Is Genesis psychology or history? A response to Jordan Peterson

Jordan-Peterson
Dr. Jordan Peterson

by and

Published: 26 July 2018 (GMT+10)

We recently listened to a lecture series on the psychological significance of the biblical stories by Dr. Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at Toronto University. It has taken a long time to distill the hours of lectures down to a form that can be examined in something as short as this article. It was a daunting task! However, the first lecture alone has over 2.5 million views on YouTube, indicating that Peterson’s lectures have a real audience, so it is worth talking about them here. His lectures are generally admired by his devotees, in much the same way that faithful churchgoers regard the sermons of their pastor; however, we found them intensely tedious, rambling, and hard to follow.

Peterson’s view of ‘fundamentalists’

Peterson believes that people who read the Bible historically or scientifically are ‘fundamentalists’ who misunderstand the purpose of the biblical stories. He makes occasional comments that reveal a deep contempt for us. For example,

“The poor fundamentalists, they’re trying to cling to their moral structure, and I understand why, because it does organize their societies, and it organizes their psyche, so they’ve got something to cling to. But, you know, they don’t have a very sophisticated idea of the complexity of what constitutes truth, and they try to gerrymander the biblical stories into the domain of scientific theory, promoting creationism, for example, as an alternative scientific theory, that just isn’t going to go anywhere you know? Because the people who wrote these [expletive deleted] stories weren’t scientists to begin with; there weren’t any scientists back then!” (lecture 1, around 1:31:31. In the future such references will be formatted ‘1, 1:31:31’)

Regarding the Flood narrative he says,

“And we read it, you know, cynical modern people, we read it as if it was written by primitive people who thought that it was really the case that someone could build a boat, and put two of every kind into it, and thereby save the world. It’s embarrassing to see things interpreted in a manner that shallow, especially by people who don’t have ignorance as a justification. You know, these stories have to appeal to everyone, right? And there’s lots of people in the world who aren’t very bright, and so they tend to take things concretely, like a child would take things concretely if you read them a story. This story can be taken concretely, but it has to be because these stories have to be for everyone. But if you’re sophisticated, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it as if it’s written for a child. Maybe you have an obligation to look a bit deeper and think for a moment that it wouldn’t have been conserved for these many thousands of years if there wasn’t something more to it than a casual intellectual dismissal would indicate.” (7, 1:44:00)

So Peterson, based on his own statements, seems to think ‘fundamentalists’ are people who aren’t very bright. They do not understand the “complexity of what constitutes truth”, they take things concretely as a child would do, and they cling to religious stories because it organizes their psyches and societies. So they can safely be dismissed so he can get to the serious business of finding out what Moses was really writing, which was apparently Jungian psychology.

Contrast this with Hebrew scholar James Barr who said, “Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writers of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: a. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience; b. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to late stages in the biblical story; c. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguished all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”

Peterson does not have a Christian view of the Bible

Dr. Peterson believes that the biblical stories were put together as various tribes pooled their mythological stories. As part of their negotiation, their gods were ‘absorbed’ into one another until we got this meta-god, which is all the gods of all the cultures melded together (1, starting at 53:41). In his view, the Bible is the result of a process that happened in an inaccessible pre-history. The problem is, there is no evidence for this view!

His view doesn’t do justice to the large-scale structure we find in the book itself; for instance the toledot structure, the chiasms, and so on. Genesis is a self-contained story of the origins of the world, mankind, sin and its consequences, and the Israelite nation. Additionally, the grammatical structure of the narrative makes it clear that it intends to relay history and not myth. For example, the accurate details of Canaanite geography at the time support this.

Peterson presents the so-called ‘Documentary Hypothesis’ (itself the product of 19th century liberal scholarship) as if it were unquestionable fact (1, 1:37:03). He never even for a moment allows the audience to consider that Genesis may have been written by the man the text itself, as well as the universal testimony of the ancient Jews and early Christians, ascribes as the author—Moses! This is snobbery at its worst.

Peterson does not have a Christian view of God

Jordan Peterson is very coy when asked if he believes that God exists. I have never known a believer in God who is not willing to simply say, “Yes, I believe God exists as a personal Being”, so we are forced to take his refusal to answer straightforwardly as an indication that he does not believe in God, in the Christian sense.

If any Peterson fan wants to contest this, please include in your comment a link to where he has said straightforwardly that he believes in God. We have read both of his books and listened to hundreds of hours of his interviews and lectures, but we do not claim to have listened to everything he has ever said.

If he did want to say that he believes in God as a personal Being, the biblical series would have been a good place to do it. Instead, we get this weird statement that “The idea of God the father is something akin to the a priori structure that gives rise to consciousness” (3, 3:49). “The idea of God the Father is something like the birth of the idea that there has to be an internal structure out of which consciousness itself arises that gives form to things” (3, 11:06). So is it the structure, or the idea that there has to be a structure?

He also addresses the other members of the Trinity: “I also mentioned that I see the idea of both the Holy Spirit and also of Christ, and most specifically of Christ in the form of the Word, as the active consciousness that structure produces and uses, not only to formulate the world … but to change and modify that world” (3, 11:28).

We could ask Peterson to explain in plain language what exactly any of that is supposed to mean, but it should suffice to show that, whatever he means, it isn’t what Christians have always meant by saying that God is one Being, eternally existing in three Persons who are equal in deity, power, and glory.

