CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

On February 3, 2008, atheist mathematician John Allen Paulos wrote an article for ABC News in which he raises a series of questions that he thinks ought to be asked of the Presidential candidates (primarily on the Republican side) about faith and the Presidency. To my knowledge, the article entitled Putting Candidates' Religion to the Test: Twelve Irreligious Questions for the Candidates Before "Tiw's Day's" Elections was not answered by any of the candidates.

While some of the questions are directed specifically towards Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, I thought that the questions alone were so loaded that it would be worthwhile to evaluate the questions. I thought that the best way to do so would be to answer the questions that he posted as if I were the candidate running. Hence, just for giggles, here is how I would have answered his questions if I were running for President (substituting my pseudonym for that of the Presidential candidate to whom a particular question was directed when appropriate):

1. Do you really believe, Mr. [BK], that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and that humans and dinosaurs cavorted together?

Personally, no. I am part of a group who would be called Old Earth Creationists. I believe that the universe is somewhere around 14 billion years old and that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. However, I don’t believe that people who hold that the Earth is only a few thousand years old are irrational. They simply accept a more literal version of the Biblical testimony than I do. You see, if one accepts the claim that God inspired the writing of the Bible (and there is good reason to believe that – contrary to your arguments in your books), then it is not unreasonable to value the testimony of the one who created it more than the attempts by fallible humans to piece together the evidence long after the fact.

2. Religious people often accuse atheists and agnostics of arrogance. Do you agree? And is it arrogant to say, as [Governor Huckabee has], that [his] sudden rise in the polls was an act of God and that [he] wish[es] to amend the Constitution to better reflect "the word of the living God"?

Some atheists are arrogant, but I don’t think atheists as a whole are arrogant – just wrong. As far as Governor Huckabee’s statements, I don’t believe that his rise was an act of God. However, I do believe that his rise in the polls and his failure to win the nomination were part of the overall sovereign will of God. Finally, the claim that he wanted to amend the Constitution to better reflect the Word of the living God was limited (as I heard the speech) to a couple of social issues that remain subject to dispute in this country – homosexual marriage and abortion. Now, personally, I think he has the right to want to amend the Constitution to conform to his notions of morality in the same way that you have the right to try to amend the Constitution to your notions of morality. Your ideas of morality are not entitled to more weight merely because you come at them from an atheistic standpoint.

3. Article 19 of the Arkansas state constitution states, "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court." Although it and similar laws in other states are not enforced, do you support their formal repeal?

Yes. Although I think that people who have a fuller understanding of the greatness of God are more humble because they see how limited they are in both goodness and wisdom which makes them better servants, I don’t think that it is right to require that belief to hold office.

4. Why, Mr. Romney, in your speech ostensibly devoted to religious tolerance, did you not extend this tolerance to the millions of atheists and agnostics in this country, people who, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, are still held in very low regard by many religious people?

Obviously, only Mr. Romney can answer this question, but I certainly agree that Americans should be tolerant of all religions: even agnosticism and atheism.

5. Do you not see an implicit religious test in your statement that "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom"? Furthermore, are not, respectively, most of Europe and some Islamic countries obvious counterexamples to your statements?

No, there is not an implicit religious test in that statement, but there is a simple factual claim with which I agree: freedom does require religion. I don’t think that Europe is a counter-example because freedom in Europe arose out of a Christian worldview (even though many in Europe have now abandoned that belief). As far as Muslim countries go, I think it is clear that most Muslim countries are not nearly as free as countries that arose from a Christian culture.

6. Is it right to suggest, as many have, that atheists and agnostics are somehow less moral when the numbers on crime, divorce, alcoholism and other measures of social dysfunction show that non-believers in the United States are extremely under-represented in each category?

I don’t agree that any studies really show that, and the reports that I have seen on studies lead to a contrary conclusion. Since I have not delved into the numbers myself, I will simply say that I don’t believe the assumptions in the question are correct.

7. Do any of you think God speaks to you, only to Gov. Huckabee, or to none of you? And, if I may, does God have a tax policy, a health care policy, a policy on Iraq, Iran, gay marriage, Guantanamo or the Riemann Hypothesis?

I believe God speaks to all of us, but I don’t believe that every time someone says that God has spoken to him or her that God has, in fact, spoken what the speaker asserts. The one place that I feel assured that God has spoken is in the Bible. Does God have a tax policy, etc? I am sure He does, but He may not have communicated the details to any of us. Rather, we are left to use the principles that He has spelled out in the Bible coupled with our own reasoning and prayers for wisdom to seek to arrive at the answer closest to the one that is closest to God’ position.

8. How would you suggest that we reason with someone who claims that his or her decisions are informed, shaped, even dictated by fundamental religious principles, which nevertheless can't be probed or questioned by those who don't share them?

That’s a darn good question. I have been trying to figure out a good way to break through fundamentalist views whenever I speak to the devoted followers of Darwinian evolution. But, of course, no one running for President on the Republican side holds the types of views that are of concern in your question.

9. I think we can all agree that a candidate who thought that we ought to outlaw interest on loans or revert to a barter system would not be a good steward for our troubled economy. Would you also agree that someone who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Noah's Ark is an event in zoological history would not be an effective leader on issues such as stem cells, climate change, and renewable resources?

No more than I think that a person who believes that somehow life sprung into existence from non-life solely by natural causes would not be an effective leader on those issues.

10. Do you see any danger of a kind of theocracy developing in the United States? And, if I may sneak in an extra question, do you think that American religiosity has (or could) threaten American dominance in science and technology?

No, I think that people who are concerned about the imminent development of a theocracy in the United States are the same type of people who think that the World Trade Center was bombed by President Bush. As far as sneaking in an extra question – you’ve only been doing that throughout these proceedings, and given that I haven't objected to this point, I think it's clear that I don’t mind at all. To answer the second question, I think that in no way does American religiosity threaten American dominance in science and technology since I firmly believe that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world.

11. How literally do you take the Bible or other holy book? Do you subscribe to any argument(s) for God's existence other than the one that God exists simply because He says He does in a much extolled tome that He allegedly inspired?

If you are asking if I read the Bible literally, the answer is that I read it literally where I think it is meant to be taken literally and I read it figuratively where I think it is intended to be read figuratively. As far as subscribing to arguments for God’s existence, the answer is that I find several arguments for the existence of God compelling. I do, however, look forward of reading your book to see if you actually have anything new to say about these arguments or if you are simply rehashing in new language the same tired arguments against God’s existence that have been answered innumerable times.

12. For many, religion has been a source of ideas and narratives that are enlightening, of ideals and values that are inspiring, of rituals and traditions that are satisfying. It has also led to hatred, cruelty, superstition, divisiveness, credulity and fanaticism. What can you do to further the former and minimize the latter effects?

I thought I was running for President – not Theologian in Chief. But to answer the question, I would simply say that the Bible teaches two commandments that it calls the greatest of the commandments: (1) Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself. If we truly follow these commandments, there would be no hatred, cruelty, superstition of divisiveness. (I’m not sure what you mean by "credulity" in this context, and "fanaticism" is somewhat of a subjective term – I strongly suspect you think that I’m a fanatic because I believe that God exists and the Bible is true.) Hence, I would ask those that are in charge of the churches to stress these two commandments and their relationship to the other parts of the Bible. By the way, I note that I could ask the same question of you because atheism has also led to hatred, cruelty, superstition, divisiveness, credulity and fanaticism. Since atheism has no charge to love one’s neighbor as himself, what exactly do you propose to do to minimize these ill effects of atheism?

The questioners would then breathe a sigh of relief, thank the university and the candidates for making the discussion possible, and wish them all Godspeed in their continuing campaigns.

And I, in turn, would ask that the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, and the Lord grant you peace.

43 comments:

Nice pap, BK. Perhaps you can elaborate on these statements:

1. if one accepts the claim that God inspired the writing of the Bible (and there is good reason to believe that ...
What is the "good reason to believe that"?

2. I do believe that his rise in the polls and his failure to win the nomination were part of the overall sovereign will of God ...
Why would your god have wanted him to rise in the polls only to fail?

5. ...freedom does require religion.
Can you provide some examples of freedom springing from religion? Please base your examples on the bible (or any other religious text you choose) as a holistic document, not just one or two random verses.

6. I don’t agree that any studies really show that ...
What counter-evidence can you provide to show that those studies were flawed? In what way can you falsify the claims of the researchers?

7. The one place that I feel assured that God has spoken is in the Bible.
On what evidence do you base your certitude?

8. I have been trying to figure out a good way to break through fundamentalist views whenever I speak to the devoted followers of Darwinian evolution.
Nice, snide answer. But have you actually read anything other than the bible that falsifies the evolutionary theory? Please don't talk about "irreducible complexity," because the examples set forth so far have been thoroughly discredited. (I'm not a scientist, myself, but I urge you to put down your bible for a while and read the transcript of Kitzmiller v. Dover -- as well as the resulting opinion by Judge Jones.) What verifiable, testable, replicable, and irrefutable evidence can you provide for your god-hypothesis.

