Open Thread: Christianity and the Enlightenment

This is an open thread to address John’s comment regarding Christianity and the origins of the Enlightenment. Comments and replies are welcome.

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Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • John

    HI, I just chanced upon this website, hope you’ll allow me to post a couple of thoughts as a Christian!
    Firstly, most of your refutations of Christian faith come from a superficial understanding of what you are criticizing. Evangelical Christians, it seems, are implicitly or explicitly the main targets here, and that is a problem, because Evangelical Christianity is really a fairly superficial belief system, when one examines it thoroughly. Which also means it is an easy target. Try taking on some of the more philosophically and theologically grounded traditions, eg the Catholic tradition to which I belong!
    Secondly, your assumption that atheism and reason go hand in hand is questionable, to say the least. I’m not saying it IS arrogant; but it does SOUND that way! Indeed, we Christians might wish to highlight the indispensable role played by Judaeo-Christian faith in laying the foundations for the Enlightenment vision of rational humanism and progress which many on this site seem to cherish. For behind the work of Hume and Voltaire, Tom Paine and the theorists of the Revolution (and their modern day successors), there is a theological canvas, a set of precise and unshakable beliefs about man and the world which are the fruit of Christian religion in Europe. For example, the idea of history as progress towards a final goal; the dignity of the human person; conviction of the sense and order of the world, and the value of discovering it (a precondition of science). These things are not the fruit of rational reflection, historically speaking. They are rather what is given to reason, what it receives from a socio-cultural tradition which is inherently stamped with a specific religious faith. Therefore, more honesty and realism is called for, I think, in appraising the capabilities of human reason and its influence as an unaided power in the unfolding of history. Not that I am advocating the renunciation of rationality – not for a moment! But the specific place of faith as a complementary yet irreducibly different response of humanity to reality in all its complex fullness, can not be denied.
    Hope this isn’t too long!
    Peace to all,
    John Deighan

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    You bring up a huge number of points, John; I shall try to address them as best I can. Forgive the length, but if I am to respond with any respect for you at all I must answer in some depth.

    Firstly, most of your refutations of Christian faith come from a superficial understanding of what you are criticizing. Evangelical Christians, it seems, are implicitly or explicitly the main targets here…

    This blog’s parent site, Ebon Musings, contains a large body of essays, many of which argue against all theistic religions. The Necessity of Atheism provides a summary of reasons, along with links to essays that expand on the arguments more fully. I think you’ll find that there are several important points there which are not specific to any one religion (along with other points that are, of course). The three main evidential reasons are probably the Argument from Evil, the Argument from Religious Confusion and the general lack of obvious reasons to believe in God.

    Ebon Musings also states in its disclaimer that:

    As an atheist, I reject all religions and disbelieve in all gods alike. However, I have had more experience with some religions than others; in particular, since I live in the United States of America, most of the theists I deal with are evangelical Protestant Christians. Furthermore, since the theists of any tradition who proselytize most aggressively, who pursue secular power most zealously, and who most frequently use force and coercion against those who believe differently are the fundamentalists and extreme conservatives, it is they and not the liberals or moderates whom I feel must be most strongly opposed. If it seems that this site is singling out any particular religion or doctrine, that’s why; I write about what I’m most familiar with and what concerns me the most. If you don’t feel that a particular article is speaking to you and your beliefs, that’s probably because it isn’t. There are, of course, some essays devoted to analyzing some beliefs specific to particular religions in greater detail.

    That should explain the occasional Evangelical slant.

    Secondly, your assumption that atheism and reason go hand in hand is questionable, to say the least.

    It’s easy enough to explain why we make that connection, though. Most of us are atheists because we are freethinkers. We think you should base your beliefs on reason and evidence, rather than on vague subjective feelings or some (probably self-contradictory) ancient text. If we were atheists because we were dogmatic communists, then atheism and reason would not go hand in hand, I agree.

    [B]ehind the work of Hume and Voltaire, Tom Paine and the theorists of the Revolution (and their modern day successors), there is a theological canvas, a set of precise and unshakable beliefs about man and the world which are the fruit of Christian religion in Europe.

    Hume? Please. The man whose supreme empiricism could doubt both causation and morality* was making considerable departures from the religion which gave us “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. Hume’s genius was to point out the things we believe, thinking that we have seen them, when we have not — and his reason for doing so was because he wanted to believe only with evidence. That’s a whole new virtue that Christianity doesn’t acknowledge. I fail to see how Hume owes anything to Christianity at all.

    I’ll give you this much: Voltaire and Tom Paine, when they wrote about society and how society ought to be run, were both influenced by the societies in which they lived, and the societies in which they lived had in turn been influenced by the Christian religion. The extent to which it was the Christian religion itself which provided that influence — and the extent to which traditionally Christian ideas were being supported rather than repudiated — is debatable.

    For example, the idea of history as progress towards a final goal…

    Forgive my ignorance; I can’t place that idea in what I know of the writings of Paine and Voltaire. Where does it come up? And what did they think it was progressing towards? Not the Second Coming of Christ, surely?

    …the dignity of the human person…

    All religions have that idea to some extent, and most violate it to some extent. Christianity is no exception to either rule, so I fail to see why it is particularly important to the idea. This is something that would arise in any society. The Enlightenment thinkers took it further, and it’s a jolly good thing they did, but centuries of Christianity before them didn’t give that result, so implying that the people who rejected Christianity were somehow the ones who finally said what Christianity was saying all along is a little peculiar, isn’t it?

    …conviction of the sense and order of the world, and the value of discovering it (a precondition of science)…

    Non-Christian cultures were able to make scientific advances, too, you know. It was Christian Europe that hit the industrial age first, but that doesn’t mean another culture wouldn’t have got there if Europe hadn’t happened to be first. And it doesn’t require many a priori assumptions to note that there is a certain degree of order in the world (or, at least, that there has been to date, given the very basic assumption our sensory perceptions have some accuracy). There is good evidence that pattern perception is built into many animals — indeed, left to ourselves, we perceive patterns where there are none, and so do pigeons, so I don’t think you can give Christianity credit for that. In fact, it’s more likely that religions arise partially out of the human tendency to assume (sometimes unreasonably) that there is order in the world. The causation probably goes the other way!

    Whew! That took work. I hope I have at least given you food for thought!

    *Hume’s contention was that morality is emotional rather than rational. I suspect its motivation has components of both, actually. As an atheist I’m forced to conclude that morality only exists in the human mind, but I think it’s pretty important, nevertheless, just for the record.

  • Alex Weaver

    A link to his initial comment would probably be in order. I think I missed that one. O.o

  • Stephen

    Take on Catholic theology? By all means.

    Communication is difficult, as I know all too well from my professional life. And communication of complex abstract concepts is very difficult indeed. But some forms of communication are easier than others. One of the very simplest forms, with the smallest risk of misunderstanding, is for one party to indicate a selected item from a list known to both parties.

    Let us now consider the election of a new pope, to be God’s next representative on earth. The cardinals gather to pray for guidance as to which of them should succeed the pope. (I understand some authorities have said that a non-cardinal could be elected pope, but it hasn’t happened for several centuries.) Now, if even the most rudimentary form of communication takes place between God and the cardinals, the pope will be elected unanimously on the first vote. Every time.

    But of course that doesn’t happen. Papal elections follow a course which is indistinguishable from purely human elections with no divine guidance whatever. Many voting rounds may be needed; in some cases the election has lasted months.

    Clearly God is unable to communicate even the simplest of messages to the members of the highest level in the Catholic hierarchy. And we are suppose to believe that he has communicated the complex Catholic theology with its trinity, immaculate conception, ninefold hierarchy of angels etc, etc?

    Catholic theology may be sophisticated, but it is sophisticated fiction.

  • Marty

    Hi, John,

    “Indeed, we Christians might wish to highlight the indispensable role played by Judaeo-Christian faith in laying the foundations for the Enlightenment vision of rational humanism and progress which many on this site seem to cherish. For behind the work of Hume and Voltaire, Tom Paine and the theorists of the Revolution (and their modern day successors), there is a theological canvas, a set of precise and unshakable beliefs about man and the world which are the fruit of Christian religion in Europe.”

    Actually, Judaeo-Christian faith was laid over the humanistic philosophical base of ancient Greece and Rome. Greco-Roman philosophy was suppressed when Constantine adopted christianity as the official religion of Rome, artworks destroyed, texts burned. Some of those texts were saved in the Islamic world, safely outside the reach of christianity. It was the re-emergence of these works that fed the Renaissance and Enlightenment. What you are likely to encounter on this site, John, is evidence that for whatever background context of human progress that christianity may claim credit, there are many specific examples of christianity in general, and the Roman Catholic church in particular, desparately attempting to crush.

    As for taking on Catholic theology, I’m game. Where would you like to begin: 1+1+1=1, transubstantiation, papal infallibility? Sexual morality, perhaps? I never got why the infinitely merciful creator of the universe would condemn my eternal soul to eternal torture for the heinous crime of eating cow meat instead of fish on certain days, as I was taught in the catechism of my youth.

  • terrence

    You sure don’t get it, Marty. I come from the same tradition, and the practice of not eating cow meat on Friday is a deep, sacred mystery by which we exemplify a noble practice of sacrifice. That’s why on Fridays Mom always cooked up a feast of lobster thermidor, broiled lobster tails, king crab claws, garlic shrimp, grilled salmon, oysters Rockefeller, and clams on the half shell. Gosh, it was tough.

