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A Debt to Christianity?

Does Christianity give us much? Do atheists or secularists owe it a debt?I recently came across a 2010 article by John Steinrucken titled, “Secularism’s Ongoing Debt to Christianity” in the conservative online magazine American Thinker.

I didn’t think much of it.

Steinrucken says that he’s an atheist, but he has an odd accommodationist point of view. I don’t see him making many new atheist friends, and his view of Christianity as a false but useful fiction to keep the Proletariat in line can’t endear him to Christians either. Still, dozens of sites reference his article, many of them Christian.

First, let’s understand his thesis.

Religious faith has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition. … Western civilization’s survival, including the survival of open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

As an atheist, he doesn’t believe that there is anything behind Christian faith. And though the somewhat-Christian West is at the top of the pyramid at the moment, other societies have advanced quite well without Christianity—consider the Islamic Golden Age, China’s many dynasties, the Aztecs and Olmecs in Central America, the Incas and Aymara in the Andes, Mali and Egypt in Africa, Greece and Babylon in the Eastern Mediterranean, Angkor and Sukhothai in Southeast Asia, and India. He has a long way to go to show that Christianity does something that other religions don’t.

Next, it’s Christianity as a “moral compass.”

Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion?

I say to any Christian who would be a rampaging maniac without religion: please remain a Christian! Since prisons aren’t overflowing with atheists, they tend to avoid crime simply because it’s the right thing to do.

If you wondered if this guy is really an atheist, he really looks like a clumsy Poe when he says:

Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?

Wow—how many ways would this be wrong in American society? No, the law that Moses brought down from the mountain would be worse than useless. The Ten Commandments demand allegiance to God; the First Amendment allows religion but says that government must stay out of it. The Ten Commandments say nothing against slavery, genocide, and rape; today, we have a very different view of what’s right and wrong. The Ten Commandments presuppose a theocracy; the Constitution outlines a representative democracy.

He blunders into the question of morality and says that the secularist

can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion.

Wrong again. Atheists point to a shared moral instinct. We’re all the same species, so we have pretty much the same moral programming. If Steinrucken is pointing to objective morality, I want evidence of such a thing. I’ve seen none.

For some reason, he has a chip on his shoulder about “secularists.” He pauses to paint a bizarre picture of how they fill their God-shaped hole. If it’s not nutty New Age nonsense,

they surrender themselves to secular ideologies or do-good causes, especially those in which they can mass with others in solidarity, shouting in unison mindless, ritualistic simplicities and waving placards of hackneyed and inane slogans.

My local atheist group organizes an event at the local blood center every eight weeks. At Christmas, we wrap presents at book stores, with donations going to a children’s hospital. We answer phones for the local public radio station pledge drive. We don’t shout mindless simplicities or wave signs with inane slogans—should we?

Next, we’re told that

secularism has never offered the people a practical substitute for religion.

Do you substitute something for malaria or cancer? Or do you simply make victims healthy?

But if you want to see it that way, the substitute for religion is reality.

We secularists should recognize that we owe much to the religionists, that we are not threatened by them, that we should grant to them their world.

They already have their world—read the First Amendment. I strongly support the demand that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

As for our not being threatened, guess again. Some Christians are eager to see prayer in public schools. To see Creationism taught in science class. To see prayers in government buildings from City Hall to Congress. To see “In God We Trust” continue as our official motto and the phrase “under God” remain in the Pledge. To see a de facto Christian requirement for public office.

Why should we be exercised over a Christmas Crèche in front of the county court house?

Because it spits on our governing document, that’s why. (Unlike what you may have heard, there actually are stupid questions.) Do we care about the First Amendment or not? If so, respect it and protect it.

And what harm will come to a child who hears prayer in the schoolroom?

You tell me. Should we deliver morning prayers by cycling through the religions represented in America, giving turns to Muslims, Mormons, Satanists, Wiccans, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and so on? No conceivable harm to the schoolchildren, right?

Or—crazy idea—maybe we should leave the religious indoctrination at home and just focus on education at school.

Steinrucken doesn’t think much of “elitists,” which pop up occasionally as scoundrels in his essay. They stand on the shoulders of the Christian masses to practice “their conceits and dilettantes.” But it would be wise of them to

publicly hold in high esteem the institutions of Christianity and Judaism, and to respect those who do believe and to encourage and to give leeway to those who, in truth, will be foremost in the trenches defending us against those who would have us all bow down to a different and unaccommodating faith.

So fight fire with fire? When the Muslim believers attack, we must respond with Christian believers for some reason.

No, you don’t fight fire with fire; you fight it with water. A civilization that is immune to the siren call of Christianity won’t care much for Islam either.

But from Steinrucken’s standpoint, what’s the problem? If Christianity is the special sauce that makes a civilization run, what’s the problem with replacing it with Islam? Wouldn’t it provide the same thing? He’s asserted that Christianity is the best but provided no evidence.

This flabby apology for American Christianity never gets off the ground. It’s not that Christianity is the foundation on which is built American democracy; it’s the other way around. The Constitution is what we should defend and hold in high esteem. It’s the Constitution that gives religion its freedom.

A religious war
is like children fighting over
who has the strongest imaginary friend.

Photo credit: Jonathan

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Tracy

    I really like this article. You make very good arguments in general as well as pertaining to this book. I will keep following your blog from facebook. Thanks.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Tracy:

      Welcome!

    • Rike

      Tracy, did you read Bob’s book: “Cross Examined”? I think you would like it. I couldn’t put it down after starting to read.

  • Jason

    This reminds me of the argument that we should thank Christendom for preserving our Greco-Roman literary past in their monasteries (i.e. after Christians took over Europe they preserved many Greco-Roman texts in monasteries). This is a little bit like thanking a guy who beat you up for not completing killing you. After all, if stops short of cutting your throat, you do owe him your life.

    On another note, Steinruken should also keep in mind that there are a lot of reasons to believe that Europe was heading for an even more advanced and intelligent society before the advent of Christianity. Yes, there was still superstition (and even slavery and misogyny) in Greco-Roman society, but what they didn’t have at all was doctrine or dogma. Since religion was not based on belief, there was arguably a better opportunity for scientific and intellectual advancements. Many superstitions might simply have dropped out of culture in the later Roman Empire. Then we wouldn’t have even needed a Renaissance. We could have gone straight from the late Roman Empire to the Enlightenment. Just imagine the possibilities!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jason:

      Interesting point. Someone made a similar point that they were on the verge of the Industrial Revolution (see the Aeolipile of Hero of Alexandria below). Problem was, their culture was built on slavery. Labor-saving machinery didn’t make much sense, both because they had plenty of labor and because idle slaves do not a stable society make.

      • Jason

        It’s easier to tolerate slavery if you believe it’s a part of God’s plan (not just any god, but God).
        (now substitute any other injustice for ‘slavery’)

      • Mr. X

        “Interesting point. Someone made a similar point that they were on the verge of the Industrial Revolution (see the Aeolipile of Hero of Alexandria below).”

        The aeolipile was a clever toy which the ancients could never have turned into a proper steam engine due to limitations in metalworking technology. It was also invented several hundred years before the Roman Empire turned Christian. If the classical world was on the verge of an industrial revolution, it sure took its sweet time about actually starting it.

        “Since religion was not based on belief, there was arguably a better opportunity for scientific and intellectual advancements.”

        Ancient intellectual culture had stalled somewhat in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, most new works being epitomes or commentaries on stuff that had been written before. If anything, the coming of Christianity revitalised cultural life; most of the significant thinkers of Late Antiquity were after all Christian theologians.

        And if you’re trying to blame Christianity for stalling the glorious onward march of reason, you would be well advised to try again. Christianity in this period was quite happy to incorporate pagan thought, Christian monks spent a lot of time and effort copying ancient (including pagan) authors to preserve them for future generations, and, when ancient Greek works were re-introduced into the West during the twelfth century, they were eagerly read and disseminated by Christian churchmen.

        A vastly more plausible theory is that intellectual life declined due to the fall of the Roman Empire. Funnily enough, when you’re busy trying to fend off famine and barbarian raiders intent on slaughering you and enslaving your family, speculation as to how we gain knowledge or what makes stuff fall to the ground tends to seem rather unimportant by comparison.

        “Many superstitions might simply have dropped out of culture in the later Roman Empire.”

        They might have done; then again, there is no good reason to suppose that they would actually have done.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          The aeolipile was a clever toy which the ancients could never have turned into a proper steam engine due to limitations in metalworking technology.

          Ditto for the Newcomen steam engine. Inefficient design, leaky, very narrow range of applications. But there was enough there to get Watt involved.

          Same with the Industrial Revolution: first the flying shuttle, then the spinning genny. Trivial inventions, in the big picture. But it started an arms race that within decades, like a firestorm, spread far beyond the textile industry.

          If your point is that many things would’ve had to fall into place, even in a Roman empire sans slavery, for there to be an Industrial Revolution, I agree. Ditto the one that actually happened.

          And if you’re trying to blame Christianity for stalling the glorious onward march of reason, you would be well advised to try again.

          Let’s not celebrate Christianity too much either. Christian Europe after the Roman Empire and before the Enlightenment wasn’t much to crow about.

          when ancient Greek works were re-introduced into the West during the twelfth century, they were eagerly read and disseminated by Christian churchmen.

          You mean when they were gotten from the Islamic countries, which continued to copy them when there was little civilization in Europe beyond, what, some Irish monasteries? Maybe we should be celebrating the Golden Age of Islam for saving our bacon instead.

        • Mr. X

          “If your point is that many things would’ve had to fall into place, even in a Roman empire sans slavery, for there to be an Industrial Revolution, I agree. Ditto the one that actually happened.”

          My point is that if so many other things had to fall into place, it’s a stretch to say that the ancient world was “on the verge of an industrial revolution”. What’s more, I note that you made no attempt to explain why, if the ancients were so close, they never got round to it during the two hundred years between Hero’s aeolipile and the adoption of Christianity as the Empire’s religion.

          “Let’s not celebrate Christianity too much either. Christian Europe after the Roman Empire and before the Enlightenment wasn’t much to crow about.”

          The idea of the middle ages being a period of bigotry and superstition owes more to Protestant Catholic-bashing and enlightenment conceitedness than to objective reality. Your view is widely rejected by historians studying the relevant areas of history.

          “You mean when they were gotten from the Islamic countries, which continued to copy them when there was little civilization in Europe beyond, what, some Irish monasteries?”

          Yes, those Islamic countries in regions which didn’t suffer any Dark Ages, and hence were able to keep studying science and philosophy. Also, I like the “beyond, what, some Irish [sic -- also Italian, French, German, British, &c.] monasteries”, with its implicit recognition that European civilisation during this period was in fact preserved by the Church.

          “Maybe we should be celebrating the Golden Age of Islam for saving our bacon instead.”

          I don’t think anybody is denying the importance of Muslim scholars. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the Christian west did progress beyond the Islamic east, not least (and here we get back to one of your objections in the OP) because Islamic theology after about the tenth century tended strongly towards nominalism, voluntarism and occasionalism, whereas such views were never as strong in Christian theology, which generally tended towards realism, intellectualism and the existence of regularity in nature. So that’s one pretty major reason you have to be grateful to Christianity.

        • MNb

          Come on, Mr. X, Pope Silvester II was considered a mathematical genius. You know why? He understood and was able to explain that if you double the edge of a cube the volume will be 8 times as big. He wrote a letter to the Bishop of Utrecht about it.
          That was the intellectual level of christian western Europe before the fall of Toledo in 1085. That city had the first university of Europe. Fortunately the surrendering moslims were so kind to leave the library intact. A few decades later southern France and Italy saw their first universities.
          What happened three centuries later? Intellectual progress stalled. This time christian western Europe needed the scholars from Constantinople to make the next step.
          I agree that christianity during the Middle Ages deserves credit for preserving what it could, resulting in a fertile ground when the external influences came. But on its own christianity by far was not enough to revive intellectual life in Europe. It’s called a necessary, but insufficient condition.

        • Mr. X

          Intellectual progress in the West stalled because of the fall of the Roman Empire. And, whilst the arrival of (Christian, so I’m not sure why you think you can use this to bash Christianity) Byzantine scholars in the fifteenth century did provide a significant boost to learning, I’m unaware of any particularly noticeable stalling during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries (although, perhaps significantly, this period also saw a demographic collapse, this time caused by the Black Death). What evidence do you have of one?

        • MNb

          “Intellectual progress in the West stalled because of the fall of the Roman Empire.”
          Wrong for two reasons.
          Intellectual progress in the West stalled before the fall of the Roman Empire; no new insights were developed after Plotinus.
          The Roman Empire didn’t fall in 475, but continued with Constantinople as the capital.

          Moreover you miss my point. I didn’t argue that christianity was the cause. I argue that christianity was not enough to make intellectual progress possible again; it was insufficient. That’s not the same.
          Btw The (Eastern) Roman Empire, better known as Byzantium, didn’t see intellectual and/or progress at all. As such it disproves that christianity laid the foundation of modern science – or it would have happened there as well. It didn’t.

          “I’m unaware of any particularly noticeable stalling”
          Then tell me which new insights were developed between 1300 and 1450.

        • Mr. X

          “Moreover you miss my point. I didn’t argue that christianity was the cause. I argue that christianity was not enough to make intellectual progress possible again; it was insufficient. That’s not the same.
          Btw The (Eastern) Roman Empire, better known as Byzantium, didn’t see intellectual and/or progress at all. As such it disproves that christianity laid the foundation of modern science – or it would have happened there as well. It didn’t.”

          No it doesn’t, actually — “not every Christian society developed modern science” is irrelevant to the statement “Christianity developed modern science”. It suggests that there were factors about Western (Catholic/Protestant) culture which were different to Eastern (Orthodox) culture, and that these factors may have been relevant to the development of science; but nobody here has been disputing that.

          “Then tell me which new insights were developed between 1300 and 1450.”

          Here’s a handy reference:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_in_the_middle_ages#Late_Middle_Ages_.28AD_1300.E2.80.931500.29

          Although reading that has prompted me to retract one of my positions. The article says “However, a series of events that would be known as the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages was under its way. When came the Black Death of 1348, it sealed a sudden end to the previous period of massive scientific change. The plague killed a third of the people in Europe, especially in the crowded conditions of the towns, where the heart of innovations lay. Recurrences of the plague and other disasters caused a continuing decline of population for a century,” which, assuming it is accurate, indicates that there was in fact a stall in intellectual advances during this period. Unfortunately, though, this still doesn’t help your case, since it puts this decline down to demographic factors rather than stupid churchmen.

          (Incidentally, I think I see a pattern emerging here: the fall of the Roman Empire leads to demographic collapse, which leads to intellectual decline; the Black Death leads to demographic collapse and intellectual stagnation; why, it’s almost as if demographic collapse is the cause, rather than the Church.)

        • MNb

          “that these factors may have been relevant to the development of science”
          These factors were not merely relevant, they were decisive: the fall of Toledo, the Byzantine scholars fleeing to Northern Italy with their knowledge and documents. Combined with the completely failed authority of the RCC and its Aristotelian worldview plus the Renaissance booming intelligent people finally dared to ask unprecedented questions. Anyone who doesn’t address these well known points is cherry picking, which as a scientific methodology sucks.

          And Mr. X as well, how predictable, shows up with Buridan, via Wikipedia nonetheless. Again: he added to Aristotelian mechanics, but kept its core: impetus causes movement, ie velocity. Classical Newtonian Mechanics says exactly the reverse: movement, ie velocity causes momentum.

          “the projectile would be moved by an impetus”
          This is flat out wrong according to both Classical and Modern Physics. Buridan did not anticipate Newton here.
          I am not going to address every single point here. It suffices to say that Wikipedia is simply unreliable in every aspect here, just like on Buridan and his Aristotelian impetus.
          Another point apologists like Mr. X like to make is Roger Bacon and empiry. They conveniently forget that nobody in his time took Bacon seriously; that there is a gap of 300 years between Roger and Francis and that it is impossible to show any continuity between the two.
          Medieval science was firmly Aristotelian. I am not completely sure of other subjects, but no medieval physics is relevant today. Compare that with Pythagoras and Archimedes. As long as medieval science was Aristotelian it was impossible to make any progress. That’s why neither Copernicus, nor Brahe, nor Kepler, nor Galilei nor Newton ever refers to any medieval predecessor.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          MNb:

          They conveniently forget that nobody in his time took Bacon seriously; that there is a gap of 300 years between Roger and Francis and that it is impossible to show any continuity between the two.

          Reminds me of Mendel. He anticipated research in genetics, but I believe this fact had to be discovered. His work was never mainstream and, though he was first, he wasn’t the first to introduce this into mainstream biology. (I’m recalling this from memory; could be wrong.)

  • smrnda

    Given all the wars of religion fought in Europe, this guy is seriously trying to convince me that religion, and Christianity in particular, is a stabilizing force? Ever head of the Thirty Years’ War? Christianity, and the desire to find and promote some purer, holier version of it, was a great catalyst for conflict.

    I’d also argue that what makes contemporary life great are Enlightenment values, which seem to owe more to ancient pagan civilizations than Christianity.

    People who argue that religion is good because it keeps the lower classes in check are a bit nauseating, since it strikes me as an elitist position, and also one where it’s seen as permissible for society to be kept running through deception, as long as it’s lower class people being deceived. I mean, if you take the ‘opiate of the masses’ view of religion, you can argue that it’s an impediment to justice since it’s keeping the proles from launching what would be a justifiable rebellion.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      smrnda:

      Especially when you remember fighters in the Crusades being given absolution (aka: a “Get out of Hell Free” card).

      Good point about pagans and the Enlightenment. I wonder if our modern republic relies more on Greek democracy than anything that Christianity thought up.

      I do wonder if that entire article was just a Poe. His ideas were in such conflict that I can’t imagine them seriously coming from one sane mind.

  • Niemand

    Should we deliver morning prayers by cycling through the religions represented in America, giving turns to Muslims, Mormons, Satanists, Wiccans, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and so on?

    I kind of like this idea. A quick morning prayer of, say, 5 minutes and maybe another 5 minutes for questions and reaction from the kids. Teach the kids that people have all sorts of beliefs and provide them with some background knowledge of phrases that will come up as literary references if nothing else. But it needs to be as diverse as possible. Preferably a new religion for each school day. Include every religion you can find. Include Jedi if you run out of real religions before getting to the end of the year.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Niemand:

      I kind of like this idea. A quick morning prayer of, say, 5 minutes and maybe another 5 minutes for questions and reaction from the kids.

      I don’t like prayers, but I do like the idea of a comparative religion class, even a compulsory one. Indoctrination would be out of bounds, of course.

      • Niemand

        I see your point, but introducing kids to a simple ritual that each religion uses might be a way to start teaching comparative religion without it getting too dense right off. Also, most people find example more amusing and useful than theory so saying “This is an example of a Christian prayer” might be more fun as an introduction to Christianity than “Christians believe (insert lecture here).” Trouble is, I’m not sure if non-Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions even go for “prayer” as a thing. Maybe the concept should be expanded to include other rituals and practices. I’d draw the line at ritual cannibalism, though, so no taking mass in school.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Niemand: It’s a First Amendment violation. It’s teaching religion (bad), not teaching about religion (OK). I think we need to follow the rules strictly here.

        • Niemand

          I see it as teaching about religion using a lab*, but I’m perfectly happy with limiting things to classroom description of religion since I think your argument from the first amendment is correct. As long as as many religions as possible get discussed and none is presented as the “right” one.

          This is, alas, all theoretical, since no location (city, county, state, country) that demands school prayer is going to be even remotely willing to open things up to different types of prayer, much less teach comparative religion or even the Bible (and Koran, Torah, etc) as literature.

          But I’d still love to see a teacher who is forced by law to start the day with a school prayer start it with a prayer to Quetzelcoatl. Perhaps that might work as a protest to get the law revoked. Eh, the teacher’d probably just get fired.

          *Possibly influenced by fond memories of textual analysis in high school English classes.

  • Niemand

    No, you don’t fight fire with fire; you fight it with water.

    You can fight fire with fire. But what you have at the end is lifeless, scorched earth.

  • MNb

    “the glue … is the Judeo-Christian tradition”
    If there is one argument that makes me sick it is this one. You know – the Holocaust is part of that Judeo-Christian tradition. It goes back via Luther and the pogroms during the crusades all the way back to churchfather Ambrosius, who defended a bishop who had ordered to burn down an synagogue. No way the christian community of said bishop should compensate the jewish victims, because that would be throwing good money to a bad case!

    “Why should we be exercised over a Christmas Crèche in front of the county court house?”
    As a non-American I’m not. That government document doesn’t mean too much to me and my country has secularized quite nicely without it. But then I would very much like to have a display of the Flying Spaghetti Monster next to it. For some reason such ideas don’t go too well with our freedom for religion fighters. I wonder why? (Actually I don’t).

    “No conceivable harm to the schoolchildren, right?”
    No. Provided that they learn a nice prayer to the FSM as well.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      MNb:

      And where do you live?

      In the US, we see a familiar cycle. Christians want to put up some sort of display at Christmas. Then the atheists complain. The compromise is that all comers are welcome. So then the atheists (and Wiccans and Satanists and Muslims) put up some sort of sign/display celebrating their worldview. And then the Christians go nuts. And then the rule is changed so that no one can put religious stuff on that bit of state-owned property.

      And then I wonder (again) why this solution, which was suggested at the beginning, couldn’t have been reached a little quicker.

