Rick Warren denies blaming Colorado shootings on evolution

July 22, 2012 • 4:05 pm

The other day I posted one of pastor Rick Warren’s “tweets” that appeared to blame the mass murders in Aurora, Colorado, on evolution.  That’s the way everyone interpreted it, and there was no immediate denial on Warren’s part.

Now, however, Warren has explained that his “tweet” had nothing to do with that, but was related to a parent’s question about his daughter’s sexuality.  He left this comment on the website Exploring our Matrix:

TWITTER’S limit on words allows no context for statements. A lack of contxt causes misinterpretation. So when you tweet what’s on your mind, people preassume (incorrectly) that you are talking about what’s on THEIR mind. This is a clear example. My tweet was a brief response to a question to me about SEXUAL PROMISCUITY. It had NOTHING to do with the tragedy in Colorado.! I had received this email from a dad: “Pastor Rick, my daughter told me her teacher said in class “There’s nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners! Sex is a natural, inate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a manmade construct.” THAT is what I was commenting on. Unfortunately, you also incorrectly presumed the context.

Assuming Warren can document that email, I have no choice but to take him at his word, and I retract my implication that he connected the Aurora shooting to evolution or science.

The lesson, I suppose, is that we lept to conclusions too fast, perhaps conditioned by other pastors’ previous actions in blaming tragedies on evolution. To be sure, I followed Warren’s Twitter feed for two days to see if he clarified his statement, and didn’t see anything. But in light of this clarification, I feel compelled to retract my accusation.

68 thoughts on “Rick Warren denies blaming Colorado shootings on evolution

  1. Who answers a personal email via Twitter?

    This “explanation” sounds like blatant revisionism to me.

    1. Let me expand a bit: if Warren claims that his tweet provides no context as to the issue it’s addressing, the how the heck was his email correspondent supposed to know it was directed at them? This is especially true since email is an asynchronous medium, where the relevant message could have been sent hours or even days before this “answer”.

      Jerry, you are being profoundly generous in accepting Warren’s account at face value.

    2. Concur.

      It is quite easy to provide context. A prior tweet (no need for quotes, Jerry!) saying, “A father emailed me to say that his daughter’s teacher had said in class, ‘There’s nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners!’” (130 characters)

      In any case, he deserved to be called out for that tweet, even if in another context.


  2. I agree with #2 above that it sounds fishy (and such thoughts from Rick Warren would be very much in line with things he has said in the past). That said, I also understand that we simply cannot know his mind or his intentions, so I feel your retraction is appropriate.

  3. Hmmm…is that the normal way he deals with requests for advice? I assume that was what the email was.

  4. Even taking his clarification at face value, the tweet was still an idiotic thing to say and betrays a profound ignorance of evolution and the diversity of animal behavior (not to mention science education).

    1. Yep, my thought too. This just changes his tweet from “idiotic and insenstive” to “idiotic.”

      Warren’s repeating the old ‘if we tell them they’re animals, they’ll act like it’ argument. Of course humans ARE animals, and his church teaches his flock that all humans are sinful. So he’s basically (i) setting his parishoners up for the exact same is/ought fallacy he’s accusing others of propagating, but (ii) without the empirical support for his claim they have for their claim.

  5. I don’t buy it. Besides, if you’re posting in a venue that doesn’t afford you the luxury of context, isn’t if usual to address your reply to a specific person? @Stevie-Wilkins, etc.? I think Rick is just trying to avoid fall-out.

  6. Warren has long been demonstrated a liar. I’m just grateful that he didn’t tweet a picture of his penis.

  7. It took him two days to come up with that story.

    Regardless of whether he meant to reference the Aurora shootings, his comment was bogus.

  8. His tweet said “when children are taught they are no different from the animals..” so, regardless of context, someone should explain to Rick that evolution is CHANGE in gene frequency OVER TIME which is the opposite of saying that we are NO DIFFERENT from the animals. Though we evolved, we changed in comparison to our ancestors, and are thus different from other animals. When teachers explain the evidence for evolution they are not saying “we are no different from the animals.” No need to apologize. His tweet made no sense in any context.

    1. Your post doesn’t make sense. He says “if you teach that we’re animals”, you then equate that to “if we teach evolution”, and then you attack him for thinking that the two are the same, when YOU are the one who equated them?

