The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design Review: “Traditional Christianity,” Ersatz Revolutionaries, and the Culture War (Chapter 15)

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Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

Chapter 15 is entitled “Darwinism’s War on Traditional Christianity”. For much of this chapter, the reader will find Wells on his soapbox about this or that aspect of, you guessed it, “Traditional Christianity”. And, like “Darwinism” in the first chapter, Wells struggles to find a definition for his term. Wells chooses a current version of the Nicene Creed as the sort of “creedal affirmations that” traditionally unite Christians. (Apparently the litmus suggested by Jesus was inadequate.) Wells almost approaches clarity when he implies that if one doesn’t adhere to the tenets of the (current?) Nicene Creed, one cannot seriously consider him or herself as a Christian. (No word yet on the apparently non-Christians who affirmed a prior version of the Nicene Creed.)

There are two important things to say about Wells’s definition of a “Traditional Christian”. First, the commitment to the tenets of the Nicene Creed is hardly a universal litmus for determining who is and who is not a Christian. A Protestant, even one who subscribes to every tenet of the Nicene Creed, who thinks that Wells is right is encouraged to try to obtain the sacramental elements from a Catholic communion and see how far he gets. (According to Catholic tradition, Protestants cannot receive Catholic communion.)

The second important thing to note is that Jonathan Wells is styling himself as a defender of “Traditional Christianity.”

Read that again: Jonathan Wells, Traditional Christianity. Not to be impolite, but to us here at the Thumb Wells defending “Traditional Christianity” reads as queer as Ann Coulter defending “traditional values”.

Jonathan Wells has testified that he is a Unificationist, a follower of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and a member of the Grand Unification Church. According to Wikipedia, among other things, Reverend Moon published a document in 2002 that claimed all the leaders of the world’s five major religions (and several communist leaders besides) all voted Moon to be the Messiah and pledged their support to him.

Wikipedia also describes that, according to Unification Church theology, when Reverend Moon marries couples in a mass marriage ceremony, he cleanses those believers of original sin. For those not versed in “traditional Christianity”, original sin is the reason why people need to be born again; according to traditional Christian theology, absent original sin, we would have no need for a savior or forgiveness. (For those interested in more information on Reverend Moon or his Grand Unification Church, John Gorenfeld and Mark Levine’s interviews regarding Reverend Moon here and here are highly recommended.)

As I wrote in my review of Chapter 1, we here at the Thumb defend Wells’ right to say and publish anything he wants. However, words must have meanings and any definition of “Traditional Christianity” sufficiently plastic to accomodate Unificationist theology would really be expected to accomodate verified observations like evolution.

So the definition of “Traditional Christianity”, like “Darwinism”, is a word that means whatever Wells wants it to mean, but Wells doesn’t stop with just new definitions for words. When Wells writes, “Before Darwin, science and theology in Christendom generally got along quite well. Indeed, most of the time they were mutually supportive. Serious conflict erupted only after 1859, and then only because Darwinism declared war on traditional Christianity” (p. 170), he’s also inventing a new history of the interaction between religion and science.

We here at the Thumb would remark that readers should Google, at their convenience and presumably after they have replaced their irony meters, “Galileo”.

Snark aside, the onset of the science and religion war is not linked in any way with Darwin. Whether by politics (as suggested by this Wikipedia article on Science and Religion) or by an inherent immiscibility between its philosophies, science and religion have had periods during which they didn’t get along. As Scott Liell notes in a NY Times Essay entitled “Shaking the Foundation of Faith:”

At the end of the day, it was never faith per se that stood in opposition to science; Franklin was ultimately as much a believer as Thomas Prince. Many people of faith - Unitarians, Quakers and those who, like most of the founding fathers, were deists - were prominent members of the scientific community. Rather, it was (and is) a specific type of belief that consistently finds itself at odds with science, one that is not found merely in America and is not limited to Christianity. It is the specific brand of faith that devalues reason and confers the mantle of infallible, absolute authority upon a leader or a book. It is only the priests of these sects, as Jefferson said, who “dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight.”

Wells’s claim that science and religion were chummy up until Darwin is ahistorical nonsense, as preposterous as the idea that the South won the Civil War.

Still on his soapbox, Wells moves to reject theistic evolution in a section tellingly entitled, “Surrendering on Darwin’s Terms”. After describing how philosopher Michael Ruse considers Darwinism, “so well established that Christians should accept it as fact” (p. 173), Wells quotes Ruse as saying, “‘It is still open to you to accept that God did the job. More likely, if you accept God already, it is still very much open to you to think of God as great inasmuch as He has created this really wonderful world’” (p. 174). Wells then sneeringly writes, “In other words, a Darwinian who really, really [emphasis in original] wants to be a Christian can be a Christian of sorts—just not a traditional one” (p. 174).

Or take Wells’s contempt for biologist and Kitzmiller trial expert witness Kenneth Miller. (No, not just Miller’s theology but also for him as a person; please see Mark Perakh’s review.) Wells quotes Miller as believing “in Darwin’s God”. For those who have not read Miller’s Finding Darwin’s GodAmazon, I highly recommend it. It’s the kind of easy read that just about anyone can pick up and enjoy. Take, for example, this excerpt.

“Look at the beauty of a flower,” [Father Murphy, Kenneth Miller’s priest during childhood] began. “The Bible tells us that even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed as one of these. And do you know what? Not a single person in the world can tell us what makes a flower bloom. All those scientists in their laboratories, the ones who can split the atom and build jet planes and televisions, well, not one of them can tell you how a plant makes flowers.” And why should they be able to? “Flowers, just like you, are the work of God.”

I was impressed. No one argued, no one wisecracked. We filed out of the church like good little boys and girls, ready for our first communion the next day. And I never thought of it again, until this symposium on developmental biology. Sandwiched between two speakers working on more fashionable topics in animal development was Elliot M. Meyerowitz, a plant scientist at Caltech. A few of my colleagues, uninterested in research dealing with plants, got up to stretch their legs before the final talk, but I sat there with an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I jotted notes furiously; I sketched the diagrams he projected on the screen and wrote additional speculations of my own in the margins. Meyerowitz, you see, had explained how plants make flowers.

Miller goes on in that chapter to talk about the biology regarding how plants evolved flowers, the theological implications of this, and in general holds forth on a view of science and religion in which they interact, not wage war. Agree or disagree with Miller’s perspectives, for Christians on just about any side of the evolution debate, it’s a fascinating read and begs discussion in coffee shops or Bible study groups.

Wells chose a different portion to quote, thereby introducing the reader to Miller’s book:

Miller argues that the inherent unpredictability of evolution was essential to God’s plan to create human beings with free will. “If events in the material world were strictly determined,” he writes, “then evolution would indeed move toward the predictable outcomes that so many people seem to want. … As material beings, our actions and even our thoughts would be preordained, and our freedom to act and choose would disappear.”

(p. 174)

Wells moves quickly to disavow Miller’s perspectives by writing in the very next sentence, “In the Christian tradition, however, human freedom is an attribute of our non-material souls rather than a product of material evolution. Darwin’s God is not the God of traditional Christianity” (p. 174). Then he moves on to Stephen Jay Gould. No discussion about Father Murphy or Meyerowitz. No acknowledgement or analysis of the rich detail of Miller’s book. Instead, Miller’s patiently argued point, that putting faith in God because of scientific failures represents poorly placed faith (described a bit later in this essay), is simply lost on Wells; he’s already handwavingly dismissed it on other, highly questionable grounds.