    (Tip ‘o the hat to Judith Hayes)

  • http://saliental.blogspot.com/ salient

    “Indeed, we Christians might wish to highlight the indispensable role played by Judaeo-Christian faith in laying the foundations for the Enlightenment vision of rational humanism and progress which many on this site seem to cherish.”

    You might indeed want to take credit, but credit is NOT due.

    “a set of precise and unshakable beliefs about man and the world which are the fruit of Christian religion in Europe. For example, the idea of history as progress towards a final goal; the dignity of the human person; conviction of the sense and order of the world, and the value of discovering it (a precondition of science).”

    Look again! During the Dark Ages, the church suppressed and even destroyed the intellectual heritage of the ancient world. The Renaissance broke this thrall somewhat. The Enlightenment finally placed some emphasis on humanism. The Northern Enlightenment was more religious than that in the south, but even *it* diverged from traditional church teachings in emphasizing human potential rather than obedience to ‘dogmatic orders’. Religion did not emphasize human potential or dignity (except in the thou-shalt-not sense).

    Secondly, any sense of the dignity of humans and order within the world that could be found in the Bible (amidst all the contradictory statements) had its *origins* in the human brain, which has invented all religious mythologies. Religion provided nothing that was not already the product of human capacities–indeed the church held progress back, unless you wish to consider the entire *refuted* theological outporing of the churchmen progress. At most this made a contribution in providing material for philosophical exercises.

    Thirdly, the church has historically suppressed any discoveries that did not fit dogma. Lots of famous examples of anti-science policies. If they had recognized the significance of Mendel’s work, that probably would have been suppressed too!

    Attempting to rewrite history does not make your arguments any more convincing, John.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    For example, the idea of history as progress towards a final goal…

    I’m not positive, but I think that idea originates in Hagel or Marx.

  • Robert Madewell

    John said:

    Firstly, most of your refutations of Christian faith come from a superficial understanding of what you are criticizing. Evangelical Christians, it seems, are implicitly or explicitly the main targets here, and that is a problem, because Evangelical Christianity is really a fairly superficial belief system, when one examines it thoroughly. Which also means it is an easy target.

    Hey John, I come from an Evangelical Christian background. My father is an evangelical minister. Trust me, someone needs to put evangelicals in their place. You would not want someone like my dad telling you how to live your life. That is exactly what he and others like him want to do. They would love nothing more than to be able to put the entire bible into the law books. They do not care if you are catholic, jew, muslim, or raelian. To them you are all lost and must be forced into compliance. They are not content to sit back and live their own lives as they see fit allowing others to do the same. Also, I disagree that Evangelical Christianity is any more superficial than any other religion. Maybe, even less superficial. It was hard to unlearn all the brainwashing done to me as a kid. Others like me will never acheive freedom as I have. The abuse was so thorough. When you are raised in that kind of ultra religosity you have absolute certainty in what you believe. I am glad (and so should you) that someone is taking this religion cult on.

  • Jim Baerg

    “taking this religion cult on ”

    I think the proper definition of a religion is ‘a cult to powerful to safely persecute’.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    Hi John,

    [Note - this is a general comment on the "sophisticated/unsophisticated Christianity" argument rather than addressing specific points that you were responding to.]

    This is an argument we see a lot. A LOT. It has the problem that no matter where a criticism is aimed, somebody will post “but that’s unsophisticated! Most Christians don’t believe that!” I think part of the problem is no two Christians ever seem to believe quite the same thing, even given a book where it’s all written down (which is supposed to be the inspired word of God according to many – a pity no two believers can manage to agree what it all actually means, then, isn’t it?)

    1) I think you need to define this “sophisticated” Christianity you possess a little better.

    For example…
    - Do you accept or deny the Nicene creed?
    If you accept it, many of atheist arguments apply to your belief on that basis alone.
    If you deny it, many Christians will argue you’re not Christian at all.

    - How do you respond to Dawkins’ point about athorism ? (http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/richard_dawkins/2007/01/athorism_is_enjoying_a_certain.html)

    2) I think you’ll find that the overwhelming majority of your co-religionists in the US *do* possess many of the unsophisticated attributes you would deny.
    Just as a random example I was looking at a moment ago, over 80% of Republican voters (and more than half of Democrat voters) think creationism should be taught in schools. How sophisticated and enlightened! I’m impressed! (Or do you deny that they’re almost entirely composed of Christians? ) http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10063768

    Now either you disagree with them, in which case I think you need to accept that your supposedly highly sophisticated view is far from in the majority and *you* should be arguing with the overwhelming numbers of Christians who hold views you think are wrong, rather than with us. We can enlighten them together.

    OR

    You agree with them, in which case, your beliefs are – at least in some respects – entirely unsophisticated, and my beef is indeed with you also.

    3) This also relates partly back to (2). The phrase “we Christians” is particularly galling. You appear to claim the whole of Christianity. Explain who you’re talking about please. If you make a claim in doing so (about what people believe, and how many of them believe it), back it up, please.

    Demonstrate that some reasonable majority of the “sophisticated” views you hold are held by a large portion of believers. If not, explain what’s wrong with arguing with those who do hold unsophisticated beliefs.

    In short – rather than claiming we’re arguing against a straw man, pick somewhere to stand. Make it clear what you do believe. Either you will define your belief away to the extent that you’re effectively a deist (in which case I won’t bother disagreeing with you, because there *are* plenty of people with far less sophisticated beliefs out there that I want to argue with first), or you will believe something I do have a major disagreement with, and arguments to back them up.

    You *don’t* get the luxury of continuing to come along after the shots are all fired and saying “Nuh. I wasn’t standing there. Oh, and all my friends were standing behind me, so you missed them as well”.

  • Stephen

    It has the problem that no matter where a criticism is aimed, somebody will post “but that’s unsophisticated! Most Christians don’t believe that!”

    Yes, that’s one of the standard code-words. Another, perhaps even more common, is “caricature”. The belief one is criticising is held up by to some Christian to be a “caricature of true Christianity” (cue the bagpipes).

    And that of course has some truth, because just about every Christian belief is a caricature of what some other people, who also call themselves Christians, choose to believe. The more I think about it, the more it seems that it is not meaningful to consider Christianity a religion, but rather a collection of religions with a common origin.

  • Damien

    And that of course has some truth, because just about every Christian belief is a caricature of what some other people, who also call themselves Christians, choose to believe. The more I think about it, the more it seems that it is not meaningful to consider Christianity a religion, but rather a collection of religions with a common origin.

    No can do. You could say the same about any system of thought, religious or secular; there’s always going to be differences of opinion. If Fred Hoyle claims there was no Big Bang, and Edwin Hubble claims there is, does that mean there’s no such thing as “astronomy”? If Physicist A believes devoutly in the existence of the Higgs boson, and Physicist B argues fervently for top quark condensate theory, is it no longer meaningful to consider physics a science?

  • lpetrich

    I think that our pagan Greco-Roman heritage was much more influential; its rediscovery helped stimulate a LOT of things.

    Consider many early supporters of democracy and republics; they looked back to Greece and Rome for inspiration, not the Bible. In fact, the words “democracy” and “republic” come from Greek and Latin, respectively. As does most of our highbrow and technical vocabulary; hardly any of it comes from Hebrew. There was a science-fiction story, Poul Anderson’s “Uncleftish Beholdings”, that featured what words we English speakers would use if we avoided words of Greek and Latin origin.

    Even our Founding Fathers had a fondness for ancient Greece and Rome. Thomas Jefferson admired the Roman Republic, the author of the pro-Constitution Federalist Papers used the pseudonym “Publius”, and his opponents used the pseudonyms “Cato” and “Brutus” — all from the Roman Republic. And they certainly didn’t thump the Bible like crazy when they made their arguments; they said little or nothing about the Bible.

  • Marty

    Ummm, John? Are you out there, buddy?

    I think our new acquaintance must have left to play with his invisible friend. BTW: I’ve been seeing this argument that christianity is responsible for all the good things (and none of the bad things) about Western Civilization recently. I think it’s coming from the promotions that D’nesh D’Souza has been doing for his new book of christian apologetics. I’ve seen a couple articles in mainstream media claiming that science, abolition of slavery, democracy, women’s rights, and every other measure of civil progress has arisen in the west, and many people in western culture practice christianity, therefore, Jesus gets the kudos.

  • John

    Wow! I must say I am surprised that my initial comment has inspired so many responses, many of them intelligent and courteous, for which I must thank you all. Unfourtunately, I can’t respond to every one thoroughly. But I can take up some points that occur/recur.

    Efrique: I take your point – I DO agree on some points with atheists as against evangelical Christians, especially those who contend that the world was made in (literally) seven days. And yes, I as a Catholic I accept the Nicene Creed – so in sum, we can identify some common ground, and some points of disagreement: but this is exactly what’s needed for dialogue.

    Salient: you hold the Church responsible for “the destruction of the intellectual heritage of the ancient world” in the Dark Ages. I’m afraid this is false. Roman civilization and with it Greek learning was destroyed in Western Europe by the barbarian invasions. What remained of learning was in fact PRESEREVED by the Church through the work of the scholar-monks. During the Dark Ages, there were still movements of intellectual revival, most notably the Carolingian revival, with Churchmen again the protagonists. But due to political instability, a genuine culture of learning was difficult to achieve. It is true, however, that in history the Church has sometimes reacted fearfully to intellectual advances, which was not right – yet, this is certainly not due to a fundamental opposition to learning, culture and science. Next, you claim “religion did not emphasize human potential or dignity”; but in fact, it did. Not, however, in the way the Enlightenment did. The notion of the ‘perfectability of man’ is not foreign to the faith of the Church – but we hold that WE CAN’T DO IT ON OUR OWN!! The Church is inherently humanistic, but its ‘belief in man’ is both tempered by man’s ‘fallenness’ (propensity for evil) and above all its belief in God, who enables man to reach a degree of goodness and perfection he could never reach out of his own resources.

