Quote for the Day

I have long been a fan of Bertrand Russell, and I am endlessly fascinated by issues in science and religion, so perhaps it is surprising that I have not read Russell’s book Religion and Science. Until now, that is. I have now read the first three chapters and anticipate finishing the book later this week.

Chapter Three deals with evolution, and it is just filled with examples of the elegant and lucid writing that makes Russell so much fun to read even when you are disagreeing with him. I laughed at loud when I read this:

Religion, in our day, has accommodated itself to the doctrine of evolution, and has even derived new arguments from it. We are told that, “through the ages one increasing purpose runs,” and that evolution is the unfolding of an idea which has been in the mind of God throughout. It appears that during those ages which so troubled Hugh Miller, when animals were torturing each other with ferocious horns and agonizing stings, Omnipotence was quietly waiting for the ultimate emerganece of man, with his still more exquisite powers of torture and his far more widely diffused cruelty. Why the Creator should have preferred to reach His goal by a process, instead of going straight to it, these modern theologians do not tell us. Nor do they say much to allay our doubts as to the gloriousness of the consummation. It is difficult not to feel, as the boy did after being taught the alphabet, that it was not worth going through so much to get so little. This, however, is a matter of taste.

Exactly right!

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan
    December 2, 2009

    I don’t know about that. I am no creationist, but I see nothing wrong with the idea of a formal and a final cause for evolution, in addition to the efficient cause, which is described by neo-Darwinism.

    Were there such causes, they would be difficult to discern scientifically, would they not?

  2. #2 Koray
    December 2, 2009

    You dwell on how cruel an instrument evolution is for a loving god, but I think most theists are already comfortable with the cruelties their deities admittedly committed in their religious texts.

  3. #3 Brad
    December 2, 2009

    Koray,

    You mention that the God of theists is cruel. This is a common accusation against the Lord, especially in the Old Testament. Another claim is that if God is such a good and loving God then why would He send anyone to hell? These are great questions.

    One must use their minds, reasoning, and thoughts for these questions. God is a loving God, this is true. However, He is also a God of justice. Sin has to be dealt with. Every person sins and all sin must be dealt with. Not only from a Christian or Spiritual standpoint but has everyday consequences as well. God is a holy God and His standard is perfection. Therefore, the only way that we can get to God is through His perfect Son, Jesus Christ.

  4. #4 Jason Failes
    December 2, 2009

    Indeed, nothing wrong with, but also no support for and no mechanism proposed.

    Billions of years of single-celled life prove there was no rush and indicate there was no purpose. Purposeful creatures, like ourselves and presumably God, wanting to bring life to a new world would do so as quickly as possible, molding it to our specific needs and/or desires.

  5. #5 Koray
    December 2, 2009

    Brad,

    I made no mention of sins or justice because god has been cruel to even those without sin. We are subjected to natural disasters, freezing cold, starvation, etc. even when we don’t sin, and allegedly god made all these possible. god also asked Abraham to sacrifice his son (hey, check it out, even the all-knowing god needs extraordinary evidence to be convinced!), which is high-octane cruel.

    Of course before bringing up the sin/justice angle you should have used your “reasoning” to see if whatever sin we can commit in our insignificant lives can be heinous enough to deserve burning in hell for eternity. Most of us are surely no murderers, and there is no way to justify any of his ‘justice’.

  6. #6 JimR
    December 2, 2009

    There is a new, rather interesting graphic novel ,”Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth”, about Bertrand Russel’s quest for the foundations of mathematics.
    http://www.logicomix.com/en/ is the URL for the book. It is a different use of the graphic novel form and rather enjoyable.
    Commentary by the authors is interspersed throughout the book.

  7. #7 NewEnglandBob
    December 2, 2009

    It is so funny to see the apologetics bringing up the same old tired twisted, tortured arguments that have been refuted so long ago. I guess creationists never learn.

  8. #8 Blake Stacey
    December 2, 2009

    On the subject of old freethought books, have you read A Plain Commentary on the First Gospel by an Agnostic (1891)?

    Koray:

    Of course before bringing up the sin/justice angle you should have used your “reasoning” to see if whatever sin we can commit in our insignificant lives can be heinous enough to deserve burning in hell for eternity.

    Ah, but you forget that our true sin was not in using office postage for personal correspondence, but in rejecting the infinite majesty and love of the LORD God by choosing to do so.

    Yeah.

    I would have thought that “infinite love” (whatever “infinite” means in that context, but it’s the word they always use) would imply infinite compassion and infinite sympathy. But what would I know? I’m the sort of schmuck who doesn’t have to shed a third party’s blood when I want to forgive someone.

  9. #9 JimV
    December 2, 2009

    RE: #5 “…god also asked Abraham to sacrifice his son (hey, check it out, even the all-knowing god needs extraordinary evidence to be convinced!), which is high-octane cruel.”

