Nonsense From Zuckerman

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College has been a hero of mine ever since he published (in 2008) an excellent book called Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. He studied Sweden and Denmark, where atheists predominate, and showed rather effectively that when religious demagogues wail about the pernicious moral effects of a society losing its faith they are just making stuff up.

So you can imagine my disappointment at reading this asinine essay over at HuffPo. It’s a poor representative of a tiresome genre: An atheist lectures his flock about the proper way to discuss religion. Here’s the opening:

I’ve been studying atheists, agnostics, XTC fans, and various other types of secular folk out there for quite some time. I’ve also read most of the anti-religious books that have been published ever since Sam Harris kicked things off with The End of Faith.

And I must say, I’ve got a few criticisms for my God-denying brothers and sisters out there.

Or perhaps, more specifically, some pointers.

For if you really think that a secular worldview is superior to — or at least more rational than — a religious one, and if you really think that the world would be a better place if people didn’t believe in supernatural deities, nasty demons, or chubby cherubs, I would suggest a little self-examination. A lot of you out there are making some serious mistakes.

With that opening I would assume that atheists, through their serious mistakes, have achieved a level of irrationality commensurate with a belief in demons and cherubs. That seems implausible, but let’s see what Zuckerman has in mind.

1. Insisting that science can, or will, answer everything. When Bill O’Reilly or your Baptist in-laws ask you pointed questions like: “How did the universe get here?” or “What caused the Big Bang?” or “Why is there something instead of nothing?” don’t insist that science has the answer. It may not — ever. It is far better to simply say that we don’t know everything, and may in fact never know everything. There will always be some mysteries out there. Just say: “Yeah — it is quite a profound puzzle. No one knows the answer. But just because we don’t know the answers to everything, doesn’t mean we then automatically accept some made-up possibility.”

Are there atheists out there who don’t answer that way? I am not aware of anyone who claims that science will someday answer every existential mystery. With regard to ultimate questions the point is simply that there is no reason to believe that theology can solve any mysteries that science cannot.

2. Condemning all religion, rather then just the bad aspects thereof. Religion is man-made. It is socially constructed. It grows out of human culture. As such, religion inevitably contains, reflects, and reveals all that is within the realm of humanity: the good and the bad. It is like any other facet of human civilization: some of it is noble and inspirational, much of it is nonsensical and even dangerous. But to condemn it all as poisonous is to be in serious denial.

Religion does a lot more than that. In many cases it amplifies the worst aspects of human nature, our xenophobia and tribalism. It makes false claims to knowledge, retards science, and often promotes highly dubious ideas about morality. And, no, the harm of all this is not even close to outweighed by the instances of religion-inspired self-sacrifice or charitable giving, or the great art and music religions sometimes inspires.

At least this one isn’t a total strawman, since I assume it is directed at Hitchens. But come on! Hitchens might go overboard occasionally with his polemicizing, but I really don’t think he’s confused that some forms of religion are more harmful than others. Overly flamboyant rhetoric does not constitute irrationality commensurate with demons and cherubs.

3. Condemning the Bible as a wretched, silly book, rather than seeing it as a work full of good and insightful things as well. The Bible was written by humans. It has no other source. The evidence is clear on that front. And similar to point two above, given that it is a human creation means that it isn’t all good or all bad — but contains both. Its contents can be downright absurd, flagrantly unscientific, embarrassingly racist and sexist — not to mention painfully boring. But it also contains brilliant insights into the human condition, fun stories to entertain kids, and heady poetry. It even has solemn stretches of unbridled skepticism and existential angst. Check out Ecclesiastes

Among nonblievers, it’s always Ecclesiastes. A rotten movie might have a few good scenes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still condemn it as rotten. And you might be strongly inclined to do so if everyone around you were praising the film as so magnificent it could only have been directed by God. So, yes, the stories of Joseph and Jonah are pretty good, the proverbs have their moments, and, of course, there’s Ecclesiastes. (Job, on the other hand, is way overrated.) But these are a few small bright spots in a volume that is frequently both turgid and uninspiring, to put it kindly.

