Please Stop Lying in Jesus’ Name

Hemant Mehta shared some images that it is horrifying to think that a public school science teacher gave to children. The content, scientifically speaking, is absolute garbage. But even worse and more disturbing than that, in my opinion, are the false religious claims. Look at this image:

Let’s work through those lies one by one, shall we?

1. If the brain was formed by evolution, allegedly we cannot know anything for certain. The study of the brain and of human reasoning shows that we are prone to self deception. That is a verifiable fact, regardless of where you think the brain came from. On an evolutionary scenario, having brains that completely mislead us about reality would present a survival disadvantage, and so there is good reason to think that evolution would and did provide us with brains that give a picture of the world around us that is not completely inaccurate. But many religious believers would emphasize that we as human beings do not have an ultimate, God’s-eye perspective and so should not be dogmatically confident in our own judgments. And young-earth creationists claim that the things we can study through science actually lead us to the wrong conclusions. And so this claim about evolution is bogus.

2. Your life is a meaningless accident. This too is nonsense. Many children are conceived by accident, and live meaningful lives. There is a combination of law and randomness to the way genetic material works to turn a fertilized egg into a human being. If you can’t cope with natural processes in the world, then your life may be meaningless, but few would agree. Again, this claim is very obviously false.

3. No basis for morals. Morals do evolve. We can trace some of those changes over the course of the Biblical literature. Jesus’ teaching (and that of many others) about the need to ground morality in empathy, and thus to treat others as we would be treated, works just as well for beings who are the result of evolution. This moral objection to evolution is a red herring.

4. No law?! There are laws, and there is exploitation, and that has nothing to do with evolution. This one isn’t merely false, it is bizarre.

5. No love, only hormones? Hormones are real. Brain processes are real. If you cannot treat love seriously because of these things, your problems are with science in general – biology, neuroscience, and chemistry – and not with evolution.

6. No purpose – only survival. This is bunk. Our ability to love, to make music, to find and give value to people and things are observable realities, which have no connection with evolution. And our quest to survive is also an observable reality, one that is reflected in the Bible.

7. Chance and chaos are the ultimate realities? Says who? This could be said about physics, and chemistry, and weather, and just about anything. It once again could be an objection against science in general – it certainly isn’t specifically about evolution. But nothing about our scientific understanding of the world requires this view.

The image misses the mark seven out of seven times. In ways that are blatantly obvious.

And so the real enemy of faith and meaning turns out not to be evolution, nor science, but people who lie and spread nonsense in the name of Jesus.

Oh how I wish they would stop.

  • Brian P.

    Yet also both their continuation of the spreading of nonsense and your wishing they’d stop just might too be materially the product of that evolution as well. At least in some ways accepting of evolution is accepting this too.

  • Ken Leonard

    Sigh …

    If, for a moment, people would bother to get information about how and what “evolutionists” believe from proponents of evolution rather than from those with a vested interest in denying evolution, the world would be a much-better place.

    I say this in much the same way that I think we should get our views of what anyone believes from proponents, rather than opponents. We might then choose to reject or even oppose those views, but at least we’d know real reasons why.

    • histrogeek

      Except of course there is no such thing as an “evolutionist,” so what they believe cannot be gotten first hand. It’s rather like trying to explain what motivates the Tooth Fairy by an interview.
      You can ask scientists or science teachers or just lay people who aren’t creationists, but they have way more diversity of opinion than would work for a polemic.

      • Timothy McPherson

        Could you elucidate a bit more on what you mean? What do you mean that there is no such thing as an “evolutionist?”

        • histrogeek

          First there is no one I’ve ever heard of who would be a self-described evolutionist. A very large number of people accept evolution as the best explanation for life on Earth, but “evolutionist” is a term made up by creationists.
          I’m not sure what an evolutionist might be besides a person who accepts the prevailing biological theory. By that definition you could refer to the same people as “gravitationalists” or “atomicists” or “quantuumians” or something.
          An “evolutionist” in the context of this pamphlet is a straw person. And by definition straw people don’t have real beliefs, just distorted interpretations phrased as arguments.

          Now it is possible to do what Ken suggests and talk to people who accept evolution and people who support creationism to understand their ideas. What you can’t do is talk to a made-up straw person called an evolutionist.