      1. Maybe it is somewhat analogous to “racial profiling” – or profiling in general – but if many of the religious objections to the theory of evolution right from the time of Darwin through the Scopes “Monkey Trial” to the more recent Dover one (“inexcusable to have a book that says man descended from apes with nothing to counterbalance it”) have been predicated on the argument that humans are more than animals, then I would say that Warren’s “When students are taught they are no different from animals” is tantamount to him saying “when students are taught evolution …”. Particularly given Warren’s religious allegiances.

      2. For the record, just what is the Reverend Warren’s position on evolution?

        Does he acknowledge that evolution applies no less to humans than to any other organism on Earth?

        How old does he say the Earth is, and what is the basis for his answer?

  9. It’s an even dumber thing to blame. At least with evolution, it fits with a well-formed pattern of creationist condemnations on evolution… What does an instinctual basis to promiscuity have to do with mass murder?

  10. However, assuming then that his reply to a young lady about having several sex partners meant that we are acting like animals because of it is quite condescending on its own.
    Number one yes we are all animals. And what is wrong with that? And number two he is using being an animal as a put down to this womans preferred sexual taste.

  11. I don’t buy it either. For reasons already mentioned above in some form or another:

    1. If someone asks you a personal question about promiscuity in an email, you don’t answer with a volatile tweet that completely fails to address the topic of promiscuity. It makes no sense whatsoever.

    2. Even IF the emailer was waiting for a response by ‘tweet’, a remark about people behaving like animals because they were taught they were animals, would not be recognized as the awaited response, since

    a) people who have promiscuous sexual contacts are (for that reason) usually not regarded as ‘behaving like animals’, and
    b) not all animals are promiscuous.

    Furthermore: He NOW is claiming that teaching evolution causes promiscuity. (Rather than violence).
    I’m fairly sure there have been a case or two of promiscuity before 1859 as well. (Same for senseless violence, of course).

    Conclusion: his excuse doesn’t add up. It’s weak and transparent and I’m almost certain that he’s lying.

    1. “I’m fairly sure there have been a case or two of promiscuity before 1859…”

      Right-wing religious nuts everywhere are crying “what is this world coming to?!”, implying that Aurora and incidents like it are a result of increasing liberalism, intellectualism and/or secularism.

      That correlation just can’t be demonstrated as it is, but making them even more wrong is the fact that the world isn’t coming to anything. People have been having wild sex, doing drugs and killing each other ever since, oh, there were people.

    2. “I’m fairly sure there have been a case or two of promiscuity before 1859 as well.”

      I thought that was the best explanation of Jesus’s “virgin birth”?

  12. “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.”

    So, WHERE are STUDENTS taught this, would the Rev. Warren say?

    “TWITTER’S limit on words allows no context for statements.”

    Therefore, TWITTER is not an appropriate forum for comments requiring statements of context. Readers have no idea what the context is.

    “A lack of contxt (sic) causes misinterpretation. So when you tweet what’s on your mind, people preassume (incorrectly) that you are talking about what’s on THEIR mind.”

    How were readers possibly to know what was on Rev. Warren’s mind?

    This is a clear example. My tweet was a brief response to a question to me about SEXUAL PROMISCUITY. It had NOTHING to do with the tragedy in Colorado.!

    Again, in any event, other readers would absolutely have no idea with exactly what it had to do.

    “I had received this email from a dad: ‘Pastor Rick, my daughter told me her teacher said in class “There’s nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners! Sex is a natural, inate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a manmade construct.’ ”

    (Would the Rev. Warren say that the sex drive is due to Original Sin? [That’s what I was told in the So. Baptist church of my youth.] Would he say that, had “Adam and Eve” not succumbed to the serpent’s (why wasn’t it a bunny rabbit instead?) blandishments, we would not have a sex drive? What, then, would prompt us to indulge ourselves? A rational analysis of human population statistics?)

    “THAT is what I was commenting on. Unfortunately, you also incorrectly presumed the context (sic)”

    True enough, except that readers were put in the position of HAVING to presume/assume. In any event, does the Rev. Warren deny that humans are animals?

  13. It’s always a “beautiful thing” to see someone “man-up” and apologize for a particular statement or action – would that it was more frequent.

    However, in this case I think it might be a little premature or not really called for. Seems to me his statement is entirely predicated on a rejection of evolution and its teaching in the schools, along with the elevation of humans to a unique status as the confidants if not proteges of God, him, her or it self.

