Atheist History for Young Learners

I was recently privileged to be asked by a major publishing house to review the outline for a new world history text (History of the World), written by a key new atheist writer, who also happens to be a scientist.  As we are all aware,  atheists are especially keen to guarantee that material appearing in textbooks is  accurate–especially when it involves material about science.   So I was happy to see them turning their gaze towards historical questions and developments.   I hope that, in future, our children will benefit from more history books written by men (and atheist women!, let’s not forget ) committed to an atheist worldview:

HISTORY OF THE WORLD

by Jerry Lewis Cohen, PhD

 1.  First came the classical period.  It was when people first began to classify things.  In the classical period men began to get skeptical (skeptical is a Greek word) and they had almost come to disbelieve in the gods and to develop science. Especially Aristotle, and others, too [insert list from Wikipedia].  In this period people invented  biology, though they got some things wrong, and geometry.  The main language was Greek and Latin from which we got a lot of scientific names for things.

Ancient scientific laboratory

2.    But then, Christianity happened.  Superstition is invented. Libraries are burned by Christian theists, especially the big one in Alexandria, where all the scientific discoveries were kept.   Monks eventually take control and close the schools. Women are sent to convents and men are forced to farm for monasteries or become priests.  Constant fighting was called feudalism. Classical learning is destroyed by religion. [Chapter insert: The Greeks were too smart to fight wars. They were too rational. The Romans fought one or two, but what would you expect of people who fell for Christianity.] Black death happens, caused by stupidity about bacteria and disease caused by Christians closing the schools.

Clueless Christian “doctor” dealing with Black Death

3.   After Christianity takes over, things go from dark to darker. If you criticized religion, or talked trash about God you got burned at the stake or beheaded. Things got worse and worse until sometime in the Middle Ages [find date] the pope started the Inquisition.  [Chapter insert:  People believe in witches and think bread can be turned into zombie flesh.]

4. Just when things were getting really dark, Islam happens, started by a psychotic bandit named Muhammad who marries a six year old. If Christianity was bad, Islam was worse because it had never heard of the Greeks,  just a bunch of nomads praying to god for water in the desert [Research–just beginning to find out what other bad things Muslims believed, such as praying and so on.]

5.   Christianity and Islam burn all books and almost destroy knowledge between the dark ages and later times [see names of later times] through superstition and war and violence. The church tries its best to keep people illiterate and poor and away from books.  Earth is flat and sun goes around it. [Chapter insert on Galileo].

6.  Atheism begins sometime during this period, although we don’t have many names because the Church got rid of them with the books.  Many atheists suffer and die for their ideas while pretending to be good Christians [for example…insert some names]

Giordano Bruno

6. But not all the atheists are killed.  Some unbelievers found all the books that the Church had buried and didn’t have time to burn and started schools and tried to open people’s eyes. Unfortunately, religion fought back and killed these people as heretics. It taught people that the world was created by a giant in six days and that people would be punished for their actions if they questioned the Church. But if they obeyed they would go to heaven. This period just before the Enlightenment is called [find name on Google, the one after the time with all that art]   America discovered.

How theists see heaven

7. Some famous men rose up against the Church in this period and even suggested that maybe this giant didn’t exist and that the stories about him in the Bible are lies told by theists. The most famous of these thinkers was a man by the name of Charles Darwin, who proved that the bible was wrong and that human beings were just a thinking species of animals evolved from an apelike ancestors.  The church was not able to kill Darwin because he lived in [insert century].

8. Religion however denied evolution and continued to spread theism and crazy superstitions and fight against reason and science. Even though science is true, religion did not die.  It went on to produce Fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism. [ Insert: Why Science and reason did not produce wars or death: omit China, Russia, Tuskegee experiment, nuclear weapons]

9. Summary: How much more advanced would we be if religion had not come along and destroyed the great, scientific ideas of the Greeks? It is hard to imagine.  [Insert: list of famous atheists starting with Socrates down to Stephen Hawking, leaving out French names and some Jewish accommodationists.  Use mainly scientists]

214 thoughts on “Atheist History for Young Learners

  1. Pingback: We Have Always Been At War With Science

  2. Congrats. A brilliant piece of satire. I am waiting to see how many responses are in the following two groups:
    1. Christians who have had their sense of humor surgically removed and make points to disagree with your findings.
    2. Atheists who think this was a really good essay and offer some additional “facts” to add (e.g., the Church believed the earth was flat, etc.).
    The possibilities are endless.

  3. But then we have “Mystical Writings of the World’s Greatest Physicists: Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Eddington, Pauli, de Brogue, Jeans, and Plank. All concluding that the great difference between the old and the new physics: both the old and the new physics were dealing with shadow-symbols, but the new physics was forced to be aware of the fact — forced to be aware that it was dealing with shadows and illusions, not reality. The old physics didn’t realize this fact. Science is still in the cave. (Plato’s).
    Mysticism is the language of Ultimate Reality – God the source of all that is or ever will be. Just how will Jerry Lewis Cohen, PhD, a scientist, deal with this indisputable historical fact?

  4. Marvellous stuff. I am trying to decide whether the inspiration for the book comes from Dorkins, Myers or Coyne. It seems to be an amalgam of their inimitable intellectual styles(and just as thoughtful).

  5. What is this supposed to be satirizing? Not atheism. Not “new atheism” which doesn’t actually exist and was made up by religionists to demonize writers critical of religion. So who? Satire has to be based on reality, not just irritation with people who value reality and facts.

    • dadisfat – it is satirising the historical ‘expertise’ of many atheists today, many of whom have influence over our children as ‘teachers’. It is a very accurate and tragic reflection on today’s non believing society, which ironically makes you wish to laugh and cry simultaneously.

      • Who specifically are you talking about? Do you have an example? What atheists are teaching false history to kids? We have pretty much exactly the opposite problem in the US. Even now, we have the Texas School Board trying to force textbook publishers to put creationism back in textbooks. What false history are atheists teaching? I honestly have no idea what’s being satirized. I

      • Dadisfart, You say ‘I honestly have no idea what’s being satirized.’ I’m sorry that it so absolutely obvious that you have no idea, and also that you demonstrate you haven’t mastered satire….

      • Steph:

        “non believing society”? Really?

        While the US is of course only some 5% of the world’s population, and I think you mentioned before being aware of this, you still might wish to peruse the Pew Forum Religous Landscape Survey of the US which notes: that some 33% of the survey repondents believe that their “holy” books are the Word of God, taken literally word for word” (Q37); that 47% “completely agree” that “miracles still occur today as in ancient times” (Q39a); and that 40% “completely agree”, and 28% “mostly agree” that “angels and demons are active in the world”.

        Methinks that the problem, at least in the US which tends to have a bigger footprint than the raw numbers suggest, is more one of an excess of gullibility than a dearth of belief. Although I’ll concede there is probably some merit to the idea that science generally having cut the rug out from under traditional beliefs has had some problematic consequences – but eggs and omelettes.

        However, I’m reminded of something from Bertrand Russell quoted in Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain:

        William James used to preach the “will to believe”. For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” …. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite. [Sceptical Essays; 1928]

        “The wish to find out”, arguably the claim to fame for “science”. And something that I think is rather antithetical to much of what passes for “religion” these days in a great many parts of the world.

        Regardless, I am most curious as to what it is you think that “we” should be believing in since I at least certainly got a pejorative sense to the phrasing.

      • Agree with Steersman about gullibility. An honored American tradition going back to our yokel forbears. But they weren’t all yokels, and the fact is America also has the liveliest scientific tradition in the world, far surpassing anything that Richard Dawkins can lay claim to back home. What we don’t have is a strong tradition of teaching critical thinking and have relied on a hit and miss system of aptitudinal training: if you’re good at science and math, do that. If not, get a real job. And yes, there is an aversion to the teaching of critical thinking by religious families, who seem to think it will lead to a rejection of religious truth claims–which it probably will. But critical thinking in brain training, not just an aptitude for science, and it is multidisciplinary. If scientists want to claim critical thinking as part of their natural gift, who am I to judge (quoting the pope), but the results of their critical thinking “out of field” so to speak is not impressive.

      • Steersman, sorry, I should have phrased it more clearly: ‘those non-believers in society’. I am aware of the various distributions around the globe.

      • Joseph:

        Certainly more than a little evidence to justify your “hypothesis’ about “the liveliest scientific tradition in the world”. Leon Lederman, author of The God Particle (“The funniest book about physics ever written”), suggests a few possible reasons for that, as well as some for the other side of the ledger you referred to:

        In science the road to advancement is most rapid when giants are overturned. …. Thus, iconoclasts, rebels with (intellectual) bombs, are sought after zealously – even by the science establishment itself. …. The nurturing and rewarding of the young and creative is a sacred obligation of the science establishment. …. This ethic – that we should remain open to the young, the unorthodox, and the rebellious – creates an opening for the charlatans and the misguided, who can prey upon scientifically illiterate and careless journalists, editors, and other gatekeepers of the media. ….

        The tragedy in all this is not the sloppy pseudoscience writers, not the Wichita insurance salesman who knows exactly where Einstein went wrong and publishes his own book on it, not the faker who will say anything to make a buck – not the Gellers or Velikovskys. It is the damage done to the gullible and science-illiterate general public who can be so easily duped. ….

        Why are we the public, so vulnerable? One possible answer is that the lay public is uncomfortable with science, unfamiliar with the way it evolves and progresses. …. [pgs 192-193]

        Certainly some food for thought in there, and in the balance of that chapter: probably a complex mixture of that “war” between “science” and “religion”, some reflections of the “Wild West” ethos, and, I expect, a significant contribution from the “devil-take-the-hindmost” nature or aspect of American society.

        And I also tend to agree with your comments about “critical thinking”. Apropos of which, you might be interested in this review of Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World by Richard Lewontin some years ago – an amusing and intriguing case, one might argue, of Sinclair Lewis’ “knocking a booster” as Lewontin, in effect, gave a credible criticism of what might be termed Sagan’s “scientism”, and probably some time before it became an issue. But a salient and relevant quote:

        Conscientious and wholly admirable popularizers of science like Carl Sagan use both rhetoric and expertise to form the mind of masses because they believe, like the Evangelist John, that the truth shall make you free. But they are wrong. It is not the truth that makes you free. It is your possession of the power to discover the truth. Our dilemma is that we do not know how to provide that power.

        Certainly seems to be an important question as to how to inculcate that “critical thinking”, presumably that “power to discover the truth” – for oneself; otherwise one tends to wind up with those who are too easily led astray – to everyone’s detriment. One might even suggest that one can lead a horse to a syllogism, but one cannot make it think. So to speak.🙂

      • Steph:

        Thanks for the clarification – that definitely makes more sense; sorry I didn’t spend more time to weigh the context a little more closely than I did.

        However, I expect that the “influence over our children as teachers” is rather more problematic from the “religious” cohort than it is from the “science” one. While one might reasonably give some credit to various religious institutions over the millennia, I think one might also reasonably ask, “Yes, but what have you done for us lately?” On balance it seems rather like a poisoned chalice. Paraphrasing the early Russian scientist and educator Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one might suggest that religion is, at least in significant part, the cradle of the human mind – but one cannot live in the cradle forever.

      • Steersman, see Joe’s reply to dadisfart on ‘atheists [who] want to be custodians of education’ further down on this rather looooong thread.

      • Steersman, you said >>non believing society”? Really?<<

        Here I must support Steph. It really is a non believing society. The confusion arises because the word 'belief' is used so loosely and imprecisely.

        Broadly, 'belief' can encompass the following meanings:
        1) token belief, this is a form of vague intellectual assent;
        2) informed belief, this is belief based on some knowledge but has little practical outcome because it has not been internalised;
        3) committed belief, this is belief, strongly held and internalized in a way that results in changed behaviour.

        You, it seems, mean all three categories of belief while Steph, I would hazard, means ‘committed belief’. Anecdotal evidence from the churches suggests that the number of committed believers is rather small although the number of token believers is large.

        As to which is the correct interpretation, I would suggest that ‘committed belief’ is the right one on the grounds that belief that does not alter behaviour is no different to non belief.

        On re-reading Steph’s comment I see that she is in any case talking about behaviour, so she has made the correct interpretation.

      • Peter, you said:

        As to which is the correct interpretation, I would suggest that ‘committed belief’ is the right one on the grounds that belief that does not alter behaviour is no different to non belief.

        While you did say “correct”, and not “right” interpretation which seems to muddy the waters somewhat, I find the suggested argument rather problematic. One might wonder how you would view those Heaven’s Gate people – 39 of them – who committed mass suicide because they thought, if I’m not mistaken, that there was some sort of a space ship waiting for them some place out in the asteroids. Certainly qualifies as “belief that alters behaviour”, does it not?

        Belief is hardly a guarantee of being right which generally seems to have some relevance to our survival – both as individuals and as a species. Seems our insane asylums are chock-a-block full of people who are quite certain that their beliefs correspond to reality, yet which hardly comport with the facts.

        Sort of seems the crux of the matter, part of the reason why I think that that Forbes article, with its assertion that “the great conflict between science and religion is a myth”, is a real hoot. And, I think, a very stark manifestation of the problem, a general unwillingness on the part of many to actually consider the very different nature of each of those perspectives. Although I will readily concede that there is a significant level of overlap – you may wish to read P. B. Medawar’s essays – The Art of the Soluble – for some discussion on the topic.

    • Dadisfat, all you have done is prove that atheist fundamentalists have no sense of humour whatsoever. Which is a shame, laughter is the best way to endure the inanities of fundamentalism, both religious and atheist.

      • There is no such thing as an “atheist fundamentalist.” That’s a contradiction in terms. Atheism is not a belief and has no content. I have a great sense of humor. Satire has to be based on some kind of reality. This piece was not based on anything but a strawman caricature of imaginary atheists, The reality is quite the opposite when it comes to who is trying to falsify history.

      • You are right to the extent that all satire is based on straw men that don’t really exist. They are manufactured for the sake of making a position or argument look ridiculous. But you are wrong if you were to say that there is no basis in fact for the caricature. of course there is. Not sure what you mean, atheism has no content. Not even a single sentence or premise? Even if that sentence is a disavowal of another sentence, like God exists.

      • Dadisfat, you say >>atheism is a belief and has no content<<

        First, I find it hard to comprehend that a belief can have no content. There must at least be some supporting premises, arguments and some facts. Absent these, we have only blind faith. Is that what you claim, blind faith?

        But, in any case, there are other writers who have supplied abundant content. Perhaps the clearest statement of all was that by Alex Rosenberg The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality

        Mind you, I am not claiming I believe Rosenberg. I present it only as a carefully thought out position, which has the content you deny, and is at the same time a rather good reductio ad absurdum argument

      • dadisfat, if you want to get technical, there is no such thing as an “Islamic fundamentalist” or even “Catholic fundamentalist”, since The Fundamentals were not about those religions.

        When you have atheists claiming with a straight face that there are two types of Christians, fundamentalists and hypocrites, it seems fair to call those atheists “fundamentalists” at least, since they chose to take that side in that particular theological debate.

    • It’s satirising atheists like this guy:

      http://www.nobeliefs.com/comments10.htm

      And this guy:

      http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/closure.html

      http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/dark-age.htm

      http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/ruin.html

      As an atheist medievalist, I come across these creaking nineteenth century positivist myths and cartoonish pseudo history literally every day. I’m actually planing to write a book debunking this crap because I’m so tired of historically illiterate atheists making complete asses themselves babbling total nonsense.

      • I firmly agree that baseless tripe about ancient history is frequently found among modern-day atheists and that such tripe is frustrating and should be countered. However, I still see the post I’m commenting on as written in terrible taste and as having no useful point.

      • Who is teaching “Jesus never existed” in schools?

        And not for nothing, but the mythicists might be right. It’s not a ridiculous position. no matter how much the orthodoxy wants to pretend it is. RJH has espoused the position himself, so is he satirizing himself.

        It’s certainly nowhere near as absurd as a position as any genuine belief in the supernatural, yet I don’t see NT Wright and William Lane Craig getting called out for the frauds they are.

      • “Who is teaching “Jesus never existed” in schools?”

        No-one. What has that got to do with anything I said? You asked who Hoffmann was satirising, so I gave you examples. Does the fact that they aren’t trying to teach their crap in schools make it okay somehow? Does the fact these atheist kooks aren’t as numerous or organised as the Christian kooks somehow make them unable to be satirised?

        “the mythicists might be right. It’s not a ridiculous position.”

        Not unless you’re familiar with the evidence, the scholarship and the gaping holes in their ideas, no.

        “I don’t see NT Wright and William Lane Craig getting called out for the frauds they are.”

        You don’t? I have seen precisely that. I’ve criticised both. I’ve satirised Craig myself. And what has that got to do with anything I said in response to you anyway?

    • –‘Not “new atheism” which doesn’t actually exist and was made up by religionists to demonize writers critical of religion.’

      Wrong. The term ‘New Atheism’ was coined by Gary Wolf, a self-confessed agnostic (see the article here: http://wrd.cm/1iJsjt1). Wolf’s article was posted with permission at Richard Dawkins’ own blog (here: http://bit.ly/1iJsFjm).

      New Atheism certainly does exist, and New Atheists themselves are quick to remind us of that fact.

    • Hello dadisfat, this satire is directly inferring knowledge or lack of knowledge about history, and inaccurate authority. It does not suggest that we are not justified in protesting against this ridiculous law. This law is an injustice to human dignity and freedom. This law is naturally completely absurd and should not be obeyed. This law needs to be revoked and the politician responsible should stand down, resign, abdicate, (along with the rest of his absurd party). This report is completely irrelevant to the purpose of this satire.

    • Hello Beau, who on earth, or at least on the thread including the author, do you assume is ‘Christian’? There is of course, evidence to support an argument that some atheists know very little about history, and especially ‘scientists’ who are atheists and know little about the history and evolution of ideas. While they aspire to accuracy they pass misinformation onto our children on subjects they should, but don’t, know very much about.

      • Of course! Fundamentalists of every stripe love to rewrite history in their favor. I’m not assuming anyone is Christian. What do you mean?

      • Oh dear Beau – who are you assuming is a fundamentalist? Rewriting history? It is ironic you don’t understand satire don’t you think. You miss out on so much colour in life.

      • Steph

        What are you talking about? Of course, I enjoy and understand satire – isn’t that the point of this humorous post? Rewriting history according to one’s biases?

      • This is tragic Beau. You have just demonstrated beyond doubt that you neither understand satire nor understand the point of this post. With this satire the author has used humour and irony to expose the ignorance of some atheists about history. The author is not ‘rewriting history’. Some contemporary atheists don’t know history and distort the realities of history in ways which reflect and fit with their assumptions about the present. The author is justified criticising their stupidity and biases as there is plenty of evidence provided by some contemporary atheists that they are quite vacuous in historical matters.

      • Steph

        Ahh, yes, I didn’t say the author of the post was rewriting history. He is satirizing those who rewrite history or (if you prefer) “distort the realities of history”. I understand. I got it the first time. Why do you feel this need to explain the joke to me in such obvious terms. You know the old adage … “if you have to explain the joke” …

        But no worries. I get the joke. What’s not to get?

      • Beau, see Tim’s references above. They provide examples of atheists who demonstrate they do not know very much about history. Ergo, this is not about what ‘Christians think that atheists think about history’. Some of us know how some atheists view history with evidence.

      • Sigh …

        Steph, the original post is a great satire of how some atheists view history (believe me, I know this). The bitter irony is that this is also, now, how many Christians believe that ALL atheists view history. A meta-satire derived from the truth of the original satire.

        Believe me, I’m not criticizing Hoffmann’s satire. I’m commenting on the sad result that affects how all of us are viewed by Christians.

      • For a little context, I gather most of the repliers missed the Forbes magazine article about Jerry Coyne’s (Jerry Lewis Cohen?) wretched performance as an historian. It’s a common trait of atheist rhetoric to be dizzy dumb about history, and this applies alas!) even to atheists who happen to be scientists and academics. Dawkins couldn’t disguise it in the God Delusion and was pilloried for it multiple times. It is easy enough to say that what I am satirizing here is based on what Christians think atheist think about history. But it’s a false assumption. Many atheist think exactly this about history, either out of spiteful ignorance that one version of history is as good as any other, especially if it does a disservice to religion, or because they honestly believe in a false chronology within which religion played no seminal role in the transmission of culture, ethics, knowledge and science. But this ignorance, deliberate or convenient, is only half the transgression, and half the outrage. story. I did not write this trivial piece to be trivial or amusing. I wrote it to provoke some discussion of intellectual honesty among atheists. Men and women professing rectitude in science and intolerance of pseudoscience and sham research and claims (e.g., creationism) creeping into textbooks have an obligation to be scientific about history. How can you be honest and credible about the universe when you cannot be honest and credible about the human past we know? What weird scientific fideism permits this weird unscientific epistemology?

      • As an atheist with historical training and an interest in ancient and medieval history, the historical illiteracy (sometimes to the point of wilful pig-headed historical illiteracy) of too many of my fellow atheists has been a bugbear of mine for many years. I’ve recently posted a beginner’s guide to the study of history for atheists, which was in response to an expression of total disdain for the whole discipline “history sucks”) and a absolute and absolutely naive dismissal of the capacity of historians to tell us anything meaningful about the past.

        http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/why-history-isnt-scientific-and-why-it.html

        It seems unless the “history” in question conforms to an ideological agenda and/or is served up by atheist polemicists like Richard “Artie Ziff” Carrier, the likes of Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers and the howler monkeys on Butterflies and Wheels don’t want to know. Anyone who dares puncture their neo-Gibbonian positivist Darper-White balloons are screeched down as “revisionists” and “accomodationists”. I’m so tired of debunking the same tired atheist pseudo historical fairy stories that I’m planning a book with the working title “History for Atheists: How Not to Use HIstory in Debates About Religion”.

  6. I request the author of this post pay five billion dollars in damages to Midwestern farmers. The smoke of the strawmen he has burned to the ground is heavier in intensity than the smog in Beijing.

    • Oh golly. Are you lot still throwing that straw men fallacy around as your all-purpose rejoinder? Do straw men have joints? I am not sure that you can have satire without them, piled high and deep. But in satirical rhetoric irony and hyperbole are key elements, and satire men are only useful foils in argumentation. Try again.

      • According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, satire is

        a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

        If this blog post has nothing to do with reality, then what is it meant to satirize?

      • Pithorn: needs to read less in the dictionary and more Swift; start with the irreal situation he concocts in his Meditation upon a broomstick. But more to the point, are you quite sure that the abysmal record of new atheists (I except only the late Christopher Hitchens) and especially Jerry Coyne, who is quite bombastically wrong about things, in writing about history is not based in “reality”? I am intrigued that you seem to think a scientist as scientist can be forgiven historical ignorance; is it because he is a scientist or do you have a more religious and metaphysical view of science that suggests to you that scientists can’t be wrong? I grant a good biophysicist a degree of soft infallibility in biophysics, but how does that extend to areas he hasn’t studied since this second year of college, if then?

      • @ R. J. Hoffmann
        As I said, Coyne said nothing wrong in the sentences attributed to him in the Forbes site article.

        As we are all infinitely ignorant, ignorance is no sin. Falsehood, however, deserves to be dissected and corrected.

        You have a bizarrely antagonistic tone towards the people of the New Atheist community, especially toward its most publicly prominent members. Due to your almost gloating manner, it almost seems as if you don’t want the most publicly prominent members of the New Atheist community to improve their historical understanding. Dismissal and mockery are no substitute for correction. Criticism of ideas should focus on ideas, not people.

        Of course I understand that scientists can be wrong.

  7. While I enjoyed a smile at the good Doctor’s expense, I have to admit my own knowledge of Western history is scarcely more impressive. If you need to reach me, I’ll be in the library.

  8. You forgot, in all your artwork, the Priapus statue that Murdock claims is actually of Peter, because, Peter and the cock crowed, and a cock is, a cock, you know, and, thence and voila, Priapus is Peter! Worse bad puns than the Yahwist.

      • Murdock has a long track record of nonsense. My personal favorite is that as evidence that ancient pagans believed in a crucified Attis (thus a Jesus parallel), she quote Josue V. Harari referring to a “castrated and crucified Attis” (Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post Structuralist Criticism). Among the things Murdock failed to appreciate were:

        1) Harari did not write it. He was the editor of the volume and the quote appeared in the paper “Semiology and Rhetoric” by Paul de Man.

        2) Paul de Man was not speaking of any ancient belief in a crucified Attis; he was speaking of the work of William Butler Yates and referred to Attis as he appeared in Yate’s poem “Vascillaton,”

        3) Attis did not get crucified in the poem; he ended up castrated and in a crucifixion pose hanging between the fall dying leaves and still living green leaves and Yates used this crucifixion pose to refer to the end of the classical era with a reference to what would come.

        Of course, anyone with any exposure to Murdock recognizes that her research technique primarily consists of finding quotemines in Google book searches without ever reading the context.

    • She didn’t actually claim it was Peter. She implied it by putting the picture next to her discourse (which was admittedly inane) about the name “Peter” having a Phallic connotation in Greek, but she never actually said the Priapus statue was Peter. Ehrman screwed up by saying the statue wasn’t in the Vatican archive, which it is, it’s just not Peter.

      Murdock is not representative of either atheists or mythicists anyway, I think she’s ridiculous.

      Why is it that those who argue for the truth of supernatural claims don’t get the same amount of scorn, though? Is Mike Lacona NOT ridiculous?

      The religionists are the ones who really do have influence over education. Atheists do not.

      • The whole point is that if atheists want to be custodians of education they need to learn something about how things happened. Mere disbelief is not a recipe for education in any subject. In fact, raw skepticism (as the Greeks knew) may simply lead to a cynicism toward all non-empirical reality, which would be fatal for a theory like evolution (for example) which is built up from plausible conclusions and conjectures, not from laboratory science. Fundamentalists are dangerous because they allege certain cosmologies and theories of human origins are “merely” theories. But an atheist who thinks that religion suffocated learning (Russo’s thesis, modified by Richard Carrier, both unfactual) and presents it as fact is equally unsuitsble for inclusion in a high school text book.

