I could just as easily have called this "How to be Reasonable for Eleven Chapters so People will Hopefully Believe that Nonsense in the Pseduo-Science Chapter," but that seemed a bit long for a title. I'm reviewing this for Mike Morrell's Speakeasy, by the way.
Confessions of a Bible Thumper is a new ebook by Michael Camp, a former self-described "missionary, pro-life activist, and lay leader." He is not to be confused with Steve Camp, the man responsible for so many bad songs in the CCM world. I had literally never heard of the guy, but I am endlessly fascinated with spiritual narratives, as I've found most all of them, including my own, are redacted in layers over many years, and I try to understand the motivation to tell a story in such a way as to account for the present moment in terms of how anyone views the world and its relationship to god(s).
The book is unremarkable in many ways. I think his discussion of human sexuality, especially gay rights issues, is worth reading. I think the biographical portions could have been left out entirely. I found them tedious. The profanity is always appreciated, but it seems only to serve to show how "outside the box" this writer is vis-a-vis "traditional Christianity." Yes, I'm using tons of scare quotes because so many words and phrases in this book aren't defined. He also has a bad habit of setting conversations in a bar which allows him to nerd out about his favorite microbrews, a complete waste of time for an undertaking like this, and indicates the book needed more editing. Other than to earn some sort of beer culture cred, I have no idea why the references are in there. We get it; you like beer, microbrews especially. The other problem with the bar conversations is it all felt so New Kind of Christian Dan meets Neo, as if Camp took the idea from McLaren and has been drinking enough high end beer in a Portland dive to be able to tell just this story that never really seems to accomplish much.
I know; I'm being a little harsh, but there is absolutely nothing here that hasn't been said better elsewhere. If your claim to fame is that you used to be super conservative and now you're not, I find that unremarkable. Congratulations. We'll put this title in amidst all the other titles wherein someone has an epiphany and switches from Religion X to Religion Y or to No Religion. Personal narratives about metaphysics are sort of built on the idea that the writers somehow have experience or credibility based on a prior way of being in the world: I once was lost but now I'm found, or I once was found but now I'm happily lost. Both are pointless in one respect: if I don't know you well, trust your judgment, or give a shit about you, your story is not compelling. This is largely a function of the fundangelical idea that testimonies ought to be told so that someone might hear and believe, or disbelieve, or disbelieve certain things in the case of this book.
Camp does a good job of covering issues, and his tone is reasonable and full of conviction. He clearly cares about these issues, and he wants us to care. There's the rub. Who is us? Who is the audience here? Does he believe a current Bible Thumper will read and be moved? That current Bible Thumper will get to the first use of "fuck" (page 34) and close the book. Do we post Bible Thumpers need to read this, and if so, why? What good will come of me reading about someone else's abandonment of fundamentalism. Preaching to the choir would be an appropriate analogy here. Seriously, he has good chapters on hermeneutics, politics, and sex, but you're better off to read explications from Paul Achtemeier, Inspiration and Authority: Nature and Function of Christian Scripture, Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition (New Forum Books) and Mark Driscoll, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. Just kidding about that last one! That guy is a freak. Anyway, I don't know good theist sex books. Probably you should just practice having sex and maybe even ask your partnter what works and stop writing books about how God wants you to have sex.
Excursus: I'm pretty sure your GodConcept's rules can be enumerated very briefly: No kids. No animals. She cums first (and last if you're any good). Be respectful. Communicate. Have fun. Be safe. Turn off the television, unless the Thunder are playing, and then go reverse cowgirl or doggy so she can't see you watching, unless she likes the NBA also, and then you two work it out.
Finally, he does the one thing I wish he hadn't done. In the penultimate chapter Intelligent Debate, he tries to cash in on the reasonable tone he's used all along to sell us Intelligent Design. First, he's not a scientist. Christians who aren't scientists or even science savvy should not weigh in on this. You're just functioning from a place of confusion. If you really want some help, here's another book for you: Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul. Second, he uses an incredibly dubious source. And third, he has no idea what he's talking about. This chapter makes an unremarkable book remarkable for all the wrong reasons. Rather than break it down for you, I asked someone who actually knows what the hell he's talking about to review the chapter. I should have just done this in two parts, but I'm stubborn, and I realize, all of you won't be interested in the ID debate.