      • Kodie

        I still don’t understand why they think we’re ruining their fun if they can’t have a manger on the lawn of the town hall itself. Put it in your own yard where it belongs! If you’re the one who believes this stuff that the reason you believe you’re celebrating, go for it at home, where your property represents you the believer. Government property and anything decorating it represents the community. It is exactly like saying “this is a Christian community, outsiders not welcome.” Who is ruining who’s fun? Every year this comes up, and I still can’t believe they don’t have the correct reaction: “Wow, I never thought about it like that, I shall be perfectly satisfied decorating my own lawn from now on.” No, they really like obviously excluding people. They don’t like to share Christmas, they say it’s just theirs, is the town hall their church or something? No, their church is their church. If they want to keep it for themselves, it absolutely has no business on government property, which by definition obviously belongs to everyone. Don’t want to share it? Good. Put it on your own lawn and your church all you want, where your own things belong and aren’t shared by people who don’t share your holiday with you.

        I think the only reason Christmas is such a huge commercial holiday that most people end up taking part in no matter what they believe (like obligatory office parties and Yankee Swaps and such at the very least) is because Christians do not like or acknowledge outsiders, and they didn’t actually intend to share it with non- and other-believing folks, they just went ahead and assumed, and they make or made up local government so they didn’t see there was any conflict. It’s exactly why the lone dissenter doesn’t speak up – this is a legitimate sign from the community where they live if a religious practice by the government is still in place to this day, it means they don’t like or acknowledge outsiders, people of a different faith or no faith. It never occurs to them the reason “nobody minded before” is because it’s so freaking obvious meant to deter anyone from daring to. You can see with your eyes what kind of government would allow these signals to stand without complaint. If you’re the first person to live there to say something, it’s probably going to cause a riot and compromise your personal safety. Then the poor little towns complain the big bully from the liberal city came and told them to take it down or else! How could they possibly care, they don’t even live here! Well, they didn’t come from nowhere, someone in town must have wrote them a letter. Someone who feels outnumbered and insecure where they live. That’s exactly what they want – you don’t like it so leave.

        That is something else too. This is America, I can live somewhere I want to for whatever reason I choose to and the laws protect me. They argue their little Christian town with no outsiders is “America” but not if they exclude other Americans. I am tired of the defense of Christians on their morality, or how nice they think they are. I know to a lot of people the Christmas displays and a little prayer in school don’t seem like something to get really upset about compared to being unable to marry in most states, for example, but the message is “get out, this is Christian territory” and that’s so un-American, so nasty, so intolerant, so everything that’s wrong with people. I’m tired of the innocent act, and the defense of these little harmless things that “shouldn’t bother anyone”. Just look somewhere else, just like they do when they see two men holding hands, right?

        Nice people are usually sorry for upsetting anyone inadvertently. I can buy that some people just don’t realize their town has non-Christians in it, but how is it that they don’t apologize and take it down. I would take “I didn’t mean to be un-neighborly” as a legitimate nice response. I mean, it’s a material object, who decides who can get more upset over it and win? It means a big fence to outsiders saying don’t come in, your freedom of speech will be abridged here, your freedom of religion will be abridged here, and you might as well stay out. The protests to keep it up, to keep this material object on a particular parcel of land, that is even more mad. When people say it’s a relationship, not a religion, I have to wonder why their idols seem to mean an awful lot more to them than they should to people who are bothered by the message. Your belief is not a cross on a wall, a plastic doll in a straw barn, or anything like that. Nobody is taking beliefs from anyone who has them when they say move this out of here and put it somewhere legal.

        So the Christmas thing and all other religious elements on government property things are one of the more disgusting usages of the Christian faith, to me. I get they believe what they believe, and even if a lot of it can be harmful to other people, yes, it’s twisted, but it is at least tied to a sincere belief – that is something that should be opposed if it threatens actual humans and human rights. But it doesn’t say in the bible that Jesus wants a display of himself as an infant every year for his birthday on government property. That is an act of sheer rudeness in light of the fact they’ve been made aware that people mind it being there and why it’s illegal. It just upsets me how purposely they misconstrue the 1st part of the 1st amendment as it doesn’t apply to the part where they have the freedom to do whatever they want if there are more of them than us. I know they want to live in a world where everyone is dependably nice and Christian, but when you notify them, they get hostile over what their decorations mean to anyone else when they are where they shouldn’t be. We’re supposed to accommodate this bs reaction? Criticize them and they will say exactly what they mean by having it there in the first place, if not vandalize your property and harass you personally.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kodie: nicely said.

      • MNb

        I am a Dutchman living in Suriname, a country about as religious as the USA, but without all the (religious) fanatism. Some of your compatriots do their very best to change that though, fortunately without any success.

        • MNb

          In addition: comparing makes clear what the problem is – christians going nuts in the USA. Dutch and Surinamese christians don’t go nuts when confronted with non-christian signs/displays/prayers/whatever. Bob S is right on this point.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          How is religion handled in Surinam? Is there some demand for equality among religions?

        • MNb

          There is no need for such a demand as all religions in principle are equal indeed. And we have almost all: christians (catholics, protestants and evangelicals), muslims, hindu’s, jews and buddhists. Most religions are further divided in subgroups. I think this is a major factor for religious tolerance here.
          About 60 years ago the first hindu and the first muslim became members of the government.
          The only religion that isn’t treated well is satanism. There is consensus (something quite rare overhere) that satanism is a bad influence on children. I also suspect that pastafarianism wouldn’t be received well and Surinamese people wouldn’t get the joke. But nobody has tried it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          MNb:

          So there’s no constitutional demand for religious freedom, but it exists anyway? Interesting. I wonder if other countries are like that. Even with the First Amendment (equally the friend of the Christian and the atheist), we have this love-hate thing going on with it in the US.

          Are you a native of Suriname? Or the Netherlands? (That someone could speak a second language like a native always amazes Americans.)

        • MNb

          I am a native Dutchman and emigrated for the second time to Suriname in 2000.
          Now I haven’t read neither the Dutch constitution nor the Surinamese one. But I’m quite sure none of them have anything that can compare with the First Amendment. Discriminating religion is forbidden. The legal interpretation is that this applies to agnosticism and atheism as well.
          Still state-church separation is far more strict in the USA than in The Netherlands and Suriname. For instance government pays for religious schools:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_school_(Netherlands)

          The article is correct. I told my son that I’m an atheist when he was six; his mother was a muslima back then, but after her second marriage she converted to christendom. My son went to a catholic school for three years and an islamic one for another three years. Shortly after he decided he was an atheist too.
          Sidenote: I only call myself MNb because my name, Mark Nieuweboer, is too hard to spell for even several compatriots. I am not anonymous. Many in the town where I live know I’m an atheist; I might be the only one. It’s just no big deal.
          There is a nice story about religious tolerance. Klaaskreek is a village in the interior with just one school and is mainly christian. Last year or the year before the majority of the teachers were fanatical evangelicals, who told the kids about hell and damnation. The villagers protested and the teachers had to back down.
          That’s why I like Suriname so much. Heck, it’s the only country with a mosque and a synagogue side by side:

          http://www.vollenhouw.nl/landen/Suriname_1/slides/sr026_synagoge_moskee_paramaribo.html

          They get along perfectly.
          So Surinamese and Dutch agnosts and atheists don’t need the protection from christians you Americans need. I’ve read quite a few stories last few years and they never cease to amaze me. “Christians going nuts” really is the problem.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          MNb: Thanks for the update. I didn’t know that about Suriname. I wonder why it’s such a volatile issue in the US.

  • http://nw-politics.blogspot.com/?spref=fb Virginia Fitzpatrick

    Your data on religious affiliation in the prison population relative to the general population is intriguing. In his best seller “The signal and the Noise”, celebrity statistician Nate Silver severely criticizes the media for not showing the uncertainty in their data. Your caveats about data collection and percentage ranges (instead of point estimates) avoided that pitfall -also having more validity to your findings. I assume the ranges you presented are equivalent to 95% confidence intervals?

    The data substantiate your modest claim that our prisons are not overflowing with Atheist. What struck me was that the No Religion/ No Answer group had a greater proportion in prison than Christians, Hindus and Atheists. I would hypothesize that those in the latter categories are less likely to be in prison because they have given more thought to moral values than those with no religion, but that contention would be a challenge to prove.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Virginia:

      I don’t want to make too much of the prison data because getting reliable numbers strikes me as inherently difficult. Maybe if you’re an atheist there are pressures to label yourself as a Christian. Maybe easier to get parole that way? I don’t know enough about prison dynamics to begin to make corrections to whatever data we can find.

      I think the Christian’s job is difficult if they want to argue that atheists commit more crime, and I’ll leave it at that rather than press my own positive case (Christians are worse people than atheists, for example).

      • Virginia Fitzpatrick

        Adding to the confusion, I have a FaceBook friend who is devoted to her parish and is very interesting in who will be chosen Pope. She claims to be an agnostic Catholic.

      • Rick

        Why would you think it would be easier to get parole if you claimed to be a Christian? Seems strange you would hold that view.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          I’m not in prison; I haven’t talked to defense lawyers. I’m no expert.

          However, I have read articles which talk about the murkiness behind inmates’ actual religions. My take was that passing as a Christian would please parole boards. I could be wrong.

        • Rick

          My curiosity was spurred because of the quote in your article, combined with this comment about parole boards. You stated:

          Since prisons aren’t overflowing with atheists, they tend to avoid crime simply because it’s the right thing to do.

          This implies that atheists have the high ground morally, avoiding crime because it’s the right thing to do and all. So why would naive believers in a non-existent god be given preference in the eyes of a parole board if they are more likely to be criminals in the first place? Doesn’t sound like a good strategy to feign a fake belief in this case.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          Just passing along what I’d heard. If it doesn’t hold together, fair enough.

          That parole boards would smile on someone who appears to have found Jesus and turned his life around sounds pretty obvious to me. But, as I made clear, I’m no expert here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          The case of Jeffrey Dahmer is interesting. He made waves when he became a Christian, as I recall. Or maybe I’m thinking of another high-profile conversion.

      • Virginia Fitzpatrick

        “Christians are worse people than atheists”.

        Are you speaking globally or among the people you know.

        All my life people have tried to force Christianity on me. It has gotten to the point where I confess to being mean to evangelicals. However I get along well with Catholics and the more mild mannered Protestants ( United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Presbyterians) because most of my friends of those faiths accept that I have by own beliefs in moral behavior.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Virginia:

          Are you speaking globally or among the people you know.

          Neither. That isn’t my position.

    • Darren

      Just read something about this, but I did not save the link…

      Using the 2001 ARIS data and 1997 Bureau of Prisons data, last count I saw was around 0.9% of Atheists in the general populace and around 0.2% Atheists in Federal prison. As I recall, most groups were about the same, general populace to prison, except for Muslims who were far more represented in the prison population (but this is likely post-conviction conversion for protection, IMO).

      ARIS 2008

      • Virginia Fitzpatrick

        I have only had time to watch a few shows, but I wonder if MSNBC Lockup would give us insight as to the effects of religion on prisoners?

  • Rike

    About the prison question – I just came across a study that suggests that religion is often used to excuse or justify criminal behavior. It’s not an overwhelming study, but interesting, nevertheless:
    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/national/study+raises+questions+about+religion+deterrent+against/7981683/story.html
    So I wonder how that might have helped the advancement of western civilization?

    • Virginia Fitzpatrick

      Rick – these are terrific examples of how people can rationalize dubious behavior.

      • Rick

        The article provides terrific examples of how some criminals rationalize because they don’t understand the principles they claim to believe. They aren’t genuine Christians, so they misuse snippets to justify and rationalize. I can see how this would be a problem. Less so if they parole boards know more about Christianity than the criminals before them and can see through the ruse.

        • smrnda

          Didn’t Mike Huckabee, the preacher turned governor and now media talking head, pardon some guy who went on to commit more murders? Seriously, Christians cut anybody slack who goes on about Jesus and could care less about their motives, or their previous victims.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Huckabee pardoned Maurice Clemmons who killed 4 cops in my state, although I didn’t see anything in the article I found about Christianity being a factor in the pardon.

  • Kodie

    Some of the outrageous things being said in the quotes are so insulting. Who is this guy and who is he writing for? I do think for a majority of people, having something to live by might be useful. When he says secularism doesn’t offer a practical substitute for religion, it triggers in me a thought about how thoughtless most people I know are at least some of the time. I can’t really classify many of these wrongnesses as part of a religion, but I guess more or less, they are estimates. They may bear out generally, and provide a structure to hang the world off of, I guess a philosophy, but it’s not so deep. I find the world sometimes overwhelming and social situations more confusing than they have to be. People who find it easier to navigate have what I observe is a structure. It may be in part a religious belief. Things they like to believe are true, like I said, may bear out generally, they keep themselves from being too confused by it from thinking. You know people who say “don’t overthink it” or something to that effect. Sometimes it is the right time not to overthink something. There is no practical substitute to help people navigate their day by handing them the short version – they have to discover by themselves. But it is, I think, called socialization. The process where we accumulate these shortcuts and never really think about them again.

    Here is an example: me, I never have a lot of spare cash around! So people who have their own little world (like a religion) do not contemplate every decision I have to make. Something broke and I ask if there are instructions to fix it, and someone says “just buy another one, it’s only $20″ doesn’t know my life. Someone tells me there’s a 24 hour grocery store if I end up staying past 11:00pm (because he is holding things up), and I get pretty resentful. I want to stop on the way home to get a couple things, not drive 3 miles out of my way and back in the middle of the night on whatever little gas I have left, plus why assume I can stay as late since I don’t have to wake up early as he does. The structure works for the person, it’s how they solve their own problems, but they don’t apply to other people as neatly. I hear these comments like a religious belief, and I also think they bear out generally, and exist to resolve the other problem of clutter. If you can simply understand “what girls like” (it is shoe shopping) you don’t have to become overwhelmed with things like rape culture and transsexualism and all that thinking of women as people might entail.

    He is right, secularism offers no practical substitute for dumbing down the population with a handy excuse. Life is easy when you can practically forget that there are other people with different kinds of lives than you can expect for yourself, and life is harder once you pull that thread. I am almost convinced that he likes them to stay like that. I mean, if Christians had their way, they could convince us all to get on our knees for Jesus, and wouldn’t that make us all so predictable and uncomplicated for them? Like, all the women who could be Christians and not have sex wouldn’t have to get any abortions because they’d be against them and would be married. That just seems to be the way this dude wants the world to go.

  • Kodie

    publicly hold in high esteem the institutions of Christianity and Judaism, and to respect those who do believe and to encourage and to give leeway to those who, in truth, will be foremost in the trenches defending us against those who would have us all bow down to a different and unaccommodating faith.

    Wait, what? We should like Christians because they will fight the Muslims and we owe a debt to them in advance for their protection of us from an unaccommodating faith? We are to bow down to one in order to avoid bowing down to another?

    This guy is a Christian. Sharia Law is no joke, but this guy’s a Christian. What part of “I don’t believe in any god(s)” doesn’t he understand?

    Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion?

    It somewhat depends on what crimes. Shooting an abortion doctor? Beating the shit out of a gay kid? Rape an altarboy? Provide sanctuary for the boy-rapers? Let your child die of a curable disease? Vandalize atheist billboards, put religious decorations in public places, hold church services in a building not zoned for a church? All manner of thugginess used to intimidate and threaten certain populations, as if they’d ever done anything harmful to them. Taken away their privileges and pointed out their crimes and hypocrisies. No, religion does not keep crime and debauchery (what the eff is that supposed to mean?) in check.

    This guy is a Christian if he lists “debauchery” as a thing that needs to be kept in check, and that we’re better off when it is. Can I seriously argue that no ministers are ever caught in the men’s room with a dude? Can I seriously argue that no Christian daughters are ever snuck into the abortion clinic and then return to their protest duties the next day? Can I seriously argue that no Catholics are drunk right now? I mean, I looked up debauchery to make sure and it’s the usual things Christians are against, orgy stuff: gay people, slutty women, abortions, and drunkenness. Not to mention how many “ex-gays” and other repressed homosexuals who are being kept in check by religion. Is he saying this is a benefit and one of the reasons we shouldn’t tread on Christians? I didn’t read the original article, but the quoted portions here, “debauchery” is the closest he gets to the more important conflicts atheists have with the religious. And he just lumps it in with crimes, like he’s writing a poem about pirates. Crime and debauchery, Aaaarrrrgh!

    I don’t think everyone is a criminal, and I don’t have anything against consented debauchery, but I do think way too many people are inconsiderate assholes, and can I seriously argue that tendency isn’t held in check by religion? Also yeah.

  • Patrick

    Bob Seidensticker: “He has a long way to go to show that Christianity does something that other religions don’t.“

    The following article may provide such a demonstration:

    http://www.telektronikk.com/volumes/pdf/2.2004/Page_005-025.pdf

    Bob Seidensticker: “It’s not that Christianity is the foundation on which is built American democracy; it’s the other way around.“

    In the article entitled “Still a Community of Values? Historical Thoughts on the Normative Basis of the West” (published in Social Europe: The Journal of the European Left, Winter 2008, vol. 3, issue 2) German historian Heinrich August Winkler argues that the Western values are to a large extent based on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    Separation of Church and State:

    “Predating the separation of imperium or regnum from sacerdotium is a distinction that first surfaced in Jesus’ famous reply to the Pharisees: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ Jesus held, beyond the shadow of a doubt, God’s primacy to be absolute. Nevertheless, his answer implicitly rejected theocracy in all its forms. The differentiation between divine and secular authority restricted and validated the latter, both refusing to cede secular authority over the religious sphere and granting it autonomy in its own. This did not yet equal the separation of spiritual and temporal power but Jesus’ dialectical response announced a principle in whose logic that separation lay. And it was this very principle that would ultimately pave the way for the secularisation of the world and the emancipation of man.“”

    Human Rights:

    “When the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that inalienable rights are bestowed on individuals ‘by their Creator,’ it expressed more than a mere credo that enlightened deists and devout Christians could agree on for the festive occasion. The idea of an individual dignity common to all originates from the Judeo-Christian belief in one God who created human beings in His image.”

    Rights of Freedom:

    “Historically, the declaration of the equality of all individuals before the law presupposes the equality of all individuals before God. Moreover, as I have tried to show, there is a historical link between Christian religion and the Western idea of freedom. The latter could only develop because there existed in the Occident a tradition separating spiritual and worldly power – a tradition from which resistance toward Anglicanism and other state religions grew.”

    • Compuholic

      ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ Jesus held, beyond the shadow of a doubt, God’s primacy to be absolute. Nevertheless, his answer implicitly rejected theocracy in all its forms.

      It takes some seriously warped thinking that a quote from a holy book was the basis for the separation of church and state. Especially when pretty much all historical evidence points to the direction that religions (including Christianity) mingled with political power whenever they were allowed to do so. This is still the case in most European Countries to this day. Just a few examples from my home country:
      - in the middle ages the religion of the king often determined which religion the people had to follow. The churches could easily have prevented this but – what a surprise – never cared for church state separation
      - the German government still collects the taxes for the catholic and protestant church. Why are the churches not opposed to this if they are the source of church-state separation?
      - social institutions like kindergarten and hospitals recieve taxpayer funding but are controlled by catholic and protestant churches
      - catholic and protestant churches – and this really infuriates me – get government paid teachers to teach religious classes in school and whenever somebody tries to move against this the churches defend the status quo vigerously. A funny way to act if Christianity is really the source of church-state separation
      I could list many more examples that this argument is a load of BS. You guys in the U.S. are lucky to have the church-state separation written in your constitution. It is just ridiculous to say that this principle was started by Christianity.

      Historically, the declaration of the equality of all individuals before the law presupposes the equality of all individuals before God

      Right, so this is historically proven by looking at a single data point? What a joke.

      The latter could only develop because there existed in the Occident a tradition separating spiritual and worldly power

      Since this tradition never existed: Can I conclude that his whole essay is worthless?

      • Mr. X

        There’s a difference between actually being a theocracy, i.e., a state in which religious leaders are also political leaders, and having the government pay religious organisations to carry out certain services.

        “You guys in the U.S. are lucky to have the church-state separation written in your constitution. It is just ridiculous to say that this principle was started by Christianity.”

        You mean the same constitution which explicitly gives the rights it enumerates a divine origin?

        “Right, so this is historically proven by looking at a single data point? What a joke.”

        Of all the countries we know of, the only ones which have developed modern concepts of equality and human rights have been either Christian or influenced by Christianity. Moreover, it’s proved rather difficult to come up with an entirely secular rationale for human rights. There are actually quite a few data points to look at.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          Although I am a devote agnostic, I will concede one point to the association of the early Christian sect with Democracy. Usually in the ancient world Emperors were reified into Gods. Until the end of WWII the Emperor of Japan was a Shinto God. Jesus by contrast lived as a commoner. But the European rulers then addressed him as “Lord Jesus” along with “Lord God”. He was not long to be worshipped as a commoner. Still the most beloved scene of all time is Jesus in the manger surrounded by shepherds. This icon expresses the unspoken longing among the multitudes for their own significance often ignored by the ruling classes.

        • Niemand

          Still the most beloved scene of all time is Jesus in the manger surrounded by shepherds.

          With rich “wise men” bringing him expensive gifts as might befit a ruler.

          And if Jesus was a commoner or is worshiped as a commoner, the Pope is certainly not. In the Medieval era, the Pope was more powerful than the average king. Or, in some eras, any king. The church does not promote egalitarianism. Indeed, it insists that complete equality between men and women is impossible.

        • Mr. X

          “But the European rulers then addressed him as “Lord Jesus” along with “Lord God”. He was not long to be worshipped as a commoner”

          Well, he wasn’t a commoner. Although I don’t see what your point is supposed to be; equality among men and the supremacy of God are by no means mutually exclusive.

          “In the Medieval era, the Pope was more powerful than the average king.”

          Lol, I bet the Popes wished they were. In reality, though, running the Catholic Church was as difficult as running any continent-wide organisation in an era before modern communications, and kings and nobles could and often did ignore, obstruct or outright work against the Pope’s wishes. (What was the Pope going to do, invade them?)

