Does referencing the Creator inhibit science?

Many materialists (atheists and theistic evolutionists most often) argue that materialistic philosophy is key to scientific advancement. If any ideas of Creationists are allowed to even be referenced, then scientific progress will halt and people will die. There will be mass and widespread calamitous events, and we will return to the Dark Ages.

Mphuthumi Ntabeni at The Southern Cross writes:

Newton, Faraday, Maxwell and Copernicus referred to the Creator in their scientific writings. No one accused them of being unscientific because of that. There’s no rule that compels science to have a materialist outlook, it’s just an incident of history. (1)

I have yet to see any evidence that convinces me that scientific progress will be inhibited in any way by referencing notions of a designer or even God. Nor have I seen any evidence that is not just as easily explained from an ID or even a Creationist perspective as compared to a naturalistic evolution perspective. So far, I see Creationism as having the most explanatory power and ID as focusing on narrow range of observations and scientific phenomena. Both ID and Creation Science are scientific disciplines.

I must also say that I have yet to see how the theory of naturalistic evolution, on a macro scale, has ever contributed to applied science. The concept of abiogenesis has not contributed to applied science. The Big Bang Theory has not contributed to applied science. In short, the notion that Godless science leads to progress has no legs to stand on. Perhaps it will evolve those legs in the next several billions of years, but I won’t be holding my breath.

(1). My case for intelligent design, The Southern Cross, Mphuthumi Ntabeni, Nov. 9, 2008

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42 Responses

  1. Along these lines, I highly recommend Steve Fuller’s Science vs. Religion: Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution. He’s not a design theorist, but he’s sympathetic in many ways, and I think you’d find it congenial to your own views.

  2. Thanks. Skeptics often fail to acknowledge that modern science was born and developed in the west and has its roots in the Judeo-Christian belief in a rational Creator God. Many other cultures had an entirely different view of reality. Some thought that our very existence was an illusion. Others supposed that God was capricious or that we do not have free will. So we might throw the question back to the skeptic and ask whether science could at be possible without theism. After all, scientists do their research trusting that there are some kind of more or less permanent laws in the universe.

  3. On the other hand, there’s a distinction to be drawn between two different claims:

    1) The belief in a Creator God who gave the world a structure which is intelligible by human beings was a condition for the emergence of modern science.

    2) The belief in a Creator God who gave the world a structure which is intelligible by human beings is a necessary condition for the continuation of modern science.

    (I might have phrased the second claim too harshly; feel free to revise as you see fit.)

    The point is, the first claim is not very contestible — even a reasonable atheist would admit it, as a point of verifiable historical fact. That is very different from the second claim, which is that a belief of that sort remains necessary today for the practice of modern science.

    In terms of “remains necessary,” there’s room for flexibility — one might think that theism is necessary in order to justify science, or one might think that theism is necessary in order to motivate science. That is, one might argue that in the absence of theism, there’s no reason to believe that basic research is worth doing at all. Without theism, in other words, the motivation for doing science turns into solving the daily problems of human beings, and science becomes a branch of engineering.

  4. Thanks for the book reference Carl. I will check it out. You make some good points in your second post. Thank you.

    I feel that ultimately, without theism, science will degenerate into the perspectives of the likes of Dick Dawkins, PZ, Hitchens, and friends. I could perhaps be wrong, but I believe at least the opposing force of theism helps to keep this from happening.

    Joel, thank you for your thoughts as well. I agree completely.

  5. 1) The belief in a Creator God who gave the world a structure which is intelligible by human beings was a condition for the emergence of modern science.

    2) The belief in a Creator God who gave the world a structure which is intelligible by human beings is a necessary condition for the continuation of modern science.

    I think theism is necessary in an active sense, even more than a basic or passive one. It’s one thing to give meaning to the rise and pursuit of science in light of theism (as in 1), but there also must be an active light of theism, illuminating the works of science as well (as in 2). How else to know if we have lost our way? How else to measure the progress of science, if we have thrown away the measuring stick?

    The irony of ignoring theism in the continuation of science is that as science ventures into the uncharted void of matter-worship, it also turns and attacks the very theism from which its meaning is derived! In other words, the question must always be asked: Does our knowledge glorify the creator who gives it meaning, or does it glorify man? Does is make us more humble or more proud? Is it guided by mind or matter?, word or image?, etc…

    This is the same point I have made elsewhere: Life begets life. Life sustains life. If theism begets science, then theism must also sustain science.

  6. Well, I don’t know about that, Mike. Consider this analogy:

    “The belief that only male citizens have the right to participate in politics was a condition of the emergence of democratic institutions.”

    Notice the parallels — here we have a historically verifiable assertion about the relation between a belief and an institution, just as with (1) above. But surely very few people would wish to conclude that

    “The belief that only male citizens have the right to participate in politics is a necessary condition for the continuation of democratic institutions.”

    The perfectly obvious point here is that institutions change over time, and as they change, so too do our beliefs about those institutions — including our beliefs about how they should be structured and why they are valuable. In the case of democracy, this is entirely clear. So why not think the same about science?

    In other words, just because theism was a central to how modern science was initially structured and why it was initially regarded as valuable, why should modern scientists continue to be beholden to that conception?

    I don’t wish to be interpreted as implying that there’s no answer to that one, but I haven’t yet been satisfied by any answer I’ve seen.

  7. That is very different from the second claim, which is that a belief of that sort remains necessary today for the practice of modern science.

    Putting aside the mythology of Progress in which there are no timeless truths and past events are imagined to give rise to everything in the present for a moment, there is historical evidence that monotheism continues to be necessary for science and scientia/knowledge as we know it in modern times. Eugenics, Nazism and Marxism all tended to share a common foundation in philosophic naturalism and an exclusion of monotheism or the “Jewish influence” as the Nazis put it. Like Dawkins and the others they all tend towards focusing on natural explanations over rational explanations and no matter what the empirical evidence is.

    I think I’ve cited some of the historical evidence* having to do with naturalism leading to irrationality before but it bears repeating. (Note that anyone should already know that sentience and scientia/knowledge itself is undermined by naturalism so of course “science” as an establishment will be as well because it is made up of individuals, but anyway.)