10. I firmly believe that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world.
You ought to read some history of science and religion before baldly making this assertion. Religion has stood in the way of knowledge ever since the beginning of the world. Why? Because knowledgeable people have less use for superstition than ignorant ones. Almost every scientific breakthrough has been met with resistance from the worldwide religious community. If the Christian worldview is so devoted to knowledge, why do its adherents work so actively and tirelessly to prevent its dissemination?

11. If you are asking if I read the Bible literally, the answer is that I read it literally where I think it is meant to be taken literally and I read it figuratively where I think it is intended to be read figuratively.
So are you saying that the bible is open to interpretation by each and every individual, and that all such interpretations are equally valid? If not, what special access, unavailable to all others, do you have to the intentions of your supernatural being?

12. I would simply say that the Bible teaches two commandments that it calls the greatest of the commandments: (1) Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
So do you dismiss everything else in the bible? Or almost everything else? It seems like the god in whom you believe, the one who alledgedly wrote the whole thing, went to a lot of trouble to produce a fairly weighty tome if it can all be boiled down to two simple sentences. You're not claiming that your editorial skills surpass his, are you?

I hate to answer these questions because I know where it's going to lead -- into an endless argument that leads nowhere. But that's not because there are no answers, but because people have an endless capacity to doubt everything that doesn't suit their own worldview.

Let me say before beginning that the point wasn't to establish each of these points in the blog itself. A blog that would do that would be book length. It was merely to point out that the questions used assumptive language and to show that there are answers that do not agree with the assumptions.

But if you want to go down this road . . . *sigh* . . . I guess we can.

1. What is the "good reason to believe that"?

Actually, there are several. I think that some of the arguments are often labeled as the ontological, teleological, moral and historical arguments for God's existence. Despite claims by those whose religious belief is that there is no God, these arguments remain valid and unrefuted to this day.

2. Why would your god have wanted him to rise in the polls only to fail?

First, it's God, not god. Second, I don't know why He would want that, and I suspect that the answer, like so much in history, isn't always readily apparent at the time it initially happens. But more importantly, why would you assume that God, in His sovereign will, couldn't want it to happen?

Can you provide some examples of freedom springing from religion? Please base your examples on the bible (or any other religious text you choose) as a holistic document, not just one or two random verses.

First question: sure, the United States sprang from a totally Christian worldview. Equality of all peoples is something that is taught in the Bible. Now, can you give an example of freedom springing from atheism?


6. What counter-evidence can you provide to show that those studies were flawed? In what way can you falsify the claims of the researchers?

Point me to a link to the studies and I will look at them.

On what evidence do you base your certitude?

Because I have studied the issue for more than ten years and read numerous challenges to Christianity from atheists of all stripes. The result of this study is that I am more convinced than ever that Christianity is true.

But have you actually read anything other than the bible that falsifies the evolutionary theory? Please don't talk about "irreducible complexity," because the examples set forth so far have been thoroughly discredited. (I'm not a scientist, myself, but I urge you to put down your bible for a while and read the transcript of Kitzmiller v. Dover -- as well as the resulting opinion by Judge Jones.) What verifiable, testable, replicable, and irrefutable evidence can you provide for your god-hypothesis.

Well, if you are going to ask me a question than restrict my answer (while making uninformed assumptions about what I have read), there really isn't a point in me answering, is there? After all, why not just say, "Explain to me where I am wrong, but don't tell me about anything that says that I'm wrong."

You ought to read some history of science and religion before baldly making this assertion. Religion has stood in the way of knowledge ever since the beginning of the world. Why? Because knowledgeable people have less use for superstition than ignorant ones. Almost every scientific breakthrough has been met with resistance from the worldwide religious community. If the Christian worldview is so devoted to knowledge, why do its adherents work so actively and tirelessly to prevent its dissemination?

Again, on what basis do you assume that I haven't read a lot in this area? Because I don't agree with you or your conclusions? With all due respect, it appears from your statements that you are the one who needs to read more than the writings of Prometheus Press or the Internet Infidels website on science and history.

So are you saying that the bible is open to interpretation by each and every individual, and that all such interpretations are equally valid? If not, what special access, unavailable to all others, do you have to the intentions of your supernatural being?

If this is an example of your concise thinking then I can see where you have a limited scope of reading. I suggest you look up some material on Biblical hermeneutics. To answer the second part of your question, I am not claiming any special insight. I use the common sense approach to reading the text which is the same approach I use to reading any material. Hyperbole is hyperbole whether used in the Bible or elsewhere. There are, of course, disagreements as to which parts are to be taken literally and which parts are to be taken figuratively, but that is why there are different sects in Christianity. But no one (except atheists trying to make nonsensical points) argue that each individual interpretation is entitled to equal weight.

So do you dismiss everything else in the bible? Or almost everything else? It seems like the god in whom you believe, the one who alledgedly wrote the whole thing, went to a lot of trouble to produce a fairly weighty tome if it can all be boiled down to two simple sentences. You're not claiming that your editorial skills surpass his, are you?

It would be helpful if you would read everything that I wrote before commenting (I know it was long, but there were 12 questions). I said, "Hence, I would ask those that are in charge of the churches to stress these two commandments and their relationship to the other parts of the Bible." Having read that, do you somehow think that your question makes any sense? If you do, then we really do see the world very differently.

With regard to # 1, you don't seem to have answered the Exterminator's question. You simply reiterated that there are arguments that you believe are valid. How about a little more substance?

On #2, all you are saying is that "God works in mysterious ways", which is, as usual, a complete non-answer. And Exterminator was right, it's "your god" as a description, and "God" as a name.

On # 5, you do realize that when you say the US sprang from a totally Christian world view, that statement is not supported by anything other than a retroactive desire for it to be so. The fact that many of the Founding Fathers were Christian in name does not mean, in any way, shape or form, that the US was an experiment in Christianity, as you imply. A very cursory review of history would show the contrary, your belief notwithstanding. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

On # 6, you are the one who said that the studies you saw reached "a contrary conclusion". I think you're the one who needs to point out the study you saw, and where it reached that conclusion. Don't try to shift the burden, please.

As for limiting your sources for your opinions regarding evolution, I agree with the Exterminator that the Bible is not a scientific tract, so referencing it to support your conclusions concerning evolution will, as you say, go nowhere. However, I would differ with the Exterminator in that if your only other source of knowledge in ten years of study was in fact, Michael Behe's work, then by all means, confirm that. If not, feel free to give us all the other relevant sources.

Let's see if we can clarify your position on these matters before we take you seriously as a Presidential (stand in) candidate.

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6. What counter-evidence can you provide to show that those studies were flawed? In what way can you falsify the claims of the researchers?

Point me to a link to the studies and I will look at them.

I think this one question, and your "answer", kind of sums up the entirety of your logical problems.

Paulos spoke from scientific knowledge. He is a best-selling author, PhD, and expert in probability, logic, and the philosophy of science. He has far more to lose than you do when he puts his name behind a statement.

You simply shrug and say, "Well, I don't believe that statistic, so there's really no need for me to answer further". You had every opportunity, at your own leisure, to research your doubts and provide counter-examples, and failed to do so. Worse than your failure to provide counter-examples is your failure to even TRY!

Exterminator challenges you again on this point. Once again, you shrug again and ask HIM to provide you with the research!

So let me repeat - Atheists and agnostics are under-represented in the prison populations of the U.S. They also have a disproportionably low number of divorces. Want to guess which religious group leads the nation in divorce?

You have nothing to prove otherwise. So go ahead and shrug again. It's the move of ignorance. Do you really fantasize that you have done a good job "answering for the candidates"? Perhaps this exercise will show you exactly WHY none of the candidates bothered to respond.

When beyond ones depth, better to remain silent. Or - better not to say anything and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and allow others to KNOW IT.

You obviously aren't a fundamentalist wingnut. You provided enough answers that were on target (i.e. the age of the Universe and of the Earth). So there is some hope for you. But in order to fulfill my dreams of you joining the rational, reason-based community, you need to do a little reading. And I'm talking about serious reading. Go to Amazon and pick up a copy of The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner for the start of your education. After you have read it, please post a book report and alert me so that I can come back and give you your proper respect. I have a feeling you are salvageable

Spanish Inquisitor:

Question number 1: I responded as much as I need to. I'm sorry you don't understand the arguments.

Question number 2: That's not what I am saying at all.

Question number 5: Yup, we can go round and round about this. I have read a great number of books on the subject and I disagree wholeheartedly with your position.

Question number 6: I am not shifiting the burden. He is the one who said I had to counter the assumptions made in the original article. I am asking him to point to the studies.

Evolution: I encourage you to read any number of blog entries I have written on the subject. You can comment there.

Exterminator:

Glad you think Spanish Inquisitor covers your points so I don't have to repeat my answers.

Question number 10: I invite you to read Bede's Journal, a Internet set written and compiled by a historian, who will help you see that you have an entirely too limited view of the relationship between Christianity and science.

Question number 11: Of course, I'd expect someone who wants to disprove the Bible to reject Biblical hermeneutics. It's so tedious to have to respond to how the Bible is really interpreted rather than set up straw men, isn't it?