4. Failing to understand and appreciate “cultural religion.”There are tens of millions of people out there who are part of a religious tradition, but don’t actually believe in the theological teachings thereof. They go to church, they get bar-mitzvahed, they identify with a religious tradition, and yet they are basically atheists, agnostics, or skeptics at heart. Why do they stay religious? They like it. They enjoy the traditions, the songs, the rituals, the community. These people should be seen as allies, not enemies. And every time we condemn their religion as idiocy or wickedness, we simply turn them off. Religion is not a black or white thing. Neither is secularity. There is a lot of gray out there. Deal with it. Appreciate it.

Once again this looks like a pure straw man. I am culturally religious, in the sense that I consider myself Jewish and sometimes participate in Jewish traditions, but somehow I have never managed to get offended over anything I’ve seen in atheist writing. People who are culturally religious are usually among the first to concede the absurdity of the creeds and dogmas. And allies in what, exactly? If we are talking, say, about science education or stem-cell research are we really worried they will be driven to the forces of darkness because Richard Dawkins said something snide? Are there any atheists who are not willing to make common cause with the culturally religious?

And, incidentally, anyone who uses the phrase “Deal with it,” can be immediately dismissed from serious consideration.

5. Critiquing God as nasty, wicked, and immoral. There is no point in critiquing a deity that doesn’t exist. There is no need to catalogue the horrors, hypocrisies, or genocidal tendencies of a god that is imaginary. The reason we don’t believe in God is simple: lack of evidence. That’s it. Stay focused people.

Sorry, but this is just flat stupid. If someone tells you that the Bible is the Word of God and an infallible guide to morality, it is certainly fair to observe that God comes off looking petty and vindictive through much of the text. I’ve never seen that put forward as a reason for not believing in God. It’s just a reason for doubting the moral wisdom of the Bible, and the moral judgement of people who read it uncritically.

6. Focusing on arguments against the existence of God, rather than working to make the world a better, more just place. People who believe in irrational things will rarely change their minds by listening to rational arguments. And yet atheists expel so much sweat constructing philosophical, scientific, or logical arguments against the existence of God. Think this will change people’s minds? Perhaps. But only rarely. What really lowers levels of religiosity, the world-over, is living in a society where life is decent and secure. When people have enough to eat, shelter, healthcare, elder-care, child-care, employment, peacefulness, democracy — that’s when religion really starts to lose its grip.

Really? Atheists spend too much time on philosophical arguments? Because the usual rap is that we don’t spend enough time immersed in the relevant theological and philosophical literature. I’m afraid I see no evidence that an atheist obsession with devising arguments for what we believe is cutting into time that would be better spent fighting for social justice. I also see no evidence that giving atheism a level of visibility it has previously lacked and making it a prominent part of the public conversation has somehow made it more difficult to fight the forces of blinkered religious ignorance.

7. Arguing about morality in the abstract. Don’t get sucked into arguments about “Can we be good without God?” Don’t try to convince theists that secular morality is actually more rational and, well, more moral. Rather, just insist that morality is ultimately revealed and shown through human action and deed. And we can plainly see that the least religious countries and states are generally the most moral, peaceful, and humane, while the most religious countries and states are the most crime-ridden, corrupt, and socially troubled. End of discussion.

Once again, is that actually a problem for atheists? Do we routinely get into abstract philosophical arguments about the nature of morality? Have atheists overlooked the rhetorical value of pointing to the social contentedness of the world’s least religious societies? I honestly don’t know what he’s talking about here.

8. Not having more kids. The sociological evidence is clear: religious parents tend to have religious kids and secular parents tend to have secular kids. The demographic data is unambiguous: religious people have far more kids than secular people, with religious fundamentalists having the most kids of all. And the highly religious societies on earth tend to have the highest birthrates, and the most secular nations have among the lowest. So if you really want a godless world, better get busy.

Stopped clock department. I’ll give him that one. But is this what he meant in suggesting that atheists exhibit a level of irrationality comparable to cherubs and demon belief?

9. Always making top ten lists. It is so “Old Testament.” Let’s start going with top nine lists instead. Nine is divisible by 3. And 3, they say, is a magic number.

You just wrote a very bad essay. Don’t think you can joke your way out of it.

Comments

  1. #1 Uncle Bob
    February 15, 2011

    In the comment section, Zuckerman dismissed all complaints by saying apparently atheists need to grow a sense of humor.

    8 & 9 were slightly humorous, if the rest were supposed to be humorous, I don’t see how copy and pasting the popular straw man arguments is all that funny.