    *

    The scholars whom we shall quote in such impressive numbers, like those others who were instrumental in any other part of the German pre-war and war efforts, were to a large extent people of long and high standing, university professors and academy members, some of them world famous, authors with familiar names and guest lecturers abroad…
    If the products of their research work, even apart from their rude tone, strike us as unconvincing and hollow, this weakness is due not to inferior training but to the mendacity inherent in any scholarship that overlooks or openly repudiates all moral and spiritual values and, by standing order, knows exactly its ultimate conclusions well in advance.
    (Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in
    Germany’s Crimes Against the Jewish People
    by Max Weinreich
    (New York:The Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1946):7) (Emphasis added)

    Is that a summary of Nazi scholarship and knowledge or a summary of philosophic naturalism?

    Note that the Nazis believed in the Darwinian creation myth to the point that they actually believed it to be true*, unlike many of its modern proponents. Those who do take it seriously tend to be the most irrational and seem to tend towards fascism.**

    *

    Our whole cultural life for decades has been more or less under the influence of biological thinking, as it was begun particularly around the middle of the last century, by the teachings of Darwin…(Ib :33)

    To be sure, other movements, Marxism and Soviet Communism, for instance, have also claimed scientific validity. But only the Nazis have seen themselves as products and practitioners of the science of life and life processes—as biologically ordained guides to their own and the world’s biological destiny.
    ….
    The contribution of the actual scientific tradition to this ethos was exemplified by the quintessentially German figure of Ernst Haeckel, that formidable biologist and convert to Darwinism who combined with ardent advocacy of the Volk and romantic nationalism, racial regeneration, and anti-Semitism. He was to become what Daniel Gasman has called ‘Germany’s major prophet of political biology.’
    (The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide
    By Robert Jay Lifton :441)

    It’s interesting to note that Haeckel is a good example of pseudo-science, as he literally blurred empirical scientia/knowledge. Usually those with the Darwinian urge to merge content themselves with blurring their imaginations with the evidence but he actually did blur the evidence. And note his irrational views with respect to ontogeny and phylogeny, still mentioned approvingly among vulgar popularizers of science like the National Geographic. What real reason is there to believe that an organism would revisit its historical ancestry in its embryonic states? One could just as easily assert that the biological brain events which caused Haeckel to think idiotic thoughts are “recapitulations” of his ancestry in worm-like creatures.

    I remember vividly a scene during a school picnic when I stood surrounded by a group of schoolboys to whom I expounded the gospel of Darwinism as Haeckel saw it. Goldschmidt claims that his experience of embracing this Darwinian worldview…was typical for educated young people of his day, and abundant testimony from his contemporaries confirms this. In 1921 the physiologist Max Verworn stated, “One can state without exaggeration that no scientist has exercised a greater influence on the development of our contemporary worldview than Haeckel.”

    It seems that like the ancient pagans his goal was to blur together basic natural categories because it suited his pagan worldview*… and that was that. There is no reason for it and empirical evidence to support such a view must either be imagined based on bits of bone or skeletons or false imagery must be conflated with actual empirical evidence by some other means. The fact that empirical evidence is so hard to come by that the proponents of such views must either imagine things about the past based on skeletons or invent false imagery with respect to soft anatomy as opposed to focusing actual empirical evidence is telling.

    *Ernst Haeckel, the most famous German Darwinist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, enthusiastically adopted Darwin’s theory of natural selection and applied the struggle for existence to humans in many of his writings. He believed the most important aspect of Darwinism was the animal ancestry of humans, which would “bring forth a complete revolution in the entire worldview of humanity.
    (From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart :11)

    Nature based paganism and/or philosophic naturalism both seem to undermine science. I meander around too much, Mike put it more succinctly: “Life begets life. Life sustains life. If theism begets science, then theism must also sustain science.” Ironically the mythology of our day is a mythology of supposed Progress towards knowledge without Life/Sentience/Intelligence.

  8. “The belief that only male citizens have the right to participate in politics was a condition of the emergence of democratic institutions.”

    Notice the parallels — here we have a historically verifiable assertion about the relation between a belief and an institution, just as with (1) above. But surely very few people would wish to conclude that

    “The belief that only male citizens have the right to participate in politics is a necessary condition for the continuation of democratic institutions.”

    I think I’d be a bit discontent if the majority of my arguments could be summed up with: “Not necessarily.” But to each their own.

    It seems to me that we have to keep in mind what we’re talking about, progress in knowledge or Progress in general. Progress in science and technology isn’t necessarily linked to Progress in general. The same scientific knowledge can be used to make nuclear weapons as nuclear bombs. If the eugenicists and the new geneticists were/are actually correct then the same biological knowledge which could be used to eliminate certain “races” could be used to cure genetic diseases. A moral scientist or doctor could be an amoral and therefore immoral technically proficient and knowledgeable barbarian instead. And so on.

    This just goes back to theism because it is linked to what we view as Progress as well as our progress in knowledge.

    As Shrink notes satirically, progress is woven into the Darwinian creation myth and it can be imagined in the past or the future: “In short, the notion that Godless science leads to progress has no legs to stand on. Perhaps it will evolve those legs in the next several billions of years…” The problem is that a Darwinian view of the world is typically rooted in imagining things rather than historical evidence of how Progress as we know it actually came about. It’s as if Darwinists believe that if their imaginary mythologies include or “explain” Progress in the past or future then their mythology must be linked to Progress as we know it in the real world. For example, I noted in a comment recently that Dawkins seems to believe that if people believed in Darwinism then they would treat apes better and treat each other better. Progress always seems to emerge naturally in his mythology.

  9. [Note to Shrink: I cleaned up a few things – please post this response instead of the previous response.]

    I don’t wish to be interpreted as implying that there’s no answer to that one, but I haven’t yet been satisfied by any answer I’ve seen.

    A more apt analogy would be a belief that “only male citizens have a right to participate in science”. But theism is still needed to evaluate the works of science itself (even if they are all done by men, as dictated by societal law).

