The Truth Project’s Battle Against Science

My Bible study group recently completed the fifth lesson of the The Truth Project, Science: What is Truth? Prior to watching the lesson, I was skeptical because many Christians seem to be anti-science. Dr. Del Tackett acknowledged the skepticism in the audience. He admitted that scientific investigation is a valid way of ascertaining truth. Then he asserted that man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie (evolution). Although he made some valid points, in defending one view of creation and categorically condemning another, he threw out the baby with the bathwater.

The apostle Paul said that though what may be known about God is plain to all of us, man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Tackett argues that man has transformed straightforward scientific inquiry from a search for truth into a philosophy that excludes the Creator; central to this anti-God worldview is Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

Before I get to the rather antagonistic claim that The Truth Project makes about people who believe evolution is true, I want to summarize some of the good points.

The Work of His Hands

Dr. Tackett started out with David’s beautiful psalm about the heavens proclaiming the work of God’s hands and revealing knowledge of his creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19: 1-4

Tackett presented a compelling case for intelligent design versus randomness. He asked us to imagine the likelihood of forming two lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet by randomly dropping Scrabble tiles on a tabletop. Of course, you would also have to imagine that mere chance could account for the tiles having letters on them.

Tackett asked the important philosophical question, why is there something rather than nothing? We all know that we can’t create something from nothing. But I believe that there had to be an ultimate beginning, an ultimate source of all material and living things. Christians believe that God is the ultimate source; the Latin phrase creatio ex nihilo refers to God creating something from nothing.

My favorite part of the lesson on science was a video that illustrated the activities of the complex “machinery” within cells that converts DNA into specific types of proteins. I believe that DNA is undeniable evidence of an intelligent creator but my appreciation of the complexity of genetic codes was enhanced by seeing an illustration of the intelligent processes of transcription and translation. How in the world can this sophisticated design be the result of chance?

The Truth Project’s Battle Against Evolution

The Truth Project teaches that there is a cosmic battle between God’s truth and the lies of the world. On the subject of science, Dr. Tackett claims that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory is central to an atheistic philosophy that excludes God as the creator.

The lesson guide summarized Tackett’s message about science as follows:

…fallen man ignores the plain evidence of objective scientific inquiry and promotes the atheistic philosophy of evolutionary theory primarily because he is determined to do as he pleases without answering to a higher authority.

The Truth Project, Science: What is True?

After making this generalization about people who believe in evolution, the lesson guide goes on to say that if group participants are uncomfortable with this claim, it is “precisely because it hits so close to home.”

Dr. Tackett used an inflammatory quote from atheist C. Richard Bozarth (“evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’s earthly life was supposedly made necessary”) to support his claim that evolutionists are antagonistic towards anyone who questions whether evolution is a theory or a fact.

Dr. Tackett spent much of the lecture presenting The Truth Project’s arguments against evolutionary theory, which are primarily based on the concept of irreducible complexity and on the lack of fossil records.

Critical Thinking Under Attack

Before I watched the lesson on science, I was aware that the Truth Project has been criticized for indoctrination. Still, I watched the science videos with an open mind and found some positive points. I can understand why Dr. Tackett throws out the claims of atheists like Bozarth. But he also throws out the critical thinking of people of faith who disagree with his beliefs about evolution.

After I watched the lesson on science, I was curious about why people have issues with TTP’s teaching on this subject. I read a critique from a rather snarky mathematician/attorney. I can understand why Dr. Tackett ruffled his feathers but his response turned me off. He ridiculed Dr. Tackett and said that if your degree is in business management (like Dr. Tackett), you have no business refuting evolution. I have an MBA but that doesn’t mean that I can’t comprehend scientific concepts.

Dorothy Boorse, a Professor of Biology at Gordon College, wrote a review of the TTP’s lesson on science that was both respectful and comprehensive. She says she wants to heal “the rift people perceive between science and Christian faith.” There are a wide range of views in the Christian scientific community and Boorse would have liked to see these views presented. Tackett discussed only extreme views, which present a false dichotomy between worldviews. He dismissed evolution but did not provide a legitimate alternative. He also defined and used words incorrectly. Boorse notes that evolution makes no philosophic claims. It is not a worldview that denies the existence of God. That would be scientific naturalism or materialism.

