The perfect phrase

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Back in June 2008, in a post reporting about the Mt. Vernon Board of Education voting on a resolution to terminate John Freshwater’s employment as a middle school science teacher, I described a conversation with one of Freshwater’s supporters at the special meeting of the BOE. I wrote this:

I also spoke with one of Freshwater’s adult supporters. The No True Scotsman fallacy was alive and well in that conversation. There was an enlightening moment when I recommended that he read Francis Collins’ The Language of God to get an idea of how an evangelical Christian who is a scientist tries to deal with the conflict. The man asked if Collins accepts Genesis. I replied that Collins is an evangelical Christian, but that he doesn’t read Genesis literally and believes that evolution is the means by which God created the diversity of biological life. The man then refused to consider reading it, saying “I don’t need to look at beliefs I don’t agree with.” That level of willful ignorance pretty much says it all.

This evening I happened onto the perfect phrase to describe that mindset. In a March 2009 talk (video) to the British Humanist Association, Daniel Dennett outlined his approach to the roots of religion. A questioner in the Q&A period asked why people (his relatives, actually!) hang onto religion so tenaciously, “so locked in until they die.” Dennett answered, in part (around 1:13:30ff):

One of the really powerful ideas [in religions] is the idea of sacred truths. And a sacred truth is one that even thinking about it is evil. Don’t even think about it! And when you can establish that about anything, when you can build that taboo against thinking and internalize it – and people internalize it – then they become their own jailers. They become very effective protectors of their own incarceration. (Emphases in Dennett’s intonation)

That is exactly the right phrase: “they become their own jailers.” It perfectly describes my fellow’s mindset.

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As Glenn Morton put it in reference to the notorious demon that bears his name: “But unlike Maxwell’s demon, Morton’s demon doesn’t expend any energy – he gets his victim to expend it for him.”

It vaguely reminds me of Carl Zimmer’s observations on parasites that manipulate the behavior of their hosts to work for the parasite.

Daniel Dennet said: “And a sacred truth is one that even thinking about it is evil. Don’t even think about it!

It’s a lot easier than that: Don’t even think! That really sums it up in a nutshell.

The True Believers™ voluntarily walk into their jail cell, shut and lock the door, and sit there smugly in the middle of the infinite wilderness of their empty minds…knowing they’re right…and sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “Lalalala” whenever we try to cure their willful ignorance.

Indeed, they become their own jailers. Good one.

Science has questions which cannot be answered. Religion (at least for some) has answers which cannot be questioned.

A similar situation was described on a TV documentary (many years ago) about the northern Irish, protestant, catholic situation, the phrase describing their plight was, “prisoners of history”. i.e. people locked into permanent conflict due to ongoing tit for tat reprisals spanning lifetimes.

But then the style of thinking of Collins etc isn’t any less ridiculous than that of the chap you quoted - they accept the theory of common descent (and I’d guess other modern scientific theories), which all well and truly blows the truth of Christianity out of the water, yet nothing will convince them that the God they believe in therefore simply does not exist or that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

(the Genesis accounts are actually quite central to Christian belief, something those who don’t accept a literal reading of Genesis appear to have ignored eg because of Jesus’ later references to them in the NT, the entry of sin into the world which is the major point for Jesus’ later sacrifice, the fact that if they’re wrong it suggests claims of divine revelation is untrustworthy etc etc)

Yet those people are the ones who accuse atheists of intellectual squalor.

If the ID people are trying so hard to not be “religious”, why go after the “new atheists”?

It seems like this Egnor guy needs some intro to logic courses himself.

Rob said:

But then the style of thinking of Collins etc isn’t any less ridiculous than that of the chap you quoted - they accept the theory of common descent (and I’d guess other modern scientific theories), which all well and truly blows the truth of Christianity out of the water, yet nothing will convince them that the God they believe in therefore simply does not exist or that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

(the Genesis accounts are actually quite central to Christian belief, something those who don’t accept a literal reading of Genesis appear to have ignored eg because of Jesus’ later references to them in the NT, the entry of sin into the world which is the major point for Jesus’ later sacrifice, the fact that if they’re wrong it suggests claims of divine revelation is untrustworthy etc etc)

Hmm … I can think of about 12,000 Christian clergy who disagree with you … as do I, FWIW.

Rob Wrote:

…the Genesis accounts are actually quite central to Christian belief…

Unfortunately they come in several mutually contradictory versions, each claimed by someone to be “the” literal one - flat earth, geocentric, young-earth, old-earth-young life, etc. So even if one of them is required to be true for the Resurrection to be taken literally (not that it follows anyway), every Christain (& Jew) has to admit that most if not all one of those interpretations are wrong. Which is one reason why there’s so much “don’t ask, don’t tell” these days.

Under the heading of:

“Science has questions which cannot be answered. Religion (at least for some) has answers which cannot be questioned.”

…check out this little bit:

Charles Darwin film ‘too controversial for religious America’

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wor[…]America.html

That is a great quote. Living in the ‘Bible Belt’ I experience this everyday. When I went to church as a teenager this was the default mode of thinking (or not thinking). Don’t question anything because even that is a ‘sin’. It is a sad sad state of mind to live with. But that is how things are in the south.

Yep, great phrase–great metaphor.

Some years back I developed a similar metaphor: the creationism ghetto, Welcome to the Ghetto.