          • Timothy McPherson

            Thanks! I agree with you.

  • stuart32

    The claim being made here is that if we are the products of evolution then we must be robots and the only way we can be confident of not being robots is if God created us. But wait a minute; doesn’t this get things back to front? We can build robots ourselves, so there is no reason to think that if we are the products of intelligent design rather than evolution we are not robots. Quite the opposite. We know that robots are exactly what you get from intelligent design.

    The real question is how an embodied, material being can be more than a robot. Whether this being is brought into existence by evolution or design is not the issue. In fact, this is a profound question. How can a physical state of the brain also be a state of knowing something? Or how can a physical state of the brain also be a state of being in love? The debate about evolution is really a distraction from the real question.

    • arcseconds


  • Hydroxonium

    I too wish they would stop, but as long as people think with their hearts instead of their brains, such intellectual atrocities will never end. If only children were taught some proper epistemology …

  • TomS

    My own brain came about by processes which can be studied by science. Reproduction, growth, metabolism, … Do any people deny that?

  • Evan Hershman

    Not to mention the fact that even if all these bogus claims were true, it would have no bearing on the *truth* of evolution. Just because we don’t want to believe something doesn’t mean it’s false.

  • Rick_K

    Nuclear weapons and nuclear waste are implications of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. Is the right response to these undesirable implications to deny Special Relativity?

    Volcanoes are an implication of Tectonic Plate Theory. So is the right response to deny Tectonic Plate Theory?

    Denying Evolutionary Theory because of you don’t like its implications is a childish response.

    If your worldview can’t handle the truth, don’t avoid the problem by denying the truth. Grow a spine and fix your worldview.

    • Timothy McPherson

      You stated that very succinctly! Well done!

  • T. Webb

    Dr. McGrath, I think you’re purposefully being coy with regard to morals and law. Of *course* there is morality and law, as even evangelicals I’ve talked to clearly admit. The question is, is there any ultimate authority for morality? If some god exists, perhaps. But if there is no god(s), and all is by chance/accident, there is no ultimate morality. Perhaps we all make a social contract to live by laws (or have had them imposed on us), for whatever reason we want. But ultimately, we have to agree that there is no true right or wrong, and such a social contract is understood to be something of a game we’re playing, or a will to power by the majority to set the otherwise arbitrary laws. I’m not an evangelical, but I can see that they’re on to something with this. Seriously, I went to a major university, and this was basic Philosophy 101. There were even discussions about whether the Holocaust during WW2 was right or wrong, and there were no clear answers for these reasons.

    • James F. McGrath

      Even positing a God doesn’t make morality objective – indeed, when most people claim to root “objective morality” in God, what they actually seem to mean is that God has always existed and thus God’s subjective morality is eternal. But the fact that there is such a God does not make God’s morality “good” unless terms like “good” actually have a real, objective meaning in the more usual sense of that word, i.e. there is a standard that all can agree on, irrespective of perspective. And that seems to lead naturally to defining morality not in terms of one eternal person but in terms of things like empathy and the Golden Rule.

      • JD Walters

        “Even positing a God doesn’t make morality objective – indeed, when most people claim to root “objective morality” in God, what they actually seem to mean is that God has always existed and thus God’s subjective morality is eternal.”This would be a misunderstanding of the classical theistic relationship between God and morality. It is not that God subjectively wills certain precepts eternally, but that God, as the most perfect being, is in His nature the paradigm and standard for goodness. I recommend Robert Adams’ Finite and Infinite Goods.

        • James F. McGrath

          That stance ultimately undermines any meaningful claim to God’s goodness. If “good” simply means “what God’s nature is” then it has no objective meaning. You are basically saying “It is what it is.”

          • JD Walters

            Not at all. This is not a mere tautology, because we can give a meaningful if incomplete specification of God’s nature on the basis of His effects, i.e. in creation. Do read Adams before making objections like this, still a misunderstanding of classical theistic ethics.

            • James F. McGrath

              Saying that doesn’t make it so. “Good” is “the nature of God” and vice versa. Unless “good” has some other objective meaning, in the normal sense of objective, then you have a closed circle with no actual meaning.

              • JD Walters

                “Good” is “the nature of God” and vice versa.No, that’s not how the reasoning goes. See my response to Andrew L. for a summary that is still obviously only schematic.