    All of which might reasonably be said to be a quite probable and significant contributing factor to the tragedy described, along with far too many of a similar nature.

  14. “TWITTER’S limit on words allows no context for statements.”

    “When students are taught they are no different than animals, they act like it.”

    That’s 78 characters. I don’t use Twitter (or for that matter, TWITTER, which I assume is the more exciting alternative) but it looks to me like he had room for context. However, the use of “students” rather than “people” does lend credence to his story. But leaving out any sort of context, especially with the tragedy being THE story, in addition to the delayed explanation, does make me more than a bit suspicious. (Wild speculation: Perhaps he planned this, so he could make a deliberately ambiguous statement, reap the benefits of the anti-evolution remark over the two days, and then evade opprobrium with this story.)

    1. I’m using EVEN NEWER technology that only allows *two* characters, so “FU,” Rick Warren!

      By that I mean he should have “FUN,” but… didn’t have room for that extra character. So Warren shouldn’t take this the wrong way.

  15. So a teacher in a public school biology class tells the tenth graders that sexual promiscuity is normal (if you believe this, I will make you a hell of a deal on a bridge …)and the kid’s father complains to Rick, and Rick fires off that lame-o response? No. Rick would instantly see lots of attention in store for Rick, and dollar signs, many many dollar signs. And the first thing he would do is tell ol’ dad to line up the congregation at the church he attends and get ready for some action, cause Rick is headed to town to take that teacher, and that principal, and that school, and that Darwin crap, d-o-w-n.

    1. Sorry, I don’t see that connection between a teacher telling a student that sexual promiscuity was normal and Darwin. I think my father would have complained about the former and both the school and the local education authority would have taken the complaint seriously, but had he complained about the latter then he would have been considered bonkers.

  16. Whoever started this: It was too easy to check that Tweet and the one before it to glean its actual meaning. Skeptics and atheists discredit themselves when they display too much zeal in spinning things in a self-serving manner.

    When I first saw PZ comment on this tweet (“When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.”), I immediately thought that it wasn’t necessarily about evolution and might simply had been about young people who were raised improperly (in Warren’s eyes) by their parents. You know, abused or neglected kids.

    As it turns out it was about his views on sexual mores. I think sex with multiple partners is wonderful as long as you’re not betraying anybody in the process. Consenting, responsible, adults and all that. I don’t agree with him but I agree much less with quote mining.

      1. Put your reading glasses on, adolescent. I said

        “WHOWEVER STARTED THIS: It was too easy to check THAT TWEET AND THE ONE BEFORE IT to glean its actual meaning.”

        Somebody originated this spin. Whoever it was could have easily checked the context by examining the prior post(s) in that thread.

        1. Warren’s excuse says he was responding to an email, not a tweet, and the amount of information he gives about what he was responding to wouldn’t fit in a tweet, so he didn’t accidentally type “email” instead of “tweet”.

          1. Quite.

            Warren appears to have deleted his tweet, so it’s now hard to check if there was a prior tweet that provided context. But he didn’t claim that that was the case anyway.


  17. Whatever the context, the logic is screwy. Neither random violence nor indiscriminate sex could invalidate evolution. This sort of nonsense is typical of Rick Warren’s thinking.

    He once said something like, “I’d never vote for an atheist, because he doesn’t think he needs God.” It’s hard to make sense of that. I can imagine parents who can’t afford Christmas presents for their children, who definitely need Santa Claus, but I can’t imagine them concluding that Santa must therefore exist.

    The guy’s a motivational speaker, and perhaps thinks that the distinction between belief and reality is largely an illusion.

  18. Since the Bible has plenty of promiscuity (multiple wives, sex with concubines and slaves) that is condoned by the Lawd, I don’t see why Pastor Rick needs to defame animals.

  19. Jerry, you still have him by the short and curlies if that was his advice to a parent about her sexuality. Abstinence only promoted by the Church DOES NOT work! Most animal species behave far better than some humans, so he is still wrong…

  20. I’m not sure. It’s appropriate that Jerry should give the guy the benefit of the doubt. But I wonder if this is another example of the real world impinging on the fairy tale world of one of these religious leaders. Recently, the blog mentioned a minister who advocated beating up a son who was turning to homosexuality. He backtracked pretty quickly when he discovered that the world out there didn’t share his views and those of his congregation.

  21. He’s taken the notpology to a new level. It’s the old “I’m sorry that people took it the wrong way” without the “I’m sorry” part. He’s a professional speaker and if you don’t understand him, it’s your fault because you’re an amateur listener.

