Here is just one of the several emails I’ve received in the last few days from people who claim that I’m misunderstanding religion. (Surprise!) What the writers invariably mean is that “you’re misunderstanding my religion.” And that is compounded, in the case below, by the person misunderstanding my book, for he seems not to have read it. I’ve eliminated the name and location of the writer.
I just spent a couple hours looking over your latest book “Faith vs. Fact”. Your position has a couple enormous flaws.
The main flaw is that you set up a false dichotomy between science and what could be called “biblical inerrantism”. You spend a lot of time showing why the Adam and Eve story cannot be true, and put forward other arguments supporting evolution (as you did more thoroughly in your well-argued “Why Evolution is True”).
The problem with this approach is that not every Christian buys into the argument that the Bible is inerrant with every word literally true. Granted, significant numbers of Christians do, but significant numbers (myself included) do not. Even C.S. Lewis was not in the inerrant camp and did not take the Genesis creation account literally; he referred to it as “mythopoetic”, to the book of Job as an example of “wisdom literature”, and in general took the Bible for what it really is; a collection of books containing some history, some mythopoetic elements, some wisdom literature, etc.
This shows that the person really hasn’t read my book, for I deal in depth with how theologians try to turn the Genesis story into allegory to comport with the scientific fact that humanity never went through a bottleneck of only two people (or, in the case of Noah’s Ark, eight). Further, I am not trying to address the views of every Christian, but simply of many Christians who do take the Genesis story literally, or try to interpret it metaphorically. (After all, the historicity of Adam and Eve as the sole ancestors of all of us is the official position of the Catholic Church, one laid out by Pius XII in Humani Generis. Remember too that 42% of all Americans, not just Christians, are young-earth creationists. Further, as a recent poll of Americans shows (and I quote from the summary):
“The next most popular statement was that ‘Adam and Eve, the first humans according to the Bible, were real, historical people.’ Fifty-six percent of respondents affirmed this statement. But when they were pressed, only 44 percent said they were absolutely or very certain about it. A majority became a minority.”
A 44% minority is not that small! At any rate, my book goes into detail about the degree to which Americans are literalistic, and by no means claims that all of us are Biblical literalists. As I say, “Some believers are literalists about everything, but every believer is a literalist about something.”
The problem comes when believers have to choose which parts of scripture are to be taken literally, and which aren’t, for there are no guidelines for this form of cherry-picking. Also, when trying to derive a metaphorical meaning from scripture whose literalism has been rejected, theologians often run into trouble, for there are no guidelines there, either. (Really, what does the story of Job mean?) But you can read more about that in FvF; here’s I’m just showing that the writer (who, according to Google, has actually criticized Sophisticated Theology™ in other places), hasn’t grasped my message.
The letter continues:
So when you have succeeded in debunking a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account you have accurately critiqued the mistaken intellectual position of some believers but not disproven Christianity.
I’m not setting out to disprove every construal of Christianity. My goal was to show that the way many religious believers perceive and adjudicate truth about the cosmos is inimical to the way that scientists do it, even though both endeavors make claims about what’s real.
The letter continues, laying out what the writers says are the “true” doctrines of Christianity:
I would say the key doctrines Christianity rests upon are:
– The existence of the one God
– The divinity of Jesus Christ
– His resurrection from the dead
– The reality of a life after this one, in either heaven or hell
– The problem of sin and the possibility of forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ
If your reason for not believing Christianity is based on a false dichotomy between science and biblical inerrancy it is time to rethink it.
There is, of course, no evidence that any of those key doctrines are true; the writer must believe them because he was taught to believe them, or because he had a revelation that they are true. And there’s no more evidence for those key doctrines than there is for the “key doctrines” of Islam or Hinduism. Really, how can people be so certain without evidence? How would this Christian show that Christianity is right and Islam wrong?
The letter continues, but I grow weary of “unpacking” it.
A couple further comments:
1) Original Sin – personally I don’t believe in original sin (or in a literal Adam), though obviously Paul did and many Christians do. Our problem is not Adam’s sin, it is our own sins.
You quote former Pastor Mike Aus as saying without original sin the whole of Christianity falls apart but that is just one man’s opinion, and not a sound one. Most Christians, whether they believe in original sin, realize that the problem is not Adam’s sin but our own. A crucial doctrine without which Christianity falls apart would be the resurrection of Christ.
2) I was raised in a Jewish household and did not come to belief in Christianity until I was around 40 years of age. A Christian friend suggested I study the matter out and I spent several months reading Christian apologetics, listening to Christian radio, etc. I figured the outcome would be that Christianity would be something that really could not be proven so I would just continue to go along my merry (or not-so-merry) way and not bother my head about Christianity any more, but, lo and behold, after a few months I concluded it was, in fact, true.
And here’s the kicker, one with which we’re familiar: you can’t really criticize Christianity unless you’ve “immersed yourself in the faith”, the best way being to become a Christian! But of course I have “read books” by people who are Christians, so I probably know a lot more about the tenets of Christianity, and how theologians defend them, than many garden-variety Christians. But look at the evidence that convinces our reader: books about people having gone to heaven! He says that “he doesn’t know what to make of these experiences,” but then why does he even mention those books?
I think that in order to test accurately whether Christianity is true you are going to have to spend some time immersing yourself in the faith; at least reading books by people who are Christians (and I do not mean people who are trying to prove creationism or biblical inerrancy). As you are no doubt aware, there has been a spate of books recently by people who claim to have gone to heaven, and while I am suspicious of some of these (and one was recently retracted), some are pretty good accounts. Christianity rests partly on a belief that miracles happen from time to time and, while I don’t really know what to make of these peoples’ heaven experiences, all of them received (after considerable suffering) some remarkable healing miracles by doctors identified by name and medical center in the books. I would recommend:
“To Heaven and Back” – Mary C. Neal
“Falling Into Heaven” – Mickey Robinson
“Flight to Heaven” – Dale Black
“Rush of Heaven” – Ema McKinley
In the last book, the author is healed miraculously in almost the last chapter after having falling out of her wheelchair and laying on the floor crying out to Jesus for 8 1/2 hours; prior to the healing she had to sit leaning over almost parallel to the floor for several years, doped up on huge doses of morphine. Before and after pictures, names of doctors, etc. are included.
In these books, I skip all the intro biographical material and just start where the medical crisis begins.
On the subject of miracles, I recommend the recent book “Miracles” by Eric Metaxas. Start in chapter 10 where case histories of miracles begin.
There were a lot of other statements made in your book with which I disagreed (and many I agreed with; I think the biblical inerrantist position is completely wrong), but space does not permit and you are a busy man. I hope you get a chance to look at some of the books I recommended.
[NAME AND LOCATION REDACTED]
Oy, gewalt! Once again I’ve read the RONG BOOKS. Has the writer immersed himself in the writings of Plantinga or Karen Armstrong? And has he read the Sophisticated Atheist books like Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason. I could just turn the writer’s arguments back on him by saying, “I think that in order to test accurately whether Christianity is true you are going to have to spend some time immersing yourself in atheism and religious criticism; at least reading books by people who are nonbelievers.”