          “The church does not promote egalitarianism. Indeed, it insists that complete equality between men and women is impossible.”

          No, it just doesn’t accept the modern idea that equal automatically means identical.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          Your second and third quote are not from what I posted. Someone else must have?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I think he was consolidating quotes from several comments.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          The other comments were not mine. I don’t know where they came from.

        • Mr. X

          They come from Niemand’s comment, the one directly between your comment and mine.

        • smrnda

          I thought the pre-Christian Greeks had a concept of limited democracy, and the Romans had a Republic which, just like the early American one, restricted voting rights to privileged males.

          Also, the *Declaration of Independence* makes a vague allusion to a Creator, but the Constitution begins “We the people” – no reference to gods there.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          You mean the same constitution which explicitly gives the rights it enumerates a divine origin?

          As smrnda made clear, the US Constitution does no such thing.

          Of all the countries we know of, the only ones which have developed modern concepts of equality and human rights have been either Christian or influenced by Christianity.

          So, if I read you correctly, you’re going back to democracy developed in Greece and then reborn in the Enlightenment and Renaissance (which I don’t believe were driven by the church). Or is this not your point?

          Moreover, it’s proved rather difficult to come up with an entirely secular rationale for human rights. There are actually quite a few data points to look at.

          Like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I’m missing the difficulty.

        • Mr. X

          “So, if I read you correctly, you’re going back to democracy developed in Greece and then reborn in the Enlightenment and Renaissance (which I don’t believe were driven by the church). Or is this not your point?”

          I said “modern concepts of equality and human rights”, not “democracy”. Also “Christian or influenced by Christianity”, not “an official member of the Church”. You’re not responding to my actual argument, you’re responding to a similar argument which I didn’t actually make.

          “Like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I’m missing the difficulty.”

          What philosophical justification does the UN give for these rights?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          What philosophical justification does the UN give for these rights?

          Who cares? Smart people put them together, and smart people like you and me can look critique and (probably) appreciate them. That’s why they’re useful.

          Of course, the Christian or Pastafarian can handwave some sort of supernatural grounding for what they claim, but I see no substance behind those claims.

        • Mr. X

          “Who cares? Smart people put them together, and smart people like you and me can look critique and (probably) appreciate them. That’s why they’re useful.”

          If you read my comment again, you’ll see I referred to rationales for human rights, i.e., what philosophical justifications they can be given.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          you’ll see I referred to rationales for human rights, i.e., what philosophical justifications they can be given.

          Right. And I’m wondering what philosophical justifications are necessary. IMO they stand on their own. They don’t make sense because they stand on the Principle of Z.

        • Mr. X

          So what’s your actual point then? Than we don’t owe Christianity any debt for human rights because they just happen anyway? Except that’s clearly not true: looking through history, it’s rare to see a country with a modern concept of human rights, and even rarer to see one where they were actually respected.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          I’m happy to give credit where it’s due. Did William Wilberforce pick and choose passages from the Bible to convince his fellow religionists that slavery was bad? Great! Many thanks, Mssr. Wilberforce.

          But, by the same thinking, when Christianity hands humanity morals that it took from humanity, that’s not worthy of much thanks.

          looking through history, it’s rare to see a country with a modern concept of human rights, and even rarer to see one where they were actually respected.

          You’re saying that today’s view of human rights (all races equal, women equal, gay marriage assumed, no slavery, etc.) is pretty much present just today? Agreed. Society’s view of morality changes with time.

          It’d be great if we could be assured that we’re on track to get better and better in some objective way, but I see no evidence of that. After World War III, slavery may be back in vogue.
          :(

        • Compuholic

          You mean the same constitution which explicitly gives the rights it enumerates a divine origin?

          Yes, precisely. And for all I care the constitution could attribute those rights to santa claus. Christians always love to point to some documents (their holy books or otherwise) with good content and claim this is a Christian principle. It has been the same with slavery: Christian churches have long justified slavery. Now that it is illegal they like to point to old documents and try to claim that they were supporting equality all along. And I am sure that the same thing will be true for gay marriage. Give it 10-30 more years. When it becomes more and more socially accepted, the churches will again claim they were all in favor of treating all people equally.

          Of all the countries we know of, the only ones which have developed modern concepts of equality and human rights have been either Christian or influenced by Christianity.

          This is cherry picking. The problem is that phrases like “have been Christian”, “influenced by Christianity”, “modern concepts of equality” or “equality for the law” are hollow terms that can mean pretty much anything. What about Russia: They are predominantly eastern orthodox. That is a brand of Christianity. South America is predominantly Catholic. Would you say that in all those countries people are “equal before the law” (whatever that means). Those would be the negative examples. And what about countries that developed “modern concepts of equality” (for whatever that means) without Christianity. What about Japan, what about Israel?

          Moreover, it’s proved rather difficult to come up with an entirely secular rationale for human rights.

          It is? But even if that was the case: “magic man said so” would not be an explanation.

        • Mr. X

          “It has been the same with slavery: Christian churches have long justified slavery. Now that it is illegal they like to point to old documents and try to claim that they were supporting equality all along.”

          I am not aware of anyone who claims that Christians have always and everywhere opposed slavery. It is, however, inarguable that the early and mediaeval Church made attempts to limit the practice, and that the final abolition of slavery was largely carried out by Christians.

          “This is cherry picking. The problem is that phrases like “have been Christian”, “influenced by Christianity”, “modern concepts of equality” or “equality for the law” are hollow terms that can mean pretty much anything. What about Russia: They are predominantly eastern orthodox. That is a brand of Christianity. South America is predominantly Catholic. Would you say that in all those countries people are “equal before the law” (whatever that means). Those would be the negative examples. And what about countries that developed “modern concepts of equality” (for whatever that means) without Christianity. What about Japan, what about Israel?”

          Please show me where I said that being a Christian country is automatically enough to create equality, human rights and rule of law.

          “It is? But even if that was the case: “magic man said so” would not be an explanation.”

          I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re trying to argue here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          It is, however, inarguable that the early and mediaeval Church made attempts to limit the practice

          What are you referring to?

          and that the final abolition of slavery was largely carried out by Christians.

          So? If you’re referring to the abolition in the US, most Americans were Christians. They also mostly ate meat and breathed air. So, yeah, most abolitionists were Christian, but this isn’t saying much. What says volumes is that other Christian scholars were able to use the Bible to make strong pro-slavery arguments. Ouch.

        • Mr. X

          “What are you referring to?”

          The early Church mandated that slaves who wished to enter the priesthood or becoma a monk were to be set free and allowed to do so. Later (not sure exacly when, but definitely by the turn of the millenium) it was forbidden to keep Christians as slaves, which for most of Europe translated into “no slaves”, for practical reasons if nothing else.

          “So, yeah, most abolitionists were Christian, but this isn’t saying much.”

          To clarify (since you seem intent on missing the point): most abolitionists were devout Christians who explicity justified their abolitionism by reference to God’s will.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          Later (not sure exacly when, but definitely by the turn of the millenium) it was forbidden to keep Christians as slaves

          William of Normandy’s Domesday Book (1086) recorded 10% of Britons as slaves, as I recall. Just one data point, but I don’t recall the church being much of a change agent here. The church was pretty powerful in Europe during this period, and you’d think that, if slavery was really, really bad, they’d’ve done something more dramatic about it.

          To clarify (since you seem intent on missing the point): most abolitionists were devout Christians who explicity justified their abolitionism by reference to God’s will.

          Agreed. Because most Americans were Christian, and, if you can point to your holy book for justification for something to convince your fellow believers, you’ll do so. Are you missing my point? The Bible is a far stronger asset to the pro-slavery pastor than the anti-slavery pastor.

        • Mr. X

          “William of Normandy’s Domesday Book (1086) recorded 10% of Britons as slaves, as I recall.”

          Those people were either forced into servitude as a punishment for various crimes (the mediaeval equivalent of being sentenced to hard labour) or tied to the land. They weren’t slaves in the modern sense of being owned as an item of property.

          “The church was pretty powerful in Europe during this period,”

          Not really. Sometimes the Church wielded considerable influence, but that was mostly due to the willpower and force of personality of a particular Pope/Bishop; the Church as an organisation was often unable to make recalcitrant kings do what it wanted.

          “most Americans were Christian,”

          Most abolitionists were unusually devout Christians, and hence can’t be dismissed (as you’re trying to do) as being merely “cultural Christians” or whatever.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          They weren’t slaves in the modern sense of being owned as an item of property.

          Here’s the quote from my source: “Likewise, about 10% of England’s population entered in the Domesday Book (1086) were slaves,[8] despite chattel slavery of English Christians being nominally discontinued after the 1066 conquest.”

          Sometimes the Church wielded considerable influence, but that was mostly due to the willpower and force of personality of a particular Pope/Bishop

          What I need to see to support an argument that the Church was strongly against slavery was instances where they used whatever power they had to push for what was right. Maybe Christianity, properly interpreted, would’ve done this, but I don’t see the evidence for this in the historical record.

          Most abolitionists were unusually devout Christians, and hence can’t be dismissed (as you’re trying to do) as being merely “cultural Christians” or whatever.

          Like I said. If the only Christians were abolitionists and the only abolitionists were Christian, you’d have a strong case. Turns out that most everyone was Christian, so saying that the abolitionists or sex offenders or whoever were mostly Christian doesn’t say much.

        • Mr. X

          The irony is that you’re criticising Christians for not doing enough to advance a view that you only hold because of Christians.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          I would only think that slavery is wrong because Christians told me so? I don’t think so. The Bible, as I’ve said, was far more of an ally to the Southern pastor than the Northern. It explicitly condones and regulates slavery, just like what the South did.

          I don’t have much interest in Christianity repackaging human morality and presenting it to me as if it’s Christianity’s gift.

        • trj

          You mean the same constitution which explicitly gives the rights it enumerates a divine origin?

          Wrong. You’re thinking of the Declaration of Independence, which has nothing to do with church/state separation. This is instead found in the US constitution, which makes no mention of God, except as an insignificant date convention.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          trj: The Constitution makes no mention of God, though it does explicitly reject any religious test for public office in Article 6.

        • Castilliano

          “You mean the same constitution which explicitly gives the rights it enumerates a divine origin?”
          The US Constitution does not mention God (nor anything else divine), and only mentions religion twice, both times preceded by ‘no’. You are confusing it with the Declaration of Independence which, while important, is not a US document, as there was no US when written and it did not form the basis for the Constitution (nor any other US legal document.)

          Christianity being prevalent is not a case for it being the keystone of human rights, only a starting point to investigate from. There are other areas where Christianity existed without much in the way of human rights, and Christianity had 1000+ years in power to establish human rights, but didn’t. Causation is lacking.
          Replace “Christianity” with “Enlightenment”, and your sentences ring truer. Given most Enlightenment thinkers were anti-church deists and/or atheists, it shows, perhaps Christian thought wasn’t that helpful.
          One could also add “Plague swept” or “Inspired by Greek scholars” (who had much to say on equality and the proper place of government before the NT was written) in place of “Christianity” and also get better results.

          I will give you that the Christian template of morality has had good effects, (i.e. anti-slavery movement), but those people were moving AWAY from Biblical teachings (The Bible regulates slavery and occasionally commands taking slaves, yet never condemns). They had a basic template, but some non-Christian social responsibility kicked in and raised it above Christianity.

          All that leads me to ask, “Which Christianity are you referring to?” Many people like to lump all the good stuff together, and slice off the bad as “non-Christian”, but it’s all part of the same package, especially if Christianity is used to justify.
          Are you referring to the Bible? (Full of horror)
          Jesus? (Preached racism, spitefulness, and anti-family values.)
          Christian clergy in power? (Awful net results there)
          Christian thinkers? (Augustine, Aquinas, & St. Bernard all supported horrific actions vs. non-Christians/heretics (torture/execution/genocide)).
          The ‘average Christian’? (A grab bag of good, evil, and mostly ignorance)
          Christian movements? (Anti-Slavery, but also Crusades, Jewish pogroms, Inquisitions, and so forth)
          Or something other?
          And, yes, I know there’s good in all those examples, too, but it was humanity’s reason that filtered it down to what we see now as good vs. bad. Christianity is merely what we had to work with when applying Greek reasoning. If it had been another religion, our culture would be different, but I’ll go out on a limb and say our reasoned morality would be similar.
          IMO, Christianity was a spectator.
          Cheers,
          JMK

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Castilliano: nicely stated.

        • Patrick

          Castilliano: “There are other areas where Christianity existed without much in the way of human rights, and Christianity had 1000+ years in power to establish human rights, but didn’t. Causation is lacking.“

          From the Wikipedia article ‘Human Rights’:

          “The earliest conceptualization of human rights is credited to ideas about natural rights emanating from natural law. In particular, the issue of universal rights was introduced by the examination of the rights of indigenous peoples by Spanish clerics, such as Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolomé de las Casas.”

          Castilliano: “I will give you that the Christian template of morality has had good effects, (i.e. anti-slavery movement), but those people were moving AWAY from Biblical teachings (The Bible regulates slavery and occasionally commands taking slaves, yet never condemns).“

          As for the issue of slavery in the Bible, the following link is very informative:

          http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/04/contra-mundum-slavery-and-the-old-testament.html

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          The distinction made by the Flannagans between anti-bellum slavery and the hebrew meaning of “Ebed” does give one pause in thinking about the old testament

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Patrick:

          the issue of universal rights was introduced by the examination of the rights of indigenous peoples by Spanish clerics

          Sounds like some enlightened clerics. And I have no doubt that they could paw through the Bible to find verses to support whatever position they wanted to take. But it’s not like the church was a beacon of civil rights from day one, just looking for strange people in foreign lands to be nice to.

          As for the issue of slavery in the Bible, the following link is very informative:

          For those of us who haven’t read it, could you give us a quick summary?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Never mind. I read it.

          It’s the same tired, embarrassing argument: “yeah, but OT slavery wasn’t the same as New World slavery.”

          Wrong.

          [God said:] Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. … You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life … (Lev. 25:44–6).

          They had limited-time indentured servitude (for Jews) and slavery for life (for non-Jews), pretty much identical to the two categories in the New World.

        • Mr. X

          “Sounds like some enlightened clerics. And I have no doubt that they could paw through the Bible to find verses to support whatever position they wanted to take.”

          Actually, I think their arguments were based on natural law theory. Believe it or not, the Church has never considered ripping a few Bible verses out of context to be an adequate argument.

          “But it’s not like the church was a beacon of civil rights from day one, just looking for strange people in foreign lands to be nice to.”

          Nobody ever said it was. You seem to be labouring under a false dichotomy: either every Christian anywhere ever was really nice at all times, or Christianity never did anything worthwhile.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          Believe it or not, the Church has never considered ripping a few Bible verses out of context to be an adequate argument.

          I don’t. Even today, a popular style of article is making an argument and then peppering it with Bible quotes. That works if (1) the Bible is an authority and (2, the one relevant to this point) the Bible were consistent. Since it’s not, the “context” of a verse is the entire Bible. That makes it hard for someone trying to honestly give a complete picture of what the Bible says about a particular issue but easy for someone who likes cherry picking verses to suit whatever he wants to say. The Westboro guys know their Bible and use it accurately in this way, for example.

        • Kodie

          Christians when they’re nice are nice in a way that most people are. It’s not unique to their belief system. When they’re not nice, they justify it with the bible. Even the bible has some things in it I would call “right” but I would not attribute that rightness to a deity. People should not confuse common morality (like don’t murder) with a supreme objective morality that includes things that aren’t harmful to others (like homosexuality). A nice Christian who doesn’t murder anyone doesn’t get any special points from society, but it’s when they presume to know that without god, everyone would just go on a murdering spree that you know even when they try to be nice, they’re insincere about it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kodie:

          Sounds a bit like Dostoevsky: “All happy families are alike; all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.”

        • Niemand

          Bob, I think that quote is from Tolstoy.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ah–that does sound better. Thanks.

        • Mr. X

          @ Kodie:

          So if your argument that when Christians do something nice, that’s clearly just because they’re generally nice people and nothing to do with their religious beliefs, whereas when they do something bad, that’s because of their Christianity? I hope not, because it’s an obviously ridiculous appeal to double standards.

          “without god, everyone would just go on a murdering spree”

          Please show me one mainstream Christian denomination which thinks this.

        • Niemand

          You mean the same constitution which explicitly gives the rights it enumerates a divine origin?

          It’s already been said, but can’t help adding to the pile.

          The preamble to the US Constitution says, “We the People…do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

          We. The People. Not god, not the king, not the states. The people.

      • Patrick

        Compuholic: “It takes some seriously warped thinking that a quote from a holy book was the basis for the separation of church and state. Especially when pretty much all historical evidence points to the direction that religions (including Christianity) mingled with political power whenever they were allowed to do so.”

        Passages that in my view can be put forward in favour of a separation of church and state are Matthew 22,15-22, Luke 17,20-21, John 18,36 or 1 Corinthians 5,9-13. A historical example of someone arguing for a separation of church and state from a Biblical point of view is the theologian Roger Williams (1603-1683). In the colony of Rhode Island, which he founded, he put his ideas in this respect into practice.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Patrick: Aside from “render unto Caesar,” these didn’t do much for me.

          But even if we say that passages can be chosen to argue in favor of separation, I’m sure you could find others that argue for a theocracy.

        • trj

          Wow, you’re really reaching now. It doesn’t matter what a few Bible verses say (and let me just say that I find it extremely tenuous that these verses talk about separation of church and state). The issue is how the churches actually behaved.

          So did the Christian churches practice, or even advocate, separation of church and state? Hell, no! For something like 1300 years they grabbed every bit of power they could, being deeply involved in politics all through Europe and elsewhere, playing rulers against each other. The churches were an inseparable part of the state, present in its laws and in its government.

          And when modern democracy (and with it separation of church and state) finally began to rear its head in the Enlightenment era it was not driven by the church but by thinkers and philosophers who questioned the prevailing dogmas and power structures.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Patrick:

      [Jesus's] answer implicitly rejected theocracy in all its forms.

      He should’ve knocked some sense into the OT Jews. They didn’t seem to get it.

      When the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that inalienable rights are bestowed on individuals ‘by their Creator,’ it expressed more than a mere credo that enlightened deists and devout Christians could agree on for the festive occasion.

      The D of I isn’t your friend here. “Congress derives its just powers from the consent of the governed,” not from God.

      • Mr. X

        But the people derive their rights from their Creator.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          Right. Not from Yahweh or Jesus.

          And “Congress derives its just powers from the consent of the governed” is still out there, making any argument for a religious foundation for our country–even a religious beginning–look pretty weak.

        • trj

          And what rights would these be? The Bible doesn’t appear to have much to say in this regard. What rights did the Creator give us (apart from the right to own other people as property)?

        • Mr. X

          Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among others.

        • trj

          Yeah, those are nice ideals.

          Life: Not actually mentioned as a right in the Bible, except perhaps for the commandment not to murder, which God disregards whenever it is convenient. How would you say the killing of all firstborns in Egypt agrees with the right to life?

          Liberty: Seriously? You’re going to claim that the Bible, with its pro-slavery stance, promotes the right of liberty?

          Pursuit of happiness: This is an extremely vague principle which can cover almost anything, so I’ll just skip this one. But as for the two previous rights I have a hard time seeing the Bible championing those.

        • trj

          Yeah, those are nice ideals.

          Life: Not actually mentioned as a right in the Bible, except perhaps for the commandment not to murder, which God disregards whenever it is convenient. How would you say the killing of all firstborns in Egypt agrees with the right to life?

          Liberty: Seriously? You’re going to claim that the Bible, with its pro-slavery stance, promotes the right of liberty?

          Pursuit of happiness: This is an extremely vague principle which can cover almost anything, so I’ll just skip this one. But as for the two previous rights I have a hard time seeing the Bible championing those. Got any other rights?

        • Mr. X

          So are you denying that the DOI explicity grants these rights a divine origin?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          Does it matter? The D of I is an important historical document. That’s it. If the topic is the Christian grounding (or not) of the Constitution, we should look at that document.

        • trj

          X:

          No, I don’t deny the DoI attributes the rights it mentions to a Creator. The text says so explicitly. What I’m questioning is the theological basis for making that claim. Back then it was very common to reference God in official documents to bolster your claims. Every king in Europe claimed to be ruler by the grace of God, yet you don’t actually believe they had a basis for their claims, just because they put that down in writing, do you?

          So when evaluating whether we were actually bestowed any rights by God – which is what you claim – it’s useful to take a look at the Bible. And as I pointed out the Bible, with it’s large-scale killings and condonement of slavery, doesn’t give us rights such as life or liberty.

        • Mr. X

          “So when evaluating whether we were actually bestowed any rights by God – which is what you claim”

          No, my claim is that the modern concept of human rights had a religious foundation.

        • trj

          Well, feel free to elaborate.

  • Rick

    Bob,

    That parole boards would smile on someone who appears to have found Jesus and turned his life around sounds pretty obvious to me. But, as I made clear, I’m no expert here.

    Sounds like a tacit admission that genuine Christians behave better than others. But that would be uncharacteristic of your views, as I understand them–since Atheists do what is right simply because they like to be doing what is right for its own sake. I would have thought atheists have no consistently applied moral compass and make their own rules. But I’m no expert there.

    • smrnda

      Not really an admission that Christians behave better. An inmate who paints nice watercolors of peaceful landscapes will probably be paroled more readily than a guy whose a tattoo artist, but that’s only because of the subjective biases of the people on the parole board. Subjective biases in our criminal justice system are a huge problem – Black inmates get harsher sentences for the same crimes than white ones do.

      • Rick

        Tattoos have a strong connection to gang activity. Not all who have tattoos are gang members. Most gang members seem to have tattoos. There is a connection. I don’t see any connection between skin color or painting ability to belief in Christianity. Red herrings.

