May 25, 2018

This is one of four critiques of the book, The God Delusion (New York / Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), by perhaps the world’s best-known (and most influential?) atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins (born in 1941). His words will be in blue. Links to the four critiques follow:

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: General Critique

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion”

Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity

Richard Dawkins’ Outrageous Hypocrisy on Abortion

***

[all Bible passages cited by myself are RSV]

Dawkins describes God in a way remarkably similar to how Democrats describe Republicans:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (p. 31)

Other than those few trifles, Dawkins thinks He’s great! The theme of jealousy is one of Dawkins’ biggest beefs:

The tragi-farce of God’s maniacal jealousy against alternative gods recurs continually throughout the Old Testament. (p. 246)

And of course He completely misunderstands this because he doesn’t have a clue on how to interpret the Bible. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Jealousy”) explains it:

When jealousy is attributed to God, the word is used in a good sense. The language is, of course, anthropomorphic; and it is based upon the feeling in a husband of exclusive right in his wife. God is conceived as having wedded Israel to Himself, and as claiming, therefore, exclusive devotion. Disloyalty on the part of Israel is represented as adultery, and as provoking God to jealousy. See, e.g., Deuteronomy 32:16,211 Kings 14:22Psalms 78:58Ezekiel 8:316:38,4223:2536:538:19.

See also my article on anthropopathism and anthropomorphism. I wrote there:

God “condescends” to the limited understanding of human beings, by expressing many truths about himself analogically (as compared to human actions and emotions) so that we can understand Him at all. Otherwise, we would not be able to comprehend a Being so startlingly different and distinct from us and greater than we are.

The article, “Does God Change His Mind?” by Wayne Jackson elaborates further:

The Scriptures frequently employ figures of speech that seem to suggest that God alters his actions in response to man’s behavior. The passage in Exodus 32 is an excellent example of this sort of phraseology.

While Moses was upon the heights of Sinai, receiving the Ten Commandments, the children of Israel in the region below made an idol—a molten calf—and proclaimed it as their deliverer from Egypt.

The corrupt act was wholly antagonistic to the will of God, and the Lord proclaimed his intention to “consume” them. Moses, as a mediator, interceded and pled with Jehovah to not destroy them.

Accordingly, the biblical text represents God’s response in this fashion: “Jehovah repented of the evil [destruction] which he said he would do unto his people” (Ex. 32:14).

The term “repented” reflects a figure of speech, common to many languages, known as “anthropopathism” (literally, man feelings). This is an idiom by which divine activity is described symbolically in terms of human emotion. It is rather similar to the kindred figure, “anthropomorphism” (man form) by which God is described as having physical parts (e.g., eyes, hands, etc.) even though he is not a physical being (Jn. 4:24; Lk. 24:39).

Anthropopathism, therefore, is a figure of speech by which human feelings or emotions are ascribed to God, in order to accommodate man’s ignorance of the unfathomable intentions and operations of deity (cf. Rom. 11:33-36). . . .

It must be understood, therefore, that though certain biblical passages speak of the Lord being “changeless,” while others represent him as “changing” (in response to human conduct), that different senses are in view.

In light of this fact, the “discrepancy” problem dissolves. But when one does not understand some of the common figures of speech utilized by the Bible writers, under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit, he most certainly will draw many faulty conclusions—sometimes very dangerous ones.

Human languages are punctuated with dramatic figures of speech. This phenomenon is no less true in the case of the Scriptures than it is with other literary productions. A failure to recognize this principle leads to numerous flawed ideas.

Dawkins shows his rank ignorance of Christian theology, too, in how he describes what he erroneously thinks is the Trinity:

Do we have one God in three parts, or three Gods in one? (p. 33)

In C. S. Lewis’s famous analogy of “flatland,” squares, and cubes in his Mere Christianity, he noted that the flatlanders couldn’t imagine a two dimension plane, and that those in that world without a third dimension could not imagine the third. Yet all three exist, and a cube has a “oneness” just as a plane and a line do. In our world, one being is one person. But why should we think our experience is the whole of reality? What is intrinsically impossible about a Being Who Subsists in Three Persons (Being and Person being two distinct categories, so that this is not an automatic contradiction)? The Holy Trinity is not at all impossible a priori (philosophically speaking, and in terms of simple logic).

For us, one Being is one person, but how can it be ruled out logically (or axiomatically) that Being and person may not always be in a one-to-one relationship? I think, then, that the flatland analogy is quite relevant, precisely because it hits upon this difference of perception and defined realities which is the prior axiomatic consideration before we even get to logic. The flatlander says that there are only two dimensions, so that talk of a third dimension is meaningless and incomprehensible to him. So Lewis was maintaining that this is how we are with regard to the Holy Trinity.

I don’t see how the Holy Trinity is a logical contradiction, once one grants the possibility of the trinitarian premise: God can subsist in three persons. It’s very odd and almost incomprehensible to us but not not contradictory, for God to contain three persons (analogous to my three relational attributes) and remain one God, and also for the three persons to be distinct in relation to each other, yet each being God.

Dawkins himself expresses, I think, a key notion in understanding why he goes awry in his biblical interpretation. He applies it to Christian apologists, but it applies at least as much to folks like him and other atheists and biblical skeptics:

We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories. (p. 238)

Apologists . . . employ that favourite trick of interpreting selected scriptures as ‘symbolic’ rather than literal. By what criterion do you decide which passages are symbolic, which literal? (p. 247)

I’m glad that he asked that last question. Well, we decide in the same way that we make such determinations for any other literature. That’s why it requires a lot of study of biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. The Bible contains many genres or types of literature, and many different cultural contexts. Then there are all the factors that go into the questions of language, and how words meant different things in different cultural contexts.

For atheists, it’s simple: they arbitrarily interpret according to their particular hostile agenda, regardless of whether their method is consistent or not. They approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. The only consistent theme in their views is that the Bile is always wrong, and objectionable. Bottom line: biblical interpretation is not nearly as simple as atheists make out, and the Bible is infinitely more sophisticated and complex and nuanced than they customarily assume is the case. The decree on Scripture, Dei Verbum, from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) makes a good summary of the task of proper hermeneutics:

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to “literary forms”. For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. (Saint Augustine) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (III, l2)[T]he four canonical gospels . . . have the status of legends, as factually dubious as the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. . . . Nobody knows who he four evangelists were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus personally.  (p. 96)

[R]eputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history . . . (p. 97)

[T]he gospels are ancient fiction . . . (p. 97)

. . . the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested, . . . (p. 202)

Statements like these are as outrageous as they are ridiculous, and couldn’t be more opposite to the truth of the matter than they are. They’re self-refuting, and I certainly will not spend any of my time or take the space in this already long paper to document the mountain of (secular / scholarly) archaeological and historical evidences in favor of biblical historical accuracy and reliability (especially of the New Testament). At least Dawkins has the wits to (halfheartedly) deny the intellectually suicidal “mythicist” position: “Jesus probably existed” (p. 97).

But all this shows very well where Dawkins is coming from, doesn’t it? He can’t even figure out that the Bible is historically trustworthy (remarkably so at that): even before we get to questions of whether the theology presented in it is true or not.

The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal . . . there is no good historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine. (p. 92)

This is hogwash. The New Testament is historically reliable, and it massively documents these claims, as I show in an exhaustive treatment of this topic. We also have the evidence of hostile witnesses in the Jewish Talmud, and some secular Roman attestation as well.

When the gospels were written, many years after Jesus’ death, nobody knew where he was born. (p. 93)

His mother certainly did. But I guess that possibility never occurred to Dawkins. He seems to think that 1) no Gospel writer could have possibly talked to her about that, and 2) Mary forgot where her own child was born. Such inanities are not rare in atheist polemics. I do appreciate their comedic value, in any event.

Speaking of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dawkins informs us that Christians believe she “never died but ‘ascended’ bodily into heaven” (p. 179). Of course, Protestants deny that she didn’t die and that she was assumed into heaven. The proper term for what Catholics and Orthodox believe is that Mary was “assumed” bodily into heaven. That’s different from “ascension” to heaven, which in Christian thought is applied solely to Jesus, and means that (unlike Mary) He did it by His own power. Almost all Catholics and all Orthodox hold that Mary died, though the contrary position is allowed in Catholicism.

The remainder of my reply will be devoted to chapter 7 (specifically, pages 237-257), in which Dawkins takes a sledgehammer to the Bible (mostly the Old Testament) and tries to demonstrate that no moral, sensible person could ever admire it or believe that it taught proper morality. He summarizes his contempt:

. . . a system of morals which any civilized person, whether religious or not, would find — I can put it no more gently — obnoxious. To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil, but just plain weird . . . (p. 237)

His view of the Noah story is illustrative:

God took a dim view of humans, so he (with the exception of one family) drowned the lot of them including children . . . (p. 238)

I have written many times about divine judgment. It makes perfect sense (granting the existence of a Creator-God). If you give life, then it seems reasonable that you can also take it away. I don’t accept the analogy I will now draw, myself, because human beings are not the ultimate creators and judges of other human beings, but the atheist pro-abortion mentality (i.e., those atheists who are pro-abortion; not all are) accepts something very like (in some specific respects) what Christians say about God as judge (taking away life, as He chooses).

The person who favors abortion thinks that the mother of a preborn child has total say over him or her, up to and including deciding to end his or her life. Why? Well, as they say, “the child is mine; part of my body; I brought it into existence, and I can do with it as I wish. It has no rights on its own apart from what I decide.” This is true to such an extent, that in the United States, the father of the child has absolutely no say in the matter.

Thus, a person with such views assumes that they completely own another human being (much as was thought in slavery). They brought the child into existence, and so (according to them, and the laws now in most western countries) they can also decide when to terminate his or her life.

Now, hold that thought and ponder the Creator of the universe, Who (Christians believe) grants us life and existence. He has communicated to us moral laws that we are supposed to live by. If we fail to keep those, He may judge us (indeed, at times, entire nations or the entire world). Unlike the aborting mother, He has the perfect prerogative to do so, as our Creator and Judge. And it’s perfectly moral and just for him to do so. If this is incomprehensible to an atheist mind, then I would suggest that they examine what they believe about the preborn children of mothers who want to abort.

If a mere human being has the right to decree the life or death of their own child, why would not God have the right (but in His case a justified one) over all of humanity? Thus, in their own views, they accept a scenario which has some similarities to God being Judge. The analogical similarity is that one being has the prerogative to decree the death of another being who originated from them. The dissimilarity is that abortion is an immoral murder, whereas God’s judgment is perfectly justified, because He applies judgment fairly, and He is the Creator and we are His creatures. I wrote in one of my papers on the topic:

Because God is Creator He also has the prerogative to judge. This is analogous to our experience. Society takes it upon itself to judge the criminal and punish him if he supersedes the “just” laws that govern the society, in order to prevent chaos and suffering. If that is true of human society (one man to another), it is all the more of God, because He is ontologically above us (Creator and created).

So it is perfectly sensible and moral to posit (apart from the data of revelation) a notion of God judging both individuals and nations. God’s omniscience is such that He can determine if an entire nation has gone bad (“beyond repair,” so to speak) and should be punished. And He did so. Now, even in a wicked nation there may be individuals who are exceptions to the rule. So some innocent people will be killed. But this is like our human experience as well. In wartime, we go to war against an entire nation. In so doing, even if it is unintentional, some innocent non-combatants will be killed.

But it’s also different in God’s case because He judged nations in part in order to prevent their idolatry and other sins to infiltrate Jewish (i.e., true) religion. He also judged Israel at various times (lest He be accused of being unfair). In any event, it is not true that nations or individuals were punished because of what their ancestors did. There is a sense of corporate punishment, just described, and it is also true that the entire human race is a fallen race. We all deserve punishment for that fact alone, and God would be perfectly just to wipe us all out the next second. No one could hold it against Him.

He decides to be merciful and grant us grace to do better, but He is under no obligation to do so, anymore than the governor is obliged to pardon convicted criminals. Again, the societal analogy is perfectly apt. If someone rebels at every turn against every societal norm and law and appropriate behavior and so forth, is society to be blamed? Say someone grows up thinking that serial rape is fine and dandy and shouldn’t be prevented at all. So he goes and does this. Eventually, the legal system catches up with him and he gets his punishment. He rebelled against what most people think is wrong, and more than deserved his punishment.

We don’t say that there should be no punishment. We don’t blame society for his suffering in prison. We don’t deny that society has a right to judge such persons. So if mere human beings can judge each other, why cannot God judge His creation, and (particularly) those of His creation that have rebelled against Him at every turn? What is so incomprehensible about that? One may not believe it, but there is no radical incoherence or inconsistency or monstrous injustice or immorality in this Christian (and Jewish) viewpoint (which is what is always claimed by the critics).

Dawkins brings up the story of Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, who lived in Sodom. He says that God regarded Lot as “uniquely righteous” (p. 239) and so spared him and his family from the destruction of the city, by warning. Two angels visited Lot (whom he may have thought were mere men), and the crowd outside his door wanted to rape them. Lot then offered his daughters to them instead (Gen 19:1-9). This is, admittedly, a difficult passage for anyone to read and interpret. The Cambridge Bible comments:

Lot’s proposal, so atrocious in our ears, may have been deemed meritorious in an Eastern country, where no sacrifice was considered too great to maintain inviolate the safety of a stranger who had been received in hospitality. That Lot should have thought of imperilling the honour of his family, and not have rather hazarded his own life, is due not so much to the weakness of the man as to the terribly low estimate of womanhood which prevailed at that time.

The New Testament refers to Lot as “righteous” (2 Pet 2:7-9), but that could still easily refer to a relative righteousness (i.e., compared to others in Sodom) and not a perfect righteousness (by God’s standards). The fact remains that he is not directly referred to as such in the original passage (though it’s arguably implied in Abraham’s intercession in Genesis 18), which is in contrast to the similar scenario regarding Noah (Gen 6:9: “a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God”) or with, for example, the afflicted Job (Job 1:8: “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil”).

This is not unusual in Scripture. Men can be referred to as “righteous” who are not at all sinless. Thus, Abraham was called “righteous” (Gen 15:6), yet he lied about his wife being his sister, as Dawkins alludes to on pages 241-242 (see Gen 12:11-13; 20:2). King David is called “righteous” (1 Kings 3:6), but of course, he had a man killed  so he could have his wife, with whom he was committing adultery. “Blameless” Noah, famously, got drunk (Gen 9:21). As soon as a man sins at all, he is less than perfectly righteous, so it is a relative term, for all (Catholics believe) except Jesus and sinless Mary.

In any event, the Genesis text in no way implies that God favored his behavior as regards his daughters. After all, the angels prevented the gang rape from happening  (Gen 19:10-11), and Dawkins notes this as well: “the angels succeeded in repelling the marauders” (p. 240)

The same “non-sanction” applies to the horrendous story (Dawkins brings it up on pp. 240-241) of the Levite offering his daughter and a concubine (who died as a result) for gang rape (Judges 19), Christian apologist Glenn Miller comments on it:

This is one of the most abnormal passages in scripture. It is so filled with aberrations of ethics and law, and is specifically INTENDED to show how EVIL Israel had become during the period of the Judges! But even in this weird story, one can still see glimmers of a ‘better’ ethic from the Law. . . .

Now, there are a few important points from this of relevance to my thesis here:

  1. The violation of the concubine was NOT approved by Israel, EVEN UNDER the assumption of the potential murder of the priest (20.4-11). Indeed, it was called ‘vileness’. [20:3: “wickedness”]
  2. The obvious linkage of this story to that of Sodom is to HIGHLIGHT the exceptional character of this incident–it is NOT NORMAL for Israel.
  3. This horrible event was remembered for centuries as being a “low water mark” for Israel. (cf. Hosea 9.9: They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah.)
  4. The questionable ethical character of the Old Man, and of the Levite, certainly doesn’t suggest the thought that they are representative of all Israel in this matter.

I have to conclude that the outrage of Israel actually supports a ‘higher view’ of female value, than the ‘lower view’ seemingly exemplified by the Old Man.

Judges 19:30 states: “And all who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.’ ”

A third similar incident with a daughter was the notorious passage of Jephthah, who sacrificed his daughter by burning (Judges 11). Dawkins snarls after recounting it: “God did not see fit to intervene on this occasion” (p. 243). I wrote about the incident at length, and showed that there was no way that God approved of it in any way, shape, matter, or form. So why bring it up in an anti-God, anti-Christian (and anti-Jewish) book? If God can’t be blamed for it, all it shows is that one man committed an abominable sin (which was clearly a sin under Mosaic Law). Like that should surprise anyone?

