Same Method, Same Results

Same Method, Same Results July 14, 2014

Fred Clark wrote the following in a post about the clobber texts for slavery:

But the larger problem is this: We have concluded that some of our foremost and most influential theologians, pastors, and biblical scholars were utterly wrong about a monumentally important matter of biblical truth. Yet, because we choose not to explore why or how they were wrong, we are unable to learn from their grievous mistake. We have no way of knowing whether or not we are, in fact, repeating their mistake. We have no way of avoiding such a repetition.

And since we have otherwise wholly and uncritically adopted their theology and their precise approach to the Bible, such a repetition of their mistake seems not just likely, but inevitable.

 

 

 


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  • Korou

    There’s something I want to say about this, but I’m afraid it may not be well received. I hope it can turn into a productive discussion, not an argument, because I do mean it as a serious point.
    Is it true to say that some of our foremost theologians were wrong about this issue? Because it does seem clear that the Bible does endorse slavery. I understand that Fred Clark’s view on this is that Christians should understand Jesus’ commandments to love one another as being against slavery; but that’s never explicitly stated; it seems more reasonable to suppose that what Jesus meant was to love others and be good to them, but that this simply didn’t count when it came to slaves.

    As an atheist, I don’t see this as a problem. I don’t believe that the pro-slavery theologians and pastors were wrong about the Bible saying that God endorsed slavery, just that they were wrong about thinking they should follow the Bible; and I don’t believe that people needed to look at the Bible and say that actually it was anti-slavery, just that they needed to look at slavery and say that it was wrong.

    So what I’m saying is this: is it that we have to work out why the pastors and theologians who read the Bible and thought it endorsed slavery were wrong – or do we have to work out why the people who wrote the Bible thought it was right?

    • I believe that Fred Clark would agree with your point as stated in your second paragraph. Certainly I do, as a liberal Christian, and for what it’s worth, liberal Christians made this point before atheists did, I believe. fred’s point, as I understood it, is that adherence to the notion if Biblical inerrancy has led Christians to adopt stances of which their descendants were ashamed, but those descendants, because they adopt the same approach to the Bible, will inevitably hold views that their own descendants will be ashamed of. Because of their belief in Biblical inerrancy, they will insist that it was merely their interpretation of the Bible that was wrong, and not the Bible itself. But that is part of the problem which Fred is trying to address.

      Whether various New Testament figures didn’t think slavery was a problem, or thought that the imminent end of the world would resolve it so they didn’t need to do anything other than wait, is another matter.

      • Gene

        James, if I understand what you are saying (Fred Clark’s view irrelevant to my question), it seems as if you are saying that the Bible itself is wrong. Do I understand you correctly?

        If that is the case, then why base any argument pro or con on it?

        • James Walker

          why do you seem to be presuming that if the Bible is wrong on one point it must follow that it is wrong on all points? we don’t hold other historical literature to the same standard, do we? I seem to recall that I studied Aristotle and Descartes in my college philosophy classes although later thinkers have superseded much of what they wrote…

          • Korou

            I think the argument is more like this: if the Bible is wrong on one point then we cannot know which other points it is wrong on. Indeed, we cannot know which points it is right on. Therefore, we cannot know if the Bible is trustworthy or not.
            I don’t think that the thoughts of great philosophers can be comparable; there’s nothing riding on whether you agree with them or not, but that’s not the case with the Bible. The question of which parts of it are correct are of enormous importance. Is the Earth six thousand years old? Does God hate gays? Does the Bible support slavery? And so on. In short, the Bible is not “historical literature” – it is allegedly the Word of God.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “the argument is more like this: if the Bible is wrong on one
            point then we cannot know which other points it is wrong on. Indeed, we
            cannot know which points it is right on.”

            Sure you can. How do we determine whether any piece of writing is “wrong” or “right”? , , ,using one’s intellect and experience.

            The Bible being a strict equation to “the Word of God” is primarily a fundamentalist invention of the last few hundred years. It doesn’t itself claim such a pedestal.

          • Gene

            The books that are included in the Bible are considered canonical, those that are not are considered non-canonical no matter how much they might be valued by the Christian community. What does it mean that a particular writing was considered canonical?

            To accepted as canonical means that the writing in question was seen as acceptable as a rule for faith and practice. That is what it means for a particular writing to be accepted as part of the canon — that it is accepted as a rule for faith and practice.

            This doesn’t have anything to do with conservative or fundamentalist interpretations of “the Word of God.” It is an entirely catholic (small “c”) concept, that was part of the universal teaching of the church when the canon of scripture was established. That which was included in the canon was seen as being accepted as a rule for faith and practice; it was the standard by which one could measure the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of the faith and practice on individuals. So, contrary to whatever it is you’ve been swallowing lately, it is NOT “primarily a fundamentalist invention of the last few hundred years.”

            So, what James appears to be suggesting, and you appear to be defending, Andrew (and I ask both of you to correct me if I am reading into what you have written something different than what you are intending), is that though the material is to be accepted as a rule of faith and practice, it can still provide wrong guidance and that our own human intellect is a better source for such guidance.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “That is what it means for a particular writing to be accepted as part of the canon — that it is accepted as a rule for faith and practice.”

            I generally agree with that.

            “So, contrary to whatever it is you’ve been swallowing lately, it is NOT “primarily a fundamentalist invention of the last few hundred years.”

            I would not equate with the Bible being accepted as a “rule for faith and practice” as at all equivalent to post Reformation conceptions of “biblical authority.” The Patristics certainly regarded the Bible highly, but their exegesis, generally speaking, was much “looser” than modern day conservative evangelicals who treat the Bible as if the writers were temporarily taken over by a spirit as they were writing and then the spirit departed the author when the ink dried.

            “that though the material is to be accepted as a rule of faith and practice, it can still provide wrong guidance”

            I can only speak for myself, but yes I would say the Bible can provide wrong guidance, just as the fallible human beings who chose what and what not was canonized could have made errors in determining what was “inspired” and what was not.

            “and that our own human intellect is a better source for such guidance.”

            You can’t divorce the necessity of human intellect/understanding from anything . .it proves our ultimate foundational source whether we want to admit it or not. The biblical authors used their intellect to write the books of the Bible. Any human conception of the divine stems from the sensory and processing capabilities of the human brain.

          • Gene

            Given that this thread in the comments began with my comment/question to James, I’m pretty sure that I know what it is that I was equating the Bible to in my mind. And it isn’t the strawman of dictated text you imply above.

          • Andrew Dowling

            My original reply in this thread wasn’t to you, it was to Korou.

            Yes you say are aren’t “following the strawman of dictated text” but you also imply you have major reservations with the Bible proclaiming errors . . .if you proclaim the latter I think you need to logically also accept the notion of interventionist forces ensuring certain human texts were devoid of erroneous teachings.

          • Gene

            No, you (incorrectly) infer that I have a problem with the Bible proclaiming errors.

            I do think there is a difference between acknowledging that the Bible is not inerrant and flat out saying that the Bible is wrong. That is why I asked the questions of James that I did. I wanted to be sure I understood what it was he was (or was not) saying.

          • Apologies for the delay in chiming in. I won’t presume to speak for Fred Clark, who has articulated his own views in enough places. I view the canon as a collection of fallible human writings which are important as among the earliest as well as the most influential texts from the Jewish and then subsequently the Christian tradition. They provide evidence of development and disagreement within themselves, and so invite us to continue to develop and dialogue and disagree.

