The silliness of Matt Chandler

I’ve posted about Matt Chandler before, the charismatic lead pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, TX. He’s likable, but from what I can tell doesn’t think too hard about much beyond scripture (I’m using “likable” less and less now when describing him, actually). The jaw-dropping straw-man in this video on evolution had me boiling for months, and I had avoided watching another short clip of his on YouTube called “The Sillyness of Atheism” (yes, that’s misspelled), mostly because I care less about atheism and more about reason and science denial. I was also a little worried he’d say something ridiculous and that I would end up frustrated. Hypothesis confirmed.

In the 51 second clip below, Chandler shows exactly how muddy his thinking is. The premise of the clip (and it is just a clip – perhaps he clarifies certain points before or after so I don’t want to judge too harshly) is that he cannot understand “why people who don’t believe in God are so hostile to the idea of there being a God.”

Well, that’s a pretty glaring generalization and mis-characterization of nonbelievers, a group with tremendous variety in terms of thought and attitude toward religion (there’s not even one name you can fit them under, for example: atheists, skeptics, freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists, etc). Yes, some nonbelievers cross a threshold into anti-theism and are openly hostile toward religion, but the great majority never give God a second thought beyond studying religion as a natural phenomenon or when it interferes with civil or human rights.

Chandler jokes that the two tenets of atheism are 1) there is no God, and 2) I hate Him. He sees a discontinuity, which I think is meant to demonstrate a logical fallacy with atheism, between being angry about something one doesn’t believe in. He goes on to say, “I have never grown furious about unicorns … it’s a weird thing, all this pent up animosity toward something you don’t think exists.

But of course, Chandler’s analogy fails. People who don’t believe in unicorns (and that hopefully includes you, dear reader) don’t grow angry about unicorns because nobody believes in unicorns! If 80% of the american populous expressed a belief in unicorns, you would likely see a hostile reaction to such a belief. Heads of state don’t pray to unicorns, there are no moralities based upon ancient scriptures devoted to unicorns, laws are not influenced by followers of unicorns, children are not indoctrinated into unicorn cults before they can think for themselves, people do not constantly insist that the science rejecting the existence of unicorns is flawed, and rival groups of unicorn believers do not slaughter one another.

It is perfectly consistent for an atheist to be frustrated with religion (and it’s a frustration with religion and the tenets thereof, not with God, which an atheist obviously can’t be frustrated with). In an atheist’s mind, there is no more evidence for God than there is for unicorns – but the former (in one form or another) is worshiped by the majority of people on the planet. For the believer, I ask whether it wouldn’t frustrate you for the majority of people to suddenly start worshiping unicorns (provided the evidence for unicorns stays exactly as it is now: zero)?

Personally, I try not to be overly hostile toward religion, but one can understand why some think they have a moral imperative to be outspoken about what they see as a mass delusion, particularly one that has such an influence on society.  As Bertrand Russell said:

There can’t be a practical reason for believing what isn’t true … Either a thing is true or it isn’t. If it is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or whether it isn’t you should suspend judgement.

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17 comments

  1. Most of the people that I know who do not believe in God, are pretty hostile about their opinions of there not being a God. There is usually a lot of mud slinging and name calling about how we Christians are a delusional.

    Since I am a Village member I can tell you that this snipped of information you have on him is taken out of context; and wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. But I can also tell you that if you don’t know God, then you don’t get it and you won’t ever get it. God cannot be explained. I love this quote by Francis Chan “if my mind is the size of a soda can and God is the size of all the oceans, it would be stupid for me to say that God is only as big as the amount that I can fit into my little can.”

    I feel like there is a ton of evidence that points towards God being real. I can already see your eyes rolling as I mention:

    1. The earth float on nothing Job 26: “He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing”.

    2. Oceans contain springs and fountains and mountains, Job 38:16, Genesis 7:11, Jonah 2:5-6.

    3. Human blood having possible origins of one person. (1995 y chromosome study http://www.reasons.org/articles/chromosome-study-stuns-evolutionists) Act 17:26

    4. Look at the oceans, the sky, the mountains, and pay attention to the science of them, the boundaries, how everything works in a mathematical order. I’ve never understood how someone who understands the science behind things cannot see God. You would think they of all people would believe for than someone like me who…couldn’t explain in the least most scientific things. Those good at science actually get a glimpse of HOW God made things happen.

