Monthly Archives: January 2010

Searching for Truth in “The Truth Project” — Lesson 2: Philosophy & Ethics — Says Who?

In Lesson 2 of The Truth Project (TTP), Del Tackett begins to establish the foundation of what he labels “The Truth Temple,” a “framework of foundational concepts.”  Two pillars of this temple are (1) philosophy and (2) ethics, both of which I believe to be absolutely essential to a profitable worldview.  Philosophy, Tackett argues, must comport with truth, which, in turn, must accurately depict reality (as discussed in Lesson 1).  Thus, there is, in Tackett’s mind, only one true philosophy derived from one true religion.  I agree.  The only problem is that Tackett assumes his philosophy—one of the pillars of his conception of a “biblical worldview”—is correct, exclusive of all others that exist within Christianity.

Tackett then quotes from Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.  “True religion,” Webster writes, “and true philosophy must ultimately arrive at the same principle.”  I believe this is true.  However, as I aim to show in later installments of this series, Tackett’s foundation is cracked and, ultimately, does not comport with reality as he demands it should do.  My point in bringing this up is not to tear down the pillar of philosophy, but rather to highlight Tackett’s penchant for quoting from Webster as if it were Scripture, as if Webster’s definitions were eternally valid from time to time everlasting.  (He did this a number of times in the first two lessons, and I suspect he’ll continue this practice in future lessons.)  It’s as if Tackett doesn’t recognize that Webster’s dictionary was as much of a product of its time (i.e., early 19th-century America, which was heavily influenced by Christianity) as today’s more secular Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary.  It is Tackett’s tendency toward narrow-mindedness that blinds him to the environment from which his worldview sprung which constitutes one of TTP‘s greatest weaknesses.  (I doubt highly that Tackett even recognizes from where his own particular brand of creationist philosophy is derived.  See chapter 6 of Timothy P. Martin & Jeffrey L. Vaughn’s Beyond Creation Science.)

The truth is, the only true philosophy may very well not be Tackett’s.  It reminds me of a parenting course that my wife and I began to take (and quickly abandoned) prior to having our first child.  It is titled Growing Kids God’s Way.  How arrogant.  As if the Ezzos, who developed the approach, had finally discovered a one-size-fits-all method of parenting that God endorses, complete with allowing the Ezzos to add His name to their project.  As much as I agree with Tackett regarding the importance of possessing a correct philosophy derived from a correct religion, and as much as my ethics may align with Tackett’s, I can’t agree that Tackett necessarily possesses the correct philosophy.  The mere claim implicit in the title of Tackett’s DVD series smacks of pride.  (God knows I’ve been guilty of the same many times in my life.)

As Tackett continues the lesson, he spends a considerable amount of time drawing attention to the philosophy of Carl Sagan, focusing on his famous declaration that “the Cosmos is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be.”  He also highlights Sagan’s equally famous quip that we humans are made of “star-stuff,” which is why our species feels so drawn to discover what I call our “solar heritage.”  “Our contemplations of the Cosmos stir us,” Sagan said, toward obtaining a greater understanding of our place in this universe, pushing us to recognize and meditate on our connectedness to everything else around us.  “Some part of our being,” Sagan continues, “knows this is where we came from.  We long to return and we can because the Cosmos is also within us.”  While neither Tackett nor I believe that Sagan’s “cosmos” tagline, nor his implicit pantheism, is correct, Tackett ridicules Sagan’s “star-stuff” comment, following it up with the anti-evolution epithet “goo-man,” referencing evolutionary biology’s assertion that human beings, along with the rest of the living world, have their origin in lower, less complex lifeforms.  Science aside, I don’t think “dirt-man” has a flagellum to stand on.  Ever read Genesis 2:7, Mr. Tackett?

Tackett then goes on to list a bunch of –isms that he believes constitute “hollow and deceptive philosophies,” such as materialism, idealism, empiricism, rationalism, naturalism, determinism, relativism, mentalism, mechanism, solipsism, subjectivism, institutionism, and hedonism.  Again, I agree that all of these –isms are hollow and deceptive, especially if not complemented by theism.  (No disrespect intended to my atheist or agnostic friends!)  One of the –isms that Tackett contends against relentlessly in TTP is atheistic humanism, represented by science historian William B. Provine, the living, breathing “straw man” that Intelligent Design founder Philip E. Johnson had been waiting for his entire life.  After playing a clip from a debate between Provine and Johnson, Tackett pounced upon Provine’s personal declaration of Darwinism’s implications, to wit, that “there are no gods or purposes, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no free will, no life after death, and no ultimate meaning in life.”  Provine is dreadfully wrong, for Darwinism implies none of those things.  Rather, Provine’s philosophical end game is a direct result of adopting an atheistic  and philosophically materialist worldview, and not a result of accepting evolution as fact.  Unfortunately, Tackett knows nothing about evolutionary biology and proceeds to take Provine at his word, holding him up as a paragon of non-virtue, and attacks the very science that I and many other Christians believe represents accurately the truth about the mechanisms by which life’s diversity arose. 