  2. #2 Dave W.
    February 15, 2011

    If #8 were correct, then wouldn’t the fact that the proportion of non-religious people in the U.S. has been rising indicate that fundamentalism is failing faster? The “Quiverfull movement” attempts to spread #8 as Gospel truth, but I don’t think the numbers support the idea, at least in this country. I’d try to gather some statistics and do the math, but it’s half-past midnight already.

  3. #3 I.P. Freeley
    February 15, 2011

    You let him off too easy on 8. If those correlations always held, then no religious society would ever become secular. So how did Sweden and Denmark do it? Did the atheists really manage to out-breed the believers? My bet is the religious folk stopped breeding at a torrid pace, there were more resources for the next generation, and then you have a society that can afford health care, education, etc and religion withers.

    Anyway, there’s a book I’d like to read–what makes a society turn secular, and why hasn’t it happened in the USA.

  4. #4 AL
    February 15, 2011

    1. Insisting that science can, or will, answer everything. When Bill O’Reilly or your Baptist in-laws ask you pointed questions like: “How did the universe get here?” or “What caused the Big Bang?” or “Why is there something instead of nothing?” don’t insist that science has the answer. It may not — ever. It is far better to simply say that we don’t know everything, and may in fact never know everything. There will always be some mysteries out there. Just say: “Yeah — it is quite a profound puzzle. No one knows the answer. But just because we don’t know the answers to everything, doesn’t mean we then automatically accept some made-up possibility.”

    Yes, but what if science does have reasonable answers to these things? In the original Bill O’Reilly / David Silverman interview (that I assume he is referencing with his dig at O’Reilly), O’Reilly asked Silverman to explain the tides and Silverman did in fact answer in Zuckerman’s desired way: he said he didn’t know. But why should anyone consider this a good answer? Well of course technically if Silverman really personally did not know, this is the best answer he can give, but for someone who understands that masses exert tidal forces on one another, “I don’t know” is not the optimal answer. Just give the correct answer.

    In the three questions that Zuckerman puts forth (“How did the universe get here?” or “What caused the Big Bang?” or “Why is there something instead of nothing?”), I don’t think the appropriate response necessarily is to retreat from all such questions with an “I don’t know.” No, I’m not suggesting that we make stuff up either, but we can ask further questions about the questions themselves to test them for coherency or even to test the question-asker to see if they are asking this question in all sincerity or simply hoping to put forth a question with vague, weasel premises they can render unanswerable by moving goalposts around so they score cheap points in a debate.

    So consider the question “what caused the Big Bang?” We can ask “was there causality before the Big Bang?” or “is there even a “before” the Big Bang that we can insert causality into so that we can meaningfully ask what caused it?” Immediately retreating to “I don’t know” is giving a free gap to the theists to stick their god in, when the “unanswerable” nature of their question may be due entirely to dubious assumptions and premises the question implicitly contains.

  5. #5 Mike Haubrich
    February 15, 2011

    Regarding #5: We are not stupid. We are not describing “God” as being immoral and wicked, we are reminding religious people that their “loving God” is a right, selfish, nasty, jealous bastard who thinks nothing of genocide and murder; it is not atheists who describe him this way. It is the writers of the Bible who describe him this way.

    If they want to talk about God’s love and compassion, then we need to remind them that he is only compassionate when you play his game his way. Zeus, as the Supreme God, with all his horniness and schemes, was a far more believable and likable tyrant than this Jehovah ever was.

    Not to go Freudian, but it seems like the god described in the Bible represents the id of the authoritarian priestly caste who inscripturated the whole mess.

  6. #6 Norwegian Shooter
    February 15, 2011

    I just read Zuckerman’s article because it was in the top three stories on Google’s Religion feed. (BTW, there is often an atheist-related article among the top three. I think that alone is evidence of the usefulness of outspoken atheists). My question is – why? Why would someone who produced a good book (taking your word for it) three years ago feel the need to write such an essay? What does he get out of it? Psychologically, as I’m sure it isn’t money.

    I did like #9 however.

  7. #7 Norwegian Shooter
    February 15, 2011

    I should say Google News’ Religion Section, not feed. http://news.google.com/news/section?csid=41b9657e37e26fc7

    I just got blocked from too many comments in a period of time. Two, really?

  8. #8 Wow
    February 15, 2011

    “In the three questions that Zuckerman puts forth (“How did the universe get here?” or “What caused the Big Bang?” or “Why is there something instead of nothing?”)”