Peterson’s interpretation is controlled by evolution

Peterson states that, “I think in evolutionary terms. As far as I’m concerned, the cosmos is 15 billion years old, and the world is 4.5 billion years old. There’s been life for 3.5 billion years. You know, there were creatures that had pre-developed nervous systems 300–600 million years ago, and we were living in trees as small mammals 60 million years ago, and we were down on the plains between 60 million and 7 million years ago, and that’s about when we split from chimpanzees, and modern human beings seem to emerge about 150,000 years ago, and civilization pretty much after the last ice age, something after 15,000 years ago, not very long ago at all” (1, 1:04:58).

We criticize BioLogos when they import evolution into Genesis, but at least they believe in a personal God. We should view Peterson with even more suspicion.

Peterson’s individualistic ethic

Christianity’s ethic is God-centered. The Great Commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Out of this flows the Second Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Since humans are created in God’s image, it is impossible to love God and hate your fellow man. In Scripture, it is God who declares what is good and evil, and because He is perfectly good, His ethical pronouncements are absolute.

This could not be more different from Peterson’s statements:

“Why act morally, if you can get away with something, and it brings you closer to something you want? Well, why not do it? These are good questions! It’s not self-evident. Well, it seems to be tied in with what I just mentioned. It’s like you destabilize yourself and things become chaotic, that’s not good. And if you don’t have a noble aim, you have nothing but shallow, trivial pleasures, and they don’t sustain you. And that’s not good, because life is so difficult. There’s so much suffering. It’s so complex. It ends, and everyone dies, and it’s painful. It’s like, without a noble aim, how can you withstand any of that?” (1, 1:15:56).

Who decides what the ‘noble aim’ is? Apparently it’s the individual himself. Peterson’s interpretation of the Fall is that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for Adam and Eve to disobey God, because, “How obedient do you want your children to be? You want them to be obedient enough so they don’t get hurt, but disobedient enough so they go out in the world and do something courageous, and they break some rules and they learn some things” (4, 1:45:38). This comes oddly close to the Mormon view of the Fall as a “glorious necessity”.

Peterson is a self-professed admirer of the famous atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, and even goes so far as to say that Nietzsche has been misunderstood and his ideas misapplied by the likes of Hitler and the Nazis. However, when reading Nietzsche’s work, I [PP] find it is Peterson who has misunderstood Nietzsche. Peterson advocates for traditional Christian values, while Nietzsche specifically attacked that mindset in his Parable of the Madman. Nietzsche clearly understood that when God is taken out of the picture, all the trappings of the Christian worldview and Christian society (which are derived from the God of the Bible) also must go, in order to make room for new, atheistic values, which are antithetical to the old Christian ones.

Peterson and religious art

Peterson is mystified by religious artwork. “You know, people put a lot of work into these representations, you know. And there’s thousands of them. They weren’t messing around. These are serious pieces of work. You know, we don’t understand them, but that doesn’t mean that the people who created them didn’t know what they were doing. These were geniuses who created these pieces of work. It’s not like they understood in an articulated manner exactly what they were trying to represent. But what they were representing were metaphors at the core of our culture. To the degree that our culture is functional and good, these are the metaphors upon which it is founded. And they’re not for the faint of heart, you know.” (Lecture 7, 1:32:05).

His use of religious art is odd. Historically, religious artists were working with a set of religious imagery that was both complex and beautiful, but also bounded and understandable. For instance, John is often depicted as younger than the rest of the Apostles, because he was the last one to die and because his gospel references a ‘young man’ that many scholars believe was autobiographical. But it is often possible to understand a piece of religious artwork simply from the Christian interpretation of the Scripture being depicted. Peterson seems to have no experience with religious artwork or how it is traditionally interpreted, which leaves him open to an ironically postmodern way of reading his own thought into the artwork.

I believe the great artists would be offended by the suggestion that an apparently godless psychologist knows better than them what they were trying to represent. In lecture 3 at 1:35:38, Peterson shows a picture of Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, and he says the Israelites were terrified because of the revelation of the universal moral law—“break the universal moral law and see what happens”. But we know from the context of the biblical story why they are terrified. Moses has been on the mountain for 40 days receiving God’s law, and they already knew from their experience that God had forbidden idolatry. But they had Aaron build the golden calf while Moses was gone, and they were cavorting in idolatrous worship when he came down from the mountain. They were afraid of Moses’ fury and the judgment of God for their idolatry. You don’t need some sort of message about ‘hierarchies’ to understand the biblical imagery.

In the same lecture at 1:40:55, he shows a picture of the two men holding up Moses’ hands, and says this means, “Serve tradition, serve the Father”. This is a mindless, ironically postmodern, way of interpreting paintings with well-established meanings in the Christian tradition. Aaron and Hur were holding up Moses hands because every time he let them down the Israelites started to lose the long battle with the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8–16). There is nothing about ‘upholding tradition’ in this matter-of-fact historical account.

Moses was not a Jungian psychologist

Cited above, Peterson claims that it is inappropriate to try to import scientific meaning onto the biblical texts, because the texts were not created by scientists and because there were no scientists around then. But we believe the texts to be history and can respond, “Neither were they Jungian psychologists, so it is just as inappropriate to import psychology into the biblical text.”