BK:
Well, I delete my comment to make an editorial tweak, and before I know it, both John Evo and you have responded. Sorry. I won't do that again here.

In the interests of keeping this conversation honest, here's my original, untweaked comment, which originally followed Spanish Inquisitor's above:

[[There's no need to reiterate the points made so well by Spanish Inquisitor. So I'll respond to a few things he didn't address:

10. I asked: Have you read any history of science and religion? Your answer makes it sound as if you have, but you didn't actually say so. I'll withdraw my question, though, because it was as facetious as your answer.

But you still haven't explained: I firmly believe that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world.

You must know that such a claim is utter nonsense, unsupportable by history. Christian leaders in every era have fought -- hard -- to ban books and disband libraries. This has been going on at least since Constantine's time, if not before.

11. Ah, the old "biblical hermeneutics" dodge, right out of theology-school parlor games. Since that collection of books you know as "the Bible" lends itself to so many different, conflicting interpretations, answer this: Why didn't your omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent god speak plainly if he had an urgent message for humans to hear? Why cloak himself in allegories that only BK has the good sense to interpret correctly?]]

OK, now onto your latest points.

10. I'm not going to read Bede's Journal, because I didn't ask Bede a question. I asked you. And I'd like to hear your answer, in your own words.

So I'll repeat the statement of yours that I'm challenging: I firmly believe that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world.

Can you explain to me how your statement can be true about the Christian worldview? Throughout its entire history, Christianity has shown a complete and utter abhorrence for any learning or knowledge that deviates from its "teachings." Now, bear in mind that I'm not making that statement about all Christians; there were certainly some champions of the intellect tucked away in medieval monasteries. But Christianity in its various institutional manifestations, has always been an enemy of intellectual progress.

11. Of course, I'd expect someone who wants to disprove the Bible to reject Biblical hermeneutics. It's so tedious to have to respond to how the Bible is really interpreted rather than set up straw men, isn't it?
Very smug -- and very empty. If you had anything substantive to say, you wouldn't need to hide behind the obfuscatory subject of "hermeneutics." There's no straw man here, just a direct question, in plain English, which you're dodging like the over-educated but somewhat slow boy in the seminary:

In what way have you, BK, been given special insight, unavailable to others, that leads you to a correct interpretation of the collection of writings known as "the Bible"? If the interpretation is someone else's and not yours, give him or her credit. Then I'll ask you only: What leads you to believe that X's interpretation of those writings are any more correct than, say, Pope Benedict's, or Pastor Melissa Scott's, or the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's -- or mine?

Oh my, what cute little names these fearsome atheists have attached to themselves. Good grief, can the collective maturity level of the New Atheists sink any lower? I thought Hitchens set the standard pretty low, but now I see there is a cellar. It seems that they are most interested in posturing for the audience rather than really discussing anything.

Ex, it is truly remarkable to see you ignore a valuable resource such as Bede's Journal -- which has undisputed expertise in the very question you ask -- yet think you have made some point with unsubstantiated conclusory statements like "Christianity has shown a complete and utter abhorrence for any learning or knowledge that deviates from its "teachings.""

Why not prove your assertion in your own words using actual primary sources and evidence without citing to anyone else first before thinking you have made a point with this?

Layman, I'll let your first paragraph go as just some silly rant, but for the record: I'm not a New Atheist. I've been faith-free for nearly sixty years, pal. There's not a thing new about me -- or my atheism. So ditch the meaningless jargon because it merely demonstrates your ignorance. I don't expect you to be knowledgeable about atheism; why would you be? But don't speak as if you are.

Now, as far as Bede's Journal goes -- it may or may not be a valuable resource. I'm certainly not going to take it on faith just because you say so. But in any case, "Bede" wasn't the person who made the claim about Christianity being such a science-friendly worldview; BK was. So I asked him to support that statement in his own words.

If you feel that I've made an "unsubstantiated conclusory statement" about Christianity and its attitude toward learning, I'd be happy to substantiate it with dozens of examples throughout history, and not only drawn from the sciences. I think that's going to be tiresome on a case-by-case basis. I could begin by throwing out just a few names of people who were persecuted, killed, inhibited, or, in modern times, had their works banned as the result of Christianity's awe-inspiring "support" for learning: Hypatia, Pietro d'Abano, Cecco d'Ascoli, Bruno, Michael Servetus, Galileo, Descartes, Harvey, de Maillet, Johann Bernoulli, David Hume, Thomas Paine, James Joseph Sylvester, Darwin, D.H. Lawrence, Vladimir Nabokov, Alan Ginsberg, J.D. Salinger ...

Please don't bother answering every individual charge. Instead, perhaps you could point me to some biblical support for BK's claim. You know: the many verses in which your god tells people to do everything they can to increase their knowledge of the natural world.

Exterminator,
"You ought to read some history of science and religion before baldly making this assertion. Religion has stood in the way of knowledge ever since the beginning of the world. Why? Because knowledgeable people have less use for superstition than ignorant ones. Almost every scientific breakthrough has been met with resistance from the worldwide religious community. If the Christian worldview is so devoted to knowledge, why do its adherents work so actively and tirelessly to prevent its dissemination?"

Ooh, boy, when you made these baseless, ridiculous, sweeping assertions were you aware that someone here might actually have familiarity with the history of science and religion? The truth is that while the interaction between Christianity and science has been complex, alternating between endorsement, rejection and somewhere in between, overall both Christian institutions and Christian scholars have been very open to the advances of science. The modern university began in the Middle Ages as an outgrowth of monastic libraries, and it was priests and friars who made sure scientific and philosophical writings of the ancient world were preserved, translated and commented upon (see for example Edward Grant, "Foundations of modern science in the Middle Ages"). All the leading pioneers of the Scientific Revolution were devout Christians who believed strongly that the science they were doing was to the glory of God. Take the following quotes from Galileo, for example:

"I neither intend nor pretend to gain from [my scientific work] any fruit that is not pious and Catholic."

"the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands."

"Let us grant then that theology is conversant with the loftiest divine contemplation, and occupies the regal throne among sciences by dignity"

(From his "Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina", available here:
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/galileo-tuscany.html)

And as for Spanish Inquisitor, the best historical research does reveal that American began as a Christian experiment. John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, Alexander Whitaker and others all thought that the destiny of the American colonies was divinely sanctioned. See Sacvan Bercovitch, "The American Jeremiad", Anders Stephanson, "Manifest Destiny" and Conrad Cherry, ed. "God's New Israel" the latter containing the most important primary sources.

BK,

First off, I'd like to point out a mistake in your thinking BK which, once corrected, you'd see why Mr. Romney was wrong and why his comment was unsettling to the non-religious and that your support of his position is likewise unsettling. That mistake is in believing atheism and agnosticism are religions. They most certainly are not. They are positions on the issue of the existence of a god or gods. The former sees no reason to believe in any and the latter feels it's impossible to know one way or another. That's it. So hopefully in light of this you'll see the problem in Mr. Romney's statement, "Freedom requires religion". Without even arguing the value of religion or it's role in the founding of nations, it should be plain as day how unsettling such a statement can be to over 1/5th of the population who are nonreligious.

Now I take it from your responses sir that although you may be willing to accept that religion isn't necessary in maintaining freedom, it seems to be necessary for establishing it. That I strongly disagree with, as I do your statement, "Equality of all peoples is something that is taught in the Bible". Were that to be true, maybe you'd have the makings of a case but since it isn't, your statement is just silly. I also take issue with your snarky response of "can you give an example of freedom springing from atheism?". Humanity is, and has been for untold centuries, comprised of a majority of believers in deities so naturally the Founders of the US would most likely be, and were, believers in some form of deity, be it a christian god or some abstract god of deism. Their religious beliefs were not what inspired our Constitution but rather the desire to practice them free from the tyranny of another belief, for as history shows, religions are anything but tolerant of rivals. Nearly every Founder had what would be considered "alternative" religious beliefs, and certainly all of them were in agreement that they despised having the church of England held over their heads as THE religion. So not from any specific belief from their religions but rather from the desire to be free to believe whatever they wanted came our Constitution. This is something I fear Mr. Romney, the rest of the candidates and even you, sir, have never bothered to research.

As for the rest of your answers, I see there are other taking you to task on them so I see no need in piling on. I"ll await your responses to them eagerly. Likewise, should you feel the need to respond to anything I've said, I'll look for that as well.

Mr. Price,

As to your thoroughly juvenile and potentially insulting remarks concerning usernames, you should know that it is precisely that kind of attitude that makes most nonreligious people have to thoroughly mask their identities or else face reprisals. In fact as this case showed you don't even have to be nonreligious. Being the "wrong" religion is enough to either drive you out of town or hide anonymously, and I think this case is also poignant for my earlier point to BK, for here is a very clear example of how religion, if it has the power, frowns on rivals.

Have a nice day.

JD Walters said:

And as for Spanish Inquisitor, the best historical research does reveal that American began as a Christian experiment. John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, Alexander Whitaker and others all thought that the destiny of the American colonies was divinely sanctioned. See Sacvan Bercovitch, "The American Jeremiad", Anders Stephanson, "Manifest Destiny" and Conrad Cherry, ed. "God's New Israel" the latter containing the most important primary sources.

