Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The testimony that broke the camel's back

The recent trip to the Creation Museum by PZ Myers and about 300 atheists from the Secular Student Alliance, brought back the memory of the occasion that destroyed my personal belief that Christians were honest and trustworthy in their testimony. Growing up in a Pentecostal church meant that I used to trust Christian testimony. When a Christian brother or sister testified to something the Lord had done for them, I believed it no matter how strange it seemed. After all, who would lie when they were talking about God? When my skeptical side started budding I did start to find it harder and harder to remain that credulous, especially with the weirder stories. I remember this one time when a lady told of how she walked in on her sleeping grandson being serenaded by The Devil on TV. Not someone dressed as the devil, not a devil, THE Devil! Apparently as soon as he saw her coming into the room he (THE DEVIL!!) got all flustered and said “OK bye!” and left. This was a strange and defining moment for me because I couldn’t help but notice that while I was thinking “Yeah right!!” my mom (an otherwise skeptical and very intelligent lady) was totally willing to give this woman the benefit of the doubt. However it took the Creationism vs Evolution debate to deliver the killing blow to my credulity.

Long story short I was at first totally convinced by the Creation Science Evangelism seminars of Kent Hovind so when I then found out how much disinformation and lies they contained I was reeling. While trying to make sense of it all I checked out several groups Facebook dedicated to this debate. My favourite was the now defunct “Free Kent Hovind” group. So in my search for answers I decided to post a question in the discussion forum. By then I had read much about how Creation Science was not science at all so I decided to go a different route – I asked whether Creation Science Evangelism was really evangelism. It just seemed to me like no-one on the evolution side ever seemed to be won over and that the only people who enjoyed the seminars were people who were already Creationists looking for confirmation of their beliefs. So I asked the several hundred Hovind fans in the group if they (or anyone they knew) actually became believers because of Creation Science. For a while there was little response and what I got was the literary equivalent of a mumbled “No not exactly” until someone called in the big guns – a testimony from the CSE site itself:

[The original has since been removed but thanks to the wayback machine you can see it in its original glory here ]

"The Power of Polite Questioning" Submited By: Joshua Joscelyn Armed with my textbook, my Bible and my CSE Seminar Notebook, I walked into my earth science classroom, where I knew tonight we would once again discuss evolutionary ideas as if they were facts. I was a freshman at Okaloosa-Walton College, and my professor, Dr. Steven Vaos, a friendly older gentleman from Greece, had been teaching us how plate tectonics, Pangaea, the fossil record, and radiometric dating, etc. proved the earth to be millions and millions of years old. I had been a diligent student who always did my homework well and contributed respectfully to class discussion and projects, and now, though I didn’t even know it, God was going to use my in-class questions to change the entire course of the semester. As the professor started in with his usual mantra, I respectfully raised my hand and asked a question. He couldn’t answer it. So he moved on with his lecture demonstrating in his thick Greek accent how similarities in species and things of that sort obviously pointed to a common ancestor. I once again raised my hand asking if perhaps it could also point to a common designer. He chuckled and patronizingly said it could. But he continued with his explanations of various things, always tying it back into evolution. But at every turn, I raised my hand and showed how it could also be evidence for creation and a worldwide flood. He saw where I was heading and tried to avoid it, but eventually, through a series of questions and statements, we as a class arrived there nevertheless. At every turn, the questions I asked revealed the startling weakness of his theory. The class came alive upon seeing the gross uncertainty of his position after he had been so dogmatic. Hands started flying into the air as secret believers and non-Christians alike began voicing fallacies and contradictions they had observed in the theory he had been presenting. Students not only proclaimed their faith in God’s creation but also showed how evolution comes into direct conflict with creation. After leaving evolution with no legs to stand upon, even the non-Christians began discussing creation as the logical alternative. I sat back in my chair silently praising the Lord for the enlightening power of His truth as the class systematically whittled away at the accepted theory of evolution. The professor simply could not answer the questions they were posing. After about twenty minutes of this, he began to think out loud. Hands raised in question were invisible to him now as he paced back and forth rambling on about his doubts of the theory and some discrepancies, he had quietly harbored for many years. Soon his monologue turned straight to religion as he proclaimed to the class with a tear in his eye that he was a good person, that he should have nothing to answer for should there be a judgment, and how he really would like to believe that he would see his deceased family some day. It was sad in a way to see this pleasant old man visibly confused and wondering. One student pointed out in almost frustration, “Isn’t this an earth science class? Why are we discussing religion?” But we weren’t discussing anything. He was hung up on voicing an internal dialogue in which he went back and forth, weighing his good against his bad, wondering which religion was right, debating whether or not the Bible was literally true, and if it was church membership or just goodness that God demanded of him. I raised my hand and asked him if he would like for me to show him after class how he could have his questions answered. He hesitated. After having rambled on almost entirely uninterrupted for nearly twenty minutes about religion and morality, he was apparently feeling somewhat foolish and wanting to get back to the lesson. But he had already filled up the entire class period. With a few closing comments, he dismissed the class and made his way over to me. He began asking me questions about evolution vs. creation. But I was no expert. I was merely a young college student who took God at His Word: “In the beginning God created.” So I told him I could introduce him to the One Who created the universe, Who could answer all his questions. Right there in the classroom, I opened my Bible and showed him how to be saved. He had too many questions at that moment and clearly wasn’t ready to make such a big decision just yet, but he told me of a Bible he had—a gift his Christian mother had given him before she died. He told me that he was going to read it—that he wanted to find the truth. Then I told him about the CSE Creation Seminar Series videos and offered to loan him one. The next week after viewing it, he thanked me for it and told me he had many questions answered and now he was asking even more. He was on a mission to find the truth. With only a few weeks left in the semester, I didn’t get to see where his search ended. But I know that for the rest of the semester, whenever he came across something he previously had see as evidence for evolution, he told us that while this might seem to indicate a common ancestor, perhaps it was evidence of a worldwide flood or of an Intelligent Designer.

