A Wolf Among the Sheep

It seems that the media love to ‘latch onto’ Christians who publicly attack the foundations of the faith.

The latest example is one Nathan Zamprogno, a self-styled ‘commentator on the intersections between Faith, Politics and Science’ who attacks both ID and Genesis creation.

A few months ago in an interview Zamprogno was stated to be “a dedicated member of his local AOG church”. (The interviewer then went on to quote him raising doubts about the Family First party.) The ABC has now given him an opportunity to talk on ‘The Evolution of Creationism’ on radio.

Zamprogno, who works for a large Christian school in western Sydney, is in fact the same man who a few years ago wrote to the Skeptics’ Ian Plimer, a man whose book attacking creationists was thoroughly ethically discredited by the Clarrie Briese enquiry. Zamprogno’s email (which may in fact have opened the door for him now being regarded by the anti-Christian media as an ‘authority’ on this subject) was in effect ‘asking for dirt’ on our Dr Carl Wieland so as to prevent him speaking at Zamprogno’s church. See the article by Warwick Armstrong and Jonathan Sarfati, ‘Judas II’.

The transcript of Zamprogno’s ABC ‘Perspective’ is reproduced below (‘NZ:’), under the ‘fair use’ provision of copyright law. Our comments (‘CMI:’) are interspersed in email fashion.

ABC Radio National—Perspective

Monday to Friday at 5:55pm ( 6.55pm in WA) and Tuesday to Friday at 4:55am

Nathan Zamprogno

Friday 2 December 2005

Topic: The Evolution of Creationism

Program Transcript

NZ: The debate about humanity’s Origins is resurgent. Our Federal Education minister has given qualified endorsement [since withdrawn] to the teaching of Intelligent Design. In the United States, (where else?), Intelligent Design is back in the Courts, and the Vatican has come out strongly to attack Intelligent Design as being both bad science and bad theology. What’s going on?

Some say Intelligent Design merely peddles old arguments with a new vocabulary, or that they abuse a sense of "fair play" by insisting on "teaching the controversy". So is "Intelligent Design", Intelligently Designed?

I work in an environment that is a crucible for such questions, at a large Christian, non-denominational school west of Sydney. We do not teach literal 6-day, 6-thousand year ago Creationism, although our acceptance of an "intelligent designer" in the Universe is axiomatic. Our school policy says, in part

"The balance of physical evidence does not appear to support a young earth. We do not believe that scripture helps us to decide how old the earth is". Unquote.

CMI: What a pity if this school indeed has this implicit concession to ‘millions of years’ in its policy. The Bible makes it overwhelmingly clear that people were present from the beginning of creation, which was in six earth-rotation days, each with an evening and morning. And the genealogies cannot be stretched out to millions of years. Further, the Bible makes it clear that a ‘very good’ world was created initially, from which condition the universe departed at Adam’s Fall. Whereas any other interpretation of the rock record has God superintending a charade of death, bloodshed and cancer over millions of years, calling it ‘all very good’. See also The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe

NZ: At first glance, Intelligent Design, without the stigmas and inconsistencies of Young Earth Creationism, seems like a good fit for what we and many other Christian Schools teach. So what’s the problem?

Intelligent Design advocates claim they have proof that certain mechanisms could never evolve into the form we see today if only undirected, natural processes were at work, even if given millions of years. Common examples quoted include the bacterial flagellum, the immune system, or the vertebrate eye. In pure "ID", Natural Selection and billion-year timescales are readily accepted, although the identity of the putative "Intelligent Designer" is left for the listener to speculate. There are a lot of people who start winking and nudging at you with their Bibles when that point comes up.

CMI: And this undisguised antipathy, to even the movement that merely promotes the idea that the world was intelligently designed, is coming from a Christian? Notice, though, that he can’t help swinging back to attacking real creationists in the next section.

NZ: Young Earth Creationism holds that not only was the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh responsible for the Universe,

CMI: One would think that Zamprogno holds that as axiomatic, though his purpose is clearly to introduce a mocking section:

NZ: but that it all happened in six days, 6000 years ago. It also asserts there were vegetarian Tyrannosaurs and funnelweb spiders in the Garden of Eden,

CMI: One can almost see the sneer, but if this is the God that can create thousands of loaves and fishes in the space of a mealtime from just a handful, and turn water into wine, it would seem more of a problem to imagine Him using the wasteful, cruel and inefficient processes that theistic evolutionist Zamprogno obviously holds dear.

NZ: and that once, two Koalas swam to Australia from Turkey, without eating along the way, to establish Australia’s breeding population.

CMI: This is nonsense, of course, and shows that he either wilfully misrepresents or is ignorant of mainstream creationist literature. Of course, migration happened over generations, just like one pair of rabbits didn’t have to run right across Australia.

It seems he is also under the misapprehension that koalas are obligate feeders on eucalyptus. They can eat monterey pine, and it seems likely that most koalas become addicted to eucalyptus via the chemicals from their mothers’ milk. Those raised without these chemicals can happily survive on other food.

NZ: Such Young Earth Creationists have done a lot of harm to the Christian cause

CMI: One has to wonder what the ‘Christian cause’ really is in this definition, given the huge numbers that have only been able to become believers once the massive contradictions between both the Bible’s straightforward history and the commonly believed history of the world have been overcome via quality creationist teaching. This makes perfect sense, since Christ’s death and Resurrection as the ‘last Adam’ are all based on the historical events in early Genesis.

NZ: when they torture both the Bible and Science to evangelise.

CMI: Which of course begs the question of whether that is actually happening. Does it ‘torture the Bible” to take it according to the grammatical-historical approach, the way the rest of the Bible takes it, the way Jewish commentators and Church Fathers and Reformers took it?

