The curse of religion

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The curse of religion

That religious leaders have joined forces on euthanasia is not surprising – favouring dogma over kindness is standard fare

  • AC Grayling

News that the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols and the chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, have joined forces in a campaign to prolong the sufferings of those incurably or terminally ill – by opposing a change in the law that would decriminalise those who accompany anyone who goes to Switzerland in search of help to die – comes as no surprise. A preference for dogma over kindness, for superstition-based moralism over humaneness, is standard fare for religion, as history too loudly attests.

Nevertheless it obliges one, wearily and with distaste, to return to the question of religion in the public domain. One would of course like to see humankind wake up from the sleep of reason that enables religious beliefs and the institutions built on them to persist. One would like a remark like Sir Harry Kroto‘s “the only mistake Bernie Madoff made was to promise returns in this life” to startle everyone into a great shout of laughter that would strip away the pretensions of religion and lay bare its absurdity and poverty. But while the man-made curse of religion exists, the question of what archbishops and rabbis do in the way of trying to subvert the ethical maturation of humankind has to be addressed.

So I repeat: in a free society people must be allowed to believe what they like, even stupid, ignorant and absurd things, provided they do no harm to others. Religious organisations have every right to exist and have their say, just as any other self-selected, self-constituted interest group does, such as trade unions and political parties. But religious organisations have to recognise that they are such groups, and nothing more than such groups – that they are civil society organisations like trade unions, existing to protect and promote their own interests – and although they have the same rights, they do not have any greater rights.

And here is the problem: the religions think they have much greater rights than anyone or anything else – rights to be heard, to be exempt from laws, to be awarded special privileges, to be given our tax money to run their own schools, to have representatives in the House of Lords (26 bishops plus all those retired bishops and archbishops who are now life peers), to be given hours and hours of air time on publicly funded radio every week, to have charitable status, to have their hospital chaplains paid for by the public purse, and so on and endlessly on, getting a huge slice of the pie out of all proportion to the realities: which – as an indication of the overall picture – are that about 3% of the population go to Church of England services every Sunday, less than 10% of the population going weekly to any church, temple, mosque or synagogue. And the state goes along with it!

How can this be tolerable? All religious organisations should be relegated to the status of private self-selected and self-constituted NGOs like trade unions and other lobby groups, should survive on what money they can raise from their adherents, should have the same and no more than the same rights and entitlements as any other such organisation and should stop getting privileges, money and an amplification for their views (views, never forget, derived from the beliefs of illiterate goat-herds in ancient times) from government.

What would we think if the Labour party or Conservative party received taxpayers’ money to run Labour party or Conservative party schools to teach 3- and 4-year-olds their party principles? Or astrologers, crystal gazers, voodoo merchants, druids, witches – all self-described and self-selected as such, and all parti-pris in their own way?

Let us note how the archbishops and rabbi stand together to block progress towards more humane laws. Technically, of course, each archbishop is doctrinally obliged to regard the other one and the rabbi as one or more of heretic, infidel or apostate; their organisations spent most of history fighting, persecuting and executing each other; indeed all religions have to regard all other religions as getting it wrong and misleading their votaries.

But when the religions are after a common goal, as with getting our tax money for their faith-based schools, or exemption from discrimination laws, or seats in parliament, they are a united front. This used to be called hypocrisy, but no doubt modern theology has come up with a convoluted polysyllable to redefine it.

Not that a new name helps much; rubbish smells as bad no matter what you call it.

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46 thoughts on “The curse of religion

  1. bobbygee
    The bible does not say anything – it cannot talk.
    The bible is a lot of scriptures about hearsay evidence.
    It is words about gods and not the “word of god”.

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  2. Great article !

    Yes, the bilble is a book just like the tanakh and the qu’ran or any other holy book, myth or superstition. (reckon the greek, roman, egyptian mythology)

    Yes, religion is all man-made so let’s drop the stupidity and the outdated rules and let’s evolve in this 21st century. It’s about time!

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  3. Reading this article one comes to the realisation that the ravine separating the atheist and the theist is unbreachable. The leaders of the latter are a disgrace to humankind. I am not a prophet, but I will not be surprised if the likes of these assholes will be prosecuted in the not too distant future.

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  4. McBrolloks, I must thank you for these articles on religious abuse. I am a South African and we don’t read these in our newspapers, definitely not in the Afrikaans ones. The Afrikaaner is rife with the god-meme and Bible-thumping-indoctrinating-child-abuse poluting their minds almost from birth is sickening to see.

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  5. Thanks for the article. I’m not an Anglican; I’m an American Reformed Protestant, so I’m something of an outsider to this discussion. Please allow an observation or two and possibly a question. First observation, there’s plenty to loathe and oppose in human religion, easily granted. The CoE is no exception to this (nor is my corner of the vineyard). Second, England is historically a Christian country with an established church, like it or not. That’s why it’s reasonable to have publicly funded (with which I generally disagree, incidentally) Christian schools, while “astrologers, crystal gazers, voodoo merchants, druids, witches” etc. wouldn’t have public funding. Finally, it’s amusing to me to read atheists get all worked up about public monies spend in the propagation of Christian thought, when so much more money is spent (certainly through schools) in the opposition of Christianity and in the propagation of modern atheistic philosophies and world views.

    Question: I can understand your detestation of religion, but can you not see that the culture/civilization built by Christianity is far superior to that built by any other world view? Whether we’re talking about ancient druidism or Islam, Aztec or Marxist culture, Christian has produced a vastly superior culture. In fact, it’s that very culture (or the vestiges of it) that allows you to publish against it. Don’t overlook that impressive fact. Try publishing anti-Soviet writings in Moscow in 1919 – those kind-hearted atheists would turn you into a smudge on the pavement. Similarly, try publishing against Islam in Saudi Arabia. Christianity (with all it’s faults) is by far the best at generating liberty and justice, but it’s a work in progress.