Did You Know?

  • Mainstream Christianity has no problem with theistic evolution.
  • More religious scientists support evolution than “intelligent design”.
  • Jonathan Wells, self-styled defender of “Traditional Christianity”, is a follower of Rev. Moon and not a traditional Christian.

I write “questionable” because there are serious flaws with Wells’s logic. When Wells retorts that our decisions are the exclusive ken of our spiritual bodies, does he seriously not think that coffee in the morning tends to make those decisions sharper for many people (even Christians who fully adopt the Nicene Creed)? Is Wells honestly not aware that children born with certain combinations of abnormal chromosomes or genes can predictably have problems with cognition or demonstrate maladaptive behaviors, even in mild cases? From a theological and sociological perspective, it must be an excuse to simplemindedly say, “my genes made me sin”, but genes and other physical factors do matter. No understanding of theology that completely rejects these materialistic influences is likely to be convincing to those with even a pedestrian understanding of neurobiology. Wells’s dismissal of Miller’s attempt to describe his understanding of God is just that: an anti-intellectual, handwaving, supercilious, and simpleminded dismissal.

We here at the Thumb would caution Wells that Behe’s dismissal of evidence didn’t work too well at the Kitzmiller trial.

Wells then turns his hatred of theistic evolution to Father George Coyne, cosmologist and former director of the Vatican Observatory. Coyne is quoted, “‘… Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications . … It is difficult to believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells of a God who must be very different from God as seen by them’” (p. 178) Again, Wells moves quickly to rebuke: “This logic-challenged priest—science is theologically neutral yet leads to a different God—has the arrogance to lecture a pope and a cardinal on Catholic doctrine” (p. 178).

To put these dismissals of theistic evolution into perspective, the reader must understand that there is a venerable history of enthusiasts of science trying to find peace with religion and vice versa. Throughout history and forever into the future, whenever the conclusions of science conflict with contemporary theological understanding, believers have struggled and will struggle to reconcile them.

Miller provided an example of that kind of conflict: Father Murphy believed in God because of scientific ignorance in a problem. In the fullness of time, that problem was solved by science, in this case by Meyerowitz. Stated in slightly different language, the elucidation of the evolution of flowers undermined the logic behind Father Murphy’s theology. As Miller writes in his book:

Like [Father Murphy, the creationists who use God of the Gaps thinking] have based their search for God on the premise that nature is not self-sufficient. By such logic, just as Father Murphy claimed that only God could make a flower, they claim that only God could have made a species. Both assertions support the existence of God only so long as they are shown to be true, but serious problems for religion emerge when the assertions are shown to be false.

If a lack of scientific explanation is proof of God’s existence, the counterlogic is unimpeachable: a successful scientific explanation is an argument against God. That’s why this reasoning, ultimately, is much more dangerous to religion than it is to science. Eliot Meyerowitz’s fine work on floral induction suddenly becomes a threat to the divine, even though common sense tells us it should be nothing of the sort.

The reason it doesn’t, of course, is because the original premise is flawed. The Western God created a material world that is home to both humans and daffodils. God’s ability to act in that world need not be predicated on its material defects. There is, therefore, no theological reason for any believer to assume that the macromolecules of the plant cell cannot fully account for the formation of a flower. Life, in all its glory, is based in the physical reality of the natural world. We are dust, and from that dust come the molecules of life to make both flowers and the dreamers who contemplate them.

The critics of evolution have made exactly the same mistake, but on a higher and more dangerous plane. They represent no serious problem for science, which meets the challenge easily. Their claims about missing intermediates and suspect mechanism can be answered directly by providing the intermediates and demonstrating the mechanisms. Religion, however, is drawn into dangerous territory by the creationist logic. By arguing, as they have repeatedly, that nature cannot be self-sufficient in the formation of new species, the creationists forge a logical link between the limits of natural process to accomplish biological change and the existence of a designer (God). In other words, they show the proponents of atheism exactly how to disprove the existence of God—show that evolution works, and it’s time to tear down the temple. As we have seen, this is an offer that the enemies of religion are all too happy to accept.

All of this logic is lost on Wells, who dismisses Miller’s theology because it accomodates the obvious influences on our decisions by physical and material things. Like Behe on the witness stand in the Kitzmiller trial, Wells waves away this inconvenient theology with which he disagrees.

Father Coyne doesn’t get much more respect. Wells tries to earn schoolyard snark points by identifying an apparent logical contradiction: how can science be neutral to theology and yet inform our understanding of God? When one reads Father Coyne’s entire essay, one almost gets the feeling that Coyne knew about the apparent contradiction beforehand and published it regardless. Look what Coyne writes in his final paragraph:

These are very weak images, but how else do we talk about God? We can only come to know God by analogy. The universe as we know it today through science is one way to derive an analogical knowledge of God. For those who believe modern science does say something to us about God, it provides a challenge, an enriching challenge, to traditional beliefs about God. God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves. Is such thinking adequate to preserve the special character attributed by religious thought to the emergence not only of life but also of spirit, while avoiding a crude creationism? Only a protracted dialogue will tell. But we should not close off the dialogue and darken the already murky waters by fearing that God will be abandoned if we embrace the best of modern science.

Humility and honesty, that’s what I’m struck by when I read these words. “Apparent grammatical contradictions be damned”, Coyne might be saying to us. “We need to have an honest discussion about God and talk about what’s really going on.” Here’s a priest seeking to reconcile the science he understands and the things he wants to believe. Miller is a scientist seeking to do the same. Both of them are doing their best and both want to dialog with believers who find the answers provided and verified by science threatening.

Apparently Wells isn’t too impressed by their efforts. Indeed, he’s scornful of the fact that these scientists who are Christians are thinking and endorsing thoughts that diverge from “Traditional Christianity”, or at least Wells’s elastic version of it. And the method with which he expresses his scorn—calling Father Coyne arrogant for daring to have an opinion that is in variance with his superiors in the Church—is noteworthy because it brings up an important thing to understand about Wells’s book.

Wells’s screed certainly purports to be a subversive and revolutionary book that advocates “intelligent design” using freethinking arguments: the title is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, the pages are peppered with callouts like “Books You’re Not Supposed to Read” and “Websites You’re Not Supposed to Visit”, and much verbiage is spent positioning “intelligent design” as this underdog, upstart idea that just needs a fighting chance and reasonable people willing to think forbidden thoughts to support it, thereby allowing “intelligent design” creationism to get a foothold and find its success over the inferior “Darwinism”.

This book is not revolutionary. Wells is writing in a highly conservative fashion. Wells is not a freethinker. When Father Coyne put forward what he stated to be an inarticulate best effort to describe his feelings about God, feelings which were in keeping with the best available science but necessarily conflicted with Schöenborn’s anti-evolutionary position, Wells derided him as one who had “the arrogance to lecture a pope and a cardinal on Catholic doctrine”. Frankly, it is inconsistent of Wells to beg for open-minded thinking and posture as a revolutionary when it comes to “intelligent design” and turn right around and disagree with that person’s theology on the basis that the person was arrogant for disagreeing with a religious leader in the first place.