    Marty: the wrongs you suffered at the hands of catechists in your youth, I will not attempt to justify. I can only say, I regret that they tarnished the true image of the God who I believe spoke to humanity in Jesus Christ. Allow, me, however, to state that Christianity is not “over-laid” upon the philosophy of the Greeks. This is a very reductive interpretation that one can read in the works of non Christian authors like Bertrand Russell for example. But it doesn’t reflect reality. Far from being “Platonism for the people” Christian faith both absorbed and completely transformed the intellectual achievments of the Greeks. In the early Christian writers, you will find a constant pattern of appropriation AND transformation of Plato, Aristotle and the others. This was because these writers (Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine…) found a lot of truth in the philosophers, but equally a lot remaining to be said, which they believe, as I do, was said in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Only through God’s incarnate Word could man understand the full truth about HIMSELF. Further, the over-zealous suppression of pagan learning did not express contempt for learning as such, but rather full-blooded rejection of paganism. A further point: why did you choose to omit the role of the Christian thinkers in Europe as the necessary bridge from the Arabs to the Renaissance? Could the Renaissance have occurred without their work?

    Stephen: your difficulty can be answered. God does not speak to us as we speak to each other as human beings. This is clear just from considering what we are like and what God (whom I allege to exist) is like. Therefore, when God guides the Cardinals to elect a pope, there is a different kind of speaking and listening involved. Further, the choice of pope can be explained through the notion of Providence – a notion which allows for the action of human/terrestrial causality (the ballots of the Cardinals) within a wider, encompassing divine action and plan (the pope is “God’s choice”). Note, too, that the process is and remains HUMAN – hence the many bad popes we have had over the centuries.

    Lyden: Let me limit myself to a couple of points. Firstly, the dignity of the human person would not arise in any society, irrespective of its religion. For in fact, it does not, as we can see in the world today (eg. the Hindu ‘untouchables’, the Buddhist belief that the ‘person’ is an illusion, Jain beliefs about fasting and death, to name but three). It seems so obvious to us, because our culture is a CHRISTIAN CULTURE, through and through. The Enlightenment thinkers were able to sell it as the fruit of human reason and natural intelligence precisely for this reason. If they had had the awareness of cultural diversity we have today, perhaps they would have met stiffer opposition.
    Secondly, science, as it exists in the Western world today, is the unique achievement of this specific culture. Sure, other cultures managed a bit of technology, maths, chemistry (alchemy!), astronomy/ology, etc. But Western science goes beyond this, penetrating the very rational structure of the world and uncovering the laws inherent in nature itself. Now, this is a most novel and shocking thing! Because why should we expect nature’s ways to be expressible in mathematical equations? Why, unless we hold it to be created by a God who thinks things into existence, whose act of creation is eminently Rational? Two theological presuppositions are therefore needed for science to blossom as it has in the West: 1) that the world has a rational structure that corresponds to the rationality of the human mind – because created by a Rational God. 2) that the natural world is worth investigating: not something obvious if you believe that it is just a ‘Veil of Maya’, or the necessary manifestation of the Absolute!

    My email is johndjnr@hotmail.com, should anyone wish to make a specific (polite!) reply. Thank you for publishing my comment, and good wishes to all who seek the truth!!

  • http://saliental.blogspot.com/ salient

    “What remained of learning was in fact PRESEREVED by the Church through the work of the scholar-monks.”

    Inaccurate. Much of what was preserved came to us courtesy of Islamic scholars after it was reintroduced to the West in translations into Greek and Latin in the Middle Ages. This is particularly true of scientific and mathematical writings.

    Yes, the Church did preserve those writings that it deemed non-controversial, but the barbarians were not the only agents of destruction. I think that it would be more accurate to say that the scholar-monks were responsible for replication of ‘acceptable’ learning and that the Church kept alive the illusion of learning.

  • http://saliental.blogspot.com/ salient

    Stephen, on the topic of papal elections, “Clearly God is unable to communicate even the simplest of messages to the members of the highest level in the Catholic hierarchy.”

    Absolutely correct. If ‘God’ really wanted to select his representative on Earth, then the faithful could gather in St Peter’s Square to hear God’s booming voice declaring His (or Her) pick. It would save a lot of time and palaver.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Because why should we expect nature’s ways to be expressible in mathematical equations? Why, unless we hold it to be created by a God who thinks things into existence, whose act of creation is eminently Rational?

    John, you’ve presented an admirable case for how Christianity could have given rise to Enlightenment rationalism. The question you’ve yet to address, however, is this: did Christianity in fact give rise to Enlightenment rationalism?

    This is a matter of history and empirical evidence, I hope you realize, not a matter of armchair philosophizing. It’s not enough to assume that because you view Christianity as a rational religion, that this is the way people of that time thought and this must have been what inspired them. What we should do, instead, is actually look at the key figures of the Enlightenment and see what inspired them and what schools of thought they credited their achievements to.

    In this respect, it seems to me, you’re in a bit of trouble. Because many of the important figures of the Enlightenment were very obviously not Christian. Some were deists, some were atheists, some were simply skeptics or rationalists. Not very many were orthodox Christians. Consider the following examples:

    • Voltaire, a fierce critic of Christianity and the Catholic church (“Ecrasez l’infame!“)
    • The Baron d’Holbach, a renowned philosopher and encyclopedist and also an outspoken atheist.
    • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a deist who coined the term “social contract”, and also a critic of Christianity and theocracy.
    • The encyclopedist Denis Diderot, a skeptic and rationalist.
    • Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan, another anti-clerical deist who derided the origins of religion as coming from superstitious fears.
    • David Hume, a deist who delivered some of the most decisive arguments ever against the possibility of miracles being admitted as fact.
    • Thomas Paine, opponent of monarchy and slavery, who wrote a book-length assault on Christianity, The Age of Reason.
    • Jeremy Bentham, creator of utilitarianism, advocate of free speech and separation of church and state. An atheist.
    • The Marquis de Condorcet, renowned philosopher, mathematician and political scientist, and likewise an atheist.
    • Baruch Spinoza, the great ethicist and philosopher. A pantheist who fiercely criticized the Old Testament (and was excommunicated by the Jewish community for it).
    • On the American side, deists and freethinkers like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin (both of whom considered orthodox Christianity absurd).

    Granted, there were also Christians who played a role in the Enlightenment, such as Isaac Newton (even if he, too, held some distinctly unorthodox views). But to claim that Christianity was the driving force behind the Enlightenment is simply not correct.

    Regarding your comments about “a rational mind” creating the universe being the motivation for science, the problem I see with that is that Christianity postulates an interventionist god. He created the universe, but he also acts within it in ways that are mysterious and unpredictable, miraculously changing its natural laws on occasion to better suit his plans. A person who truly believes this will have a lot more difficulty doing science.

    Now, the idea of a rational deity creating the universe does work if you postulate that this deity sets up a stable system of laws and then doesn’t interfere further – in other words, deism. So it’s not surprising that many of the Enlightenment’s leading figures were deists. Alternatively, you can postulate that the laws of nature simply exist and there is no higher power to change them. That’s atheism, and that, too, played an important role in the Enlightenment.

  • http://saliental.blogspot.com/ salient

    “this [suppression] certainly not due to a fundamental opposition to learning, culture and science.”

    No? Then why the continuance of anti-science and pseudoscientific polemics in the fallacious belief that this confirms the existence of a deity? Admittedly, the more enlightened religious doctrines allow for the facts of evolution and do not oppose explanatory theories.

    The reason that *all* religious mythologizing has recently come under attack lies in the fact that ministries *must* espouse some degree of anti-logic in order to protect whatever version of mythology is favored. This is why deism, which was once considered heretical, has become the preferred retreat of intellectuals who still insist that there has to be something that they can label ‘God’ somewhere . . . anywhere.

    “Next, you claim “religion did not emphasize human potential or dignity”; but in fact, it did. Not, however, in the way the Enlightenment did.”

    Religious attitudes to human “dignity” were pretty much confined to “don’t have sex without religious authorization” and we’ll burn you/put you under house arrest/threaten you with hell/ostracize you socially if you admit to disagreement with doctrine.

    “The notion of the ‘perfectability of man’ is not foreign to the faith of the Church – but we hold that WE CAN’T DO IT ON OUR OWN!!”

    We DO do it on our own!! Sometimes we need emotional support from family, friends, or therapists, but only schizophrenics believe that they hear an external God speaking directly to them. To believe that people only behave well because they are scared of SkyDaddy is reflective of arrested development at Kohlberg’s good-bad-reward-punishment level of moral development.

    “The Church is inherently humanistic, but its ‘belief in man’ is both tempered by man’s ‘fallenness’ (propensity for evil) and above all its belief in God, who enables man to reach a degree of goodness and perfection he could never reach out of his own resources.”

    You blew it right there, John. To claim that we *all* have a “propensity for evil” is hardly a humanistic belief in man’s dignity and potential. The ancient tribesmen who first invented all the prescriptions and proscriptions were more concerned with controlling the behavior of others than with promoting humanistic belief in dignity and potential.

