on the virtues of doubt

question markI was invited by my friend Jason Boyett to write a piece on doubt for his blog, O Me of Little Faith. I wrote an essay entitled, “On the Virtue of Doubt: A Brief Autobiography of the Skeptic in the Sanctuary,” in which I discuss the influence that doubt, skepticism, and science have had in my life and career. I recount portions of my personal story moving from my Christian upbringing in central California to life as a scholar embracing science, evolution, and the critical method, and rejecting literalistic interpretations of the Bible. I describe my struggles with issues of faith and what I’ve learned from it all.

Please give it a read.

a one man ventriloquist: glenn beck’s misrepresentation of the dead sea scrolls

Glenn Beckyou have got to be absolutely kidding me.

joel mentioned it. jim brought it to my attention. and now i must vomit.

just when you thought glenn beck couldn’t get any stupider, this one-man intellectual gulf oil spill has spewed forth yet another gusher of sheer misinformation madness. my first inclination was to blow off mr. beck with a response in the form of a quote from the adam sandler cult classic, billy madison:

Mr. Madison Beck, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

however, because glenn beck chose to tread on the treacherous triumvirate of biblical studies, archaeology, and religion that is the dead sea scrolls, i feel compelled, nay, obligated in my role as a member of an apparent scholarly squad of biblical ‘discovery’ debunkers to respond.

first, let me assure you that i have no political or anti-conservative bent. i am a political moderate, with an appreciation of pundits on both sides. there are smart liberals and there are smart conservatives; glenn beck is neither. mr. beck is not as cunning as bill o’reilly, not as witty as keith olbermann, not as smart as rush limbaugh, and not as hot (intellectually) as rachel maddow. glenn beck lacks the political acumen of george will, the savvy of paul begala, the objective demeanor of juan williams, the strategic humor of james carville, the ingenuity of thomas friedman, the inquisitive journalistic tenacity of steve inskeep, the experience of david gergen, the brains of jeff greenfield, and the influence of matt drudge. rather, our friend mr. beck, apparently suffering from diarrhea of the mouth, is little more than an annoying sideshow – an overly dramatic, undereducated, sub-populist, train wreck, that makes the otherwise media-wise rupert murdoch look like a fool for signing him.

so what has mr. beck said that has so roused my intellectual ire? beck recently touched a nerve – a nerve i’ve sworn to defend – by pontificating upon the dead sea scrolls. beck, who apparently feels that his single theology class at yale before dropping out qualifies him to expound on the scrolls, recently made comments so utterly and fantastically false, that i dropped what i was doing and began to write this response.

in his amateurish attempt to imitate and channel the dilettantish ways of jim barfield, simcha jacobovichi, ron wyatt, noah’s ark ministries international, and vendyl jones, beck invoked the dead sea scrolls in a nonsensical rant that began with comparing children to empty clay pots and ended with the recitation of portions of the declaration of independence.

A Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrollslisten as beck speaks concerning things about which he knows nothing (beginning at the 0:36 second mark) and read along:

Beck: You know the… Dead Sea Scrolls. You know what they are? Stu, do you know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are? …

Stu: Well, of course I do.

Beck: No, come on. Most people don’t. I’m not…

Stu: I heard of them. I don’t really know.

Beck: You don’t really know, do you. You have no why they were there.

Stu: Nu uh.

Beck: Sarah, average person doesn’t know. Any idea? Take a guess on what, why the Dead Sea Scrolls are there, anything else.

Sarah: Something religious.

Beck: OK good. Even though I’ve explained this on this program a couple of times, I’m glad to see that, I’m glad to see that even the people that work with me everyday don’t even listen.

Stu: Well, there’s, we were actually talking about American Idol last night. The guy won! It was unbelievable.

Beck: All right. So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided he was going to uh… cobble together an army, um, he did the uh… Council of uh… Nicaea, right, Pat?

Pat: Yea.

Beck: Council of Nicaea. Um… and what they did is brought all of the religious figures, uhh, together, all the Christians and then they said, “Ok, let’s uh, put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it.” So they brought all their religious scripture together, and that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and… off with their head!” Well, that’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. The Dead Sea Scrolls are those scriptures that people had at the time that they said, “They are destroying all of this truth.” Whether it’s truth or not is, is up to the individual, but that… at that time those people thought that this was something that needed to be preserved and so they rolled up the scrolls and they put ’em in clay pots and they, they put ’em in the back of caves where no one could find them. They were hidden scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicaea and Constantine. That’s what those things are.

this is absolutely, fundamentally, unequivocally false! allow me to make two key points:

  • the dead sea scrolls were written between approximately 200 bce and 70 ce. the council of nicaea met in 325 ce. not even close.
  • there is nothing whatsoever christian about the dead sea scrolls. no portion of the new testament is represented in the scrolls.

i don’t know where to begin. arguing that the dead sea scrolls were hidden to hide them from the council of nicaea is like arguing that we won the war of independence over the british because of our advanced computer technology; the timing is off a couple of hundred years. perhaps glenn beck is confusing the dead sea scrolls with the nag hammadi library, a cache of early christian gnostic texts written in coptic dating to the third and fourth centuries ce and discovered in the upper egypt town of nag hammadi in 1945. but of course, facts are secondary in the mind of glenn beck. what really matters to the likes of beck is massaging and distorting these facts until they fit whatever preconceived argument he’s already formulated in his mind.

in this regard, the comments glenn beck made about the dead sea scrolls closely resemble the deteriorated state in which the dead sea scrolls were discovered: they came forth from the mouth of a dark, seemingly bottomless cave, covered in bat guano, and smelling like bullshit, which is exactly what glenn beck has offered up in his latest attempt to portray himself as a biblical historian. the difference, of course, between the dead sea scrolls and glenn beck is that the dead sea scrolls at least tried to keep their thoughts and ideas hidden away to themselves.

in attempting to discuss religion and the dead sea scrolls, glenn beck has achieved something astonishing. he is a one-man ventriloquist: his lips are moving, but he’s actually talking out of his ass.

10 ways christians tend to fail at being christian: a response

Huffington Postthere’s a great post by john shore on 10 ways christians tend to fail at being christian on huffington post. i shall list them below with my responses:

  1. too much money
    agreed. xnty has become a means by which to have commercial success. it was never intended to do that.
  2. too confident god thinks we’re all that and a leather-bound gift bible
    agreed. when xnty became ‘tolerated’ by rome, it fundamentally changed xnty. by the time xnty became the state religion, its members felt entitled and not persecuted. today, the ‘persecution’ some xns say they face in the us is actually the rightful questioning of their entitlement.
  3. too quick to believe that we know what god really means by what he says in the bible
    agreed. it seems that people can warp the bible into supporting just about anything these days. xns need a better hermeneutic, a better understanding of context, and an improved sense of the difference between literalism and biblical themes.
  4. too action-oriented
    disagree. xns are not action oriented enough. one of the main problems of xnty today is that they believe that if they hold the correct doctrine or worship properly and enough, they are good xns. xns should actually do what the bible has asked them to do – love others, cup of cold water, service, etc.
  5. too invasive of others generally
    sort of agree. xns are called to minister to the lives of others. if there is no interaction, then xnty is irrelevant. i agree if by this he means xns shouldn’t be as evangelical/pushy as they are. again, xns should focus more on service and less on making more xns like themselves.
  6. too invasive of others personally
    see above.
  7. too quick to abandon logic
    agreed. in an effort to defend the text and maintain an unnecessary claim of textual infallibility and inerrancy, xns are far too quick to even entertain abandon the laws of physics, exit the realm of science, and enter into the realm of the miraculous. if god is who he says he is, he can handle a few tough questions.
  8. too fixated on homosexuality
    agreed. see here.
  9. too insular
    agreed. xns should be out there serving and less sectarian. jesus hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. today’s xns put up gated communities to keep these out.
  10. too uneducated about christianity
    amen and amen. this is why i do what i do. if xns knew, really knew, what the bible said, how to read it properly, its context, and its purpose from a genuine academic perspective, we wouldn’t have ‘xns’ protesting gay funerals and healing people on tv for money. xns should seek a critical education of the biblical text and not retreat to a sectarian education of a school pushing a particular doctrine.

update on bruce waltke’s departure from reformed theological seminary

Bruce Waltkethe society of biblical literature’s website has posted a letter from dr. bruce waltke explaining his departure from reformed theological seminary in oviedo, fl. scott jaschik of inside higher ed ran a story last week that i blogged here.

in the letter, waltke apologizes to rts president robert (ric) c. cannada, jr. for ‘unwittingly involving’ them in a discussion about the issue of evolution and creation in genesis 1-3. why dr. waltke would want to exclude a seminary from a discussion about genesis 1-3 is beyond me, but i’m sure he has his reasons.

dr. waltke goes on to say in the letter that it was, in fact, he who resigned from rts, but did not elaborate on the circumstances, although waltke did acknowledge that he has received letters from many condemning rts president cannada for his action. dr. waltke goes on to state that he finds, ‘no fault with the rts administration; in fact, i think they did the right thing.’ (i discuss in a comment on my former post how many confessional schools get around having to ‘fire’ professors who don’t say what the school wants by not offering tenure to full-time faculty.)

dr. waltke then goes on to rattle off a list of things he would have edited about the video of his lecture on issues of evolution and creation that was posted on the biologos foundation’s website. these include:

  • altering the title to say why the church should accept creation by process of evolution (instead of must)

ok, fine.