The chapter in its entirety endorses “Traditional Chrisitanity”, implicitly and explicitly belittling those who somehow fall outside of Wells’ elastic definition. Wells writes, “Although [Darwinism] may allow for the existence of a deity, it is not the God of traditional Christianity, who created human beings in his image. The contradiction couldn’t be sharper, and most attempts to blunt it end up abandoning traditional Christianity” (p. 173).

This is not revolutionary thinking. It is highly conservative thinking. Conservative here does not necessarily mean “anti-abortion” or any of its modern connotations but instead the “preserve the status quo, tradition, and the thinking of our fathers” sense of the term. Such conservatism stands diametrically opposed to revolutionary, freethinking philosophies. Because it is only these freethinking philosophies that can credibly recommend “Books You Aren’t Supposed to Read”, this makes Wells an ersatz revolutionary. His invocation of these attitudes in support of “intelligent design” is mere spin. Wells writes as though one can simply call for the teaching of something that is not generally taught—say the idea that two and two are six—and spin the deviance as a matter of political incorrectness instead of advocacy of ignorance and stupidity. Political incorrectness, at least how Wells uses it, is simply a marketing ploy.

Wells is not writing this book in isolation. When the creationists in Kansas tried to change the definition of science to allow in supernatural causation, only the naive would fail to recognize that those changes were at the behest of the Discovery Institute. The creationists who rejected the recommendations of experts, which includes the authors and contributers of this book, would have us return to a time where every earthquake and disease was a reason to fear God and science was practiced with no restrictions to testable claims—the Dark Ages.

Setting aside Wells’s thinly veiled spin of “revolutionary thinking”, what is really going on is that the writer of this chapter—hard to believe it is Wells given his beliefs—takes deep issue with theologies that are not “traditional” and with any science that contradicts those preconclusions. Pseudo-Wells, in any other language, is highly conservative; he or she should have included a callout in the margins of a page in this chapter, “Thoughts You’re Not Supposed to Think” and put “Theistic Evolution” or “Any Thoughts About God, Bourne of Personal Experience with Science that Happened to Conflict With Religious Dogma, with Which I Disagree”.

As Jack Krebs has written:

[The ID creationists’s] tactics have changed. Actually developing an alternative science of Intelligent Design has failed miserably—they haven’t really even tried. Legislating design via laws, state science standards or local school policies has failed. At this point, the new tactic seems to be escalate the divisive culture war. …

On the one hand, it would be a relief if these direct attacks on science and public science education would quiet down. No one really needs to take the time any more to seriously address “complex specified information”, “irreducible complexity,” or any of the other unworkable psuedoscience concepts offered by ID.

But really, the culture war approach, while more honest, is also more dangerous. The ID advocates will continue talking to their target audiences as if design were true and evolution were false, and as if believing in design and rejecting evolution is the only position compatible with their religious beliefs—and their target audiences will be glad to uncritically accept this. By dropping the pretenses about the purely scientific aspects of ID, ID advocates will in fact be able to mobilize their target audiences much more effectively. As the Salvo quote implies, the battle here is for the “public imagination” about these worldview issues. Separating ID from the cultural issues in order to attack science and education hasn’t worked, so now it’s time to abandon that tactic and go all out in arousing people to join up for the “us against them” war of the worldviews battle.

This approach is dangerous to American society because it’s Wedgey divisiveness, its self-righteousness (“the only worldview that works”) and its vilification of all other perspectives is antithetical to the fundamental need for our society to have room for a broad spectrum of cultural and religious perspectives. The approach these ID culture warriors are taking, if successful, would likely lead to the same type of destructive fragmentation that we see in other countries where religious fundamentalism is ascendent.

Scientists who think that, ever since Kizmiller, the challenge of “intelligent design” is over are sorely mistaken. As Krebs points out, the culture war dispatches will merely change. Away goes the pretense that “intelligent design” creationism is scientific; enter the argument that the method of science itself, and its attendant exclusion to testable causes, is evil. This argument is dangerous for the reasons Krebs discussed above and PZ discusses at Pharyngula. Both scientists and mainstream theologians—indeed, anyone interested in furthering and defending the enlightenment—have an interest in fighting this culture war waged by the creationists. The Kitzmiller decision, as decisive as it was, represents only a beginning. If historians were shocked that James Kennedy just aired a program about how Darwin led to Hitler, wait till you see what they cook up next. As Donald Kennedy put it, the scientists who are the beneficiaries of the enlightenment must now be its stewards.

At the beginning of my review, I mentioned that Catholics don’t allow Protestants to take communion. I close this chapter’s review with an important point to understand about fundamentalism. Depending on how sharply you define “Traditional Christianity”, one may exclude just about anyone. “Keeping Christianity traditional” could mean anything from shunning those who think that God used evolution as His tool to shunning those who think women should be allowed to have a leadership role in the church. But if we took this argument—pseudo-Wells’s argument—to its logical conclusion, we could conceivably roll back the clock to a time when a notion of “Traditional Christianity” included the belief that sickness was not caused by agents doctors can treat today but by demons. Pseudo-Wells, for all his pained traditionalism, might likely be considered as much of a heretic as Kenneth Miller by the “Traditional Christians” of that day, if he happened to take a Tylenol for a headache.

Science marches on, relentlessly, and believers have often used science to gain a deeper understanding of scripture. Science, in this sense, provides a kind of feedback, a reminder that we shouldn’t let our theological beliefs get the better of us and that we should be humble enough to recognize and react to the fact that we don’t know everything. God might still have something to say to us, and we should not fear the discoveries of science. This attitude is exemplary for not just Christians, but believers of any stripe, including Muslims, Jews, and others.

One of the more successful (at least in terms of popular acclaim and academic and theological approval) fruits of this feedback is theistic evolution. A defense of some form of this Christian theology, or a more complete description of its tenets and controversies, is beyond the scope of this review and charter of this website. (And I’m grateful to our non-Christian readers for their forbearance during this post.) Interested parties are referred to Keith Miller’s Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Kenneth Miller’s aforementioned Finding Darwin’s God, or the rich discussions found elsewhere on the internet.

I close this review with a message of hope. Theologians and scientists alike credit Galileo and remember him as a paragon. On the other hand, Galileo’s accusers who claimed the mantle of traditionalism have probably engendered more atheistic attitudes than anything else. Those who lashed out at Benjamin Franklin in the “Shaking the Foundations of Faith” article above similarly put all their chips on a notion of God that today is literally ridiculous. More importantly than leading people away from Christianity is the fact that those who claimed that Christianity could not survive if Galileo’s views were correct were, in the fullness of time, wrong. Those who claimed that Christianity could not survive if Ben Franklin’s views were correct were, as we know today, wrong. They were wrong about Christianity not surviving, and they were definitely wrong about the science.

Those traditionalists invoked faith because they were afraid of losing God. They should have invoked reason because they were confident in God. So it is with pseudo-Wells. In reading these considered and researched reviews, provided by those who took time to understand the material, the reader is already aware that pseudo-Wells is on the wrong side of science. From a historical standpoint, at least to this Panda’s Thumb contributor, pseudo-Wells and other “traditionalists” who invoke faith over verified science and “dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight” have been on the wrong side of Christianity as well.

And this gives me great hope for the future.