    Answers being quite plausibly (in order):

    1) “get here” requires time and before space and time were created, there was no time. So it’s a meaningless question like “what’s the speed of dark”.

    2) “What caused the big bang” again requires time before time existed. How fast IS that dark going?

    3) Because E=mc2 and gravitational potential energy is negative, so you can have mass and gravitational energy, the mass being ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’ because that’s what we define ‘something’ to be.

  9. #9 Bob Carlson
    February 15, 2011

    So if you really want a godless world, better get busy [procreating].

    Well, for this stupid remark Zuckerman should be sentenced to a tongue lashing from Martin Rundqvist, who would no doubt point out to Zuckerman that he should have stopped at two kids rather than having a third one.

  10. #10 James Sweet
    February 15, 2011

    The other important thing to note about the Bible is that most of the virtuous things in it are bloody obvious. I can say with confidence that many societies had already figured out “don’t kill people,” “don’t steal,” and “try to be nice” millenia before so-called “Judeochristian ethics” emerged.

  11. #11 James Sweet
    February 15, 2011

    And I have to disagree with you about the procreation thing. For one thing, there is a strong case to be made that having a lot of children is environmentally irresponsible. And even if it weren’t, “out-reproducing the religious” is about the shittiest reason to bring a child into the world that I’ve ever heard.

  12. #12 James Sweet
    February 15, 2011

    As far as abstract moral philosophy, he may be referring to Sam Harris’ newest book. Maybe?

  13. #13 Ethyl
    February 15, 2011

    XTC fans? Really? Wow, that is so hip and cool! Sorry, but his credibility kind of dropped for me right there — that’s the most relevant example of secular or atheist media you can think of? No wonder your article is full of so much tired garbage.

  14. #14 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 15, 2011

    James —

    You’re probably right that he was referring to Harris’s book. But if the criticism is, “You shouldn’t be writing esoteric books but should be out fighting for social justice,” then he might as well be directing himself to academe generally.

  15. #15 uncle milty
    February 15, 2011

    “…somehow I have never managed to get offended over anything I’ve seen in atheist writing.”

    You’re just not trying.

  16. #16 Jonn Mero
    February 15, 2011

    For if you really think that a secular worldview is superior to — or at least more rational than — a religious one, and if you really think that the world would be a better place if people didn’t believe in supernatural deities, nasty demons, or chubby cherubs, I would suggest a little self-examination. A lot of you out there are making some serious mistakes.

    Well, his analysis of the two Scandinavian countries were somewhat superficial (based on very little empirical data, from what I remember), but the above sentences should have a prize for combined stupidity and arrogance. Sounds like he is the local Herr Besserwisser!

  17. #17 Steve Reuland
    February 15, 2011

    Yeah, #8 was a popular theme several years ago, primarily with right-wingers (it’s been applied to conservative vs. liberal as well as religious vs. non-religious), but the evidence simply doesn’t support it. The differences in fertility rates are too small, and they’re completely swamped out by immigration. In developed nations, both fertility and mortality rates are extremely low, so it takes a long time for the population to turn-over. Cultural shifts and historical contingencies easily dominate.

    Oddly enough, the issue seemed to drop out of the media after the 2006 mid-terms, in which record numbers of young voters supported the Democrats.

  18. #18 Doug
    February 15, 2011

    Was this supposed to be a wildly absurd characterization of the accomodationist position? I call poe.

  19. #19 Doug
    February 15, 2011

    I should clarify. This characterization isn’t wildly absurd. With the exception of the babymaking, it’s what accomodationists actually say. But it seems their views have surpassed the threshhold for absurd characterization and have become absurd themselves; so one cannot tell the difference.

  20. #20 anthrosciguy
    February 15, 2011

    In the comment section, Zuckerman dismissed all complaints by saying apparently atheists need to grow a sense of humor.

    In later news, Zuckerman says he was just trying to make you think, and announces that lurkers support him in email.

  21. #21 Egbert
    February 15, 2011

    More atheist bashing against atheists that don’t really exist from an atheist who should know better.

  22. #22 R O'Brien
    February 15, 2011

    But these are a few small bright spots in a volume that is frequently both turgid and uninspiring, to put it kindly.

    While this is properly descriptive of an algebraic topology text, it is not properly descriptive of the Bible.