                • James F. McGrath

                  Unless good has an objective meaning, which does not depend on having God’s own perspective, which by definition a human being does not have, then your theistic approach actually renders statements about goodness meaningless, instead of providing a basis for them.

                  • JD Walters

                    We don’t need a God’s-eye perspective to arrive at an understanding of goodness. Much of the natural law can in fact be derived from Golden rule considerations. But the world is such that the Golden Rule ‘works’ morally only because it is the creation of God who is Goodness itself.

                    • James F. McGrath

                      I see no justification for that last assertion.

                    • JD Walters

                      Morality ultimately comes down to pursuing the ends inherent to our nature as human beings, that result in human flourishing. Since God is the source of all that exists and particularly the source of human nature, the ultimate explanation for our having the ends we have (and thus the moral imperatives we have) is God’s action in creation and conservation. And since what is created cannot but reflect the creator in some sense, the goodness we recognize has its ultimate source and grounding in God. This post has a helpful summary:

                    • James F. McGrath

                      The first statement works with or without bringing God into the picture, does it not? And bringing a Creator in raises important questions. If we had been created by an evil angel in an effort to fight God’s forces and conquer worlds, would that make it moral for us to do so? It does not seem that saying that we were created for a particular end can itself make that end moral, or the one creating us moral.

                    • JD Walters

                      It works in the sense that you do not have to trace our nature back to its ultimate source every time you recognize and act on those ends, just like you don’t have to recite a detailed explanation of the physics of electronic circuits every time you use a laptop. But awareness of morality’s ultimate origin in God is important for other purposes. Again, see the post I linked to for a summary of the ways in which the relationship between God and morality is important.

                      And I never said that just because we were created for a particular end that makes the end moral. The fact that we were created for a particular end by God who is Goodness itself makes our end moral. And we recognize that God is Goodness itself by analogy with the goodness we recognize within ourselves and in the world around us, extended to consider how it would manifest in the ultimate source of ourselves and the world around us. Stop taking shortcuts. Take some time to thoroughly understand the chain of reasoning connecting God and morality in the classical tradition.

                    • James F. McGrath

                      But “goodness itself” has no meaning in your framework. Goodness is Godness, and so if God could be the opposite of what you say God is and that wouldn’t make it possible to say anything differently than what you have said, because God’s nature is what defines goodness.

                    • JD Walters

                      As I’ve already mentioned several times, we arrive at an understanding of goodness through our own ordinary experiences. The classical view does NOT make a simplistic tautology between goodness and God-ness, so if you ask, “What is good?” The answer is simply, “God”. We learn about what constitutes goodness by reflecting on the goodness we see instantiated in our everyday experience, and then extrapolate to its ultimate source. Again, the post I linked to really helps clear up those issues.

                    • James F. McGrath

                      You keep saying that you are not offering a tautology, and so perhaps I have misunderstood you. This may be true, if you in fact accept that “good” has an objective meaning, independent of the question of its origin. One can then discuss the differing views that people have about where that goodness ultimately stems from, much as people do about other things, such as the order of the cosmos. But if you say that goodness is defined by God and that without God being in the picture there is no meaning to goodness, then I am not sure how to make sense of your statements about goodness in our everyday experience.

            • Andrew L

              Okay, JD, I’ll bite, how exactly can we be certain of God’s nature given His effects, through for example creation. I’m not likely to read the books you reference and I think McGrath’s pointing out the circularity of classical theism is right on point. You point seems so obviously undercut, I suspect you write more from hope than content.

              • JD Walters

                The case starts with inferring the existence of a necessary being to explain the continued existence of contingent things, which in and of themselves have no tendency to stay in existence without external conditions being met. Reflection on the properties a necessary being would have to have, qua necessary being, leads to the notion that this necessary being is perfect, in the sense of having all the specific excellences we might see in created things (but of course in a way compatible with this being’s unique ontological status). So the excellences in created things do give us a guide to what it means to call God perfectly good. But the point is that, even though we get our starting ideas of goodness from the world around us, those ideas converge and only make sense when we trace them back to their source. From a shadow we can get some notion of the form of whatever is casting that shadow, and we can refine that notion when taking into account that it is a shadow that we’re seeing and not the real thing. But it would not do to forget that it is a shadow that we’re seeing, and that there is something real casting that shadow.

