Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A reasonable critique of an unreasonable critique of the unreasonable

I forthrightly reject reason, I guess.

I should backtrack.

See, there exists a peculiar breed of popular Christian, one who fails to garner influence in broader secular pursuits, and also fails to gain traction in theological circles, but manages to garner acclaim as a sort of human Venn diagram, fusing faith and culture. Some, like Billy Baldwin, endear themselves to the former by criticizing the latter. They are reviled, which is fine.

Others take to the culture to criticize the faith. Rob Bell is the perfect example. A mediocre creative writer, and a nominal Christian thinker, he rose to prominence writing a trifling book questioning the notion of eternal torment. He will now have the opportunity to produce (about six episodes of) a spiritual comic drama in conjunction with the producer of Lost.


Karl Giberson, a former Physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College, which lists among its prominent alumni, um, Karl Giberson, has carved out a nice little niche on opinion pages nationwide, taking Christians to task for their anti-intellectualism. We are anti-intellectual, you see, because many of us don't agree with him on the issues of evolution and global warming.

Evolution and global warming, of course, are the only extant expressions of human reason. The collective fields of history, philosophy, theology and science, to say nothing of drama and art, have yielded no basis for intellectual inquiry, much as they have tried. We once managed to harness the power of penicilin, but that knowledge was lost to the ages.

Of course, the secular media hues to the theory of evolution and the (highly-political) narrative on global warming, and Giberson has rode the grey duck wave to prominence. For example, there's this. Highlights:

"THE Republican presidential field has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann deny that climate change is real and caused by humans. "

But Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, and is the one being showcased.

"The two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., happen to be Mormons, a faith regarded with mistrust by many Christians. "

This is incoherent. Mitt Romney is the front runner, meaning he has the most support, and does seem to agree with the anthropogenic global warming narrative. However, many Christians mistrust Mormonism. What do those two facts have to do with each other? Are Christians alone in not trusting Mormonism? Is that evidence of being anti-intellectual?

Shouldn't a self-described intellectual be able to craft a succinct opening paragraph? Isn't the ability to frame an argument part and parcel of the expression of human reason?

" The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. "

Which again, the evidence for this phenomenon is three candidates for office who doubt the existence of anthropogenic global warming and the fact evangelicals join the vast majority of the free world in mistrusting the tenets of Joseph Smith.

"Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary."

Nothing says humility like taking to the pages of the New York Times to label millions of faithful Christians as anti-intellectual reactionaries. Also, how does literalism stand in opposition to science?

"(evangelicals) have been scarred by the elimination of prayer in schools; the removal of nativity scenes from public places; the increasing legitimacy of abortion and homosexuality; the persistence of pornography and drug abuse; and acceptance of other religions and of atheism.

Is there any evidence evangelicals have been scarred by these phenomena? Certainly the "persistence" (editor: from one intellectual to another, the word you are looking for is "prevalence") of pornography and drug abuse is concerning. I'd like some evidence for the scarring part, though. Granted, Giberson is no scient... Oh, wait. Yeah, I'd like some evidence.

"Evangelicals who disagree, like Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, are excoriated on the group’s Web Site. "

Whereas Giberson takes to the New York Times to do his excoriating.

"Though his education consists of a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University and his scholarly blunders have drawn criticism from evangelical historians like John Fea, "

Giberson got his B.A. from, um, Eastern Nazarene College, which is pretty much Oral Roberts' backup school. And his area of expertise is Physics. People in glass houses, Karl.

"A defender of spanking children and of traditional roles for the sexes, he has accused the American Psychological Association, which in 2000 disavowed reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality, of caving in to gay pressure. "

Whereas intellectuals like Giberson are part of the movement to ban spanking, on the absurd basis there is no difference between spanking your child and beating them. You know, because the failure to distinguish on order of magnitude is reasonable.

"They pepper their presentations with so many Bible verses that their messages appear to be straight out of Scripture; to many, they seem like prophets, anointed by God. "

To whom are men like Dobson regarded as prophets anointed by God? Where is the evidence for this position? What is intellectual about this smear. I meet Giberson's (facile) definition of an anti-intellectual, but I have had plenty negative to say about James Dobson.

By the way, go to Biologos, the organization founded by Giberson, and try to make an argument that is even remotely critical of the man. For someone so decidedly unserious, this dude has some serious adherents.

"Scholars like Dr. Collins and Mr. Noll, and publications like Books & Culture, Sojourners and The Christian Century, offer an alternative to the self-anointed leaders. They recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage. "

Setting aside the idea that Sojourners is a beacon of intellectualism, that last bit is bizarre. The bible repeatedly condemns homosexuality. Insofar as condemning homosexual behavior implicitly condemns the practice of gay marriage, such that there really should be any need to elucidate the connection, this seems intentionally obtuse.

"But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians."

Yeah, this work was a veritable profile in courage. I'm sure it will be subject to scrutiny by those who would otherwise support Giberson, and so he will lose stature as a result of confronting his fear. Hmmm... It appears it has been linked to and universally lauded across the Internet. Never mind.

There are, indeed, Christian intellectuals across the ideological and theological spectrums. Tim Keller (Bucknell) is one. Greg Boyd (Yale) is another. Kurt Wise (University of Chicago) is another, and happens to believe some of those aforementioned dangerous ideas. They are intelligent men who address the full force of their opponents arguments, rather than taking to the opinion pages to excoriate them.

Karl Giberson (Eastern Nazarene College... Is that even accredited?) is a gadfly, a faux intellect who leverages the mere fact of his paradoxical ideas to garner acclaim for himself. Contemporary culture adores gadflies. History forgets them.

There's a reason for that.


Blogger brgulker said...

A couple random comments.

I find it interesting that very, very few scientists who study the various fields that intersect with evolution deny it. The percentage of those who do is so small, it's laughable.

The people who do deny evolution and advocate for creationism and/or ID are mostly anti-intellectual. The few who are credible intellectuals are from fields mostly unrelated to biological evolution.

In other words, the overwhelming majority of scientists who study evolution as part of their profession come to the conclusion that it has actually occurred.

With respect to the bible and homosexuality, I used to share your position on that. I'm not really sure where I stand on the issue right now. But I've spent the past several years actually engaging in exegesis.

Here's a blog I found a few weeks ago that's doing some really interesting work in Romans 1-2:

I don't think the passages that appear to be obviously against homosexuality are actually as clear as we think they are.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

On evolution, the whole of the intellect is not encompassed by scientific discovery. The ability to thoughtfully engage multi-faceted ideas is the true measure of the intellect. Giberson fails this test, and has no business calling out Christians in this regard.

On the post, Paul could have been referring to that particular culture, but he chose to point out the unnatural sexual relations. Insofar as the post compels us not to single out homosexuals as especially sinful, I fully agree, but that's as far as this exegesis gets you.

Either way, saying the bible has little to say about gay marriage is like saying it has little to say about punching your wife.

5:47 PM  

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