I think we're discussing two different things here. The original settlers of America came here, partially, as a reaction against religious persecution in Europe. They wanted the freedom to practice whatever form of religion the home country would not allow them to practice, (which sentiment eventually found it's way into our 1st Amendment). Ironically, when they got here, they didn't always return the favor to others who disagreed with their particular version of religion.

What I was referring to, however, is the nonsense that the United States (as opposed to the colonies) was formed specifically as a "Christian Nation" which it clearly was not. Your citations don't speak to that. As I indicated, the fact that the members of society at the time of the creation of this country happened to be Christian in name only, does not mean that the US "sprang from a totally Christian worldview" any more than the fact that because the original Germans were barbarians and pagan, means that Germany "sprang from a pagan worldview".

JD:

You're not actually going to use Galileo as an example of Christian encouragement of science, are you?

That's like using the Jews as an example of Nazi respect for diversity.

Exterminator, I quoted Galileo's own words extolling Christian theology as the queen of the sciences and his own purpose to serve the Catholic Church with his discoveries. What do you make of these direct quotations? You seem to have just ignored them, your mind is made up, you don't want to be confused with the facts.

Spanish Inquisitor,
When you say 'founding of the nation', are you referring to the original settlers or what happened after the Declaration of Independence?

JD:

Galileo's words speak to his own views on the compatability between religion and science. While his words no doubt carry relevance to that philosophical question, they don't speak to Ex's broader point about institutionalized religion standing in the way of scientific progress.

As for the "founding of the nation," the original settlers did not found a nation so much as colonize land on behalf of England. No one founded a nation until we declared our independence with the, uh, "Declaration of Independence." While that document no doubt mentions "our creator" it doesn't mention anything specifically about Yahweh in particular.

Regarding the original settlers, many of them may also have owned slaves, had racist views, or felt that tarring and feathering were perfectly acceptable. I don't feel comfortable, however, claiming that we are a slave owning nation, simply because some of the original settlers (or founding fathers for that matter) owned slaves.

JD, you said:
You don't want to be confused with the facts.

It's an old Christian apologist trick to take a few facts, out of context, and mischaracterize them. If you were honest -- which you're not -- you would have quoted the entire letter by Galileo, and given some background.

Those few sentences you cited were part of a contortionist attempt by Galileo to justify, indirectly to the papal authorities, his views about the Earth's motion. He was arguing to a Christian audience that he was not a heretic for holding scientific views rather than biblical ones. In case you're unfamiliar with history, I should tell you: ultimately, Galileo was not successful. The oh-so-science-friendly Church locked him up, banned his books, and forbade him to write any others.

Spanish Inquisitor,
When you say 'founding of the nation', are you referring to the original settlers or what happened after the Declaration of Independence?


Well, I didn't use that phrase, but if I would have in the context of this exchange, I would have meant the latter.

BTW, I hate that word verification. It impedes discourse.

I'm with Spanish Inquisitor on Word Verification. Unless you've actually been bothered by lots of spambots, you're creating a needless chore for commenters -- regardless of their worldview.

You folks seem to enjoy and encourage discussions on this blog, for which I commend you. Disabling that annoying feature is something you may want to consider. FYI: I've made the same suggestion to many atheist bloggers, too.

This comment has been removed by the author.

{{In case you're unfamiliar with history, I should tell you: ultimately, Galileo was not successful. The oh-so-science-friendly Church locked him up, banned his books, and forbade him to write any others.}}

But not because of scientific threats to their position. Indeed the same Pope, who had been a member of the Galilesti before his friend Galileo had published a satire of him, went on to immediately (though quietly) commission conversions of numerous abbeys and churches into solar observatories, to see if Copernican astronomy could be scientifically confirmed. (Which, incidentally, it couldn't until the mid 1800s and even then it was notoriously difficult.)

Copernicus and Galileo were taking their stand based on implications from neo-Platonism which both of them accepted over against scholastic Aristotelianism, the reigning paradigm in the RCC at that time--and which the Pope had recently reaffirmed in the Counterreformation over against the Reformers who had embraced neo-Platonism instead. There were no scientific rationales involved in this; even the expectation that the number of orbital epicycles should be fewer was entirely predicated on philosophical speculations (one could hardly even call them implications of a developed position)--and theistic philosophical speculations at that. (Certainly there are no reasons why a non-intentional system behavior would incline toward fewer epicycle calcuations!) When the RCC eventually decided to go with neo-Platonism, too, it promptly affirmed heliocentrism even though there was still no scientific confirmation for it. So yeah, Galileo was in fact ultimately successful--not least because the Pope was trying to give him as much help as he could.

But the Pope was facing civil war across Europe thanks to princes and dukes taking sides on the Reformation; and Galileo was making political waves in the wrong way at the wrong time, in order to press a philosophical agenda on grounds that no scientist today on any side of the aisle, religious or anti-religious, would accept as viable.


That being said: the key element to the Galileo trials which still has relevance to science/religion sparring today, was his insistence that scientia (inferences from observation) could arrive at knowledge independently of revelation, i.e. without the help of God in some fashion. But this is only an introduction of schism between science and orthodox Christianity (among some other religions, and not even against all religion), if the implication is that humans either exist and operate in complete independence from God (even if still in dependence on something else), or that God doesn't exist; both of which are fairly technical philosophical positions to take, not scientific ones (per se). It is unclear, I think, whether Galileo appreciated the subtleties involved; but the RCC didn't need an avowed fanboy of Galileo (i.e. the Pope himself) appearing not only to reverse his position on Aristotelianism after all but actually supporting what his theological foes in the Reformation (sparking civil wars in Europe) would have instantly pounced on as evidence of unorthodoxy. (I mean moreso than they were already busily pouncing. {g} Charges that the Pope affirmed cosmological dualism or nominal deism or outright atheism are far more important in regard to Christian orthodoxy than whether the crappiest place in the universe should be at the center instead of the best and brightest place--which is what Aristotelianism and neo-Platonism came down to respectively regarding astrophysical expectation.)

So the situation was rather messier and more complex all the way around than Voltaire and the subsequent mythologizers eventually made it out to be. One end result being that in today's modern enlightened world Dan Brown can convince millions of readers that solar observatories in Catholic churches might have been intended for secret pagan religious rituals... {wry g}


And I don't like "Booger's" word verification either, but yes the site has had problems with spambots, and moreover none of the site administrators is naive enough to think that if it's disabled the spambots simply may not show up.

JRP

Jason:
Great informative comment, for which much thanks. But I think that you may have provided even stronger evidence for my position that Christianity is not science-friendly. In Galileo's case, as you've outlined it, religio-political conflicts amongst different Christian sects influenced in a negative way a search for "pure" scientific knowledge.

And, of course I agree about Dan Brown. But do remember that he wrote fiction ... and was probably not trying to convince readers of anything other than the fact that they'd been hugely entertained by his badly written, silly book. Once again, though, it's more evidence to show that Christians (non-Catholic ones, in this case) will believe any claptrap.

As far as Word Verification -- now that I know you've actually had problems with spambots I can understand completely why you've chosen to use that feature.

10. I'm not going to read Bede's Journal, because I didn't ask Bede a question. I asked you. And I'd like to hear your answer, in your own words.

I'm just popping by, but I found this statement curious. It sounds like you're more interested in forcing bk to defend himself than you are in whether he's ultimately right.

Also, in response to point 6 of the post, exterminator writes:

What counter-evidence can you provide to show that those studies were flawed? In what way can you falsify the claims of the researchers?

Maybe I'm misreading this, but isn't bk actually defending atheists and agnostics when he writes that he disagrees with studies that show "that atheists and agnostics are somehow less moral ..."? Again, maybe the wording is just throwing me off.

First of all, if you make an assertion you should be able to defend it, Zok.
Second, if there's something specific from Bede that supports BK, he should cite that. It's pure laziness to not only fail to do that but to send a questioner off on what could be a wild goose chase.

Haha, man, someone's cranky. I make two observations and that's the reply I get.

First of all, if you make an assertion you should be able to defend it, Zok.

Yeah, seriously. I agree. Now will you and your friends please go and do likewise? You guys start in the first post with the exterminator's assumptions about what bk has and has not read and continue from there.

Second, if there's something specific from Bede that supports BK, he should cite that. It's pure laziness to not only fail to do that but to send a questioner off on what could be a wild goose chase.

So I just went to Bede's site. It took me three clicks and less than 30 seconds to find the relevant articles. Yeah...I can see why that would be too much for you.

But that wasn't even the exterminator's problem with bk's referral; it was that exterminator didn't ask Bede. So yeah...your reply was pretty much irrelevant.

Zok,

I fail to see why you would label me "cranky" or generally be so insulting. I'm further dismayed by seeing you're not alone in such behavior here. What's that about?

