Just Watch the 'Ra' Footage

I regret that this response must be written. The atheist blogger Aron Ra and I recently participated in an event together. We were at a church, answering questions on the topic of creationism and Darwinism in front of about 300 high school students. Despite the fact that we differ greatly on the topic at hand—I, a creationist, and he, a Darwinist—we had a fairly cordial discussion, if it can be called a discussion. You can watch the video here. However, about a week later I discovered that Mr. Ra had written a blog article giving his analysis of the event. You can read it here. When I discovered his article, I expected that it would be a somewhat fair and respectful commentary on our Q and A session. I was disappointed to discover that the overall tone was adversarial, accusatory, and haughty—completely unsuitable for an academic discussion. Of greater concern, however, were the many baseless assumptions and falsehoods proffered in his article, many of which may be easily exposed by carefully watching the video.

First, I must acknowledge a point of common ground. I can relate to Mr. Ra’s frustrations with the format. I was prepared to have more of a back-and-forth discussion with opportunity to rebut each other’s counterarguments, and was disappointed that no such opportunity was given. Like Mr. Ra, I was frustrated as details of the format were revealed to me. However, the tone of his blog is very accusatory. Given that this is the first time this church has ever done something like this, I would expect a learning curve and would give them the benefit of the doubt. And, by the way, right after the event, the church leaders asked him for his advice on how they can do this better.

Not giving the benefit of the doubt, however, is of little concern compared to the false assumptions Mr. Ra made throughout his article. For example, his article makes a reckless and false assumption about why I insisted on using the term, “Darwinism,” without any evidence for how he allegedly came to know my reasons. Would it not be better to seek to understand my reasons rather than falsely presuming what he does not know? As another example, Mr. Ra says I “seemed to reject even microevolution,” but this is another groundless assumption. He said he came to this conclusion because I “rejected [his] comment that both micro and macroevolution had been directly observed.” He needs to watch the video. I did not claim that microevolution has never been directly observed, nor did I reject his comment that microevolution has been directly observed.

Mr. Ra’s assumptions seem to know no end as he presumes to know what I did and did not do 10 to 20 years ago, what I know about the Kitzmiller case, what I know about Of Pandas and People (despite my response), and whether I read his book. It is a rather arrogant and immature stance to assume that if someone disagrees with him, that person must be lying and ignorant. It probably has not yet occurred to him that it is because I’ve researched the claims of Darwinism, the Kitzmiller case, the history of Of Pandas and People, and carefully read his book, that I disagree with him. His assumptions about my view only serve to demonstrate that he doesn’t understand my view. Given that we didn’t have enough time to explore each other’s view during the event, this isn’t surprising—he just shouldn’t pretend to understand what he doesn’t.

Worse yet were the many false claims Mr. Ra made, many of which can be easily corrected by merely watching the video. First, let me mention two that are not immediately clear from the video. He says that his questions “were deliberately re-worded, replacing all references to ‘evolution’ with ‘Darwinism’.” If he is referring to the three questions of his that were used, then this is blatantly false. Not one of his three questions made any reference to “evolution.” He also said, “My opponent was apparently made aware of my five paragraph explanation [regarding the term ‘Darwinism’]…” This, again, is entirely false. I was never made aware of any concerns raised by him to the organizers until I read his blog. He seems to have forgotten that he has a public Youtube video devoted entirely to his objections to use of the term “Darwinism.” Predicting his erroneous objections was as easy as a single mouse click.

Now, we must address Mr. Ra’s claims that are directly contradicted by the video posted here. For example, he claims that I “wanted [him] to prove that [microevolution] was possible…” I never asked anything of the sort. Rather, I asked him to demonstrate “that there is a mechanism by which a single-celled organism can change, over time, into all the different organisms on Earth today, including plants and even humans, and that this mechanism is capable of building things like eyes, and wings, and organs, and so on.” I suggest that, in the future, Mr. Ra should quote me directly so that he doesn’t continue to make this mistake.

Another example is Mr. Ra’s statement, “He ignored my reference to speciation being directly observed. Saying ‘we don’t see that.’” This is blatantly false. Simply by watching the video he can see that I never said that we don’t see speciation. I also recommend that he watch my description of Dr. Lenski’s work. He will see that speciation is irrelevant to the entire argument I was making.