Mine wasn’t so succinctly expressed, but rather more detailed and developed.

Warning: Turn off all irony meters.

Fact: The DI likes to claim that ID is not creationism. Fact: The DI strongly encourages everyone to read opposing points of view. Therefore we can expect the DI to have frequent “interventions” with Biblical creationists who say “I don’t need to look at beliefs I don’t agree with.” To liberate them from their self-imposed “jail cells” if you will.

Hmm … I can think of about 12,000 Christian clergy who disagree with you … as do I, FWIW.

That’s just argumentum ad populum, though. if it only came down to that, it’d probably be as easy to drum up a giant list (such a list may well exist somewhere, I have no idea if it does or not) of signatories amongst other factions of Christianity who don’t agree that the theory of common descent is compatible with Christian thought (and I agree that it isn’t, for the reasons I listed earlier and more). The number of folk who agree to either position has no bearing on the truth of those said positions, only examination of the content of Christianity and the content of the theory of evolution can decide whether the two are or aren’t compatible.

Origuy said:

Science has questions which cannot be answered. Religion (at least for some) has answers which cannot be questioned.

Ooohh…see, now I like this phrase. I want this on a T-shirt now.

Sorry Dick, but this is just another illustration of the extremes, both extremes, highjacking and framing the debate. To say that all theists or religions don’t examine their beliefs is, of course, incorrect. It only makes sense to do so as a way of justifying a harsh kind of extreme proselytizing atheism. I don’t think you’re into that kind of juvenile cracker taunting, but its a trap in the current context of the evolution wars in which majority of those most invested in the controversy insist that religion and science, real science anyway, negate each other. Both extremes use false caricatures of the other, and their debate defines the social and political context of the controversy.

Some religious thinkers might accept the idea of the believer as his own jailer. A common conceit Puritan literature depicted the believer as a bird in a golden cage. The cage provided security as well as restriction for the faithful. And, of course, the faithful gratefully accepted both.

Rob said: The number of folk who agree to either position has no bearing on the truth of those said positions, only examination of the content of Christianity and the content of the theory of evolution can decide whether the two are or aren’t compatible.

Rob, there is no agreed-upon ‘content of Christianity.’ If you try to define one, then you are making the same mistake that the fundamentalists do. You’re using definitional fiat to ignore the enormous variation in actual Christian belief.

Yes, there are some things which the vast majority of Christians believe, but that is a very very short list. And a literal reading of any particular bible verse outside of the birth and death of Jesus is probably not on that list.

I see this as just sad. Even outside of religion, you need to understand the other party’s arguments and positions. If you do not study both sides of ANY issue, how can you build a logical (I know I know) counter argument. These people do not even fully understand their own side of the discussion. It is sad for our country as science and engineering are the only way to keep any sort of wealth in our country and these people actively drive their progeny away from science and engineering.

And this “content of Christianity”, Rob.

You implied that the words of Jesus require His followers to accept a literal reading of Genesis. I have read His words with care and attention, Rob, but I can’t recall that. Can you give me a citation?

Rob said:

Hmm … I can think of about 12,000 Christian clergy who disagree with you … as do I, FWIW.

That’s just argumentum ad populum, though. if it only came down to that, it’d probably be as easy to drum up a giant list (such a list may well exist somewhere, I have no idea if it does or not) of signatories amongst other factions of Christianity who don’t agree that the theory of common descent is compatible with Christian thought (and I agree that it isn’t, for the reasons I listed earlier and more). The number of folk who agree to either position has no bearing on the truth of those said positions, only examination of the content of Christianity and the content of the theory of evolution can decide whether the two are or aren’t compatible.

Not at all an ad populum argument.

You presented an assertion, without any argument, that there was an essential incompatibility between a key element of mainstream science and Christian belief. I presented a list of 12,000 individuals – all of whom have put their professional reputations on the line – who have in all likelihood given the matter more thought than you have, and who see no essential incompatibility. Even the slightest bit of research will reveal that the Roman Catholic church and many, if not most, mainline Protestant denominations have no problem with the factual results of mainstream biology (including modern evolutionary theory).

Multiple interpretations of the Bible are possible; like myriad others, I choose interpretations that are consistent with objective reality. If your understanding of Genesis is incompatible with reality, that’s your problem.

Oh NOOOOOOO … the “science is inherently incompatible with religion” argument again!

I’m gone!

What sometimes gets missed in these parts is that the majority of Christians, Jews, and Muslims are as determined not to act on their belief system as they are to question it. If there is a strong prohibition on criticizing religiosity, there is also a deep fear of fanaticism in this country. Faith is praised in theory, but rejected in practice. The First Church of Laodicea is by far the largest congregation on this continent. This is not an entirely bad thing, even if the lukewarm inconsistency of the middling American is as madding to the atheists as it is to the zealots.

Dave Luckett said:

And this “content of Christianity”, Rob.

You implied that the words of Jesus require His followers to accept a literal reading of Genesis. I have read His words with care and attention, Rob, but I can’t recall that. Can you give me a citation?

Not only can I give you a citation, I can tell you which one of the mutually-contradictory “literal” interpretations you were required to believe and which ones you had to admit were as dead and dangerous as “Darwinism.” Then I can show you where he started backpedaling to where it’s OK to accept any version, including nonliteral “old life” ones that concede common descent, as long as you bad-mouth “Darwinism” and link it to all sorts of bad behavior.