Anyway, so nice of you to find the relevant articles to BK's point. Way to go! That's step one. Step two is finding the relevant passages. Third is showing how or why they're relevant, and of course, to ensure nothing is being taken out of context, you then provide the links to cited articles. Capice? Great, because that's how you do it.

Now you claimed my comment was irrelevant, but I fail to see how. BK absently passed the question off on Bede, which is poor form, and Exterminator rightly expressed frustration at that. What I showed in my response was that you should be able to defend your own ideas and second, the correct way to use a source, to back up your ideas, not to pass someone off and sidestep the question. Third, the response was to you since you made a curious comment, "It sounds like you're more interested in forcing bk to defend himself than you are in whether he's ultimately right." Yes, I think he should be forcing himself to defend himself. When you claim things you should be able to defend those claims. As for being ultimately right or not, shouldn't BK have some personal interest in that? Does he not know? Does he need someone else to go find out for him? Once again, I say that was poor form and reeks of someone unable to support his own claims. Do you see the relevance now or do I need to elaborate further?

Now as for requesting comparable citations from me, I'm confused. First, I didn't send anyone to go sift through someone's website and find relevant material. Second, everything I mentioned is basic history and easy to come across and the only way one wouldn't know of such things is to somehow not have been exposed to basic US history. Yes, I'm assuming since the only other answer is willful disregard of facts and I think it would be insulting to suggest you or BK are guilty of that, don't you think? So you see, I feel the decent assumption is to assume ignorance of and not dismissal of facts. Now if there's something specific I wrote that you are stumped on, I can try to find a link or cite another source for you. Is there something Zok?

Exterminator: I'm not going to read Bede's Journal, because I didn't ask Bede a question. I asked you. And I'd like to hear your answer, in your own words.
Zok: I'm just popping by, but I found this statement curious. It sounds like you're more interested in forcing bk to defend himself than you are in whether he's ultimately right.

Well, perhaps you should have popped by long enough to read the entire interchange. There's nothing curious about it. I am interested in having bk defend something -- not himself, but his half-baked ideas. Every assertion made in the original post was bk's. It's perfectly natural for someone like me, who doesn't agree with his ideas, to challenge them and ask bk what evidence he can offer to support such assertions. If he chooses to respond -- and, obviously, he doesn't have to -- it's now his job to find facts and details that bolster the opinions expressed in his statements. He may be able to find everything right there in Bede's Journal, but it's his responsibility to sift through the information and to present it, either as direct quotes or in his own words. I may then choose to go check out his source, and challenge him further. Or I may say, "Aha! Now I see your evidence." That's how a polite discussion of ideas works.

Zok: Maybe I'm misreading this, ...
Yeah, you are. Go back and read it again. Maybe next time you want to get involved in a discussion, you should do a little more than just pop by. It might be nice if you actually bothered to read, more than cursorily, what everyone had said before you chimed in. You do a disservice to everyone, your "teammates" and "opponents" both, when you just start keying in random words without having digested what has gone on in the thread so far.

That's how a polite discussion of ideas works.

You mean, like the little exchange with Jason Pratt up there? He actually "popped in" and added a wonderful bit of insight to the Church/Galileo dispute. That's how it should work.

Back to the Word verification, I don't need it on my blog (albeit a WordPress blog) and I haven't noticed any rise in spambots, or other nuisances in those blogs I've convinced to do away with it, and there have been a few (all atheist Blogger blogs, too). Why don't you eliminate it for a week or so, and see if it really causes any problems? If it does, bring it back. And I can't emphasize too much that it is one pain in the ass for this non-touch type typist.

I fail to see why you would label me "cranky" or generally be so insulting.

That's ok, I know thinking is hard for you. :)

Anyway, so nice of you to find the relevant articles to BK's point. Way to go! That's step one. Step two is finding the relevant passages. Third is showing how or why they're relevant, and of course, to ensure nothing is being taken out of context, you then provide the links to cited articles.

Now you claimed my comment was irrelevant, but I fail to see how. BK absently passed the question off on Bede, which is poor form, and Exterminator rightly expressed frustration at that. What I showed in my response was that you should be able to defend your own ideas and second, the correct way to use a source, to back up your ideas, not to pass someone off and sidestep the question. Third, the response was to you since you made a curious comment, "It sounds like you're more interested in forcing bk to defend himself than you are in whether he's ultimately right." Yes, I think he should be forcing himself to defend himself. When you claim things you should be able to defend those claims.


Yup, you got it. Now will you and your friends do the same? The Exterminator referred bk to a transcript of Kitzmiller v. Dover; John evo referred bk to The Beak of the Finch; you referred to a link at jewsonfirst.org. What you guys need to do is to find the relevant passages from those sources, then show why they're relevant and ensure nothing is taken out of context. See, you guys are absently passing off your arguments to someone else, which is poor form and frustrating. You should be able to defend your own ideas, use sources correctly, back up your ideas, not passing someone off and sidestepping the issues. See, I think you guys should be forced to defend yourselves. When you make claims, you should be able to defend those claims. It's just that you reek of someone unable to support his own claims. So yeah, if you guys can get on that, that'd be great.

And thanks for your reply exterminator. You're right. I now see the error of my ways. I should have popped by longer and been polite like you. Go atheism!

The rest of you will note that I linked to the actual article relevant to my point, and not simply the site JewsOnFirst, because to do just that, as I said, would be poor form. Here's what I did:
1. Made a point
2. Cited example supporting point IN ANTICIPATION of challenges to my point.

In contrast, BK gave an opinion and when asked to defend that point merely gave a website containing numerous articles which someone would have to search through themselves to find relevance, assuming there is any.

The difference should be clear. Zok is in error.

Zok, you're a shining exemplar for Christians of all denominations. In fact, I'll even go so far as to make an assertion (subject to the usual rules of polite discourse, if anyone chooses to challenge it):

Your civility, unparalleled insight, keen reasoning, clarity of thought, and inspiring eloquence should make all the other Christians here extremely proud to count you as one of their number. I think in future, those Christians seeking an Earthly model will no longer need to wonder "What Would Jesus Do?" They'll merely have to ask themselves "How Would Zok Behave?"

Ex,

{{In Galileo's case, as you've outlined it, religio-political conflicts amongst different Christian sects influenced in a negative way a search for "pure" scientific knowledge.}}

In Galileo’s case, as I outlined it, religio-political conflicts amongst different Christian sects (largely fueled by each of them having tacitly accepted the gnostic heresy of salvation by knowledge/works, by the way) were preparing to tear apart Europe in a bloody civil war. Galileo was busy pursuing his own philosophical agenda, in public, at the expense of his longtime friend and ally the Pope; and in a fashion that was guaranteed to make the fighting worse instead of better. The question of “pure” scientific knowledge does not come into this, unless by “pure” you mean a scientific knowledge that proceeds from one of several purely philosophical positions that deny Christian orthodoxy (among some other religious positions) though not necessarily denying religion altogether (which is why the subsequent deists were often highly religious men, too.) It all comes back to a showdown among philosophies, not a showdown between religion (per se) and science (per se).

It isn’t a question of Christianity not being friendly to science. It’s a question of people who believe all things continually depend upon God for their existence and operational capabilities (which is purely an ontological position) having a categorically different belief than people who believe some things exist without continual dependence upon God (one way or another; which is also purely an ontological position). Science can be just as easily worked in either case. Or just as hampered, for various reasons, in either case.

{{Once again, though, it's more evidence to show that Christians (non-Catholic ones, in this case) will believe any claptrap.}}

If you’re talking about Dan Brown, a significant portion of his book had to do with things like there being some kind of intrinsic schism between science and religion (especially Christianity), and Christians being specially credulous compared to non-Christian thinkers. As to whether he was trying to convince readers of those points, among others, I tend to think he was; but perhaps he wasn’t. And yes, I do remember that he wrote fiction.

JRP

Jason Pratt Said:
It isn’t a question of Christianity not being friendly to science. It’s a question of people who believe all things continually depend upon God for their existence and operational capabilities (which is purely an ontological position) having a categorically different belief than people who believe some things exist without continual dependence upon God (one way or another; which is also purely an ontological position). Science can be just as easily worked in either case. Or just as hampered, for various reasons, in either case.


I never bought into the who Christianity vs science thing, at least in the sense that there is a "battle" between a religious and an academic discipline, both non-entities. To the contrary, it's always been a battle between people with competing world views.

The problem is that when individuals, who derive their temporal authority on a personal relationship with the giver of all knowledge, are confronted by explanations for natural phenomena that conflict with the revelatory or divine explanations given to them by God, they come down hard on the interloper that threatens their authority. Perhaps there are more complex relationships at hand in the particular circumstances, but in the end, science is not battling with religion, science, and in a broader viewpoint, humanity, is simply the victim.

But perhaps I've just rephrased what you said? ;)

(And on this word authorization thing, another problem with it is that if you don't type a comment quickly enough, the nonsense letters don't work, and if you think you've posted a comment, sometime you don't because it times out on you. I just lost a long comment here, and had to retype it from memory, no small feat if you know how ineffective my memory synapses are. I don't think I'm going to bother commenting here anymore.)