I must also take exception to Tackett’s presupposition that God has revealed Himself in only two ways.  The first method is through nature, or “general revelation.”  Score one for Tackett, for I, too, believe that God’s nature is reflected by the orderliness and beauty of the cosmos, inasmuch as we understand it accurately (i.e., correct science).  The second method, Tackett declares, is through the written Word, the Bible.  While I believe that the Bible is, in a sense, revelation from God, I don’t necessarily believe that it can provide us with a correct “worldview” when taken as a whole, especially considering that there exists, within its very pages, inaccurate scientific concepts.  If Tackett were truly bent upon adopting a worldview exclusively from the Bible, he’d join the ranks of the Flat Earth Society.  Not to the exclusion of the written Word, I much prefer to recognize Jesus Christ as a superior method by which God revealed/reveals Himself, Jesus being the God-man about whom the Bible testifies.  Only insofar as the testimonies of the New Testament writers reflect the true person of the Christ—and I believe those testimonies to be reliable and trustworthy—can we begin truly to develop a biblical correct “worldview,” one based upon the Living Word whose theology derived directly from the Father.

Lastly, I want to draw attention to something of which Tackett warns his audience:  assumptive language.  According to Tackett, assumptive language is a “powerful and deceptive use of words in which a seemingly simple statement is made, hoping the hearer will buy the simple statement without recognizing the huge assumptions that come with it.”  If I may be so bold, Mr. Tackett, you are not innocent of manipulating assumptive language, and your audience is clearly not immune to falling prey to it.  Being a dyed-in-the-wool Evangelical doesn’t mean your “goo” don’t stink.  Can I get an “Amen”?


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Searching for Truth in “The Truth Project” — Lesson 1: Veritology — What Is Truth?

In the first The Truth Project (hereafter, TTP) session, Dr. Del Tackett asked the question, “What is truth?”  Under my breath, I whispered, “An accurate understanding of reality.”  Ten minutes later, after a montage of various definitions from a rotating cast of interviewees, Dr. Tackett revealed, using Webster’s 1828 definition, what he believed to be the correct answer:  “Conforming to fact or reality.”  It was then that I knew Dr. Tackett had just painted himself into a corner.  While I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Tackett’s assessment of what Jesus’ mission was (“to testify to the truth”; cf. John 18:37) as well as the definition of truth (“conforming to fact or reality”), I found myself, time and time again, calling him out for obscuring the very thing which he attempts to defend in TTP.

One method Dr. Tackett used (consciously or unconsciously only God knows) to obscure the truth from his audience was prefacing much of what he said with the phrase “Most scholars believe …”  To be sure, Dr. Tackett made a number of points, theological or otherwise, with which I agreed.  However, more often than not, the phrase was, when compared to the much larger body of Christian theology, a demonstrably false statement.  It may be an accurate statement amongst those who share Dr. Tackett’s particular theology, which is decidedly not “most scholars,” but his all-too-casual use of the phrase only served to ruin his credibility in my eyes.  When one is executing a “truth project,” I’d venture to say that it’s best not to say things like that.

At the end of the session, I asked the small group, “Why do you believe the Bible is true?”  One individual, formally trained in theology, was taken aback by the question and laughed aloud, “Because the Bible says it’s the Word of God!”  I looked at him and said, “That proves absolutely nothing.  The Book of Mormon makes the same claim for itself.  So does the Qur’an, even more explicitly than the Bible does.”  (I almost added, “Don’t make the Bible a self-licking ice cream cone,” but I thought better of it.)

I followed up with a challenge for everyone to really reflect and think about why they believe the Bible is true.  In other words, how can it be demonstrated to be true?  Are there objective criteria by which we can measure the truthfulness of the Scriptures?  What if, in the process of using these objective criteria, we discover that the Bible contains scientific or historical error?  Should we be suspect of the entire Bible’s veracity, as most Evangelicals claim?  For the sake of argument, let’s assume there is a single, solitary historical inaccuracy in the Bible.  Does that error, then, invalidate the accuracy of the rest of Scripture?  Is the entire thing to be rejected and thrown out based on a single wrong date?  A wrong census number?  A wrong name?  My answer was, of course not.  Others in the group weren’t too keen on that answer.

