Snarky Faith 2/4/17
A rundown of why evolution matters to faith with an interview with professor and author Karl Giberson. Karl is the Science and Religion professor at Stonehill college and author of many books such as Saving Darwin and Worlds Apart: The Unholy War between Religion and Science. Join us for part one of our talk as we delve into the importance of critical thinking. It’s an insightful discussion about how Christianity and science shouldn’t be put at odds with one another. We’ve also got What’s Good // What’s Bad chronicling the interweb’s best and worst of the week. Buckle up for a wild ride as we skewer through life, culture, and spirituality in the face of a changing world.
Title: Interview with Karl Giberson
Program: Snarky Faith Radio
Host: Stuart Delony
Well, good afternoon and welcome to another round of Snarky Faith Radio. I’m your host, Stuart Delony. Hey, dear listeners out there, whether your listening over the airwaves or whether checking us out via podcast, I just want to tell you guys, thanks for tuning in again. Thanks for being a part of what we do here at Snarky Faith Radio. This show today is going to be an interesting one. I know I may say that quite often, but we’ve got a guest interview with Karl Giberson who is a Professor at Stonehill College, and renowned or maligned, depending upon who you ask, for his work of integrating evolution into the journey of faith. Now, I’m not talking about evolution like, “Hey. We develop. We change on our journey, our faith spiritual journey.” No, literally evolution. He’s a brilliant mind. I think you’re going to enjoy the talk that I have with him. Today, we’ll be having part one of that talk. Karl is also known for his satire that he writes for the Huffington Post. He started a series recently called “Jesus at Trump Tower.” For the interview part today, we’ll be talking about really that relationship between being a critical thinking Christian. That’ll be part I. Next week, you’ll get the rest of that interview along with the dramatic interpretation of “Jesus at Trump Tower.” That’s right. We’ve done it here. Karl said it was cool. We’ve got some voice actors together, and we put together “Jesus at Trump Tower” for you, my dear listeners. Stay tuned because that is coming out next week. Before we get to that, it’s time for “What’s good // What’s bad”.
First off, with “What’s good // What’s bad”, holy sweet Lord, thank you for giving us John Oliver. Also, thank you, John Oliver, for coming off of hiatus because I don’t think I was going to be able to last another minute in our crazy, topsy-turvy McDonald Trump world that we are living in right now. John Oliver came back last week. It was beautiful. His show, which you can go and find on our website www.snarkyfaith.com. You can look for the “What’s good // What’s bad”, which will have all the videos that I’m talking about here in this segment, there for you, waiting and ready to go. John Oliver in Last Week Tonight did something beautiful and absolutely amazing. We all know that Trump likes to be briefed on issues of national intelligence, basically, by watching cable news. In order to get sanity into his big, fat, orange head, what John Oliver did this week was to purchase ad time during cable news in the morning. What he did was, during these commercial spots that they purchased, they actually integrated real facts into seemly real commercials just so, you know, our president can get the idea, and get his little bit of news. Hopefully, that’s not as crazy as the cable news that he continues to watch and digest on a regular basis.
Speaking about Trump, again, this will be on the website too. Every week feels so insane. I think we’re—what?—three or four weeks into the presidency now, and it is wearing all of us out. Guess what? We should have seen this coming. We should have seen this coming a while ago. I actually found clips when he appeared on WrestleMania. When you watch this, when you watch the insanity of—well, first of all, let’s just say this. Professional wrestling is a stupid, insane soap opera that really fools nobody, and if, actually, people do think it’s real, that’s even more scary. Well, I’m assuming those are probably the people that voted for him. Yes, he makes an appearance—I think it was ten years ago—on WrestleMania. As you begin to watch through that episode where he is on it, you begin to see, oh, he’s essentially treating the presidency like WrestleMania. The only problem is, WrestleMania, most of us know, it’s fake. The presidency, he’s treating it like it’s fake in some sort of insane wrestling match, but somehow the rest of us are stuck with this reality that continues to unfold. I don’t know about you, but I’m just having a hard time making it through opening the news every morning to be able to read it. I don’t want to check my phone ever when I get news alerts or anything like that because it begins to cause indigestion even just when I hear that sound of new news coming out because, generally, in the world we live in today, no news is good news.