Oh wait, my mistake, that wasn’t Jesus, it was “the evolving creationist.” ;-)

“They become their own jailers” is a useful phrase, but it is more precise to simply state that thinking about conflicting ideas is taboo. There has been a long study of how taboo works in human society. When I was a boy, the book “Island Boy”, a juvenile novel, vividly illustrated it in native Hawaiian culture. A mind-expanding event happened some years later: I realized I was following some taboos myself - completely unawares until that time.

I came across a GREAT quote while reading “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy.

The judge (and preacher who actually is evil incarnate in a book too gruesomely violent for me to complete) has taken geology samples and explains their significance to an ignorant bunch of fundamentalists:

A number of them quote scripture “to confound his ordering up of eons out of the ancient chaos and other apostate supposings” (BM 116); the judge retorts,

Books lie, he said.

God dont lie.

No, said the judge. He does not.

And these are his words.

He held up a chunk of rock. He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.

Not at all an ad populum argument

If presenting a list with 12000 signatories with no real argument (either from you, or for that matter in the linked statement from the 12000 clergy) as to why I should take those people’s word over the word of the large numbers of evangelical evolution deniers isn’t argumentum ad populum, nothing is.

You presented an assertion, without any argument,

Actually, I presented 3 brief points of argument in my OP as to why I thought modern science, and the ToE in particular, was incompatible with Christian thought.

presented a list of 12,000 individuals – all of whom have put their professional reputations on the line – who have in all likelihood given the matter more thought than you have, and who see no essential incompatibility.

This is merely argument from authority.

I’m not a member of the clergy, but I’ve read a reasonable amount regarding Christanity by a layman’s standards I’d say.

Being willing to ‘put their professional reputations on the line’ is no indicator that they’re right either.

Even the slightest bit of research will reveal that the Roman Catholic church and many, if not most, mainline Protestant denominations have no problem with the factual results of mainstream biology (including modern evolutionary theory).

I’m aware of that - but people frequently compartmentalise contradictory views in order that they can attempt to maintain both. People or groups simply believing or claiming that they’re compatible is no guarantee that they in actual fact are compatible.

Multiple interpretations of the Bible are possible;

In some places as with most literature, yes.

However, I do tend to find the ‘multiple interpretations’ or ‘allegory’ angles get arbitrarily wheeled out (usually with no argument as to why it should be taken allegorically rather than literally) as a means of covering up occasions when it is quite clear that Christianity is attempting to promote a set of ideas that have no basis in reality - as far as I can tell, it’s usually a convenient way to avoid admitting Christianity is flat wrong about something.

When people say ‘allegory’ etc (unless it’s in situations where it is quite obvious like Jesus stating that he’s telling a parable), I want to know why that claim is better than that of an evangelical demanding it be taken literally - especially as I say many of these ‘allegorical’ stories appear to be considered factual by people with apparent access to the infallible mind of God ie the biblical authors, Jesus etc.

like myriad others, I choose interpretations that are consistent with objective reality.

The fact you choose them is of course up to you - but that doesn’t mean they are valid or accurate interpretations.

If your understanding of Genesis is incompatible with reality, that’s your problem.

Why would it be any problem for me if Genesis is incompatible with reality? I’m not religious at all, far less a Christian.

Dave Luckett said:

And this “content of Christianity”, Rob.

You implied that the words of Jesus require His followers to accept a literal reading of Genesis. I have read His words with care and attention, Rob, but I can’t recall that. Can you give me a citation?

Matthew 24 is a good example of the sort of thing I mean, where Jesus references what he apparently considers is the historical reality of the flood, which would of course rely on accepting the literal truth of Genesis:

36”No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

Two hundred years ago, Blake wrote of “mind-forged manacles”.

Rob said:

Dave Luckett said:

And this “content of Christianity”, Rob.

You implied that the words of Jesus require His followers to accept a literal reading of Genesis. I have read His words with care and attention, Rob, but I can’t recall that. Can you give me a citation?

Matthew 24 is a good example of the sort of thing I mean, where Jesus references what he apparently considers is the historical reality of the flood, which would of course rely on accepting the literal truth of Genesis:

36”No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

Can you explain to us how this specially shows that Jesus will deny salvation to anyone who doesn’t interpret the Book of Genesis literally?

Does the Pope and the rest of the Vatican staff know you’ve excommunicated them because they consider a literal interpretation of the Bible that conflicts with reality to be absurd? I mean, that is what are you doing, after all, by stating that Christians can not be Christians unless they read the Bible literally so as to deny reality.

Rob writes…

… yet nothing will convince them that the God they believe in therefore simply does not exist or that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

Um, OK, I’ll play.

Let’s test this theory that “nothing will convince me”, because I think you’re wrong.

I think tangible evidence will convince me that God actually exists, just like tangible evidence already convinces me that all sorts of physical phenomena that I can’t directly see, from electrons to the orbit of Pluto, actually exist.

So, um give me some tangible evidence, Rob. Not polemics, not 3000 year old books written as spiritual guides for nomadic goahearders.

No vague “Susie X got sick, then she prayed, then she got better” stories.

Don’t wave your hands and say “It is obvious”. That didn’t work for Einstein, Newton, Kepler or Galileo, who all had to show their math.