    There a ton more reasons to believe if you are willing to see. I once wasn’t willing to see nor did I want any part of God. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. My ex husband is a pastor’s son who…well, you wouldn’t know he was a pastor’s son. Plus, I just really didn’t want to believe it, it seemed very “greek mythology” to me. I’ve had, what I feel are very valid reasons, to not believe as well… and yet I don’t feel like I ever had a choice other wise in believing. You’re going to laugh when I say I felt “pulled”; the more I tried to disregard the more in my life seemed to point to a creator. Weirdness.

    Anyways, I didn’t mean to write you a book! I do like your quote. Smart guy.

    Well have a good weekend 🙂

    1. Thank you again for your comment (and sorry to keep beating up on your pastor)!

      I think it’s actually quite easy to explain why people who see “the science behind things cannot see God”. If you understand science, you understand that God is a superfluous add-on. There is simply no need to invoke a god or gods to explain anything in the natural world anymore, as physics and geology can explain all the mountains, oceans, and skies you see. A few philosophers (who are similar to scientists, except they usually don’t bother with evidence) will go further and say some “being” had to create the laws of physics in the first place. Well, maybe, but there’s no evidence for that kind of argument and even it were true, it wouldn’t point to any particular religion or tell us anything at all about such a being. Scientists have already posited several plausible theories for the laws of physics coming about naturally, and would likely point out that historically, every time we thought we had to invoke a higher-power to explain something (the movement of the planets, thunderstorms, diversity of life) it turns out we didn’t (Newtonian motion, meteorology, evolution).

      The second difference between someone who has been exposed to science and someone who has not is a differing standard of what constitutes “good” evidence. What might be credible evidence to a religious person is probably not to someone who understands how fallible the human mind is, and how often it falls prey to bias, pattern-seeking behavior, and generally erroneous thinking. Evidence has to be objective, independently verified, and lead to broad explanations (if it causes more questions than it answers, it’s probably not very good). Your first and second point, for instance, are not credible to me since they are cherry-picked, non-specific lines from a holy book you are already committed to seeing as true (a Muslim could do the same for the Koran, for example). They also ignore all the verses in the Bible that get facts about the natural world completely wrong (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Scientific_errors_in_the_Bible) – my favorite is defining the mathematical value of pi as a round 3.0…since getting it right would actually have been pretty good evidence for God given the time period it was written in. Point 3 is an article written by someone who completely misrepresents the implications of a paper he did not write, and who has clear bias toward interpreting the results theologically. If you read the actual research paper it has no theological implications at all and is completely consistent with materialistic evolution. The genetic “Adam” or genetic “Eve” scientists refer to is our most recent common ancestor – not the first human – they refer to the genetic line that led to us, but there were many other humans around at the same time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrial_Eve).

      I don’t deny that religion can make people feel good, that it gives them meaning, purpose, community, friends, happiness – and I want everyone to have those things. But just because something makes someone feel good, or just because someone wants it to be true, doesn’t make it so. Some can handle that, and some can’t – the latter generally go with the worldview that makes them feel good, the more scientifically minded where the evidence leads.

      1. You understand there’s a difference between God and religion, right? Matt just kind of preached on it. You can get his whole sermons on thevillagechurch.net website if you need further blog post stuff. I’m sure he’s cool with it, he always says he is 🙂

      2. Sorry, by religious I meant something closer to: “the people who actively assert, with no credible evidence, that there is an all-powerful God (usually just one but sometimes more) who created and is in control of the Universe…and that they have access to this God or Gods even if some people don’t.” Or, in short, people who put forward extraordinary claims with much less than extraordinary evidence and confidently tell other people, including children, that this is how the world works.

        Thank you for the links. I listen to Chandler’s sermons frequently, I’ve read his book, and I’ve had several, long discussions with home group leaders at TVC (which, in my opinion, tends to pride itself on being “anti-religious”, but is essentially the same thing, just wrapped up in a younger, hipper demographic with nicer clothes and electric instruments).

  2. Hello there.
    I’ve been reading several of your posts today and I love the way you present arguments and deal with conflict. It is civil and at the very least informed. So my reply is both a praise, an agreement(in part) and then a question.