        I understand the bias issue, but what I’m pointing out is that even atheists believe Christians tend to act better because of the moral component inherent in the belief system. That seems inconsistent with the main article’s statement that atheists ” avoid crime simply because it’s the right thing to do.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          what I’m pointing out is that even atheists believe Christians tend to act better because of the moral component inherent in the belief system.

          No. This is really a simple matter. There’s the statistics of criminals and there’s the opinion of the parole board. In a perfect world, they’d be the same. The board would understand the clues for someone who is actually improving himself and eager to be a better citizen and those of a liar. I suspect, however, that there are ways of scamming the system–taking up activities or saying certain things that will satisfy the board.

        • smrnda

          My point about bias is that if judges and people on parole boards are Christians, they will most likely show bias towards Christians and against other religions. I have done work with prison literacy, and prisons allow Christian proselytizers a great deal of access to prison populations. However, some prisons censor pagan literature. Prisons officials are much more open to Christianity than they are to Islam, particularly the Nation of Islam, mostly since it’s pro Black power.

          I actually think Christians are usually worse than other people, mostly since their god forgives them and according to their belief system, it’s a bigger sin not to forgive the person who molested you as a kid than it is to molest kids in the first place. It’s the whole easy out that Christian forgiveness provides – it’s an escape from accountability.

          Christian residential facilities are also often terrible places – the Magdalena Homes in Ireland, or you can research organizations like Teen Challenge or the Hephzibah homes. The reason is any sort of abuse can be justified as ‘for your own good’ and the Christian belief in people being automatically bad can be used to cover any sort of degrading treatment since it’s spiritually beneficial. Christian child rearing manuals advocate beating newborns. I really don’t see much evidence that it makes people better.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rick:

      Sounds like a tacit admission that genuine Christians behave better than others.

      You’re trying to please a parole board. You’re an inmate, and you do and say what you think will get you out.

  • Rain

    Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?

    Yeah, especially that one about “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation “. Gee golly, I can’t imagine a more perfect moral code.

  • Patrick

    MNb: “Come on, Mr. X, Pope Silvester II was considered a mathematical genius. You know why? He understood and was able to explain that if you double the edge of a cube the volume will be 8 times as big. He wrote a letter to the Bishop of Utrecht about it.

    That was the intellectual level of christian western Europe before the fall of Toledo in 1085. That city had the first university of Europe. Fortunately the surrendering moslims were so kind to leave the library intact. A few decades later southern France and Italy saw their first universities.

    What happened three centuries later? Intellectual progress stalled. This time christian western Europe needed the scholars from Constantinople to make the next step.

    I agree that christianity during the Middle Ages deserves credit for preserving what it could, resulting in a fertile ground when the external influences came. But on its own christianity by far was not enough to revive intellectual life in Europe. It’s called a necessary, but insufficient condition.”

    As for the scientific achievements during the Middle Ages I recommend the following book, written by a historian of science:

    James Hannam, God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, Duxford 2009.

    In the following link the author of this book provides an overview over science and its relationship to Christianity during the Middle Ages:

    http://jameshannam.com/medievalscience.htm

  • MNb

    Sorry for you, Patrick, but this is a subject I know a few things about. All these “christianity laid the foundation of modern science” books are written with an agenda. As a consequence those authors neglect evidence and use doubtful arguments. Example, found within a minute:

    “Thus Bologna, usually recognised as the first university”
    Like I wrote before, Toledo had a university for several centuries before 1085, the fall of Toledo. The university of Bologna was founded a few decades after. This is a fact that very simply can be checked. Any historian who neglects it is a failure and not worth the title scholar.
    Including Hannam.

    • Patrick

      MNb: “Sorry for you, Patrick, but this is a subject I know a few things about. All these “christianity laid the foundation of modern science” books are written with an agenda. As a consequence those authors neglect evidence and use doubtful arguments.“

      In the following link James Hannam defends his book against a critique put forward by an atheist:

      http://rationalist.org.uk/articles/2441/in-defence-of-gods-philosophers

      As for Hannam’s assessment of the scientific achievements in Antiquity, in the book “The Ancient Greeks: An Introduction to Their Life and Thought” (London 1963) classical scholar M. I. Finley arrives at the same conclusion. He states that after some remarkable scientific achievements there was a lack of scientific progress in the Greek culture and that this stagnation set in at the end of the 2nd century BC. He puts it down to an “aristocratic” attitude among the intellectual elite, according to which dealing with practical matters was regarded as something inferior. The same idea can also be found in the link in my first comment.

      • MNb

        The question is not when science ceased to make progress, but when it started again. That’s obviously after 1453, no matter what apologists argue. Your defence doesn’t address my points, but only tries to distract. Typical christian.

        • Mr. X

          Progress between which points? I’m pretty sure that north-western Europe in 1400 was more scientifically advanced than north-western Europe in 600.

      • MNb

        We have met before, Patrick, so I know your ways. I have noticed two things. Instead of interpreting facts and addressing arguments you prefer to argue by links, links which usually are irrelevant to those facts and arguments. The same for the link to Hannam’s defence – he doesn’t write about anything I brought up. No Toledo, no Constantinople, no impetus vs. momentum. In the second place you use a very flexible definition of evidence, as you yourself admitted on another forum when you wrote that there is plenty of evidence for your god, but that it’s not good enough for atheists.
        Of course you do this with one goal in mind: to make your predetermined conclusions look more credible.
        As such you are not a serious debating partner.

  • MNb

    And here is the second flaw those christian apologists – historians is too much honour – like so much:

    “impetus theory from the likes of John Buridan”
    Forget it. The impetus theory of Jean Buridan was an amendment of Aristotelian mechanics: impetus is the cause of movement. According to Classical Mechanics it’s exactly the other way round. Velocity, ie movement, causes momentum. I refer to the research of John Wallis from 1670, just before Newton published his famous work.
    Hannam is either stupid or dishonest.
    The 16th and 17th Century physicists owe exactly nothing to christianity.

  • Patrick

    Bob Seidensticker: “They had limited-time indentured servitude (for Jews) and slavery for life (for non-Jews), pretty much identical to the two categories in the New World.“

    Even if one accepts slavery as legitimate, the treatment of the black slaves in North, Central and South America was clearly contrary to the Biblical principles. After all, these slaves were Christians and consequently belonged to the first category. Furthermore, it can be argued that the Christian work ethic, as outlined in 2 Thessalonians 3,6-15, was detrimental to the institution of slavery. Other passages that may have had the same effect are Matthew 20,25-28 or John 13,1-17.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Patrick:

      You really think that Africans would be considered part of the fold, using OT principles? They made clear distinctions between themselves and other Canaanites living in the same region. You think that people who look very different and who come from across the world will be considered “us”?

      Let’s agree that the OT was quite comfortable with slavery for life for “others,” just like we practiced in America. During the Civil War, the Bible was more of an asset to Southern preachers than Northern ones.

      • Patrick

        Bob Seidensticker: “You really think that Africans would be considered part of the fold, using OT principles? They made clear distinctions between themselves and other Canaanites living in the same region. You think that people who look very different and who come from across the world will be considered “us”?“

        According to the Old Testament, it was possible for foreigners to become members of God’s people (see Genesis 34, Joshua 2, Ruth 1, Isaiah 56,1-8, Zechariah 8,20-23). So, using OT principles, once African slaves had become Christians, they would have to be treated like all other Christians.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          The Bible is very clear on us vs. them (“them” are the ones you can kill by genocide, etc.). I don’t think “one happy family” is the message you get from the OT.

        • Compuholic

          So, using OT principles, once African slaves had become Christians, they would have to be treated like all other Christians.

          Wow, how fucking nice of them. So let’s enslave them and if they convert to Christianity they can enjoy a slightly lighter version of slavery. Who cares if slavery in America was or was not conform with biblical teachings. Which seems to imply that the biblical principles were somehow good and moral behaviour. It really makes me shudder that someone seriously could use this as a defense. It is another datapoint in the long line of examples that religious thinking really corrupts. Not that this is surprising if you start with faith and have to work backwards that the holy scriptures are good moral guidebooks.

          No matter how you are trying to spin it: The “principles of equality” you are so fond of are nowhere to be found in the holy books.

        • Nox

          The OT says nothing about christians.

          If we define “OT principles” according to what the old testament actually says, they do endorse slavery and they do not endorse universal human rights.

  • SparklingMoon

    As an atheist, he doesn’t believe that there is anything behind Christian faith……. other societies have advanced quite well without Christianity—consider the Islamic Golden Age, China’s many dynasties, ……. Sukhothai in Southeast Asia, and India. He has a long way to go to show that Christianity does something that other religions don’t.
    —————————————————————————————————

    The only major purpose of a religion is not only to build a civilized society but some thing more than this and that that is: ”The true purpose of adopting a faith is that one should acquire such certainty concerning God, Who is the fountainhead of salvation, as if one can see Him with one’s eyes. The wicked spirit of sin seeks to destroy a man and a person cannot escape the fatal poison of sin till he believes with full certainty in the Perfect and Living God and till he knows for certain that God exists, Who punishes the offender and bestows upon the righteous everlasting joy. It is a common experience that when one believes in the fatal effects of anything one does not have recourse to it. For instance, no one swallows poison consciously. No one deliberately stands in front of a wild tiger. No one deliberately thrusts his hand into the hole of a serpent. Then why does a person commit sin deliberately? The reason is that he has not that certainty in this matter as he has in other matters of the kind that we have mentioned. The first duty of a person, therefore, is to acquire certainty with regard to the existence of God, and to adopt a religion through which this certainty can be acquired so that he should fear God and shun sin. How can such certainty be acquired? It cannot be acquired through mere stories. It cannot be acquired through mere arguments. The only way of acquiring certainty is to experience God repeatedly through converse with Him or through witnessing His extraordinary signs, or by keeping company with someone who has that experience.” ( Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 19, pp. 447-448)

    A civilized society comes into existence automatically when the followers of any Prophet acquire such certainty with regard to the existence of God,that creates an ability in their person to resist their wrong and evil temptations and to maintain themselves on high moral values.

    • Compuholic

      A civilized society comes into existence automatically when the followers of any Prophet acquire such certainty with regard to the existence of God,that creates an ability in their person to resist their wrong and evil temptations and to maintain themselves on high moral values.

      So you are saying that a civilised society can only come into existence when you know that there is a god and only that provides moral values. I have said this before but in this case I hope that you stay in your religion. Because if that is the only reason that you behave the way you do you sound a lot like a sociopath.

    • trj

      A civilized society comes into existence automatically when the followers of any Prophet acquire such certainty with regard to the existence of God,that creates an ability in their person to resist their wrong and evil temptations and to maintain themselves on high moral values.

      Yeah, that must be why all ultra-religious societies are so super-civilized and overflowing with peace, tolerance and superior morals.

    • Nox

      You are confusing “morality” with “submission to authority”. It is certainly true that threats of hellfire have been effective in keeping people doing what their priests told them to do. But all the greatest examples of dysfunctional morality come from people blindly obeying authorities.

      • Mr. X

        Really? ‘Cause I’m pretty certain that Nietschze’s moral system was pretty dysfunctional, and you can’t accuse him of advocating blind obedience to authority.

        • Nox

          I’m pretty certain you don’t actually know what Nietzsche’s moral views were. Perhaps you could explain to us how they were dysfunctional.

          In any case, what I meant by “dysfunctional morality” isn’t about what a belief system says but how it influences behavior in the real world.

          By examples of dysfunctional morality I meant the incidents where people tortured and murdered their fellow humans because they thought it was the right thing to do (because someone told them it was the right thing to do and they believed without thinking about it). When adherence to a moral system causes people to behave in ways which fail the purpose of morality, their morality is malfunctioning.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Moon:

      Then why does a person commit sin deliberately? The reason is that he has not that certainty in this matter as he has in other matters of the kind that we have mentioned.

      A rare bit of insight! Yes, we don’t have evidence for god(s). If he knew it was important for us to know about him, I’m sure he’d be smart enough to find a way to let us know unambiguously. That faith is required is strong evidence that we’ve made him up.

      “Sin” against a person causes harm; that’s why we should avoid it. “Sin” against an easily offended god doesn’t cause harm. To imagine that it does is like imagining that you can harm Superman. See the difference?

      A civilized society comes into existence automatically when the followers of any Prophet acquire such certainty with regard to the existence of God

      Was there no civilization before the Prophet? Egypt, Persia, Greece–they don’t count?

    • Kodie

      Paranoia and anxiety can have crippling effects, which you confuse for civilizing. Sure, when you are certain you’re being watched even when you’re alone, and even if nobody catches you, you can go to hell after you die, you might be inclined to stay on the straight and narrow. One of the things I think is wrong with religion is how great everyone is always saying life is, like something precious and something unborn fetuses are owed, and how little of it anyone is allowed to enjoy without being called an uncivilized sinner. Obedience to your delusion isn’t what most people would call a life worth living. As I understand it, it’s just something you do to get to the other end, your eternal vacation where you are also automatically civilized into placid robots. I really don’t understand why you all are afraid of being just dead that you had to come up with this sorting process where nobody just dies.

      What is amazing is how uncivilized it is to threaten to punish people so harshly for living, and that this is how you account for maintaining civilization. Do you realize how childish that is, not only to believe, but as a system of authority. God needs to take a parenting class. It’s not befitting a deity to be a bully or for people to admire this quality in him, to suck up to him, to threaten others on his behalf. If humans are made in the image of god, and god is both perfect and unhealthy psychologically, it makes a lot of sense to tiptoe. This is not a friend, this is a spiteful monster who glories in sending most people to hell and doesn’t actually want anyone to enjoy life. I knew a kid in 3rd grade who had a fit because he only got a 97% on a test. I have to wonder (now that I recall it) if he was really that hard on himself or if he was trying to live up to someone else’s standards. That doesn’t sound like civilization. God doesn’t set an example of civilization.

  • Patrick

    Bob Seidensticker: “It’s not that Christianity is the foundation on which is built American democracy; it’s the other way around. The Constitution is what we should defend and hold in high esteem. It’s the Constitution that gives religion its freedom.“

    As for the question whether or not the political system in the United States has Christian roots, the following contribution entitled “An Exploration of America’s Protestant Foundations”, written by Barry Shain, is very informative:

    http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1727&chapter=81716&layout=html&Itemid=27

    Some quotes from the contribution:

    “One of the central questions of continuing interest to students of the American Founding concerns the nature of the ideas and values that guided Americans into and out of their war of independence. Some, like Michael Zuckert, contend that it was primarily a “natural-rights philosophy” which was and “remains America’s deepest and so far most abiding commitment” and that this is what shaped Americans’ understanding of things political. Moreover, he holds that this understanding was carefully embraced and found its inspiration in the political writings of the late-seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke. Other scholars find that a particular slice of pagan thought, known as civic humanism or classical republicanism, inherited from Greece and Rome, shaped most Americans’ political and social views. And still others argue that the central organizing principles of American social and political life were derived, either immediately or indirectly, from varying and changing forms of Protestant Christianity.

    Largely in accord with the last group of authors, I argue in what follows that, at its revolutionary Founding, America was a nation of mostly British Protestants and Protestant communities whose culture was controlled by varying and contending Protestant categories of thought embedded in an inherited English legal culture. Although in the limited space at my disposal I am able to explore only a select number of features of American life and thought which support this position, I nonetheless hope to suggest ways by which Protestantism proved fundamental in shaping the ground upon which American political and social thought came to rest. Accordingly, I explore two key, if tension-ridden, facets of the Protestant inheritance that molded America’s cultural landscape for well over a century before the Founding and thereafter continued to powerfully influence it. First is the American elevation of the freedom of religious conscience to a hallowed and inalienable individual right. Its persistent influence on the American political and religious culture resulted from the transformation of one of eighteenth century’s most traditional and dominant meanings of liberty, spiritual or Christian liberty, into the form of a right. And second is the formative role played by Americans’ acceptance of the Reformed Protestant understanding of original sin and its ubiquitous deformation of each and every human being. Only through a proper recognition of original sin’s centrality do key features of American political thought, such as America’s localism and hostility towards long chains of hierarchy, become readily understandable.”

    “Yet, in spite of Christianity’s ubiquitous presence in law and culture, not all Protestants, let alone Christians, adhered to the same views regarding the proper relationship between church and state. Indeed, many pious Christians are doctrinally opposed to too intimate a relationship between them. It must be remembered, therefore, that secular liberals are not unique in defending a sharp separation of the functions of church and state. Augustinian Catholics, Christian humanists of all varieties, and various Protestant pietists and members of the “Free” churches, most without the intervention of any form of secular philosophy, have done so as well. Accordingly, it is a mistake to assume that a politics of church-state separation is by necessity a reflection of Lockean liberalism or any other secular philosophy. It is just as likely, and in America more likely, that such positions are a reflection of pietistic or humanistic Christianity. Most Americans, therefore, who endorsed a politics of church-state separation in the late eighteenth century, are likely to have done so with authentically Christian not secular concerns in mind.”

    “Americans, then, were predominantly Protestants, though certainly not all of one piece. And for all Protestants, the most important form of liberty was not the instrumentally critical liberty of communal self-government or that of liberal natural rights but instead the liberty through which Christ could make them free, that is, spiritual liberty. Like other prevalent eighteenth-century understandings of liberty, it defended an objective set of ethical standards that rested more on duties than on rights. In the words of George Haskins, “This was not liberty in the modern sense, a freedom to pursue individual wishes or inclinations; it was a freedom from any external restraint ‘to [do] that only which is good, just and honest.’ Christ had been sacrificed and resurrected to set men free, but the liberty so given was a freedom to walk in the faith of the gospel and to serve God through righteousness.” It was a “positive” form of liberty which carried within its meaning the only ends for which it could be legitimately exercised. More concretely, H. Richard Niebuhr notes that spiritual liberty is “the freedom from the rule of Satan, sin, and death; from the compulsions of obedience to superpersonal forces of evil; from domination by self-interest and the passions . . . freedom for faith and hope and goodness, rather than a negative liberty from external control.” According to Niebuhr’s insightful account, spiritual liberty was markedly unlike the liberal “negative” sense of liberty correctly associated with a natural-rights philosophy.”

    “There was one freedom in America that was natural and uniquely individual and, by the middle of the eighteenth century, beyond challenge—the freedom of religious conscience. But it is useful to remember that at the beginning of the Revolutionary years, religious conscience was unique in being the only freedom that almost all Americans agreed was an unalienable individual right that could not be legitimately surrendered to or confiscated by society upon entering it. Curiously, however, even this hallowed right did little to limit the local community’s exercise of its corporate religious responsibilities. And such responsibilities required that the local community insist on attendance at the preaching of God’s word, that respect be paid to the Sabbath and God’s revealed dictates and commandments (even forbidding inappropriate travel and leisure activities), that the rights of political participation be limited, and that one be taxed, church member or not, to retain a teacher of the community’s (often established) Protestant faith. In many areas of life, communities were accordingly willing to encroach on matters of personal choice well beyond matters of conscience such as forbidding theater attendance, balls, masques, dice playing, cock fighting, and horse racing. It was clearly an absolute or perfect (and ultimately revolutionary) right, but obviously initially not as extensive as is often believed today.

    The Protestant freedom of religious conscience was thus clearly separate from the panoply of personal rights that its defenders, in the main, unintentionally helped create via their war efforts. Intentional or not, the most revolutionary fallout of the war was indeed the universalization, secularization, and extension of unalienable individual rights. Here, Zuckert and others, even if wrong in their historical reconstruction of the reasons and influences which produced this particular outcome, are right in closely associating the rise of the language of natural rights and the American Revolution. In fact, Ernst Troeltsch, when asked “Whence comes the idea of the rights of the individual?” answered that “It is derived from the Constitutions of the North American States . . . from their Puritan religious principles . . . It was only in virtue of being thus put on a religious basis that these demands became absolute, and consequently admitted of and required a theoretical legal exposition. It was thus that they first passed into Constitutional Law.” But such extensive rights were neither intended by the majority of elite political actors (to say nothing of the people) nor initially derived from a well-entrenched, secular foundation as Zuckert claims. The long-term, destabilizing consequences of rights claims being widely promulgated during and after the war for independence, however, are another matter and are difficult to dispute.”

    • Darren

      Thank you, Patrick, for the excelent quotes. I am printing them and they shall be my lunchtime reading.

      Though skeptical of some of the claims, I have no objection to giving credit where credit is due; I practically salivate over the contributions of the classical Greeks and Romans despite being all too aware of their (by Modern Western standards) rather horrific shortcommings.

      Best regards.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Patrick:

      First is the American elevation of the freedom of religious conscience to a hallowed and inalienable individual right.

      Demand religious freedom for everyone? Doesn’t sound like a very Christian thing to do. Wouldn’t that be called an Enlightenment principle?

      the formative role played by Americans’ acceptance of the Reformed Protestant understanding of original sin and its ubiquitous deformation of each and every human being.

      I wonder why they forgot to put that in the Constitution then.

      H. Richard Niebuhr notes that spiritual liberty is “the freedom from the rule of Satan, sin, and death; from the compulsions of obedience to superpersonal forces of evil; from domination by self-interest and the passions . . . freedom for faith and hope and goodness, rather than a negative liberty from external control.”

      Wow–sounds like it was almost copied verbatim into the Constitution. Or not.

      And such responsibilities required that the local community insist on attendance at the preaching of God’s word, that respect be paid to the Sabbath and God’s revealed dictates and commandments …

      Right–that’s what some early Christian communities demanded (Puritans, for example). The Constitution is in stark contrast to this thinking.

      • Mr. X

        “Demand religious freedom for everyone? Doesn’t sound like a very Christian thing to do. Wouldn’t that be called an Enlightenment principle?”