As yet another example, Mr. Ra accuses me of “misquoting scientists,” and claims to give two examples. The first alleged example claims that I made a “comment about ‘Darwinists’ saying that natural selection was insufficient to explain everything.” He needs to watch the debate. I never said that Darwinists say natural selection was insufficient to explain everything. In fact, I never quoted any scientists on the topic of natural selection. I cited the work of Dr. Margulis regarding scientific observations of mutations, which he mistook for her critique of natural selection (which I corrected during the event), and mistook for her work on endosymbiosis (yes, I couldn’t think of the name, “endosymbiosis,” off the top of my head under a time constraint, just like he couldn’t think of Philip Johnson’s name earlier in the discussion), neither of which were pertinent to her concerns about mutations. The second alleged example claims that I said “that ‘Darwinism’ needed ‘serious rethinking’, (about particular aspects [I] obviously didn’t know about)… .” Not only is his parenthetical comment a baseless insult unbecoming of an academic discussion, but I have misquoted no one here. His attempt to quote me bears some resemblance to my response to the first question, in which I said, “the biologist and Darwinist, Dr. Darrel Falk recently admitted that many Darwinian scientists agree that the entire mechanism of Darwinian evolution needs major rethinking.” I was very careful not to misquote any scientists, and such an accusation is more akin to mudslinging than an academic response.

Ironically, while falsely accusing me of misquoting, Mr. Ra misquoted and misrepresented me several times. In addition to the examples above, he also claims that I “rejected beneficial mutations” even though I clearly stated that we do observe beneficial mutations. He then claimed that I “even said ‘evolution is just a theory not a fact’.” This is outright false and deceptive. He further claims that the only Darwinian mechanism I know is “’mutation plus selection.’ That’s it!” even though I clearly said that “the mechanism Darwinists typically point to is mutation plus selection.” He is not the only one who had to leave a lot of material out due to the tight time constraints. Further, he seemed to have missed the important differences between his characterization of creationism in his book and the arguments I made regarding “adding new [genetic] information,” and transitional fossils (which he calls “transitional species”). Ironically again, his brazen, unprofessional accusation that I am ignorant merely serves to demonstrate his ignorance of my view. I repeat, would it not be better to seek to understand my view before criticizing, rather than pretend to know it?

Mr. Ra even says that I “gave no reason at all to believe anything about [my] own position.” He really does need to watch the debate, as I was careful to give positive scientific evidence for my view. There are many more examples of such errors I could list, but this should suffice. Mr. Ra calls himself a freethinker, yet he says that my view “literally has no possibility…” If he has already decided that views other than his have no possibility of being true, he is not the open-minded freethinker that such weighty scientific issues require. And publishing groundless assumptions and falsehoods further demonstrates this point.


In Defense of Architects... or God

As one who practices architecture (though I am not yet a licensed architect), I have often thought about the purpose of my profession. And you can be certain that anyone who has had to pay an architect's fee has asked, "Why do we need an architect anyway?" While architects bring to a project a technical knowledge about building codes, materials, systems, construction methods and environmental factors, the fact of the matter is that many general contractors have very much the same knowledge. Fortunately for the future of my discipline, there is an additional skill that architects uniquely bring to the table. Namely, it is art.

The architect is supposed to create art with the building materials. While a painter may use a knowledge and experience of water colors and a sculptor may use a knowledge and experience of marble, the architect uses the knowledge and experience of building materials to create beautiful and meaningful forms that, simultaneously, have a practical purpose. This is why many architecture schools devote much of the instruction time to helping students cultivate a sense of beauty, or in philosophical terms, an aesthetic sense. And this is the unique skill that the architect brings to a client. But this skill is quickly losing its value in our culture. While our society increasingly rejects a theistic worldview, we are eroding the very foundation of aesthetics.

This cannot be illustrated any better than by simply pointing to the cumbersome attempts by many modern scholars to explain aesthetics without any reference to a transcendent creator. One such example is the following short video lecture by the late Dr. Denis Dutton:

Dr. Dutton's aesthetically captivating presentation correctly identifies that many aspects of aesthetics are universal. How does he explain this universality? Does he give any credibility to the idea that objective aesthetics might be grounded in an author of aesthetics (i.e. a Creator as the locus of certain aesthetic "laws," if you will)? Does he even mention the idea? No. Instead, he laboriously tries to take the long way around the obvious answer, to explain aesthetics as a byproduct of evolution, all the while assuring us that this is the best explanation. The only other alternatives he gives are relative aesthetics.

