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CLERGY LETTER DECONSTRUCTION

The purpose of this page is to dissect the Clergy Letter and to expose its fallacies and errors.

The full text of the Clergy Letter is given to give its argument as a whole, then each statement is examined critically.

The full text can also be found at the Clergy Letter Project at:

http://www.butler.edu/clergyproject/Christian_Clergy/ChrClergyLtr.htm 

 Note that this is a work in progress.

You may also find these pages useful:

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The text of the Clergy Letter, as of March 2009, reads:

The Clergy Letter – from American Christian clergy
– An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

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“Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture.”

The Clergy Letter begins with a pluralist’s strawman – the idea that just because there are various disputes, variances of opinion and general disagreements over a subject that the truth is, for all practical purposes, unknowable. This is demonstrably false. A difference of opinion does not invalidate the possibility that one of those opinions is actually true.

In the case of how one interprets the Bible, we are admonished to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” which presumes that we can also divide it wrongly.

In the case where one school of interpretation takes the plain meaning of Genesis to mean that God spoke the universe into existence ex nihilo in six 24-hour days, whereas another school of interpretation insists that these 6 days must be incurably flexible to the extreme so that they are of such length that days must needs become “days,” it does not take a genius to realize that one method of interpretation is necessarily wrong.  In fact, they try to make a case against the literalist approach in the very next breath.

Let God be true and every man a liar.

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“While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook.”

Here, we are subjected an old chestnut, the sophomoric assertion that any Christian believes the Bible is a science textbook. This straw man is only ever used as rhetorical sleight-of-hand. The literalist doesn’t believe the Bible is a science textbook any more than the allegorist does. The literalist believes simply that the Bible was meant to be understood plainly [taking into account metaphor, round numbers and figures of speech] within context and is accurate in all it records, be it spiritual, historical, numerical or scientific. What the “science textbook” canard misses is the all-to-important point that while no one reads the Bible as one would a science textbook, we do read it as a supernaturally accurate history book.

The second thing we feel which should be mentioned is that in USAmerica a great majority of Christians DO ACTUALLY read their Bibles LITERALLY, if the consensus of popular polls is to be believed. To clarify, the possible results for a survey on origins are three-fold: [a] God created life, [b] God used evolution or [c]  life came about by evolution with no supernatural intervention. For a true Christian, the role of God as Creator [as mandated by countless Scriptural references to God in this role] must be accounted for, so [c] is not an option; only [a] and [b] can be considered by anyone who holds the Bible seriously at all.

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“Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation.”

Additionally, it is reductionist hubris to claim that God used “Bible stories” to “convey timeless truths” in the “ONLY form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation.” There is another form which God might have used to transmit timeless truths from one generation to another: we call it history. We literalists take Genesis, as the ancient Hebrews did, as history; this REVEALED history has done an excellent job of conveying factual accounts from which we glean these aforementioned timeless truths. The claim that allegory [myth, fable or story] was the only means to transmit such truth simply begs the question, in that it presumes Genesis was intended to be taken allegorically and not literally.

It must be said that the claim that Genesis was intended to be read allegorically is only made in light of hermeneutical considerations of modern science. Thus, allegorical interpretation could not have been God’s original intent for the Genesis revelation.

Some have objected to our characterization of this section of the Clergy Letter as saying that the Genesis record is a teaching myth like Aesop’s Fables, but what else are they saying? Myth seeks to explain origins but is not factually true. Fables are stories that are not historically true but which convey truth. By saying that Genesis is not historically true but it somehow conveys timeless truths, the signers of the Clergy Letter are, by implication, calling Genesis a myth or fable.  

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“Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth.”

This is a truism, as truth for convenience’s sake, like all data, can be categorized;  however, at the heart of the matter we must say that truth is truth or it isn’t. It doesn’t matter whether we label it scientific truth or religious truth, the law of noncontradiction requires that if two contradictory truth claims are made, one of them must be wrong. Since the Bible makes claims about the natural world, we must determine whether what it states is truth or whether the claims of modern science are correct. All truth is God’s truth, so the Bible cannot contradict the claims of true science.

In one sense, it must be said, religious truth IS of a different order than scientific truth; religious truth, if analogous to Biblical truth, is superior to scientific truth in every way. Why? Because the Bible is the revealed inerrant Word of an infinite, infallible God who was there, while science represents the error-prone gropings of fallible, finite men who weren’t there. To propose then that scientific truth and religious truth are separate but equal truths is to elevate science above its station, above its actual level of authority. Since the Word of God is perfect and inerrant and human knowledge is incomplete and fallible, we should always calibrate the claims of men against the Word of God.  

