth creationist. Their debate, at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, was over the question of whether or not creation is a viable model of origins in today’s scientific climate. To no one’s surprise, Ham believes it is while Nye believes it is not.

No doubt many individuals far more articulate than I will dissect the various arguments and elements of the debate, and no doubt from both sides. I can assert with equal certainty that individuals on both sides will also no doubt make derogatory comments about the individuals and the arguments on the other side, though history bears evidence that far more of these will come from the evolutionist side than the creationist side. I will leave the analysis of most of the nitty gritty details to others, and I do not intend to call anyone names.

On the contrary, I would like to commend both Mr. Ham and Mr. Nye for their willingness to engage in such a public exchange of ideas, placing themselves literally and figuratively in the spotlight on an international stage. Regardless of one’s convictions, beliefs and training, being on the spot, live, in front of millions, tasked with defending a belief system held strongly by millions as their sole at-the-moment spokesperson is not a position many people would envy or be willing to assume. The event no doubt benefited both men and the organizations of both men. Answers in Genesis, for example, reported more than two million visits to its web site in the month leading up to the debate. So sure, publicity was no doubt part of the motivation on both sides. I do not believe, however, that it was at the heart of either man’s willingness to participate in the debate.

As Albert Mohler pointed out in his blog post today, “Nye was criticized by many leading evolutionists, who argued publicly that nothing good could come of the debate.” Criticism is never pleasant, and when it comes from your own camp it is even less so. Kudos, then, to Bill Nye for his willingness to stand on a stage beside one of the world’s leading apologists for the biblical account of creation, and to do it on the creationist’s home turf.

The debate was well planned, well executed and–in a rarity for many debates these days–well moderated. Ham and Nye were civil to each other and respectful. Nye even told Ham after Ham’s initial presentation that he had learned something. (Interestingly, he never said what that something was, though, and it may well have been that Ham holds even crazier ideas than Nye originally thought).

I am a young earth creationist, as is Ham, and I believe that God created the world in six literal, 24-hour days. Odds are good that if you have ever read my blog before that you already knew that. If you are a newcomer, there you go–full disclosure, I agree with Ham. Actually, if you want truly full disclosure, I am a charter member of the Creation Museum and have supported both the museum and Answers in Genesis financially. So it will come as no surprise that I agreed with what Ham said in the debate and disagreed with much of what Nye said. That I went into the debate with my mind made up puts in no small company, though; the same can be said of both Ham and Nye as well as many, if not the majority, of the folks who watched the debate. As Mohler wrote, “If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.” No one expected Ham or Nye to be convinced by the other or to change his mind. Neither, I suspect, did either man expect to change the mind of the other. One thing that came through loud and clear in the debate is that reason will not change the minds of individuals devoted to either position. Sure, there may be people who have not made up their mind either way, and they may have been swayed, but the debate was more a presentation of data and dogma than an effort to win votes or converts. Ham, by the way, admitted that he would never change his mind, since his beliefs are rooted in the Word of God. Nye suggested that he would if evidence was presented to sway him, but he almost simultaneously stated that such evidence could not exist, so his seeming openness to change was not entirely legitimate.

There were a couple of things that the debate made clear to me that I will comment on. One is that Bill Nye has apparently never read the Bible. His comments about it, and his apparent shock when Ham stated that some of the Bible is history, some poetry, etc, served as proof positive that he is, at best, unfamiliar with the Word of God. One point in favor of those with a biblical worldview is that they are willing to listen to and even study the other side in their defense of their faith.

Two, Nye’s own comments made it clear that the evolutionist position relies just as much on faith as the creationist position does. There were at least two times during the question-and-answer section of the debate when Nye responded to a question by saying, “We don’t know.” Translation: no proof exists for what he believe on this issue, we just believe it. Interesting, given how strongly Nye and others on the evolution side of the argument criticize Ham and those on the creation side for clouding their understanding of science with “beliefs.” Ham made the point early in the evening that the evolution position is just as much a “religion” as the creation position; I never heard Nye comment on that statement.

