Rick Warren’s Illiteracy Problem

The Christian Post reported recently that megapastor Rick Warren has discerned a significant problem among American Christians: Biblical illiteracy. In the face of this, he’s launching a new Bible study called “40 Days in the Word.” In a year-end webcast he plugged the new study, insisting that “Americans are biblically illiterate. They just don’t know the Word of God… Our parents’ generation knew the Word of God pretty well. My generation knew a little bit. The next generation knows none of it.”

He may be right. Over the last several years it has become clear that American Christians know little about the Bible, and in 2010 Pew study atheists and agnostics performed better on a test of basic biblical knowledge than did Christians. It’s a problem. Christians should know more about the book they profess to love. They should not be biblically illiterate.

But there are other kinds of illiteracy. There is, for example, scientific illiteracy. It too is a problem in America. And there is evidence that it is related to religious beliefs. This is hardly surprising. When one is raised to see science as the enemy of faith; when churches actively work against science education; when a literal understanding of Genesis is a requirement for faculty at major seminaries, scientific literacy suffers.

It is easy to blame extreme anti-science people like Albert Mohler and Ken Ham for this problem, and some responsibility does fall on them.

But I suspect more moderate leaders like Warren have a lot to do with it. Warren’s own views on evolution, while less hysterically expressed than those of Mohler and Ham, are not finally distinguishable from them. In a 2007 Newsweek debate with Sam Harris, Warren declared, “Do I believe in evolution[?] The answer is no, I don’t. I believe that God, at a moment, created man… Did God come down and blow in man’s nose? If you believe in God, you don’t have a problem accepting miracles. So if God wants to do it that way, it’s fine with me.”

In his opinion on evolution, Warren displays his own considerable scientific illiteracy. That in itself is not too big a deal; one man rejecting evolution is not news. But when that man is Rick Warren, a major Christian figure who has, despite his conservative credentials, pushed the evangelical envelope on a number of environmental and social issues, the rejection carries a lot of freight.

Warren has, for the most part, been quiet about evolution ever since his debate with Harris. Does this diminish the importance of his opinion? Hardly. It is not true that the more loudly and earnestly one opines on a topic, the more his opinion will be adopted by others. In fact, it often works the other way around.

Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Warren has never been big on factual knowledge. His task is different; he says that his new Bible study has as its goal nothing less than the transformation of lives: “The Bible says that God’s word was given to transform our lives, not simply to inform our lives. It wasn’t given to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.”

But increases in knowledge can lead to personal transformation. It happens all the time. This aside, someone with Warren’s intelligence and experience should know that it never pays to reject entire branches of knowledge without qualification. He listened to scientists on climate change; why not evolution? Because of the Genesis thing?

His new venture may assist in solving the biblical illiteracy problem, but by overlooking his own scientific illiteracy and insisting that evolution is false, Rick Warren has done nothing but hurt science and religion dialogue in America.

Here’s hoping he’ll come around one day.

paul@psnt.net'

Paul Wallace is a freelance writer who is currently teaching physics at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga. He recently received his MDiv with a concentration in historical theology from Emory University. Formerly a department chair and professor of physics and astronomy at Berry College in Rome, GA, Paul lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children. He blogs at psnt.net.

  • Guest

    A major stumbling block for Christians and the “random, undirected” process of evolution is theological in nature. It is easy to equate “undirected” with “without purpose”. This is the crux of the problem for many Christians. How could a random, purposeless process be in any way compatible with faith in a God who formed us in His image? In everyday parlance, evolution is sometimes described as an unguided, purposeless process. Unfortunately, this statement sometimes finds its way into scientific literature. It is important, as a Christian, to not succumb to a knee-jerk reaction to such a statement. Evolution is purposeless only in the sense that there is no detectable cause working to guide it. When studied within the natural laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, we see that evolution is not working toward any goal other than the survival of species and the genes that they carry. However, God’s hand most certainly is in all of these processes. As Christians, we believe that God has complete sovereignty over every cause and effect in the universe. However, that does not mean that God is actively intervening in such a way that He detectably breaks the physical laws of the universe, except in the case of a miracle. From a theological perspective, there is no reason for us to expect that billions of miracles have occurred, over the span of billions of years, in order for God to achieve the diversity of life on this planet. God is perfectly capable of creating a universe in which this happens according to natural laws, and every evidence we have found so far indicates that this is in fact what has occurred.

    Since the early 1900s, we have known that the universe is inherently unpredictable at the quantum level; this is known as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The effects of this principle have been tested over years of research and have been shown to be true, and it now forms the foundation of almost everything we know in particle physics. Is this compatible with the Bible? How could a completely sovereign God allow such “random, undirected processes” to form the framework of His entire creation? To argue along these lines would be to fall into the same trap that 16th and 17th century Christians did when they were challenged with a spotted Sun, cratered Moon, and Earth’s true place in the solar system. Even Albert Einstein scoffed when confronted with this new discovery in quantum mechanics, and he famously quipped, “God does not throw dice.” Yet, we now know that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is true. Chaos theory is another branch of science that has been used to mathematically describe many “random, unguided” behaviors in the natural world. It is difficult to reconcile some concepts in science with an understanding of a sovereign God, but this is an area where we have to hold firm to our faith that God is indeed sovereign over every cause, and our faith has been strong enough to carry us through many discoveries about the world. Proverbs 16:33 states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (NIV) We don’t see Christian organizations rising up against chaos theory and particle physics, and there is no reason for Christians to be ruffled by evolutionary biology, randomness and all.