    Yes, some humans make big mistakes, some act anti-socially out of greed or rage, but most of us want to be ‘good’ people. We need laws because religion does *not* work to ensure that those with anti-social intents will not commit naughty, wicked, or, more rarely, evil acts. The problem for the religiously convinced is that they have been told to believe that those of us who are not scared of eternal damnation for any bad actions will necessarily erupt into uncontrolled evil behavior. You may believe that you *only* behave well because you are a good god-fearing Catholic, but I suspect that you actually behave well because you want to be a good member of society. As do I.

    One of the chief differences that I have noted between religionists and humanists concerns exactly this point — humanists have much more faith in human nature.

    The argument to morality is a red herring, though. It does reveal why the religious selfishly believe that their world will be safer if all others are religious and behave as they dictate. So, it reveals why the religious are so terrified of humanism or atheism, and for some it reveals that those some would behave badly if not fear-constrained. But it says absolutely nothing to support the notion that supernatural deities have extra-conceptual existence or even that religions are beneficial to society.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Lyden:

    I presume you mean ‘Lynet’ :-)

    Firstly, the dignity of the human person would not arise in any society, irrespective of its religion. For in fact, it does not, as we can see in the world today (eg. the Hindu ‘untouchables’, the Buddhist belief that the ‘person’ is an illusion, Jain beliefs about fasting and death, to name but three). It seems so obvious to us, because our culture is a CHRISTIAN CULTURE, through and through.

    Allow me to clarify. Society cannot function without people respecting each other to some degree. It’s true that most societies also contain a heirarchy whereby not everyone is deemed worthy of respect by everyone else, and Hinduism entrenches that heirarchy religiously. I certainly agree that Enlightenment principles would have a harder time against a Hindu background than a Christian one! Frankly, however, I cannot pass your reference to the Jain belief that one may choose (very honourably) to die by starvation without noting the parallels with the Christian notion of ‘mortification of the flesh’. If this disqualifies Jainism from believing in the inherent dignity of human beings, then Christianity ought also to be disqualified. Christianity, of course, does not allow you to choose to die by such methods, but the rationale for this is that God chooses when you will die! In other words, Christianity stops short of the extremes of Jainism only by denying human beings the right to control their own death. This is hardly an affirmation of human dignity.

    Secondly, science, as it exists in the Western world today, is the unique achievement of this specific culture. Sure, other cultures managed a bit of technology, maths, chemistry (alchemy!), astronomy/ology, etc. But Western science goes beyond this, penetrating the very rational structure of the world and uncovering the laws inherent in nature itself. Now, this is a most novel and shocking thing! Because why should we expect nature’s ways to be expressible in mathematical equations?

    Well, let’s look at how that one arose, shall we? Newton was the climax, uniting mathematics in astronomy with mathematics in the natural world. Let’s work backwards from there.

    On the one hand, we have the notion of mathematical principles in astronomy. This is very old. It predates Christianity. Newton’s biggest mathematical resource here was Kepler; he also had Galileo’s astronomical observations to do with the moons of Jupiter and such to work with. Both of them, of course, were influenced by Copernicus, who himself notes that some ancient Greeks held the idea of heliocentrism. Christian influence there is surely slim at best.

    On the other hand, there is the notion of mathematical principles at work in the natural world around us. Newton was standing on the shoulders of giants there, too, of course. Galileo’s observations on the parabolic path of projectiles, on the relativity of motion, and on the way mass is largely irrelevant to the speed at which things fall are all crucial here. Ah, but wait! Even in Galileo we see the beginnings of crossover between celestial and terrestrial mechanics. Galileo’s elucidation of the idea of the relativity of motion was a major part of his defence of Copernicanism: the Earth can be moving without us noticing it, because we are moving with it! So if we weren’t looking at maths in astronomy, would we have noticed maths here on Earth?

    I have to admit, I don’t know what influenced Galileo, in his youth, to bother to actually look at the world and notice that Aristotelian mechanics didn’t really describe it. But generations of Christians before him didn’t bother, and most of his contemporaries were too busy being respectful of books and orthodoxy to be able to see the sense in actually looking at the world. That respect for books (as an extension of respect for the Book — the Bible) and for orthodoxy is very Christian of itself.

    ******

    Fellow atheists, we have been too hard on polytheism, you know. Many of the comments in this very thread have noted our debt to the thinking of the ancient Greeks. Admittedly, those Greeks themselves were not particularly polytheistic. However, many of their ideas depended on the polytheistic society in which they lived. We take inspiration from Aristotle’s virtue ethics, but why be virtuous at all? Do you not know that the Greeks strove to behave well because their gods demanded it? Plato’s dialogue ‘Euthyphro’ attests to that very fact. Admittedly, ‘Euthyphro’ is a repudiation of the idea that morality comes from the gods, but if the Greeks had not had the idea of divine punishment for wrongdoing, how could they have developed the prosperous Athenian society in which those ideas could be questioned?

    If the ancient Babylonians had not revered the planets as gods, would they have devoted so much time and effort to describing their paths? Without that central observation that mathematics can predict the behaviour of some physical objects, we would never have been able to develop the scientific knowledge that we have.

    So, you know, don’t knock polytheism.

  • lpetrich

    And as to the usability of mathematics, can anyone say Pythagoras and Plato? Pythagoras founded a religious cult that featured lots of number mysticism, along with belief in reincarnation and the wickedness of eating beans. But the Pythagoreans did do a lot of good mathematics, and even discovered some Satanic Verses: irrational numbers.

    Plato’s theory of ideas or forms is mathematics-derived also. Plato draws a line, notices that it is not quite straight and not quite infinitely thin, and decides that it’s an imperfect copy of the ideal line that he had imagined. And that’s what he thought that our Universe is like — imperfect copies of ideal objects.

    Of course, there are lots of problems with that theory; some made by his great student Aristotle.

    Taking a different approach, the Atomists and Epicureans came up with a view of the Universe that is remarkably like that of modern science — a Universe governed by entirely impersonal causes and that has no overall big cosmic purpose.

    And the early Xians weren’t the superscientific super-rationalists that John might want them to be, as Richard Carrier has noted in his Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? : Would the Facts Be Checked? He concludes that the main epistemology in the New Testament was “God has revealed THE TRUTH to me! Believe!”

    RC notes Justin Martyr (2nd cy. CE) and his rather strange conversion story. He checked out various pagan philosophers, and found them lacking. One of them downplayed faith in god, one of them charged money, one of them insisted that he learn the sciences, etc. He became a Platonist for a while before discovering Xianity, which he defended as having the oldest prophetic books. He imagined himself arguing with a Jew because he considered Judaism, not any pagan sect, as Xianity’s most serious competition. RC summed up Athenagoras’s main argument as “Screw you, all you academic lunkheads, and screw all your logic and science and scholarship. We have the Law and the Prophets. Everything else is obvious. End of argument.” And Tatian’s arguments as “No fact-checking. No empirical research. No asking around. He converted simply because he found other religions morally repugnant and illogical, was impressed by the antiquity of the Bible, found the Christians to be the most moral followers of that most ancient text, and therefore concluded that they had the right interpretation of the most authoritative book–authoritative for no other reason than ‘our philosophy is older than the systems of the Greeks’ and is the most morally attractive. End of story.”

    Later Xian theologians had plenty of time to rip off pagan philosophers, however. Which makes me wonder Xian apologists will start claiming that the discovery of evolution is a great triumph for their religion.

    What John has been claiming for Xianity is essentially a Deist view of God – one who creates the Universe and acts as its ultimate lawgiver but who does not intervene in its operation. But that’s not the sort of God that would be very convenient for traditional Xianity, not one who would work lots of miracles, issue lots and lots and lots of laws, make a certain young lady pregnant with himself, inspire the writing of some sacred book, etc. And certainly not a God whose ways are totally unlike our ways, who cannot really be understood by us, etc. “A finite mind cannot understand the infinite”, some people tell us.

    I also note a certain VERY bad habit of Xian apologists — that of jumping from position to position as is expedient from them. I wonder when some of them will start claiming “We never said that Jesus Christ was a historical person. The idea that we ever did is some straw man invented by nasty atheists just to smear us.”

  • Damien

    Later Xian theologians had plenty of time to rip off pagan philosophers, however. Which makes me wonder Xian apologists will start claiming that the discovery of evolution is a great triumph for their religion.

    Darwin was studying to be a pastor before he came aboard the HMS Beagle. Obviously his later thoughts on evolution were inspired and fertilized by his Christian studies; therefore Jesus should get the credit for the theory of evolution.

    Now for an encore, I’ll prove that black is white and get myself killed on the next zebra crossing.

  • John

    This is a quick one!
    Ebonmuse: yes, I fully agree that most Enlightenment thinkers were not Christians in any ‘orthodox’ sense of the word. As you say, that is historically true. But that wasn’t the basis of my argument. The Enlightenment didn’t spring out of nowhere, with learned men all over Europe suddenly and inexplicably coming to their senses – as you are no doubt aware. In fact, it sprang out of a thoroughly Christian culture – and that, I contend, is a relevant fact, especially when one looks at certain typical Enlightenment beliefs, concerning eg. progress, perfectability, morality… and other things I’ve already mentioned. So I don’t want to claim, as you say, that “Christianity was the driving force behind the Enlightenment”; rather, I want to point to the INFLUENCE of Christian beliefs and Christian morality on a movement that tried to present itself as the achievement of human reason, pure and simple. This I CAN claim, even although the authors you cite themselves rejected the Christian faith. To take a parallel example: Descartes rejected the philosophy of Aristotle and the Schoolmen. But does that mean it had no influence on his own thought? Not at all!!
    Of course there are points of discontinuity too. But it is just too easy to read this chapter of history as “dogmatic sleep” –> “daylight atheism” :-). The relation between Christianity and Enlightenment is much more complex!