        Actually the idea of demanding religious freedom was first raised by seventeenth-century Protestants, or, to be more precise, Puritans. Since they believed that salvation came through faith and not through works, and it’s impossible to compel somebody to have faith, they thought it was useless trying to enforce religious practices using the law.

        “I wonder why they forgot to put that in the Constitution then.”

        Probably because it’s a set of rules for how to run the country, not an account of the philosophical ideas behind it. Although the Framers were motivated to a large degree by a belief that anybody given too much power would abuse it, leading to their support for separation of powers. (Unlike, it must be said, a lot of progressive atheists, who thought that since mankind was inherently good but corrupted by a bad environment, all you need to do to get utopia is to give loads of power to the government to mould us — for our own good, of course — into better citizens. Wonder how that turned out?)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          Your point is that the Framers wanted a separation of powers within the government and “a lot of progressive atheists” want power in the hands of the government. You seem to see these as exclusive desires. I don’t.

          I guess I would think that if your view is that Man is pretty much good, you’d be a Libertarian–just get the government off our backs so we can act out our good nature. Right?

  • Darren

    Figured I would cross-post this, as I have my doubts it will make it through Dr. Popcak’s moderation…

    I would like your thoughts.

    Dr. Popcak said;

    ”So, “Science happens.” THAT’s your argument? Here’s the problem. Science doesn’t just happen. That’s your 21st Century Western Christ-haunted bias talking. I will grant that science tried to happen many times throughout human history but until Christianity came along it did not have the fertile soil it needed (Christian cosmology), a systematic way of conducting it (Bacon’s Scientific Method), the institutional structure to support its growth (monasteries) and a comprehensive means of communicating itself (the Church’s development of the university system).”

    It is an interesting question and certainly one with makes the Atheist community rather nervous: what debt do we liberated 21st century types owe to the Christian religion, Church, worldview, etc. If true, then we should all be happy to acknowledge that debt.

    I have no special knowledge to contribute, but I do have questions.

    If we are interested in the contribution that Christianity itself made, as opposed to the contributions of individual thinkers who may (or may not) have been practicing, or even acculturated, Christians then we must look carefully.

    Certainly during a period in history when the vast majority of Europeans where (for whatever reason) Christian, one would expect through simple statistics that the vast majority of scientists and scientific advances to proceed from Christians. This is a historic fact and no sense in disputing it.

    But to what extent did their Christianity, or the Christianity of the culture in which they were immersed in the case of those scientists who were not strictly orthodox, allow, enable, or encourage their thought? Would their thoughts have been as great had they not had the benefit of the Christian worldview? Was it something intrinsic to Christianity, some intrinsic Christian characteristic that made the European Christian so much more capable than the Hindu, the Muslim, the Jew, the Pagan, the Buddhist? Perhaps so.

    During those same periods, virtually all scientific and philosophical advances were also made by men. Would we be justified in saying then to modern women that they owe a debt to all of the male thinkers, and that without them, the scattered and feeble attempts by women scientists and philosophers would never have amounted to much of anything? Is there something likewise inherently superior about the male brain, at least as applies to reason, science, philosophy, theology, and all those fields in which the contributions of women have been so comparatively feeble? Some do maintain this to be the case, and it would follow from the historical record, but I should not like to be the one to deliver that news…

    It is unfortunate that we cannot run controlled trials, rewind Europe and see how things would have turned out had Greek or Roman Polytheism persisted, or if the fall of Rome had preceded the conversion of Constantine and then perhaps Germanic Paganism held sway. Would advances have been as swift and sure as they were under the Christian yoke?

    I have no answer, but I do wonder if we might look at the rate of advances compared with the power and influence of Christianity and see if the waxing and waning of the one correlates with the other. Dr. Popcak has taken Bob to task for mixing his Christianities, by confusing Traditional Christianity (and by this I will assume more or less the Roman Catholic Church) with ‘reformers’ (for which I will take this to be Protestantism in general). Dr. Popcak would appear to be claiming that it is more specifically the traditional Christian worldview which is so conducive to the advance of human understanding, and not the rather notoriously limited thoughts of the ‘reformers’.

    So, does the advance of philosophy and science track with the waxing and waning power and influence of traditional Christianity?

    I propose starting the period of traditional Christian power and influence with the Conversion of Constantine in 312 CE. So, that puts all of the science, art, technology, and philosophy of the classical period on the non-Christian side along with developments of the Roman era such as the road, cement, plumbing, steel, etc.

    From 312 to about 1500 we have smooth sailing, though. The traditional Christianity steadily growing in influence and power. I will leave it to others to catalog the scientific and philosophical advances of this period, though we should be careful not to mistakenly attribute advances taken from the Muslims during the Crusade years or the Moorish occupation of Spain from ~ 827 to 1492.

    From the 14th to 17th century we have the Renaissance, which seems to point pretty clearly to traditional Christian enabled advance, but many sources also ascribe the spark which ignited the Renaissance to classical, thus non-Christian sources. I am not sure how to call this one, so perhaps a draw…

    The Protestant Reformation would seem to be the first major blow against what Dr. Popcak would consider Traditional Christian power and influence. The damage was confined at least to the Northern parts of Europe at first, so I suppose others could chime in and say if the now divided Europe showed differing levels of advances after 1521.

    The secession of England from traditional Christianity in 1534 would have been another blow, but again offers us the chance to compare subsequent advances in the still faithful France, Italy, and Southern Germany with the advances of the so called reformers in Northern Germany and the UK.

    The Age of Enlightenment starting around the mid-1600’s saw a further erosion of the power and control of traditional Christianity, though the culture established by Christianity certainly endured and many (perhaps most) of the contributors identified as Christian, though many of those as no longer traditional Christians, and some even as that proto-Atheist concept, the Deist.

    No sense belaboring the point. The 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries all saw further erosion of the power and influence of traditional Christianity, yet each saw further acceleration of the pace of advance.

    So, in summary, if there were some intrinsic principle in Christianity that enabled, encouraged, enhanced the advance of philosophy, rationality, and science, we would expect to find the periods of greatest achievement to correspond to those periods of greatest traditional Christian influence. Conversely, we would expect that periods of decreased traditional Christian influence would correspond with a slowing, or complete cessation, of advance. It is an exercise left to the reader to review the historical record and determine if such a correlation holds.

    I am more than happy to give credit where credit is due. We only reach so high, it has been rightly said, because we stand upon the shoulders of giants. The contributions of the many Christian men (and some women) to modern though are staggering and most appreciated. So, too, are the contributions of the pagan Romans and Greeks, and Muslims. My sincere thanks to you all.

    Thank you in advance for your considered answers to these, my questions.

    • Virginia Fitzpatrick

      You have created a reasonable outline for contemplating the legacy of Christianity and its influence on Science. Thinking about just one illustrious point, I often wonder about Sir Isaac Newton. His contribution to Science was immense, but as I was shocked to learn he spent much of his career on the study of theology. Did that distract from his contributions to science?

      • Darren

        This is all complicated, IMO, by the situation that, prior to, say, the mid-eighteenth century, anything other than a reasonably vigorously embraced Theism would endanger ones academic future, family, fortune, freedom, and even life.

        Added to this is that prior to the mid-nineteen century, science had so many gaps that the most intellectually honest position for a scientist / naturalist / metaphysician was probably Deism.

        So, kind of hard to really trust who was what when tallying contributions.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Darren:

          Isaac Newton, for example, took a position at Cambridge that had a specific religious requirement. “No atheists need apply.”

      • Castilliano

        Virginia, Newton was also an alchemist. I would say Newton was a great thinker, and so dwelt on many issues. In science, he made huge advances, as there were advances to be made. In theology & alchemy, well…what advances can be made when one travels on circular roads whose only off ramps lead to dead ends?

        Thank you, Darren, for breaking the problem down to a testable theory, though I think it’s even more complex. Perhaps too complex (unless someone’s in need of a doctoral thesis).
        Homogenous religious belief may aid scientific advances (by lowering warfare & allowing infrastructure to develop), but would it be the belief itself or peace brought by shared belief having most influence?
        Conversely, the struggles of war lead to leaps in technology too, and in Europe there’s the competition of having a multiplicity of governments in a relatively confined area. Europe also had easy access to oceans and broader trade, as well as Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Indian, & Persian philosophy, science, & technology to draw from, (i.e. Natural Law; originating with Greeks, then polished by Romans, then fleshed out by Christians who BTW then claim it’s Christian. It’s Deist at best.)

        And the plagues were often thought to aid the rise of the common man. How does one factor in depopulation? Or coal deposits in England? Or access to the “New World”?
        Was Europe too unique? (I don’t know.)
        Also, while religions rise and fall, how much influence are they having on those making the advances in science? Is it providing the seed, just the soil, or is it the rock sitting nearby?
        Would the correlation really show causation?
        One would perhaps need to examine every significant scientific advance, and ask the same 10-20 questions of each.
        Daunting.

        I’m reminded of Sam Harris who often references that algebra is not Persian Algebra. In the same vein, what aspects of scientific discovery/the scientific method are Christian?
        I’d venture “none”, especially if the constituent parts could be show to have developed elsewhere as well.
        And we are led back to “What is Christianity?” before being able to determine what it is or isn’t doing.
        That said, thank you to Christianity, its thinkers; and Christianity, its institutions, at least those who helped develop science. But no thanks to Christianity, those who opposed progress (and still do); nor to Christianity, the supernatural belief system, and neither to the supernatural belief systems of the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians, Chinese, etc., etc. which didn’t help their science either.

        Thought just struck me: This question would match asking “Do we owe Olympian polytheism a debt for Greek philosophy & science?”, wouldn’t it?
        Yep, and in both cases, “Nope”.

        Cheers,
        JMK

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Castilliano:

          what advances can be made when one travels on circular roads whose only off ramps lead to dead ends?

          Nice!

          Conversely, the struggles of war lead to leaps in technology too, and in Europe there’s the competition of having a multiplicity of governments in a relatively confined area. Europe also had easy access to oceans and broader trade…

          This is the thinking of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Diamond. Different parts of the world got different amounts of good stuff. Europe happened to get lucky with its bequest of geography, plants, and animals.

          I’m reminded of Sam Harris who often references that algebra is not Persian Algebra.

          I hadn’t heard this. Is Harris saying that modern algebra is much advanced from Arabic algebra?

          In the same vein, what aspects of scientific discovery/the scientific method are Christian?
          I’d venture “none”, especially if the constituent parts could be show to have developed elsewhere as well.

          It’s remarkable that Christians want to claim credit for science when they have a book directly from Mr. Big that doesn’t have a scrap of useful new science. That would’ve been a positive argument.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Darren:

      Yeah, I saw that 3-part article. A blog post that simply dismantles another blog post is an easy bit of work, but unfortunately I could find nothing substantial to respond to. My comment would’ve been basically “Huh??” Not much of a post.

      Dr. P’s fevered imaginings that Christianity was the fertile soil from which science sprung and its only possible source … let’s just say that I need more documentation.

      Since you’ve written this, I suggest you go ahead and post the comment over there.

      If true, then we should all be happy to acknowledge that debt.

      Agreed. Similarly, one biography of Newton argued that his strong interest in alchemy allowed him the imagination to posit action at a distance. Two bodies actually pull toward each other by some sort of magical invisible force?!

      Certainly during a period in history when the vast majority of Europeans where (for whatever reason) Christian, one would expect through simple statistics that the vast majority of scientists and scientific advances to proceed from Christians.

      Agreed. And I think from this, P has allowed himself to imagine far more cause than is justified.

      During those same periods, virtually all scientific and philosophical advances were also made by men.

      Great point. Wish I’d thought of it.

      You unfetter women, and they’re important contributors to science and engineering. Similarly, you transplant modern science into a modern (but not Western) society like Japan, and it grows just fine.

      Sounds like other soil supports science just as well as Christianity. P has noticed a correlation, nothing more.

      The strongest points in P’s favor are technologies pushed by Christianity. The printing press did well because of the strong market for religious texts. The remarkable cathedral building period of the 13th century (much innovation in civil engineering) was pushed by the church. And you’ve got the art funded by the church in the Renaissance. Perhaps there are other examples. But this does nothing to support P’s blather about Christian cosmology and blah blah blah.

      No sense belaboring the point. The 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries all saw further erosion of the power and influence of traditional Christianity, yet each saw further acceleration of the pace of advance.

      My own view is that the Industrial Revolution (Britain) was the sea change that started everything. If you want a fertile seed bed, this was one.

      It is an exercise left to the reader to review the historical record and determine if such a correlation holds.

      I agree that the correlation doesn’t hold. Further, you’d next need to show causation.

      • Kodie

        I was thinking about history again, and as I mentioned, it’s not my strength of knowledge, but that I would not disagree that science can come from religion because I think they come from the same questions and what they come up with for an answer.

        This is the god of the gaps, of course, god being the cause until we find the real cause, and superstitious rituals bearing some chance of appeasing the unseen force when they seem to work. God is created by humans as a scientific hypothesis, not the other way around where he exists and caused scientific wonderings to stir in people. Religious thought did not inspire science but I would regard it as pre-science (not prescience), probably an unavoidable leg of the journey.

      • Darren

        Thanks, Bob. I originally wrote it for Dr. Pancek’s site and then cross-posted here. Being written for a Catholic site explains a little of how I structured it.

        Yes, I was quite pleased with the “most science has also been done by men” part. My hope had been to draw readers round to (my) conclusion that this is correlation due to unrelated cultural factors, not causation.

    • Patrick

      Darren

      The link in my first comment contains a contribution that aims at giving answers why it was in Western Europe that the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution happened and not somewhere else.

    • Mr. X

      “During those same periods, virtually all scientific and philosophical advances were also made by men.”

      Somebody’s culture and philosophical views have more effect on their behaviour than their sex does, so that analogy is a false one.

      • Darren

        Does not stop, I believe it was the president of Harvard, from ascribing to it…

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Darren:

          To be fair to the former pres. of Harvard, I think he was asking why there were few women at the highest levels of science or math.

        • Darren

          My appologies, then, to the president of Harvard. My bad for not fact-checking my memory.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Even at the time, your initial view was held by many. I think he was misinterpreted. I read his remarks, and I think he was only trying to get at the root of the problem.

          Perhaps the lesson is that even today people can misinterpret things. 40 years of oral history in a pre-scientific society might’ve distorted the Jesus story even worse.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        X:

        Somebody’s culture and philosophical views have more effect on their behaviour than their sex does, so that analogy is a false one.

        The correlation between scientific advances in Europe from, say, 1000-1800 and being a man is pretty much 100%. The correlation between scientific advances and the discoverer being a Christian is far less close.

        If you like the latter, you can’t help but love the former.

  • Kodie

    I have been reading some of the responses that deal with history; history is my weak point, so I would not be in a position to dispute or correct any of the relevant passages. But it’s in context of the article that I would say that we do now “owe” Christianity anything. We may owe them recognition and not revise history over them to make it look as though they contributed nothing (either as a movement within the church, or due to individuals who account for theology to drive their explorations). That is their just due. That is all they are due. We do not owe current Christians or Christianity social or political concessions. That doesn’t seem what is best for society. They don’t get grandfathered in as belonging to a group that may once have been at the forefront of scientific discovery in an era centuries ago, and beheld as deserving of the utmost respect only for belonging to that club.

    “What have you done for me lately?” comes to mind. Are they taking us backwards? Are they not only taking us backwards, but assuming because centuries ago, their group may have been at the forefront of that era’s scientific discoveries, that they have the authority to take us anywhere they want? No. Absolutely not. We have the human obligation to refer to the present circumstances and make decisions with the advantage of hindsight and with the goal of correcting past errors. Was it their Christianity that made them so scientific? Well, where did that go? If it has evaporated and only left the faith, we let it go. It is not essential to progress to give Christianity more credit than they are due. It can be antithetical to progress. Science does not stand on the past and chisel down the truth in stone. Science eliminates irrelevant aspects. For example, if god existed, he might say 1+1=2. A devout Christian might have one time felt the holy spirit move through him and divined that 1+1=2! We don’t need god to figure that out. 1+1=2 without the religious credit. Morality is a human trait without the religious credit. Are we saying that it would have taken us a whole lot longer to get to where we are now without the religious push in the right direction? I mean, hey, people are people and sometimes they’re right on the money. So we give religion and a religious person “credit” for being the society or person, owing entirely to their beliefs and not that they have brains in their heads, for the earliest possible discovery of a true fact. Religions made the schools, religions popularized scientific discovery or whatever. So what have they done for us lately, and is it essential now to give them current deference for their achievements (not their own achievements) in the past? Not if it’s irrelevant to current circumstances. They get to be in the history books with everyone else in their era of glory.

    Similar to this, I used to go out with a Greek guy. His parents were immigrants, so he was bicultural, meaning nationalistic to some extent about being Greek. I know about the Greeks (as much as I know any history), that doesn’t mean he’s smart or I have to treat him like he’s smart because he’s descended from a long line ago already of a conglomerate of great minds. He didn’t discover democracy or the hypotenuse of a triangle or whatever. He had that stuff handed to him like I did. No credit just for being Greek. So basically, he was also a sexist jerk, just happened to be, I don’t blame that on him being Greek either, but yeah, people want their association with a highly-regarded group to mean something extra, to get bonus points.

    That’s what this article was about, not about whether Christians did or did not have some era of reason and progress, but whether they currently deserve accolades for their association, special treatment, deference. Not if you personally aren’t in the history book, no. Definitely not if you belong to a group that is currently in favor of planting us in the 19th century or earlier, and tend to use your privilege as a device to hold people out, back, and away from your group unless they say the magic words. Deeds do count in real life.

  • Castilliano

    Bob S.,
    Harris is using the example of Persian Algebra to show how we don’t attribute algebra to Persian culture/philosophy/religion, even though Persians invented it. Algebra came from Persia & Persians, but we don’t tag Algebra “Persian”. It just is. Just like other scientific advancements aren’t “Christian”, et al. Their origins aren’t part of their importance. They stand (or fall) on their own merits, like Newton’s whose non-scientific ones fell despite being “Newtonian”.
    While I used it above to allude to other scientific advances, Harris used it to refer to morality. That the source of the morality doesn’t matter as much as its own soundness. He then goes on to show the unsoundness of Christian morality, even though it includes some sound principles, and that it’s not “God is the source” that makes them sound or unsound, but the morality’s own merits.

  • MNb

    This is a sort of summary, though I have added a few more points. “Christianity laid the foundation of modern science” implies that christianity was both a necessary and sufficient condition for modern science. The first can be shown indeed. Christianity was not the only religion capable of doing that or China and India, which at several points of history were far more advanced than western Europe, wouldn’t have had any science to speak of.
    No way christianity was a sufficient condition as not only Byzantium shows, but also Ireland. John Scotus Eriugena was intellectually superior to all his contemporaries, but everything he knew science the ancient Greeks and Romans knew as well.
    The three main arguments apologists always bring forward to suggest – they are smart and dishonest enough not to admit it – that christianity was a sufficient condition as well are
    1. Jean Buridan. His understanding of impetus though was thoroughly Aristotelian. The way John Wallis defined momentum in 1670 was radically different.
    2. Nicole Oresme. He indeed investigated the hypothesis that the Earth revolved around the Sun. That was nothing special though; Aristarchus of Samos did the same many centuries before. Typical for Oresme was that he was satisfied with an argument from authority to reject the heliocentric hypothesis. It didn’t occur to him that additional observations might decide the issue. Western Europe had to wait for Tycho Brahe for that idea, who had no such misgivings.
    It’s also true that Oresme more or less approached Cartesian coordinates. Again that’s nothing special:

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Aristotle/Mechanica*.html

    Figure 2.
    Also read points 32 and 33, which shows that the ancient scientists came closer to Newtonian Mechanics than any medieval colleague after them.

    3. William of Ockham and his apocryphal razor. Apologists typically forget that William did not develop his idea to decide between conflicting scientific theories, but to decide between philosophical and/or theological statements. It just happened that his principle appeared to be fruitful for modern science as well.
    The first boost of intellectual life in western Europa came after the fall of Toledo in 1085 and the second after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Combined with the fact, due to social and economic developments, that the RCC had lost all its authority – and with it Aristotle – the conclusion must be that modern science began thanks to external factors.
    But yeah, christianity in western Europe deserves credit for avoiding the fate of Ireland after two centuries of barbarian pillaging and for saving what it could. Any bigger claim is completely unjustified, no matter apologetic wriggling.

    • Patrick

      MNb: “This is a sort of summary, though I have added a few more points. “Christianity laid the foundation of modern science” implies that christianity was both a necessary and sufficient condition for modern science. The first can be shown indeed. Christianity was not the only religion capable of doing that or China and India, which at several points of history were far more advanced than western Europe, wouldn’t have had any science to speak of.“

      In the following quote from the link mentioned in my first comment, in which the differences between the scientific achievements in China and in Europe is addressed, a strong emphasis is put on the importance of theological views:

      “Studies on the development of the Physical Sciences have to face up to why the three great ancient cultures (China, India, and Egypt) display, independently of one another, a similar pattern vis-a-vis Physical Science. The pattern is about still-births, that some kind of Physical Science gets started, and then stops after some years, even if they all had the talents, the social organization, and peace which make up the standard explanatory framework for sociologies of science. The great historian on China, Joseph Needham, takes considerable time to discuss this, as he realizes that “Broadly speaking, the climate of the Chinese culture-area is similar to that of the European. It is not possible for anyone to say (as has been maintained in the Indian case) that the environment of an exceptionally hot climate inhibited the rise of modern natural science”. Hence he finds that “The answer to all such questions lies, I now believe, primarily in the social, intellectual and economic structures of the different civilizations” (Needham, p. 190)). It is interesting that he concludes some hundred pages of discussions on the Chinese and European modes of thought with focusing on the difference in their view on the Laws of Nature, “historically, the question remains whether natural science could ever have reached its present state of development without passing through a ‘theological’ state” (Needham, p. 330).”

