Christianity Can’t be Deduced from Nature

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, 
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
— Albert Einstein

Suppose Einstein’s catastrophic World War III happened and civilization was destroyed. After a thousand years, civilization returns to roughly our level of scientific awareness.

After losing all knowledge of optics and thermodynamics and gravity, this naive society has re-discovered it—the very same laws of optics and thermodynamics and gravity that we have now. Ditto for relativity or e = mc2 or F = ma or any other scientific law or theory.

Obviously, these post-apocalyptic humans would have different terms and ways of representing things—consider how mathematical symbols, numbers, punctuation, paragraph breaks, and even spaces have evolved over the centuries. But whatever notation they invented would be synonymous with our own since they would simply be descriptions of the same natural phenomena.

Does it work that way with religion?

By contrast, imagine that all knowledge of Christianity were lost. A new generation might make up something to replace it, since humans seem determined to find supernatural agency in the world, but they wouldn’t recreate the same thing. There is no specific evidence of the Christian God around us today. The only evidence of God in our world are tradition and the Bible. Eliminate that, and Christianity would be lost forever.

There would be nothing that would let this future culture recreate Christianity—no miracles, no God speaking to them, no prayers answered, no divine appearances (unless God decided to act more overtly than he does today). Sure, there would be beauty to wonder at, great complexity in the interwoven structure of nature, frightening things like death and disease for which they would need comfort, riddles within nature, and odd coincidences. People then, like they do now, would likely grope for supernatural explanations, but starting from scratch you could invent lots of religions to explain these things. There is no evidence or observation that would guide them to any specific supernatural dogma that we have today, except by coincidence.

Christians today come to their beliefs because someone initially told them of Christianity. If no one told you, you couldn’t figure out Christianity on your own, which is quite the opposite from how science works.

Note that morality doesn’t need rediscovering. Naive people don’t need to be told that you oughtn’t treat someone else in a way you wouldn’t like to be treated. That doesn’t mean that everyone in a post-apocalyptic society will act with compassion and generosity, just that they don’t need to be taught this.

The Bible weighs in on our thought experiment. It claims:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:18–20).

And yet, without God informing humanity of his existence, Christianity could never be recreated. Worship of one or more gods, sure. But not Christianity.

Take Two

Here’s a variation on this thought experiment. Imagine the post-Christian society comes across a library from our day from which they find information about 20 religions that are popular today. This information spreads and civilization gradually adopts these new religious options. What is the likelihood that Christianity would come out on top again? Not very.

Let’s acknowledge that Christianity is sticky. If its message were a dud—that is, if it didn’t give people what they were looking for, at least to some extent—it would have faded away. But now we’ve turned our backs on the question of truth and are squarely in the domain of marketing, considering which features of religion satisfy people’s emotional needs and which are turn-offs.

The grocery store of religion

This is religion as breakfast cereal. Some new cereal brands last for a few months and are then withdrawn while others remain appealing (often adapting to changes within society) over the decades. Christianity is simply the Cheerios of religion. Like any successful brand in the marketplace, Christianity has spun off many variants—as if Protestantism were the equivalent of Honey Nut Cheerios, Mormonism as MultiGrain Cheerios, and Pentecostal as Cinnamon Burst Cheerios.

What can you say about a religion that can’t be recreated from evidence at hand today? About a religion whose god is knowable only through tradition? You can say what applies to all religions: we can’t prove that it’s manmade, but it gives every indication of being so.

I’ll end an observation by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason, still relevant 200 years after he wrote it.

The study of theology as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits of no conclusion. Not any thing can be studied as a science without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.

Related post: Historians Reject the Bible Story.

There is no god, and that’s the simple truth.
If every trace of any single religion were wiped out
and nothing were passed on,
it would never be created exactly that way again.
There might be some other nonsense in its place,
but not that exact nonsense.
If all of science were wiped out,
it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.
— Penn Gillette

 (This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared 2/27/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia


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  • arkenaten

    The post apocalyptic picture reminds me of Battlefield Earth ( Hubbard)
    Yet, I think Christianity might be more difficult to kill off – very much like the cockroach.

    If a mere handful of believers remained there might still be trouble. And the same goes for Muslims or any religion for that matter.

    • Itarion

      But the isolation makes a difference. If you isolate 3 religious groups from each other, beginning with the same religion, for 200 years, they’re going to end up radically different. Hell, if you DON’T isolate them, and just have 2 or three options open, they’ll end up radically different. (Look at the advent of Protestantism, and the splintering of sects once they reached the New World.)