On page 245, Dawkins rails against the slaughter of the Midianites. It’s another instance of God’s judgment. I have written about that, too. For much more about them, see Glenn Miller’s extensive article. Dawkins implies sexual slavery, because the virgin women were spared. Don Camp, in another excellent, in-depth article on the Midianites, addressed this:

As for taking sexual slaves, a charge that is a favorite among skeptics, everything in the law forbade mistreating captives of war and especially the women. Any captive woman, boy, or girl, would become servant/slaves (the word can mean either or both). But they had the same protections as an indentured servant who was a Jew – with the one exception, they would not be released from slavery after seven years.

If the man of the house or his son married a slave girl, she had even greater protection under the law than a wife married from among his people. She could not be divorced or sold. If she was mistreated, the man was held in serious violation of the law. There was no condoning of sex slavery; slavery was a serious issue for the Jews. They had been slaves and had been mistreated in Egypt. The laws God gave them were designed to prevent them from treating anyone as they had been treated.

Dawkins waxes indignant at the conquest of Jericho:

[T]he Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, . . . The Bible . . . is not the sort of book you should give your children to form their morals. (p. 247)

In fact, Jericho was not an “innocent” place and was ripe for divine judgment. There is reason to believe that ritual child sacrifice was practiced there (and in other places in ancient Canaan). See scholarly articles that deem it likely or at least one possible interpretation of the evidence of some of the children’s bones and nature of their burial. Dawkins shows a repeated concern for the well-being of children (save for those scheduled to be murdered by abortion). Perhaps he should consider that this abominable practice (that he abhors elsewhere in his book) was ended when cities that practiced it were destroyed. The Bible is clear that child sacrifice is forbidden. Jesus even compared its practice to hell itself.

Dawkins (p. 248) brings up the story in Numbers 15 of a man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and was consequently stoned. At first glance, it sounds terrible, and terribly unjust and evil, doesn’t it? Well, it does if it is given the cursory treatment that Dawkins gives it (only for the purpose of mocking the Bible and Christianity; ending up calling God an “evil monster”). It makes much more sense if it is studied in the depth that it deserves, as apologist Glenn Miller did. But that takes too much time and effort, and Dawkins would be threatening to actually be fair for a change. Dawkins has no time for any of that.

Jesus limited his in-group of the saved strictly to Jews, in which respect he was following the Old Testament tradition, . . . ‘Thou shalt not kill’ . . . meant, very specifically, thou shalt not kill Jews. . . . ‘Neighbour’ means fellow Jew. (p. 254)

I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. Where to begin?! This is an absurd, asinine, ignorant, completely false claim. Let’s see, for starters:

Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you . . . (cf. Jn 17:18)

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a [pagan Roman] centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.

John 3:17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (cf. 9:5; 12:46)

The Old Testament tradition was by no means Jewish-only, either:

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant [the Messiah, or Jesus], whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 49:6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (cf. 52:10)

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you [the prophet Jeremiah] in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Neighbor”) explains:

Christ gives a wider interpretation of the commandment in Leviticus 19:18, so as to include in it those outside the tie of nation or kindred. This is definitely done in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where, in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus shows that the relationship is a moral, not a physical one, based not on kinship but on the opportunity and capacity for mutual help.

This flatly contradicts Dawkins’ claim (sadly a not uncommon occurrence); so does the related concept of “stranger” or “sojourner” (non-Jews who resided among the Jews). The following article on that topic in the  International Standard Bible Encyclopedia shows how very wrongheaded and out to sea Dawkins’ ignorant charges are:

I. The Ger.

This word with its kindred verb is applied with slightly varying meanings to anyone who resides in a country or a town of which he is not a full native land-owning citizen; e.g., the word is used of the patriarchs in Palestine, the Israelites in Egypt, the Levites dwelling among the Israelites (Deuteronomy 18:6Judges 17:7, etc.), the Ephraimite in Gibeah (Judges 19:16). It is also particularly used of free aliens residing among the Israelites, and it is with the position of such that this article deals. This position is absolutely unparalleled in early legal systems (A. H. Post, Grundriss der ethnologischen Jurisprudenz, I, 448, note 3), which are usually far from favorable to strangers.

1. Legal Provisions:

(1) Principles.

The dominant principles of the legislation are most succinctly given in two passages:

He “loveth the ger in giving him food and raiment” (Deuteronomy 10:18); “And if a ger sojourn with thee (variant “you”) in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The ger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were gerim in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33). This treatment of the stranger is based partly on historic recollection, partly on the duty of the Israelite to his God. Because the ger would be at a natural disadvantage through his alienage, he becomes one of the favorites of a legislation that gives special protection to the weak and helpless.

(2) Rules.

In nationality the freeman followed his father, so that the son of a ger and an Israelitess was himself a ger (Leviticus 24:10-22). Special care was to be taken to do him no judicial wrong (Deuteronomy 1:1627:19). In what may roughly be called criminal law it was enacted that the same rules should apply to gerim as to natives (Leviticus 18:26, which is due to the conception that certain abominations defile a land; Leviticus 20:2, where the motive is also religious; Leviticus 24:10-22; see SBL, 84; Numbers 35:15). A free Israelite who became his slave was subject to redemption by a relative at any time on payment of the fair price (Leviticus 25:47). This passage and Deuteronomy 28:43 contemplate the possibility of a stranger’s becoming wealthy, but by far the greater number of the legal provisions regard him as probably poor. Thus provision is made for him to participate in tithes (Deuteronomy 14:2926:12), gleanings of various sorts and forgotten sheaves (Leviticus 19:1023:22Deuteronomy 24:19,20,21), and poor hired servants were not to be oppressed (Deuteronomy 24:14).

2. Relation to Sacrifice and Ritual:

Nearly all the main holy days apply to the ger. He was to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:1023:12, etc.), to rejoice on Weeks and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16), to observe the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29), to have no leaven on the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:19). But he could not keep the Passover unless he underwent circumcision (Exodus 12:48). He could not eat blood at any rate during the wilderness period (Leviticus 17:10-12), and for that period, but not thereafter, he was probihited from eating that which died of itself (Leviticus 17:15Deuteronomy 14:21) under pain of being unclean until the even. He could offer sacrifices (Leviticus 17:822:18Numbers 15:14), and was subject to the same rules as a native for unwitting sins (Numbers 15:22-31), and for purification for uncleanness by reason of contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:10-13).

3. Historical Circumstances:

The historical circumstances were such as to render the position of the resident alien important from the first. A “mixed multitude” went up with the Israelites from Egypt, and after the conquest we find Israelites and the races of Palestine living side by side throughout the country. We repeatedly read of resident aliens in the historical books, e.g. Uriah the Hittite. According to 2 Chronicles 2:17 f (Hebrew 16 f) there was a very large number of such in the days of Solomon, but the figure may be excessive. These seem to have been the remnant of the conquered tribes (1 Kings 9:20). Ezekiel in his vision assigned to gerim landed inheritance among the Israelites (47:22 f). Hospitality to the ger was of course a religious duty and the host would go to any lengths to protect his guest (Genesis 19Judges 19:24).

The article on “Gentiles” in the same work further elaborates:

Under Old Testament regulations they were simply non-Israelites, not from the stock of Abraham, but they were not hated or despised for that reason, and were to be treated almost on a plane of equality, except certain tribes in Canaan with regard to whom there were special regulations of non-intercourse. The Gentile stranger enjoyed the hospitality of the Israelite who was commanded to love him (Deuteronomy 10:19), to sympathize with him, “For ye know the heart of the stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9 the King James Version). The Kenites were treated almost as brethren, especially the children of Rechab (Judges 1:165:24Jeremiah 35). Uriah the Hittite was a trusted warrior of David (2 Samuel 11); Ittai the Gittite was captain of David’s guard (2 Samuel 18:2); Araunah the Jebusite was a respected resident of Jerusalem. The Gentiles had the right of asylum in the cities of refuge, the same as the Israelites (Numbers 35:15). They might even possess Israelite slaves (Leviticus 25:47), and a Gentile servant must not be defrauded of his wage (Deuteronomy 24:15). They could inherit in Israel even as late as the exile (Ezekiel 47:22,23). They were allowed to offer sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem, as is distinctly affirmed by Josephus (BJ, II, xvii, 2- 4; Ant, XI, viii, 5; XIII, viii, 2; XVI, ii, 1; XVIII, v, 3; CAp, II, 5), and it is implied in the Levitical law (Leviticus 22:25). Prayers and sacrifices were to be offered for Gentile rulers (Jeremiah 29:7; Baruch 1:10,11; Ezra 6:10; 1 Macc 7:33; Josephus, BJ, II, x, 4). Gifts might be received from them (2 Macc 5:16; Josephus, Ant, XIII, iii, 4; XVI, vi, 4; BJ, V, xiii, 6; CAp, II, 5).

But Dawkins (having not troubled himself to learn facts like the above), digs in all the more:

Jesus was a devotee of the same in-group morality — coupled with out-group hostility — that was taken for granted in the Old Testament. . . . It was Paul who invented the idea of taking the Jewish God to the Gentiles. Hartung puts it more bluntly than I dare: ‘Jesus would have turned over in his grave if he had known that Paul would be taking his plan to the pigs.’ (p. 257)

The above data along these lines puts the lie to this nonsense. Even in the immediate New Testament / new covenant / dawn of Christianity environment of starting to preach the gospel to all the nations outside Israel, it was St. Peter who first specialized in that, not St. Paul. This is shown in Acts 10 in the story of Cornelius the centurion who went to Peter. Peter is said to have had a vision about all foods being clean (the relaxing of the traditional Jewish kosher laws: see 10:9-16). St. Peter states that “God shows no partiality, [35] but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35). He preached, and the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles (10:44-45), even before they were baptized (10:47-48).

St. Paul had just converted to Christ, as described in Acts 9. He didn’t go on missionary journeys till the period described in Acts 13, and specifically referred to evangelizing Gentiles in 13:46-48. But Peter had said all of this already, and so had Jesus, and so had many passages in the Old Testament. It was nothing new whatsoever; just a new emphasis or further development of what was already there (which is usually the case with the New Testament in relation to the Old).

Once again, Dawkins flails away at the straw men of his own making. He does that throughout his whole book, as I have repeatedly shown in these four critiques. In a word, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (hardly even has a clue), and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. It’s sad and beyond pathetic that such an educated man (a scientist) — indeed, the most renowned atheist in the world — could exhibit so much disinformation and lack of comprehension of that which he professes to be intelligently critiquing.

***

Photo credit: photograph by George Redgrave (9-30-14) [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 license]

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May 25, 2018

This is one of four critiques of the book, The God Delusion (New York / Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), by perhaps the world’s best-known (and most influential?) atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins (born in 1941). His words will be in blue. Links to the four critiques follow:

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: General Critique

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion” 

Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity

Richard Dawkins’ Outrageous Hypocrisy on Abortion

***

First let me mention a few things that Dawkins seems utterly unaware of, in a book purporting to be a serious critique of Christianity. He never mentions Alvin Plantinga, almost universally regarded as the greatest living Christian philosopher, and ignores his famous argument regarding God as a “properly basic belief.” He never mentions William Lane Craig, quite arguably the most able philosophical defender of theism (though not an orthodox Christian). He is unaware of philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) and his notion of tacit knowledge, or Cardinal Newman‘s “illative sense” and profound philosophy of religion, set out in his masterful volume, Grammar of Assent. In other words, there are massive theistic arguments (in my own opinion, the best ones) that he shows not the slightest awareness of.

He gives St. Thomas Aquinas and the cosmological and teleological arguments just a few pages, complete with breezy, condescending dismissals of a few words (e.g., “The five ‘proofs’ . . . are easily . . . exposed as vacuous”: p. 77): as if this is sufficient to take out such longstanding theistic philosophical arguments, still taken quite seriously (agree or no) by many many philosophers. To me, this shows that Dawkins was not attempting a serious (scholarly) book. He was much more interested in mere “populist” propaganda and merely preaching to the atheist choir; revving up the troops for the cause.

The usual (almost obligatory) atheist sweeping, prejudicial insults of Christians and religion generally also indicate the intellectually non-serious and sub-par nature of the project:

I am inclined to follow Robert M. Pirsig . . . when he said,’When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.’ (p. 5)

Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument . . . (p. 5)

[T]heology . . — unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship —  has not moved on in eighteen centuries. . . . there is no evidence to support theological opinions . . . (p. 34)

It is in the nature of faith that one is capable, like Jung, of holding a belief without adequate reason to do so . . . Atheists do not have faith . . . (p. 51)

[P]eople of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true. (p. 108)

The theologians of my Cambridge encounter were defining themselves into an epistemological Safe Zone where rational argument could not reach them because they had declared by fiat that it could not. Who was I to say that rational argument was the only admissible kind of argument? (p. 154)

[W]e should blame religion itself, not religious extremism — as though that were some kind of terrible perversion of real, decent religion. . . . I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called ‘extremist’ faith. The teachings of ‘moderate’ religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism. . . . religious faith is an especially potent silencer of rational calculation . . . Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make a case for what you believe. . . . how can there be a perversion of faith, if faith, lacking objective justification, doesn’t have any demonstrable standard to pervert? (p. 306)

Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. (p. 308)

[C]rass insensitivity to normal human feelings . . . comes all too easily to a mind hijacked by religious faith. (p. 315)

Accordingly, believing all this bilge, Dawkins subscribes to his colleague Nicholas Humphrey’s recommendation that Christian parents should have no right to bring up their children as Christian (yes, you read that right):

Parents . . . have no God-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist that they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith. (p. 326)

Credit where is is due: he does manage to smuggle in a few truthful and fair-minded bits:

I accept that it may not be so easy in practice to distinguish one kind of universe [with God or without] from the other. (p. 61)

For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue [of sexual abuse]. (p. 316)

But the bulk of the book is, sadly, filled with digs and falsehoods. I continue:

[O]nly about one in twelve break away for their parents’ religious beliefs. (p. 102)

This is a favorite atheist polemical chestnut: “Christians are raised with this nonsense, so of course they accept it, and this is the main or sole reason they are Christians, not because of any particular thoughtfulness, or reasons.” But of course, this sort of “environmental” approach works both ways (or is a “two-edged sword”). The many nations of the world that are secularizing (especially in Europe) will predictably have a greater and greater effect on the proportion of atheists in any given country.

It’s not some mass revival or pure reason, with folks in those places hitting the libraries with a a vengeance and reading only the very best, most reasonable atheist and anti-theist material and becoming true atheist believers. If someone is raised in an atheist home, they will tend to become an atheist, just as the converse is true in Christian homes. Atheists are subject to the same familial influences and lack of reason and impartial study, and biased formal education (one way or the other) as anyone else. And if we are gonna go down this road of social influences, I would also dare to note the profound effect of absent or lousy fathers, in the case of many famous atheists.

Just to mention my own case: it’s clear that I have “bucked the trend” all through my life and didn’t simply follow some blind, predetermined path. I wrote recently in one of my comboxes:

I can tell you how I have changed in many major ways through the years. Here’s just a short list:

1. Pagan / practical atheist to evangelical Christian (1977). . . .

5. Evangelical Christian to Catholic (1990).

I changed twice from the religious view I was raised in (nominal Methodism): to evangelicalism and then to Catholicism. So the “childhood” theory doesn’t work with me.

I spent my years from age ten to 22 not going to church at all on Sunday, so I was obviously bucking the trend of my surroundings. And I can assure you [I was talking to an atheist from Norway] that being a strongly committed [orthodox] Catholic is not exactly the mainstream position in the US, either (or even in the Catholic Church!). This has always been a Protestant country, and now it is what I would call a “secularist-dominated” culture. I’m not with that trend at all.

I guess I’m one of Dawkins’ “one in twelve” then. He and other atheists will have to deal with my rational arguments, rather than my childhood background. That takes a lot more work, doesn’t it?

Dawkins tackles the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Portugal in 1917:

It is not easy to explain how seventy thousand people could share the same hallucination. (p. 91)

[T]he earth was suddenly yanked sideways in its orbit, and the solar system destroyed, with nobody outside Fatima noticing. (p. 92)

But of course neither quick, breezy dismissal necessarily applies at all. Whether something is a mass hallucination has to be proven, not merely asserted, and even Dawkins concedes that a true mass hallucination is difficult to explain. Atheists have been applying this pseudo-analysis to Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances for years, with no success.