Alright. Enough of that for now. Enough of Trump’s America. Did anybody catch Denzel Washington’s acceptance speech at the NAACP Image Awards for outstanding actor in a motion picture? His speech is every bit inspirational. It’s one of those things that we need now. The problem that we have is that we can easily become cynical. We can easily become bitter in Trump’s America. We can easily want to check out, but that’s absolutely the wrong way to handle it. It’s easy for me to say that. I mean, hey, I’ve got a show called Snarky Faith. I love being sarcastic, and yes, if you’ve been listening to the show for any period of time, you realize that, yes, I am cynical. I also love to be inspired. I also love to be reminded that Trump’s America does not have to be our America. There is a vision that he has that is moving out into the world right now that is terrifying and scary. What we need to do, is we need to move back to creating our own narratives, our own narratives for the things that we believe in, the things that we love, the things that we are most passionate about. I think we need to go back to dreaming. We need to go back to working hard. Denzel’s speech, I think the dude could read the phonebook, and it would come off so eloquent. What he said in the end of it, you can watch the whole thing on our website. He just said, “Keep striving. Never give up. Fall down seven times, and get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. Keep moving. Keep growing. Keep learning.” I think we need that. Instead of us becoming more and more cynical and bitter, I think we need to become more and more hopeful and inspire those around us that there is another way, that there is a different narrative that we can capture and that we can make happen in the world that we want to create. I look at this. I look at my kids when they watch the news. I look at all of this. I see them becoming cynical. I don’t disagree with it, but I don’t want them to end there. I want them to keep moving and to keep dreaming.
Speaking of dreaming another way for the world to be, the NPR had this great story about Pat Brown who is attempting—well, I guess not attempting because he’s actually done this. He has pulled off a veggie burger that tastes like actual, real meat. That’s right. He has actually made a veggie burger that tastes like a real burger. Why does this matter? Well, on one level, I would say that it matters simply because—or at least me and my family, we would be what you call garbage vegetarians, which means that, for the most part, we’re vegetarian. If you’re going over to people’s houses or other people are serving stuff, we make amendments to our beliefs within that. My wife has been on a pursuit of trying to make good bean burgers. While they are delicious, they do not taste like a real burger. No, the story is not important because finally, Stuart has something else to try to eat. No, that’s not what it is because if you begin to think about what it takes to make a quarter pounder hamburger, it’s great, they have this whole chart about really how awful raising livestock for us to be able to eat meat at any whim that we want to. McDonald’s is, what, 24 hours now? I guess you could call that meat. No, but when you think about how it harms the environment, so they break this down. For you to be able to eat a quarter pounder hamburger, what that looks likes is that is 6.7 pounds of grains and feed for the animal. That also takes up 52.8 gallons of drinking water to irrigate the crops. That also requires 74.5 square feet of grazing and growing for feed crops. You need to have an area for the crops to be able to feed the animals. You also need areas for the animals to sit around and graze. Right. In all of that, per quarter pounder hamburger, that requires 1,036 BTUs for feed production and transport, which is the equivalent of running your microwave for 18 minutes. This matters not simply based upon Stuart wanting a better tasting veggie burger. No, this matters because if they can do this, this can fundamentally change the way that we handle the food industry. On top of it, how much of an impact or a footprint we continue to put on the environment day after day, year after year. These burgers are all natural. When you see the “meat” before it’s cooked, it looks just like ground chuck. It cooks likes ground chuck. It smells like it, and it tastes like it. Can you imagine how much that would transform not only the way we eat but also the way that we handle the environment? It’s a fascinating story about one guy’s pursuit to change the world through hamburgers, and it’s from NPR. You can check that out on the website too.