    And consider: A belief that the equal inalienable, self-evident rights of all humanity as granted by God was a necessary condition for the emergence of democratic instutions, as well as the continuation of democratic institutions. Traditional social norms can shift (like who can vote, or run for office), but the foundation remains the same. More importantly: We should always be re-evaluating our norms in light of the foundation, so we don’t lose our way! This gives us good reason to change our laws so that all can vote, or run for office.

  10. It’s as if Darwinists believe that if their imaginary mythologies include or “explain” Progress in the past or future then their mythology must be linked to Progress as we know it in the real world. For example, I noted in a comment recently that Dawkins seems to believe that if people believed in Darwinism then they would treat apes better and treat each other better. Progress always seems to emerge naturally in his mythology.

    And yet, believers in God, creation and bibles are labeled in derogatory terms by these unaware-of-self beliefs and confused religionists.

  11. blockquote>A belief that the equal inalienable, self-evident rights of all humanity as granted by God was a necessary condition for the emergence of democratic instutions, as well as the continuation of democratic institutions.

    Not if democratic institutions emerged in 5th-century BC Athens!

    I’ll respond to the rest later on — possibly tomorrow, since today will be hectic.

  12. Not if democratic institutions emerged in 5th-century BC Athens!

    Well, I was just using that example to make a point, actually (not to say it wouldn’t be interesting to know how polytheism and the creation myths of classical antiquity influenced Athenian democracy).

    But my point in using your example of democratic institutions is that they sit on a foundation, an underlying belief about the relationship of man to the eternal. Not on shifting societal morality or norms (which should be subject to re-evaluation in light of the foundation).

  13. But my point in using your example of democratic institutions is that they sit on a foundation, an underlying belief about the relationship of man to the eternal. Not on shifting societal morality or norms (which should be subject to re-evaluation in light of the foundation).

    And my point is that this assertion of yours is not only false, but demonstrably false, if we allow that the institutions of 5th-century BC Athens count as “democracy” — and seeing as how the Athenians invented the concept (and the term), I don’t see why they shouldn’t, on pains of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    More generally: if the meaning of institutions changes over time as the background culture changes — e.g. from ancient Greek polytheism to modern Christian theism/Enlightenment deism — then why should science be any different than democracy? Laboratories, universities, science foundations, and corporations are all institutions that, just like political and religious institutions, change over time, and one of the things that changes is the meaning of those institutions. (What it means to be a scientist is very different now than in the 1650s — likewise what it means to be a political figure or a priest!)

    But wait, there’s more! — because of the things that changes over time is what counts as “the foundation”!

  14. Sure, the foundations themselves change – or are disregarded. I’m not contesting that. But to return to your initial question specifically regarding the continuation of scientific pursuit: I would say the theistic foundation should not change or be disregarded. A science based on enlightened secular humanism can’t help but push doctrines of non-existence and matter-worship.

    Regarding democracy, I can only suggest that you are forgetting about man’s innate “knowledge”, if you will, that he is accountable to a higher judge than himself. Even the EU constitution, which went out of its way to exclude any language of a creator God, still strongly holds to the concept of inalienable rights, without bothering (thanks to political correctness or shifting social norms!) to state from Whom these rights are granted.

    But, of course, I’m a Christian, so I try to judge everything in the world according to whether it is based on witnessing to the Creator’s glory or not!

  15. Well, I guess I’m a bit confused as to the stakes in this conversation. I suppose there are two questions:

    1) is theism necessary in order for science to continue?

    2) is Darwinism compatible with theism?

    I’ve made it fairly clear where I stand on (2), so I won’t belabor the point.

    And (1), phrased as is, isn’t clear enough to do any work for us. is this suppose to be a point about the actual conduct of scientific research? So is there is a difference between research by theists and by non-theists? Or about the significance and value that is attached to the results of scientific research?

    Talking about the Nazis adds nothing to the conversation, and here’s why. It’s clear that the difference between Nazi scientists and contemporary American and European scientists is that the latter accept ethical constraints on the conduct of research — esp. research that involves human subjects, but in many cases, also on animal subjects. So we are more humane, or if you like, more ethical than the Nazis were.

    But it seems to me to be a huge leap to assert either that (i) we are more ethical because we have not rejected the Judeo-Christian legacy, which the Nazis rejected or (ii) if we were to reject that legacy, then nothing would prevent the collapse of the ethical standards which distinguish modern Western scientists from Nazi scientists.

    Here’s another way of putting the difficulties: I can understand — fairly well, I think! — how someone could think that objectively valid ethics is not possible without presupposing the truth of theism. And I can also see how someone could think that since theism is false, then there is no objectively valid ethics. (Additionally, I can see how someone could think that Darwinism entails atheism, but this too is wrong.)

    But what is left out of this picture is the view that objective ethics does not depend on the presupposition of theism, and so the question of theism or atheism leaves objective ethics untouched. Of course, if an atheist were to insist on an objective ethics, he or she would owe the theist an account of how objectivity in ethics is possible without God, and the theist might be incredulous that such an account could be given. Fair enough.

    A similar point holds with respect to the metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions of modern science. Modern science assumes that the world is basically intelligible, that there is an order of things, and that this order can be revealed to human minds through a process of experimentation, testing, quantification, etc. Science does not seek to demonstrate this, of course, but assumes it.

    A theist might argue that these assumptions are only reasonable if there is a Creator God who created by the natural world and the human mind. But then the atheist isn’t someone who disputes the intelligibility of the natural world — she is someone who disputes that theism is necessary in order to explain the intelligibility of the natural world. She might assert that the intelligibility of the natural world is a brute fact, not something that can be explained. Or she might present a naturalistic explanation of the intelligibility of the natural world, as for example John Dewey did.

  16. It’s clear that the difference between Nazi scientists and contemporary American and European scientists is that the latter accept ethical constraints on the conduct of research…

    After the Holocaust scientists, eugenicists, the new geneticists and so on have supposedly learned their moral lessons and will “never again” be blinded by vanity and pride in their supposed knowledge. Well, I doubt it. It’s ironic that some invoke the mythology of Progress in order to argue that we are different from the Nazis now. As Karl Kraus said before the Nazis came to power, “Progress will make purses of human skin.”

