Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Eating crow

Foolish man that I am! --I wrote a negative review about an e-book I got for free from The Old Schoolhouse.


When my review finally appeared, two negative reviews of my review also appeared . . . before anyone else wrote another review of the book itself!

What was most disturbing to me was that the reviewers of my review were right about most of what they had to say.

In other words, I had made a fool of myself in many ways.

I wanted to acknowledge my reviewers' good points, even while attempting to maintain some shred of dignity for myself.

Sadly, I couldn't address my reviewers directly: I didn't (and still don't) have their email addresses. I did a bunch of searching online to try to locate them. I found an outdated email address for Bates Estabrooks; I found a generic method to contact Carl Wieland. Meanwhile, I wrote to the editor at The Old Schoolhouse itself to ask if he or she would forward my comments to Estabrooks and Wieland as well as post my response online.

I thought it might be worth my while to reveal my foolishness and Dr. Wieland's and Mr. Estabrooks' wisdom . . . and my attempt to "make things right."

The Old Schoolhouse has never responded to either of my two appeals. Dr. Wieland wrote back to the contact I made (via his website) on Monday of this week.

Anyway. Here is what I submitted a week ago in hopes up updating or, possibly, replacing, the review in which I embarrass myself.
Review of Lincoln vs. Darwin: What's the Difference? by Deborah Wuehler

I gave a 1-star review back on February 20th, when this book first came out. A few days later, two new "reviewers" wrote detailed posts intended to demonstrate how wrong I was.

I want to thank them for their thoughtful responses and acknowledge the errors I made in my review of Mrs. Wuehler's book. It turns out she is more correct than what I gave her credit for.

Do I want to change my 1-star rating for the book? No.

For one, I don't think the 3½ pages of content plus the three brief handwriting/copy assignments are worth $1.95. (When I got my copy, The Old Schoolhouse was graciously providing copies of the book for free. Now that I see they are actually charging for it, I feel compelled to note that I would feel ripped-off if I had paid $1.95 for so little content. )

Before I get to my second primary issue with the book, I want to note that there is some confusion in my mind as to the expected audience for the book.

I got thinking, the other day, that having an author make such sharp/strong distinctions between two men--"Lincoln was [obviously] good; Darwin was [obviously] evil"--probably does have a legitimate place somewhere in a young child's educational career. Perhaps between the ages of 4 and 6 or so. But you get much older than that, and I would expect we should be helping our students to recognize nuances in character. We want them to begin seeing how (even) wicked people may show a number of very lovely characteristics . . . and those we would like to honor as heroes often have feet of clay.

I don't see any such softening or nuancing in Mrs. Wuehler's work. Rather: "Lincoln is good; Darwin is bad." So I perceive the book, from that perspective, as intended for very young children.

Similarly, the handwriting practice uses a standard print style--something most students are being taught to abandon (in favor of script) by third grade.

So, once more, evidence points to a very young audience.

ON THE OTHER HAND, the vocabulary is significantly advanced beyond a second or third grade level! (What third grader do you know would respond well to a question phrased as, "Discuss this . . . incongruence," or "Talk about these ironic differences"?)

Considering the VOCABULARY and CONCEPTUAL CONTENT, the book appears aimed more at a junior or even senior high school audience.

But that brings me back to my first concern: I can't imagine offering junior and senior high school students the kinds of simplified contrasts and leading questions featured in this book . . . and especially without any source materials to back up the claims!

So all of this leads me to my second major disappointment: that, as at least a couple of other reviewers have noted, while Mrs. Wuehler strongly states (or at least implies) her OPINIONS (and, therefore, the opinions she believes we should adopt as well), she provides precious little DOCUMENTATION for holding those opinions.
  • Clearly, as we see by so many of the reviews, it is very encouraging to the already-convinced.
  • It is also helpful to shape the opinions of the next generation in pro-Lincoln and anti-Darwinian directions. But
  • It is quite useless, however, to educate anyone about the GROUNDS for holding such opinions. And--most distressing--
  • It is useless (a) to convince the unconvinced directly that they should change their opinions and/or (b) to prepare students who hold pro-Lincoln and/or anti-Darwinian opinions how to convince others of the validity of their viewpoints!

Indeed, had Mrs. Wuehler documented (at least in footnotes, if not in the body copy itself) some of the things Mr. Estabrooks references ("the story of Ota Benga"--complete with URL reference--as just one example), I have no question I would have written a VERY different review to begin with--a review, first, that would have included far fewer errors (errors documented by Mr. Estabrooks and Dr. Wieland) and, most likely, would have granted the book very much higher marks.

