Karl Giberson and colleague Randall J. Stephens say that the Earth is more than 10,000 years old. They say that humans and dinosaurs did not live together. They say that America’s founders were not evangelical Christians and that Christianity is not established as America’s official religion. They say that heterosexuality is not a choice.
They also say that these aren’t just their opinions. They insist that these are “facts,” and that facts such as these are true whether or not we want them to be.
Rejecting facts, they say, facts supported by evidence and proof, is a rejection of reason.
Joe Carter says this makes Giberson and Stephens “fundamentalists” who “simply outsource [their] thinking to whatever experts have been approved by the New York Times.” Giberson and Stephens, Carter says, have not “bothered to think for themselves (or at least do their homework).”
If they had thought for themselves and done their homework, Carter says, they would have learned that what they regard as facts are matters of dispute and valid contention with no settled answers one way or the other. Giberson and Stephens only think these things are facts, Carter says, because they are not “capable of a rational evaluation of their own biases” and “they are simply parroting the liberal secular line because it will impress readers of the NYT.”
If that sounds a great deal like Charles Fort’s critique of the “priestcraft” of science, that’s because it is. (And if that also sounds like a nasty diatribe written by someone who has forfeited any right to complain about uncharitable readings, that’s because it’s that, too, in a big way.)
According to Giberson and Stephens, you might be an anti-intellectual fundamentalist if you are an evangelical who: dismisses evolution as “an unproven theory”; deny [sic] that “climate change is real and caused by humans”; think[s] that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation”; defend[s] spanking children; believe[s] in traditional roles for the sexes; think[s] that reparative therapy can “cure” homosexuality; and/or oppose[s] gay marriage.
Most evangelicals who read that list would agree with some and disagree with others. The responses would vary because most of us evangelicals have been taught to think for themselves.
Carter is trying to muddy the waters there by including the bits about spanking, traditional gender roles and same-sex marriage. Giberson and Stephens don’t argue that these are matters of fact, but they note that many evangelicals who believe in anti-factual claims use those claims to support those positions.
But it remains clear what Carter says there. He says, explicitly, that it is right and good and appropriate to “agree with some and disagree with other” items in that list. He does not suggest that some particular items in the list are rightly agreed with while others are rightly disagreed with.
That only makes sense if these things in this list are not objective facts but merely subjective preferences. That only makes sense if, for any given particular from that list, “agree” and “disagree” are equally valid choices.
That only makes sense if facts and truth are subjective matters of opinion.
Did he say that in those words? No, and I’m sure he doesn’t believe any such thing. But that didn’t stop him from making such logic the cornerstone of his nasty hatchet-job on Giberson and Stephens.
This becomes clearer if we focus on just a single item from Carter’s list. The following paragraph is distilled from Carter’s muddier version. This is not a verbatim quote, but it in no way alters the logic or meaning of his argument in the paragraphs quoted above:
According to Giberson and Stephens, you might be an anti-intellectual fundamentalist if you think that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation.” Some evangelicals who read that would agree and some would disagree. The responses would vary because most of us evangelicals have been taught to think for ourselves.
Again, that argument only makes sense if you regard the proposition that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation” as something other than a fact — as something that cannot be investigated, examined, looked up, verified or falsified, proved or disproved.
Carter’s argument does not make a lick of sense unless you accept that there is no right or wrong answer, that it is equally valid to agree or disagree.
Now, as it happens, Joe Carter has since assured us that he does believe there is a right and a wrong answer for this particular proposition. He now tells us that he agrees with Giberson and Stephens that the claim that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation” is, in fact, false.
Glad to hear it. Glad, but confused. Carter agrees with Giberson and Stephens that Bartonesque history is factually wrong. But he apparently still disagrees with them that clinging to ideas shown to be factually wrong constitutes a rejection of reason.
OK, then. I would try to make sense of that, but one thing I’ve learned today is that if you try to make sense out of Joe Carter’s arguments you’ll wind up being accused of all sorts of awful things.