May 4, 2009

"It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov."

"[B]elieving that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world... is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus."

101 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Today's pop culture has long ago forgotten Checkov and ballet too. So the point must be that God is on his own from now on. And to thinkm that He tried so hard to come to dinner and share with us His wisdom, truth and fellowship. I hope He's not angry or anything.

Paddy O. said...

Coupla general thoughts.

The first is that Fish and Eagleton, in my estimation, show a broader familiarity with the fields in question. It's not uncommon for those who weigh in on this debate to be quite familiar with the anti-religious apologetic, but not really have any sense of the contemporary theological conversation as it developed over the last 100 years. So, they tend to make points against religion that were fresh in the 18th or 19th centuries. Theology, as a discipline, is not defined by the Robertsons, Falwells, Dobsons, etc. They are ministers, not theologians, even if they espouse an expression of theology.

To get at what Eagleton is referring to one has to get a sense of Pannenberg, Moltmann, Polkinghorne, Shults, and a whole lot of others. That's not done often, even in an introductory way, as theology proper in our fast media age isn't given the same public forum it used to.


Second, bouncing off this comment: "The positions one assumes in ballet have no such end; they are after something else, and that something doesn’t yield to the usual forms of measurement."

This isn't directly his point, but the ballet analogy is particular apt, as the historic use and strong recent emphasis on the idea of 'perichoresis' suggest.

Paul Zrimsek said...

If "In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth" isn't meant to be an explanation of how the heavens and earth got there, what is it meant to be?

Paddy O. said...

Not 'how', but 'who' and, then, 'why'.

Rather than telling science 'how', theology is much better off listening to the 'how' and riffing off of it. Curious wisdom develops.

Sort of within what New Testament scholar Scot McKnight points out as jazz theology.

Joe said...

One of the most amazing forms of argument is to completely dismiss your side out of hand and use that as proof the other side is wrong.

Fish and Eagleton's basic argument is, "How can Christianity/religion be dumb when we don't actually believe in anything?"

molly said...

I don't think religion is the only way to appreciate “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.” An interesting article by Fish, though.

molly said...

Also, as an atheist, Dawkins drives me crazy. He completely lost me when he said it was a bad idea to tell children fairy tales. I don't think Dawkins really gets the point of life.

John Stodder said...

Just as an aside, I read Chekhov's "A Boring Story" on the plane to New Orleans last night and it explained a lot.

kynefski said...

It's not uncommon for those who weigh in on this debate to be quite familiar with the anti-religious apologetic, but not really have any sense of the contemporary theological conversation as it developed over the last 100 years. So, they tend to make points against religion that were fresh in the 18th or 19th centuries. Just so. Of course, there's no sense illuminating what contemporary theology does say about the place of supernatural agency in the universe. Just throw out some names we don't recognize, and we'll all shut up.

Seven Machos said...

My opinion of Stanley Fish has improved markedly in recent months. Probably it was me all along.

Paul -- Why are atheists so hung up on how the earth was created? That little vignette is covered in maybe half a dozen verses in Genesis, and then it's onto stories that transcend such stupid and unknowable questions.

You cannot possibly have read Genesis and consider this issue important.

Henry said...

Given Eagleton's self-serving and bizarre assertions about science and economics, I'm not sure why I should care what he thinks about religion.

traditionalguy said...

The battle is not about whether there is/was/might be a god. The battle always is about the Authority to be given to the Scriptures. Are they God breathed, or are they man's feeble tricks? Can we rely on the truth of the scriptures, or must educated folks treat them like failed rough drafts in need of serious editing?

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seven Machos said...

Traditional -- I disagree. Religious people really brought what you are saying on themselves by insisting on the God-given character of the books. That was a mistake because it's pretty clear to any objective reader of the Bible that God had nothing to do with the writing of (at least most of) the texts.

All of that said, you don't need to believe that the Bible was somehow bequeathed by God in order to believe in God. Nor does the Bible have to answer any scientific questions accurately for God to exist. Aquinas and others resolved all this long ago. God or science? Both!

Henry said...

“The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

Aside from Eagleton's specious assertions-as-argument in this quote and paraphrase, what "empty suburbanism" represents is discretionary time. Is that enough "true value" for you? Go dig your own well and get back to me.

Kirk Parker said...

Well molly, perhaps you can explain how, from an atheist point of view, that "life" could even have a "point", as opposed to just being.

molly said...

I don't think life has a point, but that's okay with me. The fact that we can experience love for one another and can choose to do the right thing is enough to keep me happy.

molly said...

Also, there's Chekhov.

Seven Machos said...

The fact that we can experience love for one another and can choose to do the right thing is enough to keep me happy.Of course, we can also experience hatred for each other and choose to do the one thing. All of this is covered extensively in Genesis.