  23. #23 Michael
    February 15, 2011

    Perhaps we should refer to someone who was there “In the beginning”, GOD. If anyone can prove HIS existence, I know HE can. I know this is going to be something you’ve all heard before, but if it will help one person it is more than worth it to repeat it. God will reveal HIMSELF to anyone who is sincere. But know this, HE is not interested in a debate with a bunch of book worms. I suspect there is somewhere out there who is could really use GOD in their life, and you guys are standing in the way of their rebirth.

  24. #24 Lenoxuss
    February 15, 2011

    (Rosenhouse:)With regard to ultimate questions the point is simply that there is no reason to believe that theology can solve any mysteries that science cannot.

    Yes!!!!!

    That’s the first time I’ve ever non-ironically overused exclamation marks.

    Seriously, I’ve seen even the most astute atheists fail to volley a question back over the table, instead chasing the ball with every bounce it makes. For example, many pixels have been spilled over the intriguing and important question of how life originated. The creationist in the room will repeatedly talk about fifty years of null results in abiogenesis, and the rationalists are put on the defensive, fleshing out their hypotheses — instead of asking why theologians and IDists don’t have to do any research, replication, or even detailed-hypothesis-development to defend their claims.

    It’s almost like science’s weakness here has been its vast success. So many questions have been answered that the ones that haven’t been or can’t be look like marks against it, whereas religion gets this sort of “aura” of having all the answers without even having to go to the work of showing them. People just sort of know that really good answers to “How did the universe get here?”, “What caused the Big Bang?”, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” are “God”, “God”, and “God”, in that order. If biologists had this privilege, they’d be allowed to say nothing but “it evolved!” in answer to every question about a species or trait.

    And this is a huge part of the danger of religion — when you have something that feels like it has all the answers but is never expected to articulate them. Heck, the very idea that there are things which we should believe more because it’s “good” to believe them than because the evidence points their way. Yuck.

    (Zuckerman:) given that [the Bible] is a human creation means that it isn’t all good or all bad — but contains both.

    Forget about the Bible for a moment, this assertion is bogus on its face. Given the apparent absence of both dieties and nearby intelligent aliens, all art we know is a “human creation”. So if this assertion were true, then all we can say about any work of art is “it contains a mix of good and bad”. Not very useful.

    (Rosenhouse:)If someone tells you that the Bible is the Word of God and an infallible guide to morality, it is certainly fair to observe that God comes off looking petty and vindictive through much of the text. I’ve never seen that put forward as a reason for not believing in God. It’s just a reason for doubting the moral wisdom of the Bible, and the moral judgement of people who read it uncritically.

    I’d go a step further and say that it’s an excellent stand-alone reason. It’s not just “the God of the Bible” who is asserted to be omnibenevolent, but God, full stop. So any apparent disjoint between such a notion and reality (ie, the Problem of Evil) is sufficient to doubt this being’s existence.

    Do any dystheists even exist? Maybe heddle, but somehow I think even he figures that God is maximally just, at the end of the day.

    (Zuckerman:)Don’t try to convince theists that secular morality is actually more rational and, well, more moral. Rather, just insist that morality is ultimately revealed and shown through human action and deed. And we can plainly see that the least religious countries and states are generally the most moral, peaceful, and humane, while the most religious countries and states are the most crime-ridden, corrupt, and socially troubled.

    That’s a far worse road to take. All I’ve ever seen it lead to is the theist disagree about secular countries, either by saying they aren’t that secular, that their quality of life has nothing to do with their absence of religion, or (most commonly) that their quality of life is really worse than in more religious places, and only a nihilistic atheist socialist like you would want to live there.

    Whereas the debates on divine command theory really have gotten theists stumped, and, I think, made the world a better place by just one more person thinking more carefully about why they believe what they do, and about what really makes things right or wrong.

  25. #25 Lenoxuss
    February 15, 2011

    Michael:

    If anyone can prove HIS existence, I know HE can.

    When I read this, I assumed you were an atheist, joking that, well, God really ought to be able to prove he exists, shouldn’t he? (So why hasn’t he?) But, no, it turns out you’re a spokesperson for God, plugging all His latest accessories and achievements

    Just why is it God has all these spokespeople and not, I dunno, spokesangels? Or, well, Himself? Ah, looks like an answer coming up…

    God will reveal HIMSELF to anyone who is sincere. But know this, HE is not interested in a debate with a bunch of book worms.