      Like Joseph Needham historian of science James Hannam on pp. 340-341 of his book “God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science” (Duxford 2009) points to the importance of theological views as a motivation for the pursuit of science:

      “The metaphysical cornerstone of modern science is often overlooked. We take it for granted and we do not worry about why people began studying nature in the first place. Today you can enhance the credentials of any outlandish theory you like by labelling it “scientific”, as advertisers and quacks well appreciate. But back in the Middle Ages, science did not enjoy the automatic authority that it has today.

      To understand why science was attractive even before it could demonstrate its remarkable success in explaining the universe, it is necessary to look at things from a medieval point of view. The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature man could learn about its creator. Medieval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it. Because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinizing. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle’s contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity. God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought. The only way to find out which laws God had decided on was by the use of experience and observation. The motivations and justification of medieval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science. Sir Isaac Newton explicitely stated that he was investigating God’s creation, which was a religious duty because nature reflects the creativity of its maker.”

      A good example of a theological foundation of the view of nature that could serve as a motivation of the pursuit of science during the Middle Ages is the following statement made by the medieval theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas:

      “… one finds in the operations of Nature that they proceed along fixed paths to determined ends, with order and in a most fitting way, like those things which are made by human skill; so that the whole work of Nature seems to be the achievement of a wise agent. Thus Nature is said to act with wisdom. Now the work of a wise man ought be well-ordered; for we say rightly that this is characteristic of the sage, that he disposes of all things harmoniously.”

      (Source: http://www.josephkenny.joyeurs.com/CDtexts/OperatOccult.htm)

  • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

    I think my response to Darren applies to some of this. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2013/03/he-blinded-me-with-science-part-the-third-the-final-chapter/#comment-206

    Let me know if I can clarify further. Interesting conversation. I’m enjoying the discussion.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Greg:

      Other cultures throughout history made pretty good goes at building the “science skyscraper” but it always collapsed after the first, second, third floor. No one could get the thing to stand. Until the Christians came along. Then, all of a sudden, we have a foundation that can stand a 1000 years of constant building and expansion and nothing we pile on top of the thing makes the foundation crack.

      And your challenge is to show that this isn’t simply a coincidence or a correlation. You need to show that Christianity is the cause of the science that we have today and that if something else had come out on top (Greek pantheon, Celtic religions, etc.) that Europe (indeed, the world) wouldn’t have the science it has now.

      Truth isn’t just questionable. It’s personal and subjective.

      Maybe in literature, but never in science.

      Who’s to say your truth is better than mine?

      Uh … the evidence? Or is this a trick question?

      We are talking about science here, right? If so, I’m not sure where feminism and queer theory fits in.

      there is more junk science and crap research being produced than ever.

      I’ve seen much “science” in the service of a religious agenda (Creationism) and spinoff thinking (AGW is bad science). As for the volume going up, I haven’t seen data on that.

      Since truth doesn’t really exist (how can it if God is dead?)

      Absolute moral truth doesn’t exist, as far as I can tell (I keep asking Christians for evidence and they keep repeating their unsubstantiated claims). The ordinary kind of moral truth chugs along just fine, however.

      As for scientific truth, the ups and downs within society sociologically or theologically don’t much affect science as far as I can tell.

      • Patrick

        Bob Seidensticker: “And your challenge is to show that this isn’t simply a coincidence or a correlation. You need to show that Christianity is the cause of the science that we have today and that if something else had come out on top (Greek pantheon, Celtic religions, etc.) that Europe (indeed, the world) wouldn’t have the science it has now.“

        The following contribution aims to provide arguments for this view:

        http://www.telektronikk.com/volumes/pdf/2.2004/Page_005-025.pdf

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Patrick:

          Does this long article make a compelling argument? If so, please summarize it for us here.

        • Patrick

          In my view the article can be summarized as follows: A high esteem for manual work, based on the Christian work ethic, a linear view of history, belief in progress and the view that by studying nature one can learn something about God resulted in the technological and scientific leadership of the West.

    • Darren

      My reply, cross-posted.

      —————–

      Thank you, Greg, for the considerate response.

      Previously, you were claiming that there was something unique to Catholicism, some characteristic that was singularly conducive to the flourishing of philosophy, reason, and, ultimately, science in Europe and then the Western World. This is a very specific claim, that it was Catholicism, not Theism, not mono-Theism, not even Christianity, but traditional Christianity embodied then as now in the Roman Catholic Church.

      ”History shows that science, as a sustained, systematic, enterprise was not a gift from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was a gift of Christianity, and specifically, the Catholic Church.”

      From your response I now take this position to have evolved into a claim that it was the singular properties of the Catholic worldview that “merely” established the _foundations_ of reason and science and that it should come as no surprise that other worldviews coming later and finding such a well-crafted and robust footing would then be able to seize the baton and race upwards. You were so kind as to provide an analogy to illustrate this more nuanced claim.

      As a professional engineer, I happen to know a few things about the construction of skyscrapers. The methods and materials used in the design and construction of the foundations of skyscrapers are precisely the same methods and materials that are used to design and construct the subsequent 1st floor, 5th floor, or 105th floor. There are subtleties to the effective management of soil bearing loads, groundwater intrusion, vibrational and seismic effects that are different from wind loading and resonant sway, but it is the same math, the same geometry, the same basic materials of steel and concrete, the same computer modeling software, the same drawings, and symbols, and mutually agreed-upon vernacular. We engineers do not use Aristotelian alchemy with its Earth, Air, Fire, and Water for the foundations, then switch to Atomism for floors 2 and up.

      This is to preface that if we are now claiming that Catholicism was a necessary condition for the establishment of reason and philosophy and science, that it laid the metaphorical foundation, but that once this yeoman’s task was accomplished, then any of a number of other systems could then take over, some even perhaps outpacing the accomplishments of Catholicism.

      The objection naturally springs to mind that if these other systems can do such a good job carrying on the work which Catholicism started, then could not those other systems have done the original work to begin with?

      I am afraid this new tack does nothing to address the original proposed test of your theory:
      1. There is some unique property of Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which is singularly conducive to the foundation and advancement of reason, philosophy, and science.
      2. The strength, pervasiveness, power, and influence of the Catholic worldview varies both temporally and geographically.
      3. Therefore, it would follow that those locations and periods where Catholicism was most influential would also correspond with those locations and periods in which the establishment and advance of reason, philosophy, and science were greatest.

      This is, however, simply not the case as others on Bob’s blog have so ably demonstrated (MNb and Mr. X are great fun).

      It is a historical fact that modern, Western reason, philosophy, and science originated and developed in Europe. Why this is so is an open question. Such thought and scientific advance was not unique to Europe, it cropped up from time to time in multiple other locations, but for reasons beyond the scope of this post those efforts faltered.

      In a former age, it was viewed to be the unique gifts of the European brain, of the white race, that accounted for such poor performance among the colored races. Thankfully, while this view persists among some, thanks to the efforts of we PC liberal elite, few dare utter such views in public.

      In a former age, it was viewed to be the unique gifts of the male brain, of we blessed with the great and powerful penis, that gifted science and reason to the world and accounted for the rather poor performance of the unblessed female. While this age is not so former as the first, we PC liberal elites are endeavoring to silence these voices as well.

      There are, possibly, reasons. But then again, perhaps not. The Anthropic principal may be at work. It happened, we are proof of that. Given that it happened, and it had to happen somewhere, it may have just been dumb luck it was (Christian) Europe. Perhaps.

      For me, when looking for a foundational tradition to give thanks to, my money is on the pagan Greeks and their inheritors the Romans.

      Thank you again for article and responding posts.

      P.S. It lies outside of the point of my postings, but you did say one thing which I find very curious:

      ”Our post-Christian society is tunneling under the Christian intellectual foundation of the Science Skyscraper and because of that, there is more junk science and crap research being produced than ever. Since truth doesn’t really exist (how can it if God is dead?) then the point of research is not finding truth, but profit and self-aggrandisement.”

      I am curious as to what, exactly, you mean by this statement. While I can scarcely claim to track even the smallest fraction of the science being produced, the only “junk” that I see is sourced from economically, politically, or religiously motivated pseudo-science. If there is an avalanche of “crap research” being published in the peer reviewed world, I would be very interested in seeing it…

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Darren:

        Thanks for sharing your reply to Greg.

        The connection with civil engineering was helpful.

        It is a historical fact that modern, Western reason, philosophy, and science originated and developed in Europe. Why this is so is an open question.

        Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel confronts the question about why Europe is top dog and doesn’t point to Christianity as the reason.

        Such thought and scientific advance was not unique to Europe, it cropped up from time to time in multiple other locations, but for reasons beyond the scope of this post those efforts faltered.

        If aliens visited the earth 4000 years ago, they might think that Egypt had it all figured out. 1000 years ago, China. 200 years ago, Europe. Today, America. To freeze time at any one instant and make a big deal of who happens to be on top at that moment is missing the big picture.

        The Anthropic principal may be at work. It happened, we are proof of that. Given that it happened, and it had to happen somewhere, it may have just been dumb luck it was (Christian) Europe. Perhaps.

        This is a bit like Douglas Adams’ puddle that marvels at how the hole fits it just so (when it’s actually the other way around).

      • Darren

        And I thought I would cross-post Dr. Popcek’s reply… my thoughts after the blockquote…

        “Darren,

        1. I do appreciate your thoughtful response, but just to be clear, my argument didn’t “evolve.” This has been my argument from the beginning. I think if you go back and read the original thread, that will be clearer to you. As I pointed out in my comments to you, you were misunderstanding me. Likewise, I agreed that if I was saying what you claim I was saying, I would have been both wrong and an idiot. We’ve always been on the same page there.

        2. Every analogy has its limits. I was not arguing that my analogy was literally true. I was offering an illustration. I’m glad it seems to have helped you understand my meaning a bit better.

        3. That said, nothing you wrote changes anything about the fact that in order for reason and science to flourish at all it needed Christianity. As you point out, once a building has its foundation, you can build all manner of things on it and the original designers/contractors/builders/architechts who poured the foundation don’t have to be involved with the construction of the 100th floor, nor do they have to use the same methods if they don’t want to. That said, everything that is built up there still rests upon that same foundation.

        Science rests upon a cosmology that was only possible because of Christianity’s proclamation of an orderly universe created by a God who both wedded himself to creation and makes himself knowable through the study of nature. I grant that, by and large, the facts of this cosmology are well-enough empirically established that scientists can now plagiarize the cosmology without attribution. But theft doesn’t alter the original authorship.

        4. Regarding my junk science comment. What I meant is clear enough from the brief epistemological history I provided.

        Thank you for your comments.

        Dr. Greg”

        I take this to be a big ole’ “Up yours!” personally, but perhaps I am misreading… ;)

        Funny thing, Rebecca Hamilton over at Public Catholic would have just deleted my best comments, leaving the weaker ones and pretended to have ‘won’; not sure why Dr. Popcek did not do the same…

        …and who signs their posts, “Dr. Greg”?

        I think I am just going to leave the thread alone, I suspect there is no further productive discussion to be had.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Darren:

          3. That said, nothing you wrote changes anything about the fact that in order for reason and science to flourish at all it needed Christianity.

          An insanely bold claim for which I still see assertion, not evidence.

          Science rests upon a cosmology that was only possible because of Christianity’s proclamation of an orderly universe

          Why does he make such a big deal about this? We could whip up a dozen imaginary religions that have cosmologies that meet whatever criteria Greg wants. I don’t even know his assertion about the fabulousness of Christianity’s cosmology is true, but let’s accept that. So what?

          I think I am just going to leave the thread alone, I suspect there is no further productive discussion to be had.

          Perhaps so, but keep in mind that you never were likely to get him to back down. Your focus should be on any lurkers who are watching the ongoing battle. They are the ones you have a chance with.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          Don’t be discouraged Darren. Dr. Greg is just full of it. I have spent years studying European Culture in class, on my own and in Europe. (What a luxury that was by today’s standards). The influence the church had on art, music and architecture – both spiritual and material – was obvious. Other religions have had a similar influence on their cultures. However, Christianity’s promotion of the sciences was obscure to say the least and often obstructive. If Catholicism was advantageous to science Latin American should be the center of Science and engineering since the Renaissance instead Germany was- until they kicked out their Jewish intellectuals in the 1930s. Even then Nazi Germany developed the first rocket propelled fighter planes without any help from God that I know of. Isabella and Ferdinand also destroyed much learning in Spain when they kicked out the Muslim and Jews in 1492 due to Christian Intolerance.

        • Darren

          Thank you, Virginia, that is very kind.

          As Bob mentioned on another comment, the only reason to engage with Dr. Popcak is in the hope that a lurker who still retains sufficient capacity to question might be influenced.

          I thought that Dr. Popcak’s response was asinine; obviously defensive and (IMO) ceding the field by invoking the “…I’ve already addressed this…” when it was clear he had not.

          My question was more, from the standpoint of a still reachable lurker, would it be better to let Dr. Popcak’s bumbling answer stand as testimony to his having been beaten (IMO), or continue hammering for a few more rounds…

          Thanks for the other valuable thoughts, as well. Yes, I had a minor fascination with Nazi Germany – the science, and to a lesser extent the fashion, not so much the genocide. A bit of research took the gloss off the science in a hurry; ranking up there with “Never start a land war in Asia” (which dumbass did), should stand, “Don’t get rid of all your Jewish scientists right before starting a world war”. I suppose we are all lucky that Hitler was an absolute moron when it came to military strategy or actually managing a nation…

  • Patrick

    In his critique of James Hannam’s book mentioned above Charles Freeman makes the following statement:

    “Oddly, as we shall see, Hannam, the champion of medieval progress, hardly mentions the specific achievements of the Italian city-states from 1200 onwards.”

    (Source: http://rationalist.org.uk/articles/2416/why-gods-philosophers-did-not-deserve-to-be-shortlisted-for-the-royal-society-prize)

    Charles Freeman’s reference to the Italian city-states from 1200 onwards, to which the city-states in other parts of Western Europe may be added, could provide an indication of the cause of the Scientific Revolution. The political and economic elites of these city-states often consisted of merchants or craftsmen. Unlike the elites in ancient Greek and Roman societies, who valued practical labour little, they were engaged in such activities and may have been interested in improvements in this respect. So, these men’s practical-mindedness together with the theological views I mentioned earlier may have provided a fertile ground for the Scientific Revolution.

    Looking at the economic life in medieval city-states as a possible precondition of the Scientific Revolution it is interesting that there were pioneers of modern science coming from such places: Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was from Pisa, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) from Weil der Stadt and Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647) from Faenza.

    Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) was from Brussels in Flanders. In the Wikipedia article about Flanders we can read:

    “During the late Middle Ages Flanders’ trading towns (notably Ghent, Bruges and Ypres) made it one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of Northern Italy.”

    Trade was also the central economic activity in the Hanseatic cities in Northern Europe. To these belonged the city of Thorn, where Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) came from. Maybe not accidentally he was the son of a merchant.

    Another Hanseatic city was Magdeburg. It was the hometown of another pioneer of modern science, Otto von Guericke (1602-1686).

    As mentioned above the elites in ancient Greek and Roman societies had a low esteem for manual work. This is very well expressed in the following excerpt from the link mentioned in my first comment:

    “Negative attitudes towards manual labor did not make things better. As Xenophon presents Socrates saying, “What are called the mechanical arts carry a social stigma and are rightly dishonoured in our cities, for these arts damage the bodies of those who work in them or who act as overseers, by compelling them to a sedentary life and to an indoor life, and, in some cases, to spend the whole day by the fire. This physical degeneration results also in deterioration of the soul. Furthermore, the workers at these trades simply have not got the time to perform the offices of friendship or citizenship. Consequently they are looked upon as bad friends and bad patriots, and in some cities, especially the warlike ones, it is not legal for a citizen to ply a mechanical trade” (from Oeconomicus, quoted by Dahl, 1982, page 65).

    To Aristotle society had progressed so far that one was now liberated from the need for new technological inventions. “At first he who invented any art whatever that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to recreation, the inventors of the latter were naturally always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when all such inventions were already established, the sciences which do not aim at giving pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and first in the places where men first began to have leisure. This is why the mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly caste was allowed to be at leisure” (from Metaphysica).

    This is the attitude of someone who has put technology behind himself as something trivial. “However, one may perhaps rather realise that even if they had all the things necessary for material and spiritual growth, they were diverted by a very peculiar way of looking at the relationship between spiritual and physical work” (Dahl, page 67).

    It is no coincidence that to most Greeks science was about geometry, something which had to do with a world of thought, rather than about physical experiment, which had to do with nature and matter. …”

    The higher esteem for manual work in medieval Europe may have been caused by the Christian work ethic as outlined in 2 Thessalonians 3,6-15.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Patrick:

      As Xenophon presents Socrates saying, “What are called the mechanical arts carry a social stigma and are rightly dishonoured in our cities, for these arts damage the bodies of those who work in them or who act as overseers, by compelling them to a sedentary life and to an indoor life, and, in some cases, to spend the whole day by the fire.

      Trivia: Thomas Jefferson was on the same page. He said, “While we have land to labour then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a workbench, or twirling a distaff . Carpenters, masons, smiths, are wanting in husbandry: but, for the general operations of manufacture, let our workshops remain in Europe. It is better to carry provisions and materials to workmen there, than bring them to the provisions and materials, and with them their manners and principles.”

  • SparklingMoon

    A Debt to Christianity?
    —————————————————————————————-
    Jesus was the last prophet in Israel, a believer in Moses and all the prophets of Israel who followed after Moses. He was bound by the Mosiac law and adhered to it. He had no authority, to abrogate the Mosiac law or any part of it. This he made quite clear in his declaration:
    ” Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I did not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, not one letter, not a dot, will disappear from the law until all that must happen has happened. Anyone therefore who sets aside even the le ast of the law’s demands and teaches others to do the same, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them. the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:1 7-19)

    This law had been revealed,fourteen hundred years before Jesus, to Prophet Moses. Jesus as a Reformer Prophet had reformed the Mosaic law and had presented it in its real form as was revealed by God to Prophet Moses.This Mosaic Law was not a universal one as had never claimed but was confined to the the Children of Israel only. From the very first verse to the last one the message of Mosaic Law speaks only to children of Israel : ”And the voice of the Lord came to Moses out of the Tent of meeting, saying, Give these orders to the children of Israel(Leviticus1:1,2)”These are the orders which the Lord gave to Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai.’(Leviticus27:34)

    Jesus had always tried to reform and to maintain the Mosaic Law among the people of Israel.
     I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.(Luke 1: 32- 33 ) He clearly directed his disciples to that effect, as would appear from: These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt. 10:5-6)

    It was St. Paul who had begun to invite other nations later towards Christianity and he had brought no significant change in their culture but only had given the name of Christianity to their existed faiths . It was he or his next followers (who were in Roman Empire) had introduced this myth of Trinity and this myth was already a part of these alien lands and pagan faiths in a form within the Roman Empire. The person of Jesus had become the Hero of their faith Trinity and the followers of Trinity had devoted their all love for Jesus. They worshipped Jesus as a God and real God Almighty used to present in the reference of Jesus . They began to look at the face of God Almighty in the mirror of Jesus and in the miracle of his turning into a human being and from human being to a God. The natural result was that followers of Trinity became very far away from the real person of God Almighty and unaware of His attributes.
    The positive point of this Paul’s Christianity was the introduction of Mosaic Law in those alien lands within the Roman Empire and its practice became gradually a part of their culture in their next followers and generations . In spite of having faith in this myth the people of previous time were satisfy and used to practise these morals of Mosaic Law and this practice of morals had improved both their characters and societies day by day .
    The people of present time who have examined their faith of Trinity in the light of the prevailed knowledge have find it nothing more than a myth and consequently has departed themselves ,as a reaction, to the person of Jesus who was presented as a God and he was the central interest or Hero of Trinity and as reaction the followers has also stopped to practice the morals that had been prescribed in the Old Testament considering it also a myth. The major motivation to practice the presented morals of a religion to people is the love of God and love of Prophet and the followers of Trinity are deprived of these both at this time.

    • SparklingMoon

      This attitude of the followers of Trinity towards God Almighty was totally against the teachings of Holy Jesus. He always had converted his followers to God Almighty : ”This is Eternal Life: to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) He had always honoured God Almighty and had advised his followers also:”How Can you believe when you accept honour from one another, and care nothing for the honour that comes from him who alone is God.”(John 5:44) He always praised and preferred God Almighty to his person:”And, behold one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good things shall I do,that I may have eternal life?And he said unto him,Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one,that is,God:But thou wilt enter into life,keep the commandments.”(Matt. 19:16-17) He informed his people that all power is in the hand of God Almighty :”To sit on my right hand, and on my left is not mine to give but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” (Matt: 20:23)

      This calling and this preference of Jesus to God Almighty is not without purpose and reason. His divine message realizes that the real soul of a religion is God Almighty and without Him a religion is as dark as a sun without light. His mission was to call people towards God Almighty and good morals because both have a very close relation If belief of God is weak then morality is also influenced the same degree. The weaker the belief in God Almighty the feebler its hold becomes on the moral conduct of a people. Actually the knowledge of the attributes of God plays a big role in the life of people to improves their morals. An improvement in human morals to such a degree that human nature may turn into spirituality, is always achieved through the knowledge and beauty of His attributes. The knowledge of His Attributes love, Mercy, justice, wisdom, sanctity, righteousness, kindness ,forgiveness etc creates a true love for Him and this love motivates a person to practice them in their lives. It is the big reason that all prophets has talked about the attributes of God and has motivated their followers to practice these attributes of God in their lives to fulfil the purpose of their life.

      • Darren

        Did you really just type all that up just to spam it into a discussion where it is completely irrelevant?