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  6. Tim Prussic wrote: ” ..much more money is spent (certainly through schools) in the opposition of Christianity and in the propagation of modern atheistic philosophies and world views.”

    and: “Christianity (with all it’s faults) is by far the best at generating liberty and justice, but it’s a work in progress.”

    Not in South Africa. The time (and thus money) spent on Christian indoctrination in the schools is sickening, as well as the intimidation against scholars who do not want to participate in Christian activities. Christianity producing liberty and justice in South Africa just didn’t happen. From the pulpit the justification of apartheid oppression was preached to white South Africans. For reason to set in needed worldwide sanctions and political pressure; the church was just followers and most definitely not leaders. So what has changed today so that we in South Africa should look at religion for guidance? Not a damn thing.

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  7. With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

    Steven Weinberg, quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999

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  8. Savage, I’m not condoning any particular “Christian” action or opinion. I’m right with you that many Christians do terrible things. Christianity actually focuses on that a real problem. My comment, to which you responded, was on the overall freedom and justice generated by Christianity is greater than the overall freedom and justice generated by other major worldviews, religions and philosophies. Granted, quantification isn’t easy, but an honest view of history from 30,000 feet is compelling enough. Steven Weinberg’s comment is unfair and narrow… he must be very religious; most anti-religious folks are. Eric V.’s comment is merely amusing.

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  9. Tim Prussic I fail to see how you can justify your comment that “the overall freedom and justice generated by Christianity is greater than the overall freedom and justice generated by other major worldviews, religions and philosophies.”

    Christians waged war against Islam for more than 400 years. The crusades were justified by faith and conducted against enemies defined by religious and political elites who perceived Muslims as threats to the Christian faithful.

    How many Christians were not tortured and killed during the inquisition because someone high in the church’s hierarchy decided who was and was not unfaithful to the Christian cause?

    It is now more than 1000 years after the first crusade and God is still out there on the battlefield. If you have God on your side then any killing is sanctified. That is what the Muslims thought when they flew aeroplanes into the World trade Centre and Pentagon in 2001.

    How many people have been killed in God’s name?

    And I can go on and on.

    No, I stand by my opinion; religion is evil to the core, with very little freedom and justice allowed.

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  10. Counter examples are easy and you pick the easiest of them. Well done. For every wickedness propagated by Christians, I can offer a wonders and blessings done by Christians. Will you deny that? If so, there’s no where for us to go. What I’m saying is that the culture and civilization generated by Christianity – you know, like, the one in which you’re living; the one that allows you great self-expression and the freedom to criticize the VASTLY dominant religious position without worry of reprisal – yeah, that one – is better than other options. We’ve seen what happens when atheists try to run things – French and Russian Revolutions with successive atrocities are broad and clear enough… not a lot of freedom or justice to be found in there.

    Christianity has either given us or significantly added to the following: modern medicine and science, representative government, market capitalism, impartial justice systems, religious freedom (the kind this blog enjoys), and beer – just to name a few things that you and I both enjoy.

    Religion, in that people use it to cloak horrible things, is absolutely no different than politics, nationalism, philosophy, and ideas generally. Are you, Savage, willing to say that all these things are evil to the core, too? If not, why the inconsistency? Are you simply angry?

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  11. Tim Prussic, I am not angry. I am just realistic. Christianity has given the world neither modern medicine nor science. It was humankind’s quest to explain how Nature works that gave us these. The church did not like new discoveries; Galileo was placed under house arrest and Bruno burned at the stake when they dared to support and prove Copernicus’ heliocentric theory. Even today the well proven evolution and big bang theories are discarded by fundamentalist Christians. Evolution is the foundation on which biology is built and it is essential to understand the theory in order to design modern medicines. I fail to see where Christianity has contributed an iota to the scientific method.

    Many secular states (Scandinavia for instance) have very representative governments and free market systems; where has Christianity contributed? Impartial justice systems were already in practice during the Greek and Roman civilisations, without any help from Christianity. If a country is predominantly religious, and has all these modern world systems in place, it does not mean that religion is the cause of same.

    The communist system did horrible things to its people not because the leaders were atheists, but because they wanted to enforce a doctrine whatever it took. It is like saying physics is bad because look what happened with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Power corrupts and politicians and ideologists used Nature to assist with the killings.

    Humankind I think is basically good. But wherever leaders want to restrict freedom of thought by force, you get, for instance, a nation like the Germans (who produced people like Beethoven, Kant, Gauss, Einstein) to be led by a raving lunatic towards total destruction. Now the Intelligent Design proponents claim Hitler believed in Darwinism and that is the reason the atrocities were committed. What utter nonsense.

    If you could give a few examples how Christianity has contributed to what you claim it has, I would perhaps understand your argument better.

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  12. To correctly uninformed notions of the history of science and Christianity, please start with _History of Science: Antiquity to 1700_ by L. Principe of Johns Hopkins U – not a conservative Christian bastion! You can get the series of lectures from the Teaching Company at your local library. I know you’ll be amazed. Also, ancient bars of justice will be found quite wanting by modern conceptions (read: conceptions influenced by Christianity)… the trial of Socrates is an easy example.

    You make the classic mistake of seeing the FRUITS of Christian culture in the far more recent guise of secularism and pretend as though the fruits came from secular stock. Say, Savage, was there any particular religion in Scandinavia that’s been dominant for the last millennium? The United States is a secular government, but like Scandinavia, is rooted clearly in Christian culture. THAT is specifically what I’m arguing above. Christian culture is (not perfect, but) superior. You’re actually making my argument for me… thanks!

    Your paragraph including human atrocities of the USSR, nucs on Japan, and political murders is immediately followed up with: “Humankind I think is basically good.” My friend, you had A LOT to account for if you think humanity is basically good. Humanity clearly entails the best and the worst, for which Christianity can account. As to the social effects of Darwinism, they are dramatic and Hitler’s only one account. They’re bad.

