Monday, September 28, 2009

A Double Standard?

A friend of mine showed me his magnum opus of the moment. He's a fairly new writer, and it has the marks of the newbie. For example, there's a place where a pastor is explaining Life, the Universe, and Everything to a genuine Seeker. Ignoring the fact that it's set up as a showcase for the writer's interest in apologetics, there is a spot that seemed a little extra over the top.

I begin to see that a lot of would-be writers (and even a few who've arrived) have trouble with logical sequencing. In this case, the arguments are presented in no particular order, and sometimes a remark will contradict something said elsewhere. (In fairness, a lot of this stems from hasty editing: it's easy to assume that you can change something at one point without introducing conflicts elsewhere, but that's not the way it usually turns out.)

So the pastor jumps into an argument against Evilution (not so spelled, but that's the idea) without any warning or cogency. I pointed out that the question was properly not Creation vs. Evolution, but Design vs. Chance. The writer proceeded to equate Evilution and Chance, which is often true but not logically necessary. Yet even that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The pastor simply claims that there is no evidence whatever for evolution, that the fossil record does not substantiate it at all, and so forth, even to the cliché about a tornado converting a junkyard into an airliner. And for some reason the Seeker, though supposedly intelligent and apparently somewhat skeptical at other points, simply believes him.

Now consider: if a scientist, such as Stephen Hawking, pontificates about theoretical physics, I'll give him the benefit of any doubt: it's his field, not mine. But when Hawking wanders into theological matters and starts expounding his views, as C. S. Lewis used to say, he's no longer speaking as a professional scientist but as an amateur theologian, and in that field my credentials are at least as good as his. I am not overawed.

But if it's arrogant nonsense for a scientist with no theological background to pronounce on theological matters, why is it acceptable (to many Christians, at least) for a pastor with no discernible scientific background to pronounce on scientific matters?

This is why I seldom bother with scientific refutations of evolution: they are out of my field, and it's not appropriate for me to use them. On the other hand, the people who originate them sometimes wander into my field (language, the Bible, etc.), and their performance there is generally poor enough not to inspire any trust elsewhere. We could use a bit more caution along those lines.

The people whom we tend to cite and whose ideas we accept uncritically are Christians, but that doesn't make them right. They may be mistaken or even misled by their own biases. And since I'm not in a position to assess their claims and ideas properly, I won't use them--especially since my audience almost certainly can't assess them properly either.

And that means I'm needn't give Hawking, Dawkins, et al. equal time to avoid being a hypocrite.

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