Lastly, I will leave you in the realm of pure escapism. This is absolute, pure, disgusting escapism. There’s this guy. His name is John Ferraro, who’s also know based upon his talents, by the nickname Hammerhead. That’s right. Hammerhead pounded his way into the record books of the Guinness World Records Italian show. Do you know what he did? You can kind of guess this a little bit based upon his name. He pounded 38 nails into a board, in under two minutes, with his forehead. Yes, you heard that right. Thirty-eight nails into a board with only his forehead. Now, how can anybody do this, would probably be your first question. My first question is why would anybody want to do this? Really, how can anybody do this? Well, Hammerhead, apparently, has a skull that is twice as thick as the average human being. Supposedly, his forehead is 16 millimeters thick compared to the average person, which would have 6.5 millimeters. The video’s on the website. It’s something to behold. It’s not one of those things that I would say is not for the faint of heart, but it bizarre. It makes you cringe while you watch it. I’m not quite sure if that fits into “What’s good // What’s bad”. It kind of just is. It really begins to be a visual for how I feel about the way the world is going today. You ever have that feeling when you want to just bang your head against the wall? Well apparently, this guy literally does. I would just do it metaphorically because otherwise, it would hurt, and it really wouldn’t solve anything. That is “What’s good // What’s bad” from this week.
Next up, we have the interview with Karl Giberson that I’ll give to you right now. Here it is.
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Stuart: We’re speaking here today with Karl Giberson. Karl holds a PhD in Physics from Rice University. He’s also lectured on science and religion at the Vatican, Oxford University, London’s Thomas More Institute, and many prestigious American venues including MIT, Brigham Young, Xavier University. He’s also published more than 200 reviews and essays in the New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, USA Today, LA Times, Salon, and he also blogs at the Huffington Post. Karl, thank you so much for being here today.
Karl Giberson: I’m happy to here.
Stuart: One thing I when I was doing a little bit of background, research into you, I noticed that in 2013 you were elected to the International Society of Science and Religion. Is there any kind of secret handshakes or signet rings that came along with that?
Karl: No, unfortunately, I think that if you put religion and science together, you don’t get anything quite so interesting or mysterious as that. Basically, you just put nametags on your chest, and go over to the buffet, and start eating. That’s about it.
Stuart: That’s pretty much what anybody in a secret society would say who doesn’t want you to know about the signet rings and the secret handshakes. Right?
Karl: Yes. That’s exactly right.
Stuart: [Laughter] I’d stumbled across your work initially just with your Huffington Post article “Jesus at Trump Tower.” We’ll dive into that a little more. As I started to look into your background, it became more and more interesting about how much you’ve written and you’ve talked about this whole weird, tension, this divide between science and religion. I wanted to start us off with a softball question for you. Why do you think Christianity is so afraid of evolution?
Karl: There’s so many different ways to approach that. I think one of the significant factors is that very successful, evangelical entrepreneurs have managed to craft an argument that Christianity needs to do that. I say that because that movement didn’t come out of any mainstream religious tradition. I mean, it wasn’t that Catholicism, or the Baptist church, or the Presbyterian church, or the Anglicans looked at this really closely and said, “We really think that this idea is incompatible with traditional Christianity.” It wasn’t even an immediate response to Darwin in the early part of the 20th century when the fundamentalist movement was getting started. It was not anti-evolutionary at that point. Many of the prominent early fundamentalists were fine with Darwin. In both the middle of the century, there were some just very energetic, articulate people who began to make an argument that you could take the first chapters of Genesis and you could take a particular interpretation of natural history and the fossil record and fit those two things together. This was the only place that a Christian could truly stand and be faithful to both God’s Word and the evidence of nature. That argument just turned out to be very successful. The audience was right there for it.
Stuart: I take from how you’re framing this too that you’re a big fan of Ken Ham.
Karl: Oh, yes. Ken and I are really good buddies. [Sarcasm] I think if you go to his website, you can read a lot of interesting blogs where he just praises my work to the heavens. [Sarcasm]
Stuart: I’m assuming that you have a lifetime pass to the Ark exhibit or whatever the fun ride he has going on.
Karl: He’s always asking me to come out and get my perspective on [laughter] his projects.