The second scenario is not at all the only possible one, either. The miracle could simply consist of God changing the perception of the people there (an LSD trip, for example, does the same thing purely naturally); not literally making the sun do weird “unscientific” things. The same possible scenario would also apply to the famous miracle of the Bible, where Joshua “made the sun stand still” (Josh 10:12-13). First of all, the  Bible uses pre-scientific phenomenological language. We actually still do the same today, when we say “the sun came up” or “the sun went down at 6:36.” That’s not literal language, because we know that it is the earth’s rotation that makes it appear that way.

Joshua’s miracle was a indeed miracle, but it could still have been of a psychological nature, as opposed to an astronomical one. Or it could be something like, as one Protestant commentary put it: ” the light of the sun and moon was supernaturally prolonged by the same laws of refraction and reflection that ordinarily cause the sun to appear above the horizon, when it is in reality below it.” Atheists seem to always want to interpret the Bible (and in this case, a Marian-related apparition) hyper-literally, but they are often wrong, because they assume primitive ignorance, when in fact, there is a high degree of sophistication that is beyond the atheist’s willingness (not intellectual capacity) to even attempt to understand.

Dawkins waxes “superior” about miracles in general:

The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked. (p. 157)

This is pure poppycock. Atheism has never definitively proved that miracles cannot possibly occur. The classic anti-miracles argument from philosopher David Hume is, upon close inspection, actually remarkably weak (almost circular reasoning). Yet atheists always assume it is unanswerable. Indeed, any universal negative of this sort is virtually impossible to achieve. I would recommend the classic on the topic, C. S. Lewis’ book, Miracles, for those of sufficiently open mind and lack of “embarrassment” to peruse. I think anyone who reads that will grasp that the discussion is not at all as simple and conclusive as Dawkins makes out.

But this is stock atheist methodology: merely assume that all intelligent people have ceased believing something or other in Christian theology, which isn’t even factually true, let alone not being an argument or even logical (it’s the ad populum fallacy, in fact). For anyone interested, I have tackled the questions of the validity of miracles, at least three times [one / two / three]

Speaking of David Hume, Dawkins indirectly appeals to his supposed knock-down of the traditional teleological (design) theistic argument for God’s existence:

Before Darwin, philosophers such as Hume understood that the improbability of life did not mean it had to be designed . . . (p. 114)

Hume in fact did not understand this at all. There are many misconceptions about David Hume, including that he was an atheist. He was not: as I have documented. He was some form of deist. He not only did not completely destroy all forms of the teleological argument (perhaps one form of it at best); he himself accepted the argument in some sense, as a proof or strong insinuation of God’s existence:

The order of the universe proves an omnipotent mind. (Treatise, 633n)

Wherever I see order, I infer from experience that there, there hath been Design and Contrivance . . . the same principle obliges me to infer an infinitely perfect Architect from the Infinite Art and Contrivance which is displayed in the whole fabric of the universe. (Letters, 25-26)

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion . . .

Were men led into the apprehension of invisible, intelligent power by a contemplation of the works of nature, they could never possibly entertain any conception but of one single being, who bestowed existence and order on this vast machine, and adjusted all its parts, according to one regular plan or connected system . . .

All things of the universe are evidently of a piece. Every thing is adjusted to every thing. One design prevails throughout the whole. And this uniformity leads the mind to acknowledge one author. (Natural History of Religion, 1757, ed. H. E. Root, London: 1956, 21, 26)

See many more details in my linked paper about Hume above. I discovered this tidbit of information, which is scarcely known by atheists as a whole, more than thirty years ago now, and I cite reputable Hume scholars to back it up (not to mention Hume’s own clear words).

Not to nitpick, but Dawkins blows a cited historical fact, when he refers to Luther’s saying, “Here I stand, I can do no other” and says that it was said “as he nailed his theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg” (p. 286). Interestingly, the late atheist Christopher Hitchens makes the same exact mistake (God is Not Great, 2007, p. 180). The nailing of the 95 Theses took place on 31 October 1517. The “Here I stand” utterance is reputed to have occurred at the Diet of Worms (on 18 April 1521). This was a conference in which Luther was asked by the Catholic authorities to recant his heretical opinions. He refused, and that was why he said “here I stand” etc. But I say “reputed” because the same Wikipedia article states: “there is no indication in the transcripts of the Diet or in eyewitness accounts that he ever said this, and most scholars now doubt these words were spoken.”

Dawkins ventures into some (to the experienced apologist) humorous “playbook / talking points” arguments against God that don’t hold any water at all, and would be laughed out of any sophomore philosophy classes dealing with the same topics. For example, he tries to go after God’s omnipotence:

[H]e can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent. (p. 78)

Nice try, but no cigar. This is reminiscent of the old, “can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it?” silliness. Omnipotence is “the power to do all that is logically possible to do.” No one need take my word alone for that. The secular Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses logical impossibility (even for an omnipotent being) at length in its article on omnipotence.

Dawkins sort of makes fun of Eastern Orthodox philosopher Richard Swinburne in this respect, acting as if he makes some momentous concession, when in fact this is a very well-known theist reply to the proposed “problem”:

Swinburne generously concedes that God cannot accomplish feats that are logically impossible, and one feels grateful for this forbearance. (p. 149)

I would suggest that Dawkins refrain from entering into hundreds-of-years-old philosophical disputes and matters of philosophy of religion where he hardly has a clue. “Don’t do this at home” (and he wants to talk about us being “embarrassed by believing in Christ’s Resurrection?). Dawkins makes a similar elementary mistake about God answering prayer:

. . . mindreading millions of humans simultaneously . . . talking to a million people simultaneously . . . dreadful exhibition of self-indulgent, thought-denying skyhookery. (p. 155)

He is simultaneously able to hear the thoughts of everybody else in the world. (p. 178)

This exhibits a breathtaking ignorance of orthodox Christian theology proper (theology of God), which holds that God is outside of time (atemporal) and indeed the creator of time as well as matter. Thus, He is not subject to time as we are, and the above scenarios are meaningless. The only “meaning” they have from an informed Christian perspective is that of a joke: Dawkins being ignorant when he is poking fun at Christians for supposedly being so ignorant and stupid, to believe such silly things (that we in fact don’t believe at all). The joke and the last laugh are on him (thanks for the chuckles, Richard). The great apologist C. S. Lewis spoke about this in a BBC radio talk during World War II (listen to it), which later became part of his classic, Mere Christianity:

His life doesn’t consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at 10:30 tonight, He hasn’t got to listen to them all in that little snippet we call ’10:30.’ . . . 10:30 and every other moment from the beginning to the end of the world is always the present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has infinity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames. That’s difficult I know. . . .

The point I want to drive home is that God has infinite attention, infinite measure to spare for each one of us. He doesn’t have to take us in the line. You’re as much alone with Him as if you were the only thing He ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually, just as much as if you had been the only man in the world.

Lastly, I’ll conclude with another rather silly, foolish, and philosophically hyper-naive “argument” that Dawkins repeats over and over, as if doing so gives a weak argument more strength:

There is a much more powerful argument, . . . The whole argument turns on the familiar question ‘Who made God?’ . . . God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape. (p. 109)

[T]he designer himself (/herself/itself) immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin. (p. 120)

[W]ho designed the designer? (p. 121)

As ever, the theist’s answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained. (p. 143)

[I]t will most certainly not be a designer who just popped into existence, or who always existed. . . . the designer himself must be the end product of some kind of cumulative escalator or crane, perhaps a version of Darwinism in another universe. (p. 156)

Dawkins’ answer is tunnel vision and circular reasoning. As I discussed in my previous article about Dawkins, science, and Christianity, he disallows anything but matter in the universe (monism). But of course he can’t prove that that position is true. It’s not unassailable at all. No problem for Dawkins: he simply assumes it and asserts it, sans rational argumentation. If someone follows his “methodology” then of course, God as construed in classical theism and Christianity is made impossible by definition.

But such tactics are not all that indistinguishable from what Dawkins disdained with great relish in his vigorous critique of the classic theistic ontological argument (pp. 80-84) — one of atheists’ very favorite “whipping boys” –, concluding: “isn’t it too good to be true that a grand truth about the cosmos should follow from a mere word game?” (p. 81). Dawkins doesn’t strictly play a word game in “dissing” an eternal, uncreated God, but he plays a quite similar “category game” and simplistic sleight-of-hand in two different ways:

1) There is nothing other than matter in the universe.

2) Ergo, God, being a proposed spirit, cannot exist.

 

This is hogwash for several reasons and plainly circular reasoning. The conclusion (#2) is already present in the premise (#1) and adds nothing new. That’s not argumentation. It’s mere repeated (dubious) assertion, and need not divert us any longer from serious discussion. But with a straight face, Dawkins turns around and makes a second “argument” that contradicts his first one:

A) All matter evolves.

B) Ergo, even if God did hypothetically exist as a physical being, he would have to be the end product of a very long chain of evolutionary development.

First Dawkins thunders that spirit is impossible, and thinks he disproves God thusly. Then he posits that even if God were physical (as folks like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe), he would merely be the product of much evolution, and as such, no solution to the problem of ultimate origins, since we have to explain his origin.

Neither argument flies for even a second. Monism can’t be proven, and one need not even be a monist in order to be an atheist. For instance, the distinguished Australian philosopher David Chalmers is what he calls a “natural dualist.” He argues (sort of like the microbiologist Michael Behe, but with completely different methodology) that natural laws and physics cannot explain the evolution of consciousness. Dawkins assumes that gradualistic evolution can do so, but of course never explains how it does it. He and many others simply believe it in blind faith.

Now, which of those two positions is intellectually more respectable? I say it is that of Chalmers, because he admits that he can’t explain something; nor can science, presently understood (which may always change in the future). But Dawkins believes it because it “must” be so and can’t be otherwise. I’ll take Chalmers, thank you (given that choice), because I intensely dislike blind faith and admire intellectual humility and the recognition of the limits of our knowledge, and not falling into the epistemological error of scientism. And I dislike the observable fact that atheists like Dawkins, who constantly accuse Christians of “blind faith” and anti-evidence instincts, fall into exactly the same error and mindset when it comes to ultimate origins.

Needless to say, in classical theism, God is not a physical being. He’s a spirit, and an eternal uncreated one. Physicists and astronomers tell us that there is no matter today that is demonstrably eternal (because present science holds that the universe began with the Big Bang and will end in a “heat death”). The law of entropy (the Second Law of Thermodynamics) also dictates this.

If the Christian / theist claimed that God is physical, Dawkins would have a strong and valid argument. But that isn’t our claim. If in fact God is a non-material Spirit, then He is not subject to the laws of matter and science at all. Therefore, He could in fact be eternal. It’s not proven, but it’s a live philosophical possibility that can’t be absolutely ruled out.

Christians then say that this hypothesis explains the universe in a more satisfying way than Matter Only: which requires that matter, starting with a chaotic Big Bang, organizes itself (via its internal inherent capabilities) through millions and billions of years into DNA, life, consciousness, and eventually human beings. No one has a clue how the first three things happened or could happen, but most atheists of Dawkins’ stripe appear quite content to simply believe in blind faith that it happened, because the alternative possibility is disallowed from the outset, and because (as Dawkins stated in his book in his logically circular bliss), were here now.

That’s not an argument at all, let alone a scientific argument. I would say that it requires far more faith than Christian belief in a self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient Eternal Spirit Who created the universe, which has been argued for in at least a score of philosophical arguments through the centuries. It’s not true that Dawkins has no blind faith, or no faith at all, as he claims. He believes things that he can’t prove (i.e., starting axioms) and that are no more provable or plausible than Christian claims at best; just like every other thinker who has ever lived.

But if he wants to seriously interact with Christian claims and attempt to refute them, it would be an immense improvement for him to at least learn what it is that we believe, and thus, exactly what it is that he claims to refute. Sun Tzu (prob. 5th century BC) sagely wrote in The Art of War:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The “infinite regress god” business is laughable and not a serious argument, and it doesn’t even argue against the God that theists believe in, in faith, and propose in far more sophisticated philosophical terms. I suggest (in all seriousness) that Dawkins brush up on his Christian theology, logic (even the greatest minds can falter in logic at times), and perhaps even old Sun Tzu.

***

Photo credit: Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis. Photo by Mike Cornwell (3-21-08) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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May 23, 2018

This is one of four critiques of the book, The God Delusion (New York / Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), by perhaps the world’s best-known (and most influential?) atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins (born in 1941). His words will be in blue. Links to the four critiques follow:

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: General Critique

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion” 

Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity

Richard Dawkins’ Outrageous Hypocrisy on Abortion

***

Before starting in on my critiques of this book with regard to its claims on science and Christianity, I’d like to point out some areas of agreement:

Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question . . . (p. 48)

[T]he existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other . . . God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice. (p. 50)

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question . . . (pp. 58-59)

[T]he God question is not in principle and forever outside the remit of science. (p. 71)

I agree that if materialistic / atheist scientists have disdain for religion and God and Christians and forbid them to “do science” with their religious beliefs intact (as they very often in fact do), that they should also refrain from condemning religion and entering into our domain and “field” from their materialistic perspective. Goose and gander. If we can’t talk about their area, they ought not talk about ours, either. What’s fair is fair.

I also agree that science — by definition — is restricted to empirical observation and matter.

And I say that there are many ways to discover and verify God’s existence besides scientific (e.g., philosophical, experiential, miracles, revelation, faith).

But I am thankful that Dawkins doesn’t remove God altogether from any connection to science whatsoever, as so many scientists do. Although, the further his book is explored, we see that this doesn’t amount to much tolerance on his part, in practice, at least he agrees in principle that God is potentially discoverable (or made plausible or whatever) through science.

I believe that the traditional cosmological and teleological arguments indeed strongly suggest (though I don’t think they technically “prove”) His existence. The former is easily tied into  Big Bang cosmology and the latter to questions of possible irreducible complexity and astronomical odds against — or extreme implausibility of – particular organs or systems having evolved step-by-step purely and solely through the laws that govern matter.

Along these lines, I think he observes truthfully:

[W]e on the science side must not be too dogmatically confident. Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable. The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. (pp. 124-125

He also tends to disbelieve the ultra-absurd and absolutely unverifiable, “unscientific” (by our present known scientific laws) notion of the “serial multiverse”:

The standard model of our universe says that time itself began in the big bang, along with space, some 13 billion years ago. The serial big crunch model would amend that statement: our time and space did indeed begin in our big bang, but this was just the latest in a long series of big bangs, each one initiated by the big crunch that terminated the previous universe in the series. . . .  

As it turns out, this serial version of the multiverse must now be judged less likely than it once was. because recent evidence is starting to steer us away from the big crunch model. It now looks as though our own universe is destined to expand for ever. (pp. 145-146)

Shortly after, he tempers his skepticism a bit, but at least this is something on which we agree. That said, let me now proceed to pick apart several statements that I think are dubious (to put it mildly).