Give me evidence.

Something I can examine.

In public.

Because, surely, in the 3000 years that it’s been searching, organized religion must surely have found some.

After all, look what science has turned up in only 200 years. You can’t walk through a big museum anywhere on the planet without tripping over the dead dinosaurs in the middle of the lobby.

So put it on the table Rob, and we’ll see if “nothing can convince” me.

That might be convenient for you, because, at the end of the day, I think “nothing” is exactly what you have.

Yes, ben, you do, in effect, although the decision may be made informally, by consensus. Even being a Democrat, or a Red Sox fan, or a punk rocker is more than saying that you’re one. Criteria attach to each one, and these criteria are judged by the group.

These criteria might be very broad, but they still exist. It would be no use saying, “I’m a Democrat” when you vote Republican and only turn up at Democratic meetings or rallies to heckle and start fights. Democrats (I understand) tolerate a lot of diversity, but they wouldn’t accept that. You’d be told to stay away; in effect, that no matter what you say, you aren’t a Democrat. Similarly for any group. In each case, even in the cases where consensus is the only means of deciding, it is manifestly possible to specify characteristics that would cause the group to decide that you are not a member, after which any statement from you that you are one anyway would be meaningless.

Is that any clearer?

Dave Luckett said:

94% of Americans who identify as Christians are members of mainstream Churches, the very ones I have named. If all of these agree that the others are Christian churches - and in fact and in practice they do - then consensus about who is a Christian plainly exists. A decision has been made.

Very well then; if we can get this far, the next step is to consider by what criteria the decision has been made.

Much of the tolerance that you refer to is fairly modern and a product of secularization. Historically, Protestants and Catholics did not recognize each other as Christians, but as “heretics”. And you still continue to ignore the historical and cross cultural deep seated differences among practicing Christians. In addition, in many Protestant churches there are still feirce fights over whether the Bible is, if not literally word for word true, then in effect infallible on matters of doctrine-or whether various forms of criticism should be applied. Finally, I would point out that the word “cult” has little, if any practical value, but is really an emotive term that people who practice a “mainstream” religion like to throw at those who practice “weird” religions. Many conservative Christians in effect use the word “cult” when what they really mean is “heresy”, charging “thought control” at others, while ignoring their own thought control.

Historically, as I pointed out before, many Christians have not, and some still do not, accept the divinity, virgin birth, resurrection or atonement of sin as central Christian doctrines. Unitarians do not accept the Trinity.

Doctrinal “consensus” has historically been forged through power and coercion.

Dave Luckett said:

It would be no use saying, “I’m a Democrat” when you vote Republican and only turn up at Democratic meetings or rallies to heckle and start fights.

That kind of Democrat is called a “Blue Dog”.

Chip Poirot said:

Much of the tolerance that you refer to is fairly modern and a product of secularization. Historically, Protestants and Catholics did not recognize each other as Christians, but as “heretics”.

But you do not deny that now nearly all Protestants, and nearly all Catholics, acknowledge that the other group are Christians? Nothing more is required for the point, which is that groups come to decisions about their membership on given and comprehendable criteria (although these decisions may change over time, as the consensus on the criteria changes).

And you still continue to ignore the historical and cross cultural deep seated differences among practicing Christians.

I ignore it because it is irrelevant. Consensus exists, no matter what deepseated differences also exist, as I demonstrated above.

In addition, in many Protestant churches there are still feirce fights over whether the Bible is, if not literally word for word true, then in effect infallible on matters of doctrine-or whether various forms of criticism should be applied.

That may be so, but it is again irrelevant. Only a few on the fringe - not enough to disturb general consensus - would refuse to recognise people not exactly of their mind on these questions as Christians.

Finally, I would point out that the word “cult” has little, if any practical value, but is really an emotive term that people who practice a “mainstream” religion like to throw at those who practice “weird” religions. Many conservative Christians in effect use the word “cult” when what they really mean is “heresy”, charging “thought control” at others, while ignoring their own thought control.

Not at all. Cults have specific features - relatively small and relatively localised membership, and concentrated, centralised and authoritarian leadership promoting personal devotion, plus practices that effectively immerse the membership while removing them from wider society and breaking contacts outside the cult. But if the word offends you, I withdraw it. You appear to prefer “sect”. Let us by all means use that.

As to the rest, you make my point for me. The very fact that some sects are not considered Christian denominations by the consensus of Christians must mean that some criteria for “Christianity” is being applied. The question then, is “What criteria?”.

Historically, as I pointed out before, many Christians have not, and some still do not, accept the divinity, virgin birth, resurrection or atonement of sin as central Christian doctrines.

This is a very great overstatement. Few Christians since the gnostics have disputed the divinity of Jesus and almost none the fact of the the resurrection.

Unitarians do not accept the Trinity.

The Unitarian Universalist Church does not describe itself as Christian. One who is theologically a Unitarian (holding that Jesus was not God) is probably right on the edge of a tolerant consensus in all mainstream churches. If he made a fuss about it, that consensus would probably fail in any mainstream denomination, unless some other consideration came into play.

Doctrinal “consensus” has historically been forged through power and coercion.

Perhaps so. Nevertheless, it still exists.