        Learn to cut and paste, my friend…

  • Darren

    Who is John D. Steinrucken?

    From my internet search, I find copious references to the one, and only one, article in American Thinker. He is not a staff member, he does not appear to have written anything else.

    There is a US patent for a beehive cover from 1981 in Lousiana issued to a John D. Steinrucken.

    There is some chatter about crossword puzzles and other minor matters from a John D. Steinrucken in the Tico Times, “…Central America’s leading English-language news source…”

    ”Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?”

    This does not exactly sound like any atheist that I know…

    Even those, like myself, who are willing to _entertain_ the proposition that religion _may_ have had a net positive effect on the development and maintenance of civilization would have called a halt long before such effusive Christian centricities.

    Methinks I smell a rat…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Methinks I smell a rat…

      The biggest eyebrow raiser IMO is his “Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?” He’s welcome to feel this way, but, since 4/10ths of this “perfect moral code” talks about God, why call himself an atheist?

      • Darren

        Ooh, you are spot on with that one, I did not even make it that far.

        So far as perfect and concise, it is hard to beat Kant’s Categorical Imperitive, IMO.

        • Darren

          Doh! I R a gud spelr…

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          HA! Isn’t the Golden Rule more concise than the 10 commandments and Kant. While it was the first moral teaching of the Protestant Sunday Schools I attended, it is far from unique to Christianity. And certainly any ordinary atheist can see the logic in this without reference to the supernatural.

        • Darren

          I read the CI and the Golden Rule as equivalent. I am not the only one, as this quick search of Wikipedia showed me.

          Apparently, Kant knew of this interpretation of his own work, and most specifically did not approve. I find that rather amusing…

          From Wikipedia (Categorical Imperative);

          ”The Golden Rule
          The first formulation of the Categorical Imperative appears similar to The Golden Rule.
          The ‘Golden Rule’ (in its negative form) says: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.”
          The ‘Golden Rule’ (in its positive form) says: “Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them”.
          Kant’s first formulation of CI says: “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”
          Due to this similarity, some have thought the two are identical.
          Peter Corning suggests that, “Kant’s objection to the Golden Rule is especially suspect because the categorical imperative (CI) sounds a lot like a paraphrase, or perhaps a close cousin, of the same fundamental idea. In effect, it says that you should act toward others in ways that you would want everyone else to act toward others, yourself included (presumably). Calling it a universal law does not materially improve on the basic concept.”. Corning claims that Ken Bilmore thought so as well.
          Kant himself did not think so in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Rather, the categorical imperative is an attempt to identify a purely formal and necessarily universally binding rule on all rational agents. The Golden Rule, on the other hand, is neither purely formal nor necessarily universally binding. It is “empirical” in the sense that applying it depends on providing content, like “If you don’t want others to hit you, then don’t hit them.” Also, it is a hypothetical imperative in the sense that it can be formulated, “If you want X done to you, then do X to others.” Kant feared that the hypothetical clause, “if you want X done to you,” remains open to dispute. He wanted an imperative that was categorical: “Do X to others.” And this he thinks he discovered and formulated. Kant thought, therefore, that the Golden Rule (insofar as it is accurate) is derived from the categorical imperative .”

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          Well the CI and the Golden Rule may be equivalent, but the Rule is more concisely stated.

          More and more women I know (especially mothers) agree with me that Laws and Religion were invented by men for men. Etiquette, whose leading authorities are women, is a better and more relevant guide for human behavior. I love Judith Martin “Guide to “Excruciatingly Correct Behavior”. The “Star-Spangled Manners: in Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette” is on my book shelf waiting to be read. My favorite book of this genre I inherited from my mother – the 1940 edition of Emily Post’s “Children are People”. Ms Post seems to advocate agnosticism in her approach to Children. i.e. “Among the questions which most of us find the hardest to answer are those about God”…Mary age 4 asks: “If God sees everything, everywhere, and can make everyone well, and loves those who are good, why can’t Tommy run any more? Tommy has never been naughty. Why does Go punish Tommy so he can’t play any more?” (Polio was common in 1940) Ms Post tells us: “The only reply that most of us can make is the we don’t know why, because we can’t know everything.” In the rest of her chapter Ms. Post tell us to be thankful for these “pesky” questions because children are very intelligent and their curiosity is to be encouraged. She warns “The good little boy or girl, always docile, always willing to do as told, never showing any inclination to do otherwise, may very well be someone to worry about!

        • Darren

          But, you are absolutely correct that the Golden Rule is more concise.

          It is one of my core principles

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          What a coincidence! Ohio Senator Rob Portman is in the news today because he has changed his mind and now approves Gay Marriage due to the influence of his gay son. I just heard on MSNBC today the he reconciled his change of heart with his Christian Faith by applying the GOLDEN RULE. Well I’ll be.

        • Darren

          ”Well the CI and the Golden Rule may be equivalent, but the Rule is more concisely stated.”

          Agreed! I do keep on trying to like Kant, but I often think I should just take what I want and leave the rest…

          ”More and more women I know (especially mothers) agree with me that Laws and Religion were invented by men for men. Etiquette, whose leading authorities are women, is a better and more relevant guide for human behavior.”

          Very interesting… Reminds me of something I ran across some time back about the difference between Shame societies (most Eastern societies) and Guilt societies (most Western societies).

          Shame Society

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          I got an “A” on a Poem I wrote about Kant (as a European Cultural History Major at Berkeley) but I prefer Hume and Descarte. Hume served me well during my studies for my MS in Statistics and well beyond. As been mentioned in this long dialogue, we often mistake correlation and contingency with causation. Hume wrote much about this. I probably should read Hume again or at least Frederick Copleston’s (English Jesuit) summation.

        • Darren

          Virginia wrote;

          ” got an “A” on a Poem I wrote about Kant (as a European Cultural History Major at Berkeley) but I prefer Hume and Descarte.”

          _That_ is pretty cool.

          Hume is my favorite and largely responsible for my Atheism.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Virginia: That the Golden Rule (more or less) is part of our programming is my explanation for where our common moral instincts come from.

          (Thank you, evolution.)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Virginia: I plan to post on Sen. Portman on Monday.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          I look forward to your discussion of Portman. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60′s, Gays were a vibrant part of our culture. I was amazed later at how mean and condemning the rest of the world was towards them. Its been a long time since then, but their courage in coming out of the closets, I believe, has been the major factor in changing public perceptions. Has your effort in publicly discussing atheism been inspired by their example?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Virginia:

          I hope that the acceptance of gays is how it’ll work with atheists (Greta Christina has talked about this quite a bit, and she’s in both camps).

          We had an interesting experience here in Washington state last fall. An atheist group of which I was a part raised money for Ref 74, our gay marriage law. When we contacted the organization, they would’ve been happy to accept the money, but they didn’t want our logo on their page with all the other major contributors. (The irony that a gay marriage organization was rejecting contributions from another organization because of who its members were seemed more apparent to us than them.) They eventually came around, but that was weird.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          There reluctance towards Atheism was understandable but still narrow minded. When an African American friend in PA told me she wanted to join one of my environmental groups, I told her that since she was good at handling the double whammy of being black and female, she might as well take on the third whammy of being an environmentalist. She laughed and said she was up for the challenge.

          When I lived in PA, I was a member of the Social Action committee of the Unitarian Fellowship. Our project for my first year was to qualify our congregation as “Friendly and Welcoming” to gays with the National organization. Many on the committee were agnostics.

  • Patrick

    A good example of the role of technological innovation as explained in the link in my first comment is the watch industry in Switzerland. A summary of its history can be read in the following link:

    http://www.fhs.ch/en/history.php

    The watch production in Switzerland started in the city-state of Geneva. However, the invention of the pocket watch took place in another city-state, Nuremberg, where the master locksmith Peter Henlein in 1504 produced the first such object, called the “Nuremberg egg”.

    As mentioned above, city-states and Hanseatic cities seem to have played a major role with respect to the Scientific Revolution. In this respect it is interesting that the inventor of the telescope, Hans Lippershey (around 1570-1619), was born in the Hanseatic city of Wesel.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Patrick:

      Swiss companies invented the quartz clock but didn’t pursue it because cheap watches would undercut their own business. So Japanese companies did. Oops.

  • Rick

    That the Golden Rule (more or less) is part of our programming is my explanation for where our common moral instincts come from.

    (Thank you, evolution.)

    What evidence do you have for this assertion? Do you see animals naturally behaving this way?

    • Compuholic

      Humans are nothing special. Many primates do very much the same things we do. There were many experiments done in this regard. One example involved two monkeys. If one of them wanted food he had to push a button which would trigger an electric shock to the other. After figuring this out they went without food for a long time to avoid harm coming to the other.

      And social behavior (including the enforcement of social rules) have been observed in wolves, dolphins, etc.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rick:

      This is my distillation of what I’ve read from Daniel Dennett and others about the evolutionary roots of human morality. I don’t have a succinct article I can point you to.

      Yes, we’ve seen this kind of Golden Rule instincts in other animals. My favorite is one that you’ve surely heard about, the capuchin monkeys and the grapes. Video here–a must see if you haven’t yet.

      • Rick

        I’m not sure this is the link you intended. These are monkeys behaving selfishly regarding grapes and cucumbers. The description was:

        This was clipped out of recent TED talk given by Frans de Waal regarding moral behavior in animals. In a nut shell we get to observe reaction and response of two Capuchin monkey when they receive different reward for same type of work.

        In any case, I don’t find your evidence compelling on any level that the Golden Rule is derived from evolution. As you said to another writer recently,

        An insanely bold claim for which I still see assertion, not evidence.

        • Darren

          Rick said;

          “I’m not sure this is the link you intended. These are monkeys behaving selfishly regarding grapes and cucumbers.”

          A clarification, these are not monkey’s acting selfishly. These are monkeys happily following the rules, then getting royally pissed off when they see their fellow monkey receiving special treatment.

          Not quite the Golden Rule, but definitely showing an awareness of Fairness or Justice; pretty much all Capuchins are created equal, or something like in Monkey-talk.

        • Rick

          Darren,

          What I queried Bob about was his “insanely bold claim…[without] evidence.” I don’t see that the monkey video shows anything about the golden rule nor about the altruistic sense of fairness or justice. The monkey getting cucumbers instead of grapes is indeed incensed, but my dog would act like that if she was getting dog food while another was being fed steak from the table. This has nothing remotely to do with demonstrating, scientifically, as Bob always claims he requires, that the golden rule was delivered to us through by evolution (as he claimed). He already admitted as much, so there’s no reason to defend his honor in this. He can handle it.

          Thanks for your ideas though.
          Rick

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          It’s obvious to me that these monkeys’ sense of fairness has been violated. Therefore, they have a sense of fairness. The idea of fairness is an element or morality.

          But you disagree. OK. There are other examples (chimpanzees showing compassion/sympathy for a fellow chimpanzee who lost a fight, for example), but these won’t impress you either, I’m sure.

          My point isn’t that this proves that morality comes from evolution but that that’s where the evidence points. We have examples of morality in other animals; they got theirs by instinct; therefore, we likely got ours by instinct as well.

          Which is a lot more evidence than you’ve provided to support your claim, which I believe is that an omni-benevolent Creator of the universe exists who gave us our morality and grounds morality in an objective (that is, outside humanity) fashion.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          We see in monkeys an understanding of what, in human terms, is a sense of fairness. Fairness is an element of morality. How did monkeys get that sense of fairness? Instinct. We have instincts, too. Since monkeys can have instinctual morality, why not humans? It’s a natural origin and is plausible.

          I don’t find your evidence compelling on any level that the Golden Rule is derived from evolution.

          You’ve thought about this before, so I’m not sure what you’re asking for. It’s obvious to you, I’m sure, that what we think of as morality (trust, compassion, etc.) is a positive trait for a culture.

          We can imagine two tribes. In one, trust is fairly high. People can go about their business without having to guard their stuff. The hunter can give meat to a farmer today knowing that, months in the future, when he harvests his grain or apples, the hunter will get a portion. People can specialize into carpentry, weaving, fishing, and so on. Contrast that with the Mean Tribe. Everyone needs to be more self-sufficient because they don’t trust others. People can’t specialize. The Trusting Tribe will survive better to pass on their genes.

          If you’re looking for a reference that says the same thing, I don’t have that right now. I suggest Dennett.

          I’m giving you a plausible origin of morality based on concepts we already understand. That’s far better than the theist who must handwave a supernatural origin based on no tangible evidence.

        • Rick

          Bob,

          I’m not sure what you’re asking for.

          Simply what you always demand of others—scientific proof. What you offered instead was a “just-so” story that you made up. Not the same thing. I can make up any sort of story to justify my beliefs, but you wouldn’t accept that.

          If you’re looking for a reference that says the same thing, I don’t have that right now.

          So perhaps a simple admission that you made an “insanely bold claim for which I still see assertion, not evidence.” What’s good for the goose…

          I’m giving you a plausible origin of morality based on concepts we already understand. That’s far better than the theist who must handwave a supernatural origin based on no tangible evidence.

          So, if I understand you, a monkey video showing an animal can tell a grape from a cucumber and a just so story are sufficient evidence for you? More sufficient than all of textual, archaeological, experiential testimonial, and traditional evidence that Christianity provides? Even if you don’t accept these forms of evidence, you ought to be willing to admit that these forms of evidence form more substance than a monkey video and a made up story.

          But since you did admit, “…I don’t have that right now,” I will accept that as your agreement on this point—you did make an insanely bold claim about evolution delivering the golden rule without providing evidence.

          No big deal. Just sayin’ …

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          Simply what you always demand of others—scientific proof.

          That ain’t gonna happen. There is no such thing. And I’ve neither asked for or demanded it from others. (Haven’t we been over this?)

          Evidence that argues for one conclusion over another? Now, that I’ve got.

          What you offered instead was a “just-so” story that you made up.

          Didn’t make it up. Others have said the same thing.

          So perhaps a simple admission that you made an “insanely bold claim for which I still see assertion, not evidence.

          I’ve provided the evidence. The capuchin monkeys example means nothing to you. OK–you can dismiss whatever evidence I provide, but others have found it compelling.

          So, if I understand you, a monkey video showing an animal can tell a grape from a cucumber and a just so story are sufficient evidence for you?

          You do indeed misunderstand. No, it’s not sufficient evidence; it’s just one piece. You portrayed yourself as an open-minded person who simply didn’t understand my point. Not a problem–I’m happy to sketch out what I’m talking about. That was the point of the video.

          More sufficient than all of textual, archaeological, experiential testimonial, and traditional evidence that Christianity provides?

          You aren’t impressed by the same from other religions, so you know exactly where I’m coming from when I reject this within Christianity.

          Of course, I don’t pretend to dismiss what you’re referring to without an argument of my own. I’ve written many posts here that, IMO, respond convincingly to many of these aspects of the Christian argument. Don’t bother telling me that I haven’t provided a thorough rebuttal here; I’d agree. But those posts have my responses.

          Even if you don’t accept these forms of evidence, you ought to be willing to admit that these forms of evidence form more substance than a monkey video and a made up story.

          What is it with you and demanding admissions of error? I don’t recall you ever making one. Is that why you so enjoy it in others?

          Show me that I’ve made an error, and I’ll correct myself.

          you did make an insanely bold claim about evolution delivering the golden rule without providing evidence.

          Memory problems, perhaps? I did provide evidence. You rejected it. I could go dig up more, but you’ll just reject that. Propose a way for me to win here and I’ll think about it. As you can imagine, I’m not particularly motivated.

          No big deal. Just sayin’ …

          No–huge deal. This seems to be what you live for.

        • Compuholic

          These are monkeys behaving selfishly regarding grapes and cucumbers.[...] compelling on any level that the Golden Rule is derived from evolution

          You should educate yourself on the basics of game theory. Here is a quick summary: Imagine you have two players. Each of the players can choose between two options: Cooperate or defect. Depending on the choices of both players a reward is given out. You can now analyse the best strategies (as defined in best for the individual = selfish behavior) depending on the situation and the structure of the rewards.

          A typical situation is the following: If both players choose to cooperate they have to share the reward. If one player defects while the other chooses to cooperate, one player ends up with everything while the other gets nothing. If both players choose to defect the result for both players is less than if both had cooperated.

          Here is where it becomes interesting: The outcome of the analysis is dependent on whether the game is played only once or repeatedly. If it is played only once the best strategies for both players is to defect. If it is played repeatedly it becomes a lot more complicated. There are competitions amoung mathematicians and computer scientists to find good strategies (as in maximizing your own profit). But the challenge is that the player does not know the strategy of his opponent. So you have to find strategies that fare well against a whole range of opponent strategies.

          Those strategies are called evolutionary stable strategies. Under many games “tit for tat” is an evolutionary stable strategy (in fact it is hard to find better strategies than that). From all the successful strategies there were a few properties that stuck out (I can only remember few since I’m quoting from memory):

          1. Don’t be the first person to defect
          2. If your opponent defects: Retaliate
          3. Allow forgiveness (cannot remember the complete details under which circumstances this applies)

          Those games are used as a model for the evolution of cooperative behavior. Those principles are widely used in computer science for the development of multi-agent systems. I’ve also heard that game theory is also used in economics, politics (especially during elections), biology and many more areas.

          If you want to play with this stuff I recommend you download “NetLogo” from Northwestern University: A simulation environment where you can easily experiment with this stuff. It also comes with a wide range of example programs.

        • Rick

          No, I don’t need to educate myself on game theory. The fact that intelligent humans can reason out strategies when they have been raised by human adults passing on concepts like fairness and the golden rule has no relevance to my request that Bob provide evidence for his assertion. These are two very different sorts of issues.

          But I appreciate your offering your thoughts on how game theory. To me, this demonstrates a level of thinking and strategy that is not likely found in the animal kingdom, evolution or not.

          Best,
          Rick

        • Compuholic

          No, I don’t need to educate myself on game theory

          Right, because you already got all your anwers in your magic book.

          The fact that intelligent humans can reason out strategies when they have been raised by human adults passing on concepts like fairness and the golden rule has no relevance to my request that Bob provide evidence for his assertion.

          This proves that you should educate yourself on game theory because this sentence demonstrates that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Game theory is the foundation to understand the evolution of cooperative behavior and concepts like fairness.

          To me, this demonstrates a level of thinking and strategy that is not likely found in the animal kingdom, evolution or not.

          Again you demonstrate that you haven’t understood anything. It does not require any level of thinking. You just need to follow hardwired rules.

          1. Cooperative species can have an evolutionary advantage
          2. Those cooperative strategies are stable against exploitation

          And that is all that is needed for evolution to happen (ok, there also needs to be a smooth gradient but that should not be a problem). According to the rules I mentioned above, character traits like fairness and compassion are an evolutionary niche because they favor cooperation. As you can see this is a fully naturalistic explanation. No magic required.

      • Darren

        One of my favorite videos!

        Anyone who happens to have children will attest, 2 year-olds and Capuchins are a _lot_ alike… ;)

  • Patrick

    smrnda: “Given all the wars of religion fought in Europe, this guy is seriously trying to convince me that religion, and Christianity in particular, is a stabilizing force? Ever head of the Thirty Years’ War? Christianity, and the desire to find and promote some purer, holier version of it, was a great catalyst for conflict.“

    As for the view that monotheism in general and Christianity in particular promotes violence, the following contribution is very informative:

    http://www.con-spiration.de/texte/english/poly-e.html

  • Rick

    Bob,

    I have admitted errors before and am not afraid to do so. You are correct that you provided evidence. I erred in using the term, “scientific proof.” Mea culpa. See? Not so hard.

    As Christians, we are willing to admit we need forgiveness. Like all, I am quite guilty of imperfection.

    As for your comments, I will cherry pick as there is a general trend in what you say. This one stands out:

    You aren’t impressed by the same from other religions, so you know exactly where I’m coming from when I reject this within Christianity.

    As an astute observer of Christianity, you are likely aware that the same things don’t exist in other religions. There is no archaeological backing, and no other kinds of evidence backing Hinduism’s claims of 33 million gods. No archeological or other evidence whatsoever backing anything in Mormonism regarding a North American apparition of Jesus. No prophecy whatsoever in Hinduism, Buddhism, secular humanism, or most other religions. Islam has history back to Muhammad but its prophecies are largely restated versions of what is found in the Bible. (Joel Richardson has written an interesting book on the Islamic Anti-Christ that shows Islam is the mirror/backwards image of Christianity in some key aspects of prophecy. And as a sidelight, if you want to address a religion where there are real downtrodden…)

    So no other religions have the proof offered by the Judeo-Christian textual, historic and archeological body of evidence. That is why I don’t accept such from other religions. You shouldn’t either, and likely don’t since you reserve your ire for Christianity alone.

    I’ve written many posts here that, IMO, respond convincingly to many of these aspects of the Christian argument. Don’t bother telling me that I haven’t provided a thorough rebuttal here; I’d agree. But those posts have my responses.

    I will readily agree you have written widely on many topics. That doesn’t mean you have established with any certainty that your evidence is convincing, compelling nor sufficient. A monkey video and a just so story, plausible or not, does not rise to the level of being scientific, let alone being strong evidence for your case.

    I’m really not trying to be argumentative. Just trying to stick up for those you so gladly castigate when they offer what you consider flimsy reasons to believe something other than what you hold to be true. Seems like you can abide by the same standard, but that’s your call since it’s your blog, after all.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rick:

      There is no archaeological backing, and no other kinds of evidence backing Hinduism’s claims of 33 million gods.

      As a complete amateur, Hinduism strikes me as more mythology than legend (what seems the best bin IMO for Christianity).

      My favorite comparison for Christianity is Mormonism. Your demand for evidence sounds good to me, but Mormonism beats Christianity easily in this domain. If evidence actually matters to you (I doubt that it does), Mormonism is for you.

