I get email invitations

Isn't this sweet? It's a polite invitation from Pastor Dale in Ohio, which was also sent to a lot of other skeptics/atheists. It's so polite and open-minded!

Greetings. I want to let you know about an upcoming project, and I invite any of you or your consumers to participate. I realize your viewpoint is drastically different from ours, but I firmly believe that we all stand to gain from honest open discussion with those who see the world differently from us, and that spending all our time with those of like mind creates intellectual inbreeding. We make no demands of participants except that all treat each other with civility. Thank-you for your consideration.

On October 10, 2010 (2:00 PM Eastern/ GMT-5), Rev. Dr. Joel Heck of Concordia University, Austin will give a one hour presentation on the Book of Genesis, followed by a question and answer session. While the host congregation will be Shepherd of the Ridge Lutheran Church in North Ridgeville, OH, Dr. Heck will give his presentation from Austin via streaming Internet video. We will, in turn, broadcast this presentation live via our website, shepherdoftheridge.org. Anyone anywhere in the world with a broadband internet connection can watch live. We will also allow viewers to comment and ask questions via our chat boxes. The presentation will be recorded for those unable to watch live.

Following the event, we will begin an ongoing indepth study of Genesis. The discussion will take place on multiple levels and locations. We will meet live to discuss it in person on Sunday evenings at 7 PM (Eastern) at Shepherd of the Ridge Lutheran Church. The conversation will be streamed live, so anyone unable to be present can watch and join in the discussion via chat, Twitter, or Facebook. Those unable to watch live can either watch the recorded class or listen online via podcast or just read the questions online and discuss the questions in the comments section. We will also have forums to discuss tangential topics like the age of the earth, archaeology, and more.

Anyone interested is welcome to attend or participate in any way, regardless of beliefs, background, or location.

Get more information and sign up at http://shepherdoftheridge.org/bible_study/genesis for updates.

What a nice invitation. You'd almost think they were going to discuss the origin of the world seriously. But, you know, you can't trust Christians who promise an "indepth study of Genesis", because behind the polite and friendly mask of the happy reverend is the brain of a drooling idiot. I looked up Dr Joel Heck. He's…unimpressive.

The first thing you should know about Heck is that he is a signatory to Answers in Genesis' Affirmations and Denials Essential to a Consistent Christian (Biblical) Worldview. That is a marvellous document. You owe it to yourself to browse through it, just to see how deep into crazy our opposition is nestled. Most of it is general creationist assertions (There are no transitional fossils! The creation was in exactly 6 24 hour days! There was a global flood! Etc.) but my two favorite sections are the more general ones that lay out rules that are fundamentally anti-science, because they deny the possibility of any source of knowledge other than the Christian Bible. Remember these when some AiG young earth creationist tells you that they love science, as Ken Ham has done.

3. We affirm that the final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself. Scripture must be compared with Scripture to obtain the correct interpretation of a particular text, and clear Scriptures must be used to interpret ambiguous texts, not vice versa. We affirm that the special revelation of infallible and inerrant Scripture must be used to correctly interpret the general revelation of the cursed Creation.
We deny that uninspired sources of truth-claims (i.e., history, archeology, science, etc.) can be used to interpret the Scriptures to mean something other than the meaning obtained by classical historical-grammatical exegesis. We further deny the view, commonly used to evade the implications or the authority of Biblical teaching, that Biblical truth and scientific truth must remain totally exclusive from each other and that science could never agree with the Bible.

4. We affirm that no apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field, including history, archeology and science, can be considered valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record. We also affirm that the evidence from such fields of inquiry is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.
We deny that scientific "evidence" used to "prove" millions of years is objective fact and not heavily influenced by naturalistic presuppositions.

Section 3 is clear: the only source of knowledge about Scripture is Scripture, and science and history that uses any other source of information cannot validly cross-check the Biblical accounts. Section 4 declares that any history or science that does not agree with Scripture is wrong. But at the same time, notice that at the end of Section 3, they announce that they deny that science and the Bible could ever disagree. Why? Because True Science always agrees with the Bible.

It's a perfect closed loop. They have closed their eyes to the universe around them, and declared the Bible to be the Pole Star of all knowledge, perfect and consistent and uncontradicted by reality by definition. It's actually extremely creepy to anyone not indoctrinated into their dogma.

So, does anyone expect the Shepherd of the Ridge discussion to be enlightening or interesting in anything other than a psychopathological way? You shouldn't. It's going to be a nightmare of ignorant people insisting that non-Biblical information may not contaminate their thinking. And I don't give a damn how polite their invitation to the skeptical community was.

But wait…so far this is all guilt by association. Maybe Joel Heck got hoodwinked into signing AiG's stupid document, and he's really going to make a less exclusive, rational argument.

No, sorry. One of Heck's lectures has been recorded, and I listened to part of it before the inanity became too overwhelming. He argues for a strictly literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, and his 'logic' is perfectly consistent with the Affirmations above. Here are two of the arguments I heard him make:

  1. In parts of the New Testament, the authors clearly announce when a story being told is an allegory or parable. Nowhere in Genesis does the author say, "This is an allegorical account of creation", therefore, it is literally true.

    That should leave you flabbergasted for a bit. Think about it. I have noticed that neither Banks' Consider Phlebas nor Tolkien's Lord of the Rings nor Melville's Moby Dick include declarations in the text that the stories are fictional tales, therefore, we should seriously consider the possiblity of shape-shifting Balrogs on an epic quest to hunt down a space-whale.

    That's the kind of logic we're working with here: the bloody literal-minded smallness of a 'scholar' who needs blinking neon lights in the text to figure out the damned obvious.

  2. His other argument was another familiar one from the young earth creationist crowd: if the story of Genesis isn't literally true, than other parts of the Bible that refer to it collapse into falsehood, too.

    Sin entered the world with the fall of Adam…If evolution is true…then you have death long before you have the first human being, and that makes Paul's statement in Romans false.

    Well, yes. If it is an article of your faith that nothing died before 6,000 years ago, and someone finds a bone from an animal that died 7,000 years ago, then your belief has been falsified, and all inferences from your failed premise are called into question. The fact that you really, really like that inference that you'll go to Jesusland after you die is simply not a factor in determining the truth status of the Jesusland assertion.

    But don't forget the AiG escape clause! The bone can't be 7,000 years old because that would contradict the Bible, therefore all such uncomfortably disagreeable evidence should be discarded.

I might listen in on the freakish conversation in October, but I doubt that I'll be able to last long — listening to Heck's horrible recorded lecture inspired simultaneous somnolence and rage, which is a weird combination not to be courted often. Also, the AiG declaration is extremely limiting, not at all open to discourse about real ideas or evidence, so I can't imagine what they could actually talk about — I'd be curious to see how the audience manages it.

Some readers here may be familiar with the grad school journal club tradition, where every week a paper is subject to critical examination, and people come prepared with other sources to either savage or reinforce the lessons of the experiments. Do not expect that at Shepherd of the Ridge. Expect the antithesis of that. I admit to some curiosity about what the opposite of a scientific discussion would look like, and here's an opportunity.

And of course it will be very polite and not rude at all. Some will consider that a virtue to make the whole exercise worthwhile.

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