Stuart: I love how you’re laying this out. Another just follow-up to that question, why is this still a thing? Why is this argument still a thing within the church, do you think?
Karl: Well, I mean that, in a certain sense, was the thread that defines a lot of my career, is wrestling continually with that. At first, when I began to engage this question, I thought, “Perhaps the reason is that people didn’t know enough science, and if we could just explain the fossil record and genes, and so on, that they would come around.” I quickly discovered that it’s not about that at all. Eventually, after writing several books about it, and talking to a lot of people, and having a vast army of fundamentalist calling for my head, I began to look at this as more of a cultural phenomenon. I think the reason why this is a thing is because American evangelicalism has separated from the mainstream, intellectual culture. In that separation, they’ve created their own colleges and universities, their own presses. They have their own authority figures. They have their own television celebrities and so on. There’s a whole separate world that a lot of evangelicals live in. This is a world where they hear from people that seem very sophisticated that there’s a controversy over whether evolution is true or not. I mean, they just think that’s true the same way anybody else might say there’s a controversy about whether there’s aliens elsewhere in the universe or something like that. They think it’s a live question because the people they listen to are telling them that. They live on an intellectual island cut off from the steady advance of science.
Stuart: Hmm. If Karl had his way, how would you reframe this conversation about evolution?
Karl: I’d like to reframe the conversation at the level of Sunday school teaching because I think that’s where a lot of the structural problem persists. If you look at the typical education of a child growing up in the evangelical church, they learn Bible stories. They learn them in Sunday school. They learn them if there’s a children’s part of the service. They learn them from books that uncles and aunts give them for Christmas and so on. They get all this biblical literacy: the stories of Adam and Eve, and Moses and the Ten Commandments, and Noah’s Ark and so on. They just learn all these stories. Then, those stories are just taken literally by young minds because that would be natural. Then, when they get to be 13 or 14 and need to revisit those stories in a more sophisticated way, maybe talk about where those stories came from and why we know the actually can’t be taken literally anymore, we don’t do that. We don’t bring the story back around there. If you look at what the programming for teenagers is like in churches, it’s all about trying to keep kids from having sex, getting on drugs, hanging out on the streets, giving them a separate place to be apart from the world and all of its problems. There’s just no attempt to help them grow up intellectually.
You regularly encounter people who are college students. They’re 19 years old. They’re in college, and no one has ever suggested to them that Adam and Eve might not necessarily be historical figures. I’ve been particularly surprised at the number of people who come to college with that view, even though they’re part of a denomination that doesn’t actually hold that view. The stories that they learn when they’re four years old just take up residence in their head and just stay there. Then, all of the sudden in college, they have faith crises because they’re hearing for the first time that there can’t possibly have been two individuals in the Middle East 10,000 years ago from whom the entire human race descended. That’s just not possible. A lot of their faith gets shattered when they realize that.
Stuart: On that same tangent when you’re talking about the, I guess, Sunday school during the formidable years with people. How do feel like Christians holding on to this historic idea of Adam? How has that forced Christianity to reject science, and facts, and critical thinking, and all of that kind of stuff?
Karl: This was something I didn’t appreciate as much as first, but it turns out that the only real issue for most people is Adam. Thoughtful students, who I’ve engaged in class for decades now, who are very eager to accept science and to get out of this anti-science mold that they’ve been raised in without losing their faith. They’re okay with the Earth being very old. They’re okay with a creation that’s understood that it’s a long process over time. They’re okay with the fact that God has a plan. All that seems acceptable to them, but they recognize that when it comes to Adam and Eve, and the fall, and sin and so on, that there’s something theologically important there that they’re not sure how to navigate. I think the issue for most Christians who are wrestling with this is not really so much evolution per se, it’s how do we account for sin in the world unless we have two individuals who brought it into the world. If we don’t have that story in history somewhere, then we have to suppose that God made all of this bad stuff that makes life so tough. That’s just not acceptable for most people in terms of their understanding of Creation.
Stuart: With again, if you had your way to do this, what kind of posture should a thinking Christian have?