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“Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.”

This is a reductionist straw man. While the primary purpose of either religious truth or the Bible [being equal] is to transform hearts, it is not the ONLY purpose of the Bible. In addition to relating doctrinal information, the Bible also seeks to relate historical information. In specific places, it also conveys numerical information, scientific information and prophetic predictions. All of this secondary information [historical, numeric, prophetic & scientific] adds veracity to the Bible’s doctrinal claims. This would not be true if such secondary information were revealed to be in error, for the Bible claims to be the inerrant “God-breathed” revelation of an infallible, omniscient God.

One has only to read such apologetical works as Josh McDowell’s The Evidence That Demands a Verdict to realize how all of this secondary factual information is used to underscore the supernatural authority and reliability of God’s Word.

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“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist.”

Taken at face value, a Young Earth Creationist couldconcur with this statement; however, the Clergy Letter goes on to conflate modern science with evolution. It is nonetheless true that the discoveries of modern science and the revelation of the Bible may comfortably coexit, provided that one adheres to Sola Scriptura and not Scriptura sub scientia. If we subscribe to the latter, we may fall into error for man is error-prone, prideful, prone to bias and notoriously limited in knowledge. His mind is also fallen and at emnity with God. Only by calibrating the conclusions and speculations of men, even if they’re made in the  name of science, against the inerrant, revealed Word of an infallible, infinite God can we hope to keep knowledge reasonably free of error. 

While the Clergy Letter claims to be representative of “Christian clergy of many different traditions,” upon closer examination they are merely representative of liberal, modernist and feminist traditions. We also feel it necessary to note that not everything that calls itself a Christian should be taken at face value. I, for one, should like to contact the signers of the Clergy Letter and ask them whether they believe Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead and whether they believe Jesus is, in fact, the Son of God, these being Biblical tests for a true Christian. If not, the signatures of these “clergy” are invalid.

It should also be noted that Zimmerman has no problem sliding in signatures of Unitarian Universalist, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unity cult members and members of other cults in the “Christian” version of the Clergy Letter. It is perhaps most ironic that as of 12/27/2009 Zimmerman’s Unitarian Universalist Clergy Letter had only 211 signatures while his Christian Clergy Letter is INFLATED with the signatures of 300 Unitarian Universalists alone. Zimmerman has been confronted on this inflation of his numbers in emails from this organization but he feels that if someone feels comfortable signing the Christian Letter he should not quiz them on their beliefs. Though we have pointed out to him that he ought not include them for integrity’s sake, he’s stated that even if it inflated the count by several hundred, he believes his point remains valid.

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“We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”

We have dealt with these stated fallacies on this site already. Evolution is not a foundational scientific truth, practically nothing rests upon it and rather than having stood up to rigorous scrutiny it has avoided falsification by constantly evolving to fit new data.

See also:

            

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“To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”

Talk about begging the question! To reject truth is certainly to embrace error and perhaps even willful ignorance, depending upon the circumstances. But the question remains: Is evolution true? We say the evidence says No!

To put it another way, to deny the existence of competing theories is to embrace dogma rather than honest scientific inquiry. If we do not treat evolution as one theory amongst others, we cease to practice science.

Besides, if the Christian ministers who’ve signed the Clergy Letter are truly worried about our children, perhaps they should consider the fruit of apostasy evolution has yielded in our youth.

See also:

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“We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.”

This statement is a subtle rejection of Biblical truth. It purposely forgets that the carnal mind is at emnity with God and that our minds can be blinded to truth through willful ignorance.

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“To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.”

OK, here’s another straw man. To be fair, some folks think this because they see the issue in terms of faith versus reason. The fact of the matter is that none of us was a witness to our origins. Even Adam had the breath of life breathed into him after his creation and I might add the creation of everything else! Nor did he witness Eve’s creation, being made to fall into a deep sleep during the procedure. If evolution were true, no one saw the first cell form; nor has anyone ever seen one kind of creature become another kind of creature in the microbe-to-man sense! It’s a belief about the past. We creationists have our weight of arguments and evidences, as do the evolutionists. The issue is not faith versus reason but which faith is the more reasonable faith. Creation wins hands down, evolution not even having a rational basis for the existence and validity of reason itself!