      • Given the complete irrationality of Murdock’s exposition, I don’t think Ehrman screwed up at all. It is simply that Murdock is so completely off her rocker that you could read that book and deduce just about anything. She began her discussion with a few choice comments on the word Peter:

        “Peter” is not only “the rock” but also “the cock,” or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.

        This is an interesting comment considering not only did the use of “peter” for “penis” in English develop in the mid-nineteenth century, but the Greek word for rock (petra) would be an odd choice for penis since the gender of the word is feminine. Furthermore, Paul referred to Peter as Cephas, a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word for rock (keypha), and so any alleged connection breaks down even further. If either petra or keypha were used as slang for penis in the ancient world, such evidence is not provided by Murdock and the possibility seems unlikely.

        Murdock then appeals to a collection of nineteenth century cranks (Godfrey Higgins, T. W. Doane, Madame Blavatsky) and Barbara G. Walker in support of Peter’s mythological status. She adds to the fun by citing Blavatsky to prove Peter was unknown to Justin Martyr in the second century:

        In addition to the canonical gospels, the Christianized Peter tales were not in existence at the time of Justin Martyr (100-165), who, as Blavatsky relates, “writing in the early part of the second century in Rome, where he fixed his abode, eager to get hold of the least proof in favor of the truth for which he suffered, seems perfectly unconscious of St. Peter’s existence!! Neither does any other writer of any consequence mention him in connection with the Church of Rome, earlier than the days of Irenaeus, when the latter set himself to invent a new religion, drawn from the depth of his imagination.”

        Of course, that would make this statement of Justin Martyr a little difficult to explain:

        For he (Jesus) called one of His disciples – previously known by the name of Simon – Peter; since he recognized Him to be Christ the Son of God, by the revelation of His Father.

        not to mention this one:

        And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder; this was an announcement of the fact that it was He by whom Jacob was called Israel, and Oshea called Jesus (Joshua), under whose name the people who survived of those that came from Egypt were conducted into the land promised to the patriarchs.

        Such are the dangers of relying heavily upon pseudoscholarship by occultist cranks. Perhaps Murdock should have read Justin herself before repeating such drivel.

        Murdock then rambles on about a connection between Peter and homoeroticism within patriarchal cults and follows this by citing the following by Walker:

        The cock was another totemic “peter” sometimes viewed as the god’s alter ego. Vatican authorities preserved a bronze image of a cock with an oversize penis on a man’s body, the pedestal inscribed “The Savior of the World.” The cock was also a solar symbol.

        At this point Murdock follows new tangents to some other topic and leaves the reader to sort out the hot mess she left behind.

        So what exactly was Murdock’s point? The argument seems to be … Peter was an Apostle … Peter was linked to a crowing rooster… “peter” is a slang word for penis … there is a statue of a rooster-man with a penis for a nose … therefore … what??? This sequence, like much of the book, is a series of bizarre claims from dubious sources strung together by non sequiturs to form an impenetrable wall of ignorance that the light of common sense cannot breech. By the end, the reader has been dragged through a mangled sequence of disjointed claims and left to decipher the tea leaves to figure out her intent.

        This is a continuing pattern throughout the book: Does she really believe the pyramids were not built by Egyptians as tombs but were celestial computers for refugees from Atlantis? Does she really believe academia is controlled by a secret Freemasonic brotherhood led by the pope? Does she really believe the Apostle Peter is based upon a penis-nosed rooster? Such “deep-from-within-the-recesses-of-a-padded-room” outbursts make any alleged misreading by Ehrman understandable.

        Ehrman likely read the passage outlined above (almost certainly for the first time), became glassy-eyed, mentally recalled the theme from The Twilight Zone, and then sarcastically quipped:

        There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.

        Well, It turns out a statue of a penis nosed rooster does exist but it has no relation to either Peter or Christianity. It is an example of a Priapus, a minor but popular god related to fertility that was often depicted by figures with oversized penises.

        Murdock had responded that she never stated the statue of the penis-nosed rooster was Peter. However, although she did not explicitly equate the two, some sort of connection was implied by the context of the discussion. She had already stated Peter was mythical, connected him to pagan figures, stated his name was slang for penis, associated him with a rooster, and then brought up the penis-nosed rooster-headed bronze sculpture.

        If Murdock was not attempting to connect Peter to that sculpture, then why bring it up at all? If there was no intended link, then it has no part in the discussion and sticks out like a sore thumb … or at least a sore penis. It is obvious Murdock was connecting the statue to Peter, however incompetently, and Ehrman had every right to consider the whole thing, as he put it, a “howler.”

  9. What? You were making fun of Doctor Coyne? And here he was kind enough to review your upcoming book about the historical Jesus before it was even written. Whew. You intellectuals play too rough for me.

    (Thanks for the Forbes link, though. Saved me a trip to the library.)

  10. The Coyne article helps provide some context, thanks. But it’s still just one guy. No reason to make sweeping indictments of atheists as a whole, like there’s ssome kidn of campaign by atheists to falsify history books. That literally is the case with evangelicals and the influence they have over textbooks.

    • No, it’s not just one guy, it’s a meme. And this is satire (to repeat) not a bill of indictment. The textbook issue is almost never commented on. If you read down the list, there are even a few atheists who acknowledge the problem. I certainly believe competent scientists should growl when they see nonsense and pseudoscience included in textbooks. Organized atheism has been very vocal about this. This is me growling when atheists don’t apply the same standard to the teaching of history. And why? Because they are loathe to give “religion” credit for any crucial role in the history of intellectual progress, and thus willing to shortcut and falsify the true story of development. if they were to do this with (for an obvious example) the story of human evolution, their whole paradigm would be useless. But your defense of atheism is spirited and useful; it reminds me of a growing trend for new atheists as a community to respond to “attacks” like the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and the Catholic League, qq.v.

  11. Pingback: Atheist History for Young Learners | The New Oxonian

  12. Amusing, but awfully smug.
    Skeptics have been trying to argue with inordinantly powerful established doctrines for several millennia. Only recently have they had the standing to place theism’s assumptions, which are entirely superstitious, surrealistic and preposterous – yet occasionally contain human wisdom- without fear of excommunication or execution. It turns out the putzes, like the author of this piece, who know the difference between Myths like Noah’s Ark and transsbstantiation, are really the ones to blame for these dark ages.

    • There seem to be a couple of themes emerging from the comments by those who are displeased with Hoffmann’s piece:

      (i) “Some Christians distort history so how dare you complain when some atheists do it!”

      (ii) “Christianity has been bad for a long time so … something or other. And you’re a putz, with your big words and book larnin'”

    • Bob, not at all smug but exactly on point. Atheists claim the high ground with labels like ‘free thinkers’, ‘rationalists’, ‘skeptic’ and yet they evidence all the ignorant, sloppy thinking that Joseph Hoffmann pillories. This phenomenon is made even more striking by the fact that it is mostly academics who are guilty. When you claim the high ground you will be held to high standards. In this case people like Coyne fall short of even the most minimal standards, the high ground has eluded them.

      Joseph Hoffmann holds the mirror up to atheists who howl with disbelief when they see their own image. There is an especial irony in this. Atheist fundamentalists have, over the past decade or so, launched a wide ranging attack on religion. The manner of their attack leaves them wide open to the same accusations they so gleefully make. However they seem congenitally unable to recognise and internalise the criticism they so obviously merit. This is what makes them ‘fundamentalist’. Their extreme emotional commitment to their cause blinds them to reality. They have constructed a simple world of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, the enemy. And like the fundamentalists, any methods are justified when attacking ‘Them’. It is this readiness to use any weapon to hand, regardless of the truth, that makes them as dishonest and as fundamentalist as the people they deride.

      • “They have constructed a simple world of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, the enemy.”

        I’m regularly contacted by righteous “Gnus” who accuse me of only pretending to be an atheist. They assure me that the fact I criticise atheists for the kind of historical illiteracy Hoffmann satirises above and so am occasionally cited or quoted approvingly by Christians proves that I am actually a Christian apologist. One confronted me just two days ago and insisted that I am an Christian in atheist’s clothing. His evidence” I said things he disliked. I showed him posts and articles of mine criticising Christians for historical illiteracy as well, and pointed to a 20+ year online history of posting as an atheist. But he was convinced this was all an elaborate smokescreen.

        And these guys call themselves “rational”.

      • Tim, I think this can be explained by appealing to the selection effect. The Internet has allowed people to self-select according to emotional needs and form self-reinforcing groups. I doubt that rationality has anything to do with it. It seems to me that these are people with a strongly felt emotional need to 1) be superior, 2) be assertive, 3) to bully and dominate. They may be compensating for insecurities by constructing simple, stark categories that allow no doubts. This would explain their inability to discern nuance and their unwillingness to concede any merit on the part of their ‘opponents’. This would explain their combative nature. To them, debate is not a good in itself that can be stimulating and informing, to them its purpose is to win, dominate and crush.

  13. Ouch. At least on the behalf of Dr. Coyne, and at least to some extent. Although I think that that Forbes article has its thumb on the scales:

    Jerry Coyne … promotes the false belief that there is a fundamental conflict between science and religion ….

    While Coyne and Company tend to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, it seems the article swings too far in the other direction in suggesting, arguing rather vehemently, that there isn’t any “conflict between science and religion”. But the crux of the matter is, I think, the tendency for all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, to engage in categorical thinking – “four legs good, two legs bad”, the manifestation of the problem of induction.

    Tends to produce some amusing consequences – at least if you’re an aficionado of gallows humour – such as no end of “No True Scotsman” fallacies. Coyne apparently can’t, or won’t, see the good that was motivated by some perceptions and values that come in under the rubric of “religion” while Berezow and Hannam can’t see the horrors that some others of them have manifested.

    Part of the reason why I tend to put such terms in quote marks: “atheism”, “religion”, “feminism” – even “humanism”. Pretty difficult to have sane – and civil – conversations when we all tend to have very different perspectives on those concepts.

    • Steersman, it helps if we take into account the enormous fallibility, liability to perversion and corruption that characterizes the human species.
      My fallibility hypothesis:
      1) bad people do bad things, much of the time;
      2) there are bad people, everywhere;
      3) bad people infiltrate every organisation known to mankind, without exception;
      4) bad people do bad things in every organization known to mankind, without exception, much of the time.

      And so we get corrupt cops, judges, politicians, lawyers, doctors, academics, husbands, wives, atheists, priests, etc. This should not surprise us, it is just the nature of the beast and not necessarily the nature of the organization.

      The trick here is to separate the beast from the organization by asking if the organization somehow supports, encourages or tolerates the behaviour. To do this one must look at their founding documents, their ‘constitution’ and their prevailing culture. Then one must judge it within the historical circumstances, the prevailing milieu. It is very rare indeed that any person or organisation is able to completely defy the prevailing milieu or zeitgeist (crucifixion is the likely result). For example, Cicero was a wise statesman, lawyer and ethics philosopher(De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum) and yet he supported slavery. (But he lost his head when he tried to preserve the Roman Republic).

      To further complicate matters, any institution can accumulate sufficient bad people that its culture becomes corrupted, sometimes irremediably. History is replete with examples of this. Here we must judge the institution by its capacity for recovery, reformation and healing.

      Applying these factors to an understanding of human institutional behaviour requires nuanced insight that is well informed and this seems to be rather beyond the abilities of ‘New Atheism’. They adhere to the simplistic formula:
      Bad People == Bad Institutions == Bad Principles,
      which is just too bad, when one considers the bad people within ‘New Atheism’.

      • Peter:

        Yes, I quite agree with you in the specific case that there are some “bad people within New Atheism” – some dogmaticism and narrow-mindedness in some that isn’t all that far removed from the worst in religion. And likewise in the general about bad people and bad principles and bad consequences.

        However, I think one needs a bit of honesty to fairly evaluate some of the salient and more problematic differences between “religion” and “science”, one of which is suggested by Pascal’s “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” Not entirely sure why there seems to be quite a bit of truth to that, but offhand, it seems that thinking one has “The Supreme Being” in one’s back pocket has to give some extra headroom to those of us with a predilection for bullying their fellows. You may know of the 19th century cleric Frederic William Farrar who coined “the term abominable fancy for the longstanding Christian idea that the eternal punishment of the damned would entertain the saved”. As Dawkins said of Aquinas who apparently developed or promoted the idea, “Nice man”; nice bunch of people.

        But part of the reason why I tried to suggest that none of those “philosophies” or perspectives are without their flaws and limitations, that it is incumbent on us if not mandatory that “we” make some effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. Although, to coin a phrase, there’s the rub. But somewhat apropos, something from At Home in the Universe by the scientist Stuart Kauffman:

        The science in creation science is no science at all, but is the moral anguish so foolish? Or should creationism be viewed rather more sympathetically – misguided to be sure, but part of a broader quest to reinvent the sacred in our secular world? [pg 6]

        So, “reinventing the sacred” seems a plausible entry on the “wheat” and “baby” sides of the ledger for “religion”; a belief in the literal divinity of Jesus and in “the abominable fancy” rather clearly, I think, ones for the “chaff” and “bathwater” sides.

      • Steersman, as a devout Catholic, I naturally disagree with you about your metaphor of sorting the wheat from the chaff. I believe I can make a rather good case for my point of view. But let’s put that aside for the moment. The reason for my reply is to comment on your claims that, in effect, religion motivates and enables evil.

        To clarify, I can’t speak for all religions, only Catholicism. I go regularly to Mass (at least twice a week) and listen most attentively to the Bible readings and homilies so I think I am vaguely qualified to speak for Catholicism, as it is really practised on the ground floor.

        Now here’s the strange thing. I am continually and relentlessly exposed to a message of love, forgiveness, tolerance and understanding. It is a message of meekness, of humility, of acceptance and of peace.

        And there is an even stranger thing. Our community goes out to practice these teachings by running soup kitchens, hospices, aid centres, schools for the disabled, etc., etc. I live on the Southern tip of Africa and am witness to both the terrible poverty of this region and the heroic efforts of our Church to relieve the poverty and suffering.

        But most strange of all, people ask me to believe that this great message of love and forgiveness, with its practice of charitable love, somehow motivates wars and evil.

        To say that these bizarre contradictions leave me speechless is a pale shadow of my incredulity.

        Now I am not denying that people can listen to these messages of love and forgiveness and still go out to perform acts of evil. It is abundantly obvious that in some cases they do just that.

        But then what should you blame? The religion that teaches love, tolerance and forgiveness? Or the evil that lives in the heart of humanity, resistant to any message of love?

        I can give you a long list of wars that had nothing to do with religion. I can give you a long list of atrocities committed by explicitly atheist regimes. And I can give you a long list of regimes where the rulers purposely perverted religions for their own ends.

        Why ignore the vast body of countervailing evidence?
        Why be so selective in your interpretation of the evidence?

      • Peter:

        Steersman, as a devout Catholic, I naturally disagree with you about your metaphor of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

        Why? Because you think that every last bit of Catholic dogma and policy is, ipso facto, the “gospel truth”? That all of it is wheat and not a bit of it qualifies as chaff? That some aspects aren’t more poisonous and problematic than others?

        The reason for my reply is to comment on your claims that, in effect, religion motivates and enables evil.

        Not sure that what I said could be construed as asserting that “religion motivates and enables evil” – for one thing, I expect that we’re each likely to have very different conceptions of “evil” and what it entails. No, I think I was arguing more that it is only an aspect of religion, a common feature of it – not every last part of it, that is responsible for allowing “evil” to flourish. The closest analogy I can think of offhand is with explosives: some mixtures tend to be more volatile and powerful than others, largely because of aspects or features of the various elements and compounds used.

        And the central and most problematic aspects seem to be some combination of uncritical belief, and dogmatic literalism. The consequences of which are, I think, rather pervasive and pernicious within Christianity and Islam in general, and Catholicism in particular. For instance, consider this choice bit from Ignatius Loyola:

        That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.

        An attitude that hardly died with the man who wrote it some 500 years ago, a case in point being the recent rather acrimonious “debate” over the literal truth, or not, of the “myth” of Adam and Eve; you may wish to take a gander at this post by Jerry Coyne on the topic for starters, and you could search his site for further variations on the theme.

        But all of that kind of reminds me of a documentary on ape behaviour I saw some time ago in which one of them had put its hand into a clear plastic jar with a narrow top, and grabbed onto a banana therein. But the nature of the jar was such that it couldn’t get the banana out as long as it was being grabbed so forcefully within the ape’s fist – which caused the poor beast to go into paroxysms of rage. But rather analogous, I think, to the dogmatic literalists – primarily in religions, although there are more than a few even in “atheism” – who rather forcefully grab onto the chaff, while losing sight of what I think is still some quite valuable “wheat” associated with it. Consisting largely, I think, of some plausible mythology, “some profound psychology and exquisite logic” as one writer put it, some vision of humans, and of humanity, that, while rather badly flawed, is not without some significant utilitarian value – to coin a phrase, “where there is no vision the people perish”.

      • One person’s “separating the wheat from the chaff” is another person’s “cherrypicking”. Both terms can be used to apply to the same activity. Which one you use depends whose side you’re on.

  14. Steersman, you said
    >>However, I think one needs a bit of honesty to fairly evaluate some of the salient and more problematic differences between “religion” and “science”<<

    I'm not quite sure why that remark crept into this debate but in any case I will reply since it illustrates rather nicely a huge misunderstanding about religion.

    First of all, we can dispense with the need to advocate 'a bit of honesty'. We can take that as a given unless you think you somehow have privileged access to honesty. Perhaps you would like to explain?

    Now to deal with 'problematic differences between religion and science'. Just assume, for the sake of argument(difficult, I know), that a creator God does really exist. In that case the laws of nature themselves were created by God as the instrument for operating the Universe. Given the assumption of a creator God's existence we can agree this is a reasonable conclusion.

    In that case, since science is the process of discovering the laws of nature, science would be doing nothing more than uncover how God operates the Universe. In this case there could not be a difference between science and religion(properly understood). The world operates naturally, according to the laws of nature, because that is exactly what God intended when he created the laws of nature and science is the proper tool for understanding this. There cannot be a contradiction.

    Of course there are varieties of belief that make other contentions but the view I have expressed is that of the Catholic Church, which is a strong supporter of the scientific method.

    Now to anticipate a possible reply. Someone is bound to mention Galileo. So what? A mistaken judgement by the Church 400 years ago in the infancy of science is hardly surprising. There were many mistaken judgements, witness Newton's study of alchemy. Today there are just as many mistaken judgements within the science community.

    The essential message of religion is moral in nature, it is not and was never intended to be a science textbook.

    • Peter:

      “First of all, we can dispense with the need to advocate ‘a bit of honesty’. We can take that as a given unless you think you somehow have privileged access to honesty. Perhaps you would like to explain?”

      Not to give you an overly hard time, but one might reasonably ask how much honesty is manifested by insisting on the truth of something for which there is diddly squat in the way of tangible evidence or proof. For example, insisting on the literal reality and existence of Jehovah in the face of similar assertions, currently and historically, about the existence of other equally ephemeral, and equally anthropomorphic deities – most of which have bitten the dust: RIP. I think Dawkins mentioned a survey that suggested something like 10,000 to 100,000 “gods” had traipsed across the stage of man’s evolution over, probably, several hundred thousand years. Although “blighted the stage” may be the more appropriate phrase.

      But a little difficult, I think, in the face of such facts to insist that one’s own conception of “gawd” is the one that should carry the day. At least honestly.

      “Just assume, for the sake of argument (difficult, I know), that a creator God does really exist. In that case the laws of nature themselves were created by God as the instrument for operating the Universe. Given the assumption of a creator God’s existence we can agree this is a reasonable conclusion.”

      It’s a reasonable conclusion IF the premise is true. Which you blithely, if not dishonestly, proceed to accept as, if not insist is, the truth – on absolutely no evidence – by your assertion that “that is exactly what God intended”. You may wish to review this Wikipedia article on the logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent”. Which you seem to have provided a rather classic example of.

      And people insist that “the great conflict between science and religion is a myth”. Ha!
      dkdkdkk

      • Well, if Dawkins said that he’s wrong. In Hinduism alone there are close to 300 million gods and goddesses. The Greeks and the Romans have nothing on the Hindus.

      • Steersman, to repeatedly describe your opponent in debate as ‘dishonest’ has to be the single most useless response in any kind of debate. It contributes nothing useful except giving us some revealing insights into your character. It also seems to demonstrate the absence of substance in your arguments.

        Please give me clear replies to these points:
        1) Do you have the slightest idea what dishonesty means?
        – Please define.
        2) Do you have you any idea of the difference between being mistaken and being dishonest?
        – Please define.
        3) Given the definition of dishonesty, do you have you even the vaguest inkling of any evidence that I was dishonest?
        – Please give examples and show how they clearly and unambiguously meet the standards of the definition for dishonesty.

        My advice is that you stop squirming and start engaging in sincere debate that addresses the central arguments in a responsible way.

      • Ken,
        The Divine is ultimately thought to be one essence … Hinduism generally regards its 330 million deities as extensions of one ultimate reality, many names for one ocean, many “masks” for one God.
        World Religions: A Voyage of Discovery

        In Hinduism, the concept of God varies from one sect to another and from one book to another. Hinduism is set in a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning henotheism, monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism and monism among others.[1][2][3][4] It is often aptly termed monistic theism and even open monotheism by some scholars, but is not purely polytheistic as outsiders perceive it to be.

        Today, most Hindus are polytheistic or monotheistic but open to believing in and praying to several gods. Vaishnavism, particularly Krishnaism, Shaktism and some forms of Shaivism remain the most explicit forms of monotheistic worship of a personal God within Hinduism. Other Hindus, such as many of those who practice Shaivism, tend to assume the existence of a singular God, but do not necessarily associate God with aspects of a personality. Rather they envisage God as an impersonal Absolute (Brahman), who can be worshipped only in part in a human form.

        In Arya Samaj, it is believed that the different names denoting various deities in the Rigveda actually refer to one single cosmic God, who is beyond corruption, separated from the temporary world and yet exercising absolute control over all matters of the world. Nature, human soul and God are viewed as three separate entities, with God usually referred to as Ishvara.

        Source God in Hinduism

        So I hope you see that it is unwise to encapsulate a complex reality in a tendentious sound bite. Leave that stuff to Dorkins, he brandishes ignorance as a badge of honour.

      • Peter,

        As a point of reference to answer your first question:

        dis•hon•est (ds-nst)
        adj.
        1. Disposed to lie, cheat, defraud, or deceive.

        And to answer your third, if I’m not mistaken you were the one to first throw the “dishonest” card down on the table [November 4th] which I then, on Nov. 7th, turned back to you:

        It’s a reasonable conclusion IF the premise is true. Which you blithely, if not dishonestly, proceed to accept as, if not insist is, the truth – on absolutely no evidence – by your assertion that “that is exactly what God intended”.

        Which was a suggestion, in the context of my argument which you haven’t addressed yet, that you were guilty there of the logical fallacy of “affirming the consequent”, a helpful example from the Wikipedia article on the topic being the following:

        If Bill Gates owns Fort Knox, then he is rich.
        Bill Gates is rich.
        Therefore, Bill Gates owns Fort Knox.

        Which seems rather analogous, virtually the same, as the following paraphrase of what I take to be what you said in your comment above:

        If God exists then he would have created laws [Garden of Eden, Moses] for the regulation of his creation;
        Laws apparently exist for the “regulation” of the universe;
        Therefore God exists.

        Not really cricket, at least an honest game of it, or a valid logical construction to preface a statement, the premise, with a big IF and then use the existence of the “consequent”, the things that supposedly follow only if the premise is true – i.e., “Bill Gates is rich”, “Laws exist” – to negate the entirely hypothetical nature of the premise.

        In which case it seems that you are obliged to either retract your apparent conclusion – i.e., “because that is exactly what God intended when he created the laws of nature” – which seems a rather explicit if not dishonest assertion as to his existence, not to mention being a rather arrogant assertion about knowing the content of his mind if he (or she) exists, and the things that would have followed from it only if he exists, and that wouldn’t have if he didn’t; and concede that you’re badly mistaken; or that you intend to deceive others on the point, with or without having already deceived yourself to begin with. On the latter point you may wish to peruse the article on the book by the well-regarded evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers titled The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life.

        Further and relative to the question of being mistaken, it seems to me that in the face of the existence of literally myriads of other conceptions of “gawd” and assertions as to its nature and its existence, and the various bits of fantastic and lurid gingerbread tacked onto them, it would take a remarkably unaware or dishonest person to not realize or acknowledge that all of those “gawds”, including their own, are little more than conjectures or hypotheses or “philosophick romances” at best, fevered nightmares at worst. In any case, not something to engender much in the way of trust.

      • To these examples of affirming the consequence, we might add
        If scientific theory T is true, then these observations X will occur
        observations X occur
        Therefore, T is true

        All of natural science is founded on a logical fallacy, a fact that David Hume called “the problem of induction,” leading to several hundred years of philosophical squid ink. That is one reason why the conclusions of science are always less certain than those of mathematics.

        However, unlike Paley, Dawkins,and others too heavily influenced by Hume, Descartes, and the rest, Thomas never made such that argument, but argued deductively from the lawfulness of nature.

      • Steersman,
        what on earth are you saying?
        Keep it simple, really, there is no need for all that verbiage.

        It is straightforward enough:
        1) You accuse me of being dishonest.
        2) Dishonest, in the context of our discussion, is to deliberately make an assertion that is known, by myself, to be false in either its facts or reasoning.
        3) Quote, verbatim, the assertion you claim to be dishonest.
        4) Show that I know the assertion to be false in either its facts or its reasoning.

        Of course many people make mistakes in either their facts or their reasoning(and that is especially apparent in your comments). That does not make them(or you) dishonest, merely mistaken.