But, here is the real irony. Even a Darwinian aesthetic is a relative aesthetic. It is relative to "that which helps us pass our genes on more efficiently." If cheap, ugly buildings (like the ones pictured, below) help people save money, which helps them survive better, which helps them pass their genes on more efficiently; then, such buildings are (by definition) beautiful.

Yet another problem with Darwinian aesthetics is that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It is intended to explain (in retrospect) why we found something to be aesthetically pleasing. It does not explain why we ought to see things as aesthetically pleasing that we don't already see as such. It is a variation on the "is / ought" fallacy (i.e. You can't get an "ought" from an "is"). A Darwinian theory starts with what "is" aesthetically pleasing and posits what "is" causing it. A theistic theory of objective aesthetics starts with a ground or locus of aesthetics that has the authority to prescribe what we "ought" to find aesthetically pleasing.

You see, under a theistic theory of aesthetics, architects can discover aesthetic principles, go to school to learn aesthetic principles, hone their aesthetic sense, and they can even make recommendations to their clients about what will be beautiful and what will not. Put simply, aesthetics is a legitimate discipline in which architects specialize. Under a Darwinian theory, each person's aesthetic sensibilities are what they are for evolutionary reasons. There is no need for training and there is no need for guidance from anyone else. Each person's sense of beauty is just as valid as anyone else's. Aesthetics is not a discipline, but a matter of personal preference. So, save yourself some money and have the contractor build what seems beautiful to him. It might even help you survive better.


As American as Apple Stock

Last Christmas, tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear the Pope give the Christmas Speech. Then in April, approximately 13 million LDS gathered around their televisions and computers to watch the General Conference. And just three days ago, I watched as people all around me, grown men and women, followed the minute-by-minute announcements of Apple executives... hanging on every word. Clearly, a considerable amount of our advanced computer processing power (the technology that allows us architecture nerds to model every bolt in a 4 story building) was dedicated to streaming video of the well-dressed executives, while tracking instant stock prices, following critical commentary by cultural luminaries like Mark “the Soldier” and frantic Google searches to fact check every claim. But, computers weren't the only sedentary objects rapidly processing and communicating this crucial information. My co-workers, eyes aglow with gleeful anticipation (or is that just the 3 million pixels gently tanning their faces), would only occasionally break their devoted trance to solicit important inquires of other Apple followers, such as, “Did you hear that?” and “250 million sales?” To which, other devotees promptly responded with salient answers like, “Wow.” Unlike that generation currently traversing their teenage years, these adults were able to focus their attention on an important task and filter out less important distractions, like work.

Now, of course, in American culture we train for this kind of thoughtful devotion. Looking across our great nation, we find that most Americans consistently set aside a considerable amount of their free time to carefully observe the struggles of mankind (or at least the struggles of 11 men in brightly colored Spandex pants against 11 more men in brightly colored Spandex pants). I’m referring to football, for those of you who may be visiting from the planet Vulcan. And at only 3 hours per game, most Americans can afford the time away from their families to string two or three games together on a Sunday afternoon. Many who are further devoted to this meaningful pursuit chose to research the record of various players, coaches and the nearly infinite history of past games. Yet, these savvy Sunday sofa students face a dilemma at the dawn of each new calendar year: how does one satisfy this hunger for great personal growth during the other 7 months of the year?

Fortunately for our society, great cultural visionaries have developed other noble endeavors like baseball, basketball, hockey, NASCAR, professional wrestling, fantasy football, and curling. Those who aren't gifted with the athletic aptitudes necessary to sit on a couch and watch sports, instead often choose to sit on a couch and bask in the intellectual bounty of “Modern Family,” “Two and a Half Men,” “American Idolatry,” “Dancing With the Attention-Hungry Stars,” “The Real Housewives of Gila Bend” and “Who Wants to Marry a Bank Account.”