And then a more direct Response to Mr. Estabrooks' and Dr. Wieland's Reviews of My Review:
I want to thank Bates Estabrooks and Carl Wieland for the valuable input they provided in response to my review of Mrs. Wuehler's book. As a result of their comments, while I would not want to change my star rating (I still think it deserves only one star), I would, most definitely, like to change the GROUNDS for my opinion. Specifically--speaking directly and only concerning the BOOK ITSELF, [see my review, above].

[However, n]ow that these REVIEWERS provided the evidence that Mrs. Wuehler failed to supply, I find myself embarrassed for saying some of the things I did and for having made some false accusations against Mrs. Wuehler (acknowledged below).

If there were some way, properly, to "take my words back," I would do that. [At the same time, however, I am reluctant to suggest my review should be removed, because then you would have to remove the really excellent responses Mr. Estabrooks and Dr. Wieland made to my review as well. . . .]


I would like to thank Mr. Estabrooks for providing references to resources that should prove very helpful to readers of Mrs. Wuehler's booklet who would otherwise be wholly ignorant of the grounds for her opinions. I am particularly grateful for his reference to Steve Graves' A Biblical Analysis of the Civil War. That paper includes some truly remarkable and useful source materials for any serious student of American history.

I was going to attempt to argue that Mr. Estabrooks appears to have overstated his case when he says that Graves "addresses . . . errors [I allegedly made with respect] to Lincoln." I was GOING to argue, but I have decided simply to "cede the field" in this area. While I think Mr. Estabrooks did overstate his case against me, he is correct to urge that I overstated MY case when I used comments Lincoln made about his beliefs and interests concerning social equality and his beliefs concerning POSSIBLE inequality "in moral or intellectual endowments" as grounds for suggesting Lincoln did not promote some form of equality (which is all that Mrs. Wuehler claims).

So I will hold my peace.

At the same time, however, I would like to note that I think Mr. Estabrooks is a bit too broad in his judgments upon me ("Mr. Holzmann seems to prefer the natural outgrowths of Mr. Darwin’s proposition . . . vs. those of Mr. Lincoln"; "His disdain for Lincoln appears to exceed his affection for Darwin"; "he makes a judgment in ignorance of the culture of the day. And . . . he implies that what a person believes at one point in life is immutable as the person ages and gains greater understanding"; etc.). I definitely do NOT prefer atheism, human bondage, eugenics, etc. Nor am I antagonistic in any way toward Providence, equality under law, human dignity, or liberty. Nor am I unaware of the culture of Lincoln's day or of the need for circumspect speech in the midst of heated opposition. AND SO FORTH.

So, while I can see how my words might APPEAR to suggest such things, I think Mr. Estabrooks has overstated the legitimate grounds for his opposition to the things I wrote.

And I appreciate Mr. Estabrooks' calling me to account for my inappropriate remarks.


Personally, I think Dr. Wieland's response was more helpful than Mr. Estabrooks', especially when it came to his extract from Darwin's THE DESCENT OF MAN.

My sense: that quotation alone proves I was wrong to say that Darwin did not promote eugenics and, as I said, "never thought of" the idea. Based on that quote, I would say he DID promote eugenics. He may not have used the term, but the entire idea is presented right there.

Let me confess: I had seen that quote before. Indeed, at one time I was quite familiar with it. I have alerted students to the evils of eugenics. But for some reason, when I wrote my review of Mrs. Wuehler's book, that quotation and its implications completely slipped my mind.

I beg my readers and Mrs. Wuehler's forgiveness for saying that Darwin never made such a suggestion. Obviously, he did!

And then one last comment.

In response to my statement that "I am . . . in favor of promoting young-earth creationist ideas. But let us do so honestly," Dr. Wieland writes, "The gentleman who wrote these comments is, from his personal interaction with this ministry in the past, strongly sympathetic to the old-age position. That is as it may be, but indeed, one should always be . . . transparent, as much as possible."

I'm not exactly sure what he means to communicate by this statement. I get the feeling he intends to suggest my comment was disingenuous.

My reply: It is my impression that the young-earth perspective has a near stranglehold on the Christian homeschool movement in the United States . . . at least as far as that movement finds any form of public expression.

