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.


dogscratcher said...

"...since he holds a Doctor of Ministry."

What does a doctor of ministry learn? How could you possibly specialize in "ministering?" What does that even mean? I'd love to see his dissertation just to find out.

Aaron said...

Reading your post raised an interesting question. What do Evangelicals think of the saints? Would Rick Warren think of Augustine as anything other than at best misguided and at worst a tool of the Devil?

And when did Warren receive his degree? From what I understand, Fuller bigwigs wanted all staff and students to espouse biblical inerrancy back in the day, and wasn't there a dust up over a professor who dissed intelligent design just a couple of years ago?

Archaeopteryx said...

Hi, Aaron. I wasn't aware of the dustup you're talking about, but I did a little looking around, and you're exactly right. One of the faculty at Fuller, Nancey Murphy, claims that Phillip Johnson (of the evil Discovery Institute) attempted to have Murphy fired because she said Intelligent Design was "stupid." She believes in evolution, and apparently Fuller is welcoming of all kinds of religious beliefs, including those that are consistent with evolutionary theory. In other words, Warren has no excuse for his ignorant beliefs.

Aaron said...

Hello, Arch.

Umm... if Fuller is welcoming of all kinds of religious beliefs, and biblical inerrancy is a religious belief, couldn't Warren have studied it at Fuller? (Besides, welcoming all beliefs, and making them play nice with each other are two very different things.)

But then again, I don't actually believe that any religious tradition that espouses a monopoly on divine Truth can ever be truly accepting of other interpretations, outside of grudgingly accepting their "right to be wrong."

Don't get me wrong - I'm not a fan of the "God did it all himself" crowd either. But I don't really understand how the simple fact that Warren received a doctorate of Ministry from Fuller should preclude him from being in that camp.

Archaeopteryx said...

Hi, Aaron.

I wasn't really saying it should preclude him--I was being sarcastic.

Keifus said...

Okay, but did modern creationism emerge as a response to a compelling alternate stories? (I mean, that Darwin feller really capture the imagination in the late 19th c.) It's one thing to wave your hand and say "no one really knows" in a spooky voice, and another to say "those stories aren't even a little bit right."

The interaction of science and variously disagreeing churches in the time of the reformation sounds like a really interesting read. (All I ever think of is how pissy the Catholics got over heliocentrism in that century.)

Great quote from Augustine.

Keifus said...

(Er, um, and a couple French philosopher-mathematicians, and that Newton guy along with his fellow Brits that now have simple natural laws named after them... Hell of a century in any case.)

Thomas Paine said...

Something tells me that a PhD from someplace like Fuller is not exactly equivalent to one from someplace like Harvard Theological Seminary!

I have encountered several protestant clergymen with PhDs who failed to demonstrate any meaningful exposure to any form of higher education.

Catnapping said...

I've met priests with doctorates who blew me away with their overall knowledge and ability to express themselves...and then...

OMG. I remember a reverend in Oceanside California. I don't remember what denomination, and I don't think I ever knew what university he attended...but he was an idiot. He apparently knew his bible, but his grammar was as poor as any 4 year-old's, and even high school history had him stumped. (e.g. he didn't know what Magellan did, or who Ulysses Grant was.)

I'm not sure if some of these universities handing out doctorates are even accredited...

Kevin Clark said...

If anyone would like to see that religion and science can peacefully, coexist even today, check out Fr. Stanley L. Jaki:

steve said...

This guy's a turd, period.