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Maybe it would be helpful if we would more often and more loudly make the point that IF ideas derived from work on evolution were being taught in schools AS some kind of religious article of faith, THEN WE WOULD ALL AGREE THAT THIS WOULD BE UNCONSTITUT... Read More

166 Comments

Just a niggle.

The Church (yes, I am Catholic) is not the only body which limits communion to members. My Beloved and Darling Wife is a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and the Sunday booklet containing the order of worship always includes a statement wrt their belief in the Real Presence, and says that distribution is limited to LCMS members.

A colleague is a member of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church and that body makes the same statements. In conversations with My Beloved and Darling Wife’s pastor, it is not clear that he would automatically distribute communion to someone he knew was WSLC, much less me.

fusilier James 2:24

That was nicely done. Congratulations, and thanks.

For what it’s worth, the link to the “litmus suggested by Jesus” goes to Mark 16:17ff. (and why link to a 400-year-old translation?), a passage that does not appear in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of the gospel of Mark. Mark 16:17ff. are part of what is called “the longer ending of Mark,” one of at least three different endings (sounds like a Director’s Cut DVD) attested in various ancient manuscripts. The manuscript evidence suggests that the original version of the gospel of Mark ended at v. 8, but in the second century CE the original ending was deemed unsatisfactory by at least three different scribes or tradents, who tried to supply suitable endings. My understanding (I work in the Hebrew Bible, not the New Testament) is that the vast majority of New Testament scholars don’t think that the sayings in Mark 16:17ff. authentically go back to Jesus himself.

Not that I’m a big fan of the Nicene creed, or any creed, for that matter.

after they have replaced their irony meters

That should have been “after the smoke has cleared and the fire department has left and they have swept up the charred fragments of their irony meters”.

I suppose, given that I eat meat on Fridays and when (ahem) I attend church it is in English rather than Latin, I don’t qualify as a real Catholic, and a lot of people wouldn’t recognize me as a real Christian. But clearly I don’t need a Moonie lecturing me on Christian theology. The fact that the DI’s disciples would promote such an essay is clearer testiment to their intellectual bankruptcy and mendacity than anything a critic could write - clearer even than your thoughtful and well-written essay. Thanks.

Interesting. If the Nicene creed defines “traditional” Christianity, then he can’t possibly have any objection to evolution; there is certainly nothing in the creed that conflicts with it. The creed says God “created” all things. It does not say anything at all about the mechanism by which God chose to create them. Does Wells think he has the right to dictate policy to God?

You’re right, Carl. That would be pretty “arrogant” of Wells! :)

BCH

Excellent review and rebuttal. I often get tired of the condescending paternalism of the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, ICR, etc. The “I know better than you and unless you agree, you’re going to hell” tactic doesn’t work for me, especially when these people claim they’re close to God. Perhaps they forgot when an “expert in the law” asked Jesus what the most important thing in life is, and Christ replied (paraphrasing here) “Love God, love others, and the rest is details.” Of course, this is tricky because of a lot of uber-conservative Christians believing “loving” someone is making sure they know how wrong/evil/hellbound/etc they are.

Still, it is a two-way street. There are many aethiests who agree with evolution just as intolerant of Christianity, claiming that the evidence disproves God. Perhaps in the respect of this review, where creationists set the tone of the debate and say that if you can prove naturally how a flower opens you thus disprove God, but as Gould and others have told us, this isn’t the case. Every person must come to a decision about faith on their own, and it’s exceedingly hard reconciling science and faith. Every time I wear my Darwin shirt from AMNH (the one with the tree of life that says rEVOLUTIONary on it) I get funny looks and people have no problem putting me on the grill, assuming I’m going to destory the foundations of the church like some bad cartoon in any of Ken Ham’s books.

Anyway, I supposse what I’m getting at is there is plenty of intolerance to go around, and it seems that those in the creationist camp are setting themselves up by how they define their faith and science. As someone who has spent time as both Christian and agnostic, both viewpoints can be hard to handle, but all the while I’ve never had a problem with evolution. The whole debate to me seems to be misplaced. Not believing in a literal interpreation of the Bible is not what keeps people from the church or accepting God or however you want to put it… for me and (I assume) many others it’s the actions of people like Wells, Ham, and other believers we know in daily life are terrible example of faith. I’d look at evangelicals telling people that they’re going to hell unless they agree, and I didn’t want any part of that. Where’s the love in that? Is that what that religion is suppossed to be all about? It’s the irresponsible and judgemental actions of so many people that are a barrier to the most important thing in life. Christian, atheist, or (insert belief system here)… everyone seems to agree that love towards our fellow human beings is paramount, but the way it’s interpreted by some continues to cause division, and it’s coming from both sides.

Anyway, sorry to ramble on for so long, but at least to me, I don’t see a debate between science and religion… only between the truth and what a few misguided people (like Wells) want to impose on everyone else because they think they know better.

Brian, while I’m inclined to agree with much of what you say, I wonder what your evidence is for this statement:

There are many aethiests who agree with evolution just as intolerant of Christianity, claiming that the evidence disproves God.

This is ofter said of Dawkins, for example, but he does not make any such “scientific” claim (though, obviously, since he is an atheist, it’s presumably his personal belief).

Ok, on topic this time, steering clear of the lake of entropy …

Mark 16:17 is not a litmus test for Christianity. Glossalia and excoricism are spiritual gifts that non-christians can posess. See Matthew 7:22-23.

The actual litmus is 1 John 4:13-21, and simply requires confessing Jesus as Lord, which is part of the Nicene Creed, which in turn is useless if you don’t believe it. Wells is correct in this, at least. As for him being a Moonie, I used to live on Twin Peaks in SF, a block away from “the Moonie Mansion”. Apart from being a curiously good place to observe a lunar corona (check it out), they attracted little attention.

As for tradition, the NT gives warns against letting praxis over-rule theoria. (Mark 7:13) Traditions are dead works without faith.

I would like to point out how easy it is to take scripture out of context. The Nicene Creed is the result of prolonged intense disciplined effort by ancient scholars who had enviable attention spans my modern standards.

Wells is merely pointing at the Gospels. His personal affiliations have no bearing whatsoever on this. Defending “Traditional Christianity” (praxis) is secondary to spreading the Gospel (theoria).

Thanks for calling me out for clarification Stevie. My assertion there came from primarily personal experience, and refers to personal beliefs. I don’t charge. Dr. Dawkins or saying God can be scientifically disproven or does not exist… that’s his belief and he’s entitled to is just as I am mine. I have known many people personally who have asserted that evolution disproves God, but this is not the primary reason they did not believe (rather it was the actions of people, global suffering, etc). I would not make a sweeping generalization that all or even most atheists believe this, and I do not believe that either, but it all depends on the context. Many of the atheists and agnostics I know were hurt by the church, and in regards to evolution the church said that you can not prove (insert natural phenomenon here). Thus the church linked the existence of God (something that can’t be empircally tested) to something real which can be empircally tested, so when it was shown that there is a reason for flowers blooming or whatever other example, the people I know responded that there is a perfectly good explanation that does not require God (which is true), but other feelings got tied up into this, so they continued the train of thought to something like

God is not necessary = God does not exist

At least that’s what they explained to me, and it’s the way I thought for a while myself. Still, let me restate that I do not believe that all or even most atheists believe God can be scientifically disproven, but I have indeed known many who mentioned this as a point of their logic and is tied in with interactions between the individual and the church. Again, thanks for calling me out so that I could clarify (although I have the sinking feeling of a man who just confused things even more…)

No, I appreciated your response.