One would hope that Christians would show sufficient discernment to see the errors in Peterson’s presentations. But the size of his audience indicates there are probably many who would otherwise call themselves evangelical but have been duped by his mendacity. To them, we give a warning: Peterson’s method of interpreting Scripture according to his pre-existing beliefs, and his preaching of our ability to choose our own ‘noble aim’, is serpentine, not Christian. Even if pop culture wants to view Peterson as some sort of conservative voice of religious reason, he is actually promoting a worldview which is diametrically opposed to Christianity.

Helpful Resources

From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
From
US $12.00
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
From
US $17.00
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
From
US $3.50

Readers’ comments

Nichola W.
I wonder how many of his viewers watch his lectures all the way through if they are as tedious and rambling as you say.
Kathy S.
Thanks for this informative article and answering my questions on where Jordan stands biblically. This confirms what my friends and I had assumed. I will pass this article onto my other friends as well. Thanks Kathy
Sean W.
Im gonna be blunt and say i dont like this article. I reads too much like a hit piece where you have picted out a few choice sentences and formed your opinion on him. I think you dont understand on his opinion on indivualism but i dont have enough time to explain that. There are some things that you can def say about jordan like his belief in God (has said he is not sure and his lectures are his journey to figuring it out) and i def dont agree with his stance on evolution, but you seem to have written everything he has said and done off as wrong and labeled him a heretic. You risk alienating alot of people that are fans of his that could be brought over. Anyways i wont ramble any longer but you need to look mor closely into what he actually says (paul vanderklay does great vids on jordan peterson) and the areas that jordan is wrong you need to be more cronstructive with your critisism not write an article that reads like a main stream media hit piece.
Paul Price
I think our criticisms are entirely fair and accurate. You seem to be accusing us of taking Peterson's words out of context in some way, but that is simply not the case. Have you watched the series we are commenting on? Did you understand his claims? Do that, and then see if our criticisms here are not appropriate.
Philip U.
A timely article. Peterson is becoming the poster boy for secular conservatives because he does have some sensible opinions regarding post modern ideologies.
It is good to now have an analysis of his core beliefs to provide some context.
David M.
Thanks Lita and Paul for doing the hard work of investigating the phenomenon of Jordan Peterson and adding to our understanding and helping us in our interactions with family and friends who may be listening to him.
Dean R.
Could it be that Peterson aligns himself with the Teacher in Ecclesiastes when he seeks a noble theme for his evolutionary dogma of meaningless. Except that he elects to go in the opposite direction as he seeks to elevate self like Lucifer in the garden.

There is nothing new under the sun. Psychcologists become scientists, biologists become astrophysicists and everybody becomes god or the great I or me and nobody wants to take God at His Word.

Peterson's reflection on Biblical art seems to grasp that the Bible is not for the faint hearted (a bit like old age & life in general post fall). He also seems to see through a fair bit of post modern ideas but doesnt go back to the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, Joseph & Mary.

For all his sharpness and clarity on some things, if he is not sharpened and shaped by Christ he may as well be just another false prophet or teacher that rejects the Holy Word given to the church to test and approve movements in the last days that we were told would come and deceive many. We are called to build on the rock, not the sand.
J B.
I find Jordan Peterson to be a disappointment in many ways, especially in his apparent agnosticism and his terrible, possibly blasphemous failure to recognize that God is a person, The Lord Almighty, and not merely a magnificent utilitarian concept.
However, I do wonder if it might be good for us to take a charitable approach similar to the apostle Paul, who (although he was distressed by Athenian idolatry) both complimented and corrected the Athenians, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects ... what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you." (From Acts 17:16-23)
Aiden B.
Very strange, because I just got done watching an emotional movie based on real events involving psychology. Then I seen the article headline with psychology in it. But the movie was a reminder how fast things can go from good to bad. Sadly also, alternatives that can determine a person’s eternity are excluded, as an example from this well written article showing how science falsely so called can affect people and even their perspective on the holy scriptures like the one presented in this article. But regardless, as always, at the end of day, truth matters, whether it is the result you want to hear or not. The fact is we are all sinners and in need of a Savior and his name is Jesus Christ.
Michael T.
Peterson may be correct in saying that adherence to Biblical teachings gives a psychological benefit or comfort.
But relationship with the Living God is more than mere psychology - it is essentially spiritual. Everything falls into place for the Christian who is "led by the Spirit of God" (Rom 8:14), and the psychological is just one part of that.
Stuart R.
Thank you for covering this, I always thought something was off with the man. I never trusted his words. I got alarm bells when he wouldn’t answer a simple yes or no questions eg; does he believe in the God of the bible. It’s good that the team at CMI came too the conclusion. Thanks again and God bless.
Neil O.
Congratulations to you both: not only on your fine article, making SOME sense of such opaque material; but on your epic endurance in wading through hours of such turgid stuff, in order to pull down a populist stronghold "that exalts itself against the knowledge of God".
Henri D.
Jordan Petersen comes across as a man much in love with his own perceived reason. His conservative views on issues such as gender and politics may have convinced many people that he is also a religious conservative, but nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that he has a very sharp brain unfortunately also underscores the fact that he has a very sharp tongue and generally speaking his fan base loves it when he uses it to its full extent. After all, people like to hear their icons talk down to others with whom they do not agree. His denigration of creationists is a case in point - once again, somebody who clearly acts like an atheist (even if he does not come out and admit that he is one) plays the man, not the ball. As a man of logic, has he evidence for his narrative about the age of the earth? I very much doubt it. Once again, an otherwise intelligent man fails at the first step of proper investigation, purely because he prefers to believe what he wants to believe. And so it will be - we were, after all, warned.
Tim L.
I recently listened to an debate between Peterson and Susan Blackmore on the topic of "Do we need God to make sense of life?" (from the Unbelievable? podcast). This debate was extremely frustrating because Peterson was defending the position that we do need God to make sense out life, but when asked if he believed in God, he answered by saying "That depends on what you mean by 'God'."

