Pontificating anti-Anti-Christ – Adventism’s Rottweiler is toothless
An Open Letter to Clifford Goldstein, Seventh-Day Adventist editor, author and columnist
October 18, 2008
I am an Adventist theology graduate of the early 80’s who concluded in my penultimate year at seminary that religion is bunk.
After many years of indifference I took up the (virtual) pen against religion only in 2003.
Let me say at once that your writing style warms my heart. If one is not passionate about one’s topic, one should shut up! If you do deign to read me I hope that you may find a similar, if somewhat outrageous – by design – approach.
Having complimented you, I remind you of the judicious classical caveat – timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.
I write not in any vain attempt, nor expectation to alter your belief. A man prepared to burn a novel of his making in answer to some divine machination is probably not for turning… after a Thatcherite plastination.
No, I write because I have a passion for ordinary salt of the earth believers who faithfully attend Sabbath School and Divine Service and Prayer Meetings and who “return” their tithes and offerings; believers who accept confident statements from the pulpit and in the Review as absolute truth… because they want to, mostly. Because it imparts that warm fuzzy feeling.
My folks, Adventists of many summers, are such “ordinary church folk”. And you, sir, harm them.
Because of a rather uncomplimentary dollar exchange rate, my folks read the Adventist Review second or third or fourth hand, as it does the rounds in their small congregation some weeks after publication. I often browse through the magazine and I read your column when I see one.
Yet my mother brought your July 24, 2008 column – The Fallacy of a Final Theory – to my attention. She thought that “the argument that because the natural world needs an explanation, then the God who created that world needs one too, is a false analogy… The whole point of an eternal God is that nothing is prior to Him or more fundamental” would “help me understand”.
It did help me to understand. Why I am so repulsed by theology and religion.
Your statement even trumps Richard Swinburne’s stupefying “it is very unlikely that a universe would exist uncaused, but rather more likely that God would exist uncaused”.
Did I mention that I am a theology graduate? I did, didn’t I? So here’s a sermonette…
One of the all-time great modern Afrikaans (my mother tongue) authors, André P Brink, once related this perspicacious tale: A curmudgeonly serial writer at a weekly magazine ruled supreme over his plots. He alone was the originator and developer of the storylines and nobody’s input was tolerated.
Then the old boy took ill and missed a week. His colleagues rallied and concluded their make-do episode with the hero fighting to control a runaway stagecoach, pursued by ululating ahorsed aboriginals shooting flaming arrows and the heroine bare breasted and bleeding among the luggage on the roof, holding on for dear life as they sped towards a looming canyon.
Upon his return the resident author read the episode dispassionately and took up a favourite position behind his old Remmington. He took a long puff on his minging cigar, flexed his fingers and typed “Met een moerse sprong is hy los” (with one giant leap he escapes).
Your giant leap, Clifford, from scientific theory to some deity not subject to understanding is discombobulating. (Did I mention that I am impressed by your vocabulary and command of the Queen’s cross Atlantic simile? No?)
Scientific theories do work! You, in deference to Isaac Asimov, make it sound as though a “theory” is something dreamt up after being drunk all night.
A theory (as opposed to an hypothesis, which is conjectured upon an idea, impression, assumption, dream or view) is based on fact and theories such as relativity, gravity, electricity and evolution hold true for all practical purposes. Despite the fact that nothing in the universe is absolutely certain and that science dictates that nothing will ever be known with absolute certainty, one can attest with impunity that evolution, for example, is a proven and fundamental natural process underlining the primal relationship of all life. Evolution is supported by empirical results from a panoply of scientific disciplines – comparative anatomy, palaeontology, embryology, histology, physiology, biochemistry, genetics, micro biology and geology. One can indeed speak of evolution as a fact, without fear of contradiction.
How do you harm people like my folks? By pontificating that “God” is the ultimate fundamental. Why? Why is “God” the ultimate fundamental? Because you proclaim it so!? You have not a smidgen of evidence for such an outrageous statement of “breathtaking inanity”!
You continue: “… there’s something that doesn’t need an explanation… the Creator, the God who transcends the universe, who is before it, and who explains it”. Again – by what authority? Personal incredulity, Clifford, is a dog that simply won’t hunt.
Not even your admission in your book God, Gödel, and Grace (how “God” and Gödel can possibly be contained in a single sentence…) that one can never “prove” what needs to be taken on faith can compensate for the capriciousness of conning superstitious minds, forged by irrepressible and incessant innuendo, into a certainty of what is not. Shame on you!
(Just the other day I had to strongly suggest that my folks abandon the Kent Hovind – the Kent Hovind!! – DvD series sent them by an Adventist friend. For crying in a bucket!)
That life could not possibly have resulted from the inevitable outcome of unconscious energies, but that a prodigiously intelligent and complex sempiternal creator could have bechanced from nothing, spontaneously, before time must surely rank as the most ludicrous conclusion ever. It is an embarrassing notion, Clifford.
I do agree with your concise apologia in answer to criticism of your July 24, 2003 Seventh-day Darwinians – that evolution and Adventism (religion) cannot be reconciled. (What is it with you and July 24, anyway?)
There is an expanding universe between science and religion. Science and religion are supremely incompatible.
I am often confronted by theologians arguing their conviction that scientific theory is predicated upon something quite similar to religious belief and that since science does not have all the answers and we are so completely incapable of sufficient understanding, we dare not dismiss the transcendental. This is, of course, utter booboisie pap and a pathetic presumption borne from either one or more of a compunction that we had better believe for fear of divine retribution, or a resignation that we might as well believe in answer to social or traditional dictate, or an inability to engage evidence rationally.
To presume for lack of sufficient understanding is nothing less than flagrant intellectual knavery and mental sloth. The transcendental is but the dumpster of all that believers are too scared, too lazy, or too dumb to attempt to better understand.
The fact that science does not have all the answers does not indicate that theology has any answers at all. To pontificate that “God” – by definition “more complex” than “creation” – is not subject to explanation is obstinate to the point of impertinence.
I conclude with the words of the Pulitzer laureate Natalie Angier, recalling this insight from a Caltech biologist, “One of the first things you learn in science is that how you want it to be doesn’t make any difference.”
Ps. Should you be inclined to pursue my line of thought I suggest that you consider browsing the following articles: Science & Religion; Science vs Religion; God: A Package Deal; The things we do know; Tolerance.