A Christian blogger, Elliott Ritzema, came to the same conclusion about the science lesson on his blog, All is Grist. While he agrees with much of what Tackett says about science, in attacking evolutionary theory, Dr. Tackett has “chosen the wrong bad guy.” The battle should be against scientific naturalism.

I think that Del is right in many of the things that he says about science, but he has unfortunately chosen the wrong “bad guy.” The bad guy here is not the theory of evolution, which, as I mentioned, many Christians who work in the sciences believe in. No, the bad guy is scientific naturalism, which says that the only real things are the things we can examine through science. This is the worldview that needs to be addressed.

Elliot Ritzema, All Is Grist

Another concerned Christian created a website called The Truth Problem, addressing his concerns with the entire TPP video series. The site includes a Science Fact Check and provides links to other Christian points of view. In Creation & Evolution – A Case for Inclusivity, he makes the point that we should be “humble and open-minded especially towards Christians who take the Biblical creation account metaphorically.”

Although I have been critical of Dr. Tackett myself, I like him. We’re on the same side, though I suspect he would throw me out with the bathwater too.

The Pernicious Lie of the Prosperity/Success Gospel

As I get ready for work in the morning, I often see a Joel Osteen commercial in which he says, when you humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, in due time, he will exalt you (1 Peter 5:6). Joel Osteen is known for preaching the “prosperity gospel” and for that reason alone, I steer clear of him. But while staying in a hotel, I watched a few minutes of his Sunday service and saw how easily Osteen misleads people with what is also known as the “gospel of success.”

In a Huffington Post article, Pastor Rick Henderson called out Osteen and Joyce Meyer for The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel is much like all other religions in that it uses faith, it uses doing good things to leverage material blessings from God. Essentially, use God to get things from God.

Pastor Rick Henderson

Henderson’s article includes a link to a ten-minute video of Pastor John Piper explaining why the prosperity gospel is abominable. To explain why this false teaching is spiritually dangerous, Piper repeats Jesus’s warning about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Jesus also said that you cannot serve both God and money – Luke 16:13).

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Luke 18:24-25

The Apostle Paul wrote about how destructive it is to chase after wealth because the love of money often leads to temptation. We should be content if our basic needs are met.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

1 Timothy 6:6-9

Piper says that those who believe in the prosperity gospel are confused about the timing of the blessings promised in scripture. The truth is, Christians face trials, persecution, pain, suffering, failure, and poverty in this life. Heaven is our eternal reward for a righteous life.

In the few minutes that I watched Joel Osteen’s sermon, he said that while there is nothing wrong with being a cheerleader for other people, you should be your own cheerleader because you have God-given talents. This sounds innocuous; I credit God for my abilities. But cheerleading the self is not consistent with the real gospel. And it is clear to me that Osteen has a self-serving and not a God-serving reason for pushing the success gospel. In his book, “You Can, You Will,” he offers to teach you how to reach your potential.

There is a winner in you. You were created to be successful, to accomplish your goals, to leave your mark on this generation. You have greatness in you. The key is to get it out.

Joel Osteen, promoting his book “You Can, You Will” on Facebook

The Truth Project’s lesson guide on anthropology says that some Christians “may have difficulty accepting the idea that ‘self-fulfillment’ and the call to ‘follow your heart’ are inconsistent with a Christian worldview.” Dr. Del Tackett says that “self-actualization” is a “pernicious lie.” He criticized Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs because self-actualization is depicted as the highest human need.

I say that the prosperity/success gospel is a pernicious lie. I think that Pastor Hariton Deligiannides would agree. In writing about Osteen’s cult-like influence, Diligiannides said that Osteen feeds his audience’s egos, scratches their itching ears (telling them what they want to hear), and covers up the true condition of the human heart.

Adam Blosser also calls out Joel Osteen as a false teacher because Jesus made it clear that his followers would be persecuted for their faith. Jesus said, you will be persecuted but you will be rewarded in heaven.

Osteen’s message is built on the power of positive thinking. If we will remove any semblance of negativity from our lives and focus only on things that are positive, then we can live lives that are victorious and successful. The clear problem with this message is that it ignores the reality of Christian persecution and suffering around the world.

Adam Blosser, in Why I call Joel Osteen a false teacher

Peter said that when you humble yourself, in due time, you will be exalted. I don’t know what Osteen has in mind when he quotes Peter’s verse about humility but I do know that my study Bible says Peter wrote to offer encouragement to suffering Christians. When I read about humbling yourself, I have in mind Christ’s humility (Philippians 2:5-11).