    I’ll try to write more later. I hope you don’t become bored of the discussion; I for one find it very interesting!

    PS – Ipetrich: I don’t know how you came to the conclusion that I want to present a Deist view of God, but that is emphatically not the case. I believe in the Catholic faith, which is completely incompatible with Deism!

    PPS – “Lyden”: sorry, yes, I meant Lynet!

  • Petrucio

    In fact, it (The Enlightenment) sprang out of a thoroughly Christian culture – and that, I contend, is a relevant fact [...]

    Not really. You are really messing up the relations between cause and effect. Just because it’s windy when it rains, doesn’t mean wind causes rain. Take the wind away and the rain is unaffected; take the clouds away and the rain stops. Christianity just happened to be the standard religion at the time, and did not help spring the Enlightenment at all – if anything, it most likelly has delayed it several centuries.

  • John

    Petrucio, it is clear that I never said Christian religion caused the Enlightenment as clouds cause rain. Rather, it strongly influenced its content.
    I think you have an inadequate appreciation of the bond between religion and culture. Christianity was the main factor in the development of Europe itself as a cultural entity (not forgetting the role of Greek intellectual tradition and Roman political and legal institutions). If you don’t believe me, read it up! Now, the Enlightenment was a very European movement. It doesn’t make sense outside the Western European civilization. But this civilisation was formed by Christian faith. Why be surprised, then, that I say Christianity influenced the Enlightenment? It is at the most basic cultural level that the influence can be most seen, such an obvious influence that we can miss it easily. But to overlook it does an injustice to the Christian religion’s role in the development of a specifically European spirit, a European consciousness. It remains the cultural canvas on which 18th century thinkers worked.

  • shifty

    While it is no doubt that the enlightenment owes a great deal to christianity, that is certainly no endorsement for christianity. Bolshevism owes a great deat to imperialist tzars, that doesn’t make it a desirable system of government. Every society evolves, and does so precisely because of its own unique past. We wouldn’t have had to outlaw slavey if it wasn’t there already….so thank god for slavery, see how wonderful it made us! I feel better already.

  • anithri

    While it is true that Christianity could be said to have an influence on the enlightenment, I don’t think that influence is the one being talked about here.

    The Enlightenment followed the Reformation fairly directly, in fact the later Reformation period and the early Enlightenment enmesh to a large degree. The Reformation started as a fundamental challenge to the Catholic church. While Luthor started by trying to reform the catholic church from the inside, in the end a complete break was needed. This act was picked up on by Calvin, and many other less successful reformers.

    What followed was a lot of rereading of the bible, questioning the authority of the church, reinterpretation of philosophy and theology in the light of current conditions, rather than conditions that existed more than 1200 years before.

    From this new found intellectual freedom, came the many Philosophers, Natural Philosophers, Political Philosophers. And thus was born the Enlightenment.

    Now could the latter have been possible without the former? I personally doubt it, but there’s no way to prove that. However, without the freedom to challenge conventional thinking (which in a nutshell, was what happened during the Reformation), could those steps beyond religion as the ultimate source of knowledge and wisdom have been taken?

    It’s my feeling that the Reformation showed those great thinkers that the values, facts, and powers of the Church could be challenged. And that those challenges started with current theology, but ultimately led to questions of a more fundamental nature that showed religion itself unneccessary.

    Could Newton and the Royal Society have accomplished everything they did at other times or places? Probably. But I tend to doubt they could do so in Catholic Christendom. So while Christianity did provide part of the foundation of the Enlightenment, It did so as a Dam that was shattered by new ideas and ways of looking at ourselves and the universe.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    A further reply to John:

    The Enlightenment didn’t spring out of nowhere, with learned men all over Europe suddenly and inexplicably coming to their senses – as you are no doubt aware. In fact, it sprang out of a thoroughly Christian culture – and that, I contend, is a relevant fact, especially when one looks at certain typical Enlightenment beliefs, concerning eg. progress, perfectability, morality… and other things I’ve already mentioned.

    Again, this is just armchair philosophizing. What’s your specific evidence for a Christian influence on the Enlightenment? Also, how would you respond to my point that Christianity’s belief in an ineffable and interventionist god made it unsuitable as inspiration for a scientific worldview?

  • http://www.boadiceasrevolt.com sabrina

    While Europe was in the “Dark Ages” due to an oppressive Catholic Church, Muslim countries were leading the way in science, medicine, art, literature and were generally more tolerant countries. Jewish people in Muslim countries had more rights than they did in Europe at the time. If you need an example, in 1492 when Isabella of Spain expelled the Moors, many of the Jewish citizens followed. And before the Moorish govenor would concede defeat, he had Isabella promise she would not imprison or treat any Muslims or Jews staying behind unfairly. (umm…of course she did..ie the Spanish Inquisition). The Enlightenment came about after the Reformation, when people were free to start questioning the dogmatism of the church. Also, many people used the bible as defense of slavery since numerous passages advance that evil practice.

    I’ve always wondered where human civilization would be now if science and reason hadn’t been quashed for so many years because of religion.

  • lpetrich

    John says: (not forgetting the role of Greek intellectual tradition and Roman political and legal institutions)

    Thus conceding a BIG hole in his whole thesis. Why do doctors say a Hippocratic Oath and not some Christic Oath?

  • John

    Ebonmuse reckons I am indulging in armchair philosophy by stating that Christian faith influenced the Enlightenment in its fundamental beliefs. Let me offer in opposition to this view the opinions of two highly reputable historians, Alphonse de Lamartine and Christopher Dawson. The first says this:
    “The [French] Revolution [the political counterpart of philosophical Enlightenment] had been prepared for by a century of philosophy, which was apparently sceptical but really believing. The scepticism of the 18th century only extended to the external forms and the supernatural dogmas of Christianity; it passionately adopted its moral teaching and its social intention”.
    The second has this to add:
    “But in spite of its unorthodox and even anti-Christian character, all the positive elements in the new creed [the Enlightenment belief in Progress] were derived from the old religious tradition of Christendom… When the philosophers of the 18th century attempted to substitute their new rationalist doctrines for the ancient faith of Christendom, they were in reality simply abstracting from those elements which had entered so deeply into their own thought that they no longer recognized their origin.”
    These views are by no means unusual among historians. (Of the two cited, the last was a Catholic Christian. The other, although born a Catholic, became a pantheist). Both base their arguments, as I have done, on the historical fact of religion’s formative influence upon culture. “Specific evidence” can be brought forward regarding concepts and values (eg person, charity, progress) that ONLY became rooted in the European social tradition because of its religion – Christianity. In another post, I might offer a history of one of these concepts, as far as my ability and knowledge allow.
    But before I go, I would like to take up the question posed by Ebonmuse regarding the alleged conflict between a scientific worldview and an “interventionist” God. I believe God exists and created the world, and created it rationally, a rationality which is manifested in various laws of nature. But I also believe that he can and occasionally does intervene miraculously within nature, for example by restoring a sick person to health. If these views are contradictory, then I am wrong. But I hold they are not contradictory.
    Alas, I must leave you in suspense! Have to go now, I will finish my response in another post.

  • Damien

    John,

    Perhaps in order not to be a stumbling block for Ipetrich –

    I also note a certain VERY bad habit of Xian apologists — that of jumping from position to position as is expedient from them

    – you would be so kind as to stay on one subject at a time?

  • Mrnaglfar

    John,

    (eg person, charity, progress) that ONLY became rooted in the European social tradition because of its religion – Christianity.

    Progress is a christian value? Since when? I’m not sure what person means, but charity, while it may be a christian value, is also a value of people and other social animals elsewhere, so I hardly think you can credit christianity with it.

    by restoring a sick person to health.

    The person who is sick according to god’s plan? By the germs created by god to harm us? PRAISE JESUS!

    You know who else restores sick people to health? Doctors and surgeons; much more frequently too I might add.

  • windy

    Here’s a related, smaller-scale example. Nearly universal literacy in Finland has its roots in the confirmation rite of the Lutheran church. To be able to marry, people had to have some level of reading and to pass a “test” on Lutheran teachings. Maybe literacy would not have spread so quickly under some other religion, but so what? The societal change that followed was largely a historical accident from the POW of the church: it taught reading as a means of self-promotion and didn’t intend that people would later start reading newspapers and getting ideas.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Hi John -

    I have to say, you still haven’t answered the question I asked.

    You said that Christianity inspired the Enlightenment. I asked what your evidence was for that. In response, you quoted two historians who said that Christianity inspired the Enlightenment.

    We have a name for this kind of thing; it’s a fallacy called “argument from authority”. Something does not become true just because an expert says it, regardless of that expert’s credentials. Instead, experts should be trusted only to the degree that they can marshal and present the evidence supporting their position. You haven’t done that, and Lamartine and Dawson haven’t either, at least not in the quotes you provided. Again, I want to see specific evidence linking certain ideas of Christianity to concepts that came to prominence in the Enlightenment. I want to see which ideas they are and precisely what the connection is. And it’s not enough just to show that these ideas are similar; there has to be evidence of an actual causal influence and it has to be in the correct direction.

    Until you can do this, no amount of heaping up historians’ names is going to make the slightest bit of difference.

  • lpetrich

    I notice that Xian apologists often seem to have a bipolar-disorder view of humanity:
    Mania: We have Dignity, the creator and ruler of this whole wide Universe looks exactly like us!
    Depression: We are evil, depraved, monstrous Original Sinners, who can never do anything right on our own initiative, and who deserve to be horribly tortured forever and ever and ever.

