As a followup to my last post, I wanted to say a little more about Kurt Wise. Specifically, this quote:
“Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible. . . . It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution.”
Creationists don’t like to admit it (for political reasons), but this is frequently the case – they are caught between believing science or believing the Bible, and they choose the Bible. But, it goes beyond creationism – and to Christianity itself. I’ve seen this sort of ‘close your eyes and just believe’ theme in many different Christian contexts. For example:
“When you throw Human Logic and Reasoning out the window and just believe God, things become much, much clearer.” (Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
“Reason is the Devil’s harlot, who can do nought but slander and harm whatever God says and does.” — Martin Luther (Link)
“Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.” — Martin Luther (Link)
“Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions” — Jerry Falwell (Link)
On my desk, I have a copy of Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Faith”. On page 12 of the book, it reads:
“[Billy] Graham searched the Scriptures for answers, he prayed, he pondered. Finally, in a heavy-hearted walk in the moonlit San Bernardino Mountains, everything came to a climax. Gripping the Bible, Graham dropped to his knees and confessed he couldn’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions that Templeton and others were raising.
“I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken,” he wrote. “At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
Rising from his knees, tears in his eyes, Graham said he sensed the power of God as he hadn’t felt it for months. “Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed,” he said. “In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.”
For Graham, it was a pivotal moment. For Templeton, though, it was a bitterly disappointing turn of events. “He committed intellectual suicide by closing his mind,” Templeton declared. The emotion he felt towards his friend was pity.
This type of story is common. A Christian gets into a position where evidence and logic (what your brain tells you) conflicts with faith (what you want to believe). They choose to reject evidence and logic in favor faith, and many Christians consider that to be a positive thing; a laudable action. The problem with this is that your brain is your best source for helping you determine whether your religion is true or false. Imagine if this story were retold slightly differently:
The [young Muslim] dropped to his knees and confessed he couldn’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions that [Christians] and others were raising … ‘[Allah], I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe [the Koran] to be Your inspired Word.
I’m sure Christians would recoil in horror at that version of the story. But, what’s the difference – once you throw out logic and reason, you lose the capability to identify a religion as a false religion. This means sticking with a religion (whatever religion it happens to be), and disarming yourself of any ability to think otherwise. A long time ago, I remember reading something that a former Moonie had written. He was confronted with evidence that Rev. Sun Myung Moon (a Korean cult leader who says he is Jesus reincarnated) wasn’t actually god. He immediately began to mentally recite a mantra in his mind. He couldn’t allow himself to think about the possibility that his faith was wrong – so he shut-down his thinking. Christians, I’m sure, would recoil in horror at the idea of cultists and followers of other religions shutting down their thinking in order to maintain their false beliefs, but consider it a good thing when Christians do this.
So, I agree with Templeton in the previous story when he says, “[Graham] committed intellectual suicide by closing his mind”. I also think the “rush” Graham felt after making that decision was not God, but rather, was the feeling of elation that comes from removing himself from the tension between evidence and his belief. He has a strong emotional attachment to his religion, but also felt that evidence and logic were important. Unfortunately, they were in conflict with each other. He resolved the conflict by killing the very idea of having thoughts – a religious lobotomy designed to stop those troublesome thoughts. That lead to a wave of elation when he fully embraced the religious ideas he wanted to believe in, and dismissed those troublesome thoughts. No doubt, people of any religion or cult would feel a similar stress if their beliefs were put under pressure by evidence and logic, and a similar elation if they simply dismissed their own thoughts with a simple decision to ignore thinking.
I’m not going to lobotomize my doubts and simply embrace religion. It’s a recipe for disaster, in my opinion. Yet, I’m sure Christians would argue that my unwillingness to dismiss thoughts makes me guilty of some sort of intellectual hubris – to think that I should understand “the thoughts of God”. As Graham puts it, trying to understand was equivalent to “I was trying to be on the level with God”. In other words, they’d redefine my thoughts – the same thoughts that allow me to reject all the other religions – as some sort of moral failing or flaw. This goes back to the same problem I discussed a few posts ago – when the Religion reporter began to have doubts about the existence of God, and asked a pastor about it. The pastor’s reply was essentially that God knows what we don’t, and we shouldn’t expect to understand. Like most of religion’s mind-games, this one is flexible enough that it can be reapplied by other religions. You’re having doubts about Jim Jones and his cyanide-laced kool-aid? Who are you to question the mind of God? Who are you to think that you *should* understand it? The correct answer, of course, is: don’t shut down your brain otherwise you’ll never find your way out of the Jim Jones cult. We could make this situation even more ridiculous: what if we were raised to believe in Cluck-Cluck the Bird-God? We point out glaring errors, contradictions, and problems with the religion, and they (the believers) redefine our legitimate criticisms as intellectual hubris? As Graham says, questioning the Bird-God story is tantamount to “I was trying to be on the level with God”. Who are we to question the Great Bird-God? No doubt, we deserve hell for our sinful pride and intellectualism.
In contrast to the religious’ idea of shutting down thoughts, I recently read a quote by Chris Mooney. It states:
In other words, you might say that now more than ever before, we’re finally waking up to the fact that the practices of science themselves encode a set of values — a way of approaching the world, understanding it, and acting within it. At its core, it’s a world view that is humble about what we know and don’t know, flexible about what we do and don’t decide to do, and open about admitting past mistakes and listening to contrary opinion.
The scientific set of values is that you shouldn’t stop thinking or searching – about all things. It doesn’t involve Billy Graham’s I’m-going-to-close-my-eyes-and-just-believe. It doesn’t involve shutting down one’s thoughts and ignoring contrary opinion. Billy Graham’s beliefs, on the other hand, achieves blind unquestioning certainty about his religion by “being humble” about thoughts if and only if those thoughts conflict with his religion. The thoughts that reinforce religion – well those are entirely different, and Christians are asked to reinforce those ideas. It’s not at all difficult to find preachers and Christians being incredibly certain about this or that religious idea. In fact, it seems to be the rule, rather than the exception. Humility about one’s own thoughts and knowledge goes out the window if you’re Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Benny Hinn, or John Hagee — who frequently make bold predictions or declare someone to be an enemy of God. Similarly, humility and willingness to admit you don’t know much is rejected if you’re a Creationist.