Karl: This was a large part of my own formation as I left fundamentalism and eventually, evangelicalism, was coming to the realization that science is an enterprise of great integrity. What’s going on in the scientific community is not a political effort to achieve consensus around a set of secular, anti-religious ideas. There’s no general, anti-religious sentiment in the scientific community. It’s a very honest search for truth. In an age where telling lies about everything has become so commonplace, I mean, science really should be understood as one of the few enterprises where, actually, telling the truth and being honest about what you are encountering in the world. That’s one of the few communities where that value is still at a very high level, more so than in the church today. I really think that thinking Christians need to recognize that science is an enterprise with a lot of integrity, and they need to take it seriously. When scientist come and say, “Look. There’s no way the human race can be descended from two individuals, no matter when they lived, because there’s too much diversity in the gene pool to have it all have originated that way.” Then, people need to say, “Okay. That means that Adam and Eve are not historical characters. I have to live with that. If I can’t figure out how to fit that into my idea about sin, and suffering, and the origin of all the evil in the world, then I’ll just have to accept that as a mystery that I don’t understand.”
Stuart: I love how you begin to talk about science as a search for truth. I think that many folks in the religious realms would say that religion is about searching for truth or ultimate truth. Where do you think that they go wrong? Specifically, Christianity when we talk about searching for truth, a lot of folks within those realms already assume they have the truth. Right. Maybe you can tell me if I’m wrong or not, but when you look at science, the pursuit of truth continues. It’s not simply, we’ve found this truth. Let’s just leave it and walk away from it. We’re good here, which is what seems like, a lot of times, within Christian scholarship has become where we already have the truth. Instead of necessarily needing to search deeper for it, we already just have it and we need to proclaim what we have. Again, why do you think it is that Christians aren’t always on that search for truth much like folks are in the science realm?
Karl: Well, the point that you’ve made is one that my good friend, John Polkinghorne, has made on many occasions and talked about how science and religion really are cousins and they’re related in that they both take the search for truth very seriously. I don’t think that it actually plays out like that in practice. I think in some ideal sense, all Christians would say that we’re all about having the truth and being open to truth, but the reality is that the Christian community is more about protecting historical truths rather than seeking new truths. You never find within the Christian community, really in any of its traditions, an excitement when they discover that something that they’ve longed believed to be true, actually, is not true. Whereas in the scientific community, when something like the Big Bang emerges and people are very startled by this idea that there was some sort of extraordinary beginning event to the universe, this is big news. It’s exciting. It’s like a novel that’s reaching a crescendo. People get really excited about it. Even though these revolutions are often hard-fought because people holding to other views don’t give them up quickly. There’s an excitement that something really significant is going on. I mean, in contrast to that, when something emerges that challenges the traditional Christian idea, it’s circle the wagons and protect the received wisdom, from the past, at all cost, and try and fight back against this new truth.
Stuart: Yeah. Like what you’re even saying, it’s like the tow the company line kind of posture that you have. Some of this I wonder, and we’ve wrestled through this on other shows. I would love to hear your feedback on this. I think some of it comes down to how we disseminate and how we raise disciples currently in the American church. Even if you just look at the basic structure of how things happen, it’s simply you have one person on a Sunday, telling everybody else what to think. You have this idea that you’re just translating to them. Very rarely do you see churches nowadays, actually teaching people to critically think, to be able to have the tools to make the conclusions themselves. Again, if you look at science, science is a study where you’re continuously pushing people to research, and to dream, and to search for what’s out there. Whereas within Christianity, oftentimes, at least American Christianity, it seems like it’s boiled down to we already have it figured out, and we just need you to continue to know what we have figured out.
