Wednesday, April 11, 2018

#1995: Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas is a fundie apologist, pseudo-philosopher, author, radio host (The Eric Metaxas Show) and a regular on various TV shows, such as Glenn Beck’s, Mike Huckabee’s and Laura Ingraham’s shows. He has also received various honorary doctorates from places like Liberty University.

Metaxas is a creationist. According to Metaxas, the discovery of really old stromatolites that suggest that the origin of life occurred some 3.7 billion years ago, suggests to Metaxas that “evolution just got harder to defend” since it leaves only a few hundred million years for life to have first occurred after Earth got sufficiently habitable for it to exist. Nevermind that abiogenesis has nothing to do with evolution (indeed, Metaxas’s article is an illustrative example of creationist confusion over this basic distinction) or that the discovery doesn’t even pose any actual problem for an explanation of abiogenesis without appealing to goddidit. Metaxas has no time for details like the absence of a genuine problem in his objections; neither do David Klinghoffer and Stephen Meyer, who seem to be Metaxas’s primary sources for this particular creationist take on the discovery. Apparently evolution is just full of assumptions. 

Indeed, Metaxas often claims that science is “increasingly” giving us evidence for God – and therefore, apparently, for creationism – and systematically does so in a manner that is willfully ignorant of the scientific findings he is interpreting. A good example is discussed here (more details here and here). Of course, being utterly ignorant of science, Metaxas relies on third- or fourth-hand sources for his claims, and tend to choose systematically unrealiable ones (like Meyer). So, for instance, arguing that the octopus genome is evidence against evolution and for design, Metaxas writes that the researchers who sequenced the genome found that “Compared with other invertebrates, the DNA of the octopus was ‘alien’: nothing like the genetic codes of what they thought were similar animals, like clams and sea snails,” which is directly contradicted by … the paper in which the results were published. Yup: Metaxas didn’t read the paper, didn’t understand the science, and then made things up from whole cloth to conclude that all scientists are wrong and evolution is bunk. Another example of the same is here. It’s a useful reminder if you ever end up reading anything else he’s written.

Metaxas does have a large array of creationist PRATTs at his disposal, though, and is not afraid to use them. Here, for instance, is the creationist argument against evolution from misunderstanding genetics (the “DNA is a code” claim) and the “odds are against evolution” canard, irreducible complexity and the “evolution cannot add information” gambit, which at least is decisive evidence that the person raising the gambit doesn’t understand the basics of evolution, genetics or information.

Among Metaxas’s books are If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Libertyand Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Lif, as well as various biographie, including an infamous biography on Bonhoeffer that was widely panned by historians and theologians. He has also written children’s books and Veggie Tales scripts.

As for the Bonhoeffer biography, Metaxas responded to critics – historians and theologians who actually have some expertise on the issue – by asserting that “there’s not a syllable in my Bonhoeffer book that isn’t true” before dismissing those critics as “liberals” who are “very vicious” because they can’t handle the truth. This is demonstrably false. In any case, the biography seems primarily to have been an excuse for going full Godwin over his political opponents. (Indeed, many of the most delusional members of the religious right appears to view themselves as modern-day Bonhoeffers insofar as there are critics who don’t think they should be free to force others to conform to their views on social issues, and have therefore understandably been positive to Metaxas’s mischaracterizations). In 2014, for instance, Metaxas argued that “[j]ust as Bonhoeffer tried to get churches in Germany to link arms and fight Hitler, so too must churches in America rally together to push back against the government’s increasing tyranny.” Apparently “[t]he parallel today is simply that you have a government, a state, which is getting larger and larger and more and more powerful.” In a moment of dim self-awareness, Metaxas conceded that “people think that’s incendiary or I’m being hyperbolic,” which he countered by asserting that “I’m not.” 

In his 2012 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast Metaxas compared legalized abortion to the Holocaust. And in 2014, he argued that the existence of gay-inclusive churches was proof that America is turning into Nazi Germany (“We see that obviously happening in issues of sexuality, but how can you say that most mainline denominations in America today are profoundly Christian when they have given up the ghost on all of these fundamentals of the faith? You had the exact same thing happening in Germany. It’s just setting things up so that when evil comes, where do people turn?”)

His book If You Can Keep Itis reviewed here, here, here, and here. As you’d expect, the book is the work of a true hack, straight out of David Barton’s playbook (indeed, Metaxas admitted to using Barton’s pseudohistory as a source), portraying Founding Fathers as religious extremists, the Puritan settlers as defenders of religious freedom (utter lunacy), and whitewashing slavery, all in attempt to support the familiar but mythical portrayal of The US as a Christian Nation. There’s a good discussion of Metaxas’s attempt to distort history in the service of his political agenda here.

Here is a fine example of Metaxas’s blatantly lying.

For the 2016 election Metaxas supported Trump. This election, said Metaxas, represents as critical a turning point as the Civil War or the American Revolution, since Clinton would nominate judges who “legislate from the bench” – activist judges, in other words, where “activist judge” means any judges who comes to a different conclusion than Metaxas (who, needless to say, is rather far from being a legal scholar).

Diagnosis: It’s still a little baffling to us that people who consider themselves so pious and faithful show such blatant disregard for truth and accuracy. Eric Metaxas is a systematic liar and a hack, and the respect and influence he has gained accordingly both a damning indictment of his fans’ claims to value honesty, truth and accountability, and deeply frightening.

1 comment:

  1. I heard a radio segment where Eric Metaxas heavily critiqued Stephen Pinker’s recent book, “Enlightenment Now”. Not a good intellectual match. He blamed Pinker for being overly optimistic about the accomplishments of science while neglecting some of science’s negative out comes. Metazas also adds an ad hominem attack on the late Stephen Hawking, with an out of context quote.He finishes with an unabashed plug to join John Stonestreet’s Colson Fellows Program. Interestingly, Metaxas doesn’t mention the benefits of reason, humanism and progress. I wonder if he’d really like to turn back the clock.