But let's focus on how the earth was created. Because that's truly important to everybody's life in so many ways.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Paul -- Why are atheists so hung up on how the earth was created?

Well, shit. If the guys who wrote the Book didn't want to leave themselves open to refutation by speculating on the matter, they could have glossed over it just like you want to do.

Seven Machos said...

Paul -- Why is that one particular issue so vital to you? Moreover, please demonstrate for us that the Bible is wrong.

You can't, of course. You are merely choosing to rely on one theory over another concerning a fact that is wholly unknowable and, more importantly, utterly trivial.

Moreover, even trying to demonstrate that the Bible is wrong is like trying to demonstrate that Shakespeare was wrong. A difficult thing. But you go on believing that the only layer of the Bible that matters is the journalistic one. And keep beating your head against the wall that people are so stupid to believe in God. All those billions of people. Idiots. What are they getting out of this unscientific crap?

Revenant said...

"Why is there anything in the first place?", "Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?" and "Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?" The fact that science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation can not ask — never mind answer — such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do.

That's a pretty silly thing to say. Science, reason and economics do ask those questions, and have proposed answers for them.

Now, it may be that the answers are wrong (although in my opinion they couldn't be more wrong than the theological explanations). But pretending that the questions can't even be asked or answered within a scientific framework is just ignorant.

Palladian said...

"All those billions of people. Idiots."

To be fair, most of the billions of people alive are idiots. That doesn't invalidate the metaphysics of the Bible but it does make trusting their judgment in all matters suspect.

molly said...

Moreover, even trying to demonstrate that the Bible is wrong is like trying to demonstrate that Shakespeare was wrong ... And keep beating your head against the wall that people are so stupid to believe in God. All those billions of people. Idiots. What are they getting out of this unscientific crap?

Exactly. We know so little about the universe, who cares whether someone else has decided to believe in God/gods or not? Sure, religion has been responsible for a lot of evil as well as good, but those things can always be linked to specific beliefs that are harmful, not theism. My only wish is that atheists receive as much respect and as much trust in their morality that believers do, but viciously denigrating someone else's beliefs is not the way to cultivate that.

Seven Machos said...

Molly -- Atheists are like communists. Great at criticism of the existing structure but offering absolutely no remotely workable program at all in its place. Spiritual hunger will be served.

My advice to atheists is to stop starting every conversation with this wholly pointless and absurd refutation of the prologue to the introduction to Genesis.

Palladian -- You are probably right. On the other hand, which lawyer do you call when you land in jail? The one who finished at the top of the class or the one who isn't too bright but who can actually get you out of jail?

molly said...

My advice to atheists is to stop starting every conversation with this wholly pointless and absurd refutation of the prologue to the introduction to Genesis.

Personally, I think it's totally pointless to try to convince people God does or does not exist. It's a debate some people on both sides enjoy, but I don't understand that part of the "atheist movement" or whatever people call it. People are going to decide for themselves.

Smilin' Jack said...

Why are atheists so hung up on how the earth was created? That little vignette is covered in maybe half a dozen verses in Genesis, and then it's onto stories that transcend such stupid and unknowable questions.

Yeah, just because the Bible fucks up the simple questions doesn't mean you can't trust it on the "transcendant" ones. Just because your accountant thinks 2+2=5 doesn't mean you can't trust him to do your taxes, right?

And the cool thing about faith is that you can have faith in anything. So forget boring Christianity--in Scientology you get to hang around with much cooler people!

Seven Machos said...

Jack -- It's literature, dude. How can literature be wrong?

Paul Zrimsek said...

Paul -- Why is that one particular issue so vital to you?

Dishonesty bugs me. The debate over the factual accuracy of the Bible was conducted with great vigor by both sides over a period of generations. For the losers to claim, now, that it never happened anywhere but in the heads of the winners is nothing more than a lie.

Seven Machos said...

Paul -- You know no more about how the earth was created than the writer of Genesis did. Sorry, dude. But it's true.

Joan said...

Science, reason and economics do ask those questions, and have proposed answers for them.

No, Revenant, they don't -- you have misread the proposed questions. Science can't answer "Why are we here?" or "What is the meaning of life?" It doesn't even try. Science answers or attempts to answer how, but not why, at least not the "why" that describes purpose.

Randy said...

@ Molly: On the other hand, which lawyer do you call when you land in jail? The one who finished at the top of the class or the one who isn't too bright but who can actually get you out of jail?Most people call the one they can afford. Or have one appointed for them if they can't. ;-)

traditionalguy said...