Dave Luckett said:

Cults have specific features - relatively small and relatively localised membership, and concentrated, centralised and authoritarian leadership promoting personal devotion, plus practices that effectively immerse the membership while removing them from wider society and breaking contacts outside the cult. But if the word offends you, I withdraw it. You appear to prefer “sect”. Let us by all means use that.

I will accept this definition of cult provided it is used as a sociological, rather than a doctrinal definition. In my experience, most conservative Christians use the word “cult” when they really mean “heresy”. It’s also a continuum-the Catholic Church is centralized and authoritarian. Monks break contact with the outside world. But would we label Franciscans or Jesuits as “cults”?

As to the rest, you make my point for me. The very fact that some sects are not considered Christian denominations by the consensus of Christians must mean that some criteria for “Christianity” is being applied. The question then, is “What criteria?”.

I think our difference may lie in how we want to use definitions. I’m interested in useful, practical sociological/anthropological classifications of social groups. As part of this, I want definitions that are evolutionary and can be applied by an outsider sociologist/anthropologist/historian studying groups.

Historically, as I pointed out before, many Christians have not, and some still do not, accept the divinity, virgin birth, resurrection or atonement of sin as central Christian doctrines.

This is a very great overstatement. Few Christians since the gnostics have disputed the divinity of Jesus and almost none the fact of the the resurrection.

There were extensive disputes throughout the middle ages over Christology both within Western Christendom and between W. and E. Christendom. Some of these disputes (such as that over the philioque)seem minor on the surface, but are actually significant (in an angel dancing on a head of a pin kind of way). Others, such as the Aryan-Catholic dispute were quite significant. Even as late as the 13th century it took an internal Crusade to wipe out the Albigensian “heresy”. In its inception, Unitarianism was considered a Christian denomination (for a fascinating look at Unitarians in 19th century England read Darwin’s Sacred Cause).

Modernist liberal theology, much of it descended from higher criticism is taught and practiced in many liberal mainline congregations (Presbyterians, Methodists, UCC, Episcopalians and occasionally Catholics) and even some seminaries. This occasions states of near civil war and splits in some major Protestant denominations. A significant number of liberal theologians deny the virgin birth of Christ, any literal view of the resurrection, and in effect any supernatural interpretation of the scriptures at all. The late Bishop Shelby Spong was a great example of this.

Doctrinal “consensus” has historically been forged through power and coercion.

Perhaps so. Nevertheless, it still exists.

I think at least some of our differences are rather small. I acknowledge your general point.

My uneasiness stems perhaps from the fact that you emphasize static, subjective, emic and idealized descriptions of religions. I prefer etic and evolutionary descriptions.

Also, claims to “consensus” often brush over significant heterogeneity and difference.

Dave Luckett said:

Yes, ben, you do, in effect, although the decision may be made informally, by consensus. Even being a Democrat, or a Red Sox fan, or a punk rocker is more than saying that you’re one. Criteria attach to each one, and these criteria are judged by the group.

These criteria might be very broad, but they still exist. It would be no use saying, “I’m a Democrat” when you vote Republican and only turn up at Democratic meetings or rallies to heckle and start fights. Democrats (I understand) tolerate a lot of diversity, but they wouldn’t accept that. You’d be told to stay away; in effect, that no matter what you say, you aren’t a Democrat. Similarly for any group. In each case, even in the cases where consensus is the only means of deciding, it is manifestly possible to specify characteristics that would cause the group to decide that you are not a member, after which any statement from you that you are one anyway would be meaningless.

Is that any clearer?

Punk was the same way. Just another clique, in the end.

Dave Luckett said: Having agreed that groups (and “Christian” is the name of a group) make the decision about their membership, we are able to enquire how such a decision is made. I propose that the decision is made by consensus of the group as a whole, working from the individual outward.

But this is a blatantly bad generalization. The “U.S. citizen” group does not decide citizenship based on consensus, it decides it based on circumstances of birth. It doesn’t matter if all 300 million other citizens think you shouldn’t be a citizen, if the circumstances are right, you are.

I am a member of AAAS. Like citizenship, my membership does not depend on consensus and if every other member hated me, I’d still be a member: in this case, membership is based on paying dues.

To give a religious example, it is highly doubtful that any “consensus” among lay Catholics can make you Catholic if the Pope has excommunicated you.

Your argument is fundamentally flawed because group membership is NOT always, often, or even typically based on consensus.

These groups [that reject the Christanity of other sects] exist, certainly, but I submit that they do not amount to a loss of consensus.

So, basically you exclude from consideration any sect that may disagree with your own definition of who counts as Christian. Well, thats nice and circular.

But Dave, why bother asking all the remaining mainline groups you’ve assembled to define Christianity when, by choosing who counts in the consensus-building process, you’ve already done it?

I would argue that there’s at least two types of groups - those defined by a “board” or some other authority leadership that determines the purpose, mission, and membership criteria of the group, and/or clearly cut possession of some membership quality - the Boy Scouts of America, Catholic Church, AAAS, Harley Davidson ower, NRA, etc, and those defined by association of interest and outlook that has no particular leadership or membership token - Christianity, atheism, vegetarian, etc. Clearly there is a difference between being a Catholic and being a Christian - the former is defined by membership with the Church, something determined by those who lead the Church, while the latter is defined by oneself, which may or may not be recognized as a valid self-assessment by others who define the group differently.