    God sounds like a stereotypical prep or jock. Except that, in the usual cultural narratives, even the jocks will appear to the geeks, in order to bully them.

    I suspect there is somewhere out there who is could really use GOD in their life, and you guys are standing in the way of their rebirth.

    So God is being stopped by the power of “book worm” atheists?

    If someone “could really use God” and God exists, then surely He’ll make things work out, no?

  26. #26 Joe Shelby
    February 16, 2011

    The problem with the “good parts of the Bible” argument is it ignores what people actually are doing over the “bad parts”.

    Nobody is taking Ecclesiastes, or even the book of Matthew, and using that to justify political policy regarding enforced charity to the poor, or permissiveness regarding taxation (“render unto Caesar…”).

    Rather, they are explicitly taking the negative bits, the bits about punishment and “sins” they don’t like and are using that to justify changing the laws to make behavior they don’t like to be illegal for all even if the rest of us don’t believe in it.

    The good bits argument would be fine if it at least was equal to the bad bits in its use to influence people in the ballot box. But it isn’t. Corrupt religious leaders have used the fear over the negative to dominate political votes, action, and thought, and as such, the “balance” of the good bits simply doesn’t exist.

  27. #27 Deen
    February 16, 2011

    So if you really want a godless world, better get busy.

    Stopped clock department. I’ll give him that one.

    I wouldn’t, if I were you. First of all, the solution to the religious outbreeding the atheists isn’t trying to get the atheists to reproduce more, it’s trying to get the religous to reproduce less. It’s not like we need to increase our population growth.

    Second, it clashes with his point 6. If he knows that social securirity and prosperity are the best way to lower religion, he should also know that this is also the best way to decrease family sizes. He should therefore take his own advice and start working on improving social conditions, not tell atheists to have more babies.

    And finally, and maybe most importantly, atheists aren’t even at risk of being outbred at all. Even though family sizes among the religious are larger than among the atheists, the atheists are consistently the fastest growing group, even in the US. The religious may be breeding faster, but they’re apparently not producing religious children.

    So even this point is very, very wrong.

  28. #28 eric
    February 16, 2011

    Deen: the solution to the religious outbreeding the atheists isn’t trying to get the atheists to reproduce more, it’s trying to get the religous to reproduce less.

    No, the solution is to realize that ideology isn’t genetic. This is a case where correlation has an alternative explanation – i.e. you very often share cultural mores and beliefs (the real cause of your religious ideology) with your parents. This is why mainstream scientists worry a lot more about what gets taught in school and not at all about whether a kid has blue eyes. Because genetics are irrelevant.

    To paraphrase: its the memes, stupid. Not the genes.

    Depending on how you read Zuckerman’s essay, this makes his point #8 either more amusing (if you think he knows this and was being flip), or more asinine (if you think he was being serious).

  29. #29 Deen
    February 17, 2011

    @eric: see my third point :)

  30. #30 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 17, 2011

    #1 — Really, Jason? So far “evolution” has been translated into social, religious, and moral venues. It’s tough to say that “science” (what-e-ver is meant by such a broad use of these terms) is not being used to answer everything under the sun.

    With regard to ultimate questions the point is simply that there is no reason to believe that theology can solve any mysteries that science cannot.

    Let’s go back to the encyclopedic fallacy (a type of straw man) once more. The Bible and its theological derivatives were never intended to answer technical questions, such as pi. Though there is a general estimation provided to describe the relationship of diameter to circumference, it is a generalized statement. It is not a math book. So to criticize it for not being a book to solve “mysteries” is fallacious on its face. Sort of like pretending that science can answer morality questions.

    #3 — Try reading it from a different cultural frame of mind. Our logical approach does not mesh well with the imagery of other cultures.

    BTW, a good number of logic classes, esp. in law, employ Paul’s argumentation method from Romans 1-3. And that’s not simply in a religious setting. It’s because it is a sound argument.

    #5 — Jason’s criticism only shows that he has not studied the Bible, and perhaps only criticisms of it. Christianity, like Judaism, is eschatological. It looks to redemption. The whole theme of the Bible can be found encapsulated in Romans 3:21-31.

  31. #31 Wow
    February 17, 2011

    “The Bible and its theological derivatives were never intended to answer technical questions, such as pi.”

    They WERE supposed to answer technical questions like “how did the world become?”.