I particularly agree that, in hitching it’s (emprically) unprovable asssertions about God to (empirically) disprovable claims about mundane matters, the “Church” (in its multitudinous guises) has done an excellent job of pointing its finger at its own forehead and pulling the trigger.

Re “Does Wells think he has the right to dictate policy to God?”

Isn’t that what creationists and/or IDers have been doing for decades?

Henry

Dr. Dawkins or saying God can be scientifically disproven or does not exist… that’s his belief and he’s entitled to is just as I am mine.

Dawkins has never said that God can be scientifically disproven – he has explicitly said the opposite. There is some sense in which you are “entitled” to your erroneous beliefs and misrepresentations of the beliefs of others, but there is also a sense in which you are not.

On topic - a Moonie telling me who is a real christian and who is not is a knee slapper. I forget my christian cults facts but I believe Moon is considered Christ, yes? Not Jesus, but a Christ figure.

Off topic sort of - People are always characterizing atheists as thinking this way or that way and they are usually always wrong. I’m an atheist and I have been for a decade or so. I have numerous atheist friends and I’ve met more than my share of atheistic folks and I have never heard a single one mention Darwin or evolution or science had ANYTHING to do with their decision to drop kick their faith. Nor did being paddled by nuns or attending a church that wasn’t so nice influential on their decision.

For that matter I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a fellow atheist about Darwin, science or evolution, at least nothing more than superficial chit chat. Every single atheist I have ever known (and spoken to about their lack of faith) all based their lack of faith on what they perceive as the absurdity of the reasons given for thinking otherwise.

I keep hearing (from the “faithful”) about how science and Darwin and evolution have lead or leads people to atheism. I would love for someone to introduce me to a person who abandoned their faith in god after reading Darwin, taking a science class or understanding evolution, because, as I mentioned, in my 10 years of godlessness I have never met a person. I have never met an atheist (of the non-scientist variety) who cared about Darwin, science or evolution.

And it might be worth mentioning that my (very limited) understanding of biology, specifically as it pertains to evolution, did not come about until 7 years or so after I drop kicked my faith in god/jesus. So I had never read Darwin, could care less about evolution, and wasn’t interested in science when I took the godless plunge.

The christian/religious notion that science/Darwin/evolution somehow promotes atheism is not only wrong, it’s moronic. The thing that promotes atheism is critical thinking and you cannot stop people from doing it. You can change the definition of science, you can pretend ID is science, you can burn anything written by Darwin but you cannot stop people from thinking.

Robert Ingersoll has probably done more to legitimize atheism than any other person in America, at least in his day. And all he did was illuminate the absurdity (think critically and out loud) of the more popular religious notions of his time. People if you want to lose your faith in god, don’t waste you time reading Darwin or studying boring subjects like cell replication, DNA, novel species etc. Read Ingersoll instead. Read people who think about religious concepts with a critical eye.

But I’ll tell you what kind of person leads people to atheism. Guys like Wells, Dembski and the rest of the DI liars for jesus. They make belief in god look really stupid and questioning the kind of garbage spoon fed to you by IDiots like Wells and Dembski will lead one to atheism. Who wants to believe in something that is popularized by liars, cheats and frauds? Especially when what they say and write can be proven to be untrue. That makes skepticism easy. In fact the best thing Wells and the rest of the top shelf IDiots can do to keep people from becoming atheists is shut the heck up. Seriously.

Anyhow, my turn is up. :-)

Next?

Steviepinhead Wrote:

There are many aethiests who agree with evolution just as intolerant of Christianity, claiming that the evidence disproves God.

This is ofter said of Dawkins, for example, but he does not make any such “scientific” claim (though, obviously, since he is an atheist, it’s presumably his personal belief).

No, Stevie, it is not Dawkins’ personal belief that the evidence of evolution disproves God, and I don’t understand why that should be “presumed” from the fact that he’s an atheist. Perhaps this quote will clarify his view:

A friend, an intelligent lapsed Jew who observes the Sabbath for reasons of cultural solidarity, describes himself as a Tooth Fairy Agnostic. He will not call himself an atheist because it is in principle impossible to prove a negative. But “agnostic” on its own might suggest that he though God’s existence or non-existence equally likely. In fact, though strictly agnostic about god, he considers God’s existence no more probable than the Tooth Fairy’s. Bertrand Russell used a hypothetical teapot in orbit about Mars for the same didactic purpose. You have to be agnostic about the teapot, but that doesn’t mean you treat the likelihood of its existence as being on all fours with its non-existence. The list of things about which we strictly have to be agnostic doesn’t stop at tooth fairies and celestial teapots. It is infinite. If you want to believe in a particular one of them – teapots, unicorns, or tooth fairies, Thor or Yahweh – the onus is on you to say why you believe in it. The onus is not on the rest of us to say why we do not. We who are atheists are also a-fairyists, a-teapotists, and a-unicornists, but we don’t’ have to bother saying so.

Wow. Hard to believe that Wells actually has the temerity to claim that there was no conflict between science and religion prior to Darwin. Of all his howlers I’ve read about in these reviews, that one is by far the most astonishing. How morally bankrupt do you have to be before you start making statements like that one, and how ignorant do you have to be to believe it?

Collin You had me going with ‘excoricism’. Google define: and the online M-W dictionary couldn’t help. I had to figure it out with my wife’s Bible.

Certainly, Mark 16:17 isn’t much of a litmus test for Christianity. Anyone can babble. Driving out a demon first requires proof that there is one present. If one speculates that it means curing mental disease, then maybe a test could be defined, but even so…

Now if the reference was meant to include Mark 16:18, then we have a verifiable test. Unfortunately no Christian can pass. This verse is so problematic for literal interpreters of the Bible that some resort to denying it is part of the ‘true’ Bible, as Christopher Heard stated above.

I regard the existence of hospitals as proof that the Bible is not inerrant.

At first I thought you meant that Matthew 7:22-23 said that non-Christians could speak in tongues and drive out demons. Instead it declares that these signs alone are not enough for a get out of hell free card.

If only the religious could spend more time doing good works and less on determining who they will not accept as ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. Every time a schism appears amongst the believers, we get to experience another round of Hell on earth.

Can I make a request for the stickied outline post to contain the chapter titles? Currently they just say “Chapter 1, Chapter 2” etc, but you don’t know what the chapter (and refutation) are about until you click on it. It would be nice to be able to see them in list format so we could jump right to the ones we find most interesting.

Thanks for putting all of this together, guys, it’s great stuff!

“after they have replaced their irony meters”

My new irony meter goes up to 11

Nice points being made here that I haven’t read elsewhere, about the ultimate faithlessness of people like Wells, and his utter lack of faith in human beings, too…even those who would make up his audience.

This is a wonderful piece for being not just a takedown but an eloquent plea for a rational, mature approach not only to science and belief, but to relationships between people. Thank you for this.