      You isolate 3 groups of physicists, when they come back after 200 years, the core, and likely a lot of the discoveries, will be the same. Newton’s laws are pushing 350 years, and still accurate within their domain (non-relativistic motion). The Pythagorean theorem is pushing 2500 (at a minimum), and still entirely correct in its domain. It’s useful, it’s rediscoverable, and the old stuff doesn’t get tossed out.

      That’s where science beats out religion, and its going to do so every time.

      • arkenaten

        Although there are around 40,000 different Christianities the core tenet remains unchanged since almost since the days of Constantine, Nicea and Theodosius; namely Jesus is god is Jesus
        I would venture that an apocalyptic event, especially if it wasn’t actually caused by a group of Christians would spur any christian survivors to higher levels of fervent worship.

        If science can’t ‘Kill it off” at the moment a return to a completely non technological society could well be the ideal environment for god fearing christians.

        • Itarion

          The core tenets aren’t the same, not by any stretch of the imagination. The “God is Jesus is God” even changes from denomination to denomination, in how, exactly, Jesus is God. Is he entirely God incarnate? Is he a partial fraction of God? Is he one complete part of a threefold god? These are similar, but NOT the same. The similarity is why they can all be classified as different parts of the same religion, but they are all very much different outside the core set.

          An apocalyptic event would doubtless increase religiosity, and I don’t doubt it, assuming that someone who is a Christian survived. That’s not the point of Bob’s thought experiment, which is unrelated to my thought experiment in my comment. Bob’s thought experiment, which it appears is derived from a comment by Penn of Penn and Teller fame, assumes complete eradication of any and all accumulated information of both religion and scientific study. The idea being that science is recoverable from a complete loss given enough time, whereas a precise copy of any given religion is more or less not.

          My approach is different. Isolation and separate memetic evolution. The sciences would result in convergent evolution, approaching the same ideas. Take, for example, Pascal’s Triangle, which was discovered by Blaise Pascal, but also a variety of other cultures isolated geographically and temporally. Once you translate the numbers, these triangles are all literally identical, regardless of origin. This is no small thing. The triangle has a relationship to something in the real physical world, and can be expressed meaningfully in the physical world, rather than just in people’s minds.

          THIS is the fundamental difference between science and religion. Science converges. Religion diverges. Science approaches something, and religion flees that something in any and every direction.

        • No, I didn’t get it from Penn. I might have independently come across it or (more likely) read someone else’s musings. I’m not sure on this one.

        • Itarion

          Oh. The thought experiment seemed rather like an expansion of Penn’s quote, listed at the bottom of the post. I figured it was related.

        • Take, for example,Pascal’s Triangle, which was discovered by Blaise Pascal, but also a variety of other cultures isolated geographically and temporally.

          Or take the discovery of oxygen which was done, I believe, by three separate researchers at more or less the same time, independently. Or differential calculus (Leibnitz and Newton) with, doubtless, different notation for the exact same ideas.

        • Itarion

          Umm… Different notation indeed. f(x), F(x), and f'(x) for the function of x, antiderivative of f(x) and derivative of f(x) as one set of notations, and f(x), ∫f(x)dx, and df/dx as the other. The meaning is the same, naturally, so they’ve generally been combined in most currently taught classes.

        • avalon

          Religions start and grow because of the personality, position, and circumstances of their founders. There’s nothing special about the idea “Jesus is god is Jesus”. With or without that idea, any charismatic marketeer of the future could start a new religion.
          Bob’s right, it’s marketing that matters.

        • Indeed, pleasant conditions may be a bad environment for Christianity. This may explain why northern Europe has both better social statistics (homicide, STDs, and so on) and less Christianity.

          As an antidote for these pleasant conditions, some churches enjoy portraying the world as ganged up against them (circle the wagons) or as a hostile place (where the religion is a sanctuary from the danger).

        • arkenaten

          A post over on WordPress I know you will enjoy, Bob.

        • Looks like an interesting blog. Which post were you referring to?

        • arkenaten
        • arkenaten
      • Greg G.

        If you isolate 3 religious groups from each other, beginning with the same religion, for 200 years, they’re going to end up radically different.

        This experiment was done when David’s kingdom was divided between two of Solomon’s sons and the northern part was attaked by the Assyrians a couple centiries later. The refugees came south.

        One group called God “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”, the other “Elohim”. One group forbid sacrificing at a graven image, the other forbid sacrificing at a molten image. One group had tales of the life of Isaac, the other had him sacrificed by Abraham, but you can see the redactor’s fingerprints as the ram is supplied by a different name than the name that suggested the sacrifice, Abraham comes down from the mountain alone, and Isaac is never mentioned again in the Elohim stories.

        Later, some priests came up with a third version using the “Elohim” name but the deity doesn’t interact directly with humans so they must go to the priests with their sacrifices.