Even though Jesus was in his very nature God, while he walked on the Earth as a Son of Man, he did not exalt himself above us. Instead, he made himself nothing. He took on the nature of a servant, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, washing dirty feet. He was obedient to God, even to death on the cross! And after he lived a life of service and humility, God exalted him to the highest place – at His right hand – and gave him a name above all names.

++++++

Photo of man kneeling by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

Who do you say I am?

In The Truth Project’s lesson on theology, several “men on the street” were asked the question, who is God? When I heard one of the responses, I laughed because it sounded ridiculously conceited. What hubris! To paraphrase: Who’s God? I am. I am a tattoo artist. I create. I’ve done very well for myself. The tattoo artist is not alone in thinking he is a “little g” god. But who is God with a big G? And if you know the answer, what do you do with it?

Who is God?

Although we cannot fully know God, a long list of attributes have been used to describe his nature – holiness, graciousness, omnipotence, etc. The authors of The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) wrote a lengthy sentence about God’s nature with scriptural sources for each attribute.

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter II, Of God and of the Holy Trinity

The words “without body, parts or passions” gave me pause. What did the writers of the confession mean when they said God is without passions? My mind interprets “without passions” as emotionless, which isn’t consistent with my view of God. The God I know loves deeply. According to William Tate, as published in Reformed Perspectives Magazine, to affirm that God is without passions means that God is not moved or controlled by something else in the way that humans are controlled by our emotions and passions.

The many names of God in the Bible – Abba, Father, El Shaddai, etc. – reveal a lot about his nature. Dr. Tackett spoke at length about the name El Qanna, Jealous God. Tackett struggled to understand how jealousy is consistent with a God who is without sin. But God is described as a jealous God because he wants to preserve the covenant relationship he has with his people.

God is my Father, Rock, Redeemer and Shepherd. He disciplines me like a father. He is strong and dependable, a firm foundation. He saves me and leads me. But one of my favorite names for God is I Am because it so simply affirms that he always was and always will be. He is immutable.

I AM: (Exodus 3:14) – This name for God, given by Him to Moses, is a form of the Hebrew “to be.” It expresses His self-existence and the unchangeableness of His nature. He is the “eternal present,” because He always was and always will be. Because He is outside time, He is always in the present. He does not change or change His mind. He is immutable.

From Compelling Truth: What are the names of God?

Knowing God

A central premise of The Truth Project’s lesson on Theology is that there is an important connection between knowing God and receiving eternal life. Eternal life is mentioned several times in the New Testament, including the familiar John 3:16, which says that whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life. Dr. Tackett pointed out the prayer in John 17:1-3, in which Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

The key to receiving eternal life is knowing the one true God. You can’t know God unless you have a personal, intimate relationship with him. As Dr. Tackett says, God revealed himself to us in his Word. The Bible is God’s Word but God’s will was made clear when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Dr. Tackett warned about the people who have attacked God’s Word throughout history. I am not concerned about people who question the veracity of the scriptures. I do, however, feel compelled to repeat the warning that Jesus gave in Matthew 7. Not everyone who calls out to Jesus, Lord, Lord (as if they know him) will enter the kingdom of heaven, only those who show that they understand the Word of God by doing God’s will. Jesus will tell the false disciples, ‘Get away from me. I never knew you.’

Jesus often spoke in thought-provoking parables that were incomprehensible to those with hardened hearts. When asked why, he said:

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
   you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them

Matthew 13: 14-15

Through Jesus, I see the grace of God. I see how much God cares for the least among us. I understand with my heart.

Who do you say I am?

Focus on the Family posed the question, who is God? Jesus asked the question, who do you say I am? Do you see that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to save us? Do you grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is? Do you see how much the rest of the world needs to know God too?

When asked the question, who is God, the tattoo artist in The Truth Project video facetiously responded that he is. I found a video about Flash on Focus on the Family’s website. As I listened to him talk, I saw the pain behind the conceit. Many people reject God because the world is dark and cruel and the “churchy” people they see are not genuine. One bright memory in Flash’s childhood was a woman from church named Millie. She was the real deal. She was a light in the darkness.

As I reflected on this lesson on Theology, I am convinced that knowing God is not merely an intellectual exercise. It is much more than knowing his many names. It is much more than being able to describe his mysterious attributes. It is about knowing and loving him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s understanding that people like Flash won’t know the love of God unless you show them who He is.