Leighton, known to many regular readers around here as a remarkably brilliant, patient, and reasonable atheist, happily sent me a thorough critique of the chapter. Perhaps Mr. Camp will find it useful. This is a review that Leighton recommends on Camp's dubious source. Everything from here on is Leighton, including right up front, his assessment of Camp's dubious source.
*Berlinski is a self-confessed crackpot who has not actually published
any original research in mathematics, and his histories of mathematics
have material inaccuracies both in the history and the mathematics. In
short, he fits right in with the Discovery Institute. I find him more
entertaining than enraging, though, and I agree with him about the
dry, pedagogically useless style of mathematics papers (not that he is
the first person ever to make that observation). More of substance to
come once I've read the chapter.
* It's deeply convenient that he doesn't name any names when
attributing ridiculous quotes to the scientists he supposedly
encountered in college. "'Biological evolution explains the origin of
life on earth without the need to appeal to a miraculous creator,' my
Botany teacher confidently asserted." (262) Well, no, evolution and
abiogenesis are two distinct things. It's true that abiogenesis would
explain the origins of life without the need of a creator, pushing the
mystery back to cosmology - how did the planets form, and whence came
the laws of physics? But claiming that evolution and creationism are
the only "suspects" (261) is the usual tactic for propagandists who
like to hand-pick quotes from Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens and
Dennett where they sound dickish, and juxtapose those with ID quotes
where the science-deniers come off as simple, honest folk wrestling
with difficult questions, head in hands, with no ulterior motives. "We
may not have all the answers - we probably don't - but isn't that
better than pretending to know everything and being angry all the
time? Come ask some simple, honest questions with us." Tone is more
important than substance in propaganda.
* "Intellectual honesty has the moral high ground, whatever one
believes about life's origins." (263) Well...it's hard to argue with
this, but note how he doesn't define honesty, so much as imply that it
entails "go[ing] where the evidence leads," as distinguished from
"axe-grind[ing]." Who gets to pick what evidence matters? Are we
talking the evidence of nature that the overwhelming majority of
evolutionary biologists use? Or are we talking the hand-picked and
largely fabricated rubbish that apologists build their edifices in?
"Gee, maybe there could be something to that" is a shitty way to
approach arguments you've already spent a lot of time studying, which
makes it a bad idea to use tone as a heuristic for evaluating the
opinions of experts. Is a political commentator intellectually
dishonest because she assumes a priori that a politician seeking
re-election is lying about his intentions, or is this the result of
decades of careful observation of the political process? Substance is
more important than tone in works that aim to discover things.
* His recitation of apologist quote-mining in 269-272 is extremely
suspicious. The Gould and Eldridge quotes he cites are very common to
find out of context like this, cf.
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/part3.html And Lynn
Margulis was arguing for the autopoietic Gaia hypothesis (the entire
earth is a single organism), for fuck's sake. If he were doing his own
research (instead of quoting apologists), he would have used her as an
example of the diversity of views in biology. You could twist that
much easier into an argument for the lack of consensus among
evolution-studiers. Instead, he cites her credentials and her zinger
quote about Darwinian evolution, because he's so invested in using
evolution and creationism as thesis and antithesis so he can later
spontaneously discover ID as the synthesis. Oh, and she didn't "later"
formulate a theory to answer those questions, as he claims. That line
came AS she was arguing for her hypothesis. This is a really subtle
thing: he's using her as an example of someone who stood up to say,
"This doesn't work, period!" before later coming up with something
that does. Well, he's doing that too! Evolution doesn't work,
creationism doesn't work. This sets up the stage for him later to
independently decide that the Discovery Institute's answers work.
* "Mutations are generally destructive." (276) False. Mutations are
generally neutral, as they usually do not occur within a region of DNA
that actually codes for a protein.