Three, Bill Nye seems scared to death that schools might actually consider allowing creation to be taught in schools, or at least allow evolution to be questioned or “critically examined.” There were times during the debate when he sounded like a political candidate, appealing to voters to save the United States from falling behind in the world. This was not a new position for Nye; in a widely-seen video Nye made last year he said of those who believe in the creation position, “[I]f you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” In other words, Nye is suggesting, if you believe in the biblical account of creation you cannot be an intelligent, practicing scientist. You cannot accomplish great things within the scientific community. This position was why Ken Ham made such a point of quoting, mentioning and even playing video clips from accomplished scientists who hold to the creationist viewpoint, including the inventor of the MRI machine. I confess, initially I wondered why Ham kept including these references and dwelling on this point, because it did not seem to be a major tenet of the argument to me. As Nye went on though it became increasingly clear that it is a crucial part of the argument and Ham knew what he was doing. Oddly enough, perhaps, it had never occurred to me that someone would think that if you believe the Bible you cannot also be good at science. How naïve of me!

Albert Mohler concluded his blog post this way: “The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared ‘reasonable man’ and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.” I really could not say it any better. Nye insists he is reasonable, and by default that Ham is not (nor are those who believe as he does). Interestingly enough, the Bible describes godly wisdom as “reasonable.” James writes, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). I am thankful that Ken Ham demonstrated wisdom from above in his debate with Bill Nye; my prayer is that Bill Nye will come to know that reasonable wisdom from above some day, too.

January 14, 2014

Pro-exploration is not anti-science

I know I really should not be surprised anymore, but for some reason it never ceases to amaze me how many people who claim that they believe in and stand for tolerance demonstrate anything but when someone on the other side of a position to which they hold suggests allowing for more open debate. The latest example is a proposed bill in Virginia that would allow students to explore “scientific controversies.”

Richard Bell, a Republican, represents Virginia’s 20th legislative district, and has introduced a bill calling for an amendment to Virginia’s science education policy. According to the bill, “[Faculty members] shall create an environment in public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes.” Anyone who claims to value tolerance and open discussion and the free exploration of ideas should welcome such a bill, right? Sadly, no. Evolutionists are already crying foul, claiming that the bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to introduce creationism into the public school.

While the bill includes language stating that these scientific discussions are not to promote or discriminate against any religious beliefs, the bill also states, “[Faculty shall not] prohibit any public elementary or secondary school teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in science classes.” That means that teachers could freely discuss with students the merits of all scientific controversies–which would, of course, include evolution versus creation.

Dr. Jerry Coyne is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and the author of the blog Why Evolution is True. He took to his site to explain why the bill is all wrong and why the bill is really just an attack on evolution and “anthropogenic climate change” (that’s a fancy word meaning caused by humans). In the title of his entry Coyne calls the bill the “first antiscience bill of the year.” Tell me, though–how in the world can “encourag[ing] students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes” be anti-science? Is not this critical thinking and exploration of ideas and theories exactly what Coyne and others claim to want in schools and colleges?

Coyne goes on to state that while the bill makes it clear that “creationism and climate denialism” are to be “treated respectfully” because they are “differences of opinion,” “neither evolution nor anthropogenic climate change are ‘differences of opinion.’ They are scientific conclusions, and if teachers pretend that they’re merely ‘opinions,’ they’re sorely misleading the students.” Coyne says that the only acceptable response to the suggestion of creationism is to tell the offending student that creationism and anthropogenic climate change (he insists on linking the two) are facts, not opinions. Furthermore, he says, “if necessary, one can explain why the opposing opinions aren’t supported by science. But there should be no ‘respect’ implying that creationism and climate-change denialism are credible views.”

Interesting… Coyne thinks it is fine to explain the data, theory and so-called facts supporting macroevolution to any student who has the audacity to question it. This seems to be exactly what Bell’s bill has in mind when it states, in Section C, that teachers are tasked with “helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” If evolution and anthropogenic climate change are the scientific facts that Coyne claims they are he should welcome the discussion and encourage it in classrooms. However, apparently he is comfortable only with presenting the support for evolution and anthropogenic climate change, and anyone stupid enough to question or challenge it does not even need to be treated with respect.

Bell, on the other hand, in an article on the Christian News Network, says, “[W]e’re not asking everyone to believe the same thing; we’re asking for teachers to be protected when they allow discussions about different opinions to take place.”

When someone has facts on his side he does not fear the questions or arguments of the other side. If Coyne is so confident that evolution is established scientific fact he should have no problem allowing the kinds of conversations Bell’s bill is encouraging. The reality is that Coyne is hiding fear behind his guise of scientific certainty; quite simply, he does not want students and teachers to be allowed to critique evolution because under examination it tends to crumble. Imagine if there were a group of people who insisted that two plus two was five. I cannot imagine any math teacher or professor, or even any politician, insisting that math teachers not be allowed to consider that argument in the classroom or to evaluate its merits. Any real mathematician would welcome the discussion, because there are so many ways to prove that two plus two is four that it would be a very short and lopsided conversation. The conversation about evolution goes quite differently because, despite Coyne’s assertion, evolution is not a scientific conclusion.