Whatever the case, I think Peterson's views are so attractive because they provide a rational explanation (at least apparently so) for many Christian positions on morality. I think this makes him much more dangerous than other atheists because he is essentially attempting to make a naturalistic case for Christian morality but is doing his best to hide the fact that he is an atheist.
Eddie C.
I have listened to many of Peterson's lectures and I have come away with some of the same conclusions that are in this article. He likes the Bible and the ideas as a social structure for Western culture. Also, I believe that he has been quoted as saying, "I'm afraid he might be", when asked if God was real in at least one lecture. The way I take this is that he is an agnostic. He has some very honest and true opinions about our culture, but Christians need to be extremely careful about what they can and cannot use from Jordan Peterson. Only God knows of course, but I do not believe that Jordan Peterson has put his faith in Christ. His ideas about Christianity acknowledge only that it is a social framework that works quite well. He does not acknowledge that it is the only truth to lead to eternal salvation or even truth.
Mark C.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I've watched quite a few Jordan Peterson videos. He's excellent when it comes to the phony gender stuff, the myth of a pay gap between men and women, and a lot of postmodern garbage. He's horrible, as you know, when it comes to Christianity. I read an article recently where the author mentioned Peterson's lecture series and how it takes "a rational approach to the Bible stories through the latest understanding of neuroscience, psychoanalysis (Peterson is also a clinical psychologist), evolutionary biology, philosophy, literature (the wisdom of our civilization), and art."

Obviously, this is exactly backwards. The Bible is to be used to assess and shed light on those disciplines, not the other way around. While I'm no expert on Peterson (more power to him on the gender issue), as best as I can tell, while he at least once reluctantly referred to himself as a Christian, I see nothing Christian about him.

He rejects historic Christian doctrine, rejects the Genesis account as history, accepts evolution, questions the Deity of Christ and even questions if He existed. He sees Biblical accounts as "stories" rather than literal history (allegory, metaphor, etc.). His perspective seems more new agey/psychological gobbledygook than anything. I'm so glad you posted this article exposing his nonsense about the God, the Bible, history, etc. Sean W above needs to take a second look at him.
Bill H.
Dr. Peterson was not there. No one living was there. Consequently we must rely upon the only reliable source material which would be the biblical authors who were there. The only way to effectively dispute their accounts is to discuss it with them which might be difficult. Any divergence from their descriptions of events is nothing more than supposition at best and in a court of law would not be admissible as evidence over written eyewitness testimony. As a result, either confirming or denying Dr. Peterson's suppositions has no bearing on fact.
David J.
I am a big CMI follower (buy books, creation magazine subscriber) as well as a Prof Jordan Peterson Fan. I appreciate the way Petersen critiques the Progressive-socialists, especially university gender studies and socialists appeals to group/tribalism. However, as a Christian, I know everything he discusses about the Bible/Christianity is outside his realm of expertise.I dismiss as part of my "discernment" Christian perspective. In broader society he can really be a positive change agent. I read his material & watch You Tube always within my Christian perspective. Finally, speaking of tribalism (which I guess I am not above at least on one level) I enjoy the world-wide success of Canada's (I live in same province he is from} Petersen while ensuring I pray that he Meets "Jesus" during his journey through life. I believe, at one level at least, he is a searcher for truth.
William H.
Jordan Peterson is just the latest fad that many people have clung onto. People are desperate for meaning in their lives and they seem to think Peterson is the guru with all the answers. I personally think he's what's known as an opinion "gatekeeper". The establishment has allowed him to speak out on certain matters that would have the average Joe penalized in some way because Peterson never actually comes to the truth in what he expounds. For instance, he denounces the transgender pronouns fiasco, yet he legitimizes the notion of transgenderism itself. It's all rather pernicious, since it influences his followers to accept transgenderism as normal, while only taking umbrage with the idea of being forced to address them a certain way.
Willem D.
Ha what a coincidence! Just the day before this article was featured on the main page, I did a search on Jordan Peterson, to see if you guys had anything to say about this man and his ideas and I got this very informing article as a result. The next day it turned out to be the main article of the day. (Not sure if that's even possible, but that's how it looked to me).
Thanks for providing the information we need, just at the right time!
Paul Price
I'm glad we've been helpful to you! I think the reason that you were able to find the information on our site prior to its being featured on the main page is that you happened to do your search after it had been published on the site in Australia/New Zealand but before it had been published in your local area, due to time zone differences. This incidentally also proves the earth is round, not flat.
David G.
It is entertaining, in a way, when pundits tell us that Genesis tells us about things that are by using things that are not. One wonders how this particular bridge is built...and out of the literature, so we are told, of 'primitive tribes'. What wonderfully insightful primitives they must have been.
However the pundits have missed the point. Genesis, in a remarkable and strikingly unique few pages tells us fundamentally about who we are and that reality is at root about relating persons, not material accidents; thus making its 'comforts' established in reality, and not in the hopeless fiction that the pundits seem to entertain on nothing more than there own tendentious assertions.
James K.
Peterson starts by ascribing human writers to genesis thereby denying the authorship of God. That is his primary axiom, it is his excuse for denying any good scientific truth which supports the genesis account (ie. they just accidentally got it right). I was beginning to like Peterson, but he just thoroughly proved that secular psychology is squishy quasi scientific hogwash. I will take him with a pound of salt from now on. Although he is useful.... he probably triggers the likes of Dawkins et al. He is Dawkins nightmare; a religious atheist who believes we should follow the Bible.
Thomas M.
Because he is so famous and statistics indicate a lot of people follow him, I can understand why it seemed necessary to write this. But, honestly, there is no indication that he has examined the evidence for the scientific or exegesis assertions he makes. Those assertions are all "stock" sayings like a "just so" story. He's a psychologist; he believes what he has been told and what he has been told gives him moral autonomy. That makes him comfortable with himself. The stuff he says he could have read in one of Richard Dawkins' books.
Paul Price
Yes, I think you are more or less correct in that assessment. After all, Peterson admits that all his friends are "deeply atheistic". That is the circle and social group he resides in, and he gives no evidence of having strayed outside that atheistic mindset at any point during his lectures. He doesn't even consider the possibility that God may be real and personal, and that God's word may in fact be a true account of history. Ironically, though, he wants us to do the very thing Nietzsche attacked: he wants us to dispense with God and yet hold onto the moral framework that only God can provide.
B P.
Thank you for this article. I had recently listened to several of Jordan Peterson's lectures on the internet, and was impressed at first, but the more I listened/watched, the more I realized that his views on origins or anything Biblical were way off base. I appreciate his stance on the gender pronoun issues, but did not realize, as another poster has stated, that he doesn't have an issue with transgenderism. One doesn't need a PhD in psychology or any other subject to realize that the chromosomes of a man can never be changed to those of a woman or vice versa.

