Monday, August 25, 2008

The Case for a Creator: Chapter One

I begin my reading of Strobel's The Case for a Creator with, appropriately, Chapter One: "White Coated Scientists versus Black-Robed Preachers."

My first impression upon reading this book is one of surprise. Considering Strobel is supposed to be a journalist, he doesn't strike me as a very good writer (in the very first sentence, he describes the atmosphere of a newsroom as being "carbonated with activity"). But maybe he's just being overzealous in trying to create a narrative and draw the reader in; after all, this book is presumably more about factual evidence than anecdotal experiences.

The first portion of the chapter is devoted to descriptions of said newsroom, filled with newspaper jargon that I guess is intended to reassure me that he did, in fact, work at the Chicago Tribune. He talks about how his boss sends him, a fresh-faced new-to-the-beat reporter, to West Virginia to cover a brouhaha:

"Crazy stuff..." he said. "People getting shot at, schools getting bombed, all because some hillbillies are mad about the textbooks" [page 8]


Strobel -- the one in the narrative -- demonstrates significant contempt for Christians and Christianity. On the back of the book is a quote by Strobel which I suppose will be in the text: "My road to atheism was paved by science...but ironically, so was my later journey to God."1

The back cover also provides me with the first red flag as to what I'm reading here, where it says the following:

In recent years, a diverse and impressive body of research has increasingly supported the conclusion that the universe was intelligently designed. At the same time, Darwinism has faltered in the face of concrete facts and hard reason.


I suppose from the title it should have been obvious that this was a creationist tome, and it will apparently be playing the "intelligent design" concept. The flag, moreso, is referring to the theory of evolution as Darwinism.

The theory of evolution should no more be referred to as "Darwinism" than the theory of gravity should be referred to as "Newtonism." Appending "-ism" to the end of the name implies that it is -- like theism or atheism -- a dogmatic and rigid belief system. A religion, if you will.

But evolution is not a religion, having no central tenets of behavior and no ceremonial observations -- unless you include the scientific method, but every branch of science utilizes that, and I don't hear any of them being touted as religions. It's also worth noting that Darwin did not create the theory of evolution, as evolution had been observed for some time before he came on the scene. Darwin proposed the mechanism (natural selection) by which evolution occurs. Natural selection currently offers the best understanding of how evolution occurs, but scientists have no dogmatic loyalty to Darwin's theory, nor to Darwin himself. Should evidence arise that natural selection could not account for, natural selection would come into question and new explanations would be examined.2

Back into the book, and the subheading of the next section that sends up the next red flag: "Is Darwin Responsible?"

Strobel describes arriving in the West Virginian town and interviewing folks about why there was such violence and turmoil over what textbooks were teaching. Evolution, of course, but they also banned other books because students were being asked to analyze them and think critically.

To Strobel's credit, he is not the one blaming Darwin for what's going on in the town; that is the argument given by one of the townfolk he interviews, who says:

"If Darwin's right, were just sophisticated monkeys. The Bible is wrong. There is no God. And without God, there's no right or wrong. We can just make up our morals as we go." [page 11]


Since this is not Strobel's argument (at this point) I won't address the glaring holes in it (at this point). In fact, Strobel articulates -- at least in part -- what was going through my mind as I read this and other quotes he puts down:

In the last part of the twentieth century, in an era when we had split the atom and put people on the moon and found fossils that prove evolution beyond all doubt, a bunch of religious zealots were tying a county into knots because they couldn't let go of religious folklore. It simply defied all reason. [page 12]


He next describes a religious rally that he and an accompanying photojournalist were nearly tossed out of until the local preacher calmed the crowd and let them stay. (The detail of using KFC buckets as collection baskets is a nice touch.) He finishes off the chapter still "in character" as an atheist, looking forward to the day that the concrete facts of evolution show those lot that their whole basis of faith is ridiculous, that miracles are impossible.

I feel the need to point out that the fact of evolution actually proves nothing of the sort. The truth of evolution does nothing to demonstrate that miracles are impossible, as they are two completely different things. It's here that Strobel tips his hand as to perhaps not being entirely truthful about his approach. Strobel protests a bit too much, characterizing himself as smug and arrogantly anti-religious -- going so far as to insult the believers specifically, rather than just their beliefs. I'm sure they exist, but the characterization of atheists as thinking "haha jesus w/e noob grr i hate everyone" constantly is not accurate to most of the atheists I know, least of all myself, and seems to be more of a common Christian caricature of what they seem to think must go through the minds of atheists, than anything like atheists actually think.

So overall, a lot of groundwork laid that Strobel is, at this point in the tale, a non-believer of religion ("just like you," is the implication), but no arguments yet in the case for a creator. I guess in a sense that made this first chapter the foreword. Presumably he will begin making the book's eponymous case in chapter two, which we'll look at next time.



  1. I can give that to him as irony, in case you're wondering.

  2. In fact, my example of Newton is a prime one, as the established system of Newtonian physics is insufficient in certain situations, such as "at very small scales, very high speeds, or very strong gravitational fields" (from Wikipedia). This has required new models of understanding, like general relativity and quantum mechanics, and not a dogmatic adherence to the use of Newtonian equations.

3 comments:

Drew Mazanec said...

Unfortunately, the best parts of the book, where Strobel gives us the cosmological arguments for God's existence, are buried pretty far back. Why Strobel tries to attack evolution before establishing the need for a creator, I have no clue. Poor editing, I guess. Please bear with me. It will get better. I promise. You just have to be patient and slog through the biological section.

This book is pretty straight and to the point and minimal on embellishment, except for the first couple of chapters, which are the exact oppoosite.

Rin said...

It sounds almost like he overdoing it in making his "character" the archetypal atheist, assuming that its how all atheists behave. Almost making it too easy to convert to a religious mentality later.

Though to be fair I need to read it before I draw any final conclusions.

BTW, its been forever since you posted, where the hell have you been?

Daniel Broadway said...

"I'm sure they exist, but the characterization of atheists as thinking "haha jesus w/e noob grr i hate everyone" constantly is not accurate to most of the atheists I know,"

Go to Digg and Reddit for a couple of weeks. They'll come out of the woodwork.

However, I applaud you for being more mature than they are.

Also, this chapter amuses me because it reminds me of the people around my part of the country. Heh.