Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rick Warren--Ignorant, Idiotic, Insane, or Immodest?

One of the most infuriating things about creationists is their willingness to discard the entire accumulation of knowledge of mankind. As Gary Trudeau famously pointed out about George W. Bush, a belief in young-earth creationism requires a rejection of “biochemistry, genetics, ecology, paleontology, anatomy, physics, astronomy, geology, cosmology, history and archaeology.” Of course, denial of evolution also requires a rejection of modern medicine, agriculture, embryology, and even psychology. The evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky stated “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution,” and, because people are biological entities, this principle can be extended outward to the whole of human society. Evidence for evolutionary change is so pervasive, so diverse, and so absolute, that when a person claims he does not believe in evolution, he must be ignorant, idiotic, or insane.

We can add another “i-word” to describe those who reject evolutionary theory—immodest. Let us consider the case of Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, California. Warren had this to say about evolution:
I believed that evolution and the account of the Bible about creation could exist along side of each other very well. I just didn't see what the big argument was all about. I had some friends who had been studying the Bible much longer than I had who saw it differently...Eventually, I came to the conclusion, through my study of the Bible and science, that the two positions of evolution and creation just could not fit together. There are some real problems with the idea that God created through evolution... My prayer is that you will have this same experience!

The Bible's picture is that dinosaurs and man lived together on the earth, an earth that was filled with vegetation and and dinosaurs lived at the same time...From the very beginning of creation, God gave man dominion over all that was made, even over the dinosaurs.

It’s bad enough—although not altogether unsurprising—that Warren, an evangelical Christian, would reject all things scientific in favor of a literal interpretation of Genesis. But this interpretation also rejects some of the most respected and age-old tenets of the Christian church. Saint Augustine, writing in 408 A.D. said:
It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.

As P. J. Bowler makes clear in his excellent work Evolution: The History of an Idea, early Christian thinkers were not usually biblical literalists, and even many lay people understood that the scriptures were to be read as mystical, magical tales, and not as scientific textbooks. Indeed, it was not until the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation in the 17th Century that “modern” creationism was proposed (and immediately challenged by every branch of newly-emerging science), and not until the late 19th Century was Young-Earth Creationism accepted by more than just a few. Ironically, the rise of Natural Theology during the Enlightenment stripped away some of the mystical emblemism associated with plants and animals, and eventually helped lead to the formation of evolutionary ideas by those such as Lamarck and Darwin.

One might assume that a religious leader like Rick Warren would be aware of this history, since he holds a Doctor of Ministry. It seems impossible that a prestigious institution like the Fuller Theological Seminary of Pasadena, California, would bestow such a degree without a class or two on the history of Christian thought. Yet Warren rejects the collected wisdom of Western Civilization, from Augustine to Darwin, in favor of a worldview that insists that (as Lewis Black put it) The Flintstones is a documentary.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Only Another Month and a Half to Go

The Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting profile of Stephen L. Johnson, the outgoing head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Although tasked with protecting the environment, Johnson felt that it was important to do so only if there was no conflict between the science and commerce. I'm sure this has nothing to do with Johnson's education in biology at a university that apparently teaches creationism. Is it fair to expect a person who apparently doesn't understand science to understand why the environment should take precedence over the economy?