Christians Need to Stop Retreating and Take the Lead in the Marketplace of Ideas
Secular psychologists try to pigeonhole evangelical Christians as second-class citizens enslaved to groupthink. The opposite is true. It’s time to boldly say so.
Op-Ed by David Coppedge
The Apostle Paul took on the greatest philosophers and thinkers in Athens and other cities of the Roman world. While staying humble and acting in love, he and the other apostles were unashamed (Romans 1:16) and bold (Acts 4:13, 31). Their churches helped launch a philosophical and cultural revolution that changed the world. There have been many ups and downs in the interim, but Biblical worldview holds its own even today centuries after the scientific revolution and 161 years after the Darwinian revolution. The academic consensus belittles “evangelical Christians,” but so did the Stoics and Epicureans in Paul’s Day. Numerous also-rans for philosophical dominance have come and gone, often attacking Christianity as part of their strategy. The Bible is an anvil that has broken many hammers.
Today, “evangelicals” are marginalized by the so-called “elites” of our culture as a voting block or political category that opposes science. With Yoda Complexes in gear, secularists try to psychoanalyze these strange people who don’t follow the “consensus” of scientific or political thought. But Christ followers have equal rights in the marketplace of ideas. If they had the courage of their convictions, they could turn the tables and analyze the secular mindset. In fact, they are in a better position to do so, since they have a necessary and sufficient cause for the origin of the universe and life with all its specified complexity and functional excellence. Why be shy about it? Why let the secularists dictate the terms of the discussion? Why not go on offense?
Case in Point
At The Conversation this week, a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, Adrian Bardon, argued that “Faith and politics mix to drive evangelical Christians’ climate change denial.” While not as bombastic as some secularists, Bardon continues this inaccurate pigeonholing of evangelicals as “people of faith” who deny science.
U.S. Christians, especially evangelical Christians, identify as environmentalists at very low rates compared to the general population. According to a Pew Research Center poll from May 2020, while 62% of religiously unaffiliated U.S. adults agree that the Earth is warming primarily due to human action, only 35% of U.S. Protestants do – including just 24% of white evangelical Protestants.
Politically powerful Christian interest groups publicly dispute the climate science consensus. A coalition of major evangelical groups, including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, launched a movement opposing what they describe as “the false worldview” of environmentalism, which supposedly is “striving to put America, and the world, under its destructive control.”
Studies show [prepare to be hoodwinked] that belief in miracles and an afterlife is associated with lower estimates of the risks posed by climate change. This raises the question: Does religion itself predispose people against climate science?
As an evolutionist, Bardon instinctively chooses words to portray his Yoda Complex as superior and evangelicals’ skepticism as inferior. Secularists have “faith and politics” while he has “science and consensus.” This is a false dichotomy that is highly misleading. Everyone has faith. Everyone believes in the supernatural, and everyone believes in miracles. The universe of “people of faith” encompasses Bardon and the secularists, because they have faith in scientific observations they did not do themselves, and faith in the reliability of their own senses which, according to their worldview assumptions, arose from aimless particles. That’s not just belonging to People of Faith, but People of Fluff. Secularists believe in miracles like “Nothing times nobody equals everything” and “life spontaneously arose from nonliving matter by chance” and “Our minds emerged from those of apes by accident.” Why are Christians shy about responding to this? Why do they feel defensive? Think about how the above quotation could be turned around, putting the secularists on defense instead:
[Satire begins] Secularists and the religiously unafilliated “nones,” especially evolutionists in academia, identify as radical environmentalists at very high rates compared to the general population. According to a recent poll, while most evangelical thinkers are skeptical that the Earth is warming primarily due to human action, over 62% of secularists accept it – including 99% of professors at left-leaning universities, where Darwinism is unopposed.
Politically powerful interest groups in Big Science and Big Media publicly attack evangelicals with labels like “science deniers” while pushing the climate science consensus uncritically. A coalition of major scientific institutions, including the AAAS and Sierra Club, instigated a “March for Scientism” with printed signs attacking Trump appointees who, in their opinion, are supposedly “striving to put America, and the world, under Christian control.”
Studies show that regular attendance at Bible-preaching churches is associated with higher critical thinking skills as well as a heightened sense of well being. This raises the question: Does atheism itself predispose people to anger and blind acceptance of the consensus of secular climate scientists? [End of satire]
Nothing is stopping Christian philosophers and thinkers from taking the offense on matters of public policy and worldview. The only limits are access to media for making their case and the boldness to do it. Instead, many shy evangelicals, unaware of the strengths of their position, allow the secularists to set the debate, define the terms and call the plays. Pastors feel more comfortable hiding inside the church walls preaching to the choir. In so doing, they allow brash proponents of indefensible positions like Darwinism and atheism to dominate the media and intimidate everyone else, leading to the election of politicians who first pigeonhole and then attack bogeymen like “evangelicals” with unconstitutional laws, regulations and court orders restricting religious liberty. Before they turn around, pastors and church members are being persecuted. Would this happen if pastors trained and equipped their members in apologetics and spiritual warfare and sent them out as ambassadors for Christ? (II Corinthians 5:20). Paul changed the world by reasoning with the philosophers on Mars Hill, in synagogues, schools, on the streets and from house to house. What overcame his fear? What gave him confidence? At the end of his life, he said, “I know whom I have believed” (II Timothy 1:12, 3:14).