        Later still, there was another redaction that combined the Priestly version with the Jehovah/Elohim redaction. That’s why Genesis is so repetitive with an Elohim story or verse followed by something similar with a Yahweh version. The creation story in Genesis 1 is a Priestly version with Elohim being cosmic while Genesis 2 has Jehovah interacting with Adam and Eve at a personal level.

        The combo may have made their religion interesting with an all powerful deity who works with individuals.

        • I’m familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis, but you’re giving me details I hadn’t heard before. I’m just starting Who Wrote the Bible? by Friedman. Do you have any opinions on this book?

        • Greg G.

          I read the book years ago when the first edition came out in paperback. It was a lot to take in since all I knew about the Bible had come from preachers and apologists.

          Several years ago somebody corrected me on something I had misremembered so I thought about getting another copy but a second edition in paperback had come out.

          It made more sense the second time because I had more base knowledge. After the first time, I think I was under the impression that Friedman had invented the theory but the second time I realized it is an established theory that has developed over the past two centuries.

  • Y. A. Warren

    It depends on which people survive the apocalypse. “Christianity” is nothing more than the evolution of homo-sapiens from animals to enlightened humanity with the ability to choose committed, responsible compassion over animal instinct.

    • Pofarmer

      We’ll be enlightened when we finally throw off this nonsense altogether.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Which parts of the “nonsense”? Humanity has apparently always thought that there is something more than what we can see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and feel with our physical states of being. This seems to be why humanity created religions.

        • “Christianity” is nothing more than the evolution of homo-sapiens from
          animals to enlightened humanity with the ability to choose committed,
          responsible compassion over animal instinct.

          And yet the most atheistic countries in the world are, on average, healthier societies than religious countries. Seems like belief in a deity is, at the very least, unnecessary for civilization.

          Which parts of the “nonsense”? Humanity has apparently always thought
          that there is something more than what we can see with our eyes, hear
          with our ears, and feel with our physical states of being. This seems to
          be why humanity created religions.

          And until we developed better technology and examined the world more closely, humanity likely “always thought” that the sun orbited our planet, rather than the other way around. Intuition and first impressions are fallible.

          We have found no evidence of the supernatural, and every miracle claim in the Bible is either unverifiable or outright proven false. Why give it any credence whatsoever?

        • Number of things we thought had a supernatural cause and now know don’t: a huge number.

          Number of things we thought had a natural cause and now know don’t: zero.

          Any questions?

        • Itarion


          What is love?

        • Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more…

        • Itarion

          No, but seriously though.

        • I assume you’re looking for a more dry, technical explanation instead of something poetic?

          Love (and other emotions, like happiness, anger, etc) is the name we’ve chosen for a specific physiological state brought about by chemical reactions in the brain due to certain stimuli.

        • Itarion

          SCIENCE! Yeah, I actually knew that, but it’s just lots of fun to keep hearing.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Because there is no empirical evidence of compassion, love, longing, or the need to admit to a power greater than oneself. Without these, homo-sapiens simply act as their animal selves.

        • You mean aside from the observable brain activity associated with these emotions and their influence on our behaviors? Also, there is no “need” to admit to a “power greater than oneself” in the sense of a cosmic superintelligence. However, people do have a tendency to incorrectly anthropomorphize natural phenomena like storms and diseases, a superstitious tendency that also led to the creation of droves of fictional gods.

          Our minds are overtuned to sense intention; this means that while we are unlikely to make the mistake of overlooking intention (a false negative), we are inclined to make the mistake of assuming intention where there is none (a false positive). In other words, our minds are more likely to err on the side of caution instead of lack thereof.

          Also, please stop insulting animals as though they’re fundamentally different from us. You seem unaware that more intelligent animals often exhibit many humanlike characteristics like compassion, violence (for its own sake, rather than for food), problem solving, etc.

        • I’m not following. Are you saying that the existence of these things means that there’s some sort of deity? Why are natural explanations insufficient?

        • Greg G.

          Animals express their versions of compassion, love and longing without a need to admit to a power greater than themselves. Why can’t humans? The difference is that humans have greater imaginations than animals and sometimes people can’t distinguish things they have imagined from real things..

        • Y. A. Warren

          Without imagination, there can be no progress.

        • Greg G.

          But only if you have a way to filter out imagined things that happen to have a real component or possibility from the completely imaginary. The filter is the more important piece as it ratchets in the direction of progress. Imagination goes either way.

        • Y. A. Warren

          This is true. I see that ability as a mechanism of the evolution of the human brain to the point where the pre-frontal lobe is functional. Some haven’t evolved this far, and some are brain-damaged to the point that they don’t function properly.