I’d agree with that Robin. To try and drag this back to its starting point, what your argument means is that its a category error or meaningless question to ask whether TOE agrees with Christianity, because Christianity is too nebuluous a concept or too undefined a group for the question to have a single answer.

(And just to pound my earlier point home, not even that most noble and esteemed of groups, “Panda’s Thumb commenters,” decides their membership by consensus. Dave’s model does not even accurately describe a group in which he is a member.)

Robin said:

I would argue that there’s at least two types of groups

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Won’t work, eric. The generalisation stands your counter-examples.

US citizens have elected a legislature that enacts law and have approved a Constitution that between them define “citizen”. That is, they have applied formal - in this case - criteria to the question of who belongs to that class. They have, through these instruments, empowered formal decision-making processes to apply those criteria. US citizens, taken as a body, do indeed decide on who is a US citizen. Have you never heard of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”?

I think you would find that membership of the AAAS depends on more than paying dues. Try proposing a motion at the AGM that an astrology sub-committee should be set up to promote grants to college courses in that science. I guarantee that you’d be told - firmly - that astrology is not a science. If you persisted in your attempts to promote astrology, annoying sufficient other members, eventually your membership would be rescinded.

Excommunication means only that the excommunicate is cut off from communion with the (formal, sacramental) Church. It doesn’t mean that they are no longer a Catholic, or a Christian. And if there were general, and overwhelming consensus among Catholics - observe, the squib “lay” is irrelevant - that the excommunication was unjustified, the Holy Father would sooner or later be told to pull his head in. Or maybe the next Pope, or the one after, would do it for him. But it would happen.

In each of the above cases, the membership of the group eventually makes the decision, on criteria that are de facto acceptable to it. With very large groups with very high degrees of formal order, naturally that process is slow, removed, delegated and abstracted. Nevertheless, it exists, and its outcome can be observed.

It is not in the least circular to observe that very small groups do not disturb consensus. They don’t. There is no blinking at the fact that currently, most Christians in America - at least 90% of them - agree severally on who is, and who is not, a Christian, and that this is a consensus.

In short, I do not think it is a category error to enquire whether Christianity, as it exists in the US now, is incompatible with ToE.

But since we cannot even agree that membership of a group depends on whether the group accepts the member or not, there is no point in going on.

There is no blinking at the fact that currently, most Christians in America - at least 90% of them - agree severally on who is, and who is not, a Christian, and that this is a consensus.

I just blinked. According to a few polls I have seen about 80% m/l of the population of the U.S. self-identify as “Christian” when asked their religion. A substantial portion of those who call themselves “Christian” (my guess is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2) think that you are a Christian just in the case that you have been “born again” (at some point you engaged in a specific prayer ritual where you did several things) and then another significant portion of these believe the prayer ritual must be followed by a baptism ritual, post born again experience. Others who identify as Christian think that a confession of faith when you join a Church is sufficient, or even in some cases, that simply having been sprinkled with water makes you a Christian. There is significant difference among many who identify as Christians as to how literally (if at all) the confession of faith must be taken. To some, perhaps even a significant portion, it is not at all literal. Still many others would define Christian as living a “Christian life” (whatever that means).

You might get consensus in a specific church-some more so than others since some denominations allow a high degree of doctrinal diversity and others demand strict doctrinal conformity.

So I don’t think there is a consensus.

Incidentally, someone said that if the Pope excommunicates you, you are still a Catholic. According to Catholic doctrine, this is not so. Some Catholic congregations may even allow you communion, but if they do so, they are defying Church authority.

“Consensus” on doctrine in some churches, like the Catholic Church is “consensus by fiat”-literally-the Pope rules on doctrine rather than a college of cardinals.

This incidentally was a significant part of the dispute between Western and Eastern Christendom in the Middle Ages. The Eastern Churches held that only a college of cardinals-not a single individual-could alter confessional creeds.

eric said:

I’d agree with that Robin. To try and drag this back to its starting point, what your argument means is that its a category error or meaningless question to ask whether TOE agrees with Christianity, because Christianity is too nebuluous a concept or too undefined a group for the question to have a single answer.

Exactly. What FL wants to do, and I find this to be one of the standard tacts of Christian fundamentalists, is disingenuously conflate (or equivocate) his particular, specifically defined group (i.e., Pentacostal Apologetics or whatever he is) with “Christianity”. The TOE might not be compatible with FL’s particular group, but that isn’t the same thing as saying that it isn’t compatible with Christianity.

(And just to pound my earlier point home, not even that most noble and esteemed of groups, “Panda’s Thumb commenters,” decides their membership by consensus. Dave’s model does not even accurately describe a group in which he is a member.)

Hmmm…good point.

Are we Panda’s Thumbers? PTers? PTists? PTCists (Pandas Thumber Commentators)? GOAFs? (Grumpy Old Argumentative Farts)? It’s so hard to know what label to stick on things these days.

Chip Poirot said:

There is no blinking at the fact that currently, most Christians in America - at least 90% of them - agree severally on who is, and who is not, a Christian, and that this is a consensus.

I just blinked. According to a few polls I have seen about 80% m/l of the population of the U.S. self-identify as “Christian” when asked their religion.

Yes. And I quoted Pew poll figures showing that 94% of Americans self-identifying as “Christian” gave their denomination as one of those that I named.