    And they sometimes jump between those views depending on what is expedient at the moment. Now for some of John’s other assertions.

    Progress only became an important value when it started happening fast enough to be easily noticeable. Before that, the main view was degeneration from some supposed Good Old Days. The Golden Age. The Garden of Eden. The early Roman Republic. The empire of David and Solomon. The early church. Etc.

    The god that John believes in seems to have a split personality. Seems like that god can’t decide whether to be a deist-god lazy bum or an active, miracle-working meddler. And as to John’s “scientific worldview”, does he believe that there can be a testable, verifiable, independent-of-personal-beliefs “science of God” or “science of miracles”?

    Interestingly, his church continues to have miracle-working as a criterion for sainthood, though the miracles claimed for recent would-be saints are absolutely pathetic by the standards of Biblical and medieval-saint miracles.

  • shifty

    “Until you can do this, no amount of heaping up historians’ names is going to make the slightest bit of difference.” Ebon

    I couldn’t agree more. Especially when the quality of said historians seems lacking. Not being the most well read of the posters here, I had a quick look at your experts.
    Lamartine seems to be a fairly well respected if forgettable poet and politician whose historical works are found wanting.
    “As a prose writer Lamartine was very fertile. His characteristics in his prose fiction and descriptive work are not very different from those of his poetry. He is always and everywhere sentimental, though very frequently, as in his shorter prose tales (The Stone Mason of Saint-Point, Graziella, etc.), he is graceful as well as sentimental. In his histories the effect is worse. It has been hinted that Lamartine’s personal narratives are doubtfully trustworthy; with regard to his Eastern travels some of the episodes were stigmatized as mere inventions. In his histories proper the special motive for embellishment disappears, but the habit of inaccuracy remains.” http://www.nndb.com/people/876/000049729/

    And Dawson works have been written from an admittedly christian point of view.
    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/history/world/wh0001.html

  • John

    TO finish where I broke off:
    I don’t hold them to be contradictory because God is a spiritual being. Material substances and particles are causally related to each other, the energy present in one influencing the movement or state of the other, as we all know. Yet spiritual substances are also causally related to material ones, not by exchange of material energy, but by a unilateral relation of power (‘a virtute’). Due to this causal relation, spiritual –> material, I can affirm the possibility of miracles by ‘divine intervention’ – especially when the relation of God to all material being is precisely to hold it in being, to communicate to it the being by which it is. (I know this won’t go down well with you as an atheist, Ebonmuse! I just want to show that I have arguments to respond to the question you posted, although you might not share the premises). If you don’t think spiritual beings exist, this argument is ludicrous, I admit. But I do think they exist, and have good, reasonable grounds for thinking so. “But how does this causal relation operate?” I hear you say. My answer is, I don’t know precisely, scientifically: the influence of spiritual power on matter is not an empirical datum. Only its effects – miracles – can be observed.
    But all this is slightly off the subject! Your asking for specific evidence is fair: I will try to show the specific influence of Christian ideas on Enlightenment thought, especially Progress, in my next post. For now, let me add the following:
    >”While it is no doubt that the enlightenment owes a great deal to christianity…” (Shifty): glad to have you on board, Shifty!
    >My quotations from Dawson and Lamartine were intended simply as food for thought, not as ‘proof’. I concede to Shifty that Lamartine might not be the greatest authority in the world (Dawson however, though Christian, was a thorough and reliable historian, and certainly not ‘lacking in quality’).
    >My apologies to Damien and Ipetrich for this somewhat scatterbrained post!

  • Mrnaglfar

    John,

    Yet spiritual substances are also causally related to material ones,

    Spritiual substances? What substances might those be? Have they/can they be detected?

    Due to this causal relation, spiritual –> material, I can affirm the possibility of miracles by ‘divine intervention’ – especially when the relation of God to all material being is precisely to hold it in being, to communicate to it the being by which it is

    I have arguments to respond to the question you posted, although you might not share the premises

    Causal relation? I don’t think you’ve shown that, or even or coorelation, or even that those spiritual substances exist and can influence physical matter.
    I certainly don’t agree with these premises, mainly because they haven’t been shown. Call me crazy, but being able to see or detect something, like a spiritual substance, might be able to help the credibility along. Once (if) you show their existance, you can try and work on showing they have a casual relationship.

    If you don’t think spiritual beings exist, this argument is ludicrous, I admit.

    On the same page so far.

    But I do think they exist, and have good, reasonable grounds for thinking so.

    I’d love to hear them.

    “But how does this causal relation operate?” I hear you say

    You anticipated my questions well

    My answer is, I don’t know precisely, scientifically: the influence of spiritual power on matter is not an empirical datum. Only its effects – miracles – can be observed.

    Unfortunately, the answers weren’t planned out as well. You claim they exist (for which there is no evidence), you then go on to claim there’s a casual relationship (for which you just said you have no empirical data, which leads me to wonder why you think there’s a casual relationship between someone you haven’t shown to exist in some way you don’t understand and have no data for), and likewise, I can’t remember the last time it’s end-all-effect, a miracle, has even been observed(unless you want to count that time some image seemed to appear in a grilled-cheese sandwich that must have been the virgin mary, because it clearly bore no resemblence to any other woman).

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    Ah, Mrnaglfar sort of beat me to it, but any time I hear any religious/spiritual person say something like

    But I do think [spiritual beings] exist, and have good, reasonable grounds for thinking so.

    they never provide up front what those reasons are. One always has to ask, and then they… well, we’ll see.

  • Marty

    “Marty: the wrongs you suffered at the hands of catechists in your youth, I will not attempt to justify. I can only say, I regret that they tarnished the true image of the God who I believe spoke to humanity in Jesus Christ.”

    John, was it or was it not, the official position of the Roman Catholic church that eating meat on Fridays during Lent was a mortal sin? Mortal sin, for those non-romans following the thread, is such that if you die with an unconfessed mortal sin on your soul, you were sentenced to hell. What could be more merciful than that?

    I believe that John’s argument is essentially that the Enlightenment evolved from European christianity. The problem is in teasing out the christian influence from the Greek and Roman influence, from the Nordic influence, the islamic influence, etc. Because even modern christianity is full of Roman pagan influences. Let’s look at the traditions that attend Christmas: evergreen trees, holly garland, mistletoe, gift giving– all remnants of Roman and northern European culture in the pre-christian era. How about Easter? 200 years before the birth of christ, Romans celebrated a festival in the spring of a demi-god, born of a virgin, who died on Friday and rose on Sunday. Know what they called that holiday? Easter. http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter1.htm

    So did christianity influence Europe, or did Europe influence christianity?

  • shifty

    Sorry John,
    I’m not quite on board as you may think. Christianity influenced the enlightenment the way that the Taliban would influence a moderate Muslim. It’s an untenable position from which to deviate. To flee. To search for something better. To question because the status quo has ceased to become a viable option. People generally want 3 things; food, shelter and safety and are willing to go along with just about anything as long as their basic needs are met. When one idea becomes so pervasive and dogmatic so as to deny compromise and a more inclusive worldview….well, that’s when we get pissed, we revolt…we throw tea into harbours.
    So when I say that christianity influenced the enlightenment, I mean it was more of a response than an evolution.

  • John

    I would be glad to give my reasons for thinking spiritual beings exist, but I want to fulfill a promise I made in an earlier post – to attempt to show the specific influence of Christian faith on Enlightenment beliefs. Let me take the idea of progress.
    First, let me preface my remarks with some points I would like you to bear in mind:
    1. I haven’t the TIME to do this as thoroughly as I would like.
    2. History is not mathematics – it always involves an act of interpretation.
    3. I am not a professional scholar, and I am not a world authority on the subject! Nevertheless, I think a clear link does emerge, which is what I intend to show now.

    The notion of progress was fundamental to the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century. They shared, almost to a man, the conviction that the human race was open to indefinite perfection and progression. They thought that human reason was the tool by which this transformation was to occur, and most of them held that part of the process was the liberation of reason from the forms of ‘dogma’ (eg Spinoza, a precursor) or ‘sectarianism’ (eg Voltaire). Once reason was free from its slavery to mythical religious forms, it could set about constructing the city founded and built by man. Confidence in reason’s power to bring about a golden age for man is a characteristic belief of this age. As reason accumulates and grows, the gradual perfection of humanity seemed inevitable.
    But when we examine the philosophy of these thinkers, we find nothing therein to support or provide foundation for this assumption. Take some of the people on the intellectual scene:
    Holbach – a materialist. Whence his belief in inevitable Progress through reason, then?
    Concordet – the progress of the mind seen as an inevitable historical process. But whence this assumption? Not from his own principles.
    Rousseau – faith in human nature and optimism regarding the future perfection of society. But where does this faith come from, in Rousseau? That is exactly the point – it is Faith.
    Why did these and other luminaries of the 18th century believe in Progress? It wasn’t the result of some rigorous philosophical argumentation. These they DID offer on the critical front, ie. against Christian religion and other things that hold humanity back. But the positive side of their thought – the forward movement into the kingdom of reason and tolerance – remained a mere assumption. It is an example of a belief they carried over from their culture, which had in turn received it from Christian religion.
    (I hasten to add that some of the things they advocated were admirable).

