Friday, August 10, 2012

Not As Off-Topic As It Might Seem...

The Tennessean ran a story today about how Thomas Nelson publishers, famous for their line of bibles, is dropping a new book on Thomas Jefferson by David Barton because the book “contains historical errors.” Bob Smietana writes:
Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies, claims to expose liberal myths about Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s third president.

But a group of conservative scholars says Barton’s take on Jefferson is factually untrue. And a group of ministers from Cincinnati called on Nelson to cancel the book.

Casey Francis Harrell, director of corporate communications for Thomas Nelson, said the publisher had gotten several complaints about the book and found enough errors to cancel it.

“Because of these deficiencies, we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to cease its publication and distribution,” Harrell said.
The story goes on to detail some of the disputed information in the book, none of which I am remotely qualified to assess. That is not why this is important. I bring this up because Barton has also been active in the creation/evolution debate. Those of you who read up on that might remember this exchange:

Now, it is quite true that the idea of biological change has been around for some time but it was only with Lamarck in the very late 1700s and early 1800s that any sort of mechanism was attributed to biotic change and even then, the vast majority of people believed in fixity of species. Even Darwin did when he set out on his trip aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. But that is not what Barton is getting at here.

In his own writings on the subject, Barton consistently confuses evolution at a cosmic level with evolution at a biological level. These are not the same. Did the founding fathers debate whether or not the cosmos had a grand design? Yes they probably did. Did they debate the theory of biological evolution? No they did not. Yet that is how Barton frames his response. Subsequent to his thoughts on cosmic evolution, he writes:
As confirmed by Dr. James Rachels, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham: Mivart [1827-1900, a professor in Belgium] became the leader of a group of dissident evolutionists who held that although man’s body might have evolved by natural selection, his rational and spiritual soul did not. At some point God had interrupted the course of human history to implant man’s soul in him, making him something more than merely a former ape. . .
Lost in the shuffle is that Dr. Rachels lived and wrote in the 1800s, quite some time after the founding fathers debated “intelligent design versus evolution.”

Barton spends a good bit of ink writing about how many of the founding fathers have argued that the universe looks designed. That is a very different thing from the idea that evolution, even in a cosmic sense, does or does not happen. I doubt that there is a person alive that does not accept evolution of some kind. One only has to look at the changes in a river's path or the location of the shoreline at Ephesus (where once Paul gave a speech but that is now twenty miles inland). Evolution, after all, is change over time.

I do think that, based on what Barton has said in public and what he has written in more in-depth fashion, that he is being misunderstood. The problem is that neither are very clear. To his credit, Barton seems to view the theistic evolution perspective in a not-unkind light, although it is not clear what, exactly, he thinks from this post. He is also quite correct that the four viewpoints he delineates have not altered much in recent years in their adherents. He just needs to articulate his viewpoints more clearly with regard to evolution in general and biological evolution in specific. He may agree with one and not the other but there is no way to tell from what he has either written or said.

This might just be my own personal take on what I find in Barton's writings. If your take is different, let me know.

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