Creationism and Church Attendance

It turns out that Young Earth Creationists are still around, at least according to some Christianity Today figures. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, really, since many churches still teach Young Earth theories over and against the multitude of scientists who would say such beliefs are utter nonsense. Continue reading Creationism and Church Attendance

Academic [d]Evolution

“Do you know anything about graduate school applications?”

My boyfriend Matthew, like me, is a junior in college and beginning to think about (that is, be overwhelmed by) the nearing terrors called ‘grad school apps’. My mother half laughed—the kind that is mostly air whistling through the nose—and replied, “I only know about my application, and that was thirty years ago.” I broke in to point out things are much different now. “It’s way more competitive,” I said.

In a free market environment, there is usually a consensus that competition is good. It prevents monopolies or socialism, keeps prices low and product quality high. Turns out, though, it affects students too. For any student seriously pursuing a high-caliber graduate program, the realization comes hard and fast: they must be willing to look amazing on paper. And I don’t mean just a 3.9-something. A quality resume includes impressive jobs, community service, awards, presentation, and if the student is lucky, a minority ethnicity. Students with hopes to continue in the academy smack face-first into Darwin’s maxim from Origin of the Species: “all organic beings are exposed to severe competition.”

Darwin pursued this idea until it led him to the theory of natural selection: to survive ‘severe competition,’ organisms develop stronger dominant straits. The university student is a microcosm for that entire process. The pressure of competition can lead to numerous traits that are crucial for academic survival: time management, work ethic, maturity, self-sufficiency, etc. But some effects can be troubling, such as restlessness, narrowed perspective, and flattery.

What is the student at graduation—advanced or monstrous? Maybe both. As with shelf products, graduate programs get their pick of low-priced, high quality goods. As long as applicants heavily outweighs admits, a student’s academic evolution seems unavoidable; we will inevitably conform to necessary evils like the GRE. True, the crunch of competition can push a student to greater accomplishment and fuller maturity. Must a healthy perspective on success fade in the evolution as well?

Personally, I don’t want to pursue acts of excellence only for the sake of standing out in peer comparisons, like a company creating a charity merely for marketing purposes. Stanford, Duke, UC Berkeley…even they aren’t worth that compromise. The difficulty is in retaining good things—and accomplishments and charity are good things—but not to use them merely as means to what are actually lesser ends. The undergraduate’s challenge is to face the competition, work hard, develop strong traits…but not forget to live well. Else, at life’s end, the MA or PhD will be discovered to be just one more leaf of grass. ‘

What’s So Great About Christianity?

Atheists have it far too easy.  While Christians usually know what they believe, they don’t always know why they believe it.  This leaves the market wide open for the success of provocative books like The God Delusion and The End of Faith. Books like these sell well when no one challenges them, and then sell ever better when Christians challenge them poorly.

In What’s so Great about Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza tries to answer these and other popular secular works with an accurate and objective description of Christianity, its history, its role in Western culture, and its relevance to modern readers.  His book isn’t perfect – one simply cannot do all this well in only three hundred pages – but it is nonetheless a useful tool for both Christians and secularists.

D’Souza, a former White House domestic policy analyst and author of five New York Times bestsellers, presents a detailed and easy-to-read description of the ways in which Christianity has been and will continue to be integral to the development of the West.  He aims to describe Christianity in a way that is accessible to even the most secular audience, and he largely succeeds.  His descriptions of Christian traditions and beliefs are easily accessible and mostly accurate.  He doesn’t take Christianity for granted, but tries to examine its claims objectively.  If atheists don’t feel like they’ve been treated fairly when they read this book, they can’t blame D’Souza.

D’Souza’s work is useful not only for curious atheists but also for Christians who want to brush up on their apologetics skills.  Of particularly interest are the sections in which he debunks popular historical myths that cast Christianity in a negative light.

D’Souza offers a very hopeful view of the future of Christianity, arguing that secularism is quickly waning, and that Christianity will eventually enjoy a wide-spread societal triumph. The United States, he argues, is at the forefront of modernity, and should thus be the most secular nation in the Western world.  Instead, he says, it is the most religious Western nation, and traditional churches are growing as liberal denominations shrink.  Since Europe generally mimics the US over time, even the most secular European nations will eventually follow our lead.  While not everyone will agree with the details of his optimistic analysis, he is right to assert that the Church will never die out.

The book, as I said, is not perfect.  It is only a little over three hundred pages long, so it is understandably simplistic in parts and all-to-brief in others.  This is inevitable; however, it is regrettable that the author did not take more time to explain certain points of view that differ from his own.  This is particularly true in the science sections of the book, where his own pro-evolution views dominate the discussion more than in any other place in the text.  The Church is a big place, and Christians are a varied lot.  We disagree with each other on many issues, and science is no exception.  D’Souza is entitled to his own views, but in this book there is some danger that readers will mistakenly think his views represent those of the Church at large.

While no one book (besides the Bible!) can adequately bridge the gap between Christians and atheists, D’Souza’s book is a useful starting place for productive dialogue – the sort of dialogue in which neither side has it too easy. ‘