        • smrnda

          I think that compassion, love, longing are really first and foremost behaviors we do more or less automatically because we’re kind of hardwired to behave a certain way. The greater powers, whether we’re talking about gods, spirits, moral or political philosophies, I think come after the fact.

          On animal selves, I’m not sure that primitive humans were morally worse than contemporary humans. Primitive humans couldn’t survive without a high level of trust and cooperation, whereas civilization affords us more opportunities to be nasty and get away with it. Not that I’m idealizing the past – technology has, in a sense, made our moral intentions less relevant in delivering a high standard of living, but I don’t want to pretend that we’re inherently better in the present. I mean, we’re likely better than some hundred years ago, but we don’t have adequate data on truly primitive humans.

        • RichardSRussell

          Because there is no empirical evidence of compassion, love, longing, or the need to admit to a power greater than oneself.

          There is ample evidence of compassion, love, and longing, and anyone who’s ever had a parent, a teacher, or a boss clearly understanding the concept of a power greater than oneself, so I’m not sure what store you usually shop at for your empirical evidence.

        • Itarion

          Imperial Empirical Emporium?

        • Greg G.

          And yet the most atheistic countries in the world are, on average, healthier societies than religious countries. Seems like belief in a deity is, at the very least, unnecessary for civilization.

          It’s been argued that countries with a history of Christianity compare favorably to countries with other religions. Jared Diamond argued in Guns, Germs, and Steel, that the European geography gave a big advantage to the cultures of Europe. So, any correlation between Xtianity and the welfare of countries is not causal. In fact, when you break it down into smaller regions, the less Christian an area has become, the better off they are for nearly any criteria. It’s the post-Xtian areas that are thriving the most. Xtianity has always been slowing progress.

        • Nemo

          It’s worth noting that during the Middle Ages, Europe was the last place, aside from the Americas which were not known to the world at large, that you would expect to dominate the world and export their culture. If the Mongols had not devastated the Islamic heartlands, if the Mandarins had not suppressed the legacy of Xheng He and instead embraced expansion, if anyone else had developed the use of firearms besides the Europeans…. well, you get the idea.

        • Greg G.

          IIRC, Diamond’s point was that the advantages those other cultures had during the Middle Ages turned out to be disadvantages. China is a big, flat land mass with long rivers that made it possible for one culture to flourish and for one ruler to dominate. China was the greatest sea power but one leader was unimpressed with foreign trade and ordered all ships dismantled. Generations of acquired technology was lost as that generation died off.

          Europe had natural barriers that made it impossible for rulers to expand. Cultural diversity was maintained. Useful technology was passed around so it was possible to regain lost technological know-how.

          Culture passed around the Mediterranean, with many dying off as resources were exhausted. When it reached northern Europe, the rainfall gave agriculture greater ability to sustain a growing population.

          Being on an East-West axis, it was easier to relocate crops. The animals were more domesticatable in Europe than in Africa. Water buffalo are more dangerous than the wild cattle in Europe. Zebras are meaner than horses of Europe.

        • MNb

          Yup, the invention of gunpowder was decisive. Note though that even then the Europeans weren’t capable of conquering China and Japan.

        • MNb

          ” countries with a history of Christianity compare favorably to countries with other religions.”
          That’s because the countries where Enlightement took place all happened to be christian. Now if we look a bit further we see that non-christian countries who accepted at least several Enlightenment values compare favorably too: Singapore, Taiwan, South-Korea and Japan. At the other hand the very and very long christian country Russia is not doing really well, is it?

        • Pofarmer

          These would be people who thought birds and squirels came from trees. That worms and crawfish came from the river mud. That God hid the sun behind a mountain at night. Those people?

        • RichardSRussell

          Yup, those people — with DNA hard-wired for pattern detection. That’s basically a survival characteristic, which is why we all have it, but it comes with a built-in bias in favor of thinking agents as causes of natural phenomena.

          If Lug and Wug are walking across the savanna, and something causes the tall grass to rustle, and Lug screams “It’s a lion” but Wug laffs “It’s only the wind”, guess whose descendants will populate the tribe in the next generation if rational Wug is right 99 times out of 100 and fearful, superstitious Lug is right only once.

      • Nemo

        Don’t hold your breath. If you are shocked as to how anybody could believe Christianity despite the lack of solid evidence and the copious amounts of fridge horror, here’s one word for you: Heaven. The promise of heaven fills a psychological need for people who have no hope for satisfaction from this confirmed life. Christians love to boast about how their religion attracts the poor, humble people in prison, the streets, and in third world countries. So many conversion stories talk about how low in life the soon to be fundie was. Until science can promise abundance and happiness for all in this world, people will have a need to look to another world. And any economist can tell you that when there’s a demand/need, some entrepreneur will rise to fill it.