          • Korou

            Then how is it that so many people have so many different ideas about what any particular part of the Bible means, and none of them are able to disprove the others?
            In this case, using one’s intellect and experience is cut loose from the real world; people can claim that the Bible means virtually anything. You know that there are Bible-believing Christians on both sides of just about any issue, and all of them can give good reasons for why they are right.
            So where does this leave us?

          • Bethany

            “if the Bible is wrong on one point then we cannot know which other
            points it is wrong on. Indeed, we cannot know which points it is right
            on.”

            Seems to me that you can make a similar statement about any human endeavor. You could as easily say, “If science is wrong on one point then we cannot know what other points it is wrong on. Indeed, we cannot know which points it is right on.”

            The answer is that we have to use our judgment. :shrug:

          • Korou

            But there’s a difference: science is testable against the real world. If science were wrong about something then inconsistencies would start to show up, and eventually you could work out what that thing is.
            Religion, on the other hand is not testable. Proof? The thousands of different religions that exist today, none of them able to disprove the other. Is that the case with science?

          • Gene

            Korou, in more cases than you might imagine “science” is itself a matter of opinion, a hypothesis which is an informed and educated opinion but not demonstrably “proven” in the way that many people colloquially speak of proof. That doesn’t mean we deny the reality of science, but it does mean there is a bigger degree of faith (i.e., trust) involved with science than many people think.

            If this is so with science, why should we run from that same process being true with regard to religion? Religion is just the adding of codified ritualistic behaviors layered on top of sets of beliefs. Sometimes I find those behaviors to be interesting (even questionable), but that doesn’t mean that the original object of the faith (i.e., the one that trust was placed in) is to be doubted.

            Science has been wrong about many things. It will continue to be wrong in the future as well. (If this were not so, then the work of scientists could largely cease today.) Science is pretty much always looking to correct errors of previous scientific beliefs, that is what the purpose of most experiments actually are –trying to prove an hypothesis wrong. It is in finding that we are unable to do so that we begin to have some degree of comfort and acceptance of our hypotheses. As for the queen of scienes, a.k.a. theology, it is harder to run a verifiably repeatable experiment on our beliefs about God, but for those who place continued trust in God and find that trust to be substantiated they too find their reasons to believe strengthened.

            Of course, both scienctists and theologians have been known to jump to a hasty conclusion or two over the centuries. As a result, both are sometimes they are proven wrong by later generations. Does this mean that their observations about God or the world were wrong? I don’t think so, I suspect that it means their interpretations by which they try to make sense of those observations were where they went awry. Of course, modern readers often have to dig deeper than they realize to discern whether what we read is reporting observational information or interpretive work within our texts. The lazy reader is going to accept as true all sorts of things as true that the original author was never actually seeking to say or have us conclude. This, too, has been common to the history of both religion and science. But I don’t think these difficulties significant enough to give us substantial reason to disregard either theology or science or the fundamental documents of either. We just have to be sure to read them in ways that are in accord with the purposes for which they were actually written.

          • Korou

            You can’t place religion and science on an equal footing. Just because there is a certain amount of scientific thinking which is speculation and guesswork that doesn’t mean that the basic foundation of scientific thinking is not vastly more reliable than the basic foundation of religion.Theology may call itself the queen of the sciences but if it is, it’s in the same sense as the Queen of England – a powerless relic of a bygone age. You said:
            “for those who place continued trust in God and find that trust to be substantiated they too find their reasons to believe strengthened.”
            I really don’t want to be insulting, but that’s not very impressive at all. You could replace “God” with any other deity and it would mean the same. Theology has dropped out of the scientific race; it’s been overtaken. To pretend that it has any useful contributions to make to human understanding is simply indefensible. Can anyone disagree with this?

            “We just have to be sure to read them in ways that are in accord with the purposes for which they were actually written.”
            Well, that brings us back to the start of the question. How can we know what those are?

          • Gene

            First, why would I find it insulting to say that one could replace “God” with any other diety and it would mean the same? Of course you can, “God” is a generic term. I’m not promoting any particular singular belief above, I’m just expressing an opinion that values belief in God (however one might choose to define God for themselves). Logic dictating that though people may conceive of many gods and goddesses there can ultimately be only one supreme being, it matters little to me whether one uses the term God, Dios, Tanri, or Allah to speak of the Divine.

            Now, people’s views about what is and is not true about the Divine are another matter. This is where both intepretation and faith comes in. And I understand why you may not place religion and science on equal footing, neither would I. But, then again, I wasn’t. I was speaking more about theology than religion. Religion is to theology what nailing plywood over the windows is to meteorology — behavioral responses based on a set of expectations gained from studying the principal subject in each field.

            Now, you might still object to the comparison, and that is fine. Not everyone sees the world as I do, nor do I insist that they do. But, I do suggest a bit broader view of the world and longer understanding of time might help you. It wasn’t theologians who invented the term “the queen of the scienes” with regad to theology, but scientists. You might ask yourself why? What were they trying to say about both science and theology when they promulgated such a finding?

          • Korou

            You seem to be arguing that all religions are, in some sense true. That doesn’t lessen the weakness of your point – that you compared understanding gained by science to “continued trust in God and find that trust to be
            substantiated they too find their reasons to believe strengthened.” I was saying that I hope you don’t find it insulting when I say that such an argument is unconvincing in the extreme – that the warm feelings and “answered prayers” that make up most believers’ relationships with their gods are comparable to understanding of the world gained through science.
            By the way, I find it curious that you could think I meant god, the term for deity, and not God, the Christian deity.

            As for theology being the queen of the sciences – come now, that was in the Middle Ages. It’s inaccurate to say that it was scientists who invented the term – it was scholars in a time when the Church rules society and science had not yet been invented.
            So let’s get to the point. You can say that you were talking about theology, not religion, but it
            doesn’t matter a whit to me. You seem to be saying that theology has something of value to offer when compared to scientific understanding. I’d like to know what that is.

          • Gene

            Theology gives us a way to talk about that which is wholly Other.

          • Korou

            And how is that?

          • Gene

            Is that a serious question?

            Accepting at face value that it is, perhaps I need to ask a few rudimentary questions for just to be sure you have the correct understanding of various terminology and that we mean the same thing by our terms rather than talking at cross purposes.

            What is your understanding of the relationship, if any, between “theology”, “faith”, and “religion”?

            What is meant by the term “god” or “God”, and is there a difference between the two terms?

            Do you believe in the existence of anything outside of the natural, physical world?

          • Korou

            Certainly it’s a serious question. It was asked because I didn’t find your answer to explain anything. What is “wholly Other?” How does theology explain it or let us talk about it? Are these concepts even meaningful?

            I’ll be happy to answer your questions honestly and as well as I can. I think, though, that your and my ideas of “correct” might turn out not to be identical!

            “What is your understanding of the relationship, if any, between “theology”, “faith”, and “religion”?”

            Religion is what people believe about gods, theology is the study god (by believers – not quite the same thing as sociology and the study of religion or believers), and faith is trusting that something is true, even though you do not have the evidence to believe it. As a dictionary definition I looked up puts it, beliefs based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.
            I can see no particular value to theology because if there is no God then what is there to study?

            “What is meant by the term “god” or “God”, and is there a difference between the two terms?”

