Michael Crichton and the religions of environmentalism and intellectualism

My friend Andy pointed out an interesting speech by Michael Crichton today. The full text is available at http://www.crichton-official.com/speeches/speeches_quote05.html.

The core concept of Michael Crichton’s speech is supposedly that Environmentalism is a religion, and that religion is bad. He has some valid and thought-provoking points, but he falls into the very pitfall he identifies as “the greatest challenge facing mankind”; “the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda.” Mr. Crichton’s rant against religion effectively eclipses his call to return environmental responsibility to the realm of science. Michael Crichton rightly attacks the error of the religion of Environmentalism masquerading as science, but he does his purported cause a disservice by simultaneously attacking all religion. Crichton demonstrates the typical intellectual elitist’s failure to “recognize that their way of thinking is just one of many other possible ways of thinking, which may be equally useful or good.”

Michael Crichton states “…I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.”
This statement that “these are not facts that can be argued” is blatantly false, and presupposes that his truth is the only truth, a failing he ascribes to religion. Either biblical account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are historical fact, or they are not. Only if you assent to his implied assertion that they are fiction does belief become irrelevant. Crichton’s key grievance against the Environmentalists is their tendency to accept only those facts that support their faith. He takes this a step further, refusing to give opposing evidence the relevance implied in a rebuttal. His statement is equivalent to refusing to discuss Antarctic thaw because, never having seen Antarctica, he assumes that those who believe it exists are doing so based upon faith without a foundation in reality.

Substantial historical, archeological, and anthropological evidence exists for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, his unjust execution, and his resurrection. The written record of his death and resurrection is internally consistent and is in no cases contradicted by archeological evidence. Contemporary secular authors and historians (Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, et al) acknowledge his existence and support much of the biblical account of his ministry and murder. The concept that there exists a natural selection of ideas also supports the veracity of the biblical record. Jesus’ disciples were not revolutionary by nature, and, by their own admission, abandoned him in his time of greatest difficulty. Under intense pressure to recant from their cultural, religious, and political leaders, with nothing to gain by falsifying their accounts, why would these early disciples sacrifice everything for a falsehood?

Michael Crichton says that “One of the defining features of religion is that your beliefs are not troubled by facts, because they have nothing to do with facts.” Based upon his disinterest in the factuality of the biblical account of Jesus, perhaps this is indeed a defining feature of his religion, but to categorically state that this is a defining feature of religion in general is intellectually dishonest. There is no canonical list of the defining characteristics of religion, and the definition of religion has been a subject of debate for centuries. Mr. Crichton once again presupposes that his Weltanschauung, and accompanying definitions, should be accepted by all of us. My religion is all about how I react to people, ideas, and information, is quite troubled by facts, and always has been. The physician and historian Luke wrote his account of Jesus so that we could know the exact truth about the things we have been taught (Luke 1:4), not just listen to a bunch of cunningly devised fables. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that if Christ has not been raised from the dead then our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). Peter reminds us that we aren’t just following cleverly devised fables; he (and others) were eyewitnesses of the events they describe (2 Peter 1:16)

Michael Crichton goes on to state that “Most of us have had some experience interacting with religious fundamentalists, and we understand that one of the problems with fundamentalists is that they have no perspective on themselves. They never recognize that their way of thinking is just one of many other possible ways of thinking, which may be equally useful or good. On the contrary, they believe their way is the right way, everyone else is wrong; they are in the business of salvation, and they want to help you to see things the right way. They want to help you be saved. They are totally rigid and totally uninterested in opposing points of view. In our modern complex world, fundamentalism is dangerous because of its rigidity and its imperviousness to other ideas.” Once again, Mr. Crichton describes himself more accurately than those of us he intends to malign. His ranting attack on religion reveals his own lack of perspective, rigidity, and closed-mindedness.

Crichton’s statement that “We know from history that religions tend to kill people” is another example of his intellectual dishonesty. What we know from history is that people tend to kill people. We may do it in the name of the religions of nationalism, Islam, Christianity, environmentalism, science, or the worship of the “right to choose”, but those are merely a facade for our underlying selfishness and lust for power.

Crichton finishes his attack on religion masquerading as an attempt to bring reason to environmentalism by vomiting that “Religions think they know it all, but… we are dealing with incredibly complex, evolving systems, and we usually are not certain how best to proceed.” Perhaps Crichton thinks he knows it all, but my faith is based upon acknowledging that I don’t know it all. It is unfortunate that Mr. Crichton abused his platform, prestige, and undeniable talent for creating compelling fiction in this speech. Instead of seizing the opportunity to issue a clear call to bring clarity and intellectual honesty to the debate over environmental responsibility, he chose to stir up more muck. 

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