* Berlinski's argument is flashy but irrelevant. Genes are
ridiculously flexible. In a nutshell: Nobody has used the metaphor of
DNA as a blueprint for 75 years (this is partly, though not
exclusively, why no scientist ever took Michael Crichton seriously).
Genes aren't specifications for a product, so much as a set of
contingent instructions. Every part of development is contingent on
having a certain kind of environment, whether in utero, or having eggs
a certain temperature, things like this. Changes in the environment
with zero changes in genetics lead to wildly different things
happening in development - this is why we don't like pregnant women
smoking crack. Not all the environmental changes lead to detrimental
effects, though; a lot are strongly adaptive. Carl Zimmer's "Endless
Forms Most Beautiful" is a good, slightly dense treatment of this. In
short, having ~100,000 minor morphological changes between forms does
not in any way imply that we would need ~100,000 transitional
generations; that's utter nonsense. But it's also the best way to
baffle scientists: ask them a question that shouldn't even occur to
someone who even faintly understands the material they claim expertise
about. There is not a sufficient description in the book for me to
decipher what specific claim Berlinski was making (which is exactly
the point when the objective is to insinuate rather than claim
outright that all these angry scientists are dishonest), but Talk
Origin's fossil record responses are CC200 and following, and may shed
some light on how actual paleontologists view the fossil record:
* "I was fascinated with David Berlinski more than any of the other
debaters because he seemed the most objective of all. He was neither
religiously nor academically motivated. ... He took nothing for
granted and questioned everything. It appeared that he just wanted to
go where the evidence led. The quintessential skeptic. He must be a
distant cousin of mine." (278) Note the similarity here between this
and how Lee Strobel described William Lane Craig in "The Case for
Christ"? Camp got conned (people who think they're skeptical of
everyone and everything are usually the softest targets), and like
Strobel, he is happy to perpetuate the con because it flatters his ego
to think that he too can be a brilliant investigator simply by being a
bit obnoxious toward people who annoy him and making a few clever
word-plays. Watch a few Berlinski videos on Youtube if you want to see
this effect first-hand - seriously, take some time to check him out.
He's a brilliant showman from whom every public speaker should learn,
particularly with respect to insinuation. (Not everyone can get
audiences to repeat their talking points verbatim while also believing
that they only arrived at those opinions after their own grueling
inquiry.) But he's not a biologist. And from Camp, now we finally know
what "go[ing] where the evidence lead[s]" means. Hint: the evidence in
question isn't found in nature.
* Note that when he's contrasting Berlinski's lucid brilliance with
Dawkins' blinkered crow-cawing on 279, he doesn't actually quote
Dawkins. This is a common approach of both con artists and con
victims; they tend to authoritatively dismiss competing views with
insinuations and vague, unspecific impressions that can't possibly be
* On 282, he uncritically cites Ben Stein's "Expelled" film, without
mentioning that this was the same film that compared evolutionary
biologists to Nazis setting up death camps.
I'd have to read the rest of the book (which I won't) and probably
meet him in person to decide whether he is an ID propagandist
sophisticated enough to conceal his ideology in a couple layers of
smokescreen, or just one of the least skeptical people in the world.
(Which is typical of people who go out of their way to volunteer,
repeatedly, how skeptical they are.)
First the good news. This is not about science, not directly anway. About all I know of the Higgs Boson is that it's a tiny tiny tiny particle--smaller than the dust mote in Horton Hears a Who I'm told--that physicists believe has something to do with how we and all things around us have mass. If that's not right, Leigton will let me know. Some shortsighted nitwit decided to call it the God Particle a few years back, and now that scientists finally have evidence of it, facebook and twitter have lit up with Christians who simply don't understand how language works--nor have they ever heard of the god of the gaps, it seems.