    Edwin Black noted that the rejection of eugenics wasn’t based on Darwinism or the natural type of Progress supposedly typical to science:

    It took a Holocaust, a continent in cinders and a once great nation bombed and battled into submission to force the issue.(The War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s
    Campaign to Create a Master Race
    by Edwin Black :411)

    He also notes that the geneticists who came after the eugenicists are ignorant with respect to history* and typically biologists are ignorant of philosophy as well. Both would tend to overcome their tendency towards hubris and the ironic sort of vanity that they come to have with respect to knowledge rooted in imagining things about the past.

    *

    The world is now filled with dedicated genetic scientists devoted to helping improve all mankind. They fight against genetic diseases, help couples bear better children, investigate desperately needed drugs, and work to unlock the secrets of heredity for the benefit of all people without regard to race or ethnicity. …. Genetics has become a glitter word in the daily media. Most of the twenty-first century’s genetic warriors are unschooled in the history of eugenics. Most are completely divorced from any wisp of eugenic thought.
    Few if any are aware that in their noble battle against the mysteries and challenges of human heredity, they have inherited the spoils of the war against the weak. (Ib. :426)

    Of course he says a lot of that based on the mythology of Progress and then goes on in the next chapter to deal with cloning, “newgenics,” genetic screening, etc. And if he’s right about the ignorance typical to biologists and geneticists then there are a lot of people ready to repeat historical patterns.

    Richard Dawkins wondered recently if it was not time to reconsider the notion of breeding better humans, mainly because he can never grasp any part of their transphysical nature like intelligence.

    — esp. research that involves human subjects, but in many cases, also on animal subjects. So we are more humane, or if you like, more ethical than the Nazis were.

    Perhaps but it seems that we’re still willing to do away with human rights for some groups of people while simultaneously supporting more rights for animal life than human life.

    But it seems to me to be a huge leap to assert either that (i) we are more ethical because we have not rejected the Judeo-Christian legacy, which the Nazis rejected or (ii) if we were to reject that legacy, then nothing would prevent the collapse of the ethical standards which distinguish modern Western scientists from Nazi scientists.

    The experience of Nazism alone might help to support anti-Nazi ethical standards. But they would be supported for no other reason that they contradict Nazism and would last only as long as people remembered their history, which is probably not long at all if history is any measure.

    At any rate, it seems to me to be a huge leap to assert things based on imaginary scenarios instead of what can be supported historically or empirically. After all, claims of “not necessarily” and “what if” which can’t be verified historically do not necessarily have anything to do with reality.

    Putting aside imaginary “leaps” in logic and so on if the American Republic is rejecting its Judeo-Christian legacy then its ethics and so on will become similar to the Weimar’s. This comment could become very long citing historical evidence that this is probably the case. Historical evidence is not necessarily the same thing as the imaginary scenarios which sometimes cause philosophers to break a sweat in their arm chair.

  17. But it seems to me to be a huge leap to assert either that (i) we are more ethical because we have not rejected the Judeo-Christian legacy, which the Nazis rejected or (ii) if we were to reject that legacy, then nothing would prevent the collapse of the ethical standards which distinguish modern Western scientists from Nazi scientists.

    I’ll take that leap. Imagine our nation comprised of 90% ardent atheists and 10% theists or Christian dregs. What will our doctrines of science be? What will our constitution look like? (Will we ever even get there without self-destructing first?)

    … we may be coming to a place in which reasonable discourse must be set aside in favor of the raw declaration of Christ.

    It was God Himself who said, “Come, let us reason together.” But, once the collective hearts of the people reached a critical mass of unbelief and hostility towards God, He sent the prophets – not to reason, but to declare. Such declarations were the signal of imminent judgment. Such declarations signal the onslaught of what Paul called “the terror of God.” The absence of God’s merciful attempt to reason with man signals a horrible turning point.

    http://theskepticalmystic.blogspot.com/2008/11/interacting-with-new-atheists.html

  18. Imagine our nation comprised of 90% ardent atheists and 10% theists or Christian dregs. What will our doctrines of science be? What will our constitution look like?

    Our commitment to scientific methods (doctrines being, quite frankly, irrelevant) and to the Constitution are both aspects of the Enlightenment legacy. Likewise the ideal of tolerance among people of different faiths as played out in the public square.

    A Christian-dominated society which is committed to those ideals, as America is, is willing to accommodate other faiths in the public square (Judaism, Buddhism, atheism, etc.). An atheist-dominated society which was also committed to the ideals and values of the Enlightenment would also, I imagine, have no problem with other faiths taking on a public expression.

    Of course there have been atheist-dominated societies which were ruthlessly intolerant of other faiths — there’s no need to bring out all the tired old examples — but none of those societies were also committed to the project of the Enlightenment. And in those Christian societies where the ideals of the Enlightenment were lacking — such as in Italy and Scotland in the 17th century — atheists were executed for no other reason than being atheists (or being accused of such).

    So the key question for me isn’t whether a society is dominated by Christians, atheists, Muslims, Sikhs, or whatever, but whether that society is committed to the Enlightenment or not.

    I’m well aware that in putting the point as I do, I’m making explicit a sharp disagreement between myself and most other atheists — since most other atheists would loudly deny that their stance is a matter of “faith.” As I’ve argued here before, I think of atheism as neither more nor less of a faith than is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. (Call this ‘faitheism’ if you like!) A ‘faitheist’ is someone who lacks a religious sensibility — someone who is not deeply moved upon reading the Gospels or Augustine or Pascal — or who would prefer a walk in the woods or watching the sun rise over reading anything!