But no one is saying you have to check your brains at the door. In fact, we regularly defy evolutionists to examine the evidence for creation and to produce evidence for their theory. We try to get them to engage in debates. We have repeatedly asked that the strengths AND weaknesses of evolution be covered in schools, for we believe the evidence will show what a sham this theory really is! We’re not afraid of using our reason. We’re asking others to! Yet what do we get in return? The evolutionists carefully control publications and microphones, hide behind appeals to authority and engage not in debate but in sophomoric ad hominem. When they do engage us, it’s clear they haven’t the faintest notion what we actually profess; in fact, many times it becomes apparent that they do not even understand evolution very well.

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“We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge.”

We urge school board members to teach the fatal flaws of evolution so that it may be exposed for the sham it is so that the integrity of the science curriculum can be re-attained.

Evolution is not a core component of human knowledge. All applications of evolutionary theory are slapped on a priori after real scientific research is accomplished. If an evolutionary scientists conducted his research using the scientific method with evolutionary presuppositions, we invariably find that his presuppositions were not critical to the fact; in fact, they were extraneous since a creation scientist could have conducted the same research [again provided the research used the scientific method] with creationists presuppositions and achieved the same results, though doubtless he would find creationist applications for the data. That is, data does not speak for itself; all data must be interpreted.

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“We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

Similar to the previous assertion that “Religious truth is of a different order than scientific truth,” this is a statement parroting NOMA. Non-overlapping Magisteria, popularized by the late Stephen Jay Gould [Rocks of Ages] is the theory that religion [faith, feelings, morality] is religion and science [fact, reality, the physical world] is science and never the twain shall meet. In practice, NOMA is the quiet surrender of the authority of the revealed truth of the Word of God to the grasping opinions of the word of fallible men – so long as they speak in the name of science.

We note that Jesus refuted this false dichotomy when he asked Nicodemus, “If I tell you of earthly things and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of spiritual things?”

Besides which, the issue has never been science versus religion. The Creationists, informed by their religion that the world was created and ordered so that it could be understood and studied, invented science ala Bacon and his Scientific Method. Nearly all major scientific disciplines were established well before Darwin or by contemporaries who rejected his theory [like Mendel]. Creation scientists carry on research without need of evolution. The issue is not religion versus science, but which philosophy of origins is more reasonable [best fits the evidence]: evolution or creation. Both are forensic disciplines, for neither are observable, testable or repeatable [i.e.- su bject to the scientific method] as they deal with unique events in the past.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. oscar wheel permalink
    November 3, 2012 4:53 pm

    Thanks for this, it is very well set out. I wonder if the whole problem here is that the wrong people are being recruited into the ministry of clergy ? We seem to have reached a point where it is acceptable to induct people into church teaching ministries who simply do not believe – if this is the case there needs to be a complete review of church leader recruitment and there needs to be a laity led reformation whereby disbelieving leaders can be lovingly persuaded and encouraged to seek an alternative career.

  2. James Peleck permalink
    December 5, 2012 3:09 pm

    What can you possibly mean by “another school of interpretation insists that these 6 days must be incurably flexible to the extreme so that they are of such length that days must needs become “days,”” in your first point of the deconstruction?

  3. Tom Moerke permalink
    October 18, 2013 11:14 am

    This is an excellent refutation of the clergy letter. However, I would add two things:

    1) Your response regarding the statement “We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will or our creator” is inadequate. This statement is an incredibly arrogant and condescending ad hominem attack on anyone who happens to disagree with their opinion as if anyone who does disagree and actually takes God’s Word at face value must be a backwards hick that fails to employ critical thought. This type of stereotypical and denigrating attitude towards other Christians (that have carefully considered the evidence as well or more so than they) has no place in a supposedly Christian communication such as this.

    2) You are correct that both evolution and creation are “forensic disciplines”. However, it should be noted that there is a key difference. While evolution is based on the philosophical notions of fallible men (actually originating from the ancient Greeks), Creation research is based on real eye-witness accounts of our history. Eye-witness accounts are valid forensic and historical evidences that would be admissible in a court of law, while philosophical musings would not. In other words, creation theory begins with actual historical evidence while evolution begins with an imaginative story intended to justify non-belief in God for which evidence is afterwards cherry picked in an attempt to support it.

  4. November 12, 2013 8:14 pm

    That some people insist that the Creation Week took a great deal longer than a week, regardless of the context of the passages involved.

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