A formerly well-known Australian pastor goes off the rails—and tries to persuade others to follow. A review of From Faith to Reason, by Brian Baker.
Published: 8 April 2010 (GMT+10)
Brian Baker’s book From Faith to Reason might not rate as highly on the Christian ‘Richter scale’ as the famous evangelist Charles Templeton’s book Farewell to God, which documents his slide into unbelief in his later life. But Baker’s declaration of his total rejection of Christianity is nonetheless written by the former pastor of one of Australia’s biggest churches—surely enough to make one sit up and take notice.
The back cover blurb promises us that we will find inside the “reasons why this former dedicated Christian Fundamentalist has not only now found personal peace but has changed into a Rationalist, Realist, Skeptic and Atheist.”
We were first alerted to the book via an article in a newspaper published in Perth, Western Australia, the home of the Pentecostal-style church that Baker founded. The book claims to provide the “truth that will set us free”, as it has allegedly done for its author, and to set us on the path to personal peace, which Baker says he has now found. This ‘truth’ is that all holy books (but especially the Bible) are simply the concoctions of human beings, and that there is no afterlife, no heaven, and especially no hell.
Evolution the foundational rationale for unbelief
The book’s subtitle (“Did God create mankind or did mankind create God?”) already suggests that Baker will, like Templeton, be majoring on evolution as his ‘reason’ for unbelief. Not that this is particularly surprising, in one sense. If one is seeking to evade accountability to one’s Creator, denying the reality that He created is certainly useful. Evolution (of one sort or another) provides the perfect rationale for this—in fact the only rationale, since the denial of divine creation requires the world to make itself, which is what evolution (Darwinian, pre-Darwinian, or whatever is to come) is ultimately all about.
Sure enough, following the briefest of introductions, the book’s first chapter is titled “How did we get here? Did God do it?” And on the second page already, he states:
“Almost daily, scientific knowledge brings us increasing proof of our origins. Evolution is surely no longer a ‘theory’ but a fact.”
Most of the chapter, however, does not even attempt a reasoned (or any) argument from science. It is largely a diatribe against what is written in the Bible’s first book, and not a particularly high quality diatribe at that. He quotes big slabs of Genesis without comment, followed by what seems to be his ‘best shot’, surprisingly—namely that there are “other creation myths”. Following this, he cites David Attenborough’s classic comments that wonder rhetorically how God creating nasty things (like the parasitic worm that causes blindness) could fit well with a God of mercy, etc. Baker’s ultrabrief foray, without elaboration, into this argument from ‘natural evil’ doesn’t once mention that the Fall gives the basis for a reasoned explanation of the ‘bad things’ in the world alongside the good.
Millions of years = no Fall/Curse
This evasion of the biblical Creation/Fall/Restoration framework may actually reflect something else, something which, if the link has been accurately diagnosed, highlights the dangers of flirting with compromise. I refer to the fact that the church he founded has for many years now had a strong movement/element within the hierarchy which, well-meaning or otherwise, has insisted on strongly promoting the ‘progressive creationist’ views of Dr Hugh Ross. These are the subject of the entire classic book Refuting Compromise, which demonstrates their serious implications for biblical authority.
This Rossist belief system, while rejecting biological evolution, totally accepts the ‘millions of years’ and the alleged order of events on the so-called ‘geological timescale’. Obviously, that means that the fossils are millions of years old, something which Baker emphasizes in this present book. But fossils show death, disease (including parasites), bloodshed and suffering. So that means that a Rossist view must have such ‘bad things’ in the world millions of years before people. And this completely eliminates any way of using the Fall to explain them. Such ‘natural evils’ must therefore reflect something God willed to be that way for millions of years, which impinges on His character. It may be no surprise then that Baker is able to present Attenborough’s ‘natural evil’ argument while seemingly oblivious to the Fall.
In the last chapter, Baker gives some personal details of his journey from faith, including mention of his relationship with the church he once led. It is hard not to discern within this somewhat odd chapter some considerable personal bitterness. According to Baker, his own son, who succeeded him in the senior pastor’s role, later voted to cut off a previously agreed stipend. This and other detail provided seems to go much further than needed—but not far enough to stop one wondering whether Baker is being completely forthright as far as the reasons for his abandoning the ministry (prior to his ‘atheistic conversion’) are concerned. One is left thinking that this radical shift in ideology was likely driven by something much more than just ‘reason’, as he would have us believe.
Of course, that is in a sense a moot point, since Scripture assures us that at one level, we all know that there is a God, and that we are accountable to Him. So, a heart rebellion against God is always, deep down, going to be the primary motivator for unbelief. Evolution is the key ‘excuse’, the rationalization for sin.1 Such rationalization (justification) could even lead to a form of ‘peace’ as claimed. For example, if there has been a conflict raging between sin and conscience, one way to still the latter is to rationalize away the former. If everything just evolved, then there is no such thing as sin, and no fear of eternal consequences.