        • MNb

          “The promise of heaven fills a psychological need for people who have no hope for satisfaction from this confirmed life.”
          Very understandable if you look at the horrible lives many people had to live in the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago.

    • RichardSRussell

      Walter M. Miller Jr.’s classic science-fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz follows one of the guidelines for good writing in that it shows, it doesn’t tell. But one of the things it shows is how hard it is to eradicate religion. It’s the sort of thing that even a handful of devastated, desperate, ignorant survivors could remember long after they’ve forgotten how internal combustion works, let alone e = mc^2. That doesn’t mean that religion will survive intact, of course, only that a hardy memeplex doesn’t require an extensive support system, merely some durable hosts.

      • Pofarmer

        Yep. People with no skills or useful knowledge whatsoever could propagate religion.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Over the course of my life and my study, I realize that not all humans are capable of the level of thought that reason and rationality require. Studies of the brain indicate that there are many different centers of different types of intelligence. I am not willing to disregard other forms of intelligence simply because I operate in other areas of my brain. I will never build a bridge, but I can build community.

        • The “other centers of intelligence” might be just your brain doing stupid things. I’m sure we could make a long list of brain imperfects–pareidolia, optical illusions, biases, memory failings, and so on.

          Sure, your brain detects God. It also sees Charlie Brown in a cloud that’s not really there. Or meaning in a coincidence.

        • Kodie

          I think it’s the same abilities that are already there. Some people solve major problems by looking at clouds… I imagine they do. I imagine the key to solving a frustrating problem is solved by the ability to imagine. Imagine being able to fly. It’s not difficult to imagine – we’re down here, and up there, there are clouds. How do they work. Birds fly on their own power, while leaves float on the wind. We can jump, and we can climb, but it’s dangerous to climb then jump. Humans coming up with means to float and means to be in the air without falling, and to fly, and to fly to space, and come back unharmed is the same doofy imagination that can’t come up with anything better than “hey that cloud looks like Charlie Brown”. I think our brains work essentially the same way, and the ability to imagine is just universal. The ability to put the pieces of the big puzzle together with that imagination doesn’t happen to everyone.

          And some people answer these problems with religion. Religion to some extent circumvents the imagination while using it to a great extent. There are certainly people who can’t sleep at night not knowing, but they are satisfied with a fictional answer, even one like “we’re not meant to know,” or “god’s reasons are unknown to us.” They want to know why things happen to them, who is after them, who is taking care of them. Religions make up elaborate tales using that one and same imagination process, while also confirming people’s imaginary suspicions and paranoias that the dangers are after them and they’re not safe unless they have the amulet, do the dance, or take Jesus into their heart. All the further questions they might come up with, doubt chipping away when they realize it might just be a story, are answered by more elaborate bullshit, along with threats of shunning, and so you have to, but few people do, ask, just who is after me? They don’t say a boulder will roll down the mountain and crush your house if you disbelieve – they say that you will be dead to them.

        • Kodie

          You are certainly willing to disregard other forms of intelligence – you disregard the types of intelligence other animals have that you do not have (without the aid of machinery). Yet, you’d certainly be impressed when animals display the kinds of intelligence we thought only humans had because that’s how you rank humans. And it’s not only animals – plants have demonstrated some kind of intelligence. Every living thing has some kind of remarkable ability to be exactly what it is and not need to or wish to be human. What humans do is figure out how to make more time to do more things so they can make more time. And though that is not everyone’s priority or within their intellectual capacity, most of us are easily trained to perform a task.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Kodie, thank you for your input. Apparently, we have diametrically opposed world views. To continue this “conversation” seems much like both of us attempting to explain yellow to a blind person. I am now giving up on any further attempts to connect with you.

        • Kodie

          Because you live in a fantasy world of your own invention.

  • Jim Hoerst

    Christianity is not a natural religion nor does it claim to be. Christianity rests on the notion that their god revealed himself in human history using agents like Moses, Jesus, and the scriptures. So saying that if you take all of that away humanity, or those who come after humanity, would have no evidence of Christianity does not diminish Christianity at all. IMO most theologians would agree with you.

    • I thought of you when I put the Paine quote in.

      • Jim Hoerst

        I am honored indeed.

    • Pofarmer

      That may be, but they have certainly made, and continue to make, copious claims about the natural world.

      • Jim Hoerst

        Yeah but creationist Christians make those claims to protect their revelation, the Bible.

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, but, unfortunately, to protect the holy book, they set humanity back.