Stephanie Drury, whom you should totally follow on twitter @stuffcclikes, has done a great job of tracking some of these. Really, you can do it yourself if you need a chuckle or an embolism. Just search #godparticle and prepare to be embarrassed by your fellow Christians or amused by your former tribe. I think the best word for me is exasperated. Why? Because I knew what someone would eventually say. Knew it. Predicted it in conversation. Could see it in the future like that old black lady in The Stand. It's Colossians 1:17. The verse occurs in a hymn of sorts by the Pauline author of the letter to church at Colossae. Here's the verse: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
The reference is to Jesus, and the author is talking about his supremacy over all things. Christians are horrified (or disdainful) by the discovery of the Higgs Boson, although physicists have known for many years that it had to be there. The unfortunate "God Particle" name has led to consternation on the part of Christians, and even non-Christians like me. As much fun as it is to say "God Particle" and watch the forehead veins begin to throb, I'm intentionally not using the term in conversation with anyone. It's not helpful. However, Christian friends, quoting verses from the Bible to show the Higgs Boson's job is already taken by Jesus is not a great idea either. Here's a favorite from Hebrews 1:3, another hymn to Jesus: "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power."
The god of the gaps is the god who does whatever jobs are left once we discover the natural causes and structures in the universe. These days, god's primary tasks, apart from sporting events, seem to be creation, Second Coming, loving unborn babies, improperly communicating his plan for my life, and wanting me to be happy and live forever with him in heaven. It's a thankless fuckin' job for the most part and certainly without flash.( No one really believes that Tebow plays well because the Holy Spirit moves his legs the right way, do they?) The best analogy I can come up with on the fly is how emasculated Zeus must have felt when we figured out that lightning bolts weren't in his quiver.
The Higgs Boson will help us understand another layer of what used to be a mystery. That's good for science, and certainly good for humanity. Had no one ever called this the God Particle, Christians would not be so upset right now. Imagine if we'd called atoms Jesus Particles. Yeah, you get it, right? So, do your favorite physicist a favor and stop calling it the God Particle. Science loves you. Amen.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 499, a law that will go into effect on January 1, 2012, that gives girls as young as 12 access to the HPV vaccine (Gardasil) without parental consent. The bill also provides for them to receive the hepatitis B vaccine and any other future vaccines for STIs. There is plenty of room here for discussion about parental rights and government authority. Parents groups are rightly worried about a government arrogant and paternalistic enough to abrogate parental rights under the guise of protecting young women. However, the question is about whether or not public health outweighs parental rights in this situation. It's a topic that ought to be open to vigorous debate, and both sides have good points.
Enter Christian author and rising star of the "Bronze Age Sexual Ethics for Modern Women" speaking circuit Teresa Tomeo. Tomeo, a Catholic and former "secular media" journalist (yes, secular media...sigh), has risen to prominence recently because of her new book: Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture.
The subtitle should tell you most of what you need to know, but this isn't about her book. It's about the press release her managment company sent out this week. Hilariously named The Maximus Group—presumably because the owner has a hard-on for Gladiator or John Eldredge or both—this is the company that handled advertising for the sappy, crappy film Courageous. And I apologize for calling schlocky propaganda a film. Ominously titled New California Law Frightens Bestselling Author Teresa Tomeo, the press release included some choice quotes from our Catholic ethicist.
Bestselling author Teresa Tomeo finds it disquieting, to say the least. "It is frightening that some in our society continue to push parents out of the picture when it comes to major decisions involving their sons' and daughters' health and welfare," said Tomeo, author of the new book EXTREME MAKEOVER: WOMEN TRANSFORMED BY CHRIST NOT CONFORMED TO THE CULTURE.
First, please note the Gospel of Marketing 1:1. Never miss an opportunity to sell your shit. We are told that Ms. Tomeo is feeling disquieted because of the nebulous "some," but we're also told she has a new book. Awesome! So, is this a public service announcement or an ad? That's just quibbling, though. This gets really funny.
"Children can't sign up for athletics — or be given as much as an aspirin in school — without Mom's or Dad's approval; but now, 12-year-olds in California can get the HPV vaccine without parental consent?!
First, that semicolon is all wrong and the dashes don't belong. Did Gladiator guy hire an English major to edit this shit? Might give it some consideration, or, er...pray over it? And what's with the double punctuation?! Really? Anyway. I suspect part of the reason children can't sign up for athletics or get an aspirin at school has something to do with liability issues for the schools. Also, this has nothing to do with health providers giving vaccines, but let's not let that stop the histrionics. Ready?