        So there you have it.
        1) What assertion did I make where I knew the facts or the reasoning to be false?
        2) Show that I knew the facts or reasoning to be false.

        Dispense with the verbiage and give a brief, straightforward reply that is to the point.

      • Steersman,
        to clarify matters a little (rather urgently needed, I would say), let’s construct a taxonomy of dubious assertions.

        Dubious assertions can be:
        1) Mistaken.
        a false conclusion not warranted by the facts and reasoning.
        2) Inadequate.
        conclusion may be true(or not) but the facts or reasoning are not sufficient to establish this.
        3) Flawed.
        conclusion may be true(or not) but the facts or reasoning contain mistakes.
        4) Emotional.
        the argument contains appeals to emotions like bias or prejudice and thus is not to be trusted.
        5) Folk.
        the argument uses premises based on commonly held, societal suppositions that may not be true.
        6) Careless.
        the argument makes conclusions without sufficient care in collecting the facts or constructing the reasoning. Usually short on facts.
        7) Reckless.
        the argument makes far reaching conclusions based on flimsy evidence.
        8) Wilful.
        the belief is strongly held for a variety of reasons that are not always apparent. The hidden basis often makes replies difficult.
        9) Dishonest.
        the originator makes assertions knowing the facts or reasoning are not true.

        We deal with assertions all the time and filter them into one of these categories. Knowing the category helps us to understand them and fashion the appropriate response.

        You, however, seem to go to extremes when confronted by disagreement. You should understand that disagreement is normal in life and most of us learn to respond to it in a thoughtful way. When that happens it can be a source of delightful debate where everyone benefits.

        So my advice is to drop the extreme reactions to disagreement and engage in productive debate without throwing around absurd accusations of dishonesty.

      • YOS:

        Not an entirely unreasonable analogy. However, I think most scientists would agree that your “Therefore, T is true” mischaracterizes the nature of scientific theories – somewhat of a proverbial “strawman”; a more appropriate phrasing might be “therefore, T is more probably true than it was before, but we’re still open to contrary explanations or evidence”. Rather different from “religion”. But you might wish to peruse the Wikpedia article on the topic which elaborates on the point:

        In science, the term “theory” refers to “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Theories must also meet further requirements, such as the ability to make falsifiable predictions with consistent accuracy across a broad area of scientific inquiry, and production of strong evidence in favor of the theory from multiple independent sources. (See characteristics of scientific theories.)

        The strength of a scientific theory is related to the diversity of phenomena it can explain, which is measured by its ability to make falsifiable predictions with respect to those phenomena. Theories are improved (or replaced by better theories) as more evidence is gathered, so that accuracy in prediction improves over time; this increased accuracy corresponds to an increase in scientific knowledge.

        Kind of difficult to argue or insist that the “theories” of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics and gravity aren’t reasonably accurate models of “reality” when the evidence for them is so manifest and ubiquitous. Rather different from the conjectures and hypotheses and “philosophick romances” – if not actually fevered nightmares – that passes for Christian and Islamic theology, none of which are capable, apparently, of making any “falsifiable predictions”. Apropos of which you might wish to check out the Wikipedia article on “intercessory prayer” – therefore, one might conclude at least to a first approximation, nobody home there.

      • Well, the “problem of induction” was identified by the Scientists of the Revolution, so it is more Hume or Descartes who takes the hit here. But it is precisely the inductive problem that limits the truthfulness of scientific theories. All scientific theories are underdetermined. That is, through any finite collection of facts it is possible to draw multiple theories. Off my head-top I can think of five distinct quantum theories that account for the same body of facts. (Although there has been some argument about the Afshar Experiment.) And my cosmologist friend tells me that it is still impossible to distinguish experimentally between Einstein’s theory of relativity and Milne’s theory of relativity.

        Kind of difficult to argue or insist that the “theories” of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics and gravity aren’t reasonably accurate models of “reality” when the evidence for them is so manifest and ubiquitous.

        Is that the gravity that is the spooky action-at-a-distance on a stage of absolute space and time in a vacuum? Or is it the gravity that is a distortion in the relativistic ether, the field of Ricci tensors? The equations seem to work just as well without the theory — and they are not merely probable. But then, as Einstein told Heisenberg, “Theory determines what can be observed.” And Heisenberg wrote that “It has become clear that the desired objective reality of the elementary particle is too crude an oversimplification of what really happens.” So who knows?

        Rather different from the conjectures and hypotheses and “philosophick romances” – if not actually fevered nightmares – that passes for Christian and Islamic theology, none of which are capable, apparently, of making any “falsifiable predictions”.

        Ah, Popper. His program of undermining scientific certainty is well along. But don’t forget he mentioned Darwin’s theory as an example of a theory that was not falsifiable, so one might wish to be cautious in swallowing Popper whole. BTW, mathematics does not make falsifiable predictions, either.

        However, it is evident that you have no actual knowledge of classical Christian theology, if you think its job is to duplicate the efforts of natural philosophy. (About kalam, I cannot say. It’s not quite the same kind of thing.) A lot of things get called “theology” today that really should not be. But that is a tale for another day.

        Wikipedia? Seriously?

      • YOS:

        Is that the gravity that is the spooky action-at-a-distance on a stage of absolute space and time in a vacuum? Or is it the gravity that is a distortion in the relativistic ether, the field of Ricci tensors?

        While those are no doubt useful questions to be asking, I think the point is that Newtonian physics gives a good first approximation in many cases, and General and Special Relativity gives a good second approximation in many other cases. Tools, in their nature, seem to be subject to evolution as a consequence of their “fitness” to reach various ends or goals. At least those based on science and mathematics. Rather different with Christian theology and church dogma as there is no evidence that they provide any more of an accurate or useful picture of reality than that afforded by the religions based on a belief in Allah, or Zeus or Thor or Shiva, or a million other similar figments of the human imagination.

        But methinks you’re engaged in presenting, somewhat disingenuously if not dishonestly, a false equivalence between various scientific theories which evolve because more accurate and useful ones are searched for and found, and various theological “theories” which seem to have virtually no provable correspondence with any actual reality, and which seem to change only because there seems to be a limit, fortunately, to human gullibility.

      • Newtonian physics gives a good first approximation in many cases, and General and Special Relativity gives a good second approximation in many other cases.

        I don’t think you understand how very different these two theories are. Sure, some of the math is nearly the same, but math is not physics. One may develop a set of formulae and rules of thumb without any natural science at all. The Chinese did quite well at this.

        with Christian theology and church dogma as there is no evidence that they provide any more of an accurate or useful picture of reality than that afforded by the religions based on a belief in Allah, or Zeus or Thor or Shiva, or a million other similar figments of the human imagination.

        You seem to think that the job of religion is to provide a picture of the natural world. A common delusion of scientism is that everyone else is really trying to do Science!™ and failing. Science can tell you the mass and hardness of a chess knight, but no amount of weighing, measuring, or testing of the pieces will tell you the rules of chess or what constitutes checkmate.

      • Steersman,
        But methinks you’re engaged in presenting, somewhat disingenuously if not dishonestly, a false equivalence between various scientific theories which evolve because more accurate and useful ones are searched for and found, and various theological “theories” which seem to have virtually no provable correspondence with any actual reality, and which seem to change only because there seems to be a limit, fortunately, to human gullibility.

        As always, you throw around the ‘dishonest’ accusation but can never substantiate it when challenged. You words are hollow.

        The theme you try to advance is that science and religion are in opposition, putting forward conflicting theories of the natural world.

        It has been repeatedly explained to you religion and science deal with different domains. Religion is most emphatically not an explanation of the natural world. That is the job of the sciences and the Catholic Church clearly and explicitly recognises the authority of science in their proper domain. I have given you the references. The Church is committed to supporting the work of science.

        I have already explained to you in detail that religion deals with ethical, compassionate and existential issues to do with purpose, meaning and value. These are the issues that science does not deal with, except in a peripheral way. I have given you a list of the ways the Church works among the people to illustrate the vast gulf between what science can provide and what religion does provide.

        Let me give you another example. The Church provides detailed guidance on ethical behaviour (you may disagree on some of the details, but that is beside the point). The sciences provide no guidance on ethical behaviour. To illustrate, there are three great classes of ethical behaviour(depending on who you ask), deontological ethics, virtue ethics and utilitarian ethics. You cannot derive these categories from science, you cannot prove them with science and you cannot choose between them with science. Science in fact is deaf, blind and dumb when it comes to ethics except in the sense that it is useful for doing observational studies.

        To illustrate further. Regular moral priming is necessary to maintain ethical behaviour. Religious activities provide the regular moral priming. Science provides no moral priming.

        This happens to be a vitally important matter. Ethics is at the very core of all human interaction. It is ethical failures which have caused all the tragedy of mankind. The heart of religious activity is to provide ethical guidance(sadly it is often ignored, but that is the nature of people). Science provides no ethical guidance because that is not its job. Its job is to provide explanations of the natural world.

        Do you begin to see that science and religion have complementary roles in the world and not opposing roles? Both roles are important and neither can do the job of the other.

        Quite frankly, your claims that the sciences and religion are competing explanations of the world are so devoid of truth that they are laughable.

      • YOS:

        I don’t think you understand how very different these two theories are.

        I don’t think you understand that my point was that the differences are largely irrelevant from the perspective of developing models that have some degree of correspondence with the “real world”, and which thereby provide some degree of control over it. That appears to be the common thread, the common process, from the Earth-Wind-Fire-Water model of the ancient Greeks, to those of Ptolemy’s time, to the modern particle zoo with the latest addition from Geneva. There is an evolution in the utility and accuracy of the models, but process and objectives seem the same.

        You seem to think that the job of religion is to provide a picture of the natural world.

        You have another world in mind that religion might pertain to or have some useful bearing on? Any evidence at all that it exists?

        Science can tell you the mass and hardness of a chess knight, but no amount of weighing, measuring, or testing of the pieces will tell you the rules of chess or what constitutes checkmate.

        That seems a fairly narrow definition of science since many would apparently argue, with more than a little justification, that such rules come in under the umbrella term “formal science” which includes mathematics and game theory. In addition, it seems that science itself is a much broader term than that implied by the terms “scientific method” and “physical sciences” which many in these discussions apparently assume is the extent of the concept – rather problematically. Specifically:

        Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

        By which token, and as the article suggests, “science” thereby covers a lot more ground than commonly thought, and includes at least psychology, sociology, and ethics. And might even include philosophy as a case of a “formal system” which comes in under the rubric of “formal science”.

        However, it seems that all of those forms of thought, all those various sciences, are, apparently and to a first approximation at least, all supported by and built on top of the twin pillars of inductive and deductive logic and reasoning. While the British scientist and Nobel laureate P. B. Medawar, in his book The Art of the Soluble, discussed the “hypothetico-deductive scheme of scientific reasoning”, it would appear that that process is common to most if not all human thought and behaviour – even theology. Although I think that that last “discipline” is much heavier in the “hypothetico”, inductive – not to say “wildly if not irresponsibly speculative” – dimension and exhibits a serious deficiency in the deductive one.

    • the longstanding Christian idea that the eternal punishment of the damned would entertain the saved”. As Dawkins said of Aquinas who apparently developed or promoted the idea, “Nice man”

      Except that that is not what Aquinas said. What he said is that one feels inevitably a sense of joy when seeing another in ill fortune: not joy at the other’s ill-fortune as such, but joy in one’s own avoidance of it. For example, if we contemplate a man in prison after a just conviction, we don’t rejoice in his punishment, but we do experience joy that we are not ourselves imprisoned. The use of the term “entertained” is either deliberately or ignorantly deceptive, and in any case an example of the lack of empirical accuracy in some folks’ account of history. Disagree if you like, but at least disagree with what he actually wrote.

      (And keep in mind that he wrote in Latin.)

      • It’s in the respondeo in Summa theologica, Suppl. Q94, art. 3 (which, stipulated, was likely compiled by Thomas’ colleagues after his death.) It should also be read in the context of his conclusions that the “saved” are not subject to the sensitive passions (which are linked to bodily organs), but only to reason (which he had concluded was not so linked). Hence, things like “pity” and “rejoicing” must be understood in an analogous sense, more like Spock than Bones.

      • I don’t know about Aquinas, but Tertullian certainly seemed to enjoy the prospect of watching actors and athletes screaming in torment below him. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t he ridiculing them?:

        From De Spectaculis (the public domain Thelwall translation):

        “How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation?””… I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more “dissolute” in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord.”

      • Well to state the obvious Tertullian and Aquinas are separated by more than 1000 years. They occupy different intellectual universes, just as we don’t occupy Aquinas’s. It’s a category error to make the word “religious” or “Christian” the governing principle when human thought and human history about even things like damnation and punishment evolved over time.

      • They occupy different intellectual universes

        That is the most insightful remark in the entire discussion. The wilful misunderstanding of this fact is one of the most egregious manifestations of dishonesty in the Dawkins/Myers/Coyne, etc, band of intellectually stunted dwarves.

      • @Beau:
        Tertullian is speaking for himself. “On the Shows” is one of a series of short works apparently addressed to catechumens. It “explains and probably exaggerates the impossibility for a Christian to attend any heathen shows, even races or theatrical performances, without either wounding his faith by participation in idolatry or arousing his passions.” (One must understand not only his genre but also the nature of the shows he was railing against. We’re not talking Broadway, here.) Before mentioning charioteers and such, he gloated over the imagined suffering of monarchs and other members of the 1%. (That was the “…” in Beau’s quote.) Stylistically, he is described thusly:

        “These points are all urged with infinite wit and pungency. The faults are obvious. The effect on the pagans may have been rather to irritate than to convince. The very brevity results in obscurity. But every lover of eloquence, and there were many in those days, will have relished with the pleasure of an epicure the feast of ingenious pleading and recondite learning. The rapier thrusts are so swift, we can hardly realize their deadliness before they are renewed in showers, with sometimes a blow as of a bludgeon to vary the effect. The style is compressed like that of Tacitus, but the metrical closes are observed with care, against the rule of Tacitus…”

        IOW, he was using invective in the good old Ciceronian manner to skewer his adversaries. “On the Shows” should be understood as a revenge fantasy like “Django Unchained” or “Inglorious Basterds” [sic] rather than as making a reasoned theological point about the saved vis a vis the damned.

        Later, Tertullian fell into rigorism: ranting against anything he saw as weakness. He claimed that some sins could not be forgiven, that those who lapsed during the persecutions could not be received back into the Church. That widows could not remarry, and that virgins must wear veils in public. “His teaching had always been excessive in its severity; now he positively revels in harshness.” Eventually, he left the Church he thought was too wishy-washy to join the Montanists and he wrote more virulently against the Church than he had earlier against her pesecutors. Then he split with the Montanists to form his own sect! His last known writing is an attack on the Pope for being too forgiving of repentant adulterers and fornicators.

        This extended comment is intended as a caution against fundamentalist-style proof-texting without taking into account genre, context, and other relevant factors when evaluating a text.

      • YOS

        Thank you for your “caution against fundamentalist-style proof-texting without taking into account genre, context, and other relevant factors when evaluating a text,” and for the textual criticism and historical background information. RF made the same basic point much more succinctly by noting that Tertullian occupied a very different intellectual universe.

        I didn’t even realize I was “proof-texting”; I wonder what point I was trying to “prove”.

      • much more succinctly by noting that Tertullian occupied a very different intellectual universe.

        I have always found it useful to understand what the difference consisted of before combining two different proof-texts into one accusation, a la Dawkins, et al.

        In particular, the notion that the punishment of the damned would “entertain” anyone is utterly misguided as it pertains to Thomas. And as it pertains to Tertullian, pertains to someone schismatic and heretical to Church teachings and thus not an indictment of Christianity. Keeping in mind the tropes of Golden Age Latin rhetoric, with its Don Rickles-like approach to criticism, we should also keep in mind that even today there are those who feel joy when contemplating those in prison that they themselves are not in prison. And likewise those who felt an unseemly joy when a Nixon is forced to resign or his “plumbers” are sent to jail. I have even seem web postings expressing glee over the death of some hated conservative on what purport to be atheistic and liberal comm boxes. So Thomas was especially perceptive in his psychology when he noted that this sort of thing was common among human beings.

        worth mentioning that this “longstanding Christian idea” seems evident in early Christian history

        You see, there is one of the errors. It was a long-standing pagan idea, and most of the early Christians were formerly pagans. Tertullian was a pagan until middle life, living in a predominately pagan milieu, so it is no coincidence that he could not shake certain pagan attitudes he had formed as a child. Recall what P. Syrus said in one of his satires: “Don’t think ill of your enemy. Plan it.” Western civilization has been described as a mixture of the pagan dictate the take revenge upon your enemies, the Christian commandment to love your enemies, and the chivalric practice to fight your enemies vigorously, but fairly.

      • YOS:

        Ok, if that “crime” can’t be laid at Aquinas’ door, nor, apparently, at Tertullian’s, I wonder then what you might think of Farrar’s “abominable fancy” which I had mentioned above. Considering that he was a “cleric of the Church of England” – 1870 or thereabouts, and, possibly, well versed in Latin, one might surmise that he would have thought the tendency to be common and problematic enough to justify speaking out against it.

        Lord Acton – “absolute power corrupts absolutely” – also said, I think, something to the effect that one should never pass a bad law on the assumption that its deficiences won’t be abused – they simply will be. The question is frequently then whether the good outweighs the bad – rather a difficult one to answer, particularly when good and bad aren’t apportioned equally. And, considering the rather too common tendency of humans to engage in schadenfreude, I would think that the concept of a heaven in which one might indulge that to be something well past its “best before date”.

        Although I will concede that the idea of some kind of personal immortality is a rather durable if not a useful one. Seems there might be some benefits in trying to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” – “where there is no vision” and all that ….

      • Steersman,
        YOS reply stands
        This extended comment is intended as a caution against fundamentalist-style proof-texting without taking into account genre, context, and other relevant factors when evaluating a text.

        His informed and elegant reply settles the matter.

        But let me add my own little bit with an analogy. I have just finished reading a history of the Tudor monarchy. By and large they were a bloody and unpleasant lot, though not out of keeping with their times, as YOS would remind me. Now my question is this. Should we rebuke Queen Elizabeth with the bloody excesses of King Henry VIII? Is today’s British monarchy in the slightest way to be condemned for what happened 400 years ago? Should we taint today’s House of Windsor with the wrongdoing of the Tudors.

        I am sure Prince Charles would be greatly astonished if you laid King Henry VIII’s wrongdoing at his feet.

        In conclusion it seems to me that all this grasping at remote historical straws is desperately irrelevant to today’s Church. It is even more irrelevant when exaggerated and taken out of context, as YOS stated so clearly.

        Please re-read what RJH said about different intellectual universes.

      • Peter:

        All very well to talk of how the various philosophers in the church have created the canon, and to debate endlessly about the minutia surrounding it. But one might think that it would be more important to actually discuss the evidence for the claims – vanishingly close to zero – and the consequences and manifestations of the frequently barbaric precepts that those “philosophers” have pulled out of the air.

        If I’m not mistaken, more than a few have argued that the “fatal flaw” in communism was its refusal to consider human nature as it really was – as the famous biologist E.O. Wilson put it, “wonderful theory, wrong species” to suggest that Marxism was more applicable to ants than to humans. One might suggest that “religion” has some equally flawed perceptions on the topic. With likely the same consequences – the Pew Forum Survey I referred to earlier (I think) suggested something like a 25% decline in the number of Americans identifying as Catholics.

        But I don’t think that your analogy with the Tudors holds all that much water. For one thing, the “Divine Right of Kings” is largely a thing of the past, largely as a consequence of the abuses attending it, and the frequently bloody efforts to end it – no point in flogging a largely dead horse. But the Church, unfortunately, still holds an unfortunate amount of sway with some very problematic consequences – something that more and more people are obviously coming to recognize.

        Seems to me that the Church can either recognize that and evolve, or become more and more fossilized. Considering the fairly recent debate, as I think I mentioned, over the Church’s insistence on a literal reading of the Adam and Eve myth, I expect that is something it will find rather difficult to do.

      • Steersman,
        All very well to talk of how the various philosophers in the church have created the canon
        huh? You addressed this to me. Is there any relevance to anything I said?

        Marxism was more applicable to ants than to humans. One might suggest that “religion” has some equally flawed perceptions
        What a breathtakingly wild comparison.
        Marxism was atheistic to its core with no moral foundation whatsoever. It was a brief experiment with tragic consequences and collapsed ignominiously precisely because it lacked any moral foundation. It is a stark warning of what society would look like when stripped of its moral foundations, as militant atheism is so intent on doing.

        By contrast religion has been present since the dawn of time and is the most durable institution known to man. Its primary function is to act as a source of moral priming to society. This is why all societies created religion, to fulfill the vital need for moral order. Marxism, by destroying religion, destroyed moral order and the result was about 97 million violent deaths in Soviet Russia and Maoist China. It is an awful reminder of what will happen should militant atheism destroy religion.

        You needn’t worry about an apparent short term decline in Catholicism. My own parish church, the Mater Dei, is full every Sunday. Pope Francis is reinvigorating the Church. The Catholic Church is the oldest institution in Western countries(by a long way) and a very durable one. It will be flourishing long after you are dead. Did you notice how many millions of young people attended Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at World Youth Day?

        But I don’t think that your analogy with the Tudors holds all that much water
        Why must I explain the obvious? It is really, really simple. Past problems of institutions, imagined, real or exaggerated, are not the issue at all. The issue is present day behaviour. Talk of the past is interesting to historians. You should leave it to them as they are trained to understand milieu, context, other intellectual universes, etc. I thought that YOS and RJH had made this abundantly clear to you?

        Now let me let you into a surprising little secret. The past does not have invisible hands that reach into the present, controlling, changing or manipulating it. The past is the past and unless you are Laplace’s Demon, you can safely leave it there. Examining the past and blaming the present for the past has to be a most singularly useless exercise in futility.

        it is even more futile when your version of the past is distorted and uninformed. This is exactly the main point of RJH’s amusing satire. If you want to say something useful you should rather reply to the accusation, articulated so well by RJH, that militant atheism distorts and misrepresents history.

        So, why not stay on topic, and reply to RJH’s main point? Or are you unable to reply?

      • Steersman,
        the Church, unfortunately, still holds an unfortunate amount of sway with some very problematic consequences
        Well, in that case , let’s have a look at the consequences and see just how bad they are.

        The small Dutch Reformed Church, just down the road from my home, hands out food parcels. Every Monday morning I see a tragic trail of desperate people trudging up the hill to collect this vital aid.

        Only a little further off is a larger Presbyterian Church and they have an even more extensive programme of aid. I know because my good friend is involved.

        My own church, the Mater Dei parish, runs soup kitchens, distributes aid parcels, helps renovate schools. We(the Catholic diocese in my city) run a hospice, schools, a home for the handicapped, aid distribution points, etc, etc. My daughter teaches at a school for autists, hosted by the Catholic Church.

        Throughout my little city is a network of churches doing similar things. It is done by ordinary people, each one contributing what they can in their own little way, mostly unrecorded and unheralded.

        Throughout this country, in every town and city are church communities of every denomination doing the same. It is a largely invisible network of aid quietly helping the unfortunate, motivated by deep compassion.

        They do it because Christ commanded that we love one another and help the unfortunate.

        It is no wonder that Obama has publicly stated that the Catholic Church is more effective than the state at providing charitable assistance.

        I have attended Mass every Sunday since my conversion from atheism about five years ago. In that time I have carefully listened to the homilies, judging their tone and content. This is what I found. They are primarily an exhortation to live a moral life founded on mutual love ‘a new commandment I give unto you, that you should love one another as I have loved you‘. This is founded on and justified by a belief in God. It is this belief which provides the strong motivation.

        So, in summary, what are the main consequences of the ‘sway’ held by the Church?
        1) regular moral priming aimed at establishing and reinforcing compassionate ethical behaviour.
        2) widespread assistance to the unfortunate.
        3) community networks that contribute greatly to building social capital.

        To call this problematic, as you do, is so wide of the truth that it defies comprehension. If you lived in my region I would take you by the hand show you what really happens on the ground. You would be as astonished as I was.

        Just as astonishing, I have not seen a single atheist organization anywhere, doing anything. I wonder why that is? I am sure there is something happening but it is invisible, almost to the point of non-existence. Quite surprising, given miltant atheism’s flair for self-promotion.

      • Peter:

        And Hitler no doubt loved his mother. To point to some positive aspects of a group of people or the philosophies they espouse isn’t any proof at all that every other aspect of it is without reproach. To even suggest otherwise suggests an incredible degree of ignorance. Or dishonesty.

        I haven’t at all denied those positive aspects of “religion” and as a matter of fact have championed them in the “Heartlands of the New Atheism” where such arguments aren’t received particularly well. Rather surprising considering that I’ve frequently made my arguments with the evolutionary trope used against various creationists that “5% of a modern eye is better than 4%” – essentially that while much of modern Western “religion” is egregious horse manure it does entail, I think, an essential and useful vision that is worth developing and retaining – the baby that shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater; the wheat to be retained while discarding the chaff.

        Unfortunately though a great many “religionists” seem to have made a fetish out of the bathwater – which tends to contribute to the unfortunate willingness of many atheists to deprecate everything religious. For instance and speaking of the argument that “the great conflict between science and religion is a myth”, there’s this quote, courtesy of Ophelia Benson, about a recent comment from the current Pope:

        The spirit of curiosity generates confusion and distances a person from the Spirit of wisdom, which brings peace, said Pope Francis in his homily during Thursday morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.

        Reminds me of Loyola’s “Rules for Thinking with the Church” which I mentioned above and which you seem not to have been prepared to address – not surprisingly:

        That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.

        You said earlier that “The past does not have invisible hands that reach into the present, controlling, changing or manipulating it”. However, when current policies and perspectives of the Church echo or manifest equally problematic ones from the past, one might reasonably suggest that, while not necessarily the case, there is some systemic flaw, a common thread, in play. When you can point to the Church accepting that Adam and Eve, and the divinity of Jesus are no more than myths, parables like Prometheus and Persephone, then I’ll concede that that argument of yours is applicable. Until then I’ll argue that that past is not just manipulating the Church but has a death grip on its throat.