Understand Feints and Dodges
At points in his essay, Bardon pulls back a little from the customary black-and-white categorization of scientists vs evangelicals, admitting that the polls show more complexities that prevent simplistic conclusions. Continuing with the question of whether religion itself predisposes people to deny the climate consensus, he says, “Surveys of people around the world, as well as social science research on denial, suggest the answer to this question is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.” He then repeats some typical atheist canards, such as the notion that religious people are afraid of science, or that they gain comfort from belief in a powerful deity. But then, Bardon admits evidence that some evangelicals’ skepticism of the climate consensus may involve politics more than religion. He also finds some bias in liberals. Bardon’s graciousness is only temporary.
For example, where a conservative person invested in the social and economic status quo might feel threatened by evidence for global warming, liberal egalitarians might be threatened by evidence, say, that nuclear waste could be safely stored underground.
As I explain in my book, “The Truth About Denial”, there’s ample evidence for a universal human tendency toward motivated reasoning when faced with facts that threaten one’s ideological worldview. The motivated reasoner begins with a conclusion to which he or she is committed, and assesses evidence or expertise according to whether it supports that conclusion.
Undoubtedly this happens with many careless thinkers on both sides, but Bardon’s Yoda Complex prevents him from seeing it in himself. He, after all, is the professor. He is at the elevated rostrum speaking down to his fellow humans. He wrote the book on the truth about denial. But if it is true that blind, unguided processes of evolution created in the human mind “a universal tendency toward motivated reasoning when faced with facts that threaten one’s ideological worldview,” then how does Bardon escape that himself? Is he starting with a conclusion that “there is no God” and “the climate consensus” is right, then card-stacking whatever evidence supports his own bias? Maybe this is just his evolutionary fitness strategy! (cue sound of implosion).
Below is another excerpt where Bardon’s definitions cloud his thinking even when he is trying to be fair to evangelicals. He has already decided that the scientific consensus is right (including climate consensus), and that denialism is wrong. As a member of his own Groupthink Community, he cannot escape the instinctive pleasure of bashing evangelicals while ignoring his own blinders. [Note: each paragraph is followed by links to the Baloney Detector.]
We are left with something of a “chicken and egg” problem: Do certain religious communities adopt politically conservative positions on climate change because of their religious tradition? Or do people adopt a religious tradition that stresses human dominion over nature because they were raised in a politically conservative community? The direction of causation here may be difficult to resolve. [suggestion, either-or fallacy, appeasement]
It wouldn’t be surprising to find either religious dogmatism or political conservatism linked with anti-science attitudes – each tends to favor the status quo. Fundamentalist religious traditions are defined by their fixed doctrines. Political conservatives by definition favor the preservation of the traditional social and economic order. [loaded words, association, glittering generalities]
Consider that perhaps the single essential aspect of the scientific method is that it has no respect for cultural traditions or received views. (Think of Galileo’s findings on the motion of the Earth, or Darwin on evolution.) Some would argue that scientific inquiry’s “constant onslaught on old orthodoxies” is the reason both conservatives and frequent churchgoers report a decreasing overall trust in science which continues to this day. [card stacking, non-sequitur, fear mongering]
Thus scientism gets the audience, and the secularist at the rostrum holds the whip. Where is the clear-thinking, bold evangelical who can turn the tables on Bardon and point out his own fundamentalism?
Exercise: Rewrite the above quote in a way that turns the tables on secularism.
Recommended Reading: Tactics, by Greg Koukl.
Final Word: American poet Edwin Markham’s clever quatrain shows how Christ followers can take the initiative and do it in love:
He drew a circle that shut me out;
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
It takes a wit (shrewdness) to have a winning strategy against the secularists who currently dominate our culture and are trying to shut out evangelicals. Lovingly, we can draw a bigger circle around those trying to ostracize us. Solomon said, “He who wins souls is wise.” There’s that winning spirit again. Christian, get over your inferiority complex and stop playing defense. Get out there and win souls, using reason and loving persuasion. God has given us the high ground in every respect: scientifically, logically, morally, socially, healthfully. Cast down imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God (II Corinthians 10:5). Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).