                • Andrew L

                  Thanks for the answer.

                  I don’t follow. Creation would seem to speak to aesthetic sense and power, not moral wisdom or fortitude. B does not follow, either certainly or even probably, from A.

                  Further, your position is also undermined by jumping from the mixed perfection/imperfection of our actual existing world to an assumed perfection of objective morality.

                  ‘Classical theism’ seems so full of hole, one wonders how it passed for wisdom for so long. (Understand, I think the responses to classical theism are nothing new).

                  • JD Walters

                    Classical theism seems so full of holes because the metaphysical concepts it is couched in have been forgotten (not refuted, forgotten and/or deliberately ignored). It is really hard to overcome all the misconceptions in blog post comments. For example, this:”Creation would seem to speak to aesthetic sense and power, not moral wisdom or fortitude.”The idea is not that we look to nature for exemplifications of human virtues, but for a sense of the variety of excellences a creature might display. Moral excellences are a subset of all possible excellences.Speaking of which, how did you recognize that our world shows mixed perfection and imperfection? Clearly you have an idea of perfection of which the real world falls short. That’s the point of the eliminative method, as I mentioned in my previous comment. We can infer what the cause of a shadow is like to a certain extent by being aware that we are looking at a shadow and not the real thing. This is a good summary of the classical position that responds to many misconceptions:

                    • Andrew L

                      Thanks for the response. I’ve started and deleted a couple of responses. We seem to be too far apart to have a meaningful exchange.

                • Rick_K

                  JD Walters – Replace “good” with “evil” and your logic still holds true.

      • R Vogel

        Evolutionary psychology provides a better ‘objective’ explanation for our moral intuition. We are all human beings with the same basic brain structure that has evolved with certain biases that are common to us all. There are very few moral intuitions that can’t be explained in this context.

        The interesting question is why certain people are so obsessed with this need for an ‘objective’ morality?

        • JD Walters

          Evolutionary psychology provides a better ‘objective’ explanation for our reality intuition. We are all human beings with the same basic brain structure that has evolved with certain biases that are common to us all. There are very few reality intuitions that can’t be explained in this context. The interesting question is why certain people are so obsessed with this need for an ‘objective’ reality?

          • beau_quilter

            Yes, you have just expressed the ontological fallacy known as the the category error.

        • arcseconds

          I think the interesting question is why people think that having a causal explanation for moral intuition means that’s all there is too it.

          “We are all human beings with the same basic brain structure that has evolved with certain biases that are common to us all.” could be said of our visual cortex, or our ability to do mathematics, so by parity of reasoning, we can dismiss any notion of ‘objective’ visible objects or ‘objective’ mathematics.


  • JD Walters

    Evolution as an empirical, scientific theory does not have those implications. But if you were at all inclined to read charitably you might deduce that what the author really objects to is a naturalistic metaphysic according to which “God is unnecessary and plays no role in the mechanistic processes going on in the world around us.” The author has mistakenly tied this view to evolutionary theory, but the consequences he deduces from naturalism are real and catastrophic. Forget evolution. A world consisting entirely of mechanistic processes has no room for reason, morality or any other presuppositions of civilization.

    1) It’s true that evolution would favor cognitive mechanisms resulting more often than not in true beliefs about the world. But this assumes that reason, as Nancey Murphy puts it, can get a ‘grip’ on the brain in the first place. But if all that is going in the world are mechanistic processes, future brain states are determined, not by the validity of the current step in a chain of reasoning, but entirely by mindless physico-chemical laws. A broken clock will happily go on ticking regardless of the fact that it does not show the correct time, by physical necessity. So assuming naturalism, there is good reason to worry about the reliability of our cognitive faculties, independently of evolutionary theory. This problem has been documented by William Hasker, Lynne Rudder-Baker, Victor Reppert and others.

    2) Your counter-example is quite poor. A child conceived accidentally may well go on to live a meaningful, fulfilled life if his parents, although not intending the pregnancy, resolve after it happens (i.e., make it their purpose) to devote themselves to the child. How do you think that kid would turn out if the parents continued to behave consistently with their lack of intention to have a child? As in, we never intended to have you, so we’re not going to devote ourselves to you. Also, a child raised by indifferent parents may eventually come to take solace in there being a broader purpose to the universe and human life as a whole. But on naturalism there is no such purpose and everything just happens.