A substantial portion of those who call themselves “Christian” (my guess is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2) think that you are a Christian just in the case that you have been “born again” (at some point you engaged in a specific prayer ritual where you did several things) and then another significant portion of these believe the prayer ritual must be followed by a baptism ritual, post born again experience. Others who identify as Christian think that a confession of faith when you join a Church is sufficient, or even in some cases, that simply having been sprinkled with water makes you a Christian. There is significant difference among many who identify as Christians as to how literally (if at all) the confession of faith must be taken. To some, perhaps even a significant portion, it is not at all literal. Still many others would define Christian as living a “Christian life” (whatever that means).

Yes, but as I have pointed out before, this misses the point. Variations in practice, belief and (actually above all) structure are very wide, but the question is not what each individual Christian or Christian denomination believes. It is what criteria cause American Christians to exclude persons exhibiting those criteria from the fold of Christianity. There is a fair degree of working consensus among American Christians - not invariable, not perfect, but nevertheless real - on that.

Incidentally, someone said that if the Pope excommunicates you, you are still a Catholic. According to Catholic doctrine, this is not so. Some Catholic congregations may even allow you communion, but if they do so, they are defying Church authority.

“The excommunicated person, it is true, does not cease to be a Christian, since his baptism can never be effaced; he can, however, be considered as an exile from Christian society and as non-existent, for a time at least, in the sight of ecclesiastical authority.”

From the article “Excommunication” in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

But this is getting old. Enough is enough, already.

Dave Luckett said: In each of the above cases, the membership of the group eventually makes the decision, on criteria that are de facto acceptable to it. With very large groups with very high degrees of formal order, naturally that process is slow, removed, delegated and abstracted. Nevertheless, it exists,

What is the formal order of the group called “Christianity?”

Your claimed formal order and process does not exist. If it does, show it to me. Who in “Christianity” can call a vote? Who (or what rule) decides who gets to vote? How are the votes weighted? And once they are taken and weighted, where is the formal rule about how to interpret them?

There is no blinking at the fact that currently, most Christians in America - at least 90% of them - agree severally on who is, and who is not, a Christian, and that this is a consensus.

That is completely circular. Where did your “divinity of Christ” criteria come from? It came from your a priori conception of who counts as Christian. What is it supposed to decide? Who counts as Christian.

But even if you find some non-circular method of initially determining the criteria by which Christian-ship is to be judged, the whole ‘religion determined by consensus’ concept simply doesn’t work because religion is based on revealed truth - on divine revelation. You cannot simply count hands to decide who’s divine revelation is truly divine. Counting hands tells you who’s revelation is most popular, but not who God, Jesus, or some angel actually spoke to. Maybe an angel spoke to Mary. Or maybe to Joseph Smith. Or maybe to both. Or maybe to neither. But one thing is certain: counting hands is a medieval way to resolve that question, relying more on the concept of ‘might makes right’ than any rationality or logic.

Chip Poirot said:

Dave Luckett said:

It would be no use saying, “I’m a Democrat” when you vote Republican and only turn up at Democratic meetings or rallies to heckle and start fights.

That kind of Democrat is called a “Blue Dog”.

Or, currently, Democrat In Name Only, or DINO, as opposed to Republican In Name Only, or RINO.

eric, you argued that groups don’t necessarily decide on who is a member. I rebutted. I see no rejoinder.

Now you argue that I claimed that order and process were always found in Christian groups, when I made that observation only for some groups, like the Roman Catholic Church, and specifically said that decision also comes about by informal consensus.

This is my argument: American Christians are a group. Groups eventually decide (if necessary, by informal consensus) on who are their members. American Christians have pretty much come to a consensus on this. To achieve this, they, the group, must have applied some criteria to the decision. It is reasonable to enquire what the criteria are, and I suggested some.

There are weak spots in that progression. Step three could be challenged, I think, although I think it is sound enough. But it isn’t circular.

I cannot account for your last paragraph at all. You can’t be suggesting that the way to find out who is a Christian is not to look for a consensus among Christians, but to test for divine revelation, can you?

Clearly, you are offended, and you are doing yourself no justice. I have no idea what offends you, but I am sorry for it. And that’s my last word on the subject.

For the sake of clarity, I’m breaking up my response into two; this one which I think is more important and the next which has some loose ends.

Dave Luckett said: Now you argue that I claimed that order and process were always found in Christian groups. This is my argument: American Christians are a group.

This is what you said about groups:

With very large groups with very high degrees of formal order, naturally that process is slow, removed, delegated and abstracted. Nevertheless, it exists,

So, show me the formal order of the group American Christians. Who are the delegates? What rules have been abstracted?

Dave Luckett said:

eric, you argued that groups don’t necessarily decide on who is a member. I rebutted. I see no rejoinder.

Okay: participation in the group “Panda’s thumb commenters” is not based on consensus, its based on following rules set down and enforced by a nonrepresentative, self-appointed sub-group. As further refutation to the idea that membership is determined by consensus of the group I note that Ray Martinez is still allowed to post here - because despite being an unpopular troll, he generally follows the rules.