I’m an atheist myself. I call myself this for never truly having the sense of or need for a cosmic spirit or deity or presence that others seem to be talking about when they mention God. I have been like this was since age nine and it had nothing to do with evolution, since up to that point and beyond I had nothing but Sunday school lessons about a six-day creation. I daresay that I have more faith in people than does Jonathan Wells…

“Of course science cannot disprove the existence of God. But there are a million things that science cannot disprove.” –Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil?” toward end of Part One

Popper, I agree. I was aware of some awkwardness in expressing myself in composing, did a little revision, but should have done more.

All I am justified in presuming from Dawkins’ being an atheist is that he does not “personally” believe in God, not that he “personally believes” that science (or the evolutionary biology component thereof) has somehow disproven God. Your quote could, in fact, be read to suggest that Dawkins’ stance may even be somewhat less rigid than that–more toward the “soft” end of atheism or agnosticism.

My various attempted statements were too highly-compressed, with the result of misleading the reader.

I should add that I interpreted Brian’s response of

I don’t charge. Dr. Dawkins or saying God can be scientifically disproven or does not exist… that’s his belief and he’s entitled to is just as I am mine.

a little differently than you. First, I think that both the period/full stop after “I don’t charge” (which I think led you to exclude it from the similar snippet of Brian’s that you quoted) and the “or” after “Dr. Dawkins” were likely typos, and that Brian thus intended to type:

I don’t charge Dr. Dawkins of [that is, “with”] saying God can be scientifically disproven or does not exist…

And, of course, Brian didn’t initially name Dawkins at all, but ascribed the “evolution has disproved God” meme to “many atheists.” I was the one who brought Dawkins up (in an attempt to make sure that Brian wasn’t relying on misrepresentations of Dawkins–as everybody’s favorite “promintent atheist”–with the opinions that Brian was referencing), though my attempted clarification has seemingly only led to further confusion (but, hey, at least I’m working in the correct past tense of “lead” at every reasonable opportunity).

In any event, if my reading of Brian is correct, he never did hold an incorrect interpretation of Dawkins’ views.

Er, “promintent” ==> prominent.

Sigh. Frickin’ typos.

Collin wrote I would like to point out how easy it is to take scripture out of context.

How very true.

In fact, that’s the problem I’ve always had with organized religion (especially the telecentric version so publicly on display in America these days). It seems to take everything in the scriptures out of context.

I grew up in a religious family, and once upon a time had to go to church and Sunday school and consequently built up more than a passing familiarity with the Good Book. And the way I read mine is that God dumps all these laws on the Israelites, and after 1000 years, they just don’t seem to get it. So god turns to his boy and says “Son, this just isn’t sinking in, go down there and explain it to them in plain Aramaic”.

So Jesus spends his entire adult life - and 180 pages of the new testament, the biggest block on any single subject - delivering exactly one message. Ya gotta hand it to him, he knew how to stay on-topic.

And his message was “Love one another. Treat your fellow human being like a human being”.

This is easy. Simple. Straightforward. A child could understand it - and they do, till the adults get involved.

And yet every time I see a name-brand religious figure on television he’s not loving, helping, or understanding, he’s ranting against gays or raving against abortion because of three sentences in Leviticus or a throwaway phrase in Deuteronomy.

And I have to ask myself “Why can’t this man read?”. He’s got an entire book about hope and possibility in front of him and he chooses instead to concentrate on a few sentences about hate.

Now that, my friend, is “out of context”.

All I have to say is …

WOW!

Now if we could just get “the other side” to read these reviews, especially this one, “the controversy” just might evaporate. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Mr. Christopher Wrote:

I have numerous atheist friends and I’ve met more than my share of atheistic folks and I have never heard a single one mention Darwin or evolution or science had ANYTHING to do with their decision to drop kick their faith.

I think science helped move me toward athiesm. I remember in 8th grade telling a nun that they really needed to rewrite the bible, because the Genesis story didn’t match what she was teaching in science class. You can imagine how well that went over.

God is not necessary = God does not exist

This is a reasonable conclusion, much as it is reasonable to conclude that, since Santa Claus is not necessary for the delivery of presents, Santa Claus does not exist. Of course, this is coupled with the complete and utter lack of positive evidence for Santa Claus, awareness that Santa Claus is an invented fable, and so on. The conclusion that God does not exist is arguably equally well grounded. Of course, the evidence that parents put the gifts under the tree does not disprove the existence of Santa Claus – nothing disproves it in a deductive sense. But proof in the deductive sense is a red herring, at least for Santa Claus.

But there is a point of disanalogy. It is not unscientific to argue, or even conclude, that there is no Santa Claus, as that is a reasonable result of empirical inquiry. But God is not a jolly fat man or a fellow with a white beard; what God is, is a matter of philosophical debate and metaphysical speculation, and so whether God exists is not a matter of empirical inquiry, not something that science can answer, although empirical findings can inform the philosophical debate. In my (reasoned philosophical) view, it’s not that God does not exist, it’s that the word “God” doesn’t actually refer to any possible thing; it’s a bit like a square circle (but a lot more vague and unsettled in its description).

Brian, while I’m inclined to agree with much of what you say, I wonder what your evidence is for this statement:

There are many aethiests who agree with evolution just as intolerant of Christianity, claiming that the evidence disproves God.

Perhaps he reads … um … some well-known, uh, science blogs.

Collin, thanks for sharing your religious opinions with us.

What, uh, makes your religious opinions any better or more authoritative than, uh, anyoen else’s? After all, your religious opinions are just that, your opinions. They are no more holy or divine or infallible or authoritative than anyone else’s religious opinions. No one is obligated in any way, shape, or form to follow your religious opinions, to accept them, or even to pay any attention at all to them.

Right?

All I am justified in presuming from Dawkins’ being an atheist is that he does not “personally” believe in God

In other words, all we are justified in presuming from Dawkins being an atheist is that he is an atheist.

Your quote could, in fact, be read to suggest that Dawkins’ stance may even be somewhat less rigid than that—more toward the “soft” end of atheism or agnosticism.

There’s somewhat of a continuum; “weak” atheists merely lack a belief in God, while Dawkins apparently goes beyond that, arguing that the existence of God is extraordinarily unlikely, like the tooth fairy. “strong” atheists, hold affirmatively that there is no God. I consider myself in that category, but I make the distinction that there is no God because the concept is ill-defined, and attempts to formally define it lead to logical inconsistencies (primarily infinite regress) – my affirmative belief that there is no God is not a matter of “faith” or scientific “proof” (and my initial doubts about God stemmed from similarities between stories I read in books of mythology and books of religion when I was still in elementary school, long before I knew much of anything about evolution or science).

I think that both the period/full stop after “I don’t charge” (which I think led you to exclude it from the similar snippet of Brian’s that you quoted) and the “or” after “Dr. Dawkins” were likely typos

Yeah, I wasn’t sure what to make of that; your parser appears to be more robust in the presence of errors than mine.

if my reading of Brian is correct, he never did hold an incorrect interpretation of Dawkins’ views.

Agreed; sorry Brian (assuming Stevie got your meaning right, and I think he probably did).

Yikes, I appear to have created quite a row. That’s what I get for not paying attention to what my brain is doing while my back is turned.

