matt chandler

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.

Debating Evolution Skeptics on YouTube (with a little help from Stephen Jay Gould)

Evolution untenable?

Evolution untenable?

I get a bit worked up about evolution deniers. So much so that I spend much more time than I should engaging individuals in online discussions and forums, who, for whatever reason (okay, the reason is always religions) deny evolution. Without a doubt, they get most upset when I use the word “fact” to describe evolution by natural selection.

“Isn’t that very unscientific of you, to say evolution is a fact? It is just a theory after all.”

Well, yes and no. That last sentence betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the what a scientific theory is, relative to other types of “theories”. A scientific theory is a very specific thing, it’s not the same thing as a theory about who killed Kennedy or a theory about who will win the Superbowl or even a theory about market behavior in economics. A scientific theory is an idea that has broad explanatory power, has been tested and verified by different objective observers, is consistent with other bodies of scientific knowledge, and explains particular facts. Facts, in turn, are just things that happen: e.g., apples fall when you drop them, humans evolved from apelike ancestors, the earth is an oblate spheroid. Scientific theories explain these facts – the theory of gravitation in the first (and last) instance, and Darwin’s theory of evolution in the second. It is possible these theories will be modified in the future, as Newton’s was by Einstein, but apples will still fall and humans will still have evolved from apelike ancestors – the facts don’t change.

A few individuals seem to be under the impression nothing can be proved or rightly called a “fact”. These people are playing a game with semantics. In any real sense, evolution is a fact, and descent with modification (Darwin’s preferred term) is the profoundly powerful theory that explains it.

If I could ask the American public to sit down and read one essay, it would be the late and inimitable Stephen Jay Gould’sEvolution as Fact and Theory” – he says everything I just have with much more eloquence. Go read it, and consider offering it up the next time you’re spending too much time in a debate on YouTube.

The Blind Men And The Elephant – Reblogged from The Rookie Theologian

Re-posting an interesting article from this blog that highlights another example of Matt Chandler’s skilled rhetoric and deceptively poor logic. Again, this is why I think Chandler is dangerous – he’s sophisticated and entertaining enough to maintain credibility with his congregation (you can just imagine his parishioners nodding their heads in agreement during the referenced sermon), but not quite smart enough to well…reason effectively. I’m not qualified to comment on the weaknesses or merits of his personal theology, but I suspect it has its problems too (if he can make such glaring logical mistakes like in the post below and in this video, how can anyone trust him to interpret the Bible?!?)

Post starts now (click the link below to read in full):

The Blind Men And The Elephant

The Neo-Calvinist preacher Matt Chandler, who belongs to the same doctrinal camp as Mark Driscoll and John Piper, is responsible for this video. But before I get into discussing the video’s content let me first say that while Chandler and his cohorts may lay claim to “bare-bones Gospel” theology, what they proclaim is just as much a culturally and historically derived variant of Christianity as any that can be found in the theological marketplace of Protestantism. They all claim that their orthodoxy and orthopraxy parallel that of the early Church in Pre-Constantinian Christianity, but this is simply not the case. Chandler, Driscoll, and Piper all adhere to a denominational form of Christianity that is the product of thousands of years of religious evolution. Unfortunately, these men are some of the loudest voices representing Christianity in America. It is important that we remember that they do not speak for all of Christianity, but only a single form of it. With that being said, let’s move on to the video.

The video is called “The Elephant and Blind Men Contradiction.” As its name suggests, the video is Chandler’s response to The Blind Men And The Elephant, a parable by John Godfrey Saxe, which addresses the mutually incomplete and imperfect understandings of God in the world’s enduring religious traditions. Chandler’s claim is that there is a philosophical contradiction in the parable that undermines its central message. What I am going to do here is argue for the parable’s philosophical validity.

Here we go…

continue reading at: The Blind Men And The Elephant.

Sophisticated Ignorance – An Evangelical Preacher’s Denial of Evolution

Matt Chandler is a likable guy. He really is. I don’t have any trouble understanding how he’s been able to turn what was originally a dying congregation at Highland Village Baptist Church in Flower Mound, Texas into a 10,000 member, four campus mega-community of worshipers now collectively known as The Village Church. I get why he was recently named President of the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting initiative founded by Seattle-based preacher Mark Driscoll. I get why he’s got the #3 podcast in the “Religion and Spirituality” section of iTunes and a best-selling book, The Explicit Gospel. I get it. He comes across as real and genuine and somebody you want to be friends with. I’ve felt this way about him myself while sitting in on several of his sermons in Dallas.

But Matt Chandler is dangerous. He has that rare combination of charisma, ignorance, and influence that endears him to many and makes him seem trustworthy (…George W. anyone?). His book, The Explicit Gospel, has what must be the most frustrating section on science I have ever read (you can read my review of it on Amazon here, but just to give you a preview, he calls himself an “agnostic” on science…despite having just survived brain cancer). He of course denies evolution, but as you’ll see in the video below, he does so in a moderately sophisticated way, appealing to straw man arguments and misinformed rhetoric. When I first found this video, it had zero “dislikes” – I’ve tried casually to bump that up through initiating discussions in the comment section, but don’t think I can rest until that figure overwhelms the number of “likes”.

It isn’t just that Chandler is dangerous for people like me, who care about scientific integrity and truth, but he’s also, I think, dangerous for Christianity. He asserts a dichotomy between evolution and belief  (ie. you must pick one or the other) that I don’t think can survive the modern age of science and reason. Evolution is not going anywhere and Christians who insist on denying it will isolate themselves even further along the fringes. So, in a strange paradox, I think as many believers should be just as upset with Chandler as nonbelievers (I should point out that Chandler simply doesn’t seem to understand evolution…it’s possible, but not likely, that if he did he would come around).

Of course, I actually agree with Chandler that it is a dichotomy – that evolution is incompatible with evangelical Christianity – but I’d rather see moderate Christians embracing evolution (no matter how logically inconsistent the idea of “moderate” Christianity may be) than creationists continuing to insist that it’s “just a theory”.