  19. The “enlightenment?” Please explain!

  20. Oh, and I don’t mean a “tired’ historical definition either, as with, “there’s no need to bring out all the tired old examples” (Atheist atrocities etc)

  21. I don’t know Carl, you seem to have more faith in relative morality than I do!

    A “free” atheistic society in which “evil” is fully understood as an imaginary concept, and proudly taught as such, in the name of some “Tolerant Enlightenment” is not too hard for me to imagine. Eventually it will be a society that has never even heard of anything as ridiculous as “God” (once the theists have gone the way of the American Indian, and history has been rewritten accordingly). Brash, young and proud philosophers and scientists will emerge who challenge arbitrary concepts such as “goodness”, like, what it is, what genes are responsible for it, where in the brain it lives etc… They will (correctly) realize that matter and random concepts are mindless gods, not deserving of worship. Some of the old guard (perhaps such as yourself) will cling to the “religiosity” of believing meaning, and reason for being, can be derived from nothingness. But for most of the “NEW Tolerant Enlightenment”, they will (correctly) see that as fallacy. Of course by then, there will be no real alternative (since theism has gone the way of the dinosaur, and history has been rewritten accordingly). So, in the name of “Freedom”, many will be taught (and teach their children) to proudly live their lives without shame or accountability, performing all sorts of wondrous works of freewill in the “NEW Tolerant Enlightenment”. And will the “old guard”, those who know about the concept of God, but never believed, be prepared to contest that?

    (note: this is same reply to your post on the Christian Scribbler’s blog. I figured I’d put it here too.)

  22. An atheist-dominated society which was also committed to the ideals and values of the Enlightenment would also, I imagine…

    That’s the problem, your views tend to be based on imaginary scenarios instead of historical or empirical evidence. Ironically the myths of Progress typical to those who self-defined as “enlightened” while portraying former ages as “dark” were also mainly based on imaginary events which apparently only existed in their own minds. Darwinism is also linked to such views and the modern/mechanical philosophy, so often it seems to be based more on imagining things about the past than empirical evidence.

    On a side note, it is ironic that ID types and creationists tend to be engineers. I.e. the people who actually run the engines of technology and progress who know that imagining things doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with progress as we know it.

    At any rate, it seems to me that the “ideals and values” of the Enlightenment stripped of a layer of imaginary Progress and so on are simply Christian ideals and values formerly understood as Providence. But that perversion of Providence into imaginary forms of Progress is important because it seems to me that it’s the difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Ah well…it seems ot me that all one can do before engaging in reasoning about such things is to first point out the distinction between imagining things and historical or empirical evidence and then reason from there.

    Summarizing Karl Kraus, “All I have done is to point out the difference between a chamber pot and an urn because my opponents consistently mistake one for the other.” It seems to me that his line of thinking about language and so on is worth following.

  23. I’m well aware that in putting the point as I do, I’m making explicit a sharp disagreement between myself and most other atheists — since most other atheists would loudly deny that their stance is a matter of “faith.”

    Fideism has always been generally condemned by Christendom, especially by Christian philosophers. The modern village atheist who attacks fideism is typically continuing in that tradition unaware.

  24. Forget my question, Carl (which you probably already have), since I knew what you meant and Mike and Mynym verified it.

    It’s just that I’m so tired of politically correct catch phrases, but that’s my problem!

  25. For those who don’t know the mythology of Progress typical to the “Enlightenment” has little to do with historical facts about progress which can be verified in artifacts of technology, historical and philosophical texts and so on. It is really quite ironic that in modern times people who take such pride in science and knowledge in general tend to be utterly ignorant as a result the mythology typical to the Enlightenment. You would think that people would be a little more skeptical about things always fitting together so perfectly into a worldview with science/enlightenment and progress on one side and religion/darkness and the absence of progress on the other. The same issues arise in Darwinism, you would think that people would wonder at how “overwhelming” it is to them and skeptically question its falsifiability based on empirical evidence but they don’t. It’s easy to see why cultures can go for thousands of years without much progress in knowledge and build pyramids based on mythological reasoning. Of course even there, there were movements for reform rooted in a monotheistic tendency represented by the Sun doing away with imagery based “reasoning” but in general the effect of the shadows on the wall of Plato’s Cave seems to be quite “overwhelming” to the general Herd.

    In modern times the mythological Dark Ages is an imaginary image which atheists often invoke but in fact:

    For the past two or three centuries, every educated person has known that from the fall of Rome until about the fifteenth century Europe was submerged in the “Dark Ages”–centuries of ignorance, superstition and misery–from which it was suddenly, almost miraculously rescued, first by the Renaissance and then by the Enlightenment. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, during the so-called Dark Ages, European technology and science overtook and surpassed the rest of the world!
    The idea that Europe fell into the Dark Ages is a hoax originated by antireligous, and bitterly anti-Catholic, eighteenth-century intellectuals who were determined to assert the cultural superiority of their own times and who boosted their claim by denigrating previous centuries…
    …until very recently, even dictionaries and encyclopedias accepted the Dark Ages as historical fact. Some writers even seemed to suggest that people living in, say, the ninth century described their own time as one of backwardness and superstition.
    Fortunately, in the past few years these views have been so completely discredited that even some dictionaries and encyclopedias have begun to refer to the notion of Dark Ages as mythical.
    (The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success by Rodney Stark :35)

    There is interesting reading to be done about just how technologically advanced people were in the “Dark Ages” as compared to other cultures and so on for anyone interested in the topic. Thanks to the Enlightenment there is too much ignorance to try to correct in comments like this. Some of it is the material of satire and deep irony. For instance, it’s deeply ironic how often those who believe in the myths of the Enlightenment invoke the supposed flat earth error as an example of progress in knowledge because it only illustrates the abysmal ignorance of history typical to those who believe in mythologies of enlightenment. Again, it seems to me that one would have to wonder at a historical metaphor which seemed to be tailor made for a certain worldview. And from there maybe one could stop imagining things in order to focus on historical facts for a moment, find that evidence used to portray people as believing in a flat earth were rooted in imaginary events and so on and then conclude that the metaphor was in fact tailor made to promote a certain worldview! But oh well…

  26. OK, then, so what would you accept as true about the intellectual, artistic, and political movements of the 17th through 19th centuries — the period of Beethoven and Goethe, Locke and Jefferson, Spinoza and Kant?