Anyhow, what I actually meant was the interpretation Stevie presented of

I don’t charge Dr. Dawkins of [that is, “with”] saying God can be scientifically disproven or does not exist…

I typed about half of my response initially, realized it was crap, went back to try and clarify it, but instead botched it up terribly because I wanted to leave to office. I wasn’t trying to make any generalities about atheists as a whole (I admit I should’ve clarified things a bit better), nor was I trying to say what Dawkins does or doesn’t believe. I was merely speaking from my own experience, both from being agnostic for some time and discussing the issue with friends who are atheists and agnostics. I don’t try to say that many or most or all atheists/agnostics all came to that conclusion by certain events under certain conditions, but merely what I and other people I know experienced. Everyone has their own view of the universe and how it works, so it would be foolish of me to lump people together and say “This is what they believe”… I’m not like Wells who would have the public believe “Darwinists” are essentially a collective that think and act alike in the name of evil or any other such generalizations.

At least in my own life, it seems that most people I know who are atheists are so because of Christians. If this is true in the rest of the world, I don’t know, but at least among the people I know the #1 cause of atheism is Christians messing things up terribly and not evolution, science, or anything that people like Ken Ham spend so much time worrying about.

Thanks to those who have spoken on my behalf to try to make sense of my nonsense, and for the patience of all the readers. Obviously this is the first slew of postings I’ve made here and I have already learned much about wording things carefully, but if I did indeed offend anyone or make anyone think I was trying to slap a label on Dawkins or other atheists, this is not the case at all and I am sorry. I think the core of what I was getting at (Christianity typing something that can’t be proven with things than can be proven/disproven is akin to shooting themselves in the foot) is generally agreed upon, but I should’ve done away with most of the packaging. Thank you all for your patience, and best regards

Brian

Popper’s ghost wrote:

If you dig, you can find multiple contradictory cosmological models floating around the Old Testament, some in which the Earth is seen as flat (“ends of the earth”) and others where it is desribed as an “orb.” The fact that all these contradictory cosmologies are there, sometimes even assumed by the same authors, I think demonstrates fairly clearly that cosmology was just not important to them.

No, you cretin, it implies that there were multiple authors and multiple erroneous beliefs. And you have no way of knowing whether contradictory statements were made by the same authors or not; this garbage has gone through repeated quotation, paraphrase, embellishment, and translation. But anyway, who the dick cares what was important to them? They were on a whole, no more knowledgeable or wise than you — which makes them pretty dumb pumpkins.

I hope you won’t feel insulted if I offer a minor correction.

You’re letting Adam sucker you with that multiple contradictory cosmological models line. It’s only half true. For a book that does not have a single point of view, that’s a collection of books (24 to 73 of them, depending on which version you accept) written and rewritten over more than a thousand-year period by a wildly diverse collection of writers, the cosmolical model is actually amazingly consistent and consistently wrong even after they meet the Greeks who know better.

Across the generations the cosmological model more often than not has those pillars, from earliest Old Testament to Revelations, the sky as a dome is there more often than not, God is literally up in the sky, etc. etc.. They constantly refered to some basic model for over a thousand years with only a dab of variation and creativity to fill in the gaps the basic model doesn’t talk about. When they do talk metaphorically, they’re talking metaphorically about that model and you can figure out how.

The Earth is always seen as flat and if there is a passage where it’s described as “orb,” it’s a translator’s cheat on circle (the Bible is still being sneakily re-written). Check any Earth as “orb” reference against other translations. Or, maybe Adam just confused passages where the moon or sun is called an “orb.”

Don’t trust his facts. Check.

The bible serves as nothing more than an artifact of cultural history. I personally couldn’t care less which misconceptions those long dead people had, so it’s not worth my time to check; Adam’s take on the bible is stupid whether he reports on its contents accurately or not.

To make my point more explicit: when I wrote “No, you cretin, it implies that there were multiple authors and multiple erroneous beliefs”, by “it” I meant what Adam claimed the bible says, not what the bible actually says, which I don’t know and don’t care. The point was that his inference was cretinous. If his facts were wrong too, so much the worse.

BTW, Norm, going back to something you wrote: “I’m dissapointed you’re not going to argue against [interpreting the bible as not saying what its bare words signify]”, I don’t know where the heck you got that idea, after I had just written “Of course, the idea that the bible is inerrant despite seeming to be full of nonsense and falsehoods doesn’t seem reasonable to me, but this is about what they said”. You said other odd things, like “You didn’t even point out that this claim by Galileo made the Bible unfalsifiable” – you mean, it needs to be said explicitly? Even in addition to the snark I wrote? You also wrote “Or see anything potentially phony in Galileo’s evasive claims” – I see things potentially phony in everything anyone claims, but I’m of the marginally informed opinion that, when Galileo said “the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood”, he meant it; that his brain was infested with that meme, just as many brains have been infested with it over the ages. I could be wrong, but you can hardly expect me to make a better argument for your position than you did when, rightly or wrongly, I’m not firmly convinced that you’re right.

If you want to look for a “run toward Deism”, I think you should direct your attention to one of Galileo’s contemporaries, Descartes, who quashed publication of his own work on physics because of the church’s attack on Galileo, and still had his works prohibited by the Pope. FWIW, Descartes’s philosophy was heavily influenced by Augustine.

Popper’s ghost wrote:

To make my point more explicit: when I wrote “No, you cretin, it implies that there were multiple authors and multiple erroneous beliefs”, by “it” I meant what Adam claimed the bible says, not what the bible actually says, which I don’t know and don’t care. The point was that his inference was cretinous. If his facts were wrong too, so much the worse.

Thanks for being clear. I’m trying to nail Adam on a different argument you see.

He said that 1) the model wasn’t important to the ancient Hebrews, and he also had said about how, 2) by the time of Christ, everyone was accepting a more or less Ptolemaic system, an astronomical model with Earth being a sphere, at the center of the universe, and the stars on some kind of crystal sphere around it.

I don’t yet buy those claims. I think Adam’s preachers have lied to him. I’m now trying to find out if in fact the model was important to most of the Bible’s writers, and if the early Christians accepted Ptolemy, or rejected because of a flat Earth comittment. (Odds are some did and some didn’t, Christianity was never consistent, (it claims too many hidden things only revealed to those god chooses) and they’ve always had to enforce orthodoxy with violence.)

I do know of one later Christian who may have believed in a flat Earth; Martin Luther.

http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/tekto[…]h_bible.html

“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters…We Christians must be different from the philosophers [astronomers] in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity; with our understanding.” - Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Vol. 1, Luther’s Works, Concordia Pub. House, 1958 To see a picture of Luther’s view of the cosmos that was printed inside his translation of the Bible.

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

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, [our biblical system] which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool [or ‘man’] wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” –Martin Luther.

Popper’s ghost wrote:

BTW, Norm, going back to something you wrote: “I’m dissapointed you’re not going to argue against [interpreting the bible as not saying what its bare words signify]”, I don’t know where the heck you got that idea, after I had just written “Of course, the idea that the bible is inerrant despite seeming to be full of nonsense and falsehoods doesn’t seem reasonable to me, but this is about what they said”.

That wasn’t up to your old standards I thought. You only gave the Galileo and Augustine quotes a kind of shallow analysis. I was looking for some help with trying to find subtle differences in attitude which I only have a gut feeling about but can’t pin-point yet.

You said other odd things, like “You didn’t even point out that this claim by Galileo made the Bible unfalsifiable” — you mean, it needs to be said explicitly?