      • To point to some positive aspects of a group of people or the philosophies they espouse isn’t any proof at all that every other aspect of it is without reproach.

        Which is why reformers pop up every now and then. The Clunaics, Hildebrand, Francis of Assisi, and so on. But it is useful to distinguish between what is essential and what is accidental, as for example Thomas distinguished between human acts and the acts of a human.

        speaking of the argument that “the great conflict between science and religion is a myth”, there’s this … recent comment from the current Pope:

        The spirit of curiosity generates confusion and distances a person from the Spirit of wisdom, which brings peace, said Pope Francis in his homily during Thursday morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.

        What has this to do with science?

        Since this particular Pope does not speak English, it would be useful to understand the language in which he gave the sermon, which was probably either Latin, Spanish, or Italian. Since it was a homily, it was most likely Italian.

        “Curious” is mid-14c., “eager to know” (often in a bad sense), from Old French curios “solicitous, anxious, inquisitive; odd, strange” (Modern French curieux) and directly from Latin curiosus “careful, diligent; inquiring eagerly, meddlesome.”

        In Latin, curiositas is more like “eavesdropping” or “nosiness,” rather than “scholarly interest.” When we read the entire news account…

        http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/11/14/pope:_the_spirit_of_curiosity_distances_one_from_god/en1-746498

        …we find it is a criticism of people claiming special insights or knowledge of future events or special messages from the BVM. Think of all those folks looking for “Bible codes” or secret messages in old frescoes. The word is that it was meant as a criticism of the Medjugorge cult.

        Elsewhere, we find
        In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. (Evangelii gaudium: 169)

        In any case, curiosity qua curiosity is not a good thing. “I wonder what will happen to the children of Hiroshima if we drop this atomic bomb on them…” is pure curiosity; but curiosity uninformed by wisdom is like the scientists who developed poison gasses for Imperial Germany. Wisdom is concerned with final ends and not with mere facts.

        +++
        if [the Church] shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.

        What if a mathematician shall have defined the earth to be in motion which to our eyes appears to be stationary? The world is full of things that have deceptive appearances, and one needs rely on trustworthy sources. If a source which has in other ways proven trustworthy announces that something which appears to be white is really black, do we suppose he has suddenly become stupid or that he is reporting important scientific findings? A hunter’s orange vest appears to a deer the same color as a tree. Flowers which seem to us to be one color appear to bees as having two colors. A white starched shirt under UV lighting appears violet. So who sees the true color?

        Or perhaps Loyola is simply assuring us that our trust will not be misplaced, since the authority has in no wise ever promoted such a white-is-black ordinance. IOW, don’t have an attack of the vapors here.

      • YOS:

        What has this to do with science?

        I thought it highlighted the dichotomy or contrast between “religion” and “science”, largely the emphasis on faith in the former, and in the latter, as Bertrand Russell put it, the willingness or desire to find out:

        William James used to preach the “will to believe”. For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” …. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite. [Sceptical Essays; 1928]

        And as you suggest, that curiosity can be a bit of a two-edged sword – “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, that it is not a uniform panacea, that it has its pathological manifestations. But a bit of a stretch to insist or suggest that those results necessarily follow in every case.

        But I’ll concede that Pope’s criticisms were apparently more focused on the former situations, although it seems he was still making a categorical statement, a condemnation of every instance of it. And I very much question his alternative since claiming to be motivated by the “Spirit of God” is hardly proof against horrific acts. In any case, you may wish to discuss it further with Benson – I would raise the issue myself but I’ve been banned there for being unable or unwilling to sing in her choir, aka collection of trained seals.

        What if a mathematician shall have defined the earth to be in motion which to our eyes appears to be stationary? The world is full of things that have deceptive appearances, and one needs rely on trustworthy sources.

        True. But it seems that in effect you’re insisting that all swans are white, that you’re manifesting the problem of induction. The tools have been proven to yield consistent and verifiable results, tools that anyone can pick up and use to confirm those capabilities. Which justifies accepting the conclusions that follow from them. Whereas I expect there’s not a fact or a verifiable result in a boat load of Christian, or Islamic, theology and dogma – all supposition and conjecture, fantasy and delusion.

        A white starched shirt under UV lighting appears violet. So who sees the true color?

        Generally looks like the wrong question, one that requires some degree of curiosity and a willingness to look beneath appearances, beneath the hood. The answer generally being that colour is the consequence of the effects of emitted light on sensing photochemicals of one sort or another, although the trail of cause and effect tends to get lost once into the realm of consciousness. But hardly an answer that the “Spirit of God” is capable of providing.

        Or perhaps Loyola is simply assuring us that our trust will not be misplaced, since the authority has in no wise ever promoted such a white-is-black ordinance.

        Really? Giordano Bruno and Galileo might dispute the point. As might the husband of the woman who died in childbirth in Ireland not long ago because the Catholic hospital refused to provide an abortion. Or those reflecting on Martin Luther’s “That whore, Reason!” Or even those considering the Church’s recent refusal to consider, to learn from its mistakes in the past, that the myth of Adam and Eve is only that. And a great many other people, and other cases.

      • I thought it highlighted the dichotomy or contrast between “religion” and “science”, largely the emphasis on faith in the former, and in the latter, as Bertrand Russell put it, the willingness or desire to find out

        The “culture of poking around” (as Grant expressed it) developed in the medieval Catholic universities. Scientific interest or awe of Nature is not mere idle curiositas.

        And “faith” means “trust” (one is Latin, the other is Anglo-Saxon) and everyone must at some point place their trust in something.

        it seems he was still making a categorical statement, a condemnation of every instance of it.

        Only if you proof-text. But people should read paragraphs, or indeed, entire texts, not simply a word here and there. Part of the problem is that, as with too many fundamentalist-literalists, one proceeds with an ignorance of every language but English.

        claiming to be motivated by the “Spirit of God” is hardly proof against horrific acts.

        Indeed. But “claiming” such motivation and actually being motivated are two different things. By their fruits you will know them. That’s why the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have the Traditions and a body of roughly 2000 years worth of discussion, debate, and consensus. Fundamentalists are all into individual perceptions.

        The tools [of science] have been proven to yield consistent and verifiable results

        Yes. Ptolemaic astronomy yielded consistent and verifiable results for more than 2000 years. Nor let us not forget it was Bishop Grosseteste who formalized the scientific method in the 1200s (“compositio et resolutio,” which Galileo learned from his Jesuit teachers as the “demonstrative regress.”)

        I expect there’s not a fact or a verifiable result in a boat load of Christian, or Islamic, theology and dogma – all supposition and conjecture, fantasy and delusion.

        Well, their dogma of creation entails that our presently existing World had a beginning of time, so maybe scientists might someday discover, I dunno, a big bang or something to kick things off.

        Their notion that the World (universe) was created by a rational God entails
        a) That there is an empirical World in the first place. (This can only be assumed by science, not verified.)
        b) That the World is ordered and behaves in a lawful manner. (Perhaps we can discover “scientific laws”?)

        The Christians belief that “God is true to his promises,” those laws remain the same at any time or place in “the common course of nature.” This may be verifiable in some manner.

        The Christians believed that God gave material bodies “natures” by which they could act directly upon one another, so they developed a doctrine of “secondary causation” that held the common course of nature to be due to immanent causes possessed by Nature itself. This belief can be used to fashion an approach to Nature, as described by St. Albertus Magnus, which we might call “methodological naturalism.” (Islam, like David Hume, held to occasionalism and traded in causation for mere correlation.)

        The Christian belief that God ordered the World “by measure, number, and weight” might imply that the World can be known by measuring, numbering, and weighing things. We might try to verify that this works out.

        Their belief in the story of Adam implies that all humans alive today are members of the same species, descended from a common ancestor. Maybe we can develop a science of genetics that would verify that we are one species.

        Giordano Bruno and Galileo might dispute the point.

        Galileo would not. As he wrote to Peiresc, “You and I both know the true motives that lay behind the mask of religion.”

        And Bruno, as tragic as his case was, was a hermetic mystic, not a scientist.

        See the theme of the Original Post for further details on the mythologizing of history.

      • Steersman,
        And Hitler no doubt loved his mother.
        That is a pointless and inane comparison that fails in every respect. Now you really should be ashamed of yourself.

      • Steersman,
        To point to some positive aspects of a group of people or the philosophies they espouse isn’t any proof at all that every other aspect of it is without reproach. To even suggest otherwise suggests an incredible degree of ignorance. Or dishonesty.

        I agree that no institution is without reproach but then have never claimed or suggested otherwise.
        Please quote where I ‘suggest otherwise‘, without all the verbiage, just a straightforward statement of fact.

        In earlier comments to you I have already outlined my fallibility hypothesis, that all institutions are populated by fallible people that make mistakes and do bad things. So you should clearly and unambiguously already know that I could not possibly be claiming otherwise.

        Therefore, how on earth can you claim that I ‘suggest otherwise‘ and that I show ‘an incredible degree of ignorance. Or dishonesty‘?

        Please explain how you reach such an absurd conclusion that is so clearly contradicted by the facts.

        The whole point of my comment is that they do a great deal of good and that this is characteristic of the way the Church operates. I readily concede there are problems and mistakes as you would expect in any organisation known to man.

        Let me remind you once more that Obama stated publicly that the Catholic Church was more effective in its charitable work than the state. I would call that quite powerful confirmation of what I have been saying.

      • Steersman,
        The spirit of curiosity generates confusion and distances a person from the Spirit of wisdom, which brings peace, said Pope Francis in his homily during Thursday morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta./i>’

        I wonder, did you read the rest of his homily? He was commenting on the question raised by the Pharisees, when will the Kingdom of God come? Christ’s reply was ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation‘. In other words, there are mysteries in our faith that cannot be explained by observation, or curiosity, as Pope Francis put it. The context makes this clear.

        To make it even clearer consider these indubitable facts. The Church, long ago, initiated an ongoing programme of cooperation with the sciences by forming the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.

        Here is a quote from the goals of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:
        Science, when it is real cognition, is never in contrast with the truth of the Christian faith. Indeed, as is well known to those who study the history of science, it must be recognized on the one hand that the Roman Pontiffs and the Catholic Church have always fostered the research of the learned in the experimental field as well, and on the other hand that such research has opened up the way to the defense of the deposit of supernatural truths entrusted to the Church….We promise again that it is our strongly-held intention, that the ‘Pontifical Academicians’ through their work and our Institution, work ever more and ever more effectively for the progress of the sciences. Of them we do not ask anything else, since in this praiseworthy intent and this noble work in that service in favor of the truth that we expect of them.‘ – Motu proprio, Pius XI

        So you can see the Church clearly and explicitly supports the work of science and has a programme of cooperation with science – ‘work ever more and ever more effectively for the progress of the sciences … this praiseworthy intent and this noble work in that service in favor of the truth that we expect of them.

        Sigh, I despair of you atheist fundamentalists and the uninformed way you do quote mining with complete disregard for context. Guys, look at the bigger picture, for heavens sake.

      • Steersman,
        That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.‘.

        Once again you engage in quote mining without regard for history, context or current thought. That was written by St. Ignatius when he formed the Society of Jesus. It was part of a larger document, ‘Spiritual Exercises’, intended for use by the Jesuits. It was a training manual for spiritual development emphasizing exercises by which the human will could be strengthened and made to follow the will of God(Western Civilization, Volume 2). If you want to characterise Catholic thought, the motto of St. Anselm expresses it perfectly – Fides quaerens intellectum (Faith seeking understanding).

      • Steersman,
        Until then I’ll argue that that past is not just manipulating the Church but has a death grip on its throat.

        Your flamboyant hyperbole fails disastrously in the light of current reality. Let me repeat the summary of my experiences in the Church, which I outlined in some detail in an earlier comment:
        1) regular moral priming aimed at establishing and reinforcing compassionate ethical behaviour.
        2) widespread assistance to the unfortunate.
        3) community networks that contribute greatly to building social capital.

        Obama recognised the importance of this when he noted that the Catholic Church was more effective with charitable aid than the state.

        At the last World Youth Day more than two million people attended Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. It now has the largest human attendance at a single event with a chart topping seven million at the final Mass in the Philippines.

        That is some death grip that the past is exercising on the Church. Flamboyant hyperbole is no substitute for reasoned argument.

      • Steersman,
        What has this to do with science?
        I thought it highlighted the dichotomy or contrast between “religion” and “science”, largely the emphasis on faith in the former, and in the latter, as Bertrand Russell put it, the willingness or desire to find out

        And yet you seem wholly ignorant of the fact that the Catholic Church is fully committed to the scientific method, to dialogue with the sciences and to collaboration with the sciences.

        See again my earlier comment on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

        Science and religion address different issues. Science looks for explanations in the natural world. The Catholic Church agrees this is their proper role and collaborates in this. Religion addresses ethical, compassionate and existential issues. Science has nothing to contribute to this beyond describing their manifestation.

        For example.
        1) a member of the community dies and the family need emotional support. They approach the parish priest but they would never ask the physics department at our local university.
        2) a member of the community is downgraded in his job. He approaches the parish priest for counselling. He would never ask the physics department at our local university.
        3) a member of the community has a troubling ethical problem. She approaches the parish priest for guidance but she would never approach the chemistry department at our local university.
        4) a member of the community knows she has terminal disease. She approaches the parish priest for support and guidance to face death. She would never approach the chemistry department at our local university.
        5) troubled by endemic corruption in our country, the churches mobilize support to oppose corrupt practices. The universities can contribute nothing beyond programs to measure incidence of corruption.
        6) saddened by suffering in our townships, the churches mobilize aid to alleviate their suffering. The university is solely concerned about collecting grants to fund their work.

        Well? Do you get the picture? I can give you many more examples of how religion can deal with ethical/compassionate/existential issues and science has nothing to contribute. Perhaps you will also understand why our parish priest is such a busy person. His compassion and love for his community is the pillar that helps sustain the community. Our local university plays no role in this. You see, science does not care, has poor ties to the community but it is very good at explaining natural phenomena. Religion does care, has strong ties in the community and leaves natural explanations to the universities. Our parish priest gets on with the business of caring about people. It seems like a good division of labour.

        But what does militant atheism do? Why of course, they try to destroy religion. That is such a noble task, to destroy the good that other people do. Schadenfreude is such a rewarding emotion. The suffering people in our townships will be sure to write them a letter of thanks when they find no more soup kitchens, aid distribution points, medical clinics or classroom supplies.

      • Peter:

        Steersman: “And Hitler no doubt loved his mother.”
        That is a pointless and inane comparison that fails in every respect. Now you really should be ashamed of yourself.

        Not really. Its objective was to discredit your rather questionable attempt to gloss over the flaws in religion by waxing poetic on its putative benefits.

        Which it seems to have succeeded at as you subsequently acknowledged “no institution is without reproach”. In which case, I wonder whether you’ll now concede the utility of my “wheat and chaff” analogy – which has some durable antecedents and provenance – but which you threw stones at earlier, i.e., your “I naturally disagree with … your metaphor about sorting the wheat from the chaff”.

        But, assuming that we have some degree of consensus on that point, I wonder whether we can now proceed from it by actually addressing those areas where reproach is supposedly or potentially justified. Seems rather pointless, at best, for you to be touting if not belaboring those aspects of “religion” which I’ve already conceded – several times now – probably have at least some utility and credibility.

        However, since I expect, on some evidence, that we have very different opinions on what might justify some reproaches, let me emphasize, again, those that I think are most problematic. And, leading the hit parade, I think the most important one is the issue entailed by or surrounding my quote of Loyola, and which you seem to think is no more than some “unfortunate excess” of the distant past which is safely behind us. However, as I have expended some effort to emphasize, I think that is a manifestation of a common thread, if not the proverbial “fatal flaw”, that runs through all of Catholicism from its inception to the latest homily from the Pope. Which seems to be, to use a phrase from Benson’s Wikipedia page, the tendency if not an outright policy to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks.

        While you might claim that “the Catholic Church is fully committed to the scientific method, to dialogue with the sciences and to collaboration with the sciences”, the evidence strongly suggests that when there is a conflict between science and dogma, when push comes to shove, that “collaboration” is going to be the first casualty. As with Loyola. As with Galileo. And as with the story of Adam and Eve discussed several times in the last few years, most recently in this New Republic article by Jerry Coyne.

        So when you can actually address the question of whether that story is no more than a myth at best, one which you seem to have rather pointedly ignored when I broached the topic earlier – several times in fact, then I’ll consider the possibility that you’re arguing in good faith, that you’re actually willing to consider what might be wheat and what chaff in the Catholic canon and dogmata.

      • attempt to gloss over the flaws in religion by waxing poetic on its putative benefits.

        Why is it that the benefits of things like hospitals and universities are “putative” benefits, but unnamed flaws fly no adjectival flag?

        the proverbial “fatal flaw”, that runs through all of Catholicism from its inception to the latest homily from the Pope. Which seems to be, to use a phrase from Benson’s Wikipedia page, the tendency if not an outright policy to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks.

        And yet the Church embedded the use of reason in Western thought. By the early middle ages, innovation was conceived as an obligation from God. Hugh of St. Victor wrote in his Didascalicon that ‘man’s reasoning shines forth much more brilliantly in inventing these very things than ever it would have had man naturally possessed them.’ Grant writes:

        The new emphasis on reason and rationality had emerged by the eleventh and twelfth centuries following a lengthy evolutionary transformation from the earlier centuries of the Roman Empire. They became permanent and characteristic features of the Latin Middle Ages. The wide-spread, conscious reliance on reason, and reasoned argument, in medieval Western society seems to have had no counterpart in any other civilization about which we have any knowledge. — — Lecture before Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Friday, February 4, 2000

        Whoever Benson is, and whatever merit a Wikipedia page has. Let’s see… Go, go,google! Shazaam! The quote actually runs: “”the tendency of the political Left to subjugate…” etc. ‘Religious’ was your own gratuitous addition. Apparently Benson is a right winger of some sort? As a former zookeeper and current “blogger” who has “attended university,” it is not clear why anyone should care what she says beyond zookeeping, except of course that she affirms the rightness of your pre-existing political and moral and religious framework. Amen, brother.

        Since you have already been shown the entire, recently-mentioned sermon and had the gist of it painfully spelled out for you, continual misprepresentation on your part must be deliberate, perhaps as a satire on the theme of the original post, above? You are subjugating the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of your pre-existing religious framework.

        that “collaboration” is going to be the first casualty. …. As with Galileo.

        2000 years of history, and that is all you can come up with? Galileo? A cardboard stereotype in a mythic retelling of what was once real history? Here: this may help (but be warned, it is longer than 450 characters and contains actual history and actual science):
        http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown-table-of.html
        I’ll see your Galileo (who BTW did not share your viewpoint) and raise you genetics (Br. Gregor Mendel) and a big bang (Fr. Georges Lemaitre). Not to mention Fr. Clavius (Gregorian calendar), Fr. Scheiner (sunspots), Fr. Riccioli (value of g), Fr. Grimaldi (mapping of the moon), Fr. Secchi (Secchi variable stars), et al.

        And as with the story of Adam and Eve…

        Actually, genetics shows that all present day humans are one species and share a common descent. This article contra Coyne may help:
        http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html
        Key is the distinction between metaphysical and biological humans. Remember, all these folks used an Aristotelian definition of “man,” not a biological one.

        accepting any of their opinions on morals and ethics predicated on the belief in some supernatural deity for which there is absolutely zero evidence.

        Actually, they are not so predicated, but the Late Modern socialist-conditioned mind has a a hard time grappling with any order in nature that is not the arbitrary commands of a central government. Start here:
        http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html

        There is also plenty of evidence: there is change in the world, there is an ordering of efficient causes, there are natural laws, etc.

        Not sure how that is any type of a refutation of my argument that Church then, as now, tended and tends to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks

        You cited Bruno as an example of religion vs. science. But Bruno was not into science; he was into mysticism. He was not into rational assesment of “truth-claims.” The rational assessors were his opponents. They spent seven years trying to talk Bruno down off the ledge before they finally gave up.

        Details on rational assesment can be found in
        Grant, Edward. God and Reason in the Middle Ages. (2001, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
        and the consequences are described here:
        Gimpel, Jean. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages. (1976, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston)
        Lindberg, David C., ed. Science in the Middle Ages. (1978, Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
        White, Lynne. Medieval Technology and Social Change. (1964, Oxford: Oxford University Press).

        Grant is not alas a former zookeeper, but the doyen of medieval history of science. The others are also prominent historians.

      • YOS:

        Well, their dogma of creation entails that our presently existing World had a beginning of time, so maybe scientists might someday discover, I dunno, a big bang or something to kick things off.

        True. But that is hardly justification for accepting any of their opinions on morals and ethics predicated on the belief in some supernatural deity for which there is absolutely zero evidence.

        Their belief in the story of Adam implies that all humans alive today are members of the same species, descended from a common ancestor.

        If that was all there was to the story then I rather doubt that it would be the bone of contention that it is – as indicated in this article by Jerry Coyne I mentioned earlier.

        And Bruno, as tragic as his case was, was a hermetic mystic, not a scientist.

        Not sure how that is any type of a refutation of my argument that Church then, as now, tended and tends to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks; to insist that black is white.

      • Steersman,
        RJH’s guest blogger, Jacques Berlinerblau, in the next post, says this
        I would ask myself the following questions: Why does poll after poll indicate that we are one of the most disliked groups in the United States?

        You have conveniently supplied the answer when you made that outrageously false comparison with Hitler. You also supplied the answer when you repeatedly made accusations of dishonesty (hollow accusations without substance that you could not sustain).

        Your quote mining with blatant disregard for context and the larger picture is just more of the same.

        You are merely typical of the style used by New Atheism, which has led to the movement becoming so completely discredited.

        Your inability to recognise and credit the good of religion marks you out as a fundamentalist. For example, the Church has made a strong commitment to science and yet you deny that, against all the facts of the matter. Why not simply admit the obvious and move on?

        For example, you claim that the Church and science are in opposition. I point out that the domains of natural explanation(science) and ethics/compassion/existential concerns (the Church) are different but complementary. This is inarguably true so why not simply admit the obvious and move on?

        I list the great good that the Church does while admitting that it is imperfect(like every organisation known to man). Once again the facts on the ground are inarguable so why not admit the obvious and move on?

        I point out that the quote from St. Ignatius was from Spiritual Exercises, a manual for the Jesuit order, where discipline was important. It was not an instruction to the general Church. I pointed out St Anselm’s motto, Fides quaerens intellectum, ‘Faith seeking understanding’, which you simply ignored. Once again, why not admit the obvious and move on.

        This is the hallmark of atheist fundamentalism. Paint religion in the bleakest possible way, exaggerating every defect and never admitting good. Use extravagant, unpleasant hyperbole without regard for the truth. Impugn your opponents in debate. Smear the Church and mischaracterize it in ways that are clearly false.

        Yes, these are all fundamentalist techniques and show that the so-called New Atheism is simply atheist fundamentalism. This is the behaviour which has resulted in the New Atheist movement becoming discredited. This is the behaviour which has made atheists the most disliked group in the US.

        I am well aware that senior figures in the New Atheist movement made the conscious decision to use these techniques. They have decided to wage a propaganda war, with all its dubious morality, thinking the end justifies the means.

        Is that a good thing to do? The general public does not think so. From a religious perspective I could encourage you to do more of the same since it helps our cause. And yet I cannot bring myself to such an act of cynicism. I have a vision of respectful tolerance where you and I can choose different belief systems without rebuke, a vision of a world where we can discuss our different viewpoints thoughtfully, respectfully, looking for insights and understanding. I have a vision of a world where we join hands to help the unfortunate, a world based on the primacy of ethics and compassion.

        All I can do is hope that you will also subscribe to this vision.

      • YOS:

        Why is it that the benefits of things like hospitals and universities are “putative” benefits, but unnamed flaws fly no adjectival flag?

        It was a general statement, an overview. If it will make you happy I’ll further concede that hospitals and universities give some evidence of providing solid and real benefits. However, the ability to address “ethical, compassionate and existential issues” that is, according to Peter Smith, religion’s claim to fame, looks highly suspect and “putative”. Not to mention possibly if not probably being a poisoned chalice.

        And yet the Church embedded the use of reason in Western thought.

        I’m not arguing that it hasn’t. While I certainly don’t have the knowledge that you apparently have of the evolution of the Church and its contributions to the development of both science and society, I have read Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View which seems to provide a decent overview and elucidation of that point. Something that I have argued in a number of places, including on Jerry Coyne’s site Why Evolution Is True, although with limited effect. Why I don’t dispute Joseph’s general point, that many atheists have a narrow, not to say narrow-minded, view of “religion” in general.

        But all of that is still you touting those “putative” benefits, while rather resolutely refusing to consider those flaws.

        Whoever Benson is, and whatever merit a Wikipedia page has.

        A blogger on the FreethoughtBlogs network which Joseph rather accurately characterized as a ghetto. But it seemed a particularly apposite phrase, one which I thought it appropriate to provide the source of if I was going to use it.

        Actually, genetics shows that all present day humans are one species and share a common descent.

        But the question is whether they, we, all descended from a single pair. And while it hardly seems to be a settled one, and gives every indication of being a pile of mumbo-jumbo that would do an African witch-doctor proud, and this source quoting Pius XII looks a little ambiguous, that is the one the Church seems to come down on:

        … Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. ….”

        That is, Adam was a real individual, not a composite, not a collection. Which seems rather clearly contradicted by the genetic record. So your and TOF’s – thanks for the link – “metaphysical” argument looks rather bogus at best.

        Steersman: … morals and ethics predicated on the belief in some supernatural deity ….
        YOS: Actually, they are not so predicated ….

        Really? So that woman died in childbirth in Ireland recently in a Catholic hospital that refused to provide an abortion simply for the hell of it? Or maybe because the associated Catholic dogma is joined at the hip with a belief in immortal souls and supernatural deities?