      I’ve written more about this a bit here, but a better discussion is the comparison of Christianity against alien/UFO belief here.

      No prophecy whatsoever in Hinduism, Buddhism, secular humanism, or most other religions.

      Prophecy? You mean accurate prophecy? I’ve dealt with a number of the supposed Christian prophecies. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t impressed with any.)

      you reserve your ire for Christianity alone.

      No puzzle about why that is, I’m sure.

      A monkey video and a just so story, plausible or not, does not rise to the level of being scientific, let alone being strong evidence for your case.

      If you want more on morality, I’ve written quite a bit. And, as I said before, you’ll simply reject whatever evidence I provide, so I’m not motivated to argue my case further here.

      Just trying to stick up for those you so gladly castigate when they offer what you consider flimsy reasons to believe something other than what you hold to be true.

      Well, Robin Hood, I applaud your sentiment though not your evidence. Your hidden god hypothesis makes a poor competitor to the plausible natural case.

      • Virginia Fitzpatrick

        One of my Indian colleagues at Merck was active in the local PA Hindu community. He said that the minute you define God you limit him. Thus God had many manifestations. It felt tautological – God is everything. Raj did try to get me involved in Hinduism. I liked watching his daughter and her friends doing their beautiful dances but my beliefs on Hinduism are still non existent.

  • Compuholic

    So no other religions have the proof offered by the Judeo-Christian textual, historic and archeological body of evidence.

    And what evidence would that be?

    • Rick

      Something other than a monkey video and speculation, I would guess. As Bob says, show it to me and I will know it when I see it.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        No, Bob doesn’t say that.

        You seem to have nicely insulated yourself here. I provide some evidence and you dismiss that and demand more. I could play that game, but it’s one in which my role is that of the sucker. You demand evidence, but no evidence would win the game for me.

      • Kodie

        Even rats have morals. You are basically saying you would rather wallow in ignorance of this fact since it doesn’t support your agenda.

        It’s not just “one video” of monkeys. Do you want people to pile on you and show you every video ever of animals exhibiting evidence of having similar morality to humans or are you capable of googling?

        • Rick

          Kodie,

          Even rats have morals. You are basically saying you would rather wallow in ignorance of this fact since it doesn’t support your agenda. … are you capable of googling?

          I have made this attempt before, and this will be my last try. I have no idea what your agenda might be, but if civil discourse is part of that agenda, this post missed it widely. I will reply to you in a civil manner when you do the same. Insults and threats are not particularly engaging and I won’t indulge them from you or others. I have tried being understanding with you in the past and you refuse to acknowledge that. So I will not engage you in this forum until I see some maturity on your part.

          Rick

        • Kodie

          I have seen this before from you – you refuse to get involved if you don’t know the answer and you pretend it was something I said or the way I said it.

    • Rick

      You must feel my pain here. I have offered what I consider strong evidence to you numerous times but you are never satisfied with anything I have ever offered. Correct me if you have EVER acknowledged that anything I contributed in the past was accepted by you without some sort of dismissive response from you. I can’t recall even one. I’d have to say that similarly, nothing you have ever said caused me to seriously reconsider my position. Some things have caused me to think and research, but there was always a more satisfying answer for me than your just so stories.

      Hard to understand how two thinking adults can view the same evidence so completely differently, but that is the state of affairs. Your side is ultimately unconvincing intellectually to mine, and that should be troubling to you. It is to me on the reverse side of the conversation, which makes it appear to be more spiritual in nature than intellectual.

      • Rick

        The “You must feel my pain here.” post was in response to Bob’s quote,

        You seem to have nicely insulated yourself here. I provide some evidence and you dismiss that and demand more. I could play that game, but it’s one in which my role is that of the sucker. You demand evidence, but no evidence would win the game for me.

        The blog placed it under another post, so I’m trying to connect it with the right dots here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          I was largely in synch with your previous post, but it doesn’t seem much of a response to the bit of mine that you quote here.

          I make the (seemingly reasonable) request that there be a winning option for me. The game where you sit there with crossed arms and say, “Not good enough” to whatever I bring forward isn’t a game I care to play. What I need is a clear statement of what you will acknowledge given what evidence.

          If you care about the evolutionary foundation for morality, I encourage you to read Darren’s long post at the bottom of this page.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Rick:

        I have offered what I consider strong evidence to you numerous times but you are never satisfied with anything I have ever offered.

        That’s right. My kingdom for an objective observer that could adjudicate for us …

        Correct me if you have EVER acknowledged that anything I contributed in the past was accepted by you without some sort of dismissive response from you.

        I don’t know if dismissiveness is the issue, but I think you’re asking if I’ve ever accepted evidence that you’ve offered. I wouldn’t be surprised if you added to the conversation with evidence that I appreciated, but I don’t remember ever being convinced by any argument you’ve given.

        your just so stories.

        Is that all I ever have? Nothing provocative or well-grounded with evidence?

        Your side is ultimately unconvincing intellectually to mine, and that should be troubling to you.

        I wouldn’t say troubling, since there are studies that show that people presented with evidence that contradicts their views simply retrench and (paradoxically) become more certain. Perhaps startling is the right word. Anyway, I think that we’re on the same page here.

        makes it appear to be more spiritual in nature than intellectual.

        What’s more spiritual than intellectual? You mean this conversation? If so, I would’ve thought you’d say emotional vs. intellectual.

    • Rick

      Compuholic,

      And what evidence would that be?

      I just did a search for “historic evidence for Christianity” and it yielded 24 million hits. I think that should be a good place to start. Some of these are surely presenting pro and others con so you should have plenty of material to sort through.

      You could also go to works like Evidence that Demands a Verdict if you prefer books. When you exhaust those, I have numerous other books I can recommend.

      But I suspect your question is rhetorical. Surprise me.

      Rick

      • Compuholic

        I just did a search for “historic evidence for Christianity” and it yielded 24 million hits.

        Awesome, Google also yields 27 mil hits for “historic evidence for aliens”. So I guess there is more evidence for aliens than for Christianity.

        • Rick

          Now there’s a careful sifting of the evidence! Thanks so much for your reasoned response. I just did a search for “bolt” and came up with 280 million hits. My bolt trumps your aliens. Guess we were all created from bolts, by your logic.

          Unfortunately, you didn’t surprise me.

        • Rick

          Compuholic,

          Google also yields 27 mil hits for “historic evidence for aliens”

          But in fairness, aliens are in your playbook after all. So perhaps you were serious. Even Richard Dawkins thinks that aliens may have caused the origin of life. And a search for “Dawkins aliens” comes up with a respectable 1.3 million hits.

          So yes, your side believes in aliens. Mine identifies your unknown first cause as the God of the Bible, who has revealed Himself.

          The late Francis Crick was one of the proponents of this theory (directed panspermia). The theory was spawned because there is not enough time for evolution to have created the complexity we see. (“Not enough time for evolution” gets 103 million hits, still more than your aliens. Both sides of the controversy are represented in the resulting list, making your research easier.) And while “panspermia” gets only 634 thousand hits, the fact it is endorsed by Dawkins and Crick should weigh heavily in your favor.

          Be patient. It may take a while to catch on since it has four syllables after all.

        • Compuholic

          Wow thanks. Now I know I don’t have to take you seriously anymore. I was just being snarky because you – when asked for evidence – made the asshole move of telling me “here are 24 mil results, find it yourself”.

          Secondly you proved once more that you have troubles comprehending stuff: Dawkins never said that he thinks that aliens caused life. He was responding to Ben Steins question that it could be an example of intelligent design if aliens seeded life here. Either you are deliberately dense or you are really incapable of understanding it. And by the way: You really have to be desperate if you have to resort to a clip from “Expelled”.

          But thanks for the conversation: You have been a shining example of the christian faith: 1. Ignorant and proud of it
          2. When asked for evidenve – simply assert that there is lots if it
          3. Slow to understand

  • Rick

    Compuholic:

    Right, because you already got all your anwers in your magic book.

    I didn’t attribute any answers to any book. I just said that no scientific evidence was provided. I stand by that.

    According to the rules I mentioned above, character traits like fairness and compassion are an evolutionary niche because they favor cooperation.

    The rules you provided do not constitute scientific evidence. They are a more or less plausible explanation for what might have happened in the past… Without a trace of evidence that it did.

    And such hostility? (“…you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about… you demonstrate that you haven’t understood anything.) Chill, Dude. We are trying to have a civil discussion. I’m just looking for Bob’s usual standard, which is evidence, not speculation.

    • Compuholic

      I just said that no scientific evidence was provided. I stand by that.

      We already mentioned cooperative, fair and altruistic behavior in animals. And you simply dismissed it. We also offered a theoretical explanation how such behavior can arise by purely natural means and selfish “profit maximization” and you dismissed it as not relevant. And I also mentioned that those theories are actually being used in multi-agent systems so that cooperative behavior arises as an emergent property and you also ignored that. So what sort of evidence would you accept?

      And such hostility? (“…you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about… you demonstrate that you haven’t understood anything.)

      That was no hostility. That was a factual statement. You have not understood anything I said in my earlier post. It cannot be otherwise or you would not have written, what you wrote.

  • Patrick

    MNb: “No way christianity was a sufficient condition as not only Byzantium shows, but also Ireland. John Scotus Eriugena was intellectually superior to all his contemporaries, but everything he knew science the ancient Greeks and Romans knew as well.“

    Virginia Fitzpatrick: “The influence the church had on art, music and architecture – both spiritual and material – was obvious. Other religions have had a similar influence on their cultures. However, Christianity’s promotion of the sciences was obscure to say the least and often obstructive. If Catholicism was advantageous to science Latin American should be the center of Science and engineering since the Renaissance instead Germany was- until they kicked out their Jewish intellectuals in the 1930s.“

    It’s not that simple that one can say: “Wherever there is Christianity, a scientific and an industrial revolution will happen.” What seems to be very important is that there is a political or an economic elite consisting of merchants or artisans. As far as I can see, this was not the case in Byzantium, in Ireland and in Latin America. The Christian work ethic is certainly very supportive for the rise of such elites.

    Another important factor could be that Christian values and viewpoints must be deeply rooted in a society. As for Byzantium, when the Greek world became Christian in the 4th century, this area had had a long history of very influential religious and philosophical ideas. These ideas, such as Neo-Platonism, didn’t just disappear after the Christianization, but certainly shaped people’s viewpoints for a long time. Actually, one result of the flight of Byzantine scholars from Constantinople to Italy in the 15th century was the introduction and spread of pagan Greek ideas such as Platonism or Hermeticism in Western Europe.

    The Westen part of the Roman Empire didn’t have this Greek heritage and was, furthermore, much more affected by the invasion of Germanic tribes and other “barbarians” than the Greek speaking Eastern part of the Empire. This meant that in Western Europe the Church was to a much higher degree able to build a Christian civilization more or less from scratch.

    The cities in Western Europe that had a political or an economic elite consisting of merchants or artisans were also cradles of a number of Christian reneval movements, which shows that Christian values and viewpoints were deeply rooted there. Peter Waldo, the founder of the Waldensians in the second half of the 12th century, was a merchant in Lyon. The Waldensians were very successful in the city-states in Northern Italy. Christian renewal movements originating there were the Humiliati and the Franciscans. The “devotio moderna” goes back to Geert Groote (1340-1384) from the Hanseatic city of Deventer. City-states in the Holy Roman Empire, such as Zurich, Augsburg, Strasbourg, Nuremberg, or Geneva played a major role in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

    The indigenous people and the African slaves in Latin America and many of their descendants seem to have remained to a large extent “baptized pagans”. Down to the present day among them non-Christian religious viewpoints (e.g. Voodoo, Candomblé) have survived and are still widely believed. In Latin America the Christianization obviously was rather superficial.

    • Virginia Fitzpatrick

      Well at last you agree with MNb and I that through out Western Civilization there has been no Scientific and technological effect due to religion – just coincidences. Yes a devotion to work and learning is necessary and many Protestants had those virtues, but so did my Chinese and Japanese colleagues in graduate school and in industry. Since their families were far away I asked a bunch of them over for Christmas Dinner and then had to explain to them what Christmas was. Because most of my Protestant and Catholics neighbors in this country have told me how much they hate statistics, I was not surprised that most of my classmates were Asians. I also performed Latin Masses by Orlando di Lasso to words by St. Paul with a Japanese Friend. To her, I had to explain who St. Paul was. All these wonderful people did not have an once of Christianity in them, which just reconfirmed in my mind that Christianity was totally unnecessary.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Virginia:

        Wait–there were lots of Asians in your math classes? But how can those cultures respect education when they don’t come from a Christian heritage?

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          Over half the class spoke Chinese. There was one African American woman who was also from the State of WA. We were the only USA residents. The others were Latino, Italian, Polish and Canadian. Its been a rude awakening moving to Stanwood and find people still take Church Seriously. God knows how the Chinese did so well without his help. Now I am wondering which cheek you put your tongue into? I have been studying Huffpo columnist Phil Zuckerman on “The Top Mistake Atheists Make” and taking it so heart. He is a professor of Sociology and an agnostic who is trying to help people like me get along with hoi polloi

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Virginia:

          Thanks for the tip. I’ll give Zuckerman’s article a read.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Patrick:

      It’s not that simple that one can say: “Wherever there is Christianity, a scientific and an industrial revolution will happen.” What seems to be very important is that there is a political or an economic elite consisting of merchants or artisans.

      Sounds like a recipe for boiling water I recently heard: put water in a pot, put the pot on the stove, add a leprechaun, and wait until the water boils.

      If you forget the leprechaun, it turns out that the water boils just fine. And it sounds like, in your view, if you forget the Christianity, a society can do well assuming other conditions are met.

      Looks to me like you’re only pointing out a correlation.

  • Darren

    Evolution and the Golden Rule

    This is a post I wrote for another discussion, but I think it is topical to the “Evolution and the Golden Rule” discussion we are having here. Skip over part one if you like to item #2:

    Two questions that I can touch on, though strictly as an educated lay person, are:
    1. How can we trust that evolution / natural selection would equip us to accurately perceive the world and ourselves; and

    2. How could evolution / natural selection act to instill in humans some innate morality AKA without a giant man with a stick watching over us, how can we avoid being wife-beating, child-molesting, genocidal pricks.

    Much of what I can say derives from Dawkins’s, “The Selfish Gene”, and Dennett’s, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”.

    An example I have seen for how evolution could not give us accurate perceptions was in the area of how are we to know that a Tiger is dangerous.

    The short answer is that we don’t. We have no preprogrammed Tiger = Danger. What we do have are various behavioral recognition routines that are employed:

    There is a thing. Is it animal or landscape? Animal equals potential danger.

    Is the animal large or small? Is the animal close or far? Is the animal making eye contact? Is the animal moving towards me? Is it moving on an intercept course? At what rate is the animal moving, fast or slow?

    If all these routines yield the result Yes, then at this point our ancestors have long since run the hell away.

    How do we know these routines give us an accurate impression of the world? We don’t. Evolution does not work that way. All we know is that our antelope ancestors who ran away more often from tigers than their more trusting comrades survived to pass along their genes while their comrades helped the tiger pass on his genes.

    It is worth remembering that most of our conceptual hardware as regards perceiving the world and our place within it was built long before humans where on the schedule, much of it long before mammals. Evolution is lazy, it never throws anything away.

    It is possible that some elaborate ‘hoax’ has been perpetrated on us, that how we perceive a tiger is completely at odds with how a tiger really is, but that by dumb luck we ran away anyways.

    Perhaps the antelope thought, “Oh, a Tiger, perhaps he wants to play. I will now run as fast as I can in the opposite direction and he will chase me and we will have fun! Hey, why is he stopping and eating Bob? I thought we were friends? Oh ,well, next time I will do the same, but run even faster, perhaps that was the problem…”

    Maybe, but seems simpler to just think, “Wow, a big animal running really fast at me, I should run fast in the opposite direction!”

    And simpler is better, when you can manage it. Neurons are expensive.

    An unanswered question is evolution is “Why are humans so smart?” To be a successful hunter/gatherer, you don’t need to be any smarter than a chimp; chimps are pretty successful hunter/gatherers in their own right. So why do we need a brain three times as large that sucks up more than 20% of our total caloric expenditure, makes childbirth frequently lethal for mother and child, and requires years of parental care before a human can even manage to get around on the level of a 2 day old horse?

    No one knows for certain, but one very interesting theory is that we need it for politics.

    The conceptual architecture for perceiving the world, recognizing predators and prey, habitat, weather hazards, food, and mates was pretty well developed by the time dinosaur split from lizard. By the time birds and mammals made the scene, a new skill had emerged – the art of lying.

    Now, lying is a skill, and it is expensive. Neuroscience confirms that it takes more effort to lie than to tell the truth; one has to hold an accurate mental model of the truth, modify so as to achieve one’s ends, convincingly convey the lie, then maintain both the true model and the lie model simultaneously. Whew!

    Detecting a lie is also a skill, and also expensive. It requires building a provisional mental model of the truth, testing communications against that model, factoring in the prior probability that the communication is deceptive, and intensely perceiving if there might be any discontinuities within the communication itself that might betray it for a deception (tells).

    Now, if you are a chimp-like primate living in a group of 12 – 20 related individuals on the African savannah, your evolutionary fitness is determined not so much by how fast you can run, how high you can climb, how hard you can hit a meercat with a rock; your evolutionary fitness is determined by your group status. High status individuals get the most food, have the safest nests, receive protection by low status individuals, and get the best mating options.

    Status in an intelligent tribal society means one thing: politics. Politics is a complex art, lying and detecting lies is a big part of it, but so is keeping score, building mental models of every member of the tribe, constantly adjusting as members rise and fall, lie and get caught at lying, make and break alliances.
    Recall this is a small, isolated group, with few resources in a very hostile world. This is not UN politics. This is “Lord of the Flies” politics, “Survivor” politics, “Lost” politics.

    So, a couple of millions years of this, and what do we have? A very smart animal, that is very, very good at perceiving and understanding the sorts of things that a tribal hominid on the savannah could be expected to encounter, most especially his fellow hominids.

    We also have an animal that is very, very good at getting along with the rules of his group.

    It is pure game theory morality:

    1. Be nice to others who have been nice to me (I may need their help again someday);

    2. Be nicer to others who are more closely related to me (they carry some of my own genes);

    3. Be less nice to others who are less closely related (they have fewer of my genes);

    4. Be nicer to someone than they “deserve” if it costs me little (I might secure a new ally);

    5. Be mean to someone who has been mean to me, but more so (they will be less likely to risk it again);

    6. If an animal is not part of my tribe, it is an “other”: a resource to be exploited or a potential threat;

    7. Be merciless to “others” as they would take resources that rightfully are mine;

    8. Always keep score.

    We also have an animal that is ill equipped at perceiving things that a tribal hominid would not encounter.

    Our brain has also allowed us to invent Culture, and that has led to Civilization, but evolution has had insufficient time to adjust our underlying architecture to this new environment. We carry with us the skills, and baggage, of our tribal ancestors. Our culture itself has evolved to complement our underlying natures, sometimes compensating, other times exploiting.

    It is far from proven, but it is a plausible model, and it goes a long way in explaining the good and the bad that is Humanity.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Darren:

      Thanks for the helpful addition to the conversation. I’ve responded to Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism here (your tiger/hominid example above). If you get the chance, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

      • Darren

        Bob said;

        ”If you get the chance, I’d be interested to hear what you think.”

        Oho! My thoughts are that I _totally_ ripped-off your post!

        I am sure I read it at some point, and did recall the tiger part, but did not recall that it was pretty much point for point the same… I can’t even claim to have done it better, as your post is very nicely written.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Not a problem.

          I’m interested in input because one commenter pointed out a subtle error in how I interpreted what Plantinga said. If I repost that one in a year or so, I’ll have to revisit it to make sure I’m on target.

  • Rick

    Compuholic,

    Wow thanks. Now I know I don’t have to take you seriously anymore. I was just being snarky because you – when asked for evidence – made the a**hole move of telling me “here are 24 mil results, find it yourself”.

    I did not say it the way you characterized it, but in any case, here is my response to your comments.

    I’d be happy to have a non-snarky discussion with you. You started the trend with your wildly off point comment about aliens, to which I unwisely responded in kind. Unfortunately, I did think better of it but too late, and this blog does not allow users to retract their own posts, even when they immediately think of a more appropriate way to respond. So my apology about the bolts.

    Your response ignored the content of my second post. It doesn’t matter if Dawkins was quoted by Ben Stein or the man in the moon. He did say what he said, and the other references I provided showed that there is not enough time allowed in the evolutionary model for naturalistic forces acting through mutation, natural selection and other forces to have yielded the kind of complexity we see.

    You ignored that evidence and went for the profanity-laced outburst. I’m not sure if you think this will shore up your case, but since I did actually provide some specific places to look and you ignored them, I’m not sure you are interested in anything akin to a serious conversation. This is disappointing to me, and certainly is indicative of the kind of response given to some of the folks who post here with different views than yours and Bobs. Instead of trying to actually engage the issues, you simply badger and resort to belittling childish outbursts.

    This diminishes the quality of the conversation. While Bob doesn’t ever chastise those on his own side of the argument, he and others should realize that it only causes folks who sincerely disagree to give up on any hope of actual intellectual engagement in this forum. Do you want to know why folks like me find your positions lacking, or do you only want to preach to your own cheering section? The latter is what it looks like to me.

    How about if we reset and have a real conversation? I’m ready if you are.

    Rick

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rick:

      While Bob doesn’t ever chastise those on his own side of the argument

      … or the other side. You’ll get an earful if I disagree with you, but you can say just about whatever you want here.

      As I’ve said before, I would prefer that tempers not flare and that language remain PG-13. Sounds like we’re on the same page. But let’s also be clear that this blog is not an audition for yes-men.

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