JRP:

The case of Galileo is just one of many that I cited. And it's true that each of those individual cases of -- let's call it "science abuse" -- can be attributed to some factors other than religion. Still, to imply that Christianity in some manifestation was not a huge obstacle to Galileo's work would be a distortion of history.

In fact, the cumulative effect of religion has not been a sanguinary one for science. Regardless of whatever other factors have been at work, there has almost always been a religious rationale used to hinder, or indeed punish, advances in human knowledge. Yes, I agree that many religious questions are actually political ones. Power-hungry persons throughout history have frequently used religion to manipulate the ignorant masses. But the point is: religion is readily available for that very use.

Of course, Christianity is not the only culprit; other religions, probably dating back to the days of the cave people, are equally at fault. In fact, few other worldviews have been as consistently successful over the long haul at systematically opposing science as religion has.

So to return to bk's original claim that the Christian worldview is friendly to science: It's just utter nonsense.

And I'll repeat a somewhat facetious question I asked of Layman previously: Perhaps you can point to some biblical support for bk's claim. Can you find many verses in either the old or new testament -- and feel free to throw in the Apocrypha as well -- in which the god character or Jesus or any other spokesman for the deity encourages humans to increase their knowledge of the natural world?

The way I see it: From the third chapter of the very first book in the collection, your god has been on a never-ending campaign to restrict human knowledge. The "original sin" was a search for knowledge, a search which had been expressly forbidden by Yahweh. I know it's possible to interpret the Garden of Eden story on dozens of allegorical levels, but the bottom line, if your interpretation is not completely contorted, is essentially: ignorance is bliss. Such a worldview, which permeates Christianity, can't be claimed by any sane person as an encouragement of science.

phillychief and exterminator,

what a cop out. what it comes down to is that you're more interested in winning a debate than you are in whether the sources bk uses contain valid points. if you were interested in exploring these issues in an intellectually honest manner, you'd read some of the articles on bede's site that bk refers to, if for *nothing else* than to simply acquaint yourself with differing views and arguments, and to challenge your own positions. instead, you refuse to read them, preferring to hide behind accusations of improperly cited sources, name calling, and baseless assertions. what a joke.

Actually most atheists are quite familiar with both Bede's work and it's flaws but regardless, the responsibility is on BK.

Let me also give an example of how Zok is completely off base here...

Let's say I started claiming things like Jesus was actually a space alien, Mary wasn't a virgin, and the "behemoth" mentioned in the bible was Big Foot. Well you'd either simply laugh and walk away or ask me to prove it. Now what if I merely gave a link to some site with 1000s of links and articles about ufos, conspiracies, and such. Would that be a suitable response? Furthermore, if you said it wasn't, how about if I said, "It took me three clicks and less than 30 seconds to find the relevant articles. Yeah...I can see why that would be too much for you"? How about on top of that I did nothing but insult you and say you don't really care about seeing if I'm right, just to win an argument? How's all that sit with you? Seems pretty ridiculous, doesn't it?

Seems pretty ridiculous, doesn't it?

Suppose I go to a website and the author makes claims about a particular area of history, or politics, or UFOs, or what have you, that I disagree with. I tell him to prove it and the author refers me to a website or a book...Fine. He's under no obligation to prove it simply because I demand him to. It's his blog and he can respond in whichever way he chooses. I'll probably just dismiss him (though if I find the topic important, I may read the material he points to), not get in his face, talk down to him, and demand he fulfill my requests. What's more, this post was done "for giggles," and the author was pretending to be a presidential candidate answering questions, the point of which "was merely to point out that the questions used assumptive language and to show that there are answers that do not agree with the assumptions," not "to establish each of these points in the blog itself." And then you guys come along, demanding he do just that and jumping on him when he doesn't. Yeah, that is pretty ridiculous.

And bk knew exactly where this was going to go in his first comment: "into an endless argument that leads nowhere." So with that, I'll end this pointless little part of the debate on my part.

Two fabulous strategies there by Zok:
1. I don't have to defend my claims
2. Screw you guys, I'm going home (often referred to as the "Cartman Gambit")

Of course when your beliefs are so indefensible and irrational, how else could you respond, right?

Oh well. Have a nice day.

SpanInq,

{{The problem is that when individuals [have temporal authority]... they come down hard on the interloper that threatens their authority.}}

You could have simplified your observation down to that and been exactly as accurate in your generalization. {s} Including in your followup that humanity (along with the progression of knowledge, scientific and otherwise) is simply the victim.

{{But perhaps I've just rephrased what you said? ;)}}

Except for the part where I pointed out that the hampering or the fostering can happen just as easily in either case, yes. {s} (You only mentioned hampering, and only in one kind of case.)

{{I just lost a long comment here, and had to retype it from memory}}

While I can sympathize from that, my next question is going to be: why aren’t you composing your comments in a text editor anyway? Any of several things could happen to a long comment with no way to save it. I keep three or four temporary composition files on my desktop, precisely for this purpose. Double-click, and I’m ready to go. Select-all, cut and paste when I’m ready to post. Command-s to quicksave every paragraph or so, or when I answer the phone or stand up to do something, or pause to think out a new clause--practically like punctuation. (Though admittedly I'm using a Mac, where the little cloverleaf button is easier to get to. The command-s function on Windows systems is certainly more annoying to me.)

This also, from experience, cuts down on the number of times I have to re-enter the code due to time-outs; though not absolutely. (It also depends on where I’m reading the comment to which I’m replying: have I already hit the ‘comment’ button and am reading and writing my reply on that screen? There’s almost certainly going to be a time-out. Incidentally I usually forget this. {g} Though as it happens I’m reading your comment and composing my reply while looking at the first comment screen this time, somewhat by accident: I haven’t trained myself successfully to remember this factor yet.)

I also try to look at the repetition as a positive opportunity to re-think whether I really want to put up what I just wrote. Was I being too sarcastic? Too hasty? Not fair enough to the other side? Too protective of my side? Etc. (Sometimes the answers to those are still ‘yes’, unfortunately. {lopsided g} But that’s why I make a point of putting the repetition of the code entry to some kind of good use. Though there are times when my dander is up enough that I disregard that opportunity anyway. This is not a good thing, but I can’t deny that it happens.)

JRP

Exterm,

{{Still, to imply that Christianity in some manifestation was not a huge obstacle to Galileo's work would be a distortion of history.}}

Good thing I didn’t imply that then. {g} On the contrary, I’m pretty sure I actually ramped up the issues in some way: didn’t I mention (in more than one reply) a bloody civil war was on the ground and scaling up, “largely fueled” (my own phrase) by what easily amounts to “Christianity in some manifestation”? And didn’t I emphasize (in more than one reply) that there were in fact some issues of Christian orthodoxy compared to alternative philosophical positions at stake in what happened with Galileo?

Offhand I can think of at least six “manifestations of Christianity” that I mentioned as playing a key part in what happened with Galileo. (Maybe eight.) I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be implying that Christianity “in some manifestation was not a huge obstacle to Galileo’s work” thereby, much less “distorting history”. Meanwhile, Galileo thought neo-Platonic Christianity was helping him just fine. {g!} And that manifestation eventually won out, partly thanks to Galileo. (For a while. Mechanistic Christianity eventually supplanted both neo-Platonistic and Aristotelian versions.)

{{Regardless of whatever other factors have been at work, there has almost always been a religious rationale used to hinder, or indeed punish, advances in human knowledge.}}

If you think people who insist on doing this won’t use secular rationales just as quickly, when it’s readily available for that very use, then you weren’t paying much attention in modern world history class. It’s true that secularists in power won’t be looking to a higher authority to justify any totalitarian control of science (or anything else) they feel like instigating for their own self-protection. Neither will they have any chance at all, though, of believing that a higher authority than they are is telling them “HELL NO!” to some similar scheme.

In any case, I’m a metaphysican primarily: I’m interested in inferring and applying principle truths. One result of which is that I happen to believe in original sin, which disinclines me to expect that any system of human government can be trusted very far to make beneficial use of any power at hand (including religious authority. And including myself, not-incidentally.)


{{Can you find many verses in either the old or new testament -- and feel free to throw in the Apocrypha as well -- in which the god character or Jesus or any other spokesman for the deity encourages humans to increase their knowledge of the natural world?}}

The Jewish and Christian scriptures are typically more interested in coherent (and incoherent) interpersonal relationships than in getting to know the natural world. From the first chapter of the very first book of the collection, though, humans have been commanded to shepherd the natural creations of God; as well as to help God bring order to the world (including subduing rebel agents of chaos, where appropriate). This gets muffed in English translations, unfortunately. Any shepherd will tell you that only a lazy steward who doesn’t care for his sheep refuses to learn as much as he can about them, largely so that he can help them--though admittedly also so he can eat them. (This is why analogies aren’t supposed to be pressed too far.) In village life, such a shepherd quickly goes out of business (and maybe starves). In the spiritual life, the lazy and uncharitable servant who abuses those put under his care, gets routinely zorched by God in the end, sooner or later, one way or another.

So, before we even get to chapter 3, God is requiring humans to do something that itself necessarily requires study of nature for increasing knowledge of it. Which, incidentally, gets neatly portrayed in chapter 2 when God makes little simulacra of animals and brings them before Adam for naming.