            A god (or goddess) is a deity; God is the name of the deity of the Christian religion.

            Do you believe in the existence of anything outside of the natural, physical world?

            If non-material things (light, radio waves, etc.) are considered part of the natural, physical world then no, I don’t.
            I did once get into a debate with a Christian apologist who tried to use the example of thought to show that non-material things existed; my response was that thought was the electrical and chemical reactions of our brains, and so completely material.

            Well, now that I’ve answered your questions I’m looking forward to hearing what value theology has.

          • Bethany

            “Theology has dropped out of the scientific race; it’s been overtaken. To pretend that it has any useful contributions to make to human understanding is simply indefensible. Can anyone disagree with this?”

            Yes.

            I mean, I agree that theology is not a science, but (speaking as a scientist) I disagree that science is the ONLY endeavor that makes any useful contribution to human understanding.

          • Korou

            In that case, what contribution does theology make towards our better understanding the truth of reality?

          • R Vogel

            What does the ‘truth of reality’ mean?

          • Korou

            Finding out more about the universe and everything in it.

          • R Vogel

            OK, that’s fair. So you only engage in activities that increase your knowledge of the universe and everything in it? (That is a great Adams-ism, btw, not sure if that was your intention.)

          • Korou

            So your answer to a sincere question is to try to avoid it? There’s been several variations of this already.

            I’ve asked variations of:
            “What contribution does theology make towards our better understanding the truth of reality?”

            throughout this thread, quite a number of times. I’m starting to think that the lack of an answer means that the answer is really “none at all.”

          • Bethany

            One, I would argue that theology is all about the “truth of reality” — what is the ultimate nature of reality? Now granted, if you’ve concluded there’s basically nothing to reality beyond that which is currently known or speculated about by science, then you might argue theology has nothing more to contribute in that area, but it seems to me that’s begging the question.

            Two, as far as “useful contributions to make to human understanding” are concerned, many people are interested about questions that aren’t answerable by science: what is the purpose of our lives, how should we live in the world, how should we treat other people, and have found theology helpful in that regard.

          • Korou

            I wouldn’t say that One is begging the question; it’s you who said that there is nothing beyond reality except that which is known or speculated about by science. There almost certainly are such things. The way I would put it is that there is no reason to assume the existence of things we have no evidence for. If you disagree with that then that puts you in the position of not being able to disagree with the existence of anything that anyone might dream up. In which case I’d agree with you – IF there is no God, then there is no point to theology.

            Two, I’d agree with you – wholeheartedly! – except that this is using a different meaning of the word understanding. I’m interested in how theology adds new things to our knowledge of the world, not how it gives us new viewpoints on things or makes us see them in a new light.
            The three examples you give are all just points of view. I have one idea about what the purpose of life is, how we should live in the world and how people should be treated, and you have another; and we can both be right at the same time (yes, there is such a thing as morality and yes I do believe in it, but I’d rather not get sidetracked into a morals debate at the moment).
            I think the main point is that In saying this, you seem to be conceding that theology does NOT add to our knowledge about the world.

          • Bethany

            Well, I’m conceding that theology isn’t science, but I don’t consider that a “concession” per se, because I never claimed that theology is science and I don’t think science is the only valid human enterprise.

            “The way I would put it is that there is no reason to assume the existence of things we have no evidence for. If you disagree with that then that puts you in the position of not being able to disagree with the existence of anything that anyone might dream up”

            So for example, if I claim that some behaviors are moral and some are not, then I can’t disagree with the existence of anything that anyone might dream up? Because while I agree there is such a thing as morality, I’m unaware of any scientific evidence for it. (Scientific evidence for what people *believe* is moral or immoral, sure, we have plenty of that, and maybe some evidence for why.)

          • Korou

            But there is evidence of morality. What’s lacking is evidence of a God.
            You say that theology isn’t science; would you then disagree with Gene that it is the Queen of the Sciences?

            For me, this all began with the opening post. I’m trying to find out how people think they can use theology to find out about reality.

            “So for example, if I claim that some behaviors are moral and some are
            not, then I can’t disagree with the existence of anything that anyone
            might dream up?”
            No, you can’t – not if they claim to be doing a “bad” thing on faith. Because if they do something evil and say that God told them to do it, how can it be bad?
            Back to the OP – how can theologians say that the pro-slavery side was wrong when the Bible says that it’s not? If I’m reading the OP right, they couldn’t and can’t.

          • Korou

            Also:
            “I would argue that theology is all about the “truth of reality” — what is the ultimate nature of reality?”

            How does theology go about finding out about the truth of reality? What do theologians do?

          • Bethany

            If you actually want to know, you could pretty much follow these links all day:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_theology

          • Korou

            The truth is, I already know what I think about theology. I’m trying to prompt others to a new viewpoint on it by asking them to explain it.

          • R Vogel

            Can anyone disagree with this?

            Of course they could. Do you think that that the only useful contributions to human understanding are scientific? Then why do we tell stories, make music, or write poetry?

          • Korou

            Do these help us in understanding the world better? Do they help us to learn new things?
            I don’t mean to disregard stories, music or poetry, all of which I love. They are important and yes, they do contribute to human understanding in one sense. But not in the sense of learning more about the world.
            Yes, these things – and theology as well – can help us to think of new ideas; they can help us to feel different ways, see things from different viewpoints and be inspired to do great things.
            But do they help us to gain new understanding about how the world works? Can a story, a poem, a piece of music or an essay on God add anything new to our store of knowledge about the universe? If so, I would like to know what it is.

            I’d like to get back on track by refocusing a question. Nobody would disagree with how effective science is for helping us to learn about the world. What has, or can, theology do?

          • R Vogel

            If human beings are part of the world, which I believe they are, and from time immemorial we have told stories, created art and music, and have engaged in religion, then they give us understanding of something. Some would say of the divine, although I would not personally make that case. Understanding ourselves, possibly. They clearly serve some function. We would could debate what that function is, but that, I think, is a different discussion.

            Doesn’t seeing things from different viewpoints and inspiration necessary components in understanding the world? They may not provide new understanding directly, but then neither does the scientific method. It simply provides a framework. But scientific framework without inspiration can lead to some strange places. Consider epicycles When Copernicus introduced his new system, he needed to continue to include them in order to make his system as accurate as the Ptolemaic system . It was not until someone, Kepler I believe, had the inspiration to look at it differently that epicycles could be dispensed with due to elliptical orbits (there may be more steps, its been awhile) Kepler was a devoutly religious man and a well known astrologer! (strange bedfellows, eh?) Was it Einstein who said inspiration is more important than knowledge? I am not making a case that religion is the only, or even best, origin of inspiration, but as you noted it has been an historically important one.

            I think the question you are asking may not be a fair one. Do you feel that religion makes a claim that it is helping us learn about the world? Certainly some forms of religion, sure, but in general? If it does, then I think you have a good case that it is overreaching. I don’t believe that it does.

          • Korou

            I’m afraid you keep missing the point. The question I’m asking is a perfectly fair one, and the fact that nobody has yet been able to answer it is quite telling. Take a look at some of the things that have been said throughout this thread:

            “As for the queen of sciecnes, a.k.a. theology, it is harder to run a
            verifiably repeatable experiment on our beliefs about God, but for those
            who place continued trust in God and find that trust to be
            substantiated they too find their reasons to believe strengthened.”