    Now let me change perspective. The Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in its conception of history as linear, as progress. This is important to emphasize because it is easily overlooked. The earliest cultures we know were cultures that were based on religion in their origins and in their continuation. This is a well-attested anthropological fact. The religion of a people in turn affects so many things: social structure, understanding of man, relations with other cultures… The religions of the early people were centered on the figure of the Mother Goddess (agricultural cultures, which gave rise to a cyclic conception of time and history) or in later, more developed societies, eg Egypt, the Sun God and the Pharoah, the God-King (strictly hierarchized social order, entire civilization ordered towards the transcendent, the ‘eclipse’ of time, subjection of history to eternity). The whole focus of these cultures and religious traditions is preservation and perpetuation, not progress. This applies also to the religion of the Greeks, centered on the family, which in the age of the philosophers degenerated into mere observance and upholding of custom. To some of these cultures, the critique of Durkheim might be valid in some respects: religious worship is wedded to the perpetuation of the society itself. The holy and the social are bound inextricably.
    Neither do we find the basis for progress in the other great religions of the world. Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism – all these rely on a negation of the world, a scorn of history, and hence lack the resources to provide a vision of progress in and through history. The eternal is what matters; the material world is illusion, or vanity, or manifestation of the Absolute.

    With Judaism, a new religious vision appears. The notion of future, of teleology and unfolding of God’s purpose in history is essential to Judaism. It is founded on a promise to Abraham by God. The Jews always understood, therefore, that the future was the place that God would manifest himself (manifest himself, that is, beyond the ‘ordinary’ manifestation of himself in the world, at least for us believers). In the Old Testament, this consolidates itself into belief in the Messiah who would come to establish the Kingdom of God definitively. Christians believe that this Messiah is Jesus – in other words that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled, and also extended beyond Israel to all humanity. But we, too, look to the future in expectation of the final consummation of God’s plan, with the restoration of all things in his Son. We therefore locate ourselves within this sacred history; history for us, too, is teleological, moving forward.
    St Augustine was particularly important in articulating the Christian attitude towards history in his incalculably influential work City of God. He laid the foundations for the reflections – and indeed the civilization itself – of the Medievals. Over these centuries, Europe became a profoundly Christian culture, absorbing into its bloodstream, as it were, the Christian attitude towards history: its dynamism, totally absent from other religious cultures; its fundamental optimism (founded on God’s promises and saving actions); its valuing of the historical and the contingent… and so on. Christian Europe, then, lived from a completely different and unique religious vision, coupled with a unique attitude to the world.

    This is the Europe that the Enlightenment thinkers did their work. Although it had by this time changed significantly, it had not (I would say, could not) changed in its fundamental identity and convictions (we need to wait until Nietzsche for a philosopher of importance to challenge the really fundamental underpinnings of European society – and most will agree that his alternative proposals, like the inherent INequality of people, praising selfishness, denigrating love and humility, are quite monstrous). Europe has Judeochristian religion to thank for its view of history and time as linear, dynamic and progressive.

    I think I am in the position to say the following, therefore:
    1) Christian faith furnished the West with its specific attitude to history.
    2) That attitude involves the idea of history as progress.
    3) In other cultures that don’t form a continuity with JudaeoChristian religion this attitude is not present.

    Further:
    4)The Enlightenment thinkers expressed a belief in progress as historical inevitability.
    5)They did not justify this belief by sound rational argument. In other words, it was unfounded.

    These facts together (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) point strongly to Christian influence in this area. For how else do you explain their faith in Progress? By rational argument? But this is precisely what is lacking to support their assumption. I think the secret influence of the Christian culture into which they were born and whose VERY BASIC values they absorbed (remember Nietzsche?) is the most reasonable explanation.

    This is not a “proof” like a mathematical problem. But I think the link is extremely clear. (phew, that took far too long!)

  • lpetrich

    John, that is hokey pseudohistory based on proof-texting. In the Old Testament, the Messiah was a king who would restore the Good Old Days of the Davidic dynasty. And likewise in Xianity, Jesus Christ’s Second Coming would restore the Good Old Days of his first time around, and make it worldwide.

    Classical-era Greeks looked back to the Good Old Days described in Homer’s epics and other Greek mythology, and Empire-era Romans looked back to the Good Old Days of the early Roman Republic.

    As I said earlier, the idea of progress became popular only when it became glaringly apparent that humanity had progressed over the centuries, and especially over the last few centuries.

  • Petrucio

    The other, although born a Catholic, became a pantheist

    He was born an atheist.

    But I also believe that he can and occasionally does intervene miraculously within nature, for example by restoring a sick person to health

    Interesting why we only see people getting cured of cancer and other diseases that can be cured by modern medicine or enter into remission by itself. I would be much more convinced if I saw someone grow an amputated arm back – why does God completelly reject the armless?


    On relation to Christianity leading to the idea of progress in history: that’s ubber crap. Most Christians are eagerlly awaiting for the second comming in a near future, and if people really believe that idea, trying to stop global warming is a waste of time for them, and world war III may not look like such a bad idea too.

    With modern weapons capable of anihilating our species in the hands of 14th century diluded minds, the book of Revelation became the most despicable, evil, and threatening set of words ever put into paper.

  • Damien

    John,

    For my part, the apology’s accepted. I’m sure Ipetrich can speak for himself.

    I’m curious about your statment:

    Why did these and other luminaries of the 18th century believe in Progress? It wasn’t the result of some rigorous philosophical argumentation. These they DID offer on the critical front, ie. against Christian religion and other things that hold humanity back….It is an example of a belief they carried over from their culture, which had in turn received it from Christian religion.

    If the above luminaries did offer rigorous philosophical argumentation on the critical front, against Christian religion, etc…. Why should we assume that they took their views from a culture based on Christian religion? If Philosopher X states flat-out, “I believe Proposal A based on Reasons B and C”, why should we think that Philosopher X actually bases Proposal A on Reasons Beta and Gamma, especially if they happen to be the diametric opposites of Reasons B and C?

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I find your argument that ‘Progress’ is unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition to be somewhat tenuous. Many religions have an ‘end of the world’ scenario; suggesting that this implies that society will progress towards some final perfection (rather than being dramatically forced into perfection all of a sudden by Jesus) twists the idea somewhat.

    Moreover, I suspect that the dramatic increase in understanding provided by Newton looked very much like ‘Progress’ to the thinkers of the Enlightenment. Perhaps they optimistically transferred this idea over to society as a whole. As a matter of fact, I think society did progress during the Enlightenment, so thinking that it would was not so terribly silly.

    Rousseau – faith in human nature and optimism regarding the future perfection of society. But where does this faith come from, in Rousseau? That is exactly the point – it is Faith.

    There’s faith and then there’s faith. I confess I sympathise entirely with an optimistic view of the world that aims hopefully for perfection. (That’s what our host Ebonmuse has, incidentally — did you know? I’m more skeptical but I support the idea of such a vision anyway insofar as I think believing in it could make the world a better place).

    Faith is sometimes portrayed as the process of believing something you know might not be true, on grounds that it’s something you need to believe in order to make life worth living. I’m actually not against that, provided:

    (a) The things you’re believing don’t contain extraneous ideas not relevant to the part that serves as motivation.

    (b) Believing this isn’t going to have harmful effects on yourself or others.

    So I won’t scream about your portrayal of Rousseau has having had ‘faith’ of some sort — it was a mostly good kind of faith if you ask me, whereas faith in just about any religion violates one or the other or usually both of the conditions given above.

    I, too, think Christianity had some effect on the Enlightenment, and I won’t go so far as others and say that it was purely as something to repudiate. Maybe some good ideas did exist in both worldviews, transferring from one to the other. However, as with the ancient Greek philosophers and polytheistic worldviews, confessing that the former were influenced by the latter does not mean that the philosophy was not an improvement on the polytheism, nor that we must take the one just as seriously as the other.

    Thanks for debating, by the way — I’d heard this argument before and not debated it properly, and while I know I should read the original arguments from historians in order to get a proper idea of the strength of the notion, it’s good to be able to play with the idea here and have somebody around to call me on it if I miss something important :-)

  • windy

    Neither do we find the basis for progress in the other great religions of the world. Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism – all these rely on a negation of the world…

    How ironic.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    John,

    I think other commenters have offered quite satisfactory responses to your argument that Christianity inspired the idea of historical progress. However, I’d like to point out that you did the exact thing I anticipated, and which I specifically asked you not to do:

    And it’s not enough just to show that these ideas are similar; there has to be evidence of an actual causal influence and it has to be in the correct direction.

    Even if we accept your conclusion that Christianity contains an idea of historical progress, it doesn’t follow that the Enlightenment thinkers got the idea from there. Not least, this is because many of them ferociously attacked the doctrines of Christianity, rather than acknowledging their debt to it. If Christianity was such a progressive faith, why weren’t more of the famous Enlightenment thinkers believing Christians, rather than deists or atheists?

    But more fundamentally, you still haven’t presented any evidence of a causal connection. You’ve simply argued that idea A is similar to idea B, and therefore the advocates of A must have been inspired by the advocates of B. This just does not follow. I could use the exact same argument to “prove” that the Christians of that era actually got the idea of progress from the nonbelievers!

    Unless you intend to present evidence substantially more detailed than what you’ve already given, evidence that actually establishes a causal connection and doesn’t just assume the existence of one, I’ll probably close this thread shortly.

  • Fresno Bob

    I think it’s fair to say that there is a conceptual shift in the view of history from the mostly cyclical pagan view to the linear view seen in Christianity. However, it’s easy to overstate the significance of this, particularly when trying to make the case with regard to progress in the manner you’re attempting. More importantly, it’s easy to ignore the origin of the cause of this shift and the direction of the effect.