    Speaking of bad, (and this is probably far more important) on what basis do you have to make ANY moral judgments whatever? When did morality evolve, and why is an evolved morality at all binding on anyone? On your view of men and things, who cares if Stalin murdered millions of people? They’re just cell matter and protoplasm, right? Poking a hole in that is neither right nor wrong – no more than eating a grape. Moral judgments in a atheistic, evolutionary view of the world have no meaning (except for by fickle social agreement). Yet, curiously, you speak as if they did…

    On the Christian view, those people are made in God’s image, which is to be protected. Also, God (who’s ultimate) says: “You shall not murder,” so I have an ultimate standard by which to make moral judgments. Christianity makes sense of morality, even if Christians themselves fall short of the standard. Christianity actually has a standard that rationally flows from it’s basic view of the world. Atheism does not. So, quit stealing from my worldview!

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  13. Tim Prussic you have given me a long list to read instead of giving me one example why you claim Christianity has given us science and modern medicine. Why are scientists then predominantly atheists if you are correct? Science and Christianity are separated by an unbreachable ravine and that ravine is getting deeper and wider. Science explains Nature; no God is required anymore.

    To blame Darwin for social Darwinism is a folly; one the United States also made in the early 20th century. It is like blaming science and chemistry for the millions killed in the 1st world war by means of mustard gas.

    You say people are made in God’s image. But nowhere ever has anybody seen God; he was dreamt up by an ancient desert tribe and someone who still believes in those stories have a very uncritical mind.

    Lastly, you say Christianity makes sense of morality. That is another fallacious statement. Since when are atheists amoral, per se? Atheists are just as moral or amoral as the next person. And since when have Christians “a standard that rationally flows from it’s basic view of the world”? What view? The view that justified the crusades? Or has scripture changed over the years and killing peoples of other faiths is now wrong.

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  14. Savage, examples abound and the fact that you make me site them indicates that you have not and will not do wth work to verify your claims. Your set up is like a hanging curveball… this one’s going to the upper deck.

    First, who’s the single most influential scientist of the past, say, 500 years?All modern mechanics, physics, astronomy is indebted to the Christian named Isaac Newton. Not only was he a first-rate scientist, but a thoroughly dedicated Christian and even a theologican in his own right.

    Second, you site the church’s opposition to Galileo. The problem is that no one here is on your side. This is an intramural contest between a Christian and his church. Galileo’s not on your side.. he’s on mine. Newton and Galileo together form quite the foundation for modern science. No atheism to be found… just Chrsitianity.

    Third, Bacon is codifier of the scientific method itelf. Bacon was a Christian.

    Savage, I’m honestly embarrased that I have to list these people for you: Kepler, Decartes, Boyle… any familiar scientific names here? All Christians. “But,” you might cut in, “these are all Renaissance and Enlighenment figures.” First, these figures built on and modified the worldview handed them from Medieval Christianity and GAVE US modern science. Modern science is a gift from Christianity… **and you’re welcome.**

    Throw a couple more modern Christian scientists in so you don’t feel lonely here in hallowed modernity: Kelvin, Louis Pasteur, Einstein (sub-Christian, but still a theist), Robert Boyd, and Oxford’s own John Lennox.

    All the scientists draw on the worldview of Christianity (as do their atheist colleagues) to do science. Savage, your thinking is very provincial and you’d do well to check some fact before maligning wholesale a religion like Christianity for being “against” science. QED.

    I’ll address the rest of your post later on… gotta do lunch.

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  15. The folly of blaming Darwin for social darwinism: I never committed that such foolishness. The vast atrocities of social d’ism are undeniable. That social d’ism is darwinistic thought applied to social issues is also undeniable (in the same way that medieval Christian ideas were at play [along with a whole lot of politicing] in the Crusades. Darwinistic thinking (not Darwin himself) is partially at the root of (or, better, is the stated justification for) an impressive list of modern atrocities, and that accusation is no folly.

    ———————————————————————————

    As to the more important issue of morality, I’m fairly certain I’ve not communicated myself clearly. Savage, if you please, read this part very closely, as I’m probably not asserting what you think I am.

    What I’m NOT asserting: atheists are inherently immoral people, Christians are always shiney moral folks, atheists are big jerks (morally speaking) all the time, etc. I believe that all peopel are created in God’s image are are therefore inescapably moral, as God is a moral being. Thus, on my view of things, you and I are both moral beings, as is everyone else. Okay, so we’re clear on what I’m not after.

    What I am asserting: Christianity provides a clear moral standard that’s binding and coherent; atheism cannot provide a clear moral standard that’s binding and coherent. I’ll take a minute to go back and show the roots that necessarily provide a clear and binding moral standard. Afterward, I’ll work with your worldview and show that the roots there do not and never could provide a clear and binding moral standard.

    Christianity begins with the ultimate and absolute Creator, himself uncreated, infinite, and eternal. Everything else derives its existence from Him. He revelaed himself into this creation, preeminently through the prophets of old, which revelation is codified in the Bible. Humanity is a special creation of God, which he made in his image, which includes morality. God, who is good and moral, has laid the charge upon humanity to be good and moral. God, who is communicative, has revealed his standard of morality in laws the Bible. Christian morality, within its own framework of reality, is tied to the absolute Root of existence and is univerally binding. When God issues moral commands, they’re binding on all moral beings, whom He made and from whom he righly requires obedience. Christian morality is clear: the Bible’s moral commandments are written in stone (literally) and are unchanged. It’s choerent in that it flows from the basis of the worldview; its derived from the absolute, moral Creator. It’s binding in that, based upon the already stated premises, humanity is necessarily moral, being made in God’s image.

    An atheistic materialist (and please do correct me if I’m wrong) begins with two things: matter and motion. As Sagan put it, “The cosmos is all that is or all that ever will be,” that is, this matter in motion is it, period. Over a very, very, very long time humanity developed as a process of time and change on random mutations. Morality, at best, within this system can be nothing more than a non-binding agreement between people or groups of people. Morality, thus, is not clear, as it’s subject to constant change. Morality, on the atheistic materialistic worldview, cannot be rationally binding – who cares what this or that group of people thought? Finally, any positing of real or absolute morality is completely incoherent. We’re matter in motion, so what could possbily be REALLY right or wrong?