  • deleting his title as a professor at rts since he was ‘speaking as an individual’

‘speaking as an individual’ makes no difference. each and every thing one says ‘as a professor’ is also said ‘as an individual.’ likewise, each thing a scholar says ‘as an individual’ reflects upon his or her university. i recall paul’s attempt at delineating between what he says and what the lord commands in 1 corinthians 7. methinks it’s safe to say that the early church always saw paul as a spokesperson for the lord, and included that which paul said ‘as an individual’ as authoritative as well.

and, may i ask, would ‘speaking as an individual’ have made a difference? would the rts administration have said, ‘he said the church should accept evolution??  oh, but he said it as an individual and not as an rts professor, despite the fact he works for us?  oh, ok then, that’s ok.’ i think not.

  • clarifying that he defines evolution as ‘theistic’ evolution as opposed to ‘naturalistic’ evolution.

i again must ask, is there a difference? if evolution is occurring (which it is) and we can’t prove or disprove the existence of god (which we can’t), what’s the difference? evolution is evolution. natural selection is natural selection. gravity is gravity. they all exist and take place whether one believes in them or not, whether one believes in god or not, and whether one believes god is responsible for them or not. what is at issue is the acceptance or denial of a six-day creation (literal or otherwise). i am guessing that many confessional institutions that place on their website a confession including language stating that the bible is “verbally inspired by almighty god and therefore without error” is not going to accept any explanation of creation as a process of evolution whatsoever, whether it be theistic, naturalistic, or otherwise.

  • surrounding himself with earlier advocates of theistic evolution

granted, this may have helped soften the impact. however, is that what dr. waltke wanted? to soften the impact of his message? i am not sure that waltke’s surrounding himself with ‘a cloud of theistic evolutionary witnesses’ would have appeased rts.

in all, i can understand dr. waltke’s desire to spare rts any further embarrassment. from what i am told, dr. waltke is a kind and congenial man. i certainly understand the notion of walking away and not burning bridges, despite the fact one has fundamental disagreements with what is being taught at a religious school. it is appropriate at times simply to walk away and speak kindly of one’s former school in a professional manner, even if it means not stating how one really feels.

that said, part of me wishes dr. waltke wouldn’t have let rts off the hook so easily. again, there may be underlying factors (financial or otherwise) that caused both parties to part ways amicably and speak favorably of one another. but once again we are left with yet another example of  an evangelical seminary teaching fundamentalist interpretations of the bible, where, when a faculty member dares speak against the confession (despite the fact that all evidence says that he is correct), said faculty member ends up conveniently ‘resigning.’ rts comes off once again as the bully winner, where those who dare speak against what they’ve preordained to be the truth will be (as they say in my hometown) ‘disappeared.’

still, it is my hope that dr. waltke finds another job at a place (perhaps knox?) with far less dogmatic views, where critical scholarship is valued and promoted, and where dr. waltke can continue his career. hiring dr. waltke will be a benefit for any school that wants to demonstrate its relevance to the modern world.

religion profesor bruce waltke dismissed from evangelical seminary for accepting evolution

Dr. Bruce K. Waltke

Dr. Bruce K. Waltke was dismissed from Reformed Theological Seminary for not adhering to biblical creation as the origin of humanity.

this is sad.

scott jaschik of inside higher ed ran a story today about harvard trained religion profesor, bruce k. waltke, who was recentely dismissed form his position at reformed theological seminary in oviedo, fl. interestingly, it was a video of dr. waltke posted on the biologos foundation‘s website that prompted his dismissal. and what heinous crime was dr. waltke filmed committing? a sex scandal? public drunkenness? a financial scandal? no. the video showed waltke doing what he does best: lecturing. to be precise, dr. waltke was lecturing about creation and evolution. specifically, waltke not only endorsed evolution, but said that evangelical christianity could be facing a crisis if it does not come to accept science, and specifically evolution, as a viable explanation for the existence of humanity. but apparently, certain school officials didn’t like what the highly respected professor was saying. and amazingly, the school’s officials, who were apparently policing the content of another organization’s website, decided that what waltke said was worthy of dismissal. (thus, it is not only students that must beware of university policing of facebook photos in an effort to discipline students for underage drinking, but apparently senior faculty must now also be cautious of expressing academic opinions that are not congruent with a school’s religious standards committee. i shake my head.)