        There is also plenty of evidence: there is change in the world, there is an ordering of efficient causes, there are natural laws, etc.

        That’s not any evidence of the existence of any literal deity, much less any Judaic-Christian one. Maybe some correlation with a possible one, or a million of them. But, as they say, that is not causation. Decidedly disingenuous, at best, to suggest otherwise.

      • I’ll further concede that hospitals and universities give some evidence of providing solid and real benefits.

        Really? Some evidence?

        However, the ability to address “ethical, compassionate and existential issues” […] looks highly suspect and “putative”. Not to mention possibly if not probably being a poisoned chalice.

        A comment from a philosopher on another topic seems apropos:

        “These [comments] seem to be painted by the numbers. Don’t name any specific targets. Attack straw men. Ignore crucial distinctions. Relentlessly conflate historical connections with logical connections. Assert with confidence, but without supporting argument. Keep your prose purple.
        — Edward Feser, “Nietzschean natural law”

        A comment by Emperor Julian as he attempted in vain to get pagans to do the same also seems apropos:

        “Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause? Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practised by us.”
        — Letter: Julian to Arsacius of Galatia

        But the question is whether they, we, all descended from a single pair. And while it hardly seems to be a settled one, and gives every indication of being a pile of mumbo-jumbo that would do an African witch-doctor proud, and this source quoting Pius XII looks a little ambiguous[…]

        That is, Adam was a real individual, not a composite, not a collection. Which seems rather clearly contradicted by the genetic record.

        The alternative is to imagine that a complex set of identical genetic mutations happened simultaneously to tens of thousands of pre-human primates. The metaphysical argument has been around for a good long while. You will note that in your quoted excerpt Pius XII referred to “true” humans, not merely to biological humans.

        So your and TOF’s – thanks for the link – “metaphysical” argument looks rather bogus at best.

        Arguments do not “look bogus.” They are either valid or not. To be shown not valid requires an argument demonstrating the falsity of one of the premises or the logical error in combining them.

        Also, YOS and TOF are the same. We use the TLAs notionally.

        So that woman died in childbirth in Ireland recently in a Catholic hospital that refused to provide an abortion simply for the hell of it?

        It was a state hospital, not a Catholic one. Both Irish secular law and Catholic doctrine permitted induced delivery to save the mother’s life. Killing the baby in the womb would not have been a good idea under the conditions of sepsis — it would have made it worse. The delay resulted because there was no evidence of critical infection by antibiotic-resistant E. coli when Savita Halappanavar checked in, and subsequent test results got hung up in inter-office mail. By that time, a miscarriage was already in progress. The baby’s heartbeat was checked because if he were already dead it would have complicated everything else. The inquest found for “medical misadventure.” More imaging should have been done, the infection should have been realized earlier. But Mrs. Halappanavar did not die because she was refused an abortion.

        Your notion that if something is not mandated by the central committee then it is done ‘simply for the hell of it’ is duly noted. You may want to consider the possibility that there are other possibilities.

        There is also plenty of evidence: there is change in the world, there is an ordering of efficient causes, there are natural laws, etc.

        That’s not any evidence of the existence of any literal deity, much less any Judaic-Christian one.

        Actually, it proceeds deductively directly to God as perceived by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It may proceed to Brahma, but not to Zeus or Thor. Once you reason to the necessary existence of a being of pure act, most of the rest just falls into place. But this wanders far afield from our host’s original point: viz., the appalling ignorance of history evidenced by many of the self-proclaimed “New” Atheists.

      • Peter:

        Please quote where I ‘suggest otherwise‘ (that every other aspect of [religion] is without reproach), without all the verbiage, just a straightforward statement of fact.

        I did say “to even suggest otherwise”. If you had actually said that “every aspect was without reproach” then I would have said that – and been able to quote it. But the verb was “suggest” to point to the fact that you have gone on at great length in several comments – before and after – listing all of the many things that are supposedly only the bailiwick of religion with the implication, with the suggestion, that every aspect so qualifies. Why else would you repeat all of that “smoke and mirrors”, particularly since I have conceded – several times if I’m not mistaken – that there are many credible aspects to “religion” in general and Catholicism in particular?

        My position, my argument, has been and is, essentially at least, “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”. You’re great on the former, although notably and problematically reluctant to consider the latter.

        Let me remind you once more that Obama stated publicly that the Catholic Church was more effective in its charitable work than the state.

        Bully for him. The organizational skills the Church brings to the table are not without value. But one might suggest that there are more than a few hidden costs, a few “hooks”, that, if we were to engage in an honest cost-benefit analysis, might tip the balance very noticeably in the other direction.

        I would call that quite powerful confirmation of what I have been saying.

        And I would call that confirmation bias if not dogmatism.

      • YOS:

        Really? Some evidence?

        So as to suggest that the benefits are not really and complelely unalloyed, not uniformly beneficial nor without a few problematic hooks buried therein. Apropos of which or as a case in point, while it might be moot how much of the “blame” for this might be laid at Catholicism’s doorstep as opposed to “religion’s” in general, the article describes a reduction of some 25% in the number of abortion providers or facilities in Texas as a result of a recent legal ruling. While it is all very fine for Pope Francis to be wringing his hands, maybe somewhat unctously, over abortion, over “such painful situations”, one might suggest that he, and the Church, put their money where their mouths are, and step into that breach in Texas. Unless, of course, that is precluded by the Church’s willingness or commitment to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks.

        Arguments do not “look bogus.” They are either valid or not.

        True, at least as far as being valid or not. But the point is, as you suggest or have suggested, that it is not always easy to conclusively or rigorously prove that an argument is true or valid. In which case one frequently has to rely on some degree of intuition, on how it actually “looks”.

        Also, YOS and TOF are the same. We use the TLAs notionally.

        Thanks for clarifying that. I had wondered about the connection as I had thought I had seen them both in close conjunction during the discussion a year or two ago of Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism – which I don’t think it was at all; a more appropriate subtitle might have been “Catholicism Shoots Itself in the Feet”. In any case, I might suggest that you retire one or the other, or link them both back to your blog as otherwise it at least suggests some degree of problematic sockpuppeting – a charge, not entirely deserved I think and if I’m not mistaken, that caused some grief during your commenting on Jerry Coyne’s site some time ago.

        Actually, it proceeds deductively directly to God as perceived by the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

        Which depends rather crucially on the credibility of the assumptions and axioms which are the starting points from which those deductions follow – “as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined”, as well as on the actual rules of inference used. I expect that you’re aware – and appreciate since you seem to be a “pro from Dover” in the area of statistics – that Joseph took Richard Carrier to task for his reliance on Bayesian analysis to “prove”, apparently, that Jesus was or is entirely a myth because that “conclusion” very much depends, apparently, on assumptions that, in the nature of the beast, are largely educated guesses at best if not opportunities to put one’s thumb on the scales. As they say in the programming business, “Garbage in; garbage out”.

        The nature of human cognition seems to be, virtually across the board, one of generating or creating sets of assumptions, axioms and hypotheses – either explicitly or implicitly, and largely through the magic of induction and intuition, or, as it is more commonly called in the field of religion, “communing with the Holy Spirit”; all generally birds of a feather I think – and then arguing deductively from them to various conclusions. But “science’s” claim to fame, in notable contradistinction to “religion”, is its willingness, its commitment, to actually testing those conclusions or predictions against “reality”. Which then tend to increase or decrease, depending on the correspondence between predictions and actual measurements or results, the probability that the starting points, the assumptions, the hypotheses are an accurate model for reality. A case of feedback, a manifestation of the power and ubiquity of cybernetics.


      • Steersman: I’ll further concede that hospitals and universities give some evidence of providing solid and real benefits.

        YOS: Really? Some evidence?

        Steersman: So as to suggest that the benefits are not really and complelely unalloyed, not uniformly beneficial nor without a few problematic hooks buried therein.

        Holy moley. A good editor can help with that sentence. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy a good semantic debauch myself.

        Steersman: the article describes a reduction of some 25% in the number of abortion providers or facilities in Texas as a result of a recent legal ruling…. one might suggest that [the Church] step into that breach in Texas. Unless, of course, that is precluded by the Church’s willingness … to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks.

        What is the “truth claim” here? Whether a hospital ought to provide for the killing of children is not a truth-claim, but a question of morality. It makes no sense to ask people who think its wrong to kill babies to “step up” and help in the slaughter. Granted some atheists are now talking about “fourth trimester” abortions, that is, the killing of recently-born children. Singer goes so far as to refuse to put an upper age limit on killable children.

        that caused some grief during your commenting on Jerry Coyne’s site some time ago.

        You mean the guy who uses the name evolutionistrue?

        Truth to tell, I normally pay attention to the argumentum rather than to the hominem.

        YOS: Actually, it proceeds deductively directly to God as perceived by the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

        Which depends rather crucially on the credibility of the assumptions and axioms which are the starting points from which those deductions follow

        The assumptions and definition in the first argument are:
        a) That some things in the world are changing.
        b) Change (kinesis) is a reduction from being potentially X to being actually X.
        c) The definition of essential ordering. (That an essentially-ordered series cannot be infinite is a deduction from this definition.)
        Can’t think of any other assumptions.
        Unless you are a Parmenidean and buy into Zeno’s paradoxes, I don’t see what the problem is.

        Steersman: I expect that you’re aware… that Joseph took Richard Carrier to task for his reliance on Bayesian analysis to “prove”, apparently, that Jesus was or is entirely a myth

        And some other guy went all Bayesian to prove the exact opposite. Never trust in the authority of an amateur unless there are sound reasons to do so. I have seen no evidence of Carrier’s expertise in Bayesian philosophy.
        http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=5404

      • YOS:

        What is the “truth claim” here? Whether a hospital ought to provide for the killing of children is not a truth-claim, but a question of morality. It makes no sense to ask people who think it’s wrong to kill babies to “step up” and help in the slaughter.

        I think that qualifies as a classic case of begging the question: “where the conclusion that one is attempting to prove is included in the initial premises of an argument, often in an indirect way that conceals this fact”. More particularly, the premise is that a fetus of, say, less than 12 weeks actually qualifies as a human.

        While I think the whole process is a bit of a tragedy, I also think it a question of triage – of a necessary choice of the “lesser of two evils”. But, more importantly, since that question has yet to be proved, it is, I think, manifest evidence of that tendency of the Church to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks. Q.E.D.

        Unless you are a Parmenidean and buy into Zeno’s paradoxes, I don’t see what the problem is.

        The problem is that the conclusion you seem rather desperate to insist is the “gospel truth” is hardly a slam dunk. That a great many theologians and philosophers apparently think it doesn’t hold much if any water – as suggested by both your references to various paradoxes there, and your previous comment about Brahma: if many hypotheses fit the available facts then one can’t – at least reasonably, not that that has ever stopped the Church or its devotees in thrall to it – insist that one’s own should carry the day.

        And while you and Peter both insist, rather disingenuously I think, that it isn’t “religion’s” job to “provide a picture of the natural world”, one might reasonably wonder at your efforts to prove “gawd’s” existence based on the existence of “change in the world” and of “natural laws” as that, as with the efforts of theologians to deal with the “problem of evil”, looks to be a clear case of trying, if unsuccessfully, to “provide a picture of the natural world”. In addition, if the claim is then to “provide a picture of the supernatural world” – and its supposed bearing on the natural one which still supposedly provides said picture – then you have yet to prove that that supernatural world actually exists, that it is anything more than a figment of your imagination. And if there is no evidence, no proof, for such then what is its value? Except maybe to prove some seriously and problematically delusional thinking.

        I find that whole process rather analogous to the “science” of Star Trek: maybe interesting and amusing and entertaining and, as hypotheses, may even suggest avenues of worthwhile research. But when people cross the line into insisting on the literal truth of the conjectures, in either case, then Houston, we have a serious social problem. The American moralist Philip Wylie in his Generation of Vipers said the following some 7 decades ago while touting some of the more credible aspects of Jesus’ philosophy:

        All I shall suggest is that man – individual man – enlarge his attitude toward himself. In order to do so most effectively and rapidly he should use the tool at hand: science. … He should apply logic and integrity to his subjective personality – just as he has done to the objective world. … He would learn that when he kids himself, or believes a lie, or deceives another man, he commits a crime as real and as destructive as the crime of deliberately running down a person with an automobile. [pg 20]

        A crime that “religion” in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, has, I think, committed and continues to commit daily on the level of a wholesale slaughter.

      • I think that qualifies as a classic case of begging the questio: the premise is that a fetus of, say, less than 12 weeks actually qualifies as a human.

        Is it perhaps canine, then? Equine? Piscine, maybe? I know. We can rationally check its DNA and determine its species. Wonder how that will turn out.

        Then we can compare the DNA to the mother to determine whether it is merely a part of the mother, like a fingernail or an elbow. I’ll take bets on that, too.

        Lastly, we can determine whether it is a “self-organizing system”; that is, whether it grows and develops based on instructions carried in its own genes, so that it is subsistent in being, an “individual.”

        manifest evidence of that tendency of the Church to “subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks. Q.E.D.

        None of these are especially religious demands, save only that the Catholic Church has been accused in the past of an excessive devotion to reason. The religious demands come in when we decide how we are going to treat this human being. Even the “secular” Precautionary Principle comes into play. If you don’t know whether a fetus, a woman, a black, or a Jew is “really” human, how do you proceed? Do you shoot at the rustling in the bushes because it might not be another deer hunter? This also seems to be a rational assessment.

        It seems that the non-rational approach is the one that denies either the plain scientific facts above, or the rational assessment of the action stemming from those facts. If you apply logic and integrity, you would learn that when you kid yourself, you commit a crime.
        +++++

        one might reasonably wonder at your efforts to prove “gawd’s” existence based on the existence of “change in the world” and of “natural laws” … looks to be a clear case of trying, if unsuccessfully, to “provide a picture of the natural world”.

        Who or what is “gawd” and why should I try to prove its existence?

      • YOS:

        Is it perhaps canine, then? Equine? Piscine, maybe? I know. We can rationally check its DNA and determine its species.

        I’ll concede that that was a poor choice of words on my part, a deficiency or a problematic lack of them at least. A fetus of course has human DNA, and a unique instantiation at that – something rather more than a wart that one can or should excise without a qualm.

        However, my point was that a fetus is not yet viable enough, at least at 12 weeks or less, to reasonably be granted the rights and protections that babies and adults are. Hardly an unreasonable position, I think, as we already grant rights – drinking and driving, though generally not at the same time, for examples – based on age and mental capabilities. In addition, Joseph’s recent post talked of “intelligence as consisting of memory, mind, and will” – three attributes that it would be a challenge, except maybe to experts in Jesuit casuistry, to argue that fetuses possess in sufficient if any quantities capable of justifying their protection against premature termination.

        I don’t think the procedure is a particularly admirable one, nor one without some problematic consequences. But, as mentioned, one that really seems to be the proverbial “lesser of two evils”. If the Church were to step into that breach and pay women to carry those unwanted fetuses to term, and to then care for and raise the issues then I expect many might concede the Church was capable of putting its money – a significant portion of some $71 billion a year – where its mouth is.

        Who or what is “gawd” and why should I try to prove its existence?

        Good questions, but it certainly seems that the challenge has, over more than a few centuries if not millennia, exercised the minds of more than a few philosophers and theologians, not the least of whom was apparently Aquinas. As for the “why”, that seems to be because they rely on it to do the “heavy lifting” required to get their dogmata – the Catholic Catechism for example – off the ground and airborne. Something that it, I think, fails rather badly at.

      • a fetus is not yet viable enough, at least at 12 weeks or less, to reasonably be granted the rights and protections that babies and adults are.

        What has viability got to do with whether one is a human being? What about babies born at term who must go in an incubator? If viability depends on technology, you are defining people as human based on how clever other people are around him.

        In addition, Joseph’s recent post talked of “intelligence as consisting of memory, mind, and will” – three attributes that it would be a challenge… to argue that fetuses possess in sufficient if any quantities capable of justifying their protection against premature termination.

        What has level of intelligence got to do with whether one is a human being? People used to argue that Africans did not have sufficient intelligence to warrant the rights of a human being. What about those who are mentally challenged? Your justifications for termination can be applied to developmental stages other than fetus.

        we already grant rights – drinking and driving, though generally not at the same time, for examples – based on age and mental capabilities.

        Those are positive rights defined by the civil law. Life is a natural right, inherent to the nature of a human being, along with liberty and property (or, more broadly, the pursuit of happiness). We do not receive our right to life from a beneficent government. At least, not yet.

        + + +

        Who or what is “gawd” and why should I try to prove its existence?

        Good questions, but it certainly seems that the challenge has, over more than a few centuries if not millennia, exercised the minds of more than a few philosophers and theologians, not the least of whom was apparently Aquinas.

        No, Thomas Aquinas attempted to prove the existence of God. Not the same thing. Same goes for Aristotle, Plotinus, and all the rest.

      • YOS:

        Steersman: In addition, Joseph’s recent post talked of “intelligence as consisting of memory, mind, and will” – three attributes … capable of justifying their protection against premature termination.

        YOS: What has level of intelligence got to do with whether one is a human being?

        My point had less to do with intelligence per se than with the attributes that Joseph suggested defined it. Rather difficult, I think and as I suggested, to argue that a fetus several weeks old possesses those three attributes – memory, mind, and will – in any significant quantity except potentially. And not every potentiality can or should be actualized.

        Your justifications for termination can be applied to developmental stages other than fetus.

        True – bit of a slippery slope, potentially at least. However, considering the 100,000 to 1,000,000 deaths in the American wars in Iraq and Vietnam – for which there may have been some justification at least as “just” wars – where those killed rather more clearly exhibited those attributes, I would say that it is rather untenable, to say the least, to argue that such “terminations” aren’t frequently viewed, and democratically mandated by society in general as the “lesser of two evils”.

    • I seem to recollect the reference cited was discussing ancient gods before the Hindus went hog-wild in creating a god for every last conceivable human attribute – rather like the Catholic’s pantheon of saints. But I can’t find that in Dawkin’s The God Delusion so I may be mistaken, at least on the details.

      In any case I think your point largely underscores mine, that humans have a natural if problematic tendency to create myriads of gods on the slightest pretext. Rather unfathomable how anyone can, reasonably or honestly in the face of that fact, claim that their’s is the grand high poobah.

      Although that is not to say that the concept is without value. Some have argued or suggested that it was and is part of the process of the evolution of human consciousness – as suggested by the “imaginary friends” of childhood that Dawkins discussed, and by the book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes – which Dawkins referred to as “either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius”.

      But I can’t see that that value is going to be “distilled and purified” – so to speak – as long as so many of the religious are fixated on the “chaff” rather than on the elements that their religions share with all others. Sort of the process of finding out what is objectively, rather than subjectively, true that is the claim to fame of science. Further evidence that “the great conflict between science and religion” is rather more than a myth.

      • Steersman, you are rather given to wild assertions:
        that humans have a natural if problematic tendency to create myriads of gods on the slightest pretext

        However 60% of the world’s population are monotheistic or non-theistic (Christianity 33%, Islam 21%, Buddhism 6%). Note that the figure for Buddhism might be much higher. Religion By Adherents

        Really? Myriads on the slightest pretext! Come off it.

        You should also see my reply to Ken about Hinduism where it becomes apparent your assertion is much more problematic than you would like to admit.

    • I don’t disagree. But Steersmans original comment throws together two religious figures separated by over 600 years:

      “You may know of the 19th century cleric Frederic William Farrar who coined “the term abominable fancy for the longstanding Christian idea that the eternal punishment of the damned would entertain the saved”. As Dawkins said of Aquinas who apparently developed or promoted the idea, “Nice man”; nice bunch of people.”

      So I thought it was worth mentioning that this “longstanding Christian idea” seems evident in early Christian history. You’ll get no argument from me that these theologians occupy very different intellectual universes. 2000 years separate us from Jesus’s intellectual universe.

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  16. Steersman,
    YOS said:’You seem to think that the job of religion is to provide a picture of the natural world.
    You replied:’You have another world in mind that religion might pertain to or have some useful bearing on? Any evidence at all that it exists?

    Yes, here is the world that religion pertains to. It is beautifully described by the Prayer of St. Francis:

    Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;
    Where there is error, truth;
    Where there is doubt, faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    And where there is sadness, joy.
    O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
    To be consoled as to console;
    To be understood as to understand;
    To be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive;
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

    Do you recognise this world? I sincerely hope so. I think you will agree that it exists except I know you will deny the last line.
    It is the world of ethics, compassion, love, purpose and value.
    It is the world that is responsible for the way we behave toward each other.
    Read those beautiful lines carefully, absorb their message and you will understand they have ‘some useful bearing‘.

    Now please stop beating your false trope to death.
    It has been explained to you over and over again that religion deals with ethical/compassionate/existential issues while science is in the business of providing explanations for the natural world. These are two separate domains that complement each other.

    I spelled out for you in painful detail the complete contrast between the work of our parish priest and the work of our local university to illustrate how different the domains of religion and science are.

    I showed how the Church wholeheartedly subscribes to the scientific method and supports the work of the sciences.

    Yes, I know atheist fundamentalists love to claim that science and religion are opposing explanations of the world. It makes for a catchy soundbite but it collapses like a house of cards when it is subject to careful examination.

    They are complementary domains, not competing domains. Unless of course you can show a published paper deriving the Prayer of St. Francis from the laws of nature. Good luck with that, I would love to see the formula. And while you are about it give me the scientific derivation of the three main classes of ethical belief. Then give me a formula for choosing the appropriate ethical framework. Do this and you will get both the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Peace with the Templeton Prize thrown in as a bonus!.

    And, by the way, I know the prayer was mistakenly attributed to St Francis.

  17. Steersman,
    True. But that is hardly justification for accepting any of their opinions on morals and ethics predicated on the belief in some supernatural deity for which there is absolutely zero evidence.

    First off, we think there is very good evidence. Mind you, I don’t think it counts as ‘proof’ but still it is good evidence. More below but first ethics.

    If, just for the sake of argument, we discount the existence of God, where does that leave us? Read the Prayer of St. Francis above and tell me if you reject that noble ethical vision.

    It is a beautiful, ethical vision that is the direct outgrowth of our religious belief. Read the actual works of St. Francis and you will see more noble ethical thought. It is certainly not the outgrowth of New Atheism who seem only to contribute a mean ugliness to the discourse.

    Continuing with the notional belief that God does not exist, let us ask why religion exists. Why have all societies, in all places and all times developed religious practices? Why are religious practices one of the most durable social institutions of mankind? Surely it performs an important, indeed vital function? To answer that question we look at the core content. What we find is that it is primarily(but not only) an ethical framework that bases its warrant on the postulated existence of a deity. So, from this point of view, religion is society’s attempt to develop a binding moral framework that regulates human interaction. Belief in a deity gives it binding force. Without a binding moral framework, society quickly degenerates into anarchic conflict. The most recent example of that was Communist Russia and Communist China where religious practices were destroyed. The resulting moral vacuum unleashed the worst side of human nature and an estimated 97 million people died. So we know what a wholly atheist society will look like after that tragic experiment.

    You may reply that world does not need religion as a source of ethics, that ethics can be independently arrived at. Well, Grayling tried just this and wrote ‘The Good Book’. The poor fellow, review after review panned his book as no more than bland platitudes and now the book is quietly forgotten.

    The well deserved fate of Grayling’s book springs from a simple fact. In each of us there is continual conflict between desires and ethical obligations. To give ethical obligation precedent over desire requires a certain force of will, a determination, a special kind of motivation. Religion, with its belief in a deity, provides the motivation that Grayling failed to provide. Furthermore, the motivation for ethical behaviour requires a sense of beauty, awe and reverence that makes denial of desire seem noble and worthwhile. Religion supplies this and it can be seen in The Prayer of St. Francis.

    But there is more to it than this. Reading of religious literature makes it clear that even the most holy people struggle continuously with the conflict between desire and obligation. What this brings home is that the maintenance of ethical behaviour requires support. Religion provides this support through its various institutional practices. In modern parlance, we call it moral priming. Dan Ariely, in his research, has shown the importance of moral priming in maintaining ethical behaviour.

    To sum up then, religion is society’s main source of ethics:
    1) it is necessary because we are all subject to a war between desire and obligation,
    2) in response it has produced a clearly formulated ethical framework,
    3) it has given a motivating reason for giving precedence to obligation over desire,
    4) it provides support by making denial of desire seem noble and worthwhile,
    5) it provides institutional support for the ongoing maintenance of ethical practices.

    New Atheism, with its destructive practices, does none of these things.

    You may reply that religion does a bad job of it, witness the evident wrongdoing of mankind. In reply I answer that much of mankind show a determined preference for desire over obligation. It is extremely difficult to overcome this preference for desire. Is there any one of us who can honestly claim that we never made a bad ethical choice? It is not so much that religion does a bad job of it but that we, as individuals, are determined to do a bad job.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    Of course there is more to religion than this. It addresses our existential dread, need for value, purpose and meaning. Rulers, wherever, have eagerly seized on religion as an instrument of power(hardly surprising). Moreover the history of religion is a confusing patchwork of evolving ideas dressed in the clothing of many cultures. None of this should surprise us, we are after all human.

  18. Steersman,
    But all of that is still you touting those “putative” benefits, while rather resolutely refusing to consider those flaws

    That is done for good reason. New atheist writing is nothing more than one long exaggeration of the so-called flaws in religion.

    In reply we have said four things:
    1) many of the claims are false,
    2) many of the claims are badly exaggerated,
    3) the historical record is distorted (RJH’s main point in this post),
    4) religion does great good.

    We don’t have to search out those putative flaws when you are so intent on forcing them down our throat. But it does seem necessary to draw attention to the great good that religion does in the face of the unrelenting criticism of the New Atheists.

