Several days ago I got into two separate online discussions about some controversial topics (at least in the US). One was on evolution vs creationism, the other about the historicity of Jesus and the historical accuracy of the Bible.
On the former issue I’m firmly in the evolution camp. Evolution as a concept is incredibly logical and to my mind, incredibly elegant. I truly have no problem imagining that the immense diversity of life on earth today began from something as simply as, say the crystalline structures inherent in clay. With regards Jesus and the bible, I’m a firm believer in most of the core principles taught by the world’s major religions. Love thy neighbour, respect for life etc etc. I don’t however believe in the existence of any “gods”. I see no evidence for them and find no need for them, either personally or as an explanation for as yet unexplained phenomena. If I was to categorise my beliefs, then secular humanist is close enough. With regards Jesus, in the past few years I’ve moved from believing the historical Jesus existed (as a man) to now leaning towards the idea he never existed at all. There is no contemporary historical record of Jesus having existed, and those writings we do have (both biblical and otherwise) have all been dated to many many decades and even centuries after the time he supposedly lived. Furthermore, most of the stories about Jesus bare remarkable similarities to various other myths that existed earlier in the same region of the world. It seems entirely possible to me that the historical Jesus is a myth much like that of Zeus or Thor or any other supernatural being.
But back to the point of the post. In the discussion about evolution, my “opponents” provided me with lists of “evidence” that evolution was wrong and had an enormous amount of flaws, claiming for example that there is a lack of supporting “transitional fossils” or that various dating methods are highly unreliable. They also pointed me towards Ben Stein’s move Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
The problem I have isn’t with other folks disagreeing with my beliefs, or even disputing well established facts such as Evolution – it’s that they outright lie when doing it! Even in the brief trailer for Expelled I encountered numerous outright false or misleading claims. I tried watching the full movie, but simply couldn’t get more than half way through it – repelled by it’s intellectual dishonesty. I recommend reading Expelled Exposed for a demonstration of how truly dishonest it’s producers were.
Now, to be fair, the folk who were presenting these arguments to me did not originate them, and likely believed them themselves, so they weren’t lying – they were just wrong. However, someone clearly created these false lists for propoganda purposes, and I find it hard to believe that they do not know that what they are claiming is false. This wasn’t isolated issues either – it was false claim after false claim after false claim.
How am I supposed to respond to people who promote their “beliefs” to me through such blatantly dishonest means? It’s obviously not going to convince me of anything – and all it really does is destroy my respect for the people professing these beliefs.
The second debate was regarding the historicity of Jesus and the historical accuracy of the Bible. Now, with regard the first issue, I’m still open minded on the topic. I don’t know if Jesus really existed or not, I’m just leaning towards “not”. This, by the way, makes no judgement about the teachings attributed to Jesus. I wholeheartedly agree with much of what he is reported to have said! Similarly with much of the Bible. Furthermore, while I don’t think it’s what one could call “accurate”, it’s my belief that most mythical stories have their origin somewhere in a true story. I believe for example that the story of Atlantis probably had it’s origins in the destuction of Thera (now Santorini) and the devastation of the Minoan empire. The Biblical flood could have easily had it’s origins in any number of real floods. Many once believed mythical places are being found to have had some historical truth – take the discovery of Troy for example or the likelihood of hallucenogenic gases in the cave of the Oracle of Delphi.
But, again, my “opponents” tried to convince me of their position with a dishonest document – in this case a supposed “true story” by Josh McDowell called The Skeptic’s Quest. McDowell purports to outline his journey from non-believer to stauch Christian and the story is clearly designed to influence others to make the same journey. It might work for some. Me, I get turned off by dishonesty – who would want to associate with people when you know they are willing to lie to you? The absolute dealbreaker for me was this claim of McDowell’s –
Have you heard of Dr. Simon Greenleaf, who held the Royal Professorship of Law at Harvard? He was a skeptic, often mocking the Christians in his classes. One day they challenged him to take the three volumes he had written on the laws of legal evidence and apply them to the resurrection. After much persuasion he did that. In the process he became a Christian and went on to write a book about his search. Greenleaf came to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best established events in history according to the laws of legal evidence.
That seems interesting, I thought, so I went to research further. What I discovered was that Dr. Simon Greenleaf was indeed a leading mind of the legal world. Even accounting for the fact this was 150yrs ago it would still seem impressive. Greenleaf reportedly put his legal brain to work analysing the story of the resurrection of Jesus. According to McDowell he was trying to prove the resurrection false, and instead “proved” it true and became a Christian convert. I researched and discovered that the story, like any good story, does have some elements of truth to it. Greenleaf wrote a treatise called Testimony of the Evangelist where he “analysed” the four Gospels and comes to the conclusion the accounts were accurate. Now, without going into the flaws in that analysis (and in my opinion there are many), my issue is really with McDowell – again, he states about Greenleaf –
He was a skeptic, often mocking the Christians in his classes
and that his analysis converted him –
In the process he became a Christian
Unfortunately for McDowell I’m a trained research scientist, and I know how important it is to read the original sources whenever possible. So I did. It quickly became clear that McDowell had not been entirely honest. In the third paragraph, Greenleaf says (my emphasis) –
The foundation of our religion is a basis of fact
“Our” religion? I thought he was a skeptic who made fun of Christian beliefs? Well … perhaps he wrote this “after” his conversion. But no … he was writing as a lawyer, developing his argument. And what does he say as part of his lead-in (again, my emphasis) :
The proof that God has revealed himself to man by special and express communications, and that Christianity constitutes that revelation, is no part of these inquiries. This has already been shown, in the most satisfactory manner by others, who have written expressly upon this subject. Referring therefore to their writings for the arguments and proofs, the fact will here be assumed as true.
He begins his argument by stating that the existence of God is already proven, and that Christianity is that revelation! And McDowell wants us to believe this man was a skeptic who made fun of Christian beliefs!?!?!?!
This isn’t about whether the Bible is true or not, or whether Evolution is correct or whether Jesus existed or not. This is simply a matter of integrity. My integrity matters to me, and people and groups that so blatantly lie in their attempts to convert others to their beliefs simply have no attraction for me. Indeed, they repel me.
What do they expect?