When I first jotted down these observations on Facebook, one friend of mine, more thoughtful than the “because the Bible says so” individual, used a certain line of logic to prove the truth of the Bible, namely apologist Norman Geisler’s “The 12 Points That Show Christianity Is True”:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. The opposite of true is false.
  3. It is true that the theistic God exists.
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God (i.e., as an act of God to confirm a word from God).
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by: (a) His fulfillment of many prophecies about Himself; (b) His sinless and miraculous life; (c) His prediction and accomplishment of His resurrection.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).
Does anyone else see what’s wrong with this list?  I have no problems with points 1 and 2.  However, I can’t help but be skeptical about the use of point 3 in this line of logic.  It’s quite presumptive, no?  Or is there some scientific proof of God’s existence of which I’m unaware?  Don’t misunderstand me:  I am a theist, and a Christian at that.  But you won’t catch me using the “fact” of God’s existence as a linchpin in any argument, especially with skeptics or atheists. 

There are other weak links within these 12 points that require one to make certain assumptions; for example, point 6 (the New Testament is historically reliable).  Unfortunately, accuracy in the recording of certain historical facts (e.g., that Herod was king during the birth of Jesus) says nothing about whether the acts of Jesus really occurred.  In fact, a document can certainly appear to be securely grounded in history, giving the illusion of historicity; just think of modern works of historical fiction that place a completely untrue account within the wrappings of a genuine place and time.  (Even the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian version of Noah’s Flood, rings “truer” in its conversations and in its descriptions of the ark’s construction than does the biblical account.)  Don’t get me wrong:  I believe that the Gospel accounts are reliable testimonies to the words and acts of Jesus Christ, but there is, in the end, no proof of Jesus’ acts that can be examined under a microscope.  Even the resurrection of Jesus, which I believe to have occurred, cannot be definitively proven.  They are, like all historical events, trusted and assumed to have occurred based on the weight of certain lines of evidence, not “proofs.”

Countering my challenge, a friend of mine on Facebook asked me, “Why do you believe the Bible is true?  [Answer the question] as if it were being asked of you by God himself.”  Honestly, I can’t answer that question because, in my case, the line of questioning is wrong.  For one thing, I don’t believe the Bible is without error.  Point in fact: the Bible possesses and declares an ancient Near Eastern conception of the physical cosmos and how it came into being.  In fact, the Bible is replete with examples of its three-tiered cosmos paradigm in both the Old and New Testaments.  Most Christians don’t even realize it.  Why?  Because their heliocentric paradigm, informed by the findings of modern science, was foisted upon them prior to a serious reading of the Scriptures.  As a result, what they read as phenomenological or poetic language was, to the ancient Hebrews, a scientific depiction of reality!

But I digress.  To me, the Gospel accounts are convincing enough that I believe them to be historically trustworthy.  In concert with my (admittedly subjective) experiences with the living Word and the Holy Spirit, I believe that the New Testament can be relied upon to accurately portray who and what Jesus is claimed to be by those who encountered him.  I don’t require an inerrant document to convince me of who Jesus is and what he did.  Reliable human testimony should be enough to convince, just as reliable human testimony is used every day in our court systems to convince juries of the truth.  Just as was done throughout the early Church, which did not possess any New Testament writings for several decades following Jesus’ ascension.

My final words to the small group were that I hoped each individual would dig deeper into the question of what the foundation of his or her faith really is.  If his faith is based on fiction or faulty reasoning, that is a serious problem.  She may have arrived at the correct destination, but only a fool would walk 24,901.55 miles to reach a goal that was, in truth, one step behind her.

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Searching for Truth in “The Truth Project” — Introduction

As a result of my recent move from beautiful Monterey, California, to the Middle East, where I’m experiencing an extremely high workload, this blog has been considerably quiet since my graduation from the Defense Language Institute last November.  It’s extremely tough to find the time to sit down and untie the various threads of thought generated by the several books on evolution and theology I’ve been reading in what little spare time I have.  So, the very fact that this blog has any new content at all since fall 2009 has everything to do with the prodding of Undeception‘s Steve Douglas.  As Steve wrote to me, “[something’s] usually better than nothing.”  So please take an excursion over to his wonderful blog and thank him personally.  😉
This new series that I’m launching, which features my takeaways from Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project, doesn’t focus solely on the creation/evolution debate.  The Truth Project, hosted by Dr. Del Tackett, is about the importance of discovering and holding to a biblical worldview.  I’m inclined to agree with Del and I’m fairly confident that there is much in the DVD series onto which I can comfortably hang my hat.  However, the question is begged, What does it truly mean to possess a biblical worldview?  Surely, there are just as many “biblical worldviews” as there are Christian denominations.  And certain of those myriad of “biblical worldviews” will impact one’s views on the creation/evolution debate directly.  It just so happens that the “biblical worldview” suggested by The Truth Project (hereafter, TTP) to be the biblical worldview rams headlong into a denial of both scientific truth and objective reality (especially when it comes to discerning the true nature of the Bible).
The group with which I’m watching the series meets weekly on Friday nights, so you can expect a new blog post every week (Insha’allah!) for the next 3-4 months.  Hang on to your hats, folks.  This should be an interesting ride …

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