On p. 13 he calls Albert Einstein an “atheistic scientist” and blithely assumes that he wold be on his “side” in comments on pages 13-19, stating:

The one thing all his theistic critics got right was that Einstein was not one of them. He was repeatedly indignant at the suggestion that he was a theist. (p. 18)

This is quite right. Einstein was a pantheist (“god is all”) or perhaps a panentheist (“god is in all”). That much is clear and indisputable. The problem is that Einstein also disavowed any connection to atheism, as well as to theism. I outlined Einstein’s religious views in a paper of mine over 15 years ago (prior to Dawkins’ book). Einstein also wrote (see the sources in my linked paper):

Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious. (1927)
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My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God. (1927)
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I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. (1930)
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Speaking of the spirit that informs modern scientific investigations, I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deep religious feeling, and that without such feeling they would not be fruitful. (1930)
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All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. . . . It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. (1937)
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In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views. (c. 1941)
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Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres. (7 August 1941)
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Does there truly exist an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be superseded by science? The answers to these questions have, for centuries, given rise to considerable dispute and, indeed, bitter fighting. Yet, in my own mind there can be no doubt that in both cases a dispassionate consideration can only lead to a negative answer.
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While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. (1948)
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You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being. (28 September 1949)
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I have found no better expression than ‘religious’ for confidence in the rational nature of reality, insofar as it is accessible to human reason. Whenever this feeling is absent, science degenerates into uninspired empiricism. (1 January 1951)
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I am also not a “Freethinker” in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naive superstition. My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insufficiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as “laws of nature.” It is this consciousness and humility I miss in the Freethinker mentality. (23 February 1954)
In a word, like all great and wise (and humble) thinkers, Einstein fully understood that he could not explain everything, and retained his wonder as regards the marvels of the universe. This is very much in line with Christian thinking, and strictly contrary to doctrinaire / crusading atheism, as he himself repeatedly noted. Bottom line: though not a theist, it seems fairly apparent that Einstein was closer in spirit to us — in terms of the relationship of religion to science — than to atheism. Thus, it is erroneous for Dawkins to claim and assume otherwise. He could have found all these citations, just as I did, but he chose only to selectively cite those that fit into his own thesis.
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Since I have mentioned Einstein, I’ll mention another scientist that he brings up, getting important things wrong about him. He calls microbiologist Michael Behe (of “irreducible complexity” and Darwin’s Black Box fame) a “creationist” on page 129. He’s not, and this is easily able to be discovered (if not already known), by ten minutes maximum spent on Google or the Amazon pages of Behe’s books. In the aforementioned book (written in 1996), Dr. Behe writes:
Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. . . . For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. . . . I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world. Although Darwin’s mechanism — natural selection working on variation — might explain many things, however, I do not believe it explains molecular life. (p. 5)
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This is not to say that random mutation is a myth, or that Darwinism fails to explain anything (it explains microevolution very nicely) . . . (p. 22)
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I believe the evidence strongly supports common descent. But the root question remains unanswered: What has caused complex systems to form? No one has ever explained in detailed, scientific fashion how mutation and natural selection could build the complex, intricate structures discussed in this book.
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In fact, none of the papers published in JME [Journal of Molecular Evolution] over the entire course of its life as a journal has ever proposed a detailed model by which a complex biochemical system might have been produced in a gradual, step-by-step Darwinian fashion. . . .
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The very fact that none of these problems is even addressed, let alone resolved, is a very strong indication that Darwinism is an inadequate framework for understanding the origin of complex biochemical systems.
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. . . the papers are missing. Nothing remotely like this has bee published. (p. 176)
That is simply not “creationism.” Common decent is antithetical to any form of creationism (whether young-earth or old-earth). Behe’s view is a form of theistic evolution. Therefore, it’s both dishonest and flat-out stupid for Dawkins to describe him in that way. It’s a combination of the unworthy “poisoning the well” and “straw man” fallacious tactics.
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But Dawkins, in his wise and gracious magnanimity, precludes any possibility of that category of thinker (even though Darwin himself didn’t do so). For him, it’s either materialistic / atheistic Darwinian evolution (and gradualist at that) or nothing. No one can honestly, intelligently be a theistic evolutionist. Hence, he writes:
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I am continually astonished by those theists who . . . seem to rejoice in natural selection as ‘God’s way of achieving his creation’. (p. 118)
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Why? How can that be ruled out? Well, in effect, it “is” simply by scientists like Dawkins saying so; not by rational argument. But simply asserting one’s own dogmas is neither science nor philosophy. Charles Darwin wrote on 7 May 1879, less than three years before he died:
It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.— You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point— What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind. (Letter to John Fordyce, [complete] )
Darwin’s best friend and advocate / “bulldog”: the agnostic Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), certainly didn’t forbid either God or theistic evolutionists from science. He wrote in his article, “Science and Morals” in 1886:
The student of nature, who starts from the axiom of the universality of the law of causation, cannot refuse to admit an eternal existence; if he admits the conservation of energy, he cannot deny the possibility of an eternal energy; if he admits the existence of immaterial phenomena in the form of consciousness, he must admit the possibility, at any rate, of an eternal series of such phenomena; and, if his studies have not been barren of the best fruit of the investigation of nature, he will have enough sense to see that when Spinoza says, ‘Per Deum intelligo ens absolute infinitum, hoc est substantiam constantem infinitis attributis,’ the God so conceived is one that only a very great fool would deny, even in his heart. Physical science is as little Atheistic as it is Materialistic.
One could go on and on with this sort of thing (for much more, see my book, Science and Christianity). The point is that, if Dawkins wants to invoke Darwin in hushed and semi-hagiographical tones, and pretend that his outlook requires a strict materialism and/or atheism, then he also has to take into consideration Darwin’s own stated views, and that of his closest friends, like Huxley and Gray. We can’t superimpose present atheism back onto them. Darwin and Huxley were both agnostics, and Darwin makes it clear that his revolutionary views developed (in 1859) when he was still a professed theist.
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While Dawkins is “astonished” by theistic evolutionists, he is not above citing them at times to suit his own purposes. Thus he mentions Dr. Kenneth Miller as “the most persuasive nemesis of ‘intelligent design’, not least because he is a devout Christian” (p. 131). Yes he is! And that means he is a theistic evolutionist. On the same page he recommends Dr. Miller’s 1999 book, Finding Darwin’s God. I have it in my library, along with Dr. Behe’s two books. Miller opposes Behe’s take on intelligent design, but in no way does he preclude God from evolution:
By any reasonable analysis, evolution does nothing to distance or to weaken the power of God. . . . A God who presides over an evolutionary process is not an impotent, passive observer. Rather, he is one whose genius fashioned a fruitful world in which the process of continuing creation is woven into the fabric of matter itself. (p. 243)
I have no problem with that at all. However God exercised His power to create (Behe’s way or Miller’s way), He is still intimately involved in the process. And that view is far — poles apart — from Dawkins’ position, which holds that absolutely everything is ultimately or potentially explainable (since there is no God) by natural processes. Dawkins seems to think Miller is on his side. He’s far more on my side.
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Behe and Miller (both Catholics) agree that God is necessary in the evolutionary process, and that this process (nor the earlier creation of the universe) could not have occurred without His involvement in some sense or way (exactly my own view, that I defend as an apologist, especially against atheists). The only difference is over the degree and nature of this theistic (and not deistic) divine participation and guidance. Miller makes God a bit more remote from the workings of scientific laws and processes, whereas Behe brings Him a bit closer. Both views are Christian and quite permissible in that worldview, and for that matter, easily harmonized with the related pre-scientific statements of the Bible. Dawkins states:

The design approach postulates a God who wrought a deliberate miracle, struck the prebiotic soup with divine fire and launched DNA, or something equivalent, on its momentous career. (p. 137)

Yeah, possibly that occurred, and maybe Behe would agree. Miller wouldn’t, and would say that God designed all of those potentialities and actualities from the outset, and let them run their course. Theists can have those discussions. Dawkins can’t, because his prior atheistic dogma dictates that God is impossible (and absurd). Obviously, then, it’s difficult to discuss His relation to evolutionary processes if He ain’t there in the first place. I find this dogmatic closed-mindedness to be contrary to both the scientific and philosophical enterprises.
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Give me an agnostic, a la Darwin and Huxley and Einstein, any day. They retain an open mind and a humility and thoughtful seriousness that Dawkins seems to not even be capable of conceiving. Dawkins is naive and foolish enough to think (in a very un-Einsteinian way) that science can essentially explain everything:
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Historically, religion aspired to explain our own existence and the nature of the universe in which we find ourselves. In this role it is now completely superseded by science . . . (p. 347)
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Alright. Let’s see, then, how Dawkins attempts to explain the origin of the universe and of life. Here’s a few samples:
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[T]he spontaneous arising by chance of the first hereditary molecule strikes many as improbable. Maybe it is — very very improbable, . . .  (p. 137)
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[T]he origin of the eucaryotic cell . . . was an even more momentous, difficult and statistically improbable step than the origin of life. The origin of consciousness might be another major gap whose bridging was of the same order of improbability. (p. 140)
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Natural selection works because it is a cumulative one-way street to improvement. It needs some luck to get started, and the ‘billions of planets’ anthropic principle grants it that luck. Maybe a few later gaps in the evolutionary story also need major infusions of luck, with anthropic justification. (p. 141)
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It follows from the fact of our existence that the laws of physics must be friendly enough to allow life to arise. (p. 141)
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We see here that Dawkins (especially in the final sentence above) ventures into radically circular logical territory (meaning, he has already assumed what he is trying to prove and that his “conclusion” was already present in his premise):
1) Alas, life (including us) is here.
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2) Only physical laws can account for life (no God can possibly explain it, since there is no God).
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3) Therefore, the laws of physics must have done so.
This is hardly compelling: logically or any other way. Dawkins has asserted dogma. He needs to prove it, according to the usual scientific demonstration. This is materialistic [blind] faith and belief in unproven axioms, that I have endlessly critiqued and lampooned in my apologetics for over 35 years now. Dawkins had repeatedly decried “chance” in the book and denied that natural selection entailed it. Yet when he has nothing better to offer, he readily “worships” the god of “luck” in order to shore up his bankrupt worldview, as to how things ultimately got here. How is Dawkins’ “luck” any intellectually superior to Behe’s intelligent design and irreducible complexity? We’re not impressed.
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Referring to the origin of life on earth (“possibly only one planet in the entire universe”), he says that “We now understand essentially how the trick was done” (pp. 366-367). It’s all explained by natural selection, you see. We understand no such thing, which is presumably why Dawkins never blesses us with the scientific explanation. He merely asserts yet again (atheists have become very good at that: so often thinking they need not explain anything). He (with a straight face) proclaims the glories of his god Darwin, and Darwin’s prophet and bearer of good tidings, natural selection, and concludes on his last page (order inverted below):
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[W]e considered the improbability of the origin of life and how even a near-impossible chemical event must come to pass given enough planet years to play with . . . (p. 374)
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[I]n the vastness of astronomical space, or geological time, events that seem impossible . . . turn out to be inevitable. (p. 374)
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Really? This doesn’t follow at all, but has become atheist unquestioned Dogma. I mercilessly satirized the atheists’ religion of “atomism” years ago, in by far my most controversial paper in atheists’ eyes. It raised such a firestorm of protest that I had to write a follow-up explaining the satire: the nature of which  virtually no atheist could even comprehend, being very unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of sarcastic humor that they dish out to us all the time. Here is what Dawkins’ unbridled faith in matter truly amounts to, satirically (but accurately!) expressed:

Matter essentially “becomes god” in the atheist / materialist view; it has the inherent ability to do everything by itself: a power that Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, as their ultimate Creator and ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

The atheist places extraordinary faith in matter – arguably far more faith than we place in God, because it is much more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone.

Indeed, this is a faith of the utmost non-rational, childlike kind. . . .

The polytheistic materialist . . . thinks that trillions of his atom-gods and their distant relatives, the cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, by their own power, possessed eternally either in full or (who knows how?) in inevitably unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Atomism (“belief that the atom is God”). Trillions of omnipotent, omniscient atoms can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason that anyone can understand (i.e., why and how the atom-god came to possess such powers in the first place). . . .

Oh, and we mustn’t forget the time-goddess. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level . . . The time-goddess is the highest in the ranks of the Atomist’s wonderfully varied hierarchy of gods (sort of the “Zeus” of Atomism). One might call this belief Temporalism.

Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it “must be” what it is. . . .
Some Atomist utterances even have the “ring” of Scriptures; for example, urgings of an appropriate humility regarding man’s opinion of his own importance, because the universe is so large, and we are so small, as if, somehow, largeness itself is some sort of inherently God-like quality. . . .

All of this desperate “pseudo-explanation” of the universe comes about because Dawkins disallows anything but matter to exist in the universe (the position of monism, as opposed to dualism). Listen to his viciously circular and hyper-silly utterances, made with a blind faith that is admirable at least in its “heroically” hopeless defiance of reason and reality alike:
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[T]here is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence . . . no soul . . . If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope to eventually understand it and embrace it within the natural. (p. 14)
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[A]ny creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion . . . (p. 31; italics in original)
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[T]he Darwinian is challenged to explain the source of all the information in living matter . . . Darwinian natural selection is the only known solution to the otherwise unanswerable riddle of where the information comes from. (pp. 113-114)
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I confess that I am an utter loss to reply to such fathomless inanities as this, so I will again cite my “Atomism” paper and conclude:
The Atomist – ever-inventive and childlike – manages to believe any number of things, in faith, without the unnecessary addition of mere explanation.

“Why” questions in the context of Atomism are senseless, because they can’t overcome the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Atomist possesses. The question, “Why do the atom-gods and cell-gods and the time-goddess exist and possess the extraordinary powers that they do?” is meaningless and ought not be put forth. It’s bad form, and impolite. We know how sensitive overly religious folk are.

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Photo credit: American biologist and [Catholic] theistic evolutionist Kenneth R. Miller (b. 1948), photographed on 1-10-06 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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May 21, 2018

This is one of four critiques of the book, The God Delusion (New York / Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), by perhaps the world’s best-known (and most influential?) atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins (born in 1941). His words will be in blue. Links to the four critiques follow:

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: General Critique 

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion”

Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity

Richard Dawkins’ Outrageous Hypocrisy on Abortion

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Richard Dawkins informs us how compassionate secular (including atheist) liberals are. They are “nice liberal people” who “cannot bear suffering and cruelty” (p. 328 in the hardcover edition, as throughout). Because of this compassion, Dawkins is “scandalized” by “victim[s]” of traditional “ritual sacrifice” of human beings (p. 327). He approvingly cites psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, decrying this type of “act of ritual murder: the murder of a dependent child by a group of stupid, puffed up, superstitious, ignorant old men” (Humphrey’s words: pp. 327-328). Dawkins waxes indignant over this outrage:

Again, the decent liberal reader may feel a twinge of unease. Immoral by our standards, certainly, and stupid, . . . 

The Inca priests cannot be blamed for their ignorance . . . But they can be blamed for foisting their own beliefs on a child . . . (p. 328)

Dawkins provides for us a mini atheist manifesto on the preciousness of life: “luck” being the atheist equivalent of “blessing” and/or perhaps also “grace”. It would be genuinely moving if we could only forget the multiple millions that he doesn’t include in it:

In Unweaving the Rainbow I tried to convey how lucky we are to be alive, given that the vast majority of people who could potentially be thrown up by the combinatorial lottery of DNA will in fact never be born. . . . 

We are staggeringly lucky to find ourselves in the spotlight. However brief our time in the sun, if we waste a second of it, or complain that it is dull or barren or (like a child) boring, couldn’t this be seen as a callous insult to those unborn trillions who will never even be offered life in the first place? . . . the knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more precious. The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing . . . (p. 361)

Alas, Dawkins seems to be blissfully unaware of the fatal and, to my mind, hyper-cruel and evil diabolical logic inherently involved in such reasoning. The pro-abortion atheist is in favor of the deliberate, legally sanctioned depriving of this “precious” life of preborn children scheduled  to be aborted, despite the fact that it is the only life he or she will ever have. There is, of course, no afterlife in the atheist view, and no soul.

Thus, this pitiful creature attempting to emerge from the womb to see the light of day is prevented from the outset from possessing what Dawkins sincerely cherishes as “staggeringly lucky”; that is, this “only one life”: a “precious” life that we all are privileged to have. Is this not a chilling expression of the wickedness of the pro-abortion / anti-life mindset; the culture of death?

Dawkins, in his wisdom and charity, even freely concedes that “Human embryos are examples of human life. Therefore, by absolutist religious lights, abortion is simply wrong: full-fledged murder” (p. 291). Yes it is, but, try as I may, I fail to see why such a view should or would be confined merely to religious folks (by the “internal atheist” reasoning I provided in the preceding paragraph).

Did not Dawkins inform us in the excerpt above that life is so eminently “precious”? Here he includes preborn “human life” in the same category. Thus, logically, this class of “humans” are (or ought) to be included in the class of those in possession of this same human life; who are “staggeringly lucky” etc.

He trapped himself with his own words, by daring to call the preborn child “human.” This is similar to the cognitive dissonance and ludicrous Orwellian self-delusion of the pro-abortion expectant mother, who calls her preborn child (i.e., one she chooses to “want”) a (or “my”) “baby”. Then when she doesn’t want to carry a conceived child to term, she will refuse to call it a “baby.”

Dawkins also (rightly but hypocritically) waxes indignant — twenty pages earlier — over the demotion of various classes of people to sub-human status:

One reason black people and women and, in Nazi Germany, Jews and gypsies have been treated badly is that they were not perceived as fully human. (p. 271)

The “progressive” trend against this sort of outrage and in favor of “a common humanity” was, so Dawkins informs us, derived from “deeply unbiblical ideas that come from biological science, especially evolution” (p. 271). Okay. Materialistic evolution (which forbids God to play any role in it at all, according to Dawkins and atheists generally) fosters respect for life and commonness among all humankind. Wonderful! Ah, but wait! Dawkins utterly contradicts all of this touchy-feely, warm fuzzy Kumbaya love for one and all in the following proclamation:

The granting of uniquely special rights to cells of the species Homo sapiens is hard to reconcile with the fact of evolution. . . .

