Monday, March 29, 2010


In general I haven't been much of a television watcher in recent years. I did grow up watching TV several hours a day, so I know what it's like to be deeply shaped by its messages. But in recent years I've cut down on my TV intake considerably.

But in the last two weeks or so I've watched quite a bit more. Comedies, medical dramas, crime shows, talent competitions, and of course newscasts. Just this evening I watched the news on PBS, a CBS comedy, and then the second half of House, then at 9pm they went to the beginning of 24 on Fox, a show I truly despise and am very glad they're finally canceling. But as I switched the channels to ABC, NBC, or CBS, or even one of the several independent channels, I saw vivid images of sniper bullets killing cops and EMS in an urban American setting juxtaposed a few seconds later with the theme song for Two and a Half Men, then the twinkling eyes of stars dancing to win a competition. Every one of these images was arresting and captivating and deeply unnerving.

In the course of a few seconds I saw images that evoke fear and images that evoke fantasy, but in all of them there was an escapist mentality at work that in their rapid fire visual procession short-circuits any critical thinking. If you're on the right, 24 will reinforce the meme of eternal vigilance against the enemy who is always out there and is probably in here too. Please be afraid, our sponsors require it. If you're on the left, we only need to watch the evening news to see the militia crazies and their plans to kill cops because they somehow are the front line of the NWO. Please be afraid, our sponsors require it.

If your not especially political, you can watch a crime drama, a dance show, a slapstick comedy and be lulled into a blur of flashy images and snazzy one liners or mental tongue twisters that can keep you occupied just long enough to ignore what is actually going on in the world outside, or even the world inside you, or, me. Please be anesthetized, our sponsors require it.

I turned off my TV and walked away. Can I do the same with my computer?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Smithsonian Institute on Human Evolution

Take the time necessary to walk through this very impressive site that goes into extraordinary detail of human origins, and yet in such a way that is accessible to those not familiar with the technical information. It's not coming from anything approaching a "Christian" viewpoint, yet that actually affirms to me that it has gotten a firm grip on the issue. As a Christian I want to be as intellectually honest as possible (since my God is a God of truth). I am a strong believer in "common grace" which exists amongst all people, so science can exist and flourish among those who don't share my theological convictions. Biological evolution isn't a "one off" proposition, it is a cumulative effort that has its strength in the gathered evidence over several scientific disciplines. If all truth is God's truth, then any accurate representation of reality is going to confirm God's authorship. Evolutionary biology in no way contradicts God's creative agency in bring this world about. The only issue is how we read God's two books, natural and special revelation.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Welcome to Conspiracy Theory Watch

We live in interesting times. I haven't seen as many conspiracy theories mainstreamed in the past year as I have in all the years before that I've been keeping track of politics. We have the Obama birthers, the 9/11 truthers, the death panelers, FEMA campers, or any other of the multitude of bizarre theories supposedly secretly being foisted upon by some dangerous cabal. In one sense of course what we're seeing right now is not unique. History is replete with various conspiracy theories purporting to explain the seemingly unexplainable. And it should also be said that there are actual conspiracies that are real. History has its fair share of groups who have conspired to effect the ends they desire, either through covert manipulation or through violent action. The important task before us here is to distinguish between these two types of conspiracy theories.

The main focus of this site will be to address the false conspiracy theories being mainstreamed by extremists, because this kind of conspiratorial thinking has dangerous consequences in terms of public policy. Recent European history is enough reason to be wary of Conspiracy Entrepreneurs who are able to galvanize masses of people to commit atrocities that as individuals they wouldn't have the inclination or power to ever do.

We'll be looking at the more popular conspiracy theories out there such as the ones mentioned above, but we'll also look back at some of the older ones from years ago that still inform the thinking of many fringe groups and isolated extremists.We'll also look into some of the more arcane theories that don't make the front page, but do shed light on the thinking processes of those who hold to them. By the way, even though I mentioned only political conspiracy theories above, we'll also be addressing religious/spiritual, scientific, and historical conspiracy theories. These different types of conspiracy theories do often dovetail and overlap with each other, so the distinctions will necessarily be blurry.

I'll also share some of the better material out there that analyzes conspiracy theories, some from an academic perspective, but also some popular web sites and other sources that either propound or expose various conspiracy theories. So in the days and weeks ahead I look forward to exploring the not so wonderful world of crazy conspiracy theories. Be sure to bring your Dramamine, the ride may get bumpy!

Glenn Beck as the Mad Hater

Glenn Beck as the Mad 'Hater' - Alice in Wonderland photo mas... on Twitpic

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Rise of the Evangelical Evolutionists (part 2) Some definitional issues.