In order to get at an answer to the question of whether Galileo knew he was offering the church an unfalsifiable method of interpretation, yes, I think it needs to be explict. Of course, the concept of unfalsifiability being unsound doesn’t come about until later on in history, but Galileo may have had a sense of how flawed such methods of interpretation were.

Maybe Galileo was more gnostic than deist?

Even in addition to the snark I wrote?

Snark is not evidence.

You also wrote “Or see anything potentially phony in Galileo’s evasive claims” — I see things potentially phony in everything anyone claims, but I’m of the marginally informed opinion that, when Galileo said “the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood”, he meant it; that his brain was infested with that meme, just as many brains have been infested with it over the ages.

Maybe it was, but what if it wasn’t?

Galileo lived in a time of killer thought police, Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake for saying, in part, Copernicanism was true:

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

Galileo is on record as being a proud liar and we know he told two whoppers, 1) he told the senate in Venice he invented the telescope he showed them – he only built his own based on Hans Lippershey’s design (though he did make some subtle improvements). 2) he put his hand on a Bible and recanted his theory when ordered to.

He seems to have made some young friends toward the end of his life that would later delare themselves Deists and promote him into a mythic figure for Deists.

I could be wrong, but you can hardly expect me to make a better argument for your position than you did when, rightly or wrongly, I’m not firmly convinced that you’re right.

True, but I didn’t know that until you disappointed me.

It’s very hard to find a Christian author of any period who denied that the world is a sphere. Church fathers like Augustine and Jerome were educated men who knew damned well that the world is round. I recently read a 4th Century book by a guy named Macrobius that neatly summarizes received cosmic and geographical ideas. The book, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, was one of the basic sources of scientic information in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Macrobius’ cosmology is routine geocentrism.

Jim Harrison wrote:

It’s very hard to find a Christian author of any period who denied that the world is a sphere.

Wikipedia found a few:

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

A few Christian authors directly opposed the round Earth: * Lactantius (245—325) called it “folly” because people on a sphere would fall down. * Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (315—386) saw Earth as a firmament floating on water (though the relevant quotation is found in the course of a sermon to the newly baptized, and it is unclear whether he was speaking poetically or in a physical sense); * Saint John Chrysostom (344—408) saw a spherical Earth as contradictory to scripture; * Diodorus of Tarsus (d. 394) also argued for a flat Earth based on scriptures; however, Diodorus’ opinion on the matter is known to us only by a criticism of it by Photius.[13]; * Severian, Bishop of Gabala (d. 408), wrote: “The earth is flat and the sun does not pass under it in the night, but travels through the northern parts as if hidden by a wall”.[14] * The Egyptian monk Cosmas Indicopleustes (547) in his Topographia Christiana, where the Covenant Ark was meant to represent the whole universe, argued on theological grounds that the Earth was flat, a parallelogram enclosed by four oceans.

Cosmas and Lactantius are the two standard exceptions. I’m surprized about Christotom, but the other guys are pretty obscure. The point stands, however, since the vast majority of Christian writers knew the earth was spherical. Of course there is no way of knowing what shepherds in the Alps were thinking, but I presume we are speaking about educated folks.

Jim Harrison wrote:

… since the vast majority of Christian writers knew the earth was spherical. Of course there is no way of knowing what shepherds in the Alps were thinking, but I presume we are speaking about educated folks.

Yes, do keep in mind that we are indeed speaking about educated folks here, and educated in previously Hellenized Roman cities, these guys aren’t the Old Testament writers who wrote in Hebrew and who lived before Alexander the Great Hellenized the area. Nor are they the New Testament writers and the writer of Revelations who used the old flat-earth motifs in his verbal imagery. Cosmas and Lactantius are writing in Greek and Latin, not Hebrew (the New Testament is also Greek and not Hebrew or Aramaic). Cosmas and Lactantius are Roman names and converts. That means they got educated on Aristotle and Plato and Ptolomey and the evidence for a spherical Earth in school and then went backwards after conversion.

When talking about flat-earth beliefs we are talking about the original bible writers, the Old Testament writers and quite possibly the Aramaic speaking original Christians who knew Christ before Paul/Saul may have reinvented things. We are talking about the root, not the thousand branches of belief systems that sprouted off that root. Some of the branches that split off went against the science of that day early.

I’m not even sure if there’s a dispute here. The cosmological ideas reflected in some of the language of the Jewish Bible involve a flat Earth, though astronomy was hardly a focus in these scriptures. Educated Christians understood that the earth was a sphere. The exceptions are a handful of authors who have a reputation for not being too with it in other ways as well. We know which books the monks used for textbooks in the Middle Ages–Macrobius, Boethius, Isadore of Seville, the Venerable Bede, etc.–so we have a pretty good handle on what they thought. Is there another issue here I’m missing?

Jim Harrison wrote:

Is there another issue here I’m missing?

Yes.

I’m not buying that you can dismiss at least certain parts of the flat earth model as being unimportant to the Old Testament writers. An important part of that model is that God lives up there above the physical dome of the sky. He watches from up there and comes down (with others he talks to) when he destroys the tower of Babel, people get physically taken up into heaven while alive, waters are above the dome are released by him when it rains, etc.. All sorts of little details are consistent with that model and they seem less like metaphor when you understand how they connect to that flat earth model.

If you say that is old testament flat earth is metaphor, then maybe god himself is just old testament metaphor. He’s the one who moves up and down, releases the rain, and is linked to it model by living up there.

If you say it’s wrong, a mistaken belief, then maybe God too is just a mistaken belief.

I don’t accept this statement:

… astronomy was hardly a focus in these scriptures.

God lived up there in the old testament and “watched people like grasshoppers.”

Norm bolds one of my words:

BTW, Norm, going back to something you wrote: “I’m dissapointed you’re not going to argue against [interpreting the bible as not saying what its bare words signify]”, I don’t know where the heck you got that idea, after I had just written “Of course, the idea that the bible is inerrant despite seeming to be full of nonsense and falsehoods doesn’t seem reasonable to me, but this is about what they said”.

Sigh. What part of “but this is about what they said” don’t you understand?

That wasn’t up to your old standards I thought.

My “standards” have a lot to do with how much I care about something. I only posted on this idjit thread because my name was mentioned.

Even in addition to the snark I wrote?

Snark is not evidence.

Neither is “point[ing] out”. Have you taken a stupid pill?

I’m of the marginally informed opinion that …

Maybe it was, but what if it wasn’t?

Well then, I would be wrong (which would hardly be surprising, my being marginally informed and all) and whatever follows from that would be the case. Sheesh.

“Posted by Popper’s ghost on September 6, 2006 07:15 PM (e)

Norm, don’t pay Lenny any mind; he’s an anti-intellectual buffoon.”

HO HO!

and he voted for Nader in Florida and so is personally responsible for BUSH II and the subsequent death of thousands of US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

.

My “standards” have a lot to do with how much I care about something.

Mine too.

I only posted on this idjit thread because my name was mentioned.

Sorry about that. But you’ve caught things I missed before.

When will the madness of these people ever end..

RE: intelligent design Intelligent Designer http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2[…]esigner.html

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Burt Humburg published on August 30, 2006 1:00 AM.

Summer Institute on Science and Religion at the Jefferson Center was the previous entry in this blog.

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