The evolutionary point is very simple. The humanness of an embryo’s cells cannot confer upon it any absolutely discontinuous moral status. . . . 

[E]volutionary continuity shows that there is no absolute distinction. Absolutist moral discrimination is devastatingly undermined by the fact of evolution. (pp. 300-301)

This grotesque” “scientism” mentality then leads to the evil justifying of abortion, and for that matter, to the ritual human sacrifice of born children by the Incas, Aztecs, and many other cultures (though Dawkins seems utterly unaware of that logical consequence of his stated position). Indeed, the Nazis thought it quite justified all that they did, too. They proclaimed themselves (accurately or not) to be social Darwinists all through the Holocaust.

Despite all of these massive self-contradictions and vicious logical circularities, Dawkins bravely weathers on. He protests:

What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor? (p. 251)

First of all, he ought to get it right, when venturing into Christian theology. Christians believe that the Fall of Man was a collective one: a rebellion from mankind as a whole; not merely Adam and Eve, whose rebellion is then “attributed” to innocents evermore. This notion is derived from passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:22: “. . . in Adam all die” (RSV). I wrote in my paper, Biblical Evidence for Original Sin:

In Adam,” not “because” of Adam’s original sin, which gave us a propensity, . . . The Fall is that of the entire human race; we are all in the same boat. 

Moreover, this supposed rank injustice and unfairness (that many atheists love to ignorantly carp on and on about) is utterly removed through baptism (via baptismal regeneration), according to Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and many major branches of Protestantism, such as Anglicanism, Methodism, and Lutheranism. My mentor, Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J., one of America’s leading catechists in the 20th century, describes the effects of “baptismal graces” in his Modern Catholic Dictionary:

The supernatural effects of the sacrament of baptism. They are: 1. removal of all guilt of sin, original and personal; 2. removal of all punishment due to sin, temporal and eternal; 3. infusion of sanctifying grace along with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; 4. incorporation into Christ; and 5, entrance into the Mystical Body, which is the Catholic Church; 6. imprinting of the baptismal character, which enables a person to receive the other sacraments, to participate in the priesthood of Christ through the sacred liturgy, and to grow in the likeness of Christ through personal sanctification. Baptism does not remove two effects of original sin, namely concupiscence and bodily mortality. However, it does enable a Christian to be sanctified by his struggle with concupiscence and gives him the title to rising in a glorified body on the last day.

That’s a lot of things! But note especially #1 (bolded portion). Obviously, we understand that atheists don’t believe any of this. But that’s irrelevant if the topic is the alleged injustice of the Christian doctrine of original sin (which is what Dawkins was commenting upon above). Now they are in our realm, talking about our beliefs, not their own. And once they enter into that arena, they are responsible for not distorting beyond recognition what we teach. That’s unethical, and sloppy, crappy scholarship (in some cases, what can only be described as deliberately dishonest “research”). Dawkins simply appears — like multitudes of atheists when it comes to biblical theology — woefully ignorant and misinformed.

Dawkins thunders on the same page 251: “They and all their descendants were banished forever from the Garden of Eden, deprived of the gift of eternal life . . .” Of course this isn’t true. The baptism of infants drastically changes that, and then the way of salvation through the cross of Christ is open to any person who will accept this free grace of God, to heaven and eternal life. Just because atheists and others reject this free grace and the salvation and eternal life that comes through it, is no reason to blame Christianity and God, as if it’s all gloom and doom and hopeless misery, under the wascally wascal arbitrary “tyrant-god” that exists solely in the fanciful and endlessly inventive atheist imagination. 

Sorry for the slight digression, but I think we can see that this extreme aversion to original sin (on fallacious grounds) is all the more clueless and out to sea, once we realize what Dawkins believes about the heartless killing of innocent young children: by the hundreds of millions. I paraphrase his own words above, in order to highlight the hypocrisy:

What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every innocent, helpless preborn child whose mother doesn’t want him or her, even before he or she is born, to be the victims of the sin of his or her parents and the abortionist who mercilessly tortures [in most cases, felt] and murders him or her (for profit), and deprives this poor child of the only life he or she will ever have (according to atheist worldview): no afterlife; no life on earth, period?

Which of these two scenarios is more ethical: original sin rightly understood, and the solution to it in Christian theology, or abortion as fully and logically thought through, according to atheist presuppositions about ethics and [nonexistence of] souls and heaven, and murder?

Dawkins goes back and forth throughout the book, seeming to be (at least fleetingly) against cruelty and murder of children here, and utterly indifferent to it there. When he is condemning the biblical and ancient Hebrew accounts from the Old Testament, of course he is all for children not being killed. Sometimes they lose their lives as members of cultures which are being judged by God (which is a long, complex discussion itself, but a perfectly valid one).

Be that as it may, Dawkins condemns these instances of divine wrath and judgment: incensed that Moses “gave orders that all the boy children should be killed” (p. 245) in the case of the Midianites, and commanded the Jews to “utterly destroy” various cultures inhabiting ancient Canaan (see p. 248). This is part of the standard, stock atheist repertoire of endlessly parroted objections to the Bible and to “God” (not the real one, but their gutted / invented version of Him).

It’s very curious and inexplicable, however, that in a volume often given over to documenting various “objectionable” stories from the Old Testament, Dawkins omits — for some reason known only to him — the many vociferous condemnations of child sacrifice in the Bible:

Leviticus 18:21 You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 20:2-3 Say to the people of Israel, Any man of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, who gives any of his children to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I myself will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name.

Deuteronomy 12:31 . . . every abominable thing which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

2 Kings 16:2-3 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.

2 Kings 17:17-18 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings, and used divination and sorcery, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah only.

2 Kings 23:10 And he defiled To’pheth, which is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.

2 Chronicles 28:3 and he burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.

2 Chronicles 33:6 And he burned his sons as an offering in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and practiced soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.

Psalm 106:36-39 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the harlot in their doings.

Jeremiah 7:31-32 And they have built the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere.

Jeremiah 19:5 and have built the high places of Ba’al to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Ba’al, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind;

Jeremiah 32:35 They built the high places of Ba’al in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

Ezekiel 16:20-21 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?

Ezekiel 16:36 Thus says the Lord GOD, Because your shame was laid bare and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotries with your lovers, and because of all your idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them,

Ezekiel 20:21 When you offer your gifts and sacrifice your sons by fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. . . .

Ezekiel 20:31 When you offer your gifts and sacrifice your sons by fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you.

Ezekiel 23:37-39 For they have committed adultery, and blood is upon their hands; with their idols they have committed adultery; and they have even offered up to them for food the sons whom they had borne to me. Moreover this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slaughtered their children insacrifice to their idols, on the same day they came into my sanctuary to profane it. And lo, this is what they did in my house.

Wisdom 12:3-6 Those who dwelt of old in thy holy land thou didst hate for their detestable practices, their works of sorcery and unholy rites, their merciless slaughter of children, and their sacrificial feasting on human flesh and blood. These initiates from the midst of a heathen cult, these parents who murder helpless lives, thou didst will to destroy by the hands of our fathers,

See much more about the numerous biblical prohibitions of abortion.

That’s an awful lot of biblical data to be ignorant of, or to deliberately pass over, ain’t it? Moreover, Jesus even compared hell to the child sacrifices that occurred in the valley of Hinnom (aka Gehenna) in Jerusalem (I almost was able to walk through it when I visited in 2014). The New Testament word for eternal hell is Gehenna. Thus, we know that Jesus had in mind what took place in this valley, as a metaphor for hell. In other words, child sacrifice (morally equivalent to abortion) is, in the mind of Jesus, a good description of hell (as I have written about).

At length, we are blessed with Dawkins’ final judgment on this sordid matter of abortion, with its unsavory nature involving profound suffering, that even Dawkins (safely away from its oceans of blood and guts and severed or savagely burned or ripped-apart heads and limbs) is forced to confront and admit as a not-so-nice thing, after all. In his section, “Faith and the Sanctity of Human Life” he opines:

Does the embryo suffer? (Presumably not if it is aborted before it has a nervous system; and even if it is old enough to have a nervous system it surely suffers less than, say, an adult cow in a slaughterhouse.) (p. 293)

And if late-aborted embryos with nervous systems suffer — though all suffering is deplorable — it is not because they are human that they suffer. There is no general reason to suppose that human embryos at any age suffer more than cow or sheep embryos at the same developmental stage. And there  is every reason to suppose that all embryos, whether human or not, suffer far less than adult cows or sheep in a slaughterhouse, especially a ritual slaughterhouse where, for religious reasons, they must be fully conscious when their throats are ceremonially cut. (p. 297)

Well, that settles it and makes us all feel so much better! He would go on to inform his readers three pages later thatThe humanness of an embryo’s cells cannot confer upon it any absolutely discontinuous moral status.” Right. That comes through loud and clear in Dawkins’ ghastly, emotionally flat, compassion-challenged, and Nazi-like comparisons of the suffering of preborn children to that of cows and sheep in slaughterhouses and “cow or sheep embryos at the same developmental stage.” That makes it all so understandable and justified, doesn’t it? We feel warm all over to be informed of these things.

All of these pitiable creatures being led to slaughter are on the same moral plane, you see. Human babies thus have no moral status that is superior to that of any other creature: be it a sheep, cow, or for that matter, a snail darter or a worm or a tree, or the last mosquito that you swatted. We’re all one big happy family, in the [materialistic] evolutionary community [minus God, of course] of all living things.

So, no big deal. If these babies have to be tortured and murdered (usually due to others’ sin and irresponsibility), we can take solace in the fact that it is no worse than similar experiences of the baby’s cow or sheep brethren. Since we don’t (at least not yet!) talk of murdering sheep; likewise we cannot refer to the murdering of children, who have no inherent, unique value or preciousness among all other beasts (or else their destruction would be forbidden).

It’s all wrapped up in a pretty bow (either blue or pink). This is the wonderful caring world we now inhabit: the secular / atheist Utopia, where one and all are loved and cherished, except for the smallest, most innocent and helpless among us: children in their mothers’ wombs:  exponentially far and away the most dangerous place for any human being to ever be.

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Photo credit: Richard Dawkins, photographed in March 2005 by Christopher G. Street [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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March 20, 2008

+ Galileo Redux
Dawkins2
British atheist biologist Richard Dawkins (b. 1941) at the 35th American Atheists Convention (4-10-09). Photo by Marty Stone [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

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(3-20-08)

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A Catholic commented in a thread devoted to a post of mine regarding Galileo:

I think the Church would not get into these types of situations or be the cause for such questions if she would stick to religion and religious topics and leave science to scientists.

I replied:

But you neglect to see that Galileo was being overly dogmatic and intruding into the theological realm. This is not simply a matter of the “Church” making a dumb mistake and overstepping its bounds. The “Church” (i.e., the magisterium) never spoke on the matter one way or the other (see the lengthy quotation in my post referred to above, from The Catholic Encyclopedia). Certain members of the Church held erroneous cosmological views. But so did Galileo in some respects too. Big wow. Folks made errors. No big deal. As I wrote in my treatment of the Galileo issue, in my book, The One-Minute Apologist:

But the scientist (though basically correct) was overconfident and quite obstinate in proclaiming his scientific theory as absolute truth, and this was a major concern. Accordingly, St. Robert Bellarmine, who was directly involved in the controversy, made it clear that heliocentrism was not irreversibly condemned, and also that a not-yet proven theory was not an unassailable fact. Bellarmine actually had the superior understanding of the nature of a scientific hypothesis. Galileo was scientifically fallible, too. He held that the entire universe revolved around the sun in circular (not elliptical) orbits, and that tides were caused by the rotation of the earth. True heliocentrism wasn’t conclusively proven until some 200 years later.

As in all my apologetics, and especially when about these “notorious” instances of Catholic error, I want the “whole story” to be known and understood, not just one-sided propaganda that seeks to discredit the Church first and foremost and ignores all of the relevant information.

We get the added bonus that the whole, real truth is invariably far more interesting than the self-interested, self-promoting myths and legends that are too often bandied about by academics and so-called “intelligentsia” (in this case, in the name of “science”).

If anyone is overstepping the largely legitimate methodological boundaries of science and religion today, it is the subgroup of atheist, materialist scientists: folks like Richard Dawkins, who insist on stepping outside of their area of expertise and proclaiming dogmatically that there is no God. Dawkins as a scientist cannot say that, because science deals with matter (and God is Spirit, and the supernatural is outside the realm of science per se).

But he won’t shut up about it because it makes him feel important and smarter-than-thou and sells lots of books and makes lots of $$$$$. He won’t say (at least not very often, or loudly) that as a scientist he has no prerogative to speak about it, and that when he does so, he is doing it merely as a non-expert amateur philosopher: scarcely more qualified than you or I. That would be too honest and real and counter-productive.

So these guys transgress the boundaries all the time, and it’s fine, but let a Catholic scientist like Michael Behe dare to say only that not all things can be explained by conventional evolution, and the sky falls down. That is bringing religion into science, and flat earth creationism and “Bible science,” blah blah blah.

The double standard is wider than the Grand Canyon.

* * * * *

I refuse (as an apologist and enthusiastic student of the history of ideas) to let a complex issue like the Galileo affair be reduced to secular-inspired slogans. We owe much more than that to our Catholic forefathers who weren’t nearly as “dumb” as they are so often made out to be.

As I see it, I am simply collecting all the relevant facts and presenting them, so that readers can have a more accurate picture of what actually happened. Like most people, I was spoon-fed the secular line that made out that the Church was this troglodyte, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, know-nothing monster and Galileo and his cohorts were all open-minded, enlightened truth machines, persecuted as such by the reactionary Church.

The truth is far more complex than that, as I think I have shown in the few words that I devoted to the issue in my latest book, and in some longer papers. For one thing, Galileo remained an orthodox Catholic, and he was guilty of now-known scientific errors, too. St. Robert Bellarmine (no intellectual slouch) actually had a more accurate notion of scientific hypotheses and theories than Galileo did (by today’s definitions and criteria). And that ain’t just me saying that. As usual, I back myself up with the relevant sources (as much as possible, from non-Catholics). In this instance, it was well-known philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn:

Most of Galileo’s opponents behaved more rationally. Like Bellarmine, they agreed that the phenomena were in the sky but denied that they proved Galileo’s contentions. In this, of course, they were quite right. Though the telescope argued much, it proved nothing.
(The Copernican Revolution, New York: Random House / Vintage Books, 1957, p. 226)

Kuhn, in this same book, even defends, at length, the contributions and brilliance of the lifelong geocentrist Tycho Brahe (describing him as “the preeminent astronomical authority” of the second half of the 16th century, who had “immense prestige”), as I documented in a paper of mine.

Truth is stranger (and far more interesting) than fiction. It’s not the case that the Catholics were (to use the caricatures and stereotypes constantly utilized by materialist scientists and other like-minded secularist academics) the anti-science dummies who were all geocentrists, and refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, while the scientists were (to a person) the ultra-smart, forward-looking, inquisitive folks (gee, kinda like scientists today!), who were never geocentrists, and who would never, ever believe something as “unscientific” as astrology.

WRONG on all counts. One must look at individuals, and in the context of their time, and have some understanding of the intellectual milieu as well and a sense of the development of both science and theology over time. Kuhn understands this. The ones who truly study the matter on both “sides” with an open mind do, as a general rule.

What happened, happened. The Church is on record as having apologized for the errors that some high-ranking Catholics made, through Pope John Paul II and others. They had nothing whatever to do with infallibility. They were simple human errors, of a sort that many scientists and philosophers also made. I noted in my book chapter on Galileo that the Lutheran philosopher Leibniz: one of the most brilliant minds of all time, fought against Newton’s theory of gravitation.

No one is denying that such errors occurred (last of all, me). But the fuller picture should also be discussed because of how the incident is used and exploited by secularists and non-Catholic Christian opponents of the Catholic Church.

My methodology is always the same regarding all these “scandals” in Catholic history: whether it be the Inquisition or the Crusades or the current sexual scandal. I don’t deny the real wrongs and errors at all, but I put them in proper perspective and refuse to accept the nonsense that always makes the Catholic Church the Big Bad Boogeyman and ignores similar scandals in non-Catholic circles. I will not bow to intellectual double standards, ever.