    And in any case, that the bible can’t answer some questions doesn’t say it can answer any question as your quoted sentence:

    “With regard to ultimate questions the point is simply that there is no reason to believe that theology can solve any mysteries that science cannot.”

    States. So it doesn’t really have anything to do with the quote you made. So why did you make it?

    “Jason’s criticism only shows that he has not studied the Bible, and perhaps only criticisms of it. Christianity, like Judaism, is eschatological. It looks to redemption.”

    Still doesn’t say that the bible can answer anything. What redemption? If there is no garden of eden and eating apples, then there’s nothing to redeem.

    And lets look at the other weird word: eschatological.

    “1. The branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind.
    2. A belief or a doctrine concerning the ultimate or final things, such as death, the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment.”

    Concerned isn’t answering. So #1 out. Belief or doctrine isn’t about getting a CORRECT answer, just stating you have one. So #2 is out. And if there wasn’t a first coming, or anyone to judge, then there can be no second coming nor last judgment.

    So it still stands:

    There’s nothing that shows that religion can answer any questions that science can’t and it definitely can’t answer questions science can.

  32. #32 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 17, 2011

    They WERE supposed to answer technical questions like “how did the world become?”.

    Not exactly. It more specifically answers that the world became. The question of how (questions of time and mechanism — those are technical issues) is another matter. No system of interpretation, not even the YEC view, meets your demand. You’ve created a false dilemma, aka straw man.

    If there is no garden of eden and eating apples, then there’s nothing to redeem.
    Sounds like begging the question. You may not accept the fact of creation (a matter of truth value), but you might at least acknowledge the document’s theme.

    eschatology
    Let’s take the first part of the definition — “the ultimate or final things”
    You say that Belief or doctrine isn’t about getting a CORRECT answer, just stating you have one.
    I don’t know where you’re coming from on this. It’s a bit terse. Doctrine and theology are frameworks and ethics is the practical product. Ethics is the mechanism for answering concerns such as progressive eugenics that has plagued western civilization for a little over a century now. Secularism created the problem and then pretends it is not a problem. #2 stands.

    There’s nothing that shows that religion can answer any questions that science can’t and it definitely can’t answer questions science can.
    Well, that one is quite easy. You have no way to account for your ethic.

  33. #33 eric
    February 17, 2011

    Wow: They WERE supposed to answer technical questions like “how did the world become?”.

    Collin: Not exactly. It more specifically answers that the world became.

    I don’t need a book to tell me that the world came into existence; that’s useless.

    Regardless of whether YOU think it ought to be used to answer technical questions, Collin, christians have used it that way in the past. And its been a spectacular failure when used in such a manner. Based on its track record, rational people are justified in ignoring current claims that it has any relevance to technical questions. Such as the origin of species.

    In fact I find it ludicrous that an admitted presuppositionalist and evolution-denier would claim that the bible doesn’t provide technical answers. YOU are obviously rejecting the technical answers of science based on what it says. And it is obviously providing YOU with the technical answer of whether Jesus was plain, vanilla, normal human or something more.

  34. #34 itchy
    February 17, 2011

    You have no way to account for your ethic.

    That is false.

  35. #35 Lenoxuss
    February 17, 2011

    So to criticize it for not being a book to solve “mysteries” is fallacious on its face. Sort of like pretending that science can answer morality questions.

    The problem is that the Bible does a terrible job of answering morality questions. Maybe science does too. Maybe the “mere molecules” argument hold up. But it’s an all-too-easy false-dichotomy leap to saying that the Bible — or even religion as a whole — actually does do what’s it’s so often advertised to do: provide us with a source of meaning, comfort, and ethical standards.

    If life without God is meaningless, there’s nothing an omnimax being can do to fix that situation. (What gives him meaning?)

    In my opinion, philosophy, science, art, and religion do the best jobs of answering the Big Questions, in that order. The first three compete for the top spot, and anything else you can think of will be sorted way, way above religion.

    Try reading it from a different cultural frame of mind. Our logical approach does not mesh well with the imagery of other cultures.

    I’m sorry, but once you’ve said that a “logical approach” doesn’t apply to your position, and we’re not just talking about aethetics, but about what’s true, then you’ve rendered the entire conversation moot by way of the principle of explosion. For example, any questions you have about evolution could be (facetiously) answered “You’re right, that doesn’t make logical sense, but logic doesn’t apply here.”