Coyne ends his blog post with this: “Shame on you, Virginia. If they wanted teachers to simply teach accepted science, they wouldn’t need to pass bills like this.” I would, with all due respect, counter with this…

Shame on you, Dr. Coyne. If you were truly interested in real education and in the testing of theories and hypotheses (as scientists are supposed to be) you would support, encourage and welcome the discussions this bill would protect.

May 2, 2013

Brainwashing Kids?

On Tuesday, April 30 Answers in Genesis posted an article entitled “Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School.” In the article, written by AiG founder and president Ken Ham and Mark Looy, it is revealed that a fourth grade student who attends Blue Ridge Christian Academy in South Carolina recently wanted an AiG video in her science class and took a quiz on the video. The student received a 100% on the quiz, but apparently both her father and a family friend were quite angry when they learned that she was learning a biblical understanding of creation in general and dinosaurs specifically. The friend took a picture of the two-sided quiz and posted it on Reddit, and it then made its way through the atheists blogosphere. Then Snopes got a hold of the story and decided to investigate, since the original posts did not name the school where the quiz was given. Amazing, isn’t it, how incensed people can get over an 18-question elementary school science quiz when the questions on the test stem from a biblical worldview.

Snopes investigative efforts eventually led to an e-mail from the father of the student whose quiz was posted, in which he stated the following: “I didn’t know that this was being taught to her until we heard a radio commercial together about the Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit was coming to the TD Convention Center [in Greenville, South Carolina]. … The test showed up a day later to my disgust. It’s a great school for Reading, Writing and Math. She is ahead of most of her peers and also is taking Latin there. But I now know to be vigilant for the rest of the year about her science teachings. She will not be attending the school next year….”

It is difficult to countenance someone saying that they were completely surprised that this was being taught, given that the web site of Blue Ridge Christian Academy includes the school’s Statement of Beliefs, which begins with this: “We believe the Bible to be inspired; the only infallible, authoritative, inerrant Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:21).” Furthermore, if you make another click or two with your mouse you will find that BRCA’s web site also includes information about its curriculum. The Lower School Curriculum page states that Christian Schools International (CSI) materials are used for science classes, and states this: “Science lessons are creation-based, student-centered and hands-on.” Take a few more clicks with your mouse and make a few keystrokes and literally within less than 15 seconds I find the information on CSI’s web site regarding their science curriculum: “Christian Schools International’s 2nd edition science curriculum, revised in 2011, leads students to see God’s hand in the world around them. The materials will enrich their knowledge of creation, affirm their faith in the creator, and empower them to be good stewards of creation.” I am sure that BRCA requires parents of its students to sign an agreement acknowledging an understanding of the school’s Statement of Beliefs and an understanding that students in the school will be taught accordingly. Furthermore, it is a bit absurd for the father of this student to say that he had no idea this was being taught when his daughter has been at the school for who-knows-how-long already and when it is easily discernible within a few minutes on the computer.

Another blog site, entitled the Friendly Atheist, had this to say about the quiz in question: “…even if it’s legal, no school should be brainwashing kids like this in the name of science, and the father and the Reddit submitter have a duty to name the school when the time comes so we can expose them.” When I read that I was not sure whether to laugh or cry. This person is accusing BRCA in particular, along with Answers in Genesis, and anyone who holds to a biblical view of creation in general, of “brainwashing kids…in the name of science”! Isn’t that exactly what public schools are doing all across the country, teaching children that the earth is the result of a big bang and that life evolved over millions of years from some kind of ooze eventually becoming a monkey eventually becoming a man? Aren’t evolutionists the ones brainwashing kids in the name of science, touting the theory of evolution as scientific fact even though there is no scientific evidence to support the theory? And isn’t it ironic that in any other field of academic inquiry most intellectuals and academics and yes, liberals, claim to love the idea of exposing students to as many theories, opinions, arguments and just plain speculations as possible, but when it comes to science the creationist position must be shut out?

If you look around a little bit online you will find that the atheist, evolutionist and anti-Christian community is aghast that such stuff would be taught in a Christian school. The AiG article includes this reaction from the BRCA administrator: “The school administrator informed us she knew that the school would be involved in a spiritual battle after the quiz went public, but she was not expecting such ferocity. She told us she was shocked at the level of hate that the atheists poured down upon her, the teacher, and the school in general.”

