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The Ant and the Ferrari

The Ant and the Ferrari by Dr Kerry Spackman

In this book Spackman divides every statement into three separate categories: true, false, neither true nor false. He says, “there are no other possibilities” (page 21). “They don’t overlap” and “they are completely distinct” (page 51). On the basis of this categorisation the only option that his book can be placed in is FALSE.

Let me hasten to say that I do not agree with his oversimplification. “Light is composed of particles” springs to mind. But, having purchased the book with keen interest, I left each of his early overly-simplistic statements to one side until I started to see where step by mistaken step Spackman was leading his readers.

Spackman’s example of a “Neither true nor false” statement: “His height was 75 kg” (page 51). FALSE.

Spackman is as good as any slick fundamentalist televangelist complete with perfect teeth, twitterable soundbites, and pretty power-point pictures. In Spackman’s case, however, he is preaching the good news of fundamentalist antitheism.

New Zealand is the perfect market for a book such as this. It’s not surprising the book is there, attractively, on the best-seller shelf of Kiwi bookshops as you walk through the door. New Zealand forbids religious studies in state primary schools, and you wouldn’t need a whole hand to count the state secondary schools in the country that do anything to remedy Kiwi ignorance of religion and philosophy.

There appears to be a Kiwi tendency to think that being an expert in one area means one is an expert in other areas, especially religion and philosophy. So slap a “Dr” in front of your name, it doesn’t matter what you are a doctor in, you can now write knowledgeably about religion and philosophy.

Spackman says, “Now we all know what we mean when we say a statement is true or false” (page 51). FALSE.
Any stage 1 philosophy student who handed in such a nonsense statement would (should!) fail the course.

Spackman’s inability to distinguish between different types of truth, and hence, different epistemologies, ends up treating them as if they are all identical. Historical truth, Scientific truth, moral truth, religious truth, are clearly not all able to be treated similarly in Spackman’s homogeneous scientistic manner.

When it gets to Mathematical truth, Spackman is clearly already out of his depth. We all agree that mathematical truth is a priori but there is no agreement whether it is analytic or synthetic. There is no agreement whether mathematics adds to the body of truth or is working out the logical consequences of definitions. Read Frege, Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I’m not going to go page by page, error by error through the book. Some of it is good, some clever. The problem is much is there to lull readers into a false sense of reading uncritically.

Fourteen pages in and we are up to the origin of the universe (let’s ignore Spackman’s error in quoting Genesis). I’m perfectly happy to hold to the Big Bang explanation, but let’s be honest that it’s only been eleven years since Fred Hoyle died still convinced that that theory was wrong. Hoyle coined the the term “Big Bang” to mock Fr. Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Christian priest whose theory was that the universe had a beginning. I repeat, I accept the theory, but a little bit of humility goes a long way. Even for scientists.

Thirty pages later, less than a third of the way into this 208 page book, and Spackman’s sleight of hand, misdirection, errors, and confusions have built one upon the other to reinforce the prejudices that the Bible, faith, spirituality, and religion are just silly, primitive viewpoints that have no relevance in our advanced world where we can, thanks to Dr Spackman, now think rationally and clearly for the first time.

In this chapter on Genesis Spackman says, “millions of followers and devout religious leaders were completely misled by their normal interpretation of the Bible for some 2000 years.” (page 71).

Let’s ignore Spackman’s confusion about the dating of Genesis – intelligent readers here will know that Genesis is far older than 2,000 years, but let’s not, at this point, have facts undermine Spackman’s ignorance of religion.

Spackman says, “the fact [is] that for 2000 years the Christian Church has always interpreted [Genesis Chapter 1] as being a factual account. It was only when Genesis came into conflict with Science that believers began to claim it was an allegory.” (page 77) FALSE.

As Spackman’s presupposition, that he is wanting to convert his devotees to, is that religious thinking is always false, there is really no point in his actually checking anything, or researching anything. For Spackman his made-up fact is that for 2000 years the Christian Church has always interpreted Genesis Chapter 1 as being a factual account and that treating the creation stories in the Bible as something other than history and science is some very new development.

Actually do a bit of reading of Origen (3rd Century CE), or St Augustine of Hippo (4th Century CE), or the Alexandrian School, or Gregory Nazianzus (4th Century), or William of Conches, whose 11th century position that a literal understanding of parts of Genesis would be absurd was widespread in that century. That’s not to explore the Jewish interpretation, a community Spackman conveniently forgets – it is, after all, originally their story. There’s the 1st century CE Philo of Alexandria, twelfth century Maimonides, Saadia Gaon, Solomon ibn Gabirol, and on and on and on goes the list. All conflicting with Spackman’s made-up “fact“. Yes, a scholarly case could be made for some intelligent early Christians and Jews holding to Genesis 1 to be seen as historical truth – but such a project requires careful scholarship not the level of effort that lead to the blatantly false statements such as Spackman provides his readers. The reading of Genesis 1 as history only increased in the last five centuries, reinforced now by prejudices like those of Spackman that erroneously place religion in conflict with science.

The publishers say: “THE ANT AND THE FERRARI offers readers a clear, navigable path through the big questions that confront us all today. What is the meaning of life? Can we be ethical beings in today’s world? Can we know if there is life after death? Is there such a thing as Absolute Truth? What caused the Big Bang and why should you care?”

Buy or read the book, by all means. But remember, once you have a hold on Spackman’s three non-overlapping categories for statements, the clear, navigable path this book presents through the big questions that confront us all today is FALSE..

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6 Responses to The Ant and the Ferrari

  1. What I find interesting, but won’t comment on, is Kerry’s positive (motivational) use of several quotes from the Bible in his first book “The Winner’s Bible”.
    Of interest also is his writing (in this book) of the pain that he felt in childhood coming from the behaviour of his father who was “a passionate fundamentalist christian”. He says he only had one heppy time in his life, the holiday at his grandfather’s house.
    Actually, I will make one comment: My sense is that there remains in Kerry suffering from this, and also confusion in general about what he really believes although he says not.
    Therefore for me personally, as a Buddhist and follower of Jesus (I don’t find this imcompatible), I feel compassion for that suffering.
    For myself, I’m looking for parts of my own culture (Christianity) who spend less time arguing about stories and ideas (truth?), being “right” and more on meditation/prayer, how to live and to be present and compassionate, and not knowing…..
    PS this is off the cuff – I haven’t read your pages yet.

    • Thanks, Dale, for your visit here and wise comment (do tell me how you got to this site). The other book I have been reading (not concluded yet) is Paul Knitter’s “Without Buddha I could not be a Christian”. I think you would appreciate it. I am totally with you that Christianity needs to recover its contemplative dimension. A lot on this site is to try and encourage that, and to focus more on shared spiritual discipline than on arguing (hair-splitting!) about the exact meaning of a word, phrase, or story. Blessings.

  2. I came to this site doing a search in order to download and read “The Ant and the Ferrari”. I read the first page or so in a bookshop where the ant climbing up the red paintwork of the ferrari, had little idea of the complex systems inside the car, let alone the complexities of mankind and the larger world. So, my interest was piqued. But I am a afflicted with the mind of a natural skeptic even though raised in a family of believers. The earthquakes here in Christchurch has also taken a large toll on my faith, but I thank you for this post which has saved me from needing to read this feeble book.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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