Seven... The creation of all material things from the Spoken Word as told by God in The Beginning (a/k/a Genesis) remains a valid statement. But the Gotcha moment best portrayed on the believers who refuse to admit the true age of the planet is still a well remembered unbeliever's triumph from the famous Scopes Monkey trial Play/movie Inherit The Wind.

molly said...

Randy: That wasn't me, dude. But your point stands :)

Seven Machos said...

You'd be surprised what you can afford when your ass lands in jail, Randy. And most people do not qualify for free legal defense.

But, anyway, about this God business...

Oligonicella said...

Seven Machos --

"Atheists are like communists."

Which makes theists like fascists?


"My advice to atheists is to stop starting every conversation with this wholly pointless and absurd refutation of the prologue to the introduction to Genesis."

You advice is noted and rejected as self-serving.

"You know no more about how the earth was created than the writer of Genesis did. Sorry, dude. But it's true."

Horse...shit. Magic was not involved, matter and gravity were.

Seven Machos said...

Oligoncella -- Communists and fascists are the same thing.

Also, please demonstrate to us how matter and gravity formed the earth. You cannot, because you do not know. You have chosen to accept a theory based on some authority you trust.

Me, I don't give a single, solitary shit how the earth was formed because it matters not a scintilla in my life. But you keep harping on those first couple sentences in Genesis -- a deep and massive and gorgeous epic that spans hundreds of years and lives, and poses a lifetime of philosophical and spiritual questions.

Randy said...

Oops! Sorry Molly & Seven!

Carry on...

Smilin' Jack said...

Seven Machos said...
Jack -- It's literature, dude. How can literature be wrong?


Exactly my point, dude! That's why I recommend you read Dianetics instead. It's literature too, but it's got fewer of those big old-fashioned words and silly commandments, and you'll meet much cooler people.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Paul -- You know no more about how the earth was created than the writer of Genesis did. Sorry, dude. But it's true.

I've got nothing against the writer of Genesis. He had a better excuse than you do. Probably less of a dick too, though this necessarily rests on probability rather than observation.

Seven Machos said...

Jack -- You said: Yeah, just because the Bible fucks up the simple questions doesn't mean you can't trust it on the "transcendant" ones.

Then you agreed that the Bible is literature and can be neither right nor wrong.

Which is it? Does the Bible fuck up simple questions or is it literature and, therefore, immune to factual criticism?

You obviously wish to argue both at your convenience. Most likely, this is because you are one of the billions of idiots that Palladian sagely spoke of. You must be on the low end of the scale, though, because it's hard to get so confused if your brain is capable of rational thought.

Roost on the Moon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

All those billions of people. Idiots.

Approximately 70% of Americans think Barack Obama is doing a good job as President.

So either Obama really IS doing a good job, or it is possible for the vast majority of the population to be spectacularly wrong about something. Or both, of course.

Seven Machos said...

Roost -- A very good point. You'll have to ask a true believer.

Seven Machos said...

Revenant -- I read that that figure is for people who like Obama. The figures for his job performance are lower. I could be wrong.

Anyway, all atheists have ever offered is bleating that there is no God. Religions offer something very complex and substantive. And, since neither you nor they can know how the earth was formed or any of that nonsense, perhaps they are much more right than atheists are, insofar as anything that matters.

Roost on the Moon said...

"[B]elieving that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world... is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus."

All well and good, but these look like the words of an atheist. We are to appreciate the cultural power that the great historical fictions have and continue to have. That's fine and I do.

Three cheers for literature.

(Apologies SM, I deleted the comment you replied to to clear up the spacing issue.)

Randy said...

Revenant:

Not saying it's applicable, but the first thing that came to mind reading your comment was the old saying attributed to Lincoln:

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

Revenant said...

No, Revenant, they don't -- you have misread the proposed questions. Science can't answer "Why are we here?" or "What is the meaning of life?".

First of all, neither of those questions were among the ones I was responding to.

Secondly, your claim is unsupported. If there is an underlying reason behind human existence, why is it a given that science would be unable to discern it? You're assuming that "the meaning behind it all" has to be some kind of airy-fairy metaphysical thing, but there is no reason why the ultimate meaning of existence couldn't be something more solid and rational. You're also assuming that there IS a meaning of life. :)

Roost on the Moon said...

The part I deleted was this:

Fish & Eagleton argue that it's sophmoric to point out that religious explanations of the world aren't literally true.

If you grant that, what does that say about the people who believe that they are?

In other words, it seems to me that Fish & Eagleton are just as condescending toward true believers as Hitchens & Dawkins.

Revenant said...

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

This isn't about "fooling" people, this is about being mistaken. It is entirely possible for every single person to be unaware of the truth about something.

Considering that there is no religious belief system that is held by more than a small minority of people, it is logically obvious that the vast majority of human beings must have religious beliefs that are wrong. For example, any Jew who truly believes that the Jews are God's chosen people and that the Messiah is yet to come is saying that the 99.8% of humans who DON'T believe that are wrong. Is that arrogant?