    Oh, it gets worse than that. As I heard it, Joshua (of Jericho fame) was worried about an upcoming battle, and prayed to the Lord asking for victory, promising to sacrifice the first creature he saw when he returned to his home after the battle. That creature turned out to be his young daughter.

    A religious relative once tried to justify the genocide of the Amalekites to me (women and children included) on the basis that they were human sacrificers, but it appears the actual justification was that they sacrificed to the wrong god.

    I should note however that the above, plus God’s hardening of the Pharaoh’s heart so that he would refuse to let the Hebrews go until God had a chance to unleash more plagues, seems all logical and consistent to Christian apologists. People can rationalize anything, and the smarter they are the more easily they rationalize. I prefer the simpler explanation myself.

  10. #10 Tartan
    December 2, 2009

    Blake:
    ‘I would have thought that “infinite love” (whatever “infinite” means in that context, but it’s the word they always use) would imply infinite compassion and infinite sympathy. ‘

    Maybe love is infinite in the sense that there are an infinite number of real numbers between 0 and 1 (set of measure 1), and compassion and sympathy are also infinite but in the sense that there are an infinite number of rational numbers between 0 and 1 (set of measure 0).

  11. #11 386sx
    December 2, 2009

    He is also a God of justice. Sin has to be dealt with.

    No it doesn’t, unless God cannot not deal with sin. In which case God would not be omnipotent.

    Therefore, the only way that we can get to God is through His perfect Son, Jesus Christ.

    Non sequitur, i.e. compulsive cult-speak regurgitation. :P

  12. #12 386sx
    December 2, 2009

    God cannot not put sinners in hell, therefore God is not omnipotent, and not to mention, a really big jerk too! But like I said, God can’t help being a jerk since God is not omnipotent and is powerless against God’s own divine jerkness.

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    December 2, 2009

    As I heard it, Joshua (of Jericho fame) was worried about an upcoming battle, and prayed to the Lord asking for victory, promising to sacrifice the first creature he saw when he returned to his home after the battle. That creature turned out to be his young daughter.

    That was Jephthah (Judges 11).

  14. #14 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 3, 2009

    Jim R -

    I noticed Logicomix on a recent bookstore browse. The graphic novel section is always one I keep an eye on. I snapped it up immediately, of course. But I tend to treat books like fine wine, letting them age before consuming, so it may be a while before I get around to reading it.

    Blake –

    Thanks for the link. Looks like it is definitely worth a read.

  15. #15 Richard Eis
    December 3, 2009

    -One must use their minds, reasoning, and thoughts for these questions. God is a loving God, this is true. -

    Is it? How do you come to this conclusion?

    Because you are told it by the bible which lists the attrocities of your god while singing his praises perhaps?

    Isn’t that like beating your wife, then getting your friend to tell her how you are great and beyond reproach and therefore clearly (and logically) it must be her fault that you beat her.

  16. #16 derek hudson
    December 3, 2009

    With regard to the comments on sin and god sending people to hell. ‘Sin must be dealt with’, says the writer, and then gives the usual blood sacrifice bit about jesus dying etc. Where do we start? If god wants to forgive sin, just do it. he’s all-powerful, isn’t he? Just say, ‘I forgive you’. End of story. And is believing the ‘wrong religion’, or any other ‘sin’ deserving of eternal punishment? Really? Whatever my kids may do, I will love them, and forgive them. Could I punish them eternally for anything? No, because, sorry to offend, I am much more moral and just than the fictional god of the bible.

  17. #17 Mudfishin
    December 3, 2009

    Brad:

    “Sin has to be dealt with”
    ??????????

    Jesus supposedly died for our sins. That slate was wiped clean for us.

  18. #18 Tacroy
    December 3, 2009

    Sin has to be dealt with. Every person sins and all sin must be dealt with.

    How was there sin before original sin? How was there sin before there were people?

  19. #19 oldfuzz
    December 3, 2009

    I, too, enjoy reading Bertrand Russell because he does what a great essayist requires, defines his terms. In the title essay of his book, Why I am not a Christian (1957), he offers a variety of definitions for a Christian, then focuses on one, which he then argues against.

    As a Christian, I agree with him completely because his definition of a Christian and mine differ completely, especially in 2009, that I can say, “This Christian is not a Bertrand Russell Christian.”

    To those who say I can’t be a Christian I reply, “What is a Christian? Who decides? Since there is no commonly accepted definition, no central authority, it must be defined and since there is no agreed definition, I must choose.” I would agree only that to be a Christian, Jesus must play a role in ones personal philosophy. If I am wrong, prove it. After all the atheist lives by logic and definitions.

