Friday, July 29, 2011

A Study in Cognitive Dissonance

The church in the 1950s; the lull before the storm.

I want to wind up my recent theme of the Christian YEC phenomenon with some thoughts on “Why it’s where it’s at”.

1. Cognitive dissonance theory has an important bearing here I feel: Utter failure is difficult to face fairly and squarely. Therefore, if a failed notion has been backed to the hilt then it will not be easily relinquished; so rather than admit to a futile conceptual investment, auxiliary adjustments are made and ad hoc hypothesis are constructed in order to account for the apparent failure and save the investment. In fact rather than bin a cherished idea quite farfetched and fanciful ideas may be entertained: For example in order to save YEC fundamentalists postulate that the world wide science community is working to a common set of false assumptions that colours their view to such an the extent that something tantamount to conspiracy theory has to posited. Some of the responses to cognitive dissonance remind me of that fable where the Sun and the Wind tried in turn to get a man to remove his coat. The Wind blew hard but the man wrapped his coat round himself all the more tightly. The Wind, nevertheless, was so convinced of his power to remove coats that he was sure that his failure was because he was simply not blowing hard enough; so he redoubled his efforts in order to get the result he expected. I have seen this “must blow harder” effect right across the conceptual spectrum; from left and right wing political parties who think they are not getting enough votes because people need more political extremism, to fundamentalists who, dismayed by their reception, put it down to them not being holy or vehement enough in their faith. The result: Failure only reinforces the very reason for failure and in face of this failure vociferousness, outlandishness and separation only intensifies. Marginalized groups derive self validation from the strength and contrariness of their promulgation of the irrational.

2. YEC History: The following is my digest of YEC history as depicted in the book “The Biblical Flood” by Christian geologist Davis A. Young (BTW: Young believes in an old Earth): With the discovery of the New World in the 16th century, a fresh understanding of the distribution of flora and fauna started to put strains on the belief that Noah’s Ark received and housed samples of organisms from all parts of the globe. In consequence some scholars mooted the idea that the flood in the book of Genesis was not global. The difficulties in relating an increasing understanding of biology and geology to a universal flood intensified until by the mid nineteenth century large numbers of scholars, both conservative Christians and otherwise, no longer advocated the notion of a global flood; in particular, it became clear that the great thickness of rock found on the surface of the Earth, with their very complex histories of deposition, intrusion, uplift, folding, erosion and re-deposition, could not be explained as a product of a yearlong global flood, but would require a lot more time than a mere 6000 years to form. Hence, by the mid nineteenth century few serious scholars entertained a Young Earth. This situation persisted up until the 1960s, although throughout this period a small number of advocates of global flood theory and a young Earth did exist, but they were either Sola Scriptura ("scripture alone") ultras that ignored geological and biological data or were those who used this data very selectively. One example of the latter is the seventh day Adventist George McCready Price (1873-1963) who, prompted by prophetess Ellen G White, wrote several books on geology. His works were a foundation stone for what was to eventually become modern flood geology. By the early 20th century conservative Christian scholars had been pushed to the margins of academia and had lost much of their “cultural prestige” (as Davis eloquently puts it). They reacted to this marginalization by disconnecting themselves from mainstream academia. Thus, evangelical and conservative Christians were well placed to give a sympathetic reception to Whitcomb and Morris’ 1961 book “The Genesis Flood”, a book that resurrected Price’s flood geology. Up until the 1960s flood geology and Young Earth had bumped along the bottom, but since the 60s flood geology and its dubious accompanying motif of “mature creation” has all but become the de-facto point of view amongst fundamentalist Christians ever since and many evangelicals have followed suit.

3. My reading of the situation is as follows: The remarkable recrudescence of YEC since the 1960s is in part caused by the marginalization of conservative Christianity as an intellectual force at the beginning of the 20th century. However, this marginalization in and of itself is not enough to explain the relative success of YEC amongst evangelicals because YEC remained a minority conservative view until the 1960s; something happened in the 60s to tip the balance. Up until the 1960s Western nations at least nominally identified themselves as Christian, but during the 1960 there were very open cultural challenges to the dominating Christian social gloss. Prior to the 1960s conservative Christians could at least feel they identified with the overall social ethos and rationale of their societies and this made it much easier for them to identify with the established science of their society. For example, see this blog post on my church blog where it is apparent that the prewar minister of my church took for granted the science of the day. Since the 1960s, however, conservative Christians have not only been academically marginalized but also culturally marginalized. A subculture can perhaps live with academic marginalization, but cultural marginalization has such strong overtones of devaluation and loss of social status that it creates fertile ground for an extreme fundamentalist reaction amongst conservative Christians. YEC is, I submit, one of those extreme responses. Alienated from many aspects of society the average conservative Christian uses YEC to protest against the slighting of his cherished values by defecting to a very vocal counter culture.