The quotes you gave of his discussion of evolution and origins of the universe and man seem almost comical to me. It begs the question: According to whom and on whose authority are you spouting all that as truth?! I wonder exactly HOW he calculated the "chimpanzee" date. NOT ONE SINGLE SCIENTIST was there at the beginning of time or when man first appeared on the scene, so ALL OF IT is postulation on their part, but Dr Peterson seems to regurgitate is as absolute gospel. No one on this planet has ever witnessed or had physical evidence of 2 chimpanzees mating and giving birth to a baby human, yet a large percentage of people, including many who are highly educated, accept those types of evolutionary postulations as fact while viewing even the possibility of a Creator as preposterous (and those of us who do believe as ignorant and gullible).
John S.
Peterson is a valuable source for combating the perverse ideologies of the left. He is a product of the university system (Godless, far left leaning, anti-capitalist, divisive politics). I find he makes an important contribution to straightening out society. I watched one video where he claimed to be a "Christian", meaning he accepts the teaching of Christ in social interactions.
His constant referencing of evolution is baffling. He is stuck in his own little world of thought and cannot breakout. We should be gentle with him and perhaps send him a challenge to defend evolution in a debate.
Paul Price
I always welcome the idea of debate, because of course we do have the truth on our side; however I think it is highly unlikely Peterson would be interested in publicly defending biological evolution as a concept, since it falls well outside his specialty. I think if one were to propose a debate, it would be on the topic we address here: is Genesis psychology or history?

If Peterson claims to be a Christian it is a highly misleading statement on his part, as our article makes plain. His worldview is completely antithetical to biblical Christianity.
Albert H.
I think this critique is misguided, because it assumes that the deeper, fundamental meaning of story-like texts is purely a product of the human author's conscious intentions. But all neuroscientists and psychologists know that virtually every cognitive task, and writing in particular, is largely a product of unconscious processes. Roughly speaking, the reason the OT has these Jungian meanings on Peterson's view could be summarized as follows: when people tell or write stories, there is a strong unconscious element embedded into their story by their unconscious mind, which is largely responsible for both the overall structure and the details of the story. Over time, those stories that embed unconscious elements which "resonate" with a large number of people, tend to prevail over stories that embed only idiosyncratic elements. Therefore the great cultural myths of different people groups will tend to have embedded within them the basic "archetypes" of wisdom that are universally applicable.

This does not require that Moses, or whoever wrote/compiled Genesis, knew anything about Jungian psychology. That is a straw man argument. Peterson's view is not even incompatible with the view of James Barr that you cite, that the author(s) of Genesis thought they were describing literal events. It may be that they did think they were describing literal events, but the archetypes in question were nonetheless unconsciously embedded in the text, and for that reason the texts have had enduring and sustained cultural power.

Whether this leads to atheism or not depends upon how much of a realist one is about the archetypes in question. If one is a realist about the archetypes, that would entail some form of Platonism, which many scholars regard as a form of theism.
Lita Cosner
Your critique is misguided. We do not assume the deeper meaning of the Bible is purely a product of the author's conscious intentions, but what the Holy Spirit intended, which could be far beyond an author's conscious intentions. You say, "It doesn't necessarily lead to atheism, it might lead to Platonism!" The point is that Peterson's interpretation most certainly does not lead to the conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, which is the whole message of the Scriptures.