  20. #20 RBH
    December 3, 2009

    Brad wrote

    God is a loving God, this is true. However, He is also a God of justice.

    You might want to talk to Job about that. God fucked Job over basically on a bet with Satan. That’s some weird kind of justice. That Job took it with what amounts to near-psychotic equanimity doesn’t alleviate the injustice of his treatment. Or how about those Midianite virgins, turned over to the Israelite army for fun and games. Did they get justice? Anyone who can argue that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is a “just” God is blind, deaf, and a moral vacuum.

  21. #21 JimV
    December 3, 2009

    RE: Blake Stacy @ #13 – “That was Jephthah (Judges 11).”

    Someone was wrong on the internet again (me)! Thanks for the correction. I should have looked it up. I won’t comment anywhere for a week as my penalty.

  22. #22 Koray
    December 3, 2009

    Blake Stacey:

    One might think that perhaps, in the eye of the judge, rejecting her could be that one exceptional misdeed that is worthy of maximally infinite punishment.

    However, I do not agree. If you expand the definition of this offense, it is committed by those with proper mental faculties who recognize but choose not to accept god

    But why would anybody do this? Just to be a dick? Even if this offense warranted only a fine of $100, let alone being cooked forever, nobody in his right mind would commit it because 1) there’s no getting away with it 2) it is so easy to avoid(*).

    The true dick move is, imho, to be annoyed that a human being is not convinced by the weak proposition of Abraham, and frying him eternally out of nothing but spite.

    (*) Addicts, for instance may commit some crimes they know they won’t get away with it, but they can’t avoid it.

  23. #23 Mine's a Newt
    December 4, 2009

    Hi oldfuzz,
    Jesus plays a role in my personal philosophy too!

    In my personal philosophy he’s a guy around whom legends collected, and to whom sayings were attributed. We know virtually nothing about the actual historical Jesus, except that a cult formed around him which in time evolved into a powerful and rather nasty religion. So that’s Jesus’s role in my personal philosophy. And since he has a role in my philosophy, at least as big as the roles that King Arthur and Robin Hood have, then by your definition I’m a Christian.

    Fair enough. Still, rather content-free, your Chrisitianity, isn’t it?

  24. #24 FastLane
    December 4, 2009

    One must use their minds, reasoning, and thoughts for these questions. Allah is a loving God, this is true. However, He is also a God of justice. Sin has to be dealt with. Every person sins and all sin must be dealt with. Not only from a Muslim or Spiritual standpoint but has everyday consequences as well. God is a holy God and His standard is perfection. Therefore, the only way that we can get to Allah is through His prophet, Mohommed.

    Fixed that for you. It makes just as much sense (i.e. none).

  25. #25 old fuzz
    December 4, 2009

    Thanks Mine’s a Newt,

    “…a cult formed around him which in time evolved into a powerful and rather nasty religion…” Actually there were countless “Christianities” until Constantine endorsed one version. As for the nastiness, it flows from the leaders, not the practitioners.

    As for my being a Christian, it’s the label I use. As for King Arthur, I would agree with the legend of Parzival as being the story of a fully human life. The legend of Robin Hood would not suit me. The reason is that , like Parzival (unlike Robin Hood) I met and married my true love early more like the former.

    As for your observation, “Still, rather content-free, your Christianity, isn’t it?” I would say, “No.”, but since you don’t know what my thinking is, it’s an easy answer. For me, this is the Achille’s Heel of most of the evolution vs. religion debate. Too many on both sides don’t know what the other is thinking and get their exercize by jumping to conclusions.

  26. #26 IssacBarrow
    December 4, 2009

    Gotta love B.R.! I also recommend “Why I am not Christian” by B.R.

  27. #27 scudbucket
    December 4, 2009

    One must use their minds, reasoning, and thoughts for these questions.

    A typical line of are argument, similar to the one above, is that God wants our love, but he didn’t want to compel us to love him, so he gave us freedom. We therefore have the freedom to embrace him and his son Jesus. The catch is that if you don’t, you go to hell.

    What I used to say to my Christian friends in response was that if God’s greatest gift to me was the freedom to determine my own beliefs, and that if, by exercising that freedom, based in reason and evidence, I conclude that he doesn’t exist, then he cannot throw me to the eternal fires of perdition. In fact, I am enacting his purpose for me here on earth.

  28. #28 386sx
    December 5, 2009

    I would agree only that to be a Christian, Jesus must play a role in ones personal philosophy. If I am wrong, prove it. After all the atheist lives by logic and definitions.

    Hmmm, something is awry somewhere. 1) You can still be an atheist and have Jesus play a role in ones personal philosophy. 2) “The atheist” does not necessarily live by logic and definitions, whatever that might mean.

    I’m calling “poe” on this, or at least I’m calling “hmm, no wonder you’re so religious, you have some crazy mixed up thoughts up there”.