            “This, too, has been common to the history of both religion and science.
            But I don’t think these difficulties significant enough to give us
            substantial reason to disregard either theology or science or the
            fundamental documents of either.”

            Comparing science to theology.

            “And I understand why you may not place religion and science on equal
            footing, neither would I. But, then again, I wasn’t. I was speaking
            more about theology than religion. Religion is to theology what nailing
            plywood over the windows is to meteorology”

            I would very much like to know which discoveries theology has been responsible for, and the methods that it used to make them.

            “I would argue that theology is all about the “truth of reality” — what is the ultimate nature of reality?”

            Good. I would like to know how you would argue that. How does theology contribute to our understanding of reality?

          • Bethany

            My point is not that religion is exactly the same thing as science, but rather that if you’re going to dismiss everything that’s wrong in some places, you’re going to have to dismiss every human endeavor, including science… science is wrong about a lot things, and in many cases we have no idea what those things are (since if we knew we were wrong about them, we would have rejected them already). So science is wrong about a lot things and we don’t know what its wrong about, how can we trust it?

            The answer is that we have to use our judgment, including evidence and experience, just as in every human endeavor.

          • Korou

            “So science is wrong about a lot things and we don’t know what its wrong about, how can we trust it?
            The answer is that we have to use our judgment, including evidence and experience, just as in every human endeavor.”

            No, the answer is that science is independently testable. Don’t believe what a scientist says? Then run his or her experiments again and confirm or disprove the results.
            Sure, science is wrong about a lot of things – but in principle, we can find out what those things are by measuring them against the real world. Care to try that with God?

            Come, now. Can you show me that religion, or theology if you like has something to offer to our understanding of the world?

          • R Vogel

            Why do you think religion is attempting to offer you ‘understanding of the world’? Do you reject music, art and poetry on the same grounds?

          • Korou

            There’s that equivocation about the word “understanding” again. I’m trying to find a way that religion/theology can match science for giving us new information about the world we live in. If you want to concede that it can’t, that’s fine.

          • Bethany

            “No, the answer is that science is independently testable. Don’t believe what a scientist says? Then run his or her experiments again and confirm or disprove the results.”

            One: Then have fun trying to get it published instead of cramming it in your file drawer.

            Also, that’s easier said than done. Doing an experiment requires time, resources, knowledge, sometimes money. How many people read about the results of a scientific experiment online and are equipped to go out into their garage to try to replicate the results?

            Two: It’s not as simple as re-running the same experiment to see if you get the same results. Science isn’t just about “If I do X then Y happens” but about explaining why Y happens. You can have a very robust effect that replicates easily and still be completely wrong about the theoretical explanation.

            Look, I’m second to none in my admiration of science. I’m a scientist myself. But science is complicated and as practiced in reality (as opposed to theory) can be a surprisingly messy process.

            “Come, now. Can you show me that religion, or theology if you like has something to offer to our understanding of the world?”

            The human experience goes well beyond scientific facts. We wonder how we should live, what our purpose is, what it all means. This is why we have religion, some kinds of philosophy, art, literature, music, etc. and not just all science, all the time.

          • Korou

            I agree with a lot of what you say. Science can be messy and difficult and get stuck; but in principle, it is testable and confirmable, and religion is not.

            In principle, science helps you to understand the world better. If you disagree with someone about something, you can go over it and one of you will be proven right and the other will be proven wrong.

            Religion is the complete opposite of this. If two believers hold different views then neither one can prove the other wrong, because they can simply assert that they are right on faith. In principle, religion is not testable, and therefore not trustworthy.

            Now you can talk about the benefits of religion; it brings people together, inspires them, makes them think of others, makes them look at the world in a new way – but when these benefits are shared by all religions, most of them mutually incompatible, it leads to a situation where you have to ask:

            “What actual use is theology?”

          • R Vogel

            Of course religion is testable. It is testable within the human communities in which they are invented. It either works or it doesn’t. Those that work survive, those that do not go extinct.

          • Korou

            What’s being tested is not the fact of God’s existence – or the existence of any gods and goddesses – but the social utility of the beliefs that believers hold.
            Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism are all very old religions. Have the all been tested and shown to be true? And by the way, if Hitler had succeeded in exterminating all of the Jews would Judaism have been disproved?

          • James Walker

            not all Christians adopt the view of the Bible that it is somehow more reliable than other pieces of literature from the periods of time in which its components were written. as to what it is reliable for, well there is also disagreement on that. for myself and other progressives like me, the Bible is strictly reliable as an instrument for teaching the Christian faith and how that faith is rooted in the Jewish heritage. that heritage, of course, contains many human flaws that we must comprehend in order to glean what fits the test given in 2 Timothy 3:16 for discerning what is Scripture and what matches the Great Commandments given us by Jesus to love God and love our neighbor.

            using those filters, we are able to mindfully discard teachings in the Bible that advocate slavery or other human rights abuses. those are not useful in our present age for doctrine or instruction in righteousness, and they do not fit the commandment to love our neighbor.

          • Korou

            It seems to me to merely boil down to using your own personal preferences to decide which bits of the Bible to follow. And I think that human history, right down to the present day, will prove this, with Christians using the Bible to support every one of their beliefs, including ones that directly oppose other Christians.

          • James Walker

            just using one’s own personal preferences, though, has no support in the Bible or in Christian tradition. applying some kind of doctrinal filter, using some viewpoint advocated by one or more of the Bible authors, etc. is the method that will yield the most consistent results.

          • R Vogel

            Show me a human pursuit where the people pursuing have not used it against others that pursue it differently than them, including science.

            Your argument is starting to take the form of ‘The only thing that matters is marbles. Religion doesn’t help me to better understand marbles so it is invalid!’ There is more to life than marbles. Religion provide one framework within which to consider these things.

          • Korou

            Sure there’s more to life than marbles. But is there more to life than the natural world?

            As far as I’m concerned the study of God is the study of nothing. If theology had produced any worthwhile results then it might be evidence that there was something to study.

            Certainly, people thinking about religion will have useful insights. Charity, mercy, love, forgiveness, these are all things that theology can consider and, in so doing, produce useful philosophy on. But these could also be considered by anybody. That theologians produce philosophy is not the problem; I’d like to know what theology they’re doing, and how it has expanded our understanding.

            It’s interesting to see what you, Bethany and Gene are doing. Sine you’re not able to show any ways that theology can expand our knowledge of the universe you’re trying to change to a different meaning of “understanding” by appealing to social and artistic and philosophical benefits, or attack science as being unreliable.
            Please, let’s not follow either of these red herrings. I’d like to know what theology has contributed to our understanding of the universe.

          • Korou

            “Show me a human pursuit where the people pursuing have not used it
            against others that pursue it differently than them, including science.”

            Alright. Science. Yes, scientists are human and prone to human error including not wanting to be wrong, being stubborn and misinterpreting findings. But fundamentally, science is self-correcting and everyone agrees on the process of science. Observe, make a hypothesis, test it, make a theory, repeat to improve.
            There are lots of religions, and none of them agree with each other. There is only one type of science. That’s why science is trustworthy and religion is not.