    Quick case study: The Crusades (your supposed whipping boy for Christians). Based upon my worldview’s clear, binding, and coherent morality, I abhor the Crusades. Those Christians were acting unchristianly. Based upon your worldview, there’s really nothing to hate: First, it’s just matter in motion – neither ultimtely right nor wrong. Second, those guys were just doing what they thought was right. They lived in their morality and what do you have to say about their morality? What makes their notions of morality better or worse than yours? Basically, why the hell would they or anyone else care about what you think?

    The above excercise was not intended to “prove” Christian morality, but to demonstrate that atheistic materialistic morality is unclear, unbinding, and incoherent – thus, entirely inadequate. Christian morality, by contrast, is clear, binding and coherent. It is adequate and inescapable, and is usually used by all (at leat in part), even by people who oppose it.

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  16. Savage, I’ve not yet taken the time to read those links, but I will try to get to them this afternoon. Be careful not to assign too much, as I will try to keep up!

    This will be of great interest to both of us: http://www.collisionmovie.com/

    The Christian argues very much from my view point, and I’m sure you know Hitchens. It’d be fun to get the two of us together with a six pack and watch this!!

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  17. Tim Prussic I’ll start with your “Christianity begins with the ultimate and absolute Creator, himself uncreated, infinite, and eternal. Everything else derives its existence from Him. He revelaed himself into this creation. ……..”

    As I said in my previous post: you have no proof that any of the many gods exist. The Christian god was created by an ancient desert-trotting tribe and you still believe this crap. Where is your proof that there was a god that created the universe? You have none. So your premise on which you build all your arguments is false, so start again.

    Scientists like Newton were indeed religious but it was not religion that gave the insight into the calculus, it was his enquiry mind to describe how nature works that did the trick. The reason scientists in the 17th and 18th centuries were religious was due to the fact that the natural world was still a much undiscovered entity, and with religious indoctrination rife in daily life, it was easy to believe that “god-did-it” wherever something was still unknown.

    This all started to change in the 19th century. Since Darwin described evolution, Einstein described relativity, and Bohr the quantum, the natural world fell in place. No gods were needed anymore because Nature could be understood scientifically. Members of the National Academy of Science, America’s elite group of scientists, are 85% non-theist. And because of the well defined description of evolution by molecular biology, over 90% of evolutionary biologists are non-theist. It is not difficult to see why. Evolution explains where we came from so why believe in a fictitious man-created being that nobody has ever seen. The logic is so simple that it is mind blowing that people like you still walk through life with blinkers on.

    The rest of your paragraph is just the normal unproven religious nonsense. “..being made in God’s image.” Where is your scientific proof? (Don’t use the Bible because humankind thought that one out.) And you still have not shown me where I can see God, as I also cannot show you gremlins and elves.

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  18. Tim Prussic you just don’t seem to get it, do you? “First, these figures built on and modified the worldview handed them from Medieval Christianity and GAVE US modern science. Modern science is a gift from Christianity.”

    Absolute nonsense! What is science? Science explains the natural world. Scientists made the discoveries through the centuries because they used the scientific method, which is:

    1. Observation.
    2. Hypothesis.
    3. Experimentation.
    4. Accepting the hypothesis which then becomes a theory; or modification of the hypothesis; or rejection of the hypothesis.

    This is an ongoing process; Einstein showed that Newton was only correct within certain limits and he remodelled the theory of gravity; and also formulated space-time. How you see Christianity’s hand in science only you will know. I must say Christians are the most bigoted lot you can find, usurpers of ideas that have absolutely no connection to their doctrine.

    You also try to put Einstein in the religious camp; well try again. This is what Einstein said:

    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

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  19. Taken backwards: Einstein was a theist – following something of Spinoza’s view of things – an impersonal, diestic God. Good enough. As I said, sub-Christian, but a far cry from your sort: “Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe- a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble.”

    Evidently, we’re talking past each other a good bit. I’ll try to restate what I was after above and try again – becuase I’m patient.

    I’m NOT trying to prove my asserted worldview. I’m trying first to show that the materialistic atheistic worldview is entirely incapable to accounting for the world as we encounter it. I’ve chosen the specific area of morality to do that. Again: I’m NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT trying to prove Chrsitianity is right or true when it comes to morals; [Read closely:]I’m trying to show that, based on what’s presupposed by Christianity, it offers a clear, consistent/coherent, and binding morality. I’m trying to show, by contrast, that, based upon what’s presupposed by materialistic atheism, it does not and cannot offer a clear, coherent, and binding morality. Are we clear?

    If you come back with “you’re asserting all sorts of bigoted nonsense,” we have to be done, as you’re clearly not even reading what I’ve written. I love engaging with people. Being a close-minded bigot, I love other people and other ideas, but cannot justify the time when folks won’t engage. So much for the morality conversation. I’ll readdress the issue of science in the next post.

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  20. As to the history of science, I’ve offered some incontrovertable evidence that Christians (acting as *consistent* Christians) developed what’s become know as modern science. You’ve managed to ignore all of that and ascribe that an unaccounted-for need to know. I agree with the human need to know (which we don’t really find in other animals), and I can account for it! Based upon the nature of humanity (according to the Bible), I absolutely expect humanity (not just Christians) to be curious about themselves, the world, and God. However, I shouldn’t expect evolved goo to be particularly interested. It’s tough to explain HOW that happened, eh?

    You wrote, “Christianity has given the world neither modern medicine nor science. It was humankind’s quest to explain how Nature works that gave us these.” In answer to you, I detailed how modern science was handed down to us by Christians. You cannot dispute that. You simply try to read back YOUR notions of no-God-in-the-picture science back to these men, and continued to lay all that discovery at the feet of some nebulous need to know. These men all wanted to know what they understood as GOD’s creation largely to know God better. This you simply identify as pre-modern superstition. Good enough: I know what you think of Christianity, but that’s not the issue at hand. Can’t you just admit that Christians acting in complete conformity to their Christianity laid the foundation for modern science? For some reason, you won’t even give that much. Of course, it wouldn’t be because of close-minded bigotry, would it? Nope… that’s only a religious disease.

