Northside Baptist Church sits nestled in a generously broad, well manicured parcel of gated land on the north side of Charlotte. Together with its gym and Christian school, it is hard to miss. As I wound my way through the traffic circle and several parking lots, there were dozens of courteous helpers in bright neon vests. I had a nice chat with one of them, a cheerful gentleman who’s been there since the beginning, in 1973. These days, there are only about 800 or so active members. When I observed that there was an awful lot of church for 800 people, my new friend informed me that there was an unfortunate split quite a few years ago over some detail of theology or another. Things have picked up, though. Their current pastor, Brian Boyles, is on good terms with the Keepers of the One True Theology, who have descended upon Charlotte en masse.
I was pleased to see that security issues were taken care of. A representative of Arrington Ammunition Company kept a close eye on things from his company SUV all morning. (I waited until he took a bathroom break to take a picture on the sly. I was a little worried that he would take offense.) I couldn’t help thinking of another famous Christian spreading the love of Jesus through ammunition and brute force.
The Doubt Virus
Due to a bit of miscalculation on my part (and Nascar traffic which I failed to take into account) I arrived late for Juan Valdes’ presentation on “The Doubt Virus.” (Is Darrel Ray’s book doing that well? I certainly hope so!) But I did catch 35 minutes of it.
Juan hit some really good high points with me right off the bat. As I walked in, he was hissing the name Bart Ehrman and denouncing his temerity in suggesting that every word of the New Testament account of Jesus’ life and sayings might not be historical.
Next, he showed one of my favorite clips from Firefly, where River Tam informs Shepherd Book that the Bible needed to be fixed. She matter of factly asserted that “Noah’s ark is a problem. We’ll have to call it “early quantum state phenomenon.” Only way to fit five thousand species of mammal on the same boat.”
I almost gave up on the speech, thinking that Mr. Valdes wasn’t going to address the question — which seems perfectly legitimate. But a few minutes later, he did. You see, the Bible didn’t say that two of every single species went onto the ark. It said that two of every kind of animal. And only those that live on land. And though I’m sure I’ve never seen a legend, Juan was certain that “kind” is a scientific term for something akin to “family.” So rather than taking every variety of dog, wolf, and hyena, it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that he took one pair of very small pups, which then micro-evolved in the last 5000 years or so into every member of the Canidae family. According to unreferenced math, the total number of pairs necessary for such an evolutionary bonanza is about 30,000. Also, by taking only babies, the average size of each animal would be approximately that of a small sheep.
Also, the official size of the ark was over 450 feet long with three decks. That’s not too different from one of our first battleships, most of which were around 435 feet, with displacement of around 15,000 tons. I looked up an average sheep, and we’re talking about a hundred and fifty pounds for a small one. Thirty thousand of them would weigh 450,000 pounds, which isn’t all that bad. But then, the ark was made of wood, so I’m not sure how that translates to maximum displacement. And that doesn’t account for the weight of food. (I can only assume that all the carnivores brought snack lunches — animals that didn’t count as any of the two of each?) I just don’t know enough about ship-building to be able to reach a firm conclusion.
The presentation concluded on a positive note for me. In an informal survey (presumably by Mr. Valdes) he found that teens in high school are asking questions. They want to know: Where did God come from? Why do bad things happen? How can I know God is real? These are great questions, and it’s good that teens aren’t just glossing over them without expecting them to go away. In the realm of ethics, teens are overwhelmingly concerned with three questions: Do I have to hate gays to be a Christian? Why can’t I smoke marijuana? Why do I have to wait for marriage for sex.
Unfortunately, the length of the presentation did not allow for comprehensive answers to these questions, so I left as ignorant as when I came in.
I can’t say I was impressed with Frank Turek. In a nutshell, his presentation convinced me that one of two things is true: Either he has never read Dawkins, Hitchens, Lewontin, or Hawking, or more likely, he’s intentionally misrepresenting them. I was particularly disappointed in his presentation of Dawkins’ acceptance of the naturalist perspective in The Blind Watchmaker. As I am in a hotel room without my library, I can’t say this for sure, but I feel fairly certain that it was in Watchmaker that Dawkins spent quite some time methodically examining the implications of not accepting the naturalist paradigm, and concluding that in light of the ultimate philosophical problem of knowledge, the only reasonable thing is to follow whichever worldview works. That is, whichever one allows us to make accurate predictions about what we perceive.
Turek made no mention of this, and made it seem as if neither Dawkins nor Hawking nor Lewontin had the mental capacity to recognize the circularity of just assuming a philosophical position. Actually, that was a bit of clever word use. Throughout the entire speech, he used that word — assumption — when referring to the scientific philosophical position. He was careful to make sure we caught the implication that an assumption is the same as a baseless assumption. Which none of them advocate.
I was amused by some of the code-speak I heard. During the inevitable reference to designed things requiring designers, we were treated to an image of Mt. Rushmore. In a (seemingly) offhand comment, Frank made it clear that erosion couldn’t have caused the images on the cliff — unless perhaps it was political erosion. Beneath the auditorium full of chuckles, one could faintly hear the occasional “Jefferson,” with a bit of extra venom. The new textbook standards may not have affected the kids yet, but the adults have gotten the message.
Admittedly, I’m running into some problems. People keep wandering away from me. They’re very nice as long as I nod, but when I’ve asked honest questions, I’ve found that they suddenly stop talking to me at all. Which is odd. Because I was told that if I came to this event, people would be thrilled to answer my questions. Perhaps I haven’t met the right people yet.
In one instance, I was having a good conversation with Wes Moore, who wrote The Maker, a Christian novel. Things were going ok. He was explaining how a return to the Great Commission is more important than involvement in politics. This seemed odd, so I asked him if he thought Christians shouldn’t get into politics. Quite the contrary, he explained. If enough Christians return to the roots of Christianity, the laws will just happen naturally. All of this made sense, but I made the mistake of mentioning Catholics. He told me in no uncertain terms that Catholics are not Christians. I made the simple observation that it’s odd that Jesus waited nearly a millennium and a half to mention that to Martin Luther. He looked at me like I’d just breathed fire and grown a second head. Then he started ignoring me.
In the next instance, I was speaking with Curtis Bowers, author of Agenda, which makes the case that communists, now cleverly disguising themselves with the moniker “progressives” are taking over the world from within. I asked for details, and he mentioned Obama and his socialist healthcare plan. I asked what socialism had to do with communism. Being told that it’s the natural result of socialism, and results in the collapse of a society, I asked, “You mean like Norway?” He hesitated, and I said, “Because you know, Norway has been socialized for a long time, and they’ve got one of the best healthcare systems around.”
Before ignoring me, he informed me that the U.N. is an evil organization, and anything they say about other countries and socialism is a lie.
In an hour or so, I’m going back to meet Simon Brace, a South African in charge of the Southern Evangelism… um… something or other. I forgot to take note of the name of his organization. I’m skipping the Josh McDowell speech because it’s pre-recorded.
Oh… One other thing I forgot to mention. I’ve been to plenty of atheist conferences, and I’ve noticed a big difference between any of those and this Christian conference. They don’t allow any time for question and answer period here. Isn’t that odd?