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Hind-Sight Omniscience

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“Present your case,” the LORD says. “Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. Behold, you are of no account, And your work amounts to nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination (Isa. 41:21–23).

A recent New York Times article dismissed the value of the quadricentennial of the founding of Jamestown because, quoting Columbia University history professor Kenneth Jackson, it was nothing more than “a town that disappears in the mud.” The Virginia Gazette published an article entitled “Jamestown not worth it,” which ridiculed the efforts of the original colonists for their lack of sustained accomplishments. “For a whole year or more,” the editors wrote, “we shall celebrate the fact that a bunch of British buffoons who knew nothing of what they were doing colonized a swamp for the sake of Christianizing Indians.” Let’s push the antithesis with these claims by forcing the critics to be consistent with their operating assumptions. If we followed their hind-sight omniscience, we would arm-chair quarterback every significant event in history with after-the-fact criticisms and accomplish nothing.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending American astronauts safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. This goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module’s ladder and onto the Moon’s surface. The astronauts had to take their own food and water and even their own air to a very hostile environment that could not sustain any life. The moon was less than mud. And what did the astronauts bring back to Earth after NASA spent billions of dollars to get there? Rocks! Consider the following from a critic of the non-celebratory crowd of the Jamestown expedition and see how a similar accusation could be leveled against any discovery effort to the unknown:

But before they could do much proselytizing, the enervating Virginia climate worked its wonders and, combined with a lack of food, a lack of clean drinking water and a prolonged drought, did in many of the colonial campers.

In isolation, landing on the moon seems like a worthless endeavor, but in the broader context of life it had immeasurable ramifications for our good. In all likelihood, the Virginia Gazette would not be in existence today if had not been for the efforts of these “British buffoons.” If there is a negative side to Jamestown, then it’s surely the founding of the Virginia Gazette.

And what about the charge that Jamestown was nothing more than a “town that had “disappeared in the mud”? Consider that the city of New Orleans and its surrounding cities were built on land that was less than ideal and below sea level. Levees had to be constructed to keep water out of the lowlands. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it left devastation in its wake. The flood protection system in New Orleans failed in 53 different places. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans breached as Hurricane Katrina passed east of the city, subsequently flooding 80% of the city and many areas of neighboring parishes for weeks. The same people who claim the efforts of the Jamestown colonists was a wasted effort in a poorly chosen landing site, want the United States government to rebuild New Orleans. Some estimates put the cost at more than 80 billion dollars. At least the Virginia settlers had enough sense over time to move their capital to better surroundings.

To use an illustration from Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til, these historical malcontents are like the child who sits on his father’s lap so he can slap his face. The child owes everything to his father, and yet he resents his very existence. He could not slap his father unless his father had made his life possible and was supporting him in his rebellion. Similar illogic resides with the New Atheists. Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, appeals to the French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace’s (1749–1827) statement that we are no longer in need of the God hypothesis since science has explained it all. Hitchens is like the lottery winner who claims that he is no longer in need of work, all the time forgetting that it was the work of millions of others that made his winnings possible. In a similar way, the hard-earned legacy of those who blazed the trail to Jamestown has made our travel all the more smooth, and that might be part of the problem.

Sam Roberts, “ If Winners Write History, New York Trumps Jamestown” (May 25, 2006): www.exploreny400.com/press/view.php?story=11

“Jamestown not worth it,” The Virginia Gazette (July 8, 2006): www.lewleadbeater.com/Colonizers.htm

Greg L. Bahnsen, Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007).

“Jamestown not worth it,” The Virginia Gazette (July 8, 2006): www.lewleadbeater.com/Colonizers.htm

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