Your defense of Peterson, therefore, only makes it clearer that such a critique was needed.
D D.
Of course his views are not Christian. He is not a Christian and you should not expect his views to be. What Jordan Peterson is doing is very commendable. He is standing up to the intellectual stupidity that has pervaded our educational system and political discourse. Perhaps God has placed him in this time and place for this specific purpose because he is able to confront the insidious ideals that threaten western civilization better than any Christian could. He is to be lauded as a correcting voice but for Christians to idolize him in any way shows how truly ignorant they are of scripture and the knowledge of God.
Lita Cosner
DD, I do not expect Jordan Peterson to be a Christian. But what I do expect is some fairness and clarity on the issue. If, when asked if he believed in God, Peterson had the decency to respond, "No, not in the sense that most people define God," I probably would not have bothered with responding to him. But what we get is a 10-minute word salad about archetypes and the internal structure that gives rise to consciousness. I think Peterson is not standing up to the intellectual stupidity, but he is capitalizing on it. The vast majority of his fans cannot understand the implications of his system of thought. The fact that some can even mistake him for a Christian is both an indictment of the Church for training our people so poorly, and of him for not being intellectually honest.
Daniel J.
I agree, JP tends to read WAY to much into what the Bible says; always looking for allegories to profound truths which the authors and God may or may not have actually tried to convey.
But I still get a lot out of watching his lectures. I used to have the social skills of a carrot, but he's helped me a ton in terms of increasing my social abilities. His criticisms of postmodernism and extreme liberalism are things that I'm sure you at CMI share. His way of debating isn't confrontational; it's calm and understanding. I wish the more militant atheists like Dawkins and Harris could debate like Jordan Peterson.
I do disagree with one minor point made in this article:
"In lecture 3 at 1:35:38, Peterson shows a picture of Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, and he says the Israelites were terrified because of the revelation of the universal moral law—'break the universal moral law and see what happens'."
You then go on to say that the real reason the Israelites were terrified was that they were committing idolatry. But this doesn't refute Peterson's point that the Israelites were terrified of what happens when they break the universal moral law; that is EXACTLY why they were afraid. They were breaking said law at that moment! So I'm not sure why you believed that Peterson was incorrect in saying that...
Anyways, thanks for taking so much time to research his lectures and thank you for writing this article.
Albert H.
Thanks for your response Lita. To clear up any misconceptions, I am not defending Peterson in a general sense. I just think that your review of him did not fairly appreciate his position or deal with it, but was instead a knee-jerk "hatchet job". I stand by that assessment of your review. Critiques are generally most useful if they first attempt to sympathetically understand the position they are disagreeing with and engage with it meaningfully, but yours does not. From some of your other comments, it seems that you do not feel that he has been "fair" with your own position. I just wonder, though, whether "two wrongs make a right".

It should be clear to anyone who listens to Peterson, or knows anything about Jung, that he is dealing with unconscious meanings. That is precisely why he can argue for meanings in art, for instance, that go against what the artist themselves would have said was the meaning of the work. If you believe in a "sensus plenior", and it seems you do (and I agree with you on this), then I think you could admit that while we might disagree with Peterson on the precise mechanism by which deeper meanings are found in scripture, he is nonetheless correct that they do exist; and if we admit that, then I do not see why you can exclude the kind of archetypal meanings that he finds. In other words, his exegesis may be essentially correct in at least some cases, even if his explanation for how that meaning got there is flawed.

Again, it should be obvious to everyone, and I think is, that Peterson is not a Christian in any meaningful sense. However, it is possible that he has more belief in a transcendent metaphysical realm than what he is prepared to make explicit (due to the constraints of secular academia). That was certainly the case with Jung.
Lita Cosner
If listening to dozens and dozens of hours of his videos does not indicate that we tried to fairly assess his position, I don't know what would satisfy you. Spending so many hours researching it also would tend to indicate it's not knee-jerk. His exegesis is flawed because not only does it not come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is Lord, but it would lead people away from that truth. You might as well say that Paul should have 'sympathetically understood' the Judaizers. Peterson is not a Christian, he is presenting another gospel, he is twisting the Scriptures to do it, and we dealt with him accordingly. For the record, I think our tone was quite restrained and civil. We quoted plenty of his statements, and gave the timestamp if anyone wants to go and listen to see if we took him out of context, which we tried not to do.

The demons believe in a transcendent metaphysical realm, and shudder. Stop trying to make him sound better than he is.
Andrew S.
I’ve enjoyed exploring lectures by Jordan Peterson because he puts into words the humanist faith so clearly. There is no doubt in my mind that Dr Peterson is preaching another gospel and his gospel is firmly predicated on a belief in evolution.

Evolution is of course fundamentally hopeless. Peterson stands out among a discipline that is steeped in postmodernism by standing boldly on a Christian assertion of responsibility. He has a protestant family heritage and his unspoken goal is to integrate meaning into an evolutionary framework. Good luck to him.

Peterson’s message to the world is, ‘everything you do matters’ and he is attractive because of his willingness to be very candid about the questions and doubts that plague him and those he has counselled. His other great attraction is his overt stance against Marxist postmodernism; a philosophy that has no place for the individual but only the group.

