Weekend Reads

Ross Douthat, “Among The Believers”

Steve Chalke, “Have We Misread The Bible?”

Emily Asher-Perry, “You All Forgot That Luke Skywalker is a BAMF”

“5 Ways To Deter A Pedophile”

Paul Wehner, “Christians Should Speak Out Against The Rising Persecution of Gays Overseas”

Randall Rauser, “Is Atheism A Default Position?”

Alastair Roberts, “Chris Seitz on the Biblical Crisis in the Homosexuality Debates”

Stanley Hauerwas, “The End of Charity: How Christians are (not) to ‘Remember the Poor'”

Advertisement
Standard

No, Ken Ham, Darwin Was Not A Racist

I was fortunate enough to be able to post this response to one of Ken Ham’s claims during his debate with Bill Nye on God of Evolution. It’s an excellent blog that everyone interested in the science/religion conversation should read regularly. 

Image

The pottery medallion created by Darwin’s grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, for his anti-slavery campaign.

The debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye the other day surprised me in a number of different ways. I wasn’t expecting much at all and I was bracing for a train wreck. But the debate turned out to be quite civilized and the interactions between the two interlocutors were respectful and well-mannered. In regards to content, they both did quite well presenting their cases. Ken Ham was kind of all over the place, especially towards the end, and in contrast to Bill Nye’s factual and pragmatic case for the scientific superiority of evolution, attempted to build his argument as much on theology and ethics as on science. But while The Science Guy’s easy to understand presentation of science was strong, his comments on religion, especially the Bible, were woefully ignorant. Also, Ken Ham had better PowerPoint.

I doubt any minds were changed by the debate. If you thought any one of the debaters won, you were probably rooting for the guy to begin with.

One thing I’d like to acknowledge, though, was the generally positive nature of Ken Ham’s presentation. Those familiar with creationist arguments — perhaps especially those on the receiving end of said arguments — know well how negative, fear-mongering and demonizing they can be. Ken Ham could easily have resorted to such tactics and scored culture war points with his audience. But he didn’t.

Mostly.

As Ken Ham went through the scientific predictions he argued creationism could make, he claimed that creationism predicted that human beings are all one race (a point related to the “kinds”-argument and microevolution made just before). Since we all can trace our ancestry back to one set of gardening parents, we are all the same race. Which is fair. What was not so fair was his characterization of evolutionary theory as essentially racist.

Some 46 minutes into the debate, Ken Ham makes this claim: Evolution, as expressed by Darwin in his book“The Descent of Man” and later taught to unsuspecting American school children, supplies the logic required to segregate human races according to higher and lower worth. It was only after Craig Venter’s alternativehuman genome project, Ham claims, that secular science found out what biblical creationists had always known: There is only one race — the human race. Ken Ham presents this as going against evolution as expressed by Darwin.

This is wrong.

Darwin was certainly a man of his time: A Victorian gentleman with views about “savages” that would be less than politically correct these days. But despite his ignorance and privilege, Darwin was no racist. He did not teach that there were lower races and higher races, as Ham claims. In fact, the idea that humanity consisted of higher and lower races was precisely what he set out to refute in “The Descent of Man” — the very book Ken Ham mentions! For Darwin, the logic and evidence of the evolutionary process was that all human beings came from a common ancestor. Mankind could be intelligibly classified into different races, groups belonging to the same species having adapted to life in different environments. But all were part of the same species, deserving of the same basic dignity and worth. Darwin dryly observed:

“Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes, and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that they are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.” (Descent, 179)

This was more than a century before Venter.

Furthermore, in their 2009 book, “Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution,” Darwin biographers Adrian Desmond and James Moore argue that for Darwin, the essential equality of the races was not just a scientific conclusion reached through observation. Rather, it was a moral imperative for him. For all of his life, Darwin was a fierce opponent of the institution of slavery and the cruelty that came with it. Both of his grandfathers — Erasmus Darwinand Josiah Wedgwood — were prominent abolitionists and Charles imbibed their righteous fervor against slavery from an early age. A potter by trade, Wedgwood is remembered for mass producing his “slave medallion,” a cameo depicting a shackled and pleading black slave, with the famous inscription underneath:“Am I not a Man and a Brother?”

Darwin brought this moral indignation with him as a young explorer on his voyage on the Beagle. There he witness the horrible mistreatment and torture faced by slaves in South America. Desmond and Moore argue, somewhat controversially, that it was Darwin’s passion against slavery that lay behind his writing “On the Origin of Species,” and later “The Descent of Man.” Convincingly arguing for and publicizing the theory of evolution was, for him, not merely a scientific pursuit, but a moral and social one as well. In the face of evolution, no one could claim that certain races could lay claim to the title and associated benefits of “humanity” over against another, who they then could enslave.

No matter differences in appearance, common descent unites us all and is the foundation of basic human equality. For Darwin, evolution made slavery impossible.

Christians would want to say more and root human equality, dignity and rights not in common descent, but in the Imago Dei. But we should recognize and celebrate how Darwin viewed his theory and encourage such a helpful interpretation of it.