    • UWIR

      That is hardly a universal characterization of Christianity. C.S. Lewis, for instance, strongly implied if not outright stated that Christianity can be derived through reason. It is commonly asserted that people who claim to be atheists are in fact lying, and without that position, it is difficult to justify hell; if one believes that people who reject Christianity go to hell, one must accept either that good people go to hell, or that no one who rejects Christianity is good.

      Also, Catholicism asserts that revelation occurs not only through Scripture, but also through Tradition. As I understand it, the RCC teaches that it, as the earthly manifestation of humans’ efforts to commune with God, continually reveals the nature of God. The pinnacle of this is the doctrine Papal Infallibility, in which the pope, when speaking ex cathedra, can be relied upon to impart perfect knowledge of God.

      • Jim Hoerst

        1. Lewis argues that the Revelation is reasonable and that believing in angels, devils, heaven, hell, and all of that stuff is consistent with reason and logic. But Lewis doesn’t deny the necessity of revelation.

        2. Catholicism affirms that Christianity is a revealed religion. The means of revelation are quite besides the point. For the record the pope is FoS.

        • UWIR

          1. Lewis “derives” much of Christianity from “logic”: universal moral law, rebellion from that law (original sin), redemption (Christ story), etc.

          2. I don’t see how the means of Revelation is irrelevant. There is a a huge difference between asserting that God engaged in a singular act of Revelation, versus claiming that God imparted to humans an innate ability to perceive Revelation that is perfected through the collective actions of those seeking Him. And what does “FoS” mean?

        • “Full Of Scheiße” (or perhaps Jim was thinking of the English version).

      • Kodie

        What to make of missionaries? The only way to know what Christianity is is for someone to tell you about it.

        • katiehippie

          Yeah, if the “truth” is self evident, why are they running around telling everyone about it?

        • “men are without excuse,” Romans 1:20

        • katiehippie

          Ewwwww, you made me get out my bible. Stoppit.

  • Jim Hoerst

    Paine’s argument in “Age of Reason” was that natural religion, that is Deism, was superior to “revealed religions” because no could verify exactly what the revelation was and what it means. A natural religion would rest on knowledge of the universe. Paine’s deity would leave his finger prints in nature. Since it was more likely that humanity could understand nature than agree on what was and was not revelation, and how and how not to understand revelation, deism held more promise for humanity.

    All of this is before Darwin.

    Then Darwin comes along with Evolution and a natural way for species to develop, combined with Malthus and view of nature that is anything but planned and serene as depicted by Jesus in the sermon on the mount disappears. What emerges is a view of nature that is pitiless and indifferent to individuals and species alike. So the witness of nature is that if their is a god, it is indifferent to nature and humanity alike. So the natural religion of Paine is a dead end.

    • Christians enjoy pointing to famous Christians–Newton, etc.–who were Christians. I wonder, though, if these great thinkers would be Christians if they lived today, where religious adherence is inversely correlated with scientific achievement.

      • Pofarmer

        Yeah, I think Paine and several of the founders would be Atheists today. They were far ahead of their time rejecting theistic principals.

      • Jim Hoerst

        Newton lived in fear of the Church and that’s why he kept his theological writings to himself. He was a theist but he was not an orthodox believer. The fear of torture and death tend to put a damper on intellectual discourse.

        • I don’t think Newton was in danger of actual torture and death while he wrote about theology (legal reforms having ended that in England by then) but he would still have suffered from calumny and disrepute among high society.

        • Jim Hoerst

          The point is that the Church and religious society stifled science and the expression of disbelief. Yes England provided more freedom than most parts of Europe.

        • I agree that it did, but let’s get the facts right. There’s a big difference between legal punishment and disapproval.

      • UWIR

        Also, if atheists had not been banned from universities, perhaps not so much of scientific advances would have been made by Christians.

  • Itarion

    Actually, there was a book that I started reading that absolutely pissed me off, and the reasons are based on this same idea. Setting: post-Apocalyptic Earth, but with a new name. Technology had receded to the around Middle Age Europe. The local religions used half remembered scientific principles – mostly chemical reactions – to support themselves and their gods.

    Then our hero, an swordsman of some note, goes off on a quest to rediscover the religion of the cross based on some obscure reference and a crazy old man who doesn’t even remember what the religion was, just that the ancients had it.

    • Sounds a bit like the movie “Book of Eli” (2010).

      • Itarion

        Not quite. Similar, but not quite. In BoE, the crazy nut religious people were the bad guys. The end goal of the hero was to get the book to a knowledge compiler, and the VERY last scene [spoiler, if you hadn’t suspected] is of the compiler sticking the book next to the other books of various religions rather than enshrining it, indicating the intention was to preserve the historical rather than religious aspect of the book.