Most of the rest of the book, i.e. everything in between the first and last chapters, would be hard to distinguish from the average ‘village atheist’ rant against God, Christianity and the Bible. What makes it a little different is the author’s background as a ‘successful’ pastor and church-builder, and the way that he repeatedly gives Genesis a serve—and not on scientific grounds, either. It’s clear that the book of beginnings—and particularly the account of the origin of sin, and God’s judgments on sin—gets special attention, and not on scientific grounds, either, as intimated earlier. Many of his arguments are of the sort that try to challenge God’s reasons for doing things. The implication is that the average person, and certainly Baker, would do things much more wisely and reasonably than God—for example, Baker would not have permitted the drama in the Garden of Eden in the first instance.
Looking at his selection of ‘recommended reading’ at the end, topped by Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, it’s not hard to see where he found the material, or at least the inspiration, to portray God as committing “crimes against humanity”, along with a list of His alleged characteristics. These are expressed in particularly hateful language, echoing Dawkins. God, described here variously as “schizophrenic”, “sadistic”, “hypocritical” and more, is said by Baker to have unleashed His “killer instinct” at the time of the Flood by destroying most of humanity. One could emulate the Apostle Paul by bringing up the relative rights of potters and clay, the fact that all are under a death sentence anyway, and so on—but one expects that a senior pastor would have been aware of all that. This makes his omission of these (and many other) sound explanations to counter his own seething-with-hostility comments more culpable, if anything.
The book has somewhat more than the usual number of typos and grammatical issues, though these could reasonably be excused given that it seems a solo publishing effort. But it is not the highest quality in its level of argumentation, either. For example, he repeats the old canard that apart from the Gospels, there is no historical evidence that Jesus even existed(!)2
Baker also claims that God utilizing a rainbow as a sign of His covenant with Noah was impossible, since it implies no rain prior to that time. We agree that rainfall in the preFlood world, with bodies of water able to evaporate over some 1,600 or so years, would have been a certainty. But Baker would have surely been aware of the way God drafted pre-existing items or procedures into service as symbols of His covenants (e.g. circumcision, or the bread and wine at Passover), so why not rainbows?
It’s also hard to believe that he is serious when he indicates that the God who made the galaxies could not have delayed sunset in the time of Joshua. (For more on this, see the article Joshua’s long day: did it really happen, and how?)
His most glaring blunder, perhaps, is when he tries to show how bad religion is by saying:
“The brutality involved in so-called ‘holy wars’ over the centuries is far worse than anything Adolph [sic] Hitler could conceive. In sheer numbers of killings of the innocent, religious conquests of one colour or another are supreme.”
In fact, the numbers of ‘religious war deaths’ in all recorded history pale into insignificance against the 10-figure tally of people killed due to openly atheistic/evolution-believing regimes and ideologies—see Genocide, evolution and the Bible. A little further on, it’s as if he is trying to backtrack from his “sheer numbers” claim, by trying to recast it in terms of “percentage of the world’s population at the time”, something that is hard to substantiate and still unlikely to be representative of reality. Unless, that is, Baker would justify that under questioning by proposing (in evolutionist terms) some tiny original Stone Age population, decimated by a fight between warring shamanists. If so, that would hardly be tactically fair, given the ‘impression’ he tried to create with his earlier comment about Hitler, etc.
But in any case, any substantiation that exists is against Baker’s thesis. E.g. the infamous Inquisition killed 2000 people over three centuries, a minuscule percentage of the millions around.
(By way of aside, the common counter one hears, that the high death toll in the 20th century was due to modern technology, is also a furphy; they were often killed in low-tech ways. E.g. during the Pol Pot genocide, for example, the murderers were instructed not to waste bullets, so beat them to death with iron bars and hoes or buried them alive. Stalin murdered millions of Ukrainians with famine.)
Baker blends criticisms of various cults, Roman Catholicism, Islam and evangelical Christianity in ways that are more confusing than incisive. His criticisms do, however, serve to leave further negative ‘impressions’ about Christianity via guilt by association. Clever, if not fair. Such tactical virtuosity makes one reflect on the personal skills that, applied in the right direction, were likely helpful to him in building a considerable-sized church from an initial handful in only a decade. What a pity, then, to see his talent wasted in this self-justifying crusade to convince people that ‘you, too, can have personal peace like mine’—provided, of course, that you are willing to embrace evolution and its associated meaningless, materialistic explanation for existence.
- Our job in creation ministries is to provide the information to make that excuse increasingly difficult to sustain, and we see the Holy Spirit often using this information to bring someone to the point of realizing their sin and need for salvation. Return to text.
- This exceptionally antischolarly view, known as “The Christ Myth” was given some support by Richard Dawkins, as shown in Jonathan Sarfati’s recently released The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution—see www.thegreatesthoaxonearth.com Return to text.