Tell the truth: who is man?

The third lesson of Focus on the Family’s Truth Project is Anthropology: Who is Man? Our culture’s assumptions about mankind conflict with the Christian worldview in significant ways: beliefs about the essence of man, his moral state, and the purpose of his existence. Is man purely the product of mindless forces? Is man basically good? Is our purpose for existence nothing more than self-fulfillment or do we have a higher purpose?

Is man merely a physical being or both flesh and spirit?

The first chapter of Genesis say that God created the heavens and the earth; before the earth was formed, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. So from the earliest scriptures, God is described as a creative being with a Spirit. According to Genesis 1:27, “God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” If God has a Spirit and we were created in his image, it follows that humans are more than a physical being.

Spirit is defined as “the nonphysical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.” Scientists study the brain to find physical or chemical explanations for emotional or even spiritual experiences. And while scientific knowledge is useful, it doesn’t disprove what intuition and experience tell us is true. Many of us have a strong sense that there is a powerful life force within us that is independent of our physical bodies.

Is man inherently good?

In the video lesson, Dr. Tackett asked one of his students: do you do what you want to do? I don’t think the student understood what Dr. Tackett had in mind because he responded yes. The apostle Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Paul realized that the sin living in him kept him from doing the good that he desired to do. (See Romans 7:15-25).

I don’t do what I want to do. I want to be good. I want to be in control of my emotions. I know that I shouldn’t get angry when things don’t go my way. But even though I want to be patient and calm under pressure, evil is right there with me making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. No matter how good my intentions are, I am a slave to my impulses.

Christians believe that when God created the first man and woman, they were good. Sin entered the perfect world God created when man disobeyed God’s command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man still bears the image of God within his being but he also has a sin-prone nature. As a result of “the fall,” our sinful nature is in constant conflict with the Spirit of God. As Tackett says, there is a “conflict between humanity as it was meant to be and what it has actually become as a result of sin.”

What does our culture say about our moral state? Dr. Tackett quoted psychologist Carl Rogers, who said, “I do not find that evil is inherent in human nature.” If people are not inherently sinful, where does the sin come from? Why do good people do bad things? Secular psychology places the blame on cultural influences. But as Rollo May asked, who makes up the culture if not people like us? And how can a culture become evil if there is no inherent tendency towards evil within each of us?

What do we need to be fulfilled as human beings? What gives our lives purpose?

Dr. Tackett says that the notion “that man is basically good and that his greatest need is to self-actualize and get in touch with his inner desires” is a “pernicious lie.” We certainly deceive ourselves about our sinfulness. We focus on outward appearances of goodness. We compare ourselves to others and conclude that we are not as bad as they are even though other people cannot see the sins hidden in our own hearts.

What is our greatest need? Dr. Tackett spoke dismissively about Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of human needs. According to Maslow, once our lower level physiological needs are met, we ultimately seek self-esteem and self-actualization. Self-actualization can be defined as self-fulfillment or reaching one’s personal potential. Maslow’s original five level model has since been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs and a level even higher than self-actualization – transcendence.

I am not as dismissive of Maslow’s ideas as Dr. Tackett. I don’t see the hierarchy of needs as necessarily self-centered. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be your best and reach your potential. To me the pernicious lie is the objectivism philosophy expressed by Ayn Rand. She said that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”

How does this contrast with the Christian view? Christians believe that we exist because God created us. Christian’s believe that what humans need is not self-fulfillment but grace, redemption, and spiritual transformation. Christians believe that our ultimate purpose is to love God with our whole being and to love others as we love ourselves. Christians believe in living sacrificially, in serving others and putting the needs of others before your own. The reality is that we have a moral responsibility to look out for the interests of others.

The human dilemma

Thinking about human nature reminds me of the essay written by Rabbi Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith. He pointed out something I had never noticed before about the story of creation in the bible. In the first chapter of Genesis, it says that God created both male and female at the same time. He told them to be fruitful and fill the earth and to subdue it and to rule over every living creature on earth. In the second chapter, the story is very different. In this version, God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. He put man in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it but prohibited him from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then God decided it wasn’t good for man to be alone so he created woman from man’s rib to be a helper for him.