  27. …so what would you accept as true about the intellectual, artistic, and political movements of the 17th through 19th centuries…

    I would accept many things as true but you tend to weave a mythology of Progress around things which are true that actually isn’t true. That’s the main issue.

    For example you seem to imagine it likely that polytheism gave rise to theism which ultimately turns into deism and perhaps that turns into atheism at the end of this scenario of imaginary Progress.

    That seems to be what you’re imagining here:….from ancient Greek polytheism to modern Christian theism/Enlightenment deism…

    But the Darwinian tendency to project Progress onto everything by imagining things has been widely undermined by historical and anthropological evidence, so the views of someone like Edward Tylor carry about the same weight as the hypothetical goo typical to Darwinism in general.

    It’s far more likely that polytheism is a corruption or falling away from monotheism than that theism arose out of polytheism. The most ancient traditional knowledge of many cultures is monotheistic.* In fact if one were to draw a line of progression based on the evidence it would more likely go from theism to polytheism to secularism and nihilism.

    *E.g. Hananim (Korean, the Great One), Shang Ti (Chinese, the Lord of Heaven), Koro (Bantu, the Creator) Magano (Ethopian, the ultimate Creator again, as contrasted to the malevolent Sheit’an), the Great Spirit (American Indian), Deos (Greek, perhaps corrupted to Zeus and drawn down into a corrupted anthropromorphic focus, later reformed back by the philosophers under the new name Theos) and so on and on.

    You said of the Enlightenment: Our commitment to scientific methods (doctrines being, quite frankly, irrelevant) and to the Constitution are both aspects of the Enlightenment legacy.

    But the development of science as we know it had little to do with the Enlightenment and the mythology that tends to surround it. Take the work of Newton as an example to compare the imagery and mythology typical to “enlightenment” with the historical reality of what Newton himself actually wrote:

    One of the first actions of those who proclaimed the ‘Enlightenment’ was the ‘deification of Newton.’ Voltaire set the example by calling him the greatest man who ever lived. Thus began an unexcelled outpouring of worshipful prose and extravagant poetry. David Hume wrote that Newton was ‘the greatest and rarest genius that ever rose for the ornament and instruction of the species.’ As Gay noted, ‘the adjectives ‘divine’ and ‘immortal’ became practically compulsory.’ […] In 1802 the French philosophe Claude-Henri de Sain-Simon (1760-1825) founded a Godless religion to be led by scientist-priests and called it the Religion of Newton (his pupil Auguste Comte renamed it ‘sociology’).
    However, as the ‘Enlightenment’ became more outspokenly atheistic and more determined to establish the incompatibility of science and religion, a pressing matter arose: what was to be done about Newton’s religion? Trouble was that Newton’s religious views were not a matter of hearsay or repute. He had, after all, in 1713 added a concluding section to the second editions of his monumental Principia, the ‘General Scholium’ (or proposition), which was devoted entirely to his ideas about God. In it, Newton undertook to demonstrate the existence of God, concluding that:
    ‘…the true God is a living, intelligent, powerful Being….’
    ‘…he governs all things, and knows all things that are done or can be done.’
    ‘….He endures forever, and is everywhere present.’
    ‘…As a blind man has no ideas of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things.’
    Worse yet, Newton had written four letters during 1692-1693 explaining his theology to Richard Bentley. In the ‘Bentley Letters’ Newton ridiculed the idea that the world could be explained in impersonal, mechanical terms. Above all, having discovered the elegant lawfulness of things, Newton believed that he had, once and for all, demonstrated the certainty that behind all existence there is an intelligent, aware, omnipotent God. Any other assumption is ‘inconsistent with my system.’
    (For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch Hunts and the End of Slavery by Rodney Stark :167-168)

    Monotheism is associated with science as we know it as well as Progress traditionally understood as Providence but it leads to a different attitude about knowledge/scientia. This caused Newton to comment:

    I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. cf. (Newton’s Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World by David Berlinksi :167)

    If you are arguing that the Constitution and the founding of the American Republic is an aspect of the Enlightenment legacy then what explains the vast difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution? I’m not sure what may be imagined about history but here is some of what the Founders said about the French Revolution:

    And what was their Phylosophy? Atheism; pure unadulterated Atheism . . . . The Univer[s]e was Matter only and eternal; Spirit was a Word Without a meaning; Liberty was a Word Without a Meaning. There was no Liberty in the Universe; Liberty was a Word void of Sense. Every thought Word Passion Sentiment Feeling, all Motion and Action was necessary. All Beings and Attributes were of eternal Necessity. Conscience, Morality, were all nothing but Fate. (Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (Mar. 2, 1816), in The Adams-Jefferson Letters)

  28. It’s far more likely that polytheism is a corruption or falling away from monotheism than that theism arose out of polytheism. The most ancient traditional knowledge of many cultures is monotheistic.*

    It certainly would make sense in light of similar creation/origins narratives, perhaps rooted in the same event, followed by the scattering of people across the continents. Polytheism could have arisen in certain cultures as a result of the “falling away”, as man became more worldly and left to his own devices and understanding. Also, external factors, such as the whole Nephilim thing (the book of Enoch goes into this more than Genesis) can’t be discounted.

  29. Also, external factors, such as the whole Nephilim thing (the book of Enoch goes into this more than Genesis) can’t be discounted.

    The funny thing is that if you said that aliens were the ancient gods then people would tend to at least consider whatever archaeological evidence, etc. that could be brought forth on the topic. But if you say that angels and demons were active in the world then that goes back to the “demon haunted” world which is naturally and inevitably demystified by Progress. So someone like Sagan could deal with aliens on the basis of evidence on the one hand but ancient beliefs about demons could be discarded prima facie. It’s almost invariable among Darwinists and so on that the real issue is not one of facts, logic and evidence per se but instead mythological reasoning about Progress. So in this case one comes across a distorted view of facts, logic and evidence in which the standards by which SETI supposedly detects an artifact designed by intelligent agency disappear when they undermine the mythology of Progress. As Paul Davies pointed out, if the same general standard was applied to the genetic code it would trigger an ID result immediately.