Obviously, a cursory familiarity with history demonstrates that things haven’t been as simple as Darwin hoped. Evolution was subsequently used by eugenicists and others to support their racist ideas — just as Ken Ham mentioned with his reference to a 1914 biology text book. But such sentiments weren’t based on, as Ham said, “Darwin’s ideas, which were wrong.” Rather, they represented the twisting of Darwin’s ideas. Which is wrong. To project them back unto Darwin himself would be to deeply disrespect the moral character of the gentleman abolitionist. It would be just as unfair as chucking out the Bible because it has been similarly misused by slavery apologists and other racists throughout the centuries.

Ken Ham is absolutely correct in pointing out that creationism is anti-racist. But his insinuation that evolution is racist is a grave misunderstanding of both the theory and its implications, in addition to being a defamation of Darwin himself — who fought actively against slavery all of his life and argued that, fundamentally, all men are equal.

Standard

Weekend Reads

Michael Ruse, “Is It Wrong To Teach Children About God?”

Scott Bixby, “My $295 Skype Exorcism”

Kevin Davis, “Al Mohler is more humble than evolutionists”

Chaplain Mike, “John Walton’s Excellent Take On The Debate”

Matthew Lee Anderson, “On the Number of Zygote Deaths and the Meaning of Pro-Life”

Lee M., “Science, Faith and Cognitive Dissonance”

Andrea Palpant Dilley, “The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries”

Tyler Francke, “Why Ken Ham’s scientific defense of young-earth creationism just doesn’t make any sense”

Standard

Music Monday – Ihsahn, “Tacit”

Can’t say I’ve been an avid follower of the former Emperor frontman, but I’ve really enjoyed the twisted experimentation of Ihsahn’s recent forays into progressive metal. It’s very organic, but not pleasantly so – which is what I like about it. It’s really harsh, almost offensive, but precisely that harshness creates the contrast which allows the intermittent beauty to make a special impact.

This song is from his most recent album, Das Seelenbrechen (a Nietzschean term, by the way), which was released in October last year.

Standard

Sunday Reads

Michael Jensen, “The Art of Confession In An Age of Denial”

Kevin Davis, “Emil Brunner Revisited”

Edward Feser, “The Pointlessness of Jerry Coyne”

Nathan Smith, “How To Talk To Family About Evolution”

Tim Stafford, “Our Children Should Not Have To Choose Between Science And Faith”

Charlie Jane Anders, “The Best “Entry Level” Science Fiction Books to Convert Your Friends”

Lawrence Garcia, “Stop Using “Literalist” for Genesis 1 Creationists: No Seriously, Stop It”

Thomas Baekdal, “How In-app Purchases Has Destroyed The Industry”

Michael Booth, “Dark lands: the grim truth behind the ‘Scandinavian miracle'”

Standard

Music Tuesday – Carpark North feat. Stine Bramsen, “32”

I’ve been a fan of Carpark’s since my best friend and I poured over every single musical detail on their debut album back in 2003. Those were some good car rides.

“32” is the first single off their new and long-awaited album, Phoenix, which came out yesterday. I heard the song live last summer and, along with the album, it’s vintage Carpark: Electronically fused very melodic and very dynamic stadium rock. I love the angularity of the opening riff and, of course, the sing-along chorus. The vocals, especially Stine Bramsen’s, are a compelling organic counterpoint to the distorted electronics. Really good.

If you get the album, which you should, check out “Phoenix”, the title track, especially. I’ve been obsessed with that riff ever since I heard the song for the first time a couple of weeks ago. And the positive lyrics have really spoken into my life with some of stuff I’m going through at the moment.

Standard

Music Monday – Mandroid Echostar, “The Sleeper”

From their EP Citadels, which can be bought here. I love the interplay between the prog and the rock-out. The guitar-work, especially, stands out. I love the bluesy solo and I love the groove it’s played over. Mandroid Echostar sound what Protest the Hero, featuring the singer (and his hair) from Coheed and Cambria, would sound like on a mild tranquilliser.

Standard

Why I Let My Daughter Wear Her Darth Vader Costume To Church

1560779_10151963918719613_1566983558_n

It was 4 o’clock. One hour to church. Our daughter is visiting her grandmother, so we call and ask if she wants to come to church or wants to stay longer. She wants to come to church.

Half an hour later, she comes home. As soon as she walks through the door she tells me she has something to show me. She tells me to go to the other room and asks her mother to come help her. Two minutes later she bursts through the door as Darth Vader. I laugh approvingly and tell her how cool she looks, reciting a line or two from the films. I take the photo above.

At this point, we only have a couple of minutes before we have to get into the car for church. I know my daughter. She wants to wear the Darth Vader costume to church. I don’t think that’s a good idea. So I break it to her gently. She freaks out. Falls on the floor crying, super grief mode. I try telling her that she can wear it after church. I try bribing her with candy. Nothing helps. In the end, we agree on a compromise: We’ll bring the costume to church, but in a bag. She won’t be wearing it as we walk in. I just hope she’ll forget about it and not put it on.

We arrive at church. She runs off with her friend and I get a moment to think.