          • R Vogel

            Trustworthy is an interesting word. I would push back a bit on that – science is self-correcting, but an erroneous theory can be used for decades, centuries even, before someone have the inspiration and perspective to turn things upside down. The positivist nature of science makes it difficult to say you have ever arrived a Truth. Look at Einstein. In essentially one paper he completely destroyed classical physics and we have been working ever since to try and put it back together. We are still trying to understand how to reconcile quantum physics and relativity. In 10, 20 or 100 years someone may propose a radical new idea that undermines all of this. You simply have a theory that explains and accurately predicts. This is not trivial by any means, but we also shouldn’t assign too much to it either. Look at all the excitement around the recent discovery of gravitation waves confirming the prediction of inflation theory that has only been around since the 1980s and was initially poo-pooed by the scientific community. (I actually remember a cosmologist coming to my grade school circa 1982 or 3 and explaining the different theories of cosmic expansion and he sort of cavalierly mentioned inflation as ‘another’ theory) This means that inflation theory is a viable theory, unless at some point in the future a prediction fails, then the theory will have to be modified or replaced. (I thought I saw something that the finding were being questioned, can anyone confirm?) This makes it hard to say a theory is ‘trustworthy’ – like all things it is trustworthy until it is not and it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you wanted to find the position of a particular star in the night sky you used the Ptolemaic system even after Copernicus introduced his theory because the Ptolemaic system was more accurate. Which more trustworthy? Which was closer to the facts?

            Religion is also self correcting of a sort. Religions that loses efficacy in human society, by failing to provide whatever they are designed to provide, go extinct or adapt, like artistic movements. Very few poets write Odes anymore due to the ascendancy of other forms. At some point they fulfilled the needs of poetry readers, but now they no longer do. Head down to the local art museum and see the difference between medieval art and modern art. Is one more ‘true’ than the other? No, but each tells us something about the culture in which they were created. Christianity no longer tolerates slavery. At some point it clearly did. The religion adapted to the changing environment. It did this by people, abolitionists, proposing a new viewpoint. It was initially resisted. But over time their view, which better met the needs of society, won out, and is now the accepted view. Similar process, different subject matter. Dr. McGrath is part of a tradition that is willing to challenge and question virtually any traditional belief of Christianity. This is religion adapting to new information and an evolving culture in order to stay relevant. Traditional forms are becoming less efficacious among the younger generation, so they either have to adapt or risk extinction. I seriously doubt all religion will ever go extinct, but I am sure Newton thought the same thing about his physics so who knows.

          • Korou

            First of all, R Vogel, I must say that I’m enjoying this debate. Thank you to you and the other commenters for your courtesy. I hope we can all maintain it.

            Now I’m sorry about this, because I did enjoy reading your comment, but I’m afraid it’s off-target, answering the wrong questions – and I’ll try to explain why.

            It’s not the scientific theories which are trustworthy, it’s the scientific method. Make an observation; ask a question; form a hypothesis and make a prediction. Do a test, analyse the data and draw a conclusion.

            This is the most reliable method we have found yet of finding things out about the world. Religion doesn’t even come close to this level of effectiveness. And yet there are people here who are saying it does, and I would like to hear how.

            In your second paragraph you basically undermine your own argument. Can I suggest that you look back over it to see? You compared religion to art and to poetry. I think that is a very apt comparison – religion doesn’t change because it acquires new data; it changes because people feel different ways about things. And that is not a god reason to change if your interest is finding out about the truth about the world.

            Do you see what I mean?

            You give the example of abolitionism as Christianity evolving and self-correcting. But that’s exactly my point and, come to think of it, exactly Fred Clark and James McGrath’s point – Christianity didn’t evolve because theologians came up with new data which showed slavery was wrong, or that the pro-slavery sentiments in the bible had been misinterpreted. Society changed to the point where people no longer thought of slavery as an acceptable thing, and so they ignored what their religion said about it and did what was right instead.

            That’s not religion being self-correcting as it moves towards a closer depiction of the truth; it’s religion accommodating itself to meet the needs of society.

            Now you might say that Christianity was instrumental in bringing about this change, but that would be false. It was Christians who were instrumental in it, and they did it by picking out the parts of the Bible that would support their case and ignoring the parts that wouldn’t. Which is in no way adding to our knowledge and understanding of the world. See?

            You said: “Dr. McGrath is part of a tradition that is willing to challenge and question virtually any traditional belief of Christianity. This is religion adapting to new information and an evolving culture in order to stay relevant.”

            Yes it is, but your saying that is in no way relevant. Social change is not the same thing as gaining knowledge.
            If you want to cite this as proof of how Christianity can positively change the world I am happy to accept it. But that’s not what we’re arguing about here.

            I’ll ask again: in what way has theology ever increased our understanding of the world? What discoveries has it ever made? How does it make these discoveries?

          • Gene

            So, you’re are saying that the Bible is wrong, but still a worthy guide? Or, you’re saying that it is wrong on some points but not others, and thus a worthy guide only on those some points where it is not wrong?

            As for Aristotle and Descartes, I hold them only as potential contributors to the pool of general knowledge, I don’t hold them (nor any other philosopher) as being a rule for faith and practice.

          • James Walker

            I’m saying that the Bible was written by humans and, as such, contains human errors as well as human triumphs of spiritual thinking, of poetry, of wisdom, etc. we must use discernment to identify which are which and must understand what worked as spiritual truth for one period of human development may not work for another.

          • Gene

            Is spiritual truth then something that is always relative to one’s times and circumstances? Are there no universal spiritual truths?

            I would propose that, even given the reality that the Bible is not the product of divine dictation and is the result of a divine/human interaction making it less than an inerrant document, there still are indeed both absolute and universal truths to be found within the scriptures, yet imperfect humans are imperfect at identifying them, interpreting them, and applying them.

          • James Walker

            imperfect humans are imperfect at identifying them, interpreting them, and applying them.

            and that is, in a nutshell, exactly why the proposition that the Bible contains universal spiritual truths that do not yield to the ravages of time is so problematic.

          • Gene

            No, the proposition itself is not the problem. It is the ego of those who see themselves as the exception to being imperfect interpreters, etc., that is problematic.

        • Shiphrah

          Rabbi Irving Greenberg has posited that the commandments concerning slavery were of their time. The Hebrews/Israelites lived in a milieu in which slavery was a norm, fully accepted. God knew that just abolishing slavery wouldn’t work for people who hadn’t yet developed morally in that way. So s/he put limits on slavery, turned it into a form of indentured servitude, gave guidelines about the treatment of slaves. And then hoped that we’d figure out how wrong it is and abolish it for ourselves. (I’m utterly bollixing this here – go read his “The Jewish Way”!)

          • Korou

            I’m sorry, that just doesn’t sound very satisfying. So God was willing to put up with slavery? Why didn’t He just say something like “slavery is very wrong. I understand that it’s a part of your society and would cause you difficulty to get rid of, but you need to do this sooner or later.”

            This isn’t a problem atheists have, but for Christians I don’t think the explanation “God saw something very evil but decided not to do anything about it” should be good enough.

      • Herro

        It seems to me that he’s saying that the bible is in fact correct, just that you have to interpret it correctly (i.e. it isn’t wrong), and “correctly interpreted” the bible just happens to be opposed to slavery!

        Of course to make the bible anti-slavery you have to find some general commands and add to them our modern ethics.

        So “inerrancy” isn’t the problem (if I understand him correctly) but just bad interpretation.

        • In view of what Fred has said elsewhere, I don’t think that is what he is saying. Nonetheless, it was a major point articulated by abolitionists that, however much various passages leave the institution of slavery in place, if we are called to do to others what we would want done to us, and we would not want to be made another’s property, then slavery is incompatible with the Golden Rule.