        This story i was thinking of was clearly meaning that Christianity would be resurrected no matter how gone it seemed.

        • Niall Hosking

          Reminds me of the twisted shadow of Christianity that is in John Wyndham’s “The Chrysalids”.

  • Greg G.

    Is General Mills compensating you for the Cheerios endorsement? When I get home, I’m going to open a box of Cheerios and have a bowl.

    I wonder what similarities the new religions would have to the old ones if no records survived?

    It’s likely that there would be religions that considered the planets of the solar system to be gods. Several religions have done that but with different names. They might settle for a seven day week, one day for each of the moving lights in the sky.

  • Nemo

    Regarding your Take Two paragraph, there is a reason Christianity was popular. Judaism has never really emphasized the afterlife much at all. If I’m not wrong, I don’t think they even have a concept of Hell, and only a vague one of Heaven. The Greek religions and the Greek ripoff, er, uh, Roman religions of the day offered up a gloomy afterlife. By contrast, Christianity said you would be in Paradise if only you believe it. In this lens, is it so shocking that people were drawn to Christianity? Of course, if Christianity were discovered alongside other religions in that way, and by a society that was somewhat modern, I highly doubt it would catch on.

  • MNb

    You don’t even need a thought experiment. Just compare the spirituality of the Papua’s on New Guinea with that of any form of abrahamism with that of Indians living on Surinamese-Brazilian border. They have nothing in common.
    At the other hand the meaning of F = m*a (F is a capital) is global.
    That’s evidence enough for your point.

    • smrnda

      In fact, you’ve kind of hit on the whole basis of science – results which can be independently replicated and verified.

      • MNb

        That’s the main theme of the entire Cross Examined I think.
        Herman Philipse in God in the Age of Science (I don’t get tired of promoting this book) makes clear that religion to maintain some credibility needs to adopt the scientific standards to some extent. He proceeds mercilessly to make clear that religion has to fail.
        Now that book is somewhat abstract philosophy. I like to put it in practice so to say.

    • UWIR

      Yeah, if the Christian missionaries had showed up in the New World, and the natives had said “Oh, you’re here to teach us about Jesus? We’ve already learned about him. He showed up here a millennium and half ago, told us he had been killed several thousand miles away and been resurrected, taught us all about salvation, and founded a church that survives to this day.” I would find Christianity much more convincing.

      • Anathema

        Strangely enough, some Christians claimed that American Indians actually had known about Jesus before Columbus stumbled upon the Americas. The idea was that one of the apostles (generally said to be either Thomas or Bartholomew) had journeyed to the New World after Jesus’s death and preached to the Indians. However, what with human nature being inherently sinful and all, the American Indians had fallen away from the true faith in the following centuries. Parallels between American Indian beliefs and Christianity were taken as a sign that they had known about Christianity at one point, even though they had forgotten about most of it because they lacked writing systems of accurately preserve their knowledge of the true faith.

        • UWIR

          And the Mormons claim that Jesus showed up in the New World, and Joseph Smith rediscovered the records thereof.

    • Niemand

      To be fair, F=ma isn’t inherently obvious either. People in the west didn’t get it until the 17th century, which leaves an awfully long time of not knowing about something global. In short, just because people don’t know about the “true religion” doesn’t mean that it can’t be deducible from nature any more than the existence of aristotelian physics means that F=/=ma.

  • Ilan

    I don’t think that the fact that knowledge of Christianity is based on independent revelation speaks anything as to its credibility as a worldview. The Scriptures readily admit that they are the product of divine revelation. What Paul is stating in Romans 1:18 is not that the specific doctrines of Christianity can be understood from nature, but rather that the existence of God – as an independent, intelligent agent – can be deduced. Paul points to what has “been made” – ie, the complex beauty of existence, which necessarily presupposes an intelligent agent. Such a conclusion would certainly be reached by (at least some in) a new, unadulterated civilization.

  • Niemand

    Off topicish, but WWIII has been fought. It was known as the “cold war”. Einstein might still be right about WWIV, though, if only because it may be fought after global warming destroys 80% of the cities.

  • Casey Voce

    I have to say I’m disappointed you didn’t include us confessional reformed (Orthodox Presbyterian Church in my case..all 30,000 of us.) I would say we’re Boo-Berry.

    • You must phrase your suggestion using a kind of Cheerios (the link in the post shows many options).

  • LRC

    The writer asserts opinion as if it were fact; demonstrates no foundation for the assertions and frames no empirical or spiritual argument for the conclusions. I conclude, much in the vein of Thomas Paine, that I just read nothing.

    • There’s nothing concrete there to respond to? Nothing? You had anticipated this objection already and your Christian belief is untouched?

