Why I Might Not be Corrupting the Evangelical Church, After All: a brief response to Andrew Kulikovsky's claims in Creation Ministries International
I have long believed that if I can’t defeat an argument without misrepresenting it, I am probably not the one to defeat it. In this context, I find it disappointing and revealing that Andrew Kulikovsky’s recent article for Creation Ministries International engages in the most blatant misuse of my words I have ever encountered (and I’ve been misrepresented once or twice on other issues!).
I won’t seek to rebut the substantial point about Young Earth Creationism (I have made my peace with this topic). Nor will I make the relatively easy case that plenty of Old Earth evangelical churches and ministries are, in fact, thriving throughout the world. And I won’t reiterate my apology of a year ago—following my appearance on Q&A—for the flippant and unloving way I spoke about 6-Day Creationists on the show. It was sincere, and I hope I haven’t made myself an enemy of your movement.
What I want to do here is point out what seem to me Andrew’s four incontestable misrepresentations of my views, all the more glaring because he uses contrived ‘renditions’ of my words to make his points. His quotes come from transcripts of my appearance on Q&A last year and an interview on gay marriage on the Centre for Public Christianity website.
First, Andrew is wrong to suggest I employ Augustine in support of an old earth. It is well known Augustine believed in a young earth. It is equally well known he believed the six days of Genesis 1 were not actual days but symbols of something else, a view shared by Philo, Clement, and others, as I have outlined elsewhere. I refer to Augustine for one point only (on Q&A and in my writings on the subject): to show that a non-concrete interpretation of Genesis 1 is not (necessarily) a nervous reaction to modern science; it has an ancient precedence. To scold me for using Augustine to support of an old earth is simply to misrepresent what I have said on numerous occasions, including in the Q&A episode quoted!
Secondly, Andrew strings the clauses of my sentences together in a rather cheeky way in order to make me say something completely at odds with what I actually said. Apparently, “Dickson also believes that 13.72 billion years ago ‘there was a bang and evolution by natural selection’.” Obviously, the standard model of evolution has the process beginning 4 billion or so years ago. Thus, Andrew declares with triumph, “So who is really ignorant of biblical, historical, and scientific scholarship?" The problem is, Andrew achieves this feat by completely misconstruing the sentence, which in fact makes the point that many Christians today are comfortable with (a) a ‘bang’ 13.72 billion years ago and (b) evolution by natural selection. I don’t even think the ABC transcript Andrew links to can possibly be read Andrew’s way, but I am sure those who watch my delivery of the line in ABC iVew will wonder at Andrew’s overzealous ‘adjustment’ of my sentence.
Thirdly, Andrew selectively quotes a 12 minute interview conducted for the Centre for Public Christianity on the difficult topic of Same Sex Relationships. He uses the content of the video to underline the point that old earth creationism leads to further theological corruption in other important areas, like sex and marriage. He gives his readers the impression that I reckon (in Andrew’s words) “we have no right to advocate for legislation that accords with Christian morals and ethics.” This misconstrues what the interview actually says, and I urge people to view it for themselves. My point—made repeatedly—is that the church, as the church, does not have a mandate from Scripture to “block legislation” or “impose legislation” in a democracy that wants things to be otherwise. However, the interview makes perfectly clear that I think Christians should have a strong voice in the public square advocating for God’s ways in marriage. Christ has given us the tool of “persuasion”, and we should be using it, I say. When Andrew concludes with “The only Christian action that seems to please homosexuals is silence—which is effectively what Dickson advocates!”, he shows just how disinterested he is in the important nuances maintained throughout the interview. And, presumably, anyone who has heard me in the public square on this topic—on the ABC, the Fairfax newspapers, and so on—will find Andrew’s rendition of my approach rather mischievous.
Still on the topic of same sex relationships, fourthly, Andrew misleads his readers by suggesting that I want Christians to apologise for affirming the Bible’s teaching on marriage. He writes, “[Dickson] believes that the church should apologize to gay people for its comments on homosexuality, and until it does, Christians have no right to speak about it! Why the church and Christian leaders should apologize for proclaiming what the Bible clearly teaches (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10) Dickson does not say.” Again, there are important nuances here which Andrew’s impatience leaves him ill-equipped to observe. My statement in this interview—put repeatedly in the media—is that “Christians ought to apologise for allowing our Christian convictions about sex to lead to very unChristian language and behaviour on the topic of sex.” That Andrew can turn this into a reference to apologising for the teaching of Scripture itself is most unfortunate.
I believe Andrew has done a disservice to Creation Ministries International by misrepresenting almost everything I have said. I fear that CMI itself has done a disservice to its readership by not carefully reviewing Andrew’s piece before publishing it. I genuinely hope for better connections between us in the future.