    It’s funny how proponents of Progress and the Darwinian creation myth tend to miss the fact that angels/demons and aliens would almost have to be the same sort of thing. At a minimum the “people of light” or “beings of light from the sky” or the “heavenly hosts” would have to be capable of the same sort of things. After all, how big would the difference be between a being capable of traveling faster than the speed of light through the use of technology and one capable of doing so as a result of their ontological status?

    But what is it with the UFO types anal probing? Supposedly the aliens made it through thousands of light years (basically, that’s impossible for numerous reasons) and supposedly came down to earth (although if you can travel that fast it’s more likely you could just manifest physically), abducted someone…and then they just had to probe. Why? Well, they must be trying to figure out where excrement comes from, the last cosmic mystery. The aliens can transphysically travel through physical impossibilities in their UFOs, yet seek answers to the mystery of the Cosmos which can apparently be found in our own excrement! Who would have thought….

  30. But what is it with the UFO types anal probing? Supposedly the aliens made it through thousands of light years (basically, that’s impossible for numerous reasons) and supposedly came down to earth (although if you can travel that fast it’s more likely you could just manifest physically), abducted someone…and then they just had to probe. Why? Well, they must be trying to figure out where excrement comes from, the last cosmic mystery. The aliens can transphysically travel through physical impossibilities in their UFOs, yet seek answers to the mystery of the Cosmos which can apparently be found in our own excrement! Who would have thought….

    Too Funny! Brings a whole new meaning to, “OH CRAP!!”;-)

  31. Reminds me of what you wrote elsewhere about atheists being more into to the paranormal than theists. I guess it all depends on what one considers ‘normal reality’. Reality for the theist already includes and allows for the supernatural.

    (Related link: http://www.sitchiniswrong.com)

  32. Fixed it. –TCS

    I would accept many things as true but you tend to weave a mythology of Progress around things which are true that actually isn’t true. That’s the main issue.

    For example you seem to imagine it likely that polytheism gave rise to theism which ultimately turns into deism and perhaps that turns into atheism at the end of this scenario of imaginary Progress.

    That seems to be what you’re imagining here:….from ancient Greek polytheism to modern Christian theism/Enlightenment deism…

    You will find, Mynym, that I am a more congenial conversation partner if, when you’re not sure about my beliefs, you take the time to inquire rather than assume.

    Your locution, “you seem to imagine it likely” is a clear indication that you’re attributing to me views which you have found prevalent among self-described adherents of the Enlightenment previously, rather than finding out whether or not I share those particular views.

    I have not said, nor do I believe, that there is any sort of “progress” from polytheism to monotheism to deism or to atheism. What I said above implied only that (1) if an atheist-dominated society were as committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment as contemporary Christian-dominated America is, then Mike’s worry of Christian persecution of Christians in such a society is a misplaced fear, and (2) I see no reason why an atheist-dominated society could not be committed in those ways. The fact is that Communist societies, which were dominated by atheists, and which did actively persecute people of faith, also rejected the Enlightenment project as a whole. And I am not willing to accept Communism as proof positive that atheism, by itself, entails the rejection of the Enlightenment project.

    And to every Adams there is a Jefferson, who said:

    The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    Or, to take Article VI of the Constitution, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    That is part, and the most important part, of the Enlightenment project which concerns me.

  33. Mike’s worry of Christian persecution of Christians in such a society is a misplaced fear

    Let’s try “Christian persecution by atheists” instead, shall we?

    Of course, in Western cultures prior to the Enlightenment, Christian persecution of Christians was also an every-day fact of life.

  34. Well, for once, we agree (sort of), Carl. We need to stay away from the constitution and founding fathers, in particular, Madison and Jefferson (as well as many more), since they were deists!

    They believed in a creator, although impersonal, and they didn’t believe that the bible was the inspired word of God, or that Jesus was sent to die for our sins. They also ignored the imperative of the bible when they rebelled against their government and church in England. In other words, they weren’t submissive to the king and his government, so it’s not surprising, to me, anyway, that Carl can turn the argument around on this point!

    I don’t need to discuss American history to support my belief in God and His Christ, as I know is true of every other believer who comments here!

    On the other hand, it always seems that Carl is altering his position on these issues, or at least ducking and covering his tracks! I could be wrong, but I won’t lose any sleep over it!

  35. They also ignored the imperative of the bible when they rebelled against their government and church in England.

    I have to say, I’m a little bit surprised to hear you say, DB, that you don’t think that there is a right to revolution based on the inalienable rights with which we were endowed by our Creator. Heck, even Jefferson thought that — he’s the one who wrote it! So do you think that the entire US government is illegitimate, since it derives its consent from the will of the people instead of from divine mandate?

    If you really must know, DB, I do think that it’s of the utmost importance for everyone to have a regimen of spiritual hygiene. (Taking “spirit” here in the broadest and loosest of senses: as what happens when the boundaries of the self give way. Seen that way, the opposite of spirituality is narcissism — a refusal to consider anything non-self as intrinsically valuable.) You may consider that one of my principles.

    Another is that every mature individual has the right to decide what his or her relationship to the Cosmos/Creation will be, and accordingly, the right to chose whatever language he or she finds most fitting for giving voice to his or her deepest hopes, aspirations, longings, and need to be rescued from despair.

    My most significant philosophical influences are the classical pragmatists (esp. James and Dewey) and the so-called “Frankfurt School” (esp. Adorno and Marcuse). I have a deep respect for Rawls and for Habermas, some for Foucault, and very little for the rest of the “analytic” or “Continental” (= “postmodern”) traditions. I read Montaigne, Emerson, and Nietzsche for pleasure. Among the Enlightenment philosophers I hold in highest regard Spinoza, Hume, and Kant. (In that order.) Very recently I have developed an appreciation for Plato and for Aristotle that I lacked before, and perhaps it will not be long before I’m willing to consider myself an odd sort of neo-Aristotelian.

