Sunday, March 05, 2006

How Ironic - Da Vinci Code Readers are Considered "Historically Illiterate"

While searching the blogosphere yesterday for comments on biblical archaeology, I ran across Chris Heard’s site Higgaion and its link to a Catholic Online article regarding the Da Vinci Code. The article (dated 24 February) interviews apologist Mark Shea who, with theology professor Ted Sri, have co-authored The Da Vinci Deception, supposedly “a guide that reveals the fact and fiction behind “The Da Vinci Code””. I will try to write more on the issue of The Da Vinci Code itself later. However, what immediately struck me in the article was the notion of Christians asserting arguments against The Da Vinci Code because it creates a cultural phenomenon out of inaccurate historical information, juxtaposed with scientists’ assertions that Intelligent Design is creating a cultural phenomenon out of inaccurate biological information.

The irony here is just too good to pass up.

The article begins by asking Shea what compelled he and Sri to write the book:

The short answer is that tens of millions of people have read "The Da Vinci Code" and many have had their faith in Christ and the Catholic Church shaken. This blasphemous book has become a major cultural phenomenon, largely by attacking the very person and mission of Jesus Christ. It must be addressed.

Just out of curiosity, how many millions have read Philip Johnson’s books such as Darwin on Trial, or William Dembski’s No Free Lunch? How many millions cite Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution as containing factual information about evolution? Shea is concerned that millions of Christians have read The Da Vinci Code without critically thinking about it – but would he stop to consider how many Christians bother to critically think about Icons of Evolution? Further, Shea thinks the historical inaccuracies need to be addressed – good for him; he’s found areas of disagreement and should offer a response. When evolutionary biologists confront the biological inaccuracies of Wells, Dembski or Johnson, what happens? They’re accused of being “dogmatic Darwinists”. Is Shea, therefore, to be considered a “dogmatic Christian”?

Shea then discusses the concept that popular works like The Da Vinci Code really become a source of “pseudo-knowledge” that, in essence, replaces critical thought and the hard work of historical investigation:

The longer answer is that "The Da Vinci Code" has become the source for what I call "pseudo-knowledge" about the Christian faith. Pseudo-knowledge is that stuff "everybody knows," such as the "fact" that Humphrey Bogart said "Play it again, Sam" -- except he didn't. Pseudo-knowledge doesn't matter much when the issue is the script of "Casablanca."

Are the popular works of Wells, Behe, Johnson, Dembski anything other than the “pseudo-knowledge” of which Shea speaks? Dembski himself has stated that he sees Intelligent Design as a popular movement and prefers to "disseminate his views in non-peer-reviewed media". None of the intelligent design proponents have offered testable hypotheses or original scientific work on their ideas but instead continue to prop up vague "controversies" in evolution that lack supporting evidence. The effort is clearly aimed less at doing the hard and dirty work of science than at popularizing "psuedo-knowledge"for broad acceptance. Principle among this genre of explanation for the diversity of life on earth has been Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity”, which now functions as a concept “everybody knows” (particularly Christian apologists looking for shortcuts to God); this despite continued biological work “reducing” irreducible complexity to observations easily explained through natural selection. Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City (see yesterday’s post) speaks with authority to his followers that ‘the empirical data supports the principle of “irreducible complexity”’, when the empirical data actually show the contrary. He has clearly not bothered to read the works of established scientists in evolutionary biology, preferring instead to peddle “pseudo-knowledge” because it fits better with a pre-conceived worldview.

The response will no doubt be that Dan Brown is not a historian or theologian, and therefore does not possess the scholarly credentials necessary to speak with authority on the subject. Therefore, good Christians should not take his views seriously. Perhaps not. But that begs a question: how seriously should Christians consider the views of “scientists” on the Dissent From Darwin list? A recent New York Times article established something evolutionary biologists have been saying for some time: the list is irrelevant. Only a quarter of the scientist signatories are from biology and few of those conduct any research at all on the question of life’s origins and diversity. The remaining scientists are largely chemists, engineers and physicists. Dan Brown is certainly no less qualified to speak with authority on history and theology than are engineers and chemists qualified to speak on matters of evolutionary biology. What goes around, comes around boys and girls!

Shea is very concerned about the impact the The Da Vinci Code novel (and upcoming movie) will have on the general audience. More to the point, he is concerned that Brown’s audience lacks the necessary intellect to critically evaluate the book’s historical claims:

In May, it will appear as a major film and will acquire even more unquestioned authority among millions of historically and theologically illiterate viewers -- unless Christians state the facts and help viewers recognize just how badly they've been had.

Historically and theologically illiterate viewers...How ultimately ironic. What about the scientific literacy required to critically evaluate proposals such as Intelligent Design? Just how scientifically literate are the 90% of the American population who supposedly buy into Intelligent Design? How scientifically literate are the kids Ken Ham preys upon with his historically incorrect bible propaganda? Can the majority of Carl Baugh’s viewers think critically about his claims? Mark Shea is absolutely correct to be concerned about the historical and theological illiteracy of the audience – just as evolutionary biologists are justified in being concerned about the same audience's scientific literacy. The fact is that most Americans have lost the ability to think critically, preferring instead to take the FOX thirty second sound bite as gospel because it’s easier. But my bet is that Shea and other apologists will not accept the distinction. Critical thinking is necessary only when the sacred cows of Christian theology are being slain; it’s not necessary if evolution is the target.

Finally, there’s this gem:

The problem is the average reader does not know "The Da Vinci Code" actually makes you more stupid about art, history, theology and comparative religion.

Yep, just like reading Icons of Evolution makes the average reader more stupid about biology, paleontology and the history of biological thought. Wouldn’t Mark Shea and Catholic Online agree?


franky said...

Excellent post!

Doppelganger said...

Great post - I get a kick out of the furor that the DaVinci Code created.

Apparently, many people forget that the book is a NOVEL, that is,a work of FICTION.

Noell Hyman said...

I enjoyed this post so much that I blogged about it and posted a link to you on my own blog. Thanks for pinpointing the hyprocrisy.

You can see my post about you at:

Christopher O'Brien said...

Thanks everyone...I've received more links off this post than any so far in my blogging infancy. Thanks to Noell for the great comment on her site - which, by the way, I'll be linking to on mine...great site - everyone should check it out (