The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society

The Evangelical Roots of our Post-Truth Society, by Molly Worthen, appeared in the April 13, 2017 NY Times. It’s a most interesting read. Karl Giberson, who has been a part of BioLogos, is mentioned. He used to teach at Eastern Nazarene College but now teaches at a small liberal Catholic college.

There is an extensive discussion on Nathaniel Jeanson of Answers in Genesis, who recently debated Dennis Venema.



Good quote:

[quote] Mr. Nelson [who runs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene] encourages his students to be skeptics rather than cynics. “The skeptic looks at something and says, ‘I wonder,’ ” he said. “The cynic says, ‘I know,’ and then stops thinking.”

He pointed out that “cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question.” Cynicism and tribalism are among the gravest human temptations. They are all the more dangerous when they pose as wisdom and righteousness.[/quote]


How perfect a description.

In tribal cultures, who is right is rather beside the point. You support your leadership, no matter what they say or do.

I just never thought I would see it become established and entrenched in America to the extent it is today…

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Chris Bolt responds to this article here:

A major flaw in Worthen’s piece is that what she actually observes in evangelicalism is not evangelicals relativizing or dismissing the concept of truth, but rather disagreeing with Worthen and others about what constitutes the truth. […]

Worthen’s article, it seems, is not so much an article about a post-truth society or the role that evangelicals have supposedly played in the creation of that society as it is a swipe at evangelicals as the sort of folks who deny the facts. But Worthen is merely begging the question, assuming the very thing she needs to prove.

He goes on to describe her misuse of Van Til and so on. Worth the read.

@beaglelady, Thank you for bringing this important article to our attention.

While of course not all Evangelicals fall into the trap Molly describes enough high profile ones do and probably a majority do, this creates a real problem for those of us who consider themselves Christians.

The dilemma that she paints and does not resolve is how to seek the truth that is not “dogmatic and cast in stone” on one hand, and being cynical about the truth on the other. The good thing about this is that Christians do have an answer, which is Jesus Christ the Logos, Who is pragmatic and practical, yet theological.

Evangelicals need to put more trust in Jesus and less in conservativism and Donald Trump. Repubicans

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Who is Chris Bolt? He must be very, very conservative.

PhD graduate of SBTS.

If that isn’t conservative, I don’t know what is.

He says, “But surely Worthen does not object to an impulse to defend the scientific reliability of the Bible? She is, after all, a scientifically-minded individual, so it is unclear why she would object to an impulse to find the Bible consistent with scientific reasoning insofar as a person holds to the Bible and science.”

The Bible is not a science book and is not consistent with scientific reasoning. I don’t think that it has less worth simply because it’s not a science book.

I would also criticize Dr. Bolt on that point (though not, perhaps, in the same manner as you), but overall, I think he responds rather fully to the OP. Any other thoughts?

Thanks for bringing Bolt’s article to our attention. After reading it, I’d say he strongly confirmed Worthen’s article in every respect.

Bolt’s quotes in italics, my analysis in normal font.

surely Worthen does not object to an impulse to defend the scientific reliability of the Bible?

When the defense of the Bible relies on gross distortions and mischaracterizations of the facts regarding geology, climate, and biology, then indeed it is an exercise in post-truth argumentation.

[Worthen] assumes the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is new, which it is not.

Worthen is actually right. The doctrine of Scriptural infallibility goes back millenia, but the doctrine of inerrancy as articulated by the Chicago Statement is quite different than the traditional formulation.

When evangelicals affirm what they believe from the Bible over against what others believe about fossils or archaeology, they do not undermine truth, but rather establish their firm belief in such a concept.

Actually, they empty the concept of its value. It is an empty concept of truth that equates it with a rigid doctrine that can withstand any and all factual observations. When your concept of truth becomes unhinged from factual observations, you are advocating a post-truth philosophy.

Worthen is inconsistent insofar as she dismisses some sources of news while warning against the supposed tendency of evangelicals to do the same.

Beck and Limbaugh are in the opinion business. As such, they are not particularly trustworthy news sources. If Worthen took aim at conservative news sources like the WSJ or the National Review, I would agree with Bolt that her article is biased. But she does not.

Those who are not evangelicals also lay hold to the claim of scientific “sound”-ness, and there is no reason to see this claim functioning any differently in their approach to unwelcome facts [than the evangelicals’].

It depends on which non-evangelicals you are referring to. A movement like Social Darwinism claimed scientific support, but it was really an exercise in class bias. If you are talking about the justice reform movement or the pro-vaccination movement, though, they handle facts much more capably than many evangelicals. As an evangelical, I am sorry to have to admit that. Bolt has something of a point, but he’s essentially claiming that it’s not just evangelicals that are post-truth. This is hardly a robust defense of evangelicalism.

those who are not evangelicals do something very similar when they reject various unwelcome facts in the name of ‘Science’ or ‘Reason’ or claim that ‘History’ is “on their side.”

Of course evangelicals are not unique in their inability to deal with stubborn facts. “Those other folks make the same mistake” is scarcely a ringing endorsement of one’s own position, though.

There is a way to defend evangelicalism of Worthen’s charges, but Bolt is not on that path. A good reply to Worthen would be:

  • Evangelicals claim there is more to truth than science and history. They could very well be onto something that everyone else is missing.

  • There are plenty of evangelicals who participate in the scientific community, who welcome critique of their views, and do not equate their faith with a particular political party. Because Worthen ignores them, she makes a grave error of over-generalization.

My $.02,


She might have mentioned Francis Collins, the most visible evangelical scientist. But she does mention the Church of the Nazarene: “In the Church of the Nazarene, many leaders have been uneasy about the rationalist claims of biblical inerrancy, and Dr. Giberson openly taught the theory of evolution.” (Of course, eventually that situation eventually went south.)

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