    Religiously speaking, I was raised as a Reform Jew and still consider myself one. The Jewish emphasis on social justice and solidarity with the oppressed remains central to my life. The summers of my childhood spent in the Catskills of New York impressed upon a fascination and love of life in all forms, shapes, and sizes, and I share a great deal in common with religious naturalism. So I have come to see that justice for humans and justice for non-humans stand and fall together.

    To quote the great philosopher Groucho Marx, “these are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

  36. (1) if an atheist-dominated society were as committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment as contemporary Christian-dominated America is, then Mike’s worry of Christian persecution of Christians in such a society is a misplaced fear, and (2) I see no reason why an atheist-dominated society could not be committed in those ways.

    Well, if you were running things Carl I might not at all be worried! But just as theism rears its ugly radical forms from time to time and place to place, so does atheism. Then it all comes down to a matter of Power or Majority rule. I’m not convinced the values and attitudes of the ‘Enlightenment’, which you are quick to credit for the preservation of liberal democracy, serve to moderate such radicalism, or rather, if they empower it.

  37. I have to say, DB, I’m surprised at your remark that

    “They also ignored the imperative of the bible when they rebelled against their government and church in England. In other words, they weren’t submissive to the king and his government . . . “

    So you deny that human beings have a right to revolution based on the inalienable rights with which we are endowed by our Creator? Do you regard the US government as illegitimate because it derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed rather than from divine mandate?

    On the other hand, it always seems that Carl is altering his position on these issues, or at least ducking and covering his tracks! I could be wrong, but I won’t lose any sleep over it!

    I’m glad to hear that you’re not losing any sleep over it! But I also don’t think that I’m altering my position on anything here. If there are inconsistencies, I’m happy to have them pointed to me. But it also could be that you don’t see how my position is consistent because you don’t understand what my position is.

    Granted, part of that is my fault — I haven’t taken the time articulate my entire position, because I don’t want to dominate the conversation on someone else’s blog — and I do have the irritating tendency to take refuge in the “isms” coined by others, and those are at best a partial fit.

  38. So you deny that human beings have a right to revolution based on the “inalienable rights with which we are endowed by our Creator?”

    Carl,

    These are the words of mere men, not God! So yes, I deny!

  39. Have a great holiday season everyone!

  40. DB, well this is interesting! I’m interested in exploring your political beliefs further, if you’re game.

    Would you then say that all non-Biblically-based governments are on the same playing field, morally speaking? I mean, one might think that the US government and Iranian government aren’t really any different, since neither is established on a Biblical foundation? But then, if the Bible is the only basis for objective morality, wouldn’t both the US and the Iranian governments be equally in the wrong, from a Christian point of view?

    For that matter, how does one decide that a government really has a divine mandate or not? Supposedly the British crown did — since if they didn’t, it wouldn’t have been un-Biblical to have revolted, right? (I presume that even if I were a Christian, I would not be required to submit to the authority of someone whose authority was not derived from God, right?)

    But how can you tell whether any given authority has that divine mandate? Obviously not by saying so — since people, being fallible, are susceptible of lying, self-deception, gullibility, etc. So, how can you tell whether a government has divine mandate? By behavior, perhaps. (“By their fruits ye shall know them,” etc.) So what was so Christian about the behavior of the court of George III that we can say that the Revolution was contrary to Biblical principles?

  41. This is a very tricky area!!

    But allow me to chime in, since I’ve written about this is DB’s blog. It is my feeling that the Christian ethic cannot be applied en masse, nation to nation, group to group etc… It is always a matter of neighbor to neighbor. Christianity is in the trenches. That’s where freedom to act in Christ is found. I think lots of Christians disagree with me on this – especially those who believe the only action is political action (often expressed via force, violence, coersion, propaganda and mob mentality). Remember, Jesus wasn’t a champion of political or social causes. He wasn’t concerned with man’s relation to the State. He was only concerned with man’s relation to God, and to his brother.

    I would hope any cause a Christian takes up would use the means of Christ – love of neighbor, non-use of power, forgivenes etc… to acheive its ends – not the aforementioned means of Power. In Christ, the means and ends are the same. If you want to acheive love, you must freely act in love. I’ve seen it argued that the only logical position for a Christian in society is as an anarchist (or iconoclast, at least). But anarchy almost inevitably leads to organized power structures. Then it is once again in the domain of the Powers and Principalites – which only God can be trusted to employ (usually in judgment), not man. And I’ve also seen it argued that social revolutions only change the terms of enslavement and opression.

    Man’s world system of governments essentially represents his counter-creation, where he can exclude God, and proclaim himself sovereign. It’s important to remember that these are of the realm of worldy power and are thus condemned. And since they are of the (spiritual) realm of worldly power, God uses them to pronounce judgment. If you think about this clearly, it can be concluded that: we get the government we deserve. A society will naturally bring forth the government that will be the appropriate instrument of God’s judgment upon that society. Yet still, we are implored to “Come out of her, my people, do not partake of her sins”. Judgement has been pronounced on the whole world!

    But, God also accepts man’s fallen acts of freewill. God accepts that man wants governments and cities and nations. Just as the Jews demanded kings! Thus we find at the culmination of history, at the fulfullment of God’s covenant, not a return to Eden, but a City – the paradigm of man’s own choosing. The Heavenly Jerusalem. But only God can bring it down from Heaven. Only God can perfect the works of man, and make them perfect in the fire of judgment, so that those works may exist in the eternal city, along with man who created them. Thus the works of man have meaning! And just as only God can perfect the works of man, only God can perfect man himself (through the redemptive work of Christ). We can’t get there by ourselves.

    “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way of the tree of life.” – Gen 3

    “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruit, and yielded its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

    “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” – Rev 22

    So, yeah, it’s tricky… 😉

  42. You will find, Mynym, that I am a more congenial conversation partner if, when you’re not sure about my beliefs, you take the time to inquire rather than assume.

    This comment section is pretty much done but I’d just note of this that I didn’t necessarily assert anything about what you were saying.

    Certainly, I didn’t assert anything absolutely. 😉

    Not necessarily….hmmm, actually I do like that argument. I suppose it would just get a little tiresome if all my arguments reduced to it because then I wouldn’t necessarily have any knowledge at all.

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