It was just over a year ago that I seriously considered a range of theological, philosophical and empirical data regarding the existence of God and the likelihood that any theistic religion, particularly Christianity, was true. As I read books, blogs and web sites, I occasionally stumbled across the term, presuppositionalism. I quickly gathered that this is a branch of Christian apologetics that starts with the premises that God is real and that Christianity is true, and then seeks to find rational support for those premises. I probably don’t need to point out to you that this method of reasoning is circular. Presuppositionalists try to weasel out of that charge by claiming that there are different types of circularity, that their method does not rely on mere vicious circularity (which they agree is a logical fallacy) and that all methods of inquiry rely, to some degree, on presuppositionalism. Therefore, even if they are guilty, so is everyone else.
Presuppositionalists claim that their presuppositions – 1. that God exists and 2. that the Christian version of God is the correct one – are not unreasonable and are, in fact, the only ones by which humans can make any sense of the world. Naturalists, on the other hand, claim that humans are capable of observing and testing data in the world and drawing sound conclusions about the nature of the universe on the bases of their tests and observations…
For much of my evangelical Christian life, I held a Theistic Evolutionary view of creation. I’ll confess that I didn’t always adhere firmly to this view. Sometimes I wavered and veered into a fairly conservative Creationist point of view. Nevertheless, I could never entirely shake free of the realization that evolution had lots of empirical support. Moreover, I realized this long before I ever read my first book about evolution.
What, you may wonder (or maybe not), does a theistic view of evolution look like? Let me state up front that I can only describe what my view was; I cannot and do not claim to speak in any way for other theistic evolutionists. My view of theistic evolution was pretty simple and consisted of these points:
- The first section of Genesis (say, the first eleven chapters) should not be read as literal accounts; they were literary constructions intended to recognize and respectfully memorialize through poetic imagery God’s activity in the universe. As for the rest of Genesis, I’ll shamefacedly admit that I took much of it literally.
- Evolution was the process that God designed to create and sustain life on earth…
James Twitchell, a professor of English and advertising, spent more than two years researching and writing his account of the USA’s recent rise in religiosity. He notes that consumerism is deeply ingrained in American culture and that American religion has not escaped its effects. In fact, as Twitchell demonstrates, American religion played a role in shaping American consumerism. Thus, the phrase “shopping for God” is literal as well as metaphorical. Twitchell visited dozens of churches and interviewed scores of pastors and churchgoers to discover what churches are selling and what religious consumers are buying. The result is an engaging book that offers substantial insights into both American religion and consumerism.
Twitchell opens by citing the intersections and interactions between American religion and popular culture. It was once the norm that celebrities said little about their religious beliefs. Nowadays, celebrities flaunt their faith. Few, if any, Americans are not aware of Mel Gibson’s Catholicism, or Tom Cruise’s Scientology, or Richard Gere’s Buddhism, or George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton’s Methodism. And religion pervades movies and television. Most Americans have viewed, repeatedly, such “sword and sandal” epics as The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. Throughout the 1990s, Touched By an Angel was one of the most popular shows on television. And TV news shows, such as Dateline, frequently do special features on religion. You can’t even escape from religion in your car, unless you keep the radio off, because most programming on the AM band is religious. And guess what subject ranks second only to pornography in Internet popularity? Religion is even ubiquitous in print media. In 2004, Americans spent $3.7 billion on Christian books and related merchandise …
As I was leaving a grocery store recently, I noticed a display that was stuffed and overflowing with Christian pamphlets. One of them was entitled, “In God We Trust: What Does It Still Mean?”
Many atheist bloggers and podcasters have explained why they find this motto offensive and have argued that it should be removed from American currency. In response, or perhaps as a pre-emptive move, many theists have claimed that the motto is merely a reference to something they call “ceremonial deism.” Atheists have generally countered this statement with something like, “If it’s merely ceremonial, then what’s the harm in removing it?” To my knowledge, theists have not had an effective response to that query.
For the sake of argument, and also because it’s probably true, I will concede that many people, Christians, Jews, Muslims, probably don’t really care one way or the other whether the phrase remains on American currency. But, as the pamphlet I am about to deconstruct demonstrates, there are some Christians (I have no way of determining how few or how many) who take the phrase seriously and who consider it to be much more than just a “ceremonial” statement.
The pamphlet opens with these statements:
Printed boldly on the back of the United States currency is the motto “In God We Trust.” We have seen it so often that it may have lost its meaning to us. But found in these words is the secret to national and personal greatness...
Since its initial release, millions of people have read The God Delusion. Some have echoed Michael Shermer in hailing it “not just as an important work of science, but as a great work of literature.” Others have sided with H. Allen Orr in deeming it a “badly flawed” book in which Dawkins “makes a far from convincing case” for his opposition to religion. My view lies somewhere between these two extremes.
The God Delusion is not Dawkins’ best book. In fact, it may be his worst (even so, Dawkins at his worst is immeasurably superior to most of us at our best). While his scientific discussions are, as always, insightful and illuminating, his philosophical and theological shortcomings are clear. Nevertheless, The God Delusion is a book that should be taken seriously by religious believers and non-believers alike.
Dawkins describes himself as a religious non-believer, a position that he also ascribes to Einstein, Sagan and Hawking – lofty company, indeed. Since theists are often quick to claim that Einstein was a theist too, Dawkins cites several passages from Einstein’s letters and other documents to refute their claim. Dawkins contends that Einstein was a deist, or perhaps a pantheist, but certainly not a theist…
On Good Friday, 1973, my parents caught me smoking. It wasn’t the first time I’d been caught, but it was the last. This wasn’t because I quit immediately, per their demands. It was, rather, because I quickly grew fairly skilled at hiding my vice from them. Oh, they continued to harbor suspicions, but they never again caught me in the act. Anyway, it so happened that, like most good evangelical Christians, our family was scheduled to attend the annual Good Friday service that very evening. So, off to church we went.
I sat through the service and dreaded the coming altar call because I knew exactly what was going to happen. Sure enough, the pianist had barely begun playing the prayer chorus when my mother ambled over to where I was sitting with some friends and insisted that I accompany her to the altar. There, of course, I was compelled to repent of my sin, renounce my filthy habit and ask Jesus to forgive me. I mouthed the requisite syllables as tears of rage flowed down my cheeks.
I was enraged at being compelled to say a prayer that I did not mean and thereby label myself as a hypocrite. You see, when I was fourteen I was in what I now regard as a state of rebellious disobedience of God. I believed in God but had absolutely no desire to follow, obey, love or worship him. Therefore, my prayer was utterly insincere and, as I understood the matter then, both he and I knew I hadn’t meant a word of it. I believed that uttering an insincere prayer while in a state of believer’s rebellion was the height of hypocrisy…