Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Creation Museum

The new Creation Museum, founded by Answers in Genesis, opened this weekend in Petersburg, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. Drawing many supporters, and some protesters, the museum promises to be a pretty big shot in the ongoing culture wars.

But as to the scientific and theological claims made by the museum, I will remain skeptical. In saying this, I want to add that I in no way am disputing any Biblical truths - just certain Biblical interpretations. I believe that God created the universe and all it contains, but unlike Answers in Genesis I dispute the Young Earth Theory of creation and I also believe that God used the process of evolution in creation. Despite the fact that many opponents of evolution claim that it is only a theory, I would point out that the word theory does not in any way communicate uncertainty. It would be very difficult - if not impossible - to find any scientist who doubts the scientific legitimacy of evolution (unless they are a proponent of Young Earth Creationism, and that is a very small number of scientists).

Deferring to someone with much greater scientific expertise, I give you the following quotes from the book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Dr. Francis S. Collins. Dr. Collins - a former atheist and now an evangelical Christian - is head of the Human Genome Project and a world-renowned scientist. In the words of Dr. Collins -

Many books and videos can be found in Christian bookstores that claim that no intermediate fossil forms can be found for birds, turtles, elephants, or whales (yet examples of all of these have been found in the last few years), that the Second Law of Thermodynamics rules out the possibility of evolution (it clearly does not), and that radioactive dating of rocks and the universe is wrong because decay rates have changed over time (they have not)…In general, those who hold these views are sincere, well-meaning, God-fearing people, driven by deep concerns that naturalism is threatening to drive God out of human experience. But the claims of Young Earth Creationism simply cannot be accommodated by tinkering around the edges of scientific knowledge. If these claims were actually true, it would lead to a complete and irreversible collapse of the sciences of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology, and biology…the YEC (Young Earth Creationism) is the equivalent of insisting that two plus two is really not equal to four (pp. 173-174). Thus, by any reasonable standard, Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology. Its persistence is thus one of the great puzzles and tragedies of our time…But it is not science that suffers most here. Young Earth Creationism does even more damage to faith, by demanding that belief in God requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world (page 177).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Christopher Hitchens and Jerry Falwell

Christopher Hitchens has thrown his hat in the ring as the latest author with a grudge against God. His book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, goes several steps beyond those of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins in railing against all things religious. But while Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith is very readable – and a must read for those who want to understand the perspective of unbelief – I find most anything that Hitchens says or writes to be so full of bile and vindictiveness as to be irrelevant. Even Dawkins, who can be petty and harsh when he writes or speaks about religion, seems mild by comparison.

I have clipped some of the words Hitchens wrote about the death of Jerry Falwell and pasted them below. It would be perfectly legitimate to write a column filled with well-reasoned arguments about the faults of Jerry Falwell and one’s disagreements with his beliefs and/or methods; it’s another thing entirely when a column contains nothing but personal insults and name-calling. For someone as bright as Hitchens, this is inexcusable. But this is merely his way of operating; instead of using his intellect to craft a well-reasoned argument Hitchens would rather use cheap insults as he seeks to provoke and emotional reaction rather than a thoughtful one.

In his own words, here is Hitchens –

The discovery of the carcass of Jerry Falwell on the floor of an obscure office in Virginia has almost zero significance, except perhaps for two categories of the species labeled "credulous idiot." The first such category consists of those who expected Falwell (and themselves) to be bodily raptured out of the biosphere and assumed into the heavens, leaving pilotless planes and driverless trucks and taxis to crash with their innocent victims as collateral damage. This group is so stupid and uncultured that it may perhaps be forgiven. It is so far "left behind" that almost its only pleasure is to gloat at the idea of others being abandoned in the same condition.

From his wobbly base of opportunist fund raising and degree-mill money-spinning in Lynchburg, Va., he set out to puddle his sausage-sized fingers into the intimate arrangements of people who had done no harm. Men of this type, if they cannot persuade enough foolish people to part with their savings, usually end up raving on the street and waving placards about the coming day of judgment. But Falwell, improving on the other Chaucerian frauds from Oral Roberts to Jim Bakker to Ted Haggard, not only had a TV show of his own but was also regularly invited onto mainstream ones.

It's a shame that there is no hell for Falwell to go to, and it's extraordinary that not even such a scandalous career is enough to shake our dumb addiction to the "faith-based."

If this is the voice of atheism, I am even more determined to have none of it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Is Mormonism A Christian Denomination?

A segment aired by CNN this morning (May 9, 2007) featured a discussion about the Mormon faith. The reporter continually made reference to Mormonism as a Christian denomination and to Mormons as Christians. Not wanting to be overly picky - this is actually not a picky matter theologically - but are Mormons Christian? CNN's reporter claimed that Mormons are Christians because of their belief in Jesus. What exactly does this mean?

First, it is my opinion that Mormonism is a Non-Christian religion. By saying this, I am not impugning Mormons in any way; I'm simply saying Mormonism stands separate from Christianity as its own religion, as would Buddhism, Islam, or any other religion. Mormons are simply not members of a separate Christian denomination and are not Christian. Although Mormons have a belief in Jesus, it is not the same as the classic Christian understanding of Jesus. Mormons do believe that salvation comes from Jesus, but their views of the trinity and his divinity depart from historical Christian beliefs. Islam, for example, views Jesus as a prophet but we would certainly not claim a Muslim is a Christian. Belief in Jesus alone does not make a person a Christian; there are important factors in how one views Jesus that are important. For instance, does one believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Is Jesus eternal? Does one believe in the Trinity? What does one believe about the resurrection? Mormon doctrine departs from historical Christianity in some major ways when it comes to these questions.

But if Mormons are not Christians, it is also important to point out they are not members of a cult, as is commonly claimed. A cult is often defined as what some would consider a "false religion." In that sense, many Christians would label Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, as cults. But the word cult can be applied to groups within Christianity or any religion. The word "cult" refers to specific sets of behaviors, such as abnormal secrecy and separating people from their friends and family members in order to enforce group behavior and loyalty. Mormons, neither Christian nor cult, are simply members of their own religion.