By now I’m sure you’ve noticed a touch of sarcasm in my comments. In fact, anyone with more comprehension than a lobotomized gerbil should have realized by now that I have little respect for the amount of time that most Americans devote to unimportant or (in the case of following the “State of the Apple Address”) low-importance activities. So, does that mean I am some pompous, egotistical jerk? Maybe, but I’ll gladly admit that I’m guilty of occasionally squandering my time with equally trivial activities like playing video games that essentially boil down to running around a giant rat maze wielding more firepower than all 4 “Rambo” movies combined, while obliterating anything that moves (This accounts for approximately 75% of all video games currently on the market). But, the real travesty is not so much how most Americans waste their time; rather, it is that this wasted time is not balanced with deeply meaningful and transcendently substantive endeavors.

How much time have most of us spent researching, discussing, or even thinking about the fundamental questions of life. For most Americans, as far as I can tell, it equates to less time than they’ve spent picking lint out of their navel (though it is difficult to determine how much time most Americans spend picking lint out of their navel). As I’ve asked a variety of people in my life questions like, “Is there any lasting purpose to our lives (teleology)?” “Is right and wrong anything more than personal preferences (axiology)?” “Does God exist?” “Is any religion true?” “Is there an eternal life?” and “Are we more than just our chemical make up?” I’ve been flabbergasted by the utter inability of most people to even engage the questions and yet impressed with the agility with which they transition right into a discussion of Charlie Sheen’s replacement on Two and a Half Men. And when most people attempt thoughtful discourse on these fundamental questions, it’s not long before their words throw a noose around their own neck and commit suicide. For example, people will say, “It’s wrong to judge others” without so much as a clue that this statement is a judgment. They will say, “We can’t know anything about God” without realizing that they are thereby claiming to know quite a bit about God. I often hear, “ All religions are true,” from people who never realized that there cannot be only one god, and many gods, and no gods, and the universe is god all at the same time. They will say, “You shouldn’t believe anything unless it can be proven scientifically” oblivious to the fact that THAT statement can’t be proven scientifically. Some remark, “The latest scientific evidence tells us that our thoughts are determined by chemical reactions” unaware that this would mean that THAT thought was determined by chemical reactions and not the latest scientific evidence. And I’ve even heard individuals (quite well-educated individuals) say, “The purpose of life is to discover why we are here” (no comment).

This is just sad. Do we not realize that if God exists, the consequences are staggering and if God doesn’t exist, the consequences are equally staggering? Can we not understand that if Islam is true, there is a level of submission and devotional deeds that Allah expects from us, without which we face eternal suffering in Hell? Or that if Christianity is true, God requires that we repent from our wrong doing, otherwise we again face eternal suffering in Hell? Or that if modern Judaism is true, God requires us to follow certain laws and tenets or else we, yet again, face the same grim consequence? Now, in this diverse world there are a plethora of religions making a plethora of claims, but the exclusive nature of these three common religions, I think, should draw our attention. Should we not study the claims of at least these three religions and investigate the evidence for and against their veracity? Should we not research the historical and scientific accuracy of their source texts? Can’t we at least crack the cover of the Qur'an, the Bible and the Talmud? This may not be as much fun as watching stock prices plummet because an Apple executive sneezed or watching grown men in spandex smack each other on the butt as they “huddle” for the 27th time, but if you actually invest a small amount of your sofa time to researching these claims, I think you’ll be surprised by how much can be know about these seemingly unknowable matters. And if you’re still reading this, you probably just missed another huddle. And for that I am truly sorry.



A recent Zogby Poll reveals that most Americans reject naturalistic evolution in favor of the theory of Intelligent Design.  When asked if life developed "through an unguided process of random mutations and natural selection," a standard definition of Darwinism, only 33 percent of respondents said they agreed with the statement. But 52 percent agreed that "the development of life was guided by intelligent design."  See the link below for more information:



Michael Spencer's article, "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" has gained much attention since it was published in the Christian Science Monitor on March 10th, 2009.  Below, I respond to several of the points Mr. Spencer has made:

I have to say that, in general, I agree with much of what Mr. Spencer is saying. Though, further reflection can provide a more careful understanding of the issues he has raised.  First, when Mr. Spencer talks about a growing climate of hostility toward Christianity, we must understand that this should be expected. I don’t like it, but Jesus himself described this:

9 Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.  13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.  14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come."
Matthew 24:9-14 (NASB)

 Second, Evangelicalism can collapse, but I don’t think that Christianity is going to collapse. Like Mr. Spencer, I think that it would be a good thing if many of the marginal (or lukewarm) believers were to leave their churches. Too many people in our society wear the label of Christianity, but haven't actually committed their life to following Christ. Christianity, I think, has been discolored by large portions of America misrepresenting Christ.