I also think your counterargument about citizenship is problematical in a number of ways. You argue that citizenship is decided by consensus because at some point in the past some group of representatives developed the rules. But its not clear what your justification for calling this ‘consensus’ is, and this definition would allow “consensus” to apply to decisions with which a supermajority disagree. Yet another problem: this definition could justify a limited version of Christianity, for instance, one could use it to support the claim that only Catholics are Christians, since the rules for what counts as Christianity were set down 1700 years ago by representives, and protestants don’t follow them.

You can’t be suggesting that the way to find out who is a Christian is not to look for a consensus among Christians, but to test for divine revelation, can you?

You’re right, we can’t test for that. That’s my point. You have no way of objectively knowing what a “true” Christian should believe. Going by popularity doesn’t tell you this. Which is why I think self-identification is the least worst method of determining religious affiliation.

For the record I’m not offended, just maybe a bit exasperated. You keep asserting that Christians or American Christians are a group, like the RCC or the Boy Scouts are a group. Yet you refuse to acknowledge that they are not like that at all. Christianity as a group has no structure, no rules, no agreed-upon entry criteria, and no process to judge membership if it is called into question. You can assert some criteria, but you have yet to provide any reason why I should accept your assertion.

I suspect that true ‘jailers’ are those who lock the wider public into believing a lie. And what a lie!! Evolution! That’s the lie attested by many eminent (but ignored and vilified) scientists around the world. Check it out! Hey bang up to date! Dennis McGinlay

Is this guy a Loki troll?

Silly me, I checked around, a Scots evobasher who’s got himself banned here and there. I hope his guitar playing is better than his science.

wile coyote said:

Is this guy a Loki troll?

Too stupid to be a Loki: not even a giant’s stallion would take an exploratory snort at him.

Stanton said:

wile coyote said:

Is this guy a Loki troll?

Too stupid to be a Loki: not even a giant’s stallion would take an exploratory snort at him.

You are so far up your backside with your ‘intelectual’ prattle about things you do not understand but think you do. Show me just one genuine intermediate or chimeric fossil from the record. Sorry, there are none. After a 40 year extensive study I have not seen one. Darwin predicted there would be untold billions of them, but alas for Darwin there were none. And after ‘how many billions of years of evolution?’ Check the literature rather than spout half-baked opinions about Christianity. So, no evolution? Then the story of Christianity is true. That does not mean that “Churchianity’ has the answeres. But the truth will out in due time. I’n not nearly as good on the guitar Blessings

OK, I’ll show you a genuine transitional. Here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journa[…]re07189.html. There are many others.

There are no chimaeras, and if one were ever found it would be a serious problem for evolutionary theory. When you say that Darwin made such a prediction, you lie. And even if you were to do what no creationist has ever done, which is to produce a single solitary shred of evidence for separate creation ex nihil, the assertion that this would verify “Christianity” is patently false.

Dennis McGinlay said:

So, no evolution? Then the story of Christianity is true.

Your creation myth would still have to compete with thousands of others, as well as “we don’t know yet”

Simply because you’re a lazy asshole for Jesus, not to mention a moronic liar, who is too lazy to do even the most feeblest attempt at using Google or Wikipedia, does not give you the ability to throw your hands and proclaim that there are no transitional forms.

I mean, if you’re going to bullshit about how you’ve allegedly studied for 40 years without conclusive proof, go bullshit in front of your own peers, you know, people who have never taken high school, middle school or elementary level science classes for fear of somehow upsetting Jesus.

Honestly, what sort of pompous idiot would allegedly study for 40 years and make no mention of Archaeopteryx or Tiktaalik when he falsely claims there are no transitional forms? Oh, wait, a pompous idiot like Dennis McGinlay.

Dave Luckett said:

There are no chimaeras, and if one were ever found it would be a serious problem for evolutionary theory.

You mean chimaeras like crocoducks, or THE Chimaera, daughter of Typhon and Echidna, and not ratfishes, lichens, or grafted fruit trees.

When you say that Darwin made such a prediction, you lie. And even if you were to do what no creationist has ever done, which is to produce a single solitary shred of evidence for separate creation ex nihil, the assertion that this would verify “Christianity” is patently false.

No Christian, let alone any Creationist, has ever been able to find the exact Biblical passage that quotes Jesus as saying “Thou shalt believe in Me, and thou can not accept ‘descent with modification,’” or that “If evolution is wrong, I am right.”

Dennis McGinlay said:

Show me just one genuine intermediate or chimeric fossil from the record. Sorry, there are none. After a 40 year extensive study I have not seen one. Darwin predicted there would be untold billions of them, but alas for Darwin there were none.

I just checked Darwin online:

http://darwin-online.org.uk/

Contrary to the assertion of Dennis, Charles Darwin never used the term “chimeric” or “chimera” in connection with fossils, and he never once used the word “billions”.

As for intermediate fossils, I would nominate Tiktaalik and the entire line between Pakicetus and whales, but there are other nominees:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o[…]onal_fossils

Dennis also asserts (again without support) that there are no “genuine” transitional fossils. I don’t know what he means by “genuine”, but he should look at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transi[…]creationists

Dennis wrote:

“Show me just one genuine intermediate or chimeric fossil from the record.”

Well here are about a thousand, complete with references from the scientific literature:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq[…]itional.html

You really should understand the difference between “chimeric” and “intermediate” before you post such nonsense. One might be tempted to accuse you of misrepresenting evolutionary science.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on September 13, 2009 7:44 PM.

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