    3) Empathy can ground morality on the assumption that it is an emotional response appropriate to the reality perceived, just as fear can rationally guide your behavior if feelings of fear are triggered by actually dangerous things. But on naturalism there is no reality for feelings of empathy to latch onto, because in a mechanistic world there is no such thing as value. The suffering of fellow human beings or even of animals provokes an empathetic response, which is justified assuming that sentient creatures have real moral worth. But if reality is fundamentally mechanistic, there is no such thing as moral worth, and an empathetic response is no more meaningful than an aversion to steamed asparagus.

    4) Again, if you were to read charitably you might construe this objection as tied up with the previous one. It is strictly speaking true that in a mechanistic world, there are no constraints on human behavior other than those which we happen to impose ourselves on the basis of our evolved ‘moral’ sentiments, which again have nothing necessarily to do with what is good or right.

    5) How do you square your response here to what you wrote a while back: “But at any rate, I do think that there is a danger to fail to do justice to different levels of reality. Understanding how a car functions is not the same as driving one from point A to point B. Understanding the physics of music does not mean that it cannot be experienced as beautiful. And the fact that any experience of love is rooted in brain and body chemistry with an evolutionary history, need not be taken to mean that our relationships are reducible to chemical formulas.” ( Again, the problem is not that there is a biological basis to things like love. The problem is that, under naturalism, the biological basis really is all there is to it.

    That some Christians have tied evolutionary theory to naturalism in this way is unfortunate. But it does not amount to spreading lies. The concerns raised by this author are real and recognized not just by Christians but by atheists who themselves incline towards naturalism and fully accept evolutionary theory, like Michael Ruse (who famously said that morality is an illusion foisted upon us by our genes to get us to cooperate) and Anthony O’Hear, the title of whose book Beyond Evolution speaks to this concern. Your dismissals are glib and show no effort to probe the deeper issues behind people’s reluctance to embrace evolution.

    • James F. McGrath

      What you mention seems to highlight rather than alter what is problematic about the statements. They are not presented as objecting to physics, chemistry, meteorology, and criminology, to name a few areas where the supernatural is left out of the picture. They depict themselves as offering objections to evolution.

    • beau_quilter

      Sorry, but I don’t tend read “charitably” those who disseminate religious propaganda to children, under the guise of public education.

      • JD Walters

        And here I thought liberalism was all about trying to understand issues from different perspectives and aim for mutual enlightenment.

        • beau_quilter

          My liberality stops at the point where a public school teacher lies to my children without my knowledge.

        • Sven2547

          Ah yes, the old canard of ‘why don’t you all-accepting liberals accept my BS?’

          • JD Walters

            Ah yes, the old canard of ‘anyone who disagrees with me is full of BS and can only be lying when they say they disagree because the truth of my position is obvious to everyone’.

            • beau_quilter

              No. Have you read the “book” this teacher was passing out to students. It has lies. Not just religious opinions. Lies about the relevant science. Period.

  • Andrew L

    McGrath, thanks for posting this. I came over to your blog to see if you were commenting on Cosmos and found this which I had already seen on Friendly Atheist.

    I read the first hundred pages or so and scanned the remainder. Most of this document isn’t a refutation of evolution but is an ‘I fear the consequent’, some of which follows and most of which seems fear mongering. There should have been extra credit rewarded just for the shear amount of boredom one would encounter slogging through that document.

    It’s interesting that the same crowd that tells me you can’t get from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ as it applies to morality are trying to go from an ‘ought’ to an ‘is’ when attempting to limit the findings of science. But it’s hard to beat the truth and the momentum seems to be decidedly moving against the scientifically invalid forms of creationism.

    Carry on and thanks.

    • James F. McGrath

      I think that deserves to be turned into a meme. “The same crowd that tells me you can’t get from an is to an ought…” Nicely put!

  • arcseconds

    I think this could be summed up as ‘commiting the naturalistic fallacy all over the place’.

    There’s a question as to whether the writer of the pamphlet is commiting the fallacy, or they’re strawmanning ‘evolutionists’ by suggesting they’re committing the fallacy, but I think it’s actually both.