I understand how and why the leaders in the young-earth creationist movement believe their area of interest (i.e., young-earth anti-evolutionary creationism) is of particular concern. Supposing their larger interpretive framework is accurate, I understand how and why they believe an old earth and/or evolutionary perspective can create questions about the fundamental Gospel message itself. (At the same time, I understand how and why evangelical old-earth creationists argue that their perspective poses no problems at all to the Gospel.)

I understand the history of how Darwinism and evolutionism has been used as a sledgehammer against the church and against faith. I am deeply distressed by the underlying history and the results.

At the same time, I note that many of us have come to the place where (if we are Reformed or Presbyterian paedobaptists) we permit, accept, and, often, even rejoice in being able to fellowship with our (adults-only baptizing) Baptist brothers and sisters . . . and (if we are Baptist) we rejoice in being able to fellowship with our Reformed and Presbyterian brethren. Similarly, those of us who are premillennial Dispensationalists are generally able to worship and fellowship and encourage our a-mill and post-mill (and, sometimes, even, our preterist) brothers and sisters . . . and vice versa.

But for some reason, at this time, those of us in the broad Christian homeschool movement can't bear to fellowship with those who disagree with us about how and when God created the universe? We want to cut off old-earth creationists (or SUSPECTED old-earth creationists) from coming to our conventions?

Dr. Wieland is correct that I have been sympathetic to those who hold to an old-age position . . . if by such a statement he means to suggest (what is true) that I have spoken out for what I believe ought to be their "right" to be heard within the homeschool community. (See my paper titled "Young- and Old-Earth Creationists: Can We Even Talk Together?" found at

I sense there is something truly wrong about how people's perspectives on these issues should become a source of such strong division among us that, as I have recently documented on my personal blog (, 4b.html, and 4c.html) if the leaders of the young-earth movement were consistent, those of us who follow them should NOT ONLY cut ourselves off from fellowship with our present-day old-earth brethren, but we should be disavowing any association with an awful lot of our spiritual forebears as well--people like John Calvin, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, J. Vernon McGee, B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and many others. (Read the referenced posts to see the evidence.)

Actually, if we were to be consistent with the hermeneutical principles such people as Ken Ham advocate, we should be cutting ourselves off from fellowship with Ken Ham and Dr. Wieland as well, because they, too, have compromised with the world, and permitted science--the fallible wisdom of man--to guide their interpretations of the infallible Word of God.

Don't believe me? Check out Gerardus Bouw's article "Why Geocentricity?"

I hate to say it, but I think there is something fundamentally problematic when the hermeneutical principles advocated by so many obvious lovers-of-God not only bite a huge mass of fellow lovers-of-God, but also turn around to bite the very ones who advocate the principles!

In sum, then: Dr. Wieland is correct. I have been sympathetic to those who find themselves unable to "buy" the young-earth/anti-evolutionary position so strongly held by what appear to be almost all the known public figures in the Christian homeschool movement here in the United States today.

But I have been sympathetic primarily because I don't believe the evolution/creation debate ought to be the basis for one camp to disfellowship the other.
Interesting response I received from Dr. Wieland:
Thanks for emailing your comments to me. FWIW, I have never had a problem fellowshipping with believing individuals from a variety of persuasions on all sorts of issues that differ from mine. I suggest that this is true for most ordinary people who are straightforward Bible-believers on this issue and hold to YEC, whether in the the homeschool movement, or otherwise. I believe that claims that YEC's tend to cut off their brethren who think differently are at best a caricature, perhaps based on a too-limited sample, and at worst an intentional red herring. Bringing up the poorly exegeted stance of a Gerardus Bouw is much simpler than engaging the massive biblical evidence for straightforward creation days, for example--but it is no substitute for a reasoned position doing justice to the overwhelming biblical evidence.

If you have not read a scholarly work like Sarfati's Refuting Compromise, which clearly demonstrates that there is no 'wriggle room' in what the Bible teaches about origins when the normal rules of historical-grammatical analysis are applied, I strongly suggest it. If reading such a tome is too much to bite off in one chew, at least I would recommend the booklet 15 Reasons for taking Genesis as history. I am deeply occupied at present for the next few months, so please understand why I would not have the time for an ongoing exchange.

in Christ,

Carl W.
Dr Carl Wieland
Managing Director
Creation Ministries International Ltd (Australia)
I'm curious: Among my readers who are involved in homeschooling here in the United States, do you think Dr. Wieland is correct, that "claims that YEC's tend to cut off their brethren who think differently are at best a caricature, perhaps based on a too-limited sample, and at worst an intentional red herring"?
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