I for one hope that BRCA will continue to stand strong for the truth of God’s Word in the face of this criticism, and that it will accept the hate being sent its direction as a high honor, a sign that the school is doing what God has called it to do. After all, Jesus Himself said that the world will hate His followers because it hated Him first (John 15:18).

I must echo Mr. Ham and Mr. Looy, who included this statement in their article: “More than ever, God’s people need to be standing up publicly and unashamedly for the authority of His Word.” Amen!

April 8, 2013

The Safest Poison?

I have mentioned here before that I am part of an online community of Christian educators and in the forums provided through that community there are many discussions on a wide range of topics of interest and concern to Christian educators. Not too long ago there was a discussion about science textbooks for high school science classes–how to select the best books, thoughts on the offerings of specific publishers, etc.

One of the comments was made by a school administrator who quoted his school’s biology teacher. Part of his comment was this statement: “What I found was that the [publisher’s name] was a good curriculum; however, my concern was with the student text generating student interest. There seemed to be a lot of text compared to pictures, models, graphics, and diagrams.” I found this statement troubling for a couple of reasons. First, we are talking about textbooks for a high school science class, not an elementary school class. By the time they reach high school students need to have learned how to learn, and they need to be beyond the stage when their interest in and attentiveness to a text is driven primarily by the colorful pictures and graphics a book may contain. There is a place for graphics, illustrations, models, etc., I do not dispute that, but selecting a textbook because it has the best graphics–or, on the contrary, excluding a textbook because it does not have great graphics–is a dangerous basis on which to make a decision, not to mention silly one. One of the best series of history books I have ever seen is the four-volume The Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer, and those books contain no photos. Whatever maps or illustrations are included are in black and white, yet students enjoy the books because they are well-written and tell the narrative story of history.

The second comment made by the quoted biology teacher was, unfortunately, exponentially more troubling than the first. He explained that their school eventually chose a textbook from a secular publisher, and hailed the wonderful extras that came with the adoption of that book, including access to online resources. Then he made this statement: “Choosing this secular curriculum has been a blessing because my class is very captivated and ‘in love’ with biology. It was the least infiltrated with evolution compared to other secular publishers.”

Now I need to state here and now that I am not one who holds rigidly to the position that Christian schools should only utilize textbooks and resources from Christian publishers. My philosophy has always been that the textbook that will best meet the needs of the students is the one that should be used, and that it is the responsibility of the teacher, regardless of the textbook used, to ensure that courses incorporate a biblical worldview. And I have not seen the specific textbook in question, so I cannot definitively state that it is a “bad” book or that it should not have been selected.

What I can say with confidence, though, is that the very suggestion that a book is “okay” because it is “the least infiltrated” with evolution or any other theory or position that is counter to Scripture is highly troubling. Does the individual in question think that his assertion is even possible? A textbook is either infiltrated with evolution or it is not. A person either has a biblical worldview or they do not. A person is either for the Lord or he is not. There is no middle ground. And infiltrated, by the way, does not mean that the book contains the theory of evolution. Every good biology textbook should include the theory of evolution, since part of effectively teaching students is exposing them to the various theories that exist and equipping them to counter those that are in opposition to Scripture. No, infiltrated means that the textbook’s author’s wrote the book with an evolutionary worldview. It means that they believe that human beings evolved from apes, and apes evolved from something else, and on down the line to the primordial ooze or whatever building blocks man supposedly evolved eventually from. It means that the book’s author’s deny that God spoke the world into existence.

That has implications that are vast, and will touch every page of that textbook, despite the biology teacher’s assertion that “Evolution references were primarily localized in the evolution unit.” Baloney. The evolution references may be localized, but the idea of evolution, the belief in evolution, and the implications of evolution are not localized; they cannot be localized. I would certainly hope that a biology teacher at a Christian school would not say that the creationist viewpoint is localized to the chapter on origins in Christian textbooks, or that his own creationist viewpoint is localized to his teaching about origins. I would hope that his viewpoint infiltrates (to use his word) every lesson he teaches.

With that in mind, the suggestion that the book “least infiltrated with evolution” is a good and safe choice is really not much different than saying that the student’s can drink the beer with the lowest alcohol content, smoke the cigarettes with the lowest nicotine content, watch the movies with the lowest number of obscenities or least amount of nudity, use the drugs with the lowest likelihood of addiction, and play Russian roulette with the gun with the fewest number of bullets. Those suggestions are absurd, I know. But the textbook least infiltrated by evolution is not really any different…because there is no amount of poison that is safe.

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