    1st. I appreciate that you’re willing to dialogue with religious people in a non-aggressive, non-ad hominem-y way. It’s refreshing.
    2nd. As a Christian, I find it interesting how young hip younger pastors have been helpful in my spiritual development. I have learned a lot about how to live a Christian life from men like Chandler, Driscoll, and many others. But what concerns me, and a friend of mine and I point this out, (Here: http://ancientthoughtsmodernwisdom.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/john-piper-necessity-and-the-problem-of-dependence/) is that pastors don’t seem to put much stock in being consistent. Chandler while being good at teaching Christians how to live, and pray, and such things, does not seem to be very good at the philosophical or scientific game. And how could he be? That’s not his calling. Pastors are supposed to care for the spiritual life of their flock, not be their professors or school masters. There are Christian intellectuals who do just that: Plantinga spearheaded a new movement in Christian Analytic Philosophy. William Lane Craig attempts to popularize this sort of philosophy, and I think winds up caricaturing a lot of the science he knows, but he seems to keep it more consistent in his scholarly output at the very least. J.P. Moreland has made interesting and significant contributions to the philosophy of mind. Francis Collins helped decode the human genome. Etc.
    But it does no good to list the veritable ‘who’s who’ of contemporary Christian thinking. My point was, I think Plantinga would make a terrible Pastor, as I think Chandler would make a terrible philosopher. Collins would probably be a terrible person to teach people how to raise their children, but the person fit for that would probably be a terrible scientist.
    I do not know if this is a good thing however. Pastors often become the ‘faces’ associated with Christianity, even if that’s a bad thing in the intellectual sphere. Especially since Christians are often uninterested in or afraid of engaging with modern science or modern philosophy or whatever. The average Christian is more likely to have heard of Chandler, than of Plantinga. The rampant Anti-intellectualism in both the Church and the country writ large, is terrible, but that’s a rant for another time.

    3. So my question to you is this: Should we take the fact that a pastor has to caricature a complex and sophisticated idea in order to talk about it to his congregation against him? It’s not just pastors. At one point in his interview with Moyer on his new series “Cosmos” Neil Degrasse Tyson sets up the dichotomy that God is either an “Idea in your mind” or a “Big white man with a beard in the sky” and neither of those adequately represent the Classical Theistic position. But people will take it to be? Is this to be held against Tyson since he is not a professor of religion but rather a scientist? Or since he was appealing to a public audience? I’m not sure. It definitely affects the thinking of the audience, but I’m not sure if it’s in a good way or a bad way.

    Those are my two cents. I hope it’s not pure drivel.

    1. Hi ZGuinn, thanks for you comment! Here are my thoughts in response:

      1. I think atheism is much easier to define and comprehend than theism, since the latter requires at the very least a definition of what one means by God(s), which varies significantly from person to person or faith to faith. So I think it’s fine to hold Chandler a little more accountable than Tyson. Tyson at least defined a type of God that some people believe in – Chandler described a type of atheism that no one believes in (if you are angry with God, you by definition cannot be an atheist). But I agree with the sentiment of your point, which is that people with influence and large audiences should do their homework before speaking outside their areas of expertise.

      2. If I can refer to Chandler’s evolution video I linked to – what he is doing there is not “caricaturing” – he’s blatantly misrepresenting facts. His book, The Explicit Gospel, has an equally frustrating section where he pontificates on the supposed unreliability of science and his skepticism toward evolution and the age of the earth. It’s one thing to caricature an idea in theology or existential philosophy since there’s no absolute standard of certainty, it’s quite another to distort established science, which has been verified countless times by objective standards. I think Chandler – who speaks every weekend to entire families – has a responsibility to represent whatever he is going to talk about accurately to the best of his ability. If he doesn’t think he can talk intelligently about a subject, he should leave it alone or at least admit up front that he doesn’t fully understand the ideas about to be discussed. That’s one of the things I admire most about scientists – they are the first to admit when they don’t know something or when they are speculating outside their field (admittedly many don’t see theology as a “field” which is why they may feel comfortable talking about it without a high degree of familiarity).

      I had never considered the segmentation between a pastor’s duties and a religious philosopher’s duties before – I suppose I assumed the pastor would almost need (or at least want) to understand the religious phosphor’s output in order to do his or her job better. But that helps give me some perspective on why pastors like Chandler stay away from any serious intellectual discussions during their preaching. I do think it’s a shame, however, since pastors obviously have the greater influence.

      Finally, you mentioned a Classical Theistic position – I was hoping in your reply you might try to define that for me. Do you mean by it something like Swinburne’s “a person without a body (i.e., a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things” – or is there another consensus definition you are referring to? I’m asking as I’ve not heard that term before.

      1. First of all, a quick question. Do you define Atheism as “a lack of belief in a Deity” or “Non-belief in a deity.”? Because those are very different things. And one is more difficult than the other. “A lack of belief” is a definition I don’t much like, and the reason is this.