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  21. Srinivasa Ramanujan was a Hindu mathematician who made substantial contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions. Hindu mathematicians, from Vedic times to the modern age have been in the forefront of making seminal contributions in the field of mathematics. And mathematics is the language of science.

    Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman was a Hindu physicist whose work on the molecular scattering of light and for the discovery of the Raman effect, which is named after him, earned him a Nobel prize. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, another Hindu physicist, won a Nobel prize for his work in the theoretical structure and evolution of stars.

    I could go on and on. Chinese scientists, Japanese scientists, (many Nobel laureates amongst them) all making significant contributions to modern science and thus our modern way of living. None of these countries are even remotely Christian. Then you have the gall to say Christianity gave us modern science. That is just your opinion and you have not shown that without Christianity there would have been no science. You have also not answered my question: “Why are most prominent scientists today (and for the last 150 years) atheists?” My answer was that science describes Nature and thus with Evolution, Relativity and Quantum Theory, no gods are required anymore.

    Christianity contributed absolutely nothing towards science and the scientific method. It was the scientists who did it and centuries ago they just happened to be Christians. Today scientists are atheists but science goes on. Modern science today includes quantum computers, nanotechnology, genomic research, to name just a few. These scientific research programs will lead to more modern life styles. Where is Christianity contributing towards today’s science, and why should it be different from the past.

    But you keep on harping that, because 17th and 18th century scientists were Christians, it proves Christianity was responsible for modern science. Your premise is wrong. What about the non-Christian countries’ scientists contributing to modern science?

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  22. I’ll answer your question directly, Savage. Why is modern science rife with atheism? That’s the current playground of unbelief. It’s the flavor of the century. I don’t dispute that atheism and unbelief have made great strides in the last 150 years. When atheism takes over the public educational venues, it tends to produce according to its own kind.

    Two mistakes I’ll address:

    1) You seem to think that my thinking is that science is ONLY a Christian enterprise and that anyone else cannot apply or has not added to scientific knowledge. This mistake is clear because you cite counter examples of prominent atheists and Hindus. You oppose what I’ve never asserted. Based upon what I think of human nature – here’s I’ll repeat it, so we’se got no misunderstandin’s – based upon the Christian view of humanity, I’d expect ALL people to make strides in science and other disciplines. I never asserted that without Christianity there’d’ve been no science. Thus, your counter examples don’t serve as such, but do betray that you’ve not understood my arguments.

    2) You seem to think that, simply stated, ideas don’t have consequences. This mistake you make at the individual level: “Christianity contributed absolutely nothing towards science and the scientific method. It was the scientists who did it and centuries ago they just happened to be Christians.” These men *just happened* to be Christians! You seem to think these men pulled out of their entire view of the universe to do science, but that’s impossible. These men who developed and handed down the modern scientific method did so as completely consistent Christians. It was their Christianity (in addition to their natural inquisitiveness, mentioned above) that propelled them – do doubt about it. You seem to take men piecemeal, but people are not that way. They think like “scientists” from 8 to 5 on weekdays, but then they think Christianly before and after. Your anthropology is disjointed. You can’t remove a scientists deeply-held convictions about the universe as he’s studying the universe.

    This moves us into the other part of the same error. The convictions of a worldview also have consequences. This is what I was driving at in my posts above that a materialistic atheist’s view of the world cannot generate clear, coherent and binding morality – it simply cannot. Certain things flow out of the collection of presuppositions we call a worldview. Certain things have flowed out of Christianity. The Western world (and by consequence the whole world) is full of them and we both take them for granted. I’ve mentioned a few in posts above and argued specifically that modern science, at least in a very significant degree, flowed out of consistent Christian thinking. You evidently tend to think that these fruits culture are not fruits at all; they just POP into being (like the universe). But culture is more like a river and less like the big bang – it all comes from upstream. Like it or not you have a vast wealth of Christianity upstream from yourself and all your atheist buddies. You’re jovially eating the fruit which your worldview could never have grown. Again, a gift from us… enjoy! Just learn to be polite and say “thanks.”

    By the way, you never even grappled with my dismantling of atheistic materialism’s impossible view of morals. You were strangely silent there, Savage. It’s not like you to be quiet.

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  23. Tim Prussic, to answer your questions on morals you can read the book by Marc Hauser, “Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.” Hauser is “a Harvard College Professor, and Professor in the Departments of Psychology, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, and Biological Anthropology. He is the co-director of the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Program at Harvard, Director of the Cognitive Evolution Lab, and adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Education and the Program in Neurosciences.” (From Wikipedia) He is an evolutionary biologist and his research is focussed on cognitive evolution.

    To quote from his book:

    “Driving our moral judgments is a universal moral grammar, a faculty of the mind that evolved over millions of years to include a set of principles for building a range of possible moral systems. As with language, the principles that make up our moral grammar fly beneath the radar of our awareness.”

    Hauser did not shoot from the hip with this statement but he came to this conclusion after in-depth research over many years.

    “Scientists studying animal behaviour believe they have growing evidence that species ranging from mice to primates are governed by moral codes of conduct in the same way as humans. Until recently, humans were thought to be the only species to experience complex emotions and have a sense of morality. But Prof Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, believes that morals are “hard-wired” into the brains of all mammals and provide the “social glue” that allow often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups. He has compiled evidence from around the world that shows how different species of animals appear to have an innate sense of fairness, display empathy and help other animals that are in distress.” (Richard Gray, Science Correspondent, Telegraph.co.uk, 23 May 2009).

    So it seems your premise that the Christian world-view on morals is unique is just plain wrong. Morals developed through natural evolutionary processes long before the goat-herders dreamt up the story of God and Jesus.

    How can you justify your idea that “.. materialistic atheist’s view of the world cannot generate clear, coherent and binding morality – it simply cannot.” This is just your opinion; please show me peer-reviewed research to backup your statement.