  19. Steersman,
    However, the ability to address “ethical, compassionate and existential issues” that is, according to Peter Smith, religion’s claim to fame, looks highly suspect and “putative”

    Why not say something substantive? Claiming that something is ‘highly suspect‘ without any kind of substantive reasoning is only a statement of attitude. But we already know what your attitude is, so you are contributing nothing new.

  20. Steersman,

    But the question is whether they, we, all descended from a single pair. And while it hardly seems to be a settled one, and gives every indication of being a pile of mumbo-jumbo that would do an African witch-doctor proud,

    Disregarding the complete lack of nuance which characterizes your writing, it is fair to say that there are several streams of thought in the Church about this subject and that its view is still evolving.

    So I will give you my view which comes from the liberal edge of the Church. First understand that the Genesis account was written some thousands of years ago. It could not give an exact, scientific account because it would have been unintelligible for at least two thousand years. Consequently it must be understood as a form of parable, a metaphorical way of conveying some essential truths. Furthermore, in a pre-literate world it is only possible to convey information in narrative form. So expect narratives, they are unavoidable. Narratives are never scientific accounts.

    First, let’s summarize what is known.
    1) the universe has a beginning,
    2) the human species evolved over a period of about one million years on the plains of East Africa. In this time their behaviour was largely controlled by instinct, just as the other primates were.
    3) our species was confined to the plains of East Africa because they were naked. They have evolved as endurance runners to perform persistence hunting. To that end they needed a better cooling system so evolved whole body sweating and consequently lost their body hair. Being hairless persistence hunters they were confined to a hot climate with large plains of game animals.
    4) somewhere about 100,000 years an extinction event occurred that killed almost all members of our species. This was possible because we were confined to a relatively small area. The number of survivors is variously estimated to be 30, 300 or 1000. Whatever, it is a very small number of survivors.
    5) the survivors of the extinction event quickly developed language and symbolic thinking. Some believe this was a consequence of the extinction event. But we don’t really know.
    6) the survivors subsequently learned to make clothing. This enabled them to migrate out of East Africa to colder regions and our species spread around the world.
    7) we invaded Europe and some 20,000 years later our nearest relatives, the Neanderthals were all dead. Presumably we slaughtered them.

    Now let’s abstract some essential truths from the Genesis parable and see how they compare.
    1) The universe has a beginning. Correct. The parable claims God was the agent and I agree.
    2) Humans lived in a confined area, the Garden of Eden. Correct.
    3) Humans came from a very small parent population. Correct. Two was figurative.
    4) Acquired knowledge of good and wrong. Correct, consequence of language and symbolic thought. Before that we would have lacked ethical concepts and behaved instinctually, just as our primate relatives did.
    5) Knew they were naked and put on clothes. Correct.
    6) Left the Garden of Eden. Correct.
    7) Were guilty of ‘original sin’. Correct. Instinctual behaviour is Darwinian in nature, concerned solely with survival and lacking ethical concepts. This results in ruthlessly cruel behaviour without compassion. That is our ‘original sin’, embedded in our primate nature. When we acquired language we were able to develop ethical concepts and these overlay our embedded instinctual behaviour. Today we are still prey to the conflicts between our two natures which is why we killed 187 million of our own kind in the last century, the greatest slaughter in human history.

    Now that is a surprising amount of agreement when one considers that the essential message of the Genesis parable was
    1) God created the universe:
    2) We are all subject to unethical behaviour (original sin)
    3) We know good and evil and can therefore choose good(ate of the fruit of tree of knowledge).

    The form the Genesis parable took was one easily conveyed by narrative means in the retelling, using metaphors readily understood by ancient peoples. One cannot understand Genesis without understanding this.

    However we are a sophisticated people able to appreciate and understand the role of metaphor and parable. Unless of course you are a New Atheist on the one hand, or a conservative Christian on the other hand. But never mind, religious thought evolves and we will reach a common understanding. But I doubt New Atheism can make that conceptual leap. They could never relinquish the club they brandish so eagerly and nuance is foreign to their nature..

  21. Steersman,

    the belief in some supernatural deity for which there is absolutely zero evidence.

    I’m tempted to ask which rock you live under!
    I’m going to merely outline the manner in which the argument for God is conducted, in other words, the methodology. The full argument needs much space, is completely off topic in RJH’s posting and comment fatigue will shortly bring this thread to a close, to say nothing of the fact we may be stretching RJH’s patience too far by relentlessly blundering off topic.

    The model for this is the law. Criminal law demands proof beyond reasonable doubt while civil law decides a matter on a balance of probabilities. In real life we decide almost everything on a balance of probabilities. For example, I cannot prove I will arrive safely when I travel to visit my daughter. It is a concern because thousands will die on our roads over Christmas. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that on a balance of probabilities that there is a reasonable chance that I will arrive safely.

    So understand that for most choices in life we do not demand proof but assess the matter on a balance of probabilities. This is a reasonable basis for deciding the matter of God’s existence.

    Turning now to the question of God’s existence, we construct two best case hypotheses,
    (1) that God exists and
    (2) that there is no God.

    We identify their foundational assumptions and then, building on these assumptions, we assemble the evidence to support each assertion.

    Finally we weigh the evidence for the two hypotheses against each other and ask, on a balance of probabilities, which hypothesis is more likely to be true. I have done this and the balance of probabilities is strongly in favour of the God hypothesis.

    The evidence for God falls in the following categories
    1) arguments from philosophy,
    2) arguments from cosmology,
    3) arguments from science,
    4) arguments from the laws of nature,
    5) arguments from consciousness and free will,
    6) arguments from history,
    7) arguments from sociology,
    8) arguments from experience.

    Each argument, by itself, may not be conclusive but the cumulative sum of the arguments makes a strong case.

    We need to make a distinction, that comes from law, about types of arguments. There are two kinds of argument. Affirmative arguments and arguments in rebuttal. Affirmative arguments are the positive arguments that you advance to assert your case is true. Rebuttal arguments are a reply, a criticism of your opponents affirmative arguments. A well argued case will present affirmative arguments and rebuttals for the opponent’s affirmative arguments. If you present only rebuttal arguments your case is weak.

    When weighing the relative probability, one weighs the affirmative argument against the rebuttal.

    Now here is the thing. The case for God has numerous affirmative arguments while the atheist case has almost none. Atheists seem only to make arguments in rebuttal. This means they cannot build up a positive case for the atheist hypothesis, they can only try to subtract from the God hypothesis. This makes their case inherently weak and doomed to failure.

    Let me give you an example of what I mean. Christians assert that the Universe necessarily had a beginning(God created it). Until the mid sixties the constant creation model of the Universe held sway. Atheists then could assert that the Universe had always existed and that no God was necessary. Sadly for them, that affirmative argument has been taken away from them(by science!) and they are left with no affirmative argument in this case. The Christian affirmative argument suddenly became strong. Now they must try to rebut the Christian argument of the beginning of the Universe which they try to do with inventive fantasies such as the cyclic universe or the multiverse. Not convincing, the fact remains that the Universe had a beginning.

    I have said before that there is no proof, either for God’s existence or against God’s existence. But the existence of the laws of nature and the manner of their operation come very close to showing conclusively that God does exist.

    • Peter:

      Each argument, by itself, may not be conclusive but the cumulative sum of the arguments makes a strong case.

      And eight times zero is still zero. As much as you, and others, may insist, and rather dogmatically at that, that it adds up or multiplies out to the whole ball of wax.

      I have said before that there is no proof, either for God’s existence or against God’s existence. But the existence of the laws of nature and the manner of their operation come very close to showing conclusively that God does exist.

      So. If you concede, apparently, that there is no proof “for God’s existence” then why does the Church insist – frequently to the point of going to war over it, or by threatening people with the Inquisition or with the terrors of Hell – that, for example, “[Jesus] was crucified, died, and was buried, [and that] He descended to the dead, [and that] On the third day he rose again”?

      While people are generally entitled to believe anything they want, although some beliefs justify incarceration at least, and while that Catechism does at least start off with “I believe” – a thread it seems to lose rather quickly, it also seems that the rather desperate need that those beliefs actually be true tends to cause many, including the Church itself, to lose sight of the difference between belief and fact – not just “one toke over the line”, but a whole bong full.

      As a case in point, you may wish to read the passage in Dawkins’ The God Delusion [indeed] where he suggests that “as horrible as [priestly] sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place” [pg 356]. He then went on to describe a letter he had subsequently received from a woman who had been brought up Catholic, had suffered such sexual abuse, and who had been led to believe that a childhood friend of hers who had died had been sent to hell because she was Protestant. A portion of her letter:

      Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares.

      One thing to express a belief that a conjecture, a hypothesis, might be true. Quite another to insist, particularly to vulnerable children (“suffer the little children” – ha!), that it is literally true. Which probably qualifies as perpetrating a lie – “something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression” – and a crime as odious as “deliberately running down a person with an automobile”.

      • there is no proof “for God’s existence”

        Actually, there are. I think Peter must be referring to consilience, a term coined by E.O.Wilson to mean that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can “converge” to strong conclusions, even if any one strand is considered weak. This “rope logic” is central to natural science, but Thomas’ arguments are deductive logic, and a syllogism is either valid or not, full stop.

        The problem is that folks with prior commitments to a particular stance cannot be convinced by logic. They came to their commitment emotionally, often in adolescence, and that belief cannot be swayed by anything Thomas Aquinas has to say to the contrary. Rather than point out flaws in the syllogism, they will instead proclaim themselves “unconvinced” by the logic.

        Otherwise, why would Dawkins and others find it necessary to totally misrepresent the arguments that Thomas makes?

        then why does the Church insist – frequently to the point of going to war over it,

        Which war was that?

        And how does it apply to the doctrine of Homo christianer naturalis, the naturally Christian man who, like Socrates, would rewarded for a virtuous life? Or those that St. Paul mentions in Romans 2 who are “a law unto themselves” and will be judged in accordance with their own acts, even if they did not know the Law.

        the difference between belief and fact

        “Fact” comes from the participle of a verb: factum est, “that which has the property of having been made.” It is cognate with the cousin-word “feat” (which detoured through French). A fact is therefore something accomplished, a point much clearer in German, where it is rendered Tatsache or “deed-matter.”

        “Belief” is the intensified form of “lief,” a now-archaic form of “love,” and is cognate with the vowel-shifted “belove.” The German form is geliebt, something beloved. It is this emotional attachement that distinguishes “belief” from “faith”/”truth.”

        A fact qua fact has no meaning. Meaning must be given to it by a mind depending on what they believe about the fact. For some, an iridium-rich stratum is a sign of a prehistoric asteroid impact; for others it is a sign of the eruption of the Deccan Traps. From a purely materialist viewpoint, it is simply a layer of rock with more than normal iridium content and has no significance beyond that. As Einstein told Heisenberg, “Theory determines what can be observed,” and insight which Heisenberg declared “changed his life.”

        As a case in point, you may wish to read the passage in Dawkins’

        Why? What special insight or knowledge of the facts does a science popularizer bring to such matters?

      • Steersman,

        there is no proof “for God’s existence”
        Actually, there are. I think Peter must be referring to consilience, a term coined by E.O.Wilson to mean that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can “converge” to strong conclusions,

        Thanks, YOS, that is the right term.

        consilience (also convergence of evidence or concordance of evidence) refers to the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can “converge” to strong conclusions. That is, when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence are very strong on their own. Most established scientific knowledge is supported by a convergence of evidence

        By arguing from consilience, the evidence for God’s existence is very powerful. I agree with YOS that are are proofs for God’s existence but it is much simpler in this discussion to argue from consilience, since it makes a powerful and easily understood argument.

        Sometimes it is very useful to turn the argument around and ask the converse: what proofs do you have that God does not exist? What evidence do you have that God does not exist?

        It is the complete silence of atheism in answer to these questions that is so striking. Atheists have no affirmative arguments, they have no evidence, they cannot argue from consilience. All they can do is mount rebuttal arguments to try to show that theism’s affirmative arguments are faulty. The atheist case is weak to non-existent because it has no affirmative arguments and so must resort to negative, rebuttal arguments.

        The one affirmative argument that atheism had was that the universe had always existed, in contradiction to Christianity’s claims that the universe had a beginning, since they could claim that God was not necessary and that Christianity’s claims were false.

        Einstein famously reacted to Georges Lemaitres’ theory by exclaiming ‘No, not that, that is the creation‘. He then went on to say ‘Your mathematics might be good but your physics is abominable‘, a classic argument from authority.

        Well, Einstein was wrong and the universe did indeed have a beginning, as claimed by Christianity. Atheism becomes incoherent when trying to explain this fact, abandoning empiricism and resorting to faith based speculation.

        read the passage in Dawkins

        Dawkins’ last publication which actually involves original research in a refereed scientific journal is:

        Dawkins, Richard; Brockmann, H.J. (1980). “Do digger wasps commit the concorde fallacy?”. Animal Behaviour 28 (3): 892–896.

        That is some 33 years ago. He has ceased to be an expert on anything except aggressive polemicism.

      • YOS:

        there is no proof “for God’s existence”

        Actually, there are.

        Ok, I’ll concede that some “proofs” actually exist, but that hardly means that they necessarily hold any water, that they are at all valid. And if that is true, evidence for which is here, for mathematics – a discipline or “science” with proven correspondence with “reality” in notable contradistinction to theology – then it seems highly probable if not a dead certainty for theology. With the latter looking to be little more than delusions at worst (being charitable), and “philosophick romances” or “just-so” stories at best. And while such stories tend to be a staple of evolutionist arguments, and of those from evolutionary psychology, they at least likewise have some correspondences to “reality” in their underlying mechanisms. But a related quote from Stuart Kauffman’s At Home In The Universe [pg 42]:

        Evolution is filled with these just-so stories, plausible scenarios for which no evidence can be found, stories we love to tell but on which we should place no intellectual reliance.

        So, less a case of not being “convinced by logic”, than one of demanding to see some pudding for evidence or confirmation, some predictions of what would necessarily follow and that are borne out by subsequent tests – all of which “religion” seems rather deficient in. And while you might point to the no doubt non-trivial sacrifices that many of the religious have made over the millennia, none of that is any proof that the things believed in correspond to “reality” since a great many people on many different “sides” have been killed or committed murder and mayhem in the furtherance of various beliefs. And all believing “God is with us”. Proof only of human gullibility. Or maybe of “Gawd’s” schizophrenia or maliciousness.

        A fact qua fact has no meaning. Meaning must be given to it by a mind ….

        Looks like some more Jesuit casuistry, or simple obfuscation. A fact is something like stating that “the earth is round (more or less)” while a belief is like stating “the world is flat – and rests on the backs of turtles (all the way down)”.

        Steersman: As a case in point, you may wish to read the passage in Dawkins’

        YOS: Why? What special insight or knowledge of the facts does a science popularizer bring to such matters?

        Less a question of what insight he might have brought to those questions than one about the experiences one Catholic had with the manifestations of that particular faith and set of dogmata. Maybe something that you and the Popes in your ivory towers aren’t much concerned with.

  22. Steersman,

    I did say “to even suggest otherwise”. If you had actually said that “every aspect was without reproach” then I would have said that – and been able to quote it.

    You have failed to even begin to show where and how I suggest it.
    But there is worse to come. In the very same comment you throw the ‘suggest’ word around once more without any evidence, see below:

    But one might “suggest”[my quotes] that there are more than a few hidden costs, a few “hooks”, that, if we were to engage in an honest cost-benefit analysis, might tip the balance very noticeably in the other direction.

    Instead of suggesting it, why don’t you simply show it, by giving us a few hard facts.

    Extraordinarily, you once again you try the ‘honesty’ ploy – ‘if we were to engage in an honest cost-benefit analysis‘.

    Well, I invite you to do so, engage in an honest cost-benefit analysis. I invite you to display your honesty and your facts. Drop the hypothetical counterfactuals and lets actually see the analysis.

    And I would call that confirmation bias if not dogmatism.

    On the contrary, this is confirmation of what really happens on the ground. These are facts and labelling them with ‘bias’ or ‘dogmatism’ is wholly irrelevant.
    It confirms that the Church is very active in charitable work.
    It confirms the effectiveness of the Church’s work.
    It confirms that the Church’s work has won recognition at the highest level.
    It confirms that Catholicism cares deeply about the plight of the suffering.
    It confirms that Catholicism translates this concern into action.

    Customary disclaimer, people being human, fallible, and all that, the Church also make mistakes(there, I said it). The Obamacare fiasco is a nice confirmation of our human frailties(but note that as a software engineer, I have a lot of sympathy for those poor guys working under such pressure to make a complex system work under crazy deadlines).

    • Peter:

      Instead of suggesting it, why don’t you simply show it, by giving us a few hard facts.

      Since you are apparently a software engineer you should realize the difficulty of tracking down all of the relevant facts, all of the “devils in the details”. But, since you insist, why don’t you try chewing on this for starters:

      How much money does the U.S. government forgo by not taxing religious institutions? According to a University of Tampa professor, perhaps as much as $71 billion a year.

      $71 billion a year buys a lot of hospitals, and staffs and supplies a lot of soup-kitchens. That’s about 10% of the Defense Department budget for the year ($670 billion) and about 2% of the entire budget – hardly chicken-feed.

      And while you might argue that the Church is a more efficient provider of those services, that seems decidedly moot, particularly if you consider the possibility of other hidden costs.

      Customary disclaimer, people being human, fallible, and all that, the Church also make mistakes (there, I said it).

      Good for you. Now are you ready to concede my point about the wheat and the chaff? That you once again repeat, in glowing terms, the benefits of Catholicism, and point only to the fallibility of individuals – not the Church itself – without acknowledging the possibility of any systemic or philosophical problems within it suggests not.

      • Steersman,

        My advice is that you should not resort to selective quoting. Let us have a look at the rest of the article, shall we?

        Their article appears in the current issue of Free Inquiry magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism, an organization of nontheists.

        Good, now we have established that it comes from a nice impartial source with no axe to grind. Or have we?

        there have been several attempts to quantify religious tax exemptions — all of them wildly varied in their conclusions

        Now which of the wildly varying conclusions have you chosen to accept? And why? You wouldn’t, by any chance, want to overstate the case, would you?

        But Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said that Americans have made a democratic decision that religious institutions are good for our communities — believers and atheists alike.

        Quite so.

        “Whether it is the Quakers opposing slavery, Reverend King arguing for equality, or a Catholic soup kitchen feeding and sheltering all in need,” Rienzi said, “our history is full of examples confirming the great public benefit of our religious diversity.”

        Indeed, and President Obama has gone on record, confirming this.

        “Coming up with hard numbers has been so difficult. But if there are going to be good discussions about this, we need good data.”

        Glad you admit the unreliability of the data.

        “It makes little sense for a group like the Red Cross to pay taxes because what they are doing is truly a benefit to all society,” he said. “But if we took religious organizations away, would the government say ‘We really need religious-based charity, so we are going to step in.’ I don’t think they would.”

        Exactly. You have hit the nail on the head.

        “We have had them for a long time, but it is more complete and protective of religious organizations now than it ever has been,” she said.

        Quite so. Society is recognizing the great value that religious institution provide.

        You are quick to talk about hidden costs but have you ever considered the vast scale of the hidden benefits?
        1) the value of the time supplied by the vast army of volunteers.
        2) the value of the cars, petrol and other equipments used to support their work.
        3) the value of all the contributions to the soup kitchens, aid distribution centers, etc, etc.
        4) the value of the time spent in counselling and guidance.

        No one records any of this. Try to imagine the cost of getting the state to do this. Salaries for all the workers, their medical and pension benefits, overtime pay, holiday pay, vehicles for the staff, offices and warehouses, the immense bureaucracy of supervisors, managers and directors, the inefficiency and corruption of bureaucracy, staff recruitment costs, training costs, etc, etc. The list just goes on and on.

        Now add to this the fact that bureaucracies are often blind as well as inefficient. The religious organisations have an intricate network of contacts throughout society. They are better placed to discern needs and lacking the restraints of bureaucracy that can respond much quicker.

        Society has quite rightly made the judgement that religious organisations provide great public benefit. This judgement is reflected in the way society provides tax benefits. That society is prepared to maintain these benefits simply shows that society thinks it is getting a good deal.

        Have a look at what Obama said.

      • Steersman,

        That you once again repeat, in glowing terms, the benefits of Catholicism, and point only to the fallibility of individuals – not the Church itself – without acknowledging the possibility of any systemic or philosophical problems

        Context, context, context.
        My dear fellow, context is everything, it establishes how we frame the discussion.

        So lets stop and examine the context.
        1) New Atheism has mounted an aggressive attack on religion.
        2) This attack paints religion in the worst possible light.
        3) This attack almost never admits to any good in religion.
        4) This blog is also part of the attack on religion. Though I admire RJH for his erudition, scholarship and moderation. For all his criticisms I much enjoy his writing.

        Some religionists, like myself, answer the attacks to point out the defects and misrepresentations contained in the attacks. We also answer the accusation that religion has no benefit by pointing out what should be obvious, the great benefits of religious activity.

        So I hope you see that the way we reply has been framed by the context of relentless attacks by New Atheism that refuse to give any kind of credit whatsoever.

        Of course we are entitled to point out the great good that religion performs and given the context, it is entirely appropriate.

        You seem to demand that, communist style, we write self-criticisms. I can assure you that has gone out of fashion, even in China.

        Let me tell you an amusing story about that. I worked in Shanghai for two years some twenty years ago. During that time I had a vehicle accident. The police blamed me, I thought I was innocent but at that time the police were enforcement, prosecutor and judge all rolled up into one. Guilty, as charged, in lieu of punishment they demanded I write a self-criticism. This was a common form of mild punishment. Astonished, I refused. My interpreter, Chen Yunfang, replied to the police, in Chinese, yes, certainly, the foreigner will do so. To me she said, in English, don’t worry Mr Smith, I will write it in Chinese and you will never know what you said, just sign it. They kept face and I kept face.

        Buried somewhere in the Chinese bureaucracy, is a self-criticism signed by me and I really don’t know what it says. From my interpreter’s hints I gather it is an abject admission of my guilt and worthlessness as a driver together with a grovelling supplication that I be allowed to continue driving in the worker’s paradise.

      • Peter:

        Society has quite rightly made the judgement that religious organisations provide great public benefit.

        It has certainly made that judgement – at least in effect, although it is, I think, decidedly moot whether it has done so in full understanding of the costs and benefits. Apropos of which, you may wish to check out this summary or overview of a problematic partnering of a public university in Texas with a “Catholic hospital group”, the upshot of which is apparently rather odious:

        Which means a person who enters into a Catholic hospital automatically is deprived of THE RIGHT TO FREE AND INFORMED CONSENT because no procedure can be done that violates Catholic principles and no information about alternatives that are not deemed “morally legitimate” in the eyes of the Catholic Church need be discussed either.

        While I’ll concede that the Church and “religion” in general has made and continues to make some positive contributions to society in general, I would say that that type of situation is clearly a case of the tail wagging the dog, not to mention being the abrogation of the principle that he who pays the piper – some $71 billion a year – gets to call the tune.

  23. Steersman, you said

    “science’s” claim to fame, in notable contradistinction to “religion”, is its willingness, its commitment, to actually testing those conclusions or predictions against “reality”.

    Once again, you imply that science and religion are competing explanations for the natural world. I have comprehensively rebutted that notion in my earlier comments. You have chosen not to reply(presumably because you have no reply) but continue to advance that false notion.

    One does not ‘test’ ethical behaviour against reality, one practices it by embedding it in the fabric of one’s life. One does not ‘test’ compassionate behaviour against reality, one practices it.

    I am sure you know that a large body of science now believes in the multiverse hypothesis and a smaller body of science believes in the cyclic universe.

    Now here is a really strange thing. The Big Bang is an information horizon. We cannot ever detect what happened ‘before’ the Big Bang. All we can ever do is speculate. And yet we have firm statements from science about what happened ‘before’ the Big Bang.

    So much for testing conclusions or predictions against reality.

    But it gets even stranger and more bizarre. There is a body of science that maintains that the universe spontaneously evolved out of ‘nothing’. Apart from the objection above, there is no way, even in principle to test the evolution of matter/energy from ‘nothing’. That the universe can spontaneously happen from pure nothing is philosophical and scientific nonsense but that does not stop reputable scientists from advancing the idea in all seriousness, when it can never be tested.

    So much for testing conclusions or predictions against reality.

    Paul Davies, a well known physicist, has argued that science has ventured into the realms of faith. Read the article for yourself – Taking Science on Faith

    I understand of course, that we extend science by entertaining speculative ideas on the fringe of science, exploring them to see if they yield useful directions for research. When we do this, we are careful to admit the tentativeness and speculative nature of the ideas. We never advance them as firm descriptions of reality.

    Unfortunately science has started advancing some such ideas as good descriptions of reality when they cannot ever be tested. They are only speculative explorations of what might be possible but which we can never confirm.

    So much for ‘actually testing those conclusions or predictions against “reality”

  24. Yos,

    What is the “truth claim” here? Whether a hospital ought to provide for the killing of children is not a truth-claim, but a question of morality. It makes no sense to ask people who think its wrong to kill babies to “step up” and help in the slaughter. Granted some atheists are now talking about “fourth trimester” abortions, that is, the killing of recently-born children. Singer goes so far as to refuse to put an upper age limit on killable children.

    Very good reply to Steersman.

    Dawkins also made a comment supporting infanticide. Two philosophers created quite a stir about two years ago when they published a well reasoned paper supporting infanticide. Harris has claimed it can be permissible to kill people for holding certain beliefs.

    All of this illustrates the tenuous hold society has on morality when it starts to abandon the source of its morality, religion.

    None of this should surprise us. We have after all seen that the destruction of religion in the Soviet Union and Communist China created a moral vacuum, resulting in the deaths of 97 million people.

    Candace Vogler(professor of philosophy at Chicago University), in her book Reasonably Vicious argues that ‘shorn of its theological context, this theory leaves us with no systematic, uncontroversial way of arguing that wrongdoing is necessarily contrary to reason

    In other words, reasonable behaviour, shorn of its religious foundation, can lead to vicious behaviour. Singer, Dawkins and Harris have given us some confirmation of this but the most stunning confirmation can be seen in the Soviet Union and Communist China.