Not surprisingly, then, when chapter 3 arrives, it isn’t the Tree of Knowledge that is put off limits. It’s the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s a very specific kind of knowledge, and not one usually regarded as being representative of the natural world. Moreover, the story contexts make it clear enough that God intended for them to get knowledge of good and evil anyway. The only thing He didn’t want was for them to get that knowledge by what frankly amounts to willful irrationality and a refusal to trust someone Whom they had every reason (up to that point) to believe meant them well. They got the knowledge of good and evil by breaking their relationship with God for literally no good reason. They would have gotten it by keeping their relationship with the person whom they had every good reason, up to that point, to believe truly loved them, too. (Whether the story is taken as literal, figurative, or any mixture thereof, is irrelevant to this point.)

Once sin has interrupted the story, though, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising if broken and healing interpersonal relationships, among created persons and between created persons and God, becomes the overriding concern. Appreciation of non-personal nature happens along the way--as does misplaced worship of Nature personified (or inhabited by rebels). But the story isn’t primarily about enjoining the study of Nature. It’s about the grievous results of broken personal relationships, and the hope of healing those relationships--and the extreme difficulty involved in getting fallen humanity to slowly and fitfully learn to hope even for their enemies while not being overrun by worldviews not utlimately directed toward that hope.

Consequently, no: it is other religions, including around the Mediterranean (though hardly limited there) who end up emphasizing the study of the natural world so much--and who consequently, and to their good credit (as far as it goes), created the dazzling feats of the ancient world: some of which we still are unable to duplicate today with all our technology. (To take a random example, we still have no way to make cement castings of the sort that comprise the inner and outer stones of the Giza Pyramids. Ceramicists are baffled at how the ancient Egyptians managed to create uniform microspheres microns across--and if we could relearn to do that, it would utterly revolutionize our materials capability today.)

That kind of knowledge isn’t excluded in the Biblical story (except insofar as it is attached to depersonalizing worldviews or ones which promote the intoxication of humanity); but it isn’t what the authors are focused on. (Nor, to be fair, is it what the religious authors of ancient scientific and technocratic cultures are typically focused on!--even when they’re otherwise encouraging the achievement of power by scientific study and engineering.) One result of this is that the story is potentially accessible by cultures that have little to no technological interest; and it is just as accessible to cultures who have technological and scientific interests--so long as they’re willing to put persons, and interpersonal relationships, ahead of nonpersonal relationships.

On the other hand, it would be likely attacked by any culture that insisted on putting nonpersonal relationships ahead of personal ones; as would most religious cultures throughout the world (even ones that did promote science and technology.)

{{the bottom line, if your interpretation is not completely contorted, is essentially: ignorance is bliss.}}

Well, my interpretation does have the characteristic of keeping the story details and contexts in mind. {s} And respecting other religious traditions along the way, too, even when I principally disagree with them (sometimes strenuously so, at long and tediously technical detail. {hyperorthodox g!})

But I’ve been told before that this counts as being completely contorted, so you certainly wouldn’t be the first. {s}

JRP

Man, JRP, that's a long essay you've written there as a comment. I respect your erudition, but not everything you've said. So I'll try to respond to some of your points.

I think you did imply that Christianity was not a huge obstacle to Galileo's work. I'm not saying that you did that on purpose to obfuscate, or as a tactic to deflect the discussion. I don't think you did; you seem like someone actually interested in an exchange of ideas.

But in your focus on the philosophical conflicts within the Christian worldview, you brushed aside Christianity, itself, as an entity. I'm not denying that sectarian differences fed, to a great extent, the anti-scientific outcome. But these were all Christian sects, and their dispute, ultimately, was over interpretations of their religion. (I think you could make a good argument that their dispute, ultimately, was about power -- but they, themselves, brought their religion into the mix, and used it to create and bolster that power.)

So I think in looking as closely as you did at the various factors, you failed to point out that Christianity, in and of itself, was the primary culprit in not only Galileo's situation, but the entire mess that Europe had become. You said that indirectly, but not in so many words.

Now, I agree with you that all totalitarian systems, whether or not they're based on a belief in the Abrahamic god, will basically perform any atrocities to retain their authority. And to do so, they have to control science. I'd argue, however, that so-called secular totalitarianisms are merely religions that substitute the state, or a specific leader, or a philosophical system, for the Abrahamic god -- thereby creating another kind of god that demands blind faith of its followers. Speaking only for myself -- not any other atheists -- I consider all totalitarianisms to be religions in the sense I've described. I don't believe in any gods, be that anthropomorphasized characters, divine forces, or political entities.

you probably won't be surprised to know, in light of my last paragraph, that -- although I'm not a metaphysican, and I don't believe in "original sin" -- I do agree with you that no government can be trusted very far.

I think your readings of Genesis 1 and 2 are both real stretches. Giving someone dominion over another living thing does not necessarily imply that the dominator cares to learn about the creature over which he or she reigns. A smart shepherd, of course, would. But there's no command or request by the god character for humans to be smart -- or even to empathetic. Sorry. I'm not a scholar of ancient Hebrew, so I can't comment any further.

I was aware, of course, that the knowledge imparted, in the story, by the tree was of a limited nature, merely the distinction between good and evil. But why would a god want to limit knowledge in any way? We fallible humans do try to limit knowledge in our children, but why would a good god want to infantilize humans in perpetuity. The taboo of eating from the tree was doomed to failure from the first.

All that being said:
We've really digressed big-time from my original question to bk, which, as far as I'm concerned still goes unanswered: In what way can he (or you) support the claim that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world?

The Exterminator: "(I think you could make a good argument that their dispute, ultimately, was about power -- but they, themselves, brought their religion into the mix, and used it to create and bolster that power.)"

Sure, but the question here is about Christianity and science, right? Not about whether some people will use any excuse to get their way. Just because somebody happened to use atheism as an excuse to attack science wouldn't make you give up atheism (or science, I presume!).

You claim that Christianity "in and of itself" was responsible for Galileo's situation (and "the entire mess that Europe had become"), but you don't give any support for that. Isolated examples at best prove that individual people can get things wrong. That would only be a problem for Christianity itself if it claimed, for example, "Being Christian makes you infallible". (Hint: it doesn't. Heck, even the Pope doesn't claim to be infallible about scientific or political matters.) I'm also not sure if you're saying that Europe was "entirely messy" -- actually, it seems to have been thriving quite well -- but perhaps you just meant the parts that were messy were Christianity's fault. But to support that you'd need to cite some fundamental principle of Christianity, some direct Biblical passages, perhaps, that show that Christian belief requires the problem you're talking about.

Let's face, "Love thy neighbour as thyself" hardly explains these problems. In fact, such problems are generally explained by people not being Christian enough; i.e. they may claim to be, but they in fact are not following the principles of Christianity. Therefore, such examples suggest not that people should have been less Christian, but that they should have been more so.


"Speaking only for myself -- not any other atheists -- I consider all totalitarianisms to be religions in the sense I've described. I don't believe in any gods, be that anthropomorphasized characters, divine forces, or political entities."

Sure. Of course, atheism is a religion in the sense you've described too. That is, we're really talking about a philosophical worldview here -- not the wording of prayers, or what colour vestments your clergyman should wear for Easter, or whether you have to be facing east when you sacrifice the bull. The issue is about one's philosophy of ethics, of science, of politics, regardless of whether those philosophies include supernatural deities or not.

So we not only need to establish that there is some essential principle of Christian philosophy that is "bad" for science; we also need to explain how atheistic philosophy is "good" for science. (If we can't show that one is better than the other in this regard, then this whole discussion is rather moot.) Christians believe that the universe was created, deliberately, by an intelligent, ordering, law-giving mind, who wants us to behave in certain ways that require us to be able to reasonably predict things about how the world around us will react to our behaviour, and who has given man the intellectual and physical capacities to understand the natural world, along with the mandate to employ our faculties, to help each other and to seek the Truth. That certainly supports science, and the promotion thereof; you might even make a case that Christianity demands we engage in scientific enquiry. (Oh, and Christianity also discouraged magical pursuits, historically science's closest competitor, thus further driving scientific investigation.)
Atheists, in general, have no such founding principle from which to claim the universe has to make sense; or even that it's possible for it to make sense. What reason do atheists have to even believe in science in the first place? (And "it seems to work" is just begging the question. I'm curious as to reasons that don't just assume science as a starting point.)


"But there's no command or request by the god character for humans to be smart -- or even to empathetic. Sorry. I'm not a scholar of ancient Hebrew, so I can't comment any further. "

Fortunately, fluency in ancient Hebrew is not required. Again, basic knowledge of history shows that Judeo-Christian thought has always interpreted the Bible that way. Christian theologians and philosophers have always understood that "dominion" to be in terms of care and stewardship. Christians themselves may not have always acted that way, but again, that just indicates that the problem is that we need to be more Christian.