    You write, “By the way, you never even grappled with my dismantling of atheistic materialism’s impossible view of morals. “

    Again I can refer to Marc Hauser’s research. With the philosopher Peter Singer they found that there was no difference between religious people and atheists in their moral intuitions.

    I refer to scientific, peer-reviewed research, but you just throw your opinions around and expect to be taken seriously.

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  24. No, Savage, as to the morality question you prefer not to engage and to refer me to others. Good enough. That’s what I was trying to do by referring you to Principe’s work on the history of science, which I’m sure would do you a great deal of good in your jaded view of the relationship between Christianity and science. You drew me out and made me answer, so maybe I can do the same.

    As to Hauser’s work, I appreciate you bringing that to my attention. Time permitting, I will peruse it. I hope you do the same with the Principe lectures (again, for free at your local library). Maybe we’ll both do each other some good by and by, if only indirectly.

    As to my supposed opining, I fear you’ve missed my argument. I really did try to *argue* the point, not merely assert it. In that you’ve dismissed my argument with mere hand waving (by call it “opinion”), I have to assume either you cannot overcome the argument or that you simply didn’t get/read it. Thus, I will restate it yet again and then, unless you actually want to engage the argument, we’ll be done with this particular discussion.

    Supposition: Materialistic atheism (MA) does not and cannot produce a clear, coherent, and binding morality.

    I’m not asserting that MA doesn’t recognize and affirm morality, but that it cannot account for it based its fundamental ideas. For, if everything is only matter in motion, moral judgments are meaningless. The absolute best that can be mustered by MA (if its consistent with itself) is morality as a constantly changing series of social norms. Ain’t nothing clear about that which constantly changes. Nothing binding about a social norm between these sacks of protoplasm and those bags of atoms. Nothing coherent about predicating morality to a bottle of coke fizzing – it’s just a chemical reaction and so is humanity. MA, as a worldview and philosophy, undercuts all morality, it just screws up morals royally on a theoretical level.

    Now, Savage, that theoretical mess doesn’t necessarily translate to a practical level. Atheists can and do help old ladies across the street and other nice things (just like Christians). They also sometimes massacre, rape and murder (just like Christians). One main difference here is that a Christian who commits these atrocities is doing so *in violation* of his Christianity; a MA who does them is violating nothing at all in his basic philosophy. After all, a *consistent* MA should think, who cares if I poke a hole in that bag of chemical reactions, rape its atoms-bouncing-around spouse and burn down its house with the kids in it? There’s no basis for moral outrage from matter in motion. Everything’s from nothing, to nothing and for nothing. I cannot “wrong” a sack of protoplasm, can I?

    The MA’s assert that the universe is only matter in motion and, therefore, there’s no clear, coherent, or binding morality to be found. One cannot account for such morality on a MA worldview.

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  25. What is material atheism? My understanding of materialism in the philosophical sense is that everything can ultimately be reduced to atoms (which are made up of protons, neutron and electrons; and protons and neutrons made up of quarks, etc., etc.) Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. You do assert that MA does not mean the lack of morals per se, but that the MA’s moral judgment is meaningless and is only a constant changing series of social norms. Christian moral judgment has changed drastically through the centuries. I don’t see you stoning people anymore. Why not? And you don’t go off killing people of a different faith anymore. Why not? Simply because your moral judgment has changed. The only difference between the MA and the Christian is the former‘s belief that the body has no sole and when you die it is like switching off a computer.

    Then you conclude; “MA, as a worldview and philosophy, undercuts all morality, it just screws up morals royally on a theoretical level. “

    What absolute nonsense! Where are your facts? This again is just your opinion. I cannot use reason to talk you out of a position where you did not use reason to arrive at. I think you would fit in well with the crowd making up the 64% of the total; see below.

    “When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin’s theory.”

    As for getting Principe’s lectures; I would very much like to get them but I don’t live in a first world country like you. Here where I live library services are very poor.

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  26. I want to make clear my understanding of science and religion. Science describes the natural world through observation, and a never ending verification of these observations. Science is built primarily on facts. Religion is based on faith; no facts are required. But then religious people say our religion is science and they claim science is to a great extent also built on faith. Wrong. Were we to find that some knowledge of the natural world generated by science was indeed wrong, we would immediately know that our “faith” was false and we would abandon it. Our “faith” is subject to ongoing testing whereas religion requires no testing at all. That is the reason that religion and science is incompatible and that religion has contributed nothing to science through the centuries; they are two completely different “faith” systems and oppose each other.

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  27. First, you perpetually misunderstand my *argument* – you keep mixing the historic application of principles with the fundamental basis which either accounts for an idea or does not. MA’s fundamental principles CANNOT account for a clear, coherent, and binding morality. Christianity’s fundamental principles can and do. That’s not merely an opinion, it’s a reasoned argument; and you’ve not overcome it.

    Second, science begins with faith, as does every worldview. I’ll take one point in hand to demonstrate this: the supposed uniformity of nature. ALL scientific endeavor (even according to your definition offered above) is build on the principle of the uniformity of nature. David Hume utterly destroyed natural inductivism (that is, your view of the scientific method). If you are not familiar, we can go through that. But, if you are, we can simply proceed to the main point that science is based upon a principle of uniformity of nature that is, based upon scientific inductivism, unproven and unprovable. Since “science” has to suppose it without proof, that clearly constitutes faith, no? You, therefore, start with faith even as do I.
    How in tarnation have

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  28. David Hume; I suspected the philosopher in you to emerge sometime or other and now it has. Whenever philosophers enter the science arena you can expect the muddled thinking such as you have dished up on this blog. Just a few quotes from famous scientists about philosophers who ridiculed themselves by engaging in matters they did not understand.

    Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate:

    “To summarize, I would use the words of Jeans, who said that “the Great Architect seems to be a mathematician”. To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature. C.P.Snow talked about two cultures. I really think those two cultures separate people who have and people who have not had this experience of understanding mathematics well enough to appreciate nature once.