Atheist scientists want to go back to the early 17th century and even then have to distort what happened and only present one side of it, when there are plenty of far more scandalous “skeletons” in their own closet (that we rarely hear about), and more recently, at that. We need only go back less than two hundred years to find stuff like phrenology, where the shape of a person’s skull was thought (by mainstream science) to have a direct relationship to their intelligence. The science of, say, 1900, was shot through with racism: hardly a proud chapter in scientific history.

But Christians of two, three generations earlier, like William Wilberforce and the abolitionists were far more “progressive” on the race issue. Christians (not “progressive” scientists) are always on the cutting edge of societal progress, whether we look at slavery, or civil rights, or the fall of Soviet Communism (Pope John Paul II and Christians in Eastern Europe, and another “dumb guy”: Ronald Reagan).

I have shown how Galileo himself and other scientists of his time like Kepler, were neck-deep in astrology.

Eugenics is another sad chapter in scientific history. We saw what the Nazis did with that. In America, we had sterilization of black men and suchlike. Remember, Germany was one of the most scientifically advanced societies then and now. But this was supposedly “good science”. Margaret Sanger picked it up and institutionalized her racism in her group, Planned Parenthood, and indeed, this played the key role in promulgation of the immorality of contraception and later, of abortion itself. That’s why the best Christian apologists of the period, like Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, wrote about these kinds of follies that were rampant within science. Lewis often satirized the tunnel vision materialist scientist of his time. Chesterton went after eugenics; both of them lambasted contraception, etc.

Many Protestant and Catholic Christians accept the typical secular line about Galileo. They may be persuaded by the secular intellectuals to think that the Catholics of former times were dumb, just as many academics think we’re dumb today, too, just as the more anti-Catholic Protestants also do. We all must be vigilant to avoid being taken in by secularism and its ways of thought. It’s a constant battle. But we have to be aware that we are doing it.

My perspective is that we should be critical of the information we get, and understand the presuppositions and biases of those who give it. Catholics have biases, too. Everyone does (as I’ve always stressed). That’s exactly why I have constantly advocated hearing “both sides” of any issue and getting all the facts, and never relying on one account only, and why I am a huge advocate of dialogue and debate, because it is, in my opinion, the very best way to learn and to use one’s mind to its potential.

My task as an apologist and amateur historian of ideas (that and development of doctrine are two of my very favorite areas of inquiry) has been to fight the stereotypes that are passed down by critics of Catholicism or of larger Christianity and to demonstrate on a popular level that there was much more complexity and nuance in play than is usually assumed because of uncritical acceptance of biased secular history.

I not only defend the Church’s position (truly defend it, with reason, not just parrot or regurgitate it), but I interact with severe critics of it, and make arguments not only for why our position prevails, but why theirs fails and falls short, as well. This is critical thought and having the courage of one’s convictions. In dialoguing, one is forced to look more closely at their own position, and I have posted some 400-450 dialogues and debates on my blog.

* * * * *
Further discussion, with questions from CHNI board members paraphrased and in blue:

Doesn’t the discussion of (and in) the Galileo affair depend in large part on whether to literally interpret biblical passages about the movement of the sun?

A lot of it had to do with that, yes.

Has the Church actually defined this matter?

The problem had to do with literalizing what was intended as phenomenological language, or over-literalizing in some places, and how science and the Bible can be interpreted in harmony; respecting both areas of knowledge. It can be done. In a pre-scientific understanding, the sun going up and down would imply that the earth is not moving and the sun is.

The Church hasn’t defined this (as far as I know) because it has nothing to do with faith and morals per se. The Church as a whole simply accepts heliocentrism based on scientific proofs of same. At the time of Galileo, there was quite respectable science (given the state of knowledge at that time) for geocentrism too (as I discussed, regarding Tycho Brahe, above), so believing such a thing was not as wacko and reactionary as is customarily made out today. The math involved in either system, as I understand it, was not even all that different. It’s easy with hindsight to condemn our ancestors as dumbos, and to stand on the shoulders of giants. We can call those in the past mental midgets, but it doesn’t follow. They made it possible for the knowledge we have today: scientific or otherwise.

A lot of the prevailing attitudes, I’m convinced, are based on a prior “chronological snobbery” (C.S. Lewis’s delightful term) or disdain for the “age of faith” or the Middle Ages. G.K. Chesterton wrote about this:

There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval.

(“The True Middle Ages,” The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1906)

Scientifically speaking, we can’t say the earth is the center of anything, since it is just one planet in one solar system in one galaxy. I think we should say it is the spiritual center of the universe, as far as we know. And we can say that the universe is “theocentric.”

If science disagrees with the Church, it is in error.

The Church, by and large, doesn’t try to proclaim on scientific matters. It’s more concerned with ethical situations that scientific advance has made matters of discussion, such as cloning or artificial insemination or birth control, or assisted suicide. There is no glaring conflict with science at present. The Church hasn’t ruled out the possibility of evolution. It only says that there was a primal human pair, and that each soul is a special creation by God, and holds, of course, that God created the entire universe and all matter in it and that He continues to uphold it by His word of power, using the scientific laws of nature that He created to do so, mostly in a natural manner.

As it stands, Big Bang cosmology is quite consistent with the biblical account of creation. Current speculation of a cyclical or oscillating universe is sheer speculation. There is no proof of that whatsoever.

The Church only speaks authoritatively about matters of faith, and so we have to interpret the Galileo incident in that light, right?

Both sides (i.e., the parties) were at fault. Some in the Church were making false notions of biblical interpretation dogmas and “scientific,” while Galileo was being unscientifically dogmatic in proclaiming as “proven” and “fact” his new theories, that were not yet proved by the criteria of science itself.

I believe firmly that revelation and science (and the logic, mathematics, and philosophy that lie behind science) are two harmonious forms of knowledge that do not conflict and that all truth is God’s truth. I’ve seen nothing that causes an irreconcilable contradiction. Evolution doesn’t do that. Relativity doesn’t. Biochemistry, as far as I am concerned, leads to a quite appropriate conclusion of intelligent design, and ties into the traditional teleological (design) argument for God. I also agree with Galileo’s statement that “the Church teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

If science conflicts with the Catholic faith, it is false, no?

Yes, but in practice sometimes it takes years for the scientific community to catch up with the knowledge of the Church. We’ve been saying the universe began in an instant from the beginning. Science figured this out and made it “orthodoxy” only in the last forty or so years (as the agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow has noted). We’ve said all people were equal, while science was toying with phrenology and eugenics. Eventually they got it and got up to speed. The Catholic Copernicus advanced heliocentrism, with the blessing of the pope. Etc., etc.

For some folks to make out that the Church was somehow “anti-science” is an exercise in showing their own profound ignorance about the history of science and the relationship of Catholicism and Protestantism to it. Some Catholic individuals were on the wrong side of some particular scientific question, but that is true of scientists as well, so big wow. It’s all part of the overall advancement of knowledge and science. Some folks are gonna be wrong.

My big beef is that every (non-dogmatic) Catholic mistake in history is trumpeted from the housetops and made far more than it was in historical context, while similar whoppers and embarrassing skeletons in the closet of science itself are rarely if ever heard about. And so, e.g., in secular treatments about Galileo, one rarely reads about how deeply he was into astrology. That doesn’t fit the mold and the plan and the usual spin, so it is left out. The goal is to make Christians and the Church look like idiots, not to present what actually happened, and to explain all the relevant considerations. The goal in most secular presentation and public education (consciously or not) is propaganda, not true education, where a thing is analyzed properly and fairly.

I include all these relevant factors in my treatments of the subject, so people can have a well-rounded treatment that respects all sides, rather than trying to make one out as idiots and the other as selfless truth machines, along with anachronistic projection of current scientific approaches back to a time 500 years ago that was very different from today.

Galileo was right about the science (i.e., heliocentrism), but for (partially) the wrong reasons. The folks in the Church who condemned his theories were wrong, but for (partially) the right reasons.

The Church as the Church is not an organ of scientific inquiry. Even when dogmas proclaim something like creation, they don’t explain the “how” but only state the bald fact that God created.

The Catholic theologians who claimed that Galileo didn’t see what he saw in his telescope were out of bounds.

And these were the minority, which is itself caricatured, as I noted above, with a quote from Thomas Kuhn.

Scientists shouldn’t get all angry about a caricature of actual Catholic teaching and action.

There are all kinds of distortions about the history of this affair. The Catholic Encyclopedia makes it clear that no dogmatic proclamations were involved:

As to the decree of 1616, we have seen that it was issued by the Congregation of the Index, which can raise no difficulty in regard of infallibility, this tribunal being absolutely incompetent to make a dogmatic decree. Nor is the case altered by the fact that the pope approved the Congregation’s decision in forma communi, that is to say, to the extent needful for the purpose intended, namely to prohibit the circulation of writings which were judged harmful. . . . As to the second trial in 1633, this was concerned not so much with the doctrine as with the person of Galileo, and his manifest breach of contract in not abstaining from the active propaganda of Copernican doctrines. The sentence, passed upon him in consequence, clearly implied a condemnation of Copernicanism, but it made no formal decree on the subject, and did not receive the pope’s signature.

When the Church defined that a soul is created at conception, was it trying to scientifically explain conception?

No. It’s not trying to explain it, because that is a physical, scientific matter. As to the soul, that is non-material, and so science cannot speak authoritatively about it. Likewise, science can’t say anything about the soul. The minute a scientist does so, he is acting as a theologian or philosopher or both, not as a scientist.

The Church in Galileo’s time was concerned with the teaching that Man is the center of the universe, right?

Yes; but that in turn does not require geocentrism. I don’t see how it makes any difference, but that was the notion that had been passed down, and was from Aristotelianism.

Does the universe somehow illustrate that man is at the center?

The Anthropic Principle might be said to be one argument in that regard, used today. Most scientists today don’t want to do such a thing, and would relegate it to philosophy. I think, myself, that there is a borderline area between science, philosophy , and religion, where they all intersect, since science is itself derived from philosophy (empiricism) and presupposes metaphysical categories and existence and the trustworthiness of our senses for observation before it can get off the ground at all. Religion has many philosophical elements. Some philosophies are quasi-religious in either character or at least how they function in a person’s life.

But there is very little intelligent discussion about these “border areas” today. Only a few who understand the different areas to a decent degree even try to do so. It’s one of my big goals in my “general apologetics”: to bridge the gaps of these areas which are seen to almost be mutually exclusive. They are, in a sense, methodologically, but not altogether, when closely scrutinized.

May 26, 2019

This is a follow-up discussion: brought about by an atheist’s response to my article, “Atheist vs. Christian Ignorance of the Bible: A Brief Observation.” The words of gusbovona will be in blue.

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Atheist here.

1. Part of the problem atheists have with the Bible is that they suspect its god doesn’t care about communication with humans precisely because one must work to figure out exactly what the Bible means. Presumably the god of the Bible would know what would communicate effectively without the danger of mis-interpretation. And, a Bible that requires interpretation looks too much like a Bible with no deity behind it.

All books require interpretation, so why would it be the case, according to you, that somehow the Bible, granting for the sake of argument that it is inspired revelation from God, would be the simplest book in the world? I think that is actually the last thing we would reasonably expect in such a book. If the Bible were so simplistic that any young child could immediately grasp it, we can be assured that it would be roundly mocked by atheists even more than it is now. They would say, “you expect us to believe that this tripe was written by an infinitely intelligent, omniscient God?!” See my article: Why We Should Fully Expect Many “Bible Difficulties”.

It’s not so much a question of simplicity (although an argument can be made for the simpler, the better) as it is of the need for interpretation.

I grant that all writings need interpretation, but some need more than others, and the difference can be vast; the less interpretive difficulty, the better, in general, would you agree?; and the vast amount of interpretive difficulty with the Bible argues for a lack of divine influence.

There is a certain middle ground. I believe that the main doctrines of the Bible are indeed clear, once one attains a fair amount of familiarity with it (learns the basics of hermeneutics and exegesis and systematic theology). Then it’s relatively easy to interpret it. But history shows that folks, generally speaking, need guidance in terms of having definite answers: “the Bible / Christian faith teaches thus-and-so.” That is the role of an authoritative Church and tradition, which the Bible itself teaches the necessity of (I wrote four books about the topic of biblical and Church authority), and which is one of the strongest rationales for Catholicism and Orthodoxy, over against Protestantism.

Theological truth also entails complexities, the more one gets into it, just as science and philosophy do. Philosophers and logicians talk about elegant simplicity, but that doesn’t always hold. Relativity and quantum mechanics and black holes are very complex and counter-intuitive, but they are considered to be profoundly established in physics and astronomy, more so than Newtonian physics, which is simpler and far more intuitive.

The Bible also teaches that men do not understand the Bible and spiritual truths because of their own corruption and rebellion. Hence the Apostle Paul writes: “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, RSV). And Jesus taught the same:

Matthew 13:10-13 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [11] And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. [12] For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

This “spiritual” factor understood, it then becomes a causative factor in the ability to interpret Scripture properly. One has to be open to the things of God. If not, they won’t “get it.” And this is what I consistently see in atheist attempts to interpret the Bible. There is no willingness to properly learn (very little intellectual humility), and there is outright hostility. This is why I compare the atheist view of the Bible to a butcher’s view of a hog. The Christian views it as “Shakespeare from God” or as a wonderful painting, that has to be unpacked and revealed to be the marvel that it is. This takes some significant effort and labor, but it’s not at all impossible.

You are still conflating simplicity/complexity and interpretation. My point was about interpretation. Something very simple can still need to be interpreted correctly, and something complex can require very little interpretation.

Yeah, I agree. As I have argued, there are both simple and complex aspects to understanding the Bible and interpreting it.

***

2. Can you give an example of someone disrespecting the Bible?

I provided many in the links in the above paper. Here is one of my personal favorites, though, because of the astonishing and amusing ignorance of the view set forth: Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski).

It’s difficult for me to guess exactly what statement in the link you provided that was disrespectful. Can you just quote a single sentence or a paragraph? Or do you mean that mis-interpreting the Bible to contain an absurd cosmology is the disrespect itself?

The latter. But broadly speaking, to ask an apologist like me to list the ways in which atheists disrespect the Bible and Christianity is like asking me what I love about my wife (I’m very happily married). It’s very difficult to answer, because it’s a thousand things. So I provided a list of my articles that deal with this topic. The evidence is ample therein, and in many other dialogues of mine with atheists. Bob Seidensticker is Classic / Textbook Exhibit #1 of atheist biblical ignorance and hubris. And he challenged me to defend the Bible. Once I started doing so and refuting his nonsense, he fell off the face of the earth. What a coincidence . . . Please tell him “hello” from me if you ever talk to him, and let him know I’m still alive and kickin’. :-)

I didn’t ask you to list the ways that atheists disrespect the Bible. I asked you for an example. I can take the example of Biblical cosmology, but I didn’t want you think I was asking for a list, or even an exhaustive list.

***

3. You appear to trust your “long experience in dialogue” over a scientific study. Are you aware of the dangers of accepting one’s long experience in an empirical matter?

The topic is very complex. As I noted: “People have differing levels of understanding in all human groups.” It would highly depend on how the research was conducted (unfortunately, the link I thought I made to the study is not there), but, as with any large group, one has to take into account differing degrees of education. Thus, if we surveyed “Christians” completely at random, sure, we would see a lot of ignorance, since most Christians (to our shame) are poorly educated in theology: which is a large reason why I became a professional apologist.

The comparison needs to be between educated Christians, who understand Christian doctrine, and atheists who also have a fair degree of biblical knowledge (or claim to, anyway). This is where my experience in dialogue becomes quite relevant, because I think I have demonstrated over and over, that many atheists who make out that they are such experts on the Bible, are far from it. So, for instance, one could consider my 32 refutations of one atheist who makes these claims: Bob Seidensticker (I see that you follow his blog). He shows himself to be biblically and theologically ignorant (in matters of simple fact) and out to sea again and again.

Or one could observe how abominably ignorant Richard Dawkins: one of the most renowned atheists, is about Bible matters, in my paper on that: Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion”.

In other words, what we need to do is compare the most knowledgeable in each camp, not take some survey of Joe Blow Christian on the street vs. the typical atheist, who is usually relatively more educated (because they are usually persuaded to be an atheist in hyper-secularized academic settings).

I think you misunderstand my comment. I wasn’t talking about you disagreeing with atheists like Seidensticker, I was talking about you reaching a conclusion based on your personal experience even though it differed from a scientific study:

Grimlock: 

If the average atheist’s knowledge of the Bible is abominable, the average Christian seems to be even worse off. (At least in the US.) [source from Pew Research]

You: 

So I reject a view that holds that they are more ignorant of the Bible (as an entire class) than atheists. It’s a joke. And I know so for certain, from my own long experience in dialogue.