Karl: Yes. I certainly agree with that. The issue with science, though, I think is more complicated. I don’t want to be overly critical of the church on this point because these scientific issues are peripheral. Most of the conversation in the Christian tradition has been about Christ and what that means, how to understand all that. Right. Everything else is secondary to that. If you look at what a good pastor is trying to do—let me answer this question by relaying a conversation that I had with one of America’s leading evangelical pastors who put it this way. He said, “In my congregation, I have people who are wrestling with the death of a child. I have people who are struggling with their sexual orientation. I have people who have had an abortion and are feeling very guilty about that. I have people who are looking after parents with dementia and so on.” He went down the list of the real world issues that people fight and look to the church to help them get through these struggles of life. Then, he said, “When do I have time to talk about the age of the Earth?” That’s a very good summation of why this is such a serious problem. If you’ve got somebody in front of you who’s child was killed in an accident, and you’re trying to help them get through that, you’re not going to say, “I’d like to take a little bit of time now to talk about the age of Earth and how it’s 6,000 years old.” [Laughter]
Stuart: True. Yes.
Karl: Yeah. Those parishioners end up just thinking, “Oh well. This is a creationist church. We believe the Genesis story and the Earth is young. Adam and Eve walked in the Garden of Eden,” and so on. Those just don’t end up getting into the sermons.
Stuart: Some of my background is that I went to Fuller Theological Seminary. I like to commonly say that Fuller was amazing for me, but it was also terrible for my career because one of the things that I valued about how they handled things was one, because they’re interdenominational. They really just push critical thought, which oftentimes, critical thought, when it comes to the church, isn’t always very welcome. This may sound silly, but I want to see how you unpack this. Would you say that you’re a Christian who happens to be a scientist, or is it the other way around? Within all of that, I know, oftentimes, in culture, it’s an either/or paradigm that we thrust things into. How do find that balance between faith and your profession in science? How do you find that balance?
Karl: Well, I found it increasingly harder. I went through a transition as an undergraduate where I had to free myself from the fundamentalism with which I was raised. That was a difficult intellectual transition, one that, in many ways, I never really got past that emotional struggle. I had been raised in a very fundamentalist, biblical-literalist church, but it was a wonderful church. It wasn’t political. There was no gay bashing and so on. It was a very warm and nurturing environment. In a sense, I was cutting off something that I look back on very fondly rather than escaping something that turned me off. Then, I spent many years teaching at Eastern Nazarene College in the Church of the Nazarene, which is not a fundamentalist denomination per se, but for practical purposes, is. I began to feel increasingly alienated from that tradition. The more I became more scientifically informed, the church, in general, in America seemed like it grew increasingly more conservative. It became more hateful on issues of gender, and gay marriage, and so on. I began to feel alienated from the whole evangelical world. I can’t really identify myself with that label anymore.
I had a conversation like this with Robert Wright who does this blogging, hedge thing for the New York Times. He’s followed my career over the years. He asked me, “What does it mean to you? What does it mean to be a Christian?” I said, “Look, for me, I don’t really want it to mean much more than I think it’s important to pay attention to the things that Jesus said about caring for the least of these among us, and if somebody says that it’s important to me, I’m totally happy to let them have the label Christian and so on.” For me, I’ve really gone a long ways from being interested in trying to unpack theological doctrines and so on. Robert Wright actually laughed when I gave that definition. He said, “ Oh, I’ll be happy to pass it on to Sam Harris that he can call himself a Christian now.” [Laughter]
Stuart: Would you say that you approach religion, faith, and theology with the same rationality that you approach science?
Karl: No, I don’t. I mean, I think that’s one of the things that needs to happen for the church is for the church to recognize that these big, transcendent questions that are at the heart of the Christian understanding of reality need to be approached with greater humility. There needs to be more room for people who can’t buy various pieces of the package. The case to be made, for example, for say the virgin birth, right, it’s unbelievably weak. It’s a very weak case. If you’re going to say that, “Oh, well, if you can’t sign on to this particular doctrine then you’re too liberal, you’re heretical, and we’d rather you not teach at our institution or not attend our congregation,” and so on. If you’re going to insist on these things, which are very difficult to support adequately, be embraced with the same confidence that we might embrace the periodic table, or the elements, or the shape and motion of the Earth, then you’re just going to drive a lot of people away because a lot of those things in the Christian world-view are quite extraordinary things.