      • Korou

        Thanks for that reply, James. You’re saying, then, that the mistake they made was in thinking that the Bible was inerrant? That the pro-slavery parts of the Bible were written by humans who were not speaking on behalf of God?

        By the way, I don’t begrudge liberal Christians for making this point before atheists; indeed, I think that some of them took it even further and became atheists, so good for them.

        • I don’t think any parts of the Bible are inerrant. I nonetheless find articulated within it (to paraphrase Rabbi Harold Kushner) principles which are so lofty and challenging that even the Bible’s authors failed to reach them. I consider it appropriate to reject those teachings of theirs which fail to live up to those standards, and to try to hold myself to those higher standards, not because they are in some allegedly infallible text, but because they seem to me to be reasonable and morally right.

          • Korou

            But there are plenty of people who would say that they disagree with you about what the best principles and standards of Christianity are – and do you have a way to show that they are wrong?

            Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: Christians like yourself seem to be saying that slavery is bad, and since God is good then God cannot have approved of it. But the evidence shows that He did. And if you say that the pro-slavery parts of the Bible were written by corrupt humans pretending to write on behalf of God, then how do you know which parts of the Bible can be relied on and which can’t? Do you simply agree with the parts that you yourself approve of?

          • I think you are still assuming, despite what I have written on this topic here and elsewhere, that I think that the Bible has some kind of special divine influence that gives unique insight into the will of an anthropomorphic deity.

          • Korou

            I haven’t read much of your writings, having newly arrived at this blog; but I don’t think I’m assuming that. Why would I? I’m just unconvinced that there is a method by which Christians can say “this part of the Bible is sound, and this part of the Bible is false.”

            However, I don’t mean to take up too much of your time; I’m sure you have plenty of other work to do. Thanks for the responses.

          • Oh, I don’t mind going into further detail. I have a lot of commenters, and do not always manage to keep track of who has been lurking for a long time and who has recently arrived for the first time if they don’t tell me.

            I view the Bible’s writings as the works of human beings. If I want to evaluate the question of whether they relate anything historical, I apply to them the same methods that historians apply to any ancient texts to address such questions. When it comes to moral matters, all I can do is engage these ancient human authors in conversation, seeking to be open to being challenged by things that strike me as insightful, because I am not inerrant, but not being beholden to anything they wrote simply because they wrote it, because they were not inerrant either.

          • Korou

            Fair enough. Well, I guess we can leave it at that for the moment.
            I dare say I’ll pop back again on some other threads. Bye for now!

  • Andrew Dowling

    That illustration is chilling.

  • arcseconds

    Fred has been making a series of posts like that one. They are interesting, but he seems to be making several different points which he doesn’t always distinguish very clearly.

    This is what I think they are:

    1) white American evangelicalism continues to be based on an other-worldly theology which was thoroughly intertwined with slavery. This other-worldly theology continues to give rise to the sorts of things it evolved to give rise to: an emphasis on personal purity over helping others, a lack of concern for the material welfare of people in the here and now, a nonchalant attitude towards wealth accumulation, a tone-deaf biblical hermeneutic, a disrespect for science, homophobia, and racism.

    2) theologians and people writing on broadly-speaking ‘moral’ matters (including politics and society) shouldn’t be dealt with by simply issuing a disclaimer that there were indeed badly wrong about something, wringing one’s hands a bit, and then continuing reading them and teaching them as though nothing had happened.

    Fred’s somewhat careful to be clear that he’s not saying that the books need to be cast into the flames and the names struck from the register.

    However, he does appear to have the view that their personal actions with regards to slavery or National Socialism or whatever cannot help but infect their theorizing.

    I’m not unsympathetic towards this point of view. Others have crticised it as simply ad hominem, but I certainly agree it’s a sign something might be quite wrong. However, I do think it’s quite possible to be all very well on paper but quite horrible in person.

    For example, it’s pretty clear that early modern philosophers when they say ‘rational beings’ or ‘citizens’ or ‘free agents’ or whatever, they have particularly in mind educated white men of means. If and when they get around to talking about anyone else, suddenly caveats are introduced. However, their statements about rational beings could still be fine, because they constructed the whole account by considering beings they consider to be unproblematically rational.

    So I kind of think he needs to show exactly how their misconceptions filter into their theology, not just assert that they must do. He has tried to do that with evangelical other-worldliness, but I think he probably needs to show how Tillich’s womanizing and Hirsch’s national socialism is reflected in their theology, not just assert that it must be the case (or alternatively, reduce the assertion to a statement of suspicion).

    3) Putting aside the fact that they were majorly mistaken about some important matters means we are refusing to take the opportunity to learn from this kind of mistakes. If we just go “OK, history proved them wrong about this and that. Having said that, let’s just look at their theory” then we’re missing the opportunity to do better than them, to catch where we’ve gone wrong before we end up realizing, after decades of fighting for the wrong side, that we’re wrong (or, worse, it’s realised even later, by our successors).

    I think this is probably the most interesting claim. However, I’m not really sure that analyzing where our forebears went wrong really helps us too much here. For us it’s an exercise in 20/20 hindsight.

    I agree that it’s probably worth stressing that they were wrong, and therefore we can be, too, though.

    • Bethany

      “So I kind of think he needs to show exactly how their misconceptions
      filter into their theology, not just assert that they must do.”

      I love Fred’s blog, but I thought the same thing about that series of posts.

    • Since that other comment section dissippeared (there’s some kind of ephimerial format around here…) I was trying to find a way to just clarify the “ad hominem” issue. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. You say:

      “I’m not unsympathetic towards this point of view. Others have crticised
      it as simply ad hominem, but I certainly agree it’s a sign something
      might be quite wrong.”

      A person’s unreliability on a topic can be explicitly proposed (not just implicitly, which you thought I was arguing) in ways that avoid non-sequitur, and thus avoid being ad hominems. If it is relevant, it isn’t ad-hominem. Ad hominem would be saying that I failed math class therefore I’m a bad cook. Non-ad-hominem would relate actual cooking failures to my ability to cook.

      And still, cooking failures can only give us a probabilistic trend type thing (which is what “reliability” is) that might save us time if we are looking for someone to cook something. If they have just finished cooking something and someone asks you if it is good, you will honestly have to say that one doesn’t know for sure until one has examined it. But educated guesses are valuable.

      • arcseconds

        It’s disappeared‽ Why, so it has! That’s… new, and… suboptimal.

        James, are you aware that comments (basically the whole disqus interface, including number of comments, the discus ‘busy’ graphic, and ‘comment here’) have disappeared from July 1 and earlier? July 2 posts seem to be working fine.

        The thing about ad hominem, and its dual, argument from authority, is that even when they’re relevant, they still disengage from the argument. They do not aid in understanding. It’s a shortcut to true (hopefully) opinion, rather than knowledge, to use Plato’s terminology. I don’t want to just accumulate probably true facts and avoid accumulating unreliable beliefs, I also want to understand how we know the things we know and, often, why people say what they say even if it appears to be nonsense.

        So I agree with you, but saying ‘X is incompetent and therefore probably wrong’, even if warranted, is still a way of undermining and ignoring X, and encouraging others to do so.

        So it’s still attacking the man and not the ball, and it’s still fallacious in the sense that it’s not actually a criticism of their argument.