of course, dr. waltke is absolutely correct. we evolved. the earth was not created in six days 6000 years ago. in fact, the bible’s redactors couldn’t even decide which of the two creation stories (gen 1-2:3 and gen 2:4b-25) to include, so it canonized both stories. this is freshman level biblical studies material. but because waltke teaches at a ‘confessional’ school, his academic opinions are subject to censure by the very white and very male school administrators, who may or may not have advanced degrees in science or biblical studies. (unlike the rest of the practical theology faculty, chancellor and ceo dr. robert “ric” c. cannada, jr. does not list his academic pedigree or a link to his c.v.)

in fact, the school is so tied to its understanding of the biblical text as ‘inerrant’ that it places a full confessional statement on its website, including this nugget:

All Scripture is self-attesting and, being truth, requires the human mind wholeheartedly to subject itself in all its activities to the authority of Scripture complete as the Word of God, standing written in the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible, all therein being verbally inspired by Almighty God and therefore without error.

the university has defended the dismissal with a very weak response. according to inside higher ed:

Michael Milton, president of the seminary’s Charlotte campus and interim president of its Orlando campus, where Waltke taught, confirmed that the scholar had lost his job over the video…

Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

so essentially, you can interpret the creation stories in genesis any way you’d like, as long as it involves god creating and doesn’t involve science or evolution. i am reminded of henry ford’s famous claim regarding his model t cars: ‘any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.’ essentially, at reformed theological seminary you can interpret creation any way you’d like, so long as it’s creation.

the article continues:

But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn’t arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

Asked if this limits academic freedom, Milton said: “We are a confessional seminary. I’m a professor myself, but I do not have a freedom that would go past the boundaries of the confession.

perhaps the most disgusting (or at least stomach turning) part of the article came in the school’s attempt at conciliation:

Given Waltke’s role and reputation, Milton said that his resignation wasn’t accepted on the spot. But after prayer on the question, Milton said, officials accepted the resignation.

you see, we didn’t really want to fire him, but after we prayed about it, we felt it best. essentially, god wanted it this way. this actually makes me angry, and i don’t get angry. let me just state for the record: when those in authority attempt to defer responsibility by claiming that they ‘prayed about it’ or claim that their decision is ‘god’s will,’ they betray their cowardice and their lack of leadership. if you’re going to fire someone for petty, sectarian, doctrinal reasons, fire him, and tell him so. tell him why you’re firing him. do not fire someone and then feign sincerity while claiming the decision is god’s responsibility and ‘god’s will’!!!!

in the end, waltke is correct. until christians wrest the faith away from evangelical fundamentalists and the power brokers at christian colleges and seminaries, christianity will continue to appear like a backwards faith that is completely incongruent with modern society. the sooner christians can come to an educated understanding of the biblical texts – not simply the recitation of memory verses and confessional creeds, but the true understanding of the text, its context, and its interpretation in the light of critical study – the better off the faith will be. the more the likes of glenn beck are looked to as the champions and representatives of the christian faith, the more the  church will hemorrhage parishioners. academics and biblical scholars must stand up. we must stop talking only to ourselves and must begin addressing the public directly via blogs, online lectures, and other digital media. for the sooner the public is disabused of the notion that in order to be a real christian, you must be an evangelical fundamentalist, the sooner they will demand that the schools they choose not teach nonsense, which is exactly what is going on at reformed theological seminary: nonsense.

you must watch scott bailey’s theology nutjob channel

you must watch scott bailey’s theology nutjob youtube channel. it’s simply one of the best compilations of everything that’s wrong about modern christianity. not that christianity is bad, but there are some very bad folks out there giving christianity and christian worship a very bad name.

we can’t stop them from saying what they say. what we can do is the very opposite: highlight what they say publicly and put on the web, and expose it for the nonsense that it is. this is precisely what scott has done.

it’s half comedy and half tragedy, but you should watch it when you can. and check out scotteriology, his excellent blog as well!

have a nice day.

a request to terrorists

i’d like to make a small request of islamic terrorists who keep trying to bomb americans. it’s written in arabic so you can read it. it’s just a thought:

Stop Blowing Sh!t Up T-Shirt

dear islamic terrorists, you’re doing nothing to help your cause. by now, most americans know that islam is not evil, rather, people who kill innocent people in the name of islam are evil, just like those who kill innocents in the name of judaism or christianity (or name your religion) are evil. you’re only hurting your cause and giving the world a reason to hate you, which gives governments a reason to come after you.

so, if you wouldn’t mind, stop trying to blow stuff up. thanx.

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