    “It is too bad that it has to be mathematics, and that mathematics is hard for some people. It is reputed – I do not know if it is true – that when one of the kings was trying to learn geometry from Euclid he complained that it was difficult. And Euclid said, “There is no royal road to geometry”. And there is no royal road. Physicists cannot make a conversion to any other language. If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in. She offers her information only in one form; we are not too un-humble as to demand that she change before we pay any attention.

    “All the intellectual arguments that you can make will not communicate to deaf ears what the experience of music really is. In the same way all the intellectual arguments in the world will not convey an understanding of nature to those of “the other culture”. Philosophers may try to teach you by telling you quantitatively about nature. I am trying to describe her. But it is not getting across because it is impossible. Perhaps it is because their horizons are limited in this way that some people are able to imagine that the centre of the universe is man.”

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  29. John Casti, mathematician.

    “On balance, it seems to me that the thinking-machine debate is really a battle between philosophers, regardless of the fact that some of them may be masquerading as psychologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, or programmers. And, as it should be in all stories involving philosophers, the debate ends up in complete chaos.”

    Andre Weil, mathematician.

    (Andrè) Weil had renounced philosophy as a fatuity years earlier, after he received a good grade on a philosophy test despite having read none of the relevant texts. “It seemed to me that a subject in which one could do so well while barely knowing what one was talking about was hardly worthy of respect,” he wrote in his autobiography.

    Richard Feynman.

    “Someone has said it this way – “Nature herself does not even know which way the electron is going to go”.

    “A philosopher once said: “It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results”. Well, they do not. You set up the circumstances, with the same conditions every time, and you cannot predict behind which hole you will see the electron. Yet science goes on in spite of it – although the same conditions do not always produce the same results.

    “What is necessary “for the very existence of science”, and what the characteristics of nature are, are not to be determined by pompous preconditions, they are determined by the material with which we work, by nature herself.

    “…it is necessary for the very existence of science that minds exist which do not allow that nature must satisfy some preconceived conditions, like those of our philosopher. “

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  30. Gauss, greatest mathematician of all time.

    “By one of the most ironic verdicts ever delivered in the agelong litigation of fact versus speculation, the discovery of Ceres coincided with the publication by the famous philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831) of a sarcastic attack on astronomers for presuming to search for an eighth planet. Would they but pay some attention to philosophy, Hegel asserted, they must see immediately that there can be precisely seven planets, no more, no less. Their search therefore was a stupid waste of time. Doubtless this slight lapse on Hegel’s part has been satisfactorily explained by his disciples, but they have not yet talked away the hundreds of minor planets which mock his Jovian ban.

    “It will be of interest here to quote what Gauss thought of philosophers who busy themselves with scientific matters they have not understood. This holds in particular for philosophers who peck at the foundations of mathematics without having first sharpened their dull beaks on some hard mathematics. Conversely, it suggests why Bertrand A W Russell (1872- ), Alfred North Whitehead (1861- ) and David Hilbert (1862- ) in our own times have made outstanding contributions to the philosophy of mathematics: these men are mathematicians.

    “Writing to his friend Schumacher on November 1, 1844, Gauss says: “You see the same sort of thing [mathematical incompetence] in the contemporary philosophers Schelling, Hegel, Nees von Essenbeck, and their followers; don’t they make your hair stand on end with their definitions? Read in the history of ancient philosophers what the big men of the day – Plato and others (I except Aristotle) – gave in the way of explanations. But even with Kant himself it is often not much better; in my opinion his distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions is one of those things that either run out in a triviality or are false.” When he wrote this Gauss had long been in full possession of non-Euclidean geometry, itself a sufficient refutation of some of the things Kant said about space and geometry.”

    From “Men of Mathematics”, E T Bell

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  31. Kary Mullis, Nobel laureate.

    “This was typical of a chemist; chemists always believe they are smarter than biochemists. Of course, physicists think they are smarter than chemists, mathematicians think they are smarter than physicists, and, for a while, philosophers thought they were smarter than mathematicians, until they found out in this century that they really didn’t have anything much to talk about.”

    Cauchy, mathematician.

    “It is therefore ridiculous to suppose that religion can turn anybody’s head, and if all the insane were sent to insane asylums, more philosophers than Christians would be found there.”

    Steven Pinker, philosopher.

    “Philosophy today gets no respect. Many scientists use the term as a synonym for effete speculation. When my colleague Ned Block told his father that he would major in the subject, his father’s reply was ‘Luft!’ –Yiddish for ‘air.’ And then there’s the joke in which a young man told his mother he would become a Doctor of Philosophy and she said, ‘Wonderful! But what kind of disease is philosophy?’”

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  32. Tim Prussic, I think these quotes from famous scientists should deter you to use philosophy to argue science. Philosophers do not even understand the language science speaks, viz. mathematics, so how can they enter into a debate?

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  33. You’re amazing, Savage. Don’t you know that you’re “scientific” worldview has a philosophical basis? You can pretend all day long that it doesn’t, but it’s rooted solidly in Empiricism. It’s no mistake that for millennia, natural science was called natural philosophy. But, forget about history, logic, morals, and the uniformity of nature… all you need is “facts.”

    More to the point, your mass of quotes was simply an ad hominem (a personal attack on me instead of dealing with the issue at hand). You’re quite skilled in side stepping the issues. You still have not adequately engaged on the specific issue that MA cannot produce a clear, coherent and binding morality. Now you’ve completely avoided the issue that MA begins with “faith” in the uniformity of nature, which is cannot prove empirically. Bad form and not too persuasive, Savage.

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  34. The scientist mostly leaves philosophy to the philosopher. This is usually the case where the scientist has discovered a fundamental law which is so well established and proven by experiment and engineering application that there is not much doubt left that the law is correct. He needs no philosophising on the subject. Under these laws you could count Gravity, Relativity, Quantum Theory, and Evolution. The philosopher brings nothing to the scientific table except to drivel in a not easily understood terminology attempting to debunk science, especially in areas where he lacks understanding.