        You also misunderstand me. I was not saying you were arguing anything implicitly, I was saying that Carrier is not just apropos of nothing noting that some of his opponents are insane, as though that was just an interesting biographical detail like wearing glasses. It’s also not merely a disinterested conclusion that he reaches, which you and/or someone else was arguing in order to let him off the hook for ad hominem because he doesn’t explicitly conclude anything from anyone’s insanity.

        He is encouraging us to come to the conclusion that they are not trustworthy, and therefore can be ignored, and also encouraging us to laugh at them, to see them as ridiculous figures, not as people we should be taking seriously.

        Even if we’re to take your line of reasoning that we can make probabilistic judgements about someone’s competence, ‘insane’ isn’t a conclusion that Carrier can reasonably reach about someone. Either it’s a medical or legal term, and Carrier has no warrant to be making that judgement as he doesn’t have the requisite expertise or standing in society, and in any case I severely doubt any of his opponents are really exhibiting clear indications of mental illness and complete lack of control over their actions, or it’s simply a hyperbolic insult.

        • I looked at an older post and could see comments. Could you refer me to a specific post where Disqus seems not to be working, so that I can look into it further?

          • arcseconds

            For example, the Early Reviews of
            Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus Christ
            , which was the one Pansky was complaining about.

            Or Worth a Try, which seems to be the most recent comment (at the moment) where comments are broken. That was published on July 2, and yesterday July 1 comments were the latest posts where comments are broken, so maybe there’s a window of comment-breaking that follows us through in time?

            Currently for me Acts of Thomas review published has working comments (well, it has the comments widgets, anyway).

          • I let the folks at Patheos know. It seems Disqus implemented some changes. All seems to be working now on my end. Does it seem OK now to you?

          • arcseconds

            Yes, those posts now seem OK.

            Maybe it’s been fixed.

        • “You also misunderstand me. I was not saying you were arguing anything implicitly…because he doesn’t explicitly conclude anything from anyone’s insanity.”

          You misunderstood ME again. I wasn’t talking about ME being implicit or explicit, I was talking about Carrier being implicit or explicit. As a matter of fact, he does conclude things from people’s competence, honesty, and sanity, and he does so EXPLICITLY in various places (though he never rests his analysis of their arguments on these conclusions, he does it the other way around where his analysis supports such conclusions). But this is NOT ad hominem, because they are relevant, and because even such explicit conclusions commit no non-sequitur. That’s what you don’t get.

          “the conclusion that they are not trustworthy, and therefore can be ignored, and also encouraging us to laugh at them, to see them as ridiculous figures, not as people we should be taking seriously.”

          Concluding that people are not trustworthy, and are ridiculous and laughable, is not ad hominem, except I think the “therefore can be ignored” is more like “are prone to be unreliable in proportion to the actual impact of this conclusion (if it is true)”, and similarly for this vague “taking seriously” thing.

          • arcseconds

            Well, that’s just the kind of ardent defense I’d expect of a diehard Carrier fanatic. Defend your hero no matter what he does.

          • O___________O

            No, arcseconds, I won’t defend Carrier no matter what he does. That is some pathetic reaching on your part, when I would very much condemn his use of an ad hominem argument, IF he had made one. Try again.

          • arcseconds

            Well, of course, typically people who are in the grip of charismatic narcissists don’t like to admit that they’re caught up in the game of narcissistic supply, so naturally I’d expect you to say something of the sort.

            And I’m sorry to hear you think dismissing you as a fanboy is ‘pathetic’. I’ve already given an argument as to why you’re a fanboy, and you being a fanboy is certainly relevant to your defending Carrier, so by your own admission this is perfectly fine.

            I guess I’ll have to update my assessment to ‘hypocritical fanboy who can’t take what he condones dealing out’.

          • I suspect you are once again trying to use “antics” (trolling) to make a point.

            “And I’m sorry to hear you think dismissing you as a fanboy is ‘pathetic’.”

            That is not what I said was pathetic. What I actually said was pathetic was that you claimed I would defend him no matter what, when, duh, I just pointed out that if he did ad hominem I would not defend that. I give your trolling a 0/10 score.

            Back to your “Well, that’s just the kind of ardent defense I’d expect of a diehard Carrier fanatic” response: since it appears it was (pretendingly/trollishly) being used to dismiss my logical analysis, that would mean you were actually committing the “Ad hominem circumstantial fallacy”:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem#Circumstantial

          • arcseconds

            Oh, I was just characterizing what fanboys normally do, and sure, there was a degree of hyperbole there when applied to you but I think I’m entitled to this!

            Carrier is quite happy to characterise his opponents as ‘rambling weirdos’ who run around in frenzies smashing things. And call them insane. So long I stay within Carrier’s rhetorical excesses, which are considerable, I can’t see that you’ve really got anything to complain about.

            Plus, of course, that’s what you’re defending… so while it might not be literally true you’ll defend him no matter what, you’re already defending pretty extreme behaviour, so the evidence is that it’d have to get pretty bad before you’d turn on him.

            (I’m sure there’s something that Justin Beiber could do to lose the ardent devotion of the true Beliebers)

            Anyway, Pansky, you’re actually just fine with my behaviour. I’ve made an argument for you being a fanboy. This is clearly relevant to your ongoing defense of Carrier. So long as I meet those criteria, this is totally fine and not ad hominem. Sure, you’re going to apply your fanboy double-standards, but we can’t expect fanboys to behave reasonably when their hero is being slighted.

            And it seems to me I’m collecting more evidence for you being a slavish groupie as we go. That’s why you think it’s OK when Carrier does it to attack scholars, and not OK when I do it to attack you. That’s why you don’t recognise ad hominem when Carrier does it.

            What I think I’m doing isn’t relevant, of course. Normally people think they’re making rational arguments when they’re committing fallacies, but the reverse is also the case.

            The fact that you still haven’t worked this out suggests that you’re quite stupid. Your stupidity is clearly relevant to your continued inability to realise the ramification of your own position.

            Now, some might think that’s a huge conclusion to make when you might only be being blinded by your burning love for Carrier, but I’m emulating the great man himself and concluding wide-reaching cognitive failure.

            Where were we? Oh yes, you’re marking me out of 10. Why would I be interested in the score of a stupid, hypocritical, over-sensitive, co-dependent fanboy of an abusive, self-absorbed narcissist?

            And it’s not trolling if I’m making a point, is it? More stupidity.

            You know, this is quite fun! I can see why Carrier does it. Where are my adoring fans? I want adoring fans.

          • Wow, you are really beginning to depart into your own fantasy land. I’m not sure how many more attempts to bring you to reality I can manage before I give up on you.

            “you think it’s OK when Carrier does it to attack scholars, and not OK when I do it to attack you. That’s why you don’t recognise ad hominem when Carrier does it.”

            Is this serious or trolling? If serious, wow. Where to begin.

            -What ad hominem did Carrer do that I don’t recognize? Or do you got none?

            -You keep saying I’m not ok with you doing exactly what Carrier does. But I haven’t said I wasn’t ok with it. (more on this later) And you have not been doing exactly what Carrier does, as I pointed out.

            “What I think I’m doing isn’t relevant, of course. Normally people think they’re making rational arguments when they’re committing fallacies, but the reverse is also the case. …The fact that you still haven’t worked this out suggests that you’re quite stupid.”

            I actually can’t quite work out what these sentences above are trying to say.