    He should at least apologize for the timing of the context-less tweet. He should retract the statement because it is stupid in any context.

    I’m also skeptical about the contents of the email. I wonder what the biology teacher really said that got twisted by sexually-repressed minds who would seek advice from a preacher.

  22. Given the correct context, it’s still a silly statement, methinks, especially because most animals have a better standard of behavior than many humans one encounters.

  23. I agree that it’s best to withdraw the accusation, but Warren’s explanation seems fishy to me as well.

  24. What’s the big deal? Jerry affirms in all he writes that humans are the outcome of evolution, and further that since materialism does not allow free will, all human actions are a result of evolutionary determinacy, so individually they are without responsibility. Evolution caused the massacre without a doubt. Looked like Rick Warren finally got it, too bad he backed off.

          1. There was only ever one.

            phoenix |ˈfiːnɪks|
            (in classical mythology) a unique bird that lived for five or six centuries in the Arabian desert, after this time burning itself on a funeral pyre and rising from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle.
            • a person or thing regarded as uniquely remarkable in some respect.


              1. OTOH the word came into English rom Old French fenix, so why should it take a Latin plural?

                Should you ever have need of the plural, Filippo, the regular English “phoenixes” is just fine.


    1. Humans are an outcome of evolution. Specific human actions are not, although they are the result of deterministic processes. Evolution is a broad level of explanation that applies to broad generalizations at the species level and above. So, for example, evolution is responsible for the human drives toward aggression, dominance, need for social approval and generally for our big complicated brains that are susceptible to a lot of weird glitches. Any of those things might have played some role in the shooting, but this specific tragedy was caused by the specifics surrounding the shooter, including whatever went wrong in his head, the availability of guns, etc.

      What is unlikely, is that ‘teaching kids they are no different than animals’, i.e. teaching people about evolution, played any significant role in this event.

    2. What you apparently don’t understand is the distinction between evolution and the *teaching* of evolution. Evolution caused humans to have violent tendencies. *Teaching* evolution does not cause violent tendencies.

  25. Rick Warren still needs to clarify what he meant. Is his story now that learning about evolution causes students to act like (he thinks) animals act only applies to sex but not to violence?

    If not, he can’t blame others for thinking that is what he meant when he merely let it slip Freudally.

  26. As a non-US citizen this is all getting a bit tedious. I had never heard of Rick what’s-his-name until a couple of months ago. What the hell does it matter what some American ignoramus does or does not tweet?

  27. Has anybody noticed that many of these shootings happen in states where there is a high percentage of fundamentalists?

  28. It’s false that there was “no context”. Everything has a context. This tweet’s context was that it was made immediately after a mass shooting.

    Also, his clarification makes it even worse. Now he’s saying that if we tell children that promiscuity isn’t immoral, that they’ll kill people?

    1. “Everything has a context. This tweet’s context was that it was made immediately after a mass shooting.”

      That’s a reasonable statement. However, one still has to make an assumption about the Reverend’s unstated intention and motivation for making the statement.

      If he attaches importance to clarity of communication, he can post follow-up tweets as necessary to get around the alleged 140-character constraint he claimed as an excuse.

  29. So, why not be promiscuous- be a Bonobo- sex -fiend? What does science say about the consequences of such? I’m a utilitarian-consequentialist.
    Note how ant-consequentialists resort to the consequences in relation to consequentialism?
    By the way, theists try to take away the real causes and explanations -natural causes- with an obscurantism that is supposedly the Ultimate Explanation and the Sufficient Reason, but in reality is only the Supreme Mystery,surrounded by still other mysteries,so that God is then an empty term- a pseudo-answer for a pseudo-question, based on the arguments from personal incredulity and from ignorance, which underlie other theistic arguments!
    So, all the religious hatred and wars and anti-science were for just an obscurantism-that square circle!
    Why, Robert Price’s ” The Reason-Driven Life” and Albert Ellis’ ” The Myth of Self-Esteem” can aid one to have that more abundant life that that ever-dead jerk cult leader never could deliver! I constantly use the term that more abundant life to mock Yeshua-addicts!
    As Fr. Griggs, I rest in my Socratic ignorance and humble ignorance.
    Warren is a proud,unrepentant ignoramus! Faith doth that to people!
    Oh, folks, let’s use Edward Feser as our foil for obscurantism!

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