  Third, I think that Mr. Spencer completely misdiagnoses the cause of this decline. Mr. Spencer attributes the following to the problem: identifying Evangelicalism with the culture war and conservatism, not passing on orthodox faith, consumer driven mega churches, dying churches, poor Christian education, a confrontation with cultural secularism, i
nability to pass on confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith, money will dry up. It seems that these “causes” are all just symptoms of a much larger problem, Postmodernism. Our culture and especially “religious” people in our culture have strongly moved toward postmodernism. This makes sense of each of the “causes” he lists.

Identifying Evangelicalism with the culture war and conservatism: Because of the postmodern view that perception equals truth, many in our culture see their moral and religious beliefs as subjective and relativistic (basically with no real foundation in reality). But, if our moral and religious beliefs have no real foundation, then our decision about what to believe is either arbitrary or pragmatic.  For those “evangelicals” who choose to go the route of Pragmatism, their beliefs are more about politics (which is inherently more pragmatic). Therefore, they identify their beliefs mainly with the culture war and political conservatism. I should clarify, though, that true Christianity involves living out Christian values and principles in society; so, Christians are, necessarily, going to be involved in the political arena. 

Not passing on orthodox faith: If orthodox faith is just someone’s perception, rather than reality, there is no reason to pass it on unaltered by our own opinions, perceptions, cultural norms, etc. With a postmodern worldview, orthodox faith is just as valid as un-orthodox faith.

Consumer driven mega churches: For those postmodern evangelicals that choose to go the route of Pragmatism, church is run like a pragmatic business. A larger congregation equals more customers.

Dying Churches: I am assuming that this is mainly talking about the old, stuffy traditional churches that seem to be struggling so much. Many churches maybe dying because in a postmodern culture their services have become more about tradition than truth. The traditional (or orthodox depending on the situation) customs are up held, not because they are founded in theological truth, but simply for the sake of tradition. This becomes an arbitrary decision, but there is a major problem with arbitrarily deciding what to believe. That is, eventually you realize that it is meaningless and irrelevant. Basically, you are left wondering, “Why am I following this old tradition if there is no real reason?”

Poor Christian education: Once again, for those that take the pragmatic route, the education system just serves one's own needs. Also, in a postmodern culture, education emphasizes perception and the subjective over understanding an objective truth.

A confrontation with cultural secularism: We are up against a more and more secular culture partially because “religious” people in general have embraced postmodernism more than the rest of the culture. So, while the “religious” community is justifying their beliefs with subjective feelings, secularists continue to give objective reasons for their beliefs. For example, atheists consistently point to science and reason to justify their atheism (I don’t think their reasoning is valid, but they are at least trying to use science and reason); while many “religious” people simply say, “I feel that Christianity is true” or “I know in my heart that God is real” or “Christianity is true for me.” So, our culture has begun to view religion as subjective and without foundation and view science and reason as completely secular. So, much of academia, including lay-people sources for intellectual study (like National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Science Museums, etc.) have become largely secular.

nability to pass on confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith: Again, why have confidence in the Bible if your confidence is only based on a subjective perception and has no real objective basis in truth.

Money will dry up: This is just a result of all the other issues above.

I think that the worldview of postmodernism that many Americans (and many around the World) hold to, has dire consequences. But, I think there is a hope that the author failed to mention. And that is that in the last 50 years and especially in the last 20 years, there have been an incredible number of scientific discoveries that overwhelmingly support Christianity. In fact, recently in the academic arenas of science, philosophy, and history there have been a growing number of intellectual “heavy-hitters” that are carefully defending Biblical Christianity. So, I think there are some factors that may turn the tide. 



Last week, the majority of Texas Board of Education members voted to eliminate a mandate that required teachers to teach both the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Pro-evolution advocates were fighting hard to eliminate this standard, because "teaching objections to evolution... might encourage students to reject it." They argue that if this teaching causes some students to reject evolution, then this is equal to teaching religion. And so, they argue, that teaching religion is a violation of the "separation of church and state." I'm amazed how far people have been able to stretch the phrase "separation of church and state."



  • What are the fundamental beliefs in Mormonism?
  • What was Joseph Smith's role in founding Mormonism?
  • Why do Mormons trust the Book of Mormon as a source of divine information?