By Tom Gilson Published on April 27, 2018

C.S. Lewis was brilliant, even when he was bleating. That’s his own word for what he was doing in “Fern-seed and Elephants,” in which he says that the one who cannot see the point of the Gospels “has simply not learned to read.” There’s a lot of that going on still today — especially among atheists.

Yesterday on Twitter someone calling himself “Voice of Reason” started a conversation by claiming “religions bludgeon language into obscurity, like the words ‘faith’ and ‘salvation.'” I’ve had lots of interaction — online and elsewhere — with skeptics claiming the word faith means “belief without evidence,” so I had a good idea where he was going with that. He went on to explain that “faith has been warped into belief without evidence, while salvation has been reduced to a banal, blind slavery.”

The “Voice of Reason” Argues

When I offered to explain what the relevant passages meant in context, he answered, “I, like you, am capable of reading a text and determining its meaning. And this is not a matter of interpretation — it is exactly what your book says. If we cannot start from the raw biblical assertions, an intelligent conversation be impossible.”

And also, “Let’s not pretend the Bible doesn’t say what it does.”

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This Twitter user suffers an insidious kind of illiteracy. He knows how to read, but he hasn’t learned to read. If he had learned to read, he would have realized that “banal” and “blind” are not “exactly what your book says.” He would recognize that he’d inserted that out of his own bias.

The “Voice of Reason” Doesn’t Read

If he had learned to read, he would have paid attention to more than three words in the passage on “slaves of righteousness,” which is where he’d pointed when he spoke of this supposedly “banal, blind” condition. Had he widened his vision as far as just three sentences, he would have read,

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. (Romans 6:16-19)

Merely from this near context, it should be easy enough to see that Paul isn’t talking about becoming slaves, he’s talking about exchanging a deathly slavery for a better one. How much better? For that, someone who has learned to read could expand his scope to verse 4 of that chapter, which tells of “newness of life,” or verses 8-11, which tells us we will live with Christ (eternally), and that death itself is no longer master over the one who follows Christ. In fact someone who has learned to read might even look into what we can know about the author of this passage. He’s a man of love and joy, of high leadership, high intellect, even high adventure.

So someone who has learned to read could never say, “Let’s not pretend your book doesn’t say what it does,” and then tell us it speaks of “salvation reduced to banal, blind slavery.”

The “Voice of Reason” Doesn’t Care

By now you’ve come to the same conclusion I have. This man’s insidious illiteracy isn’t a failure of education. It’s a matter of motivation: He doesn’t know what it means to read the context because he doesn’t care what it says. If he read it, he would have to quit pretending he can nail Christianity down with three short words. He would have to deal with what Paul really says, instead of his highly negative caricature.

It isn’t a reading issue. It’s a character issue.

Our Twitter conversation spilled over into a blog post that I wrote in response to the other part of his challenge, as well as another written by Amy Hall at Stand to Reason. He referred to both of them in later conversation, even quoted one of them in part. But he missed crucial portions of what we’d both written, focusing only on what he thought supported his position, overlooking our solid rebuttals.

So I finally called it off. That’s all you can do with someone who knows how to read, but doesn’t know — or care — what it really means to read.

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  • tz1

    Reason is disjoint from literacy. Don’t complain.
    The two are related as in to undersand what is said requires both literacy and reason.

    Letters are dead but the spirit gives life.

  • GLT

    It has been my experience that individuals presenting themselves with names such as the ‘voice of reason’ or the ‘the freethinker’, etc., are anything but reasonable and thinking individuals. They are almost always purveyors of tired, worn out rhetoric and prone to presenting quotes torn from their context with the express intent to deceive the reader. If and when I engage them I know exactly what I am going to get, arrogance and a condescending attitude which will almost inevitably degenerate into vulgarity and ad hominems when they are presented with the futility of their arguments.

    • swordfish

      “tired, worn out rhetoric”

      Is a pretty good description of Christian apologetics.

      • GLT

        “Is a pretty good description of Christian apologetics.”

        My, aren’t we witty and original. You’re not doing so well on the other thread in regards to the evolution of the eye so you thought you might try your luck over here?

        • swordfish

          I’m still waiting for you to present a single observation which disproves evolution.

          (Incidentally, I received an email notice with your most recent comment, so I wrote out a reply, but when I tried to post it, your comment wasn’t there – you may need to repost it.)

          • GPS Daddy

            Butterflies
            Whales
            Human consciousness
            Kenisins
            All eyes
            flagellum
            The information centric design of life.
            Origin of life

            Say what your really mean, swordfish. You really mean that there are no examples left untouched by Darwinists where Dawinists have not written a story on how they think things have evolved. These stories are unsubstantiated. They are just stores like a story of a magical unicorn. But just stories none the less but filled with technical gorgon to make them seem scientific.

          • swordfish

            You can’t just list a bunch of stuff and pretend that you’ve disproved evolution – you have to give some actual reasons as well. The origin of life isn’t part of evolution. What do you mean by ‘information’? Why “human consciousness” and not dog consciousness? Does “all eyes” include the non-working ones which cave-dwelling animals have evolved? Why isn’t it possible for a flagellum to evolve? Etc.

            Perhaps you would care to give an intelligent design explanation for the whale, an air-breathing mammal which lives underwater and whose closest surviving relative is the hippo?

            You complain that evolution offers only stories, but dismiss anything else as “technical jargon” – you can’t honestly dismiss all the technicalities then pretend that there are only stories left!

            (PS, your comment in reply to me on that other thread still hasn’t appeared – the last comment on there is mine. Are you going to try reposting your comment?)