The two things are not mutually exclusive. As I have explained my view in much greater depth, it is seen, I think, that it’s perfectly complimentary to any of these studies. I freely grant that Christians en masse are scandalously ignorant of theology, too. So it is necessary to compare the “cream of the crop” of both camps, to make a penetrating, insightful comparison. You have to get a theologian or apologist like myself up against a proclaimed atheist “expert” on the Bible, to see how each party fares.

It seems to me that a survey that says that Christians know less about the Bible than atheists do is mutually exclusive with a conclusion (in your case, drawn on personal experience) that rejects the idea that Christians are more ignorant of the Bible than atheists.

***

 

Photo credit: Tobias Van Der Elst (7-16-17): Morteratsch, Canton of Graubunden, Switzerland [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

***

May 24, 2019

I made a statement: “Atheist knowledge of the Bible and exegesis (generally speaking) is abominable.”

Atheist “Grimlock” replied: Fun fact: If the average atheist’s knowledge of the Bible is abominable, the average Christian seems to be even worse off. (At least in the US.) [source from Pew Research]

I do love me some empiricism.

This is a major reason why I do what I do: I’m an educator. But at least Christians approach the Bible with respect, which makes it a lot more likely that they will figure out its true meaning: a lot more than those who approach it like a butcher approaches a hog, or a lumberjack, a tree. So I reject a view that holds that they are more ignorant of the Bible (as an entire class) than atheists. It’s a joke. And I know so for certain, from my own long experience in dialogue.

People have differing levels of understanding in all human groups. What is objectionable is the atheist who comes in, guns blazing, thinking they know so much more about the Bible than Christians do. Atheists generally pride themselves for being the “rational” and “scientific” people and constantly imply that Christians are neither. Hundreds of examples of that exist in my own dialogues alone.

Lastly, many atheists (especially the ones who love to pick at and mock the Bible and claim that it is filled with alleged “contradictions”) come from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds (I never did, myself). Invariably, when they attempt to interpret the Bible, they do it with that inherited fallacious and ignorant way of doing so, from fundamentalism (hyper-literalism and virtual ignoring of linguistic, contextual, cultural, and literary genre factors). Thus, they generally make two major mistakes:

1) They assume that all Christians are anti-intellectual fundamentalists, as they once were.

2) They assume that anti-intellectual hyper-literal, “wooden” biblical interpretation is the only sort that exists, or is the “mainline” approach.

Related Reading:

Atheist Bible “Scholarship” & “Exegesis” [3-18-03]

Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski) [9-17-06]

“Former Christian” Atheists & Theological Ignorance [7-21-10]

Dialogue w Atheist: Joseph of Arimathea “Contradictions” (??) (Lousy Atheist Exegesis Example #5672) [1-7-11]

Reply to Atheists: Defining a [Biblical] “Contradiction” [1-7-11]

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts [2-3-11]

“Butcher & Hog”: On Relentless Biblical Skepticism [9-21-15]

Genesis Contradictory (?) Creation Accounts & Hebrew Time: Refutation of a Clueless Atheist “Biblical Contradiction” [5-11-17]

Alleged “Bible Contradictions”: Most Are Actually Not So [6-8-17]

Atheist “Refutes” Sermon on the Mount (Or Does He?) [National Catholic Register, 7-23-17]

Reason, Science, & Logic Not the Exclusive Possessions of Atheists (+ Double Standards in How Christian Conversions are Treated, Compared to the Often Chilly Reception of Critiques of Atheist Deconversion Stories / Atheist “Exegesis” of the “Doubting Thomas” Passage) [7-24-17]

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion” [5-25-18]

Atheist Botched Biblical Exegesis: Example #4,974 [7-23-17; expanded on 7-3-18]

Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities [9-25-18]

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2 [10-2-18]

Seidensticker Folly #25: Jesus’ Alleged Mustard Seed Error [10-8-18]

Bible “Contradictions” & Plausibility (Dialogue w Atheist) [12-17-18]

Biblical Knowledge of Atheist “DagoodS” as a Christian (Specifically, the Biblical [and Patristic] Teaching on Abortion) [12-13-10; expanded on 3-14-19]

Reply to Flimsy Atheist Biblical “Exegesis” #145,298 [4-5-19]

Seidensticker Folly #32: Sophistically Redefining “Contradiction” [4-20-19]

***

(originally on Facebook, 7-5-18)

Photo credit: The Dunce (1886), by Harold Copping (1863-1932) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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March 21, 2019

Catholic writer Mark Shea has recently written two posts (one / two) having to do with the beautiful African-American folk song, or spiritual, Kumbaya (which probably dates from the 1920s). His point (as usual), is to bash political conservatives, but (also as usual when he does that), he is dead-wrong and, I think, entirely misses the point. Here are two examples of his choice remarks:

I was somewhat taken aback with the surprisingly bitter contempt heaped on certain songs and, in particular, for the raging hatred so routinely poured out on ‘Kumbayah’. I’ve always kind of liked it and have been made to feel for 30 years as though sticking my neck out to say that was to invite the disgust of all Right-Thinking Catholics Everywhere.

We live in an age of ‘thoughts and prayers’ Christian conservatives who use words, empty piety, and respect for symbols as a prophylactic against the weightier matters of the law. The idea that one can heap contempt on kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, love, joy, peace, patience and any talk of social justice is now endemic among super-Catholics, right next to the idea that ritual or theological correctness is all that matters.  The idea that getting your words and rituals correct is the opposite of the fruits of the Spirit is utterly foreign to the New Testament.  May God heal the schism between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

He cites his friend, Catholic writer Sherry Weddell as well:

[I]in the Catholic world – especially online – I heard the term “Kumbaya” used over and over by white “conservative Catholics” as an expression of contemptuous disDain [sic] for any kind of Catholic practice associated with the honoring of kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, love, joy, peace, patience. Any talk of social justice and of repentance was also Kumbaya.

And again:

I refuse to waste another nanosecond of time hearing some culture war conservative heap scorn on “Kumbaya”. Don’t waste your breath around me.

As one of these dreadful, pitiable, ultra-compromised political conservatives (i.e., according to the Gospel of Mark, one of those who denies the gospel and Christ, idolatrously worships antichrist Trump as a cult follower, is not really pro-life, and is a “Christianist” rather than Catholic), I have nothing whatsoever against the song. I like it (as I love many folks songs): particularly the soul-moving Joan Baez recording of it.

We used to sing it at pro-life rescues in the late 1980s, along with other songs common among the civil rights protesters of the early 60s (such as Eyes on the Prize). Now, I can only speak for myself, and not for tens of millions of conservatives (who, no doubt, have many diverse opinions, just as any large social group does), but I think Mark is missing the mark (no pun intended) by a wide margin.

As far as I have seen (and of course, speaking generally), the sarcastic or contemptuous conservative reference to Kumbaya is not to the song itself, but rather, refers to the naivete and mindless utopianism of many liberals and leftists: symbolism over substance: “talking the talk but not walking the walk”; engaging in mere self-congratulatory verbal rhetoric, rather than actually doing something to help struggling people and to solve various social problems.

I know for sure that this is how I have heard Rush Limbaugh (no small conservative influence) reference the song, many times, when he talks about liberals getting together, “throwing Frisbees for peace, lighting candles, and singing Kumbaya” (in other words, doing the touchy-feely, warm fuzzy stuff — fine as far as it goes — but not acting upon these impulses, to actually bring about positive social change. Here is an altogether typical example of Rush referring to it in this way (I’ve listened to his show off and on for now almost thirty years):

In 2008, 2012, “Obama’s gonna make it all happen: Utopia, end climate change, promote love and peace, end racism, all of that!” In 2008: Nobel Peace Prize, on the come. Obama hadn’t done anything. But just his presence, just his aura, just his existence, was gonna cause the bad guys of the world to lay down their arms and join hands and sing kumbaya. But what really happened? President Obama went on to become a veritable warmonger. (5-22-18)

That is what conservatives are driving at in mentioning the song at all. But — I can’t emphasize enough, it’s not the song itself, or what its lyrics express, but rather, how it is used in these “rituals” of “do-nothing feel-good-ism”.

It reminds me of the way the John Lennon song Imagine is viewed (as this big anthem of love and peace and harmony). I’m a huge Beatles and John Lennon fan, and love the song itself (as a melody). I have a review of the remastered Sgt. Pepper album that is on the first page of the Amazon listing (out of 3,035 reviews!). But here, John failed lyrically, and delivered a disastrous message.

The song starts out with, “Imagine there’s no heaven . . .” and later he wishes for “no religion, too.” And I always think, “yes, that thought absolutely terrifies me.” The gist of the song is typical Marxist post-religious messianic utopianism: if only we could get Christianity out of the way, there would be peace and harmony everywhere.

Hogwash!  Nothing could be more opposite of the truth. John was in one of his always-temporary phases at the time: infatuation with Marxism. In fact, a few years later (after going through about four more phases) he seriously entertained becoming an evangelical Christian, till his wife put an end to it.

In that case, the words itself were objectionable. But the song has become a symbol (with an outrageously false premise), regardless of what its lyrics convey. Kumbaya has become a symbol, too, and its association with mindless utopianism is what we conservatives object to.

When I read Mark’s posts, I was curious about the specifics of my own references to Kumbaya. I knew that I had mentioned it in the fashion that I have described. With word-search capabilities, I easily found seven usages in my own articles on Patheos. Here they are, with brief present commentary in blue:

*****

1) The way to get beyond that is not to put our heads in the sand and go throw a Frisbee and sing Kumbaya around the fire, ending the night with a group hug. It’s talking it through: listening to each other; interacting with opposing arguments. That’s how adult Christians should be able to resolve things. But if some people want to manifest that they cannot engage in a discussion without getting angry and insulting, then it’s a free country. All I can do is delete the worst offenses. (The Preference of Receiving Holy Communion from a Priest, 12-18-13)

Here I was calling for mature, adult back-and-forth discussion of internal Catholic differences, rather than pretending we have some sort of “unity” when we do not in fact have it.

2) Catholics have community, precisely because we are united around this set of truths called “Catholicism.” It’s not just arbitrary: “hey, look, a billion people all believe thus-and-so, so I’m gonna go join in and throw Frisbees and sing Kumbaya!” It’s based on the finding of a real truth that really is there: “true truth,” as Francis Schaeffer called it. Thus, those of us who follow that ancient Christian tradition are classified as infantile nuts, because we are still so silly as to believe that we can know truth with certitude, in Christ, and in His Church. (Radically Unbiblical Protestant “Quest for Uncertainty”, 2-12-14)

True unity is found in the Catholic Church: grounded in its doctrines and moral teachings and tradition, not merely “a billion people” supposedly all agreeing on a relatively superficial level.

3) Once again, an atheist came onto my page, guns blazing, was banned, and now he is crying in his beer and gathering all his like-minded cronies about him, group hugging, with lots of warm fuzzies,  singing of Kumbaya (oops! atheists don’t sing that, do they?), and whining and crying about how nasty all the wicked Christians are (me foremost of all, of course), who deign to ban a person who violates their blog rules. This is the second time in the last ten days that an entire atheist “feeding frenzy” thread was devoted to how nasty, terrible and all-around unsavory and stinky I am. I’m Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler, all wrapped into one hideous beast. (I Actually Enforce My Discussion Policy (What a Novelty!), 10-31-15)

I was mocking an atheist whom I banned for uncivil behavior, noting that he went and surrounded himself with a bunch of fellow clones in a groupthink effort to “prove” what a nasty beast and all-around unsavory fellow I am for simply enforcing simple rules of moderation and constructive online discourse.

4) Obviously, we had to utterly defeat the Nazis. That was the existential threat to the world 75 years ago. Likewise, today, we have to utterly defeat ISIS. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be, and many more thousands will die as a result of our stupidity, cowardice, and appeasement. So we need to go and defeat them ASAP, and thereby eliminate the problem that is (largely) causing the refugees and the terrorist acts. That is more compassionate, because it saves exponentially many more lives of innocent people. When will we ever learn from history? It’s so absolutely frustrating. This ain’t rocket science. The problem won’t “dry up” and go away by means of our putting our heads in the sand and throwing Frisbees and singing Kumbaya. (Re Refugee & Terrorist Crises (My $00.02), 11-21-15)

I was making the point, again, that we had to do something about the refugee crisis, brought about in the Middle East by ISIS. Trump did exactly that, by virtually annihilating ISIS, while Obama had done nothing. So who cared more about the children and other innocent refigee victims?

5) Presidents Clinton and Obama, following Chamberlain’s noble lead, prevented nuclear conflict with North Korea all this time. Who does Trump think he is, to mess with all that peace? Trump needs to learn the wimpy, spineless jellyfish appeasing method of diplomacy, so we can be in a nuclear-free world. If only he does that, then Kim will tie all his nuclear missiles to a giant Frisbee and let them float up to orbit, while we all sing Kumbaya together and get back to agreeing about butchering preborn children: the one mass murder we all can agree is perfectly acceptable. (Trump’s Inadequate Rebukes of Rocket Man & Neo-Nazis, 8-13-17)

President Trump actually took concrete steps to get rid of the nuclear threat of North Korea, as opposed to the appeasing mentality of Neville Chamberlain (with Hitler) and Presidents Clinton and Obama. They were, as Trump says, “all talk and no action.” After the second attempt, when he walked away, even liberals praised his sensible realism and unwillingness to compromise on principle.

6) Then at length, the Protestants offered the world the spectacle of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), in which Calvinists anathematized the Arminians (a vast majority of today‘s Protestants) who dared to disagree with their extreme and false doctrines. This was no Kumbaya / “isn’t it great that we’re all one big happy family and not Catholics?!” lovefest among fellow Protestants who had honest disagreements, to be amiably worked out over ale or rum, with chicken legs, by a warm fire. (Critique of Ten Exaggerated Claims of the “Reformation”, 10-31-17)

Here I was sarcastically mocking the oft-heard Protestant claims of a broad unity amongst themselves, over against us wicked Catholics. When they actually met together formally and discussed doctrine, a hundred years after their Revolt began, the above was what occurred. Even the common contempt towards the Catholic Church didn’t suffice to create real, tangible doctrinal unity.

7) The “progressive” trend against this sort of outrage and in favor of “a common humanity” was, so [Richard] Dawkins informs us, derived from “deeply unbiblical ideas that come from biological science, especially evolution”(p. 271). Okay. Materialistic evolution (which forbids God to play any role in it at all, according to Dawkins and atheists generally) fosters respect for life and commonness among all humankind. Wonderful! Ah, but wait! Dawkins utterly contradicts all of this touchy-feely, warm fuzzy Kumbaya love for one and all in the following proclamation: [I cite his words] . . . This grotesque” “scientism” mentality then leads to the evil justifying of abortion, and for that matter, to the ritual human sacrifice of born children by the Incas, Aztecs, and many other cultures (though Dawkins seems utterly unaware of that logical consequence of his stated position). (Richard Dawkins’ Outrageous Hypocrisy on Abortion, 5-21-18)

Dawkins engages in touchy-feely mindless utopianism, based on the excess of scientism (which is not simply love of science, but making science the epistemological “be all and end all”): all the while ignoring the plight of the smallest and most helpless and innocent among mankind: the preborn child.

*****

Lo and behold (irony of ironies), I even found an example of Mark Shea himself referring to Kumbaya in a similar way to the above, in a post of his that I host on my own blog:

The Pope [Pope St. John Paul II], of all people, is almost uniquely aware of the difference between utopianism and Christian faith (he’s lived under two utopian systems). He’s written extensively on the impossibility of utopian schemes. . . . So I think it extremely unlikely that he now imagines that the goal is a secular utopia of religious leaders singing Kumbaya. Rather, I think it obvious he is acting on the sensible counsel of Lumen Gentium to work in common with people of good will for what can be achieved while, of course, not sacrificing the truth that the Church’s revelation is — alone — the fullness of God’s revelation. (Defense of 2nd Ecumenical Gathering at Assisi (Mark Shea), 2-6-02)

There you go, Mark. The way you referenced it is the way we lowly, contemptible conservatives also do. Not that you will correct yourself . . .