NZ: Smart, spiritually questing people who might respond to the message of the Gospel tend to get the giggles

CMI: Far from ‘smart’ people reacting like this, we have had masses of evidence that creation apologetics is the most powerful tool an evangelist can use, particularly on campus or where there are lots of educated people. Because these are too ‘smart’ to be able to swallow the compromises that undermine the entire meaning of the Gospel.

NZ: they’re told that most of modern biology, geology and astronomy is a monstrous humanist conspiracy that leads to homosexuality, communism, terrorism and dancing.

CMI: Again a substantial mispresentation.  Of course, creationists have no problem with real science, just with the misinterpretations of science in a materialistic framework.  Indeed, modern science was founded by creationists.

The leading chemist Philip Skell, a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, wrote Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology [full essay minus expurgated original subtitle available at the-scientist.com/opinion-old/why-do-we-invoke-darwin-48438, Ed.], echoing a BioEssays special issue on evolution in 2000:

‘Further, Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive—except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed—except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.’

Dr Marc Kirschner, founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School states: "In fact, over the last 100 years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself. Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all." (quoted in the Boston Globe 23 October 2005)

See also ‘Evolution made me do it!’ as further proof of the false witness he bears about what creationists actually say.

NZ: And it’s not a new problem. St Augustine had the gist 1600 years ago when he said:

“Usually, even a non- Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth. But it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

CMI: Again, this begs the question of whether creationists are actually doing this. Augustine was talking about what we would now call operational science, not ‘origins science ’ which is theories about the past.  Of course, Zamprogno doesn’t quote the following from Augustine:

Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. … They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.’ Augustine, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past, De Civitate Dei (The City of God) 12(10).
NZ: Young Earthers are the big losers in the emergence of Intelligent Design because sensible debate has moved beyond their specious arguments forever. Intelligent Design has eaten their demographic whole.

CMI: Huh? Far from ID having ‘moved beyond’, ID arguments have been used by the mainstream creation movement for over forty years, such that ID is more of a subset of the broader creation argument. One of the scientists prominent in the IDM, William Dembski, has attempted to formulate the design argument in more precise terms. This, and the debate about ID in general, is greatly welcomed by us, and it has in fact done our ministry and profile a great deal of good. At the same time, we are aware of some of the pitfalls of a ‘pure ID’ approach, but that is far from the Zamprogno caricature.

NZ: But although Intelligent Design is comparatively benign, to see its danger, consider history, replete with pitfalls when we misuse Science as a pillar for Faith.

The geocentricity of the universe was once held as proof of our special place in creation. Then came Galileo.

CMI: Zamprogno grossly oversimplifies this question, (and has he even heard of Copernicus, the Bible-believer who predated Galileo—also a biblical creationist—and the creationist Kepler, who rescued Galileo’s ideas from their fatal scientific flaws), and ignores recent evidence for a galactocentric universe. Galileo’s primary opponents were the Aristotelians at the universities committed to Ptolemaic cosmology. As Zamprogno advocates with evolution today, the Church married her theological understanding with the science of her day, and became widowed the next day.

NZ: The notion of biological “vitalism” has yielded to Biochemistry.

CMI: Vitalism was never a biblical idea. Rather, the Bible teaches that God finished creating after Day 6.

NZ: Calvinists who found solace in Newton’s description of a clockwork, deterministic universe, blanched at the revelations of Quantum theory. These theories were regarded as self-evident, even Scriptural in their day.

CMI: We wondered which Calvinists he could possibly be talking about, until we noticed his blog. On it (in addition to supporting loony SETI ideas) he states:

“If I were a Calvinist I would have gained great comfort in Newton ’s description of a clockwork, essentially deterministic universe, right up until the elaboration of Quantum theory would have pulled the rug from under me.”

CMI: So it seems that Zamprogno’s own belief about how he thinks he might have reacted is the basis for his comments, and the ‘Calvinists’ he refers to have been made up out of thin air. In reality, neither Calvinist nor non-Calvinist Christian philosophers have much problem reconciling God’s sovereignty, foreknowledge, etc. with the notion of quantum mechanics (which creationists accept)

NZ: The temptation, then as now, is to invoke the “God of the Gaps” as a proof for faith. But when Scientific knowledge advances, those counselled into such a foundation, founder.

CMI: Creationists do not advocate a ‘God of the Gaps’ approach, and to suggest it in this context mispresents ID, too. The inference of design is based on what we do know scientifically, not what we don’t. Similarly, one would explain the workings of a computer’s hard drive by the ferrimagnetism of its surface and Maxwell’s electromagnetic equations, but this doesn’t mean that the programs and data shouldn’t be explained by intelligence.

NZ: Perhaps the last word belongs to old Charlie Darwin himself, who confided to a supporter: “I cannot be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.”

CMI: This is a ‘deistic’ position, the idea that the universe was made by a deity of some sort who just sort of ‘wound it up’ (i.e. created the physical laws and the raw matter) and everything happened from there by ‘chance and necessity’ – i.e. the interaction of randomness with the physical constraints of the system given the laws. The deism of Darwin’s day was a specifically anti-biblical position. It denied miracles, Bible history in general, and the notion that we would be personally responsible to such a God. Today’s deism (in the form of anti-ID theistic evolution’, such as seemingly espoused by Zamprogno) relegates God to merely ‘lighting the fuse of the Big Bang’. The ID movement’s Philip Johnson points out that such a view is in practice, as far as science and philosophy are concerned, totally indistinguishable from atheism. Which, we would guess, is why the media, particularly the ABC, loves professing Christians of Nathan’s ilk, and invites them to be ‘commentators’ on this topic, even though they lack qualifications in both science and theology.

Helpful Resources

The Wonder of Science
by Dominic Statham
US $20.00
Soft cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft cover