Alan said...

Fish's article states that "[m]eaning, value and truth are not reducible to the facts themselves," and then suggests that the worldviews of religion and "scientifically grounded... atheism" are therefore on equal footing.

But this doesn't make sense. Just because neither religion nor science can provide an objective morality in the sense of a morality free of value judgments doesn't mean that, for example, creationism and evolution as explanations for the advent of life on earth are equally valid.

It seems that, in the trio of "meaning, value, and truth," "truth" is the odd man out. Although it's true that "meaning" and "value" cannot be reduced to the bare facts, there's an objective truth about, for example, how life was formed. That's why science and religion are not created equal.

Pogo said...

I am unstatisfied that atheism offers any relevant insights into the nature of freedom, morality, good and evil, reason itself, or the existence of evil, much less about its explanation for the Big Bang (i.e. why did it go off in the first place?).

But atheists are unsatisfied with religious explanations for these same issues.

As long as it stops here, I do not care. But the effort to involve the state in removing all reference to religion from the public square, and even trying to legislate what churches can or cannot say, is a great evil, however defined.

Bastiat:
"You contend that I am wrong to practice Catholicism; and I contend that you are wrong to practice Lutheranism. Let us leave it to God to judge. Why should I strike at you, or why should you strike at me? If it is not good that one of us should strike the other, how can it be good that we should delegate to a third party, who controls the public police force, the authority to strike at one of us in order to please the other?

You contend that I am wrong to teach my son science and philosophy; I believe you are wrong to teach yours Greek and Latin. Let us both follow the dictate of our conscience. Let us allow the law of responsibility to operate for our families. It will punish the one who is wrong. Let us not call in human law; it could well punish the one who is not wrong.'

Randy said...

Revenant:

Oh, I understood and agree with your point, to a point. At this risk of causing others some confusion (given your moniker), I confess to being slightly irreverant while making mine.

Anyway, WRT to your question,

Is that arrogant?I don't know. It is a belief, however. As I imagine you might agree, all of us cling, with great tenacity, to beliefs of one kind or another, and not just to religious ones, and probably always will. The older I get, the more it seems to me that evidence, one way or the other, rarely makes a difference.

Revenant said...

its explanation for the Big Bang (i.e. why did it go off in the first place?).

The "big bang", despite its name, was not an explosion. It didn't "go off". :)

Pogo said...

That's missing the forest for the trees.

Revenant said...

The older I get, the more it seems to me that evidence, one way or the other, rarely makes a difference.

Well, it is very rare for any person to change his or her basic understanding of how the world workds. But new people are being made all the time, and new eyes and ears are constantly being exposed to the arguments and the evidence. So marshaling the evidence and presenting a good case for your position is still important, even if you've little hope of convincing some 50-year-old that he's been wrong for the past 45 years. You never know when a stray open mind will wander into the discussion. :)

Kirk Parker said...

molly,

I'm confused. Wasn't it you that said, "I don't think Dawkins really gets the point of life" ?

Alan said...

Pogo--strange though it may seem, asking what made the Big Bang "go off" is incoherent. The Big Bang created both space and time, so it has no cause in the conventional sense--causation only occurs within the framework of time. There was no time "before" the Big Bang.

Randy said...

You never know when a stray open mind will wander into the discussion. :)LOL! & true.

Revenant said...

That's missing the forest for the trees.

Not really. The point that is often missed is that there isn't a "before the big bang", since time is a property of the universe. It isn't like the universe was just sitting around in a big wad for a while and then the wad blew up, as the statement "why it went off" implies".

The larger question you're getting at is "why does the universe exist", and THAT is a question that doesn't have any testable answer I'm aware of, yet. Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion we're just being simulated in a big computer system. :)

Pogo said...

No the larger question is Why can't atheists agree to shut up and leave me alone if I agree to do the same for them??

Shit, what anal retentiveness prevails that forbids accepting a mere metaphor as a basis for the question?

I ask Can't we get along?
And you answer: Your grammar is off.

It's disheartening to extend an olive branch and be given a lecture about olive branches.

Kirk Parker said...

Rev,

"If there is an underlying reason behind human existence, why is it a given that science would be unable to discern it?"

I take it you're not a scientist?

Revenant said...

No the larger question is Why can't atheists agree to shut up and leave me alone if I agree to do the same for them??

Because they rightly recognize that you aren't going to shut up. What you're actually asking is that you be free to say whatever you want without being criticized.

If Christians never tried to convince other people that Christianity was correct, few atheists would bother arguing with Christians. Of course, if Christians never tried convincing other people that Christianity was correct, the religion would die out in a few generations -- it isn't like anyone is *born* Christian, after all. You're all converts.

kynefski said...