  29. #29 scudbucket
    December 5, 2009

    I would agree only that to be a Christian, Jesus must play a role in ones personal philosophy. If I am wrong, prove it. After all the atheist lives by logic and definitions.

    Well, here goes:

    Conventionally, a Christian is someone who accepts Jesus as his personal saviour. In this case, Jesus’ teachings as they are interpreted by the church will play a big part of a person’s philosophy. So if you live by Jesus teachings but fail to accept that he died for your sins so that you may ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven upon your death, you are not a Christian.

    Non-conventional uses of the term ‘Christian’ can mean anything some group of speakers has agreed upon. So, in that case, yes, simply building a philosophy around running the money changers out of the temple may make you a ‘Christian’.

  30. #30 oldfuzz
    December 6, 2009

    scudbucket, “Conventionally, a Christian is someone who accepts Jesus as his personal saviour.” “Non-conventional uses of the term ‘Christian’ can mean… running the money changers out of the temple…” (hope I didn’t misrepresent your thought.

    The challenge in your point is the word, conventional, which is meaningless until defined. With hundreds of formally proclaimed Christian denominations in the United States alone, each proclaiming their Christianess, the question remains, “What is a Christian?”

    Agreed, some–as your example shows–strain credibility, but there are many serious Christian clerics and scholars, lifelong “Christians”, who hold such disparate views that a single definition suffices.

    My examples would include Matthew Fox, Hans Kung, John Dominic Crossan, Lloyd Geering, Robert Funk, Art Dewey and more in modern times.

    I am convinced that one problem the religious and scientist have in their debate is the narrowness of scientific definitions and the breadth of usage of religious terms.

    “God” seems to be the principle cause celebre. For the contemporary Christian, its a word used as a symbol of the cause of creation, science’s big bang and all other creation effects.

    If the religious used Cause or Source instead of God, would the debate be as tense?

  31. #31 Travis McDermott
    December 7, 2009

    Congratulations, Jason!

    http://tinyurl.com/yejxf2f

  32. #32 scudbucket
    December 8, 2009

    The challenge in your point is the word, conventional, which is meaningless until defined.

    There is a standard definition of the word ‘conventionally’, which suffices for what I was trying to say. Less technically, I mean the way ‘Christian’ is normally used. Historically, that meant a person who accepts Jesus as his saviour. And I guess I could just stipulate that meaning (capital ‘C’ Christian) for the purposes of what I am saying.

    I take it you want to liberalize the meaning of the term ‘christian’ to include (perhaps) accepting the teaching of Jesus but not necessarily his divinity? Or something else? (This type of extension is what I called non-conventional, since there is no context-free meaning which the term conveys.) What are some of these other views?

    If the religious used Cause or Source instead of God, would the debate be as tense?

    I think it would be, if by ’cause’ or ‘source’ you were ascribing intentionality to an entity or being. One of the contentious points between scientists and Christians regarding evolution is the idea of intentionality. Science says that we can explain (in principle) all the objects and events in our world without recourse to the intentions of a divine creator. Christians disagree. But I know I would resist simply changing a word (’cause’) if the underlying meaning (‘intentionally acting being’) were the same.

    But I agree with that scientists (or rather, atheists who use science to ground their views) and Christians have trouble with each other’s terms, concepts, etc. One thing that always strikes me as a source of tension is that Creationists believe that falsifying evolution will somehow cause atheists to reject their view. That’s not the case. An atheist holds this view not because of the theory of evolution, but for myriad reasons: there are persuasive philosophical arguments, the merits of other sciences, and perhaps most importantly, a lack of observable evidence that a GOd exists. For the atheist, evolution is simply circumstantial confirming evidence. So the tension emerges because the two people are talking past each other.

    And one other thing (if you’re still there): how would you respond to my argument above that God won’t punish me for not believing in him if I arrived at that belief through the free exercise of reason?

  33. #33 Mystical Seeker
    December 16, 2009

    The problem with Russell’s argument is that it presupposes that omnipotence is a required attribute of God. But, as you surely must know, since many panentheistic theologies, including process theology, do not accept the idea of omnipotence as a divine attribute, then Russell’s argument fails as an argument against God per se.

  34. #34 JohnnieCanuck
    December 19, 2009

    One less claim for a god’s abilities by a believer may mean one less way for others to cast doubt on its existence, but this does not make it a more robust candidate for godhood.

    A god that is postulated to exist, yet never does anything so as to be beyond every critical examination is not much of a supreme being.

    On reaching this point, our theist is more of a deist and practically an atheist in everything but acceptance of the name.

  35. #35 piles
    December 31, 2009

    I was just passing by this site and came across this post and its inspiring.I like it.I’ll be keeping a close eye on your blog and looking forward to each new post.