  25. Steersman,

    I think that qualifies as a classic case of begging the question: “where the conclusion that one is attempting to prove is included in the initial premises of an argument, often in an indirect way that conceals this fact”.

    You indulge in much hand waving about question begging so let’s make the logic plain and see if your claims withstand the application of simple logic.

    1) Group A believe that action X is morally repugnant, deeply wrong.
    2) It is wrong to force or expect people to take part in or support any action they believe to be morally repugnant, deeply wrong, absent any truly compelling societal interest.
    3) There is no truly compelling societal interest why Group A should be forced to support action X.
    Therefore:
    4) It is wrong to force or expect Group A to support or perform action X.

    This is plain deductive logic, three premises and the inevitable conclusion (4).
    No amount of hand waving about question begging will change the simple truth of this argument.

    I suggest you make a habit of laying out your arguments in this simple deductive form. It will rescue you from an awful lot of confusion.

    More particularly, the premise is that a fetus of, say, less than 12 weeks actually qualifies as a human.

    Well, let’s see:
    1) It has the identical DNA structure that all humans have. By that definition alone it is human. I find it very strange indeed that you have not seen the obvious truth of this statement.
    2) It has the potential to realise the full and complete life that humans do.
    3) That potential is developed seamlessly and gradually from conception until adulthood(and beyond).
    4) There is no marker anywhere in that seamless development path that distinguishes something as being non-human.
    5) Killing a person at any point along that seamless development path denies that person the opportunity to realises and fulfill their potential beyond that point. That is why it is wrong.
    6) Whether you kill a person at 12 weeks, one year or fifteen years, you are doing exactly the same thing, you are denying them the opportunity for fulfilling or realising their potential beyond that point.

    It is wrong to kill an unborn child.

    To argue that someone is non-human is an extraordinarily cynical excuse for killing a person. Soldiers take refuge in this (I did my active duty) and the Nazis took this idea to the extremes of insanity. But then killing a person is such a repellent act that the person performing the deed and everyone associated with it, must go through logical contortions to deny or minimize the deed. This is precisely what you are doing.

  26. Steersman,

    And while you and Peter both insist, rather disingenuously I think, that it isn’t “religion’s” job to “provide a picture of the natural world”

    First, you misrepresent our words. What we actually said is that it is not religion’s job to explain the natural world, that is the job of science. So please stick to what we actually said. The Catholic Church has also categorically made the same statement.

    Secondly, I have made detailed arguments in support of my contention, that science and religion address different domains. Your only reply has been more handwaving, using the word ‘disingenuously’. Vague handwaving has never answered any argument so I invite you to address the actual arguments I have laid out in some detail.

    Remember, failure to answer an argument signals inability to answer the argument and therefore the argument stands. This is how the law works and they are consummate masters of the art of argument.

    In any case, I invite you to read the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul since these are the core of Christian teaching from which all else derives. You will find that they deal overwhelmingly with how we ought to behave and why we should behave that way. In other words they deal with ethics and the warrant for the ethical claims. You will find they are not an attempt to explain the natural world. They are instead an attempt to describe how we should behave in the natural world and why we should do so.

    If you disagree, the proper response is not more vague handwaving. The proper response is to look at the facts and our interpretation of them, giving substantive, well argued replies, solidly grounded in facts.

    I invite you to engage in serious argument, not fancifully frivolous froth.

  27. Steersman,

    one might reasonably wonder at your efforts to prove God’s existence based on the existence of “change in the world” and of “natural laws” … looks to be a clear case of trying, if unsuccessfully, to “provide a picture of the natural world”

    Finding evidence for God’s existence is not the same thing as trying to explain the natural world. Those are two entirely different tasks.

    Science explains the natural world and within the natural world we also find evidence for God’s existence.

    Happily, science has also revealed evidence for God’s existence so, from the religious perspective, we are very grateful for the work of science.

    Science is religion’s best friend.

  28. Steersman,

    A crime that “religion” in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, has, I think, committed and continues to commit daily on the level of a wholesale slaughter.

    I presume you are talking about abortion. That is the only ‘daily … wholesale slaughter‘ committed in Western countries.

  29. Steersman,

    All I shall suggest is that man – individual man – enlarge his attitude toward himself. In order to do so most effectively and rapidly he should use the tool at hand: science. … He should apply logic and integrity to his subjective personality

    Science should certainly be taken as far as it can. There is even a body of thought that science can solve all problems, can explain everything. That is known as scientism.

    Strangely enough, for all its power, science is coming up against boundaries. For example, there is no way, even in principle, to observe anything ‘before’ the Big Bang. We are confronted with an absolute information horizon we cannot penetrate. For all the talk about multiverses and cyclic universes it is pure speculation that cannot ever be tested or observed.

    Another example is the speculation that universes spontaneously spring forth from ‘nothing’. Science cannot examine it or test it.

    Yet another example is the question of the origin of the laws of nature. This is probably the most profound mystery in the universe. Science can reveal laws of nature but it cannot find the origin of the laws of nature.

    Quite clearly then, there are boundaries to scientific enquiry. If we look closer to home we find even more obvious boundaries to scientific enquiry. For example, in the field of ethics there are three major categories of ethical thought, deontological ethics, virtue ethics and utilitarian/consequential ethics. These classes of ethical thought cannot be arrived at by scientific method, one cannot make a choice between the three classes of ethical thought using the scientific method and nor can one use a scientific formula to solve a moral problem. Hume famously explained that we cannot derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’ and his logic remains unchallenged today. Or to give yet another example, science cannot explain how the masterpieces of Shakespeare were produced in a strictly causal, deterministic world. That such sublime thought can be produced by a wet, biological machine defies science. The infinite monkeys at a typewriter explanation shows the extreme inadequacy of scientistic reasoning.

    Yes, science is a very powerful tool and we should push scientific investigation as far as we can. Nevertheless, we are discovering important boundaries to science. There are boundaries to what we can reveal in the natural world, there are boundaries in the realm of pure thought, mathematics for example, there are boundaries in the realm of ethics and there are boundaries in the realm of aesthetics. The very nature of consciousness may be one of these boundaries but it is too early to tell.

    We are the lucky possessors of the most powerful tool in the universe, the conscious human brain. It is capable of deep abstract thought, complex philosophical reasoning, compassion, love and ethical reasoning, careful deductive thought, complex inductive thought(science), beautiful aesthetic awareness and a nearly unlimited capacity for creativity.

    If we want to realize our fullest potential we must use our mind to the fullest in all these areas and not just to pursue scientific enquiry. Our brains are capable of so much more than science and they reveal a world of much more than just science. To think that science is the only tool is a dangerous delusion that would leave us trapped in an arid world devoid of value and aesthetics.

  30. Steersman,

    my point was that a fetus is not yet viable enough, at least at 12 weeks or less, to reasonably be granted the rights and protections that babies and adults are. Hardly an unreasonable position, I think, as we already grant rights – drinking and driving, though generally not at the same time, for examples – based on age and mental capabilities

    You make four mistakes here:
    1) You equate the right to life with lesser rights, such as drinking and driving, assuming it is merely a matter of degree. They can’t be equated and it is not a matter of degree. It is a fundamental difference in kind.

    2) We don’t grant the right to life to anyone. That right is inherent. The great achievement of society is the shift to regarding life in humans as something sacred, to be protected at all costs. This is why we mobilize great resources to rescue even one person trapped on a mountainside.

    3) Viability is a dreadfully arbitrary measure subject to the whims of people and local capabilities. Life should not depend on some arbitrary, changing assessment. For a while my life hung on a thread after being attacked by a swarm of bees. I was definitely not a viable organism at the time.

    Should they have switched off the equipment then according to your rule? Of course not, because that would have prevented me from realising the remainder of my life’s potential. Which brings me to point 4, the most important one of all.

    4) The seamless potential for life. You have ignored my arguments on this point, and for good reason, there is no answer. Killing an unborn child denies that child the opportunity to realise its full potential. This argument holds true no matter what the age of the child or unborn child.

    The seamless potential for life begins at conception and ends at death. At every point in that long thread of life the potential exists to realise the fulfillments of life. Kill that person at any point along that seamless thread and you deny the person the opportunity for the fulfilling the remaining potential of their life. Whether you kill that person at 12 weeks, one year or fifteen years you are still doing exactly the same thing, denying them the fulfillment of the remaining potential of life. The nature of the act does not depend at all on the age of the person. It is fundamentally wrong at any age. That is if you believe it is fundamentally wrong to kill a person. If you don’t share that conviction you don’t belong in civilized society.

    An aside. While I was in critical care after being attacked by a swarm of bees, the nurses formed a circle, holding hands and prayed. That people should care so deeply for life is truly inspiring. Fortunately I was in no condition at the time to understand what it meant that they felt the need to hold hands and pray.

    • Peter:

      We don’t grant the right to life to anyone. That right is inherent.

      An “inalienable” right endowed by “our Creator”? The one you’ve conceded you don’t have any proof for? Who might be and probably is, at least as you conceive it, no more than a figment of your imagination?

      • Steersman,
        What on earth are you trying to say?
        Do you deny that everyone has the right to life?
        Do you deny that is an inherent right?

        Instead of all the innuendo, why don’t you come out with some clear statements that contain a decent argument?

        I am continually astonished by your failure to give informed arguments.
        Here let me help you out:

        1) In 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence declared that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that “among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

        2) In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly declared in article three:
        “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

        3) In 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights was adopted by the Council of Europe, declaring a protected human right to life in Article 2.

        4) In 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
        “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life”.

  31. Steersman,

    n addition, Joseph’s recent post talked of “intelligence as consisting of memory, mind, and will” – three attributes that it would be a challenge, except maybe to experts in Jesuit casuistry, to argue that fetuses possess in sufficient if any quantities capable of justifying their protection against premature termination.

    Once again, you ignore the argument from a seamless potential for fulfilled life. That foetus will develop memory, mind and will. You wish to prevent that possibility, a cruel act indeed.

    • And that “seamless potential” is not an argument, but a premise, an assumption, an article of faith. If not a case of “begging the question”. Or of subjugating “the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral” and religious frameworks.

      In addition, this is of course RJH’s blog, but you might want to consider trying to respond to my comments rather than to, in effect, the OP. Likely to be of more benefit to anyone else trying to follow the thread of the arguments and counter-arguments.

      • Steersman,

        And that “seamless potential” is not an argument, but a premise, an assumption, an article of faith.

        Huh, an article of faith? Where on earth do you get that?

        It is a fact, arrived at by simple observation. Every person, at any point in time before their death, has the potential, in the future, to realise the fulfillments of life. This is seamless because at no instant in their life history is there a change in kind, a human remains a human from beginning to end.

        The one obvious exception is a person trapped in an irreversible coma.

        Once before you made some vague, hand-waving claims about “begging the question”. Then, as now, your claim fails in the light of clear logic. Some more care in your arguments is called for.

  32. Steersman,

    If the Church were to step into that breach, …

    The Church does indeed do all it can to help. It supplies counselling, adoption services and baby hatches to deal with babies that would be abandoned. Sadly the problem overwhelms the resources of the Church. That is not the fault of the Church, it is a symptom of something badly wrong in society. That is the problem that should be addressed, at its source.

  33. Steersman,

    Good questions, but it certainly seems that the challenge has, over more than a few centuries if not millennia, exercised the minds of more than a few philosophers and theologians

    And they have produced well argued, convincing replies. I have already commented on the subject and you have failed to reply.

    You are so eager to demand evidence for God from religious believers but you are signally unable to supply the converse, evidence that there is no God.

    • Peter:

      You’ve already conceded there is no proof for the existence of god. So why do you and the Church continue to insist that one possibility – Jehovah and son (Laddio, Daddio, and the Spook) – actually exists, and to brainwash children, tormenting them in the process, into thinking that that conjecture is literally true? Reminds me of the scene in Slum-Dog Millionaire where some modern-day Fagins blinded a small boy to make him more effective as a beggar.

      In any case, since you’ve conceded the utility of science, and since you’ve argued that “religion” and Catholicism is the only barrier standing between society and barbarism [ha! – think the Inquisition and various Crusades], you may wish to take a look at this lecture, to be live-streamed this evening [6:00 PM PST] from UCLA . It’s by the anthropologist Frans de Waal:

      His view that the moral sense is inborn is supported by modern psychology and neuroscience. In this lecture, I will show how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans.

      No gods need apply; the objective isn’t to prove there is no god, but to pull the rug out from under those who make all sorts of egregious claims – against sense, sensibility, reason, and humanity itself – based on little more than fear and ignorance.

      • Steersman,

        Laddio, Daddio, and the Spook

        Huh? What are you trying to say?
        These kinds of trite statements were common in primary school playgrounds. But people grow up, move on and learn to make sensible arguments based on reason and moderation.

        If you think this kind of behaviour has any utility you should look again to see the results of your kind of behaviour:

        Atheists, with a disapproval rating of 87.2 are by far the most disliked group in the US, significantly more disliked than Muslims who have a disapproval rating of only 59.8. By contrast, White Americans have a disapproval rating of 4.5 and Jews have a disapproval rating of 19.2, while conservative Christians have a disapproval rating of 20.4.

        Atheist Disapproval Rating vs Other Groups in the US

        Keep up the good work!

      • Steersman,

        You’ve already conceded there is no proof for the existence of god.

        And I have pointed out that no proof is necessary.
        I have pointed out that in real life it is normal to assess things by the balance of probabilities, just as is done in civil law.
        I have pointed out the cumulative sum of evidence, on the balance of probabilities, strongly favours the God hypothesis.

        Finally, I have pointed out that atheism lacks evidence that there is no God and cannot even begin to prove there is no God.

        My advice is that you stay away from talking about proof when one considers the complete lack of any kind of proof that there is no God.

      • Steersman,

        No gods need apply; the objective isn’t to prove there is no god,

        Let me get this right. You claim there is no God and then admit you can’t prove there is no God. I presume your belief is an article of faith for you.

      • Steersman,

        the objective isn’t to prove there is no God, but to pull the rug out from under those who make all sorts of egregious claims [about God].

        Since you can’t prove there is no God you choose instead to attack the manifestations of religious belief. Fair enough, you can do that. After all there is no other strategy open to you. But it hardly matters, Christianity is accustomed to centuries of persecution and has shown great resilience in the face of attacks.

        But I would advise you to pause for a moment and consider whether your strategy is useful.

        Atheists, with a disapproval rating of 87.2 are by far the most disliked group in the US, significantly more disliked than Muslims who have a disapproval rating of only 59.8. By contrast, White Americans have a disapproval rating of 4.5 and Jews have a disapproval rating of 19.2, while conservative Christians have a disapproval rating of 20.4.
        Atheist Disapproval Rating vs Other Groups in the US

        I think it is called shooting yourself in the foot. Keep up the good work!

      • Steersman,

        His view that the moral sense is inborn is supported by modern psychology and neuroscience. In this lecture, I will show how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans.

        Indeed. When we look at the historical record we find, in the midst of war, crime and cruelty, great acts of love, kindness and compassion.

        It is abundantly clear that we are capable of both great good and nearly infinite bad. This is reflected in the Church’s teachings. The Church teaches that there is a thing called ‘natural law’ (as opposed to civil law and divine law), which is our ability to discern, through pure reason, the principles of ethical behaviour. In fact the Church has a large body of writings on this very subject.

        The Church also teaches that we all have a conscience, that is the innate ability to discern good and bad. As the Second Vatican Council observed: “In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: ‘do this, shun that’.

        So your statement from De Waal is not new or surprising. The Church has always believed this.

        For all that we are capable of empathy, good, kindness, love and compassion there is overwhelming evidence of our capacity for evil. You need only consider the figure of 187 million deaths due to violence in the last century, the greatest slaughter in human history.

        In simple terms, this is explained by the three competing forces we are subject to: need, desire and the moral impulse. More often than not the moral impulse is overwhelmed by need and desire. Society deals with this by strengthing the moral impulse to counterbalance need and desire. Religion has been the primary means of strengthening the moral impulse. As a result of strengthening the moral impulse, society has introduced further institutions, democracy and the rule of law, to restrain the malignant expression of needs and desires.

        However, if you weaken the moral impulse, you undermine the institutions of democracy and the rule of law. These institutions by themselves are not sufficient, they must be supported by a strong and active moral impulse.

        All of this would not have been necessary if you had known about the the Church’s large body of teachings about natural law and the conscience. You really should take the trouble to inform yourself before engaging in debate.

      • Peter:

        Let me get this right. You claim there is no God and then admit you can’t prove there is no God. I presume your belief is an article of faith for you.

        I don’t think I’ve claimed here, or anywhere else for that matter, that “there is no God” – maybe you can show me where I’ve done so? If not then I hope you’ll concede that you presume wrong.

        Seems to me that those claims, either way, depend rather crucially on what is meant by “Gawd” in the first place. If, as the well-regarded physicist Steven Weinberg argued, you define it as energy then you can find “gawd” in a lump of coal. A position which is not all that far removed from Aristotle’s (and Aquinas’ and Catholicism’s) view of god, in Edward Feser’s phrasing, as “what it is that keeps the things that exist, here and now, in existence here and now”. But, apart from the fact that that seems rather clearly predicated on Aristotle’s flawed and discredited view on inertia, it is still a long stretch from that to giving any credibility whatsoever to the ignorant if not barbaric claptrap that passes for much of Catholic dogmata and cant. Only marginally better than the Islamic variety which has yet to “evolve” into a “New Testament” version.

        But if y’all were to emphasize concepts such as panentheism – which seems, somewhat reasonably, to find some support in many religions, apparently even in some branches of Catholicism, and which thereby might work to unite humanity instead of the idiosyncratic and self-serving fairy-tales (being charitable) that serve only to divide it – then I expect you might find that the credibility of “religion” would be at least marginally improved. Considering the rather sharp increases in the number of atheists and the non-religious over the last couple of decades, you might want to try grabbing at that piece of straw.

      • Peter:

        Steersman: You’ve already conceded there is no proof for the existence of god.

        Peter: And I have pointed out that no proof is necessary.

        And I suppose you entirely accept Islam’s claim – without proof – that Allah is “big-man-on-campus”, the Grand High Poobah of the universe? Or similar claims about Ahura Mazda or Shiva or a million other gods and godlings? I rather doubt it.

        As Christopher Hitchens put it, “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof”; people who make positive claims are the ones who have the obligation to provide proof and evidence to justify them – not the smoke and mirrors and the hand waving – being charitable – that goes by the name of Christian theology, cant, and catechism.

        So your statement from De Waal is not new or surprising. The Church has always believed this.

        You seem to have missed the essential point of his talk, i.e., that “acts of love, kindness and compassion” are found within primates other than humans, and even in elephants. Or was that maybe a case of “intellectual dishonesty”, a willful blindness to “facts” that don’t really comport with Church dogmata?

        But in the face of that, I think it is rather difficult to argue – at least honestly – that the “moral impulse” is something that Jehovah created only in humans – when it is at most something humans have further evolved from manifestations found in animals – and something that “religion”, much less Catholicism, has cornered the market in or is in any way, shape or form the sole guarantor or exemplar of – the very idea of which is, or should be, the cause for peals of laughter.

  34. Steersman,

    Which means a person who enters into a Catholic hospital automatically is deprived of THE RIGHT TO FREE AND INFORMED CONSENT because no procedure can be done that violates Catholic principles and no information about alternatives that are not deemed “morally legitimate” in the eyes of the Catholic Church need be discussed either.

    I am astonished that you should believe such rubbish.
    So, as usual, we will do some fact checking and look at the real facts on the ground(this is such a good habit):
    This is what the ERD says:

    26. The free and informed consent of the person or the person’s surrogate is required for medical treatments and procedures,…

    27. Free and informed consent requires that the person or the person’s surrogate receive all reasonable information about the essential nature of the proposed treatment and its benefits; its risks, side effects, consequences and cost; and any reasonable and morally legitimate alternatives, including no treatment at all.

    28. Each person or the person’s surrogate should have access to medical and moral information and counseling so as to be able to form his or her conscience. The free and informed health care decision of the person or the person’s surrogate is to be followed so long as it does not contradict Catholic principles.

    Now let’s parse those sentences for clarity:
    1) free and informed consent of the person or the person’s surrogate is required
    …requires that the person or the person’s surrogate receive all reasonable information
    Each person or the person’s surrogate should have access to medical and moral information and counseling so as to be able to form his or her conscience.
    Obvious. Each person (in other words, no exceptions allowed) must be informed and counselled. It is required, Sect. 26 & 27. Good stuff, this. [Step 1]

    2) The free and informed health care decision of the person
    Somebody has been informed(and counselled, as above) and made a decision on the basis of the information and counselling. [Step 2]

    3) is to be followed so long as it does not contradict Catholic principles.
    The free decision of the informed and counselled person is to be followed if it does not contradict Catholic principles. [Step 3]

    Let me repeat in simple steps (just for you):
    1) Inform and counsel the person (required),
    2) Get a free decision from the person (consent, required),
    3) Carry out the procedure
    UNLESS
    4) It contradicts Catholic principles
    It is so simple and obvious.

    Nowhere does it even begin to say ‘a person who enters into a Catholic hospital automatically is deprived of the right to free and informed consent.
    What rubbish.

    Part of getting free and informed consent is to advise the patient on alternative procedures, risks, costs, benefits, etc.
    In other words, we recommend procedure A, (risks, costs, benefits, etc)
    but we could also do procedure B or procedure C. (risks, costs, benefits, etc)
    Now you choose, A, B or C. (get consent)
    Quite naturally a Catholic hospital will not advise an alternative procedure that it is not prepared to carry out for moral reasons. What would be the point if you are not going to do the procedure?

    The truth is simple and painfully obvious
    1) they will always inform and counsel the patient,
    2) they will always obtain informed consent,
    3) they will not advise an alternative procedure which, for moral reasons, they are not prepared to conduct.

    Let me give you a little analogy.
    I am heavily indebted to a loan shark and go for debt counselling.
    The counsellor advises
    a) take a second job (recommended)
    b) remortgage my house (alternative A)
    c) sell my house (alternative B)
    d) rob a bank to pay the loan shark (alternative C)

    Huh? Of course the debt counsellor should never advise the immoral alternative C, rob a bank, even if it might work. Do you get the picture?

    • It is worth noting that the Catholic Church runs so many hospitals precisely because they care deeply:
      Catholic social teaching urges concern for the sick. Jesus Christ, whom the church holds as its founder, placed a particular emphasis on care for the sick and outcast, such as lepers. According to the New Testament, he and his Apostles went about curing the sick and annointing of the sick.[3] According to the Gospel of Matthew 25:35-46, Jesus identified so strongly with the sick and afflicted that he equated serving them with serving him:

      The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world.[1] Its involvement in the field is born of Catholic social teaching. From ancient times, Christian emphasis on practical charity gave rise to the development of systematic nursing and hospitals and the Church remains heavily engaged in the field.
      Jesus Christ placed a particular emphasis on care for the sick and outcast. The Benedictine rule holds that “the care of the sick is to be placed above and before every other duty, as if indeed Christ were being directly served by waiting on them”, and during the Middle Ages, monasteries were the key medical centres of Europe. In 2010, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of health care facilities in the world, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages, pharmacies and centres for those with leprosy.[2]

      Source: Catholic Church and health care

      • It is also worth noting that there are hardly any health care facilities in the world that are run by an atheist organizations.

        Do American Atheists or the American Humanism Association do anything at all in this field? What hospitals do they run? What health clinics do they operate? What hospices do they run? Do they operate any facilities for the handicapped?

        It makes you think, doesn’t it?

  35. Steersman,
    I said

    “You claim there is no God and then admit you can’t prove there is no God. I presume your belief is an article of faith for you.”

    and you replied

    “I don’t think I’ve claimed here, or anywhere else for that matter, that “there is no God” – maybe you can show me where I’ve done so?”

    Apart from the fact that you have strongly aligned yourself with the atheist movement, let me remind you of your own words:

    “…truth of something for which there is diddly squat in the way of tangible evidence or proof.”

    “…predicated on the belief in some supernatural deity for which there is absolutely zero evidence.”

    “it would take a remarkably unaware or dishonest person to not realize or acknowledge that all of those “gawds”, including their own, are little more than conjectures or hypotheses or “philosophick romances” at best, fevered nightmares at worst.”

    “…therefore, one might conclude at least to a first approximation, nobody home there.”

    “the evidence for the claims – vanishingly close to zero – and the consequences and manifestations of the frequently barbaric precepts that those “philosophers” have pulled out of the air.”

    “…much of modern Western “religion” is egregious horse manure”

    “That’s not any evidence of the existence of any literal deity, much less any Judaic-Christian one”

    “…looking to be little more than delusions at worst (being charitable), and “philosophick romances” or “just-so” stories at best.”

    Those are not the words of someone who believes God exists. And after all you did say this “ …one might conclude at least to a first approximation, nobody home there.

    I invite you to clarify the matter and tell us what you really believe. One short, simple statement should suffice.
    So please stop being evasive, get straight to the point and clear up the matter.

  36. Steersman,

    “Seems to me that those claims, either way, depend rather crucially on what is meant by God in the first place.”

    It is well described in Catholic writings.
    This smells like another evasion on your part.

    So let us ask a direct question once more(and hope to get a direct answer)
    1) Do you believe that God exists?
    2) Do you believe that God does not exist?
    3) You genuinely don’t know?
    4) You don’t care, you just love attacking religious people?
    5) Your own short, to the point answer, shorn of all evasions?

    Let’s not quibble over the kind of deity. If you don’t believe in any kind of deity then the type of deity is irrelevant. Otherwise specify the deity.

    It is time to come out from behind the bushes and show us your colours!

  37. Steersman,

    Considering the rather sharp increases in the number of atheists

    I had a look at your reference and this is what it said:

    Globally, those claiming to be religious, drops by 9%, while atheism rises by 3%.