Anyway, all atheists have ever offered is bleating that there is no God. Religions offer something very complex and substantive.Religions also offer truth claims, of which they seem inclined to suggest that those who do not believe such claims are somehow alienated from goodness, and their adherents seem compelled to communicate the same message to their children.

Look, I'm very fond of religion. Religion is the source of, among other things, science. So, just as soon as you can assure me that your religion makes no claims to supernatural agency, and does not distinguish spiritually nor morally between believers and nonbelievers, sign me up. I love complexity and substance.

traditionalguy said...

Revenant...You are correct that all Christians are converts. They were converted by hearing the scriptures Preached to them. That is why the battle will remain the authority of those scriptures and the bold speech of men/women that preach them. There are estimates of 25,000 Chinese converted to Christianity per week in China today, and bold speech rights are not guaranteed there to the Chinese Christians who risk everything to spread their faith. All Christian speakers have to stand up to here in America is some ridicule and the newest threat of being called Un-re-educated.

Michael McNeil said...

Why are atheists so hung up on how the earth was created? That little vignette is covered in maybe half a dozen verses in Genesis, and then it's onto stories that transcend such stupid and unknowable questions.

“Then it's onto stories” like the four chapters that Genesis devotes to Noah's Flood, even more obviously bogus since being far closer to our own world and time, specifically the total dearth of evidence for the remains of the massive destruction and enormous debris that great floods leave behind them.

Way beyond that, questions about the deep past — the origin of the universe, the Solar System and Earth — are not “stupid and unknowable.” Sciences like astronomy, geology, and paleontology are observational sciences. Just as astronomers can directly see billions of years into the past by merely looking through their telescopes, geologists and paleontologists can see millions and billions of years into the past by merely digging up new rock samples and fossils, any of which is a direct signal from out of the deep past into our eyes and instruments.

buster said...

kynefski said:

"Religion is the source of, among other things, science."

Actually, Christianity is source of science.

Revenant said...

Actually, Christianity is source of science.

How scientists were able to exist centuries before the birth of Christ remains an exercise for the reader. :)

Joan said...

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Christianity is the source of science, but I would say that the scientific method was developed by Christians (specifically, Catholics). Mendel was one of the first to apply rigorous data analysis.

And let me second Pogo's criticism, here, Revenant: you nitpicked my response saying those weren't the questions you were repsonding to, but a few replies later concede that "Why does the Universe exist" is indeed an answerable question...or at least any answer would not be scientifically testable. There's some ducking and weaving going on there.

craig said...

Pogo's quote from Bastiat reminded me of a different-yet-related quote regarding the dictates of conscience, and the impossibility of really knowing justice without first knowing religious truth. This quote is from Gen. Napier:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

Smilin' Jack said...

Seven Machos said...
...the Bible is literature and can be neither right nor wrong.


Most literature is fiction, which is wrong by definition.

It's too bad your ancestors disagreed with your Biblical exegesis. If they'd tried out that "Bible is just literature" crap on the Inquisition, we'd have been spared your annoying presence on this thread.

mdulakthomson said...

Michael McNeil,

“Then it's onto stories” like the four chapters that Genesis devotes to Noah's Flood, even more obviously bogus since being far closer to our own world and time, specifically the total dearth of evidence for the remains of the massive destruction and enormous debris that great floods leave behind them.

Actually, one of the best arguments for the historicity of Noah's Flood for a long time was the wealth of geologic evidence. There are patterns of gravel strata, paths of boulders, &c. that are now accepted as evidence of the advent and later withdrawal of glaciers, but look exactly like the sort of thing a global rising and receding of waters would've left behind it.

See "The Freezing of Noah" in Stephen Jay Gould's The Flamingo's Smile.

Revenant said...

a few replies later concede that "Why does the Universe exist" is indeed an answerable question...or at least any answer would not be scientifically testable. There's some ducking and weaving going on there.

I said the question "doesn't have any testable answer I'm aware of, yet". That is not a concession that the question is unanswerable by science. History shows us countless examples of questions which were not answerable until hundreds or thousands of years after they were first asked -- e.g., "why does the Sun shine"?

When people say "science cannot answer this question" there are two ways to take that. The first is "our present scientific knowledge cannot tell us the answer to this question". The second is "the process of scientific inquiry is incapable of ever answering this question".

In the first sense, yes, neither science nor religion can answer the question "why does the universe exist". But in the second sense, science offers a way by which we can seek a verifiable, empirical answer to the question. It may be the case that scientific inquiry can't find the answer either, but even if it can't we'll end up no worse off than if we'd just relied on faith from day one.

