Review of Dan Dewitt’s “Christ or Chaos”

christ or chaosThis would be a good summer read for any high school graduate getting ready to head off to college in the fall or for anyone else who wishes to read a very accessible defense of Christian truth.  It is a good presuppositional approach to apologetics aimed at the level of late-high school/early college-aged folks.  This little book (133 pages) is actually a good antidote to the weakest part of Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” because it gives a serious challenge to Darwinian evolution where Keller simply tries to show how evolution and Christianity aren’t incompatible.  Dewitt’s two main challenges to evolution go something like this:

1- It is posited by secular scientists et al that religion was an evolutionary necessity that helped humanity make sense of the world and therefore more equipped to survive.  However, religion is now like a vestigial organ, no longer of any use to humanity and on its way to elimination from the human scene.  But Dewitt responds by pointing out that, if this is the case, then evolution is the author of practical survival skills but also the author of deceit.  Though our genes drove us to religion and equipped us to survive, they deceived us and failed to lead us to what is true about reality.

2- It is also theorized by evolutionary psychology that we are an unrealistically optimistic species and that we are this way because evolution has hardwired our brains this way.  Dewitt quotes Tali Sharot from her TIME magazine article “The Optimism Bias”, “We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures… But both neuroscience and social science suggest that we are more optimistic than realistic.”  In simple terms, hope is irrational.  Again, Dewitt points out that if this is true, namely that evolution is the author of this practical survival mechanism in our brains, then it is also true that evolution has deceived and is deceiving us.

Dewitt rightly points out negatively that if evolution cannot be trusted to point us to an accurate view of reality about religion and even our own thoughts, then why should it be trusted to give us an accurate view in so many other areas?  Or as he puts it, “…how can we break free from the illusion?” (pg. 114)  But Dewitt also uses the data of the human impulse toward both religion and optimism to drive us to ask a positive, observational question: could we be hard-wired with this religious impulse and optimism because we are all yearning to return to Eden?  We have this ache because we know this world is broken, that we are all participants in its brokenness, and that we are incapable of putting the pieces back together by ourselves.  Yet somehow we feel that there is a place where all that is broken will be made whole and all that is sad will become untrue.  And if there is such a place, and if we can’t get there on our own, then maybe there is Someone to do what we can’t, Someone to get us where we can’t go.

Unevolved Thinking on Darwin Day

Much virtual ink was spilled recently in celebration of what has been dubbed “Darwin Day,” the annual February 12th celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday.  Of those articles fighting for the survival of the fittest on the interwebs was a piece published by Huffington Post titled “Darwin Day Revelation: Evolution, Not Religion, Is the Source of Morality“.  While the article reads easily and proved to be quite provocative (hence the current response), the reasoning within it proved to be as fallacious as it was badly misinformed.  But this appears to be standard fare when those within the Darwinian camp attempt to cross professional lines and try and connect biology (evolution) to ethics (morality).  Though I could simply allow readers to click on the article and read it without commentary,  let us take a few things in hand from the article itself to demonstrate the hypothesis.

First of all, Mr. Naff, the article’s creator, opens with a typical look-how-stupid-creationists-are quote lifted from a website with such confidence-bolstering categories as “Conspiracy Facts” and “Forbidden History” and a front page article purporting to have the “latest cutting edge research on UFOs, Remote Viewing, Stargates, Genetic Engineering and Alien DNA.”  After besmirching any respectability creationists might have had in the readers’ minds, he runs off a beautiful litany of scientific information in the areas of paleontology and genetics.  Having established “the fact” of evolution and the idiocy of creationism, he plunges forward to the point of his article, namely that evolution is the best explanation for a universal morality for the human species.  But by this point the fight is already over for most readers.  After all, who wants to be aligned with a bunch of evolutionarily regressive creationists when you can post cool phylogenic models with the ‘in’ crowd?

Secondly, the article betrays a pretty crayon-simple misunderstanding of how religion in general (but Christianity in particular) considers the morality of humanity in general.  For instance, Mr. Naff says, “If religion were the vehicle that delivers morality, then atheists, the disaffiliated, and those who have never heard of God’s laws should show comparatively inferior moral behavior. They don’t.”  But this has never really been the position of, at the very least, Christianity.  As a matter of fact, the Christian understanding of humanity, namely that all humans are created in God’s image, is the very basis for why there seems to be some common, moral currency between humans across the full spectrum of religion and philosophy.  If God has indeed impressed His character onto each person, engraving on our humanity some fundamental moral principles, then we would expect to see reflections of that moral character in every person.  It’s what C.S. Lewis labeled “the Tao” in his book The Abolition of Man.  The problem (from a Christian standpoint) is that our rebellion against God and His ways, namely the suppression of the truth written on our hearts, causes major differences in what individuals deem moral/immoral.  So no, Mr. Naff, the Christian would say that atheists and other non-Christians can and do perform positive, moral actions, sometimes even moreso than some Christians.  But this is not new information.  It has been the position of Christianity for hundreds of years.  The problem in this realm is actually that even our moral actions need redeeming (see chapters 10 and 11 of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God for more on this idea), but that goes beyond the scope of this post.