"We don't pass out filtered cigarettes or light beer to our youth," Tomeo added. "Why would we give them more reason to engage in unsafe behavior?"
Um, do we pass out full-calorie beer? Was she going for the "I'm a hip, drinking Catholic" with the beer reference? And what of unfiltered cigarettes? Those bizarre semantics aside, this is just faulty thinking. Cigarettes cause cancer; Gardasil prevents it. The analogy is simply false and inflammatory, oh, and stupid. Tomeo is yet another voice warning girls that sex is unsafe, just like cigarettes and beer. It remains true that Christian spokespersons who are so based on celebrity rather than intelligence or expertise seemingly have nothing new or interesting to contribute to any public debate.
This may be the most interesting presidential campaign ever for Republicans, not just because they have a wingnut or two, but because the faith race appears to be a dead heat right now, with only Ron Paul (not really a Republican) and Jon Huntsman (a nominal Mormon—if such a thing exists) sounding somewhat sane about which metaphysical metanarrative they prefer. Expect to see entirely too much written about Dominionism, but be aware that most of what's written will be overly simple, inflammatory, misrepresented, or just plain wrong. There will be plenty of guilt by association fallacies as we saw with Obama and Jeremiah Wright, particularly where the name Francis Schaeffer is concerned. Already God has told three candidates to run, a "fact" that doesn't trouble me since it's conceivable within the logic and grammar of evangelicalism that God could ask a candidate to run knowing full well the candidate will lose.
Bill Keller of the NYT has put together a questionnaire for candidates, and promises the NYT will run the answers if received. Pretty sure the answers are not going to be proffered, but if they are, I'm equally sure they will not be politically damaging enough to matter. I'm going to answer the questions first as concisely as possible. Over the next few posts, we'll work through them, plus the individualized questions Keller wrote for particular candidates.
1. Is it fair to question presidential candidates about details of their faith?
Unequivocally, yes. Faith may be personal, but its implications aren't, especially when running for important offices.
2. Is it fair to question candidates about controversial remarks made by their pastors, mentors, close associates or thinkers whose books they recommend?
Yes, with the understanding that people who sit in pews will often disagree vehemently with their pastors, priests, imams, rabbis, etc., yet remain in the community for friendship, support, and a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with concordant theological positions. For the books they recommend, I'd simply like to ask which parts they agreed with and which parts they disagreed with and why. Just because someone recommends Mein Kampf doesn't mean she intends it as a philosophical inspiration.
3. (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in practice?
No. It means nothing in practice because it means nothing in reality. There is no such thing as a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation. If they believe this, they should probably be treated with wary contempt.
4. If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?
Constitution wins. Period. It happens every day with gay marriage. It ought to be legal, Leviticus and Saint Paul be damned.
5. (a) Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? (b) What about an atheist?
No. No. Nor a Christian, Jew, Wiccan, or Buddhist so long as number 4 is clearly understood.
6. Are Mormons Christians, in your view? Should the fact that Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons influence how we think of them as candidates?
No. They are not within the historically orthodox community of Christians. Get over it. If I call myself a Mormon and worship Mary and Shiva, am I still a Mormon? This self-identification thing is getting out of hand. The Church has not historically referred to itself as Christian. Rather, they are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As to part 2 of the question, no, it shouldn't so long as they understand number 4.
7. What do you think of the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?
I think it's widely misunderstood and not nearly as important as the press and liberal opponents of certain candidates want it to seem. Dominionism is a broad term that can describe Christians from various traditions, all but about 100 of whom have no intention of "ruling the world." The movement and the corresponding silliness with the "7 Mountains" talk have never had a large influence on evangelicalism. Its proponents are rightly referred to as fundamentalists, and their numbers are far smaller than people realize. The final clause of the question reveals one of the primary misunderstandings of the overall movement. I was involved with the movement myself for a period of time in the 1990s and read only one book and met exactly zero people who understood Dominionism the way you describe it here.