      OK, thanks for playing.

      • LRC

        What objection? When someone simply fashions a synthetic world that fits all of their arguments, and then passes it off as truth, there can be no objection raised that can’t be dismantled by further synthetic responses. Wish you had something real in your argument I could tackle.

        • If you’ve given it a read, I can ask for nothing more from you. Thanks.

          That said, the idea that Christianity is not deducible from observation and exists solely because of tradition sounds like a problem. It would be if I were a Christian.

        • Castilliano

          Heck, Bob, you could even lend them all the versions of the Bible. I highly doubt anybody would cling to that mess, especially when they need to sort out which version holds the right books.
          And if they did get through that phase, I doubt Christianity would resemble anything Catholic or Protestant.

          And, LRC, it’s a thought experiment.
          It’s too bad you can’t lend thought to it.

        • Pofarmer

          That sounds exactly like Christianity.

        • I’m a Christian, and I find it embarrassing that other believers won’t even admit that religion is a human creation. How exactly are you supposed to discuss the matter in a rational way with someone who won’t even concede that?

        • I certainly agree with you that religion is a human invention, but how are you a Christian if you accept that?

        • I don’t believe in the magic& angels brand of Christianity, that’s all. The people who wrote the Bible were human, the narratives were symbolic, and religion has co-evolved with humanity. There are many ways to relate to transcendent experience, and not all of them require you to believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

        • You seem to be that perplexing Christian like John Shelby Spong or Karen Armstrong. I read their stuff, and it sounds exactly like I would write (if I were that well educated). And then I wonder why they’re not atheists like me!

          I have the same question for you. It sounds like most of my arguments, you’d respond with, “Well, yeah. Duh.”

          How can we be so much on the same page, and you still a Christian?

        • You’re right, I’ve read a lot of Spong and he makes the most sense to me. He probably has sophisticated rationales why he’s still a Christian. I’m just too old to get a whole new philosophical wardrobe.

          I’m pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, and anti-creationism. I yam what I yam.

        • Dang! There’s not much left to argue about.

        • Okay, I suppose we —WHAT? NOTHING TO ARGUE ABOUT?

        • Well, we could still argue about your being a Christian at all. That is actually interesting–how you could discard all the obvious BS in Christianity but still think that God exists and created the world and all that … without a whole lotta evidence. Is this just an evidence-less faith thing?

        • Okay, Homo Sap created God in his vicious, bigoted image. So what? The notion of God as a Big Powerful Guy is about as primitive as a stone axe and twice as destructive. Like Dennett said in Breaking the Spell, contemporary belief in God is actually belief in the belief-in-God. And I’m okay with that.

          Sorry, I know I run the risk of losing my Interwebz tournament rating, but I refuse to get into God-is-God-ain’t debates. It’s not an evidence thing, not a culture-war thing, just a personal thing. The way it should be.

          On with the slapfights!

        • Okay, Homo Sap created God in his vicious, bigoted image. So what?

          So God exists no more than Hercules does. His story should be in books labeled “mythology,” not in a religion actively practiced today.

          I refuse to get into God-is-God-ain’t debates. It’s not an evidence thing, not a culture-war thing, just a personal thing. The way it should be.

          That’s fine. Just explain to me what your belief is.

        • Tayglas

          What B.S.?

        • Read Anton’s comment and find out.

  • Mick

    I have the feeling that all cults use the same psychological tricks to rope in the suckers. After the apocalypse the surviving charlatans will rediscover and use those same tricks to entrap the unwary. Whatever religion results will be much like Christianity today. No Jesus as such, but a god who made everything, controls everything, demands respect, threatens punishment – and always needs money.

    • They should teach the basics of budgeting in heaven. Seems like all the gods have poor money-management skills and always need more.

  • Steve Webb

    It is much more likely that, after a catastrophic destruction of the world, the survivors would recreate something like Christianity in their search for sacrificial means for redemption than they would come to the same scientific conclusions that we now hold. Science grew out of theology, out of a belief in the goodness of the cosmos and its utter openness to being known. First comes God, then comes theories of matter.

    • Religion is arbitrary; science is not. There are no facts to correct a religion, while the facts of nature would ensure that, eventually, any approach to understand nature through science would lead to the same conclusions.

      We see science and mathematics long before we see Christianity.

    • Pofarmer

      There were many religious variations before the idea of “sacrificial redemption” of christianity, which doesn’t make sense anyway on several levels. Science was around before Christian Theology, as well. The babylonians, and probably the Mayans, understood things about the Cosmos that the early Church disputed and suppressed because it didn’t match their theology. If science comes from theology, it comes from trying to correct it.