In my previous post on this topic, I spoke about the dichotomy between evolutionary materialists and evangelical creationists of various stripes. In this post I'd like to go into more detail about what some of those differences are and then also offer up some alternatives that are, in recent years, bubbling up from within evangelical Christianity itself. But first, let's unpack some of the distinctions that divide most evolutionists from most evangelicals. As in every debate, there's the first problem of what any of the terms even mean. And this debate is no different. Ask any average person what "evolution" means and you're guaranteed to get as many answers as people you ask. Likewise, if you ask the average person what "evangelical" means and you're just as likely to get as many answers as the number of people you ask. And also, if you ask people what is meant by the term "creationist" you're going to get a wide variety of answers, depending of course where the person answering is "coming from" ideologically and religiously.

Now for me, why this is important is because in some sense I consider myself to be all three. I believe evolutionary biology and cosmology to be scientifically accurate, thus I'm an evolutionist. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is the unique source of salvation to a lost and dying world. I believe in all of the early church creeds, and to boot I'm also a Reformation Christian of the Calvinistic variety, so I'm about as evangelical as you can get. And as a consequence of my religious convictions I can be called, in a certain respect, a dreaded "creationist" insomuch as I believe that all that is is a result of God's creation of everything ex nihilo (out of nothing). I'll save my defense for this position for a future post. I just thought it would be appropriate to say where I'm coming from right from the get go.

In this post I'd like to get to some of the definitional issues: what do we mean when we say evolutionist, evangelical, and creationist?

Although I'm sure there are far more than three varieties of evolutionists, and I'm sure I'll be guilty at least in some degree of oversimplifying the issue, here I'd like to offer up three basic definitions of what it means to be an evolutionist.

The first is the most well know, in that it is represented by the most outspoken advocates of the new atheism, most notably Richard Dawkins the eminent evolutionary biologist who has written some of the best material out there on evolutionary biology but who has also become the most outspoken polemicist against theism and Christianity in particular. As an aside, it may well be worth noting that some atheists consider Dawkins to be a bit of a blowhard who reflects a sentiment which might more accurately be called anti-theism. Many atheists aren't nearly as angry as he seems to be and simply look to the evidence and don't see the necessity of believing in a supernatural god. As a Christian I can respect this particular form of atheism much more, since it works with the evidences before us and comes to a conclusion different than mine. Also, many times this "softer" type of atheism is as much a form of agnosticism which recognizes that our knowledge of the physical world doesn't offer up "proofs" of God. The evidence mitigates against belief in a supernatural being that creates all that is, but, at least among the agnostically oriented, they allow that we are simply too limited in our knowledge to say definitively whether there is or isn't a god. This view might be best expressed by Antony Flew, though he left the reservation a few years ago when he co-wrote "There Is A God." His earlier atheism represented an intellectual type that looked at the evidence and made its decision on that basis. Thus, when he saw evidence contrary to the atheistic framework, he had the intellectual honesty to make an adjustment to his views. But then again I'm a theist and a Christian, so I would say that.

The second view we're considering here is that of theistic evolutionists who aren't evangelical in their understanding. This is the view that has predominated among the mainline churches, synagogues, and to a much lesser extent, liberal mosques. These are the main monotheistic expressions that I know something about. I'll be the first to admit that I know very little about polytheistic understandings of evolution amongst traditional cultures, let alone views of evolution amongst those who hold to forms of pantheism. My knowledge of those faith communities is simply too sparse to be able to speak with any competence.

Among those who accept evolutionary biology, but who are also theistic in their beliefs, the mainline variety typically has accepted the modern scientific method pretty much uncritically and adjusted whatever theology they hold to in order to fit whatever view in the scientific community is popular. At one time it included such (now) nonsensical ideas as social Darwinism, phrenology, and other such momentarily popular ideas. It seems that science and religion can both be quite susceptible to moments of "narrow logic" overriding critical thinking. But I digress. Overall however, the main issue evangelicals have had with the mainline acceptance of evolution is that any supernatural or miraculous understanding of God's interaction with the world is jettisoned in order to accommodate an essentially materialist understanding. So while mainline or liberal theologies may be technically theistic, they're at best deistic in their understanding of God's engagement with the world he created and generally speaking reinterpret key passages of scripture which describe miraculous events in purely naturalistic terms. They end up offering up nothing much better than Thomas Jefferson's notoriously redacted "bible" that excised any passages that even smelled of anything miraculous. What ends up being left is nothing more than a bland form of moralism that is just as motivating as a high school civics class.

Finally, regarding evolutionary viewpoints, there is the evangelical evolutionary view, which is the view to which I subscribe. But I'll save the details of that view for my next post, since it needs the space of a separate post to do it justice. Next up I'll address the notoriously difficult task of trying to define what is an evangelical. Almost no one is agreed as to what that means, especially in the (post) modern American context
Well, this post has already gone longer than I planned. So the definitional issues regarding what it means to be an evangelical and a creationist will be dealt with in due course  So in the days (I hope!) to come expect to see some of my thoughts on what it means to be an evangelical, what it means to be a creationist, and finally what it means it means to be an evangelical evolutionist.