 "I was aware, of course, that the knowledge imparted, in the story, by the tree was of a limited nature, merely the distinction between good and evil. But why would a god want to limit knowledge in any way? We fallible humans do try to limit knowledge in our children, but why would a good god want to infantilize humans in perpetuity. The taboo of eating from the tree was doomed to failure from the first."

Ooh, indulging in a little Calvinist predestination, eh? (Heh.) Ignorance may not be bliss, but of course in context, that would have to be "ignorance of evil is bliss" -- which actually seems not to be a bad definition. Well, I think we may be confusing "abstract knowledge" with "experiential knowledge". God clearly did not desire man to experience evil; that doesn't mean he couldn't know it existed as a theoretical concept. (Indeed, to be culpable of sin, we must first be intellectually capable of understanding that something is wrong.)

"We've really digressed big-time from my original question to bk, which, as far as I'm concerned still goes unanswered: In what way can he (or you) support the claim that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world?"

BK and JRP have both addressed that directly, and I've summarised it above, but to summarise it even more: seeking truth is central to Christianity. Christ even identifies himself with Truth. Thus Christians have an impetus to pursue knowledge, to believe that there are such things as "laws of nature", and to believe that such truths can be known to man. The question is, if you don't believe that the universe was deliberately ordered, or if you don't believe that man's faculties were designed to be honest and accurate senses, or if you don't believe that truth is a moral imperative, etc., then how can science progress (assuming it gets started in the first place)?


-David

Exterm,

Sorry for the delay--I have many projects in the fire (both writing and at ‘work’ work which actually pays me {g}), so I have to make rounds when I can. I had intended to get back to you earlier this week, but ended up having to wait until Saturday; and then I was sick.

{{Man, JRP, that's a long essay you've written there as a comment.}}

You should see some of my other comments, then. {g!} It could have been much worse.

{{But in your focus on the philosophical conflicts within the Christian worldview, you brushed aside Christianity, itself, as an entity.}}

I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to have brushed it aside as an entity while focusing on philosophical conflicts within it. Moreover, I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to have brushed it aside as an entity when I went to a lot of effort (in more than one comment) to contrast the technical implications of a known particular concern of Galileo’s (specifically mentioned by me) with orthodox Christian doctrine, which contrast (I specifically said) was still relevant to religion/science conflicts today--under very particular philosophical circumstances.

These (and my mention of the internecine Christian war ramping up, as a key factor), count as “brushing aside Christianity”, how?

{{But these were all Christian sects, and their dispute, ultimately, was over interpretations of their religion.}}

Yes, and I went into great detail about this. I certainly didn’t hide it!

I think perhaps you were expecting me to be doing something else than what I actually did do. {s} And it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to locate the primary difference between us (aside from level of detail {g}), on a reread of my material. I was pretty direct about that, too. (Hint: it has to do with the phrase “pure science” or cognates thereof.)

{{I'd argue, however, that so-called secular totalitarianisms are merely religions that substitute the state, or a specific leader, or a philosophical system, for the Abrahamic god}}

I don’t disagree with this. I do however emphasize that science is worked within philosophy (as is religion, frankly, even when people don’t realize it, pro or con.) Putting “science” up in that place not only won’t be any better in risk of abuse by the people who are doing it, it will be elevating concern for non-personal relationships over-above concern for personal relationships--while also ignoring (if history is any teacher of expectations) the philosophical concepts intrinsically connected to this ideological movement, especially when those become inconvenient.

{{Giving someone dominion over another living thing does not necessarily imply that the dominator cares to learn about the creature over which he or she reigns.}}

True, and I never said it did. I did say that if the dominator (steward would be a better translation) doesn’t care to learn about the creature over which he or she reigns, then he or she won’t be very effective at properly shepherding that creature; moreover, insosfar as the largescale story contexts go, the steward will be punished by God eventually, sooner or later, for being a lazy and/or uncharitable steward in regard to that which was put under the steward’s care.

(As an ironic aside, the tendency of people who nominally accept the scriptures to under-report the intentions involved here, can be illustrated by the habit of translating the Greek verb 'to shepherd' to 'rule' or some less overtly caring verb, when rendering the 19th chapter of RevJohn. Apparently, if they left it 'shepherd', the scene would be too obviously intended to be a fulfillment of the end of the Shepherd's Psalm, and gosh we can't have that being true about those heinous enemies of God over there about to get their butts kicked! {wry g})

{{But there's no command or request by the god character for humans to be smart}}

As if we actually needed one?! We already have that power (in the story it’s created into us), and we’re already going to be exercising it, simply in living as persons (instead of non-persons), according to our individual and corporate abilities. The relevant issue isn’t smartness, but how principly to use whatever skill of intelligence we have. Since Judeo-Christianity, like most religions (even among ancient scientific/technocratic cultures), is primarily concerned with interpersonal relationships, the Wisdom injunctions in the scriptures (which are plentiful) are typically concerned with (putting it a bit technically) increasing operational efficiency between persons. (Or less technically, it’s like trying to teach a herd of wild cats over multiple generations to play nice with each other. Not going to happen immediately, and there will probably be significant setbacks along the way. Moreover, even little successful advancements are likely to look like negatives compared to any major progress we’ve gained since then: why can’t they just warp ahead and be like us!? Because that speed of progress isn’t realistic when dealing with free-willed creatures in highly complex and dynamic cultural situations; especially if we’re currently operating under some kind of hereditary intrinsic personality handicap.)

{{But why would a god want to limit knowledge in any way?}}

You mean, why would a god (or anyone) want to limit the gaining of the knowledge of good and evil to only gaining it by doing what is both loving and most rational, instead of gaining it by doing what is both most willfully distrustful and irrational?

Those are the story contexts; and you’re leaving them out when you asked your question. (After I bothered to mention them, too.)

As to the answer: it would depend on whether the god was the orthodox Christian God or not. Does all existence, including our own, depend upon the personally coherent action of an interpersonal unity? If so, then our personal interactions, with God (I’m capping both the term as a name use, and as a technical ontological distinction) and with each other, would be such that to intentionally act in a selfishly competitive (not to say also willfully irrational) fashion, would be to act against the source of our own life. That can’t be good for us in any way: and that kind of God would take some kind of action to put the issue and the danger in some way that could be understood by the people of the time. Perhaps even “if you eat of the fruit of this tree, you will die”. But beginning to instruct them in the risks involved does bring up the risk: they could choose to go one way or the other. They’d get the knowledge of good and evil either way; God simply doesn’t want them to get it in a fashion that will hurt them. But they’re real children, not puppets, too.

Now, if the orthodox Christian God isn’t true, then the answer would be at least a little (and maybe a lot) different. Ask an apologist for some other kind of theism about that. {s}

{{In what way can he (or you) support the claim that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world?}}

I haven’t bothered trying to discuss this yet, because I wouldn’t have put it that way myself, for many technical and historical reasons. In order to discuss the issue, I would have to rewrite it substantially, and not necessarily in a way that would look so immediately favorable to Christianity.

Is our tremendous growth in science and technology the result of the firm beliefs that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world? I think the answer as a historical fact is not only indisputably yes but is not in dispute even by people (largely secular scientists nowadays) who have tried to principly surrender the claim science can lead to actual knowledge about the universe.

Can growth in science and technology be done (at least as effectively, if not at all!) without the belief that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world? I find on analysis that the answer to this is ‘no’; and I also find that even people who dissent about us being able to discover actual knowledge about the world via science still agree that we can only proceed if we act as if this was true. Which to me seems suspicious. {g} But that’s a whole other large debate.

Is the belief that the universe is knowable and that ‘scientia’ (as it used to be called) can lead to actual knowledge about the world, coherently part of an orthodox Christian worldview? Yes, it is, for technical reasons I won’t go into here.

Are there and have there been worldviews where this has been denied? Yes, as a matter of historical fact, there have been, ancient and modern (including, not-incidentally, some factions of Christianity. But also including, also not-incidentally and far more pertinently to current debates, some atheistic and agnostic factions. We Christians had our debates on this centuries ago and came out in favor of it. Not-incidentally, this happened at about the time we were first developing modern scientific procedures in the West, and led directly into it, which is the main technical and historical reason for the claim that Christianity birthed modern science--though I also stress that that claim can be pushed far too far. Those same medievalists would have gladly and correctly affirmed that the great pagan Greek and Roman thinkers were in various ways very much on the ball, and the medieval Christians learned from them both copiously and with humility. As did the medieval Muslims and Jews, for that matter.)

Are firm beliefs that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge only possible to hold in a Christian worldview? Not that I can tell; certainly not as a matter of historical fact.

Which worldview, though, best coheres in its technical claims (aside from historical practices pro or con), with the rational discovery of facts to conclusions, including in scientific operations? Well, I happen to be writing a series on that right now in the Journal (though it’s on temporary hiatus while I finish up the KoS entries). You’re welcome to start at the first entry here and follow along as I go: I have a lot of positive things to say in favor of non-Christians along the way. I’ll be picking up weekly entries again later this month, or early April perhaps; habitually I’ve been posting them Friday mornings, and I plan to continue with that. Anyone is welcome to make comments as I go, though so far commentary has been sparse.

JRP

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