    Firstly, pagans didn’t get their cyclical conception of history from paganism. Paganism didn’t create the seasons or the various methods of subsistence agricultural living which were influenced by them. Paganism was invented as an attempt to understand and tame the cyclical influences on the lives of its adherents. Therefore, paganism got its conception of history from the cyclical nature of the lives it was designed to serve.

    I’m no historian or anthropologist but I’d imagine that the shift of emphasis from the cyclical to the linear would be unproblematic for people in societies where personal interests were necessarily shifting from subsistence agricultural activities to more long-term commercial exploits. To shift from a cyclical to a linear conception of history doesn’t therefore require any significant effort in abstract thinking. One need only broaden one’s view of the cause/effect nature of ones relationship with supernatural agents from the proximate (e.g. sacrifice this goat today to ensure the success of the current crop – just like we did last year) to the ultimate. A change in the way one earns one’s living will facilitate the necessary conceptual shift. Since such a change in lifestyle doesn’t necessarily entail departure from the supernatural, it is fairly natural that one’s spiritual outlook will undergo a similar change to accommodate this view.

    With the introduction of eschatology Christianity certainly capitalises on this shift to a linear conception, but Christianity was not necessary for the conceptual shift itself. In this sense, as with paganism, the direction of cause and effect is the other way around. For Christianity’s part, the introduction of a distant eschatology is little more than an act of divination, something very common in paganism. More practically speaking it’s a good strategic move if you want to maintain influence on people whose lives are less dependent on cyclical events. All that is required is a prophet with an eye on the gullibility of his current audience and the antics of his predecessors, et voila! the purpose of one’s votive behaviour is shifted from the proximate to the ultimate – from the cyclical to the linear.

    More importantly, whilst this linear conception entails the notion of progress in the sense of one thing following on from another into the future, progress in the sense of things changing in stages over time, preferably for the better – does not necessarily follow. At the time of the Enlightenment there was certainly no need of theological input to recognise the scourge of poverty and disease; the fact that there was no dignity in accepting one’s lot in it; and no need to await ecclesiastical approval before doing something about it.

    When Christianity is all pervading and ubiquitous, saying that the Enlightenment, social justice, equality, science, etc.. “sprang from Christianity” doesn’t actually say much at all. Saying that all these things owe their origins to Christianity is saying something else altogether – but still not much more than saying freedom owes its origins to slavery or peace owes its origins to war.

    No doubt you can dig up various theological ruminations to support the idea that the church was actually behind the Enlightenment (an architect of its own demise no less) and that we’re kidding ourselves if we think that the great thinkers of the time were doing anything other than continuing the Christian theological tradition. That’s the thing with a linear history – it’s easily revised. No doubt in 100 years from now when we’re celebrating the enormous advances of medical science thanks to therapies based on stem cell technologies the Pope and the Arch Bishop of Canterbury will be giving lectures about the invaluable contribution of early 21st century Christian theologians in facilitating this essential field of scientific enquiry.

  • John

    Hi all,
    This is my closing post. It has been interesting to debate with you, and I sincerely thank you for your responses, which have forced me to justify my views with as much rigour (UK spelling!) as I can manage. Many points have been made that merit an answer; but I don’t believe in spinning things out more than is necessary. I have made my basic point (basically valid, I maintain) and I have tried to defend it. I accept Ebonmuse’s point that ultimately, I would need to present more specific evidence to back up my claim in order to convince a sceptical opponent. Unfortunately, this asks a greater degree of scholarship and acquaintance with the Enlightenment thinkers first-hand than I possess. I tried to offer a ‘negative’ proof, which is of some value in my opinion: ie., that since the 18th century “illuminati” did NOT offer rigorous argument for the notion of history as Inevitable Progress through enlightenment (and I don’t think this can be denied), and assuming that it didn’t fall out of the sky (a fair assumption I think), it seems that they took it (reinterpreting it, naturally) from their culture, which was Christian, and which was unique among cultures in possessing this idea at its very roots.
    More, I cannot say! The historian Christopher Dawson has looked at this issue with much more learning and ability than I have at my disposal. His works, especially ‘Progress and Religion’ are available to anyone who should care to examine these interesting issues more closely, and (as is always healthy) from a different perspective.
    I hope, for my part, that I have made you think too. Will you allow me, to close, to relate a small story, told by the great 20th century Jewish thinker Martin Buber? It takes us back to the fundamental point, to the point that inspired me to write in the first place: atheism and faith. Here it is:
    “An adherent of the Enlightenment, a very learned man, paid a visit to the Rabbi of Berditchev to argue with him, as was his custom, in order to shatter his old-fashioned proofs of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi’s room, he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, rapt in thought. The Rabbi paid no attention to his new arrival. Suddenly he stopped, looked at him fleetingly, and said, ‘But perhaps it’s all true after all.’ The scholar tried to collect himself – but in vain, so terrible was the Rabbi to behold and so terrible his simple utterance to hear. But now the Rabbi turned and faced him: “My son,” he said, “the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued have wasted their words on you. They were unable to lay God and his kingdom on the table before you, and so am I. But think, my son, perhaps it is all true.” The exponent of the Enlightenment resisted ferociously, but this terrible ‘perhaps’ echoed back at him time after time and eventually broke his resistance.”
    Hence, now that I have said enough (perhaps not all I would like to say, but enough), I can only echo the words, so simple and yet so terrible, of Rabbi Levi Yitschak: perhaps. Perhaps it is all true.
    In friendship and respect for you all,

    John Deighan, Scotland

  • lpetrich

    John, your argument is mainly “what else could it be?” combined with a very proof-texting sort of approach to Xianity.

    If you had read what I had written earlier, I described how progress became an ideal when it started becoming glaringly apparent. Imagine that you are an educated Western European in the 1750′s, and you know a lot of history. You are someone like David Hume or Voltaire or Frederick the Great.

    You look back to Greek mythology and the Bible and find that their authors know about only a little bit of the world, the eastern Mediterranean. Then you go to classical Greek and Roman writers (an important part of the curriculum back then), and you find that they knew of much more of the world, from Britain to India, including your ancestors. There’s not much more until the end of the Middle Ages, when Europeans start exploring, and by your time, Europeans had discovered great landmasses known only from travelers’ tales, if they were known of at all. And had even started conquering such places and moving into them.

    Technology had clearly improved. Mechanical clocks. The printing press. Lenses and eyeglasses and microscopes and telescopes. Etc.

    Mathematics had advanced far beyond Euclid, including having a much nicer number notation, much nicer notation of algebra, new methods, like analytic geometry and calculus, etc.

    Physics had progressed far beyond Aristotle’s hand-waving to Newton’s laws of motion and Newton’s law of gravity. From Newton’s laws could be deduced the motions of the planets, and even the motions of those fearsome apparitions: comets. Edmund Halley showed that the comets seen in 1531, 1607, and 1682 were one comet repeatedly returning to the inner Solar System as it orbited the Sun; this comet returned again in 1757.

    Cosmology had advanced from the Biblical picture of the Earth being a flat disk with the sky being a bowl overhead to Ptolemy’s picture of the Earth being a big ball in the center of some concentric celestial spheres to Aristarchus’s and Copernicus’s picture of the Earth traveling around the Sun like the other planets, with the stars being VERY far away.

    Etc.

    Many of these changes were very welcome; if you were very educated, you certainly would have appreciated being able to get a hold of books MUCH easier than in centuries past. And why cringe in fear of a comet when it’s something that repeatedly returns like clockwork?

    And if all these nice things had happened in recent centuries, one could extrapolate to conclude that more such progress is on the way. And extrapolate correctly, as it turned out.

    So you would have to be either very ignorant or else very obtuse to deny that significant progress has happened over humanity’s history, especially progress in recent centuries.

    And John, as to your anecdote about the Enlightenment guy and the Rabbi, I suggest that you turn that around and apply it to your own beliefs. Do what you demand that we do.

  • Damien

    Well, that was very…gracious of you, John. Thank you.

    I’m not entirely sure what the point was, but at this point in the atheist-believer debate, I’m just happy if nobody’s foaming at the mouth at the end of a conversation.

  • theistscientist

    in operations research the causation problem (colloq: the ole’ because of or in spite of) is thorny. Successful battles, coached games, etc) can sometimes never be figured out. Some historians say that the key to the success of Western Civilization (IF you could pick one and only the greatest one factor) would be the speed and accuracy of British Naval gunfire. Humor me a little as an intellectual exercise and give me your thoughts on the naval gunfire hypo. thanks. Trust me, my students will tell you it leads to some fascinating discussions, which do in fact segue back to religion.

  • theistscientist

    no takers on the british naval gunfire hypo? its a learning exercise not a trap. And Mr. Ebonmouse, I want to thnak you for this blog, quite frankly it is one of the finest, most intellectual, polite and professional forums I have come across in a very long time. Whoever you are, you deserve great credit for setting this up and apparently running it to keep it professional and civilized. Thank you for the articles you supplied, I will study them and respond. Perhaps I have underestimated the freethinker contribution to the enlightenment.

  • Jim Baerg

    Humor me a little as an intellectual exercise and give me your thoughts on the naval gunfire hypo.

    It sounds way too specific. I think we would be closer to the mark on why Western Civilization is more successful, by noting how the Printing Press quickly spread throughout Europe & came to a halt at the borders of Islam.

    The printing press was enormously important in helping all further technical advances & its rejection by Islam shows an important underlying difference in attitude.

  • lpetrich

    British naval gunfire? What’s the story there?

    I seriously doubt it, since British naval gunfire would most often be used on the ships of rival western-European powers, like France and Spain. But it did help Britain build a big empire in the 17th to 19th cys.