          • GPS Daddy

            >>You can’t just list a bunch of stuff and pretend that you’ve disproved evolution

            I most certainly can, swordfish. All of those are hot topics that the non-Darwinists point too. There is a large and growing base of research on each of these showing that evolution does not work. I leave it to the reader to do their research.

            >>What do you mean by ‘information’

            Ah, yes, the cry of those who do want to face the obvious. Large amounts of work has been done in this area. Look it up.

            >>Why “human consciousness” and not dog consciousness

            Spin cycle going.

            >>Perhaps you would care to give an intelligent design explanation for the whale, an air-breathing mammal which lives underwater and whose closest surviving relative is the hippo?

            evolutionnews(dot)org/2018/04/the-biggest-sea-animals-whaling-for-evolution

            >>You complain that evolution offers only stories, but dismiss anything else as “technical jargon” – you can’t honestly dismiss all the technicalities then pretend that there are only stories left!

            Try reading something from the other side… like Darwin’s God Blog Spot.

            >>(PS, your comment in reply to me on that other thread still hasn’t appeared – the last comment on there is mine. Are you going to try reposting your comment?)

            No. Not worth my time.

            Here the bottom line, swordfish: All of these discussion have been had with you by many in other articles. You then start then afresh as if no one has addressed these with you or had been previously discussed.

            This is nothing more than trolling The Stream.

          • swordfish

            “Here the bottom line, swordfish: All of these discussion have been had with you by many in other articles. You then start then afresh as if no one has addressed these with you or had been previously discussed.”

            If you keep repeating the same old Intelligent Design lies about evolution, I’ll keep pointing out that your claims have been disproven in the scientific literature, or don’t even qualify as anything which needs disproving. Intelligent Design isn’t science, it’s religion, and this has even been established in a court of law.

            Incidentally I have to thank you for prompting me to learn more about evolution while researching my replies. I didn’t know until only a couple of days ago that science knows the exact mutations which have led to humans having 3-colour vision, for instance. You might not be interested in such facts, but I am.

          • GPS Daddy

            Tolling down the rive we are… Do you do this with one or two paddles?

          • swordfish

            I point out that Intelligent Design has been found to be religion, not science in a court of law and you have no sensible comeback.

          • GLT

            “I’m still waiting for you to present a single observation which disproves evolution.”

            Are you asking me to present observations which disprove evolution to my satisfaction or yours? As far as I am concerned irreducible complexity certainly disproves evolution as does the need for complex information systems which are found throughout all living organisms. Genetics is also proving not to be a friend of evolutionary theory as it continues to falsify evolutionary predictions such as homology being linked to genetic makeup and the inadequacy of the mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutations. There are more but I feel these suffice in answering your question.

            As for what observations would disprove evolution to you, I have no idea, only you can make that decision. All I or anyone else can do is present the evidence, what you do with that evidence is up to you.

          • swordfish

            “All I or anyone else can do is present the evidence”

            You haven’t presented any evidence, and your list of objectios not only do not disprove evolution, but in several cases actually provide evidence for it. Let’s examine your first example, irreducible complexity (ID), a term coined by Professor Michael Behe in his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box.

            Behe appeared as an expert witness in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. During cross-examination, Behe was forced to concede that “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred” and that his definition of ‘theory’ as applied to intelligent design was so loose that astrology would also qualify.

            In his 139-page ruling, Judge John E. Jones III said:

            “We therefore find that Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large.”

            So much for ID.

          • GLT

            “You haven’t presented any evidence,…”

            Where did you come up with the ridiculous concept you get to determine what is and is not evidence? You can decide what evidence you will accept or reject but you do not get to determine what constitutes evidence. I hope you can understand the difference.

            The fossil record is a perfect example as it is claimed as evidence for both points of view and is interpreted differently by each position. If you believe the fossil record does not constitute evidence that knife cuts both ways.

            “In his 139-page ruling, Judge John E. Jones III said:”

            The same Judge John E. Jones who also stated he understood the subject in question because he had seen the movie Inherit the Wind. Yeah, brilliant guy, Judge Jones. Really hilarious.

            “So much for ID.”

            You’re really funny, seriously. The scientific community at large once rejected heliocentrism, how did that work out in the long run? Truth is not determined by a majority of opinions. ID will stand or fall on the facts and the truth. At this point in time it is doing quite well.

  • I’m not sure if “honest atheist” is an oxymoron, but it’s awfully hard to find one. Speaking of atheists in 1941, C.S. Lewis speaks of “their almost bottomless ignorance of the Faith they supposed themselves to be rejecting.” More recently, of the “New Atheists” David Bentley Hart states in his own inimitable way: “But atheism that consists entirely in vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness, is as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism. And it is sometimes difficult, frankly, to be perfectly generous in one’s response to the sort of invective currently fashionable among the devoutly undevout, or to the sort of historical misrepresentations it typically involves.”

  • GPS Daddy

    I think listening well is a life skill that is in short supply overall today. That said, one’s fundamental assumption about life very much drives how we listen. There are three core assumptions that people can make about this life. You will have one of these core assumptions:

    A. Only the physical/material world is real.
    B. Only the spiritual world is real. Or, the physical world is irrelevant. Think Star Wars and Star Trek.
    C. We have a dual reality: The physical/material world and the spiritual world.

    Christianity is based in the third assumption.

    Another driving factor is heart issues on how one listens. If you have suffered loss or have been abused that can/likely factors into how your willing to listen.

  • swordfish

    It’s somewhat disengenuous to criticise a particular atheist’s interpretation of a Biblical passage when Christinas can’t even agree with one another how to interpret whole swathes of the Bible.. I mean, you’ve had 2,000 years (or maybe only 1,700 in the case of some sections) to get your story straight, but can’t even work out whether to take Genesis literally or not.

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