        Anything therefore, that doesn’t have beliefs(books, rocks, trees, pipes) and anything that doesn’t have specific beliefs about God(dogs, infants, et cetera) are automatically Atheists. Even technically those who have a belief that “God does not exist.” Are excluded from the category because they express a negative belief about a Deity.

        But this negative belief is a point of Stasis between the Theist and the Non-Theist, simply because now they have something to disagree on.

        (Also, could someone reject belief in God, due to anger? I know that to say that then their belief is invalid is the Genetic Fallacy, but could someone who is angry with God for say a divorce, a death, bankruptcy, etc, then decide to wholeheartedly campaign against him and deny him and come to the conclusion that he no longer believes in God. For example, growing up a Christian in the Prosperity Gospel line, and then being poor, and blaming God because maybe you didn’t believe hard enough, but then realizing that maybe he’s not really there, and then seeing the evidence that way you stop believing in him, and bubble with rage at people who are actually happy with God? This seems like a coherent thought.)

        Anyways that was a bit of a tangent, but not entirely. As for the distinction between Religious Philosophers and Pastors, I think an analogy from Scripture is actually helpful here. The Christian church is described as a Body. Different parts have different functions and they work together as well. I believe that pastors, at least the intelligent ones, have a working knowledge of Religious Philosophy, at least where it overlaps with theology. (Molinism, for example in the overlap of the Determinism/Free Will issue.) but don’t much pursue it past that.

        A lot of pastoral teaching though is more practical. Not necessarily practical like ‘how to build a boat’ or ‘how to save your money’ but rather in how to live your life in accordance with what Scripture teaches about the heart and personal discipline, and how we interact with others, rather than about the metaphysical implications of the Big Bang. (Or rather, that the Big Bang didn’t happen and that they don’t understand enough of Ancient Near Eastern Literature to know that the initial creation story in Genesis is structured like an ANE-creation Myth, except it focuses on the demythologizing of nature rather than the mythologizing of it.)

        To be fair, I don’t know many people(myself and a few people I know an exception) who would go to a Church where we got up and learned about epistemology and classical arguments for God’s existence, their problems, their strengths, and how to resolve objections. Or how to deal with metaphysical implications of scientific theories(For example, the ‘unguidedness of evolution’. A Christian can more than happily accept the physical mechanism, and even believe it occurs on it’s own without ‘direct’ intervention. But physics can’t make metaphysical claims.) and how to disagree in a respectful manner. These are all things that would not keep a lot of people coming back to church. Thus, an option that some churches have, is to have a practical teaching, and then in the “Sunday Schools” actually offer hard-hitting classes with people actually in the field. (If you can find them.)

        But I think it was Swineburne in one of his theodicies(I probably have it somewhere, I’ll put a link up eventually) said basically that if someone came to him in tears and asked “Why does God allow suffering?” you should not hand him this Theodicy. That is not the purpose. It does no good to explain the logic to a broken heart. (Sadly, that’s what a lot of Christians do isn’t it? “My mother died, and I’m sad.” “Well, remember! GOD HAS A PLAN!” How trite. And actually rather vile.)

        And finally on to your last question.

        What do I mean by “Classical Theism”? It might be my own term, though I swear I’ve heard both Plantinga and Craig use it at different points. For the most part it agrees with the description of Swineburne’s there. Except it would remove the /necessarily/ creator, because then that creates a contradiction between perfectly free. Basically, when I say “Classical Theism” I mean, the general consensus between the historic branches of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. (Where they agree, not where they disagree)

        This definition would therefore not include things like what is /specifically/ meant by Omnipotence. The understanding of omnipotence associated with Allah tends to vary from that associated with the Christian God, but that doesn’t mean that we both don’t agree on the fact that he’s enormously powerful. It would not include things like Swineburne’s ‘necessarily a creator’, because that gives a bit of the image of the God of Plotinus, naturally and unstoppably emanating reality from himself. It would also not include statements about Trinity, Unity, or whatever.

        So to sum up it would probably be something like this, “God is: An enormously powerful, enormously good, all present, all knowing, immaterial being, who is present and active in the world.” (The specifics of these would then be debated and would have room for color.)

        (Also, sorry for the long-replies. I’m feeling long winded.)

      2. Hi ZGuinn – In my comment, I meant the latter definition of atheism you referred to – the informed non-belief in a deity. My point was that Chandler wasn’t defining atheism at all (either definition you gave). Sure, an atheist can be angry – but he or she is not angry with God, otherwise that person isn’t an atheist. More likely they are angry that there isn’t a God.