Michael McNeil said...

Actually, one of the best arguments for the historicity of Noah's Flood for a long time was the wealth of geologic evidence. There are patterns of gravel strata, paths of boulders, &c. that are now accepted as evidence of the advent and later withdrawal of glaciers, but look exactly like the sort of thing a global rising and receding of waters would've left behind it.

See "The Freezing of Noah" in Stephen Jay Gould's The Flamingo's Smile.


It may have historically been the case that early geologists, ignorant in general of glacial forms, initially misinterpreted the geological evidence for a glacial age as evidence for a great Flood (I don't have nor have I read Gould's book, so I don't know).

However, we now recognize that glacial remains are very different in general from flood debris and associated erosional forms.

Revenant said...

I would say that the scientific method was developed by Christians (specifically, Catholics). Mendel was one of the first to apply rigorous data analysis.

The evolution of scientific methodology was a gradual process. The contributions of the ancient Greeks were the most significant; the key role of the Catholic Church was in preserving and relating the observations of the Greeks to later readers.

But so far as "rigorous data analysis" is concerned, scientists of the "golden age of Islam" were nearly a thousand years ahead of Europe. They backslid, of course.

mdulakthomson said...

Michael McNeil,

It may have historically been the case that early geologists, ignorant in general of glacial forms, initially misinterpreted the geological evidence for a glacial age as evidence for a great Flood (I don't have nor have I read Gould's book, so I don't know).However, we now recognize that glacial remains are very different in general from flood debris and associated erosional forms.

See, this is why I really do miss the late Gould: He would never have written the line about "Early geologists, ignorant[...]" He gave earlier writers credit for observing what they did, and doing it with care, even when he was forced to conclude that they'd drawn incorrect conclusions from what they saw.

From Gould's essay:

The evidences that glaciers leave -- large boulders transporte far from their source, poorly sorted gravels apparently dumped into their present resting place by catastrophic agents -- are very similar to what gigantic floods might produce. Indeed, much glacial topography is formed by floodwaters from melting ice.

Seven Machos said...

The Great Gatsby is such a piece of shit. We all know that no man named Gatsby even existed. Meyer Wolfsheim may have been based on some composite gangster of the 1920s, but he, too was totally a figment of some imagination. All of the characters are fictitious.

That book has nothing to teach us about the world or ourselves.

Seven Machos said...

Come on, Michael McNeill. I suppose next you'll be telling me that the Jewish minority in Persia didn't really slay 75,000 Persians during the time of Esther. I suppose you'll argue that Job and his guests are some kind of dialogue and not an actual conversation. I suppose you'll suggest that there's no way that anyone could see the one guy getting raped by his daughters in Genesis, or that certain scenes involving Samuel are clearly meant to be hilarious.

Really? Wow, dude, you are the sharpest tool in the shed. No question. So what can you offer in place of this anthology of stories to improve people's lives? The emptiness of some bang? Geology?

Good luck with that.

mdulakthomson said...

Michael McNeil,

Sorry -- in the Gould quote, that ought to be "large boulders transported," &c.

But you see my point, yes? If you were a geologist looking at the actual evidence, and your imagination hadn't yet leapt to vast thousand-foot-thick sheets of ice covering the entire continent, you might well have seen things that looked like traces of an ancient flood.

Your bit about "the total dearth of evidence for the remains of the massive destruction and enormous debris that great floods leave behind them" is unfair. There was evidence of some sort of massive upheaval; and "flood" is the first thing that would occur to any ordinary human being looking at vast deposits of gravel, great striations in the ground, and the like.

Yep, it was the wrong hypothesis. But don't say that there was a "total dearth of evidence," because it isn't true.

mdulakthomson said...

Seven,

Aw, rats, your method with the McNeils of the world is way better than mine. I should've just sat back.

Kirk Parker said...

"Most literature is fiction, which is wrong by definition."

Wow. That statement is so far out wacked, that it's not even wrong.

Michael McNeil said...

See, this is why I really do miss the late Gould: He would never have written the line about “Early geologists, ignorant[…]” He gave earlier writers credit for observing what they did, and doing it with care, even when he was forced to conclude that they'd drawn incorrect conclusions from what they saw.

What, I'm not Stephen Gould? What a shock! Nonetheless, whether or not it's something Gould “would never have written,” it's indisputable that early scientists in whatever field — however good observers and insightful they were — were ignorant about a great many things we now know. Galileo — the inventor of modern science — was ignorant of lots of things we know now. Nor does it impugn these scientists' great genius and legacy to point that out.


True knowledge is written in this enormous book which is continuously opened before our eyes. I speak of the universe. But one can't understand it unless first one learns to understand the language and recognize the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics.
Galileo Galilei, The Assayer, 1623

mdulakthomson said...

