Thursday, February 20, 2020

Why Richard Dawkins is wrong

Dawkins recently made the claim that, because facts are facts, if we put aside the moral questions, eugenics would work. Presumably what he means by ‘work,’ is that a program of eugenics would create superior specimens of human beings, in the same way that it creates superior beef cattle.

“It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds,” Mr. Dawkins tweeted to his 2.8 millions followers. “It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology.” [“Richard Dawkins slammed for saying 'of course' eugenics would work,” by Jessica Chasmar in The Washington Times digital edition, Monday, February 17, 2020]

Putting aside the moral argument (which cannot be truly set aside, because we are morally accountable beings), there are two blazingly obvious ways in which he is—factually—wrong.

1) Dawkins is operating from a purely evolutionary paradigm, in which advances happen in spits and spurts, sometimes moving forward a step, sometimes backward a step. Natural selection eventually eliminates inferior models. But in advocating eugenics, Dawkins is suggesting that each specimen is an advance over the last one. But that is not how evolution works. Good Specimen A unites with good Specimen B, to produce Specimen C. But Specimen C does not always completely reflect the genetics that produced it. Things go wrong, whether it might have been a hidden weakness in the genes of A or B, or perhaps an [evolutionary] mutation that went in the wrong direction.

In order for Dawkins’ eugenics to truly work, it must be—has to be—tied to euthanasia, so that inferior Specimen Cs can be gently, lovingly, mercifully… killed. Otherwise, they will continue to pollute the gene pool.

And how are we to evaluate Specimen A’s or B’s genetic potential? Must their DNA be studied to evaluate their reproductive value? How good is good enough, in order to license them to reproduce?

2) Dawkins is also wrong in that eugenics is the worst form of materialistic reductionism. People are far more than their genes. Perhaps the best illustration of this is his fellow atheist Stephen Hawking. Would Dawkins’ endorsement of the usefulness of eugenics have denied the world Stephen Hawking, or say, Helen Keller, or the numerous artists and brilliant people who are on the autism spectrum, or wrestle with manic-depressive disorders? The world is full of the accounts of people born with disabilities who rise far above their limitations to contribute mightily to human flourishing.

There are many other refutations to Dawkins’ eugenic fantasy—these are just two that are obvious no matter what worldview or ideology you hold to. Facts are indeed facts. And Dawkins is conveniently ignoring them.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Review of Francis Chan, Letters to the Church.

This is a hard book to review. What bleeds through every page is Francis Chan’s love for Christ and his desire to serve Him passionately. If there is anything Francis Chan is not, it’s lukewarm. The man pulses with a passionate desire to glorify God. Letters is personal to the point of being intimate. It is Chan’s self-disclosure of what’s been at work in his heart for the last couple decades. It’s so personal that to critique the book is inevitably to critique the author, and I shudder to think of that—I’m not sure it’s fair.

First two disclaimers: Chan hits me right where I live. I will freely and shamefully admit I do not have his passion. I want to serve Christ and glorify Him, but it feels more cerebral and less visceral, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. So how much of my critique is subjective and not objective? I can’t honestly answer that.

Secondly, I have some doctrinal concerns about some aspects of Chan’s theology of the Holy Spirit. How much of my critique is theological nit-picking? I can’t honestly answer that either.

Positively, this is a good book. It takes a critical, sometimes emotional look at the modern church and finds it wanting. Chan’s commitment is to do church right, which is an excellent commitment in my opinion. He is also concerned that the American church is filled with nominal Christians, perhaps people we can’t even call Christian. I agree. His vision of doing church differently is innovative, intriguing, and well within the bounds of Scripture. He also admits it is not the only way of doing church.

Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 are excellent, dealing with what makes a good pastor, with suffering as the normal experience of a Christian, with turning people loose to use their gifts, and principles for remaking church so that it more closely fits the Scripture, respectively.

Much of Chan’s critique is spot on. “Part of the reason we have created a culture of non-committal Christianity that avoids suffering is that we don’t treasure Him enough. We want Jesus, but there are limits to what we will sacrifice for Him. We want Him, but there are lots of things we want in life” [140].

The negatives are significant, but not sufficient to cause one to pass this book by. One of the biggest turnoffs for me, particularly in the first half of the book, is how self-referential Chan’s writing is. That the book has autobiographical features is only part of the explanation. Chan seems to write with a rather self-conscious view that he has been called to reform the church. In fairness to him, this perspective becomes a little less pronounced as the book draws to a close.

There are places in the book in which Chan displays a biblically deficient, rather gauzy view of the first-century church. According to Scripture it was a church that included women who could not get along, church leaders who demanded preeminence, church members involved in sexual immorality, churches that were disputing Paul’s authority, factions, people who were lying about their giving, and so on. Chan laments on page 9 that the modern church looks nothing like the first-century church. Perhaps he should look again.

He repeatedly paints with an exceedingly broad brush. On page 128 he says, “If you listened only to the voice of Jesus, read only the words that came out of His mouth, you would have a very clear understanding of what He requires of His followers. If you listened only to modern preachers and writers, you would have a completely different understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.” But this is simply not true. Is it true of some modern preachers (can anyone say Joel Osteen or name the signs, wonders, and prosperity preachers)? Certainly, but Chan treats the fringe as though it is the mainstream. To take just a few examples of orthodox popular modern writers and preachers, I don’t believe Piper’s Don’t waste your life, or MacArthur’s writings on Lordship salvation undersell the commitment Christ demands.

But Chan uses this broad brush so frequently it makes me wonder what circles he walks in. The church as he describes it seems to be painted in the style of a megachurch that panders to its congregation’s whims and whose main commitment is numerical growth. That sort of church is common enough, but it is not representative of orthodox American Christianity. That is not the model that I see in my church or in other local Bible-believing assemblies here in western Ohio. At times, Chan’s style is shoot-from-the-hip and mischaracterizes biblically faithful churches.

In one particularly telling paragraph, he writes “When I looked at what went on at Cornerstone, I saw a few other people and me using our gifts, while thousands just came and sat in the sanctuary for an hour and a half and then went home” [15]. The implication was that they went home and did nothing. The fact of the matter is that Chan has no idea what they went home and did—he couldn’t possibly know. Some probably did do nothing. Others probably went home and continued to live lives for God’s glory, witnessing to neighbors, friends, and co-workers, ministering to hurting people, inviting folks to Christ and to church. Does Chan think Cornerstone was built only on the strength of his preaching? Does he not realize that perhaps a significant part of the “thousands” were going home and telling others where they could find the answers that they so desperately needed? Perhaps it was the faithfulness of Cornerstone’s members that was behind a significant portion of the church’s growth? Maybe it wasn’t him.

In my own experience at my church, I am regularly finding out (to my delight and surprise) how the average individual in the pew is carrying on faithful ministry to their family, neighbors, and coworkers, far beyond the campus. It’s not the result of a program and it is unheralded, but it is happening all the same.

I’m giving this book three stars. It’s worth the read, but read it with discernment. While Chan is undoubtedly aware, theologically and experimentally, of the diversity of people and personalities God has created, I am not convinced he has allowed his awareness to inform his perspective. Chan is very emotional and very passionate and it’s on his sleeve for all to see. But God also has faithful servants whose love for Christ manifests itself in ways less volatile. What some believers could take away from this book is the mistaken idea that unless they are made in the emotional mold of Francis Chan, there might be something wrong with their confession of Christ.