4. At the bottom of fundamentalist contrariness is cognitive dissonance. The fundamentalist reaffirms his dignity by engaging in proactive responses, the very vehemence and outrageousness of which are taken as evidence of vitality and authenticity. Weird gnostic practices (Like the Toronto Blessing) and weird beliefs (like YEC) are, in fundamentalist eyes, de-facto signs of spiritual life. My recent interest in Ken Ham is because he is a fine example of an extremism that is a product of a faith under stress. He is so extreme that even an outspoken evangelical like William Dembski becomes a target for strong accusations of spiritual compromise and sin (see my last blog post). In a blog post dated July 19th 2011 Ham displays the classic response to cognitive dissonance: In his view the reason for failure is because YEC isn’t being pushed hard enough:

Actually, the real scientific research conducted for our book Already Gone clearly illustrates that generations of young people brought up in the church are leaving the church, and one of the main reasons is the hypocrisy of being told to believe the Bible but also told to reinterpret the Bible particularly in Genesis because of millions of years.

Very significantly, geocentrist Gerardus Bouw expresses a very similar reaction to cognitive dissonance, except, of course, that in Bouw’s view the reason for failure is down to the hypocrisy of people like Ken Ham in not pushing a geocentric reading of scripture! Viz:

One of the arguments that creationists (i.e. YECs) use against geocentrists is that geocentricity destroys the credibility of the creationist in the eyes of unbelievers like these two men. What makes them hard to win to the creationist cause is that they clearly see the hypocrisy. ..... Indeed, on a personal note, it was people like Danny Faulkner and Hugh Ross who converted me to atheism in my teen years. ……Evolutionists, atheists, and agnostics in the know can easily shame creationists on the issue of geocentricity by simply pointing out the hypocrisy of their insistence that the days in Genesis 1 are literal while the rising and setting of the sun is not. Likewise, to insist that the rising of the sun is figurative while the rising of the Son is literal is also hypocrisy. Given that the geocentric model is pure physics, mathematically tractable, and realistic, and consistent with Scripture, we conclude that the creationist’s desire to reject it can only be for the sole purpose of appearing intellectual and acceptable to the world, which desire is enmity with God (James 4:4)

For Bouw and Ham respectively geocentricity and YEC are not part of the problem but part of the solution and therefore they are both going to blow all the more hard.

5. The day I walked into Norwich Central Baptist church’s building I was fascinated by the stained glass windows on the back wall (As pictured above) and I wondered what they were trying to tell me: For today’s culturally alienated church these windows are meaningless, so why would Christians of the early 1950s create such windows? It has since become clear to me that these windows celebrate the civic connections of a church that was yet to be culturally marginalized; these were Christians at ease with themselves and who by and large felt at one with the ethos of their society. They didn’t know cognitive dissonance and the strength of the cultural stresses faced by the church today. But nevertheless there was a hint of disquiet amongst them; there was that sense of tension one gets just before a storm. (see

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Evidence of Ham’s Religious Extremism

In connection with my recent theme of YEC disdain for Christian academics, I note a blog post by Ken Ham dated July 20th and titled “Radio host Hank Hanegraaff supports evolutionary old earth proponent”. In the post Ham expresses his antipathy to William Dembski and Hank Hanegraaff who hosted Dembski on one of his shows. Recall that Dembksi and Hanegraaff are evangelicals who believe in the inerrancy of scripture. Therefore they are supposed to both have much in common with Ham as far as core faith is concerned. The following quotes from Ham's post are, however, evidence of his sectarian extremism and tells us what really counts as core faith with Ham – namely, YEC. (By the Way: I don’t go along with Dembski’s somewhat bizarre view of the fall).

Just to remind you, I have featured him in a previous blog post in which I indicated what Dr. Dembski has stated in his book The End of Christianity. Here are just a couple of outlandish statements from his book……

At our Apologetics Mega Conference this week, I showed video excerpts of Dr. Dembski and quotes from his books and other writings. I gave the conference attendees numerous examples of Christian academics who compromise God’s Word in Genesis; these Christian academics are sadly influencing the next generation of Christians with their teaching that undermines biblical authority.

It is so sad that such compromise with evolution and millions of years—and such an outlandish idea that God took animals and made them into Adam and Eve and gave them amnesia so they would not remember all the death and suffering in the world they once lived in—is being promoted by such a well-known radio personality. While I appreciate that Hank Hanegraaff had me on his radio program many years ago, I need to point out now that such outright compromise is undermining the authority of God’s Word.

I urge people to voice their opposition to Hank Hanegraaff and his promotion of this shocking compromise of the Bible, as he has pushed man’s religion of millions of years and evolution and has reinterpreted the clear teaching of Scripture in Genesis. Now, Hanegraaff has previously published a book against biological evolution, so it is perplexing to see him now promoting a man like Dr. Dembski who accepts many evolutionary ideas (Dr. Dembski is really promoting a type of “theistic evolution”)—and Hanegraaff is also accepting of death and millions of years of history before the Fall.

Even though there are many Southern Baptist leaders who are standing up for biblical authority (including a literal Genesis) in their seminaries, how disappointing it is that Dr. Dembski holds a position at one of the premier Southern Baptist seminaries in the country.

Interesting to see Ham identifying Dembski as a Theistic Evolutionist. I wonder what they would think of that on Uncommon Descent?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Faith Test

...he's just passed!