    All science tries to do is describe Nature. But scientists can follow many wrong routes in their quest. String theory is one. This has now become more of a cult than an attempt to unify the four forces of Nature. But scientists themselves are the biggest critics of their own brethren and surely do not need the help of a philosopher who’s understanding of basic scientific laws is limited.

    When science was in its infant stage, philosophers had no trouble in grasping the mathematics and physics of the day. But they also did great damage. Philosophically-minded Plato stunted the development of classical geometry for centuries with the statement that only a straightedge and a pair of compasses were allowed as the implements of construction in geometry. Descartes’ analytical geometry freed geometry from the Platonic restrictions. Numerous instances can be named where philosophers have had a finger in the scientific pie. Now that science has progressed to such specialised levels, it is only realistic to expect each discipline to stick to its field. But no, the philosophers through the centuries have become so accustomed to be recognised as the preachers of great truths, so even today they cannot withhold the temptation to lay scientific eggs. Unfortunately the eggs are rotten. I am not having a dig at philosophers per se, but when they utter nonsense about science I am surely not going to keep quiet.

    Thus to end I’ll quote Martin H Fisher: “The natural philosophers are mostly gone. We modern scientists are adding too many decimals.”

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  35. “You still have not adequately engaged on the specific issue that MA cannot produce a clear, coherent and binding morality.”

    I think I have. I have pointed you to Marc Hauser and Peter Singer’s research where they found that there was no difference between the morals of religious people and those of atheists. So if MA have no coherent morals, neither have the religious.

    What have you brought to the table scientifically backing your statement? Nothing.

    “David Hume utterly destroyed natural inductivism (that is, your view of the scientific method.”

    No, he did not. This is From Bertrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy”.

    “What Hume is concerned with is uncertain knowledge, such as obtained from empirical data by inferences that are not demonstrative. His includes all our knowledge as to the future, and as to unobserved portions of the past and present. In fact, it includes everything except, on the one hand, direct observation, and, on the other, logic and mathematics. “

    So Hume did not destroy the scientific method. This method stands strong and enables the modern life style. It ensures that if the science is applied correctly, you can put a person on the Moon, and a rover on Mars.

    Russell continues: “The analysis of such “probable” knowledge led Hume to certain sceptical conclusions, which are equally difficult to refute and to accept. The result was a challenge to philosophers, which, in my opinion, has not been adequately met.”

    So you guys don’t agree on Hume’s postulates. Scientists don’t disagree on the scientific method, or the application of it. Thus we enjoy modern life styles.

    Again my question; why don’t you philosophers keep to philosophizing and leave science to the scientists?

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  36. Once again, you cannot seem to distinguish between theoretical foundations and practical applications. Throughout our conversation I’ve been arguing on a theoretical foundation level and you keep bringing it back to the application. Eventually, you will have to give an account of knowledge and of being. Your *worldview* is truncated and provincial enough that you will not be able to.

    Enjoy adding decimals; I’ll catch you on another post.

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  37. Tim Prussic, I must say I’m impressed with someone who keeps such late hours. What do you do, read? (And obviously answering my “nonsense”.)

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  38. Theoretical foundations in science are, for instance, the axioms of Euclidian geometry. Although Kurt Gödel has shown that it was not possible to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics, science goes on irrespective of this. Philosophers have not much better to do than busy themselves with science they do not understand, and to ask trivial questions like “knowing” and “being”. Neuroscientists have so far come much closer to answering these questions than philosophers will ever.

    The “theoretical foundations” you refer to as far as philosophy is concerned, does not really have an answer, because philosophers cannot even agree on nor prove a simple premise like Hume’s. (Are you familiar with the two laws of philosophy (analogous to the Newton’s laws of motion))?

    The First Law of Philosophy: For every philosopher, there exists an equal and opposite philosopher.
    The Second Law of Philosophy: They’re both wrong.

    You call my view of the practical applications of science truncated, but I call your theoretical foundations irrelevant. If philosophers had ruled the world not many of the scientific discoveries would have been made. Most of humankind would still be living in caves today.

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  39. I can appreciate the two laws, and that with some amusement. The same laws are, I think to a lesser degree applicable to Christian theologians. (Get three Baptist theologians in a room and end up with five opinions.) As to personal life, I’m a dispatcher and run an internet franchise. I have three little ones (4, 2, and 6-mos) and a lovely wife! I had an excuse to be up so late as Aug 30 was my birthday. I treated myself to you at an unholy hour. What do you think about that?! What’s yer story? Where do you live?

    BTW, I don’t think your practical applications are truncated, I think you’re fundamental worldview is. THAT’s what I’ve been so windy in arguing! You seem to have a bit of difficulty in distinguishing between the theoretical basis for scientific knowledge and that knowledge itself. My arguments have been along the lines of the former; your responses have been along the lines of the latter.

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  40. Tim Prussic you say: “You seem to have a bit of difficulty in distinguishing between the theoretical basis for scientific knowledge and that knowledge itself.”

    Are you referring to Kant’s view of science? If so, I’m not impressed. Kant’s opinion on what the theoretical basis science knowledge should be was not very important, was it? His contribution to scientific discovery was virtually nil. So who cares what sort of metaphysical view he had of science knowledge?

    The philosopher can philosophize all he likes, it is the successful application or description of the laws of Nature that brings home the bacon. Philosophers have described space and time (to name just one) and have been mostly wrong (Kant again comes to mind). As I have said before, scientists do science (describe Nature) and the philosophers waffle about whatever their fancy is. Their contribution to our modern lifestyle has been minimal, if anything at all.

    Again, I am not taking a dig at philosophers per se, but why don’t they stick to their discipline instead of meddling in scientific matters they do not understand.

    So I am quite happy to live with my truncated “fundamental worldview”, whatever that may constitute.

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  41. Not only is the aforementioned distinction lost on you, but you also do a wonderful job of not reading what I write and following up in kind, but adding your own notions and charging at them, as at the windmills. That must come from the modern “scientific” education! This thread’s too long, Savage, and my gas is gone. I’ll see you on another post.

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