            “Your continued inability to realise the ramification of your own position.”

            No, see you haven’t been demonstrating the ramifications of my position. When you do an actual ad hominem, like I pointed out, that doesn’t magically make Carrier’s non ad hominems into ad hominems.

            —–Also, here’s a SPOILER WARNING: —–

            I’m not going to go “gee, that is so mean and so Carrier shouldn’t do that” because so long as you actually do what he does, I actually won’t criticise your tone. I won’t tone troll you like you do to Carrier. You are wasting your time, and you don’t have a point.

            I can point out that your conclusions about me are unsupported, or mistaken in various ways, or that you have made other errors. That is called criticising your content, not your tone. Somehow you think there is a contradiction between me saying Carrier’s tone is ok but your content is sloppy. There isn’t. Can you grasp this?

            Amp up your own tone at me all you want, you still don’t have a point.

          • MattB

            Perhaps, Bryan, you don’t actually see the egotistical nature of Carrier behind closed-doors. It’s one thing to research a theory and try to argue it as scholarship. It’s another thing to claim that those who disagree with you are deluded, crazy, or incompetent. Despite the fact that the those who disagre with you have an actual teaching job at top Universities around the world and have written extensively and rigorously on the topic.

          • MattB

            Hey arcseconds, I was wondering(Only if you want to) if you could help me out over here at NickCovington’s blog “Hume’s Apprentice”. He’s called me a dumb***, and praises carrier because he thinks I’m ignorant because I haven’t read his book and claims I don’t know Carrier’s arguments when in fact I do know Carrier’s ridiculous claims. Here’s the link:http://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2014/07/03/on-the-historicity-of-jesus-part-3/#comment-1490396523

  • Jr

    Despite viewing the Bible as a product of humans, it is still canon for you in some sense? Would you consider adding some later written works to this canon? Reading Milton in church for example? (If you consider Milton suitable as scripture.)

    • I don’t object to anything relevant being read in church, but it seems to me to make little sense to take an established historical collection such as the canons of Scripture of various churches, and to add to them. The role of a canon, in my view, is to provide a point in the past with which we are continually called to dialogue. But any group that tries to limit its reading and thinking to just a canon of this sort will inevitably fail, and will not only end up deluding itself but will also miss out on important things to consider, whether from the context of the canonical texts, the subsequent history of their own movement, or important recent developments.

  • R Vogel

    Fred did a real nice job framing this whole multi-part discussion. At times I fear he was a bit guilty of apply our current moral standards to the past, which is always dicey, but the final point, that we must question how, if their theology allowed them to come to this conclusion, can we unquestionable accept their theology is an important one. It was also enlightening to see the whitewash done on certain titans of american theology regarding their defense of slavery. It poke necessary hole in the idea of american and christian exceptionalism

  • Korou

    I’d like to get back on track by looking again that a comment that Gene made two days ago. He said:

    “Science is pretty much always looking to correct errors of previous
    scientific beliefs, that is what the purpose of most experiments actually are –trying to prove an hypothesis wrong. It is in finding that we are unable to do so that we begin to have some degree of comfort and acceptance of our hypotheses.”
    Response: Quite right. And that is why, no matter what difficulties science runs into, it is still a sound method for finding out about the world – because you can test what you find out against reality. You can’t do that with religion.

    “As for the queen of sciences, a.k.a. theology…”
    Response: You can call it that if you like, but it just sounds silly now. Queens and kings don’t have that much power these days. Just as revolutions got rid of or disempowered monarchs, so the scientific “revolutions” dethroned theology.

    “…it is harder to run a verifiably repeatable experiment on our beliefs about God, but for those who place continued trust in God and find that trust to be substantiated they too find their reasons to believe strengthened.”
    Response: There is just so much that is wrong about this that I’m not sure where to start.
    First: I’m not so sure that it is hard to run a verifiably repeatable experiment on our beliefs about God. If you believe that God lives in the sky it’s easy to test it and prove it wrong. The same with believing that the earth is six thousand years old, or that Jesus will answer any prayer you make (as He promised He would). There are plenty of religious beliefs that are testable and disprovable. In fact, any religious belief that can be tested has been proved to be false. Did you hear the story about the priest who was caught drunk driving? Apparently it was his duty to drink all of the consecrated wine that had not been used. “It may be the blood of Christ,” he said, “But it sure does behave like alcohol!”
    Second: there certainly are plenty of beliefs about God which are difficult to disprove. Christians believe that they will go to Heaven (hopefully), but since this happens after you die nobody has ever been able to tell us about it. But the fact that your religious beliefs haven’t been disproved absolutely does not mean that they have been proved.
    Third: “for those who place continued trust in God and find that trust to be
    substantiated they too find their reasons to believe strengthened.” And this is what you are comparing to science? People of all religions do this, and all of them feel that it works. They get warm feelings, they feel inspired, and none of this is convincing at all. We are not in the slightest bit interested in how people find their faith “substantiated” unless there is something that can convince someone else.

    “Of course, both scientists and theologians have been known to jump to a hasty conclusion or two over the centuries. As a result, both are sometimes they are proven wrong by later generations.”
    Response: Hang on a moment. Scientists are proven wrong by people doing experiments and saying “actually it isn’t like that, it’s like this, and here’s the evidence. But how are theologians proven wrong? They aren’t. They can’t be. That was the whole point of Fred’s post. It wasn’t theologians who proved pro-slavery apologists wrong, and I don’t think they can. What work do later theologians do that ever disprove earlier theologians? Unless they can show that a word was mistranslated, or something like that – but this is trivial stuff, and not at all comparable to science showing, for example, that “air” is made up of a mixture of gases, and these are what they are and how the react.

    “Does this mean that their observations about God or the world were wrong? I don’t think so, I suspect that it means their interpretations by which they try to make sense of those observations were where they went awry.”
    Response: What? Which observations of God were these? As far as I can tell all theologians do is read holy texts and argue about their meanings, trying to work out what the God who is “revealed” through them would want. If you’re going to say this is naive, then please show me an instance in which there have actually been “observations about God.”
    Unless you mean observations in the sense of “thoughts about something” – as in “I observe from this story that God is kind, or jealous or whatever.”

    “Of course, modern readers often have to dig deeper than they realize to discern whether what we read is reporting observational information or interpretive work within our texts.”
    Response: But theology is not based on observational information. So it’s not comparable to science.

    “The lazy reader is going to accept as true all sorts of things as true that the original author was never actually seeking to say or have us conclude. This, too, has been common to the history of both religion and science.”
    Response: With science, however, you can redo the experiments that led to those conclusions and test them for yourself. It may have taken Charles Darwin to come up with the theory of evolution, but it’s not Darwin’s theory any more – it’s been taken over and now belongs to all of science.
    In science, it doesn’t matter what the original writer meant; we can test their work and we can see what they should have meant. We’re not trying to find out what the original writer meant, we’re trying to work out what is real and true.

    “But I don’t think these difficulties significant enough to give us substantial reason to disregard either theology or science or the fundamental documents of either. We just have to be sure to read them in ways that are in accord with the purposes for which they were actually written.”
    Response: Rather than disregarding theology, I would like to see if it was ever established in the first place! Can you tell me any new thing that theology has found out about the world?

    In summary: theology is not based, as you say, upon observation; theology has never added to our knowledge of the world; theology is not comparable to science.