The massive contradiction is his thinking is his inability to question evolution or indeed to defend it. His talks are littered with silly just-so stories of the sexual selection type. The reason it is silly, is because you can argue for a point or its counterpoint using sexual selection. The only thing it proves is the willingness of the speaker to go out on the limb of populism.

As a disciple of Karl Jung looking for meaning in the stories of our culture, it leaves him in an awkward spot with regards to the Bible. My prayer for Peterson is that someday he will be awestruck as he contemplates the immense power that is displayed in the word of God, especially as it is expressed by Jesus Christ.
Steve O.
"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'" (Genesis 3)

Many well respected Christian writers have said this is the greatest psychology statement of all time. Yet you judge Peterson for not having a "Christian view of God" when he clearly states he's not a Christian. What else would you expect? Having read his book, "12 Rules for Life" it is obvious that Peterson does have a perspective worthy of contemplation for the "good Christian" who has the courage and emotional maturity to read it. It's a very good, well written book. Are Christians so timid that they can't read a book they disagree with? I read so many Christian books that I'm running out of space in my office den, yet I have NEVER read any book where I completely agree with everything in it. A Christian's perspective can be so obsessively focused on anti-evolution creationism and the theology of God that they are unable to appreciate a valid and very Biblical perspective on the psychology of the those "created in His image."
Lita Cosner
Are you a Christian? If so, you should be concerned that in your defense of Peterson I couldn't tell where you were coming from. If not, it's no surprise that you don't understand our problem with his misinterpretation of the Bible. Obviously we're not too timid to interact with views we disagree with, hence this article, for which we listened to many, many hours of his lectures (which are as rambling as his writing). I also have listened to the audiobook of 12 Rules for Life--his style is more bearable to listen to than to read. So you can put aside the straw men that Christians are afraid of everything they criticize. Our criticisms are valid, and you didn't deal with any of them.
Joel L.
I think part of the reason some commenters take issue with the severity of your stance towards JP is that you are reacting differently to the very thing which puts him in a unique position n our current cultural climate; as I understand: Peterson is a progressive atheist from a Christian upbringing who insists there is intrinsic merit, social good and practical wisdom in traditional social structures, social norms, categorizations, and personal ethics while attempting to offer a philosophical meaning and purpose absent 'organized faith' to foundation it.

His _informed_ 'faithful' suppor embrace the value of his opposition to postmodern values and prorities precisely BECAUSE he's speaking from the other side; a respectable, 'loyal opposition' is one of those increasingly rare 'nice things' we don't get anymore - the kind of opposition you could enjoy debatng and both parties come away better knowing what they believe and why. It's salve to a public chasm opened by the the sociopolitical conflicts of the last 40+ years. They feel he contributes more contributes making society more 'fertile soil' for hearing the Gospel than trips honest seekers.

As for his fuzziness on God - I acknowledge the scientific/historical arguments for God and Jesus. I hate that at the end of all reasons, God's justice in hell that the cross covers seems to boil down to 'the line was crossed, so somebody must suffer for it ( the foundations of my character scream 'THAT'S NOT JUSTICE')not for all sins, but for even one actionable moment of doubt in absolute claims that could _never_ be proven to finite beings. Absent a cheatful forgetting, I can't picture eternal joy next to unending torment. I'm unable to answer 'aye' or 'nay'; Am I then serpentine?

Painfully searching /always = exploitation.
Lita Cosner
If he is informed about the Bible then he is being dishonest, because his interpretation goes against the Bible's true meaning. Look, he can tell people to clean their rooms and stand up straight because something about lobsters seems to indicate that's a good idea. But his biblical interpretation, which by the way is the only thing we were critiquing here, is atrocious. Apparently people get mad when you tell them the emperor is naked, because some emperors are a lot worse. It would be better if he put some trousers on, but at least he's saying there's intrinsic merit in the trousers, if by 'trousers' you mean that conceptualization of metaphysical covering which gives rise to the idea of self-consciousness.

Your idea of sin is flawed, which is why you find the idea of Hell hard to swallow. A perfectly just God has to punish sin, and he can't pick and choose which sins to punish. Read my article at creation.com/hell.
Katy K.
Thanks Lita and team for doing this critique,

I agree with Eddie C and his comments. I will just add that I read the first chapter of his book '12 rules for life - an antidote to Chaos'
and yes he's definitely a textbook Jung follower - and of course a faithful evolutionist to boot. So not sure if I will persevere thru the following chapters, as his first one is likening our human emotions to the sexual reproductions of lobsters.
I wonder if he's actually a conflicted closet atheist - logically he knows that the 'structure' of the 10 commandments makes sense, but his strong indoctrination in evolutionary psychology is a war with that logic. I first started watching him on you tube because he has great debate with feminists - and wins! And also speaks out about forced speech. So yes he comes across as conservative - but like you, the more you research him, the more I can see he's not worth following . So thanks for taking the time to research this, even though it must have been a bit mind numbing for you.
Tim L.
Good article. It would help some readers if you mentioned WHY he is famous in the first place - For standing up against the gender benders and PC police. Some of his jousts with empty-headed lefties are gold, and this is why a Christian might be attracted to him in the first place. But then you could show why he is not an apologist for Christianity with his flawed thinking regarding the historicity of the Bible (which you did a great job of). A real pity for Peterson to get some things right and much wrong.
Nathan G.
Aside from the fact the psychology is not hard science (observable, testable, repeatable, making accurate and detailed predictions of future findings), it is a horrible justification of evolutionary twaddle. Its pseudoscientific methods and interpretations more resemble fairy-tale stories or statistical guesses than any rigorous approach to the natural world of matter and energy. For a Christian critique of Sigmund Fraud (not a spelling error) and his merry band of proselytes I highly recommend Paul Vitz' book "Sigmund Freud's Christian Conscious". Eye-opener!