    Really, you claim “rather sharp increases in the number of atheists” from the number “3%“!!!

  38. Steersman, you stated, in reply to YOS

    [YOS]”A fact qua fact has no meaning. Meaning must be given to it by a mind ….”

    [Steersman]”Looks like some more Jesuit casuistry, or simple obfuscation.”

    I invite you to consider the casuistry of Sean Carroll, a noted physicist (and activist atheist). See Theories, laws, facts

    “And “facts”? Eavesdrop on some scientists at work. You will go years without hearing any of them talk about “facts.” They’ll talk about data, and measurements, and observations, and experiments — those are things with identifiable meanings that we can work with. But call something a “fact” and you’re making some absolute metaphysical claim that isn’t the kind of thing scientists like to do. Likewise “proof.” Mathematicians and logicians, who deal with abstract symbols independent of any connection to nature, prove things. Scientists don’t. They figure out that certain beliefs should be held with greater and greater confidence, but proving something is simply outside the domain of science.”

  39. Steersman,
    I said

    “You claim there is no God and then admit you can’t prove there is no God. I presume your belief is an article of faith for you.”</blockquote
    and you replied

    “I don’t think I’ve claimed here, or anywhere else for that matter, that “there is no God” – maybe you can show me where I’ve done so?”

    So let us do some fact checking and examine one of your statements in more detail:

    “… on the belief in some supernatural deity for which there is absolutely zero evidence”

    1) You claim there is zero evidence for any ‘supernatural deity’
    (see above).
    2) You don’t believe in the existence of things which have zero evidence.
    (I think we can safely assume this from the tenor of your comments, since that is your main criticism.)
    Therefore
    3) You don’t believe in the existence of any ‘supernatural deity’ (which includes God)
    So yes, you have in effect claimed there is no supernatural deity(God).

    You went on to say:

    “…you have yet to prove that that supernatural world actually exists, that it is anything more than a figment of your imagination.”

    From this it is quite clear that you demand more than evidence (which we have, by the way), you demand proof.

    In return, we ask you to abide by the same standards:
    Where is the proof that God does not exist?

  40. Steersman,

    “… on the belief in some supernatural deity for which there is absolutely zero evidence”

    Now let us turn to your assertion that there is ‘absolutely zero evidence‘.

    You may be surprised to know that I am a headmaster atheist.
    I have lived next door to a large school for some 30 years. In that time I have seen a great deal of school activity, pupils coming and going, parents coming and going, sports events, galas, festivals and cultural events. Yet in all that time I have never seen the headmaster of the school, spoken to or corresponded with him. On the face of it there is zero evidence that the headmaster exists. I know the pupils claim there is a headmaster but they have never been able to show him to me. The teachers have mentioned a headmaster but not shown him to me.

    No, I don’t believe the headmaster exists, there is ‘zero evidence’, he has never been shown to me.

    But my neighbours think I am mad to deny the headmaster’s existence on the grounds of ‘zero evidence'(although they also have not seen the headmaster). They think I have a trivial, superficial, shallow view of the school and never bothered to look deeper for any kind of evidence, that I ignored all the obvious signs of structure, organization, function and leadership, that I ignored the experience of the pupils and that I ignored the experience of the teachers.

    I have heard stories of misconduct by a couple of the teachers and I have seen that misconduct by the pupils is not uncommon(boys will be boys). But my neighbours looked at me with blank incredulity when I used that to support my assertion that there was ‘zero evidence’ of the headmaster’s existence.

    That is where atheism stands today. It does not try to look for the evidence and simply claims, I have not seen him and you have not shown him to me, therefore, ‘zero evidence’ (the pupils run away, sniggering behind your back).

    • Peter:

      Interesting analogy – haven’t seen that one before.

      However, I can’t say that it holds much if any water as the two cases being compared aren’t just different kettles of fish, but are entirely different containers of entirely different species from entirely different genera if not phyla. On the one hand, you or I or anyone else can go to virtually any school and ask to see the headmister, or headmistress, and have a reasonable expectation that someone will answer to that designation and appear before our eyes. On the other hand, ’rots of ’ruck trying to do that with “gawd”, any gawd.

      Another case of the difference between fact and fantasy, both very different critters, a difference that “religion” in general and Catholicism in particular insists, dishonestly if not criminally, on trying to obscure or elide. Since it is relevant here as well as to a previous conversation, consider the definition for the former:

      fact (fkt) n.
      1. Knowledge or information based on real occurrences: an account based on fact; a blur of fact and fancy.
      2. a. Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed: Genetic engineering is now a fact. That Chaucer was a real person is an undisputed fact.
      b. A real occurrence; an event

      Headmisters have been and can be demonstrated to exist; the history of various “gawds” over the millennia demonstrates only that they are largely if not entirely figments of the human imagination. Although I will concede that as abstractions and metaphors they may have some significant utility.

    • Steersman,
      that is not an analogy, that is a parable.
      I was going to call it ‘The Parable of the Radical Skeptic‘ but didn’t want to give you too much help.

      A parable is meant to be illustrative of a message. It is no answer to imagine different scenarios for the parable since that just ignores the message contained in the parable. You should rather understand the message that it contains.

      Let me explain the parable for your benefit.
      In life we are confronted with primary evidence and secondary evidence. Most of it is secondary, indirect evidence. We infer the existence of something from the secondary evidence even when we lack the primary evidence(as my neighbours did about the headmaster). This is true for most of our encounters in life. The radical skeptic demands primary evidence and in the matter of God’s existence you are behaving like a radical skeptic. But I am prepared to bet that in other matters you are not a radical skeptic. I was being a radical skeptic by denying the headmaster’s existence and this was intended to be a parody of radical skepticism.

      Due to the very nature of God there cannot ever be primary evidence(I cannot demand to see The Headmaster), all there will ever be is secondary evidence. However, the argument from consilience says that when we bring together many strands of relatively weak evidence, they cumulatively make a strong case and my neighbours recognised this.

      Remember that my argument is that the sum of the evidence(arguing from consilience) makes the God Hypothesis more likely to be true, on a balance of probabilities, than the Atheist Hypothesis. You can no more prove the Atheist Hypothesis than I can prove the God Hypothesis so we have to settle for a reasonable balance of probabilities.(OK, many will argue that we can prove God’s existence but I am still hesitant about that)

      Please note that when I use the term ‘radical skeptic’ I use the term in its weak form. True radical skepticism is solipsism which neither you nor I subscribe to.

      • Of course, what we are talking about is known as the hidden God. Some people, like Carrier, argue against God’s existence on the grounds of his invisibility. His arguments are surprisingly primitive. There are powerful philosophical arguments why God should be, indeed must be, hidden.

      • Peter:

        Seems to me that analogy is the phylum, parables one of the species therein. Something that Wikipedia would seem to agree with:

        Analogy plays a significant role in problem solving such as, decision making, perception, memory, creativity, emotion, explanation and communication. It lies behind basic tasks such as the identification of places, objects and people, for example, in face perception and facial recognition systems. It has been argued that analogy is “the core of cognition”. Specific analogical language comprises [includes, contains] exemplification, comparisons, metaphors, similes, allegories, and parables, but not metonymy.

        And analogies don’t really work if the relationships between the parts – as in the paradigmatic example of “hand is to palm as foot is to sole” – aren’t the same. And, as you’ve admitted yourself, headmasters are “primary evidence” – you can, as Samuel Johnson did, kick it to prove its existence – whereas gods are “secondary evidence”, even assuming, at a stretch and for the sake of argument, that any exist or have ever existed. Ergo, your analogy doesn’t, as argued earlier, hold any water whatsoever.

      • Steersman, you say

        …kick it to prove its existence

        You have this remarkable facility for failing to engage with the argument, in this case that radical skepticism, by insisting on primary evidence, prevents us from accessing many truths about the world. Not even a parable seem to work with you but I suppose New Atheists have tin ears where parables are concerned.

        Since it is the only language you understand, let me invite you to kick a multiverse to prove its existence. Go on, kick one of the many other universes of Hawking and let’s see if there is more than one universe. Or try kicking one of the other cyclic universes of Penrose and Turok. Or use another kick to demonstrate that a universe will spontaneously generate itself from pure nothing (good luck with that, you might even solve our energy problem), go on, kickstart a universe. I have an even better idea, kick the source of our laws of nature(but be careful, that might kick back).

        You may kick and you may kick until you collapse with exhaustion but you foot will never find its target. Radical skepticism is such an exhausting belief.

        There are aspects of this universe that demand explanation and yet no explanation can be found within the universe, hence no amount of kicking is of any avail. That has not prevented science from constructing speculative explanations about multiverses, cyclic universes and universes spontaneously generating from pure nothing, that many scientists firmly believe, even when there is no evidence of any kind, let alone the secondary evidence I am talking about.

        But you know all this. Your radical skepticism is of a most selective kind, you apply it when talking about religion but discard it when your other favourite beliefs are concerned. How nice it is to work with such an adaptive set of principles.

        As a former rugby player I am well accustomed to kicking the ball out to touch. I think you have been well and truly kicked out to touch.

      • Steersman,

        …you have been well and truly kicked out to touch.

        While you are kicking your heels on the sideline you may want to have a look at your boots. They may be good for kicking your opponents but they are far too clumsy a tool for the slippery arguments of metaphysics. It is time to hang up your boots and re-boot your brain instead. And, to boot, you will be pleasantly surprised by new insights. It is time to toe the line and join the march of the intellect.

  41. Steersman,
    while trying to defend abortion you said:

    Rather difficult, I think and as I suggested, to argue that a fetus several weeks old possesses those three attributes – memory, mind, and will – in any significant quantity except potentially. And not every potentiality can or should be actualized.

    No one suggests that an unborn infant possesses the attributes of memory, mind and will. As you noted, we are saying the unborn infant possesses the potentiality for memory, mind and will. Our point is that destroying the potentiality of an unborn infant is exactly the same as destroying a child or adult human being. It has the same outcome, it denies the realization of the remaining potential of that person. Therefore, it is the same crime.

    Your lame excuse is that ‘not every potentiality … should be exercised‘. Why ever not? That same reasoning could be used to deny me the potentiality of the remainder of my life.

    [YOS ]Your justifications for termination can be applied to developmental stages other than fetus.

    [Steersman] True – bit of a slippery slope, potentially at least. However, considering the 100,000 to 1,000,000 deaths in the American wars in Iraq and Vietnam – for which there may have been some justification at least as “just” wars – where those killed rather more clearly exhibited those attributes, I would say that it is rather untenable, to say the least, to argue that such “terminations” aren’t frequently viewed, and democratically mandated by society in general as the “lesser of two evils”.

    It is more than a slippery slope, but at least you get the picture; it is a murderous cliff.

    Your argument is one of the most bizarre comparisons I have seen. You are comparing a ‘just war’ with the killing of an unborn infant, saying that if we justify killings in war we can justify killing the unborn infant.

    How on earth can you sustain such sloppy reasoning? The motivations are entirely different and the necessity is entirely different. A ‘just war’ is motivated by dire necessity that impacts the entire society in the most severe and threatening way. The killing of the unborn infant is not a dire necessity for society and the survival of that unborn infant is not a severe threat to society.

    Next, a ‘just war’ is arrived at by agonized discussion at the national level where every possibility is canvassed. A ‘just war’ is not something that society desires, it is something that society dreads but accepts as extreme necessity. Now compare this with the killing of an unborn infant. There is no comparison and your attempt to make one is bizarre and fatuous.

    Then you use the phrase ‘democratically mandated‘, saying that a ‘just war’ is ‘democratically mandated‘ and so is killing an unborn child.

    Yes, the killing of unborn children has been ‘democratically mandated‘ but that is not the same as saying it is right, or is morally justified. Legislatures have made many immoral decisions and this is one of them. Simple voting majorities cannot define ethics. Or can they?

    I suspect you have defined a whole new class of ethics. We already have 1) deontological ethics, 2) virtue ethics and 3) utilitarian ethics. To that you have added 4) legislative ethics. Welcome to the corrupt new world of pork barrel politics, the Iraq war, the NSA and drone killings (to mention only some examples).

  42. Steersman, you said

    ” ..Catholicism, and which thereby might work to unite humanity ”

    And that is exactly what Catholicism tries to do.
    1) It has been active in the ecumenical movement
    2) It has reached out to the Jewish community
    3) It has reached out to Islam
    4) It has promoted interfaith dialogue with Buddhists.
    Catholicism strives to maintain cordial relationships with other faith-based traditions. There are doctrinal differences which are difficult to reconcile but Catholicism believes that all should be accorded love and respect.

    • Peter:

      Good for them. Although as long as each of them insist on the literal truth of their various precepts – the virgin birth, the resurrection, and Adam and Eve, in the case of Catholicism for examples – so long will those efforts bear no fruit. Apropos of which is this description of an “Interfaith” meeting some 20 years ago; do note the conclusion of the Dalai Lama which seems just as applicable now as then:

      And according to the New York Times, when thousands of the world’s clerical leaders gathered at the second World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago one hundred years after the first such gathering in 1893, “Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches that are embraced by many Americans shunned the gathering on theological grounds, and the established centrist and liberal denominations, like the Episcopalians and Methodists that have usually supported interfaith talks, were scarcely visible.”

      Eastern Orthodox Christians came but left en masse when they found themselves in the company of “neopagans,” and Jewish groups withdrew when the Nation of Islam showed up. Sikhs and Hindus stayed but tried to push each other out of the convention center (physically), and the Dalai Lama astutely concluded “Nonsense!” in response to his own question: “If we have conflicts in the name of religion, can we help resolve other problems?” (Steinfels, 1993, p. 93).

      As the Canadian Christian (?) priestess Greta Vosper put it some years ago:

      Those who recognize the Bible’s claim to be the [literal] word of God as the monster in the tub with the baby are the ones who must throw that monster out with the bathwater. [MacLean’s, March 31, 2008]

      • You have simply ignored the fact that Catholicism continues to reach out to other faith traditions in a spirit of love and respect. This was in reply to your accusation:

        ” ..Catholicism, and which thereby might work to unite humanity ”

        I replied directly to your accusation and instead of admitting to the obvious truth of what the Catholic Church does you broadened the attack by dragging in other matters. This seems to be a tactic of yours, if you miss one target, quickly drag in more targets and try pot shots at them.

        Drop the aggression and start a reasoned discussion instead.

      • Peter said:

        You have simply ignored the fact that Catholicism continues to reach out to other faith traditions in a spirit of love and respect.

        And Shakespeare said:

        One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.

        I wouldn’t call it a particular mark of “love and respect” to be “reaching out” with one hand while, in effect, manifestly “hiding” in plain view a dagger in the other hand with which to assault those “other faith traditions” – which is what, in effect, the insistence on the literal truth of Catholic dogmata and cant qualifies as. When the Pope gets around to conceding that all of that is metaphor and conjecture – at best – then I might consider characterizing the effort as one made “in a spirit of love and respect”.

        I replied directly to your accusation ….

        No you didn’t – and to even suggest that qualifies as egregious dishonesty. Consider what I actually said, a portion of which you quoted in responding:

        But if y’all were to emphasize concepts such as panentheism – which seems, somewhat reasonably, to find some support in many religions, apparently even in some branches of Catholicism, and which thereby might work to unite humanity instead of the idiosyncratic and self-serving fairy-tales (being charitable) that serve only to divide it.

        When you actually address those points – concepts such as panentheism, and the charge that Catholic dogmata and catechisms are little more than fairy-tales – and how those might constitute some common ground with other “faiths” then I’ll actually concede that you’ve “replied directly” to my accusations.

  43. Steersman, you said

    And I suppose you entirely accept Islam’s claim – without proof – that Allah is “big-man-on-campus”, the Grand High Poobah of the universe? Or similar claims about Ahura Mazda or Shiva or a million other gods and godlings? I rather doubt it.

    What I claim, on the basis of available evidence, is that the evidence strongly favours the hypothesis that God exists over the hypothesis that God does not exist.

    And, as you know, I have already clearly stated this.

    As for the remainder of your statement, different societies have different names for God and worship him in different ways. But that shouldn’t be surprising, after all societies have a huge variety of languages, customs, ritual, etc. Really, given society’s amazing diversity, do you expect anything else? Why are New Atheists given to such primitive reasoning? My dear fellow, nuance, context and detail. Shakes head sadly.

    You seem to have missed the essential point of his talk, i.e., that “acts of love, kindness and compassion” are found within primates other than humans, and even in elephants.

    Oh dear, another strawman. Of course I believe these attributes are found, to a limited degree, in other mammals. I have two beautiful dogs who daily confirm this obvious fact. It is not that these attributes are absent, it is a question of degree.

    Or was that maybe a case of “intellectual dishonesty”, a willful blindness to “facts” that don’t really comport with Church dogmata?

    Ugly commentary has never been a useful substitute for facts and reasoned argument.
    Play the ball, not the man, my dear fellow, as my rugby coach used to say.

    But in the face of that, I think it is rather difficult to argue – at least honestly – that the “moral impulse” is something that Jehovah created only in humans

    God created the entire animal/plant kingdom through the mechanism of evolution. That a limited moral impulse should manifest itself elsewhere is not surprising. God is after all consistent. Where, how and to what extent the moral impulse appears depends on the nature of the mind of the organism and its circumstances. We have the good fortune to have an advanced mind capable of language, symbolic thought and crucially, capable of conceiving the future***. These three things together have enabled us to become ethically aware to a far, far greater extent than other animals could.

    The evolutionary process rewards survival fitness and in this sense it is morally blind. Compassionate, altruistic behaviour is likely to appear in more advanced animals under circumstances where it becomes a survival advantage and the organism possess the capabilities. So why should we be surprised?

    But this is all obvious stuff. You seem to operate under the mantra of seize any opportunity to attack religion, no matter how flimsy. Why not substitute reasoned discussion for compulsive aggression? It is so much more useful.

    ***contradictory findings, but in any case, very limited. For example:
    Research on animals’ abilities to detect time of day, track short time intervals, remember the order of a sequence of events, and anticipate future events are considered, and it is concluded that the stuck-in-time hypothesis is largely supported by the current evidence.” See Are Animals Stuck in Time?

    According to the ‘mental time travel hypothesis’ animals, unlike humans, cannot mentally travel backwards in time to recollect specific past events (episodic memory) or forwards to anticipate future needs (future planning). Until recently, there was little evidence in animals for either ability….We suggest that some animals have elements of both episodic-like memory and future planning.” See Can animals recall the past and plan for the future?

    • Steersman, to continue my reply to this statement:

      But in the face of that, I think it is rather difficult to argue – at least honestly – that the “moral impulse” is something that Jehovah created only in humans

      I really wish you would drop the aggressive point scoring attitude so typical of New Atheism and concentrate instead on reasoned debate. It causes you to miss some important distinctions. Let me help you out by summarizing the main distinction.

      There is an enormous difference of kind between a ‘moral impulse’ and ethical thought. We are capable of ethical thought in addition to feeling moral impulses, while some other members of the animal kingdom are capable of limited ‘moral impulses’ only.

      A moral impulse is something felt that arises from an inner part of one’s being. It is an automatic response to particular circumstances. There is probably no element of choice in this response, which is why we call it an ‘impulse’, though it can be conditioned by behaviour and circumstances. My dogs show me great love which is absolutely dependable and is a conditioned response to the bonding we have undergone.

      On the other hand, ethical thought is an entirely different thing. It is a considered response that weighs needs and desires against values and goals. It draws on past episodic memories and considers future goals. It draws on an accumulated body of thought pertaining to ethical values. It relies on our ability to make logical choices using inference and deductive thought.

      It is this capacity for ethical thought which is truly unique to the human species.

      Naturally, our moral impulses have a bearing, in part they motivate our ethical thought and help give our ethical decisions their emotive force. The difference though, between moral impulses and ethical thought is not a matter of degree, it is a fundamental difference in kind.

      Moral impulses, in our species at least, have good and bad consequences. Our moral impulse is responsible for the phenomenon known as circles of empathy. Those within our circles of empathy we treat with love and compassion while those outside our circles of empathy tend to be treated with suspicion and hostility.

      It is our capacity for ethical thought that has enlarged our circles of empathy beyond the natural boundaries formed by kinship and bonding. It is our capacity for ethical thought that has resulted such advanced concepts as the rule of law and democracy. It is our capacity for ethical thought that has been codified in the great religions with their widespread charitable work.

      By now I hope it will be crystal clear to you that there is a fundamental difference in kind between the limited moral impulses of our animal relatives and the advanced ethical thought that characterizes our species. Comparing the two is not terribly helpful.

      • Steersman,
        you may be tempted to contest my assertion

        The difference though, between moral impulses and ethical thought is not a matter of degree, it is a fundamental difference in kind.

        Remember that a moral impulse is a felt emotion that springs from one’s inner being. There are two kinds of impulse, the empathetic response which is responsible for the cluster of emotions such as love, sympathy, altruism and compassion. Then there is the approval/guilt response, some actions merit approval while some actions merit disapproval and cause feelings of guilt.

        Neither of these two responses contain the ethical component of ‘ought’, that there are things we ought to do because it is inherently good or right. This is an abstract concept and requires symbolic thought while a moral impulse is a felt emotion only. A moral impulse is our felt reaction to a situation, an ethical ‘ought’ is our considered judgement of what we ‘ought’ to do in a situation, hypothetical or real. An ethical ‘ought’ is anticipatory while the moral impulse is reactive. An ethical ‘ought’ is analytical, based on an abstract idea while the moral impulse is an emotion. Hume famously argued that ‘ought’ cannot be derived from ‘is’ and to this day his argument has not been refuted(though many have tried).

        Ethical thought, then, is fundamentally different to moral impulse and it is something that no other member of the animal kingdom possesses.

    • Steersman, you said:

      “…and something that “religion”, much less Catholicism, has cornered the market in or is in any way, shape or form the sole guarantor or exemplar of ”

      Well, I certainly don’t think we ‘have cornered the market‘, as you so crudely put it, but I can certainly claim we are one of the most active players in the market.

      First, bear in mind the crucial distinction between moral impulse and ethical thought. We are all capable of moral feeling and I have already explained to you that this is an important Catholic teaching, we call it conscience(do you remember this old fashioned word?). It is ethical thought, though, that extends a moral impulse to a considered decision, embedded in a complex social environment. See my comment above.

      Now consider this. In millions of Catholic churches around the world homilies are delivered at least twice a week (but normally more often) that are primarily exhortations to ethical behaviour. This is equally true of the other religious denominations.

      Now I ask you, what other kind of organization regularly urges ethical behaviour so frequently and on such a vast scale?

      Hmm?

      Well, I can tell you it is not American Atheism and it is not the American Humanist Association. They are too busy trying to attack the manifestations of religious belief to be concerned with that quaint, old fashioned concept, ethical behaviour. It is not the New Atheists, their proud demonstrations of snide derision and ugly contempt are anything but ethical.

      No, religion has not ‘cornered the market‘, as you put it, but religion is certainly the dominant player.

    • Peter:

      God created the entire animal/plant kingdom through the mechanism of evolution. …. God is after all consistent.

      You’re just as bad as fundamentalists who insist that Jehovah created the universe 6000 years ago, complete with geological formations and fossils that “look” billions of years older – window dressing, smoke and mirrors, an ad hoc rationalization after the fact in a desperate attempt to hang onto a fiction and a fantasy. Just a further gloss on the Omphalos hypothesis:

      The Omphalos hypothesis is the argument that God created the world recently (in the last ten thousand years, in keeping with Flood geology), but complete with signs of great age. It was named after the title of an 1857 book, Omphalos by Philip Henry Gosse, in which Gosse argued that in order for the world to be “functional”, God must have created the Earth with mountains and canyons, trees with growth rings, Adam and Eve with hair, fingernails, and navels (omphalos is Greek for “navel”), and that therefore no evidence that we can see of the presumed age of the earth and universe can be taken as reliable.

      When you can actually demonstrate something that would necessarily follow if your beliefs and dogmata actually corresponds to reality – say, by showing that praying to Jehovah and all the saints actually delivers the goods while praying to Allah is a bust; or maybe a travelogue, a tour through hell, complete with 8×10 glossies with circles and arrows on the back; or maybe some of Jesus’ DNA that proves divine parentage – is when I and many others might, just might, consider that Catholicism isn’t an elaborate shell-game, a lie and a cheat and a fraud. Even if some of that was and is done with the best of intentions – which are, as the aphorism suggests, frequently rather short of what is actually required.

      • Steersman,
        what a strange comment!
        Why on earth did you drag in two paragraphs about young earth creationism?
        You already know that Catholicism fully subscribes to the scientific method. You already know that we subscribe to evolutionary theory.

        By all means go and debate the issue of young earth creationism with Christian fundamentalists(I also do that) but you are wasting your time bringing up the issue here.

        Now, if you were seriously interested in insightful discussion we could analyse the reasons for Christian fundamentalists’ strong attachment to young earth creationism. That is actually a very interesting subject and I am all for trying to understand what motivates other people’s beliefs. I even try to understand what motivates the beliefs of atheist fundamentalism(fascinating subject).

        Sadly, I think you are not at all interested in insight or understanding. The aggressive tenor of your comments indicates a deep seated desire to attack religion and your latest comment is clear evidence of that. That is OK, Christianity is resilient and durable.

        Paragraph 3 does not merit a reply as it is just another statement of your strong disapproval of religious belief. Nothing new there and I respect your right to make your own faith choices.

      • Peter:

        Why on earth did you drag in two paragraphs about young earth creationism?

        Maybe because I thought it was an illustrative analogy? Specifically, Peter (and Catholics in general) is to their belief in Adam and Eve and the intercession of the saints and the resurrection as fundamentalists are to their belief in a 6000 year old Earth. Both sets of beliefs being predicated on little more than tertiary or quaternary evidence at a stretch, being charitable.

  44. Pingback: 13 July 2015 Religion and Atheism News | Evangelically Atheist

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