After the service she comes for the bag. I let her take it upstairs where she puts on the costume. A minute later she enters, a look of pride and serious intent behind the mask. Just like I did at home, I tell her how cool she looks. I tell her how cool she is and I cheer her on.

As we walked to the car some ten minutes later, I looked at her, mask off now, but cape flying in the wind. She wasn’t giggling. This was no joke. As far as she was concerned, she was wearing the coolest clothes she owned. She loves Star Wars. It’s something she and I have together. Her mom isn’t a fan and her brother is 1. She is 5 and a massive fan, particularly of Padmé Amidala and Princess Leia. We’ve watched the films together several times (all except Episode 3, which is a bit too dark for her in my estimation). She plays Angry Birds Star Wars on the iPad. She has me print out Star Wars colouring pages all the time. We read the comic books together when she goes to bed. She really, really loves Star Wars.

I don’t believe in indulging your kids. I don’t think their every whim should be taken as ontologically significant. But good parents recognise when something is genuinely special and precious to their children, and they nurture that affection, encouraging it to grow in healthy ways. There were two things special and precious to my daughter that night: Star Wars, obviously, but also church. The fact that she wanted to bring the Darth Vader costume to church and to show it off there, says something about how she regards church. Remember how she wanted to go to church, all on her own? That’s special and precious. So is the sense of belonging, of trust and of genuinely positive relation that lies behind a wish to show off your best clothes to the people at church.

I think it’s somewhat important to wear nice clothes to church and we usually do. I wouldn’t approve of a grown man, for example, donning full Stormtrooper garb in church. It would feel disrespectful. But to me, facilitating the connection to church I could see in my daughter’s wish not only to be there, but also show off her cool new costume, is much more important than teaching my daughter a lesson about respectability. We can do that later. Right now, I want her to know and to feel that church is good. That church approves of her. That church loves her. Knowing that will help her through some dark times when she gets older. When she feels alienated by church, she’ll have this positive memory to hold on to. When other Christians treat her badly, she’ll remember the ones who treated her well. When she doubts her faith, the love and acceptance she felt from the Christians in her childhood will put intellectual questions in their right place in the larger context of loving God and loving neighbour. She’ll know what to look for in a church. And she’ll know how to be in church.

My number one duty as a Christian parent is to model the love of Christ in the lives of my children. To ensure that the love of Christ isn’t an abstract dogma, but something they’ve experienced tangibly and can put their finger on. I hope that’s what I did yesterday when I let my daughter wear her Darth Vader costume to church.

Standard

The Most Powerful Sermon I Ever Heard

…was delivered by my dad, pretty much impromptu, almost two years ago. I was the one scheduled to do the sermon that morning, though. But the night before, a leader in our church (a church I’ve left since) very aggressively attacked me for proposing some unorthodox outreach ideas. I was well on my way of completing the sermon manuscript when I left for the fateful meeting, but I just couldn’t continue when I returned. It was such a blow. It knocked the wind out of me completely. I tried to pick up the writing the next morning, but found it impossible. We lived with my parents at the time and they saw how hard a time I was having. So my dad asked if he should do the sermon instead. I was a bit embarrassed to let down the church, but very thankful and relieved for his offer.

The sermon itself started quite somewhat obscurely. Quotes from the Psalms and various places in the Old Testament about the faithfulness and love of God. Then it moved unto Jesus, if I remember it correctly, as the embodiment of God’s faithfulness and love. About halfway through, though, I got what my dad was doing. How can we say that we worship and follow God, when we are less than loving towards our own brothers and sisters in church? Subtly, yet with the authority hard-won after years of faithful full-time work, my dad was disciplining the church, and perhaps a certain few individuals within it, reminding all the congregation to be holy as God is holy, loving as he is loving. At this point I broke down and started crying. My dad was defending me, and encouraging me. Yet, that was the least of it. He drew upon deep wells within himself – his knowledge of the Bible, his intimacy with God, his personal experience with and of the church – and he spoke into the situation, singlehandedly reoriented the church unto or closer to the narrow path again. He was protecting me to a degree, but in actuality he was protecting the church itself.

I remember one line in particular, towards the end of the sermon. “It’s a tried and true fact that some of the most bitter opposition a servant of the Lord will face, will come from within the church.” His voice was emotional at this point, betraying painful experiences in his past, where he had been betrayed and ostracised by people trying to use him and his situation to demonstrate their own superiority and self-righteousness. Many years later, having come through these times of hardship and trial with his faith and dignity intact, he was seeing his son going through a measure of the same sort of thing. And he was seeing the church of his birth and long life, or at least certain members within, turning into the same sort of people who hung him out to dry. And he was not having it. The fatherly love of Christ demanded no less.

I cried for some 15-20 minutes as my dad was preaching. I must’ve looked like crap, puffy-eyed and face flushed red, walking up to the platform to play bass for the last hymn before the end of the service. But I felt deep gratitude for what my dad has done – and I thanked him, awkwardly, afterwards. Part of it was because I just needed it so damn much. But more than that, I was thankful to have witnessed what true holiness and spiritual authority looked like that morning.

Standard