Forgetting psychobabble for a moment, I would offer three quick comments to Peterson with respect to "primitive people who thought that it was really the case that someone could build a boat, and put two of every kind into it, and thereby save the world. It’s embarrassing to see things interpreted in a manner that shallow, especially by people who don’t have ignorance as a justification."

I have an article from History Channel about Admiral Zheng and his Chinese fleet. His treasure ship was 440 feet long and 180 at the beam. Bigger than Noah's ark. Sailed around Africa. Only one example of antique, gigantic ships. See Woodmorappe's "Noah's Ark A Feasibility Study" to find out how shallow and ignorant Peterson truly is with regard to history.

The second (scientific) fact comes from Job 38:31. Scientists discovered only in the late 1990s that the Pleiades are an open cluster moving apart and that Orion is a fixed cluster which will retain its shape forever. How then did people in the 2nd or 3rd millenium B.C. with "ignorance as a justification" nail a scientific fact like that, yet we are allegedly foolish if we believe the same today?

C-14 dating destroys deep time. Pure C-14 would decay in <1 million years.
Ron V.
I have heard Peterson say that he is going to take the next three years to determine if there is a God.
Lita Cosner
If he made such a statement, I would be happy to see a source. I have heard him say that it would take him three years to determine it, but not that he intended to take the time to investigate it.
Phill Z.
Great work CMI. I also did some research myself on him and came to the same conclusions. Anyone who takes away from Jesus being "the Way, the Truth and the Life" like Jordan Peterson so evidently does, should be warned about his false teachings. We should alert others, so they're not being lead astray from the truth of God's Word and the Person/Deity of Jesus Himself.
Vangel V.
Shouldn't Christians be grateful for Peterson getting atheists to read the Bible?

If he is as bad as the article suggests, why do so many people pay a great deal of money to go to his lectures?

Peterson is very intelligent and is very well read. Unlike many fundamentalists, who seem not to have read the New Testament, Peterson is an advocate for peace and freedom. I would take him over most of the Sunday morning TV charlatans any day. Listen to what he says and respond after you understand what he is actually saying rather than what he is accused of saying. Keep in mind that Peterson is a lot closer to being Kierkegaard than the atheists many are trying to portray him of being.
Lita Cosner
Reading the Bible doesn't save someone. Believing and responding in repentance and faith in Christ does. It seems like I've listened to Peterson's message a lot more than you've listened to him, or to me for that matter. I never claimed Peterson wasn't intelligent or well-read, I simply claimed he is not a Christian in the sense that he does not believe that Christ is literally true God and true man, who lived on the earth 2,000 years ago and died for the sins of humanity and was raised on the third day. Look, the man said that he would need three years to determine if God even exists. Does that sound like the statement of a Christian to you?
Sadie R.
I say that the Bible is full of psychology, although not the contrived version of the psychology of today. I see a book so full of human nature that one can hardly see a difference in what people are trying to get away with today and what they did in biblical times. I don't see a way to get around God's laws nor the need for salvation which God in his grace provided for us. Peterson is at least a man who sees the value in God's admonition to do good. May God grant that he is able to have more interactions with solid Christians so that his eyes may be opened to a loving, personal God who is, after all, in the business of changing lives.
Lita Cosner
Scripture makes statements about the human heart and its motivations, so it certainly makes statements that are relevant to psychology, in the same way that the creation account in Genesis makes statements that are relevant for biology. But to say that the Bible is a psychological book is anachronistic. The Bible is much more than psychological, and in many ways, the godless psychologists are pseudoscientists.
Tom B.
Thank for the Jordan Peterson article. I purchased his 12 Rules... to see what the buzz was about. Speaking as a pastor with 12 years experience, I appreciate the authors cutting to the chase to show how Peterson lines up with God’s word. I have since sent this article to others who’ve had questions about what Peterson believes....
Matthew H.
A good article with fair criticism. I think that, although Jordan Peterson is incredibly smart, he seems to be over-analysing what the Bible actually is. It is predominately just a history book, which describes our origin, our fall, our relationship with God over the next several thousand years and culminating in his redemptive plan in the person of Jesus. It's not meant to be complex - God designed it such that a child or the retarded can read/hear and understand who is God is, that they are a sinner and that they are in need of a saviour. As Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit moved the writers of the Bible to write what they did according to his will. It may be written by human hands and in their individual writing styles, but we are reading God's message to us as he intended. I just wonder what else the biblical writers would have had to have done to get the point across to people like Peterson that what they were recording was an event that actually happened. It seems to me that he is starting from the position that the flood never happened and then attempting to reason from there. Also, if he is right, how can you know what *any* historical record, document or book actually says or means? My question to Peterson would be how he can explain the great flood stories that exist in cultures all over the world. You may be able to arbitrarily ascribe some kind of psychological underlying meaning to Moses' writings or compilation, but can that same explanation also apply other independent cultures across the globe?

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