Stuart: I loved how mentioned this, talking about how we, in the Christian world, like to label folks as heretics very quickly. It doesn’t take very much for folks to start trying to say, “Hey, you’re out of the tribe. You’re out of here.” Do you see that same posture in the scientific community? If you believe this, do we run you out as quick as possible?
Karl: No, I don’t see that at all. Now, I know that people in the intelligent-design movement who have felt marginalized. They would say, “Oh, no, they run us out there.” Because I think that the scientific community does its work with great integrity, I think some of the conclusions to that community has come to simply need to be accepted now. If you want to be in the club, so to speak, you can’t keep revisiting questions from the 19th century as if they’re still alive. I mean, Darwin is correct. The world evolved. That’s the end of it. The claims by the Discovery Institute that these are still open questions, that there’s still a real controversy, and we want it taught in the public schools, there’s still room for advance on these 19th-century notions of design. I mean, that question was adjudicated in the 19th century. It’s not a 20th-century question. It’s certainly not a 21st-century one. There is a certain scientific heresy, I guess, you might call it. If somebody wants to be a member of the scientific community and doesn’t believe the Earth is billions of years old, doesn’t believe that radioactive dating works, doesn’t believe evolution and genetics, and so on, if they just reject all that, you have to question their right to be a member of that community. I don’t know whether that’s actually comparable to what goes on in the evangelical communities that jettison people so often and so quickly, or so little. [Laughter]
Stuart: Mm-hmm. Speaking about evolution, can you talk to this a little bit? It’s a nebulous-type question. Do you think that (a) evolution should matter to faith, and (b) do you think evolution can actually inform our faith on a deeper level?
Karl: I think it should matter only in the sense that if you are going to engage questions of human origins, then you should do that with the truth and not with a myth from the Bronze Age. I don’t think that every rank-and-file Christian in every pew in the country needs to be reading about Darwin and understanding evolution. I mean, we don’t expect baseball fans to all know about Darwin, so why would we expect evangelicals to all know about Darwin. Darwin is not some all-encompassing idea that everybody needs to be wrestling with all the time. If you’re an elementary school teacher, when does Darwin come into your discussion? It’s not going to happen. It’s not something you deal with in the first, second, third grade. On the other hand, I think that it’s incredibly useful to recognize that evolution has shaped us as humans in very profound ways. If we don’t take those into consideration, then we don’t really understand ourselves. I think, for instance, if you take an issue like homosexually that for most of history was viewed as a strange, perverted choice made by people who are sick. Now, we understand that it’s not. It’s a natural way that people are. I mean, it becomes important to recognize that there is a human nature, and we’re born with it. We can’t escape it. We have issues related to our gender, or sexual preferences, and everything else. If you really want to understand humans and their condition in the world as actors in this great drama, you’ve got to pay attention to what we know from evolution.
Stuart: For you, coming at your faith, especially from your background, your education, everything else, what feeds you spiritually?
Karl: Well, probably, the most meaningful experiences that I have are with just the wonder of the world. I wrote a book called The Wonder of the Universe for InterVarsity Press. It was a wonderful experience writing that. I think, just literally, when I look out the window that what’s out there is so extraordinary. I think often about the fact that the DNA that has made me what I am has also made those trees what they are. They use the same DNA and so on that I have. This idea that we have a long history that goes from the big bang all the way through to the big brain that history is what has created us and made us. It’s very grand. I really have trouble imagining that that is just a purely materialistic process with no transcendent compliment to it. I’m not inclined to say, “Oh, well, God was just managing the whole process, and here are all the things that we can see specifically that He did.” This was a comment that Freeman Dyson made in his autobiography. He said, “In some sense, the universe knew we were coming.” That’s a really interesting comment. You look back ten billion years ago and you say, “In the universe, as it exists right now when it’s four billion years old, you couldn’t have life in it. Then, all these things start to happen that make it possible for there to be life at some later point.” You just think, “Wow, this trajectory is quite extraordinary.”