Next, the hinge pin  and weakest point of the article appears to be that evolution – and more specifically cooperation – has granted us a morality more… uhh… humane than the typical characterization that Darwinian doctrine of survival of the fittest grants us.  After a brief review of some examples of a rudimentary moral instinct in the animal kingdom (e.g. dolphins, elephants, monkeys, and voles), Mr. Naff encourages his readers to consider how the four chambers of our heart is an example of cooperation pointing to evolutionary morality.  But this is a very strange (and fallacious!) thing to do.  After all, our hearts are not independent organisms, and his point is to prove how cooperation between independent organisms points to an evolutionary origin for morality.  However, the fact that the action of our heart’s four chambers are coordinated (not the same thing as cooperation) is as much evidence of evolutionary morality as a heart attack is an instance of immorality.  But even if we reject this heart-cooperation example and simply focus on the rudimentary ‘moral’ instincts found in the animal kingdom, it is fallacious to argue that just because something is observed in nature , therefore it ought to be so.  This poor reasoning (sometimes called the “naturalistic fallacy”) is even eschewed within the stridently evolutionary camp.  Steven Pinker, for instance, a Harvard professor and staunch proponent of evolutionary psychology said, “Today, biologists denounce the naturalistic fallacy because they want to describe the natural world honestly, without people deriving morals about how we ought to behave (as in: If birds and beasts engage in adultery, infanticide, cannibalism, it must be OK).”

In the end, Mr. Naff’s article has to assume certain moral universals  such as cooperation, empathy, and disgust, and then be very selective in the evidence it puts forward as suggesting an evolutionary root to those universals.  Unfortunately, he leaves major, crucial questions unanswered like, “Why should cooperation, empathy, and disgust be deemed good?”  “Cooperation with whom?”  “Empathy towards whom?”  “Disgust over what?”  As a counterpoint, the picture at the top of this post depicts a troop of chimps coordinating an attack on an alpha male, not because he was a “bad actor” among them as Mr. Naff has suggested, but because they wanted the food and the chimpanzistas  that were his.  Why is this activity not included in our canon of human moral universals?  Whose to say that Nietzsche wasn’t right in his work The Antichrist: “What is good? — Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man. What is evil? — Whatever springs from weakness.”  Nevertheless, convinced proponents of Darwinian doctrines are always trying to force this world into their mold.  Daniel Dennett attempted this in the mid 1990’s with his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and he proved to be largely unconvincing even to committed Darwinists.  And Mr. Naff  has resuscitated that attempt only to have it expire yet again, falling prey to those of us unevolved enough to still be willing to question the reigning Darwinian establishment.

Newsweek? I know you di’int!

It really is no surprise.  As a matter of fact, I kind of expect to get the short end of the stick from you.  Your motivation to produce journalistic pieces that attempt to hack away at  the credibility of Christians and Christianity is fairly 2014_12_26_Cover_600 x 800strong.  After all, doing that sells.  But come on, Newsweek!  I expect for you to take a few shots at us, but to do so with such a severe lack of journalistic integrity and without any semblance of academic credibility?  Really?!  You really thought publishing “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” was a good move?  And you can’t blame this on just the article’s author.  Some editorial head ought to roll for not stopping this one.  And did you not catch the almost smacks-you-dead-in-the-face obviousness of the irony of the way its author ended his article?  After spending the whole article throwing literary stones and firing off morally indignant diatribes at evangelicals and Bible-believers, did you really want to end with, “Don’t judge”?!  Wow.  Well, Newsweek, if you are interested in where your author left the rails, you ought to read Dr. Michael Kruger’s “A Christmas Present from the Mainstream Media: Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1)“.  Dr. Kruger has a few academic feathers in his cap to lend him some credibility.  But if your article on the Bible is any indicator of who you are, you are obviously not interested in either… academics or credibility, that is.

Open Letter to Josh McDowell

Dear Dr. McDowell,

The occasion for this letter is my attendance at your recent talk at a pastors’ luncheon at a local Christian school in my area.  As I begin my letter I want to say how grateful I am for the energetic ministry in the service of the Lord Jesus you have maintained for so many years.  The Spirit has made your efforts consequential in many lives, bringing many to faith and buttressing the faith of many others.  I want to personally thank you for your book More Than a Carpenter as it was an effective apologetic foothold for me during a time in my life where my faith was under attack.

However, in service to the church and the schools where you have spoken and will speak in the future, I want to interact critically with some of your methods.  It is my hope that you are open to criticisms from fellow believers since your ministry seeks to engage people on an intellectual level.  Yet from the outset it is good for me to say that my main task is not to dispute the data and statistics per se.  Rather what follows will be a critical interaction with your methods/tactics and some seeming inconsistencies between the data you presented and one of the main points of your talk.

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