8. (a) What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? (b) Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?
It's the most accurate and comprehensive explanatory model in biology and other critical science fields. It should be taught in public schools. Period. Creationism or ID should not. Period.
9. Do you believe it is proper for teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools?
Fellow wine lover and former student Trevor sent along this well-written article from a newspaper in Maine, of all places. I do love seeing journalism related to religion wherein the writer actually gets it. Trevor asked for my thoughts, and since this is such a current topic in my home state, I thought I'd oblige.
Evolution is as close to an established fact of biology as one gets in science. The chorus of Biblical literalists notwithstanding, evolution is clearly accepted by the overwhelming majority of biologists as simply true. The article points out that important people of faith, including JPII and C.S. Lewis, were fine with the idea of evolution existing as fact alongside the existence of God the Creator. And why should it pose a problem? The article does a good job of asking the questions that arise when the progressive development of humans is laid alongside the doctrine of complete and special creation of humans (i.e., that God created us in our current state) possessing the imago dei. I heard several of these points argued years ago by none other than the Apostle of Arrogance, the Cleric of Certainty, the Pope of Pomposity, the Lord of Literalism, etc., Hank Hanegraaff.
Hanegraaff was taking a call about the issue from a caller who wanted to know why it was such a big deal. The reason. If evolution is true, Jesus doesn't have to die on the cross. Wait? What the...? Of course, there is much more to it, but evolution's truth ultimately undermines the authority of Scripture, according to the Bible Answer Man. No, not making that up. It's consistent with what literalists sort of must believe, once they allow a Bronze Age text to be the arbiter and lens of which facts are actually allowable facts.
Here's the progression in reverse. We're saved because Jesus died on the cross for us and we accepted His salvific sacrifice for our sins. He had to die because we were all hopelessly trapped in original sin and unable to save ourselves. We were trapped in original sin because Adam and Eve "fell" and passed the sin gene along to all of us. Adam and Eve could only fall if they were innocent to begin with. They could not have been innocent to begin with if they were not created in a fully human, innocent state. Ergo, evolution is not true because the Bible is. Like swallowing a pine cone whole, i'n't it?
Even with a literalist Biblical argument the position can be shown to be absurd. Innocence could have been a state of the final stage of the awakening of consciousness and humanity that evolution delivered. I mean, once you're making shit up, why not go all out? One need not resort to a literalist argument, though. It's simply easier and Biblically consistent to dispense with the goofy doctrine of original sin. Oh, I know. David talks about being conceived in sin, and Paul has some oblique references, but if Augustine didn't flatten and fuck up metaphors better than any theologian save Calvin, this would never have achieved the level of doctrine. The Eastern Church has happily ignored it. Didn't hurt their theology overmuch. Salvation is still part of Eastern Orthodoxy even without original sin. Crazy idea.
Equally disturbing is the idea that the text as interpreted by a particular hermeneutical school should dictate what is true and false in fields upon which it doesn't speak. "No, you may not manufacture microprocessors. The Bible clearly indicates that they will eventually be used to create chips that are imbedded in our skin so that the Beast of Revelation can control commerce!" How about people believe their text in terms of their soteriologies, and leave science, math, history, and archeology to actual practitioners of those fields. This is not to say that people of faith can't be in those fields, only that the field sets the rules of the game, not a sacred text. I know. Another crazy idea.
Recently, I heard the greatest howler of all time related to this topic. An Oklahoman I can't name told me, "Christians who believe in evolution don't understand what the Bible says. The Bible says God has a plan for each of us as individuals, not that we're a product of chance." Wow! Now evolution isn't true because something that's in the Bible that isn't actually in the Bible means it can't be true. Exegetical gordian knot, meet evangelistic clusterfuck. Once we allow that interpretations of sacred texts dictate what is true in science, we might just as well allow erroneous interpretations of sacred texts to dictate as well. After all, he simply substituted a doctrine from the Book of Individualism for a doctrine from the Bible, and as we've come to know in American Christianity, the former nearly always trumps the latter in the context of praxis.