For me, that is an amazing part of the story of who we are. That nurtures me spiritually, that knowledge. At the end of all that, I find it to be very spiritually fulfilling to just note the grandeur of the world as it exists right now. I mean the beauty of the sunset, autumn leaves, and even today, there’s something beautiful here in Boston with this spectacular storm that’s whipping snow everywhere. By tomorrow morning, there’ll be very interesting patterns that the wind has created on the surface of the snow that will have mathematical shapes and so on, to them. To look at that and to see that there’s this amazing order behind everything that happens, even amidst the noise and the chaos of the storm, is for me, spiritually rich.
Stuart: I want to know pivot a little bit towards your piece at the Huffington Post. As we’re transitioning towards that piece, where do you think Christianity has gone wrong in America?
Karl: Well, Christianity is such a broad term, so I wouldn’t want to just say Christianity. Let me comment about the demographic with which I’m most familiar. I think that the evangelical demographic, that large group, which, I think, would probably number around 100 million, probably, in America. I mean, it’s the largest, certainly, by far of the various groups. I think that demographic, largely because it didn’t pay enough attention to the life of the mind, has allowed itself to be duped by clever charismatic leaders who have transformed its priorities into a political agenda instead of something that you can say is based on what Jesus taught. The fact that if you find a random evangelical and pluck them out of their habitat and examine them scientifically, you’ll discover somebody who thinks that it’s really important to have a big military, that we should make bigger, more updated bombs, that we should stop spending so much money feeding hungry people, that we should block our borders to refugees fleeing certain death in their home countries, and so on. You find this strange, right wing politics that seems to have replaced Jesus teachings that at great personal sacrifice we need to be prepared to help those around us who are in need. I think that’s what has happened. Because this group has been so inattentive to the life of the mind that they don’t understand that their moral positions are no longer the ones that Jesus held. Their scientific positions are from the 19th and even 18th century, and so many positions they hold are just indefensible now in the modern, off on this island that I talk about earlier.
[End Audio Clip]
Well, that’s the end of part one with our talk with Karl Giberson. Thanks to Karl for being willing to sit down with me and do this. Like I’d said earlier in the show, we’re also going to give you a treat with the dramatic reading of Karl’s piece in the Huffington Post, “Jesus at Trump Tower.” To give you a little bit of a tease, I’ll give you a little bit of Trump right now.
[Begin audio clip with a Trump impersonator reading a part of “Jesus at Trump Tower” by Karl Giberson]
I’m interested in eternal life—in heaven. Okay. Now, I’m not worried that I won’t go to heaven, of course. In fact, if you come to Trump Tower you will see I practically live there now! And my latest wife is an angel, if you know what I mean. And we know angels don’t grow old, just like my wife doesn’t grow old because I keep replacing her with a younger one. Okay.
[End Audio Clip]
Well, that is all I’ve got this week for you. Just a reminder, as we end this broadcast, you can always catch us on podcast at www.snarkyfaith.com. You can go to our website for all sorts of stuff. We put out writing on a regular basis. We have “What’s good // What’s bad” that you heard earlier in the show, and of course, we have our entire catalog of past shows that you can catch there just in case you’ve missed us one week. I want to just tell you, thank you for listening. Thank you for being a part of the process. Thank you for being part of my radio therapy that I think I have to go through [laughter] on a regular basis just to stay sane in this crazy, topsy-turvy world that we find ourselves in right now. If you want more, you can also find us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also go on to iTunes and type in Snarky Faith. You can find show there. If you are over on iTunes, feel free to give us a four- or five-star rating. Give us some love. Give us some reviews. We love to hear back from you about all that kind of stuff. If you have questions, if you have thoughts, if you have comments, if you have articles that you want us to talk about on this show or put in “What’s good // What’s bad”, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I truly hope you all have a wonderful, hope-filled rest of your week. Again, I’ll leave you with the words of Denzel Washington: “Keep working. Keep striving. Never give up. Fall down seven times, and get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. Keep moving. Keep growing. Keep learning.” That’s all we got this week. I am out of here. We’ll catch you again next week. See ya.
Transcribed by Miriam Delony