    Does the complexity of our DNA, of man, and of life as a whole, attest to the awesome power and sovereignty of God? Of course it does! However, God did this through natural processes of physics and chemistry which He set up at the beginning of our universe. God is actively and continuously involved in sustaining the universe and bringing about His will, but we know that He works through natural processes as well as supernatural ones. The entire universe attests to God’s power and authority. With regards to the creation of the physical universe, there is every indication that God designed the universe in such a way that He didnt have to “fix” anything after He created it. This would be out of character with the other supernatural events described in the Bible. God’s creation of the universe — the Big Bang — was indeed a supernatural event. The forces of gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, the appearance of atoms, stars, planets, the Earth, and all living things including us were baked into that original plan, and this was described in Genesis in a way that the ancients could comprehend it. Although the narrative in Genesis accommodated the ancient Israelites’ level of understanding, the message is just as true for us today. What wonderful mechanisms God has created to achieve His purposes! The Earth, over the course of billions of years, brought about the human race, two of which, Adam and Eve, would be chosen by God to bear His image and come to know Him personally.

    http://truecreation.info

  • truecreation_dot_info

    A major stumbling block for Christians and the “random, undirected” process of evolution is theological in nature. It is easy to equate “undirected” with “without purpose”. This is the crux of the problem for many Christians. How could a random, purposeless process be in any way compatible with faith in a God who formed us in His image? In everyday parlance, evolution is sometimes described as an unguided, purposeless process. Unfortunately, this statement sometimes finds its way into scientific literature. It is important, as a Christian, to not succumb to a knee-jerk reaction to such a statement. Evolution is purposeless only in the sense that there is no detectable cause working to guide it. When studied within the natural laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, we see that evolution is not working toward any goal other than the survival of species and the genes that they carry. However, God’s hand most certainly is in all of these processes. As Christians, we believe that God has complete sovereignty over every cause and effect in the universe. However, that does not mean that God is actively intervening in such a way that He detectably breaks the physical laws of the universe, except in the case of a miracle. From a theological perspective, there is no reason for us to expect that billions of miracles have occurred, over the span of billions of years, in order for God to achieve the diversity of life on this planet. God is perfectly capable of creating a universe in which this happens according to natural laws, and every evidence we have found so far indicates that this is in fact what has occurred.

    Since the early 1900s, we have known that the universe is inherently unpredictable at the quantum level; this is known as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The effects of this principle have been tested over years of research and have been shown to be true, and it now forms the foundation of almost everything we know in particle physics. Is this compatible with the Bible? How could a completely sovereign God allow such “random, undirected processes” to form the framework of His entire creation? To argue along these lines would be to fall into the same trap that 16th and 17th century Christians did when they were challenged with a spotted Sun, cratered Moon, and Earth’s true place in the solar system. Even Albert Einstein scoffed when confronted with this new discovery in quantum mechanics, and he famously quipped, “God does not throw dice.” Yet, we now know that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is true. Chaos theory is another branch of science that has been used to mathematically describe many “random, unguided” behaviors in the natural world. It is difficult to reconcile some concepts in science with an understanding of a sovereign God, but this is an area where we have to hold firm to our faith that God is indeed sovereign over every cause, and our faith has been strong enough to carry us through many discoveries about the world. Proverbs 16:33 states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (NIV) We don’t see Christian organizations rising up against chaos theory and particle physics, and there is no reason for Christians to be ruffled by evolutionary biology, randomness and all.

    Does the complexity of our DNA, of man, and of life as a whole, attest to the awesome power and sovereignty of God? Of course it does! However, God did this through natural processes of physics and chemistry which He set up at the beginning of our universe. God is actively and continuously involved in sustaining the universe and bringing about His will, but we know that He works through natural processes as well as supernatural ones. The entire universe attests to God’s power and authority. With regards to the creation of the physical universe, there is every indication that God designed the universe in such a way that He didn’t have to “fix” anything after He created it. This would be out of character with the other supernatural events described in the Bible. God’s creation of the universe — the Big Bang — was indeed a supernatural event. The forces of gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, the appearance of atoms, stars, planets, the Earth, and all living things including us were baked into that original plan, and this was described in Genesis in a way that the ancients could comprehend it. Although the narrative in Genesis accommodated the ancient Israelites’ level of understanding, the message is just as true for us today. What wonderful mechanisms God has created to achieve His purposes! Genesis 1 tells us that the earth and the waters “brought forth” the animals and plants as directed by God. The Earth, over the course of billions of years, brought about the human race, two of which, Adam and Eve, would be chosen by God to bear His image and come to know Him personally.

    http://truecreation.info