Michael McNeil,


Nonetheless, whether or not it's something Gould “would never have written,” it's indisputable that early scientists in whatever field — however good observers and insightful they were — were ignorant about a great many things we now know. Galileo — the inventor of modern science — was ignorant of lots of things we know now. Nor does it impugn these scientists' great genius and legacy to point that out.

Hey, I'm with you all the way here. What I was calling you on was the line about the "total dearth" of evidence of some global cataclysm. You seem to think that people believed in a vast flood with no evidence for one. All I said is that there wasn't a "total dearth" of evidence as you said; there was in fact a large pile of evidence for some sort of major cataclysm, and a flood looked for a long time as good a hypothesis as any. If you want to find hypotheses for which there was never any empirical evidence, I think you can do better than that.

Michael McNeil said...

Come on, Michael McNeill. I suppose next you'll be telling me that the Jewish minority in Persia didn't really slay 75,000 Persians during the time of Esther. I suppose you'll argue that Job and his guests are some kind of dialogue and not an actual conversation. I suppose you'll suggest that there's no way that anyone could see the one guy getting raped by his daughters in Genesis, or that certain scenes involving Samuel are clearly meant to be hilarious.

You're having a dialogue with yourself, Seven Machos. I have no interest in debunking the Bible in general or any of the things you've listed in particular. I'm merely contradicting your blase characterization of Genesis as consisting of a few perhaps questionable verses at the beginning while the rest is supposedly perfectly reliable. No so — the supposed Flood is a most glaring counterexample — and only one such counterexample is needed to make my point.

Really? Wow, dude, you are the sharpest tool in the shed. No question. So what can you offer in place of this anthology of stories to improve people's lives? The emptiness of some bang? Geology?

Science in fact has helped mightily in creating our modern world, improving the lives of innumerable folk, and setting the stage for the first civilization in history where the large bulk of the people aren't starveling peasants but rather enjoy not only abundant food, but also education, culture, health, longevity, freedom and leisure — to just name a few of the items off the great list of achievements.

Revenant said...

So what can you offer in place of this anthology of stories to improve people's lives? The emptiness of some bang? Geology?

The amusing thing about the above passage is that it assumes the world is divided into (a) people who read and enjoy the Bible and (b) people with empty, meaningless lives. In the latter group we have not merely atheists, but everyone other than Jews and Christians.

The Bible is certainly worth reading, if only because it is historically significant. Small portions of it even provide good advice on how to live a good life. But it certainly isn't something a person needs to read in order to live a fulfilling life; there isn't an original idea in it anywhere, after all.

Michael McNeil said...

While we're on the subject of science and Galileo has even been mentioned, it's worth noting that this spring is the four hundredth anniversary of the invention of the telescope as a scientific instrument — by that self-same Galileo Galilei — and thus arguably the fourth centennial of the invention of science itself is occurring right now.


Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics — indeed, of modern science altogether. [...] [E]xperience is the alpha and the omega of all our knowledge of reality.

Albert Einstein, Essays on Science, “On the Method of Theoretical Physics,” 1933, p. 14.

Revenant said...

Michelle,

I agree that it was reasonable for ancient scientists to accept the idea of the entire world being flooded, especially since they didn't understand where rain came from or where water evaporated to. But it is a bit disingenuous to act like belief in the Noachian Flood was an understandable but outdated past belief when two-thirds of American Christians still believe it to be true. That is why it is worth rehashing the fact that the Bible is not actually true. It would be silly to focus on the Bible's value as a metaphorical work when most of its fans think it ISN'T a metaphorical work. :)

somefeller said...

This certainly sounds like an interesting book. As has been pointed out earlier in the thread, one of the main problems with the "New Atheism" (and that is a term of art referring to specific, currently popular kind of atheism) is its lack of engagement with more serious religious, much less anti-religious thought. While it is an unfortunate fact that the Dobsons of the world have an oversized footprint in the hearts and minds of many Christians, that doesn't mean that a successful critique of them and their followers (not a hard task) ends the discussion on the topic of religion.

With Eagleton getting in on this discussion, it looks like the both the prime supporters and opponents of the New Atheism are British writers. John Gray has also done a good job of showing how the New Atheism is basically just a Christian heresy.

somefeller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
somefeller said...

Revenant - that's a good point, and one that shouldn't be ignored in all this talk of the Bible as metaphor. Far too many people see it as being the literal truth, and such people should be mocked and chastised. However, many, if not most, Christians don't see it as such (particularly once one gets away from the megachurch crowd and hangs out among more thoughtful Catholics, Episcopalians or Eastern Orthodox), and Christianity isn't the last word in theism. Though it certainly is a good one.

mdulakthomson said...