        I think it’s obvious that people can reject a belief in God for lots of reasons, and much of it can start simliar to the progression you outlined – but “belief” is the key word. If they are just angry with God or actively denying God or campaigning against Him, then again, they aren’t yet atheists – they are just angry theists. If they remain angry after they become atheists, it’s logically incoherent for them to be angry with God, since they purport not to believe in God – and that’s the reason Chandler’s point is way off. He’s confusing the object of certain atheists’ anger.

        The body analogy is helpful – thanks again for pointing out the separation of duties. But don’t you think those “practical issues” are actually quite complicated as well, perhaps more complicated than cosmology? How does one competently tell people how to live their lives in accordance to scripture (itself not always a very clear document) without some background or understanding of history or philosophy? One of my biggest beefs with Chandler when I was visiting The Village Church was that it was clear he’d not been to seminary, it was clear he didn’t understand much of the historical context surrounding the passages he was reading, and yet this guy was in charge of telling people how to interpret the bible – a book many were basing how to live off of. That seems to be sufficiently important to warrant at least a little more accountability.

        Your mention of Swinburne reminds me of this radio interview with Bart Ehrman, where the latter gets quite upset at Swinburne’s rationalization of suffering, that you might be interested in.

        You might also be interested in Herman Phillipse’s God in the Age of Science. It’s a recent critique primarily of Swinburne’s philosophy but he also deals with Plantinga in the first section. It’s a little difficult to find and read, but I think well worth it.

        And thank you for the definition of God – that’s more or less what I’m familiar with – just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

      3. Got it. That actually clears up a lot by what you mean by “Atheist”. I feel like a lot of discussions go round and round because no one ever defines their terms. I feel like it was Voltaire who once said “Define your terms, you will permit me again to say, or we shall never understand one another…”

        And what you have described is one of the reasons I am largely annoyed by Protestantism. Anyone can pick up a Bible and start a church and preach. There is no accountability. Not that I think the Bible is some largely esoteric text that is available only to the ‘enlightened’, I mean your average reader can get things out of it pertaining to their life. If the Bible says for instance “Repent of your sins.” and I look at that and thing. “Man I’ve got a bunch of unrepentant sins” then of course that means to repent of them. But as for the specifics of Apocalyptic literature (say…Revelation.) I think it’s a little harder. People get caught up on symbolism they’re 2000 years removed from and don’t quite understand it, so they misinterpret. That’s the big deal about Genesis, a lot of pastors hold to a wooden literalism that makes them mad when they start to realize it’s written like an Ancient Near Eastern text(if I recall correctly that’s even what’s taught at Covenant Theological Seminary in their Old Testament overview. (I use ItunesU a lot.) and preach from their feelings not from the text.
        So there is some value in what Chandler does. As I mentioned, sometimes when I’ve listened to him preach on something like sin or redemption, I’ve learned a thing or two or remembered something I’d forgotten, or seen an application. But I think there does need to be more accountability.
        On the other hand, I’m more sympathetic with Liturgical Traditions, because of their at least somewhat effective systems to regulate teaching. (The Catholic Church in America has little accountability to the Church writ large. I do not know about the Orthodox Church though.) But I can not wrap my head around their exegesis of certain passages. So I sometimes feel adrift amongst the body of “Mere Christianity” as Lewis once put it.

        I think Swineburne acknowledges the difficulty of the existential or emotional problem of evil, he just doesn’t deal with it in his philosophical work. (For the record, I also have problems with Swineburne. I have no unanimous likes about anyone.) I haven’t been able to listen to your link yet, but I just opened it up for listening about five minutes ago.

        And would this be the book you’re talking about? http://www.amazon.com/God-Age-Science-Critique-Religious/dp/0199697531 I just want to make sure before I buy a book, that we’re talking about the same one.

      4. That is indeed the book. Sorry it’s so expensive in hardback! I think the Kindle version would be fine if you were to go with that (there is quite a bit of Bayesian probability but not many diagrams or graphs).

      5. Indeed. Scanning the outline of the book, it looks interesting. It looks though as if it is a cumulative case, which would show that a denial of a definition or such would derail the whole thing. And quick searches tell me that it deals primarily with Swineburne’s arguments and Plantinga’s epistemology. (I don’t care much for Swineburne’s natural theology, nor Plantinga’s epistemology, so it seems to me that I might actually agree with a lot of the book.)

        I’ll ask around see if my friends have it before I go to purchasing it. (or at least, adding it to my wishlist) My amazon wishlist is getting lengthy with books. I just can’t afford them. :/

        Why does actual knowledge have to be so expensive?

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