In fact someone had actually alerted Mr Joscelyn and he posted his testimony in the group personally. Now I was intrigued and just had to know how he managed to convince a Professor of Earth Science when I had seen most Creation Science claims being demolished by undergrads. Needless to say that when he proceeded to mention the very arguments and “facts” I had seen defeated so many times I started seriously doubting his story. Then I decided to do something I had never done before – I started fact checking a fellow Christian’s testimony.

First I checked out Okaloosa-Walton College. While looking at the faculty I couldn’t find a Dr Vaos though (thanks to Google) I did find someone who matched his description at Broward Community College. I contacted the Science department and I received the following email from Dr. Bryan, the Chair of Physical Sciences at Okaloosa-Walton College:

"Eugene, This is a curious discovery that you have made. Stephen Vaos no longer teaches for us, only because he had to relocate due to some personal issues (his former wife recenly passed) that he had to tend to in south Florida. He did a fine job for many years as an adjunct professor of Earth science. Steph also had a distinguished career as an industry geologist. If Steve is at Broward CC, you might just try to reach him there. As for this classroom story, I can neither confirm or deny it. Steve never told me of such an incident, nor did any student or any other individual associated with the college or otherwise. So I don't know what to tell you, at all. This is all news to us in the science department. Kent Hovind is presently in prison because of some type of tax evasion problem with a program he had in Pensacola. I only say this as a matter of fact. Hovind visited our college years ago at the request of a student, gave a presentation, and we had a discussion/mini-dabate afterward. As a firmly committed Christian myself (of a conservative Anglican variety), and as a geologist and educator, I naturally have a great interest and concern about these issues generally. And I enjoy engaging students on the various issues. But it sure is difficult to get people on the same level to have an honest discussion over almost anything. To me this indicates the great importance to us of origins issues. And that, at least, is how it should be. Now the hard work of dialogue.... Jon Bryan"

OK so he couldn’t “confirm or deny” anything but by now the story sure seemed even more unlikely to be true. He did manage to confirm that the Dr Vaos who taught there and the Dr Vaos at Broward was the same person. Reaching Dr Vaos was a little harder so I called in some help. Someone else on the Free Kent Hovind group – Whitney Gray, these days better known as popular Youtuber DonExodus – had just done a great piece of detective work showing the Discovery Institute’s list of “Dissenters from Darwinism” to be a total sham. Since he was an academic I asked him to see if he could get an answer out of Dr Vaos. He got the following reply:

"When I teach Earth Science and explain to the students about evolution, I always state to the students that whatever I am going to teach you is not what I believe but what is written in your book and what science accepts. My personal believes are not part of the lecture. I never tried to imposes my personal ideas to anybody, in the class and outside the class. Sir you are insulting me presenting me like an stubborn person who forces students to accept my ideas. Your whole letter is inaccurate and completely imaginary. I do not know why you are doing that. I have taught in an college in North Florida in a class with many Baptists students and they were glad that I had never had any argument with any of them. They had mentioned that they do not go along with evolution and I respected it. I have NEVER discuss religion with any student and they are many students that can confirm that. I only discuss whatever is mentioned in the texbook and whatever geology is based on without mentioning EVER my personal views. If you did not understand science or if you do not accept any view of science it is your busness. Be careful though because you are accusing me using lies, and I if you do continue I will get legal action against you. Dr. Stephen P. Vaos"

As you can see Dr Vaos mistakenly assumed that Whitney was the source of the testimony and he was very upset by the allegations! So then after correcting the misunderstanding, he sent the following email:

"Mr W.Gray I am sorry if I turned against you. It was not clear if you were in support or not of the whole libel. I was upset because I am always professional in my teaching. Geology is based on evolution which is depicted very well in the succession of the sedimentary rocks from the old to the younger ones. So when I have to present this to the students I always make the statement:" Whatever I am going to explain you is what science accepts, or whatever we can find in your book in your textbook, and this presentation has nothing to do with my personal views on the subject", I am very careful in explaining this because I do not want to insult anybodie's belief. Now if any student twists the truth and insists that I am trying to push evolution that is a inaccurate insult. Students that get an "D" of "F" try very hard to incriminate the teacher instead of theit lazy attitude. Sincerely, Dr.S.P.Vaos"

That settled it without a doubt. The testimony was a complete and utter fabrication. Now it would be unfair to say that this case alone destroyed my faith in my fellow Christians because by then guys like Hovind and Jack Chick had already done a great job of undermining the trust I had in the things my fellow Christians told me. This case just provided the final push that sent me over the edge.

I don’t know why people think they need to lie for Jesus, I really don’t. Maybe they think the end justifies the means but really all it does is destroy the credibility of Christianity. I for one will never take any testimony at face value again.


Tania said...

One should be careful to take any testimony (and prohesy) at face value. Unfortunately there are too many examples of "testimonies" that are anything but. Also, there are many lovely Christian people out there that are as quick to "testify" as they are to blame the "Devil" for their own bad decisions.
That said, use the brain and common sense God blessed you with when evaluating testimonies/prophesies and other spiritual matters. The Spirit of God inside you will also lead you.

Lawrence said...

Good post!=)

Eugene said...

But wait, there's more! I just found Joshua's twitter account and you have to love the bio:

" I'm a researcher with Creation Science Evangelism, and a Baptist preacher, passionate about Christ, political and historical debates, and Truth."

digapigmy said...

"After leaving evolution with no legs to stand upon, even the non-Christians began discussing creation as the logical alternative."

It's like a fairy tale.

Plucky said...

"Don't you know the devil gains access to your thoughts through an open mind? Slam the door of your mind shut and don't give him the chance to sully it with his devious acceptance of diversity. That's just fundamental." - Pixie

Anonymous said...

My name is Pari Levendi. I was a childhood friend of Dr Steve Vaos. I was absolutely shaken by the lies said about him in the article. Dr Vaos became very ill in June 2009. He had cancer in every organ of his body. He was taken back in his native Greece, P. Faliro, to die among his family. His two sons accompanied thim. He died on the 14th of August, 2009. So, he couldn't have been at college on the 11 of August, in Florida. What lies, what a disgusting attitude on the part of the 'witness'....

Anonymous said...

The story is back: http://www.creationcadets.com/index.php/Database/article/evolution_or_jesus_my_testimony

Robert Stowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.