A belief in Young Earth Creationism is one thing; to turn it into faith test material is quite another; but that is precisely what Ken Ham and his followers are doing. Ken’s new book (written with Greg Hall), “Already Compromised”, is very tellingly subtitled “Christian Colleges took a test on the state of their faith and the final exam is in”. Of course, we know what that means: If you don’t accept Ham’s view of creation, you’ve failed the test. But here’s the good news: Reading Ken’s blog posts it looks as though the majority of colleges tested didn’t pass his exam.

In a post blog post dated June 14 and entitled “Publish or Perish” Ken spills the beans: I’ve highlighted the important bits in bold.

With so many Christian academics in our Christian colleges compromising with evolution and millions of years, many people have asked me why it is so”.

I do believe the publish or perish syndrome, together with academic pride and peer pressure, really (sadly) explain much of this compromise so rife in Christian circles"

compromise is so rife through the leadership in so many churches

In a blog post dated June 28 Ken publishes a letter from a mother who read “Already Compromised”. Once again the picture she paints for YEC is down beat, to say the least:

Though I was already aware that there is a lot off compromise of Biblical truths I had no idea that it was to this extent. I saddens, shocks and angers me all at the same time

"Based on the research in your book, it appears to me that there is a severe case of intellectual schizophrenia on Christian college campuses today! Presidents, professors, and the other faculty claim to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, yet turn around and say that they disagree with key Biblical truths or that they embrace evolution, which is completely contrary to the Bible!"

"One of the most disturbing things I see from your book is that those who seem to be the most passionate and committed to this battle are the evolutionists! They are fully engaged, and honestly, I think our apathy emboldens them even more! I expected that they control the secular academic arena, but was shocked to see that even in “Christian” colleges, they are gaining more and more ground!"

The review of “Already Compromised” in the AiG book store is also encouraging: This review says of the book: “You find the answers to questions about each school’s purpose, and the stance on the inerrancy of scripture, origins and age of the Earth, and many more” ….and…. “The findings are shocking.

I won’t be reading the book because these quotes tell me all I need know – Ken’s YEC crusade has not had much effect and if anything Christians are moving away from YEC. It’s telling that Ken’s correspondent had no idea of the extent of the problem for YEC; that’s probably a sign of how fundamentalist communities tend to quarantine themselves from the surrounding culture – and for good reason; without that insulation they would easily become “subverted” by outside ideas.

However, there is, as they say, no room for complacency. In painting a very bleak picture Ken and Co are doing what they do best and that is appealing to some very basic instincts; anger, fear and above all fear of the unknown. It is these primeval emotions that fundamentalists instinctively know how to exploit; they threaten non-fundamentalists using some of the most deep seated fears known to man, and these fears revolve around one’s unknown standing before God and one’s eternal destiny. As we know from Jones Town and various other religious sects, these fears can prove to be stronger than even the fear of death itself.

For Ken and Co, YEC is a battleground for the very spiritual life of the church and therefore they have huge emotional stakes in the matter and a concomitant determination. This becomes clear when we read the blog posts I have quoted. In Ken’s view non-YEC Christians are, needless say, compromised, especially, it seems, “Christian academics”, who, I guess, are AiG’s main antagonist and competitor in their crusade. For Ken rejection of YEC is a spiritual failing that he puts down to such things as “academic pride and peer pressure” and “indoctrination from colleges”. Whilst Christian academics largely stand against Ken's YEC publicity machine he will do all he can to portray them as hopelessly compromised by their institutional  connections.

Ken knows how to rally his troops and raise the genie of jingoism and self righteous anger: This is evidenced by his correspondent saying:

“…the battle that is raging ….. young people whose faith is on the line and who have not been adequately equipped for the attack [against YEC I presume] that they will face, not only from the world but now even from those trusted to teach them Biblical truths….. I am angered by those who claim to trust God’s word and follow Jesus, who rely more on man’s fallible word and who are leading young people astray in the proves…. Thank you for reminding me of the craftiness of the deceiver”

Fundamentalists don’t address the intellect but they sure know how to manipulate the emotions; they make no bones about who they think is deceiving you if you reject their message.

Ken’s correspondent goes on to tell us about the “simple” solution: “…now even Christian colleges fail to produce disciples! There must be a return to the simple, yet profound task of making disciples!” The method of making disciples is likely to be authoritarians and patriarchal. As the AiG book review page says “A common theme is that those in Administration [in Christian colleges] do not really know what is being taught, and little is being done to weed out unorthodox and errant teaching.” And boy, do these people know how to “weed out unorthodox and errant teaching”! In that reference alone is a microcosm of spiritual spin, fear and subtle emotional bullying.

Make no mistake, Ham and those he stands for are determined spiritual empire builders. They will not agree to disagree with Christians who don’t follow YEC; they will not leave them alone to make up their own mind about an issue moderate Christians regard as a non-core faith question, but will treat them as targets for spiritual duress. With huge business, political and social kudos interests at stake these fundamentalists are determined to convert an “erring” church to their views.