While David Barton and his defenders continue to claim that he’s the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy, more and more conservative Christians are finally backing away from him. The latest is Breakpoint Ministries, founded by Charles Colson. And they’re even admitting why they fell for it in the first place:
I am no historian, so I am in no position to form an independent judgment of his veracity. Few of us are. But that doesn’t excuse our eager acceptance of his inaccuracies. With a bit of care, any of us could have known of the serious questions that have surrounded Barton’s work for a long time. These recent revelations are nothing new, except in the degree to which conservative Christian scholars are involved in calling him to account.
Nevertheless we became for him a devoted cadre of disciples. We knew our country’s founding principles were vitally important. However, so is historical accuracy. It looks as if Barton compromised one to make a case for the other.
If the signs have been there for some time, why then did we love Barton so? And is it possible that we share the blame?
Barton fended off criticism by blaming it on the liberal academy’s antipathy to Christianity. That had more than a little believability to it. I am quite sure that liberal academics often hold to an ideological agenda that motivates them to discredit Christianity’s part in our nation’s history. Thus, it was easy (and it still is) to be suspicious of their criticisms in this case.
But the ideology defense is no help when it’s conservative Christians making a case against Barton—especially when it’s a case as verifiable as this is proving to be. It’s not political opinion that’s stacking up against him now. It’s well documented facts…Still. we are human. There is a common human need to know, and to know that we know. Sometimes we overdo it, to the extent that we “know” things that aren’t so.
Thus for example we have non-specialists in paleontology, geology, biology, cosmology, and Ancient Near East literature (relevant to the Genesis account) who are absolutely sure they know how and when the heavens and the earth were created. Humility, one would think, would lead us to temper our enthusiasm for our convictions, for it takes specialized knowledge to form a fully informed and studied conclusion on such matters. Still we insist we are right, as if we were the ones who had researched it all ourselves.
Yes, everyone tends to do that last part on most issues. We engage in motivated reasoning and accept the claims of someone on “our side” with little demand for supporting evidence, while demanding incontrovertible proof for any claim made by the “other side.” But rational people, intellectually honest people, try very hard not to do that. Probably no one succeeds completely, but at the very least you have to be open to being wrong and you have to recognize that, when you take such a cognitive shortcut, your certainty level should be a low lower than it is when you’ve taken the time to research something yourself.
And in this case, all of the facts that prove Barton to be a liar have been available for a long time, published in extraordinary detail.