    What I think is going on here is that they’re not operating with a clear distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. They think the way the world is ‘by nature’ is also the way the world ought to be. The world ought to have horses and tigers in it, certain forms of human behaviour are ‘unnatural’ and therefore wrong, human life is meaningful because it actually is part of an overarching plan, etc. Even pain and death ought to exist as a natural (= inevitable moral) outcome of sin.

    This makes sense to some extent because they think the world is the direct product of a intelligent agent who doesn’t make mistakes, and the oughtness of the world derives directly from that agent and their plans.

    As they don’t really distinguish between ‘is’ and ‘ought’, they don’t realise that most people who believe in evolution do distinguish them, so they assume that when someone who believes in evolution says “nature proceeds by those with a breeding advantage passing on their genes and those at a breeding disadvatage failing to do so: biology is just a big competition which rewards success however it is achieved” they are also saying “human life is and ought to be just a big competition which rewards success however it is achieved”.

    As they think the only form of value is a divine subject valuing something, they also don’t understand that other value theories exist, so they presume by removing the divine valuer from the picture the picture is left with no source of value.

    • beau_quilter

      It’s almost like saying, “since the earth’s gravity pulls all objects towards the ground, human life is and ought to be about getting closer to the ground.”

      • arcseconds

        I can’t see how you gravitationalists live with yourselves, with your fatalistic, ground-hugging, filth-eating faith!

        • beau_quilter

          At least we’re grounded and know where we’re going – unlike those esoteric, indecisive quantum mechanicists trying to juggle multiple, conflicting phases all at once, until some “observer” comes along and makes a choice for them.

  • R Vogel

    The more I think about this the more it occurs to me that the real problem some religious people have with evolution is that it can provide a more cogent theory for the existence of religious belief than religion can provide for the existence of G*d.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I’d say that book is more than just worrying about implications. The guy claims that no fossil evidence supports evolution, and that any fossils of earlier hominids were either humans or apes.

    Though I do think it’s funny that he tries to claim we’d need to see missing links like the Fishibian and the Reptibird. Tiktaalik and Archeopteryx would probably like a word with him about that, if they weren’t dead, fossilized remains of species that closely match what he was going for. I guess that’s why most Creationists prefer to go with the strawman crocoduck.

  • arcseconds

    One of the things that strikes me from time to time is that what young-earth creationists actually want out of the universe (or a picture of the universe) is a great big sweeping moral narrative starting with ‘once upon a time’, proceeding through the initial occurrence that precipitates everything else, moving on to the climax, and ending with ‘they all lived happily ever after’.

    (I keep forgetting this, partly because they never quite say this as plainly as this (because they don’t know what they’re doing, is my guess), in favour of acting as though it’s about evidence. Maybe I’ll remember this from now on.)

    Part of Ham’s talk struck me strongly this way, actually.

    So this kind of argument against ‘evolutionism’ really amounts to ‘I don’t like the narrative here. What kind of unsatisfying plotline is that? Random shit happens, everyone’s nasty to each other, and everyone dies?’

    Again I come around to thinking that arguing about the facts with a creationist is kind of beside the point. They’re not rejecting evolution because of the facts, they’re rejecting it for other reasons such as their preferred biblical hermeneutic or a sweeping, gripping narrative. They don’t want to live in a world where the Bible doesn’t provide clear and certain information and the events in the world aren’t part of a satisfying novel. And they don’t really want to understand anyone with a different perspective.

    Arguing facts seems like treating the symptoms without curing the disease.

    However, I’ve really little idea about how to address the underlying issues. And it also strikes me as highly patronizing, saying “oh, you’re only saying that because you’re rationalizing your so-called ‘literalist’ hermeneutic which you refuse to even imagine the possibility of releasing. Let’s not talk about genomes and missing links; let’s talk about narrative and hermeneutics.” Everytime says “you’re only saying that because you’re a ___” to me, it irks me greatly. (of course, they’re almost invariably wrong in their characterization) ((but then, creationists presumably think the same thing)).

    So I suppose I’ll continue arguing the facts…

  • James Peter Allen

    I disagree with number 6. All of those abilities are a result of evolution, but just because that is true, it doesn’t take away any of its value. Evolution gave us those behavioral traits because they help us to survive. It is up to us to put value on those traits. Enjoy life, and treat others as you would want to be treated!