As we saw above, Mark’s ultimate concern (if we can look past his ubiquitous and wrongheaded insults) was a worthy one (but wrongly applied in a broad, prejudicial, most unfair way to conservatives). He wants to combine good works with faith: a thoroughly Catholic and biblical impulse. And so he wrote in his second article:

I’m working on a book on the creed. One of the things I’m realizing is that a considerable discussion needs to happen, centering around Jesus’ saying, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” He ends with the stark and terrifying warning that those who do this will be told “I never knew you.  Depart from me, you evildoers.”  There is no comparable warning to those who do as he says but do not call him Lord.  It’s almost as though he cares more about obedience than about empty words, “thoughts and prayers”. It’s the same lesson as the parable of the sheep and the goats. . . .

It’s also the same lesson as the parable of the two son who were asked to work in the vineyard by their Father.  The one son said ‘yes’ but did not go.  The other said ‘no’ and then went and worked.  Which did the will of his Father?

Yes! I totally agree. I write about this all the time: especially when I am refuting Protestant faith alone mentalities. And this, in fact, was my primary emphasis in my thoughts, in mentioning Kumbaya sarcastically or tongue-in-cheek. We have to do much more than simply engage in empty, shallow symbolic rhetoric and feel the warm fuzzies and good liberal Woodstock vibrations. And so, to sum up my seven instances in this particular regard:

1) We have to really solve Catholic internal difference by serious dialogue; not pretend they don’t exist.

2) Catholicism provides the basis and “glue” for a truly real and profound unity, not just a pretended commonality.

3) I noted how an atheist couldn’t be civil with us Christians, and as a result retreated into his clonelike enclave of back-slapping insulting atheists. I’m not saying that all atheists are that way, but this group was, and such cliquish tribalism is very common online among all belief-systems.

4) We can’t just talk about how much we want to help poor refugee children in the Middle East. We need to take concrete steps: in this instance, annihilate the ISIS monsters.

5) We had to do something concrete to alleviate or at least lessen the North Korean nuclear threat. Trump did that, while all the Presidents before him back to 1953 sat on their hands.

6) Protestants have not actually exhibited some supposed marvelous internal unity. One prime example of that was their synod in 1618-1619. Lots of utopian, vaguely or subliminally anti-Catholic, naive talk; no true unity.

7) Atheist Richard Dawkins talks a good game about human togetherness and “common humanity”: deriving from his religion of materialistic evolutionism: all the while hideously excluding children in their mother’s wombs.

I don’t see how Mark could or would disagree with any of this, save for my #5, in which The Abominable Beast Trump did a very good thing. That’s not possible, according to Mark, because he is the antichrist (just like Trump is not truly [wink wink] a pro-lifer, either. Right). So if we took out Trump and kept the other six examples, along with Mark’s own, we see that there is no hostility towards Kumbaya whatsoever: not one shred or iota.

The point I was making every time was that we need to act upon our expressed ideals; not just engage in empty words and sit on our butts, never intending to act upon them. This is precisely what Jesus calls us to do:

Matthew 7:21 (RSV) “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

And so (whaddya know!) it turns out that the conservative impulse and motivation in this respect is precisely like the (proclaimed) best liberal intentions (not to mention biblical commands from our Lord Jesus and St. Paul): words must be merged with action: faith and works: walk and talk, not just talk alone (sola verbe?). Mark’s two posts are divisive and will separate Catholics and promote further mutual suspicion and hostility. But I write for the sake of better mutual understanding and unity.

I humbly inquire: which approach between these two (mine and Mark’s) is more biblical and Christlike? Is it better to be conciliatory and to seek unity among Catholics, or to misrepresent other Catholics in the effort to perpetuate yet more needless division and unbiblical, unethical tribalism?

***

Mark Shea chimed in about this article, after I announced it underneath one of his two:

No. It’s about Kumbaya. And a religious cult that spends its waking hours passionately defending a gutless coward who stays up till all hours tweeting his hatred of a dead man who was tortured for his country while the coward was lying about bone spurs and being treated for venereal disease as his ‘personal Vietnam’ has lost all right to pontificate about ‘mindless naivete’.

I haven’t analyzed the latest controversy regarding John McCain at all. I have stated in the past that Trump’s earlier remarks about McCain’s captivity in Vietnam were dumb and indefensible. So as usual, Mark is dead-wrong about me (assuming for a moment that this has any relevance at all to the topic at hand; it really doesn’t).

And this is what passes as “rational argument” from him. It’s equal parts pathetic and absurd and sad.

***

Photo credit: Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the Civil Rights March on Washington, 8-28-63. Provided by the National Archives and Records Administration [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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March 11, 2019

I wrote the following on my old blog (1-7-11), to a Christian friend who was basically saying that we should ignore atheists:

I think we can be friends with atheists by stressing the many things that we still hold in common. I get along far better with them than I do with anti-Catholic Protestants (because the latter position is largely prejudice-based and immediately viciously self-contradictory). Not all of ’em, but ones like DagoodS (and there are a considerable number like him) who are able and willing to engage in normal discourse . . .

Within a friendship there can be friendly debate and back-and-forth (think of, e.g., Chesterton and Shaw, or Bertrand Russell and Fr. Copleston). I immensely enjoy it, myself. My apologetic, philosophical, inquiring mind tires of always talking with Christians I agree with. I want challenge and stimulation. I’m a Christian first but I am also a thinker, and the thinker likes stimulation and challenge and broadening of intellectual horizons.

Thirdly, I like to offer dialogues as a pedagogical, teaching method, to illustrate the faults and flaws (in this instance) of atheist thinking. I don’t expect to convince DagoodS (ain’t holding my breath), but I can show many hundreds, maybe eventually thousands of others that his reasoning doesn’t fly, when he attacks the Bible and/or Christianity. I do that by directly confronting and refuting it.

And who knows? DagoodS and other atheists and agnostics might be convinced in the long run, at least of some things. C. S. Lewis was an atheist. Tolkien and others didn’t ignore him. They befriended him, and he eventually came around. Many other cases have occurred. I used to be a “practical atheist” myself (living as if God’s existence makes no difference in life). I did that pretty much the first 18 years of my life. If Christians had ignored me I might still be in that place (though I highly doubt it).

Atheists almost certainly ain’t gonna come around if we shun and insult them and psychoanalyze their interior motivations. We can go after their arguments, though. And I do that vigorously!

DagoodS may have ill motives (just like anyone might). I don’t know that, and I would say it is very difficult to know. I prefer to stick to a man’s arguments and leave his soul to God and his closest friends: with whom he shares his deepest thoughts and motivations.

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[added on 12-12-18] I did enjoy my debates with DagoodS [listed under his name on my Atheism web page]. Of course, I think I prevailed, but he gave it the old college try, and I admire his zeal, enthusiasm, and passion for what he feels to be the true and the good. I think inquisitive, thoughtful people can benefit from our dialogues, and be challenged one way or the other.

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[the following dates from 7-21-10 and was entitled, “Why Atheists and Christians Should Talk to Each Other and Debate the Issues”]

I think a large part of the problem on both sides of the atheist-Christian discussion (to the extent that there actually is any at all) is that we too often call each other names and misrepresent each others’ positions. Atheists think Christians are dumbbells and that the Bible is filled with absurdities and makes no sense.

Christians, on the other hand, too often regard atheists as utterly rebellious, wicked folks who have no ethical principle. So it’s “‘stupid’ vs. ‘wicked.'” Political debates usually amount to largely the same dynamic. It gets very wearisome.

Both are ridiculous stereotypes, and if we try to get along together in this world and seek any common ground whatever, both sides need to get past that. I’m trying to do what little I can as one person to change the poisoned atmosphere.

People talking to each other and trying to understand each other as human beings is where it’s at. We have far more in common than I think most on either side realize.

Atheists will have to be with lots of Christians; especially in America, so it is in their interest to better understand them. Likewise, atheism is a growing movement, and Christians would do well to truly understand what makes atheists tick and what motivates them. Talk, talk, talk (and read the other guys’ stuff), is the only way to do that.

I respect anyone who makes an attempt to grapple with important issues that face all of us, and who uses reason to do so. That includes atheists.

I have far more intellectual respect for an honest atheist (and I think most are that) than I do for an anti-Catholic Protestant who says I (as a Catholic) am not a Christian or a liberal Christian who plays around with Christianity and hardly believes what he purports to believe in the first place, or a raving fundamentalist who thinks that Christianity and reason and common sense and higher culture are almost mutually exclusive.

Respect for thinking and for ethics is what we have in common, so sure, I can respect an atheist insofar as those things are concerned. I don’t have to take a position that they are all raving lunatics and simpletons (or wicked, etc.).

There are people like that in both camps, to be sure, but to put everyone in one box is absurd and profoundly intolerant as well. We don’t have to agree with a person to have a measure of respect for that person’s overall view and his or her person.

It takes a lot of patience on both sides to have the Christian-atheist discussion, and it can get very frustrating dealing with people who look at things very differently from the way we do. That works the same way whatever we believe.

I have my moments when I get fed up, too, believe me. But I think it’s a discussion worth having (i.e., the whole Christianity vs. atheism thing) as long as there is an atheist around who wants to keep talking and to keep it on a friendly level.

Some things bind most atheists together (as with any group). In other ways, they are different. Same thing with Christians. Atheists generalize about Christians every bit as much as Christians do about them. I have condemned lousy stereotypes on both sides.

The Dawkins / Hitchens mentality doesn’t do anyone any good (not even atheists, I would submit): anymore than the “angry feminist” or “angry Marxist” or “angry black man” or “[materialistic] evolutionists fighting the ID folks to the death” impress anyone who is truly interested in the world of ideas and actual dialogue. There has to be a certain rudimentary calmness, charity, and tolerance.

Both sides gotta chill out and talk to each other and establish friendships if possible. And we can learn from each other about various issues. The approach to discussion and tolerance for opposing views and respect for reasoning and science and dialogue in general is the common ground that we have.

It’s becoming a lost art in our society (assuming if it was ever “found”), and I am frequently disturbed by that, myself. Civil discussion and seeking greater understanding of other viewpoints is what it’s about. I like to be stimulated by opposition. I’ve made a whole apologetic career out of that. cool

People (of all stripes of belief) are so often reluctant to make any effort to understand a different viewpoint. That has to stop. Someone has to try to make an effort to change that in some fashion. Otherwise we are left with shouting matches, back-patting clubs, and mocking and belittling.

I argue my positions passionately, but I fully agree: it doesn’t have to be personal, and there is no need to demonize the other person and consider them a “bad” person just because of what they may believe.

Conversation in our society (and above all, on the Internet) has become so intolerant, trivial, or insubstantial, and often literally an insult to anyone with any intelligence or wits, that it’s like finding a needle in a haystack to stumble upon some solid challenging dialogue and people actually using their heads for a change.

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Related Reading:

Secular Humanism & Christianity: Seeking Common Ground (with Sue Strandberg) [5-25-01]

Are Atheists “Evil”? Multiple Causes of Atheist Disbelief and the Possibility of Salvation [2-17-03]

16 Atheists / Agnostics & Me (At a Meeting) [11-24-10]

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(originally  7-21-10 and 1-7-11 )

Photo credit: geralt [PublicDomainPictures.NetCC0 Public Domain]

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February 18, 2019

Mini-Dialogue with an Atheist

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This is from my analysis of the deconversion story (i.e., from Christianity to atheism) of “Anthrotheist”: a very pleasant, enjoyable dialogue. I have slightly revised it and added many links. His words will be in blue.

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I honestly didn’t ever intend to claim that the Bible was meant to be a science textbook, but hasn’t it served at various points in history as exactly that?

Sometimes it is misunderstood as that, by less sophisticated and insufficiently educated Christians.

Wasn’t the position of the church for at least some time that the Earth must be the center of the universe exactly because of a passage about the Earth being set on its foundations and the sun and moon moving about it?

Yes. Later it was better understood that that was phenomenological language: the same sort that all of us use every day: “the sun comes up and goes down.” Or some of the language was poetic and not intended to be literal (as was done in describing God Himself too: what is called anthropomorphism and anthropopathism).

Without knowledge of heliocentrism (or any science at all), it’s perfectly logical (and not absurd) to assume or conclude that we are stationary and it’s the sun that is moving. And many great scientists did that, too (backed up also by Aristotle and other notable philosophers). At least one great scientist did even after Copernicus (Tycho Brahe).

I know that it describes the creation of the world, and that description counters many current understandings of the order in which things had to happen; literal readings of scripture aside, when a text says “First this, second this, third that,” and so on, that isn’t at all poetical or allegorical.

The ancient Hebrews had very different conceptions of chronology and time, and often, texts that we casually interpret as literally chronological, were not intended to be (I’ve written about the Hebrew conception of time). Early Genesis is a combination of symbolic language (trees and picking fruit, talking serpents) and some real, literal things (the earth did have a beginning — as science also tells us –; there was a primal human pair, who did “fall” and rebel against God).

The word for “day” (yom) was understood to not have to be literal, at least as far back as St. Augustine (d. 430). Nor do Catholics believe that the Flood was global. The language there was partially figurative or non-literal.

I suppose the point that I am trying to make is that it is all well and good to say in modernity, “the Bible isn’t a science textbook,” exactly because we now have science textbooks. Prior to that invention, far more stock was put in the Bible’s capacity to explain the world, and that stock has only receded in response to the epistemological successes of science.

Yeah; science (originating in a Christian worldview, not an atheist one; formulated in Christian and medieval minds) was a great advance in human knowledge about the material world, and even interpretation of the Bible was improved because of it. I think that’s great. It didn’t prove that the Bible was wrong; only that we interpreted it wrongly in some respects. Biblical interpretation is a human field of knowledge where we can improve and do better over time. The Bible itself didn’t change, but over time our understanding of it can improve.

That is the loss that I refer to. It isn’t that the church has tried to stymie science, just that by its own hand it has limited the Bible to spiritual matters (whether that amounts to a diminishing of the Bible’s stature is another matter, and I suspect that you don’t believe that it is at all).

The Bible is primarily about spiritual matters. When it touches upon matters that are scientific in nature it is not inconsistent with science. We believe that God created the universe ex nihilo. Science eventually figured out that it began in an instant with a Big Bang (the theory was formulated by a Catholic priest-scientist), which was not inconsistent with our existing view at all. It’s quite harmonious with it. Science came up with evolution (conceived in a then-theist — not atheist — mind, by Charles Darwin).

Nothing in the Bible requires us to believe that Adam was necessarily created in an instant. It says that God made Him from the dust (“the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground”: Gen 2:7, RSV). The “formed” could very well have been a process of millions of years, from matter. It’s interesting that it doesn’t say that God created man out of nothing, but rather, from the dust (matter). To me, that almost implies process itself.

Thus, there is no necessary contradiction. The real contradiction comes with materialistic science, that attempts (inconsistently, among some scientists) to rule out God as impossible in the whole process (even with regard to ultimate origins). That contradicts Catholicism and the Bible (and I would say, logic as well). But evolution itself does not, as long as God isn’t arbitrarily / dogmatically excluded from the process.

And so on and so forth. No unanswerable contradiction between Christianity and science has been demonstrated.

See my related papers:

Old Earth, Flood Geology, Local Flood, & Uniformitarianism (vs. Kevin Rice) [5-25-04; many defunct links removed and new ones added: 5-10-17]

Galileo: The Myths and the Facts [5-11-06]

Dialogue on the Galileo Fiasco and the State of Scientific and Astronomical Knowledge in 1633 (vs. Eric G.) [5-13-06]

Adam & Eve, Cain, Abel, & Noah: Historical Figures [2-20-08]

Richard Dawkins & Double Standards of the “Religion vs. Science” Mentality / Galileo Redux [3-20-08]

“No One’s Perfect”: Scientific Errors of Galileo and 16th-17th Century Cosmologies [7-29-10]

Christianity: Crucial to the Origin of Science [8-1-10]

Christian Influence on Science: Master List of Scores of Bibliographical and Internet Resources (Links) [8-4-10]

33 Empiricist Christian Thinkers Before 1000 AD [8-5-10]

Christians or Theists Founded 115 Scientific Fields [8-20-10]

Noah’s Flood & Catholicism: Basic Facts [8-18-15]

Do Carnivores on the Ark Disprove Christianity? [9-10-15]

Galileo, Bellarmine, & Scientific Method [10-20-15]

Science and Christianity (Copious Resources) [11-3-15]

Dialogue with an Agnostic on Catholicism and Science [9-12-16]

New Testament Evidence for Noah’s Existence [National Catholic Register, 3-11-18]

Modernism vs. History in Genesis & Biblical Inspiration [7-23-18]

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(originally 8-14-18 on Facebook; rev. 2-18-19)

Photo credit: Noah’s Ark and the Flood [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]

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