The rabbi believed that the reason there were two versions of mankind’s creation is that there are two natures in man. Each nature has its own needs and purpose for being. The personality described in Genesis I, Adam I, strives to control his environment. He is achievement-oriented and has a practical, utilitarian approach to life. He is on a narcissistic quest for human dignity – to feel important. In contrast, Adam II yearns for a relationship with his Creator. He is humble and not self-centered. He is on a quest for redemption and so he strives to control the self and its selfish impulses.

Personally, I do not think it is truthful to look down at our culture from a religious point of view. Every culture is flawed because mankind has always been flawed. Many people who are outwardly religious have never honestly confronted their own need for redemption.

However, pragmatic modern man – whether secular or religious – works only with categories of the intellect, not realizing their limited purview. He adopts religion to the extent that he deems it as being useful and comprehensible to him. His is a religion of convenience, not commitment; it is geared to suit his own needs, not to serve God’s will. He does not comprehend the meaning of total devotion and does not sense the need for redemption, which constitute the essence of faith. The danger, then, is not just that secularists have ceased to understand the man of faith; it is that adherents of religion have ceased to understand themselves and their commitment.

Reuben Ziegler, an Introduction to The Lonely Man of Faith

The truth is, God designed man as a complex physical and spiritual being and he created a world in which we are in constant conflict with our human nature. Man often suppresses or ignores the Adam II part of his nature. He denies that God exists. He denies his need for transformation. For those of us who do pursue the quest for a relationship with God, we must honestly face the ugly reality of our own brokenness. We must confront the truth about who we really are and who God meant for us to be.

Truth: Philosophy and Ethics

I am studying Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project” this year. The topic of the second lesson is Philosophy and Ethics. The lesson guide states that “there is a formal and vital connection between our ideas about the nature of the world (philosophy) and our understanding of right and wrong behavior (ethics).” What happens to this connection when you exclude God from your search for knowledge and wisdom? How can you really understand God’s truth if you conform yourself to the ways of the world?

Dr. Del Tackett says that philosophy is the love of wisdom. Dr. R.C. Sproul defines philosophy as “a scientific quest to discover ultimate reality.” The website, The Basics of Philosophy, lists many other definitions of philosophy including “the study of knowledge” and “thinking about thinking.” Philosophy is a broad subject that includes thinking about the nature of existence and reality and the search for knowledge and truth.

Because truth is based on reality, the quest to discover ultimate reality should be aligned with the quest to discover ultimate truth. Dr. Tackett notes that contemporary culture has excluded God from the search for ultimate reality. Many people only believe in what can be perceived with the senses. As an example, Tackett quotes Carl Sagan:

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

Carl Sagan

Tackett calls Sagan’s philosophy the “cosmic cube.” It’s the belief that the material world is all that there is, that nothing exists outside the box. And yet human beings long for something beyond the material. We long for a higher meaning and purpose. We sense that we are not just physical beings.

Tackett points out that many people accept the words of people like Sagan because they use powerful and deceptive “assumptive language.” If you don’t critically examine the assumptions, they may sound plausible. He makes a good point. I have long noticed that when explaining human conduct, people claim, without proof, that evolution explains our behavior. For example, they would explain my husband’s inability to find something in the kitchen cabinet and his concurrent ability to spot a deer far away with evolutionary psychology. 

Tackett reminds us that there are scriptural warnings about being taken captive or sucked in by hollow and deceptive philosophy.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

Dr. Tackett didn’t say much about ethics but he explained the difference between morality (the rightness or wrongness of conduct; that which is) and ethics (principles of conduct; that which ought to be).

I have taken ethics courses but I have never formally studied philosophy. So how do I connect philosophy and ethics? How are my ideas about ultimate reality connected to my beliefs about right and wrong and how humans ought to behave? Why do I believe God exists? How do I defend my faith in an age of profound skepticism?

Those of us who believe in God believe that he is inside the box and outside the box. He’s everywhere. We can’t see him with our limited human senses but we see physical evidence of him in the wonders of creation.

C.S. Lewis said that if there is a controlling power outside our universe, it could show itself as one of the observable facts, as an influence to behave a certain way. He said that if this power behind moral law is interested in morally right behavior, then it follows that it would not approve of wrong behavior. I think it also follows that this higher power would want us to know what it means to be upright and moral and he would want us to live together in peace. And what better way could he show us the way the world ought to be than to come down to us like a Son of Man?

We have a sense that the world is not the way it ought to be. We have a sense that we are very flawed and yet very great. We have a longing for love and beauty that nothing in this world can fulfill.  We have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things?

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.