Revenant,

Good Lord (OK, lousy choice of words), I'm not talking about "ancient scientists"; I'm talking about someone whose work was done in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Look, y'all, just go look up the Gould article and read it. It's an object lesson in how to treat a view that you think is completely wrong but totally understandable.

Steven said...

When Job challenged God, God answered him, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding." The basis of the moral authority of God in Judeo-Christian religion is that he is the Creator. This is so important that the Gospel of John opens with a declaration that all things were made through Jesus, giving Jesus the same authority.

However, there's a problem here. Why is the science in the Bible so atrociously, consistently wrong? Surely the Creator could have enough understanding of his own creation to avoid the mistakes, or include a few nuggets that later would be shown to be both true and non-obvious?

The God of the Bible bases his claims to moral authority on his role as Creator. But the God of the Bible shows no evidence that he was the Creator of the real world, and shows significant evidence (the bad science) that he was not. The logical conclusion is that the God of the Bible was not the Creator of the real world, and thus by his own logic has no moral authority in the real world.

We may, of course, be able to treat the Bible like any other ancient work of literature. But it is a death-blow to Judeo-Christian religions; the religions are, on their own terms, frauds.

Revenant said...

one of the main problems with the "New Atheism" (and that is a term of art referring to specific, currently popular kind of atheism) is its lack of engagement with more serious religious, much less anti-religious thought.

I'd certainly say that some atheists are simply rebelling against Christianity or Islam or whatever the dominant local religion is.

But consider that one of the reasons for not "engaging" with the serious religions is that, well, what new is there to say? Have you got an argument for the existence of God that wouldn't have been immediately recognizable to an educated man a century ago? The major Western religions have devoted billions of man-hours to firming up their case. If that case is still completely unconvincing, well, I think the typical atheist can be forgiven for simply blowing the whole thing off.

Revenant said...

Good Lord (OK, lousy choice of words), I'm not talking about "ancient scientists"; I'm talking about someone whose work was done in the first half of the nineteenth century.

I think that the state of scientific knowledge -- at that time -- was inconsistent with belief in the Noachian flood. By then they knew of the biggest flaw in the theory, that being that there was no place for the water to have come from or to have gone to. They also knew that the flood-like strata they were witnessing were a good deal older than a couple of thousand years, even though they didn't know HOW much older.

Look, y'all, just go look up the Gould article and read it. It's an object lesson in how to treat a view that you think is completely wrong but totally understandable.

I've already read it, thanks, and I agree with the general idea if not with the specific date range.

But you ignored the point I was making, which is that most American Christians still think it is the literal truth. It is an interesting bit of historical trivia to note that the flood myth used to make scientific sense, but what is actually important to us, today, is that it DOESN'T make sense, today. Most Christians think it does, ergo most Christians are ignorant. That ignorance is a problem worth curing, don't you think?

Pogo said...

"because they rightly recognize that you aren't going to shut up. What you're actually asking is that you be free to say whatever you want without being criticized."


Atheists seem such a fearful lot.

Joan said...

But you ignored the point I was making, which is that most American Christians still think it is the literal truth.


Somefeller tried and I will reiterate: some, but not most American Christians believe that the Bible is literal truth.

The History Channel had a show in the past couple of years which explored the history of the Bible and discussed evidence of a large, local flood that could have inspired the story of Noah. The whole world wiped out by a flood? Not likely. A pretty big flood that caused a lot of local damage? Not so unlikely.

Pastafarian said...

Pogo said: "Atheists seem such a fearful lot."

That's an odd conclusion: They're fearful, because they don't think that advocates of religion are the only people who should speak on the subject of religion? Are conservatives merely fearful if they oppose the "Fairness" Doctrine?

Religion has its good points and uses; a big one is as a coping mechanism for men to deal with their own mortality. I'd hardly call those of us who can stand without that crutch "fearful".

Revenant said...

Atheists seem such a fearful lot.

Yet for some strange reason you're the one complaining that people doubt your beliefs. Curious, no?

Revenant said...

Somefeller tried and I will reiterate: some, but not most American Christians believe that the Bible is literal truth.

You can reiterate it if you like, but you are incorrect. See the link I posted.

A pretty big flood that caused a lot of local damage? Not so unlikely.

To the best of my knowledge, the only people who ever argued that it was unlikely the Noah story was inspired by a disastrous flood were... Christians, arguing that it was a literally true story. :)

Pogo said...

you're the one complaining that people doubt your beliefs. Curious, no?Well, no, because I haven't the foggiest idea what you're referring to.

Michael McNeil said...

As I mentioned the other day, folks…

… if newlines at the end of your quoted italicized text are getting eaten by Blogger, put a blank character at the end of the close italics </i> tag, before the newlines.