Pastor Aaron Campbell of Philadelphia’s Antioch of Calvary Chapel has been independently planning the upcoming Ravi Zacharias lecture for over two years. According to Campbell, Ravi’s talk will be “one of the most intellectually stimulating lectures you have ever been to.”
I’m sorry, Aaron, but intellectually stimulating is not the same as mentally taxing.
It concerns me greatly to see so many intelligent Penn students praising Zacharias as an intellectual heavyweight. Ravi is an expert rhetorician and apologist, but his views and arguments hardly deserve the term intellectual.
Let us start with his reasons for rejecting the theory of evolution:
“The ascending of biological forms into more complex and superior designs also comes into conflict with the Second Law of Thermodynamics in Physics,” Zacharius wrote in his book, “The Real Face of Atheism.” This is an embarrassing and egregious misunderstanding of science propagated by anti-science organizations like the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis.
While he has repeatedly made clear that he does not accept evolution for this and other equally ridiculous reasons, accounts vary regarding what he does believe. In private correspondence he is reported to be “firmly committed to a young earth” and to have “always held to the literal six day creation.” His ministry takes no official position (usually a sign it wishes to avoid embarrassment) but apparently considers it an important enough question to put first on its website’s Q&A page.
Not content to stop at science denialism, Ravi goes on to promote a sinister revisionist history:
“Hitler’s point was that the destruction of the weak is a good thing for the survival of the strong … as is taught by atheistic evolution’s tenet of natural selection. …We have been down the atheist road before, and it ended in a holocaust,” he wrote in “The End of Reason.”
Elsewhere in his book, he puts abortion morally on par with child pornography and claims “atheistic philosophy is having its way with our children” on both counts. The connection seems obvious to him, but escapes me.
When asked about homosexuality, Ravi said, “Sex is a sacred gift of God. I can no longer justify an aberration of it in somebody else’s life than I can justify my own proclivities to go beyond my marital boundaries.”
It pains me to realize many still consider Ravi a great moral teacher.
However, unless someone specifically brings up these topics in a question, Ravi is unlikely to address them in his talk. He surely knows his positions will not endear himself to the Penn community at large.
What you can expect at the lecture is Ravi routinely distorting his opponents into vile straw men.
For example, famous ethicist and animal rights activist Peter Singer put forward an argument against animal testing which includes a thought experiment directly comparing the suffering of intelligent animals and young children of below average intelligence. Ravi twists this nuanced and clever argument into “[Peter Singer believes] that a pig is of more value than a child with a disability.” Not even a Princeton professor like Singer deserves such malicious misrepresentation.
Ravi has similarly shown his lack of intellectual integrity by distorting the views of thinkers such as Sam Harris, Sartre, Nietzsche, Descartes, Buddha, Gandhi and others.
As for the Q&A session, one of Ravi’s favorite toys is the red herring. When asked a difficult or uncomfortable question, Ravi will begin telling a seemingly unrelated (and usually apocryphal) anecdote. By the time he reaches the point of the story, if there is one, so much time has elapsed that most have forgotten the original question, allowing Ravi to instead answer the question he would have preferred.
I am still planning to attend his lecture, but that’s because I have a tendency toward mental masochism. If you choose to attend, keep any questions you ask him short and memorable. Otherwise, we’ll never be able to move beyond Ravi’s rhetoric and search for the substance.
Collin Boots is a master’s student studying robotics from Redwood Falls, Minn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @LotofTinyRobots.