    Most blatantly, you can’t subsequently argue for the (even mild) superiority of any religion over another. (Sure, lots of Christians will say they don’t think Christianity is “superior” to other faiths, but nearly all of them agree that it is in some sense truer.) The rejection of logic, at least in this realm, is a rejection of truth and a pathway to nonsense.

  36. #36 SLC
    February 17, 2011

    Re Lenoxuss

    If Mr. Brendemuehl thinks that evolution is illogical, he ought to consider quantum mechanics, which is much worse from a philosophical point of view. Quantum mechanics is a theory that makes absolutely no sense. As Steven Weinberg puts it, quantum mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately appears to be correct. Quantum electrodynamics is ever worse as it is not only philosophically preposterous but also mathematically nonsensical. However, for example, it gives numerical results that agree with experimental observations of the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron to 10 significant digits. Thus it has to be taken seriously as a theory of physics because it gives results despite its philosophical and mathematical deficiencies.

  37. #37 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 17, 2011

    In fact I find it ludicrous that an admitted presuppositionalist and evolution-denier would claim that the bible doesn’t provide technical answers. YOU are obviously rejecting the technical answers of science based on what it says. And it is obviously providing YOU with the technical answer of whether Jesus was plain, vanilla, normal human or something more.

    “Evolution-denier”?
    No. Naturalism denier.

    ” .. it is obviously providing YOU with the technical answer of whether Jesus was … ”
    Descriptively. But how the trinity and nature of Christ works out technically is not stated.

    Get your story straight.
    False remarks seem so silly.

  38. #38 JimC
    February 20, 2011

    But know this, HE is not interested in a debate with a bunch of book worms.

    You know this how?

    Naturalism denier

    So irrational human then?

  39. #39 J.J.E.
    February 21, 2011

    Not sure why my comment never came out of moderation.

  40. #40 Patrick
    February 22, 2011

    Regarding 1: Obviously it would be silly to claim that science has, or will have, the answer to every question. But its fair to point out that questions like “what caused the big bang” are scientific questions. Either science will answer them, or no one will. Do you think he’s equivocating on that issue?

    Regarding 4: Do you think he’s maybe referring to the “belief in belief” religious people? Ie, the ones who are culturally religious, but who will NEVER EVER ADMIT IT OUT LOUD? Or the ones who are functionally culturally religious, but who haven’t admitted that to themselves yet? Because I actually can see criticism causing them to backlash into a more fervent set of beliefs, or at least causing them to backlash into pretending and acting as if they were religious even harder than before.

    Regarding 5: This actually IS a good reason not to believe in God… or at least a good reason to reject a common reason to believe in God. The morality of Christianity, or the more vague ethical *feel* of it are constantly cited as reasons people convert. So pointing out that the Bible is mostly pretty horrid is a fair and relevant rejoinder.

  41. #41 Skeptic
    February 25, 2011

    But, how did it all begin?

  42. #42 speedwell
    March 1, 2011

    It’s certainly true that better living conditions are conducive to atheism, hence “mortifying the flesh”. But it’s also true that atheism, once embraced for other reasons, naturally tend to lead to humanism. Religious people believe in sin (including the social sin of failing to maintain your socioeconomic place), and misfortune as divine retribution. Thus they have no incentive to better the lot of the unfortunate or rehabilitate the delinquent. In fact, doing so would be working to thwart the will of the Divine. Only when a humanist, atheist worldview is adopted can people free themselves from the obligation of considering some made-up deity when they plan a decent, functional society.

  43. #43 craig
    March 8, 2011

    The mysteries of the universe are amazing .possibly one day science may prove that religion is true, amen.

  44. #44 Mark
    East Lancs, UK
    July 24, 2012

    Just about the most intellectual drivel I have ever read. If any of you who are not Christian think you have any idea what it is like to be a Christian having not been one then why don’t you simply shut the fuck up because you clearly cannot know? Arseholes

  45. #45 Wow
    July 25, 2012

    Sorry, in the uk, everyone knows just as much as you about being christian. In the USA, almost 100% of atheistst were practising christians. Therefore your demands (petulant and unworthy though they are) have been met.

    And unless you’ve been atheist in a rabidly vocal christian environment, YOU shut the fuck up because YOUdon’t know what you’re talking about.

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